A Travel Retrospective

Pretty much anyone who knows me knows that travel is my passion. Aside from my family, travel is my great love in life. When I was a kid, we rarely traveled. I can remember two vacations: When I was about six, we went to Yosemite for a couple of days, and when I was about seven, we went to a small inn in Northern California that turned out to be owned by the family of the woman who hired me into publishing nearly 20 years later (odd coincidence, eh?). And that was it for our traveling. My dad traveled all the time for work, so when he wasn’t working, he didn’t really care to travel. Plus, my siblings were a lot older than me (7 years for my sister and 11 years for my brother), so trying to plan a trip that would appeal to a 7-year-old, a 14-year-old, and an 18-year-old was nearly impossible. That said, I loved traveling and always dreamed of doing more of it.

I did get to go visit my best friend a few times when she lived in Los Angeles, and that was great fun! My parents would put me on a plane by myself (I was about 10 or 11), and Lisa’s dad would pick me up at the airport in Burbank and take me home, where I’d spend several days with Lisa and her family. (Yes, that’s the same “Auntie Lisa” I refer to frequently on the blog—we’ve been best friends for 34 years and counting!)

And when I was about 15 years old, my mom started taking me to Buffalo with her on her annual treks back there. And I loved it! I have a lot of neat family back there, and traveling was just such fun!

And then, when I was 16 and finally had a driver’s license, Lisa, Jeanette, and I started taking little trips here and there. We’d drive down to Los Angeles or whatnot—visiting potential colleges, going to Disneyland, or whatever. A couple of years later, Lisa and I took a road trip to Colorado, which was a lot of fun at first, though we were barely speaking by the end. Can’t even remember all the details of why now (though I do recall it involved me feeling lousy due to a mystery illness that later turned out to be a very stubborn abscessed tonsil, as well as Lisa’s beloved grandmother passing away while we were gone, unbeknownst to me at the time), but it was one of the very few times we ever got really mad at each other! Funny thing is, we travel great together, but that was a tough trip by the end (fun times before that, though!).

When my dad passed away, my mom and I were living in Arizona, having moved there just three months before. We were both at a loss—new place, lousy job (for me), obvious loss of my dad, etc. And so, we decided to go on a road trip through Utah, Colorado, Yellowstone, etc. We took the dog (Miss Bits!), loaded up the car, and off we went. And oh, what fun we had…until my mom’s back went out near the end of the trip, and I got pulled over for speeding while trying to find a chiropractor for her in a small Wyoming town. (No, mom, I did not care that the officer who pulled me over was cute!! Sheesh, just like a mom to try to play matchmaker while I’m trying to talk my way out of a ticket!!)

We took more trips, too. One time we drove to San Diego and spent a lovely several days there. We drove up to Sacramento to see my sister a few times. We flew to Georgia and visited my aunt and uncle. And we were supposed to go to Nashville and Memphis together after I graduated from college, but my mom ended up staying home because my grandma was having some health problems. (She gave her ticket to my college friend, Anbolyn, and we went and had a wonderful time!)

When I got my first job out of college (in publishing), I wasn’t making much money, but I was making enough to be able to do some traveling. By then, Lisa had moved to Seattle, so I went up to see her somewhat frequently. One time I drove up there all on my own, spending several days on the road stopping at Crater Lake, some seaside towns in Oregon, etc. Road-tripping alone was a bit lonely, but mostly relaxing and fun. I loved having no real agenda!

But I had yet to go overseas. And then, my friend Kim (the one who hired me into publishing, and whose family owns the inn we stayed at when I was a child) and I decided to go to London. For my 30th birthday. Completely awesome! We went in January (obviously, since that’s my birthday!), so it was cold but fantastic. We traipsed all over the city and took a train up to Edinburgh, Scotland, for a couple of days. Heaven! Bliss! I was hooked!

Me at Edinburgh Castle!
Me at Edinburgh Castle!


Big Ben and Parliament!
Big Ben and Parliament!
High tea with Kim!
High tea with Kim!

A year or so later, Kim and I decided to do a five-week language-immersion program in France—specifically, in the French Alps, in a small lake town called Annecy. Aside from marrying Chris and having my boys, this ranks as the single best thing I’ve ever done in my life. I loved it! We had class for half a day each weekday, and we would spend the rest of the time wandering around the gorgeous little old town, exploring the area, trying out all the local restaurants, giggling at the strange menu translations, or renting cars and driving to other places: Carcassone (amazing medieval town!), Strassbourg (disturbing Andouille sausage incident that still traumatizes me!), Geneva, Switzerland (the Swiss hate me! And why is the Jet D’Eau so famous?), and Interlaken, Switzerland (angry Swiss bus drivers who hate me! What is it about the Swiss? People love me, but not the Swiss!). When the program was over, we rented a car and drove through Belgium, Holland, and Germany…where, according to the woman at the Cologne hotel where we stayed, you cannot get good German food. If not in Germany, then where?? She recommended we eat at an Italian restaurant instead. It was a bizarre night….

Beautiful Annecy!
Beautiful Annecy!
Gorgeous canals....
Gorgeous canals….
Kim and I boating on the lake!
Kim and I boating on the lake!

Later on, I wanted to do more European travel, but Kim’s funds had run out, so I had no travel buddy. I pondered going it alone, but then my aunt chimed in with, “Take me! Take me!” And so we did two European trips together with a tour group catering to senior citizens. Yes, I was the odd woman out in terms of age, but what fun we had! The people were interesting, lively, and quite amusing at times—you haven’t lived until you’ve seen a frustrated Polish tour guide attempting to corral a bunch of drunk octogenarians staggering in the road after drinking too much Polish vodka!

I really, really don't know why we're wearing crowns. :-)
I really, really don’t know why we’re wearing crowns. 🙂
Market Square in Krakow, Poland.
Market Square in Krakow, Poland.
With Aunt Sally in Prague!
With Aunt Sally in Prague!
My aunt was secretly jealous of my hat, which she claimed to hate. :-)
My aunt was secretly jealous of my hat, which she claimed to hate. 🙂

With Aunt Sally, I visited Eastern Europe—though really, it was more central (Vienna, Budapest, Warsaw, Krakow, Prague)—and Croatia/Slovenia with a touch of Bosnia thrown in. How fondly I remember those trips—the great food! The fun outings! Meandering around each new city to discover all the sights and smells and sounds! I came back with so much knowledge and appreciation of other cultures, and so many good memories!

A fish meal in Croatia. We had a LOT of fish!
A fish meal in Croatia. We had a LOT of fish!
Crazy-beautiful Dubrovnik, Croatia.
Crazy-beautiful Dubrovnik, Croatia.
Beautiful country!
Beautiful country!
I loved, loved, loved Slovenia!
I loved, loved, loved Slovenia!

By this time, I had met Chris. And I really, really liked him. I did wonder how game for travel he’d be, though, since he seemed to be quite a homebody. And if someone wasn’t willing to travel now and then…well, that would be a dealbreaker for me, I think, what with my wanderlust.

But Chris surprised me. We had been dating just a few months when I mentioned that I had been selected to present at a Mark Twain conference in Elmira, New York, and that I was thinking of going a few days early to visit my Buffalo relatives and would then drive down to the Tri-Cities area to deliver my paper. I remarked that I had traveled alone before and was fine with it, though it was certainly more fun to do it with someone, and he chimed in with, “I’ll go with you!” I was shocked…and delighted! We had only been dating a short time, and Chris was very reserved about making any first moves. Yes, he asked me out in the first place, but beyond that, he moved at a glacial pace. So much so that I had to ask him, more than a month into dating, whether he was actually interested in me as more than friend, because he was so shy and reserved that I couldn’t tell whether he kept asking me out as a friend or whether he was interested in me as a girlfriend! So to have him volunteer to accompany me on a week-long trip across the country…well, I was surprised and delighted.

Young and in love. Well, okay...KINDA young. But in love, nonetheless. :-)
Young and in love. Well, okay…KINDA young. But in love, nonetheless. 🙂
In Cooperstown--one of our favorite places!
In Cooperstown–one of our favorite places!
Soggy and happy at Niagara Falls!
Soggy and happy at Niagara Falls!

And so we went, by that point having dated for about seven months, and we had a wonderful time! I remember us sitting in the car laughing until we cried about the ridiculously hard rainstorm that had us trapped in the car, mere feet from our hotel. And I remember getting stuck on the Thruway and driving for like 20 miles out of our way before finally getting to a turnoff for a Flying J rest stop out in the middle of nowhere—all the while laughing and saying, “Get us off the Thruway! The Thruway is evil!” And Elmira…such a happening town, where you’ve got a college, a prison, and a cemetery. Wheeeeeee! But the important thing about that trip was that we both learned that we could spend all day, every day together and not get bored or irritated with each other. We just had fun!

The next summer, we took a road trip through New England—noteworthy because Chris proposed to me in Boston, near the end of the trip, sitting in Christopher Columbus Park at the waterfront. I will forever have a soft spot for Boston because of that—though even before he proposed, I thought it was a really neat city!

Our next big trip was our honeymoon—our most expensive and least successful trip. We went to London and Paris, and it was just a comedy of errors! We have fond memories of that trip, and it was Chris’s first time overseas…but it was an utter and complete flop on so many levels! Our driver forgot to pick us up at the airport, we had problems with the flat we rented, the UK had record-breaking rains that shut down all the trains, so we couldn’t take our planned day trips to other areas outside of London, and on and on. We laugh about the trip now, but oh my—it was kind of a disaster!

At the top of St. Paul's Cathedral.
At the top of St. Paul’s Cathedral.
Ah, Paris... Je l'aime!
Ah, Paris… Je l’aime!
It rained...all. the. time. And evidently Chris was pregnant here. ;-)
It rained…all. the. time. And evidently Chris was pregnant here. 😉
My favorite honeymoon pic. This pretty much sums up the trip. ;-)
My favorite honeymoon pic. This pretty much sums up the trip. 😉

Luckily, we had another trip two months later—to Vancouver Island, for Lisa’s wedding to her Chris. That trip was memorable (a) because Lisa got married and (b) because I was feeling kinda weird and started to suspect that maybe, just maybe, I was pregnant. Indeed, I took a pregnancy test the minute we got home and discovered that I was pregnant—which explains why the dress I had picked out for Lisa’s wedding didn’t fit across the chest anymore, and why I had a sudden passion for eggs, which I had never really liked all that much before!

And a couple of months later, we had another trip—to Disney World! My aunt (and former travel buddy) and uncle had given us a week in a timeshare for a wedding present, and we chose to use it in Disney World, so we could have a roller coaster extravaganza. Alas, since I was unexpectedly pregnant, we couldn’t go on any coasters—but we had a blast anyway. Disney World was fun even without the coasters, and we took day trips to St. Augustine and Kennedy Space Center.

After Theo was born, we continued to travel, taking our first trip when he was just 10 weeks old (to Texas, for Chris’s cousin’s wedding). And now, at age five, Theo has already been in 20 states and one Canadian province! We have taken him on road trips back east a couple of times, which has allowed us all to see several states each time. We’ve visited my aunt and uncle in Virginia, which we always love to do, as well as visited my family in Buffalo and Chris’s family in the Philly area. Theo was one well-traveled toddler!

When it came time to think about a second child, we did a lot of budget-planning, and we realized that our days of lots of travel would need to come to an end, because our budget just won’t support it. But, we weren’t willing to give it up altogether—Chris has become as much of a travel junkie as I am, and Theo travels very well. So, we decided, even if the budget was very, very tight, we wanted to take one week each year and take a vacation—albeit a scaled-down one with a much tighter budget. And so we have—for the last two years, we have spent a week in Cambria, which is a mere five-hour drive from our house. And we have loved it! We miss our bigger trips, but they just aren’t in the cards right now. And one thing we’ve found is that if you can only afford one week a year…well, you really appreciate that one week!

So, we’ve spent months looking forward to our week in Cambria, and it did not disappoint! We rented the same beach cottage as last year—it’s a small, outdated but clean, affordable little place with a view to die for. Perfect! Theo loves it because he gets his own room with a big, comfy, full-sized bed and a radio and CD player right next to the bed. And it’s dog-friendly, so we’re able to take the pugs with us and save $500 in boarding fees. Nice!

We did a lot of the same things as last year, but it was neat because this year, we knew what we wanted to do—we remembered our favorite parts from last year and did those things again. Cambria itself is a small, beautiful, sleepy town that isn’t particularly exciting for kids but that is lovely for adults. The beaches are nothing short of stunning, and kids do play on them…but they’re not really the most kid-friendly around, with lots of little pebbles and crashing waves. So, last year and this year we found that we took a lot of short day-trips to the surrounding areas, and then came back to our beloved beach cottage to relax in the late afternoon/evening. This works out well because it also allows Sam to nap in the car.

We went to San Luis Obispo two different days—they have a couple of nice parks and a wonderful children’s museum that both boys really enjoyed. (Well, Theo enjoyed it both days. Sam enjoyed it one day and napped through it the other day!) And Chris and I love the laidback, college-town vibe of the downtown. Plus, they have some yummy restaurants where I can actually eat and not get sick—bonus!

We also went to Avila Beach twice. That is one of our favorite areas down there—it has the best beach for kids! It’s a rather large bay, so the beach has very gentle, lapping surf, instead of the pounding waves you get in Cambria. And the beach itself is very clean and has wonderfully soft sand, perfect for playing in. Plus, you get to see a lot of great wildlife—we saw dolphins playing in the bay one day and seals another day. And my goodness, are our boys ever crazy about the beach! I think it’s sensory paradise for Theo, who is just in his element rolling in the sand, splashing in the water, racing Chris and me up and down the beach, etc. He is happy, cooperative, and downright joyful at the beach—he loves it, which means we love it! And Sam seems to be the same—he absolutely loved playing in the sand and splashing in the water! And even when he got tired, he was content sitting in our arms at the beach, whereas normally when he gets tired, he fusses and cries. I believe we’re raising two little beach bums! The funny thing is, I was never that much of a beach person…until I had kids. Now we love it…perhaps mostly because our boys love it, so that makes us happy!

This year, we discovered a little farm just down the road from Avila Beach that has a hayride, you-pick fruit (it was gala apples on the day we went—they were so yummy!), pony rides, lots of animals for kids to see and feed, a little restaurant and ice cream shop, delicious fudge, and an extensive fruit stand. We ended up going there both days after Avila Beach, and it was one of our favorite parts of the trip. Just a really neat, low-key place that Theo and Sam enjoyed playing.

Our one new venture was to Santa Barbara. We had actually thought of spending our week of vacation there this year, just to try somewhere new, but in the end we settled on Cambria, which is considerably less expensive, and decided to just take a day trip. And we had a lot of fun wandering around near the waterfront and playing on the beach, but I’m actually glad we stuck with Cambria. I had been to Santa Barbara more than 20 years ago, for just one afternoon/evening, and really liked it. And I still like it, but it’s much more commercial and busy than Cambria, and in our old age, Chris and I find we really like the more laidback, small-town feel of places like Cambria. So it was a fun day, and we were glad we went, but in the end we were happy we had chosen to spend the bulk of our vacation in Cambria and the surrounding towns.

We did spend one day just puttering around the Cambria area, and it was so beautiful! Cambria is often foggy and cold in the morning and evening, with clearing during the afternoon. But this particular day, it was just crystal-clear, blue skies all day, and it was nothing short of stunning! We drove north a bit, to see the elephant seals molting on the beach (this is a big thing in the Cambria/San Simeon area), and we stopped at another little farm in the area, but mostly we just puttered around.

One of the highlights of our trip was having lunch with Chris’s former neighbors, Ron and Linda. Chris grew up next door to Linda (and later Ron), but they retired to Cambria two years ago. Last year we didn’t have a chance to see them, but this year we met them for breakfast. What fun! Theo was pretty hilarious—he took a real liking to Linda and was talking her ear off. First he informed her, quite seriously, that he’s 64 years old and then asked if she’d get him a paper so he could read the weather. Then he talked her ear off about everything and anything…and when they left, he called, “Bye, Linda! I’ll text you! I’ll send you a message from my iPad!” He doesn’t text or have messaging enabled, so don’t ask me where he got that, but he cracked me up, sounding like a 40-year-old man! (Or is it 64?!)

One of my other favorite parts of Cambria is the wildlife. Cambria is actually in a pine forest, but it happens to also be on the coast—so you get the best of both worlds! The steep pine-covered mountains descend right to rocky cliffs and bluffs at the edge of the Pacific, and it’s just stunning. And a haven for wildlife! We saw hawks frequently, and deer were everywhere (including in our side yard one night when Chris took the dogs out for their evening pee break). From our family-room window, we saw whales spouting as they swam by in the ocean. We saw seals and elephant seals and dolphins—it was fabulous!

And Sam proved to be every bit as good a traveler as his big brother—he just gamely went along for the ride on everything, which is surprising because he’s still working on cutting those last two molars. But he was cheerful and even slept decently most nights, getting me up only a couple of times a night. Oddly, Cambria is where he stopped sleeping through the night last year (leading me to think it was just a temporary setback due to vacation—silly me! It’s now been a year without good sleep!). But he did okay—no better or no worse than at home. Whew!

So all in all, I’d say our long-awaited week of vacation was fantastic—and oh-so-sweet because it’s the only week we’ll get until next summer. Knowing that just made it all the more special, you know?

Somehow, I have a feeling we may be frequent visitors to Cambria over the years. I’ve traveled a lot of beautiful places, and I have to say that the central California coast, of which Cambria is a part, ranks among some of the prettiest country I’ve seen. Chris and I are so taken by it that we’re musing about perhaps someday retiring there. Who knows?? Chris has a dream to someday run a little bed-and-breakfast with me and Sam (and Theo, if he desires—though we suspect he’ll be running the country by that point…or maybe hiking the Himalayas…), so you never know….

That said, I have big plans for some travel in the next few years. I suspect we may go back to Cambria next year or the year after, but I’ve got big plans for four years from now, when Chris and I celebrate our 10-year anniversary. If we can manage to save up enough money, I want the four of us to go to Hawaii! Chris and I can renew our vows, and the boys will be old enough to have a blast playing on the beaches and exploring there. In all my travels, I’ve somehow never made it to Hawaii yet, so I need to do that—it’s on my bucket list!

And the year after that, Chris gets a six-week paid sabbatical from Genentech, and I have big plans for a cross-country RV trip with the boys. Theo will be old enough to have studied a lot of the areas we’ll visit, and Sam will be old enough to just have fun going along for the ride wherever the wind takes us!

But now it’s back to real life…. Chris is starting his huge project in a matter of days, and that will be consuming his life for the better part of a year. (I suspect I won’t be seeing much of him at some points!) My next UC Berkeley Extension class starts up in a few weeks, and Theo is starting kindergarten (god help us all!) on Wednesday. And Sam…well, he’s busy working on his own self-imposed feeding therapy, which evidently consists of him stealing an entire half of an English muffin from Chris and devouring it, as well as eating all of my guacamole on my burrito bowl and inhaling numerous goldfish crackers. Oh, and eating falafels—he’s apparently a big fan of falafels. Yes, the kid who wouldn’t eat anything but the smoothest purees has suddenly decided that he’d like to work on solids. But not just any solids—only ones he chooses. If you put a pea on his tray, he’ll poke at it suspiciously with a finger, then unceremoniously drop it off the side of the tray and stare at you as if to say, “Don’t feed me this crap! Where is my falafel?!” Same thing with scrambled eggs. But give him pieces of an English muffin, and he’ll eat like there’s no tomorrow. Crazy kid!

And a quick public-service announcement: If you are planning to walk with us at Sam’s Step Up for Down Syndrome walk in October, please let me know! I’m going to be making T-shirts for our team, so I need to know who is walking with us and what size shirt you would like. At this point, I believe it is Auntie Jeanette and Justin, as well as perhaps Grandma Kathy and Papa. Anyone else who wants to join is more than welcome—just let me know so I can make you a shirt!

And last but definitely not least: I have a lot of pictures posted this week! Make sure you click on each page of pictures so you can see them all! If you just start clicking through the pictures, it will only take you through the ones on that “page.” You have to come back to the blog post and click on the next page of thumbnail images to view those. Silly software plug-in doesn’t always work terribly intuitively….

Anyway, it’s good to be home…sorta. I’d rather still be at the beach. But hey, I’m home in my own bed, so that’s always nice. 🙂


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