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Should I Take an All-Inclusive Vacation? – 5 Things to Consider

All-inclusive.  Some people swear by all-inclusive and love it for its hassle-free ease.  Others abhor it because it’s not “real travel” and allows people to vacation without really escaping their comfort zone.  What’s really up with all-inclusive vacations and when (if ever) should you take one?  Here are five things to consider in making your decision on all-inclusive vacations.

1.  What is your purpose in traveling – Culture? Relaxation? Adventure? Exploration? Escape?

The biggest factor in deciding whether or not to take an all-inclusive vacation is deciding on what kind of vacation you really want to take.  Be honest and don’t let other people’s opinions influence you.  If you want to discover new foods and culture, to really explore and get to know a place, then perhaps pass on all-inclusive this time around.

However, if you want nothing more than to escape and relax, then all-inclusive is a very good option.  How many times do people return home and say, “I need a vacation from my vacation”?  (Which really, who ever feels sorry for that person? Boo hoo, you are worn out from your awesome travel to destination x) Anyways, with all-inclusive packages, this will not be the case.  Your “stressful” decisions will likely consist of: do we go to the beach first or go to the swim-up bar first?  Very horrible indeed.

Our Morning View - Not Bad Eh?

Not having a schedule or anywhere to be was very nice.  Because you are on vacation with the goal of relaxing, you don’t feel as though you are missing out on “cultural destination A” or “museum B” when you opt to take a leisurely breakfast followed by a mid-morning nap on the beach.

For example, one day Ryan and I found ourselves at the swim up bar drinking el capitain con dieta at 9AM.  By lunch, we had polished off a bottle to ourselves.  Completely acceptable.  Would we do these things on a backpacking trip in Peru?  Likely not.

Still, you might want to do some adventuring and exploring.  On our trip, we took out kayaks that were available at our beach and took a day excursion to Tulum and Xel-ha.  At Tulum, we toured the Mayan ruins.

© Heather Freitag 2011

For more detail on our Tulum experience, you can check out my earlier post here.  Xel-ha is like an amusement park but built into a natural lagoon and focused on the water.  You can snorkel, float down in tubes, cliff jump, zip line, bike, see the cenotes, etc.  For additional fees you can swim with dolphins or manatees, walk on the bottom of the ocean and snuba.  More on this at a later date.  Point is, you can find a way to work excursions into your all-inclusive vacation.

2. Food

All-inclusive means all of your food and beverages are included, which is nice because there is no need to carry cash.  Our mini-fridge had a constant stash – especially nice to have the water to bring about.  If you are hungry or thirsty, you can go to one of the restaurants at almost any hour of the day.  Don’t like what you ordered?  Order something else.  At the same time, it means that you are likely to take in all of your meals at the resort instead of venturing out to find restaurants or street vendors.

On the negative side, and not unsurprisingly, the food at all-inclusive resorts is usually mediocre.  Yeah, it’s good or maybe okay, but certainly not anything to rave about.  Our resort tried to liven things up with multiple restaurants:  the buffet, an American sports bar, a Japanese restaurant, an Italian restaurant, a Mexican restaurant, a coffee bar and some snack places.  Still, for the most part, it was just so-so.  The one thing I will say for our resort…breakfast was just what I wanted.  Every morning I had a made-to-order egg white omelet packed with veggies, smoked salmon, fresh baguette, fresh pineapple, a yogurt, fresh grapefruit juice and coffee.  Breakfast was by far the best meal.

Nevertheless, if you consider yourself a foodie and want nothing less than absolutely delicious, authentic local cuisine prepared by the friendly and informative unlikely chef who shares their life story with you while the two of you sit outside at the small, but charming neighborhood hole-in-the-wall, then all-inclusive will leave you sorely disappointed.

3. Becoming a Local

Many people travel with the intent of learning about another culture:  language, customs, food, daily routines, etc. and trying to “become a local”.  It’s a fantastic aspect of travel and honestly if this is truly your goal, you can work it into any type of trip – at least in some respect.  Usually people don’t think of becoming immersed in a new country when they think of all-inclusive.  Rightly so.  But, you can still make efforts.  I spoke as much Spanish as I could with the resort employees and I actually learned a lot and was getting to be decent at basic things.  When we ventured out, Ryan chatted with all of our drivers, who were all very eager to tell us about Mexico.  Still, this is obviously a far cry from the immersion you can experience during other types of travel.  Really, it’s more of a mild exposure than an immersion.

4. Kids

Let me start this by saying I do not have kids, but I hope to have them one day.  That being said, I used to think that there was nothing more annoying than a bratty child acting like a hooligan without any supervision, or worse – with a shoddy “parent” just standing idly by while their kid acts like a hellion.  Then I realized, it’s soooo much worse when you are on vacation and trying to relax.

When I took an all-inclusive trip in college I didn’t see many children.  I went to the Dominican Republic and, with it’s relative instability compared to other tropical destinations, it’s probably not a family favorite.  Or, perhaps the lack of children was because I was in college and chose the cheapest resort imaginable.  Whatever the case, I guess the downside of being able to afford a fairly nice place is that families think it will be nice too.  There were more kids than I would have liked on my last vacation.

This simple fact alone could have been okay had the parents been in control.  They were NOT.  Kids were jumping off of the swim-up bar stools into the pool, splashing the bartender and getting pool water in everyone’s drinks; wrestling and throwing each other in the pool; coughing all over the food at the buffet; a band of 9 year old heathens were running amok in the coffee bar unsupervised at 10:30PM trying to order cappuccinos.  The very astute barista made them evaporated milk with flavoring.  Again, I blame the parents more than I blame the kids; but regardless, they were annoying and I certainly could have done without seeing any of them.

Of course, I’m not the first person to think it would be nice to be on vacation without any little kids screaming or running around like banshees.  Thus the birth of adults-only resorts.  The drawback is that these types of resorts are almost always much more expensive for the luxury of being child-free.  So, if you are thinking of all-inclusive try to gauge the family-friendliness of your resort or at least keep in mind that your moments of relaxation and bliss may be dotted with interruptions from incredibly annoying, miniature holy terrors.

5. Vacation Preparation

Planning a vacation can be a big undertaking.  There are a lot of pieces to travel and so many options!  Personally, I like researching and planning on the front end of a trip and also leaving room to be spontaneous and flexible while I am traveling; but, for many people this is very overwhelming and can be a deterrent.  If this is you, all-inclusive is a fantastic option.  Once you choose your destination, find a resort and pick your travel dates, your decision-making responsibilities are over.  This takes the stress out of planning for many people and leaves them time to just be excited about their upcoming trip.  You could also use a travel agent, but they can be expensive.

Another big part of preparing to travel is saving up money.  If you don’t want to go the hostel route, all-inclusives are pretty great as far as their value.  Most packages are bundled with airfare on many travel websites.  For the Caribbean and Mexico I would recommend using Cheap Caribbean.  I booked my last vacation through them and was very, very happy with it.

Room at Ocean Coral and Turquesa

Obviously, the descriptions above may not apply to every all-inclusive resort, but I think each point is a good thing to think about if you are considering an all-inclusive vacation.  Overall, I would say the biggest difference with all-inclusive vacations is that it really is all about relaxing – an all-inclusive vacation will likely be the least stressful vacation you will ever go on. 

 
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Posted by on September 8, 2011 in Food and Drink, Travel

 

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Ancient Mayan Ruins – the City of Tulum

When people think of the Mayans they likely think of two things: ruins and apocalypse.  If you came across this post hoping for apocalypse news, I’m afraid you will be disappointed.  Apocalypse will just have to wait one more year.  In the mean time, I did decide to get off my ass and leave the luxury (and drinks) of my all-inclusive resort to check out some ruins – more specifically, the Mayan city of Tulum.

The Walled City

When you see Tulum, it is not hard to understand why someone would want to live there, with its absolutely stunning views of the ocean.  Of course, the Mayans weren’t necessarily in the market for a summer home.  More likely, they chose Tulum for the water access, as the city was an important trade port.  Still, I’m pretty sure they didn’t mind the view…

Not a bad view

Even with a storm approaching, the view is fantastic!!!

Storm approaching, but I'm still enjoying my view

Beyond the incredible beauty, Tulum is a very smart place to set up camp.  Perched atop a cliff and surrounded on one side by water, Tulum has an awesome natural defense.  If that weren’t enough, there is also a reef in the water, allowing ships to enter the bay through one narrow passage only.  Watchtowers dot the border for defense and to spot incoming ships bringing in or picking up goods.  These buildings also served as lighthouses to help the sailors navigate the water and beaches.  According to our guide, they also had conch shells set up that acted as bad weather and hurricane “alarms”.  The wind needed to be of a certain strength to force the conch to sound the alarm.  Pretty cool.

Watchtower along the shore

On the landward sides, the city is encircled by a high wall, which gave it the name Tulum, meaning wall or fence.  Originally, the city was called Zama, or sunrise.  It seems the name was changed by explorers that “discovered” the city; but, both names seem fitting to me.  Anyways, the wall not only served as a defense, but also separated the rulers and priests from the common people.  Commoners…ugh.

Ryan breaching the perimeter

Inside the wall, was a very advanced society, especially when you keep in mind that the city was built around 465 AD and peaked in the 13th-15th centuries.  The Mayans had their own system of writing, very clearly were advanced in math and architecture, and invented the zero.  In addition, their astronomers were obviously ballers.  The things they were able to figure out were amazing.  For example, the building below was meticulously planned and constructed so that the sun would shine through the window during the spring equinox.  People still gather at Tulum to see this.

Equinox through the building on the left

Here’s a closer look:

Even the buildings that aren’t perfectly aligned with an equniox are still fascinating.  This building below is the Temple of the Frescoes that was used as an observatory.  On the corners, the faces of Gods are carved.

Temple of the Frescoes

You can sort of make out the face carved in the nearest corner, but here they are a little closer up:

Face of the God

Overall, it’s pretty damn impressive that they were able to build these structures without the help of machinery or modern technology.  It is obvious when you look at them that it took a lot of effort to erect these.  Plus, they are still standing after all this time!!! (I doubt that a lot of our modern buildings could pass this test of time)

© Heather Freitag 2011

Reverence to the Gods

The Mayans, like the Greeks and Romans, worshiped Gods.  Worship was not only part of their spiritual life, but also had a big effect on many other aspects.  For example – construction.  Stairs going up the temple were purposely constructed to be very shallow, forcing the people to walk up and down the stairs sideways.  In doing so, you could never turn your back on the Gods, nor could you look at them directly (suggesting that you are equal).

Similarly, the doorways to the building below, The Temple of the Descending God, were made to be very low so that you had to bow to enter.

Low entryway to show reverence

Though human sacrifices were performed in other Mayan cities, Tulum celebrated the God of Life, and so people were spared.  Instead, they sacrificed animals such as jaguars, animals that were easily captured…  While human sacrifices may seem barbaric, Tulum shows that the Mayans also celebrated life and appreciated it.  In reality, it’s not all that different than the modern day willingness to sacrifice lives for the cause of war.  It doesn’t show a disrespect or devaluing of life, but an understanding of a greater purpose and belief that the life is being given for a cause.  People in Mayan civilizations actually battled it out through games to compete for the opportunity and honor of being sacrificed.  I would lose on purpose.

So, how can you beat Tulum?  Awesome ruins, great beach views, no human sacrifices and lots of history – I highly recommend it!  One tip – it can get pretty hot.  I would go early and bring water.  Also bring your suit because the beach is open for swimming!

 
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Posted by on August 8, 2011 in History, Photography, Travel

 

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Friday Escape on a Thursday!? – MEXICO!

Yes, it is a Thursday; but, for me it is a Friday because Ryan and I are off to MEXICO!!!  Although we have both traveled internationally, we have never done so together.  Plus, oddly enough, I have never been to Mexico, so I’m pretty excited.  And really, it’s all-inclusive on a beach so you can’t go wrong.  Just in case you have any doubts on how awesome it is going to be…here’s a little video of our resort – Ocean Coral & Turquesa.

Sometimes you just want to lay in the sand, listen to the ocean and sip on some drinks – especially if you spend way too many hours per day sitting at a windowless cubicle doing mindless work.  Strangely though, I plan to get up early every day (I’m very motivated on vacation).  It’s not the same as getting up early to zombie walk to the metro and continue my day as an office drone.  In Mexico, I can get up early, get an iced coffee, do a little yoga on the beach and then nap for awhile.  Maybe I get thirsty so I wake up and get a margarita.  Peruse a few magazines or read some silly no-thought-required beach read on my kindle.  Lunch and then a post-lunch kayak in the waves. More margaritas.  If I get to hot, I’ll jump into the pool and belly up to the swim-up bar.  You get the idea.

In addition to our relaxation time, we also plan to visit some ruins!  Should be a fantastic time – see you next week!

 
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Posted by on July 28, 2011 in Friday Escape, Travel

 

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Friday Escape – Hogwarts

I know everyone is talking about Harry Potter; but quite honestly, they should!  The books and movies are fantastic and I am pretty excited to see the latest installment.  As such, today’s Friday Escape is Potter-themed, or rather, a Potter theme park!

I vaguely remember hearing that a Harry Potter theme park was springing up somewhere in Orlando.  It didn’t really stick in my mind as something I should remember to check out and I haven’t been to Orlando since I was around fifteen, so I completely forgot about this.  Then Ryan and I decided to re-visit movie 7.1 before we go see the last movie.  In the previews, they show footage of the theme park, and I have to say, it looks pretty awesome.  

Visitors to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter are surrounded by the same stores and buildings from the books and movies.  The similarities are incredible as Universal worked with the movie studio to make the buildings as true to the sets as possible.  You can also travel through the books with Harry-inspired rides, browse shops where you can purchase all of the Harry Potter gear you could ever want (or never wanted), and re-fuel at a restaurant where you can get a pint of Butterbeer or pumpkin juice (or real adult bevies).

Granted, I’m not going to be putting Orlando anywhere near the top of my travel list; but, if someone could wave a wand and make it so I was exploring the land of Harry Potter instead of sitting in my cubicle, I would take them up on the offer.

 
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Posted by on July 15, 2011 in Friday Escape, Travel

 

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Three Perils of Mountain Biking and Tips for Avoiding Them

After keeping you all in suspense, I’m sorry to report that mountain biking was uneventful and that I was awesome at it…or, something like that.  Honestly, although I had some concerns about trying mountain biking, I truly thought I was going to be really good at it.  I’m athletic and have good biking endurance from commuting and riding my road bike.  I was slightly off in my confidence and assesment of skills – just slightly…

The drive up to Raystown was per usual:  me as dj, a stop at Burger King for lunch, and meandering through a mix of quaint and sketchy little towns.

The always classy Breezewood Motel

By the time we made it up to the Susquehannock Campground (the primitive sites, instead of where we usually stay at Seven Points) on Friday, we decided just to set up camp, make dinner and hang around by the fire – no riding just yet.  So I joyfully sat watching the fire lick up the logs, sipping on my oh-so-tasty Avery IPA (hoppy, delicious craftbrew in a CAN), blissfully ignorant of things to come.  

Saturday morning, we swung over to Rothrock Outfitters to pick up my women’s specific bike. 

The folks at Rothrock are super chill and very friendly.  They tightened up my bike, gave me an extra tube, I signed a waiver and I became the proud renter of a Scott Contessa 50.  I will say, I highly recommend using these guys.  They also have kayaks for rent, camping gear, and even Ruff Wear equipment for your adventure dogs!  Plus, their shop is pretty cool and is just 15-20 minutes from the campground in Huntingdon, which is worth checking out itself.  

Back at camp, it was time to set sail on my maiden voyage.  My initial concern with mountain biking was the tree roots and rocks on the trail.  Ryan assured me that you don’t really notice them and you just kind of pop over them.  I was skeptical.  But, after riding on the road by our campsite to make sure my seat was adjusted properly, Ryan had me “off-road” through our campsite.  I quickly saw that rocks and roots were of no concern and I was now feeling unstoppable with my one major concern now pushed aside.  Silly…

Peril #1 – Speed

As I very quickly learned, so many mountain bikers like the trails at Raystown because of their “flow”.  I just thought this meant the trails were smooth.  Basically, it means that the trails are built in such a way so that you can build speed and momentum and rarely pedal.  To me this meant I was stuck in a maze of rocket boosters propelling me toward trees and off of cliffs at warp speeds.  Perhaps a slight exaggeration, but let me explain my fear of speed…

I got my first big girl bike for my 5th birthday.  I had picked it out and was super excited.  But, once I got the bike, I was terrified to ride it.  Without the safety of my training wheels there were too many unknowns.  How was I supposed to balance the bike, steer and pedal all at the same time?  Wasn’t I bound to crash and get hurt?  I would not get on the thing – how could my parents even buy me such a unsafe gift?  Finally, my mom gave me a deadline.  If I did not ride the bike by then, she would sell it to another little girl that would.  So I pouted for a week, waited until the last day, got on the bike, started crying as my dad jogged along side of me and just like in a movie, tipped over as soon as I noticed he was gone.  I was like this with lots of “daring” acts – rollerblading, water slides, cliff jumping, etc.  Not exactly Evel Knievel.  

So, back to the mountain biking…the first trail we were on was ok, but was enough to get me a little nervous.  I felt much more out of control then I would have liked.  Then we went onto the hydroloop.  This loop was complete with a lakeview.  Lovely for those who aren’t worried about falling off the trail and tumbling down into the lake, but for me it just increased my anxiety.  I was on my brakes practically the entire time trying my best not to pick up any speed whatsoever.  At this point, I learned that using the rear brake caused my bike to fish tail a little bit.  Usually this wouldn’t be that problematic, but at my slow speed fish tailing combined with roots and rocks made for a little bit of a challenge.  So, I started using my front brake…(a hint of foreshadowing here).

Then we hit the doe trail – my favorite!  It was flat and mellow and everything I thought mountain biking was going to be.  I pedaled and was in control of my own speed.  It was a nice bike ride through the woods and it was awesome!  The trail was punctuated with a couple little rock gardens that I actually was able to navigate and was really beginning to like this. 

The doe trail connected to another and we wound our way to a nice scenic overlook, where we stopped to take in the view, take a little break, and snap a photo!  This was just like hiking, but faster!  I could get into this.

At the overlook

Then came berry trail…

The berry trail had overgrown thorny bushes that snagged at your skin and pulled and scratched as you rode past.  I have many little scraps from these and I couldn’t help but think that this was the dumbest thing ever and nobody could think this trail is fun.  It just got worse…a set of rollers.  These rollers were downhill and I was going way to fast for my own liking.  I couldn’t stay completely on the brakes so I had to pump them.  Then it got to a point where I couldn’t really control my speed at all and I caught air off of one of the hills. I panicked, slammed on my brake (the front one) and caused the bike to buck me off into the thorny berry bushes.  This leads to mountain biking lesson #1 – do not slam on your front brake because you will get bucked off.

Scratches from falling in the bushes

Unfortunately for me, I’m a slow learner and I bucked myself two more times after this.  On one such occassion, I landed against a log.  I have a lovely bruise on my back to remind me of why you should not ever jam on the front brake.

Peril #2 – Feet Positioning

For a little while, we hit some parts of the trail that “suck” – climbs.  I liked these parts.  Although they are a lot of work, I was in control of my speed and direction.  During some of the climbs, I would get a little squirrely and the bike would start zig-zagging up the hill.  Ryan gave me mountain biking lesson #2 – keep your eyes three feet ahead of you and your bike will track straight.  Genius trick that worked like a charm!  These parts I did fairly well on. 

As we kept riding I was feeling more and more confident.  Then came mountain biking lesson #3 – keep your pedals level with one another.  Even when I ride my road bike, I usually ride with one foot down and one up when I’m coasting.  I took this same stance to mountain biking.  Well, what happens when you do that on mountain biking trails is you catch your pedal and/or foot on the ground, a rock, a root, etc.  Lucky for me I only hit the pedal and it just startled me.  You can really, really hurt yourself doing this so DON’T.

Ryan ripping around showing me how it's done - level pedals!

In addition to keeping your feet level when you can, you should also keep your feet on the pedals.  Seems pretty obvious, but trust me, it isn’t always your natural inclination or the will of whatever physics is going on.  I was not using clip pedals for very obvious reasons, so I had flat pedals and tennis shoes on.  On a few occassions my foot slipped off of the pedals.  Most of the time it was just an annoyance, but once it caused me to slip off the bike.  Luckily, it was just on a climb.

Beyond the things out of your control, there is also fear.  My fear came into play during the banked turns, or berms.  While experienced people will say they are fun and easy and your bike will naturally go around them, I say that they are horrific.  I rode through two or three and was convinced I was going to wipeout, so I took my feet off to brace myself or to try to cushion my landing or whatever was going through my mind…I don’t know.  Well, Ryan informed me that if I kept doing that and did fall or catch my foot on a root or rock, then I would break my ankle or leg.  So, do not do this either.  Keep your feet on the pedals and level.

Feeling good despite 3 falls (feet still not level...)

Peril #3 – Shit Happens

After three falls and a handful of close calls, I was still a little shaky on this activity.  Just when my confidence was getting up, I would fall again or almost fall.  Then toward the end, I decided to go for it.  The last set of rollers were pretty level, instead of downhill, and the turn at the end seemed gradual and easy to make.  So, for only the fourth or fifth time all day, I completely let off of the breaks and rode through the entire section.  I was gaining speed, pedaling right off the jumps, and genuinely having fun and loosening my death grip on my handlebars.  Then, before I knew what happened, I had wrecked HARD and was lying face down half on the trail, half not.  WTF?!?

After Ryan helped pick me and my bike up, he showed me where the trail washed out and why I had wrecked.  I took only the tiniest bit of solace in the fact that there were tread marks from where other bikers had clearly done the same thing.  Still, I was in too much pain to really care that much.  This lesson I call shit happens.  There is not much in way of tips for avoiding this.  Everyone wrecks at some point.  It may be something you did, or it might be a fluke thing in the trail, or an animal stepped in your path or whatever.  Unfortunately, my wreck had some very mean consequences…

I scrapped the hell out of my elbow, which continues to throb even as I type this.

War wound

Different shot of my arm

Then, I must have hit my thigh on my bike or something because I have a scrape across it which is surrounded by a bruise bigger than my hand.  It hurts to walk or touch – you’d be surprised how much you touch your thigh or rest things in your lap.  It sucks.

Giant bruise on my leg

I also managed to smash the area right below my lower abdomen.  I have a nice cut there as well, and what cut would be complete without a bruise?  Don’t worry, fist sized bruise there as well. This one really hurts.  No movement without it hurting.

Overall, I still enjoyed my time mountain biking and had I only ridden on the beginner’s trails, I would have been fine.  Also, if you aren’t pre-disposed to be a speed-fearing spaz, you won’t buck yourself off.  Really, I should have only wrecked the last time.  Still, even just that one time, well…especially that last time, was a tough fall and I am definitely still feeling it.  If you do go, which I would still encourage most people to do, keep in mind the following tips:

  • Start on beginner’s trails and work your way up
  • Try not to let fear get the best of you and don’t over think things
  • Do NOT slam on your front brake or you will get bucked off your bike
  • Keep your feet on your pedals and level whenever possible
  • Look three feet or so ahead of you to keep your bike tracking straight

The night was spent nursing my wounds with some cold beers, delicious burgers, Ibuprofen and ice.  There was no way I was riding in the morning, so Ryan went out on his own and I cleaned up camp.  After returning my rental bike, Ryan and I explored Huntingdon a little bit.  We were going to go to Boxer’s Cafe, which is supposed to be awesome, but it was closed on Sundays.  We’ll have to get it next time.  

We drove around a bit, passed Puff convenience store (specializing in cigarettes) and then decided on pizza!

We had some tasty mozzarella sticks before moving on to a truly delicious white pizza with garlic, cheese and tomatoes courtesy of the Original Italian Pizza.

Great pizza... and cheap beer to go!

It was certainly a much better choice then the strangely named restaurant at the campground marina, which has mediocre food and bad service.  However, hilarious slogan of “what would life be without memories”.

With bellies full of pizza, we decided to rent kayaks and paddle around the lake for awhile. A safe and gentle activity for my sore and recovering body.

Until next time…

Mountain biking/mother nature – 1, Heather – 0

 
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Posted by on July 11, 2011 in Camping, Cycling, Food and Drink, Travel

 

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Picasso & Cafe Con Leche

“Painting is just another way of keeping a diary”

            ~Pablo Picasso

Picasso had paintings, I have this blog!  I’m sure my blog is just as relevant and game-changing 😉  Anyways, last weekend I had the opportunity to see the Picasso exhibit at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond.

VMFA

The collection is a rare traveling exhibit from the Musee National Picasso in Paris and is comprised of many pieces that Picasso kept until his death, at which time his family donated them to the museum created in his name.  It is unique in its size and in that it spans throughout his life and various styles and mediums.  I’m not a huge Picasso fan, but I felt like I couldn’t pass this opportunity up!  If you have a chance to see this exhibit before it leaves (last day is May 15th), I would recommend it; but, word of warning – the wait line was a little ridiculous, especially considering you get timed tickets.

Still, the collection was really interesting and had two of my favorite Picasso pieces – Two Women Running on the Beach – and a painting of Marie-Therese, one of his mistresses who hung herself after his death.

A portrait of Marie-Therese entitled Reading

Ryan also found something that he really dug – a bull head formed out of an old bike seat and handlebars.  After making our way through the exhibit, we popped in to see some of the Greek and Roman art, a Faberge collection, some Japanese woodblock prints and Ice Man, a sculpture of the ancient natural mummy found in the Alps (Ryan called this out from across the museum – impressive!).

While in Richmond, we also took the time to explore some of the vintage shops along Cary Street.  I do wish we would have had more time, because I know I would have spent hours exploring!  Ryan looked quite fetching in this top hat:

Hitched My Bonecrusher up so I Can Look for Some New Tweed

Hahahaha.  Why nobody rocks a top hat anymore is beyond me.  Ryan’s gonna bring it back.

We also had the awesome experience of Kuba Kuba while in Richmond.

This place is the best – tiny, intimate restaurant, good-natured singing waiter and absolutely yummy food.  Ryan and I shared the black bean soup to start and then it was time to get serious.

Ryan had the Cubano

My GIANT Bowl of Paella - Clams, Mussels, Shrimp & Chorizo

You can only kind of see in the photos, but plantains come with both dishes.  Mmmmmm – the best plantains I have ever had.  The one small downside to Kuba Kuba was no mojitos – they don’t have liqour; however, Ryan did have a refreshingly tart limeade.

Shelves of Cuban Espresso for Sale

Despite the fact that the buttons on my dress were literally popping open if I breathed out too deeply, we got two iced cafe con leches to go.  BEST DECISION EVER.  Cafe con leche starts off with a strong coffee, sometimes even espresso, and then adds condensed milk and sugar into a delicious little cup of coffee.  I have had cafe con leche once before and really liked it, but iced brought it to a whole new level.  Unreal.

As we walked through town sipping our delicious beverages, we were window shopping the houses, which are beautiful and old – in a good way.  Some of them even had the old coal chute doors.

Old coal chute

We also came across this awesome vintage, two-seater moped.  I would love to scoot around on this thing!

Vintage Moped with Double Seats

Overall, Ryan and I both really liked Richmond. The shops are very cool and interesting, the museum was great and the city is very walkable.  Definitely a city worth visiting, even if just for Kuba Kuba.

 
 

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On rest stops

Ahhh the road trip.  The long and grueling, but generally entertaining way of traveling.  Growing up in Minnesota, I’m no stranger to road trips.  My east coast friends all thought it was insane that my family would wake up early and drive four hours just to fish for the day and drive home, but it was something that was quite normal in our family.  Since I’ve been on the east coast, I’ve taken road trips along the coast to the beach, to visit friends, and on camping trips and bike races with Ryan.  Regardless of distance, location, road trip mates, etc. one thing remains constant – the rest step.

You’re riding along playing angry birds, watching a dvd, playing the license plate game, singing 99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall, or whatever it is you do to amuse yourself in the car, when it hits you – you have to pee NOW.  If you are lucky, a convenient rest stop will be within your reach.  Rest stops, for those that don’t know, are made to be a quick stop just off the freeway that provides you with everything you need to continue on the road – bathrooms, food, drinks, COFFEE, crappy postcards and cheap jewelry and scarves.  What many don’t know, or haven’t realized due to their own tired and beleaguering appearance, is that rest stops are hilarious.

If you enjoy people-watching, a rest stop is your best friend.  Rest stops tend to catch people at their strangest.  They are likely tired, hair disheveled, wearing “comfy” clothes, etc.  Think People of Walmart goes on vacation.  Honestly, I’m not trying to say that I road trip in a suit or evening dress.  I wear yoga pants and flip flops and am looking pretty haggard myself.  I can only hope that I don’t look as horrible as most of the people I see at the rest stop.  Plus, there is the brood of unruly spawns that come screeching and spewing out of the family cars.  These little ones are bursting with energy or are tired and cranky.  Either way, they do some pretty funny things.  On my last trip back from Cambridge, NY, I watched a little girl around 2 years old dump a pop all over the table.  In response her older brother started crying.  Obviously.  The mom was pissed.

Or you may witness a canoodling couple.  Nothing says romance like a dingy, fast-food smelling rest stop.

You will also see an interesting set of workers, like the one I saw:  a plump, cheap tattoo-covered lady with greasy, stringy hair who had a few inches of her thong showing, despite the fact that she was STANDING.

Beyond hilarious people watching, the rest stop mainly serves as a way to stretch your legs, pee and get food.  Even these normal activities will be hijacked by weirdness at a rest stop.

Bathrooms with varying levels of cleanliness, sell a very strange variety of items in their “vending machines.”  You might also see some interesting written messages or stickers, such as the decal I saw advertising eco-friendly feminine products.

As far as food goes, you are basically giving up on healthy choices.  If you are lucky, you will come across the occasional froyo stand; otherwise, it’s mediocre sandwiches and fast food.  When forced with fast food, I almost always want a delicious Whopper Jr.  Now for an unofficial rule of the road:  you will pass countless rest stops advertising whichever place is your preference; but, the second you are ready to eat – nowhere in sight!  So you might think, well next stop will have it, and you continue on.  It does not.  Eventually everyone is hungry and you settle for something else.  Inevitably, the next stop will have what you were looking for.  Grrrrr. Maybe someone will make a rest stop app that will detail all of the restaurants at each place.

For any of you that have been on a road trip you know exactly what I’m talking about in this post.  For those that haven’t buy, rent, borrow or steal a car (ok, maybe not steal), grab some friends and hit the open road!  As you peel off the freeway and pull into the rest stops, keep your eyes open for hilarity and make sure you grab that Whopper Jr. when you can!

 
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Posted by on April 23, 2011 in Travel

 

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