For my full Kenya photo album (only 150 amazing photos) visit here - Kenya Flickr Photo Album
Or for all the Kenya videos - visit here - Kenya YouTube Playlist
This Kenya trip has been a long time coming and it's still kind of hard to process that I just got back from Africa! My best friend, David, grew up in Nairobi and we've worked together since 2009 while traveling for our jobs. Over hundreds of dinners on the road together, listening to his stories about Nairobi, Village life, his family, etc, I just couldn't wait to go see it with my own eyes. So finally, years in the making - Kenya - and Continent #6 - are checked off my bucket list!
It's hard to figure out how best to describe this trip. Kenya is still a very third world country, in many parts that we saw, and it was just a lot to take in and process. Some of the moments that got to me:
But now, as you read below - I'll share some of my other great memories from Kenya - the unbelievable Masai Mara safari experience, relaxing along the Indian Ocean coast at Galu Beach, watching the most amazing sunset over Lake Victoria and finally meeting David's family in the village.
Day 1 & 2 - September 5-6
I departed from Houston just before noon on Saturday - flew through D.C. and Zurich - and finally landed in Nairobi at 6:40pm on Sunday. After going through customs, which just took about 40 mins, David and his brother-in-law, Eric, were waiting outside for me. We sat down and waited for our friends Ryan and Eve to arrive. At 9pm we left the airport and into the crazy Nairobi Traffic we went. We got to Nancy's (David's sister) house just after 10pm and had a small meal she had prepared for us of beef stew and rice. Then we drove nearby to the apartment (Daykio at Chania Apartments) that we had rented for the trip; unpacked and went to sleep after a very long travel day.
Day 3 - September 7
This morning around 9:30am we walked over to Yaya Centre mall, which was just a 5 minute walk from our apartment, and had breakfast at Artcaffe. I would quickly learn that security is everywhere in Nairobi. To gain access to any building you generally walked through metal detectors. Driving into a parking garage - your car was inspected. Every apartment complex had an electric fence / barbed wire, a gate, and round the clock security guards. Pretty impressive. After breakfast there was a grocery store at Yaya, where we grabbed some items for the apartment, and then walked back. The rest of the day we explored Nairobi. David drove us to his primary school, Milimani, and to his boarding school, Lenana. We swung by the bank, and then picked up his sister Nancy from work and had a late lunch at Urban Eatery. Around 6:30pm we drove over to the Best Western hotel, one of the few American chains in Nairobi, and had a dinner and drinks on their roof top bar.
Day 4 - September 8
This morning we woke up at 6am, David made us breakfast at the apartment and then the safari guide picked us up at 7am. We had to drive across town to pick up the safari organizer, Steve, and since it was morning rush-hour traffic it took forever! Finally around 9am we had our driver, the trip organizer and our chef for the trip and we began our long drive to Masai Mara. We drove for an hour and stopped at the Great Rift Lookout point for a view of the impressive valley. From there we drove another 2 hours and stopped in Narok for lunch.
We had a king bed plus a twin bed. And in the back of the tent through a flap, there was a real sink, toilet and shower. You only had electricity for about an hour in the morning and a couple hours at night...but it really wasn't needed except to charge up your camera battery. We had an hour to relax and then at 4 we headed out for a introductory game drive. Our safari van had a pop-up roof, which was great to both feel safe that an animal wasn't going to attack you and also to stand up and take photos. The driver drove all around (more bumpy roads!), stopping at any time we wanted to take photos. That afternoon we saw wildebeest, zebras, gazelles, cape buffalo and lions. The lions were the best part of the day. We caught 2 lions and 3 cubs relaxing on a rock. The mom was nursing her cubs - it was really cute. And the cape buffalo just cracked me up - those horns...it looks like a bad wig! To finish off the day we lucked out with a great sunset just as we were leaving. We got back to camp at 7pm and dinner was at 7:30. After a very long day (the core workout from that bumpy drive is nothing to joke about!), I showered and was asleep by 9pm.
Day 5 - September 9
Our full day Safari! I was really excited about this day...as it was one of the main reasons I was going to Africa. And to be there in September during the Migration was extra exciting. We were up at 5:30am, breakfast at 6 and we left for safari by 6:40am. We entered the game reserve just like the day before but today as we had more time they really went back far into the reserve, which provided more animal sighting opportunities. Basically from 7am to 4pm we were in the van, driving over more bumpy dirt roads, and stopping continually to take in the sights and capture photos.
Memorable events of the day:
Overall, our total animal list we saw that day - Wildebeest, Zebra, Cape Buffalo, Lion, Leopard, Giraffe, Elephant, Hyena, Gazelle, Vulture, Ground Hornbill, Jackal, Crocodile, Hippo, Warthogs, Baboons, Topi, Ostrich, Agama Mwanzae.
Here are a few of my favorites photos (more amazing animals are in the full Flickr album) from Masai Mara -
And a couple videos to try and give you a taste of driving around in the Masai Mara.
Day 6 - September 10
Today we got up at 6:30, ate breakfast and packed up the van with our bags. Just before 8am one of the Masai village guys met up with us and we walked over to his village. The walk was just over a mile, which was nice after sitting in the safari van the last 2 days. Along the way he showed us some plants they use for various things like deodorant, sand paper and brushing their teeth. Once we got to the village the guys performed a welcome dance for us. And then Ryan and David got to join in and hilariously attempt to jump as high as the Masai guys were. I'm pretty sure the Masai guys were not even trying. Inside their village we saw their cattle, sheep, how they make fire and got to go inside one of their homes. It's truly hard to believe they live in those tiny mud homes. The women also performed a dance for us at the end. BTW - the hat the guy is wearing in the photo is from the lion he killed. You cannot get married until you kill a lion. Guys...aren't you glad you live in America?!
During the visit I was most intrigued by the little kids running around. The entire village is basically mud and cow dung and to see all the kids, dressed in their probably one outfit - dirty and full of holes - running around barefoot playing in that mess was tough. And yet despite that - just to observe how content and happy they all were. The little boys in the distance trying to mimic the older guys in the 'jumping contest'. The little boy sitting with his siblings letting out the best laugh that you couldn't help but smile along with. Or the little girl in her pink dress hugging her very dirty teddy bear...realizing at the end of the day that all little girls just want the same thing.
It was so interesting talking to one of the guys who said the furthest he had been from his village was the city of Narok (population 40,000) and it was so overwhelming he never wanted to return. He then proceeded to ask us if we know everyone in our towns, which we all laughed at. Talk about different worlds..
We left the village at 9:45 and headed out on our long drive back to Nairobi. We stopped several times for short breaks and ate at the same restaurant in Narok that we did on the way there. We finally got back to Nairobi around 4:30. That night I wasn't feeling well after most likely eating something bad, so I stayed at the apartment while the others went out to eat dinner.
Day 7 - September 11
This morning David cooked us breakfast again at the apartment and at noon our taxi picked us up to go to the airport. Our flight to Mombasa took off at 2:40pm and we got there by 3:45. By 4 we were out of the tiny airport and our driver was there waiting for us. So Mombasa was just insane! I'm glad I got to witness it once in my life, but I really hope I never see it again! So many people, traffic and trash everywhere.
And the ferry was nuts! It took over an hour to get on the ferry, and while we were waiting in line to board we were just mesmerized by the thousands of pedestrians cramming onto the ferry. We were told over 250,000 people ride the ferry per day. It's only a 5 minute crossing, but such a long process.
Once we made it across we continued our drive to Galu Beach (just past Diani Beach). Right before we got to the house we stopped at the grocery store to pick up some items for the house. We finally made it to Monkey Villa (our home away from home for the next 3 nights) around 7pm. The villa was pretty amazing - almost overwhelming it was so big! 3 stories, 5 bedrooms, verandas, pool, beach access and our own personal chef! Plus round-the-clock watchmen who patrolled the property with a machete and club. Our chef made us dinner from the chicken and pasta we bought that night, and it was just so great after the hecticness of safari to sit out on the patio at the dining table and enjoy the fresh beach air.
Day 8 - September 12
A full day of R&R at Galu Beach! I woke up around 8 and immediately wanted to walk down to the beach. It was beautiful - white side, hardly anyone in sight. I'm glad I went out there in the morning, because the light for this photo with the arched limb is one of my favorites from the whole trip!
The beach was beautiful, but you had to strategically plan your walks. First of all, never go alone - safety. And secondly, watch out for the "beach boys". They would spot you from so far away and start coming over trying to sell you anything and everything. So the best plan was to make sure no one was around, go to the beach, spend less than 10 minutes and as soon as you saw them getting close, walk back up to the house. Once you were on the house property, they could not come up and bug you.
Our chef prepared us breakfast, and we ate out on the 2nd floor patio table. We were done eating and just sitting there when a monkey came into the house! You just have to watch the video to appreciate it. Totally made my morning!!
After our monkey excitement (which happened several more times over the trip) I spent the next few hours laying by the pool and taking walks to the beach. For lunch our chef cooked us freshly caught white snapper with rice and cooked carrots and green beans. It was amazing! More R&R in the afternoon. There were a couple dogs around the property that definitely had the good life, and they would hang out with us on occassion by the pool! I love this photo at the beach of one of the dogs playing in the water, with the boat and man nearby. White sand beach, beautiful water, blue sky and puffy clouds...perfection of a day.
It was interesting watching the tide from morning to late afternoon. I've never seen a tide come in that far to the point there was no beach left...the tide came right up to the stairs of our property.
For dinner our chef made us fried calamari - another amazing meal. I wanted to take this chef home with me! I was really exhausted...from doing "nothing" all day and I turned into bed around 9:30.
Day 9 - September 13
Another wonderful day of R&R at Galu Beach. Lounging, reading, pool time, a walk to the beach. After breakfast from 10-1, Ryan, myself and Eve had massages lined up from the "massage lady" we met the day before. For only $10 I got an hour coconut oil massage in a lounge chair situated between the pool and beach. Heaven! More pool time and then we had lunch. As we were finishing up David spotted camels on the beach, so we went out there to check it out. The guys stopped at our stairs trying to sell rides up and down the beach, and of course David and I said yes. Touristy camel ride - check! Ok...so back to pool time and then finally we all got ready for dinner. Tonight we actually left the villa for the first time. We had dinner reservations at Ali Barbour's Cave Restaurant and they picked us up at 6:30. The restaurant was really nice...actually built into a cave. We had a great dinner, good wine and made it back home around 11pm.
Day 10 - September 14
Today was a long travel day. Our taxi picked us up at 6:30am and by 8:40 we got to the Mombasa airport. Our flight departed at 10:10 to Nairobi, and with an hour layover our next flight to Kisumu took off at 1. We arrived just before 2pm and David's cousin, Zach, picked us up and we drove to our hotel - Royal City Gardens. We rested for a while and then at 5 we went out with Zach to grab a drink and dinner. Our first stop was at a bar on Lake Victoria. We enjoyed a Tusker beer and watched the most amazing sunset over the lake! It didn't look like it would be that great of a sunset - a bit too overcast, but then before we knew it the whole sky was hot pink - wow! After that we drove to Kiboko Bay to have dinner and then called it a night.
Day 11 - September 15
We left the hotel at 10 to head to David's mom's house in the village. We got there just before noon, after a grocery store stop along the way. The village was very interesting to drive through - mud houses with metal roofs, people out and about, little markets every now and then. The hardest was seeing the adults and kids washing clothes or bathing in spots of water along the way. We finally made it to David's mom's house and surprisingly it was very different than most of what we had driven past. There was a gate to drive through and the house was very nice. No running water, but she did have electricity. We met everyone (it was so great to finally meet David's mom! And his brother, Brian). David gave us a tour of the property, and then we visited in the living room for a while as they were finishing up lunch preparations. David's nephew, Emmanual, provided great entertainment for us! Lunch was served around 2pm - and talk about a feast! Beef Stew, Chicken, Fish, Rice, Salads, Chapati, etc. It was amazing. Big kudos to David's mom and sister for the long hours involved in making that meal!! Around 3:30 we all drove over to some nearby land that David's uncle wanted him to look at. That is where our photos are taken from. And then we headed to the airport. We boarded our very short flight back to Nairobi, arriving at 4:30. That night we ate dinner at Uptown Grill, that was owned by a friend of David's.
Day 12 - September 16
Our last couple days in Nairobi were pretty low-key. We walked back over to Yaya Centre Mall this morning for breakfast at Artcaffe. Later we drove over to a mall that had a Masai Craft Market, where we honed in on our bargaining skills to buy souvenirs. We had a late lunch at a place near the mall, Galito's, and then headed back to our apartment. That night we tried out an Italian restaurant, Mambo Italian, which ended up being really great. Dinner and a bottle of wine later, we called it a night.
Day 13 - September 17
Out last day in Kenya. We walked back over to our go-to spot for breakfast at Yaya Centre Mall. This time eating at Nairobi Java House. After that we drove over to Junction Mall where they were having the big Masai market. We met up with Nancy (who was our pro bargain shopper) and did some final souvenir shopping. This market was much bigger and fun to walk around. Except for being yelled at the whole time "hey sista sista...come look at my stuff". They also had a musical group there - playing the drums and dancing - which just reminded me of the Rugby Sevens games in Vegas with the Kenya team! After shopping we grabbed a quick lunch at the mall and headed back to the apartment to pack. We left at 4pm to go over to Nancy's house. Visited for a bit, including getting to meet David's brother, Kevin. Then around 5 we drove to the airport for our flights home. 31 hours later, on Friday September 18th - I finally made it back to Houston!
What an amazing trip to Kenya that I will never forget! Thanks to David for showing me so much about where he was raised, letting me meet his family, changing gears and being a "tourist" in his own country going on his first Safari and first trip to the coast, and most importantly keeping us all safe! I'm cheers-ing you with an imaginary Tusker beer right now David. :)
I landed in Buenos Aires after my overnight flight around 11am, met my friend Julie at the airport, and we caught a taxi to our hotel - the Sheraton Conference Center. It was Christmas Eve, so the town was basically shut down. But we managed to find a nice place for lunch - Las Nazarenas. From there we walked around town, going up and down some of the more populated streets, such as Florida St. For a break from the heat we stepped into the Galeries Pacifico for a bit and walked around the mall. That evening we walked over to the Catedral Metropolitana for the 9pm Christmas Eve service. It was very pretty, and the choir / organ at the beginning was great, but after 45 minutes of not being able to understanding anything in Spanish we decided we were in the Christmas spirit enough and moved onto dinner. We had made a reservation at Filo, as we were told Christmas Eve dinners are very hard to book and very expensive. Thankfully we found a cheap one that ended up being a great meal. We made it back to our hotel room, on the 18th floor, just minutes before the Midnight Fireworks show started. What an amazing sight! Fireworks going off around the entire city, for over an hour. Neat tradition!
Christmas day was very relaxed. We slept in, had some brunch at the hotel lounge, and went to lay out by the pool for a while. Now that's a Christmas first for me! In the afternoon we took a 30 minute walk over to the Cemetery La Recoleta - one of the few things that doesn't close on Christmas day. The cemetery was actually really neat…better than I was expecting. Rows and rows of huge mausoleums. We walked around for almost an hour, very fascinated by all the unique tombs. Just before 5 we started our walk back to the hotel and got ready for dinner at Cabana Las Lilas. We were really looking forward to this dinner and it definitely lived up to expectations. The spread of starters they brought out alone was amazing, followed by a great steak and a great glass of Argentina wine.
This morning we got up early and caught a cab over to the Teatro Colon. We wanted to catch the 9am tour, but unfortunately it was in Spanish so we decided to come back later. We walked a few blocks over to the Lima subway station and took the train a few stops over to Plaza de Mayo. This was the same area as the cathedral we were in the first night, but in the daylight it was so different. We walked around the plaza, and admired the Casa Rosada. We walked back to the Teatro Colon and bought tickets for the noon tour. The tour of the theater was really amazing. We got to see the lower and upper lobby, the gold room and finally the theater. So beautiful! When it was over at 1pm, it was raining outside so we caught a taxi back to our hotel to finish packing up for the next part of our journey. At 2pm we took a taxi to the airport, checked in and then caught our 4pm flight to Ushuaia!
Heading back to Buenos Aires after our unbelievable trip to Antarctica is a bit of a blur! I was so exhausted and ready to be home, that I just kind of wandered around for a couple days counting down the hours until I could hop on a plane home. We stayed in a nice little place in Palermo, called L'Hotel Palermo. It was a great part of town to walk around in, get lost and just explore the streets. Only downside was the unbelievable heat! Especially after being in the cold the past 2 weeks. We landed on the evening of January 9th after our flight from Ushuaia. Checked into the hotel and about all we had energy for was to find a great meal at La Cabrera - and then go to bed early.
Check out more photos from this trip here - Buenos Aires Photos
This trip has been a long-time coming. The biggest question I get asked, is "why Antarctica"? It's actually hard to explain, but the closest I can come is a two-fold answer. 1) A 7 continental goal. (This is #5 in my quest). 2) Why not! I love going to places off the beaten path, to experience something completely new and so far removed from anything I know or have ever seen. I wasn't a huge wildlife lover to begin with, but it was really the ice that drew me in and made me want to get there so badly. The thought of being right next to those beautiful icebergs was so exciting. And seriously...how much more off the beaten path can you get than Antarctica! [.....]
Click here to go to the Antarctica Landing page, to view all 13 posts
We landed in Ushuaia around 7:30pm after our 3.5 hour flight from Buenos Aires. Stepping outside - talk about a temperature difference - cold and windy. To me it meant we were getting one step closer to Antarctica! The guy from our bed and breakfast was waiting for us at the airport and drove us to the Valle Frio Ushuaia. It was almost 9 by the time we got settled, so we immediately went to look for dinner. Our hotel was at the top of a hill and pretty much everything in town - the shops and restaurants - were down the hill near the water. Fun going down - a workout going back up! We ate at a place called Moustachio - I had a nice dinner and even tried their local beer - Beagle (after the Beagle Channel). It was so weird walking back to the hotel at almost 11pm and it was still light outside. How far south are we?!
The next morning the bus picked us up at 8:20am for our Tierra del Fuego tour. We drove about 20-30 minutes to our first stop – the Ushuaia train station (Tren Del Fin Del Mundo - Train to the end of the world). After the train station visit we drove to the Tierra Del Fuego National Park entrance, each paid our fee (140 pesos) and drove down to the start of our short hike at Ensenada Zaratiegui. We took a very short hike up to a nice viewpoint of the water and mountains, then came back down via a loop. Back at the entrance was world's southernmost post office on the dock. We were able to go in and get our passport stamped for 20 pesos if we wanted, which of course I did! Our second hike was about a mile long up and downhill. At the end we were at Bahia Lapataia, which turned into these boardwalk style walking paths and piers. Beautiful views! We stopped along some benches and our guide pulled out coffee, tea and some cookies for a snack. Then it was onto our final stop, which was a quick photo stop right along the water with the mountains in the background - beautiful, but very crowded with tourist.
We arrived back in town around 1:30, got off the bus near the water and stopped at El Turco for lunch. For the next couple hours we walked around town taking in the sights and window shopping. For dinner we found a really great place not far from our hotel called Kaupe. A very nice French restaurant and yet casual attire is ok (I love this little town)! Since it was at the top of the hill we had an amazing lookout of the entire port. Ushuaia is such a beautiful town, surrounded by the water and mountains. I can't imagine living there in the winter, considering how cold it was in the middle of summer - but it was definitely a great little town to visit. Ok - look at this view, doesn't it look like a painting on the wall!
I woke up on Sunday thinking, finally - today's the day!!! We checked out of the hotel at 10am, but had until 4pm before meeting the ship staff for our Antarctica Cruise. We left our bags at the hotel, as the ship crew was going to pick them up later. Almost all the shops were closed since it was Sunday morning, so we went to the Maritime museum. It was an ok museum – showing some history of the martime efforts and also the end of the world prison. After the museum it was almost 1pm so we walked down the road to Tante Sara for lunch. Then we walked down to the water, went to the tourism office and finally at 3:15 we went to Gustino restaurant, the meeting point for the start of our Antarctica cruise. Around 4pm they bused us just a few minutes down the pier to get on the boat...and so begins the next 12 days of adventure.
Check out more photos from this trip here - Ushuaia Photos
My mom and I went to Kauai for a little rest and relaxation...and some adventure of course! I was so busy at work prior to the trip I had only planned one thing - the zipline tour. But on the plane ride over I sat next to a guy from Kauai, and read a little of my guide book and we managed to string together a really great weekend!
We arrived on Wednesday night, about 7:30pm and no one warned us about how dark the island is! When I say dark - I mean dark! And to add to the driving experience on these tiny winding roads, it was a torrential downpour. I said this trip was about adventure, right? We checked into our hotel - Sheraton Kauai Resorts, on the south shore - got a great room with an ocean view balcony, and called it an early evening. The guy I met on the plane told me how great (calm) the water was going to be on Friday, so we booked a Na Pali coast boat and snorkel tour online that night before everyone else realize how good the waters would be.
Thursday morning we got up early, had breakfast, and then decided to go for an easy hike along the south shore. We started at the Grand Hyatt Hotel and the trail took us about 2 miles down (heading east) with great views of the ocean and island. We came back after 2 miles, because while the hiking was easy, the heat was unbearable! Remember that calm water comment about booking the boat tour...yeah, calm water mean no winds! Very hot.
After our hike we found some lunch - a Puka Dog of course (had to try one). Then we drove over to see the Sprouting Horn blowhole. We came back to the hotel afterwards and laid by the pool until dinner. That night we ate at Keoki's Paradise.
Friday morning we had our Na Pali Catamaran Snorkel and Sail tour through Holo Holo Charters. We checked in at Port Allen and boarded the boat about 8:30. Just 30 mins in we stopped to snorkel for about 45 mins. Then we had breakfast on the boat and made our way down to the beautiful Na Pali coast. Along the way we stopped near this pod of dolphins. I've never seen so many in one area - really neat. And check out that photo I got - lucky shot! Ok - so back to this coast line - seriously, every minute just got more amazing as we went further and further north! The winds were too calm to sail, so instead we went north a little more, which was fine by me. We turned around to head back just after noon. We had lunch on the boat, and then just sat on the boat with our feet dangling over the edge watching the Kauai coastline as we headed back to port. So relaxing - I could have sat there for days!
Check out our Na Pali Coast and Snorkel Go Pro Video below
We got off the boat about 2:30pm. We knew it was too late in the day to get a good view of Waimea Canyon, but since we were pretty close to the road up there, we figured why not. We grabbed a car snack, and started our drive up. It was about 10 miles along a very winding uphill road. We stopped about half way up at a lookout and got a view, but after that as we kept driving higher the rain got worse and the clouds got lower and lower. By the time we made it to the Waimea Canyon Lookout, at 3,400 ft elevation, it was completely clouded in. We still ran up to the lookout spot, in the rain, and just had to laugh at our "wonderful view"! We continued on the road a few more miles to the Pu'u Hinahina Lookout. Again no view, but it was fun never the less. At least we can say we were there! For dinner Friday date we are at Josseline's Tapas bar & grill. Sangria was amazing and the tapas were even better!
On Saturday morning at 9:30am we were excited for our Koloa Zipline tour! The check-in spot was just a few miles from our hotel In Koloa. After getting our harnesses on and going through a brief tutorial, we hopped in the group van to drive about 10 minutes to our starting point. There were 8 ziplines along the course. On a few of them (the shorter ones) we hooked in normal and could flip upside if we wanted - which was really cool! And then on the others we hooked in at our backs to ride superman style. We highly recommend paying the extra $20 to do the superman harness - a lot of fun! The last line was 2,500 ft long and took almost a minute from start to finish. The guys who led our tour were absolutely amazing. Really did a great job and worked the lines so efficiently. My mom had a blast - and the others on the tour were so impressed that she was flipping upside down with no fear. Go mom!!
Check out our short Go Pro Zipline video as well.
We finished ziplining around noon (it helped that our group was only half full, so we went a lot faster than normal). We grabbed some lunch and then decided to drive over to the east shore in search of some waterfalls. We stopped at the Opaeka'a Lookout for a glance at those falls, and then went to search out Ho'opi'i Falls. There was a metal gate just off the road at the start of the trail, which was then just about a half mile down to the falls. We got down to the gorgeous Kapa'a Stream, and then took a right to wind along a bit further to the falls. There was a second fall further down the trail, but it was getting late in the day so we called it good at one. After making our way back up to the car, we drove to our last waterfall - Wailua Falls. Too bad we couldn't get closer to it, but it was a gorgeous view from the lookout spot. We made our way back South in time for a great sunset. For dinner we decided to try some Mexican food at Tortilla Republic. Not quite the authentic Hawaiian cuisine, but they had good fajitas that hit the spot.
On our last day in Kauai we decided to explore the North Shore. We hit the road about 7:30am and arrived at the North Shore by 9am. On the north shore we drove as far west as we could first, and were then going to work our way back southeast throughout the day. We had heard parking at Ke'e Beach was near impossible, but we thought we would try it out for kicks. Yep - parking was bad. But we got to drive by the wet and dry caves and had fun crossing several of those single lane bridges along the way. Heading back east just a few miles from Ke'e beach we found parking at Ha'ena Beach Park and spent the morning relaxing on the beach. So beautiful! For lunch we stopped at a shopping center in Hanalei - ate and did a little souvenir shopping. After lunch we drove down to Hanalei Bay and enjoyed the beach there for a while. We grabbed an obligatory shave ice afterwards and then started our drove back south. Along the way we stopped at the Hanalei Lookout for a picturesque view, and also the Kilauea Lighthouse. We didn't realize the road down to the lighthouse was closed on Sunday, but we still got a great view from the lookout spot.
The drive back south wasn't bad at all and we got to the hotel around 5pm. We relaxed on our balcony listening to the crashing waves, enjoyed one last sunset and then got ready for our last dinner in Kauai at The Dolphin Poipu.
We ended up really enjoying the south shore. Every one raves about North Shore, and yes it was beautiful and very action packed...but the south shore really had everything we could have asked for! Very quiet and calm, good mid-distance drive between almost everything we wanted to do, and great dinner choices at the Shops at Kukui'ula and the Poipu Shopping Village. Maybe next visit I'll stay on the North Shore and do a full comparison. Mahalo Kauai!
Check out some more photos from this trip here - Kauai Photos
How do I begin to write about this adventure...all that comes to mind is "so amazing, highlight of my year, can't wait to do it again!"
The best way I can describe the bike ride is through my GoPro video. While I don't think a 15 minute video can really do the 3 day, 150 miles and almost 15 hours of riding time justice, I will say it is a really good start to being able to share a glimpse into how "amazing" this adventure was! I'm new to the GoPro camera, so I'm still learning a lot - and need to buy a couple more accessories to make filming off the bike easier - but overall I'm really happy with how my first video turned out. It's long, but I promise it is worth watching. Volume up. 1080 HD setting is available in the bottom right of the video. Enjoy!!
P.S. If 15 minutes is too long, I also created an 8 minute version of the video hitting just the main highlights.
So...did I lie to you? Awesome, right?! Are you ready to plan your own adventure on the trail???
Ok, so you're probably wondering how this trip came about? 2 years ago my friend Kylee came across an article about the Great Allegheny Passage (GAP). She passed it onto me to store away in the 'vacation file', and for a couple years it has been in the back of my mind. At first it was the "oh sure- let's do that one day...haha...not". Then slowly it turned into, "well - it might be neat to think about one year". To finally in the spring this year I emailed my friend David (#1 riding partner!) and I just said "Hey...let's actually ride the GAP this year!". And because David generally trusts my crazy ideas, he said "OK!". And so the planning began...
We decided to ride over labor day, to take advantage of the Monday off of work. Then I just started reading every article, website and blog I could find about the GAP to figure out the best planning tips for the trip.
Putting the plan together
Some really helpful websites I used are:
The planning was actually much harder than I anticipated. By figuring out the best towns to stay in (i.e. most food and lodging options) I then calculated out roughly how many miles we wanted to ride each day. Paired those two together and had the start of the rough plan. Originally we were going to start in Cumberland. The first 23 miles out of Cumberland is uphill, but then the remaining 130 miles are downhill. I booked the first night's stay in Meyersdale, and then when I was trying to find a room in Connellsville for night 2 there was nothing! Advice: book your rooms early. With so few choices in each town, they definitely fill up fast. After struggling with what to do on night 2, I finally had a thought - reverse the trip. The uphill grade is rarely more than 1.75% - so while you go up for a long time, it is definitely doable. Plus I have to say the last 23 miles downhill, dropping 1,700 feet in elevation, was definitely worth all the pain of the prior two days!!
Day 1: Pittsburgh, PA to Connellsville, PA
David and I picked up our bikes in Pittsburgh on Friday morning at the Gap Outfitters bike shop and hit the trail by 10am. We rode slow, wanting to enjoy ourselves and take in all the sights around us. The first day didn't have too many specific highlights to see, but never the less it was a great day. Bridge after bridge to ride over, little towns to bike through, beautiful scenery, etc.
We stopped in West Newton for lunch, 34 miles from Pittsburgh. We ate at a place called The Trailside, literally right off the trail. Great place to sit down, relax and refuel. Plus they were over a bike shop, so you had everything you may need. After lunch we got back on the trail and continued riding the remaining 25 miles to Connellsville. We pulled into town just before dinner time. Day 1, at 59 miles, took us a total of 7 hours, with just under 6 hours of riding time. We quickly realized that while we are used to road bikes, the combination of a trek hybrid bike and luggage over the back tire definitely slowed us down. At home we average 15 mph, but on the trail we averaged 10 mph. Not bad for a leisurely ride, but keep that in mind when planning your days. In Connellsville we checked into the Connellsville Bed & Breakfast, washed up and then went out to find cold beer and dinner! Our B&B hostess had great tips for dinner and told us of a good Mexican restaurant, El Canelo, that did not serve alcohol but allowed BYOB. So on our walk over (just a few blocks away - over this gorgeous river) we stopped in a bar she recommended, The Paint Room, that oddly enough sold us a 6-pack to go and we took it over to the restaurant. After dinner we called it a night, and were excited to see what day 2 had in store.
Day 2: Connellsville, PA to Meyersdale, PA
We woke up on Day 2, had a great breakfast at the B&B and got on our bikes by 9am. We knew today would be the hardest....almost 1,400 feet of climbing at a gradual incline all day....but the river, peaceful nature surroundings and the amazing views more than made up for the pain!
While Day 3 has the best highlights (which I'll get to below), I really have to say Day 2 was my favorite. Riding along the Youghiogheny River all day, coming across the bridge in Ohiopyle with the most amazing view - I could have just ridden and been perfectly content for days and days! It was neat to see as we were riding how we started almost level with the river and then mile after mile the river got further away from us. The bridge at Ohiopyle was a definite highlight! I could have stood up there enjoying that view for hours.
We stopped for lunch in Confluence, 28 miles into our ride. When we pulled off the trail a lady was passing out vouchers for a prize at the bike shop in town. We figured why not, we would swing by there first and see what the fuss was about. David had his Kenya jersey on and the bike shop owners asked if he was from there. He was, and they got so excited. They said "you have to put a pin in our globe!" Sure enough, he stuck his pin in Nairobi and the owners took a picture of us. A nice welcome to the city. Our prizes were pretty funny - I won a postcard and David won a coupon for a free ice cream at a restaurant just across the street. The bike shop owners said the restaurant was great, so we figured we would give it a shot. It was called Sherman's Ice Cream Parlor & Kitchen. We enjoyed a really good lunch, used their free wifi (since there was no cell phone service in town), they refilled our water bottles and we were back on the trail.
The afternoon was more of the same - great scenery and a gradual uphill climb. Tip: if you need cell phone service and realize you don't have it (which I needed to text our B&B host for that evening to tell her what time we were arriving into town), look for the little information shed right along the trail in Rockwood. Thankfully he had a booster and within 15 feet of his shed I got service! The best part of the afternoon was riding over the Salisbury Viaduct - about 600 feet high and 1,908 feet long. It took about 2.5 minutes to cross. Unbelievable views of the town, corn fields and wind farms.
We finally pulled into Meyersdale around 5:30pm, after 8.5 hours with 6 hours 15 minutes of riding time. We stayed at the Yoder's Motel that night - really great place. It was fairly new...unfortunately she was not getting wifi installed until the next week - and I still had no service. bummer! One note for this town - we rode down a huge hill to get to the motel, which all we could think about is that we had to go back up the hill in the morning! lol. That night we ate at the Morguen Toole Company. The history of the building is pretty neat, so you can read about it's history if you are interested. I'll admit - we mostly enjoyed the good beer and free wifi. Needless to say, we stayed for hours. The waitress was very friendly, didn't mind at all that we hung out, and proceeded to tell us a lot of stories about the town and the building. We finally called it a night, very tired after two days of riding.
Day 3: Meyersdale, PA to Cumberland, MD
In the morning, as our motel host told us - there were a grand total of 2 places to eat breakfast! It was a Sunday and most places were closed in the tiny town of about 2,500 people. It was raining in the morning, so we picked the place right across the street - Donges Drive-In. We ran over, had a great breakfast sandwich and coffee, then headed on our way for the final day of riding. It was just barely sprinkling by the time we got on the bike and we were just hopeful the weather would hold out for us, which thankfully it did. Yes...the hill out of town was treacherous! I ended up having to walk up most of it, it was so steep. So already exhausted, we started riding the final 32 miles. This day was just really amazing - one thing after the next, it just kept getting better. The first 9 miles continued the uphill climb - just about 350 feet. And finally, before we knew it, there it was - the Eastern Continental Divide! 2,392 feet. It was a cute little tunnel, with some neat murals, but really it was just so exciting because we knew it meant the rest of the trip was downhill! We had fun taking video and photos at the divide, and then continued on our way.
Just 2 miles later, before we knew it we were at the Big Savage Tunnel. Now this is what we had been looking forward to for months - maybe even years. We put our headlamps on (though realized later they were not necessary as it was so well lit) and entered the unknown! 3,294 feet long (built in 1911) - it took us almost 4 minutes to ride through. So so cool!!! When you emerge from the tunnel, get ready for the most breathtaking view of the rolling landscape and towns far below (my photo definitely doesn't do it justice).
Just a couple miles later we came upon the Mason-Dixon line. Finally we made it to Maryland! We of course had to take pictures standing in both states at once.
3 miles later we came to the Borden Tunnel, 957 feet long - also built in 1911. Now this one got dark! And what was even more humorous - because we just kept riding and didn't stop before entering - I'm about a third of the way into the tunnel thinking - oh my gosh - I can't see anything!! Um - duh...take off your sunglasses! It helped a little, but trust me - that tunnel is dark. All you do is focus on the tiny "light at the end of the tunnel" and hope you don't hit anything!
When we got to Frostburg the trail met up with the Western Maryland Scenic Railroad - a track that runs a Steam Train from Frostburg to Cumberland. I have to say - riding downhill with amazing views on your left and the tracks on your right - pretty breathtaking. At 6 miles until the end, we went through one last tunnel - the Brush Tunnel, 914 feet long. This one was neat because the active train track also went through the tunnel. As the sign warns - do not enter the tunnel if a train is coming!
I wanted a train to pass by so badly, and finally just a few miles from Meyersdale I got my wish. We heard it coming around the corner and stopped our bikes to watch it go by. Wow! Standing about 3 feet away as the steam train sped past...very neat experience. I loved that we were taking pictures of the train while the people on the train were taking pictures of us.
At last, we finally made it into Cumberland, 3.5 hours later with about 2 hours 45 minutes riding time. We descended a total of 1,730 feet in those last 23 miles - what a great way to finish. In town we crossed the street and came to the town center. I was searching the ground all over because I knew that GAP Mile 0 marker was in the brick somewhere. Took me a bit, but I finally found it! We rode just a few tenths of a mile further and pulled right up to the bike shop - Cumberland Trail Connections. It was almost 1pm and we had a shuttle reserved for that afternoon to take us back to Pittsburgh. We changed clothes, locked up our bikes and walked just behind the bike shop to a place called the Crabby Pig. We enjoyed lunch, we celebrated the fact that we were done, and were sad at the same time realizing our adventure was over way too fast! We sat there already planning our next trip!! The shuttle to Pittsburgh took about 2 hours and then we dropped off our bikes at the bike shop and headed to our hotel.
As you can tell - I can't say enough great things about this trip. Until next time Great Allegheny Passage! We may even attempt the additional 185 miles on the C&O Towpath next time all the way to Washington D.C. David...what do you say???
You can view more of my photos from the Great Allegheny Passage here - GAP Photos
I had been wanting to get back to Portland for years - when I went back in 2010 I just fell in love with the city and surrounding areas. My parents were looking for a summer trip as well, so I got to go back to my favorite city and also had fun getting to show my parents around! On Thursday evening I met my parents at the Portland airport and we rented a car to head into the city to our hotel, the Westin Portland.
On Friday morning we walked around downtown for a bit, did a little shopping, and then grabbed a really good hamburger at the Brunch Box. That afternoon my dad and I were taking a brewery tour with Brewvana Tours. With our pretzel necklaces to munch on and our Brewvana glasses we were ready to enjoy some beer. They took us to three stops - Old Town Brewing, Ecliptic and finally Kennedy School. Each had something great - at Old Town it was the Kolsch! Ecliptic had the most amazing gourmet food to go along with our beer, and Kennedy School was actually an old school turned into a brewery and multiple bars. The brewery room use to be the women's bathroom - too funny. My dad and I had such a great time - it was really fun to do something special with him on the trip!
On Saturday morning we woke up with one thing in mind - the farmer's market! We took a nice walk over to the PSU Farmer's Market. I could have walked around for hours...especially with all of the great samples to snatch up off each table. But actually better than the samples, I had so much fun taking photos of all the fruit and veggies. The colors and sunlight were just a perfect combination. I've also been slowly learning more about my camera, so it was a great opportunity to test out some of my developing skills.
After the farmer's market my dad went back to the hotel, enjoying a lunch of our farmer's market finds, and my mom and I went walking around town - to the Powell's bookstore and a couple other shops. We grabbed lunch at one of the Mediterranean food trucks, sat outside and enjoyed our food.
That afternoon I wanted to take my parents to the International Rose Test Garden. They loved it! And I had so much fun putting those camera skills to use again - trying my hardest to zoom in and get those perfect rose pictures. I definitely had way more duds than good pics...but the few good ones I got made the whole afternoon worth it! I just love this place - I could go back every year and still not getting tired of walking around the garden.
On our way back from the Rose Garden we did our full on tourist task - stopping at Voodoo doughnuts, waiting in line for 30 minutes, and leaving with a box full of donuts!
That evening we had reservations for dinner at Caffe Mingo - the restaurant I have been craving for 4 years! I had hyped it up so much to my parents I was worried it may not live up...but boy did it! Another amazing meal - we all walked away very full and happy. However, we weren't too full for ice cream. Just 2 blocks away was Salt & Straw ice cream, which we had heard a lot about. The line was unreal...45 minutes! We got our ice cream, sat outside to enjoy it, and headed back to the hotel after a really great day.
On Sunday we got up early and hit the road for Willamette Valley. I had done a lot of research previously and had a whole day lined up for us. This day was mostly for me...I love wine tasting...but my parents enjoyed it as well. I mean look at those views - who couldn't love looking at that all day!
Our first stop was Domaine Drouhin for a mid-morning tasting. For lunch we went into Dundee and met our cousin's Carrie and Dana at Red Hills Market. We enjoyed a really great sandwich, had fun catching up with Carrie and Dana for a bit and then went on our way. Our next stop was Utopia, which was recommended by a friend. By far my favorite of the day! I love when you can sit down with the winemaker, pouring you tastes of the wine they know so much about. Everything was great - not a bad drop. We made a pit stop at Penner-Ash just for the views off their patio, and then headed onto out last winery Colene Clemens. While driving up to Colene Clemens I spotted this old barn just off the road. I knew we had to stop on the way out - it was just so perfect!
On our final day in Portland, I went on my Columbia River Gorge bike tour with Pedal Bike Tours and my parents had a mini-road trip through the Gorge to an Alpaca yarn shop. Thankfully my tour started at 9am, because it was the hottest day of our trip - at over 100 degrees. I had done this same tour 4 years ago, but those waterfalls...they just call to me! We stopped at a couple lookout spots first, and then hopped on our bikes for a couple hours of biking and hiking through the gorge. We started at Latourell Falls (I just love the rocks and vibrant greens at this one), then went on to Sheppard's Dell, Bridal Veil Falls, Wahkeena Falls (my favorite of the falls. Pictured below - the power is so great...it was hard to get a photo before the lens got soaked from the spray), Multnomah Falls and finally Horsetail Falls. At the last stop we got to relax for about 20 mins, sitting right on the rocks in the water, dipping our toes in to cool off after a great day on the bikes! In total we biked about 8 miles and hiked 2.5 miles.
After getting back into town after the bike tour, I grabbed another tasty lunch from the food trucks. That night we went to dinner at Clarklewis. Hands down - one of the most amazing meals I have had - but yeah...so we missed the memo that the place was an open warehouse setting, with a brick oven in the open kitchen and it had no A/C! And yeah...we went there on the hottest day of the year! Thankfully none of us passed out during the meal, but seriously - go to this place - just go on a cooler day. We all did the tasting menu and as I've already mentioned, it was amazing. I can't believe how much food came to our table, and I don't think there was a bad bite in any of it. Numerous salads and appetizers, 3 pasta dishes, 3 meat and fish dishes and a couple desserts that I could eat over and over again! Yum...
Overall it was a really great trip. I had so much fun exploring Portland again, getting to enjoy some time with my parents and playing the role of the tour guide! Until next time Oregon...
You can check out more of my pictures from Oregon here - Oregon Photos
On March 31st I woke up to a very exciting email - I had been invited to a Women's Leadership Development Program at our company's University (Les Fontaines) in Chantilly, France. I've been with my company for 7 year and it was the first invitation to France - so needless to say I jumped out of bed wide-awake on that day! I made travel plans the next day and on April 23rd I caught my flight for Paris.
I was able to enjoy the weekend in Paris before heading off to my weeklong training. I arrived in Paris Friday morning and got checked into the hotel - Le Meridien Etoile around 11am. I took an hour power nap (to recover somewhat from the overnight flight from Houston, TX) and then ventured out for a day of sightseeing. It was a cold and rainy weekend in Paris, but I still enjoyed walking everywhere and experiencing Paris. The last time I was in France was in high school, 18 years ago, when I took a 2 week trip with my French Club. I'd definitely say the experience this time was very different, seeing Paris as a adult.
Friday - April 25th
On Friday afternoon, with my map in hand I started walking towards the direction of the Eiffel Tower. It was about a 2 mile walk. Along the way I found a sandwich shop, Pomme de Pain, where I grabbed a baguette to-go and continued to walk towards my destination as I ate. I got my first view of the Eiffel Tower from the overlook off the Palais de Chaillot. Took some pictures, and then worked my way down the steps and across the river to stand under the Eiffel Tower. I had been to the top of the tower as a teenager, so I didn't have the desire to stand in line and do that again - but I loved standing under and around the tower and taking more pictures. It was such a gloomy day that it definitely added to the challenge of taking a good picture. I had fun trying though.
After that I headed on my way....walked down along the river and crossed back over to walk back up the Champs-Elysees. It was fun admiring all the shops (especially the huge Louis Vuitton store...which I did not stand in line to enter) and just people watching along the way. My mind kept going to the thought of all the riders in the Tour de France riding along the Champs-Elysees, on those very treacherous cobblestones...especially when they were wet. Eek! I walked up to the Arc de Triomphe - had fun taking pictures while standing in the tiny median - cars coming at your in all directions. Then I continued down about another half mile back to my hotel.
I was pretty tired after my jet lag and walk, but since I knew it was probably going to be the best day without rain, I figured I better take advantage and not sit around the hotel room. I took the metro down to the Louvre. Stood around the pyramid for a while taking some pictures, enjoying all the great clouds and the sun occasionally peeking through.
From the Louvre I ended up walking through the Jardin des Tuileries and all the way down the Champs-Elysees back to the area around my hotel (about 3 miles). I found a small cafe just a couple blocks from my hotel to eat dinner - Le Maillot - where I sat at a small table on the sidewalk patio, enjoyed my dinner and the people watching of course. After a long day, I turned in for the evening, ready for one more day of exploring in Paris.
Saturday - April 26th
On Saturday, I didn't have much on my agenda, so I decided to just take it easy and basically see what I see. It was also a pretty rainy day, so I had to strategically think about how much walking I wanted to do. I started by taking the metro from the station closest to my hotel (Port Maillot) down to Concorde. From there, in the fairly heavy rain, I walked through the neighborhood to La Maison du Chocolat. I found some great souvenir chocolate boxes for friends and family and got a few treats for myself as well. Just from the free sample the lady gave me in the store - I knew this was going to be some of the best chocolate I've had. Now that I'm home and have eaten my few pieces I bought, I'm so sad I didn't buy more! I walked along the streets in the neighborhood for a bit, and then headed back to the metro station. I decided to take the metro a bit further to the Chatelet station, to go see Notre Dame. That turned out to be a great area, with neat streets to walk along, admiring the river from the various bridges, and then walking around Notre Dame. The line to get in was incredibility long, but again - I didn't have the desire to go in...I just wanted to look around the outside of the building.
After that I hit a few of the souvenir shops, walked back to the metro station and headed back to the hotel. Near my hotel I found a small cafe to stop in and enjoy a coffee and croissant. It was the perfect way to spend a rainy afternoon.
The night before I had seen an incredibly long line to get into a restaurant near my hotel. So tonight I looked it up and figured out what it was. Le Relais de Venise. It is a restaurant that has truly taken to heart the motto - do one thing and do it well. The only serve steak and fries. Their doors open at 7pm and they fill up the entire restaurant, leaving the people at the back of the line standing outside to wait until tables turn over. I got there about 6:45 - stood under my umbrella in the pouring rain - and thankfully made it in for the first seating. You sit down and the only question they ask you is rare, medium or well. You pick how you want you steak cooked, order a drink - and then the rest just happens. They bring out a small salad, and then not far behind comes a tray of french fries, your steak that they slice into strips and topped with this amazing secret sauce they pour on. The neat thing as well is that they serve you 2/3rds of your steak, and leave the rest in a warming tray, so when you are almost done they come back with the rest of your still hot steak and some more fries. It was amazing! It is supposedly a pretty touristy place, but despite that - I still had a great meal.
After dinner, on a whim, I decided to go back out to the Eiffel Tower to get some nighttime shots. Starting at 9pm on the hour the tower twinkles with white lights for 5 minutes. I had my scarf, jacket, room key in my pocket and camera on my shoulder and headed on my way. I just missed the 9pm show, taking a few wrong turns and underestimating the distance - but it worked out OK because it wasn't quite dark enough at 9pm for good pictures anyway. The only snag though was just as I got down to the tower it started downpouring! And of course I didn't bring my umbrella. I threw my scarf over my head, tried to protect my camera as best as possible...took a few photos right down at the river and then ran up to a nearby building to stand under a ledge until it passed. It finally stopped raining and I walked up the steps of the Palais de Chaillot and found a prime front and center spot at the top to wait for the 10pm show. I had about 25 minutes to wait, and thankfully I got there so early - because I realized after a while that about 10 coach buses of tour groups had been dropped off! I took about a million pictures of the tower and when the lights finally started twinkling it was pretty amazing! 10:05 the show was over and I started my 2 mile walk back to the hotel. I was cold and wet, but sometimes getting that great photos makes it all worth it!
Sunday - April 27th
On Sunday I just took it easy. I had breakfast at the hotel, packed up my room and then around 1pm started my 2 hour train journey over to Chantilly, France for the start of my work training. I took the metro from Port Maillot to Gare de Lyon, and then took the RER D up to Chantilly...about an hour train ride. I got off in Chantilly, had to wait about 5-10 minutes for a taxi and then they drove me the very short distance to Les Fontaines...my home for the next 5 days. I got there around 4pm, checked into my room (very dorm like) but nice enough bed and bathroom. I wandered the grounds for a bit, got my bearings, and then started meeting and mingling with various people. That night we had dinner at the Chateaux at 7pm - I met 4 of the women who would be in my Women's Leadership Program for the week and we had a great time getting to know each other for hours at dinner and at the Chateaux bar afterwards. We knew it was going to be a great week when while waiting for dinner we looked out the window and saw the most amazing full double rainbow right over the lake behind the Chateaux. Beautiful!
Monday - April 28th to Friday - May 3rd
The rest of the week was very hectic - breakfast at 7:45am, then sessions started at 8:30 each day. We had a few full sessions in the auditorium with the 200 participants, and then the rest of the time was spent in our classroom with the 18 women in my group. One thing that I loved watching during the week were these artists. They would storyboard in real-time during some of the sessions, picking up on key words said and they would draw them out. By the end of the week the posters were all over and it was really neat to look back on them. Lunch each day was around 12:30, and then we were back at our training sessions until at least 6:30 each day. On Wednesday we had a social event with finger food and a DJ / Dancing, but other nights dinner was at the Chateaux around 7:30-8pm. We had a group presentation (4 of us in a group) to prepare for and give on Friday morning, so the last couple nights we spent extra hours after class prepping for that. It made for some very long days, but despite everything draining about the week - it was absolutely amazing! Not only was the content we learned great, but the people were just phenomenal. We had ladies in our class from the US, Canada, UK, Ireland, India and Spain. What we all learned from each other can never be taught in a classroom. And the networks we have all now made across the world is just priceless. I think we were all pretty energized after the week and ready to see what awaits us in the "real world" with our new found knowledge and relationships. On Friday we all gave our 15 minutes presentations to the class plus four vice-presidents who attended our session that day, and then sadly had to say our goodbyes.
At 1pm a coach bus took us to the airport and I checked into the Sheraton in Terminal 2 of the airport for the evening. Once I checked into the hotel the adrenaline of the week really started to wear off and I was just plain exhausted! It worked to my advantage though because I went to bed early and woke up at 4am for my 6:30am flight back to the US. I landed in Dallas, TX at 2pm on Saturday where my mom met me at the airport and the next day I did a 65 mile bike ride for the National MS Society at 7am. Talk about a shift from mentally exhausting to physically exhausting! But the ride went great, we drove back the 4 hours to Houston, where I was finally home for a whole 10.5 hours before waking up Monday morning to catch a flight to Los Angeles for the work week. Never a dull moment!
You can check out more of my pictures from France here - France Photos
This ended up being a fairly last minute trip. I hadn't planned to go overseas again this year (I'm usually lucky to go overseas once per year...not 3 times!) But I'm definitely not complaining! My friend Kylee had to cancel our weekend trip to Portland (which we will make up for next year!), so since I needed to use the vacation days I figured why not go to London. I booked the trip - basically had airfare and a hotel - and other than that I just planned on winging it once I got there. I got a few recommendations from friends, but otherwise I was ready to just explore and see what each day brought.
After a very long travel day from Los Angeles, I made it to London! The tube was undergoing maintenance, so it took almost two hours to get from the airport to The Park Lane hotel on Piccadilly St. After a very long day and 8 hours time difference, I took a long nap and then walked around to find dinner.
I headed out from the hotel about 9am. I walked through Green Park to Buckingham Palace. It was Remembrance Day, so they were getting ready for a big parade. After navigating through the various closed streets and parade traffic, I made my way through St. James park and over to Parliament square. I walked around the outside of Westminster Abbey and the House of Parliament and then continued down to the river. I crossed the Lambeth bridge and walked up the river, crossing again at Westminster Bridge. I kept walking up the Victoria Embankment and over to Trafalgar Square and finally made my way up to Oxford Street for the shopping! My big purchase was some new black boots. After realizing how cold it was in London I knew I had not packed warm enough! It made for a good excuse to buy new shoes. ;) I continued with my shopping and window shopping, working my way down Oxford and Regent Streets, and then I finally headed down Piccadilly St back to my hotel. Later in the afternoon I decided to go check out Harrod's (wow!) - then had an early dinner and crashed.
I got out in the morning and took the tube to Leicester Square to buy theater tickets at the Half Price tickets stand. I managed to get Les Miserables tickets for that night and Billy Elliot for the next night. After securing my tickets, I got back on the tube and headed to the British Museum. I explored it for about an hour and then got on the tube to St. Paul's. I took the audio tour of St. Paul's cathedral and then grabbed a quick lunch in their cafe down in the tombs. From St. Paul's I walked in the very light rain down to the Millennium Bridge and crossed it to the Tate Modern Museum. It was a good museum, but some of the stuff considered "art" in modern museums just makes me shake my head. The Globe Theatre was just next door, but I decided not to take the tour. I walked to the Southwark Station and took the tube back to Green Park by my hotel. I decided to have afternoon tea in the hotel and then I got ready for the theater. I grabbed dinner at Kettner's and then saw Les Miserables at 7:30.
I started my day with a walk through Hyde Park, which was great! I walked along the Serpentine Lake until I hit the bridge at Kensington and then cut off back onto the street to head towards the Victoria & Albert museum. I have the say the V&A museum was by far my favorite! Really neat exhibits, but my favorite part was just the architecture of the building itself. After the museum, since I was near Harrod's I took another walk through the store. Grabbed some quick lunch and my easiest go-to-spot Pret a Manger. I then walked down Constitution Hill to Buckingham Palace. Today since there was no parade you could actually get up to the gates and see the guards, etc. So I took some pictures and headed on my way to Westminster Abbey. I took the audio tour of Westminster Abbey and wow...that place was must amazing! No pictures were allowed, but I stared up at the Nave for so long, I really hope it's ingrained in my memory forever. After Westminster I walked up to Trafalgar Square grabbed a coffee in a bookstore to rest my legs and warm up. I walked through the National Portrait Gallery and afterwards I stood on the top steps of the gallery for a while and just got a kick out of watching the various street performers in the square. On my walk back to the hotel I stopped in Fortnum & Mason and tried really hard not to buy everything! That night I went to see Billy Elliot and it was just amazing!
I got up and took the train out to the London Bridge Station. I walked over to the Tower of London, joined the short 30 minute tour, and then explored on my own for a bit. The crown jewels were pretty great. After that I walked along and over the Tower Bridge. The best part was jumping up on the wall along the river and sitting there with my feet dangling over to take my feet picture. I was really glad I didn't fall in the water! After that I grabbed some lunch and then got on the train and went out to Kew Gardens, about 30 minutes away. When I got to the gardens I had about an hour and a half until closing, which I thought was enough until I realized how gigantic this place was! I raced my way through it fairly quick, didn't get to see everything - but what I did see was great. With all that green surrounding you it felt like you had been transported somewhere else. I headed back to the train about 4:30 and on a weekday with rush hour it took quick a while to get back to the hotel. The trains kept getting delayed with congestion at the stations. I was going to try a local pub tonight, but when I got to one that was recommended by the concierge and I noticed that the pub was so crowded half the people were standing out on the street drinking I changed my mind! I grabbed some easy dinner and called it a night.
I took a day tour with Golden Tours. I signed up the day before, so I was lucky to get a spot. The bus picked me up at 7:30, and after picking up a few more people and loading up at the bus terminal, we departed closer to 9am. I met a girl traveling on her own from Nebraska, so we stuck together for most of the day, which was fun. Our first stop was Windsor Castle, where we took a tour. Next we drove about an hour out to Stonehenge. It was crazy windy and cold, especially being out in the middle of a gigantic open field - but it was worth it! We walked around for about 30 minutes, taking pictures, etc of the stones. I didn't have any "wow" moment out there looking at them, but I felt like it was something you had to see to check off the list. Our last stop was Bath. In town we went to the Roman Baths and took the tour. Then we had a little free time so we found this glass shop where I bought a necklace pendant and then we admired the views of the Pultney Bridge over the river. We got back on the bus at 4:30 and made it back to Gloucester Rd station at 7:30 - a little later than expected due to heavy traffic. I grabbed dinner at a place near my hotel - Richoux - and headed back to the hotel afterwards.
My last day in London and I decided I had seen enough stuff, so I would just take it easy and enjoy the day. I started with a train ride out to Notting Hill. I walked up and down Portabella Road for about an hour looking at all the various market stands. It wasn't a Saturday, so it wasn't the big market, but I still thought it was pretty impressive. After that I took the train back to Covent Garden and spent the rest of the day walking around and window shopping, working my way through town over to Piccadilly Circus, up to Oxford street and back down New Bond street. On my way back to the hotel in the afternoon I stopped in a pub very close to my hotel that I had been passing by for days - Henry's Cafe & Bar. It actually ended up being great - got a pint, a snack and best of all they had free wifi. That night I took the train to Leicester Station for dinner. I was going to try a place Bella Italia, but the wait was really long. The hostess was so nice - knowing it was my last night in town - and she recommended another place Barrafina, but unfortunately the wait was over an hour there as well. I finally gave up and went next door to Siam Thai restaurant. It ended up being great food. After dinner I made my last walk through town back to the hotel and called it the end to a really great week in London! I definitely can't wait until I go back someday soon.
You can check out more of my pictures from London here - London Photos
This September I took a trip to Turkey. I had heard wonderful things about it from many seasoned travelers, so I figured I would go check it out. I went by myself and met up with an Insight Vacations tour. It was extremely fast paced - we saw so much in 7 days - but it was a great highlights vacation.
We started in Istanbul on our first night and had our welcome reception at the Barcelo Eresin Topkapi Hotel. The next morning after sleeping off some jet lag, we immediately packed up and headed to our second city. First we took a short ferry ride across the Sea of Marmara and then drove into Bursa. In Bursa we quickly visited the Grand Mosque (it was prayer time, so we could not stay long) and then we had time to eat lunch and walk around the Silk Market. Next we visited the Green Mosque (Yesil Cami) and the Green Mausoleum. The tile work in these places was just phenomenal! Lastly we stopped in a small village - Cumalikizik and walked through the cobblestone streets. It was like stepping back in time - very quaint and the buildings were just fascinating. That night we stayed at the Celik Palace Hotel in Bursa.
Our next day started with a drive through the countryside. The Olive trees and Vineyards were just beautiful to look out at. We stopped at the Sardis Synagogue and Gymnasium, from the 3rd century BC. A lot of it had fallen and was recreated, which to me wasn't as exciting, but it was still impressive never the less. Next we stopped at the Altar of Artemis in Sardis from 2nd century BC. Finally our last stop was what I had been looking forward to the most - Pamukkale - the "Cotton-Castle". It was just as amazing as I thought it would be from looking at pictures before hand. We made it there late in the day and getting to see the sunset over the "Cotton-Castle" was definitely a WOW moment! That night we stayed at the Pam Thermal Hotel in Pamukkale.
After leaving Pamukkale we drove to Ephesus where we stopped at the Carpetium to look at Turkish Rugs. They gave us a fun demonstration of the rugs, let us attempt to weave one knot (crazy that they hand weave those!) and of course suckered me into buying me. Next we stopped at the House of the Virgin Mary in Ephesus, we made a wish on the wishing wall and then drove to the Ruined City of Ephesus, from 550 BC. We saw the Odean, the Great Theater, walked down the Arcadian Way and took a group photo in front of the Library of Celsus. That night we drive to Izmir and stayed at the Swissotel Grand Efes Izmir, which had a great view of the port. We walked along the port for a bit before dinner, admiring the houses on the hill, fisherman and the sunset over the water.
The next day we drove to Asklepion (4th century) in Pergamon. I enjoyed walking around the ancient healing center. After that we drove to Troy and walked around the site. We were pretty tired of ruins by this point, but seeing some of the original stones (not recreations) was actually interesting. I have to say though, much to our guide’s dismay, our group enjoyed taking silly pictures with the gigantic wooden Trojan horse more than seeing the ruins. That was fun... After leaving our last ruins for the trip, we checked into the Kolin Hotel in Canakkale. After dinner a few of us took a walk along the water, and managed to get back just as it was starting to rain.
We got up early the next morning to catch our ferry back to the European side of Turkey. Our first stop was Anzac Cove, the Lone Pine Cemetery and Anzac Hilltop. The Cove was a monument to the Gallipoli landing during WWI in 1915. There were a lot of Australians in our group, so it meant a lot for them to see that spot. It didn't have as much significance for me, but it was still a very beautiful spot. We made it back to Istanbul that evening and had the night free. 8 of us decided to take the train down to the water for dinner. It was really neat getting to see the city at night, as we were pretty sheltered most of the trip - staying at our hotels for dinner. We found a nice place to eat along the water and had fun listening to the musicians near our table. That night we were back in our same hotel from the first night.
On our last day we did the crash course exploring of Istanbul! We saw Topkapi Palace, the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia, the Hippodrome, the Grand Bazaar and finally ended our day with a Bosphorus Cruise between Asia and Europe. Our farewell dinner that night was at one of the restaurants along Restaurant Row. We had a great dinner and all said our goodbyes from a wonderful trip!
Check out some more photos from my trip here - Turkey Photos