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!

Look! Up in the sky! It’s a bird… it’s a plane… it’s a FLYING READER!

 

Actually, it’s just me, flying round trip cross-country and reading lots of books along the way!

I did a quick there-and-back-again trip across the country to attend my wonderful stepson’s medical school graduation. *bursting with pride*

Man, do I read a lot when I fly. I loaded up with some Netflix downloads, but ignored all media in favor of plowing through some books. I caught up on all my group reads, and also read a few novels, and basically had a ridiculously fun time ignoring the world around me and devoting myself to my Kindle. I ended up in a race against the pilot — my Kindle showed me I had 20 minutes left in my book, and the pilot kept announcing how many minutes to landing. Would I make it? Would I finish the story before the wheels met the ground?

Yup, I did. With five minutes to spare!

Who says flying has to be boring?

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!

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!

Alaska!

99% of what I blog about is books… so consider this post a part of the minority 1%. 🙂

I just spent the most wonderful week traveling in Alaska with my beautiful, funny, lovely daughter. Mommy-daughter quality time! We happen to make great traveling partners, and it was all just so enjoyable and relaxing and fun.

We’ve been to Alaska before: She spent a year in Juneau with Americorps, and I’ve been on two short visits previously, once on a cruise and the second time a different road trip with my daughter.

Alaska 114This time around, we had a week to spend, and we determined to do a few things we’d missed on previous trips. We started in Anchorage, then headed about two hours north to the quirky and adorable town of Talkeetna, known as the possible inspiration for the TV show Northern Exposure. Also know as the town with a cat for a mayor. (It’s true! Even Wikipedia says so.)

While in Talkeetna, we stayed in cozy, rustic lodge by the Susitna River, where we could see Mt. McKinley on a clear day.

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On our second day there, we boarded a 10-seater plane for a 90-minute flight over Denali National Park — and we even landed on a glacier!

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The peak on the right is Mt. McKinley!

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And here I am, just chillin’ on Ruth Glacier.

Talkeetna itself is a super awesome town, where we ate world-class berry pancakes, over-indulged buying amazing locally made jewelry at a great gallery, and just wandered the streets for a while, admiring the random moose art:

That's my girl!

That’s my girl!

Next, we headed back south toward the Kenai Peninsula, enjoying the great drive along Turnagain Arm with a stop at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center, where we met these guys (from the other side of the fences, naturally):

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This little guy! I can’t even.

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We did some hiking along the way, heading off on a trail through the woods that included amazing views in all directions. Stuff like this, for example:

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We wrapped things up with a few days in Homer, staying in a weird and wonderful round cabin on a bluff overlooking the water:

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We ate, we shopped, we hiked, we sat and read (of course), and we took a water taxi…

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… across Kachemak Bay to hike through the woods to see this:

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Grewingk Glacier – gorgeous!

I could go on, but I think you get the idea. Alaska is beautiful, and there’s just so much to see! I can’t wait to go again!

A parting shot — taken at the Anchorage airport at 11:30 pm, saying good-bye to my daughter as we headed our separate ways for now. Yes, it’s 11:30 and the sun is just setting!

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Good-bye, Alaska! I’ll miss you! Especially moments like this:

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