Spending a Day with Rich Humphreys of Gnome Countryside

One of my favorite things about being part of a community of gnome enthusiasts is getting the opportunity to meet other collectors and swap stories. As a writer with an insatiable spirit of wanderlust, my travels have led me to many amazing people who inspire me to keep collecting and spreading the joy of gnomes.

This summer, I had the opportunity to meet Rich “The Gnomeman” Humphreys at the one and only Gnome Countryside, tucked away in the peaceful rolling hills of Kirkwood Pennsylvania. For 35 years, Rich has been entertaining and educating kids and adults in his “Gnomery” and enchanted forest.

Rich, a long-time diabetic who nearly lost his sight to diabetic retinopathy, created Gnome Countryside after teaching school in Alaska for 12 years. He renovated this beautiful property and interwove the stories of gnomes into his nature tours. Rich first became enchanted by gnomes on a trip to Denmark, and he even dresses like a gnome in a wonderfully eccentric fashion!

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I first learned about Rich’s mission and Gnome Countryside in 2014 under tragic circumstances. Local news sources reported that a fire devastated his 220-year-old log home, destroying his possessions, but never his spirit. He has since rebuilt his home, and it’s just as beautiful as ever.

My tour of Gnome Countryside began in the Gnomery, a cozy room filled with wonderful gnomes where Rich shared stories, environmental facts, and songs with his captive audience. Then we followed The Gnomeman through the wooded trails, using our five senses to appreciate the rugged beauty that surrounded us. Small gnomes and gnome homes could be found along the trails (if you looked closely), and they were surely very happy here. Other highlights of the visit included listening to the waterfall sounds of Gnome Gniagra, participating in a drum circle, and building gnome homes and rock towers in the woods.

Gnomes and nature go hand-in-hand, and this is a place to embrace that relationship and celebrate stewardship of the environment and a sense of community in the outdoors. Through Gnome Countryside, Rich empowers visitors to return home with a renewed love for the environment and a commitment to protect nature. Gnome Countryside celebrates the legends of gnomes, teaches us about gnomes and nature, brings your senses to life. With a creative sense of humor and a twinkle in his eye, Rich’s dedication to nature and all its creatures is contagious.

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You too can visit Gnome Countryside if you only travel to the heart of Pennsylvania Amish country! Rich is an incredibly friendly and kindhearted man who loves to chat, so give him a call at 717-786-4928. Gnome Countryside is a favorite among school group tours, but he also leads individual two-hour tours at a rate of $10 per person. Morning and afternoon tours are typically available Monday through Saturday from April through October, rain or shine.

 

***A version of this story will be published in the upcoming edition of the International Gnome Club Newsletter!***

The Antique Gnomes of Rock City – Chattanooga, Tennessee

On a recent drive from Illinois to Georgia, I made a pit stop in Chattanooga, Tennessee and decided to check out the famous attraction advertised on all the highway billboards: Rock City. Much to my delight, the nature paths and caves here are filled with gnomes!

I knew I was in for something special when the road leading up to Rock City was called “Ochs Highway.” No joke. Clearly, this place was meant for me.

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History of the Rock City Gnomes

In the late 1920s, Garnet and Frieda Carter began developing a walkable garden on their private estate to share their love for the region’s rock formations and native plants with the public.

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The husband-wife team opened Rock City Gardens during the Great Depression and had over 800 barns painted to advertise and attract tourists to Chattanooga. They gave the attraction its name because the rocks on top of Lookout Mountain looked like city buildings and the natural pathways like streets.

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Frieda Carter loved European folklore and fairytales, and she was an avid gnome collector. So naturally, many of her gnomes made it into the local attraction.

Gnomes Along the Enchanted Trail

Your gnome journey begins at the new Gnome Valley installation, which is a growing collection of whimsical space at the beginning of the Enchanted Trail.

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As you walk along the beautiful and easily accessible trail, you’ll notice even more gnomes peeking behind rocks to greet you.

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Keep an eye out for little red hats as you navigate the trail to Lover’s Leap, the 180-foot suspension bridge, Mother Goose Village, and the summit where you can see seven states on a clear day.

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Another awesome part about Rock City is that the whole place is dog friendly!

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The Gnomes of Fairyland Caverns

But by far, the best place to see gnomes is inside Fairyland Caverns, as this is home to Frieda’s collection of antique, imported German gnomes.

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Inside this cave, gnomes are situated into scenes that are illuminated by black lights.

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You instantly feel a sense of magic as you pass by the Castle of the Gnomes, Carnival of the Gnomes, the Moonshine-Brewing Gnomes, and many other displays.

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Admittedly, some of the scenes were a bit on the creepy side. But isn’t that what fairy tales are really all about anyway?

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Antique Gnome Restoration

Since the Rock City gnomes date back to the 1920s and 1930s, many of them were in desperate need of repair. Rock City’s resident art specialist, Matt Dutton, created a “Gnome Infirmary” to restore the residents to their original splendor.

Matt consults old photos to keep the gnomes’ coloring consistent, painting and repairing them as needed. He uses urethane resin and a hardener to fills his handmade molds to restore each little one’s unique personality.

The Gnome Mascot & Gift Shops

A red-hatted, white-bearded gnome named Rocky is the mascot for Rock City, and you might meet him walking around in costume! Yet no roadside attraction would be complete without a gift shop, and the one at Rock City is stocked with lots of gnomes you can take home as souvenirs.

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My souvenir of choice? A purple t-shirt that reads, “I’m a rock climbing, trail trekkin’, gnome lovin’ nature kinda girl.” I couldn’t have come up with a more perfect motto for myself!

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*A version of this story is scheduled to be published in the next issue of the International Gnome Club newsletter! 

48 Hours in the World’s Most Romantic (eh?) City: Paris

By the time I reached Paris by train, I had already spent five days in Amsterdam, three days in Brussels, and visited the world’s greatest gnome-themed brewery in Belgium. That’s a solid trip right there, but my journey was only half complete.

I had just 48 hours to soak up Parisian culture and see for myself if the city lived up to the hype.

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PARIS: DAY 1

The Gare du Nord train station in Paris was super close to our hostel, which served fresh croissants, coffee, and juice each morning. Vintage Hostel is on rue de Dunkerque and was a pretty sweet place to stay, with 1 Euro Heinekens during happy hour, a foosball table, and good Wi-Fi. We had booked a four-person dorm and found ourselves shacking up with a guy from North Carolina and a girl from an undisclosed location in South America.

It was also just a short walk to Sacre Coeur.

P1020658This was a huge cathedral with a lonely carousel outside. Mysterious armed guards met our acquaintance as we walked up the stairs and beggars flocked toward us from all directions. It really was a beautiful church though….and those views! P1020667This was a great place to snap a panoramic shot of the city…which is clearly what every other tourist quickly discovered too. Next up: the Arc de Triomphe! P1020699And what a triumph it was! I was feeling a bit under the weather during my entire time in Paris, mostly due to a weird bubbled lodged in my right eye. (It’s not contagious, I swear!) So the walk to reach this classic landmark was a bit of a doozy.

A doozy yes, but also an insightful glimpse into the real streets of Paris. These were streets filled with trash, traffic, tow trucks, and sporadic yelling. It all kind of reminded me of a European version of New York City…but with more motorcycles and scooters.

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Marching on, we looked tirelessly for that elusive hunk of scaffolding that everybody’s always talking about.
P1020761Well I finally found it (I’m totally pulling your leg…it’s completely obvious) and those were my first words, “That’s it? It looks like a bunch of scaffolding!” To me, it seemed like an unfinished piece of construction, but it sure is big.

The park around the Eiffel Tower was really nice though. We stopped by a local Soup & Juice to pick up lunch to-go and plopped down on a nearby bench. It was a weekday, so the crowds were totally manageable. The lines to go to the top of the Eiffel Tower were not manageable in my opinion, and I’ve seen enough vistas from high places lately, so we skipped that whole thing.

An interesting part of the visit was that a large screen was placed on the lawn and played a tennis match. Tennis fans rooting for Robert Federrer and the other guy perched themselves on the lawn to watch. The temperatures were finally warming up and the sun was shining. What a wonderful way to spend an afternoon!

But the minutes of our 48 hours in Paris were ticking away, so onward we plodded into the city…

Everyone knows that Paris is full of a ridiculous number of museums. Some people handle museum days better than others…

P1020788Like these tourists who I busted passing out mid-day outside one of the military museums, I was starting to get museum-ed out myself. This fact coupled with the time constraints were enough reason to simply view the museum’s architecture and sculptures from the outside rather than actually going inside.

P1020801The stroll took us past Ecole Militaire, Musee de L’Armee, Musee de Orsay, the Louve, and the Seine.P1020814All this urban hiking was making me thirsty, so we decided to stop at a fancy French cafe for an afternoon treat.
P1020822Our waiter was only moderately snooty, and after some time passed, he brought us a bottle of their cheapest white wine on the menu (30 Euros and decent) and a lemon/strawberry dessert (14 Euros and tiny).

With a little French sustenance in our systems, we continued on to explore yet another stereotypical French tradition…shopping!
P1020851This was the huge indoor luxury shopping complex known as Galleries Lafayette. In our not-so-luxurious outfits, we browsed all sorts of counters Tiffany, Coach, etc. and didn’t buy a damn thing. Le sigh.

That evening was pretty low key…I cranked out an article for work and we used a couple free drink coupons at On the Road Pub that our hostel handed out. Then we took a stroll around the neighborhood in search of by-the-slice pizza and failed miserably. I guess it’s not a French thing.

PARIS: DAY 2

My eye condition had worsened by the morning, but I was still convinced to see the sights of Paris. Passing through the Indian part of town, we walked to the Marais neighborhood, which is raved about in the all the guidebooks.

Instead of just walking by and snapping pictures of museums, we actually went into one on Day #2…the Picasso museum. I’ve always enjoyed a good abstract/cubist creation.

P1020879Even if you arrive a Paris’ museums before they open, it seems there is always a line anyway. The line only took about 30 minutes to get through, which wasn’t too bad. There were four floors to check out here and it was pretty interesting to see all of his non-cubist works and sculpture work in addition to the well-known paintings.

We had packed a picnic lunch to take to Vosges, another famous Parisian park, and snagged some gelato at a little shop on the way out. We also took a walk to Bastille, another big monument here, but no one takes photos excessively of it like they do the Arc de Triomphe.
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After a quick nap back at the hostel (when in Paris…), I got all dolled up for a fancy night out on the town. 
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Dinner was at Petit Canard, which translates to The Duckling. It was my first pleasant dining experience in France, as the staff was nice, the service was good, and the restaurant was cute but not crowded.

It seemed that no trip to Paris, no matter how short, would be complete without seeing a show. So we booked tickets for a cabaret show at La Nouvelle Eve.
P1020936Photography wasn’t allowed during the show, but let me assure you, the evening was filled with plenty of singing, dancing, costumes, champagne, and perky breasts. It was all a bit cheesy and touristy, but definitely a fun time.
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Okay, I guess my math is bad because we actually had a couple more than 48 hours in Paris. On the morning of third day, we woke up early and walked to Père Lachaise Cemetery, to see row-after-row of elaborate gravestones and mausoleums.

P1020967The big tourist draw here is the site where Jim Morrison was buried, and there are fences surrounding it so you don’t bother him too much.

Morrison’s great and all, but this was one of my favorite gravestone. Well done George…you’ve epitomized every horror movie fan’s nightmare-come true.P1020968

But before catching our flight to the UK, we had one last stop to make in Paris. After one last stroll along the Seine (because that’s what you’re supposed to do in Paris, right?), we finally found the elusive Ile Saint Louis, which is an “island” with an ice cream shop made famous by Anthony Bourdain. 
P1020974I must admit, Berthillon did serve up some pretty delicious ice cream…my ultimate food weakness.

Paris is one of those overrated places that you visit and expect to be wowed in an instant. But what I remember most is how burnt out I felt on city life. In the short amount of time I spent here I felt beyond irritated with the crowds, the lines the noise, the smells, and just people in general.

I grew up in a town of 2,000 people and dreamed of big city life. But by now, I’ve been there, done that, and moved on. I certainly don’t want to move back to that tiny town, but I’ve come to really appreciate solitude, the sight of trees outside my window, and the sounds of birds chirping in the morning. Sometimes the best part about traveling is coming to new realizations about yourself.

I wouldn’t say that Paris is at the top of my “must visit again” list, but I wouldn’t mind seeing less-touristy/more-quirky areas of the city someday. Although Paris was technically part of my honeymoon, I didn’t see the romantic appeal that’s touted in all those movies and storybooks. But then again, I’m not all that romantic of a gal, so what I do know?

As with most cities, I’m sure that there’s a neighborhood or two that I would have fallen in love with. But those will have to wait a little while because there are plenty of other places to discover for the first time.

Next stop: the English countryside! Au revoir!

An Afternoon in Clovelly, A Step Back in Time

After spending a dream-come-true afternoon at The Gnome Reserve in the WAY remove countryside of England, I found myself searching for something else interesting to do in North Devon.

Something…oh I don’t know…England-y, something country-ish, something off-the-grid. Something like Clovelly.

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I think I first learned about Clovelly from TripAdvisor. It’s a small village in the Torridge district that’s intentionally stuck in time in the mid-19th century. It’s known for steep cobblestone streets that allow donkeys, but not cars. It’s also known for it’s lovely coastal views over the Bristol Channel.

Interestingly, Clovelly is a privately owned city that’s been under the control of the same family since 1738. In fact, it’s been run by just three families since the middle of the 13th century – nearly 800 years! According to the most recent census, around 443 people call this place home today.
IMG_2128Visitors are required to park at the top of a hill and enter through the Visitor’s Center. It costs £6.95 to get into Clovelly, which goes towards building maintenance and historic restoration.

We caught the last 5 minutes of the 20-minute video that tells about the village’s history and picked up a brochure to fill in the gaps. After passing by some resident donkeys, we took a stroll to check out the silk and pottery craft workshops before they closed for the day.

IMG_2136The cobblestone streets here are too steep for cars, so donkeys were used as the primary means of transportation for centuries. Now it seems that the donkeys are more of a tourist attraction than a source of hard labor, but motor vehicles are still prohibited. Everything from groceries to building materials are now hauled up and down by sledge.
IMG_2167The buildings here are ridiculously cute, from old-timey inns to chapels and houses that you swear people must not truly live in…but they really do.
IMG_2192It was about 5 pm when we were talking around, which is when many of the shops were closing. But I didn’t mind. Closed shops meant less temptation to break the Eurotrip budget, and it’s not like any more trinkets would fit in my backpack anyway. Closed shops also meant less crowds…which is perfect in a place like Clovelly.

IMG_2206However, a few restaurants and bars remained open and we were able to snag some traditional English grub and a couple beers before heading home at the end of the day.
IMG_2227But what I loved most about this place was the seascape. I’ve always been a sucker for little towns along the shore, and this was by far one of most serene and beautiful ones I’ve visited. Clovelly used to be a fishing village, which isn’t surprising, considering its perfect location and plethora of boats.
IMG_2263One thing that surprised me though was the waterfall. As if this village wasn’t beautiful enough, someone had to stick a waterfall in there too.

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You have to hike across some medium-sized pebbles and stones (a little rough in flats with minimal support) from the main cobblestone path to reach it, but when you do, you can walk right up to the waterfall. Behind it is a cave, where it’s rumored that the Arthurian magician Merlin was born.IMG_2347Speaking of magic…the air was warm (finally!), the sun was shining bright, and funny blobs of clouds dotted the sky.
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Author Charles Kingsley lived in Clovelly as a child, and the town inspired him to write Westward Ho and The Water Babies. Over a century and a half ago, here’s how he described the village:

Suddenly a hot gleam of sunlight fell upon the white cottages, with their grey steaming roofs and little scraps of garden courtyard, and lighting up the wings of the gorgeous butterflies which fluttered from the woodland down to the garden.

IMG_2410And these boats aren’t just for decoration either. If you have a little more time to spend here than we did, you can book a fishing trip or a boat excursion to nearby Lundy Island at the Visitor’s Center.
IMG_2435There are two hotels in town…one at the top and one at the bottom. The one at the bottom is called the Red Lion, which used to be a coal store and tavern back in the day. There are a couple cottages that offer bed and breakfast accommodations too. IMG_2441 There’s a bar inside the Red Lion where I snagged this beer and took it outside to sip by the dock in the sunshine.IMG_2449After a little beer-fueled relaxation, there was really only one way to go…back up. So I begin retracing my steps and climbing the cobblestone stairs back to the top of the village.

Little did I know at the time that I’d left my wallet down by the dock and actually had to run all the way down and back up again to find it. Fortunately, it was right where I left it…passport and all. A little extra exercise never hurt anyone.
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Sure, Clovelly may be categorized as a tourist attraction, but to me it was one of those really unique places I’ll never forget. It’s easy to find historic villages all over the world, but this one had a uncommonly authentic vibe that’s hard to describe.

Clovelly made me forget about checking my smartphone, forget about the conjunctival cyst that was stuck in my eye, and forget about being in a hurry to get anywhere. To me, it felt like a fairytale, but it’s nothing more than real life for hundreds of people who call it home…which is fascinating to me.
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The whole concept behind Clovelly intrigues me and honestly creeps me out a little bit. The village has inspired me to write a fictional short story about the alleged deep, dark secrets of the village’s owner family and why its residents have stayed for so long.

I’m not the first one to have this bright idea either. An 18th century fiction book called The History of John Gregg and his Family of Robbers and Murderers tells the story of cannibalistic bandits who lived in Clovelly and committed over a thousand murders while living in a cave by the sea.

Does Clovelly really have deep, dark secrets? I guess you’ll just have to visit for yourself…or read my upcoming hypothetical novel.

Alyssa in Amsterdam: A Brief Rundown of Awesome Things

I just spent three weeks in Europe and I haven’t written a damn thing about it. And it’s killing me.

Well, okay fine. That’s not entirely true. On my third day in Amsterdam, my husband (yup, I have a husband now) bought me a little paperback journal from the Van Gogh Museum.

Van Gogh Journal

At least every couple days, I jotted down travel notes about things that stuck out to me and random stuff I wanted to remember. However, none of it was anything fancy, and none it ever found its way to the interweb.

Documenting the trip has felt like a pretty overwhelming endeavor, to be honest. And my freelance writing day job is drowning me, which is by all means a wonderful thing when you’re self-employed, but doesn’t exactly make me motivated to saddle up for personal writing at the end of the day.

I’ve talked myself into and out writing Euro-posts a dozen times now, but for some reason, I stuck with it today. Perhaps it’s the surprisingly tasty Diesel Punk Stout that is helping the words flow from my fingertips, or the familiar return to normalcy that makes me crave another excursion.

Who knows; who cares. It’s happening today and I’m letting it.

But first a disclaimer: Travel writing for money has made me a bit jaded about the whole industry. I write things about places I’ve never been and will probably never go just to get paid. And the Internet is little more than a regurgitated mess of paraphrasing and repetition.

But I have to write something about my travels…SOMETHING! 

So today, I adhere to the KISS principle: Keep It Simple Stupid. I’m just going to share a few of my favorite things from Amsterdam and leave it at that. Amsterdam is my new favorite European city, and I want to remember the things that made me fall in love with it.

This won’t be any literary masterpiece, but it will get me back into the groove of journaling for love of the game – not the love of the bling.

So without further ado, and in no particular order…

ALYSSA IN AMSTERDAM: A BRIEF RUNDOWN OF AWESOME THINGS

An 8-Person Hostel Room

One bathroom for eight people is kind of ridiculous, but somehow we made it work. Our most interesting roommate was a guy who woke up with two face piercings he didn’t remember getting.

We later found out that he wasn’t a registered guest and had actually just convinced another roommate to let him shack up so he didn’t have to sleep in a park. Ahhh…hostel life.

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Creepy Bunny Statues

I’ve always enjoyed these types of city-relevant/creature-themed public art displays. I remember the pandas when I lived in DC and the cows in Chicago.

I had no idea at the time, but these creepy bunnies are part of Nijntje Art Parade ~ Celebrating 60 Years of Miffy. It’s a kids’ book from the 1950s that was popular in the Netherlands. The more you know…

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Cheese Sample Heaven

And just when I thought Vermont was THE place to be for cheese samples…I was wrong. The Dutch make some damn good cheese, and they aren’t stingy about handing it out.

My favorites were the non-standard varieties, like pesto and cumin, and Gouda…lots of Gouda.

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More Bikes than Cars

I’ve always heard about how big “bike culture” is in Amsterdam, but it didn’t sink in until I was there.

Trying to cross the street as a pedestrian surrounded by hundreds of cyclists coming from all directions was utterly terrifying. But a place that has more bikes than cars is definitely my style.

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Flowers Freaking Everywhere

The Dutch like their tulips, and although we arrived a bit late for prime tulip season, there were still plenty of pretty flowers to ogle at.

I wanted to buy some tulip bulbs from a city market and ship them back home, but I guess that’s illegal. The shopkeeper I inquired with told me they’d get stuck at customs, so I had to abandon my dream of growing Amsterdam flowers in Atlanta.

Oh well, the heat down here would have probably killed ’em anyway.

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Europe is cold. You’ll see this same dumb blue jacket in pretty much every photo I’m in.

A Weird Cat Museum

A museum about cats…nothing but cats. I’m not even that much of a cat person, but this was too random to pass up. Kattenkabinet: a small, very specific, and slightly overpriced museum that will have you scratching your head for hours.

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Stupidly Cute Canals

The canals here are just stupidly cute. End of story.

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Space Cakes

Space cakes are nothing short of magical. Again, end of story.

My recommendation is Easy Times on Prinsengracht.

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Coffee Shops with Pinball

These exist. Yep.

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Hemp Education

The Hash Marihuana & Hemp Museum is actually really historical, educational, offers a handy audio guide, and is worth the € 9.

Pro: One of the exhibits featured gnomes
Con: No free samples

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The Lovely World of Delft

Even though this blue and white Dutch stuff is totally a Chinese knockoff, it’s beautiful.

I bought a Delft pendant and flower vase. Now if only I had those Dutch tulips to stick in the vase!

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Museum Overload

Like many European cities, Amsterdam has tons of museums. We hit up some of the big ones, like the Rijksmuseum and the Van Gogh Museum.

I’m certainly not one to argue with getting a little exhibition education during my travels. However, I came to realize that I have about a two-hour attention span per museum, and that I will get pretty museumed-out if I try to visit more than two in one day.

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Biking to the Almost-Countryside

One thing that this Eurotrip taught me is that I can only handle so much city life before I get cranky and crave some fresh air and solitude. One of my favorite days was the day we took a bike trip outside the city limits to the “almost countryside.”

The leisurely ride was complete quirky Dutch guide, international strangers, a windmill, and a farm with cows, a cheese production facility, a wooden shoe shop, and an touristy gift shop.

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Staying Up Late for Window Hos

A trip to Amsterdam really wouldn’t be complete without scoping out the legal prostitution scene. One thing that I learned though is that the ladies don’t make an appearance until well after 10 pm.

Despite the fact that it stayed daylight until about 10 pm in Amsterdam, staying awake that late was rough. Blame the 10+ miles of walking per day, or just blame being 31.

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Brewery in a Windmill

Although our next stop, Brussels, proved to be the best beer destination in Europe by far, Amsterdam had some decent beer bars too.

The most iconic and memorable one was Brouwerij’t IJ, which was neatly positioned inside some sort of windmill. This was one of our last stops before catching a train to Brussels, where much more amazing beer was to be had.

breweryAnd that’s the best of the best…or at least the best of what’s coming to mind right now. Amsterdam was an amazing place that I could actually see myself living in for a year or so.

Who knows whether or not that’ll happen or not, but at least the city inspired me to start writing again. Cheers!

Miniature Garden Update: One Month Later

So a little over a month ago, I planted my first miniature balcony garden, crossed my fingers and hoped for the best.

Read: Miniature Balcony Gardening…in a 2-Foot by 10-Foot Space

Well as you might expect, there have been some ups and downs – but mostly ups. And for that I awkwardly give myself a hearty pat on the back. I think everything out there on that stupid-sized balcony would have been alive and well except for one thing…

I was bitten by the (figurative) travel bug and just had to spend a week and a half in Western Florida.

It didn’t rain much in Atlanta while I was gone so these poor lil’ buggas had to fend for themselves in the pseudo-wilderness. So with a clearer mind and slightly tanner skin, this is what I came back to:

  • Cilantro: A little brown and wilted, but salvageable
  • Basil: About the same as the cilantro
  • Mint: Growing like crazy, like it didn’t even miss me
  • Impatiens: Totally dead, like they never even existed
  • Begonias: One chuck of dead-ness and the rest hanging on for dear life. It’s a hanging pot. See what I did there?

So I cleared out the nasty crap to make way for new pretty stuff…ta da!

IMG_3929Second garden shopping trip to Lowe’s: Check.

Lessons Learned:

  1. My mini-balcony gets more sun that I thought it did
  2. Herbs are pretty low-maintenance
  3. Flower that like shade don’t like me…at least here
  4. Water bugs are terrifying

Ah yes…the water bugs.

So before I hit the road for Florida, I set my indoor plants out on the corners of the mini-balcony to give them the best fighting chance at life while I was gone. These were a half-dying chrysanthemum and a three-quarters-dying African violet.

(Side bar: Have you ever stopped to think how close “violet” and “violent” are. Typos can be really thought-provoking at this time of day.)

Anyhoo, my mini-balcony must have been greeted by a big gust of wind because I returned to find the chrysanthemum totally MIA and the African violet upside down on the deck. When I went to pick it up, cockroach-looking things scattered in all directions.

TERRIFYING.

I slammed the balcony door shut and had to squash one with my bare hand to keep it from getting lost in the house. After a couple random chats with dog owners in the days that followed, I learned that these lil’ bastards are called water bugs, native to Georgia, and basically invincible. 
IMG_3934But trying to put the water bug incident behind me, I got myself prepped and ready for gardening round #2.

I was already missing all of the palm trees in Florida, so I picked up a mini-palm meant for indoor display to put on my coffee table. I’m thinking of installing a sandbox in the corner over the weekend. No really.
IMG_3944Without a doubt, those impatiens were dead as a doorbell and needed to be tossed into the trash. There was really no hope of reviving them.

Taking a page from “lessons learned,” I planted marigolds and celosias in their place. My mom always had marigolds in the yard when I was growing up and I remember them being pretty easy to take care. Plus, they’re orange and orange is awesome.

I’d never really seen celosias before, but their cuteness, colorfulness, and cheapness enticed me in the garden center that day. A little Googling informed me that they’re ornamental plants that are also edible…but I have yet to start snacking on them. They’re also named after the Greek word for “burned,” which refers to their flame-like shape.

That’s HOTTT.
IMG_3945I also finally got something to put into that orphaned blue flower pot in the corner. I thought a blue flower pot deserved blue flowers, but such are actually pretty hard to find. My favorite blue flower is the hydrangea, which reminds me of being back in Rhode Island…where they are EVERYWHERE!

I think these bushes are a little too big for my mini-balcony, but someday I’ll have these blue bastards in my yard.

So for the blue pot, I settled on a blueish-purpleish plant called “blue moon phlox.” Like my other new flowers, these things like sun so I thought they’d enjoy my mini-balcony. Since one of our balcony doors is busted and doesn’t open, I pulled the pot over in front of it so I can see and enjoy it from the inside!

IMG_3931One final gardening endeavor of the moment is sprouting in a sponge. While in Florida, we visited the historic and touristy town of Tarpon Springs, which was a sponge diving port for Greek immigrants in the early 1900s.

Sponges! Like what you scrub yourself with in the shower and wash your dishes with the sink…sponges!

It was a really fun town to explore, and apparently, it has the largest population of Greek Americans than any other town in the U.S. Real sponges from the gulf and handmade soaps line practically every store shelf down there, and I picked up one particular kind that’s called a “flower pot sponge.”

IMG_3932The Sponge Factory, where I bought it, recommended that I plant lima bean seeds or lentil seeds in my sponge, but I couldn’t find either of these for the life of my at Lowe’s. So I did a bit of research and found that radishes should sprout soil-less in a sponge as well.
IMG_3943I soaked the radish seeds overnight and then stuck them into the pores of the sponge. Randomly, earlier that day one of my work writing assignments was about the purpose of sprouting and how to grown your own sprouts. I love when work and life align.

Within just a few days, the radish sprouts began to grow! Who knew?!

While researching for my work article, I kept reading that although sprouts are super healthy, they also pose a risk of bacterial contamination. A sponge seems like the perfect place for bacteria to grow. So I’ve been a bit nervous about eating my sprout and have yet to try them.

But they do look pretty righteous, eh?

IMG_3977So that’s my gardening update…one month later. I’ll plant to write a two-month update right before my trip to Europe to say farewell to these little guys and wish them the best while I abandon them for three weeks. Or maybe I won’t get around to it and you’ll see an update about the epic plant death that welcomes me back to the states.

And oh! As of yesterday, I have one more addition to add to my mini-balcony! My parents went me this ridiculously fun gnome flag that would look perfect out there. Of all the gnome crap I have, this is my first flag. Now I just need to find a way to attach it to the side post…hmm.
IMG_3981

Unlike my mom, who has to wait until after Mother’s Day to start planting due to fear of frost, some of my plants have been going strong – even after the one-month mark. The herbs, in particular, and growing like crazy now…faster than I can eat them!

Do you live in a climate where plants can thrive in March and April? How’s your garden holding up so far?

I have a feeling mine would rock so hard if only I didn’t travel…but right now, that’s not an option. So godspeed dear plants…I’ll do my best and you do the rest!