Florence

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Near the end of our stay in Tuscany, we hopped on a train to spend a day in nearby Florence, or Firenze, as they say locally.  It was such a whirlwind of a day, but the beautiful Duomo looms heavily in my memory, with its towering dome peeking out at us from around every corner as we explored the city.  Florence was a day of indulgence for us, beginning with a delicious lunch of truffled pasta and multiple stops at the colorful gelaterias that pepper the city, but my favorite memory was our discovery of the bright and airy espresso bars, where, for a single euro, you are almost instantly served an expertly made espresso with sugar and a tiny biscotti.  A far cry from the cafe culture in Paris, in Italy there were hardly any tables to linger and people watch; rather one stands at the bar, downs the espresso in one or two sips, and then heads off on their merry way.  To this day, as I’ve stood in many a long cafe line, desperate for caffeine, while those ahead of me placed their very specific drink orders, and I’ve longed for just such an espresso bar to open within walking distance of my office.

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Tuscany

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After an amazing week in Rome, we hopped a train for the Tuscan countryside, where we spent the second week of our honeymoon relaxing in an old farmhouse.  Opting to spend our time enjoying the surrounding fields and vineyards instead of renting a car and driving from town to town, we stocked up on groceries and made the most of our farm house kitchen.  Every day we cooked our own meals and ate them in the shade of a row of cypress trees, occassionaly ducking over to the stone store house on the property where we had access to wine made from local grapes.  Occasionally we took a bus or train to visit ancient nearby towns, but mostly we wandered around the property through meadows and fields, admiring the wildflowers, devouring book after book in the shade, and drowsily watching the afternoon sun set the surrounding pond and vineyards aglow with golden light.

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Wanderings: California

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Growing up in Texas, I never thought much about California.  I knew it had heat and deserts, oceans and hippies, traffic and urban sprawl, and I had all of those things already, while the things we didn’t have, like mountains and movie stars and earthquakes, didn’t interest me much.  The east coast was what gripped my childhood imagination.  I longed for dense cities, noise, snow, apple cider, seasons, and sweaters, and for the last seven years they’ve been mine all mine.


And yet, 18-months ago, we got the opportunity to spend a lot of time in California, and being the people we are, leapt at the chance to explore a new place in depth.  We visited deserts and mountains, oceans and orange groves, vineyards and ancient forests.  We biked across the foggy coast, visited old missions, kayaked with sea lions, ate ridiculous amounts of fish tacos and roasted artichokes, and listened to the waves crash against the coast again and again.  I’m not sure when California crept into my heart, but slowly I fell for her, hard and unexpectedly.


Now our travels there have finally come to an end, and I’m sad and mournful for California in a way I’ve never been for a place.  I miss the slower speed of life, the dry heat of the desert, and the cool damp of the coast.  I long to drive through eucalyptus groves with the windows down and to smell the strawberries in the air as we pass through the Salinas Valley.  I want to buy giant bags of oranges at roadside stands and I want half the radio stations to be in Spanish.  I miss the mountains and the colors and the Pacific ocean and the palm trees.  Mostly I just want to go back, not for short vacations, but for long stretches of time, maybe forever, and I can’t figure out how to do it.  Someday, maybe I will, but for now, here’s a travelogue of our time on the west coast, my love letter to you, California.

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Monterey

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Carmel-by-the-sea

Santa Cruz

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Drives and Hikes

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Los Angeles

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Sonoma Valley

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Big Sur

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Joshua Tree National Park

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Yosemite National Park

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Sequoia National Park

Orange groves

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I would gladly spend every weekend wandering around my own orange grove, the smell of blossoms thick in the air, intoxicating both me and the thousands of bees buzzing from blossom to blossom.

California.  March 2015.

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California wildflowers

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There are days we live as if death were nowhere
in the background;
from joy to joy to joy, from wing to wing,
from blossom to blossom to impossible blossom, to sweet impossible blossom.
-Li-Young Lee
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Farewell, Carmel

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Over the last eighteen months, we’ve spent a lot of time in Carmel-by-the-Sea, eating at great restaurants, admiring all the tiny charming houses, but most of all, loving the beach, with its twisted cypress trees, white sands, and blue-green waters.  At this point, I don’t know when we’ll be able to come back again.  Not too terribly long, I hope. To say goodbye, we gathered a few of our dear ones and enjoyed one last bottle of wine, watching the sun set and listening to the crash of the waves.

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Moro Rock

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A last minute and unexpectedly delightful stop, the climb up Moro Rock was heart-pounding, and the sheer drops over the side of the rock made my knees wobbly if I looked down too long.  At 6,700 ft, the views were stunning, shifting and opening-up again and again as you zigzagged your way up the rock.  It was lovely to look out over the expanse of forest and valley, and to have a last glimpse at the Sierra Nevadas in the distance.

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The giant forest

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One of the more magical afternoons we’ve had in California was spent hiking in a quiet forest of glowing giants.  The air was crisp and the light was golden, and every time we came upon another giant copse of sequoia, it was all I could do not to lie down on the springy pads of pine needles at their feet, and, surrounded by my fortress of giants, stare up at the treetops until I drifted off to sleep

Sequoia National Park, California.  March 2015.

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Girl in the grove

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Sequoia National Park, California.  March 2015.

Roots

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Sequoia National Park, California.  March 2015.

Fallen giants

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King’s Canyon National Park, California.  March 2015.

Wanderings: Sequoia National Park

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For our final visit to California (where the Mister is finishing up a graduate degree), we decided to travel in a couple days early so we could visit Sequoia National Park.  Over the years, I’ve been lucky enough to visit a few redwood groves, but had never seen their giant cousins, the ancient sequoias, and couldn’t miss this last opportunity.  Driving into the mountains, you expect the trees to grow gradually larger as you ascend, but instead, they suddenly double and triple in size just past the park entrance, and we exclaimed and pointed loudly again and again as we made our way to our lodge.  Later we’d find ourselves in awed silence again as we encountered trees bigger than we could have imagined.  As someone who often communicates memory and experience through photographs, I found myself struggling to find ways to capture the scale and grandeur of this wonderful place, and finally gave up on that as I got lost in the way the magical, golden light bounced off the reddish bark of the trees, setting the ancient forest aglow.

Tips for your visit:

  • In general, this is the best resource I found for deciding which hikes to take and what to expect when you take them.
  • While nearly everyone in California seems to tell you to visit in summer, I’ve loved all our off-season visits.  You often feel like you have the place to yourself, especially if you set off on your hike first thing in the morning.
  • However, if you come before mid-May, it’s likely that the road to nearby King’s Canyon National Park will be closed.  Keep that in mind when planning your visit.
  • There are very few places to eat or buy food in the park, and those places that do, close on the early side.  Consider coming prepared with hiking snacks.
  • In the winter, gas can also be hard to come by in the park.  We were able to refill at the Hume Lake Christian Camp gas station, which is located north of the John Muir Lodge.
  • When visiting the General Sherman tree, be sure to save a couple of hours to leisurely explore the nearby Congress Trail, a lovely and not too strenuous loop that starts nearby.  This walk is much quieter than visiting the big Sherman and Grant trees, but passes by dozens of other impressively large sequoia including several gorgeous clusters of these towering giants.
  • The Grant grove is an hour drive northwest of the Sherman tree and the Giant Forest area, but its lovely and worth the drive if you have some extra time, especially to see and even walk through the remains of several fallen beauties.
  • Moro Rock is a steep and vertigo-inducing climb, but the constantly shifting views over Sequoia and King’s Canyon are worth every step.
  • Tunnel Tree is as touristy as it gets, but too much fun to skip.  You’ll get the best photo if you have your driver/passengers lean out the window as they pause under the log.  The Auto Log, however, was far less interesting.  Feel free to pass on by.
  • If you are very lucky, and a quiet walker, you may run across a few adorable marmots lurking in the lower hollows of the trees.

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We will know it’s coming to an end

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Today we are heading to California for the last of our scheduled trips, and already, I find myself emotional and mildly panicked at the thought that this part of our lives is nearly over.  I never expected to like California very much, and, as it turns out, I’ve fallen very much in love.  With the mountains and the deserts, the forests and the fertile valleys, the classic cars on every road, the lush vineyards, the speed of life, the unending battle between the sunshine and the foggy marine layer, and the cold wild Pacific Coast, all of which have already begun to haunt my dreams.   I’ve spent years listening to love songs written to California; how foolish to think that this place wouldn’t get at my heart, too.  All week long I’ve been listening to sad songs, reading Cheryl Strayed’s Wild, looking at photos, and getting a little weepy.  California, I’m not ready to let you go.

Photo from Yosemite, California. January 2015.

Pacifica, her siren song

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The west coast is calling my name.  Soon, California.  Soon.

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Carmel-by-the-sea, California.  January 2015.

May the road rise to meet you

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This Saint Patrick’s Day is a little more exciting than usual, since we are headed to Ireland later this spring.  I can’t wait to roam that beautiful countryside with my favorite Irish guy by my side ❤  Here is a little patch of shamrocks we found while hiking last fall in Big Sur.

Machu Picchu

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Are there adequate words to describe a place as breathtaking as Machu Picchu?  If there are, I can’t seem to find them, even now, several years later.  We arrived just before the sun rose, and spent most of the day wandering around the ruins in quiet disbelief that this was real, that we were there.

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Arequipa

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Arequipa, in southern Peru, is a lovely city, but my heart only really remembers the Monasterio de Santa Catalina.  Built nearly 450 years ago, the monastery was built as a cloister for upper-class nuns, and it is one of the most beautiful and peaceful places I have ever been.  Even now, when I try to find a quiet place in my mind, I travel back there, and I sincerely hope I’ll get to visit again someday.

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Lake Titicaca

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We spent a few days in and around Lake Titicaca, sleeping on its shores in Puno, floating around on Uros, beautiful islands entirely constructed of reeds, and having a lovely lunch on Taquile, where I bought a beautiful woven bracelet that I still wear every day.

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Wanderings: Peru

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Winter seems to be extending her icy hand into March, and since we’re still a week away from longer days, I thought it might be fun to share a few photos from greener days.  Several years ago we spent a couple of weeks traveling around Peru.  It was an absolutely magical adventure, spanning emerald mountains, golden deserts, massive lakes, and wild rocky coasts, forcing us to stretch the limits of our abilities in Spanish, brave foreign cross-country bus trips, and cope with headaches and aching lungs while hiking at high altitudes.  They were a couple of the best weeks of my life.

Here are few photos taken around Cuzco and Lima.

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Three hours of daylight, all of them gray

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New York City.  February 2015.

Touch the sky

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Having fun with reflections in the water on a short hike out to Mirror Lake.

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