Travel

The California trip continues!

I’ll be the first to say that you should spend as much time in Big Sur as you can. As the name implies, it’s big. There are several state parks, plenty of places to camp or stay overnight, and so many incredible vistas that you could probably fill a week at least with to-dos. Our schedule, though, only had time for one day in Big Sur, so we did our best to make the most of it.

Tip: Print out paper directions to anything definitely want to see. Cell service is nonexistent through most of the drive, so you won’t be able to rely on a GPS.

Tuesday night, we drove from San Francisco to the Mariposa Inn & Suites in Monterey. The hotel was simple and clean, with a pool and a free breakfast in the morning. The next morning, we set out early to begin our trek.

Tip: Make sure you start out with a full tank of gas. There are loooong stretches on Highway 1 with exactly zero gas stations — the last thing you want is to get stuck with an empty tank. One full tank should get you the whole way through Big Sur, though.

First stop was Big Sur Bakery, which had been recommended to me by pretty much every person I told I was going to Big Sur. We got breakfast (eggs and greens on toast), but I’ve been told the dinner is also excellent.

Tip: This is also the last place to get good espresso before you get lost in the wilderness, so take advantage of the bustling coffee bar. I would also recommend getting a few baked goods for the road. (We opted for a pumpkin scone and a maple baon bowtie.)

After fueling up, we started our drive. There were a couple of things we wanted to see for sure (included below), but the main thing I would like to impress upon you is the importance of just stopping a lot and taking in your surroundings. This place? It is BEAUTIFUL. Like, stupid beautiful. You won’t even be able to believe it. It helped that we had the world’s most perfect weather, of course, but regardless, I truly believe California is the most gorgeous place on earth. Get OUT of the car and take it IN. Be the corny tourist on the side of the road taking deep breaths of the morning air and snapping a photo or two. It’s worth it.

LOOK AT IT.

LOOK AT IT.

Ok, now for the specifics. Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park was one of my favorite stops. There are two must-see hikes here, both starting from the parking lot.

Tip: Do not park in the parking lot unless you like paying $20 for no reason. Park on the main road with everyone else who is not a tourist (for free) and walk down to the trail.

First up, McWay Falls. You’ve probably seen this shot a billion times from either movies or your West Coast friends’ Instagram feeds, but it is still 100 percent worth seeing in person. I mean, LOOK AT THAT WATER.

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The trail also barely qualifies as a hike — it’s short, totally flat, and can be done in flip flops. For something a bit more adventurous, hit up the Ewoldsen Trail on the opposite end of the parking lot. This will take you through redwood groves, over streams, and up some serious height if you feel industrious. The full trail is a little over five miles, but you can go as far as you like. If you’re in for the long haul, I’d recommend legitimate hiking boots and a backpack with water and snacks.

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One thing that we were not expecting but LOVED? An elephant seal rookery. Hundreds of these animals flock to this beach to sun themselves, sleep, and mate every year, and it was pretty incredible to see in person. And not just because they reminded us an awful lot of a certain lazy dog we adore. Definitely worth joining the crowd ooh-ing and ah-ing over the seals.

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After the seals, we started to head inland to Paso Robles where our hotel was. The downside was that we couldn’t see the water anymore. The upside is that we accidentally found ourselves in wine country! And, you guys. This country was so beautiful we almost couldn’t take it. The rolling hills and golden vineyards literally look painted on. We may have made a few more stops for photos. (And, okay, a wine tasting at Zenaida Cellars. We’re only human!)

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We ended the night with dinner in nearby San Luis Obispo at a place called Novo with a really pretty back deck.

All in all, this was our favorite day of the trip. (Not counting time spent with family, of course!) And even though it feels like we packed a lot into the day, I love knowing that we could go back again and do completely different things.

Here are a few things we could have done but didn’t have time to do:

Hearst Castle
My dad had actually mentioned this place when I was first soliciting for activity ideas, but I didn’t look into it enough at the time. Basically, William Randolph Hearst was a SUPER rich man who wanted to build an American castle that would rival the European versions. And, I’ve only seen pictures, but I think it’s safe to say he succeeded. You can tour the estate, but reservations are highly recommended. If I went again, I would book the night tour when docents dress in period clothing and you get to see the most of the castle.

Tip: Hearst also collected a pretty impressive menagerie of animals that he kept in a personal zoo and allowed to roam the grounds. Most of the animals were sent to zoos when the fortune dried up, but you can still see a small herd of zebras grazing along the highway — keep a sharp eye out!

Nepenthe Restaurant
I had actually planned to stop here for lunch, but I got my directions mixed up and it ended up being right by Big Sur Bakery. If you’ve done the bakery before, though, this place looks pretty awesome. The lunch seating is arranged stadium style next to this huge overlook so you can take in the view while you eat, and it has been run by the same family for three generations.

Have any of you been to Big Sur? Did you do something we didn’t? Give me ideas for our next trip in the comments!

Since our California Adventure spanned nine days and basically the entire state, I figured it would be easier to break down the trip into areas. It will also make it more useful for anyone who is not exploring the entire state at once. (Thought I do recommend that if you have the opportunity.)

We spent the first day and a half of our trip with my brother and his family. They live near Sacramento, so we saw a bit of their ‘hood as well as the Berkeley area. The highlight was a lunch at Easy Creole, where the kind folks will let you sample six of their menu selections before you make your final choice.

Tip: Spring the extra $2 for the corn bread. It’s gluten-free, and oh-so worth it.

Monday morning, we kissed the fam goodbye and headed into the city.

Tip: Give yourself an hour longer than you think you will need when traveling on a week day. It took us an hour JUST to get through the tolls into the city. AN HOUR. I was climbing the walls of the car by the time we got through.

Joey had never been to SF, so I had planned out a day of the finest touristy options the city has to offer. First up, Sears Fine Food for the “world-famous” Swedish silver-dollar pancakes. We also split the veggie omelet so we’d have enough energy to get through our busy day. Both were delicious.

Next up, we popped into Walgreens to purchase a visitor one-day pass, which you can use on almost all of the public transportation (cable cars included). Then we grabbed a cable car heading toward Ghirardelli Square.

Tip: Try to get on at one of the first stops on the line. These little cars fill up very quickly, and people WILL cut the line. You have to be New Yorker aggressive.

We hopped off the cable car at Lombard Street to see the crookedest street in the world. You’re also treated to a pretty spectacular view of the city.

From there, it was time to head to the Golden Gate bridge.

Tip: Take the bus. There is very little parking by the bridge, and the bus is actually pretty simple. Plus, it’s covered by your visitor’s pass.

I wasn’t truly aware of how spectacular the weather was until we got to the bridge. The water looks so blue next to the bridge (which is actually red, fun fact). We took a million pictures in the nearby park and then walked about halfway across. (We wanted to get back to the city before sunset.)

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A quick bus trip back brought us to Ghirardelli Square, where we just strolled along the coast making our way to Pier 39 because the ONE thing Joey really wanted to do was see the sea lions. Fisherman’s Wharf was predictably crowded, but the weather was great, and everyone seemed to be in a good mood. We split a crab sandwich and enjoyed the views. And the sea lions did not disappoint.

Finally, we took the bus back to our hotel (the cable cars are impossible to get on from that end unless you want to wait an hour and a half), freshened up, and then went to dinner at Lolinda, an Argentinian steakhouse. Several people had recommended it to me as their favorite restaurant in SF, so we were excited to try it. And, you guys? So. Good. The food is served tapas-style, and we had four small plates, a large plate, and steak between the two of us. Plus two desserts because when they have banana bread pudding and peanut butter mousse, THAT IS THE RIGHT DECISION.

The second day, I worked in my company’s San Francisco office. (After a workout at Barry’s Bootcamp through my ClassPass, of course! The instructor was basically Barry’s Bootcamp Barbie, complete with anecdotes about her modeling gigs and her impending nose job. Oh, California!) Joey met up with me and my boss for lunch at Marlowe, which was SO GOOD. I highly recommend the brussel sprouts chips, baked cauliflower (it’s basically mac and cheese with cauliflower instead of mac), and gingerbread cake. That cake. I will dream about that cake.

After work, Joey and I went to dinner at The House near Chinatown. Do not be fooled by that sad little website — this place is boss. I highly recommend the coconut creme brûlée. And the take-home cookies, of course. (This was basically the vacation of desserts, as you can tell.)

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So that’s how we spent two days in San Fran! It was pretty awesome, and the perfect weather didn’t hurt one bit. Post-dinner, we headed to our hotel in Monterey to begin our day in Big Sur. More on that later.

So did I miss your favorite San Francisco treat? Share with the group in a comment below.

 

I’m not going to lie — there are a lot of days when I give Joey a lot of credit for staying married to me.

I mean, I’m annoying. Like, roll-your-eyes, is-she-serious annoying. I actually care about how things are arranged in the pantry, and I throw things out with wild abandon because the clutter gives me hives. But the man sticks around, God love ‘im.

Case in point? I am very annoying to go on vacation with. Because I like to plan. But not just, like, plan-to-go-on-a-trip. PLAN.

Not only have I been working on a Google doc itinerary for our upcoming California trip for the last couple of months, not only do I plan to put together a binder of confirmations and maps (like I did for our Paris trip), but today I spent about an hour outfit planning. And then turning those plans into detailed packing lists.

Don’t believe me?

The crazy is very, very real.

The crazy is very, very real.

Like I said. Annoying.

The one thing Joey can be grateful for? I am generally much more rational in person when I feel like I have my life together. AND these plans make it much less likely that I will overpack.

See, babe? Everyone wins!!

…please don’t leave me.

When I first went to type the title of this post, I almost wrote “November 2014.” So that should give you an idea of what to expect from this post.

Aannnnnyyyyyway. Here are a few things going on that I just couldn’t make warrant full posts.

1. I went camping. 

This looks more dangerous than it actually was.

This looks more dangerous than it actually was.

Like, over a week ago. Obviously, nothing earth-shattering happened. But it was nice being in the woods. It was also Bogey’s first time camping. He loved it, but was EXHAUSTED by the time we went home. Guess it’s hard to get by without your usual 8-hour nap every day.

I didn’t take a ton of pictures, but I like the above shot. I’ve always been a little bit afraid of heights, but every year we hike this gorgeous area called Mohonk. It’s a literal rock scramble, and occasionally you’re clinging to a fairly slippery boulder trying to launch yourself over a narrow (but deep) hole in the mountain. I’m never exactly terrified for my life, but there are times I feel uncomfortable about the fact that I could get hurt.

At the end of the day, though, I like to chalk it up as one more thing I do that scares me or pushes me out of my comfort zone. No point in getting complacent at the ripe old age of 27, right?

2. I ran my fifth half marathon.

So fast. So tough.

So fast. So tough.

This was the first distance race I’ve ever done without really training for it. Granted, I work out 5-6 days a week, and I have a full marathon under my belt, but I was a little nervous considering I hadn’t run more than eight miles in one stretch since April.

Things went surprisingly well, though! I finished in under two hours, which was a relief after the bust of the Philly Half and my unpleasant Paris experience. It’s always nice to run a full race without ever wanting to die at any point.

Plus, this race gave you a crown and a glass of champagne at the end. So I didn’t hate THAT.

3. Bogey had his first tick.

This picture has nothing to do with the tick. But how cute is that face??

This picture has nothing to do with the tick. But how cute is that face??

I woke up this morning to our usual cuddle session, but got distracted by a pill-shaped mass clinging to the tip of his right ear. Surprise, surprise, our little fuzz face had an interloper.

We did the classic hold-a-blown-out-match-by-the-tick’s-head and then removed it with tweezers. We’re not quite sure when he picked up his little parasite (maybe camping? but that was a while ago…), so now I’m keeping an eye on him for any signs of infection. So far, though, he has been acting the same as always.

It’s weird having this little life form that we feel so responsible for. Like, we love the crap out of that dog. The thought of something happening to him kills me. Yet another reason why I firmly believe a dog is a great preview into parenthood. (I know, I KNOW that having a kid is a million times more complicated. I’m just saying it’s similar.)

So that’s pretty much everything of note. October is going to be busy, and then we take our California Adventure in November. December (I’m hoping) will be nice and quiet.

What have y’all been up to?

So I know I said I was done with the vacation posts, but there’s one aspect of French culture that we have not yet discussed, and I believe it bears discussion.

French customer service.

I’m not even sure if I should call it that because, really, customer service doesn’t really exist in France.

The French get a bad rap for being rude, smug, and snooty. In most cases I resist generalizations, but in this case, the French actually seem fairly proud of their above-it-all attitudes. And part of being above it all means refusing to deal with the plebes who come into your country asking all kinds of questions (usually in the wrong language).

Both times I’ve gone to Paris, I’ve encountered some variation of this attitude at least a few times. The first trip, it was a man at the metro ticket booth who (even though I had just heard him speaking English to the people in line in front of me) got snotty with me for speaking English to him. That, I can at least understand. I should have just asked first to be polite. FINE.

My friend Diana had a much worse experience when she lived in France where a woman at a car rental agency charged her and her friends over 2,000 euro for a car without telling them beforehand that it would cost that much. She then literally smirked in their faces while they sobbed and begged for mercy. And then charged them anyway.

And then there was my most recent trip.

I’ve mentioned a few times that my bags didn’t arrive until the fourth day of our trip. This was annoying (and distressing for the marathon), but it wouldn’t have been nearly as bad if I had been able to get any assistance from our airline. The day after we arrived (and after they had tried to deliver me the wrong bag), Diana, who speaks pretty great French, tried calling the airline to ask about the status of my bad. She was told that there was nothing they could do (MY ALL-TIME LEAST FAVORITE PHRASE) and that they didn’t know anything. Politely, Diana said — in French — that she was hoping to speak to someone in the baggage department who might have more information. The woman on the phone replied — also in French — “Well, don’t hope.”

And then our brains imploded.

That would have been bad enough, but the French weren’t quite done with us.

The day of the race, Joey actually managed to get a helpful person on the phone who told him that my bag would be delivered that day. Spoiler alert: It didn’t happen. But at least we had some reassurance that we were in some system somewhere. It turns out that they actually delivered my bag to the same wrong person again.

The day after the race (after I’d purchased an entire outfit at a nearby store because I couldn’t just keep wearing my new race shirt forever), I called the same number Joey had, and that is when I encountered the worst woman in the world.

I actually started out the phone call speaking with a different representative. But when I pressed her for a few details (you know, like where my bag was and when I could possibly expect to receive it), she passed me to another rep without telling me. The new rep (the aforementioned WWITW), liked to interrupt me mid-sentence to remind me that she was a new rep so I would have to start from the beginning and shouldn’t expect her to know what I was talking about. (She actually said this.)

With the very last of my patience, I explained my situation and that my bag had been sent to the wrong person multiple times. I wanted to know where it was to see if I could possibly go get it myself.

“It’s far away,” she replied.

Come again?

The rest of the call is honestly a bit of a blur to me. I know she interrupted me every single time I was speaking to tell me that it didn’t sound like I wanted to hear what she was saying (I mean, she wasn’t wrong), to tell me that that I was wasting her time (she said this twice), and to again tell me there was nothing she could do (ROAR). She also, at one point, told me it would take three more days for me to get my bag. Also known as the day I was going home. (This turned out to be a total lie. She may have just been screwing with me.)

The highlight was when I asked if she could at the very least tell me when they expected my bag to arrive back at the airport — silly me believing there was any kind of system in place to track these things.

Her reply?

“I can’t tell you that — I am not God.”

Well, THANK YOU FOR CLEARING THAT UP.

Now that I knew I was dealing with the antichrist, the call dissolved even further. I was basically crying into the phone begging this woman to show some sympathy and give me any kind of information, while she kept cutting me off and telling me I wasn’t listening to her (repeat herself for the seventh time). Then she hung up on me.

Let me repeat that: Customer service hung up on me. Customer service got upset with me for getting upset that they had lost my bag for half of my vacation.

I may have had a tiny breakdown in a French cafe.

In the end, things worked out. I actually got my bag the next day, thank the not-God. And the trip went on as planned. The rest of the trip was actually so good, we joked that France had been having a little fun with us. But they were sorry now, and here’s a park filled with puppies and rosé and sunshine!

BUT BE FOREWARNED. The French do not want to help you. They don’t really want to deal with you. So don’t take it personally — and please stop assuming they are all God.

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The vacation posts continue! If you’re already over it, never you worry — this is the last one.

The title of this post should technically be “How to: Spend 12 hours in an airport (without losing your mind), but that seemed like kind of a long title for a blog post. Anywho.

As I mentioned in Wednesday’s post, our return flight included a 12-hour layover in the Moscow airport. I’m not sure what it is about me, international flights, and ridiculously long layovers, but apparently it’s my thing. And when you throw a little Russian into the mix, things only get more interesting.

All I can say is that the flights we booked were about $400 cheaper than everything else we looked at. Yes, we were aware of the long layover when we booked, but at the time we thought we could maybe turn it into a day-trip into Moscow. Fast-forward a few months later when we realized that you need a visa to enter and exit the city, a tedious (and kind of expensive) process we ultimately decided to skip.

What that meant is that we were now faced with an almost half-day stay in the airport. Clearly, something would need to be done.

Fortunately, my bizarre life is your gain! Here are my four tips for surviving a (really) long layover.

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1. Master the art of sleeping in an airport.
Airports are a notoriously difficult place to catch some shut-eye. It doesn’t help that pretty much every single bench has immovable metal arm rests between the seats, making it impossible to stretch out comfortably. We actually saw one family who had brought some sort of fold-up air mattress to counteract this — effective, but possibly overkill. And there was no way I could fit something like that in my carry-on.

Since we had arrived at the airport around 3 a.m., we started by grabbing a bit of breakfast and surveying the lay of the land. In our quick lap around the airport, Diana and I determined the two best techniques for sleeping on an airport bench. The first is the Upright Fetal Position, demonstrated by me above. You need two seats and a pillow. The second is the Origami Technique. We actually stole this idea from a few other passengers. It helps if you have three seats. All you have to do is hinge your body around the first arm rest and slide your feet through the second. It also helps to put your bag between your knees so there’s less pressure on your hip. We both slept for about four hours with these techniques. (Joey genteelly guarded us and then slept at a table later.)

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2. Spend a thousand dollars on snacks.
Obviously I’m kidding. The above receipt is in rubles. But now is definitely the time to treat yourself a bit. Spring for the large bottle of water (international flights are drying, yo), get a few snacks, and try to pretend like this is still part of your vacation.

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3. Eat real food.
Airport sushi might sound a little suspect, but stick with me on this one. Airplane food is never going to be anything to write home about, so you have to take advantage of real restaurants in the airport before you go. Eating something besides prepacked nuts and candy will help you feel like a human being — even if you’ve been in a terminal for over six hours. The Moscow airport has an actual sushi restaurant, so we made use of that before boarding.

4. Wash your face.
It sounds simple, but the face wipes that Diana packed were practically a Godsend. Napping on an off combined with dry airplanes turns my face into an oil slick, and it’s hard to feel comfortable if you feel gross. Pack face wash and a toothbrush and toothpaste and make good use of them both off and on the plane.

At the end of the day, the time we spent in the airport wasn’t that bad. We landed tired, but not feeling like total zombies. Hopefully these tips can help some of you get through any heinous layovers you have in your future.

Anyone else have tips I forgot?