Our First Europe Trip…. (The Barcelona Edition)

1We got into Barcelona in the evening. It was dark, and we found that our hotel was actually a little ways from town. Unfortunately, with this trip we were trying to stick to a strict budget, so that meant small rooms or far rooms. We stayed at the Residencia Melondistrict which was actually like an apartment complex for local students.  It was clean, but quite small. Not as small as London & Paris, but none the less, small.   The bathroom had some flooding issues because the shower was not properly constructed to prevent water leakage, which was really frustrating. I was mopping up water with left over towels & I left the blow dryer turned on & lied it on the floor to help it evaporate. It was NUTS!!! REMEMBER: Water & blow dryers typically don’t mix, so if you must do this, approach with caution…. Nobody likes to be electrocuted. 

We got settled into our room & decided that we needed some fresh air. Our solution was to wander back to the underground and head back into town.  In my opinion the Barcelona subway felt really sketchy. It was hot, dingy, and I remember it being dirty. However, it was definitely safe & never overly crowded.

barcelona-4On our first night out it was warm, and the streets were pretty empty. We did end up finding Casa Batllo, one of the many Antoni Gaudi sites. (We did go inside a couple days later, and I will get to that shortly…) In the mean time, I wouldn’t rank Barcelona to be as enchanting at night as Paris or London, but fresh air is always good for everyone.  We also ended up on a hunt for bottled water. I must have water or else I get moody, and all bets are off. It’s probably the Arizonan in me.

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Moving on to Day 2. It was night to say things in the day light. I was pleasantly surprised by the beautiful deep indigo trumpet vines that smothered the fence along the road.  We decided to walk into town to stretch our legs and see what we might find… The first thing was this intriguing Jewish Synagogue. We were confused about what it actually was until we looked it up on our Apple Map App.

Then it was lunch time, we went for sandwiches and then pressed forwards. The goal was to find La Sagrada Familia… We succeeded. The scale of the cathedral was massive, and the detail was truly exquisite. I was still wanting a break from all the tours, not to mention it was hot & muggy, so we made the mistake of not touring it. It’s on the to do list if we return.  TIP: Suck it up, wait in the line, and do the tour…. I’m certain it would be worth it.

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We primarily just wanted to chill, so next on the list was a trip to the beach. We found the subway and picked our route. Before we new it, we were there and heading toward the water. We decided to stop and eat. We picked one of the restaurants along the street that takes you to the boardwalk. Brad got Paella & I got a tasty pizza. Afterwards, we finished up with what is to this day, 10 countries later, the best chocolate & nutella gelato I have ever had in my entire life. If you are thebarcelona-9re, and heading to the beach, look for Deliziosa Gelateria Italiana. Their Nutella gelato WILL change your life.  From there it was a walk on the beautiful beach. TIP: Parents & conservative individuals beware, it’s a nude beach. I saw more than I cared to on several older individuals..   Anywho, the beach is beautiful, clean, and the water is clear. Sadly, we didn’t pack swimsuits so that meant we would only be walking the beach not swimming or tanning. One end are the large condos & resorts and the opposite is a small marina that is wrapped with tasty Spanish restaurants. We made it a point to stop for Sangria & olives. It was enjoyable & refreshing.

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barcelona-7lisbon 24.jpgThe last thing we did that day was some light exploring. We ended up finding a neat night time market  full of snacks, cooking essential and colorful treats. We also found a small taco shop along our mystery route that served tacos & cerveza (Mexican beer) with taco eating instructions on the wall for those who may not know how to eat tacos… and some don’t trust me… When we were at the Hard Rock Cafe in Paris, there was a gentleman next to us eating his tacos with a knife & fork. It was so wrong!  I thought about interupting him to let him know, but I figured that he wouldn’t appreciate my gesture of good will.
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Our 2nd full day was great. The first adventure was a tour of Casa Batllo in all of its Art Nouveau glory. It was truly intriguing to walk through the house that I studied and became so enamored with my freshman year of college. The tour cost is reasonable & you get a headset that will guide you through your house and give you information about the architecture in your language.  *You can scroll through more of the photos of this beautiful and unique house below.

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barcelona-23After Casa Batllo we decided that a trip to Park Guell would be completely appropriate! So we took the subway  and found the bus we needed & found ourselves at the bottom of a massive staircase that thankfully had escalators as well.  We found ourselves wandering through a massive “garden” in the heart of Barcelona on top of the hill. The views were very hazy, but vast. We curious about all of the things we we were seeing.

 At first we were disappointed as it didn’t seem that there was much more for us to see, and I started to wonder if we were in the wrong place. But as we kept going it turned into a rather enchanting place.

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We discovered a magnificent bridge designed by Gaudi… It made you feel as though you had stepped into a magical land. Photos are arranged below..

The area around it was filled with fun decorative touches & lots of people there enjoying the environment and warm weather. I would definitely return to this fun spot…. but what we discovered on our way out is that we were indeed in the wrong spot. Although this is labeled as Park Guell, the true Park Guell was on the opposite side of where we entered, and had a fee for entry. We skipped it, and that is one of the other things I regret doing, the downside is doing all of this during the peak of the day was a little brutal considering the heat and humidity.  With that behind us, we head back to the beach for gelato and relaxation. We loved watching the people and enjoyed watching the water move in and out…. On day 3, we were departing for Lisbon, but with the spare time we had… We did the exact same thing… Hit the boardwalk, got our exercise and just relaxed. Barcelona is a great place for that!

barcelona-30LESSONS LEARNED:

1) The best nutella gelato is in Barcelona (thus far)

2) Don’t skip the stuff you really wanted to see just because you are “burnt out”. It could turn your day around.

3) Always pack a swimsuit.

4) Spend more to be closer to the city!!!!

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Our First Europe Trip… (The Paris Edition Part 2)

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…and like that we were on our own. It was a beautiful thing. The question was… what to do first??? Just kidding. I had it planned. We were hitting the streets first…. We had the delight of stumbling across a French farmers market. It was paris-96full of fresh veggies, tasty snacks and fun accessories. TIP: I would highly suggest stopping by and doing some light shopping for some goodies if you find one of your own.  …Especially, if you are renting a house off of  airbnb.com. Pick up some fresh veggies, cheese, bread, and maybe some chocolates… Have a home cooked romantic dinner in Paris!  

Our walking journey led us someplace neat…. We found the Pantheon!

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paris-95The Pantheon was a very interesting place (the dome was under renovations). At first it seemed like a lot of other historical sights… Very decorative inside. Frescoes, statues, carvings… the works. Honestly, the historical aspects of the upper portion are a bit of blur to me. …because the best lies below. FACT: The crypts were a true treasure. When you first walk in you experience a big mysterious tunnel. As you wander through the crypts you get see the beautiful “tombs” of famous historical figures such as, Voltaire, Marie & Pierre Curie, Rousseau, Victor Hugo, Alexander Dumas and many others. It’s a great and inspiring feeling to walk among such incredible minds.  Stop by if you are in the area. It’s definitely a great experience. PLUS…getting to the bathrooms as a fun experience. you have to wander up a large narrow spiral staircase… but then again, you do that everywhere in Paris.

…and then the walk continued. We found what could be one of my favorite spots in Paris, the Luxembourg Gardens. There is a very large fountain in front of the gorgeous Luxembourg Palace, where individuals can pay to rent & play with small vintage boats. But, past all of that are beautiful grounds that you can wander and explore! Within those gardens we found a miniature Statue of Liberty (I know nothing about her)… Brad said that I should not take a picture, so naturally I did! & I am glad I did. It added a special touch to an already magical day, that just kept getting better!

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flowers from a shop along the Seine River

We decided to head back towards our hotel because the temperatures were dropping, and I wanted to change before our afternoon/evening activity. We were headed to the INCREDIBLE Catacombs. This was one of the very very very best tours that I have ever done. you leave feeling with what I would refer to as a strong sense of self, and a broken heart. It is an experience to walk amongst so many unnamed and mysterious deceased human-beings. You walk through wondering what each of their stories are, and how they came to be there. On the initial walk in, you walk by a couple of very interesting small structures carved into the walls of the catacombs.  Check out some of the pictures below. TIP: Add this to your “must-see/do” list. You don’t want to miss it!

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paris-115That evening we walked back to our neck of the woods, found dinner & then wandered around the area. There were lots of galleries around our hotel, and a lot of action was happening that Saturday night. Light shows on buildings, gallery openings, and even short film screenings in the square across from the hotel.  It was quite chilly so we stopped by the cafe we had been to prior, Royal Turenne. Turns out that they made an amazing hot chocolate & it was perfect because the weather had dropped significantly & it was a little bit misty. I took my hot chocolate & we walked back towards the hotel, but we made it a point to stop and watch some of the odd films playing across the way before calling it a night. After all, we a had a big day the next day…. Disneyland Paris.

 If you love American Disneyland… don’t go to Disneyland Paris. It wasn’t worth the ticket price. …and the majority of the business is owned by an Arab oil sheik, not Disney. Their Space Mountain might be a little better, but that is about it. OK, the Castle seems a bit cooler too! However, the food was terrible. FACT: There were no churros & that is shameful.  The nice thing is that it wasn’t busy, and that is probably why Disney had to bail this park out.  All this park was good for was a break from all the tours. …Really, the only reason we had gone was because my husband had promised be a Disneyland trip, but because of our work schedules and his temporary move, it just never happened… So this happened instead. We had a lot of fun, but it was freezing. I had to buy mickey mittens & I wore my scarf wrapped my head most of the day. …so also, check the weather before you go!

That was our final full day in Paris, we’ll never forget how “different” it was. As for our last morning, there was one thing we hadn’t seen & we needed that change before we boarded the Roissybus & got on a plane to Barcelona… The Arc de Triomphe…. we didn’t tour it or go to the top. We walked to this street corner, took our pictures, and then headed back. It was time for the next chapter!

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LESSONS LEARNED:

1) French hot chocolate is one of the best treats


2) Nothing beats the original Disneyland… 


3) Being surrounded by skeletons isn’t creepy… 

4) Check the weather!!!

Our First Europe Trip…. (The Paris Edition Part 1)

paris-1We ditched London bright & early, and I was not prepared at all. I brought shame on my family name! One thing that I completely spaced on was checking which terminal I we were flying out of. OOPS! London Heathrow Airport is a beast, and we were entering from the underground. Because of all of this, we almost missed our flight. I know I said I had been there several times before, but never was I in charge, and hot damn, I dropped the ball. We made it to our gate with probably 10 minutes to spare, but as we were boarding they told my mother-in-law & I that our carry-ons were too big & had to be checked. {TIP: American carry-on sizes are not equal to other countries. It is true: everything in America is bigger. So if you are flying on any international airlines outside of the US, double check the regulations for carry-on baggage.}

paris-4Aside from the baggage faux-pas, Air France was great- you get croissants instead of peanuts. 🙂 In Paris we stayed at Pratic Hotel. The location was great. It was near the Bastille, and area full of cafes and a crepe truck…. FACT: I should forewarn you that I am obsessed with Nutella crepes… Eat one & your life will be changed for the better. Our hotel was not the greatest, but it was worth it for the location. You see, the issue is that hotels in Europe can be very pricey. So for about $120 a night we got crammed in the smallest room I have ever experienced. The bed was crammed in the corner, and there was hardly room for our luggage. The walk way to the door led past the shower and the toilet & sink. There was no A/C and although it was nearing October, our room was very warm.  Brad’s mom stayed at a different hotel a couple blocks away, Grand Hotel Amelot, Her hotel was a little further off the main drag, but the room was much more spacious, and at the moment it is cheaper & has better customer reviews. …and it had A/C, which for an American from Arizona, that is a BIG deal. FACT: In Paris, you pay BIG $$$ to be closer to the sights. Getting to our hotel from the airport turned out to be a big mess. I knew one thing… you have to take the Roissybus to the Opera Square… We then had to navigate our way via our iPhone maps to our hotels. It was a long, hot & tiring trek. But along the way I did have the best ham & cheese sandwich of my life… the secret…. butter. FACT: Butter makes everything better.

paris-31Much like London, some of the best walking you can do is along the River Seine. The river is lined with trees and beautiful bridges. It’s truly peaceful. When I go back I’d like to bring some Pain au Chocolat (Chocolate Croissant, but the best in the world) & sit and watch the water run.

One of the greatest views along the river is the sight of Notre Dame towering over the riverside Flats. The Grandeur just radiates, and you can’t help but be drawn in to such a magnificent sight. We worked our way through the side streets & finally found our way to the Cathedral. We used the Paris Pass on this leg of trip (which is similar to the London pass from my previous post). By using the pass we were able to do one of the greatest things ever… climb to the top of the towers for some incredible Paris views. You do have to wait in line to make the climb, and we probably waited close to an hour, but it was worth every second. It was one of those experiences that you want to continue for an extensive period of time. I was sad that they only allow you a certain amount of time on top, but I guess, everyone deserves an opportunity to check it out.

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paris-32…and then there was The Louvre. Where do I even begin for that? Well, this was my second visit & my husband & his mom’s first. When you read that it’s an all day thing, don’t take it lightly. It truly is, but you will have so much fun diving into history. My favorite section is definitely the Egyptian history exhibit. …but I enjoy the classics as well, such as the Mona Lisa & Venus de Milo.  FACT:Mona Lisa draws such a large crowd that you have to be truly dedicated to waiting or shoving to get an up close view… Truthfully, you can get a better view on the internet, but I understand the curiosity & the thrill of seeing it in person.

These are probably the two most famous works of art in the whole gallery.  DID YOU KNOW: The Louvre originated as a fortress in 1190, you explore the original design which is now underground. In 1528, the king decided to move back to the capital city of France & took up residence in the Louvre. You can read more on the history of the Louvre here.

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Apollo Gallery: click to learn

Our final group activity before Brad’s mom left from Paris was to hit Versailles…. It was a mad house. It isn’t like other places where they slowly filter people through in tour groups…. They pack them in here. TIP: If you or anyone in your travel group in prone towards anxiety induced by noise or crowds.. skip the big house! Trust me!  It was our last day with Brad’s mom & I was burnt out… Three can be a crowd and I was in desperate need of quality time with my husband. ….I also can be prone to anxiety, so I know what I am talking about.

 The Palace of Versailles is truly exquisite. It makes it easy to understand why France ended up being broke.  I am making all of these pictures bigger, just so you can appreciate the grandeur of it all, as much as possible.
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The entrance into the palace. Yes, this is what it will look like if you go… A money making machine… the Disneyland of Palaces & Castles…
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The price chapel within, complete with a giant-ass pipe organ.  Who says you can’t worship from home?
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A simply elegant corridor lined with statues and marble.
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the Hall of Mirrors… I don’t know how we ever made it out in a group.

Honestly, the palace was beautiful. But the Gardens of Versailles were magnificent. My husband discusses moving to the town Versailles, just so we can get our coffee and tea and stroll through the parks whenever we wish. …and I wish that too. To walk down lanes lined with huge trees, and beautifully choreographed gardens, with fountains all over, was a dream for this desert dweller.

When we left Versaille, we stopped at the local McDonald’s for a quick snack, and a bathroom break before getting back on the train into town. That, too, was packed. But some sodium packed fries & a sprite were what I needed to regain some energy.

When we did arrive back in Paris, we made it a point to view the Eiffel Tower. Christal, needed to see it before she left.  When we got to it, the lines to go up were insane. None of us felt the need to be a crowded elevator to see the Parisian landscape. I think we were all starting to wear on each other. (My biggest Parisian regret: not booking the romantic Eiffel Tower dinner for two) After our quick pictures, it was time to head back for dinner & rest. Christal needed to pack & I needed to some alone time while I left Brad to help his mom figure out her game plan.

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LESSONS LEARNED:

1) Take a break & step away from the group to regroup if you feel like you are losing your edge

2) Sometimes it might be a good idea to map things out before you arrive

3) Sometimes spending a little extra for a little extra comfort is worth it

4) Ham & Cheese sandwiches are better with butter, especially in Paris. 

 

Our First Europe Trip…. (The London Edition)

london-17When I say “Our First Europe Trip”, I really mean Brad & his mom. This was my 7th… I think.  Because of this, I knew some things that they had to see, and I knew that we would be using the underground, but I wanted to plan accordingly. I did my homework, and studied google maps to figure out the best area to stay in. With that, I went to the planning board. Among all my research I discovered something truly awesome. The London Pass. You pay a flat rate depending on the number of days you want to use it, and it includes specific tours, cost of underground passes, and gets you discounts at certain tour sights, restaurants, and shops. It’s amazing.

Anyways, back to our trip. This was when Brad had his first “Africa Contract” and was working overseas… We agreed the best thing we could do was meet in Europe, so I hit the planning books. Originally, I was planing a European roadtrip, but I was just getting too carried away. The other thing, was Brad was unable to un-invite his mom. Which made it rather interesting because she had never been out of the US. So, I we agreed that it was best to do a four part trip. London. Paris. Barcelona. Lisbon. Brad’s mom decided she would depart halfway through the Paris portion, which was in the best interest of all parties.

lond-2Sadly, for London, I wasn’t fully invested because this was my 4th or 5th time there. I slept… A lot… But, I do have some fun photos to share. …and some great places to check out.

 Also, I should note that my timeline is a little foggy, as it was close to 2 years ago. But I’ll walk you through everything that I can!

We stayed at the Tune Hotel in the Westminster area, and it was fantastic. It was a fairly short walk into the city center, or an easy underground ride, particularly because the underground was literally across the street.  Another European note: these hotel rooms in the older cities are TINY… 

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One of the greatest things you can do in European cities, walk along the rivers. It is truly one of the best experiences you can have in life.  There is always so much to see.

london-1In London that included the beautiful & iconic tower bridge. I’ve never done it, but you can tour Tower Bridge. Info on the tour can be found here.

One of the other fun things to do in London is to visit & tour the Tower of London. This is where the Crown Jewels of England are held. …but there is so much more, so much history of the country. There is armor from different historical eras, you can experience how they lived in the middle ages. It truly is interesting. You could easily spend a whole day here if you were feeling overly diligent. I’m the type that gets burnt out fairly quick.

The picture to the left sits in the center of the amazing fortress. When we were there we were able to enjoy the beautiful artistic tulip display that filled the historical motes along the outer wall, It is no longer there as it was removed that November (2014). You can read about the significance of it here. (I really wish I had better photos of it, haha)

london-6One of the amazing other things we did, was a first for me. It was walking through Westminster Abbey. We all know it as the famous Cathedral where the royal families have gotten married, but it is truly so much more than you could possibly imagine.The history & the decadence were astounding! So many exquisite people have been buried there. The list not only includes royalty, but also great minds like Sir Isaac Newton.  Photos were not allowed on the inside, so you can click on this link to google images to see interior photos, and also, I didn’t take a picture of the front of the Abbey either… Like I said, its something I have been working on. However, I do have pictures of the outer areas!!! That’s some success, right? Anyways, this picture to the right is of the courtyard attached to Westminster abbey. It’s overlooking one of the towers of the parliament building. The photo below is of the old paintings along the walls in the Chapter House attached to the Abbey. {TIP: In popular, busy tourist attractions, make sure you know where your wallet is. I wouldn’t suggest guys keeping it in their back pocket, same goes for you phone. & don’t cruise around with your passport on hand if you can avoid it. Ladies, carry only a bag that zips across the top if it hangs low, or use one that sits right under your shoulder. Be Smart.}

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london 12.jpgExplore the Gardens & Parks…. They are everywhere & full of scampering  wildlife. This picture to the right was taken in St. James Park across from Churchill’s War Rooms (below). I couldn’t believe that they had pelicans there! I would expect them to be closer to the coast.

If you or your travel companion is at all a WWI fan, Churchill’s War Rooms is a must see exhibit. You can explore the underground tunnels that helped Britain fight the war. You see the living quarters, offices, strategy rooms, communications rooms, dining hall, etc.  It was another first for me, and I found it to be a really interesting experience, and I would highly recommend it for anyone going for even just a few days. It’s a fairly short tour, and the price is reasonable. Every guest is given a headset for a guided tour in their native language.

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london-40Another option for your trip is to visit Kensington Palace (the home of the late Princess Diana and young Queen Victoria , and now the home of the Duke & Duchess of Cambridge aka William & Kate). Honestly, I wouldn’t rank this tour very high. I feel like it lacked authenticity. It was more like a historical clothing museum. Which was interesting, but not great. In addition to being able to see some of the insanely uncomfortable fashions of previous centuries, you are able to see some of Diana’s most iconic outfits. Interesting, but not fascinating.

One of the reasons, I was so intrigued by Kensington Palace was because ‘The Young Victoria’ is one of my favorite movies. I was genuinely hoping to see it in that light, but I was obviously unable to. However, one of the best parts of the Palace tour was exploring the private gardens. There were water features, beautiful flowers, there was a crane (the bird, not the machine), water features. It was truly the best part.

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{TIP: If you are wanting to do a Palace tour & if it is available, do Buckingham Palace instead (pictures were not permitted, they want you to buy the books). Buckingham Palace has far more to see & is much more interesting, in my opinion. I have done it twice now & would probably go again because it is so much to take in. That place is a maze.}

london 42.jpgIf you do have the time or opportunity, check out the  public fun Kensington Garden & Park surrounding Kensington Palace. It’s a very large area, where you can just hang out & read a book if you are just wanting to relax. There are several different kinds of birds which is fun, just beware of the swans. They can get a little to sassy for my liking. It’s also a great place to people watch. I would grab lunch from a local shop & enjoy it in the park.

SIDE NOTE: One of my favorite things about cities like London is that you have to complete freedom and capability to roam wherever you want. You will always find something beautiful to look out, or something that you can learn about. It’s a great way to relax & experience the culture as well. It always helps relieve some of the pressure to see everything & do everything, because in a sense it is almost more fulfilling to discover the city on your own terms.

Another fun & affordable activity for those art lovers or those looking for a little culture is to hit up The National Gallery. It was a great way to kill a few hours on our last day after we had hit everything else. It was quick & had several iconic pieces of art by several famous artist like Van Gogh & Monet .  The Impressionist art was my favorite. I found myself drawn towards it. The National Gallery is just off Trafalgar Square ( I didn’t take photos because there were so many people) & it’s next to St. Martin in the Fields, which is a small cathedral. If your feet are killing you, it’s a great place to stop in and take a seat. That is what we did, and were pleasantly surprised to have a strings orchestra practicing. It was a truly wonderful moment that I will never forget.

Below are some of the photos I took while we wandered on foot (click on them for a larger view & notes).

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LESSONS LEARNED:

1) Always know who you are traveling with. Meaning, understand their temperaments & know their travel experience level. 

2) Map out your journey. 

3) Check for tour packages that could save you money & present other options you may not have found elsewhere. 

Yellowstone Day Trip 2014.

img_0396Our 2014 Yellowstone trip was brief. This is because our journey to Montana was actually for a family wedding in Bozeman.  I had been to Yellowstone before on a family trip when I was in high school, and I remembered how beautiful it was & that my husband had to see it. So, we (and my younger sister)  planned on a quick day trip to check it out. What a sight. The drive in alone was beautiful! …I might feel that way because I live in a desert. So when you get to spend the beginning of July in Yellowstone, it’s a real treat.

img_0398It was a nice break from the quiet college town we were staying it. The air smelled like fragrant wildflowers, and the mountain ranges were massive & breathtaking. We drove past dozens of cabins, and had a great time playing “I pick that one”. We had plenty of day dreams of escaping the Arizona summers & spending Christmas in these charming mountain retreats. There were visions of hot chocolate & s’mores, and sledding all day long. …But reality set in:  it would just be brutally cold.

 I couldn’t wait to get into the park. We were heading in from the North entrance (see map below) & our first stop was Mammoth Springs. What a sight..  Layers & layers of limestone pools. Some filled with aqua colored water and some with a brown milky tinge. It was so inviting, but sadly you have to stay on the path.

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Once we did our loop around this fun attraction, we headed back to the car to be on our way to our next stop. We didn’t have a lot of time this day. We had to be back in time for a family event. {TIP: Wear comfortable shoes that give you full coverage. Sandals are not the best idea. You can do quite a bit of walking & a lot of the paths around the hot springs are made of slats. It would be easy to lose a sandal, and it is possible to trip. …and there are quite a few stairs} 

IMG_0444.JPGThe drive continued to not disappoint. We had the pleasure of driving past Obsidian Cliff, which wasn’t as black as I thought it would be. There were pine trees everywhere… You could take a deep breath and get a big whiff of refreshing pine, while you hear the babble of nearby streams.  The rivers and streams were filled with crystal blue waters that looked as refreshing as I’m sure they were cold.  We found our way heading south keeping our eyes pealed for large wildlife. We had the delight of seeing a buffalo grazing.

 

IMG_0468.JPGThere were so many places that I wanted to stop, but we just didn’t have the time. So, we stuck to the core pieces. Next up, Grand Prismatic Spring. When we reviewed the options & places we could go, it wasn’t my husbands first tree. I think his was the Petrified Tree… He just didn’t know any better. I basically had to twist his arm & say “NO, you have to see the Grand Prismatic Spring”. So, that is just what we did, and it was worth it. I could look at it every day of my life, and be happy. It is one of natures finest sights. Sadly, once again, my pictures don’t do it justice, but it is a beautiful rainbow of steaming color. I urge you though, follow the instructions. Stay on the path. It is beautiful but it is also extremely dangerous. Take in the beauty & watch for wildlife. We had the pleasure of watching large Stag in the background. His silhouette was clouded by the steam, and it was a truly majestic sight.

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Along the path to Grand Prismatic Spring you pass by a couple other springs that are full of beautiful bubbling, steaming blue water! Just don’t touch any of them… The flesh will probably melt off your body… Okay, maybe that’s a little dramatic, but you will get burned as the water is close to 200 degrees & the “ground” around it is unstable. … so stay on the path!!

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After this, we headed back to our hotel because it was an extensive drive, probably close to an 1.5 hour drive. We decided to skip going to Old Faithful because time was tight & I personally, as someone who had seen it before, feel that it is kind of overrated. When we go back, it will be one of our stopping points though, along with that Petrified tree..

IMG_0479.JPGThe drive home was fun, although I think my sister tried to sleep for most of it. We had the pleasure of passing by a mountain goat on our way of the park & he was looking quite content while eating on the side of the mountain.  During our drive back, the weather changed drastically, and we got caught in some very blustery, that at certain points included some torrential downpours. It was a magnificent addition to our adventure for the day. If you are in an area around Yellow stone & you have 8-12 hours to kill, make the drive. Pay the National Park fee, and explore! With WiFi & cellular data now it is easier than ever!

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LESSONS LEARNED: 

1) Spontaneity & Adventure are always worth it.

2) Always pack your camera (all these pictures were taken on Brad’s iPhone 5S)

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Cancun Honeymoon: Learning Curve.

What a crazy week it has been… I can’t believe how long it has taken me to get around to this post. I have had some other major tasks to take care of! Anyways, let’s get on to the story..

This trip was so bittersweet. It was a major lesson in do’s and don’ts.

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Long story short: I thought we were going to Disneyland, but at my Rehearsal Dinner, my adorable husband surprised me with a trip to Cancun.  He learned real quick, that you just don’t spring things like this on a girl. I found out my mom & sister had drove to Tucson (the wedding was in Scottsdale) to pack my suitcase, and I started to have a panic attack. People were telling me that I should be excited and that I shouldn’t be upset. These were both things that I knew, and I eventually was excited, but the issue was that I am a planner & an over-preparer. I didn’t know what to expect. I like to have a plan, know the details, and just be in the know. It sounds funny now, but that one move on Brad’s part made me question whether or not marrying him was a mistake.  (It wasn’t- he is the best, and I was just being an idiot.)

I found out that Brad had booked the trip through US Airways’ (now American Airlines) travel promotional sight. We were scheduled to stay in Mexico for almost a week, and we were booked at the all-inclusive Hotel Marina El Cid Spa & Beach Resort.

We arrived at the airport & had a long car ride to our resort.  We got there in the evening & were greeted & given all the details of the resort. It’s not your typical hotel experience. We found out that they want you to sign up for a timeshare. We were talked to several times about it, but we aren’t the type of people who want to be tied to a specific location for years.

Once we listened to that arrival schpeel, we were off to our room and then were able to grab a quick bite to eat. Because we got there that day, we were unable to make a reservation at the “good restaurants” and so we were left with the option of the buffet or the Mexican buffet. Since we were in Mexico, we went with Mexican. It was worse than taco bell. As an Arizonan & a foodie, I have a strong opinion on the quality of Mexican food, & this just didn’t have it. It was flavorless queso, bland refried beans, and guacamole that was basically just smashed avocado. My dreams about the street tacos & the limey guacamole that my mom told me about (granted she stayed at the Ritz) were going to be just that, dreams.  I should have taken the food as an omen.

1426454_10103167592476181_843126427_nThis trip was just not all we hoped it would be, and the
fault pretty much falls on the hotel. First, It wasn’t even in Cancun. It was outside of Cancun in the Riviera Maya, hence the long car ride. The resort is owned by a Mexican company, and despite the property being well maintained and  very clean, the mattress we had to sleep on was so poorly made that you could feel the springs. I barely slept the entire trip, and what little sleep I did get allowed me to wake up with an incredibly sore back. 1441214_10103167589497151_390037208_n The toilet in our room did not flush well & the door to the toilet was delightful glass. It greatly reduced the magic within our first week of marriage. They have fun areas to walk through, with enclosed cocodrilos (crocodiles) and they have large iguanas throughout the property. We are the type that love to swim in the ocean, but our hotel didn’t allow for an easy walk into the water. Our beach was so rocky, it was unbearable, not to mention, it seemed that there was quite a bit of trash as well. …Also, there was no night life (we watched netflix in our room every night because we had nothing better to do), and every day in the pool they had activities going on for the kids & water aerobics for the older folks. It wasn’t peaceful.  …oh, and I almost forgot, wifi isn’t free.

But back to the food…. The food was bland and the buffet got old real fast. The themed restaurants didn’t live up to the hype, and as a foodie, I was so disappointed.  Mexican brand ice cream kept us going, but it still was only fair. It had an odd flavor to it, that I couldn’t pin point. Every night when we were walking throughout the hotel the air wreaked of frying grease, and not the good kind. Sadly, it smelled like most the fried foods that were in the buffets as well… The squash tasted like the outside air (aka grease). It was truly “de-appetizing”. I’ll never get over it. I think I’m scarred for life.

1476271_10103167592890351_406708530_nYou have to be thinking that I am complaining way too much, so let me share some good…. The rooms were clean. We had a nice view from our balcony where we got to enjoy watching some awesome thunderstorms roll through.  Kayaking was available which we did the  first day, and to swim all we had to do was walk close to 1/2 a mile to the next resort over to wade into the ocean and play in the waves where the beach was clear, fairly rock free, and the water was refreshing.  We also, had a great snorkeling adventure & a day trip to Chichen-Itza (sounds like chicken pizza -jk kidding).

If you do decide to stay in this area (after all, we are all entitled to our own preferences) go snorkel or dive! The boat ride to our snorkeling location was incredible. The water was emerald green! I had never seen anything like it.

I will never forget our first snorkelling adventure in Mexico. We saw sea turtles, loads of fish, and the best part was at the very end when we were literally getting ready to get back in the boat & had the rare opportunity of seeing a huge Spotted Eagle Ray. ( One thing that you will find out through out this blog is how much my husband & I love getting to interact & just see wildlife.)

Honeymoon & Ebay 040.JPGOkay, so, Chichen Itza…. What an incredible place to visit! This is the company, Xcaret Experiences,  we did our tour with.  Our guide was great, he was humorous & very knowledgeable. We had alot of fun that day. We had complimentary beer on the bus & they provided a snack box at some point.

But, anyways, my husband is on the frugal side, so we didn’t want do anything outrageous, so we picked what seemed like the best option for us which happened to be the Chichen Itza tour.  It included the tour of Chicken Itza, which was a beautiful Mayan city (now mostly ruins), the lovely sinkhole Cenote Azul, and a fun buffet lunch at a local restaurant.

The tour bus picked us up bright & early at our hotel. We had a long drive to Chichen Itza where we probably spent close to 3 hours wandering the grounds. The pyramid was really incredible & there was alot to take in and learn. Such as: Did you know they had observatories back then!?! They did!!!!

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There is a lot of time to be spent wandering the grounds, and what’s nice is that they give you plenty of free time to wander on your own too! It was an interesting place, with beautiful structures, and you can’t help but wonder how an ancient civilization could know so much & then vanish, taking with them so much knowledge & wisdom of the working of the universe.

On a lighter note, it was fun to walk down the ancient roads & see all of the colorful souvenirs you can bring home…. Including toys that allow you to sound like a jaguar.

Honeymoon & Ebay 035.JPGOnce our time was up, we headed back onto our bus & thank goodness. Because constantly approached by the street vendors constantly overwhelms me a little bit… Especially when it is hot & humid.  {TIP: If you decide to do this day trip or any of the others. Be ready. Be ready. Be ready!. Expect intense humidity & heat. Pack & prepare for it. Natural fibers are best. Cottons & Linens. Loose is great… and don’t pack jeans. You’ll just decide it was a waste of suitcase space. (Although, I did wear mine on the beack at night because of mosquitos.)} 

Honeymoon & Ebay 110.JPGIt was time for lunch. We were starving, and we knew one thing…. It was happening soon.  Lunch was truly exciting because it was truly exciting because it was AUTHENTIC!!! So, it was different than northern mexico Mexican food, but it was good. It was way better than what we had at the hotel, that was for certain. The buffet at lots of options packed with flavor. One thing that my husband & I noticed is that in that region it doesn’t seem like they have or make flour tortillas – just corn. It’s a little disappointing to me because I love a good flour tortilla, but none the less, corn works & is still delicious!

honeymoon-ebay-113honeymoon-ebay-134The options were fairly endless. You could have your rice and beans, they had guacamole, they had a variety of meat dish… and let’s not forget the chips & salsa. One thing this restaurant did not lack, CHARM! It was absolutely beautiful through & through. From the festive masks on the wall, to the tucked away garden with the stunning mosaic fountain. This was a place that you could spend quite a bit of time relaxing & enjoying life on Mexico time. Once we finished lunch we were able to wander through the small town for a bit, which was fun! There were several gift shops & a beautiful small Cathedral to see. {TIP: One thing to keep in mind, should you visit. This is Mexico. It is not a 1st world country, not everyone speaks english… Watch your wallet & valuables, don’t wander to far from the group. Listen to your guide!} Outside the cathedral was a horse & carriage. I will never forget this sight because the horse was wearing a straw hat with red ribbon. It was one of the funniest and most adorable things I have ever seen! (Sadly, I don’t remember the name of the town we visit or the restaurant we at.)

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Honeymoon & Ebay 152.JPGWe came, we saw, we conquered lunch, and it was time to move on! We had one stop left for the day & we were pretty excited. It was the Cenote Azul, which is located in Ik Kil. This is the giant sink hole that you can walk around and apparently swim in if you come prepared. This was one of the most interesting things, I have seen & would love to experience more of. Apparently, there are several of these swimming havens throughout the Yucatan. FACT: Sinkholes are crazy. I’m always terrified to be that person who randomly disappears into a giant hole that magically appears.

 

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Honeymoon & Ebay 155.JPGThis place was interesting though, you enter at one point, and you walk in from above ground and slowly make your way down and around. You slowly shuffle your way through, walking for wet areas so that you don’t accidentally slip, and make way for the cliff jumpers who are looking for a little adrenaline and to cool off.

Honeymoon & Ebay 159.JPGThis place was neat, but it doesn’t make it onto the “do before you die list” It’s a fairly quick walkthrough, and I don’t know how easy it is to get through.

Really, not much more happened on this trip. We were definitely ready to go home. On the last day, Brad wasn’t willing to eat anything else from the buffet except a yogurt. Yes, it was truly that bad. A 25 year old male, refused to eat anything, but yogurt… …and no, he wasn’t sick… well, just sick of bad food.

It’s safe to say that our first Cancun trip was a little but rocky, but it was great bonding time. …and we were forced outside of our box. We had some adventures, and we have memories that we will never forget.

At least now we can find the humor in how bad certain aspects were, like that we had to walk 1/2 a mile to go to another resorts beach, or the water aerobics, or that greasy goodnight smell that filled the damp evening air…. Keep in mind, this was our honeymoon. They are typically suppose to be flawless vacations.

LESSONS LEARNED:

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Fun Fact: This was the first time Brad got to use his passport!

1) Always research your hotel thoroughly. Read reviews &   map it out.

2) Research activities ahead of time, that way you can make the most of your time while you are there.

3) Pick your destination/hotel  based on what you are looking for: relaxation, adventure, family vacation… etc.

4) If you are married to or marrying someone with Type-A   tendencies, don’t just spring things on them last minute.We know it’s thoughtful, but sometimes it’s just stressful, or at least give them clues as to what to pack

5) Appreciate the good, laugh about the bad

Bon Voyage.

My first post:

I guess I will share a little about myself.

My name is Natalie. My life is a little on the unconventional side. I’m 28 & am voluntarily living with my parents, my small yorkie named Zanzibar, and my younger sister’s dog named Macy…. I know, you are probably thinking, “but why do you still live with your parents?”. Well,  I’m married to a rather rad man named Brad who is a mining engineer & who currently is working in the Democratic Republic of the Congo until further notice. We have the means for a house of our own, but honestly I have no desire to spend a majority of my days in a house alone with my dog missing my husband. With my husband’s crazy job we are able to do a lot of amazing traveling..  So, by living with my parents,  I get to have family dinners on a regular basis, don’t have to worry about my house or my pup while my husband & I are overseas, and the money we save on a mortgage gets to be added to our travel fund. It’s a pretty sweet setup.

Here is a picture of me & my main squeeze on our last big adventure through Africa.africa & extras 352.JPG

Our personal history: Brad & I went to high school together here in Arizona, but we weren’t really friends until college. No, we didn’t go to the same universities, but we hit it off right away when we met back up one summer while hanging out with our mutual friends & we continued to stay in touch. On Brad’s 21st birthday I figured out that he was my best friend. He was usually the first & last person I spoke to during the day. We both dated other people on & off… but then I met one of the girls he was dating, and I knew things would eventually have to change & I wasn’t down with that. So the tables turned and a few months later things were beginning to change. We started dating which was an odd transition, but I am so glad we did. I now get to see the world with my best friend in the whole world!

Soooo, here are some of our adventures. I will share my “do”s, “don’t”s, and “wish we would have”s.

You’ll experience my evolution as a traveler… and a photographer. haha

Please leave comments, ask question & if you have feedback to share for other travelers we want to hear it.

I’m also related to 2 flight attendants (my mother & sister) & have lot’s of friends that get bit by the travel bug, too. You can expect some guest articles from them, also! Can’t wait! Let’s do this!