A couple years ago while driving from Amsterdam to Luxembourg I did what I always do when driving long distances: figured out detours to stretch my legs. I collect UNESCO world heritage sites and noticed one that would be right on my way, a little East of Rotterdam, and soon I was driving along a small road to Kinderdijk, my chosen detour of the day.
Kinderdijk Windmills were built in the 18th century to pump water out of the polder, when Holland was in the process of reclaiming land for farming. Now a more modern system has replaced the windmills in daily use, but they can be still used as a backup. 19 beautiful old windmills adorn the sides of canals, and I really enjoyed taking a short walk among them. There is also a free museum which gave insight into the engineering of the windmills, and a cafe where I got a cup of tea before continuing on my drive.
Kinderdijk is one of Holland’s two famous areas where you can view old windmills. The other one is Zaanse Schans, close to Amsterdam. Both are worth the drive if you enjoy these testaments to the history of Netherlands.
While we were approaching Nederland on a Saturday afternoon in mid-March, the shoulders were parked full of cars already a mile from town. We were in luck and found a spot at some auto repair shop’s yard, which was just a short walk from lakeside, where we could see people gathering.
On the way there, we were passed by a pale posse carrying a metal coffin.
A little further along we noticed spectators following a sport, where a colorful team was carrying a similar metal coffin, this time with someone in it.
We knew what was going on, but it was still hard to believe a festival like this was real. It’s a long story, and it begins when Norwegian Bredo Morstøl died from a heart condition while cross-country skiing in his native country. His grandson Trygve Bauge did not want to give up his grandfather and instead transported him to California, where the body was deep-freezed in a local cryonics facility.
After a couple years in California, Trygve together with his mother (and Bredo’s daughter) Aud transported grandpa to Nederland, where they were planning to build an earthquake-, bomb-, fire-, wind- and flood-proof home. Unfortunately Trygve’s visa expired and he was deported, so the home was never finished, and grandpa’s body was left laying in a shed behind the construction. When Aud was evicted – apparently it’s illegal in Nederland to live in a house without electricity or plumbing – grandpa’s future seemed more and more uncertain.
Aud contacted the press, and suddenly grandpa was an international news story. City council quickly prohibited keeping dead bodies on private property, but grandpa Bredo was “grandfathered” in and allowed to stay. A local radio station together with a Tuff Shed distributor decided to sponsor a new and better shed for grandpa, and Trygve hired a caretaker – “Ice Man” – to bring in dry ice.
Seven years later, in 2002, the town had gotten over its shock and was ready to see the humor in it. Someone got an idea to celebrate the town’s most known inhabitant, and Frozen Dead Guy Days was born.
At first, it looks like any other festival: tents, music, beer, lots of people in good spirits. Except other festivals don’t have frozen salmon tossing, frozen T-shirt or slushie drinking (Freeze Your Brain) competitions. I almost brought with me the left-over turkey from Thanksgiving that had been sitting in our freezer, so I could participate in frozen turkey bowling. Theme of the program seemed to be “anything dead or frozen, preferably both”.
Inside the tents, local craft breweries were selling beer, each at their own table. I thought I knew the local beer scene pretty well, but these breweries were so small I hadn’t even heard of half of them.
The festival goes on in every weather, and in March in Colorado, that can be anything from freezing cold and snowstorm to balmy almost-summer. Dress accordingly.
Frozen Dead Guy Days in March. There’s a festival bus from Boulder to Nederland, and it’s around an hour’s drive from Denver.
There’s a lot of things in New York that you don’t need to plan for days, weeks or even months beforehand. Statue of Liberty is not one of them.
Two years ago on our visit to New York, we would have wanted to climb up to the crown of the Statue of Liberty. Unfortunately, while I was asking my husband which time he considered the best for the trip, the tickets were sold out. Then we thought we’d visit just the pedestal, but we thought about it for so long that those tickets were also sold out. The frustration!
That experience taught me a lesson, so now for our September trip to New York, I started checking the Statue of Liberty tickets online already months before the trip. It’s now six months to our trip, and I noticed today that tickets for those dates had some on sale – and I didn’t hesitate clicking them to my shopping cart! If you’re going to New York in June, it’s already too late for the crown tickets, but you’ll still have time for a trip to the pedestal, which is half as high as the statue itself.
Tickets are sold online at Statue Cruises, and they always include a visit to Ellis Island, the place so many immigrants passed through in the first half of the 20th century on their way to New World. Both the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island are on different islands and the cruise that is included in the ticket will take you to both of them from either New York’s Battery Park or New Jersey’s Liberty State Park.
If you’re too late to the game, you can still go check out the Statue of Liberty from nearby Liberty State Park, where the photos in this post are taken from. Another option is to jump on the Staten Island ferry from Whitehall terminal, South Manhattan. The ferry is a part of New York’s public transportation system, and it passes the Statue of Liberty close enough for photos.
Imagine the stereotypical Caribbean island: palm trees swaying in the wind, long white beaches with gentle waves washing ashore, waiters carrying piña coladas…
This is not Saint Kitts. Or, well, I’m sure all of these can be found at Saint Kitts too, but there’s so much more to this island. At first, we were reminded of a past trip to Gambia, and not just because of the ebony skin of locals. The goats that seem to be grazing on every field and inbetween houses, most of the cars at least 15 years old, houses in need of paint and maybe a new roof… but unlike in Gambia, here people didn’t constantly try to sell us something or “help” us. Instead, the islanders seemed genuinely friendly and our day on the island was stress-free.
Our ship had anchored at Basseterre, the capital of Saint Kitts, while we still slept. When we got out, multiple shore excursions were hustling around the pier at the same time, but we managed to find our contacts at St. Kitts Scenic Railway and get on a minibus. On the way to the depot, the driver showed us important sights around town: there’s the pharmacy, there’s an auto repair shop, that’s an empty commercial space if you’d like to start a business here, there’s a construction site where they’re building a business center. The latter was funded by the Citizenship by Investment program, which is meant for rich people to get St. Kitt’s tax status – there’s no income tax – and passport that allows visa-free travel to the EU.
The train had an air-conditioned carriage, but we climbed to the upper deck to enjoy the views, as did everyone else on board. The wheels of the train screeched ear-piercingly as the locomotive slowly started us off on our journey. The morning was cloudy and slightly rainy, and that combined with wind from the movement of the train made me pull on a cardigan.
The views were at first a bit desolate, industrial backyards and abandoned cars. The guide started off on her narrative, pointing out a local landfill. Ocean was constantly on our right side, deep blue and rough, and the volcano rose on our left with its peaks enveloped by clouds. Only later we’d start to see villages, gardens and islanders running errands.
Would you like some piña colada? the train waitress asked us as the guide continued with excellent and detailed explanations of local culture and history. Everything here seemed to revolve around sugar. English and French farmers built sugar cane plantations here in the 17th century, and as the plantations grew so did the island’s slave population. For the next 400 years, sugar was a key export of the island, basis for the whole economy, until last century arrived and it was no longer profitable, what with descendants of the slaves now demanding fair pay. At some point, the plantation owners left the island and government took over, trying to keep the economy running, but in 2005, they had to admit defeat. Sugar cane production was stopped and thousands were left unemployed.
It turned out we also had sugar to thank for our train ride. The tracks had been laid down to more efficiently transport sugar cane around the island, and only when the sugar industry had slowed down had tourists started using them for sightseeing. Now, we had the pleasure to take it easy on the train, listening to traditional Kittisian songs by the train choir, and take in the views as we sped past villages, fields, and schools where children rushed to windows to wave to us.
Tracks don’t circle the whole island anymore, so after a couple hours of leisurely riding the train we were transferred back to mini buses. The same friendly and enthusiastic driver took care of us, talking about the island for the whole 45 minutes it took to get back to Basseterre and showing us sights on the way: a tree that had served as a border marker between French and English settlers, a home belonging to one of the government’s ministers (with a couple goats in the yard), a cemetery where US president Thomas Jefferson’s (purported, not proven) grandfather Samuel Jefferson was buried, and a river by which the Europeans back in the days slaughtered the island’s thousands of natives, and that flowed red for two days after the massacre.
Back in Basseterre, we were feeling tired from the early wakeup. Our breakfast had been heavy enough that we weren’t hungry yet, but we figured we could use some ice tea and a quiet place to chill for a while. This we found at The Gallery Cafe (10 North Independence Square, Basseterre), just a couple blocks from the port, although in Basseterre, everything seemed to be just a couple blocks from everywhere. In the courtyard, there were only us two – and a small lizard, a dog and a green vervet monkey looking for something to eat.
Green vervet monkeys were brought to Saint Kitts by the French, who intended them as pets. As you might guess from history, the “pets” were soon running wild around the island and thrived in its friendly environment. Now there are apparently as many monkeys on the island as people, and the islanders’ reactions towards them seemed to vary from nonchalant to irritated. Although many regard the monkeys as a nuisance, we couldn’t help but marvel at the creature that was sitting just a couple feet from us.
We still had one sight left that we wanted to see: Brimstone Hill Fortress. This 17th century military fortress the largest in East Caribbean and a UNESCO world heritage site, and we’d only caught a glimpse of it so far on our way from the train. Based on that, we knew it’d be a 25-30 minute ride one-way, and it would only be three hours until our ship was leaving.
I’d harbored hopes we could get to the fortress via public transportation, but that seemed to not be an option. Our only reliable means of transport would be a taxi, which had a flat fee of $50 for the trip plus an hour’s wait. If we’d left in the morning, we could have probably gotten other tourists to split the cost with us, but at this point, we knew we’d be the only ones. Iiro suggested we’d just leave it.
No way! If we’d come this far – and we might not come again – then I sure wouldn’t leave a UNESCO site out of my collection.
Afterwards Iiro admitted that the trip was worth the money and time. Brimstone Hill had magnificent views over the island and out to sea. No wonder the English had chosen this spot to build their fortress against the French: a black streaked lava mount with sides so steep that the trip up through the narrow turns was nerve wracking.
The fortress was either well preserved or well restored – probably both – and its exhibitions further brought the island’s history to life. One interesting detail was the British West India Regiment, which only enlisted black soldiers. Many of them were recruited from the ranks of slaves, which was a good deal for the men, as the life of a soldier was far easier than the life of a slave.
What did I think of Saint Kitts at the end of the day? Out of the Caribbean islands we visited, Saint Kitts seemed the poorest and at the same time most expensive. In GDP rankings, the country does rank better than some other island nations of the region, so our perception might be due to widespread corruption that several islanders we met were complaining about.
Saint Kitts is not the stereotypical Caribbean island, and maybe that is a reason to visit it. Even though Saint Kitts isn’t as developed from a tourist’s point of view as Barbados or Sint Maarten, people are friendly, we were treated well, and crime or tourist scams seemed nonexistent. I wouldn’t recommend it to a backpacker because of the prices, and someone looking for pure resort life might want to choose a more developed destination, but if you’re looking for “authentic” Caribbean, you might just find it here.
First and foremost Saint Kitts needs you and other tourists to get its economy back on its feet.
Thanks to St. Kitts Scenic Railway for inviting us on the train ride. Cruise companies offer the train as a shore excursion, and hotel guests can contact the company through its website for reservations.
National Park Service is by far the best government agency in the US – and possibly the whole world – and national parks are its crown jewels, the pride and joy of the system. Colorado is proud to have four of these gems, which are all worth a visit:
Great Sand Dunes National Park
When my family roadtripped around Colorado in the 90s, this place had yet to gain its park status, but that didn’t keep us from hiking up those hills, sledding down the sandy slopes and feeling the enormous heat of the warm dunes through our sneakers. A couple years ago, my husband and I camped next to the dunes, waking up together with the sun to hike to the highest point of the dunes before they were too hot to handle. One of the most amazing views I’ve ever seen.
Rocky Mountain National Park
Our closest national park will always hold a special spot in my heart, and not just because I got married there. This park is a dream come true for any hiker, full of wonderful trails where anyone can find their favorite, be it wildflowers, mountain vistas, alpine lakes or secluded groves. And even if you’re not into hiking, there’s always Trail Ridge Road, the highest altitude paved highway in the US with amazing views of the Rockies.
Mesa Verde National Park
There’s only one national park in the US that was founded mainly to protect human heritage, and that is Mesa Verde. Here you can ponder what forced the ancestral Pueblo people to abandon their homes more than 700 years ago after they had built a civilization on the sides of canyons. You need at least a couple hours for a visit, but we spent a whole day there to explore the cliff dwellings.
Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park
Black Canyon is actually not a canyon but a gorge, one of the steepest and deepest in the US. More than 800 meters deep at most and only around 350 meters wide at its narrowest, it’s probably the darkest gorge around, and that’s where it got its name: at parts of it, sunlight reaches the bottom only 30 minutes a day. We contemplated hiking to the bottom but thought it best to leave it for some other time, as you can always roll down a mountain if you get tired, but a gorge is a whole lot tougher business to hike up.
On a roadtrip to New Mexico, I thought we’d spend our day in Santa Fe perhaps enjoying the museums or driving to Los Alamos to find out about the history of the bomb, but instead, Iiro insisted we drive to Albuquerque to setjet around Albuquerque’s Breaking Bad locations.
Laundry with a handy on-site amfetamine lab
…well, not really. The lab was of course in a studio, but the laundry itself was featured several times in the show. We found it in the middle of North Albuquerque’s industrial district and ended up driving past the place a couple times before we realized it was really it.
Even after we had parked, we were unsure about the place. Is this really it? The front had never been shown in the series, so we had trouble recognizing the place. However, all doubts were erased when this parked beside us:
Looking back at the show side-by-side with photos of the laundry, there’s no doubt. Same piles of linen still in the back yard:
Delta Uniform & Linens is at 1617 Candelaria Road NE.
Lydia’s favorite restaurant for some serious drug talk
It was lunch time, so we decided to head out next to one of the many restaurants featured in the show. We picked The Grove, a local organic hipstery cafe, which was so full at lunch we were lucky to get a seat. Of course we sat down at a window table, because that’s where Lydia and Walt sat in the show, too.
Some customers were working on their laptops with big cups of tea or coffee at hand, some had clearly come for a Sunday brunch with the family. The restaurant’s apparently close to a college campus, so many seemed to be students, and nobody looked like a tourist. It didn’t exactly seem like a restaurant where I would go to conduct my drug businesses, but it fit Lydia’s style perfectly.
The Grove Cafe & Market, 600 Central Avenue SE. Open Tue-Sat 7-16 and Sun 8-15.
Jesse’s favorite hot dog drive in
USA is a land of drive throughs and drive ins. The former means you drive along a lane up to a window to order whatever it is you want, the latter that a waiter will come and take your order from the car. Dog House was this latter type of drive in.
In Breaking Bad, this hot dog stand was never shown in daylight, and I gotta admit seeing it in daylight doesn’t make it any less shady. We didn’t try the food.
Dog House Drive In, 1216 Central Ave NW.
Do you have the blue stuff?
This place was never featured in the show, but it still played a major part. Everybody who’s ever watched the show will remember the blue methamphetamine that made fortunes in the show, and this was local production: candy from a local Albuquerquean candy maker, The Candy Lady.
We spent a while looking around the shop for the blue stuff and finally asked the lady behind the counter, who said they only have it behind the counter. After making the deal – for considerably cheaper than in the world of Breaking Bad – the lady made sure we’d go and take a photo in the corner of the shop with some appropriate props. Here’s Iiro:
The Candy Lady is located in Albuquerque’s old town center at 424 San Felipe Street NW and is open Mon-Sat 10-18 and Sun 10-17.
Car wash that washes your car and your money
We spotted its memorable shape from afar: that’s the car wash! Our car wasn’t particularly soiled, but it needed vacuuming, so we became instant customers.
USA is full of car washes like these, but they’re rarely in such a distinctively recognizable place, so it’s no wonder this one ended up on Breaking Bad.
The Car Wash has since changed it name and is now apparently called Mister Car Wash. It’s at 9516 Snow Heights Cir NE and open daily 8-18.
Albuquerque’s most famous home
Yep, there it is, Walter White’s home. In the middle of Albuquerque suburbia is a house that millions of people would recognize, and this is when we almost got cold feet: is it really appropriate to go around, taking photos of random people’s homes?
We parked a little further down the street from the house so as not to raise any attention and started nonchalantly walking past the house. Probably our behavior was screaming TOURIST to miles away, because a woman stepped out of the open garage and shouted to us that we were welcome to take photos as long as we didn’t step on the lawn.
The owner of the house had set up a table with soft drinks in the garage and was clearly waiting for someone – maybe a Breaking Bad tour bus? – so we were able to chat to her a bit. She told us they’d given their address to an agent who connects TV and movie productions to sets, and they had no idea how famous the show would become when their house was booked for the pilot. Now cars drive slowly past their house at all hours of the day, and while we chatted with her, we spotted two other obvious tourist cars making the drive.
Filming took less than a week per season, which sounded very short, until we realized only the outside of the house is featured in the show; the insides were filmed in a studio. We didn’t dare to ask if the swimming pool in the show was also theirs, but judging from Google Maps images, it is.
White Residence is located at 3828 Piedmont Dr NE.
Living the life with a DEA salary
After Walt’s house, we of course wanted to see where Hank and Marie live, and it wasn’t a long drive – but the socioeconomical jump was huge. Walt’s home was part of middle-class suburbia, but Hank and Marie were living on a hillside with great views and mansions obviously designed by architects.
Iiro wanted to park right on front of the house and get out to look around, but I was nervous someone would call the neighborhood watch or cops on us, because we’d look so “suspicious”. We didn’t spend much time here.
Hank and Marie’s residence is at 4901 Cumbre Del Sur Court NE.
Los Pollos Hermanos – would you like drugs with that?
In Breaking Bad, a fast food chain owner used their enterprise logistics to transport drugs, and many deals were made in one of the chain’s restaurants. In real life, there’s no such chain as Los Pollos Hermanos, and the restaurant instead is part of a chain called Twisters that sells pretty good New Mexican grub – like green chile burritos – and the restaurant itself is basically in the middle of nowhere.
The restaurant is South of Albuquerque in an area with mobile homes and car repair shops, but the food’s excellent and makes a visit worthwhile!
Twisters that acted as Los Pollos Hermanos is at 4275 Isleta Blvd SW and is open daily 05.30-21.
Motel that’s even shadier in real life
Remember the motel that Jesse escaped to for some time alone with drugs and whores whenever shit hit the fan? It really exists, and it looks even more shady in real life than on Breaking Bad.
Crossroads Motel is pretty much your average American roadside motel, but it’s decided to make some extra cash with placards that say you need to pay in order to take photos of it. That says a lot about the motel, and I have some serious doubts about the legality of those signs. We didn’t bother going in.
Crossroads Motel, 1001 Central Ave NE. The reviews online are pretty bad, so I wouldn’t consider staying here.
Midway through our honeymoon, I was already sure of it: this Caribbean cruise is best vacation I’ve ever taken. Of course it’s big thanks to the splendid company and romantic newlywed feeling, but since I’ve been traveling with my husband for already 10 years before we got married, there must be other reasons, too. Here they are:
1. Interesting and Unique Caribbean Culture
Before this trip, I knew virtually nothing of the Caribbean islands, and in my mind they were all more or less the same: beaches, beaches and more beaches. Wrong! This I realized already on our second port day, when we arrived from the Hawaii-esque US Virgin Islands to a considerably poorer island of Saint Kitts, faintly reminding me of a past trip to Africa.
Instead of spending the days shopping like the cruise advised us to, we immersed ourselves in the history of these islands – and especially Saint Kitts and Barbados were full of it. The indigenous people, colonization, slave trade and sugar cane industry all came up repeatedly as we toured the fortresses and plantations. At Barbados, world famous for its rum, we toured an old sugar cane plantation, where rum is still distilled with traditional methods. Bridgetown was far less touristy than we expected, and the old buildings were simply beautiful.
On Saint-Martin, we were pulled back to the present day, and after Barbados’s “Little England” atmosphere, we were surprised by the feel of French Riviera. The creole English of Kitts and Barbados was gone and instead, I was listening to a language I barely recognized as French. Traffic was again moving on the right side of the road. Saint-Martin is of course divided between France and Netherlands, and on the Dutch side, we were faced with the first really touristy areas of the Caribbean – something we had been waiting to see from the beginning of our trip, but which in fact turned to be a rarity.
2. Island Time – there’s lots of it in the Caribbean!
Sometimes you spend so much time sightseeing that you come back home from a trip in the need of a vacation. Not this time! This cruise on the Caribbean felt like a real vacation without compromising on sightseeing and activities. This is mostly thanks to the couple of sea days when we were in no hurry to do anything.
This doesn’t mean we were bored. The ship was full of activities, all of it non-hurried. Laying by the pool, lounging in the hot tub. Enjoying a breakfast from room service on our balcony. Attending a lecture on the history of the islands (and falling asleep, just like back in university). Getting my day’s exercise with Latin dancing on the deck. Figuring out if I want to see standup, magician or dance shows before or after dinner. Getting my hair cut in the beautiful spa, admiring the waves through full-wall windows. The biggest adrenaline rush I got during the cruise was at the casino in a poker tournament (which I won!). I felt tempted to go again later, but was “too busy” writing post cards and listening to the jazz band in a lounge.
The islands also were taking it slowly. Because they’re so small, one day will already give you a feeling that you’ve seen them. Not all, and not enough to never come again, but enough to leave satisfied. Especially when you can admire the receding shore with a glass of champagne on the ship’s deck.
3. Excellent service, excellent food
We didn’t have any previous experience of long cruises, but we’d picked Celebrity because I’d read they have superb customer service and dining, and we weren’t disappointed. As customer service experiences go, this was the best I’ve ever had, with top notch service continuing for the whole 10 days we were on board. Stateroom attendants were looking to our every need, housekeeping was as unobtrusive as you could wish for, and dining room staff were pleasant every day and evening.
Speaking of dining: there were so many options, all of them fantastic. There was a plentiful buffet for those wanting to gorge on delicacies, but we always opted for a sit-down dinner. Dining in Silhouette, the ship’s large dining room, was more than enough to satisfy our appetites (one word: escargot – we had them every evening!), but there were also several specialty restaurants on board that we tried. There were some real fine dining experiences with lobster flambéed in cognac tableside and a truffle ravioli that proved to be the best pasta I’ve ever tasted. It’s a miracle we didn’t gain more than a couple pounds on the cruise.
4. …and of course the beaches.
We only hit the beaches on two islands, so they weren’t as prominent on our trip as we had presumed beforehand. All the beaches we went to were fantastic, but two were above the rest.
Virgin Islands National Park on Saint John was the kind of Caribbean you could imagine European settlers falling in love with hundreds of years ago. Thanks to its status as a protected national park, the beaches remain mostly untouched with long stretches of white sand and incredible turquoise waters. Because of high winds that day, we had to skip snorkeling, but instead we hiked a short way to Honeymoon Bay where we spread our towels on the sand. We weren’t the only tourists on the beach (far from it), but on this particular stretch, we were the sole sunbathers.
The other beach that will stay forever in our memories was Maho Beach on Sint Maarten. We spent three hours here swimming and sunbathing, but that wasn’t the reason to come here – but the close proximity to the airport. Check out the photo below and you’ll understand why.
Would I go again? Absolutely! Maybe not on the same route and possibly not on the same boat – the islands were great and Celebrity Equinox a fantastic experience, but it was so luxurious, a trip so fit for a honeymoon, that for our next trip we could go a little more down to earth. Luckily there’s range and variety in the Caribbean, and we’re already planning our next holiday there. I used to smile a bit at those with a cruise fever, but I might have caught the same fever myself.
Travel+Leisure published a while back their readers’ list of ten best domestic (incl. Canada) cities to travel to. I was delighted to notice I’ve visited six of them, and even more delighted when I realized the top destinations weren’t mega popular internationally well known cities but instead the smaller gems that I’ve only found out about after moving to the US.
So if you’re planning on a North American roadtrip this coming year, take heed of this list:
10. Asheville, North Carolina
Asheville is one of the two cities in this list I’ve missed even though I’ve meant to visit. When we lived in Georgia, we were planning to go here, but only got as far as Cherokee before we had to head for Tennessee and the Great Smoky Mountains.
I had heard a lot of good things about Asheville’s whitewater rafting opportunities, and I was also aware of the city’s brand as a home of new age hippies in the middle of mountains. The city’s also known as Paris of the South, which title it has claimed surely thanks to Gilmmore Estate: this French renaissance style mansion is over 16 000 square meters and is the largest privately owned home in the US.
9. Victoria, British Columbia, Canada
Victoria is a smaller city than the nearby Vancouver, but it still beats its big brother in a lot of aspects, like the weather: it rains only a third in Victoria of what it does in Vancouver. Victoria’s population is only around 80 000, and its downtown has a British vibe. I haven’t been to the Northwest corner of the US yet, but when I head there, Victoria’s going to be on my list.
8. New York City, New York
It’s a surprise to noone that good ol’ New York City is on the list. A surprise to me was its placement: only eighth! NYC is iconic, special, in its own division altogether, one of my favorite cities, but I gotta give it to you, it’s not the easiest for a tourist. Hotel prices are seriously crazy here!
If you do manage to find accommodation, New York City will have activities for every day of the year, and the restaurants are some of the best in the world. It’s in fact such a great place that this will be my third year in a row that I’m visiting: I just booked airfare for our first anniversary in September!
7. Chicago, Illinois
I’ve spent just one day in Chicago, back in 2007, and then the city really lived up to its nickname, the Windy City. Walking along the banks of Lake Michigan, I was freezing, and it was “only” October!
I was impressed in Chicago by the city itself. To start, I climbed Willis Tower (back then, Sears Tower) and stared at the city, amazed at skyscrapers pushing up from the grass of low-rises. Architecture and urban culture are reasons why Chicago has such a good rep these days, and reasons why I’m heading back some day, hopefully soon.
6. Quebec, Québec, Canada
The most European city in Canada? That would be Quebec. The city and its namesake province must be one of the only places in US and Canada where you’d be better off speaking something else than just English. French is the lingua franca around here!
I haven’t visited Quebec myself, but I’ve wanted to since I realized the city’s a world heritage site. Old cute town centers just take my heart away.
5. San Francisco, California
San Francisco might not be the warmest part of California – we visited two years ago in August and had to don our jackets for the first time on our roadtrip – but this doesn’t slow the city down.
What I loved the most of about San Fran were the neighborhoods, each with a distinctively different vibes, and the numerous hills with trams speeding up and down. We only spent two days in the city, and that was clearly not enough. Another city we must visit again!
4. Santa Fe, New Mexico
When I mentioned smaller gems in the introduction, this was exactly what I was thinking about. Santa Fe is far from everywhere, but this is a city you should make a bigger detour for.
Downtown of Santa Fe is built from adobe, and it feels like time lost its course some two centuries ago, never finding its way again. The city has numerous excellent museums, and after they close down, there’s simply nothing better than spending the evening way on one of the rooftop terraces, enjoying summer heat that lasts well into fall.
3. Savannah, Georgia
I’d never heard of Savannah before our move to Georgia, and I fell deeply madly in love on my first visit. Every time we had visitors from Europe, we’d tell them go see Savannah!, and they all would, and they all loved it too. So what’s up with that?
Savannah is built of old antebellum mansions from centuries ago, gardens inbetween them, carriage houses behind them and all of downtown tied together by squares where moss grows on trees and makes the town look alive with ghosts of the past. The local art school, which happens to be one of world’s best, must have had a positive effect on the city, because the streets are filled with small galleries, design shops, cute cafes and good restaurants.
I’d go back anytime, darling, anytime.
2. New Orleans, Louisiana
New Orleans’s French Quarter, the official party town of USA, is alive 24/7 and especially during Mardi Gras. Who cares if sewages smell in the summer and rats having a party of their own? This is the Amsterdam of USA.
But don’t just stay in the French Quarter. Garden District has a lot of magnificent large mansions, and Saint Louis Cemetary is one of the more interesting ones to visit.
1. Charleston, South Carolina
Charleston seems to hang around the top of almost every list: best places to travel, most romantic American towns, cutest Southern charm, best places to live… and now it’s even trying to get on the list of UNESCO world heritage sites!
…so of course I’m super bummed that we didn’t have time to visit when we lived in Georgia. One acquaintance said of Charleston: it’s a bit like Savannah, only nicer – which means I absolutely have to go and visit even if I don’t live around anymore.
Have you been to these cities? Which one would you like to visit?
Hiking used to be a summer activity for me, but in the four seasons of Boulder, Colorado, with hiking clubs active year-round, I’ve slowly started to change my mind and gotten accustomed to winter hiking. Last Sunday I put my winter hiking skills to the ultimate test by attending the Boulder Hiker Chicks‘ Winter Trifecta, a tour of Boulder’s three local peaks.
Rather opt for more clothes than less.
It was around -12C when we started the hike, but the forecast said the temperature would rise above 0 in the afternoon. On the other hand, we’d be walking along peaks and ridges with a chance of high winds. And then again, you’ll get warm when you walk. So what to wear on a winter hike?
I wore a technical T-shirt underneath, because earlier I’d hiked in wintertime with a cotton shirt, sweated it while climbing, and then shivered coming down. Not an experience I’d like to repeat! On top of that, I wore a NorthSky microfleece and a softshell jacket. Because I always take something extra with me in case I get cold, I also packed a Patagonia vest because of its light weight. I ended up putting the vest at the first summit and wearing it for the remainder of the hike, instead removing my jacket when needed.
On my legs I wore Patagonia leggings for warmth and waterproof pants on top of them, plus good quality hiking socks. For my hands, I only had a pair of knit gloves, which proved to be sub optimal when I had to use my hands to support my climbing efforts. Waterproof gloves would have been a better choice in the snow.
We met up with our hiking group at Mesa Trailhead at 8am in the morning, and after a short regrouping we started off to our first goal, South Boulder Peak (2606m). In Boulder’s hiking terminology, “trifecta” means the route that passes through Boulder’s three big local peaks. After South Boulder Peak, we’d continue on to Bear Peak (2579m) and from there on traverse to Green Mountain (2482m).
Completing this route from South to North meant that we’d be climbing to the highest peak right in the beginning. The route through Shadow Canyon felt like it took forever, but finally we started seeing remnants of a past forest fire around us, which meant the peak wasn’t far. The horizon also opened up for a view of surrounding Front Range.
What food and drink to pack for a day’s winter hike
On day hikes, my nutrition is based on a cheese sandwich packed in a ziplock. Since this would be much more demanding than your average day hike, I needed additional sources of energy. I ended up packing:
Half a bag of trail mix, which I snacked on whenever I felt low on energy on the long climbs up.
Mini bag of chips. Chips seem to be a big thing with American hikers, as everybody instructed me to pack them before the hike, and bags were passed around at every peak by fellow hikers. I ended up not eating mine, but it’s a nice backup to have.
As a backup, one Clif Bar. In case I get lost or sprain my ankle, or something, it’s good to have more food than you plan on eating.
In addition, somebody passed around some Clif BLOKS before the last climb. It was either the caffeine-infused snack or the great company, but the last climb wasn’t half as bad as I thought it would be.
“Take snacks of every kind, so you’ll always have something you feel like eating on the trail.”
During summer hikes, I drink around half a liter of water per hour, but the winter’s a completely different thing. I packed 1,5 liters with me and ended up drinking less than a liter during the whole hike. One pro-tip for winter hikes: Don’t fill your water bottles with cold water straight from the fridge. It’s not fun to drink water that’s turned into ice slush.
The Ten Essentials
This should be nothing new to anyone who hikes, but there’s a list of 10 essentials you should always pack with you for longer hikes in the backcountry. Normally for a hike on Boulder’s local mountains, I wouldn’t bother with all of these, but this hike was a full day, longer than usual, and sometimes a little far from civilization, so it’s better to be safe than sorry. What I packed for my winter hike was:
Topographical map. I prefer National Geographic maps for hiking in the US. In addition, I had a compass, which I ended up not using on the well marked trails, but which could have come in handy if I had lost my way.
Sunglasses and sunscreen. Colorado sun and the snow pretty much make these mandatory. I still managed to forget both but luckily another hiker had an extra pair of glasses and people passed sunscreen around on the way.
Extra clothing. That vest, which ended up not being extra at all.
Headlamp. Our intention was to get back before dark, and while I managed to do that, part of the group got lost and would have had to hike back in the dark if one person hadn’t gone to pick them up with a car from an earlier trailhead. Delays are always possible, so never trust the sun.
First aid kit. I’ve filled a small beauty box with bandaids, desinfection liquid and other first aid essentials. My husband added in some M&Ms for good measure.
…and extra water.
Space blanket, in case you break a leg and need to wait for hours for help.
Yep, there’s only eight things there. I left out two, another by accident and the other on purpose. I forgot to pack my Swiss army knife – I’ve needed it every now and then, so it’s good to have – and I left out matches on purpose, because Boulder’s Open Space & Mountain Parks prohibits fires.
Everybody has their own taste in hiking boots. High hiking boots are recommended, but since I’ve never sprained my ankle, I prefer the more light-weight low boots from SCARPA. When hiking up mountains, I always use approach shoes that have a sole with better traction. They’re not as comfortable to walk in as normal hiking shoes, which is why I don’t wear them on flat hikes.
On winter, you need traction on your shoes if you’re going to hike any kind of grades. I wore ICETrekkers Diamond Grips, which I’ve found work well on ice, but in slippery snow they were no match for Kahtoola Microspikes that many others were using. In the snow, gaitors would have also come in handy, and while the trails were trampled enough, I got some snow up my shoes a couple times while stepping on the side of the trail to give way to fellow hikers.
The weather gods favored us on our trip, and even though wind on Bear Peak was brutal, I’d say overall the weather was excellent, with blue skies holding on for the whole day. Perfect day for a hike, that is!
We saw other hikers on the way, but even more so we passed (or were passed by) trail runners who hopped around the peaks in shorts. I would never be able to run up or down those mountains in winter – up because of my fitness level, and down because I’d be too scared of slipping.
On top of Green I already felt my feet hurting, and the next day I had trouble moving, but my spirits were high the whole time. Fastest hikers in our group did the route in around seven hours, while I took around eight for the whole trip. 11 miles, over 4000 feet of elevation gain. I had really earned that burger at Chautauqua Dining Hall!
I doubt anybody’s surprised when I reveal that we planned our honeymoon just as much if not more than our wedding. We got married last September and planned to go on our honeymoon straight after, but with so many plans and a hectic fall, we decided to postpone it for this year. Now it’s only two weeks before we leave on the trip of the year! Where, you ask? Well, here:
For our honeymoon, we reserved a 10 night cruise on the Caribbean with Celebrity Cruises. We’ve never been on a cruise before – if you don’t count the party boats sailing between Helsinki and Stockholm, and you don’t – and the reason we picked one for our honeymoon was to have time to relax. You see, I have a tendency of packing as many things in a trip as I possibly can, and there’s not too much you can do on a cruise ship while it’s sailing at sea. But don’t worry, we won’t spend all of our days just tanning by the pool. Shore days are a time for adventure!
Honeymoon – relaxing and adventure make a relaxventure!
We picked Celebrity Cruises as our cruise liner, because we heard they have a great offering for honeymooners. Better food than usually on cruises, a pool area that’s adults only, lots of shows and entertainment for an adult audience, ships that are just a touch more luxurious than normal, plus a honeymoon package for those who have celebrated their wedding max 6 months before the cruise. I’ve heard rumors of what this will enhold, but I’ve intentionally tried to ignore them. Hey, I like surprises!
We wanted a cruise that would last more than a week and would have both sea and shore days, and that’s what we got. We reserved a cruise with 4 sea days and 5 shore days and departing from Fort Lauderdale, partly because flying there from Colorado is cheaper than to Puerto Rico, but also because that’s the reason for the sea days, while the ship sails towards South Caribbean. The ship stops on four different islands, like this:
US Virgin Islands & St. Thomas
The first stop won’t take us out of the US yet but will land us on one of its territories. Guess which country sold these islands to the US in 1917? Denmark! This was because slave trade had been forbidden already in the 19th century, which made sugar plantations unprofitable when you had to (gasp) actually pay to your workers, and Danes were spending a ridiculous amount of their budget supporting the economy of these faraway islands.
The ship will park for a day at the port of Charlotte Amalie, the capital, on the island of St. Thomas, but we won’t stay there for long. We’ve already reserved a shore excursion that will take us on a boat ride around the nearby island of St. John and drop us off there for around four hours. Once there, we plan on visiting the Virgin Islands National Park. Looking forward to some snorkeling and hiking!
Saint Kitts (and Nevis)
The second stop on our cruise will be a day at the island of Saint Kitts. This former British colony drives cars on the left side of the road, and renting a car would require obtaining a “guest driver’s license”, so we’re still contemplating on how we’re going to get around the island. One way or another we’ll visit Brimstone Hill Fortress, which is a UNESCO world heritage site and a little way out of the capital.
I doubt the Fortress will take the whole day, so we’ll probably do something else, too – but what? Hike up a volcano in a rainforest? Visit a sugar plantation? Drive around the island, checking out fishing villages? Hang out at the beaches and beach bars? If you’ve been to Saint Kitts, please leave a comment!
The most Southern point on our cruise, Barbados is an anomaly among the Caribbean islands, out East from the main group and not even formed around a volcano. It’s also by far the most populous island on our trip, and it’s capital, Bridgetown, is on the UNESCO list of world heritage. Therefore I’m guessing we’ll spend a day wondering around the streets and checking out the sights of the city.
Sint Maarten / Saint-Martin
Here’s an island that’s neatly divided in the middle by two countries: Netherlands and France. Both countries still govern their side of the island, explaining its two similar-but-not-quite names. We’re spending a night here, because the ship will arrive to port early afternoon and only leave early next evening.
We’ve already rented a car on the island and plan on checking out both sides of it. I’ve heard the French side is smaller, quieter, more charmant, while the Netherlands side has one sight we won’t miss: Maho Beach, right at the end of a runway at the airport. This is how that works out:
Which one is your favorite island out of these? Do you have any tips for us before we leave?