Archive for the 'travel' Category

InnerSpace Caverns

Do you guys like caving? I absolutely do not. But I agreed to go along with Joseph to InnerSpace Cavern on our way home from Austin. Sorry, Joseph, but that is the last time I’ll be going to a cave with you.

We went to a cave once before in Slovenia, and I have to say the difference was striking. In America everything feels very safe; the pathways are wide and well-paved and have handrails. In Slovenia we crossed a rickety wooden bridge 50 feet above a fast-moving river.

I’m proud of myself for not having a panic attack as we walked in. I was very, very close. Joseph actually bought the picture they took right as we go into the cave, and I look hilariously uncomfortable. He has it sitting on his desk because he apparently enjoys my misery.

Even though it was not an overwhelmingly fun experience for me, I can’t deny the caves were beautiful.

The above photo was from the last top of the tour. It was actually very beautiful with the water reflecting the cave (but not photographing well). When we turned around and made our quick hike back out and the air became more clear, however, I was reassured of my place above the earth.

Joseph enjoyed being in the cave, and I enjoyed surviving the experience (honestly, I was pretty proud of myself for not crying… though I cried a bit in the parking lot when I realized I was actually about to go in a cave).

San Antonio!

For my birthday this summer Joseph surprised me with a trip to San Antonio! Our weekend trip to Austin in July was such a success he thought we should take another. It was of course miserably hot, but we had a good time. It served as a nice break before the end of my busy summer semester this week. I’ve always thought of San Antonio as really touristy, but (with the exception of the Alamo) I didn’t find that at all.

We stayed at Hotel Valencia on the Riverwalk. It is an absolutely beautiful hotel, decorated with raw stones and woods! Above is the view from our window.

My friend Aly lives in the city, and our friend Lauren happened to be visiting that weekend. It was good timing!

Breakfast at Schilo’s. I also feel I should mention the great meal we had for dinner (no pictures) at Boudro’s. It’s rated #1 on the Riverwalk for a reason!

The morning before we left we ate at the Guenther House Restaurant and then walked around looking at the Victorian homes in the area and toured the Edward Steves Homestead.

Austin Outdoors

The title is a bit misleading because these photos are only from two places: the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center and a trail at Zilker Park.

Let me just say that hiking in the middle of the day during a Texan summer is not a good idea. We were slightly miserable at points but overall had fun.

I went to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center and high school and wanted to take Joseph, so that was the first stop on our drive into Austin. Because we got there an hour before closing, they let us in for free! (We actually hardly paid for anything in Austin besides food)

These last two photos are from Zilker Park (near Barton Springs, but we decided not to swim). The trail was mainly uncovered, and it was noon. I’m telling you, it was a bad idea. I’d planned on taking breaks to wade in the water a bit, but the creek was running pretty dry.

In the first photo I was dying from heat exhaustion.

A Weekend in Austin

Joseph and I took a quick trip a few hours south to visit Austin last weekend. I’ve been a few times here and there but never as an “adult.” We had so much fun, and I really didn’t want to leave. I love all the little shops and restaurants that make up the city and appreciated not seeing any large chain stores.

Our first dinner was, of course, at a food truck on South Congress. We both got wraps at The Mighty Cone (Joseph’s a venison “cone dog” and mine breaded avocado). They were fantastic!

Sunday morning we did the ultimate tourist activity–we visited the state capitol.

This was my favorite feature: gigantic Texas Capitol door hinges! So over-the-top and very Texan.

We also visited the LBJ Library & Museum. Last time I was in Austin while I was in high school there was an exhibit about the 1960s, and I stood in front of a video of The Beatles for as long as I could. This time, though, the museum was undergoing a change, so there wasn’t much to see.

My favorite stop in Austin was the Elisabet Ney Museum. This beautiful house and studio is surrounded by wildflowers in the middle of a neighborhood. Inside, you walk on creaky hardwood floors to make your way between Ney’s incredible marble sculptures. It’s free and a very unique experience, so I recommend you make a quick stop if you’re in the city.

One last photo of food–Joseph’s carnitas at Curra’s Grill.

Beautiful Things in Las Vegas

Say what you will about Vegas, but the city does not take the easy way out when it comes to design. It’s like Walt Disney World: absolutely contrived and profit-driven but incredibly detailed. That’s something that I couldn’t help but fall in love with. I love the details. I love that these hotels will display huge fountains and mounds of flowers just because they can. Who in the world decides, “Why don’t we cover our ceiling with 2,000 hand-blown glass flowers? Let’s not make anything easy.”

Sure, their motivations aren’t for aesthetics alone. But I am a frequent complainer (much to the annoyance of my husband) about sky-scrapers. I hate imposing glass walls with nothing to them. I only want the precision of details no one else cares about. This absence was actually a huge adjustment for me when moving back to the US last summer after four years in Italy.

But the level of design in Vegas helped me like the city more than I would have otherwise. Without so many beautiful and intricately-designed things to look at, I think the consumerism would have killed my spirit.

First, Dale Chihuly’s Fiori di Como in the Bellagio lobby. I love this. The glass flowers burst from the ceiling like some kind of beautiful disease (is that too gruesome?).

Just past the lobby is Bellagio’s botanical garden and conservatory, dressed up for fall.

A beautiful glass leave hanging from the conservatory roof. I didn’t even take photos of the beautiful flower displays set up throughout the hotel and behind the check-in desks in the lobby.

My other favorite hotel was Wynn Las Vegas. This hotel is gorgeous and, of course, expensive. I’d recommend anyone on the strip walk around, even if it’s further down the road than the others and is lacking in loud tourist attractions. The light is took dark (in every hotel/casino) to do the photos justice. The Wynn has the most beautiful and unique design–a mix of contemporary cute and classic sophistication. I was dying over the carpet and wallpaper, both of which I neglected to photograph but very badly want for my home office.

This is the Wynn Buffet, where Joseph and I had dinner with my friend Sarah. The meal was delicious, and do I even need to mention this room? It’s straight out of Alice in Wonderland.

Las Vegas: The Strip

Neither Joseph nor I are big on gambling, but of course, we were in Vegas. There’s really not much else to do. We stuck with the slot machines and actually came out ahead, but it still terrifies me!

This machine was set on tormenting me. This happened TWICE. Notice neither row is actually on the line, making me a loser. Ugh.

I ate a crepe for breakfast at the Paris buffet, and then we sat down for a bit of gamblin’

Everything on the strip is so nice and so beautiful! I couldn’t help sneaking a few pictures of bathrooms.

Photo at the Bellagio. More on this later! That is such a beautiful hotel.

I’m really excited I got to meet up with my friend Sarah, who I met online a few years ago and who happens to live in Vegas. Isn’t she beautiful?? We had a great lunch at the Wynn, which offers a lot of Vegan options for her (another seriously beautiful hotel–more on that one later too!)

Just a corner of one of the shopping centers. Seriously beautiful!

New York New York:

Our hotel, the MGM Grand:

As for shows, we very sadly got our dates confused and missed the one we were looking forward to–The Lion King. The tickets were nonrefundable, of course, and they are leaving at the end of the year. :( We did get to catch Cirque du Soleil’s Ka but were extremely disappointed in it. They held it at an absolutely incredible theater with an amazing moving stage, but there was almost no acrobatics. We were looking forward to seeing something like Downtown Disney’s La Nouba, which we really loved. Ka had one ribbon dance (which honestly wasn’t incredibly impressive considering what I saw at La Nouba), a one baton twirling act, and a segment of shadow puppets. Like, shadow puppets you make with your hands on the wall illuminated by light. This was not at all what we were looking for, and I found myself wanted to walk out (which I have never done at any kind of performance).

That kind of put a bitter taste on the night, but it was still overall a great trip. I just should have done more research because it seems other people who didn’t like Ka were also hoping it was more like La Nouba.

Las Vegas: Nature First

Joseph and I just returned from half a week in Las Vegas. It was kind of a strange destination for us considering the places we normally travel, but we needed a relaxing vacation and a break from school and work. Vegas requires very little thinking or planning–it fit the bill perfectly.

Before I flood you with photos from the bright city, I’ll share our first day. We flew in early and spent the morning hiking at Red Rock Canyon before driving for a quick tour of Hoover Dam. It was kind of a last-minute decision, and I’m really glad we spent the early part of the trip this way.

I’m normally not a fan of this dry landscape (I love and miss my Dolomites), but it really was incredibly beautiful in person.

Hoover Dam:

One of the best parts of the day: stopping for lunch at In-N-Out! We got our very first one here in Fort Worth a few months ago, but it had been too crowded for me to try. When we realized the chain was in Nevada, we immediately knew where we wanted to go. It definitely lived up to the hype, but I felt like a dork ordering everything off the “secret menu.”

Egypt: Part 2

I’ll start off with commentary on Beauty of Egypt tours: I very highly recommend them! They were the top of our list when choosing a company after all the raving reviews we found. The 9 days, 8 nights tour was perfect for us. I only had one condition–I needed the two 12-hour night train changed to flights with a night in the hotel. I can’t sleep on trains, planes, buses, or the like, and every day was too busy to not be properly rested. Thankfully, Beauty of Egypt was very accommodating, and the slight (very slight!) price increase was well worth it.

Beauty of Egypt is excellent at communicating, usually replying to our emails within an hour (keep in mind we’re one time zone away–this might be different from somewhere else, though they do have a 24 hour phone line). They customized our tours exactly how we wanted and even upgraded us to completely private tours before we asked to be put in a small group.

There was a bit of a problem in Aswan when we were left without a cruise ship or hotel (mentioned in Egypt: part 1), but Ahmed ferociously called and worked it out for us. We felt like every person we were with worked very hard to ensure the best experience possible, and Beauty of Egypt took on the bill of a cruise ship nicer than we paid for.

A new tour guide picked us up at every city (coming to our hotel or cruise ship every morning), and they were all fantastically professional, engaging, and knowledgeable. No questions went unanswered, and they made ways to take us wherever we wanted.

Efu Temple

Joseph, Franco, and Romina looking up at the temple

This was Joseph’s favorite tour guide. We all called him “The teacher”–he quizzed us and rewarded us with candies!

He made Joseph run through the motions of what the High Priest would do to prepare the temple for worship

A smile!

We found cats all over Egypt! I pet the ones at the tourist spots–most of the other stray cats I found looked very sick. This calico is pregnant!

The above engraving on the 20 L.E. note (about $4 USD)

Continue reading ‘Egypt: Part 2’

Egypt: Part 1

Joseph and I just spend a wonderful nine days in Egypt. I implore you, PLEASE go to Egypt if you ever can! This was hands-down the most enriching trip we’ve ever taken; the people and the sites are all amazing.

We’d been planning this trip for a long time, and it exceeded our expectations. We even took an Egyptian architecture class two years ago in preparation!

It’s very difficult for me to put this into words; I’m not eloquent enough to give credit to this trip. I’m still amazed with how absolutely intact everything is. I’ve always loved visiting Rome, but you can’t get near the antiquities. Egypt allows you to rub your hands along etching made 5000 years ago.  It can be very surreal, especially knowing there’s much more left to be discovered hiding under the earth.

A typical view from the car in Cairo. Our first day there (which consisted only of a drive from the airport and dinner in the hotel) was a bit overwhelming. I hadn’t thought about the poverty of the city. I also was alarmed at the driving! The cars are literally within inches of each other, crammed full of people with the windows rolled down and babies haphazardly sitting on the laps of motorcyclists. Our driver even bumped into a car, said “oh!,” and kept going. Also, sand, sand, sand everywhere! Obviously I knew the geography of Egypt, but it was strangely shocking!

Day 1: Cairo

A colossal statue of Ramses II discovered on the spot in Memphis

You can just make out the pyramids of Giza in the right background.

Saqqara step pyramid

Unlike Giza’s 2.5 ton stones, the step pyramid is made of smaller blocks

Part of a festival complex in Saqqara

A man working on a rug at a factory we toured

My new favorite photo of Joseph, in front of the Great Pyramid of Giza. We didn’t take any pictures closer to the pyramid, but you can see the size of the stones compared to the people in the right background. Notice the trolley pulled by a horse–that’s not only for tourists. We frequently saw donkeys, horses and sometimes even camels driving alongside cars.
The pyramids were actually the least interesting of the sites we visited!

Joseph coming out of the smaller pyramid. He took a step up right after I focused, so the focus is on his shoulder rather than his head.
Claustrophobia prevented my going inside–a long, unlit, narrow tunnel only about four feet high. It would have been uncomfortable but manageable at full height, but I couldn’t make myself crouch down for it. Joseph assured me the inside wasn’t worth it, as there was only one unadorned room. The tombs in Thebes are much more interesting!

Our tour guide Sammar made him do this!

Next we went on a 30-minute camel ride. I’m so glad we did this–it was so much fun and was definitely the highlight of the day! We paid $20/person, and that was well worth it (of course, he asked for $50 first–bargaining is a necessity in Egypt).

Joseph didn’t realize camels stand up by straightening their back legs first. I wish I’d snapped the photo a few seconds earlier–he was absolutely shocked! I know I should have given him a warning first, but I was looking forward to see his surprise.

The driver took us out and parked the camels in front of the six pyramids to take photos (there are three smaller ons to the side that I cropped out). Everyone was very accommodating to tourists–we rarely even had to ask our tour guides to take photos of us. They knew the photo-friendly spots and even had no problems handling my camera.

With new friends Romina and Franco. We were lucky to be put with great travel companions the entire week. I hope we’ll be able to get together again soon! We’re all expats too–they’re Argentinians living in China.

Joseph, me, Romina, and Franco with the man we bargained the camel price with. He was a friend of our tour guide (all our tour guides make a point to take us to their friends to buy things), so she wanted this photo.

Franco took this photo of me riding my camel.

I was surprised to learn that the Great Sphinx of Giza sits alarmingly close to the city–right across the street is a joint Pizza Hut and KFC!

That night, we flew to Aswan and spent the night in a hotel. Joseph’s name was spelled wrong on all his tickets, but no one seemed to care.

Day 2: Aswan

In the morning we met back up with Romina and Franco, who took a 12-hour night train. I’m glad we opted out of that–they were exhausted!
If any reader plans a tour with Beauty of Egypt, I’d definitely recommend upgrading to flights and five-star hotels. It is well worth the very slight price increase. Keep in mind Egyptian five-star hotels aren’t the same as in the US or Europe! I will comment more on the travel agency in my next post.

The Aswan High Dam

My family there in 1993! Sorry for the photo quality; my parents’ scanner is broken, so they took photos of prints for me. I’m on the left at 4 ½ years old.

Sandy mountains are so different than the Dolomites I’m accustomed to.

We took a boat to the island where Philae Temple is located; it was underwater for a while but was moved by UNESCO about 50 years ago.

Our driver. He looks extremely excited, doesn’t he?

I tried to recreate some of the photos taken on my first visit 17 years ago (which I don’t at all remember). When I got the pictures, I didn’t know where they had been taken, so I had a lot of fun keeping my eye out for familiar places.

We had a bit of a hiccup in Aswan; set to start our cruise the next day, we found out there were no rooms on any of the ships our agency had planned on, and all hotels in Aswan were booked. So for a while we had nowhere to sleep, but the agency wrangled and found us room on the Movenpick Royal Lotus, which is much nicer than what we paid for! So thanks for the mix-up, Beauty of Egypt!

While waiting to sort things out, Ahmed took us to a cafe…

Where we all had a go at a shisha! Joseph and I have never smoked, but we figured it’s part of the culture.

Joseph handled it very gracefully, unlike me…

The more I cough, the bigger Joseph’s smile goes.
Credit goes to Franco for snapping these!

Romina–what a pro!

We then transferred to our beautiful cruise ship, the Movenpick Royal Lotus. The crew was very accommodating and attentive, and the food was incredible.

Day 3: Abu Simbel & Kom Ombo
At 2AM we had to wake up for a four-hour drive to Abu Simbel in a crowded “armored two-driver caravan convoy.” I’m not sure why the security is enforced, but it’s the only way to get there. It was strange driving around Aswan as we picked up people from other hotels. The streets were brightly lit up with children playing–at 3AM!

I wasn’t expecting such warm weather–I can’t imagine how miserable it must be in the summer. We were very hot this day, even at 6AM

The day’s outfit: floppy hat, J. Crew tank, black capris, and Frye mary-jane heels. While sight-seeing I trade in the heels for Converse (the Converse Premier shoes are so comfortable–I always rely on my two pairs when walking all day).

After two hours at Abu Simbel and another three hours on the bus, we began sailing and made a stop at Kom Ombo Temple.

Again, 1993. It was a lot of fun trying to spot where my family had taken photos before!

Besides a few broken parts, the main loss of the temples is color. Originally they were completely covered with paint, but now it only remains in hard-to-reach spots like the top of columns.

A few groups of Egyptians asked to take photos with us; a guide later explained that they like tourists since the country is so reliant on tourism. But I think these girls had crush on Joseph! They took three different photos with him and then giggled and whispered every time we came near. I finally decided to ask for a picture with them because I wanted to capture the way Joseph’s face was flushed! Then they pulled out yet another camera and took their own. I love how they’re all looking at their own camera, with Joseph’s sly glance to mine!

Ping-pong on the ship deck

Sailing along the Nile is incredibly beautiful

Most Nile cruises have a Galabia Party one night. I’m glad ours was on the second night because it ended up as an ice-breaker! Everything was so much more lively and talkative than the previous day.

Franco’s picture. I had no idea that man was back there! It is perfect

After we ate, Joseph and I went out and bought headpieces. I like that the one I ended up with helped me kind of looks like a flapper–perfect for me! And no, we did not plan to match!

With Converse

I volunteered Joseph for a game where they tied a potato attached to a string around his waist, and he was supposed to hit another potato with it. He lost very badly. I think they tied the string too high because he didn’t hit it once! He will be supremely embarrassed to see I’ve posted this photo.

Joseph got back at me by making me play a game too. It was like musical chairs with spoons–when the music stopped we had to pick one up.

It got pretty violent–look at that woman on the ground! This is such a fantastic photo, taken by Franco. That’s Romina laughing in the front.

I won!

We were absolutely exhausted–remember, we woke up at 2AM that “morning!”

The rest of the photos will come shortly! I took more pictures the first three days, so the next post will be shorter.

Venice in January

My sister Victoria visited over her Christmas break, and I’m finally getting around (I’ll blame it on the cold I picked up the day after she left) to posting the photos from her last day here when we went to Venice.

Venice is only slightly more than an hour’s train ride away!  I will really miss trains when we move back to the US.

It snowed all day! That’s very rare for Venice, and we were unprepared–I was miserable without a scarf.

Tori in the little cafe we ate at.

Good food is hard to come by in Venice. The city is so tourist-packed that I usually avoid eating, but with patience you can find places off the tourist maps. This particular cafe doesn’t even have menus–walk in at lunch time and order off that day’s pastas scribbled on a chalkboard. I had a bowl of risotto and white wine for just 6 Euro.

The winding streets and crooked buildings are my favorite thing about Venice–much more beautiful than the canals!

Tori accomplished most of her goals for the trip that day–bought a lot of great Italian candy, bought gifts for friends, and had a Nutella crepe.

After a few hours walking around and shopping, we took the train ride back home.

For her last night here, we went to my favorite local gelateria (and then I dragged her grocery shopping with me).

I finally own a bracelet, as well as some Venetian glass! I bought this in a little shop in Venice

You’ve likely seen these post cards if you’ve visited Venice; I’d been wanting to frame a few and finally got around to picking some out. The frames were intended to be temporary (had them sitting in the garage), but I think they’ll stay! I love the way the post cards look as if they’re telling a story from a novel.


'Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

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