Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

It’s been a long summer.

I originally saved this draft in mid-August, about a week and a half after I returned from Scotland, but it has sat empty since then because Life has been happening and I just haven’t had the time to really write up a proper recap. My instagram was probably a pretty good overall peek, though! All the same, I’m including a gallery of some of my favorites with a highlight from each day of the trip below, to the best of my memory a month later. Better late than never!

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Day 1, we arrived in Edinburgh six or seven hours later than intended after a very long delay on our JFK layover that meant we pretty much hit the ground running. We had an opening dinner that night and got to hit some of the shopping highlights, but most of day 1 was jetlag and trying not to fall asleep before 8pm. I mostly succeeded.

In the middle of Edinburgh Castle

Day 2 began with a city tour and then a visit to Edinburgh Castle, and it was really neat to get to explore it again after having last been there 11 years prior. The weather was also nice and the crowds weren’t awful, and because the bus had deposited us at the top of the giant hill that makes up the Royal Mile, we were able to explore along its length on the way back down to our hotel, including stops at St Giles Cathedral and other historic spots along the way. We ended the evening eating in a cozy pub on Rose Street near our hotel, hiding from the rain.

St Andrews Cathedral ruins

Day 3 was a bright and early bus trip north to St Andrews to tour the town, visit the ruined Cathedral, and, of course, walk along the Old Course. I enjoyed getting my feet wet in the North Sea and walking barefoot on the beach (which is actually one of the only times I’ve gotten to do so this summer… weird!). I also made friends with a hawk named Bracken whose job it was to keep the seagulls off of the golf course. We ate in a fabulous fish and chips shop for lunch as well. That night we got to attend an event at the National Gallery to view their exhibit on Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (Beyond Caravaggio) and for a traditional Scottish dinner with ceilidh (“kay-lee”) dancing.

Holyroodhouse Palace in brief sunshine

Day 4 had a free day, so we decided to stick around Edinburgh and head down to the Palace of Holyroodhouse for most of the day. I hadn’t gotten to see Holyroodhouse on my previous visit, as Jared and I happened to be there during the week of the Queen’s annual residence, so it was neat to explore it for the first time. The Palace is home to a huge collection of art, furniture, and other artifacts belonging to the Royal Family, and the tour book for purchase was worth every penny: we knew something about every room we visited, and were able to find notable specific pieces. The Palace grew off of the old Holyrood Abbey, which is now in ruins but much of which dates from 13th century and earlier.

Setting sail on Loch Lomond

Day 5 we took another bus trip out into the Scottish countryside, this time to Stirling Castle and Loch Lomond. We began in Stirling, where the castle has been largely restored to look as it might have at the height of its occupation, but which means there are many modern-produced fixtures and the like. It was interesting to see how brightly colored everything must have been when it was new (hundreds of years ago). From there we continued to Loch Lomond and took a short boat trip out into the water. We also ate lunch at a little shop with a garden and very good soup, which was very welcome on a cold, wet day.

Royal Yacht Britannia

Day 6 was our last full day in Scotland, and we headed to the other side of town to tour the Royal Yacht Britannia. It’s been retired for quite a while now, but has many of the state rooms, as well as the dishes, serving pieces, art, and other artifacts houses aboard open for public display. We enjoyed a peek into 1980s and 1990s history, along with tea on board with a view of the harbor. We rounded out the night with a closing dinner, including bagpipes, and a lot of good food.

Last Castle view as we packed to head home

So that’s a (very) brief overview of the trip, but I wanted to write it all out while it was still relatively fresh in my mind. There will be more coming soon, I’m sure, as I’m gearing up for the book release and also getting closer to moving (less than 3 months away now, eek!).

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An old stretch of Route 66 in Dwight, IL

I like roadside attractions. You know this by now. (See: Cabazon Dinosaurs for previous stop.) And in the US at least there is no place for roadside stops quite like Route 66.

Route 66 has become, in and of itself, a bit of a roadside attraction in its own right. Begun in 1926 and decommissioned in 1985, it nevertheless remains in the cultural consciousness of the US. It was the road that could take you from Chicago to Los Angeles, the Main Street of America, the Mother Road, and it embodies the automotive spirit of America like nothing else. Countless communities along it prospered as long as the traffic came. And did that traffic come! Especially after WWII, the whole stretch of Route 66 became one of the most popular road trips in the country, and the little towns and mom and pop shops along it became iconic stops. But the traffic got to be too much, and the Interstates were born.

You can still find most of Route 66 if you know where to look. It’s been recognized by Congress and the World Monuments Fund as a significant cultural site, and there is an organization committed to preserving what remains. The National Park Service even has a published itinerary with links to popular roadside stops and essays and maps. And there’s something really enticing about it, after all. Two lane roads and tiny diners and places ranging from the comfortable to the just plain bizarre.

I’ve been to the beginning, in downtown Chicago. I’d like to go to the end some day, in Santa Monica. In the meantime, I’m exploring the section that’s within a day’s drive of where I currently reside.

The Lily-pad Room in Onandaga Cave State Park‘s Cathedral Caverns.

For the July 4th weekend, we followed I-55 (which runs parallel to the old Route 66) down to central Missouri and the northern stretches of the Ozarks to meet friends who live in Kansas City. It was a lovely trip, but on the way down and again on the way back, we made a point of stopping on Route 66 as often as we could. Even our final destination, at Onandaga Cave State Park, is part of the cave system that includes one of the oldest stops along the famed highway, Meramec Caverns.

Jesse James Wax Museum outside of Meramec Caverns

Outside of the Meramec Caverns visitor center is a Jesse James Wax Museum that combines my love of roadside attractions with my love of interesting conspiracy theories: the museum posits that the famous outlaw Jesse James faked his own death and lived to be 103, dying in the 1950s. It was bizarre and entertaining and worth the price of admission (if you like that sort of thing, which I do).

The Mill on Route 66 in Lincoln, IL

On the drive home, we stopped at a site called The Mill which has just re-opened after about a decade of fundraising and refurbishment. If you look at some of the old photos, this place was brought back from near collapse by a dedicated team. I like that it sits right at the intersection of the train tracks and the old highway.

We’ve made a few other stops along Route 66 over the last couple of years, but these are the most recent. Have you driven any of Route 66? Do you have a favorite roadside stop that I should add to my list?

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I told you last week that I have a particular soft spot for odd roadside attractions, and since I’ve recently been to one I thought I’d share a little bit about it. I’m as much interested in the stories behind the peculiar stops as the stops themselves, and this one is no exception: the Cabazon Dinosaurs.

The first dino, Dinny the apatosaurus, was completed in 1975 and “Large Marge” the t-rex was as close to being finished as she’ll ever be in 1988, at the time of the creator’s death. The dinos were meant to be a good advertisement for the Wheel Inn, the diner located in the adjacent parking lot, but have now outlived the restaurant, which was bulldozed in late 2016. There’s a, well, peculiar museum attached now, but you don’t need to pay admission to take photos of the giant dinosaurs, nor to go into the gift shop inside Dinny’s stomach (entrance in his tail). Free is the best way to go for this one, if you ask me.

These two were all over TV in the 1980s, and appeared in Pee Wee’s Big Adventure, so they’ve got a good bit of nostalgia appeal, plus, y’know, they’re giant dinosaurs. They are a fun place to take photos.

The stairs for the gift shop go through Dinny’s tail….

It’s a kick to be able to actually sit on these guys’ feet, and to go up into the gift shop (even if you’re not going to buy anything) because it’s a chance to actually touch something and interact with it.

My friend Kara stood on Marge’s toes!

That’s one of the best things about a good roadside stop– the tangible connection not only to it, but to all the people who’ve come before. Kids climbed on Dinny before I was even born.

It’s a little surreal to see these massive figures standing above the palm trees, with the California mountains behind them, and they are obviously much larger than their fossilized counterparts, but that adds to the whimsy and charm of the experience.

I was recently there because of a weekend roadtrip with a couple of friends that took us to Joshua Tree National Park (if you follow my instagram, you’ve seen all the desert spam lately!) and this was along the highway on our drive back to San Diego from there. Definitely worth the little detour.

Have you visited the Cabazon Dinosaurs? Or do you have an off-beat roadside stop you’d recommend? I’m always looking for new places to add to my list! 

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Oh hey! WordPress just told me it’s my 7th anniversary with this blog. Huzzah for that!

Things have been pretty hectic here the last couple of months. We were supposed to move into a new place at the start of May but for various reasons which aren’t terribly interesting the timetable got accelerated… and we moved March 24 instead. I also have been picked up for a lot more hours at my job and have successfully interviewed and been taken on as a volunteer at a local place (details to come later, as I feel it needs its own post).

#earglehaslanded

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In the meantime, I have been to North Carolina twice in the last five weeks, first for my sister’s bachelorette weekend and then for her wedding (how did it go? it worked!) and now I’m at the other end of all of the things and have a few days to finish unpacking my household and putting stuff on the walls and figure out what the next six months hold.

We did hit up a national park while we were down south: Appomattox Court House, where the Civil War ended and General Lee surrendered his troops. They’ve got much of the original village either restored or replicated, and it was fascinating to visit it having just been to the Abraham Lincoln Home in Springfield, IL, about seven months previous. The two are, of course, closely tied together and the perspectives on everything happening at that time are fascinating and sobering.

National Parking at Appomattox Courthouse. #findyourpark #iggleverse

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One of the things I like about national parks in general is that they preserve slices of things important to our heritage, whether it’s vast forests that have unreachable depths, ancient homes, or sites where important things happened that directly impact us today. It’s a way to literally touch history. I also generally just like being outside and doing things, so that’s nice, too.

Other big things include launching a new YouTube channel for Geek Girl Pen Pals. We don’t have many videos up yet, but the plan is to have regular content focused on our monthly site themes, and to encourage response videos from members of the community.

There have been many other things happening in the last couple of months and I may not get to all of them on here. If you need my new mailing address, please contact me in the usual way. ~_^

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Last April (2015) I flew out to Houston to visit my friend Arielle and to check out some of Texas’s famous wildflowers. We had a lovely time visiting and hanging out at some of her favorite local places (including my second-ever trip to this awesome shave ice stand) and Did Texas Wildflowers.

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One of our stops was at a botanic garden, where they had a tiny fairy village set up along one of the trails. There were also dinosaurs roaming the grounds and it was a completely magical place. (And if I’d written this back when I actually visited it, I would remember the name of the garden without having to ask Arielle.)

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Part of the trip involved a short road trip into the middle of the state, and a hike at Enchanted Rock (above). Even though it was overcast, it was beautiful, and the smooth rocks made the plants seem to glow in the low light.

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We also passed entire fields of wildflowers that looked like someone had scattered paint across them. Of course I had to get a closer look.

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Gorgeous, no? The coral ones are called “Indian Paint Brush” and the yellows are Black-eyed Susans (or, that’s what I’ve always called them). We saw so many others, I could probably make a whole gallery of them.

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And then, of course, we had to find the Full Texas, aka a longhorn in a field of bluebonnets. We did a lot of other fun things, too, including Houston’s Japan Festival where we took part in a tea ceremony and ate some really good food.

 

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We also went strawberry picking (and made preserves) and ate at I can’t even tell you how many amazing places, from the Blue Bonnet Cafe to Cooper’s Old Time Pit Barbeque.

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So there you have it. My trip to Houston in a nutshell. Many thanks to Arielle and her husband for putting me up (and putting up with me!) and for hauling me all over Houston and hill country! ^_^

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Before I had a chance to write about last January’s trip to Southern California, I made another trip out there! Last Tuesday I flew back to Chicago with sand on my toes and tan lines on my shoulders, after a glorious week on the west coast.

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It was what I used to consider “chilly” out most of the time, with highs in the mid-70s (23-24 C) and sunny… so I went to the beach! The locals thought I was ridiculous, but compared to the -5 degrees it had been just days before in Chicago, 75 felt amazing. We went to Coronado and hung out in front of the Del (Hotel del Coronado) on the golden shore for an entire day. I can’t even describe what it was like to not only not be wearing two layers of fleece, but to be in a bathing suit!

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We stopped by one of our favorite local taco places, and even though they’d redecorated, they still had really good food. I got fish tacos at another place, and just generally ate a lot of stuff in tortillas.

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Not only did I get to have amazing fish tacos and other local favorite foods, I got to spend a day at Disneyland with my dear friend, sans children! We’ve never been able to go together and do rides (or avoid princess meet and greets), so it was really a blast. And yes, it was actually chilly that day. Hence the sweaters.

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The first stop? Star Wars Launch Bay, which is where the old “Home of Tomorrow” exhibit used to be. And I got to hug Chewie! Whoo!

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Here’s a thing I’d never done before: we stood in the exact middle of Disneyland! It’s marked with a simple metal tack, right at the back of Sleeping Beauty’s Castle, and no-one else knew why we were standing there, taking photos of a spot on the ground. Ha.

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I even rode the carousel and took my customary carouselfie. Don’t judge. You think it’s cute. Notice how the horse and I have the same expression. That’s the trick: to find a horse with a really good facial expression. One day I’ll have enough of these to make a full gallery. You’re welcome, world.

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Anyway, I was stoked to get to see the castle decorated for the park’s 60th anniversary and all of the Diamond Celebration stuff, including the new parade called Paint the Night! (Click here if you want to watch the full parade. It’s less than 14 minutes and beautiful.) I also finally got the Disneyland “You Are Here” Starbucks cup! It was sold out every time I tried to get it before we moved away from California, but now it lives happily in my cabinet (along with the Diamond Celebration one..).

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I really can’t get enough beach time. Ever.

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I’ve barely skimmed the surface of what was an amazing week, but really what made it so great was spending time with some people I love. Sunshine and warm weather and beaches didn’t hurt. I’m thinking this end-of-January thing might be becoming tradition, and I’m not in the least bit sad about it.

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No, that title isn’t a typo. I realized today that in the last year I’ve probably flown more than in the previous three years combined, and that I’ve already got plane tickets (or plans to acquire them) lined up for a good chunk of this year, too. I also realized I’ve been woefully neglectful in recording my adventures. So here’s the plan: this year we’re going on adventures together, but before I take off again in a couple of weeks I’m going to try and catch up on some of the ones I had last year. It’ll take some piecing together for me (and going through photos I’m extremely behind on editing) but hopefully I’ll be caught up again before summer.

Here’s a small preview of The 2015 Travelogue!

January: Southern California

Selfie with Mickey

April: Texas wildflowers

Texas longhorn sitting in bluebonnets

May: Madison, Wisconsin

Capitol Building, Madison, Wisconsin

July: London and surrounding English environs

Tower Bridge, London, England

September: Minnesota

Minnesota Renaissance Festival 2015

September-October: New England autumn things

New Hampshire scarecrow

October: Springfield, IL

Route 66, Springfield, Illinois

December: North Carolina wedding

Bridesmaids

Plus bonus National Parking content!

Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, national parking

So there’s a small look at the places I’ve gone in the last year. Some of them I was able to drive to, some of them needed plane tickets. Most of these snaps are from my phone, but I’ve got some fun stuff that I’m pulling off of my camera, too. Maybe I can get at least a post or two about each place I’ve been, but with other journeys approaching, there may be a lot of overlap. I’ll do my best to keep it straight. Until next time!

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