Tag Archives: travel

Weekend Wedding in Monterey, California

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I was vastly appreciative to my niece for choosing to have her wedding in Monterey, California.

Mr. and Mrs.!

Mr. and Mrs!

While I doubt my wishes were high on her list in decision making, I was nonetheless both thrilled to able to share this day with her and enjoy such a picturesque place. While this was not my first time in Monterey (Mini Break in Monterey), it was my first time in the fall and with my family.  We were blessed with the perfect Monterey weekend.

Cannery Row

Cannery Row The Aquarium, Cannery Row

The Murals

Beaches and murals, Monterey, ca

The Foggy Mornings

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Being Tourists

Dippin dots on Cannery Row, Monterey

Cannery row, Monterey, california

Never pass up a weekend in Seaside Northern Californa!

FOR MORE SWEET SPOT TRAVELS: Sweet Spot travels

 

Somewhere in Mexico: Beautiful Bacalar

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Bacalar Lagoon, MexicoWe weren’t supposed to stay there, in fact we considered driving right on by and not even stopping.  However, we hate to feel like we might have missed something (like a talking cross that doesn’t talk, or incidentally – sing!).  So, into the town of Bacalar we went.  The town is small, and still relatively untouched by the tourism hordes.  In fact, it reminded me of the quiet, bohemian feel of Playa Del Carmen long before the overflow from Cancun turned it into a perpetual spring break.

Maybe we were lucky, maybe it was kismet or maybe we simply paid enough travel dues (like flying all the way to Ecuador next to “Forrest Gump” , getting his views on the countries’ high altitude, “lawdy, lawdy it’s high up in there”) – whatever the reason,  we found ourselves outside this gate…

Bacalar, MexicoLike a Mexican gated community.

Our tentative knocks on the gate were greeted by a young women’s head squeezing out of the smallest crack in the gate opening.  We explained to her head that we were looking for a room for the night. We must have looked normal and harmless enough, with one teen’s face stuck to the screen of his phone, and the other scarfing Mexican Doritos and thus we were allowed into the secret chamber.  As soon as we walked in, the reason for the secretive nature became clear…

Bacalar, MexicoWho wouldn’t want to guard this?

The hotel had 5 cabana type rooms, right on the lagoon, nestled in palm trees.  Lucky for us, one of the reservations had decided not to show up and we were more than happy to take their place!

Bacalar, MexicoA room with a view.

We didn’t waste any time jumping into the that beautiful jewel green water…

Bacalar Lagoon, Mexico

Or making use of the hammocks…

Bacalar Lagoon, Mexico

Or digging our toes into that soft (albeit a little creepy in that soft squishy, ‘what exactly is that stuff’  kind of way) spa like mud/sand lagoon bottom.

Bacalar lagoon, Mexico

Or lounging and enjoying meals in the open air lobby…

Bacalar, Mexico Casa Caracol

Or hanging out on the jungle encased swing set…

Bacalar, Mexico

But, eventually we had to say goodbye and move on down the road…

Bacalar Lagoon, Mexico

At least now, we know where the road leads

Bacalar, Mexico

and how to gain access into the inner sanctum…

Bacalar Lagoon, Mexico

Until we meet again…

Bacalar, MexicoFor more travel in Mexico:

Somewhere in Mexico: Roberto Barrios Falls

Somewhere in Mexico: The Talking Cross

Thanks for the Memories, Mexico

For more SWEET SPOT Travel: GO HERE

Somewhere in Mexico: The Talking Cross

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Felipe Carillo Puerto, MexicoI had to keep reminding myself we were in search of a “Talking Cross” and not a “Singing Cross.”  As much as I wanted to be in a Disney movie, the legend only accounted for a cross that had talked (although, seriously, I think the big bucks would have been to go with a cross that could belt one out).  Anyway, as the legend goes…

in 1849, when the War of the Castes turned against them, the Maya of the northern Yucatan Peninsula made their way to Carrillo Puerto seeking refuge.  Regrouping, they were ready to sally forth again in 1850 when a ‘miracle’ occurred.  A wooden cross erected at a cenote on the western edge of the town began to talk – exhorting the Maya to continue the struggle against the Spanish and promising victory (bold cross or ventriloquist?). The oracle guided the Maya in battle for more than eight years, until their great victory, conquering the fortress at Bacalar.  Carrillo Puerto today remains a center of Maya pride – as a symbol of the Maya people’s struggle against inequality and injustice.*

On this particular day of driving from Bacalar to Playa Del Carmen in the state of Quintana Roo in Mexico, we found ourselves in the vicinity of the town of Felipe Carrillo Puerto.  It was decided we could not move forward until we had found and seen this talking cross (secretly, I was still hoping for a Let It Go reprise).

We, duh, went to the main church square in town – seemed like the logical place to find a revered cross.

Felipe Carrillo Puerto, Mexico

I don’t see any inanimate objects here that look loquacious…?

But no luck.  Further inquiries with the very kind overseer at the old church led us next to a location a few blocks away – down a deserted road on the edge of town…

Felipe Carrillo Puerto, Mexico

…where we found the talking cross housed in an old thatch roofed building, with some – while not so illustrious – but very attentive caretakers:

Felipe Carrillo Puerto, Mexico - The Talking Cross

No shoes allowed, no shirts required.

No shoes were allowed worn inside the premises, and apparently one of the caretakers felt this translated to shirts as well.  Anyway, at long last, we were finally able to view the Talking Cross.

The talking cross - Mexico

Teen is enthralled…with the thought of getting an actual coke soon. 

It’s back there behind all the garlands, liter coke bottles filled with water and other various offerings – the reason for which our guide was not really able to explain to us (the cross might get thirsty if it decides to talk again…?)

It did not talk for us (nor did it sing) – but I thought I might have heard a few bars being hummed as we left the premises…or, that might have been Teen doing his best ventriloquist imitation.

For more travels in Mexico:

Somewhere in Mexico: Roberto Barrios Falls

Somewhere in Mexico: Beautiful Bacalar

Thanks for the Memories, Mexico

 

For more SWEET SPOT TRAVELS: Go Here

*Mexico Lonely Planet

Somewhere in Mexico: Roberto Barrios Falls

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Roberto Barrios Falls, MexicoWe briefly wondered if we had made a mistake as we watched the large tour bus, bound for Agua Azul, pull out of our hotel parking lot in Palenque, Mexico.  We, my husband, two teenage sons and I,  had decided instead to go on a quest in search of a different set of waterfalls that day – Roberto Barrios Falls in the small town of (you guessed it) Roberto Barrios.  We were excited about the prospect even though the town of Roberto Barrios was not on any map we could find,  the Cascades de Roberto Barrios were not listed in any guide books or brochures, and other than some random blog posts and a few references on Trip Advisor, the falls seemed to be a bit of a hidden secret (which meant we absolutely had to find them!).

Here is what we did know:

  1.  If we drove 7 km on the road towards Agua Azul there would be a right turn onto a “paved road” and 14 km later we should arrive  in the town of Roberto Barrios.

2.  Once in the town, we needed to find the “central park”.  The central park turned out to be more of a large grassy area with a neat old church.

Photo Aug 04, 6 05 58 PM

3.  We would know we were in the right spot when local children approached us to be our guide to the waterfalls for 20 pesos (about $1.25) per person.

With that limited amount of information, we actually made it to our destination!

Since there was no actual indication of where the falls were, we decided to take up the offer of a guide. Our guide was a teenage boy named Rafael.  He spoke only Spanish.  As we walked down the dirt path into the jungle he explained that the people of the town owned and operated the falls together.  Tourists had only started coming there in the last 4 years but (unfortunately in a way) interest seemed to be growing.

After a relatively short walk down a jungle path,

Roberto Barrios Falls, Mexico

we came upon the first of the several waterfalls and it took our breath away!

Roberto Barrios Falls, Mexico

At Rafael’s suggestion, we continued on the path to the lowest of multiple falls and began our exploration there.

Roberto Barrios Falls, Mexico

We moved up the falls both by walking the path or (in the teens case) climbing up through the rocks and falls to get to the next level up – Going behind waterfalls into small caves to see bats and swimming in the bigger pools.

Roberto Barrios Falls, Mexico

At  one of the upper level pools, there were some natural diving boards to jump off of.

Roberto Barrios Falls, Mexico

At every turn there was another beautiful vista.

Roberto Barrios Falls, Mexico

All of water was a clear sea green, warmed by the sun.

Roberto Barrios Falls, Mexico

We were loath to leave, but as we made the walk back we purchased from local merchants some sliced mango (the most amazing ever,  according to Teen).

Roberto Barrios Falls, Mexico

… fresh off the tree coconut water.

Roberto Barrios Falls, Mexico

 

And homemade fried plantains.

Side note: Afraid to eat homemade food in Mexico? GOOD – that means more for me.  The best food I have  had in Mexico has been at the hands of locals, cooking right on the street or out of their own kitchens and no “Montezuma’s revenge.”

Teen says, in actuality,  bad WiFi in Mexico is Montezuma’s true revenge.

As we were leaving, the local boys were reclaiming their watering hole.  I hope it stays that way.

Roberto Barrios Falls, MexicoFor more Sweet Spot Travels: GO HERE

For more on Mexico:

Somewhere in Mexico: The Talking Cross

Somewhere in Mexico: Beautiful Bacalar

Thanks for the Memories, Mexicog

Sweet Spot Tells All

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chickenbrainsWell, not exactly “all”, but some…

Running today over on fellow Travel Blogger’s site, KarolinaPatryk.com, is Sweet Spot Travel’s first ever interview!

It was an honor and also very fun to answer questions about one of the things I love to do best!  Travel

To check it out – GO HERE! . It is short and, well,  sweet!

 

Also, while you are there,  you might check out Karolina and Patryk’s  wedding plans! Love this unique idea!

More SWEET SPOT TRAVELS

*Cartoon courtesy Doug Savage /www.savagechickens.com

Costa Rica Part 2: No Signs Allowed!

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Costa Rica

Want to get the most out of a trip to Costa Rica? Then, I have one piece of vastly important advice for you…

Rent a car!

But wait, there’s more!

Actually, as with all unsolicited advice, there is a catch.

If you are going to follow my lead and rent a car to get around Costa Rica, (preferably one with 4 wheel drive) it is absolutely essential (in that, always put on clean underwear before you leave the house kind of way) to rent (or bring) a GPS!

Our initial reaction when the rental car salesman in San Jose, Costa Rica started urging us to also rent their Garmin GPS, was something like “Sure, gouge the tourist for more cash!” However, there was something in the earnestness of his insistence (and, the fact that Costa Ricans in general tend to be vastly straight forward about things) that made us finally relent and rent the GPS for $8 per day. It didn’t take long (about two blocks) to realize the complete and utter necessity of the gadget.

You see, the Costa Ricans, while a lovely people in general who really know how to host a traveler in their beautiful country, have a cultural abhorrence for street signage…anywere! Technically the streets all have names – the maps are loaded with them – but trying to find an actual street  sign anywhere in the towns and cities is like looking for a teenager without a phone in hand. Even Costa Ricans, when queried about this phenomena, expressed their own difficulties when travelling to a town they had never been to before.

Now, don’t get me wrong. You will get enough signage to get the general sense of your place in the world,

I think I know the way to San Jose...

I think I know the way to San Jose…

But,  other directions will look like this:

We must be almost there...

We must be almost there…

Or, come from locals (and even printed in online directions) in the form of relational positioning such as “six blocks from the Church”, or “around the corner from the store”, or “over there (points to some distant corner of the town)”. Of course, success with directions of this sort is dependent on knowledge of where the actual “church”, “store”, or “there” is located.

I think he knows where we need to go...but he's not talkin'

I think he knows where we need to go…but he’s not talkin’

By the time we had completed our first drive from San Jose to La Virgen, successfully winding our way around myriads of unmarked streets as the electronic voice told us just where to turn, we were ready to get down and kiss the proverbial feet of our precious rented GPS. (just in the figurative sense, of course – we did not want to look weird). The truth is, without the GPS we would probably still be driving in circles around the mountain towns of Costa Rica (which wouldn’t be so bad, aside from the bothersome reality of work, school and pets demanding to be fed).

About now I suppose you are asking yourself why the crazy Sweet Spot chick is encouraging you to risk driving around Costa Rica at all! Perhaps some perverted plan to send travelers randomly driving in circles around the wilds of Costa Rica?

For one reason, and one reason only – really, the only one that matters.

If you don’t get in a car and drive yourself around Costa Rica, you will miss seeing things like this:

Rio La Paz. Drive from San Jose to La Virgen

Rio La Paz. Drive from San Jose to La Virgen

Farmland - drive from San Jose to La Virgen

Mountain farm – drive from San Jose to La Virgen

Drive from La Virgen to La Fortuna

Drive from La Virgen to La Fortuna

Sheep farm between Jaco and Quepo

Sheep farm between Jaco and Quepo

Beach between Hermosa and Quepo

Beach between Hermosa and Quepo

 

Driving into La Fortuna

Driving into La Fortuna

Drive from Jaco to San Jose

Drive from Jaco to San Jose

The Defense rests.

For other posts on Costa Rica:

Costa Rica Part 1: Take a Picture, It Lasts Longer

Costa Rica Part 3: The Eco Adventures

For more Sweet Spot Travels: GO HERE

 

 

50 Is the New 30 – A Napa Excursion

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Happy Birthday to us!

Happy Birthday to us!

50 is the new 30. I have decided this to be a fact – partly because this is the year I turn 50…actually that is the only reason. However, after a one night stay in Napa, California (yes even at 50 one can still do a “quickie”) with 5 truly inspiring lifelong friends (all of whom occupy my same 50-years-of-age rickety boat), I am more convinced than ever 50 is clearly the new 30.

These women, my fellow Napa excursionists, are accomplished Doctors, Educators, Designers, Writers, Managers,  Business Owners, Moms and Wives – perfect in their imperfections, beautiful both inside and out. And no matter how many years go by without seeing each other, we seem to pick up right where we left off – as if REO Speedwagon had just been blasting on the car radio.

So what do 6 such women ringing in their 50th year do? Meet up in Napa, CA, of course. There is no better place for such a milestone – except for possibly one of those spas where you magically emerge with a face as shiny and wrinkle free as a bowling ball, lips that look like something on a Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade float and perky boobs. But no, I think Napa is definitely the place.

It is beautiful,

Napa, CaliforniaThere is lots of wine.

Napa, California

Now, we just need to get stomping.

Seriously, barrels of the stuff.

Like that little chain is actually going to stop anyone!

Like that little chain is seriously going to stop anyone!

And chocolate is always welcome (hint: it is especially advantageous to have friends of supreme intelligence who know to pack chocolate and lots of it).

Grgich Hills Estate

Grgich Hills Estate

Speaking of packing, we didn’t get to be 50 without learning a thing or two about how to arrive prepared. Since I am the youngest of my group of 6 by at least a full 2 weeks (that’s right, I can retain my youthful status of 49 until almost the end of 2014), I decided to offer to carry everyone’s bags. That is until I saw how much was required for an overnight 6 girl stay in Napa – then I silently reneged (I might possibly have been thinking to myself something like let the old bats carry their own luggage, it’s good for the circulation).

And that is how you arrive prepared!

And that is how you arrive prepared!

And then it was off to the wine tasting, complete with a hired driver to keep us on schedule (and out of jail).

Caymus Vineyards

Caymus Vineyards

All in all, it was the perfect way to spit in the eye of welcome 50.

If I have learned anything in my 50 years it would be this – cherish the people who knew you when you had to wear a head gear to school, thought Leif Garret was cute and attended Jr. High instead of “Middle School”. When it is time to turn 50, they will have your back (and understand why you can’t stay awake past 11:00 pm).

Also (and clearly just as crucial a life lesson) always wear shades when being photographed in bright sunlight.

50 is the new 30 (only, with an earlier bedtime)

50 is the new 30 (only, with an earlier bedtime)

Next time, I follow the rabbit.

 

Big rabbit, hard to miss...

Big rabbit, hard to miss…

All I Got Was This Lousy T-Shirt

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One of my favorite (in a love/hate kind of way) travel oddities is all the souvenir junk one feels compelled to purchase (and pay way too much money for), all in the name of travel memories. The items you absolutely must have whose destiny is to be stuffed in a drawer for a number of years until someday, if you are really lucky, you may get .25 for it at a garage sale.  One of the most annoying,  (although tied in a close race with the snowglobe/paperweight combo and destination logo-ed shot glass), of these travel mementos is the t-shirt with a stupid saying – one that says something like “My parents went to Jamaica and all I got was this lousy t-shirt.” 

So, what does this soliloquy (because, I am sure I am talking to myself these days since my family has ceased to listen) have to do with my ultra lame post today?  Well, just this, I have been so busy with work, kids, life, staying warm, shopping on eBay, doing stuff, I have not had the time nor creativity to write a decent blog (or even an indecent one for that matter).

Ok, here it comes…the great connection…ready?

“I came to Sweet Spot today and all I got was this lousy photo.”

daylight savings

Daylight savings, in February, really?

Here's a quarter, call someone who cares...only, I don't think they take quarters anymore?

Hey, here’s a quarter, call someone who cares…only, I don’t think they take quarters anymore…

And because today’s post could not get any worse (well it could and is about to) a public service announcement:

DON'T TAKE PHOTOS AND DRIVE!DON’T SHOOT (a camera that is) AND DRIVE!

Please, come back again someday, I promise it gets better.

It can only go up from here.

Paris, the Walmart of Love?

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Des Arts Bridge

Des Arts Bridge

After reading recently how we Americans waste too much time playing video games and social networking, I decided to step away from the Candy Crush, with my hands visible at all times, long enough to attempt to hash out an article.  The truth is, I have been procrastinating (i.e. trying to beat the next level) on writing this particular post.  You see, I love Paris (for proof, go here, here and here!).-– even with all the escargot eating (although the Nutella crepe eating ain’t half bad), having to bag my own groceries (it is good to be useful, even when you are the one paying the money), the one waiter haughtily thinking it necessary to inform Teen Steak Tartar was in fact ‘raw meat’ (possibly Teen’s quip “oh, just slap it on the grill, then” was not well timed), Parisians mostly preferring kids be seen and not heard (ok, secretly, I envied that part – see aforementioned quip).  Nonetheless, I love Paris in all its’ facets (especially the Parisian Grandma who “photo-bombed” Teen & Pre-Teen) which is why it pains me to offer this slight criticism of the beautiful city.

Last year on Valentine’s Day, I shared a discovery made during a trip to Italy concerning the Love Locks (We Got to Let Love Rule).  In essence, it is the practice of “locking your love” with a padlock onto a romantic bridge and throwing the key into the river below, thus sealing your everlasting love.  (For more information on rules of engagement and origins of the Love Lock ritual, go here!).

Therefore, it was no surprise to again see Love Locks adorning bridges during a subsequent trip to Paris – all those bridges over the River Seine to choose from! However, coming upon the Love Lock operation on the Des Arts Bridge felt like (I am sorry to say) the Walmart of Love (even though it is completely criminal and not a little bit gross to put those two words together in a sentence).

The whole deal is becoming like a one-stop shopping for the love masses (with a better dress code). Locks can be purchased for a discounted price from dueling street vendors right there on the bridge (after waiting in line, of course). And no longer is the ritual just for the hopeless romantics, but all are welcome – bffs, mom’s and daughters, people who just met for the first time over a latte.  The amount of locks weighing down the bridge is, in a word, outrageous!  Observe. (I swear that really isn’t Pre-Teen kicking the Locks of Love, honest.)

(Video by Teen)

Well, right then and there, Teen, Pre-Teen and I decided if Love Locks were going to be taken to this extreme, clearly, some guidelines needed to be established – a list of DO’s and DON’Ts  as it were. I think you will see what I mean…

Here are  6 of our suggestions!

1.  DON’T use a combination lock to express your devotion.  A key lock says forever, a combo lock says 6 months, tops.

Love Locks

2.  DON’T lock your love onto another’s lock.  Seriously, do you really want the success of your relationship hinged on the backs of several others?  That is like depending on Bieber to stop getting arrested and taking up valuable news time.

Love Locks of Paris

3.  DO make sure your key, when thrown, actually makes it into the water (Teen and Pre-Teen wanted to help out this unfortunate, doomed couple by scooting their key over the edge and into the river, but I told them you can’t mess with providence).

Lost key

4.  DON’T accidentally throw your car, home or hotel keys into the water instead of the keys to your Love Lock – clearly an omen no relationship could survive.

5.  DO, if you are locking your love to a bridge in celebration of a momentous event or anniversary, get the largest lock you can find – because, yes indeed, size matters.

Big Love Locks

6.  DO make sure your lock has a good view.  After all, it is for eternity…or until the next bolt cutter comes around.

Love Locks on Des Arts Bridge

In the wonderful words of Lenny Kravitz – “We Got to Let Love Rule

Only, maybe, with a few guidelines – just to keep the beautiful ritual from becoming any more Walmart-esque, like people showing up in pajamas, or worse yet, locking their love amidst a parade of body parts never meant to see the light of day.

That rumble you hear is Napoleon turning over in his (very large/could fit 20 men) tomb

Happy Valentines Day!

More Paris Posts:

A Paris Perspective:  The Monuments

A Paris Perspective: The City

A Paris Perspective: The River and Bridges

More Travel Posts:

Sweet Spot Travels

Merry Christmas 2013

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What would Christmas be without a boy peeing fountain?  Fortunately, I do not have to find out the depths of such a deprivation,  for on the last day of our recent travels in France, we made one final stop in Brussels, Belgium.  Our main objective for our short time in Brussels?  To vigorously seek out the famous infamous Manneken Pis fountain (pronounced mannequin peace but which Preteen insists on pronouncing mannequin piss, because it seems, well, so much more accurately descriptive…and its fun to say piss).

Sure there was a beautiful decorated tree in the main square – Grote Markt:

Grand Place/Grote Markt - Brussels, Belgium

Grand Place/Grote Markt – Brussels, Belgium

And yes there was a pretty impressive light show set to music on the historic buildings surrounding the Grote Markt Square (well, impressive for the first 10 minutes, the remaining hour seemed repetitive…maybe because  the same three songs kept repeating over and over and over again?).

How many ways can you vary lights on a building?

How many ways can you vary colorful lights on a building, anyway?

And of course there was a living Manger presentation  (although I don’t think the sheep really grasped the importance of their roles in welcoming baby Jesus as they focused primarily on consuming all the manger  hay).

But, at long last, we finally found it –  the one and only Mannekin Pis – the statue of a boy eternally peeing into a fountain pool.  And so festively decorated for Christmas:

What would Christmas be without a decorated fountain of a boy peeing? Brussels, Belgium

What would Christmas be without a decorated fountain of a boy peeing?

And now, my Christmas of 2013 is indeed complete.

A very Merry Christmas from Sweet Spot.

May your holidays be filled with beauty, colored lights, food a-plenty and unexplainable sites.

For more Travel musings: Sweet Spot Travels

A Paris Perspective: The City

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When traveling, I randomly (and my family would say – excessively) shoot picture after picture after picture.  My mantra excuse is always  I never know quite what I will want to share about a city or place – what will stand out, make me laugh, make me want to return.

Likewise, I never know what Teen and Pre-teen are going to glean from our experiences.  In my last post A Paris Perspective: The Monuments, I shared Part One of my photo perspective and Teen’s short but to the point assessment of Paris.  Pre-teen, however, in a moment of rarity, was more loquacious on his impressions.

Pre-Teen’s 4 Parisian Summations:

1.  Napoleon, as basically the only French war hero, pretty much has it made in the eternal “hero-worship” department.

2.  The most memorable experience in Paris is climbing to the top of the Eiffel Tower where the telescope glasses allow you to stalk tourists in the plaza below.

3.  Escargot tastes like, well, eating a snail.

Last, and unarguably the most important…

4. When in Paris,  Nutella filled crepes should be consumed at every possible opportunity, morning, noon and night.

As for mine, again, Paris can speak for itself.

Part 2: The City

The carousel at Hotel de Ville

The carousel at Hotel de Ville

Shops

A city street

The Metro at Saint Michel

The Metro at Saint Michel

The Moulin Rouge

The Moulin Rouge

Jardin de Tuileries

Jardin de Tuileries

View from the Pantheon

View from the Pantheon steps

Galerie Vivienne

Galerie Vivienne

Inside the Galerie Vivienne

Inside the Galerie Vivienne

Place de Concorde

Place de Concorde

And yes, there is a Part Trois – Rivers and Bridges – coming next!

Other Paris perspectives:

A Paris Perspective: The Monuments

A Paris Perspective: The River and Bridges

Paris, the Walmart of Love?

For more Sweet Spot Travel Posts:  Sweet Spot Travels

A Paris Perspective: The Monuments

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There are three things to know about visiting Paris in November:

1.  It will be cold – meaning many of the fountains will be dormant for winter and the gardens will be limited to a fall array of colors and falling leaves.

2.  BUT – There will be no lines or crowds for anything, anywhere, no matter what the monument, museum, or historic landmark!

3.  No matter what the time of year, every corner you turn in Paris will take your breath away.

This was our first time in Paris and as I labored over what to write it finally dawned on me (in much the same way as discovering no matter how prepared or what they are called, Escargot is still a snail) – Paris can quite effectively speak for itself.

Part 1:  The Monuments

View from the top of Notre Dam

View from the top of Notre Dam

Arch de Triumph

Arch de Triumph

Eiffel Tower

Eiffel Tower

The Louvre

The Louvre

Les Invalides - Napoleons Tomb

Les Invalides with Napoleon’s Tomb from inside Rodin Museum Gardens

Notre Dame and the River Seine

Notre Dame and the River Seine

And because it is impossible for me to leave without just one joke…

Mom:  “Teen, what did you think of Paris?”

Teen:  “It is a great city – but the cheese is too old and the meat too raw…”

Stay tuned for Part Deux…(that is two years of high school French at work!)

For more of Paris:

Part 2.   A Paris Perspective: The City

Part 3:  A Paris Perspective: The River and Bridges

Paris, the Walmart of Love?

For more Sweet Spot Travel Posts:  Sweet Spot Travels

Mini-Break in Monterey, CA

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Old Fisherman's Wharf - Monterey, CA

Old Fisherman’s Wharf – Monterey, CA

Actually, the mini-break was my trip out to Northern California – a familial inspired excursion (which is a fancy way of saying, I went to visit my parents).  The Monterey portion of the trip was more like a one day jaunt when a happy circumstance arose to meet up with friends in the coastal city.   So, I guess that makes my trip to Monterey, CA more of a “micro-break” (a totally made up concept, which makes me some sort of trend setter, in my own mind anyway).

So, what does one do with friends and only one day, or rather several hours to spend in Monterey, California?  Duh, go where the food is, of course!  More particularly, Old Fisherman’s Wharf for the clam chowder!

Why is that guy’s floating head in my photo?

And in case you are one of those people who does not do any research on restaurants in advance (like me), not to worry!  For, as we walked down the wharf every restaurant offered us a sample of their version of clam chowder, daring us to consider each the best on the wharf – which made me feel a bit like Gordon Ramsay,  with cuter shoes but not near as coiffed.  Finally we settled on a restaurant mostly because they clearly had the best chowder that day, but also so I could raz my husband, who shares the moniker (ok, he is making me clarify,  “only the Jim part”), about it later.

Hey you people, get your mitts off of my samples!

Hey you people, get your mitts off of my samples!

With the remaining time, I took a walk over to the neighboring pier on San Carlos Beach.

Monterey, California

Once to the end of the pier, I found massive amounts of Sea Lions just “chillin’” in the sun. Stuffed as I was with sample clam chowder, bowl of clam chowder, bread, calamari and the most amazing oyster crackers ever, I was vastly tempted to join them…they, however, did not seem entirely receptive to the idea.

Not the most hospitable group of mammals.

Not the most hospitable group of mammals…unless you are big, brown and have flippers.

In conclusion, I came away with four pertinent pieces of information from my Micro-Break in Monterey, CA.

1. Sea Lions are major posers.

Poser #1

Posers #1

Poser #2

Poser #2

2.  If you are planning on leaving your boat or yacht in the harbor, beware!  Although the Sea Lions are vastly fastidious when it comes to leaving their rock lounge in order to shall we say, answer the call of nature,  when they get onto your boat, they are not overly concerned about it – giving a whole new perspective on “swabbing the deck” (Thank you conservationist guy who had nothing better to do than answer my stupid questions).

3. If you go to Monterey and don’t at least sample the clam chowder you should be drawn and quartered…or at least made to swab those decks.

Old Fisherman's Wharf.  Monterey, California

Old Fisherman’s Wharf. Monterey, California

4.  I will be back.

For more travel posts:  Sweet Spot Travels

Puerto Rico Island Travels Part 2: The Clothing Optional Tour

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My Pre-Teen son lives by a code of ideas and directives (A Decade of Wisdom and here).  It is not a lengthy list, but nonetheless, it is definitive.  One of his most formidable edicts is Never Sit on the Couch at a Nudist Colony (think about it).  Which I suppose means if he ever has occasion to find himself at a nudist colony, he will have to spend his time there standing.  However, to my surprise, on our recent trip to Puerto Rico, this particular “code” was sorely tested.

One day, while on Palomino Island off the coast of Fajardo, Puerto Rico,  Pre-Teen and I decided to go hiking in the hills above the beaches.  We had been hiking trails for some time when we came upon a sign:

Puerto Rico, Hidden Beach Cove

That “Naturist” can sure make a mean sign!

Intrigued, Pre- Teen quickly headed off on the trail, which was all downhill.  I was less enthusiastic being that what goes down must come back up again.  But as I could see there was no stopping Pre-Teen, I was forced to follow him (or risk having to explain to my husband why Teen was going home an only child).

When we got to the bottom of the hill, right where the trail opened out onto a beach entrance we saw this:

Bilingual nudity.

and this:

Long live recycling.

But, we also saw this!

Yeah, resist that if you can…

Ok, possibly this would have been a good time to turn around, but I was hot, the water looked inviting and duh, we were just plain curious (and yes, I know how that all worked out for the cat).

We found ourselves completely alone on a beautiful, secluded and yes, nude beach.  We began to explore.

Me:  “Hey, Pre-Teen, go lay on one of the lounge chairs and let me take your picture.”

Pre-Teen:  “What?  No way!!”

Me:  “Why not?”

Pre-Teen:  “Mom!  You know – Never Sit on a Couch at a Nudist Colony!!!”

Me:  “Yeah, So?”

Pre-Teen:  “Well, the same goes for Never Lay on a Lounge Chair at a Nudist Beach!”

However, standing next to the lounge chair was apparently ok (for a short amount of time only and not too close):

Hurry up and take the picture already!

Hurry up and take the picture already!

As we explored the beach we came upon the yellow marker indicating the “best ocean access”.  Apparently if you are going to swim with your what-nots flapping in the wind, you have to look for the safest, least abrasive, place to do it.

Fancy, ain't it!

Fancy, ain’t it!

I realized at that moment, I had to swim at the nudist beach.  If I had a bucket list, surely that would be on it! However, not really trusting how my girly parts would behave in a free-to-be-you-and-me atmosphere, and seeing the look of horror on Pre-Teen’s face when I revealed my plans, I swam in my bathing suit.  As for Pre-Teen, well apparently Never Swim in the Water at a Nudist Beach was another addendum to his rule – he watched at a safe distance from the beach.

Upon exiting the water, we saw a (clothed) man striding towards us.  When he reached us, he introduced himself as “Brian”, explained he was the caretaker of Hidden Beach Cove, and welcomed us to stay as long as we liked.  As we were about to walk away, Brian added, while digging in his pants pocket,

“Hey, you want me to show you what is so special about this beach?”

Being this was a nude beach, Pre-Teen and I were both more than a little worried what exactly Brian was about to pull out of his pants pocket.  But thankfully when he whipped his hand back out, he was only holding these,

Much better than seeing Brian's tallywacker and nuggets in his hand.

Much better than seeing Brian’s tallywacker and nuggets in his hand.

A sea-glass “ring” and sea urchin skeleton.  Apparently, gems like these commonly wash up on this particular beach.

Brain then excused himself to retire to his “lean to”,

To disrobe?

To disrobe?

and emerged (phew) still clothed, although barely, I am pretty sure for our benefit.

We went back to exploring; now searching for treasures like the ones Brian had showed us (although dubious about the whole sea-glass ring thing, I decided not to question a man with no tan lines).  And Brian set to work grooming his beach.

Watch out for 'bend-overs'.

Watch out for ‘bend-overs’.

After a while, we decided best not to tempt fate, or rather naked sunbathers sure to arrive soon.  Upon our departure, knowing we had been unsuccessful in our search for treasures, Brian presented us with a sea-glass ring and sea urchin skeleton to take with us – which more than made up for the random flashes of his great white (well, tan actually) shark we had been treated to every time he bent down to pick up a rock or batch of seaweed.

We thanked him openly for his generosity and secretly for his attempted modesty.

As we headed back up the trail leaving Hidden Beach Cove, we looked back to see Brian still hard at work on his island paradise, just waiting for the moment he could at last rip off his encumbering piece of restrictive nylon. At least, thanks to Brian, we had a few pieces of paradise to take with us and Pre-teen and I can now say we “hung out” at a nude beach…

even if our ‘hoo haws’ did not…

 Palomino Island, Puerto Rico

Hidden Beach Cove, where not everything is hidden.

Puerto Rico Island Travels Part 1: The Lost Tour

Puerto Rico Island Travels Part 3: The Big Cajones Tour

For more Sweet Spot Travels: Go Here!

Puerto Rico Island Travels Part 1: The Lost Tour

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Palomino IslandIt was probably just a coincidence that after spending half the summer on a speed marathon through the entire 6 seasons of LOST, we ended up choosing to vacation on an Island…or was it?

Teen, after breaking his arm and being banned for a good chunk of summer from all worthy pursuits, ie baseball and swimming, began watching the series, LOST. Soon, Pre-teen was completely hooked as well.  I, having already experienced the whole mind blowing journey (and by mind blowing I mean wishing my mind would blow up so I wouldn’t have to contemplate anymore unanswered questions) upon original airing decided “what the heck”, maybe the second time around it will actually make sense… and cool Mr. Echo will defeat the smoke monster and not ‘be voted off the island’ so soon – it didn’t and he didn’t.

Nonetheless, when vacation time came we found ourselves boarding a plane for the island of Puerto Rico, questioning the providence of our choice.  However, never ones to mess with destiny or the frustrated attendant taking our boarding passes, onto the plane we went.

We decided if fate should intervene,  I would be the Kate- type person because, duh, all the cute guys are willing to die for her,  she can kick butt and she never, ever has ‘bad Island hair’.  Teen wanted to be Sawyer because, yeah he had a tragic childhood, but doesn’t get maimed as much as the rest, has great comebacks and always gets the girl.  Pre-teen wanted to be Jin because he can beat up anyone when he needs to, is nice about it and is always there just when you need him.  We decided Hubs would have to be John Locke – someone has to keep the faith (I do believe in fairies, I do , I do) and get us back off the Island (although hopefully he would not have to die and then be possessed by a smoke monster in order to do it).  We all agreed, along the way we needed to find a Hurley for pure fun, and a Sayid for protection (because nobody messes with a former torturer if they know what is good for them)

As expected, we started out at the beach – you know, just in case we needed a quick helicopter rescue from a psycho marine, guy who talks to dead people or scientist who has done way too much experimenting on himself.

Isle Verde Beach, San Juan Puerto Rico

Isle Verde Beach, San Juan Puerto Rico

Isla Verde Beach, San Juan Puerto Rico

Isla Verde Beach, San Juan Puerto Rico

But eventually, as any stranded Islander, we felt the need to explore “the other island” – you just never know when you will be in need of a monkey cage, baby doctor, or well, baby daddy.  Upon approach it surely looked like a place to fall into the hatch (push the button, brother), or come across The Others and the eternally young and mysteriously guy-linered, Richard Alpert.

Off the coast of El Conquistador,  Fajardo, Puerto Rico

Approaching Palomino Island from El Conquistador, Fajardo, Puerto Rico

Nonetheless we disembarked from the boat (not Penny’s boat) and we were not sorry (just like Ben, although hopefully, we would not have to get pummeled on a daily basis for it).

Palomino - Is the island tilting, or is it my imagination?

Palomino – Is the island tilting, or is it my imagination?

Snorkeling in and around the rocks.

Snorkeling in and around the rocks.

Exploring the beaches

Exploring the beaches

And what is any three hour tour (oops, wrong ship wreck reference) without a hike into the jungle – because, of course, it is the only place to hear the whispers, see Walt appear out of nowhere – visibly aged by several years, and come upon random planes, trains and automobiles…or boats with explosives.

El Yunque Rainforest

El Yunque Rainforest

El Yunque Rainforest - swimming in La Mina Falls

El Yunque Rainforest – swimming in La Mina Falls

At the end of our week, we wandered if the Island would let us leave – we secretly hoped it wouldn’t. But in the end, it did (apparently, we were not on the list).  We only hope the Island will let us go back again, soon.  And then maybe, the next time, we will actually discover what lies in the shadow of the statue.

Coco Beach, Puerto Rico

Coco Beach, Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico Island Travels Part 2: The Clothing Optional Tour

Puerto Rico Island Travels Part 3: The Big Cajones Tour

For more Sweet Spot Travels: Go Here!

Thanks For the Memories, Mexico

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Taxco

Taxco, Mexico

I love Mexico.  Not for the obvious reasons, the beautiful beaches and coastal resorts, but rather for the fact that if it wasn’t for Mexico, our future family traveling experiences would have been vastly different.  You see, my kids cut their teeth, in a travel sort of way, by experiencing the historic, rustic and colorful country that is Mexico.

Starting when our kids were 4 and 6, between the years of 2004 and 2007, we took several trips to Mexico.  On each trip, we would map out a section of the country we had not seen before, fly in & rent a car, have on hand a slush fund for “extras” (aka payments-for-tickets-while-traveling- in-and-out-of-Mexico City-that-made-no-sense-whatsoever-but-satisfy-police-officer-so-could-proceed-on-our-way), and start driving.

We would go on the cheap – staying mostly in rustic and often historic little hotels as opposed to chain options and eating at the home cooked local street stands (we were never revenged upon by Montezuma).  We would carry throw-away clothes that could be left behind in order to make room for all the cool hand-made swag we would accumulate at markets along the way.  We would seek out colonial towns and cities, ruins, eco adventures, beaches, waterfalls, cathedrals and oddities of any kind (the mummy museum in Guanajuato filled with actual mummies excavated from a nearby cemetery a long remembered fave).  We looked for local festivities and parades (they can carry a saint through town like nobody’s business). And we would travel for as many days as we could afford to be away– usually between 14 and 16 days.

After several years of experiencing Mexico’s culture, sites, language, people,  colors, my kids (and myself) were officially hooked on the whole idea of foreign travel and discovery.

For this reason alone, Mexico will always hold a special place in my heart.

But honestly,  it is so much more than that. For when I go back and look at all the pictures from those trips, it is as if my kids at 4 and 6 (ish) are somehow mysteriously still there, forever fixed in time at that age and in that place.

As if they are forever standing underneath the colorful hand crafted banners

Puebla

Puebla

Forever chasing pigeons in the historic squares

Guanajuato

Guanajuato, Mexico

Forever climbing the pyramids

The pyramids of Ek Balem

The pyramids of Ek Balem, Mexico

Forever exploring the wilds of Mexico

Casa de Cortez

Casa de Cortez, Mexico

And when I want to find them,  laugh with them,  be with them…

Bernal, Mexico

Bernal, Mexico

I  always know just where to look.

For more Sweet Spot Travels: Go Here!

A Trip More (or Less) Ordinary

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A trip is a trip.  From where I stand, any trip is a good one.  The minute I board a plane, there is the excitement of unknown adventures and happenings ahead. The longer I go between trips, the more I begin to feel like a bird with it’s wings clipped – or, just really bored.

But the truth is, not all trips are created equally (although in the interest of hurt feelings, we try not to talk about it – we like our trips to feel good about themselves).  Where some trips are about adventure, unique experiences, seeing new places, or lounging on beaches – others are about spending time with family.

Over our spring break last week, I grabbed my kids, jumped a plane (well, walked onto it) and headed out on one of  those spending time with family types of trips – fun and enjoyable, but in a more sedate, ordinary kind of way.

For example, every morning, we made coffee,

Desperation is the mother of invention.

Desperation is the mother of invention.

We regularly walked to the store and hijacked stranded shopping carts,

Look out, here comes the "po po".

Look out, here comes the “po po”.

Played hours  and hours of backyard wiffle baseball – that is until all our wiffle balls had been lost to the bushes, trees and neighboring backyards.

Anyone for lemon ball?

Anyone for lemon ball?

Watched Manuel the cable guy climb a power line pole to fix the internet connection, (I swear he is up there, somewhere…I think).

Can you see any of the wiffle balls from up there?

Hey Manuel, can you see any of our wiffle balls from up there?

Went to a museum.  But before we could enter, we had to be briefed by Obi “Sean”…

May the force be... whatever.

May the force be with Billy Dee Williams?

…be reminded that Billy Dee Williams was in fact in a Star Wars movie…

I must have blinked while watching Star Wars.

I must have blinked during that scene in Star Wars.

…and battle the dark force before we could proceed into the museum.

I think I can take the guy behind him...

I think I can take the short guy…

Oh and by the way, once we did actually make it into the museum, we sensed there was something  amiss…

I sense a problem.

I suspect conspiracy.

So, aside from picking up some new one liners from the movie “The Amazing Burt Wonderstone” like

“He put a puppy in my pants!”

“Your skin makes me cry” 

“He has more urine in him than blood…he should be dead.”

And the guy who passed out on our airplane and had to be escorted off by police and paramedics.

Paramedic: “Sir, have you done any drugs today.”

Passed out guy:  “umm, nooooo.”

Plane erupts in laughter.

This is probably what the guy looked like the night before boarding the plane.

This is probably what the guy looked like the night before boarding our plane.

It was just an ordinary trip… more or less.

For more Sweet Spot Travels: Go Here!

Spring Break at The Devil’s Bridge

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Along the hike to The Devil's Bridge

Along the hike to The Devil’s Bridge

Around this time last year, I shared some of my favorite pictures and moments from our Spring Break trip to Las Vegas, the Grand Canyon and Sedona, Arizona – more particularly, the highlight of The Devil’s Bridge!

However, I never really got around to telling the story of how we actually got to the Devil’s Bridge – or rather almost didn’t get there – until now!

Thanks to my fabulous writer friend Sherri Kuhn (whom I have known since the dark ages – i.e. when I still had braces) I am sharing the story over at SheKnows.com as part of a multi-writer contribution article about most memorable Spring Break vacation trips!

Find out what turning 50 (please, NOT ME – my husband) and a quest for The Devil’s Bridge have in common.

Go here to jump right to my story of how we strayed off the beaten path!

Go here to start at the beginning and read all contributing articles!

Really, it’s all good!

For more Sweet Spot Travels: Go Here!

The Travel Scavenger Hunt

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Brooklyn Bridge

We love to travel with our kids and…

…When they were little, the primary goal was just to get there and back again without losing our sanity. Be it by car or plane, the trip was deemed a success if accomplished with the minimal amount of tearing out of hair (our own) or disturbing the peace (a group effort).

However, as they got older, we began to want them to actually get something out of the experiences.

And thus, the Travel Scavenger Hunt  was born…

I swear, it really works!  Go here –  over to ParentSociety.com – to my article about how it works and how to make your own Travel Scavenger Hunt – trust me, you kids will love it!

For more Sweet Spot Travels: Go Here!

9 Free Activities to Do With Kids in Italy

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Venice

Travel: it costs money. Sometimes a lot of money. Scratch that, travel pretty much all the time costs a bucket load of money. Unfortunately for our pocketbook, my husband and I have developed an obsessive love for traveling, and we have successfully infected our kids with the obsession as well!

Today, over at ParentSociety.com,  as a result of a trip to Italy in November, I am sharing nine of our favorite free (or practically free) activities to do with kids in Italy (believe, if you are planning a trip to Italy – with or without your kids – you are gonna need it!). Go here!

9 Free Activities to Do With Kids in Italy

Other Sweet Spot posts about Italy.

A Boy’s Eye View of Italy

Just ‘Cause It’s Friday

For more Sweet Spot Travels posts Go Here!