6 of the Best Places to Explore Nature in Arizona

Nature always wears the colors of the spirit.

My favorite trips are the ones stumbled upon. It’s a common occurrence in my household to pick up and leave on a day of leisure. I would rather sit in my car all day not knowing where I will end up than to sit in my house watching Nexflix. Direction never matters but, in the summer it feels liberating to get away from the heat. Higher elevation subdues the brutal sun – on my last trip it was upward of 105F at home but Flagstaff was a beautiful, balmy 75F. The road is unpredictable but, it makes each trip you take memorable. On such an occasion, a trip up the Beeline Highway landed my family unit in Winslow – in a windstorm- with thunderheads looming in the distance. On the plus side I got to stand on ‘a corner in Winslow, Arizona’ and I happened to be in a flatbed Ford. The destination is not the most important part of the trip – it’s how you get there. That’s all I will touch on with philosophy. The best part about central Arizona is you only need one or two hours to get anywhere if you live in the Phoenix/Scottsdale. Below I have compiled my favorite escapes that you can make a day or a weekend out of.

  1. Cave Creek, Arizona

Steel-cowboy-wild-west-artist-paradise? Nailed it: Cave Creek is calling your name, located off of the Carefree Highway. Don’t get me wrong the town itself is a tourist trap – but a worthy one. There are art galleries to your hearts desire; Good food, eccentric locals and if you are into football Cave Creek hosts a Bear’s, Steeler’s, Packer’s, and Viking’s bar. Let me tell you this place is WILD.

I frequent Cave Creek because of the fantastic hiking at Spur Cross Conservation Area which is about five miles north of Cave Creek. There are hiking options for all levels of ambition.

Looking for an easy stroll? Follow the Dragonfly/Jewel of the Creek trail. On this trail you will see the creek oasis where there are tall seemingly out of place oak trees. The area is cool and mostly shaded. Keep your eyes out for prehistoric rock art – petroglyphs – the whereabouts are not noted so it is up to you to keep your eyes peeled.

Want to break a sweat? Take the Metate or Tortuga trail. The Metate trail has an AMAZING collection of saguaro cactus and examples of metate grindstones which were used to prepare grains by the Native people who occupied the area.

Feeling Ambitious? If you have an entire day to spend (roughly 4-5 hours) and it isn’t too hot consider taking the Elephant Mountain trekk. It is an extremely tough hike that touches the boarder into Tonto National Park but summits at the prehistoric Hohokam fortress. Be sure to bring adequate water. I’m not kidding – it is up hill both ways 🙂

Spur Cross Travel Scout Kate MarraSpur Cross Travel Scout Kate Marra

Arizona Travel Scout Kate Marra

2. Flagstaff, Arizona

Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument and Wupatki National Monument is one of the coolest attractions in Flagstaff. The entrance to the park is right off of the state route 89A – blink and you will miss it. The fee is $20 per person and it is well worth the experience. The lava flow field and cinder mounds alone were awe-inspiring. Make sure you grab a map at the ranger station before you start into the twenty mile national monument it will show you where all of the pull offs are.

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The second half of the park is dedicated to the Native people who occupied the land. There are amazing sites which showcase the pueblo villages which have been standing for nine hundred years. We visited the Wukoki Pueblo, Lomaki and Box Canyon ruins. Exploring can be cut short due to a threatening thunderstorm. Be aware of storms that prowl over the open prairie –  be ready to take cover when the thunderheads move in.

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Want More Ruins?

Badass Arizona History: The Note Pad of the Ancients

Badass Arizona History: Unreal Dwellings in the Red Rock

The trails in this national monument are very well maintained and are for everyone to enjoy. My only caution would be to bring adequate water and some lunch which you can enjoy at the numerous pull offs.

 

3. Sedona, Arizona

If you are into becoming one with nature – Sedona is the place for you! Nestled in red rock country and an hour south of Flagstaff is the eclectic city of Sedona. It has a little bit of everything for everyone – the main strip has art galleries, food, crystal shops, tee shirt shops, and so much more. Sedona is credited with having several large and rather powerful vortexes. A vortex is a location that is said to release earth’s energy. Whether you believe in it or not Sedona has always had a magnetic pull on me – it makes you feel raw and pure.  As you can probably tell I am mostly into hiking so I will go ahead and cut to the chase.

I have to admit – I can’t pick just one location as my favorite hiking spot – I have several. I will work on a separate post for the best hikes but for the sake of this article:

Bell Rock Hike – Red Rock Pass required, but accessible in parking area. Bell rock is an easy to moderate hike. Easy if you walk around the base but moderate if you climb the rim. This is a great hike if you are a climber and the elevation allows you to take in the views of the red rock surrounding.

Devil’s Bridge – moderate because of the elevation change and it is mostly open to the sun. This hike offers a walk through a small valley – at the end is a natural rock arch that you can safely walk across. I must warn you the height is dizzying but exhilarating.

Arizona Travel Scout Kate Marra

Fay Canyon – easy to moderate. If you stay on the maintained trail it is a nice easy walk through the canyon. It is pretty well shaded but I suggest sunscreen all the same. If you follow the un-maintained trail it’s a pretty strenuous ascent. The view at the top is amazing! you can see it in my slide show.

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4. Jerome, Arizona

Jerome is an amazing find – not too many people know about it because it is essentially a ghost town that is on the up swing. In the 1800’s it was a copper mining town and fell into disrepair in the 1960’s until an artist commune moved in. The town itself is a work of art – it sits on a hill that has a view that takes your breath away.

Are you a Tool fan? Visit Maynard’s winery Caduceus Cellar in the upper corner of the small town. Jerome boasts two winery’s that are worthy of a visit, antique shops with curios from the 1950’s, boutiques, and a few great lunch choices.

I suggest the Haunted Hamburger which is always packed or the Mile High Grill which has great service and even better food.

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Arizona Travel Scout Kate Marra

 

5. Payson, Arizona (and surrounding areas)

Payson is a quaint cowboy town that is most popular for it’s rodeos. I haven’t had much time to explore the city of Payson but there are a few places that I have been able to fall in love with.

Tonto Natural Bridge – one word for this place is magical. As you descend into the canyon the first thing that hits you is the smell of water, the kind of musty, sweet smell. Then you see the arch – huge and carved out of the opposing side of the canyon. The greatest part is walking right through it! You can pick your way through the rocks and the river to the steps on the other side. Note: Pets are not allowed.

If you have additional time another great destination is family run Fossil Creek Ranch in Strawberry. Fossil Creek Ranch is a goat and llama farm as well as a creamery. The fudge is to die for and  so is the goat milk moisturizer. This is a perfect destination if you are traveling with kids (no goat pun intended). Fossil Creek Ranch offers felting classes, cheese making classes and ranch tours as well.

ALSO OFFERED: Llama hikes.For $30 a person you can lead llamas through the Mogollon Rim. Reservations are required.

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6. Holbrook, Arizona

Ok, so this last place isn’t in a cooler elevation but, worth taking a day trip. Once upon a time, Late Triassic to be approximate, Arizona was a tropical forest. As the climate changed trees fossilized and what was left behind became known as petrified wood. Petrified Wood National Park in Holbrook, Arizona boasts one of the largest deposits of petrified wood in the world. Along with 200 various plant fossils the desert area has also produced fossils belonging to phytosaurs (giant crocodiles) and Buettneria (giant salamanders).

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As if it cant get any more magnificent, keep driving through Petrified Forest National Park and enter the Painted Desert. The Painted Desert extends through the four corners area – Colorado, Utah, New Mexico and Arizona. The badlands are known for a signature rusty red but be sure to look out for shades of olive, lavender and ivory.

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Which Arizona hot spot would you like to visit?

Cobweb Clearer – Kate

The best part about central Arizona is you only need one or two hours to get anywhere if you live in the Phoenix/Scottsdale. Below I have compiled my favorite escapes that you can make a day or a weekend out of.

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Iceland Beauty & Rage

Iceland is the coldest, hot place to be. The people have spoken, the masses want a shot at the Aurora Borealis and the Blue Lagoon. I can name a handful of friends and acquaintance who are packed and ready to fly to the frigid nation. Who could blame them? It’s a boundless nation to get your travel boots wet. The Icelandic people are the kindest I have ever met. For example, a member of my party left her wallet and passport at a Dominoes. She could have been so screwed. An email awaited my inbox the following morning from the Akureyri police station stating that a good Samaritan had turned it in. It could have been pure luck, but, deep down I know that anywhere else a passport and wallet would have been long gone. It’s a safe destination, an amenity people want nowadays. I wonder if the tiny paradise can handle the rapid influx of eager tourist. The sustainability question hit yours truly as I boarded my flight to Oslo. Ten or so planes were lined up away from the other terminals since all the other terminals were full. My flight mates and I were herded via bus over to the boarding ladders. Keflavik International only has one main terminal with about thirty-five gates. Figures from the Icelandic Tourist Board shows a 29% growth in visitors from 2014 to 2015*. Tourism for a nation is both a blessing and a curse. Chew on this, the entire population of Iceland according to google is 330,000 and change. Conversely, the number of tourists that visited Iceland in 2015 was approximately 1,289,140. Friends, that is four times the population. I question the sustainability.

Before leaving, the curious would often ask, why Iceland? Why are people traveling in droves to this tiny island in the north Atlantic? I finally have an answer. I know that it’s complex to capture beauty from a lens. There are places to witness for yourself. Iceland is more than the sights. Moments you capture do no justice to the experience.
Personally, it’s why I travel. I can’t sit by and dream of life browsing Pintrest.

Iceland is the smell of damp moss and sulfuric egg salad.

 

The ultra-violent Arctic wind that smacks one upside the head. The sun on the skin when it finally breaks out of its cloud prison. The warmth of the geothermal underground.

Iceland Travel Scout Kate MarraIceland Travel Scout Kate Marra

 Iceland is the giddiness as the Aurora Borealis dances across the sky a silk scarf blowing out of a car window. It’s the taste of salt and minerals. It’s the collision of modern religion and legends from the past.

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 Iceland is knowing that if a cataclysmic event were to cease life as we know it, nature would have already claimed its territory.  Iceland is cursed with both beauty and rage.

 

What is to be done? Practice conscious tourism. Stay on the beaten path or hire a guide to enter sites beyond your ability. Keep money in the pockets of the locals. Stay in guesthouses. Many are family run. Buy that wool scarf from the teenager trying to make a buck instead of mass produced retailers.
You Cobweb Clearer, Kate

How do you practice conscious tourism?

*https://www.ferdamalastofa.is/static/files/ferdamalastofa/Frettamyndir/2016/juni/tourism_-in_iceland_in_figures_may2016.pdf
Iceland is the coldest, hot place to be. The people have spoken, the masses want a shot at the Aurora Borealis and the Blue Lagoon. I can name a handful of friends and acquaintance who are packed and ready to fly to the frigid nation.

11 Practical Tips To Thrive In A Wilderness Emergency

“Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.”
– Theodore Roosevelt

The wilderness… It isn’t for everyone. It truly is for me. I get a real thrill exploring where few or limited people visit. The wilderness is primitive and untamed despite the world filling up with people. The first key is to stay safe. Every traveler knows that accidents happen and inevitably situations arise where you wont be safe. Preparedness is secondary.

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One day, hiking in the Utah wilderness I found myself in a bit of a sticky situation (The Day the Desert Tried to Kill Me – Stories From the Front Seat). Luckily, I had basic essentials like food, water, and sun protection. There were some items, looking back, that would have come in handy.  It can happen. A traveler can only have luck for so long until something goes wrong. A shipwrecked truck, a broken ankle, an allergic reaction, losing your way, and getting mugged are all situations wanderers have nightmares about. The severity of the event can be altered based on behavior and planning of the travelers involved. Here are my tips to staying safe when an emergency strikes in the wilderness:

  1. Travel With A Satellite Phone

A $400 investment will get you a phone and a plan that will work in the remotest of areas. Using a satellite phone in my situation in Utah would have solved all of my problems. I could have called AAA or a tow company without fear of losing connection. Another feature about satellite phones is its GPS. Along with connection a traveler can also send exact GPS coordinates to someone trying to help.

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  1. Stay Calm

Disasters can bring out the best and worst personality traits. Just remember the more time you spend panicking the, longer it will take to remove yourself from the situation.  Similarly with arguing, stress and fear tend to make even the best of friends argue. Again, work together to come up with a solution.

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  1. Don’t Underestimate Water Needs

A healthy person needs sixty four ounces of water per day to survive. When you exert yourself one hundred ounces is suggested. I plan on a gallon and a half of water per person, per day. I carry all of my water in the vehicle as well. Water in the refrigerator back at the hotel is all well and good but, account for an emergency and load up the vehicle as well.  Carry gallon jugs to keep in the vehicle and transfer water into smaller bottles that will fit in your back pack.  Water is the MOST important survival tool especially in a desert.

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  1. Carry First Aid

Injury happens as frequently as flat tires and broken equipment. A first aid kit with simple items like disinfectant, wound bandages, ankle/wrist wraps, and a sewing kit can fix an issue temporarily until medical help arrives. I also keep a snake bit kit in my back pack as the risk of getting bitten here in Arizona is great.

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  1. Mechanic Tools

Speaking of flat tires… Pack basics like jacks and tire changing kits. Stuck in mud or sand? To keep a stuck tire from spinning out and digging in deeper let air out of the tires to create a larger surface area. A tire with a greater surface area will have more grip and give you more mobility to maneuver out. A tire can be let out to almost 10% in emergencies. This would be an argument to carry an inflation pump as well.

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  1. Don’t Split Up

In an emergency it is best to just stay together. It may seem like a constructive idea to cover more ground but in the wilderness anything can happen.   Chances of getting lost alone, injury, or predator attack rises as the number in your party decreases. A pack of coyotes would attack a single person as well as bears, mountain lions, and even elk if they saw you as a threat.

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  1. Keep a Close Eye on Pets

Wild animals will be more apt to approach if you have an animal traveling with you. Even a large dog like a German Shepherd or a Pit Bull could be subject to becoming prey.  If you are forced to hike at night or at sundown keep your pets close and be aware of your surroundings.

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  1. Let There Be Light

Keep a headlamp or a flashlight in your pack. It is also important to keep a mirror or reflective material for signaling a plane, car or a rescue team

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  1. Trust Your Gut

Know when it is time to stop or move on. Choosing to wait out a thunder storm is logical if you are in a sheltered safe location. If you are off the trail and lost, staying put may not be an option. If night is approaching and rescue is not foreseeable consider setting up shelter before it gets too dark. There are a plethora of ‘ifs’ in an emergency situation. Go with your gut – usually it knows what it is doing.

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  1. Know the Weather Three Days in Three Days Out

This is vital. Storms can be devastating especially in desert wilderness. Risks include flash flooding, lightening, obstructed trails and continued bad weather. Hike knowing if and when a storm might be brewing. Also note storms in surrounding areas. For example a storm north of a river will cause fast moving water or unseasonably high water levels. Even a storm miles away can still effect you. This is especially important if you are hiking in a canyon.

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  1. Layer Clothes, Dress Accordingly

Dress sensibly for where you will be hiking. Layers allow protection from the sun and adjustments for temperature. Check this post out for some cold weather layering inspiration! 8 Outfits I Wore in the Arctic

Travel Scout Wilderness 11

Stay safe out there! Your Cobweb Clearer, Kate

What was your closest call while traveling?

11 Practical Tips To Thrive

How To Walk Like A Diocletian in Split, Croatia

The beating heart of Split, Croatia holds the UNESCO Palace of Diocletian. The ancient Roman behemoth was built in between the 3rd and 4th century by retired Emperor Diocletian. Fortunately for us, he didn’t use his full name – Gaius Aurelius Valerius Diocletianus. He likes names as much as Daenerys Targaryen. The Diocletian Palace is special as it reflects transitional architecture from Greek occupation to Byzantine rule. The seven-acre fortress looks over the sparkling Adriatic Sea and is sheltered by Mount Mosor. My best suggestion, lose yourself in the narrow, granite alley ways. The palace reminds me of walking in an Arizona slot canyon. Steep, claustrophobic walls that become maze. Enter for free through one of four gates – Golden, Silver, Iron, and Bronze.

I knew nothing about Split, let alone Croatia when I decided to visit. When my carefully planned, six-month itinerary went out the window and a cheap flight popped up on Skyscanner it all seemed chalked up to fate.

What can you do in this ancient beauty?

Firstly, embrace your inner Cersei Lannister and enjoy the greatest local reds. Wine is a trade that has been produced in Split for thousands of years. Coastal wine made in the Dalmatian region tends to be fruity yet, bold. Pick a light white to accompany a fresh fish dinner. Speaking of the Lannisters… there are several Game of Thrones filming sites in and around Split. The first site is the Fortress of Klis (about ten miles out of Split) and recently for GOT season 5, the Diocletian Palace itself. One of the best feelings is recognizing a place you have visited on screen.

Diocletians Palace Travel Scout Kate Marra

I entered through the buzzing Iron Gate from the equally as ancient, residential area of Varos. The Iron Gate is truly the place to be for food and is lively from 10AM to late in the evening. Split offers hundreds of local eateries and shops in and around the Diocletian Palace. Croatian food? They have it. Sparkly sandals? Check. Italian cuisine? Yup. Gelato? Please, don’t get between a tourist and a gelato stand or risk foot prints on your forehead.

Diocletians Palace Travel Scout Kate Marra

The Iron Gate leads directly to Peristyle Square. Want to see the square empty? You have to rise with the sun. I took this at 6AM as the sun was waking up. The morning is an incredible time to start exploring the city however, entry into the paid sites are normally not open. Another notable time to be in the center of the palace is noon. At noon actors present changing of the guards. It’s completely kitschy but, fun to watch! What girl doesn’t want to watch muscular, Roman guards march about?

Diocletians Palace Travel Scout Kate Marra

My favorite find was through a tunnel leading to the subterranean palace. The arched hallways are untouched and seem completely original. How many years has this cavern seen? Oh right, thousands. Likeness to not being able to visualize millions of dollars, thousands of years doesn’t seem to make sense. The world was such a different place. Echoes produced by the tall ceilings are harrowing as you wander about. The buzz of the city above is haunting.  Here you can wander about in yet another maze. The rooms below used to be under water when the palace was first built. Afterwards, the rooms were used as a home for the Roman’s pet dragons. Um, kidding. But, it was used to produce wine – see a picture of the press below!

Diocletians Palace Travel Scout Kate MarraDiocletians Palace Travel Scout Kate Marra

The Temple of Jupiter represents the old gods. Jupiter was the top Roman god. The vaulted ceilings create an acoustic sweet spot. There was a group of German tourists singing in the center of the temple. The result gave me goosebumps.

Right outside Jupiter’s temple is the narrowest alley in Split. Two adults are unable to squeeze through!

Diocletians Palace Travel Scout Kate Marra

St. Duje Cathedral and the bell tower reigns supreme over the Split skyline. The bell tower, located next to the Peristyle is the tallest building in the city. The octagonal Christian Cathedral did’t exist until the 13th century as Emporer Diocletian was a persecutor of Christians. Climb the spiral staircase for a panoramic view of Split and surrounding areas.

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Facing the Riva is another quiet corner of the palace. Here you can also find the Ethnographic Museum of Split. I highly recommend stopping by this museum! Here you can learn about dress, weapons and wine making in Split throughout history.

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Be sure to wander, I cant stress this enough. You never know what you will come across.

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Keep your eyes peeled for glimpses into the ancient past. Mosaics and stone carvings are hidden around the complex. They are incredibly preserved and protected.

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In closing I’m completely in love with Split, and the bits of Croatia I have experienced. I cant wait to go back. A quick side note –  watch that sky. The weather changed in a matter of hours.

PSA granite is slippery.

Love, your Queen of Travel, Clearer of Cobwebs, Mother of Ferrets, Twister of Ankles – Kate

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Diocletians Palace Travel Scout Kate Marra
The beating heart of Split, Croatia holds the UNESCO Palace of Diocletian. The ancient Roman behemoth was built in between the 3rd and 4th century by retired Emperor Diocletian.

 

Marjan Forest Park: Split, Croatia

How to Chase Waterfalls at Plitvice Lakes National Park

9 Unusual Words That Will Make a Traveler Think “Same”

Unusual Words That Will Make a Traveler Think "Same"

As a writer, I adore words. As a traveler, I have strong feelings for well – travel. Why not combine both? There are copious words that define aspects of travel that are not included in the daily vocabulary. I just finished an six month sojourn around Europe. Needless to say, I have feelings on the matter. I burrowed deep to find fantastical words that a peripatetic can relate to.

#1 Metanoia

Changing one’s mind, heart, self, or way of life

A Greek word. My mom always said that I read the rule book in the womb. I’ve always known who I was and what I was about so, travel became less about soul searching. My personal travel experience evolved into questing for knowledge and adventure. However, midsummer Lana Del Rey crooned ‘Change’ and it became my temporary anthem. Akin to my travel experience I learned not to dread a solitary existence and that I was lucky enough to take myself out on a date. My independent nature amplified. Whether the fierceness of my existence is beneficial or consequential is yet to be discovered. I vow to always seek knowledge and personal growth.

Travel Scout Kate Marra

#2 Dépaysement 

Being out of your element, a fish out of water.

 From time to time a traveler will stick out like a sore thumb. It can be painfully awkward but, you get used to it. Those of us hailing from the United States are the easiest to identify. We smile at everyone. We are loud. We demand English menus. I’m speaking broadly of course. It’s uncomfortable to feel like an outsider but, it’s an important feeling. It’s a growing experience and forces one to be observant.

The cure:

  • Learn some of the local language, at minimum learn the magic words: hello, good bye, please and thank you!
  • Pay attention to fashion.
  • Research local foods to better identify menu items.

Travel Scout Kate Marra

#3 Numinous

The powerful, personal feeling of being overwhelmed and inspired

The Latin word. Stepping off a plane in a foreign country is an adrenaline rush. Travel is dangerous considering today’s social and political climates especially, for a solo female. There is a whole separate list of rules that a woman should follow to keep safe. In the end, nobody is waiting to murder or rape you. Majority of the population is minding their own business and going about daily life but, there is always an inherent risk. Danger can come in many forms and usually when you least expect it. The danger you could be worrying about could manifest as several herds of wild boar while hiking in Austria. This was my ‘oh shit’ moment. Travel attracts the brave. Part of being brave is overcoming fear and staying calm in the face of danger.

Travel Scout Kate Marra

#4 Eudaimonia 

A contented state of being happy, healthy and prosperous

A Greek word. My skin glowed. My legs toned. And freckles were erupting from my cheeks. Flourishing was exactly what happened. Traveling for five months changed the way I look at health and wellness. I learned to walk everywhere and carry my fresh, locally grown groceries from the market. To be truthful, I thought I’d shrivel up and suffer from malnutrition considering the stress of being alone in a strange environment. Fortunately, the opposite happened.

Travel Scout Kate Marra

#5 Seigneur-terraces 

Coffee shop dwellers who sit at tables a long time but spend little money.

A French phrase. People watching becomes somewhat of a hobby while traveling long term. You learn to sip an Americano or a cappuccino and make up stories about the other patrons in the cafe.

Travel Scout Kate Marra

#6 Livsnjutare 

One who loves life deeply and lives it to the extreme

A Swedish word. Loving life so deeply forces people to break the mold. Experience cultures and environments that are less understood.  I love life so much it hurts.

Travel Scout Kate Marra

#7 Quaquaversal 

Moving or happening in every direction instantaneously. 

A Latin word. My best friend once described her love for orange juice as a popping balloon full of sparkle confetti. My orange juice is travel. Wandering my way into old town Prague emitted serious feelings both of awe and exhilaration. The need to visit every single corner made me wish I could split myself in two as to cover more ground.

Travel Scout Kate Marra

#8 Yoko Meshi

The stress of speaking a foreign language.

A Japanse word. “Toire wa doko desu ka?” Oh wait. That’s Japanese. I didn’t go to Japan. When tripping through language barriers the brain decides to fall back on familiar phrases. I took four years of Japanese in high school. Besides my native English asking where the bathroom was in Japanese seemed like second nature. My server looked just as confused as I when I realized that trying to speak Japanese to a Croatian. Another time, I rehearsed and perfected my lunch order in German only to be thrown off my “Wie gehts?”. I studied German! “Wie gehts” is one of the first things you learn! Language barriers are stressful and the most frustrating aspect of travel but, it’s all about patience.

Travel Scout Kate Marra

#9 Ennui

A feeling of listlessness and dissatisfaction arising from a lack of occupation or excitement.

A French word. It’s not about aversion to home in anyway. Post travel blues are about the loss of an incredible time in your life and the longing for more. Ennui means an overall sadness and may even be confused with temporary depression. My six-month ramble around Europe covered nine countries and over twenty cities which I have come to know and love. Now, I feel like I’m in a constant state of distraction and lethargy.

The Cure: Mix it up.

  • Find local shops, restaurants, or museums you have never been to before.
  • Pick a regional dish that you loved abroad and recreate it at home!
  • Get outside. Get back in touch with nature.

Travel Scout Kate Marra

What are your favorite travel words?

 

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Travel Scout Kate Marra

Bryce Canyon and It’s Hoodoos Utah Trip Part III

Hoodoo: A natural geological pillar formed by wind and rain erosion

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The last leg of the journey led us to Bryce Canyon National Park – 52 square miles of strange rock formations and other worldly views.

My fellow adventurers and I had packed up our belongings in Zion and headed to Bryce. It took about two hours of straight road, nothing complicated – after trying to find a spot in Zion, we wanted to be super early with the hope of not fighting for a site. Much to our surprise we had the campground to ourselves. After settling in at Sunset Campground ($30/ night) – food was a priority. As it was our fourth day of camping perishables were starting to run low – so our options were slim. In town before the entrance to the park were some shops, tourist traps, a gas station, and some food options. NOTE: the only diner is in fact not a diner, but a re-purposed Burger King that now sells pizza, burgers, and hot dogs. I would not recommend this place unless you were desperate – I would have opted to visit the camp store for hot dogs. Overall food options were slim – maybe we should have saved our perishable for here instead of Zion.

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bryce natural arch

Anywho, now for the reason to visit to Bryce! There are a plethora of activities to do in Bryce –hiking, horseback riding, sightseeing, and even Snowshoeing in the winter. The landscape is a Ponderosa Pine forest, however when the canyon starts the forest literally goes away and becomes desert. This is actually how the terrain of the southwest works. We walked the rim for quite some time given that there was so much to absorb. The hike chosen was the Tower Bridge considered a moderate three mile hike through the hoodoos. The Tower Bridge takes you downhill the entire way down and uphill the complete way back, nevertheless there was so much in one hike!  You could view the Queen’s Garden overhead; you could walk along the China wall and after that the Tower Bridge at the bottom of the canyon.

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My mom pretty much in awe.

The China Wall was my favorite despite having to walk down hill for 2.5 miles then, back up 2.5. My big toe sported a nice bruise at the end of the day. That section of the hike that was just that a long, looming wall with sheer drops on both sides.

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That night temperatures plummeted to 34°F which we all knew was a possibility, but somehow we just neglected to believe it. We had the clothes and the heavy, heavy sleeping bags, but our tents were not meant for late fall/winter camping. Ooops. The best part of the campsite – the heated bathrooms –  ah, in the morning it was heaven. If you have ever sat on a freezing toilet seat, then you know the relief of a heated bathroom.

We finished our tour of Bryce by driving the fire eaten seventeen mile road to the highest point on the rim. At a staggering elevation of 9,110 Rainbow Point was breathtaking. My other favorite pull off was the Bryce Canyon Arch – erosion and wind blew a gaping hole right through the wall of the canyon.

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Overall Bryce has much additional sights to appreciate and do without a permit and is less crowded than Zion. The park is much smaller and feels intimate. The campsites have a larger space and did I mention heated bathrooms?

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Your Cobweb Clearer, Kate

Want to see more Utah? Check out day one: Barefoot in the Paria Utah Trip Part I and two: Zion the Goliath Utah Trip Part II

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Zion the Goliath Utah Trip Part II

If you don’t have religion you may find it in Zion. Whatever you believe, Zion offers proof that there is a larger spirit at work. It doesn’t matter if there is single grand architect or gods and goddesses who built a fortress of sanctuary, but the sheer cliff faces and green vegetation will take your breath away. The road to Zion twists and turns through the highland before the descent into the canyon. The last thing you see before you enter into the National Park is a farm which happens to be raising buffalo. I don’t know about you, but there is something about a buffalo that takes me back in time.  They always remind me of the old west and thanks to Lieutenant John Dunbar I can only refer to them as Tatonka.

Tatonka

After you enter the park, my companions and I quickly became distracted by the change from prairie to mountain scape as we were greeted by Checker Board Mesa. The rock scape swooped and swirled with red, white and brown in the fashion of a twisted ice cream cone. It was preparing us for the best scene of all. The heart of the national park lies just beyond a dark 1.1 mile tunnel straight through the cliff side. It works as an interesting sensory deprivation; when you reach the other side everything pops from the light hitting the cliffs to the shadows that the arches cast.

We arrived in Zion Monday afternoon in a thunder and lightning monsoon that lasted through the night.  Excellent for tent camping eh? Being confined to the tent could have been terrible, but luckily we had card games and a fun-flask. The next morning brought fair weather so we packed up and headed out to find a spot in the South Campground. We were in luck following our restless night we were rewarded with the best campsite – #77 with a fantastic view of the cliffs.

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camp view

We went to several of the main attractions. It is easier to use the complimentary shuttle service that runs at various times during the day. We stared at the end and worked our way to the front:

Temple of Sinawava – This is the gateway to the Narrows which are popular slot canyons. There is a riverside walk and access to the Virgin River. The Virgin River is responsible for creating Zion Canyon.

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Entrance into the Narrows

Big Bend – Views of the Great White Throne and the Angel’s Landing Bridge. This stop has no access to trails but has great angles for taking pictures.

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Yeah – that bridge leads to Angel’s Landing

Weeping Rock – This stop has access to the weeping rock trail which features hanging gardens.

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The view from weeping rock.

The Grotto – This is the entrance to Angel’s Landing and other trails. We took the Kayenta Trail to the emerald pools and then to the Lodge where we got lunch.

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The Emerald Pools

Court of the Patriarchs – The three largest peaks in the park named for the three Biblical fathers – Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Also can be seen is the Sentinel and Mount Moroni.

Touring the park took roughly 6-8 hours. We took our time and enjoyed the day. The park is goliath and I am sure you could spend a week there and only see a small percent of what it has to offer, but with our time constraints and weather restrictions we saw a lot of what the park has to offer.

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My best advice: If you plan on camping get there early! It would seem that the ideal time is around 7am-9am – any later and you risk not getting a spot in the park. There are three campsites: The Watchman campground which is for reservations only, south campground (where we stayed) which are first come, first serve, and Lava Point which is a primitive campsite and closes in October.  Fear not, if there is no camping available in the park there are several other locations that would be happy to accommodate. The first night we arrived later than we liked but stayed at Zion River Resort in Virgin, UT.

My issues with Zion: the park was terribly overcrowded. Even in the off season my three companions and I had to squeeze into a shuttle to each location. As we hiked to each location of the shuttle stops we felt rather like cattle. Instead of enjoying the scenery and spectacular views – I was too busy dodging slow walkers or being caught up in a sea of fellow sight seers. In the parks defense several of the harder hikes were closed due to the un-seasonal monsoons from the previous nights. We would have attempted Angel’s Landing had the trail not been closed.

The crowding however, could never ruin the experience – the scenery was incredible. I can’t wait to return to the canyon and explore all of the areas that were closed and hopefully obtain permits to enter the protected sections.

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Costs & Fees (all subject to vary):

Zion National Park entrance fee: $30 per vehicle (lasts for seven days)

Shuttle through the Canyon: FREE

Camping Fees: South Campground $16

Watchman Campground $16-$20

Zion River Resort: $45 (we stayed here the first night)

Want more Utah? Check out day one: Barefoot in the Paria Utah Trip Part I and day three: Bryce Canyon and It’s Hoodoos Utah Trip Part III

Your Cobweb Clearer ~ Kate

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Barefoot in the Paria Utah Trip Part I

Paria Canyon Travel Scout

Paria Canyon Travel Scout

Today I am going to talk about a magical, lonely place somewhere between Page, AZ and Kanab, UT. As you approach the pull off there is a parking area and a sign highlighting the Grand Escalante Staircase (National Monument). To the right of the parking area is a twelve-mile dirt road leading to the most beautiful place I have ever had the privilege to visit. I strongly suggest that you attempt the last few miles if you have a four wheel drive truck or a high clearance vehicle as most of the road can be washed out at times.

*check the weather: this area is subject to flash flooding and can be very dangerous!

I couldn’t help but hum, “can you paint with all the colors of the wind?”  – I have serious Pocahontas moments whenever I visit. Half way down the road you climb on green, purple, red, blue and white striated ridges that take your breath away for two reasons; for one, you can get up close and personal looking deep into the valley which has been carved out by the Paria river. Secondly, if you walk out far enough the ridges become narrow with significant drops on both sides. Walking on the ridge is not for the faint of heart. My brother, who is terrified of heights refused to walk out on the trail with me. His wife eventually coaxed him onto a shorter ridge.

Paria Canyon Travel Scout

Further down the road is the old Paria town site and film site. Only the foundations exist due to constant flooding and unfortunate arson. Bored teenagers decided to have a bonfire. Too bad. I admit, I have not had a look at the town site because of the rough the roads but, a lonely cemetery below the town site which holds townspeople and some native Paiute people. It is worth a stop to pay tribute to the Paria’s past residents.

At the furthest point the road stops dead at the river bank. Let me make myself clear this is an extremely remote area.  When I visited in December the shallow river was frozen over and you could slide across the center. When we visited last week it was all mud – the mud people pay big money for at a spa- slimy and full of minerals. It was so muddy that we left our boots on the bank of river and continued barefoot; not to worry, we were one of two groups in the whole area – nobody would bother them. The mud was slippery and ankle-deep in some spots but it contributed to an experience of a lifetime. It was strange walking in the open canyon with no one around – surrounded by antelope, deer and bobcat tracks. We only found one other set of human tracks but they were washed away. I felt primitive as my lizard brain instincts took over – taking notes on the smell of sage, the heat of the sun, and the mud beneath my feet. As an interesting note my mom and I both noticed the varying temperatures of the ground in different spots. At one point we noticed that as we crossed a section of shaded, moving water – it was warm like stale bath water. I can’t say this for a fact but I believe it to be a geothermal spot. Which is super exciting!

Paria Canyon Travel Scout

Paria Canyon Travel Scout

Paria Canyon Travel Scout
This is how we hiked.

After a mile and a half of trekking we came across caves and an abandoned mine carved into the sides of the canyon (after later research I concluded it may have been a gold mine).  We paused to take a break in the shade. We would have explored further, but we all became wary of the remoteness and a fear of being eaten by mountain lions as it was reaching sundown. It was strange to be afraid like that so we walked on only a bit further to where the river disappeared behind the next canyon.

Paria Canyon Travel Scout
Here is the possible gold mine which has been covered.

It was an amazing experience and I can’t wait to go back! The Paria is quickly becoming my most favorite place I ever visited. Please stay tuned for my reports on:

Zion the Goliath Utah Trip Part II

Bryce Canyon and It’s Hoodoos Utah Trip Part III

Paria Canyon Travel Scout

Paria Canyon Travel Scout

Your Cobweb Clearer ~ Kate

Want more Utah? Check out day two: Zion the Goliath Utah Trip Part II and day three: Bryce Canyon and It’s Hoodoos Utah Trip Part III

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How to Wine and Ride in the Wachau Valley, Austria

The UNESCO cultural landscape Wachau Valley pronounced ‘Vah-how’ not ‘Watch-choo’ is the largest producer of local white wines in Austria. The area produces predominantly Rieslings which profiles apple, peach, and pear but is delightfully crisp and the younger features are slightly effervescent. Rieslings are an exception to my ‘no white wine’ rule. Pour me a glass of red – I’ll be your friend forever. The Wachau valley extends for approximately thirty kilometers framing the Danube River. There is a mix of historic properties and present construction that stick out fantastically from the terraced hillsides.

Okay. Picture this. A guided day of biking fourteen miles from winery to winery, schnitzel and immersing with the locals. Fellow wanderlusters, I’m sure I previewed heaven and I approve of what I saw.

Montanna and I were at it again. Our journey would take us from the Krems train station to the tiny village of Joching. Instead of horses we went with bikes and substituted deafening heights for flat, even ground. There is a running joke about how I try to kill my friends with extreme adventures… I don’t know what they are talking about 😉

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Our first stop was in the historic town of Dürnstein which is the popular tourist spot of the Wachau Valley. Don’t let that scare you off. The town remains quiet and even in the height of the tourist season there were few and far between. Our wine came from a local family winery made in the heart of Dürnstein . What I adored about Dürnstein was the ruined castle at on the hill and the blue Augustinian  abbey along the Danube both with historic tales.

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The grapes just outside the town are used in local production of Rieslings and Sauvignon Blanc. They were slightly bitter to taste but, they were young grapes!

The castle once jailed Richard the Lionheart of England during the third crusade. He was released upon request by the pope. The hike is fairly strenuous as you gain elevation quickly. The bright side is that you can make it up the hill in about ten to fifteen minutes. The top reveals an incredible, panoramic view of the Wachau Valley.

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The next top spot of Dürnstein is the Augustinian Abbey constructed in the 15th century. Our guide told us that the church was painted blue in the 18th century simply because the Pope said “don’t paint the church blue”. The Austrian’s replied “we do what we want!” and painted it blue anyway. The guide also mentioned that this was a legend. Truth or not, take a moment to appreciate the rebel culture.

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The last stop before heading back to Krems was in Joching which is a tiny village with more family owned wineries. What is amazing about villages like this are the community pubs that rotate according to their wine supply. The pub we sampled from was up in the hills and overlooked the Danube. It was a welcome reward after a tough cycling session.

wachau reisling

The wine was fabulous. The towns were quaint. In the end, my legs (among other body parts) were terribly sore. Want to a perfect day trip out of Vienna? Make sure you visit the Wachau Valley. I only covered only half of the incredible region, but, the towns visited were truly a step back into time. You could take a guide or rent your own bikes. The valley is easy to navigate and almost impossible loose your way. I would have loved to take two or three days to immerse into the villages, but, time was of the essence.

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Want to do a self tour? Rent a bike and hop on a train from Vienna Wien Franz-Josefs-Bahnhof to Krems an der Donau starting at 11 Euros.

Your Cobweb Clearer, Kate

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Badass Arizona History: The Note Pad of the Ancients

Latin Lesson: Petro – stone Glyphein – to carve

V-Bar-V Ranch south of Sedona, AZ hosts one of the largest, most prolific examples of Beaver Creek Rock Art. The site consists of over one thousand images spread over thirteen rock panels. Upon excavation, archaeologists unearthed even more petroglyphs. The guide explained that relics were discovered up to six feet under where we stood and were covered back up after excavation. For that reason, you aren’t permitted to walk up to the carvings. Around 1300 AD the Sinaguan residents of the Verde Valley used the site to leave important messages and stories. The glyphs mostly consist of zoomorphs (animal images) and anthropomorphs (geometric designs).

The site is hosted by the National Parks service which means it can only be accessed with a guide. A Red Rock Pass is required for parking and can be obtained online or at the ranger station a short walk from the parking lot.

More from Arizona ancient history? Check out Badass Arizona History: Unreal Dwellings in the Red Rock

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This is the largest panel, as you can see the images are prolific.
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I love spirals!

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This is from the ‘feminine’ panel. The guide told us that most of the images were birth stories and female coming of age symbols.
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This is the oldest example of petroglyphs at the site.
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Birds!

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Quick Reminder:

  • You will be required to go with a guide.
  • Do be prepared for a walk.
  • Do bring water – Sedona is still a desert.
  • In high season you may need to make reservations – if not they run tours seven days a week – times are subject to change.
  • Do respect your surroundings- or may the fleas of a thousand bison infest your nether region. Check out Archaeology Etiquette. 

 

 

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Badass Arizona History: Unreal Dwellings in the Red Rock

North in Sedona are two fantastically preserved heritage sites that showcase some of the largest cliff dwellings in Red Rock Country along with pictographs. I had not heard of this site previously but saw the entrance in after hiking Fay’s Canyon. I’m glad I stopped! After driving several miles down an unpaved road – my Ford Fiesta thanked me – I began my adventure at the visitors center. There are two sites Palatki (meaning Red House) and Honanki (meaning Badger House) both inhabited first by the Sinagua tribes in 1200CE followed by a plethora of other groups like the Yavapai and Apache up until 1875. A Red Rock Pass is required for both sites, but not to worry, you can purchase them at the visitors center in a pinch for $5.

Palatki 

The Palatki site features a cliff dwelling to the east and one to the west of the visitors center. There is some uphill climbing involved but, not to worry it’s tame.

The Kiva Travel Scout

The last switchback approaching the site reveals the first glimpse of the sandstone structures. The long-standing dwellings are situated at the base of the sheer red rock cliff. A southern facing home offers protection from the brutal summer sun and warmth in the winter months. Above the first pueblo is a carving which archaeologists believe to more or less act as a sigil or a clan symbol.

Cliff Walls Travel Scout
The clan symbol is the round symbol carved into the rock face above the pueblo.
Pottery Travel Scout
Pottery example found on site.

On the other side of the site is a grotto that shows off incredible examples of pictographs and petroglyphs. Archaeologists suspect that some of the images tell stories and legends while others act as celestial calendars to keep track of planting seasons.

Moon over the Mountain Travel Scout

Ancient Art Travel Scout

Rabbit Travel Scout
Bunny? or Deer?

Honanki

Sister site to Palaki and another several miles down the road is a larger complex but lesser pictographs. Be sure to show your Red Rock Pass!

Hokani Arizon

Honanki complex is situated under a shallow cut out of a cliff. The monster complex in it’s hay day had over 70 rooms. After a fire destroyed most of the complex the site came under the care of the National Parks Service.

Ancient Art Travel Scout (2)

Man in the Moon Travel Scout
One of my favorite series of pictograms, man on the moon. Ancient aliens anyone?

Allow for at least three to four hours if you really want to get to know the place. Two to three hours if you just want to check it out. I recommend this place if you are into history and have an affection for rocks. Personally, I find rock art fascinating so I had to be drug out by my hiking boots.

Quick Note:

  • You will be required to go with a guide.
  • Do be prepared for a walk – not much but, about two miles total for both sites.
  • Do bring water – Sedona is still a desert.
  • In high season you may need to make reservations – if not they run tours seven days a week – times are subject to change.
  • Do respect your surroundings- or may the fleas of a thousand bison infest your nether region. Check out Archaeology Etiquette. 

 

What cool ancient site have you been to?

I have some more inspiration for you:

5 Northern Arizona Outdoor Day Trips 

 

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My Awkward First Date With Budapest

We’ve all been on awkward dates. My own terrible date memories include salad bits lodged  in my teeth for the duration and another where my suitor and I took a stroll in a secluded trail. He meant no harm but, as serial over thinker I prepared to evoke warrior princess mode making for a jumpy and well – awkward self. My first trip into Budapest, Hungary was just as blundering as one could imagine.

I’ll take it from the top: I’d been flirting with Budapest since I started planning my Europe trip. When I found out that the mysterious, history soaked city was a train ride from Wein I jumped at the opportunity to swipe right. I skyped my mom to tell her the news. She likes to know where I visit with the proviso that she will embrace her inner Liam Neeson and reenact “Taken” on the poor fool who steals away her one and only daughter. “You should talk Montanna into going with you” she suggested. Montanna, my bestie, would visit Austria for a week during my stay in Wien. Great! It’s decided – I wouldn’t even have to talk Montanna into it. Here was the catch, time would only allow for a day trip as the cats I was looking after would be mighty hungry should I not return. Challenge accepted!

My lock-tight plan and how to plan your own trip:

The efficient way (and for those in a time crunch) to visit Budapest from Wien is by train. Take Wien HBFon an ÖBB train to Budapest-Keleti. Exit the train into Budapest in about 2.5 hours as opposed to 3.5 hours or more. The trade off is that the ticket cost is set steeply at 29 and up for a one-way, direct advance ticket. The plan was to leave on the 8:40 AM train and be there by 11:20 AM which gives us until 7:40 PM which is the last train back to Wien for the evening. That gave Montanna and I a minimum six hour experience, taking into consideration time to situate in the city and also to walk back to Keleti. Budapest is essentially two cities stuck together so, traveling on foot would not be efficient. I researched a Hop-on & Hop-off tour that included free goulash for lunch and various free alcoholic beverage offers throughout the city for €25. Score. The pick up point was at the Grand Hungarian Hotel. Two minute walk from the train station! Perfect!

What happened:

Anyone who has traveled under my watch understands that I’m passionate about two topics: having a plan A,B,&C so on and being early. Catching trains are no exception. Naturally, Montanna and I arrive at Wien HBF in time to purchase tickets, stop for coffee, some apple strudel, and people watch. 8:40 rolls around and the train is delayed five minutes. Not an issue. Then fifteen. Then thirty. At this moment in time I’m pacing between the timetable board and our spot on the platform. The thought of lateness makes my skin crawl. You can’t control time, I know, I know. Fifty minutes later the train finally arrives. Okay, one hour down. Five hours is still workable with the plan.

Our unreserved seats in second class left us sweaty and slightly bruised from the backpackers and ladies with large bags walking across the train. I refused to let that matter the trip was in motion. By the time the train pulled into Keleti and situated with bus tickets the time approached half past noon. You could speculate what happened next – the bus was late too. Montanna and I waited an additional thirty minutes for the bus to arrive. In the bus’s defense, traffic was horrendous. I had a sinking feeling there would be no time for goulash or shots. At this point we just wanted to witness what Budapest was offering.

Under any other circumstance I’m sure my plan would have been full-proof. Luck was just not on my side. My pictures are hurried and taken from a moving bus but, it’s all I have of my intriguing first date. I want to delve deeper into Budapest, maybe next time, lateness will not be an issue. It’s always an adventure.

Your Cobweb Clearer, Kate

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The Statue of Liberty

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The Chain Bridge

Budapest travel scout

Hero’s Square

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The Hungarian Parliament Building (the red dome)

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Buda Castle

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The Great Synagogue

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The Opera House

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Saint Stephen’s Basilica

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