Category Archives: travel

Meet Me In St. Louis

My friends are coming back to St. Louis for our 3rd annual girl’s weekend.  This annual convergence is proving to be the necessary kick in the ass to complete my spring cleaning.   This means cleaning out every room, closet, and drawer plus the cabinets and fridge.   Not to mention sprucing up the yard, getting the windows washed, and cleaning out the car for sightseeing trips. 

As the centrally located gal in the group (they come in from Wisconsin, New York, Pennsylvania, Florida and California) it makes sense for everyone to come here.  And, I love hosting my friends.  Along with getting my spring cleaning Totally Completed (I’m pretty much done with closet and drawer cleaning until next spring) we get to take in the awesome things there are to do in St. Louis. 

It is so true that you don’t really appreciate what you have in your own city – I was somewhere in Tuscany waiting to go into yet another church when a lady in front of me asked me where I was from.  When I said St. Louis, she immediately started raving about the Cathedral Basilica and how it was one of the most beautiful churches she had ever seen.   At the time, I had never been there even though I’d easily been to more than 100 churches in Italy (seriously – 5 trips = lots of churches!!)  So, the first girl’s weekend we went to the Basilica (and it truly is one of the most beautiful cathedrals I’ve ever been in) and walked around the park at the St. Louis Arch which I hadn’t been to since I was a kid.  

Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis

Last year, we went to the Washington University / Forest Park area of town because Michaela had been reading about the 1904 World’s Fair and wanted to see the buildings that were donated to the city after.  The architecture of the buildings was amazing (I beg you to take the virtual tour provided in the link – it takes you building by building and you can see why Michaela wanted us to go).  I used to golf every week at Forest Park and I’m embarrassed to say that I still have never been into one of the museums which are now housed in the World’s Fair buildings.  We also went back to the Arch and toured the Museum of Westward Expansion.  Walking around the area made me appreciate how very pretty the waterfront park is. 

This year the group has already made their list – it will be the Missouri Botanical Garden and the Anheuser-Busch Brewery tour.  You guessed it.  Never been to the Botanical Garden (can’t wait after looking on the Garden’s internet site) and even though I worked for A-B for years, have never gone on the brewery tour. 

Missouri Botanical Garden

So, again this year during girl’s weekend I will get to visit two more spots that visitors come to St. Louis to do but I’ve never done.  I’m thinking I need to have a lot more girl’s weekends in St. Louis as there is a lot to see and do.  Maybe we need to up the weekends to twice a year.  YIKES – that would mean spring cleaning again in the fall.  I love my friends but spring cleaning once a year is enough for me …….  

 ~ Susan

Peak offsite season

It is the new year, which means it is high season for the corporate offsite. Be they sales or strategy related, it’s the time of year when corporate employees across the world find themselves gathering in exotic locations, but in basically the exact the same hotel conference center in each of those exotic locations. So far this year –and yes it is only end of January – I’ve been to Buenos Aires and Paris… Glamorous travel it is not.. I’ve literally experienced almost 4 hours at most outside of the hotel in each location.

In Buenos Aires it was to see a historical show that featured singing, horses and some dancing and tonight in Paris we board a boat for a river Seine tour (Never mind that the forecast is for –17 tomorrow).

While I feel strongly that corporations are the biggest abuser and offender of ignoring the carbon footprint by sending loads of suited corporate droids on planes across the world at the drop of the hat, I do have to admit that there is no better way to improve working relationships… BUT…it has nothing to do with the actual offsite, typically, and everything to do with who you sit next to at any meal, on the plane, in the cab or while taking a break.

So let’s try something different – what about reconceptualizing the offsite as a planned series of global meeting that don’t have to be product/group or solution specific, but more of an all call for various levels with people being randomly selected for locations. I imagine our productivity would increase greatly by being able to know (with more than 2–3 weeks advance notice) where you were going to go and actually having much more planned interaction vs set agenda.

Probably won’t work… but I have to say that 16 hour and 10 hour flights for 2 days of meetings just doesn’t allow me to feel like I’m doing my best work. In fact, I am mostly just jet lagged with a tinge of regret as to the red wine I drank last night. But c’est la vie.. Hope the coffee break comes soon.

~Michaela

Drinking the clearance kool-aid

I’ve been packing the last few days for an upcoming vacation.  Since we planned this trip last fall, I’ve had plenty of time to ponder my wardrobe.  Over the past few months I’ve perused clearance racks for summer clothes for both my husband and I thinking they would be great for vacation – and a steal at that.

As I started pulling out things to pack, I quickly realized we both have more new outfits (daytime, nighttime and swim time) than number of days we will be gone.  For some bizarre reason, I feel every vacation requires buying a completely new wardrobe.   Needless to say, I have totally drank the ‘clearance’ kool-aid and feel if there is an $100 dress on clearance for $10, I would simply be an idiot if I didn’t take it home.  Besides, I have a vacation coming up where this dress would be fabulous, right? 

The worst part of my clearance rack purchasing sprees is that I would never wear these clothes during normal life.  So everything I’ve purchased will be for a one-time (or no time as some of my finds aren’t even making it to my suitcase) wearing as I will most likely buy new clothes for the next vacation. 

So the next time I am pulling items from my closet for the local charity clothing drive, there will be a fabulous $100 dress, and many other special summer items (many with the tag still on) that will be filling the boxes I set out on my porch. 

When will I learn that I’m blowing hard earned cash for clearance items that I simply must purchase only to donate to charity?  Hopefully, someone will benefit from my inability to refrain from bringing these steals home.  BTW — Macy’s, Kohl’s, and Chico’s,  I know you were waiting for a chump like me to come in and take a lot of clearance items off your hands and you’re welcome.

Oh, and this is the third time we’ve gone to the Dominican to an all-inclusive.  I know (absolutely am positive) that I’ll wear the same flip-flops, shorts and t-shirt to breakfast every morning, quickly change into a bathing suit and may or may not dress up for dinner.  I could travel with a carryon that has sunscreen, a bathing suit and visor and be all set.  Anything else I need I could pick up at the local Wal-Mart.

– Susan

New Wheels

Today, I sent my passport off for some new tires.  I’m almost out of pages and with 2 years still left on my old passport (in addition to some of my favorite memories) I’m opting for new pages to give this one a few more miles. 

I told you before, I have a travel twitch.  And with a new year, and a whole bunch of new vacation days available, it’s starting to go crazy. 

But the thought of not having that passport and having to start fresh (with no stamps) makes me really sad.  I love browsing through my passport while traveling or waiting in line at immigration, looking at the stamps and thinking of the memories that I’ve taken with me from place to place.

I think it’s for that reason too, that I’m always amazed when I talk to friends, family, or even strangers that have no desire to leave the US.  Some don’t even care about leaving the state!  And apparently they aren’t alone.  According to a recent study on cnn.com, only 30% of Americans have passports, and 50% of the international trips that Americans took in 2009 were to either Canada or Mexico, which didn’t even require a passport before 2007! 

Anyway back to my passport… it’s in the mail and I will be nervous until I get it back.  Am I the only one that feels this way? 

– Erin

A Very Maui Christmas

I had the opportunity to take a last-minute vacation this month and decided to make my first trip to Hawaii.  The initial challenge was choosing an island.  I searched the internet and found a scorecard.  Less than ten minutes later, I was looking for flights to Maui.

Coming home from Hana

After a few days there, you forget you are in the United States.  It’s so tropical, and beautiful, and diverse.  Then, you ask for directions or suggestions and the person easily understands you; the stores don’t give change you’ll have a hard time spending.

My most memorable experience was a whale-watching trip on the first day of the breeding and birthing season.  We started out at Jean-Michel Cousteau’s Ambassadors of the Environment shop where we had a brief introduction to the humpback whale, then were off in a Zodiac boat which quickly found a calf and mother with an escort!  The yearling entertained us by waving his fins while lying on his back (their fins are the largest appendage in the animal kingdom), and later leapt halfway out of the water!  He will eventually become larger than a school bus and weigh 40 tons IF he can avoid disaster, which normally comes at the hands of humans or something we have put in his way.

Being from Florida, I’ve seen my share of surfers BUT I have never seen surfers and windsurfers like in Hawaii.  Ho’okipa Beach is perfect for the sports and even has sharing rules.  Surfers have priority until 11:00 a.m. when windsurfers take over.  One morning, there were 60+ surfers visible from where we stood.  Another day, 30+ surfers and 30+ windsurfers shared the spot.  The churning waves make the water look like larimar.

There’s also great snorkeling from the side of the road.  It’s odd to lift your head from viewing healthy coral with beautiful fish and hear cars driving by.

You can visit black sand beaches, which I didn’t realize are made of black pebbles of varying sizes.  My favorite was at Wainapanapa State Park.  We found it on the ‘road to Hana’ which we luckily drove clockwise so we were against the mountain rather than the cliff when meeting cars on blind turns.  That road also took us to Coconut Glen’s roadside stand, which offers tasty diversions.  Glen sold my goodies to me, and his humble demeanor didn’t give away his secret.  Turns out he was an actual chef who found his paradise selling incredible ice cream and coconut candy on a mountain in Maui.

The road to Hana leads to beautiful sunsets, such as the one above from our drive or those seen from the Sea House, where we had multiple meals.  But, the restaurant we frequented most was Maui Brewing Company’s brew-pub.  They have wonderful craft brews (and unique cycling shirts – men’s sizes only).  My favorites were Old Chinwig and Island Hopped Red, which are occasional brews.  Their staple brews are available daily and even sold at other outlets.

Obviously, I’m not the only one that finds Maui awe-inspiring.  This is easily demonstrated by the property prices.  I could tell Makena Beach was a nice area and my smart phone quickly proved just how high a price beautiful views can demand.  Check out this house for $19.5 million or this one for a mere $3 million.

Thankfully, there are homes or hotels that are more in reach.  And, the great views are always a short drive or walk away.  That means normal people like me can share the beauty of Maui and have a very Maui Christmas!

~ Lori

My kind of theme park

Tropical paradise, togetherness, appreciation of the good ole USA? What makes your favorite vacation memorable?

A few years ago my parents proposed the whole family go on a cruise to Alaska.  On one hand I really wanted to go as Alaska was the last of the 50 I needed to cross off my list of states I had sat foot in.  But I was more than a bit concerned because that’s a lot of togetherness for a family that hadn’t spent much time together.   My brother and I hadn’t been very close in recent years.  Another challenge was my husband’s hatred of cold weather.  After checking weather averages he said the weather would be cold and rainy every day and he would be miserable.  Oh Joy!  It was going to be so great to hear this complaint every hour of every day….

In the end, we all committed to the trip, my parents, my sister and her husband, my brother, his wife and three girls, my hubby and I. 

My favorite thing about this trip was not where we were but spending time with my family.  I enjoyed getting to know my nieces who had somehow completely grown up and it was like meeting them all over again.  Even better, they were three fabulous young ladies who were smart, funny and up for any adventure.

Many times a day we laughed until we were sick over the silliest things.  Another plus – the weather was HOT.  We raided the Gap in Anchorage before we sat out on our cruise to buy shorts and t-shirts because it was so warm.  We rarely broke out our sweatshirts during the trip and it did not rain one day.  Icing on the perfect vacation cake!

Susan

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I think I just got back from the perfect vacation.  Well, not actually a vacation – let’s call it an escape. 

I live in Philadelphia, and have been going to “the shore” my whole life (please, please, PLEASE don’t confuse what I’m about to say with the ‘Jersey Shore’ people you see on TV).  When we were little, my family would go for a week each year.  After college, I rented with about 17-20 other people in a small house each summer for a few years.  And this summer, I rented for the month of September ALONE.

The house sat on the bay, and was much larger than 1 person needs but perfect to have guests down… which is exactly what I did.  Each weekend there were different people coming through town, and I had the weeks to myself.  I only ‘vacationed’ for about 10 days of the month and worked the rest, but there was something about waking up in such a relaxing setting that made working so much more enjoyable.  Not that my home isn’t a relaxing setting – it is.  But drinking my morning coffee overlooking the water brought a whole new energy to my day.

I decided after this trip that I need to do this every year.  As much as I want to travel all over the place, there is also something so peaceful about renting a house at the beach and not having much of an agenda at all. 

Erin

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I live in New York City – with a lot of other people. A lot. So when I go on vacation I like to go places that are not like New York City – places that are pretty and quiet and natural and remote and as far away from the masses of humanity. I used to go to Europe a lot, but in the past few years, as the exchange rate and flight taxes have made it more expensive, I have been traveling more in the USA. Who knew that our National Parks are some of the most beautiful places on earth? I now have a goal to go to at least one a year (this year was Volcanoes National Park in Hawaii). The National Park Service preserves our most precious resources. There are over 84 million acres out there for all of us to enjoy, they contain 17,000 miles of trails, habitat protection for 421 species of threatened or endangered plants and animals and 1.5 million archeological sites. So go out and visit one! Watch the movie at the visitor’s center. Talk to a ranger. Read the placards. But please, leave it as you found it. Thanks.

Jen

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Pete (husband) and I have worked to perfect the ultimately relaxing trip. There is some crazy continuum that connects Maui and the bay area and, as residents of the latter, we find Maui is one of the most amazing places to relax. We attempt to escape there yearly and our trip generally involves an ohana rental on a beach on the North Shore of Maui, close to Paia. Paia is a funky hippy town with great food, lots of tattoos, great yoga and unfortunately, horrible traffic as it is the one intersection with a stop light on the north shore… but not if you don’t go anywhere.

With a view of waves, kiteboarders and a wonderful beach right out the sliding door, we do a heck of a lot of nothing. The days involve me doing yoga, some sort of amazing breakfast together with local coffee and then maybe one activity. We have found that one activity is about all that we want to do because it is key for us to work some lunch and dinner around that… then lots of reading, beach time, some movie catch-up, yahtzee, and surfing (internet that is).

We have honed in on 10 days being perfect… just enough time to completely relax, enjoy each other, connect, and recharge. 12 days actually is a little too much, and less than 10 is just not enough. This highly complex formula has come from careful study over twelve years and while it will always need tweaking, it is our perfect relaxing vacation.

Michaela

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My favorite vacation was my first trip to Costa Rica.  I had been out of the country many times, but never for a trip focused on nature.  The diversity and beauty of Costa Rica is amazing.  The people are friendly and hospitable.  We flew into the capital city and drove to the towns where we would sleep.  The mountainous roads led to paradise in different forms.  The first was a small hotel in the middle of a former banana plantation.  It is where I first experienced white-water rafting.  We drove on roads where the car skidded on rocks when we stopped.  We crossed bridges that didn’t look like they were intended for cars. 

 The second was near the beach and a rain forest.  I saw scarlet macaws in flight and in nests, butterflies with lace wings, ants that carried leaves to their home and many other creatures.   I experienced the ocean among small islands formed by volcanoes.  The third location was in the mountains near the cloud forest.  I sat in a garden with literally hundreds of hummingbirds zipping by my head until my travel companions begged me to leave. I relaxed in spring pools heated by a volcano and climbed to see waterfalls where only chains separated us from the edge of the mountain. 

I saw more natural beauty than I thought possible.  We enjoyed every moment and every person we met.  In fact, we enjoyed it so much that we returned twice.  Each trip was wonderful and different in its own way, but none compared with that first experience.  And I got to experience it all while creating memories with, and enjoying the vacation planned by, my Mother. 

~Lori

 

The travel twitch

I’m a bit of a travel junky.  If I don’t have a (fun, non-work) trip in the works I tend to get a little skittish (I have a bit of a travel twitch and find myself consumed by planning trips that aren’t happening any time soon) .  Unfortunately, I’m a travel junky that needs to work and only have 20 vacation days per year (which according to salary.com makes me lucky) so I constantly feel like an inadequate travel junky.  My gut tells me I should be exploring somewhere new at least every other month (that’s when the travel-twitch starts) but instead it’s more like twice a year.

I’m not sure when it started exactly.  My first trip out of the country was just in 2004 (note: I had been to Cancun but I don’t count it if they pick you up from the airport and drop you at a resort that you never leave).  I went to Ireland.  It was awesome, but after just visiting again recently I realized that I didn’t have a clue where I had been and really had very few memories about the trip. I think it must have started to build slowly, and then started to get out of control about 5 years ago.  And now I’m obsessed.

I subscribe to 3 travel magazines.  I save said travel magazines and revisit them often, especially if I’m going to (or considering a trip to) one of the places they’ve highlighted.  I have a map in my living room of the places I’ve been and the places I want to see, and examine it every time I walk up my stairs.  I’m constantly buying books on travel and planning trips, and my latest obsession is doing the Trans Siberian railroad trip.    I could go on, but I won’t (you’re welcome).

My parents, on the other hand, have never left the country (other than to Cancun – see note above).  Until recently, my dad didn’t seem to have any interest in even going anywhere, which completely blew my mind.  I took a trip with my girlfriends in 2008 to England, went to Stonehedge, and when I came back with pictures my dad finally admitted he’d like to see that some day.   I immediately told him I would plan a trip for our family.  I figured Ireland would be a great starter-country for traveling – minimal language barrier (I say minimal because even though its English, some of those guys talk reeeally fast), gorgeous landscapes, and our roots are almost all Irish.

Fast forward 3 years, and we are finally off!  I started ‘officially’ planning this trip in April of this year (that’s when I booked our first B&B) and we just got back last week.  The result: SUCCESS!! (for the most part).

How I rate success:

  1. We all came home… alive.
  2. We are all still talking.
  3. We really did have a great time.
  4. My parents are talking about renting a house in Dingle for a month when they officially retire.  If you’re ever going to Ireland, I would suggest you do the same – it’s freaking gorgeous.

So at dinner one of our last nights’ there, I ask them whether they will now start exploring on their own… and where they’d like to go next.  The response: wherever I’ll plan for them to go (in a nutshell).

They loved the trip because they had to do NO planning – never had to worry about where we were going, how to get there, or what we were going to do once we arrived.  But if I’m not doing the planning, they likely aren’t doing the traveling.

And I have now added trip planner to the list of things I want to be when I grow up.  Already on the list: barista, florist, furniture refinisher, lottery winner (all have the same odds of happening.)

–          Erin