Road trip: Palm Springs

As I said before, we decided to tack on a side trip after the wedding. Brigid and Aaron generously invited us to stay at a friend’s vacation home in Palm Springs. At first I was a little hesitant to add more driving to our trip, but I’m so glad we did.

The drive from LA was not bad — a little over an hour — and the house was pretty darn nice with a pool and a hot tub.

Living in the bay area has made me a total wimp for heat. I don’t think I’ve felt 100+ degrees for a long time. Thank goodness for A/C.

Palm Springs is definitely an odd place, but we found ourselves kind of charmed by it. You have to love a place that is a combination of retirement homes, gay resorts, and midcentury modern furniture stores.

Every once in a while it’s also nice to be in a place with empty parking lots and very little traffic.

One place we definitely want to revisit is King’s Highway, the restaurant where we had breakfast one morning.

It’s part of the Ace Hotel, which is perhaps the coolest and most hipster place I’ve ever seen (coming from the bay area, that’s sayin’ something).

When you walk in, there is a huge oversized macramé display in the front window.

This guy was just above our booth.

The food is fantastic. Certainly an upgrade from what was once a Denny’s.

Brigid had blueberry pancakes and Mike had chilequiles.

I had eggs, bacon, hashbrowns, and sourdough toast with homemade jam.

Next to the bathrooms there is a vending machine that sells really nice socks, among other things. You can rent a scooter while you’re there or play vinyl in your room. It is amazing.

After our breakfast we decided to check out another of Palm Springs’ main attractions, the aerial tramway that takes you up the side of a mountain.

It was a little terrifying for me, but I suppose it is the most direct way up the mountain. And the views up there are pretty amazing. You can see just how ridiculous it looks to build a city in the middle of a desert.

The babies did great. They are traveling pros.

I made Harper wear adorable shoes.

Once we got to the top, we decided to do a little hiking. We had our giant strollers with us, so it was not going to be any kind of extensive hike. But it was pretty back in the woods.

As with her first hike, Harper was zonked the whole time.

After that, we got in some more pool time. It felt so good after the heat of the day.

Harper loves the water, so she didn’t have any complaints. She mostly just kicked her little feet.

I have been wanting some good photos of us and I finally got a bunch of them. At least one of us is really photogenic.

The hot tub felt absolutely blissful at night. After months of stress, it was much needed.

The ride home was long, but went surprisingly well. Again, we stopped a bunch and tried to give Harper plenty of fresh air. Now we have to start getting ready for her first plane ride in July.

Joe and Sierra’s wedding

We decided before Harper was even born that her first big road trip would be to southern California for our friend Joe’s wedding. At the time, we had no idea how she would travel at 4 months old. And I stressed a lot about how bad that car ride could be. But it was actually not bad at all. The only time she really melted down was when we hit LA traffic. And at that point I wanted to cry too.

We took extra long stops so Harper could get out of the car seat for a while. We’re not used to traveling that way, but I have to say that I appreciated being able to relax more. We also realized that not being able to sleep in helps you make it out the door on time.

We stayed in a nice hotel (complete with Starbucks) in Hacienda Heights, which has a lot of great Asian restaurants nearby.

One lunch we got takeout Szechuan noodles and another time we tried pastries at the 85 Degree bakery, which came highly recommended.

Random note – I didn’t remember the faux palm tree towers last time we were in LA. This is a thing?

The wedding on Saturday turned out to be absolutely gorgeous. It was held at the bride Sierra’s grandfather’s house, Casa Gonzalez, which felt sort of like a secret garden type place. Everywhere you looked there were details that made it feel special — a goldfish pond, a giant birdcage, a clawfoot bathtub, even an old harp that became a flower display.

The vows were beautiful and poetic. These two make a great couple!

Joe’s mom tried to steal Harper a few times.

It was so nice to catch up with some college friends.

More on this later, but we decided to take a side trip with our friends Brigid and Aaron and their baby Aldo. You may remember them from the trip we took while Brigid and I were both pregnant.

Aldo’s favorite toy was a giant spoon, which I found hilarious. 

It was fun to put all of our kids together (Aldo, Harper, and almost 2-year-old Maya).

Maya danced circles around all of us at the reception. That girl’s got some energy.

The food was fab, too. Yummy appetizers followed by taco-truck-style tacos.

Weddings always give me a chance to reflect on my own relationship and feel grateful for the love I have in my life. I’m so pleased we got to go to this one!

Off to SoCal

Tomorrow we leave for our first real road trip with Harper. We’re going to a wedding in Orange County, which is about a six-hour drive. We might be crazy (and we have all been sick this week, even our dog Sadie), but we really need to get out of town for a while. Plus, we’ll be seeing old friends that we haven’t seen in a while and putting our cute kids together for the first time. Wish us luck!

Road trip: Bodega Bay/Eureka

After Christmas, we were thinking it might be a good time to take a little babymoon. Mike had the time off, and we figured late December probably wasn’t the biggest touristy season (unless you’re up at Tahoe). So we booked a hotel in Eureka, CA, which is about a 5-hour drive north of us. Mike wanted to eat at a crab shack in Bodega Bay and I wanted to drive through a giant redwood tree. Don’t ask me why these are the things we wanted to do before we had a baby — we just did!

Fortunately, traffic was not bad at all and we made it to Bodega Bay in about an hour. If Bodega sounds familiar it’s probably because it was the setting for the Hitchcock movie “The Birds.” In real life, it is significantly less creepy.

The day we were there it was chilly, but absolutely beautiful. We got there around lunch time so we went straight to the crab shack, the Spud Point Crab Company. Clearly it was the place to be.

We each had a crab sandwich — just extremely fresh crab meat with a little sauce — and shared some clam chowder. Mike is the true seafood lover between us, but I can definitely appreciate crab that’s right out of the bay.

After lunch we drove up to Bodega Head and hiked around the cliffs. It was gorgeous up there.

I am not much of a hiker these days (and it was extremely windy), but we had fun. We want to go back another time because you can see whales up there.

After that, we continued our drive up north. To get to Eureka you drive through Mendocino and Humboldt counties, the pot growing center of California. So things are a little…different. The landscape is beautiful, all forest and mountains. But at times it looks almost like Appalachia, but mixed with hippies. The best way I can describe it is that we drove through a tiny town that had a natural foods co-op with a huge American flag in the front window.

Anyway, we got the sense that this part of the country was a little quirky. And that was fine by us. We got to Eureka just in time to check into the hotel and make our dinner reservation at the Brick and Fire Bistro. I didn’t take any photos because it was super dark in there, but it’s a nice little romantic restaurant where all the food is made in this big brick oven. I wanted to love this place, but many missteps into dinner I just couldn’t. Thankfully Mike’s coq au vin was out of this world and he shared it with me. I forgave them after that.

On the way to the hotel I noticed this funny little place called the Chalet House of Omelettes and I immediately knew where we’d be having breakfast the next day.

It’s basically a quirky diner, sort of in the spirit of Des Moines’ Waveland Cafe, where pretty much everyone knows each other. The food is huge and not at all fancy. But it’s great fuel for travelers (and I imagine loggers and fishermen, too). I had a bacon/broccoli omelette and some pancakes.

By the time we left I felt like we were friends with half the restaurant, including the woman at the next table over who, in a very grandmotherly way, had a lot of questions about my pregnancy. But it didn’t bother me at all. I kind of miss that instant kindness and trust of strangers.

By the way, if you get a chance to read a little history of Eureka, it’s a really interesting town. It has Gold Rush roots, but eventually became a center for lumber. There are tons of Victorian houses that have been restored, including the huge Carson Mansion.

The real attraction up there, though, is the Avenue of the Giants. It’s a 31-mile stretch of road in Humboldt Redwoods State Park, where you can drive through a canopy of some of the world’s tallest trees and stop at some sights along the way. And it really is mile after mile after mile of dense redwood forest. My kind of place!

We included the people for scale.

We stopped in one area that was supposed to have some of the tallest trees and hiked around. We were kind of lost, but it was still really beautiful.

It felt like we were in Oregon rather than California. Everything was so lush and green and mossy.

I know I’ve said this before, but being in the woods, especially in the mountains, is truly my happy place. It calms me down a lot. I think something about being dwarfed by nature is very spiritual, and it kind of steadies you. At least it does for me. I think this is what Gaudi was going for when he built the inside of the Sagrada Familia.

Later that day we stopped at a visitors center, where they had this truck carved from a single redwood tree. We are total nature and history nerds, so we spent kind of a long time there.

Then we headed to the last part of our trip — driving through a tree!

There are actually several places where you can drive through a tree. But this one also had little cottages carved out of trees.

Seems like it would be a fun place to take a kid, no? We’ll definitely be back.

All the babies

And now for your much-delayed Thanksgiving recap.

First, we flew to Minneapolis and then drove on to Eau Claire, Wisconsin to stay with Mike’s family. (And it only took one car ride, two trains, one bus, two planes, and another car ride to complete our trip, yeesh.) I finally got to meet my niece, Grace, who is now 8 months old and impossibly adorable.

I learned many things about babies at this age, such as: they love crinkly things, they put everything in their mouths, they crawl fast (and thus can really use a pair of baby legwarmers!), and they will put their drool-y hands all over your face, and that’s OK.

I mean seriously. Who could resist?

We had another shower where we acquired several cloth diapers (woo hoo!) and lots of other sweet goodies. And of course we ate all the Wisconsin essentials.

Before we flew to Kansas we had to make a stop at our friends’ place in Minneapolis to meet their new baby, Aldo. At just 2 1/2 weeks, he was so tiny I was afraid I would break him. But we all got to hold him while we learned about how little sleep we’ll be getting in a few months.

Also learned: little babies really will scratch their faces with teeny fingernails. Ouch!

In Kansas my mom loaded us down with more baby clothes and my dad with things from his house since they’re moving to Colorado. We succeeded in bringing all of these items home with the bag-in-a-bag technique (pack an extra one inside your checked bag), which I highly recommend for holiday travel. We flew Southwest home, so it was all free.

At my cousin’s house in KC, we had Thanksgiving #2. Man, it was good.

She and her husband just had their baby girl 5 weeks earlier, so we got to hold little Isla, too. It was fascinating to see how much babies change in just a few weeks. She was pretty patient with us all banging pots and pans and passing her around until she reached maximum stimulation. Then people, including my Aunt Lark (chef extraordinaire) took turns keeping her moving.

Note to self: get these.

We learned so much about what to buy/not to buy there that I redid a bunch of our registry when we got home. Having so many new parents in our life is infinitely helpful right now. Also, how amazing is the aptly named Buy Buy Baby?

Speaking of baby things, I have to show you this picture of Sadie, who decided the giant box our playpen came in would make a good bed for her. We found her sitting in the box after she had ruffled the paper inside to her liking.

Now we are back, listening to the rain and getting ready for craft shows. And maybe we’ll get out the Christmas decorations one of these days!

KC – DM – SF

Finally I am getting back to normal after an epic vacation to the Midwest, followed by an epic tour of San Francisco with my good friend Rachel, who was visiting from New York.

Of course I had to visit my sweet Charlotte.

I planned a trip home to Kansas for my Nana’s funeral. But I ended up adding on a cleanout of my other grandmother’s house — where we had an estate sale — a baby shower, and a trip to Des Moines to see my good friends. I do not know where I found the energy, but I managed to feel great the entire trip (as long as I got to sleep well at night).

I got to see most of my entire extended family and all my Des Moines friends, which made the trip so worth it. They even gave me a Fiat 500 to drive at the rental car place!

I also got to admire Erin’s Subaru Outback, which I think is the car we will be getting soon. As you know, I am in love with my Yaris, but it’s simply not big enough for two adults, a baby (and all that gear), plus two big dogs.

In Des Moines I even took a Nia class, which I needed more than I realized. I soaked up all the Midwestern things you don’t get so much out here, including a few rainy nights (I so love that sound of it hitting the grass), hospitality, good service at restaurants, trust of strangers, and last but not least, giant water glasses.

It’s probably silly to complain about a water glass, but they are seriously so tiny in restaurants here. And now that I’m extra thirsty all the time, I appreciate a big glass even more.

Oh yeah, I had to have some potato oles while I could get them. 🙂

The baby shower was a real treat. My sister pulled out all the stops to make food that a pregnant lady would love, including pickle bites, deviled eggs, and red velvet cupcakes.

My mom found some adorable vintage items to use as decorations.

And I loved our host Rae Ann’s idea to decorate with baby clothes that were also gifts.

I wish I had photos of our diapering-a-baby game because it was hilarious. At least I won my round!

I adore this photo. My mom, sister, and I with my grandma.

The next day I drove to Des Moines, where Brianne had gathered some of our friends at her adorable house for apple picking.

I got to hold my friend Arin’s new baby, Jonah, who is just the tiniest sweetest little guy.

I also got to meet my friend Karen’s new puppy Charlie (I’m in love with him!) and my friend Amy’s little girl, Linden (darn me for not taking pictures of them). I so wish I could have stayed longer. I miss those ladies so much, especially now that we are all going through such major life transitions.


It was nice to get back to California, though. Business has been busier than ever, so I can’t be away too long.

P.S. How cool is it that the electric car chargers at the Oakland airport are actually getting used?

Rachel came to visit the day after I got back, and we took her on a quick but totally packed tour of the bay area. She got Bette’s breakfast, Tony’s pizza, and fig bars at the Berkeley Bowl. Then we went into the city all day Saturday. We were foiled by a foggy Golden Gate bridge, but I think we did pretty much everything else.

We started out at the Ferry Building, where we got Vietnamese lunch from the Slanted Door’s takeout place.

Then we saw the sea lions at Pier 39 and took a streetcar back to our car. We stopped in the Mission for some shopping on Valencia, including Paxton Gate, which is the craziest store ever. It’s like part taxidermy, part science experiment, part secret garden.

Then we attempted to get some Bi-Rite ice cream, but were foiled again by a street festival and long lines. Fortunately, I remembered that you can buy it by the pint at the Bi-Rite market, so we did that and ate our ice cream in the grass at Delores Park.

After we rested our feet for a while, we grabbed some desserts at Tartine and then ate at a Mexican restaurant that I can’t remember the name of. We slept good that night!

Luckily, Rachel got a good bridge view the next day. Our doggies sure did miss her when she left, but hopefully it won’t be so long before we see her again.

It is so crazy to think that next time I do all these things I’ll have a baby with me. (By the way, you’ve got to read this.)

I was also thinking that I wonder if I will ever go to those small Kansas towns where my grandmothers lived again, now that they don’t live there anymore. So much is changing. Some chapters are closing and new ones are opening. I’m just trying to take it all in.

Road trip: Reno/Tahoe

Our friend Yvonne moved to Reno not too long ago, so we decided to visit her and see Reno and Lake Tahoe for the first time. Well, technically we saw Reno on our way out here in 2010, but we basically just drove through and stopped for a quick lunch. This time we saw a heck of a lot more, especially considering we were only there for about 24 hours.

We drove to Reno on Friday afternoon, which I will not do again. Traffic was horrible! But once we got to the mountains at sunset I got a little less cranky. It was beautiful up there!

We took the dogs with us so that they could see their friend Okie again, and meet Yvonne’s new dog, Bug. The dogs were like an instant pack, running around and wrestling with each other. They also managed to figure out how to open the sliding door and escape from the house, but blessedly they didn’t go anywhere.

Everybody on the bed!

Yvonne’s house is so cool. It’s full of midcentury stuff that I swoon over. I mean, look at this lamp!

Saturday morning we decided to go on a little nerdy historical expedition. We were looking for some wagon ruts that allegedly were used by the Donner party. And we actually found them.

It’s basically just a rocky path at this point, but cool nonetheless. On the way there we ran into a bunch of wild horses.

They had obviously been around people before because they were very curious about us and not at all afraid of the dogs. One even let Mike pet her.

After that we had to hit The Nugget casino in downtown Reno so I could try the famous Awful Awful burger.

And I can now confirm that it is both awful big and awful good.

It’s a nice peppery burger with enough sauce that it doesn’t get too dry. The only weird thing is that they give you a pound of fries, which no one can possibly eat in one sitting (at least without being in some sort of contest where you win a T-shirt).

Hey, I finally look pregnant. Kind of.

Our last adventure was to head up to Lake Tahoe so we could finally see what all the fuss was about. It was such a gorgeous day, and because it’s fall the traffic wasn’t too bad.

We walked the dogs around for a while. Poor little Bug is still a little skittish so we had to get him to relax.

We let the girls loose on the dog beach, too.

Yvonne got this great picture of all of us. Sadie was being shy.

I really enjoyed getting in a little bit of nature at the lake. The sky was so blue, I couldn’t stop looking up.

We would have stayed longer and explored some more of the Donner history, but we had to get home. The dogs were so tired from playing that they completely crashed in the car.

Now that we know what we’ve been missing, we’ll definitely be back.

Road trip: Sequoia National Forest (part 2)

Our last day in the cabin we decided to venture down the mountain, and then back up into another part called Balch Park. It was another winding drive through what seemed like the middle of nowhere, but this time we started to see some really big trees. At first we were just seeing stumps, and hoping it wasn’t going to be a depressing day in the woods. But eventually we got to a picnic area with a lot of full-grown sequoias.

One interesting thing about giant sequoias — they actually have tiny pinecones, about the size of an egg. They are really tightly closed, though, so it takes fire to open them up. That’s why a lot of trees have visible fire damage. They’re built to survive it.

After lunch we went on a little hike in the woods. Once again we kept seeing all sorts of interesting plants.

This one was easy — wild roses.

This particular area had some archaelogical sites where thousands of years ago people had used these basins in the rocks.

After lunch we drove on into Balch Park. You can see a lot more significant trees in that area. And you can even camp underneath them! (note to self for future trips).

I love that a lot of the trees have names.

Some of them were so big they were once used as shelters, houses, restaurants. I’m glad there was a little museum there so you could see all the historical photos of the area.

We were surprised to learn that giant sequoia wood isn’t even good for building. It was so brittle that some of it was used for stakes or pencils. It’s kind of unbelievable that people were so driven to cut them down anyway.

This one refused to be cut down!

The scale of the trees is just really hard to put into words.

We kept taking photos of the Yaris next to them for comparison.

There were cute little ground squirrels all over the place.

But after a long day of exploring we had to make the trek back to the cabin. The next day we drove to the Kings Canyon National Park, where we stayed in the Grant Grove area at the John Muir Lodge.

I can highly recommend this place. It’s really comfy and is right nearby the restaurant and visitors center.

Anyway, our first goal was to drive down the road a little bit and see the General Grant tree.

It’s a short, easy hike to get to it, and there are lots of other huge trees in the area.

The Nation’s Christmas Tree.

We could have gone to see the biggest tree, the General Sherman, but it was such a long drive that we couldn’t fit it in. Instead we cornered this park ranger and got all the information we could about giant sequoias.

He also helped us identify this strange looking plant. It’s called snow plant.

That night we ventured to a lookout point not too far from the lodge and ate blackberry pie with this view.

The next morning, our last day there, we decided to drive down into Kings Canyon. We’d heard the drive itself was as much a part of the experience as getting to the bottom, and that turned out to be true.

We took more photos of the intrepid Yaris on the way.

Eventually we made it to, literally, Roads End, where we went for another hike.

More interesting plants.

You could see these cool domes, where the rock had slid off forming a sheer face.

And at the very end of our trip, while Brigid and I made lunch on “Muir Rock,” our husbands decided to jump into the freezing cold water.

I can’t believe they did it, but it was pretty awesome.

Road trip: Sequoia National Forest (part 1)

First of all, I apologize for the site being down so long. I was just trying to update WordPress, and I ended up crashing the whole site, which took a while to put back together. On the plus side it gave me lots of time to go through all my photos from our recent vacation, so now I can post them!

Our trip was kind of a surprise. Our Minneapolis friends Brigid and Aaron were planning a trip to see the giant sequoias and asked if we’d like to come along. We took about half a second to say yes. Unlike the coastal redwoods, which we’ve already seen, the giant sequoias are some of the widest, and overall largest and oldest trees in the world. Seeing them was sort of a life list thing for us.

We also just wanted to hang out with Brigid and Aaron, who are expecting a baby in a few months. They are just as nerdy as we are when it comes to nature, and they make great traveling companions. They’re the only people I know that are willing to be squished in the back of our overfilled 2-door Yaris for an extended road trip.

I’m dividing my posts about the trip into two parts because I have so many photos. The first part covers the time we spent in a remote cabin in the Sequoia National Forest. Then the second part will be from Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks, where we stayed at the John Muir Lodge. It’s kind of confusing, when you’re in the national forest, versus the national park, versus the national monument. Hopefully it will all make sense!

So we started out driving to Fresno, picked up some groceries (since we had to bring all our own food and bedding to the cabin), and then headed east into the mountains. We took a very curvy road up to about 7,000 feet to our Grouse Valley cabin. The best way to describe its location is probably the middle of nowhere, although not quite as remote as Mono Hot Springs was. The one-lane dirt road part was only about 5 miles this time…

We stopped along the road on the way there to admire the view and some flowers. We spotted some monarch caterpillars and these spiky looking plants.

The view up top.

The cabin itself is one of three on the property. We stayed in the caretaker’s cabin, which is code for ‘not as nice as the other ones.’ If we go back I would definitely stay in this one that has its own lake.

But the overall property was just beautiful.

Apparently, you can bring your horses with you on vacation. 

In the distance we could see cows grazing, and after a while they came over to investigate us.

They may have been upset that we were cooking a steak dinner.

This mule deer also came by a couple times.

In addition to horse and cow pastures and pretty lakes, the property also has apple and pear orchards and almond trees.

There was also a big field of yellow flowers right outside the cabin.

The sunset that first night was just gorgeous.

The next day we decided to drive to the top of the mountain for a better view.

It was just blue sky for miles and miles.

We couldn’t help but giggle at one of the peaks that looked like a butt. We dubbed it butt butte.

The next day we drove into the woods a little bit and went for a hike. The trails weren’t marked particularly well, but they also didn’t go particularly far.

We finally got to see some of those big trees.

These pine cones actually came from a sugar pine.

We kept finding all these cool wild flowers everywhere we went. Of course I’ve forgotten the names of most of them.

We found a little lake, and as we peered over the ridge we saw our friends, the cows.

We didn’t think they would be nimble enough to make it up the hill, but eventually they came and joined us.

The only scary part was on our way back, when we saw what we were pretty sure was bear poop.

But we never actually saw a bear. Many, many other animals, but no bears.

Part 2 coming soon!

European cruise photos

So when I was trying to find that photo of the pizza Erin and I ate in Italy, I kept searching for my blog posts about our trip. After some fruitless searching I had to ask myself if it was possible that I didn’t actually post anything about it. Apparently I kept it all to myself! Maybe I thought the blog wasn’t supposed to be about travel at the time, or maybe I posted about it on my work blog, which I had back then.

We took the cruise in June of ’07, to celebrate Erin’s masters degree, and because her grandmother had left her some money that we wanted to use to take a trip together. So, we booked a two-week cruise in the Mediterranean, starting in Venice and ending in Barcelona. We planned excursions, sometimes two a day for every day that the ship wasn’t at sea. We were not going to miss a thing!

The first problem came a couple months before the trip when the back pain I’d been having for years became so unbearable that I had to have surgery. Blessedly, I had a quick recovery and was able to do everything I wanted to do. It was just a little stressful there for a while. Then, the day we left we had a total disaster with our flights. We started in Kansas City and went to Chicago. When we got there to board our flight to Germany, they told us that it had just left. What the hell? We thought we were early. Well, it turns out that Lufthansa had changed the time of that flight, but no one from the airline or Princess told us, and we never thought to check. So we were stuck at O’Hell, waiting on standby for a flight to Europe during a very busy travel time. We waited for 9 hours and finally gave up and got a hotel that we had to pay for. We tried to find our luggage but only came up with one suitcase, which was a little unnerving.

The next morning we went back to the airport and got back in line, thinking we would have to change our flight to the next stop on the cruise. We found some seats and had our luggage moved to that flight. But at the last minute they said they could get us on a flight to Germany so we would just make it to Venice in time for the cruise to leave. Yes! Unfortunately, we would have to leave right that second to make it on the plane. So you better believe we ran through that airport. Right as we got to security, dreading the long lines, some security person opened up another line and we raced through. It felt like some kind of miracle. We were running with our shoes in our hands as they were calling our names for the flight. That was seriously insane. I have a pretty big fear of flying, but I was so happy to get on that plane I didn’t care.

Up all night, but relieved to be getting on our last flight.

The sad part was that we were late getting to Venice. By some miracle our luggage made it through all those transfers (and we almost lost it again in Italy), but we had to skip all of our excursions in Venice. Basically we drove to the boat, got on, and left. But that was the last time we had any worries on that cruise. It was absolutely spectacular.

The water was unbelievably blue. We had perfect weather every day. We sat poolside while people brought us cocktails.

The ship was bigger than the Titanic, I think, and almost brand new. If I can ever afford that kind of vacation again I will most definitely take it.

Our monstrosity of a ship, spotted from land.

After we left Venice, our first stop was Athens.

The Old Olympic stadium.

It was hot, dry, and had the worst parking conditions I’ve ever seen. Maneuvering this enormous bus around tight corners, our bus driver actually got out at one point, moved some construction cones, and drove around them.

We saw the Acropolis and many other ruins.

Unfortunately, the Parthenon was under construction, at the time.

It was the first time I’d seen an olive tree or an orange tree (which seems funny now).

After our tours we had some free time in the city so we wandered around and got an ice cream cone. As we were standing outside of this building, all the sudden a bunch of police officers started clearing everyone out of the building and closing off the street. I guess I shouldn’t have said we didn’t have any more worries because it turned out to be a bomb threat! But at that point everything pretty much rolled off of us. It was a little chaotic while we tried to find our tour guides, but we made it back OK.

Next stop: Turkey. We started in Kusadasi and then saw the house where the Virgin Mary had lived.

I saw my first fig tree.

Then we toured the ruins of the city at Ephesus.

It was pretty incredible the level of technology they were able to achieve with what they had at the time.

This sign cracked me up.

After that we went to Istanbul. Got a beautiful view of the city from a distance.

Teenagers are the same everywhere.

You know what else is everywhere in Turkey? Cats!

We toured the Hagia Sophia, which is just beautiful.

I wish I could have enjoyed it more, but I was desperate to use the bathroom, and after waiting in a very long line had to use one of the scariest bathrooms I’ve ever seen. I think I’m scarred by that experience!

But I loved Turkey, and would love to go back. Not only is it this fascinating mix of cultures, but the beachy vacation spots are just as beautiful as anywhere else in Mediterranean Europe but a lot less expensive.

Later that day we got to tour a rug factory, where we bought tiny Turkish carpets. The rugs are so expensive, it was all we could afford. But they aren’t really my style anyway, so I can appreciate the little square I have as a souvenir.

Before we left Istanbul, we got to go through the Grand Bazaar and buy some pashminas and a soccer jersey. That place is absolutely gigantic. We definitely wished we had more time there.

But we had to get back to Greece. Our next stop was Mykonos.

It’s definitely a gay hot spot (as Club Ramrod confirmed), but it seemed family friendly as well. It was certainly the Greece I had imagined with all the whitewashed buildings and little churches.

I could have stayed there a long time — it was so beautiful and relaxing.

In fact I would really like to be there right now. Sigh!

After Greece we went to Naples. We took a harrowing drive, then hiked to the top of Mount Vesuvius and looked down into the volcano.

The belly of the beast.

Then we took a tour of Pompeii.

Again I was fascinated by how well preserved the history was there.

They still had bread ovens, brothels, intricate tiles, and ruts in the road where cart wheels wore them down.

Naughty, naughty!

After Naples we went to Rome.

It is pretty much impossible to see Rome in a day, but we sure tried. We actually got a jam-packed experience by picking the Angels and Demons tour (all the places from the book). We had this adorable tour guide that had the uneviable job of keeping us, and the other long-winded tour guide, on task.

Our view through most of Rome.

Better view!

The long-winded tour guide.

We managed to see the Trevi fountain, the Pantheon, and the Vatican, and still have time for a pasta lunch and gelato.

Note to self: Remove dorky tourist gear before taking photos. 

I was really blown away by all the artwork, the architecture — the fact that I kept recognizing things from my art history classes and there they were in some tiny dark church.

I think I was just totally overwhelmed that day. You really can’t describe the feeling of seeing something like Saint Teresa in Ecstasy or The Pieta in person.

I would love to go back with Mike. I think for a history buff (or a foodie) Rome is the ultimate.

After Rome we went to Pisa. I really loved it there because it felt like exactly what I imagined Tuscany to be like. Sunflower fields, wineries, bikes with baskets on the front.

One funny thing: We had to ride in this tram thing around Pisa, and at one point our tram scraped into the side of some guy’s car and dented it. He was so upset, of course, and he and our driver were screaming at each other in Italian. By that point we just had to laugh.

We saw the leaning tower, which was cool and somewhat scary. Then we got to tour this beautiful winery called Varramista. I was very jealous of whoever got to live there.

They also make olive oil there — I bought a sampler, of course. We had a tasting with bread and cheese, too.

Our last stop was in France. We went to Aix-en-Provence, which is really pretty and has this great outdoor market.

I remember I ate a yummy risotto with peas, and we ordered rose because that is the specialty in that region. (I can’t believe I did not photograph the food! My, how times have changed.) I wish I could say my many years of high school French paid off, but I was too intimidated to use it much.

Then we drove to this tiny town called Lourmarin.

We bought pretty French tarts and walked around the little alleys. It was so picturesque.

We had the option of staying in Barcelona and doing some excursions there. But I think by that point we were exhausted and out of money. So we basically just went to the airport. Thankfully our flights home were completely uneventful. And of course I went back later for my honeymoon.

It was definitely one of the best trips of my life, and it totally opened my mind to just how much there is to see out there in the world. We basically just checked off a bunch of tourist stops. Imagine how much there is to see beyond those. So even though I hate to fly I will still keep doing it because I can’t stand to think of missing out on all there is to see. Life is too short not to see as much as you can.