Leaf Peeping.

Woah. It’s been awhile since I wrote. Well a few things have happened since I last wrote, but most importantly – my dad’s final radiation treatment is in two days! Let’s hope he kicked cancer’s ass this time, eh?

Back to the leaf peeping. Did you know that was a popular phrase in New England? I sure as heck didn’t. That was until I arrived in Vermont in October to take a road trip with my friend to see the fall colors. Aka leaf peeping. “Oh you’re here for leaf peeping?” “It’s peak leaf peeping season.”(this was the weather guy on TV) “Be careful hiking, a lot of leaf peepers get hurt out here.”

I don’t know if New Englanders are slightly perverse, or don’t understand the humor in using peeping in this way. It made taking in the fall foliage feel a bit dirty. Yet, after a few days we were embracing this term too.

Let’s go back to the beginning shall we?

I decided that I needed to go to VT, NH and ME this year to finally complete the Lower 48. I didn’t care if I did it alone, I was going. And I was going to go during the peak fall colors season – early-to-mid October. My friend Sophia decided she needed to get out of Dodge (aka Buffalo, NY) and join me. But why stop at those three states? We tacked on Montreal and Boston to the trip too, since both were about 2 hours from the destinations in VT and ME.

Montreal

We rented a fabulous AirBnB near McGill University and spent the entire day walking around the city, enjoying the sights and the delicious foods. We also made a stop at a cat cafe – my first time attending one. I’m not a cat person, but it was pretty cute and the cupcakes were delicious! Of course we stopped for poutine, a delicacy we’ve had many times in MN, but never in it’s home province of Quebec. Hippi Poutine was delicious, and the owner’s humor and accent were delectable. Plus, they had board games and Soph had never played Battleship. After a pitcher of sangria, and a huge helping of poutine, we said au revoir and continued on to Old Montreal.

Between the cobblestone streets and French all around, it’s easy to get lost in this city’s beauty and feel as though you’re in Europe. After many hours and many miles of walking, we decided to find dinner. Lola Rosa Cafe is a quaint vegetarian restaurant near McGill’s campus. There are no reservations, so you just show up and wait in line for a table. It was worth the wait! The food was incredibly fresh and the dessert was so decadent I could die, but that’s not even the best part. Every table has drawers in it filled with notes from people around the world who’ve eaten at your very same table. We enjoyed reading the ones we could while we ate dinner. In the morning we found a Hinnawi Bros. Bagels Cafe at the recommendation of a fellow traveler. Who knew Montreal had their own stamp on bagels? They’re like a cross-breed between bagels and pretzels, and every bit as tasty as both!

After devouring our bagels, we went to the bus station to head south to Vermont. I had read quite a bit while planning this trip, and found that taking a bus across the border may be more inconvenient than the train but far better than renting a car and driving. A train was not going to work for our next destination, so we took a Greyhound and found it to be a pleasant ride. The countryside of Quebec was quite beautiful to watch out the windows, with the colors starting to show as we neared the United States border.

Upon arrival in Burlington, we rented a car and decided to go to Shelburne Farms. The same traveler who recommended the bagels had mentioned the farms, and given that she nailed it with the bagels – we trusted her fully!

This place was glorious! Back in its prime, this working farm was owned by the Vanderbilt Family. There’s a hotel, restaurant, bar, store, bakery, cheesemaking shop (you bet your ass these two girls from MN bought some damn fine cheese too), woodshop… and probably a lot more that I’m forgetting. It’s worth every penny of the entry charge to go to this beautiful piece of history on the southern shore of Lake Champlain. Plus, WE GOT TO BOTTLE FEED A BABY COW!!! Oh. Fer. Cute.

And then after all of that, we drove away and came across this pit stop. be still my heart…

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We’d been in Vermont for approximately 4 hours (tops) at this point, and I was so in love with New England already. We happened upon a great farm-to-table restaurant while walking along Church Street Marketplace, aptly named the Farmhouse Tap & Grill. Holy guacamole the entire meal (and the beers) were the best meal yet! I know, I know…every meal has been the best meal – but I swear, each day of this trip was like a party in my mouth! And then our server pointed us in the direction of a unique watering hole named Light Club Lamp Shop. While there were no lamps for sale at this live music venue, lamps they were a plenty!

In the morning, we found the Earth Clock on the shore of Lake Champlain before finding the World’s Tallest File Cabinet. You just keep being you, Vermont, and never change your strange! After a photo shoot at the cabinet, we went into downtown to explore the farmer’s market and get a Maple Latte at Onyx Tonics. This may be one of the best lattes I’ve ever tasted, and the barista informed me that the maple was from a farm nearby and the milk was from a different farm in town. It doesn’t get fresher than that!

We started to head east, following the recommendation of my company’s owner to stop at Camel’s Hump along our route to New Hampshire. We attempted to hike to the top, but weather forced us to cut the hike short. It was wet, cold, and the ungroomed paths were very slippery – as Sophia learned the hard way and took a fall on some rocks. We had also been told by many hikers coming downhill that the view at the top was only fog. Knowing this, and knowing that the Ben & Jerry’s Factory was nearby – we made the smart decision to get back in the car and continue on. We had ice cream to sample.

I’m not sure about you, but I love Ben & Jerry’s. Not only do they make a great product, they give back to their community and fight for their beliefs. I knew this going in to the tour, but learned so much more about them that just wowed me! What a great company and a great example for how you can stay true to your roots, even after becoming a HUGE success. Kudos to those two dudes for never straying from their dreams, political activism and morals. Also, they made a stellar factory experience that includes my favorite touristy-stop ever – The Flavor Graveyard. Thank you, sirs.

Because we didn’t have enough sugar yet, we stopped to have cider and cider donuts at Cold Hollow Cider Mill up the street. When in Rome, right? BTW, we hadn’t even seen the fall colors yet. This trip was STACKED.

We crossed into New Hampshire at night, and had to stop at the state sign for a photo opp. Live Free or Die. That’s one helluva state slogan, NH. We weren’t sure if we should keep driving or just stay in Vermont where we knew we’d be safe with Bernie Sanders, Ben, Jerry and all the weirdos and beardos who call VT home. Nevertheless, we persisted.

Given that it was night time, we had no idea what to expect of the landscape. We knew we were heading into the White Mountains, as we were staying at a hostel that was connected to the Appalachian Trail. We checked in to the Notch Hostel, then grabbed some beers and settled in to the living room to enjoy conversations with fellow travelers. This hostel was really well kept, the owner was incredibly helpful in planning our next day of hiking/exploring, and the other travelers were fabulous to stay with. We were lucky and I would definitely consider staying here again, should I come back to the area. In the morning we woke up, and drove a hiker to the Lincoln Woods trailhead, where we spent the next hour or so walking in the rain and enjoying our first views of the brightest fall colors we’d ever seen.

We had no idea what was to come, but these were the most vibrant trees we’d seen so far. In fact, in Vermont we had even said that if we didn’t see the colors because the season was off this year – that was okay, the trip had been fun anyway. Seriously. We were so unprepared for what we were about to see.

One of the greatest things about NH is that it’s basically one big State Park. We paid our fees, and were set to head east on the Kancamagus Highway. We had rain, fog, wind and cold temps – but we both agreed, that was just what we expected for fall weather! And we were lucky that we didn’t encounter snow. The highway is a beautiful, scenic road through the mountains. The further we climbed in elevation, the more colors we were seeing. Purples, peaches, pinks, were just some of the colors I’d never seen before in fall colors. We were leaf peeping, and we were love.ing.it. When we came across this view, we both got teary-eyed…

 

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Pictures will never do this justice, but you can imagine the sea of colors in front of us. It was remarkable. We both remarked (then said JINX) “I feel like I’m actually in a painting.” No joke. As we continued on the Kanc, we found many sights along the way to stop and explore (weather permitting).

We came to Conway, NH and made a decision to see what other sites we could find. A quick Google search led us to Diana’s Baths, a unique waterfall and former sawmill area leftover from the 1800’s. There were still remnants of the mill and homestead, but the waterfalls and pools are the main attraction.

The sunshine came out, and we felt energized! On the way to Diana’s Baths we saw a sign for a place called Echo Lake and decided to find it again on our way back to the highway. It was a serene lake, with very few visitors. Since the rain had let up, we decided to take a stroll around the lake. The solitude and the silence were a nice respite from the bustling parks we’d been visiting all day.

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We continued to Maine, the final of the 48 contiguous states that I had to visit. I felt so many emotions when we crossed the state line, remembering so many of the journeys I’ve had crossing other state lines in the past. My parents had started this adventure, bringing us in their van, camping all over the United States. Then I worked on the Tailgate Tour which led 26,000 miles driven. Ever since, I’d slowly been knocking states off one trip at a time. I feel so lucky to have seen so much of this country, and I cannot wait to get to Alaska and Hawaii to complete all 50 states!

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The weather was finally on our side, so when we saw a sign for an apple orchard Sophia took a sharp (possibly illegal, definitely unsafe) turn to find it. Many a winding country road later, we showed up at Brackett’s Apple Orchard. This family has been farming apples in the US since before we were the US. No joke. They’re the oldest known apple farmers in the country! And we just went to it on a whim, following a hand-painted sign on the side of the road. I love when things like this happen.

We rode the train, picked some apples and practiced our aim on the apple slingshot. We still had quite a long drive ahead, so we continued onward toward Portland. Until I saw a beautiful scene from the passenger side, and forced Soph to pull yet another unsafe and potentially illegal maneuver to get back to it. And holy Haiti, it was worth it.

When we finally made it to Portland, we checked in to our hotel and immediately hit the hot tub. We’d been cold and wet for a few days now, and we were ready to feel our fingers and toes again. While I don’t eat seafood, I had known that if I went to Maine with someone they would need to eat lobster. I’m not an idiot, nor am I an a-hole, so we went to Portland Lobster Company. I almost threw up a few times as Sophia ate her lobster, but she repaid me in dessert and martinis at Bar of Chocolate nearby. And for the record, I think that may be my new favorite bar name.

A coworker of Soph’s had told her to find The Holy Donut, where they made donuts from potatoes. Yet another thing I never knew existed! We had to find it, and even though the line was about a block long, we stood in the rain to get our donuts. Naturally, we bought four. We took turns tasting them each and providing our reviews like we were the critic for the Times. But cotdammit, you best believe those were the greatest things I’ve tasted since the last time I said that!! This sugar bender resulted in the purchase of a lobster claw pen, a selfie video, and a lot of laughter – all while Soph watched in silence and awe.

And of course, it was cold and raining again. We scheduled a route to see 5-6 light houses along the coast on our way to Boston. Due to weather, we only made it to 3 – and you could only see 2 of them.

Since the fog was getting intense, we changed our plans and rerouted to Salem. We started by visiting the Witch Trials Memorial and various tourist attractions nearby. At the recommendation of a friend, we wound up at the Gallows Hill Theater where we watched a production about the Witch Trials and then took a Ghost Trolley Tour. I love cheesy tourist attractions, and I love being scared – so this was a really fun experience for me! Also, I love any town that has an easy-to-follow trail to historic sites around town. Salem was a surprisingly beautiful and fun town, and we were happy that our trip sent us to this bewitching city.

I had to make at least one pun about witches.

We ate yet another amazing meal, this time at Rockafellas, then hit the road to Boston. I had selected a hotel near Harvard, both to save money and to add Harvard of the sites to visit while in town. I’ve been to Boston a handful of times, yet never made it to that part of the city. We stopped for a highly recommended Golden Crema and breakfast sandwich at the Crema Cafe in Harvard Square. YUM.

While I’ve been to the Beantown before, Sophia hadn’t. And I love the history, so I was happy to oblige her with a walk along the Freedom Trail. Of course, we also added stops at Cheers and Mike’s Pastry, because we’re human beings and we like beer and cannoli. We also found a great little pizza shop in the North End called Bencotto, because Giacomo’s wasn’t open yet and we she needed to try Italian food in the North End before we flew home.

I’m so grateful that through the years and the distance (first me in Chicago, now Sophia in Buffalo), that we have remained such good friends. Traveling with people can be an eye-opening and potentially friendship-ending experience. The moment the trip was done, we were already talking about the next one. I feel so lucky to have friends who want to see the world too, and who want to see it in a similar fashion that I do. Until the next one… ❤

 

 

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The Waiting is the Hardest Part

As you may remember, about a year and a half ago my dad was diagnosed with prostate cancer (about 6 months after his first “iffy” PSA test). It’s been a really long two years of waiting. Waiting for treatment plans, waiting for surgery, and now waiting to see what’s next.

I’m a pretty private person, and I rarely share my emotions. I’m a stubborn German, youngest child, Minnesotan. Raised by a stubborn German, youngest child, Minnesotan. Meanwhile, my poor mother is emotional, affectionate and talkative enough for the rest of the family. Add in two older brothers, one of which is the definition of an over-sharer. I love him, but seriously… My private life, and thoughts, are my own. I write to allow some of that off my chest, but I keep most things to myself.

I internalize and over-analyze everything. In the same breath, I’m a silver linings type of person. I’m trying to learn, to grow and to create a reason for this awful waiting. I’d like to think it’s helped me to realize who and what is important, taught me an unbelievable amount of patience, thought long and hard about what I want for my future (and where I want that to be), and now I’m getting the chance to use this experience to help comfort someone who’s just started on this same journey.

I recently started a new job, one that I am INCREDIBLY excited and proud to be doing. Given that I’m around new people, I especially wasn’t ready to share that my father had just undergone surgery to remove his prostate. In my first week on the job, my coworker’s husband was diagnosed with this same cancer. I felt compelled to tell her about my dad’s experience, in hopes to comfort her. Over the past few weeks, we’ve talked a few times – but I’d kept it a secret that the surgery didn’t clear him of cancer. I was afraid that this would be a scary thing for her to hear. Plus, it means our family is back in the waiting game again… The last thing anyone wants to hear when they just want answers for their own loved one.

So now her family will wait. And our family will wait. This is the part of cancer people don’t talk about. The toll that all of the waiting takes on you.

Others in the office now know about my family’s experience, and I’ve learned that in the office of just 20 people – 6 of them have had cancer. That’s about a third of our office. As we all talk through our stories, trying to comfort our coworker in this tough time, we all admit that the waiting is the hardest part. It tests your patience. It tests your faith (in medicine, in others, in a higher power).

For me, it’s also tested my ability to see a silver lining. My optimism has taken a big blow by this one. Now, it’s back to the waiting until the next doctor’s appointment – hoping for good news. I’m trying to bring back my half glass full attitude in the face of all this damn waiting.

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Petting rhinos.

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Hidden in the forests on the Florida-Georgia Line (the real one, not the one that wears sparkly skinny jeans) lies a beautiful facility called White Oak Conservation Center. This 13,000 acre facility is home to some of the most endangered species in the world. They are one of the most successful breeding and research facilities on the planet, and they are one of my clients.

The land White Oak calls home was once a plantation, then a paper milling forest. The paper company’s owner had a passion for saving endangered species and started White Oak. After many generations passed, the family no longer owns the facility and the owner of the LA Dodgers now owns White Oak.

Since this was once a plantation, there are a number of houses on the property which are now rented out by companies for retreats or used for various summer camps. Our team decided to go to White Oak for our team meeting, and I was booked to stay in the same room that Bill and Hilary Clinton lived in during the Monica Lewinsky scandal! I kid you not. It was HUGE! There was a living room with a beautiful fireplace, massage room, two bathrooms (complete with bidets) and a private deck overlooking the house pool and the rhinos. Yes, we had a pool (and hot tub) you could watch the rhinos from. Incredible. Can you imagine waking up on a foggy Florida morning, walking out on your deck and watching rhinos? It was heaven on earth.

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While we did have three days of meetings, we were able to fit some fun in too! I learned how to play round-the-world ping pong (which is SO MUCH FUN), we had a bowling tournament, went on a sunset cruise and went kayaking on the St. Mary’s River – plus, we pet rhinos and fed the giraffes!

I’ve been on a handful of corporate trips, and this was the most memorable and most successful. Our team had productive meetings and came out with better relationships than prior to the meeting. We had gone through a rough transition, with the abrupt dismissal of our Director, and this meeting finally helped us heal.

White Oak does occasional open its doors to the public, it is typically only available for retreats/weddings/etc. from 10-100 people. Side note – can you imagine getting married here? #lifegoals

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Great Lakes and Great Friends.

After returning from Germany, and immediately going to Florence and The Machine, I packed my bags again and boarded a flight to Buffalo, NY. If I’m being honest, Buffalo is not a destination I ever imagined traveling to – but my best friend moved there to be with her boyfriend. Plus, she works at a music venue and it’s insanely close to Canada (a place I’d never been).

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She picked me up from the airport and we went to meet her boyfriend for a day of sailing on Lake Erie. It was a beautiful day on the water, catching up with friends and enjoying cocktails on the sailboat.

Buffalo is a rather empty downtown, but Canalside is a fun, vibrant area and where the music venue is located. There were three concerts lined up for the week, starting with the local pop music station’s summer music fest. There were a number of musicians I had never heard of, but many of the tweens in the crowd screamed over. Then came Iggy Azalea and Meghan Trainor… two acts that I could finally sing along to. While it was a fun day, the Twenty One Pilots concert a couple of days later was even better. They put on a helluva show.

My friend and I were able to both take some time off during the week, so we went up to Niagara-On-The-Lake for some day drinking at the vineyards.

Niagara-On-The-Lake is a quaint little town, with a beautiful main street. More importantly, they have like 50 vineyards. Renting bikes and visiting said vineyards in the thing to do, so when in Rome… This town in Ontario produces something like 90% of all of Ontario’s wine. And they’re famous for making Icewine. I’d never been to America’s Hat before, so I was new to Icewine. I’d be lying if I said it was something I could see myself drinking again… until I tried it at our last vineyard in the form of a chocolate shooter.

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My life will never be the same.

It could have been the wine, or the sun, or the water… but I think it was probably the combination of all of these things and being with my friend that made this one of the most fun days I’ve had in a long time. And we still had half the week to go! We made our way back to the US, but only for a day before we were going to head to Toronto.

That one day back in Buffalo included meeting Public Enemy before their set at Canalside. Flavor Flav and Chuck D are amazing, and incredibly polite/friendly/etc. Also, who knew that Flavor Flav played bass guitar – because that was not a fact I learned on The Surreal Life or Flavor of Love.

The week still wasn’t over. We still had a free night at the Omni Hotel in Toronto to use. Thanks to my many nights at Omni hotels on the road for my last job, I had earned a few free nights and cashed my last one in for this trip. I called ahead to tell them about my bestie’s new promotion at work and they gave us a bottle of champagne and chocolate covered strawberries to celebrate. It was fabulous. After we polished off the bottle of champagne, we sauntered to the restaurant across the street and found a drink called the Jake Ginenhaal. It was going to be a great night.

As a general statement, Canadians are a super polite group of people. Downtown Toronto might be the cleanest major city I’ve been to, and the bars were not only fun – the bartenders were incredibly nice. The bartender at one establishment ended up giving us two rounds of free drinks, just because one of our drinks was accidentally spilled (only a splash) when she set them down. The cabbies were nice, the bouncers were nice. It was super refreshing.

The next morning we spent some time walking around downtown, but never settled on an activity to do – so we left for Niagara Falls after eating some amazing pizza near Lake Ontario. This now means I’ve been to four of the five Great Lakes – Lake Huron, watch out!

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If you’ve read any of my other posts, you know that I love being a tourist. I’m not embarrassed by it one bit. I do the cheesy touristy things, I buy the cheesy touristy photos, I love it all. Niagara Falls offered many options for someone like me (a total nerdy tourist) and after a lot of convincing – I got my friend to join me on the Behind the Falls tour. We had to wait about an hour before it was our time slot, so we filled that time by Googling all of the stories of people who tried to take various watercrafts over the falls. It’s worth reading about, we were very entertained.

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If I ever go back to Niagara Falls, I will do this tour every time. It was beautiful and so fascinating. We learned a lot about the early development of the area, the power produced by the falls and we got to tour the tunnels behind the falls. It was worth every penny. Plus, we got these awesome ponchos so that we could take photos like the one above.

We had so much fun during the weeklong visit. I’d be lying if I said it was because we were in Buffalo, because that town doesn’t have much to offer outside of the concerts. It is a great option for those who want to go to Canada without the pricey airline tickets, as it was just a short drive to cross the border and then maybe a two hour drive to Toronto.

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Brezeln und Bier.

In May, I took my first week-long vacation (true vacation – no cell reception, email, etc.) since I graduated from college. For the past 8 years, when I’ve taken a vacation I have always been available via email and phone. Unfortunately, even when we take time off from work – people don’t respect that anymore, so even my family vacations have been filled with texts/emails/phone calls that were “too important” to wait until I returned. This is an utterly frustrating side effect of the creation of smart phones.

So I took time off, and I went to Europe where I couldn’t be reached for a week!

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Neuschwanstein Castle

After many hours on a plane, I met my friend Lisa at the Munich airport. Lisa is from Graz, Austria and currently lives in Munich. How do I know someone from Austria? She and I used to work together in Chicago. In fact, she invited me to visit her over my birthday weekend and I instantly bought the plane tickets! I have her to thank for all of the lovely memories I’m about to share with you.

Our first stop, after getting the rental car, was Neuschwanstein Castle. This castle is incredibly beautiful. And it’s no wonder why Walt Disney fashioned Sleeping Beauty’s Castle after this stunner. Unfortunately, we missed the last tour of the day – AND the bridge with the most famous view was closed – but we didn’t let it ruin our visit.

My legs and lungs may have been burning from the hike to the top, and I may not have really known where I was due to the jet-lag… but I was already in love with Bavaria and so ready to start our adventure!

We had plans to stay in Innsbruck, Austria after our visit to the castle, and continued onward. With the backdrop of the Alps on the Autobahn, Lisa and I were able to catch up about where our lives had taken us since we both left Chicago a year before.

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On the border of Germany and Austria sits Germany’s highest peak – Zugspitze. We stopped here for a moment to stretch our legs and take in the amazing view. Lisa spoke of her dreams to hike this mountain – and has since done so!

We crossed the border in to Austria, and this is where my brain stopped working properly. Jet-lag got the best of me, and holding a conversation became very difficult. I may have even fallen asleep from time to time – officially making me the worst road trip partner! We made it Innsbruck, and got a little lost finding our hotel for the night… but once we made it there, it was the most adorable inn! Up in the hills of Igls, tucked near the bobsled track from the 1976 Olympics, sits the Hotel Römerhof. The owner greeted us, teaching me to say “Servus!” in this part of Austria (instead of Hallo) and promptly gave me a shot of some liqueur that was delicious. I’m still not sure what this was, other than tasty. We hit up the sauna, relaxed on the balcony and went to sleep early. Well, I went to sleep early…

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The view from the inn’s parking lot.

After eating the most enormous spread of local cheeses, breads, fruits, and anything else you can dream of (all of which was included in our stay), we ventured down in to the city of Innsbruck.

Downtown Innsbruck is a beautiful mix of old and new, set in a valley in the Alps. Everywhere you look, you see snow-capped mountains! We walked through the city, enjoyed their famous strudel and of course – Swarovski.

After spending a few hours strolling through the beautiful streets of Innsbruck, it was time to move on and head towards Zurich, Switzerland. Lisa has friends that she has met all over the world, and we were staying with one of these friends in Zurich. The drive included a pit stop in Vaduz, Liechtenstein where I got my passport stamped and we appreciated the small downtown area, with the castle above.

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As expected, it didn’t take long to see this small city and drive through this very small country! Not long after crossing into Switzerland, the scenery changed and we approached one of the most awe-inspiring lakes I’ve ever seen. Reminder: I’m from Minnesota (aka the Land of 10,000 Lakes) and I love water. I also love mountains – so Lake Walensee was one of the most beautiful sights I’ve seen.

I dipped my toes in, and though it felt amazing after the many hours of walking, my feet instantly froze. It was worth it.

We made it to Lisa’s friend’s house just outside of Zurich, just in time for dinner. We ate an insanely delicious meal called Raclette. You melt cheese and veggies (or meats or whatever you dream of) in this fun little grill, then you pour it over potatoes! Here’s a video to give you a better idea. Being from the Upper Midwest, this was basically my dream dinner – and now I want to know how I can have it in the USA. It’s a special kind of cheese that makes this dinner possible, so if any Americans reading this know where I can find it please let me know immediately. I imagine the grills and tools are available on Amazon, because what isn’t available on Amazon?

 

Zurich sits on a large lake, with the Alps in the background. Unfortunately, the day we were exploring we couldn’t see the mountains well. The city is filled with lavish stores, Lindt chocolate shops and everything else that was far too expensive for me to afford. Lisa and I were well-prepared, and brought our own snacks which we devoured while sitting on a wall overlooking the city. Some thieves attempted a jewelry store heist, which caused some confusion, road blocks and a lot of police presence. Without access to the internet, this was slightly unsettling so we left downtown for the arts district (the Viadukt shopping area).

We had previously read about an area called Frau Gerolds Garten, and went on a mission to find it! We enjoyed our lunch overlooking (the cafe tables were on top of stacked rail cars) the open-air shops and cafes, set against street art. In one alley we found one of many art installations, the famous umbrella canopy outside of Gerold Cuchi restaurant.

From Zurich we drove to the Black Forest, and stayed with an couple that Lisa met hiking in South America. The following picture perfectly captures the fun loving personality Kurt, as well as the amazing house and views we were able to call home for a night.

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Kurt taught me that in Germany “a little walk” is what Americans would call a hike. And yes, I learned this the hard way. Twice. The first “little walk” we went on was to a tower – which we then climbed – provided for breathtaking (literally) views of the area (you can see Switzerland and France on clear days). And of course, we treated ourselves to a traditional Black Forest pilsner after the climb.

After a fun night of grilling, enjoying a thunderstorm rolling in from the deck and way too much wine – we woke up and went for another “little walk” on a rainy morning.

The cows wear HUGE cowbells, and it was a beautiful sound to hear on the hike. Here’s a video I took to give you an idea of the chorus of bells. After our hike, it was time to say our goodbyes and drive to Munich. Unfortunately, the light rain gave way to torrential downpours (this was the same few days that Paris flooded) and our plans to enjoy the drive – stopping to sight see along the way – was thrown out the door. We had to return the car and Lisa had to work in the morning. I do want to take time and go back to this region of Germany – mostly because I’ve never seen so many vineyards in one place before! And I’ve been to California wine country.

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Rathaus’s Fischbrunnen at Marienplatz

The trip so far had been filled with delicious chocolate, breads, wines and cheese. More cheese than I could have ever wished for! Now, it was time to embrace Munich’s traditions of pretzels and beer. And man, did I embrace it. I felt like I earned with all of the walking though, right?

We arrived in Munich during the late evening, and Lisa lives outside of downtown – so I didn’t know what to expect the next morning. I boarded the train for downtown, and was in awe when I came up from the subway to view Marienplatz for the first time. What a way to be welcomed to the city! Without planning it, I happened to time my trip perfectly to catch the Glockenspiel at Rathaus (video).

I spent my entire first day just walking around the city, without a true destination in mind – except for Hofbräuhaus and Cafe Frischhut. Walking through the famous Viktualienmarkt on my mission for the cafe was an added bonus. I ended up back at the market at least five more times before I left Munich. After enjoying the most delicious donut I’ve ever had – an apfel krapfen – I ventured towards the royal estate and Englischer Garten.

Munich was incredibly easy to navigate without GPS, or knowing the language. I mostly kept to myself, but when I did interact with others they were very friendly. The city is beautiful, with narrow passage ways, street cafes and gothic architecture. One really unique part of Munich is the Englischer Garten surfers (video). I spent a long time hanging out in this park, resting my feet and watching the surfers.

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After some time taking in the scenery, it was time for beer and a pretzel. I made my way to Hofbräuhaus for a radler and brezel. I had no idea that this brewery, restaurant and landmark was so large! I was taken aback by the artwork, the live band (video) and the overall atmosphere of the place – not to mention the MASSIVE beers being served. I had quite the buzz after just one!

Day one was complete, and Lisa cooked a delicious dish called kaiserschmarrn. On a full belly of pretzels, beer, wine, cheese and kaiserschmarrn – I slept like a baby! I awoke to a threat of rain and decided my best bet was to find indoor activities to spend my last day of the trip. I navigated my way to Olympiapark, home of the 1972 Olympics and neighbor to BMW Welt and Headquarters.

Before the heavy rains hit, I made my way around Olympiapark. The architecture and colors screamed 1970’s. I enjoyed watching the ducks on the lake near the tower, eating – you guessed it – a pretzel.

After I’d had my fill of the park, and as the rain started to fall, I found my way to BMW Welt and Museum – where I spent the next four hours or so. I kid you not, the rest of my day was learning about the history of BMW and looking at the beautiful cars.

Hats off to the architects and designers who created these two buildings/experiences. I’m not even a huge “car person” and I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of my time at BMW. Of course the cars are beautiful, but they did a great job of creating a museum flow through history that was equally engaging and educational. Plus, they have coolest entrance to a museum I’ve ever seen (video). And of course, the pretzels were awesome too! When I got home, Lisa made me her favorite dish – and now one of my favorite dishes – kaesespaetzle. Think of a cross between mac & cheese and gnocchi, but not at all pasta and A LOT of delicious cheeses. It’s pretty much heaven.

I had such a wonderful time in Europe. I’m so grateful for Lisa for introducing me to our hosts (and new friends) in Switzerland and the Black Forest, and for being an extraordinary tour guide/host/translator. I cannot wait to travel abroad again, and I hope I can make a trip like this an annual tradition.

 

For more pictures from Europe, please check out my Flickr page.

 

 

 

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Where Unforgettable Happens

Disney’s new tagline seemed appropriate for a title on a post about a fun trip to Florida.

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I visited Orlando for a convention this winter, and we were able to go to Disney World for a discount. Before our trip to mecca for children, we were treated to a free concert by Sheryl Crow. Talk about a throwback week! You better believe we were singing loudly along to her songs like Everyday is a Winding Road, All I Wanna Do…

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It had been about 23 years since I first visited Disney World, and upon entry my coworker snagged a “1st visit” button, slapped it on my jacket and walked me to a great spot for watching the fireworks.

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I couldn’t stop smiling. The fireworks display is amazing, and is set to all of the songs from my favorite Disney movies growing up. Following the fireworks, I had one request – to ride Space Mountain. See, when I was here 20+ years ago I was too short to ride. And my brothers weren’t, so all I heard about was how awesome Space Mountain is, how fun the ride is, yada yada… Typical big brother bullcrap. But let me tell you – it is freaking awesome! I would ride that coaster a million times if I could. Now, I understand why they didn’t shut up about it.

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From here we walked to every “land” in the park, and rode the major rides on each. To be honest, most of these ride are designed for small children – so they are a bit underwhelming. BUT it was fun to ride the rides I remembered from my childhood like It’s a Small World, Peter Pan and Thunder Mountain. Thunder Mountain at night might be the coolest view of Disney you can get!

I didn’t stop at Disney either. I could also purchase discounted tickets to Universal, so my good friend drove up from Tampa and joined me for an afternoon riding more adult rides – but first, we had to make a pit stop at Moe’s Tavern for some Duff beer. I grew up loving The Simpsons – yep, we watched it as a family – so I was just as gitty as I had been the night before at Disney.

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In all seriousness, Universal is really fun and I was amazed at the ability to immerse people in a world like Harry Potter and Springfield. We got a tip from our bartender at Moe’s that the ET ride was about to close for good, and we snuck on over to that part of the park to ride it one last time! I love that ride, and remembered this from my trip to Universal as a kid. It’s the only ride I remember from that trip (and likely the only one that was there 23 years ago). Confession: I’ve never read Harry Potter. I tried once in college, and just didn’t like it. That being said, Harry Potter world and the rollercoaster at Universal is just amazing. I was in awe. We had to ride The Mummy rollercoaster too – I remember riding the one in LA when I was 16 and loved this one just as much!

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We had a great day at the park, then drove south to my friend’s house in Clearwater. My friend lives right on the water of Old Tampa Bay, which has beautiful walkways around some channels and open water. We went on a mission to watch the sunset on an incredibly cold evening, and failed due to new construction – but we made the most of it!

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My feet were frozen in this picture. It was like 40 degrees outside…

If you’re going to this part of Florida, and you’re an art lover – you MUST go to the Dali museum in St. Pete. By coincidence, the weekend I was in town also happened to be the opening weekend of the Dali & Disney exhibit. This included some unique parallels between the two, stories of their friendship and collaboration (Destino, the opening exhbit at Disney Land in LA), as well as a virtual reality experience in a Dali painting! That was the best part of the whole week, in my opinion.

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I love Dali – he was a true master. His most famous works are also his most surreal, but some of my favorites are his more realistic paintings.

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I could spend an entire day staring at this painting… We had such a good time discussing the art, laughing at each other doing the VR experience, and exploring the gardens and outdoor maze.

I’ve mastered the art of turning any work trip into as much of a vacation as I can – a workation – and this was one of the most unforgettable ones so far! It was fun to be a kid again, creating new memories in places I’ve been before and experiencing new things in cities I’ve already visited.

 

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The Reunion Tour

 

 

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After nearly a year away, I decided it was time to reunite with the place I called home for two years – Chicago. I miss my friends there daily, and it was time to use some miles and hotel rewards for a reunion tour.

This isn’t a knock to any of my friends in Minnesota, but the girls in Chicago are some of the best friends I’ve ever had. The lifestyle of most Chicagoans is one that is fast paced, career focused and that also means most people are not in a rush to the alter or the maternity ward or the suburbs. This isn’t true in most of the Midwest, especially not Minnesota. In my career in Chicago I finally met people who I felt like I could talk with about my life goals, free from judgement. I finally had female friends who understood my point of view. I love my friends from Minnesota deeply, but there is a level of comfort that I cannot achieve with them in conversation that I can with these women. That being said, this trip to Chicago was MUCH needed!

Naturally, it started with some deep dish.

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We went to Gino’s East, but only because of proximity. Chicago’s on Montrose was my favorite when I lived in the city. And I’ve never understood the love of Lou Malnati’s. Give me Gino’s, Chicago’s or Giordano’s. We had to dance off the calories, so we went to Old Crow and then off to Full Schilling for karaoke. Three of my besties came to stay with me at the hotel, and we had a great time staying up all night talking and catching up. In the morning we woke up and were off to Christkindlmarket – something I had never been able to visit  before when I was a resident!

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Gluhwein might be the grossest drink I’ve ever had, but when in Rome – amirite?

It felt so good being back with these amazing, funny, strong women. We’re all navigating life on different paths, but we have such a deep appreciation for each other’s friendship that it felt like we hadn’t missed a beat in the year since I moved. Meeting some of their new friends, catching up with their boyfriends, etc. – I felt more at ease than I had in months back in Minnesota. It’s strange how I had this feeling about moving home, like everything would be the same as it was when I left three years prior. I quickly learned that no one was on the same wavelength as me anymore, and I often felt (still feel sometimes) like I was speaking a different language with people I’d known for 10-20 years. The years away caused a nostalgic glow to cover the frustration I had felt which pushed me in to moving in the first place. Again, I love my friends in Minnesota – it is just hard to feel understood by many of them. We have such different views on what life should look like, and while I appreciate our differences – I think my independence is harder for them to understand, or so it feels that way.

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For the first time in three years, I wasn’t working at the Big Ten Football Championship. This was a surprisingly strange feeling – even more strange than not working at any of the NCAA tournaments or the Sugar Bowl. BUT – I got to watch the game while drinking beer with my friends, and that strange feeling quickly dissipated. Before I knew it, I was cheering for Michigan State, high-fiving strangers and screaming loudly. We went back to Wrigleyville following the game, for a night of dancing with the RMU soccer team – some of the funniest women on the planet! My former intern, and one of the greatest friends I have made in Chicago, played for RMU when she started working with me. She’s brought me along to many outings with these players and each time is so fun that my face, stomach and feet hurt for days after.

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No trip to Chicago would be complete without stopping by my former office, the Hancock building. But not to visit the top, to go to the basement. To L’Appetito for a breakfast sammy. It was just as delicious as I remembered.

I made the right decision by moving home. I’ve rekindled some friendships with great people, I’ve had so much fun with my nieces and nephew, and I truly am happy to call Minnesota home. It’s beautiful, the people are so freaking nice, and my job is amazing. But this trip to Chicago was a great reminder that I’m not crazy, I’m may be an oddball, but I’m not making the wrong decisions for me. I want a different life. Having strong friendships in your adulthood – ones where we push each other in our careers, we have some of the best nights out, and we are there for each other in tough times – these remind you to be confident in who you are and who you are becoming. They won’t allow you to conform because it’s more comfortable. It’s important to have these people in your life.

And though others (including good friends) may not understand you all the time, it doesn’t mean their friendship isn’t valuable too. It may mean being more private than with your other friends. It may mean feeling judged on occasion. That’s okay. They’re like your mother or other female relatives – they’ve known you for so long they just want the best for you. They just don’t understand that their vision of “best” isn’t the same as yours. Their hearts are in the right place, though.

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