Tag Archives: tourism

Thanksgiving 2017

Bit of a last minute arrangement this year, decided to go visited my Czech friend this year in the Bay Area (California) for Thanksgiving. Starting off with a typical American turkey, stuffing, bacon and beans, raspberries and gravy. Great cooking! The weather during the Thanksgiving weekend was lower 60ies to higher 70ies. Perfect for some hiking and sightseeing.

Friday we visited the Golden Gate Bridge, which was cool. Followed by Muir Woods National Monument, where they have the famous Redwood trees. Many Redwoods in this national park area are 900-1300 years old, and among the oldest living things on this planet. Where their cousins the Sequoia are growing wide, Redwoods grow tall. Very tall. The Cathedrals of trees.

Then Saturday we drove to Napa Valley. Visited the Sterling vineyard. Some of the best white wines I ever had there. Also took some pictures of the 10 year old historic castle.

10 year old historic castle

To conclude the Thanksgiving weekend, on Sunday we went whale watching in Monterrey. It was awesome. We saw hundreds of seals, all kinds of birds and 2 types of whales. In total we estimate there were between 12 and 16 whales. With a total of ~50 sightings, if not more. We saw several whales breaching, hunting for food. Saw magnificent tails in the water. A good 3 hour boat trip was not the most pleasant for everyone on board, but the trips was well worth it!


Eclipse 2017

August 21st 2017. The first total eclipse in a century moves from West to East over the USA. 2min34 seconds of darkness at 2:34pm EST. We drove towards Greenville, SC for this event. Leaving at 6:30 am from Atlanta for fear of traffic. It was my second total eclipse. My first experience was obstructed by the northern French clouds ~15 years ago, so expectations were high.

Unfortunately, a cloud blocked the sun for about 10 minutes, including the 2’34″ of totality. Another missed chance!

Moral in our road trip gang did not improve during the 6 hour commute back to Atlanta. 3x longer than the drive up to South Carolina.

It was fun, and exciting. The darkness, cold wind, and confused animals; are worth it. But next time seeing the corona during totality is preferable. Let’s make sure to go somewhere with a 0% chance of clouds.

The US gets another opportunity in 2024, who knows where I’ll be then…


Orlando, FL

A quick trip to Orlando Florida, just because I can. Decided to visit Orlando for 2 days, needed a quick trip for my miles (I know for those who are not traveling all the time, this sounds totally ridiculous, but trust me, this is going to save me hours in check-in and makes travel for work a lot more comfortable for 2017.

Perfect start in a plane packed with children, with an upgrade to 1st class. Always nice, even if only an hour long flight. I left Atlanta with ice on my car windows, I got off the plane in Orlando around 68F (18C). Ticking off another state from my travel map, and fairly certain I will be back. Decided to check out Sea World. Wanted to see the Killer Whales in action before they stop having shows, due to haters who dislike people enjoying experiences they could typically not have. Travel tip for  people visiting Sea World: During the last weeks of the year you can buy a “fun pass” at the same price of a normal ticket that allows you access to the park for the next year (this year even 18 months). So basically during the holidays you can visit every day, for the price of 1 day. Also good to know, is that literally everything is in the Christmas spirit. My mind can only handle so much Christmas songs a year, and I got well past that mark this year. The lines were not that bad, and I could visit every attraction I wished and see every show I wanted (actually saw the Killer Whales twice, once in a “normal show” and once in the “Christmas” show).

The second, and last, day I went to Universal Studio’s. Didn’t really know yet which park to visit (there are 2 parks, and they are building a 3rd one next to the others as we speak). From my friends I heard the 4D experiences are awesome, so I chose “Adventure Island” seeing Spider Man and Jurassic Park were in that park. It’s pretty expensive, but an amazing experience! Visiting the park alone, I was able to do all the rides I wanted to do, even with as many people in the park as there were. Even did Spider Man and the Tower of Doom twice! Without a doubt, “Kong” is the greatest attraction around. very much worth the wait. Talking about wait times. Universal has this very interesting concept of “single rider” lines. These are used to fill rides with just 1 seat left. In some cases (like with “Kong”) they take probably as much time as the “normal” lines, but certain times you win a LOT of time. Especially when waiting times are rather short (<30min), the single rider queue was very interesting reducing times to ~10-15 min. Not the same amount of fun when you are in  a group, but when you travel alone, a perfect alternative as fast as the (expensive) “preferred” lines.

I’ll be back to Orlando. It’s a crazy expensive, but Oh so much fun!

4th of July – Trip to Denver Colorado / Rocky Mountains

Ever since I moved to the USA, I have promised my friend and former colleague (now customer) Dexter (not real name) to visit him in Colorado. Living in Denver, I refer to him as “the mountain man”, which -so I learned- is not 100% correct.

Denver is an interesting city. Being at the altitude it is, it makes you breath differently. I thought I was just going to make a fool out of myself just asking the question, but turns out I was not going crazy; Denver does make you breath differently.

We visited the arts festival, lots of weird and/or creepy things. Was very nice, and makes me want to visit more of these things here in Atlanta area (my walls are still very blank). July 4th weekend, decided to go and search for “South Park” Colorado.


I’m a huge fan of the show, and discovered that South Park is not a real city, it is a region of plains within the mountains. Funny how we could see the snow on the mountains, even in summer, just like in the show.




IMG_0297We hiked the “Colorado trail” to a point higher than any mountain in Europe. (See picture above). And found several Colorado state flowers still in bloom (which apparently surprised my guides). Very pretty and a great way to celebrate the 4th of July.

We ended my short trip to Colorado with a visit to the Colorado history museum. Learned there is still one tribe of Indians, we learned that Colorado once closed its border from the other US states (exactly what happens in Europe now), we learned that the Americans once migrated and overtook the Mexicans, we learned about the deportation of Japanese Americans during World War II. We learned a lot about today, by reading about history of Colorado. At times, scaryly accurate to today. And, last but not least, we learned that Casa Bonita (from the South Park episode) is a real place.

Thank you for a great experience!


Niagara Falls

One of the benefits of traveling for work, is that sometimes you decide to stay a little longer and discover amazing places.

Last week, I was flying to Massachusetts for a client, but plane ticket prices were insanely expensive. The cheapest ticket I found was flying into Boston, MA and flying out of Buffalo, NY. That seemed like a short drive on the map (if you scroll out really far)… I decided to see what was around Buffalo, and found “Niagara Falls” on the map. For some reason I have been hiking a lot the past months and I tend to be intrigued by waterfalls. So Niagara falls kind of fitted naturally in the list. Additionally, I’ve always wanted to see the falls ever since Bellewaerde park built the “Niagara” attraction many years ago (I had a season pass for many years as a kid and teenager). The attraction is built with Canada as its theme, and since it had been a while since I was in Canada (6 years), I decided to go to the Canadian side to see the falls. I also found a great deal on the Marriott on the Falls hotel, which had awesome pictures. Many (very superficial) reasons to go there.

The drive from Boston to Niagara Falls was long, but likable. The landscape of Massachusetts and New York state is very pretty. The mountains, the views, and a really nice long highway. I found an extreme conservative radio station praising the British for voting on Brexit. The stupidity of the radio host was only surpassed by their callers leaving an opinion. Ignorance was the rule, intelligent conversations non-existent. It was funny for a out an hour, but then got scary and I had to find another radio station.

Getting closer to Canada I found a nice radio station (great music). I only noticed it was a Canadian one when there was a commercial about the government of Ontario spending more money on doctors and hospitals. Then the weather was talking about weird “Celsius” temperatures. I found myself recalculating Celsius to Fahrenheit… that put a smile on my face. I only realize how ‘Americanized’ I am, once I go near (or over) the border. I just enjoyed the music and the (very un-american) news and radio-host stories the last couple of hours driving to the falls.  Crossing the “Rainbow bridge”, connecting the USA and Canada, I realized this was the first time I stopped at a boarder with an actual customs checkpoint. Kinda cool to think about, especially the day after England and Wales decided to leave Europe, where borders are scares.

I had two days, two nights scheduled to be at Niagara Falls, Canada. I had asked some friends if they wanted to join me, but nobody was able or willing to join. I wondered if I would have enough to do for two full days. I mean, what could there possibly be to do. It’s just a lot of water falling to a lower point, right?  On my way there, I kind of felt I perhaps made a mistake booking two days at the falls, instead of visiting Buffalo a day. Boy, was I wrong… I was setup for one of the best weekends ever!

Checking into the hotel, I got a free upgrade to a “Falls view” room. Amazing view walking into my room. Just stunning. I had already heard the waterfalls from the parking lot, but actually seeing them was unbelievably cool. The noise of the falls is so loud, that it actually trumps the air conditioning machine noise. Really impressive. I booked a 5 hour (five hours?!?) tour for Saturday with all kinds of activities. I was a tourist without a plan, or idea of what to do, so I did not really know -nor cared- what those activities would be. I got a free ticket to visit the “daredevil” museum, so did that while it was still open. It is a small museum, but really cool. People are crazy, that is all you can say after visiting it. I remember reading a comic book (“Karl May – Duel with Niagara Falls“) back as a kid about one of these people. Coincidentally, as these things go), last week the new episode of “Another Period” also featured the first person ever in recorded history to go over the falls (also a woman). I was starting to get really hungry from the long drive, and decided to find a restaurant. Found what looked like a really nice Italian restaurant to eat, only problem was that I could not find the door to get in. The restaurant turned out to be part of the Casino (there are two casino’s in Niagara Falls). Got an amazing dinner, with a great view (not talking about the falls here). I had never been in a real casino before. Since I had nothing else to do, I decided to kind of hang around and figure out what this was all about. Hundreds of slot machines (I really do not get it). The poker tables were very busy, and a bit too intimidating for me (needed at least 1,500 CAD to join, and although the people in England just helped my weekend get 10% cheaper overnight, that was still too much in my opinion). I decided to watch people play some blackjack variant game, and once I (thought) to understand the game (a bit), I decided to get myself some colorful paper out of an ATM. All in all a very good experience. Played a few hours and then went to bed, after all I had a 5-hour activity to join the next day.

Saturday, was up fairly early and walked down to the falls. The walk down was pretty, going through a park with lots of city wildlife. Then noticed there were actually 2 falls. The smaller “American” falls (~900 years old) and the Canadian “Horseshoe Falls” (the ‘original’ falls and ~12,000 years old, or just a few years, depending how you look at it). Looking at the Horseshoe falls, the “Niagara” attraction in Bellewaerde made a whole lot of sense. It is basically mimicking the shape of a horseshoe and dumping a boat into the water, creating a massive displacement of water. Well, exactly like the real Niagara falls (without boat), but smaller. Went to visit the “Niagara White Water Rapids (Category 6; basically meaning you will die if you go in them as a normal person). Crazy stuff. A waterway with 6 meter high (18 foot) waves, created by simply the sheer volume of water being pushed from the falls to lake Ontario. I have pictures and video’s, but they do not do justice to the magnificent view.

Walked back to my hotel to start the tour, almost missed my bus because I’m a tourist and do not care about time. The five hour tour featured a tour on the boat going really close to the falls (a must-do!), a walk -behind- the falls and standing right next to the Horseshoe falls. You cannot imagine how beautiful, and humbling, it is to stand next to a literal sea of water just falling into the deep at a rate of over a million liter a minute. Just insane! Nia-gara means Gods of Thunder in waters, or something like that, according to the movies. Wikipedia does not agree, but I’m all for it. IMG_0204 IMG_0239 IMG_0240

I could go on about the beauty of the falls for another thousand words. But the point of this post is that no matter what your situation is (single, couple, family), there is a lot to do for you at Niagara Falls, Canada. And I encourage you to go see it. It is beyond believe. Additionally, at the rate the Canadian government is adding new attractions, this place will just keep on expanding in the next years. You go for the falls, and they are by far the coolest thing I have ever seen, but there is so much more to do than just that. Niagara Falls should be on your agenda of places to visit. Period.

Visit to the motherland 2015

I have been postponing this trip a very long time, but I now I did not have a choice… my visit to Belgium was a mandatory one. I could either go to New York, get myself registered with the Belgian consulate (which is located in NY for Texas), or I could go to Belgium and renew my passport with the Province, or so I thought…  I made it into a family trip, covering my passport renewal and two family reunions. Just because I can.

I did not visit Belgium for over a year. It was interesting to see the differences: new roads, windmills, buildings,.. people driving much slower than I remembered. It was kind of interesting to see all the new faces in our office. Many of which had never seen me before, and could not figure out how this weirdo that comes in at 11 am (I had appointments in the morning) , seems to know so many of their colleagues. Funny. We had good food, visited most of my friends (not all unfortunately, sorry guys!), drove over 1,000 miles in 2 weeks crossing the country. My company gave me a company car for 2 weeks (thank you Delaware Consulting!) and I must admit this is probably what I miss most here in America: a shift-stick car. Driving manual feels so much better than driving automatic, and driving an Audi -just like the one I drove before I moved- is just an unbeatable feeling. Relaxed driving over the highways at ~120 KM/H, keeping right. Waiting at the red light, just feeling awesome in my car.

My main priority was to renew my passport. So first Monday I drive to Brugge to find the Provincial service who is supposed to do this for me. I’m there, and it turns out that they changed the law a few months before, and now I must be registered in the consulate in the land I am living, to be able to get my passport renewed in Belgium. That kind of sucked, since the whole point for me was to renew this, without needing to register in NY. I do not care about registering as such, it;s just that with a move planned to Georgia within 2 months, I does not make a lot of sense for me to register in NY and then move all that stuff to Atlanta. Anyhow, after the civil servant told me that “You do not pay taxes here, so I do not need to help you”, and made it clear that he was not going to do anything without the NY embassy giving me permission to get my passport in Belgium, I felt a bit depressed.  He said that without permission he had no idea where I lived (which is false, since he had my US address displayed on the computer screen and I gave him my US drivers license showing the same address). So, I drove to Kortrijk, to the office to meet with some colleagues. Then called the NY embassy during their opening hours to get everything resolved. They were very helpful and all went very smooth. 3 days later, the provincial services had confirmation that I could go renew my passport.  Conclusion: Belgian abroad: you must register with the Belgian government in order to renew your passport.

Lots of other things going on during my visit, just life. But one little anecdote I do want to share with you: In Antwerp, I was visiting a friend. I arrived around noon, and did not have lunch yet, so I figured I should order some food with my beer… ask the waiter/bartender/owner (still not sure) if the kitchen is still open (it was after 1:30 pm after all, and this is Belgium…). His answer: “Maybe”. At this point, I think he is just joking, so I figure to just play along and ask him: “Ok, when do you think you will know for sure?”. “In 20 minutes”, he answers. I’m not sure how I looked at that point, but I’m pretty sure there is no emoticon to capture the sight. 30 minutes later, I ask the waiter again and he answers that he will check. At this point, I do not feel like fooling around, so I just order a pasta. He looks at me, and asks “are you sure?”, and I confirm. At this point, the guy turns around, and instead of walking into the kitchen disappears outside of the bar, onto the street. I’m not sure at this point what to think, but since nobody else seems to actually work in the bar, I decide to just stay and drink my beer, see what happens. About 15 minutes later, the waiter returns with a bunch of pasta boxes under this arms. French food, indeed…

Philadelphia, PA

Last weekend, I visited Philadelphia. The birthplace of America and capital before Washington. Philly is the weirdest place. It’s not that I did not like my Saturday in Philadelphia, but it kind of left me with an unsatisfied feeling… Like something is missing. I had my Philly cheese steak. I saw the Liberty Bell, seen the Rocky Balboa statue and the steps of the Art museum. I guess… The places I visited today did not really teach me much I did not yet know. But it made it clear to me, as the tours made it clear to Americans too, that the USA is a country still under construction. While the many exhibits mostly focus on slavery and racism, the huge stain on American history, I could not help noticing the impact, or lack there of, on the rest of the world. While America, “We The People”, applauds itself on the remarkable journey the country has taken since the revolution, and arguably before that already, I believe Americans give themselves too much credit for having impact on, or even changing the world… Mandela did not visit the Liberty Bell as a symbol of freedom for black Africans in South Africa, the pictures of that event are actually pretty cynically located in the room next to the Liberty Bell story for African Americans. Neither did Reagan himself ‘tear down that wall’, as the footage in the Constitution Center seems to imply. The American statement of Independence and constitution are among the best written political work in the history of mankind. Work that should be copied to so many other countries, and in many ways has! So why is it so difficult for America to uphold these values domestically and abroad (in the works of foreign diplomacy/policy)? It is a divide that is seen all over American history. All sides believe and respect America, but both groups see a very different America. Examples are the rough days after the independence wars, followed by the civil war, over world war one and world war two on until today with Democrats and Republicans fighting over large and smaller topics. The hopeful thing is that, in its history, America always came back stronger after each challenge.

On Sunday I visited Eastern State Penitentiary, Another great example of the American Dream to bring justice and healing to the world. Even though its best intentions were violated at the very beginning, and the results were disastrous with inmates going insane, the good intentions are always there. Eastern State Penitentiary is a great building and has a lot of history, and stories to tell. Everything I missed on Saturday going through the Liberty Bell Museum and the ‘National Constitution Center’ was there. I spent 4 hours walking around and looking at stuff. Certainly worth a visit if you go to Philadelphia!