I’m back! Where I went, what I did, and what I read

Hi all! Happy 4th of July!

After three weeks away, I arrived home safe and sound early yesterday morning, and promptly fell into bed to sleep myself back to some degree of being human again. (Only partially successful, but hey, it’s only been one day.)

So what have I been up to while being absent from my blogging life? Quite the whirlwind, in fact.

First, I started off with five days in New York. We stayed at a hotel right at Times Square — and no, that’s not a mistake I’m likely to repeat. The hotel was fine, but the crowds were awful. No need to be quite that touristy! The absolute highlight was seeing the oh-so-glorious Harry Potter and the Cursed Child!

Side note: Going to see the HP production is an adventure two years in the making! Two years ago, when tickets were first released for the London production, I jumped through about a million hoops to get tickets for my daughter and me. We had plans for a trip to London last June… and then complications with my elderly father arose, forcing me to cancel my part of the trip. (Darling daughter and her boyfriend enjoyed the show tremendously, lucky them.) When the Broadway ticketing process opened, I was absolutely determined to make it happen… and it did!

For those not familiar with the HP production, it’s a two-part show, which we saw on two consecutive nights. Really, it’s the equivalent of seeing two full-length Broadway shows. Each part ran about 2 hours, 40 minutes, with intermissions. Drink lots of coffee before you go!

What can I say about the show itself? It’s magnificent. If you’re a Harry Potter fan, chances are you’ve read the book already. I had — but even knowing the plot basics, I wasn’t prepared for the spectacle and wonder of the live show. The staging, the lighting, the effects, and above all, the acting, make this a story that has to be seen to be fully appreciated. We were lucky enough to see the original London cast in the Broadway production… and, no surprise, they were simply amazing. One thing I didn’t get from reading the book is just how awesome the character of Scorpius Malfoy is — he really stole the show (and my heart.)

Around the theater, staff gives out buttons saying #keepthesecrets, so I suppose I’m duty-bound not to reveal too much! All I can say is that the show is magical and delightful, and well worth every moment.

Okay, that’s the Harry Potter stuff! Also in New York, my family and I went to see The Band’s Visit, which is a beautiful musical, full of humor and emotion, tightly woven together into a 90-minute production that’s human and moving and has truly lovely music. If you have the chance, definitely check it out! And what’s a trip to New York without a visit to the top of the Empire State Building and an afternoon at the Metropolitan Museum of Art? Add in some great deli, a walk through Central Park, and oodles of people-watching, and who could ask for more?

From there, I headed to Connecticut for a few days of family time, visiting my dad, spending time with other relatives, and basically just chilling out before stage 3 of the vacation, which was…

A two-week trip to Israel!

My husband was born and raised in Israel, and we try to get back to see his family every few years. Somehow, we let more time than usual go by, so this was our first trip in four years! A big chunk of the time there was spent in Tel Aviv, where the family is. Days of hitting the beach, nights of eating at different relatives’ homes. Food. So much food. So much hummus. So much yum.

Because we were traveling with our teen son, I wanted to make sure to include some travel and culture while we were there (although the boy probably would have been happy with nothing but beach, all day, every day.) So we spent two days in Jerusalem, including solemn places (Har Hertzl, Israel’s military cemetary, and Yad Vashem, the incredibly powerful Holocaust museum), the Old City of Jerusalem, the Western Wall, dinner in the newer parts of the city, and a spectacular light show at night within the walls of the Old City. If we’d had more time, we could have spent days and days exploring, but at least we have something to look forward to on the next trip!

Onward we went, heading into the desert for a night at the Dead Sea, where we did our requisite floating! From there, we ventured to Masada — by cable car, no climbing for me in the incredible heat. Masada is always fascinating, and the views are amazing.

One final road trip before heading home — Rosh HaNikra, at the northern tip of Israel along the Mediterranean, where we took cable cars down to the sea grottoes — one of my all-time favorite places! I try to get there on every trip to Israel.

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And now… ta da! We’re back home in SF, where the skies are cool and cloudy, and I have mountains of laundry, mail, and bills to tackle. The joys of post-vacation tasks!

Okay, as for the “what I read” part — here’s a peek at the reading that kept me busy during my quiet moments (amazingly, there were actually a few) during the last few weeks:

I’ll be doing some mini-review posts to talk more about what I read, once I finally catch my breath and finish unpacking and figure out what time zone I’m in!

It’s great to be home! I may be a bit slow to get back into my blogging groove, but I’m excited to be here and look forward to catching up with everyone!

Off I go… see you soon!

My bags are packed, I’m ready to go.

It’s vacation time!

I’ll be away for the next few weeks — although perhaps not really entirely off-line. Because hey, there’s still the internet, wherever I go!

I’m off on a multi-part trip, first stop New York, where I’ll be doing THIS:

and also:

Yup, two Tony-award-winning shows over three days. Woooo!

Since I’m traveling with my teen-aged son, we’ll also be doing some top 10 tourism, like the Empire State Building, Central Park, and (if I can convince him), the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

From there, we’ll spend a few days visiting family in the area, before getting on yet another plane to go visit my husband’s family… and spend (I hope) a bunch of glorious days at the beach, enjoying sun, sand, good food, and plenty of books!

I won’t be posting on a regular basis, and I won’t be doing a whole lot of visiting other blogs and saying hello — but somehow I have a feeling that I won’t be completely absent either. No commitments!

And now I’m off to make sure my Kindle is charged and my designated beach paperbacks are stuffed into my suitcase.

Happy Summer!

The surprising joy of surprise travel

I had the pleasure of going away for the weekend last Friday, without knowing where I was going. And it was amazing!

It all started about two months ago, when my wonderful daughter was home visiting for a few days, and we were talking about needing to plan a mother-daughter weekend. It’s been a while, but we’ve had some fantastic trips together — Las Vegas, Victoria, New York, to name but a few. Since she now lives on the East Coast, and I’m on the West, we thought we’d do some research and find a destination that we could both get to in about the same amount of time on a non-stop flight… and then she told me about a travel site she’d heard about, Pack Up & Go.

From the Pack Up & Go website

Here’s the deal: Pack Up & Go plans three-day weekend trips with surprise destinations (US only). You pick the dates you want to travel, pick whether it’s solo or multiple people travel, and whether you want a road trip or something involving planes, trains, or buses. For us, we clearly needed planes, since we’d be starting from opposite sides of the country. Next steps:

We put in our personal info and our starting airports. Then we answered some questions on a brief questionnaire, checking off the things that we like best on vacation (outdoor activities, history museums, lots of walking, used book stores, etc). We listed the most recent places we’ve traveled and any upcoming trips, so we’d be sure to end up someplace different. Next, we set the budget from their drop-down menu of choices (the price covers the airfare and hotel), paid by credit card, and… nervously… hit submit.

Our dates were confirmed on the spot — and then we waited. The whole idea is not to know in advance where we were going. On their FAQ page, my favorite question was along the lines of “what if I don’t want to go where you send me?” And basically, the response is — this is an adventure! If you can’t be open to whatever comes your way, this might not be the best travel option for you!

Well, my daughter and I were definitely into it — although I admit that I had some worries after the fact about being sent to some godforesaken hole in the wall with one motel and tumbleweeds blowing by. (No, that wouldn’t happen — the company wants to send its travelers to fun and exciting destinations, so they’ll tell all their friends, after all.)

One week in advance, we got our first pre-trip email, with the weather forecast (highs in the 70s, lows in the 40s), and a few packing tips: Bring good hiking/walking shoes, bring cameras for the nice vistas, and come hungry, because this is a city known for its food. Intriguing! I was guessing mountains, deserts, Southwest perhaps? My daughter shut me down when I started trying to share my thoughts, with a simple text: “Speculation leads to disappointment.” Ah, so wise.

Next, we each received a big envelope in the mail, sealed of course, with a reminder to wait until the day of departure to open. A day before, we got reminder emails about what time to be at the airport, an update on the weather, and the promise that Pack Up & Go would handle our flight check-ins, so our boarding passes would be ready and waiting for us in our email boxes on Friday morning.

I tried to cheat and convince my daughter to open the envelopes together over the phone on Thursday night, but she was not having it. Again, so wise.

So, Friday morning… I woke up at 5 am for my cab to the airport, poured myself my first coffee of the day, and opened the envelope… and here’s what I found:

And then…

Yay! I’ve never been to Denver, or anywhere in Colorado! So psyched! DD (darling daughter) was already at her airport on her side of the country, but we had time for a few excited text exchanges before we were off! The flights were perfectly synced — we arrived in Denver within 10 minutes of each other. Added bonus: It was May the 4th, and the Denver airport arrivals area was filled with Star Wars characters and paraphernalia, and we got to meet some very cute little droids.

The trip worked perfectly. The envelope from Pack Up & Go included directions for getting from the airport to our hotel (easy, comfy $9 train ride), lists of restaurants to try, ideas for activities, an Uber gift code, two tickets to a food tour, and two tickets to the botanical gardens. Score!

It all worked like magic. Our hotel was lovely and comfortable, right next to Union Station, which was a surprisingly lovely train station and hang-out spot. We were in walking distance of a great park (where we sat on a hillside to read every day), cute neighborhoods, plenty of coffee shops and restaurants, and just about anything we’d need. To go further afield, we took advantage of the Uber credit, even to go to Red Rocks for a morning hike.

Denver itself is a beautiful city, with gorgeous views of the mountains, plenty of great eating, and so much to do and see. The food tour was terrific — although certain items (pig’s head!) were just not for me. That’s okay, I more than made up for that with the home-made churros we had for dessert. Lots of walking, lots of exploring, and lots of mother-daughter time. What more could we have wanted? And the cool thing is that I probably never would have come up with Denver as a destination on my own. Now that I’ve been, I’d love to go back and see even more!

On the day of departure, we enjoyed the botanical gardens and a nice lunch before heading to the airport for our evening flights home. Once again, perfectly coordinated, so that we took off within about 10 minutes of one another.

Would I travel with Pack Up & Go again? Absolutely! There’s a great sort of joy in having the anticipation of a trip and knowing that the destination will be a surprise. We were 100% confident that we’d have fun wherever we went, and from looking at the website and seeing all the great photos of other travelers, we knew we’d end up somewhere amazing. I’m usually a huge planner when it comes to vacations, booking everything in advance, planning itineraries, researching all the must-sees and must-dos. It was kind of freeing to just go, and leave all the planning to someone else!

Like I said, the absolutely best part was the time with my daughter — but the whole experience really was wonderful. Yes, you need to be open and willing to leave your destination in someone else’s hands… but it’s just so much fun. If you’re willing to get out there and take a chance, this is a great way to go!

Montana travel bliss

I’ve been back from my trip to Montana for a week now… and unfortunately, it already feels like a distant dream! Sadly, vacations come to an end, but at least we have our memories and photos to keep us warm.

Montana boots — the obligatory shoe picture.

Here are some selections from my recent adventures. As my husband continually pointed out, lots of lakes and mountains… and then more lakes and mountains… and even more — plus waterfalls whenever possible.

Not necessarily in chronological order:

Two outdoor scenes near Bozeman, Montana:

A gallery from Glacier National Park (click on any individual shot to view as slideshow):

And our day at Yellowstone:

In which we did way too much in one exhausting day… but came home very happy.

Would I go back? You betcha! Because there’s really nothing like getting away to a beautiful spot to help me appreciate just how glorious summer days can be.

The mountains are calling and I must go

Ha, look at me quoting John Muir.

So in case my absence has worried anyone, fear not! I’m away from home for 8 days, traveling around Montana and visiting Glacier National Park. Here’s a taste of where I was today:

The hubby and I did a couple of short-ish hikes, saw waterfalls, lakes, and mountains, and are now resting our weary feet… so we can go out and do it again tomorrow!

So… in terms of my blogging schedule — well, I have none. I’m not particularly planning to do much of anything while traveling. Heck, I don’t even have cell service where we are right now.

Thanks goodness for decent wifi though — thanks to which I was able to watch the Game of Thrones premiere last night. Wooooo.

Oh, and fun trail encounter: I’ve had this t-shirt for years:

Back home in San Francisco, I’ll occasionally get comments from fellow geeky Firefly fans. But today, two different people I ran into on the trail said they liked my shirt because of the Chinese lettering. I never knew what it said (or if, in fact, it meant anything at all), but now I know that it means “never give up” — which was pretty perfect considering how hard I was breathing on my way up that hill.

Besides the great outdoors, I’m enjoying my Kindle and have read two books so far. I’m sure I’ll post a wrap-up recap of my vacation reading when I get home.

Meanwhile, the mountains are calling me again, and I must go.

Ta-ta for now. See you next week!

A little break — see you in two weeks!

Hello, lovely readers! Bookshelf Fantasies will be taking a wee break for the next couple of weeks as I head out of town for some family business.

While I’m away, my two weekly memes, Shelf Control and Thursday Quotables, are taking a rest too — but if you do posts for either one during my break, please feel free to share your links in the comments!

Shelf Control

 

quotation-marks4

I’ll probably end up sharing some book reviews while I’m away. We’ll return to our regularly scheduled programming the week of June 19th. Meanwhile…

Have a great beginning of June! See you soon!

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A little break — see you next week!

Hello, lovely readers! Bookshelf Fantasies is taking a wee break this week as I head out of town for a combination of vacation time and family business.

While I’m away, my two weekly memes, Shelf Control and Thursday Quotables, are taking a rest too — but if you do posts for either one this week, please feel free to share your links in the comments!

Shelf Control

 

quotation-marks4

Have a great week. See you soon!

A little taste of where I am right now…

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Hitting the road… See you next week!

Hello, lovely readers! Bookshelf Fantasies is taking a wee break for about 10 days as I head off on a much-needed vacation!

While I’m away, my two weekly memes, Shelf Control and Thursday Quotables, are taking a rest too — but if you do posts for either one while I’m away, please feel free to share your links in the comments!

Shelf ControlShelf Control returns July 27th!

 

quotation-marks4Thursday Quotables returns July 28th!

Have a great couple of weeks. See you soon!

A little hint about where I'll be...

A little hint about where I’ll be…

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Oh Canada!

Canada 284

I’ve just returned from a 10-day vacation in the Canadian Rockies… and let me just say, it was glorious!

When it comes to vacations, I’m more of a mountain/lake/trail kind of traveler than a city/shopping/museum person… and even though I swear that I’d love to just go sit on a tropical beach for a week, chances are that after one day, I’d be lacing up my hiking boots and looking for a bit more action.

(Don’t get me wrong. I walk on forest trails. I don’t use ropes, hang by my hands or toes, or do anything at all scary or adventurous. I just like the great outdoors, okay? Blame all those summers spent at camp as a child.)

So… Canada. I love my son, but he definitely has limits when it comes to hiking, sightseeing, and in general, the stuff that his parents seem to find fun. Darling boy is off at three weeks of summer camp at the moment (camp is in the blood, I guess), so my hubby and I took advantage of this brief child-free moment in time to do what we wanted to do. And I’ve been dreaming of a vacation in the Rockies for years now. With the help of some good guidebooks, a Canadian coworker who gives great advice, and lots of gorgeous Pinterest photos as inspiration, we were off!

I learned a few things in Canada too:

1) I’m delicious… to mosquitoes. Our punishment for taking the wrong turn on a trail was being attacked by ravenous, blood-thirsty mosquitoes who I SWEAR were on a mission specifically to eat us.

2) Credit cards are great for avoiding the dreaded tourist fumble… in which you stand around trying to pay for something but not knowing which coin is worth a dollar and which is only 25 cents.

3) Stupid American, comment #1: There’s such a thing as Canadian cuisine! Did you know that? I most assuredly did not. It seems to consist of lots of meat, especially elk, bison, and caribou. My carnivore husband was impressed. (Me, I stuck to salads.)

4) Stupid American, comment #2: There’s such a thing as Canadian football! I had no idea, but apparently it’s a big deal. No, I don’t mean soccer. Good old football, with helmets and all. We happened to be in a pub with Thursday Night Football blaring on the TV all through our dinner. Good times!

5) I discovered that driving a big Jeep makes me feel rugged and outdoorsy. Rawr! I rule the road.

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6) Best, best, best thing in the world? This:

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Berry cider. 7% alcohol. Sweet and delicious, goes down like fizzy Kool-Aid, and then it kicks you in the head. Mmmmm. And pretty too.

Okay, long story short, we had a great time. I won’t bore you with further narrative… but I do want to share some photo highlights of the simply gorgeous places we went! As my husband started chanting as of about the 3rd day of our trip: Lakes! Mountains! Lakes! Mountains! You get the idea.

To view slide-show fashion, click on any image. Enjoy!

Sigh. Photos alone can’t do justice to the absolute beauty of the Canadian Rockies. If you’re considering going, hit me up for some “best of” tips! And if you’ve already been, please tell me what/where you loved the most!

And now… off to dream of my next vacation, wherever that might be!

Heading north of the border

A quick note to say au revoir — for now!

I’m heading north to Canada! I’m about to leave on a 10-day road trip through Alberta, with stops in Jasper, Banff, and Calgary. Much as I love my bloggy friends, I’m looking forward to a little time offline.

Jasper.National.Park.original.1399

Mountains, lakes, ice fields… bliss! Oh, and plenty of books…

So, a little programming note: While I’ll be mostly absent, please do come by for Thursday Quotables as usual! My Thursday posts are queued up and ready to go.

Wishing you all a wonderful middle of July! Let’s catch up when I get back, shall we?