santa fe days 3 and 4

On Saturday, our third day in Santa Fe, we drove about 45 minutes out of town to Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument.  (I’ll be referring to it as Tent Rocks, though.)  While I was in the shower that morning, I wondered if I should bring cash for the entrance fee at Tent Rocks, but just forgot.  Sure enough, we got to the gate and they rejected our credit card.  So, note to all of you future Tent Rocks visitors: bring some cash with you.  It’s only $5 per car, and there’s a gas station with an ATM about five minutes down the road, but we could have avoided a handful of fees by just bringing cash with us.

Tent Rocks is so neat.  I don’t know how it was formed, I don’t know why the rocks are the way they are, and I don’t know why the rangers at the gate don’t accept credit cards, but that’s okay.  My apologies for including more pictures than I can count, but as you’ll see, it was hard to resist…

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We combined the Cave Loop Trail and the Canyon Trail, and were hiking for a little less than three hours, although the total distance was only around 3 miles, we definitely took our time.  The weather was just right, and being that we were there in the spring, the crowds were definitely manageable.

We had a late lunch at Bumble Bee, and walked to Canyon Road in the afternoon, where we spent two hours wandering through galleries.  We enjoyed all of the paintings and sculptures and photographs, but got a little a tired by the end.  One highlight was seeing sculptures by my high school art teacher being sold at one of the galleries!  We also stopped for pictures at a few places we’d admired over the past couple of days and walked around the Santa Fe National Cemetery – a sobering, beautiful place.

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For dinner, we went to Thai Vegan, an Asian restaurant that offers only vegan food (two things that could probably be assumed from the name, but it never hurts to clarify).  The food was good, but the ambiance could probably be improved and the number of Hindu idols reduced just a tad.  On our way back to the hotel at night, we stopped at Trader Joe’s for some cookies that have been sold out every time we look for them at our TJ’s.

Sunday morning was snowy – not our favorite to see at the end of April, but we were just thankful it was on our last day and not on a day we wanted to be outside.  We packed up the car and went for breakfast at Annapurna’s (told you we wouldn’t be able to stay away!) where I had some banana cardamom pancakes that were just too good.  I’d gladly eat them once a week.

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Our drive home was rainy but largely uneventful as we took I-25 straight from Santa Fe to our apartment in north Colorado Springs.

I’m so glad we finally took a trip to Santa Fe.  Our route down, while a bit longer than necessary, was fun with stops at the Rio Grande Gorge and in Taos, and I felt like even though we were only in Santa Fe for a couple of days, we got a good taste for the town and it’s beauty.  There are many museums and hiking trails I would have liked to check out, but due to time and weather constraints, we just couldn’t do them all – now we have something to do the next time we go!

 

 

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santa fe: day 2

Friday, our first full day in Santa Fe, began a bit rainy and cool, so we started our day indoors at the Palace of the Governors.  We arrived a little after 10am, wandered around a bit, and caught the 10:30am guided tour.  In retrospect, I’m not sure we would take the tour again.  It was a bit dry, but it did give us a good overview of New Mexico, and more specifically, Santa Fe, history.

The Palace of the Governors is connected to the New Mexico History Museum, and even though we were a bit done with learning and museum stuff after our tour, we decided to give it a try.  And we were so glad!  The history museum is so good.  If you are in Santa Fe, you should go.  It’s new, it’s high quality, it’s well done, it’s interesting, and (best of all?) it’s not overwhelmingly big.  Seriously, give it a chance.  I’d recommend going to the history museum first, and giving it your full attention, and then breezing through the Palace of the Governors, if for no other reason than it’s a neat, old, historic building.

DSC01569^^ Danny in the history museum, looking into the semi-covered wagon because there’s a video projected onto the inside of the cover.  Told you it was cool.  ^^

After the museum(s), we walked back to our hotel and headed to lunch.  We both had veggie burgers and fries at the Tune-Up Cafe, an eclectic and cute place with decent vegan options, and then headed for the New Mexico State Capitol.  We wandered through the halls and into the rotunda and felt a little like we were breaking the rules at times (even though we weren’t) since we were the only visitors there.  Compared to some of the more traditional state capitols out there, New Mexico’s certainly isn’t as grand or eye-catching, but it does have some fun and unique features, and we enjoyed getting to check it out a bit.

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^^ I know it’s not the best picture ever, but I have a picture of Mysteridge and I in front of this same buffalo from years ago, and just couldn’t resist.  It’s made of all sorts of random materials, and looks so cool both up close and far away. ^^

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The weather was just so dicey all day on Friday, that even though there’s so much great hiking in the area, we just weren’t sure if we were willing to take a chance and actually get outside for any length of time.  However, late in the afternoon, around 3:00, we decided to give it a shot.  We drove outside of town about 15-20 minutes to the Rio en Medio Trail, and got hiking.

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The trail follows a stream for about three miles to the base of a waterfall, and then continues up above the waterfall, to other (much smaller) waterfalls and pools.  I believe that the trail eventually leads to a good view of Santa Fe and the surrounding area, but going that far was never our intent.  We went to some of the upper waterfalls, but turned around so that we could have dinner at a reasonable hour.

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^^ Some people and their selfies… ;) ^^

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There were no other cars in the trailhead parking lot, and we saw no one but each other while hiking, which felt a little weird to me, especially since it’s such a great trail – it’s wooded, involves crossing the stream a few times (always fun), and is fairly flat the whole way.  I’d highly recommend checking it out if you’re in Santa Fe – I think we’d do it again if we went back.  I know it will look different depending on the season, and maybe next time we’d do the complete trail.  So peaceful and quiet and beautiful.

We made it back into town for a late dinner at Annapurna’s World Vegetarian Cafe.  It’s won the Best of Santa Fe award for Best Vegetarian Restaurant many years in a row now, and I can see why.  The menu is EXTENSIVE, and has many options for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and dessert, for those who like Indian food and those who do not (me).  I had a hunch that we would really like Annapurna’s, and planned to go there early on in our trip, so that we would have a chance to go back again if we wanted to.  The menu suggests dessert first, so we gladly partook and shared a piece of (vegan) pecan pie before our entrées arrived.  It was great, as were our meals – I had the shepherd’s pie which was very good and Danny had the falafel wrap (which included quite possibly the best falafel we’ve had since we ate lunch at Camden Market in London last September).

And that was Friday!  A good mix of history and indoor exploring, as well as being outside (weather permitting) and, of course, plenty of tasty vegan food.

Check out day 1 here.

santa fe: day 1

Three weeks ago today, Danny and I loaded up our car and headed south on our very first road trip.  We’ve been on a variety of trips together, but most of them have been via plane or less than two hours away (by car), which I don’t really consider a road trip.  I was really excited for this trip – I have such fond memories of taking trips to Illinois to visit family and exploring Colorado and neighboring states by car throughout all of my growing up years – but then Danny started making me a little nervous in the weeks before our trip.  He said things here and there like, “I don’t really like road trips,” and “I don’t like driving for a long time.”  Uh oh.

When we got in the car around 7:30am on Thursday morning, we had at least six hours of driving ahead of us before we got to Santa Fe.  A long ways for my plane-preferring husband, but we were excited.

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We switched drivers every hour, which may have extended the time we were on the road a bit, but it seemed to work well for us.  Our first stop was in south Pueblo, and happened to be right next to this fun comics store that was right up Danny’s alley.  We took a few pictures, stretched our legs, and got on our way again.

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Another hour, another stop.  And look at those mountains in the background!  They were a lot closer than this picture makes them look, and I’m not going to lie…I was pretty happy when it was Danny’s turn to drive again so I could look out the window to my heart’s content without putting our lives in danger.

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And then on our final stop before we made it to our picnic lunch destination, we just pulled off on the side of the road.  I ran a couple of laps around the car and Danny stretched out…our GPS took us on some pretty deserted roads!

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We stopped for lunch at the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge.  There’s a rest area with picnic tables and bathrooms and even vendors selling different things (vague because I have no idea what they have – we didn’t look).  We ate our sandwiches while overlooking the gorge, and afterwards walked across the bridge.    The area is about 15 minutes from Taos, and for us, was totally worth it.  We thought the gorge was pretty neat, and a great place to stop for lunch and a little walk.  It’s also very unexpected – up until we were driving on the bridge, I thought we had the wrong address into our GPS – we had no idea we were approaching the gorge.

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After our time at the bridge, we headed into Taos.  Neither of us had been before, and while we weren’t there long enough to form much of an opinion, it seems kind of charming.  We stopped in the library to use the wi-fi for a couple of minutes and walked around the plaza.  Now, I don’t have a lot of experience with plazas, but Taos’ seemed pretty average.  We were there mid-day on a Thursday, so it was very quiet – we only stopped in a store or two, and enjoyed an especially beautiful blossoming tree.  A fairly quick visit as we had places to go.

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I was on the fence about Taos Pueblo up until we started our tour.  And I suppose, I still am on the fence about it.  I just wasn’t sure if it would be worth it, if it was a tourist trap, if it was ‘fake’ sort of like the Manitou Cliff Dwellings…I just couldn’t get a good feel for it from what I read online and in guide books.  In a small sense, it was sort of what Paris was like for me: a lot of people love it so I wanted to go and do it, but overall, it was overpriced and overhyped (in my opinion).  That being said, we did enjoy our tour and the chance to walk around a bit afterwards.  The weather was great, the scenery pretty, and the pueblo historical.  I’m glad that we went, but I do wish it cost less than $16 a person to get in.

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^^ We wanted to try some of the legendary Indian fry bread, but apparently taking a tour late in the day means they could be sold out, which was what happened to us.  So we got an (overpriced) cherry tortilla thingy.  It was okay.  ^^

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^^ There is something really historic and significant about this cemetery, but unfortunately, my memory is rather poor.  I guess you’ll just have to go and take the tour yourself.  Or Google it.  ^^

After our tour, we were ready to be done with the car and driving from place to place.  We drove the last hour to Santa Fe and checked into our hotel, the Villas de Santa Fe.  I stayed at the villas over Christmas years ago with my family, thanks to my grandparents’ timeshare, and was happy to find a Living Social deal offered for them recently.  We didn’t just have a room – we had a bedroom with two beds, a kitchenette, and a living room, access to the pool, hot tub, and game room, plus the all important free wi-fi for around $65 a night.  The location can’t be beat – it’s in a very central location in a quiet neighborhood, a block or two away from a Sprouts, and a short (five to ten minutes, depending on your pace) walk to the plaza.

We had dinner our first night at Bumble Bee Baja Grill.  Bumble Bee is a great place for all the people – their menu is extensive and is friendly to all types – those wanting gluten and those not, those wanting meat and those not, those wanting to spend a lot and those not.  My parents went to Bumble Bee a few times while they were in Santa Fe last year, and brought us back a menu, thinking it’d be somewhere we’d like.  They were right.  Check out Bumble Bee if you’re in Santa Fe and looking for good food, an unpretentious, down-to-earth atmosphere, and a lot of options.  They have two locations in town – we ate at the one down the street from our hotel off of Jefferson Street.

After dinner we walked to the plaza and wandered around a bit.  We were glad to have our jackets – it was chilly!  One thing I wasn’t expecting was that most of the shops were closed.  It wasn’t very late, but apparently most of them close around 5pm.  Maybe it was because we were there in the off-season – perhaps in the summer some places have expanded hours?

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There you have it – day one – our travels and stops from home to Santa Fe!

riverwalk ramblin’: our trip to san antonio

On Monday we got home from a very nice four days spent in San Antonio, Texas.  Danny had a work conference at the Embassy Suites, and in exchange for some volunteering, I was able to accompany him.

We arrived on Thursday afternoon, and after checking into our hotel, we met up with Danny’s co-workers and headed to dinner at Rosario’s.  Dinner was excellent, and I had fun getting to know some of Danny’s managers and co-workers.  Later on, Danny and I went for a quick walk along the riverwalk.  Our hotel was right on the riverwalk, but not on the busiest, most tourist-trodden part, which was nice.

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^^ Our hotel.  See it’s prime riverwalk location?  Pretty great. ^^

On Friday morning we enjoyed the breakfast buffet at the hotel (Embassy Suites has got that whole breakfast thing down!) and got to work.  Danny started his airport shuttle duties, and I worked on getting welcome gifts ready for the conference attendees.  In the afternoon, while Danny was still shuttling and there wasn’t anything for me to help with, I hit the riverwalk.  I posted some pictures of my wanderings here.  It was chilly (in the low 50’s) that afternoon, but I kept moving and ended up seeing a lot of the riverwalk.  In the evening, we ate dinner at the hotel and participated in the first session of the conference. The keynote speaker was Tony Wolf, who is a comedian, speaker, and advocate for Compassion, and I think that we all really enjoyed him and what he had to share.

On Saturday, breakfast was followed by another main session, and then a breakout session.  The breakout sessions were specifically geared towards advocates, church partners, volunteer coordinators, etc. and not really applicable to me, so I went up to the room and happened upon a parade going by outside our window. Apparently, to kick off the San Antonio Rodeo, they parade longhorns and covered wagons and battle re-enactors through the streets of downtown San Antonio, and I caught it at just the right time.  I joined up with everyone for lunch, and then struck out on my own while Danny helped with three more breakout sessions.  I worked out and, of course, walked along the riverwalk again, but on a different section, and this time, the sun was out and it was in the mid-60’s.  I was thankful I didn’t bring my jacket, and kept my cardigan in my bag almost the whole time, leaving me walking the riverwalk in just a short-sleeved shirt – it was so great!

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On Saturday evening, everyone attending/working/volunteering at the conference walked to Rita’s for dinner.  Again, good food and great company.  In the evening, back at the hotel, we enjoyed dessert and line dancing.  Danny was the star of the show with his dance moves, while I ate chocolate strawberries and got to know some of his coworkers better on the sidelines.

Sunday morning the conference wrapped up with breakfast and another main session, this time led by Carlos Whittaker, who is funny and full of good stories.  We ate a boxed lunch and helped with tear down until about 1:30pm, at which point everything (on the work end of things) was done.

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Once we were released from duty, we walked (while rolling our suitcases behind us) to our next hotel, the Hyatt Place.  The reason we switched hotels for just one night was simple: our lodging was covered while the conference was going on and Danny was working, but once it was over, we were on our own, and the Embassy Suites wasn’t in our price range.  The Hyatt Place was great, though – still on the riverwalk, just about ten minutes south.

Danny had only been to the riverwalk on our first night when we walked around a bit at night, and then when we all went to dinner at Rita’s (which is located along the riverwalk).  Both times were at night, and were pretty short, so we dropped off our luggage and got walking.  It was a beautiful day, with temperatures in the low 70’s – definitely warm enough for some ice cream.  We found Mr. Ice Cream, a shop along the riverwalk with great prices for such a high traffic area.  We each got a single, which I figured meant one scoop for each of us, but no.  For $6 total we each got three scoops of ice cream, which was more than enough and a great mid-afternoon treat.   In addition to the riverwalk, we explored Market Square – a neat area with lots of restaurants, booths, shops, and vendors.  If we had more time, we could have spent a couple of hours browsing, taking in the live entertainment, and eating some good food.  Since our daylight hours were limited at that point, though, we wandered around just a little and watched some precious dancers before moving on.

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We had dinner at Mad Dogs British Pub along the riverwalk – what a perfect night for eating outside!  Mad Dogs has a vegetarian section on their menu, which was why we chose it.  I had the veggie burger and Danny had the bangers and mash.  I know that British food is pretty un-San Antonio, but we’d had quite a bit of Tex-Mex throughout the weekend, and decided to try something different.  The food was fine, but the best part was definitely the location.  We walked along the riverwalk until it was dark, and then turned in for the night.

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On Monday we worked out, ate breakfast, checked out of the hotel, and walked along the riverwalk to get on a boat tour.  We had planned to do the boat tour on Sunday, but the weekend was full of crowds and tourists, so we decided to wait until Monday when we thought it might be a little less crowded.  Sure enough, it was only us and five others on our riverwalk boat tour.

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After the boat tour, we walked to the Rivercenter Mall, where we took in the Alamo IMAX.  Before going to see it, I read some reviews online and found out that the movie was made in 1988, and twenty-seven years later, is still being shown ten times a day.

Now, if you’re going to San Antonio, I wouldn’t recommend that you go see this movie.  Tickets are $12.50 a person, and the movie is less than 45 minutes long – pretty pricey if you ask me.  We knew all this going in, but went anyways because Danny is given a small allotment for entertainment when he travels for work, and since he didn’t use it during the conference, we used it for the movie.  The movie does give a good overview of the Alamo and it’s significance in Texas history.

After the movie, it felt only right to go visit the Alamo in all it’s glory.  But first, lunch.  We walked to Sweet Yams Organic, which really wasn’t all that far away, but we got lost a little bit and almost didn’t find it except that Danny realized that something we thought was just graffiti (it was kind of a sketchy area) was actually the sign for the restaurant.  The food was great, though – definitely some of the best of the trip.

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And then, the Alamo.  Monday was a perfect time to go – very few tourists and the best weather we had our whole trip.  Actually, probably the best weather I think we’ve experienced since we were at Versailles last September, where it was quite warm and we were totally overdressed.  Same story at the Alamo: it was in the 80’s and we were wearing too many clothes (jeans for me and a long sleeved shirt for Danny).  We didn’t spend a lot of time at the Alamo (there isn’t much to see – but don’t tell the Texans – they love that place), but we did get a good look around and take a few pictures.

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After the Alamo we were hot and in need of some more ice cream.  This time, though, we were aware of the massive portions Mr. Ice Cream offers and decided to split a cup of cookie dough.  It was good, but we decided that we need to make our own ice cream soon because our homemade cookie dough chunks would (probably) be much better than the pellets in our ice cream.  We ate on a bench along the riverwalk and while we were doing so, one of the hosts at a nearby restaurant saw us and came over and asked if we wanted him to take our picture.  I mean, yes!  Always yes!  Any picture that’s not a selfie is always good.  What a nice guy.

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We walked along the river for a while longer until we were so hot and sweaty that we decided to head to the airport a little bit earlier than planned.  Since we didn’t rent a car (it was going to be about $80 for the 26ish hours we needed it), we were going to just take a taxi to the airport (estimated around $35), but then I heard about Uber.  I’d heard of Uber before, but never paid much attention, because, well, I’ve never had a need for such a service (Uber, to my understanding, is like a taxi but a little different – someone drives you where you need to go in their personal car and thus is usually cheaper).  But Uber told me our ride to the airport would be about $10 less than the taxi, so we decided to give it a chance.  The ride ended up being only $17, and now I’m sold on Uber.  It was kind of like the first time we used Airbnb – we were kind of nervous, but willing to take a risk in order to save some serious money – and it worked out great.

We had a great time in San Antonio.  It was the perfect little getaway (although it was definitely more of a vacation for me than Danny since he was primarily working) and I’m so thankful that we were able to go and be a part of the Compassion conference and enjoy a beautiful long weekend in San Antonio.

three quarters past four

Recently I have been waking up earlier and earlier every day – not on purpose, though.  Of course.

I think it started when Danny got really serious about waking up at 6:00am every morning to work out.  By default, I was also waking up at 6, but not necessarily working out.  More like catching up on blogs and Instagram from bed until I was in the know on all of the exciting and pressing things that had happened overnight.  But that is irrelevant to this issue.

A couple of weeks ago, I started waking up at 5:50am instead of with the alarm at 6:00am.  Not enough time to try to go back to sleep, I’d just lay in bed (with my phone, duh) until the alarm went off.  Before long, I found I was waking up at 5:45am.  Annoying, but not a huge deal.

But then this week, I found myself wide awake at 5:30am.  This was not okay, but somehow it gave me the motivation to actually get up and work out.  This was happening around the time Danny (temporarily) switched his wake up time to 6:15am, so I had time for a whole work out before he was even awake.  I really enjoyed it and felt kind of accomplished not only working out, but doing it before Danny did.  But that was until the evening, when I wanted to go to sleep around 8:00pm.

I thought 5:30am was as bad as it would get, but then today I saw 4:45am.  Oh, and I don’t think I mentioned we’re in San Antonio right now, so it was like 3:45am at home.  Yes.  As could be expected, I’m sitting on the couch at 5:30pm wondering if this is an appropriate time to go to bed, but thinking dinner might be worth staying up for.  Maybe.

I kept myself from sleeping all afternoon by exploring the river walk.  I was out for about three hours, and when I got back, I did some Google Maps to figure out roughly how far I walked, and I can confidently say it was over six miles, and probably closer to seven or eight.

Because I need to wait till after dinner to crash, a few pictures from my stroll…

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I really saw a lot of the river walk, and combined with last night’s walk, I’ve even started to develop a few favorite sections.  It was quiet, chilly (for Texas, at least – it was in the low 50’s), overcast, and not very crowded in most parts.  So thankful for the time to explore a bit and be along the water.

 Here’s hoping that I have sufficiently tired myself out so that tomorrow I will sleep until noon.

our 2nd anniversary

It’s really hard to believe that our second anniversary has come and gone.  You know how you always hear that the first year of marriage is the hardest?  Well, I had heard that, but I also had all kinds of people tell me that their first year was a breeze and they didn’t know what the big deal was.  Meanwhile, I was listening and thinking, “What is wrong with me?  This first year has kind of been a struggle.”  We moved to another town the day after we got married, we both started new jobs, we searched for a church and friends and community and it was just tough.  Not all the time, but many times during that first year I think we both looked at each other and thought, “What have we done?!

This past year, our second year of marriage, was definitely different.  No doubt, it had it’s fair share of struggles as well, but overall, things were just a bit easier.  We got used to living together, we fought better, we were more intentional.  We made friends, we were in jobs we were happy with, we made a budget and learned to stick to it (sounds silly, but it was probably the best choice we made in 2014), we travelled, we went back to Greeley more often, we found community.  Year two was pretty good.

So we celebrated with a weekend in Boulder.  It started snowing not long after we got to Boulder, but, as it so often does, the snow brought peace and quiet and beauty.  We had a great weekend seeing some of Boulder and doing some fun things.  We played games and read books and watched HGTV (okay, that was just me).  We ate delicious food and dreamed about the future and even slept in a little bit.

We started at Celestial Seasonings and took a tour of their tea factory.  We found it very interesting, and next time we’ll definitely remember to take a couple of pictures and taste some tea.  Next, we drove across the street to the Leanin’ Tree Museum of Western Art, which I had visited with my family many years ago.  We thoroughly enjoyed all of the beautiful paintings and the fact that we had the gallery to ourselves.  We even posed next to our favorites… :)

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Boulder has no shortage of vegan-friendly restaurants, and we had lunch at the Sun Deli.  I believe what we had was called a pizza roll, but don’t quote me on that.  Whatever it was, it tasted amazing, and nothing like the frozen pizza rolls I had in my lunch as kid.  After lunch, we walked up and down the Pearl Street Mall, braving the cold and snow.  We could have spent all day in the bookstores, kitchen stores, and boutiques that line Pearl Street.  Plus, there’s nothing like a little snow and cold to empty places out and make browsing much more pleasant.

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When we were sufficiently cold, we stopped by Sprouts to pick up some muffins for breakfast and checked in to our hotel.  We stayed at the Courtyard Hotel – great pool and hot tub, nice rooms, and a decent price for being in the heart of Boulder.  I chose Leaf Vegetarian Restaurant for dinner, and I think we were both pretty pleased with it.  It was one of the nicer meals we’ve had, since our anniversary comes around once a year and our generous parents and grandparents were really sweet to bless us with some money to put towards our getaway.  It really felt like a celebration.  I had the sweet potato-lentil kofta and Danny had the spaghetti squash pad Thai and I think we’d both order them again without hesitation.

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The next morning, we played Ticket to Ride while eating our muffins, worked out at the hotel gym, soaked in the hot tub, and packed up in time for lunch at Native Foods.  If you’ve read this blog before, you know we love Native Foods, and we were certainly not disappointed this time around.  We stopped by Chautauqua for a hike afterwards, but kept it at around an hour as it was still quite chilly outside.  The sun made it look a lot warmer than it was. :)

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We had such a fun, relaxing getaway spending time together and celebrating marriage.  Boulder was beautiful and so fun.  We can’t wait to go back sometime when it’s a bit warmer and long underwear isn’t necessary just for venturing outside :)

sunrise to sunset – day 4

On our last full day in Charleston, we decided to wake up early and watch the sunrise since we had such fun with the sunset the day before.  We looked at the Weather Channel App on our phones to figure out what time to expect the sunrise, and got up at 6am in order to make it to Sullivan’s Island in time.  Sullivan’s Island Beach is only about ten minutes away from the Charleston Harbor Resort by car, and we found parking pretty easily since it was so early.  We walked down the path and onto the beach and this is the first thing we saw…

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…it was gorgeous and cold and we had the beach to ourselves.  Danny hunted for sand dollars and star fish, and we even came across a stranded jellyfish or two.

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 Once the sun was up and the magic of the early morning light was fading, or, our hands go so cold we had to leave, we hit up the breakfast buffet at the hotel.  Turns out the breakfast buffet turns into a sit-down meal during the week, and the waitress told us we could order anything and everything on the menu and it would be covered by our Groupon.  We clarified a couple of times to make sure we really understood correctly and then went for it.  Danny ended up with the smoked salmon, a bagel, breakfast potatoes, and two pop tarts.  I thought I was going a bit…lighter?…with the fruit plate, toast, and breakfast potatoes.  But look at that fruit plate!  It wasn’t exactly light, but it was awesome.

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We packed up and drove down the road (literally about one or two minutes) to Patriot’s Point.  When we first decided to go to Charleston, I was searching for Groupons in the area and found one for Patriot’s Point at 50% off, and went for it.  There’s a lot to see at Patriot’s Point: the USS Yorktown aircraft carrier that fought in World War II, the USS Laffey destroyer, the USS Clamagore submarine, and a Vietnam Experience Exhibit.  We spent about four hours exploring and climbing and learning.

We started out on the USS Yorktown.  We visited the dentist, the kitchens, the living and working areas, the fire and engine rooms, the flight deck and bridge, just to name a few.

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^^ Danny’s looking a bit concerned because he was preparing to go to the dentist for real a few days later. ^^

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^^ Danny’s standing in front of what it took to make 10,000 chocolate chip cookies on board the USS Yorktown – 500 eggs, 165 pounds of flour, 3 cups vanilla, and more.  And just look at that beater he’s holding!  With around 3,500 people onboard, they needed a lot of cookies!  ^^

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^^ This is an Apollo 8 simulator that, until right now, we thought was actually Apollo 8.  Turns out the real deal is in Chicago in a museum.  It was pretty crazy to imagine being onboard Apollo 8 as it spend six days traveling to the moon’s orbit and then back to earth.  The USS Yorktown actually picked up Apollo 8 after it splashed down in the Pacific Ocean in December 1968, which is why they have a simulator on board. ^^

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^^ The size of the USS Yorktown is really unbelievable.  Just look at how she towers over Danny. ^^

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^^ The USS Laffey fought in World War II and in April of 1945 was hit by 22 Japanese bombers and suicide kamikazes, but was kept afloat by the 336 man crew who fought back and shot down eleven of the attackers.  It was pretty neat exploring vessels that played an important part in American history. ^^

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^^ The USS Clamagore was commissioned just a few weeks before World War II ended, and thus missed out on the action of war, and spent most of her days operating out of Key West and Charleston.  The Clamagore was especially interesting for us because Keith, Danny’s dad, served on a submarine while he was in the navy.  Walking through the (very) narrow passageways and imagining ourselves living in such a small, dark, cramped space underwater for so long was pretty crazy. ^^

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From there, we went through the new Vietnam Experience Exhibit.  I found this part particularly fascinating.  Perhaps because I’ve toured a couple of aircraft carriers before, and we explored the HMS Belfast in London just three months prior, and for me at least, all of those ships start blending together, but I haven’t been to many museums or interactive experiences about the Vietnam War.  We walked through a replica of a support base, which included bunkers, a mess hall, and an observation tower.  There was also a river patrol boat, ambulance, and three different helicopters that were all used in Vietnam.  We accidentally got into a part of tour with some Vietnam veterans that had been a part of some of the battles portrayed in the exhibit, which really brought things to life for me.

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After Patriot’s Point, we went to the Brown Dog Deli for lunch, just like on our first day – we just couldn’t beat their reasonable prices and great food, not to mention the convenience of being familiar with where it was, parking, and all that good stuff.

After lunch we went back to The Battery for a stroll, explored some charming side streets, and stopped for one last look at Rainbow Row for one last classic Charleston hurrah.

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^^ That’s our little red rental car in the bottom of the picture! ^^

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^^ Charleston is so charming (and classy!) at Christmas.  No inflatable Santas here. ^^

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At this point, we had about three hours before we had to return our rental car.  We took a gamble and decided to drive out to Folly Beach on James Island.  Once we got there, it was worth it, but we hit a lot of traffic on our way there, which resulted in a pretty limited amount of time at the beach.  We found a place to leave the car, put on our flip flops, and hit the beach.  Walking down the steps and through the grass, it seemed like any ordinary beach, but it wasn’t long before we discovered it was really special…

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…the way the clouds reflected off of the water was amazing.  What a special moment that we caught as the sun was going down.

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^^ Folly Beach was also chock-full of starfish.  I mean, we were pumped to find two on Sullivan’s Island that morning, but little did we know that we would literally see hundreds later on that day.  It was unreal. ^^

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^^ Confession time: we brought some starfish home with us.  Being the animal lovers and vegans that we are, though, we made sure that they were really dead before we took them.  They spent about a month in our freezer, and now they’re in a plastic grocery bag on our kitchen table, so I’d say they have a better life with us anyways ;) ^^

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^^ This is, I think, a horseshoe crab we found on the beach.  Although he was very dead, we left him there.  Gotta draw a line somewhere.  ^^

The sunset ended, which made it easier to leave the beach, which was good since it was after 6pm and we had to return our rental car by 7pm.  We checked into our hotel, Aloft, unloaded our luggage and starfish, brought the rental car back to Hertz, and took the shuttle back to the hotel.  After much hemming and hawing, we finally decided to just order pizza for dinner.  It arrived around 9pm, a couple of the toppings we’d ordered.  We called, and they sent another pizza…around 10pm.  It was a late night of eating lots (and lots) of pizza, washing off the starfish and wondering if they were such a good idea as their scent overwhelmed our small hotel room (Aloft hotels may have style, but the rooms are small).

Day 4 was great.  We squeezed a lot in, we were up early, and we stayed up late.  Patriot’s Point wasn’t our favorite, but most of the time we felt like the only ones there, which was really nice.  The displays were old (possibly original to when the Yorktown was opened as a museum in 1975) and an audio guide tour included in admission would have been nice.  The time we spent at the beach in the morning and the evening, though, was definitely the highlight of our day.  I won’t soon forget that sunset and the beach covered in starfish.

We snuck in a little bit of sleep and got up bright and early the next morning and caught our 3:30am shuttle to the airport so that we could board our flight at 5am.  But before we could board, the worst part of our trip…

Some background: before we left Colorado, I grabbed a bunch of one dollar bills – we rarely carry cash when we travel, so we often find ourselves in a bind when we take shuttles, taxis, etc. – you know, situations where you should give a small tip.  So I tried to prepare ahead of time for these sorts of things.  Well, between having to pay to park all over Charleston and having to tip a few more times than anticipated, we were fresh out of any sort of cash when we got dropped off at the airport that morning. The driver had been talking about how important the tips were to him on the drive, though, and we were getting really anxious as we arrived at the terminal.  Nothing was open at that time so we had to use an ATM and withdraw a $20 bill, which was really like $25 since there were a couple of fees added on for the ‘convenience’ of using it.  I begged a store that was just opening to make change for me but they refused.  So we tipped our shuttle driver $20 for driving us to the airport, something we’d already paid the hotel for. It was a frustrating start to our day, but we knew that it would bless our driver and felt like we were left without much of a choice.

We ate our leftover pizza before going through security, flew to Charlotte, and then onto Denver without any trouble.  We arrived home in time to throw in a load of laundry and get ready for Danny’s work Christmas party, which was that evening.  Phew.  It was a long day, but we were glad to be home.

I’m so glad that we decided to tack on some time to Danny’s work retreat, and see some of Charleston.  I left feeling like we had seen everything I wanted to, which is always a good feeling at the end of a trip.  Sometime I’d love to return when it’s warm enough to enjoy the water and tour some of the nearby plantations and historic homes.

If I learned two things about Charleston, it’s this: it’s charming and it’s accessible.  I don’t need to explain charming, I think.  I mean, just Google ‘Charleston’ and you’ll be convinced.  As far as accessible goes, it’s not a huge city (London and Paris, I’m looking at you) where you could spend weeks and still not see it all.  After only a day or two we felt comfortable getting to and from and around the downtown area without our GPS.  We battled traffic only on the last day, when we were joining everyone and their brother trying to get home from work on a Monday evening.  I think it’s unusual to find a city with so much history and so much to see and do but have it still feel so small and accessible.  We really appreciated that about Charleston.

December was an excellent time to visit Charleston – no humidity, beautiful Christmas decorations, no crowds, deals all over the place (remember all the Groupons?) – and I felt like four days was just about right to see everything we wanted to.  Although, I’ll admit, I wouldn’t have complained about some more beach time…but who wouldn’t?  Thanks, Charleston, for being the perfect getaway from the cold and snow of Colorado.  We’ll be back.