Want to do something quirky and offbeat in Paris? Need a rainy day activity that the kids will love? Does your parnter like tools, gadgets, and gizmos? If you’ve answered yes to any of these questions, then spend a few hours at Paris’ Museum of Arts and Trades (Musée des Arts et Métiers ). Unlike the name suggests, the museum’s collection focuses on inventions and technology across the ages. As you meander through the galleries you’ll come across curious scientific instruments and inventions from the past and ogle at gigantic machines that have been used to construct both old and modern structures. You’ll explore mechanisms that humans have designed to harness steam, gas, electric, and solar energy. There’s so much here that you can easily spend an entire day, but we limited our visit to a few hours.
This museum brings you face to face with technologies that you’ve only read about in books or seen on television. You’ll examine James Watt’s steam engine, Edison’s phonographs, models use to build the Statue of Liberty, Lavoisier’s entire laboratory, and the very first airplane built 13 years before the Wright brothers’ flight. My favorite part of the museum was located in the former Church of St. Martin. It has been transformed into a display area aptly named the “place of wonder”. In it, you’ll marvel at the actual working Foucault’s pendulum that swings back and forth to prove that the earth rotates on its axis. You’ll climb up a gigantic ramp/stairway that brings you up close to strange flying contraptions and airplanes of the past and to antique methods of transportation, from steam carriages to locomotives to Model T’s. Both kids and adults will be awed by the amazing collection of inventions featured at this most unusual of museums.
Not only is the Museum of Arts and Trades one of Paris’ best-kept secrets, it’s also extremely affordable. Children under 18 years of age are free, and adults are only 8 euros. If you have a Paris Museum Pass, it’s also free. While the museum is closed on Mondays, it is open until 6:00pm every other day and until 9:00pm on Thursdays.
The Museum of Arts and Trades (Musée des Arts et Métiers) is located at 60 Rue Réaumur in Paris. The closest metro station is Arts et Métiers, which is located right across the street from the museum. Click on the map for directions.
London is full of world-class sights and historic palaces fit for a queen, but I’m going to show you several destinations in the British capital that most tourists miss. As an avid anglophile who’s been to London five times, take a trip with me to these four lesser known but equally smashing London attractions.
#1 A Time Machine to the Past
You’ve wandered into the home of Huguenot silk weavers, and as you peak around the corners and meander up the creaky stairs, no matter where you turn, the family always seems to be just out of sight. Wigs and clothing have been tossed onto the back of chairs, and unfinished plates of food have been left on the elaborately set table in the midst of dinner. With a blob of fresh ink on the paper, someone has stopped writing, mid sentence, a letter to a trusted confidant. In the candle-lit kitchen, a pipe, still emitting the faintest amount of smoke is left, as if the user is just about to return for another puff.
Visitors freely move through the Dennis Severs’ House in silence, allowing them to ponder the sights and smells of each room, piece together the mystery of what they’re witnessing, and wonder if they just stumbled out of a time machine. The house is set up as a “still life drama”, that feels more like you’ve stepped into an immersive theater experience than a museum. And that’s exactly how Severs wanted it to be. He devoted his entire life to restoring his 19th century home in a way that recreated scenes of Stuart, Georgian, and Victorian life, complete with period furnishings and lack of electricity, to vividly portray how a single, fictional family lived, from rags to riches, over the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries.
As a historian and history teacher, I’ve been to countless museums, and the Dennis Severs’ house is like nothing I’ve ever seen before, and I don’t say that lightly.
Be aware that due to the special nature of their museum experience, the Dennis Severs’ House is only open on certain days of the week at particular times, usually on Sunday afternoons, Mondays at lunch time, and on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday evenings. I highly recommend the Silent Night candlelit tour, held on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday evenings. Check their website for specific opening hours and to book your self-guided experience.
#2 The Other Changing of the Guard
We’re all familiar with the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace. Soldiers in their scarlet tunics and bearskin hats marching in precision to the beat of military music, while gaggles of tourists watch, awestruck by all of the royal pageantry. But did you know there’s another changing of the guard in London, one that fewer tourists know about and attend? And this one involves horses!
Every day, no matter what the weather, members of the Queen’s Life Guard ride from their Hyde Park barracks to Horse Guards Parade to take over their duties as guards for the royal residences. The ceremony, with all its pomp and circumstance, takes place daily at 11:00AM. At this Changing of the Guard, unlike the one at Buckingham Palace, you won’t have a giant iron fence blocking your view, or be jumping up and down in the air in a vain attempt to see over the heads of hundreds of tourists standing in your way. Arrive around 10-15 minutes early, take your place at the ropes, and wait to watch the spectacle to unfold right in front of you.
If you miss the ceremony, you can still see two mounted members of the Queen’s Life Guard on duty from 10:00 AM to 4:00 PM at the Whitehall entrance to Horse Guards Parade. At 4:00PM, the cavalry soldiers dismount and remain stationed there until 8:00PM. You’re welcome to take a selfie but don’t get too close!
#3 House Hunters Through Time
Do you enjoying peering into the homes of others by watching shows like House Hunters on HGTV and other DIY channels? Then you’ll love the Geffrye Museum of the Home! This unique museum is dedicated to showing how home decor, style, and taste have evolved from the 16th century to the present. You’ll see a chronological sequence of recreated living rooms from Tudor times, through the Victorian Era, to the 1960’s and today. And the museum is set in a restored 19th century almshouse with award-winning, picnic-worthy, period gardens. The Geffrye Museum (closed on Mondays, except for bank holidays) is a fascinating glimpse into the past and a tranquil oasis in a busy urban metropolis.
#4 Transportation Fit for a Queen
During the summer months, tourists flock to Buckingham Palace to tour what is, perhaps, the most famous residence in the world. Even if you’re not in London during the summer, you can still catch a glimpse of royal life and see how the monarch travels in royal style. The Royal Mews, which house the Queen’s working stables and the royal collection of coaches and state automobiles, are located just adjacent to Buckingham Palace. Visitors can admire the Gold State Coach, ridden in by British monarchs at every coronation since 1821, horse-drawn carriages used in royal weddings, jubilees, state visits, and the State Opening of Parliament, and even classic automobiles which ferry around Queen Elizabeth II. The newest member of the fleet is the Diamond Jubilee State Coach, which was first used in 2014 for the Queen’s 80th birthday and contains wood from Admiral Nelson’s flagship, H.M.S. Victory, the Tower of London, Westminster Abbey, and other palaces and cathedrals scattered throughout the country. Whether you’re there to see the state coaches or visit
with the magnificent horses, a trip to the Royal Mews makes you feel like a monarch, if only for a short time. You might even catch a glimpse of the daily messenger coach that has been bringing royal mail
between Buckingham Palace and St. James’ Palace since 1843! Be aware that the Royal Mews are closed on Sundays.
The Dennis Severs’ House is located at 18 Folgate St. in the Spitalfields area of London. The closest Tube stop is Liverpool Street. Visit their website to book your tour. Click on the map for directions.
The Changing of the Life Guard is held daily at Horse Guards Parade at 11:00AM. Horse Guards Parade is located on Whitehall, with the closest Tube station being Charing Cross, on Trafalgar Square. Click on the map for directions. From Trafalgar Square, walk up Whitehall until you see the two mounted cavalry soldiers. Walk through the arch and into Horse Guards Parade.
The Geffrye Museum is located at 136 Kingsland Rd. in the Hoxton area of London. The easiest way to get there is to take the Overground (marked as orange on subway maps) to the Hoxton Station, which is located immediately behind the museum. Alternatively, you can take the Tube to Liverpool Street Station and then Bus 149 or 242 to the Museum (or walk for 20 minutes). Click on the map for directions.
The Royal Mews is located on Buckingham Palace Road. Click on the map for directions. With Buckingham Palace in front of you, walk to the left of the palace, past the Queen’s Gallery, and up Buckingham Palace Rd. You’ll walk along the wall that separates the palace gardens from the city and eventually see the Royal Mews on your right.
Amsterdam is one of my favorite cities on Earth, and there are so many things to do there, from the flower market to the Anne Frank House to canal cruises. I’m going to let you in on a few of my favorite treats in the Dutch capital.
A Holy Treat
Walking by this quintessentially Dutch building, you could never guess what perches up in its attic, and that’s the point! Its attic conceals an entire Catholic church, which is a must see when you’re in Amsterdam. After all, where else are you going to see an entire church in an attic?!
The Church of Our Dear Lord in the Attic (yes, that’s the actual name) is now the Museum Our Dear Lord in the Attic (formerly the Amstelkring Museum). The church was originally built in 1663, when Catholics in Amsterdam did not have the right to worship publicly, since Protestantism was the official religion. Catholic worship was tolerated, much like marijuana use today, if done privately, and so the owners of this house built a church on the top three floors of their house. Today, the church is the second oldest museum in Amsterdam.
Visitors can explore the entire house including its living rooms, kitchen, and bedrooms, but the highlight of the tour is, obviously, the attic church. One of my favorite features was the hidden pulpit. When looking at the altar (picture to the left) can you find it? I couldn’t either. That’s because the pulpit pulls and then folds out out of a small door on the left-hand side of the altar. Check out the picture on the left below. That’s what I call space saving!
If you’re in Amsterdam, don’t miss this special hidden treasure. My partner isn’t a huge fan of museums. However, at the end of our time in the Amsterdam, I asked him what his favorite part of the trip was, and to my astonishment, he replied the Church of Our Dear Lord in the Attic. Make it a memorable part of your trip too!
The Museum Our Dear Lord in the Attic is located at Oudezijds Voorburgwal 38 in Amsterdam (see locations below).
Sweet & Savory Treats
My second favorite thing to do in Amsterdam is EAT! Amsterdam has so many amazing international foods to try, but here are my favorite Dutch treats and where to get them.
(1) Dutch Pancakes
There are Dutch pancake restaurants all over the city, but the best also has the most easy-to-remember name: Pancakes! (the exclamation point is actually part of the restaurant’s name). Pancakes! has several locations in Amsterdam, but the best one is located at Berenstraat 38 in the “Nine Little Streets” (Negen Straatjes) district, which is full of quirky shops and boutiques for some after-meal browsing. You’ll recognize the restaurant from its bright blue sign (see picture at left) and, likely, the group of people waiting outside for a table. I don’t like to wait at restaurants, but TRUST ME, this place was worth the wait.
Dutch pancakes are paper thin, as big as an entire plate, and come in both sweet and savory flavors. It’s a meal in itself! Here’s a link to the menu. I devoured the Bacon & Banana pancake, while Greg treated himself to a Veggie pancake with house-made pesto.
Stroopwafels are a uniquely Dutch confection. Don’t think Belgian waffle, because, while that’s its own delectable treat, it’s not what you’re going to get. A stroopwafel is more like a giant wafer cookie made of two thin, crunchy layers, with a filling of either caramel or honey. The outside layers are made in a waffle iron, so that’s why it’s called a stroopwafel.
You can buy them in bakeries all over the city, but in my opinion, the best come from Banketbakkerij Lanksroom at Singel 385 in Amsterdam. Get one for each person in your group (who wants to share?!), find a nice place to sit along a canal, dig in, and watch the boats go by. If you’re not in Amsterdam but still want to try them, I’ve seen them for sale in HomeGoods and T.J. Maxx on the food isle and in Whole Foods in the cookie racks in the bakery department. While they won’t be as fresh, they’ll still be tasty!
(3) Flemish Fries
Who doesn’t love a good french fry? In Amsterdam, they’re called Flemish fries, or Vlaamse friets, and are especially delicious because they’re fried twice: one for a soft inside and another for a crispy outside. The Dutch also serve them with a variety of sauces including (but not limited to) curry ketchup, satay, apple, and mayonnaise, the latter being the most common. The absolute best place, in Amsterdam, to get Flemish fries is at Vleminckx de Sausmeester, a hole-in-the-wall fries stand located at Voetboogstraat 33, right off the main Kalverstraat shopping street. You’ll recognize it from the line of people, which you know means it’s good! They only sell fries, so go there for a snack or late night treat. Here’s a link to their English menu. The fries come in a little paper cone, so it’s easy to eat, walk, and people watch at the same time.
(4) Herring Stands
Ok, ok. I know what you’re thinking . . . He’s recommending raw herring?!? YES! You have to trust me here. Herring didn’t sound entirely appealing to me either. However, I decided to give it a try, since it’s a local delicacy. In my opinion, one of the best travel experiences that you can have is trying something new, especially when its comes to food. Go out on a limb and taste something outside your comfort zone. You’ll create a memorable experience, and at the very least, you can get bragging rights (and a fun picture!) that you tried it.
The “raw” fish is actually cured in a brine, or salt water solution, for five days to preserve it, so it’s not really raw.
When you order, you’ll have a few choices. The easiest to eat is a herring sandwich, or broodje, in a soft roll with diced onions and pickles. Another choice is “Amsterdam-style”, that is served as cut up hunks of herring with onions, all of which you eat with a toothpick. For those of you who live on the edge (kidding!), choose Rotterdam-style, which means you pick it up by the end, raise it up in the air, and lower it down into your mouth. I went for the sandwich which worked perfectly for me because I have a very big mouth!
There are herrings shops all over the city, and they’re very easy to spot. If you’re visiting the Floating Flower Market, I recommend Frens Heringhandel at Singel 468.
If you try only one of these Dutch treats or you try all of them, you’ll be creating memories that will stick with you long after your trip is over. Trying local foods is, yet, another way that you can be F.I.T. — a free and independent traveler!
Church of Our Lord in the Attic – Oudezijds Voorburgwal 38
In the Red Light District near the intersection of Oudezijds Voorburgwal and Heintje Hoekssteeg. Click on the map for directions. Its Dutch name is “Ons’ Lieve Heer op Solder”, so that’s what will show up in Google.
Pancakes! – Berenstraat 38
Near the intersection of Berenstraat and Prinsengracht. Click on the map for directions.
Stroopwafles at Banketbakkerij Lanksroom – Singel 385
At the corner of Singel and Heisteeg. Click on the map for directions.
Flemish Fries at Vleminckx de Sausmeester – Voetboogstraat 33
Near the intersection of Voetboogstraat and Heiligeweg – click on the map for directions
Herring at Frens Heringhandel – Singel 468
At the intersection of Singel and Koningsplein, near the Flower Market and Mint Tower – click on the map for directions
On my trip to Munich less than two weeks ago, I wanted to see more than just the stereotypical Hofbrauhaus, art museums, and historic palaces. I wanted to go where the tourist don’t venture. Here are my top two favorite, rarely seen experiences in Munich.
#1 A Jaw-Dropping Chapel
This extraordinary, yet small, church is located on one of Munich’s most popular and high end shopping streets, but you might not even notice it when walking by. We almost passed right by it! It’s the Asam Church, or Asamkirche in German, located at Sendlinger Strasse 32 in Munich (see “locations” below).
The entrance is fairly humble, except for the astonishing carved boulders, and the facade is only 22 x 8 meters wide. Don’t let the exterior fool you because once you step inside, your jaw will drop almost to the marble floor.
The inside is an absolutely stunning example of over-the-top, late Baroque architecture, the likes of which I’ve never seen in such a small space. Technically named the Church of St. Johann Nepomuk, the Asam church was built as a private chapel by two wealthy brothers, whose last name was Asam, hence the name. Imagine having this as your private place of worship! One of the brothers could actually look into the church to watch mass through a window from his mansion next door. That’s what I call high end worship! Other than the extraordinary amount of decoration literally everywhere, the most amazing thing to see is the ceiling. Look up to see (see the picture below) what appears to be a dome but actually is flat and painted to be an optical illusion.
Despite all of the opulence, you might forget that this a place of worship, so the church is filled with biblical imagery to remind you. My favorite was at the entrance. A gilded grim reaper, in the form of a skeleton, cuts the thread of life, which is being held by a gilded cherub. It’s a simple, yet striking, reminder that life is fleeting, so enjoy it while you can. Speaking of living it up, the second of my favorite sites in Munich is even more unexpected . . . .
#2 – Hanging Ten!
When I was first read about places to go in Munich, I thought to myself “why would I want to go to yet another large park?” Despite my hesitation, I decided to venture out to the English Garden, Europe’s largest urban park, to see what all the fuss was about, and I definitely wasn’t disappointed. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw surfers! Yes, surfing in the middle of a huge city.
The Eisbach, or Ice Brook in German, is a man-made river that runs through the English Garden. The river has a strong current, so if you get in, you will float downstream. If you’re in Munich on a warm day, go for it!
If you want to see some city surfing, head to the very southern edge of the English Garden, close to where the park meets Prinzregent Strasse. See “locations” below.
The surfers line up along the sides and takes turns jumping in to ride the one meter high wave. You’ll see surfers of all ages and levels of experience. Some do fancy moves, while others wipe out as soon as they hit the wave. We watched for a good 20 minutes, which
made for free and unexpected entertainment. If you look behind you, you’ll notice swimmers who have floated down the river to this point. They’re holding on, with what seems like desperation, to a chain across the river, and waiting for a break in the surfing to glide over the waves themselves, minus the surf board. It’s amusing to watch the faces and listen to the exclamations of the swimmers while they try to hold on, in the face of the current, and wait for the surfers to give them their chance.
Since you’re at the English Garden, why not check out its beer garden? It was our favorite in Munich. From the location of the surfers, it’s only a ten minute walk through the park. Follow the signs for the Chineischer Turm Biergarten (Chinese Tower beer garden). This beer garden is immensely enjoyable in the evening, and you won’t need a reservation because there are 6,000 seats! It’s centered around a Chinese pagoda which doubles as a stage for live Bavarian bands at lunch and dinner time. I recommend the Weisswurst (boiled white sausages which are a specialty of Munich – be sure to peel off the casing before you eat them!) and the giant pretzel. Greg recommends the dark beer, or Dunkles Bier in German. You could also try Steckerlfisch, which is a whole fish cooked on a skewer, or what I call German fish on a stick.
Location of the Surfers- Eisbachwelle
Click on the map for directions. Head to the very southern edge of the English Garden, close to where the park meets Prinzregent Strasse. It’s next to the Haus der Kunst (an art museum).
The Asam Church
It’s near the intersection of Sendlinger Strasse and Singlspielerstrasse. Click on the map for directions.
Inside the English Garden. Click on the map for directions. You can walk from seeing the surfers at Eisbachwelle, of if you’re not already there, take the U3 or U6 to the Universitat stop and then walk.