September 2016 Travel Photo of the Month

Shall I post a snapshot of Old Town Dubai, after talking about trip with a friend this weekend? Or do I go old school and pay homage to my first visit Down Under, which happened seven years ago? Nope. September’s travel POTM is a recent image I captured last week on a tour of the U.S. Capitol.

About a month prior to visiting, I emailed my senator, who just so happened to be Harry Reid and currently the Senate Minority Leader. For those that know me, I am not the most political of people, yet I was thrilled when my visit coincided with a breakfast meeting with Senator Reid. We met in the LBJ room–fitting for a Texan-turned Nevadan–and our host was charming and personable.

After spending 30 minutes or so with our small group, Sen. Reid jetted to the Senate floor to give a speech about Donald Trump. Since I’d been eagerly been awaiting a tour of the Capitol for many years, I can’t tell you what he said in that speech. I can wax eloquently about the dome–featured in the picture of the month, as well as giggle about the “sassy chicken” that traipsed across the floor of the crypt during construction. (Her footprints were fun to find, in addition to statues from each state in the union.)

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Our POTM highlights the center of the dome, with a painting called “Apotheosis of Washington”. It clearly shows George Washington–whom I learned so much more during jaunts to Annapolis and Dover!–being the baller leader that he was, rising to the heavens. It was a gorgeous, patriotic experience, and I must express my gratitude to Senator Reid and his staff for hosting a lovely meet-and-greet and tour of our nation’s capitol. While the first presidential debate tonight rages in the background, I am proud to be an American…and a Nevadan!

Nature Near Nevada

A dear friend who has visited me in Vegas multiple times is visiting this week, and I attempted the impossible: show her part of my beloved city that she has not yet experienced. She has already done many of my Las Vegas like a Local recommendations, including the Mob Museum, laughing our way through A Gentlemen’s Guide to Love and Murder at the Smith Center, and multiple activities on the Strip. We did take in Rock of Ages this weekend—which has recently moved to the Rio—and we nostalgically belted out ‘80s anthems at the top of our lungs…another must-see if you’re so inclined.

Alas, there is not much else that my friend Brandi hasn’t experienced in Las Vegas, even though I am constantly proclaiming each visit her “best trip ever.” With that in mind, I decided that it was time for a road trip: on to explore nature-y sites in neighboring Utah and Arizona. If you’re looking for a fast-paced (read: crazy) excursion to accompany any time in Vegas, then this is your itinerary.

Day One: Zion National Park and Horseshoe Bend

We started out around 9am from Vegas and drove approximately 2.5 hours on I15 to Zion National Park—and what an interesting drive it was! The road instantly started to climb when we crossed first into Arizona; then later in Utah, the topography became even more stunning. When we arrived in Springdale, Utah, we cruised through the quaint town, ignoring the many shuttle stops. After paying to enter the park and driving around mistakenly trying to find a spot, we turned around and parked in town and hopped a shuttle. The two shuttle lines were a very convenient to get around the park; we chose stop 5 to hit the Emerald Pools trail, and the online trail descriptions were most helpful in determining the right trail for two inexperienced hikers. We spent about 2 hours total in the park from start to finish, and while it is possible to spend—and enjoy!—so much more time in stunning Zion, we had to hit a very curvy mountain road to head to our next stop.

And that mountain road required some very active driving through canyons and a dark tunnel; approximately another 2.5 hours, and we made it into Page, Arizona, where we booked into the Best Western Plus. It was clean and adequate, plus had a nice hot breakfast. (Note: try to stay on top floor to avoid thunderous upstairs neighbors.) Not two girls to rest, we headed immediately to our next adventure: hiking about 20 minutes to see Horseshoe Bend. This is a magical place where the Colorado River has carved its way around a canyon—a spectacular view! Brandi and I caught the splendor and took photos before making the trek back to our car—mainly because we were worried that idiot tourists who were too close to the ledge would fall to an untimely death. Plus we were starved for dinner. Not much to feast on in Page though—the “Texas” BBQ place is most likely your best bet.

Day Two: Antelope Canyon and Valley of Fire

Our second day started off bright and early with the aforementioned hotel breakfast before checking out and making the 10 minute drive to the Lower Antelope Canyon. Our tour was operated by Dixie Ellis, and I highly recommend the photo tour. Picture this (pun intended): a quick walk in a small group, private canyon views, plenty of time to set up tripod and DSLR camera, and two hours of exquisite shooting in a place sacred to the Navajo. Pictures from another friend’s tour were the literal inspiration of this trip, and Antelope Canyon did not disappoint. Book the photo tour, bring your tripod, and plan to hit the canyons first thing in the morning. The Upper Canyon is famous for light beams, but we were more than happy with the imagery we collected. (One can tell the difference between the below tripod photos on the tour versus the others taken via iPhone.)

Page is a small community, but it was big enough to have a Sonic, which we hit before driving on the Glen Canyon Dam across Lake Powell (stunning and Hoover Dam-like!). Then, we hightailed it back to Nevada, crisscrossing across Arizona and Utah stateliness several times. It took us roughly 1 hour and 45 minutes to get to Hurricane, Utah for a quick break, then another similar time period before we pulled into the Battleborn State’s first state park: the Valley of Fire. One can understand why several movies (Star Trek, Total Recall) filmed their alien scenes here against the stunning red rock scenery. Nevada residents save $2 on entry at the information center, and a 6 mile one-way drive takes one through quite a bit of the park’s landmarks. It was too hot to hike at 113° F, yet it was a lovely drive and well-worth some incredible photos.

Another 45 minutes’ drive, and we were back to the City of Sin! Keep in mind that cell phone reception is often spotty at best in this part of the country. For this trip, I recommend exactly two tanks of gas, plenty of water and sunscreen, very comfortable clothes (and close-toed shoes…can’t convince myself to buy hiking shoes), a great camera with tripod, an excellent playlist, and an incredible friend with whom to enjoy the journey!

 

Travel Photo of the Month: September 2014

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In 2010, I purchased an around the world itinerary for a month-long long business trip that took me to the Middle East. I was thrilled to visit both Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates–especially Dubai. The trip was so incredible that it deserves its own entry, but for now, I’d like to share a highlight: an evening excursion that included exploring nearby sand dunes and a camel ride. Yes, it was touristy, but yes, it was a great memory. Meet my camel friend in the Travel POTM™ below. Happy September!

Camel Near Dubai

Camel Near Dubai

Princess Cruising to Alaska

In my ever-exciting quest to visit all 50 state capitols, one of my dear friends and I set off for Southeast Alaska to hit Juneau via a Princess Cruise. We were thrilled to learn that the Golden Princess departed on a summer Saturday from Seattle during Seafair, and we spent the day prior to the cruise exploring the Emerald City. My friend and I hit the high points: Pike’s Market, a duck tour of Lake Union, Smith Tower, and drinks with a local friend. The following day, we headed for the largest US state as we boarded our ship.

Upon immediate exploration, we decided to make the most of our time at sea and filled up our days at sea with activities galore: TRX classes at the gym, treatments at the spa, bingo, shopping classes, card games (literally 15+ hours of Spite and Malice at the boat’s wine bar), and enjoying the ship’s big band music. Some things we learned about Alaskan cruising Princess-style: “all-inclusive” barely covers anything, never do the set dining (dull table mates), pack for warmth with layers, and always buy the full bottle of bubbles/make friends with the bartender. We loved the relaxation that we found away from it all, though, and we achieved Princess’ mantra of “escape completely.”

We hit Juneau on a drizzly Monday morning, and we immediately took off through the downtown area towards the state capitol. Upon arrival, a kind volunteer gave us a wonderful tour–did you know that Alaska has the only state seal with a seal on it?–and shared some wonderful stories about Elizabeth Peratrovich, one of the first civil rights activists. Shopping and a whale watching excursion completed our time in the capitol city.

Next stop was Skagway, which was a little town rich with gold rush history. We opted to go on an close-by adventure to a musher’s camp (picture: Alaskan sled dogs made famous by the Iditarod) to experience nature and cuddle the baby huskies. This was especially well-worth the trip when we came across a bear less than 30 feet away. Rar! We also stopped in the famous Red Onion Saloon–a former brothel!–and enjoyed the scandalous tour. The next day, the cruise ship sailed around Glacier Bay, and we happily shelled out more money to sit in the adults-only Sanctuary and watch the beautiful glaciers calving (breaking apart and falling into the water with a loud clap, which the Tlingits called “white thunder.”)

Our favorite stop was in Ketchikan, where we decided to forgo the tourist stops and do Stray Boots‘ art walk scavenger hunt. We saw wonderful galleries, watched the seals play near Creek Street, and discovered the best bar in town: the Arctic Bar, home of the lovely Paula and the best Bloody Mary in Alaska. My friend and I enjoyed going off the beaten path (read: away from fellow cruisers) before getting back on board and cruising onward to Victoria, BC. Having journeyed to beautiful Victoria before, we spent some time people-watching near the harbor during our quick stop in Canada before heading back to the Golden Princess for one final round of Spite and Malice.

 

Business Trip to Bangalore

Although I’ve had the pleasure of journeying to India before (you can read about my trip to Delhi here), I was thrilled to go on a business trip to Bangalore last month. Part of my excitement was visiting the tech hub of India, and after my previous visit to “Incredible India!”, I wanted to experience more. The similarities: the hustle and bustle of daily life, the kindness of the people I encountered, and the incredibly delish cuisine. Speaking of cuisine, I enjoyed some of my favorites–masala, paneer, dosas!–multiple times throughout the visit. I also learned to love Indian tea.

With a packed agenda of meetings and not much time to see the city after it took nearly two days for me to arrive, I hired a driver to take me into the city center on a Sunday afternoon. I visited the quaint Bangalore Palace, which had guided tours and quite a bit of history to learn about the families that lived there in the past. (Note: if you are vehemently against the shooting and displaying of wild game, I’d skip it.) My driver also took me to Shiva Temple, and he was kind enough to tour it with me to explain some of the Hindu traditions. It was there that I took the majority of my photos in Bengaluru, and it–along with some religious history from a kind colleague–I got the best picture of local worship.

The majority of the week was spent in cars going to and fro my hotel–the swanky Zuri Whitefield–and the many meetings I had. The negative side of the Zuri: I did take the opportunity to go to the hotel’s spa (where the masseuse asked me if I ever exercised…I cringed); and the positive:the kind waiters tried to show me which foods were spicy. The one late afternoon I had off, I got to explore a local mall and try on some fabulous clothes at Biba, where I bought a really pretty shirt.

The main difference between this trip and my 2011 trip to India was sadly time: I did not have near enough of it to explore as I would have hoped.

 

Istanbul, Not Constantinople

During lunch today with a childhood friend who shares my passion for travel, the topic of vacationing in Turkey came up. While I hadn’t been to much of the country that counts itself as both European and Asian, I did experience a wonderful springtime weekend in Istanbul. From the famed sights to the gorgeous tulips, spending a weekend there was a wonderful introduction to the history, architecture, and culture of a riveting city.

I started with a visit to Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque, and the Grand Bazaar. My favorite of these was certainly Aya Sofia—when I walked in under the gorgeous dome of this former Christian church and Muslim mosque (now a museum)—I was blissfully overwhelmed. Later that evening, I treated myself to a traditional Turkish bath…let’s just say that I was scrubbed within an inch of my life! As a modest American, this experience was not for me.

The next day, I walked around the bustling Taksim Square before joining Eser, my incredible local guide, to visit Topkapi Palace, the Basilica Cistern, and the Spice Market. The food on my trip was lovely–think Mediterranean and delish. Even while traveling alone in this city that spans two continents, I felt mostly safe in my surroundings and one of the stamps in my passport that I was most thrilled to get…definitely crossed visiting Istanbul off of my bucket list!

A Day in the City of Sisterly Love

Philadelphia is known as the “City of Brotherly Love,” yet this weekend, it was that of sisterly love, as my sister Jamie and I spent eight jam-packed hours touring the city. Since we were only there for a very short while, we had to make the most of our time. We began with brunch at Parc, a lovely brasserie at the bustling Rittenhouse Square. My sister would recommend the French toast, while my two eggs any style provided the perfect energy to fuel a fast-paced day.

To optimize our time, we decided to let Stray Boot’s city tour lead us around Old Town. Like a scavenger hunt, this app-based tour was perfect for seeing the popular tourist destinations, such as Independence Hall, the Liberty Bell, the home of Betsy Ross, and Benjamin Franklin’s post office. It also took us to some spots we may have missed like the charming Elfreth’s Alley and the portrait gallery at the Second Bank.

After two hours, we finished our tour and walked across downtown to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, home of the steps from Rocky. We did our best touristic version of that famous scene before enjoying a cold soda from the museum’s cafe. Because of our strict timeline, we weren’t able to visit the museum’s exhibits, but the building itself and the surrounding area were beautiful. We finished our day with photos at Robert Indiana’s LOVE sculpture and City Hall, a gorgeous building with William Penn statue-ing at the top.

No trip to Philadelphia would be complete without a Philly cheesesteak, which we scarfed down hungrily at Steve’s Prince of Steaks. In summary, it was a fantastic day of touristic adventuring, American history, local cuisine, and sisterly bonding. I’ll leave you with this nugget of wisdom from Thomas Jefferson: “But friendship is precious, not only in the shade, but in the sunshine of life, and thanks to a benevolent arrangement the greater part of life is sunshine.”