Saturday, August 22, 2015

Badlands Door Trail: Short Hike with a Big View

Badlands National Park, South Dakota
Finding our way on the Door Trail, Badlands National Park

A few days ago, the National Geographic Intelligent Travel blog published readers recommendations for "The World's Best Hiking Trails." Guess who was the first person they quoted? Me!! Other people suggested the famous Inca Trail to Machu Picchu or long ones such as the Trans Canada Trail and Australia's Bibbulmun Track. North American hikes like the Pacific Crest Trail and the Appalachian Trail have been the setting and practically a character in popular memoirs and their resultant "based on the best-selling book" movies, Wild and A Walk in the Woods, respectively.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Wildlife Spotting on Kangaroo Island




Kangaroo Island off the coast of South Australia is a treasure trove of wildlife. Separated from the rest of the continent for about 10,000 years, its natural wildlife has thrived without humans or other pests and predators that have struck on the mainland. Over the centuries, some animals have evolved into distinct sub-species, earning this place the nickname "The Galapagos of Australia." More than a third of the island is protected parkland, ensuring that it will remain a haven for the native plants and animals.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

The Sisterhood of the World Bloggers Award

“Sisterhood of the World Bloggers Award recognizes the unique voices of women bloggers around the world.”



Five years ago, I would have never imagined that I'd be nominated for a Sisterhood of the World Bloggers Award. I didn't know that travel blogs existed. I wasn't a world traveler. And...this is the big one... I didn't have some deep, unfulfilled dream of traveling around the world. International travel just kind of landed in my lap when we became expats, lucky me. At some point, I realized that there were planning resources beyond printed guide books, and that the best of  them were the travel blogs. Since that time, I've knitted together a network of blogger friends. A sisterhood, if you will. I know more than just where they've been. I know if they're buying a house, if they are changing jobs, or if health has caused them to rearrange their plans. 

Friday, August 7, 2015

Sorrento, Italy: Where Life Gives You Lemons

Sorrento Clock Tower


I arrived back home from our two week Great Big Western USA Roadtrip to find a package waiting for me. It was the goody box I'd won from the "Where in the World was Ms. Toody?" giveaway hosted by the charming Ms. Toody Goo Shoes blog. I love surprises, and I had no idea what was inside. The contest involved figuring out where she had traveled based on her picture clues. I took one look at her photos and was immediately transported back to the Amalfi Coast which we had visited last summer. My kids wanted to visit Pompeii, and I decided that scenic Sorrento was a much, much better place to stay than the more convenient Naples.


Watching a suave man and a woman dressed in white climb into their Ferrari and zoom away. La Dolce Vita!

Sorrento is named after the mythical Greek creatures called sirens whose enchanting songs lured men to crash their ships. In Homer's The Odyssey, Ulysses heard the sirens' song and survived, causing the sirens to throw themselves into the ocean near here. In some ways, it was still a dangerous city. I was afraid I'd emerge with a much lighter wallet.


Warning sign on train to Pompeii

No, I wasn't scared of pickpockets. I was leery of how much I loved and adored everything I saw in the stores. Our hotel was located in the old city. The front of it faced the main street, Corso Italia, filled with higher end chain stores like Max Mara and Swatch. The back of the hotel overlooked Via S. Cesareo, a narrow pedestrian street with one irresistible store after another that beckoned me to enter and buy something.. or everything. By day, it was filled with tour groups from the nearby cruise terminal. I preferred exploring it at night and in the early morning before it got too busy. It was so different from the Asian Night Markets that I'd grown accustomed to.


Looking down on the pedestrian street from my hotel room balcony.

I had recently decided to give up my practice of buying handbags as souvenirs when I traveled. Then, I came to my senses and realized that I should implement the change after I had left Italy which is renowned for its leather goods. I couldn't take my eyes off all the painted pottery. The popular blue, white and yellow color scheme would fit in perfectly with the decor in my Texas home. My daughter acquired a taste for aged balsamic vinegar, as sweet and thick as honey. How could I leave without buying a bottle? The only thing that saved my wallet was the fact that our luggage was stuffed to almost overflowing. We were in the midst of moving back to the USA from Malaysia, and our suitcases held everything we would need before our sea shipment arrived a month later.

If Life Gives You Lemons

As I walked around Sorrento, I quickly realized that what it must be most famous for is its lemons. My daughter wanted to return to the store "next to the place that sold lemon stuff," and I informed her that didn't exactly narrow it down in this town. The soil here is ideal for cultivating the large and sweet Sorrento lemons. I stared in disbelief at how big they were. I watched a storekeeper weigh one, and I couldn't believe that the needle on the scale pointed to almost 2 kilos. 


Lemon Grove Garden (Giardini di Cataldo) near the train station


Lemons are everywhere. Painted on dishes, made into soaps, and turned into one delicacy after another, of course. In the granitas and the gelato...

Getting scoops at Gelataria Davide (while listening to Arianna Grande blasting over the speakers). 


In the cakes...
Delizia - Sponge cake soaked in lemon sugar syrup and covered with lemon custard

But the most prevalent delight is the Limoncello.

Limoncello - a sweet and lemony alcoholic digestif

Every store seems to have its own recipe handed down from one generation to the next. Most are happy to give you a sample to taste. You could really make an afternoon of trying to find the best limoncello in Sorrento. They even had limoncello at the toy and candy store.


Candy, toys and limoncello. How to keep the both kids and happy.

Have I mentioned that I love lemons? Lucky me. Life was giving them to me by the bushel.


And other miscellaneous quirky things

Sorrento wasn't 100% lemons though. There was the water and beach which we somehow never made it down to. There was the pizza. We try to get the kids to try local food when we travel, and we received much less resistance than usual when we suggested pizza.

Pizza!

Pizzeria da Franco had delicious pizzas and hot sandwiches. The odd thing was the fire escape map at every single booth, like the kind you typically find on the back of a hotel room door. Our booth was only a few feet away from the door, but the map clearly showed us the best escape route via a dotted line.

Teeny, tiny Tic-Tacs

At the train station, I found the teeniest, tiniest box of Tic-Tacs that I've ever seen. I think there were all of 6 regular size pieces in here. 

Sorrento Train Station
Foosball/Table Soccer anyone? 

I also found a small foosball/table soccer game at the train station. Three little plastic players per team. In contrast to that, I walked past an imposingly tall and big man dressed in a caftan. I whispered to my husband, "I think I just saw AndrĂ© Leon Talley." 

"Who's that?" he replied.

"The former editor-at-large of American Vogue."

At this point, my husband looks at me like I'm a little loony and asks, "You think you saw the editor of Vogue at the Sorrento train station?" Well, when he put it that way, it did sound a little unlikely. He'd probably zip off in a luxe car like those La Dolce Vita people I'd seen earlier at the Hotel de la Syrene. 

My last surprise from Sorrento came as we boarded the train to Pompeii. Music was pouring out of one of the train cars, the exact car that Hubby decided to get on. As we leapt on board, I came face to face with two men serenading the passengers with their merry Italian songs.

A little live music

My sadness at having to leave Sorrento the day after touring Pompeii was only appeased by the prospect that our next stop was Venice. I came away with a leather handbag and a small bottle of 10 year aged balsamic vinegar. The storekeeper tried to sell me a bigger bottle, but I explained that my suitcases were full and a few additional milliliters were more than I could manage.

The Goody Bag

So, it was with excitement that I opened the package from Ms. Toody Goo Shoes earlier this week. What goodies had she sent me? 

Goodies from Ms. Toody Goo Shoes 

A year after I'd last seen Sorrento, a part of it arrived at my door. Thanks, Ms. Toody!


What's your favorite souvenir that you've brought home from a trip?



It’s Your Turn, Link Up Your Newest Travel Inspiration!



I've joined up as one of the co-hosts of Weekend Travel Inspiration.
  1. Link one of your inspirational travel photos or stories to this post by adding your info.
  2. Copy and paste our badge and a link to this page.
  3. Visit some of the other wonderful travel bloggers, read their posts, and leave a comment.  It would be great if you could comment on 2-3 posts.
  4. Tweet it and include this hashtag. #wkendtravelinspiration .
  5. Follow all the hosts of Weekend Travel Inspiration who are working hard to spread the word on what wonderful work travel bloggers are doing.
  6. Don’t forget to check out my amazing co-hosts and their pages: Reflections EnrouteThe Crowded PlanetContentedTravellerAlbom AdventuresSafari 254, and FamiliesGo.



I've also joined with the following linkups. Check them out for more around-the-world travel inspiration.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Our Great Big Western USA Roadtrip

On the road with a bug splattered windshield


After years of planning, it's done. Our great big roadtrip to see the scenic wonders of the Western USA. The seed was planted ages ago in 2006 when we came up with our 10 year plan of summer vacations, and Yellowstone National Park made the list of places to take our kids before they grew up. The first attempt to visit in 2010 was thwarted when I discovered that the Old Faithful hotels book up a full year ahead of time for the peak summer season. In 2011, I had to cancel our reservations for lodging when we moved to Malaysia, an event which opened us up traveling all over the world, not just the USA. 2015 was the year when we finally succeeded.

Friday, July 17, 2015

The Gardens by the Vineyards

"Short days ago/ We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow/ Loved and were loved..." from In Flanders Fields

Like a bee drawn to a flower, I can't resist a gorgeous garden. While I admire the grand expansiveness of Versailles' chateau grounds on the outskirts of Paris or the futuristic wonder that is Gardens by the Bay in Singapore, it's the simple vegetable garden that most captures my imagination. I can close my eyes and pretend that it's mine. That it's attainable.

Driving through the countryside of Dry Creek Valley in Northern California, what I mostly see when I look around is this...

Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma
Ferrari-Carano Vineyards and Winery

Vineyards stretching hither and yon, as far as the eye can see. I am in the birthplace of California wine making.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Non-Alcoholic Tour of Dry Creek Valley Vineyards

Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma
Dry Creek Valley's most famous crop

A day touring vineyards and wineries in Sonoma's Dry Creek Valley may seem like a strange outing for someone who has no intention of actually sipping any wine. After all, the main reason why most people visit is to drink wine, duh. Just outside of the town of Healdsburg, California, this official American Viticultural Area is only 16 miles long and 2 miles wide. Families first began growing wine grapes here in the late 1880's, and it now has more than 70 wineries.

The wonderful thing about these vineyards is that many are more than just a tasting room and wine shop. They are surrounded by acres of lush gardens as if you had stumbled upon some modern day Eden. Walking through the gardens is typically free of charge and can end up being a relaxing and cheap way to spend the day. It's a great outing for kids and adults who don't drink but still love nature and the outdoors. If you want to add extra adventure to your day, Wine Country Bikes has cycling tours of the area as well as bike rentals including tandem bikes and child trailers.
Web Analytics