Monthly Archives: October 2016

A Stroll through Keukenhof

Keukenhof, Dutch for kitchen garden, has a history dating back to the 1400’s when Jacoba van Beieren gathered fruit and vegetables in the area for Teylingen Castle. In 1641, Keukenhof Castle was built and the gardens were re-designed in 1857. Ultimately, the park was established in 1949 as a spring garden, today attracting over 1 million visitors each year to enjoy over 7 million tulips, daffodils, hyacinths, and other spring flowers during the season in March, April, and May.(


Schipol Amsterdam Airport

Our flight from the U.S. arrived at Schipol Amsterdam Airport at 9:20 a.m. With our carry-on luggage in hand, we skipped baggage claim and headed straight for customs. After clearing customs, we stopped at an ATM to get euros then asked for directions at the information desk for the bus to Keukenhof. It’s an enormous airport but bus 858, the Keukenhof Express, stops right outside the door and goes directly to and from Keukenhof all day long. We purchased a combi-ticket for 24 euros each which covered round-trip transportation from Schipol in addition to the entrance fee.

Before 10 a.m., the lines were still short. We boarded the bus with our luggage and took the half hour ride to Keukenhof in Lisse where we arrived directly outside the main entrance. We could have stored our luggage at the park but we decided instead to walk the 2 km (1.24 mi) to our hotel and leave our bags there. We hoped for an early check-in after our overnight flight but our room wasn’t ready so we used the restroom near the lobby to freshen up, left our bags at the hotel, and headed back to the park.


Keukenhof main entrance

As we entered the park, we picked up a map to find our way around the 32 hectares (79 acres) but we really didn’t devise a plan of attack. Instead, we just wandered in wonder at the beauty surrounding us. Staff explained that the season  was a bit delayed and, while there was a chill in the air, the sun was shining and it was truly a perfect spring day to us. We later heard there was a cold snap several days after our visit with hail and snow and the nearby annual Flower Parade was adversely affected.


Map of Keukenhof

Also immediately inside the main entrance, we found a charming barrel organ playing folk music that set the stage for visitors.


Jim taking a break on a walkway in Keukenhof



That’s me crouching behind the tulips



One of over 800 varieties of tulips onsite


The Delft Blue Garden


Dutch shoes at the Delft Blue Garden


View of bulb fields from Keukenhof

Eventually, we found our way to the windmill and climbed it to check out the view.


Windmill at Keukenhof


View of bulb fields from the windmill at Keukenhof

Next to the windmill, I spied a ticket counter for the whisper boat canal tour of the bulb fields. We wouldn’t have enough time in Lisse to rent bikes or drive the flower route to see the bulb fields so this seemed like a good opportunity. The tickets were around 8 euros each and rather than standing in line until it was our turn, they scheduled our tour at 2:15 so we could explore further and return at the appointed time.

The whisper boat, powered by electricity, glided silently through the canals while we listened to information through headphones. Tulips originated in central Asia and Turkey and first appeared in Holland in the 16th century. Their extreme popularity resulted in a period in Dutch history called tulip mania during which speculation and soaring prices caused what may have been the first economic bubble.  Today the Netherlands are the largest producer of tulips, half of which are exported. Because the canals and the boats were at the same level as the fields, the views weren’t as good as I expected but nevertheless, we thoroughly enjoyed our tour.


Selfie on the whisper boat at Keukenhof


Bulb fields from whisper boat


Bulb fields


Bulb fields

After our 45-minute boat ride, we were recharged and ready to walk some more.






Jim put his hand by these tulips to show how big they are


Another selfie


Such beauty






Flower mosaic

The bulbs are provided to the park at no charge by the producers and planted by hand each fall in a new design every year. The theme in 2016 was The Golden Age, referring to the period in Dutch history during the 17th century when tulip mania peaked.

These gardens are arguably the most beautiful in the world. And honestly, the fragrance permeating the air captivated me nearly as much as the amazing sights. I wish I could share the scent of hyacinth with you. If you visit the Netherlands in springtime, a stroll through Keukenhof is not to be missed.


Based on events in April 2016.






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Siesta Key and Beyond

At the end of my four-day solo travel experiment, my long-time friend Gail joined me on Siesta Key. The slow pace quickened immediately to a flurry of activity. Morning walks, paddleboarding, dinner at different restaurants each night, boating, visits with various friends in the area, and a trip to urgent care for Gail’s bronchial infection interrupted our number 1 priority, beach time. Here are the highlights.

Siesta Beach is my clear all-time favorite with a wide beach and soft, fine, white quartz sand that stays cool under the feet. Most mornings we joined other walkers getting their exercise in this beautiful setting directly across the street from our condo.




Siesta Beach


Morning walkers

When our walks took us off the beach, we twice succumbed to the temptation to stop for breakfast. Sun Garden in the village and Toasted Mango Cafe on Midnight Pass Road both got high marks from us.

My daughter-in-law’s mother, Tricia, kindly invited us to Ft. Meyers for a day of boating. A sunny day on the water was irresistible. I hadn’t been to the Ft. Meyers area previously so seeing more of this part of Florida by water was fun and Tricia and Gary were excellent hosts.


Our hosts, Tricia and Gary



Tricia and me- the mothers


Gail and me at lunch

Another day we drove north from Sarasota to Anna Maria Island, stopping at several beaches along the way.  As we drove through Sarasota, I snapped a photo of the 25-foot tall sculpture by Seward Johnson, Unconditional Surrender, based on a photo taken on V-J Day in Times Square.


Unconditional Surrender sculpture

Following lunch at the Sand Bar on Anna Maria, we relaxed on the beach for awhile and then checked out several of the piers in the area.


Lunch at the Sand Bar


My beach umbrella and Gail’s beach blanket at Anna Maria Beach


Anna Maria Beach


Rod and Reel Pier


Anna Maria City Pier


View from Anna Maria Pier toward the Sunshine Skyway Bridge


Anna Maria Pier

Ever since we discovered Dan at Siesta Key Paddleboards, we rent boards from him each year. He delivers the boards to us at Turtle Beach and we paddle through the canals to a secluded beach that only boaters frequent. Recently, a friend asked me if there are alligators in the canals. This is salt water and the gators prefer brackish water so no, we have never seen an alligator here…thankfully. We did see a dolphin in the canal, however.


Our man, Dan, setting us up with paddleboards


Paddleboarding fun

It’s always fun to see friends from home while we’re in Florida. We visited Gail’s friends, Jenny and Jeff, who now live full-time in Venice and my friends, Nancy and Jamie, who winter at a golf community just south of Siesta Key. Unfortunately, we didn’t have enough time to visit our friends, Deb and Dan, in Naples this year but we hope to see them soon.


Jenny and Jeff


Nancy and Jamie

Finally, we had some outstanding meals during our stay.  Casey Key Fish House and Indigenous were my favorites.



Gail and I have been friends for over 50 years. Check back in the next 50 for more of our adventures together on Siesta Key and beyond.

Based on events from March 2016.


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Solo on Siesta Key

My friend, Gail, and I have spent a week together in Florida at Sarasota or on Siesta Key in March for the past 5 years. In 2016, in order to extend my stay to two weeks, I planned to spend the first 4 days alone. Most condos in Siesta Key rent by the week from Saturday to Saturday and Gail couldn’t get there until Wednesday. I’ve never particularly aspired to solo traveling but my husband consistently declines to join us on this trip. Regarding the opportunity as a growth experience, I was willing to give it a try to get out of the winter cold in north Iowa for a little longer.

In the past, I’ve flown into Tampa, met Gail at the airport, picked up our rental car, and Gail drove the 72 miles south to Siesta Key. This time, I flew into St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport where I found a cheaper flight and picked up my rental car and faced my first challenge with trepidation: driving the Sunshine Skyway Bridge across Tampa Bay. As a recovering acrophobe, I knew this would be a definite test. Frankly, I was very nervous and I talked out loud to myself to calm my fears. Meanwhile, Siri was also talking out loud to give me directions on my I-phone. Safely taking a photo under those conditions  would have been totally impossible for me so the pic below was taken 2 weeks later on the way back to the airport with Gail driving. (As you can see, it was also raining so it was a good time to leave.)


I made it! The worst part was in my head– seeing it and thinking about it. Actually doing it wasn’t nearly as bad.

After a stop at the grocery store in Sarasota, I headed out to the island to check into La Siesta Condominiums. Aah…that view. Yes, I know there’s a pool, a clubhouse, a street, and a parking lot between me and the Gulf but it’s heaven to me.


Our view

I planned to return my rental car the following morning in Sarasota and walk back to Siesta Key. Until Gail arrived I would relax on the island, walk the beach, eat my meals on the lanai with a view, read a little and write a lot.


Our condo


Kitchen at the condo


My workspace


Siesta Key Beach


Breakfast at the beach


Beautiful Siesta Key Beach


Gulf view from Siesta Key Beach


Day’s end on Siesta Key

So how do I feel about solo traveling? It’s definitely not my preference. Although I’m perfectly capable of entertaining myself and I love to spend time alone especially in the morning, I tend to do less when I’m alone. That’s probably because I’m kind of a scaredy cat and somewhat shy. So I did the things I enjoy doing alone like walking the beach, meditating, reading, and writing, but I didn’t go out to eat or socialize. If I traveled alone more often or for longer periods, I’d have to make a greater effort to plan activities to prevent feeling isolated. Fortunately, I have several great travel partners so, at least at this stage of my life, I won’t be traveling solo too often.


Based on events from March 2016.

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One More Puerto Aventuras Post

It’s time to move on. But before we do, I want to share several miscellaneous recollections from Puerto Aventuras.

Super Chedraui is the supermarket located outside the gates of PA, certainly within walking distance for us although the highway is rather busy.  They stock everything we needed including great fresh produce, wine, and beer. A word of caution: our debit card was skimmed probably at the ATM outside the store so be careful! If possible, get local currency from an ATM at a bank before you arrive because there are no banks in PA.

If the supermarket isn’t your thing, check out the farmer’s market held in the heart of PA on Wednesday and Saturday mornings. The produce looked the same as the grocery store (and maybe it was) but it was a convenient location. This is cash only, however, so bring pesos.


Farmer’s Market in Puerto Aventuras


Lots of fresh produce

Speaking of food, the best thing I ate in Puerto Aventuras was the fresh dorado, aka mahi-mahi or dolphin fish, that we purchased at the marina directly from a fishing boat. For 350 pesos (about $18 U.S.) the three of us ate fresh fish for three meals. That’s just $2 per person per meal! The entertainment value of using my simple Spanish to talk him into selling us that fish and then watching him filet it before our eyes was worth every peso, too.


Fileting the dorado we purchased


Our first meal of fresh dorado

The restaurants in PA offer basic food for a decent price. If you’re a foodie, however, you may want to search further afield for that “to die for” dish. The fresh locally sourced fish is always a good choice but often under-seasoned. Ask for pico de gallo to add some flavor. That said, we discovered Restaurante Dos Aguas that served an excellent paella with an outstanding Spanish tempranillo wine. I hope it’s still open next time.


Fresh fish at the restaurant in the Omni Hotel


Paella at Restaurante Dos Aguas


Picaña a la piedra at Restaurante Dos Aguas


Tres amigos al Restaurante Dos Aguas

As we walked to the gates of PA to catch the Colectivo (bus) to Tulum for a day trip to the beach, we stopped to watch pétanque for a while. Pétanque is a French game, very similar to the Italian bocce. On our next visit, I want to find out more about opportunities to play.


Pétanque in PA

Speaking of our day trip to Tulum, we fell in love with the beach the previous year and went back for a repeat experience. Sadly, the restaurant where we rented beach chairs for the day no longer existed. After a thorough search, we settled for a recently opened replacement.


Beach chairs at Tulum available when you purchase food


Fish tacos—it’s what’s for lunch


Playa Esperanza at Tulum


Jim and Laura at the beach at Tulum

For Jim and Gail, the perfect ending to each day in Puerto Aventuras was a visit to Jesse Gelato, where they make their own delicious products. I think they tried something different each night but they would tell you it was all good with large portions at low prices.


As I review my recollections of Puerto Aventuras, I am reminded of the beautiful views, lovely beaches, balmy winter temperatures, and low-key atmosphere. I’m excited to return in January 2017.


Dawn breaks on our last morning in paradise


Based on events of January 2016.







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Sailing Fat Cat from Puerto Aventuras

If you’re looking for a fun-filled sailing experience while visiting the Riviera Maya, check out Fat Cat Catamaran and Sailing Tours. For $100 per person, we got a four-hour sailing experience that included drinks, lunch, music, snorkeling, swimming, and even the catch of a dorado.


Our catamaran, Fat Cat Two

As we set sail at 9 am, most of the passengers were ready to party to the thumping dance music with drinks in hand–rum punch or beer. While I don’t usually succumb to sea sickness, I felt that alcohol so early in the day combined with motion might not set well on my stomach so I declined the offer and stuck with water until after lunch. My friend Gail definitely tends toward sea sickness so she abstained with me. I admit when drinks are included, there’s some pressure to imbibe, just to “get your money’s worth” but the seas were a little rough and I think it was a wise choice for both of us.


Gail showing a Corona Mega


Setting sail


Jim as we set sail


Out of the marina and into the open water

After sailing north toward Playa del Carmen for an hour or more, we anchored to snorkel. I snorkeled briefly but then returned to the boat to take photos instead. Someday I’m going to get a waterproof camera and take photos while in the water.


Our group snorkeling


Gail snorkeling


Gail returns to the boat


Jim snorkeling


Jim returns to the boat

While in the warm, crystal-clear water, the snorkelers saw many varieties of colorful reef fish, stingrays, and sea turtles. When they were finished, everyone had worked up an appetite and it was time for lunch. The others had a typical sack lunch containing sandwiches, chips, and cookies but I requested a gluten-free lunch and I was thrilled with my offering of tuna, lettuce, tomato, and avocado.


My lunch 

After lunch, we headed back at a leisurely pace.


Jim enjoying the ride


Enjoying a rum punch on the return trip

The fishing lines were trolling off the rear of the boat and we were thrilled to watch the staff land a dorado, also called mahi-mahi in Hawaii or dolphinfish in other places.  In Spanish, dorado means golden which perfectly describes this tasty fish. Everyone who cared to was offered the opportunity to pose with the fish.


Gail with the dorado


Jim with the dorado


Laura (me) with dorado

We made a final stop near our marina for swimming. While there we discovered one of the other passengers onboard was a firefighter from Iowa who knows my brother through rugby. I’m always amazed by the connections we find with people as we chat.


Swimming off the boat


My handsome man

As we sailed into the channel to the marina, I got a photo of our condo from the water.


View of our condo as we sail into the marina

It was a great day at sea and Jim was already talking about going again next year.


Based on events from January 2016.





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