Mar 02

Flash Back to Yosemite

The other day I received a post card in the mail from a friend who was visiting Yosemite National Park. I’m pretty sure she has no idea the memory it reminded me of, and how far I’ve come since that memory, but thank you, Sara.

Back in 2003 I took my first Contiki tour, it was a 6 day tour called California Highlights. We started in Vegas and our first stop was Yosemite National Park. At the time I was NOT a big natural person, I’m afraid of animals, hiking was NOT my thing. I actually have a fear of hiking downhill, the fear involves me slipping and falling to my death. My only real vacation as an adult before this had been visiting a friend in LA for a week. Although I didn’t require anything fancy, I did see vacation as a time to relax.

El Capitan

When we arrived in Yosemite that 2003 morning, everyone was talking about hiking. I clearly remember thinking, “hiking? I thought this was a vacation?” But I went on a hike with a nice group from my tour, we were hiking to the Lower Yosemite Falls, from what we were told it sounded fine to me. I would do a little hiking, get some nice pictures and then a break to relax. Except my group kept going after we got to the lower falls, though in fairness, it’s not really marked “Lower Falls” with a sign telling you to go back. Of course the hike to the upper falls was much loner and tougher.

Upper Falls

At a certain point it’s not a good idea to turn back unless someone will go with you, and everyone was happy hiking. I found out later on that we had almost made it to the upper falls. As we got close we ran into our driver who was on her way down, I knew we were cutting it close on time so I turned back with her.

Lower Falls

In the end I made it back to the valley floor with enough time to catch my breathe, but not enough to eat lunch.  I also got some great pictures from Yosemite and a new appreciation of nature and the National Parks. In the future I would be more excited about a hike through the national parks, but also more aware of my limits and working within them. I’ve definitely done some hikes that were a stretch since then, but also skipped on some that didn’t call to me and instead just sat and enjoyed a view. I think there is a place for both of those in our lives, but sometimes you have to push past your limits to find out what they truly are.

Oct 14

Rasputin’s New Adventure… Without Me

While in Quito, Ecuador Rasputin and I had an unfortunate parting of the ways. In a separate post I will outline the details but the short story is that on Thursday, September 10, 2015 after 9 years as my travel companion, Rasputin was stolen from me (as was my purse).
My only hope is that Rasputin has found a new friend who will bring him on new adventures.

I found Rasputin on June 22, 2006 in a train station in Copenhagen. I had just finished a tour of Scandinavia and Russia. On the Russia half of the tour our “day song” was Rasputin. I thought he should have a name that reflected the trip I was just finishing.

The choice of name worked out well for Rasputin. Although many people gave a double take when I said the name, it was easy to say, “like the Russian monk” and people knew exactly what his name was. And if taking a picture with a stuffed giraffe isn’t a conversation piece, his name was.When I needed a name for my blog, Rasputin was the inspiration, the little guy with me that took pictures with. We would then go home and he would write the blog with me, in spirit at least.

From the day I got him, Rasputin was my little travel buddy, he made me feel a little less lonely on my solo trips. We’ve been to Disney World several times and even Disneyland once. He’s been to Egypt, Australia, England, Scotland, all over the US, Ecuador, the Galapagos Islands and the highlight of his little life to South Africa to see real giraffes in the wild. Oh, and a giraffe head on a wall and giraffe skinned purses. South Africa was both a highlight and a humbling experience for Rasputin…

RasputinToSA

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Rasputin was a tricky little guy, a bit like a cat with nine lives. When I went to Australia, right after a shooting at LAX, I left him in my office. Fortunately I was able to talk someone into getting him (and my neck pillow) for me and bring it to me at the airport. They really must love me at work… But Rasputin sometimes fell out of my purse and would be rescued by an excellent taxi driver. Then there was the time that I left him at the art of animation studio at the Hollywood Studios, remembering him when I got to Star Tours. I had to wait at the back door for the ongoing class to end and then ask the cast member about my giraffe I left on the table.

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My purse in Quito, Ecuador was the end of his ninth life. But his spirit will live on. While my brother in law always thought I was nuts, people generally loved Rasputin. Flight attendants frequently asked about him, and friends bought him presents for his birthday. He even made friends with other stuffed giraffes. After his loss, I now have a menagerie of stuffed animals donated by friends. I’m not quite sure what I will do with all of them. No stuffed animal can replace 9 years with Rasputin, but the idea of having a little something with me to keep up his mission of traveling the world would be continuing his legacy.

Sep 18

Travel Friends

Over the years I have taken quite a few tours with Contiki and have met quite a few people.  While every tour has a different dynamic, they all have one thing in common – everyone becomes part of your new family for the length of the tour and beyond.

Of course you don’t need to go on a tour to make lifelong friends, but that is where I met my friend Stephanie who I traveled with in Colorado.  We met on my tour to England and Scotland and kept in touch over the years.  She even visited me when she was out East for work.

But what is so great about travel friends?  They’re like family, not matter how much time has passed since you last saw them, they are still like family.  There’s no awkwardness when you meet them years later. When you travel together you get to see each other morning, noon, night, hungover, tired, cranky, doing laundry, the walls quickly fall away.  You’re irrevocably bonded together and even if you weren’t the best of friends, or didn’t have the same travel style, you’ll always look after each other and you’ll always be friends.

Sep 04

V Variety Show, Las Vegas

For my last and final post about Contiki’s Northern Adventure, I’ve decided that V for Variety is the way to go.  If you want an overview of what I thought of the tour, here are my thoughts from last year.

Vlogo

But on with the show…  Oh Geez, thinking about this show is making my puny.  I apologize.

Ok, so the show is V – The Ultimate Variety Show at Planet Hollywood. It’s well, a variety show, as in lots of different acts.  There were skaters, jugglers, magicians, drummer dudes, and aerialists.  I’ve seen similar types of shows, and with the exception of one or two acts they all had a great balance of entertainment for the amount of time they lasted. There was a good pace to the show, so no sagging eyelids.

I thought for the price and with the type of entertainment, this was a great show for the family.

Of course, you might not want to use this entrance:

Aug 28

Your Dream Elvis Wedding

One of the occasional rights of passage on a Contiki tour is the Elvis Chapel Wedding. I’d heard the rumors, but never saw it, until we pulled up in Las Vegas all dressed up for a night on the town.  It’s a surprise for those on the Contiki bus, I had heard about it before, but will admit I was a little slow on the pick up on this one.  I ended up being almost surprised.

So here we are at the Graceland Wedding Chapel, all lined up waiting for something.  Our local Weeding officiant started telling us about the chapel and after a few minutes introduced ELVIS.  He rocked, played a bunch of songs, it was fun.

Then he pulled up two of our tour mates and married them with some funny vows.  Ok, the vows were kinda traditional, but were funny when both parties are laughing. Of course being blessed to the song, Hound Dog, does make it extra special.

For me the fun was that several years ago we joked about my sister and husband renewing their vows in an Elvis Chapel with their kids in attendance.  Well my sister didn’t do it, but I finally got a bit of the experience.  I highly recommend getting your already married friends to renew, just for the fun of it!

 

Aug 21

Grand Canyon Helicopter Tour

Many years ago (or in 2003) on a family trip to Las Vegas, My Mom, Dad, sister and I took a helicopter tour of the Grand Canyon. That trip was from McCarren Airport, flew us by the Hoover Damn and down to the Grand Canyon, I believe the north rim.  We flew around inside the canyon a bit and then headed back.  On the trip back we did a nice sweep of the strip.  I think that trip was an hour and a half in the air.  It was absolutely fabulous.

When I returned to Las Vegas last year I had the option of taking another helicopter tour of the Grand Canyon, this one even included lunch (or brunch in our case) in the canyon.  I decided that after 9 years, and a different experience it was worth it.

This tour was quite a bit different though.  First we went from Boulder Airport, which meant two things: we had a longer driver to the airport and we were not going to see the strip on this trip.  Not seeing the strip was a bummer and something I would tell others to seriously consider this when picking a helicopter tour.

But, we had a shorter flight to the Grand Canyon. At the airport everyone was weighted and asked if there was anyone they had/wanted to fly with, then everyone was assigned to a helicopter and pilot. And then we waited, our group had 6-8 helicopters so it did take a little while to call all the groups and load them up.  My helicopter was one of the last to depart.

We flew into the canyon, flew for a bit and landed. Our landing area reminded me a bit of a scene from M*A*S*H.  Our lunch/bunch consisted of sandwiches, chips, soda, water, and champagne.  Lunch felt a little bit rushed being the last helicopter, it might have been in my head, but I felt like the earlier groups might have had a big more time.  Either way we had enough time to eat and take photos, about a half hour.


 Then we boarded up and flew back home, the good thing about being the last helicopter was that we were able to watch all the other helicopters take off from inside the Grand Canyon, made for some great photos.

Overall this was a great tour, and I highly recommend a helicopter tour to anyone who is visiting Vegas and wants to see the Grand Canyon with limited hassle.  The question is did I prefer a tour where I saw The Strip instead of the lunch?  Well, they’re both very different things and both were cool. If you’re more of a nature person, then lunch in the Grand Canyon might be better.  If you like the bright lights and big city, or just the overhead view of a city – then the fly over the The Strip is the way to go.

Aug 14

Clubbing In Las Vegas

Clubbing isn’t really my thing, I’m more of a bar with some music in the background kinda gal.  I like to be able to chat with people.  But when I was in Las Vegas on a Contiki tour I decided, when in Rome, do as the Roman’s do. Also, it’s one of the few “Las Vegas” things I haven’t done, so it was time to do it so I would have a legit excuse to not do it in the future.  Being onthe Contiki tour we had a club promotor and for like $15 or $25 he got us into 3 clubs (I only went to 2) with some free drinks so, why not?

 Rain at the Palm – This is one of the big clubs I’ve actually heard of.  It was big, loud and had lots of dancing. The drinks were also REALLY strong, as in, I could barely drink it because it was so strong. The reason you mix a drink is so you don’t have to drink straight vodka. This club actually seemed like a good club, if you like clubs.  There were lots of people dancing and drinking, what more do you want? Of all the clubs we went to this might have been the best. The music was even better than I expected.

Lux at Luxor was kinda lame.  The club was small and the music wasn’t so hot. I think this club would have been better as a swanky lounge than as a “club.” And maybe that’s what it was and nobody told us, but something wasn’t quite right here. We left after an appropriate amount of time and went to:

Carnivale at Harrah’s is an outdoor club with a more relaxed vibe to it.  If you’re looking for something more casual then this might be a better option then Rain.

I should warn you though what I know about the clubs in Vegas.  Granted, I only know this from my brother-in-law, but he prides himself in knowing everything about Vegas so I’m inclined to think this is at least partly true.  When you’re hired to work at a club, you may only work 2 or 3 nights at your home club.  The other nights you’re going to other clubs to “party.” Basically, you’re getting paid to help fill other clubs and make them appear to be popular.  Basically, the clubs are all in with each other, assigning each their “night” and helping to make the clubs seem popular by sending employees from other clubs there.

If this is true, the good news is that the local employee is less likely to put something in your drink, but he’s also either giving you a fake number or an STD from the girl/guy the night before.Clubbing

Jun 19

Zion National Park

We finally left Kanab, the location of my falling and cutting my leg going to the POOL!   We were headed to Zion National Park on the way to Las Vegas.  Yes, this park is an easy 1-2 hour drive from Vegas, incase you feel the need to exercise some of sin city out of yourself.

 

Unlike Bad Lands, Bryce Canyon and the Grand Canyon, our primary point of visiting Zion National Park was from the floor of the park, not from the top.  While Zion wasn’t quite as beautiful as Bryce Canyon or as grand as the Grand Canyon, the vantage point from the base gave it a different feel.

Most of the tour group did a hike to a small waterfall, most had planned on going further, but the trail stopped there due to construction so it was the end of the line.  We got some great photos and headed back to the visitors center there for some shopping and snacks.

On the way to the hike I noticed our coach driver and tour manager inspecting one of the tires, it turns out we had developed a leak in one of the tires.  What’s a tour to do when that happens?  Go to the main visitor center so the driver can find the National Park bus driver guys and try to get the tire fixed.

 

The only problem with this is that when you’re waiting for your bus to be fixed and you already have seen a nice piece of the park, you don’t really have time to do much more then shop at the bigger store and soak in the experience. Oh, and don’t go to far incase the tire is fixed sooner then you thought.

As I recall, it took less than an hour and then we were on our way to fabulous Las Vegas!

Jun 12

Falling Down

To set the scene for this post you need to know that I have a fear of hiking down hill, it’s a fear of falling and breaking my leg in the wilderness.  It’s not necessarily a reasonable fear, but it’s not debilitating either.  After hiking in Bryce Canyon and almost dying (walking uphill) I had taken it easy at the Grand Canyon.
Later that night we did have a good old fashioned BBQ in a local park in Kanab near our hotel.  Hamburgers, chips and smores!  We even got to play on the swing sets and jungle gym.  Sometimes it’s fun to relive your youth.  I survived all that fine.

When we returned to our hotel a bunch of us decided to go to he pool, which was across the street and down the block at another hotel.  As we’re walking I managed to slip on gravel. Turned my ankle and fell to my knee, on GRAVEL.  I cut up my entire left leg from my foot to my knee.  It was gross and it hurt and I didn’t have anything really appropriate to care for it.  I did borrow some band-aids and bacitracin and cleaned it out at the hotel room.  But the irony that I was afraid of falling while hiking, but actually fell walking to the pool was NOT lost on me.

I have not changed my stance on hiking!

May 22

Grand Canyon’s North Rim

Our visit to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon started with an early drive from our hotel in Kanab and a time change. Of course we were staying in Kanab that night so our return from the Grand Canyon would include a time change.
At the North Rim there is a nice visitors center that includes facilities, maps, a restaurant and beautiful views.
From the visitors center there are some shorter walks along the ridges (they’re perfectly safe for the average person) and offer AWESOME views. If you’re visiting this area follow the trails to the Bright Angel Point.
If you’re looking for something more strenuous you can do the Bridle Trail, which I did.  The good thing about the Bridle Trail is that it is shaded and easy for the average visitor. The bad things is that most of it has absolutely no view.  So why do it? It leads to the trails that go into the canyon.
I opted not to go down into the canyon because I was afraid it would be too much for me and I would find out too late. But I hear the trail was not one of the nicer ones we would have done in the National Parks due to the donkeys.  Apparently the trail was not as clean and pristine.
Instead I opted to relax and take a nap inside the visitor’s center while looking out at the Grand Canyon.  I’ve got nothing against the outdoors and all that nature stuff, but sometime it’s better to sit and be in it rather than doing as much as possible. Today was that kind of day.

We did have lunch in the restaurant, it was a bit pricey, but it was good.  And after I had just enough time to take my favorite wildlife photograph ever!