R and I spent five and a half days driving around and exploring São Miguel Island in the Portuguese archipelago of the Azores. Locally, it is referred to as The Green Island. I just called it stunning. Turns out the Azores make a great micro …
Tag: bucket list
The all fifty states club part 2 picks up where we left off in the first part of this series. This series explores interesting things to see and do in all fifty of the United States of America. (You can also go here to read part three.) We will now pick up with the middle. Incidentally, have you ever noticed how many of the states in the U.S. begin with the letters ‘M’ and ‘N?’ Except for Louisiana, this post will focus solely on states that begin with these two letters. Weird.
Everybody needs to go to New Orleans at some point. When I am traveling I usually lump together big cities as basically all the same in my head. Well, this generalization doesn’t work for NoLa. It is one of a kind. I have been here two times in the last few years and I can recommend a lot of things: cemeteries, ghost tours, WW2 museum, French Quarter, American Quarter, jazz festivals, the list can go on and on. But what I want to highlight here is the swamp tour B and I took.
We arrived at the swamp after about an hour driving from downtown New Orleans. We piled on a boat and for the next few hours, our tour guide powered us around swamps, pointing out gators, homemade fishing bobbers made of milk cartons and empty plastic bottles, and the interesting plants and birds native to this habitat. My favorite part of the experience was listening to this guy; I had no idea that Adam Sandler was spoofing people by the way he talked in Water Boy. But sure enough, our guide sounded exactly like that. Classic.
A few years ago, B’s and my work trips to the East Coast fortuitously occurred around the same time. Like we’ve said in previous posts, when work takes you places you really should make good use and take the opportunity to explore somewhere new. We did this and took a trip around the Northeast. Maybe not so fortuitously, it was the middle of February and the Northeast was experiencing a crazy snow season. I’ve never seen snow that high! It was as higher than I am tall. When we got to Acadia National Park, it was gorgeous, albeit a frozen tundra. This state was really cool and I definitely want to visit again in different conditions.
Maryland: Assateague Island Ponies
On an different work trip to Washington D.C., I rented a car and drove along the mid-Atlantic seaboard. I had watched a program on PBS about the wild horses found on this skinny island that stretches for 37 miles off Virginia and Maryland and wanted to see these guys in person. After driving around for awhile, I turned a corner and there they were. I was on the Maryland side of the island at this point, so the horses are managed by the National Park Service. Their population is kept in check by contraception; on the TV show I was watched someone shot a dart into the bum of a female horse so she wouldn’t get pregnant that year. Talk about crazy jobs! On the Virginia side of the island, cowboy types round up some of the horses once a year and auction them off.
Massachusetts: Martha’s Vineyard
Martha’s Vineyard is an island off of Cape Cod, the part of Massachusetts that juts out into the ocean. Like a lot of Cape Cod, it is known for swanky houses, democrats and people who wear sweaters tied around their shoulders. I spent a week visiting my dad in Cape Cod and took advantage of the handy ferry schedule that takes you the seven miles or so to and from the island. Honestly, I wasn’t expecting to be that impressed since I assumed it would be uber pretentious, but I was pleasantly surprised.
I rented a bike and cruised around a few of the towns. My favorite part was the Victorian cottages in the town of Oak Bluffs. These adorable and very well preserved houses look like colorful gingerbread houses. They are small and intricate and frilly, if houses can be frilly. Definitely worth the trip over from the mainland.
Michigan: The Henry Ford Museum
When I was getting close to finishing up all 50 states, I realized I couldn’t come up with a memory of Michigan. This seemed improbable because I had driven from Massachusetts to Idaho and it is on the way. But to be true to my 50 state list, I decided to make a special trip to this state. My experience of choice was the Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation in Dearborn. I figured this museum would be all about cars and while it did have a lot of that, it had so much more. I saw JFK’s limo, Abraham Lincoln’s chair from the Ford Theater, and unrelated to assassinated presidents, the bus on which Rosa Parks was riding when she opted to change American history.
Minnesota: Minnesota State Fair
I really like fairs and try to go to the Western Idaho Fair every year. I mistakenly assumed other state fairs would be on the scale of Idaho’s. Definitely not the case in Minnesota. I’m pretty sure this fair is one of the signature events of the year in this northern state. And why wouldn’t it be? I ate fried cookie dough, saw two lumberjacks race each other to cut down a tree using chainsaws, and listened to Sturgill Simpson, Kris Kristofferson and Merle Haggard (may he rest in peace) sing. It was, all in all, a magical evening.
Mississippi: High Cotton
As B and I drove through the southern states we noticed a crop we weren’t familiar with. We decided to pull over and check out what the fluffy white stuff was and discovered to our delight we were looking at rows and rows of cotton. We (of course) took pictures and were (rightfully) embarrassed when a nice southern gentleman stopped his car to make sure we were okay and our vehicle hadn’t broken down. No sir, we’re fine, just some yankees who hadn’t seen cotton before.
Missouri: Antiques Roadshow
Okay, truth be told, I had already been to Missouri before we went to the Antiques Roadshow in St. Louis. But it is just one of my favorite memories, so I am going to put it down as my favorite experience in the state of Missouri. You can read all about it in this post, but suffice it to say I had a great time at the Roadshow and was impressed with the host city of St. Louis to boot. I hadn’t expected much beyond an Arch, but we really had a good time exploring this city.
Montana: Glacier National Park
When my brother and his wife decided to get hitched at Glacier National Park, it seemed very fitting. Also fitting is the fact that in Montana anybody can perform a marriage ceremony. Ha! And so it was that a small group of us hiked down a trail and my dad presided as they became a spousal unit. BTW, Glacier is gorgeous. I highly recommend visiting this special park, especially because the glaciers that the park is named for are supposed to melt in the next few decades.
Nebraska: Scotts Bluff
For anyone driving through Nebraska, you should know it takes a loooong time to get from one side to the other. I drove through from east to west and close to the border I stopped in at Scotts Bluff National Monument. It was at this point that I stopped feeling sorry for myself and how long it was taking to get across Nebraska; you see, Scott’s Bluff is on the trail that a hundred and fifty years ago people walked or rode in wagons to get across as they were slowly making their way to Oregon, Utah and California.
Nevada: The town of Reno, Nevada, is in between Boise and Northern California. As such, I have driven ol’ I-80 more times than I can remember. We would always pass through Reno and before we started climbing up towards Donner’s Summit we would turn off and visit Boomtown. When we were younger, we would play in the robust kid’s area. But when I reached 18, I started hitting the slots. Early on I hit big and won $250. I probably have lost almost that over the years, but I still like to pop in while I’m driving through.
New Hampshire: Live Free or Die
New Hampshire’s license plate reads, ‘Live Free or Die.’ We had only been in New Hampshire for a few minutes when we understood why New Hampshirans picked this motto. We were driving up to a red light when we saw multiple cars treat the read light like a stop sign, stopping and then proceeding through the red light. It was clear from oncoming traffic, and even though the law said stop, New Hampshirans made up their own minds and went. Respect.
New Jersey: Living in the ‘burbs
Many moon’s ago, my friend and I visited New York City for about a week. Instead of staying in Manhattan, we stayed with her family in New Jersey and caught the train into town (along with all the other big whigs who work in the Big Apple). For several days we explored the hustle and bustle of the big city and at night settled into a comfortable suburban home. At the end of the week, I could kind of get why people would spend two hours commuting instead of living in smaller houses closer to the big city. Kind of.
New Mexico: White Sand
In South Central New Mexico, there is a strange desert whose sand is white instead of the normal tan color. This is because the sand in this area is made of gypsum; in fact, this is the largest gypsum sand dune in the world. If you visit you should go on a hike, but make sure you don’t get lost and wind up next door on the military’s White Sands Missile Range.
New York: The Mets
On the aforementioned trip I took to New Jersey/New York, I saw and did lots of great things. It’s hard to narrow down to my favorite, but I think it would have to be splurging at a New York Mets baseball game. My friend’s uncle was very generous and took us to see the Mets. He went all out and we ended up with seats just above the Mets dugout. I got to see Mike Piazza up close and personal as I chowed down on a doctored up hot dog. That was my first experience with major league baseball and even though I have yet to get as good of seats, I always make sure to eat a big league hot dog at every game I go to.
The states in the middle of the alphabet were a pleasure to visit. Have you been to or is one of these your home state? What has been you favorite experience visiting the Middles? Stay tuned for the final segment in this series to hear about U.S. states. Quick–what is the last state of the 50 states alphabetically?…Wyoming.
Sharing Antiques Roadshow tips and tricks from an experience in St. Louis, Missouri. Last weekend, a dream of mine came true. I attended the Antiques Roadshow. When B and I told people the reason we were going to spend the weekend in St. Louis, Missouri, …
Iceland is h-o-t, people. A Jane reader asked us the other day about whether we had written anything on it as her friend was planning a trip there soon. (If you are like us, it seems like every other day you hear about someone you know visiting the land of ice and fire.) Well, yes, as a matter of fact, C wrote a terrific guest post a while back about the trip she and her family took to Iceland. But before C’s clan descended on the island, C, B, and I spent a long weekend in Iceland getting a taste for Reykjavik and its surroundings. Here is what we saw and did during our short sample of this delicious country.
Long Weekend in Iceland Itinerary
Friday, October 31
We purchased a package deal from Iceland Air that covered our flight, hotel and some excursions. We flew to Seattle and then on to Reykjavik, landing on the morning of the November 1. The flight wasn’t bad at all–around seven hours so we were able get some sleep.
Saturday, November 1
First up on our itinerary was a stop at the famous Blue Lagoon. This was a must see for B, as she does enjoy herself some geothermal activity. Part of our package was the Spa Comfort Experience, which meant we got admission to the lagoon, some algae for a facial, and a fancy drink. For those who haven’t heard of it, the Blue Lagoon is essentially a giant swimming pool full of hot water pumped from a nearby geothermal plant. It is full of rich minerals which give it a lovely milky blueish color. This was especially striking against the black lava fields that the lagoon is set smack dab in the middle of.
We did some research about visiting hot pots (hot pools) in Iceland and learned that it is quite the traditional experience and you should follow the rules, like washing completely before you enter. (I wussed out and kept the swimmer on in the communal shower.) None of us decided to get a massage on the floating table, but we very much enjoyed the soothing warm water which helped us ease out the kinks from the flight. It was a great way to begin our vacation. After a nice, relaxing soak, we were ready to take on Reykjavik.
Our hotel was on the edge of town, but luckily that didn’t mean much as Reykjavik is quite compact. We were able to check in and walk to the downtown area, which saved the expense of taking a cab back and forth. The word ‘Iceland’ is about the only thing that we could distinguish in the Icelandic language. It is a seriously foreign language and our rudimentary understanding of the romance languages was of no use to us. Fortunately, most people speak fluent English. It was quite striking to me that their English was so good; it was difficult to tell if people were native Icelanders as their accent was so minimal.
We had picked out a few destinations for the downtown area and spent the rest of the day checking some of them off.
This country has a few characteristics that result in beautiful hand-knit sweaters. 1. It is freezing most of the time, thus necessitating proper attire. 2. It can be dark a large part of the winter, so there is plenty of time to knit. 3. Icelandic sheep are the fluffiest and furriest sheep I’ve ever seen, hence an abundant supply of raw materials.
With all of these things going for it, we knew we were going to be purchasing a LOT of wool products and wanted to deposit most of our change in a store where adorable little old ladies hand knit sweaters, scarves and mittens. (I didn’t actually see an adorable little old lady knitting, but in my mind that’s what happens.) The prices at this store are also much more reasonable than other stores around town and I picked up my souvenir from the trip here, a beautiful long cardigan lopapeysa (sweater).
Next on the list of things to see was the KronKron store. B had found some KronKron shoes on the interwebs a few years before and really wanted to see them live and in person. This store sells a variety of clothes, but we were there to check out the shoes. If you visit their website and are remotely shoe-oriented, you will see why. These things are seriously works of art with unique designs and materials. Sadly, they were as expensive as works of art so we left empty handed.
Icelandic Phallological Museum
Next we visited the Icelandic Phallological Museum. Yep, it is just what is sounds like. Perhaps not the most obvious place for a group of ladies to visit, but it was interesting, if a little small. (Pause for jokes about how size really does matter.)
At this point in the day, we were getting a little jet lagged so we headed back to the hotel for a good night’s sleep.
Sunday, November 2
Our next day was spent again exploring downtown Reykjavik. Highlights included the following:
Kolportid Flea Market
This market was a rabbit warren of stalls selling all sorts of weird stuff. We ended up purchasing some black lava earrings, but if we were in need of old records, vintage suits, crappy plastic toys or any assortment of knitted items, this is the place to go.
The Harpa is a conference hall right on the edge of the water in downtown Reykjavik. You can’t miss it, it is a cube building made of glass that looks purple and blue. It is really quite pretty. You can spend a lot of money and get all dressed up and go to a fancy pants performance, but since we are cheap and not particularly cultured we opted for a light show. This light show sounded cooler than it actually was–we went into a square shaped room and they displayed scenes from Iceland on all of the walls and ceiling. There was one little bench in the middle of the room so we figured people just stand around and watch, but we opted to lay on the floor and take it easy.
That’s not a typo. That’s the name of the Icelandic Lutheran Cathedral that is the tallest structure in Iceland. It is a white, pointed building and has lovely views of the city and harbor if you climb to the top. I like Lutheran Cathedrals; they have such clean lines and are simple without feeling austere. The Hallgrímskirkja did not disappoint on this front. There is a giant statue out front dedicated to Leif Erikson, the first European to land in America, which, as Americans, we appreciated.
Northern Lights Tour
The second excursion included in our package was a tour to see the Northern Lights. This was supposed to be on a boat on the water, but it was crazy windy and the powers that be replaced a water experience with a bus. We weren’t complaining. Our bus picked us up and near as we can figure, took us to the middle of nowhere to remove all light pollution and give us the best chance of seeing the Northern Lights…that is, if the Northern Lights were active. They weren’t. After a few cups of hot chocolate and nothing but cloudy skies, we headed back to our hotel. Wohn, wohn, wohn.
Monday, November 3
The main activity for this day was our final excursion, the Golden Circle tour, a chartered bus ride that took us to several interesting spots away from the city.
Our first stop was a giant greenhouse where a very industrious family grows tomatoes (year round) for pretty much the whole island. We walked around the greenhouse and sampled some tomato soup. B was fascinated by the geothermal element, which provides both heat and light to the greenhouse. Iceland really knows how to harness its renewable energy.
Next we visited a gorgeous waterfall called Gulfoss. The Hvita river goes down a few little drops and then plunges twice, deep into a canyon below. The wind was ferocious at this stop and even though we were in our winter gear, it was still bone chilling.
This is the place where all other geysers get their name. It was a bit like Yellowstone National Park and Old Faithful; every so often a big plume of steam would get released from the Strokkur geyser and hot water gurgled out of smaller geysers all around the area.
The Pingvellir National Park is the place in Iceland where the two tectonic plates are pulling away from each other. It is a remarkably pretty area with dark lava, green moss and blue rivers. A few weeks ago, I was watching a documentary on the Vikings and learned that Leif’s dad, Erik, was kicked out of Iceland after the governmental gathering at Pingvellir. Cool.
After we returned to the city, our last stop of the day was the Perlan. This large structure on the outskirts of the city used to be hot water storage tanks for the city, but was converted into a meeting space/restaurant/shopping center/performance hall. Walking up to it, I was struck by how much it reminded me of R2-D2. You can go out on the observation level and see pretty much 360 degrees. The view was very nice, which made up for the lackluster food we had at the restaurant.
Tuesday, November 4
The next day, we packed up and got ready to head home. This meant stopping at a grocery store for one last container of Skyr, a yogurt that puts all other yogurt to shame, and buying many skeins of Icelandic wool, just to get rid of our extra Kronurs. Then we headed to the airport for our flight back to the U.S. and work the next morning.
During this quick trip to Iceland, we were able to get a good feel for Reykjavik, see some of the natural wonders that make this country so spectacular, and briefly experience the everyday happenings of the Icelanders. Iceland isn’t a cheap country. In fact, it is one of the most expensive we’ve been to, but our package tour helped a great deal. Flights from Seattle, lodging and the three adventures cost us about $1,000 each. Not cheap, but really not that bad for a fun getaway to a new country.
Iceland is an amazing country. Just look at C–less than a year after our long weekend, she had convinced her family to go visit for a much longer vacation. It is well worth the trip, even if it is just a quick weekend like what we did. A word of warning though: the secret is out. Tourism in the country has grown exponentially in the last few years. So much so that Iceland has decided to increase a tourist tax in an effort to get the industry back in hand. When you go, you should expect to see lots of other tourists. That being said, where there’s steam there is usually a geyser, so the tourism is justified.
After spending the month of February staying and playing Down Under, I have a pretty good idea of Australia travel costs. This post is a follow up to an earlier post about planning and saving for that month-long trip. I knew I wanted to follow up after …
We’re baaack! And going through the usual post-trip activities—fighting jet lag, getting back into a routine, planning the next adventure, etc. It is never easy coming home. But unless you are going sell everything you own and become a nomad, it is a necessary part …
Travel is full of memorable and unique experiences. Many of them you could never recreate even if you tried (and there are some you never want to). That said, I rarely have an experience I would describe as once-in-a-lifetime. It just feels like that should be reserved for extra-special adventures or experiences. That’s not to say I am not continually looking for opportunities that deserve the title, but they are not always easy to find. However, I did find one recently on my trip to Australia in the form of a Reefsleep. This unique experience was like nothing I have ever done in my life. For lack of a better way to describe it, it was awesome.
Reefsleep in Australia
I admit, I had high expectations going in. I debated for weeks on whether to even purchase it because of the price–this trip was already expensive enough! (See my post on the true cost of traveling in Australia.) In the end, I decided it would make a nice (albeit rather extravagant) birthday present. Let me just say, it was worth every penny.
The experience begins when you board a Cruise Whitsundays boat alongside 200+ other people. That part is not so delightful. And when you get to a pontoon boat out in the middle of the Great Barrier Reef, you’re still dealing with those same 200+ tourists. But as they frantically try to cram in as many “reef” activities as they can in a few hours, you get to relax. I did go on a dive and it was a nice small group of four divers. But after that, I just took it easy. When the boat sailed away at 3 p.m., it took with it most of the tourists and crew.
There were just a handful of us left on the pontoon: six crew and nine guests. It was so peaceful. The first thing I did was get in the water, along with a few others. Snorkeling the reef with only three other people around you is definitely a privilege. And the things we saw! It was spectacular snorkeling.
Dinner and a sunset
After we tired ourselves out, it was time for dinner. Our Reefsleep host fired up the barbie (as they say here) and proceeded to provide us with one of the best meals I’ve had here. It was so good. And don’t get me started on the view. The sun just happened to be going down right when we were enjoying our meal.
Once dessert had been consumed, we made our way to the viewing chamber to watch the fish feed. This was another privilege since the fish are way more active in the evening, plus you don’t have to fight anyone for a good view. It was a good way to pass the time while the crew set up our swags.
I won’t lie, after my experience with a swag in the Outback, I was not really looking forward to giving it another go. But these swags were an entirely different ballgame. They were big and roomy and had screens on them. They were more like little tents and the experience was a much more positive one.
The best part of the evening however, was the stargazing. I will never forget what it felt like to lay there and look up at the sky. THAT was what made the whole experience worthwhile and elevated it to once-in-a-lifetime.
The next morning, we enjoyed a hearty breakfast (or brekkie), some more snorkeling and general relaxation before the day trippers arrived. Then we watched them frantically trying to fit everything in before 3 p.m. This time when the boat left, I was on it saying goodbye to one of the most amazing experiences of my life.
Experiences like the reefsleep may not happen on every trip. That is probably why they mean so much more when they do happen. The key is to keep searching for them and then to soak up every moment when they do happen.
If you get the chance to do a Reefsleep, do not hesitate. It will be a once-in-a-lifetime experience that you will never forget.
B and I have seen a lot of really good stuff in the last few weeks: koalas, kangaroos, sunsets, sweeping landscapes and cultural icons. We expected all these things. What we didn’t expect was to see so many funny Australian signs! The funny ways Australians …