How to Have a Spooky Halloween Adventure

Halloween – The Ultimate Fall Celebration

Carve up your jack o’lanterns!

Boo! Halloween is right around the corner, and people around the world are in the mood for spooky season. Get your costumes ready, decorate your houses, and get ready for all the trick-or-treaters. There’s nothing quite as scary as a bunch of children dressed as Wonder Woman trying to get candy, right?

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Best Places to See Giant Redwoods from San Francisco

Best Places to See Giant Redwoods from San Francisco

Best Places to See Giant Redwoods from San Francisco
Giant Redwoods at Sequoia National Park

For many, seeing Giant Redwoods is the highlight of their trip to San Francisco. And we completely get it! The San Francisco Bay Area is the perfect starting point for visiting these giant trees because there are so many different options within proximity of the city, “but  what are really the best places to see Giant Redwoods from San Francisco? 

The U.S. west coast is home to two species of evergreen redwoods and my guests are always keen to learn about the different types. Now, pay attention! There are the Coastal redwoods and the Giant Sequoia redwoods. Their geographic ranges do not overlap so pick your favorite to visit (or visit both!).

Sequoia National Park

Best Places to See Giant Redwoods from San Francisco
Sign to the entrance of Sequoia National Park, California.

The Giant Sequoias grow inland on mountain ranges or close to them and on elevations of 5,000 to 7,000 feet. They need dry summer heat but also the water from the snowmelt in spring to survive. The Giant Sequoias differ in size and shape from their coastal brothers. They are the bigger one with huge trunks. The most well known in this family is probably the General Sherman tree in Sequoia National Park whose trunk has a circumference of 102 feet (it is only 275 feet tall). It’s estimated weight of 2.7 million pounds makes it the world’s largest living organism. How cool is that?

The Coastal redwoods, however, grow, as the name suggests, along the northern California coast. They need the moist, humid but cool climate that can so often be found here. These types of trees need elevations below 1,000 feet. The tallest coastal redwood tree is the Hyperion tree north of Eureka, CA with 379.7 feet in height. Also, did you know that this type of tree has way softer needles than the bigger brother? Feel them both!

Yosemite National Park

Best Places to See Giant Redwoods from San Francisco
Tuolumne Grove of Giant Sequoias

So, now that you know about the different types you can see from San Francisco, you probably wonder once again, “but what are really the best places” to see them? Well, in our opinion, the best place to see the Giant Sequoias from San Francisco is the Tuolumne Grove in Yosemite National Park. So awesome! Many people don’t know that you can visit Yosemite in just a day from San Francisco (hey, it’s just a 4 hour drive!) and it’s awesome and worth it to gaze up into the canopy of those Giants and don’t think of anything else. Just be aware that the Summer months are super busy in Yosemite and parking to see these wonders of nature might be really difficult. Also, if you are not used to driving that far and that long, including windy mountain roads, you can always join one of the guided tours that travel there few times a week!  Visit the following link for more info

Muir Woods National Monument

Best Places to See Giant Redwoods from San Francisco
Funny men against a Giant Sequoia

But there is also Muir Woods National Monument, just about 1 hour north of San Francisco, which is home to the coastal redwoods. Be aware, parking is even more limited and they are starting to introduce a parking reservation system in 2018 to limit cars into the area even more. If you prefer a more relaxed experience, check one of the Muir Woods Expedition tours! Sit back, relax and enjoy the ride! Visit the following link for more info

Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve

Best Places to See Giant Redwoods from San Francisco
Up close with an old huge Redwood Sequoia tree in a beautiful landscape

Another option to see Coastal Redwoods not too far away from the city, is the Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve, very popular among locals and tourists and it’s just 2 hours north of San Francisco.

So what are you waiting for?  Find out what makes these Redwood trees so special and unforgettable! Visit the following link for more information:

Spending Thanksgiving Abroad

How to Avoid the Holiday Stress

thanksgiving turkey

Thanksgiving is a beloved in the U.S. because of all the great food and drink available (turkey, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, gravy… oh, sorry, is that distracting?). But the more people traveling and driving around can make the whole thing a little overwhelming? Is it really worth it to get stuck in traffic for three hours just to spend the day pretending to enjoy the company of your relatives?

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Things to Love About: Amsterdam

Canal view, Amsterdam
Canal view, Amsterdam (photo by K. Fitzgerald)

The first time I visited Amsterdam, I told my husband, “I could live here.” Before we had arrived, I was a bit of a reluctant visitor. I knew nothing about the city except its somewhat lurid reputation. In my mind, it was a mecca for naughtiness and excess in Europe: as Las Vegas is to the U.S., so Amsterdam was to the E.U. A place you’d go to do things you’d rather forget after the trip. (In other words, what happens in Amsterdam, stays in Amsterdam.)

But within a few hours of strolling the cobbled streets, learning the names of the canals, and tasting some of the hot chocolate and pastry being sold on every street, I was hooked. Here are just some of the reasons why.

The Canals

Amsterdam is called “the Venice of the North” for a reason: canals, more than streets, are the known thoroughfares in the city, and function as a series of mirrors, reflecting long rows of beautiful and ancient buildings back upon themselves. On one of my trips there, unable to sleep, I rose early in the morning to take a walk. In the early hours of that frosty day in late November, there were trucks out laying grit across the canal bridges in preparation for the morning’s commute, a commute that is radically different from any I am used to: for as I walked down the sidewalk along the Herengracht (one of the major canals near Centraal Train Station), families began emerging from houses on the canal banks and side streets, all riding bicycles. Some tandem, some with seats on the back for children, all on their way to work and to school. It was marvellously quiet, so quiet I could hear conversations between adults and the children pedalling behind echoing off the water, mist issuing from their mouths as they breathed. I hate to use a word as trite as “magical” to describe the experience, but it was.

The Architecture

The row houses in Amsterdam belong on postcards. They stand shoulder-to-shoulder, brickfaced, and with unique roof lines that lend texture and character to each one; built on long, narrow lots, they were designed so that the maximum number of citizens could have access to the canals. So the buildings grew upwards instead of outwards in a strangely modern way for a medieval city. The nature of the buildings was so relevant, in fact, that centuries later, Amsterdam has one of the greatest distributions of historic buildings and monuments in Europe still in active use, with more than 7000 in and around the city center.

On my walks through the city–and that is my favorite pastime in Amsterdam, just walking–I note that residents rarely cover their windows with curtains. (Sleeping, cooking, and the more intimate parts of their lives, all take place in rooms at the backs of the buildings.) So anyone can see the spare and modern way they live their lives, gorgeous pieces of art on the walls, their unabashed love of primary colors. The experience is a bit mind-bending: if it weren’t for the IKEA-like decor you can see through their windows, and the bicycles parked along the canal railings, you could easily be in the 16th Century.

The Museums

This is a place where art lives. At the internationally-renowned Rijksmuseum, you can gaze at walls filled with the works of the Dutch masters: Rembrandt, van Dijk, Vermeer, and more. After a few days in the city, you’ll understand the origin of the light they depicted: filtered, darkish, yet somehow pure. (In my mind their evocation of brightness, shadow and detail must have something to do with daylight bouncing off the canal water.) Nearby, the van Gogh museum showcases a selection from the impressionist master, from his early sketches in the Netherlands to the coveted masterpieces he painted in Provence.

More somber, and yet not to be missed, is a visit to the Anne Frank museum: seeing the secret annex in the Prisengracht where she chronicled her puberty and hid from the Nazis was one of my more hallowed experiences in Amsterdam. The rooms, although stripped of the occupants’ belongings by the Nazis after their capture, have since been furnished to look like they did when Anne lived there (secret bookcase and all.)

The Markets

Delft pottery in Amsterdam
Delft pottery in a shop window in Amsterdam (photo by K. Fitzgerald)

While living in the land of Walmart, Costco, and other superstores certainly has its benefits, there is something to be said for buying produce and other goods from small vendor stalls. The Albert Cuyp Market has fruit, vegetables, spices, meats, sweets, household items, and just about anything you can think of that would fit in a shopping bag. The Waterlooplein Flea Market is a mecca for people who like garage sales, bric a brac, and a good bargain. And as a flower lover, I have rarely seen anything as lovely (or tempting) as the floating flower market (Bloemenmarkt) on the Singel, right in the heart of the city. Every flower you could imagine is there, in every color, grouped in dazzling bouquets you could buy for only a handful of euros. And if you like window shopping, the gorgeous displays of blue and white Delft pottery sprinkled throughout the city will make you want to fill your china cabinet. Even if you don’ t have one.

These experiences–and so much more–await you on your next trip to Europe. If you’d like to get to know the Dutch capital for yourself, TakeTours offers a number of Amsterdam trips and excursions, many featuring the city as one highlight of a multi-day European experience.