Kauai: Part I


Our GRAND FINALE!

To end our summer of traveling, we capped it off with something really good. Kauai. For ten nights.

Neither of us had ever been to this island. I had been to Oahu and Maui as a baby, which in my opinion doesn’t count, and Andrew had been to Oahu twice before. We chose Kauai because it is known to be lush, lined with beaches and also features mountains for hiking. We split our trip into two halves: The first five nights were spent in Kapaa on the eastern shore and the second five nights on the north shore near Hanalei. This provided access to different areas of the island while also only required us to move accommodation twice. So here we go, the first half of our trip in this post, and the second in another (soon to follow).

Accommodation: We stayed in an oceanfront VRBO two bedroom cottage in a residential neighborhood of Kapaa on Fuji Beach, also known as Baby Beach. The house was a bit eclectic, but it was well equipped with everything you could possibly need, including beach chairs, boogie boards, snorkel gear, air conditioning in the bedrooms, sand toys, grill, kitchen utensils and cookware, coolers, etc. It wasn’t fancy, but it was well priced and in an incredible location across the street from the ocean. I cannot recommend enough for people to stay here for bit more of a local feel and to have your own fully-equipped house instead of resort life.

Top left: View out the driveway. Hard to tell, but that’s the beach right there where the car is. Top right: the front of the house with our lanai (Hawaiian for porch) where we ate most meals. Bottom left: Main room and kitchen. Bottom right: Our bedroom. There was one other room of a similar size at the front of the house.

The weather while we were staying in Kapaa was perfect. It was rather hot for this side of the island, with temperatures in the 90s, but throughout most of the day and especially at night an amazing breeze would kick up, and the bedroom A/C was key (especially to cover up the noise of the omnipresent island feral rooster crows!). We didn’t get much rain, either, beyond a storm on our first day that brought in an unusual thunderstorm and delayed my plane from landing for two hours. It was still perfect!

Kauai East Shore Day 2 – Tuesday: This was our first full day on the island. We drove down to Poipu on the southern side. Along the way we stopped to check out the ruins of an old heiau (Hawaiian temple) and then went snorkeling and had a picnic lunch at Lawa’i Beach. The beach was beautiful and the snorkeling was good, though we found it much better on the north shore of Kauai. Afterwards we went to Shipwreck’s Beach, which is another beautiful beach that is sandy enough at the shoreline to go swimming and boogie boarding, which is nice since many other beaches had reef at the shoreline or the waves were too big. When we first arrived at Shipwreck’s, we went for a short walk along the Maha’ulepu Heritage Trail, which is a trail that goes up on the cliffs at the northern end of the beach. Afterwards we hung out on the beach and did some swimming and body surfing. It was super fun. This beach was one of my favorite of our trip.

Shipwreck’s Beach – similar to every other beach we visited on Kauai, this was a public beach, fully equipped with freshwater showers, toilets and water fountains. Parking was limited but we lucked into a spot.

View from our walk along the lithified cliffs on the Maha’ulepu Heritage Trail.

Shipwreck’s Beach

For dinner we picked up some locally fished Ono (wahoo) at the grocery store and had our own BBQ at our rental cottage, where we passed the evening enjoying the sea breeze, margaritas and dinner on our lanai.

Kauai East Shore Day 3 – Wednesday: Late in the morning we went for a drive to check out some local sites, including another heiau ruin, a viewpoint over the coastline and went to see both Wailua Falls and Opaeka’a Falls. The local authorities discourage tourists from going too close to the falls due to the dangers of the path, so we were only able to appreciate them from afar.

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Wailua Falls, which were gushing with water thanks to Monday’s storm

After seeing the waterfalls, we stopped at Waipouli Beach to eat our picnic lunch. We lucked into having the beach to ourselves and even sat next to a resting monk seal.

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Here we are at Waipuli beach, next to a resting Hawaiian monk seals. The species is critically endangered and only about 1,100 are left in existence. This girl had her own volunteer sitting on the beach to keep watch, prevent people from getting too close, and also provide information on their species. They had tagged this seal, so they knew a lot about her, including that she’d had two pups.

That afternoon we went for a short swim at the beach in front of our house and then headed to the luau! There are many choices on the island, and we ended up choosing to attend the Smith Family Garden Luau, which was conveniently only a ten minute taxi ride from our cottage. The ticket was $90 per person and included time to wander through the gardens, a pig roast with a buffet and open bar, and an hour long performance. The garden was beautiful, the food was good and while the performance was a bit cheesy at a couple points, it was entertaining and worth the money.

Andrew and I in the gardens before the luau.

Kauai East Shore Day 4 – Thursday: On Thursday morning we were up early to watch the sunrise and then left for two short hikes. The first was a really quick and easy 1.5 mile hike to see the Ho’opi’i Falls. We loved this hike because it took us into the jungle, where we were able to enjoy hunting for wildflowers and gazing at the canopy high above. It was lovely and such a different type of forest than we had experienced before!

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A beautiful wildflower on our hike.

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Afterwards, we hiked the 4.5 mile roundtrip to go up the nearby Sleeping Giant peak. The hike provided a good workout and incredible 360 views of the island.

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Me, on top of the Sleeping Giant

While we were in Kapaa, we only went out to dinner two of the five nights, otherwise we cooked at the house. Being able to BBQ was a key search criteria when looking for our rental cottage, as we looked forward to relaxing home cooked meals on the lanai. One of my favorite things of Kauai is that we were able to get fresh, locally caught seafood at the store. The seafood markets and even stores like Safeway only carry what was fresh and local! We always found ahi tuna, and at times found Ono (aka Wahoo), Monchong, Opah (aka Moonfish) and even Kauai farmed shrimp. All were so good and it was fun to try new fish, as I had not tried any except the tuna before. So to get some local seafood, on Thursday morning after our hike we went to a nearby fish market, the Fish Express in Lihue. We got fresh poke for lunch and ahi tuna steaks to grill for our dinner.

In the afternoon we stopped by Kealia Beach, where we hung out for a few hours swimming and boogie boarding. I don’t have a picture of it because we were too busy enjoying the beach, but it was gorgeous and not crowded. We even saw a sea turtle here for the first time on our trip!

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Before we went to Kealia Beach, we tried to go to the beach pictured above – Paliku Beach (aka Donkey beach). We did not see any donkeys, but given the secluded area, we did find a couple on a cove off to the side … enjoying themselves 😉 oops! We left quickly, and acknowledged that it was absolutely gorgeous and unfortunately far too rough for us to swim.
The Fish Express poke and other fish options
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Our dinner, featuring freshly seared Ahi Tuna

Kauai East Shore Day 5 – Friday: This was our big hiking day of the first half of our trip. We drove 1 hour 40 minutes to the southern end of the island where you are able to drive up to access the Nāpali Coast State Wilderness Park. We started at the Pu’u O Kila Lookout at the end of the road on the trail towards the Pihea Vista junction, and then continued on the Alakai Swamp Trail until we hit the Kilohana lookout. It was about an 8 mile roundtrip hike through varied terrain, including a start at a beautiful vista, entering the rainforest and eventually going through some high altitude swamps. The weather varied as well, from sun, to fog, to rain. At times it was a rather difficult hike due to how slippery things get with the moisture of the rainforest, and the muddy sections were really hard if a descent was involved. But still, gorgeous and so worth it!

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This is what about 2/3 of the trail looked like. We walked on these wooden planks, which helped make it easier to navigate than on the mud. We really enjoyed walking through the rainforest, surrounded by the lush ferns, mosses and trees.
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I was so happy to have my trekking poles for this hike! This is one of the steeper, muddier sections of the hike. I was so nervous I’d fall and break something, but of course no worries were necessary. This just slowed us down a bit as you had to carefully walk through.
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This is the section of the Swamp Trail going through the swamps. There was a heavy fog as we passed through and tons of newts scrambling away through the mud as we approached. Isn’t it unbelievable that this is located only a few miles from gorgeous beaches like the one pictured below???
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The view from our destination after 4 miles, the Kilohana lookout. You can distinctly see Hanalei bay on the coastline and the edge of the coast on the left is where we spent the second half of our time in Kauai. Pretty neat to get to see it ahead of time from above.
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View of the Na Pali coast from near the Pu’u O Kila on the Pihea trail. Just gorgeous and photographs barely do it justice.

As you drive towards the Na Pali coast to do the above hike I mentioned, you also pass Waimea Canyon State Park. We bypassed it in the morning but stopped at the lookouts on our way back. It is absolutely gorgeous and since we didn’t have time to explore the canyon, we’ll just have to do it on our next trip to Kauai!

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The Waimea canyon is also known as the Grand Canyon of the Pacific, and rightly so. The colors were amazing and wikipedia has some interesting info on the geology here. As we gazed down there were several helicopter tours passing by. I’m a bit hesitant to do such things myself as I get motion sickness easily, but I can only imagine how beautiful this is from the air!

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For our last night in Kapaa we walked 15 minutes up the beach to have dinner at Sam’s Oceanview Restaurant, where we got a table at the window overlooking the ocean. The wine list was excellent and the food so good!

Our spot at Sam’s, cocktail included 🙂 We saw a couple get engaged on the grass just a few minutes after this picture was taken!

Kauai East Shore Day 6 – Saturday: We went for a morning run on the multi-use path that runs in front of our house to Kealia beach. I love to run but it’s even better when it’s in such a beautiful locale! After cleaning up, we departed to drive to our next destination on the North Shore. Sad to say goodbye to our sweet little cottage in Kapaa, but loved every moment!

Home to Virginia

During our summer off from work, both Andrew and I wanted to fit in some time at our respective homes. Unfortunately, we couldn’t manage to visit both destinations together and instead each went home separately. So, after our time in Coeur d’Alene, Andrew boarded a plane taking him south to San Diego to see his family and I headed back east to Virginia from Wednesday 16 August – Monday 21 August.

It was a whirlwind trip for me but so much fun. I flew in late on Wednesday night and immediately left the next morning with my mom to spend the day and night in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware. We stayed at our favorite spot, the Rehoboth Guest House. On Thursday we lucked into a gorgeous beach day at the Delaware Seashore State Park and had a fantastic dinner at Salt Air, where I got a much needed crab cake. On Friday morning we went for a boardwalk run and sat on the beach for a couple hours before we drove back home to Virginia. The perfect quick mother-daughter getaway!

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On Saturday morning I caught a ride with my friend Ginna and her fiancé, Will, to go down to Richmond, VA, for our friend Laura’s wedding. The wedding was an absolute blast with good food, tons of friends, an incredible live band fit for dancing the night away, and my friend got MARRIED. Such a fun time!

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With the beautiful bride, Laura, on her wedding day
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I loved getting to hang out with so many good friends at this wedding. Here I am with some of my favorite gals, left to right: Heather, Ginna, Jen, me and Jenny.
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With my friends, Sara and Vince, who coincidentally are good friends of the groom from university. It’s such a small world sometimes. 

On Sunday afternoon my family had a BBQ at my Grandma’s house on the back deck. It was great to get to see everyone before leaving again, including my aunt and uncle who came up from South Carolina.

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We were missing some key folks, but here’s the gang. Back row: My cousin, Owen; Arlene, my Grandfather’s friend (and a good family friend); George, Owen’s Dad; My uncle Greg on my Dad’s side; Kelly, uncle Gregg’s girlfriend; my Mom; Grandma (my Mom’s mother). Middle row: me, Aunt Peggy (my Dad’s sister); Uncle Gregg (my Mom’s brother). Front and center: Grandpa (my Dad’s father)

Always a good trip home to Virginia. Luckily I have a few weddings coming up this fall and will be home a bunch more to see everyone.

‘Til next time, Virginia!

 

Lake Coeur d’Alene

For the second part of our U.S. travels, we flew up to Spokane, Washington to meet up with our friend Cody. We stayed from Friday 11 August through Wednesday 16 August with Cody at his family’s cabin on the southern end of Lake Coeur d’Alene within Idaho’s Heyburn State Park.

The cabin itself was really cool and reminded me so much of being at our family’s cottage in Fairhaven on the Chesapeake Bay. It’s rustic and in a quiet location, perfect for unwinding and enjoying time with friends. There’s a bit of interesting history as well! The park was the location of a Civilian Conservation Corps camp in the 1930s, and there are still structures leftover from that time, including picnic shelters and a lodge.

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Cody’s family’s cabin. They had a wonderful deck with a view through the trees of the lake. We were facing west, so we got some beautiful sunsets.
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The State Park sign in front of one of the original CCC buildings.
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The beach of Heyburn State Park. Cody’s family’s house is right up on the hill above the beach, through the trees.

We had four full days at the lake, with two perfect weather days. Similar to Oregon, we arrived in Idaho to smoke, but luckily some rain came through on Sunday and finally cleared up the skies. There were about seven of us staying at the cabin on the weekend, including some of Cody’s friends from high school and also his girlfriend Kim and one of her friends. It was a fun bunch! Everyone else had to go back home on Sunday so it was just the three of us hanging out from Monday – Wednesday. We spent our days on the lake, water skiing and tubing, grilling, playing Settlers of Catan and just catching up. It’s been so fun to get to see our friends after being gone for two years. Big thanks to Cody and his family for sharing their cabin with us.

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Taking the boat to dinner in Harrison. Andrew learned to drive the boat!
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Sunset from dinner in Harrison. It was a Monday and quiet, with barely any people. Fine for us!
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As my family knows, I learned to waterski as a kid on the Chesapeake Bay at our family’s cottage  in Fairhaven. I am fairly confident it has been a minimum of 15 years since I water skied last and I had no idea if I could still do it. But, turns out it’s like riding a bike and I got up on my first try! Andrew had never water skied before and was successful on his second attempt – pretty awesome. Eventually we even managed to get us both up together for a tandem ski.
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View of the mouth of the St Joe river. On our last day we took the boat down the river to the town of St Maries for lunch. 

 

 

 

Oregon

We are now on our second half of the summer trip with four weeks of travel around the U.S. First stop was nine nights in Oregon. This state has so much to offer and we had a tough time deciding where we would go. We drove a small loop that started and ended in Portland, taking us to the Willamette Valley for wine tasting (surprising for us, I know…), the Central Oregon Cascade mountains and finally to the Columbia River Gorge.

We arrived in Oregon during less than ideal weather conditions. The Pacific Northwest was going through an unusual heat wave, with temperatures soaring into the 100s. Many places don’t have AC and were closing down early in the afternoon during the highest heat. To top it off, there are wild fires all over this region of North America. Due to the direction of the winds, we got socked in the entire trip with smoke coming from fires in Oregon and as far away as British Columbia. No clear blue skies for us and low visibility. On the bright side, no rainy days!

Portland

We stayed in Portland for two nights from Thursday 3 August until Saturday 5 August at the Eastside Lodge. This was a motel on the eastern side of the city about a 15 minute walk across the river to the downtown area. It was a lower cost option, though not that much as we found this city is not cheap to visit during the summer. It was convenient to some cool neighborhoods and breweries.

We flew in early on Thursday from San Francisco.  After we checked in and had some time to rest, we headed out in the afternoon for a self-guided brewery tour of Eastern Portland. The brewery scene in Portland is impressive and we had so much fun tasting beers at some great breweries within a short walking distance of our hotel. We went in succession to: Burnside Brewing, Base Camp Brewing, Cascade Brewing (unique for its sour beers), The Commons, and finally Rogue.


That night we bought tickets at the last minute to a comedy show at the Helium Comedy Club featuring Jay Larson. The show was awesome, we didn’t stop laughing the entire time.

We got a seat front and center! I was nervous we’d get picked on by the comedian, but we were safe enough at this distance.

On our second day in Portland we spent the afternoon walking through the city to see the different neighborhoods. This is easy since the city is flat. In the early evening we did a really strange tour of the Portland Underground. These are some tunnels under Portland’s Chinatown that were originally constructed for the purpose of transporting water through the city but then in the late 1800s and early 1900s were also used for more sinful purposes, such as opium dens and also to house “shanghai’d” men prior to sale – which is when men were kidnapped and then sold as slave labor on ships headed for Asia. The tour was a bit gimmicky and I honestly would never recommend anyone do it. Bit of a fail on my trip research part. But we recovered and that night we had a fantastic dinner in the Richmond neighborhood on Division street at Xico, a Oaxacan restaurant.

Willamette Valley

Andrew and I love exploring new wines, and so part of our trip to Oregon naturally had to feature a stop in the Willamette Valley. We stayed from Saturday 5 August through Monday 7 August at the La Bastide B&B in Dundee, about an hour south of Portland. We had a beautiful room decorated in a Provençal style a 15 minute walk outside of the {very short} main street of Dundee.

On Sunday we scheduled a private wine tour with Cellar Door Wine tours. The tour was fantastic and took us throughout the region to five small wineries: Wild Aire CellarsLenne Estate, Beaux Freresde Lancellotti Family Vineyards, and finally Bella Vida. We loved that the wines are Burgundy style and the Pinot Noirs were excellent.

View from Lenne Estate
View from Bella Vida
At Lenne Estate

Sisters

On our drive over to Sisters we took the Cascade Lakes National Scenic Byway. There were several spots to stop along the way, it was gorgeous.

Mt Bachelor from Sparks Lake
Mt. Bachelor

We stayed in a little one-bedroom rental cottage in the town of Sisters for three nights from Monday 7 August through Thursday 10 August. The house had a nice little deck off the back with a BBQ where we ate every night and was a short walk from the main drag.

Our cute little rental cottage in Sisters. The main house is pictured on the left. The building on the right was not accessible to us.

The first morning in Sisters we went for a trail run on the local Peterson Ridge Trail in the Deschutes National forest. Luckily the heat wouldn’t set in each day until 12ish, so we were fine in the morning. The trail system was fantastic! It was well marked and fun to weave through the forest on a quiet morning.

The Peterson Ridge Trail in Sisters

That afternoon we drove east 30 minutes into the bigger city of Bend. We stopped at the amazing Deschutes Brewery for a beer tasting, followed by a float down the Deschutes river – complete with a series of rapids! It was relaxing and a perfect way to spend the afternoon during the high heat. 
On our second day in Sisters we got up early to beat the heat and hit the trail. Our original hiking plan fell through and we realized too late (i.e. at the trailhead) that you may only enter that section of the park with a wilderness permit. We drove around for 30 minutes to find cell service only to discover that all 30 of the day use permits that are only sold online were sold out 😦 But not to fear, there was a backup plan and we hiked a 7 mile out-and-back trip up to the Black Crater. The smoke prevented us from seeing the complete vista but we were able to see the nearest peaks and enjoy our hike.

Three Sisters Wilderness. From top of Black Crater
The view from the Black Crater of the Sister peaks. As you can tell – verrrry smoky

After the hike we stopped by the McKensie Pass where there were incredible views and an interpretive trail all about the lava fields and local geology.

Dee Wright observatory from Mckenzie pass
Entering the Willamette National Forest, with the Dee Wright Observatory on the right. This is where the interpretive Lava River National Recreation trail started, taking us through the lava fields. The lava flowed from the Yapoah Crater approximately 2,000 – 2,700 years ago! It was amazing to see that it takes so long for the new earth to cover up with trees and growth. We were lucky to get to walk this trail as after our visit to Oregon, a wildfire started in this region two weeks after our visit and the whole area is closed to the public.

Three Sisters Wilderness. View of Mt Washington from Mckezsie Pass

View of the Middle and North Sister peaks

Hood River

On our 2.5 hour drive up to Hood River we took a pit stop near Mt. Hood at Trillium Lake. The lake’s location provides a beautiful view of Mt. Hood and had nice picnic areas among the trees, where we picnic’d ourselves for lunch.

Mt Hood from Trillium Lake
View of Mt. Hood at Trillium Lake

Our last stop in Oregon was to see the Columbia River Gorge. We stayed in the town of Hood River, which is right on the river in a beautiful location only an 1.5 hour drive to Portland. We stayed at the historic Hood River Hotel for our last night in Oregon, Thursday August 10.

After checking in to our hotel we laced on our hiking boots and apparently our insanity. It was 95 and smoky out but we went for a short 2.2 mile hike out on the Rowena Crest Trail. We had the trail to ourselves and enjoyed the view. It was a little frustrating because the visibility as you can see in our pictures was really … not good. A bit sad to miss seeing the gorge with clear skies, but what can you do.

Columbia River Gorge from Rowen viewpoint
Off the Rowena Crest Trail – as the skies were filled with smoke we diverted our attention to the golden hills lining this hike.
Columbia River Gorge from Rowen viewpoint
The mighty Columbia River!

That night we grabbed beers and dinner at yet another brewery, this time at Hood River’s own Full Sail Brewing. When we initially made the decision to road trip in Oregon, I hadn’t connected that they have so many good breweries. But clearly we’ve been taking advantage and visiting them every step of the way!!

Our last day in Oregon was Friday August 11. Our flight to Spokane wasn’t until 5 pm, so we had some time to explore a bit more. In the morning we did a short run along the riverfront and had breakfast at the Scandinavian style Broder Øst. Then we packed up all our stuff and started to meander our way back to the Portland airport.

We stopped along the way to do a self-guided walking tour of the Bonneville Fish Hatchery. We were too soon to be able to watch the salmon run or the hatchery in operation as the majority of activity begins in September, but they offered a very interesting self-guided walking tour and the ponds did have some young salmon fingerlings swimming around, waiting to get old enough to be released. I’d highly recommend it. Afterwards we stopped for a short time at the historic Bonneville dam.

We tried to stop to see some of the waterfalls on the way back to Portland, but it was so congested and crowded with people, with limited parking opportunities, we unfortunately had to skip it and satisfy ourselves with the glimpses we got from the road. We moved on to the airport to catch our flight for Spokane, Washington to meet up with our friend Cody to spend some time with him and some friends at his family’s cabin on Lake Coeur d’Alene.

In summary…

I loved our time in Oregon. We saw such a small chunk of the state and there’s still so much more to see. But, Oregon is not that far from San Francisco so maybe we can make it happen again some time.

California Dreaming

As I mentioned before, given I am in the U.S. for four weeks, I managed to fit in a trip to California. The plan was to fly into Reno so that I could spend NYE in Tahoe with Andrew’s family, then drive to SF and spend a few days there before heading back to VA.

Plans slightly changed and I had a nice tour of the U.S. in between! Winter weather caused a ton of flight delays nationwide, so I missed my connecting flight in Denver to Reno. I stayed the night in Denver and woke up the next morning to discover I didn’t have a seat on a flight to Reno! A very helpful service agent found an alternative trip plan that flew me to Boise and then on to Reno by Tuesday night, getting me to Tahoe a full day later than expected. But I made it! The very next morning I caught up with the Kuntz family to hit the slopes and take advantage of all the snow that has fallen on the West Coast thanks to El Niño.

We ended up spending both of my skiing days at Heavenly as the snow was pretty good there. It’s the best snow I have seen on the mountain since I first moved to California!
Heavenly with Andrew’s family 

New Year’s Eve we took a day off from skiing to sleep in and relax. It was incredibly cold at Tahoe this year. The temperature never rose above freezing, so we were quite happy to stay indoors and cuddle up on the couch. We did make it out in the afternoon for a walk on the beach, it was a beautiful day! For NYE we stayed at the house for a home made dinner and played liar’s dice (a fun group game!). I have to admit I didn’t make it to midnight, I was asleep by 10:30, but all because our plans involved waking up early on New Year’s Day to be some of the first on the mountain (hoping the lines would be short while people were home nursing their hangovers).

Beautiful New Year’s Eve walk on the beach at Incline
Andrew gave his family a fondue set from Switzerland for Christmas, so we made some Swiss fondue for our NYE dinner appetizer. Andrew and I attended the KPMG Lausanne office’s Christmas fondue party in December and luckily learned a few tips. We did our best to replicate it, but in a restaurant, you begin a fondue meal with viande séchée (dried meat), cornichons and pickled pearl onions. You are only provided bread for dipping in the fondue (which again, Swiss bread is amazing!!) There are a few rules for what you drink. First: Always drink white wine (according to them, helps with digesting the crazy amount of cheese you put in your belly), Secondly: Do not drink water (according to them, does not help digestion. I struggle with this one, all the salt made me so thirsty for water!), and Thirdly: Drink hot tea afterwards (Again, to help with digestion – up to you to believe it or not, but, you know …. when in Rome). All in all, fondue is super fun given the social nature of sitting around a pot of melted cheese and chatting it up. Andrew found our recipe online, if anyone is curious what goes into it (which is more than just cheese!), check the link out here. We brought some Chasselas wine home from Switzerland, which I think really helped bring the flavor closer to what we had in Switzerland. We had to bring it because, side note and fun fact: Swiss wine is not exported out of the country! It is consumed entirely in Switzerland! Interesting, huh? So, every time we fly home our bags will be extra heavy with some Swiss wine to bring home to our families 🙂
We started 2016 off on a good note! We all woke up early and made it to Heavenly to be there when the lifts open. It was 5° F to start, and eventually “warmed up” to around 20° F, but was perfect. A couple inches of fresh snow had fallen the night before and the conditions were great despite the cold. It was a beautiful New Years’ Day.

Saturday, Andrew and I packed up our things to go on the move again. Andrew’s parents were kind enough to drive us down to Rocklin (outside of Sacramento) so that we could get a rental car to drive to SF. We ended up taking a slight detour to wine country (couldn’t resist!) to stop at the winery where we used to belong to the club, Lynmar Estate.

Andrew’s sister, Robin, and her boyfriend John met us at Lynmar for a tasting. It was a little overcast and cool in Sebastopol, but so nice to get to return to one of our favorite spots in the Bay Area and hang out together!

The rest of our time in SF, we focused on eating at our favorite restaurants (Mamacita, Park Tavern and Trattoria Contadina – so much love!), catching up with old co-workers and friends, and fitting in a run from North Beach to the Marina Green. It was so fun to be back in the city, seeing familiar sites, seeing what has changed in six months (umm hello to the FINALLY OPEN expansion of the 101 when you enter SF in the North from the Golden Gate bridge) and catching up with friends!

Bobbi, a good friend I met while working for Williams-Sonoma, came and met up with us on Sunday at Kennedy’s to watch some football. So good to catch up with this gal!
We caught up with Alex on Sunday night at Richmond Republic Draft House. Alex is a friend we met at KPMG SF while we all worked on the same client. So good to see this girl, too!

<<<< Insert photos I sadly missed to take of Saturday’s dinner at Mamacita with Cody and Kim, Monday lunch at Blue Barn with all my old co-workers from Williams-Sonoma, and Monday dinner at Trattoria Contadina with Ashley, Kevin, Sara and Vince. I loved seeing you all!!!>>>>

Virginia Part I

I made it home to Virginia for my four week trip to the U.S.on Saturday December 11 while Andrew headed home to see his family in San Diego. I stayed in Virginia for Christmas then took off to meet Andrew in California on the 28th. Here’s a photo recap of my trip home!

It isn’t Christmas until I am in the kitchen baking cookies! Made my favorite Spice cookies!

Sunday morning I drove out to Leesburg to visit with some friends I met while living in San Francisco. Sally and Andrew moved back to VA earlier this year and I got to meet their six week old baby boy, Charlie. I even managed to see Ashley and Kevin that same day, who are in town from SF visiting their families. Loved getting to see you all again and meet little Charlie!
 
With my Grandpa at our Christmas Appetizers party with family and friends. This guy is 97 and amazing!
    

My Mom, sister and I spent an afternoon out at Barrel Oak winery. it was rainy but so relaxing to spend time together in their festively decorated tasting room. This may need to become an annual tradition!
 
On Christmas Eve my Mom, sister and I met up with my mom’s friend and her daughter to tour the Capitol building. I had never been inside before and really enjoyed getting to go, especially since we recently toured the Parliament in London. It was neat to see the similarities between the two. Unfortunately, the dome is undergoing renovations and we were unable to see the details and artwork on the interior as it was covered in scaffolding – but it was still impressive to be inside!
  
After the Capitol building, we went over to see the trains exhibit at the Botanical Gardens, which we see every year as the decorations always change. The orchids are also always amazing! Later on, we walked around the National Christmas tree and then headed for the Willard hotel to have drinks in the Round Robin Bar. We have made this a little family Christmas tradition and it is always fun to stop for a hot drink and see the hotel all dressed up for the holidays.
  
Frying up the turkey in the back yard on Christmas Day with Gregg!
  
Gregg carving our Christmas turkey. If you haven’t had a fried turkey before you have got to try it! Only 45 minutes to fry and it takes so good!!
 Overall, it was a fun week back in Virginia. I fit in tons of family time and Corinne was back in town from Vancouver. The trip was over so quickly but I’m glad I get to go back for the last bit of my trip to see more people and spend time at home. It’s so lucky that I get to have all this time in the U.S. and I am fully enjoying it!

Back in the U.S.

A couple of months ago, a manager for an engagement I had on my schedule for December reached out to me to discuss the project. Once on the phone, he quickly explained that the engagement would require me to go to the U.S. (ME: OK, cool, I’m from there!) …. more specifically that it would require me to go to D.C. (ME: Wow, really? That’s close to where I am from) …. but even more specifically, that the client is in a town outside of D.C. called … Springfield! (ME: Okay, now I was laughing because, REALLY?) How did the stars align that my client in Switzerland sent me to do work at their U.S. operation in an office 15 minutes from my childhood home where my Mom and Grandparents live? Pretty lucky!

Even luckier, the travel required that I make two trips to VA. Once for a week in early December and again in early January 2016. Given that I had already planned to come back to the States for the holidays, I managed to score a company-paid flight home and ended up booking a trip to stay in the U.S. from Dec 19 – Jan 15, 2016. Now, I am here in the U.S. for a total of four weeks (after the first trip for a week). I even managed to fit in a trip to California to spend New Year’s in Tahoe with Andrew’s family and a visit to San Francisco to see our old stomping grounds and friends. Things have been really but I’ll do a couple posts to keep up on what we’ve been doing. But first … I feel like doing some reflection, so bear with me.

It had been almost five months since Andrew and I boarded the plane to move to Switzerland on July 9. A few weeks ago, I boarded a plane to return to the U.S., excited to see friends and family and be back in my home country once more. It is great to be here, and there are a few things I have missed and been happy to have again…

  1. OMG I missed Target! Not only for the low prices, but especially for how many options we have in the aisles for household items such as trash bags, ziploc bags, and paper products. In CH we only have one or two options for each. At Target there was an AISLE for each. I understand that this is likely because there isn’t enough space in our urban grocery stores in CH, which is fair, but I loved returning to the options of suburban America!

2. I missed American food. The food in CH is really good and the grocery stores have plenty of good quality food options (don’t even get me started on bread and cheese), but it’s so nice to come home to what we have here in the U.S. I demanded to eat Mexican food my first day back, and was beyond excited to get a Chipotle burrito bowl for a work lunch. And sandwiches. I’m sorry Switzerland, your sandwiches are lacking substance in the middle! 

3. Operating hours for stores in the U.S. are so convenient. I went to the mall on a Sunday, which is impossible in CH (stores are all closed on Sundays). I went to a grocery store at 7:30 pm – also impossible in CH (the main grocery stores are never open that late in Lausanne). OH, and Trader Joe’s (<—- so much love)

4. It was a cool surprise to come home and find out that the U.S. has started to transition to using the credit card chip payment method – especially since we have become accustomed to using it in Europe. I’m sure this is familiar to you all. Some stores say “We use the chip!” You insert the credit card into a machine, but you still sign your name. It is my understanding that the chip improves the security of your personal information, but how come we aren’t using the PIN as well? It doesn’t make sense to me. Baby steps I guess. I didn’t experience this yet in the U.S., but in CH (and many other countries for that matter) servers process your restaurant bill payment directly at your table using a handheld credit card machine and you enter your PIN. Much faster! Something to look forward to in the U.S. some day. 

5. There is significantly less smoking in public in the U.S. – such a relief!

6. Things are cheaper in the U.S., which is no surprise, but most definitely welcome. One of my Swiss colleagues had asked me if I was going to take an empty suitcase to the U.S. to come back to Europe with all the cheap clothes just like they do, and now I understand what he meant. I am going to have some real trouble figuring out how to fit all my newly purchased goods in my luggage when I return to Switzerland in January!

Now, while a lot of the stuff above lists things I missed and was happy to have again, there are still things I miss about Switzerland and have come to appreciate. 

I love seeing the Alps in CH and I love our view of them from the apartment balcony or while I am on the train headed to Geneva for work. Virginia … you are majestic in your own way, but the Alps are a whole different ball game!

I sometimes miss the freedom of owning a car, but now that I have been back in Northern VA and experienced our lovely traffic – I remember how much I truly appreciate being able to use the train and public transit system in Switzerland. They’re clean, fast and so much more relaxing!

I came home and missed how the Swiss say “Bon appetit” before you eat. I know I have mentioned this in past posts, but I have come to love this small change in our etiquette. I think my friends and family can attest that I have tried to use it here in the U.S. and I honestly think this is something I will adopt even after we leave Switzerland some day. 

Back on December 10, as I checked in to my flight online to go back to CH from my first trip, I found myself  excited to return to Switzerland. While I have been very happy to be back in the U.S. with friends and family, I found myself missing Switzerland. For anyone else who has ever up and moved themselves to a new location, you would understand that it takes some time for that new place to become home and everything that word can mean. The tell-tale sign: to let it slip without intent to say the words “I am going back home” and to actually be referring to your new place of residence. When I was put on this engagement, I was a little apprehensive. I wondered if I would be so happy being back in the U.S., in a place familiar to me, that I may not want to go back to Switzerland (we’re being honest, here!) but I am happy to say that Switzerland now does feel like home. I love the U.S., and will be happy to return to it once our time in Switzerland is over, but Lausanne is my home right now. Where my things are. Where Andrew and I have a home together. It’s where the adventure lies, and where we are fortunate to have this amazing, once-in-a-lifetime experience living abroad. To travel to places we never expected to see, hike those Alps I mention so often, live among a foreign culture, learn a new language, eat new foods, and meet people from all over the world. I am excited to be able return to it and keep the adventure going.