All posts by P R

The Dolomites, Italy

October 2022

The Dolomite Mountain range is the Italian region of the Alps. Being the hikers that we are, Dave was quick to put this on our itinerary once we had decided to visit Italy. I had never heard of this area before but as we researched and explored online, I was blown away. The pristine villages and striking peaks were unlike anything I had imagined seeing in Italy. We stayed in the village of Ortesei in the region of Val Gardena and had plenty to explore in the short 3 days we had there. It was everything I had hoped it would be and we left with tired legs and smiles on our faces before heading down to the Florence.

Getting there…

From our Venice apartment, we negotiated the water taxi system to the train station to get hop on a high-speed train headed north. It was fairly easy to get tickets at the station and we were off. The train was comfortable enough and had several stops along the way to our destination to Bolzano where we caught a bus to the village. The scenery was beautiful and became progressively greener as we travelled through Verona then north through Trento up to the mountains. We had views of the miles of vineyards and were able to catch glimpses of old castles. The roads to Ortisei were winding and narrow, but bus driver drove it with no hesitation whatsoever. There were multiple shops with carved wood offerings and religious souvenirs along the way. Our bus stop was a short walk to our hotel and though we were still a bit tired from the travel and lingering jet lag, the fresh mountain air was invigorating.

Castle sighting from the train.
Looking east from the village

Where we stayed…

We chose to stay at the lovely Chalet Hotel Hartmann during our stay in the Dolomites. We almost chose the Hotel Hell because, well, how often do you get to say you stayed in Hell, right?!? (FYI- it did look nice, so I’m not throwing any shade their way) Anyhow, Hotel Hartmann was about a mile walk into the village center, but there were really nice paths throughout the town to connect us. It was friendly, clean, quiet, and the breakfast spread was AMAZING. I’m not kidding. Everything was freshly made (baked goods, sliced meats and cheeses, spreads, some sort of to die for yogurt), your cappuccino was made to order as you sat down and there were views of the valley and mountains throughout the dining area. The concierge woman who greeted us gave us a list of restaurants to try that all turned out to be unique and delicious. I would stay here again without a second thought.

Roadside view of our accommodations.

What we did…

We hiked until the sun went down on both of the full days, we had in this magical place…and then we walked some more. It set the pace for the amount of walking we did on this trip. The weather was pleasant, and the trails were all clean, so it was no both to walk everywhere. There were ample bus stops available, but we opted to stay on our feet.

On day one we took a gondola ride (actually 2) up to Seneca and hiked through picturesque meadows and craggy peaks. It felt unreal. Literally there was a horn playing across the valley when we arrived, we were able to stop at these little huts (we stopped here at the end of the day) for beers and snacks, and there were only whisps of clouds in the sunny blue sky. I had a pang of feeling like we were cheating a bit by taking a lift up there but there were ample heights to be climbed still. I did like how it was accessible for those to enjoy the view but weren’t up for a climb. If you choose to hike in the afternoon, do note the time that the gondolas stop working. We arrived at the gondola to return us to our starting point just as it was closing. So, we had to ride down to the town of Santa Cristina and walk back to Ortisei, not a huge trek in general, but after covering 10+miles in the mountains, your legs are ready for a rest.

Lift up to Seceda
View when you first get off the lift….Can you imagine what the skiing is like?!?
Hidden trail up to Sass Rigais
Dave up with the birds
Bridge to Sass Rigais…site of where I almost had a panic attack 🙂
Hutte for post-hike treats

One day 2 we took the other gondola from the center of town up to the mountain plateau of Alpe di Siusi for another day of hiking. This is considered the sunniest area of the Dolomites, and we lucked out and had another epic day of walking under the blue skies. This was more walking trails that wander through pastures with view of the mountains, rather than climbing them like we had done the day prior. Personally, I was ok with this as my legs were rather like jello from the day before. That being said we still covered over 10 miles again. We saw horse-drawn carriages, more rocky peaks and enjoyed some local beer in the sun. It was as picturesque as it comes.

What we ate…

Much thanks to our host at Hotel Hartmann, we enjoyed a delicious variety of restaurants during our stay in Ortisei. It ranged from “Typical” cuisine (we learned that this means local) to pizza to a higher end modern restaurant. This stop on our trip got us primed up for the mass amounts of sliced meats that we would be consuming over the next weeks. If you were having a cocktail or beer, it was customary to be given chips, prosciutto, cheese, and pickles. You almost didn’t need dinner, but it was good to soak up drinks for sure. We also hit up a local salumeria in the village on day one for hike snacks and wine as well. Note to our future selves- grab a knife from the hotel prior to leaving for the day. Hard blocks of cheese aren’t meant to be eaten by biting off chunks.

Here’s a highlighted list:

  • Turando– Upscale Pizzaria & bistro. The Crudo Gialla pizza was to die for and upon recommendation from our serve we had our first (but definitely not last) Amaro cocktail. Yum!!
  • Snetonstube This was the most “typical” style restaurant we visited. It seemed to be mostly locals celebrating occasion or another. The food and wine were great. We started with meats and cheese starter, and I ordered some sort of schnitzel type dish that felt authentic for the region. It was fun to feel the vibe of this place.
  • Adler Shop- Lively bar and cafe attached to the upscale Adler Hotel. We had the best gin and tonics I have ever drank. Both ingredients were local to the area.
  • Zicoria Brasserie– We enjoyed steak, pasta and wine at this upscale steak house that was near the base of the gondola on day 2. We were pretty tired from hiking and didn’t want to walk all the way back to the hotel before dinner, so we showed up a bit grubbier than what we normally go to a place like this and arrived before they opened. They were still kind and we sat at the bar before being sat. It was a really nice meal to end our stay in the Dolomites.
  • Hotel Hartmann- I have to give them a shout out, because as I said earlier, the breakfast included in the stay was next level.

I was off my game for food pictures so enjoy some mediocre pics of our bar food at Alder Shop and a very questionable hotel sign that cracked me up 🙂

What is really happening here?!?! In no world is my small child massaging me “family time”

Final thoughts….

The Dolomites is officially on my top favorite places in the world I have visited. Being with my love and hiking around majestic mountains in the autumn sunshine cannot be beat. I would go back here in a heartbeat and would enthusiastically recommend anyone give this place a visit if they find themselves in Northern Italy.

House Boating- Shuswap, BC

June 2023

It was a trip to mark the start of summer… houseboating on the lake with a big group of friends and family. It was a bit of a crap shoot with the weather being so early in the season, but we lucked out. Some friends were able to score a sweet HUGE houseboat on a family deal with Twin Anchors Houseboats at Old Town Bay Marina. I was finally able to experience the legendary houseboating on the Shuswap that I have been hearing about for years. Dave has shared many fun and adventurous stories from living on a boat back in 2014 (see old posts), so I was really excited to see it for myself. We had the boat for a whole week. People came and went as their schedules allowed. Good times were had by all, and everyone finished off the trip in one piece 🙂

Getting there…

Dave was at the helm for most of moving the boat from place to place as he had the most experience driving a big boat like this….and because he LOVES it. We had another smaller fishing boat in tow for fishing, day trips and getting to the market to replenish booze and snacks as needed. The days we were on the move the weather was pleasant and smooth. It is slow going getting place to place on a beast like the Luna Sea but it the scenery couldn’t be beat.

Where we stayed…

Obviously, the houseboat. 🙂 We were set up on a Cruise Craft 6– The Luna Sea. It was decked out with 7 or so bedrooms with equal number of en suite bathrooms. It was niiiiiice. There were a significant amount of kids and dogs on this trip, so we were able to claim one of the top story rooms to be able to get away from the chaos. The boat was big enough to be able to find retreats when needed…essential if you are traveling with a large diverse group of people.

We first set up at one of the Provincial parks far up the Seymour Arm of the Shuswap on the west side. Because of the time of year, it was empty and we had the whole cove to ourselves (minus the one stormy night where a lame stag party had to tie up near us so they wouldn’t capsize). We enjoyed this spot for the majority of week, then moved the last night to a site near a cool granite beach that was closer to the marina on the east side of the lake. It was busier and pretty windy, but it served its purpose.



What we ate….

Not much to say here. We did some meals family style and others fend for yourselves between families. You have to bring all of your food because there are limited market options that basically have snacks and drinks. Aperol spritz were enjoyed for cocktail hours and beers/wine/coolers were a plenty. We treated ourselves to steaks, salmon, shrimp and risotto. BBQ was the main method of cooking but the kitchen on the boat was fully equipped. There was a long 12-14 person table in the main dining area we would usually share dinner at, which was a really fun time of the day to all get together. No one left this trip hungry or thirsty, that is for sure.

What we did….

All things summer!! Days were filled with lounging, swimming, paddling, hitting up the hot tub, fishing and finding places to hike. I woke every day with a blissful swim and float. It was so peaceful and a perfect way to start a day. The only longer hike we motivated to go to was to Abla Falls. It’s a beautiful place with well maintain trails and multiple falls.

Parting thoughts…

Houseboating on the Shuswap was amazing, and I look forward to doing it again. It’s hard to beat having all the high points of camping and boating but at the same time having beds, showers, refrigeration and a hot tub! Ideally it could have been a bit warmer, a few less dogs and kids, but overall, it was pretty idyllical week on the lake. The Shuswap is a gem and I’m super grateful to have in my life now.

-P.R.

Las Vegas

May 2023

End of March is birthday time for my Love, and it was going to be hard to top the gifted trip to Italy I received. It’s not that I felt the I needed to compete, but after a long winter, impending remodel and a busy work season, I did want to do something that would bring a smile to his face and give us something to look forward to. Shortly before this my good friend’s had been sharing her amazing experience with seeing Adele at her residency in Las Vegas. This inspired me to check out what live music was happening in Vegas for a fun concert and getaway. Enter Garth Brooks…. It didn’t take long to discover that this icon of 90’s country was starting a limited series of shows in May and I that’s when I knew what we were going to do. I am not a huge country fan but I am a fan of dynamic performers and seeing my guy happy so it wasn’t hard to find some tickets and get excited for the surprise. It was a big hit and we then moved into plan phase for a getaway weekend in Las Vegas. Neither of us had visited for reasons outside of for stag parties, weddings and conferences (a guess there aren’t many other reasons though are there?), so it was fun to be able to schedule an agenda all of our own. We set our dates for the Wednesday-Sunday of Memorial Weekend giving us plenty of time to enjoy what Vegas has to offer and allow for a little recovery time upon return.

Getting there…

D took care of this part, as per usual, and used Kiwi travel website. It was Memorial Weekend in the US, so the flights were not super cheap. We decided on Delta to get there and Spirit for return, based on flight times and cost. We experienced no hang ups in travel in Seattle or Vegas airports either way. Getting a ride to and from the airport was easy with use of Uber and Lyft. Traffic around 5pm going downtown to the strip was messy and super busy but stress levels were low with someone else driving and we were able to take in the extreme buildings, crowds and billboards that decorated the path to the hotel…. there is a crazy amount of attorney billboards about, go figure! 😉

Upon coming home, the terminal that housed Spirit was less than desirable- I have been in developing country airports that were cleaner and I can’t say I have ever been somewhere with more hung-over struggling individuals. There was a Shake Shack though that we lunched at that didn’t get us sick, so that was a win, and our flight was on time. We heard the Alaska terminal was much better, but it wasn’t worth a few hundred dollars in exchange for a little extra comfort.

Where we stayed…

We booked our accommodations on Airbnb and were plenty of options to sift through. Priorities were being within walking distance of the concert at Ceasars Palace, have a nice pool. kitchenette, and I preferred not to be in a place with a casino. We landed on Hotel Vdara, which shares property with The Cosmopolitan and Aria hotel casinos. Our room was lovely, quiet and spacious. We had a corner suite that overlooked the pool. It had a pool on the rooftop of the 3rd floor, and nice fitness center and spa. It felt like a getaway retreat from the bustling of the city just below. I don’t have anything negative to say about Vdara and would for sure stay there again if I find myself in Vegas in the future.

What we ate….

Eating in Las Vegas is as over the top as the casinos and shows are. The number of restaurant and food options is mind boggling. We went with the sampler platter approach ranging from snacks in the room (yes, we did do peanut butter pretzels and juice for more than a few breakfasts) to a few high-end eateries with some late-night nachos in between. Many of the popular restaurants needed reservations for weekend nights. Since we don’t plan ahead like that, we were able to easily grab seats at the bar and enjoy the full menu and good service from the bartender. Service overall as a whole was very good. There is literally every type of cuisine you have ever thought of and many you haven’t. I tend to get a bit overwhelmed when faced with so many options, but I think we had a pretty good go during this trip. Here are some of the highlights-

  • Pampas– Ok, I’m not going to lie, I was skeptical of this place when D suggested it on our first night. It’s a Brazilian steakhouse with all you can eat & drink options, salad bar, deep discount coupons and is located in the Miracle Mile Shopping district. I was feeling a little snooty about going this way but had no other options to suggest, it was late and we were hungry. We went with the $29.99 Late Night Rodizio and all turned out well. The servers who cut meat off a huge skewer tableside were friendly and the salad bar was fresh. No one ended up sick, and we left full. Mission accomplished.
  • Amalfi– This location came highly recommended by the friend who saw Adele earlier in the year at the same venue that we were going to see Garth at. It was steps away from the concert and was known for high end Italian seafood and steak. We could not get reservations but walked straight into the bar and had a great experience. We shared plates including a shrimp appetizer, pasta “Rags” and filet mignon. Though dinner did not have enough weight to it to withstand the number of beverages I chose to consume that evening, the food was deliciously flavored and cooked impeccably. Definitely a must try.
  • Vitner’s Grill– We went way off strip for this one to meet some friends at their home in Summerlin. It was a pleasant change of pace from the bright lights and bustle of downtown. Vitner’s Grill is located unassumingly in a business park but once you enter you find an upscale bistro with a retro vibe and pretty outdoor gardens. Think white table clothes, wait staff in tuxedo coats and Sinatra playing in the background. We enjoyed appetizers of shrimp and salad with sea bass and halibut for our main courses. This fresh food coupled with some white wine and conversation with interesting friends were perfect after an afternoon of hiking at Red Rock Canyon.
  • Restaurants in The Cosmopolitan Boulevard Tower- We landed ourselves in this area for lunch a few days while picking up and dropping off our rental car. There were several options on the level above the casino floor along with a higher end food court. We tried out China Poblano (Mexican-Chinese?!?) and Holsteins with only a little wait. Both places had wildly creative menus and I was only disappointed once by my cold sweet potato fries at Holsteins, but it wasn’t enough to mar the experience and the busy waiter kindly took it off our bill. The entrance to the “Day Club” Marquee was nearby to both of these places, so there was plenty of look at while waiting for a table. People strutting around indoors in skimpy pool attire is always a sight to be seen.
  • Julian Serranos Tapas– Our last evening, we were in the mood for a lighter dinner and found this place in the Aria hotel. Now when I say “found it”, I mean on the google map. Finding it in real life was a bit of a quest, but with help of a variety of hostesses and bouncers from other places, we were able to locate it. It was colorful and lively. The bartender who served us was a bit intense, taking ownership of all things on the menu (“my” menu, “my” margarita, “my” tapas, etc). I’m fairly certain it wasn’t his restaurant nor him cooking all the items, but it made for an interesting interaction. The cocktails were tasty and spicy, and the food was good enough. The prices were twice the size of the portions so I can’t say I would need to go back to here.
  • Gonzalez y Gonzales– After Julian Serranos Tapas, we wandered over to NY NY. Since the tapas we had earlier, were more snack like than dinner proportions, I was in need of more food before we ventured home. We came across this place and it did the trick. They were transitioning into night club mode when we arrived, so the service took a bit to get started. Our server did end up being a sweet older woman named Mimi, the nachos came quickly, so all ended well.

What we did….

Vegas is literally an adult’s playground. There is everything to do and more. Our featured outing for this trip was obviously the Garth Brooks/Plus One show. This show did not disappoint, and the venue felt intimate. I had never seen him in concert before and he was as energetic and genuine as I had imagined. Trisha Yearwood as the “plus one” was not a huge surprise but definitely a bonus. It was worth the splurge and feeling the energy of a crowd full of super fans is something to experience.

We did our fair share of walking, as we usually do on our trips. We saw the fountains and gardens at the Bellagio, people watched everywhere we went, and I was surprised on the amount of supersized artwork that was throughout the strip. Being able to walk out in public with a beer or cocktail in hand does serve as an extra layer of entertainment in its own right. The number of people who indulged in those massive plastic tube drinks at all hours of the day was remarkable (FYI we were not one of those folks).

Pool lounging was high on my list of things to do and the pool at Vdara was great for that. They had plenty of umbrellas and the vibe was pretty chill. More kids than twenty-something clubber, but that was fine by me. Gone are the days of waiting in a line to pack into a DJ’d pool club party…. not that it was ever really my thing, but we have aged out of that for sure now.

We didn’t do a huge amount of bar hopping despite doing our fair share of enjoying drinks. We did find 2 fun unique places where we were able to watch live music, make guesses on whether or not people were professional athletes, and interacted with other interesting characters. First night D found The Barbershop, a speakeasy type bar in the Cosmopolitan. We were skeptical as we waited in the line outside to get in, thinking maybe it was just hype, but it turned out to be a lively, fun dark lounge with a country act playing. It was a Wednesday so it wasn’t too busy, which was nice as we could actually get a drink at the bar and not be all crowed up in other people’s business.

The other bar we hit up was on the last evening was Nine Fine Irishman in NY NY. We were looking to go to a piano bar, however the one we were shooting for was crazy busy and collecting an entry fee. We opted out and end up at this Irish pub. when we arrived there was an upbeat Irish band playing with an Irish dancer stomping it up on one of the tall bar tables. It died down shortly after we arrived, and we landed ourselves into a lively conversation with a “local” that insisted on buying our beers. He was a passionate Golden Knights fan and seemed to know everything about everything. He may or may not have been a bit of a pathological lair but he was good natured, and we did get a free beer.

We opted into getting off the strip to see some desert nature and enjoy some hiking. The weather was fantastic this spring and apparently with all the rain that happened this year is was “greener” than normal. Coming from Washington, it was hard to appreciate the greenery in comparison, but there were a noticeable amount of wildflowers mixed in the desert landscape. We ventured out to Red Rock Canyon, did the drive and stopped for a few short hikes along the way and drove out to Lake Mead the following day. Red Rock was beautiful and it’s neat to see the large mountains and brightly colored rocks only a short drive from the artificial, man- made Vegas strip. Lake Mead was less impressive, but it is still interesting to see water in the middle of such a desolate landscape. I had wanted to see the Valley of Fire Park, but we slept in and ran out of time to make it out that way. Both parks did have fees for entry and Red Rock required a reservation for the time slot you were wanting to visit.

Parting thoughts…

Vegas was a blast and I think we did a bang up job up taking in the variety there is to offer there. Spring was a perfect time, weather-wise, to actually enjoy being outside and exploring. There are few places on earth with the concentration of entertainment and eye candy. There is a freedom of being there that is a nice break from the normal daily life of suburban Washington, but 4 days is definitely enough to get your fill. We came back with fond memories of good music and sunshine, relatively relaxed and a bit dehydrated. It was worth it, and I think I would not mind going back again when in need of some warmth and good times.

-P.R.

Venice, Italy

October 2022

We chose Venice as our first destination for a few reasons….. First, it really is so quintessentially Italy and felt that it would be a perfect place to set the tone and get into the spirit of being in the country. Second, it was the best our best option to see the Adriatic Sea and catch a high-speed train up to the mountains of the Italian Alps. People always swoon when the topic of Venice comes up if they have been there and rightly so! It was so unique and fun to explore. The canals and alleyways were nothing like I have ever seen. We only stayed in Venice for 2 nights and we significantly jet lagged when we arrived but I think we made the most of it.

Getting there…

Our flight from Heathrow to Venice landed around noon. It was disorienting to not sleep for an entire day and hit the ground running. We navigated our way out of the airport to find the water taxi station. This was no simple feat! The signs were easy enough to read but I swear we ended up going out through a service exit and had to back track more than a few times. We made it to the window to buy our tickets and got in line the long to zone out and wait for our taxi to get us over to the island of Venice. I wish I would have taken a video to capture the chaos of chopped up water and boats zooming in and out to pick up passengers barely avoiding collision. As busy as it was, all the boats efficiently made it in and out relatively on time like it was nothing. Once out on the open water it was captivating to see the boats and take in the little surrounding islands of Burano and Murano in anticipation of what Venice had in store. The Airbnb that we had booked ahead that was close to a drop off point, so we only had to rumble our suitcases over the bumpy cobblestone for a few minutes to meet our host.

Venice from the Sky.. you can see the water taxi freeway.
Rush hour on the water

Where we stayed…

D found us a quaint little stone wall apartment that was well located and well stocked. The host was friendly and had stocked the fridge with wine, pasta, cheeses and sauce. The bathroom had soap, shampoo AND conditioner. These may seem like a given for travel accommodations, but we quickly learned that in Italy (and likely Europe) you get the bare minimum when it comes to toiletries. On Venice and a few other of our stays, they need to document your name and passport as a visitor to the city. The photos online made the space and view seem a bit more spacious that what the reality was but it was clean and felt authentic. It was perfect for our short stay.

The hidden door to the apartment…fortunately the host and previous guest had given us plenty of clues, so we found it on the first try.

What we did…

Our basic agenda for Venice and basically all of Italy was- explore, people watch, eat, drink, repeat. This city was so fun to wander around and see what was around the next corner. There is plenty of shopping near the Rialto bridge, but we aren’t really into that so much. It was a full moon while were visiting which made nighttime walks magical. I will let the photos tell the story…

Pointe di Rialto
Basilica di San Marco
The backside of San Marco
Expensive subpar snacks with a lovely view at San Marco Square
Basilica dei Santi Giovanni e Paolo by moonlight
View of Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute from fancy water taxi en route to Cip’s Club
Beautiful sunset on our last night

What we ate…

Being our first stop in Italy, I was so very excited to start to experience local cuisine. Unfortunately, I didn’t take into account local customs for dining times and how they would intersect with our arrive time and jet lagged brains. We set out for our first meal around 2pm and quickly realized that this was NOT when people dine around town. After being very directly denied by at least 3 small restaurants who had no interest in us ever coming back, we finally found a small bar with outdoor seating who were happy to let us sit a table for 2 (not one for 4, they made that very clear). We took in the gentle tourist traffic and enjoyed our first version of the Aperol Spritz (which was delicious), the little snacks that come with drinks (cicchetti,) and some tiny white bread sandwich triangle called tramezzini. After that, honestly, we struck out when it came to food…not great pizza, ok lasagna and snacks with beer and wine in the apartment. Pretty much all the things they the travel blog foodies tell you not to eat. When you get hungry and are tired, it’s survival rules, so we did our best. We did however, have the most amazing last dinner at a restaurant that came to us upon recommendation from a friend with fantastic taste in pretty much everything- Cip’s Club. The ambiance, quality of food and service of this upscale waterfront restaurant is hard to beat. It is attached to the beautiful, exclusive Hotel Cipriani. We took their private wooden boat water taxi to the hotel, walked the gardens, acted like we were supposed to be there and felt very fancy. We completely lucked out even getting a table at Cip’s because we arrived an hour before they opened (places don’t even think of serving before 7:30) and there was a cancellation for the first seating. Make a reservation well ahead of time if you want to experience this location. It was a treat for our last night.

Final thoughts….

Venice was a whirlwind of a visit but memorable to say the least. It was cleaner than I would have expected, it felt very safe and was super fun to explore. I do wish that we might have done a bit more research on what and where to eat, but overall, it was enjoyable. It is a unique experience to be in a place with no cars, you really don’t get that anywhere in North America. I can’t say that the people in the shops and cafes we ventured in and out of were all that friendly (with the exception of Cip’s) however we were new and there are all tourists so I suppose that could get annoying. I will always have fond memories of winding through the narrow alleyways and viewing the canals at night under the light of the huge full moon and the excitement of starting our adventure in Italy.

Austin, Tx

February 2023

It had been a long winter already and there was a lot of work catch-up to do in January after the holiday.  We were craving some warmth by the end of the month and started racking our brains on where we could catch some sunshine and fun in February.  The weather (and plane tickets) in California were not that great and we didn’t have enough time to travel further to Mexico or maybe Hawaii.  We were browsing flight options on Alaska Airlines and there just so happened to be direct flights to Austin that were the same price as going to CA. I had never been and DZ hadn’t been there in 20+ years.  The flight times worked out perfect for our Thursday- Monday timeframe so it was decided.  I was really excited to experience this city after hearing people rave about it for years.  I was ready for some great food, music, drinks and exploring someplace new… all of my favorite things, with my favorite person. 

Getting there…

I’m not sure how long Alaska had been doing direct flights to Austin but the early morning option that was  available made it really doable to have full days on both ends of our trip. We were able to fly out at 7:45am both days and had no hiccups in either flight. Our Uber driver from Africa was friendly and appropriately chatty. We breezed through security, though we were directed to use the line near the international terminal so we got to use all of the shuttles available to get to the D gates on the complete opposite side of the airport. On the plane I had a window seat and was able to appreciate the landscape below.  Seeing the variety of mountains as you move across the country from above always makes me awestruck.  I was able to polish off another book during the flight and before I knew we were landing.  We used  to get to our hotel 

Where we stayed….

Since D was familiar with the layout of the city and we didn’t have a car, he found a great condo that was in downtown Austin but in a newer region in the east part of the city.  Natiivo Austin was a great stay, being new, super close to the trails by the river, and walkable to Rainey Street and 6th Ave.  It was quiet but lively still.  We were able to watch a beautiful sunset on the rooftop pool area our first night, but the weather didn’t cooperate enough to allow for any other enjoyment of the pool.  Other amenities that were available that we did not use were a gym, a bar/lounge area and apparently dog friendly everything.  Our main focus was to be out of the hotel, that was exactly what we did.  Natiivo was a lovely homebase though, despite its rather strong “signature” scent that greeted you every time you entered the lobby area. 

https://www.vacasa.com/usa/Natiivo-Austin/

What we ate….

Food in Austin was AMAZING!  There were endless options- from food trucks, southern BBQ to upscale dining and fancy tapas bars. Our main goal when it came to food was to find some authentic Tex Mex and Texas BBQ. It just so happened that a good friend was visiting her family in Austin the same weekend we were there and she hooked us up with perfect suggestions for both.

We visited Habanero Cafe (http://www.habanerocafe.com/) and it was legit. It was casual dining and had a friendly vibe for both locals and tourists.  As my friend said, you haven’t had authentic tex mex unless you’ve eaten it in uncomfortable chairs with bars on the windows. Haha!  I had a chili relleno that reminded me of the ones I used to get as a kid in Bakersfield and a huge unsweetened ice tea.  The other delicious platters that were sampled were mole chicken, fish tacos, and chips and salsa.  Portions were huge and the prices were good.  It was a great way to experience some local food and catch up with a friend I rarely get to spend face to face time with.

Terry Black’s BBQ was our destination for the “Real” Texas BBQ experience.  This place was nothing like I have ever been before.  The building was old looking and wooden with tons of patio and indoor seating. There is a separate smoking house next door with smoke pluming out the chimney to really set the scene. We arrived around noon and the line was already out the door. Apparently this is the norm for this well known BBQ institution, so they had their serving systems down. Once in line, there was a window to get cold drinks while you waited. You then wound your way into the building and were served up cafeteria style your sides then over to the meat carving station.  There was a chalk board with the meats available and the smiling employee wielding a huge carving knife served you up the meats of your choice, directly onto your paper covered tray.  This heaping serving was then weighed and you then paid by the pound at the neighboring cash register.  It’s an eye wide open experience when you know that you are about to take down 2+ pounds of meat once you sit down.  We shared ribs, brisket, coleslaw and beer.  It was the BEST meat I have ever tasted.  Seasoned, sauced and smoked to perfection.  We hit up this place on our day of long walking and thank god for that.  It was totally worth the stuffed belly. Home | Terry Black’s BBQ (terryblacksbbq.com)

Other noteworthy restaurants  we hit up were:

Salvation Pizza Kitchen-  this place was around the corner from our condo and we spent a bit of time here upon arriving to pass the time before check in.  I had my first Shiner Bock here along with a good salad and some BBQ sliders.  We ended up here again to watch some football later in the weekend too. It was a chill place with lots of TVs with a large selection of beers on tap, full bar and Italian/ bar food offerings.   https://salvationpizzaatx.com/

Emmer & Rye-  This place was next door to Salvation Pizza, so also a quick walk from the condo. We sat at the bar for late dinner here and enjoyed sharing several selections from their tapas style menu.  It had a cool vibe with an open concept dining-kitchen area, low lighting and nice ambient music.  The food was creative and artistic. It was a fun date night kind of place.  https://emmerandrye.com/

Eddie V’s- This was an upscale steak house with a live band, swanky bar and waiters with white tuxedos on. The whole shabang for a fancy night out.  It was a great energy with good service.   https://www.eddiev.com/home

Geraldine’s- Another upscale restaurant with live music on the top floor of Hotel Van Zandt. Great food and wine again.  The menu was creative and had sharing plates and main dishes of meats and fish.  The hostess was a drag and there was annoyingness about rushing to make you cash out at the bar before you get sat at your table, but overall it was a great experience. https://www.geraldinesaustin.com/

What we did….

Despite the less than ideal weather, we spent a ton of time outdoors exploring the city and the trails along the river (or is it lake??).  We checked out the 3 bridges and went substantial distances on both sides of the river.  It was busy with walkers, joggers and bikers everyday.  We checked out some of the larger parks and botanical gardens as well as Barton Springs. There are many varieties of birds, turtles, and plant life with informational signs around to tell you what was unique to the area.  I will mention that there were quite a few homeless people in Austin, around the parks and downtown and it wasn’t very clean.  However, I never felt unsafe during the day or night and it was by no means worse than Seattle. 

On our big walk day, we went by the Capitol building, appreciated the historic buildings, churches and statues and got to see the tail end of an Anti-abortion rally (bonus!) 

Outside of the food, our other main objective was to experience some live music.  I was amazed by the number of places that had live music or DJs every night we were there. The streets were packed with people and the atmosphere was lively and fun.  Rainey street was packed with different bars and clubs to sample.  6th Street is its own entity in the city and has every flavor of music, food and drink you could want.  It actually closes down to car traffic at night and the city allows people to just take over the street. https://6street.com/

Some of our favorite places we hit up with music 

– San Jac Saloon: Fantastic country bar where we drank beers and listened to the Tyler Brandon Duo… I actually was singing out loud with the crowd much to my partner’s surprise 🙂  https://www.sanjacsaloon.com/

– Banger’s Sausage House and Beer Garden- Huge patio with live music.  So many beers on tap at 2 different bars.  I had a delicious pretzel to complement the local hazy IPA I decided on  https://www.bangersaustin.com/

– Icenhauer’s-  Great craft cocktails and a cozy lounge feel.  We enjoyed a fantastic blues type band featuring a trumpet and  a saxophone player..   https://www.icenhauers.com/

Parting thoughts…

Austin was such a fun and lively experience that lived up to the hype.  The weather was not as great as we had hoped for, but it didn’t dampen the experience at all.  I really appreciated the walkability of the city and variety of both indoor and outdoor things to do.  I left wanting to come back in the spring or fall to feel some of that Texas sunshine while sitting on a patio listening to music with a drink or to be able to take a boat or kayak out on the river.  We had a blast and made it home a little hungover from food and drink but with smiles on our faces.  I’m looking forward to our next visit to Austin.

-P.R.

Sun Peaks Ski Weekend

February 2023

The end of 2022 was COLD. Really cold.  My California-born blood had never been exposed to such temperatures (-20F, what!?!), even after being up in Washington for the better part of 13 years.  At Christmas, I had brought my snowboard in hopes of possibly getting up to the mountain for some snow fun, but it never left my car as it was too frigid to go outdoors for any length of time.  Since we had no set plans of escaping to anywhere after the new year, we thought it may be fun to embrace winter and enjoy a weekend up in Sun Peaks.  We were able to secure an amazing home that was close to the main village, was big enough to evite friends and had a hot tub to top it off!  The weekend of the Super Bowl was available, and the weather forecast was looking great.  We were able to talk some family and a couple of friends into joining us and it was all set up!

Getting there…

I made my usual drive up to Kamloops on a Thursday morning.  It was an abnormally eventful drive unfortunately- speeding ticket only 20 minutes into the trip (remember to not speed during morning traffic near Everett), struggling to open my locked gas door to fill up (it automatically locks if the door is locked), almost getting run off the highway by a semi-truck, and finally having to take an excessively long rest break in Merritt due to annoying weird heart palpitations and dizziness.  Anyhow, I made it in one piece.  Despite this, we had a super easy drive the next morning making it from the dry land up into the winter wonderland.  It takes less than an hour being only 56km from Kamloops.  You get to drive along the North Thompson River, until you break off up into the mountains.  From there you pass by a few little lakes and pastoral land that all look very pretty and serene covered in the white of winter.  Considering the size of the mountain and resort, it is crazy convenient.

Where we stayed….

There are ample accommodations around the SunPeaks- hotels, condos, and custom homes. We were hooked up with one of the homes, so it was a treat!  There were 3 floors, so each group had separate sleeping areas. The main floor was open with high ceilings, huge windows, and a large kitchen.  The deck off the kitchen was home to the BBQ and hot tub.  This was my first visit to this house, but the others had enjoyed birthday parties and ski weekends here in the past.  It was a perfect spot.

What we ate….

Our family and friends were so generous, and we had enough food to have lasted a week!  We feasted every night- Mediterranean chicken and lemon potatoes, beef tenderloin, fully loaded baked potatoes and veggies and Superbowl Sunday was a Meat Fest of Texas ribs, “Nicci Lovin’” Chicken wings, Nachos, dips, etc., etc.…. There was no shortage of food, nor drink.  Drink highlights included ample Red Truck, Empress gin cocktails, Basil-Mint Rangpur gin cocktails, Micheladas, and Beermosas.  

We did go out for lunch on Ski Day at the infamous Bottoms Pub and enjoyed a typical pub lunch with a beer.  We were smart to go for an early lunch as it gets really busy there after noon.  There are a few other options in the main village, but I haven’t ever had a need to sample them. 

What we did….

We had such a nice balance of winter fun this weekend.  A full day of skiing, walking in the snow, taking a long hike along the snowshoe trails, eating, drinking and hot tubbing.  We played games at night (Cards Against Humanity made another solid appearance), watched hockey and the Superbowl.  It was a chill mix of alone time and time with friends.  I particularly loved the end of the night hot tub to watch the snowcats grooming the hills and seeing the stars.  We laughed a lot, and it was a perfect balance of rest and play. 

Parting thoughts…

Sun Peaks is such a gem to enjoy.  It feels a bit like a little secret that the people who know of it don’t take for granted.  It’s not the same scene as Whistler with throngs of people and tons of restaurants and bars. There is a time a place for that.  Having access to quiet miles of high-quality trails for downhill and cross-country skiing and snowshoeing in less than an hour is hard to beat. I especially appreciate this coming from the Seattle area where everything is crowded and feels stressful. This weekend reminded me of how the snow puts you back into the playful mindset you have as a kid, to have fun for the sake of fun. Hopefully, we will be able to make this an annual event as I can see us making many more memories here in years to come.

-P.R.

Playa del Carmen, México

November 2021

Backstory

Thanksgiving in the US was coming up….. People are excited to spend time with their families and friends again with vaccinations onboard while simultaneously freaking out about spending time with family and friends again and the ever-present impending turkey shortage. My kids were headed down to California with their dad and I had recently found out that my rental house had been sold and was going to be torn down in the not-so-distant future.  Stress levels were not what I would call low at that point in time. It just so happened that my guy was conferencing and remote working down in sunny Mexico for the month, so it made perfect sense for my sunshine deprived, overloaded self to head down South for the holiday.  

I had made this same holiday trip a few years ago, spending American Thanksgiving in Mexico with a Canadian and found people were really thrown by this.  Questions included- “Are you going to make a turkey?”, “Will you eat turkey tacos?”, “Are you going to be able to watch football??” “What about your kids???”   Answers included- NO. NO. Are you kidding? And of course, I always miss my kiddos on holidays apart but they are loved and I know I need a vacation!  Once we set up some dates, tickets were Seattle were purchased and off I went. 

Getting there…

Playa del Carmen is a popular destination but isn’t a direct flight type of trip.  Fortunately, there are direct flights from Seattle to Cancun. This flight does cross a large portion of the midwest US and the Gulf of Mexico, so I would highly recommend a window seat if you can swing it.  My flight was on a clear day and seeing the contours of the mountain ranges and the clouds over the ocean was a sight to see.  I do zone out to movies and books on longer flights but taking in the scenery below and appreciating the fact that we are able to actually FLY is something to feel.  

Now when you get to Cancun International, be ready for some airport chaos that you just need to find your zen to get through because it is something you don’t find in the US.  I haven’t traveled internationally much so I know there are much crazier places, but I do have to do some deep breathing when I navigate this place.  Everyone is friendly though and I followed my fellow US passengers and it all worked out.  Outside of the airport can be equally overwhelming but if you have a plan prior to arrival it helps.  I did the bus last visit and it got me where I needed to go safely.  This time my guy set me up with a reputable driver who was able to find me and get me there much quicker. My Spanish skills are not top notch, so the fact that the driver spoke English was a huge bonus.  After roughly 10 hours of travel, I finally arrived in Playa del Carmen!

Where we stayed….

There are plenty of large hotels and resorts in this area, however we stayed a bit off the beaten path of 5th Ave, in a hotel/condo location- IT Hotel Playa.  The room was modern and clean.  No views to speak of but we did have functional AC.  There were 2 rooftop pools, a restaurant and bar.  I was very happy spending many hours by the little pool reading and drinking.  No complaints whatsoever about the accommodations outside of not having a private balcony and a view from the room, but that is only if I really want to be a princess 😉 

What we ate….

There are so many really great restaurants with plenty of international diversity in Playa del Carmen.  Though we did have plenty of local Mexican food (you really can’t get enough ceviche, can you??), we also enjoyed cuisine from Argentina, Italy, a steakhouse,  and believe it or not, a Nordic fusion place.  There is a lot to choose from.  Our stomachs did pretty well overall, but I must admit that by the end of the week there was ample time needed to address some unrest that settled in digestively. 

Here are a few of the places we had a great time at (in no particular order)…..

El Doctocito- Ceviche and Micheladas.  The portions are enormous and even though you think there is no way you can finish what is in front of you, before you know it, it’s gone. The setting is casual and lively. Sometimes,  if you time it right, there is a DJ playing.  We preferred the older location but the new additional one did the trick.

Trujillo Cantina de Sleva– I had a delicious mackerel dish and cocktails were creative and tasty. 

Amate 38– This place had great ambiance under the trees and was on a quieter section off 5th Ave closer to where we were staying.  The steak and seafood were great. 

500 Gramos Grill-  Steaks.  That is what to get here. …. A ginormous streak was devoured here.  There were other great looking options, but we went with the specialty.  The location was also nice with outdoor seating on the same little street off 5th Ave by Trujillo.

Las Olas- This was the nicest restaurant that we went to and it was really great.  We had to do a little sweet talking to get into the resort compound and get a table without reservations but it was worth it. The service was fantastic and so was the food.  It was nice to get away from the craziness of 5th Ave and enjoy a meal without being hit up to buy roses or bracelets. 

Mucho Gusto- This Argentinian restaurant is worth checking out for the food and ambiance. My guy has been a frequent flier here for many years and it consistently has great grilled meats, chimichurri and baked provolone. Service was just ok, but really, that is the norm all around town. 

Nordic- This was a surprise to find. The yelp ratings were good so we gave it a go.  I tried the octopus and it was good.  I can’t say that I loved it but the quality of the food was good and it was creative.  

Salento– We enjoyed maybe one of our best meals here of pizza.  We ended up coming back one more time during our trip for more Italian food. It was lively and had outdoor seating so it was a nice change of pace from the typical Mexican fare.

Off the Vine- Here is a great little wine bar with tapas by our hotel.  It was fun to sit and watch people both inside and outside the restaurant.  We ended up chatting up a couple that offered to let us use their RV in the States to tour around…I’m pretty sure it wasn’t a genuine offer but memorable nonetheless. 

IT Hotel Playa Restaurant- We had a few breakfasts and drinks in the downstairs restaurant that were reliably good and the service wasn’t terrible.  Winning!  They had live music in the evening and seeing as how it was Jazz Fest we were able to experience some lovely entertainment with our drinks right before rolling back up to the room.  

What we did….

When I spend time in Mexico, I don’t typically have a list of things that I “need” to do or see. It’s usually just a time to break from the routine, get some warmth on my body and relax.  This was exactly what happened.  COVID had hampered much travel over the past year and it felt so good to move into a different culture, walk around, people watch and feel somewhat normal again.  I spent plenty of time at our little rooftop pool and our biggest decisions usually revolved around where we were going to eat or drink next.  I typically like to stay active, whether I am at home or on vacation, but I will admit that Mexico has a way of sucking the motivation out of me (thanks to the heat and countless Micheladas!).   

We did venture out one evening  and had a night at the Coco Bogo and let me tell you, that was quite the experience.  First off, it was a bold move in the times of COVID, with very tight quarters, optional masks and lots of people making poor decisions fuelled by cheap drinks.  We came out unscathed and it was a fun time.  Bachelorette parties, flying trapeze acts and some sort of wind machine that would “surprise” whomever was up dancing on the platform were just some of the things to witness at this bumping night club.

Other fun things to do are: spend a day at one of the multitude of Beach Clubs such as Martina’s & Mamita’s, take a tour of the cenotes (this is super fun, we did it a previous year), take a day cruise out to Cozumel out to snorkel or dive, or shopping at the ample number of shops on 5th Ave.

Parting thoughts…

Visiting Playa del Carmen always serves a nice break from reality and an opportunity to loosen up a bit.  It is very touristy and there is a vacation vibe everywhere you go. The sunny weather was a much-needed change from the endless Seattle gray and darkness. I appreciate the go with the flow attitude, but I do welcome the amenities of home (particularly clean water and good plumbing).  If you are willing to go the extra distance to get down to Playa, rather than doing the standard Cancun trip, I would highly recommend it!

-P.R.

Italy

October 2022

Backstory

I have longed to visit Europe for my entire adult life.  I was always intimidated by language barriers, long travel times, and just not knowing where to start.  I would get analysis paralysis when it came to planning such a trip and would end up just doing nothing.  Last year, when I made my 21k trail run goal, I also had made a goal that I wanted to get over and see Europe…no place specifically but at least the intention was set.  Well, I didn’t make the trip prior to my birthday, but with the extremely generous and thoughtful gift from my guy, my first trip to Italy was set in motion just after.  

After hemming and hawing a bit over it, I finally decided that I wanted to explore, taste, and drink in the beautiful region of Tuscany. So, this was our starting point and we went from there.  There really is a crazy amount to see in Italy.  Each region has its own unique culture and personality despite being grouped together under the umbrella name of “Italy”.  We didn’t want to do the tour group approach where you spend 1 day in a bunch of different locations, but we decided that staying 2-4 days in a variety of towns would allow us to cover a lot of ground within the 2 weeks. Once we scoped out the cities surrounding Tuscany, we decided that we would have to put off visiting the Southern and Eastern regions for another trip.  

Planning this trip was so fun. We had a great time coming up with our loose itinerary. Before leaving we put more attention into the first 2 stays so we could hit the ground running.  Between August and October, it was easy to let the excitement build without getting overwhelmed this way. I had lots of details to smooth out to prepare my kids and work to keep rolling without me around but it was all worth it.  By the time Canadian Thanksgiving came around we were all set to take off! 

Getting there…

To be honest, I did not arrange for the flights.  There were plenty of options from Seattle though connecting through other main hubs in Europe.  We ended up flying with British Airways with a layover in Heathrow en route to Venice.  Everything was timely and the flight crew was properly British. This was the longest flight I have ever taken.  It was like a time warp.  We had 2 meals, several drinks and many many movies. I don’t do well with sleeping upright on planes and maybe napped for a little while.  It was a strange combination of being tired from no sleep but not being tired because you are just sitting for hours on end and you have the excitement of a big adventure on the horizon. I actually didn’t find the long flight unpleasant but did experience some major spaciness the day we arrived.  It’s a good thing I am a pro at powering through 🙂  Our only hiccup getting to Italy was that our plane apparently had a fuel leak once we landed in London, so they parked us out in BFE and had to shuttle us back over to the terminal so we could catch our connecting flight.  It was a bit disturbing to think of a fuel leak and why we were parked so far away from our gate, but with virtually no sleep and the flight crew in no rush to evacuate the plane, it was fine.   We made it to Venice with ease and started our sampler platter of transportation.  It was interesting using so much public transport.  I have never even taken a bus in the US (that is kind of embarrassing but true) and experiencing transit in Italy was a trip!  It was chaotic but worked with relative timeliness and some form of order that was foreign to me. I will talk more on traveling around the different regions in the other blogs about each area we visited.  Overall, getting to Italy was easier than expected and made for a great start to our trip. 

Where we stayed….

We decided that it was most important to have our first 2 destinations booked while we got used to being in Italy, then booked most of our accommodations a night or two before leaving for the next destination.  Overall, we had no issue finding nice places to stay by searching AirBnB and Google maps.  We also lucked out in that the Euro was at a low in October, so the exchange rate made for fair pricing on the accommodations we chose. Some people might find this way of travel stressful but it was fun focusing on one thing at a time and not getting all worked up trying to predict what we wanted for every location before arriving in Europe. It was off season (though much busier than expected thanks to the previous years of pandemic shut down) so we were able to have several viable options to choose from.  This might not be the approach to take during high travel times of year.  It is worthwhile to know that the European Hotel Star rating system is on a 4 star scale rather than 5 stars in the US and Canada.  Most hotels actually post it on their signage and they also usually indicate whether kids are welcome or not.  I found it funny while researching stays in St. Ortesei that many hotels strongly post “For Adults Only”, as it invoked the idea of some XXX adult club or something.  We found out quickly that this is a resort town that many families visit so there were family centric hotels and places that were less suited for hosting kids.  It was nice to know and we readily chose Adult Options. 

What we ate….

EVERYTHING…. When relying on eating out for virtually every meal you have the opportunity to sample a lot of food.  Plus, Italy is famous for it’s cuisine so it was a pleasure to have to sample and experiment with what each region had to offer.  Eating happens late in Europe and while recovering from jet lag, it took a few days to get used to.  We typically had late breakfasts or lunch, midday snacks and a later dinner.  Restaurant didn’t even open until 7:30pm.  We would find a local market to stock up on some sort of sliced meat and cheeses, crackers, beer and wine for the room.  We learned that most restaurants would serve a bit of a snack with each round of drinks you order.  This is a very smart strategy as day drinking is normal in Italy, at least it seemed to be if you were on vacation.  I did take a few cappuccinos at the coffee bars as the locals do.  The travel blogs I read prior to leaving were correct in that Italians do not sit and luxuriate over Vente sized coffees (ie Starbucks).  It’s in and out with a strong but delicious shot of espresso, cappuccino or macchiato.  The wine was amazing and we never tasted a house wine that was bad.  It seemed to be more economical to order a bottle than individual glasses, so many bottles we consumed over the course of this trip.  Each region was very specific in its food culture and I will expand on it in the other blogs.    Last note on food is that the service is not fast and when a server does bless you with their presence, be ready to order the whole meal.  We had a few times where we wanted to order appetizers and drinks while we browsed the menu, and the server just gave us a look like we were confused and the most annoying thing they had dealt with that day.  As a natural born people-pleaser myself, it was uncomfortable for me to feel like I was bothering someone by asking  to explain something extra or fumbling with hand signals and broken English to communicate.  After a while though, I came to appreciate the honesty of saying directly what I needed/wanted without a bunch of “I’m sorrys” and “whatever is easy for you” phrases.  Tipping isn’t like it is here, so they have no reason to kiss your ass.  That being said, we had ample wonderful and attentive servers in Italy, and dining out was one of the highlights of our trip.

What we did….

Walking, eating, people watching and marveling at architecture and art.  Repeat.  That pretty much sums it up. There is so much to see in Italy from nature and what has been made by man.  Each region had a new and exciting offering for us to take in. From the spectacular mountains in the Italian Alps to the excavation sites scattered about the busy city of Rome.  It was so fun to know you could just step out your door and immediately be taken aback by what was out there.  We intentionally stayed in central locations so we could easily reach restaurants and sites by foot. We did have at least one or two must-sees in each place we visited, then allowed time for wandering and seeing what came our way.  It was a really nice balance.  Much more details are to follow in the regional blogs.  

Parting thoughts…

This Italy trip was one that will forever be a sweet spot in my memory.   It met all of my expectations and gave flavor and color to how I had always imagined Italy to be.  I have such an appreciation now for the cultural diversity that can exist within one country and with each new region we explored I was left with wanting to see more.  My favorite spots were the Dolomites and Florence, but each spot we stayed had something that took my breath away or had something that I was seeing for the first time.  Italy is a place I absolutely want to visit again and I would enthusiastically recommend it to anyone craving a European adventure.