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Julie - "Girl on the Move"

Experience the California Blossom Trail

I’m sure if you polled most California tourists, they’ve never heard of the California Blossom Trail. When most people think of California they think of Disneyland or the Golden Gate Bridge. As popular tourist destinations, many California trips are to Los Angeles and San Francisco. However, there are also some great options between these two cities. When I stumbled across an Instagram post with these blossoms, I knew I had to check it out for myself!

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The Fresno County Blossom Trail is a 62-mile loop just southeast of Fresno. You can download a trail map and get information about the timing of the blooms from their website. Usually, the blossoms are out from mid-February to early-March but depending on the year they can arrive earlier or later. If you’re not able to visit the California Blossom Trail in February or March, don’t worry! You can visit from May to September when it becomes a Fruit Stand Trail.

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Did you know that two-thirds of the fruits and nuts in the United States are grown in California? The farms of the Central Valley produce peaches, nectarines, apricots, almonds, plums, and apples who get their yearly start with these gorgeous blossoms. Over the course of the 62-mile trail you’ll be treated to blossoms in a dazzling array of whites and pinks.

If you want to see more between the Central Valley and Los Angeles, I’d also recommend a visit to Solvang where you can take a step into Danish culture.

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California Pro Sports Teams: A California Challenge

A couple of years ago I decided that while I wanted to continue to explore the US and countries around the world, I needed to spend a bit more time exploring right at home. So the California Challenge was born. In 2018 I set out to visit all 21 of the California Missions. For 2018 I decided to attend a home game of all 18 California pro sports teams. Let’s take a virtual tour of the 18 California pro sports teams from the San Diego Padres to the Golden State Warriors.

As with most of my posts, some links may be affiliate links. This means at no additional cost to you, I may make a small commission on anything you buy through the links.

Here are a few fun facts from attending a home game of all 18 California pro sports teams…

•The home team won nine out of 18 times, lost eight times, and tied once.

•The Los Angeles Rams played in the oldest stadium – the LA Memorial Coliseum, built in 1923. However, they’ll be moving to their new permanent home in Summer 2020 so then the Dodgers will lay claim to the oldest stadium in California, built in 1962.

•The San Jose Sharks play in the SAP Center at San Jose, the smallest capacity in California with 17,496 seats. The Los Angeles Rams played in the largest stadium, with a capacity of 78,467 in the Coliseum. Their new permanent home, SoFi Stadium, will also be the largest pro sport stadium in California when it opens, with a capacity of 70,240.

•Attending a home game for all 18 teams meant visiting 15 stadiums. The Los Angeles Kings, LA Lakers and LA Clippers all play at the Staples Center. The LA Galaxy and LA Chargers both play at Dignity Health Sports Park.

California Pro Sports Teams Awards

Biggest Fan Award goes to my dad. Eighteen different people attended games with me during the challenge, but my dad went to the most games at five.

Favorite Stadium Experience Award goes to the LAFC at Banc of California Stadium.

Frequently Seen Player Award goes to Erik Gudbranson. He played for the Vancouver Canucks when they played against the LA Kings and then was traded to the Anaheim Ducks.

Favorite Player Award goes to Alex Caruso of the Los Angeles Lakers.

Major League Baseball (MLB)

San Diego Padres

A gorgeous baseball stadium in downtown San Diego. And since the team is in San Diego you’re almost guaranteed gorgeous baseball weather! (Transportation Notes: Public transportation is easy to use for this stadium)

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Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

This game was an adventure! We don’t get a lot of rain in the spring, summer or autumn in Southern California so this was just the 12th rain-delayed game in Angel Stadium history. Fortunately I was able to attend the make-up game the next day to check the Angels off the list.

Los Angeles Dodgers

Not my favorite team or stadium, but I will admit it’s gotten a lot safer in the last few years. Dodger Stadium is the largest MLB stadium at a capacity of 56,000 so it should be included on any MLB Stadium Bucket List.

Oakland Athletics

Constructed deep in the ground so fans enter at the upper decks, this stadium has a lot of concrete. Visiting RingCentral Coliseum feels like a throw back to stadiums of the past and I don’t recommend attending solo at night. (Transportation Notes: Public transportation is easy to use for this stadium)

San Francisco Giants

Located in the South Beach area of San Francisco you can be treated to a waterfront view from some seats. (Transportation Notes: Public transportation is easy to use for this stadium)

National Football League (NFL)

Los Angeles Rams

What an experience to see the Rams play at LA Memorial Coliseum. For the 2020 season they’ll move into their new permanent home at SoFi Stadium, but for now this was a memorable experience. The Rams and Chargers recently moved to LA and I am amazed at how quickly they’ve developed very different fan bases. In my experiences this year, the Rams seemed to attract more of an LA crowd.

Los Angeles Chargers

The Chargers on the other hand seem to have attracted more of an Orange County crowd, which makes sense since Orange County is so close to San Diego. It’s not easy to judge this stadium because the Rams are only playing in a temporary home after their move from St. Louis. For the 2020 season they’ll move into their new permanent home at SoFi Stadium.

San Francisco 49ers

This was my very first NFL game so it will always be a bit special but the stadium itself felt fairly impersonal. Essentially, it is just a really large stadium designed to fit in as many people as possible. Definitely doesn’t have the character or personality of older, or smaller, stadiums. (Transportation Notes: This is in the suburbs so public transportation is a bit limited but there are some great places to park and ride to the stadium)

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Major League Soccer (MLS)

Los Angeles Football Club (LAFC)

Wow! This is the hands-down the best soccer game I’ve attended in the US (I imagine going to a game in Europe would be even better!). The energy was absolutely electric and the new stadium is worth a visit. (Transportation Notes: Parking is not cheap at this stadium so if you’re able to use public transportation I’d highly recommend going that route.)

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Los Angeles Galaxy

A fun soccer game with really passionate fans. The game was filled with chanting, scarf waving and excitement. I thought this was a really good experience until I went to an LAFC game, so I’d rank this second in terms of MLB experiences in California.

San Jose Earthquakes

This was probably my least favorite team/stadium of the challenge. The energy wasn’t very good and my favorite part of the game was getting to watch the planes take off and land from the San Jose Airport next door. (Transportation Notes: They have an easy park and ride option from downtown San Jose to help you save money on parking)

National Basketball Association (NBA)

I feel like I need a disclaimer for this whole section of my whole challenge…I don’t particularly care for the NBA. Basketball is enjoyable, but I prefer college basketball. So shelling out money to attend four NBA games was a bit painful!

Los Angeles Clippers

The Clippers and the Lakers both play in the Staples Center and it was amazing to see how different the atmosphere was for each of the games. (Transportation Notes: Depending on where you’re coming from in LA, public transportation can be easy to use.)

Los Angeles Lakers

Admittedly this is one of my least favorite professional sports teams so I took a friend who is a big Lakers fan to help make the game more exciting. And then Lizzo made the game really exciting. And I discovered one of the Lakers newer players, Alex Caruso, and he became my favorite player of the challenge. (Transportation Notes: Depending on where you’re coming from in LA, public transportation can be easy to use.)

Sacramento Kings

The Kings play at one of the newer stadiums I visited and it was quite impressive. The court is underground so you enter the stadium at the 200 level and then go down if you have seats closer to the court…I did not! It is also located in downtown Sacramento so there is a lot to do around the stadium.

Golden State Warriors

Chase Center is the newest of all the stadiums I visited, having just opened in 2019. It is located in downtown San Francisco not too far from where the San Francisco Giants play. (Transportation Notes: Depending on where you’re coming from in San Francisco, public transportation can be easy to use.)

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National Hockey League (NHL)

Next up is the NHL and I will admit that before this challenge I had never been to an ice hockey game, at any level. My biggest surprise of the challenge was how much I loved hockey! I hope to more regularly attend games moving forward.

Anaheim Ducks

A fun, family friendly atmosphere. If you live in Southern California, this is just a great family outing!

Los Angeles Kings

Another team who plays at the Staples Center, along with the Clippers and Lakers. I can’t imagine being the keeper of the calendar at the Staples Center…so many moving parts! Just like with the Clippers and Lakers, this was a completely different atmosphere at the stadium which makes me glad I committed to going to a home game of each team instead of just visiting each stadium. (Transportation Notes: Depending on where you’re coming from in LA, public transportation can be easy to use.)

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San Jose Sharks

Another really fun, family friendly atmosphere. If you live in Northern California, this is just a great family outing.

You can find more suggestions of things to do in California HERE. Or head here to see more of my California Challenges.

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A Christmas in London Bucket List

The holiday season in London is quite magical! The decor starts to go up in early-mid November and by the mid-end of November, Christmas is in full swing. As you’re planning your itinerary, here are my suggestions for your Christmas in London Bucket List. I’m not sure it’s possible to do all of this in one trip, unless you’re going for the whole Christmas season! So if you’re short on time, here are my top five things to do in London for Christmas.

As with most of my posts, some links may be affiliate links. This means at no additional cost to you, I may make a small commission on anything you buy through the links.

Christmas in London Bucket List: Christmas Markets

Southbank Centre Winter Market – Stroll along the Thames and enjoy this festive Winter Market. You can book dinner in an igloo, buy holiday gifts, and enjoy warm drinks. Be aware, that this does get rather crowded in the evenings.

Hyde Park Winter Wonderland – Winter Wonderland takes over Hyde Park and it has it all…beer garden, food stalls, mulled wines, rides, music and more. Be aware, that this does get rather crowded in the evenings.

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Borough Market – One of my favorite markets in London. And then they add a Christmas tree, so I’m all in! In all seriousness while this isn’t a traditional market with all the stalls brought in, it’s fun to visit an already great market decked out for the holidays.

Leicester Square – See a show (there are so many options) and then grab a mulled wine and stroll through the Christmas market.

Greenwich Christmas Market – Not a typical Christmas market in that this market is there year round, but they add lights and it’s more festive than the other eleven months of the year. And if you’re going to go ice skating at Queen Anne’s House (see below) this is a great stop for your day.

Winterville Clapham Common – This market didn’t take place in 2019, but be on the lookout to see if returns in 2020.

Christmas in London Bucket List: Ice Skating

Natural History Museum – This might be the most popular London at Christmas photo! I will add though, that for as popular as this photo is, the rink is not too crowded. And after you skate you can pop into the Museum to warm up!

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Somerset House – Enjoy the ice rink at Somerset House where you’ll also find a mini ice rink for the littlest skaters.

Queen House Ice Rink – Head south of the river for a skate at Queen’s House Ice Rink. Round out the day with a stop at the Prime Meridian and a stroll through Greenwich Market.

More Christmas Spirit

Kensington Palace – A gorgeous Christmas tree, a decorate palace, afternoon tea, it’s royal Christmas perfection. If you’re looking for more than the obligatory picture of the tree, capture this angle.

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Department Stores – Head to Harrod’s, Fortnum & Mason and Selfridges for all the holiday decor. The displays will wow you and leave you ready to upgrade your decorations at home.

Covent Garden – You can’t help getting into the Christmas spirit with a stroll through Covent Garden. Enjoy a cookie from Ben’s, take a picture with one of the Christmas trees or pop in and visit the London Transport Museum.

Christmas at Kew Gardens – Book your tickets early for this holiday spectacular, one of my holiday favorites in London.

Advent Services at Westminster Abbey – There is something so special about attending an Advent service where they’ve been holding services for centuries. Be sure to look up their schedule online and get their early enough to get a good seat.

Backyard Cinema– A delightful immersive cinema experience. While this is something you can do all year-round in London there is something quite special about the winter themes. You’re able to choose from a variety of holiday movies shown in either the Winter Night Garden or Christmas at Snow Kingdom.

Know Before You Go: A premium ticket doesn’t cost much more than a regular ticket, so it’s worth it.

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Charles Dickens Museum – The Museum is fully decorated for a Victorian Christmas so it is a must-visit at Christmas time.

Know Before You Go: It’s especially fun to visit the Charles Dickens Museum and then go see A Christmas Carol. I’d highly recommend seeing the Old Vic production of the show. However, you can also cozy up at home and watch the movie. I’d also recommend visiting the museum earlier in the day for smaller crowds.

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Churchill Arms – Officially the UK’s most festive pub, the outside is decorated with 75 Christmas trees and over 17,500 Christmas lights! This is the perfect stop after visiting Kensington Palace as it’s just a couple of streets over. I think it’s worth a walk down Kensington Palace Gardens to admire all of the Embassies decorated for Christmas.

Christmas Lights – There are so many delightful light displays to see in London during the holidays. The ones that are most notable are Carnaby Street, Regent Street, and Oxford Street. There are some great open top bus tours to see the lights.

Literary Connections

Charles Dickens, who lived in London, wrote A Christmas Carol so this is a fitting book to read during the holidays.

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Interested in visiting other European destinations? Here’s a look at my recommendations of what to do, see, eat, and read on your next European adventure.

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Christmas in London: My Five Favorites

It’s no secret that my favorite time of year is November and December. Because I love Christmas! There is just something so magical about this time of year that puts a perpetual smile on my face. So when a $400 flight deal popped up from LA to Heathrow, I couldn’t pass up the deal. Because in the words of Jenny Colgan in Christmas at the Cupcake Cafe, “Christmas in London. Best in the world.” Here are is a look at my favorite things to do for Christmas in London.

As with most of my posts, some links may be affiliate links. This means at no additional cost to you, I may make a small commission on anything you buy through the links.

Christmas at Kew Gardens

As London is so far north, it is dark by 4:30p during December. This means there are quite a few hours for viewing Christmas lights. And Christmas at Kew is simply magical as the after dark trail lights up Kew Gardens. With Christmas music playing and mulled wine stops along the path, this is a must-visit during the holidays. There a variety of different light displays, food options (you can even toast marshmallows) and photo opportunities.

Know Before You Go: Tickets need to be purchased online ahead of time and sell out, so book your tickets early. I would recommend booking early in the evening if possible. I went at 5p, when the Gardens open, and when I left two hours later, the crowds were significantly larger. The Victoria Gate is easily reached via the District Line from the Kew Gardens station. As you’ll be strolling through the Botanical Gardens in the evening I’d also recommend throwing a set of these hand warmers in your pockets.

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A Christmas Carol at the Old Vic

A Christmas Carol was written by Charles Dickens in London in 1843, so it only seems fitting to see A Christmas Carol while in London. And this production did not disappoint. The music was incredible, including a beautiful rendition of See Amid the Winter Snow. There was just the right touch of interaction with the audience and Christmas magic. If I lived in London, this would be an annual tradition!

Know Before You Go: The seating was not in a traditional arrangement due to the layout of the stage so just be aware when purchasing tickets. Before the show you can get a free mince pie from the production, which was quite tasty! If you have time earlier in the day, I’d recommend a visit to the Charles Dickens Museum to help set the stage for A Christmas Carol.

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Advent Liturgy at Westminster Abbey

Westminster Abbey, as it exists today, was built in the 13th century and is a World Heritage Site. So while any trip to London should include a stop at Westminster Abbey, I believe your visit is made even better by attending a service. The candlelight Advent Liturgy was one of the most peaceful moments of my trip and during the hustle and bustle of the holidays I recommend taking a minute to stop and slow down.

Know Before You Go: You can begin queuing up around 2p and I do recommend arriving early in order to get a good seat. They opened the doors and began seating people at least a full hour before the service began so you won’t be waiting outside too long.

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Covent Garden

This is one of my favorite areas of London and Christmas takes it to a whole other level. It truly feels magical to wander around Covent Garden while it’s decorated for the holidays. Multiple Christmas trees, street performers, the London Transport Museum (one of my fave underrated London museums), and loads of yummy treats. Be ready for a number of photo spots and soak in all of the Christmas magic.

Know Before You Go: There’s no way to eat all the different treats you’ll encounter in Covent Garden, so just choose one or two! And if you arrive at Covent Garden via tube, before you opt to take the stairs out of the station, know that there are 193.

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Holiday Doors of London

London residents and store owners alike know how to dress a door for Christmas! The displays are visually stunning and I imagine if you came back year after year, they would only get better. I saw so much fresh greenery and fun twists on the traditional reds and greens of Christmas decor. Truly, you could spend hours strolling through the streets of London (I average 10 miles a day) admiring the decor.

Know Before You Go: If you take a picture of every beautifully decorated door and window display in London you’ll be stopping for every other door. So if you want pictures of all the doors just know you’ll be stopping quite frequently. Otherwise just snap photos of the really outstanding doors.

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Literary Connections

As Jenny Colgan says in Christmas at the Cupcake Cafe, “London is not the place to be if you want to escape Christmas. It does the most wonderful Christmas in the world, and I want to be a part of it.”

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Fräulein Maria’s Sound of Music Bike Tour

When I’m planning a trip I always ask friends and family for recommendations. So when I was planning my time in Salzburg, Austria I asked around with friends who had previously visited. A friend told me Fräulein Maria’s Sound of Music Bike Tour was a must-do, so I immediately booked a tour!

As with most of my posts, some links may be affiliate links. This means at no additional cost to you, I may make a small commission on anything you buy through the links.

The Sound of Music Bike Tour

My friend was correct, this tour is a must-do! From the behind-the-scenes info shared, to the stunning Austrian countryside, to the entertaining and knowledgeable guides, I can not recommend this tour enough. As you bike along listening to the Sound of Music soundtrack, you can almost picture the Von Trapp children hanging from the trees and laughing. Here is some of the fun insider information I learned about the movie during tour and when you take the tour, you can learn more.

•For filming they used the back of one house (the first photo in this post) and the front of another house (see photo below) to make up the Von Trapp family house.

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•If the family had truly left via the route they took at the end of the movie, they would have ended up right at Eagle’s Nest, a high-level Nazi building.

•They added a doorbell to the convent so the kids could ring the bell when they were looking for Maria. The convent kept the doorbell after filming, until too many tourists visited and used the doorbell. Then they took it down to regain some peace and quiet.

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Know Before You Go

•Although you reserve your spot for the tour ahead of time (via the website) you don’t actually pay until after you’ve completed the tour. You should also note that cash is the preferred payment method.

•The tour lasts around 3.5 hours and you’ll bike about 8 miles over the course of the tour.

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•You’ll cover more ground than a walking tour (because bikes travel faster!), and although you can’t cover as much ground as a bus tour, you are able to go to places that are more difficult to reach via bus.

•You don’t have to be an Olympic athlete to join the tour. My tour had an 8-year-old and a 68-year-old, so the tour really is for everyone.

•Tours run from April to October and for a couple of months in the summer they run twice a day. But it can rain a lot in the summer so be ready for the rain.

Literary Connections

While neither of these books are fiction, both are related to The Sound of Music so they are great reads before or after the bike tour. Julie Andrew’s Home Work: A Memoir of My Hollywood Years covers her time filming Sound of Music. The Story of the Trapp Family Singers tells the story of the family who inspired the movie.

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Interested in visiting other European destinations? Here’s a look at my recommendations of what to do, see, eat, and read on your next European adventure.

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Visiting Ravensbrück Concentration Camp

My favorite kind of books are ones where the setting matters. When I get lost in the pages of those books, I am transported to another place and time. Books like these have allowed me to travel the world and I hope to visit as many of these settings as possible in person. Because once you’ve explored the setting, the book comes alive in a new way. After reading Lilac Girls, I knew I needed to visit Ravensbrück Concentration Camp to help me more deeply understand the book.

As with most of my posts, some links may be affiliate links. This means at no additional cost to you, I may make a small commission on anything you buy through the links.

Visiting Ravensbrück

Admittedly, it took me quite a while to process what it was like visiting Ravensbrück. Fortunately my visit was the only item on my itinerary for the day. I’m not sure I could have mustered up the energy for another tourist attraction after the visit. You can read countless books about World War II and learn all about it in school, but there is something about visiting the scene where these horrors took place, that takes your understanding of the Holocaust to a whole other level.

Ravensbrück was a concentration camp in northern Germany exclusively for women. The story of Ravensbrück is often overshadowed by the stories of more well-known concentration camps, but the atrocities that took place there during WWII were absolutely horrific. There was medical testing performed on the inmates and an estimated 50,000 women died at Ravensbrück.

Today, many of the original buildings are no longer standing in their original form. However, you are still able to see the German accommodations, some of the remaining inmate facilities and the gas chamber.

Situated on Lake Schwedt, I was struck by the tranquility of the lake in contrast to the horrors of the camp. I was also struck at how different the German accommodations were compared to the facilities of the inmates. As I walked through the camp thinking about the lives cut short by these horrors I was reminded of how important it is that we live our lives as full as we can in memory of those who aren’t able to do the same. It is so difficult to articulate the feelings associated with the horrific events of the Holocaust. So I wanted to share a few pictures in lieu of the words I could only attempt to articulate well.

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Visiting Ravensbrück: How to Get There

I recommend staying in Berlin if you are planning on visiting Ravensbrück, as there are not really accommodations in Ravensbrück. I boarded the RE5 train from Berlin Gesundbrunnen, heading north towards Stralsund. The route sign might also mention Löwenberg, Fürstenberg, and/or Neustrelitz. You’ll then disembark at Fürstenberg (Havel) on Track 2. On the return trip you’ll board the train on Track 3 for Berlin.

Right next to the train station is a little cafe serving light fare if you’re looking for a snack. The cafe also rents bikes which you can use to get to the Memorial. I walked from the train station to Ravensbrück, but a bike would be much quicker! I found it helpful to download a Google map of the area to my phone before my trip as there were limited signs marking the way. Then I simply followed the roads from the train station to the Memorial.

Literary Connections

Whether you’ve already visited Ravensbrück, are planning a trip, or just want to learn more about this particular concentration camp, I highly recommend Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly. This is one of my top five favorite historical fictions book and the author is absolutely lovely.

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Interested in visiting other European destinations? Here’s a look at my recommendations of what to do, see, eat, and read on your next European adventure.

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