Eliean Donan Castle | Take it or Leave It

Eliean Donan Castle | Take it or Leave It

I really struggled to write this article about Eliean Donan Castle for various reasons, but don’t want to taint your view until I have given you all the facts. So I tried to be very objective in my approach in writing this. While some may love the history of the castle, others may have personal ties to it. For me, I could take it or leave it when it came to visiting Eliean Donan Castle. So take my opinion with a grain of salt, and decide for yourself if this unique place in Scotland is worth your visit.

Getting to Eilean Donan Castle:

While it says it is only a four-hour drive to get there, the roads in Scotland are not always the friendliest. I don’t mean the drivers are rude, what I mean is the roads have loads of potholes. There are also narrow passes where only one car can pass at a time and wind around all the lochs and mountain passes.

If this isn’t bad enough, for my American driving friends, you have to drive on the left side of the road which is completely discombobulating. It takes a lot of concentration when trying to make turns, or navigate the roundabouts. While the scenery is stunning along the way, the closer you get to the parks, the more your views are blocked off by trees and underbrush.

Eilean Donan Castle - Culture Trekking

It’s fun to think about how the Scottish Highlander men would hide in that underbrush and in the trees from the British. If you haven’t seen the show Outlander, you should, it paints a realistic picture of what life was like in the Highlands. I even did the Outlander Self-Guided Tour while I was in Scotland. It was my first time visiting a country and purposefully visiting shooting locations for TV shows, and movies. Did you know what Eilean Donan was featured in several movies? Here are a few it has been featured in:

  •  Bonnie Prince Charlie starring David Niven (1948)
  • The Master of Ballantrae starring Errol Flynn (1953)
  • The New Avengers (1976)
  • Highlander (1986)
  • Loch Ness (1996)
  • James Bond – The World is Not Enough (1999)
  • BBC One Television Identity (1997 – 2002)

There is about a good 45-minute stretch of road, however, that is quite barren and VERY boring. For those of you who know that stretch of road between St. George Utah and Las Vegas…..its almost as boring as that is…..YAWN. After a long drive, you round the corner by the shrinking lake, you can see Eilean Donan Castle.

Eilean Donan Castle - Culture Trekking

Parking and Tourists:

There is plenty of parking for all to partake in this iconic castle. That means that about 8 buses can fit in this place, and the hoards pour onto the walkway to the castle. There are bathrooms available once you get there, they are clean and heated, but very small for the number of people there. A guard sits in his small wooden hut, looking quite sullenly at all the tourists coming in. Stop and talk to him, he is quite nice and warmly welcomes the conversation. I can’t imagine how boring it must be to sit there day after day, I would like the company as well.

Buying the tickets:

You must buy your ticket in the strategically placed, and very overpriced gift shop. The only thing I bought was a pin to prove I had been there, that cost about 3.99 pounds……yep…..see what I mean. Tickets to get into the castle are Adults £7.50 , Family (2 Adults + 3 Children Age 5-15) £20.00 Visit the Eilean Donan Website for opening times, closing times and group discounts.

Eilean Donan Castle - Culture Trekking

The Grounds and the Views:

The views of the Castle from the Parking lot are some of the best photos you are going to get of the castle. The roads are too busy to stop on the way to the castle, and the pull-outs that are available are heavily saturated with tourists with the same ideas. I visited Eilean Donan about 3 years ago for the first time, and it was busy. There were several areas in Scotland on this that I felt were swarming with tourists compared to when I was last there, this castle was one of them. There was a waterfall on the way to Eilean Donan that was so crowded, we couldn’t turn our car around, and had to back out into the busy road to get out of the parking area. It was so crowded we ended up just leaving, muttering that it wasn’t even worth the hassle of trying to fight everyone to see the waterfall. Maybe this is what set the tone for the visit to Eilean Donan, but I distinctly remember feeling this same way the first time I visited the castle. The only reason I was coming back here, was because my roommate Bree had not seen it, and was truly looking forward to it. We are both of Scottish descent and I felt it would be wrong to veto her getting to form her own opinion about the place.

Eilean Donan Castle - Culture Trekking

The History of the Castle:

Some say that this castle was named for an Irish Bishop Donan who came and established a community here. Others say there were no houses or fortifications built on Donan Island until the 13th century to protect the area from Viking raiders. It has the perfect location for a defensive position and controlled the main water gateway to other areas of the Scottish Highlands. It has changed significantly over the centuries but was primarily used as a defensive fortification.

It was so widely known as an indestructible stronghold that it played a role in the Jacobite rebellions, which ultimately led to its ruin and destruction. I won’t get into the details here, but the fortification was lost to the British, and the castle laid in ruins for over 200 years. It wasn’t until 1911 that the island was bought by Lt Colonel John Macrae-Gilstrap along with his friend (another Macrae), who spent the next 20 years rebuilding the castle.

The Macrae’s are now the rightful owners of the castle, and much of what you see today is due to their efforts. While the history is important, there was barely a shell left for the Macrae’s to build from…..so while it looks like an ancient fortification, it is in fact, quite new compared to other castles in Scotland.

Eilean Donan Castle - Culture Trekking

The Castle Itself:

There are tiny balconies, cute little rooms for visitors, bathrooms, and the dining room filled with all the Macrae’s most cherished memorabilia. You are not allowed to take photos within the castle, so I don’t have much to show you in that respect. You get to wander through a few rooms that look like normal rooms to me.

The best part is the dining hall, with stag heads, family crests, and royal trinkets in glass boxes along the sides of the walls. There is castle staff to watch your every move, and there is nowhere to sit. So with how many people who swarm into this place, it makes it a little difficult to get around. As you make your way outside, you can see the tiny ramparts where the men would have defended the walls – ya have to turn sideways and squeeze through in order to make it.

Eilean Donan Castle

I cursed a little as I could not figure out how burly broad-shouldered men in uniform, with guns, were able to maneuver around these small spaces. If you wander out back, you will see the patio where many a bonnie bride is wed and take their cherished photos. The views from the back of the Castle are really quite lovely, and kind of saved this from being a complete bust for me personally.

My Opinion:

After all of this, I hope it paints a clearer picture for you of what to expect when visiting Eilean Donan Castle. While it has been featured in several movies, is often shown as the centerpiece for many Scottish marketing schemes…..I just don’t think the drive is worth it. If you are driving near the area, stop and take a few photos, but don’t pay the money to go in, when you can get just as good, if not better photos from the parking lot.

Eilean Donan Castle - Culture Trekking

You pay about $10 to go and walk around a home, essentially, that was built in 1932. There are older houses in my hometown to be honest. If you think I just have a sour attitude about it, just ask my friend, even she said it wasn’t really worth it. Luckily, we were just passing through as we were going to see Cawdor Castle that has ties to Macbeth and a thorn tree in the basement; Dunrobin Castle a French-built Chateau in the Northern Highlands on the NC 500; the Fairy Glen, Sligachan Bridge, the Devils Pulpit, and Culloden field. I feel these are the places that truly represent the Scottish Spirit, teach visitors the legends and folklore of old, and give you a much better sense of what medieval life was like with the history deeply intertwined within them.

Where to Stay Near Eilean Donan

Booking.com

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Iona Abbey a Christian Pilgrimage
Self-Guided Edinburgh Ghost Tour
5 Classic dishes to try in Scotland
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Things To Do In Santorini Greece

Things To Do In Santorini Greece

Santorini has been a bucket list destination for years by travelers around the world. The sweeping cliffs, blue and white colored buildings and relaxed environment make is a perfect retreat from the rat race of life. Here are a few things to do in Santorini to pass the time on this blissful island.

Photography Tours in Santorini

Things to do in Santorini

After my Photography Tour in Seattle, I am a huge fan of Photography Tours from Locals. The particular tours I found for Santorini may be a bit more expensive, but to have someone there who can show you exactly the settings, directions, transportation etc…. to get to the best spots in Santorini might be worth it. Wouldn’t it be nice to have the photo you took on your living room wall of the sweeping cliffs of Santorini? How about you solo travelers who are always trying to figure out how to get that perfect shot. Santorini is one of those iconic photography places that I personally would invest in a photography tour for.

Things to do in Santorini

The roads, paths, nooks and crannies are at times very hard to navigate. So to have a local who could let you into a backyard at the edge of a cliff face to take photos, snack on some cheese and introduce you to locals…..well…..that would be worth it to me. I certainly wish I would have done this when I was there, it gets a bit chaotic on the public transportation systems. These huge buses take turns around cliff edges so rapidly, I found myself squeezing my butt cheeks as hard as I was holding my breath while praying I didn’t die in a bus on a Greek island. Not a bad way to go, but repatriation is a nightmare, dying on vacation is bad form anyway.

Traveler Tip: Two Days in Santorini Itinerary

Cable Car From the Old Port to Fira:

If you are coming from the cruise ship, it is a bit difficult to NOT take the cable car. You must pay to ride it, the cost to ride is 5€ for an adult one-way ticket, 2.5€ for children under 5 years old and 2.5€ for large luggage. Make sure to bring cash, when I was there, credit cards were not widely accepted.

You can also lug your body weight, and luggage up the steps to Santorini…..but if you are there in the summer I highly discourage this. The sun hits the cliffs, the stones reflect the heat and there is usually donkey dung dotting the pathway all the way up. So you may as well go lock yourself in a barn that hasn’t been cleaned in 6 months and run 5 miles on a treadmill in July in Texas…..at least you will have access to water in the barn.

Things to do in Santorini

The views from the cable car are quite stunning, and especially at sunset…..this is the time to do it. Combining your cable car ride with your evening boat tour would be a perfect ending to your day while there.

Swimming at Oia south of Ammoudi Port

It is the Mediterranean. It is an isolated island. You have to jump into these crystal clear blue waters! It is a right of passage for me to jump into whatever ocean I am visiting, just to say you did it.

I would suggest going with a guide or a local, as they will know the best places for swimming without currents, clear areas for cliff jumping, the best area for seeing fish and which areas are clear of coral or other dangerous obstacles.

Things to do in Santorini

Santorini Fishing Tour

Fresh fish, clear waters, cool breezes, good company…..this should be your siesta. Jump on a boat and try your hand at fishing some of the exotic fish in the area. I’m not really into fishing, but I wanted to include this for all my ladies who want to shove their husbands on a boat for that coveted ‘man time’ they all talk about. Tell them it’s a ‘gift’ for them, even though the alone time is going to be a gift for you, because of the next suggestion I have.

Explore the Paths, Alleys, and Stairwells of Fira, Firostefani, and Imerovigli

THIS is where it’s at ladies! These areas contain the best shopping, views, photographic spots around. Firostefani and Imerovigli is where the classic white buildings with blue-topped domes are hugging the cliffs. I also found most of the unique clothing, trinkets, Ray Ban knockoffs etc..in these areas.

 The pricing is a little on the steep side when you factor in currency conversion, but keep in mind that the items are genuine and handmade. Too often I am visiting countries where the ‘cheaper’ option is made in China, not very well made, and doesn’t last long. The tourists support these items to save money, but often it takes away from the local economy and puts families out of business. So whenever possible, try and buy from shops that are family run, and locally made — it will help sustain the culture, local economy, and make the tourism in the area you are visiting a little more sustainable.

Things to do in Santorini

Walk to Skaros Rock

After eating all the fish your husband/boyfriend/local café caught that afternoon, you will want to take a hike. I suggest walking to Skaros Rock. This is a medieval fortress that was built in the 15th century to help defend the island from pirates and raiders. I can’t imagine the raids worked all that well, given the steep cliffs. You didn’t think I would let you leave my website without including a little tidbit of history, did you? There are some fascinating drawings of what Skaros Rock would have looked like in the 15th Century, and also depicts just how flourishing this tiny outcropping really was.

Paths, Alleys, and Stairwells of Oia

Loads of shopping is also available here, just watch out for the occasional sweating donkey carrying items for the various shops that line these alleyways. The donkey’s cause quite the traffic jam, but they are really necessary as there isn’t a way to get supplies into the center of town without them. The ones used near the center of town (in my opinion) are a little better treated than the ones used to haul tourists up the long path from the Old Fira Port. A tour of Oia’s alleyways is the best way to do this, but make sure to stay for the sunset — you won’t regret it.

  • Don’t ride the Donkeys at Fira Port
    • I know they say it is the classic Greek thing to do, I was sucked in and did it and felt like crying afterward. The donkeys looked drugged, miserable, and was sweating like crazy. They get whipped to bring you up the pathway in Oia from the cruise port and it is so so sad. I even poured water on the donkey’s back as it brought me up the steep and long pathway. I will never ever do this again unless I see loads of water available and know for certain the animals are regularly switched out. It is the one thing I have done while traveling that I am still ashamed of honestly.
    • I know it may provide money to the locals utilizing these animals to haul you up, but the more ethical way of doing this would be to take the cable car. The donkey has been scorned and punished for centuries, let’s give it a break when we can.

Rent a Scooter and explore the Santorini countryside

This is the best way to get around on Santorini if you choose not to get a guide. The maneuverability of the scooter on small roads, pathways and winding roads is very useful. You can also visit a lot more having your own transportation that is fairly reasonably priced if you choose to stay for a few days.

Things to do in Santorini

The only downside to this is that near the cliffs, where many tourists want to stay, there is nowhere to park and you really have to hike down or up into your accommodation. So I would suggest doing day rentals from a company that has shops throughout the island.

You can also hire a private driver for about $58 for a day. A local can take you around the island, see the highlights, and then you can spend the rest of your vacation relaxing, eating delicious food and enjoying the sunsets of Santorini.

Eat in the local Café with the REAL Mediterranean food

Fresh food, sea breezes, Greek hospitality, and warmth…..you would be a fool not to partake in the cafes of Santorini. This is where the local culture spends their evenings. They talk about life, love, children, work and being Greek. Their laid-back demeanor is sure to make you want to linger longer and ask to be adopted by the end of your meal.

Things to do in Santorini

If partaking in local food traditions, and want to taste the best of the best of Santorini’s Cuisine – I would suggest taking a Local Food Tour. Food Tours are not my cup of tea, I’m more of a historical and natural surroundings type of gal, but for those of you who really want to experience the culture of Santorini – then food is the way to do it.

Stay for the Sunsets in Oia

Sunsets in Oia are what many tourists flock to see. Orange hues reflect off the whitewashed walls of the buildings, with the blue tops creating a perfect complement of colors. Settle down in a café in Oia, unplug from technology and let the gentle waves of the ocean below lull you into a sense of pure vacation bliss.

Things to do in Santorini

Take An Evening Boat Tour

 When the lights turned on at the old Fira Port, the sun settling down behind the mountains….this view took my breath away. My camera was hot in my hands from taking so many photos. It will be difficult to get a good evening shot of this view when you are on a boat, but don’t give up…..it will be your favorite photo. Seeing lights dot the sides of the cliffs like fireflies flickering, seeming to want to compete with the bright stars above. I wanted to make a bed on my boat, open the windows to the sea breezes and fall asleep whilst watching Santorini settle in for the night.

The structure of the city, colors, people, food, and contrasting barren landscape to the deep blue of the ocean and buildings is a visual feast for the eyes.

If you would like to do a full day boat tour around Santorini including snorkeling, seeing the volcano, eat lunch on the boat, and then stay for the sunset then I would recommend the Caldera Oia Perl Boat tour. This is a really good price for this considering the currency exchange and everything that is included for this type of trip.

Rest your head after your fun-filled day in a Windmill in Oia.

You can stay in this windmill! The Dutch woman in me went a little bonkers when I found out you can stay in this Windmill! It’s the Windmills Suite at Golden Sunset Villas in Oia it can easily fit 20 people. There are a kitchen, full bathroom, 2 “bedrooms”. The stairs are steep, narrow, a little difficult to maneuver in with your luggage (so pack light). There is only one windmill suite in Santorini, so be sure you book as early as possible. They do include breakfast as well should you choose to book with them.

Things to do in Santorini

Santorini is a glorious experience that I hope to repeat one day very soon (I really want to stay in the Windmill). The isolation of the island has kept much of the shifting of the Greek culture from being westernized. While I anticipate that this will change soon, I will always hold a place in my traveling heart for this unique and beautiful city.

As Always….Happy Travels, Happy Tales, and see YOU on the Flipside. 

Where to Stay in Santorini

Booking.com

Guide Books for Greece and Santorini:


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Rio Secreto Cave Tour and Mayan Folklore

Rio Secreto Cave Tour and Mayan Folklore

The Rio Secreto (or secret river) is eight miles long with fifteen natural outlets. It was through one of these outlets that Mr. Don Cleofás, a local landowner had been hunting an Iguana and quite literally stumbled into it. I was also able to stumble around there during a Rio Secreto Cave Tour while on a shore excursion in Playa Del Carmen. I learned just how connected the Mayans are to the earth and how these caves were thought to be intricately connected with the Gods according to Mayan Folklore and religion.

Rio Secreto - The Secret River in Mexico

The Importance of the River to the Mayans:

After an unceremonious cleansing in the chilly waters to remove any lotion, makeup, sunscreen and jewelry that may contaminate the river. I donned my wetsuit and helmet and filed  into the line that would lead us through the ancient jungle. Winding through the palms, and ferns of this jungle I imagined what it would be like to be a Mayan during this time. Did they run these same paths? Did they run barefoot? What did they like to hunt? Where did they get their water? These and many other questions jumped through my mind like rabbits in a field.

Rio Secreto - The Secret River in Mexico

We came into a clearing and were greeted by a local Mayan Shaman. These men are highly revered in the surrounding communities for their healing and spirituality. The Mayan’s believed and still revere this underground semi-sunken river as a place of spirituality, and sacred place where the rain God, Chaac visits. Despite being in a thick vegetation, it has always been difficult for the people in this city and surrounding area to get clean fresh water.

Rio Secreto - The Secret River in Mexico

These waters are what they use to sustain life, and largely do not carry disease or animals that can contaminate it. It makes sense why the ancient culture would treat these waters as sacred, the waters are pure, and anything pure is sacred. Other historians believe that the skeletons represented human sacrifices due to the Mayan people believing these areas were inherently connected to the underworld. I like to think of the caverns as a connection to the rain God myself, seems less creepy to me.

Rio Secreto - The Secret River in Mexico

There have been several artifacts and human skeletons discovered within the caverns, some dating back nearly 13,000 years. Caritas, or little faces, have been found carved into several of the natural entrances into these caverns, along with small piles of stones piled near the entrances as a way to both mark and adorn the entrances to the sacred river.

Rio Secreto - The Secret River in Mexico

It wasn’t just the Caritas they found though, at one entrance, a vessel was found. Believed to be used as a water collection reservoir, dating back to 1000 AD, it is considered to be the best-preserved relic of that period. (It is now located at the Mexican National Institute of Anthropology and History). One of the most impressive finds Don Cleofás made during his initial descent into Rio Secreto was a vessel believed to date back to the post-Classic period of Mayan history (1000-1697 AD).

Rio Secreto - The Secret River in Mexico

Descending into the World of Mayan Gods

After understanding how important this river was to the culture, and the history of the people. The Shaman further cleansed us with incense and a blessing before we descended into the dark. Making our way down into the cavern via the slippery stairs, it became increasingly dark. Our small group of six turned on their headlamps, revealing the caverns of the rain God.

Rio Secreto - The Secret River in Mexico

Mystery enveloped us all and a smile tugged at the corners of my mouth, ‘I’m the real Indian Jones’, I thought. After receiving final safety instructions and how to best preserve the caverns beauty. We filed into a buddy system and entered the sacred halls of Mother Earth.

The stalagmites and stalactites, collections of minerals forming into pointed columns over the last 2.5 million years adorned the ceilings and floors. We stepped into the river itself, carefully stepping in places where our guide advised us to – helping to preserve this space for future generations. The reverence and respect that our guide had for this place, bled into me, and I felt I was truly witnessing something majestic. My headlamp illuminated the blue-tinted waters below me, each step producing a puff of mineral like clouds. Was I walking on earth, or in some other world? Fascinated by what I was seeing, my heart and soul drank in my surroundings…..I felt connected to the Earth and to the best parts of my soul.

Rio Secreto - The Secret River in Mexico

The Caverns of Rio Secreto

I have seen stalactites and stalagmites before, these massive mineral arms are eternally reaching towards their counterpart. Formed when water seeps through the earth, drawing minerals with it, then when reaching the cavern drip from the ceiling. Over millions of years, the columns gradually stretch towards the ground, where another column forms reaching up to the ceiling.

Eventually, these two arms reach each other, clasp hands and form grand columns, caverns that creates a palace fit for the Gods. It is imperative that you only walk where the guide asks you to step and walk; because of the damage that can happen not just to you but to these ancient formations. If you rub up against the sides of the walls, the sharp limestone and calcium carbonate columns can cause open wounds and lead to infections.

Rio Secreto - The Secret River in Mexico

Fun Fact: Calcium Carbonate is the same chemical component that you find in Tums, a supplement used for heartburn for decades.

We penetrated the caverns further and further until we were swimming in blue, mineral-rich lukewarm waters. The minerals made my skin feel so soft, the warmth provided by the wet suit with the surrounding coolness of the caverns and waters made for a relaxing and exhilarating adventure. There were a few points where we had to hang onto our partner’s ankles, floating on our backs while our guide towed us across gaps where we couldn’t walk or swim.

Rio Secreto - The Secret River in Mexico

Each juncture our guide would stop, provide instruction, ensure our safety and provide educational information about the cave system itself, and how the water supply is still used today. My favorite part was swimming through tiny arches, hard hat on, doggie paddling to a new visual feast. I was, in essence, the next Laura Croft in the making — THIS is what I live for, unique adventures! There is nothing more fulfilling to my soul than seeing natural wonders that are nearly untouched by man or machines. They are becoming the rarest thing humans are able to witness on this earth.

Rio Secreto - The Secret River in Mexico

A Greater Understanding of the Sacred River:

Our guide gathered us into a cluster in the middle of a pool we were unable to touch the bottom of, carefully keeping his flashlight underwater and asking us to turn our headlamps off. He told us how important respecting nature is, how we as humans have the sacred responsibility to preserve these things that mother nature has provided for us. I would typically classify these types of talks and conversations as ‘hippie dippie‘; but there was something in his manner and gentle way of talking that made me believe this was something more.

Rio Secreto - The Secret River in Mexico

He went on to explain that our lives are often filled with money, tasks, things to see and do…..but we forget the most calming thing is often the most natural, slow and easy experiences. He brought his flashlight up out of the water and as the light illuminated my surroundings, my breath caught at the beauty. We were in a massive cavern with stalactites surrounding us like chandeliers in a great ballroom. Another light was turned on behind the adjoining cavern, and a smile took over my face. Wonder blossomed in my heart and my mind knew I was witness to something intensely special.

Rio Secreto - The Secret River in Mexico

A few minutes passed and he then asked us to link arms in a circle, where we would be facing outwards. Then asked us to lay back into the water, letting ourselves float while looking up at the ceiling. He turned off the light, and everyone was silent. The darkness enveloped us, the water took away all sound and cradled us in its arms — a sensory deprivation experience like none other. He let us stay like that for some time. My mind ebbed and flowed like the water surrounding me, lazy, relaxed while being infused with goodness from this sacred river.

Rio Secreto - The Secret River in Mexico

All Good Things Must Come To An End

The light lit the grand cavern like an unwelcome torch, and I reluctantly brought myself erect in the water. Calmness and serenity had settled over the group, the quiet calm and silence persisted……we were all feeling it……the earthly sacrament we had just partaken of.

As we wandered through the last part of our journey, I felt intensely grateful for this experience. My friend that was traveling with me, kept saying how she wished her children could experience this. We shared our feelings and perceptions of the journey through the Rio Secreto and understood why it is protected so intensely by the locals. A dim light ahead signaled the end of our journey.

Rio Secreto - The Secret River in Mexico

I was grateful to be headed above ground but felt a tugging to stay. We headed back towards to base camp and were brought to a buffet like meal after spending an hour or two in the caverns. We talked amongst ourselves and shared our experiences with the other group that had been taken through another portion of the cavern. Despite our time down there, I discovered that only 10% of the caverns are utilized for tours. What other wonders lay down in those otherworldly caverns? If you find yourself near Playa Del Carmen, Cancun or Rivera Maya….I highly recommend taking this journey through the rain God’s palace. It is an experience like none other and will leave you with a new perspective and whole new respect for mother earth and her treasures.

Rio Secreto - The Secret River in Mexico

For Tours, Transportation, Meals, and Pricing visit Rio Secreto Website for more information.

Reserve your unique Playa Del Carmen B&B now to get the best deals.

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Where to Stay Near Rio Secreto

Booking.com

Guides to Playa Del Carmen


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10 Unique Things to do in Austin Texas

10 Unique Things to do in Austin Texas

Austin Texas the music capital of the south, home of artists, vagrants, and those who have a passion for beer and all things weird. Should you find yourself in this eclectic capital of the world, here are 10 Unique Things to do in Austin Texas:

1- The Bats

Unique things to do in Austin Texas - Culture Trekking - #AustinTexas #uniquethingstodoinaustin #Keepaustinweird

After living in Dallas for two years, and having made several trips to Austin….I had never heard of the ‘Bats of Austin’. So this is why I’m including this on my list of Unique things, because if I didn’t know about it, maybe someone else wouldn’t have known about it. The story of the Bats is that somewhere south of Austin the natural caves that these bats lived in was destroyed. This caused a mass migration of these bats to somewhere safe, naturally, they picked Congress bridge…..because where else would creatures of the night feel more comfortable than a bridge associated with politics.

Unique things to do in Austin Texas - Culture Trekking - #AustinTexas #uniquethingstodoinaustin #Keepaustinweird
Austin Texas Bats

If you get a chance to, wander down to Congress bridge around the time the sun goes down you will be greeted by a swarm of 1.5 million bats exiting the bellows of Congress bridge. These bats exit from beneath the bridge all at one time, giving those on the bat viewing platform below quite the show. Once they exit, they swarm in a circle until most of the bats have exited the bridge then as one bat cloud swarm their way up and down the Colorado River eating around 1000 mosquitos each. It is very difficult to get a clear picture of this swarm when they emerge, due to it being so dark. Another way to see these blind fuzzy creatures is by participating in our next Unique thing to do in Austin Texas The Bike Tour.

2- The Bike Tour

I was so nervous to go on this bike tour, my internal dialogue went something like this, “Your over-weight, you have a bad back, what if you have to pee? They are going to leave you and charge you more for how slow you are. It is too hot and you won’t enjoy it. Remember how you almost passed out the last time you got overheated?”.

Austin - Infinity Bike and Me - Unique things to do in Austin Texas - Culture Trekking - #AustinTexas #uniquethingstodoinaustin #Keepaustinweird
Infinity Bike Sculpture

This is what the mind does my friends, it tries to limit me in an effort to protect me from any additional pain. What my job is, is to create a mantra to be able to push through that protective barrier (reasonably) and allow myself to take the risk to enjoy something I otherwise would have limited myself from experiencing.

Yes, the bike ride was hot, I was sweating like a blacksmith wearing wool on a summer day, BUT as soon as you start riding you get the wind in your face and it’s really not as bad. Austin is relatively flat with minimal hills, so it is the perfect place to do your first bike tour. You will see Congress Bridge, several statues of important figures of Austin, The Capital Building, Wildlife, beautiful skylines, Hope Gallery and so much more.

I took Barton Springs Bike Tour (Austin, in a Nutshell, is the Tour I did) and the guys were so incredibly helpful, they can pick you up and drop you off at your hotel/Airbnb etc.. They do have water, but if you are planning on going during the summer, make sure you eat first and hydrate well as it is a 2.5-hour bike ride (comparatively you get more bang for your buck by going with these guys).

3- Mexican American Cultural Center in Austin

I can’t mention Austin without mentioning the cultural aspects that helped create this unique city. The Hispanic Culture is still alive and well in Austin and throughout much of Texas.

Austin - Mexican American Heritage Center- Unique things to do in Austin Texas - Culture Trekking - #AustinTexas #uniquethingstodoinaustin #Keepaustinweird

Here you will be able to see cultural art pieces by the Mexo-American Community, participate in activities like Dia De Los Muertos. They also are host to teen development programs, creative arts programs and offer a variety of ways to connect with the local community.

So maybe try something a little different in your travels and utilize your time to volunteer and connect with the cultural community of Austin.

4- Climb a ‘Mountain’ in Texas

This is as much of a Mountain as you can get when visiting the flatlands of Texas, Mount Bonell.  It was a tad difficult to find, and the stairs are a lot steeper than you would think, but the views are well worth it.

There is plenty of shade on the way up, and some covered picnic areas once you get to the top. So get in that workout gear, run up and down the steps a few times and then sit down with your classic BBQ taco picnic with a wonderful view of the Colorado River.

Fun Fact: Mount Bonnell was the site of many of the May Pole events in the 1850’s.

5- SUP to the Skyline of Austin

Austin Skyline and SUP - Unique things to do in Austin Texas - Culture Trekking - #AustinTexas #uniquethingstodoinaustin #Keepaustinweird

This is something I didn’t get to experience while in Austin, but really wish I had the time to do so. SUP or Stand Up PaddleBoarding on the Colorado River is a MUST during a Summer visit.

You get to rent this board, get your suntan on, and see incredible views of the Austin Skyline, turtles, and all the wildlife surrounding the Colorado River. They also have tubing, but I personally like to be able to maneuver myself around.

6- Take a Tour of the Capitol and Dress Up Like a Pioneer

Austin - State Capital - Unique things to do in Austin Texas - Culture Trekking - #AustinTexas #uniquethingstodoinaustin #Keepaustinweird

No matter where you go in the city, you cannot miss the iconic Capital Building. It is an odd Pink color from the Red Granite from the nearby Granite Mountain. The contents of this mountain are what is known as ‘Texas Pink’, a certain compound within this Granite gives it the characteristic pink hue. It was originally going to be built out of Limestone, but due to the Iron within the Limestone and potentially causing instability after the Iron were to break down over time — the owners of the Granite Mountain donated the contents of the area to this $3 million dollar project.

Unique things to do in Austin Texas - Culture Trekking - #AustinTexas #uniquethingstodoinaustin #Keepaustinweird

It took nearly 15,700 train cars worth of granite to complete the project, it is estimated that 188,158 cubic feet of granite was used. The building is truly a spectacle that many come to see, but many people miss the tour inside the building.

Go inside, there are choirs on the weekends and holidays that come to sing. Attend a session of debate like the townsfolk used to & see if you can spot the lightbulbs that spell out T-E-X-A-S. Dress up like Pioneers and take fun photos with your friends. Wander through the 22 acres surrounding this building and catch the Capitol from all sides.

See if you can find the 17 monuments on the grounds and learn even more about what shaped Austin into the weird and proud city it is today. There is so much symbolism in the building, the hinges, and even in the tiles within the building that spending an hour or two here is well worth the time.

7- Take a Ghost Tour

Unique things to do in Austin Texas - Culture Trekking - #AustinTexas #uniquethingstodoinaustin #Keepaustinweird

The first time I took a ghost tour was in Edinburgh Scotland. The only reason I went, was because it was the only thing to do besides drinking at 9pm on the Royal Mile. Ever since then I have come to appreciate just how much the backstory behind streets, bars, buildings, and areas have helped shape them into what they are today.

Now whenever possible, I try to fit in a Ghost Tour, just because it brings a unique flavor to my trips and history that not many know of. I also think it is important to see that not all cities are frills, fun, and perfect shots. Every person has a story, I think the same thing can be said of each city.

If you haven’t read my post about the Ghost Tour in Austin, be sure to head there and learn just how wild the west really was.

8- Visit A Festival

Austin - 6th Street at Night - Unique things to do in Austin Texas - Culture Trekking - #AustinTexas #uniquethingstodoinaustin #Keepaustinweird

Austin is the music capital of the World (according to them anyway), gotta love that Texas Pride. There are so many Festivals in Austin that it is hard to keep track of them. This is a fantastic way of connecting to the locals and maybe even make a friend to be able to do a house swap in the future.

No matter what festival you choose it is sure to be BIG, BOLD and all out fun. While I was there I was able to attend the Pecan Festival. The infamous 6th street was lined with local vendors, music, and fun for all ages. Once the sun goes down, it turns into a more adult-friendly area as the local bars start to open up and the guzzling games begin.

9- Go On a Graffiti Tour

Austin - Hope Outdoor Graffiti Gallery- Unique things to do in Austin Texas - Culture Trekking - #AustinTexas #uniquethingstodoinaustin #Keepaustinweird

Take a tour of the Hope Gallery, an apartment complex went wrong, then turned into a gallery of art that has been a hallmark for Austin. There are all sorts of characters that congregate here and even a local artist that will teach you how to graffiti!

Get in on the action and create your own work of art while feeling like a rebel. If you are lucky, you will spot the man in the castle above the Hope Gallery who owns this spot. Allegedly he is not a very kind fellow (according to locals) and is quite adamant about his feelings regarding this area. Apparently, he is selling the area off and the Hope Gallery will no longer exist. This is a sore spot for the locals as it is such an iconic spot. There are talks of moving the walls into another area, but only time will tell if that will happen. So be sure to stop by this area and take a few photos, it might be the last chance you get.

10- Take a Photo Tour

Austin is one of the few cities that donates money for street art to be produced throughout the city. Only the locals are going to know the best spots, so I highly suggest taking a photo tour.

There are plenty of bright colorful walls, murals, funky statues on balconies, and even colorful stonework at crosswalks. Get out and exercise that creative eye, and maybe even learn a thing or two about how to capture great street photography.

Austin - Photography Tour - Unique things to do in Austin Texas - Culture Trekking - #AustinTexas #uniquethingstodoinaustin #Keepaustinweird
Because why wouldn’t you have a statue of Willie

Austin….Keep it Weird

You can walk down any street in Austin and your sure to find something to do, see, or experience. Austin is weird and takes pride in keeping it that way through art donations, cultural celebrations and holding unique festivals for just about every subject you could imagine. No matter what you decide to do, I’m sure you’re going to have a fantastic time deep in the heart of Texas.

Austin Texas - Culture Trekking - #AustinTexas #uniquethingstodoinaustin #Keepaustinweird

As always….Happy Travels, Happy Tales, and See You on the Flip Side.


If you enjoyed this article, you may also enjoy:

Ghost Tour in Austin Texas | Learn Just How Wild the West Really Was
Unique Things to do in Dallas Texas (from a Local)
Things To Do Off the Las Vegas Strip (from a Local)

Returning to the Texas Nightmare |Facing My Rape & Healing From it

Returning to the Texas Nightmare |Facing My Rape & Healing From it

I grab my water bottle and take a few deliberate swallows of the ice-cold water I keep by my bed. I call out, ‘Zoey’, my cute dog, that has been by my side through each and every one of these terrible moments. She helped me survive in Texas when I was too afraid to go to sleep. I would place my hand on her back and concentrate on her slow and easy breathing until my own matched hers. She is so small, yet so fierce, maybe there is a part of her that feels she has to be now — because I was so broken back then. She responded immediately to my voice and army-crawled over to me, too sleepy to stand up fully. I smile, and a giggle escapes, oh my sweet puppy. She knows exactly what to do, I lay on my left side, lift up the sheet for her to climb under and she lays right near my belly. Now that she has comforted me out of the nightmare, it is time to pet her. She scoots her nose beneath my hand and pushes it up quickly several times until I give in with a smile and scratch her soft fur methodically. I am calm again, I just have to get my mind to stop spinning over the ‘next thing’.

Rape & Healing

My trip to Austin for Travel Con was going to be more than just a trip for my website development, it is a trip of significant progress for me. It was just a year ago that even seeing, hearing, or having someone mention Texas sent the flashbacks flooding in and the panic tightening all my joints in the fight or flight physiological response. Now I was going back, maybe not to Dallas – the place that it happened, but to Austin – a city I often used for escape. The last time I was there, was two days before I moved back to Utah. I was still in a trauma fog back then and don’t remember much, but my mind is still afraid of being back in that State. Some people think it is easy to just ‘control your thoughts’, or that you ‘have an agenda for attention’, or…..well I could go on and on — but what most don’t realize is that PTSD is completely and utterly up to your subconscious mind trying to protect you from those terrible things again. What terrible thing? I was raped when I lived in Texas, a week after my trauma a 21-year-old friend from my church was kidnapped and brutally murdered and left in a van in a ditch — 2 weeks before she was to serve a religious mission.

Returning to the Texas Nightmare

Another week passed and my Dad flew into town for an event, and told me (without knowing what had happened) that he and my Mom didn’t love each other anymore and to not be surprised if something happens between them. I couldn’t work because I would have panic attacks trying to see my male patients. I pretended really well for a long time until I finally broke…..I came back home and found Sam….my therapist at the Rape Recovery Center in Salt Lake City Utah.
I remember her asking me, ‘What does ‘finishing therapy’ look like to you?’ — I won’t tell you exactly what I said, but I did tell her that going back to Texas was a goal to face the past and be at peace with it. It was two months ago, that I was finally able to stop blaming myself …..it took two whole years to get to this point.

Returning to the Texas Nightmare Rape & Healing

I had led a very sheltered life in Utah, people were kind, they cared about what was going on in your life. I never thought that sort of thing would happen to me, but it did, and it is not my fault no matter what the courts ruled. The one thing I KNEW I could always hang my hat on, was the sweet Nurse who examined me in the Emergency Room at 2am — fiercely hugging me while I wept she said, “I’m so sorry sweety, you were raped, no matter what anyone else says — the damage I saw on you is evidence that this was in no way consensual. I need you to believe me when I say that”, she wouldn’t let me go until I told her I believed her and let me cry into her shoulder for several minutes. I was bruised, had scratches on my face, and it was too painful to shower. I had to tell my boss and take two weeks off of work…..I had antibiotics, injections, pregnancy tests, mental battles….I made it through the fog of trauma, the floating through life praying the Lord would take me—but not believing he would hear me. I don’t know that I will ever see her again, but I know that her words are what kept me alive. Now I’m on the other side, I know what that nurse told me was the truth.

Returning to the Texas Nightmare Rape & Healing

I recreated the scenario of that night with my best friend and travel companion Breanna. Funny thing, I was still able to move my arms and legs, relay complex thought processes to her, I was able to tell her no when she asked me questions she knew I wouldn’t like. I hugged her at the end of that experiment, sobbing to her that I finally believed it wasn’t my fault……I knew without a shadow of a doubt I had been drugged. My cloak of shame was removed and the shame turned to anger & now I am reassigning many of those terrible memories a very different emotion.

The next step was to revisit my personal nightmare in Texas with a new set of glasses I had just put on. I was combining my love for travel writing, education, and meeting supportive travel blogger friends in Texas. No one knew how much this meant to me, how many nights before my flight I woke up sweating from the nightmares — I was finally strong enough to sit with my feelings and mourn for all that was lost & was going to Austin to claim my future back. Starting this website was a healthier way to cope than alcohol, overeating, or overspending to numb the pain and loss. It has given me hope again in humanity, reminds me that the world is my oyster and my story is not over yet.

I packed my things mechanically a few days later, I couldn’t chicken out now….I was so close. I packed, unpacked, repacked, unpacked, downsized, had my roommates tell me what to wear. I dove into preparation for my first travel conference, TravelCon 2018 with Nomadic Matt. This gives me something to create, to look forward to and be proud of. Now I want it to grow as I am growing, so I can use it for good & help those who may not be as lucky as I am for being able to have a fresh start.

Returning to the Texas Nightmare Rape & Healing

I got on the plane and couldn’t sleep, so I bought a Scientific America magazine, and started reading about a dry and watered down subject I was totally uninterested in. It worked like a charm, and soon I was drooling onto my shirt with the gentle hum of the propellers outside of my window as my white noise.
I awoke to the intercom blaring and the all too familiar ‘bing-bing-bing’ with the flashing seat-belt sign. We were starting our descent into my memories of Texas. I refused to cry on the plane, so took out my hand sanitizer, put a generous helping on my hands and let the pungent alcohol acost my nostrils. I thought about the bike ride I had signed up for at 330pm. I knew it would be hot and humid, but I was so ready to create some fun memories. (I will do a separate post on this, but for comic relief — I had died my hair the day before, and it has a red tint to it. Ladies, you know what happens when you sweat after dying your hair……yep, it was pouring down my face tinted red like the movie Carrie .)

TravelCon 2018

This is where the magic happens for me. Hearing the speakers, listening to their struggles, their fears, and being in a space of learning filled me and exhausted me. There is still so much to do and things I do not know. One class is all it took for me to have the courage to share this story.

Rape & Healing
Thomas Swick

It was a writing class with Thomas Swick, former Editor for the Florida Sun. I sat in this room of 12-13 women who were all there to learn how to share their stories. He asked us to share our ‘human element’ that is so often missing in travel writing. There are so many frills, flowing dresses, perfect scenes created….that we have forgotten what it is like to be expressive.
He painted a picture with words like an artist paints on canvas…..being an artist, I finally was able to see how writing could be an art as well. I thought of my Grandfather before he passed away he looked me straight in the eye and said, “You are so talented and so special to me, promise me that you will take art lessons or do something artistic. That’s the only thing I want you to promise me”. I have often thought I had failed him in this promise, but now I see I am creating a masterful work of art by creating this website and sharing it with the world.
I felt that sinking feeling of truth that comes into your heart when you know you have to do something, even if it is terrifying. The thing that was at the forefront of my mind, my story, my trauma, my healing, my promises…..I knew I needed to write this…..but how much was too much? I asked Mr. Swick, if there were taboo topics, or if he felt disturbing topics needed a trigger warning…..he said no, so if you are disturbed, I’m sorry…..blame him, lol.

Returning to the Texas Nightmare

I could tell he was a little uncomfortable when I asked him this, he was a former editor (they don’t typically like it when things were vague). So I took the first step of courage, and asked him, “Being fully transparent about this is really difficult for me, because I’m terrified of what will be said about me or to me, but here it goes. I was raped in Texas, and this is my first time being back here since it happened. Is sharing that story inappropriate or sharing too much?”
The room fell silent, and I didn’t dare look around the room. Mr. Swick sat back in his chair, stared at me with his wisened eyes, and gently stated, “I’m so sorry………I think your story could help a lot of people and needs to be told”. I fought back the tears when he said this, I was so afraid of being seen as damaged, or that I was doing this for the attention. This was such a HUGE journey for me to come back to Austin or even Texas and I needed to release the pain, fear, joy, and pride I was feeling in an artistic way.
After he said this, the other women in the room began to speak words of encouragement. They shared their story of mental health challenges, and how important it is to not be ashamed to write about it…..but just be ready for the internet trolls. The feeling in the room was such, that we went over time, and lingered after for a little while, sharing in a shared truth. I was humbled, overwhelmed and astonished at the reactions I received.

Sailing in Seattle Rape & Healing

I went back to my Airbnb and started to think about what I was going to share, and not share. I started reading Mr. Swick’s book, The Joy’s of Travel; and while reading a thought popped into my head, “Share your truth”. I started to silently cry (well maybe not quite silent, lol) in my room at this thought. So many years of self-doubt and torture, so many sleepless nights and self-destructive behavior due to poor choices OTHER people had made. I don’t want revenge anymore, I just want to feel whole again, feel like I have reclaimed my future and know exactly what a ‘life worth living’ is for myself. All of this came crashing down on me at that moment when I realized…..I needed to share my story, my truth.
I hope in sharing my truth, it allows you to face those demons within yourself. You aren’t alone, it is bloody scary to face those demons, but you can do it. I guarantee that the battle is worse when you try and do it alone…..reach out…..get the support that is there…..you got this.

Kodachrome Basin State Park Rape & Healing

Don’t give pre-determined labels to people based on your previous experience. What you deem to be cookie cutter definition may not always be what the real truth is. I was a triathlete, and now have health problems from putting on so much weight after my trauma. I was a kind, bubbly, giving person that was known as the anchor for my friends; now I get anxiety from being in a crowd of people. Mother Teresa said, “The hardest battles fought are the ones inside our own mind”, this has never been truer for me than now. I am winning my battle though, I am fighting the good fight, I’m not giving up because Zoey needs me, my sister needs me, and I know that by speaking my truth I will help others as well.

I don’t know that my voice will change the global conversation about this. I don’t know that comments or responses to this will be kind. What I do know, is that I have remained true to my own voice……I have shared my truth……and want you to know that there is hope. If you have nothing else, don’t lose hope.

As Always……Happy Travels, Happy Tales, and See You on the Flip Side. 

Things To Do In Den Haag & A Scary Encounter

Things To Do In Den Haag & A Scary Encounter

A scary encounter turned to a blissful although slightly chilly day in Den Haag. See mind minding artwork, what to visit in the off season and just how special getting lost in this city can really be.

Den Haag Netherlands

There are so many things to do in Den Haag they said, it would be fun they said. It was an entirely different experience for me, and not just in visiting the city but the entire process of going, being there and wandering around the area. I was visiting the Netherlands for my Birthday, it was the off season, and it was very cold!

Getting to Den Haag:

I had my Eurail Pass in hand, palms sweaty, my first time traveling on European trains was a complete nightmare. I was determined to make this trip better and figure this out. My European friends still snicker at how unlucky I was for my first train ride, with the train catching fire, getting on the wrong train etc…. But this isn’t about that horrible train ride, this is about experiencing something again even though I’m afraid to do it.

Right…..onto the train I go…. I had the right car, the right ticket, the right direction and even found the second class seating like I was supposed to. Ok now that I’m in my seat, I should check the GPS when the train starts going just to make sure I’m going in the right direction towards Den Haag. I should just act natural, not speak because otherwise, these Netherlanders are going to look at me like a stupid American that freaks out on trains……oh if they only knew the horrors I have endured…. Stop being dramatic, and focus on the positive Janiel. Right, ok train is now moving – the moment of truth……YES!!!!!! God be PRAISED I’m going in the right direction! Now I can just sit back and relax and be proud of myself for not flummoxing this one up like I did Prague. See, I can really do hard things!

A Scary Encounter:

What to do in Den Haag

It wasn’t long after I had sat down and congratulated myself when a suspicious looking character walked down the aisle of the train. My internal dialogue when something along the lines of, ‘Don’t make eye contact, don’t make eye contact…..oh God, please don’t let him talk to me’. I made the mistake of looking up because I could just feel him standing there looking at me, ‘Shit’, I thought. He smiled a toothy grin and sat down right across from me. Just for the record, I always try to be nice and be kind to whoever I meet…..but I got some bad vibes from this man. He was tall, lanky, had big baggy torn clothes on, and oh how he smelled of the streets.

I had previously worked in a homeless clinic in Las Vegas, and he smelled all too similar to that. I gave him a half smile, and in my panicked brain, I tried to figure out how I could get away and still be polite. He started to speak to me in French, and I had no clue what he was saying. He realized I spoke English, and tried to speak English to me. He asked where I was going, who I was traveling with. I hate lying, so I told the truth and reiterated that I was going to Den Haag and had a very busy schedule.

He wanted to get coffee and as he asked me slyly grabbed onto my hand and interlocked his fingers with mine. I told him politely that I didn’t have time and that I did not want to hold his hand. I looked across the aisle at the couple sitting there and tried to beg with my eyes for them to help me. They were politely ignoring the situation and the male sitting across from me didn’t want me to pay attention to anything else but him.

Evasion and Protection:

Den Haag

I tried to distract him with other areas in the Netherlands, but he decided he was going to come with me to Den Haag. I didn’t want him to, I started to sweat a little and reverted into a fight or flight mental mode. I started planning with the GPS on my phone, the path I would take to the museum, the alleys I would take, using the public roads as much as possible. He got up and sat right next to me, blocking the aisle and the escape. I moved over to the other chair right in front of him. It was like I was playing chess with him, and I was bound and determined not to lose. Maybe I was paranoid, maybe not, but I knew I didn’t like feeling cornered and smothered…..blame it on my prior bad experiences with men. They conductor announced Den Haag, and I got up quickly, told him I had to go because I had a very busy day. I was able to collect my things and get up quickly enough to put a few people between him and I. Step one of evasion and protection complete, not to maintain the distance just out of arms reach.

As soon as the doors opened I was off, not looking back, I didn’t care about being nice at this point. Alas, he caught up to me with his long legs, I cursed my short legs and looked at my GPS. Ok, the museum was not that far away. I maintained a rapid pace, running across a street here or there to throw him off. It was early in the morning so not many people were out. He knew we were getting close and grabbed my arm to get me to slow down, pleading with me to come over to have coffee at his place. I had taken enough self-defense classes to known how to break his grip….a quick powerful smooth movement towards the thumb, with an immediate turn up the road and I was free.

Den Haag
Culture Trekking in the Netherlands

My GPS took me into an alleyway that I knew was not the best place to be alone with this person, but taking another route would have meant more time with him. I quickened my pace, and he ran and got in front of me. I told him very strongly I was not going anywhere with him, and I traveled too far to miss this artwork I have been wanting to see since I was a child. I crossed the street again and a car drove by, blocking him temporarily. I took a photo of him just in case something were to happen, for evidence. “Ugh, I really need to stop watching horror movies” I chided myself for being too dramatic and that he was likely just trying to flirt…..but knew the instant I thought this, it was likely more than just flirtation bordering on something slightly sinister.

He ran to catch up just as I turned the corner and saw the gated museum, luckily there was a cop out front. He grabbed the backpack I had on, and pulled me back around the corner, I twisted out of his grip and he said he cannot go in there with me. I told him that was ok with me, and that he should continue on his way to wherever he had been planning on going. I kept moving, walking, twisting to look at different things and watched as he slinked away back into the alley with a very angry expression on his face.
I descended down into the museum and went straight into the ladies room.

Den Haag
Culture Trekking in the Netherlands

This was the first time traveling as a solo female that I had been afraid, truly nervous for my safety. I did exactly what I knew I should do, walk with purpose, keep moving, hold my heavy camera in one hand just in case I had to use it as a weapon, and found the nearest tourist attraction that had police there. It took me a little while to calm myself down from this ordeal before I was able to go and purchase my ticket and finally see a Vermeer painting in person.

Experiencing Vermeer:

Den Haag Vermeer
Den Haag Vermeer

The Mauritshuis Museum is built in an old Palace of one of the Dutch Royal families main residences. Complete with a boat loading dock right on the canal, surrounded by gates. I bought my ticket, hands still slightly shaking, chanting ‘your safe now, you’re safe now’.

I went into the first room and went to the windows, lifted the blinds slightly and was faced with the alleyway where I had left my shadow. He wasn’t there, ok, maybe he had gone, ‘calm down Janiel – you came too far to not enjoy yourself here’ I whispered to myself under my breath.
The museum attendant looked at me in her navy blue sweater and gave me a warm smile. This seemed to help me refocus on the experience. I wandered the room, getting lost in the artwork here and there.

den haag

Then I saw her, the girl with the pearl earring. She was smaller than I imagined but stared into my soul – a beautiful woman trapped in a painting that would be shown to many throughout history. The slight bend in the neck, the wrapped hair, the slight coloring of her lips contrasting against the dark background. Seeing her was like seeing a woman of strength, yet relaxed.

Den Haag Vermeer

If I were to meet her on a street, I could imagine her inviting me in for tea – getting to the root of my anxiety and then sending the many suitors vying for her attention after my sinister shadow outside.  The strength of her stair chased the rest of the jitters within me away, and I became misty-eyed with relief and awe at how moving and realistic Vermeer’s works truly are.

Mauritshuis in Den Haag: open 10am to 6pm – Gold Age paintings like Vermeer – Plein 29, 2511 CS Den HaagNoordeinde Palace, one of the Dutch royal family’s main residences

The Noordeinde Palace Disappointment:

Noordeinde Palace Den Haag

I left the Mauritshuis cautiously, and couldn’t see my sinister shadow anywhere and was able to breathe a sigh of relief. I was still a little jumpy, so I decided to go to the Noordeinde Palace. This is one of the three official palaces of the Dutch Royalty, typically used for official state business.

I wandered through the streets towards the palace, peering out the windows, admiring the Dutch style. One thing I noticed more than anything else, was how clean all of the windows were. I mean, every single window was clean – several people were out cleaning windows even though was supposed to rain. How odd, yet, how intriguing this cultural idiosyncrasy was to having clean windows as a way of a status symbol in a way .

My phone vibrated in my hand as I was lost in this thought indicating that I had arrived at the Palace. I felt a bit of relief to be able to get out of the cool breeze, but as I looked around….realized there were no entrances. DRAT! It must have been because I was there in the offseason that I wasn’t able to enter. I was severely disappointed, I had been so excited to compare the how the Dutch Royalty decorated their official palace compared to that of the Holyrood Palace in Scotland. So I did what I typically do when disappointed by unforeseen circumstances, I Googled what the inside of the Noordeinde Palace looked like. I took the obligatory photo through the fence, and of the statue of the man on the horse out front. Sighed heavily, and punched in my next destination, the Escher Gallery.

Enchanted Courtyard:

What to do in Den Haag

I was wandering the city on my way to Escher in the palace and found this enchanting little courtyard in near the Ridderzal. This is the EXACT reason I have one day planned out for every trip I go on, where I allow myself to get lost in a city.
I was able to sit on a bench, not feel rushed to see this or that & interact with some lovely tourists who were there on holiday celebrating their family. It was a beautiful thing to witness and one of the things I really hold in my heart and taught me in a small way to appreciate my own family.
It was hard to leave this place because of this moment, but as with all good things — it did have to come to an end.

Imagining the Abstract with Escher:

Wandering down the streets, through perfectly aligned trees I noticed how fancy all the homes were. It would make sense being that in the early 19th century this is where the Royal family lived, and so all of the surrounding buildings would have been part of court or those in power. Escher in the Palace Museum is not a typical cement box type museum, but a repurposed palace full of history. There is a small sign out in front, and you almost feel as if you are intruding into a home when you enter because of the doors.
This is an oddly intriguing museum for all who love both Art and History. Combining two very opposite exhibitions for visitors. This house was the former home to Queen Emma, who was part of the Dutch Royal Family in the early 19th Century. You will be able to see where she lived, what her life was like, where she gave speeches and the rumors that surrounded her.
To be honest, I wasn’t super impressed with this part of the museum, but it may be worthwhile to visit for those who love Dutch History.

Esceher in the Palace in Den Haag

Different sections of this former palace are also reserved for the intricately abstract, and mind-bending photos of Escher. I have always loved his art and remember seeing one of his first graphic designs, The Drawing Hands, and how it entrapped my mind circling around their infinity like symbolism.

One thing I was entirely surprised by was that Mr. Escher was a dreamer and a world traveler. While some may look at his life of art entwined with mathematics and think of him to be odd or eccentric, I found his works and his life to be absolutely brilliant. My creativity skyrocketed after visiting this place and truly made my trip to Den Haag worth it.

Get your Escher in the Palace Ticket here.
Escher In The Palace: 11am-5pm (optical illusion museum) – Lange Voorhout 74, 2514 EH Den Haag, Netherlands

Scheveningen Beach in Den Haag:

Scheveningen Beach in Den Haag

I’m very good at getting lost, I know this about myself and this is why I do not travel without some sort of GPS capability. So when I reached the 2nd to last stop on my way to Escher in the Palace and ended up at Scheveningen Boulevard Beach  I decided to make it an experience instead of panic about it. I jumped off, saw people heading up a hill with coats, towels and some kites. I decided to follow them and see where the locals went to play.

Cresting the top of the hill I was greeted by the longest running white sand beach I have ever seen. There were also fun metal art pieces, that made me grin and giggle away the stressful morning completely. There is nothing more relaxing to me that watching the ocean waves crash into the beach and smelling that sea breeze. It was a bit chillier than I was planning on, and the torrents of wind pounding the beach front was making my eyes water from the cold. It was exhilarating and made my adrenaline start pumping from the chill that was seeping into my bones.

I wandered along the Boulevard, taking photos of the interactive statues that were available. I think it was the perfect random addition to complete my trip to Den Haag (The Hague). I love getting lost in the city and seeing how locals do things. I was able to witness something I typically would not have searched out and was pleasantly surprised to find something that would bring peace back in my trip despite the cold.
I couldn’t feel my face, and my teeth started to hurt from the cold winds hitting me because of my perma-grin. I squealed and ran in place a little bit, which didn’t help thaw anything out, and likely made me look a bit mad really, so I decided to head back to the city trams.

den haaag

Traveler Tip: The EURail pass doesn’t work on the Trams, so make sure you buy a ticket for them. Otherwise, you can get a ticket, I didn’t know this and was given a one-time free pass because I had my EURail pass. Make sure you buy the right pass for the right city and the right time of day. A ticket in Amsterdam will be different than the one for public transport in Den Haag. Day tickets are less expensive than Night-time tickets. So go to IAmsterdam and buy your public transport tickets there.

Other Beaches and Coastal Walks in Den Haag:

  • Kijkduin Boulevard
    • quieter beach than Scheveningen (more touristy)
    • is a great place to walk, find something to eat, enjoy the sunset, and laugh seeing the funny sculptures
  • Noordwijk & dunes
    • off the beaten path beach that has a different feel and is along the tourist route
    • Walking and cycling network Bollenstreek – 11.6km to 51km depending on where you want to go
  • Haagse Bos – (forested area to bike through)
    • address: Bezuidenhoutseweg, The Hague, The Netherlands

Rounding Out My Day in Den Haag:

I spent more than half the day in Den Haag and feel it was not quite enough time to properly explore it. I was only in the Netherlands for 10 days and wanted to get small taste of multiple cities.
 
If I were to go back, I would plan to go in the summer so I could explore more of the beaches here, see the palace, and then ride a bike through the forested areas like a local.
Despite bad or scary things happening on a trip, you don’t always have to let them destroy your experience. Just focus on the good things, and realize it was a moment in time and does not mean you will have the rest of your day ruined. Just be smart, have a plan, believe in your own power and carry-on.

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Things to do near Den Haag:

Where to stay in Den Haag:

Booking.com

Tours of Den Hagg:

Beer Tasting Tour in The Hague
Private Customized Tour of The Hague
Cruising the Canals of The Hague

As always…..Happy Travels, Happy Tales, See you on the Flip Side!


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