We’ve worked very hard, come up on some amazing luck, and we taken several decent-sized risks in hopes of big rewards in creating a location independent business.
Since 2012, we’ve not only created a location independent business, but we’ve also created lifestyle freedom. As a result, we’ve embarked on some pretty insane adventures, and we’re excited to be sharing those with you here!
Travels with John and Kate
One of the most rewarding experiences of starting Entrepreneurs On Fire has been the connection we’ve made with the community we’ve created around it: that’s YOU, Fire Nation!
Another amazing reward of starting Entrepreneurs On Fire?
As a result of building a strong platform from the very beginning; continuing to provide free, valuable and consistent content to our audience; and listening to the biggest pain points and struggles our audience comes to us with, we’ve been able to create a multiple 7-figure business.
And because of that 7-figure business, we’ve created a lifestyle where we can do the work we love, make a big impact through inspiring millions, and reap the benefits of running a location independent business.
Entrepreneurs On Fire allows us to explore and experience some really incredible things – both in the office, and outside of it.
We love sharing our journeys around the world with you, Fire Nation, because we believe that becoming an entrepreneur is about creating the experiences YOU want to have in your own life – whether that be travel, more time with family, or any other number of things.
Hopefully us sharing our experiences will inspire and motivate you to create a location independent business that allows you to have the experiences you want most.
Wondering what our trip prep period looks like? Here’s our complete guide on how to prepare for your next trip to ensure your travel plans and work are in order prior to takeoff!
Travel in 2023
We started 2023 off with a trip to a place neither of us really had on our travel radars…
The trip came about very organically… when a girlfriend of mine, Nicole, mentioned her and her husband Omar would be traveling to Japan in February – and the dates just so happened to work out – we hopped onboard and were excited to check out a new part of the globe!
Best part is, Nicole used to live in Japan, so we had some insider info on the best places to explore!
If I back up just a bit though, this trip actually came about because of a mastermind I’m a part of with two other entrepreneurial women, Nicole Baldinu from $100 MBA podcast and WebinarNinja, and Cassandra Sethi, founder of Next Level Wardrobe.
The three of us have been in a mastermind together for 3 years now.
We meet online every month for 1.5 hours to chat business and support one another in our business ventures. Sometimes that’s catching up and laughing; sometimes it’s having really hard convos about hiring and firing team members; and sometimes it’s celebrating our wins together.
We’ve grown such a special relationship over those 3 years, and we’ve been trying to plan a “girls trip” since 2020.
So the fact that we actually made this trip happen – and in Japan no less – was so exciting for all of us!
When we finally found a date range that would work for all 3 of us, it just so happened that Nicole and Omar would be in Japan. I chatted with John, Cass was all in, and we decided to make it happen!
Soooooo… after a lot of planning – and 29 hours of travel – we made it to our first stop: Osaka!
The four of us (myself, John, Omar and Nicole) decided to spend the first week together in Osaka.
We’ve known Omar and Nicole for years now – and we used to be neighbors in San Diego! – so we were excited to see them and spend time together for the first time five years.
While Wiki will tell you Osaka is known for its modern architecture, nightlife, and hearty street food, the things that stood out the most for us included:
- How CLEAN it is!
- How amazing the subway system is (trains come in every direction pretty much every 4 minutes)
- How polite and helpful people are (some Japanese speak very decent English, and those who don’t will speak Japanese until they’ve helped you), and
- It’s COLD! (We woke up to 29 degrees!)
But, we didn’t let the cold hold us back!
Day 1 in Osaka: Osaka Castle, America-mura, Dotonbori
Our first outing was to Osaka Castle.
Dating back to the 16th-century, Osaka Castle is pretty impressive size-wise, but it’s not the “original” (it has undergone several restorations).
Unfortunately nothing inside of the castle is in its original form, so it was more like walking through a museum than anything else. The outside was beautiful, though.
After we made our way to America-mura, a youth-inspired creative pocket with street art, shops, and a lot of interesting design choices. Really funky and fun place to explore!
Last stop of the day was Dotonbori, the biggest “tourist attraction” of Osaka – and for good reason!
Bright neon lights, flashy signs, and more street food in one place than I’ve ever witnessed, this long walk of constant stimulation was a really fun experience.
Day 2: Nara Park, Todai-ji Temple, Osaka Station
Each morning we’d meet up for breakfast at our hotel and have a “family meeting” to discuss what we’d do for the day.
During our family meeting on day 2 Nicole mentioned a park where you can feed deer crackers – and they’ll bow for you! Because this obviously sounds like the cutest thing ever, I immediately voted for feeding bowing deer crackers!
If you don’t believe me, see for yourself in this video: John and the bowing deer.
The location: Nara Park, which is home not only to hundreds of bowing deer, but also the Tōdai-ji temple where Daibutsu, Tōdai-ji’s 50-foot-high bronze Buddha, is on display.
This was a super cool experience. Walking up to this building and coming face to face with such a massive slab of bronze – and trying to imagine how on earth humans managed to create something like that… very impressive.
Our last stop of the day was riding the train to Osaka’s main train station, which is massive. There are 8 floors that span multiple buildings, boast hundreds of shops, and dozens upon dozens of restaurants.
Day 3: Hattori Ryokuchi Park
For day 3 we all agreed to take a short train ride to a well-known park nearby called Hattori Ryokuchi Park.
It’s a little reminiscent of Central Park in NYC with miles of green space, a baseball field, a soccer field, tennis courts, a cemetery, and an Open Air Museum of Old Japanese Farm Houses.
The Farm Houses were a big draw because it sounded like a cool thing to check out. They’ve essentially taken old farm houses from all different parts of Japan and situated them in an outdoor space where you can walk around and see the differences, plus get a feel for what living in a farm house is like.
It was definitely cool to walk around the farm houses, but the highlight of the afternoon was stumbling upon an old Japanese tea house amongst the farm houses that just so happened to open in 10 minutes from that very moment in time… and only had room to serve 15 people each day. We felt like it was meant to be!
Getting to experience a traditional tea ceremony inside of a tea house with 3 Japanese women was great!
Day 4: Osaka aquarium
With a full day of rain in the forecast, we opted for the Osaka Aquarium, which we wouldn’t recommend.
We followed up our aquarium visit with a walk around a few neighboring parks, then came back to the hotel for an afternoon snooze before visiting our very first cat cafe!
Being a cat lover – and missing Gus like crazy – getting some snuggle times with furry friends was a treat. And what a concept!
We followed up the cat cafe with a little traditional happy hour stroll to several little restaurants that serve up Japan’s version of tapas: fried or grilled meat, and fried or grilled vegetables on a skewer. Yum!
Day 5: Hiroshima
We went back and forth about visiting Hiroshima from Osaka because of the distance and cost.
The train ride was 1.5 hours each way on the bullet train, and being the bullet train, our roundtrip tickets were about $160 per person. Seemed like a lot of travel time and money for a day trip.
But when it came down to it, I knew I’d regret not going.
And I’m so glad we decided to go.
The museum itself was incredibly well done. It was full immersion with a 55-point audio tour, videos, images, artifacts, and timelines.
After walking through, listening to the heartbreak and what the city of Hiroshima – and Japan as a whole – went through, I couldn’t help but wonder why this didn’t hold a much more significant place in our history books.
It also made me realize how lucky we are to have these travel experiences. The places we’ve been, the cultures we’ve gotten to learn more about, and the history we’ve come face-to-face with over the past 10 years has opened up such a deep perspective.
The peace memorial and surrounding area was really beautiful, too. Also, mind blowing that this building survived the bomb – and still stands today just beyond the museum and peace memorial.
After the museum we enjoyed a lunch along the river and a long stroll around the city, and then returned to the train station for our ride back to Osaka.
Our last day in Osaka was a quickie! We didn’t get back from Hiroshima until close to 7pm, and since we hadn’t really experienced the Dotonbori street food yet, we made a repeat visit for octopus balls and crab legs.
The boys had an early start the next morning for their flight to Niseko to start their skiing and snowboarding adventure, so we decided to head back to the hotel for a good nights sleep.
Day 6: “The Split”
On day 6 we split!
John and Omar hit the slopes up north (3 days in Niseko first, then 3 days in Furano), while Nicole and I made our way to Tokyo via the Shinkansen (bullet train) to meet up with Cass.
Nicole and I didn’t arrive in Tokyo until around 3pm, so we didn’t have a ton of daylight. We hopped in a cab, checked into our place, and then decided to hit the town in Shibuya.
Maybe you’ve heard of the “Shibuya Scramble”? That’s the famous intersection in Japan where at every second of every day there is an insane amount of traffic – both vehicular and pedestrian – going in every which direction.
Nicole had insider knowledge about the views of the Scramble from the 2nd floor of a nearby Starbucks, and since you never have to convince me to go into a Starbucks, we decided it was a perfect time to check it out.
Here’s a quick little time-lapse video from that 2nd floor of that Starbucks; pretty crazy! This literally happens every 1.5 minutes or so, 24/7.
Day 8 – 13: Tokyo with the girls!
Over the next several days – after welcoming Cass to Tokyo – we explored so many amazing pockets of greatness, including:
- Harajuku, filled with endless boutiques, cafes, and fun eateries
- Meiji-jingu Shrine
- Yoyogi Park
The Shrines and parks are incredible throughout Tokyo. So many beautiful things to see in every direction… and you’re just steps from the bustling city (but would never know it!)
And TeamLab was such an awesome experience. It’s an interactive art exhibit set up in different spaces, each completely unique. We really enjoyed walking through the exhibits!
And, we got to have our very first ever mastermind IN PERSON!
As I mentioned earlier, what brought the 3 of us together in Japan in the first place was our mastermind, and so we didn’t think the trip would be complete without an actual in-person mastermind session!
We spent about 4 hours in the coziness of our apartment sharing laughs, wins, struggles, and brainstorming ways to go bigger in our businesses and lives in 2023.
It was such a cool experience to be able to do this in person after having done it online for 3 straight years!
We wrapped up our time together on our final day with an AirBNB Experiences: Meeting a personal stylist! We recapped the entire thing on a 3-way episode that we got to record in person together in Tokyo.
Day 14: Reunited!
As we settled into our new hotels we were all really excited to meet up with the guys again, hear about skiing and the snow, and get ready for one last hurrah: a dinner and night out with all 6 of us + 2 locals (friends of Nicole & Omar’s), Andy and Andy.
But before I get to our last hurrah, here’s a mini skiing and snowboarding recap…
As I mentioned before, John and Omar made their way North to hit two ski slopes: 3 days in Niseko, then 3 days in Furano.
In John’s words, it was the best snow he’s ever skied! 🤩
They got a pretty good dump before and during their time on the mountain, and judging by the Instagram stories, it was nothing short of a winter wonderland.
I have to admit: while I was so excited to be spending the week with the girls in Tokyo, I couldn’t help but be jealous… I would have loved to experience a few days of skiing in Japan as well. But hey, there’s always next time!
In between mountains (it was about a 4 hour drive from the first to the second), John and Omar stopped off at the “Stonehenge of Japan”.
In my opinion, it’s even more majestic and beautiful with all the snow on the ground. They said it was such a fantastic experience.
Furano was their last stop, and I have no doubt they made the most of it!
So next, we all got ready for that one last hurrah I mentioned, and then met at the top of a shopping center near the restaurant we were going to in order to start the night out right with a cocktail. It was perfect timing with the sun going down and such a beautiful setting.
Then, we met up with the Andy’s at a Mediterranean restaurant (their recommendation) and enjoyed an amazing prix fixe dinner.
Day 15 – 18: And then there were two!
John and I spend a very enjoyable last couple of days in Tokyo together visiting a lot of parks – and a really cool audio walking tour.
John did some research and downloaded an audio walking tour of a town called Nihombashi. This is where you’ll find the exact spot where all the distances in Japan are measured from, and the starting point for travelers and merchants going “out into the city” hundreds (and thousands) of years ago.
It’s also where Google will “map” you if you type in Tokyo (fun fact)
After lunch we hit the parks! And one that I had attempted to go to with Cass and Nicole, but didn’t quite make happen (it was a garden, so you had to pay entrance and it closed at 4) was the Shinjuku Gardens.
I’m so glad John and I were able to make it happen, because the park was absolutely beautiful!
We also rounded out the evening by visiting the Imperial Palace (couldn’t go inside since it was already closed) and I took John on a stroll through Yoyogi park (the one I had visited with Cass and Nicole earlier that week).
All in all our time in Japan was incredible. It’s a place that has never been on my radar, but now one I think is a must-visit for everyone.
Travel in 2022
With places finally opening back up, we enjoyed travel throughout 2022 to the fullest!
We each celebrated our bachelor and bachelorette parties internationally (John skiing in France and Kate enjoying the white sandy beaches in Cabo), and come April, the big event was in full swing!
We opted to have our wedding celebration and festivities right in our own backyard in Palmas Del Mar, Puerto Rico. It proved to be an amazing decision: we got to plan from the comfort of our own home, and our guests got to experience a “destination wedding”!
We had four days of activities planned for our guests, and everything was absolutely amazing! Couldn’t have asked for better weather, better company, and better food, fun, and laughs.
The second half of 2022 brought a lot of domestic travel, visiting family in Maine and California and traveling to a few conferences.
We’re resting up for 2023, when we’ll finally get to embark on our 23-day European River Cruise on Viking!
Travel in 2021 – Beginning to Open Up!
While we continued to put any international travel on hold for 2021, we did continue to enjoy domestic travels and adventures throughout the year.
As we head into 2022, we’re preparing for a very special day: our wedding!
Amidst wedding planning we have some fun travels lined up for the year, including a ski trip in Utah, Los Cabos, MX (for Kate), and a month-long Euro adventure for John.
Travel in 2020 – Canceled
Our travels were to continue BIG heading into 2020 with another epic journey throughout Europe.
In May 2020 we had plans to embark on a 23 day Viking River Cruise starting in Amsterdam and ending in Bucharest.
As we all know, 2020 travel – especially internationally – was canceled.
So while we didn’t get to experience our 23 day Viking River Cruise in 2020, we do have plans to rebook this cruise in the future.
As far as our travels in 2020, we kept it domestic and were able to spend a lot of incredible time with our family throughout the United States.
World Tour 2019
In August 2019 we upped our travel game: we started off on a 90-day world adventure that has been nothing short of inspiring, educational, and dreamy.
It started with John in Las Vegas to be recognized at a dinner for being one of the top affiliates for Tony Robbins and Dean Graziosi’s launch of their course Knowledge Business Blueprint.
It continued in Orlando, FL for the annual Podcast Movement event.
And our next stop was Toronto, Canada to meet up with our good friends Jill & Josh Stanton of Screw the Nine to Five, plus attend Stu McLaren’s Tribe LIVE.
After Canada we were off for quite the journey: all the way to the beautiful islands of Fiji. It was in Fiji that we had the incredible opportunity to spend 4 days at Namale Resort with Tony Robbins, Dean Graziosi, Russel Brunson, and 9 other incredible entrepreneurs.
Our stops from Fiji included:
- Riga, Latvia
- Krakow, Poland
- Paris, France
- Annecy, France
- Nice, France
- Bayeux, France
Our travels through Europe in 2019 were stellar, and while we didn’t know it would be our last Euro adventure for a while at the time, we definitely soaked up every last minute of it!
In September 2018 we embarked on a 6 week trip throughout Europe that included stops in Dublin, Edinburgh, Brussels, Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Berlin, Vienna, Bratislava, Budapest, Naples, Rome, Greece, and Lisbon.
Our stops in Rome and Greece were via a 10-day cruise, which we met up with 16 wonderful friends and family members for!
We’re so excited to be sharing this adventure with you!
First stop: Dublin, Ireland
I wasn’t really sure what to expect when we arrived in Dublin. While John has spent time in Ireland, this was his first time in Dublin, too. Other than the beautiful picture of a cobblestoned street on the cover of Rick Steve’s “Dublin” 5th Edition, I only knew there’d be plenty of pubs and a lot of history.
We landed at the airport about 7am, took a taxi to Temple Bar (the area where we would be staying), and started our morning off with a walk around the town to familiarize ourselves. By 9am we were cozied up in a Costa Cafe reading Rick’s recommendations for our time in Dublin.
While I read plenty about the Cliffs of Moher and the musical pub crawls that you can essentially take part in at any time throughout the day, one thing I hadn’t even thought about was heavy presence of famous writers who frequented these streets, including one of my favorites, James Joyce. I wish we could have experienced the Ulysses walking tour, but as you’re about to find out we pretty much used up every spare second of our time here in Dublin.
We couldn’t check into our AirBNB until 2pm, so we decided to suck it up, strap on our backpacks, and take advantage of the Dublin Historical Walking Tour Rick wrote about, which was starting at 11am from the front gates of Trinity College.
We got to see Trinity College, the Dublin Castle, Christ Church Cathedral, and learn about the Great Famine, which started in 1845 and lasted over 5 years.
Something else we learned about was the tumultuous relationship between Ireland and England, along with the battle between the Protestant and Catholic religions (something we’d be hearing a lot more about throughout our time here).
After our walking tour we made our way towards the AirBNB and John pulled up Yelp for a lunch spot. Lucky for us, that’s when we were introduced to the Queen of Tarts. We had the BEST lunch (avocado and feta sandwich on this amazing bread and an asparagus and feta quiche). That was not the last time we would eat at Queen of Tarts…
Finally we were checking into our Airbnb, and we couldn’t have asked for a better location.
Once we dropped our bags and showered, we headed out on a walking tour with the guidance of good old Rick: the O’Connell Street Stroll.
The O’Connell Street Stroll took us over the O’Connell bridge (and over the River Liffey) to the North side of Dublin. This is notoriously known as the rougher side of town, and while the median age dropped about 30 years as we crossed over, and the buildings started looking a bit more drab, it was still a really cool way to take in some of the history of Dublin.
Some highlights: the General Post Office, where the Proclamation of Irish Independence was read, kicking off the Easter Rising in 1916. This is an incredibly beautiful building with columns and a facade… it doesn’t look like any post office I’ve ever seen.
And you can still see the bullet holes in the pillars – pretty amazing. The Garden of Remembrance was also really cool: a park honoring the victims of the 1916 Rising.
After our 2nd walking tour of the day we were both exhausted. That marked about 30+ hours of no sleep and a lot of traveling, so we opted to head home and we were in bed sleeping from about 8pm to 9am the next morning!
Well-rested and ready for our day, we hopped up and met our bike tour guide, who was definitely a couple stars above our Historical Walking Tour Guide. With about 15 other tourists, we set out on electric bikes to tour more of Dublin, including the backside of Dublin Castle, the Guinness Brewery (outside), and Trinity Church.
After our bike tour we met up with our friend, Mark, and took part in our 2nd meal at Queen of Tarts. I’m still regretting not having tried one of their 30-odd baked goods!
Our afternoon with Mark included a great walk through Trinity College, up Grafton Street (such a cute pedestrian shopping street), through St. Stephen’s Green, and on to our first pub stop, Devitts. There we met up with another friend, Louise, and enjoyed a pint before heading to dinner to meet up with yet another friend, Carmel ;)
Our night out in Dublin was great fun and gave us the opportunity to experience what the streets of Temple Bar looked like after 5pm.
Our final day in Dublin: The Book of Kells and Boyne Valley.
The Book of Kells tour was really impressive. Dating from 800 AD the Book of Kells features the four Gospels of the New Testament, beautifully written and designed by monks on calf vellum from 186 calfs!
…but even more impressive was the library.
Our next stop: Boyne Valley, the archeological site of Bru na Boinne (home of both Newgrange and Knowth, two 5,000-year-old passage tombs believed to be used as a sacred resting spot for the dead).
The tomb at Newgrange is aligned east-west, so as the sun rises during the winter solstice, a ray of light enters through the “roofbox” (small opening above the entrance) and illuminates the entire passageway (which is in some spots so narrow you have to turn sideways to pass through).
They aren’t really sure why it was constructed this way, but it seems to be no accident. There are over 30,000 applications submitted every year to be chosen as 1 of the 20 people who get to be inside of the passage during the winter solstice.
Our flights leaves about 12pm today, and our next stop is Edinburgh!
Stop 2: Edinburgh, Scotland
WOW. From the moment we drove into Old Town Edinburgh, John and I both knew we were about to explore a very special place. We’re not even 8 hours into our time here in Edinburgh, and it’s absolutely breathtaking.
We just finished an amazing run up to Arthurs Seat, a massive hill formed by an extinct volcano system. It stands 822 ft tall and is the main peak in a group of hills that form Holyrood Park. This is at the tail end of our run where the chapel used to stand on the mountain…
We then walked the Royal Mile to the tune of bagpipes and street performers, which is a pedestrian street that when followed the entire way from start to end, drops you at the gates of Edinburgh Castle (from Holyrood Palace).
Our first night here we enjoyed a delicious Middle Eastern dinner on Victoria street (not on purpose, but so good!) We tried to get into a traditional pub for stew, but apparently Saturday night is not the night to do it. We could barely move once we walked through the doors, let alone get a seat!
We started our first full day in Edinburgh with another run – this time passed the Sir Walter Scott monument (the largest monument ever built for a writer); through a graveyard honoring Scottish-American soldiers; and culminating at the Nelson Monument atop Calton Hill.
Nelson monument commemorates Horatio Nelson’s victory over the French and Spanish fleets at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805 and gives breathtaking 360 views of Edinburgh from the mountains all the way out to the sea.
After a stroll back to our place, a coffee, and a shower, we made our way to the Royal Mile for our first guided tour in Edinburgh: the Skip the Line Tour of Edinburgh Castle. With a snippy guide and terrible instructions on Airbnb, we started our tour unimpressed.
Alas, Edinburgh Castle is THAT impressive.
After the 1.5 hour guided tour, we headed for the audio guide area and grabbed headsets. We spent the next 2 hours really exploring the castle. The sheer construction of the castle built high up on rock – not to mention the stories, wars, and politics that went on inside and around it over thousands of years – was hard to even take in.
Next, we started our walk over to Bread Meats Bread, a restaurant that Alan (a Fire Nation fan) works at and invited us to. Gavin (another Fire Nation fan and past guest of EOFire) had also reached out about meeting up, so we met him and his girlfriend Lauren there and had some pretty incredible food, including a burger topped with bacon and pulled pork (John), and for me: a grilled Halloumi burger.
We also indulged in sweet potato fries drizzled with honey and bacon. OMG, SO GOOD.
Our last activity of the day: a haunted tour in the old town of Edinburgh, which included a walk through the square where they used to do public hangings, into a graveyard where the highest amount of reported poltergeist activity happens – in the world – and by the closed and locked gates of the most haunted area in all of Edinburgh.
This tour was above and beyond great!
Our 2nd full day in Edinburgh took us out of the city and up the coast to North Berwick. Gavin was kind enough to offer up his car – and his guide skills – to take us through a quaint little coastal town and then to a ruined castle on the cliffs.
Alan joined us as well, and we had a great time seeing some of the coast and countryside!
The castle we visited, Tantallon, is a mid-14th-century fortress that is comprised of a single wall blocking off the mainland, with the other three sides naturally protected by sea cliffs. Unlike most castles I’ve seen that are fully enclosed, Tantallon was almost like a fortress, with narrow and high buildings where the nobles lived, and then an open marketplace, or courtyard, in the center looking out over the ocean.
After making our way back into Edinburgh, John and I took a walk through the city, including the Princess Gardens, and then grabbed our dinner to go.
Our nights in Edinburgh have been late ones for various reasons (the Patriots game on Sunday went until after midnight here, then John had a mastermind call that went until [11:30]), and while our location and the place we’re staying in are fantastic, it hasn’t been the quietest or best sleeping arrangement.
Not to worry!… we crushed our final full day in Edinburgh, starting with an audio tour of Holyrood Palace, the official residence of the British monarch in Scotland, Queen Elizabeth II. Holyrood Palace is BEAUTIFUL, and it was really cool to walk through, as it’s still in use today.
It has served as the principal residence of the Kings and Queens of Scots since the 16th century, and it holds state occasions and official entertaining often. Queen Elizabeth spends 1 week at Holyrood Palace at the beginning of each summer.
After our tour we walked the Royal Mile to meet up with our good friends Mark and Kieran, who trained over from Barnsley, UK.
We started with a walk to the Edinburgh Castle, then made our way to the Edinburgh Dungeon Tour (a 9-part walking tour underground that was part-spooky, part-story about the gruesome history in Edinburgh).
It was a really cool tour, aside from the fact I was plucked from the group and accused of witchcraft, then scheduled to be hung by the end of the tour :/ All in good fun!
We ended the day with another underground tour, this time of Mary King’s Close. This tour was fascinating, and it took you through a day in the life of someone living in Edinburgh in the 17th century, including what it was like within the walled city during the 1645 Plague. Yikes.
With buildings 14 stories high and teeny, tiny walking streets, otherwise known as a “close”, the disease, lack of space, and disgusting daily 7am and 10pm “dumpings” are enough to make your stomach turn. …imagine thousands of residents from 14 stories high dumping their bathroom buckets into the close twice per day. Makes you pretty grateful for modern plumbing systems.
Today we make our way to Brussels, with 0 on the agenda and very fond memories of Edinburgh.
Stop 3: Brussels, Belgium
Well, we arrived in Brussels with a very different first impression than in Edinburgh… In a single statement, I’d say: rough around the edges.
Brussels is very unique, and we continue to see instances of this around every corner.
Our first evening consisted of a run down the central waterway just by our AirBNB (which is great!) On our run we saw everything from heaps of trash in massive piles across the channel, to TONS of graffiti all over, well, everything.
Last night we even witnessed helicopters shining lights down on the city searching for… ?? I guess that’s where you get to use your imagination :)
All of that said, we don’t feel unsafe or anything, and we’ve been able to uncover some really incredible areas of the city during our self-guided walking tours, thanks to good-old Rick.
Our first full day in Brussels consisted of 2 walking tours from Rick’s Belgium guide. First up: the Grand Place Walk, and the second: Upper Town.
Grand Place, where our first walk started, was absolutely stunning. This is Brussels’ main square – and has been for 1,000 years. …and holy moly is it ever grand! This shot shows maybe 30% of it…
It has grown into a huge public space enclosed by super old buildings – the interior filled with cafes, pubs, and a marketplace showcasing everything from handmade jewelry to fruit, chocolate and waffles.
While we’ve yet to try and Belgium chocolate or waffles, we definitely haven’t been shy about the pastries and gelato stops!
From there we explored the surrounding streets, including a still-operating shopping mall known as Galeries Royales St. Hubert (built in 1847 – pictured below), the Church of St. Nicolas, and the famous “Manneken-Pis”, a tiny bronze statue of a boy peeing (also pictured below).
It was made in 1619 to provide drinking water for the neighborhood… and stands as a “low-key symbol” for the unpretentious Bruxellois. …I don’t really think it’s all that low-key myself.
The Upper Town brought us out of the cute pedestrian cobblestoned streets and into a more industrial and ‘busy’ part of the city. We walked through parks, to the Notre-Dame du Sablon Church, and to the Palace of Justice.
After our full day exploring the streets and sights of Brussels, our view of the city shifted from “rough around the edges” to “unique”. It’s full of its own kind of art and flare.
Our second full day in Brussels took us to the train station heading North West to Bruges, a cute little town near the coast.
Bruges was definitely a must on our itinerary, and we enjoyed a full day of exploring, starting with a breakfast in the market square. Yuummmmmm…
We did another self-guided tour with Rick, which lead us from the Bell Tower (Belfort) through Burg Square (pictured below), to the City Hall, into the Ruins that sit beneath a Crowne Plaza Hotel (they were only allowed to build if they kept the remains AND made them available to the public to see any time), down the canal, over the many bridges (which is how Bruges got its name – also pictured below), and finally, to the Church of Our Lady.
We rounded the day off nicely with a Canal tour that took us around to see much of the same sights from a different perspective.
Our third day in Brussels became a much-needed day of rest (and catch up) for both of us, so we took the day to sleep in, were able to focus on some bigger work projects, and we ended the day with a walk in the park (for John) and a run down the main waterway for me.
Today, we’re off to Amsterdam!
Stop 4: Amsterdam, Netherlands
Amsterdam was a super quick 45-min plane ride from Brussels, and we continue to have incredible travel luck getting from place to place (knock on wood!)
Checking into our AirBNB was a breeze, and we’re in a great place – what our host, Niels, describes as being “in the center of the center”.
We didn’t checkin until 5pm, so our first evening here consisted of a rainy walk around the surrounding area and to a market down the street to stock up on some goodies for our place. It’s been nice to make a few of our own meals here vs relying on Yelp! to direct us to a great spot (although it has not let us down thus far… we’ve had some really amazing eating experiences at every stop!)
Amsterdam is quaint, beautiful, water-y, and filled with a surprise down every street and around every corner.
Looking at a map, it’s hard to understand how or why this city exists with so many connected waterways, canals, bridges, etc. Interesting history there that I’ll get into later in this email, but for visualization purposes:
But back to that surprise down every street and around every corner: our first morning here we walked down the street to a cafe for a coffee to-go. Upon entering, we just about fell over from the contact high. We asked for a coffee to-go but clearly we were in the wrong place. Perhaps naive on our part?… apparently cafes here have a primary and secondary purpose. Primary: pot smoking. Secondary: coffee.
After our cafe experience, we continued our walk to the Anne Frank House, where we had booked a tour online (the only way you can do it) for 11am.
I started reading The Diary of Anne Frank a couple of weeks ago, hoping I’d finish before we arrived. I haven’t finished yet, but I’m glad I started because it provided a great foundation for a 1.5 hour audio tour that left me feeling very heavy-hearted. Did you know that 102,000 Jews were taken from the Netherlands and relocated to concentration camps, including Anne, her sister, her mother & father, along with 4 others they were in hiding with for 25 months? This is not to mention those affected outside of the Netherlands.
It’s still unknown who led the Nazis to find Anne and the 7 others, who hid out in an Annex at the back of the building where her father worked. For over 2 years they resided in 4 rooms – all 8 of them – never going outside, never leaving that building. For over 2 years they tiptoed the floors of that Annex and kept their blinds closed at all times as to not draw attention from the functioning warehouse below and streets that surrounded them.
The only survivor of the 8 was Anne’s father, Otto. The other 7 died at concentration camps – most of them just months before the allies came to the rescue. Anne was only 16 years old.
After our tour of the Anne Frank House we started our first of 2 Rick Steves audio walking tours. First up: Centraal Station and Dam Square.
Centraal Station is the largest train station in Amsterdam, servicing 162,000 passengers per day!! First opened in 1889, Centraal Station sits at the mouth of the North Sea – positioned right where the main waterway into Amsterdam used to sit.
Building the station here cut off the main waterway into the city, which allowed them to expand livable space.
Our next stop: Dam Square, which isn’t the most impressive of all the squares we’ve visited, but it is very cool and has a VERY liberal vibe. Rick Steves claims Amsterdam is the most liberal city in the world…
But back to Dam Square… you’ve got your typical clock tower, town hall / gov’t building, and monument.
There were several other stops around Dam Square, including a church, a walk-thru museum that talked about a lot of the changes going on in Amsterdam (including the fact that they’re trying to go car-free), and a still-functioning community for (essentially) nuns.
Second, we did an audio tour of the Jordaan neighborhood, a very trendy (and less touristy) area just West of the main square. Quaint houses, flower-filled canals, and the cutest cafes and cheese shops await (yuummmmmm)
After a full day on our feet we decided to head back to our place for a nice meal at home and some good old Netflix.
Our second full day in Amsterdam brought us together with a Fire Nation fan for the day: Gerjo. I first met Gerjo online when he sent me a voice message about a podcast episode. We then met him in person in London at a conference last year, and today, we got to meet him in his home country!
He’s from the surrounding area and helped us put together quite the itinerary for the day:
1. A slice of the best Dutch apple pie – ever – at Winkel 43. I cant even begin to describe the amazingness of this pie and all its heavily-crusty glory.
2. A ferry ride across the river to take a ride on “Soaring: This is Holland”, which is one of those simulated virtual rides with a video playing (kind of like Star Wars at Disneyland). It took us above the landscape of Holland for an arial view. Very cool experience that gave us loads of additional history and info about the area and how it came to be Amsterdam.
So about the history… most of Amsterdam was literally built on top of water, which is why windmills are such a big deal here. Windmills were built to pump water out of certain areas and redirect it into canals where dams and dykes were then built to hold the water there. This kept the water from flooding the land and made it clear for building.
Once the windmills and canals were in place, they hammered millions of wood pilings on top of the marsh land, which served as the foundation of the streets we walk down and the houses built up around the canals today (and that’s why, over hundreds and hundreds of years, houses have become crooked – from settling into the land). This is not your mind playing tricks on you… the houses are literally tilted:
What I found even more fascinating is they actually purposefully flooded themselves out at one point… they opened dykes and flooded the land to knee height when Napoleon invaded, making it too deep for horses / cavalry to come in, and too shallow for ships to pass. Amsterdam has for all time been protected by the surrounding water (until planes came to be, of course). …well, and in the 50’s when a massive storm surge flooded the land.
3. Next on our list: the Lookout Tower, just adjacent. A quick elevator ride to the top and we were looking out over Amsterdam and beyond from a 360 degree viewing deck. John and Gerjo even opted to do the swings, which project you over the side of the building. I took pictures :)
4. After that we made our way to a bike rental place to ride our way out to Zaanse Schans, “a must see” from many of our trip advisors.
The bike ride was great and Zaanse Schans was so pretty. It’s a fully preserved “old Dutch town” complete with functioning windmills and homemade hot chocolate. It was a really cool experience to get out of the city – if only for a couple of hours – and see a bit of the countryside.
But we definitely gave ourselves one heck of a workout. Unfortunately we were running to the ferry and watching them crane up the platform at the same time. So we then hauled it to a taxi, jumped in, and hoped we’d make it on time. It was [4:45], and boats don’t wait.
5. We made it to the canal tour with 5 minutes to spare (whew!), and then found ourselves on the canal, in a boat with only 2 other passengers :) We got the best seat in the house and thoroughly enjoyed the 90 minute tour.
I haven’t mentioned the weather yet, but everyone we came across couldn’t rave enough about the incredible weather. I can tell we hit the jackpot; we really couldn’t have asked for anything better. Our 2nd and 3rd full day were in mid-60’s and clear skies.
6. After our boat tour we headed to a Dutch classic restaurant for a tradition meal, Moeders, where we met up with another Fire Nation connection, Marty. Dinner was excellent.
Our 3rd full day was even more packed than the 2nd. We started off with a walk to the Resistance Museum, which was SO impressive. With an audio tour included we walked through the sites, sounds, and scenes of the resistance in the Netherlands between 1939-1945. They even had an entire separate section that walked you through the lives and struggles of 4 children – all in separate situations, and how their families made certain choices during the German occupation. Fascinating.
Next up: our 2nd stop at Omelegg, an all-day breakfast gem we found the day before and enjoyed so much we went back for more :)
Next up: 2 Park experiences, and again, it was the PERFECT weather to do it. Blankets, picnics, and lawn games galore. It was a great way to wrap up our day!
Ahhhhh, but actually, only 1 thing could make our final full day complete: a 2nd stop at Winkel 43 for a slice of Dutch apple pie to-go…
Today we’re packing up and heading to Copenhagen! But not before hitting the Boat House Museum (there are so many people living on boats in the canals here!!!) It was definitely worth the 4.50 euro to check out an actual boat house.
Fun fact: boat houses are generally priced the same as actual flats in Amsterdam… actually, given your water, gas, and electric bills – not to mention maintenance and your mooring fee – boat houses are probably more expensive than flats.
And something that just didn’t really seem to fit anywhere else in this update: the number of bikes in this city is INSANE! It’s actually quite the hazard – if you’re not paying attention while you’re walking you will get crushed. Good thing we were on the look out… And they have entire parking lots for bikes, too. At Centraal Station instead of a car park, there’s a bike park.
Pretty cool so many get around on bikes, and with the canals, tiny streets, and close proximity of a lot of greatness, I don’t blame them.
Next stop: Copenhagen!
Stop 5: Copenhagen, Denmark (pictures to come!)
Hello from Copenhagen, one of the cleanest, most well-organized places ever! …and one of the most expensive places I’ve ever traveled to. OMG, it’s so expensive.
While Copenhagen is everything John expected it to be (but bigger), it’s not at all what I expected it to be. I pictured a small town with people on bikes, taking in the scenery around the canal. But what I found was a huge city with more historical and massively-sized buildings than I can even keep track of!
Our first day took us on a 22-stop, self-guided walking tour with good old Rick. Now typically his walks are like 8 – 11 stops. 22?! …I know, that’s how many friggin’ buildings and monuments there are here to see!
From the main square in the town, Radhuspladsen, where you’ll find the clock tower, town hall, etc…
To Tivoli Gardens, a famous theme park that was unfortunately closed for 2 weeks in preparation for Halloween and the holidays (and the nearby Hans Christian Andersen statue, the most famous writer to come out of these parts)…
Passed Stroget – a pedestrian shopping street that was super cute and VERY busy…
To a couple of churches and by the University…
In and around several statues…
To another chapel; through a promenade; down Nyhaven, the canal street that you’ll see on the cover of the Rick Steves Copenhagen guidebook – SO CUTE…
Across the “kissing bridge”; into another main square where Amalienborg Palace sits, (this is where the royal family lives)…
…and finally, out to a still-active military fort to see none other than…
The Little Mermaid!
One of Andersen’s best-known stories, The Little Mermaid is now memorialized in the shallow waters beside the star-shaped fort, Kastellet.
After our 25,000-step day, we were ready for 1 thing: home!
Our 2nd full day included a visit to the National Museum, a museum so overwhelming and featuring so much history (starting with the Stone Age) I think you’d have to visit it 100 times before realizing how much it truly holds.
We arrived around 11 and were there for over 3 hours before we started picking up the pace to make it through the entire thing.
After a fabulous lunch (John had a club sandwich and I opted for the tuna salad sandwich), we visited the Botanical Gardens, which were really beautiful.
Another night at home served us well, because our travels across Copenhagen weren’t over yet…
Our 3rd full day included a visit to Rosenborg Castle, Our Savior’s Church, and Christiania.
Rosenborg Castle was fun to walk through, and it made me realize just how much of Copenhagen had been moved and shifted over the years. It seemed that more than half of what was featured in the castle had actually been moved there from some place else in the city (in most cases due to fires and/or destruction throughout the wars).
Our Savior’s Church and the accompanying tower climb was my favorite thing in all of Copenhagen, and perhaps one of the least expensive things we did while there (ha!) For about $5 per ticket we got to climb to the top of the tower overlooking Copenhagen.
…and from below:
Christiania, our last stop of the day, was definitely interesting.
In 1971 the original 700 “Christianians” established squatters’ rights in an abandoned military barracks just a 10-min walk from the Danish parliament building. Two generations later this “free city” still stands – a huge melting pot of idealists, hippies, potheads, non-materialists, … the list goes on.
There are 900 people, 200 dogs, 200 cats, 2 parrots and 17 horses (so random that there are 2 parrots, and also so random that Rick goes out of his way to mention these numbers – LOL!)
“Pusher Street”, where you’re not allowed to take photos, gives you the option to buy just about any strain of marijuana you can imagine, while the “forest” twists and turns its way passed structures and houses that leave you wondering what type of people actually live here.
From seemingly untended boat docks…
To what literally just looks like a glorified camp spot (if that)…
…I guess that’s the whole point of Christiania – it’s not “the norm”. To each their own, right?
We wrapped up our last day in Copenhagen with a stop at the local market for a feast at home and the Pats game :)
Today, we head to Berlin, one of our shorter stops on our journey. We’ll be there 2 full days before heading to Vienna.
Stop 6: Berlin, Germany (pictures to come!)
I was super excited to come to Germany and learn more about WWII and The Cold War. I feel like I’m getting a history degree walking through these museums and exhibits.
When we arrived, it was everything I expected: big, busy, concrete, and, well, a little ‘cold’ feeling, figuratively. Actually, it’s literally insanely cold here, too.
While our AirBNB is really nice, I give myself a 5 out of 10 in terms of putting us within walking distance of the bigger sights and scenes. We’ve either had to take a train or Uber our way into the Mitte (“middle”) to start each of our days.
It really hasn’t been a huge deal… and we are in a nice area with lots of shops, cafes, restaurants and – a sports complex nearby. In fact, this is the first place we’ve visited where there are multiple signs of an active community (read: into working out). That might just be because we’re out of the “center”, too.
Our first day consisted of a walk around the surrounding area and a stop at a great restaurant down the street where we grabbed a dinner to-go. This became our go-to restaurant for breakfasts over the next two days – so cute and so good!
But back to that night: we were headed back to the place a bit early because John had several calls and a mastermind chat starting at [5:30].
We only had 2 full days in Berlin instead of 3, so we were up and at it early our first morning in town. That day we met up with a Fire Nation fan, Christine, who offered to show us around Berlin for the day.
We started on the metro to get ourselves into the center of town: Potsdamer Platz, which before WWII was the “Times Square of Berlin”.
Rick even says it might have been the busiest square in all of Europe. Post WWII it stood right in the middle of the American, British, and Soviet postwar sectors, with The Wall literally leaving it a “no man’s land”.
I didn’t know it at the time, but we were getting off the metro at a stop that, during the time of The Wall, West Berlin trains would run through the station, but no trains were allowed to stop, and therefore, no one was allowed on or off there.
As we emerged from the underground we got our first glimpse at the TV tower, a 1,200 ft tall spike you can see from almost anywhere in the city. It’s to the right in the background in this photo of the world time clock that lives in the square:
We strolled along from the TV Tower, to Neptune’s Fountain:
Then to the DDR Museum (where we learned loads about what it was like for East Berliner’s during the time The Wall was up – lots of hands on exhibits), and then across the bridge to what’s known as “Museum Island”.
Here you will find, well, a lot of museums!… along with some of the biggest and most impressive buildings in Berlin (churches, the palace that is being completely reconstructed from the ground up, etc):
There were some great images around the museums of the complete destruction of the area post-WWII and how the city has literally been rebuilt since. Very impressive.
Then we made our way to the Jewish Memorial (actually, technically named “Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe” – a big distinction since it was Germany admitting that these were in fact murders), and here we walked our way through a wavy sea of hallowed out concrete slabs – 2,711 to be exact. The number has no significance other than that’s how many would fit on this space.
After that, we walked by remnants of the Berlin Wall, to the Sony Center, over to the Opera House, and finally to a dinner 24 stories up overlooking the city.
It was quite a day, and Christine was great company!
Day 2, we relied on good old Rick to show us around town – this time via an audio walking tour. We hit a lot of the same sights we had the day before, but this time with a lot more historical background.
We actually followed sort of the same route, but backwards, starting at the Sony Center and ending at Potsdamer Platz, where there was a pretty huge celebration going on: for Oktoberfest!
But not only that; as we started our walk around town we realized Oct 3 is a pretty big deal in Germany: it’s a national holiday. On this day Germany celebrates its reunification after The Wall came down in Nov 1989. Yep, it took nearly a year for the country to reunify…
The celebration made it a little tough to follow our walk exactly, but we were still able to hit all the spots:
Reichstag Building, which houses the German parliament, and that was rumored to have been burned down by Hitler:
The Brandenburg Gate, originally built on orders of the Prussian King but that now stands as the entry point to Unter den Linden, a renowned street lined with Linden trees that leads directly to the palace:
The gate also represents a divide: it ran right in line with The Wall separating East and West Berlin, and was decorated for the unification celebration going on Oct 3. This is looking East through the gate:
Next we walked up Unter den Linden towards Potsdamer Platz.
It was about [3:30] when we finished our walk with Rick, so we decided to head back to a place we barely skimmed the day before: Checkpoint Charlie, the best-known border crossing between East and West Berlin during the Cold War.
Today the checkpoint is still alive, but only as a pay-for-picture stopping point for tourists. Here’s a look at it as it was from an installation set up across the street that we got to walk through…
We complete our day with a visit to the “Topography of Terror”, an outdoor and indoor museum that sits on top of what used to be the SS Reich Main Security Office and Gestapo headquarters.
This is where Hitler kept political prisoners (who were tortured and executed underground), along with where he held countless meetings. They also had a stretch of The Wall alongside the museum:
Our visit inside included a 1-hr audio tour that detailed the history of repression under the Nazis. What seemed quite different about this museum, as Rick pointed out, is that it focused more of the oppressor than the oppressed.
It was quite the experience to see some of the images and hear some of the tapes… so horrific.
Today we completed our time in Berlin with a visit to the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church, parts of which are still standing after being nearly destroyed by WWII bombings.
Today we’re off to Vienna!
Stop 7: Vienna, Austria (pictures to come!)
With only 2 days in Vienna, we turned to Rick to start us off strong: our first day in Vienna consisted of a city walking tour that hit 3 of the most important landmarks in Vienna, in addition to 19 other stops: The Oprah House, St. Stephen’s Cathedral, and Hofburg Palace.
Unlike our AirBNB location in Berlin, our place in Vienna is in the heart of it all.
We stopped at a cafe called The Breakfast Club on our short 0.8 mile walk to The Oprah House for a fantastic breakfast: basically a grilled cheese sandwich with the best bread and cheese you can imagine, with bacon and a fried egg on top and pesto on the side. It was probably the best breakfast we’ve had during our travels – and that’s saying a lot!
Once we arrived at The Opera House, ground zero for Vienna’s international reputation for classical music, we realized we were in for a real treat here in Vienna: nearly EVERY building you turn to is magnificent in its design, grandeur, and historical significance.
We stood in awe while we spun 360 degrees taking in the vastness of everything around us. My pictures don’t even come close to doing it justice.
We then made our way by a famous cafe, a war monument that commemorates the years when Austria came under Nazi rule, and down Karntner Strasse, a massive pedestrian walkway with more shops, cafes, gelato, and wiener schnitzel stands than you’d ever know what to do with!
This led us directly to Stephansplatz, literally the center of Vienna, and directly in front of us: St. Stephen’s Cathedral, the symbol of the city.
Standing at the foot of this massive Cathedral, we hit pause on our City Walking Tour with Steve to enjoy his tour of St. Stephen’s. And of course, we couldn’t resist the 343-step climb almost to the top of the Cathedral’s 450 ft south tower. The views from above were incredible.
We then made our inside St. Peter’s Church, and I must say in response to many-a-traveler who has claimed “you can only see so many churches”: that is NOT the case in Vienna. WOW.
We then found ourselves in the complex of palaces where the Habsburg emperors lived, including the Palace itself: Hofburg Imperial.
I’ll be talking a lot more about the experience of the Imperial Apartments tour in a bit, but its here that we found a perfect square of grass in the middle of Heroes’ Square. With a 70-degree clear blue sky day, we sat and enjoyed our surroundings.
Next, we made our way by the Circus! Yep, the Circus is in town :) …and it’s plopped down right in front of Town Hall. What a spot!
While we had sort of hoped to catch a show our last night in town (just for something totally different), tickets were all sold out. We also considered the Opera or a musical, but decided against it given the language barrier.
We ended our evening with a dinner at Einstein’s, a traditional Viennese pub right down the street from our place. It’s there we met up with fellow entrepreneur Marco and enjoyed a delicious meal and shared great convo.
Quite serendipitous seeing as how John credits much of the inspiration for his own entrepreneurial journey to the Einstein quote: “Try not to become a person of success, but rather a person of value.”
Day two cemented Vienna as one of our favorite places…
We started with a tour of the Hofburg Palace, then made our way around the center of town on a tram tour with Rick, and finished the day off at the most impressive palace grounds I’ve ever seen in person: Schonbrunn Palace.
Hofburg Palace, with its well-crafted audio tour, was such a treat to walk through. Not only were we seeing the palace in all its glory via the narration of the audio tour, but we were also experiencing it on a different level via the story of the emperor and empress who lived there: Franz Josef and Elisabeth (better known as SiSi).
The fascinating story of these two from their marriage, when SiSi was only 15; through the death of their eldest child who was only 2; to the suicide of their only son and heir when he was 30; to her struggle with not wanting to be in the public eye, her weight obsession (she was 5’8″ and weighed just 100 pounds), and her depression; their lives were fascinating.
To add to it all, she was assassinated while traveling in Geneva, and only then did the public start viewing her as a legend.
The tram tour with Rick left a bit to be desired in my opinion, but it was fun to hop on and get a taste of what public transit in Vienna is like. We also found this park on our tour and hopped off for a nice stroll.
The weather was INCREDIBLE in Vienna – we were very lucky!
And finally, our trip to Schonbrunn Palace put the cherry on top. It is, after all, what Rick states is the only Palace in all of Europe that can rival Versailles. Ummmmm – yes!
We didn’t buy a ticket to go inside; Schonbrunn, while only 2.5 miles from Hofsburg, was the summer home for Franz and SiSi, so we sort of felt like since we’d already heard their story and walked their apartments at Hofsburg, we’d reserve our energy and attention to the grounds of the Palace.
I can’t even begin to describe the Palace Gardens, or the feeling of walking along a lined dirt path of hundreds of perfectly manicured trees, stepping into an opening, looking right, and seeing this:
We spent a good amount of time exploring the gardens, and then caught an Uber back to our place to round of another 20k-ish step day.
Today, we head to Bratislava, and we’re excited to explore what might be considered one of the ‘lesser traveled’ cities in Europe!
Stop 8: Bratislava, Slovakia (pictures to follow!)
We’re in shorts!! :) :)
We arrived in Bratislava via train – a nice ‘departure’ (pun intended) from the over-crowded airports we’ve been hopping to and from!
As we walked to our airBNB to meet our host, Kristina, we didn’t pass by or see anything that appeared to be super unique or special. The streets looked pretty much like… any other streets.
And then we entered the Old Town…
In the Old Town every street looks SO special! As we turned a corner and walked under an arch right at the foot of Michael’s Gate (more on that later), we found ourselves on a cobblestone pedestrian street about 6′ wide.
About 50 yards ahead stood our home for the next 3 days. Here’s the CUTEST view of Michael’s Gate from our front door:
This has to be the cutest AirBNB we’ve stayed in. With plenty of space, a beautiful patio, incredible views (of the church, the castle, and Michael’s Gate!), and a quaint, homey vibe, it’s hard to believe we paid just $80 / night – and that includes all the taxes and fees.
It was only about [2:30] in the afternoon at this point in time, so we put on shorts and made our way up the hill to the Bratislava Castle. With beautiful views in every direction we wandered our way around the Castle and gardens, and enjoyed seeing the Old Town and river from different points of view.
Next, we continued our stroll back into the Old Town, turning left and right with no rhyme or reason and uncovering a lot of tiny streets that led to big courtyards, shops, and… a lot of Thai massage shops & strip clubs.
Apparently Bratislava is a pretty hip spot for bachelor parties because of how cheap everything is. In many places, beer and wine are cheaper than water or coffee!
Our first dinner here was excellent! We took our host’s recommendation and went to a traditional Slovakian restaurant, then ordered 2 incredibly delicious ‘traditional’ meals (potato dumplings covered in sheep’s cheese with fried bacon bits) – SO GOOD!
Our first full day (which almost seemed like our 2nd because we had quite a full day the day before) we enjoyed a lazy morning with coffees on the balcony followed by our Rick-led walking tour of the Old Town.
First stop: the main drag, where you can walk in circles and in and out of pedestrian streets for hours and have plenty of sweets, cafes, bars, pubs, restaurants, shops… to duck into.
Then we made our way to the Main Square, where you’ll find the clock tower, a beautiful fountain, and lots of great statues. Bratislava loves its statues!
We also made our way down a row of stands with handmade trinkets just off the square – some really beautiful artistry – and through a few different arches to explore some of the more political buildings still in use today, including the town hall and the mayor’s office (that’s the pink building below – LOL):
After exploring the Old Town we obviously had to stop and eat gelato before making our way across the bridge, by the UFO tower, and down the Danube…
Walking across the river gave us some really cool views looking back into the Old Town…
We walked down far enough so that after crossing the next bridge to get back on the right side of the river we found ourselves in the “new town”, Eurovea.
We explored a great walking path along the water and enjoyed a nice quiet stroll before heading back home for the night.
Our 2nd full day we ventured about 6 miles out of the Old Town to explore Devin Castle, with structures and gadgets dating back to the 7th century! What a treat…
It was such a great morning and the castle itself exceeded both of our expectations. There was so much to cover and see – beautiful walking paths everywhere and stunning views of the river. This castle, much like the Edinburgh Castle, was built right into the cliff and rocks, so it was a really interesting walk around – being able to see how they literally turned the cliff into a castle.
We followed that up with a visit to Ahoy Cafe, a cute little stand situation just by the water. We tried a few traditional pastries – one that was filled with dates and nuts and another that was almost like a scone with fried bacon bits. Sweet and savory for the win! It’s a good thing we’re walking 20k+ steps a day ;)
After getting back to the Old Town we enjoyed some R&R at our place before heading out to the War Monument, Slavin, which is the burial ground of thousands of Soviet Army soldiers who fell during WWII.
It’s a really beautiful monument and gave us yet another perspective looking back into the Old Town:
As we made our way back to our place we couldn’t resist checking out The Church of St. Elizabeth, otherwise known as the Blue Church… and I’m so glad we did. So impressive! It literally looked like you could walk up to it and take a bite out of it.
Also, pretty cool timing because this is the FIRST time we’ve visited a church while a sermon was going on.
We enjoyed another traditional Slovak meal last night before one last evening balcony session…
Our train leaves around 4pm today, and we have to be out of our AirBNB by 11, so we’re going to climb Michael’s Gate and find a cafe to have a nice, long brunch at before walking back to the station.
Bratislava has been incredibly magical for both of us.
We couldn’t have asked for better weather, for a better location, or a better home over these past few days. It’s also been pretty cool to find ourselves in a less-developed, less-traveled place. Sure, you still have your tourists (including us) here and there, but this quaint, tranquil town definitely stands out in its own special way from the rest.
Next stop: Budapest!
Stop 9: Budapest, Hungary (pictures to follow!)
We arrived in Budapest later in the evening after a 2.5 hour train ride from Bratislava.
With only 2 full days in Budapest, we knew we had our work cut out for us if we were going to see this city (which is in some ways is more like 2 cities: Buda, the hilly town on the West side of the Danube, and Pest, the flat town on the East.)
To boot, our good old pal Rick sort of let us down… 0 walking tours, 0 audio tours. I still can’t believe he has a huge book “on Budapest” without any walking tours.
So we befriended another guy – I can’t even find his name on his website – who created loads of audio walking tours for Budapest. The app is called “In Your Pocket”.
It was all GPS-based, so it was almost eery that we would get to a certain landmark or corner and suddenly the guy would start talking.
Unlike Rick’s continuous conversational stories that guide you through the unknown streets of the town, this was basically a guy who chimed in when appropriate and told you to “turn left and look up”, or “go across the street, then look to the right”.
That said, we’re definitely grateful to have found some type of guide to help ensure we saw all the sights, because without In Your Pocket, there’s undoubtedly sights and scenes we would have missed.
Day 1: Buda
We started our day off with a walk across the Elizabeth bridge (maybe you remember Elizabeth from our Vienna update – SiSi). She was from Hungary, fought for Hungary, and you can see many dedications to her all over Budapest, including this one:
There are 8 bridges that connect Buda and Pest, all 8 destroyed in WWII by the Germans, and all 8 rebuilt after the war. We’ve walked across 3 of them, and each gives you a stunning view down the Danube:
As we walked across the bridge we were constantly looking upwards: to the castle, to the lady of liberty statue (hard to comprehend the massiveness of her), and to several monuments and statues that seemed to be carved straight out of the rock…
Once on the other side we visited (but didn’t partake) in our first bath house, walked through a church that was built inside of the hill in a cave (so crazy!), and made the trek up to the lady of liberty:
Not only was she an impressive sight, but the view of Budapest from above was stunning:
As we made our way back down towards the castle we walked through parks, down stairs, and across more beautiful sights and scenes of a fall-covered landscape.
Then, we approached the castle in all its glory (my pictures don’t do it justice):
We spent our afternoon exploring the castle grounds (we didn’t buy a ticket to tour the castle, though), and made our way down to Fisherman’s Bastion: the cutest ‘mini’ castle beautifully crafted into the side of the mountain and alive with music, tourists, and… bubbles!
After passing by a few churches and monuments…
…we wrapped our 22k-step day up by walking back across a different bridge (what I’m going to call “castle bridge”, cause it looks like a castle), and made our way back home for a dinner in and a great night’s sleep!
Day 2: Pest
While Buda showed us many awe-inspiring buildings, historical sites, and monuments our first day, Pest showed us a lot of vibrant character – and perhaps the most massively impressive building I’ve ever seen in person: the Parliament building.
Again, my picture isn’t doing it any justice.
What would end up being a 35k-step day started in the streets right outside of our front door. As we walked the boardwalk of the Danube we admired the beautiful hotels and buildings both very old and new, and as soon as we stepped deeper into town we found ourselves amongst street fairs and markets everywhere!
Cute shops, a lot of food, and so many stands later…
…we emerged back onto the city streets and made our way to the Parliament building and surrounding area:
By a beautiful church (both inside and out):
Over an iron bridge:
..and finally back onto the Danube. This brought us to our 2nd tour of Margaret Island, an island between Buda and Pest in the middle of the Danube. This island was really something special!
As we walked halfway across a bridge and to the right (onto the island) we found ourselves at the foot of a beautiful water fountain:
Our 2.5 mile stroll across Margaret Island (and back to where we started) was definitely a highlight of our visit to Budapest. It was so serene and peaceful.
Our legs were definitely feeling it by this time, but we still had a beautiful sunset to witness looking at Buda from the Pest side:
…and one more tour: our night time boat tour that we booked to be able to see the city by night, and wow – was it ever worth it!
Our last morning in Budapest consisted of an amazing breakfast at a local cafe (best croissant EVER!… so good that we ordered a 2nd one) and a bus ride to the airport.
I will say, Budapest is the first stop where I felt like we simply ran out of time… We were really hoping to not just walk into several bath houses, but actually be able to dip in. Unfortunately, our time in Budapest proved to be too short.
Today we’re off to Naples, our last stop before our cruise!
Stop 10: Naples, Italy (pictures to follow!)
Ciao from Napoli (as the locals call it)!
We arrived in Naples with an offer from our AirBNB hosts, Angela and Alessandro, to pick us at the airport – how generous! When I asked how much it would cost so that I had the proper change on hand Angela replied, “Cost?! …you are our friends, this is what we do for our friends!”
Part of it might have been that our good friends Nicole & Omar had recommended this particular AirBNB to us (they stayed here when they visited in the summer), so we had a ‘prior connection’ that we let be known when we booked the apt.
But who knows, maybe Angela and Alessandro really are that nice!
Well, we definitely know that Alessandro is that nice, because we had a great 8 minute ride with him from the airport to our home for the next 4 days.
He had 2 pieces of advice for us:
- Don’t do Napoli as a tourist, because you will only see what it is on the surface (which is noise, business, roughness around the edges, and not super clean)
- Don’t try to make sense of the way things are; explore the town unbiased – experience and explore and you will find her true beauty.
We received some similar advice from Nicole & Omar: don’t judge Naples, just experience it and be open.
So I feel as though we arrived with great advice, because our ride from the airport and our arrival at our new home screamed “no rules”. Cars and motorcycles driving wherever, people walking wherever, and noise pollution like I’ve never experienced… It’s so loud and noisy – all the time!
We are in the middle of it all though, so as we had been coached, we tried out best not judging and to have open arms to experience Napoli as it should be: as it is.
We settled into our place and then hopped across the street to a highly recommended pizza place for some true Italian pizza – from Naples, the locals claim, it’s the best. Yuuummmm!
Our first full day in Naples John decided to stick close to home and rest (his knee has been bothering him, unfortunately), and so I made plans of my own, which involved the Archeological Museum and ???… I was going to let the afternoon take me where it would.
The museum was excellent, and I think it’ll be a great foundation for our time in Pompeii (we’ll make that stop on the cruise).
The museum was filled with Roman and Greek art – statutes and pieces that literally made my jaw drop – most of which have been excavated / recovered from Pompeii and other ruin sites.
In many cases they had plaques and stories to accompany where the works came from specifically. For example, this piece of art was recovered from a home in Pompeii:
And while seeing the more well-known statues in pictures and videos is one thing, standing in front of them is quite another…
After the museum I was ready for some food!
Wandering the streets (in the general direction of the water), I quickly found out that Naples is FULL of street stands – that are FULL of pastries. While I love my pastries, I was holding out for what I’d read sooooo much about: a handmade sandwich (not sure other kind of sandwiches there are, but I’m assuming it refers to a sandwich that is “made to order”.)
It took me a couple of hours to find the right one, but once I did… ohhhhhhh man: I was in heaven!
Prosciutto and mozzarella was the specialty.
I then continued my stroll through a main square,
by a very old castle,
and through the winding streets of downtown Naples…
While the city definitely had its own charm and was definitely unique (I really enjoyed being in a city that was COMPLETELY different than anywhere else we’ve been), I have to admit I wasn’t crazy about spending any more days walking around the city.
On the way home found a great market where I was able to pick up all the necessities for a perfect night in:
- Fresh made focaccia
Over dinner we both agreed that our third and final day in Naples should be spent outside of Naples. There are just too many amazing destinations around Naples to not try and visit at least 1 of them!
So we settled on an Amalfi day tour and locked that in.
But first, our 2nd full day cemented Naples as a very different stop for us in every way possible: instead of the typical walking tour and city exploration we’ve been used to, John was off early in the morning to meet a Fire Nation fan, Demitri.
Demitri is working on an entrepreneur-related tv show and wanted to have John on as a guest. So while John spent the day recording around Naples and along the coast, I met my goal for the day: getting as much work done in advance of the cruise as possible.
I also wanted to check out the botanical gardens, which were just a couple of blocks from our place… again, I had my fill of walking Naples the day before (only so much dodging of cars and motorcycles and smokers and people before I can’t handle it anymore).
Unfortunately, by the time I made it up there, they were already closed :( Wasn’t thinking botanical gardens would close at 1pm on a Monday…
So I continued my stroll around for a bit and then we had another relaxing night at home in preparation for our early morning Amalfi coast trip.
We had to be to the train station (about a mile from our place) for a 9am pickup.
Our driver, Cheeto, came around the corner to round us up, and lucky for us, John and I got the 2 front seats (the only ones left) in a 9 passenger car (8 people + our driver).
The two rows of people in the back of the van pretty much looked like sardines, plus, the winding roads of the Amalfi coast are NOT for queasy riders like me. The front seat made ALL the difference!
The day trip was to last 8 hours and stop in 4 towns: Sorrento, Positano, Amalfi, and Ravello.
And the tour itself was more or less ‘self-guided’, meaning, we weren’t all getting out of the van together and being herded around like cows, which is what attracted me to the tour in the first place.
Our guide was definitely helpful in pointing things out along our drive and had a wealth of knowledge to share with us about the surrounding areas, so that was cool.
Thanks to our Rick Steves Mediterranean Guide we had a self-guided tour in Sorrento, which filled the hour we had available to explore before meeting back at the van.
Sorrento was really, really crowded, and the coast: so beautiful. This was bar far the biggest town we visited of the 4.
Our second stop in Positano was so quaint and picturesque. As we walked down the curved roads towards the water we stopped in a few shops here and there to admire some artwork and then found a perfect terrace to enjoy a coffee.
Again, just enough time to finish our coffee before heading back to the van.
The group agreed – since no one had a specific time they had to be back to Naples – that we would stop between Positano and Amalfi for a sit down lunch. John and I both had pasta that was so fresh and so YUM!! The view wasn’t bad either…
Amalfi was gorgeous – as everyone knows whether they’ve been there or not…
…but what was truly special about this stop was our visit inside of the Monumental Complex of St Andrew, which included a crypt with some of St Andrews remains. The compound was absolutely stunning:
So impressive inside in all its simplicity:
…and in all its decadence:
Our last stop of the day in Ravello was nice.
Ravello is up in the mountains and very small and very tucked away. It was a nice cherry on top to go somewhere that wasn’t completely stuffed with tourists. It was a quick stop – we were back in the van at 5pm headed back to Naples.
We’re so glad we made that day trip on day 3 along the coast – it was a really special treat and definitely the highlight of our time in Naples.
With a 7:30am train the catch back at the main train station in Naples, we headed home, had dinner, and called it night.
Next stop: Civitavecchia, the cruise port where we’ll be launching on our 10-day cruise from today (Oct 18) – Oct 28! While I will not be including a day-by-day recap of our time on the cruise, I will catch you for our next update in Rome!
Stop 11: Rome, Italy (pictures to follow!)
We arrived in Rome via train from Civitavecchia on Oct 28 straight off the boat – the cruise boat, that is :)
Our afternoon consisted of checking into our AirBNB, then meeting up with my parents for an afternoon stroll that took us to the Coliseum, around the bend for a peek at the Roman Forum, and through the streets of Rome to the “Wedding Cake”, aka the Army Museum.
It was great for easing our way into Rome!
That night we met up with our friends Jack and Cora for a great dinner down the street, then called it a night.
Our first full day was amazing: we met up at 10am with my parents for a day in Vatican City. With our skip-the-line tickets in hand, we made our way through the Museums (thanks to Rick Steves), through the Sistine Chapel (again, thanks to Rick), and last – but certainly not least – down the naive of St. Peters Basilica (you guessed it: with Rick as our guide).
WOW!!!! The architecture, size, artwork, statues… words just can’t describe walking through these places.
And it’s incredible how many walking tours Rick has in Rome…
On our way out of the Basilica we were hoping for a nice stroll through the Vatican Square; however, as we walked down the steps and into the center we were drenched with rain and strong winds.
After taking cover wherever we could find it, we decided to sit down for our first meal of the day (it was already [3:30]) and holy moly was it ever delicious. I think my appetite must be Italian…
We spent the night in and got a great night’s sleep – lucky for us – because our 2nd full day we literally traipsed all of Rome! …and we tracked 20k+ steps to prove it :)
First, the Coliseum, then over to the Forum (we decided to save the inside for the following day):
Then to Trastevere (cute little town on the other side of the Tiber River):
Then to the Jewish Ghetto:
Then through the heart of Rome (including the Parthenon, Trevi Fountain, and the Spanish Steps):
and finally… home!
Oh my gosh I was so tired… What an incredible day!
Our 3rd full day in Rome we basically did alllll the rest of the things – LOL
The Forum & Palatine Hill:
Back across the river to really experience St Peters Square:
Up the hill to view Rome from above + through the park (for good measure), and we actually made it home – believe it or not – before 3pm!
After another 20k+ step day, we spent the rest of the afternoon / evening in PJs watching TV and then ending our night with none other than The Gladiator :)
Today we head to Lisbon – our final stop!
Stop 12: Lisbon, Portugal (pictures to follow!)
Our final destination: Lisbon, Portugal!
Getting to Lisbon was interesting… our Uber dropped us off on a “somewhat main street” and pointed up a side street (more like an alleyway) and said “up there…”
Unfortunately, this Airbnb was our worst, but that aside…
Our first full day in Lisbon started out gloriously. We slept in, then made our way to THE BEST breakfast spot ever. It’s hard to describe how delicious their bread, homemade jams, and muesli are – I really just can’t do it justice. Not a bad view, either…
It was so good we went back a 2nd time, and then spent an entire day after that trying to figure out how to make it back a 3rd time :)
Our best breakfast ever was followed by an incredible Rick Steves audio walking tour of Lisbon. We covered the 3 main parts: the valley, and the two hills on either side.
Lisbon has the charm of Bratislava and the uniqueness of Naples – without any of the dirty, loud, busy streets.
From the mosaic sidewalks, to the tile buildings, to the vastly different landscapes we’ve uncovered over our past 4 days exploring, Lisbon is definitely a city to visit.
SO, once we finished our walking tour, we decided to take another one! We walked up to the Castle of Saint Jorge (decided to hold off on going inside because the line was quite long), then out to an incredible lookout point…
We ended the day by finding a great market and stocking up on great cheese, bread, and food for the next several days :)
Our 2nd full day brought us about 15 miles out of Lisbon to Sintra, a cute little town wayyyyyy up on the hill that boasts Pena Palace and Gardens (ah-mazing) and a cute little downtown area.
Pena Palace, created by King Ferdinand in the 1830’s, was a sight to be seen. Before the devastating earthquake (and subsequent tsunami) that demolished so much of Lisbon in 1775, all that stood in these parts were the Morrish Castle and a monastery.
Ferdinand decided he would take all the land surrounding and create a palace and gardens / grounds of epic proportions for the Portuguese royal family.
And that he did.
Unfortunately we missed the memo about there only being 1 room to walk into, and so by the time we’d walked the outside of the palace the line was literally an hour + long to go inside.
We opted to explore the Pena Gardens – an expansive playground of trees, paths, fountains, and monuments to uncover, and then we made our way to the Moorish Castle – so impressive how much is still standing of it.
Our 3rd full day in Lisbon = our exploration of the Castle of Saint Jorge. We made sure to get there first thing in the morning and enjoyed a somewhat empty landscape for the next couple of hours.
The views were spectacular, and looking out over the water prompted us to confirm what we’d been hearing about Lisbon… that it was sort of the “San Francisco of Portugal”. Well, they certainly share the same bridge! …designed / constructed by the same person.
Fun fact: SF’s bridge was built before Lisbon’s and is quite a bit longer.
After we crushed the castle we headed back for our 2nd best breakfast in Lisbon, and then happened to cross the Cable Car as it sat empty awaiting its next passengers… so we decided to hop on in :) It was pretty highly recommended, and while fun, we really didn’t see much that we hadn’t already seen on foot.
Our cable car ride was followed by a visit to Belem – a cute little seaside area that had a lot of substantial and beautiful monuments, including the Belem Tower:
Lucky for us we scored two Lime Scooters to take us there – the tower was about 4 miles away. My first Lime experience was super positive – minus the parts where we had to ride on mosaic tiles :)
We followed up our Belem time with a visit to the Maritime Museum (not planned, but a very worthwhile stop), and then made our way back home.
With rain in the forecast for the remainder of the day, we cozied up and did a great matinee 2-some: Walk the Line and That Thing You Do – two great films!
We followed that up with an incredible Indian food order to-go :)
Our 4th full day in Lisbon brought us out to the Oceanarium, the largest in all of Europe! With a 14 Euro ticket price we were both super impressed.
The layout was really cool (a circular aquarium surrounded by other exhibits) and the animals were ones I honestly haven’t seen. Like the sand eels – I so wish I would have taken a picture. They were the size of a pencil and buried in the sand.
Or the fish with fins on top and on bottom – nowhere else! I’ve never seen that before…
And the CUTEST sleepy sea otters…
We enjoyed our Indian dinner so much the night before that we decided to hit up an Indian place for lunch, too! The rain might have had something to do with that, too… but we won’t tell them that.
We then walked the water for a while back towards the center of Lisbon: our next stop – The Story of Lisbon. Ok, fine… Lime Scooters helped us back part of the way :) The Story of Lisbon was an interactive, audio tour of Lisbon’s history – very cool experience.
We wrapped our last day in Lisbon with climbing the arch in the main square for one last look over the water, and our last gelato stop…
We can’t believe our Euro Adventure has come to an end! THANK YOU all so much for coming along on this journey with us. I know some of my trip updates have probably been better / more exciting than others, and I’m sure there’s a handful you might not have had a chance to read yet.
No worries – they’re not going anywhere :)
NZ, AUS and UK 2017
In 2017, over three years after our first Europe adventure together, we’re at it again!
I think I’m seeing a pattern here of every 1.5 years bringing a new adventure our way :)
While we didn’t go completely unplugged from our business this trip, we did jet to the other side of the world – this time for 5 weeks!
This journey was a perfect mix of everything: adventure, exploration, masterminds, and live events.
Here’s our travel diary from our 5 week journey…
Queenstown is the first of our stops on a 40-day travel journey through NZ, AUS and the UK, and it all started when we met up with our great friends plus business & travel buddies Jill & Josh Stanton of Screw the Nine to Five.
If you’ve never visited, Queenstown is one of the cutest little village towns I’ve ever seen and has the most beautiful scenery everywhere you look! Esp from our AirBnB:
The location we picked here couldn’t be better: we’re a 10 minute walk to the docks, shops, cafes and restaurants, in addition to a walking path, a garden park and – wait for it – frisbee golf!
(I’ve never played frisbee golf in my life, but it seems like a cool thing to have nearby).
Plus, New Zealand is known as the adventure capital of the world (proven by John and Josh, who did the Nevis bungee jump a few of days ago: 143 meters – 440 ft) > yikes!
See that little house-looking thing in the background below? …that’s where they jumped from (insert wide-eyed face with a lot of fear).
And there is so much to do in Queenstown!
Every time we turn around there’s another amazing opportunity for a beautiful walk, hike, or activity.
Here’s part of the walking path down by the water near our place:
So we haven’t been wasting any time…
First things first: we rented car at the airport, dropped everything off at the AirBnB, and we were off to find a market nearby to stock up on the necessities for yummy breakfasts and delicious dinners.
On the way home from the market is when John and Josh decided they should sign up for the Nevis bungee jump – the highest in the Southern Hemisphere.
That night we made burgers on the grill and called it an early night in an attempt to normalize our internal clocks.
The following morning we slept in, John and I went on a great run, and then we quickly established our “morning routine” with Jill & Josh: 2 of us stay and make breakfast and 2 of us go out to grab coffees, which has been working out quite well (except our AirBnB smells like bacon 24/7, which John sees as a positive).
Our wifi is pretty fabulous here (a major concern after what we’d heard from others who have traveled throughout NZ and AUS). So knock on wood… the few hours each day we’ve set aside for work have been productivity-packed!
An email here and there, a couple checks in Asana, and before we knew it we were headed to the bungee bus.
After a 40 minute beautiful bus ride with the other crazies who decided this would be a good idea, the 4 of us found ourselves in a metal basket attached to a chord with our 2 jump buddies, Scott and Travis (brothers from Ontario), heading to the middle of the line for the jump.
Jill and I paid to be able to actually go out to the jump spot with the guys – I knew this was as close as I was willing to get to actually jumping off the thing. Although Jill and Josh told us about a tandem jump you can do off a bridge – not too far from the Nevis jump – but only 34 meters instead of 134… that’s probably more my speed ;)
Such a cool experience to be out there with them when they jumped.
After the jump we made our way back to our place, and John and I decided to go on a hike up the hill behind our place, which was highly recommended by a local woman we met along our morning run.
She was absolutely right about the views at the top.
We figure we survived somewhere in the ballpark of 50 mph winds at the top, and luckily the plethora of sports stores around afforded us the perfect jackets for it.
New Zealand weather is no joke – it’s been in the low 40’s each morning, getting up to maybe the mid-50’s in the afternoon. They’re just headed into Spring now.
The following day was an absolutely blast, too! We spent the morning at our place chatting, making breakfast and getting a few work hours in.
Then, at [12:30] we met up with Jill’s parents, who are also here traveling alongside them, + Jill’s sister and husband (Ali & Ken) at the bottom of the gondola.
Yet another amazing thing that’s just a 10 minute walk from our place.
Once at the top, you can have lunch + they have a luge racing course! So cool!
So we went for the whole package: gondola ride + lunch + luge racing = awesome.
After lunch and a few times around the luge track, we came back down and enjoyed a few separate activities for the afternoon: frisbee golf for John, Josh, Ali & Ken; a great run in the park for me; and some work for Jill.
Yesterday was a combination of all things amazing: a scenic drive to Wanaka, another one of the cutest towns I’ve ever been to; water sports; and breathtaking views.
The drive was really amazing, and during the 1.5 hours it took us to climb up and through the mountains we saw enough sheep to fill approximately 4,376 petting zoos.
And all the little baby sheep!!!… SO CUTE.
We stopped off at a outlook point on the way up, and WOW… once you think you’ve seen all the views, another bright green valley with unbelievable mountains in the background appears.
Upon arrival we walked around a bit and decided that with the beautiful weather and long afternoon ahead we’d make our way out to Ruby Island via Kayaks – doubles, of course.
About 35 minutes later, we arrived here:
There was nothing on the island itself – outside of the breathtaking views.
We walked around the island (yes, it was that small) and then jumped back in our kayaks to even out our 2-hour roundtrip.
Next morning we decided we’d spend our last Queenstown day in a pretty laid back manner, but two things were definitely on our list: a ThunderJet ride on the water, and another round of frisbee golf (now I HAVE officially played!)
I’ll leave my score out of it, but John and Josh gave one another a pretty good run.
After frisbee golf we made our way over to the pier to jump on a ThunderJet with our incredible driver Kylie (who happens to be a part of Fire Nation! How cool is that?!)
The ThunderJet ride was INSANE, and Kylie’s driving skills were nothing short of impressive. Seriously… there were at least 5 times I thought we were in trouble.
I so wish I had video to share, but if you follow John on Instastories, then you saw a small portion of our experience.
If you’re from New Zealand and haven’t experienced ThunderJet yet, then it’s a must-do! And if you’re not from New Zealand but find yourself in Queenstown one day, then a ride with ThunderJet will make your trip!
Next morning we were off to Auckland, where we met up with Paul Spain, podcaster and hospitality-pro extraordinaire!
Paul helped us set up a meet up for Fire Nation that evening and was generous enough to help us with our entire stay in Auckland. So from 6-9pm we gathered with about 25 local podcasters / entrepreneurs and had a great time at a local cafe!
On Friday – our first full day in Auckland – we decided to make the trip to Hamilton on our way to Hobbiton.
We had been planning for Hobbiton because we’ve heard so many great things (that’s the movie set from the movie The Hobbit), but our stop in Hamilton was due an email offer from Dave, a Fire Nation faithful who lives in the area.
Dave was born and raised in Hamilton, had never been to Hobbiton, and assured us he’d be an amazing tour guide for the day. :)
So we picked Dave up at his co-working space (about 2/3rd’s of the way to Hobbiton) and made a quick stop at the Hamilton Gardens on his request before making the rest of the trip.
And the gardens were absolutely beautiful!!
We were a bit rushed because our 1:15pm tour was not going to wait for us.
Luckily Dave has a lot more experience driving on the wrong side of the road than I do ;) He grabbed the keys and we were off on the winding road to Hobbiton.
The drive was beautiful, and Hobbiton: breathtaking.
During our 2-hr tour of the grounds we learned a lot of fun facts about the movie set, (discovered by “Sir Peter Jackson” during a helicopter ride. He was granted access by the Alexander family who still owns the land today); how The Hobbit was filmed, (none of the Hobbit holes are actually furnished inside – every scene you see inside of one of the holes was done in a studio in Wellington); and were able to see how much detail went into actually putting this set back together, (it was actually taken down after they used it to film in Lord of the Rings, and later reconstructed ‘to stay’ for The Hobbit).
After our tour we decided our 3 hour drive home was better started sooner than later.
Fittingly, we decided to make a dinner at home and watch The Hobbit :)
I must say, I’m pretty impressed by my driving skills seeing as how I’ve never driven on this side of the road before, and the following day I continued my 100% record (knock on wood) with a drive to Piha, a local beach that had been recommended by almost everyone we’ve talked to.
And for good reason:
We spent hours at the beach walking on the black sands and on the several paths carved into the hillsides around it.
About 15,000 steps later we decided to make our way to the Piha Cafe and ended up eating the best pizza EVER.
It was a big risk: it was about 4pm and we had a 7pm dinner back in Glen Eden with Paul and his wife Selina.
But we took that risk. And were really glad for it.
Our dinner with Paul and Selina was amazing. We ate at a local place called Eden (so cute!) and enjoyed lamb and falafel. Delish!
Our last full day in Auckland we made our way out to Waiheke Island via ferry boat to explore what many had said was a “can’t miss” experience.
Boy, were they right… Waiheke-woahhhhh! (Enter Kate: picks jaw up off from ground; heart shaped eyes in full effect; breath taken away…)
Even though it was drizzling and cloudy the entire day, we still managed to make the most of it.
First thing on our agenda: the coastal sea walk, which you can pick up right off the ferry. It’s part of a network of trails that run throughout the entire island – and Waiheke isn’t a small island.
It’s called the Te Ara Hura trail, and if you check out the image below you’ll see the shape of the island, which much of the trails follow.
The coastal trail wasn’t anything like I imagined. First off, the beginning of it was only passable at certain times of the day. 1.5 hours on either side of high tide would make the actual trail impassable (in other words, under water).
While it probably would have stopped me from trekking through, it wasn’t going to stand in John’s way of making this walk our reality (I’m so glad he’s such a risk-taker, cause I can’t imagine our day without this walk).
I wish I had pictures, but that would have required a hands-free go-cam attached to my head because my two hands were occupied with holding onto roots and vegetation to avoid falling down a hill.
It literally felt like you weren’t actually on a trail – the entire way.
We were walking right by what were definitely multi-million dollar estates and we couldn’t have passed more than a handful of people.
You can see how minimal the actual ‘trail’ was in the picture below (see that little strip of dirt by John’s shoes?… that’s what this path was like the entire way)
There were loads of other activities we could have signed up for upon arrival on Waiheke – wine tours, zip lining, boat rides – but we’re becoming more and more confident in our ability to let an amazing day unfold without any actual plans in place :)
15,000 steps (and 3.5 hours later) were feeling pretty good about making the most of our coastal walk.
We celebrated with an amazing late brunch at a really cute Italian cafe before heading back to our place.
After brunch we made our way back home and snuck in a laundry mat trip before our departure to Sydney the following morning.
Speaking of the following morning… it came quickly, and before we knew it we were packing our bags and saying goodbye to New Zealand.
Before prior to our airport trip we met up with one of our Puerto Palooza alumni, Travis, and his wife, Jacqueline, for breakfast.
They had just arrived in New Zealand the night before and made the trip all the way from Los Angeles to attend We Are Podcast in Brisbane, Australia (Nov 2-4… this is the same event John and I are speaking at).
It was perfect timing to meet up with them before their New Zealand adventures began – and before we took off for AUS.
A quick Google search returned a cafe we could meet up at; little did we know it was actually inside of a Home Depot (explains the background of the photo below – LOL) But it was a great breakfast, and even better company.
Our flight to Sydney was uneventful, and by that afternoon we were taking in the view from our beautiful deck in Bronte, right near the famous Bondi Beach.
We spent the rest of the evening on the patio, enjoying the beautiful, warmer weather (more like low 70’s vs. low 40’s) and a GREAT takeout dinner from a place right up the street (so many cute cafes and restaurants just a block away!)
Yesterday (Tuesday) being our only real “full day” here in the Sydney area to explore, John and I decided to attempt the impossible: see Sydney in a day.
Jill & Josh had loads of work to do, so being “on our own” for the day we made a last-minute decision to snag an all-day hop-on, hop-off bus pass to help us cover as much ground as possible.
But first, I snuck in a run to explore the beach path right below our place…
Holy cow – this coast is absolutely beautiful!!
After a quick shower John and I walked right back onto the path and followed it all the way around to Bondi Beach (about a 30 minute walk around the water).
A stop in an Internet cafe to print our bus tickets and a short 5 min wait and we were riding top deck, ready to rock!
There are 2 routes for the hop-on, hop-off bus: Bondi route and Sydney route. So we started on the Bondi route, then jumped over to the Sydney route, and here’s how the day went…
We also spent the following day here in Sydney (Wednesday), but this afternoon we’re headed to Nicole & Omar Zenhom’s place (of the $100 MBA Podcast and Webinar Ninja) for an afternoon tour of their area + dinner out :)
Once we arrived, we had an awesome couple of hours to chat at their place, and then we made our way out for a walk. While the rain stopped us from being able to walk around the park by their place (the same park where Nicole and Omar were married), it didn’t stop us from having a great night out.
The following day we were packing our bags again, this time headed to the Gold Coast in Australia with Jill & Josh.
After a 1-hr plane ride and a 10-min wait in the rental car line we were headed to our current home in a town called Surfers Paradise.
It’s definitely a fitting name: the beach stretches in either direction for miles with the softest sand I’ve ever felt between my toes. Like, literally so soft it squeaks when you walk in it.
A fun little fact I didn’t even mention from our last stop in Bronte / Sydney: it’s whale watching season here and we’ve been lucky enough to spot probably close to half a dozen whales playing in the ocean as they migrate.
Our last place had binoculars to help us enjoy the scenes, but it seems the lack of them at this place has been made up for by their proximity to the shore. Today we watched one play in the water not too far past some Jetski riders – it seemed so close!!
The weather here is incredible – it’s about 80 degrees and actually feels a lot like Puerto Rico (maybe not THAT hot and humid, but close).
Our first afternoon here (Thursday) was a little different. We got to our place around 2, and by about 4pm the clouds came rolling in and we experienced some legit thunder, lightening and quick rain.
I think travel has been catching up with all of us a bit, and that combined with the weather encouraged a couch and movie night (we watched Hall Pass – pretty funny if you like mindless comedies and Owen Wilson).
The next morning we spent time relaxing on the patio (view from our balcony pictured above), did some work, and then myself, John and Josh were off to Purling Falls – a hiking trail that Josh said was a must-do.
Jill hasn’t been so into the hiking, but I don’t blame her: she’s 6 mos pregnant and her bump is definitely not getting any smaller!
The hike down to the falls was really beautiful, and different from any of the other hikes we’ve been on for a few reasons:
- It started with Josh warning us of poisonous snakes (and letting us know that it’s mating season for them, so I guess they’re all riled up AND are really good at hiding in the leaves below your feet)
- It was very wood-sy (no clear-cut cement walking paths, so much more… wood-sy)
- It led us down into a sub-tropical rain forest and spit us out at a beautiful waterfall, which the guys promptly got into their suits for:
The potential to see kuala bears was real, which was pretty cool (although I definitely spent the entire 2+ hours wondering if I was going to get bit by a poisonous snake).
Our reward after 10,000 steps was a stop at the fudge shop – SO YUM – followed by another relaxing evening at home.
…well, that is AFTER we played frisbee – cause how could you NOT play frisbee when you have a wide open beach like this right across the street???…
Post-frisbee we settled into the couch with the most amazing homemade tacos and fudge for dessert.
Our show of choice the past few nights has been LOST; I’m the only one who hasn’t seen it, but everyone else agreed it’d be a great show to re-watch.
Today has been another very relaxing day, which started off with a 2.5 mile walk down the beach to “Broadbeach” (the next beach over) for a great breakfast at a restaurant called Koi. The weather is holding steady and it was a perfect morning (and afternoon) to spend outside.
This afternoon John and I have been catching our breath and relaxing at home while Jill & Josh make the rounds to say goodbye to a lot of their family who they won’t see again before they leave (on Wed, Nov 1 we all head to Brisbane together, and that’s when they fly back to Canada).
For the first time on our trip the days have started to blend together…
Gold Coast has been both relaxing and nostalgic (reminds both myself and John of San Diego / Pacific Beach a lot.)
I’ll pick up where I left off last time:
We didn’t end up doing the Wildlife Sanctuary as planned the day after I sent our last email. Jill & Josh were out meeting up with friends and family, and the day sort of slipped away. Before we knew it, it was 2pm and the Sanctuary closed at 5 – not nearly enough time to do it all.
So John and I ended up spending the morning walking the beach, eating pancakes, playing putt putt golf, and getting some work done.
For the record, I won by 2 :)
That evening, after Jill & Josh were back, we took advantage of the tennis courts here and jumped in the pool for a nice swim. While swimming, we had a GREAT idea: to head down to the Hotel & Casino in Broadbeach, about 2 miles away. You know, just to check things out… ;)
A few card games and about 2 hours later we hopped in an Uber and made our way to the Casino.
We happened upon a great Asian place for dinner right in the lobby of the hotel, and before Jill and I had even finished our meals the boys were already checking out the tables in the Casino area.
We lost a bit of money, but had a really fun night out :)
The following day we decided to make it a chill morning and then me, John and Josh made our way to the Wildlife Sanctuary in Currumbin for the afternoon.
While the Sanctuary had nothing on Sea World or the San Diego Zoo, I must say it was SO COOL to see kuala bears and kangaroos IN PERSON!! Plus, 100% of proceeds go to protect local wildlife both inside and out of the sanctuary.
The “petting zoo” was quite different than what I’m used to seeing (goats, maybe a lamb here and there…)
This one was filled with kangaroos hopping (and sleeping) all over the place. We got to feed some kangaroos, stare down the alpha (he was SO HUGE!), and see a mama carrying a little joey in her front pocket.
Sheep sheering (where John made it up on stage to actually help sheer the sheep!), an impressive bird show, and a crocodile or two later we were making our last stop of the afternoon: holding a koala bear :)
I think I’d have to say that feeding and petting the kangaroos, and seeing the koala bears in person, were my highlights :)
We’ve been pretty beat come nighttime with all the running around we’ve been doing, and our Wildlife day was no different. We made our way back to the house and settled in for a homemade dinner and more episodes of LOST.
The following day we were determined to make Byron Bay happen.
Byron Bay was definitely beautiful, and it was really fun to watch the surfers ride “sideways” waves (you get to a point on the beach where it start curving around, and the way the rocks are the waves look as though they’re coming in sideways – pretty cool)
We also walked out to the most Easterly point in all of Australia, which was cool.
Last night we had 1 last hurrah before Jill & Josh packed it up to head back home bright & early this am. Our wild night out?… Korean BBQ.
It being my first time I had no idea what to expect, but was pleasantly surprised. All they had to tell me was that it’s like fondue ;)
This morning we closed down Gold Coast and made our way up to Brisbane. A quick check-in at the hotel, a great gym workout, and an awesome lunch later (we got to meet up with Michael O’Neal of the Solopreneur Hour, and reunite with Nicole & Omar – all from our SD crew – who are also here for the conference), and now we’re just settling in and getting prepped for the conference, which starts tomorrow.
We crushed We Are Podcast in Brisbane, Australia, and then we were off to London for Youpreneur summit!
Our London adventures
While Youpreneur was definitely one of the highlights of our trip, it wasn’t the only thing we had going on in London.
We also took full advantage of being in one of the most incredible cities in the world, which included:
Spending time with the Podcast Websites team, which is 90% UK-based.
This is our amazing lunch at the top of The Shard, recommended by the Mark Asquith himself :)
Attending 3 amazing musicals: Wicked, The Lion King, and Aladdin.
Our favorite was The Lion King because they had the most incredible costumes and so many unique ways to represent the animals and characters!
Taking so many amazing walks through parks and the city itself.
If you’re into walking, then you could do it for hours on end and never run out of amazing places to see in London!
The Churchill War Rooms are a MUST! So much history!
Westminster Abbey, Big Ben, Buckingham Palace… I could go on! None of these stops let us down…
And while it was COLD throughout our stay, the tradeoff is that we got to see the streets and holiday decorations all around us…
Our time in London was so incredible, and it was a prefect cap to our worldly adventures before heading home to Puerto Rico.
A big move to Puerto Rico 2016
Our Europe adventure was the start of many more adventures to come, and one of the biggest ones we’ve embarked on to-date is moving ourselves and our business from San Diego to Puerto Rico in May 2016.
Puerto Rico has brought us excitement, challenges, new friends, and loads of visitors! The island also experienced the worst hurricane in over 90 years 1.5 years into our residency here, and that has not been easy.
But we’re on the mend and we’re loving the beautiful nature and culture the island has introduced us to.
Puerto Rico Se Levanta!
About 1.5 years after Entrepreneurs On Fire launched, we embarked on a 2-week adventure through Europe.
We departed San Diego on our way to Paris, and for 2 weeks we hit 5 countries and went completely unplugged from our business – something we had never done before (both the Europe thing and the unplugging part).
The amazing thing is, we still netted almost the exact same amount of revenue while traveling as we did when we were home!
I dive into some tips and cover the ways we were able to travel for 2 weeks, completely unplugged, in this post on Creating systems that create freedom.
We also talk about (and show) how we were able to generate nearly the same exactly amount of revenue as other months in our May 2014 Income Report.
Here’s a little video collage of our time in Europe…