Galleries

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.  

The Top 3 Best Places to Visit in Venice, Italy

As many as 20 million tourists – from day-trippers and cruise-goers to international visitors from all across the globe – descend upon Venice, Italy every year.

But, regardless of how long you have to explore this unique and picturesque city built on 118 small islands, there are several must-see Venetian sights that everyone should factor into an Italy vacation. 

Let’s take a look at where to head to get a real feel for Venice when travelling to Italy! 

1. Piazza San Marco

No trip to Italy is complete without a piazza or two. But Venice’s Piazza San Marco offers especially beautiful examples of Italian architecture, as well as being the largest square in the city.

Featuring Venetian gems such as the Basilica San Marco and the Campanile, the expansive Piazza extends to the Grand Canal, making it an emblematic destination you can’t afford to miss. It’s also the perfect spot to people-watch with a glass of red wine or an Aperol Spritz, the region’s favourite aperitif. 

2. Burano Island

Another must-visit location in Venice you’re sure to have seen in almost every travel blog over the last few years is the colourful island of Burano.

As well as being home to some of the finest Italian lace, Burano is full of canals lined with rainbow-hued houses that are enough to make the island a photographer’s dream. Trust us, it’s well worth the vaporetto ride across the lagoon to catch a glimpse of this quaint fishing village turned Instagram sensation!

3. Ponte di Rialto

Yes, it’s often packed with tourists but that doesn’t make the Ponte di Rialto any less worth the visit. After all, you wouldn’t forgo the Trevi Fountain or the Colosseum on an Italy trip to Rome despite the crowds that gather at these spots both day and night!

Dating back to 1588, the bridge was once the only structure across the Grand Canal. These days, it’s a popular vantage point for taking photos of the continuous stream of boats that pass underneath it, as well as an excellent spot for taking selfies. And, once the sun starts to set and the crowds start to disperse, the Ponte di Rialto offers the perfect backdrop for a drink with friends or a plate of lobster spaghetti on the banks of the canal. 

Top 3 Places to Visit in Venice, Italy

As you might expect from a city that draws in some serious crowds, trying to narrow this list down to three must-see spots in Venice, Italy is no mean feat! In reality, Venice’s meandering streets and canals are full of amazing sights at every turn. 

If you have the time there are far more islands to explore, churches to marvel at, and bridges to cross than even the most extensive travel blog can cover. But, when you have a packed schedule like mine, these three spots offer more than a glimpse of Venice’s eternal appeal. 

And a couple of days exploring the waterways of Venice is more than enough to get me reminiscing about my past trips across the water

Naramata

Photo of vineyard in Naramata, BC
One of the many vineyards in Naramata, BC

Backstory

This summer after having my birthday, I decided to make a few little goals to work towards as I approach a year that makes me somewhat uncomfortable (dancing around the mid-life years can be such an unexpected mind-F!).   I have always prided myself on living an active lifestyle and have come to enjoy the pains and pleasure that come with distance running.  I decided that I would throw some actual focus on properly training for a 13 mile trail run.  I have achieved this distance in the past but always was certain to choose flat courses during fair weather months.  I’m getting more used to powering through the rain and inclement weather as I have lived in WA for 12+ years now, however running in the rain or snow and cold is NOT my jam.   My guy is an avid trail runner and offered to help me find a trail to run with views to help make this goal even more satisfying.  In my mind, I thought I would be going for a run in the late spring/early summer or something. You know, when it’s warming up. He suggested a run that he had done in the past that was in October outside of Vernon.  I technically had enough time to train, quieted the rational voices in my head  and went for it.  

He did the planning and we ended up torturing, I mean enjoying ourselves, through the trails around Kalamalka Lake Provincial Park.  The course was an original that he came up with based on races he had done with the Dirty Feet Running Club.  It was one of the hardest things I have ever physically done, but wow, it was spectacular.   We ended up with perfect fall weather, encountered few other people and I achieved my first birthday goal.  I would absolutely recommend checking out Lake Kalamalka.  There were all levels of trails making it accessible to everyone.  

As a reward for my achievement, I knew I had a surprise waiting for me on the other end.  He does this for me sometimes (which drives me a bit crazy but I completely love it), where he tells me he has a surprise and I get one guess per day leading up to it.  I will be the first to admit, he would corroborate this for sure, I am not a professional class guesser.   It usually goes something like this- 1) Are going someplace? 2) Are we driving? 3) Have I been there? 4) Is it North/South/East/West?…. You get the idea.   He is sweet, humors me and eventually time is on my side, and I get my surprise.  After getting a “yes” to the first question of “Are we going somewhere? “, guessing was futile as my geographical knowledge of BC is limited to say the least. So after the run, I hobbled myself to the car, melted into the seat and stared out the window watching the gorgeous fall day unfold on the way to my well-earned surprise.

Getting there…

As we made our way from Lake Kalamalka down highway 97 towards Kelowna, it was easy to get lost in the beautiful scenery passing by….even if your muscles are aching and your head isn’t quite right from just running 13 miles.   As a Californian transplant to the Pacific Northwest, the shoulder seasons continually surprise and delight me in so many ways.  The fall colors that decorate the tall mountains and lakes are truly spectacular.  If you have never experienced a road trip through southern British Columbia in the Fall, you are missing out.  I threw out a guess that we were going to Kelowna for my surprise and was quickly shot down.  We continued down the highway which borders the Okanagan lake, and after passing through some cute little lake towns I spied a plateau across the lake that had a series of orchards and vineyards all the way to the edge.  Being that it was Fall, the colors were in full effect. Yellows, oranges, different shades of rust, it was gorgeous.  I commented on how beautiful it was and asked what it was, and that was when I got my smile that told me I had discovered where we were going.  He said we were going to Naramata, which still meant nothing to me, but I was excited to find out. 

Where we stayed….

The best part of being surprised is that I didn’t have to do any of the arrangements!  We rolled through town and made our way to an adorable house that had the AirBNB we would be spending the next few days.  It was named The Naramata Creek Guest House and it was ADORABLE.  The hosts were thoughtful about every detail and embodied the spirit of the area.  It was a bed and breakfast, so we were able to put in our requests for home made treats such as muffins, crepes, sausage, coffee/lattes that arrived through an adorable pass through closet at our requested time.   Apparently, the house is blessed with magical treat fairies, and we were surprised on a few occasions by chocolates and wine. The bed was comfortable and the hot tub was exactly what my sore body needed.  Outside of having to walk up a steep flight of stairs to get to the suite, it was perfect.  I hope to go again sometime, it was really special. 

What we ate….

We arrived right after the end of the season and many wineries and restaurants were closed for the winter.  By the time we arrived on the day of the epic run, it was fairly late so our choices for food were dictated by what was open.   The universe was smiling on us because we lucked out and ended up at The Bistro at Hillside Winery.  We were able to sit outside with the heaters and the ambiance of the tall, wooden winery was hard to beat.  The server was friendly and attentive and put no rush on us despite it being the end of the evening.  We shared a special for 2  with lamb that was amazing.  She paired it with a red wine and I have zero complaints on anything that evening.  

Breakfasts were taken care of at the suite, and every morning was better than the previous. It is such a treat to not have to cook or go anywhere for that first meal of the day.  It is even more of a treat, when you get to enjoy it in a cozy robe after a morning hot tub too!  The Naramata Creek Guest House is next level…. GO THERE!  You’re welcome. 

We enjoyed a lovely charcuterie platter and pasta with a glass of white wine at Serendipity Winery.  The grounds were beautiful and there was a great covered patio that we were able to sit at.  The service couldn’t compare to the previous evening and you did get the sense that the staff was winding down for the off season.  Being in wine country does put me in such a good mood that the view made up for anything that was lacking on the service side. 

2 other places we visited on this weekend getaway were Therapy Vineyards and Legends Distillery.  The property at Therapy was more memorable than the wine for me.  The vineyards stretch out over the plateau with the lake beyond it.  It was easy to just stare out there and half ignore the quirky but nice enough person pouring our tastings.  The gin at Legends distillery was excellent. The person serving was friendly and knowledgeable about the history of the distillery and the spirits they make there.  The building was full of personality and we purchased a nice bottle of gin to take home as a souvenir.   

Our final dinner wasn’t the highlight of the trip but it was fun nevertheless.  Reservations were a must for the popular restaurants so we ended up with 2nd choice.  We made the short drive down to Penticton, hoping to try out Elma’s ( a cool looking Turkish restaurant) but ended  a few doors down at Salty’s Beach House. The food was just ok for bar type fare, as were the drinks, but people watching was fun as our neighboring patron was super stoned and wasn’t trying to hide it.   It is likely a blast in the summer being right on the beach, but for a romantic weekend trip I would pass next time.  

One last winery we hit up on our way out of town worth mentioning was 50th Parallel Estate Winery and BLOCK ONE restaurant located between Kelowna and Vernon. It was a bit off the highway but the modern building nestled in the vineyards overlooking the north part of the Okanagan Lake was something to be seen.  The food and service was as good as the surroundings.  We didn’t partake in any tastings but the bustling tasting room led me to believe that it was topnotch. 

What we did….

I have to say the activities mostly involved eating, drinking and enjoying the Guesthouse, but there were plenty of trails and scenery to enjoy nearby as well.  We took some lovely drives to check out the new mansions and estates that occupy the area.  We followed some roads up on the north end of town that provided spectacular views of the lake and the plateau.    

We visited Creek Park, which was a lovely little trail right off the main road that led us to a waterfall.  We also took a nice, flat recovery run on the Kettle Valley Rail Trail.  Everything was green and the paths were all well kept with few people around, just how we like it. 

Parting thoughts…

I have such warm feelings when thinking back on our visit to Naramata.  I love discovering new places and feeling that appreciation for how much is out there in the world to be seen.    I have been to wine country in California, which is lovely, but the combination of the sparkling water and the manicured agriculture in this region of British Columbia was something else. I hope to take another trip here, maybe in the summertime to experience it during the on season, but Fall was great for avoiding the crowds and seeing how nature unfolds before winter.  This trip was perfect in so many ways and I couldn’t be more grateful for my guy’s knack for knowing how to surprise me with new and wonderful places.

-P.R.

Houseboat For Sale in Salmon Arm

Houseboat close up outside

Houseboat on dock

Houseboat on pier

Houseboat upper helm

Lake view from houseboat

Lake view to rear of houseboat

Houseboat slide is super fun

Dining area on houseboat

Light and fan on wall of stateroom

There are 2 staterooms like this.  Another one with a raised bed and closet.  There are 3 cuddy sleeping areas with double beds and a room with a double size bunk bed.
There are 2 staterooms like this. Another one with a raised bed and closet. There are 3 cuddy sleeping areas with double beds and a room with a double size bunk bed.

The hot tub makes the boat fun even in the rain and cooler months of the year.
The hot tub makes the boat fun even in the rain and cooler months of the year.

There are 2 bathrooms.  The main bathroom has a shower as well.
There are 2 bathrooms. The main bathroom has a shower as well.

View of calm lake from houseboat

63 Foot Vessel of Fun

Your new houseboat is better than a cabin at the lake for a lot less! With capacity to sleep 17 people, you can host your entire family! You have all the amenities of home with a fully furnished and ready to enjoy houseboat. The kitchen is fully stocked with 2 dual power fridges, a microwave, coffee maker, toaster, full size propane stove, pots, pans, dishes, utensils, glasses, cups, and even stemware.

I already replaced all these items with new replacements, so you don’t have to worry about them:
Major leg service. Required dry dock and disconnecting from engine. Over $3000.
Starter
Alternator
Distributor
Starter Battery
Bank of 6, 6V Batteries. Over $1200.
Engine Water Pump
Engine Impeller
Hot Tub Heater. This is a rare unit worth over $1500 including install.
Top deck outside speakers.
Furnace Thermostat.

Specs
Model: Waterway Houseboats Mirage, built in 1996
Sleeps: 17
3 staterooms with double beds.
3 cuddies with double beds.
1 room with 2 double bunk beds.
1 96” sofa in the living room.

Kitchen: fully equipped
Dishes, cups, glasses, wine glasses, utensils, etc.
Propane stove – 4 burners and full size oven.
2 Dometic dual power fridges. Run on propane and/or electricity.
Microwave
Coffeemaker
BBQ on the deck.

Living and Dining Area
Dining table with leaf to seat 6.
2 Barstools
Large 96 inch sofa.
Wet bar.
TV & DVD player.
Stereo with auxiliary input.
Steering helm with VHF radio and fish finder.
18 life vests.

Bathrooms
3 piece bath includes shower, sink, and toilet.
2 piece bath includes sink and toilet.
Hot Tub: 8 person. Fills from lake and heats within 2 – 4 hours with efficient and new propane heater.
Top Deck – large and open with the 8 person hot tub and a bimini cover for the front area of the deck which is not shown in any of the pictures as I prefer the sunshine. The cover is included. There’s also a steering helm and stereo for the top deck. As noted, the top deck speakers were replaced with top rated Pioneer marine grade speakers.

Maintenance Costs
Winterize and summerize: $200 – $300 each.
Insurance: $1450 per year.
Park Fees: $15 per night is the cost to park at any of the provincial parks on the Shuswap Lake system. A season pass can be purchased for about $600.
Taxes: $0. This is another benefit over a cabin on the lake.

Length: 63’
Width: 16’
Height: 18’ to top of bimini, 12’ to top of structure. (Approximate.)
Weight: 26,000 pounds (Approximate.)
Fuel Capacity: 750 litres (Approximate.)
Holding Tank: 800 litres (Approximate.)
Engine: Volvo Penta 3L
Power: 6 x 6 volt deep cycle cabin batteries charged by alternator or shore power. System includes battery isolator and Heart Interface power inverter for 110V.
Propane: 4 x 60 pound tanks.

Make this amazing floating cabin yours for way less than any waterfront property on the Shuswap. Call, text or email to setup a viewing. It’s currently moored in Canoe, near Salmon Arm.
Yours for $89,900! Call Dave today at 250-574-2932.

Sicamous from Kamloops by Houseboat

The Crew: Jonas, Kent, and I.
The Mission: Voyage our 63′ houseboat 157 kms from the Dot Calm Marina in Kamloops to Waterways Houseboats in Sicamous.

First I spent days preparing for the journey by making sure all the components on the boat were operational after the winter. Fuel also needed to be hauled to the boat, so I made several trips to transfer fuel to fill the tank for the long, upstream voyage.

The other major challenge was getting the CN Rail bridge in downtown Kamloops opened. My first contacts with CN were useless. Finally through some personal connections I reached Sheridan Walker (250-371-1612), who coordinated the necessary crew. Robin Marcello (250-318-1399) was also instrumental in getting the bridge opened.

We embarked early Thursday morning to make sure we’d have plenty of daylight time on the water. Our first stop was Riverside Park where we tied to a piling while we waited for the bridge to be opened. It hadn’t been opened for some time, so replacement parts needed to be installed by the railway crew. Finally around 12:30 we passed through the bridge. (Jonas or Kent, you have pics of that?) It was a beautiful warm day of 28 degrees celsius as we plodded up the South Thompson. Kent made his exit at the LaFarge bridge around 16:30. Shortly after dropping Kent, we were cutting corners to try and make up time. That’s when we ran the front up on a sandbar a couple feet under the surface. It took about 30 minutes of manoeuvring to dislodge the boat and we were back on our way. Jonas and I continued on to Pritchard where we landed in the dark a little after 22:00. Luckily Amanda met us with some cold beer and we shared a late dinner of steak.

It was another early morning on the second day. (Amanda departed for the day, to return later in the evening.) Jonas and I had an uneventful morning until the S-curves leading into Chase. That’s where the current picked up a lot and we had to up the RPM’s to 3000 to make painstakingly slow progress. After an hour battling the current of the S-curves, we sailed into Little Shuswap Lake. As it was Friday, we spent most of the afternoon coordinating with our party crew; where to pick them up, what to bring, how they’d get back. St. Ives was the chosen pick-up and drop-off. Later in the afternoon a storm chased us across the lake and gave us a good tailwind. We met Amanda, Carly, Christina, Marcel, & Virginia at St. Ives around 21:00. After quickly installing and testing new marine speakers for the top deck, we continued on to Nielsen Beach. Again we made landfall shortly after 22:00 in the twilight. After a family dinner, a quick drinking game, (What was that called? No teeth!), and filling our cups for a wander up the beach to meet our neighbours. All in all, a pretty uneventful night.

Morning brought rain and we had to get moving to stay on the sailing schedule. After dropping everyone back at St. Ives, I continued on solo to Waterways, just past Sicamous. Two and a half days, 34 boating hours, and 157kms later, I arrived at Waterways! Epic Voyage of a lifetime!
(See below photos for customized route map.)

Sunrise in Kamloops at 5:30 am in May.
Sunrise in Kamloops at 5:30 am in May.

Another perfect day in sunny Kamloops.
Another perfect day in sunny Kamloops.

View to the North Thompson in Kamloops

It's a perfect day on the Thompson River in Kamloops as we embark on a 3 day voyage to Waterway's in Sicamous.
It’s a perfect day on the Thompson River in Kamloops as we embark on a 3 day voyage to Waterway’s in Sicamous.

Looking back as we power up the South Thompson River.
Looking back as we power up the South Thompson River.

On the morning of the second day, the sun rises over the Pritchard bridge.
On the morning of the second day, the sun rises over the Pritchard bridge.

The trestle bridge in Pritchard is an icon.  It marks the beginning of our second day.
The trestle bridge in Pritchard is an icon. It marks the beginning of our second day.

View from the Captain's helm of the houseboat.
View from the Captain’s helm of the houseboat.

We're about to pass under the bridge in Chase that crosses the South Thompson River.
We’re about to pass under the bridge in Chase that crosses the South Thompson River.

Around noon of the second day, we entered the calm waters of Little Shuswap Lake.
Around noon of the second day, we entered the calm waters of Little Shuswap Lake.

Jonas watches for deadheads.  We were pretty happy to be off the river and enjoy some easy lake boating.
Jonas watches for deadheads. We were pretty happy to be off the river and enjoy some easy lake boating.

Little Shuswap makes for easy sailing compared to the South Thompson River.
Little Shuswap makes for easy sailing compared to the South Thompson River.

A storm blew in from behind as we chugged up the Shuswap to pick-up our crew in St. Ives.
A storm blew in from behind as we chugged up the Shuswap to pick-up our crew in St. Ives.

Sun shines through the storm clouds on the Shuswap

On the third day we woke up to rain on the Shuswap.
On the third day we woke up to rain on the Shuswap.

Shipmates cuddle while some of us cook breakfast.
Shipmates cuddle while some of us cook breakfast.

Map of 157 km Epic Voyage by Houseboat: