How to Make the Perfect Care Package… for Anyone!

IMG_3793It’s hard to know that someone you care about is hurting and feel like there isn’t much you can do to help. If distance is keeping you from the hands-on support of caring for a friend, you may need to turn to providing love of the mail-able variety. A care package wont cure many physical ailments but it will give the recipient some much needed TLC. Just being reminded that someone is thinking of you, even with some material goods, can be enough to get you through a bad day with a serious illness, a broken arm, or even a broken heart. Getting through tough times is easier with the support of family and friends.

Sony Pictures Home Entertainment asked us to come up with a guide to building the perfect care package to celebrate the DVD release of Miracles From Heaven. While there are no real rules for building a care package, and there is no reason to go over the top, this little guide may help you get started if you are feeling overwhelmed by the idea but want to send something special to a friend.

The basic thought here is to select an item from each of these four categories; something to do, something to eat, something practical, something handmade. Not required but I also like to add something weird or unexpected. I always turn to humor in dark times, it’s both my best and worst quality. (more…)

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A Paris Itinerary in 24 Hours

So we started our week long western European tour in London, then headed to Brussels, then to Amsterdam. After that we wanted to go to Berlin, but it’s a bit far (about 6 hours by train), so instead we made a last minute decision to take the Thalys to Paris for 24 hours of non-stop, unabashed tourism. It was awesome.

We booked a hotel in the first arrondissement right next to the Louvre for easy access to all the major sites. The good news is Paris is actually quite small for a large city, and the Metro is extremely easy to use. We bought a 24 hour metro pass and headed to the Grand Hotel du Palais Royal, where we dropped our bags and walked across the street to take in what is arguably the world’s greatest museum. I purchased tickets to the Louvre online (which definitely saves time) and the concierge printed them out for us. Wander around the iconic Pyramide du Louvre before heading into the museum. Louvre

Of course you will want to see the Mona Lisa, you and all of the hundreds of people pictured below as well. We also enjoyed the Venus de Milo, Egyptian Antiquities, and the Oceanic arts section, as well as the old masters paintings. I would make it a point to visit the decorative arts section to see the rooms made up in classic Louis XIV adornments. Paris Louvre

After the Louvre we of course had to stop for some Parisian croissants and coffee. Paris Coffee

From here we headed up to Montmartre. Part of visiting Paris is really just taking in the different neighborhoods, and Montmartre is beautiful. We wandered the streets a bit Montmartre

before taking the Funicular (people who follow me know that I take every funicular I am anywhere near) up to the Sacre Coeur. Note that your day pass for the Metro also works at the funicular – no need to buy another ticket. Sacre Coeur

Take in this gorgeous view of Paris below. Paris from Montmartre

After that, we did a little shopping in Montmartre, and of course stopped for some wine. Montmartre Wine

From there we took the metro down to walk the Champs Elysees before heading to the river bank. The singular best tourist thing to do in Paris is take a river cruise on the Seine. You will see all the major sites like Notre Dame, and take in the students hanging around the Sorbonne and the glorious Paris evening. I HIGHLY recommend taking the cruise right before sunset, as it heads down the river and then back, so you can see everything in the daylight and then again lit up at night – Paris is the City of Light after all. You can get tickets from your concierge or right at the dock. We saw the Eiffel Tower in the light of day, Eiffel Tower by Day

and again just as the night began. This was far more affecting than I thought it would be. Just filled our hearts right up to the brim. Eiffel Tower at Night

The bridges of Paris are stunning from every angle. Seine Cruise

The rain broke for a few minutes and we saw a glorious sunset over the Seine. Seine Sunset

We had some crepes from a river-side stand, and took an uber back to the 1st arrondissement where we found a cafe for a late dinner and some more French wine. In the morning, we walked back through the Louvre and across the river to hunt for pastries in the charming neighborhood of St Germain des Pres before taking the metro to the Paris Catacombs. I recommend splurging for skip-the-line passes available from the concierge at most hotels or any tourist office, as the line can be long because very few visitors are allowed in the catacombs at a time. The tickets also come with a self-guided audio tour that adds a lot to the experience. For those who don’t know, the catacombs are ossuaries deep under the streets of Paris, where old mining tunnels were filled with the bones of over 6 million Parisians. They were created when Les Innocents cemetery suffered a collapse due to over crowding. It took two years from 1786-1788 to transfer all of the bones, which were deposited in decoartively-arranged sections detailing where the bones were moved from and when, along with quotes from famous authors and thinkers on the nature of death and dying. It is a truly fascinating experience deep underground in the dark, dank bowels of Paris. It should not be missed, even on a short visit like ours. Paris Catacombs

From the catacombs, we headed back to our hotel, gathered our belongings, and headed back to Paris Gard du Nord to board the Eurostar back to London. Arrive early for this – it is more like boarding a plane (with security and passport control), and be careful on the escalator. I had a spectacular fall which I am sure is posted on YouTube somewhere. After a visit as packed as this one, you will want to sleep on the 2 hour train back to London, but try to keep your eyes open to enjoy a little of the French countryside as it zooms by.

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An Amsterdam Itinerary in 48 Hours

From Brussels, Rachel and I took the Thalys train (about 2 hours) straight to Amsterdam for a two day stay in the city. At the central station just walk outside and grab a tram (you can buy the tickets on the tram, get a full day ticket so you can hop on an off) and check into your hotel. Don’t bother with a taxi or uber – it’s easier and faster to take the tram. I chose the Hotel Seven One Seven and I could not have been more in love. The sitting room and library were so rich and inviting, and the rooms named after famous authors are luxe and quiet. We had the JRR Tolkein suite – just stunning. Hotel Seven One Seven Amsterdam

Soak in the hotel’s atmosphere before heading out for a walk about. We first headed straight for the Anne Frank House – this is a MUST while in Amsterdam. However, the line is several hours long if you did not book tickets online in advance. Tickets are booked up months and months in advance, and give timed entrance up until 3:30 pm. After that, walk ins are taken until closing, but the line is daunting. Do not let this deter you, you should visit this museum line or no line, it’s worth the wait. But we learned a secret when we headed to the tourist office next to the museum. We were given a tip that some timed tickets are released online each morning at 9 am. We set a timer and checked the following morning and were able to snag two tickets for later that afternoon! So definitely do this if you aren’t able to book in advance, this freed up a lot of time to experience the city. So, we instead purchased tickets for a canal tour (we went on a Lovers tour, which are great, but you can also book a dinner tour, a private hire boat, or basically any type of tour you desire) and headed back to central station. A canal tour is the perfect way to start your visit to the city as it will give you a lay of the land and some great history. Also, the canals of Amsterdam are stunning. Prinsengracht

I want to grow old with Carleton on a house boat on an Amsterdam canal. #Dreams Amsterdam Canal House

After your tour, make your way via tram or on foot to the Jordaan. This charming neighborhood is typical Amsterdam. Have a perfect dinner at Trattoria Donna Sophia and an ice cream from the little shop across the way. Wander a bit before heading back to your hotel, through Leidseplein and Vondelpark, and admire the canals at night. Prinsengracht at Night

In the morning, head to the Van Gogh Museum – purchase timed tickets from a tourist booth the night before, or get there at opening for faster entry. This museum is wonderful and immersive – I couldn’t help but read each description as it pieced together the story of Van Gogh’s life and art. If you are up for two museums, the Rijksmuseum should be next. If you are museum-ed out, book a bike tour. Amsterdam is a biker’s heaven, but unfortunately it was raining most of this visit so we didn’t take a bike tour like I did in Copenhagen, but I would highly recommend it. Otherwise, head back towards the canals and find a pretty spot to have a sunny lunch by the water. Apple pancakes and local beer can’t be beat. Amsterdam Canals

In the afternoon, the Anne Frank Museum is an emotional experience. The museum is in the actual “secret annex” where she and her family hid from the Nazis. I can’t put the experience into words, as a Jew and as a human being. Anne Frank House

This is the actual faux bookshelf/door the family hid behind. I cannot stress enough how important it is to make the time to see this museum when in Amsterdam. I will leave it at that. You will have your own experience of it. Anne Frank House Books

After the Anne Frank Museum you can cross the canal and walk a block to the Amsterdam Tulip Museum. I’m not sure the museum itself is a must-do, but it’s interesting to learn about the tulip hype and crash, and the museum is quick. You can pick up some bulbs to bring home (they have a special selection approved to bring into the US and Canada) from the gift shop. There are also so many flower stalls on the street that will also sell you bulbs. It was peony season a few weeks ago. I couldn’t get enough. Amsterdam Peonies

Take a rest for a bit so you can stay up late to see the sunset around 10 pm. In the evening, take the tram to the Red Light district. Instead of just gawking, visit the Red Light Secrets museum to get some context for prostitution in the country and a look at the lives (and often, exploitation) of sex workers in Amsterdam. I chose not to take pictures here, except of this Croissanterie. Because, croissanterie. Croissanterie

In the evening, you can have a cocktail at Vesper or wine at La Oliva, or go out clubbing Dutch-style at Cafe Nol if that’s your thing. Or you can smoke pot legally. You can already do that in California (the novelty is not there for me), and also I’m too old for that business, so we headed back to the hotel to rest. For our final morning, we enjoyed coffees and shopping on Haarlemmerstraat. While there we wandered into Posthoornkerk – a stunning church. Then we walked around a bit enjoying the brief sunshine, and stopped for a sunny moment at Winkel where the apple pie should not be missed. Posthoornkerk Church

Head back to your hotel to gather up your things and take the tram back to central station. Next stop, Paris!

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A Brussels Itinerary in 24 Hours

Hey there! It’s been a minute. Summer Jacinda and Summer Jaime have been living it up. Here’s what I was up to last week. First: a little background: I am 38 years old. I have several sisters and brothers, the youngest of which is Rachel. She is 20 years old and studying to be a veterinarian. She works her booty off in school and I am busy mothering and such, so we don’t get to spend as much time together as sisters probably should. When we both had a week off this summer, we decided to take a trip. It was her first visit to Europe so we made a mad dash through several cities via the train (thank you Rail Europe) from London. I warned her about jet lag, the stress of seeing so much and walking so much, blah blah blah none of it mattered, she basically was like a veteran traveler after 5 minutes on the ground – figuring out train schedules and conquering jet lag like an old hand. Our first stop after leaving London (1.5 hours on the eurostar) was 24 hours in Brussels, Belgium. Here’s how to get the most out of your short stay in this charming city.

The Hotel Des Galleries is perfectly located in the city center on this charming little walk street. The hotel is perfect in it’s elegant design, and has a lovely restaurant and wine bar right in the Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert. Hotel Des Galleries Brussels

After you check in, the first thing you will want to do is take a short walk to the Grand Place to admire the architecture and soak in the vibe. Here is Rachel and me in front of the stunning Guildhalls. Grand Place Brussels Jaime and Rachel.

You can stop by the tourism office on the square for a free walking tour (ask for the times at the desk), or you can pay 40 euro (plus tip) for a horse drawn carriage tour, which we did and was totally worth it. Brussels Grand Place

You’ll learn about the buildings of the Grand Place and tour a bit outside the city center. I was fascinated to learn about Brussels’ history of comic strips, which are memorialized in several murals throughout the city. Brussels Comic Murals

You will also learn from your guide about the terrorist bombings of March 22, 2016. This graffiti touched me. Fear Heals Nothing Brussels

And of course you will see the famous Manneken Pis. It’s smaller than you think, but it’s a must see when in Brussels. Manneken Pis

Blink and you’ll miss the smallest house in Brussels. The Smallest House in Brussels

After your tour, stop at a cafe for a Belgian beer and some seafood. Then take a walk through the beautiful Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert, a shopping arcade dating back to 1847. You will want to bring home some chocolates – you can even take a chocolate tour. The Belgians I know recommend Pierre Marcolini, which you can find in the Galeries and a few other locations around the city center. It’s spendy, but worth it. You can also arrange a chocolate tasting tour – there are many, many, many chocolates to be had. Galeries Royale St. Hubert

Make your way back to the Grand Place, taking note of the spring flowers and doorways to secret gardens. You will want to watch the sunset and see the buildings light up in the dark. In the summer the sun won’t set until almost 10 pm, giving you plenty of time to have some wine or more Belgian beer on the square. Grand Place Brussels

Find a local shop and have a late night Belgian waffle. The topping options will overwhelm you, I suggest going with crumbled Speculoos – the famous cinnamon and ginger Belgian cookies. So good. I would have taken a picture but my sister and I ate the whole thing. Get a good night’s rest and wake up with a delicious cappuccino. In the morning, walk to the Magritte Museum by way of the Brussels Library. At the top of the stairs you’ll enjoy this lovely view. Brussels Library View

The Magritte Museum suffers from not having his most famous works on hand, but it is still a must to learn about this Belgian artist while in Brussels. The museum will take less than an hour to experience, then walk next door to the Royal Museum of Fine Arts Belgium for an immersive tour of the paintings of the old masters and a few modern works as well. Don’t ask me why I snapped a picture of this Dirk Bouts. It should be obvious. Royal Museum Belgium Decapitation

From there, if you have time, stop into the Musical Instruments Museum before walking back to your hotel. Finish up your 24 hour visit to Brussels with a selfie and some frites in the square before grabbing your bags and heading to the train.
Brussels Graffiti Rachel

Next up – Amsterdam!

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