Category Archives: Travel

Five Years Together

With our five year “kiss-iversary” coming up on June 23rd, I booked train tickets to Paris so that we could go back to our roots and relive our magical first kiss at the top of the Eiffel Tower last weekend.

We met at the train station on Friday evening and to my great amazement, Kay took the opportunity to surprise me by shaving his beard off for the FIRST time in five years! As soon as I saw him, I burst out smiling and couldn’t keep the grin off my face for the rest of the weekend.

It was like traveling back in time to 2008, seeing a 24 year old Kay walk into the train station. To say I was ecstatic was putting it lightly. I couldn’t stop smiling from ear to ear!

The entire 4 hour train ride over, I kept looking at Kay and feeling very fuzzy inside, like we were really doing it all over again. My sister saw a picture on Facebook and said he looks ten years younger!

But poor Kay isn’t ready to give up the beard. He had trouble identifying with himself in the mirror and planned on starting to grow his beard back immediately. I had to enjoy that smooth face all I could!

We stayed in the 9th arrondissement in a studio rental I found and had dinner the first night at 1000 & 1 Signes, a mega cool Lebanese restaurant run completely by deaf staff. The entire staff were so, so sweet and caring and it was so interesting seeing into the open kitchen where the chef and waiters were signing orders. They had to be the most polite French wait staff I have ever encountered!

Around the restaurant hung artsy photos showing how to sign for things and after we ordered we were given a brochure about even more signs. Our waiter was so thoughtful at the end he signed to me to keep the brochure with a wink in his eye.

It was all in French of course, but in general I enjoyed the signing because all I do in Paris is point at the menu anyway. And the Lebanese food was great. I only wish I took more pictures so you could have seen our main courses!

After visiting the catacombs of Paris all Saturday, we started Sunday out with some crepe and coffee and then it was off to the Eiffel Tower. It was the 23rd afterall!

Unfortunately, the weather all over Europe was kind of crap. It was apparently sunnier in Switzerland, although they had called for rain, but in Paris it was overcast, windy and COLD. But I was on such a high, I wasn’t going to let the weather ruin the weekend for me.

We had waited already 2 hours in line to see the catacombs and we weren’t much luckier with the Eiffel Tower. We didn’t know about reserving tickets, so we also waited around 2 hours to get to the top, but it’s always worth it for this view!

When we got to the top… the blue sky even started poking out a bit.

But in typical fashion, the blue sky wasn’t really out until we got down from the tower. We had to get ready for our semi fancy dinner though!

Because the weather wasn’t the greatest, we couldn’t really have our wine, cheese and bread picnic at the bottom of the Eiffel Tower, so we did the next best thing and did it back at home!

Kay was temporarily disappointed that all the groceries were closed on Sunday, but I spotted a little old lady with some grocery bags, so we asked her where the grocery was and bought all our goodies right as it started to pour outside.

One bottle of wine and one rough downpour later, we were both in a good mood!

For dinner we went out to Mama Shelter which was a pretty trendy, cool restaurant.

It had couches and funky seating everywhere with chalkboard ceilings and texture overload. I loved it!

After dinner the weather was playing nice, so we went back to the Eiffel Tower at night to really soak up the last romantic moments.

But sadly, those shitty street vendors from Rome with all their lasers and crap have made their way to Paris. It kind of ruins the atmosphere when they are throwing glow in the dark toys up in the air and pointing lasers at you. I only like the vendors from last time who sell wine and champagne at night.

The next day we checked out and went to the Louvre before heading home. I was completely exhausted from standing in lines and walking around, but I’m so happy we made it to Paris for our five years. Hopefully in another five years we’ll be back again!

Where do you celebrate your anniversary with your significant other?

Rome!

After making my list of 2013 travel destinations last September, our travel plans changed quite a bit when we decided to go to the US for Christmas and also are planning on visiting again for a friend’s wedding this year. But my sister and brother in law surprised me by planning an Easter trip to Rome, so even though it is an expensive time to travel there we went for seven days back in April!

To save money we all rented a condo together and ended up only paying around 33CHF per person per night, which was definitely not bad. All the hotels would have been over 150 a night just for two people! And to save money on flights, we flew out of Basel for the first time.

Rome is also an amaaazing city. I’m so happy we went… just look at all we saw!

The Pantheon… the Colosseum…

Ruins…

Rome at night.

The Spanish steps.

The Vatican… where, I kid you not… the heavens opened up and sunshine poured down on us ALL FOUR times we went there. For a rainy week, this was pretty spectacular.

We saw the pope too! He gave us a blessing and Kay stayed for mass before we went to the Sistine Chapel.

The Vatican at night…

But they did call for rain every day that week… and on our second day we encountered this:

Which pretty much soaked my sister and brother-in-law’s shoes completely. But I was pretty happy in my gortex rain jacket and hiking boots. Best shoe choice yet!

We saw more ruins… just scattered around the city.

We saw the Vatican and the Sistine Chapel and all around the museum. 🙂

Ate tons of gelato, mozzarella, pasta, pizza and wine.

Trevi fountain:

Spanish steps… yet again! 🙂

Some beautiful sunsets.

Colosseum at night!

St. Peter’s:

We also saw the catacombs with 2000 year old graves from Romans and early Christians. Between that and ALL the basilicas we saw, the Vatican, Spanish Steps, Trevi Fountain and the Colosseum… I feel like we “did” Rome.

Now I am only feeling a bit guilty that we’re almost half way through 2013 and I’ve only been to one of the cities on my 2013 list. I’m not sure we are going to make it to Venice… but I’m hoping we can still manage London this year!

Weekend in Wallis

In, gosh… 2011 (how long ago it sounds!) we received a smartbox as a wedding present that would let us stay one night in a number of fancy hotels or wellness centers in Switzerland, eastern France or northern Italy.

During the winter of 2011/12 we put off deciding when to go because we thought it would be nice to go in the summer and spend one night in the mountains camping and then another night in the hotel. Then we would really have a full weekend to utilize the long journey time by train.

When summer 2012 rolled around we finally sat down and decided which hotel we wanted to stay at but because it was really a wellness hotel with a sauna and steam room, Kay thought it sounded like more a winter activity and he wanted to wait until it was cold to go.

Well, here we are in January and the smartbox was expiring soon! Without waiting we finally booked the hotel last week and left for Mörel early Saturday morning.

Mörel is around 2.5 hours from Zürich and originally I wanted to spend two nights in the hotel, but Kay wanted to save some dough so we just planned to go early Saturday, spend the day snowshoe walking and then later enjoying the wellness center and then on Sunday we would head back.

We got to Salina Maris hotel around 9:30am. They were pretty surprised when we told them we walked up from the station. I didn’t read the reservation email thoroughly, but apparently they would have sent a driver to pick us up from the train station for free! Oh well… it was only a 10-15 minute walk up the hill.

The hotel generously let us check in early (9:30 is pretty darn early!) and rented us snowshoes and poles. We dropped our thing in the room, rearranged our backpacks for hiking and were off.

As you can kind of tell, the mountains were pretty gorgeous. When we first arrived it was really sunny and we had blue skies, but we did experience some clouds and fog throughout the walk.

Snowshoe walking is also, by the way, pretty fun. Tromping around like a little kid in the snow is great!

I ended up just wearing long underwear under my normal trekking pants. I had puffy $10 snowpants from Kohls in my backpack, but I didn’t need to use them because it was warm enough walking.

After a few hours of walking the trails, we headed back down the gondola to Mörel again and prepared ourselves for wellness time!

In the wellness area we spent several hours using the sauna for 15 minute increments, taking a rest outside, using the steam room for 10 minutes, resting and repeating. At the end we jumped in the salt pool and enjoyed the jacuzzi.

At 18:00 there was an apero for guests and we met the other guests (all Swiss) in the hotel for some white Walliser wine. Everyone at the apero was very friendly and I had a nice time trying to keep up in Swiss German.

One of the couples at the apero ended up going to the restaurant as well so we actually enjoyed our complementary three-course meal with a pair from the Biel region! It was not as “romantic” as we had planned, but I was surprised and delighted to have much such open, friendly Swiss. It is really not common to just sit down and eat dinner with complete strangers here, but they were so much fun to talk to.

The next morning we got up and enjoyed the delicious brunch before enjoying the sauna and steam room one last time. When we headed back to the train we were both extremely relaxed.

I can highly recommend the hotel rooms at Salina Maris. They are very large, have nice, clean bathrooms and even kitchnettes and fridges to use for the weekend. The ski slopes were also practically empty, in case you were looking for more reasons to go. 😉

Our Times Square NYE Experience

I still can’t believe we even did this…

1:00pm-2pm:
On Monday, December 31, 2012, we rolled into NYC and after eating a quick meal, we geared up to head to Times Square to stand and wait.

3pm:
I wore my long underwear under my jeans that I was discarding on this trip, in case I felt like sitting down on the dirty streets of NYC during our wait. I also wore my new Goldtoe socks with wool in them, which were supposed to be “very, very warm” according to my sales lady and my snow boots. On top I wore my tank top, thermal top, merino wool sweater, Häglofs down jacket, Häglofs gortex shell jacket, arm warmers, gloves, hat and scarf.

1. Thermal Long Johns, 2. Jeans, 3. Goldtoe socks, 4. Snow boots, 5. Tank top, 6. Thermal top, 7. Merino wool sweater, 8. Häglofs down jacket, 9. Häglofs Riot II Q Gore-Tex® Performance Shell Jacket, 8. Arm warmers, 9. Leather gloves, 10. Hat (personal photo), 11. Scarf (personal photo)

Continue reading Our Times Square NYE Experience

Women’s Daypacks for Hiking and Air Travel

Kay and I have been hiking more in the past few years and the more we hike, the more I learn about myself and what I can handle. We learned pretty quickly that I cannot handle carrying a lot, especially when we climb steep uphill. As soon as the incline hits, my speed drops to a snail’s pace.

Kalalau trail
Here I am, trailing behind Kay on the Kalalau trail in Hawaii.

On our first few major hikes together, I was always carrying too much and would inevitably give my camera or even my whole pack to Kay when it got tough, which made the hike more difficult for him. With this in mind, we stripped down what I’m allowed to carry (if anything) to the essentials.

Camelbak backpacks

For day trips, we often head out with with 1-2 packs. Kay takes his small Camelbak (on the left above) that carries water, our jackets, snacks, sunglasses cases and wallets. If it’s a long hike, I take the even smaller Camelbak hydration pack (on the right above) that carries a bladder, but not much else. I can fit my debit card and a pack of tissues in and that’s about it, but it’s great because I don’t have to chase after Kay to give me a sip of water when I’m dying. I only have to chase him if I want some dextrose.

mystery ranch backpack

On more intense day trips, Kay upgrades to his Mystery Ranch backpack to carry cooking gear and I borrow his Camelbak to carry my jacket and things.

The problem is that when we go on city trips we often both would like a small pack to carry our cameras and jackets. So I’m looking for a pack that I can use for hiking as well as city trips and as a carryon when flying.

So what am I interested in? I headed to Transa with my camera in it’s Kata Access-18 PL bag to check out all the bags they have.

1. Meru Active 24 (79CHF)

( Image via Sportler)

This Meru pack was pretty light weight and comfortable, which would definitely be a plus for carryon weight restrictions. It fit my camera, even in it’s Kata Access-18 PL bag, and it had a handy mesh pocket on the outside that would be good for storing a jacket quickly. The main compartment had zipper entry divided in two for organization and space for a hydration system. The pack was a bright blue and there were no other options for colors at the store.

It did not have compression straps that I could use to attach my hiking poles to the bag, nor did it have a rain cover (what about my camera!?) and it did not have a spacer mesh to separate the pack from your back and keep your back from heating up your water… (Bleagh!) But for 79CHF, the pack is relatively affordable.

2. Crea Element from Mammut (120CHF)

(Image via Mammut)

The version I saw at the store was such a lovely colour. Light grey with teal blue accents for the logo. Very girly in my opinion. There was also another raspberry option that I thought was a bit ugly.

The Crea Element has a very sturdy hip belt and I really liked the mesh suspension system. Normally when we walk, the Camelback is in the backpack against your back and it heats up. Usually your first sip of water is cold because it’s the water left in the hose, but then you get a mouthful of warm water thereafter. It’s kinda gross in the summer.

This pack also had a wonderful built-in detachable rain cover. I love the rain cover built into my Lowepro camera bag because it is really handy, but on this pack I also loved that it is detachable so that if you needed to take it out to store some extra things when you are flying for example, you can detach the rain cover and store it separately, or remove it to dry if needed. Genius!

In addition to the rain cover, the Crea Element comes with a waste bag and a “women’s necessity bag”. With the top lid pockets, this gives you a fair amount of options for organizing things.

Unfortunately though, this pack is only about 20L and it did not fit my Kata bag with the camera. I could try to use Kay’s small crumpler bag which really only houses the camera and one lens, but I worried that maybe 20L is really too small to fit much, especially when flying.

3. Creon Element from Mammut (120CHF)

(Image via Mammut.com)

The Creon Element is a bigger 25L version of the Crea Element (oddly for the same price…), but unfortunately it does not come in the pretty grey/blue that the smaller pack does. It’s pretty obvious that the smaller pack is for women and the larger pack is for men. This pack comes in a putrid green, blue that wasn’t at the store or black with a horrid red Mammut logo. In my opinion, the red is really screaming, “Hey, I’m an expensive brand, look at me!” It looks worse in real life than it does in the photo.

When it comes down to it, I will choose my pack based mainly on functionality, but obviously I don’t want to walk around with a really ugly pack. This pack also had the suspension system, removable rain cover and it also had just enough room for my Kata bag. Both Mammut bags also have dedicated trekking pole straps that look pretty sturdy. (They are also for ice picks apparently…)

It is questionable if I could fit the Kata camera pack and the Camelbak hydration system in at the same time. Another flaw about the Mammut bags is that they are both drawstring, which is not quite as easy to get in and out of as zippered packs. The Creon Element does not come with the women’s necessity bag and it had less pockets in the top compartment, so overall it seemed a bit more primitive than the Crea Element.

4. Sirrus 24 from Osprey ($99)

(Image via Osprey)

While I was trying to find the Mammut backpacks for sale in the States, I came across Osprey packs for women. I went back to Transa and it turns out they only have the Stratos series for men in supply, but the men’s packs have many of the same features as the women’s. I spent about 45 minutes trying them out, so I think it gave me a pretty good idea about what the Sirrus series would be like.

The Sirrus series all have mesh suspension systems, although it looks like the pack is held a little closer to the back than the Mammut bags, especially at the top and bottom of the pack where they attach. I’m not sure how that would affect airflow, considering that Mammut boasts some “chimney effect” with theirs. This is a 24L zippered pack with easy access, but only one small pocket on the front that houses the detachable rain cover. Small point – the rain covers on the Sirrus/Stratos packs attach with velcro and the Mammut ones have a clip. I feel like the clips are sturdier and the velcro seems a bit cheaper, even though the Osprey packs cost more money in Swiss francs.

The Osprey bags also have compression straps on the side, but Osprey also has a system for storing your trekking poles on the go that looks really cool. I almost always hike with poles (Grandma!) so I’m really interested in this part, but I’ve read some reviews that in the summer the poles rub against your arm when you store them this way, so I’m not sure how effective the system actually is.

Sirrus packs come in turquoise and purple, but again, I’m not a big fan of this shade of purple.

5. Sirrus 36 from Osprey ($139)

(Image via Osprey)

Kay had me convinced that the 20L Mammut pack was way too small, especially for air travel, so I started looking at some of Osprey’s larger 36L packs.

Osprey also designed the Sirrus packs with hip belts made for women so they fit better around a woman’s curves. They also have special shoulder straps so that the backpack doesn’t dig into your breasts when you are walking. I noticed when I tried on the Mammut Creon Element, I had to put the chest strap all the way at the top and the bag still felt a bit like it wasn’t designed for me.

Both the 24L and the 36L Osprey packs have hipbelt pockets that are absent on the Mammut packs. I’ve been jealous that Kay has hipbelt pockets his Mystery Ranch backpack that are not on my Mystery Ranch pack. They would be so helpful for storing tissues, lip balm and lens cleaning clothes on hikes. I blow my nose ALL the time! There is even a little pocket on one of the shoulder straps. I’m sure if Kay had one, he would love to store his GPS in it.

In addition, this pack has a drawstring opening with a pack lid that has two zippered compartments. It also has a second front pocket in addition to a much roomier rain cover pocket than the 24L.

It seems like it’s always a big question of how the camera fits in the pack and whether I have the camera in a camera bag (for protection) and whether that fits as well. If I go for a smaller 24L size, I may run into issues with getting things to fit when I fly, but at the same time, most 34-36L packs exceed carryon requirements so I’m sort of stuck.

I’m also still not the biggest fan of drawstring bags because you really have to take them completely off to dig around in them, but can I really survive flying with only 24L? Maybe I should just follow Kay’s example and buy two day packs. Hah!

Do you have a laundry list of requirements for your backpack?