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Posts Tagged ‘excursion’

The hotel we stayed at in Flagstaff, AZ was directly across from a very busy train line and therefore the thing I remember most about it was the NOISE. It was utterly utilitarian, and that is the best thing I can say. It reminded me of somewhere Llewelyn Moss might have hidden out from Anton Chigurh in No Country for Old Men.

Regardless, we slept there just fine. The 25th of May was our day of adventure in Arizona. We woke late and meandered our way south of Flagstaff to Sedona where we were meeting up with our river guide from Sedona Adventures for our two-hour long kayak trip on The Verde River. The sun was high in the cloudless sky and it felt like about 100 degrees in the sun. I maintain that the Arizona sun is hotter than the sun anywhere else. I know this cannot possibly be true, but I feel like it should be.

By some manner of chance or coincidence, the morning tour down the river had about 13 people on it, but ours was just the two of us. Our guide’s name was Geoff (he never spelled it for me, but he seemed like Geoff rather than a Jeff) and he was … surprising. He might be the cheeriest stranger we met while on holiday. He was certainly enthusiastic about his job, that is for sure. Although neither S nor I had ever kayaked in inflatable kayaks before (or any other type of kayak, to be perfectly honest), Geoff was patient with us and a very concise instructor. He even told us, very enthusiastically and in the car on the way to the launch site, to “POUND THAT WATER!” so we wouldn’t dehydrate on our journey.

What can I say about the actual kayak trip? We LOVED it. It was so quiet and peaceful and serene and…perfect. And, I didn’t fall out of the kayak even once. There was a blue heron which followed us on our path down the river, which I found very comforting. I mentioned that in some depictions of Egyptian mythology the Heron brought the first sunrise to Earth and Geoff liked that very much.

Heron

The water of the river was a chalky-green white colour (hence the name – green river). In places the water ran fast over mini-rapids and at other times it snaked out over larger expanses and slowed to a crawl.

Kayaking

At one section we passed by a cliff face encrusted with swallows’ nests. There weren’t many birds visible, but it was a lovely place. Because there were only the two of us and Geoff didn’t have anything else to do that day, he let us take our time and ask as many questions as we wanted. He was very knowledgeable – and not just about kayaks. We talked books, too. Not TV, though, Geoff didn’t own a TV. He’s exactly the type of person you’d expect to not own a TV.

This kayak trip down the Verde River was my favourite “thing” we did on the whole holiday. I could have spent days there just floating. It was a beautiful place and a beautiful time.

River Verde

If you’re going to Arizona, and spending any time in the middle of the state, go see Sedona Adventures and look what they have to offer – if you have time then do the kayak trip – it really was incredible.

In the evening of 25th May we went to a wild west show at the Blazin M Ranch. This was tourism cheesiness at its best and brightest. The replica old west village was like something out of an amusement park – that over the top… The dinner show was predictable but enjoyable also. The dinner was fun. There were baked beans and biscuits – if you wanted a second biscuit then they’d throw it at you. Very funny!

Blazin M Ranch

They asked where everyone was from and, for some reason, S saying he was Scottish earned him nearly a standing ovation from the audience. Everyone wanted to talk to him or shake his hand. People from England or Ireland weren’t as well received, for some reason. S did not like this. He’s not the spotlight type.  🙂

We’d signed up for cheesy tourism and the Balzin M Ranch delivered. If that is the sort of place you’re looking for then that’s exactly the place you should go.

Afterwards we drove back to Flagstaff for our last night in Arizona. We needed our rest. the next day we were driving all the way to south-west Kansas (a LONG WAY!).

So, tomorrow – out of the Arizona desert and into the wheat fields of the midwest.

For now, sleep.

xo

A

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Hello again. Welcome to the first in a series of installments detailing the events of our trip to America. I know – you can hardly wait, right?

At 04:30 BST exactly one year ago today, S and I were checking in at Glasgow Airport for our flights to San Francisco.

This was the beginning of our three-week whirlwind adventure to cross the breadth of America in a rented car. It was amazing. One of the best things I have ever done.

I realise I never wrote about it. Never shared any anecdotes our photos or anything!

So, starting tomorrow, watch this space!

It will be thrilling. Almost indescribably so. Trust me.

In fact, here, have a teaser:

image

See? Thrilling.

But, I’m afraid you’ll have to wait until tomorrow for more!

xo
A

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What a wonderful day we’ve had!  We woke up to gray skies and decided to take a drive further south to where the sun promised to be. I’ve always wanted to visit the Gem & Rock Museum in Creetown so away we went down to Dumfries and Galloway to see it.

We took the forest road down which didn’t take too long.  It rained on and off for a while, but there was nothing too heavy. Creetown was lovely, a typical main-street village with tons of little shops and such.  We did not spend any time there at all, just went to the museum and the left again after that. I’d like to go back, though because it was beautiful!

As a precursor let me say that I am a sucker to gems and rocks and minerals and anything that comes from the Earth.  In another life I am pretty sure I was a geologist.  I love crystals and all of that, so the museum was right up my alley.  S on the other hand, well, he only went to please me!  Which is lovely, don’t you think?

Anyway, we spent the most of our time in the gift shop where I bought some tumbled stones and lusted after some jewelry. It was a nice place if you like rocks, pretty boring if you don’t.

We took the coast road back home through Stranraer and Girvan and stopped at Turnberry Hotel for afternoon tea.  I have always loved Turnberry Hotel.  I got a certificate for a free night’s stay there in January of 2008 which was lovely. The certificate was for dinner, bed and breakfast and we still managed to spend £160 in just over 24 hours.  How did we do that, you ask, well… The certificate only entitled us to £50 each for dinner which covered only food, so any beverages were on top of that.  And we took tea the day we arrived, and had a coffee I think the next day.  Anyway, it all adds up pretty quick in a place like that.

Last summer we went down to The British Open at Turnberry and it was amazing.  The hotel is just iconic, sitting on a rise above the water all windows and white wash – it truly is a sight to see.  I love it.

So on the drive home today we stopped in to have afternoon tea.  For £24 per person.  No joke.  Why would we agree to pay £24 each for a few finger sandwiches and a couple of cups of tea?  Well, this may give you a small idea of how very worth it it was:

Also, just as a note, there has never been a better time to go to Turnberry – they had an all over renovation last year for The British Open and it is absolutely gorgeous inside. Honestly, it is a sight to see. Especially on a day like today with the sun seeping through the clouds and sparkling off the water and the hulking mass of Ailsa Craig in the distance. Swoon.

So, all in all, it was a fantastic day.

xo
A

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Sorry for the hiatus, folks, but I’ll try to tie up this Europe trip blogging ASAP.

On the fifth day of our journey we checked out of our hotel Italy and drove over the Alps to Switzerland. We had planned to take the Furka Pass over the mountains which, if you are a fan of James Bond, you would recognize from the film Goldfinger. We left quite early in the morning, but not before we’d stopped in at the café down the street for a cappuccino. There is also a glacier cave there which you can walk into, which I was very much looking forward to.

We were worried about driving over the border because in Switzerland you require a paid pass to travel on the motorways and this is not something we had. The pass cost about £40 (for two days worth of driving on the highways, seems to me that Switzerland has the right idea here, people!).  It turns out that we had nothing to worry about – if you were without a pass then as soon as you went through passport control you were waved into a separate queue where you could purchase them before continuing.  Lucky for us!

The drive through the countryside was beautiful, and you could see yourself getting higher and higher by the amount of snow on the ground. The weather was pretty cloudy, but the views were still wonderful.

Beautiful village in the valley.

Unfortunately the Furka Pass was still closed because of snow.  We were very sad about this because, while we hadn’t planned much before we left the UK, we had really been looking forward to this drive and seeing the glacier.  This also meant another hour or so of, comparably dull, highway driving.  We ended up taking a detour to another pass – according to the board at the side of the highway it was the only one that was still open.

It was not.

Snow, and, in the background, the red & white barricade across the tunnel entrance.

We stopped at a turn-around at the top of the mountain and had our lunch overlooking the valley.  The views were spectacular, you could see right down into the village and, across the valley, a frozen waterfall standing out a stark blue against the black/brown rocks.  It was quite surreal, but wonderful. We were parked there for a long time just enjoying the views and listening to Idlewild’s The Remote Part (which seemed extremely fitting).

The road, up to the pass and back down again, was very narrow, as usual, and the edge of the road was a sheer drop, as usual. Neither S nor I are big fans of heights and, as you can see by the picture below, we weren’t given much hope by the guardrails in the area:

In case you can’t tell, that 1/3 inch thick metal rod in the middle of the picture is supposed to be a guardrail. Awesome.

After driving back down into the valley and rejoining the motorway we drove on towards Rothrist. We were staying the night  in a roadside hotel in the car park of a truck stop, which turned out to be absolutely perfect.  It was clean and comfortable and the staff were very friendly.  The first thing we did when we got there was ask at the desk how long it would take to drive to Zurich, and the woman just said, “Why would you want to do that?”

At first we were both questioning whether she was telling the truth or whether she just wanted us to stay local and spend our tourist money there.  Well, it turns out she was right. Zurich was awful.

I hate to bring judgement down on the entire city based on our half-hour drive through, but it was awful. The entire city was under construction (in fact, the entire country was under construction – there should be a warning sign when you enter Switzerland!!) and everywhere we turned was a derelict building or a horrible hole in the ground surrounded by wooden hoarding covered with graffiti. Awful. Add to that the fact that we got lost and the fact that it was pouring down with rain so hard we didn’t even bother getting out of our car, and you have an unsuccessful trip.


A picture of Zurich in the rain.

I am glad we went, though, because now I can say I have been somewhere that starts with a “Z”. Excellent.

We drove back to Rothrist for dinner and I am happy to report that the town is more than a car park. In fact, we had a lovely meal there  afterwards took a fine walk in the crisp air. The main street is extremely beautiful, as you can tell by the picture below.

There was a river junction in the town and I was so impressed by the diamond-clear quality of the water that it was basically all I could talk about for days. No, seriously, I was wandering around going “Look how clear that water is! Isn’t it amazing?”

So, not the best day of the trip, but taking into account the fact that Zurich was such a disappointment, the Furka Pass was closed, and we took an hour-long detour up a mountain only to turn around and come right back down again, the day was entirely enjoyable!

If you would like to see the rest of the photos from Day 5, you can find them HERE.

xo
A

Day 4 – St. Moritz
Day 3 – Milan & Nembro
Day 2 – Venice
Day 1 – Airplane & Selvino

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I’m going to get this out of the way right now: We did a LOT of driving on this holiday.  A LOT.  Around 2,500 kilometers, actually (that’s 1,500 miles, btw) and a great bulk of that driving was done on days 4 & 5. 

On the fourth day we drove from our hotel in Selvino to the ski resort of St. Moritz nestled deep in the base of the Alps.  The drive took a long time, but unfortunately wasn’t that interesting.  I blame this on the weather – it was misty and grey the whole day which didn’t give us the spectacular view of the mountains we were hoping for. 

Don’t get me wrong, the views were pretty amazing, just limited due to the heavy clouds.  We ended up taking a cable car ride up the side of a mountain (mostly for skiers), which was wonderful.  When you got to the top you could tell you were pretty high up simply because it was COLD.   Cold and windy.

There are a lot of meandering lakes in the region which, because of their altitude, were frozen solid.  There were people cross-country skiing on these vast expanses of ice.  It was cool to see these huge, flat areas surrounded by towering mountain peaks and dotted with the tiny forms of skiers. 

 For example:

They also had a lot of snow. A very, very lot of snow:

One very fun part of the day we actually got to experience twice, once on the way up towards St. Mortiz and once on the way back down. Of course I mean the road:

I don’t think I’d go back to St. Moritz because I don’t ski and, really, that’s all there is to do there except to pretend you’re posh. There was plenty of posh!!!

The weather stayed pretty awful for the whole day and when we got back to Selvino it was raining hard. We had dinner in the Irish themed pub across the street from our hotel, mainly because it was open. They extent of the Irish theme seemed to be that they sold Guinness, but none of the menu was themed and I didn’t even see fish & chips on there, which was refreshing. We both had pasta and it was very delicious.

After dinner we ended up in a wee cafe across the street where we had a cappuccino and a plateful of tiny pastries which were perfectly delicious. The cafe was family run and very relaxed. Apart from the owners and one other table we were the only ones there and the owners actually had their dinner while we were there (pizza). The proprietress was a very nice and helpful woman. I only wish we’d gone there before our last evening in Selvino because I would have liked to have given them more of our custom.

So, that was day 4. A very busy day filled with bad weather and lots of driving, but it was still a great day. If you would like to see the rest of the pictures from Day 4, you can do so HERE.

xo
A

Day 3 – Milan & Nembro
Day 2 – Venice
Day 1 – Airplane & Selvino

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We went to Milan on the third day of our trip. Due to crazy Italian drivers and undoubtedly high parking costs in Milan we decided to park in Bergamo and take the train to Milan. It was lovely and not too expensive, especially when you consider how comparatively expensive rail travel is in the UK.

I don’t want to ruin the rest of this post for you, but my favorite part of Milan was the train station. Seriously. I love train stations and this one was beautiful:

We decided to forgo the underground and walk to the city centre. This was probably not a great idea. Italian drivers, as I have mentioned, are CRAZY. Crossing the streets, even with a green light, was treacherous and I did not enjoy it.

When we eventually got to where we wanted to be, the Brera Art Gallery, I felt extremely harassed. The gallery itself was impressive but unsatisfying. I knew most of the artwork was Italian and religious but there are only so many different paintings of Madonna With Child you can handle before getting bored. By the end of it I was saying to myself “If I have to see one more floating cherub head with wings instead of a neck…” Like I said, it was impressive, but I got very bored very quickly. Which was a shame.

Then we walked towards the actual city centre and discovered much more impressive sights. Which, due to us not doing our homework again, we didn’t really know existed. First, the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II which is a 19th Century glass-vaulted arcade that has been transformed into a high-class shopping centre. It was pretty fancy!

Then, on the other side of the Galleria, we walked out into the Piazza del Duomo and found this:

Which, again, I didn’t know existed. It was phenomenal. Absolutely stunning and very, very busy. It was actually the only part of town that was overcrowded, but I certainly wouldn’t want to go there in the middle of the high season. The queue to get into the cathedral was massive.

The Milan Cathedral was outstanding from afar but, if possible, even more impressive when you got closer. For instance:

After standing in awe for a good ten minutes and then taking a dozen pictures we walked towards the Santa Maria delle Grazie which is the church where The Last Supper is. We knew that tickets to see The Last Supper were expensive and sold out months in advance but we thought we’d go and see for ourselves. Well, it was expensive to get in and besides, the tickets had been sold out for months. I was a bit miffed because the three groups awaiting their entrance times were all under the age of seven and wouldn’t have appreciated seeing what is, arguably, the most amazing mural painting in the world, while S and I really would have enjoyed it, but what can you do? I wasn’t going to knock the wee kids over and steal their tickets… So I had to make due with taking a picture of the outside of the building. Like so:

On the way back from Milan we forgot to validate our rail ticket and were fined €50 on the spot for being ignorant tourists. The best advice I can give you if you are travelling to Italy is drink a lot of coffee and GET YOUR TRAIN TICKETS VALIDATED before boarding your train. It was an aggravating end to a disappointing trip, but it was our own fault and so we had to deal with it. Although I am working on an angry letter…

That evening we arrived back in Bergamo around 5:00pm, which is FAR too early for dinner.  Most restaurants we saw opened  at or after 7:00!  We drove to Nembro, the small town at the bottom of the mountain we had to climb to get to Selvino, and decided to have dinner there.  Except we had an hour and a half to wait before anywhere was open.  We didn’t fancy driving up the 7 mile twisty road and then back down again for no reason, so we walked around the town and discovered that it was quite lovely.

The main church in the centre of the town is the Church of San Martino, and, according to this website, dates back to the 15th Century and was refurbished during the 18th. It was nearly time for Mass, but we poked our heads in anyway and it was an absolutely beautiful church on the inside.  There were quite a few people praying so I did not take any pictures, but I would have liked to.

There was also a tiny church tucked away down a side street which I have since found out (thanks to the website above) is the Church of Santa Maria del Borgo. I noticed two frescoes on the outside of the building which were very cool and obviously very old and are, according to the above, from the 15th and 16th Centuries.

There were two paintings in the town centre devoted to St Martin of Tours and a plaque quoting 1 Corinthians 9:22: “I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some.”

So, a fairly religious town, then.

We had a tasty dinner at the Ristorante Giardino on the Via Guglielmo Marconi, which is, by far, my favourite street name, ever. It sounds like a toy for small children – Get your Googly Elmo here!! I loved it!! The bathroom in the restaurant, however, I did not love:

So, that was day 3. A disappointing trip to a disappointing Milan followed by a lovely and memorable evening in Nembro. If you would like to see the rest of our pictures from Day 3 you can find them HERE.

xo
A

Day 2 – Venice
Day 1 – Airplane & Selvino

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On the second day we went to Venice. I’ve wanted to go to Venice since I can remember and I am very glad to say that it did not disappoint. It was another lovely sunny day, but not too warm which was perfect.

It was quite a drive from Selvino to Venice Marco Polo airport, three hours each way, actually, but it was worth it. We parked our car at the airport car parks and then took the Alilaguna boat from the airport to Venice. We ended up getting the more expensive ticket but that was a longer, more scenic route, so we didn’t mind.

The boat ride took over an hour and it was wonderful. I am not a big fan of boats in general, but the views from the canals were amazing and very much worth it. We got off at Piazza San Marco, which seemed like as good a place as any to start the day. It was mobbed with tourists… Absolutely crawling with them.

Still, in the end, once you got past the teeming masses, it was beautiful.

St. Mark’s Campanile & St. Mark’s Basillica:

I really wish I had done my homework and figured out exactly where in Venice I wanted to see, because apart from St. Mark’s I had no idea what there even was to see in the city. In fact, it wasn’t until we’d actually gotten there that I remembered I wanted to see The Rialto Bridge:

And then I also remembered about The Grand Canal. How do you forget about The Grand Canal? Well, I did.

View of the Grand Canal from Rialto Bridge:

Mostly we spent the day wandering lazily down the wee streets and crossing over small canals on gorgeous bridges.  Everywhere we turned there was something beautiful to look at, something different and unique around every corner.  It was truly amazing.

For example:

And this beautiful stained glass lamp which I just thought was fantastic:

Really, once you got away from the crowded Piazza San Marco and Rialto Bridge there weren’t many crowds and mostly Italians. The streets and cafés  were quiet. We had a wonderful cappuccino on the Campo Dei Frari and sat on the edge of a dry fountain outside an 11th Century church to have our lunch.

We got lost, of course, trying to find the boat stop to get back to the mainland. We’d been given a map by Alilaguna which had no street names written on it. Who makes a map with no street names on it? We finally found our way, though, and with a half hour to spare. We sat at the edge of the water trying to avoid the 20 or 30 North Africans walking the pavement in a big group carrying, and trying to sell, fake designer bags and sunglasses – looking like nothing more than P. Diddy’s Entourage.

Predictably the boat ride back to land was less exciting, but it traced the same exact route and it was all stuff we’d seen before, including the wooden pier in the middle of the water that had a sign nailed to it saying “Free Wi-Fi”. Awesome.

Would I go back? Yes, I would love to spend more time there, especially now that I’ve discovered this website and found something worth going to see. It was an amazing day and I am very glad we went. Venice gets a huge thumbs-up.

If you would like to see the rest of our photos from Venice you can find them HERE.

xo
A

Day 1, Airplane & Selvino

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