I love souvenirs. I very easily can get suckered into those “I ❤ NY” t-shirts on the street and tacky little things that cost a fortune but don’t mean much, so a few years ago I decided to narrow my focus when it came to travel souvenirs or “merch” as Scube jokingly calls it. As a result, instead of bringing back a $10 two inch Statue of Liberty or Leaning Tower of Pisa, I look for Christmas tree ornaments. It’s my thing, and it drives Scube nuts, especially if we’re traveling somewhere in say, April. But thus far, my success rate is at 100%, not without some required creativity. Tip:Buy a magnet if no Christmas ornaments are available, loop a ribbon and with a glue gun, adhere the ribbon to the back of the magnet. Insta-ornament.
So as Scube and I put our tree up a few weeks ago, I was all excited to deck the halls with some new ornaments that we collected this year, from St. John, Capri, Ogunquit, Maine and Portland, Oregon. What I love so much about these keepsakes, as with each ornament I dig out of the box, I’m taken momentarily back to that trip, a memory and moment in time that I can revisit each year on our “travel tree”. Be it biking across the Golden Gate Bridge (and being scared out of my mind! It’s so narrow, there are so many people!), to gorging at a buffet at the Cosmopolitan in Vegas with the senior citizen crowd (jet lag had us up soooooo early, and who can say no to ice cream for breakfast?? Not this girl!), or meeting Sylvia, the third generation ceramic shop owner in Capri who thought she would study languages and travel the world before taking over for her Mother, and who now hopes her daughter will take over for her. It’s all there, wrapped in paper towels and unearthed each year.
While our tree also has the requisite snowmen, Santas, and glittery balls, our memories littered throughout seem to matter so much more. And what started out as an almost silly way to avoid useless crap, it’s turned into something that I look forward to sharing with my own children and grandchildren someday. The ornaments are a gateway to my memories, and hopefully our future spawn will think we’re pretty cool someday, when they’re not too busy being embarrassed by us.
What is your souvenir of choice?
Ogunquit, Sydney, AUS, and Rhode Island all in one little corner.
Renting a car and exploring outside of Portland is something I would recommend to anyone, in fact, I would encourage it. Oregon has so much to offer and there are many beautiful wonders within just a few hours of Portland that it’s a sin not to get outside and see it. Based on the time allowed and the weather constraints, we had one full day outside the city, and to be entirely cliché, it was magical.
We opted for the scenic drive to Mt. Hood from the city, clocking in at only 90 minutes each way, making this is a great day trip, weather permitting. Getting out of the city was a breeze. We rented a car from Avis on 4th and NW Washington Street, and within 2 minutes of leaving the garage, we were on the highway headed to our destination. Side note: This was also the best non-airport Avis experience we have EVER had.
Start your scenic drive at Vista House, but mind the wind. This area of the Columbia River Gorge is a wind surfers paradise, and apparently the wind can be so strong that it takes the doors off of cars (?!?!). Upon hearing that bit of information and receiving the advice to park into the wind (whatever that meant) Scube and I were a wee bit concerned. Fortunately, the wind wasn’t nearly as strong as it apparently could be during our visit. Continue on route 30, which is Oregon’s Scenic Drive that runs parallel to the highway, until you hit the start of a corridor filled with waterfalls. From Latourell Falls, to Bridal Veil, to Multnomah and Horsetail Falls, you will not be disappointed. All of the falls were breathtaking, but Multnomah Falls is the most famous, with a restaurant, lodge, and visitor center. I highly recommend walking up to the bridge between the two falls, but I do not recommend the mile hike to the top of the entire falls system. The pay-off is not nearly as sweet as you’d like it to be. The tiny look out is off to the side of the falls and looking over the edge you really cannot see much. The hike took about 30 – 40 minutes to reach the top (layers upon layers of clothing was pulled off in the process) and as Scube said, “the view is better from below.” After trekking back down the mountain, we grabbed a quick snack and continued the beautiful tour of the area.
A really great stop along the way which I was not expecting is the Bonneville Dam and Lock System along the Columbia River. If you catch it when the time is right, you can watch the famous salmon runs as they return to spawn. The runs were just ending as we arrived, but we caught a rogue salmon or two making its way up stream. Additionally, on-site you get to see fish hatcheries, giving new meaning to the term raised vs. wild salmon. It was a really cool experience.
After the DAM, our goal was to see Mt. Hood (a potentially active volcano!). Back east, while we do have mountains, none seem to closely resemble the mountains of the west. And I was so excited to see the snowcapped top against the back drop of fall colors, pines, and water. And it sure was snowcapped! Our drive turned from rainy fall colors to snow encrusted pines, with large snow plows with chains on their tires clearing the drive. While I’m not a nervous driver, it was unclear whether or not our Hyundai Sonata was up for the task of climbing this snowy mountain.
Based on the weather, we decided to visit Timberline Lodge, built during the Great Depression and appeared in the film The Shining as the outside of the hotel Jack Nicholson and his wife watch over during the winter months. The lodge was beautiful, with intricate woodwork and an atrium with fire places, sofas, and restaurants encircling the chimney. Our hot chocolates were 16 ounces of pure winter heaven, despite the early November date. It made me wish we were staying overnight, pretending to be snowed in and lounging by the fire with a good book. If only! Since the snow seemed pretty heavy we only stayed an hour as again, our car was not equipped for snowy mountain’s majesty, and headed back to Portland for some good food and a rainy drizzle.
“The dream of the 90s is alive in Portland.” – Portlandia.
As Scube and I sat in a neighborhood bar in the Nob Hill section of Portland, an eccentric British woman named Jenny asked us what made us come to Portland, and more importantly, how did we end up here, at Nobby Nobby Nobby? The latter, we needed a bathroom, the former, well, we had never been. And after a work trip to San Francisco, Portland was just a quick flight away, so why not?
What I had known of Portlandia going in was great food, an excessive liberal population, plenty of rain, and a diverse landscape. I was pumped, despite the awful weather report. On our itinerary, the beautiful Multnomah Falls and scenic drive, as well as Mount Hood and the Timberline Lodge (our first snow of the season!!), and finally two full days exploring the city. And Scube and I don’t just explore, we attack (metaphorically speaking).
Upon arrival, we were greeted with some of the best city public transportation I have ever seen. While the city is incredibly accessible on foot (we did that too), the public transportation was so smooth and easy to use. A day pass on the Max and Street Car will run you $5, whereas a one-way fare is $2.50, and good for 2.5 hours after purchasing. At all stops, we found that many of the tickets come out pre-validated, making it incredibly efficient to hop on and hop off. And I loooooove efficiency. I used to be a consultant after all.
In the city, here is a quick rundown of the must-see sites:
Powell’s Book Store. Where brick and mortar bookstores have suffered in the age of Amazon, Powell’s is large, thriving, and a wonderful place to get lost and escape the cold drizzle.
The Rose Garden. Even in November, there were still a few luscious looking roses to be found, as well as an incredible view of the city.
The Brew Scene. Both coffee and beer, the city is littered with breweries (Deschutes, Bridgeport, to name a few) and artisan coffee shops.
Food carts, food carts, food carts! Portland has a thriving food cart scene taking up parking lots and emanating the most enticing of food smells.
The Art Museum. An architectural wonder filled with a collection of modern art to die for.
Lady Portland. She is NOT Poseidon as I had actually thought.
Farmer’s Markets. Literally one for every day.
The forest. I love when you can escape a city in the city itself. Lush growth, mile high ferns, and dozens of trails await just a short walk from the street car.
The shopping. From high end name brand store so small boho boutiques littered with birds, I could have shopped for days…if Scube would let me!
The Salt & Straw. Incredible ice cream, though depending on timing you may have a long wait. What I loved, this organic, farm to table ice cream shop wasn’t too uppity for sprinkles (THANK GOD).
Neon signage. Neon signs are everywhere and I ate them up. Right over the Burnside Bridge is the beautiful Portland Oregon neon sign greeting visitors in Old Town Portland, a stone’s throw from Voodoo Donuts.
Voodoo vs. Blue Star Donuts. After sampling both, Voodoo Donuts was the ultimate winner for me and Scube. Bigger, badder, cheaper. We went twice, and both times, thanks to our east coast jetlag aka early wake-up time, we avoided the lines. Keep in mind Voodoo Donuts is open 24 hours, so whenever the mood for a light sugary treat hits, Voodoo will be waiting. But be careful, that area is not the most savory in the city.
Rent a car and get outside the city (separate post to come)!
Go see where Tonya Harding trained! Well this one might be just me, but as a figure skater growing up in the 80s and 90s, Tonya Harding was the tits, until of course she hired her ex-husband to take Nancy Kerrigan out with a tire iron. But, you can see where Tonay Harding trained, in the mall in Portland near the Convention Center. The must under served tourist attraction EVER, and the cherry on top of my Oregon visit.
Portland is a beautiful city with literally the nicest people I have ever met. I have never felt so welcomed by a city’s people than I did in Portland. But like any city, Portland is not without its faults and seedy neighborhoods. Be smart, ask where to go and not to go, and overall enjoy what the city has to offer, because it’s a lot. And remember, put a bird on it.
Being American, I love to hug, snuggle, cuddle, whatever. But as one of my favorite movies so aptly puts it, “No hugging, dear. I’m British. We only show affection to dogs and horses”*, not all cultures are as huggy as well, me. So why is this important? Well, entering the Blue Grotto in Capri involves very close quarters potentially with strangers.
When the seas are gentle and the Blue Grotto is open, about 20 – 25 row boats are ready outside the grotto waiting to accept passengers from other boats or from those taking the stairs (like moi). Since the physical entry to the grotto itself is fairly small, everyone, including the boatmen have to lay completely flat upon entry and then can pop back up once inside the glittering blue expanse. Fast forward to me and Scube getting in a boat with an Austrian couple in their late 40s.
Knowing we had to lay down I said to the woman, “It’s okay, don’t worry about it, we’ll all be friends here after this experience!” with a huge grin on my face. Her face however was ashen and horrified. She flat out refused to lay on me. She cowered in a small nook on the boat inches from my spread legs and cuddle ready arms and at the last moment tipped her head back to avoid injury. Once inside the grotto, her no touching policy continued. And I get it, not everyone wants to lay on a young, chesty American woman who’s bosom is ready to welcome anyone with open arms in these circumstances, but in the spirit of new experiences, would my breasts have killed her? Or maybe they would have? We will never know.
The madness of the Blue Grotto
Come to the stairs and pick us up por favore!
*The cult classic Amanda Bynes film What a Girl Wants featuring Colin Firth…swoon.
It’s rare that Steve and I just take a week off of work for vacation. Our normal time off spans between 10 – 14 days, and as a result, we usually try to see more than just one place. On our European vacation in September 2014, we were gone for just over two weeks, spending a week in Portugal and a week exploring the French Riviera with a small slice of Provence thrown in. We were planning to and did rent a car in both countries and as a result, we will rarely rent cars on vacation ever again (at least in Europe anyway).
For starters, Scube and I cannot drive a manual transmission. Our friend, bless him, tried to teach me in a very hilly section of Philadelphia and the poor guy probably needs a new starter (separate incident) and a new clutch. If I was guaranteed that Europe would be as flat as Kansas then sure, I’d rent a stick car there, but it’s not, so we knew we were paying a premium for our automatic transmission shortcomings. If that was the worst of it, our experience would not have been marred by this vacation against rental car agencies, but alas, the story continues.
In Portugal we were given an almost brand new Volvo. From Lisbon we had about a 3 hour drive, maybe more to the Algarve region of Portugal. With our printed maps we did our best and finally (after quite a few u-turns and attempts to ask for directions in Spanish – I know they speak Portugese but we do not) we found our way to the hotel. And while our hotel was beautiful with an incredible cliff side beach, we had plans to explore many of the coastal towns and beaches in the Algarve region. After our second day we noticed a small scratch on the side of the car. A scratch in the US that would not have rendered second looks or additional charges. I’m sure you can see where this is going.
We returned the car to the airport in Lisbon and were charged (we attempted to dispute the amount) an additional sum on top of our rental. We noticed that the agent also checked under our car to see if we had bottomed out. I have never seen such a thorough review of a vehicle, especially since I rented a car each week for almost two years for my past job. When all was said and done, our rental car for 5 days in Portugal cost us close to $900. There may have been tears. There were tears. Many, many, tears.
After our experience at Avis in Portugal, we were really nervous for our rental car experience in France. And of course, after arriving in Nice we were given an Audi convertible. It barely fit our luggage but was apparently the only automatic transmission they had on the lot. Also brand new. We were petrified. We didn’t want to bottom out, scratch, dent or damage this car in anyway. While we always set out with those goals when it comes to rentals, we and our wallets, were acutely aware of the consequences. Sidenote: Even with the heightened rental fear, I will never, ever rent a car in the Riviera again. The roads are narrow, incredibly winding and all around not worth it. Taking public transportation either a train or a bus would have gotten us to our destination with half as much stress.
Now that we had this Audi convertible, our first stop was to drive from the airport in Nice a few hours to Avignon. I don’t know how else to describe Avignon but it is not a place for cars of any kind. As a medieval city, it is completely narrow with alleyways posing as two-way streets. Driving through Avignon, knowing that any minor scrape would result in hundreds of extra dollars was so stressful. The car was filled with anger, yelling, and tears. After driving around in circles praying that the streets were wide enough for our vehicle, our hotel manager informed us that there is parking outside the city with shuttle service. If you do decide to rent a car and drive to Avignon, park there. You will not regret it.
After a few days in Avignon we were off to Eze, a town that sits upon a hill just outside of Nice. While the area was beautiful, the roads were incredibly winding with countless switchbacks. Our adorable B&B owner suggested a more scenic route to Monaco while there. Princess Grace died on that route. I spent the entire drive with white knuckles on the steering wheel honking my horn at every turn in the hopes to avoid a head on collision. Reason number 8974523948 why you should never EVER rent a car in the Riviera. Welp.
Needless to say, returning our car in France was a much less painful experience in Portugal without additional charges. There were battle scars, gray hairs, and unnecessary stress to say the least, but ultimately, the key takeaway is to avoid renting a car in Europe at all costs. With transportation so easy in most places (the Algarve not being one of them), in most major European outposts renting a car is like owning a car in Manhattan. We will be much more discerning in the future and I hope this is a cautionary tale for everyone out there. Unless of course you drive stick, because you are one of the lucky ones.
Two years ago I had never heard of the blue grotto. The human fish, aka Scuba Steve, saw some sort of look of the world’s most amazing swimming holes, with the Blue Grotto atop the list. Seeing pictures did not nearly prepare me for the incredible beauty inside. In fact, if you are able to swim in the blue grotto, it is imperative to bring a snorkel mask with you to see where the grotto gets its magnificent blue color from, an archway actually under the entrance! Additionally, I have a post coming later on the ultimate insanity on getting inside during normal operating hours so stay tuned for my turn “snuggling” with an Austrian woman. Until then, enjoy this iPhone 6 pic inside the Grotto Azura, a little blurry but you get the idea.
Full disclosure, I’m 30. And it’s really hard to meet new people and make friends. I’m sure that will get easier when a little nugget comes into the world (no, this is not an announcement), but I’ve found that traveling is a great way to take the social anxiety out of trying to meet new and wonderful people.
Travel is a bond. Doing study abroad my junior year of college has forever intertwined my life story with a group of girls forever. The memories you make when trekking through cities without a map, or the skills to adequately read one (the elusive Duomo) are those that you’ll never forget and laugh about 10 years later, like we still do.
In the past few years, Scube and I have met some really incredible people. Ones I haven’t necessarily kept in touch with although I should have, like the young woman who lives in Scottsdale whose parents live down the street from us, the famous fashion blogger and her husband from Melbourne (#WCW), the young accountant from New York trying her hardest to see as much of the Amalfi Coast as humanly possible, the young mom who lived down the street from us (and had us over for a lovely brunch), the wonderful couple from Yorkshire who own a tea and flower shop, and finally, the woman from LA who’s day I ruined when I told her Joan Rivers had died (whoops). Run-on sentence complete.
So what’s the point of this post? There are many reasons to travel but one that I put a lot of stock in is opening up yourself to new people where you otherwise wouldn’t. Maybe others have an easier time with this in their day-to-day lives, but I find that traveling is an easier segue into new relationships then say killing someone with kindness over raw meat at the grocery store.
September is a really special month for me. I started dating my husband (Scuba Steve as he will be known henceforth) in September, we got engaged in September, and then finally, we got married in September. When you don’t have kids, September isn’t a new year, it’s an extension of summer. So what does this have to do with California? Well, this is the story of our engagement trip.
I’ve mentioned this before, but air travel wasn’t something I spent a lot of time doing growing up. We explored the area around us with road trips and long weekends, but that was it. I used to sit in the back seat surrounded by luggage, art supplies, travel games and coloring books, and as an only child I’d like to think I was so entertained by myself that I rarely asked “are we there yet?” Since I grew up and still live in the Northeast, prior to September of 2012 I had not completed my manifest destiny, something at the time was very much on my bucket list. Chicago was as far west as it got, so when I told Scuba Steve I wanted to go to California, San Francisco and Wine Country to be exact, he added in the Redwoods and we were off to the races.
We tag teamed the planning on this one, and since I barely had any points at this time, hotels and flights were straight cash, a foreign concept to us these days. We were intent on hitting the Redwoods National Park up north, about a 5-6 hour drive from San Francisco. After a lot of research, we settled on the Turtle Rocks OceanfrontInn in Trinidad, CA. A place we would love to return to someday. Each room had its own balcony overlooking the ocean where you could watch and certainly listen to the seals barking in the evening. Since the fog was so heavy we could not figure out what that soundtrack was to the first half of our trip and finally, when the fog lifted, at least 30 seals were barking away on a rock outside. The locals do not find this cute, but Scube and I were quite taken with it, I mean you don’t exactly hear barking seals in Philadelphia everyday.
Back to the B&B, the owners are the sweetest people, serving a delicious breakfast at around 9am (we were surprised, as normally breakfast starts so early!), and opened their kitchen to guests with beverages and snacks throughout the day. Additionally, they were quick to provide itineraries that matched the length of ones stay, as well as excellent dinner recommendations. Staying a few days, we opted for the lengthier itinerary, but upon arrival, we were beat, crashed and then naturally woke up ready to greet the world at 4am California time. Kitchen closed.
On our first morning, Scuba Steve had the worst cold, and we were plying him with a cocktail of Dayquil, Sudafed, and the like in the hopes he would be able to enjoy the day. At around 6am, we grabbed a granola bar and an apple and headed toward Patrick’s Point. Our morning hike consisted of Wedding Rock, and if you haven’t figured it out yet, our engagement! Scuba Steve had asked me to grab a map which if you know me, is hilarious. I cannot read a map to save my life, after rummaging through our stuff, I turned around and there he was, down on one knee. To this day, I have no idea what Scube said to me, I blacked out into a puddle of the happiest of tears. After composing ourselves (okay fine, myself), we tried to get through to our families and friends with what little cell service there was, and continued to explore Patrick’s Point. Nothing says excitement and disappointment like, “OMG we got en-…” to get cut off each time.
The area of Patrick’s Point was beautiful, as thick fog would slowly burn off as the sun would escape through small slats in the pine trees up above. After about an hour of exploration we headed back to the Inn for some much deserved breakfast of pastries, eggs, juices, the works. I mean we had been up since 4, a granola and an apple wasn’t going to cut it.
After breakfast, our itinerary for the day focused on the Redwoods National Park, and we hoped to spend a lot of time getting lost in the forest. After checking in with the National Park Visitors Center for a map (of course, Scube needs his maps) and a few trail ideas, we headed first to Lady Bird Johnson Grove and Tall Trees Grove. None of these were long or tedious hikes, but the pay offs were incredible. In typical fashion was tried to hug the trees and our outstretched arms didn’t even come close to completing a full on hug. I have an incredible fear of snakes, and one of my Scube’s favorite moments from the hike down into the Trall Trees Grove was when I asked “you don’t think we’ll see any snakes here?” as I unknowingly stepped right over one. So yes, there is a possibility that you could see snakes (ugh).
Even though this was a few years ago, California was fairly dry, and Redwood Creek near the Tall Trees Grove was almost completely dried up. We walked through the creek bed and headed the 2 miles back up to the car. When not hiking, the look out points on the main roadway to the points were stunning, and we were constantly stopping to take in the view and try our hand at some pretty bad selfies, but we didn’t care. The drive back to the Inn was incredibly beautiful. You end up driving down a hill where there’s the ocean on the right and a lagoon on the left. The beach was made of dark sand with small little caves and inlets we explored during our stay.
With some lingering jet lag, we decided it was time to relax for a bit before heading to dinner at Moonstone Grill to toast to our engagement. Moonstone Grill overlooks the ocean, and the scenery at the restaurant was fantastic. I have no recollection of the food, and that might be because upon leaving the restaurant we realized we were driving on a flat tire. Driving about 100 yards, we had destroyed the tire and turned back around, Steve went inside to call AAA, and I enlisted an elderly man to help me change the tire. Knowing that our spare would only last for 50 or so miles (my dad or Marisa Tomei in My Cousin Vinny may have mentioned that), we unfortunately spent the next morning in a tire shop getting a new tire on our rental car. Since Trinidad was not all that close to a major city, this seemed to be the best course of action, despite the unexpected bill.
Once the tire had been replaced, we decided to visit Fern Canyon, where Jurassic Park 2 was filmed. The drive into the canyon was a single lane road, where lead cars are required to chaperon cars to and from the parking lot. The drive into the canyon was so incredibly cool. Wet ferns and foliage crawled up both sides of your car, as the dirt road seemed to narrow before your eyes. We truly felt like we were in the movie, though a bit hesitant considering there was some light off-roading through rocky streams involved. Nothing like replacing a flat tire and then holding your breath while the bars on your cellphone disappear faster than a vampire in sunlight as your car is rocking back and forth on rocks, in creeks, etc. But we made it. The hike into the canyon was damp, beautiful, lush and green. It involved climbing over massive tree trunks, getting your sneaks wet, and getting a little lost. Beyond the canyon, we walked along a beach in what was a gray day, and looked back upon the cliffs hiding the canyon from which we came. We saw hikers who had been hiking for months on the Pacific Crest Trail, large animal carcasses, and circling gulls, truly at peace with nature (something so new to me). After walking along the beach, we headed back to the car, waited for our lead car, and decided to head out to Elk Point, where Elk’s (luckily for us) were incredibly abundant. Elk’s were everywhere, and we kept a safe distance though definitely snapped a few photos. Our Elk detour only lasted a few minutes, and we decided to check out the town of Trinidad itself.
The town is very much a quaint fishing village, reminiscent of towns in Maine. With a stunning white and red light house, a beautiful cove/marina and a hike cliff walk, the town had a lot to offer, even if we only had a few hours to spare. That night we had dinner at Larrupin Cafe. The meal was out of this world, and we were not expecting that for such a small town. They bring a charcuterie board to start, and while I don’t remember exactly what we ordered, I remember we were both in culinary heaven. Fortunately, our car did not have a flat tire upon leaving so we certainly called this day a win.
We were hoping to kayak the next morning, but since the conditions were rough, the company cancelled our tour, so we decided to spend more time exploring Trinidad on our last day before heading down to wine country.
Trinidad was such an unexpected bright spot, and that excludes the excitement of our first morning. It was so diverse and offered and so many different outdoorsy activities coupled with really great food. It was such a great start to my very first time in the Golden State.