For the past several years, we’ve decorated what we like to call our Christmas travel tree. [We wrote a blog post all about it that you can read HERE.] We had lots of help decorating for Christmas this year. Our daughter, Meghan, was home and we invited a couple local college students over. We also had the privilege of hosting Elodie, a young woman from France who we met on our cruise last summer.

Each year, typically Thanksgiving weekend, we empty our postcard jar and select a few postcards that best represent our year in travel and they go right onto the tree. We also hang new ornaments purchased from places we visited that year. It’s always fun to find and unpack the ornaments and reminisce about all of the wonderful things we were able to see and do each year. Here’s what’s new to the tree in 2016.

Ornament from Russia

We purchased this ornament in St. Petersburg, Russia, this summer. It was our first, and quite possibly our last visit to this former Soviet city. While we enjoyed seeing iconic places like Peterhof and the Hermitage Museum, there was much about St. Petersburg that still represented very dark times for the people there. As a side note, when we get new ornaments for the tree, if they don’t already have a year on them, I usually try to add it with a Sharpie permanent marker to help us remember what year we traveled where.

We put lots of new postcards on the tree this year, including two from Stockholm, Sweden. We were in Stockholm this summer while cruising on the Celebrity Eclipse and enjoyed a walking tour of the city, eating Swedish meatballs with pickles and lingonberries, and visiting the Vasa Museum.

 

The Vasa Museum gave us a fascinating look at a salvaged ship that sank in 1628 and spent 333 years on the sea bed. Of course, we had to get a postcard there.

Stonehenge

Seeing Stonehenge in person for the first time was just amazing. It was our first stop after landing in London, England, this summer before embarking on our 14-night cruise through the Baltic Sea. We had both wanted to visit this iconic structure and we joined hundreds of other tourists that day who walked around the enormous stone structures shaking our heads. CLICK HERE for five interesting things we learned about Stonehenge.

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Just three weeks later, we were back in our home state of Nebraska and couldn’t resist a stop at our own iconic replica — Carhenge, near Alliance, Nebraska. This crazy creation in the middle of a field is a Midwest favorite and a must-see when traveling the western end of the state. We wrote a blog post about it that you can read HERE.

Talinn

This beautiful, hand painted ornament was one we found at a small, local shop in one of our favorite places, Tallinn, Estonia. We just loved Tallinn and it’s pastel buildings, colorful markets, and welcoming people.

Bath postcard

When we returned to England at the end of our cruise, we took a few days to explore some more of Great Britain. We took a train to Bath, England, and quickly wished we would have allowed more time in this incredible city. We toured the ancient Roman baths and even had a chance to soak in the thermal waters at the The Gainsborough Bath Spa. It was truly one of the most relaxing, luxurious days we’ve ever had.

Bath Abbey

In Bath, we also visited the Bath Abbey — twice. We stumbled upon it while walking the city streets and were absolutely amazed when we went inside. We’ve been to dozens of churches, cathedrals and abbeys on our travels, but there was something very different about this one. It was SO ACTIVE. There was organ music playing, children singing, and displays throughout that demonstrated the various ongoing ministries of the church. We spent a lot of time here and couldn’t resist purchasing a few books and this ornament from the gift shop before we left.

Bailey Yard

Just two days after returning from our summer vacation in Europe, our daughter, Meghan joined us for a week-long trip across Nebraska. We had a wonderful time exploring towns like Hastings, Grand Island, Scottsbluff, Crawford, Chadron, Valentine, and Norfolk. One of our favorite stops was Bailey Yard in North Platte. It is the largest railroad classification yard in the world and hosts a great display on the North Platte Canteen.

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We picked up this ornament by local artist Beverly Clappsaddle at the Clear Lake Arts Center in Clear Lake, Iowa, this fall. We were on our way back from a visit to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, when our travel blogging friend Sara, from Travel With Sara, mentioned a holiday open house in Clear Lake just as we were about to pass through there. We decided to make an unanticipated stop and were not disappointed.

Nebraska Life

The last postcard we decided to add to the tree this year was one we picked up in Norfolk, Nebraska, this summer. It is from our visit to the Nebraska Life Magazine office and is a great reminder that while we love traveling the world, it is always good to come home to The Good Life.

  • On the Caribbean island of St. Kitts, there is a point where you round a bend and see this view, with the Atlantic Ocean on the left, and the Caribbean Sea on the right. ⁣
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Ann took this photo several years ago when we visited St. Kitts for a day while on a cruise in the Caribbean. ⁣
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We met our friend, Mikey Tross, on the island and with the help of a local driver and guide, we toured the entire island in a day. ⁣
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We climbed to the top of Brimstone Hills, saw the beaches, at at Fredo's (a local restaurant) and toured Caribelle  Batik at Romney Manor. ⁣
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St. Kitts is a beautiful island and the people there are incredibly generous. If you haven't already been there, add St. Kitts to your bucket list.
  • The Grinnell, Iowa, Chamber of Commerce offices are located in a former bank designed by famed architect, Louis Sullivan. The architect built a series of "Jewel Box" banks, called that because they resemble jewel boxes.⁣
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These buildings are intricate in detail and rich in their finishes. The next time you pass near Grinnell, it is definitely worth the stop to step into American architectural history.
  • In downtown Kearney, Nebraska, you'll find @mccuesnebraskataproom, home to all sorts of Nebraska libations. When you visit, you can choose from a large selection of beers, wines, and even liquors all made in Nebraska. It's a fun environment where regulars welcome visitors, and fun is had by all. We look forward to going back one day and know that a visit to McCue's will be a part of our visits to Kearney in the future. ⁣
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@visitnebraska @visitkearney
  • A rite of passage...⁣
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The Swinging Bridge in Pawhuska, Oklahoma, has thrilled residents and visitors alike for decades. When it was originally built in 1929, it was the only way to cross from one side of Bird Creek to the other. Today, there are other bridges, but the beloved swinging bridge still spans the creek and dares folks to cross.⁣
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Long-time residents will tell stories of rieding their bikes across it when they were kids--and it should be noted that back then it didn't have the chain link side guards.⁣
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No visit to Pawhuska is complete until you've tried The Pioneer Woman's chicken fried steak AND crossed the swinging bridge. Go ahead and try...we dare you!⁣
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@TravelOK @VisitTheOsage
  • While looking for a coffee shop in @visitkearney, we stumbled into a really cool store. @elevate.people is a locally owned business specializing in both leather goods and in helping people around the world build better lives for themselves. ⁣
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All of the leather goods for sale here are handmade by people in third world countries. Elevate, it turns out, is a non-profit that gives local artisans small, low interest loans to get started in the leather making business. When loans are repaid, the money is loaned out to another craftsperson so they can get started. Meanwhile, Elevate provides access to a market to sell the goods produced so the worker continues to be supported. They also have an online store.⁣
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We have purchased several items from Elevate, and have loved all of them.⁣
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@visitnebraska
  • After a day of tests and appointments at the Mayo Clinic, this was a perfect place to relax and unwind.⁣
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We were treated to a complimentary stay at the brand new Hilton in downtown @minnesotas_rochester. Located near the Mayo Clinic, it's an incredibly beautiful hotel with nothing but the best amenities and top-notch service. One of our favorite places in the hotel is the hot tub in the pool area. How can it not be? Look at this place. And yes, it's as relaxing as it looks, especially at sunset. ⁣
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The room in this new luxury hotel are just as nice. We enjoyed it so much that we changed our travel plans and booked a second night on our own dime. It's our new go-to hotel in Rochester, Minnesota.⁣
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@minnesotas_rochester @exploreminnesota @hiltonhotels
  • Our hosted food tour in @visitkansascityks began with a bar-b-que spread from several local restaurants. Needless to say, we had to sample a little bit of everything because it was for science. We enjoyed ribs, smoked sausage, brisket, pulled pork, smoked turkey, burnt ends, rice, beans, and even warm potato casserole. ⁣
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If you love bar-b-que, head to KCK. Trust us, you'll love it. Just wear your stretchy pants.
  • Steve writes: When I first set my eyes on the outside of the Sagrada Familia Cathedral in Barcelona, I was unimpressed. In fact, I thought it was plain ugly. Construction continued, and I returned several times over the years, each time finding more to like about it. Finally, on a visit with Ann, the inside of the Cathedral was open for a visit. So we went inside.⁣
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Architect Antonin Gaudi's creation is brilliant. The way he uses stained glass to bring color to the stone inside, combined with the shadows created by the shape of the stone is breathtaking. Truly, this cathedral might be the most impressive one I've seen anywhere. This place should be on your bucket list. It's worth a trip to Barcelona to see it.

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