Iceland is an island of natural contrast. An ancient ocean gnaws at young land; water and ice carve through volcanic rock; and sprawling green-fields are shadowed by snow-capped peaks. I could not have imagined how stunning Iceland would be, nor could I have anticipated the wonder it would inspire.
It is estimated that the first land to emerge in the place we know as Iceland did so 12-14 million years ago. This new surface would continue to grow in spite of the raging ocean around it. Jagged island spires, iconic detachments of rock, and heavily weathered cliff faces are all evidence of the ongoing oceanic attempt to subdue the vernal landmass.
The struggle between rock and water can be seen inland as well. The country’s glaciers and rivers are antithetical to the volcanic rocks they inhabit. The masses of ice grind away layers of rock as the oldest ice is forced down along the slopes. Rivers of meltwater simultaneously shape steep cliffs and mountainsides at every turn. These landscaping forces eventually provide the life-sustaining freshwater streams that permeate Iceland’s lowland areas.
Sheep and shaggy Icelandic horses enjoy the resulting green-fields. The expanse of pastures separate small coastal towns and feature the occasional farm or community. Virtually all of the existing development and lack-thereof lie at the feet of towering mountain ranges. These behemoths are summer sanctuaries for persisting snow; they shine like white beacons on the horizon for travelers.
Taylor, her sister Kendall, and I saw all of this beauty as we drove and camped around Iceland’s ‘Ring Road’ or Route 1. The route more-or-less parallels Iceland’s shoreline and encircles a majority the country. We did venture off the Ring Road to explore the Snӕfellsnes Peninsula and find puffins in Borgarfjarðarhöfn. The entire trip took eight days and nearly 1,000 driving miles. Here’s how we did it:
Day One: We arrived at Keflavík Airport and took a cab to the Airbnb where we were staying. We then took the bus to Reykjavik to see Hallgrimskirkja Church, the Sun Voyager Structure, Harpa Concert hall, get hot dogs at Bajarins Beztu Pulsur, and have drinks at The Lebowski Bar.
Day Two: We picked up our Kuku Camper and went snorkeling at the continental divide at Silfra. We then drove to the Snæfellsnes Peninsula and cooked dinner under a midnight sun before camping at the Hellissandur Campsite.
Day Three: We went to see Kirkjufellfoss before catching Iceland’s first World Cup game at Laki Hafnarkaffi. After a tie game, we explored around Berserkjahraun Lava Field, admired the horses at Vatnsdalur, and called it a night outside of Akureyri.
Day Four: We started the day on the North Coast by walking through Akureyri before checking out some of Europe’s most powerful waterfalls, Detifoss and Godafos. We then swam in Stóragjá and walked through the sulfur acid fields of Hverir near Lake Mytavn.
Day Five: We drove off the Ring Road to Borgarfardarhöfn to see hundreds of puffins before following the shore down to the Saxa Sea Geysir. An unplanned detour to the Gallery of Frevilli in Djúpivogur was an awesome stop before were soaked attempting to take pictures at the Hvalnes Nature Reserve Beach. We warmed up with a good, hot meal from Hafnarbúdin before bedding down at the Haukafell Campground.
Day Six: On the East Coast we saw the greatness of the Vatnajokull Glacier first at the Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon and Diamond Beach, but later we got to climb all over Svínafellsjökull - a tongue of this behemoth of ice. We later hiked through Vatnajökulspjódgardur National Park to Svartifoss before calling it a night in the town of Vik.
Day Seven: We woke up early to see Reynisfjara’s black sand beach and its hexagonal basalt columns. We then hiked to the abandoned Solheimasandur Plane Wreck and went chasing waterfalls at Skogafoss, Gljúfrabúi, and Gullfoss. The famous Geysir on the Golden Circle was our entertainment for a long while before making it to Selfoss for the night.
Day Eight: We started off early with a Lave Tunnel Tour of Raufarhólshellir. We then hiked to Reykjadalur for a quick dip in the hot river before our late evening reservation at The Blue Lagoon. Our last campground of the trip would be at the Hafnarfjödur site once we'd had a burger from Holtanesti.
Just like that, our trip was over. Eight days in the most spectacular and awe-inspiring countries could never be wrapped in to words. We tried our best in more specific links for each region we visited, where we stayed and ate across the country, and the tours we took. You can see all of them on our Iceland Page!
Iceland is known as the land of fire and ice; and when a glacier melts, it creates a massive flow of water that tears through the ground beneath it. It seemed like there was a beautiful waterfall for us to see around every turn in Iceland. Some were big and powerful, while others were tiny and unnamed. We only saw a small portion of the waterfalls across the country, but their beauty is still worth sharing.
Here are the waterfalls we saw, in order, while traveling the island on our eight-day road trip:
Our first day in the Kuku Camper took us to Pengvellir National Park where we snorkeled the continental divide and saw our first waterfall, Öxarárfoss. On our way around the ring road, we stopped at Pórufoss and Sjavarfoss before going to the Snæfellsnes Peninsula to see Kirkjufellfoss.
We continued across the country and saw Godafoss in the northern region, near Lake Myvatn.
We continued on to Europe's most powerful waterfall, Detifoss. After a day of Glacier Hikingtroll-expedition-glacier-hike.html, we hiked up to Svartifoss. It was my favorite waterfall because of the basalt columns behind the gushing water.
Thanks toThe Secret Life of Walter Mitty, we stopped at Skogafoss to get up close to this lush green waterfall. We were able to get much closer to John's favorite waterfall, Gljúfrabúi, after we waded through narrow canyon walls. Our last waterfall was Gullfoss and its beautiful rainbows that stretch down the river.
Iceland's rich landscape provides a great home for several different types of wildlife. We drove around the country for eight-days and were lucky to see the diversity of the country's landscape along with its wildlife. The lush countryside is full of farm animals like fluffy sheep and Icelandic horses. While the island's coast is full of birds, seals, and occasionally whales.
When we picked up our Kuku Camper, we were warned about the sheep. We were told they are a little suicidal and will jump in front of the car for no reason. Truthfully, when some sheep hear a car, they just start running. Sometimes that means they run in front of an oncoming car. We were also warned that if we hit one, we would have to pay the farmer €500, so we made sure to always keep an eye out for them.
Pinterest and friends who had visited Iceland told us that there Icelandic Horses are prominent as well. We stopped several times to see and pet the horses along the ring road, but it turned out that we didn't need to. Several of the campsites we stayed at had barns and stables on the premise!
Our first encounter with marine life was at Ytri Tunga Beach on the Snæfellsnes Peninsula. We sat and watched roughly ten seals play in the cold Atlantic Water and relax on the beach. Alongside the seals were squawking seagulls fishing in the waves below.
Kendall, John, and I were treated to an unexpected penguin sighting in the Snæfellsjökull National Park. A crowd of professional and amateur photographers were taking pictures, and we had to see what had captured their attention. I tried to snap a few, but I didn't get any great pictures from that distance.
As as general rule, the northern region of Iceland provides a greater chance of seeing wildlife. There are less people and colder temperatures. It is the perfect summer nesting ground for Arctic foxes and puffins. The Arctic fox is an elusive animal and is difficult to find unless you're in the West Fjords. We did not go that far north but we did get to see one fox during our trip. It scurried across the road near the Saxhóll Crater around 1 AM.
We did get to see hundreds of puffins, though, in the northeast corner of the country. The cliffside of Borgarfardarhöfn is the summer nesting ground for thousands of pairs of puffins every year. We went on a cold, rainy day early in the morning and so we were some of the only ones on the viewing platform.
The last wildlife we saw in Iceland were a majestic couple of reindeer. We were not expecting to see any on our trip, then we spotted them on the side of the road. It really capped off an already great day outside of Vik.
We loved watching these animals interact in their natural environment and going in the summertime allowed us to see more animals than we were expecting. If you leave the city of Reykjavik, it will be impossible not to see some of Iceland's wonderful wildlife.
Iceland has some of the most interesting geology. From glaciers and volcanoes to black sand beaches, there is something different on every side of the country. During our eight-day trip around the outskirts of the country, we stopped at several beaches to see different wildlife and environments on every coast we visited.
Ytri Tunga was our first beach. We sat on the shores and watched seals play around in the crashing waves, while birds circled around overhead cawing and diving for fish.
Saxa Sea Geysir near Stöðvarfjörður was our next viewpoint of the Atlantic Ocean. Unfortunetly you must go at high tide to see the geysir in its full glory. We were not so lucky.
Hvalnes Nature Reserve Beach was one of our favorite places in Iceland. We had the black pebble beach to ourselves for what felt like hours. We chased the monstrous sneaker waves up and down the shoreline as we took pictures of all the bones, shells, and other interesting things they washed up.
Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon and The Diamond Beach were unlike any other beach in Iceland and might be the only of it's kind in the world. Large chunks of the nearby Vatnajökull Glacier have broken off into the lagoon and washed ashore on the black sand beach.
Vik's Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach was our last beach in Iceland. The hexagonal basalt columns, along with its sea caves and nearby cliffs, make this one of the most interesting beaches to explore in Iceland.
When we started to head down the east coast of Iceland, we knew that our eight-day road trip was coming to an end. Our plan was to do the most popular regions at the end of our trip to avoid weekend crowds and maybe save the best for last. While the last few days of our adventure did not trump previous regions or experiences, we had a blast hiking across glaciers, playing on black sand beaches, and marveling at waterfalls.
Our trip down the east coast began with us waking up at the Haukafell Campground next to a 'tongue' of Europe’s largest glacier, Vatnajökull. It excited us to see more of the glacier at Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon, where large chunks of ice have broken off and washed ashore. These fragments give the appearance of, "diamonds on the beach." The contrast between the ice and black sand made The Diamond Beach the most unique beach we visited.
We got to see much more of the glacier on the Glacier Hike Tour that we booked through Troll Expeditions and Guide to Iceland. We spent 90 minutes learning about the glacier’s makeup while hiking around the top of 800 year old ice.
After the tour, we stayed inside Vatnajökulspjódgardur National Park to see Svartifoss. This was one of my favorite waterfalls because of the hexagonal columns that frame the flowing water. We cooked a late night dinner in the parking lot before making it to our campsite for the night.
The Eastern region may have been one of the smaller areas we explored, but it was definitely one of the most eventful and unique. It may be the only area in the world where you can hike on top of a glacier then, less than five miles away, hike through lush vegetation to a gushing waterfall.
There was no doubt in our minds, as we were driving south, that the Eastern region's popularity is well deserved. Little did we know, we were on our way to another region of Iceland deserving of similar popularity and renown.
We stayed at the Vik Campsite our first night in the Southern region so that we could get to Reynisfjara Beach as early in the morning as possible. Our plan worked, because we had the giant basalt columns and black sand beach to ourselves for a little while that morning.
Next to this marvelous beach is Dryhólaey Cliff. We checked it out quickly before hiking out to the Solheimasandur Plane Wreck. The wreckage was subject to our investigation for a long while, before we hiked back to continue our day in Vik.
Two quick stops off the Ring Road would conclude our time in the Vik area. Grandurinn Cave was a fun side stop, while the closed Eyjafjallajökull Volcano shop gave us a quick history of the local volcanic eruption in 2010. We continued southeast to hit some of Iceland’s most iconic waterfalls.
We saw the 'Walter Mitty Waterfall', Skógafoss, before visiting Seljalandsfoss and it’s hidden neighbor Gljúfrabúi. The rainbows over Gullfoss were a perfect icing on the proverbial waterfall cake. We ended an already jam-packed day with a different kind of water feature.
On the Golden Circle lies, Strokkur, a geyser that shoots water 30 meters in the air roughly every 10 minutes. It erupts more frequently and higher than Old Faithful at Yellowstone National Park. It was very fun to sit and watch the geyser boil up and shoot steaming water right over our heads.
The next day we had an early morning reservation for a tour of Raufarhólshellir Lava Tunnel. We stepped back in time almost 5,000 years as we followed our tour guide into the tunnel. We spent roughly an hour inside the tunnel learning about the formation and current state of the tunnel. It was a very unique, intriguing experience.
After our tour, we grabbed a quick bite to eat and a warm cup of coffee from Kaffi Kraus. The good meal helped prepare us for our hike to Reykjadalur and the hot river. The hike was gorgeous, and we recommend that you set aside a few hours to really enjoy this spot. We hiked the hour-long route but didn't stay long once we'd arrived. We had a reservation at The Blue Lagoon and could not imagine missing it.
Even though our trip was coming to an end, we had big smiles on our faces as we left the the Southern region. We had planned our trip perfectly and saved an area jam-packed with gorgeous attractions and guided activities for last. We returned to the Capital region of Iceland with innumerable memories of natural splendor and joyous friendship.
The further north you go in Iceland, the more sparse the towns and people get. At the same time, the landscape becomes more beautiful and open. After a very busy few days on The Snæfellsnes Peninsula, we were ready to view the wildlife and geography that the northern region would offer.
We started our few days in the northern region in the town of Akureyi. The town has brightly colored buildings that pop in contrast to the mountains that surround them. The harbor had a cruise ship docked, so the streets were packed. We did not give this picturesque, little fishing town enough time. We just parked, walked straight to the church, and looked at a few of the surrounding streets. We were in a bit of a hurry to see as many things as possible that day.
Our next stop was Godafoss. Its turquoise waterfalls and mossy cliff faces makes it one of the prettiest waterfalls we saw on our trip. When we arrived, we stopped to take pictures on the bridge with a smaller waterfall in the background, but the real masterpiece is hidden behind massive canyon walls. We walked along the trail and were able to get much closer to the fall than initially expected. When we started to get a little wet from the mist, we called it quits and hopped back in our Kuku Camper to drive toward our next destination.
Lake Myvatn held an unexpected landscape. We started by seeing a grassy, green lake that was surrounded by hills that turned out to be craters. Then, we swam in a slot canyon grotto before visiting Mars on Earth in Hverir. It was the most diverse place on the Island we visited.
Close to the Lake Myvatn area is Viti Crater. We stopped for a quick picture, but the wind was blowing like crazy. We thought it would be safer to refrain from walking along the edge. It was a very cool spot that we wish we could’ve had more time to learn about and explore, but we had another waterfall to see.
Detifoss is Europe’s most powerful waterfall. It has 500 cubic meters of water falling over its 150 foot drop every second. We came in on the west side of the river where there is a nice pathway and viewing platform built. If you come in on the east, you can walk right up to the raging water. We were truly impressed with the overwhelming size of this waterfall.
We drove quite a long way off of the ring road to see puffins at our next stop in Borgarfardarhöfn. The hour or so journey up the mountain was narrow and gravelly but absolutely worth the pictures we got. You can see more of my pictures in our gallery, here.
When we got back on the Ring Road, we attempted to see the Saxa Sea Geysir, which actually isn't a geyser at all. It’s a rock formation that blasts water into the air. Unfortunately, we didn't go during high tide, so we had a hard time finding the formation. We think we saw it, but we don’t actually know if it was the correct place.
We continued down the coast and stopped in the town of Djúpivogur to see the Eggin í Gledivik sculptures.These sculptures of Iceland’s native bird eggs are very interesting, but we ended up stopping at The Gallery of Freevilli for the most interesting stop of our trip. We looked at the collections of gemstones, bone, and carvings while talking to the owner, before we hopped back in the car for another one of our favorite stops on the trip.
Hvalnes Nature Preserve was an unexpectedly fun and interesting shoreline. For almost an hour, we stumbled around on the black gravel beach, looked at the washed up shells and carcasses, and ran from sneaker waves. We laughed so hard at one another as we tried to run from the waves. It was our favorite beach on the trip if not our favorite spot overall.
After all of our excitement on the beach, we had worked up quite an appetite. We stopped in the 'langoustine capital of the north' Höfn in Hornafirði Fjord. We had some lobster rolls and deep fried hot dogs at Hafnarbúdin. After the great meal, we spent the last bit of our time in the northern region at our campsite in Haukafell.
Our two days in the northern region of Iceland were jam packed with things to do and places to see. We came across waterfalls, beautiful wildlife, and stunning landscapes, and delicious food. Though northern Iceland is not as popular as the southern region, there is no doubt in my mind that it is just as wonderful, diverse, and intriguing as any other region.
The Snӕfellsnes Peninsula is not on Iceland’s ring road, but it is well worth a detour. Taylor, Kendall, and I had planned to explore this peninsula from the first day of planning. Not only would we visit our first hot spring, we would visit our first Icelandic national park, see seals in the wild for the first time, and stand atop a volcanic crater for the first time.
Our first stop once was a small hot spring called Landbrotalaug. The wind cut cold, but steeping in the hot water could not have been more relaxing and comfortable. The spring can become crowded, but luckily we did not have to wait to hop in at 6:30 on a Friday evening. We could not spend too much time at the spring, but the short dip was an intoxicating experience.
Our next stop would be a quick trip to Ölkelduvatn or mineral spring to fill up our water bottles. The spring contains calcium, potassium, sodium, magnesium, iron, fluorine, chlorine, sulfate, bicarbonate, and carbon dioxide in astronomical amounts relative to ordinary drinking water. The water tastes like very strong carbonated water without the fizz. It is suggested that you leave 200 Icelandic krona (~$2) in a payment box for using the spring. Taylor and Kendall didn't necessarily care for the taste, but I was able to finish what we collected.
The Ytri Tunga beach is known for hosting its very own seal colony, and we had to stop to see if they were lounging on the shore. After parking, we walked westward along the beach to where a few more visitors had been enjoying the skeptical company of seven seals. The seals were a joy to watch although their playfulness would often be disrupted by glances to be sure that we hadn’t moved any closer. Chances are supposedly best to see the seals in June and July, and we were all glad to have made the stop.
Our plan was to stop for the night in Arnarstapi, but we were quickly informed that there were no spots available. Instead, we decided to view the Gatklettur rock arch and keep pushing onward toward Snӕfellsjökull National Park.
The next stop we made was at the Londrangar basalt cliffs where we were drawn to a group of photographers shooting a group of huddled penguins. Once we’d marveled at the unexpected sight of penguins and struggled to take pictures from the far distance, we had a quick parking lot meal and headed for the last stop of the evening.
One of the windiest stops of the entire trip, Saxhóll Crater was an uncomfortable but beautiful location. A short climb up a set of metal stairs around 1:30 AM took us to the very top of the crater where we could see the interior of the caldera and miles of the surrounding landscape. One of my favorite activities in Iceland was attempting to mentally simulate the history of each landscape we encountered, and this ancient lava spout was one of my favorites to try to wrap my head around.
Wrapping my head around the next attraction wasn’t as difficult, but the beauty of a waterfall and mountain combination is something special. Some of the most iconic Icelandic pictures frame Kirkjufell and Kirkjufellfoss. Kirkjufellfoss alone may not stand out among the many Icelandic waterfalls, but the two in concert are exemplary of Iceland’s beauty.
The final geological wonder we came to on the Snӕfellsnes Peninsula was the Berserkjahraun Lava Field. The remains of four local volcanoes blanket more than five square miles of area. Seemingly every inch of the once destructive lava flow now hosts a pale green moss. The incredibly soft moss seems to compensate for the jagged rocks that are its home.
A few of our most unique sights were complements of the Snӕfellsnes Peninsula, and the tour of Iceland would not have been the same without it. From hot springs to seals and an expanse of escaped magma, this detour is one full of wonder and beauty. A campsite may be few and far between at times, but a breathtaking view of our Earth’s magnificent features never were.
Our eight-day trip through the land of fire and ice started in the capital city of Reykjavik. Iceland is a country of only 300,000 people but its tourism industry is absolutely booming right now. As we wandered around the city on a Thursday afternoon, the streets were filled with people; and every store we went into was overflowing with tourists.
We started our day at the iconic Hallgrimskirkja Church. Even though we were being pelted with cold rain, we stood outside in awe at this house of worship's architecture. The inside of the church was just as beautiful as the outside. The large chapel was filled with sounds from giant organ pipes. The sounds bounced off the high-arched ceiling and stained glass windows as a church member played.
After we sat and took in the beautiful notes, we went back outside to see the statue out front. Viking history and memories of Leif Erickson are found all over the country, but it is especially prominent in the capitol city. After reading the commemoration to the country’s most famous explorer we headed to the Sun Voyager Structure to see more monuments to explorers.
The abstract, stainless steel structure is on the Atlantic Ocean and portrays the native roots for exploration and discovery. The Sun Voyager was created to encompass the idea of new lands yet to be found and the promise of home, freedom, and progress; and it does a wonderful job expressing these sentiments. From the structure we could see the Harpa Concert Hall which was our next stop.
The modern design of the Harpa Concert Hall stands in contrast to the historic city that surrounds it. The design of the façade is very meticulous and strategically planned. The more I read into the architecture behind the oblong hexagonal sides, the more interesting the building became. They were created to mimic the basalt columns that are famous to the country, and each polyhedron fits together perfectly.
Some panes seem to be random, but they are strategically placed to reflect sunlight in different ways during different times of the day and year. Unfortunately, you cannot see the inside of the concert hall without purchasing a tour. There was an upcoming performance, so we weren’t able to see the concert hall itself.
We had worked up quite an appetite by this point, so we went on a hunt for what we had heard were Reykjavik’s best hotdogs. After a quick walk around the Old Harbor, we found the small station that is Bajarins Beztu Pulsur, and we were so glad we did. Our bellies were filled with cheesy hot dogs and coca cola just as celebrities like Anthony Bourdain's, Bill Clinton's, and Princess Diana's had been before.
At this point, we had done almost all of the things to do in the city that I had seen online, but we kept strolling around looking at street art and brightly colored buildings. We were glad we kept wandering, because we stumbled upon the Arcade & Toy Museum. The entrance is underground and barely visible from the street. For a small price, roughly $10 a person, we played old-school games like Pac-Man, Galaga, Street Fighter, and pinball for 30 fun-filled minutes.
When our time was up, we walked across the street to check out some heavy metal punk music that we could hear coming from across the street. The noise was coming from the underground Punk Museum; but since we had just paid for the arcade games, we chose not to pay the entrance fee. Instead, we kept walking around and stumbled upon the last thing I had on our loosely planned itinerary, The Lebowski Bar.
We only stayed at this great, cult-movie themed bar for a few beers then went back on a quest for an inexpensive bite to eat. Weirdly enough, we ended up in the Irish Pub, because it was advertising cheap fish and chips. That’s all I wanted for dinner, and we decided it was time to head to our Airbnb and get a good night’s sleep after filling up on good beer and decent food.
Before we caught the bus home, we grabbed desert at the Volcano Crepes food truck at the bus stop. We topped our night off with a Nutella, chocolate, banana, and strawberry crepe. We got on the bus and knew our trip was going to be great based off our day in the city.
Chattanooga is a city that I often take for granted. It’s only two hours from Birmingham and is full of hiking and climbing and other things I love to do. When my friend, Mackenzie, suggested we go for a weekend, my friend Katie and I couldn’t pass it up. On Friday, after work, we hit the road toward the quaint mountain city.
A lot of my trips include minimal, last minute planning, but it is always a good idea to book an Airbnb a few days ahead. We were lucky enough to snag two bedrooms at The Beautiful 1930 House in North Shore. Mackenzie had never stayed at an Airbnb, so she was able to save $$$ using this code: www.airbnb.com/c/taylorc1809.
The Airbnb was our first stop in the ‘Noog. We met our hosts for the weekend, unpacked our bags, and got ready for the night out. They gave us great advice and told us to try the burgers at The Tremont Tavern for dinner.
We enjoyed each other’s company at the Tavern for a while, until we decided to venture further downtown. The first bar we tried out was The Honest Pint. It wasn’t quite what we were looking for, so we walked around the block to The Bitter Alibi. It still was a bit more relaxed than we wanted, but the décor and design of the building appealed to our intrigue and convinced us to stay for a beer. We decided to call it an early night, so that we could be up early enough for pancakes at Aretha Frankenstein’s.
Taking my friends to my favorite restaurant in Chattanooga the next morning made me very happy, and started kicked day off in the best of ways. I had to explain that the pancakes are always worth the wait, but I didn’t have to explain anything once our bellies were full. We crossed the Georgia line to go to Rock City next. The combo pass for Rock City and Ruby Falls is the best deal if you have time to see both. We had no idea what to expect of the waterfall and overlook, but it turned out to be so much more than we could’ve imagined!
The history of Rock City is extremely interesting; it was originally inhabited by Native Americans but it is known now as the birthplace of miniature golf! The 700 acres of Fairyland Gardens were once a private residence and golf course, but they are now a carved-out walking trail that takes you to the famous Lover’s Leap and High Waterfall. Standing here, you can see seven states: Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama, North Carolina, South Carolina, Kentucky, and Virginia!
The trail also runs through attractions like the Fairyland Caverns and Mother Goose Village. We were so surprised by how much we enjoyed Rock City, and we all agreed that it was our favorite attraction of the weekend!
After about two hours of exploring around, we started across the mountain to Ruby Falls. We arrived to a very long and unexpected line of people ending outside of the building and in the parking lot. It turns out that buying a ticket in advance will give you no advantage over waiting in line. Our estimated wait time was 45 minutes, and it was nearly correct. Before we knew it, we were standing in the elevator and whizzing our way underground.
Like most caves, there is an incredible history of it’s modern exploration. A young man, Leo Lambert, who grew up exploring around Chattanooga was looking for a cave when he stumbled upon Ruby Falls. He romantically named the falls after his wife, and reportedly could not wait to show her. Now, millions of people come to see America's largest commercial underground waterfall.
Surprisingly our tour was really crowded. We were there in the late afternoon of a rainy Saturday, but I felt as if we were constantly stopping to make room for another group to pass. I would suggest trying to go earlier in the day, because the line was even longer than before! After our tour, we were ready for dinner, so we headed back to Tennessee.
Tony’s Italian Restaurant is where we devoured some hearty bowls of pasta and had a few brews. We were all too tired to do anything afterwards, so we went back to the Airbnb to get some rest for another day of adventures!
My girlfriends and I consider brunch to be a weekend requirement, and this weekend’s brunch would be at one of my favorite Chattanooga bars. The Flying Squirrel has great grub and mimosas and was a perfect stop before the Aquarium.
We thought we had acted like children at Rock City the day before, but our excitement inside The Tennessee Aquarium was in a fever pitch. We started on the smaller side with The Ocean Journey. The escalator took us up to the top and we started with lemurs and safe-to-touch stingrays.
The butterfly exhibit was really cool, because we could get very up-close-and-personal with the beautiful beings. We were able to get a few butterflies to land on us, but Katie did not like having them on her hands. We finally passed them off to some kids and kept walking down The Ocean Journey.
I have never seen someone’s face light up like Mackenzie’s did when we approached the penguin exhibit. We could have spent hours watching these little guys jump in and out of the water, but we needed to move on and let others enjoy the view. Sharks, turtles, and tons of fish were housed all throughout the Tropical Cove before we arrived at the last Ocean Journey exhibit.
The River Journey starts the same way the Ocean Journey did. You take a couple of escalator rides up to the top where an open exhibit themed after the Appalachian ecosystem allows you can touch sturgeons instead of stingrays. We made our way through The Mississippi Delta and to the River Giants exhibit. Giant sturgeon, stingrays, and catfish are on display from all over the world here.
We spent about 3 hours exploring the entire aquarium and had worked up a bit of an appetite. Puckett’s is just across the street from the aquarium and is one of Mackenzie’s favorite BBQ restaurants. We enjoyed a savory bite before we hit the road back to Birmingham. Our first weekend girls’ trip is in the books, and it couldn’t have been more successful!
Mardi Gras, or Carnival, celebrations take place all across the world in accordance with the religious Lenten Season. America’s Mardi Gras roots lie in the port city of Mobile, Alabama. The city’s Southern Live Oak trees and buzzing nightlife make for a fitting Mardi Gras setting that Taylor and I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to check out.
Taylor and I caught our first parade of the weekend at the corner of South Broad and Canal Street after a short walk from our Selma street Airbnb. The Mobile Mystics, Mobile Mystic Revelers, and Mobile Mystical Friends were showing off their floats as bystanders yelled and reached for Moon Pies, Oatmeal Creme pies, various trinkets, and unnumbered types of beads.
Local high school bands, dance groups, and community organizations marched and entertained between floats. Occasionally a customized go-kart or truck would fill the space between floats with loud music and revving engines.
Once the parade finished, Taylor and I walked on broken beads down Government street to find a place to socialize before our next parade. We stopped into O’Daly’s Irish Pub and found seats on the patio. A Mardi Gras concoction later, a song by the Talking Heads lured us into the Brick Yard. We enjoyed the bar’s fantastic playlist and friendly atmosphere until it was time to hit the streets for the next parade.
The Maids of Mirth, Butterfly Maidens, and Krewe of Marry Mates had the Mobile crowd bubbling with excitement as they made their way down the route. Many more people than earlier in the day were crowded against the parade barriers, and they were a much more lively bunch. The crowd had gathered for a reason; the floats were more impressive, seemed to be larger, and were carrying a more diverse array of goods to be thrown into the crowd. The late parade is a must if you’re goal is to truly experience Mobile’s Mardi Gras celebration.
The short weekend in Mobile couldn’t have provided better insight into the city’s Mardi Gras tradition. Taylor and I got to spend time among the people of Mobile, and we ran into out-of-towners like ourselves who were drawn by the celebration. While New Orleans may be known for its Mardi Gras celebration, the people of Mobile have a historic tradition of their own to claim.
John and I seem to work best when we plan a trip at the very last minute. We booked our reservations for Cloudland Canyon State Park less than 24 hours before we departed just as we had done for our previous trip to The Great Smokey Mountains. Our reservation for a 'walk-in campsite' was ideal for the weekend, because they are all within one half mile of a parking area and conveniently connected to the West Loop Trail (we didn't know that until we got there)!
After work on Friday, John and I hit the road from Birmingham to the northwest corner of Georgia with our pup Maria in my newly purchased Subaru Outback. We got to the parking lot of the walk in campsite area around 7:30 p.m. and were nestled in our tent before nine. We would need a good night's rest to prepare for the hike ahead of us.
The West Rim Loop Trail was once ranked as a 'top ten hikes in the U.S.' by Backpacker Magazine. Naturally, John and I had to check it out, and it did not disappoint. The 4.8 mile “lollipop” loop trail lies atop the western edge of the canyon and provides incredible views of the canyon below. A short connector trail leads to the trail from the walk in campsites.
The flat and grassy 'Walk In Campsite Connector Trail' follows the same stream that flows through the walk in campsite area. We connected to the loop and were welcomed to our first viewpoint after a short climb through boulder littered hardwood trees. As we traced the western rim of the canyon rim, the views continued to become more stunning. All of the main viewpoints have large stone platforms with well maintained railings, but various clearings allowed us to see the entire canyon from nearly every angle. The further south we hiked, the more clearly we could hear the water flowing below us.
Once we had crossed over Daniel Creek, we connected to the waterfall trail and began our descent of over 1,000 stairs. The Waterfall Trail is fairly short at just 1.8 miles, but it is more difficult than its length may imply.
John and I chose to go to Cherokee Falls first when the trail came to a 'T'. After about a half mile descent, we arrived at a great opening where the falls had made a nice, wide pool. We didn’t stay long, since we were expecting rain and wanted to make it to Hemlock Falls as well.
Descending further downstream of Daniel Creek lead us to the less trafficked Hemlock Falls. We barely made it down to the viewing platform before the rain started to drizzle on us. Maria and I ran up ahead to snag some pictures, before the three of us took shelter under the platform we had just walked down from. After the nice 30-minute rest, we hopped back onto the trail and continued back to our campsite. The Waterfall Trail is rated 'strenuous', but John and I had no problem finishing this trail plus the 'moderately strenuously' West Rim Loop Trail in 4 hours including a 30 minute rain break!
When we made it back to our tent, we set up our Eno Hammock and relaxed 'til the sun started to set. The rain was persistent throughout the night but our Eureka! Apex 2 tent kept us, Maria, and our gear warm and dry. Even with the rain, we had an easy, fun, and relaxing weekend in the mountains!
Mardi Gras is a huge tradition down in New Orleans, Louisiana, that draws hundreds of thousands of people to the city for the celebratory weeks leading up to Fat Tuesday. I had always told myself and my friends that I would never go, but John and I recently had a blast at Mardi Gras in Mobile, and my friends pestered me to join them for weeks. I was sold.
Our host friend’s house was just off of Tchoupitoulas Street and practically on the parade route, so we didn’t have to go far to see the Mardi Gras action. Our hosts had been invited to a neighbor’s tent, so shortly after we arrived Friday night, we were walking down the street to enjoy some drinks and music before the parades.
I discovered that the only people excited to see the approaching Krewe of Morepheus were those of us who had yet to experience Mardi Gras. We had a blast making fools of ourselves to be showered with beads, toys, and trinkets. We all agreed that the marching bands--when they were actually performing--were our favorite.
Our group went from seven strong to only three almost instantly after arriving to Bourbon Street. My two girlfriends and I went to The Beach in hopes of finding the rest of our friends. We searched but couldn’t find them in the crowd. Naturally, we had a drink and started dancing.
We found our group later that night as they were calling an Uber to go home. My girlfriends and I hadn’t had enough, so we stayed and danced until nearly two in the morning. There was nothing afterward that could’ve been more satisfying than a greasy but delicious slice of pizza from the nearest daiquiri bar pizza.
Miraculously, everyone was feeling well during breakfast the next morning. We enjoyed La Boulangerie from the front porch of our friend’s house and watched the parade crews get their floats ready. Once we had finished our meals, we followed the crowd until we were back in the same spot we had been the night before.
The Krewe of Iris was approaching, but so was the rain. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to stay at this parade for long, but it allowed us time to plan our next move.
We knew that we wanted to head to Mid-City to see the Krewe of Endymion and meet up with some more friends from college. The rain continued to pour, but luckily, we had a friend drive us to the parade to meet our friends. We claimed a spot right on St. Charles Street for the Krewe of Endymion’s parade.
The Krewe of Endymion’s was by far the best parade we saw in New Orleans. Some floats had full-blown LED screen displays.This Krewe must spend thousands of dollars on their floats. The floats were extravagant and the queens who rode them fit right in.
The Queens wear these massive headdresses called collars that have to be wired to the actual float so that the Queen doesn’t topple over. Their dresses alone cost upwards of $10,000. The pressure to not sweat must be unbearable! The parade goes on for hours; I can’t imagine what it’s like to be unable to move for over six hours.
The parade was nowhere near over, but we decided to leave the parade around 6 PM when the rain picked up again.
We Ubered down to Frenchmen’s Street so that we could hit up some bars after we ate.We picked Adolfo’s above The Apple Barrel Bar. After sharing a plate of buttery clams, the five of us who remained ordered the same delicious fish entrée and were put into a food coma. We somehow managed to pick ourselves up from the table, move across the street to Café Negril, and listen to some live reggae music.
Two more broke off from the group, and the same two girls from the night before and I were somehow the only ones out, but this didn’t stop us from continuing the party. The balcony at The Blue Nile was calling our name, and when we got to the stairwell, we heard live jazz and knew we had picked a great place. Sadly, this was our last stop for the Mardi Gras weekend. Once the band stopped, we decided to stop too.
The next morning was a quick shuffle out the door to beat the 11 AM parade that would block off our road home. We said our goodbyes over leftover king cake and packed up our bags. I feel like I enjoyed my first New Orleans Mardi Gras experience so much because it was spent with really great friends and because it was raining, which tamed the crowds dramatically.
Our weekend was nothing as crazy as I had mentally prepared for! I think this lighter weekend has prepared me for the craziness that is every other year and convinced me that I could come back for a “real” Mardi Gras.
Last year, Taylor and I spent New Year’s Day in our Nation’s Capital. We enjoyed the trappings of Washington D.C. and cherished the time spent with friends. Our 2018 New Year’s trip was much the same. Cork County and the capital city, Dublin, hosted a week full of old friends, new friends, and wonderful experiences.
We reached Dublin city on the morning of December 30th and paid for an Aircoach bus to Cork City. Taylor’s sorority sister and her boyfriend were waiting to take us to our Airbnb in Ballincollig. Once our bags were put away, we headed for a bite to eat at The White Horse Restaurant. A fine Irish meal of Bangers and Mash and Fish n’ Chips prepared us for a night out at Tradehouse Central Bar and Kitchen. After a night of dancing to our favorite American music, "Taco Fries" from Drumbstix satisfied our late night appetites before the ride home to get some sleep.
New Year’s Eve began with Taylor and I moving our luggage to Allie and Rob’s apartment. Allie and Rob were more gracious hosts than we could have ever expected. A delicious breakfast prepared us for a drive out to the fishing village Kinsale to see some of Ireland’s famous cliffs and wander around the fishing town. Night began to fall as we drove back to Ballincollig to prepare for the New Year.
Our first destination in Cork City was The Courtyard on Sober Lane to join Rob’s family for a celebration of his brother’s engagement. After meeting a score of brilliant people, we walked the streets of Cork City to An Spailpin Fanach, where the four of us greeted the New Year with local music and boisterous laughs.
The damp New Year’s Day found Taylor and I exploring the Blarney Castle. After a couple of hours of wandering the beautiful grounds, we returned to Ballincollig to prepare for another night out. We were invited to a celebration at the Ballincollig Gaelic Athletic Association and it would prove to be one of the most enjoyable parts of our visit. The night ended with great burgers and fries at Lennox’s .
The second day of January would see us discover several Cork county jewels. The Drombeg Stone Circle is a little further than an hour away from Ballincollig but worth the drive to see the ancient Druid megalith. After a morning in the countryside, we drove back to Cork City. The fabled English Market was our first stop in Cork where we found shelter from the rain and marveled at spreads of vibrant veggies and choice cuts of meat. The recommended restaurant upstairs from the market was closed, but we were taken to O’Flynn’s Gourmet Sausages for a phenomenal Irish sausage dog once the rain had eased.
Our next and last stop in Cork city was the Blackrock Castle to see the planetarium and tour the old gunnery. Rob’s parents were kind enough to have us all for an exquisite dinner before we took advantage of the opportunity to rest up for Dublin.
After spending a few days in County Cork, Taylor and I took the train from Cork City to Heuston Station in Dublin. After walking our luggage to the Airbnb before venturing to the Christ Church Cathedral near the River Liffey. Visitors were required to pay for tours, so we walked the grounds and stood in amazement of the incredible architecture.
Wonder soon again filled us at Saint Patrick’s Cathedral where we learned about the underground River Podle that feeds the fountain in St. Patrick’s Park. We discovered a toll to enter the church and decided to walk to The Guinness Storehouse to meet a friend.
We caught up with one another and enjoyed the rich taste of Guinness before moving our conversation to The Stag’s Head. Soon after, we were invited to join in on a bus ride to Celbridge for a more quiet atmosphere. The Village Inn was the pub of choice, and Thai food from Delhi Darbar complemented stimulating political discussion. A taxi couldn’t be hailed quickly in Celbridge at two in the morning, but the wait was well worth the time spent in Celbridge.
The next day in Dublin was filled to the brim with planned events and a few stumble-upons. To start the day, Taylor and I wandered the halls of Dublin Castle. After the tour, we worked up a fierce appetite that was soon quelled by an unbelievable breakfast from Hatch and Son’s.
Our ravings over breakfast were soon replaced with quiet enjoyment of a perfect walkabout of St. Stephen’s Green. A stroll down Grafton Street on our way to the splendid Trinity College was filled with window shopping and music from a few street performers.
We marveled during our tour of the Book of Kells exhibit and wandered up and down the immense Long Room library before pondering the remainder of our night. The first move was toward Merrion Square to see the relaxed statue of Oscar Wilde before the gates of the park closed
Nearby we found the sprawling exhibits of the Natural History Museum and National Gallery of Ireland. A touch of hunger reminded us of the time, so we decided to find our taxi driver’s recommendation from the night before. Trocadero is a fine dining restaurant that Taylor and I weren’t exactly dressed for, but the three course meal fueled the remainder of our last night in Dublin.
A short walk to The Temple Bar involved crowds and relatively expensive pints, so we took a longer walk to O’Donoghue’s Irish Pub. Surrounded by frames from the past, Taylor and I enjoyed the local scene and music at O’Donoghue’s until it was time to rest up before our early morning flights back to the States.
Both Cork and Dublin County proved to be welcoming sites of intrigue, history, and beauty. Taylor and I never failed to be astounded by the offerings of Ireland and the kindness of her people. I speak for both of us when I say that we are already looking forward to our next visit to the Emerald Isle.
The south side of the Appalachian mountain range in October is a roller coaster of colors. Blushing red and vibrant yellow leaves fill the distance between farmhouses of all ages and conditions. Towns like Floyd, Virginia, and their surrounding communities are sparse reminders that Virginians have settled some of the most beautiful mountains in North America.
Taylor's aunt, uncle, niece, and nephew met the two of us at the Buffalo Mountain Getaway in Willis, Virginia. Soon after making re-acquaintance, we enjoyed a delicious homemade stew and a competitive board game. Taylor's aunt took the victory, before we all rested for the day ahead.
The next morning, our homemade breakfast of bacon, eggs, potatoes, and preserved pears prepared us for our day of exploring Virginia's countryside. We headed into the town of Floyd to start the day.
The Floyd Farmers Market was our first destination. Despite the October chill, local folks were selling hardy vegetables, various cuts of meats, and handmade items. We set out into the countryside after exploring the town and having lunch at The Floyd Country Store.
Driving toward the Rocky Knob Recreation Area after lunch revealed several beautiful views across Southern Virginia. The hills seemed to ripple away into a vast, green sea sprinkled with islands of bright change. We pulled into a few viewing areas before driving to the Mabry Mill. The property featured an overshot mill constructed in 1908, a blacksmith shop, and the home of the family who owned them.
After our walk about the Mabry property, we made our way down the mountains to the Chateau Morrisette Winery. The massive winery featured tastings, cheese samples, and tours of the facility. It was a wonderful way to end a beautiful day in the mountains.
Our night ended after a homemade enchilada meal, a game of Catan, and reflection on the day. It was a quick but wonderful weekend with family in a the foothills of Virginia.
Our first excursion stop from our 7-Day Royal Caribbean cruise was Cozumel, Mexico. Our day started early and it was our longest excursion day overall. Our ship docked in Cozumel, but we took a ferry boat to Playa Del Carmen where we met our tour guide, Manuel.
We took an hour and a half long bus ride through the Yucatan Peninsula to The Coba Archaeological Site. Manuel lead us through the ruins that had already been excavated. We walked across ball parks, where we saw engravings and the hoops used for scoring, ancient roads used for trade, and walked up the stairs of a pyramid.
The main highlight of the tour was climbing the Nohoch Mul pyramid. We climbed 120 steps to get to the top of the pyramid, the steep climb in the dense humidity was well worth every bead of sweat. When you arrive at the top you get an almost eerie feeling of what this temple was used for thousands of years ago.
When we were finally brave enough to climb back down, we hopped back on the bus and drove about 10 minutes to a local cenote, or underground swimming hole. We arrived at Multum-Ha, we showered off and headed down their stairs underground to the water.
The water was crystal clear yet a bright turquoise color. We could tell the water would be cold, so Kendall and I jumped right in off the pier and swam around the hole to keep warm. We could really only stay in the water for about 15 minutes mainly because our tour was almost over and secondly because it was getting cold.
We dried off and started on the two hour trek back to the boat. This was the only port and excursion we weren't able to have a shopping break, which was disappointing because they seemed to have the most interesting hand made items for sale. After making the ferry boat wait for us, we made it on and found our seats and made it back to the ship in plenty of time.
Our day in the Grand Cayman, was my dad's favorite part of the trip. This was my parent's 25th wedding anniversary so I don't think anything could have dampened their moods. We had a much more relaxed day. We got up in time for breakfast from the buffet and made it on the first ferry boat to the port.
We had a little over an hour to kill, so we wandered in and out of the shops looking at things to come back and buy. We then decided to grab a couple of local cocktails right by the dock. We each tried different drinks and took them with us when we heard our tour guide calling our excursion.
We took a couple minute bus ride along the coat line to The Governor's Palace, where our catamaran was waiting on us. We were able to snag a spot on the netting that covered an open space right above the water. We relaxed and sun bathed on the open water until we were told to grab our snorkeling gear and have a quick lesson.
The first place we were to snorkel was the USS Kittiwake. This boat was purposefully sunk in January 2011, after an almost 50 year life span in the military, to create an artificial reef. Its most famous mission was recovering the Blackbox from the Challenger space shuttle explosion. Interestingly enough, the ship actually had just moved almost 20 feet deeper just a few days before from Tropical Storm Nate.
We swam the length of the boat a dozen times over, watching the fish and scuba divers down below swim in and around the shipwreck. Our next stop was just a few miles away so we took off our gear and got comfy on the ropes.
We stopped next at a very fragile shallow reef. We were given special instructions on how to stay above the coral and, of course, were told not to touch anything. Once we were prepped, we hopped in to the water. I immediately broke away from the crowd and went to see as much as I could. I swam over brain coral, rainbow fish, sea urchins, and lots and lots of finger coral. It was my very own "Planet Earth" moment, and I loved every moment of it.
When we heard the three air horns signaling us back, we hoped on board and sailed back to the port. Here, we were able to shop a little bit more than the other ports before having to head back to the boat, so I grabbed John a gift and we grabbed a ferry boat back to the ship.
Our day in Jamaica was my dad's birthday and our last day of excursions on our 7-day Royal Caribbean cruise. Early that morning we docked at Falmouth, Jamaica, before our 8 a.m. tour we had a quick breakfast and hopped right off the boat to find our tour guide under a gazebo on the dock.
We followed her to a bus where we took an hour long ride to Dunn's River Falls. On the way, our tour guide gave us a history of the land, pointed out where Bob Marley and Usain Bolt were from, and told us a lot about the local culture.
One big part of the culture is music, and the famous song "Day-O" featured in Beetlejuice has a rich Jamaican history, talking about the banana man coming to count their bunches so they could hit their quota for the day and go home. We sang this on the bus and at both of our excursions. Also be prepared to say, "yah mon" a whole lot, because that was almost always the answer to every question they asked us.
We arrived at Dunn's River Falls and it was a bit different than we expected, its way more commercialized than we imagined. You arrive at gates where you get wristbands or buy tickets, and it makes you feel like you are at Disney World. Until you actually get to the water and meet your tour guide, the entire walk down their is different commercial stops with vendors and shops.
Our guide's nickname was "Big Foot' because he walked everywhere barefoot and his feet were huge. He was super energetic and gave us great instructions and did different silly things each time we stopped. (For example: since it was my dad's birthday, at one stop we circled around him and sang him Happy Birthday and splashed him with water). He also guided us under the water falls and down natural slides and let us swim through the water.
You start at the bottom of the river and climb your way to the top, some of the rocks were really slick or had big drop offs, so it was really important we pay attention to Big Foot and yet we each managed to slip a couple of times, but nothing was major.
The falls are an incredible display of natural beauty. The rocks break the water in to the most picturesque shapes, yet they flow so smoothly over the jutting stones. The water was surrounded by incredible tropical trees with ginormous leaves, letting in just the right amount of sunlight. It was the most tropical hike I have been on thus far.
Once we made it to the top we exited the park, trying not to shop at the stands so that we would be on time for our tubing tour of the White River. We arrived at the little shack check in spot, grabbed our inner tubes, and waited at the end of the pier for our guide to help us get in to the water.
We continued as a group down the river, through rapids and whirlpools, using the tour guides to save our butts when we got stuck. It was so much fun letting the water take hold of you and just seeing where you would go. The scenery was incredible all around, it felt like a tropical paradise. But what looked more like a paradise was the bamboo float tours we passed, they looked so romantic and luxurious we were all a little jealous.
But after our tubing adventure concluded and we arrived at our bus, we were off to a true Jamaican lunch at the Shaw Park Beach Hotel and Spa. We arrived to complimentary Rum Punches and were lead down to the patio where the buffet was laid out.
We requested a table by the water, in the sunshine, and ordered a round of Red Stripes before we got food of the buffett. Each of us tried everything they had to offer; curried jerk chicken, Jamaican jerk pork, steamed rice, and traditional beef patties filled our plates. Our plates didn't stay full for long, we each wiped them clean and thought about getting seconds.
Instead, Kendall and I decided to go swim in the ocean and wait to be called back to the bus. We waded in the bath warm water for a few minutes until we decided to dry off. We still had an hour bus ride back to the port, so everyone slept on the bus while it started to rain.
October is always a special month for my family, but October 2017 was extra special. We chose to celebrate both of my parents' 50th birthdays, their 25th wedding anniversary, and my sister's 18th birthday on a 7 day Royal Caribbean cruise. Our port stops included Cozumel, Mexico; George Town; Grand Cayman; and Falmouth, Jamaica.
Our time on the boat between port stops was delightful. We enjoyed delicious meals in the dining hall, warm rays at the pool, and games of chance in the casino. We made sure to explore as much of the boat as we could during our six nights there. Here are all of the things we managed to squeeze in:
Sunday and Monday - Galveston and sea:
Upon our arrival to the Liberty of the Seas we checked in, went through customs, got our room assignments and keys, then got settled in. Our first two days were very casual. We started each day by claiming a pool spot and having daiquiris. We spent both days sunning by the pool, racing each other down the speed slides, and surfing in the Flowrider. We had an assigned 5:30 pm dinner time at Botticelli's, so we headed to our rooms to get ready for a delicious meal.
After our meals, we went to music themed trivia at The Schooner Bar and then went to karaoke at the sports bar. After a few painful acts, my dad and I ventured to the casino to play a little roulette.
Tuesday - Cozumel:
We had a very early wake up call that morning for our Climb the Coba Pyramid and Cenote Swim excursion in Cozumel, Mexico. After our thrilling and busy day of ancient Mexican history, we got back on ship and got ready for our 5:30 dinner time.
We stayed out late in the casino after a game of 80's music trivia. We didn't get off the boat until noon the next day, so we were able to sleep in.
Wednesday - The Grand Cayman:
My dad's favorite tour was the Catamaran Sail and Snorkel tour in The Grand Cayman. We swam over a shipwreck and a shallow coral reef while basking in the Caribbean sunshine. After our tour and a little bit of shopping at the port, we got bak on board to get ready for another dinner at Botticelli's.
This night we decided to switch things up, so my dad and I went to the ship's pub to grab some beer cocktails before checking out The Love and Marriage Game Show. After getting some pretty solid laughs, we played a little bit of roulette and called it a night.
Thursday - Jamaica:
This day was our most casual excursion, yet we did a lot on our Inner Tubing and Dunn's River Falls Tour. After our adventures through the country's incredible natural wonders, we grabbed a local lunch and did a bit of shopping before getting back on the boat.
My dad's birthday celebration was at Botticelli's with the ice show Encore! after dessert. We enjoyed the show and boogied our way to a 70's disco party afterwards. When that ended, we went to the casino and had a particularly long but successful night.
Friday - at sea:
Since it was a sea day, we were able to sleep late before taking in hours of sun rays and each others' company at the pool. We relaxed until it was time to get ready for lobster night. That’s right, the main dining hall had a lobster night, and we got our money's worth. The feast included an appetizer, salad, two lobster entrees, and dessert. This was the perfect way to celebrate my little sister's birthday.
After the meal, we went to see El Gaucho, a comedian; musician; and impressive ball-swinger. After his terrifying acts of discipline, I drug Kendall down to another stage to play The Quest Adult Game Show.
I ended up being our team's spokesperson and had to do some really weird challenges while searching for ridiculous items. In the end, we lost, and my face was covered in another woman's lipstick.
Saturday - at sea:
Our last day at sea was very relaxing. We took our time getting up before starting to pack our things and return to the pool. That night, we decided to splurge and go to dinner at Sabor.
This Mexican restaurant was not included in our meal package, but we filled up on fresh guacamole and chips, tacos, calamari, and a variety of desserts like churros and flan before watching the cast production of Saturday Night Fever! After the final number, we headed back upstairs to get a good night's sleep before disembarking.
Sunday - Galveston:
We got up early that morning to grab one last breakfast from the Windjammer dinning hall. Even though we had a 10:30 a.m. depart time, we found out we were able to grab our suitcases and go around 9:00 am.
As we waved goodbye to our week long home at sea, I couldn't help but become emotional. The week with my family had flown by so quickly, but our trip was full of great memories that fill me with happiness.
With Atlanta only two hours away from Birmingham, I grew up going there for lacrosse tournaments, Falcons' games, the Coca-Cola Museum, and, of course, Six Flags Over Georgia. I had no idea our weekend in 'Hotlanta' would be John's first, but I am glad that it was such a great experience.
We arrived to our Airbnb around 7:30 PM on Friday night. Our early evening arrival gave us just enough time to shower and meet my friends for dinner in Midtown at Pasta Da Pulcinella. After splitting a bottle of wine and indulging on the wonderfully fresh and homemade ravioli, we took our waiter's suggestion and headed downtown to check out the Atlanta nightlife.
A strip of bars overflowing with people was our first impression of downtown. After giving up on the line at Joystick, we walked across the street to the Georgia Beer Garden where there was no crowd or cover. The four of us grabbed a round of local beers and enjoyed each other's company while we drank and started looking around for a more lively scene.
Our friend Katie had recently moved to Atlanta and suggested we Uber to the Buckhead bar Big Sky. We wandered around the crowded, two-story bar until we found a table on the outside patio. We laughed and danced the night away until our friend Megan got annoyed with awkward attempts at conversation by the Buckhead boys.
We got a bit of a late start on Saturday, but that didn't stop us from having a jam-packed day. A solid brunch and a couple of breakfast cocktails prepared us for walking The Beltline to Piedmont Park. After we finished our biscuits and cocktails, we went outside to hit the trail.
Our stroll started at The Krog Street Market, but we were still too full to indulge in all of the wonderful food stands. Instead, we shopped around the clothing and knickknack vendors. With a lot more places to see, we didn't hang around for too long.
We leisurely walked along The Beltline stopping to take pictures of the artwork along the way. The walk was lined with sculptures, interactive pieces, and lots of graffiti. After writing messages in the chalk on one exhibit, we walked in to Ponce City Market to cool off and see what it had to offer.
We ended up enjoing a cocktail at The Mercury while we planned out the rest of our afternoon. The rooftop came highly recommended by a bartender for its carnival games and bar, but once we found out it was $10 to get up there, we chose to continue on The Beltline.
We ended our walk at Piedmont Park where we walked past napping patrons, watched dogs play in their very own designated parks, and marveled at a man guiding a large airplane through the sky. After all of our walking, we had built up quite an appetite, so Megan suggested we do the most touristy thing in Atlanta and go get burgers at The Varsity.
We inhaled our delicious burgers and chili dogs while wearing our Varsity paper hats like all of the kids in the place. Once the only thing left on the table was leftover ketchup, we ditched our hats and hopped in an Uber. We took it to the suburb of Marietta to watch an Atlanta Braves baseball game.
It's pretty cool that we were able to see a Braves game at Suntrust Park during its inaugural season. Zeta Tau Alpha was hosting a philanthropy to raise money for breast cancer research, so we were given adorable, pink tomahawks to chop with during the game. The new stadium is a marvel of sports stadiums. There are gourmet food vendors and world-class merchandisers around every turn. Although our general admission tickets didn't technically provide seats, we met our friends in the upper level and took an open seat to watch the game.
The game's lack of excitement left plenty of time for our big group of friends to catch up and have some laughs, until we wandered down to the lower levels to catch a better view. The Braves were down by a few runs going into the sixth inning, but after one homerun and an awesome double RBI, the Braves took the lead! The lights in the stadium dimmed, as the fans broke out their cell phones for a 'lights out' chop.
Before the end of the game, the announcer stated that there was a post-game concert on the field, Entrance to the field had to be purchased, but everyone in our group was given free wristbands due to low attendance. Fitz and The Tantrums play a rocking set, but we hadn't gotten our full feel for dancing, so we walked out of the stadium and into the bars.
A few more of our friends were already at PBR Atlanta, so we headed over there to meet up with them. This massive bar had music for everyone's liking. It ranged from country to 90's punk to throwback rap. We sang along to just about all of it. Everyone else started to crash once the bands stopped, but I wasn't ready for bed just yet.
I drug John and Megan to a late night spot called R. Thomas. Our waiter at Pasta Da Pulcinella had recommended it the night before. He described it as, "a psychedelic restaurant with breakfast food and great quinoa bowls." He also said that he had seen rappers like Ludacris and Lil Yachty there. Although we didn't see anyone famous, we did enjoy the interesting decor with our late night food.
We eventually made it back to our Airbnb and got a couple of hours of sleep before waking up for the main event of our weekend - The PGA Tour Championship. This was mine and John's first PGA event, so we were glad to have Megan, a regular PGA volunteer, there to show us the ropes.
The first tee off was around 11:30 AM. Before the first pairing, we walked around the grounds, played some games, and grabbed 'breakfast' at a BBQ stand. We got to the first hole right after the first group had teed off, but we were just in time to see Ricky Fowler tee up in his typical bright orange attire.
After we watched a few more golfers tee off, we claimed a spot on the 7th green so that we could watch each pair come through. Sitting at 7 allowed us to watch everyone play through, and left us just enough time to get to the 18th hole to claim a spot near the green.
Getting to see players like Jordan Spieth, Matt Kuchar, Justin Thomas, and Sergio Garcia was an unbelievable experience. Even though Xander Schauffele won this PGA event, Justin Thomas earned enough points to claim the coveted FedEx Cup. It was an awesome ending to a great weekend, and we we're glad to have been there to see it.
I'm not sure how any other weekend in Atlanta might top this one, but we will be back soon to see what other adventures await us in this hot, southern city.
New York City is a city that I have barely explored even thought it is my birthplace. The concrete jungle is always calling my name. This trip was my first without family and my first trip back in several years. I went to go visit my sorority “little”, Laine. She recently moved to NYC for a job. We both had Labor Day off, so I flew up and got to spend four days with her.
I left for the Atlanta airport around 2 AM Friday morning to make my 6 AM flight. I made it to my gate as boarding started. After a 2-hour flight, I made it to Newark Liberty International Airport and started trying to figure out the AirTran and the New York City subway. It took me a little while to figure out how to get to Laine's apartment from Penn Station, but I eventually made it.
I took an office day from work on Friday, so I got straight to work when I got there. I was able to do all I needed to before 1 o’clock. This turned out to be the perfect time to meet my cousin on Stone Street for an al fresco lunch.
Stone Street is lined with restaurants and bars. All of the establishments have outdoor dining tables scattered along the cobblestone street. Of all the options available, we chose the Stone Street Tavern after being told they had "the best burger on the block”.
We enjoyed the beautiful, early September weather with our juicy burgers and great conversation. After we finished our food and our round of mid-afternoon cocktails, we decided to head uptown and look for another bar to visit.
The next bar was The Standard Biergarten, where Laine met my cousin and I. We drank our German styled beers with grins our faces while watching an intense games of ping pong. Once we finished the fairly large brews, we took The High Line to The Chelsea Market.
My cousin decided she was ready to go home, so Laine and I wandered through the market stands looking at jewelry, purses, fresh meat, and cheeses. We decided to get a plate of hummus and pita from one of the food vendors, Dizengoff.
After our delightful spread, we refrained from getting a second order so that we could eat in Little Italy later that night. We continued walking through the flea sections and looked at all the artists' works. Once we saw everything, we walked back to our subway stop and went back to Laine’s apartment to freshen up for dinner.
We walked a few blocks from her apartment to the entrance of Little Italy. We couldn’t decide where to eat, so we picked the first place without a long line. It probably wasn’t the best Italian food on that street, but it served Laine’s dietary restrictions. After we had our fill of pasta, we decided to call it a night and head back to her house to watch a movie.
The next morning, we got up really early to start our day. We began by running to H&M. I was not prepared for the chilly fall weather and needed to buy a sweater. After that, we realized her subway stop was not being serviced that day, so we took the scenic way and walked all the way to the Brooklyn bridge.
Along the way, we realized that we needed some breakfast, so we stopped at City Acres Market and got vegan, artisan doughnuts. As if those weren’t sugary enough, we stopped at Terri’s for vegan milkshakes to drink during the remainder of our walk to the Brooklyn Bridge.
We weren’t alone on this cloudy Saturday afternoon. There were tons of fellow walkers and several aggressive bikers. We strolled down the walkway turning around often to admire the views of the city, as we headed into Brooklyn. We wandered around the riverfront area of Brooklyn for a little bit before realizing we had worked up a bit of an appetite. We headed toward the subway to go to China Town.
We stumbled upon a fantastic Chinese restaurant on Canal Street. Shanghai Café provided us with a great, authentic meal and some of the most plump vegetable steamed dumplings. China Town was on our way back to Laine's apartment, but we decided to indulge in a little more retail therapy before returning.
We went shopping at Zara and H&M, but we were still so full from our lunch that we bought a few sweaters and went back to Laine’s to chill and get ready for the night.
Sadly, the weather became a big factor in our night's plans. The temperature dropped to about 50 degrees and the rain started to pour. We scratched our plans to go to the bar and decided to wait out the rain at Tacombi. After a few margaritas and fresh tacos, we headed back to Laine’s and called it a night.
The rain kept falling into Sunday morning, but Laine’s friend stopped by, and we all agreed to go grab a bite to eat. We braved the rain and found a quality brunch spot at Grey Dog Café. With coffee in hand, we hopped on the subway and headed toward Williamsburg to explore for the day.
As we wandered through Brooklyn for the second day in a row, I couldn’t get over the amazing view of the skyscrapers that make up Manhattan. We strolled in and out of stores and markets taking pictures at every cool graffiti spot we passed.
We ended our walk at an adorable city on the East River and managed to get a few pictures right before the rain came. We made one last stop to grab some ice cream at Van Leeuwen Artisan Ice Cream. The other girls were able to get vegan ice cream, and I got mint chip in a waffle cone.
The rain never ended that night so we ordered some delivery Indian food from Kabab Bites. We enjoyed it on Laine’s couch while watching a Harry Potter marathon. We started to get cabin fever and braved the rain to get cupcakes and ice cream from Little Cupcake Bakery.
The rain finally broke and lead to a beautiful Labor Day, so we decided to spend the day in Central Park. Before getting to the park, we took the subway from Laine's apartment to Columbus Circle and immediately went looking for a brunch spot. Route 66 was a traditional brunch spot with a great street side patio.
Route 66 provided a great energy boost and allowed us to walk through Central Park for hours. Once our feet got tired, we took a nice little sun nap in the middle of the park. When we woke up, one of Laine’s friend had called and said she wanted to hang out, so we headed back to the apartment.
Earlier in the weekend, I had told Laine I wanted to go to Washington Circle and see the arch. It was less than a mile away, so we put on sneakers and enjoyed the sunshine on our walk to the park. We arrived to a large crowd but a stunning view no matter where we stood. Growing up, I was a big fan of the TV show Gossip Girl, so I was excited to see that the structure Blair and Chuck got married at was in that park. We had worked up a bit of an appetite by this time, so we headed to Snowdays Shaved Cream Co. to cool down a bit.
After our third ice cream stop of the trip, we decided to call it a day. We had walked over 30 miles in the four days and were quite exhausted. We had time for one last meal together, so Laine and I searched for street tacos to take to her apartment.
We found just what we were looking for at The Corner: Las Esquina. We enjoyed the street tacos from the comfort of Laine’s couch, thought about how to get me a job there, and recapped a great weekend in NYC.
The sky dimmed, as the temperature noticeably dropped. Crickets became audible, as bugs began to buzz about. The lake water rippled with feeding fish. Shadows became strangely psychedelic, and the awe of boaters and campers alike filled the air. The sun had been totally eclipsed by our moon over the United States of America for the first time in 40 years.
John and I had set up our lawn chairs on the banks of the Cumberland River at The Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area. We sat down, looked up at the sky, and had some Jiffy Pop Popcorn as this phenomenon of nature began. We couldn’t believe what was happening. The eclipse glasses made it a lot more difficult to see than we originally thought they would, but that didn’t stop us from focusing in and giving it all of our attention.
It took well over an hour for the eclipse to reach totality, so we took the glasses off here and there to observe the changing environment. We got a little too anxious and started to count down a bit too early, forgetting how slowly the moon moves across the sky. I truly underestimated the precision required to allow for such an incredible natural occurrence. Just as totality began, a boat near us started blasting “Total Eclipse of the Heart” by Bonny Tyler.
We took our glasses off, and our jaws popped wide open in sincere awe of the experience. It was a sight that will never truly be matched in my mind. We looked around and observed the sky, the water, the shadows, and the animals for the brief two minutes and forty seven seconds of total darkness granted by the moon.
Once the moon started to move away from the sun along its progression around the earth, we quickly looked to the ground where we had laid out a white t-shirt on the beach pebbles. We had heard online that immediately after totality ends, the sun creates snake-like shadows on certain surfaces. The white t-shirt let us see these serpantine shadows as clearly as we could've wished.
We had also seen that the shadows of the leaves would be crescent shape and resemble the shape in the sky above. When we got back to our tent, the crescent shadows were dancing all through the woods where we were camped. It was an intriguing effect I have never even considered before.
The experience of a total eclipse is one that must be witnessed in person. No picture, video, or description can do justice to the wonderful event. The next eclipse in the United States is in seven years, so start planning!
Charleston turned out to be much more than the picturesque beach town that I had always imagined it to be. It is a city laden with history and blessed with beauty. Cobblestone streets are sprinkled among churches and homes older, in some cases, than the very state in which they reside.
Before John arrived Friday night, I had the wonderful opportunity to check out Folly Beach with my cousin, Lou, who is a new resident to Charleston. After dipping our toes in the sand and watching the sunset through the clouds, we stopped in at the first bar we came to. Chico Feo looks like a bar in the backyard of someone’s house. We enjoyed some better-than-expected beach food and a great steel drum player while sipping Coronas.
When the clouds got darker and thunder started rumbling, we headed to Snapper Jacks’ covered rooftop bar to watch the distant lightning and have another round of drinks. The one-man band was playing a great range from oldies, like the Beatles, to current music, like The Chainsmokers. From the roof, we scoped out our next bar The Sand Dollar Social Club. The band Moxie was doing a pretty good job covering some 80’s hits, but we decided to head home during their first break to get home before John’s midnight arrival.
Taylor and Lou stayed up to welcome me to Charleston on Friday night. After we had gotten some much needed sleep, our first order of business on Saturday was to find a brunch spot close to the beach. We settled on Page’s Okra Grill near the Mount Pleasant Historic District on Sullivan’s Island. We ate as much of our large meals as we could before we headed for the beach.
Streams of gray sand were blown along the shore by whipping winds and foiled our attempt to lie on the beach. Since we weren't having any luck sunning, we dipped our toes in the water for a little bit and decided to head downtown.
The Charleston Market would be our first attraction in the downtown area. Vendors of crafts, sweetgrass baskets, and countless other novelties fill the historic market. After nearly being enticed to leave with a keepsake, we trod down Church Street to find several historic establishments.
St. Phillip’s Church, the French Huguenot Church, the Pirate House, and the Dock Street Theatre adorn Church Street. These beautiful sites and their history are well worth the stroll down Church. A few blocks later we came to the intersection of Broad Street and Church. We turned onto Broad Street to find Washington Square.
Washington Square is named after the United States of America’s first president. His statue is present in the park, but the central spire commemorates P.G.T Beauregard and his soldiers. These prominent monuments are surrounded by a bust of poet Henry Timrod and markers in honor of Francis Salvador and Elizabeth Hutchinson Jackson. The beauty of these remembrances and archaic oak trees would be rivaled by the walk to our next park.
East Bay Street is home to the acclaimed colored houses of Rainbow Row. These beautifully painted homes are one of Charleston’s most iconic landmarks and exactly what I picture when I think of the quaint beach town. Another row of splendid homes were constructed along East Battery Street. Some are undergoing renovations, but the grand homes are an impressive sight along the way to White Point Garden.
White Point Garden marks where the Cooper and Ashley Rivers meet and flow into the Atlantic Ocean. Historic cannons are aimed out into the Charleston Harbor as if they are protecting the elder live oak trees and the several monuments that the park hosts. Once we had taken a stroll through the splendor of White Point Garden, we began to search for a place to cool down, have a snack, and quench our thirsts.
We arrived at the The Griffon just in time to avoid a short, summer rainstorm. A few local beers from the tap and a game of darts with a local Charlestonian kept us entertained until the rain subsided. We decided it was a good time to head back to Lou’s home in West Ashley to get ready for dinner and a night on the town.
Our aforementioned darts friend recommended 39 Rue De Jean for dinner, and it lived up to the local’s praise. After we enjoyed a delicious seafood platter and a few glasses of wine with Lou, we hit King Street to check out the nightlife.
First, we checked out Midtown Bar and Grill where we enjoyed a few drinks but soon decided to look for a music scene that was more our style. We found just what we were looking for at Smoke BBQ. The narrow bar was packed to the brim, but that didn’t stop Suffering Moses from laying down the blues until Taylor and I noticed a drastic spike in Uber prices. We had been warned that this would happen and decided to wrap up our night.
Reflecting on our visit produced a list of things that we wish we’d had time to do. A few of these wish-list activities are: The Haunted Jail Tour given by Bulldog Tours and ride a ferry boat out to Fort Sumter. I feel as though we could have spent more than a week in Charleston without experiencing a sliver of boredom.
My excitement for Savannah had been building up for a while, and I’m extremely grateful that I was finally able to visit. From historic haunted battlegrounds to famous movie sets, Savannah had a surprise waiting around every corner. I never stopped learning from this magical place during my solo visit.
I made it to Savannah just before sundown, and the first thing I did was head straight to the water for a few pictures of the Savannah River and the Talmadge Bridge. My plans immediately went from, “I’ll call it an early night and get some rest.” to, “This is amazing. I need to explore and find some cool places.” I wandered up and down the historic, cobblestone River Street while enjoying the the late 18th-century style buildings and getting a feel for the city.
The sounds of a live band drew me into The Warehouse for my first beer of the evening and a few games of pool. I met a group of new friends and enjoyed a round of drinks with them before we packed up and headed to our next bar. I carried a Southbound Scattered Sun local brew to our next bar.
Savannah’s Smiles Dueling Pianos Bar was where the night truly began to take off. We stayed here longer than we stayed at any other bar that night. After all of our boogying on the dance floor (and sometimes the stage), we were ready for a more relaxed atmosphere.
We meandered our way to Mata Hari Speak Easy just off of River Street. We didn’t stay too long, because the atmosphere was a little too chill for the group I had tagged along with. I took my mojito to go, and we headed to a more traditional bar to keep the night alive.
Our next, and my final, stop was The Treehouse. The bar is on top of the city market, so I enjoyed most of my time here on the balcony chatting with my new friends. After I finished my last drink, I said my goodnights and parted ways with the awesome group that had allowed me to tag along with them.
I arrived at my Airbnb to a lot of disappointment, but I won’t go on about my first bad Airbnb experience. I woke up early the next morning to start exploring. I was about 5 blocks from Forsyth Park, so I started my morning walking there.
After a lovely stroll of listening to the birds chirp in Forsyth Park, I made my way toward the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist. If you’ve seen the opening scene of Forrest Gump, you’ve seen a cameo of the famous “Sistine Chapel of the South.” The church’s nickname is completely understandable. Its beautiful architecture coupled with the vibrant paintings and pristine windows took my breath away. I couldn’t imagine attending a mass in such an extraordinary place
After pulling it together and dragging myself out of the church, I headed over to Clary’s Diner for one of the south's best diner breakfasts. Even though I barely ate half my plate of stuffed french toast, I felt like I gorged myself. Afterwards, I walked back to my car to beat the 100-degree heat and allow my food to settle.
I parked at the Savannah Theatre and walked to the iconic Forrest Gump bench in Chippewa Square. To my disappointment, there’s not actually a bench where Tom Hanks sat and narrated his life. Instead, there were big concrete barrier walls that make it very hard to get a cute picture
One thing you will notice in Savannah is that there is a troop of Girl Scouts everywhere you go. That’s because the founder, Juliette Gordon Low, was born here and opened the first headquarters in Savannah. I have no shame in admitting that I was the only person older than 20 years old without a child on the tour of Juliette Gordon Low’s house. Low lived a truly inspiring life, and I admire her tenacity. I learned that she was an extremely creative woman. A majority of the artworks in her house, including the fine china, were creations of Juliette herself or her protege niece Daisy.
After the tour, I walked back to my car to find a pesky parking violation, so I moved my car over to the City Market. The name made me think of fruit picking and snacking, but instead I found window shopping at wonderful art galleries and clothing shops. I walked away from the market while resisting the temptations of the candy shops and pralines to hold out for a slice of pizza at Sweet Melissa’s Pizzeria.
I can understand exactly why a ghost would never leave; Savannah’s haunting beauty is enough to captivate anyone. I can’t wait to come back and learn even more about this intriguing town and do ghost tours like the Boos and Brews tour with John!
The Westward expanse of our United States of America is an attractive destination for travelers who wish to explore deserts, mountains, or forests. Utah is home to five national parks and fascinating landscapes. We explored Utah over the course of a nine day adventure.
We left Birmingham at 2 PM on Friday to drive to Dallas, Texas, and spend the night with Taylor’s parents. We weren’t able to visit for long, as the next morning found us on the road bright and early to Cortez, Colorado. We passed through Cortez after we decided to forego camping in Canyon of the Ancients and drove the entire distance to Arches National Park in Moab, Utah.
Midnight in Arches National Park doesn’t allow for much sight-seeing, so we picked a parking spot at the Park Avenue Trailhead just inside the park’s entrance. After a quick sleep in our borrowed Nissan Rogue, a sunrise hot air balloon ride with pilot Lou Bartell of Canyonlands Ballooning awaited us. As the sun rose, we ascended into the morning skies and found a spectacular view of Arches National Park. The wind carried us across highway 191 to a beautiful view of Canyonlands National Park.
After our post-flight champagne toast, we drove 15 miles down Highway 313 to Canyonlands National Park. We arrived at The Island in the Sky entrance where we took pictures and hiked around some rock formations a little bit. We kept driving through the park, stopping at every picturesque place we saw. After we got our fill of the park and realized what time it was, we headed to Arches National Park.
We saw all the major highlights like Balancing Rock, Double Arch, the North and South Window Arches, and Delicate Arch. We spent the entire day climbing all over the awesome orange clay formations and getting a true feel for the land. After our last hike up to the Delicate Arch, we were exhausted and found a campsite back near our balloon take off spot.
Capitol Reef National Park was a pit stop on our way to Bryce Canyon National Park. We examined petroglyphs, took a few pictures, and stopped at the visitor’s center to buy a few souvenirs before heading out of the park.
A meal from Cowboy’s Buffet and Steak Room at Ruby’s Inn prepared us for hiking around Bryce Canyon National Park. Before we got into the actual canyon we stopped at the major sights around the park including Inspiration, Sunset, and Sunrise points. Seeing the hoodoos from above made us giddy for our hike on The Under the Rim trail to our reserved campsite. After a night under the stars and the hoodoos, we hiked back to the canyon’s rim and made plans visit the park again to hike all 22 miles of Under the Rim.
Arguably the most spectacular experiences of our trip awaited us at Zion National Park. A mesmerizing drive into the park included tunnels, bighorn sheep, and child-like wonderment. The drive was soon followed by a swim in the Virgin River and a meal from Zion Brewing Company.
The Two Cranes Inn is where we laid our heads before braving the length of the splendid Narrows. The main hike of our trip was the 18 mile trek through The Narrows. Our hike was an incredible journey with surprises around every turn of the thousand-foot high walls. After this exhausting hike we spent our second night at the Zion River Resort.
We had one last adventure planned in this magnificent park. We made the dangerous climb up Angel’s Landing via the West Rim Trail. One breathtaking view and one hot hike down later, we tearily said goodbye to Zion and started the last leg of our nine-day adventure.
Page, Arizona, is where we would eat our last local meal of the trip and make our final two scenic pitstops. Canyon Crepes may have provided the most hearty breakfast of the trip as we made the phone call to book a tour through Antelope Canyon.
Julie with Dixie Ellis Canyon Tours guided us through this incredible work of erosion as we attempted to keep our jaws out of the sand. After taking hundreds of pictures we headed to our last stop, Horseshoe Bend. We took in the views and gawked in its greatness while reflecting on how spectacular our trip had been.
A delicious meal from El Bruno’s in Cuba, Arizona, and a nights rest in Albuquerque later, we arrived in Dallas at Taylor’s family home once more. We were treated with a fantastic meal from the grill as we discussed just how satisfying our second visit to the American West had been. What will be life long memories were still fresh in our minds as we drove the final distance from Dallas to Birmingham the next day.
I cannot say that I have explored many places to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, but it is difficult to imagine a better suited city than Chicago, Illinois. The Windy City provided a wealth of delicious food and captivating sights to go along with the company of a few of our good-timing friends.
We arrived in the great city with a light snow that, against the quiet early morning streets, commanded the attention of my delirious mind and left me with a mystical first impression. If it were not for the Hotel Tonight app, Taylor and I may have enjoyed the views of the city from the backseat of the car, but we were able to book a room just minutes before we arrived at 3 am.
The next morning revealed a labyrinth of cold city streets tucked into a blanket of fog that hid the tops of the concrete towers. I marveled at the disappearing steel monuments as we made our way to Millennium Park to see The Bean. The Bean was much larger than I imagined and provided a great surface to make silly faces into.
Our day continued on public transit as we made our way north to meet our friends for breakfast at the Chicago Bagel Authority. Once we had filled our bellies with monstrous green bagels, we retired to a friend's apartment in Wrigleyville to catch up and let our food settle.
We soon were on the L train again heading to The Bottled Blonde; it was a great place to start our evening of shenanigans, but green beers and great friends make it difficult to dislike any establishment. Several bars and stories of glory days later, we were on our way back to Wrigleyville to patronize the batting cages at Sluggers. Unfortunately, we had stayed out too late to be trusted with baseball bats, so we settled for a few games of air hockey before it was time to find a nearby grub offering. We found a local late-night burrito place called El Burrito Mexicano conveniently located between the bars and our friend's house.
The next day Taylor, our good friend Mitch, and I woke up to a fog-less view of the city in its entirety. It didn’t take us long to decide that Giordano's Pizzeria was the place that we needed to be for lunch. After a quick walk, we were greeted by groups of people waiting outside of the door. We were in no hurry, so we found a place to wait, lounge, and watch the monstrously deep dish pizzas being prepared in the kitchen. One tall, cold beverage later, we were seated and ordering what would be the best pizza that I’ve had to date. The two monstrous creations stopped all conversation when they landed on our table approximately two hours after our arrival. It was worth every second of the wait.
Full from a delightful pizza pie, we took to the streets again to meet our party from the night before. We found them at The Boss Bar, where we recapped the night before and fell right back into our typically absurd conversations and friendly banter with the wait staff. Lou Malanati’s would be the next establishment graced with our rambunctious presence. More laughter was shared here than at any other place during our visit. We celebrated one another’s company as if we had been forcefully separated for decades. Delicious wines flowed as the appetizers, then entrees, were devoured by all in attendance. It was a picture perfect ending to a joyful weekend reunion.
The morning of our departure found Taylor, Mitch, and I with adequate time to enjoy breakfast before our respective journeys home. We hadn’t been to the Navy Pier, and Taylor insisted that it was a must. Even though it was slow on a Sunday, she was correct. The view of the city from the pier was stunning, although we were unable to experience the view from atop the pier’s Ferris wheel. Luckily, we didn’t have to top the Ferris wheel to see our choice for breakfast. The Kanela Breakfast Club provided us a breakfast that would stick with us nearly through Kentucky on our drive home.