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In honor of my mom’s milestone birthday, my family and I started secretly scheming over 8 months ago. Knowing she is a hard lady to keep in the dark, much of the secret-keeping fell on my dad’s shoulders. However, we all pulled together — making plans, booking a beach house, coordinating various efforts, and in the end it was worth it. We all convened on Hilton Head South Carolina for a family beach trip to be remembered forever. Some highlights include a day trip to Savannah, Georgia, amazing “home”-cooked local seafood feasts, spotting frolicking dolphins just feet away from where we were swimming, bike rentals on the beach, creative cocktails, cavorting around town in the convertible rental car, and being endlessly entertained by the two youngest family members. Check out some of the moments we captured below, and happy birthday Mom! We all love you so, and are happy to be able to have gotten the chance to provide a small reflection of all of the gifts you’ve given us over the years by surprising you with this special trip.

 

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Portugal Trip

Over 8 years ago, Anthony and I went to Europe for an epic tour. It was my first time traveling outside the U.S., and we hit 10 countries in 21 days, opening our eyes to the varied characteristics and rich history of the region. Because it was such a whirlwind, however, we vowed to return frequently, seeking additional experiences and exploring a single area in more depth. Well, more time passed than we had hoped, but we finally got to return for another overseas trip, this time visiting Portugal. We were drawn to it for its moderate climate, varied landscape and food, among other things, and we were definitely not disappointed!

We took a redeye via Newark to Lisbon and arrived around 7:30 am. Naturally, we were both a bit exhausted from travel, but luckily the hotel allowed us to have a very early check-in, so we could take a quick morning nap before starting our day. After catching a bit of sleep, we had lunch in the hotel to get plan out our first day. A light rain had greeted us, so we weren’t sure if we’d want to be out and about much, but as luck would have it, the rain let up just as we were finishing our meal and we set out on the town. Our hotel was located centrally on a main avenue, making exploration and sightseeing easy.

Because we hadn’t scheduled anything for the first day, knowing jetlag can be unpredictable, we enjoyed a leisurely, albeit grey afternoon. We loved the casual stroll without itinerary, popping into shops and exploring the main drag.

In the main square, we found a place to duck in and grab some drinks before wandering a bit more through the city as night began to fall. We happened upon a few things, including a lively market selling meats, cheeses, and goods from local artisans. Still pretty exhausted, we opted to head back to the hotel for an early bedtime.

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The next morning, we awoke early, well-rested and ready to do some more exploring. With a sunnier day, we were inspired to grab some bikes and see the city in our favorite way — pedaling around town. We found a bike rental place near the city center and walked down to get our wheels for the day. The rental guy gave us some great recommendations for routes, which took us along the waterfront down to the historic neighborhood of Belém. We made a pit stop under their iconic bridge to wait out a pop-up rain shower and grab some cheap beers and crab cakes.

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After the sun came back out, we continued on down the waterfront, snapping photos along the way. We turned around at Belém, where we visited an old monastery and also tried the storied Pastéis de Belém — a custard pastry made from a 100-year-old secret recipe.

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Museum of Art, Architecture and Technology

During our pastry pit stop, we dodged yet another rainstorm, this one more of a downpour, which pretty much eased up as soon as we were ready to move on. As we prepared to make the return trip, we remarked on how lucky we had been in avoiding the rain fall all day. Well, I guess we jinxed it then because the skies opened up at that point and we got to ride through the rain for about a half-hour as we made our way back to the shop to return our bikes.

Thoroughly chilly and wet, we headed back to the hotel to clean up, and then hit the town again to track down some dinner. Relying on Yelp reviews, we set out towards a local restaurant with high ratings, navigating the winding hills of a nearby neighborhood. We struck out twice (one restaurant was closed and the next one we found had a very long wait) and then found a quiet Indian-themed (? I think) restaurant that overlooked the city lights.

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After dinner, not quite ready to go back, we checked out Yelp and TripAdvisor again (what did people do before smartphones??) for more local haunts, and stumbled upon instructions to access a speakeasy nearby. It was a really unique experience, with some really fun drinks to serve as a nightcap before heading back to the hotel.

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Anthony’s drink was an herbal infused tequila cocktail, which tasted either savory or sweet depending on which side of the glass you drank out of. My drink is the one that looks like a box of chocolate covered popcorn — there is a delicious glass of old-fashioned underneath a layer of ice, separating the delicious popcorn from the drink.

The next morning, we did the hotel buffet breakfast again (naturally), and then met a Lisbon local, Marta, for a private walking tour that we had previously arranged. The tour was very interesting and Marta was incredibly informative on the history and culture of Lisbon and Portugal as a whole. She walked us through some of the streets we had already been exploring, as well as many other neighborhoods, explaining the sights and answering some of the questions we had been curious about during the course of our own exploration.

In addition to providing us with some local insights and information, Marta also took us to a large marketplace to introduce us to some local foods, such as an assortment of croquettes, several different traditional desserts, local wines from the Douro region, chocolates, and a traditional cherry liqueur called Ginja. After parting ways with Marta, we returned to a shopping area that she had shown us, just off the main square, to stop in a couple of places and eventually grab some afternoon appetizers while listening to a street band playing the popular Portuguese Fado music.

After returning to the hotel for a small siesta, knowing that the Portuguese restaurants don’t even open until 7pm, we cleaned up and headed out to dinner, upon a recommendation from both Marta as well as Anthony Bourdain. We were in search of good seafood, and good seafood we received after a short wait for Ramiro, a packed joint in the Baixa neighborhood. We shared a bottle of Vinho Verde and decided we were going all out on the most recommended dishes.

Our bellies full from all the delicious shellfish, we walked back through the city and once again visited the central marketplace we had discovered on the first night. This time, we spent a bit more time there, purchasing a few souvenirs and grabbing some hot mulled wine to sip as we made our way back to the hotel.

Day four began early as we navigated Lisbon public transportation, catching a bus to the train towards the coastal town of Cascais. Once we arrived, we met up with Joao (pronounced Jah-ow), our climbing guide, for a much-anticipated trip to enjoy one of our favorite new activities. I had built up the idea of climbing in another country in my head, and this experience was everything I had dreamed of and more. As we parked on a cliff overlooking the ocean, and proceeded to make our way down to the climbing base, I knew that we were in for some fun challenges and beautiful views.

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The approach

Having usually spent most of our time in the climbing gym, and on different types of rock when outside in Colorado, we were particularly challenged by the limestone. Sometimes slick and sometimes rough like lava rock, we made our ways up several different 5.9/5.10a routes, as Joao gave us some pointers on navigating some of the more technical spots. With the intense sunshine, it was the first time we actually got hot on the trip, working up a sweat as we enjoyed the amazing views. This experience, as much as I built it up, was still one of the most amazing memories of our trip.

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The view from the climb

After the climb, we wanted to visit the nearby town of Sintra, described to us by several locals as a “fairytale village.” Joao explained to us how difficult it would be to get to via public transport or taxi, so he personally delivered us to a walking trail that would get us there after a 30 minute hike. Along the way, we stopped at a lovely little crepery where we each had savory crepes from some friendly ladies, who were excited to give us more information about Sintra as well as some port-filled chocolates to send us on our way.

The walk to Sintra was beautiful and relaxing, as we stopped to take photos of castles and estates along the way.

Once we arrived in Sintra, we immediately headed straight for Quinta da Regaleira, which we had heard from several sources would be well worth a visit. “Worth it” would be a massive understatement. This property was, alone, worth the trip out to Sintra. An old estate that has changed hands and architects throughout the years, the property is filled with beautiful structures, hidden tunnels, and elaborate gardens.

One of the coolest thing that we saw was this “initiation well”, which we were able to wander down into. As we were heading down, we discovered several hidden passageways leading out to other areas within the estate. We spent some time exploring the labyrinth before exiting and taking a walking break, where we were greeted by some very friendly cats.

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After we had finished at Quinta de Regaleira, we did a little bit of exploring in the “fairytale village”, and then took the train back into Lisbon. After this incredible day (climbing! beautiful views! amazing architecture! cats!), we were pretty exhausted, and actually managed to miss our stop (by several stops…) as we were heading back to the hotel, and had a bit of an adventure turning ourselves back around in the middle of the city’s rush hour, so we opted for warm showers and a relaxed (and delicious!) dinner back at the hotel.

The next morning, we packed up to leave Lisbon for the southern coastal Algarve region. After we learned how to correctly pronounce our destination city of Portimao (poot-eh-meow), we were more easily able to navigate our way down using our Eurail passes. We did run into another transportation hiccup and spent the morning hanging out in the train station waiting for our ride, but eventually we made it to the new hotel, and were greeted by a beautiful (and empty) beach. As it was the low season, the town was pretty quiet, but it made for some excellent photo ops as we enjoyed another sunny afternoon.

After a walk down the beach to explore the many rock outcroppings and take a few selfies, we stopped at one of the beachside cafe for some cocktails and seafood appetizers of shrimp and calamari. We watched as some clouds rolled in but (thankfully) luck was on our side again and the only actual weather that came along was further in on the coast and made for a beautiful double rainbow as we made our way up to the road along Praia de Rocha (Stone Beach). While there, we visited an old fortress with a great view of town, as well as a spectacular sunset over the water.

After returning to the hotel, we enjoyed a buffet dinner back at the hotel. We realized that it was Thursday — American Thanksgiving — and were amused to see that they had turkey on the buffet table alongside the seafood and traditional Portuguese dishes. After filling up on the buffet, we headed to bed.

The next morning, we took advantage of the in-room continental breakfast — which was a feast — before meeting up with another local guide for a private tour. This one, however, wouldn’t be a walking tour, and instead we were greeted outside the hotel lobby by Delfim and his sidecar.

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Delfim was always the driver, but we couldn’t resist this photo op. It makes me giggle but was exactly what I was hoping for when we booked!

The sidecar tour was also highly anticipated, but we had been nervous in the days leading up to it as the forecast for that day had been calling for a 90% chance of rain. It didn’t look promising even as late as the evening before, as we slept through drizzles all night, but imagine our delight as we stepped out to yet another sunny morning.

Delfim’s tour was so much fun, and once again our guide’s knowledge of the area and of Portugal were incredibly interesting. He took us to several of the neighboring towns, stopping to get out and check the (incredible) views and also getting some interesting looks from passersby.

Delfim also gave us a bit of insight into the small downtown area of Portimao, which we returned to after the tour for a bit of shopping and further exploration. We stopped at a small restaurant for lunch, where Anthony ordered grilled mackerel (a local favorite of whole fish… with eyes) and I had a traditional shellfish and rice soup, along with the usual olive appetizer. Both of our meals, while a bit strange-looking and confusing to us, were tasty.

Feeling a bit beat from the go-go-go, we headed back to the hotel for a little rest, and geared ourselves up to head out on the town that night. After getting dressed up, looking up a couple recommendations, and then hitting the street, we were met with a very dead “nightlife” scene. We couldn’t even find an appealing place to grab dinner, so we tried a couple pubs before we just decided to go back to the hotel and have a late room service “dinner”, which mainly consisted of cheese, more olives, and a huge plate of french fries, and was absolutely delicious and perfect.

Our last full day was mainly a travel day, during which we’d make our way back to Lisbon to fly out the next day. Now that we finally had the whole train thing figured out, we knew we had a few hours to kill in the morning before we needed to be at the station. After breakfast at the hotel, we headed down to the beach to watch the many surfers taking advantage of a high tide, and relax a bit on the pier.

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After a few hours on the train, and grabbing a couple of fresh donuts from a train station pastry shop, we returned to Lisbon and checked back into the same hotel we had stayed in before. We walked back downtown to the Chiado district for a little bit of last-minute shopping, and were entertained to see that during our brief absence, the city had transformed for Christmas. The shopping district was bustling and there was an abundance of sparkly Christmas lights and decorations. After stopping in a couple shops, we found a local restaurant that was able to squeeze us in just as they were opening for the night, although they claimed that they were almost fully-booked with reservations. We felt like that might have been a bit of a stretch, as we were nearly the only ones there, but in any case, it lead to an incredible last meal, ranking as one of our favorites.

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Anthony’s (top) was a puff pastry filled with sole filets. He ranked it at the top of the meals he enjoyed. Mine was the grilled octopus (surprisingly tender and so so delicious), surrounded by prawns and gigantic mussels.

As we departed the restaurant, we emerged into another rainy evening, which was a fitting way to end our trip, as we had dodged so many raindrops throughout the course of the week. However, it didn’t dampen (ha!) our spirits as we made our last trek back up to the hotel. During our rainy walk, we discussed our highlights — hard to pick just one when every day was filled with something new and exciting. As far as travel, we were both surprised that we’d rank this trip high on our list of favorites, just behind our all-time favorite first trip to Europe. This time, we hope to return sooner rather than later.

Return to Sayulita

Seven years ago, as we were planning our wedding, we asked a friend out here in Colorado where we should go for our honeymoon. Without skipping a beat, he immediately recommended Sayulita, Mexico, a small surfing/fishing town about 30 miles from Puerto Vallarta. We jumped on this recommendation, due to the relative affordability and accessibility, and had a wonderful time. Although we spent one day on that trip getting pummeled by “Hurricane Rick” (no joke), we loved the town, the resort where we stayed, and vowed to return.

Finally, we put the plans in place to finally revisit Sayulita and bring a few friends in tow this year, and returned just a couple weeks ago. Round two did not disappoint, and we are already talking about going back!

We arrived on a Wednesday afternoon, and like our previous trip, opted to take the local bus into Sayulita. It’s definitely a bit of an adventure, versus taking the hotel shuttle or a taxi, but is a great way to kick off a trip off the beaten path.

Once we arrived in Sayulita, we were transported to the resort, Playa Escondida. The resort, which translates to “Hidden Beach,” is truly a hidden gem. Although it is not quite as undiscovered as it was during our last visit (it has become a filming location for the TV show “The Bachelor” within the last couple years), and has grown a bit, it was still the welcoming and relaxing retreat we remembered. With hammocks on the balconies of the individual thatched-roof cabanas, sandy paths meandering through palm trees to get around the property, open-air showers and bedrooms overlooking the rippling ocean, the connection to the natural surroundings makes for a uniquely immersive experience. On top of that, the service is personal and the food and beverage are top-notch.

We're suckers for hammocks!

We’re suckers for hammocks!

Balcony overlooking the yoga terrace

Balcony overlooking the yoga terrace

View from the bed

View from the bed

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Lounge chairs on our balcony

Lounge chairs on our balcony

After arriving and getting the grand tour and our “welcome drink” from the jovial bartender, Jorge, we settled into our room and began enjoying our private balcony and soaking up the whole “we’re on vacation!” vibe.

Our friend, Dawn, who had gotten to Sayulita and was staying at a hostel in town for the first couple of days, joined us the first evening for drinks and a poolside dinner, and then we drifted off to the sounds of the waves floating into our open windows.

Dawn and Antho: "We're on vacation!"

Dawn and Antho: “We’re on vacation!”

Heading to dinner

Heading to dinner

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Our view from the bar

Our view from the bar

The next day, after breakfast by the pool, we decided to head into town to meet up with Dawn again. On our previous visit, we had taken the walk into town several times, which turned out to be a comfortable stroll through the jungle into town. For reference, here is a map of the area, showing the preferred walking route.

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Knowing that this path existed, we thought we’d get a little creative, and attempt to instead follow the beach all the way into town. We knew it was a little longer, and that there were a few rocks we’d have to climb over, but with an open schedule and the laid-back vacation vibe on our side, we figured we’d give it a shot.

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Long story short, there were more than a few rocks to traverse, and some of the climbs got quite intense, especially as I was outfitted in a bikini and sandals (Anthony was smart and wore sneakers). At one point we turned a corner and saw this imposing cliff.

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I’m not sure if photos do it justice — it was about 50-60′ high and straight up — but let’s just say that even with our rock climbing experience, we managed to shimmy about halfway up before we realized that we had made a grave mistake. After getting safely back to the ground and assessing our options (I was hellbent against heading back after all that work), we ended up finding a steep path up and through the jungle that brought us out safely to the other side of the “Cliff of Doom” as I liked to refer to it, but only about halfway to our destination. After about 3 (!) hours, we finally made it to civilization and met Dawn on the beach in town.

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After some hard-earned beers and some lunch, I had recharged enough to dare a surf lesson, and I quickly found a teacher on the beach, while Anthony and Dawn explored town a bit before returning to watch me go.

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To my surprise, I did a lot better than my last couple attempts, and I actually managed to stand a good majority of the time!

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After I had become thoroughly exhausted by the surf, we headed over to Dawn’s hostel, where we relaxed for a bit in the hammocks and played some games until it was time to head to dinner.

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We got some delicious seafood at a local restaurant, and then returned to the hostel bar for some cheap drinks and mingling with visitors from all over the world, teaching them some of our favorite games. It was a fun night and reminded us very much of our Europe trip with the camaraderie of fellow travelers.

 

The next morning, we had a relaxing morning and then headed into town — opting for a taxi this time — to meet Dawn for some more beach-side drinks. Afterwards, we did a little shopping in town and then headed back to Playa Escondida for some R+R, relaxing on our balcony and beside the pool. That afternoon, our friends Glenn and Mandy arrived and the party really began!

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Sampling some of Jorge’s famous beer cocktail — El Toro.

We enjoyed *a few* drinks at the beach bar, and played on the beach a bit before dinner, which we enjoyed all together by the pool.

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Glenn and Antho toast beers from the infamous “Windpouch” (jury’s still out on that one…)


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After we finished a delicious meal, we hustled over to the infinity hot tub for one of my favorite moments of the trip. All together, we watched the sun go down over the Pacific Ocean, enjoying a seemingly-neverending sunset.

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It doesn’t get much better…

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The next day, we spent some downtime relaxing on the beach while our friends partook in the outdoor yoga class, and I collected a few seashells.

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After we had all grouped up, we decided to take the advised trek into town, arriving to the main beach in about a half an hour. After some lunch, we met up with some friends who also happened to be traveling in from Denver, who we found lounging under a beach umbrella. After a little more meandering through the small town as we digested, Anthony and I tried our hand once again at surfing. Although it was not as successful as with my instructor the time before, we still had a great time playing around in the ocean.

Afterwards, we visited our friends’ rental house, a beautiful villa overlooking the town and beach.

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That night, we headed into town for a nice dinner, after which we had some fun at some of the local bars, dancing and enjoying local music. We were reminded of how small a town Sayulita is, as we ran into our surf instructor and some Playa Escondida employees, all who were incredibly friendly even “off the clock.” After we had had our fill of the nightlife, we sampled some local street food — chorizo tacos, which were delicious — and headed back to the resort.

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Our view of the main drag during dinner

 

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Listening to great live guitar music while having drinks on an ironing board in the street. When in Mexico!

 


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On our last full day, we took it easy, basking in the vacation feeling, and lounging around more by the beach and pools (are you noticing a theme?). After some games in the palapa, accompanied by the most amazing quesadillas and guacamole, I decided that I’d take up the resort’s instructor on a quick boogie boarding lesson. I wish we had gotten a pic of the one wave that I actually caught on the boogie board — much, much larger than anything I had surfed — and before the instructor had even made it out to the water yet. I had accidentally started going when I saw a wave coming, knowing I’d either have to ride it or crash into it. I chose to ride it, and it lifted me so high in the air I felt like I was flying — both an exhilarating and terrifying experience, and as I glided into shore, I promptly returned the board to the instructor and headed back to the safety of the bar.

After recovering from my ocean experience, we decided to rent a couple golf carts and make our way into town yet again. As you might note, this is the fourth different way we made the trek, but was by far the most fun. Who knew we could have so much fun going about 30 mph on cobblestone streets?? We rode into town, and after doing a bit more shopping, eating and drinking (and cat discovering!), we headed up past town and found ourselves in a ritzy neighborhood that seemed to have another private beach.

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Michelada’s to-go, please!

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Our friends’ traveling mascot, Chuckles the cat, found a little buddy snoozing on a bench!

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Turning heads while we cruise through town

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Here comes trouble!



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That night, we book-ended the trip with yet another beautiful sunset, this time from the infinity pool instead of the hot tub. After watching the sky transform again, we headed back to the restaurant for another delicious meal, rounding out another fun — but much too short — vacation to Sayulita.

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Snippets of our summer

Sometimes it’s easy to forget how lucky we are to live here. We, like everyone I assume, sometimes succumb to the occasional dreaming of where we’ll be next. But with the beauty, adventure and company we have at our ready disposal, it’s hard to imagine anything much closer to paradise. Our summer this year was filled with the usual outdoor adventures like hiking, camping and backpacking, in addition to our gorgeous visit to Alaska. Throw in a little bit of biking with pals — both in town and out on the mountain trails, incredible concerts (especially at our favorite venue with those infamous red rocks), road trips, entertainment from our four-legged buddies, moonlit game nights in the backyard, brewery festivals, and general mountain-gawking, and we’ve got yet another unforgettable summer for the books. This year, I made a little montage for us to look back on, in hopes that I can make it an annual tradition. Hope you enjoy it!

 

Alaska trip: Exploring the last frontier

Alaska, as many of us know, is a land of extremes. This was made all too clear to us almost immediately upon landing in Fairbanks. As my cousin, Alex, drove us from the airport to their home on the Fort Wainwright Army Post, she remarked several times, “I can’t believe it’s dark! I haven’t seen darkness in so long!” It was 12:30 am.

We had heard the stories of endless sunlight in the Alaskan summertime, and extremely low temperatures in winter, but somehow it didn’t sink in until we saw the blackout curtains and plugs hanging out of the fronts of car grills — a necessity when you have to start your car in the -50° weather of Alaskan winters. Luckily, we had planned our trip to see Alex and her family in August, and we were greeted with mild (if drizzly, in Fairbanks) temperatures and only stories of the dark days of winter.

Alaska has always been on our list of trips to take, but only when Alex’s husband, Tim, was stationed in Fairbanks did we actually consider taking the trip sooner rather than later. Knowing some “locals” in a new and strange land can always make a trip more enjoyable, and Tim and Alex’s hosting abilities did not disappoint. We hadn’t made a list of must-see’s, but to our delight, our hosts were prepared for our indecisiveness and plotted out a full schedule for our time spent with them in Fairbanks. We awoke Saturday morning to a beautiful, home-cooked brunch, including local smoked salmon, as well as a deliciously adorable little addition to their family. Miss Samantha’s sweet smiles may or may not have been a highlight of our time in Fairbanks.

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After playtime, we set out to Chena Hot Springs, where Alex and Tim convinced us to head into the “ice museum” at the resort. While it felt thoroughly touristy to suit up into the provided parkas and enter the 20º building, moseying up to the bar for an appletini out of an ice glass, it was actually pretty cool. Originally built as a hotel a couple decades ago (but failing to be able to secure the permits necessary to house humans overnight), the sculptures enclosed within the small, cold building were really quite fascinating.

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After the ice museum, we met back up with Tim, Alex and Samantha and took a quick dip in the natural hot springs. As a cool drizzle moved in, we retreated to the local brewery for a couple of beers — a natural stop for us on a visit anywhere. After the brewery, we enjoyed a delicious dinner cooked by Alex and a game of Settlers of Catan, which we were delighted to discover was a mutual favorite.

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The next morning greeted us with more grey skies, so we decided to have a rematch of the prior evening’s board game, followed by a tour of the post and some highlights of town. We enjoyed a leisurely hike up the nearby ski hill to get a view of the post and Fairbanks, and  then relaxed back at the house for a bit before saying our goodbyes and heading back to the airport for the next leg of our trip.

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While it was hard to say goodbye to family after such a brief time together, we were very excited to see some more of Alaska. To our delight, we were treated to some of those extreme views right away, from the windows of our flight. Between the late sunset (around 10:30 pm) and the low clouds, we were treated to a gorgeous view of the striking Denali (which only recently became the nationally-recognized name for this looming peak). As we sipped the complimentary wine and scooted between seats on the nearly-empty flight, in order to capture the best shot of the mountain that seemed to hover at the same height as our small plane, I was nearly giddy with excitement.

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The next morning, we woke up early in our hotel room to head to the train station in Downtown Anchorage. We had booked a glacier cruise in Whittier, and had opted to take the train through the mountains in order to take in the views, which did not disappoint. Not only did we check out a variety of landscapes on this short trip, but also got the chance to spot some beluga whales swimming off the coast.

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The glacier cruise, itself, was incredible, narrated by a very knowledgable and enthusiastic parks services member. We were blessed with gorgeous blue skies and mild temperatures to accompany the spectacular mountain and glacier views on the Prince William Sound. The cruise included a meal of local fish, and we treated ourselves to “glacier margaritas” (aptly named due to the radioactive color pumped into them — hopefully from blue curacao and not real glacier melt…).

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At one point, standing on the roof of the boat, I swore that I saw movement out in the water. Having spent the day scouring the landscape for signs of wildlife, I thought for a second I might have been imagining what looked like orca whales skimming the surface. However, sure enough, a moment later, the captain came on the intercom to announce that we were circling back to take advantage of a unique wildlife viewing experience. It turns out that they were not orcas, but dall’s porpoises, which were equally entertaining as they played together and leapt around the boat.

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As the cruise came to an end and the boat circled back to the dock, the captain announced one last wildlife view to our right. As the thousands of birds came into view, I quickly retreated back into the dining cabin, completely convinced that if I didn’t seek shelter I would bring this trip to an unfortunate end as one of the “kittewakke’s”, which were so fascinating to the rest of the cruise’s participants, would surely be divebombing me from my post. Nesting birds, in my extensive experience, are nothing to mess around with.

Anthony took this photo

Anthony took this photo

After my narrow escape from the glacier birds, we hopped a semi-private shuttle back to our hotel, for a quick freshen-up before heading to dinner. At the recommendation of many locals, we walked over to a brewery/pizzeria for a delicious dinner and drinks to end our day. While the pizza was good, we personally felt the beers at the Moose’s Tooth were the main attraction. Surprise, surprise?

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After getting up close and personal with the glaciers from the waters of the Prince William Sound on our glacier cruise, Anthony kept remarking how he was interested in seeing the glaciers from a different angle. Lucky for him, the next day we had booked a semi-private float plane tour to do just that!

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We took off from the water near the Anchorage airport, and were very quickly treated to some of the most amazing views either of us had ever seen. With a seasoned bush pilot as our guide and educator, we learned even more about the glaciers and were able to understand them a little better by seeing them from above. We were both intrigued by the vibrant blue hues created by light and color filtration, and the deep fissures caused by years of movement, melting and erosion. Above all else, the enormity and, yes, extreme-ness, of Alaska was overwhelming and beautiful.

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After our flight, we were shuttled back into Downtown Anchorage, where we were able to explore a little more of the town. Perhaps inspired by our adventures, we indulged in a little outdoors-wear shopping and took advantage of Alaska’s sales-tax-free merchandise. Afterward, we visited yet another brewery, Glacier Brewhouse, where we got our last seafood fix and indulged in some ultra-rich (but delicious) chocolate peanut butter pie. *Anyone who knows us knows that I devoured the dessert and Anthony humored me by taking a couple tiny bites. Good thing I have enough of a sweet tooth for the both of us!

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Alaskan Snow Crab and Rockfish

After these 4 short days, our trip was already over, and we headed back home the next morning. I have to say that the trip to Alaska definitely exceeded my expectations. While I hacw always heard great things about this far-removed northern state, I had also never really known what to expect. I live in a beautiful, mountainous state (minus the extreme temperatures and daylight hours), so I figured it would just be more views of snowy peaks and nice landscapes. Going into it with this mindset, I was blown away by the actual scenery that we took in, and I’m not sure the photos really do it justice. We only scratched the surface of this land of vast extremes, and I can’t wait to return and see more.

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Australia Part Three: The Great Ocean Road

We had always dreamed about Australia, but it was such a far-off, mystical land to us that I had no idea where we would start exploring it. When Anthony brought up the idea of area Victoria/Melbourne (mainly for its temperate climate, to start), I started looking into the area. The first thing I came across, was a set of spectacular images from the Great Ocean Road, and it became my obsession throughout the planning of our trip. Finally, the day had come for us to see it for ourselves. Spoiler alert: I was not disappointed.

Our eventual destination was to be Apollo Bay, where we had Air BnB reservations for the following night. Somehow, with the difference in our (American time) Google calendar, we had failed to account for all our days and our first day on the Road was our “lost day.” We decided to hit the road anyway, take our time as we checked out all the sights, and hopefully stumble upon somewhere to stay.

We left charming Warburton after another stop at the café we had so enjoyed the day before for brekkie, and made our way to the coast. After meandering back through Melbourne, we finally hit open highway and it wasn’t long until we started seeing signs for the coastal towns. Before we knew it, we were in the little surf town of Torquay, where we got our first glimpse of the ocean via Bells’ Beach.

Of course, I had to hike up my skirt to go dip my toes in the water, which was warmer than I expected, this far south and with Antarctic waters flowing relatively nearby. Sure enough, there were plenty of surfers and beach bums and kids floating around in the waves, enjoying the sunny day.

Our first view of the ocean at Bells Beach, Torquay

Our first view of the ocean at Bells Beach, Torquay

Bells Beach, Torquay

Bells Beach, Torquay

We did a little wandering through the shops and grabbed lunch before we were on our way, ready to really get a taste of this scenic road trip. After heading out of Torquay (pronounced “tor-KAY”), the coast line did open up and we were treated to a blue sky day that only magnified the turquoise water crashing against the cliffs of the coast. Anthony and I had done a road trip up the Pacific Coast Highway in California a few years ago, and we had been expecting something similar with the GOR. I would say there are definitely some similarities between the two coastal highways, which are both so beautiful, but the GOR is unique in its massive rock outcroppings and incredibly jagged coastline. Plus, the blue of the water in Australia (for which the photos don’t even do adequate justice), was like nothing I’d ever seen before.

And now, I will give you a photo dump of some of the views we got along the way. Forgive the repetitive nature of the images — every time we turned a corner the views took my breath away and I couldn’t help but snap dozens of photos. I had a hard time choosing some to post here, and now that I look at them they all look very similar, but just indulge me. 🙂

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Our friend at the winery the day before had offered us some advice to stay in Lorne, about a quarter way along the road, so we stopped in this charming surf town to check it out. We quickly learned that there were many “Schoolies” visiting — similar to American “spring break”, college and high school kids in Australia take some time off to celebrate finals on the beach in December. We didn’t find it to be the typical “Girls Gone Wild” atmosphere typical with many American spring break destinations, but more of a chill celebratory atmosphere (at least where we observed).

We traveled through some of the shops in Lorne, until we got to a resort at the end of the main drag. We stopped in to check for vacancy, and learned that this higher end hotel did not accept the Schoolies and therefore had a few rooms left. They gave us our keys to a “very nice room” and we headed up to check it out. We were shocked at the massive size of this suite, and wished we had some friends nearby who could come and help us enjoy it! But, we did just fine with a glass of wine on our balcony, taking in the ocean views, and finally heading out to dinner on the beach. We enjoyed some calamari and chili prawn risotto as we took in a warm sunset over the pier, and then headed back to our large, unexpected suite to tuck in for the night.

The view from our balcony

The view from our balcony

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The next morning, I awoke early to go for a run along the beach, commencing on the pier to take in a different view of Lorne. On my way back, I grabbed us some coffee and croissants from a café and we threw on our swimsuits for some morning time at the beach. Anthony went for a walk to collect some shells, while I watched the surfers battling the waves, my interests piqued. I ended up finding a place to rent me a board and wetsuit cheaply, while there was no one around to serve us an instructor. With a few tips from the guy at the surf shop, as well as the small amount I could remember from the surf lessons during our honeymoon in Mexico 6 years ago, I was determined to give it a try. Anthony, not wanting to risk another knee injury, was content to watch me from the beach and provide encouragement and photography.

some of the shells Anthony collected on the beach

some of the shells Anthony collected on the beach

Trying my best to look like a surfer girl

Trying my best to look like a surfer girl

You will not see any photos of my actually “surfing” — as my time actually standing was miniscule and I wouldn’t say I really “rode” any waves (unless you count sitting on the board and bobbing up and over the surf). The waves were larger than those in Sayulita, and without anyone telling me what to do I spent more time underwater than over it. Despite my failings, however, it was a blast. At one point, I was sitting on the board, waiting for a suitable wave, and looked around me in awe. I am in Australia, I thought. On a surfboard. Enjoying the trip I’ve always dreamed of. It was perfect, indeed.

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Almost up!

Almost up!

Wave-beaten but happy

Wave-beaten but happy

After I had had my fill of the waves, I cleaned up and we grabbed some fish and chips before hitting the road again. We continued up the road, seeing more little towns and gorgeous coastal imagery, and hit our destination of Apollo Bay before we knew it. There was more of the road past this town, so we decided to keep driving and see it all before checking in to that night’s accommodations. As we passed through the town, Anthony remarked that we should probably have stopped for gas there, but I assured him that there “had to be” another town coming up where we could fill the dwindling tank. More on that later…

Soon after, we entered into the Great Otway National Park, where we saw some very interesting flora and fauna, as well as our first glimpse at those cute little koalas in the wild. Knowing that this was the place to spot them, my eyes were pealed, and I managed to glimpse about a dozen different little guys in the crazy-looking trees. For Anthony’s sake, I only made him stop the car once for photos. We also saw a wombat on the side of the road, which was almost as exciting as the koalas.

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At this point, after this little diversion from the road, we were running pretty low on fuel. The gar said we had about 60 km left before empty, and there were signs saying that the next town with fuel was about 30km away. No problem.

The problem arose when we entered this much-heralded town, pulled up to the only gas station in town, which boasted two old pumps that looked straight out of the 50’s. We examined the pumps, only to find a couple of faded, handwritten signs taped on them stating that they had no fuel and the closest was in 50 km in either direction. Enter: a little panic.

The little signs were not specific as to where the gas stations were, so we decided to rely on Jules and her navigation to save us. We typed it in and were routed to a station in a town called Simpson, supposedly 27km away. We crossed our fingers that Jules knew what she was doing, and headed off on the route. Almost immediately, the route became a dicey, one-lane backroad through the forest, but which was thankfully mostly downhill. Anthony took it very slowly (accelerating very judiciously, to save gas), and the 27km took almost an hour to cover in these completely abandoned backroads. Our nerves were on edge, we drove in silence, but hoping that Jules was not steering us astray. With no signs of life, it was difficult to hold on hope to the fact that there would be a gas station buried deep within this wilderness, and I had no service on my phone to confirm her directions.

In the midst of our nerve-wracked journey, however, we did get a glimpse of the only kangaroo we’d see in the wild during our whole trip — a little joey of a ‘roo who hopped out in front of our slow-moving vehicle, and then quickly hopped away back into the bush. A bit of happy excitement among our anxious nerves.

When we finally made it into the ghostly town of Simpson, with about 10km worth of gas left Jules joyously announced, “Your destination is on the left.” We looked left, where an old abandoned factory stood. We looked further down the road and saw fields of crops and nothing to the right. More panic. Jules had lied to us.

We found a little stand advertising Coca-Cola, where we quickly pulled up and shouted at someone “Do you know where we can get some Petrol?” Fortunately, the friendly man pointed us down the road “about 2 kilometers down” to a gas station, which thankfully truly did exist, and we were finally able to breathe again as we rolled into the station on the last dregs of our initial fill-up.

So, with that little “adventure” behind us, we made our way back to the GOR to once again revel in the sights. We quickly came up on a couple of the icons of this area, the 12 Apostles and Loc Ard Gorge (which has an interesting shipwreck story). Both are filled with tourists, but for good reason as the views are absolutely incredible. I will let the images speak for themselves.

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Loc Ard Gorge

 

Loc Ard Gorge

Loc Ard Gorge

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Loc Ard Gorge

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Loc Ard Gorge

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Loc Ard Gorge

 

I got a kick out of these signs on a tourist bridge -- be sure to leave your cat in the car for this hike.

I got a kick out of these signs on a tourist bridge — be sure to leave your cat in the car for this hike.

12 Apostles

12 Apostles

12 Apostles

12 Apostles

12 Apostles

12 Apostles

12 Apostles

12 Apostles

12 Apostles

12 Apostles

After we had finished our drive down the GOR, we made our way back, enjoying the return trip a little easier without the imminent threat of a breakdown. We enjoyed the rolling green hills that covered the landscape less than a kilometer inland, and dotted with grazing sheep and cattle.

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When we returned to Apollo Bay, we checked into our accommodations, a lovely place in town called the “Captains Quarters.” A two story cottage that we had all to ourselves,attached to a large home, it was an adorable place to stay along the ocean. We got cleaned up and then went into town for dinner, in search of seafood and/or local fare. We found both at a nice little restaurant where I enjoyed a tasmanian hapuka fish filet and Anthony indulged in seared kangaroo. Both were absolutely delicious. After dinner, we returned to the Captains’ Quarters and settled in, still awe-struck by the sights we had seen.

Captains Quarters in Apollo Bay

Captains Quarters in Apollo Bay

Next up, we’d return to Melbourne and wrap up our trip in the beachy suburb of St. Kilda. Stay tuned!

Australia, Part Two: Yarra Valley

After spending a few days getting comfortable with our bearings in the city, we were excited to get completely out of our comfort zone and head out into rural Australia. We picked up a rental car and we were on our way! Anthony had done his research on some of the driving rules unique to Australia and Melbourne (including the dreaded “hook turn“), and I was more than happy to let him have full control of the wheel while I fiddled with the navigation. We got a kick out of the voice guidance, which of course featured a woman with an aussie accent, who we quickly named Jules — I don’t really know how the name came about, but it seemed like an appropriate Australian name.

Urban traffic is a crash course on down-under driving!

Urban traffic is a crash course on down-under driving!

After heading out of the city, we came to some generic suburbs followed by idyllic country roads framed by hillside vineyards and sheep pastures.

IMG_0144 IMG_0147Our final destination would be a little town called Warburton, but on our way there, we planned to make a visit to the Healesville Sanctuary to get up close and personal with some of the native wildlife. While I, for one, could hardly stand the anticipation to see get my first Australian encounter with a koala, we did need sustenance, so we stopped for lunch at a cute little café in Healesville. It was called the Sweet Olive, which made it an irresistible choice as we thought of our pup back home, as well as a tasty one as I enjoyed fresh spring rolls and Anthony had a chorizo sandwich.

We couldn't resist the cute soda bottles, which we brought home with us as souvenirs and are currently holding flowers on our kitchen table.

We couldn’t resist the cute soda bottles, which we brought home with us as souvenirs and are currently holding flowers on our kitchen table.

After lunch, we excitedly made our way out to the sanctuary, and the visit did not disappoint. While I was not able to fulfill my short-term dream of holding a koala (apparently it’s illegal in the state of Victoria), we were able to get very close to them. We happened to walk into the koala area just as the little guys were waking up for lunch time, so we were fortunate enough to see them during one of their rare active periods. One of the males even bellowed out his mating call to the ladies — a strange and unexpectedly loud sort of snorting.

Looks like a stressful life

Looks like a stressful life

This was Prickles, pacing around her pen as the handlers made their way over with eucalyptus branches for her lunch

This was Prickles, pacing around her pen as the handlers made their way over with eucalyptus branches for her lunch

Just chillin' in a tree

Just chillin’ in a tree

I probably could have watched the koalas, with their cute little smiles and relaxed movements, all day, but there were other animals to see throughout the sanctuary. We don’t exactly make it a habit to visit zoos during our travels, but this unique place was well worth our attention. The setup allowed for very close, but safe, encounters with the animals, and it felt much more natural than a traditional zoo with cages, bars, concrete barriers, etc. The surroundings felt natural and it almost felt like spotting these native animals out in the woods, and we were even able to enter the habitats of some of the creatures (including the kangaroos and wallabies) without any barriers. We learned a lot about the various species unique to Australia, and saw a wide variety, including kangaroos (of course), wombats, dingos, wallabies, tasmanian devils, platypus (platypi?), emus (terrifying) and various snakes and lizards.

tasmanian devil

tasmanian devil

wallabies

wallabies (who are apparently friends with ducks?)

kangaroos

kangaroos

After spending a few hours out in the sanctuary, we finally set out to Warburton (pronounced locally as “WAH-buh-den”), where we had arranged for a place to stay through Air BNB. We typed in the address to Jules, who routed us to a road that seemed a bit off the beaten path. When the pavement ended and we climbed up and up through the ferny forest, without seeing another vehicle for kilometers, we wondered where Jules was taking us, but all the while enjoyed taking in the amazing scenery this trailblazing provided.

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When we finally started descending and we crossed onto paved road once again, we found ourselves right on the outskirts of the little town of Warburton. As we went past the main street shops and marveled at the valley views, we decided to hold off on checking in to see what was further down the road, which was dotted with little towns sitting on the banks of the Yarra River. We ended up going through a few other similar towns and stopped in a little place called Yarra Junction to grab a small pizza and little bottle of wine to have a picnic in a riverside town park.

After we ate, we headed back to Warburton to check into our room, which was a small cabin on the back of a house in a neighborhood set up on a hill overlooking the river. It was a beautiful setting, and our host provided lovely hospitality including freshly-collected spring water and some recommendations for nearby attractions.

Our lodging in Warburton

Our lodging in Warburton

After settling in, we took one of our host’s suggestions and grabbed a terrace table at a café, overlooking the river, where we had “second dinner” of a calamari and a charcuterie board and a couple drinks. While we were there, we were treated to an unnerving chorus of screeching birds overhead — sounding like they were either in severe pain or were just angry at the world. Constantly. We inquired about the birds to our waitress, who thought a moment and then said, “Ah, yes. The cockatoos. Ornery little buggers…” In addition to the cockatoos, we also frequently heard the infamous laugh of the kookaburra, which had me humming the old childrens’ tune often. For a bird-averse lady like myself, the incredibly loud birds of tropical Australia took quite a bit of getting used to, and I can’t say it was one of the more pleasant aspects of the trip!

Vacation food at its finest

Vacation food at its finest

The next day, after a delicious “brekkie” (Australian slang for breakfast) at a local café, we donned our hiking clothes and set out to explore the “bush.” Our host had recommended seeking out a grove of redwood trees that she said had been planted in by a group of Seventh Day Adventists years before. The meticulous planting of the trees in rows creates a stunning sort of sanctuary in the middle of the surrounding fern gully.

IMG_0189 IMG_0193Next, we drove up to a “rainforest gallery” that we had passed on that meandering drive in, and this time stopped to venture out into the foliage. It was a strangely quiet and peaceful area, with some of the most vibrant green hues I’ve ever seen, illuminated by the wash of sunlight through the canopy. With only a handful of other people wandering about, we all seemed to feel like we should talk quietly and move carefully in this serene space.

IMG_0204After this little taste of the rainforest, we decided to really get our shoes dirty on an actual hike, and chose one that was recommended to us by our host. The destination was La La Falls, with about a 3 km hike in, with only mild but constant ascent. On this hot and muggy day, the cool falls were a welcome sight when we arrived, sweaty, and we were glad to head back to our room for a shower afterwards.

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La La Falls

La La Falls

IMG_0217After getting cleaned up, we rewarded ourselves for our active morning by heading out to experience some of the libations that characterize the Yarra Valley — ciders and wines.

Since we were a little late in the day (most of the wineries close at 5 or 6), we only had time to hit two places, so we stopped at a brewery first where we enjoyed a couple ciders and beer samplers along with a cheese platter, as a local guitarist played an acoustic set for the afternoon crowd.

Coldstream Brewery

Coldstream Brewery

We then hurried off to the closest winery before they would be shutting down, and were lucky to find a friendly vintner who was happy to spend a few extra minutes with us. He poured us (mostly me…) samples of his favorite wines as he gave us advice on how to spend our remaining time in Australia. A former tour guide, he gave us some invaluable recommendations for our time on the Great Ocean Road, which would begin the following day. We got some time with the playful resident dog and the chance to soak in some sweeping views of the property, and I picked out a couple of my favorite bottles to consume later in the trip.

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We ended the night back in Warburton, where we shared a delicious plate of fried chicken at a restaurant, as we plotted out the next (and most anticipated) part of our trip: the Great Ocean Road.

 

 

Australia, Part One: Melbourne CBD

The morning of our departure, I awoke to Anthony blasting the house with the classic Men at Work song, “I Come from a Land Down Under” while he made coffee. I had to giggle, assuming that song must be a huge cliché in the actual “down under”, but giddy with the thought that we were actually headed for that magical land.

I’ll save you the grisly details of our journey to the other side of the world, save a couple thoughts.

1.) LAX airport sucks. Period. We knew this before, but confirmed it on this trip.

2.) We were lucky enough to upgrade to premium economy on our international flight — while not first class by any means (I have no idea who can afford those tickets…), this slight upgrade made the 15-hour trip infinitely more comfortable. We were on the second level of the plane, with two seats to ourselves, and only about 20 other people in our little section. Direct access to our own bathroom, easy to walk around, and quick service of snacks from the flight attendants. We ended up reading and watching a few movies before attempting a few hours of shuteye.

We landed in Melbourne on Monday morning, Australia-time, and decided to take all of the advice we’d received from fellow travelers to “hit the ground running.” After taking a cab to our hotel and getting early check-in, and a couple quick showers, we headed out on the town armed with a few recommendations and a little adrenaline to start exploring this place we’d been waiting to see for so long.

First off, we needed to eat. We headed down one of Melbourne’s famous “laneways” — narrow alleys between buildings that have been converted to chic strips of cafés, bars and boutiques. We settled in to one such café, under the cover of an awning while a rainstorm rolled in.

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Hardware Lane

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Only slightly delirious from jet lag

After refueling, we walked a few more laneways in Melbourne’s “CBD” (Central Business District) and joined the tourists to check out the main shopping center and iconic sights, along with some of the street art that is embraced by Melbourne.

Another busy laneway

Another busy laneway

Chinatown

Chinatown

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As you can tell from the pictures, our first day in Melbourne was pretty drizzly, but (spoiler alert) thankfully it would not last past day 1 and we were treated with nearly perfect weather the rest of the trip. However, on this day, with the combination of our exhaustion and the threatening skies, we didn’t do a whole lot more exploring. Eventually, we found ourselves in a cozy little bar overlooking one of the laneways, where we enjoyed a few beers while plotting out some ideas for the next few days.

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photo 1

After the beers, we picked up some delicious hand-rolled sushi (one of the only foods we found to be less expensive — and better — than in America) and headed back to the hotel where we crashed early.

The next morning, we arose bright and early — which apparently became a habit throughout this trip. Normally two heavy sleepers and not morning people, we found ourselves arising with the sun most days in Australia. Probably a combination of the time difference and our excitement, I suppose.

Nevertheless, I woke with quite a bit of bottled-up energy and threw on my running shoes as I saw a much sunnier day beckoning me for a little jog. I ran down to the Yarra River, the central and dividing component to Melbourne, and got some beautiful skyline views as I gained some endorphins. Only getting slightly lost (as is my usual way to find interesting routes in new cities), I made it back to the hotel to join Anthony for breakfast.

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Yarra River on my morning run

Yarra River on my morning run

After breakfast, we set about walking again, discovering a touristy “City Circle Tram” that takes newbs like us around the main parts of Melbourne for free. While we passed a lot of the landmarks that we had walked through the previous day, we also saw a few other places and got a good sense of direction in the city. After the tram ride, we got out north of the CBD and headed to the Queen Victoria Market — a large, open air market that operates a few days a week and sells a wide variety of fruits/vegetables, meat, seafood, flea market finds — you name it. We snagged one of our best meals in Australia from a food cart selling Malaysian rice dishes and dumplings. I wish I knew what these dishes were called because we’d love to have them again…

Queen Victoria Market

Queen Victoria Market

Circle City Tram

City Circle Tram

In any case, we spent a little more time exploring the north side before once again finding ourselves in a pub (you might notice a theme here), before heading back to our hotel. That evening, we checked out a local Italian restaurant. I had been told that Melbourne prides itself on their “chicken parma” and I thought that this little Italian joint would be the best place to try it. Anthony and I still laugh about it — a thinly-pounded piece of breaded chicken with the requisite cheese and marinara, served over a bed of… french fries. While it was fried, salty cheesy goodness, I can’t say it was the “delicacy” I was expecting!

After dinner, we checked out a bit more of the CBD, and stumbled upon a crazy mall building built around an old ammunition factory. We didn’t even notice it at first until Anthony gestured to the brick tower, and we said to each other, “Is there a building in this building??”

Melbourne's Central Cone

Melbourne’s Central Cone

Melbourne's Central Cone

Melbourne’s Central Cone

I also got such a kick out of all of the Christmas decorations in this summery destination. I know that they celebrate Christmas in climates where there are palm trees and no snow, but the fact that they are just leaving their winter behind to head into the summer season, the Christmas decor just seemed a little out of place.

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The next day, we were excited to get up and indulge in one of our favorite activities, at home or abroad: biking. Melbourne has a bike share program similar to those we have in the States. While we found they are not as well-kept as the ones in Denver (we ran into quite a few technical glitches), they mostly worked well for us. Also, helmets are the law in Victoria — I didn’t spot one single helmet-less rider our whole time there. We complied (being the law-abiding citizens we are) and I am sure my mother will be surprised that I donned one of the helmets hanging off the public bikes (but not before carefully examining it and questioning the validity of the sticker promising a “sterile, hygienic and safe” experience). Mom, you’ll be happy to know I managed to avoid any creepy crawlies, and as an added bonus, my noggin is all intact!

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Anyway, we rode the bikes around town a bit to Fitzroy Gardens and past some of the cricket stadiums and Olympic grounds, as well as down the river to check out the ritzy “South Bank,” where Melbourne’s rich folk reside.

Fitzroy Gardens

Fitzroy Gardens

Fitzroy Gardens

Fitzroy Gardens

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Cricket Stadium

After our morning of bike-riding, we enjoyed a quick meal from a turkish place (once again I have no idea what the sandwich-like thing was that we had), followed up later by, you guessed it: time in a local pub. Here, we rested our weary selves for a bit before indulging in some of the local favorite dish of fish and chips.

The next morning, we headed down south of the river to explore the other side of the city, where we had our eyes set on a walking tour laid out in one of our travel books. The tour was to start at the South Melbourne Market, said to be even more robust and appealing than the Queen Victoria Market we had visited before. To our dismay, we showed up on a day that the market was closed, but we checked out some of the nearby boutique shops (shopping is shopping, after all) before getting on with the tour. The walk brought us past some lovely old Victorian homes and mansions, as well as an ornate garden/park.

A mandatory shot of York Street with the Drop Bear Inn looming in the background, an homage to the local lingo for koalas

A mandatory shot of York Street with the Drop Bear Inn looming in the background, an homage to the local lingo for koalas

Somewhat disappointed the market is closed, but completely serene in vacation bliss

Somewhat disappointed the market is closed, but completely serene in vacation bliss

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Our walking tour concluded with our first view of the water — a windy but blue-sky view of the beach of Port Phillip. I think we were both expecting a boardwalk-style atmosphere along the beach, but it was mostly quiet and residential, so we headed back inland for a lunch of café burgers and ice cream.

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We hopped on some of the unmissable blue bikes again to head back up to the CBD, where we revisited some of the local sites with a sunnier backdrop.

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We also made a lap around a large pond at the centrally-located Albert Park. It made for some stunning images of the skyline, despite the threat of hundreds of huge black swans floating on the water.

Albert Park

Albert Park

Albert Park

Albert Park

Albert Park

Albert Park

To round out our time in the CBD, we stopped by another laneway joint to enjoy a variety of appetizers (chicken satay, spring rolls and something else that I can’t remember) while we excitedly discussed our escape from the city to come the next day.

Think that’s quite a lot to digest for now. Up next: heading to wine valley, the bush, and our first koala sightings!

Return from OZ

Since virtually the beginning of our relationship, Anthony and I have always dreamed of a trip to Australia. After years of planning and saving, that dream came true! We returned home from our two-week trip on Friday, and while we spent the weekend unpacking, unwinding and recuperating from the jet lag, I can’t wait to get all of the details down while it’s still fresh in my memory. During our last long, international trip to Europe, I was much better at keeping a journal of all of our adventures and encounters, detailing our thoughts and feelings along the way. As we were packing for Australia, we came across that old journal and it was such fun to relive those moments that may have otherwise been forgotten. This time, I will admit that my travel journal was much more neglected as I could barely find the time to take everything in, and the most documentation I managed was a few bullet points per day.

So, I’m hoping to spend some time in the next couple weeks to document as well as I can through photos and stories on this blog, so that we’ll at least have some kind of record to look back on in years to come. A lot was seen and experienced, so I’ll probably break it down into a few different posts. For now, however, I couldn’t wait to share a few highlight photos:

Melbourne skyline

Melbourne skyline

Our little koala friend, Prickles

Our little koala friend, Prickles

Yarra Valley wine country

Yarra Valley wine country

La La Falls

La La Falls

Anthony, lookin' cool as a cucumber driving on the left side of the road

Anthony, lookin’ cool as a cucumber driving on the left side of the road

Great Ocean Road

Great Ocean Road

Attempting a little surfing

Attempting a little surfing

Loch Ard Gorge

Loch Ard Gorge

One of the 12 Apostles

One of the 12 Apostles

Bike riding in the south Melbourne suburbs

Bike riding in the south Melbourne suburbs

Sunset over St. Kilda Pier

Sunset over St. Kilda Pier

Durango

Before we’d even gotten married, we began throwing around the idea of returning to Paris for our five-year wedding anniversary. After all, it would mark seven years since our epic Europe trip, and what better way to spend a milestone occasion than to celebrate in the romantic city where Anthony proposed?

Well, we’ll be traveling this year, making a big trip across the pond, but I suppose it’s a different “pond” that we’ll be hopping as we go to Australia next month. Since that two-week trip to somewhere completely new will be sapping 2014’s travel fund and vacation time, we decided that we would have to save our European return for another time.

However, five years still seemed like a milestone to be celebrated. Five years since we made it officially official. Five years since the best party of our lives. Five years since all of the people we loved the most were in one room celebrating with us. Five years since we exchanged those vows to seal a lifetime together.

So, on a whim, the week before, we booked a hotel in Durango for last weekend. As it turned out, it was the most perfect getaway (short of Paris…) we could have asked for.

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We broke the drive in half by heading to Buena Vista after work on Friday, to complete the drive the next morning. As we rounded mountain corners and journeyed deep into the San Juan mountains, there were plenty of beautiful places to gawk at the Autumn splendor of “Colorful Colorado.”

 

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This particular vantage point necessitated a stop and we pulled over to take in the views.

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If my smile seems forced, it's because I was terrified. I joined Anthony out on that precarious rock as large birds of prey circled no less than hundreds -- hundreds! -- of yards away, threatening my demise.

If my smile seems forced, it’s because I was terrified. I joined Anthony out on that precarious rock as large birds of prey circled no less than hundreds — hundreds! — of yards away, threatening my demise.

Once we arrived in Durango, we wandered around town until we could check in to our hotel, basking in the quiet of a quaint mountain town during “mud season” and finding local haunts like an absolutely packed burger joint that did not disappoint and the kinds of boutique shops we’ve come to expect from these picturesque Main Streets.

Upon checking into our hotel, we were greeted with complimentary champagne (note from a former hotel employee — always mention when you book if you will be celebrating a special occasion!), which we blissfully enjoyed on our balcony overlooking the Animas River, framed by glowing aspens.

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Pet-friendly hotels are the best. Especially for Olive, who very rarely gets the luxury of laying on a people-bed.

Pet-friendly hotels are the best. Especially for Olive, who very rarely gets the luxury of laying on a people-bed.

We spent the afternoon strolling down the river walk, gazing at the changing trees and having more photoshoot time with our happy pup.

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We then spent the evening at a local brewery — Steamworks — that served up tasty brews and an even tastier seafood boil to end our day in Durango.

The next day, after much too short of a trip, we packed back up and headed home, only to be greeted with even lovelier views on our return drive. We opted to take the Million Dollar Highway home through Silverton Ouray, and on a beautiful blue-sky day, with the leaves in the height of their glory set against the white-capped mountains — it may have been the best decision made the entire trip. It’s not often that the drive home from a weekend getaway would be the highlight, but in this case, I can easily say it is the truth. I’ll let a few of the photos speak for themselves. A great trip from start to finish!

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