Tips for traveling in Europe

Looking to travel Europe, but not quite sure how? We’re offering Tips for Traveling in Europe over the next five weeks!

Hey, friends!

Many of you may not know, but Ernie is a KCBS (Kansas City BBQ Society) sanctioned judge. He signs up to judge competitions typically within a four-hour driving radius, and based on our NC location, the season lasts from April until November. Last year, he came up with the brilliant idea of volunteering to judge a couple back-to-back European competitions. Cool, huh? Since I love Europe, how could I argue?

The first competition was in Hasselt, about an hour’s train ride outside of Brussels. We flew into Brussels and spent a couple days wandering around Grand Place, the bustling central square and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Oh my goodness, amaaaazzing!

Tips for Traveling in Europe


From there, we railed to quaint Hasselt for a couple days, then on to Berlin via Cologne, and lastly Amsterdam via Osnabruck. For the last four years, we’ve cruised across Europe, but this was our first land venture. Over the next five weeks, we’ll be sharing our experiences and what we learned from them. These posts will be longer than most, but our hope is that you’ll find something of value. Maybe we’ll inspire you to take the plunge and push past your traveling comfort zone. Will pictures help? No worries. We’ll throw some of them in too. 🙂

Tips for Traveling in Europe


This week, let’s talk about research. We spent countless hours scouring the Internet before we ever committed to purchasing plane tickets.


Choose your itinerary.

Because of the BBQ events, we had a beginning (Brussels) and ending point (Amsterdam) and a time frame. On a map, we pinpointed cities that looked interesting or those that were already on our bucket list. Our son had traveled to Berlin a couple years ago and encouraged us to add that to our list. Prague was on our bucket list. We started with a list of probably seven or eight cities (besides Brussels and Amsterdam) and whittled them down to three using Go Euro. This free app/site is not only a great tool to research cheapest, shortest routes between cities and offers comparisons between trains, buses and flights, but it also showed us that Prague might be a bit farther than what our few days would allow.

Select hotels

What’s important to you? For us, it was free Wi-Fi, a private bathroom (yes, there are some hotels with shared facilities, even shared rooms!) and since we chose not to spend our entire budget on taxis, ample eating options available nearby. These priorities may not be yours. What about air conditioning? This was our first trip overseas with temperatures edging 80. Most of our hotels didn’t offer a/c. Who’d have thought? We never cooled off until we hit Amsterdam, where the temps dived to 50. Then, we didn’t need a/c. lol.

Europe is full of cobblestone streets, bridges, and stairs, so consider how far you’ll be dragging your suitcase. Honestly, by the time we hit Osnabruck, when we stepped out of the train station and saw our hotel directly across the circle, I breathed a sigh of relief.

Based on past experiences, we only book through a third party such as Kayak if the hotel offers free cancellation.

Lastly, be mindful of individual personalities. How far do you want to travel in one day? How long do you prefer to stay in one place? Hubby can’t sit still, so he was excited to hit new spots every day. I wouldn’t mind hanging out in one place for a few days, even a week or more, visiting the same café (like this one) every day and getting comfortable with my surroundings.

Tips for Traveling in Europe

Funkhaus, Cologne, Germany

So, pick a happy medium. Keep in mind that you’ll be packing up your stuff every time you move.

Scope out airfares

Once we decide on our itinerary, we scope out airfares. Get a baseline price then check your favorite app (kayak, cheapflights, etc) several times a week. Note good prices and carriers with the least amount of stops and flying time. Usually cost ranks highest on our priorities, then flying time. We snagged a deal through Vayama with one stop both ways. The flight to DC was an hour and a half, and only six and a half more to Brussels. We barely had time to rest between the dinner and breakfast services. Such a relief compared to the grueling 8-15 hour flights we’ve endured. After this trip, we might pay a bit more for a shorter flying time. Resist the temptation to save a few bucks by booking two stops. Go for one or none. 🙂

After doing this round trip to Europe a few times now, we would never buy tickets where we’re stuck in the middle of a row seven or eight seats deep. Ack! We would pay extra to find a plane with a max of three seats on the side. Trust us. It’s too long of a flight to squeeze past three or four people to use the restroom or just to stretch your legs, especially when those people are snoozing. If you can sit still for eight hours at a time, those middle seats might work fine for you. Not us.

We choose our seats based on the direction we’re flying. Anybody else do that? Lol. Both of us love window seats for different reasons. Hubby can sleep better against the window. Frankly, I think that’s a waste of a good window seat. Windows are for catching a glimpse of a new city for the first time and for pondering how small you are in the big scheme of things. Oh, and so you can be the first to see that engine cover rip off and hurl through the vast sky. (How did that happen?? Yikes!) We usually snag windows and middle/aisle, but you may prefer the extra room that an aisle affords. But I digress. The point is I do not like to sit with the sun blasting my arm, so we choose seats opposite the sun.

tips for traveling in Europe

Anybody else choose your seat based on the direction you’re flying?

Then, after we get a handle on what’s a good price and the carriers with the shortest flying time and available seats, we finally bite when another sale rolls around.

Split it up

If you’re traveling with a partner, split the research. Hubby handled transportation while I secured lodging, with input from each other. That way everybody invests in the travel experience. Be sure not to cast blame when details don’t fall neatly into place because the next day a challenge might arise on your end. 🙂

Hope this helps. Next week, we’ll discuss what to bring and how to pack for your European vacation.

Where did you go during your last trip? Did it involve much planning? What would you do differently? What did you learn from it?

Excited about Eating by Ernie Hiers

This week’s edition of Excited about Eating is a deviation from our normal posts. Hope you don’t mind but hubby’s had so many requests to share his smoking tips lately that we decided to take a week and show everybody what happens at our house during his smokefests and how he arrives at the final product. Drool alert. 🙂

Buy Quality Meat

We used to buy ribs in bulk at Sam’s, but since Publix came to town, Ernie switched loyalties, says Publix ribs are meatier, less fat. If you’re going to invest the time and money, buy the best quality you can afford. We usually buy Baby Backs, St Louis, and Beef because everybody has their fave.

Since there’s a good bit of work involved, we fill up the smoker and send leftovers home with our guests, then bag and freeze the rest. Ribs are just as yummy heated up in the microwave or warmed on the grill weeks or months later.

Ready? Here we go.


Trim off excess fat on both sides.

Excited about Eating by Ernie Hiers

Trim off fat

Remove the membrane from the back with a good, sharp knife. Hubby uses a boning knife. That thing is downright dangerous. 🙂

Excited about Eating by Ernie Hiers

Remove the membrane from the back with a sharp knife


Sprinkle both sides. Be generous with paprika, onion powder, granulated garlic, salt, pepper, and brown sugar.

Excited about Eating by Ernie Hiers

Be generous!

Don’t forget the love. Rub the spices into the meat. He likes to do this the night before so the spices marry with the meat. Reserve excess liquid for later.

In They Go

Get your smoker up to temperature, 225 to 235 degrees.

Excited about Eating by Ernie Hiers

Bring your smoker up to 225 – 235 degrees

Hubby uses the 3/2/1 method. Put the ribs in the smoker for the first three hours, unwrapped, with smoke.

Excited about Eating by Ernie Hiers

First three hours, unwrapped with smoke

Take them out. Set them on aluminum foil. Drizzle squeeze butter and honey over the ribs. Sprinkle with a bit more rub (the spices mentioned earlier) and brown sugar. Wrap the aluminum foil over the ribs, adding a dose of the reserved liquid in the foil, and smoke for two more hours.

Remove from the smoker and unwrap those goodies. Douse with your favorite BBQ sauce (ours is Sweet Baby Rays) and stick them back in for one more hour, unwrapped. Then this…

Friends, let me tell you, I never liked ribs until Ernie started smoking them. Delicious and meaty and full of flavor, and sure to satisfy your guests. Ours, anyway. 🙂

OK, so here’s the question we ask every time around our table. What’s your favorite? Baby Backs, St. Louis, or Beef?

Hope you enjoyed this detour from our normal Excited about Eating posts. We’ll be back next week with another mouth-watering restaurant review.

Excited about Eating by Ernie Hiers

This edition of Excited about Eating takes us to McKoy’s Smokehouse & Saloon located right off of I-77 and Old Pineville Rd in south Charlotte. 
McKoy's Smokehouse & Saloon
This smokehouse, with both indoor and outdoor seating, reminds me of what a local BBQ joint should look like with wood interior, BBQ paraphernalia on the wall, and loads of TV’s.
McKoy's Smokehouse & Saloon
We chose to share the Living the Dream (LTD) platter, a combination of ribs, pork, pot roast, and smoked BBQ chicken with sides of mac n’ cheese and fried okra. The St. Louis style ribs were great, not fall off the bone as most BBQ restaurants serve, but with a little pull after the bite like KCBS competition ribs. The smoked pot roast was different, something I’ve never eaten. 
McKoy's Smokehouse & Saloon
Living the Dream platter
Dora here. While we were contemplating the menu, I remember commenting that I wished they offered a combo minus the pot roast. But, no matter. I gobbled the pot roast down first! 🙂 And look at that crusty bark on the mac & cheese! Yummy! I’m really not a fan of okra, but their crispy vegies won me over. (Sorry, no pic.) Even with two of us eating off this plate, we still brought home a leftover container with enough meat to make a pot of chili. Sa-weet!

Have you tried smoked pot roast? 
What did you think?
What’s the most unusual smoked meat you’ve eaten?

We rate this restaurant 4 forks out of 5 for a family friendly restaurant serving great food.

McKoy's Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato