Top 12 Destinations for Fall 2017

Top 12 Destinations for Fall 2017

As soon as August begins I start looking forward to the cooler temperatures and golden light of fall. Fall is my favorite season for a number of reasons: the air gets crisp, the light becomes golden as the days grow shorter, my birthday, the best holidays (Halloween and Thanksgiving), and my favorite seasonal foods. Fall is also a great time of year to travel. The summer crowds thin out, airfare prices decrease, and the weather is still nice enough to enjoy yourself. It's also the time of year I find myself traveling the most.  Here are my top twelve travel destinations for fall 2017.

36 Hours in Astoria, Oregon

36 Hours in Astoria, Oregon

I’m infatuated with the Pacific Northwest. I loved my trip to Seattle last January, aside from the whole trip to the urgent care, and can’t wait to go back to explore. Portland is always fun to visit for a short amount of time. A road trip I took through the Olympic Peninsula sticks out in my mind for some of the most beautiful terrains in the United States. On that same trip, I drove through the town of Astoria, Oregon. Best known for the iconic 1985 film The Goonies and the whole Lewis and Clark thing, Astoria is an example of the coastal Pacific Northwest: gloomy, woodsy, and quaint.

July Travel Round Up

July Travel Round Up

July was a light travel month, a welcome respite after the near two months of straight level I had between May and June. I purchased a 1958 Terry Trailer, fourteen feet long with all the original appliances. It's being used as my home base for working on my Redding property. We're working on making things more livable up there for us including a camp shower and compost toilet (read a bucket with sawdust). 

Paradise Meadows Trail at Lassen Volcanic National Park

Paradise Meadows Trail at Lassen Volcanic National Park

An hour east of Redding are the towering volcanic peaks of the lower Cascade mountain range and green meadows of Lassen Volcanic National Park. One of the least visited national parks in California, Lassen Volcanic National Park is an excellent choice for hikers looking to get away from the crowds of Yosemite and Sequoia Kings Canyon National Parks. With a number of different landscapes to offer from sulfur vents to mountain peaks, Lassen is one of my favorite national parks.

Vietnam: A Two Week Itinerary

Vietnam: A Two Week Itinerary

Vietnam doesn't carry the same allure as other Southeast Asian countries such as Thailand and Cambodia. It doesn't have the well-worn backpacker trail, golden temples, or pristine beaches. Vietnam is not likely on the top of most people's lists for places they want to travel in Asia. The only reason it was on mine was one man: Anthony Bourdain. As an avid reader and watcher of his work, I became obsessed with going to Vietnam after listening to him wax poetic about it for years. This is how we spent our two weeks in that amazing country.

June Travel Round Up

June Travel Round Up

June brought me back to Grand Rapids, Michigan to visit family. We explored the lower peninsula including Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, the largest Christmas store in the world, and Kalamazoo Nature Center. We ventured on the edges of the upper peninsula, staying the night in St. Ignace and visiting Mackinac Island for a day trip. June also brought new and exciting adventures in home ownership. 

Ten Ways to Spend a Layover in San Jose

Ten Ways to Spend a Layover in San Jose

Don't spend your next layover at SJC hanging out in the airport lounge or in an uncomfortable plastic chair. Learn about ten ways you can spend your layover in San Jose, California with this guide to cheap and family friendly destinations and activities. 

Iceland: A Five Day Itinerary

Iceland is a popular destination from North American and Europe, and with airlines like WOW offering rock bottom prices on flights to Europe with a layover in Iceland, it's popularity will only increase. Iceland is a magical place: waterfalls, volcanoes, glaciers, the northern lights. Its beauty is unavoidable. Here is how to spend five days in this small, adventure-packed North Atlantic island. 

Day One “Reykjavik”: Most likely, if you’re coming from the States, you’ll be arriving in the early morning at Keflavik airport. I would highly recommend renting a car from Avis or Budget Rent-a-Car at the Keflavik airport. Make sure when you do rent a car you’re renting it from this location unless you want to be stranded at the airport without any way into Reykjavik like the poor women in front of us at the rental agency. Renting a car in Iceland is surprisingly inexpensive compared to California (less than $300 USD with insurance and extra damage protection for five days) and driving around the following recommended areas is surprisingly easy. Yes, there’s weather to consider and plenty of areas you should not take your rental car or any other non-ATV. Keflavik airport is approximately forty-five minutes from Reykjavik but it’s an easy drive.

Once you’re settled in and it’s at least nine in the morning (nothing really opens in Reykjavik before nine), head to Laugavegur shopping area in downtown Reykjavik for a cinnamon roll at Brauð and Co. Fluffy and tender on the outside and gooey on the inside without being overly sweet, these are the best cinnamon rolls I’ve had in my life and, sadly, it’s the best inexpensive food you’ll have in Iceland. If you’re looking for a more substantive breakfast, go to Sandholt Bakery for the simple yet tasty fare. After you slake your hunger, walk over to the Hallgrimskirkja, the towering organ shaped church you cannot avoid seeing. From the top of the tower, for a fee, you get some of the best views in Reykjavik, even on a day with near-hurricane strength winds and rain. I would just take this day to acquaint yourself with Reykjavik, discover the street art, and check out the main tourist spots: the Harpa, the Sun Voyager Statue, the Þúfa, and the Settlement 871 +/- museum. When you get hungry, head to a hot dog stand, it doesn’t have to be BAEJARINS BEZTU PYLSUR, which is the famous hot dog stand former President Bill Clinton ate at. 

Day Two “The Golden Circle”: The Golden Circle contains the most bang for your buck in Iceland. There’s a number of ways you can visit the Golden Circle, a circular route through some of Iceland’s top natural tourist attractions: a small tour van, a large tour bus, or renting a car. Don’t be afraid of taking your rental car here and avoid having your schedule dictated by a tour group. As I wrote back in 2016, “The first stop on the Golden Circle is Thingvellir National Park. This national park is home to the first parliament in Iceland, truly the first parliament in the western world. When I think of this, what comes to mind is a line from the show Vikings ‘Are you going to the Thing?’ Because of this, Thingvellir was named the first national park in Iceland in 1930.” Thingvellir is not only an important historic site but an important geologic site. Next stop on your self-guided tour of the Golden Circle is the Haukadalur geothermal valley, home to geysers Geysir and Strokkur. If you’re hungry by the time you get here, then you can get lunch at Saup for a warm bowl of vegetarian soup. Your last stop of the day is Gullfoss, or golden falls, one of the largest and best-known waterfalls in Iceland. Typically, the water takes on a blue-green color but don’t be disappointed when it’s a murky brown. While there are prettier waterfalls in Iceland, this one impresses with sheer volume.

Day Three “The South Coast”: While the Golden Circle is more well known to people outside of Iceland, the more remote South Coast is home to truly stunning scenery. With barren volcanic landscapes, countless waterfalls, and one of Europe's largest glaciers, this area is a must-see for any visitor to Iceland. The highlight of the day will take some planning ahead: reserve a spot on a glacier tour at Vatnajokull Glacier. I would recommend the Glacier Wonders hike with Glacier Guides. This is a three-hour hike with a guide in a small group. The tour costs 10,990 ISK per person. If you want to rent boots, a fleece, or a waterproof jacket they cost an additional 1,000 ISK. They provide you with crampons and an ice ax. Hiking on western Europe’s largest glacier by volume is an incredible experience and a privilege; the quickly receding glacier will not be here much longer. The drive to the glacier is approximately four hours and along the way you should stop at both Seljalandsfoss and Skogafoss, two of Iceland’s most famous waterfalls. One word describes this drive: majestic. At one point my vista was a rainbow, romping Icelandic horses, a waterfall, and a glacier, the definition of majestic.

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Day Four “The Snæfellsnes Peninsula”: Now when we were in Iceland, we were hit by the tail end of a hurricane on the day we wanted to go to the Snæfellsnes peninsula. This area is not the type of place you want to drive in windy conditions and we stayed inside watching fifty mile per hour winds cuddling with the neighbor’s cats. From what I’ve heard it’s beautiful and a great place to view puffins and other seabirds. I Heart Reykjavik has a great post on how to drive through the area yourself and is a great resource for travelers to Iceland.

Day Five “The Blue Lagoon” or “Reykjanes Peninsula”: Everyone who has thought about going to Iceland knows the Blue Lagoon. With over 600,000 visitors a year, it is Iceland’s most visited tourist attraction. It does take some planning ahead, reserve a time slot before going, and it can be difficult to get a good time slot during more popular times of the year. We made the mistake of not planning ahead on this and ended up not going. Plus, it’s pretty expensive and crowded. Instead, we opted to drive around the Reykjanes Peninsula. On the Reykjanes Peninsula, where Keflavik Airport is located, you can visit Iceland’s oldest lighthouse Reykjanesviti, view the Bridge Between the Continents or hike around one of Iceland’s largest nature reserves, Reykjanes Nature Reserve.

On any of the above nights, try driving outside of Reykjavik to view the northern lights or book yourself on a northern lights tour. Remember the days are long in summer and your likelihood of seeing the northern lights in the summer is minimal. The best times of year to see them are from September to mid-April.

Croatia: A 10 Day Itinerary

Croatia: A 10 Day Itinerary

Croatia could fit into California three or four times. It's a small country and when people visit they spend most of their time in Dubrovnik or along the Dalmatian coast; they might even take a day to venture into Plitvice Lakes National Park. In this itinerary, we're going to skip Dubrovnik; there's plenty of guides out there for it already. For this ten day itinerary, I'm going to try to give you a bit of everything: the capital of Zagreb, Istrian countryside, Dalmatian beaches and an island, and the waterfalls of Plitvice. Croatia has so much to offer that ten days is not nearly enough to experience its natural charm and beauty. 

I'm Sorry Budapest, But I'm Just Not That Into You

I'm Sorry Budapest, But I'm Just Not That Into You

Maybe my expectations were too high, or maybe I was hoping for something that doesn't exist. Growing up, Budapest seemed like an exotic bridge between the east and west. In reality, Budapest is decaying, gray grandeur, an ode to a lost empire overlayed by years of communist oppression and the current right-wing fascist government. There was an air of unease and overwhelming tobacco smoke, anti-government graffiti poking its head around the corner. And in between the mildewed and dirty wedding cake of Austro-Hungarian buildings were tour busses and backpackers choking the alleys. 

Eat Hungary

Eat Hungary

You might be asking yourself at this point, did she eat anything good in Hungary? The answer is yes! I ate an incredible meal in Eger, Hungary. Eger is located in the heart of wine country, about two hours east of Budapest. While I would not recommend going to Eger unless you're a true wine lover, if you are out there I suggest eating at Macok Bistro.

Zagreb, Croatia: A Photo Essay

It's hard to put my finger on why I dug Zagreb so much. 

Walking along the Strossmayer Promenade in Zagreb.

Walking along the Strossmayer Promenade in Zagreb.

The Strossmayer Promenade in Zagreb, Croatia.

The Strossmayer Promenade in Zagreb, Croatia.

If you couldn't tell from my numerous posts on hiking or my love of all things tree, I love nature and green spaces. Zagreb is full of parks and tree-lined walkways. 

Tree and pond at Maksimir, the a popular park in Zagreb.

Tree and pond at Maksimir, the a popular park in Zagreb.

Whenever I'm in a new place, I love walking through the streets and discovering street art. It's one of my favorite things to photograph and gives me a real feel for a place. I found the street art in Zagreb to be playful with its palette of primary colors. 

"Gulliver" by artists Boris Bare and Dominik Vuković at Opatovina Park. You can read more about it here. 

"Gulliver" by artists Boris Bare and Dominik Vuković at Opatovina Park. You can read more about it here

The top of Street Art park in Zagreb.

The top of Street Art park in Zagreb.

An alleyway in oldtown Zagreb. 

An alleyway in oldtown Zagreb. 

Zagreb isn't slacking in the architecture department either. It's an interesting mixture of Austrian, Italian, and eastern European influences.

The eye-catching red roofs of Zagreb, a style found throughout Croatia.

The eye-catching red roofs of Zagreb, a style found throughout Croatia.

St. Mark's Church 

St. Mark's Church 

Zagreb has the most diverse food scene in Croatia, as well as the staple caffe bars, gelato, and pizza joints.

Tuna prosciutto at Mali Bar. 

Tuna prosciutto at Mali Bar. 

Mushroom, ham, and basil pizza.

Mushroom, ham, and basil pizza.

My friends enjoying their gelato.

My friends enjoying their gelato.

Coffee in Croatia. Have I talked here yet about the coffee? Damn, it was awesome.

Coffee in Croatia. Have I talked here yet about the coffee? Damn, it was awesome.

Eat Croatia

Eat Croatia

With its excellent fresh seafood, expertly grilled and roasted meats, and quality ingredients, Croatia is a food lover's paradise. Whether you're looking for a luxurious truffle-centered feast or a simple sausage and bread sandwich, Croatia delivers delicious food. Eating in Croatia is an experience and as a diner you should take your time to experience the culture around eating and food.  

Plitvice Lakes National Park: Croatia's Natural Wonder

Plitvice Lakes National Park: Croatia's Natural Wonder

When people think of visiting Croatia they think of two things: Dubrovnik and the waterfalls at Plitvice Lakes National Park. With crystal clear blue waters and countless waterfalls, Plitvice is unbelievably beautiful and a must-do on any trip to Croatia. 

Istria: The Region of Croatia You Have to Visit

Istria: The Region of Croatia You Have to Visit

I've never been to Italy; it's never been high on my bucket list. However, when I think of Italy I think of hillside villas surrounded by rolling green vineyards and gorgeous sunsets while eating pasta. This is what Istria, the region of Croatia closest to Italy, is: your dream of Italy but without the tourists and the tourist prices. 

The Dalmatian Coast of Croatia: It's Not Just About Dubrovnik

The Dalmatian Coast of Croatia: It's Not Just About Dubrovnik

When you mention going to Croatia, everybody asks: are you going to Dubrovnik? The red tile roofs and white walls of the city are easily the most identifiable landmark in Croatia and its main tourist attraction. 

Separated from the rest of Croatia by a strip of Bosnia-Herzegovina, going to Dubrovnik often means skipping the rest of a beautiful gem of a country. While I would love to go back to Croatia and visit Dubrovnik, I'm perfectly fine with not visiting it the first time around. The red tile roofs and crystal clear blue Adriatic are to be found all along Croatia's Dalmatian coast. 

April Travel Round Up

April Travel Round Up

March and April were slow travel months. In March, I didn't leave the state and opted to stay local to the bay area and southern California. In April, I left the state once to attend the Women in Travel Summit 2017 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. I wanted to keep it slow these past couple months to give myself enough energy to handle the travel heavy months of May and June; I will be flying out to Croatia in a couple days and will be in Eastern Europe for most of the month. In June, I will be spending half the month visiting with family in Michigan. It's going to be a hectic few weeks.