South Water Caye, Belize: Jan. 1 2014

We snorkeled before breakfast. Is there honestly any better way to start off a new year? I think not. So, we hopped into our suits right at sunrise and got in the water. It was a great morning of snorkeling, full of purple mouthed eels, squirrel fish, some weird-looking dragon fish, and a bunch of coral. It was a choppy and overcast morning, but it was just perfect.

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Andrew and Barbara walking around the island

Breakfast consisted of eggs, beans, fried jacks, apples, and ham with mango chutney. Strange mix I know. This was our final night on South Water Caye. Talk about sad. Our house was booked tonight, so we packed up our bags and moved into a room above the main house/kitchen area. We did some more snorkeling and swimming off the beach before lunch; a lot more eels… and crabs…and LOBSTERS! They’re so creepy and big and they just stare at you. But I digress… we ate our lunch of pasta salad with shrimp, rolls, and coconut empanadas (along with tropical juice) and then we got ready for our final off-island excursion: manatee hunt!!

The bar and restaurant

The bar and restaurant

I love manatees. At the time we went searching for them in Belize, I had never seen one in person before (well in the wild). I’ve read about them, looked at pictures of them, watched videos of them, and even wrote a few reports on them back in the day…but I never saw one. So, imagine my insane excitement to go Manatee searching in Belize!! The only problem was… we didn’t see a. single. manatee. I was a little heartbroken, but I told myself it just wasn’t the time. Truth be hold, we were looking for them during a time of year when they aren’t frequently in those waters. After the lack of manatees, we took the boat over to Tobacco Caye, an island a bit larger than South Water. We walked around for a bit which was nice- and we also saw a GIANT manta ray and a spotted eagle ray swimming right by the boat dock. Tobacco Caye was a lot more populated than South Water. There were a bunch of families living there, as well as some hotels/resorts. We only spent about 20 minutes there- just stretching the legs.

Hammocks!

Hammocks!

After stopping off at Tobacco Caye, we went snorkeling at a really cool spot where we saw electric rays, squirrel fish, lion fish, and cuddle fish. The snorkeling was relaxing and exciting and just perfect. We arrived back at South Water Caye, where we headed up to the puzzle room and worked to finish up our 3rd? 4th puzzle of the trip? This puzzle was of Italy. We enjoyed some Pina Coladas, Beliken Beers, and Island Sunsets. Dinner was spicy onion soup, stuffing, rice and beans, pineapple-cabbage slaw, turkey with cranberry sauce, and chocolate rum cake.

We spent the evening with cold drinks chatting with the crew about tv shows and all sorts of other mindless things. Our boat off of South Water Caye leaves tomorrow at 3:00PM. I’m bummed. I’m usually not the type of person that can stay in one place for very long but I just have to say… disconnecting- utterly and completely, is just so nice. I think I’m going to make a point of having 1 day a month without any technology. Just me and the outdoors… and maybe Andrew and the pups. Just 1 full day of utter relaxation and serenity. Yes, that sounds just wonderful.

Belize- I could get used to you!

Kayaks on the island

Kayaks on the island

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New Year’s Eve 2013: South Water Caye

Ah New Year’s Eve. It’s a great time of year, don’t you think? You get the chance to revisit the previous year and think about everything you did… and didn’t do. You get to hit the reset button and think about everything that will be done differently in the coming year. You make big plans. Yes, this year will be MY year. You’ll get to work early, you’ll exercise more, you’ll eat less this and more that, you won’t be negative, you won’t let the dishes pile up, you’ll get up the courage to ask that guy or gal out, you’ll look so fabulous that your pesky ex or that guy/gal that rejected you will look at you and think, “damn, what was I thinking…”. I mean, let’s get serious here for minute– everyone has that thought at some point in their life, guy or girl. Yes, 2014 will be my year to shine.

The funny thing is though… when you try to think about the previous year, it all melds together. I mean, here I am, in February 2015, writing up this post and I am having a tough time remembering 2014. Don’t get me wrong, 2014 was an awesome year… it’s just that the things I focus on to reset for the New Year seem so important when I make them… and then life happens and the relative “unimportantness” (yes I made up that word) of those resolutions shines. Perhaps my problem is that I am making the *wrong New Year’s resolutions. The things I remember from 2014? The trips I took, the people I met, the conversations I had, and the beers I discovered: eating lunch at Pike’s Place Market with my state coworkers at an annual meeting, drinking beers at a local DC brewpub with Andrew’s brother, sister-in-law, and our friends, hiking at Hetch-Hetchy Dam, picking up our new dog, Winston, from the shelter, taking a boat into a National Park in Indonesia to see Orangutans, drinking a beer at a crazy Robot Show in Tokyo, sneaking photos in an open air market in Singapore, taking a swig of bourbon from a flask that my fellow classmate snuck into the graduation ceremony, going to an “authentic” Russian meal in Alaska, teaching the drinking game, asshole, to a 60-year old man who wandered down to our cabin where we were staying with the Cornell crew one weekend, dancing with coworkers in Dallas after our meeting let out for the day, hiking to a natural hot spring in Iceland, exploring new brewpubs and collecting pint glasses, spending Thanksgiving with my brother, sister-in-law, and nephew at my parents’ house, and of course, spending New Year’s at the beach where Andrew proposed (technically New Year’s Day 2015).

I don’t, however, remember what I ate and did not eat. I don’t remember how many times I exercised. I don’t remember how often (if ever!) I got to work early. I don’t remember how many days I didn’t have a “negative” thought. I can’t tell you how many times Andrew and I did the dishes or let them pile up. I can’t tell you how many “dates” Andrew and I went on. I can’t even tell you if I kept a single one of my 2014 resolutions and you know why? Because I was busy living and that to me is more important than any superficial rule I made up on December 31, 2013. Live for the moment and don’t take life too seriously. No one gets out alive.

But back to South Water Caye! Wow that was me on my soap box. December 31, 2013 was a day for relaxation. I woke up and took some great sunrise photos on the beach with Tim and Barbara (for some reason, I can’t actually locate these sunrise photos)! Andrew and I went snorkeling again and saw a yellow stingray, green and yellow eels, and a ton of fish and lobsters. For breakfast, we ate fried beans, scrambled eggs, hot sauce, tortillas, soursop juice, orange slices, and sausage links. We also had fresh coconuts!!!!!

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A beautiful beach day

 

After breakfast, we worked on a Pink Floyd Album cover puzzle. We did not finish by lunch and that was just fine. We drank beers and piña coladas. We ate island paradise pizza (ground beef, tomato, onion, pepper, cheese, and pepperoni), banana muffins, and watermelon. After lunch, we did finish the puzzle. Then we went snorkeling again, further around the island a bit to switch it up. We saw more rays, lobsters, big schools of fish, these tiny silver fish that followed your every move, gigantic starfish, giant crabs, hermit crabs, conchs, purple lion fish, and sea cucumbers. It was the perfect day.

Pelican enjoying the island life

Pelican enjoying the island life

Pretty trees on the beach

Pretty trees on the beach

We showered and ate dinner: pineapple, breaded eggplant, jalapeño corn salad, macaroni pasta with tomato, conch stir fry, sweet potato pone, and coconut. After dinner, the tables were cleared and the party began! There were Belizean drummers, dancers, and singers. We did shots of 1 Barrel Rum. We drink Belikan Beer, we drank Mayfair dandy gin, and we even had some rum that Sarah and Stuart brought from the mainland. We danced and we sang and we talked about traveling and life. We lived in the moment. It was the perfect New Year’s!

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There’s nothing in the world that can’t be made better with some coconuts

 

Until next time. Live your life.

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South Water Caye, Belize: December 30th

Is it 5:30AM? I honestly have no idea. The sun isn’t up yet but I feel fantastic. I love having no clue what time it is here in Belize. There’s just something so wonderful about being completely disconnected from technology and the fast pace of Washington, DC. On island time, there are no politics (except when Andrew’s dad brings them up- haha), no worries, no agendas, no rules, and no crises that can’t be solved with a cold beer and a snorkel. I walked down on the beach and took some pictures of the retreating rain clouds. I met a woman and her child (from Germany!) who told me that the previous morning they saw a large Ray. I’ll have to be on the lookout for it!

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Retreating Rain Clouds

 

Returning to our cabin, Andrew was awake and we quickly jumped at the chance to get in the water and snorkel before breakfast. It was completely worth the early morning push! We saw Lion Fish, Spotted Eagle Rays, a Green Moray Eel, a Goldentail Moray Eel, and a ton of other fish. We went in our suits to breakfast just because we could and we met up with the others for a delicious meal of: scrambled eggs, fried beans, mixed fruit (papaya, watermelon, and cantaloupe), a dense homemade creole bread, and hibiscus juice.

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Sun shining through the clouds

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Palm patterns

 

After breakfast, we relaxed and put together a puzzle of frogs. We took a swim and then ate lunch (I know it seems like we eat a lot…) before heading out on an snorkel excursion a little further out, where we saw a ton of fish and a bunch of lion fish. They are apparently invasive species so there are a lot around. The water was a beautiful turquoise color and the temperature was perfect. If I could, I’d stay in the water all day and all night! Lunch was beef enchiladas, powder buns, pineapple, and hibiscus juice. We also tried out our first Belizean hot sauce (Beware).

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Owen enjoying the water

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The water by our house

 

We spent the afternoon drinking piña coladas and beer, swimming, lounging, showering, and reading in hammocks. Just delightful. I forgot what it was like to just slow down. Around sunset, we made sure to place ourselves on the beach so we could take some photos of the bright oranges, reds, yellows, and pinks that stretched on forever. It was like a painting out of some expensive coffee table book. I wouldn’t have believed the colors if I hadn’t been there to see it for myself.

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Beautiful textures

 

For dinner, we had coconut rice, herbed fish, a potato-esque salad called, “cho cho”, and bread pudding with rum sauce. After dinner, we retreated to our cabin and brainstormed our resolutions and goals for 2014. *Side note- we didn’t actually end up doing everything we had planned in 2014… but it was a great year, nonetheless* :0)

Until tomorrow!

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A kayaker enjoying the setting sun

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I just can’t get enough of those palms!

 

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Dangriga, Belize –> South Water Caye, Belize

December 29, 2013.

We woke up at the Pelican Beach Resort in Dangriga, Belize around 7:00am. The mattress was firm the air conditioning was cold, and the beach was near. We ate breakfast at the resort: a “Belizean Breakfast”- coffee, water, scrambled eggs, fried jacks (giant puffy pastries), refried beans, cheese, bacon, and habanero hot sauce. Yes, I know. HUGE breakfast. It was delicious. We packed up our bags and made our way down the dock to catch our boat at 9:00AM to South Water Caye.

Andrew checking out the view of the dock on mainland Belize

Andrew checking out the view of the dock on mainland Belize

The boat was small and fit our group plus the luggage; it was completely open air. The ride took about 45 minutes. We docked on the tiny caye where we were greeted by Leonardo. He walked us literally 5 yards to the office where we were given water, tea, coffee, and juice (available all the time). He also pointed out the bar. We were given a short tour of the office building which was complete with a library (books, games, puzzles), and a white board that would list the daily breakfast, lunch, and dinner plans. Life here on the island is simple; no making choices. The kitchen staff makes the menu and that’s what goes. After touring the building, we were taken to our cabins; Andrew and I are staying in “Osprey”- a duplex where Andrew’s parents were also staying. There are kayaks available for our use 24/7 and snorkeling right off the beach. Basically, I’m in heaven. The cabins are on the water.

The group getting the official tour!

The group getting the official tour!

Owen and Aunt Sarah checking out the water.

Owen and Aunt Sarah checking out the water.

Lunch was fish sticks, squash, garlic rolls, ginger cookies, and piña coladas. I know what you’re going to say– Meghan, you don’t eat seafood. Correct. I simply didn’t eat the fish sticks; you learn to go with the flow here. Everything is relaxed. There are no schedules, no facebook to update, no work to do. Just relax. You want to lie on the beach all day? Awesome. You want to snorkel all day? Awesome. You want to kayak to the research station off in the distance? Awesome. You want to lie in a hammock and ready? Awesome. Everything is awesome.

Want to sit in a chair all day on the beach? Awesome!

Want to sit in a chair all day on the beach? Awesome!

After lunch, we kayaked all the way around the island (really only took about 40 minutes) and snorkeled. There are a ton of fish off this island and I swear I will never get tired of them. We showered with cold rain water (perfect way to cool down) before heading up to the bar for a few cold drinks: Belikan Beer, Piña Coladas, and CocoLoco (no clue what was in this last one- they wouldn’t tell us!) For dinner, we dined on Conch Civiche, Lobser Tail, Marinated Salad, Mashed Potatoes with Gravy, and Coconut Pie for dessert.

One of many, MANY Piña Coladas consumed on the trip.

One of many, MANY Piña Coladas consumed on the trip.

 

We were pretty exhausted from a day of relaxing, so we headed to bed around the time the sun went down. I couldn’t tell you what time that was– I didn’t know and I didn’t care. We read by dim light for a bit (all the lights are solar powered here), we gazed out at the giant expanse of sky with millions of stars, and then we went to sleep. Tomorrow afternoon we are going on a snorkeling trip. The office has a bunch of excursions available. You just tell the what you want to do and they make it happen.

I could get used to this life.

 

Check out our fun day of travel to Belize here.

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DCA –> South Water Caye, Belize

Ah New Years 2013-2014. As a celebration for a number of reasons, Andrew and I traveled with his parents, brother’s family, and sister-in-law’s family to South Water Caye, Belize. Here’s where Souther Water Caye is located:

South Water Caye is located southwest of mainland Belize

South Water Caye is located southwest of mainland Belize (source)

 

South Water Caye is a private 14-acre island. It has a small marine biology research station (partnership between IZE, Boston University, and National Science Foundation) a few houses, and the Pelican Beach Resort, which is located on 3.5 acres at the southern end of the island. The resort is comprised of: a main house with a kitchen, a bar, an indoor/outdoor eating area, and a bunch of books/puzzles/games; and a number of house/condo combos. But more on South Water Caye later. For today, the trip there…

Our flight from DCA left at 7:00AM. We arrived in Dallas, TX at 9:30AM. The great thing about early morning traveling through airports? Early morning margaritas! We settled down at Blue Mesa and ordered some breakfast burritos and margaritas (Andrew had a blue margarita; I opted for the Black Raspberry Swirl). A little while after breakfast, we met up with Austin (Andrew’s brother) and Andrew’s sister-in-law’s family. The group of us enjoyed a margarita more before boarding our 12:45PM flight to Belize City. We arrived in Belize City at 3:45PM and got in line for customs, which was a disaster! Tons of people! We had just managed to to get through the line when someone in our party came running up and yelling that we needed to hand over our bags if we were ever going to make the connecting flight. This is where chaos ensued… and resulted in three members of our party being left behind to catch a later flight. The airport security guard grabbed our bags and shoved them through ticketing and then asked for our ids. Once we showed them, he started yelling that we needed to follow him… and he took the tickets with him. So, just picture 4 of us at this point running through the airport after a security guide. We ended up at the security check line and didn’t see our security guard anywhere. Apparently in Belize City, the motto is, “no ticket? no problem!” as we were pushed through security with no questions asked…

Tropic Airlines.

Tropic Airlines.

Close Quarters on the Tropic Airlines in Belize.

Close Quarters on the Tropic Airlines in Belize.

We were led out onto the runway to wait for about a minute before being ushered onto a 15 passenger (max) plane. The flight was literally about 20 minutes… if that. We left the plane and shortly thereafter, a large black SUV came to pick us up along with our luggage. The SUV transferred us to the Pelican Beach Resort in Dangriga, on the coast of mainland Belize. The next morning we would hop on the boat taxi to get to South Water Caye. After getting situated in our hotel rooms, and our missing three from Belize City randomly showed up on a completely different airline (apparently they were just pushed onto it), we all enjoyed some ice cold Belikan Belize Beer and dinner. Andrew went for Spicy Curried Chicken with Coconut Rice, while I opted for roasted veggies, rice, and salad. After laughing about the crazy long day and airport antics, we headed to bed. 7AM wake up call.

View from the plane. Belize City to Dangriga

View from the plane. Belize City to Dangriga

View from the plane on the flight from Belize City to Dangriga

View from the plane on the flight from Belize City to Dangriga

Pelican Beach Resort in Dangriga, Belize.

Pelican Beach Resort in Dangriga, Belize.

View of the dock at Pelican Beach Resort, Dangriga.

View of the dock at Pelican Beach Resort, Dangriga.

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Drangsnes Hot Tubs: Drangsnes, Iceland

As I sit on my computer researching National Geographic trips to Antarctica, it dawns on me that I really need to update the blog for all of the trips that we’ve been on… I love writing don’t get me wrong… but, dreaming [sic: drooling] over new adventures and far off places is sooooo much more fun :0). But alas, the next best thing- Hot Tubs that are outdoors, naturally heated, and free. If you haven’t already, check out my post on the Landbrotalaug Hot Pot.

But for today, on to Drangsnes, Iceland and its glorious trio of geothermal hot tubs. First, where is this place? It’s located on the eastern most fjord of the Westfjords region. Yet another reason to get away from Reykjavik. Again, Reykjavik is awesome, but you haven’t seen anything until you’ve driven around the Westfjords, slept in a Jeep on the side of the road, lived off baguettes, Icelandic butter, and Brennivin (a vodka-gin taste), and visited Dragsnes. Seriously.

So it’s a good distance from Reykjavik but so so worth it– just for the tubs.

The town of Dragsnes is a thriving metropolis of 67 people (according to the 2011 census and wikipedia). It’s located along a curvy cliff. It’s a sleepy little town with not much else to boast (besides a great view of the water and their tubs). When you enter Drangsnes, you almost immediately see a light post on the left side of the road with the all too familiar sign indicating a public pool or hot tub (a drawing of a person’s head, some waves, and a thermometer if it’s heated).  There are two small white buildings and a little gravel parking area in front of them. Again, we lucked out and there was no one else around when we arrived. We pulled in and read the sign hanging on one of the buildings.

Parking, Showers, Pool Sign in Drangsnes, Iceland

Parking, Showers, Pool Sign in Drangsnes, Iceland

We pulled in and read the sign that was hanging by the hot tubs.

Drangsnes, Iceland Public Hot Tub Sign

Drangsnes, Iceland Public Hot Tub Sign

So, we hopped into the bathroom/shower combos (the two white buildings), took our showers, dawned our suits, and headed across the road to the tubs. There are three of them: three different temperatures. There are benches by them as well as trash cans. It would be an absolutely perfect place to spend the whole day, the whole night, heck, you’re whole life.

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Drangsnes Hot Tubs, Iceland

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Drangsnes Hot Tubs, Iceland

 

If you’d like to read more about the tubs, check out Atlas Obscura. I’ve pointed to this site on other posts as well– if you haven’t checked it out, please do. It’s fantastical. It’s made up of a number of off the beaten path/wanky/completely absurd/one-of-a-kind spots all over the world. We’ve found quite a few spots through that site on our travels… every one was worth it for the story :0).

Until next time, stay warm friends.

Drangsnes, Iceland (Pop. 67)

Drangsnes, Iceland (Pop. 67)

 

 

 

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Landbrotalaug Hot Pot: Hidden in Snaefellsnes, Iceland

I know I know. I’m way behind on so many posts and so many stories and so many pictures. I’m just going to jump around. One of Andrew’s parents’ friends (I know, irrelevant) is heading to Iceland in a few weeks so they asked us if we had any recommendations on where to go. My response— all the recommendations! Seriously, Iceland is up there as one of the best trips I’ve been on… I can’t wait to go back. Today’s story is about Landbrotalaug. This is a hot pot that is in a random field by a little pond behind an abandoned farm that I happened to find when googling “natural hot pots in Snaefellsnes.” Seriously, that’s how I find most of my cool spots… that and Atlas Obscura. If you haven’t checked out that website yet, do it. It’s awesome. Anyway, I digress.

First, geography. Snaefellsnes is the peninsula north of Reykjavik.  By car, it’s about 2 hours to the center of Snaefellsnes Peninsula. To the hot pot, it’s probably more like an hour. Rent a car if you go to Iceland. Don’t stay in Reykjavik. See the country. It’s beautiful. It’s remote. It’s beautifully remote.

Reykjavik to Snaefellsnes takes about 2 hours.

Reykjavik to Snaefellsnes takes about 2 hours.

So, the great thing about Landbrotalaug Hot Pot is that I found a website that has the GPS coordinates posted (GPS: N64°49.933 W22°19.110). The not so great thing is that I didn’t find those GPS points until after we got back to the states. Oh well, the thrill of the hunt made it totally worth it. Basically, if you are driving from Reykjavik towards Snaefellsnes, you will pass Eldborg Crater (on your left). There is literally one main road, so you won’t get lost. After you’ve passed the crater, you’ll see an abandoned farm house up on a hill (Skalg). There’s a road/driveway right before Skalg. Turn left onto that road. You’ll follow the road up and around, past the farm and back into the middle of a field. Once you get a few minutes back into the middle of nowhere, you will see a small sign indicating “Heit Laug Hot Spring”. If you’re lucky, you will be the only car there. Go ahead and park and walk on out to the small pond.

Hot Pot Sign

Hot Pot Sign

There are two “hot pots” at the pond. Both are on the other side of the pond, so you will either have to walk all the way around or across. One of the hot pots is fed by a pipe where warm water shoots down into a very shallow but larger pool. You could probably cram a bunch of people in there but you wouldn’t be very covered. If you look towards one end of the pond, you will see a few rocks that look like a makeshift walkway across the pond. If you follow the rocks with your eyes, you’ll see a makeshift rock wall. Behind that rock wall is the mother-load hot pot. It’s small and can just fit two people (maybe 3 if you push it). It’s deeper though and you will be in water up to your neck. It’s also the warmer of the two hot pots here.

Large and Shallow Hot Pot

Large and Shallow Hot Pot

Please take caution when crossing the pond. The rock walkway is slippery and moss covered, so you could easily slip and cut yourself. Walking around is probably smarter… but not as much fun :0). Enjoy the hot pot. We were lucky in that no one was there when we were hanging out. In fact, no one showed up until we were leaving. I also read somewhere that this is a great spot to watch the northern lights with a cold beer. We did not stick around for that (we arrived earlier in the day and had big plans for the day). More on our epic northern lights spotting locations later.

The rocks are dangerous!

The rocks are dangerous!

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Rock Wall Hiding the Hot Pot

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The Most Awesome Hot Pot

 

Enjoy the hotpot and the fact that you’re in the middle of nowhere behind an abandoned farm. Awesome. Don’t worry if you can’t find this hot pot or you don’t have time to go to Snaefellsnes, there are plenty more fish in the sea!

Until next time, a toast to cold beers, warm waters, and remote locations!

Categories: Iceland | Tags: , , , , , | 15 Comments

Visiting Seldovia, AK by Boat

If you haven’t been able to tell yet, we really enjoyed Homer, AK! We decided to take our chances at another wildlife boat tour that doubled with a trip to the island community of Seldovia, AK (south-west of Homer). Fingers were crossed for slightly better weather than our first wildlife cruise in the Kenai Fjords! Camping out on Homer spit made our commute to the boat dock quick and simple (it was basically across the street from where we were staying). We booked tickets on the Rainbow Connection. For $59/adult they offered a 7-hour trip. We departed Homer Spit around 10:30AM and headed to Gull Island Seabird Rookery (home to 15,000 seabirds, including 8 pelagic- or open sea- species that nest there every year). From there, we headed to Eldridge Passage, a place to find sea otters, ducks, eagles, and occasionally, whales. After about 1.5 hours, we arrived at Seldovia, where we had three hours to explore and walk around before hopping back on our boat and traveling back to Homer. The boats had a naturalist on board who was extremely knowledgable and talked all about the Kachemak Bay. The boat itself was fairly large and they offered tea and coffee onboard. There were seats both outside and inside and the weather was much better than in the Kenai Fjords. We had a fantastic time and would definitely take the trip again. Plus, we were fortunate enough to see whales, birds, ducks, eagles, and sea otters!! Here are some pictures from the boat trip over:

Whale Tail!

Whale Tail!

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Friendly Otter

 

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Curious Otter

 

 

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Elephant with His Trunk Down

Elephant with His Trunk Up!

Elephant with His Trunk Up!

When our boat pulled around the bend and into the Seldovia Harbor, we were greeted by a series of beautifully colored houses and buildings. The dock was chock full of boats (the only way to get to Homer after all) and there were people bustling around getting their work done. We disembarked and enjoyed a nice picnic at a table up on a hill looking down on the docks.

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Enjoying a Picnic!

Seldovia, AK

Seldovia, AK

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After our lunch, we walked around the small community. There was some funky wood statues of fish and a historic boardwalk with shops such as the Thyme on the Boardwalk Nursery. We took photos of gorgeous flowers and enjoyed a gorgeous day in this small town hidden from the world. We also stopped by a Coffee Shop and met the owner who had just started the business perhaps a week before. When we entered she was just taking a large batch of homemade muffins out of the oven. Her shop was located down a wood staircase in an old wood building right on the water. It was cozy and wonderful and the hot coffee and muffin were just what was needed!

 

Fish Statue in Seldovia

Fish Statue in Seldovia

Funky Birdhouse on Seldovia's Historic Boardwalk

Funky Birdhouse on Seldovia’s Historic Boardwalk

Teapot Planters

Teapot Planters

Flowers in Seldovia

Flowers in Seldovia

More Flowers in Seldovia

More Flowers in Seldovia

A Little Coffee Shop on the Water

A Little Coffee Shop on the Water

After our allotted 3-hours, we headed back to our boat, snapped a few more photos of fisherman cleaning their catches and birds eating the leftovers, and then traveled back on to Homer. On the Spit, we were lucky to catch a glimpse of one of the Deadliest Catch’s boats at dock before enjoying a nice stroll on the beach. It was a wonderful day!

Cleaning Fish

Cleaning Fish

The Birds Feast

The Birds Feast

A Perfect End to a Perfect Day

A Perfect End to a Perfect Day

Here’s a picture of our route for all you map-minded people out there!


 

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A Crazy Little Thing Called Love

Happy 2015, everyone! We hope you had a great holiday season with your family and friends! We spent Christmas in Pennsylvania with my parents which was very relaxing. Then we headed to Ocean City, MD for New Year’s… where something crazy and completely unexpected happened: Andrew proposed! It happened at sunrise on New Years Day. I had absolutely no idea. I didn’t even know he had a ring or what the ring was… turns out, Andrew is sneaky (in the best way possible).

We shot a video of the sunrise using our IPhone and the Time-Lapse feature. The video is set to Caroline Pennel’s version of Anything Can Happen. Here’s the link to the video on our YouTube channel:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1yjfcbAgTNE

 

Here’s a picture of the ring:

Engagement Ring

Engagement Ring

It’s recycled platinum with a type of garnet- a Hessonite. It’s the perfect ring for many reasons but even more perfect because it’s orange (my favorite color) and it’s his birthstone. I’m a not a huge diamond fan and as you either already learned or will learn, I don’t follow the norm. My birthstone… also happens to be a diamond. Additionally, the setting came from a company that is eco-conscious and uses all recycled metals. Anyway, it is perfect.

After the proposal, we spent about an hour looking at rental houses in Costa Rica… that’s where we met and we had talked about how fun it would be to have a wedding there…so we looked at ridiculously priced mansion that no one in their right mind could ever afford… just because. We went out to a lazy breakfast at Dough Roller and just “bathed in the love” for a while. We called our families that afternoon. This leads me to the first thing that we learned about getting engaged/planning a wedding: we had no idea how long the calls and conversations about getting engaged would be. I’m not saying it was a bad thing; on the contrary, it was so fun to hear how excited our parents and siblings and siblings-in-law were about the news… we just figured the conversations would be shorter. About 4 hours later (hehe– lots to talk about!) we were exhausted and utterly smitten. :0).

We spent the first part of Friday at Dogfish Head Brewery in Milton, DE. Fantastic place, by the way. The tours are free and you get 4 free samples from their list of at least 12 different beers. They also have a non-alcoholic beverage on tap called Beach Beer. The tour is over an hour long but takes you through the different areas of the brewery and explains all the different processes and beers made there as well as the bottling facility. Very awesome. Another post on Dogfish Head later.

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Four Free Beer Samples!

 

After that, we headed to Andrew’s other surprise… the Ultimate Couples Retreat. It included a 1.5-hour full body massage, a bottle of champagne with strawberries and chocolate fondue, an hour in a hot tub, and then dinner. Dinner consisted of three courses: the first course was granny smith apples, baguette, and veggies with a 17-herb cheese fondue; the second course was chicken, shrimp, filet mignon, and vegetables with a broth fondue; and the third course was graham crackers, marshmallows, cookies, bananas, and strawberries with chocolate fondue. The dinner was served with a bottle of wine (Andrew requested Moscato for me… yummmm!)

First course: 17-herb cheese fondue!

First course: 17-herb cheese fondue!

So, 2015 started off on a high note for us– and we couldn’t be more excited for the future!

Categories: United States, Wedding Planning | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Exploring Homer, AK

Well, we awoke on the Homer Spit on the beach. Awesome. What’s more awesome? Eagles on the beach. Super awesome! We saw a juvenile that we took a bunch of pictures of right on the edge of the water, before one of the kind beach photographers with us let us know that there were some adult eagles down the beach. So, we slowly made our way down the beach where we saw THREE adult bald eagles. So awesome!! We took A LOT of pictures and spent almost two hours on the beach. Here are a few pics:

 

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After our picture fest, we got ready to go and headed into breakfast at the Sourdough Express– a restaurant that we had read about in an article discussing delicious sourdough pancakes. It is also well known for its efforts to locally source most to all of its ingredients (including meats from sustainable local sources). Pretty awesome! We ate a delicious meal (including reindeer sausage! Sorry, Vixen) and then decided to check out the rest of the sites around Homer. By the way, I’ll note here that I’m not sure Reindeer sausage is for everyone… it has a very particular flavor (and is smoky). Reminds me of venison. Anyway, I digress.

 

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We headed up into the mountains to check out the skyline drive that promised to provide us with some beautiful views of Homer, the Spit and the Mountains. We made our way up through the obviously wealthy area of Homer and took a short jaunt over to another Russian Orthodox Church first [All Saints of America; information below]. This time, there were people there (the last Russian Orthodox church we were on our own). Here, we met a woman (Sharon) who told us that we were welcome to go in and look around and that the Father would be down to show us around. True to their word, a few minutes later he did come down and chatted with us for a bit about the church. He and his wife travel from another town every so often to have church services here… pretty cool. It’s a small little church with gorgeous decoration.

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From the church, we headed next to the Carl E. Wynn Nature Center just up the road. The visitor center was closed at the time we arrived, so we just grabbed a trail map and headed out for a walk. We didn’t see any Moose to our dismay, but the trails were well-maintained, the views were great, and then area in general is a great little spot. I highly recommend it if you find yourself in the area!

 

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After the nature center stop, we moved on and drove along Skyline drive, stopping here and there for a picture stop because of the sweeping views of Homer and the mountains and volcanoes. We made our way across and back down to the visitor center where we parked and let my mom go in and gather her beloved brochures. Andrew and I also hopped out and said we were going for a short walk. The truth was, we had researched and called a bakery in Homer called, “Two Sisters Bakery” while we were in Seward to order a Birthday Cake for my parents (Today’s the big day. Yep, both of them). We made our way down to the bakery and were immediately happy with our decision. The inside is a cool little wooden bakery and restaurant with a huge display of baked goods and food for people to try out. Andrew ordered a cinnamon roll and we paid for/picked up the cake (chocolate cake, caramel filling, cream cheese frosting). They had decorated it beautifully—especially considering how small of a cake it was… with a blue Happy Birthday and a row of fresh flowers. The cake was so delicious. Highly recommend if you are in the area and want a bite to eat or want to order a cake.

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After cake and sandwiches in the RV, we tried to make our way to Homer Meadery only to discover that the Meadery shutdown and is no longer functioning. So, we headed off to the Homer Brewing Company, a large brown building seemingly in the middle of nowhere. My dad, Andrew and I went in and order a few tasters of beer—basically small 4oz. glasses, $2/glass. They had EIGHT beers on tap—very impressive! The inside of the brewery was pretty cool- one side had the brewery itself with all the equipment on display to see. The other side of the brewery was the “taproom” of sorts. They had a few tables and some merchandise and a small bar. After we tried out our samplers, we decided on a beer that we all liked and had him fill up our Seward Brewery Growler [don’t forget to visit our tip for microbrewery drinking while traveling- purchase a growler at the first brewery and just refill as you go]. We also picked up a pint glass to add to our collection (We opted for the Abbey Ale to fill our growler).

 

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After the brewery, we headed uphill to the Bear Creek Winery (following the Homer Fermentation Trail). There are only 11 wineries in Alaska and 1 of them happens to be in Homer. Interestingly enough, they do not grow grapes here. Instead the source them and make the wine here… they had quite a few wines available to try. The idea here is that you pay $___ for 6-8 samples of wine (you choose which wines you want). They have pure fruit wines, chardonnays, zins, ports, and even one ice wine, although sadly, they did not have the ice wine when we were there. My dad and I each made our list of wine and the ladies working the wine brought out halibut spread on crackers and cheese for palette clearing. The wines were awesome! The fruit wines blew me away—they had a Pomegranate wine made with Pom and Grape and it was phenomenal! They even had a mead that we made sure to try (and bought a bottle of for the road). It was a great top and the folks are super nice!

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Back in Homer “downtown” we stopped by a few gift shops and also “The Cool Juicy Bus”, an old school bus that was turned into a smoothie café. The girl working at the bus was really friendly and had a huge menu of smoothie mixes and fruits as well as add-ins such as flax and hemp and proteins, as well as soy/almond/coconut and other non-dairy/dairy milks. We chatted with her a bit and learned that originally, her mother and father owned the bus and drove around and up to Alaska (noting that her mother was a bit of a gypsy). She decided to set-up the smoothie and bus and the rest is history. Two other people came up while we were waiting. Both Homer-ites and both knew the woman who owned the bus… and they chatted with us. Everyone is so nice here!

 

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My mom had heard from the Visitor Center that there was a really cool authentic Russian Café about 40 minutes out of Homer. So, she called and asked about availability and then we were off. We made our way to the town of Nikolaevsk. The “town” wasn’t really much to see- a small run-down area with a few small buildings and houses. The Russian Café [Samovar Cafe] was located near the end of one of the roads. A small building with a wide-open parking lot; no other cars. We parked and slowly made our way to the front door. It’s really hard to adequately describe what awaited us on the inside of the building. Today, as I type this over a week after that experience, I’m still not 100% convinced that it actually happened and/or was real. The café has a small outdoor area that is covered from the rain. The inside is a small room that is jam-packed with just about every Russian trinket you can think of from teas and traditional spoons to nesting doll sets. In front of us was a small bar “area” with 6 stools and behind the bar was Nina. Nina the Russian; dressed to the nines in traditional Russian clothing. She greeted us with a great big smile and welcome. What followed I can’t be sure… there was some VERY quick speaking with a heavy accent and discussing the options of meals, food, and “experiences”. This culminated with the four of us sitting at the bar for the “Russian Experience”. We were not allowed to speak to Nina while she was “cooking” and we were not allowed to ask questions. She gave us booklets and pamphlets of information on her, on Russian, and on the café.

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We were to receive several courses each coming just as quickly as the next. We started with borscht- a traditional soup that was very similar to vegetable soup (heavy on the tomato) with a small squirt of sour cream. With this, each couple also received a plate with a slice of Rye bread and a traditional Russian Pierogi. The Russian pirogi is more of a potato bread- a soft roll stuffed with a mashed potato substance. Both breads are served cold but were very delicious when dipped in the borscht. The perogi may have been my favorite part of the meal J.

 

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Next, the four of us received a mixed combination platter- essentially a sampler. It had sausage on it, sauerkraut with craisins, small meatball dumplings (looked like your more western-style perogi), and pickles. For dessert we were each served a cup of tea and a tall dish with cream puffs, whipped cream, chocolate syrup, and a cherry. After dinner, Nina dressed us in traditional Russian garb and took pictures of us by a giant nesting doll. Then, just like that, we were thanked and ushered out the door.

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The experience was cool. It really was… and it was unlike anything we’ve ever done. Was it authentic Russian? I’m not sure because I’ve never been to Russia, but my sense is “no”. Here’s why: the sausage she served us was microwaved and cut off of a giant plastic-packaged sausage. The dessert simply looked like cream puffs from Costco with Hershey’s syrup and Ready-whip. I wouldn’t classify those things as “Traditional Russian” but perhaps I just don’t know Russia.

The food was delicious, don’t get me wrong and as I said, the experience was fun and unique. The café was lauded online by various travel and news companies including National Geographic and folks on Trip Advisor loved it. To me, though, it seemed to much like a push to get money and take advantage of the customers. There were signs everywhere when you walked in—taking 4 photos cost money, taking more cost more; to sit at the bar instead of outside under the awning cost money, the plate that we split four ways was about $25 (to me it was not worth that amount). The bread was something like $2/slice. Microwaved sausage just makes me really sad. The kraut, the borscht, the perogi, and the tea were my highlights of the meal. While it was fun dressing up—it wasn’t necessary. It just seemed really staged. In the end for four people, we spent well over $100 for 4 cups of tea, 4 cups of borscht, 2 slices of bread, 2 perogis, 3 desserts, and a plate with 1 cup of kraut, 4 slices of pickle, some meatball dumplings, and a couple slices of sausage.

Additionally, on the phone, Nina had told us that we better bring “green paper” (aka cash) with us. She insisted on it, despite the fact that the front door said she accepted both Visa and MasterCard. Now, I totally understand businesses (especially tiny ones like the one she had) not wanting to pay the fees to charge credit cards, but it just seemed weird because we were even given the option of using a credit card (and realistically, we probably would have ended up spending more).

So all of that being said, would I do it again? Probably not. Am I glad we did it? Sure. Why not? I’m all about new experiences and branching out… I’m just not sure I’d rate it as highly on the “must do” in/near Homer, AK as the others.

After dinner, we piled back into the camper wondering what just happened. We made our way back to the Homer Spit and our campground via a bumpy gravel road, complete with beautiful views and another friendly eagle. Then we hit the hay.

 

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Not a bad way for parents to spend their Birthday, eh?

 

Homer Resources:

  1. Campground: Homer Spit Campground Information (showers: $1- unlimited time)
  2. The Fresh Sourdough Express: Website; Trip Advisor Reviews; Facebook Reviews
  3. Skyline Drive: Information (the drive is located between East and West Hill Drives)
  4. All Saints of America Russian Orthodox Church: Church Website (located off of Skyline Drive) 
  5. Carl E. Wynn Nature Center: Website Information; Trip Advisor Reviews
  6. Two Sisters Bakery: Website
  7. Homer Brewing Company: Website
  8. Bear Creek Winery and Lodging: Website
  9. The Juicy Bus: Website Information
  10. Samovar [Russian Café] in Nikolaevsk, Alaska: Nina’s Main Website; Webpage on Russian Cafe “Samovar”

 
Google Map Showing Our Path and Stops for the Day (excluding the Russian Cafe):

Google Map Showing Route from Visitor Center in downtown Homer to Russian Cafe [Samovar] and return to Homer Spit Campground *Note- these directions use the gravel road. To take main roads, take Sterling Highway 1 out of town (north) and then in Anchor Point, make a right on North Fork. This will be the SECOND right turn for North Fork Road that you see when leaving Homer. The first North Fork Road is the gravel Road. Once you turn on North Fork, follow the road all the way to Nikolaevsk. You’ll see a painted sign on a building reading “Cafe”. You can turn left at this building [follow the arrow] and it will take you down and around to the Samovar Cafe.:

Categories: Alaska, Hikes, Microbrews, Restaurants | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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