Tag: where to go

Panama: more than a canal

Panama: more than a canal

Panama has more than just hats, people. For one blissful month after finishing grad school and before the student-loan repayment plan kicked in, I was able to join my family in this cool Central American country. Here are ten interesting Panama facts. Locks Panama was 

Poland Do’s and Don’ts of Travel

Poland Do’s and Don’ts of Travel

Last year, R, C and I did a little traveling through Poland. Below are a few do’s and don’ts from our experience there. The first “do” is, of course, go to Poland! After that, you can worry about the specifics below. Do’s and don’ts of 

Top 10 Estonia

Top 10 Estonia

Estonia is a lovely little country located on the Baltic Sea. I cannot think of a single negative thing to say about this country. It is beautiful and easy to travel. Things are really, really, really old. There is a history here that is hard for us in the U.S. to understand. But there is also a beauty that is not at all hard to comprehend. We were lucky enough to experience Estonia and all that it has to offer. Should you find yourself in the same lucky boat, below are 10 recommendations from us Janes.

View of Old Town Tallinn Estonia
C calls this the money shot!

1. Explore Tallinn, Estonia

Set out on foot and get as lost as you can (it won’t be hard). Old Town is basically car-free, giving pedestrians room to roam…and gawk. Tallinn was founded in 1248, but it first appeared on a map in 1154. Can you believe that? Old Town is an authentic, intact medieval city, and apparently one of the best preserved in Europe. There is so much history here. I am sure there are plenty of tours you can sign up for. We opted for a self-guided tour from our handy travel guide. We still managed to get lost but we learned a lot in the process. And the views! There is no describing them other than “postcard perfect.”

Note: although Tallinn is old, it has all of the modern conveniences and is sometimes called the Silicon Valley of Europe. Wifi is everywhere and it is the birthplace of Skype. It really might be the perfect city.

Main square in Tallinn, Estonia travel vacation
Tallinn after a little rain.

2. Stay here while in Tallinn

Trust me on this. The converted chapel is old (like 1400s old), the location is amazing and the experience is unforgettable. There is also a sauna in the basement, which is a nice perk, and we very much enjoyed a mid-vacation respite here. Our time in Tallinn would not have been quite the same if we had stayed anywhere else.

Airbnb chapel rental in Tallinn, Estonia travel vacation
Stay in a converted chapel.

3. Eat some chocolate

Kalev chocolates have been made in Estonia since 1806. You can find it almost anywhere. I picked up a bunch of bars at the grocery store to take home as gifts. The white chocolate with blueberries is particularly good—and I am not even a fan of white chocolate.

4. Buy local

Estonia has talented artisans that specialize in all sorts of crafts including woodworking and amber. You will have to search out the shops that feature locally-made products and not mass-produced souvenirs, but it will be worth it. I brought home a lovely handmade wool hat from a shop called Eesti Esinduse. The Visit Estonia website is a good resource for finding such shops.

5. Ride a traditional swing or kiik

It is much harder than you might think but it is a novel experience. You’ll probably have to get out of the city and into a nice little country town to find one.

Kiik swing in Estonia vacation travel
So much harder than it looks.

6. Eat at Kompressor

This well-known pancake house (serving what we would call crepes) does not cater to tourists and is actually kind of hard to find. But don’t give up. I am not a huge fan of savory crepes, but the bacon and smoked cheddar pancake I ordered was delicious. And we all loved the cherry and coconut pancake we split for dessert. Prices were good and the portions were huge.

Estonian pancakes

7. Ride a bike

Bicycling around the Estonian countryside is an experience I will never forget. I cannot recommend Thoomas and his City Bike enough. They really went above and beyond to make sure we had a good experience. Thoomas himself was our driver and as he drove us to and from the route we biked, he educated us on his country. We learned so much from him about Estonia, in addition to having a great time. And at the end of our ride, he gave us chocolates shaped like gold medals…because he is adorable like that.

Cycling in Estonia bike bicycling travel vacation no hands
Just a little bike ride through the Estonian countryside.

8. Get a cup of hot cocoa

Maiasmokk Café is the oldest operational café in Tallinn. And it has been in the same location, with basically the same décor, since 1864. We visited on a rainy day, which was actually kind of perfect. It kept us warm and cozy. You might be a little overwhelmed with fresh pastry options. So I will just go ahead and recommend the poppy roll.

Maiasmokk Café in Tallinn, Estonia yellow building vacation travel
Perfect on a rainy day…or any day for that matter.

9. Visit the countryside

We did this via bike and it was wonderful. But renting a car would work as well. We rode through the Lahemaa National Park, toured Sagadi Manor, observed the largest natural waterfall in Estonia (Jägala Waterfall) and took in the varied landscapes. Forests cover over one half of Estonia and about one fifth of the country is covered with marshes and bogs. But we also saw plenty of farmland, adorable villages and of course, the seashore.

Baltic Sea in Estonia sand travel vacation
Cold, cold, cold.

10. See the sea

If you are going to visit a Baltic country, then you have to check out the Baltic Sea. There are plenty of adorable coastal villages just waiting for you to show up and take that perfect picture. Another fun option is to take the ferry. Helsinki, Finland, is just a couple of hours away and assuming the weather cooperates, the ferry makes a nice option for traveling across the sea.


Estonia is lovely and a true gem. I highly, highly recommend it for your next vacation.

Movie travel – it’s a thing

Movie travel – it’s a thing

We’ve written posts about big trips, weekend trips and day trips. This post discusses how to take a trip for about two hours–all within the convenience of your own home…aka movie travel. I don’t know about you, but certain movies have the ability to suck 

Exploring Your Own Backyard

Exploring Your Own Backyard

How often do you go out exploring your own backyard? This past weekend, we headed to the mountains. Our goal: huckleberries. I am happy to report that we were successful and came home with a nice little haul. R had family visiting from another state. 

Jane Verses the Volcano

Jane Verses the Volcano

When S, B, and I visited Bali, we knew we wanted to see as much of the island as possible. One way to do this was through a sunrise hike, where we would experience a sunrise after making our way up the side of a volcano. What follows is our actual experience.

Sunrise Hike means Pre-Sunrise Alarm

The van picked us up from where we were waiting on the side of the road at 2:30 a.m. S, B and I climbed bleary-eyed and not quite functioning into the eight-seater passenger van and drove around Ubud for another 30 minutes picking up the remaining passengers: a girl from France and a girl from Germany. What was the reason for our nocturnal gathering? The allure of a sunrise hike up one of Bali’s biggest volcanoes: Ganung (Mount) Batur.

From Ubud, our driver drove to a small village at the base of the volcano called Toyabungkah. We didn’t see much of this town as it was only 3:45 IN THE BLESSED MORNING and still dark. We met up with our adorable little guide and his helper who would take us up to welcome in the sunrise.

The Rain Started

The hike itself was listed as ‘moderate’ in difficulty and takes about two hours to get to the summit. The whole purpose is to hike to the top in the dark and then be at the summit to see the sun rise over the lake in the middle of the caldera (the center of a volcano). Sounds great, right? Well, that’s how S and I talked B into doing this particular venture. If she would have known what was actually going to go down, there’s no way she would have agreed.

Here’s what happened: about a quarter of a mile from Toyabungkah, the sprinkling began. Being the prepared Janes that we are, S, B and I pulled our rain jackets out of our packs and put them on over our headlamps. We were fine for about ten minutes….until the real rain started. Within the first 15 minutes of our hike (in the dark, at four in the morning), we were soaked. Not just a little wet, but all the way soaked. In the part of Idaho where we live, it is a desert that receives about 10 inches of rain per year. I’m pretty sure we got 10 inches of rain during our hike alone. It was so wet in fact, that our waterproof raincoats were useless. There was as much water in them as there was out.

A soaking wet group after hiking in Bali
Our guides were so cute and little!

Sidenote: Background

Let me pause here to tell you a little bit about how cool Gunung Batur is. Batur is located on the northwest side of Bali and reaches to 5,600 feet above sea level. It is in the middle of two huge calderas and is close to Gunung Agung, the highest point on Bali. There are several villages in the area and the locals farm the green (probably from all the rain) and lush landscape. There are dark lava fields all over and in the middle of the lake in the caldera is a smaller volcano that is still active–last erupting in 2000. Here’s what Lonely Planet says about it: “The Gunung Batur area is like a giant bowl, with its bottom half covered by water and a set of volcanic cones jutting out of the middle. Sound a bit spectacular? It is. On clear days – vital to appreciating the spectacle – the turquoise waters wrap around the newer volcanoes, which have old lava flows oozing down their sides.” I love how the LP caveats it…the day of our hike was not clear and we definitely didn’t appreciate what we were looking at. Or for rather.

Although Bali is a part of Indonesia, Islam is not the predominant religion. Instead, about 80 percent of the island practices Balinese Hinduism, a version of Hinduism that incorporates worship of non-human entities. Balinese believe the Batur is one of the four primary sacred mountains where the Gods live. The lake in the middle of the caldera is sacred to the Goddess of the Lake, for which it is named. Tour companies request that women do not climb the volcano during their menstrual period. This is pretty common in Indonesia and while I try to be culturally sensitive, it rankles my feminist little heart. But back to the hike.

Sunrise Hike, minus the Sunrise

Since we couldn’t see anything because it was dark, we didn’t notice the thick fog that we were climbing in until it got a little lighter and we finally made it to the summit. There is a little tin/rock shack on top of the mountain and by the time we reached it, it was pretty full of other hikers waiting for their chance to catch the ‘spectacular’ view. While we all hunkered down to get protection against the wind and rain, we were treated to a cacophony of voices in different languages and bananas and sandwiches. These were much appreciated, but not quite the eggs cooked in the steam of the volcano that we had been told about. Oh well. We waited in the shack for about 45 minutes, with an intrepid soul leaving the protection against the elements to go check on the sun’s progress every few minutes.

The shack on top of a volcano in Bali
Our international shack where we found refuge.

Since Bali is close the equator, the sunrise and sunset are pretty predictable…it rises around 6 a.m. every day. Well, 6 a.m. came and went. All we saw were wet tourists and a lot of fog. It was a bit anticlimactic. Around 7 a.m., our guide apologetically told us we were not going to be able to see anything and that we should head down the mountain. The rain had mostly stopped by this point, so at least we weren’t still dealing with that on our descent, but it was really sad to know beautiful things are hiding just behind the clouds.

Calling It

We got back to the van around 9:30 a.m. a little worse for the wear. Except the Europeans, who had that inexplicable and innate talent of looking stunning and fashionable in totally improbable situations. Guaranteed, I would not have looked as chic in cut off jeans and black nylons, but such is life.

Clouds covering up a sunrise in Bali
A stunning vista…or a wall painted gray?


Seeing the sunrise over Gunung Batur is an amazingly beautiful experience. So I hear. On the plus side, this was probably the only time that we were in Indonesia that we weren’t hot. Our poor guide was shivering at the summit, but we finally felt comfortable.

North Dakota Via Train

North Dakota Via Train

One year ago today, I rolled through North Dakota. It was very exciting. Now normally, a trip to North Dakota is not necessarily worthy of any sort of celebration (no offense to the 750,000 people who live there). But this was no ordinary trip for 

A Modern-Day Icelandic Saga

A Modern-Day Icelandic Saga

This post about Iceland is written by our friend and fellow traveler, C. Enjoy! A year and a half ago, B, R and I went to Iceland for a long weekend. We spent a couple of days in Reykjavik and one day touring the Golden 

Affordable ski trip to Whistler, Canada: see how much a weekend getaway costs

Affordable ski trip to Whistler, Canada: see how much a weekend getaway costs

Janes often get asked, “How can you afford to go on so many trips?” Well, the answer is simple: you don’t spend a boatload of money on every trip. If you can’t afford to go big every time (man, wouldn’t be great?), go little a few times. Over a three-day weekend in April, B and I had a lovely time checking out the Whistler area of beautiful British Columbia, Canada. Below is how much our affordable ski trip to Whistler cost us.

Brandywine Falls, Canada
B and me in front of Brandywine Falls

Flights for an affordable ski trip to Whistler

When looking for flights, it’s always a good idea to be creative. Looking for tickets that are round-trip, one-way, or two tickets to get you to one location (i.e. find a cheap ticket to a popular airport, look for a ticket there and then an additional ticket to your final destination) can save you money. For our Canadian adventure, we opted for two, one-way tickets.

We found a one-way ticket to Vancouver for $111.63. We took the first flight out of Idaho and even though it was painful to be at the airport at 5:30 a.m., it was really nice to arrive at our destination before 9:00 a.m. Plus, since we left on Saturday instead of Friday, we didn’t have pay for a hotel on Friday. Cha-ching! Our flight back was a bit longer. But it left later in the day, giving us more time on our trip. It cost $134.29. So round trip, our tickets were only $245.92.

Rental car for an affordable ski trip to Whistler

Our final destination, Whistler, is about a two-hour drive from the Vancouver airport. Since it was April in the Canadian Rockies, we decided not to risk driving in a snowstorm in a Ford Fiesta and splurged on a small SUV rental. Hotwire is our go-to for cheap car rentals and on this site we were able to secure a Dodge Journey for $92.47. We drove up to Whistler and back and only had to fill up the gas tank once for $38.09. You gotta love these new SUVs with their good gas mileage!

Lodging for affordable ski trip to Whistler

We had to do a little legwork to find a place to stay at Whistler. We both prefer Airbnb or VRBO because it is always interesting to see how people in different places live. However, since we were only staying two nights and neither of these sites had anything that really jumped out at us, we decided to stay at a hotel. Hotwire had some good options, but the list really got expensive when we figured in resort and parking fees. The other pitfall of a Hotwire hotel is you can’t guarantee what kind of bed situation you’ll find. Since both B and I would much prefer sleeping in our own twin than sharing a California King with each other, we turned to Expedia. Expedia allows you to choose your bed options so we each got our own queen.

Location was also a key factor in this decision because we knew we were going to be picking up ski rental gear and hitting the slopes the next day and didn’t really want to have to haul that stuff all over town.

We choose the Listel Hotel and very much enjoyed the room, sauna and continental breakfast. The total for the room for two days was $217. Free food is a no-brainer when it comes to saving money. When you figure each of us would probably pay ~$15 for breakfast, that adds up each day and makes it possible to stay in a nicer place.

Activities during an affordable ski trip to Whistler

When we found out that the Whistler-Blackcomb resort would be open until the end of May, we decided to pony up for an experience of skiing internationally. Liftopia is a good app for finding ski lift ticket deals. But in this case, we knew we needed to rent gear as well so we went straight to the resort’s website. For a one-day lift ticket and rental gear the cost was $113.18 Canadian dollars.

Oh yes, now is a good time to mention that the impetus for a Canadian adventure was the wicked exchange rate we have had with our northern neighbors for the last few months. The exchange rate basically meant everything was about 30% off. So our ski adventure really ended up costing around $87. (Air high five, ‘merica!) Skiing was our only real expenditure as far as activities go. The park system in Canada is awesome (meaning beautiful and free). We hiked three very different, yet all striking, waterfalls along our drive up to Whistler. In Idaho, each of the state park stops would have cost about $5 to use. We fully appreciated Canada’s socialist tendencies.

Ski lift and fog at Whistler-Blackcomb
Skiing at Whistler-Blackcomb

Food for an affordable ski trip to Whistler

Food was comparable to what you would pay in the U.S. after the exchange rate. For a meal of soup and salad at a trendy brewery in Squamish, we paid $20 Canadian, including the tip. Whenever we go to foreign countries, we always make a point to shop at the local grocery store. I could really list this in the ‘activities’ section above because it is pretty entertaining to see the different offerings. In Whistler, we hit up the grocery store for our snacks and desserts, thus saving money by not buying these things at restaurants.

Cash and other incidentals

The easiest way to get foreign currency is to find a bank and withdraw cash using your ATM. B and I have been to loads of countries and I have never once carried traveler’s checks or brought U.S. dollars to exchange with money changers. The prevalence of ATMs makes this the easiest way to get cash with a very good exchange rate. You do have to pay a transaction fee so it is best to estimate what you will spend and then only withdraw once. But it usually isn’t that big of a deal if you hit up another ATM along your journey.

Confession: I pretty much always have to visit the ATMs several times during my trips. In Canada, I made the rookie traveler mistake of forgetting to call my bank to let them know I’d be using my card in a foreign country. But luckily for me, my bank must not consider Canada to be that foreign and it worked just fine. On this trip, I ended up pulling out $140 Canadian once and $60 Canadian another time, totaling a little over $150 U.S.

The Olympic rings from 2010 we saw as part of our affordable ski trip to Whistler
The Olympic rings from 2010

The grand total for an affordable ski trip to Whistler

When everything was added up and divided between the two of us, we ended up spending about $660 each (excluding the adorable leather phone case B picked up at the Roots store and other extracurricular shopping.) When you figure you might spend about $100 in a weekend for food and fun at home anyway, it really doesn’t seem like that much more money to be able to pop out of the country for a long ski weekend.

Shannon Falls in BC
Shannon Falls


If you save up for a month or two, you can accumulate enough money to go on a quick vacation. You don’t have to go foreign. There are some great places in the good ol’ U.S. of A. that would make an excellent three-day weekend.

Related posts you might like:

Or if you want to see all of our posts, visit Past Posts.

Jane Sees…The Big Island

Jane Sees…The Big Island

Hawaii is easy. I mean that in the nicest way possible. If you are looking for a tropical destination with minimal worries, then Hawaii is a worthy place to consider. You can plan adventures and island hop to your heart’s content, or you can simply