travel

This Photo Made My Day

Inbound by Phrasikleia Epoiesen (Phrasikleia)) on 500px.com

Click through to get a better look at this image–it’s so pristine that it’s hard to believe it’s a photo and not painting.

Peter sent it to Mal and me this morning with the message, “Guess where this is?” I thought it looked like Lake Bled, in Slovenia. I was close; it’s actually Lake Bohinj, also in Slovenia. The three of us have been wanting to take a trip there for years, but we haven’t been able to get the timing right. Peter’s family is Slovenian and every time I go to his family’s house and see their gorgeous paintings of the country (which look a lot like this photo), I just want to pack my bags and go!

Anyway, this morning, I was running late and completely frazzled. But when I saw this photo, it immediately made me smile and cooled my nerves. Nothing like a little vacation inspiration to put you in a good mood, huh? рџ™‚

(“Inbound” image by Phrasikleia Epoiesen)

A Long Weekend at the Grand Canyon

Two Tuesdays ago, I returned from my long weekend trip to the Grand Canyon. It was exactly the quick escape I’d been craving, but it wasn’t as idyllic as we’d planned. While I was able to deal with my cold enough to get outside and enjoy myself, poor Mal, unfortunately, was battling some awful ailment that worsened as the trip progressed and kept her hotel-bound for most of the trip.

Peter, his brother, Paul, and I still got in a few hikes, despite felling bad that she couldn’t join us. (Mal insisted that we all go without her.) And luckily, Mal was able to see the canyon a few times from the rim—and that alone, I think, made the trip worth it for her. I think. And in the end, she got all of us sick, anyway, and I was still glad we went!

Anyway, here are some highlights from the trip:

The car we rented.В I don’t even drive, so I feel weird saying that our car was one of the best things about the weekend, but it really was. Before our trip, Mal and Peter had reserved an economy car from Hertz. But when we flew into Phoenix very late on Friday night, the rental agents informed us that they had run out of small cars—and would we mind a free upgrade to a Mustang convertible? Um, you can probably guess what our response was.

After spending the night at the Aloft by the airport, we set out to the GC via Flagstaff with the top down and the music up. Within minutes, we stopped feeling like ridiculous tools and were loving driving in the open air. It kind of reminded me of being in the back of a pickup truck in Guatemala—but way safer and more comfortable!

mal and peter

windblown

It was also a tad windy at times!

Once we left the Phoenix city limits, the scenery became more desert-like, as the highway wound through cacti-covered hills and scruffy, rural land. I am so easily wowed by any non-urban landscape, and really enjoyed the views.

on the road to flagstaff

on the road to flagstaff

Flagstaff. Paul drove to Arizona from Albuquerque, and we met up with him in Flagstaff. We only had a few hours to spend there, but I wished we’d had more time to explore. The historic downtown runs along Route 66 and has lots of funky little cafes, coffee shops and boutiques.

flagstaff

We were in the mood to sample some local brews, so we opted for lunch outside at Beaver Street Brewery.В I had the (very girly) raspberry-flavored Bramble Berry Brew and a wood-fired pizza. It was tasty—and it ended up being the best meal of the trip. By far. (More about the underwhelming food later in the post!)

beaver street brewery

mal and peter at beaver street

The Bright Angel Trail. On Sunday, Peter, Paul and I met up with Drew and Britney, two of Mal and Peter’s friends who live in Arizona and met us for a day. They only had a short time to hike, so we did a portion of the Bright Angel trail, which descends into the canyon, eventually ending at the bottom.

As a do-something-all-the-way-or-don’t-do-it-at-all girl, I, of course, was tempted to make it to the bottom and back in one day—nevermind that we started hiking a noon. But notices all over the park and the NPS website warn against it, probably because they’re sick of rescuing too many overly ambitious tourists from the canyon. In fact, at every trailhead, there’s a sign that asks, “Can you run the Boston Marathon?” and tells the horrible story of Margaret Bradley, an athletic med student who ran a 3-hour Boston Marathon, but died from heat exhaustion while hiking the canyon in 2004. (The trail she was on was nearly twice as long as she thought and she didn’t have enough food or water for such a long hike.) A fair warning, but, wow, a morbid way to begin a trek. (Though I’m sure tons of people have made it to the bottom and back in one day—Britney’s parents did once! And really—when would you ever see a sign like that in another country?)

can you run the boston marathon?

The Bright Angel trail is well-trodden and people of all ages were walking it. I’ll admit, I was a little unnerved when I first set foot onto it, though. I’m used to hiking mountains and volcanoes without steep dropoffs. Seeing how deep the canyon goes was a little freaky, at first! But within a few minutes, my fears were gone and I just enjoyed the views.

view from the bright angel trail

view from the bright angel trail

Sunset at Desert View Point. We made the 25-mile drive to check out the Watchtower. ItВ was built in 1932 but now houses a.gif"ltr" style="text-align:center;">desert view watchtower

the view near the watchtower

the view near the watchtower

South Kaibab Trail. Honestly, I think we picked this hike because while we were reading all the trail descriptions, we nicknamed this one the “Kabob Trail”—and were more amused at that than we should have been. Plus, a fellow travel blogger, Drew, recommended it because it takes you through a good portion of the canyon. He was right—the scenery varies quite a bit within a short distance, so it was the perfect afternoon hike.

south kaibab trail

south kaibab trail

ooh ahh point

A very aptly named point on the trail!

We hiked down to a point called Cedar Ridge. We’d decided on that as our turn-around point because…there was a bathroom there.

cedar ridge

cedar ridge

Then, we headed back up and out of the canyon.

the grand canyon

burgs hiking

…So what was the worst part of the Grand Canyon? The food! Tusayan, the nearest “town,” where we stayed, is really lacking in good restaurants. Everything we ate was mediocre, at best. (No joke, we had two meals at a place called “We Cook Pizza and Pasta”—though not very well, I might add.) Can someone please open up a good brewpub there?

Have you been to the GC? What was the highlight of your trip?

Continent-Shaped Cookie Cutters

feed the world cookie cutters

I’ve done very little cooking or baking this year, but now that it’s fall (which means cooler weather and the holidays) I’m getting inspired to spend some more time in the kitchen. Especially if I had these Feed the World cookie cutters, which are shaped like all the continents. How cool would it be to make your own sugar cookies and ice all the places you’ve visited? Or draw stars on the destinations you’d like to see next?

Plus, part of the proceeds benefit hunger relief. I suppose that’s a good enough reason to pick them up and indulge!

Happy Friday!

(Photo of Feed the World Cookie Cutters via Annie’s Blue Ribbon General Store; $20)

Weekend Farm Fun in New Jersey

Just like river tubing is an annual summer tradition, every fall, my friends and I hit up a farm for an afternoon of rural ridiculousness. As a city person, it’s easy to romanticize the idea of living on a farm, surrounded by pretty scenery and fresh produce—every time I’m near one, I debate whether I could transport my life into that setting. But I know how much hard work and uncertainty goes into that lifestyle and know I could never really do it. However, an autumn afternoon filled with farm-lite activities like apple or pumpkin picking and cider doughnuts? That’s really more my speed—sign me up!

This Sunday, we headed to Ort Farms, located in Long Valley, New Jersey. It was quite a ways from the city, so we stopped for brunch at Salt, an awesome gastropub, on the ride there.

While we were still a few miles from the farm, we hit traffic and joked that everyone was headed to the farm, too. And once we arrived there, we saw that it pretty much was true. The parking lot was packed and hordes of people were wheeling wagons laden down with pumpkins or waiting on lines for hayrides and Monster truck rides.

“It looks like we hit the hick jackpot!” my friend exclaimed.

Ort Farms

We decided that the corn maze was the most appealing of all the attractions, so we paid our admission…

corn maze

…received our very accurate “map” to help us get through it….

corn maze map

…and set off on our way.

corn maze

We got a little lost and attempted to consult the “map” for help…

consulting the "map"

…but in the end, it didn’t take us very long to find the way out. (Little kids helped us out a few times—they seemed perplexed as to why four adults were in the maze, sans children.)

corn maze

And good thing, too, because by that point we were ready for cider and doughnuts from the farm stand. They were delicious—though I unfortunately didn’t get any shots of them, because I was too eager to fight my way to the trays of fresh doughnuts to remember to take photos!

What’s your favorite fall tradition?

A Where-I’ve-Been Globe

where i've been globe

In my office, there’s a “free shelf” where people can leave and take items. The other day, I found the best thing ever: an inflatable cloth globe covered with outlines of all the countries. I immediately took it back to my desk.

Apparently, it’s a Seedling Color the Earth ball meant for kids. I decided to make it my “Where I’ve Been” globe, so I colored in the countries I’ve visited—and was immediately humbled.

I have a lot of the world to see.

All of Africa and Antarctica are untouched. I’ve only been to a few countries in Europe—and not particularly huge ones, either (Iceland, the U.K., Norway and Denmark). Asia is pretty blank, save for China, Hong Kong and Taiwan. Australia and most of Central America are pink. But I only have two countries blocked out in South America. And yes, it’s also kind of sad that I’ve never been across the border to Canada—not even to “bullshit Canada,” i.e. right by the Niagara Falls, even for a few minutes, as Peter asked me.

I know I’m lucky to have visited the places I’ve been to. But seeing how many more I’ve yet to experience just makes me want to pack my bag and head out on more trips.

Are you going anywhere exciting, soon? I could use some inspiration!

(And I did have a good time at the Grand Canyon, earlier this week. Photos and highlights to come!)

Off to the Grand Canyon!

grand canyon

 

Happy Friday! I’m still feeling a tad under the weather, but definitely not bad enough to ruin my vacation. Tonight, Mal, Peter and I are flying out to Phoenix and then driving to the Grand Canyon on Saturday. (And meeting up with Peter’s brother along the way—nothing like sibling weekend trips!) Once we’re there, we’re hoping to get a few good hikes in.

Every single person I’ve spoken to in the past week has already been to the Grand Canyon and says that it’s just amazing. It’s taken me nearly 30 years to make it there, but I’m excited to see it for myself. And if you have any tips to share, please let me know!

Have a wonderful weekend!

(Photo viaВ Grand Canyon NPS’ Flickr)

It Wouldn’t Be a Vacation If…

…I didn’t get sick before or during it.

I don’t know why, because I’m generally a healthy, active person, but I have a wonderful track record of that—I think I’ve had a bad cold, stomach bug, food poison or seasickness on more trips than not.

Earlier this year, I spent my last two days in Panama in bed with a bad cold. A few years earlier, I hiked a volcano in Nicaragua while recovering from an awful head cold. (And felt like I was going to die—when Mal and I finally finished the 9-hour trek, I cried for about 15 minutes straight because my body ached so much. I also missed an amazing sunset, while doing so, apparently.) I’ve gotten seasick everywhere from Colombia to the Great Barrier Reef. And I’ve kicked off many vacations while battling a cold of some sort.В (It’s actually amazing that I made it to and fromВ GuatemalaВ unscathed!)

In keeping with that theme, Mal, Peter and I are flying to theВ Grand CanyonВ tomorrow. And both Mal and I have been sick for the past few days. Somehow we both have sore throats and the headaches and fatigue that go along with them. I’ve been trying to rest up and fight it in hopes that it’ll be gone by the time our flight leaves tomorrow night.

And if not, I just tell myself that a rocky start to a vacation only means the trip can be better from there, right?

(Also: Tips for how doctors stay healthy on vacation, from a story I wrote a few years ago. I should follow their advice better, huh? ;))

(Image via Ed Nacional)