Oregon and its magnificent coast 2018

May 24th- June 2, we spent driving and exploring the amazing Oregon Coast (along with a few stops inland). A spectacular coast to say the  least, and this trip did not disappoint.

Thursday, 24th. We flew into Portland on an early morning flight, picked up our rental car and headed for Cannon Beach, our first stop. We spent some time roaming around the charming town, visiting shops and having coffee until checkin time a the Tolovana Inn. Our room was small, but comfortable and just fine for our two nights stay. After grabbing some groceries, having dinner at the Wayfarer Restaurant (very good food, but pricey), exploring the beachfront and Haystack Rock, we were both pretty exhausted and went to bed.

Friday, 25th. We were up early the next morning and headed out to Oswald West State Park where we started our hike up the Neahkahnie loop. This hike was about 9 miles long. The earlier part of the trail passed the lookout point for Devils Cauldron, the latter being quite challenging, and leading up to a scenic view point. Our treat post this long and grueling hike was a visit to the Tilamook Creamery for a delicious burger and their famous Ice Cream. Highly recommend this stop on your way down the Oregon Coast! We also took a drive out to Cape Meares Lighthouse, and admired some of the scenic views from this location before heading back to the hotel, totally exhausted!

Saturday, 26th. Leaving Cannon beach, and heading to the Central Coast (my favorite), we had many stops along the way:

  • Cape Kiwanda to stretch our legs and admire the beach and views
  • Devil’s punchbowl state natural area, and took a backroad with even more stunning views
  • Depoe Bay where we saw a grey whale playing in the ocean (even managed to catch glimpses of it in a few pictures)
  • Yaquina Head Lighthouse and Outstanding Natural area. A beautiful lighthouse and area very much worth our time to stop and explore.
  • The Historic Newport Bayfront where we stopped for lunch at Moe’s, and enjoyed a walk along the bayfront while the fishermen were bringing in their catch of the day.

After our late lunch at Moe’s we checked into our next hotel at the Hallmark Resort in Newport Beach. Had a great view of the ocean from our room and we enjoyed the late afternoon sitting on the veranda with coffee and a book while watching the sunset.

Sunday, 27th. Another day, another hike! Today we headed up to Cape Perpetua. This is a great family friendly area with a variety of hiking trails for many levels. We did 4 separate hikes (St. Perpetua trail, Captain Cook trail, Cape Cove, and Trail of the Restless Waters), totaling about 6 miles. Our hikes today took us past many scenic viewpoints primarily:

  • Thor’s well
  • Spouting Horn (tide was low, so not much spouting)
  • Devils Churn
  • Cooks Chasm
  • many various tide pools

Leaving here, we headed toward the Haceta Head Lighthouse, but the beach was so crowded and no parking was found so we left.  We later ate dinner at Georgie’s restaurant at the Hallmark Inn (Very good food, prices were very reasonable), took a walk along the beach front and neighboring areas, then headed back to relax in the room and admire another sunset.

Monday, 28th, Memorial Day! Less crowds today than yesterday, guess most people headed home. We drove down the coast again and black to Haceta Head lighthouse, no crowds and beautiful views. Also ended up at the Dunes, but it was so windy that we had a difficult time walking around with the sand whipping our faces. Beautiful beach, beautiful ocean and almost no one in site!  Leaving the Dunes, we found another lighthouse called Umpqua River Lighthouse, this one was uneventful and I could have done without it. We then went off the coastal path, following a road leading to the Dan Creek Elk viewing area. We had great luck here as many Elk were out roaming in plain sight! We stopped for some pictures and took a scenic long road back to Newport, leaving the coast for the afternoon. After our scenic drive, we headed back to the historic Newport Bayfront again to eat at a restaurant called Local Ocean, GREAT fresh local sea food, great service. Highly recommend!

Tuesday, 29th. Cruising further down the coast along the Samuel Boardman State Scenic corridor, we stopped at several lookout points.  Keeping in mind that it was quite windy down this corridor which made it difficult to really hang out in each place for very long:

  • Coquille Light House
  • Arch Rock
  • Sisters Rock viewing area
  • Meyers Beach
  • Natural Bridges (the trail was corroded, so unsafe for our planned hike)
  • Indian Sands trail (hiked the trail, but was unimpressed with the trail or views)
  • Whales head Beach
  • House Rock view point (very pretty viewing area)
  • Secret beach (Short hike down to the view point over the beach)
  • Harris beach state park

Checking in to our next hotel, the Pacific Reef Hotel in Gold Beach. It was a nice room, but the bed was not comfortable. Even though we had a nice terrace overlooking the ocean, it was so windy it was almost impossible to sit out there for long. We ate dinner at Spinners Steak and Seafood, the food was good but a bit expensive for what we had. We did get a 20% discount for being hotel guest though!

Wednesday, May 30th. A long drive down to the California boarder and to the Redwoods. I’ve never seen these massive creations and they were quite impressive! We spent some time hiking a short trail, about 3 miles, into the redwoods, then drove out back to 101 via a scenic route near the Smith river.  We returned back to the hotel with enough time to make reservations at Anna’s by the sea. This place was AWESOME! It’s a small restaurant, 10 tables max, Peter is the chef and cooks up your meal to order as per the daily specials. Very intimate setting, the kitchen is open to the seating area so you can chat with Peter as he cooks your meal. It was pricey, but sooo very good!

Thursday, 31st. Up very early and headed out for our long drive back to Portland. We arrived in the city about noon and stopped at Washington park, a a beautiful, huge park with many hiking trails and activities. We hiked a few of the trails (about 4 miles), each leading to various exhibits: The Vietnam veterans memorial, a beautiful tribute to the fallen soldiers from Oregon. The Holocaust memorial, which also highlighted some survivors that had settled in Oregon. The massive Rose Garden, unlike anything I have ever seen! So many beautiful Roses, and they had my Purple Rose!!! We left the park to check into our next hotel, the Inn at Northrup Station (Nob Hill Alphabet District). I really liked this hotel, comfortable, funky, fun, they had breakfast and 24 hour free (good) coffee! After getting settled, we set off to explore Portland. We found the waterfront area, the Keen store with the flip flop vending machine (!!), and a few other notable places that we planned to return to the next day since most were closed or closing. We found a Mexican restaurant, and here’s where we had our one bad meal of the trip (we have one on every trip), terrible food and too expensive. Santa Fe Taqueria, on 23rd street near the hospital, stay clear!

Friday, 1st. Our last day on the road and we needed to cover a lot of ground. First stop early AM was Multnomah Falls, stunning falls, but so sad too see all the destruction caused by the recent fires. Most of the trails were closed and the upper bridge was not accessible. I would have loved to spend some time hiking in this area. They are slowly repairing and working through were they can, but it will take quite some time for the trail to become accessible again. Heading out again toward Mt. Hood, what a site! We caught some amazing view points of this wondrous mountain, but I missed the trail head to Mirror Lake, where I wanted to hike and take some pictures. Ah well, next time! We got back to Portland and immediately headed out to explore many notable areas, The Pearl District, Downtown, Waterfront Park, we found the food trucks and had a great Gyro wrapper sandwich for about $7, rode the funicular, used a co-ed bathroom with amazing hand dryers built right into the water faucet (this was cool!) Had a Frappuchino and hung out to people watch. Very expressive individuals in Portland, I love this city! Dinner was Sushi at Bamboo, food was good but very crowded (it was Friday night, after all). Chris and I have both come to the conclusion that Portland is worth coming back to for a long weekend!

Saturday, 2nd. Packed up and heading to the airport. We put over 2000 miles on the rental car, and approximately 152,360 steps on my Garmin. We also picked a few special locations along coast to release the ashes of our faithful companion Rocky, our Black Lab who passed away in 2006. The Oregon coast just seemed like somewhere he would love to spend time; the sea, the mountains and fresh air. He would have loved it, as we certainly did.

 

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Ambergris Caye, Belize 2018

Relaxing Belize!  We could have done some exploring on the mainland, but we opted instead to stay on the island of Ambergris Caye for our entire stay. February is usually when we are wiped out from the cold and day to day life, so we are ready for a warm, do nothing vacation.

I found a direct flight from O’Hare to Belize; Saturday to Saturday, February 24th-March 3rd, then a puddle jumper to Ambergris Caye. We (and our favorite travel companions, Ginny and Frank) rented a condo at Grade Caribe #726313 from VRBO, and it exceeded our expectations. We arrived midday, got comfortable and explored the area. Grand Caribe has about 9 pools, including a 25 yard lap pool (made me happy!), a small gym and grocery store. They were also available to book excursions, and had golf carts for rent if needed (we used it for one day).

We booked two different snorkel adventures on different days, the first was Hol Chan Marine Reserve and Shark Ray Alley, the second Mexico Rocks. At Hol Chan, we started in shallow water, got comfortable with our gear and then set off over the reef. The water was at various levels throughout, and there were many divers here as well as a good crowd of snorkelers. In many cases, it was hard to see the fish as the reef was about 20 feet below. It was crowded, and we were there in the low season, so I can imagine when spring break starts it will be absolutely crazy. We spent about 45 minutes in this area and then moved on to the next stop, Shark Ray Alley; a feeding frenzy for nurse sharks which ended as quickly as it started. Most people got in the water to watch them from below, Ginny and I stayed on the boat to watch from above. At Mexico Rocks, we went directly to the reef and jumped in. The amount of fish in this area was really amazing.  We were up close and personal with a barracuda, another shark, many, many beautifully colored fish, a moray eel and a very large friendly turtle. By far, this was a much better snorkel opportunity than the Hol Chan Reserve. The water was about 10 feet deep, and the reef was close and colorful! Best of all, it was not crowded, there were maybe a dozen people there including us. The water in Belize is crystal clear and warm, we couldn’t ask for better snorkeling conditions.

 

Besides snorkeling, the majority of our trip was spent lounging, walking, swimming and eating! We did get a golf cart one day to explore the island, which is always an adventure when Chris is driving.  We went out about 10 miles north, on a VERY bumpy road to find a beach that unfortunately for us, was covered in seaweed. We spent one afternoon on the Island of Caye Caulker, a small island about a 45 minute boat ride away; had lunch at Paradiso and a yummy Ice coffee drink, walked the island (it IS small) and enjoyed the boat ride back. We also went to San Pedro town many times to explore, shop and eat. We had many great dinners and some not so great, the food at the Grand Caribe was OK but pricey (EVOO and Rain); there are better, less expensive places on the island. We really enjoyed Elvi’s Kitchen and Stella’s, and don’t miss the Truckstop! Many people raved about Caramba!, but we didn’t find it to be worth the cost. The prices were quite high and we didn’t find the food to be that tasty, or at least not worthy of raving reviews.

 

Another successful trip on the books! Great time, Great food, Great people. Would like to return to Belize again someday and do more exploring!

 

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Chattanooga, Tennessee 2017

We ended up in Chattanooga Tennessee for Thanksgiving this year, 11/23-11/26.  Cheap flights to Atlanta (6 am flight), a short drive over and inexpensive lodging made this a nice weekend getaway to explore a small area of Tennessee.

Arriving on Thanksgiving afternoon, nothing was open in this small town. We got settled in our little apartment, took a nap then went to the movies which also doubled as our dinner venue (ugh).  We saw the movie Wonder; movies are becoming a thing for us to do on Thanksgiving the last few years.

Friday, (Chris’ Birthday!) we had a great breakfast at MeanMug Coffee House and then set off to explore Lookout Mountain. We found a trail head called Guild trail that lead right up the mountain and to all it’s attractions, passing Ruby Falls and leading up to Point Park and Cravens House. We walked to Ruby Falls and spent quite a bit of time in the tour group getting through the caves and getting to the actual falls.  Frankly, I was not impressed. I have seen better waterfalls and I also have an aversion to caves to begin with, so this was definitely not for me. We left there and continued to walk the Guild Trail up a few more miles. This was a very easy trail, made for walking and with a slight incline as you head up the mountain.  Chris wanted to go explore the waterfront area before dark, so we headed back and went into downtown (total trail hike was about 7 miles). Downtown was festive with Christmas activities, food booths and vendors. We went out for dinner to Sticky Fingers and had Ribs, which is Chris’ favorite food but unfortunately, our restaurant choice did not impress us.

Saturday, we headed back to Lookout Mountain since we didn’t finish the trail walk up to Point Park and Craven’s House yesterday. These were two very interesting, historic areas. We learned the historic relevance of Lookout Mountain from the Civil War; how important Chattanooga’s role was in the war as a railroad hub and also for its river way.  There are many points along the drive up the mountain that identify battle areas, and that offer remembrance to the soldiers that fought there.  Midday, we decided to travel further out on Lookout Mountain into Georgia to Lula Lake land Trust. LOVED THIS! This was a great hike with many trails all leading to the waterfall. We took the longest possible trail available (4.5 miles), most of which was an easy hike wth mild elevation. We had bluff views of Georgia in some areas, and had a challenging short hike down and up to the actual waterfall. I also wanted to explore an area called Signal Mountain which I head had excellent hiking as well, so we took a ride up to the Julia Falls overlook on Signal Mountain. I wanted to hike down, Chris didn’t, so we just admired the view for a while before heading back into town for dinner. Our dinner pick tonight was Blue Orleans. New Orleans food in Tennessee; It was very good, would definitely recommend!

Sunday, our flight out was at 6pm, so we had time to do some exploring. We decided to take a leisurely drive out toward Alabama and then back up into Georgia. We stopped by Little River Falls in Alabama, and then took a stroll in down town Marietta, Georgia before finally heading to the airport for our flight home. This was a very nice, relaxing trip away, with definitely more potential for Tennessee to be placed on our retirement home list.

 

 

 

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Rhine River Cruise & Italy 2017

One of the longest trips we have taken so far, August 12th- September 4th, 2017.  A 7 day Rhine River cruise with AMA Waterways, ending with 4 days in Switzerland and then home to Italy for 11 days.  Here are some of our highlights.

We started our cruise in Amsterdam; we had a 1/2 day to explore this amazing city on foot upon arrival and the next day with a canal cruise. Amsterdam is a very interesting city; legalized Marijuana with dedicated cafes, lots of breweries, plenty of restaurants and legalized prostitution. Definitely different than any other city I have ever been, oh and don’t step in front of a bicycle or tram, you will lose!! I would have enjoyed another day or two exploring this city, there was far more to see .. I was not able to get inside the Ann Frank house or see the I AM AMSTERDAM sign, which I wanted a picture with, 2 reasons to return another day.

We left Amsterdam midday and headed to Cologne, Germany where we enjoyed an approximate 6 mile bike ride along the Rhine river. During our ride, we also went into the old town and visited the Gothic Cathedral containing the golden casket of the 3 wise men (Magi). Cologne was also the original home of No.4711 Cologne (I remember my mother using this a LONG time ago). Almost bought some, almost. We left Cologne late afternoon and ended the day in Koblenz for an evening walk and a visit to the Deutsches Eck, a Equestrian monument marking the joining of the Mosel and Rhine rivers.

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Cologne Germany

Most of the next day was spent cruising the Rhine Gorge valley with it’s many castles and beautiful vistas. We then arrived in Rudesheim, Germany late afternoon to a heavy rain fall. We had a hike scheduled for the day, but due to the heavy rains, it was canceled. Nevertheless, we set off on foot to explore the city, rain coat and umbrella in hand. Lucky for us,  the rain relented and we were able to take a cable car up to the Niederwald Monument, overlooking the very scenic Rhine Valley. The monument is quite impressive; it is a commemoration to the  unification of the German Empire after the Fanco-Prussian war. Later in the evening, after dinner we went to visit Siegfried’s Mechanical Music Museum, where there was quite an assortment of self-playing instruments, dolls and music boxes.

The next day we arrived in Mannheim, Germany and were bused over to Heidelberg where we met our guide for the hike up Philosopher’s Path. The hike was actually very strenuous, up various unpaved wooded trails to the very top of the hill.  Here we found St. Micheal Monastery, built in the 16th century and Thingstatte amphitheater, built during WWII by the Nazis. We also had fabulous views of Heidelberg and its famous landmark Castle from the top of the hill. After the hike, we had some time to get an ice coffee in Heidelberg before going back to the ship and setting sail again.

Next we arrived in Strasbourg, within the Alsace district of France. We finally had the entire day off the ship to explore. Our first tour was an approximate 13 mile bike ride around Strasbourg city. We explored some of the not so walkable areas of the city with old and modern structures, rivers, statues and homes. We also went to Notre Dame Cathedral for a brief visit and then headed back to the ship for lunch. We learned that this region changed hands between France and Germany 4 times in 75 years, and the entire region speaks German and French (they never know when it will change back ;). After lunch, we went out again on foot to further explore the amazing Notre Dame Cathedral, it’s famous astronomical clock, and the very quaint but touristy Le Petite-France district.  This was a very enjoyable area to spend the entire day!

The next morning we docked in Breisach Germany, we decided to take a tour to the Alsatian village of Riquewihr which was about 45 minutes out by bus.  This village has the appearance of being completely unchanged in the last 400 years and largely escaped any damage from WWII. It was very charming with beautiful courtyard and gardens, however the majority of the structures were now set up for tourism and shopping. Back to the ship to have lunch and pack, tomorrow we are disembarking in Basel Switzerland.

**I will add my commentary here about the Rhine Cruise: I did not enjoy the Rhine cruise as much as the Danube. The Rhine River was not very scenic, and we spent FAR too much time cruising than at ports. One of the reasons I loved the Danube cruise we did a few years ago was that we spent the entire day in the port city exploring and then sailed in the evening, not so with the Rhine. It’s a very long river, with many locks, and it just takes time to get through them. My bad for not getting this detail in our itinerary and adjusting our expectations. However, the cruise line is fantastic, food was excellent, and the service impeccable!

We off boarded the ship in Basel and set off for 2 days in Lucerne, Switzerland. Our first stop was the Lion monument. This beautiful monument is of a dying lion; it commemorates the hundreds of swiss guards who were massacred in 1792 during the French revolution, when an armed mob stormed the Tulleries Palace in Paris. We also toured the Water Tower and Chapel Bridge; built in 1333, the bridge was partially destroyed by fire and then rebuilt in 1993. Also on our travels, we explored and climbed the Nine Towers (only 4 were open), the Musegg wall and saw the oldest city clock which is allowed to chime every hour, 1 minute before all the other city clocks. We did some shopping, ate our meals along beautiful lake Lucerne, and just admired the views of this stunning city and its surrounding mountains. Two excellent restaurants we ate at were Barbatti Italian. You must have the prosciutto, house speciality!!  And Pfistern, excellent local food!

Leaving Lucerne, we took a scenic boat ride across Lake Lucerne into the city of Vitznau, where we boarded a bus for a very scenic drive to Zurich, Switzerland where we stayed for 2  more days. In Zurich, We saw Old St. Peter Church, which has the oldest clock face in the world, the old town, town hall, Fraumuster and the scenic beauty of Lake Zurich. We spent quite a bit of time in the old town and also visited the Swiss National Museum. Noteworthy in Zurich is Movenpick Ice cream. It was amazing! We also ate at Restaurant eCHO, it serves traditional Swiss food. I had a hamburger which was nothing like I’ve ever seen or tasted. It was Excellent!

**A few things to note about Switzerland: It’s amazingly beautiful, everywhere! I never got tired of just sitting and admiring it’s beauty. It’s also amazingly expensive, everywhere!! Seriously, I couldn’t believe the cost of a simple meal, nothing fancy.  Thai food, 1 dish, 37 francs. Ouch! The food was excellent though, every meal we had.

August 23rd (my mother’s birthday), we left Switzerland and landed in Bari, Italy; a bittersweet visit. My mother passed away on May 15th; her and my father spend their summers in Mola Di Bari. My father picked us up from the airport, and I am very accustomed to seeing mom as soon as I walk in the door of their home, this was the first of many other times that I was looking for her while here. Since my mom was buried in Chicago, we had arranged a memorial mass at the nearby church in Mola for the following day; I was able to see many of my cousins and family friends, it was a nice tribute to my mom.  Our time in Mola was a mix of work and fun. We spent quite a bit of time cleaning up and organizing my parents condo, and also collecting a few things out of their old house, which will be put up for sale eventually. This was originally my grandfathers house, and my parents first home after they were married. I was born in this house, and my parents still have many of their belongings in it… over 60 years later, and so many memories. Bittersweet.

We took a day trip to Lecce, the Florence of the south, and we explored the highlights: the church of the Santa Croce, Teatro Romano and the Piazza del Duomo, and spent some time strolling the city. We also spent a few days at our favorite beach, Lido Verde.  My cousins were here from Chicago, and they invited us to their farm for a BBQ and brick oven pizza picnic. This is one of my favorite things to do while we are in Italy, they make the best pizzas ever!!  We were also invited by another cousin for lunch at their new home in Alberbello. This place was just awesome! It is a Trullo, and it has been completely renovated. It appears very small from the outside, but it’s amazingly spacious and lovely on the inside. They also have a beautiful garden and courtyard where we spent the afternoon chatting after a wonderful meal.

Over all the trip was wonderful, we enjoyed our travels and it’s been difficult to get back into the groove of being home. I will say again that our trip to Italy was bittersweet, with so many memories of my mom. With every turn, I was waiting to see her or hear her voice.  Both my husband and I agreed that Italy just wan’t the same without my mom, she is definitely missed.

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Me and my honey

 

 

 

 

 

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Washington DC 2017

I was looking for a trip to take in early March, and I wanted to do something historical. One of my bucket list items is to see the Holocaust museum in DC, I missed going there the last time I was in DC back in 2012 and have been wanting to go back ever since. So, after talking to my friend Jeanine, and finding out she was interested as well, we booked our trip.

We left on March 9th after work, arrived a bit late in the day but easily found our lodging location. We stayed at VBR#553502, the location was very convenient. It was near the mall, near the train, the neighborhood was nice and there was a safeway grocery store right down the street.   There were also a few good restaurants nearby, one we especially liked called Masala Art, excellent Indian food!

On our first first full day, the weather was horrible.  We wanted to get close to the Holocaust Museum since we had 1:30 admission tickets, and I was hoping to walk over to see the nearby outdoor monuments before hand, but due to the cold and rain, we ended up wandering at the Freer gallery of Art and the African American Art museum for some time until our 1:30 time slot. Once inside the Holocaust museum, time passed quickly. There were an incredible amount of exhibits, videos and stories to read. From the rise of Hitler to freeing the concentration camps and the end of the war, there was not a moment where I didn’t feel completely engulfed in the times and lives of these people. I have been to the Holocaust museum here in Skokie, but the details and graphics in DC were far more revealing.  It’s frightening to see how Hitler rose to power, how he was able to control his followers, how he lead them to believe that Jew’s were the enemy.  So scary in fact, given today’s political climate, that I fear we have learned nothing from our past.  By the time we left the museum the weather had calmed; although it was cold, we were able to walk over to the Washington Monument, the WWII memorial, Lincoln Memorial, Korean War Memorial and the Vietnam Wall Memorial all before the sun finally set. Lots of walking, and a very successful day!

Our second full day was spent at the National Archives, the Capitol Building and the Library of Congress. Besides the normal touristy thing in the National Archives, we went to the “back door” and actually went into the research center. We had ID’s made and did a bit of searching on family. Jeanine found out who her true father is (jk!), and we also found my naturalization papers, very interesting. We did the obligatory free tour of the Capitol with a good guide who gave us a brief history of  some of the statues in Statutory Hall, the paintings in the Rotunda, as well as info about the crypt which is not really a crypt. Creepy.  Later that night we were treated by a good friend to dinner at a fancy restaurant called Mastro’s. We even tried escargot, I wasn’t a huge fan, but hey!  Yes, this place was fancy for us, I was afraid that we would get turned away due to the dress code (we definitely didn’t meet the dress code) but they let us in anyway!

Day 3, the entire day was spent at Newseum. I really enjoy this museum, it’s focus is entirely on the 1st amendment. Every floor is dedicated in detail to our first amendments rights: to Assemble, Speech, Petition, Religion and Press. The museum largely focuses on the press, reporting, the media and free speech. It’s fascinating how the press has shaped our lives through some of the stories we see, hear and read each day. It’s amazing to go over our history in the form of newspapers, photographs, TV, Internet, etc. and see how the world has taken shape throughout the years. This was my second visit to this museum and although many of the exhibits had not changed, It’s impossible to read through them all, so frequent return trips are a must! Later we took a walk over to the White house, strictly for nostalgic purposes (we had no intention or desire to see its current occupant) and then headed back around the house for dinner.

True to form in Chicago, we had no snow in January or February, but come March and the day we are heading home, there is a snow storm! Needless to say, we were very worried about our flight home. Many flights before ours and after ours were canceled, but we managed to get in with only a slight delay – getting in quite literally in-between snow storms as DC was hit the very next day! We are lucky ladies!

 

 

 

 

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Asheville, North Carolina 2016

We spent our 21st Anniversary week in Asheville, North Carolina  I absolutely fell in love with this town and we enjoyed every minute of our 1 week stay.

We rented an apartment near downtown Asheville from VBRO #661841. It was comfortable for the two of us, and it provided us with all the basic needs for our stay. In addition to being about 1 mile from downtown, we had easy access to the highway, and had 3 different grocery stores nearby as well. The price was a bit high, but since this was peak season, I guess we asked for it! Being so close to down town offered us the opportunity to dine at quite a few different restaurants and have a variety of ethnic and local food choices. Surprisingly, we managed to keep our dinner budget at each restaurant under $45 each night, except for the last evening where we splurged a bit more. There was also no shortage of places for dessert, we stopped at the Chocolate Lounge (coffee was terrible), Chocolate Fetish (very good), and Old Europe Cafe (our favorite).

We were fortunate enough to be in NC to  witness the fall foliage colors changing in the mountains and elsewhere in NC. What a beautiful site! We took many long rides along the Blue Ride Parkway and also managed to find some off the beaten path roads that were quite stunning as well.

 

Highlights:

Biltmore. Wow. This was  massive, stunning, amazing, and on and on. How could someone build something so big? Not just the size of the house, but the entire estate is about 8000 acres! The interesting point of the house though is that it was fairly modern…it actually had an indoor pool, gym and bowling alley! Also had 2 hotels on the property, a winery and active farm land. Note that the entry tickets were pricey! I did manage to get $10 off each by purchasing via Groupon link even though there was no Groupon offered.

Hiking!! We went on 3 hikes in NC, 2 trailheads were off the Blue Ridge Parkway (BRP). Crabtree falls was a hike off the BRP,  and it was about a 3.5 mile loop to the Waterfall. The waterfall was beautiful, although not as fluid due to the time of year. Graveyard Trails, also off the BRP was about 3.5 miles out and back to the upper and lower falls. The upper falls were disappointing, the lower falls had a bit more flow but not very full. Again, this was not the time of year for waterfalls, the fall colors were the attraction.  I was not as impressed with these hikes so much as I was the hikes we found in Colorado. Not sure if they were bad choices or the limited choices that we had for nearby options. We also drove down to Hot Springs to find part of the Appalachian trail (had to say we hiked the A.T.!). We hiked on that for about 2 miles out and back. We would have like to have done more of this trail but it was late in the day and we didn’t want to get too far out (we had no map either).

Chimney Rock State Park. I thought this was going to be more of a hike, but it turned out to be a long stair climb (built wooden stairs)! We went up to Exclamation point trail (highest lookout of the park) about 1.25 miles strait up and back, and also stopped at many other lookouts along the way. On the way down, we continued onto another trail called Hickory Nuts Falls (a very easy walking trail about 1.5 miles out and back) to find the waterfall. Again, not so stunning but we made the trek anyway!

We did take two trips out to Greenville, SC as we were considering this as a potential retirement area. Although Chris seemed to really like like the area, I was far less impressed. Chris is concerned about our return on investment, but I’m more concerned about us being happy and having access to what we need;  I didn’t get that “I’d love it here” feeling while we were bouncing about the area. It is an up and coming area, so something to consider, but it just didn’t strike me as a place I would love to live. So far, Asheville and Colorado are high up on my list though, problem is they are far more expensive and not as tax friendly to retirees.

In our travels off the beaten path, we managed to run across Wheels Through Timewhich is located in Maggie Valley, NC. This is a transportation museum which houses many antique motorcycles, vintage motorcycle memorabilia and some antique cars. Chris was in HEAVEN! We roamed around there for some admiring the vintage motorcycles, memorabilia, cars, photos, etc. before taking off on our journey back to Asheville. We also bought some raffle tickets to win an antique bike, so fingers crossed!

 

Next up this year (and on the retirement hunt) is Florida. Staying at Chris’ parents Condo, but planing a few day trips to explore the Gulf cost and looking at that area.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Colorado 2016

One week vacation in Colorado 8/31-9/7, and it could not have been more beautiful. We arrived in Boulder late on Wednesday night, and after a brief issue with our room, we grabbed a bite to eat and got settled in. Our friends Bridgette and Brian came out early the next morning (September 1st) and we headed up to Estes Park for some hiking. We decided to hike the Glacier Gorge trail up to Mills Lake, about 7 miles round trip with about 850 ft elevation gain. This trail was moderate and took us past beautiful Alberta Falls, over very scenic trails, and ultimately to Mills Lake. On the return, we actually could have done a loop up to Bears Lake but by this point we were all hungry and looking for some real food beyond nuts and bars! We went to a restaurant in Estes Park town called Twin Owls Steakhouse.  We ordered Elk medallions for appetizers; for dinner the guys and me had the Bison Steak special with potatoes and veggies, and Bridgette had a 4×4 which had lobster tail and Filet. Since we were in Colorado we had to try some of the game, it was a bit expensive, but the food was delicious! A very successful first day in Colorado!

September 2nd, We spent our second day touring around Boulder, the Flat Irons, some scenic overlooks and explored some areas around route 72, Nederland, and Blackhawk. We ended up in Golden Colorado to meet up with some old friends Shirley, Steve, Mike and Jeanine. We all went out for a wonderful lunch and then a nice walk along a waterfall path at Lair of the Bear park. We agreed to meet up for another hike the next day at Estes Park. Note to self, I really loved the Golden Colorado area!!

Well, since this was Labor day weekend (September 3rd), we expected the park to be crowded. Parking is very limited and we were lucky to be able to secure spots just before everyone was denied entrance into the park. We hitched a shuttle over to Bear lake and after a brief hike (2 miles) toward Fern Lake (and storms moving in) we headed back and did the .5 mile walk around Bear Lake until the skies cleared, then we headed up toward Dream Lake and Emerald Lake. The hike was about 4 miles out and back with ~700 ft elevation gain. This was a very scenic hike with plenty of Aspen trees, wild flowers, and 3 different lakes. Each turn was more stunning than the next. I told Chris that I was never going home again…..Leaving here and heading for dinner we stopped in Estes Park town again, but this time our dinner luck was not as good. We picked a restaurant called Wild Rose and not only was there a huge delay in delivering our food, it was ICE COLD when it arrived, not to mention NOT fresh (just don’t go). We tipped the waitress and left everything on the table. We then ended up at Smoking’ Dave’s BBQ in Lyons, the food was awesome fresh and tasty! Everyone was happy, we should have just headed straight there, now we know.

 

September 4th, we decided to drive to Colorado Springs and up to Pikes Peak. Naturally I wanted to take the cog train up but since my husband refuses to plan anything in advance I didn’t purchase tickets in advance (as one should do during a peak holiday season). As a result of this, the cog train was sold out and we had to 1) wait in the entrance line for the highway for OVER 1 hr. just to pay to head up the road and 2) pray that the tin can KIA compact car we rented would make it up and down the 20 mile steep slope of the mountain. Well, after some hair pin turns and the smell of some rubber burning from the car, we finally made it up to the peak. Thankfully, I did bring pants and a sweatshirt but forgot my socks/shoes, so I had to walk in sandals and freeze my toes. Well worth it though, what a beautiful site!! We explored, took pictures, took more pictures and were just amazed to see how many people were making the trek up the mountain on a bicycle!!! The wind was so crazy that I was getting blown away just standing there, and the roads were amazingly steep. I couldn’t imaging walking up much less trying to pedal up on a bike!! After a very slow downward drive (and our brakes did not over heat, nice job Chris!), we had some lunch in downtown Colorado Springs and then made a last minute decision to drive to the Royal Gorge Bridge (RGB). This was another 1.5 hrs SW of Colorado Springs and it was already about 3 pm. I have to say this was pretty uneventful place. After paying $40 dollars to “get in”, we walked across the bridge, took some photos, watched a movie about the RGB and we were done. Now, there were other things to do that were amusement park-ish (zip line, swing, cable car), all except the cable car were about $50 per person to do and we were not interested. So, we left to take the 3 hr trek back to Boulder and hope to get on the main highway before dark. I was disappointed in this part of our trip as it was a very long drive and I felt deflated on the experience. We should have done this with a rafting trip, or something that would have had us in the area already, but not as special drive out.

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September 5th, Labor Day. My other must do hike for this trip was the Wild Basin area Trail past Ouzel Falls (Allens Park).  This was another moderate hike about 7.5 miles round trip (we had a 1 mile walk just to get to the trail head) with a 1073 ft. elevation gain. This hike had one beautiful waterfall cascade after the next and plenty of beautiful vistas to enjoy. We stopped to take plenty of pictures along this route and sat to enjoy the sounds of rushing waters which was so relaxing. I once again told Chris I was not going home…..I hope to go back to this one day and take the extended trail to blue bird lake. After our hike we decided to explore some of the local neighborhoods (this trip was also to identify some potential areas for retirement), so we ventured out toward Longmont,  Loveland and then to Fort Collins. We stopped in Fort Collins for a while to explore the downtown area, grab a bite to eat and enjoy some Ben and Jerry’s ice cream. Some college girls asked Chris for his autograph, I didn’t realize he was such a superstar! Also we both really loved the Ft. Collins area, this seemed to be more affordable living; had walkability in town and also suburban-ish areas, and only a short drive to the mountains.

September 6th, Our last full day in Colorado! We drove around Boulder for a while checking out the neighborhoods and discovered (sadly) that there is no way we could afford home in that area (confirmed with a stop at the local real estate office). We then met Bridgette and Brian at the Red Rocks amphitheater and explored that area for a while, then headed down to Morrison to grab a bite to eat. Afterward, we headed back up toward Golden Colorado and up to lookout mountain and Buffalo Bill’s grave and museum and of course we spent more time gazing at the beautiful vistas Colorado has to offer. After a while we said our goodbyes and we headed back to Boulder and packing up for our trip back home.

I was very sad to leave this beautiful state, more so than I would have normally on most vacations we go to. The reason being is that I can really see us living there;  it wasn’t just a “beach vacation away from it all”. I can see it being a home, somewhere that we can establish ourselves and be happy with nature, reasonably good weather, friends nearby, and also very low traffic! Ah, we’ll see…

Here is a good web page I used to find some of the trails we  hiked called Rocky Mountain Trails. I also had printed some of the trail maps in advance so we could decided on the length and difficulty of the trail as we went along. One other note is that we purchased a 7 days pass for the National Park (only $10 more than the one time fee) and we used it all all of the hiking locations we went to. Good deal if you plan to do more than one day of hiking in the Rocky Mountain National Park.

Next stop on the home hunting and hiking trail is NC, South Carolina (foothills), and Tennessee in October.

 

 

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