I recently lamented the astronomical cost of shipping things using mail services, so as we helped pack our foreign exchange student this week, the weight of his luggage was definitely weighing on our minds (pun intended). In order to get the most stuff home for the least amount of money, we had to be right on the 50-pound weight limit that airlines impose on checked baggage. The offer to try out the MIRA luggage scale honestly couldn’t have come at a better time.
For the most part, luggage scales all offer the same features:
- A device to hook the bag to the scale
- A scale that weighs up to a tenth of a pound
- Some sort of indication that the bag is under or over 50 pounds
The helicopter skimmed above the earth, high enough so that we could see the desert landscape dotted with cacti and scrub bushes for miles in front of us, but low enough so that the shadow of the red Papillon helicopter was visible above the ground. The helicopter banked to the right for its initial descent, and then, suddenly, there it was: The Grand Canyon.
I’d been to the Grand Canyon several times before, both on the North Rim and the South Rim, but I’d never actually been in the canyon (though not from lack of trying; I’ve applied for back country passes to hike rim to rim but have not been selected). When given the opportunity by Papillon to take the Grand Celebration Tour, a Grand Canyon helicopter tour, to the bottom of the Grand Canyon, about five miles from the West Rim, I was ecstatic. Sometimes it can be hard for me to fully appreciate a destination if I’ve been there time and time again, but this was an opportunity to see a common destination (for me) from an entirely new perspective … and I got to share the moment with our foreign exchange student, which made it even more awesome.
Our morning started off ridiculously early with a pick up at Palms hotel at 5:00 a.m. Like many tour companies in Las Vegas, Papillon sweeps the Strip with a comprehensive hotel pick up so that people don’t have to worry about renting a car. At long last, we finally reached the Boulder City Airport, a small, regional airport, where we boarded our helicopter. We were given the front seats next to the pilot, which meant we had awesome views on the sides and in front of us. After a series of safety checks, our helicopter lifted a few feet off the ground and hovered for a few moments as we got permission to lift off. It’s been years since I rode in a helicopter, and I’d forgotten what a weird and unnatural sensation it is to hover above the ground. Admittedly, we were both giddy with excitement as we lifted off from the ground.
Many people despise air travel and therefore avoid it altogether, but in order to reach the farthest corners of the earth, there really isn’t a choice in the matter. If you really want to travel, you will have to fly on an airplane. That’s all there is to it.
Though there are plenty of things you can do to make air travel easier — including simple steps at the airport, learning to sleep on airplanes and managing jet lag—all of these things can be made even simpler with some simple pre-airport planning.
Before you leave home for your vacation, take the following steps in order to ensure the smoothest flight possible.
Months in advance:
Research your airline. Choose an airline you know and trust, or one that gets decent reviews. It may be worth giving up cost for comfort, so use websites like SeatGuru.com and iFly.com to research flights and airports. From my personal experience, Spirit and Alaska Airlines have shown to have poor service despite relatively reasonable prices. I’ve had relatively good luck with JetBlue and American Airlines domestically and Korean Air, Swiss Air, Air New Zealand and Qantas when flying abroad. KLM offers particularly good service for those traveling with pets.
The water may only be knee deep, but the current is fast and slick rocks on the bottom of the river make it difficult to find my footing. A sign we passed earlier in the day noted that the water was 45 degrees and flowing swiftly, which makes sense given the fact that much of it is snow melt coming out of Colorado.
Walking upriver is like traversing a maze in the dark. It doesn’t necessarily mean walking straight up the center of the river. I’m constantly looking at the step in front of me, calculating depth by the color of the water and with my walking stick. I look for banks on either side of the river and try to determine what the shortest, least resistant path is between them. It often feels like the route with the shallowest water and least number of rocks is longer than what I’d prefer to walk from Point A to Point B, but this hike isn’t about getting to the end fast. It’s about the challenge, the strenuous push of one leg after another through an environment few people will ever get to hike.
At first, the river is relatively wide, and the water only hits my shins with the occasional brush of my knees. It isn’t like any other average hike but, despite the cold water, it isn’t particularly taxing. Certainly walking against a current isn’t a simple task, but it’s a manageable trek. About two-and-a-half miles upstream, another canyon joins the Narrows. Shortly thereafter, the walls narrow and the sunlight fights to slip into the canyon. This is Wall Street.
It’s old news that one of the reasons I most love Las Vegas is because of its proximity to so many national parks and outdoor spaces that let us hike, camp and explore. One of these is Grand Canyon National Park. Despite what many people believe, it isn’t the closest national park to Las Vegas, though it’s probably safe to say that it is the most popular of all the natural spaces within a few hours of our home.
The first couple of times my husband and I visited the Grand Canyon, we did it for ourselves. We spent the Fourth of July enjoying the cool weather of the North Rim and we bundled up to brave the cold winter for Christmas on the South Rim. Ventures in recent years have centered on the South Rim (the more accessible of the two sides). Now that we’ve been living in Las Vegas for almost seven years, we’ve made several trips to the Grand Canyon with friends who pass through town and foreign exchange student who come to live with us.
In many ways, the Grand Canyon has lost its luster for me. It is still an awesome natural wonder, but now I know the parking lot well, details on the bus route and where the most crowded overlooks are bound to be. I don’t have that wide-eyed sense of wonder that I had when I peeked over the rim for the very first time from the north side and when I caught a glimpse of what it looks like covered in snow from the south side. As I make the drive into the national park, my mind files through logistical thoughts and assumed details about what a visit will entail. I no longer wonder what the Grand Canyon will actually look like.
When someone asked me if I wanted to dine al fresco at TREVI, I had to double check to make sure that the restaurant was, in fact, located in the Forum Shops at Caesars Palace. Yes, TREVI is, in fact, in the Forum Shops, but YES, you can eat al fresco there. Oh, Las Vegas, how you continue to surprise me.
This Italian restaurant sits at the junction of three pedestrian walkways in front of an awesome fountain, which means that enjoying the outside views is both climate-friendly and incredibly picturesque.
I recently met up with a group of local bloggers not only to enjoy the ambiance of TREVI but also to taste a few of the meals and cocktails on the menu. I’m not much of a foodie, as you may know, but even I can tell when a restaurant has stellar menu selections. Among my favorites were:
I’m sitting in a brown wicker lounge chair, my feet propped up on a chaise, my sunglasses on, a glare coming off my computer screen. My balcony is eight stories up from the sand of Laguna Beach in California where groups of two, three, six, a dozen kids shriek in delight as they run toward the pounding waves, then rush away from them, trying to avoid getting wet. In the end, they’ll all be wet, a coat of sand between their toes and a layer of salt stuck to their hair. Their cheeks will have a rosy glow as they head toward the family cars or across the thoroughfare to their homes, towels held around their shoulders while moms gather up skim boards and flip flops and t-shirts.
I watch from my balcony, a glass of lemonade in my hand, my bare toes cool on the bare concrete. The sunshine heats my core, and I feel a smile growing across my lips. I’m not much of a beach girl, but this makes me happy. The scene playing out below me lifts any stress I brought into Laguna Beach. I feel light and unrestrained, like I’m holding a handful of yellow balloons.
When I checked into Surf & Sand Resort this afternoon, I did not expect to feel this way. A recent trip to Laguna Beach was grey and overcast, with a breeze that bit my skin. Obviously a resort can’t plan the weather, but this care-free atmosphere embodied in Surf and Sand makes it so easy to enjoy what nature freely provides.
I love the convenience of an all-inclusive resort. I appreciate the sense of a community at a hostel. I adore roughing it at a campground. And I relish the personal, one-of-a-kind experience and touch found only at bed-and-breakfast accommodations.
Whenever I book a room at a B&B, I have two immediate thoughts: First, it’s going to be so awkward staying in someone else’s home, a stranger in another person’s private space. And, second, I can’t wait to arrive — nothing compares to a B&B.
In Flagstaff, Arizona, we had our choice of chain hotels and staying at The Inn at 410. It was a no brainer. We immediately booked at The Inn at 410, a B&B that’s earned many awards over its lifetime. Gordon Watkins has run The Inn at 410 for many years. He and his staff are friendly, attentive and very knowledgeable about Flagstaff and the surrounding area. They’re available to answer questions during daylight hours, and Gordon lives on the property and is around when breakfast is being served.
We stayed two nights in the Dakota Suite, which was outfitted in a country western theme with Native American patterns, wood furniture and cowboy memorabilia. It had a bedroom and sitting room with a single bed as well as a large bathroom and some kitchen amenities (a small refrigerator, a few dishes, etc.). Flagstaff proved to be a bit colder than we anticipated, and we took advantage of the in-room fireplace to warm up. There is a large library of DVDs available at the inn, and a refreshment table with drinks and snacks is available in the lobby area all night long.
Forget the castles and museums, the historic sites and shopping districts. On any given trip to a new destination, I’m the girl who seeks out the nearest used bookstore or library. I believe a place’s collection of literature — like its cemetery — is a fascinating peek into the local culture and values of the local people.
Ireland in general and Dublin specifically have a rich literary tradition. I admittedly did not have time to thoroughly explore it while I was there a few weeks ago, but I would like to return to the city someday to fully learn about and appreciate the wordsmiths who have stomped the country’s literary footprint on the world map.
I bought a postcard of Ireland’s “literary masters” while I was there, and I couldn’t help but notice that it featured eight old white men. James Joyce and Bram Stoker, William Butler Yeats and Oscar Wilde: These are the guys who have helped to define Ireland’s literature as the world knows it, but modern day contemporary authors include such esteemed women as Maeve Binchy. In fact, it was Ms. Binchey’s novel, Circle of Friends, that I thought of first when I thought of Irish literature, not Ulysses or Dracula or A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.
Though I plan to return someday, I did hit up a few of Dublin’s literary sites in the short time I was there:
> Book of Kells and the Long Room
The Book of Kells is a 680-page book containing the Latin texts of the Four Gospels. I am not a religious person, but I’d heard about this artfully illustrated tome that was written sometime around 800 AD, and my interest was piqued. Like any book on display, viewing it is a bit of a letdown because 1) it’s a book and books aren’t all that big, and 2) books on display can only be open to a single page. That said, the exhibit leading up to the actual book is stellar and definitely worth taking the time to browse. It discusses the different fonts and lettered artwork, how the book was organized and put together, and what the publishing process was like way back in the day.
Nothing says nostalgia like spending the night on an authentic 1929 Santa Fe caboose. I love train travel, so when given the opportunity to spend the night in an old-school train car, I jumped at it. I could have chosen any random hotel in which to rest my head, but I love quirky stuff, so why not hop on board for something a bit non-traditional?
Williams, Arizona, sits on Historic Route 66. I’ve visited portions of this famous byway in Winslow, Arizona, as well as other towns, but Williams is steeped in the nostalgia that defines Route 66. The entire accommodation park at Canyon Motel & RV Park exudes this vintage vibe, and while the interior of our caboose was more heavily focused on train culture, there were certainly traces of Route 66 around the entire property.
So what is it like to stay in a caboose? In one word: Interesting. In a few more words: Unique, but a bit awkward. A train car, by its very nature, has a very defined shape, and that pre-defined shape leaves few options for arranging furniture and creating an environment that works well as an overnight accommodation. Caboose #1, which was our train car, can technically fit six people. There is a full-sized bed immediately upon entering the car. A tight hallway leads toward the back of the car, where a queen-sized bunk bed could fit an additional four people (two on the bottom, two on the top). A small bathroom with a shower fits between the two rooms of the car.
A few things I loved about staying at Canyon Motel & RV Park and in Caboose #1: