Thanksgiving in Estes Park, Colorado

We spent the last few days in beautiful Estes Park, Colorado where we visited Rocky Mountain National Park, ate a Thanksgiving buffet at The Stanley Hotel, relaxed in our cabin by Fall River, and explored downtown Estes Park.

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Italian Vacation, Part 2: Rome

We only had a short time in Rome at the beginning of our trip so we tried to make the most of it with a private tour of the Vatican on day one and a golf cart tour of the city on day two. It was a nice way to see the highlights of Rome and now we know what we’d like to see more of when we go back. What a treat to visit a city with so much history. Our hotel overlooked a city wall dating back to 275 AD where we were treated to breakfast on the rooftop patio overlooking the city and the Villa Borghese gardens. We ended our time in Rome with a delicious alfresco dinner in the Trastevere neighborhood and a summer festival along the Tiber river.

 

Italian Vacation, Part I: Osimo

We just returned from a fun-filled week of vacation to Italy starting in Rome, then on to Osimo, and finishing in Milan. The main purpose of the visit was to catch up with friends that we met during our time in China and we were treated to a special time learning about one of their hometowns and meeting their family and friends again.

We spent four days exploring the Marche region on the eastern side of Italy that includes several towns like Osimo where our friend grew up. It was very quiet and relaxing there – we spent a couple days at the beach, sat around our B&B and chatted all night, enjoyed several delicious meals – some made by family and some at local restaurants (try the Vincisgrassi lasagna at Gustibus in downtown Osimo).

Here are some pictures from our time there:

Road Trip through the Southeast

My sister decided to take a road trip out to Birmingham, AL where the National Senior Games were being held this year. She was going to surprise my mom who plays basketball with the Texas Phoenix, a group of 70- to 74-year-old ladies. From there, her and my nephew were going to drive along the gulf coast back home to Austin. I decided at the last-minute to join them for the adventure.

The Texas Phoenix were up against some tough competition and did not win the gold. Similar to my experience as a kid playing basketball & softball, my mom played much better when we weren’t watching… go figure! Regardless, we enjoyed cheering them on from the sidelines.

My sister, nephew and I left for Ocean Springs, MS on Friday and found a lovely cottage near the beach and spent the day playing in the sand and watching the sun set. We got up early on Saturday and started on I-90 along the beautiful gulf coast through Mississippi to Louisiana. We dropped into New Orleans – the French Quarter specifically – to grab lunch and some beignets from Cafe Du Monde. My nephew was promised a gator farm so off we went to Hammond, LA for a late afternoon feeding. It was quite an experience to watch the handler work so closely to them, and allow us to get much closer than I thought was safe! We made it on to Houston for the night and finished up the road trip to Austin this morning. What a fun road trip we had. I always enjoy spending time with them and love any opportunity to cheer my mom and her team on.

Travel Guide: San Francisco Revisit

In mid-November, myself and a couple friends revisited San Francisco for a long weekend (see previous post here: Travel Guide: Weekend in San Francisco). Here are some suggestions if you find yourself in beautiful San Fran.

We arrived on a Thursday morning and checked into our hotel in Fisherman’s Wharf. We walked around for a few hours revisiting the always popular sea lions at Pier 39 followed by lunch at The Franciscan Crab Restaurant. At dusk, we joined our Alcatraz cruise over to the island for a nighttime tour.

The next day we woke up early to join a tour out to Muir Woods followed by three winery visits (Mayo, Madonna, and Cline) in Napa Valley and Sonoma. It was a nice, quick way to see several popular destinations all in one day. We will definitely have to go back and spend more time especially in Sonoma.

Our last day started with a cable car ride past Lombard Street, through Chinatown, ending up at the Ferry Building Marketplace. We walked, ate, drank, and shopped our way around the area. We took the bus to Alamo Square to see the Painted Ladies and catch the sunset, but the park was under construction. Thanks to a quick Uber driver, we made it over to the far side of the Golden Gate Park to see the sun set over the Pacific while enjoying the view and some drinks at Beach Chalet restaurant. The restaurant was too crowded for dinner so we made our way back over to the North Beach area for an Italian dinner and one last view of the beautiful Saints Peter and Paul Church off Washington Square Park. (Note: San Francisco has great public transportation. We found it easiest to buy a 3-day pass that allowed us unlimited rides on the buses, metro, and cable cars.)

Caddo Lake

Some pics from our Thanksgiving camping trip to Caddo Lake, a beautiful lake filled with cypress trees out in East Texas:

 

Costa Rica, Pt. 2

We spent our last day in Costa Rica at the beautiful La Paz Waterfall Gardens, home to five waterfalls and a wildlife preserve that houses butterflies, toucans, hummingbirds, monkeys, ocelots, jaguars, frogs, and much more. It also has a lodge attached to the park if you choose to stay overnight. It is definitely a must see if you are in this part of Costa Rica.

Butterflies

Birds

Hummingbirds

Reptiles

Jungle cats

Flora

Waterfalls

To see pictures from the rest of our Costa Rica trip, click here.

Costa Rica, Pt. 1

My latest trip took me to Costa Rica, specifically the San Jose area. Although it is the rainy season there, the rain held off the first couple days and we were able to take a day trip up through the Braulio Carrillo National Park to the Sarapiquí River where we enjoyed an afternoon of zip lining. Our boat ride was filled with several monkey sightings and, perhaps the scariest highlight of the day, was the crocodile sitting on the bank at dusk.

On the way up through the mountains we passed tons of coffee plantations along with strawberry, flower and dairy farms.

Friday took us to downtown San José where we shopped at the busy Central Market and visited the Pre-Columbian Gold Museum to learn a little of Costa Rica’s history. That night we visited Kianti’s Restaurant near our hotel – the Costa Rica Marriott Hotel San José – then walked to a nearby bar for a few after dinner drinks. Our hotel was located on a 30-acre coffee plantation and our room had a balcony overlooking a driving range and the beautiful, lush green mountains of Costa Rica.

We should be back soon hopefully next time to visit their beaches and maybe a volcano. Stay tuned for another post on our trip to La Paz Waterfall.

A Trip to Missoula, Montana

A few weekends ago, I travelled to Missoula, Montana for a reunion with some of the expat ladies I met during my time in China. It was so nice catching up with them many of whom have now moved back to the States. Our hosts Laurie & Tony – who are native Missoulians – did a wonderful job showing us around the town. What a beautiful place to live and September was a perfect time to visit with the fall foliage beginning to show.

The first day we spent a couple hours driving through the National Bison Range where we saw bison, elk, antelope, bighorn sheep, deer, and even a family of bears that popped up right in front of our car. Afterward we drove north to Nine Pipes Lodge for lunch and a quick walk through the property and gift shop. (Unfortunately we did not have time to see the Nine Pipes Museum.)

That afternoon we visited our host’s 1800s family ranch where homemade pie was served along with a tour of the property. After, we walked to dinner in downtown Missoula – a quaint college town – followed by drinks and dancing at nearby Union Hall.

The next day started with a hike up the “M” mountain where we took in an awesome view of the city. We met up afterward at the weekend Farmers’ Market and People’s Market for more shopping (check out Butterfly Herbs in the downtown area). For lunch, we came across an interesting bar called Stockman’s with sod on the ground and $2 beers 🙂 We wrapped up the afternoon with a quick spin around the (very fast) carousel.

That evening, we made a quick trip to McClay Flats before dinner at one of the many breweries in the area, Lolo Peak Brewery. Our evening ended down a long dirt road at The Jack Saloon where there was a lot of dancing, a few drinks, and one very drunk bachelor party 🙂

I had a wonderful time visiting Montana for the first time. The scenery is breathtaking and the vibe in Missoula is fun and laid back. Hopefully someday I will be back to see more of it.

Cameron Park Zoo

Saturday brought myself, my sister and my nephew to the Cameron Park Zoo in Waco, Texas. It was a hot summer day so several of the animals were taking naps or cooling off in the shade (my favorite was the otter on his back snoozing under a tree), but I did manage to get up close to a few animals and snap a few pics.