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Visit: Paris

1 Apr

The City of Light had a lot to live up to in order to meet my expectations, but any place where I was encouraged to start my day with a chocolate croissant and my favorite coffee is an instant winner in my book. We had perfect weather during our 3+ days in the city, and enjoyed walking through the neighborhoods and people watching everywhere we went. Some of the sites were very crowded, and we seemed to move from place to place with a horde of Asian tourists, but the locals were friendlier than expected, and my French was far worse. Overall, seeing Paris was a highlight of my trip, and surely a place we will return.

Stay: We stayed at Le Meridian Etoile, which is located in the 17th arrondissement. We were just a few blocks from the Arc de Triomphe, and walked home every night on the Champs Elysees. The metro stop was on our block, and we were able to get from place to place very easily. I loved the 17th, which seems very much the traditional Parisian neighborhood. There was a patisserie and grocery down the street, and cute little restaurants without lots of tourists.

Eat: Lots of bread, cheese and wine. Our french was shaky enough to keep us out of most of the fine dining restaurants, but that provides an excellent opportunity for some language tutoring and a return trip. A life where eating pastries for breakfast every day is the norm is certainly one I was meant to lead. Coupled with quiche, baguettes and wonderful coffee breaks – I loved eating in Paris, even without trying many of the traditional foods or high-end restaurants.

Shop: Every store imaginable can be found in Paris, most too expensive for me to even set foot in. My darling husband did buy me a new bag while in the city, as a souvenir, but only after I convinced him that the prices were better in Euros. I may have also mentioned that I’m looking forward to returning when I’m fabulously wealthy in order to have the consummate Parisian shopping experience. He didn’t seem amused.

See: The Arc de Triomphe, the Champs Elysees, Parisian architecture, stylish people, Versailles, cute cafes, the Louvre, the Eiffel Towner, Notre Dame Cathedral, charming side streets, the Seine.

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Visit: Amsterdam

30 Mar

Steve’s study abroad roommate is an Amsterdam resident, and a former tour guide to boot, so as soon as US Air allowed us to deplane, miss our train and navigate the Belgian mass transit systems, we headed from Brussels to the Netherlands.

Stay: We stayed with our wonderful friend in his teeny, tiny studio apartment. After two days, I longed for the suburbs. Amsterdam is currently in a building frenzy as they try to increase the number of hotel rooms in the city, so rooms are a bit scarce most weekends, but we were told to avoid the Hard Rock. I think that’s universally applicable.

Eat: Our host quickly explained that the Dutch have absolutely no unique cultural foods, as they are like Americans and just steal everyone else’s ideas. However, we found this to be a bit untrue. Appetizers consisting of fried molten cheese and fried sausage, and snacks that were just like small pancakes covered in powdered sugar and butter. Exactly the same actually.

I will mention that day 2 started my love affair with European coffee, which is nothing different from ours other than it is made with really expensive machines that make the coffee frothy and smooth. None of this drip brewing bullshit for me anymore. I’m a little unsure what these machines are and how they work, but I’m very interested in finding out so that I can force Steve to buy one.

See: Bicycles, people nearly getting hit by bicycles, canals, night canal tour by boat, Red Light district, Maarken Harbor, the North Sea, Haarlem, Dam Square, cool old bars, and more bicycles.

How Very European

28 Mar

Our quick trip across the pond has come and gone, although US Air did everything in their power to keep us from coming or going. Three destinations in eight days meant we packed a lot into our vacation, but we loved every minute. It was an amazing first Europe trip for me, and Steve got to relive his study abroad and backpacking memories. Everything was perfect, at least until I was served cheese cubes and summer sausage for lunch on day 7. Recaps to come.

Thanksgiving in Charleston

30 Nov

In yet another predictable move, we decided it would be more enjoyable to go south for our holiday weekend, rather than spend it here, where the forecast called for rain and snow. Go figure.

It didn’t suck:

Weekend, briefly

13 Sep

For the second football Saturday of the fall we made the trip out of Big Ten country to the lovely South. My alma mater to be exact – the University of Tennessee. A weekend in Knoxville is always a must. A few friends were along for the fun, and we had an amazing, if not very wet, time.

Friday night we went downtown for dinner, and wandered around the Market Square area, which has been revitalized since I graduated just a few (short) years ago. We drank and then ate at Oodles, amongst the hundreds of Oregon fans swarming the area.

Saturday we did our shopping and headed out to tailgate early. It was obviously the disgusting, wet, rainy weather that got us on the road before lunch time. We paid our exorbitant parking fees, made friends with the people next door who had rented their own porta-potty (genius) and watched the boys set up the tents in the pouring rain. Rinse and repeat for four hours until the sun came out.

With the sun, friends came over for a visit, and grill food was consumed. In a traditional southern turn of climate, the temperature shot up to 90 degrees and we all started sweating profusely. I don’t need to tell you that my hair looked awesome at this point.

With our (comped) tickets in hand – thanks Kurt! – we headed into the stadium and watched the Vols go up early, and then yet another crazy weather system wiped out the game for 70 minutes. Yikes. There are no pictures after this point because it just wouldn’t be fair to humanity to see how gorgeous I looked after all this.

Sunday morning we did brunch, as is always necessary with friends, had a Bloody Mary to cheers our time together and did a little campus touring before ending it all with a long drive home. Well worth the trip.

Visit: Kauai IV

12 Jul

Almost two weeks post-trip, and I’m still thinking about the delish meals we ate while in Kauai. Definitely makes the mac ‘n cheese we had for dinner tonight look rather crappy in comparison. And this mac ‘n cheese was made with fontina – and heavy cream.

With a Costco on the island (made it feel very homey), we fixed many meals together as a family at the house. So cute. However, we also ventured out for lunch, dinner and dessert – mainly because I was vacationing with freaks who don’t like ice cream or sweets. Or junk food. Sometimes a girl just has to go out on her own to get what she needs.

Eat: Our first meal out was in Poipu Beach for Father’s Day. We ate at the highly recommended Roy’s. It was pricey, but rather wonderful. I had something something crusted mahi.

Someone also recommended Bubba Burger, which boasts the motto: “We cheat tourists, drunks and attorneys.” Being that I fell directly into two of those categories (and on other days, all three), I was somewhat skeptical. And then – the food sucked. So while I did feel vindicated, I also knew I had been swindled. Point again, don’t go to Bubba’s.

Our last night on the island we ate at The Beach House. Easily the best meal of our trip, the restaurant sits right on the coast and overlooks a popular surfing area. Is anyone still reading this?

Didn’t think so. Thus concludes Hawaii reviews, because frankly, I’m tired of thinking about some place so much better than here.

Visit: Kauai III

7 Jul

[See Part I and Part II]

Steve’s mother is a very active person. She can’t watch TV without taking on a secondary project. She enjoys trips. Trips involve reading several guide books and making lots of reservations. A trip is like one constant pre-planned activity.

My activity level once home from work hovers near sloth. I’m not allowed to pay bills because I too often forget. I enjoy vacations. Vacations are full of sleeping in, taking naps, and lazing around by the pool in between. A vacation is like one big Valium.

A compromise was necessary. Two rental cars were reserved.

Do: After plenty of sightseeing and pool time, we went on a ziplining tour at Kauai Backcountry. Seven lines, a few hours and lunch by a freshwater swimming hole. No pictures here. Bulky camera + metal cables + swinging from a canvas harness 250 feet above the ground? Eh, probably would’ve worked.

After a full morning of ziplining, we fell into the tourist trap that is the Hawaiian luau. We went to a luau held at Gaylord’s on the site of a former sugarcane plantation. The luau itself was theatrical, which means that the open bar came in very handy after they started an involved production featuring dancing, chanting and incoherent dialog. I never understood the plot. It was however very entertaining – if only because of the awesome fire dancers.

Surf lessons were also on the agenda for the athletic of the group. We went down to Poipu Beach where the waves were pretty aggressive for the beginner crowd, but clearly the talent in the family was up to the challenge.

Our last full day on the island called for an early morning departure on our Na Pali coast catamaran tour. The scenes were quite amazing (check them out here), but the sailing was a bit rocky for the unprepared. We conquered rolling 15+ foot seas, and only attempted to sail (with the engine running) for a paltry seven minutes or so. Disappointing for a girl who grew up on sailboats, but the tour had other perks. After making our way down the gorgeous coast, we stopped for snorkeling and lunch.

It appears that our family truce was the perfect deal for everyone. My in-laws did MANY other activities, while we spent endless quality hours lying around at the pool or beach, reading trashy novels and enjoying happy hour. Win.

Visit: Kauai II

5 Jul

So Kauai is pretty scenic. “Blue Hawaii,” “Six Days, Seven Nights,” and “Jurassic Park” have all been filmed there. While we were on the island, Johnny Depp and Co. had just arrived to begin filming the newest Pirates of the Caribbean movie. Would have been far more scenic in my book if we’d actually seen Mr. Depp.

See: On Father’s Day, we went up to see Waimea Canyon – a 40 mile round trip up a windy and pot-hole riddled road. After about five minutes of driving, we already had some pretty awesome views of the Pacific over the historic town of Hanapepe. Hana-pepe, ha ha ha ha.

35 minutes, two nearly flat tires and one minor accident avoided, we were at the top of the canyon, looking down on the Na Pali coast.

On our way back down the mountain, we stopped at a little “restaurant” for a quick lunch. The place was rated #1 by Fodor’s in the area – as the ONLY location to get lunch within miles. We were led to believe it was a cute place on the canyon, but the guide books did us way wrong, and it was more like eating at a gas station. With chickens and roosters outside. And undercooked, grey burgers. Not recommended.

Luckily, stopping to see the full canyon after lunch was worth the culinary and driving risks.

On Thursday, we took a sailing trip out to see the Na Pali coast area. Our tour was on a catamaran, and although very little sailing actually occurred, we saw some of the really beautiful rocks and stuff. And other stuff.

Our last day, before boarding the red-eye, we walked over to see Spouting Horn. It’s basically a rock formation on the water, where holes have worn into the rocks, and waves coming into shore create geysers. Cool.

Quite lovely right? I may not have mentioned this before – but Hawaii is much prettier than Indiana. Just in case you were debating between the two as a vacation spot.

See Part I here.

4th

2 Jul

My favorite holiday is upon us. Hoping your patriotic weekend is full of good friends and good times.

I’ll be in Chicago, for fireworks on the lake. Cannot be beat.

Visit: Kauai

29 Jun

I think my body has just now adjusted back to eastern standard time.

The trip to Hawaii was everything you’d expect from a wonderful family vacation: perfect weather, gorgeous location, water, sun, fun, happy hour and only a few emotional breakdowns. The week was purposefully divided into two portions – specific days filled with multiple pre-planned activities, and alternating days “off” for relaxation and sun. This treaty was negotiated in order to accommodate two populations – the people who enjoy forced activity and generally can’t sit still (i.e. parents), and the total lazy asses (i.e. kids). Consider me the ultimate child in the group.

With so many pictures of the same palm trees to share, this trip will be divided into multiple posts. Today? The where of the trip.

Stay: Kauai is the “garden” island of Hawaii and is known for its lush, beautiful landscapes. We* rented a house in Koloa, a small town next to the popular Poipu Beach area, on the south side of the island. Our house for the week was directly on the ocean and the view wasn’t half bad.

For an island, Kauai is woefully short on beaches. Most of the island is surrounded by black volcanic rock, which is deceptively slippery when wet. Very pretty however. The boys attempted death by 1,000 paper cuts by repeatedly trying to snorkel off our beach, and managed to bash themselves against other rocks and coral over and over. The lesson here? Boys are dumb.

The house we rented not only had seven bathrooms (bam!), but also its own private pool and lanai. It was very amazing.

Good story – my college roommate Jackie often pulled dog-sitting duty for one of her professors, whose dog’s name was Lanai. She was a golden retriever who was a trained service dog and knew like 451 commands. She could get beer from our fridge and bring it to us. She was a binge drinking enabler. Back to Kauai……

I did the majority of my relaxing by the pool, looking out at the ocean. Add my Kindle and a G&T (made with Hendrick’s – new favorite), and it was pretty much my dream vacation. That is, until someone forced my idle butt to move. Bummer duuuude.

We enjoyed watching the waves from a big deck on the second level. Also served as an excellent cocktail hour location. To be honest, I think the entire island makes an excellent cocktail hour location. Just a recommendation.

Sunsets were a little early (7:30ish) but pretty spectacular. I did not witness a single sunrise. Big surprise there.

Still to be detailed at annoying length? Activities, sights, eats and any extras I deem necessary.

*The collective “we” referenced here should not be construed to include me. Or any of the other children for that matter. I did not pay any costs toward the trip and I did not make a single reservation. We were graciously invited as guests of my in-laws, who planned the vacation to celebrate their summer birthdays and upcoming 30th wedding anniversary. I can only hope to be so generous to my family one day. Heck, I’ll consider it a success if I even want to take my kids on vacation after 30 years of wedded bliss.