Boston 2021

It felt great to travel again, even if it’s just in the US.

We chose to go to Boston because we wanted to go somewhere we didn’t need a car and had a lot to see. Turns out, Boston was perfect. The food was amazing – our place was right next to the North End so walking into the North End for amazing food and desserts was no hassle. We walked about 50 miles in our six days in Boston and more than offset that calorie burn with huge meals like pizza at Ernesto’s and fantastic desserts at places like Bova’s.

We had a great time in Boston. There was plenty to do and it was super neat to be in Boston on July 4th – the town came alive with all sorts of independence day celebrations. We had a wonderful Chinatown tour and stopped at quite a few of the major sites in town. We walked the entire greenway and stopped at many of the installations along the way.

There were some surprises. On the positive: pretty much everything we ate was incredible, playing on the beach during sunset on Cape Cod is something I’ll never forget, Boston seems to be filled with late risers so walking around in the early morning was super quiet and fun, and there were so many family activities we could do that were free or super cheap – like walking tours and playing in all the fountains along the greenway, and the history / architecture was wonderful; our central location made everything accessible within a 15 min walk. On the negative: Provincetown in Cape Cod was a let down and the weather went from cold to blistering hot to tropical storm. In the interest of making lemonade, we ran around to a couple museums like the old south meeting house and the old state house during the tropical storm and we were the only people there!

The biggest surprise was Tropical Storm Elsa. Elsa hit right as we were about to fly out and we actually flew out of the storm – one of the photos is the edge of the storm as we flew out.

All in all, Boston was 100% awesome. 5/5 would do again. It was cathartic to get out and resume normal activities after being locked in for the last year.

Enjoy the photos!

Chris W.

Vegas 2021

We went to Vegas in March but I forgot to write about it. It was great but there were still a lot of pandemic restrictions so it sorta felt normal.

The hiking was phenomenal. We had a fabulous time hiking in quiet solitude since no one goes to Vegas for hiking. There was just us and Search and Rescue at one trailhead in the Valley of Fire State Park; they were busy doing search and rescue stuff so we didn’t see them. The weather wasn’t great, it snowed a bit, but it did create beauty – we drove back from the Valley of Fire State Park by Lake Mead and watched the sun break through the clouds / snow and create a spectacular scene. 

The food was great too – Vegas is two hours behind us so getting breakfast or donuts at 5AM in Vegas is no big deal. We did something new, we went on a self directed food tour, and it was a lot of fun. It was in old Vegas and it was super neat to go to three different restaurants with wildly different food.

About a month after we visited Vegas it became crazy – everyone is done with COVID. We heard the mayor say, “for all intents and purposes, Vegas is sold out of hotel room and rental cars for the indefinite future”. That’s wild!

Enjoy the photos!

Chris W.

Five Years Home.

Six years ago we packed up all our belongings into a Toyota Corolla and drove from Upstate New York to Minnesota through Canada officially starting our world trip. I can still remember two distinct feelings: the first feeling of being free – it was the first time in my life where I didn’t have a boss, a teacher, or someone else deciding my time, and the second, feeling like I was staring into the abyss and the abyss was staring back at me. At that point in time, I had worked at different jobs while going to school since I was 14; I never had a gap year, studied abroad, took a summer off, or had any other common youth event / engagement that gave me a large break from work or international travel exposure. We had no certainty we would find jobs on our return, lots of people did not recommend we go on the trip, and we didn’t really know what was going to happen. It certainly felt like the Rubicon was crossed.

Five years ago I remember landing at Dulles airport in Washington DC and re-entering America. I was kind of nervous since we’d been gone for 13 months and had passports full of stamps and thought that maybe someone would be at least a little curious. It was the most anti-climatic entrance ever. In fact, I’m not entirely sure we entered the US correctly since I’m pretty sure we missed some important steps and no-one collected the customs form we were given on the airplane. All of a sudden we were in the US and that was that! In no time we were able to find jobs and get back to the daily grind.

Little did we know what our world would look like five years after our return home: we’ve had quite the amazing journey. We’ve been successful in our careers, we’ve added to our family, we’ve laid down some roots, and we’ve even had a bit of traveling! Who knew some of the habits we developed when traveling, like what we eat and how we spend our time, would carry over to our daily lives in the US?  We’ve been fortunate. We’ve had great luck in our personal lives and our professional lives since we’ve been back, pandemic included. Knock on wood the trend continues!

We spent a bit of time thinking about the last five years and our perspective on life. Turns out, not much changed in our thinking, feeling, or planning compared to two years ago: https://word.christopherwagner.org/?p=8250 and our thoughts on the places we visited https://word.christopherwagner.org/?p=5912: Shortly after we landed we started thinking about when we’d be able to take a break and travel again; I did some basic math and I figured it would be around seven years. Turns out my math was mostly correct but I hadn’t penciled in a pandemic and travel ban for Americans.

We’ve explored some new and oldies-but-goodies areas of the US and thoroughly enjoyed the sites, the smells, and the sounds. The US is a very special place and we are happy we were able to learn more about the US by leaving and traveling abroad. There seems to be a general dark cloud over the US, especially now with the election, but America is still the best place for someone like ourselves and will probably continue to be a great place for a very long time.

We were able to sneak in a trip to Spain two winters ago and we were looking forward to more international travel starting this year. It seems the world is on hold until a vaccine is released, everyone gets COVID, or people just get sick and tired of staying home. Our hearts ache for all those we met during our travels who’s livelihoods depend on tourism. We met incredible and industrious people who helped us along our way and gave us an incredibly enriching experience. The pandemic is taking a terrible toll all over and it’s not just due to illness. Permanent structural changes seem to be underway and it’s looking the world will be quite changed the next time we want to travel.

Never in a million years had I guessed the five year update of returning home would be a story about how everything is great for us but awful for many others. Hopefully, life resumes quickly.

I put some photos below of some of our favorite events / sites / whatever from the last two years. Enjoy the photos!

Colorado 2020

Hiking in Colorado was amazing. Just a spectacular hike with great company. The weather was perfect, the scenery was amazing, and we went at a time where the mountain flowers were out; 100% perfection.

Since I go hiking in Colorado nearly every year I could tell there were some differences due to the Rona life.

The noticeable difference started at the airport when I flew out on a Friday:

  • Fridays and Mondays the TSA pre-check line is usually quite long with business travelers. Not this time, I was the only person in the TSA pre-check line.
  • Everyone’s wearing masks and the airport is nearly empty.
  • Fellow passengers in the airport are overwhelmingly young people and families. The average age of travelers appeared to be a few years younger than my age.
  • Iceland Air’s plane was missing. Every Friday around 7PM there is a direct MSP to Iceland flight; the plane arrives to MSP the night before and is always at the same gate waiting for Friday evening. It was the same flight we took to kick off our world travels so every time I’ve been in the airport on a Friday I always get a happy reminder of our wonderful travels. The plane was missing. Probably because international travel is nearly non-existent.
  • Loading of the plane was done in smaller groups and went a hell of a lot faster than normal for some reason.
  • Middle aisle free seating on Southwest was really strange. Normally, people don’t want to sit in the middle aisle anyway but this was really, really strange since the plane was full.

A lack of business travelers was very strange. It’s only happened a few times in the past and it was always at touristy but not businessy locations, like Hawaii. The whole experience in the airport just felt surreal.

Hiking was different too. As I mentioned, the weather was absolutely perfect, the scenery was stunning, and I had, as usual, a great hiking companion. However, due to the Rona, Rocky Mountain National Park was limiting the number of visitors and slotting visitors into specific times between the hours of 6AM and 8PM. Since we weren’t able to get a slot we opted to show up before 6AM. Not a huge deal since we usually try to get to the trail head around 5:30AM to watch the sunrise on the trail.

We went to the same trailhead we’ve been to four-ish times in the past, usually no one is around or just a handful of people are around. This time there was a huge conga-line of vehicles driving into the park before 6AM and the trailhead parking lot was 2/3rds or more full with tons of people around. It was wild. People want to hike regardless of a pandemic and I guess they’ll show up at the ass-crack of dawn to go hiking.

Once we were on the trail it wasn’t different. Stunning beauty, serenity, blissful nature. Normally on the return part of the trip we start running into seas of people. Since the time slots exist we didn’t see many people at all on the return and the parking lot was full by roughly the same amount – another rather strange situation since the parking lots are usually jam packed and there are people swarming all over the trailheads.

Otherwise, everything in Colorado was great. We also went down to the Royal Gorge and enjoyed some beautiful mountain scenery along the way.

100% recommend. Would do again. A+.

Enjoy the photos!

Chris W.

The Rona Life

It’s been an interesting four months since COVID-19 ended the daily routine for most of America. We’ve been fine; we’ve had nothing but good luck, and we’re fortunate our time has gone so well.

Normally, we sneak in another trip or two during the spring and summer but this year has been spent at home for extremely obvious reasons. That said, it’s been pretty great for us because we’re still employed and we’re healthy. Given the situation of tens of millions of Americans, I’d say we have nothing to complain about.

The lockdowns started when the weather was still a bit shit and now we have our plants bearing fruit. I remember the governor mentioning how great Minnesotans were at social distancing when the shelter in place order started. I laughed because the weather was still crap and of course people weren’t going to be out and about. Once weather improved it shouldn’t have been the surprise it was that people got together and were a lot closer. Maybe it takes a non-Minnesota native like me to see the situation for what it is!

We’ve had quite a bit of time to take stock of what we have and make the most of our surroundings. We’ve done our best to enjoy everything to the max.

But life has been strange; it was super strange to see: 

  • almost no one on the road for rush hour,
  • stores out of diapers, toilet paper, paper towels, and medicine,
  • stores running out of food,
  • lots of people going for walks in the neighborhood,
  • lines to get into stores and shops,
  • our jobs transition to work-from-home.

Traffic is picking up, stores are getting the shelves full, and life is sort of returning to normal for us. Restaurants and bars are open and even the Mall of America and the skyways downtown are open. It’s sad to walk around the Mall of America and the skyways simply because no one is around, many stores have closed permanently, and even more haven’t yet opened. I’m hoping life continues to become normal and the mask wearing by most becomes the mask wearing by all.

I decided to add some photos of the last five months. All the photos pretty much come from a three mile radius from our home. Make sense, the world just became a lot smaller with the pandemic.

Enjoy the photos!

Chris

Las Vegas and San Diego 2020

Well, I’m a bit late writing this. Like six months late. Better late than never, right?

This last winter we decided to leave the frozen tundra and spend some time with friends in Las Vegas and family in San Diego. Back in 2019 we did the same, except we went to Spain, and we missed the worst of winter. It was fabulous and we were trying to repeat our luck this year.

We weren’t so lucky missing the worst of winter BUT we still had a great time. This is easily a trip I could see us making every year. We were able to see a few amazing national parks during the flight and it really was a treat.

First we went to Vegas and the weather was perfect – no higher than the 80s and absolutely wonderful in the morning and evenings. We had a chance to hit up some new restaurants and eat some amazing donuts. Las Vegas has a LOT to offer on the food front. We went hiking in some of the local parks and it was awesome – no one was around in the early mornings and we truly had the parks to ourselves. I get the feeling people come to Vegas for activities other than eating and hiking so we really enjoyed watching the alpenglow at sunrise and sunset completely alone.

Most amazing part of wandering around was when we stumbled across Mt. Charleston, the local ski resort. First, we had no idea it snowed enough to create a ski resort, and second but most important, people were having picnics in the snow. Now, when I saw they were having picnics in the snow I’m not saying all the people were wearing snow gear and sitting near snow. No, these individuals literally were in street clothes and shoes and were sitting in the snow or hanging out in snow piles enjoying picnics. It’s not like one or two people were doing it either, there were hundreds. There must be some novelty to snow.

After a brief few days in Vegas we left to visit family in San Diego. The second half of the trip was equally amazing. Just like before we enjoyed great company and wonderful food. We wandered around San Diego at sunset and sunrise, much like Vegas, and really enjoyed seeing the world come awake and go to bed. Sunsets at Ocean Beach are flat out amazing and seeing the sunrise over downtown San Diego was wonderful too.

We walked quite a bit more and went to different parts of San Diego, like Pacific Beach, just to explore. Of course, we still went to Bronx Pizza, quite a few times, simply because it’s the best NYC style pizza outside of NYC.

Overall, we had a wonderful time and were very fortunate to have had great weather, great travels, and most importantly, great company.

Enjoy the photos!

Chris W.

 

 

 

General 2019

So I’ve been really bad at updating this website this year. Life has been busy. That said, I figured I should add a few photos of our adventures over the last six months. I have changed jobs and my new work has brought me to rural Ohio and Phoenix. I was treated with the most amazing sunrise over the Rockies on my way to Phoenix and an illuminating life experience when visiting the Amish in Ohio.

We celebrated four years home this year. It’s weird to think that we’ve been back in the US for four years since it feels like yesterday we were coming back from our travels. Now, the memories we have are no longer current and the world has changed quite a bit. We talk quite a bit about World Trip #2. Maybe it’ll happen sooner than later 🙂

Enjoy the photos!

North Shore 2019

We visited the North Short this fall and it was a bit different than usual. First, it was kind of an odd fall in Minnesota so we didn’t really catch the fall colors. Second, we actually stayed in Canal Park of Duluth, MN, pretty far away from the nice, rural, North Shore that we’re used to. That said, it was still super enjoyable.

We visited Gooseberry Falls and hiked around the park, a first for us, and we finally hike Oberg Mountain! Oberg Mountain is a higher point in the Sawtooths and has a wonderful view of Lake Superior and the mountains to the west. We’ve attempted to hike Oberg Mountain in the past but it the parking area was constantly full. This year we showed up super early and had an absolutely beautiful hike. The hike itself was rather easy even though I was carrying about 30lbs of stuff and the trail had quite a few lookouts of the surrounding area. The hike was well worth the wait and I look forward to doing it again!

Otherwise, we visited our typical parks and lookouts and enjoyed the scenery of the North Shore.

We had a some pretty good food. We found the best BBQ restaurant we’ve ever visited in Minnesota not too far from our hotel and we finally had a chance to eat some donuts at the World Best Donuts in Grand Marais. For whatever reason we have had poor timing and never have had the opportunity to try their donuts – either they were closed for the season or we arrived too late. It’s not like we didn’t try, we’ve visited the North Shore consistently for the last 10 years or so. The donuts were certainly delicious and I can see why they have their reputation!

Enjoy the photos 🙂

Badlands NP 2019

I had never been to Badlands National Park as an adult. I’ve driven past the park many, many, many times so I decided to make a pit stop. There weren’t many people around since it was still winter so it was a great time to enjoy the park in peaceful quietness.

It was mostly cloudy during the drive to the park but the clouds opened up for a brief moment during my visit allowing me to get some decent photos of a beautiful scenery.

It’s not often a person gets to visit a park in peace. My time in the park reminded me a lot of when Jac and I had Zion NP completely to ourselves on our bicycles.

Enjoy the photos :).

 

Spain 2019

We decided to go visit Spain in February to avoid some of the dreary Minnesota winter. We were incredibly lucky – we missed -30F weather with 30MPH winds!

I think I could make a habit avoiding winter in Minnesota.

Terrible Minnesota weather aside, Andalusia in Spain was pretty incredible. The sights were pretty fantastic, the food was amazing, everything was super laid back, we chatted with some incredible people, and we had a couple of wonderful cooking classes! We had a brief stop in Gibraltar, a British colony, and it turned out to be a super strange experience. All-in-all, we had a fantastic visit and we were happy with our visit.

It was neat to tour around Spain and see an area where Muslim Moors conquered and set up shop for 700 years. The architecture and artwork of this period is similar to what we saw in India, Singapore, the Middle East, and the Balkan areas conquered by the Ottomans. It was strange to think the Iberian Peninsula is so far away from India yet shared a similar architectural language because of a shared religion! Besides Muslim architecture, we saw some oppulent churches and cathedrals. Spain hit it’s stride right after it drove all the Muslims out (1492) and soon found itself as a major world power and owner / ruler of the new world. All the gold taken from the Aztecs, Incas, and other indigenous peoples ended up lining the walls of huge churches and cathedrals in Spain. Of our all travels, the cathedrals were unlike anything we’ve seen. The blend between Christian and Muslim architecture was a bit schizophrenic – a lot of the buildings looked like the car Homer Simpson designed with all sorts of different styles and features just mashed together.

We probably ate our weight in tapas. It seemed like everywhere we visited we found extremely delicious food. I’m not huge in eating meat and it was surprisingly easy to find delicious vegetarian / vegan food wherever we went. We learned some new favorites, like paella and pisto, while engorging ourselves in olives and bread. If nothing else, Spain is 100% delicious.

No one really seemed to be in a hurry in Spain. In fact, we had to modify our typical eating times slightly to accommodate the issue of a lot of restaurants closing between 2PM and 7PM. We are not really night people so it was a bit strange to eat a large meal early and then try to find a snack in the evenings. In many ways, it was helpful the culture was so laid back. We were able to get around easily and see a lot of sites without being surrounded by people since folks were busy eating at times slightly different than what we were used to!

We had great conversations with folks but there is one experience which stands out – our English paella cooking instructor located in rural Spain. We had an incredible cooking class with her, paella is amazing, but most of all we had a great conversation about traveling, immigrating, Spanish culture, the Brexit, and all sorts of other topics. It was an incredible experience because she and her family went a step further than Jac and I when we were traveling: instead of returning to their home country they decided to lay down roots somewhere a bit more laid back. Anglosphere culture is pretty similar so it was extremely educational to get her perspective on Spain. She informed us of a side of Spain we couldn’t possibly know unless we lived in Spain.

Gibraltar was an extremely strange place. We’ve been to a handful of places that used to be British colonies where driving on the left is the rule and the areas still have a lot of ‘Britishness’. For whatever reason, Gibraltar is right-side driving yet feels very British. This is different than Hong Kong where there is left-side driving there is a giant ‘unweave’ interchange between Shenzhen and Hong Kong to accommodate right-side driving on the mainland. Gibraltar is super tiny and has their own currency to boot so it was weird to pay cash for things and get Gibraltar pounds back. I guess regular UK pounds are valid currency in Gibraltar on a 1:1 basis but Gibraltar pounds are not really valid anywhere outside Gibraltar.

The cities were pretty neat and the Seville Cathedral Roof tour is one of the amazing things we’ve done but I think our favorite area of Spain we visited was the rural areas with the tiny white villages. We had a fantastic night in Zahara de la Sierra and enjoyed visiting the tiny white villages strewn across the countryside. The small towns were a welcome reprieve from the hustle and bustle of the city centers of Madrid, Seville, Granada, etc. The mountains were absolutely stellar and the countryside just smelled good! The streets were super narrow in the small villages. I ran into a building in Arcos de la Fronteria while trying to back out of a bad situation – the directions I received from a local would have required me to drive down some stairs so I decided maybe that I shouldn’t do that in a rental and ended up driving into a building. We had a new, black, VW Polo with 500KM and ran into a white building. Not great.

Aside from driving into buildings it was very easy to drive around Spain. Drivers were very courteous and pretty much everyone was driving below the speed limit. We were surprised with the narrow ‘highways’ in the mountains. It was incredible to see buses traversing the mountains knowing the road was barely wide enough for two small vehicles let alone a huge coach bus.

Spain was surprisingly cheap. Meals weren’t that expensive and lodging was a bit on the pricier side only because we picked some great views / great locations for lodging. Our rental car was super cheap and it was, in general, just crazy to see how far our dollars went. We were a bit surprised to learn Spain is kinda poor by American standards, especially the rural areas. Average wages are quite low to match the cost of living. There’s a lot of agriculture work and tourism seems to be the big industry in Andalusia so I guess it’s pretty logical wages are lower.

We were lucky to visit Spain when we did. It was neat to see ripe olives on the trees, see almond trees blooming, and enjoy local festivals like Christians & Moors in Madrid. Traveling in shoulder season is truly the best – all sorts of festivals and the earth is active with changes for the upcoming seasons. We also caught a Flamenco show in Seville and were completely floored with what we saw – the music, dancing, and singing was incredible.

We’d happily go back to Spain to eat tapas and hang out in the many white villages in the mountains :).

Enjoy the photos!

Chris W.