In an attempt to come up with something creative and witty for Kaleidoscopic Wandering to celebrate Thanksgiving, I ended up walking back to the usual cliche of why I’m thankful. But who cares? After all, isn’t Thanksgiving about getting back to the roots of what defines us as people … our family and friends, remembering the past and making memories to enjoy in the future, feeling extreme joy and great depths of sadness. For me, this is when I think about years that have gone by and what has made them significant, forgettable, outstanding, frustrating. Who and what gets a nod for all that I’ve become and all that I’ve done? What am I really thankful for this year?
> First and foremost, I’m thankful for my parents who set the travel bug free in me at a very young age. I was always encouraged to ask, explore, wander, go, be and see. Together, we sang golden oldies driving through Iowa in the middle of the night, collected national park passport stamps and visited sites in a number of U.S. cities. They encouraged me to travel wide and far and never, ever hesitated to support my decisions in traveling time zones away from home to attend college or live and work abroad. Dad and Mom: Your unforgiving support and encouragement is something for which I will always be thankful.
Buckle in for a bit of a personal post…
Travel has become such a common thing in my life that I recently decided to take a step back from it.
Things that used to bring me joy—flying, opening the door to a new hotel room, eating at local hotspots — were starting to feel like the norm. I started to expect the things that used to impress me, and those things that I used to tap as local quirks were starting to annoy me. I returned home from a trip a couple months ago and could feel that my sense of wanderlust was starting to suffer from a tinge of travel fatigue, and I decided I needed a break from my frequent movement. I stepped back from a lot of my travel writing assignments and took on some corporate writing clients. I said no to a lot of trips. I stayed home, and I enjoyed it.
And then a few weeks ago, an email dropped into my inbox. The subject line read: “Galapagos?” It was from one of my editors, who asked if I’d like to go on assignment to the Galapagos Islands. My response to her was simple: “Yes.“
When I flew home from my week in the Cook Islands and stepped outside the terminal at Los Angeles International Airport, I cried. I went from being immersed in a place where a single stop sign in the whole country could create a three-car traffic jam to a city saturated with overstimulation. It was too much to take in and I felt completely overwhelmed in that moment when I stepped from one world into another.
Similarly, nine days in the Galapagos Islands can change a person. I just returned from one of the most pristine, authentic places on this earth, and it’s going to take me a few days to catch up to the speed of life that has continued to flow by while I stepped out of my normal routine to visit a place that time has not touched.
October is one of my favorite months in Las Vegas, and I didn’t stray far from home this month because there were so many festivals and events to occupy my time in my own backyard. One of the best new additions to the city is the Life Is Beautiful festival, a two-day, all-encompassing arts event that is changing the way the world defines Las Vegas.
The few short excursions I took included a quick day trip to southern Utah, which happened during the government shutdown, so we stuck to Snow Canyon State Park instead of venturing into one of the many national parks in this part of the country. I also drove to Palm Springs, California, for a three-day conference. I’d never been to Palm Springs before but I loved it! The color, the laid back vibe, the old-school signage around town. I’d like to return someday for a legitimate vacation.
Here are some of my favorite travel finds around the web for this month:
> This fun (and slightly cheeky) list of 42 simple travel tips by Matt at LandLopers is a quick read.
If there is one thing Canada is NOT lacking, it’s space — wide open, uninhabited, green space. Though much of this space just exists, a lot of it has also been designated as national park land. On a recent visit to Quebec, I spent a few hours in one of the province’s parks. I’m a ridiculous fan of the national parks in the United States, so I was excited to get even a glimpse into a corner of one of the protected natural areas in Canada.
Our visit to Parc national de la Jacques-Cartier consisted of two main things: First, we took a hike on a fairly unmarked trail that meandered through dark, rocky crevices and required a guide. Admittedly, I was a little hesitant at first because I’m used to being untethered and doing my own thing, going my own speed when I hike, but this path was not easy to follow, and it definitely enhanced the experience to have a guide providing context to our surroundings. This path is the only one in the park that requires a guide, and I’m told that visitors can easily navigate the others in Parc national de la Jacques-Cartier on their own.
What is it about fast and fancy cars that gets a person’s heart racing? Is it the feel of the engine rumbling underfoot? Or is it the look that others give when one of these sleek, chic vehicles rolls past? Whatever it is that lures people into the driver’s seat of these above-and-beyond cars, the pull is a strong one because lots of people pay a lot of money to drive exotic and muscle cars during their Las Vegas vacations.
Late last spring I was invited to get behind the wheel of a few different exotic cars for a spin through the Red Rock Canyon area with World Class Driving. This experience is very popular for a number of reasons, but one of the main things worth noting is that the driving experience with World Class Driving lasts nearly an hour and participants get to drive more than one car. This is a vast departure from many driving experiences, which cost hundreds of dollars and only allow participants to choose one car to drive (if they even get a choice). I honestly didn’t really care what I was driving, so I was content when they told me I’d spend time with a Lamborghini, a Jaguar and a Ferrari. I was particularly excited that one of the cars was a convertible because I’ve never driven a car with the top down and, now that I think about it, I’m not even sure I’ve ever even been in a convertible.
Early this past summer, I took a walking tour of the street art in East London, a part of England’s capital city that is a little grittier, a bit more “touchable” than other parts of England’s storied city. The street art community in this part of the city is robust and remarkable, some of it so large that it actually covers a building wall the length of an entire city block.
As we were walking the streets of East London, learning about and admiring the street art scattered throughout this part of town, our guide pointed out a small tile mosaic that depicted Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker. He mentioned that this was created by a street artist known as Invader, which I didn’t think much of at the time, and then we moved on with the tour.
A couple days later, a funny thing happened in Brussels, Belgium. I was walking with another writer when she spotted a small tile mosaic of a Space Invader above a doorway. It was a bit curious, as Brussels seemed to me to be quite diplomatic in design but yet a bit quirky around the edges. Awhile later, we spotted another tile mosaic of a Space Invader … and then another and another. As we walked around the streets of Brussels that day, we admired the historic building fronts and fountains and especially the gigantic pieces of street art that decorate several buildings throughout the city, which is the comic capital of the world. But we always had one eye open for more Space Invaders, and we weren’t disappointed. In all, we counted six variations of Space Invaders around Brussels.
Quebec City’s sky was dropping a steady and chilly drizzle from the clouds, but we stood under the overhang on a porch, protected from the rain and cool air. Our host from Siberia Station Spa pointed out the stations scattered on a hill leading down to a river. I hugged my rain jacket around my shoulders and followed her finger and instructions as she explained we needed to start with time in a “hot” area — a wet or dry sauna, infrared sauna or a hot tub — followed by a dip in cold water (either fed by an artificial waterfall or the river) and then rest time in front of an outdoors fire pit or inside a yurt or hut heated comfortably enough to knock someone into a nap.
From where I stood, even I could tell that this wasn’t a ‘normal’ spa experience. Most spas I’m familiar with are outfitted in shiny title and sterile, hard surfaces. This Nordic spa, with outposts hidden among the trees, was much more rustic and completely open to the elements. Sitting in the hot tub or by the fire pit and walking from station to station would require getting wet in the rain. The concept of the Nordic spa is three-fold: First, you need to spend ten to fifteen minutes in a hot station to warm the body up, open the pores and clear the airways. After the hot experience, a few seconds in a cold station closes the skin’s pores so that the heat stays inside the body. Finally, the relaxation portion of the experience is apparently where all the benefits of this entire process occur.
I hopped north over the border in September to Quebec City, Canada, to participate in some outdoor activities and catch the action at the Grands Prix Cyclistes de Quebec, one of the few professional cycling events held in North America. I wasn’t overly impressed with our outdoor adventure excursions, but I thoroughly enjoyed following along during the cycling event. I didn’t know much about cycling prior to this trip, and now I’m interested in learning more about the sport (though I don’t know if I’m ready to invest heavily to actually become a cyclist). My husband and I topped off our month with a weekend trip to Boston, where we attended a wedding on the outskirts of the city.
When I wasn’t traveling this month, I took virtual trips with these great travel blog posts:
> Though I’ve made day trip stops at vineyards, I’ve never spent the night at one. Armed with this advice from Plum Deluxe on what to know before staying overnight at a vineyard, I’m ready to book a trip!
My fascination with yurts began one summer while I was in college, the one summer I lived in Washington, D.C., when I spent my afternoons and weekends riding the subway to all corners of the city. On one of these weekends, I happened across the Smithsonian’s fabulous Folklife Festival. That year’s theme was robust — the Silk Road — and I spent a few days immersed in the music, food and culture that defined the countries along the Silk Road in years past and continue to permeate these societies in the present day. One of these countries, of course, is Mongolia, and it was at this event held on the National Mall that I became utterly smitten with the idea of traveling along the Silk Road and spending the night in one of the tents-turned-homes that these people live in — a yurt.
My interest in yurts resurfaced again while we waited for our Peace Corps assignment in 2004. For a brief time, we thought we were going to be placed in Central Europe, and though that’s not necessarily yurt country, it did get me thinking about that part of the world again. And so, when I finally sat down to make my Life List a few years ago, one of the first things I added was my desire to spend a night in a yurt.
At the time, I was picturing myself in a legitimate yurt, a place where people live, a place where, when I walked out in the morning, I’d be greeted by the (I’m assuming) wide open spaces of Mongolian wilderness. So imagine my surprise when, while working with the Cedar City/Brian Head Tourism Board in Utah regarding details for a summer trip, I got an email punctuated with exclamation marks that my dream of staying in a yurt could be recognized just a few hours from the front door of my house in Las Vegas. The catch? Staying in this yurt would be a glamping (glamorous camping) experience, not a rustic one.
But a yurt is a yurt, right? And so I eagerly said yes, and now I can cross one more thing off my Life List: Spend the night in a yurt.