Amsterdam, Ghent, and Paris!

Flights to Europe have been incredibly inexpensive this past year. Now, much of that is for off-peak travel (i.e., non-summer). However if you use google flights explore you can probably find round trip flights to many destinations for under $500.

My husband and I really wanted to get back to Europe and we were pretty open to the destination as long as we could find flights under that $500 range. Since we would be going over the summer break, it was a little trickier, but I managed to find round-trip flights direct from JFK to Amsterdam for $500 on Delta basic economy.

Just a heads up about Basic Economy or Economy Light. These are the tickets that the legacy carriers like Delta, AA, and United sell for less than a regular economy ticket. They are meant to be similar to budget airlines like Spirit or Ryanair. It is carry-on only, no seat assignment, and no upgrades. I love to book these flights, especially when I travel solo because I never check a bag anyway, I never have status for upgrades, and I don’t usually care where I sit since I’m short (i.e., leg room is not an issue for me). So for me it’s a no-brainer.

When I first booked the tickets I asked the kids if they would be ok sitting next to a stranger if it meant we could go to Europe and they both gave a resounding “yes!” However, as the day came closer they started to get cold feet. Since we were actually flying on a KLM plane and they have a policy of seating parents and children together, even on basic economy seats, I was pretty sure we would be seated together. However they cannot guarantee this if the flight is full. Delta did just start a policy allowing people to play for seat assignments on Basic economy up to 7 days before their flight, so I ended up doing that for $28 a person to ensure we sat together.

For our lodging we decided to go with Airbnb again. The hotels are pretty pricey this time of year and we just love Airbnb. It’s so nice to see what it’s like to live in an actual neighborhood and to spread out in a multi-room apartment.

The trip

The kids had a half day for their last day of school, so as soon as my youngest was dismissed at 11:30 we picked him up and headed down to JFK airport. The drive was actually totally fine and we ate sandwiches in the car. Good thing we saved money that way because what happened next at the airport ended up costing us.

Our flights didn’t leave until 10pm but we wanted to get to the airport 4-5 hours early in case we hit any problems driving down or driving through the city. We got to the park and fly lot around 5:30 and to the airport around 6pm.

I had really wanted to see the new TWA hotel at JFK. It’s meant to be an homage to 60’s era air travel, and so it’s all designed in a mid-century modern style (even the workers are dressed up in vintage TWA outfits). I made us reservations in advance for the pool bar and the sunken lounge, but when we got up to the pool bar we were told we would have to leave our bags at the front desk  It was really hot out and the kids didn’t have bathing suits so they didn’t want to hang out there, but I did manage to snap a few pictures.



We then thought about hanging out in the sunken lounge but we were all hungry so we thought we could go instead to one of the Priority Pass lounges or the restaurant that gives you a credit with your PP card, Bobby Vans in Terminal 8. However when we got to the air-train the kids and my husband were nervous about going all the way to T8 when our gate was at T4, so we decided to stay at T4 and just pay to guest the kids into Delta sky lounge. My husband and I each have Amex Platinum cards that get us into Delta sky lounge as long as we are flying Delta, and the kids would be $29 each. However I knew that if we paid for food for all of us at airport prices it would be way more than $58, so this sounded like a good deal to me.

Well, you know what they say about the best laid plans…

We went through security at the TSA precheck line and it moved fairly quickly except they flagged my 8 year olds backpack. No big deal, we’ve been flagged before randomly for a quick hand search. Well apparently his bottle of powdered miralax set off the “liquids” alarm in the x-ray (he has been needing to take it every night and we didn’t want to worry about finding the same thing in Europe). Next they swabbed the bottle and it set off the explosives alarm!?!

The TSA agent asked whose bag it was and my husband said it was my son’s. He said someone needed to get patted down, it didn’t matter who, so my husband volunteered. They swabbed his hands, and the explosives “alarm” went off again. I seriously think their equipment was malfunctioning.

At this point we had been standing there for 15 minutes at least. I know TSA agents have a crappy job, and they’re not all bad. In fact the ones if our home airport at SYR are always awesome, but these workers…well, let’s say efficiency and timeliness were not their priorities. Thank goodness we had given ourselves plenty of time, if we had gotten to the airport in the normal amount of time we may have missed our flight!

They patted down my husband, went through my son’s bag, took my husband to a private room to pat him down again, and then had to call the explosives expert to check out the miralax. When he finally got there he ran it through the x-ray again, checked everything else out, and finally let us go on our way.

The priority pass lounge, Wingtips, was right near where we were at security but I had heard from friends it was sub-par so we decided to stick with our original plan of the Delta sky lounge. We walked all the way down the terminal to get to it. When I went to check in, the agent told us that unfortunately we could not get in because we were flying KLM, even though it was a Delta ticket! I was so annoyed. My husband really wanted a lounge for he WiFi because he had papers to grade for his online class, so we hoofed it all the way back to the Wingtips lounge over by security. When we got there there was a sign out front that said “Priority Pass not accepted tonight.” Strike 2!

We were so hangry at that point we just bit the bullet and went to the first airport restaurant we could find. My husband and I needed a stiff drink fast, and we were all starving. Of course, they were out of 60% of the items on the menu. And…our bill was $180 (with tip). I’m not kidding. For two chicken sandwiches, a salad, a chicken tenders appetizer, fries, and some drinks. Ughhhh!!!! Well, I guess that’s the karma I get for bragging to everyone that I haven’t paid for airport food in three years due to lounge access.

The plane was a 747 and kind of old. It had in flight entertainment but my headphone jack was semi-functioning. We didn’t take off until 10 and I really wanted to get some sleep so I took some meds and it was lights out. Luckily everyone slept but it’s a relatively short flight to AMS so before you know it they were waking us up and serving breakfast.


We landed at Schiphol airport around 11:15am and customs was a breeze. We followed our Airbnb host’s instructions to get to our apartment in the de Pijp neighborhood near the Albert Cuypmarket and we arrived there around 1pm. She was very gracious and had us put our bags in her flat on the first floor while she finished getting ours ready. While we waited we walked around the Albert Cuypmarket and got some street food, including huge stroopwaffels for the kids.

I discovered this market on my first trip to Amsterdam and loved it! Not only can you get local and other ethnic foods but there are several great fabric and sewing stores, plus other random items you might need. I also really loved the de Pijp neighborhood which is out of the very touristy parts of Amsterdam but still walking distance. It’s a pretty lively place with lots of young people and outdoor cafes.



Our Airbnb was on the 4th floor up extremely narrow and steep stairs, which are pretty common for Amsterdam. The apartment itself was adorable, with a little balcony and a loft sleeping area for the kids.



After we settled in and rested for a bit we walked over to the Van Gogh museum for which I had bought tickets ahead of time. Since I had been there before I walked through it quickly with my 8 year old who was a little bored so my husband and older son could spend more time. It’s a nice museum in that it organizes much of his work chronologically so you can see how he developed as an artist as well as how his struggles with mental illness affected his work and his relationships (they have many of his letters to friends and family on display).


Afterwards we walked over to a Dutch restaurant I had booked online with the Fork, an app similar to Open Table that seems to be used more widely in Europe. Because I booked with them we received 50% off the meal! We were eager to try some Dutch food (which actually isn’t super common in Amsterdam), so we got bitterballen, herring, and stampots, which were meat over mashed potatoes and vegetables- Dutch comfort food!


After we walked around a bit we headed back to our apartment. Our host left us wine, beer, coffee, eggs, stroopwaffels, and crackers. This is  not unusual and another reason I love Airbnb’s. The good hosts often go out of their way to make you feel comfortable. Unfortunately between the jet lag and the fact that the sun doesn’t set until almost 11pm, we had a hard time getting to sleep.

The next morning we had tickets for the Anne Frank House at 11:15 so we walked around for a bit and took pictures of the canals. My son read her diary a few months ago so he was excited but also nervous that he would be sad. When my husband asked me to look on my phone to see where it was, my son remembered from the book and said, “it’s 263 Prinsengracht!”


Sure enough, he was right, and we made our way through the museum and annex with the audio tour, which was very well done. I had been here before, however it was just as moving as the first time. It is also very well done, if a little crowded.

Afterwards we headed over to the cafe, Winkel 43 for some sandwiches and their famous apple pie, which was out of this world! Next we walked toward the center of the city to see the main square and palace. We decided to pop into the Museum of Amsterdam which gives an overview of the history of the city.


We then walked back to our Airbnb and had some snacks and drinks on the terrace while the kids rested. Our Airbnb host graciously offered to babysit for us so we could go out alone. So we took the kids over to Febo, a Dutch fast food place where you can actually get some things out of the vending machine.

With the kids safely in the house with our host, my husband and I went over to one of the local cafes in de Pijp for a beer. We then had a fancy steak dinner with wine, because you know, no kids. After this we walked up to the red light district since my husband had never seen it. There was also a small red Light District district at the end of our street (Govert Flinckstraat if you are interested). The red light district is definitely something to see if you are in Amsterdam but the neighborhood gets really loud and annoying at night. We didn’t stay very long.

The next day we got up early to do an early morning canal boat tour that I booked through Airbnb experiences. The boat had about 15 people plus the captain and was very comfortable. He also served us coffee, tea, juice, pastries, and stroopwaffels as he gave us a tour of the city while talking about it’s history and how the city had changed since he was a kid growing up there in the 80s. He said they have really cut down on the drugs and prostitution since then. He also showed us how they integrate public housing into the nicer neighborhoods, which also cuts down on crime.


After our boat tour we walked over to a pancake restaurant, Moak, and then went to Rembrandt’s house, which was very nicely preserved as he would have lived there.


Later we went back to our apartment to rest for a bit and got some street food at the Albert Cuypmarket for lunch. My husband and older son both had herring broodjes (sandwiches), but my younger son and I opted for frites (fries). We then walked over to the Rijksmuseum, the large museum which houses many of the Dutch masters paintings, including “the Milk maid” by Vermeer and “Night Watch” by Rembrandt. We saw a good portion of the museum and then my husband and older son wanted to go to the MOCO modern art museum that has some pieces from Banksy and Warhol. My younger son was pretty museum-ed out, so we hung out on the grass in front of the Van Gogh museum and played games until they were done.


That night for dinner we got some Surinamese takeout near our Airbnb at a place that our host recommended. It was ok but we were not huge fans.


The next morning we went to the train station and took the Thalys train to Antwerp, which was about an hour, and then we boarded a local train to Ghent, about 30 minutes. It was very hot that day. We had dodged the bad heatwave that hit Western Europe a few days prior, as it never made it to Amsterdam, but this was the tail end of it.We checked into our Airbnb, which was a gorgeous, large, brand new two bedroom apartment. It had a washer and dryer, a huge bathroom, large beds, Netflix, and a balcony. It was pretty awesome to be able to spread out. And it was the cheapest Airbnb of the trip!


After we checked in we walked into the historic city center and got our bearings. After we explored a bit we had a very nice dinner on the patio of a great Belgian restaurant. We got to try some unique Flemish dishes such as chicken in pastry and fish stew, and of course we had some beer and waffles for dessert! It was nice to let the kids run around the square while we enjoyed our beers. The town square has a little amphitheater and there was a folk singing duo singing American songs, such as “Sound of Silence” and “Rawhide.” There was a large audience singing along with songbooks. It was pretty funny to watch Europeans sing this American folk music!


The next day we grabbed a quick breakfast and met up with our free walking tour. That lasted about 2 hours and took us to all of the historical sites.


After our lunch of Flemish beef stew and McDonald’s chicken nuggets (two stops), I really wanted to check out the Dr. Guislain museum which is housed in the first asylum in Belgium, so we walked over there after lunch. The main exhibit was on the history of psychiatry and then they had some really cool outsider art exhibits. The kids were a little freaked out so we took the tram back to town and then took the boat tour that was included in our Ghent city card. This is a really great deal, and if you go to Ghent it is definitely worth buying. We bought two 48-hour passes for my husband and myself, because kids get in most museums for free. It includes admission to all of the museums and historic sites, one boat ride, and free tram and public transportation. It easily paid for itself with two museums.


After the boat tour we got some more Belgian waffles and eventually made our way back to our apartment to chill out for the night.


The next morning my son and I purchased food from the grocery store for a few breakfasts, saving some money on eating out. After we ate we walked over to St. Baavo’s Cathedral to view the famous Ghent altarpiece by the Van Eyck brothers in the 15th century. It was stolen by the Nazis and eventually returned to Belgium, dramatized in the movie, “Monument Men” with George Clooney. We also went up to the top of the Belfry and got some amazing views of the city.


Next we did the tour of Gravensteen castle, a 12th century castle built by Philip of Alsace. They have an audio tour that takes you through the various rooms done by a comedian who cracks some jokes throughout. It was pretty cool to be in a real castle that old, and we again got some great views of the city.


Our lunch was fries with gourmet toppings and of course more beer. We took a museum break for a little shopping. The kids found a cool toy store and I found a great fabric store with lots of amazing European apparel fabric, most on sale for 30% off!


Afterwards we visited the Ghent Museum of Design which had an interesting exhibit with various artists’ interpretations about what will happen with the meat industry over the next several decades as well as traditional design exhibits such as furniture.


Finally we landed at the House of Alijn museum. The building used to be a children’s hospital but is now a museum showing every day life in Belgium, which was pretty interesting. It is also geared towards children so has lots of interactive exhibits.


For dinner we went to an all-you-can-eat ribs restaurant called Amadeus. It was an interesting concept. They just keep bringing you racks of ribs and baked potatoes. Luckily they let us pay the child price for the kids but still brought them extra food.


The next morning we packed up and caught the local train to Brussels where we were going to catch our Thalys train to Paris. We accidentally sat in 1st class but the conductor was super nice and let us stay there as long as the kids were quiet (which, thankfully, they were).

When we got into the station at Paris we decided to take a taxi to our Airbnb in Le Quartier Latin (the Latin Quarter). We had some trouble retrieving the key and getting the door open but fortunately some really nice Parisiennes helped us. In fact, I found everyone we came across in Paris to be super nice and helpful! It definitely bucked up agains the stereotype of Parisiennes being rude.

This was my least favorite Airbnb as far as the space, mainly because it was on the first floor so did not have a balcony. But it did have a washer and dryer and air conditioner, and the location was unbeatable. It was steps away from Rue Mouffetard, which is a mainly pedestrian street with lots of bistros and shops. Right outside our door there was a fromagerie (cheese shop), amazing bakery, wine stores, a great little bistro, and more. You could not beat the location.


We were pretty close to the Pantheon so after we settled in we walked over there and checked it out. It was cool to see the tombs of Rosseau, Hugo, and Curie. Next we walked over to Jardin de Luxembourg. The kids loved watching the little sailboats in the fountain. Afterwards we walked over to a children’s playground. You did have to pay a small entrance fee but the kids had fun running around while we rested.


We had crepes for dinner and delicious gelato for dessert along the Rue Mouffetard.

The next morning we took the metro to the Louvre where we met our guide who I had hired through Airbnb experiences. She set up a family scavenger hunt, and had little notebooks for the kids where they had to complete some tasks such as finding certain things, and they received points for the task. She also taught us about the artwork as we went, and she was amazing at zooming us through this monstrous museum to all the highlights, such as the Mona Lisa, the Venus de Milo, Psyche Revived, the Raft of the Medusa, and Liberty Leading the People, among others. She also took us on a brief tour of the old castle section, as well as the section housing the apartments of Napoleon III. There is no way we would have been able to find all of these famous works without her, so for that alone she was absolutely worth it. She also kept our 8 year-old engaged for the whole three hours though the activities she offered. I highly recommend hiring a guide if you are going to attempt the Louvre. It is so huge and hard to navigate, as we learned after the tour when we tried to view some of the exhibits on ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome.

We spent about 5 hours total at the Louvre and were pretty exhausted, but we decided to walk home along the Seine and try to see some of Notre Dame, which unfortunately had been damaged by a fire several months ago. The kids were excited to see the Font des Artes bridge, where people used to put locks on the railing to symbolize their love, however they were disappointed to find most of the locks gone and replaced with plexiglass. When one of the railings started to fall down the city took all the locks off work lock cutters and put up the plexiglass to discourage the practice. You could still see locks on the lampposts and at other spots alone the Seine, however.

It was cool to see Notre Dame even though much of it was blocked off. We stopped at a cafe for some ice cream and eventually made it back to our Airbnb. We had a great little dinner at the bistro around the corner, including duck, French Onion soup (gratinee), and creme brûlée for dessert.

The next morning we took it easy and had some leisurely coffee and pastries by the Airbnb. We were so fortunate that apparently the best bakery on Rue Mouffetard was right around the corner, so we got breakfast from there every morning.

Next we took the metro over to the Eiffel Tower and took some pictures outside. We had heard that going up in it isn’t really worth it, so we skipped that and walked over to the Arc d’Triomphe and the Champs Elysee. From there we took the metro to the Jewish quarter. My great grandparents were Polish Jews living in Paris in the late 19th century. I am not sure where they lived but we assumed it was somewhere in this neighborhood. We saw some cool Jewish butchers and bakeries and had lunch at a deli.

After this we walked over to the Bastille monument and along the way we stumbled into Place des Vosges, the first public square in Paris, which is now a very relaxing city park. The older architecture was incredible.

We then walked up to the 11th arrondisement, to Atelier des Lumineres, a large gallery space which features immersive digital art and sound installations. Basically you walk into a large warehouse room where they are projecting moving images along the walls and floor. The current exhibit featured the work of Van Gogh, and had two smaller shows, one of Japanese art and one about the universe. It was pretty incredible and so nice to get out of the heat and rest a bit. If you want to get a better sense of what it was like you can visit their website here:

I would absolutely recommend this if you are visiting Paris. It was also pretty nice that they happened to be featuring Van Gogh after we had just been to the Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam, so the kids could identify his works as they appeared.

We were pretty tired by this point so we took the metro back to our Airbnb. We let the kids have some iPad time while we went over to the bistro next door for some beer and people watching. Later we walked up the street to have crepes for dinner and walked around the Latin Quarter a bit. Finally we hit the sack at our Airbnb.

Back to Amsterdam

The next morning we of course hit up our local patisserie for some last minute pastries, and then we took a cab to the Gare du Nord train station. That was pretty easy but unfortunately our train back to Amsterdam was delayed about 45 minutes. We got off near our airport hotel to drop our bags, and then took the train back to the city center.

We had wanted to visit the maritime museum because we heard it was great, but by the time we got to Central Amsterdam it was already 4:20 and the museum closed at 5pm. Instead, we walked over to the rooftop terrace at the science museum, NEMO, to get a bite to eat and chill out for a bit.

This is a very cool kind of slanted roof on the waterfront with a decent view of the city. They have a restaurant with fresh, tasty, and inexpensive food, as well as a bar. Plus there’s a few science-y fountain type things for the kids to play with. It’s also free to the public. This is a great place to go and chill out a bit and have a drink while the kids play.

After we relaxed there for a bit, we walked over to the Artis zoo which has a museum all about microbes. It was open late and also appealed to my science loving son. It was a little pricey but pretty cool. You can look through various microscopes to see bacteria and other microbes as well as other exhibits.

We strolled back to central station and took our train back to our hotel. The next morning we got up early and had breakfast there as they had a great spread and we headed over to the airport. We ended up checking some bags since I had bought fabric and wine, and I was able to get four free checked bags with my Delta credit card. And the best part…on our full flight, the seat next to me was empty! So for the price of a basic economy ticket I got the whole row to myself to stretch out. Great way to end the trip.




It was a fabulous but exhausting trip. All that city walking and sightseeing can really wear you out! I was happy to be able to get back to Amsterdam since my first trip in 2016. It is definitely one of my favorite cities of all time. It’s beautiful, the vibe is chill, the people are nice, it’s got great food and lots to do.

We liked Ghent but it would have been cool to take a day trip to Brugge as well. We could have done this easily on the train however it was just too much moving around for the kids so we decided to stay in one spot. You could definitely see most of the highlights in a day, and the Ghent city pass is absolutely worth it to get into the museums. I loved the Belgian food and beer and this was also our best Airbnb – it was huge!

In two and half days we only got a small taste of Paris. I would love to come back and spend a week. I have heard people get disappointed by Paris because it’s so dirty and crowded, but to me it was just a large city, like New York, just…French. Having grown up right outside of NYC, the big city vibe doesn’t bother me, in fact it feels pretty comfortable. We found the metro easy to use. I also found that everyone I met in Paris was super nice and helpful. I definitely didn’t come across any of the rudeness that they are known for.

I also loved the location of our Airbnb in Paris, right off Rue Mouffetard in the Quartier Latin. Every morning we could grab fresh pastries and in the evening my husband and I could relax with a a drink at the cafe while the kids stayed in the apt because it was only about 200 feet away. I was also happy to see my French came back pretty well (I took 5 years in high school and college). I could pretty much understand everything written and about 50% of what was spoken. If I see a cheap flight to Paris in the future my husband may have to hold me back from booking it…

The kids did ok but definitely got some museum fatigue. I loved having the Airbnbs to be able to go back and rest in our own spaces. Overall, another fabulous trip!


The planning

My husband and I went to the Catalonia area of Spain (Menorca, Barcelona, and the Pyrenees) ten years ago for our honeymoon, and we loved it, but we really wanted to go back and see the southern region of Andalucia. We also have very good friends living in Madrid who we have wanted to visit. I had been trying to figure out how to get there using points and miles, however it seemed like a pipe dream to fly a family of four. Ticket prices were consistently $1000-1200 each, which was way out of our price range. Accruing enough points and miles was also a possibility, but that even seemed tough to do.

Since I am on several Facebook groups dedicated to travel deals, sometime last year people started posting that Delta was having an amazing sale for flights to some cities in Europe. I saw that they had flights to Madrid from JFK for $390! That’s 1/3 to 1/4 of what they normally cost. With these types of deals you have to jump on them as soon as they post (you can always cancel a ticket within 24 hours for a full refund, so if you are unsure just book it!). We also saw that they had a flight over my husband’s fall break. He would still miss some classes and the kids would miss school (although they were off for Columbus Day), but the fall would be a great time to go – still nice weather but not as hot, and off peak tourist season. We discussed for about an hour and then booked the tickets!

We decided to bookend our trip with Madrid on the first and last weekend of our 10 days  because that is where our friends live and we could hang out with them more. We would visit Granada during the week and that would be our “hub” in Andalucia because we could go to the Alhambra, it is close to the coast and the mountains, and seemed like a cool city itself. It seemed to have more to offer for kids than Seville. We decided to rent a car for travel between the cities because it was cheaper than four train tickets and we would then have the freedom to explore the area a bit.

For our lodging, for the first weekend in Madrid I booked a boutique hotel suite through Amex travel. I did this because at the time they were offering a deal where if you spent a certain amount of money through their travel booking site you would receive 10,000 membership rewards (Amex points). Also I wanted to have a hotel (vs an Airbnb) when we first landed in the morning for ease of checking in and being able to leave our bags in the morning before we formally checked in. The hotel was nice and right near the art musuems and the Retiro park.


Stock photo of the suite because I forgot to take a picture. But it pretty much looked like this.

For the Granada leg, I booked an amazing Airbnb in the Albaycin, which is the very old Moorish quarter on the side of the mountain with white houses and a maze of small, cobblestone streets and little squares with cafes. The Airbnb was a full house with lots of space. It had two bedrooms (bunk beds for the kids), two bathrooms, a full kitchen, an office area, and a rooftop deck overlooking the Alhambra, which was always breathtaking. They also gave us a parking space in a garage. Driving through the Albaycin was extremely anxiety-producing but we did it and came out unscathed.

The final lodging was an Airbnb back in Madrid in the La Latina neighborhood, near the Plaza Mayor and Royal Palace. It was a large, 2 bedroom apartment with an awesome, huge terrace. We were able to make use of the terrace on our last day to hang out with our friends and have a little birthday party for our seven year old.


The trip itself

When we first landed in Madrid we were jet-lagged and tired but got a great boost from spending time with our friends who we hadn’t seen in 11 years! We were immediately initiated into the Spanish culture of a long lunch with lots of wine. The nice thing about Spain is that they don’t mind children at restaurants so we could relax and enjoy our time with our friends. Over the weekend we went to all the big sites including the Plaza Mayor, the Puerto Del Sol, the Gran Via, and the Reina Sofia museum. I loved the latter and it was so amazing to see Picasso’s Guernica in person as well as some Dali, Miro, and others. We didn’t stay long because our youngest has little tolerance for art museums, but we made sure to hit the highlights. Our friends also took us the Egyptian temple (apparently Egypt was flooding the area it was in originally so they offered it to Madrid), and the Casa de Campo, a big park with a lake and restaurants that was once the king’s hunting grounds. We also enjoyed lots of tapas, wine, gin, and a calamari sandwich (famous in the Plaza Mayor).


Calamare sandwich and patatas bravas in Plaza Mayor

On Monday morning we rented a car and drove to Granada. The trip was about four hours and takes you through a beautiful arid landscape dotted with olive groves and into the Sierra Nevada mountains. We were greeted by our Airbnb hosts and set off the explore the city, including stopping at a fabulous tapas bar. We explored a bit and had dinner in the little square in the Albaycin near our house.

The next day we headed our early for the Alhambra (we bought tickets online in advance) and spent several hours there. It truly is a marvel and was such an awe-inspiring experience. This was certainly the highlight of the trip. After that, more eating and drinking, and then we went to a Flamenco show at night! I had never seen live Flamenco and it was like nothing I’ve ever seen.

The following day we had a breakfast of churros and chocolate at a cool little local place, and then we headed down to the Science center, the Parque de las Ciencias. It was one of the nicest science centers I’ve ever been to and had a bio-dome with a large aquarium and land animals including a sloth! It also had a tower where you could get a great view of the city. Of course, being Spain, several of the exhibits closed between 2-5pm, so we left and ate lunch at a great little restaurant near the museum. After lunch we went back and saw more exhibits and then went back to the main part of town and saw a museum about the Sephardic Jews of the area. They also had an exhibit of torture devices used in the inquisition which brought on a lot of questions from the little guys and made my older son quite sad. He perked up with ice cream and getting to pick where we had dinner.

The next day we woke up early and drove about an hour to the beach town of Almunecar. The beach here was rocky, but the grey rocks were smooth to walk on and we decided that in a way this was better than sand because you could brush them off easily. The scenery around the beach was breathtaking and we spent some time swimming and lounging. For lunch I had wanted to go to a restaurant nearby that had great TripAdvisor reviews, but they were completely full. Frustrated and disappointed, we went to the next one we saw, and it was not very good. The service was also painfully slow, even for Spain. We left despondent, my hopes dashed for paella on the beach. Fortunately we started exploring the town a bit and we came upon a very cool castle and ruins of a Roman salt factory in their botanical gardens. The castle was apparently originally built by the Moors, then was taken over by the Romans and then the Christians. It was on the top of a hill and so it offered breathtaking views of the sea and the mountains behind it. After this we drove back to Granada and after a bit of a driving snafu in the Albaycin we went to a fabulous dinner in the city. I ordered paella and sopa de ajo (garlic soup) to make up for the sub-par lunch, and it definitely made up for it and then some!

For our last day in Granada we decided to drive out to the Sierra Nevada to try to find Las Alpujarras, which are these little towns of white houses sort of clinging to the side of the mountains. The drive up was a bit scary on small, windy switchbacks. When we finally arrived at the first town, Papaneira, there was nowhere to park! It was already full of touristas. We kept driving up to the next town, Bubion, where we barely got a parking spot and were able to find a nice restaurant for lunch. The kids got pizza and my husband and I tried the local specialty of sausages. We walked around a bit and again tried to go back to Pamapaneira because it was bigger and had more going on, but we still couldn’t find a single place to park! The drive down was a bit less scary (just coast in neutral). For our last night we walked around the Albaycin, climbed a bell tower for more great views, and relaxed in a town square with drinks and tapas. Did I mention that in Granada they always bring you a free tapa with your drink??! It’s pretty awesome, especially since in some places the tapas themselves are so big they can almost be a meal.

I was very sad to leave Granada. It ended up being my favorite part of the trip and is definitely in my top 5 places I’ve ever been to. It is such a vibrant, cool city with an Arabic vibe, lots of hippies, lots of great food, and incredible sights. I highly recommend a visit there. It was also great for kids. My kids loved the Alhambra and the science center and even eating tapas at the cafes. And it’s a great home base if you want to also explore the Sierra Nevada and the Costa Tropical as we did.

The next morning was my youngest son’s 7th birthday! He got to spend it in the medieval city of Toledo which we drove to that morning. This is an ancient walled city near Madrid. We walked around the Jewish quarter and got to tour some medieval synagogues. By mid-day it was starting to get very busy with tourists though. We decided to eat a lunch of empanadas and bocadillos “on the go” rather than sit down for two hours for a typical Spanish meal since our time was so limited there. We ended up going to a museum that had the works of el Greco and other medieval artifacts, as well as an amazing exhibit by a local modern artist.

We then drove back to Madrid to check into our Airbnb, and as if we didn’t have enough art for the day, we decided to head to the Prado museum because from 6-8pm they let you in for free (hint, if you get there at 5:45 as we did, you will wait on line for 20 mins, but if you get there at 6:15 the line has disappeared). We felt a little overwhelmed by the sheer size and amount of art here, so we didn’t stay long but got a taste. On our way back to the apartment we finally found a store that had the gin my husband had been looking for throughout the trip! It is made on the island of Menorca where we spent part of our honeymoon, and impossible to get in the states (even barely possible in non-Catalonian Spain). We then met my husband’s old friend from college for dinner, who is a native Madrileno. I took the kids out and my husband stayed out with his friend to experience some true Madrid nightlife.

On our last day in Spain we had breakfast at a great little creperia near Plaza Mayor. We then headed over to the Royal Palace. The kids loved the Armory section because they got to see all kinds of swords and guns. After this they started to get whiny and tired, so we brought them home and I walked over to El Rastro, the Sunday flea market in La Latina. It was really cool but so busy! I did manage to buy a couple things before heading back to the apartment to meet our friends.

At the apartment we had lunch and a little birthday celebration for my son. We then walked over to Plaza Sta Ana for some coffee and snacks. Around 8pm we said a bittersweet good-bye to our friends, and went home to pack. The next morning we got back on the plane to head home!

Overall, our trip to Spain was amazing. We got to see some incredible sights, re-connected with old friends, are and drank ourselves sick, and definitely got lots of quality family time. We will surely remember it forever!


I decided to go to Amsterdam this fall to attend a conference for the organization of the type of psychotherapy that I do. Since the entire trip could be written off as a business expense, I decided not to use points and miles but use it as an opportunity to collect them.

The flight was of course very expensive, even in off season. Why is getting to Europe so damn expensive? Grrr… Well since I had to bite the bullet and pay for it I wanted to make sure I got the most bang for my buck, miles-wise. Here is an example of how far in advance it helps to plan accruing points and miles for a trip. I want to take my family to Costa Rica, but decided we probably won’t go until Jan 2019. We want to wait until the kids are old enough to do some of the eco-adventure activities like zip-lining and whitewater rafting. I did some research and found that United offers a direct flight to CR out of Newark, which is generally an easy airport for us to get to. So that means I need to rack up a bunch of United miles for 4 tickets. Fortunately I have a couple years to do so (although remember when booking award flights you should do so as soon as the schedule comes out, which means I’ll have to have enough miles to book the flights in February 2018). So I picked a United flight to get to Amsterdam, which will give me United miles for the trip.

I decided to just go through the conference travel booking site for my hotel, since they offered a good price for a hipster boutique hotel near the conference. So no points awarded there but the hotel was really nice and only 109 Euros a night plus hot breakfast. For the last night I decided to moved closer to the city center and booked at Hilton Doubletree through This is a site that will award you airline miles of your choice for booking your hotel through them. For booking this stay I received 7,000 more United miles, bringing the total for this trip to around 19,000.

Some other perks I got to use from my various credit card reward programs: 1) Amex platinum gives you a $200 credit for airline incidentals. I used this to upgrade to economy plus seating in the bulkhead so that I had more room to stretch out on my flights. 2) I have free PriorityPass lounge access with my Amex platinum so I could use this lounge (free food and drinks) before and after my flights. 3) I have Hilton HHonors gold status which I used at the Hilton where I stayed the last night. Since I booked the room through rocketmiles and not through Hilton I didn’t get any points (which is fine because right now I’d rather have the United miles), but I let them know at check in and he put me on the Hilton HHonors floor. That got me free wifi and maybe a better view (I was on the 9th floor)?

So between the included breakfast at the Hilton (which was a huge spread), and my two visits to airport lounges, the day I flew home I ate and drank a ton of food and booze and paid NOTHING all day (and it was a long day due to time zone changes).  I also could have gotten a refund for the global entry pass thing they are doing to get you through immigration faster, however I would have had to drive 3 hours to Buffalo for the interview so I never did it.