Posted in Travel Adventures

Honeymoon in NYC

When you think honeymoon, you most likely think of white, sandy beaches and warm ocean breezes. Not us. When planning our honeymoon we were looking to fill our days with museums, history, architecture, great food and nightlife. Destination: New York City. The day after we said ‘I do” we boarded a plane for the Big Apple touching down for what was one of our most memorable adventures.

The Details

We spent 5 nights in the bustling city, resting our heads at the Washington Jefferson Hotel in the Theater District. It was a great location and reasonably priced. Here’s how we tackled the sights of this sprawling city.

  • Day 1
    • We’d taken an early morning flight and arrived at our hotel around Noon. Our itinerary had just two items on it; walk the Brooklyn Bridge and enjoy dinner in Little Italy.
    • Brooklyn Bridge
      • The bridge spans the East River and connects Manhattan with the borough of Brooklyn. The spiderweb of suspension cables is spell binding and beautiful.
    • Little Italy
      • We ate dinner at Il Palazzo. A great, old school Italian restaurant with a cozy atmosphere and a long wine list. Sadly, Il Palazzo is now permanently closed.
  • Day 2
    • Empire State Building
      • The Empire State building is the 4th tallest in NYC, at 1,050. We bought our tickets for the 86th floor observatory to take in great panoramic views of the city.
    • Fifth Avenue and St. Patrick’s Cathedral
      • We strolled along the famous avenue to window shop at Saks, FAO Schwartz and Bergdorf Goodman before poking our heads into St. Patrick’s Cathedral.
    • Lunch Break: street vendor hot dog and pretzel
    • Grand Central Station
      • It’s estimated 50,000 people stream through Grand Central Station everyday. We came not to board a train but to be awed by the main concourse, flooded with natural light and beauty.
    • Chrysler Building
      • This art deco style building pays tribute to the automobile with it’s hub cap like steel upper third.
    • Flatiron Building
      • This triangular building has been intriguing visitors since 1902 and it caught our fascination as well. It quickly became my favorite building in the city.
    • NYC Pizza and the Comedy Cellar
      • We ate and laughed until our stomachs hurt at Lombardi Pizza and the Comedy Cellar Club. Lombardi’s is credited with dishing up the very first New York style pizza. The Comedy Cellar Club boosts great stand up comedians like Colin Quinn and Jerry Seinfeld.
  • Day 3
    • Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island
      • At the time of our trip the crown to the statue was not open. I did visit the crown with friends a few years later and I highly recommend it. Advanced reservations are a must.
      • We took the ferry to Liberty Island and toured the pedestal and grounds then ferried onto Ellis Island to tour the National Museum of Immigration.
      • These two stops took 3-4 hours.
    • New York Stock Exchange and Wall Street
      • We walked by these sites and the famous charging bull at 11 Wall Street on our way to grab a New York slice of pizza for lunch.
  • World Trade Center Site
    • Just 5 years post 9/11, the site was filled with heavy machinery and equipment. Having never seen the site prior to the attacks, I was taken back by the enormity of it all. We will need to return now that the 9/11 Memorial has been completed.
  • Wicked at the Gershwin Theater
    • We “never knew so much happened before Dorothy dropped in.” Wicked was our first Broadway Theater performance and it was thrilling. A definite must see.
  • Hourglass Tavern
    • After the show we went to the Hourglass Tavern in the Theater District. The tavern is located in an old brownstone building, making the ambience equally as good as the food.
  • Day 4
    • Central Park
      • We rode the carousel, saw Strawberry Fields, took a horse drawn carriage ride, people watched at the Bethesda Fountain and rowed a boat in Central Park Lake.
      • All of it was very honeymoonish and my favorite memories of our time in NYC.
    • Metropolitan Museum of Art
      • Housing some of the finest art pieces in the world, means the Met is huge. We chose to spend our time exploring just two of the collections that peeked our interest.
    • Osteria del Circo
      • With restaurants in New York City, Dallas and Dubai, diners at Circo are transported to a European style carnival tent atmosphere and upscale Italian eats. If you go, order the salt encrusted sea bass. We loved it and so do Regis Philbin, who was dining just two tables away.
  • Day 5
    • Rockefeller Center and NBC Studios
      • We spent our last day in the city strolling through Rockefeller Center and taking the NBC Studios Tour. The tour take us on the set of Saturday Night Live and Dateline. We also got a chance to use a green screen and deliver the nightly weather report.
    • Times Square
      • We spent out last evening on Times Square where we ate dinner and soaked in the neon lights.

Our honeymoon in the heart of NYC was one of our first trips together and to date, still one of the best. A couple important and interested sights have opened since we visited in 2006. The next time we wake up in the city that never sleeps, we’ll be sure to include stops at the 9/11 Memorial and One World Trade Center, a stroll along the High Line and a sunset at the Top of the Rock.

Posted in Travel Adventures

Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks

Old Faithful at Yellowstone National Park
july 2018

RV There Yet?

Last summer, we loaded up a 28 foot Class C RV we rented and drove about 3,000 miles west to Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks for an 8 night trip in two of American’s most beautiful National Parks. We put on a lot of miles and equally as many smiles as we traversed landscapes and geology millions of years in the making. For this trip, I consulted with friends who had been to the parks before, poured over the park websites and used a guidebook. We made the journey in late July (a very busy time year) so we knew there would be no sleeping in as we tried to beat the hoards of guests as well as the heat at very popular attractions.

Itinerary

  • Day 1-Load up and move out
    • We picked up the rented RV at 2:00pm (the earliest available time) and brought it home to be loaded with clothes and gear. Then it was off to Walmart where we picked up the online grocery order we’d placed the day before. Then we hit the highway.
    • Our first day consisted on loading and packing and about 6 hours of driving to Abraham Lincoln State Park in west central North Dakota. Here we spent the night and were wheels up early the next morning. Wyoming or bust!
  • Day 2-Drive to Yellowstone National Park
    • We spent the entire day on the road.
    • We had planned to cover 630 miles in about 10 hours, but we made a couple stops for lunch in the RV and walked around the town of Bridger, MT. I mean, we have a son named Bridger, so we were obligated right? This meant we didn’t get to Yellowstone and checked into our campsite until about 8:00pm.
    • Bay Bridge Campground (3 nights)
      • We chose Bay Bridge because it is inside the park, could accommodate an RV our size and we could reserve in advance.
      • Camp site are close together here but the location can’t be beat. Since we were in the RV and gone most of the days, we didn’t mind.
  • Day 3-Yellowstone National Park
    • Old Faithful and Geyser Hill
    • We arrived around 7:20am. There were very few people and parking was a breeze. Old Faithful erupts about every 90 minutes, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Get there early!
    • After the eruption we explored Old Faithful Lodge and walked the 1.3 mile Geyser Hill loop to see other geysers including Castle and Grand Geyser.
    • Lunch: we made sandwiches in the RV at a pull out near Midway Geyser Basin.
  • Noon-while everyone was headed to the park restaurants for lunch, we snagged a parking spot at Grand Prismatic Spring.
  • Grand Prismatic Spring was spectacular and photos can’t capture it’s beauty.
  • Fountain Paint Pots-boys were delighted by the sulphur smell
  • Mammoth Hot Springs
    • Highlight: an elk had parked himself on the lower terrace of Mammoth
  • Dinner: we made tacos in the RV at the parking lot at Calcite Springs Overlook.
  • Back to Bay Bridge Campground for campfire and bedtime.
    • Pro tip: We brought a bean bag game, scooters and helmets and soccer balls so the boys could burn energy at the campground while we made supper or took care of other needs.
  • Day 4-Yellowstone
    • We started early again today at the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. We walked to Artist’s Point on the South Rim.
    • We had wanted to hike Uncle Tom’s Trail, but it was under construction so we improvised. We drove to the North Rim to hike Red Rock Point.
    • Then on to Canyon Village where the boys shopped for souvenirs.
    • Then to Mud Volcano to see Dragon’s Breathe and then Sulphur Cauldron.
    • Lunch: picnic area on the way to the Lamar Valley
    • Drive Lamar Valley
      • Trip highlight: before going back to campground we stopped near Pebble Creek where the boys splashed in the icy, rocky river.
  • Day 5-Grand Teton National Park
    • We pulled out of our Yellowstone campsite around 5:30am for the 1.5 hour drive to Grand Teton National Park.
      • Don’t tell anyone but we let the boys sleep while we drove and just enjoyed the sunrise and coffee together.
    • We wanted to get a camp spot of Signal Mountain Campground (2 nights) which is a first-come, first-serve site. We had to circle the campground a couple times, but scored a spot around 7:30am.
  • Once settled in our spot, we got ready for the day and headed to Colter Bay for a short hike. This picture was taken about 10 minutes before we encountered a mama bear and her two cubs. No photos of that thrilling experience.
  • Lunch: On our way into Jackson, WY we stopped at a pullout overlooking Mt. Moran to make a quick lunch in the RV before we went to Jackson Village to ride the Aerial Tram to Rendezvous Peak; elevation 10,540 feet. We didn’t do it, but the waffles at Corbet’s Cabin at the top look good. Boys wanted a cookie instead.
  • Dinner: Jackson at Caldera Pizzeria. A nice break from cooking in the RV every night.
  • Ended the evening at the nightly old west show on Jackson Square.
  • Day-6
    • We were up early again today to get to the Taggert Lake trailhead. The views were amazing!
    • Our boys are young, just 5 and 8 years old so we need to choose hikes that are easy enough and not too long. Taggert checked all the boxes. They wore their National Park Ranger vests with the batches they’ve located from the various parks we’ve visited.
      • Pro tip: let the littles lead and go at their pace. Find them a hiking stick from a fallen branch. Our youngest will often pretend there are dragons on the trail and he will run ahead and slay them for us.

Of all the paths you take in life, I hope a few of them are dirt.

John Muir
  • After our hike we drove Lake Jenny Scenic Drive, Antelope Flats, Signal Mountain, Schwabcher’s Landing and Mormon Row.
  • Dinner: we grilled burgers and hotdogs at Oxbow Bend and watched the sunset over Willow Flats.
  • Day 7-Devils Tower National Monument
    • We hit the road about 5:30am for the 8 hour drive across the state of Wyoming to Devils Tower National Monument. We arrived at the park around 3pm.
    • Walk Tower Trail around the monument. Let kiddos climb rocks and count prayer cloths tied to trees near the monument.
  • Day 8 and Day 9
    • We drove the rest of the way home to Minnesota on day 8 and unloaded and cleaned the RV. It needed to be fully cleaned and ready to be returned to the RV rental company by 10am on day 9.

Tips and Tricks

  • RV travel is great. Kiddos were able to play games and do activities. We didn’t need to stop at restaurants for lunch or snacks. I made lunch while we were moving. Same with bathroom stops, there’s no need with an RV.
  • Pro tip: There is very limited cell/data service in the national parks. Bring an atlas or map.
  • Camp at Devils Tower National Monument-if possible. It’s an awesome campground with a spectacular view and amazing ranger led night program.

Posted in Travel Adventures

Athens/Santorini/Mykonos

On the balcony of our tiny apartment in Oia, Santorini
June 2018

White washed, blue- domed buildings dangling above the Aegean Sea; twisty, narrow streets with bougainvillea clinging from buildings and ancient ruins keeping watch over the city; Athens and the Cyclades are all these things and more.

We logged time in both Athens and the islands of Santorini and Mykonos into nine days of bustling and busy as well as laid back and sun soaked. Here’s how we did it.

For all our travels, I make extensive itineraries with confirmation numbers, addresses/phone numbers and details referencing page numbers in the guidebooks I have poured over for months leading up to the trip. I find the itinerary making and planning part of the trip really exciting! For this trip and really all our trips to Europe we have relied heavily on Rick Steve’s Guidebooks. Purchase one, you will not be sorry.

Itinerary

  • Day 1-Departure
    • 10:45am flight to Athens with a layover in Toronto via Air Canada
    • Arrive in Athens on Day 2 about 9:30am
      • Purchase $8pp metro ticket. Take Blue line Metro to Monastiraki stop. Make sure to validate ticket before entering Metro.
  • Day 2- Ancient Athens
    • 2 nights at Tempi Hotel-Aiolou 6 near Agia Irini Square
    • Lunch: Souvlaki Row; Thanasis-page 174
    • Agora-commercial, political and social center of ancient Athens
Temple of Hephaistos; great views of Acropolis Hill from here
  • Acropolis Hill
    • $20 euro pp-entry to Agora, Roman, Forum, Parthenon, Temple of Zeus-valid for 4 days; see page 92
  • Acropolis Loop-page 48
    • Dionvsiou Areopagitou and Apostolou Pavlou
  • Dinner-at Arcadia (full disclosure: we went back to the hotel for a 2 hour nap before dinner).
    • Scott had the Mousaka-sort of like Greek lasagna and I had lamb chops. We also tried a small glass of ouzo. Ouzo is a traditional Greek drink with a black licorice flavor. We thought is was terrible, but I guess we can say we tried it.
  • Day 3- Modern Athens
    • Breakfast-pancakes with fruit and honey at Melilotos; steps from Tempi Hotel
    • Athens City Walk-page 68
      • Syntagma Square, Parliament Building, Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, Evzone Guards and Ermou Street
  • Greek Orthodox Athens
  • Old Town Athens
    • Arch of Hadrian and Temple of Zeus
  • Acropolis Museum-plan at least 2 hours here
    • $5 euros per person
  • Another full disclosure-we stopped at a street side vendor for a koulouri ring and a couple beers which we ate in a square near our hotel. Then we took another 2 hour nap.
  • Dinner-33 Adrianou
    • This time I had the Mousaka and Scott had orange chicken
  • Day 4-Santorini
    • 7:15am flight to Oia, Santorini
      • Thea Studios (2 nights)
    • Take bus from Oia to Fira-purchase ticket on the bus
    • Walk trail along Caldera back to Oia-11 km
      • Took us about 3 hours to walk with many stops for pictures like the ones below.
  • Back in Oia-walk to Ammoudi Bay
    • We rested a bit after the Caldera Walk before venturing down 250 steps to Ammoudi Bay.
    • We were rewarded with tasty drinks and some of the best seafood, including grilled octopus and shrimp saganaki at Fish Taverna.
  • Dinner-our later day Ammoudi Bay meal meant we weren’t really hungry for a big dinner so we bought a bottle of wine, cheese and crackers and just enjoyed the sunset and balcony at Thea Studios.
Our wheels for a full day of exploring Santorini
  • Day 5 – Santorini
    • Rent a “buggy” in Oia
      • First stop; Fira where we got a iced coffee and some breakfast before we explored the city and then walked down to the Old Port (alongside several dozen donkeys).
      • At the Old Port we grabbed a drink and a snack and then rode the cable car back to the top.
  • Continue “buggy” tour to Akotiri, the red sand beach. Dip a toe in the Aegean.
  • Next stop; Perissa and the black sand beach then back to Oia.
  • Dinner: King Neptune. Markos (from Thea Studios) had reserved a table with a sunset view for us here. We ordered the lobster spaghetti for two.
  • Ended the night with gelato at Lolita’s.
  • Day 6-Mykonos
    • Markos (from Thea Studios) arranged a ride for us to the port in Fira where we boarded a ferry to Mykonos. We arrived plenty early so we had omelettes at one of the cafes near the ferry dock. We had purchased our ferry tickets the day before in Fira when we were on our buggy tour.
    • After a 3 hour ferry ride we arrived in Mykonos town and snaked the windy streets to find the Carbonaki Hotel.
      • Carbonaki Hotel-Panachrantou 23 (2 nights)
    • Explore Old Town and windmills
      • We had appetizers and drinks at Sunset Cafe and then got a to-go drink to belly up to the sea wall to watch the sunset.
  • After sunset with took a nap and prepared for Mykonos nightlife. We joined the electric crowd at Scandanavian Bar for watered-down, over-priced drinks and thumpin’ music.
  • Day 7-Mykonos
    • Sleep in
    • Throw on a swimsuit and head to Paradise Beach.
    • Sit under a beach umbrella and waste the day away sipping drinks and taking dips into the sea.
      • We spent about 8 hours at the beach. The Tropicana Club started pumpin’ music and brought out the dancers about 4pm.
    • Dinner: Eva’s Garden
      • I had the mushroom chicken fillet and Scott the Greek meatballs. Best meal in Mykonos.
  • Day 8-Back to Athens
    • Take high speed Blue Star Ferry back to Athens (5 hour trip).
    • This time we stayed closer to Syntagma Square; Hotel Acropolis (1 night)
    • Last dinner in Greece: Old Ithaki. I had the beef skewers and Scott had lamb kleftiko (a dish of vegetables and lamb cooked in parchment paper over a pit fire). We also had one last cheese saganaki.
  • Day 9-travel back to Minnesota

Tips and Tricks

  • The Tempi Hotel in Athens is in a GREAT location, but lacks amenities. Like as in single beds lacks amenities and the bathroom was more like a closet. Price was right.
  • Don’t wear shorts in the churches. A little, old Greek lady chased me right out of there!
  • If I had a due over, I’d go to the Acropolis Museum BEFORE Acropolis Hill. We didn’t do that because rain was in the forecast and we saved the museum for a wetter day.
  • Our early flight to Oia meant we needed to be to the airport at about 5:30am. We walked from Monastiraki to Syntagma Square at 4am to catch a bus to the airport and surprisingly, I felt really safe.
  • Thea Studios was incredible! The balcony, the sunsets, the service are all so great. Markos arranged for pick up at the airport and transport to Fira for ferry to Mykonos.
  • If you eat the shrimp saganaki and you should, be sure to ask for it without the heads. Our waiter was kind enough to ask if we were Americans and clarified how we wanted the shrimp prepared.
  • Be prepared to wait for buses in Mykonos. You may need to be more aggressive than normal or you’ll find yourself waiting for several buses before your able to board. Frustrating.