Happy (Retirement) Anniversary

It’s hard to believe that one year ago today, marked the beginning of a new chapter in our lives called Retirement.

In the course of a year, our bags have been packed as we’ve traveled like never before. In addition to our numerous, traditional day trips, we’ve crisscrossed the continent and got our feet wet in Europe. Looking back, it’s been a wonderful year.

Omaha: College World Series

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Northwest Coast: Portland, Seattle, Vancouver

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Jacksonville: family weekend

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Miami: first week of school celebration

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Fall toad trip: stops in Virginia, Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont

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Birmingham: 90th birthday celebration

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Miami: college baseball opening

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South Florida: National Parks & Keys

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Netherlands: bike tour

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Iceland: camping

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Today, as we begin year two, we fly to Buffalo for another Canadian adventure. First, Niagara Falls and then off to Toronto.

We’ll be keeping our bags packed and go wherever life takes us.

 

Iceland’s Golden Circle

The Golden Circle is one of the most popular areas for tourists to explore in Iceland. Most join one of the tours and see the sites on the schedule of the tour bus operator.

But since we rented a camper van we set the pace, and since we camped in the geothermal area our first evening in the country, we had the place to ourselves the next morning.

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Strokkur, erupted every seven or eight minutes spraying 100° water more than 100 feet in the air. The geyser’s surrounded by mud pools, fumaroles and mineral deposits, and the boiling hot water churned up by the Earth produces that unpleasant sulphur odor, often associated with rotten eggs.

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The original geyser, Geysir, hasn’t erupted in years, but on the day we were there, a couple dozen people gathered around the steaming Geysir and tried to coax it into action by playing drums and bells while chanting. Unfortunately, they were unsuccessful.

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Our second stop on the Golden Circle was the waterfall, Gullfoss. The wide and fast Hvitá River falls some 100 feet in a crevice producing a thick mist.

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Again, we beat the crowds so we were alone on the pathways along the edge of Gullfoss. It’s always suggested that visitors wear a raincoat to avoid getting wet from the mist, but since the temperature was hovering around 40°, down jackets instead of raincoats were the dress of the day.

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Thingvellir National Park was the final Golden Circle stop. This is the place where the American and Eurasian Tectonic plates come together. We passed on scuba diving or snorkeling between the plates something that requires multiple layers of wet and dry suits before entering the icy 35°F water.

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Instead we walked the trails observing the plates as well as waterfalls and a distant snow covered volcano.

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Thingvellir National Park is a World UNESCO site, not only for its unique geography, but for its historical value as well since Iceland’s first Parliament met at this location in 930 CE.

Some travelers suggest skipping the Golden Circle calling it too touristy. However, I disagree. The geysers, Gullfoss and Thingvellir National Park provide a snapshot into Iceland’s diverse landscape, and with a rental car and an early start, it’s easy to miss the crowds and tour buses so you can take in the country’s natural wonders.

TBT: Old Faithful

With eruptions coming seventeen times daily, Old Faithful is one of the most recognizable sights in any of our national parks. No more than we had pulled into the parking lot, than this world famous geyser began erupting more than 100 feet into the air. Of course, we all ran to get up close and snap a couple of pictures.

With eruptions occurring every hour to hour and a half, we grabbed an ice cream cone and waited for a repeat performance. This time we got an even closer view and enjoyed feeling the mist from Old Faithful’s spray.

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It seems perfect to post this picture today since we will soon be in Iceland, the home of the world’s first “geysir” (to gush in Old Norse) documented in print. Soon the pictures of Old Faithful will be accompanied by those of Geysir, Strokkur and other features of the hot springs of Bjarnarfell.

Grab a Tarp!

In the summer of 2005 we were greeted at Everglades National Park with the Skeeter Meter registering HYSTERICAL. Needless to say, our visit was a short one as we detoured to Sanibel.

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This year’s visit in early April, the Skeeter Meter registered BEARABLE, and to be honest I didn’t get a bite. No need for a bug jacket.

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But this year, there was a new sign:

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Tarps? As I looked around the parking lot, tarps were draped over most of the cars. The tarps are needed to protect vehicles from the black vultures.

What’s the problem?

The black vulture, the gray-headed cousin of the turkey vulture, is causing damage to vehicles–often trucks and SUVs –parked at boat ramps. Windshield wipers, sunroof seals, and rubber or vinyl parts are at particular risk. Most of the time, perching black vultures do little or no damage. However, in some cases, the destruction can be extensive. The vultures can tear out rubber seals, peck pieces out of truck bed liners, and scratch paint with their claws.

So before hiking the trail, we secured tarps on our Suburban to avoid any damage.

Yes, the Everglades is a one of a kind place and habitat to amazing wildlife; but it’s truly a WILD place. Where else will you find a Skeeter Meter, bug suits in the gift store, reminders to cover your car with tarps and warnings about both alligators and crocodiles?

TBT: Are we having fun yet?

I hope the expressions on the faces of our daughters reflect their exasperation with one too many pictures rather than boredom on vacation.

In 1994, we spent two very full weeks exploring as much of Colorado as possible. In a car rented in Denver, we visited the Garden of the Gods, Rocky Mountain National Park, Dinosaur National Park, Pike’s Peak, the Olympic Training Center and so much more.

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We rode bikes, hiked on trails and climbed on the rocks…one of their favorite activities (although you’d never know from this photo). Maybe this site was a little too historical. Enough with the education.

It’s National Parks Week!

April 16-April 24 has been designated National Parks Week, a time to discover, explore, enjoy and enhance what’s been called America’s best idea…our national parks. In proclaiming this week as a time to celebrate these special places, admission has been waived, making it possible for everyone to enjoy the parks for free.

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In addition, yesterday was National Junior Ranger Day which encouraged kids to take part in fun programs to earn badges. But if you missed this opportunity, did you know  kids can participate in Junior Ranger programs everyday even if unable to get to one of the parks? Check out WebRangers and start earning badges today.

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Other events scheduled as part of National Parks Week:

April 22, Earth Day, you can get your hands dirty and join in a park project.

April 23, National Park InstaMeet, take pictures and short videos and post on Instagram using the hashtags: #FindYourParkInstaMeet, #FindYourPark, #EncuentraTuParque, #NPS100

April 24, Park Rx Day, fun recreational activities will be hosted to encourage healthy lifestyles and promote physical and mental well being.

This week our schedule won’t permit us to visit any of our parks, but fortunately, we got a bit of a jump start on the celebration. We decided that we wanted to visit or revisit the National Parks in Florida this year. In March we visited Ft. Caroline National Memorial and a couple of weeks ago we spent the afternoon at Canaveral National Seashore. Then last week we went to Everglades National Park and Biscayne Bay National Park.

April is a great time to visit the Everglades since you don’t have to battle the heat or mosquitoes. We walked trails and watched manatee, alligators, a crocodile and birds.

To really enjoy Biscayne Bay National Park, you have to get out on the water since 90% of the park is under water. We planned to rent kayaks, but that wasn’t possible since the park needs a vendor for the rentals; and while they have boat tours on the weekends, that didn’t work for us either as we were there on a Tuesday. As a result, we were limited to the Visitor Center, walking the trail to the point, fishing from the shore and reading on the deck overlooking the water. Next time we’ll bring our boat so we won’t be dependent on others.

Other National Parks located in Florida that we need to visit in 2016:

Big Cypress National Preserve

Castillo San de Marcos National Monument

DeSoto National Memorial

Dry Tortugas National Park

Fort Matanzas National Monument

Gulf Islands National Seashore

Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor

Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve

 

TBT: Don’t Forget the Art Supplies

I guess I should have known that Emily would be drawn to creative pursuits as an adult when she insisted on taking a sketch pad on vacation so she could capture the beauty experienced in nature. While we have this picture of her with pencil and pad in hand, she found the task overwhelming. Rocks, mountains, trees, waterfalls. Where to begin? What should be the focus?

And with an impatient family ready to move on to the next hike or locate the next waterfall, sketching the scenes didn’t become a reality.

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I wish we’d have encouraged her to sketch these scenes from the pictures we developed upon our return. With the subject narrowed and adequate time, this desire to create art from nature may have filled the pages of her sketch pad.

Of course, it’s not too late. But now, she’s the one with too little time.

The Traveling Man

“Investment in travel is an investment in yourself.” ~ Matthew Karsten

I’m not sure if my Dad would recognize this quote, but it reminds me of him nevertheless. He and my Mom instilled in me a love of travel and discovering new places.

My Dad always believed that family vacations were required. I can’t remember a year without a vacation, not just time off from work, but loading the car  or a rented camper (never flying) and going somewhere. This is especially amazing since his job in sales kept him behind the wheel driving hundreds of miles every week.

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When we lived in Indiana, Florida was our vacation destination. Before I was in school, fall trips were the norm, usually to Sarasota. One year, we were hit by a hurricane and evacuated to a room on the second floor because the water was coming in the first floor rooms. When we awoke the next morning, the storm had passed and as we walked on the beach we saw incredible damage to other buildings. In fact, there was a toilet sitting on the beach. All that was left from a not so well built structure. A little thing like a hurricane couldn’t deter us. We continued to take beach vacations in Florida, one in Pompano Beach, our eventual home.

After moving to Florida, our vacations were to Indiana to visit relatives and to North Carolina where we learned to love tubing on the rivers and going on river trips. Dad could sit for hours on a rock overlooking a section of the river he dubbed “Betty Falls” giving advice to tubers and lending a hand to those who lost their ride in the turbulent waters.

One year we even went on a six-week camping trip to Rocky Mountain National Park, Grand Canyon National Park, Bryce Canyon National Park, Mesa Verde National Park and Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area, a secluded area with few people and no telephone service for fifty files. It’s also where my Mom insisted she came face to face with a panther. While we’d gone to Mammoth Cave and the Smoky Mountains earlier, this trip was the beginning of my love of our National Parks.

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I developed a talent on these camping trips…riding shotgun. Whenever my Mom couldn’t handle the stress of sitting up front in the motor home. Dad would call me to sit up front as we hugged the edge of narrow roads without guardrails to protect us from the steep drops. I even earned the privilege of manning the co-pilot seat through Atlanta, when the brakes were failing. Unfortunately, I no longer possess the nerves of steel needed for the passenger seat.

Now I’m planning trips to National Parks and driving, but also  investing in travel.

Happy birthday Dad, the traveling man, and thanks for investing in travel.

 

 

Make Reservations…EARLY

My failure to make reservations, nearly ruined our trip to South Florida. Since this is the 100th anniversary of our national parks, one of the main reasons for the trip was to visit those located in this part of the state: Everglades National Park, Biscayne National Park and Dry Tortugas National Park. We visited the first two without a problem, but a two hour ferry ride is required to Fort Jefferson.

A decade ago we stopped by the ticket booth in Key West the afternoon prior to our trip to the Dry Tortugas and made reservations for five on the ferry without any difficulty. A couple of weeks before leaving I decided that we should wait to make reservations as we did before so we didn’t pay for a trip on a day with bad weather. BIG MISTAKE.

When I called early Wednesday to make a reservation for Thursday, I was told they had no seats available Thursday or Friday and only a couple Saturday. That wouldn’t work. We would be on the way home Saturday. What happened?

Thursday we planned on a ten hour day to Dry Tortugas. A two hour ride each way on the ferry, a tour of the fort, swimming and snorkeling in the crystal clear waters, maybe even a little kayaking. What would we do instead?

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As luck would have it, someone cancelled their reservations with Danger Charters so we were able to salvage the day. Their half day snorkel and kayak trip had room for two Thursday morning at 9:30. We’d be sailing from Key West in the morning after all.

 

After the initial disappointment, we may have been lucky to have missed the boat to the park. We sailed with only twenty passengers instead of packed on a ferry for four hours with 250.

We still snorkeled in eel grass and sponge fields and saw tropical fish. Not in the same numbers or as spectacular as the ones we saw previously in the Dry Tortugas, but fun nonetheless.

Kayaking from the boat to Mule Island, bird watching and exploring cutouts in the mangroves was a relaxing way to spend more time on the water.

I learned my lesson. If it’s really important, make reservations and make them early! However, in this case, I think we may have been better off missing Dry Tortugas. After all, we had a wonderful time on a previous trip to the park. It wasn’t necessary to go again, and we saved a lot of money! Our first trip on the ferry cost about $375 for five. This time the same trip for two would have cost $350. That’s quite an increase for a repeat experience. Four and a half hours of sailing, snorkeling and kayaking with Danger Charters for two $160. Less than half as much money…we had quite a dinner and dessert with money for gas in our pocket.

Make reservations early…but before spending a crazy amount…ask yourself if there’s an alternative that can make you happy.

 

 

Best Way to End a Monday

We started Monday morning in the car at 7:30 (a half hour later than planned) for a full day of adventures. First stop West Orange Trail for a twenty mile bike ride followed by a stop at Leu Gardens to walk off a big lunch at The Coop. Then a final errand picking up some items from Emily in preparation for her move before the day’s grand finale.

Instead of returning home, we took a detour to the coast and somehow managed to avoid the rain that hammered much of Central Florida as we walked out on the beach at Canaveral National Seashore.

Then on to the main attraction of the afternoon, the Black Point Drive in Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge in hopes of spotting birds or other critters. No more than we passed the Black Point sign, a large black snake slithered across the road in front of our car. As has been the custom of late, John located a carcass. This time of an animal with an impressive smile.

The rosette spoonbills by far stole the show. Their bright pink feathers creating impressive reflections in the shallow water.

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We couldn’t resist waiting a little longer for the sunset, and it was well worth the wait.

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As the sun slipped away, we started our journey home, pulling in the drive a little after 10:30. Quite a day.