A Visit to Kennedy Space Center

We have had many chances over the years to visit the Kennedy Space Center. Kathryn had an internship a few summers ago in Cocoa Beach, FL, which is just 15 minutes away from the Kennedy Space Center. And we spent a summer in Cape Canaveral, FL, when I was 11 and Kathryn was 8, while our mom spent 10 weeks working at NASA. And yet we still had never been to Kennedy Space Center.

We finally made it there during a weekend trip (the same one where we went skydiving!), and finally got to experience everything we had been missing! It was great – there was so much to see and do and learn! What I liked most was that there were so many mediums to learn, from a bus tour to interactive displays and 3D multi-media presentations.

The staff at the ticket booth recommended that we start with the bus tour because it departs every 15 minutes and you don’t want to leave it until later and miss out. So we headed to the bus depot, and got on the next bus for a tour of the Space Center grounds. We saw the Vehicle Assembly Building where the rockets and shuttles are built, a couple of the launch pads and a bonus of local wildlife – an alligator and a bald eagle nest!

The bus tour ended at the Apollo/Saturn V center, where the main attraction is the Saturn V rocket that was the length of the entire building. We also touched a moon rock and saw a Lunar Module that had to be hung from the ceiling because it was built to land on the moon and can’t support it’s own weight in earth’s gravity.

Atlantis Space Shuttle

Then we headed back to the visitor center to the Atlantis exhibit, where the retired Atlantis Space Shuttle is on display. Besides the shuttle, highlights of the exhibit were the Shuttle launch experience simulator ride and the memorial honoring the crews that lost their lives on the Columbia and the Challenger.

I’m glad we finally made it to Kennedy Space Center – there was much more to do than I expected and so many different ways to engage. We had a really fun day!

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Traveling Misadventures: Lost Luggage

When traveling with checked luggage there is always the chance that the airline will lose your luggage. In fact, according to the SITA Baggage Report 2016, a historic low of 6.5 bags per 1,000 passengers were lost in 2015.  I assumed I was one of the unlucky ones when we landed in Montreal, Quebec on a family trip. Waiting at the luggage carousel in the Montreal-Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport, everyone in the family found their bags easily until it was just me left without a bag. After no new bags started coming out I went over to the help desk to try to figure out what happened to my bag; no one was there.

After 20 minutes of not so patiently waiting, an airline worker came back to his desk to help me. He had been helping a little, old lady in a wheel chair get her bag and into a cab to her hotel. That’s a fairly good excuse for being gone I suppose. I explained the problem and handed the guy my luggage tracking receipt. After a few clicks on the computer the attendant informed me that my bags had in fact made it to Montreal just as it was supposed to.

We checked the carousel again and noticed a large red bag similar to mine. Close enough that they could have been confused. The bag had a tag with a name and number, which we called to no avail. After a little while the attendant’s face started to turn red — he had a realization. Remember that little old lady he helped? Well she had a large red bag and that name had sounded familiar… A little old lady inadvertently stole my bag!

We made our way to our hotel as the airline continued to try to get ahold of the accidental burglar. We were leaving for a cruise the next afternoon and the airline was going to bring it to the dock if they got it back. After our walking tour of Montreal that next morning, we headed to the cruise terminal. I inquired about my bag as we checked in and the attendants didn’t know anything about it! Downtrodden we winded through the many decks of the ship to our cabin. Low and behold my bag was there waiting for me!


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Things I Wish I Knew Before Visiting Japan

Coming from the United States, there were many small things that surprised me on my work trip to Japan! To help prepare you, here are some random things I wish I knew before heading to Japan:



Japanese Style Toilet

• Most of the toilets here are bidets aka if you push the wrong button water will start shooting up your butt. Don’t get distracted by the buttons though, I always found a lever to actually flush it.
• Another feature that seems very common in Japan is heated toilet seats. While it sounds like a great idea (who likes a cold toilet seat?), it was a very strange sensation to get used to.
• There are no paper towels or hand dryers in the bathrooms to dry your hands after washing them.
• Occasionally you will come across a “Japanese style toilet”, I only had to use them once during my 2 week trip when visiting the Hachimanyama park in Utsunomiya.

• The waiter doesn’t really check up on you like they do in the U.S. To get their attention people just yell “sumimasen” or they might have a call button at your table.
• Be prepared to take off your shoes when you enter a restaurant and leave them by the door.
• You’ll find that the portion sizes are much smaller than we’re used to in the U.S.
• Tea is served instead of water in most places.
• Most menus have pictures so you can order fairly easily, even without knowing the language.


  • To use the trains you put your ticket through the machine (where it punches a hole in it) then pick it up after you walk through. On the way out you put it in the machine then instead of spitting it back out, it keeps it. If you are getting reimbursed for your train tickets be sure to take pictures of them before you leave the station!
  •  People wait in lines to board trains and buses. It’s not a free for all as it usually is in the States, the riders form an orderly line and the beginning of the lines are marked on many of the train platforms.

Visiting Shrines:

  • There will be a hand washing station outside of any shrines you visit. Use the cups provided to spoon water on your hands and to rinse your lips before entering the shrine.
  • You also will need to take your shoes off before entering the shrine, typically there are shoe cubbies around but if not look to see where others have put their shoes.


  • In Japan they don’t seem to believe in air conditioning. Buy a fan or bring a wash cloth around with you if you are coming in the summer and be sure to pack extra lightweight clothes as yours will get sweaty really quickly!
  • In Japan they drive on the left side of the road which means they also walk on the left. If you are riding an escalator it is expected that you will stand on the left and pass on the right.

These are some things that took me by surprise when I visited Japan so I thought it might be helpful for others too! Do you have any tips to add to my list?

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3 Parks to Visit in Copenhagen, Denmark

When you visit a bustling city center you wouldn’t be surprised to see busy shopping streets, and skyscrapers,  but it’s not a guarantee that there will be a quiet place to relax. During my week in Copenhagen, Denmark I found three outdoor spaces to explore all within walking distance from the city center and they were free! If you have the need to get away from the hustle and bustle, check out one of these three parks!

The King’s Garden:

Situated around Rosenborg Castle, the King’s Garden is Denmark’s oldest national palace garden. In 1606, King Christian IV designed the Renaissance style garden while the castle was being constructed. There are multiple areas to walk through including a rose garden, a fountain area, and a children’s play area.


The Botanical Garden:

Just a block away from the King’s Garden, the Botanical Garden is a part of Denmark’s Natural History Museum. The Botanical Garden is arranged in different sections each with a different type of plant. My favorite area was the rock garden where you could climb winding paths up a small hill displaying plants from mountainous regions. Overall there are over 13,000 species of plants in the garden. There are also greenhouses to explore but unfortunately they are closed on Mondays in the winter months.



The last Copenhagen getaway is a well preserved star-shaped fortress commissioned back in 1662. Just around the corner from Copenhagen’s famous The Little Mermaid statue, Kastellet or “The Citadel” allows visitors to walk along its ramparts enjoying views of the city. There’s even a historic windmill up there! On ground level along cobblestone streets, there are picturesque 18th century barracks to wander through.


If you are looking for a way to escape the city life within walking distance, head to one of these parks!

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Visiting the Carlsberg Brewery: The Copenhagen ExBEERience

During my week in Copenhagen, I learned about the famous Carlsberg beers from another girl staying at my hostel. Carlsberg breweries were founded and are still located just outside of central Copenhagen but they export beer worldwide. My new friend had already made plans to go visit the brewery while she was there and I was more than happy to go along for the ride!


We took the bus from outside Copenhagen Central Station to the town of Valby to get to the Carlsberg Brewery. Turns out there is a free shuttle you can take instead, find its pick up location here! After a short walk down the cobblestone streets we found the brewery entrance. Admittance into the brewery is 100 DKK (~17 USD or 70 DKK/$12 with a student ID) which includes either 2 free beers or a beer and a “free gift.” The gift is a pin with the company logo on it so unless you collect them you’ll probably opt for the second beer.

The first room you’ll enter houses the Guinness World Record largest collection of beer bottles. That day the exhibition had 16,919 bottles of beer from all all over Europe. The entire collection has 22,558 bottles in it!

Next came the museum which started with a history of beer in Denmark, not just the Carlsberg Brewery. J.C. Jacobsen opened his first brewery in 1847 (located where the museum is now!) and named it Carlsberg after his son Carl. Father and son eventually disagreed on how the family business should be run, creating two separate Carlsberg Breweries, Old and New Carlsberg. After J. C. Jacobsen’s death the companies combined forming the Carlsberg Brewery we have today.

After the museum you can explore the Sculpture Garden which includes a replica of the Little Mermaid statue in downtown Copenhagen. From the sculpture garden you enter the stables and can meet some of the brewery horses! Similar to the Anhauser Busch Clydesdales in the United States, the Carlsberg has their own team of Jutland horses. They switched to using only the Danish breed around 1930. The best part is they offer free horse drawn carriage rides through the quant, quiet streets of Valby!

After the carriage ride we headed to the brewhouse for our free beers, you can chose from a variety of Carlsberg beers.  Wanting to catch the next shuttle back we finished our beers quickly and headed out in search of the main entrance with the Elephant Gate, an entrance to the brewery grounds. One of Calrsberg’s signature beers is the Carlsberg Elephant which was first brewed in 1959. Although there was construction going on, the elephant statues were still worth a visit before catching the shuttle bus back to the city center. Overall the Carlsberg brewery had lots to offer and was a great way to spend our morning!


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A Unique Spa Day at Terme Tettuccio in Montecatini, Italy

After a busy day in Pisa and Lucca, we rushed back to our home base in Montecatini to visit the local spa, Terme Tettuccio before it closed for the evening. Terme Tettuccio isn’t your typical spa, the main treatment is drinking (yes, drinking) thermal spring water. While they also offer the more typical spa enjoyments, their most popular treatment is the spring water from beneath Montecatini  which was known even in Roman times to have special therapeutic properties to treat many ails such as constipation, diabetes, high cholesterol, intestinal diseases and more!

We arrived at the massive romanesque building and couldn’t resist the opportunity to have a photo shoot out front! When we finally entered, we paid our 6 euro admission and received our drinking cups. We immediately found ourselves in a courtyard with small drinking fountains lining one side. There were faucets flowing to fill our cups and many people sitting around enjoying the day. We filled our cups and sat at a small round table to begin our tasting!

Together we cheers to our trip and our friendship then all took a big gulp! Big mistake, it tasted awful! Turns out the therapeutic properties come from the extra chloride, sulphate and sodium that naturally enriches the water. While it may be good for you physically, the taste definitely leaves something to be desired…

With some hesitation, we refilled our cups and set off to explore the grounds. The grounds were even bigger than we realized. We found an outdoor double staircase with a fountain underneath, statues, and more Roman style buildings. We ended our time near the entrance at a gorgeous fountain surrounded by pillars. Cups in hand we tried to get the perfect jumping photo, needless to say we succeeded.

While the water wasn’t delicious, this stop was still one of the highlights from the trip. The grounds were extensive and exquisite. The drinking experience was absolutely hilarious and became my favorite story from our week in Tuscany. If you find yourself near Montecatini its definitely worth the trip!

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3 Day Trips Less than an Hour from Copenhagen, Denmark

While there are plenty of things to do walking distance from Copenhagen’s city center, there are also a few gems just a train ride away. If you are looking for more to do in your time in Copenhagen, consider one of these three day trips:

1) Frederiksborg Castle in Hillerod (45 minutes by train from the city center)

Built in the 1500s under King Christian IV, Frederiksborg Castle now houses the Museum of National History. The 85 rooms in the castle show a chronological history of Denmark starting in the 1500s up until present day. Another feature of Frederiksborg Castle is the grounds. The baroque style gardens are beautiful and easy to walk through providing amazing views of the castle. Once you’ve explored the gardens there are trails through the woods to find the Bath House Palace, the King’s Spring and Christian IV’s stone.

2) Roskilde  (25 minutes by train from the city center)

Grab a map at the tourist center then take the short hike to the Viking Museum on the waters edge. The museum houses five 800 year old Viking ships. During the warmer months you can sail out on replicas on the salvaged ships. There are tours and demonstrations throughout the day to learn the tools the Vikings used to create their vessels.

Also in Roskilde is the UNESCO World Heritage site the Roskilde Cathedral. For over 1000 years there has been a church on the site of the current cathedral. It holds the world record for most royals buried in a church with 39 Danish Kings and Queens calling Roskilde Cathedral their final resting place.


3) Kronborg Castle in Helsinger and the Louisiana in Humlebaek (45 minutes by train)

Kronborg Castle, also known as “Hamlet’s Castle” is the setting for Shakespeare’s famous play, Hamlet. Shakespeare was allegedly inspired by the lavish banquets Frederik II held at the castle in the 1600s. When I visited the Renaissance Fair was going on on the grounds for their autumn break from school, you can read all about it here! On a regular day you can tour the interior of the castle to see Frederik II and Queen Sophie’s bed chambers , the King’s intricately woven tapestries and the underground tunnels called the Casemates.

Just a few train stations away from Helsinger heading back towards Central Copenhagen, is the Louisiana Modern Art Museum in Humlebaek. The museum features both an outdoor sculpture garden and indoor exhibits. Just note it is a modern art museum, so nudity was a part of many art pieces.

While there is so much to see in Copenhagen’s city center, these jam packed day trips were well worth the trip!

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9 Things to do in Utsunomiya, Japan!

For my work trip to Japan we stayed about 75 miles north of Tokyo in Utsunomiya. Utsunomiya is the capital of the Tochigi prefecture and served as my home for two weeks. While Utsunomiya was a perfect home base for day trips to Tokyo and Nikko, here are the main things I found to do and see in Utsunomiya!


Dinner with new friends in Utsunomiya

1. Hachimanyama Park– The large park located a 30 minute walk from the JR train station, includes a large play area, Utsunomiya Tower, a suspension bridge and more! I had no idea that it was more than just a park when I set out to find it, read about my adventure here.

2. Utsunomiya Futaarayama Shrine– The shrine just off the main road was founded about 1,600 years ago and the city of Utsunomiya was built around it. By the steps up to the main shrine area there are many smaller shrines. One funny thing pointed out to us was the shrine dedicated to liquor was larger than the shrine for medicine!

3. Lalasquare – This is the Mall near the train station with many stores including a giant toy store on the top floor. It was fun to go through the mall noting the differences from our malls back home. There are also quite a few restaurants on the ground floor.

4. Orion Dori – There are lots of little shops, restaurants and bars along this street to find souvenirs and night life. There was one store in the strip our Japanese friend called a mini Akihabara (the anime filled district from our Tokyo trip) for any anime souvenirs.

5. Eat Gyoza– Gyoza is a Japanese dumpling usually made with wonton wrappers and stuffed tith pork and cabbage. Utsunomiya is the gyoza capital of Japan with over 200 different gyoza themed restaurants.


6. Attend a Festival! – Ok, this one is completely based on what time of year you visit but we happened to be in town for Miya Matsuri. The streets, lined with food carts, filled with traditional Japanese clothing watching and participating in a parade like celebration!

7. Hot Springs/Onsen in Bell Mall– Just a 10 minute bus ride away, we visited an onsen, or Japanese bath house, located in Bell Mall. This nude hot spring was quite the experience, read all about my Naked and Afraid experience!

8. Visit a cat café! – If you are a cat lover like me, there is a cat cafe in Orion Dori. You pay a small amount for the amount of time you stay and play with the cats, plus they have food and drinks available. The best part is that all the cats are up for adoption!

9. Castle Ruins Park – Now a small city park, this was once the site of Utsunomiya Castle before it burned down in the Boshin War. Some of the torrents and walls have been restored and are free to explore. When we went, the entire park was filled with Pokemon Go players!

While these 9 things in no way encompass all that Utsunomiya has to offer, they were my favorite aspects of the town. Let me know if you have any other recommendations!

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5 Things to Do in Cartagena, Colombia

On our whirlwind trip to Colombia, we had the chance to visit Cartagena, but we didn’t have much time to see and do everything the city has to offer. However, here are the top things we recommend from our time there!

Visit the Castillo San Felipe de Barajas – Construction on this Spanish fortress began in 1657 and proved to be impregnable. Though there were many attempts to take the fortress, the fortress’s complex tunnel system helped to ensure the Castillo San Felipe de Barajas was never taken. The tunnels were designed to connect key strategic points of the fortress and reverberate noise long distances both for communication and to hear the enemy coming from far away. You can climb to the top of the fortress and still walk through some of these tunnels today!


Walk the Walled City– Visit the heart of Old Cartagena by exploring the Old Town surrounded by the walls. Meandering through the streets you’ll find the 16th century catholic church named Iglesia de San Pedro Claver, a street lined with peddlers of Colombian sweets known as Portal de los dulces and el Torre del Reloj or the clock tower.


Visit Las Bovedas or “The Vaults”– Built in the late 1700s, “The Vaults” served as armaments storage for the walled city and then later as a prison. Currently, the area is a thriving artisans’ center and a perfect place to look for handcrafted souvenirs!


Explore Getsemani – Getsemani is another neighborhood near Old Town. We wandered the quaint winding streets saying hello to everyone we passed. The neighborhood was full of friendly people and lots of very impressive street art!


Visit the beach– While we aren’t typically beach goers, there was no way we could visit the coastal city without visiting the beach. The area we visited was very crowded with people as it was a Colombian holiday weekend. Also beware when visiting a public beach… according to our tour guide, women wander the beach offering to give massages (we were approached within 5 minutes), if you do not want a massage, do not accept a free sample. Supposedly the free sample lasts for maybe 20 seconds and then with the help of a large man they make sure you pay for the rest.


While this is no way all the things to do in Cartagena, Colombia, these were the highlights of our short trip there. During our time in Colombia we also visited Colombia’s capital city, Bogota. Check out the 9 things we recommend doing there!

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Celebrating 100 Blog Posts!

As we reach the beginning of February the novelty of the new year starts to wear off, but here at It’s a Schmahl World, we are celebrating a blogging milestone! Today we are posting our 100th post! When we started this blog to write about our travels, we didn’t expect to be where we are today. In this post, we’ll look back at how our lives have changed from being two young professionals working full time to a Peace Corps volunteer and an engineering graduate student.



Back to where it all began, our first post It’s a Schmahl World after all… published in February of 2016. Both Kim and I were working full time saving up all our paid time off to travel. We went on trips with our family to Washington DC for the 4th of July and a quick trip to Colombia for our first time in South America! Kim was able to go to Europe with her college roommates, 5 years after graduation! Highlights of their two week trip were hiking through Plitvice Park in Croatia, visiting the baths and ruin bars in Budapest, exploring palaces and the opera house in Vienna, and wandering the narrow streets and canals of Venice.



Occasionally I was lucky enough to travel for work, one time all the way across the globe to Japan for two weeks. For my first time in Asia, I got the chance to attend a festival the small city of Utsunomiya, wander the temples of Nikko and explore parts of Tokyo for a day. I even reached waaayyyy out of my comfort zone to experience a Japanese onsen (or a naked bath house).



September of 2016 came with an exciting road trip around Iceland’s Ring Road for Nelson and I. We snorkeled between the tectonic plates, hiked on a glacier, saw some amazing waterfalls and last but not least we got engaged! While planning is still in the works over a year later, Nelson and I are finally going to tie the knot in July of 2018.



Kim was the next to have a major life change when she decided to join the American Peace Corps to teach high school math in Liberia. Before she left we went on one last family vacation to Florida. We made the most of our limited time together exploring Key West, Disney World and the Ringling Museum.



In June of 2017, Kim packed her bags and began the long journey to Liberia. After a bit of training in Washington DC, they received 3 months of training in the of Kakata, just an hour outside of Monrovia, Liberia’s capital. Currently she has been teaching at her site for the last 5 months and learning the ins and outs of her community. See all of her updates about living in Liberia here!



To wrap up our life changes through 100 posts we’ll look at a recent big change in my life. I left my full time job and my first order of business was to go on an amazing week long 10 year friendaversary trip to Tuscany, Italy with two friends from Girl Scouts. I traveled solo for the first time to Copenhagen, Denmark and now after my sabbatical I have started going to school full time to get my masters degree in Mechanical Engineering!



When we began this blog, we never would have guessed where we’d be now, after 100 posts… who knows where we will be after the next 100 posts, but we are excited to continue the journey!



Posted in Africa, Asia, Colombia, Copenhagen, Croatia, Denmark, Europe, Eurotrip 2016-Croatia, Vienna, Budapest and Venice, Hungary, Iceland, Japan, Liberia, Nikko, Peace Corps, South America, Tokyo, USA, Utsunomiya, Vienna, Austria, Washington, DC | 1 Comment