Accommodations, culture, destinations, Foodie, Hawaii, hike, resources, saving money, souvenir, Things to Do, tour, travel tips, Walk

How to Vacation in Maui on the Cheap

Hawaii is known as an expensive vacation destination, and the island of Maui is no exception. However, my sister and I recently returned from eight nights on this tropical paradise, and we did it on a budget! If you’d like to see Maui, Hawaii without the typical price tag, take a few of our tips.

(Note: Although we did get good deals on our flights, airline tickets involve too many factors, such as season, origin, and personal resources. I’ve decided that, because all the variables that went into our flights probably can’t transfer to yours, to leave this expense out. If you want to save money on flights, there are plenty of articles out there dedicated to just that!)

Some links are affiliates. All links are personally recommended by me!

Gear

For the most part, I just used what I already owned to pack my bag. In Hawaii, you can wear shorts and swimsuits year-round, but I also packed a rain jacket for the unpredictable weather changes as well as leggings and a long-sleeve because I wanted to hike Haleakala with its cold summit. Since most of the clothes were compact, it was easy to fit everything into carry-on luggage and not have to pay for a checked bag.

One thing I did need to buy was razors. I ordered a starter pack from Dollar Shave Club, which included a handle, four blades, and some travel-sized toiletries, all for $5. Better yet, I took advantage of a Dollar Shave Club deal on Swagbucks, so I was paid back in rebates.

One item I knew I’d need, but didn’t have was a snorkel. I decided to just rent one in Hawaii. However, before going to the snorkel rental shop, we stopped at a grocery store. There I found snorkels for the same price as a one-day rental. Since my sister and I both knew we’d be snorkeling multiple days, we bought these and made our money back with our first swim. I snorkeled a total of three days and saw some incredible sea life, making it a worthwhile purchase.

Accommodation

We rented dorm beds at Maui’s Banana Bungalow Hostel. This was by far our biggest expense on the island, and one of the most expensive hostels I’ve ever stayed at. But the $51.40 per night was much more reasonable than any Maui resort or vacation home. I suppose the only cheaper option would be camping, but that is only available in remote areas, and I wanted to be close to the action. Plus, the hostel offered more than just a bed to sleep on. Banana Bungalow provided other money-saving measures that I’ll explain through the rest of this post.

Transportation

While most Maui vacationers rent a car, here’s our big money-saving secret: we didn’t drive at all! The main reason I chose to stay at Banana Bungalow was because they offer different tours to different parts of the island each day of the week. I ended up going with them to several famous beaches, Haleakala National Park, and even the Road to Hana. Of course, the drivers/guides work for tips, but these tours were worth more than pricey commercial tours.

Since Banana Bungalow is near downtown Wailuku, we simply walked to town to eat good food and see some incredible sites. Iao Valley is in the rainforest about three miles outside of the city, so we hiked there one day. For other excursions that we took on our own, we utilized Uber and Lyft. As it was our first time using these rideshare apps, we got registration bonuses, and I also used my Swagbucks to get a free $25 Uber gift card. We would just compare prices between Uber and Lyft and go with whatever was cheapest for our situation. (Use Uber promo code jessical42262ue to get a $15 Uber ride for free! For Lyft, use promo code LIPPE15551 for a special discount.)

Activities

Thankfully, most of Maui’s attractions don’t cost a dime. All beaches are open to the public. Swimming is free. Hammocking is free. Hiking is free. Most parks are free. With the Banana Bungalow tours, we didn’t even have to pay for gas or parking. The only activity expense I had with these tours besides tip money was the national park entry fee into Haleakala.

Since my sister’s birthday was in the middle of our trip, we decided to celebrate at Maui Tropical Plantation. We originally weren’t going to take the tour and instead enjoy the free botanical walking paths and my gift to her would be a meal at the restaurant. But then we changed our minds on the restaurant and decided to eat from the less costly coffee and ice cream shops, so then my birthday gift to her was paying for the tram tour. It was $20 per person and included lots of sights, information, and fruit!

Food

Admittedly, this was the most difficult category to keep on a budget, and I definitely made a few splurges. Most food in Hawaii is expensive, so I didn’t want to be paying exorbitant prices for the same food I eat at home. I also wanted opportunities to taste local cuisine. However, I did pack a variety of snacks so that I didn’t have to buy food in airports, and I used these snacks to supplement a couple of meals in Hawaii as well.

The hostel offered make-your-own pancakes every morning, so breakfast was covered. Often while cooking in the communal kitchen, others would make food and offer leftovers to everyone. There were even free shelves in the fridge and pantry, so that provided a few ingredients.

The tours stopped at grocery stores such as Safeway and Foodland so we could load up on reasonably-priced food. These stores have local, grown-in-Hawaii produce sections, so I focused my shopping there. We also bought fresh fruit at Maui Tropical Plantation’s market and packaged goods at an Asian market down the street from our hostel. We even got food at Costco. The restaurant menu had some different choices from our local Costco, but still had $1.99 pizza and $1.50 hot dogs!

We did go out to eat several times, but not to fancy sit-down restaurants. We happened to be in Wailuku during their First Friday street fair, so we loaded up on all kinds of local cuisine from the various food stands and trucks. We ate at food trucks and stands a couple other times, like on the Road to Hana where we split a roadside meal served on a banana leaf. (We passed on the banana bread when we realized it was from a bakery a block away from our hostel. We walked there the next morning and got the banana bread for a fraction of the price!) We also ate at a few walk-up restaurants. We even ate at McDonald’s, but I only ordered off their unique local menu. Spam and eggs, anyone?

Shopping

I got a few mementos from this trip, mostly free. I wrote in my journal every day. I pressed a flower in its pages. I brought my National Parks passport so I could add a Haleakala stamp. And of course I took lots of pictures!

Toward the end of our trip we went to Lahaina, which was a good place for shopping. There were fairly good prices at ABC Stores, where I got chocolate covered macadamia nuts and a bracelet. Out of respect for preserving the natural beauty on Maui, I did not smuggle out any coral, sand, or rocks.

Maui did end up costing more than my typical frugal trips, but we were able to have a good time without breaking the bank. I hope you’ll be able to enjoy Maui on a budget, too!

How to Vacation in Maui on the Cheap

How do you lower the price of an expensive destination? Let me know in the comments!

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photography, Recap

Where Did 2017 Go?

This past year seemed simultaneously both long and short. As it’s become my tradition to recap the adventures of the past year through photos and provide encouragement for the coming year, let’s get started on the good, the bad, and the ugly of 2017!

year 2017

January

January 2017 snow

The year started off with snow, a rare occurrence in these parts! I began the year with a hike up Roxy Ann Peak, and continued enjoying the snow by volunteering in the mountains at Wilderness Trails. I also had the opportunity to interview Sadie Robertson for this year’s spring issue of Girlz 4 Christ Magazine, which was the start of more growth with this project.

February

February 2017 Trees of Mystery

The highlight of February was taking a day trip to Trees of Mystery in Klamath, California. I had given my family tickets as a Christmas present, and it was a fun trip together. Since the New Year is during February in China, I went to the Chinese New Year festival in Jacksonville, Oregon. I also drove my friends out to Gold Beach where we hunted for glass floats, but unfortunately we didn’t find any.

March

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This month focused more on local outdoor adventures. Since I was doing the On Foot series on this blog, my goal was to discover trails and walking paths. I even discovered new tiny towns like Wimer, Oregon and its covered bridge. I took several day trips to Ashland, Rogue River, and Jacksonville, and I hiked Table Rock.

April

April 2017 Susie Shellenberger

April’s adventures started out a lot like May’s. I joined in Ashland’s First Friday Art Walk, which I hadn’t done since college. I also hiked in Jacksonville and went on a few country drives. But then I found out that one of my favorite speakers and writers, Susie Shellenberger, was going to be speaking in Brookings, which is a town on the Southern Oregon Coast. Although I had short notice, I planned a wonderful weekend road trip around her speaking schedule where I got to see beautiful portions of the Pacific Coastline. I even stayed in my first AirBnB… on a boat!

May

May 2017 Redding

This was the hardest month for me. Although I tried to jazz up the year by taking trips and going on adventures, for the most part they were there to cover up some struggles. I applied to several jobs this year, all of which resulted in rejection. My current jobs have gone through some rough patches. I knew a few people who died in car crashes. But it really hit home when I got hit myself. Just three days after my birthday, I was driving some girls home from a Mothers Day event on a Friday night when another car ran a red light and hit us in the intersection. For the most part, we were fine. However, I did have to spend the rest of the year going to chiropractic appointments, and dealing with the insurance companies is still a hassle. But since I got a rental car, I decided to take a road trip the very next weekend, kind of as a way to kick fear in the face. Because I made plans the same day I left, I considered several destinations until I found one that was both affordable and available. I had a nice time exploring several attractions in Redding, California.

June

June 2017 Golden Ghost Town

I drove three different cars this month: a rental from my insurance company, a rental from the other insurance company, and finally, a new car for me! Since June was continued stress of dealing with the aftermath of the car crash, I wasn’t in the mood to travel much. I did take a day trip to the ghost town of Golden, Oregon and nearby Grants Pass. After bidding good-bye to my totaled car, I picked out one that was almost exactly like it, except a year newer. I didn’t get it until the end of the month, but managed a trip to the movie theater the night I bought it to see Cars 3.

July

July 2017: Thor's Well

It was time to really break in my new car. I started off the month with a weekend road trip. I spent the first day and night in Eugene, walking along the river and staying at the hostel. Then I headed out to the Central Oregon Coast. Since that area has been largely unexplored by me, I got to enjoy attractions like Thor’s Well and the Sea Lion Caves for the first time, not to mention beaches and lighthouses. I then re-explored the coastal towns I had driven through in April. The rest of the month was spent relaxing at home, doing things like hammocking, biking, and even fixing up my old tent so I could go backyard camping.

August

August 2017: Lion Sleepover at Wildlife Safari

I’m glad my tent was repaired the previous month, because it allowed me to have one of the most exciting adventures of the year! Although it took place only an hour and a half from home, Wildlife Safari had a sleepover event where guests could camp out next to the lions! We also had encounters with several of the other resident animals, like the bears and cheetahs. The way back home took much longer than an hour and a half, since I stopped to see the Myrtle Creek covered bridges and take my time going through the Applegate Trail Museum. The next weekend, I was out again! I spent the first night once again in Redding, California, where I went to WaterWorks and Bethel. The next day I met my friend Kylie (who I had only ever seen via the internet before), and we explored little Placerville together. I spent the final day of that trip in Tahoe, but this tri-state trip wasn’t the last one of the month! The next weekend, I went on two separate day trips: one I went to Lava Beds National Monument with the kids I babysat, and the other allowed me to explore Bend with a friend.

September

September 2017: Anita Renfroe

After all of August’s adventures, I was spent, both physically and financially. Although wanderlust was still knocking at my door, I planned to explore the local area instead by going on hikes, using my hammock, geocaching, and attending a free retreat. My “No-Spend September Staycation” did allow me one out-of-town trip, though, when I won a ticket to see Anita Renfroe’s comedy show in Klamath Falls.

October

October 2017: Table Rock

October continued the slower pace that September set. I took kids to the pumpkin patch a couple of times. I spent a long day hiking up and around Table Rock. And though I had taken a summer break from Wilderness Trails due to my injured back as well as scheduling conflicts, I jumped back in full-force this month. First there was the organization’s 50th anniversary celebration dinner, followed by two weekend camps.

November

November 2017: Crater Lake Snowshoeing

Although I didn’t do anything to celebrate Halloween, I seemed to make up for it early in November. After joining Ashland’s First Friday Art Walk (where many of the refreshments included leftover candy), I joined Southern Oregon University’s ghost tour. Then came two more Wilderness Trails weekends, the second one introducing snow! The snow fun continued on Thanksgiving. My family decided to burn off some calories before consuming even more of them by snowshoeing at Crater Lake National Park.

December

December 2017: Christmas Eve Church Tour

Since I’ve lived with my immediate family the past few years, I no longer travel much in December, partly because this month’s travel expenses are so high, and partly because there’s so much to do locally for Christmas and other celebrations. Still, there were yet another two Wilderness Trails retreats. The first one was a tree-cutting camp, so I got to cut down a Christmas tree for the first time ever. My family had already set up the fake tree, but it worked out because a few days later, I moved into my own apartment. It’s a “tiny home” of 300 square feet, and it’s walking distance to most places I usually go anyway. So I’ve been enjoying the local mini-adventures of setting up my new home and walking the town even when it’s freezing outside. In fact, what was probably my most cultural experience of the year happened within my new city’s limits! I decided to end 2017 by going to seven different churches for their Christmas Eve services. Some I was familiar with, and other provided a whole new kind of experience.

What About This Blog?

It was a record year for JessicaLippe.com. Here were some of your favorite posts and stats:

Most Read Post: Hostelling International: Is It Worth the Membership?

Most Popular Post Written This Year: Fall Foto Fun

My Personal Favorite Post: 11 Travel Hacks that Don’t Require Credit Cards

Top Ten Countries Readers are From: 1. United States, 2. United Kingdom, 3. Canada, 4. Germany, 5. Australia, 6. Philippines, 7. India, 8. France, 9. Netherlands, 10. Italy

2018

Now that we’re up to speed, we are on the cusp of 2018. This year I will be ringing it in at work, of all places! (It seems to be the only place where I can stay up past midnight!) Then, I’m starting a two-month adventure called grand jury duty. Since this involves weekly involvement, I’m not sure how much travel I will be able to fit in for January and February, but I do have a few Wilderness Trails weekends, and my other weekends are mostly open. After that, I’ll be able to use the airline tickets I was given for Christmas to go to Maui, Hawaii!

After that, I’m not sure exactly where life will take me. I’m not even sure if I’ll stay in the area, although I like it here and don’t currently know of any opportunities to move elsewhere. I’m still entering contests in hopes that one will provide me with a free trip. I’d like to travel more, but I have more important non-travel goals.

I’m starting off 2018 with 21 days of no sugar. I’m not sure if you can call it a New Year’s Resolution since I know it won’t last all year, but it’s an effort to get healthier. I’m also committed to getting more serious about writing, and hope to make it a more substantial part of my year. I’m even going to get more motivated about getting a book published. I’ve gone through this process several times before but have always given up before getting accepted by a traditional publisher, so hopefully all this work can finally come to fruition in the year ahead.

Now that you know what I’ve done and what I’ll do, I want to hear from you! What was your highlight of 2017? What do you hope to accomplish in 2018?

day trip, geography, hike, saving money, souvenir, travel tips

Two Days, Two States, Two National Park Sites!

It has been quite the weekend! In addition to Earth Day on Friday  and celebrating the entire weekend with Earth Day-themed posts, I was out celebrating nature as well! Just between yesterday and today, I took two trips, both to National Park Service sites. And one of them even called for hopping the border between Oregon and California!

Saturday: Lava Beds National MonumentDSCF5020

For several weeks, my friends and I have planned to go on a trip to Northern California this Saturday. We were supposed to go to the Redwoods, but people and plans changed, so my friend Steph and I made a last-minute switch and headed to Lava Beds National Monument instead, which is east of the Redwoods in Northern California. Although both of us had been here many years ago, with the length of time since our last visits and flying by the seat of our pants, we weren’t sure what to expect. Yet we left incredibly impressed with all that there was to do!

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  • We admired all the volcanic rock we passed on the way in the monument.
  • We watched an informational video at the Visitors’ Center about the history of the lava tube formation and American Indian tribes that were forced out of this area.
  • A park ranger taught us about the white-nose fungus that is killing bats and quizzed us on our past caving experience to see if any of our clothes needed to be decontaminated. Once we passed, she gave us a caving permit.
  • We drove around the Cave Loop and stopped at any caves that were open. (Some were closed to protect the bats living inside.)
  • Since caves are 55 degrees year-round, I was glad I had left a coat in my backseat! We ended up getting warm from all the exercise we did, anyway.
  • Although the Visitors’ Center loans out free flashlights since battery-powered lights are required to enter the cave, we decided to use our cell phone flashlights just so we’d have one less thing to lug around. I learned that my phone flashlight turns on and off by shaking it. Typically I might think that was convenient, but it wasn’t so helpful when I stumbled around caves!
  • One of my favorite cave names was called “Hopkins Chocolate”, which is named because some of the lava coating inside looks like dark chocolate is dripping down the cave walls!
  • There were other neat-looking things in other caves. Some of the caves had what looked like moss growing on it. (Not sure if it was something living or just the way the rock was colored.) When scattered among the dripping moisture creating stalactites, shining a flashlight on it makes the green specks look like fool’s gold, and the white looks like specks of silver!
  • The next time I go, I’ll probably want to bring a helmet, a headlamp, and maybe gloves so I can go further into some of the lava tubes. Since we weren’t equipped, we decided not to go anywhere that required crawling, but there were quite a few areas that involved ducking down!
  • There were some nice places to walk, too! Both Steph and I really wanted to hike up Schonchin Butte, a .7-mile uphill trail that leads to a fire lookout. The lookout itself is closed for the season until tomorrow, but we got some great views!
  • Although there was so much more we could have done, we decided that the last activity for the day would be to walk around Captain Jack’s Stronghold. This was an area where the military fought against the natives to force them out of this area. Although the history is sad, it was neat to see some of the rock structures that they built that are still standing today.DSCF5028

Sunday: Crater Lake National ParkDSCF5042

I had so much fun on Saturday, I decided to continue the National Park and volcano-themed weekend my closest National Park, Crater Lake. Since this wasn’t as long of a drive, I decided I could make it to church (although I did attend the 9 am service instead the 10:45 service I normally go to), and then head out. With only slightly more planning today than yesterday, I ended up going alone this time. I went to Crater Lake almost exactly a year ago, and it was so odd to see how different it looked this year!DSCF5031

  • It was already a rainy day, and I was praying that it wouldn’t rain while I was at the park. That prayer was answered, but not in the way I expected! As I crossed the park boundary line, I noticed that all the trees were covered in snow. In fact, it was actively snowing most of the time I was there! It’s late April!
  • My first stop was the Visitors’ Center, where I watched the video about the surrounding nature and how Crater Lake was formed by a giant volcano eruption followed by years of collected rain and snowfall. I had to enter and exit the Visitors’ Center from the side entrance because the front entrance was covered with snow all the way up to the roof!
  • I then drove up to Rim Village (being careful in the Avalanche Zone), and parked next to the lodge.
  • After browsing the gift shop in the lodge, I went up to the top floor, which is supposed to have an observation window. Maybe it works on clearer days, but with all the snow and clouds, it was impossible to see the lake from here! Instead I read the museum-style informational signs.
  • I decided that the only way I would have a chance at seeing the lake was to walk through the snow myself. Fortunately, I still had my coat in the back of the car, although I definitely would have benefited from more winter gear!
  • I followed the others who were also outside to the farthest point that could be reached without crossing the safety line. As I looked out, I could barely see Wizard Island, the large island in Crater Lake. After a few minutes in the cold, the air cleared up for some precious seconds where we got to take pictures. It still didn’t display the bluer-than-blue color I’ve seen on sunnier days, though!
  • I warmed up in the lodge for awhile longer, when a park ranger told me to look out the window. You could barely make out part of the back rim, but he said that was the clearest it had been all weekend. Yesterday they basically couldn’t see the lake at all!
  • I went out to the safety line for one more photo shoot, but then decided to turn back and head home. In the summer you can usually drive around the whole lake, but since it snows year-round at Crater Lake National Park, they limit their snowplowing in the winter to only the roads to the South Entrance, Visitors’ Center, and Rim Village.
  • On the way back, I stopped for a short walk by Union Creek. My family used to go camping there when I was a kid. I walked by the Rogue River Gorge and saw the Living Stump!
  • My family had a dinner all together tonight, and since I knew my sister had gone to Crater Lake National Park last weekend, I asked her how well she could see the lake that day. She looked at me confused as she told me it was a perfectly clear day and that many of the visitors were wearing shorts! It’s funny how much the weather can change from one week to the next!DSCF5036

Where to Next?

Hmm…good question! I had been admiring the National Parks Passport for some time now, and finally decided to purchase one at Lava Beds National Monument. This is an informational book about all the National Parks in the United States. Every time you visit a National Park, Monument, or Historic Site, you can get a page of the passport stamped. Since I knocked out two parks in just this weekend, I already have two stamps! Now it will be used as encouragement to visit more National Parks.

The Oregon Caves National Monument is fairly close to me, so I may go there sometime soon. Of course, we need to reschedule our trip to the Redwoods that we had originally planned for Saturday! Although we were going for the Trees of Mystery and the Tour-Thru Tree, I can stop by a Redwoods National Park center for a passport stamp.

Although I would love to become a National Parks junkie, it was really only financially possible for me to visit two National Parks in just one weekend because it was part of National Park Week, and the National Park Service allowed all parks and monuments to have free entrance. Normally Lava Beds and Crater Lake each have a $15 entrance fee per car. I would definitely love to take advantage of the upcoming entrance days in August, September, November, or any of the other free days listed here. To save money on National Parks in the future, I may consider getting an annual pass (I can’t wait until I’m 62 and can get the discounted lifetime pass!), or I may try to find out which of my friends have a fourth-grade child, since a car with a fourth grader in it can enter National Parks for free! Some National Parks and Monuments are always free, which thankfully, the Oregon Caves and Redwoods both fall into the free category!

destinations, travel tips

A Tale of Two Parthenons

I have visited two Parthenons. What, you didn’t know there were two of them? You’re probably aware of the most famous Parthenon sitting atop the Acropolis in Athens, Greece. I visited that one a few months ago as part of my three-month Mediterranean Trek.

But this wasn’t the first Parthenon I’ve been to.

Several years ago, I took my first “official” solo trip to Nashville, Tennessee. Like most visitors to this city, I enjoyed the music scene, but I also explored other elements of Nashville, like its history, its Bible belt Christianity, and its parks. Yes, Nashville has some excellent parks that alone may be enough to warrant a trip! There’s the huge Bicentennial Park, the Riverfront Park along the Cumberland, and Centennial Park. The centerpiece of Centennial park is a full-scale replica of Athens’ Parthenon. Seeing this Parthenon is what initially motivated me to visit Greece.

Although Tennessee’s Parthenon is a copy of the one in Greece, each have their own unique characteristics. If you’ve seen one, you may want to plan a trip to go see the other. If you have yet to see either, maybe this comparison will help you decide which to see first!

History

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The Acropolis in the center of Athens

Athens: Obviously, Athens’ ancient Acropolis and Parthenon has a long, rich history, so I’ll just go over some of the highlights that makes it what it is today. The Parthenon was built in ancient Greece as part of the Acropolis, or “City on High”. However, it wasn’t actually a city, but a mountain in the center of Athens where several temples were erected for various gods. The biggest, the Parthenon, was dedicated to Athena, a goddess who is the virgin patron of her namesake city. After thousands of years, the building is understandably in ruins, but some events, such as thievery and an accidental explosion when it was used for military storage, left it in even further shambles.

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The Parthenon in the center of Centennial Park

Nashville: The Parthenon’s replica was one of many buildings constructed on a piece of acreage in celebration of the city’s 100th year. The land aptly became known as Centennial Park. If you visit today, the only building you’ll find in the park is the Parthenon. What happened to all the other buildings? All of the exposition buildings were made to be temporary, but Nashville citizens fell in love with their version of the Parthenon. They protested until the city officials decided to make some structural adjustments to the Parthenon so that it would stand the test of time.

Location

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Behind me is another temple dedicated to Zeus. If you look in the background, you can see that the Parthenon is visible from most other ruins.

Athens: The Parthenon is located on a hill called the Acropolis, in the center of downtown. Back in the day, it was a convenient reminder for the Greeks to pay respect to their religion, especially since they could only travel by feet or chariot. Today, it makes it conveniently located for travelers, who may not even need to take the subway to reach it! I stayed at two hostels in Athens. Most of my time was spent at Athens Backpackers, but one night was spent in AthenStyle. Both of these hostels had a rooftop lookout where you could see the Parthenon, which was especially beautiful lit-up at night. During the day, it was just a short walk (albeit uphill) from both of these places to reach the entrance.

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Downtown Nashville in the backdrop of the Parthenon

Nashville: Because this park was created one hundred years after the downtown area was established, it’s a couple of miles away from other city sites. That doesn’t mean that the Parthenon isn’t accessible, though! Since many people drive to Nashville, they will appreciate that it’s much easier to park here than it is in the city center. I did not visit with a car, but there were several days when I would walk both in the downtown and Centennial Park areas. I stayed at Music City Hostel, which was at an ideal location between the Parthenon and other Nashville attractions.

Condition

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Scaffolding to help preserve the ruins of Athens’ Parthenon

Athens: As mentioned above, the original Parthenon is in disrepair. However, there are people working on its preservation. Many of the original attached pieces of art were taken by the British. (I would love to see a fight break out in this post’s comments about whether or not they were stolen!) Other remaining pieces were moved to the neighboring Acropolis Museum. Regardless, this is in every sense an ancient ruin, and visitors have to stay behind the roped-off area which is several meters away from the Parthenon itself.

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One of the art pieces inside Nashville’s Parthenon

Nashville: Unlike the Athens version, this replica invites people to come inside! While it’s not made with expensive marble like Greece’s, it is structurally sound and fully intact. In addition, of the original Parthenon’s sculptures were replicated and displayed on this Parthenon’s exterior. In other words, it is not a replica of the Greek Parthenon as we see it today. Other than the material it’s made of, it looks exactly like what the Parthenon would have looked like shortly after its construction.

Features

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I’m standing on Areopagus with the Acropolis entrance on the hill behind me

Athens: Surrounding the Parthenon are several other ancient Greek temples. Because it’s on a hill, the views of the city are stunning from up here. Although you can’t touch any of the buildings, you can walk among many pieces of original marble lying around. On the side of the hill is also a historic site that includes two theaters. If you’re into art, you will only see replica sculptures at the Acropolis, but visiting the Acropolis Museum down the hill may be worth the admission. My favorite thing to do at the Acropolis was listen to Rick Steves’ audio tour, which you can download for free onto your phone. On this tour, he even mentions the merit of the other Parthenon, located in…

Nashville: Entering through the basement of the Parthenon, you’ll find lockers and a gift shop. You can then walk up through the next several floors, which is a history museum. The displayed history is a combination of Nashville history (particularly pertaining to the Parthenon) and ancient history of the Athens Acropolis. When you reach the top level, you’ll find yourself face-to-face with a 42-foot statue of Athena, the tallest indoor sculpture in the western world. This is a replica of what was originally found in the Athens Parthenon, but no one knows what happened to that one. It’s even painted in the gold and bright colors that all the Acropolis statues were once painted with. (Though they did use fake gold instead of the real thing!)

Cost

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Athens light up the Parthenon

Athens: Admission to the Acropolis is typically 12 euros, or free for those under 19. I was fortunate enough to be in Athens during European Heritage Days. During this last weekend in September, all visits are free! (A few other Greek holidays also provide free admission.) The ticket also includes admission to other ancient Greek sites around Athens, so this ticket alone may be your only expense in Athens besides, food, accommodations, and transportation. If you don’t want to see the Parthenon up-close (although I don’t see why you wouldn’t want to!), there are several surrounding hills and buildings that offer a great view.

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Nashville lights up the Parthenon

Nashville: Normal admission is $6 for adults or $4 for children and seniors. There are sometimes events outside of normal museum hours that would involve a different rate. However, if you don’t want to go inside (again, I don’t see why you wouldn’t want to!), no one can stop you from enjoying the exterior, and the rest of Centennial Park, for absolutely free! Unlike the other Parthenon, you can touch, walk on, and get up close to building at no expense. It’s even lit up at night like the original! The only caveat is that it’s not on a hill, so you can’t see it outside of Centennial Park.

Which Parthenon would you like to visit next? Let me know in the comments!

 

day trip, resources, road trip, saving money, travel tips, Winter

Day Trip on the I-5

Although I am from Oregon, I can’t stand the rain! That makes coming up with day trip ideas complicated. But yesterday, my sister Jen and I took a very fun day trip along the Southern Oregon I-5. Since the majority of what we did involved being either indoors or in the car, the rain didn’t bother me at all!

Stop One: Spider Cars, Wolf Creek

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They’re bugs that are also bugs! This wasn’t a stop as much as it was a drive-by photo op, since these art pieces are on private property and meant to be viewed from the road. But it sure was nice to take a break from the interstate for a couple miles and catch unique scenery!

By the way, I found out about these bugs from RoadsideAmerica, which I often use to find fun stops on the way to a bigger destination.

Stop Two: Seven Feathers, Canyonville

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Seven Feathers had five different restaurants! Only one was open for lunch on Sundays, so we enjoyed fried-pickle-topped sandwiches at Cow Creek Restaurant. In front of Seven Feathers is the largest bronze casting of an eagle in the world.

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Although Seven Feathers is a casino resort, we didn’t go there to gamble. When we entered, there was a blue line in the carpet separating the casino area from the restaurant entrance, which minors are not allowed to cross. Because Jen recently turned twenty, I had to tease her by showing off how I could go across the blue line!

Stop Three: Wildlife Safari, Winston

This was the goal of our trip! I had given Jen a Groupon for Wildlife Safari as a Christmas gift (they’re still available on Groupon if you want to snag one!), and she finally had the opportunity to use it! Wildlife Safari in Winston, Oregon, is a drive-thru animal park. I’ve only been to one other animal safari (in Ohio), but Wildlife Safari is definitely unique in its own right. First, it is the only drive-thru safari in Oregon. It also has more unique animals, as opposed to mostly farm animals like at many locations. Best of all, it’s certified by animal welfare groups, so I can go here knowing that my experience won’t be detrimental to the animals.

The drive takes you through three regions: Africa, The Americas, and Asia. I went here a few times as a kid, and I don’t remember being allowed to roll down car windows back then. This time, we were told at the entrance that windows down and seatbelts off were totally okay, as long as we didn’t get out of the car! This meant that some animals (especially the large bird species, like ostriches, emus, and rheas) would come up and poke their heads in to check out my car’s interior. Since there were wild animals, we got to see some of them fighting, and we may have cheered two bison on in their head-butting! No worries, though. Dangerous animals such as bears and big cats were separated from cars with fencing.

After our drive through, we went into the Safari Village. Up to this point, this had been a great rainy day trip (which was good since it was pouring buckets all day!). Safari Village is mostly outdoors, so we got a bit cold and wet, but we made the best of it. There were several animals here that were not part of the safari drive, which were fun to see. For kids (and kids at heart!) there’s a children’s petting zoo which has the standard goats and miniature horses, but it also has a black-tailed deer with a unique coloring: it’s white with brown patches! My favorite area was the Australia section. That wasn’t a continent included on the drive-thru, so it was cool to see the wallaroos, black swans, and kookaburras there. (Speaking of Australia, the late Crocodile Hunter Steve Irwin has visited Wildlife Safari and documented it on his show! His wife, Terri Irwin, is from this area.) However, I think the highlight of Safari Village was meeting Pancake the cheetah up-close! While warming up in the gift shop, Pancake and the trainer walked in, followed by Pancake’s companion dog. They were raised together since they were a cub and puppy, and as such treat each other like siblings. (Jen and I also saw this phenomenon at the Colombus Zoo a couple years ago.)

At Wildlife Safari, every ticket is good for two drives through the safari. I think this is a great idea because we got to see and interact with some animals that were hiding during our first drive. Unfortunately, the one animal I was hoping to see that we didn’t see either time was the giraffe. We asked about it, and apparently they really don’t like the rain. I don’t blame them! But I think going on a rainy day ended up being a good idea, because the crowds were minimal and most of the other animals have no problem getting rained on.

Stop Four: Noah’s Ark, Winston

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Wildlife Safari was definitely the highlight, but we had one more place to stop by in Winston. Noah’s Ark is located just across the street. It’s hard to miss since the building is shaped like a big boat and surrounded by wooden animals! They offer a restaurant and tour through Biblical history, which I may take advantage of in the future. But with an all-day excursion, we mostly just wanted to see what it looked like. It had a nice view outside and a decorated bookshop inside. After that, we headed home in the rain!

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day trip, destinations, geography, hike, road trip, saving money, souvenir, travel tips

Glass Float Treasure Hunt

This past weekend, I was finally able to get some real use out of my new car! Sure, I’ve taken it to work and to run errands, but it’s about time that it got to go somewhere fun out of town. And for about sixteen dollars in gas (which was the only expense of this trip), my friend and I were able to spend a fun and adventurous day looking for glass floats in Gold Beach, Oregon.

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Last year, I saw a TV ad from Gold Beach tourism. They announced that every week between February and April, they hide over 100 glass floats along their coast for visitors to find. If you find one, you get to keep it AND enter a drawing for a free weekend trip! I wasn’t able to make it out to Gold Beach last year. However, after deciding to buy my car this month, I began coordinating schedules with friends to find a time to head out to the coast. Steph and I both had time off this past weekend! (She was even the photographer of all these images because I forgot my camera and my cell phone was acting up over the weekend.) We headed out on Saturday morning.

My car’s maiden voyage was a success. I learned a few new things about it, like where to pop the gas door, how to play music through the stereo with an auxiliary cable,  and how to spray wiper fluid on the front windshield. The drive to the coast is beautiful. There actually isn’t a direct route west to the coast. Directions to Gold Beach led us into California and through the Redwood Forest before heading back up along the coast, which always makes for a beautiful ride. Along the way, we saw lots of interesting things that we made note of to stop by on the way back.

It was past lunchtime by the time we made it to the coast. We considered the restaurant options, but decided to just eat what we had packed. We parked at the Gold Beach Visitor’s Center, which has a picnic area, bathrooms, and an information building. Inside that building, we were given a map outlining the perimeters for where the floats were placed. After eating, we started traipsing through the tall grass. We figured it was most likely in this area, because the tide covered most of the sand, and floats are not hidden anywhere that would cause them to be swept into the ocean. We looked under driftwood, in holes, and between rocks, to no avail. We saw other people searching, but no one who actually had found a float. After this hunting method resulted in only finding garbage, we decided to walk down to the jetty, which was a boundary on the map. We hoped that the further away we got from the Visitor’s Center, the more likely we would be to find something.

On the walk there, I had to mentally prepare myself for disappointment. I knew the chances of us finding a float were slim, so I considered the alternatives. If we gave up, we could go shopping at some of the stores in town. If we spent at least $25 at certain stores, we just had to bring the receipts in to the Visitor’s Center and get a glass float from there. But that didn’t sound like as much fun as finding one on the beach for free. Fortunately, a glimmer of red caught my eye. It was a glass float!

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Not only did I find a glass float, but we ended up finding several all within a few minutes! The treasure hunt rules ask participants to only take one per person, so we left a few of them for others to find. Steph ended up with a small teal globe. I picked my favorite, a larger blue one. We slowly headed back to the Visitor’s Center (stopping to admire the beach and shoot photos on the lighthouse). The staff at the center told us that they were impressed that we were able to find even one that day as we filled out our contest entry forms.

It hadn’t seem like we walked that far (until the next day when my legs were sore), and it also didn’t seem like we had been beach combing for that long. But we had walked several miles, and were out for about three hours! I didn’t realize this until we hopped back into the car and saw the clock saying it was 4:30. But we still had enough daylight to see the things we wanted to see on the way back.

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We didn’t stop in the nearby coastal town of Brookings, but as we drove through it, we got a good look at the sinkhole that’s slowly taking over the highway. That was pretty scary! We also drove over Oregon’s highest bridge and saw a huge herd of wild elk. Our first actual stop was near the redwoods, on a nature trail with carnivorous plants called Darlingtonia (pictured in the marsh above).

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The second stop was just a couple of miles down the road at a waterfall. I would tell you what this waterfall was named, or really any information about this waterfall, but I can’t. There were no signs or plaques, so it’ll just be called “The Waterfall We Saw On the Way to Gold Beach”.

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There were several other places worth seeing through the comfort of the car window. If you’re visiting from further away, some of them may be worth stopping at, but we’ve grown up with the sights of the giant redwoods and the mountain roads that twist, turn, and tunnel.

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While I’m not sure if we’ll be so fortunate in each finding a glass float in the future, I do hope to do this again and encourage you to try it out, too! Click here for more information on Gold Beach’s annual three-month treasure hunt!

Books, culture, destinations, resources, souvenir, travel tips, writing

What to Expect with a Letter to Juliet

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Before even watching the movie “Letters to Juliet”, I was excited to go to Verona as part of my Mediterranean Trek. So I planned out my visit to this city mainly by borrowing the movie from a friend. The only mistake I made was that I booked a mere two nights in Verona, leaving me with just one full day to experience all that this quaint city has to offer.

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My first night in Verona was spent arriving by a delayed train, then struggling in the dusk to find where my BnB was before finally giving in and taking a cab, so I didn’t see much in the midst of that stress. I started the next day bright and early with a walk to Juliet’s courtyard. This is what you see in “Letters to Juliet”, and it’s the perfect place to write a letter to Juliet! Because I got there early enough, there were only a few other people there. I found a quiet place by the grafitti wall of love to write my letter. In the movie, you can see women sticking their letters into the cracks of a wall. You can still do that, however, to make sure that a secretary of Juliet receives your letter, there are better practices in place now. The best thing to do is stick your letter in the red mailbox. Alternatively, if you go inside the house, you’ll find computer kiosks where you can e-mail her!

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I wasn’t sure if I wanted to go inside the house at the time, so I headed over to the area where you can find Juliet’s tomb. It turns out that you can get a discount by getting a combination ticket to Casa de Giulietta and the museum with her tomb, so I did that. The tomb was the best feature of the museum it’s housed in, but there are other art and artifacts to enjoy as well.

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I eventually went back to the house, Casa de Giulietta. Inside were a lot of artifacts from some of the Romeo and Juliet movies, such as costumes and a prop bed.

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But the best part of the Casa was getting to stand on Juliet’s balcony, and pondering “Wherefore art thou?”

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While foot traffic inside the Casa wasn’t so bad, the courtyard was getting jam-packed with tour groups and other visitors. Here’s a tip: If you want a truly magical and meaningful experience with Juliet, go in the morning before the day trippers roll in!

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I went to the courtyard for a third time in the evening, and it was even more crowded then! But this is when I enjoyed putting my own graffiti on the wall entering the courtyard. I’m not a vandal, it’s actually encouraged!

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In another spot of the courtyard is the only place in Europe where it’s actually encouraged to place a love lock, as it will eventually become a part of an art piece. (But seriously, don’t put a love lock anywhere else! I saw locks on every fence and bridge in every city I went to, and it just looked inconsiderate and trashy.)

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There are a lot of other things to do in Verona, such as go to the Arena, walk by the river, or explore the castles. I did some of these things, but since none of them are directly related to Juliet, I’m going to fast forward to today.

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I had heard it would take a long time to get my letter back from Juliet. I was hoping it would arrive to my house around the time that I came back from the Mediterranean, but such was not the case. I kept it in the back of my mind, and thought about it sometimes when I went to get the mail. But today, I was totally not expecting it!

I opened the mailbox and grabbed the letters out. One had an Italian postmark, and the return address said it was from “Club di Giulietta”! I squealed in excitement. I scared my dog by my squealing. I hope the neighbors didn’t hear me squealing. I raced back to the house so I could carefully open the envelope.

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I don’t remember exactly what I wrote to Juliet, but it was a decent-sized letter that could be summed up as “where is he?” I was honestly just expecting the response to be a canned sentence on an index card. I was surprised at how much thought was put into the letter I received! Here are a few of my favorite quotes from the letter.

“Finding love isn’t easy. In fact, it should be something they teach in school along with how to manage your finance and finding a job that you like.”

“Some people fall in love quickly- others warm to it slowly. But there is one common thing about it- that love doesn’t happen if you don’t take action.”

“Take the plunge- and live it, not dream it.”

By the way, while I would definitely encourage a trip to Verona if you can, you don’t need to go there in order to get a letter from Juliet. Just send your letter to:

Club di Giulietta
Corso Sant’Anastasia, 29
37121 Verona, Italy

In an age where it’s rare to receive a beautifully handwritten letter, it’s even more special to receive one from a fictional character!

Letter from Juliet

culture, Foodie, photography

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.

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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.

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

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

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We shared a sunset over Venice.

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

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

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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.

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

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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?

Accommodations, destinations, Foodie, road trip

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!

Accommodations, destinations, road trip

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly: The Desert

Do dinosaurs still roam the Earth? Is there beauty in the desert? And what happened in the desert that would cause me to write my first angry review? You’ll find all that out in today’s post, but first, you may want to read what happened first on this road trip. 

After our night in Sacramento, my mom and I ate breakfast at the hostel and were back on the road by 7:45. There really isn’t much of anything on the I-5 between Sacramento and the Greater LA region. Besides rest stops, our only break was at a Ghiradelli outlet in Lathrop, where I enjoyed a free sample as well as an expensive-but-worth-it chocolate chip cookie. We arrived at my grandmother’s house in the afternoon and spent the night there. The next day, all three generations of us set off on a unique part of our journey.

Twentynine Palms Desert in California

I grew up hearing stories about my mom’s childhood memories of “the desert”. Despite hearing about these experiences, I never went to the desert myself, and never even thought to ask where exactly it was! But my mom thought it would be a great idea to take my grandma out to Twentynine Palms where they used to vacation in order to relive old memories, and introduce me to what they’ve been talking about my entire life!

Desert View from Holiday Inn Express in Twentynine Palms

Before we got to our hotel in Twentynine Palms, we made a couple detours along the way. The first one was at the store for Hadley Fruit Orchards in Cabazon. It’s a pretty similar concept to Harry & David in that it’s a mail order gourmet company selling mostly local foods. But there was one thing that really made Hadley stand out, and I’m not even talking about the wide selection of free samples. They are known for their specialty date shakes. As I was ordering my shake, I realized that I didn’t even know where dates came from. (I then learned they came from palm trees. Who knew?)

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The next stop was also in Cabazon, just down the street. My mom excitedly asked me to take a picture of a giant sign that said “EAT”. So I did. She had told me about dinosaurs and was looking forward to seeing them again.

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I didn’t realize this until after the trip, but the t-rex looked pretty familiar to me. It has become pretty famous on Pinterest as an iconic roadside attraction. In fact, he’s pretty famous since he was in other media, too.

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But the first dinosaur here was the even larger apatosaurus. My mom remembered that for years it did not have its “skin” on and was just a metal skeleton! There was a picnic table in the shade under the apatosaurus’ belly that would have been nice for a picnic, and apparently there was a museum entrance in his tail that probably would have been interesting, but it was a full day of plans with places to go and things to see, so we said good-bye to the Cabazon Dinosaurs and journeyed on.

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There was a long stretch of road that was very windy, so at least they were making full use of it by setting up thousands of windmills. Is it just me that enjoys driving by a bunch of windmills?

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After driving through a few small desert towns and seeing a Joshua tree for the first time, we checked in at the hotel and then set out to find lunch. My mom chose a burger and ice cream shop that she was sometimes treated to as a kid.117

Oh, but the stories of her childhood did not end there! As we drove around town, she pointed out that the military base looked a whole lot bigger than it used to, and showed me the pumpkin carriage that used to be her favorite playground toy, and all kinds of little things like that!

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But the biggest walk down memory lane happened on Goodie Lane. The people in that area always referred to it as Goodie Lane long before it officially got a street name, because two brothers with the last name of Goodie each had houses across the street from each other. (My mom’s family referred to them as Goodie One and Goodie Two!) But this is also the street where my great-grandparents had their desert house, where my mom, grandma, grandpa, and three uncles would stay on their desert trips.I took pictures of that house, as well as both of the Goodie houses, but since we have no idea who owns them now, wouldn’t it be strange to post pictures of their houses online? It was weird enough that we we got out of the car to take pictures on this underpopulated dirt road!

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After plenty of sightseeing, we went back to spend the night at the Holiday Inn Express of Twentynine Palms. Now, I know I’ve said on here before that I hate hotels, but this particular Holiday Inn Express was not a normal hotel. First of all, it had a wonderful, friendly staff. At check in, they told us that they would be popping popcorn in a few hours if we were interested in any! When I turned on my room’s television, none of the channels worked, so they sent up not one, but two staff to get it fixed! While they were working on it (which in this situation turned out to be a not-so-easy task), they kept a smile on their face as they recommended restaurants and places to go. But besides the staff, the hotel had little “extras” to make it especially memorable. In the evening, they had a guest reception where they provided so many snacks, we didn’t even have to go out for dinner! And at the continental breakfast, there was this cool contraption that I have dubbed “the pancake printer”!

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Our experience with the Holiday Inn Express staff and resources was wonderful, but unfortunately, the next place we visited did not have such great values. Yes, I am about to complain. I don’t like to do it, but I believe in this case that it is necessary, and even I am surprised that I have to complain about a National Park.

I haven’t mentioned this, but my grandmother has been handicapped for as long as I can remember, and since I last saw her four years ago, she has switched from crutches to a wheelchair. When my mom was planning the desert leg of this trip, she made sure that everything would be accessible for her. She got grandma a handicap-accessible hotel room, and the Holiday Inn Express not only did a great job in furnishing that room, but making sure all three of us were doing well. When researching Joshua Tree National Park, she found out that the Oasis Visitor Center had a fully-paved, handicap-accessible nature trail. We were excited to go. But when we got there, we found this:

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Now, construction can be annoying, but it’s understandable that everything needs improvement at some point or another. But it is NOT okay to blockade the one and only wheelchair ramp leading from the parking lot to the sidewalk! And that wasn’t even the worst of it. Despite the Joshua Tree National Park’s website touting that the path was accessible (and it didn’t note any changes relevant to that in their construction announcement), the temporary path entrance was made of sand. FYI, wheelchairs cannot be pushed through sand without getting very, very stuck! But the part that really got to me was how rudely we were treated by the park staff regarding this (especially since we were so polite in light of the situation at hand)! Joshua Tree National Park, your staff needs an improvement just as much as your Visitor Center trail does!

I sent the park a message via Facebook several days ago including even more details about our poor experience, and so far I have not received any sort of response. If you are interested in finding out if and when they respond to this, you can check out the message by clicking here. (If it leads to a broken link, then it means they must have deleted my comment instead of using decent PR to respond!)

My grandma insisted that she stay behind while the two of us took the trail, and while we were both still incredibly frustrated at the experience so far, we decided to go ahead and take a look at some of the scenery anyway.

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It had changed a lot since my mom was little, and is now just several yards off a road and contained lots of dead plants. But we did come across a lot of cottontails, which were fun to find.

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And being the desert, of course there was cacti. In the following picture, I asked my mom to pretend that she had just sat on the cactus!

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We then made our way out of the desert and back to grandma’s house, to rest up for more adventures that lay ahead!

I hope you enjoyed hearing my perspective on the good, the bad, and the ugly of the desert! But going to the desert was not the end of our road trip. I have a couple more posts planned for the next few stops. If you’d like to get a preview of what’s to come, I posted some pictures on my Instagram account!