Wistful Nostalgia …

Can there be such a thing?

Well guys — Chris and I have been in Denver for about 3 1/2 weeks now, and while I’m not necessarily homesick, I would say I’m feeling a certain wistful nostalgia for all the plans we made last year and all the traveling we did. From South America to Australia to traveling cross-country — along with all the time we spent with my family at home in between — I loved every last second of it, and as Chris and I were just saying: we wouldn’t have changed one damn thing.

So I guess it’s a good thing that I haven’t had time to upload the photos from my camera since right after South America, then, because it afforded me the opportunity to relive November, December and the beginning of January all over again.

And I thought I’d share some of that here … you know, in case you wanted to partake in my wistful nostalgia.

Robert_Birthday^^ A big ole’ plate of ribs for Robert’s birthday. (I refrained, obviously, but I’m told they were delicious.)

_DSC0444^^ This. Face.

_DSC0456^^ This boy loves his trains.

_DSC0463^^ It’s Dad’s job to carve the turkey every year, and he only eats about half of it while he’s doing so 😉

Bryant_Park^^ Chris and I managed to make it back to the city in between hanging with fam, too. We even made to my favorite place in the entire world to ice skate — Bryant Park.

Grand_Central^^ A blurry but still beautiful Grand Central.

Gingerbread_Cookie^^ Mom and I made some gingerbread cookies that, much to my surprise, turned out pretty fabulous!

Connor_Boys^^ These Connor boys … too cute!

_DSC0469^^ Beautiful Sydney in the background.

_DSC0474^^ So grateful for these Sydney friends of ours! (And so excited to meet their little baby, coming in just a few months now!)

_DSC0486^^ Watson’s Bay waves.

_DSC0504
Sydney_Lights^^ Sydney blues.

Canberra_Winery^^ Chris and I were lucky enough to be able to spend a whole week with his sister and her boo in Canberra. Kate took the week off to hang with us, and it was pretty much the best ever. This little pooch hung out with us while we did some wine tasting at a vineyard in the area.

Christmas_Sign^^ Pssst…it really wasn’t. Because it was hot. And there was no snow. But it was still one of my all-time fave Christmas’ ever!

Parliament_House^^ Kate works at Old Parliament house, and we were lucky enough to get an insider’s tour.

Big_Things^^ I couldn’t agree more with this saying on display in one of the rooms at Old Parliament House.

_DSC0527^^ The Australian Coat of Arms at the new Parliament House.

_DSC0539^^ Bro and sis … duh!

_DSC0545^^ I call this one “Me, Kate and the Kangaroos.”

_DSC0551

_DSC0559

Licorice_Factory^^ After Canberra Chris and I headed off to Coolaman to visit one of his besties from college. While there we took some time to visit the Junee Licorice and Chocolate Factory (where I simply had to snap this photo because comeon!! Do these two not remind you of Lucy and Ethel working at the chocolate factory?! Simply the best.) We also ….

Shrimp^^ Had a seriously amazing seafood feast that included these babies — which are pretty much a staple in my diet any time I’m in Australia.

_DSC0578^^ After Coolaman we drove to the Taronga Zoo in Dubbo. This zoo is amazing, folks. We rented bikes (which I highly recommend), and rode around catching all the shows that we could. With over 4,000 animals and more than 20 keeper talks every single day, there is so much to see here. And the wide open zoo plan means that the animals are as close to their natural habitat as possible. It’s really pretty amazing.

_DSC0588

_DSC0645

_DSC0708^^ The Galapagos Giant Tortoise!

_DSC0729

_DSC0741

_DSC0776

Meerkat_Manor

After the zoo we headed back to spend our final week — Christmas week — in Bathurst with the fam.

Hair_Cut

Men_at_Work

Molly_Baby

Christmas_Lights

Bon_Bons

Jimmy_Sunshine

The_Connors^^ The original Connor Clan.

Nan_Nan^^ You can’t quite tell, but there’s a Nannan being hugged under there 😉

Grand_Kids^^ Nannan with most (not all!) of her grandkids and great-grandkids!

Kate_Nan

_DSC0827^^ An impromptu game of cricket in the park … nothing more Aussie than that.

_DSC0838

_DSC0853^^ These two.

_DSC0881^^ Andddd now we’re on to St. Louis! That’s Chris there, that teeny, tiny blob on the bottom right.

_DSC0887^^ Me in the teeny, tiny pods that carry you to the top of the St. Louis Arch.

_DSC0892^^ The view from the top = spectacular.

_DSC0895

_DSC0925^^ Dred and Harriet Scott statue in front of the courthouse.

And that’s it, friends. Nothing like a walk down memory lane (and a rockin’ blog for documenting it all) to make you feel better, right?

Bis bald, friends! And here’s to future plans and travels and adventures that are just as exciting as those of our pasts.

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.

_DSC0236

_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.

IMG_5321

_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!

The Galapagos Islands: Back When I Was Fulfilling a Dream of Mine

_DSC0107

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!

_DSC0002

_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?

_DSC0105

_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 😉

_DSC8961

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

_DSC9025

_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!

_DSC9265

_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!

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.

52-250px

Marathon Key … Tomorrow!

Hiya friends,

Things here have been a bit … hectic! We were in Pennsylvania this past weekend for our nephew’s first birthday party, which was so cute and fun :

Rory1

Rory2^^Photographers who can wrangle kids into taking awesome, synchronized photos deserve a medal.

Rory3^^ But the mayhem is fun, too 😉

Rory4

Rory5^^ The best we could do 😉

Until Sunday night when my whole family started to drop like flies as we one-by-one contracted pretty much the same stomach bug.

Yuck.

Anyway, we’re moving on from that, because thank goodness I’m better for tomorrow, when I fly out to Marathon Key! I’ll be gone for 10 whole blissful days (yahoo!), and my best friend and I plan to do nothing but lay in the sun, go out on the boat, snorkel and drink tasty drinks the entire time, with maybe a little hiking thrown in here and there.

I’ll be back in early April (holy cow, April!) to update you on the happenings in Marathon Key. Until then, bis bald, my friends!

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

DSCN1922

DSCN1936

DSCN1947

DSCN1955

DSCN1956

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

Photo 1

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 …
Photo 2

Photo 3

Photo 4

Photo 5

Photo 6

Photo 7^^ Us after spending four hours in that ridiculousness. See? Aren’t we resplendent 😉

Photo 8

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!