Half a Year on the Road! A Six-Month Camper Life Update

It’s a new year in a new state, but the journey continues in 2017!

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Month #6 has been a weird month. It was holiday month, which means that everything was thrown off a bit – but in a good way. It’s also been the longest we’ve stayed put in one place so far.

Places We’ve Been: Month #6

Month #6 started finished up our stay in Tuscon and then we moved up to Phoenix. A while back, we had booked flights to travel from Phoenix to Champaign, Illinois to visit my family for Christmas. So everything leading up to this moment had to work around the flight schedule.

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Since Monkey’s too big to fly, we had to board her, but did so at the best pet resort we could find in Phoenix called Tailwinds. For Christmas, we spent a few days in my hometown or Arthur, seeing family and friends and doing little-to no work. We had a Monkey to get back to in Phoenix, but our flight was cancelled due to FOG of all things. We’d packed extra food for Monkey in case of emergency, but were still anxious to collect her. So my parents graciously drove us the complete opposite direction to Indianapolis to catch the next flight out in the morning.

The Indy flight went as planned and we made it back to Phoenix, then drove to Las Vegas the same day. So in a 24-hour period, we lived in four time zones: Central, Eastern, Mountain, and Pacific. Totally exhausting, but we got Monkey back and got rave reviews about her behavior (and even a report card!).

Here’s a quick recap of this past month’s batch of “homes on the road”:

Phoenix, Arizona: Home on the Road #27

  • Highlights: Having dinner with my old co-worker, Maria, for her husband’s birthday bash, hot tub at the fanciest Motel 6 I’ve ever seen, short hikes around town

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  • Lowlights: Getting a traffic cone stuck under the Jeep and nearly starting a fire on the highway because of it, having to leave Monkey behind at a “pet resort” while we got on a plane

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Arthur, Illinois : Home on the Road #28

  • Highlights: Hanging out with my parents, grandma & extended family, seeing a couple of my favorite people from high school, meeting our mutual friends’ new baby, seeing “Moana” with my parents, eating at a really good Mexican restaurant that popped up in my hometown since I left, impromptu trip to Indianapolis

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  • Lowlights: Having our flight out of Champaign cancelled at the last minute, having to ask my parents to drive us to Indianapolis

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Las Vegas, Nevada: Home on the Road #29

  • Highlights: Fun pre-NYE day on The Strip, Cirque Du Soleil show that was impressive but made me feel fat and lazy, first NYE celebration with Monkey in the camper to ring in 2017, Valley of Fire State Park hiking

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  • Lowlights: Flat camper tire and cracked windshield on the drive to Vegas, Homeless people lurking around our campground and the staff doesn’t care, dental visit, crowded parking lot-style campground, no Wi-Fi

Random Ramblings: Month #6

In no particular order, these are some random thoughts that came to me over the course of month #6 on the road.

  • I’m obsessed with podcasts. I listen to them while walking the dog, doing dishes, washing up in the bathroom, etc. They really get me through the day. Ones I’ve been listening to lately: This American Life, Snap Judgement, Undone, Stranglers, The RV Entrepreneur with Heath Padgett, Lore, The Moth, Radio Lab, Hidden Brain. New podcast suggestions welcome…hit me up!
  • Motel stays make me feel really appreciative of the little things in life. Like not having to walk across a campground to pee in the middle of the night when I’ve had 3+ beers. They’re even better when they have a hot tub, especially after a long day of hiking. Campgrounds with hot tubs are awesome too.

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  • I really have no desire to live in a place with frigid winter temperatures ever again. These snowbirds have the right idea, but stealing the idea shouldn’t require Medicare eligibility.
  • I’m super appreciative of my parents. Understandably, they were skeptical about this whole camper life thing at first. But I’ve never really been a daughter to follow all the rules. Them driving us to Indy on Christmas day night was a lifesaver. I’m seriously lucky to have them. Too bad it too me so long to realize it.
  • I can’t stand being around other campers. The second I walk outside to use the bathroom in the morning, there are people all around me. I’m feeling claustrophobic by the close proximity of campers and drained by the constant sight of human beings. (1) Old retirees with nothing better to do than chat, (2) families with kids that have no regard for anyone but themselves, and (3) homeless riff-raff lurking around campgrounds when the staff doesn’t care are really getting to me. Friends always ask me about cool people I’ve met on the trip. The honest answer is none. Admittedly, I’m in an introverted phase of life and not putting myself out there. But honestly, that’s not what travel is about for me right now and I have no regrets.

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  • This month was a BIG time for repairs. The camper needed a new tire, the Jeep needed a sensor repair and a new windshield, the husband needed hardcore dental surgery, and the dog needed yearly shots at the vet, and I needed a routine dental cleaning. Somehow this all snuck up on us at once. But it just goes to show that you don’t need to be grounded in a place to get all the practical things in life taken care of.
  • Cities are making me feel claustrophobic. Most strangers seem like an entirely different species, I’m becoming a worse driver, and stupid things make me anxious. I’m hoping to find some quiet coastal towns in California.
  • Vegas is the longest we’ve stayed anywhere so far on this trip – 19 days! Not because we are in love with Vegas, but due to so many appointments and practical things piling up all at once. At least there were plenty of distractions to take our minds off them at the end of the day.

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  • I don’t like the format of these blog posts I’ve been doing, but I can’t think of a better way to structure them.
  • We looked into upgrading the camper and would seriously love to, but I don’t think it’s going to work right now. Mostly because a two-door jeep has embarrassingly low towing capacity, so a camper upgrade would mean a vehicle upgrade too. Looked at A-Liners, which were nice (especially ones with an in-camper toilet and solid walls!), but they’re not enough of an upgrade to justify the investment right now.
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  • This is my dream house.
  • It was nice to be able to take holiday time off like the rest of the traditional working world this year. This is always an awkward time as a freelancer, but things finally slowed down for me and I finally got some much-needed chill time.
  • Also as a freelancer, I have to keep track of every invoice and pay quarterly taxes, which is a huge pain in the ass. However, I made more this year than ever in life. So many full time travelers hate on freelance writing as a way to make money but clearly they aren’t doing it right. This is something I feel really proud of since 2017 is my 4th year of freelancing!
  • I am obsessed with self-serve frozen yogurt.

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  • The best reason that has come up so far for calling it quits on camper life is international travel. I feel like I’ve seen so much (but obviously not all) of this country, but so little of the rest of the world. Simply flying to Illinois for Christmas taught us how difficult the logistics are of finding a dog sitter, Jeep parking, camper parking, transportation, etc. After six months, I’m feeling the itch for international travel. This makes me amendable to finding a place to rent (somewhere) for a year so we can plop down and get slightly established so we can catch a flight to bust of America soon. This will likely be the one thing that makes me call it quits on camper life, at least for a while.
  • Valley of Fire State Park renewed my faith in Nevada hiking trails after several disappointments…what an incredible place with something different to see on every trail!img_3014
  • Everywhere I turn these days, I seem to come across a #vanlife post or some other young couple’s Instagram-perfect photos of full-time travel. I am mildly obsessed with creepily stalking other full-time campers to see what they’re up to and judging myself against my better judgment. It feels like this movement is gaining momentum, but perhaps I’m just seeking it out. But unlike so many of these other couples essentially doing what we’re doing, I’m not into going full publicity over it or trying to make money from it. That’s not my style, and I’m already stretched too thin. Also, my husband is a private person and I respect his wishes to not include his photo or name on my blog. I also have no desire to reinvent the wheel here or project an image that everything about this lifestyle is perfect. It’s not, and it pisses me off from time to time just like any lifestyle would. I’m being me, being real, and sharing my experiences as creative outlet rather than a means of self-promotion. Thanks for being along for the ride.

Looking Ahead to Month #7

TOMORROW, we’re celebrating our 6th month “full-time camper life anniversary” by crossing over the California state line and dry camping in Mojave National Preserve. This means no reservations, no electric, no internet, and only backup tank water…but hopefully some amazing scenery and hikes.

After that, we’re heading to the Palm Springs area of California, which will be totally new to me. But I will say though that California campgrounds are looking pretty expensive so far. I’m a newbie at pretty much all things Southern California, so I’m definitely excited to spend a good amount of time here. Please send any SoCal recommendations my way!

Cheers!

Catch Up on the Journey:

5 Months on the Road: Wait No More, Your Full-Time Camper Life Update Is Here

December greetings from warm and sunny Tucson, Arizona!

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Month #5 has been a continuation of our journey in the West and Southwest, and I’m definitely still loving the region. We finished up our stay in Salt Lake City, spent a couple weeks in Moab, and a couple days at the Grand Canyon before showing up here.

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We had to adjust our plans a bit due to cold and single-digit temperatures. Being in Tucson right now wasn’t the original plan, but I’m loving the 70-80-degrees and sunshine, so the switch-up was a success. These “snowbirds” really know how to live life right.

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Another interesting development is that we bought a GoPro as a holiday gift to ourselves. So we’ve been experimenting with the different mounts and putting it on our heads, chests, windshield, and even the dog to capture videos of our adventures. I even wore it on a horse!

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Places We’ve Been: Month #5

Here’s a quick rundown of how those places played out.

Moab, Utah: Home on the Road #24

  • Highlights: The otherworldly arches at Arches National Park and canyons at Canyonlands, horseback riding on Sassy (and she was!), mountain biking on the Bar M trails, slacklining festival on Thanksgiving, great campground Wi-Fi and scenery, nice community rec center in town to lift weights and swim laps, scenic winery next to a western film museum, Corona Arch as an uncrowded alternative to Delicate Arch, small-town Christmas festival

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  • Lowlights: Restaurants are way too busy, and un-fun, mediocre local brewery, consistently cold nights in the 20s, hilly bike trails too hard to bike with Monkey’s trailer, getting a flat jeep tire on the side of the road

Grand Canyon, Arizona: Home on the Road #25

  • Highlights: Dog-friendly hiking trails around the rim, shopping for family Christmas gifts and finally finding some, a weekend that didn’t up feeling as cold as we expected, beautiful art gallery at Kolb Studio

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  • Lowlights: Very icy sidewalks and trails that made hiking with Monkey really hard, being underwhelmed by the Grand Canyon (who’da thought that was possible?!) because of all the other amazing canyons we’ve been seeing

Tucson, Arizona: Home on the Road #26

  • Highlights: The amazing Saguaro cactus(!!!), Arizona Sonora Desert Museum that we could have spent several days at, private campground bathrooms (no sharing!), salsa dancing class for a different kind of Friday night out even though it was HARD, great bike trail right behind our campground, bringing home a little cactus to decorate the camper, discovering Govinda’s Vegetarian Restaurant, days warm enough to do yoga and work outside (or until my laptop overheats and powers down)

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  • Lowlights: Many parks (including Saguaro National Park) not being dog-friendly for hikes, crowded campground with sketchy WiFi, Monkey getting cacti stuck in her paws on trails

Random Ramblings: Month #5

In no particular order, these are some random thoughts that came to me over the course of month #5 on the road.

  • Moab was the first place that really made me question why we keep moving on and don’t just stay put for a while. It’s an outdoor lover’s paradise in every sense of the word, and we would have been perfectly happy there for a while. In the end, the only reason we left after two weeks was because of the cold temperatures rolling in that would have made outdoor activities pretty miserable going forward.

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  • I have a t-shirt that’s probably a decade old with Grover from Sesame Street on it that says, “Anywhere I am is here. Anywhere I’m not is there. I still wear this shirt occasionally and it reminds me of the old saying that wherever you go, there you are. No matter how what city or state we’re in or how long we’ve traveled, the same things still make me happy, annoyed, anxious, excited, frustrated, etc. Many years ago, I saw a shrink (hey, Tony Soprano did it, so why can’t I?). At that time in my life, all I wanted to do was move far away and start over. I wanted to get out of my rut, leave everything behind, and find out if the grass was greener somewhere else. I remember said shrink telling me some version of “wherever you go, there you are.” He suggested that I’d still have the same personality/issues when I woke up to different scenery. It all sounds pretty obvious when I think of it now, but it was a novel idea that had never occurred to me back then. And it still rings true today.

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  • Division of labor makes camper chores manageable, and yes there are camper chores! Fortunately, we are both reasonable people who understand what sharing responsibilities means. For example, I take care of putting together (i.e. not cooking) breakfast and lunch, while my husband cooks dinner. He does the grocery shopping, and I do the laundry. And we take turns with doing dishes and dog walks. This goes for travel research too. He’s better at big-picture planning, and I’m better at figuring out daily details. So we tend to stick to what we’re each good at to avoid duplicating efforts and getting at each other’s throats. Been working pretty well for 5 months!

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  • Constantly looking for things to do is exhausting, but it does keep us on our toes. Ultimately, I keep coming down to the same research topics no matter where we are, which reiterates the point that wherever you go, there you are. Here are some of the things on that never-ending research list: hiking trails, yoga, comedy shows, local theater, bar trivia, breweries/wineries/distilleries, community rec center, dance classes, festivals, dog parks, cafes to work at, driving range, bike trails, fun neighborhoods, concerts.

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  • I really thought I’d have more free time while traveling like this but I really don’t. Between 50+ hour work weeks and squeezing in time to explore new places, there’s really nothing left. At the end of the day, I’m exhausted and just want to zone out watch The Sopranos in bed. Times that I draw in my sketchbook, do personal writing (like this) that’s not for money, and play guitar are few and far between. I thought I’d be trying to learn more new songs on guitar by now, but I’m stuck on the same old ones and not getting any better.

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  • I prefer non-standard holidays to tradition. We celebrated Thanksgiving by going to a slacklining festival across a canyon in Moab. Admittedly, it would have been nice to see my parents and grandma back in Illinois. But doing the same thing every year out of nostalgia or sentimentality doesn’t appeal to me, and unfortunately, that’s what traditional holidays are all about for most people.

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  • Monkey did great in a totally free-range, open-play environment the last time we “practice boarded” her in Moab. I think she’ll do great at the pet resort in Phoenix while we’re back in Illinois for Christmas. It’ll be weird without her, but I’m feeling much more confident about leaving her for five days.

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  • We’ve run into a few more campgrounds with breed restrictions. I’m looking at you, Las Vegas. I won’t get on a soapbox for very long, but these pit bull bans are absolutely ridiculous and unfounded. I wouldn’t want to give my money to these types of discriminatory business owners even if they’d take it.
  • The dry weather of the west makes my hair so much more manageable and easy to take care of. No more Midwest/East Coast-style frizzy tangles!

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  • I had to repair a button on a shirt the other day and it made me how much I miss sewing and crafting in general. My sewing machine is sadly sitting in a storage unit in Atlanta collecting dust 🙁
  • I also realized I miss swimming laps. I’m not a great swimmer by any means, but it’s great exercise and really helps relax my muscles and clear my head. I found community rec centers in both Salt Lake City and Moab with public lap swim hours and only a $6-7 daily fee. Also a great way to lift weights and work these noodle arms. I’ll be looking for cheap rec centers like this in future places we go too.

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Looking Ahead to Month #6

Month #6 will be an interesting one because it’s smack dab in the middle of holiday season. This will be a nice taste of what’s it’s like to be traveling full-time during a very busy and traditional time of year.

We’ll be relocating to Phoenix soon for a short stay before flying out to Central Illinois to celebrate Christmas with my family. The plan for New Year’s Eve is Las Vegas, so that should be a fun way to kick off 2017. And after that, on to California!

If you made it this far, congrats and thanks for reading! Although I’ve still only been getting around to it once a month, it’s still nice for me to take a moment to reflect upon where we’ve been and where I’m at personally in relation to that. Cheers!

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Related:

Month #4 on the Road: Camper Life Update from Colorado & Utah!

Well I’ve officially been living on the road longer than I’ve been able to endure some jobs…four months! And it’s supermoon day!

Mid-October through mid-November has been a whirlwind for me in terms of work, and I’ve been so swamped that I haven’t even glanced at my blog since the 14th of last month. My workload has made it a bit more challenging to find balance day to day and not feel stressed out while making time to explore new places. I felt so scatterbrained just trying to put this post together that these photos are totally not in sequential order at all. But they’re all from month #4, so there ya go.

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Yet Colorado and Utah have been awesome and solidified my perception that I feel more at home in the West than the East. To start blending in with the locals, I’ve also begun to assume a new identity as well. I found this name tag on a hiking trail and am ready to pull it out whenever necessary for Mormon perks.

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Places We’ve Been: Month #4

Month #4 began in Cortez, Colorado and then began moving north and west. We’ve been taking our time and spending a couple weeks in places when they seem cool enough to warrant it.

The only exception was Grand Junction. Every private campground in the area had ridiculous dog breed restrictions that forbid pit bulls, rottweilers, and dobermans. Campground reviews shared that many campground owners would scrutinize dogs and hassle owners, and we just couldn’t justify giving money to close-minded and discriminatory people like that. However, we had friends driving in to GJ from Denver and already established social plans. So the solution here was to stay at an all-breed-friendly hotel in GJ just for the weekend and take advantage of a hot tub and hot breakfast. It ended up being pretty sweet actually and really fun to hang out with the Colorado gals.

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Not just a good band, also a solid fall day out in Grand Junction.

Here’s a quick recap of this past month’s batch of “homes on the road”:

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Colorado National Monument at sunrise

Montrose, Colorado: Home on the Road #20

  • Highlights: Challenging hike/climb to the bottom of Black Canyon, mini golf at our campground, bike paths & off-leash dog area at city park, clothing optional hot springs at Ridgway, exploring nearby Ouray, bowling alley next to our campground, art afternoon inspired by the canyon, Halloween shopping, finding creepy animal bones along a trail
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At the bottom of Black Canyon

  • Lowlights: No recreational shops for fun edibles like I’d pleasantly gotten used to in Cortez
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Disc golf course in Montrose

Grand Junction, Colorado: Home on the Road #21

  • Highlights: Meeting up with a good friend and getting to know two new ones, taking a camper break for a hotel stay, local pumpkin patch and corn maze, freaking people out with creepy Halloween masks, scenic winery after a day of hiking, Colorado National Monument at sunrise
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Corn maze shenanigans

  • Lowlights: Breed restrictive rules that banned pit bull mixes, treacherous jeep trail that led to a failed attempt at seeing arches
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Colorado wine country outside Grand Junction

Vernal, Utah: Home on the Road #22

  • Highlights: BLM land hikes to arches, finding a Mormon name tag on the trail, petroglyphs on private ranch, Utah Field House of Natural History State Park Museum, real bones at Dinosaur National Monument, crazy rock formations at Fantasy Canyon
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Real dinosaur bones at Dinosaur National Monument’s Quarry House

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Otherworldly rock formations at Fantasy Canyon on BLM land outside Vernal

  • Lowlights: Almost losing Monkey when we let her off-leash and couldn’t find her
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Creepy abandoned cabin 4 miles into a BLM land hiking trail near Grand Junction

Salt Lake City, Utah: Home on the Road #23

  • Highlights: Doing city stuff for a change, awesome campground with a hot tub and good WiFi, clean & reliable public transit, bike lanes everywhere, campsite yoga, seeing bison and the creepy scenery at Antelope State Park and the Great Salt Lake, checking out neighborhoods, learning that my ancestors date back to the 1500s at the Mormon Family Search Library
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The temple we couldn’t go into because we aren’t Mormon. But everywhere else here was fair game to check out.

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It’s great living right next to good bike trails

  • Lowlights: Failed comedy show attempt, trying to figure out Utah’s complicated brewery laws (some good beer though!)
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The masterpieces from art afternoon at the Black Canyon.

Observations & Random Ramblings: Month #4

In no particular order, these are some random thoughts that came to me over the course of month #4 on the road.

With the eerie fog and desolate landscape, the Great Salt Lake is super creepy

With the eerie fog and desolate landscape, the Great Salt Lake is super creepy

  • I hate sharing bathroom space with others. This is my personal time, not a time for small talk. RV parks tend to be better with this than state park campgrounds because RV people have their own bathrooms.
  • Having crappy campground internet makes me super cranky and stressed out for work. So far, campground internet in the West has been much better than on the East Coast.
  • I’m okay with heights, but not so much with steep drop-offs. The Lizard Head trail near Telluride was rough.

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  • Colorado is a great place to be if you enjoy the occasional edible. However, Western CO is super dry (I’m looking at you, Grand Junction), so stock up when you can.
  • Cheap $2 gloves are a lifesaver for typing on a laptop with cold hands, hiking without losing grip, etc.
Crappy gloves = love

Crappy gloves = love

  • Command strips are amazing for camper storage, especially for winter coats and towels. I have about 9 hanging right now and could use a few more.
  • Interactions with strangers continue to feel burdensome and exhausting no matter where I am, and I just can’t wait for them to end about 90% of the time.
  • It’s often been too cold to do yoga outside at campsites lately, so I’ve checked out a few more local yoga classes. Some good, some bad. Unseasonably warm weather has made this easier.
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Much more treacherous than it looks, using a chain for balance

  • It’s hard on us, but Monkey has been doing well with her “practice boarding” experiences to get ready for five days without us over Christmas. We’ve gotten a good report about her on two day-boarding days and one overnight boarding trial run.
  • I wrote a short story last month but have been trying to write some travel-related poems this month. I’ve written three so far that aren’t great, but they’re something. Hoping to pair these with some photos and maps to create a travel book later on.
  • We almost lost Monkey one day while letting her off-leash in BLM land, where it’s totally allowed but she scared us half to death. We called out for her and searched for her for what seemed like an eternity before she emerged on top of the tallest hill in the area, limping a little but otherwise fine. Apparently, some legit dog training may be necessary after all.
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Monkey totally uninterested in these ridiculous rock formations at Fantasy Canyon near Vernal

  • I witnessed the exciting Cubs win for the World Series and the disheartening result of the Presidential election from a camper, tracking updates over WiFi with no TV access. These experiences would have felt a bit isolating except for social media, and for that my Facebook friends, I thank you.
  • Getting used to brewery laws in new states is confusing and frustrating.
  • Unseasonably warm weather has been awesome for us but devastating for skiers out here. Yet working outside in mid-60-degree weather in November has been awesome.
  • Mormons are nice and helpful to a fault. While visiting Temple Square, I was never approached about God or Jesus…only whether I had questions, needed a tour, or wanted to talk about architecture. Yet these persistent and overly nice interactions were incredibly draining and completely unavoidable. Seriously, what are these people on?
  • Salt Lake City has made it onto our list of possible “move to someday” destinations. We scoped out neighborhoods and have positive thoughts about Sugar House, The Avenues, and Cottonwood Heights.

Looking Ahead to Month #5

Month #5 will continue in Utah as we make our way to Moab and spend a week or two there. Thanksgiving will be spent in that area probably gorging ourselves on something delicious. But we’re on a deadline, and that’s because of Christmas. So we’ve got to make it down to Phoenix a few days before Jesus/Santa day to catch a flight back to Central Illinois. But not without spending some time at the Grand Canyon on the way down.

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Sadly, Moonshine Arch had no moonshine at the top.

Overall, I’m loving the west and the unseasonably warm weather is a much-needed relief here. However, our first chance of snow is Thursday, and I’m not looking forward to that inside these canvas walls.

We’ve still got these masks in the back of the Jeep, so if you see some freak shows lurking around in the off-season, it’s probably us. After all, Halloween is my favorite holiday and I was happy to celebrate it in a fun place with good people. Cheers!

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Freaking families out, one cheap mask at a time.

Related:

One Month on the Road: A Full-Time Camper Life Update

As you can hear from the crickets chirping in my blog (*chirp chirp, chirp chirp*), I haven’t had much time for personal writing lately. But today marks one month of living the nomad life, so I thought it was high time for an update. This certainly isn’t the longest we’ve been on the road – the trips to Mondakoming (Montana-South Dakota-Wyoming), the Northeast, and New Mexico have all been longer.

Yet this one feels a bit different because it has no end date, there’s nowhere to go home to, and the journey is just getting started.

From July 14th: Final Days in Atlanta…Next Up: Full-Time Camper Life!

We’ve been a lot of places and done a lot of things so far, but I’ve often struggled to keep my head above water with the constant planning, excess of work projects, and little hassles along the way. Clearly, I haven’t been blogging, but I have been updating my friends and family weekly home-on-the-road posts via Facebook and using an app called Track My Tour to waypoint the places we’ve been with photos and quick captions.

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It’s hard to lump a month’s worth of happenings into one little page, but here’s an attempt of sorts. I’m not feeling particularly witty or insightful right now, but I just need to take a moment to reflect and get a few things out on the page.

So to simplify matters, in text and in my own head, I’ll kick this blog post off with a few lists.

Places We’ve Been So Far: Month #1

  • Asheville, NC: Home on the road #1
    • Favorite parts = hiking, scenery, breweries, catching up with old friends, kayaking
  • Richmond, VA: Home on the road #2
    • Favorite parts = Best campground fitness center and free breakfast EVER, historic stuff
  • Alexandria, VA: Home on the road #3
    • Favorite parts = Waterfront walks, switching it up with a hotel stay during a work conference
  • Washington, DC: Day trips
    • Favorite parts = Monuments at night tour, Natural History Museum, catching up with old friends
  • Annapolis, MD: Day trip
    • Favorite parts = Waterfront area, ice cream, dressing Monkey up in cooling gear
  • Milton, Delaware: Home on the road #4
    • Favorite parts = Secluded beach 10 minutes away, learning that Monkey can swim, every brewery except Dogfish Head, SUP in the ocean
  • Lancaster, PA: Home on the road #5
    • Favorite parts = Gnome-themed campground, Gnome Countryside tour with Rich Humphreys, Amish déjà vu
  • Hershey, PA: Day trip
    • Favorite parts = Free chocolate tour, milkshakes
  • Coopers Rock, WV: Home on the road #6
    • Favorite parts = Hiking every day, playing guitar outside at the campsite, Rattlesnake trail at Coopers Rock, Lakeside crab restaurant
  • Seneca Rocks, WV: Home on the road #7
    • Favorite parts = Totally unplugging due to no phone or internet, bouldering the peaks

Biggest Challenges So Far: Month #1

However, it’s not all been fun and games. If you’re my Facebook friends, those are the photos you’ve been seeing. But there’s a darker side to live on the road that doesn’t get shared.

  • Ant infestation in the camper
  • Nowhere close by/secluded to pee in the middle of the night after too many beers
  • Constantly bothered by annoying strangers wanting to meet Monkey (more on this to follow)
  • 100+ degree temperatures
  • Campgrounds next to landfills
  • Flying insects of all kinds
  • Dirty, public laundry facilities
  • Finding dog-friendly restaurants and attractions
  • Feeling overloaded with work
  • Listening to Christian music in campground bathrooms
  • Infection that landed me in urgent care
  • Too rainy, hot, rocky, etc. to start my days with yoga
  • General crankiness due to all of the above

Realizations Thus Far: Month #1

Admittedly, I haven’t taken much time until now to reflect on my situation and how it’s been impacting me personally. Now it’s all coming at once and hard to take in. Yet taking myself out of my comfort zone and adopting a nomadic life has definitely made me realize a few things about myself.

  • I can tolerate and enjoy high heat much more than most people
  • I can totally maintain a full-time freelance writing job on the road. Business is great!
  • Having people around makes me feel exhausted, annoyed, and drained.
  • The strangers obsessed with Monkey are really wearing me down
  • My feet smell awful, especially after wearing hiking sandals
  • Having my favorite jewelry and toiletries in campgrounds makes me feel normal
  • I will never have a good hair day with all this humidity
  • Figuring out how to play new guitar songs is really hard

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Ramblings: Month #1

One thing that is really getting to me one month in is my annoyance with strangers on the road so far. I was introverted as a kid, went through an extroverted phase in college and my 20s, and have more or less returned to my introverted roots. I’m okay with that. I can “turn it on” and be social pretty darn well when I need to. But I rarely want to, and after it’s over, I feel like I’ve figuratively checked a box for the day and am happy it’s all over.

Dog owners, serious question here: how do you walk down the street in peace?

We literally can’t walk down a street/trail for five minutes without someone exclaiming “PUPPPPYYYYYY!” (she’s about 2 ½, by the way) and rushing over to maul her. Sure, she’s cute, but there’s tons of cute dogs out and about.

I want to get her a t-shirt that says, “I’m social 24/7, but my parents aren’t. Please admire me from afar.” But a t-shirt would only attract more attention, and Monkey LOVES attention and petting from anyone and everyone.

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However, I can’t be social all the time, and these constant conversations are draining. So seriously, guys. Does anyone else have this problem? Do you enjoy and embrace the random interactions? If not, how do you cope with them? It’s basically impossible to avoid them while living in public places. I’m working on a separate blog post all about this rant, so stay tuned.

So many travelers go on and on about how meeting people on the road is the best part about traveling, but I disagree. Extroverted travel is just one way to travel, and not necessarily the best way for everyone. I loved catching up with my old friend and his wife and baby in Asheville and my old coworker and her husband in DC. Not to mention meeting Rich “The Gnomeman” Humphreys at Gnome Countryside was definitely a highlight of my trip so far. But beyond these low-key, pre-planned social get-togethers, I crave time to myself more than anything else.

For the past month, my days have been jam-packed with work projects, and it’s not showing any signs of slowing down. Sure, this is always a “good problem” to have as a freelancer, but sometimes it’s exhausting and just becomes too much.

Besides the workload, we are in a constant state of planning, which also becomes exhausting after a while – always looking for the next campground, the next dog-friendly brewery, and the next museum to take turns going into while the other one hikes around with Monkey. To solve this, we set aside some time to book our next several campgrounds so that piece of the puzzle is taken care of for a while.

Looking Ahead to Month #2

We’re spending a bit more time in West Virginia and then heading into Kentucky next. My birthday, the big 33, is coming right around the corner and we’re meeting up with my parents for a little on-the-road celebration. My birthday’s on a Wednesday, so I’m hoping to take the day off work and do some climbing at the Red River Gorge.

From there, the plan is to head to the coast of Virginia and start traveling south. I’m not entirely sure where we’ll land at the close of month #2, but despite my rare divulgence of frustrations and rants, I’m still definitely excited to see what the next 30 days bring.

Drinking Beer in New Mexico & the Tragic Decline of Brewery Blogging

Back in 2012 when I started this blog, local craft breweries were still something of an anomaly. Coincidentally, this is also when I really started to travel and get into beer culture. Four years ago, it was incredibly exciting to stumble upon a brew house in a warehouse district, along the railroad tracks, or on Main Street downtown. But that’s when breweries were relatively few and far between in general, and definitely still new to me.

I celebrated each brewery with a strict attention to detail, with a trusty notebook in hand and a camera-toting boyfriend in the other. I used to write about each and every individual brewery I visited, noting the ambiance, the service, and casually rating my favorite and least favorite flavors.

Reminisce with me for a moment…

Fast forward to mid-2016, when every small town on the map has it’s own brewery and every big city has about a dozen. I certainly don’t love beer any less than I did four years ago, but the suddenly overcrowded marketplace has made that initial excitement wear off a bit.

Don’t get me wrong, I still incorporate breweries into my travels and plan to check out at least one in each new place I visit. But I just can’t muster up the energy to write about each and every one of them anymore. It’s a daunting task that I’m just not up for…or getting paid for! So just like every other random craft beer fan out there, these days I simply plop down, pick my poison, and leave it at that.

Okay, so maybe I’m being a bit over-dramatic. I still do jot down travel notes and try to snap a photo of brew houses I visit after hikes or for an afternoon break. But after days of writing full-time for my day job, I just can’t bring myself to write more, especially about an ever-growing niche that I no longer have hope of conquering.

Then again, to bring things back into perspective…IT’S JUST BEER FOR GOD’S SAKE!

When I recently spent a month in New Mexico, not surprisingly, I visited lots of breweries to scope out the local beer scene. In no particular order, these are some of the breweries I managed to document in some way and little bits and pieces of the things I can remember about them.

Santa Fe Brewing Company, Santa Fe

This was a post-hiking brewery stop after checking out La Tienda Trails. We actually only got about 1.8 miles into the hike before a work emergency came up and we had to turn back for the laptops in the car.

Santa Fe Brewing Company 1But fortunately, all the emergency required was a little attention and an internet connection. And Santa Fe Brewing Company was right around the corner. Santa Fe Brewing Company 3They had an insane number of beers on tap, but a terrible organization system for samplers. The reason I have so many photos of this place is because I actually had to compare and match up a photo of the beer listing board inside with faded abbreviations under tiny glasses, making about four trips back and forth from the bar to the patio.

But with 13 tiny beers in front of me, how seriously irritated could I really be? Santa Fe Brewing Company 4

Second Street Brewery, Santa Fe

This was a post-biking brewery stop in Santa Fe after pedaling along the hilly, dirt roads of the Santa Fe Rail Trail. This wasn’t one of my favorite breweries because of the questionable and inconsistent rules. Apparently, I’m getting a bit crotchety in my old age.

Their large patio was not dog-friendly, but we read online that people have brought dogs to the tiny smoker’s area and didn’t get bothered, so that’s what we did. The brewery advertised happy hour specials but they didn’t honor them for the beers we picked, and they couldn’t justify their sizing and pricing. Oh well, you can’t win every time.
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Spotted Dog Brewing, Mesilla

This was a great little brewery we visited after walking around Old Town Mesilla. There were lots of cute shops and historic buildings here, and the brewery was in walking distance from all that.

Here we powered up the laptops and cranked out a bit of writing over a sampler to finish off the day in an awesome way. As any good gnome collector will tell you, these little guys love gnome-sized beer and make the very best drinking companions.

Spotted Dog Brewing Mesilla

Red Door Brewery, Albuquerque

They really did have a red door! This was one of the first breweries we went to in Albuquerque after hiking the Sandia Mountains. I remember liking this place because it had a little outdoor patio that was completely empty and super chill. After sharing a sampler of 10 tiny beers, I grabbed our growlers from the jeep and got one filled up with the wit and the small one with the scotch ale.

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Sometimes I forget to snap a shot or two of the brewery I’m at to help me remember it, or I’m just not in that mindset at the time. Unfortunately, this was the case with three breweries in the Albuquerque area: Canteen BreweryMarble Brewery, and Turtle Mountain Brewing Company.

Canteen was a frustrating experience because Monkey was acting like a total nut-bag and stressed us out to an extreme degree. I barely even remember what the beers were because of that, but Canteen did have a nice side patio and an attentive server.

Marble Brewery had an amazing set-up but an awful smell. The city was doing sewer work just outside the brewery in the street, and some people nearby actually complained about getting sprayed by sewer stuff. If that wouldn’t have been doing on, this Albuquerque spot would have rocked. We stopped by after a DIY Breaking Bad tour around town. There were a couple food trucks with tacos out front and a stage with a band playing music despite the crowd avoiding the outdoor space due to smells and sprays.

Turtle Mountain Brewing Company is in a fast-growing suburb of ABQ called Rio Rancho. I didn’t get any pics of this place either for some reason, but we went here after biking about 26 miles on a very nicely paved trail along the Rio Grande. Like several other breweries we went to, this was a place that has a dog-friendly patio but no service out there. I actually prefer this arrangement because I don’t have to wait on a server to come out, allowing me to just walk my own two feet inside and up to the bar when I need something.

Taos Mesa Brewing, Taos

Hands down, this brewery had the best outdoor scene ever. The ski resort town was experiencing crazy high winds the day we visited, but that didn’t stop us from sitting outside to enjoy the mountain scenery.

Taos Mesa Brewing 1We stopped by after hiking at Rio Grande Del Norte and having a picnic lunch on BLM land near the parking lot. The brewery had stages both inside and outside and clearly hosts a lot of events and concerts. However, the taste of the beer paled in comparison to the views of the mountains. The beers were mediocre at best, with standard flavors and nothing truly interesting. But those views though! Taos Mesa Brewing 2

Pecan Grill & Brewery, Las Cruces

This was a rare find that we stumbled across after taking a wrong turn following a hike in the Organ Mountains. I was actually on the hunt for a PetCo because Monkey was (gasp!) nearly out of food. I had seen the Pecan Grill and Brewery come up in a Yelp list a few days before, so we stopped in to try it to make the wrong turn worthwhile.

I was hesitant at first because it seemed like it would have more of a restaurant vibe, which often means that the beer takes a back seat in quality. However, this place pleasantly surprised me more than pretty much anywhere else on this trip. They had happy hour specials that they honored the price on, cheap appetizer specials that were quite tasty, and a laid-back environment where I got a little writing done. Our server did a killer job too.

Pecan Grill Las Cruces

High Desert Brewing, Las Cruces

Another Las Cruces brewery we visited was High Desert, which was our destination after hunting for peridot gemstones at Kilbourne Hole. Some of these New Mexico breweries serve food, while others are drinks-only. We try to save money by making our own food in the camper, but making beer from the road isn’t really all the feasible. However, at this place, we splurged and split a couple appetizers to go along with the sampler.

It was an awesome environment, despite Monkey being super-restless after a long and bumpy car ride. The patio was cozy and closed in, which provided some shelter from the crazy high winds that I’ll always remember about Las Cruces.

High Desert Brewing Las Cruces

Don Quixote Distillery & Winery, Jaconita

But of course, there are many other things to drink besides beer…namely wine and spirits. This was a stop on the way back from Chimayo, which is a Catholic pilgrimage site in the middle of nowhere.

Don Quixote Distillery & Winery 1We arrived to Don Quixote a few minutes before it opened and downed cans of soup and beans in the car while we waited. The bartender/sole staff worker was the most unfriendly host I’ve encountered in a tasting room. We were the only ones there, but she talked on her phone the entire time and seemed genuinely annoyed by having to serve us (paid) samples. Don Quixote Distillery & Winery 2I remember really liking the lavender and juniper gin, which was a surprise because I’ve never been a gin drinker. The flavors were intensely good though. I also remember liking the rose-infused wine. However, I didn’t buy anything except the tasting, mostly because of the service.

Breweries and Dogs

Although I may have started off writing this a bit disenchanted with the ever-expanding craft brewery scene, I still believe there are new experiences to discover at each one. Lately, my brewery experiences can be best defined as dog experiences too.

We’ve been slowly but surely training our newly adopted lab/pit, Monkey, to become the ultimate brewery companion. Breweries and dogs seem to go hand-in-hand, and I’ve always wanted a chill and friendly pup by my side while I sip my brews on a patio.

Before visiting any given brewery, I’ve gotten really good at one particular phone call that goes something like this:

Brewery Person: Hi, XYZ Brewing Company, how can I help you?

Me: Hi, do you have a patio that allows dogs?

(response #1) – Yep, sure do.

(response #2) – Nope, sorry, only service dogs.

(response #3) – You wanna do WHAT?!

Santa Fe Brewing Company 5On dog-friendly patios, Monkey is getting better at the fine art of hanging out, usually equipped with a comfy pad, bone, and travel water bowl.

But of course, sometimes she likes to do this and sit like people, which is a bit awkward.
Red Door Brewery ABQ 2Then other times, she does this and sleeps all cute-like and curled up under the table. And I forgive her for all wrongdoings.Second Street Brewery Santa Fe 2Perhaps one of these days I’ll manage to secure a writing gig that pays me to write about and review breweries. Then, without a doubt, I’d be all over this scene as if I’d never lost a beat since 2012. I’ve already started to break into the wine scene with a steady gig at The Grapevine Magazine, so perhaps craft beer writing could be in my future as well.

But until then, I’ll just jot down a sentence or two at the end of the day, snap a picture if I think of it, and not stress out over missed writing opportunities. After all, quality beer is best enjoyed with a chill state of mind, right?

Active & Outdoorsy Adventures in Puerto Rico

For the first three decades of my life, Thanksgiving consisted of turkey, pumpkin pie, and sitting around staring at people I’m related to. This Thanksgiving, however, was a little bit different.

Flights to Puerto Rico were super affordable over the holiday, so we decided to switch things up and spend five or so days on the island. The week was packed with active and outdoorsy adventures, and these were some of my favorites!

DISCLAIMER: This is just a quick overview because my attention span and patience are running low today, but for more details on how to replicate these adventures, I’d recommend checking out the site, Puerto Rico Day Trips, which proved to be very useful when planning my trip.

Hike the El Yunque Trail to the Summit

El Yunque is a rain forest in the northeastern corner of Puerto Rico and home to hundreds of species of trees and flowers. Take the steep, winding back-roads to drive here from Fajardo for a unique glimpse at village life.

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The guy working the front desk at the park warned us that the trek to the summit would take four hours, but we did it in three. We weren’t really hustling that much either. The hike to the summit is a moderately-strenuous 5-mile hike that ends at an observation tower riddled with graffiti.

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It was super foggy at the summit on the day we hiked here, but it honestly just added to the mystery and intrigue of the whole place. The better views were down a bit further on the mountain.

Hike La Mina Trail to the Famous Waterfall

Also while in El Yunque, make sure not to miss the famous waterfall that you see on all the postcards. Otherwise, who will ever believe you went to Puerto Rico?! Even the cruise ships take excursions over here to see it.

Take a Dip in the Waterfall along La Mina Trail

The ultimate reward for a strenuous day of hiking is taking a dip in the waterfall along the La Mina trail. Sunbathing is popular here, so bring your swimsuit and a towel if you feel like getting in. We opted to continue hiking in the rain instead.

Bike around San Juan

The city has been making efforts to become more bike-friendly, and there is a great bike lane between Condado and Old San Juan. The hostel I stayed at, Mango Mansion, rents bikes for $20 per day. Local rental shops charge around $30-$45 per day.

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Honestly, he bikes were pretty crappy and hard to ride, but we made do and arrived back in one piece.

Bike around San Juan

Just keep in mind that bike lanes here aren’t continuous, so you’ll need to be comfortable riding on streets, bridges, and the occasional sidewalk to get around too.

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Bike to the forts…there are two of them and you’re admission fee at one gets you into the other one too. The streets in Old San Juan are pretty steep and cobblestone-style, so you might want to lock up the bike and set out on foot for a while. The whole area is pretty walkable, although my feet were definitely killing me at the end of this day.

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Explore Caves at Parque de las Cavernas Del Rio Camuy

This is a beautiful park that offers guided cave tours following a trolley ride to see a huge sinkhole, stalactites, and ancient rock formations.

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The trolley seemed a little bit silly; we could have totally hiked down to the cave. However, such hiking is not allowed so we reluctantly hopped aboard and squeezed in next to a bunch of other tourists.

See the Caves at Parque de las Cavernas Del Rio Camuy

Regardless, the Parque de las Cavernas Del Rio Camuy tour was pretty worthwhile just to learn some stuff about what you’re looking at. It lasts about 1.5 hours and is bilingual in both English and Spanish.

At the very end of the tour, our guide mentioned that we might be allowed to hike around the area if we found the director and got special approval. By that time, it was a little too late to work into our schedule. But something to keep in mind to ask if you visit and want to ditch the tour crowds for a while.

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Hike at Bosque Estatal de Guanica

This is a dry forest in southwest Puerto Rico, and the Fort Trail extends about 6 miles round-trip to give you a taste of the island’s diverse terrain. The Guanica State Forest wasn’t a big tourist destination when we visited, but it’s pretty quick and easy to get here from Ponce.

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The trail is honestly pretty boring, with not much to see along the way and really no other hikers either. But it provides a contrast from the El Yunque rainforest, and it was just nice to be outdoors in the 80-degree weather.

Fort Capron is a small watch tower that offers lovely views of the rolling hills, sea, and village down below.

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This is also a nice area to sit and enjoy a little peace and solitude.

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This was the ideal picnic spot that we found to relax for a while between two separate hikes in the dry forest area. I could literally just stare at crashing waves for hours.

Have a Picnic along the CoastDon’t be intimidated by little local shops in villages along the way. Something that surprised me while visiting Puerto Rico is that food and drinks are far from cheap.

It’s basically American prices paid for with American money. At this little local shop, I picked up a sandwich for $5 and a bottle of rum for about $7, and juice mixer for a couple bucks…perfect for picnicking!

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Watch for Wildlife in Unexpected Places

Iguanas are commonly seen around the fort areas and are a favorite photography subject for tourists.

Keep and eye out for iguanas

But apparently, Puerto Ricans have viewed the infestation of iguanas as a nuisance species that chews native plants and burrows under roads. I still think they’re kind of cute, photogenic, and slightly terrifying.

Kayak to Monkey Island

This was one of the main reasons we chose Puerto Rico for our Thanksgiving destination, and unfortunately, it’s the one and only outdoorsy activity that didn’t work out. Rain, high winds, and treacherous water conditions prompted our guides to cancel the trip on us. But I’m including it here to encourage you to give it a try when you visit Puerto Rico.

*INSERT NON-EXISTENT AWESOME MONKEY KAYAKING PHOTO HERE*

Read some of the TripAdvisor reviews from lucky bastards who actually got to do this since I can’t provide a first-hand report. The monkeys here have been used for research, which is totally sad and wrong, but they seem to be here to stay so you may as well stop by to say hello. Depending on the weather conditions, there are also snorkeling opportunities on this tour, but I’m pretty sure monkeys aren’t into snorkeling with you.

To book your tour, visit the Barefoot Travelers Rooms site and contact Keishya Salko at [email protected] or 787-850-0508 to schedule. She’ll send you directions, a list of what to bring, and tips of other fun things to do like the Guavate Pig Roast.

And by staying active in all these ways, you can have all the mojitos your heart desires! Right? Right? At least that’s that I keep telling myself.

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To learn about some more awesome things to see and do in Puerto Rico, check out my post, Incredible Ways to Spend Your Vacation in Puerto Rico (List-Style Highlights Published on Trips to Discover!).

Incredible Ways To Spend Your Vacation in Puerto Rico (List-Style Highlights Published on Trips to Discover!)

I’ve been writing for Trips To Discover for a couple years now and just published some list-style highlights from my Puerto Rico trip. Here’s the link and intro!

http://www.tripstodiscover.com/incredible-ways-to-spend-your-vacation-in-puerto-rico/

Incredible Ways To Spend Your Vacation in Puerto Rico

By: Alyssa Ochs  
On 

Puerto Rico enjoys a very unique place in the world, since it’s a U.S. territory and a Caribbean island at the same time. On one hand, Puerto Ricans use U.S. money, no passport is needed for visitors from the mainland, and English is widely spoken. But on the other hand, the island has a laid-back vibe, beautiful beaches, and fascinating history that feels a world away.

For U.S.-based travelers, Puerto Rico is an accessible destination that offers wonderfully warm 80-degree year-around weather and affordable accommodations. Since the public transportation system here leaves a few things to be desired, the best way to get around is by renting a car to explore all parts of the island. It’s not too difficult to do that either, even if you only have a week to spend here, because it’s only about 100 miles long and 35 miles wide!

These are some of the most unbelievable places to visit in Puerto Rico, which are some of my own personal favorites.

People-Watch at La Plaza del Mercado in Santurce
More details to come about this awesome trip soon!

Adventure Cycling Guest Post! How to Pull Off a Bike Overnight on a Budget

Just a quick share to kick off the weekend…

The Missoula-based Adventure Cycling Association published my guest post today about my first overnight bike experience and some budget-friendly tips!

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http://www.adventurecycling.org/resources/blog/how-to-pull-off-a-bike-overnight-on-a-budget/

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Check it out and mad props to ACA for featuring my ride!

My Dream-Come-True Visit to Ann Atkin’s Gnome Reserve

This past June, one of my ultimate quirky travel dreams came true in the English countryside. In the midst of a three-week Eurotrip, we went well out of our way to visit the Gnome Reserve in North Devon.

Ann Atkin has been an idol of mine for many years. She holds the world record for having the most gnomes (at least 2,042) and she started the International Gnome Club, which I write newsletter articles for.

To get here from Bristol, the “roads” were more like treacherous and death-defying hedge mazes.

P1030002But a tiny sign with a friendly face finally appeared to reassure me and my wonderfully gnome-tolerant husband that we were on the right path.P1030013There’s no other way to describe this experience but euphoric. Believe it or not, this place is visited by around 25,000 people each year, and I couldn’t believe I was finally one of them.
P1030021But first order of business…a gnome hat! 
P1030328It is requested that all Gnome Reserve guests wear gnome hats while they tour the magical four-acre wonderland. You wouldn’t want to offend the gnomes with your bare, ugly head, now would you?

P1030039Ann’s collection has been featured on TV and in magazine tons of times and she’s pretty much the worldwide expert on the subject. I’m working my way up that ladder though, don’t you worry.
P1030083The reserve is a wonderful place for a casual stroll, and there’s something new and exciting to see around every corner. Lots of pointing and squealing took place, as you can imagine.
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Followed by some light fishing for stones in the gnomes’ dried-up pond.
P1030115Everyone you could want to be here was here. There were spacemen gnomes, pilot gnomes, and eating and drinking gnomes, as pictured here. Not particularly known for healthy habits, these lil’ guys were enjoying a feast of cake and wine. I can support that.
P1030145There were even a few rare racially diverse gnomes living on the property!P1030158Gnome races were taking place in another section of the reserve. I always place my bets on the one with the red hat.
P1030166And even a gnome chess tournament was taking place! Perhaps that chess board could use a little dusting off though, wouldn’t ya say?
P1030185Siegfried is the oldest gnome in the Gnome Reserve, and Ann sculpted him herself back in the late 70s!P1030196One of my all-time favorite gnome scenes here was the fishing scene. While I was only able to fish for stones earlier, these guys got real flowing water and some seriously serene scenery.
P1030220But the #1 highlight of my visit was getting to meet Ann. It was a weekday morning that we visited and not too crowded, so I was able to chat with her a while about gnomes and such.P1030227Ann is a skilled artist and sells her paintings (prices start at £5) and pixie figurines in the entrance building of the Gnome Reserve.
P1030233If all this gnoming makes you crave some refreshment, you can order sandwiches and cream teas from the Gnome Kitchen. There’s a little picnic area to hang out in for a while to savor the experience a little longer.
P1030324But there’s more! I know you’re wondering, “But HOW? How could there be any more to life than THIS?!”

Well there’s a wildflower garden here as well that Ann encouraged me to tour and view the labeled species of herbs, wildflowers, and grasses. There was even a quiz! Yep, I missed a few. This area is more nature-themed rather than gnome-themed, and full of fairies and pixies, but it was still a very lovely little activity.

P1030294Before heading back to the car and sadly leaving my new-found gnome friends behind, I browsed the gift shop for a few treasures to take back home with me. I bought four of Ann’s handmade pixies/gnomes and one of her gnome-themed paintings. And also a couple cups of locally-made ice cream to celebrate this awesome day.

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I’d been wanting to visit this gnome mecca since I first heard about it 5+ years ago and it totally lived up to the hype. I wish the nearly 80-year-old Ann all the best as she continues to take the gnome world by storm and be an inspiration for gnome lovers worldwide.

The Gnome Reserve is typically open between March 21 and October 31 between 10 am and 5 pm daily. Adult admission is £3.75, and it’s definitely worth it…even if you’re not an obsessed fanatic like me.

48 Hours in the World’s Most Romantic (eh?) City: Paris

By the time I reached Paris by train, I had already spent five days in Amsterdam, three days in Brussels, and visited the world’s greatest gnome-themed brewery in Belgium. That’s a solid trip right there, but my journey was only half complete.

I had just 48 hours to soak up Parisian culture and see for myself if the city lived up to the hype.

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PARIS: DAY 1

The Gare du Nord train station in Paris was super close to our hostel, which served fresh croissants, coffee, and juice each morning. Vintage Hostel is on rue de Dunkerque and was a pretty sweet place to stay, with 1 Euro Heinekens during happy hour, a foosball table, and good Wi-Fi. We had booked a four-person dorm and found ourselves shacking up with a guy from North Carolina and a girl from an undisclosed location in South America.

It was also just a short walk to Sacre Coeur.

P1020658This was a huge cathedral with a lonely carousel outside. Mysterious armed guards met our acquaintance as we walked up the stairs and beggars flocked toward us from all directions. It really was a beautiful church though….and those views! P1020667This was a great place to snap a panoramic shot of the city…which is clearly what every other tourist quickly discovered too. Next up: the Arc de Triomphe! P1020699And what a triumph it was! I was feeling a bit under the weather during my entire time in Paris, mostly due to a weird bubbled lodged in my right eye. (It’s not contagious, I swear!) So the walk to reach this classic landmark was a bit of a doozy.

A doozy yes, but also an insightful glimpse into the real streets of Paris. These were streets filled with trash, traffic, tow trucks, and sporadic yelling. It all kind of reminded me of a European version of New York City…but with more motorcycles and scooters.

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Marching on, we looked tirelessly for that elusive hunk of scaffolding that everybody’s always talking about.
P1020761Well I finally found it (I’m totally pulling your leg…it’s completely obvious) and those were my first words, “That’s it? It looks like a bunch of scaffolding!” To me, it seemed like an unfinished piece of construction, but it sure is big.

The park around the Eiffel Tower was really nice though. We stopped by a local Soup & Juice to pick up lunch to-go and plopped down on a nearby bench. It was a weekday, so the crowds were totally manageable. The lines to go to the top of the Eiffel Tower were not manageable in my opinion, and I’ve seen enough vistas from high places lately, so we skipped that whole thing.

An interesting part of the visit was that a large screen was placed on the lawn and played a tennis match. Tennis fans rooting for Robert Federrer and the other guy perched themselves on the lawn to watch. The temperatures were finally warming up and the sun was shining. What a wonderful way to spend an afternoon!

But the minutes of our 48 hours in Paris were ticking away, so onward we plodded into the city…

Everyone knows that Paris is full of a ridiculous number of museums. Some people handle museum days better than others…

P1020788Like these tourists who I busted passing out mid-day outside one of the military museums, I was starting to get museum-ed out myself. This fact coupled with the time constraints were enough reason to simply view the museum’s architecture and sculptures from the outside rather than actually going inside.

P1020801The stroll took us past Ecole Militaire, Musee de L’Armee, Musee de Orsay, the Louve, and the Seine.P1020814All this urban hiking was making me thirsty, so we decided to stop at a fancy French cafe for an afternoon treat.
P1020822Our waiter was only moderately snooty, and after some time passed, he brought us a bottle of their cheapest white wine on the menu (30 Euros and decent) and a lemon/strawberry dessert (14 Euros and tiny).

With a little French sustenance in our systems, we continued on to explore yet another stereotypical French tradition…shopping!
P1020851This was the huge indoor luxury shopping complex known as Galleries Lafayette. In our not-so-luxurious outfits, we browsed all sorts of counters Tiffany, Coach, etc. and didn’t buy a damn thing. Le sigh.

That evening was pretty low key…I cranked out an article for work and we used a couple free drink coupons at On the Road Pub that our hostel handed out. Then we took a stroll around the neighborhood in search of by-the-slice pizza and failed miserably. I guess it’s not a French thing.

PARIS: DAY 2

My eye condition had worsened by the morning, but I was still convinced to see the sights of Paris. Passing through the Indian part of town, we walked to the Marais neighborhood, which is raved about in the all the guidebooks.

Instead of just walking by and snapping pictures of museums, we actually went into one on Day #2…the Picasso museum. I’ve always enjoyed a good abstract/cubist creation.

P1020879Even if you arrive a Paris’ museums before they open, it seems there is always a line anyway. The line only took about 30 minutes to get through, which wasn’t too bad. There were four floors to check out here and it was pretty interesting to see all of his non-cubist works and sculpture work in addition to the well-known paintings.

We had packed a picnic lunch to take to Vosges, another famous Parisian park, and snagged some gelato at a little shop on the way out. We also took a walk to Bastille, another big monument here, but no one takes photos excessively of it like they do the Arc de Triomphe.
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After a quick nap back at the hostel (when in Paris…), I got all dolled up for a fancy night out on the town. 
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Dinner was at Petit Canard, which translates to The Duckling. It was my first pleasant dining experience in France, as the staff was nice, the service was good, and the restaurant was cute but not crowded.

It seemed that no trip to Paris, no matter how short, would be complete without seeing a show. So we booked tickets for a cabaret show at La Nouvelle Eve.
P1020936Photography wasn’t allowed during the show, but let me assure you, the evening was filled with plenty of singing, dancing, costumes, champagne, and perky breasts. It was all a bit cheesy and touristy, but definitely a fun time.
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Okay, I guess my math is bad because we actually had a couple more than 48 hours in Paris. On the morning of third day, we woke up early and walked to Père Lachaise Cemetery, to see row-after-row of elaborate gravestones and mausoleums.

P1020967The big tourist draw here is the site where Jim Morrison was buried, and there are fences surrounding it so you don’t bother him too much.

Morrison’s great and all, but this was one of my favorite gravestone. Well done George…you’ve epitomized every horror movie fan’s nightmare-come true.P1020968

But before catching our flight to the UK, we had one last stop to make in Paris. After one last stroll along the Seine (because that’s what you’re supposed to do in Paris, right?), we finally found the elusive Ile Saint Louis, which is an “island” with an ice cream shop made famous by Anthony Bourdain. 
P1020974I must admit, Berthillon did serve up some pretty delicious ice cream…my ultimate food weakness.

Paris is one of those overrated places that you visit and expect to be wowed in an instant. But what I remember most is how burnt out I felt on city life. In the short amount of time I spent here I felt beyond irritated with the crowds, the lines the noise, the smells, and just people in general.

I grew up in a town of 2,000 people and dreamed of big city life. But by now, I’ve been there, done that, and moved on. I certainly don’t want to move back to that tiny town, but I’ve come to really appreciate solitude, the sight of trees outside my window, and the sounds of birds chirping in the morning. Sometimes the best part about traveling is coming to new realizations about yourself.

I wouldn’t say that Paris is at the top of my “must visit again” list, but I wouldn’t mind seeing less-touristy/more-quirky areas of the city someday. Although Paris was technically part of my honeymoon, I didn’t see the romantic appeal that’s touted in all those movies and storybooks. But then again, I’m not all that romantic of a gal, so what I do know?

As with most cities, I’m sure that there’s a neighborhood or two that I would have fallen in love with. But those will have to wait a little while because there are plenty of other places to discover for the first time.

Next stop: the English countryside! Au revoir!