A Cuppa Cosy Summer Holiday 2022 – Kingston, Ontario

I went back and forth as to whether to write this final post on our summer trip. Kingston is incredibly close to where we live, we didn’t do much while we were there (except one really cool tour, which is why I decided to write this) and we were definitely at the end of our…travel excitement. However, I decided to write it to not only share the cool spot we toured, but also just a little insight into what our final day or two was like in Canada- because boy did things happen that made me think. 

As always, let’s start with a little history of the area. 

Kingston was originally named Cataraqui and inhabited by the Five Nations Iroquois (though the Wyandot People – of Huron origins- were the first occupants). The French arrived in 1615 and established Fort Cataraqui in 1673 to serve as a military and trade base. The fort itself was occupied on and off, would be destroyed and rebuilt several times over, until finally the British took possession in 1783. The renamed it Tete-de-Pont Barracks in 1787, then turned over to the Canadian military in 1870. It is still in use today; however, it is now named Fort Frontenac. 

Kingston played a bit of a role in the American Revolutionary War as a home location for Loyalists (those who were loyal to the British Crown and wanted to remain a part of the United Kingdom). In order to make “space” for the Loyalists the British worked with the Mississaugas to purchase land. The Loyalists gave the settlement the name of “King’s Town” – which would eventually turn in to Kingston. 

One of the bigger military times for Kingston was the War of 1812. Kingston became a major military town and engaged in an arms race with the American Fleet stationed in Sackets Harbor. The base of Fort Henry, later known at Point Henry, was built to help protect the Canadian Fleet and garrisoned until 1871. It’s now a World Heritage Site. 

Once incorporated as a town, it held the largest population in Upper Canada until the 1840’s (it became a city in 1846). From what I can see- Kingston is really known in terms of cultural hot spots. They host several film festivals, music festivals, writer retreats, as well as Busker events (we’ll get in to that last one). A lot of musician and actors name Kingston as their birthplace, most notable being Dan Aykroyd (there are many more musicians that I could name as well). A final notable fact, the first high school in the province was established in Kingston in 1792 by a Loyalist! 

I’ve been to Kingston now twice, the first being a fun girlie day out where we wandered the streets of downtown, stopped in a local independent bookstore (spent some money…), and grabbed lunch at a great Tex-Mex spot, Lone Star Grill. The second time was this trip with both boys and my husband. 

We headed to Kingston from Toronto on the day where half the nation of Canada was crippled by a software glitch. The communication servers for about half of the country simply went down. This was horrifying on so many levels- people weren’t able to work, weren’t able to pay for products (it affected the banking lines, so no debit or electronic means of payments, BUT they could accept credit cards, not debit as credit, but actual credit cards), but people were not able to communicate via phones, the hospitals were impacted, emergency services. It really crippled that portion of the country for the entire day- I believe it started sometime in the wee hours of the morning and didn’t get fully restored until well past midnight. Thankfully it did get restored and everything returned to “normal”, but it did make you think…about a) how reliant we are on technology, and b) just how…dominating our technology/processing world is by very few companies that so much went down. 

Once we arrived in Kingston and we immediately went off to our single scheduled event- a tour of the Kingston Penitentiary. Kingston Penitentiary was a maximum-security prison that has only recently closed in 2013- actually at the time of closing it was one of the oldest prisons in continuous use in the world. Originally opened in 1835 as a provincial penitentiary, it was one of nine prisons in the area. The building site was selected due mostly to the ready access to water and abundant fine limestone. It first housed six inmates, though it could hold 564 inmates total by the time it closed (this does not include the treatment center within the prison I don’t believe). Across the street to the north is the Kingston Prison for Women which operated from 1934-2000 to allow for more space- women had previously simply been segregated in the main facility. 

This penitentiary has seen two riots, one in 1954 and another in 1971. In 1954 there was a two-hour riot (which at that point was the worst in history) involving almost 900 inmates. A breakout was attempted coinciding with the riot, however, was not successful. This particular riot started in the exercise yard, led to several fires in different buildings, 50 ringleaders going to solitary confinement, $2 million in damages, and the involvement of both the Canadian Army and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. The second riot was much worse. 

In 1971 there was a four-day riot within the prison that led to two inmates dying, six guards being held hostage, and much of the prison destroyed. The riot was instigated by concerns about future conditions at a separate prison transfer, lack of work/recreational time and other prisoner issues. Once the riot was quelled, an investigation was opened, and it found that the prisoners were not wrong in their complaints. A number of issues were noted, least of which being overcrowding and shortage of staff, but also prisoners who did not require maximum security, a lack of channels to deal with prisoner complaints and requests, as well as aged physical facilities. This riot led to committees being form and new jobs being created to help deal with these complaints and issues within the prison. 

There have been three escapes recorded from this maximum-security prison: 1923, 1947, and 1999. The first was Norman “Red” Ryan, who was an Irish Catholic Gangster. He escaped with several other inmates in September 1923 by setting a fire as a distraction, going over the wall, and stealing a car. However, he was caught again in Minnesota and brought back. Once back in prison he became a “model prisoner” and the poster child for prison/parole reform. He was released, went on to denounce his prior criminal activities and be a model citizen in public…all while going on an armed robbery spree. During one of these armed robberies the little gang he had formed ended up in a shootout of sorts. While Norman continued to present himself as the model citizen, even offering to help police and detectives figure out what happened, he was found out a few months later and died in a shootout with police at a liquor store. The second escape was fairly straightforward, 3 inmates went over the wall, 2 came back, 1 was never found. 

The third escape was by Ty Conn in 1999. Ty Conn was the first to evade capture for weeks and weeks since the last “successful” escape in 1958 (this is after 26+ attempts by inmates since 1836). Abandoned by both his parents, put up for adoption by his maternal grandparents he was adopted by a psychiatrist and his, alleged/described, mentally unstable wife. That only lasted about eight years before he was “returned” and placed in and out of foster and group homes, and youth detention facilities. As a young child in his adoptive family, he started stealing – first food then cars in his teenage years. By the time of his death, he was only “legally at large” (free) for 69 days (this is from age 13-death). After notifying prison guards at Millhaven Prison that several inmates were planning to escape, he was placed in protective custody and transferred to Kingston Penitentiary. His own escape utilized not only a rope ladder and grappling hook (that he made himself), but also cayenne pepper to throw the scent off to the dogs. He was found two weeks later in Toronto where he committed suicide, rather than go back to prison. 

I have to interject my personal opinion here for a moment because in listening to the tour guide speak about Ty Conn and the brief history I’ve learned about him- he really is one of those…cases for prison reform and slip through the crack’s instances. There is a book currently out by Theresa Burke and Linden MacIntyre, both have met and had interaction with Ty Conn, titled Who Killed Ty Conn. Together they paint a different picture and one that is worth understanding and knowing. It’s a book that I’ve added to my list to read at some point. 

From 1971-1981 Kingston Penitentiary also served as the Regions Reception Center. Every inmate in the prison system would come to Kingston Penitentiary first. It also held a Regional Treatment Centre within the prison which allowed up to 120 inmates who were in recovery. In 1990 Kingston Penitentiary was designated a National Historic Site and it was officially closed on September 30, 2013. A month or so later it was opened for tours- all of which are given by former guards and employees of the prison. 

 Kingston Penitentiary has seen it all and boy, if walls could talk. The tour was, quite honestly, incredible. Not only do you get to see how the prison changed throughout the long years it was used, but you also get to hear real experiences from employees and guards. It gives you a real insight in to not only these prisoners live within the prison, but also insight in to how the prison structure works/operates/could improve. The tour guides were not able to talk about the actual prisoners as it’s against Canadian privacy laws, but a quick search gives you an idea of some of the infamous prisoners housed in those walls. 

We stopped for a bite to eat after the tour (and a gas up- thankfully we found a station that was able to take credit cards!) at Montana’s BBQ & Bar- which was delicious and supplied quite the Long Island Iced Tea ;). 

The next morning, we headed more towards downtown to walk along the river and the store fronts. We were pleasantly greeted by a Busker Festival. If you don’t know, a busker is a street performer. So, the folks that you walk past that are performing on sidewalks or subway stations for donations and your enjoyment? Buskers. And Kingston had an entire weekend full of entertainment lined up. The streets were blocked off to allow several performers, with a good distance between, there was a stage set up at the water, as well as food, face paint, and a sidewalk chalk competition. 

Coinciding with that event, it was also the weekend of a boat race, so while we were walking along the water, we were treated with the site of these souped-up boats, with wonderful sounding engines pull in to dock for lunch. 

We did just a little walking and then, finally, headed back across the border to the states and back home. And that wraps up our Summer Holiday (finally!). Which was your favorite to hear about? NIAGARA, DETROIT, UPPER PENINSULA, SUDBURY, TORONTO, or Kingston? Have you added any to your to visit list? And if you haven’t- you HAVE to add Mackinac Island/Upper Peninsula straight away. Let me know!

A Cuppa Cosy Summer Holiday 2022 – Toronto, Ontario

Ok, another preface to another travel blog post…actually two. So, first up, our time in Toronto was not utilized very well. We got late starts every morning we were there, and we didn’t really do any planning for our time there. What I’m going to do is talk about what we actually did, and then share a couple of the spots that I wish that we had gone to. 

A second preface regarding the Covid crossing. A basic reiteration as to what I said in my first post (and apologies for not including it in my Sudbury post- I forgot and it worked out as that post went a lot longer than I thought it would). These may or may not be up to date when you are reading this post (as they still change day to day), so I would recommend checking the Canada travel site HERE for the most up to date information. To enter Canada as an adult you must be fully vaccinated and fill out the Arrive CAN app on the phone (you can do this via we browser and print the certificate as well if that is easier for you, I believe). Kids aged 5 & up are required to be vaccinated unless they are traveling with fully vaccinated adults. For the vast majority of Ontario, we were not required to wear masks.

So, on to Toronto…

Toronto is the most populous city in Canada, the fourth most populous in the North America Region (it’s also the fastest growing city, and second fastest growing metro region in the North America’s). It’s location at the entrance of a route to the NW (one of the oldest there is) has been inhabited and used since the 1600’s by the Huron, Iroquois, and Ojibwe. In the 1660’s the Iroquois created two towns, but then they left the area after the Beaver Wars. In 1701 the Mississaugas took over the region and were there until 1750 when the French established Fort Rouille (they were still in the region, but the French started to cultivate the region). Once the Seven Years War ended the French left and the region became part of British Quebec. The American Revolution saw an influx in Loyalists escaping America and in 1787 Toronto officially became a British Territory with the Toronto Purchase. Toronto wasn’t always known as Toronto, in fact in 1793 it was the Town of York, and it became the capital of Upper Canada the same year. When slavery was banned in 1834, the newly renamed city of Toronto, became a refuge for former slaves and all people of color. Toronto has had two “Great Fires”, the Cathedral fire in 1849 which destroyed most of the Market district as well as St. James Cathedral, and the Great Fire in 1902 which destroyed more than 100 buildings and killed one person. A final fun fact for you: Toronto was once the largest alcohol distribution center- it specialized in spirits, and in the 1860’s Gooderham and Worts Distillery was the largest whisky factory in the world. 

The first night in Toronto we simply did a little walking, did a little eating, and settled into our hotel. We stayed in the Chelsea Hotel (the largest in Canada), and it was both a good hotel as well as a good local spot. We started at Old City Hall and Nathan Phillips Square, then over to Toronto Eaton Centre, which is a massive, covered shopping mall. We then walked down to Yonge- Dundas Square, which is similar (but a bit smaller) to Times Square. Opened in 2002 it is central to Downtown Yonge’s entertainment and shopping. 

The next morning, we set out for our first “must see” of Toronto, the Hockey Hall of Fame.

The Hockey Hall of Fame is credited to James T. Sutherland who was involved in the sport. He believed the Hall of Fame should be located in Kingston as he saw that as the birthplace of Hockey. However, there were quite a few funding issues trying to create a permanent building (even after inductions began in 1945), and, in 1961, it was moved to Toronto. Initially the Hockey Hall of Fame shared space with the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame, but in 1986 they ran out of space and in 1993 they moved to the current location inside Brookfield Place/Bank of Montreal Building. Within the museum you’ll find not only history pieces, trophies and rings, team memorabilia, and the like, but also an entire interactive zone where you can practice shooting pucks against a goalie, being a goalie, as well as learn how television broadcasting works. It was quite a way to spend the morning and we loved getting this deep dive into Hockey History. 

From there we wandered over to St. Lawrence Market. In the early 1800’s the governor recognized that the town needed to have a central market location, with specific dates and times that it would be operational. And so, St. Lawrence Market was opened. This heart of the town was not only a market, but also served as an auction space, a place of public punishment, and for a time, was the seat of the city council. A temporary structure was first introduced in 1814, with a permanent structure built in 1820. This led to a long road of construction, remodeling, destruction (it went down during the Cathedral Fire), and re building. The present St. Lawrence Market South Building dates back to 1845 (rebuilt in 1850 and remodeled in 1972). Originally there was two buildings, however the North building was demolished in 2015. It is full of just about any vendor you could think of, from food, to jewelry, stationary, clothes and beyond. It is a hectic, but fun stop to see. We wandered up and down the aisles of two floors and admired all the goodies being sold.  

From the market we wandered over to the “old district” which didn’t have much that we could see- we actually got a little bit confused over the whole thing. We did see Toronto’s First Post Office, the De La Salle Institute, and St. Andrew’s Church. We ended our day on the docks, watching the water.

The next morning, we headed out once again, this time over to Allan Gardens Conservatory. This was a stop mostly for me, as I wanted to see all the plants. The area dates back to 1858 when George Allan donated a small plot of land to the Horticultural Society. The city then approached him to purchase the surrounding land to expand, which George agreed to as long as they kept it publicly accessible free of charge. It originally opened in 1879 before a fire damaged it in 1902. The present gardens opened in 1910 with the domed Palm House, which were quickly added to in both the 1920’s as well as late 1950. It’s not large, and to be honest not entirely necessary to see, but it was nice to pop in to somewhere to be surrounded by plants for an hour. The boys stopped and played at the nearby playground for a little bit while we tried to figure out what else we wanted to do. At this point we only had half a day left in Toronto, which cut out a lot of things that we wanted to do (like I said- we didn’t plan this stop well at all). 

We decided to head over to Ripley’s Aquarium as the boys have never been to one and it would be a fun stop for everyone that was also nearby. The Aquarium is really known for its Sharks and Sting Rays (in my opinion), and they are also the most active of all the fish. We were able to see not only those, but also a very active octopus, sea turtles, and jelly fish. It was a decent stop and a good way to cool off. 

From there we headed across the street to the Roundhouse Park & Toronto Railway Museum. I’ll be honest…I don’t think this is really worth the stop, even if your kids are massively into trains. The roundhouse park is really cool, first built in 1929 and the last in downtown Toronto, it’s a 32-stall house featuring, at that time, the most modern of technology. It closed operations in 1982 and became a Canadian National Historic Site in 1990. The museum opened in 2010 and features quite a lot of history on the Canadian Pacific Railway, artifacts from bygone times, as well as the ability to drive a simulated train. The boys liked to drive the simulation, but beyond that they didn’t care about any of the rest of it. You are able to see all the 10 train cars featured in the museum on the outside (without going into the museum) as well as take the mini railway. I don’t normally say that a museum isn’t worth going to because I believe in history, in museums, and in learning about the past, but this is one that I don’t think you need to go to. 

And that really wraps up our time in Toronto…

Now, some of the things I actually wished we did were:

Spend a day on Toronto Islands. The Toronto Islands consist of 15 small islands just south of the mainland. You are able to take a boat ferry from Toronto over to the Island Park and, like Mackinac Island, the Islands are car-free. We could have biked through Toronto Island Park, the Centreville Amusement Park, as well as walked and relax on the beach. We actually thought about maybe going for half the day but didn’t think it wise to try and beat the rush at the amusement park and get back to the mainland. I didn’t want to be rushed. 

We thought about going over to Casa Loma, however it was a bit out of the way of the other ideas we had and to take a tour within the castle was a bit pricey. It’s one of those- we saw so many real, old, historic castles in Europe that we haven’t found one here in North America that “measures up” to what we’ve come to expect (yes, I really said that and cringed every word through). I do think it still would have been nice to experience though. 

And, finally, I think that going to the Toronto Botanical Gardens would have been nice. I would have probably preferred them to the Allen Garden Conservatory, but it just didn’t fit in to our schedule or route in any way. 

I do think the Hockey Hall of Fame and St. Lawrence Market are must visits during your time in Toronto. I would say most of the rest, if you walk past or through on a route is fine, but not necessarily worth going out of your way to see. 

So, there you have it. Our 3 nights in Toronto. Up next is our final stop on our Summer Holiday…

A Weekend in the City

Before I get into this post, I want to put a little…not disclaimer, but a little word about the delay. We went on this long weekend over Memorial Weekend, which…is now like 3 weeks ago. But let me tell you…the NYC exhaustion is NEXT LEVEL. It took me a week to feel like I wasn’t…tired and then another week to process and write, and now you’re reading it a week later. Sorry, but that’s reality for you! Now, into the post…

So, New York City. One of those “iconic” cities from the U.S. I’ve been several times to the city, but my husband had only been once (though he’s driven through it) for a work trip. Since we live ~5 hours from the city, we figured we could take a long weekend and see all the…big touristy things. Let me say one {more} thing…I let my husband and kids take the lead on this trip. Since I’ve been to the city before, I’ve done most of the highlights…and some of the hidden gems. And…to be honest, New York City is big enough that you won’t see it all unless you live there and even then, you might not. So…we wanted to kind of hit some of the popular highlights of the city. If I go back, I plan on going as a girl’s trip and can do a couple of different things that may not have interested my husband or children (like a Broadway show, some of the neighborhoods, etc.). 

Two more things before I get into the weekend, we stayed very much outside the “city proper”. We stayed on the south end of Brooklyn, and, for us, it was worth it. The public transport in NYC is decent and it was very easy for us to just hop into the city when we wanted, but then be able to hop out for a breather. Second, we had really great weather for the trip! I know, weather?! BUT I feel like you never really know what you’re going to get in the city when it comes to weather, and we had one thunderstorm at the beginning and then blue skies and mild heat the rest of the weekend. 

So, to start off…

We started off our great City adventure by walking to the city across the Brooklyn Bridge. I’ve seen this bridge a million and a half times between photo’s, TV, and movies, but never actually walked across. Since we were staying on the Brooklyn side of things (like very much outside the city), I figured, this would be a great way to “meet” the city for the first time. The Brooklyn Bridge connects Lower Manhattan with Brooklyn Heights over the East River. When the bridge was initially completed in 1883, it was the longest suspension bridge in the world. It has been reconstructed several times to meet larger traffic demands, as well as to install specific bike lanes. It was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1964 and a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark in 1972. The views crossing over the Brooklyn Bridge are great- you can see just about the entire city, plus the Statue of Liberty. 

We grabbed dinner at a hole in the wall Italian joint and I finally got to have my fast-food pizza. After dinner, we just wandered around the Financial District into the evening. We got our first glimpse at the World Trade Center area, as well as a hint of the battery (looking down- not quite The Battery). 

The next morning, we had an early start as we booked an early security check in for our ferry and tour of the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. I think most of us know the history of the Statue of Liberty, so I won’t go too deep into all that history. Gifted to us by the French in 1886 to celebrate the friendship of France and the U.S., Lady Liberty is full of a lot of symbolism. Across the statue, from what she carries, to her stance, even the carved facial expression- everything has meaning. While France financed and created the statue, the U.S. had to supply the Pedestal on which she would stand. Originally it was a copper color, but by 1906 the copper oxidized and the gorgeous green that we see today had arrived. The statue has been renovated once but closed several times during her tenure. For many years following the September 11 attacks the crown was closed to visitors, once re opened it was a limited amount per day (240/day total). 

We spent about an hour and a half or so on Liberty Island, walking up to the pedestal, around the base, and then through the museum. From there, we hopped back on our ferry and headed to Ellis Island. Again, I won’t go through too much of the history as I feel like most of us (well in the U.S.) know the basics of Ellis Island. Built initially in 1892, due to the high volume of immigrants at the time, Ellis Island served as the first stop for any and all new immigrants for 60 years. Over 12 million immigrants walked through its’ doors, though not all got to stay, and some faced rigorous testing and inspections. Upon arrival if you were traveling on anything other than a first- or second-class ticket OR you were sick, you would be sent to Ellis Island. Upon arrival at the island, you would go through several rounds of testing, some just a health screening, others a full interview and evaluation. Around 2% of the immigrants would not be granted entry and would be sent back- reasons being either disease or work concerns. The Island was closed in 1954 after a slowdown in the need of extensive processing (this was when embassies, and more ports started coming in to play). Once closed, Ellis Island became a ghost town. It deteriorated into a group of abandoned buildings, even though it was a recognized landmark (1965). The Foundation, that restored the Statue of Liberty, worked tirelessly on restoring, combining, creating, and finally opening Ellis Island as well now know it. 

I will say, even if you aren’t the family of immigrants or if you know the history, it’s still a pretty incredible place to visit. Not only for the history of the immigrants that went through their (and to learn their history pre-Ellis, during Ellis, and post Ellis), but it’s also pretty incredibly to think about the restoration and rebuild that occurred at the Island. And to know that it’s funded by the public through donations and contributions. Again, it’s just a place to visit and learn about what was a big place for so many. So many of these immigrants have made incredible and everyday contributions to our country. 

Once we got the ferry back to Battery Park, we headed out, once again, to explore the Financial District. We stopped over at the New York Stock Exchange, which is always a bit…smaller than one would think in person. We saw the little girl standing up to the male corporations dreaming of being in their one day (I don’t know if that’s exactly it, but that’s how I see it), the bull of Wall Street (which was packed and I didn’t even bother to re-create any pictures from the past two visits to it), and then over to One Trade Center. Visiting the World Trade Center Memorial, One World Trade Center, and the rebuilt area was something that was important to me. The first time I had ever visited New York City, I had gotten to go inside the Twin Towers, my mother worked with folks who worked inside the Towers, I vividly (like many many others) remember September 11, my husband vividly remembers September 11, and it was important to us that our children know that space and history. So, we visited. It’s such a peaceful spot, somewhere that you can sit for a bite and remember those who died, were injured, or are forever missing from that day. We stopped by the name that my mother knew and rested a bit.

From there it only seemed fitting that we headed to the New York City Fire Museum (mostly for our firetruck crazed 4-year-old). The museum showed not only the history of the fire trucks, fire response, and fire departments, but it also had a spot dedicated to September 11. It was actually quite interesting to see how the city handled fires when it was horse and buggy (here’s a hint…the firemen would pull the buggies) and how it evolved to the modern trucks and water capacity we have now. 

From there we headed over to The Strand, one of only two spots that I requested to go to, and I promptly became incredibly overwhelmed. Dating back to 1927 on “Book Row”, it is a family run business and the only bookstore still open from that street of bookstores. Now The Strand carries well over 2.5 million new and used books and to be honest…as much as I absolutely loved walking through those doors and literally just seeing books from floor to ceiling…nothing can prepare you for that. I need like a full day by myself just to take a crack at what they had. So, needless to say I loved it…definitely need a second go round there. But it was also kind of the perfect way to end the first full day we spent in the city!

The second day we were there, we decided to do a little bit of an easier, slower day and spend some time in Central Park. We always try to seek out parks/nature trails/ anything along those lines wherever we go, and Central Park is so known, that it was a good stop. But before we went into the park, we headed to the second place that was on my personal list, Zabars. Zabars originally opened in 1934 offering a variety of niche high quality food. You can purchase standard fair (pasta, canned options, and the like), but also bringing in small brands and foods from around the world, and fresh made bakery items (the rugelach is incredible, coffee, and lox (and other fish). It is, in so many ways, a Jewish staple, but it also has some of the best bagels and lox and cream cheese there is. I’m obsessed. Initially I went in for bagels, but instead opted for some black and white cookies, wafers, and rugelach for us to eat as we wandered throughout Central Park. 

We wandered not too deep into central park, but enough to hit the high spots and the Zoo. We started at the Alice in Wonderland statue (a favorite of mine), then along the main walk, over to the Zoo, and dropped down to Gapstow Bridge from Home Alone. While it was incredibly peaceful and really cool to see the juxtaposition of the city architecture against this massive nature expanse, it was also frustrating at times. Bathrooms are few and far between and we found ourselves racing from place to place to find a spot for the kids. Just wanting to let other parents know (it’s a struggle if your kids are still learning how to use restrooms in the sense of adults). Regardless, we ended up spending almost the whole day within the park. The Zoo was a real highlight – it has enough to make it worthwhile to visit while you’re already in the park, but not too much that you spend your entire day just within the Zoo. The animals are also fairly active, so you actually get to see them out and about. A quick note- there are two tickets, general admission and a second, higher admission. The only real difference between these two tickets is the 4D movie experience. While we liked the movie, we didn’t NEED to see it.

From Central Park we made our way over to NBC Studios, Rockefeller Center, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, and finally Times Square. 

The next place we actually stopped at (unlike the studios, and Rockefeller, where we just walked and looked) on that list was St. Patrick’s Cathedral. This historic cathedral came up almost side by side with the city itself. The cornerstone was laid in 1858 and the original doors opened about 20 years later for services. The construction was paid for both by immigrants AND the upper echelon of society at the time. The cathedral itself is incredible- very reminiscent of the European Cathedrals. I didn’t stay in too long, they were having a ceremony of some sort, so I felt like I was treading on something special and didn’t want to stay long. 

Our final “stop” of sorts was a quick moment in Times Square. Originally named Longacre squared, Times Square became Times Square in 1904 when the New York Times moved to One Times Square. One intersection within Times Square is also the beginning of the Lincoln Highway (on the Eastern side), which is the first road across the U.S.  To be honest, Times Square is probably one of my least favorite spots, but it was something that my family wanted to see…just to see, so we made it the last thing we did. It was…well Times Square. I don’t have too much to say about it to be honest. 

So, that wraps up our weekend in NYC! We had a lovely weekend, and it was a great kick off to our Spring/Summer/Autumn of travel. 

Things You Should Do and Tips For: The Netherlands and Amsterdam

Good morning! We recently spent a long weekend away in The Netherlands, which you can read all about HERE, and this morning I am going to talk about some of the tips/tricks that we learned and what I would recommend you do as well as maybe some things that are maybe a little over hyped.

As always, this will heavily depend on your own interest, how you are traveling, and the time of year that you are going. This is the first (and only) time that we have been to The Netherlands and we went to see two spots, Amsterdam and the Tulip Gardens. We were only there for 3 nights total, so we didn’t get to see everything that we had wanted to. We also traveled with our two young children, which as with Berlin, factored into what we did and didn’t do. I am going to do these as two separate sections, one for Amsterdam and one for everything else, that way if you are only interested in Amsterdam you can only read that part or if you are only interested in the Tulips you can only read that part. It is also too much and too different to try and consolidate into one long recommendations and tips section.

Recommendations for Amsterdam

It may seem overly touristy but take advantage of the boat rides along the canals. To be completely honest this is one of the best ways to get an overall look at the city, the canals, the different “high points”, but without all of the tourists. You aren’t fighting a crowd to look at a church or tower. It also gives you a unique point of view from what it would have been like in history.  If you take the train in, you can find plenty of options all along the exit of the station, as well as options all throughout the canals. Depending on what you are more interested in, you’ll find a boat tour that will meet those needs (we saw everything from a romantic cruise, to all about the alcohol, to a standard hear the history and nothing more). We didn’t originally plan on doing a boat ride, but our older son insisted, and it didn’t look too bad when we got out there.

I would also recommend heading over to Dam Square. This is the main town square and there is usually always something going on. From here you can get a good view of the exterior of The Royal Palace, see The National Monument, and the Nieuwe Kerk Church. There are also a couple other spots right off the square if you’re interested, Madame Tussauds and Ripley’s Believe It or Not. We did not go in either of those, but we did go inside the Royal Palace. I’ll be honest, The Royal Palace tour is not a necessity to a trip to Amsterdam. If you are interested you can certainly do it, but it is not like a “must see”. I really enjoyed it, but I am a royal fan and think that seeing different palace’s and other type of government buildings is really interesting.

A couple of the spots that I wish we could have gone to, that were on our list but didn’t end up being an option, were: The Anne Frank House, Foodhallen, and The Rijksmuseum Amsterdam. I’ll get into The Anne Frank House in my tips/tricks, the Foodhallen is a food court that came highly highly recommended to us, and the Rijksmuseum as a lot of Dutch history that we wanted to learn about.

I’ll touch on one more spot as I feel like I need to make a note on this because to be honest, not a lot of people talk about Amsterdam without talking about The Red Light District OR the booming cannabis market/options. We walked through the Red Light District and I found it to be just like a regular stroll (in a weird way). Here’s the thing, first off you cannot take video or pictures in the District. This is to protect the workers that are there, and I can completely understand. These are regular people who are doing what it is that they do. Just because it is not something that we see every day, or something that may not be as popular or destigmatized in our area of the world, does not mean that they need to put in a spotlight situation. If you choose to stroll along the District, do not leer, do not linger, just be respectful. These are people just as we are, and they are doing what they choose and want to do.

 Tips for Amsterdam:

Tip #1: Bikes have the right of way and they will exercise that right of way whether you are aware of that or not. Amsterdam (and The Netherlands in general) has a huge biking community, it’s how the majority of their population gets around. Most places will have designated bike lanes, so don’t hover in those lanes and make sure that you are aware of where they are when there are no designated lanes.

If you want the true experience, there are so many different bike rental spots!

Tip #2: Make it an Adult Only or Girls Trip. This one is going to be a little bit hard to explain, or maybe it won’t, but I think Amsterdam would be so much different if it was just adults. I don’t say this for any “content” warning for what is in Amsterdam or for any lack of enjoyment reason. We loved (and do still love) taking our kids out throughout the world, exposing them to new cultures, places, people that they would not otherwise get to experience. HOWEVER, Amsterdam is so packed with people that you are spending a good amount of your time just shuffling along with the crowds and worrying about being separate from those you are with, until you get out of the main area. I think I worried a little bit more than normal with having our kids there.

Tip #3: Look at staying outside of the City Limits and taking the train in. Amsterdam is quite expensive and staying in a hotel in the city is very expensive. It is also, once again, full of people and traffic. We stayed outside the city in a little town and took the train in to Central Amsterdam. We were able to book a little cottage on AirBnB for a very reasonable price and it gave us a little breathing room. We didn’t have to worry about fighting traffic in a car or finding parking for the day. I am already a really big believer in public transportation, and this weekend away really confirmed that for me.

Recommendations for Tulips/Flower Season

As for how I would recommend you approach the tulip season that is going to depend on what you actually want to see. If you want to see just the Tulip Fields, there are a couple of different farms that you can go to. Lisse is the most popular spot and has the largest amount of options to see Tulips. MAKE SURE that you check my Tips out though, because there are some rules you will want to be available of. You can also see the Tulips just driving along the road and throughout train rides. I believe you can also see them from the sky, but I couldn’t confirm that.

We went to Keukenhof Tulip Garden, which is one of the more famous well-known spots for the Tulips. I knew that I wanted to see a bit of both the Tulip Fields AND the more manicured growing plots. Keukenhof has the best of both worlds for that. They boast about 7 Million Bulbs are planted and grown in their garden and I would believe it. Plus, believe me when I say there is something for everyone here. They have a kid’s area in the center where there is a playground, petting zoo, and park to eat at. There is also a maze for the kids to run through. There is a windmill that gives you a view over the fields, water, and gardens as well as two other overlook spots. Finally, you also have the indoor flower shows that follow along with themes for the year (one changes weekly). They have a unique planting and growing system that allows them to have blooms for eight weeks, so you have plenty of time to check them out.

My other recommendation would be to bike through the countryside. This is an excellent way to not only see the beautiful countryside of The Netherlands, but also see the Tulip Fields, the windmills, and be true to how the people get around. It is such a fun way to get around and see the country.

Tips for Tulips/Flower Season

Tip #1 (Possibly the Most Important One): DO NOT just go traipsing through the tulip fields all willy nilly to try and get the perfect picture or see them better. The Tulips are not only part of The Netherlands and the culture, but it is also a HUGE business for them. They work incredibly hard to grow and maintain the tulips and walking through the actual field itself ruins the flowers and the field. Only do this at the land owners permission (and if you’ve paid for it).

Tip #2:Go as early in the day as possible. No matter when you go or how you choose to see the Tulips it is going to be crowded. We went the peak weekend for the blooms, which also happened to be Easter Weekend and I didn’t feel like we were fighting the crowds until the very end of our time in the park. We went shortly after they opened and a few hours later everyone else seemed to start coming in. So, go early!

Tip #3:Just enjoy the beauty around you. I am a big one for documenting everything, taking all of the pictures, capturing every bloom and even I had to take a step back and just enjoy the sheer beauty around you. This is such a special place and time and honestly, not to get hokey, just take a step back from the camera/phone and enjoy the moment.

And on that note…

Those are all of my Things You Should Do and Tips for Amsterdam/The Netherlands! We do hope to go back and see some other area’s in the country one day, but this was one of the best trips we’ve taken. If you have any specific questions I will try to answer them in the comments below and if you have any of your own tips, please leave them below!