Our Final Days in South America: Escazu, San Jose and Tamarindo, Costa Rica

_DSC0215^^ This was the view from our first Costa Rican hotel, with the city of San Jose in the background.

So I’m writing my final post on our four-week South American trip, and it’s making me sad, friends. The only positive here is that I’m posting it on the same day that we’re flying out to Australia for three weeks, so a gal can’t be sad for too long, ya know!

Anyway, Costa Rica. After three weeks of hiking and snorkeling and walking and swimming, our thought about Costa Rica was that it should be a relaxing place for us to chill for a couple of days before heading back to the states. As such, we booked three days at Posada El Quijote (you can find the site for the actual hotel here) in Escazu, Costa Rica (right outside of San Jose), and then a full week at Barcelo Langosta Beach, an all-inclusive resort in the beach town of Tamarindo.

Let’s start with Posada El Quijote — it’s adorable, to say the least. The hotel is a tiny boutique one nestled in the town of Escazu, which is one of the richer towns in Costa Rica. (Our cab driver told us Mel Gibson bought a house here. Not sure if that’s true, or if it’s even a draw, to be honest, but there it is.) Anyway, the included breakfast is a HUGE draw for the place — it’s some of the best breakfast we had on our entire trip, as was the view from the backyard, where Chris and I took to having some drinks after sunset every night, watching the twinkling lights of San Jose in the background. Some highlights of Escazu for me (besides the hotel, which I would highly  recommend), was eating at both Tiquicia (with its amazing city views as well) and La Casona de Laly , and taking a tour of the city of San Jose.

About San Jose itself, in my opinion I’d highly recommend not staying directly in the city if you can avoid it, because other than a few good museums and a gorgeous concert hall, the rest of the city is really pretty much chain restaurants and concrete. (Check out this Lonely Planet review before making your final decision, is all I would say. In our case, staying outside of the city and taking a half day trip into the city itself to check things out was more than enough.)

_DSC0262^^ They were having a family day when we took our half-day tour in San Jose, so the main town square was alive with all kinds of activity. How awesome is this tight-rope little lady? You go girl.

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_DSC0235^^ We caught this view on one of our walks around our Escazu neighborhood. Gorgeous.

After three relaxing days in Escazu, Chris and I packed up our stuff again and loaded it onto a bus headed for the coast of Tamarindo and the Barcelo Langosta Beach resort. The bus ride turned out to be longer than we had hoped (five hours!), but once we were off the main highways and driving through the smaller towns, I really enjoyed seeing the homes and shops and some of the average Costa Rican way of life.

_DSC0307^^ Stopping at the halfway point on the bus and happening upon this gorgeous animal refuge zoo with these beautiful Toucans was definitely a benefit of the bus ride.

_DSC0289^^ These parrots were wild, which was pretty amazing.

After what felt like forever, we finally arrived at Barcelo Langosta. If you’ve ever stayed at an all-inclusive before, you won’t be disappointed with this one. The staff was very friendly, and offered many of those all-inclusive activities most people enjoy (water aerobics, dance classes, live music on certain nights, beach volleyball, etc.), and the buffet was pretty great for all-inclusive food, especially since they switched up their theme every night to keep it fresh. They also have one restaurant on the grounds, which if you stay for longer than three nights is included in your price, and that was super tasty. We saw tons of wildlife around the resort, too, like two different kinds of monkeys, green lizards, land iguanas, birds and more. The beach is public, so it can get a bit crowded, and it’s not the best beach for swimming because the waves tend to be rougher there (which makes it perfect for watching surfers!) and there are a lot of rocks. But the sunsets were some of the most gorgeous ones we saw on our whole trip, and to not have to think at all about what we were going to do about eating during the days made it a lot more laid back for us, as well.

_DSC0337^^ We watched the sunset from the beach every night, and Chris even joined in to play beach volleyball most nights, too. He took a surf lesson, as well — although I’m not sure how much that’ll come in handy when we move to land-locked Denver, Colorado ;)

IMG_5330^^ We went zip lining with Pura Adventura while we were in Costa Rica, and it’s seriously my new favorite thing! You can’t imagine the feeling of gliding through the air, feeling completely weightless, watching the most amazing views unfold before you. Unless, of course, you’ve ziplined before, then you absolutely can imagine it ;) This was our amazing crew.

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_DSC0405^^ Sunset facing the resort. Not too shabby!

And that was pretty much our Costa Rica experience, my friends. Although I’m glad that we went zip lining and Chris took surf lessons and we had time to relax, if/when we ever do make it back to Costa Rica, I’d be sure to plan a few other things that the area is known for, like checking out the rainforest and the cloud forest and a volcano or two. Still, I feel lucky we were able to see the animals we did see, just from the resort.

And that’s it in a nutshell, ya’ll! South America in four weeks — Peru, Ecuador and Costa Rica. I want to add Brazil, Chile and Argentina to my list of must visit places now, because South America is so vast and beautiful and has so much to offer — I would just highly recommend to anyone who loves adventure travel to get out there when it’s possible. You won’t be sorry!

Okay friends, so we’re off to Australia now! We’ll be gone through the holidays, and we start our drive out to Denver pretty much as soon as we get back … so … wish us luck!

And happy holidays to all of you! May your days be filled with friends and family and lots of love and laughter. And snow!

Bis bald!

Back When I Was Fulfilling a Dream of Mine By Visiting the Galapagos Islands

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So, how exactly do you blog about a trip that has meant so much to you for so long? It’s hard to know where to start, friends, I’ll tell you that much.

Let me start from the beginning. When I first started out in college as a bright-eyed freshman, I went in as a biology major, since I had had the dream of becoming a vet for oh-so-very long (nevermind the fact that this dream eventually gave way to my one of being a journalist … let’s skip that part for the purposes of this story). During fall semester of my freshman year, I became obsessed with a school trip to the Galapagos, where we would be following in the footsteps of Darwin, making amazing discoveries and partaking in fascinating experiments.

Not to make things dramatic (who are we kidding — I’m nothing if not dramatic), but my parents wouldn’t let me go. So it became a goal of mine to, at some point, make it to this beautiful, interesting, historic place.

And a few weeks ago, I did, friends — I accomplished the goal. Go me! And it was way, way, way more than I ever could have hoped it would be. Little did I know what adventures awaited both me and Chris when we signed on for the 5-day Aida Maria cruise in the Galapagos (which, by the way, was booked by Southern Explorations on our behalf as part of our whole Ecuador package). Little did I know that we would fall in love with our tour guide (a Galapagos native named Reuben who walked around everywhere barefoot), or snorkel 2-3 times every single day with everything from sharks to sea lions, or see penguins and owls, as well. (Penguins, for goodness sake!).

If you’re an animal lover, you must add the Galapagos to your list, because there is no place on earth like it, my friends. So far in life I’ve had the great opportunity to snorkel in some pretty amazing places (the Bahamas, Jamaica and the Great Barrier Reef, to name a few), and nothing even came close to snorkeling here. (Sorry, Barrier Reef. You were awesome and all, but the Galapagos has my heart.)

Let me start by explaining our boat to you. The Aida Maria is a small-ish sized yacht that fits up to 16 guests, and we had 15 on board for our trip. Lucky for us, Southern Explorations booked our trip early enough so that we got a top room (there were only two available, and we were told they’re booked on a first-come, first-serve basis), because it really helped make the cruise special to be able to open our bedroom door every morning to gorgeous Galapagos waters. The size of the ship also means that space is pretty limited, and while we had bunk beds in our room, Chris and I used the top bunk to store our luggage and we slept together on the bottom bed. I’m honestly not sure what people did who didn’t share a bed, because there would have been very little floor space for luggage.

In terms of our itinerary and the islands we visited, here’s what we did:

Sunday: 
AM: Baltra Island
PM: Bachas beach (and our first snorkel!) on Santa Cruz Island

Monday:
AM: We woke up after cruising all night in the midst of Genovesa, a shield volcano in the eastern Pacific Ocean
PM: The Barranco (aka Prince Phillip’s Steps and the place where we found owls!) at the top of Genovesa

Tuesday:
AM: Bartolome Island
PM: Sullivan Bay and its insane lava fields on Santiago Island

Wednesday:
AM: Daphne/Black Turtle Cove
PM: Cerro Dragon (a trail that runs through three different environments even though it’s  just 1,600 m long) on Santa Cruz. It’s named this because the northwestern side of Santa Cruz Island is home to an impressive population of Conolophus subcristatus, or Galapagos land iguana. We also had our final (and my favorite) snorkeling excursion on this particular outing. It was here that we saw sharks again, and I had one playful little sea lion who swam in circles around me while I snorkeled, waving her cute little fin at me the whole time. Oh Galapagos — you slay me with your magical moments.

Thursday:
AM: The Charles Darwin Station, where we saw giant tortoises! We were a bit bummed as we left that we hadn’t seen these awesome animals in “real” life, but as we were driving back to the airport we saw three or four them along the side of the road — so check that off the list ;)
PM: It was back to Baltra to catch our flight back to the mainland Ecuador

Something else that was really cool about the trip is that everyone’s itinerary was planned by the National Park Service in order to keep as few people as possible on the islands at the same time. So for example, even if we were docked at an island with two or three other ships, we were never doing the same activity at the same time as the people from the other boat. If we were hiking, they would be snorkeling, and vice versa.

The last night of our trip we even got to go out to a bar (which was a good thing because the ship ran out of booze!) with a couple other young people from our boat and our tour guide (there were some restaurants, shops and bars at Puerto Ayora, which is where our tour guide was from. We even got to meet his adorable wife and 5-year-old son!)

Now let’s get to the fun part — the photos!

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_DSC0030^^ This (not so) little guy is a land iguana. We came across another one later in our hike that walked a good 100 feet towards our group of 16, bobbing his head in warning the whole while, before getting a couple of feet in front of us and turning around. I think he made his point, though ;) Land iguanas are pretty territorial, but they’re also pretty harmless.

_DSC0034^^ Pink flamingo!! Look at this scenery — does it not look like another planet?

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_DSC0123^^ Clawless lobsters at the fish markets in Puerto Ayora.

_DSC0146^^ A marine iguana just hangin’ out. Watching them swim in the water is pretty amazing.

_DSC0160^^ How cute are the giant tortoises?! They can live to be between 120 and 150 years old, so you just know they’re super wise ;)

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_DSC8982^^ These bright red crabs against the black lava? Amazing.

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_DSC9084^^ Being in the water snorkeling was amazing, but watching sunsets from the back of the boat wasn’t too shabby, either.

_DSC9139^^ The sea lions would get so close to you! And our tour guide would say, “Just see what happens.” Animals on the islands are super curious, and because humans aren’t their predators here, they are just fearless. It’s pretty cool.

_DSC9169^^ A lava heron (which we concluded looked shockingly similar to a grumpy old man, no?!)

_DSC9207^^ A few minutes after this photo was taken this sea lion would take a big ole’ dump in the water while I was snorkeling, totally bringing me back to earth (and out of the water!) from the surreal moment I was having. See the one in the background, too? With his nose in the air? I always wondered what they were thinking when they did that. So cute!

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_DSC9418^^ The blue beaks on the red-footed boobies are simply beautiful.

_DSC9519^^ This was a view from Cero Dragon on Santa Cruz island.

_DSC9593^^ Penguins! Can you believe the Galapagos has penguins? What doesn’t this place have?

_DSC9632^^ Look at our cute little boat — oh how I miss it!

_DSC9729^^ Chris took this photo of me at Sullivan Bay on Santiago to demonstrate how far and wide the lava fields went. And our tour guide went barefoot on this! Poor Reuben — his feet were too big for standard Ecuadorian mens’ sizes, so he grew up not wearing shoes most of the time, and now his feet are tough as nails! (As was demonstrated on many, many, many occasions on this trip.)

_DSC9762^^ The site of one of our many, many snorkel adventures.

_DSC9813^^ “There’s a blue-footed booby on the rocks!” This was an inside joke amongst everyone on our boat, since we came to realize that we could listen carefully for Reuben to call out loudly when we were on hikes or outings and he spotted some wildlife he really wanted us to see. His enthusiasm was seriously contagious. You could tell he loved his job and loved the Galapagos and just wanted to teach us everything he could, and that was just the best.

_DSC9913^^ Pelican in flight.

_DSC9915^^ We took the dinghy’s out one morning to Black Turtle Cove and saw all manner of animals, from the blue-footed boobies above to this green turtle, to mating sea turtles to sting rays and sharks.

_DSC9925^^ Mating turtles, oh my!

_DSC9936^^ Shark!

_DSC9947^^ Four stingrays in a row, right in front of our boat.

Honestly, we took about a gazillion photos here friends, as I’m sure you can imagine, and culling them down into just a couple is really hard. But I think what I’ve included here gives you a good indication of what the Galapagos is like — and it’s simply a heaven on earth.

So after our five days on the boat we caught a flight back to Quito and Jorge dropped us back off at La Rabida for what turned out to be only a couple of hours, since our flight to Costa Rica was super early in the morning and we basically had to be picked up at 2 a.m. to check in and such.

We leave for Australia this Monday (ah, I can’t believe it!), but I’ll be sure to get my final South American post — Costa Rica! — up as soon as possible next week. So bis bald for now, my friends! I shall see you all again very soon!

Ecuador Part I: Quito and the Amazon

Hi friends,

So after our adventures in Peru, Chris and I packed up our belongings and headed to the airport to fly a bit up the continent to Ecuador, where we would be taking part in the second, third and fourth parts of our South American adventure: Quito, the Amazon and the Galapagos Islands.

A note about this part of the trip, before I get into it. We booked everything in this section of the trip with a company called Southern Explorations, which I would highly recommend to anyone looking to book an adventure in South America (they have many different trip options). Here’s what was included in our trip package:

  • Our hotel during the nights we’d be staying in Quito
  • A half-day tour of Quito
  • Our trip to the Amazon
  • Our trip to the Galapagos
  • Transfers to and from the airport for each and every one of those trips
  • Meals for everything except the days we were in Quito

Here’s the thing about booking the trip this way — it was pricey. Honestly, I’m sure we could have put the puzzle pieces together ourselves and paid less, but at the end of the day, it was so incredibly nice to know that we were being taken care of (and that we wouldn’t need to even think about little details like where and when to bring our passports, how much the Galapagos Park entrance fee was, etc., because they reminded us of everything along the way), that we didn’t mind paying a little extra for that sense of comfort. The hotel Southern Explorations booked us at in Quito (called La Rabida) actually turned out to be one of our favorite hotels of the trip, too. The breakfast was always stellar (and we ate dinner here one night, too, and it was super tasty), there was always a fire burning in the fireplace at night and plenty of books to read about Ecuador, and there was even an adorable little fat brown bunny that lived in the garden of the hotel, named Brownie, that you just know Chris and I became obsessed with. Oh, and the coffee!? Amazing.

Here’s a bit of what we saw during our stay in Quito (which was three days before we flew out to the Amazon, then one half day/night between the Amazon and the Galapagos and one more night again before flying out to Costa Rica):

_DSC8207^^ This statue was a gift to the city, but its back faces towards the more poor area, and the people who live there unfortunately took that to be a bit of a slight.

_DSC8234^^ The Old Town section of Quito is beautiful during the day, but our tour guide warned us that it can be a bit desolate, and even dangerous, at night. If you make it here, however, be sure to NOT MISS the Iglesia de La Compania de Jesus church. Unfortunately we couldn’t take photos inside, but I’ve never been to a more beautiful church, and it’s absolutely not to be missed when you’re checking out this part of Quito.

_DSC8288^^ We were in the old section on a Monday, so we were lucky enough to catch the changing of the guard at the Presedential Palace, which really is quite the show.

_DSC8354^^ We also visited the part of Quito where the lines of latitude and longitude are zero, which was fascinating. (There are actually two of these places. The first was the one the French thought was zero latitude, but the Ecuadorian army later scientifically determined the actual spot to be about 200 meters away. Still, that’s not bad for an educated guess!) Anyway, the equator line is so weird! This is me, trying to balance an egg on its end (which our tour guide and someone else in our group successfully managed to do), and you have practically zero strength on the line as well. It’s also incredibly hard to walk in a straight line when you’re directly on the equator (as demonstrated by Chris, below), and the water really does flush in different directions to either side of the line. So cool!

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I feel as though I would be wrong to ignore something that came up a lot while we were in Quito — which is safety. We didn’t do a ton of research on the area before heading there, since it was part of our package anyway, and we’d be spending so few days there, but as it turns out, there’s quite a bit of noise on the internet about the safety of tourists in the area. While I think a lot of this has changed in recent years, I think it doesn’t hurt to be on high alert if traveling to this area. (Of course I think it doesn’t hurt to be on high alert when you travel to any area, but perhaps a bit more so in this particular one.) I wouldn’t walk at night anywhere (cabs are readily available, although you need to be sure to get in legitimate cabs with meters, and make sure the cab drivers actually turn on the meters, because they will try to stiff you), and don’t be flamboyant about things that call you out as a tourist — like carrying ginormous cameras or stopping to look at a map every couple of feet. The first day we arrived in Quito it happened to be a holiday, and we found the city to be pretty empty and a bit desolate, which to be honest made it a bit creepy. But after the city filled with people again, and when we roamed around during broad daylight, we found the people to be friendly and helpful, and nothing was scary at all.

We also had some of our favorite meals here in Quito. Our tour guide (Gorge, who was one of our favorite tour guides of the whole trip), suggested one little restaurant called Mama Clorinda, where we ate empanadas, potato soup, shrimp and rice and lamb stew (Chris, not me), that was all totally delicious. Chris also really enjoyed the steak at La Casa de mi Abuela.

After our three days in Quito, we headed back to the airport with Gorge to catch our flight to the Amazon, which was a pretty surreal experience in and of itself. We stayed at Sacha Lodge, which we really loved. The food here was pretty amazing, especially considering the fact that it was buffet style made for dozens of people all at once, and the lodges themselves were gorgeous, wooden cabins with big, bright hammocks on open porches directly in the rainforest.

_DSC8447^^ These little leaf cutter ants were so amazing! They were one of the first signs of life we saw when we arrived, and there was a whole big stream of them running across the path we had to walk to get to our lodge, busy carrying those little leaves to their new destination.

_DSC8459^^ To get to the lodge, we had to fly to another city from Quito, take a 2.5 hour motorized canoe ride, walk a mile through the rainforest, then take another 15-20 minute canoe ride to the lodge itself.

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_DSC8539^^ Sunset over the Sacha Lodge lake was pretty epic every night.

_DSC8612^^ The very first night we were there we went on a night hike and saw all kinds of creepy crawlies. You’d think that seeing creatures like this would freak me out, but honestly it didn’t — it was all fascinating.

_DSC8622^^ Baby tarantulas! We would see very many of these during our stay at the Amazon, most of them a whole heck of a lot bigger than this one.

_DSC8641^^ Look at this little cutie patootie!

_DSC8654^^ These parrots fascinated me. They come to the clay lick to eat the clay, which helps neutralize the acid in their stomachs from eating berries and such. Such smart parrots.

_DSC8697^^ One of my two favorite moments in the Amazon occured while I was in the shower. Like I mentioned, our cabins were pretty awesome, and the bathrooms were the absolute best. The back of the shower was just a screen, which looked out directly into the rainforest. So one day while I’m showering, I happen to notice some movement in the woods, and it was this little monkey, along with about five or six of his friends! Monkeys — just chillin’ in the rainforest — which I could watch all to myself while I took a shower. Once in a lifetime experience, for sure.

_DSC8698^^ Another shower monkey!

_DSC8726^^ How cute are these cabins!?

_DSC8764^^ One day we went into the butterfly house, which housed hundreds of amazing, beautifully colored butterflies, along with one nasty, huge tarantula that had moved in and just occasionally snacks on the butterflies.

_DSC8794^^ We took a lot of canopy walks high above the trees, where we saw tons of birds like Toucans and Hummingbirds and even a King Vulture!

_DSC8852^^ This snake, which we happened upon on one of our hikes, is referred to as the Venti Quatro, because once bitten by it, you’ll die within 24 hours. Nice, right? And he was thisclose to us on the hike. This was also right before a tree branch broke and Chris was showered with fire ants that bit him all over his arm. While he was in pain for about nine hours after it happened, he now thinks this is pretty bad ass. I mean, if you’re going to be in the Amazon, you might as well have a story to tell, right?

_DSC8880^^ We went piranha fishing, and I was the first person to catch one! It was so crazy. You put some meat at the end of a fishing pole, and when you throw the line in, you can’t even see the piranha attacking it, you just see the meat moving around in the water as they snip at it. This is a red-bellied kind.

_DSC8882^^ Look at those teeth!

Amazon_Hammock^^ Amazing Amazon hammock views.

The thing that makes both Chris and myself a little sad is that our camera didn’t have a better zoom, because some of the birds we saw were absolutely amazing, and our camera just wasn’t cutting it in terms of capturing their essence. But we spent four days in the Amazon, and it was both terrifying, beautiful and exhilarating. We did a lot of activities during the days, but we also had some time to relax, which was highly welcome.

After our Amazonian adventure, we packed ourselves back up, headed back out on the canoe rides and hikes that would eventually get us to the airport, and flew back to Quito, where we would have a half day before flying back out the next morning to … THE GALAPAGOS!

Guys, if you know me at all, you’ll know that making it to the Galapagos has been a dream of mine since my freshman year of college (so, you know, for a little while now!). Once we got there, it was more than I ever could hoped for. I can’t wait to share that experience with you tomorrow!

Bis bald for now, my friends!

Back to Machu Picchu, and the Hike That Practically Killed Me …

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Okay — to say that the 7-hour, 9.5.-mile hike we did of the Inca trail almost killed me would probably be a bit of an exaggeration … but let’s be honest friends — that schiz is hard! I honestly don’t know how people do the full, 4-day trek, with camping and stuff. They’re pretty awesome, that’s for sure!

After spending four days in Cusco getting acclimated to the altitude and checking out some of the other sites, we woke up around 6 a.m. on a Friday to head three hours on the train with our tour guide, Michael, to the spot on the Inca trail where we would be starting our trek.

Anyway, I have a ton of photos from this trek, and it was all hard — but at the end of it what I can seriously say is that I was so incredibly proud of both myself and Chris for having finished it (although let’s be honest — it was much harder for me than for Chris!)

Here’s a bit of what we saw on that hike:

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One little tale about the trek that I’d like to share was a sort of adorable one about my lunch. The night before we left it occurred to me that I should probably remind the B&B where we were staying (which was booked in conjunction with our entire Inca Trail/Machu Picchu hike) that I am a vegetarian, since they were packing our lunch for the next day. “Sure no problem!” they said.

Cut to our lunch on this intense hike the next day (you can probably see where I’m going with this). Our guide seemed really nervous about the lunch and kept saying, “Oh I really hope they packed your vegetarian!” He was eager for me to open my lunch so he could make sure it was the right stuff, and when I did he was so relieved. “Oh good, they did pack you a vegetarian!”

“Absolutely, looks great!” I assured him, even though what I was looking at was fried rice with ham.

It was really no biggie — I just ate around it. I figure in circumstances like this, when you’re traveling in different parts of the world and trying to be thoughtful of their own customs and traditions, it’s best to go with the flow as much as possible. Lucky for me, big pieces of ham are easy to eat around ;)

Anyway … after about seven hours of ups and (very few) downs and stairs and switchbacks, I was ready to be done! And thankfully we had quite the amazing payoff at the end of the hike, too:

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Not bad — am I right?! When you book the 2-day trek (at least when you book with Cusi Travel), what happens is you hike the Inca Trail all day, ending up at Machu Picchu late in the afternoon. You then take the bus (the crazy bus down the side of the hill where there is barely enough room for one vehicle, let alone the two that sometimes squeeze by each other!) down into Aguas Calientes — the town below Machu Picchu — to spend the night. We then got up super early the next morning to stand in line to catch the bus back to Machu Picchu for a tour with our guide, and we had decided to hike Huayna Picchu as well, so we’d be doing that without our guide around 10 a.m. the following day after our Inca Trail hike.

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A word now about the Huayna Picchu hike (before I share some of the absolutely stunning photos) — it’s terrifying. And when I saw terrifying, I mean terrifying! First off, it’s sometimes referred to as the “hike of death,” so you know, there’s that. See that tall-ass mountain that sticks straight up into the sky in the photo above? The one directly to the right of Machu Picchu. That is Huayna Picchu, my friends, and that is what we hiked the day after our Inca Trail hike. It’s 8,920 ft high, with barely any handrails or cover of any kind, and only 400 people are allowed to climb it every day in order to keep it from being too crowded. (If you want to learn more about the hike itself, if you’re considering it, I would read this, which has some really good info to prepare you before you decide either way.)

I’m going to be honest — I didn’t do any reading about the hike before we took it on. I had a friend who had done it a few years earlier and she recommended adding it to our Machu Picchu visit before our tour guide even recommended it to us (you have to sign up way in advance, since like I said before, only 400 people a day get to climb), so I took her lack of “Oh by the way it’s seriously scary and hard” conversation as proof that, you know, it wasn’t seriously scary or hard.

That was obviously my bad. (I will definitely be asking you for more info the next time you recommend anything travel related to me, Faye!)

Anyway, I’m now so incredibly glad that I didn’t do any reading about the hike ahead of time, because it may have scared me away from actually doing the hike, in which case I would have been robbed of an amazing feeling of accomplishment, not to mention these amazing, once-in-a-lifetime views:

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I mean … you can see why people chomp-at-the-bit and laugh at the potential of death to do this hike, right? Still — don’t say I didn’t warn ya!

And that, my friends, was pretty much our 2-day Macchu Picchu and Inca trail tour! Of course there is a ton that I’m leaving out about Machu Picchu and the Inca Trail itself (I mean we spent two full days at these places, so obviously there’s a lot to take in here), but if you’re interested in learning more about the amazing history of the place, I would suggest checking out this History Channel stuff about it, because they’ll do a much better job at describing it than I ever could hope to.

After Huayna Picchu, we caught the bus back into Aguas Calientes to grab a bite and do some shopping, then we caught the train back into Cusco to spend one last night at the Cusco B&B and in town before catching our flight to Ecuador early the next morning to start the second phase of our adventure — Quito, the Amazon and … drum roll please … the Galapagos Islands!

In honor of my favorite holiday, though (oh hey, Thanksgiving!), I’m going to go ahead and give the blog a break for the rest of the week. I’ll be back next week with the rest of our adventure, though — so for now everyone … enjoy your time with friends and family and loved ones on Thursday — I know I will!

Bis bald!

 

 

 

When in Peru, You Must Hike Machu Picchu

_DSC7916Oh hey there friends! Happy Thanksgiving week! To be honest, while I loved pretty much every single thing about traveling for the past four weeks, if I had to pick one week to be home, it would be this one. I welcome the fall weather, football games and eating myself silly on Thursday — here’s to the holidays!

But before all that happens, I’m hoping to get a few posts up about our South American adventure, since every day I wait is a day that more and more details slip away — and I hate that.

I thought I’d start out with some general details about our trip, in case that helps anyone who might be planning a trip to Peru in the near future, as well. For starters, we arrived two days early to allow ourselves to get acclimated to the altitude (we took the pills to alleviate altitude symptoms, too, and I’m really glad we did, since we barely had any problems at all with that), and that was something I’d highly recommend to anyone else planning a visit. We picked Hotel Torre Dorada to spend the first three nights in Peru, and it turned out to be the perfect spot to get acclimated. It was a little further from the city center, but the hotel offered a free cab service to and fro, so that really wasn’t a problem. Breakfast was included, and the rooms were super comfy.

_DSC7298^^ View from the rooftop at the hotel.

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Anyway, while we did spend the first two days getting acclimated, we also explored a bit of the city center and ate at some pretty tasty restaurants (Inka Grill for dinner our first night and Pacha Papa for lunch the second day were two highly notable places. Everyone who heard we were going to Cusco told us to also hit up Jack’s Cafe, which we did, and while I found the food to be good, it wasn’t a place that I particularly felt was truly authentic or anything all that amazing. If you’re looking for a good place for something easy and breezy like sandwiches or salads, though, this would be a good place to try.)

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_DSC7329^^ Super narrow streets and alleyways chock full of people made walking an interesting proposition as it was, but add in the high altitude and suddenly walking up even a couple flights of stairs would leave us breathless!

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_DSC7353^^ There are quite a few churches in the main square in Cusco. We didn’t happen to visit any of them, but they sure were pretty to look at.

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_DSC7370^^ All of the children wear uniforms to school in Peru, whether they go to public or private school, which I thought was so interesting, and not such a bad idea.

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_DSC7399^^ How funny was the balcony at this restaurant/bar? We took to lovingly referring to it as the “long skinny” bar. Still, the view was pretty unforgettable.

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While there’s so much I could say here about Cusco, in an effort to avoid making each destination’s blog post way too long, I’m going to go ahead and reiterate some info from an email I sent my family and some friends after we had been in Cusco for a couple of days:

–At first we thought Cusco was overrun with stray dogs, but it turns out these dogs all have owners, and there are no laws here that force them to be on leashes. Having said that, these pups all seem to be super friendly, and we are amazed by how little poop there is in the streets.

 

– The local people here drink a tea called “coca tea” made with coca leaves, which they believe helps with altitude sickness and calms the stomach. This coca leaf is the exact same leaf used to make cocaine, you just need an awful lot of it to make it even a little bit of the drug. I happen to think it’s gross, but Chris really did love him some coca tea.

 

– The average salary here is about 750 solas, per month, which is about $257, so you can see how it’s incredibly difficult for people to drag themselves out of poverty, which is so, so sad, because I don’t think I’ve ever met a more hard-working group of people. Many of the women here have taken to entrepreneurialism, however, and dress themselves and their children up in their fanciest Peruvian duds and stand near tourist hot spots with their baby llamas and alpacas and charge a solas or so for a photo with them (not a bad way to get money from a tourist, let me tell you).

 

–The Spanish seriously ruined Peru when they conquered it (something I probably should have learned in school) to include desecrating some amazing statues and artwork.

 

– The difference between a llama and an alpaca is that alpaca’s are shorter with shorter ears.

– The heaviest rock the Inca’s moved back in the day was 130 TONS. A couple years ago as an experiment the Peruvians tried to move a 30 ton rock using the traditional anchor methods the Inca’s would have used. It took 250 men and 30-40 minutes to move it 100 meters. The quaries where these rocks would have come from were four to seven miles away, across a river … so you do the math.

– After they finally evicted their corrupt president in the 1980s (who literally used to smuggle cocaine on his plane bc it wasn’t checked at the borders — although he did also eradicate national terrorism and helped set up a public education system) and put in place a new president, tourism skyrocketed. Tourism is now the biggest industry in Cusco.

– They eat guinea pigs here. And alpaca. ‘Nuff said.

– The women here carry their babies in bright bundles on their backs. It’s sort of adorable.

– The city of Cusco is actually higher elevation (10,991 ft) than Machu Picchu (7,874).

On our third day in Cusco we began our tour with Cusi Travel (which I would highly recommend to anyone looking for a Machu Picchu tour group), which included first a tour of some of the areas surrounding Cusco and Sacred Valley, as well as our Inca Trail hike and visit to Machu Picchu (we added on the Huayna Picchu hike to our tour as well, but I’m getting ahead of myself now …)

_DSC7446^^ Alpaca’s at Sacsayhuaman (pronounced “Sexy Woman”) outside of Cusco.

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^^ View of Cusco city from “Sexy Woman”.

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^^ We stopped at an animal rescue place on the way to Sacred Valley and got to see some pretty cool things, to include Condors taking flight.

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_DSC7558^^ The incredibly intricate work these women do seriously puts me in awe of them.
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 ^^ Views of Sacred Valley from above are breathtaking.

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_DSC7650^^ A visit to Ollantaytambo would be high on my list of things to do in Cusco as well. The indentions to the right in this photo were actually the “bank” of the Inca’s, where they kept the currency of the day, which was food. It was up so high because that kept the food dry and out of the elements. In the middle you might notice what appears to be a face carved into the mountain. It’s rumored that the Inca’s actually carved this face into the side of the mountain, but not everyone today actually still believes that to be the truth — some say it’s just coincidence.

 

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 Okay friends, since I’ve already gone ahead and broken my promise not to make this a long blog post, I’ll make Machu Picchu and the Inca trail a post unto itself (which defeats the purpose of my headline here, but hey, I’m a maverick.)
Anyway, check back tomorrow for the next and last installment of our Peru adventure — the Inca Trail, Machu Picchu and Huayanu Picchu. Bis bald, friends!

The 52 Project: November 24

_DSC0308^^ Well friends, this is the fourth and final photo that I’ll be posting for the ’52 Project’ series from our trip to South America. We saw this little guy when we were about halfway through our bus ride from Escazu to Tamarindo, Costa Rica, and he pretty much embodies what I think of when I think of Costa Rica. Vibrant. Lively. Fun. Pura Vida, baby! As I type this I’m sitting at my mom’s dining room table back in upstate New York. We arrived home from our trip around midnight last night, and I’m looking forward to going through all the photos and posting some more in-depth info from the trip which was, without a doubt, the trip of a lifetime.

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The 52 Project: November 16

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^^ Hey guys! So once again our internet abilities is forcing me to post a 52 Project photo on a Sunday instead of a Monday. We are currently in Escazu, Costa Rica, and we leave bright and early tomorrow morning for our 5th and final destination of our South American tour — Tamarindo, Costa Rica. The photo above, though, is from my new absolute favorite place on earth – the Galápagos Islands. There is so much I can’t wait to share about this trip, but I can say without a doubt that the Galápagos Islands are one of the most amazing places I’ve ever been. I’m making it my travel mission to get back to this place again. Bis bald, friends – my next post will be coming at ya from back in the States. Massive bummer.

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The 52 Project: November 9

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^^ So I know it’s Sunday, not Monday, but Chris and I will be in the Galapagos all this week with no internet connection, so this post comes at you now or never, friends ;) We just arrived back from the Amazon today, and it was an absolutely spectacular time. We loved the lodge where we stayed, and we saw so many amazing creatures and had tons of adventures. For example, the shower in our lodge was screened in at the back and offered a full-on view of the jungle, and the second night we were there I just happened to catch the little guy above and about a half dozen of his friends playing in the trees right outside. Can’t say that’s something that’s ever happened to me before! Much more to come on the Amazon in the upcoming weeks — bis bald friends!

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A Little Bit of Peru

Hi friends!

How’s it going? So Chris and I are currently in Quito, Ecuador, awaiting our flight out to the Amazon rainforest tomorrow (squeeee!). After the Amazon it’s on to the Galapagos (my No. 1 travel bucket list place, by the way … No big deal), then Costa Rica. We’ve been having an amazing (and somewhat eye-opening and life changing) time in South America so far, and while I don’t have time to share a ton of details right now (plus who can blog on an iPad? Not me!), I figured I could at least share some photos.

Here’s a bit of what we’ve seen so far:

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Bis bald, friends! More deets to come later!

The 52 Project: November 3

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^^ Happy November friends! Chris and I are now in Quito, Ecuador, on our way to both the Amazon and the Galapagos. We finished our tour of Peru, and it was more than we could have hoped for (reference the photo above of myself and Chris, enjoying the view of Machu Picchu after trekking up the Inca Trail. I was hoping to be able to blog more, but to be honest … I’ve been exhausted! And we’re about to head into no-Internet territory, so even these weekly photo posts may be late coming. But needless to say, it’s been a pretty once-in-a-lifetime experience so far — and we’re so looking forward to what else is coming. Bis bald, friends!

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Tramways, Breweries, Rattlesnakes and More in Albuquerque

Hi friends,

So these past few days have been a whirlwind, but I wanted to try to get stuff down as it’s happening, so I’ll do my best to get through this post (even though my eyes are drooping as I type — so please forgive any typos!). The good people at the Albuquerque Convention & Visitors Bureau so kindly invited me out to New Mexico for a press trip, which of course I happily accepted. I flew out early Monday morning and arrived around 5 p.m. Monday evening.

And I’ve been on the go ever since.

So of course I have about 1,000 photos to share, and I figured the best way to go about this (at least the first two-days’ worth) is to explain via photo what I’ve done so far on my trip. For starters, I’m staying at Hotel Andaluz, which is located conveniently in downtown Albuquerque and is so stunningly modern and wonderful I can’t stand it. I’ll be having dinner at the restaurant here tomorrow night, too, so I’ll be sure to share how that goes.

Anyway, on to a bit of what I’ve seen so far. Hold on to your hats kids — it’s been a wild two days!

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A Day Trip to Phoenicia and Otter Falls

This past Sunday, Chris took me on a little day trip to Phoenicia, New York [which is about an hour away from where my mom lives in Newburgh] and then to Otter Falls, where he and a bunch of his friends run a relay every year.

But first, we stopped for pancakes at Sweet Sue’s Restaurant, which has a 24 Zagat rating for food and a seriously slammin’ menu of pancake options.

_DSC5808^^ Gotta love a town that puts on a rubber duckie race.
(And clearly reuses the sign year after year — so economical!)

_DSC5809^^ That’s a pretty spectacular backdrop for the Phoenicia Pharmacy, if I do say so myself.

_DSC5810^^ Cute little, awesome Sweet Sue’s Restaurant.

_DSC5811^^ Holy pancake menu!

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_DSC5814^^ These were my — wait for it — carrot. cake. pancakes.
With cream cheese sauce. ‘Nuff said.

_DSC5815^^ Chris went the savory route and got fresh corn cakes — equally delish.

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_DSC5819^^ As of 2014, Phoenicia was home to 299 residents. I seriously love that.

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_DSC5822^^ Mystery spot indeed.

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_DSC5829^^ This eagle originated in Grand Central.
Here’s how it ended up in Phoenicia.

After loading up on pancakes, we headed to Otter Falls, which is about a 20-minute drive from Phoenicia. Here’s what the Hudson Valley Visit Vortex has to say about this swimming hole:

Located on state land, a small, but adventurous, side trail leads to the spectacular falls cascading down about 30 feet to a large deep basin measuring about 20 to 30 feet in diameter with a center depth between 6 and 8 feet. With recent rains it should be like a giant, cold-water Jacuzzi, say the locals. Otter Falls is only about a half-mile from the popular Giant Ledge trail parking area, making it an excellent stop after a hot, sweaty hike. Sundown, lat=42.0314, lon=-74.4201

Directions: From I-87, get off at Exit 19, Kingston exit, RT 28. Go northwest on RT 28 about 25 miles to Phoenicia. Then:To get here from RT 28 in Phoenicia: Continue west on Rt 28 through Shandaken to Big Indian. Turn south (left) on RT 47 (set odometer) and go about 6.6 miles to a telephone pole with mile post #167 1/2 on it. Other things to look for are the state land signs (the yellow ones with the DEC logo). This state land is the only State land on the west side of Route 47 in Big Indian Valley. (If you come to the “hairpin turn”, an extremely sharp right hand turn, on RT 47, you have gone about .5 mile too far.)

To find it after you park, you walk along the highway and search for the tree with the 111A 167 1/2 numbers on it [which was my ‘Photo of the Day’ photo from yesterday]. It’s a pretty fun, secluded little spot — definitely worth checking out.

_DSC5840^^ It’s only about 500 meters from the highway to the waterfall so,
you know, my kind of hike!

_DSC5842^^ Ooooohhhh — pretty!

_DSC5858^^ I kept this photo because that black and white blur at the bottom right of the photo is a butterfly that was buzzing all around me. I snapped this one shot quickly, not hopeful to actually capture the little booger, and this is what I got. I kinda love it.

_DSC5859^^ We played around in the water leading into the waterfall for a bit.
And when I say “we”, I mean “Chris”.

 And that’s about it, ya’ll! I’d highly recommend a trip to the water hole on a hot summer day — nothing beats it.

Bis bald, friends!

Paddling in the Potomac

Morning friends! Exactly one week and one day ago (aka last Monday), I hopped on a Tripper bus out of the city headed to Arlington, Virginia (a suburb of the D.C. area).

Here’s a little tip from a bus rider know-it-all: If you’re on a bus (or in a car or any other form of automotive transportation) out of the city heading through the Holland Tunnel, be sure to sit on the right-hand side, because you’ll be privy to this beauty of a view:

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Anyway, as I mentioned in a post last week, when this particular friend and I get together, we generally do a whole lot of nothing. (Which is actually quite wonderful, as I’m sure most of you know.) I mean sure we eat and drink and chat and binge watch shoes (last week she introduced me to Revenge … why have I not been watching this all my life?), but there’s generally very little by way of activity, other than a walk here and there.

Last week, though, we got creative. On the heels of our very active trip to Marathon Key at the beginning of April, we were eager to try one activity in particular all over again in a new spot — kayaking.

So we headed into Old Town Alexandria (which is about the cutest little place you’ll ever go) and down to the Belle Haven Park and Marina, where we took a double-person kayak out on the Potomac River.

Let me tell you friends — it was something splendid, for sure.

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3In_Harbour^^ The water was pretty muddy after the torrential downpour we had the two days prior,
but it was still pretty splendid all the same.

4Kayak_View^^I have to admit that this kayak adventure was harder for me, for some reason,
and I may not have been a ton of help when it came to rowing. Thanks for taking the lead, Lisa!

5Log_Turtles^^ We saw so, so, so many turtles on this trip!

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8Mischief_View^^ We may have ventured off the beaten trail into a tiny little area secluded by trees.
So peaceful.

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So Lisa and I have pretty much decided this is our thing. Hopefully when she comes to visit me here in the city we’ll take some kayaks out on the Hudson as well. It’s always fun to have an activity to look forward to on a trip.

My time with Lisa was so fun, but it also went by so fast, and before I knew it I was back on a 2:30 bus on Saturday afternoon headed back to the city. After being dropped off near Penn Station around 7:30, I grabbed a ticket on the Long Island Railroad and headed back out, this time to meet up with Chris to spend the night in Long Island prior to his running the Long Island Marathon Sunday morning. My dad met us out there in the morning to watch, and we walked a grand total of 10 MILES around the course to catch Chris running at three different spots.

Oh, and Chris did pretty well, too ;) I mean, he broke his own personal record with a race time of 2:49:26!

I could not be more proud of him.

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Bis bald, friends! Warmer weather is headed our way, and I hope everyone is getting excited for whatever plans you’ve concocted for the summer …

 

Our Final Days of Spring Break 2014: Denver, Colorado

Denver. Ah, Denver. Our third and final stop on our short little tour of Colorado.

You see, we’ve heard lots of amazing things about this city. We have a handful of friends and family members who live here, and they just seem to love, love, love, love, love it.

Like … really, they love it a lot.

So we had high expectations, to say the least.

We started our tour of Denver with a quick drive around the city to familiarize ourselves with it. We drove through Cheeseman Park (so cute!), and stopped off in the Capitol Hill area to take in a few of the more touristy aspects …

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Photo 3^^ Cheesy tourist photos — they’re kind of a must … am I right?!

After hanging around on our own for a while, we met up Thursday evening with my brother-in-law’s sister and her fiancee. (Did ya catch that?) Anyway, Rachel and Steve have lived in Denver for a bunch of years now, and they are two of those people I mentioned before who just love, love love it there ;)

They took us to the Vine Street Pub & Brewery for dinner, which was super chill and relaxed. We went outside with beers from the bar and watched people playing Cornhole while we waited for our table … it was that relaxed.

And that was about it for Thursday, since we didn’t get into Denver until around 1 anyway. Friday, however, we had quite the touristy day. We woke up early so that we could head out to the Red Rocks Amphitheater, which was simply stunning.

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Photo 5^^ We were shocked  at how much exercising went on here!
Seriously, people everywhere running up and down the stairs,
jumping the rocks, running every single row … fascinating!
I guess if you have to work out, you can’t have a
better backdrop then at Red Rocks, right?

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Red Rocks was about an hour outside of Denver, and we spent a couple hours there just taking it all in. So by the time we made it back into the city, we were starving!

Thank God for Mexican food when you’re starving … am I right?! And  Rio Grande in the LoDo section did not disappoint.

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We sat outside under umbrellas in the 70-degree weather (hello, summer!), eating our burritos and drinking our margaritas. [A word to the wise: Watch it on the margaritas here. A single drink contains 3.5 shots of tequila! That’s why they have a three drink maximum on the margs, particularly. We should know, we asked ;)]

After lunch I headed across the street to buy an outrageously expensive tee from Patagonia (I was desperate! I hadn’t read the weather beforehand and was wearing two long-sleeved shirts … and I was sweltering!), and then we caught the free 16th Street MallRide shuttle over to Commons Park, where we hopped on bikes from the Denver Bike Share program and rode over the South Platte River to the section of Denver known as The Highlands.

And oh my goodness did we love it here, my friends! And it wasn’t just because of Little Man Ice Cream (although that did help a lot ….)

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This whole area had a very relaxed, young, happening atmosphere. It was very cool, to say the least.

So after scarfing down some ice cream (don’t ask me how I did that after eating a ton of Mexican for lunch … I have a superhuman stomach, this is for certain), we hopped back on our bikes and rode as fast as possible back to the LoDo section to meet up with Chris’s old boss for drinks at Freshcraft before heading off to the Washington Park section of Denver to meet up with our cousin and her husband and baby.

Sheesh we really crammed a lot into one full day, didn’t we!?

Anyway, Courtney and Charlie’s place was adorable, and they were so lovely to get a babysitter for the evening so that they could come back out with us for dinner at the Ale House and a couple of brewskies afterwards at Denver Beer Co. (Which, by the way, might have been my favorite brewery of all the ones we visited. It was late when we arrived — in fact we stayed until closing at midnight — but the big garage doors that make up the front of the place were thrown open from the warmer weather earlier in the day, and everyone was hanging out on picnic tables with their dogs. Very fun.)

And that, as they say, was that, my friends. It was a lot  to do in one day, but I’m really glad that we got to fit in as much as we did on Friday. I wasn’t convinced that we had seen everything Denver had to offer on Thursday (I mean that’s a stupid thing to even write, because of course we didn’t. It’s impossible to see everything any city has to offer in one day), but Friday gave me a better look at the Denver that I had heard so much about.

And that I really, truly, look forward to going back to.

Okay friends, so I’m off again next week — wahoo! This time I’ll be heading to Washington, D.C. to spend the week with a friend for her birthday. This is the friend I went to Florida with, and the one who when I visit we generally hang out and do nothing but eat and drink and chat. (Except for when she has me crafting like crazy for her sister’s baby shower)  — but this time we’ve promised each other that we will get out and about into the city to actually do something historical. Or fun. Or both.

But we’ll just have to wait to see how that goes ;)

Bis bald, friends!

 

 

Spring Break Day 3: Breckenridge, Colorado

On our third day into our trip to Colorado last week, we loaded back into the car in Boulder and headed on the two hour ride to Breckenridge. (Thank you for always saying that you would drive, Brian! I absolutely did not love driving that tank of a car we got from the rental place!)

Anyway, the road into Breckenridge is a long, windy, at times hazardous one, and we’ve been told by the locals that during peak seasons, the traffic can get pretty backed up.

Which makes sense, because Breckenridge is amazing! Simply put — it’s gorgeous. And quaint. And if you love snowboarding or skiing (which both Chris and my sister’s boyfriend do), then there’s almost nowhere better for that.

We checked into our hotel —the DoubleTree by Hilton … I love how they give you warm cookies when you check in! — and immediately turned the humidifier on in our room.

So a note about Breckenridge — it’s high up in the air, friends. At 9,600 feet above sea level, lots of people (my sister included) tend to get altitude sickness here. You may get a headache or feel lightheaded. It could be difficult for you to catch your breathe, you might feel like you’re breathing through a straw or your mouth and nose could get dry. Steph’s altitude sickness wasn’t too bad (just general tiredness and a headache), so that was lucky, and none of the rest of us seemed to feel it at all, which is great, because I was worried. Chris and I are heading off to climb Machu Picchu in the fall, so I was using this as a sort of test for how I might do in those high altitudes.

So far so good, friends. Phew!

Anyway, as the boys headed to the mountains (they could ski there directly from our hotel!), Steph and I hit up the outdoor hot tub at the hotel, then headed into the town (there was a free shuttle service both to and from our hotel as well, although it really wasn’t all that much of a walk to get into town, anyway), for lunch and a little shopping.

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03A^^ Meanwhile, the boys were here …

03B^^ Gorgeous views.

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While in town Steph and I stumbled into one store in particular with a salesman who I can really truly only describe as curmudgeon-ey. He was an older gentleman — perhaps in his late 70s, early 80s — and when we told him we were from New York (he asked!), he proceeded to regale us with stories about how you can die from altitude sickness within 24 hours, and how the local doctor recommends drinking 8 ounces of water every hour, and how we really, really needed to be careful because it’s actually quite scary ….

Thanks, Mr. Curmudgeon. We didn’t actually ask you for that info … but thanks for sharing?

Anyway, it was pretty much right after that store that Steph decided she had had enough of the town and wanted to head back to the hotel to rest.

Coincidence? I think maybe not ;)

Anyway, I was happy to oblige. So off we went, back in the free shuttle (same driver. He was a young kid just out of college who had spent a semester traveling around Africa and his first winter break as a college graduate working the slopes at Breckenridge. His next plan was to move to Florida for the summer and get his license to work as a deckhand. Nice life, buddy!) to the hotel, where we chilled in the swampy, humidifed air until the boys came back. (With beers, of course!)

That night we headed back into the town to the Breckenridge Brewery, sans Stephanie, for dinner and drinks. The brewery was very chill, totally relaxed, and exactly as we had by now come to expect from the plethora of Colorado breweries.

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We didn’t hang out too long in town after dinner, since Steph was back at the hotel, but we did manage to talk the little one into coming back down to the hot tubs to hang out with us for the evening, which turned out to be quite lovely.

An outdoor hot tub. The setting sun. Some Colorado beer and your hubby. It’s a pretty happy scene — am I right?!

The next morning we were checking out to make the approximately 90 minute drive to Denver, but first we headed to the Blue Moose Restaurant for breakfast. (And Bloody Mary’s and coffee, of course!)

And that, my friends, was our Breckenridge experience. It was short, but oh so very sweet! (For those of us who didn’t feel sick, of course. I think it’s safe to say Steph may never be going back …)

Tomorrow it’s on to Denver, my friends! Bis bald!

 

A Spring Break Trip to Boulder

Hi friends,

So … we’re back! Last week Chris, my sister, her boyfriend and myself all took off on Spirit airlines (hold onto your hats, friends, because I plan to write an article about the notoriously low-rated airline and link to it here!) to head to Denver. Our itinerary for the week included trips to Boulder, Breckenridge and Denver. This was a particularly important trip, my friends, because Chris and I are planning a potential move to Colorado in the winter — but we had yet to actually visit the great state.

So you see — important!

Anyway, we were contemplating both Boulder and Denver as potential new cities for us, and Breckenridge was thrown in there so the boys could ski/snowboard for a day. We hit up Boulder first so that we would end the trip back in Denver, where we would be flying out of on Saturday.

I think probably the best way for me to tackle this trip is to take it by city — so Boulder today, Breckenridge tomorrow and Denver the next.

So Boulder first it is!  After landing at the Denver airport and being conned into upgrading our rental car to an SUV (well maybe not so much conned — having the sturdier car to drive in the mountains to Breckenridge turned out to be not so much of a bad thing …), we hit the road for our 50 minute drive to Boulder.

Boulder is …. so many things. It’s beautiful and open and entertaining and relaxing. It’s a lot of things all rolled into one — it’s just not a place that Chris and I can necessarily see ourselves living just yet. So as much as we liked it, I think it’s safe to say Boulder was ruled out as a place for us to take up residence in a few months.

Here’s a bit of what we did …

1^^ The Twisted Pine Brewery is an absolute must if you’re in Boulder.
For as many breweries as we ended up visiting, Chris and I both say
this was our favorite. We got the sampler for starters, which had so many
amazing beers for tasting. The food was pretty fantastic, as well.

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3^^ Yummmm … beer!

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Okay ya’ll — here’s where we have to discuss the big ole’ elephant in the room, and that elephant, my friends, is marijuana. So as anyone who’s from the U.S. and doesn’t live under a rock will know, weed is now completely legal in the state of Colorado. This is of course infinitely amazing to some, completely annoying to others, and neither here nor there to even more. Whether or not it’s amazing, annoying or neither here nor there to me wasn’t really the point (although I guess if I were forced to pick a category, I’d have to go with neither here nor there …), because I’m pretty intrigued by it. Like, how does it work? What’s it like to buy a drug that has always been illegal, legally? How much does it cost? How do they sell it? What kind of people go to these stores?

I had to know! So … we found one.

The experience of buying weed is, I guess I would have to say, a bit weird. For this particular store, we walked into the front room and were greeted by “security.” (I use the term “security” loosely and with quotation marks because these guys were so friendly and chill, I can’t imagine them ever actually getting security-ish about anything …). So we showed our IDs (you do at least have to be 21, after all), and headed into the small room where the weed was kept. There were, for lack of a better term, salesmen behind the counters whose job it was to point you in the right direction. How much were you interested in smoking? What type of weed were you interested in smoking? When was the last time you smoked, and how much do you think you could handle?

Completely and totally intriguing.

5A^^ Weed in the form of edibles. I still can’t get over it.

Our entire experience lasted maybe 15 minutes, and we were out of there. We went in. We saw.

I’ve had enough ;)

That night we drove downtown to check out the Downtown Boulder area and the Pearl Street Mall, which was very adorable. We ate at West End Tavern under heat lamps in their upstairs, lofted area. It was super cute, and very tasty — I’d very much recommend it.

After a long day of traveling we were pretty exhausted, so we went to bed early so we could rise early for our  amazing hike of the Flatirons Vista Loop.

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The trail was amazing. Obviously very scenic, not too difficult and only somewhat muddied from the recent snow. I’m really glad we did it, though. After the hike we headed over to the Boulder Beer brewery, where we shared an appetizer and drank what turned out to be $1.50 beers.

ONE DOLLAR AND FIFTY CENTS, PEOPLE! I’m not sure you can get gum for that much in the city, anymore.

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We ended our last night in Boulder with another trip to the downtown area (to include the amazing Boulder Bookstore where I purchased two recent releases for less than $20!) for dinner and then drinks and Yahtzee at West Flanders Brewery.12

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13B^^ Yahtzee!!

And that was about it for our Boulder experience, my friends. Breweries, hikes and weed. I’d say that’s a pretty good summary ;)

The next morning we were off bright and early to Breckenridge, and I’ll update you all about that tomorrow.

Bis bald, friends!

P.S. In case anyone was wondering, we stayed at the La Quinta Inn that was actually in Louisville, Colorado, about a 10 minute drive from Boulder. The price was infinitely cheaper than anything we found directly in Boulder, though, so if you don’t mind doing a little driving, I would highly recommend it.

 

Jupiter and Marathon Key

Well friends, I’m back from what can only be described as an epic girlfriend’s trip. Although it did take both myself and my friend Lisa a couple days to unwind from a few recent projects that we only justbarely turned in before we left for Florida, once we did relax, it was resplendent.

The fact that I was gone for 10 days means that I can’t really go through every single detail of the trip, but I did want to bring up a few important points, the first being about where Lisa’s parents live:

  • My friend’s parents live in Jupiter, Florida, which is where we spent Thursday through Sunday at the beginning of our trip, as well as Saturday and Sunday at the end. If you happen to find yourself in Jupiter ever, you must visit Castaways (aka the Square Grouper Tiki Bar), Dune Dog Cafe and Guanabanas. [If you drive your boat to Guanabanas and dock it there, you get a 10% discount. Lisa’s dad would have wanted me to tell you that ;)]

1^^ Gorgeous flowers in the Gerry’s backyard.

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3^^ How amazing is this? These are the mangroves that you walk through in
Lisa’s parent’s backyard to get to where their boat is docked.

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5^^ I could have ridden around on that boat all day, just checking out the gorgeous houses.

6^^ The sand bar.

6A^^ Lisa’s parents took us to Dune Dog’s on our first night,
and Lisa taught me the proper way to crack crabs. Thanks, Lise!

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6D^^ The famous Jupiter lighthouse.

6E^^ Oh my goodness you guys. Lisa’s dad works on the Everglades Restoration,
so he’s big into the environment. Lucky for me, because I’m pretty much obsessed with animals
and the environment. I loved hearing from him about all the work they’re doing, as well as visiting the
Loggerhead Marinelife Center and turtle rehab hospital. All the sea turtles this organization has
rescued — or that people have rescued and brought there — are swimming around
in their own tanks in the Center as they rehabilitate. How. Adorable. Are. They??

6F^^ I also made my first visit to a Bubba Gump’s Shrimp Co. on this trip — wahoo!
This particular Bubba Gump’s was right on the water and had live music.
We ordered every single appetizer on the menu and fancy Mojitos. Not too shabby.

Anyway, after checking out the amazingness of Jupiter for a few days, Lisa and I hopped into her mom’s car and headed down South to our second stop — Marathon Key.

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So this particular Key, my friends, is unlike Key West (if that’s your only experience with the Keys, as was mine). This Key is much, much more … well, low key. Lisa’s parents have owned this particular timeshare at Hawks Nest in Marathon since before Lisa was even born, and Lisa’s whole family has been visiting her entire life. The 7-mile bridge is only a handful of feet from Hawks Nest (cars can no longer drive on the old bridge — which is right next to the newly constructed bridge — so it’s only for walkers and bikers. The old bridge where you can walk is actually only a little over 2 miles in distance each way, so about a 4-mile round trip.), and Lisa and I walked that almost every day. We saw sharks and dolphins and manta rays and starfish and tarpon … it was just one of the most amazing things ….

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8^^ Where we plopped ourselves every single day after our bridge walk. Hello, ocean!

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8B^^ I posted this little guy yesterday as my photo of the week, but how cute is he!?
He came up and swam with this group of children for over an hour,
letting them rub his belly and feed him fresh water from a hose.

8C^^ Did I mention it was my birthday while we were there? Ugh, I’m old ;)
But my sweet, sweet husband made me feel better about being old
by sending me a letter and necklace while I was away, as well as flowers
and he treated us to breakfast on my birthday, as well.
That’s some hubby, I have!

8D^^ Birthday flowers.

8E^^ Beers with a view. (That’s the 7-mile bridge in the background …)

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8G^^ Iguanas were everywhere! We went kayaking through the mangroves
on my birthday (which was insanely awesome!) and our tour guide told us
that she had grown up in Marathon, but that the iguanas had really
become prolific lately, most likely due to people getting them as pets
and then releasing them in the wild once they get too big.

8H^^ Bloody Mary’s at the Sunset Grille & Raw Bar right next to Hawks Nest on our last full day.
We won’t go into detail in terms of how many of these we had …

8I^^ Iguana crossing.

8J^^ Cheeky French Toast on my birthday. Thanks husband!

8K^^ Lisa made shrimp boil for dinner on my birthday. Ummm … it’s my new favorite thing!

8L^^And she made this delicious dessert with homemade whipped cream.
I’m seriously one spoiled lady …

8M^^ Lisa and I took a liking to swinging in the hammocks in the
late afternoon. This was our view.

8N^^ Fried Key Lime Pie at Burdine’s Waterfront on our last full day.
It was every bit as delicious as it looks.

8O^^ We took in the spectacular sunset on our last night and caught
this man paddle boarding with his water-loving pup.
So cute!

8P^^Making pic stitch’s of our time together may have become a theme ;)

After spending seven days in Marathon, I think it’s safe to say all of our cares had melted away. Despite all our relaxation, though, we managed to fit a lot in as well, with the bridge walks and kayaking — we even made it to Key West one night to visit friends and have dinner at Blue Heaven. We left Saturday to drive back to Lisa’s parents’ place in Jupiter, where we once again took advantage of the fabulous weather to take one more long boat ride.

8Q^^ This was an actual hot dog/hamburger stand in the middle of the water. Genius.

8R^^ Ahhh! We saw so many alligators on Saturday’s boat ride! It was crazy!

Saturday night we watched True Lies with Lisa’s parents, since the second to last scene in that movie actually takes place on the 7-mile bridge. So that’s pretty cool.

And that was about it, my friends — our girlfriend’s getaway in a nutshell. We head off to Colorado this upcoming Monday — Boulder, Breckenridge and Denver — with my sister and her bf, so that should be absolutely amazing, as well.

Bis bald, friends! Let me leave you with these awesome moments of beautifulness ….

 

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Vacation on the Horizon …

Hi friends,

So winter is apparently determined to drag on. And on. And on and on and on. I mean …. I’m just about getting a little sick of it. In my mind, if it’s not going to snow (don’t be mad at me, I’m know you’re all sick of the snow, too!), then there’s just no point in having cold weather.

The point is — thanks goodness I’m headed to the Keys next week with my best friend! If you’ll recall, I was in Key West a couple years back with my lovely sisters

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This time I’ll be heading to Marathon Key, which I’m super excited to check out. Then, only one short week after getting back from Florida, Chris and I will head to Colorado (Boulder, Breckenridge and Denver) with my sister and her boyfriend to check everything out.

Ah, the thrill of upcoming travel. It really does give us something to look forward to, doesn’t it?

Bis bald, friends!

 

Our Final Day in Iceland

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Last Monday was our last day in Iceland. (A tear.) We had had an absolutely amazing time up until then, what with making friends and seeing the Northern Lights and watching a geysir explode and eating some delicious food. But we had something on tap for Monday that, if I’m being completely honest, was high up on my list of reasons why I wanted to visit Iceland in the first place.

The Blue Lagoon.

Let me tell you a little bit about this place, my friends. According to their website, “the Blue Lagoon was accidentally formed in 1976 during operation at the nearby geothermal power plant. In the years that followed, people began to bathe in the unique water and apply the silica mud to their skin. Those with psoriasis noticed an incredible improvement in their condition. Over the years, the Blue Lagoon has been innovative in harnessing this gift of nature to develop different spa services and products. Today, Blue Lagoon is recognized as one of the wonders of the world.”

In other words, friends, the Blue Lagoon is straight up magic. The silky blue water is just warm enough that you never want to leave, but not so hot that you can’t stand bathing in it for hours on end. (We were there from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m.) The silica mud — placed in little containers around the outskirts of the Lagoon that you can spoon out and spread on your body — makes your skin feel like perfection and gives you a glow that lasts for weeks for come. There is a swim-up bar with smoothies and wine and beer, a waterfall that you stand underneath whose pressure feels like the best shoulder massage you’ve ever had in your life, a steam and sauna room and so, so, so much more.

Oh, and it’s friggin’ beautiful …
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Photo 7^^ Us after spending four hours in that ridiculousness. See? Aren’t we resplendent ;)

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You can get lockers as part of your Blue Lagoon package (there are a bunch of different package options … we picked the cheapest one), and there is a space to store your luggage. The Blue Lagoon is about 20 minutes from the airport, and about a 40-45 minute ride from Reykjavik, making it the perfect activity either directly after arriving in Iceland or right before heading back home. You can book a package, like we did, that provides transportation to and from the airport and or your hotel.

A word to the wise when it comes to the Lagoon — this is no place for modesty, friends. Full showers are required both before entering the Lagoon and after, and this means sans bathing suit showering. Lots of naked people are gettin’ about in these Lagoon locker rooms, my friends, and there’s no use feeling awkward about it, because you’ll just be out of place. Another tip is to load your hair up with as much conditioner as possible — and leave it in, don’t wash it out — before heading into the water. Even so, you’ll probably end up leaving the Lagoon with a mess of mangled, salty hair, but it’s totally worth it.

And so that was about it. After four hours of relaxing in the Lagoon and the steam room, after smothering our bodies in what could only have been pounds and pounds of silica mud and after eating delicious smoothies, we headed back into the locker rooms to shower and dress and catch our bus to the airport to head home.

Iceland. Oh, Iceland. I had an idea of how amazing you were before I visited you … but I never in a million years could have imagined the impression you would leave.

If it’s within your ability to do so, I would highly recommend making the trip. Believe me … you’ll thank me later.

Bis bald, friends! A quick last-minute addition to my travel list for this year is a trip to Marathon Key with my bff for my birthday in early April. It’s a 10-day trip using her parents’ time share … and yes, I do believe I am one of the lucky ones.

Okay, now bis bald, friends!

 

Our Icelandic Adventure: Day 3

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Last Sunday Chris and I were attempting to wake ourselves up at a reasonable time, after having partied until the wee wee (way past our bedtime) hours  the night before. Luckily for us, the hotel stopped serving breakfast at 10 a.m., a perfect excuse to make sure we got our butts out of bed in time for that.

We were lazy that morning after breakfast (Chris sleeping a bit more, me checking out this truly amazing record store that was on our street — if you love music and you’re in Iceland you must go here … ), but in the afternoon we had booked the Gulfoss and Geysir Express Tour , and I was dying to get out and see more of the Icelandic countryside.

I would explain to you a bit about the tour, but the explanation from the company site is pretty helpful:

“Take an afternoon tour from Reykjavik to experience geysers, waterfalls and some of the most exciting natural phenomena Iceland has to offer. In just six hours you’ll visit the country’s best known historical sites and natural wonders perfect if your time in Iceland is limited.

You will visit Thingvellir, where the Icelandic parliament Alpingi was established in 930. It is here in this geologically unique place that the slowly diverging tectonic plates of America and Europe meet. In 2004 Thingvellir was added to UNESCO’s World Heritage List.

The tour also takes you to the famous Gullfoss waterfall, the spouting hot spring of Geysir and Strokkur. Continuing your journey to Hveragerdi, a small but beautiful horticultural town, you will see how geothermal energy has been harnessed for the unique greenhouse cultivation of all kinds of vegetables, exotic fruit and flowers.”

Here’s a bit of what we saw on that trip …

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Photo 4^^ Shifting tectonic plates — how cool is that?! Directly across the water from us was the U.K.
And at one point driving on this tour you are on the North American continent,
then you literally drive over the line into Europe. I love stuff like that.

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Photo 7^^ Short, fat horses are everywhere in Iceland! Driving through the countryside
on this tour was absolutely breathtaking. One thing we learned about the horses, though –
if they don’t perform up to Icelandic standards, or aren’t of the right temperament, they get eaten.
Our tour guide would say: “Well, if the horse is mean or can’t get along with the other
horses, we have a solution for that …” Oh and also, riding horses is a perfectly
acceptable way to get around town in these smaller towns. So if you go to a bar,
you may see a line of horses parked outside because, as our guide says, they
have strict laws in Iceland about driving cars when you’re drunk … but  not so much for horses.

Photo 8^^ How beautiful is the Gulfoss waterfall? It was at the restaurant here that
Chris had traditional Icelandic Meat Soup with lamb and vegetables.
Our tour guide said this is something people from Icelandic typically eat every week.

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Photo 12^^ And the geysirs … the amazing, awesome geysirs.

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Photo 13^^ They had little signs next to each one telling you how hot they were.
This one was around 80 degrees. Hot!

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I should mention here a few things about Iceland that I haven’t yet. For starters, the water that comes out of their tap is natural spring water — some of the best water in the world. There is no need for bottled water or filters here. (Which is why when I tried to buy a bottle at the grocery store the night before, the clerk told me to put it back. “This is the same as what comes out of your faucets. A waste of money to buy this,” he said. Thanks for the tip, Mr!) The hot water is also natural, geothermally heated water, and it has that sulfer, rotten egg smell? You know the one I’m talking about? At first it’s a bit off-putting, but after a while you tend to get used to it and barely even notice.

It was on this tour that the guide talked to us about the economy in Iceland. Since the government went bankrupt a few years back, everything in the country had become astronomically expensive for the locals (which we can attest to), but much, much cheaper for travelers. For example — the dinner we ordered later Sunday night would have cost us $170 Krona, but we paid for it on credit card, and it only came out to $106. There is no minimum wage in Iceland, they pay 40% of their wages to taxes, and there are very few “good” jobs, with most of those jobs located in Reykjavik. This means many people can’t afford to actually live in Reykjavik, because it’s too expensive, but they have to work there to make even a decent wage — and they end up commuting hours every day, and working up to 10 hours a day, just to make ends meet. People are fleeing the country in droves, our guide said — to include important professionals, like doctors. To make matters worse, there is really no rental market in Iceland, meaning people are forced to buy their homes, even when they can’t necessarily afford to.

Very sad.

Oftentimes people who work in one place and live in another hitch rides with the tour buses for free if there is extra room. We ended up giving a young girl a ride from her job at the geysirs to the town where she lived about 25 minutes away. It was all very interesting.

Back in Reykjavik we decided to head out for our last night on the town. We made our way back to Bunk (which, if you’ll recall, we had tried the night before but it was closing), and really loved it. It had a very low-key, laid back vibe, and was the perfect place to relax before heading out to dinner.

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Photo 24^^ Andddddd, we tried Brennivin — aka Black Death — Iceland’s signature distilled Schnapps liquor.
It was …. strong! And gross. But when in Iceland …

Photo 25^^ We passed this little sign of loveliness on our way to dinner. Oh Iceland — you’re simply the best.

We headed to Snaps for dinner around 9 p.m., and the place was finally starting to slow down. We had a perfectly lovely (if somewhat forgetful!) French waitress, who said hello to us in three languages (since in Iceland you never really know where people are from). Throughout the night (which was a really long one, since we’re pretty sure she never thought we wanted to order dinner and it took us about an hour of being there before we finally tracked her down to tell her we did, in fact, want to eat), we discovered that she has a Norwegian Forest cat, just like we do, that she was from France, she was engaged, and that she wasn’t really a waitress by trade — she normally gives hiking tours of volcanos … how cool! — but that she had a friend who worked at Snaps and she was just helping out. We ordered wine and this to-die-for zucchini and cream cheese appetizer, and I ordered mussels and frittes (you have never seen a plate of mussels like this before!), and Chris got the lamb steak with bearnaise sauce, which he says was delicious as well.

All in all I we give Snaps a 5-star rating. Tasty. Fun. Great place to people watch. If in Iceland, you must go here.

Of course our filling meal didn’t stop us from stopping back at the hot dog stand on the way home. I ordered the hot dog bun with the works, sans hot dog (which the man who made it for me promised was not a weird order) — and it was everything I had hoped it would be.

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We took our one and only cab ride home that night, and ended up with a Russian driver who told us he used to be a professional hand ball player, and that he had family back home in Russia he was trying to support, but basically backed up everything our tour guide had mentioned earlier about how hard it is to make a living wage in Iceland. Poor Russian cab driver — we really do wish you the best.

And that was Sunday, my friends. The next day, our last day, was spent at this amazing little place called The Blue Lagoon — ahhhhhh the Blue Lagoon! But more on that later …

Bis bald, friends!

Remember When It Was Day 2 in Iceland …

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Last Saturday night Chris and I boarded a bus with Icelandic Excursions and set out in search of the Northern Lights.

Here’s something that I’ll say about chasing the Northern Lights in Iceland. In February. No matter how rugged up you think you are — you are not. If you think you have too many pairs of socks on … you do not. Do whatever you can to stay as warm as you can while you’re out there, because you could be out there for a very, very long time.

Icelandic Excursions was a great company to ride with. They only take their tour groups to spots where there’s an area to grab a coffee or hot chocolate or beer and go to the bathroom, and they’re willing to stay out pretty much for however long it takes to find you those dang Northern Lights.

(P.S. I’m no scientist, but this is a pretty great explanation of how the Northern Lights come to be … you should definitely check it out. Nature is amazing.)

Back to Saturday. So we traveled about an hour outside of Reykjavik to this huge field where we all disembarked and waited. And waited. And waited. We were here for about an hour or so before my feet started to feel like they were going to fall off and I needed a hot chocolate and a bathroom break.

The lights here were …. well … pretty fantastic friends.

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Photo 18But they were about to get even more fantastic. Our amazing tour guide had told us on the ride to the first spot that if they got word of a better siting of the lights elsewhere, we would all hop on the bus at a moment’s notice and speed off to said second site — and that’s exactly what we did. Chris and I were warming up on the bus for a second (so nice they keep the heat on!) when everyone else started piling on. For a second we thought we were done, but it turns out we were just moving to our second place.

We actually started to see the lights pretty brightly from on the bus as we were driving, so the driver did the quickest parking job he could and we all raced off the bus and into the field and started snapping away ….

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Just magnificent, people. The light Gods were with us that night, and it was an experience we’ll absolutely never forget.

We arrived back in the city around 12:30 that night — just about the perfect time to get ready to head out for the night! You guys, I’m not ashamed to say that on a normal night, by 12:30 I’d be well into my slumber. We’re talking deep REM sleep, friends. So it turned out that it was a good thing we waited until Saturday to go out, because coming off our Northern Lights tour I was still revved and excited and raring to go — much different from the night before when we had had maybe four hours of sleep.

So we drank some of the wine and beer we had purchased the night before and ate some of the cheese, uploaded some photos of the Northern Lights to Facebook and Instagram (I’m only human), and headed back out into the night around 1 a.m.

And it. Was. Bumpin’! These Icelanders are serious about their partying, and they do not mess around! Our waitress from Mar earlier in the day had recommended that we start off at a place called Bunk, but when we went in a little after 1 it was getting ready to close. Lame. (Don’t worry, we made it back there the following night.)

So onto the bar next door — Boston. I’d say we were here for a little over an hour, and it had a really nice atmosphere. It wasn’t crazy crowded, and everyone seemed happy and friendly and a bunch of the girls were dancing around. It was dark and homey, and there were two floors, one with oversized comfy couches and chairs and the other more of a party area. We liked it here. Boston was definitely a good find.

Then, friends, we made our way over to Prikid. By now it must have been around 3 a.m., and the line was starting to grow at this particular bar. We didn’t have to wait long — although the bouncers did card every single person who entered before us, stopped and looked us up and down, and then let us right in sans being carded.

Ouch. Guess we’re old looking.

I should preface our Prikid experience by saying that we had stumbled upon this bar guide of Reykjavik before our trip, which is amazing. You may notice that under the explanation for Prikid they say that the atmosphere is “Homey; low key,” and:

“Primary reason to go there To
find a mate; to chat with friends; to
bolster an image; to pretend to work
on your book of poetry; to toke on a
doobie.”

Photo 24^^ I took this photo of Prikid much earlier in the night the Friday before, simply because I
thought the place looked cool. It’s pretty low-key around 9 p.m. Not so much around 2:30 a.m.

And while I guess I could sort of see how the doobie part is accurate, the last thing I would call Prikid is “homey”, nor did I consider it a good place to “pretend to work on my book of poetry.”

Nevertheless, it was a lot of fun. We met a really young looking kid wearing two hats and a sweatshirt who told us his name was Massimo and that he was a professional some-sport-or-other that was just shy of being an Olympics-approved sport. He was from Boston, but he had lived in Iceland for three years, and he absolutely loved it there. He owned three snowmobiles and he showed us pictures of him riding them.

These are the things you talk about at 3 a.m. at a bar in Iceland to a random stranger when you are slightly intoxicated.

He was with a girl who seemed really annoyed the entire time we were with them. When I asked her if Massimo was her boyfriend, she scoffed and said no, they were just friends. Please, lady. I can smell a crush from a mile away.

Downstairs the bar was pumping the rap and R&B music, it was crowded and dark and the bar tenders kept swinging these low-hanging lamps that were all around the bar so that there was this constant feeling of movement right above your head.

It was …. really fun! At one point a very drunk boy at the bar came up to Chris and asked him for money for a drink (we did not oblige), and while I was waiting in line to use the bathroom a very nice young woman who looked to be about 19 or 20 started talking to me for no reason. Just because we were standing there. And she was nice. And that’s what Icelanders do.

Oh Iceland, how I love thee.

After Prikid we headed over to Baejarins beztu pylsur.

Did you get all that?

Anyway, it’s the most famous hot dog stand in Iceland (some say it’s even the best restaurant there), and Chris got a hot dog with the works.

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The thing about my husband, you see, is that he doesn’t even really like hot dogs. However, this hot dog, he says, was the best hot dog he’d ever had in his life. I guess for a person who doesn’t like hot dogs that isn’t really saying much? He seemed happy about it though, and the line was long to get one, so they must be something special. (Don’t worry, I tried one the following night, sans actual hot dog, and at least I can attest to the fact that “the works” part of the hot dog was pretty great!)

And that was about it friends. Our Saturday in a nutshell. The Northern Lights, bar hopping and hot dogs. We headed home around 5 in the morning (but not before stopping at the grocery store to pick up cup of noodles and some caramel chocolate to eat when we got home … geez I must have been drunk!), feeling happy, buzzed and alive.

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Bis bald, friends! Tomorrow it’s on to Day 3.

Our Icelandic Adventure: Day 2

I’m baaackkkk! So Day 2 of our Icelandic Adventure really was quite the day my friends. It was the day that Chris and I got to take part in something that a very limited number of people will ever get to see. Like, ever.

I’ll give you a hint.

_DSC5209^^ Oh my!

But I’m getting ahead of myself. We started the morning and early afternoon off by renting bikes from this very Harley-looking dude on a very dilapidated street with lots of graffiti that was only a few blocks from our hotel and only one street over from one of the main downtown streets.

And it may have been freezing that day (and in some parts treacherously icy!), my friends, but the views were still absolutely glorious. We rode around the entire rim of the city from about 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., just taking it all in …

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Photo 6^^ One of the natural thermal beaches that you’ll find all around Iceland. Pretty amazing.

After our ride we were both eager for some coffee to warm us up, and I really wanted a tasty treat. (You know me!) So we stopped by C is for Cookie Cafe in the downtown area for some coffee and the most delicious (and expensive at $8 for one slice!) warm apple pie and whipped cream.

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Here is where I need to make note of something that totally and 100% intrigued me. When you are in a new place, one of the most amazing things is to note the cultural differences. What’s considered totally normal and average in one place could be considered inconsiderate or rude in another. So when we first approached the cafe, I noticed that about three or four strollers were parked outside next to the big windows surrounding the place. So they don’t bring strollers inside places, I thought. Interesting.

It didn’t end there, though. As it turns out, it seemed to me that, at least in this one particular instance that I saw, babies who were asleep when their parents arrived were left outside. In the carriages. All bundled up and sleeping soundly away. One mother inside had a baby monitor at the table with her, but I didn’t really think twice about it … until I later realized that the reason was because her baby was asleep outside in her stroller!

Amazing!

My first thought was about the cold, but in the days since I’ve seen this and have mentioned it to people, the first thought that springs to most people’s minds is the fact that crime must not be a big issue here. That’s promising, I guess? As blown away by this realization as I was when I first understood it, it’s as I said — what’s considered commonplace in one country can be completely baffling in another.

So much to learn about this world.

Anyway, moving on. After the coffee we decided to kick it up a notch to beer. Chris used his Happy Hour app and discovered a happy hour happening at Mar, a fancy little restaurant near the water with maps on the wall showing you all the different countries from which they draw inspiration for their cuisine.

We didn’t do cuisine though — we just did drinks ;) And we chatted up the bartender to no end about the ins and outs of going out on a weekend with the Icelanders. She suggested good bars for us to visit (one of which was prikid, which I have so much to say about!), and confirmed to me that yes, things do indeed tend to get a bit crazy on weekends in Iceland and yes, drunken shenanigans most definitely would ensue.

At least I was prepared.

After Mar we headed towards the water to climb up a hut made out of hay which is used to dry fish and take pictures of the water.

Weird sentence — but that’s exactly what we did.

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Photo 9^^ Silly husband. I think those aren’t for riding.

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Photo 12^^ See. A hut of straw that you climb up.

photo 1 (56)^^ See. Dried fish guts inside the hut.

photo 2 (60)^^ Top of the hut.

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Walking home from our hut adventure we stopped by The Kebab House for dinner (see review here), which was decent but not all that memorable. Chris got the fish and chips (said he’s had better) and I got a veggie pita, which was pretty okay. Wouldn’t be the first on my list of dining recommendations for Iceland, let’s just say. Although there was a group of rowdy men drinking beer at the table behind us for a while when we first arrived, and at one point they broke out into Icelandic song. So that part I really enjoyed!

So that night, friends. That night. It was the night of all nights. It was the night of our Northern Lights Tour, as well as the night we went out into the town.

There’s so much to say about both of these amazing things, and I’ve already written so much for today — I’m making an executive editorial decision to cut our Day 2 in half. Yup. Just decided.

Tune in tomorrow, my friends, for an update on our Northern Lights Tour and our adventure with the crazy Icelandic party animals!

I guess in that case the first photo I shared with you was a tease. Oh well, what can you do! Bis bald!

P.S. I’m noticing in my dashboard that I’m getting some readers from Iceland on both this and yesterday’s posts — Hi Iceland! So happy to have you!

Our Icelandic Adventure: Day 1

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Hey friends,

As you all know by now, Chris and I returned home from our (awesome. amazing. unreal. fantastic. insert-fabulous-adjective here) trip to Iceland late last night, and I’ve been busting to share the info and photos with you. Alas, a full day of work has kept me from doing so until now.

Anyway, moving on. Coming home from a trip like this. just. plain. sucks! But going through all the photos and writing down the memories here to keep forever … well that’s just really fun.

Here we go! Day 1 in Iceland began last Friday, at around 6 a.m., Icelandic time ….

After a quick (and somewhat cramped) overnight flight from JFK, we landed at Keflavik Airport a little before our expected arrival time of 6 a.m. Which was actually 1 a.m. NY time.

Who needs sleep when you’re young?!

We had booked a shuttle transfer from the airport to our hotel, the Best Western, ahead of time, which I would highly, highly  recommend since it was so easy and cheap (approximately $15), and you do not want to get to Iceland and have to worry about how you’re getting to your hotel, since if you’re staying in Reykjavik, it will probably be about an hour away. Like I said, we stayed at the Best Western Hotel Reykjavik (Trip Advisor reviews can be found here), which was a tad off the beaten track from downtown Reykjavik (about a 10 to 15 minute walk to the city center, I’d say) — but the front desk ladies were always completely lovely and extremely helpful, and a decent breakfast was included, and the price was right … so really, I’d say if you don’t mind walking a bit to get to the really hopping part of town, it’s worth staying at the Best Western.

Of course getting in at 6 a.m. and arriving to our hotel around 7 a.m. meant we couldn’t check right in. Instead we stored our bags and hit the streets! The cold, dark streets. Neither one of us really had any idea where we were going (and it stayed that way for about a good 20 minutes, I’d say. Why didn’t we just ask for directions?!), and the sun doesn’t rise until about 9:30 a.m. in the winter in Iceland, but none of that mattered — we were on an adventure! We spent the morning walking around downtown, drinking coffee at Te & Kaffi (also read about it here), stumbling upon the most adorable and classy violin-making shop I’ve ever seen (note to self: take up the violin again), and checking out some of the local stores in the downtown area, most of which don’t open until the sun has fully risen by 10 a.m.

Photo 1^^ The gorgeous church that pretty much starts the main drag of downtown Reykjavik.
Also, this picture was taken around 8 a.m. Nary a glimmer of sunlight in the sky!

Photo 2^^ Umm, right?! How amazing is this violin studio??

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photo 4^^ One of these things is not like the other …

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During our wanders we also happened upon The Laundromat Cafe, which I had read about and knew I wanted to visit. The place has a seriously adorable, 70s-style laundromat downstairs, while the upstairs doubles as a restaurant by day, bar by night, and all-around bookstore (they color code their books, like I do!) and people-watching heaven.

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Oh, and my eggs and tomatoes weren’t too shabby, either. (As it turns out, Icelanders are pretty proud of their tomatoes. They consider all other tomatoes grown from outside of the country to just not be good enough … and after tasting theirs, I can see why.)

By the time we made it back outside it was snowing gently — the perfect Icelandic weather! We made our way slowly back to the hotel (not before picking up some wine at the local store for later) to finally check in and take a nap before heading back out into the day. (As a side note, I’ve already mentioned that the sun doesn’t rise until 9:30ish in the winter in Iceland, but it also sets around 5 p.m., so if you’re a daylight lover, you really need to plan your time wisely to make the most out of what little you’ll get of it if you travel here in February. I wasn’t quite sure how I would take the fewer hours of daylight. As it turns out, I didn’t mind it even one tiny little bit.)

After our nap, we headed over to Cinema No: 2, which I had also read about, to take in two videos — one on the formation of Iceland and its geography and people, and another on the Northern Lights (for which we would have a tour to try to find ourselves the following night). The Cinema was small but super cozy, with couches and an old-school popcorn machine and a lovely man in a warm sweater to take your money at the door. The “movie screen” is really a projector screen, and the videos themselves seem pretty old, but it doesn’t matter. The history of Iceland and its nature and the Northern Lights have been set for years, so there’s really not much updating that needs to be done. On the other hand, it’s a bit expensive (about $30 for both of us) … but it was worth it. A very nice thing to do on your first day in Iceland. Just be sure to double-check the times if this is something you’d like to do on your own trip. The Cinema isn’t open all day (I believe we went around 6 p.m. to catch our movies), so it would be a shame to head all the way over there and miss them.

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After the movies we went straight to Micro Bar, a tiny little bar located behind the lobby of The Center Hotel, practically directly across the street from The Laundromat Cafe. (Also check it out in this list of the 11 coolest bars in Reykjavik, which I really wish I had seen before we left for our trip. But that’s okay … I think we did just fine. The trick is to just ask the locals … but more on that later!) This funky little place is actually a microbrewery, and we were able to sample four of their most delicious beers for the low, low price of $20.

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I think here might actually be a good place to mention prices in Iceland. Ummmm …. they be expensive!!! And we live in Manhattan, friends, so when someone from Manhattan calls another place expensive? Well, you just know it must be true. I’ll get a bit more into the finances of Iceland (or lack thereof) in day three, though, because that’s when we learned all about it. For the purpose of today’s blog post, let’s just put it out there that if you travel to Reykjavik, be prepared to drop some cash, friends. It’s one of the best places I’ve been in the world (What?! Did she really just say that?!), but it’s no cheap place to visit.

All of this detracts, however, from the awesomeness that is Micro Bar. It has such a homey, low-key vibe, with subdued lighting and tasty snacks and lovely bartenders, and the most adorable paintings of mountains (each with something tiny and surprising to find that makes it different) on the walls — this is a must while in Iceland.

I guess here is also a good place to tell you about what our original plans were for Friday night. As anyone who has ever read anything about Reykjavik or has been there will know — on the weekends, these people know how to party! They party hard and loud and long into the night. Like, they start the bar hopping around 12:30 or 1, friends. This is no joke. So knowing this was a Reykjavik ritual that we would most definitely be partaking in, we thought we’d grab a quick drink and dinner early, then head back to the hotel with some wine from the local liquor store (conveniently located near Micro Bar), some snacks from the grocery and take a quick power nap before heading out again around 12:30 or 1.

For dinner, we had originally tried to make a reservation at Fridrik V, but unfortunately we couldn’t get in. Then we read about Snaps (which also made that top beer places list I linked out to above), but they were pretty booked when we tried there as well. (Don’t worry, we did make it to Snaps, eventually.) We instead stumbled on Noodle Station, a hole-in-the-wall Thai soup store that smelled delicious and had lots of locals eating there. So that’s where we ate our first night, and it was spectacular, friends. To be fair, I’m going to go ahead and just say that we didn’t eat anything bad, per se, at all on this trip. (You can pretty much assume this means we didn’t eat any traditional Icelandic food — like whale, or Puffin. Ummm…needless to say I’m okay with that, and so is Chris.) So the Noodle Station on Friday night was delicious, but it wasn’t our best meal. Still, it’s worth a shot for lunch or if you’re in need of a quick nighttime meal, for sure.

On the way back to our hotel for some wine and our (what was meant to be a) power nap, we stopped at the grocery store for some cheese and crackers. We were also hoping to find some playing cards (which we without fail always forget to bring on trips), and when they didn’t have any for sale, the lovely man behind the counter who rang us up actually ended up pulling out a pack from behind the register and just giving them to us completely for free. I mean … how lovely! It was really a small act of kindness that made our night.

So that was pretty much our first day in Iceland, friends! I’m going to spare you the expense and just say we never made it out Friday night (100% my fault), but did get out with the crazy crowd on Saturday night … and it was every bit as much fun as everything I had read.

But more on that tomorrow. (That and a little thing called the Northern Lights!)

Bis bald, friends!

 

Travel Alert — Our South American Trip is Planned, People!

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So after much, much, much planning, research, debate, blood, sweat and tears on our part, Chris and I have finally locked down a South America itinerary that we’re — well let’s just say it — absolutely ecstatic with! Here’s how it goes:

We’ll arrive in Cusco, Peru a couple days ahead of our 5-day tour of the Inca Trail and Machu Picchu with Cusi Travel. That tour looks a little something like this:

Day 1 – Cusco City Tour
Day 2 – Sacred Valley Tour
Day 3-4- Inca Trail/Machu Picchu 2D/1N
Day 5 – flight to Quito

In Quito we’ll connect with our second tour group, Southern Explorations, for our 12-day tour of the Galapagos Islands (I can’t breathe when I type that I’m so excited) and the Amazon Rainforest. That tour includes jungle walks, butterfly sanctuaries, canoe rides, bird watching, canopy walks and zip lines in the Amazon, as well as walks along Darwin’s Way, snorkeling with Galapagos penguins, sea lion, giant tortoise and Blue-footed Booby meetings, and so much more, in the Galapagos.

We’ll end the trip with a little over a week at an all-inclusive beach resort in Tamarindo, Costa Rica.

I don’t think I really need to tell you guys just how excited we are for this trip. It’s the trip of a lifetime, and we feel more than a little lucky to be able to go on it.

Oh, and in other news … we leave Thursday for our trip to Iceland. That snuck up on us! Can’t wait to share all that info and the photos here with you guys when we’re back. As a heads up, we’ll be taking a Northern Lights tour, as well as a Gulfoss and Geysir Express Afternoon tour and a trip to the Blue Lagoon.

Bis bald, friends! Here’s to really livin’ it up in 2014!

Photo courtesy of Cusi Travel

 

 

 

The Changing Tastes of Travelers

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The fuzzy photo above was taken a mere seven years ago (which now that I write that actually does seem like a really, really long time ago … sheesh I’m getting old!). It was taken in Hawaii, and it’s me and my friend Faye — who was living there at the time — jumping off a waterfall into the water below.

To be fair, you can’t quite tell from the photo, but the water wasn’t all that far away. There was, however, a particularly ominous sign posted nearby, warning would-be jumpers of a tiny little parasite that lives in the water and was quite fond of swimming up people’s bums, should they happen to be standing around in the water for a while.

You can’t make this stuff up.

All of this is to say, friends, that the activities that I would allow my younger self to do are slowly becoming fond memories, and not necessarily things that I plan to continue doing in my travel future. I feel that, as a 30-year-old traveler, I’m somewhere in this weird sweet spot, travelwise. While I’m still perfectly happy to go hiking in Arizona (even on days when I probably shouldn’t) and snorkeling at The Great Barrier Reef and in Jamaica, I also feel perfectly comfortable saying that staying in a hostel, bungee jumping and SCUBA diving are probably all off at the table at this point.

That’s why I’m thrilled to have read this story in The New York Times yesterday about a brand spankin’ new travel tour company — YOMADS — which is specifically geared towards those of us in the 20- to 40-year-old range. The prices for tours tend to be cheaper than what you’ll find with other typical tour companies (about $1,200 to $2,800, excluding airfare and some meals, according to the Times), and there are a ton of options to pick from like Turkey, South Africa and Morocco, to name a few.

The company is fledgling, and the first trips depart on March 8 so there aren’t any reviews out yet. It seems promising though, definitely a company to keep your eye on.

Now excuse me while I go plan out where YOMADS might take myself and Chris next. (I can hear the Greek and Alaskan trips calling to me …)