Tag Archives: Travel

My Crazy Spring Break

I inhaled the crisp mountain air, as I swooshed down the mountain. The panoramic view of snow capped mountains and giant evergreens was so perfect it looked like a cheeesy 70’s landscape painting. The edge of my skis cut through the powdery snow, which provided the perfect amount of resistance as I sailed down the mountain. Adrenaline pulsed through my veins, as I fought to maintain the delicate balance between speed and control…

“Mom! Moooooom! Is it time to go yet?” Carson, my 6 year old, elbowed me in the stomach, obnoxiously pulling me back to reality. I wiped the drool from my chin and realized that we were not in Colorado. We were in the Tampa airport, where we had been for the past 5 hours.

The morning had started smoothly enough. We had made it to Nashville airport on time, all children and luggage accounted for. We sailed through security, without any “special screening” for my ethnicity vague looking husband. However on arrival at our gate, we discovered our carefully planned direct flight to Denver had been cancelled due to weather. Our best chance to get to Denver was to fly to Tampa and catch a flight from there later that afternoon. So away we went, on what was to be one of the strangest travel experiences of my life.

Shortly after I was awakened from my snowy dream, I was informed by my Hubs that the Denver airport was shut down due to a nasty blizzard. Our flight from Tampa to Denver was also cancelled. Our choices were: return to Nashville (with no chance to get to Denver) or stay in Tampa for 2 days and fly to Denver on Friday afternoon. I did not like either of these choices. During my 30 minutes of denial and tears, the direct flight to Denver filled, and we got the last remaining seats on a connecting jet through St. Louis.

We were all ridiculously disappointed. This was our first Colorado ski trip in 8 years and we (and by “we”, I really mean “Russ”) had been tediously planning it for months. We quickly realized though, that if we were going to be stranded somewhere, Tampa was not a bad place. So we rented a car and checked into a hotel while wearing our puffy ski jackets and carrying 2 giant suitcases full of fleece. Luckily we had packed swimsuits (for the hot tub at the condo), so the first thing my travel exhausted boys did was cannonball into the pool. Then we made a trip to Sears to buy shorts and t-shirts.

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When life gives you lemons, you make lemonade.

My first thought was to go to Disney (about an hour away), but the planner in me was already so frazzled by this hiccup, I didn’t think I could handle going to Disney during spring break with only 1 day notice (I need months to plan my fast passes!). We realized we were staying 10 minutes from Busch Gardens, so that was our new destination.

We arrived at Busch Gardens right when the park opened then next morning, hoping to be first in line for the rides. Beating the crowds was great, except that several of the major attractions didn’t open until a couple hours after the park opened {insert sad trombone}. Busch Gardens is half zoo, half amusement park. The bigger roller coasters were a little too intense for my gang, but the boys enjoyed the animals and the tamer rides. It was frustrating that they charge extra for fast passes and the safari tour (both included in price at Animal Kingdom). We also kept missing the train which takes you through the park to see the animals in the fields.The kids had a great time, despite not being able to ride a ton of rides due to long lines and my youngest being vertically challenged.

I loved the “Gardens” at Busch Gardens. The park is decorated with several elaborate topiaries shaped like various animals. I made my gang mimic the bushes for the photo ops.

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My Octopii

Our flight didn’t leave till 4 o’clock the next day, so we decided to visit nearby Clearwater Beach and go to The Clearwater aquarium. This is the home of the dolphins Hope and Winter from the Dolphin’s Tale movies. The drive across Tampa Bay was gorgeous. It was quite surreal to be driving a thin bridge across the ocean lined with palm trees when we were supposed to be in the mountains. The actual aquarium was interesting but Winter was shy that day, so it was difficult to get a good look at the dolphins. I enjoyed the experience, but honestly my boys were underwhelmed.

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Tampa Bay

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Hope the dolpin

We got to the Tampa airport around 2 and finally arrived at our Condo in Keystone at midnight, where my brother and sister were waiting for us. It had taken us 2.5 days to get there. I could almost hear the hallelujah chorus playing in the background as we unloaded our suitcases.

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View from Condo

The next morning we dropped our young ‘un at ski school (it was his first time), but then discovered that our pre-rented skis did not get dropped at our condo as ordered. We grudgingly ventured out to rent equipment, which seemed especially painful, because I JUST WANTED TO GO SKIING AND NOT WASTE YET ANOTHER HOUR OF MY LIFE. Alas, I took a deep breath and realized I was finally inhaling that crisp mountain air I had been dreaming about and all was good.

When we finally got on the the slopes, the snow was perfect. The lift lines were not bad and Keystone itself was phenomenal. The blizzard that had delayed us was at least thoughtful enough to leave us the most fantastic powder. At the bottom of the first run I was able to catch up with a friend from high school who also happened to be there (the wonders of FB), but as we were chatting I noticed my older son was acting a little off. He and the hubs both had awful headaches and headed back to the condo. They texted me later that they had altitude sickness. Seriously people, you can’t make this stuff up.

I then went back to the condo to care for my family. I then took advantage of the afternoon with no kids and skied my quads off with my brother.  Please don’t judge me, I promise that I did text frequently to make sure they were still OK.

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Keystone with my brother (to whom I am currently making payments to ensuring the go-pro videos of me skiing are never released)

Luckily, everyone felt better with some rest and fluids and the whole family was ready to ski together on Sunday. Finally.

On day 2 of skiing I decided to work with Carson instead of sending him to ski school. Not sure if this was my best idea. There were many tears and tantrums. And Carson got frustrated too. Eventually, he got it figured out and by the end of the day he made it down the mountain, albeit falling a million times. Even when he would fall, he would shout “This is soooo awesome!”

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My ski buddy

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The last day, everything seemed to finally come together. I skied with my boys in the morning and they both zipped down the mountain like it was nothing. Their grins were epic. Watching them have so much fun together was worth all the drama getting to the mountain. Russ and I also remember how much we loved to ski. We all can’t wait to go back.

So how was my spring break? Not what I planned, not relaxing, not cheap and definitely not low stress. Despite all the drama, it was pretty awesome. I got home with some great stories and special family memories that I think we’ll be talking about for a long time.

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Learning to Breathe Again: Turning 40 in Paris

On the morning of my 37th birthday it dawned on me, much to my chagrin, that I would soon be turning 40. Obviously this is something I had always known, but for some reason 37 was the age that it sunk in that I was no longer a spring chicken. The crows feet were forming and I realized that it had been some time since a patient had obnoxiously inquired if I “were really old enough to be a doctor.” I made a decision that if I absolutely must turn 40, I would embrace it.  I wanted to mark the occasion with something fabulous and I could think of nothing more fabulous than a week in Paris.

After three years of dreaming and planning, last month I spent my birthday week in the city of light. My husband and I always like to have something to look forward to, not to “wish our lives away” but to have a focal point on the difficult days and a “project” we can be excited about together. The timing of this adventure ended up being perfect, as a recent cascade of events that ranged from tragic (death of my father) to inconveniently annoying (wreckage of my car) had lead to the last six months being the most difficult season of my life. Faith, prayer and the support of my friends and family helped me make it through the awfulness. However, there were some difficult days that the only thing that got me by was the the thought that I would soon be in Paris. 

Iceland

We flew Iceland Air to France, via Boston (since we plan our own travel it always becomes overly complicated) and spent a day in Reykjavik. Iceland is worthy of it’s own post, should I ever get the time, but to sum up, I would say it’s a quirky, gorgeous, treeless, unique and cold Island. We enjoyed our 30 hours there and would love to go back and spend more time hiking and exploring. We took the I heart Reykjavik Tour and it was great.

Russ and I touring Rekjavik. Where we looked like homeless people because we kept having to but more layers as we walked around town to keep from freezing to death.

Russ and I touring Reykjavik in our official Icelandic Guild hats. We we looked like homeless people because we kept having to put on more layers as we walked around town to keep from freezing to death.

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We made a day trip to the Blue Lagoon. It’s a geothermal spa. The mineral water is the craziest color of blue and 100 degrees, whereas the outside temp is 45 degrees (the lifeguards wear Parkas).

We ate in this funky place. The menu is on the left, beside the ordering line. You ask for fishkebabs (or mink whale steak), they walk around to your side of the counter and take it from the shelf, then cook it and bring it out to the family style table.

 

Paris

People keep asking me about my favorite parts of our trip, but really the best part of Paris was  simply “Paris.”  As we sat in cafes, walked along the Seine and observed the beauty of the architecture, it was as if the city’s energy was coaxing us the feel more alive. Strolling through this ancient city I felt minuscule next to its history and intricate beauty, but at the same time I felt inspired to create and dream.

The sky was so crazy blue it looked photoshopped

The sky was so crazy blue it looked photoshopped.

 

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Night tour in an 2CV convertible. Watching the tower twinkle at midnight gave me goose bumps.

Being in Paris was an obvious reminder of the world that exists outside my silly suburban bubble. Sometimes it takes a trip half way around the world, to one of the most densely populated cities on our planet to be able to slow down. With each block I walked, I begin to slowly feel myself relax. With each breath, I breathed a little deeper. Each step I took, felt a little lighter.

One of my take away moments was sitting at a sidewalk cafe with a local guide. As we got ready to leave I decided I wanted a coffee. As I started to ask the waiter for a coffee to go, our horrified guide quickly stopped me and looked at me as if I had just slapped his grandmother. “This is Paris” he said, ” We do NOT get our coffees ‘to go’, we sit and sip and enjoy the coffee and the company of of friends.” I laughed at my own American ridiculousness and I drank my coffee from a ceramic cup, savoring every sip.

Fun to see the Love Locks bridges before they take them down

Fun to see the Love Locks bridges before they take them down.

The food was phenomenal. Meant to be savored, not gulped.

The food was phenomenal. Meant to be savored, not gulped.

The question "Do you want a crepe?" is always a rhetorical one.

The question “Do you want a crepe?” is always a rhetorical one.

 

Versailles

Since my husband was still recovering from his ruptured his achilles tendon on our trip, we looked for ways to reduce his walking. We discovered the Blue Bike Tour of Versailles and it was truly a highlight of our adventure. We took a train from Paris to Versailles, then stopped at a local market to pack a picnic lunch. We spent several hours biking through the grandly manicured gardens of the 20,000 acre 400 year old estate of Europe’s largest palace. It was truly a marvel. We stopped for a picnic lunch at the end of the mile long the canal looking back at the palace, and much like riding the gondola in Venice, it was a crazy surreal magic moment. The entire time I’m eating my baguette and drinking my wine, I’m thinking that this has to be one of the most perfect moments of my life.

Picnic lunch on the grand canal at Versailles at the end of the mile long canal behind the palace. The canal is cross shaped with treelined paths surrounding it, perfect for biking.

Picnic lunch on the grand canal at Versailles

I’ve been dreaming of walking the famous hall of mirrors at Versailles since I was a girl. While the grandeur of the Palace was mesmerizing, it was the wind in my face as I biked the country side that was my favorite part. I see now why Louis XIV made Versailles the capital of France during his reign.

Hall of mirrors at Versailles

Hall of mirrors at Versailles

Versailles main entrance

Versailles main entrance

Palace view of canal

Palace view of canal

 

My Birthday Run

As a morning person and a runner, I knew I wanted to start my actual birthday with a run. I started at 6 am and ran from our hotel (Hotel Therese, which I loved) to the Louvre. During the day, the Louvre’s courtyard is teaming with tourists, but at sunrise it was only me and my running shoes making cadence on the ancient stones of the courtyard.

Birthday run around the court yard of the Louvre

Birthday run around the court yard of the Louvre

Next I jogged along the Seine, taking in the surreal beauty of the sunrise. I followed the Seine down to Notre Dame, made a lap around the ancient church, gazing up at her intricate flying buttresses and then forced myself to head back to the hotel.

Notre Dame later in the day with all her crowds. It was fabulous to spend some alone time with her at daybreak.

Notre Dame later in the day with all her crowds. It was fabulous to spend some alone time with her at daybreak.

I jaunted back and forth across each bridge of the Seine, running both on the street level and river level. I knew I would likely only get in one good run on my trip and I wanted to experience the city in my favorite way: at day break with a brisk jog. I payed no attention to my pace, I was too busy smiling.

Sunrise run in Paris

Sunrise run in Paris

Lunch on Eiffel Tower

Six months ago my life was turned upside down, when my dad was murdered. {Damn. Just writing that sentence makes my fingers shake.} Afterward, everyone told me to take the time to mourn. I tried, but the realities of my life and my responsibilities kept getting in the way. Over the next few months, each time life would start to creep back towards normal and I would start to feel like I could maybe breathe again, something else would happen. My husband ruptured his achilles tendon and was unable to walk for 6 weeks, upping my stress level as I then had to do all of his household work in addition to my own (side note: I will never take him for granted again!).  About the time he could walk with a crutch, my grandmother passed away, I wrecked my car and then another close family member was diagnosed with cancer. I felt like a dark cloud was hovering over my head that I just couldn’t shake.

In the midst of all the drama as we are planning this trip, Russ came up with the idea to eat my birthday lunch on the Eiffel tower at the Jules Verne Restaurant. I resisted at first, as it seemed like a ridiculous splurge, but I’m so glad we did it. The moment I sat down and peered out the window over the city, I was overcome with all the emotion and anticipation of the last six month. I began to cry bittersweet tears for the beauty of the moment, in the midst of all the heartache of this season. Thankful for the opportunity to get to experience something so amazing, heartbroken that I wouldn’t get to tell my dad all about it.

40 th Birthday lunch at the Jules Verne Restaurant in the Eiffel Tour

40th Birthday lunch at the Jules Verne Restaurant in the Eiffel Tour. We got to bypass the 1.5hr line and take a private elevator straight to the second level. We relaxed and spent 3 hours eating a meal at a Michelin starred restaurant while enjoying one of the most fantastic views in the world.

I guess at super fancy restaurants they expect you to eat with tiny utensils

I guess at super fancy restaurants they expect you to eat with tiny utensils

Eiffel tower observation deck obligatory selfie

Eiffel tower observation deck obligatory selfie

Jules Verne dessert course. Every single bite was delicious.

Jules Verne dessert course. Every single bite was delicious.

When I got back home, I spoke with a dear friend who said that she prayed for me that my black cloud would simply fall into the Atlantic as we flew across it. I loved that analogy, because that is really what it felt like. The Paris trip was a turning point and beautiful transition for us. My heart is healing. I’m now making time in the midst of the craziness of life to sit on the porch with my coffee and savor the little moments and remember what It felt like to walk through the vibrant beauty of Paris. On my morning runs, I’m beginning to appreciate the gorgeous colors of my Tennessee sunrises again. Am I still grieving? Of course. But the pain is beginning to transition from a sharp raw grief to a bittersweet ache and I feel like I’m breathing again.

 

Thank yous:

A giant thank you to our parents my for watching our kiddos while we were gone. Especially Russ’s parents who road-tripped the kids to Oklahoma via Branson.

Thank you to Wendi Mihalko who helped us plan our meals. Every place she suggested was amazing! She has since started her own of travel consulting site. If you are traveling abroad I would highly recommend her.

Thank you to our guide in Paris, Micheal @ Paris Find. He was excellent, knowledgeable, affordable and simply a nice guy. If you want to pretend you are in Paris you can follow him on Instagram where he posts the most lovely pictures of his city.