Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Travels’ Category

The original plan was to leave Montana Saturday morning and drive straight through to Sunday evening, but after the drive out there, part of the party wished to leave earlier. I felt confident I could do the power-through thing again, but conceded to leave Friday after dinner. Josh and his family left early Friday morning, and Em and Drew left late morning. The rest of us hung out at the house and visited Ennis one more time to do some shopping. We bought souvenirs like this one:

And so it was only two cars that left in the evening and drove through Friday night while Scarlet and the other kids slept. We kept going until about 4:30pm on Saturday when we stopped somewhere in Wisconsin. We finished out the drive Sunday, getting home that evening. Overall, the trip went pretty smoothly. The kid was nearly perfect, entertaining herself with random things as usual, and even though our van was a disaster, we had a good time.

Montana is beautiful, and I was so happy to get back out there. We were really lucky Dad invited all of us along, and I’m so lucky to have a family I want to spend a week (including two cross-country road trips) with.

One last thing I forgot to mention. One of our favorite activities while at the house was looking for wildlife out the giant picture window. We never saw much, but it was pretty common to see scenes like this all day long:

Read Full Post »

On Wednesday, a small group decided to go to the Tetons. I had been a few times, so I volunteered to babysit Scarlet so Kelli could go. I told her, and Mike and Des, who also went, that if they’re this close, they can’t NOT see the Tetons. So they were up early and off to see some beautiful mountains. The rest of the family went hiking and swimming, so I was home along for most of the day with the crazy toddler. Again, I sent the camera with Mike:

They even saw a moose! Kelli’s goal for the trip was to see a darn moose, so I’m really happy they did. Apparently there was a lot of flipping out. Moose are pretty cool – they’re my favorite animal after the elephant I think. One time, while camping in Wyoming somewhere, I strolled off by myself and came face to ass with a huge bull moose. They are HUGE and amazing, but I didn’t stick around long to inspect it. Anywhere, here’s the moose they saw:

Apparently they also saw a black bear on their way home. It ran out in front of their truck, but no pictures…

This is what my day looked like:

That night, when everyone recommenced at the house, we had dinner and cake and ice cream for the birthday boy, Kyron, who turned seven.

On Thursday, most of us went out for a little adventure. First, we went white water rafting. Unfortunately, it wasn’t wise to bring cameras on the river, so I only have photos of us pre-departure.

We had to seriously gear up for this: wetsuits, water booties, rain jackets, life jackets, helmets and paddles. We were really awesome looking, I know. The ride was pretty sweet. We had ten people so we had to split into two groups. I went with my brother, sister-in-law and their kids, while Mike went with Dad, Des and their kids. Nobody fell out, so it wasn’t nearly as exciting as it could be, but we had fun. After lunch, we drove to the corral for horseback riding.

Again, we had to keep our cameras in our saddlebags once we were on the horse, but luckily Mike saddled up before me so I got one of him on his horse Angus.

His horse was so good for him, which was good since Mike was a first-time rider. I, on the other hand, used to ride all the time when I was younger, so I volunteered to take the horse that was described as a drama queen. And oh she was. Such a diva! Her name was Monroe and she wouldn’t cross the river, she didn’t like the mud, she walked soooo slow and we were constantly behind, and she really couldn’t have cared less what I had to say about anything. She’s the light-colored horse in this picture:

About half way through the ride, we stopped on top of a hill and got into attack formation so the guides could take a few photos for us.

Notice my horse on the far left being a total brat and eating weeds like she was NOT supposed to!

That was our day! Definitely a good time. And just because it’s adorable, here’s a picture of Mike wearing his souvenir hat.

Read Full Post »

After taking a day to relax and adjust, we spent Monday at Yellowstone. This was kind of an emotional trip for me because I worked at YNP for a few months 10 years ago with my sister. I had always wanted to go back, to revisit all the places I had accumulated so many memories. Unfortunately, my sister couldn’t make this trip, so visiting Yellowstone again was bittersweet. She and I really bonded that summer, and it changed our relationship, so revisiting it without her was not ideal.

Anyway, we drove the lower loop of the park, stopping for wildlife sightings and to see a few highlights. We saw a lot of elk and bison, and we even got to watch a buffalo cross the road right in front of us. They’re quite impressive animals! When I lived at YNP, I had many close encounters with them, and they’re kind of amazing.

Our first major stop was Old Faithful. Andrea and I spent about a month working here at the very end of our time at the park. We had such an amazing time at Canyon, where we spent most of our summer, and moving to Old Faithful kind of sucked. But the lodge looked exactly as I remembered it.

That’s where I worked!

And she’s off!

I love how he’s holding Scarlet’s diaper bag.

We ate lunch in the parking lot, then drove on. We made a couple small stops, but the next major one was my old home, Canyon Village. It’s so strange to stand in the same place you stood 10 years ago and think about how much has changed. Unfortunately, the visit was tainted by some miscommunication and some short tempers. Somehow the group got split, and we spent a lot of time waiting for each other.

Ever since we started planning this trip, I had a vision of standing at a certain lookout point and recreating a photo from when I worked there. But by the time we got to that specific point, Kelli had had enough. Apparently we took too long while she waited in the car, and when we got back, she made a remark and I went off on her. We had WORDS! So many words that eventually my dad had to cut us off because the profanity was inappropriate for the small ears in the car. Oops. I hated that my long-awaited visit to Canyon was tainted, but eventually we made up, as sisters do, and it was fine.

This is the photo that caused such a ruckus.

Breathtaking.

We spent some time in the Village, visiting the front desk where Andrea and I used to work and the dorms we used to live in (Mike and I even snuck inside!).

Oh Canyon, such fun we had together.

The front desk… looks exactly the same.

Our room is the one on the first floor right before that side door.

We finished the lower loop and went back to the house. The next day, Tuesday, Emily and Drew went up to Missoula for a couple nights, and almost everyone else went back to Yellowstone to do the upper loop. I was more than familiar with the park and had seen what I really came to see, so I stayed back with Kelli and Scarlet. I really wanted a chill day, time to read and nap and do a lot of nothing. I sent the camera with Mike though:

Mammoth Hot Springs

Read Full Post »

My dad has been with his company for 30 years, which is something beyond my comprehension, but apparently where he works that means you get $4,000 to put toward a trip. Most people would pick a cruise or tropical getaway, and my dad and his wife did consider a Disney cruise with their two kids, but my dad is a mountain man at heart. So I helped them find a house to rent in the Madison Valley in Montana between Ennis and Yellowstone National Park. And he invited the whole family to come out with them for a week.

We left on a Friday evening and drove straight through, 31 hours. We had four vehicles: my brother and his family in an Impala, my dad and his wife and youngest kids in a truck, my sister and her husband in a Prius (they actually left Friday morning, but we caught up to them in South Dakota), and myself, Mike, Kelli and Scarlet in the van.

We were a little worried about taking a one year old on a cross-country road trip, but she did remarkably well. We took turns entertaining her, and even though she got a little grumpy now and then, it was overall a pretty peaceful drive. We had an constant stream of things to entertain her, and when the traditional toys ran out, we tried household items like pillows!

Like I said, we unexpectedly met up with Emily and Drew in SD. They had stopped overnight on Friday while we kept driving, and Saturday morning she texted me to find out where we were. Mile 347 on I94. And they were at mile 340 on I94! (I made those numbers up, but the point is, we were seven miles apart.) So we pulled over for breakfast and they joined us the rest of the way.

We packed most of our travel meals, stopping at rest stops or gas station parking lots to eat sandwiches and such.

At one stop we took a family photo by a random abandoned bus. It’s the only group shot we took all week.

We rolled into the place we were staying after dinnertime (though we hadn’t eaten) on Saturday and it was incredible. It’s in a valley on a bluff by a river, and even though there were a few other cabins in sight, they were far enough away that we never encountered another soul during our stay.

The Madison River Retreat.

View from the back, at the bottom of the bluff.

The Madison River.

Part of our spectacular view.

We spent our first full day (Sunday) exploring the town of Ennis and planning out the rest of the week.

And we ended the day with a dance party – all the girls did the Evolution of Dance. Yes there is video, no I am not sharing it here. But it was a lot of fun. More on the rest of the week soon!

Read Full Post »

Summer = Camping

Last weekend, Mike and I went camping with my family: my mom and her husband Kelly, sister Emily and her husband Drew (they celebrated their first anniversary while we were there!), and my sister Kelli, her husband Kevin and baby Scarlet. It was supposed to the WHOLE family, but my sister Andrea and her family couldn’t make it, and neither could my brother Josh and his family. We had fun anyway.

We built lots of fires.

That’s my mom. We called her Campfire Girl all weekend. It worked because she used to be one. And she builds sweet fires. Here she’s fixing someone else’s smoky mess.

Then we sat around the fires we built.

We ate delicious meals.

Those are hobo packets: ground beef, potatoes, veggies, sauces and spices in one handy packet.

We saw beautiful sunsets and moonrises.

We went to the beach.

Come on. Cutest girl ever right?

We had good conversation.

We played games.

We slept in (and apparently tried to escape from) tents.

And basically we had a good time, and did a lot of much-needed relaxing.

Read Full Post »

The first time I traveled to Europe (Ireland 2009), I had the benefit of a grad school instructor who had been there several times and helped guide us through some of the unknowns. She booked our flights and took care of lodging and transportation. The second time (France 2010), my friends and I did all the planning ourselves, and it was a pain in the ass. I love traveling and I’m a thorough planner, but it was exhausting to have to figure out every little detail both before and during the trip.

So when Mike and I decided to see a bit of Europe as a belated honeymoon slash pre-kids extravaganza, we knew we wanted to hand off some of the planning to someone else. Thanks to a tip from a former travel agent friend (she’s still a friend, no longer a travel agent), we looked into Trafalgar. We researched several other options, but ultimately trusted her judgment and found what we were looking for with them.

How to Select a Trip
We started with location. We knew we for sure wanted to go to Italy, so we searched for trips that included Italy. Then we considered length, narrowing down to trips that were longer than a week but shorter than two. We also had some limitations on price and timing, so after finagling a little, we landed on the London to Rome tour (which now I can’t find on their site). It got a little crazy trying to book the trip… this happened:

But it was a logistical thing, and Trafalgar was very helpful in the booking process. They also booked our flights and built it into our costs.

Pros & Cons of Tour Travel

Pros:
Less Planning
– We’ll start with the obvious. We didn’t want to do all the planning, and going on a tour like this takes a lot of the pressure off. They took care of flights, all lodging, all transportation (except when we ventured out on our own), several meals, and many other logistics I loved not worrying about. We still had to do a lot of prep work to get the most out of the trip, but other people literally showed up and waited to be told what to do. So it can go either way, depending how much you want to do on your own. And how much you want to spend.

Local Knowledge, Professional Guidance & Language Interpretation – Our tour guide, Annette, was Scottish, but she spoke several languages, including English, French, German and Italian. Having someone so easily speak the languages of the countries we visited was such a help. We were on our own a lot, and we fumbled our way through conversations, but Annette navigated a lot of interactions that we would have had to struggle through otherwise. Probably even more than we realized. She and the local guides we occasionally had, knew a lot about the countries and cities we were in and were able to not only provide us with historical and cultural knowledge, but also tips on little nuances like how to order food at the roadside Auto Grilles. There were a lot of little things that were made easier (or avoided entirely) that we would have had to handle or figure out on our own if we had traveled solo.

Less Waiting – I didn’t even consider this until it happened the first time, but if you book an excursion through the tour company that includes admission to something, you basically skip all the long lines! The tour company books a time for your group to get in, then they get you there at exactly that time, so you show up and bam, you’re in. Occasionally we had to wait for an elevator or go through security, but it cut off hours of time in all, I’m sure. We didn’t wait at the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, the Colosseum, the Vatican, etc.

Built-in Relaxation – I was a little worried about bus travel because of my tendency toward motion sickness, but I only threw up once, and I blame that on some bad orange juice. Instead, the bus turned out to be great! We used the time to catch up on sleep and get a little organized. Not having to worry about driving allowed us to plan our adventures in the upcoming locale, take as many naps as we wanted, and do a lot of reading. I read almost 5 books in our 11 days of travel! The coach was a little uncomfortable for Mike the Giant, but we sat behind a couple who was really careful not to recline too much, and even he got a few winks in.

Let’s see how long it takes Mike to realize I posted a picture of him with his mouth hanging open on the Internet.

Making New Friends – We weren’t sure what to expect as far as travel companions, but we had some pretty cool people on our trip. As I’ve mentioned before, we hung out with two other couples quite a bit, but we also got to know several other people of all ages and origins, as well. We met people from all over the country and the world, which is an interesting side bonus to this group travel thing.

Cons:
Pressure to Buy – Ugh. The tour guides clearly work on commission because Annette was relentless about selling the optional excursions. In fact, she didn’t even treat it like an option. She spoke about each one as if we were all going to be there, and it got to be very confusing to sort of out what we’d be doing as part of the big tour and what didn’t apply to us because we didn’t purchase the optionals. And if you didn’t buy? Well, you quickly became dirt. She wasn’t very interested in helping us figure anything out if it wasn’t related to something we had paid for. For instance, in Rome, she dropped us off at the hotel and rounded up the folks going on the optional excursion. The rest of us tried to get a little information out of her regarding local transportation to downtown, and she brushed us off and was completely unhelpful. And when our friends told her they weren’t going on the gondola/water taxi optional trip in Venice, she said something like, “Biggest mistake you could make. You’ll regret it.” This kind of treatment is probably our biggest complaint of the trip.

Poor Information – This goes along with the stuff above. If you weren’t on board with the expensive tours, you don’t get to know what’s going on, sorry. Almost the entire experience, I never felt like I had enough information about what was going on. As someone who wants NEEDS to be fully informed, I was very frustrated. Leading up to the trip, we were trying to plan what to see, but it was nearly impossible to solidify anything because we had no idea when we’d be where. Yes, we knew what days we were in which cities, but when would we arrive? When would we depart? When you know you want to visit Museum X and Museum X is only open until 6, you really need to know where you’ll be and when.

We created a spreadsheet that laid out what sites we’d see on what days, and the whole thing had to be rearranged once we were actually there and got the information we needed. We called Trafalgar before departure, but they couldn’t give us much of use. And on the coach, Annette would walk us through the upcoming days, but she’d talk about included excursions and optional excursions in the same way, so we were never really sure what we were or weren’t doing. Just thinking about this is getting me frustrated again.

Dealing with People You Don’t Know – Oh people, how I hate them. There were a lot of great people on our trip, but there were several I could have strangled. Allow me to elaborate on a few. Two ladies did not understand how time worked. They consistently showed up late for everything, no matter how many times their hands were slapped. We’d all be waiting on the bus, and they’d eventually slowly saunter up like no big. Another guy took a billion pictures of the same GD things. We’d pass a car on the highway and I’d hear click click click click click click click click click click click click click click. Of a car! I tried to block it out, but you guys, so. many. photos. This coming from the girl who filled up two large memory cards.

Money, Money, Money – Visiting Europe is expensive no matter what you do, but traveling with a tour certainly adds some expenses. We paid $6,000 for the tour which included our flights, all hotels and transportation (minus any local transport we did on our own), and some meals (all breakfasts, three dinners). On top of that we paid $782 on optional tours (yikes!) and maybe $700 on other stuff including food, souvenirs, international conversion fees, blah blah blah. That’s over $7000, which hurts just to think about. But was it worth it? Yes.

Read Full Post »

When in Rome…eat pizza and gelato.

In Rome, we were, once again, on our own for meals. For dinner the first night, as Shan mentioned, we got roped into a touristy restaurant. The Italian marketing strategy for food is, apparently, stand in the street with a menu in your hand and forcibly hand it to unsuspecting tourists. Then subtly guide them into a chair and begin bringing them food. Seriously…this is how it’s done.

This charming gentleman (who eagerly grabbed Shan’s sunglasses and posed with Richie) talked us into sitting down in an outdoor cafe on a street so narrow that, sitting on the street-side, I could feel the heat from the exhaust of each car that passed by while we were eating. He first asked if we would like some wine, and then talked us up form the half-liter we were going to order to a full bottle of Italian white wine. It was light and refreshing, tasting a bit like Chardonnay.

Then he asked if we wanted bread, which of course we did. After bringing it, our tour friend Ty astutely noticed that it cost 2 Euro, although our server had made it seem like compliments of the house. Very sneaky.

It was really good though, so we didn’t mind too much. After bread, we ordered pizza. I got a margherita pizza, and it was actually a little disappointing. The crust was crispy and chewy, and was the best part. It had almost no basil on it, my favorite part of a margherita pizza. It was still pretty good, just not the transcendent experience I was hoping for. Shan got a pizza with eggplant, artichoke and basil, which was delicious. Ty and Richie got pizzas too. We all ate our fill, and then headed out as the sun set on Rome.

The next day, after walking forever, we had lunch outside the Vatican. In our most dissatisfying Italian meal of the trip, we ordered sandwiches and waters in an Italian combo meal. The sandwiches had plenty of Italian cured meats and cheese, but very little moisture. Richie had to conscript a bottle of olive oil from another part of the cafe so we could dowse our sandwiches and make them palatable. They gave us the energy we needed to keep moving though, and, as Shan detailed in the saga of the huge effing wall, it was a good thing they did.

Our final evening in Rome found us back at the Colosseum for dinner at a cafe with an awesome-looking pasta menu. We started with an appetizer of caprese salad, which turned out to be even better than in Venice. We even talked Shannon into trying a bite of tomato, which blew my mind. My mind was reassembled when she decided she still didn’t like tomatoes and gave the rest to me.

For dinner, we both got pasta. Shan ordered a cheese-stuffed pasta with marinara sauce, and I ordered tagiatelle with bolognese (Italian meat sauce).

The pasta was house-made, and you could tell. It had a structure and bite to it that processed pasta can’t replicate. It was tender, and it clung to the sauce for dear life. It was incredible.

We ended our last meal in Rome with tiramisu. This was another one of those things we knew we had to eat in Europe, and it didn’t disappoint. The lady-fingers soaked up so much rich espresso that they were like little pillows of caffeine-soaked awesomeness. The custard was equally delicious. We even managed to eat it without inhaling any of the cocoa powder on top.

I couldn’t have thought of a better final meal in Europe than pasta and tiramisu in the shadow of the Colosseum with four great friends.

The next morning found us eating our actual last meal in Europe…the breakfast box. Since this box contained no actual breakfast foods, and most of it was terrible, I don’t really count it. I’ll just hold onto the image of that pasta by the Colosseum. Grazie Roma!

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »