Nepal Trekking & Yoga Adventure

Nepal wasn’t exactly on my radar of places to go until I saw this travel package. This trip sounds amazing!! It is a 10 day trip filled with adventure. Unfortunately, the dates don’t really work for me. But it is something I will definitely keep my eye on in the future.

Nepal Adventure Package

Plan B (ok maybe Plan C)

After having to cancel my trip to Cozumel, I went back to the drawing board to find a replacement destination. I found a fabulous cruise to Bermuda that sounded perfect for me, but the dates didn’t work for Heather. Rob was interested in taking another trip with me this summer, so he looked into the possibility of getting leave approved. But, as it turns out, he also had a schedule conflict with the dates of this cruise.

Rob has family in Colorado and they have extended the invite on numerous occasions for us to head west to visit. I have never been to Colorado before, but I have always heard such amazing stories about how beautiful it is, so it seemed like this might be a good time to check it out. Rob’s family graciously accepted to host us and I was able to book our plane tickets for FREE (thank you Southwest reward points!).

I am not sure exactly what we will do/see while we are there, but hopefully we can come up with a good plan in the next couple of weeks. If you have any suggestions, please feel free to share them.

Floating above Woodstock

For Valentine’s Day in 2011, Rob bought me a gift certificate for a hot air balloon ride which was something neither of us had ever done before.  We scheduled the flight for late last summer, maybe early fall, I can’t quite remember.  We were scheduled for a sunrise flight, which meant we had to meet the pilot at 5:40 a.m. in Woodstock, Va, which is very far from home.  To make things easier, we spent the night before at Tom’s house in Front Royal to shorten the morning commute.  The next morning, we met the pilot and then headed to a recreational park to get things set up.  It was really foggy that morning, but our pilot was hopeful that the fog would clear up in time for our flight.

Rob helped get the balloon ready for flight.

About 20 minutes later we were ready to go up.  It was just 3 of us in the basket; me, Rob and our pilot, Don.

We got up above the tree line and that is when Don realized that the fog was not going anywhere and we were going to have to ground the balloon.  We were only up in the air for about 2 minutes and we obviously didn’t get to see much due to all of the fog.  We were going to have to reschedule the flight and try another time.

Fast forward about a year and we were ready to try this again.  We were scheduled for another sunrise flight which meant another very early morning.  Once again, Tom was kind enough to host us at his house.  Still, we had to wake up before the crack of dawn, 4:30 to be exact.  We then headed to meet our pilot (still Don), once again at 5:40.  We went to the same recreational park to begin the setup.  It was a bit foggy, but nowhere near as bad as the first go-around. (Notice the difference between the picture below and the same shot from last year.)

There were probably cows there last year too, but we definitely couldn’t see them!

We went through the same process for setting up the balloon.  Rob was a good trooper and helped out with the setup again.  I would have loved to help but, somebody had to be the photographer!

Once the balloon was set up, it was time to try this again. Rob and I joined Don in the basket and away we went.

We got up above the tree line and once again we were surrounded by fog!

Don quickly told us that we might not be able to fly due to the fog. Rob and I looked at each other thinking, “you have got to be kidding me!”  Don assured us that this almost never happens.  He told us that it has been about a year since the last time he has had to ground because of fog. Rob chuckled and reminded Don that we had been in this same exact position about a year ago and we were grounded due to fog. That seemed to refresh Don’s memory and he said he remembered us and thought that we might have been the patrons that were the last to get grounded!  We couldn’t believe our luck. What are the chances?  The thought of waking up that early and driving all this way for a third time sounded awful to me. I think I might have been ready to scrap the whole idea and hope for a refund. But before we knew it, the fog was starting to clear on one side giving Don a safe path to travel.

There were two other balloons going up that morning, but we were the first to get up in the air.  So we got to watch them from above.

Even though it was a bit foggy, we still really enjoyed the view.  We had the Massanutten & Blue Ridge Mountains on one side and then the Allegheny Mountains on the other side.

The highest we flew was about 1,000 feet and the fastest we went was about 10 mph.  I didn’t think that animals below would really pay much notice to us floating above them, but dogs ran around their yards and barked at us and several herds of cattle ran for cover!  We flew over some people that were relaxing on their deck and we waved back and forth.  Our flight lasted about 45 minutes and then we found a safe place to land, which just so happened to be someone’s front yard.  As soon as we landed, we swapped out of the basket with another couple that were scheduled to fly after us.

After watching them lift off, we got in the chase vehicle and basically followed the balloon on the ground.  The partner in the chase vehicle needs to be there to assist when the balloon lands.  She also sent off several test balloons to let Don know which way the winds were moving so that he could find a safe place to land.

We just happened to be standing by the location that one of the other two balloons was about to land, so Rob went over to assist them with their landing.

Meanwhile, Don missed his initial landing zone.  He was hoping to land on the other side of those trees, but he overshot it, so the crew had to rush to the other side to assist him with the land.

It was a precarious situation and required Don to throw a tow rope down so that people could help guide the balloon in the right direction so that he wouldn’t crash into this person’s house!  I am so glad this is not how our landing went!

Thankfully, it all worked out and they landed safely.  Nobody was injured and nothing was damaged.  I don’t believe anyone was home, but there was one very pissed off Chihuahua that clearly did not approve of this landing location.  They guided the balloon further away from the house and then it was time to pack everything up.

All in all, it was a very cool experience!

Screw You American Airlines!

This past February, Heather and I went on a relaxing beach vacation to the Riviera Maya in Mexico.  We got a great deal on a really nice all-inclusive resort and it was pure heaven.  We decided that we should definitely make this an annual thing and travel somewhere every February.  February just happens to be a good time for us to take vacation at work and it is definitely a great time to get out of the cold weather and head to a tropical beach!

A few months after we got back from Mexico we decided that we couldn’t wait a full year to do this again.  Our birthdays are in September (22nd if you want to send me a gift!) and we figured that was a good enough reason to take a vacation.  We found a great deal on an all-inclusive resort in Cozumel and we booked it months in advance.

We have steadily been getting more and more excited for our upcoming trip and then out of nowhere I get notified that American Airlines is reducing their flights to Cozumel and our flights were among the ones that got cancelled.  Ain’t that some bull$*#@!

Our options were: 1. Change our travel dates to correspond with the new (limited) dates that American Airlines has service to/from Cozumel.  2. Change our travel location and book a trip elsewhere, keeping the same travel dates.  3. Get a full refund.

Option# 1 wasn’t possible for us because our vacation dates are not flexible.  Option# 2 would have cost us several hundred dollars more because now that it is fairly close to our travel date, the prices have gone way up (so much for us planning so far in advance!).  So, we settled on Option# 3.  My vacation leave is still on the books, so I am hoping that I might be able to find some kind of alternative.  If not, I think I might go to WalMart and buy one of those plastic kiddie pools and then pay someone to serve me cocktails (with little umbrellas in them) in my backyard.

Amazing Deal Alert

This is an amazing deal for a trip to Costa Rica! This package includes airfare, 6 nights hotel accommodations, car rental, daily breakfast, and several tours for only $599. Rob and I went to Costa Rica for our honeymoon and I would highly recommend this destination. This vacation is a steal!

Costa Rica Deal

Day 8 – Our Domestic Flight Home

So, normally there wouldn’t be much to talk about on the final morning of vacation, but this was a travel-first for me, so I figured I should share it.  We had heard from several people that we needed to get to the airport at least 3 hours early, some even recommended 3 ½ hours.  I have heard that so many times and in so many countries in the past, and of course I usually pay no attention to it.  But this time, Tom had a friend that was recently in Ireland and she got to the airport 3 hours early (as directed) and she just barely had enough time to make it through security!  I didn’t understand how this could be possible, but to err on the side of caution definitely seemed like the best choice here.

We turned in our rental car and then arrived at the airport 3 hours early.  After checking-in and receiving our boarding passes we learn that there is a US Customs pre-clearance checkpoint.  This explains why the extra time is needed.  We went through the initial airport security screening and then travelers flying to the US are directed to a separate terminal where they then actually get cleared by US Customs agents.  We had to fill out the silly blue form, answer questions about our travel, and even get our passports stamped as having arrived in the US, while still in Ireland.  It was the craziest thing I had ever seen.  Why does this happen in Ireland of all places?  Why have I never seen this before?  Why is our government sending Customs employees to Ireland to do a job that they can just as easily do at Dulles?  It doesn’t make any sense if you ask me.

Anyway, we got through security in about an hour, which left us 2 more hours to kill.  Oh wait, I forgot to mention….the special “US departure terminal” we were at had a very limited selection of places to get food and virtually nowhere to shop.  It is not the ideal situation when you have leftover euros burning a hole in your pocket that you are itching to get rid of.

Since we had already cleared US Customs, our flight was essentially considered a domestic flight.  I still don’t understand the logic of it all, but it was time to board our domestic flight to cross the Atlantic Ocean.

Day 7 – Dublin

This was our last full day in country, so we started the day off by saying goodbye to Villa 35 and then we were on our way to Dublin. We checked in at the Croke Park Hotel and purchased tickets for Dublin’s hop on/hop off tour bus from the concierge. Our group decided to split up while we were in Dublin since we all wanted to see different things. I was in Dublin in 2004 and there were certain things that I was willing to see again, and others that I wasn’t all that interested in seeing again. Tom and Winnie really wanted to go to Trinity College and see the Book of Kells; Rob really wanted to go to the Guinness Storehouse. This one was a no-brainer….Guinness wins! I had been to both Trinity College and the Guinness Storehouse in 2004, but I was definitely up for going back for the freshest Guinness around. So we all boarded the hop on/hop off tour bus together, but then we went our separate ways and got off at different stops.

Our theme for Dublin…..booze!

Rob and I started out our day in Dublin by having lunch at a really great pub called Gallagher’s Boxty House in the Temple Bar area of Dublin. We had a pint and a really delicious lunch special. We really enjoyed our time with Tom and Winnie during this vacation, but it was really nice to have some time by ourselves by this point of the trip.

Our next stop was the Guinness Storehouse and I was happy to find out that some things about the tour had changed since I was there last. One of the additions is their Guinness Academy, where they teach you how to pour the perfect pint of Guinness. Of course, we had to check that out! We are building a bar in our basement at the moment, so we need to make sure we are properly trained in case we ever have Guinness on tap. I was surprised to learn that there is actually more to it than you would think and it would be really easy to mess up if you didn’t know the proper steps to pouring a perfect pint of Guinness. We passed the test and even brought home our cheesy souvenir certificates. But the proof is in the pint! And it was delicious!

After we sailed through the academy with flying colors, we headed up to the Gravity Bar for our 2nd pint on this tour. The Gravity Bar is completely enclosed in windows and it is usually a great spot to check out Dublin from above. However, it was another rainy, dreary day with grey skies, so the views weren’t exactly at their prime. Rob and I enjoyed our beverage, had time for a quick photo op, and then we had to bolt for our next booze spot.

On to the Jameson Whiskey Distillery! This was something that I didn’t get to see the last time I was in Dublin, so I was really excited to see something new this go around. We were cutting it really close to make it there in time for their last tour of the day. When we got there, the last tour had just started about 5 minutes earlier and I was super bummed because I thought we missed our chance. But apparently, the first part of the tour is a short film, so we were able to join the tour group in the theater having only missed a few (non-essential) minutes of the film.

I knew absolutely nothing about whiskey, so the tour was pretty informative. For instance, Irish whiskey is distilled 3 times, giving it a much more smooth taste. Scotch whiskey is typically distilled 2 times, while American whiskey is only distilled 1 time, which makes it the harshest of the bunch. At the end of the tour they offer you a tasting of Jameson. I didn’t think that I liked whiskey prior to this tour, but I was wrong. Apparently, I just don’t like American whiskey. Jameson was delicious and smooth like honey! Who knew?

After our tour we headed back to the Temple Bar area and the plan was to eat dinner at a pub that had live traditional Irish music. We found a table at the Merchant’s Arch, ordered dinner and a pint, and then waited for the music to begin. The first act was actually an American musician from L.A. that performed American cover songs. He was pretty good, but not exactly the kind of music we were hoping for. Finally, at almost 10 p.m. the Irish performers took the “stage.” A guy on guitar and a woman on the fiddle, and they were fantastic!! The music was great, the Guinness was good, and I wanted to keep the party going. Unfortunately, we had to get some rest so that we could get up for our flight in the morning. Despite how much fun I was having, we did the responsible thing and headed back to the hotel to get some sleep. Luckily, Rob had just enough euros left in his pocket for us to get a cab ride home.  Perfect end to a wonderful vacation!

Day 6 – Bunratty Castle and Adare Manor

Rob, Tom & Winnie went to Bunratty Castle in the morning and I decided to sit this one out.  I was ready for some time to myself (as I so often am), so I enjoyed a wonderful nap, downloaded pictures from my camera, and took the opportunity to jot down some notes for blogging purposes later.  The 3 of them had a really nice time at Bunratty Castle and they were very happy they went (that stop was almost crossed off the list due to bad reviews by Rick Steves.  What does he know anyway!).  I don’t know all of the details of their visit, but apparently it involved a donkey, a pig, Irish sheepdogs, and an arm wrestling match.  Photos courtesy of Tom’s camera.

After the crew returned from Bunratty we walked into town for lunch.  We sat outside at a cute little place called the Good Room Cafe.  Everyone was very pleased with their meals and Winnie and I raved about the carrot soup.  After lunch, we went back to the villa and then it was just about time for our scheduled tour of Adare Manor.  They let me drive to the manor and I really don’t see what all the fuss is about.  Seemed easy enough to me! ; )

The tour and story of Adare Manor was fascinating.  Owned by the Earl of Dunraven, Adare Manor was once a typical Georgian house.  Lord Dunraven was an active outdoors man until he was affected by gout which left him an invalid.  His wife, Lady Caroline, tried to keep Lord Dunraven occupied after succumbing to his disease by suggesting he redesign the manor.  This new project gave the Lord a sense of purpose since he could no longer enjoy his outdoor sporting activities.  The result of this project is the gorgeous Neo-Gothic Manor that still stands today.  The transformation from the old Georgian house to the new Adare Manor took 30 years to complete and Lord Dunraven didn’t get to see the completely finished project.  He died just a couple of years before it was finished.

Adare Manor is known as a calendar house.  It has 365 stained glass windows and 52 chimneys to represent the number of days and weeks in a year.  There are also other references throughout the manor to the 7 days of the week, 12 months of the year and the 4 seasons.  There are other such calendar houses, but they are very rare and nobody is quite sure why Lord Dunraven selected this type of symbolism.  The manor remained in the family until 1982 when the 7th Earl of Dunraven put it on the market.  It was purchased by a consortium of investors that did nothing at all with property the entire time they owned it.  Five years later, it was purchased (sight unseen) by an American (former Marine) named Thomas Kane.  As the story goes, the manor was in desperate need of repair, but the gardens and grounds were absolutely immaculate.  It is thought that the people of Adare had such a wonderful relationship with the Dunravens and such pride for the manor that they kept the grounds from being overgrown on their own accord.

Realizing that the 12 bedrooms (calendar reference) of the manor would not be enough for a successful resort, Thomas Kane added a new wing to the manor with 50 additional bedrooms.  The new wing of the manor was built in the same style and is even made of stone from the same exact quarry.  After it was pointed out, you could see the slight difference in color in the limestone (from age), but had it not been pointed out, I never would have noticed the difference and assumed it was all part of the original manor.

After our tour was complete we decided it would be fun to have afternoon tea in the manor.  The tea room was quite fancy and it had been so long since I had scones with real clotted cream!