Day 207 of the Nowhere To Be Project was the best Sunday of late. It began as most of my days do with coffee by the fire followed by a thigh-busting Peloton ride. Then it was on to a lovely creekside lunch with my daughter and a walk through the second to last farmer’s market of the season. Finally, a long windy walk with the pup through layers of crunchy fallen leaves closed out the day in quiet solitude with nary a person in sight.
The perfection that was today represents most Vail days at this time of year. This leads me to Vail’s best kept secret: October is the optimal time to visit. There’s a saying around town that people come for the winter, but stay for the summer. That may be true, but is very short-sighted because it doesn’t mention the glorious month of October. October is a time when the leaf-peepers are mostly gone, and when the town looks to the locals instead of the tourists to fill the coffers. I can confidently say that there are more dogs than people in Vail in October! This means that everything is ON SALE. From restaurant week (more on that later in the week) to the end-of-the-season sales in most shops and hotels, bargains abound. In short, prices in Vail fall with the quaking Aspen leaves. That first snowflake will usher in the harsh reality of living in one of the priciest communities around (recently ranked #1 most expensive in Colorado), so get here now if you’re like me and live for the bargain!
Unusually, day 202 of the Nowhere To Be Project was not a travel day. That, of course, means that it was all about food. When I’m not traveling (and eating), I’m cooking at home (and eating). Food is most definitely a passion and since becoming vegan nearly a year and a half ago, I’ve had to renegotiate recipes and favorite meals. I’m not a salad eater nor am I a preachy vegan because I believe that everyone is entitled to their own lifestyle, food included. However, I know that eating more vegetables is never a bad thing. I wasn’t raised on vegetables (unless they were canned, haha), so it has been a transition to say the least. All I can say is that I’ve never felt better in my life and I chose to “go vegan” primarily for health reasons. Guess what? It’s working! My most recent blood work reveals superior levels on every single measure. Furthermore, I have no vitamin deficiencies despite the lack of the animal products and (somewhat frustratingly) my weight has stayed about the same. People often ask me how a true foodie can possibly avoid animal products. Here’s a glimpse into a recent day…
As you can see, no matter where I am I eat well. As a constant traveler, I’m forever trying new foods and hunting down vegan options wherever I go. I’m always happy to share my home recipes if you’re interested. Just reach out via email at firstname.lastname@example.org, twitter or instagram.
Day 199 of the Nowhere To Be Project left me with a ton of farmer’s market vegetable finds. What to do? The air was a bit cool and crisp today in the mountains so I decided to roast them. I was beyond hungry too (as usual) which gave me the idea to add some tofu to the mix. I ended up with an amazingly rich and flavorful feast to celebrate the arrival of fall. This dish is just perfect for potlucks because it satisfies vegans, vegetarians, and carnivores alike, it presents beautifully on a platter and best of all can be served hot or cold.
Instructions 1- Gather, wash and trim the seasonal vegetables you have on hand. I used a halved artichoke, asparagus, whole mushrooms, Belgian endive leaves and garlic cloves. I steamed the artichokes and endive briefly in water in the microwave to give them a head start since they take a bit longer to cook. 2- Arrange the vegetables on a foil lined baking sheet and drizzle with olive oil and a good balsamic vinegar before adding freshly ground salt and pepper to taste. 3- Toss cubed firm tofu (dried of all liquid by blotting with paper towels) in a small bowl with enough avocado oil to coat lightly and soy sauce to taste. Now add a bit of cornstarch to the bowl and toss gently before placing on a separate foil lined baking sheet. 4- Place both baking sheets in a 400 degree preheated oven and roast for about 45 minutes or until browned and crispy. For even more flavor, sprinkle the veggies with grated vegan parmesan cheese for the last five minutes of roasting. I also add fresh chopped herbs before serving for added zing.
We rolled into Encampment, Wyoming on day 192 of the Nowhere To Be Project. You probably haven’t heard of it and we likely wouldn’t care to be here if we were not chasing down family ties. In the early 1960’s, my father-in-law was stationed here with the USAF. We don’t know much about why they brought him to this deserted one street town because he refused to discuss anything that was classified (even 50 years later). He’s gone now, but we could just see him saddled up at the Cowboy Bar with his buddies. It was the only place in town at the time and has since burned to the ground. I know this because I visited the Encampment Museum. There, I was lucky to be filled in on what life in Encampment would have been like back then by the two friendly local ladies who run it.
Another image stuck with me as well. My mother-in-law (an Air Force flight nurse) was pregnant with her second child while they were stationed in dusty old Encampment. Low and behold, she went into labor while her husband was on duty and proceeded to drive herself all the way to Laramie while in active labor! At 87, she’s still as feisty as she was then! It’s stories like these that make me so incredibly grateful for all those who serve our country, past and present! They sacrifice so much for us all and we must take the time to show them how much we love and appreciate them.
On Day 186 of the Nowhere To Be Project my husband and I attended the Wheels and Wings Festival in Eagle, Colorado. The festival was threefold: part car show, part air show and part live auction. It was held beside the runway at the regional Eagle Airport. My dad was a dragster turned car dealer, so I’ve been around cars (especially fast ones) all my life. And as the mom of an aerospace engineer, I’ve had my fair share of airplanes as well. With that history behind me, I would give the Wheels and Wings Festival a big thumbs up.
There were so many beautiful old cars, many of which won ribbons in the show. The variety of airplanes was not as rich, but the obvious effort toward aviation education was appreciated. I especially loved watching the local Civil Air Patrol commandeer their first flight as it reminded me of when my son’s chapter did the very same thing. The auction was very entertaining as well with many of the classic cars creating bidding wars among the spectators. I had my eye on a beautiful old Corvette, but the $100,000 price tag put it way out of my reach. The food trucks (one with vegan options) added the finishing touch on an already perfect afternoon.
I spent day 172 of the Nowhere To Be Project in St. Augustine, Florida. As a Florida native, I’ve visited St. Augustine countless times. Every Florida student visits this historic corner at least once in elementary school, so I came as a kid and then chaperoned my own kids as they visited the oldest wooden schoolhouse (circa 1716) in the country. I’ve also come to town for the night-life in the past, taking advantage of several of the many quaint bed and breakfasts offered in the town for an overnight. Today’s visit was more limited as I was just passing through, but decided to stop and take a stroll through time once again.
St. Augustine is about 90 minutes north of Orlando and is just 45 minutes south of Jacksonville. Coming on a Sunday morning no doubt made parking a bit easier. It also meant that fewer people were buzzing about this tourist mecca (another win). In my opinion, the highlights of St. Augustine include Castillo de San Marcos, the oldest masonry fort in the continental United States (circa 1672), the Huguenot cemetery which is directly across the street from the fort, the beautiful Memorial Presbyterian Church (currently undergoing extensive renovations post hurricane) and the lovely Spanish architecture that remains prevalent throughout the town. If shopping is your game, you’ll find unique (but mostly touristy) shops in the Colonial Corner. If you’re looking for a great meal to match the Spanish-vibe of St. Augustine, head directly to Columbia, a staple in Florida since 1905. If you’re visiting St. Augustine anytime between April and November, don’t count on Ponce de León’s fabled fountain of youth to keep you cool as temperatures are sweltering and everything here is open-air. Instead, head over the drawbridge to cool off on scenic Anastasia Island. You’ll be so glad you did and I’m willing to bet that your time there will be the highlight of your visit to St. Augustine!
Native Floridian’s Tip for Beating the Heat: I always pack a portable insulated lunch sack with frozen washcloths in an effort to beat the heat while playing tourist in my home state.
For the past few days I’ve been reviewing my previous voyages with Viking River Cruises. Today, on day 147 of the Nowhere To Be Project, I thought I’d explain why I’ve taken four river cruises with Viking in the past few years and why I am gearing up to hop on board the Viking Sky for my first ocean cruise with them this Saturday. There are three very simple reasons why the Viking way works for me:
1. VALUE: Many people assume that Viking, an upscale cruise line, is out of their price range. I am here to tell you that cruising with Viking, a line that is consistently voted a favorite by cruisers from all walks of life, is a value. First of all, the price you pay includes pretty much everything (food, wine and beer with meals, excursions, and lodging). Sometimes airfare is included as well. I occasionally purchase optional excursions, but only if there is something special that I’d like to see or do. The only expense I’ve found necessary aside from the cruise fare is the onboard tipping of staff (well deserved). For example, I paid around $5000 for my family of four to cruise the Danube at Christmastime. We flew from the U.S. to Europe, were picked up at the airport, had two cabins, went on eight excursions (one for each day of the voyage), ate and drank to our heart’s delight, and were positively pampered for eight days by Viking staff who then transferred us back to the airport for our return flight to the U.S. Simple math tells me that this peak season vacation cost $156.25 per person per day. To me, that is an incredible value!
2. REFINEMENT: When my kids were young we took a lot of ocean cruises. Living in Florida, we found it so easy to hop on a megaship for a few days of fun. We have cruised on Holland America, Royal Caribbean, Celebrity, Norwegian, Carnival and Disney cruise lines. Over time we tired of what I call the “drunk culture” where all activities seem to revolve around getting wasted by the pool or on the beach. Not to say that we didn’t enjoy these trips, but they got old after awhile and we were seeking something more. Viking ended up being a great alternative for us because it provides a nice balance of relaxation, fun and culture. The ships are elegant yet simple. The service is attentive yet nonintrusive. More simply stated, we’ve found it to be a more refined approach to cruising.
3. CULTURAL IMMERSION: I’ve always believed that travel is the highest form of education. Walking in the steps of historical figures, touching stones that were laid centuries ago and gazing upon storied lands are the staples of Viking voyages. Each itinerary is respectfully built around the region in which it occurs in regard to food, language, excursions, music and even cultural norms. I’ve learned amazing things about languages, history, art, politics, food, culture, religion, and people in the 39 days I’ve spent as a Viking guest. As a former educator, I know that this level of comprehension cannot be taught. Rather, it must be experienced! There is just no replacement for cultural immersion and that is something that Viking excels at.
Please feel free to reach out with any questions or comments. As always, these are my opinions and I am never compensated in any way for my travel reviews.
Day 144 of the Nowhere To Be Project was spent recalling my Seine River voyage with Viking. My son, who is a huge WWII buff, chose the trip (his high school graduation gift) as a way to pay his respects to those who died for his freedom on Omaha Beach. This trip took place from May 29 through June 5, 2015.
We flew from Orlando to London for a few days in advance of our voyage, so did not use Viking air or transfer services this time. We hopped on the Eurostar high speed train to travel from London to Paris on the morning of embarkation. We were then able to take the Metro to a stop close to Quai de Grenelle where our ship, the Viking Spirit, was docked. This location is not necessarily in the heart of Paris, but is convenient to the Metro and we had a wonderful view of the Eiffel Tower from the sun deck. We arrived in the early evening after I spent some time sharing my adoration of Paris with my son and chuckled when the staff expressed that they had been worried about us. They genuinely meant it and that is a testament to the attentive nature of service on a Viking ship. We were escorted to our staterooms which were across the hall from one another (my son requested his own room this time, haha). We were unaware until boarding that this would be the Spirit’s final voyage for Viking. While the ship was not as modern and impressive as the longship we had sailed on previously (Viking Lif), it was comfortable and clean. We were quickly whisked to a welcome briefing followed by dinner (very French forward) in the restaurant. The night closed out with some pleasant live music in the lounge and eventually a movie in our stateroom. The ship offered a rotating loop of French-themed films like Moulin Rouge and Midnight in Paris during our time on board.
We remained in Paris for the second day of our voyage and joined an included half day tour of the city with our fellow guests. The tour provided a nice historical background of the city along with key facts about the city’s design and architecture. Afterwards, we wandered off on our own so that I could share some more of my favorite Parisian spots with my family. We made it back on board in time for the sail away toast and a French language lesson in the lounge followed by apéritifs for all.
We awoke in Vernon on Sunday, May 31, 2015 and enjoyed a full breakfast in the restaurant where my son and husband swore by the French toast. We explored the quaint town of Vernon for a couple hours before joining the Viking tour to Giverny and Claude Monet’s home and stunning garden. We paid our respects to the great artist at his tomb (located at a cemetery just blocks from his home) before heading back to the ship for an optional Impressionistic painting class. The class was quite a treat, but our skills were lacking and the strict French painting instructor was not at all shy about letting us know it, lol. The restaurant’s dinner focused on specialties from the Normandy region and included a lovely local wine selection.
Day four of the voyage was structured a bit differently in that we sailed from Vernon at 6:30am, headed for Rouen. This made the morning a bit more relaxed, allowing for a leisurely breakfast (more French toast) before an informative onboard lecture about Joan of Arc. We arrived in Rouen after lunch (a buffet) and joined the included walking tour. Rouen was probably my favorite stop on this cruise simply because of the Medieval architecture and the profound history of the place. The food was very delicious as well (a favorite of Julia Child) and the village offered a host of opportunities for shopping and nightlife.
On the fifth morning of our voyage we boarded a bus headed for the beaches of Normandy (included full day tour). The drive through the countryside was lengthy, but very beautiful. The experience of Omaha Beach, the D-Day Museum, the memorial and cemetery was nothing less than overwhelming. Unfortunately, our time there was very, very limited. We finished the day onboard with a toast to the fallen heroes.
We departed Rouen on the morning of sixth day of the cruise, making our way to Les Andelys. The highlight of our time there was a guided hike to Château Gaillard, the failed fortress of my 19th Great Uncle, King Richard I of England (Richard the Lionheart). The farewell dinner on board was served as we sailed for Conflans (we arrived at 11:15pm and docked here overnight).
The morning of the seventh day onboard the Viking Spirit was spent roaming the charming French town of Conflans where I found a lovely seamstress shop stocked with unique designs made from vintage French fabrics. Sadly, the wanderlust in Conflans was cut a bit short by the ship’s 1pm departure to Paris. As we sailed back to our point of origin, a cooking demonstration by the chef (tarte au citron) and farewell cocktail party filled my time while my family enjoyed the optional oyster tasting with the head chef in the dining room.
We awoke early on the final morning as the ship’s concierge had been most helpful in procuring a taxi for us (we did not purchase Viking transfers on this trip). As always, it was sad to leave the beauty of Paris and the luxury of the Viking experience. The service, food, wine and tours on this journey were outstanding. As I mentioned earlier, the ship was a bit tired though and we had been disappointed by our very limited time in Normandy. Aside from those things, our second Viking River voyage was outstanding and we would have happily repeated the cruise if given the chance!
As promised, day 143 of the Nowhere To Be Project is focused on revisiting my Danube Waltz journey with Viking River Cruises. As I explained yesterday, I will spend the next four days reviewing my previous Viking River Cruises in anticipation of my first Viking Ocean Cruise next week. For the first review, we’ll travel back to 2014. To begin with, the cruise almost didn’t happen as our initial booking was canceled by Viking. I received an email explaining that the voyage was canceled and that all monies would be refunded. We were really bummed to hear this as it was to be our first river cruise and one where our grown children would be joining us. I called Viking to find out what was happening and they offered to put us on another ship around the same dates. Initially, we had reserved two standard cabins (category F). These were no longer available on the replacement ship, but Viking agreed to upgrade us to french balcony rooms at no charge. These rooms are a bit smaller than the standard cabins, but have sliding glass doors to allow for fresh air and a larger viewing area. We were pleased with this change and the way the mishap was handled.
We flew from Orlando to Munich on Lufthansa airlines (booked through Viking’s choice air program to ensure that we were all placed together). We were greeted at the airport by Viking staff and were transported to Passau on a comfortable tour bus. We were greeted with champagne immediately upon boarding the Viking Lif on the afternoon of Saturday, December 20 and that was the kick off of what was to be an amazing holiday.
After a nice dinner in the main restaurant on board, we wandered through the lovely town. With this being our first river cruise, we marveled at how simple it was to walk on and off the ship in a centrally located area of town. On that first night were exhausted, so we just sipped gluhwein and enjoyed the simple beauty of Passau.
Day two of the cruise was also spent in Passau. We joined the included walking tour which focused on history and architecture. The tour concluded with an outstanding organ concert at St. Stephen’s Cathedral. Once again, we enjoyed dinner consisting of regional foods in the restaurant as a family (table for four). After dinner cocktails were a pleasure in the lounge with the addition of live music.
We awoke in Linz, Austria and enjoyed a buffet breakfast before departing on a full day tour to Salzburg. The countryside was lovely and put everyone in the Christmas mood. Of course, there was a lot of focus on the von Trapp family and the film, The Sound of Music. Dinner was no exception and was followed up by live music in the lounge with a von Trapp flair. We were also able to spend a very short time before dinner exploring the quaint town of Linz.
On day four of the Danube Waltz voyage, we reached Melk, Austria where we toured the beautiful Melk Abbey, a 900 year old monastery. The serenity of the abbey was topped only by the sheer loveliness of it. There wasn’t much to explore in and around the ship after our tour, but we did sail in the afternoon to a pleasant little Austrian town called Dürnstein. We liked the area so much that we decided to skip dinner on board the Lif to enjoy a small, but picturesque Christmas market and more gluhwein.
Day five of our cruise marked Christmas Eve and everyone on the ship, passengers and staff, were abuzz with the festivities and decor as we awoke in Vienna. We joined the city tour of Vienna where all of the key spots in town were highlighted. The kids were getting sick of the slow pace of the tours at this point though so we ventured off on our own for lunch at Aida Cafe Vienna tea room in the heart of the city. From there, we made made our way to the office of Dr. Sigmund Freud (had to be done as professor of psychology:-) and then on to one of the largest of the Christmas Markets in the region for some shopping, and you guessed it, more gluhwein! We made it back to the ship with a few minutes to spare before our 1:30AM sailaway.
Christmas Day brought the Viking Lif to Bratislava, Slovakia. The kids slept in while we embarked on a guided walking tour of the surrounding town. While the tour did a great job of explaining the fascinating history and architecture, the entire city was closed for business in celebration of the Christmas holiday. We joined the kids for a special Christmas tea on board where the pastry chef taught passengers how to make the regional favorite, kiffles cookies. Christmas dinner on board was a wonderful celebration, but again focused mostly on regional foods rather than traditional favorites. In the late evening, everyone on board made their way to the sun deck for our arrival in Budapest where the cruise director highlighted key facts about the landscape as we sailed. Entering the vibrantly illuminated city at night was breathtaking. By the time we docked (about 10pm) we were ready to explore Budapest and did so into the wee hours.
Our final day was spent on an included walking tour of Budapest where we visited the National Opera House and Matthias Church. We made some time for shopping and dining in town before boarding the Lif for the final time. Our transport to the airport left the ship the next morning at 4:30am and seamlessly delivered us to the airport for our flight home.
Our overall experience on Viking’s Danube Waltz was outstanding. This part of the world is simply magical at this time of year and it offered so many wonderful opportunities for celebration. The staff on board the Lif was exceptional in all regards and we felt totally pampered throughout the voyage. The ship was comfortable, sleek and modern, and never felt crowded. Our fellow passengers, while much older than us, were mostly pleasant and very well-traveled. The food was good and the included regional wines were even better. The excursions were as to be expected, but the tour guides were exceptional. This journey sparked our love affair with Viking and river cruising so much so that we purchased vouchers for another voyage while on board.
I was feeling bad for my pooch today, day 134 of the Nowhere To Be Project. We rescued him nine years ago after he was found (as a puppy) wandering the streets of Orlando. He had been abandoned by his mother and was malnourished. I think that this is when his wanderlust began because since then he has visited 41 states and one foreign country. The only time he does not accompany us on our travels is when we fly. At 90 pounds, he’s just too big to bring on board and I refuse to cage him in cargo. That will change should I ever win the lottery…I’ll buy a private jet so he can see the world!
I was feeling sorry for him today because he loves travel as much as we do and has been home bound for the past several weeks. While he loves the long hikes and brief car rides we squeeze in each day, he just doesn’t get the same thrill as that of life on the road. He especially loves staying at Kimpton hotels (he’s been to more than three-quarters of their U.S. locations) because they out and out pamper their four-legged guests. His bunk on our R.V. runs a close second likely because it has a panoramic window to the world (see photo above).
The good news is that he’ll be knocking off the remainder of the continental United States by early March of 2019. Not bad for a pup that was days away from being euthanized, huh? Adopt don’t shop! You never know, you might just find your next travel partner.