Countdown to Europe

We are leaving in 2 days to visit our son in Europe and until I get to the airport,  I will be working on winding down this semester of school along with working on finalizing travel plans and packing.  To add to this, I had a very interesting Facetime call from our son’s host family on Sunday.

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Shonbrunn Palace, Vienna

Now several weeks ago, his host mother had told us (through our son) that she thought that our planned itinerary was not exactly what she would recommend. So she was going to send me an email on her suggestions which I was very excited about.   I mean, who knows an area like a local?! I will take any ideas that I can get.  No email came which I shrugged off as we are all busy and no matter what this will be a great trip.

So back to Sunday- I Facetimed with the host brother who speaks amazing English. After a long conversation and background discussion (of which I could not understand much at all), the conclusion was that we had too much time in Prague and Budapest.  Their suggestion was that we change the order of visits and we needed to add in Krakow & Auschwitz.  I am quite open to the suggestions, and change.  I am also very cognizant that we are leaving in 4 days…. And some places did not have much available for hotels or Air B&B rentals when I booked 8 weeks ago.  But my son has told me many times that culturally, planning too far ahead is not typical in Slovakia.

It was an interesting difference in perception.  I could not hardly imagine going to a foreign county where I don’t speak the language without a place to stay, especially in the busy travel season.  On the other hand, the host family was pretty puzzled that we had locked in places to stay for part of the trip.  So, on their request, I gave them our reservation information to see if they could alter the dates we are in  Prague or maybe just add Krakow in the  middle.

No updates since Sunday, but that is not unusual.  So where will we be and when – to be determined.

This trip is going to be alot about flow- finding it, going with it and embracing it.  And boy am I ready!

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Summer Festivals

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I am feeling nostalgic this week as the sun is shining, the trees are blooming and spring feels it is has finally arrived.  I know that this weekend is the Fruita Fat Tire Festival in Fruita, CO and I am missing hanging out at the Hot Tomato Café and having a New Belgium beer with all my fellow mountain bikers and friends.

That got me to thinking about some of the other festivals we have gone to over the years.  Colorado seems to have had more than her share.

blues-and-brews-2-500x272Telluride is mountain town at the end of a box canyon and surrounded by 13,000 foot peaks of the San Juan moutains in southwestern Colorado. It has a culture all its own – you really can’t explain it, you just have to experience it. In the winter, the skiing cannot be beat. And from mud season/spring until the snow flies, Telluride is packed with the festivals that should be on everyone’s list (http://www.visittelluride.com/festivals-events/signature-events).  There are so many different festival types that there is one for everyone.  And the location cannot be beat.

IMG_0389We returned to Colorado last fall to attend the Blues and Brews Festival.  It’s the kind of event that you buy your tickets well in advance of knowing what the line-up will be because you know it will be worth it.  The gorgeous fall colors, warm bordering on hot days and great music gets combined with nights that require 3-4 layers to make it through the last set.  And at the end of music on the stage, the bands move to intimate venues around town: from a tent to a 1800s theatre.  It was a fabulous weekend.

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The one I wish I was heading to this year is the Telluride Bluegrass Festival. Don’t let the name fool you – it has every type of roots music you can imagine.  The 40th anniversary lineup is amazing: from the String Cheese Incident to Mumford & Sons to Bela Fleck and Emmylou Harris.  And it is popular- the passes sold out in just 4 hours in December 2012.  We went a few years ago and it ranks as one of my most memorable festival experiences.

Also on myattend list is the Mountain Film Festival which is over Memorial weekend (tickets still available!).  Other options are the Wine FestivalBalloon Festival  or the Yoga Festival.  And that is not even starting on the arts festivals.

There are lots more Colorado towns with unique, popular or unknown festivals and celebrations, but Telluride has to be one of my favorites and holds special place for me.  So here is to spring and summer and wonderful days ahead!

Is there a town or place that says Summer Festival to you? If so, please share in the comment section below.

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Photo 3 &4  – my own

 

What Not to Pack

I have already admitted my decidedly marginal packing skills. Although I don’t currently have the need to lives for months at a time from a backpack, there are things that should be left out of you suitcase.

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So, let’s look at the inverse of yesterday’s post and discuss some things not to pack:

  1. Jeans.  They are heavy, bulky, and can’t be washed easily.   They stay behind.
  2. Books.   As an avid reader, it pains me to write that. But books add weight, lots of weight as my spouse can attest to from several trips to Mexico.  The e-readers have changed how I travel – as many books as I want and no extra weight. It is worth the investment.
  3. I love guidebooks, but you don’t necessarily need the whole thing.  You can tear out the pages that you need.  Or get it as an e-book.
  4. I don’t think you should leave it behind, but I encourage you to think about how you use your  iPod.  By using those headphones, you are closing off the world.  At times this can be beneficial, like on a long train or plane trip or if you are too exhausted to have a coherent conversation. But if you always have those earbuds in, you are missing on some of the best parts of traveling: the new sounds, languages, people watching and meeting new people.
  5. If it isn’t going to be snowing, do you really need a jacket?  Many times you can get away with a long sleeved shirt and a few layers. Or just a lighter jacket.
  6. Anything that screams tourist: money belt, fanny pack, white athletic shoes, or an ethnocentric attitude. Please leave these behind for everyone’s sake.
  7. Instead of packing photocopies of important documents, scan them and upload to something like Dropbox….  That way you can have secure access if you need it, but aren’t carrying around copies that could disappear.
  8. Valuables or anything you would be devastated to lose. To me, it is not worth it.
  9. Bulky towel.  Try a swimmer’s or backpacking towel. They are very lightweight and take up very little space.
  10. Big, bulky, heavy pillow.  Now, I break this all the time.  I am a pillow snob and I take my pillow with me wherever I go. But I lose a lot of space and add a lot of weight when I do.  It is worthy trade off for me, but it probably is not for most people.

What are examples of things that you taken with you and either never used or regretted dragging them along? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below!

What to Pack

Some people pack well.  I am not one of them.  I have a terrible habit of packing for ‘just in case’- as in packing for everything from the beach to a fancy dinner to a hike.  I have done a very good job of flying with just a carry-on bag for short trips, but still struggle with longer ones.

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So what besides the often quoted “pack, then only take half of what you packed and twice as much money” could be helpful.

Here are a few tips that I have found for packing – some I have used and some I haven’t:

  1. Try to limit to 2 pairs of shoes: one pair that will go with almost anything and is good for walking and one dressy pair
  2. Use those shoes as storage space for socks, running shorts, etc
  3. Rolling my clothes seems to give me more room and less wrinkles
  4. Have you got something that can’t be rolled or crushed? Pack it with tissue paper on one of the holiday gift boxes and put it in last; the box will get crushed, but the dress or shirt should come out pretty great
  5. Layers, layers, layers
  6. Coordinate: 1 jacket, 2 shirts and 2 pairs of pants = 8 combinations
  7. Travel sized toiletries are best, but what if you can’t live without your favorite shampoo?  I love GoToobs. They are easily fillable, don’t get messy and don’t leak.
  8. Other things that may be helpful:
    1. Clothespin or two- keeping shades closed or hanging up hand washed clothes
    2. A doorstopper – put it on your side of the door just to make sure someone can’t come in, especially if where you are staying is not as secure as it could be
    3. Empty plastic bags- damp clothes, swimsuits, keeping toiletries from leaking, etc
    4. A large plastic bag can make a good washing machine for laundry- add clothes, soap & water, then agitate

10. Remember that if you forget something critical, you will likely be able to borrow or buy a replacement wherever you are going.

11.  Make a list and stick to it.  It will help you avoid the last minute “just in case” additions.

12. Traveling in the US? Try USPS Flatrate “It Fits, It Ships” boxes to send things to your destination or send things like dirty laundry back home.

So what are your sure-fire packing tips? Please share yours in the comments below.

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The Tulip Fields

The colors – seriously the colors:

IMG_0665Red

Yellow

Orange

Peach

 

 

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Pink

Lavender

Purple

 

 

Pointy tipped, Fringe tipped, Striped, Edged….

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I had no ideas the varieties of tulips existed when we went to Tulip Festival in Mt. Vernon in the Skagit Valley of Washington.

We chose the right weekend.  The fields were all in bloom and the contrasts were spectacular.  The gardens at Roozengaarde  and TulipTown were just amazing.  I could have spent hours looking at the varieties and how they were placed together by height, size, color, and shape.

The weather was not bad- a little windy and chilly, but no rain.

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There was a fair amount of traffic on the two-lane back roads to these different fields.  But the growers were very organized with parking areas and directing traffic. But you definitely need to be on the lookout for people doing U-turns in the road and pedestrians meandering into the road.

I would also recommend a pair of non-slip shoes that will tolerate mud- it is wet and sloppy out there. A lot of people were wearing rain boots with good traction – I want a pair!

I recommend that you go in the morning because we noticed the crowds growing substantially into the afternoon.  I also over-heard several times that this was only half of the crowd that would be seen on fully sunny day.

Due to the time factor (I spent too much time wandering around the fields), we did not stop at the fair in town or eat at any local restaurants.  There are a lot of other things to do in the Skagit Valley and it appears to be some good breweries, wineries and restaurants.  It would be a worthy weekend sojourn!
I hope the weather is beautiful where you are. Please go and enjoy some spring flowers!

My New Breakfast Dish in Seattle

I love good food.   And one my favorite things about traveling or exploring is finding a dish or a restaurant that wows me.  To me, breakfast is best meal of the day and in my family, breakfast out on a weekend morning is a tradition.  I am usually an omelet or scramble kind of gal with an occasional French Toast for that sweet craving hits.

One way I tend judge a new locale is the quality of the breakfasts and Seattle is going to be amazing.  Every time I turn around there is another restaurant in another neighborhood that I can’t wait to try.  From West Seattle, I have found a new love for my favorite meal of the day.  I cannot get over the Pork Hash served at Fiddlehead Fine Foods and Café.

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This is not a dish that I had ever tried before and it did not cross my mind to order it the first time we visited.  But then I saw it on the table next to us when they ordered that dish and I knew exactly what I wanted on my next visit.  It was completely worth it.  It is hearty and savory, full of root veggies and brussel sprouts with an amazing garlic cream sauce.  The pork is tender and the dish does not greasy or heavy; just fabulous.

Other fabulous options at Fiddlehead: the light, fluffy delicious banana pancakes with mangoes, strawberries, macadamia nuts and a mango syrup. Or the strawberry stuffed French Toast.  Oh my…. The only negative is that getting a table can be a wait, but to me it is well worth it.

IMG_0656I was absolutely looking forward to that Pork Hash this morning, but Fiddlehead was not open early enough for me to eat there and make my appointments.  So I tried breakfast at Geraldine’s Counter in downtown Columbia City.  The online reviews were great and the place was very well located on the corner.  I had a really hard time choosing what to get – the omelets and French toast looked amazing.  But I was craving Pork Hash and so that is what I ordered.  And it was good; maybe not quite as good as Fiddlehead, but very satisfying.  I really look forward to going back and trying Geraldine’s casserole or the sweetcorn, Havarti, and herb scramble…. Maybe Saturday!

Go and enjoy a wonderful breakfast this April weekend!

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Oh’ the Places To Go (for a Weekend)

I am thinking again abou that Travel ‘Bucket’ List- that written or unwritten of places, things, activities to do before one ‘kicks the bucket’.  I prefer to focus on the positive- what the local, regional, national, and international places, festivals, activities, hikes, etc that I want to do while I can!

For my purposes, regional requires a weekend or at least an overnight stay.  And some of those trips have been my most memorable.  Those are the times we found that out of the way restaurant called Hells Backbone in tiny Boulder, UT that blew my socks off.  Or the hike that nobody else was on.  Or found amazing food, coffee and oysters at the Oxbow Market.

We have had some amazing adventure in and around Nevada, California, and Oregon.

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A few of these that come to mind are:

  1. The bristlecone pines in Great Basin National Park and the White Mountains
  2. Wine and food in Napa Valley
  3. Plays and food in San Francisco
  4. Driving the Highway 50, the loneliest highway, from border to border
  5. Mountain biking in Bend and Sister’s, OR
  6. The beer in Bend, OR
  7. Hiking the Lost Coast Trail
  8. Crater Lake, OR
  9. Clam Chowder at a bar in Carmel, CA
  10. Camping and full moon hiking in Death Valley National Park
  11. Tournament of Roses Parade and Bowl Game
  12. The drive from Reno to Vegas- more times than I care to think about

So what remains on my list that will likely stay un-done, at least for the near future?

  1.  Yosemite
  2.  Lassen
  3.  Mono Lake
  4. 49ers Game
  5. Giants Game
  6. Exploring the Ruby Mountains
  7. The whale migration on the California Coast
  8. Mountain biking in Austin, NV
  9. Hiking around Bishop and Monitor Pass

The only difficulty I have had with the regional trips are executing them.  It is very easy to look at the boring Chores (laundry, groceries, bills, errands, mow the yard, etc, etct, ect) and start tackling these chores when the weekend rolls around.  This is where I have found the actual written Bucket List to be invaluable.  If nothing on the Chores List is critical? Or it just looks like a good weekend to get away? Time to pull out the Places to Go List instead.  Leave Saturday morning and come back Sunday night. Or make it a day trip.  Or do several 3-4 day weekend trips when you can.  When you have a list to plan from, it is much easier to overcome the quicksand pull of the dreaded To Do list.   I have found the best way to build these lists is a combination of guidebooks, online searching and word of mouth. For me, it has been word of mouth that has lead me to those memorable places.

What would your advice be for the new arrival to Reno/Tahoe on  weekend or short trips to plan and take?  What are the shorter trips that were the most memorable for you?

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Leave My Guidebook, Sir!

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I think that I am pretty digital:  I read magazines, newspapers and books almost exclusively on my iPad, my calendar is shared by the whole family on all our devices, I stream shows from Netflix and Amazon, the first thing I do to answer a question is head to Google, I read on-line reviews before booking a hotel/apartment or buying any significant purchase, I use social media, etc, etc, etc.

But I am kind of old fashioned when it comes to guidebooks.  I love my guidebooks.   To me, the web and social media are an important part of my travel research,  but I have not found a site that as rich or contextual as a guidebook.  And I have not yet found an app that gives me the depth and variety of information available in a guidebook.  That is not to say I don’t use the Internet, because I do, a lot.

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But there are a lot of places that your smartphone may not work or may not get a great signal.  In fact, I can think of quite a few places in the US that we have been in the last few years that got poor or no cell signal (Highway 50, remote areas in Colorado & Utah, the Black Rock Desert, northern New Mexico).

I don’t want to spend time hunting down and paying for Wifi to search for something.  Yes, I can download them to my iPad, and I frequently do.  But I love to highlight, dog-ear and flip through my print books.

I admit, because it is print, it may be out of date before it even hits the store for quick turnover places such as restaurants.  But for restaurants, I like to ask locals anyway.  Another area that I don’t use too much is the recommendations for specific hotels although I definitely use the neighborhood summaries to deciding where to stay.  Besides, there are several good apps for hotel reviews such as TripAdvisor.

Other disadvantages of a travel guide: heavy, takes up valuable luggage space (I solve this by tearing out the sections to take with me), and relatively expensive.

So, the recent news BBC worldwide sold Lonely Planet for a paltry sum the middle of March along with Google killing Frommer’s guides seemed to signal a direction I don’t want to accept.  I was elated when it was announced that Google decided to sell Frommer’s back to author Arthur Frommer who, with his daughter Pauline, reported they planned to keep publishing digital and print guides. In an interesting aside, Frommer’s twitter handle appeared to have been deleted and the followers moved to Google owned @Zagattravel.  The new/original Frommer’s have retaken the handle @frommerstravel and are quickly rebuilding their followers.

What is needed is an app that can be an in-depth as the travel guides and as responsive as digital resources.  I haven’t found it yet and until I do, I will still tote my guidebooks.

What is your preference: books, apps, web search?  What are your favorite travel apps?

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Don’t Rain on My Adventure

Quick- what is the first thing you would say to a person who tells you “Guess what?!  We are headed to Seattle!”

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I have a pretty good guess on what you might say because I think I have heard it at least a 100 times in the last few months: “Wow! That’s great. (long pause) Hope you like the rain; I couldn’t do it. I would miss the sun.”

Sheesh… what a damper.  Yes, I have always thought of myself as a sun person.  Yes, Seattle will be quite a change for me especially living in the desert for the last 14 years.  And most importantly, yes, Seattle will be a great place to live.

Not to minimize the rain, but when you actually look at the numbers, Seattle gets less rain that a lot of other places not associated with copious precipitation:

Annual precipitation per year

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Seattle, WA-37.04”

Houston, TX-47.84”

Boston, MA-42.53”

Miami, FL-58.53”

New York, NY-49.69”

Washington, DC-41.80”

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So where does Seattle take that top spot?  That would be in the cloudy days.  It ranks in the top five nationally with 226 cloudy days per year – behind Anchorage, Forks, Astoria and Olympia. And, it is in the top 20 with 140 days of measurable rain per year. Because it is so far north, the days in winter are short but everyone is already gushing about the summer days coming that the sun doesn’t set until after 10pm.

So yes, it is grey and cloudy 65% of the days, but the sunny days can’t be beat.  And the long summer days will make up for the short winter days. And it’s Seattle.

A quickly learned rule in Seattle: don’t carry an umbrella.  If you have an umbrella you are likely a tourist, a fashionista or a limo driver.  Honestly, it seems to rarely rain hard enough to justify an umbrella.  Personally, I am going to find myself a nice rain jacket with a hood – prevents the drowned rat look but removes the tourist stigma.

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Each place that we visit or live, whether local or international, will have its own adjustments and quirks.  But if you immediately dismiss it has a ‘no-go’ because of those issues, you are closing alot of doors for yourself. I am not a gambler, which is what many people associate Reno with.  If I had immediately dismissed Reno as a good location, I would have missed all the amazing things to do in this area.

I honestly don’t know how I will do in Seattle, especially during the short days of winters, but I am sure looking forward to the adventure. And as a friend once told me, you just learn to do things in the drizzle and celebrate the sunny days rather than take them for granted.

So, all in all, what should the best response be to someone moving to Seattle?  “Congratulations” will definitely cover it!

What place did you visit or live in that has exceeded its own reputation?

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13 Tips for Eating Healthy and Well While Traveling

I love food. And I love to eat out, eat at new places and try new foods, especially when I am traveling.

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Lately, I have proven to myself how easy it is to make not-very-fabulous food choices even at home: eating out, eating on the run, limited fruits and veggies, and I don’t want to talk about the calories.  I rarely eat fast food, but what I have been eating doesn’t feel much better than fast food because I have been doing it so much. And it doesn’t make me feel very good.

When I am traveling, eating well is usually easy while eating healthy is a challenge. It can be difficult to find a good place to eat on the timeframe you want to eat. And that can be made more difficult is one of you is a more frequent eater (me) while the other can go forever before needing to eat (husband). And if I am going to indulge on something, I want it to be worth it – not a mediocre sandwich at a not great restaurant.

So what are some options for eating a little healthier (and better for your wallet) while traveling?

  1. Do your homework before you leave. What restaurants are around where you will be? Check online sites for recommendations. Are there grocery stores close? Look at menus and make a plan.
  2. Set a goal related to whatever nutrition factor is most important to you: calories, vitamins, fiber, protein, etc.
  3. Pack your own snacks for the journey whether by plane, train, or automobile (or other).
  4. Drink plenty of fluids while avoiding excessive soda or alcohol; this will also help with minimizing jet lag. Take a water bottle that you can easily re-fill.
  5. Eat Breakfast! Choose a high fiber and high protein breakfast that will give you energy, keep you full, and prevent an energy nosedive later in the day.
  6. Eat more frequently but smaller amounts
  7. Find lunch specials or take advantage of smaller meals at happy hour prices
  8. Get a hotel or flat with a small kitchen that you can do easy meal prep in, especially for breakfast
  9. Find a grocery store to stock up with snacks to take with you to meetings or while checking out the sight
  10. Picnic time: Use that same grocery store to create a lunch and find a fun location to have a picnic
  11. Avoid eating at the tourist hot spots – usually the food is mediocre and the price is high
  12. Ask a local!  Most are excited to share their favorite place with you.
  13. Let go of the guilt.  Enjoy what you choose to enjoy!

What are your favorite tips for eating well, eating healthy and keeping it easy on the wallet? Please share in the comment section below!

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