Category Archives: Foodie

Road Trip Weekend, Part 3: Explore Old Places in New Ways

It’s the weekend! What a great time for a road trip! Each day of this weekend, I’ve shared a recent road trip I took. My hope is that, even if you don’t take the route I did, you’ll get some tips and inspiration for wherever you go! Friday gave advice on things like how to meet your role models on the road. Then on Saturday, I shared tips for overcoming fear and having fun. Today brings us to new places never mentioned on this site before, as well as a few that we mentioned recently. But all these places will be explored differently.

I made it all the way through June without going on a single overnight trip. You could say I was having road trip withdrawals. After getting my new car, I was really itching to put some pavement behind me. I looked at my next weekend, and my only commitment was a chiropractic appointment on Saturday morning. I couldn’t change it to an earlier time, and I didn’t want to cancel it, so I wasn’t sure if travel would be a possibility that day. But when I woke up Saturday morning, I decided that I’d just work some travel around that.

There was an interesting-sounding hostel in Eugene, Oregon that I had never stayed at before. On the morning of, there was only one bed left to book, which just so happened to be in the female dorm. I quickly got ready (not packing much at all), made a rough plan of stops I would make, and headed off to the chiropractor. The doctor typically asks if I have anything exciting planned for that day, so it was nice to go in and tell him something interesting for a change!

Seven Feathers
Leaving Seven Feathers… after about five minutes!

My first stop was at Seven Feathers. I’ve only stopped there once, and that was back when my sister was underage, so I never actually walked through the casino part of the resort. However, I didn’t gamble. It was just a quick stop to use the bathroom, get on the WiFi, and take a picture with the world’s largest cast iron eagle.

Eugene Whiteaker Hostel
The front of the hostel. My room is the one with the balcony!

After a couple more hours of driving up the I-5, I checked into Eugene Whiteaker International Hostel. While on the medium-to-small side as far as hostels go, this became one of my top hostels in the character and comfort categories.

Owen Rose Garden
Flowers coincidentally matching my shirt.

I didn’t stay long, however, because I only had the afternoon to explore Eugene. Thankfully, everything I wanted to see could be access from the Eugene Riverwalk, which was just a few blocks from the hostel. Before I got on the trail, I smelled the Owen Rose Garden.

Eugene Riverwalk
On the Riverwalk, which went by parks, businesses, and natural areas.

After walking towards downtown for a bit, I came across a planet. Saturn, to be exact. This was a good sign, since my goal was to make it to the sun. Okay, maybe I should explain. The city of Eugene displays a lot of permanent public art.  One of those is a scale model of the solar system. The sun, moon, and all the planets (including Pluto!) are all the correct size and distance from each other… if they shrunk to a billionth of what they actually are! While I would have loved to see Neptune and Pluto, they were miles away from the other planets distributed through a park and along the Riverwalk. After Saturn, I had to walk quite a bit further before I reached Jupiter. Then it would be a long time before I saw Mars.

UO duck walk
Following the footprints to University of Oregon. Go Ducks!

But before I saw the small planets, I made a stop at University of Oregon. I didn’t end up in the central part of campus, but I enjoyed walking through an art department. Due to summer break, it seemed like a ghost town. If you want to visit Eugene for the culture, I would recommend going during the school year!

Peace Pole in Garden
One of the U of O student gardens had a peace pole.

I should mention how beautiful the parks lining the river are. It’s neat that even a semi-large city like Eugene purposely sets aside prime locations for the public to enjoy. At one point, I was walking through a forested area! It was a long walk of many miles, but the beautiful urban nature and finding the planets kept me going. On my way back, I even walked further than I needed to so that I could see Uranus!

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The sun in comparison to the moon and Earth.
Back at the hostel, I ate, relaxed, and did something artsy for the first time in a long time. Most importantly, I rested up for an even bigger day following.

Hostel Bunk
Despite me supposedly booking the last bed, I ended up with just one roommate in our four-bed dorm. That meant no one on my top bunk!

On Sunday morning, I got ready, enjoyed the free hostel pancakes, and looked up where I needed to go that day. It all started with over an hour of driving to the Oregon Coast. I headed up to Yachats to begin my day at Thor’s Well. I had seen pictures of this blowhole online over the past few years, and I wanted to be able to see it for myself. Most of the pictures online were taken at high tide, which just could not work with my itinerary that day. But it was still a fantastic sight when I saw the water shoot up from the ground. And I had the added advantage of being able to walk right up to it!

Thor's Well
A beautiful blowhole by the name of Thor’s Well.

Thor’s Well was the only planned attraction of this trip, but there was more to see on the Central Oregon Coast. While I’ve been to much of the Oregon Coast, I’m most familiar with the Southern part since it’s the most accessible from my home. I think the last time I was on the Central Oregon Coast, I was in middle or elementary school!

Heceta Head
Hiking up to Heceta Head Lighthouse.

It was surprising how many stops I ended up taking just between Yachats and the neighboring town of Florence. There was Heceta Head Lighthouse which I of course had to tour, which was right next to a beach that was perfect for eating lunch at. Then I decided that, while expensive (at $14 a head!), I should check out the Sea Lion Caves.

Sea Lion Caves
See the sea lions?

In the past, when I told a former coworker about my solo travels, she would say that the only solo trip she’d ever done was driving out to the Sea Lion Caves by herself. That was what sold me on going here, just following in her footsteps I suppose. I was surprised at how many other people traveled out here; some were even from other countries! After entering through the gift shop, I ended up on a trail outside facing the Pacific Ocean. To the left, there was a lookout point where you could look down and see dozens of sea lions enjoying the sun and sea. Then to the right, there was an elevator that went deep down into the cave.

Sea Lion Cave
Inside the cave. If you look closely, you’ll find sea lions on the rock in the middle of the water.

The cave had a looping video, skeletons of sea lions, and informational panels about the different species. Of course, there was an opening to look into the part of the cave where the sea lions were, all piled on a rock. It was fairly distant, and at first I was a little disappointed in this place when you can see the San Francisco sea lions a lot closer, and for free. But then I found out that the staff member overseeing that area had a pair of binoculars that she loaned out to visitors, and she had plenty of stories to tell about the sea lions that I could now see up-close!

Sand Dunes
I watched some sandboarders play around on this dune for a bit.

I stopped for some s’mores flavored ice cream at a Florence ice cream shoppe called BJ’s, and then went behind the Fred Meyer to enjoy the sand dunes. (I wish I brought a sandboard or toboggan!) I continued driving south. I got a tip when planning for my NorCal road trip to San Francisco last summer that, if you go on a one-way trip along the West Coast, make sure you go south. That way, your side of the road has better views of the ocean. Good advice!

Coast Mirror
Mirror selfie! (With a lighthouse in the background!)

I stopped at another lighthouse (though the tour was too expensive for this one) and an ocean overlook. I even went on a little nature walk through a patch of darlingtonia, which is a carnivorous pitcher plant. I tried stopping at an old favorite coffee shop in Coos Bay, but it was closed by the time I got there. Finally, I made it to Old Town Bandon.

Old Town Bandon
My booth at the Mexican restaurant overlooked all the boats in the harbor.

I enjoyed many of the same places as I did the last time I stopped in Bandon, including the delicious Cranberry Sweets. But for some reason, I was craving Mexican food. Maybe it was because a favorite place to go when I worked in Bandon was El Jalepeno, a restaurant with big, unique, tasty burritos. Sadly, that closed down years ago. So I searched on my GPS to see if there were any Mexican restaurants still standing in Bandon. There was, and it just happened to be in Old Town! I walked there and enjoyed a feast. I think it was my first time eating solo at a sit-down Mexican restaurant, and it was a revelation to realize that I could double-dip my chips in the salsa!

Kissing Rock
The sun setting over Kissing Rock in Gold Beach.

With a full belly, I pondered where to go from here. Everything south of Bandon would just be a repeat of my trip to Brookings a couple months prior. It would be faster to head back to the I-5, but that would also be a repeat but with less scenery. I decided to take the long way home so that I could enjoy more of the coastal views. Most of it was drive-by enjoyment, such as through the Mount Humbug and Prehistoric Gardens area. But I did make a quick stop at Kissing Rock in Gold Beach as the sun was setting. I even stopped at Oregon’s highest bridge, which I’ve driven over several times but never actually stopped to look at. I took an even longer break in Brookings so I could explore Azalea Park, which was too rainy to enjoy the last time I was there. When I was a kid and camped near Brookings, the Azalea Park playground was like a castle. I played on it for a few seconds for old time’s sake, but was now more impressed with the garden and the capella.

Capella
Inside the Azalea Park Capella

After that, it was a dark, eerie-but-fun drive through the redwoods. I work the overnight shift between Sunday and Monday, and I made it there with ten minutes to spare!

Other than Yachats, I had already been to all the towns that I stopped at on this road trip. Yet it felt like an entirely new experience. Enjoying different attractions or seeing the same attractions in different ways (such as different times of day or even different ages!) made it a whole new experience.

Have you ever visited a destination more than once? What felt different on subsequent trips? Let me know in the comments!

This trip was made possible because I found a reservation for Eugene Whiteaker International Hostel on Hostelz.com. I recommend Hostelz.com to find the biggest selection of hostels out there. Click here to save money on accommodations while simultaneously helping this site!

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Road Trip Weekend, Part 2: Leave the Comfort Zone

It’s the weekend! What a great time for a road trip! Each day of this weekend, I’ll be sharing a recent road trip I took. My hope is that, even if you don’t take the route I did, you’ll get some tips and inspiration for wherever you go! Yesterday, I shared a coastal road trip built around meeting my favorite speaker. Today, I’ll tell how a road trip allowed me to face my fears and overcome pain. 

Exactly one week after my car was hit, I was still overcoming fears that were brought on the night of the crash. Since I was turning left when it happened, I had to psych myself up every time I needed to turn left. (I have heard of people who make three rights to avoid ever turning left, but I knew right away that I didn’t want to live in fear or make big adjustments to my life from one crash.) I was already starting to overcome my fear of the intersection where it occurred, since I drove through it almost every day. Because the driver that hit us was from California, to be honest I was a little nervous about California drivers.

Thankfully, my car insurance provided a rental car for one month. It was a blue Hyundai Sonata. I took it one one road trip during the time I had it. Within the first five minutes of that trip, I decided that Sue would be the perfect name for this car. Sue Sonata was my Sue-bstitute for my Sue-baru. But that road trip involved a lot more than just naming a car.

I had been considering taking a road trip all that week, but wasn’t sure if I was up for it. I was still in a lot of pain, not to mention the mental obstacles that come with driving long distances so shortly after an emotional crash. So when I decided on Saturday morning that I should face my fears and have some fun along the way, I was scrambling for where to go and places to stay. Several ideas I had resulted in finding no nearby accommodations that were both affordable and available, but I eventually found an AirBnB in Redding, California.

Redding has been a stop on several of my trips, but never a destination. I’ve enjoyed several walks across the Sundial Bridge and around the surrounding Turtle Bay Exploration Park. In middle school I even had fun on a Girl Scout trip to the Redding Water Slides. But one popular thing to do in Redding,  especially for Christians, is attend a worship service at Bethel Church. That would be at the top of my to-do list for this trip.

Redding is about three hours away from my home in Southern Oregon. Since I didn’t leave until after lunch on Saturday, I only had the late afternoon and early evening to spend in Redding. I started out by checking into my AirBnB. The hosts attend Bethel, and many of their other guests also come primarily to attend Bethel, so they gave advice on when to leave in the morning. I was surprised that people are waiting to get into the sanctuary over an hour before service starts! I also learned that the 8am service was the least crowded, so I set my alarm to get up for that.

Then, I headed off to explore Redding. The waterslides weren’t in my budget, but I still enjoyed the (very Northern) California May weather by going to the local YMCA, which has both an indoor and outdoor pool. At the time, I had a membership to my local Y, which allows for free access to just about any Y location in the world. I was a little disappointed that they didn’t have a sauna, though. The Ys near me have them, and since I hadn’t started chiropractic work yet, the heat was really helping my injured shoulder and other sore muscles. But I still got a decent workout in.

Next, I headed to 7 Eleven with a popcorn bucket. It was Bring Your Own Cup Day, after all! I try to take advantage of good deals like this, no matter where I am. It’s just one way to enjoy yourself while still saving money for travel.

I must confess: when traveling, I often replace a meal with ice cream. The Slurpee wasn’t filling enough for a meal, so I dined on Rita’s ice and custard. The last time I ate this was when I lives in Ohio three years ago, so it was definitely a treat.

Then, I attempted to spend the evening in Turtle Bay Exploration Park. Unfortunately, when I got there, it was really crowded. I realized that there was a rodeo going on next to the park, and attendees were parking miles away since the nearby lots were full. I had no interest in attending the rodeo, and I didn’t want to walk so far just to get to the park, so I left. I wasn’t that upset for a few reasons. I had already been before, I might be able to go after church the next day, and my AirBnB had a great view of the Sundial Bridge from the back patio. I spend some time looking over the cityscape while munching on my giant Slurpee.

I spent the quiet evening trying to write and learn about Bethel. Other than hearing the occasional Bethel Music song on Christian radio, I didn’t know too much about the church doctrine or leaders.

Up before my alarm went off, I got ready, packed up, and headed off to Bethel. My plan was to attend two services back-to-back, and visit the Alabaster Prayer House. I had no trouble finding parking or a seat for the 8am service, though the front half of seating was already reserved.

While the song selection and pastor’s message were the same in both services I attended, there were still differences. The worship in the second service was more experiential, with flag wavers and more complex lighting. That service also had a baby dedication that seemed more like a walk down the red carpet. Instead of just one or two babies, there were over twenty being paraded by their parents as their names were announced and pastors lined up to pray for them.

The first service seemed more like a church service I would typically attend, but because of its smaller attendance, it offered something that the other one didn’t: the opportunity to wait in line after service to be prayed over for physical healing. I had heard about Bethel’s physical healing ministry on Saturday mornings, but didn’t think there would be the opportunity on Sunday. I am not sure if it was a normal thing or because the theme of the morning sermon was healing, but since I still had all the pain of a recent collision,  I decided to take them up on this offer! Unfortunately I didn’t receive immediate healing like some people do, but my chiropractor has been saying that I am recovering quickly, so maybe these two are connected.

Between services, I was hungry due to only having leftover Slurpee breakfast. So I headed to the church cafe, called HeBrews. I ate a muffin on the patio, then got into the line for second service. When I got into the sanctuary, I didn’t see any available seats. Lots of people were standing against the side walls, so I joined them. I later learned that these standing people could join live worship, but would then sit in another room while the service was streamed to them. I didn’t join them, however, because a woman came up and told me there was an empty seat next to her.

After the second service, I went to the greeters who welcomed first-time visitors. They gave me a calendar and a coupon to download free sermon, which I still haven’t taken advantage of.  Then I walked over to thw Alabaster Prayer House.  This was a cute little building offering communion, books, a fountain, and other resources that contributed to a mindful place to pray. Outside of that  was a garden that I decided to walk through, especially after looking down at the driveway and seeing all the cars coming and going as slow as molasses!

When I did leave, I headed over to Turtle Bay. One thing I have wanted to do here for a couple years now was hike the trails. So after the mandatory sundial selfies, I started down a trail, but stopped at a bench overlooking the water. A couple with a thick accent asked to sit next to me. It turns out they were from Paris, but were visiting Redding for several days to attend a Bethel conference as well as church this morning. So we talked about church as well as my trip to Paris two years ago. Then I continued down the path.

I saw deer and a lot of beautiful spots along the water before I ended up next to the freeway. I then turned and walked a path that had the freeway on one side, and a marshy preserve on the other- quite the contrast! I walked some on the other side of the water, but the scattered path, hot sun, and hunger eventually forced me to turn around.

Back on the road, I sipped some soup from a mug as I listened to music and enjoyed the forested Shasta Lake area. Soup was not appeasing my hunger, though. When I saw a sign for The Pizza Factory, I recalled how in high school my youth group once went there after a houseboat trip. I guess I was too busy remembering the past, because I missed the exit for it. Fortunately, there are three Pizza Factory restaurants along the NorCal I5. I stopped at the Weed one, which turned out to be the same one that my youth group had gone to anyway. I enjoyed a delicious taco pizza.

The rest of the drive home was pretty mundane, although I did feel a little accomplished safely driving past the town where the other driver in the accident lives. In just one quick weekend trip, I drove long distances, drove among many California drivers, turned left in plenty of intersections, started the physical healing process, and even enjoyed most of it. I wasn’t sure if I would get my car back, but it was even better to have my life back!

What fears have YOU overcome while traveling? Tell me in the comments!

Click here to get an account and discount on your next AirBnB stay. We’ll both benefit from this affiliate link!

Places Change

A little over a year ago, I made a stop at the historic Butte Creek Mill. It hadn’t changed much since it opened in 1872.

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But recently, I was driving through Eagle Point, and decided to make a quick detour to go by Butte Creek Mill. Here’s what it looks like now:

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Christmas morning brought many surprises as usual, but an unexpected and unwanted surprise was hearing the news that this beautiful historic mill caught fire. It was shocking to comprehend that something that had stood the test of time had so suddenly disappeared as it literally went up in smoke.

In the following weeks, residents from my area kept up on the news of what would happen to the site where Butte Creek Mill once stood. I was filled with hope when the owner announced that just enough survived to justify rebuilding and restoring the mill. However, it would take a lot of help. I made a small donation within the month of the fire, but after seeing the burned-down mill with my own eyes, I recently made another donation. You can help rebuild Butte Creek Mill, too! I look forward to the day when Butte Creek Mill once again resembles the top photo!

Traveling Can Be Green, Too!

Happy Earth Day! Most of what I write here is creative ways to travel that will save you green. But in honor of today’s holiday, I’m going to shift gears a bit and talk about another way to save the green.

Many environmentalists frown upon travel as it causes greenhouse gases and a bigger carbon footprint. True, carbon costs associated with travel can be astronomical, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be cleaned up and greened up. Since Earth Day is celebrated each year on April 22nd, here are 22 ways you can make your travel more green!

(Bonus: In addition to saving the green for the environment, many of these will save the green in your wallet, too!)

Green Accommodation

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Share your campsite to make an even lower impact!
  1. Stay in Hostels Staying in a hostel dorm with others requires less square footage and encourages community. Hostels also often tend to buy in bulk and cut out worthless amenities, so you won’t create excess waste with miniature shampoos.
  2. Go Camping Get in touch with nature, and then be encouraged to preserve it! Any kind of camping is probably helpful for the environment, but you can take it a step futher with primitive camping, where you won’t have electricity hookups, WiFi, or possibly even flushing toilets!
  3. Stay with Friends Instead of creating a demand for a temporary place to sleep, go somewhere that’s already being lived in. Your friends will probably equip you with the same shower, dishes, and bedding they always use instead of providing disposible or temporary supplies like a hotel does.
  4. Don’t Request Sheet Changes Unless Absolutely Needed In your own home, you probably realize that washing sheets from just one bed is enough to load an entire washer and dryer. Save the water, soap, gas, and electricity by skipping sheet changes. You don’t replace your sheets at home every day, do you?

Green Packing

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Unless you need a Delorean because you’re going on a time-travel vacation, don’t pack enough to fill a truck.
  1. Bring Your Own Toiletries in Reusable Containers I’ve shared some of my favorite travel toiletry containers here before. Whether you use my recommendations or not, siphoning toiletries from bulk containers into smaller, reusable containers is much better than purchasing one-time bottles from the travel section of superstores.
  2. Lighten the Load with Carry-On Only No matter which mode you travel with, you’ll always save fuel if you take a lighter load. I backpacked the Mediterranean for 92 days with just a carry-on! I think going on a weeklong vacation with only a carry-on is a piece of cake.
  3. Borrow or Buy Used Travel Gear There are some items that may be necessary while traveling, but useless in everyday life. If you absolutely cannot go without it, ask your friends, family, and social media followers if you can borrow their tent, or ice chest, or lawn chair, or… you get the picture.
  4. Do Laundry Effectively If you need to do laundry on your trip at all, first see if there is anything you can wear more than once between washes. Bring your own eco-friendly soap instead of the single-serve packets found at the laundromat, and try to line-dry your laundry, even if you have to do so indoors.

Green Transportation

Rafting
You could travel by boat for a really fuel-efficient getaway. But if going by raft, you may get wet!
  1. Carpool If someone else is available to travel with you, going in one car instead of two will cut your emissions in half. Better yet, if you’re both licensed drivers, split the driving time to help keep alert and avoid accidents.
  2. Take the Bus or Train I love both of these options! You get to see so much more of the country, and reap the benefits of extremely low passenger miles per gallon! Trains are often a vacation in themselves, and long-distance buses make travel available to all income levels!
  3. Walk or Bike Everywhere at Your Destination Make a point to do this everywhere you go, even if it means staying closer to the city center. I can’t imagine all that I would have missed out on if I took cars or city transportation everywhere I’ve been.
  4. Don’t Fly First Class I’ve flown first class one time, and it was WAY overrated. Flying in coach means that the seating allows for more passengers to fly (and thus cuts down on emissions per person), plus lowers the waste of beverage cups and snack wrappers.

Green Eating

Laduree
My take-away container was already full when I bought these in Paris. But I could recycle the cardboard and bag!
  1. Pick Restaurants that Serve Local Food You’ll get a better sense of the local cuisine and prevent excess trucking and shipping of food.
  2. Become a Vacation Vegetarian I’m not saying you have to give up meat. (Not everyone can!) But try to select veg options in your travels. Besides the environmental advantages, vegetarian options often cost less, and you will be less exposed to those icky stomach bugs that travelers fear.
  3. Bring Washable Dishes or Stay Somewhere that Offers Them It’s not that time-consuming to wash your dishes after eating instead of throwing them away.
  4. BYOB (Bring Your Own Bottle!) Vacations tend to make me thirsty! Instead of buying drinks everyday, I’m saving my wallet, my waistline, and the Earth with a reusable bottle.

Green Entertainment

Love Locks Paris
See those love locks at practically every major attraction? Skipping this activity will reduce the waste of the lock and packaging, reduce the pollution caused when the key is tossed into the water, and reduce the repairs needed on the structures that are getting vandalized and weighed down!
  1. Recycle Ticket Stubs (or Use an eTicket) These are usually recyclable, but rarely do people think to recycle them!
  2. Visit Local Parks Fresh air, green plants, and a free place to explore the local culture. What’s not to love?
  3. Borrow Books or DVDs for Downtime Sure, you could buy a paperback for those times you need to relax. But many hostels, and now even some hotels, offer lending libraries or book/movie exchanges. Reduce the demand for new materials, and lighten the weight of that carry-on you brought!
  4. Visit Ethical Attractions What you define as “ethical” is ultimately up for you to decide, but consider how workers are treated, how animals are used, how waste is disposed of, and how guests can contribute to the community.

Green Shopping

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Arnold Schwarzenegger bought this bear statue as a souvenir of his time as governor, but then left it at the California State Capitol! I guess he couldn’t even fit it into his suitcase.
  1. Avoid It Why do you need a tacky souvenir (that’s probably not even made at your destination), when there are more effective, and more eco-friendly, ways to capture your memories? One of my favorite mementos are my travel journals. Photos are another great option, or if you absolutely want to buy something, send yourself a postcard or letter from your destination.

An Invitation to the Mediterranean

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Two days after returning home from my 92-Day Mediterranean Trek, I invited some people over to my house for a Mediterranean Night. This involved a potluck of Mediterranean or European-inspired foods (many of which were left at my house and made delicious leftovers for the next few meals), and also featured a slideshow with over 200 of my trip photos. (This didn’t seem like many compared to all the photos I actually took!) It was a fun way to show and tell my experiences with many people who would be questioning me about my travels anyway. And while it just took place in a living room, it kind of felt like I was back in all those exotic cities, but this time I had friends and family right alongside me!

We discovered the evolution of the bridges over the Seine River and debated the merit of Love Locks.

Love Locks Paris Unlocked Bridge and Artist Paris

We laughed at how Disneyland Paris portrayed our American culture in It’s a Small World After All.Small World Disneyland Paris

We cringed in disgust from stories like how this horse statue in Madrid was once accidentally a death trap for birds! Horse Statue Madrid

They watched as I learned how to properly carve ham right off the leg…even if I didn’t want to eat it!Ham Cutting La Alberca

We questioned why this cathedral in Barcelona keeps 13 geese in the courtyard and whether or not the legend behind it is true.

Geese Barcelona

We marveled at the scenic landscapes of every city, and even the world’s second smallest nation of Monaco!

Monaco Monte Carlo Reflection

We were fascinated how places like Verona could just casually house so many millenia-old buildings and artifacts!

Verona Ruins

We shared a sunset over Venice.

Venice Sunset

Pinocchio and Gepetto’s workshop came to life to us in Florence.

Wooden Workshop Florence

We wondered why the Leaning Baptistery of Pisa doesn’t have the same fame as the Leaning Tower of Pisa!

Pisa Baptistery Church Tower

We were in awe of so many magnificent pieces of art. (I had never pictured Mary or Jesus as being blonde before!)Blond Virgin Mary

We questioned if the guards at Athens’ Tomb of the Unknown Soldier was really a reverent location or more of a fun tourist stop.

Greece Tomb of the Unknown Soldier Guards Athens

We learned that Thessaloniki has its own leaning church akin to Pisa’s!

Leaning Church Thessaloniki

And we finally left Europe with a boat ride to Asia in the intercontinental city of Istanbul.Istanbul Europe Asia Divide

I know I couldn’t invite that many people into my parents’ living room for a night of personalized armchair travel, but over the next several weeks, I would like to invite everyone to journey with me for the inside experience of backpacking the Mediterranean, just like the ones mentioned above. We’ll explore each city together and have some fun along the way. Will you join me in reliving this Mediterranean Trek?

Money Mondays: Don’t Buy Drinks!

Money Mondays is a weekly post about how you can save money without sacrificing your travel dreams.

I can’t believe I only have half a week left of my three month Mediterranean Trek! I will miss seeing foreign countries every day, but I am also looking forward to a change of pace (even if it is pretty much back to the old routine). But even though I’ve been on the road for a long time, I can easily count all the times I paid for a beverage:
-I bought a bottle of Perrier in Paris because I wanted to enjoy the fizzy water in its home country.
-I bought a quart of milk in Barcelona so I would have something to go with my cereal. ( The hostel didn’t provide breakfast.)
-I bought two bottles of Gatorade  in Venice because I got sick and desperately needed that potassium and rehydration salt.
-I bought a slushie in Thessaloniki because buying a drink on a boat would entitle me to a free cruise around the bay.
That’s it.

I guess you could say I technically bought beverages when they were part of a prefixe meal, such as a tapas tour in Madrid or three course meals in Rome. But because these drinks were part of the package, if I had paid for everything else individually, it would have cost more than the price of the meal with beverage included. I think that’s almost like saying I pay for the tea and juice included in a hostel breakfast. I guess in a way I do, but I would be paying the same whether or not I accepted these free drinks.

So what have I been drinking? I occasionally come across a free beverage (last week in Athens, a restaurant offered me a free one to convince me to sit down at one of their tables), and you may remember that I brought some Traditional Medicinals teabags with me. But mostly, I’ve been drinking tap water.

Tap water is safe for Americans to drink in most European countries. Just make sure to look it up ahead of time. Today I’m heading to my final destination, and it’s the only place I’m going with unsafe tap water. I guess I’ll have to buy some water there! The good news is, bottled water is typically pretty cheap in places where you can’t drink the tap.

Needless to say, not paying for beverages can save a lot of money on a trip, and drinking only tap water doesn’t really change the experience. This is also something that can be done prior to your trip, and the savings can go to future travel. How much you’ll end up saving depends on your current habits. If you already mostly just drink tap, it won’t make much of a difference. If you drink a soda every day, consider how much that costs you over the course of a month or a year. If you go to bars, stopping drinking could save you a ton! Also factor in that beverages in restaurants, vending machines, and tourist destinations will probably cost more than at home.

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Here are some more tips to help you save on beverages:
–  Bring a large refillable bottle. My Camelbak worked well for me on this trip. But these water reservoirs are uncommon in Europe, so I got some weird looks and questions when I drank from its tube!
– Go to street fairs. I’ve been to three on this trip. The first one in Paris provided me with juice, cola, and lots of different food. The second one in Rome scored me milk, juice, bottled water, and Nutella Bready. The third one in Athens provided me with a hat, tee, and pin. If this trip is any indication, then two out of three street fairs will get you free beverages!
– If you really want a beverage, go to a grocery store for the cheapest selection.
– Some restaurants try to sell you bottled water, or may charge for tap. Discuss this with the waiter before you order, and make sure to bring a bottle with you so that you can drink from it if all liquids cost money.
– Look around town for places to refill your water. Oftentimes, if the water is flowing and there’s no sign that says “non potable”, it’s safe to drink.
-For those times when you do have to buy bottled water, buy it in bulk instead of individual bottles. You can always use a big jug to fill smaller bottles, and this translates into less waste and often lower costs!

There are times when it’s more than appropriate to buy a beverage. You don’t want to miss out on a local drink that’s part of the experience. But if you’re addicted to soda or crave coffee, a simple switch to water will improve your health, the environment, and your spending!

What’s your favorite thing to drink? How long do you think you could go without it?

Eating Chocolate con Churros in Madrid

When going into Madrid, I didn´t really have any plans for must-see attractions. But I did have some must-eats! And I think I ate everything I hoped for, from tapas, to paella, to toast covered in tomato sauce and olive oil. But I definitely did have a favorite, and that was chocolate con churros.

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Churros in Madrid may be very different from churros you´ve had before. In North America, churros are thick, straight, and rolled in cinnamon sugar. The Spanish churro is thinner and teardrop-shaped. While it still comes fried with ridges, you have to add the cinnamon yourself if you want it. But you might as well skip the seasonings because it is much better with a nice cup of chocolate!

When you order chocolate con churros in a cafe, you´ll receive the chocolate in a small mug. The consistency is thicker than hot chocolate, but thinner than melted chocolate. Not as much sugar is added like you’d find in most chocolate, but it’s sweet enough. It´s perfect for dunking, or for eating straight with a spoon!

After my first Madrid hostel, U Hostels, served me Spanish churros for breakfast, I was hooked! But they only offered toppings like sugar or butter or chocolate powder, not actual chocolate. So I looked up a few local chocolaterias so I’d know where to go to test this treatimage

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The good news is, there is no one “best place” to experience this deliciousness. Whenever I came across a cafe with the label “Chocolateria” above the door, I knew it was a good place to go. I didn’t notice any sort of difference between the churros or chocolate among the chocolaterias, so the only thing that makes one better than another is the price.

Okay, there is one notable difference, but I didn’t discover it until after I left Madrid. In Barcelona, because this area of Spain wants to be its own country, everything is different, including the language. Here, if you go to a Xocolateria for some xurros, you won’t get them in teardrop shape. My Barcelona xurros were cut into smaller lengths that curled slightly in the fryer, and we served in a paper cone. Interesting how one local treat can go from a cafe snack to a fair food!

Have you eaten chocolate con churros? What’s your favorite foreign snack?

No Spanish Allowed at Pueblo Inglés

There is a place in Spain that offers a nice break from large cities like Madrid and whisks you away to forest-covered hills and mountain views. Here you can enjoy three-course meals, pool facilities, and a retreat to a villa. Best of all, you can get this for free.
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The catch? At this Spanish location, no Spanish is allowed!

This shouldn’t be much of a problem for native English speakers, but each of these people, referred to as an “Anglo”, will have to spend all day talking with native Spanish speakers who want to improve their English. The English-only rule is a bit more difficult for the Spaniards!
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In order to expose the Spaniards enrolled in the program to different accents and expressions, the program, called Pueblo Inglés, recruits Anglo volunteers from places like England, Wales, Ireland, Australia, and Canada. I was one of the volunteers representing the United States in a recent program. Volunteering does require putting in long hours of sometimes difficult conversation. Most of my day consisted of talking one-to one, having group discussions and partipating in activities that somehow helped practice English. But in return, I received transportation from Madrid to a scenic resort, three-course meals and a stay in a villa all for free!
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Of course the Spaniards do have to pay for this language learning experience, but it is an incredibly effective program as it is an intensive eight days of speaking nothing but English. I saw many people who started the program having difficulty understanding me even when I was speaking slowly, but towards the end of the week we were chatting like I would with someone from home.

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Over the course of the week, Anglos and Spaniards do everything together. At meals, each four-person table had two Spaniards and two Anglos. Group activities included discussions, icebreakers, parties, and even a tour of the nearby town La Alberca. Now THAT is an experience I must tell you about!
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Most of us chose to walk from our hotel to the town through a backroad. On the way, our master of ceremonies told us about the La Alberca black pig. This area is famous for their ham, and one way they promote it is by having the community raise a pig each year that roams around town. We were warned that the pig isn’t always in an easy-to-find area, but at that point I was praying for a special experience of finding the pig! And boy, was that prayer answered!

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After looking at few of the notable La Alberca sights, our group sat on the cathedral steps a block away from the town square while we listened to the beginning of a story of an earthquake in the town. Suddenly, someone sitting in the back began shouting. Among other choice words, he notified us that there was a pig climbing up another set of steps. Of course, the story had to be paused while we all attempted to take a selfie with the famous pig. But after a few minutes of trying to get the pig to smile, out MC convinced us to sit down again as the pig started to wander away from the excitement.
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Little did we know, once we were settled down, the pig wanted to cause some chaos. She wandered up behind us. Then, she decided to root for food right where I was sitting! I never expected to get that personal with a pig! But it only got worse. Since she couldn’t find any food underneath me, she did a taste test of me! She bit the closest part of my body she could find. Since I was trying to stay seated on the step and not interrupt the entire group, there was one particular body part right next to her face. At this point, there was no way that the group wouldn’t be disrupted as everyone was already pointing and laughing and getting out their cameras. The pig continued to make her way through the group, sampling the bags and shoes she came across. Our MC finally hollered, “Forget about the earthquake story; let’s move this way and leave the pig!” The rest of the tour finished the way a normal walking tour typically does. When we had some free time after that, I busied myself exploring the cobblestone back roads, but from a distance I spied the pig, who had found new victims to harass. To continue our time in town, we were treated to a wine, cheese, and meat sampling where we learned the secret way to cut the perfect slice of ham straight from the leg. I dont normally eat pork, but since the pig tried eating me, I sought my revenge by eating a tiny bit of pig.
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I just finished my last day of Pueblo Inglés, and it was surprisingly hard to say goodbye. I had come to teach the Spaniards English, but they taught me even more about the world and life in general. The week had a feeling akin to an adult summer camp, so along with that came the kindling of new friendships that I believe will last a long time. I hope to see many of them again, either by traveling to their home country or by inviting them into my home. And I may have to attend another program in the future!
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Spending a week volunteering (or possibly enrolling in) Pueblo Inglés may be one of the most meaningful and most fun things you can do in Spain. Just make sure to keep a safe distance from that pig’s snout!

Tea: A Drink With Jam and Bread… and Everything Else!

I only drink soda on rare special occasions, and I can’t stand the taste of coffee. And even though I live in and I’m going to land that is famous for its vineyards, I’ve never tried wine. Most of the time I drink water. It’s a healthy habit that has allowed me to save up money for travel, but I do enjoy drinking other beverages too, especially if they also have health benefits. I don’t typically drink tea because even the decaf kind has enough caffeine to affect me. But I absolutely LOVE the naturally caffeine-free goodness of herbal tea. There are a few brands of herbals that I’m partial to, including Celestial Seasonings, whose factory I toured last September. But on this upcoming trip, I’m dedicating all my tea drinking to Traditional Medicinals!

Traditional Medicinals shipment box

Traditional Medicinals is a brand that I know I can truly stand behind due to several of its ethical practices. Many of their products are organic, GMO-free, fair trade, and/or kosher. They practice environmental policies such as using recycled cardboard for their boxes, utilizing renewable energy in manufacturing, and providing compostable bags. But best of all, each flavor of herbal tea is made not only to be delicious, but to promote a particular health aspect as well!

box of Traditional Medicinals herbal tea

Bringing medication along with you is important on any trip you take, since you’ll be exposed to a new environment, new altitude, new foods, and new water treatment. Medication is especially important when going overseas since things can be dramatically different and you may not be able to get the same sort of medical care internationally. I already have ibuprofen, diphenhydramine, and vitamins packed up to go, but I also figured I would need to get some more medications for things like stomach upset, nervousness, and immunity. Now don’t get me wrong, I will take medications when I need to, but I don’t really have any idea of what exactly goes into a pill. So if there is a natural substitute that does something similar, I’d much rather take that! With Traditional Medicinals, I was able to shrink down my medicine bag, and bring yummy tea instead!

Ginger Aid Traditional Medicinals

The herbal tea I wanted most was Ginger Aid. Ginger Aid obviously tastes like ginger, which has qualities that can help ease digestive pains. I need to focus on promoting good digestion even at home since I seem to be more sensitive than most. When going to new countries, eating and drinking new things, and having new experiences, I am more likely to get stomach upset or nausea. So it’s great that I’m bringing two boxes worth of Ginger Aid. It has been of benefit for me in the past, so it’s now an invaluable part of my health and travel arsenals!

Traditional Medicinals herbal tea- ginger aid, echinacea plus, chamomile with lavender

Another helpful tea for travel is Echinacea Plus. Echinacea is a type of flower with qualities that promote immune system health. Whenever I feel a cold or other common illness coming on, I grab the Echinacea Plus right away. I used to get several colds a year. This past winter, I didn’t get a single one! (And with the few I had the year before, I immediately went to the Gypsy Cold Care!) Echinacea can’t prevent the common cold (nothing really can), but supporting your immune system means that your body could be stronger in fighting off illnesses. I’m taking sixteen tea bags of this along with me to help my body with whatever it may come up against.

Chamomile with Lavender Traditional Medicinal herbal tea

The last kind of herbal tea I’m packing is one that I had never tried before, so I decided to make a cup of it to enjoy as I sat down and wrote this post. It’s called Chamomile with Lavender. Both of these floral ingredients are known for their calming qualities. They’re also good for digestion and aromatherapy. As I tore open the tea bag, I could tell right away that this smelled really good, and I couldn’t wait to sip it! But Traditional Medicinals prints the proper instructions of how to make the perfect cup of tea on each box. That includes covering the cup to let it steep for ten minutes before squeezing the tea bags out and enjoying the drink. Wow, that was delicious, and I already feel a bit calmer!

one quart bag of herbal tea

Herbal tea, particularly Traditional Medicinals, has so many benefits, but I have noticed one problem. The cardboard boxes that the tea bags come in may be environmentally-friendly, but they aren’t packing friendly! To remedy this, I transferred the tea bags into a not-so-eco-conscious plastic baggie to prevent liquid damage and keep everything compact and organized in my suitcase. When packed like this, they don’t take up much space at all.

herbal tea in a mug

Tea is one of the easiest things to make while on the road. If you get tea in packets like these, you don’t need any special equipment. You can choose to bring your own travel mug, or you can probably borrow a mug from any type of lodging you stay at. Most lodging includes a coffee maker, microwave, or teapot to make hot water with. I’ve even filled my mug up with free hot water at places like convenience stores and bus stations. Tea goes great at any meal and just about any food, and that echos throughout the world! In Canada, I remember sipping tea around a breakfast table with Europeans and Asians. In Peru, tea was commonly served with dinner and dessert with the idea that the hot water and herbal qualities could aid digestion. With it being so easy to make tea just about anywhere in the world, the only difficulty will be choosing just one of the many flavors!

Overall, I think herbal tea is a near-necessary item to take on extended trips. I’m so glad that I have Traditional Medicinals to sustain me through my travels!

I am happy to include Traditional Medicinals as the newest sponsor of my European excursion! Traditional Medicinals provided the mentioned tea for the purpose of reviewing. All opinions are my own and no additional compensation was made. 

The Tri-State Journey

Here it is: the last part of my recent road trip! It started by going through Northern California, then to Twentynine Palms, and then small attractions around Southern California. (Click on the links to catch up.) To really capture the road trip style, we chose not to take the I-5 back home and instead explored some cities I had never been to before.

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For our first night, we stayed at Mammoth Lakes. Mammoth Lakes is a ski and summer resort type of town, and we just so happened to hit it between seasons. So while we were too late to be snowed in (and I was very thankful that the only snow seen was just a little bit high in the mountains), the summer activities weren’t in full swing yet. But we still found plenty of things to do- drive through the National Forests, see a few of the lakes, and of course, eating. Our no-frills Travelodge surprised us with cookies in the afternoon and round-the-clock free beverages in addition to the included breakfast. That was great, but we still needed dinner. We chose to share a plate of nachos at Gomez’s in Village Plaza. The Village Plaza looked like it would be a happening place to hang out at in season, but even then, there were lawn games such as ladder golf and cornhole, as well as a fire pit in the center of the square!

Mammoth Lakes offers year-round bus service- for FREE! This even includes a free trolley. Most people take it to get from place to place, but we decided to turn the trolley ride into a round-trip sightseeing tour. For most of the trip, we were the only passengers, so the driver was telling us about all sorts of places to visit. One of those was Obsidian Dome, which we visited the next day.

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It was really cold and windy there, so we didn’t spend as much time as we would have otherwise, but it was neat to see all these rocks made of beautiful shiny obsidian!

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While continuing on our road trip, we stopped by Mono Lake. Unfortunately, we were there on a Tuesday, when the visitor center happened to be closed, but we still enjoyed seeing the unique tufas (salt towers). IMG_20150429_095518_023

Then we took a detour to Bodie. I’m not sure why anyone would want to live in Bodie, but that probably explains why no one lives there anymore! It is a ghost town several miles off the road, and was once a bustling, godless mining city. I’ve only been to a three-building ghost town before, so it was incredible to see all the old buildings, and most of the town had been burned down! We even went to the cemetery and saw the gravestone of the town’s founder W.S. Bodey. (Yes, his name is spelled differently than the town itself- the town was named after a typo!)

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After more driving, it was time to cross the border into Nevada! Have you ever tried to take picture of a state sign from a speeding car? It’s so hard to get it to look good!

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We ended up in a little city… or was it a big city? Oh, that’s right, it was the biggest little city in the world!

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We stayed at Harrah’s. I had never stayed at a casino before, so it was really interesting to see everything there.

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But while many people go to Reno thinking “Ooh, I’m gonna win big at the slots”, my mom and I were thinking “Ooh, I’m gonna eat a lot at the buffet!” And that’s exactly what we did. The best part of the buffet was the crepes that you watched being made right in front of you, and you pick out all the fillings and toppings!167

After dinner we decided to walk off our buffet babies. Our intention was to go through the different casinos and attractions like that, but we found some other interesting things too. For instance, we happened to come across a part of the sidewalk where blue jeans were invented.

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Just a little bit further down the block, we found a Blarney Stone stuck to the wall!

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Circus Circus was a blast. It is connected to several casinos, so it was a change of pace to suddenly walk into a room that was offering toys for prizes instead of big bucks!

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Besides looking at (but not actually playing) the games, we took a train ride in a connecting casino and then went back to Circus Circus to watch a free show called “Best Friends”. We thought it might be a clown show or singing or something like that, so we were thrilled to find that it was actually funny and incredible dog tricks!

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When we got back to our 14th floor hotel room, we decided to sleep with the window shades open so we could enjoy all the lights and sights of Reno.

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The next day we visited some small towns. One such town had the Alpine Drive-In, a locally-owned burger joint where we ate lunch.

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And our final stop of the day was… a landscape supply yard? Okay, it wasn’t planned like that. But after we crossed the border into Oregon (after we crossed from Nevada back into California), my mom dropped me off at Harry and David to get my allotted former employee free food while she picked up a few things for dinner. It took her awhile to come back to pick me up, and I was almost worried that something might have happened. Something did happen, but it wasn’t that severe of an emergency. My dad had called her explaining that he was picking up some gravel (they’re redoing their patio), when the van’s fuel pump stopped working. So we had to come rescue the dog from the heat and make sure that his coworker could pull the gravel home while making sure the van could stay there until the tow truck arrived. It was an unexpected way to end a tri-state road trip (hey, we were even in all three states that very day!), but one lesson from the school of travel is to expect the unexpected!