Tag Archives: Mountains

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 Now, the memories we have are no longer current and the world has changed quite a bit.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 🙂

Southern Bulgaria 2015

We were so lucky during the second half our trip through Bulgaria. We didn’t really know what we were getting ourselves into and didn’t know what to expect. We were in the mountains in southern Bulgaria and were able to visit some really cool caves, meet some awesome people, stay in some neat places, and go on some great hikes in gorgeous scenery.

We had no idea Bulgaria was so beautiful. We were here at the right time to see all the mountain flowers in bloom and we had good weather throughout. Tourism isn’t quite in swing yet so we had a chance to talk to our hosts and learn about their lives in Bulgaria. Much like everywhere else they were concerned about the same big three.

Bulgaria is made for outdoors activities. They have different mountain types throughout the country, from rolling mountains like the Appalachians to rugged mountains like the Pacific NW. The tallest mountain is around 9,000ft so pretty much everywhere is traversable by foot and the trailheads are easily accessed by car. Great views can be had pretty quickly, we would only hike for 30min to 1hr before trails would open up and give great views making the reward:effort ratio off the chart. Even the most popular trails are not crowded because of the time of year so we had a lot of time by hiking by ourselves enjoying nature in peace.

There are chalets, huts, and lodges people can stay at while hiking through the mountains. They range from basic (walls & door) to electricity, cafeteria, heat, hot water, internet, etc. We only stayed in one chalet and it was a great time. If/when we come back, I would definitely spend more time hiking and spend more nights in the mountains.

The hosts we had in the mountain areas were really cool. In one guesthouse we were pretty much the only guests. The guesthouse was in the middle of nowhere and had no internet so we were hanging out in the dining area killing time before dinner. We were sitting chatting with our host while the TV played traditional Bulgarian music. Soon Jacquelyn found herself learning traditional Bulgarian dance from the host! One of the nights we stayed near Rila Lakes I went out to photograph the night sky around 11PM. The chalet man, an awesome guy named Martin, came out to see what I was doing. We ended up chatting until 2AM while drinking his homemade rakia, a brandy like drink. That was the night I learned I cannot drink like a Bulgarian.

I would have loved to stay in Bulgaria longer, go on more hikes, and explore more of the mountains.  Bulgaria has all the attributes we like and is definitely near the top of our favorite countries we’ve visited. Who would have thought? :).

Enjoy the photos!

Chris W.

 

Transylvania Part One 2015

Our time in Transylvania has been amazing. Even though we’ve been here for two weeks it seems like we just scratched the surface. This area has made a very lasting impression on us and the combination of what we found in Transylvania doesn’t really exist anywhere else in the world. The beautiful scenery, outdoor activities, awesome people, good food, chill demeanor, historical sights, ease of access to the things we want to do, and great values make Transylvania the most under-rated place we’ve ever visited. There is a lot I want to share so I’m going to break this up into two posts. #1 The easy stuff: scenery, tourism industry, and driving in Transylvania. #2 The amazing experiences we’ve had with the people of Transylvania and the delicious food they make. I’m still working on #2 so that’ll come sometime later.

First things first: it wasn’t easy figuring out what to see in Transylvania. Normally, if someone wants to tour a European country the first thing they should do is find Rick Steve’s materials on the country. We were surprised to find Rick Steve’s doesn’t have a guide for Romania and even recommended people skip Romania. The next thing we turned to was TripAdvisor only to find there wasn’t a lot listed. The places that were listed didn’t have a whole lot of reviews and the descriptions of the places were pretty poor. Sites like the Lonely Planet and Wikitravel didn’t help much either. We’ve never encountered a dearth of information like this so we made our own itinerary and figured we’d see at least one cool thing during our two week drive through Transylvania. We ended up being completely surprised by how many things there were to do, how much fun the sites were and, best of all, we pretty much had the tourist places to ourselves because there isn’t a huge tourism scene. We knew Romania had mountains but we had no idea it had so many mountains and with the largest continuous forest in Central Europe. Transylvania has some very stunning scenery. It was really easy to find outdoor activities to do and it didn’t take a whole lot of work to see jaw-dropping beauty. I put some photos up and they really speak for themselves – Romania is very beautiful.

Romania has a rich history of being conquered, subjugated, and passed around by outside forces going back thousands of years. Romania, as we know it today, didn’t exist until after World War One. Because of this, there are a lot of fortifications all over the place dating back to Roman times and even some villages have churches with very large fortifications. A lot of the sites we visited were at some stage of refurbishment, it seemed like everything was under construction. We learned that a lot of EU money and tourist money is being used to make the tourist sites better, which is good, because a lot of historical sites are pretty dumpy and only some are in great condition. There was a huge positive benefit of the dumpiness: we could pretty much wander around anywhere, open doors, peek in everything, and thoroughly explore everywhere, and there were very few “fun police” running around ruining our time. This is pretty different than most tourist sites we’ve visited around the world. We also spent a lot of time trespassing because sites would be closed when they were supposed to be open or we were just interested in visiting. Unlike other places in the world, no one ran us off and no one seemed to get mad! People were generally happy to see us when we were trespassing. After setting off an alarm in one building, we were welcomed with open arms and later given dinner – but that’s a story for part two .

Since we didn’t find a lot of information about what to visit, we’d always ask people for recommendations on what to see during our visit. Almost always people would bring up a salt mine near Turda. We had read about it and planned on visiting it, but it was surprising so many people thought a salt mine was cool. It had its own aura with the locals, the salt mine would come up in conversation and people would pause and say something like, “Oh yes, it’s a very good place. You must go.” So the day arrives and we visit; I never thought a salt mine would be cool but it was awesome! The salt mine had been turned into a mini amusement park complete with a Ferris wheel, mini-golf, pool tables, bowling, row boats, and tons of areas to sit around and chill. Salt crystals were growing everywhere on everything, even the air was salty. Every so often I’d lick my lips and taste salt! It was a really cool visit!

The cost is right for tourism. Most tourist attractions were generally$2-$3 per person to visit, some were free, and the very few ‘expensive’ places, like Bran Castle, were only $7-$10. It was amazing we could go to so many places and see such cool stuff for so little money. In more expensive countries we generally have to choose what we want to do and make some type of judgement call on what we want to see. Not in Romania, we could visit everything! Food, lodging, rental cars, etc., were all pretty reasonable too. We could go out and have a very good three course meal with drinks and desert for $15-$20. That’s a very good deal!

The biggest downside for a tourist had to be getting around. Driving in Romania is insane. The bigger cities are filled with seemingly suicidal drivers and the countryside is filled with dirt roads in bad condition. In the first five minutes with our rental car, I discovered our horn was disconnected. After the first day of driving I told Jacquelyn that we should be prepared to pay for damages for our rental car because there’s no way the car was coming back unscathed. The crap mountain roads, extremely narrow streets, and everyone trying to drive over us was terrifying! That said, I’m thankful for two things which came in very helpful in Transylvania: 1) spending endless hours driving on the gravel back roads of the Black Hills during high school really taught me how to make decent time on crap roads, 2) driving in Albany, NY and Chicago for a year taught me how to deal with super bad and super crazy drivers. We ended up being completely fine and even returned the rental car in one rather muddy piece. These two experiences helped make sure we stayed on the road, didn’t hit anything, and nothing hit us!

So the scenery, the tourist sites, and the trip through Romania was awesome. Even if we hadn’t spoken to a single person in the country, Romania would still be near the top of our list of favorite countries we’ve visited. The unique and extremely awesome part of our trip occurred from all the interactions we’ve had with others and I’ll write about that later!

Enjoy the photos!

Chris W.

Kanazawa & Tokyo Part II 2015

So this is it for Japan. We visited Kanazawa’s famous garden for a couple of days and headed back to Tokyo to make our flight to Dubai. We thoroughly enjoyed all 20 days in Japan and very much enjoyed seeing cherry blossoms every single day we were in the country. We had no idea Japan would become our favorite country and we are truly lucky to have had all the different experiences.

Kanazawa was a beautiful place. We were fortunate to catch the cherry trees at peak bloom. The three days were spent enjoying the gardens and the sights along with discovering umeshu, a delicious fruit wine. Even though umeshu is very good, we are happy we discovered umeshu at the end of our time in Japan. Much like everywhere else, we found many locals who were quick to help us find our way or ask us how our time in Japan was going.

We had two really cool things happen on our last day in Tokyo. First, we finally found a sushi-conveyor place and were floored with the sushi’s deliciousness. I’m not sure why I thought it might not be the best sushi I’ve ever had as every single meal in Japan, no matter where purchased, has been amazing. We’ve had food from every type of restaurant: higher end restaurants that serve organic & cage free meats, convenience store food, fast food, typical restaurants, and quick-serve like restaurants where we had to order from a machine. All, yes ALL, where awesome and the sushi place was no exception. Second: while killing time before our flight we found we could learn origami in the Tokyo Tourist Office. We simply followed the steps in the instruction book and started making cranes. After awhile, three Australian children came over and we all did origami together. They spent nearly 45min with us and their parents thanked us for helping their kids learn origami. However, I think their youngest daughter’s reply to her mother said it best, “They didn’t teach us, it’s in the book. We just followed the book”. She wasn’t wrong smile emoticon. By the time we were done we had spent about three hours making origami and had a small crane army.

We’re going to miss Japan. The conscientiousness, the courtesy, the cleanliness, the quiet, the beauty, the food, the infrastructure, and how everything works as advertised will be greatly missed. A lot of nations have some of those items almost none have all.

Enjoy the photos!

Chris W.

New Zealand 2015

New Zealand was OK. We ended up spending two weeks on the rainy southern island and a week on the north island where were introduced to Cyclone Pam. I guess what I’m trying to say is that the weather wasn’t great during the three weeks we were there and the good luck we’ve had with weather for the last six months ran out. We had planned on spending a great deal of time outdoors and hiking but were typically relegated to the indoors due to crap weather. The parts of New Zealand we did see were fairly pretty and we did manage to find some neat things to do.

New Zealand is an odd place: incomes aren’t all that high yet things are extremely expensive or exceptionally poor values, nothing is really that close together (we put 2,000mi on our rental) yet driving is pretty much the best way to get around, kiwi’s speak English yet they have really funny accents, everyone we met is OK with living in a very geologically active country where they could easily be wiped off the face of the earth, and there are tourists everywhere – about 3million people visit New Zealand, a country with a population of 4.4million. Tourist fatigue was very pervasive.

I think the word indifferent best describes our interactions with most New Zealanders. We haven’t run into this too often on our travels but it was surprising. If I were to guess it’s simply because of the sheer number of tourists that inundate their little islands – tourists are everywhere at all times. We had a pretty hilarious interaction with a New Zealand couple we met through Airbnb: they stated that they “really liked America and Americans” and when I asked why I found out it’s because “Americans are stuffy and so full of themselves”. I wasn’t sure how to take that.

Things, in general, were a pretty poor value. We can handle expensive, that’s not a problem. Poor value is different. Fuel was about $6/gal, food was insanely expensive and lodging, in most places, was the most we’ve ever paid. It was mind blowing to me that we stayed in a place that was $135/night and they didn’t provide WiFi or even change our sheets! We had arranged other tours and activities, like flightseeing, but ended up cancelling them because we were so underwhelmed with what we saw and experienced in New Zealand; we were done giving the country money.

There were three great experiences that really stood out. First was when we were in a lake and the bottom of the lake was heated by the thermal activity in the area. We sunk our feet into the sand and had a free spa day. I felt fabulous. Second was when we met an super cool family through Airbnb. They happily showed us around, brought us to their favorite fish and chips place and gave us some great advice on where to visit. The last awesome experience occurred on our last night in New Zealand when we met Jacquelyn’s relatives who moved to New Zealand from the US back in the early 80s; we had an awesome chat and learned about their unique perspective of New Zealand. It was great to end our time in New Zealand on a high note.

So, overall, I don’t think we’d rush back to New Zealand. We didn’t find any reason to travel half way around the world to see New Zealand; we’ve been other places that have similar landscapes that have better weather and better value for the money.

Enjoy the photos!

Chris W.

Trekking in Nepal 2014

We spent about two weeks walking in the Himalaya before heading back to Kathmandu. We went to a region not too far from Kathmandu called Langtang / Gosiankunda so we fortunately missed the deadly avalanche.

The trek was pretty incredible: stunning scenery, great company, good weather, and delicious food. For the most part, the weather was incredibly good – good temperatures and clear skies. We hired a porter-guide, Sandesh, to help us along the way. We really lucked out, he was a great guy and we enjoyed spending a little over two weeks with him.

The scenery speaks for itself. Never have been around such incredible beauty; I hope to come back again in the future. There’s an immense tranquility at the higher elevations – no planes, no car noises, no Harley Davidson noises, no pollution, no/very few people, no cell phones, no radios, etc. It was so wonderfully awesome to completely avoid all the annoying sounds of humanity, I was quickly brought back to the numerous times I took off into the Black Hill and found my little corner of clarity in nature. The experience was a great reminder that I greatly enjoy being disconnected and having my own tranquil space free from the pollution of others. It was also great that I was able to share this experience with Jacquelyn; she has never hiked in this high of elevation, which is an experience in itself. It’s really hard to describe hiking / walking / trekking above 14,000ft: the sun is brighter, sounds carry further, there’s less pollution, and things just seem so much better!

We met all sorts of people on the trail from many different countries. tree huggers (literally came across a group of Brits hugging a huge tree, they asked me to take a photo of them), individuals trekking by themselves, huge groups of trekkers and porters, older individuals (70s-ish), people with very little gear / preparation (no sleeping bags, no coats, but just jeans and a sweater), and people with every last accessory (including matching bandanna). We did not meet many people around our age (early 30s) and those we did meet were all in Nepal for a short time because they had to get back to their jobs. We met a new group of people we didn’t quite enjoy being around and those are Israeli tourists. Quite a loud and obnoxious bunch seemingly oblivious to those they are around.

In order to pass the time, Jacquelyn and I read books and played cribbage. Before we left, we decided to have a cribbage contest which we aptly called “the Great Himalayan Cribbage Championship”. We decided the winner of the tournament would get to spend $40 or more at a restaurant of their choosing at a date of their choosing. Here in Kathmandu, a $40 dinner for two is quite luxurious. We played during the course of the trek and I was completely victories, utterly defeating Jacquelyn with exactly one victory to her zero. It was a great victory and I will reminder her for years to come.

The biggest surprise was the Nepali people. Talk about a bunch of very strong, very tough, very friendly people. For example, Sandesh, our porter-guide, is probably 5’3″ and I think I have somewhere around a 120lbs on him, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he could bench press me. No matter what, he always had a smile on his face and was ready to go, even after eight hours of hiking misery and two family tragedies (uncle and cousin killed in Annapurna avalanche, child in ICU) during our trek.

We, at least me, didn’t have the huge, life altering, experience that many other people claim to have while trekking in the Himalaya. In fact, I feel pretty much the same as when I arrived. Sure, it was pretty, sure it was great to experience all the cultural difference, and yes it was very rewarding hard work, but it was just another awesome experience we’ve had on our trip – not a life altering experience which completely changes the way I think about life. I am OK with this, I didn’t think anything was wrong with me to begin with so there’s no reason why I needed the life altering experience :).

 

I broke up the photos into two groups. One group of 83 photos shows the various experiences on the trail. The next group of photos are artistic (if you can call it that) photos of the things we saw on the trail, pretty much mountain views. The second album of full of pretty stuff but no real content.

After the trek we went back to Kathmandu and hung out for almost two weeks. I’ll write about that later.

Enjoy the photos!

Chris W.

Trekking photos:

Mountain photos:

 

Italy 2014

We had a great time in Italy! We didn’t really plan on being in Italy very long but we ended up staying for quite some time – around eleven days total. We didn’t see a lot of Italy, actually, we didn’t travel much at all. Instead, we focused on spending more time in one place and took cooking classes along the way! Our time in Italy was in a small area of Italy: Bologna to Padua (near Venice) to rural Varenna (Como Lakes region). The flat areas of Italy smelled and felt a lot like Minnesota in the summer: farm like and a bit humid. Varenna, a city on a mountainside, was a really cool little town.

I was completely unprepared for the beauty of Italy. The food was magnificent, just brilliant. We learned a few simple recipes at at couple different places that were just delightful. Some of the more fun recipes was learning how to make pasta and pizza.

Fun facts we learned while traveling in Italy:
* Italians tell us there is no “Italian” cuisine or language. Italy is all about the city and the city’s specialty. In Bologna, our spaghetti had no tomato sauce and that’s considered normal for Bologna.
* The wine and the champagne were oh so good! We didn’t have to spend much to get something great! One of the wines we enjoyed the most was a whopping $1.50 for the bottle. I have no idea how anyone can make money off that.
* There’s an encyclopedia of pasta. Something like 5,000 different pasta recipes. That’s a little under seven factorial so that small amount of combinations results in a lot of different recipes! I never realized the pasta world was that complicated.
* There’s some things that are absolutely flabbergasting about Italy. Namely, how individuals buy fare for public transit. In a million years I would never have guessed that the nearest news stand or random shop closest to the stop would be the place to buy a ticket. When I asked a local about this he said, ‘Well I could just say, “that is Italy”, but it’s more complicated”.
* Food is serious business. Criticizing one region’s food seems to be quite the faux pas.
* Venice seems to have mastered the art of extracting tourist’s cash.
* Rick Steves is everyone’s tour guide and Rick Steves has groupies. It’s hilarious!

Overall, we had a great time. We’d love to go back to the Como Lakes region and explore all the little towns and do more hiking!

Enjoy the photos :).

Innsbruck, Austria, 2014

We visited Innsbruck, Austria, since it was on the way to Italy. We went up a tram to the top of a mountain near Innsbruck and had a wonderful view of the valley and the Alps. The weather was perfect and it was a lot of fun to have the experience. It’s been some time since I was last in the mountains, I really soaked it up! The town of Innsbruck is rather small but still has some cool stuff like good restaurants and a neat Catholic church. Innsbruck held the Olympics a few times so they have really good transit for such a small town.

I took a timelapse of the clouds rolling through the mountains. It was really cool and can be downloaded here: DSC_7449.

Enjoy the pictures!

Chris W.