South America. It’s like America, but south

After a long winter (which just won’t end, another winter storm tonight), Dave and I have something excited to look forward to this spring. We are going to Peru in April!!!

machu_picchu_630px

Photo from Hiram Bingham’s exploration

 

After a couple adventures in Europe (Spain & France) and our amazing honeymoon in New Zealand (Part 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6,), its time to take an adventure south. The plan is to explore Cusco and the Sacred Valley as we make our way to Machu Picchu and finish out the adventure with a couple days in Lima.

If you haven’t see the PBS program on Machu Picchu, I highly recommend checking it out. We saw it a couple years ago and just re-watched it this weekend. Countdown has officially begun, can’t wait!!

 

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At the moment…

marttinlutherkingjrqoute

… reflecting on the life of a great man, who left this world far too soon. MLK is such an inspiring leader, take a moment to read/watch some of his speeches, his words will move you.

… finished all the final touches for my husband’s birthday extravaganza.

… I’m also using MLK’s quote as an inspiration to keep up my winter running. There is a half marathon in Delaware coming up in March that my husband and I also say we will run. I think this is our year.

… slightly obsessed with the band Haim, I’ve been listening to their album on repeat for weeks straight. They play in Philly in May, not sure I can wait that long to see them live.

… realizing that I did a similar blog post only twice last year, one being January 15th, guess this is my thing in January.

… we are trying to decide where to go on our next travel adventure, somewhere in Central or South America. Any recommendations???

… sad that the fire station on our block moved over the weekend to their new station. I’m going to miss the fire engine going down our block and saying Hi to the guys on my daily walk with Daisy, their absence is already noticed.

… looking forward to a short work week!

Tootles!

The one in Spain and France

Boy has time really flown by, how is it already November?  Just thinking back on the year, at first I’m not sure what the heck I’ve been doing, but my monthly calendar is full of past activities, so I guess I’ve been busy. We did go on a lot of fun mainland vacations this year (guess that’s where the time has gone!), mostly visiting family. This year we went to New Orleans, Virginia Tech, Denver, New Mexico and California. And we were in Seattle last Christmas. Although it would be nice to be close to all of our family, it sure is nice to have some great places to visit!

One thing we did not do this year is go on a overseas adventure. I didn’t really blog about our last overseas adventure, but last October we went to Girona, the Costa Brava and Barcelona in Spain and Cathar country/castles in the Languedoc region of France. Basically we rented a car and explored a corner of Spain and a corner of France, it was an amazing trip.

Here’s a few pictures from our adventures:

Girona - river viewGirona, Spain

Amazing first mealBest meal ever!

Montsegur - parking lot view 3Château de Montségur

Mountains 2Pyrenees Mountains

Monsterrat RocksMontserrat

View of SF 1La Sagrada Família

Me - bench 1At Parc Güell

Dave at Olympic StadiumAt Olympic Stadium

Happy November!

At the moment…

…I have totally failed on the February Photo Challenge I blogged about at the beginning of this month. I wanted to experiment with my phone to take pictures, but my phone is on the blink. I’ll take a photo and then I can’t pull up the images, plus I realize the quality of the photos totally sucks. And my laptop is also dying a slow death, so I haven’t been uploading any photos on my computer, afraid I might see the blue screen of death before backing them up. Maybe next month? Maybe I’ll just get an iPhone and Mac and solve all my problems?

…totally rocking my half marathon training, thanks to my super awesome training partner (best-husband-ever!). I was following a seven week training plan and slowly increasing my long run every week, with some 4-5 mile days during the week. I managed to do 9 miles on a treadmill (snow outside) and find a couple days where it wasn’t too windy out to get in my 10 and 11 miles, over the last 2 weekends.

…thinking this is going to be a great year of running. Already thinking of doing another half marathon next month and joined the lottery for the Broad Street 10 miler in May.

…excited to visit New Orleans again and enjoy some good Cajun food!

…J’aime beaucoup parler français! I’m totally loving my French class. It’s hard to find time to practice daily, but I’m starting to get the basics down.

…designing in my head a whole new everything for our bedroom.

…so excited that I am now a preferred member of an airline! Now I understand why people just book flights just to fly in order to get enough miles to maintain their status. PHL-PHX-AUK-SFO-IAD-PHL, might be my plans for next weekend.

…this preferred status is part of my problem, you see I’m addicted to travel. Oh how I wish travelling the world could be my job!

Travel: Scottsdale, AZ

At the beginning of May, Dave and I took an anniversary trip/family meet-up to Scottsdale, Arizona. My cousin was graduating from Arizona Statue University, so we thought it would be great to see my family and have some fun in the sun. My husband found us some amazing hotel and car rental deals for our trip. Our hotel was pretty nice, good location, pool and we had a nice balcony that we hung out on every night. We also enjoyed some great weather while in AZ, a warm dry heat in the 90s, with cool nights.

‘hugging’ a cactus

 

The first night we got there, we hung out with my family and enjoyed a very New Mexican treat. The next day we met up with the  family for breakfast at the Good Egg. They have a ton of locations in the Phoenix area, so it seemed like quite the local place to go for breakfast. My cousin’s graduation was later in the evening, but he called in the afternoon with some news. Turns out the graduation dinner was still on, but there would be no graduation ceremony. He was so busy studying for his PhD entrance exam that he forgot to complete all the required steps and get the right gown for the ceremony. So we just skipped the boring stuff and headed to dinner at Monti’s in Tempe.

Family with the graduation boy

The next morning we went on a hike up Camelback Mountain. We went on the Cholla trail, which is not as popular as the Echo Canyon trail. We headed up the trail and enjoyed some nice views of the area and even saw a pretty cool lizard.

Big lizard

We made it to the flat rock area and then it turned into a pretty strenuous hike where we were climbing up rocks to continue up the trail to the top. At this point it was hot and the hike was a taking longer than we had read on the internet. And I’m a wimp, see I can admit it Dave! It was too much rock climbing sans safety rope for me, so we headed back without making it to the top. After a nice lunch with the family, we relaxed at the pool for a bit.

Later that night we headed down to Old Town Scottsdale for dinner. We had seen an ad in the USAirways magazine for the Old Town Tortilla Factory and after a couple other people recommended it, we decided to check it out. What a great restaurant! It on the edge of Old Town with a great outdoor patio decked in lights, they make some great margaritas and have delicious food.

Entrance

Saturday was our last full day in AZ, my family left earlier that morning, so we spent they day relaxing.  We scheduled a couples massage at a local spa in Scottsdale as a special anniversary treat. Then we spent the rest of the day relaxing at the pool. Dinner that night was an interesting experience at the Saddle Ranch Chop House in Scottsdale. This place is a master at the up sell with free shots, giant beers and cotton candy bigger than your head. The food and service was good, but the fun was more in the people watching.

We couldn’t go to Arizona without playing a little golf, so we hit some balls at the driving range. There’s no golf in our future, but practicing our swing was a lot of fun!

Golf hottie!

We also stopped by Frank Lloyd Wrights winter home, Taliesin West. We didn’t have time to go on the tour, but were able to see some of the area. The aerial view makes the property look gigantic, maybe on the next visit out.

Before heading to the airport, we walked around downtown Tempe to check out the campus area and grab some lunch. Overall we had a fantastic vacation celebrating our anniversary, my cousin’s book smarts and visiting with family. Scottsdale is pretty relaxing and with Arizona having so much to see and do, so I’m sure we will be back in the future.

Travel: Los Angeles

Last weekend, I met a couple of my friends out in Los Angeles for a  girls weekend. We were staying in downtown L.A., but had a car to explore other areas.

When we arrived on Friday afternoon, it was raining, not the hot sunny weather we were hoping for. We still went out and explored the downtown area, there seemed to be a lot of cool hidden gems in the downtown area.

Library

Angels Flight

Grand Central Market

The architecture was a combo of old and new. We enjoyed some fantastic sushi (Wokcano) for a late lunch and enjoyable Italian food for dinner (Louie).

On Saturday, we headed west to explore other cities in the area. After a walk on Rodeo Drive, we had a ‘ladies who lunch’ lunch at the Beverly Hills Hotel.

Rodeo Drive

Beverly Hills Hotel

After a good over-priced lunch we kept west and made it to Venice Beach. The people watching here is amazing, so many free spirits, not-so-hot men attempting to look cool at muscle beach and just interesting Californians.

Sunglasses!

After a walk on the beach, we spent the afternoon window shopping at Abbot Kinney, a street in Venice with cool boutiques, vintage shops and cafes. All the window shopping called for margaritas (including a refreshing spicy cucumber marg) and tacos at another restaurant downtown, Mas Malo.

Sunday was an arranged tour day. We had a half day adventure exploring the Hollyhock house designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and the Getty Museum. Both places were really cool, highly recommend checking them out if you are in the Los Angeles area.

Outside Hollyhock House

Living room inside Hollyhock

Cool view at the Getty

Our flight home was later in the evening, so we headed to Hollywood to hike in Runyon Canyon and have lunch at Pink’s Hot Dogs. No celebrity spotting during our hike, but we had a fantastic view of the city and the Hollywood sign. And the hike was worth while to enjoy a delicious chili dog at Pink’s

Hollywood sign

Pinks

It was a quick trip to L.A, but we had some fantastic food, were able to see quite a lot and had a great time!

Going back to Cali

Happy Friday to me!

I’m leaving on a jet plane early tomorrow morning to head to L.A. for a girls weekend.

Too bad the weather on the east coast will be warmer than in Cali this weekend, oh well.

Hope you have a fantastic weekend!

Travel: Where to next?

With so many places to go in the world it’s so hard to choose where our next travel adventure will be.

Yes, we have a lot of the US left to explore, but we want to explore as much of the rest of the world while we can.

Below are a few places that have made the list so far:

Ireland

Cork, Ireland

via

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Greece

Athens

via

Santorini

via

Easter Island/Chile

Easter Island

via

Chile

via

Spain

Madrid

via

Seville

via

We are hoping to go somewhere this fall. Hopefully we’ll make a decision this summer, maybe it will be somewhere not listed above!

Travel: Birthday Fun in NYC

A couple weeks ago, I planned a trip for Dave and I to go up to New York City to celebrate his birthday. It ended up being a cold snowy weekend in the city, but we still managed to celebrate in style!

We took the New Jersey transit up to Penn Station on Friday afternoon. This saved us so much money, why is Amtrak so expensive?!?! We stayed at this little hotel in Chelsea with a view of the Empire State Building.

View from our window

We had dinner reservations later in the evening, so with a few hours to kill, we went to check out the Chelsea Market. This place was pretty cool, a mixture of shops, restaurants, and bakeries. The structure of the building was cool too, looked like an old warehouse made into something awesome. We browsed through the different shops and enjoyed a local craft beer at one of the restaurants.

Holy Nutella!

Our reservations for dinner that night were at Collichio & Sons. When I confirmed our reservations, I mentioned it was a celebration dinner for Dave’s birthday and they added some nice special touches to make it a memorable meal. First off, they added “Happy Birthday Dave” to the menu. We ordered a bottle of wine and at the end of the night, gave us the label from our bottle. We ordered the tasting menu and enjoyed a crab and sea urchin fondue and an amazing aged sirloin. We ended the night with some desserts they brought out, especially for Dave’s birthday. And to top everything off, they give everyone a tasty muffin to take home and enjoy the next day. It was an amazing meal and experience.

The next day we awoke to snow. Luckily it was only a few inches, but it was a pretty cold day. We hit up the local bagel shop (Murray’s Bagel) next to our hotel, but it wasn’t as good as we expected it to you, the bagel’s didn’t even seem fresh! We spent the day exploring different parts of the city, from Grand Central Station to the Brooklyn Bridge. We enjoyed lunch at Eataly in the Flat Iron district, a really cool new Italian Market. And then we went to the Tenement Museum on the Lower East Side. This museum is pretty awesome, with lots of different tours on immigrant history. We went on a tour of a tenement house, where they had a room with over 30 layers of wallpaper on the wall.

Brooklyn Bridge

That night we had dinner in SOHO at the Mercer Kitchen. The meal was hard to beat the night before, but there was a very trendy cool vibe to the place. After, we enjoyed a few beers at the Beauty Bar and the Trailer Park Bar. It was a themed bar night for us!

On Sunday before we headed back to DE, we found a good bagel at Brooklyn Bagel (the bagels were at least fresh!) and then went to explore the High Line Park. Dave has heard many things about the High Line through his work, so part of the reason for going to NYC was to be able to check out the park in person.

Walking the High Line

There was an abandoned elevated rail line that they turned into a pretty cool park. It’s always cool to see how you transfer something ugly into nice green space. Everything around the park seems to be transforming as well. Parks are cool!

Watch the ice!

We had a great time exploring the city together, which was a first for us. We hope to go back and explore more of the city when it’s a little warmer out. After lunch at a NY deli, we were on the train and headed home in time to pick up Daisy. A fabulous way to celebrate Dave’s birthday!

Birthday Sandwich

Honeymoon Journal: Part 6

It doesn’t seem right to sum up all of the fun we had on the North Island into 1 post, but its been over 2 months since we have been back and it’s time to come to a close. Enjoy!

So traveling between islands in New Zealand is so easy, no security, no long lines, show up twenty minutes before and you are good to go! We flew from Nelson back to Auckland, picked up our rental car, relived the Rugby World Cup with the rental agent, and then headed South for Rotorua. After a couple hours of driving and a quick bite for lunch our first stop in Rotorua was to the amazing ‘i-site’ info center in town. Every town in New Zealand has one and they are fantastic. Had we known, we wouldn’t have booked anything before hand and just relied on the great local knowledge and information available to us at these centers. Throughout our trip we went to the ‘i-site’ in most of the places we visited, whether to book tours, use the restroom or just grab a couple brochures/return brochures. Just a little shout-out to this amazing service they offer throughout New Zealand.

At the info center we booked a Hangi, which is the Maori form of cooking and along with a great meal comes some Maori entertainment. Before the Hangi, we went to the Rainbow Springs Kiwi Wildlife park to see a kiwi. We actually saw 2 kiwi’s in the exhibit plus a baby kiwi! Since kiwi’s are nocturnal, the exhibit is pretty dark and no pictures are allowed. The 1 kiwi we saw the most, as he was wondering around to eat, was pretty big, and oh so cute! We saw all kinds of cool birds at the park including a kea, weka’s, a awesome grey parrot named Mandela, and various other birds and even some cool rainbow trout. You even get a bottle to fill up with fresh Rainbow spring water!

I spotted an All Black Kiwi!
Coolest parrot ever!

After the wildlife park, it was time to have a Maori feast. The Maori would dig a pit in the ground and use heated rocks to steam meat, potatoes and vegetables.

Hot Rocks!

The food cooked in the traditional Maori form was excellent! Of course they also had other yummy New Zealand food including lamb, green-lipped mussels and Pavlova (meringue based dessert). We sat at a table with another newlywed couple from England  the the girls kiwi parents and a couple from Korea who ate about 3 plate fulls of green-lipped mussels. After dinner there was a show of traditional Maori dancing and games which required some audience participation, so we were called up on stage.

Dave with a Maori warrior

The next day we went to check out Wai-O-Tapu geothermal park. They have a geyser (not as cool when we learned they set it off once a day), volcanic craters, mud pools (which make a really cool bass noise as it boils), amazing geothermal colors we had never seen before including the Champagne Pool.

Lady Knox Geyser
Mud Pools
Volcanic Valley
Watch Out!
Champagne Pool

Yes, that is the color of the water

After exploring the geothermal park, we went to check out the Waikite Valley Thermal Pools. They have 6 different pools they fill up daily with water from the Te Manaroa natural boiling spring (of coursed it is cooled off first). We went in all 6 pools and even did the eco-trail to see the spring. This was an amazing experience, the water was so warm, it was hard to get out of the water. We had a lovely view of the local landscape (a farm) and felt so relaxed. Loud music and a soda were necessary to keep me from falling asleep as we drove to Taupo. Driving in this area was pretty cool because all around you could see steam coming from the ground.

When we arrived in Taupo and went to the i-site to book our bus ride for our big adventure the next day.  We had wanted to try out Hell’s Pizza, but it wasn’t really a restaurant and didn’t serve any alcohol, a deal breaker in our book. So we ate some real pizza and enjoyed some beers at an Italian restaurant next door. After a stop to a crappy grocery store (no pre-made sandwiches!) to load up for the next day’s adventure we were back to our hotel to hit the sack.

We were up early for our bus pick up at 6:15 in the morning, we were on our way to do the Tongariro Alpine Crossing!And we were lucky because we had a nice day. The crossing is 19.4k (12 miles) and takes about 7-9 hours. You bascially walk the length of Mount Tongariro, starting in one valley and ending in another with views of Mount Ruapehu (an active volcano) in the distance and Mount Ngauruhoe (also known as Mount Doom, LOTR) which is an option to climb to the summit. It’s important to be prepared with food, water and clothing because the weather can change in an instant up at the top. Although we saw plenty of people that did not heed to that advice (kids wearing flip flops, really?!?).

Beginning at zero

It’s all uphill in the beginning, going up the Devil’s Staircase to the South Crater.

Up and up we go

Once in the South Crater you climb the ridge of the crater to Red Crater. Before we made it to the top of the ride, we veered off and did the Tongariro Summit.

Dave in the South Crater

The summit trail was marked, but you basically walked along the side of the mountain. When we were almost at the summit, there was snow on the trail. I was good going to the top but coming down on the snow I was scared. A couple ran down in the snow as I scooted on my butt. When I got to the bottom of the snow part I realized it wasn’t that bad, but I already looked like a big whimp in my husband’s eyes.

Trail to the Tongariro Summit

Up the snow

View from the top

Once we made it back to the main trail, we continued on the ridge to the top of Red Crater. In the trail information, it does state on a windy day, you may have to crawl, thank god it wasn’t windy! Once at the top though, you must go down, and down a steep loose trail. It was eaiser to slide down the loose rock, but I didn’t realize that till half way down. Again, my husband was thinking I was being cautious, but the last thing I wanted to do was fall off the trail to my death, which was not just in my head, it was a real possibility.

Going down the trail to Emerald Lakes
The trail we just came down

 Once down by Emerald Lakes, the hard part was over and I survived! We had lunch and continued on to Blue Lake.

Us by Blue Lake

From here, it’s a short climb to North Crater and the landscape changes dramatically, it looks more like a grass valley. Because it was a nice day, we had a spectacular view of Lake Rotoaira and Lake Taupo.

Amazing!

And the rest of the hike it zigzagging your way down through the valley, then into a forest and finally you make it to the car park. And boy is it hard on your feet going down, it seems like it never ends. We made good time going down, partly because of the pain and need for the downhill to end and were back on the bus to Taupo.

Glad to be done!

We did the crossing in about 8 hours which included the side journey to Tongariro Summit, for a total of 16 miles. I was definitely scared at times, but the amazing views and just the experience made all 16 miles worth it! After a long hot shower, we enjoyed a nice meal of local NZ food and a few local beers at Plateau.We both slept like a rock that night!

The next day was our last full day in New Zealand! We couldn’t leave New Zealand without seeing the glow worm caves in Waitimo and if your going to visit some caves you might as well go caving with the Black Water Rafting company! This was our last big adventure and frankly after canyoning, this was pretty easy and a lot of fun! We decided to do the Black Abyss tour. We got all decked out in wet suits and helmets, loaded into a van to a hole in the ground and learned some safety tips. From there we abseiled 35 meters (110 feet) into the cave.

Abseiling like a pro

We walked around in the cave, saw some stalagmites and then zip-lined in the dark with glow worms above us. You land on a rock formed platform and after a quick break, jump with a inter-tube into the cold water. We floated around and checked out the glow worms, learning that they aren’t really worms, they are larvae of flies (maggots). After our view of the glow worms, we dropped off our tubes and slid down a small waterfall slide and continued through the caves. We squeezed through a tight space or two and then were told that we need to climb up a few waterfalls in order to get out of the caves. There was no set path or anything, it was just our guide telling us where to put our hands and feet as we climbed up a waterfall. It was pretty awesome, though a bit unsafe considering you could slip with the wrong hand/foot placement! 3 waterfall’s later and we were out of the cave.

Dave climbing out of the cave

It was cold down in the cave, but we had a fantastic time. We were with a pretty cool group and had 2 great guides. It was a great tour, check it out if you want to see the glow worms in Waitimo.

After our caving adventure, we drove a few hours to Auckland. What a difference from the South Island in overall scenery, it is much more populated especially as you get closer to Auckland. It was weird to actually be on a highway (they call it a motorway). We made it to Auckland and changed to enjoy our final night out in the city.

Me in Auckland

We found a great place to eat outside on the waterfront and enjoyed our final meal. It was weird that we would be leaving the next day. It wasn’t that we were necessarily ready to go, it had been a fantastic honeymoon, but our journey had ended so we knew we had to leave.

Sky Tower

We had some time in the morning to walk around Auckland and do some final souvenir shopping before heading to the airport. We were treated like royalty again on Qantas only to get back to the US and get sub par service on USAirways. We made it back home after our honeymoon adventure with nothing but amazing memories!

New Zealand, you are such an amazing part of the world! What more could you ask for in a country with amazing scenery, wonderful people full of such charm and class, and lots of adventures! We hope to make it back one day to enjoy more of all you have to offer. Thanks for the memories!

Special thanks to my husband, I’m so lucky to have an amazing travel buddy to explore the world with! You are fantastic at helping to find cool places to explore and without your enthusiasm I might not have experienced some of the most amazing adventures we had in New Zealand!