Wet Feet, No Ponchos and A Forest of Burls- Olympic National Park, Washington

We decided to head up to the Pacific Northwest region of the US on almost a whim. By the beginning of June the stress from spending almost all my free time studying to pass the Salesforce Administrator Certification exam had reached an all time high and like I told the bf, “If we don’t book some kind of getaway for next month I think I’m gonna end up running away to become a hermit in the wilds of Alaska.” Needless to say he was supportive of helping plan something and after some consideration we decided to head up to Seattle and possibly make a day trip to Vancouver as well since we’d never been to that part of the US before and I was very enthusiastic about the idea of heading to cooler climes.

By the time the trip rolled around I had thankfully successfully passed the exam (hooray) and we headed out on 5 days of adventure with enthusiasm and only haphazard plans of what we were going to do- which is pretty standard for us, because who needs plans?

The first day there, out flight touched down around 10am and after grabbing our rental car, we headed east towards the coast on HWY 101. Living in North Texas really makes a person eager to see the ocean, breathe in fresh salty air and hear the crashing of waves so off we went, no actual destination in mind apart from just the vague idea of driving until we couldn’t go further.


A leisurely winding 2 hour drive from SeaTac later found us gassing up at Queets and entering the outer reaches of Olympic National park, and we started seeing signs for trails with beach access. We planned to grab some snacks (and coffee!) at Kalaloch Lodge and then park and walk down to the easy access beach there but, I was curious about those other trails and convinced the bf to have us go back and take a look at where they might take us.

The trail for Beach 2 proved much too muddy and slippery for us, as unprepared as we were to do any kind of hiking, but the trail at Beach 1, the Spruce Burl Nature Trail, while having no cars parked at the trailhead looked level and relatively straight forward and and so, we started on our way.

We had no umbrellas, ponchos or hiking books and there was a steady misting rain coming down on us but we had the trail that leads through the woods, across a wooden footbridge and onto the beach all to ourselves, not another person in sight as far as you could see, just the sound of waves and the water rushing up the sand. It was perfect and though we were pretty soaked through by the time we headed back to the car, I don’t think I’ve been as carefree and happy as that in a long time.

(Fun fact- Neither me nor the bf had ever seen burls as big as these on trees before and there was both wonder and slight fright at the number of burls on these Sitka spruce trees in these woods.)

Instead of heading back the way we came to make it to our hotel in Silverdale, we decided to head north because per the GPS it would end up being the same length of time and we figured, why not see some more of this Olympic peninsula area? Funny enough we had completely forgotten that the town of Forks (used as the main setting in the Twilight books) was situated here and we pass right through and then doubled back to take a photo of the town sign because it was too fantastic an opportunity to pass up.

With that photo souvenir taken, we settled in for the rest of the drive back to our hotel, rain still lightly coming down and the almost everything around us surrounded by lush greenness.

~m

The Forum Romanum and a Goodbye- Rome, Italy

Was this the highlight of our stay in Rome? Long answer no (St Peters Basilica was surreal but my hurt hurt like the dickens to the point it was excruciating to stand and marvel at it all), short answer heck yes. I honestly can’t emphasize how necessary a visit is to the Roman Forum if you are visiting Rome and considering we almost didn’t go ourselves thats saying something.

I think the only real downside to the visit was that because we chose to do this in conjunction with the Colosseum tour (which isn’t necessary but the ticket price for us just made sense), we didn’t have as much time to explore as I would have liked once the tour concluded. But to be fair, I feel like I would need a full day to see it all and I’m more than willing to come back to do so.

Being for centuries the center of everyday life in Rome, the sprawling ruins of the forum are capable of capturing anyone’s imagination and I would almost dare anyone to visit and not be filled with wonder and immense curiosity at the lives of the people who inhabited these spaces.

( For information on how to get there, it’s location- next to the Colosseum it’s pretty obvious but still-, the price of admission and opening hours I would suggest going here. )

After paying my respects at Julius Caesar’s alter (not to be confused with his grave, but where his remains were cremated and where his altar is dedicated ) we headed back down the street to our Airbnb apartment where it was time to pack things up for the next mornings journey to Paris.

After snacking on what will always remain the best tasting strawberries that I’d picked up earlier on our walk back from the Pantheon, I alternated between packing and making sure we were reading for our early departure and marveling at the incredible view from our windows as the sun set and night descended complete with twinkling stars.

I can say with a surety that i’m sure has been expressed millenniums before- there is no city quite like Rome and I would almost say that any first time visit to Italy isn’t complete without at least a stop to the city that all roads lead to.

~m

Wonder and Incredible Views in the Boboli Gardens- Florence, Italy

Though the Palazzo Pitti is a great place to visit all its own, the reason I picked it over the Uffizi Gallery was because of its gardens. The Boboli Gardens to be exact, located just behind the palace, were established in the 16th century by the Medici family, though there have certainly been many updates and renovations since then.

We were incredibly lucky and managed to visit on a day with crisp cool weather, beautiful blue skies and a minimum of crowds and spent more than a couple of hours walking around, not only because of how immense the area is but because of how incredibly relaxing it was just to explore all the areas, it felt like you never knew what could be around the corner- perhaps a marvelous fountain, an impossibly stoic statue?

Up a staircase, to where and what? Why not go and find out?

Incredible views of the countryside and more of the gardens! The best part of visiting the Boboli gardens was feeling a little bit like a kid and getting the chance to pick any direction and just go off to explore and discover.

And of course, no matter how lovely the gardens, it was the statues and the amazing views of Florence that just really made it all that much more spectacular.

We finished up the trip by wandering up a little hill and discovering yet more incredible views. It honestly felt like there was no where you could go in the gardens where you weren’t rewarded for your curiosity.

We stayed in the gardens until about 5:00pm, and then exited to sit and linger in the front of the palace where many other people had just plopped down to rest and hangout before figuring out their plans for the rest of the afternoon. Our own plans at that point where to make the return walk to the train station where we would catch the ride that would take us back to Rome, but for the time before that walk was started, was just sat there outside the Palazzo Pitti and enjoyed the lingering remains of the day, people watching and feeling ever so reluctant to leave this beautiful city.

~m

Here We Go…- EuroTrip 2018

Dallas –> Paris –> Venice –> Rome –> Florence –> Paris –> Dallas

That was the itinerary for this last trip I just went on and though I’ve been back home for about two weeks now, considering just last week I finally finished posting about the last trip… you can imagine I’m probably not quite as on top of things as I would want.

But the honest truth is I’m actually really very excited to share photos and stories from this last adventure on here and I’m planning on going back to a 3 posts per week kind of schedule to accomplish that without take half a year to get through it all.

It’s gonna be a lot, I came back with over 1000 photos to go through, not to mention the countless stories, adventures and odd moments of travel to put together into some kind of coherent format but hopefully, with some patience, you guys will still be willing to come with me on this ride.

~ m

A Goodbye to Versailles and Hello To A Magical Night Out- Paris, France

 

By the time I had wandered my way to the Grand Trianon on the grounds of Versailles after leaving the the Queens Hamlet, my feet were getting achy and the rain had started to sprinkle down a bit more forcefully. Instead of going inside however (because that would be too logical), I sat just inside the steps, the beautiful black and white tiled floor providing a super elegant resting place to get my energy back up to start the trek back to the main palace and eventually to the meeting place for the tour company I had arrived with that morning.

A lengthy and leisurely visit to the gift shop (but of course) and then it was goodbye to Versailles and back to being a peasant outside it’s gates while I waited with my gathered tour group for the bus to arrive to take us back to Paris.

While on the ride back I got in touch with my friend Rachid who was finishing up teaching a class (because he’s a very smart cookie that teaches mathematics and the story of how we managed to become friends is best left for another day but involves me discovering that some math majors are actually quite cool) and we attempted to coordinate when and where we would meet up, things made a little more difficult because of the weather and unpredictable traffic. Eventually though, I made it back to Paris and the drop off point with the tour group and shortly thereafter met up with Rachid. Being a current Parisian resident, he immediately shuffled us off to the nearest Métro station so we could journey back to my hotel so I could pick up the gift I had gotten for him in Amsterdam and drop off that days souvenirs. He was exceedingly keen on having me experience this form of public transportation, as it’s what he uses on a daily basis and well, why not right? It was a quick trip and soon we were back on our way to our first destination, the french-gothic cathedral Notre-Dame de Paris.

The cathedral was as beautiful as I had expected it to be, almost larger than life in a wonderful way. We didn’t go inside as the area was deeply congested with visitors but just getting to see it up close and personal this way was a great experience to mark off as done on my list of “things to do/see in Paris“. Even as we crossed back over the Seine to head towards what turned out to be the famous Shakespeare and Company bookstore, I was already making plans in my head to come back for a more in-depth visit.

Before visiting Paris, I had only heard of the bookstore via movies and blurbs in travel guides- I think I might have mentioned this before but, I’ve never viewed Paris as that interesting to me personally. Not because its not bursting at the seams with museums and fascinating history- it surely is- but just because there have always been other places that interests me much more. That being said though, the history of the Shakespeare and Company Paris bookstore is a fantastic one and I definetly suggest stopping in. It’s situated just across from Notre-Dame and its a really unexpected book oasis that invites you to linger for a good long while.

Once we had managed to extricate ourselves from here (because I of course wanted to buy dozens of books and maybe a couple of postcards) we began the hunt for a place to grab dinner at nearby. After a bit of talking we settled on the idea that we should try and find a traditional French restaurant as I had never really experienced French cuisine before. Eventually after some walking around the area, we stopped to read a menu displayed outside a restaurant and the waiter (or host, I couldn’t quite tell) managed to get us-er I mean, to invite us to come inside.

So… i’m not going to give the name of the place we ate it- mostly because I honestly can’t with 100% accuracy remember it and so therefore i’d hate to drag the wrong place. But gods, I don’t think i’ve ever had a worse meal. Perhaps it might have been because I couldn’t read the menu (as Rachid speaks fluent French and when our waiter asked “anglaise or french” he said French, leaving me a bit in the dark as an unintended result) and I felt mighty uncomfortable asking him to translate every item and so ended up just going with what seemed familiar to me. It might have been the odd neon lighting, the crinkly plastic tablecloth that stuck to my skin the second I dared to let my arm rest on the table, maybe the really narrow table and hard wooden chairs…or maybe the rather unexpectedly terrible food.

The good thing though, is the meal wasn’t an utter wash because Rachid tucked in and greatly enjoyed his food, the vegetable soup I got on a haphazard whim ended up being almost tasty enough to make up for everything else and the really great conversation we had over the hour we were there made everything else fade into the background. Ahhh the powers of friendship, no?

 

And so, with that neon adventure behind us, we walked onward with no real destination in mind and the sky darkened to true nightfall. We walked over what felt like half a dozen bridges, talking about literature, history, our relationships and respective ideas of love (after all, the subject is almost infused into the bones of this city) and eventually found ourselves outside the Louvre. I remember seeing people walking past the gates and towards the illuminated pyramids and turning to Rachid to ask, “Wait, people can go in there at night?” . He hadn’t known you could explore the courtyard area after the Louvre closed for the day either, and so we crossed the street to follow the rest of people wandering in.

To say it was magical would be such a severe understatement. The next day I came back in the bright daylight hours but the way everything look that night- softly lit and only sparsely populated with visitors- thats the way I think I want to remember it forever.

I really can’t overemphasize visiting the Louvre at night- you can’t go inside the museum itself because it’s closed but that shouldn’t stop you from visiting the area to view it at night, to get a chance to look around such a historic place with plenty of breathing room thats very hard to find during the daylight hours. Also, it’s just really freaking cool.

We ended the visit by crossing the street to get a closer look at the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel (not to be confused with the larger and more famous Arc de Triomphe de l’Étoile ) and idly wondering how far it would be to walk from here to either the Eiffel Tower or the other Arc. Probably overambitious on my part but I was considering walking from either one back to the Louvre the next day, though Rachid was more rational in that taking the Métro would be the better plan (he’s such a smart guy but definetly still needs to learn just exactly how utterly irrational I can be, ha).

Eventually though, as the time got later and later, we decided it would be a good idea to call it a night as he had a class to teach in the morning and I was more than a little tired from the long day. Ever the gracious host to his city and an amazing friend, Rachid walked me back to my hotel before finding his own way back home. Have I mentioned what a great person he is? Yes? Once more then!

Considering I started and spent half the day exploring Versailles and then the other half seeing so many wonderful Parisian sights and treasures, it truly was a day and night to remember and it ended up really cementing in me the deep desire to come back again, and soon.

~m