I’ve been saving this one because Switzerland is my favorite place on Earth, which means I have a lot to talk about! As I believe I’ve established time and time again, I love mountains, and there are very few mountain ranges in the world that can top the grandeur and majesty of the Alps. When my family traveled to Switzerland, our destination was Wengen, which sits at the top of a mountain overlooking the Lauterbrunnen Valley. In order to make it to such an elevation, we had to leave our tour bus in the valley below and take a cog railway up the steep climb to the top. I wish I could paint a more vivid picture in my head of the view from the cog railway station in Wengen overlooking the valley, because I could have spent hours gazing across the valley at the distant mountains shrouded by fog and the white streaks on their sides that were rivers and waterfalls. I took many pictures while we were there, but a picture doesn’t even come close to capturing the beauty and scale of the mountains. While we were in Wengen, we were so high up that our hotel room windows would become periodically enveloped by clouds, reducing visibility to almost zero while the cloud passed through the town. We joked about reaching out of the window to touch the clouds, wondering how many people could use that claim to fame! As if the view from Wengen wasn’t enough, we took another train up to the highest point in Europe, Jungfraujoch. Although much of the train ride occurred inside a tunnel, there were stops along the way at viewing areas that offered stunning looks at snowy mountain vistas. When we made it to the top of Europe, it was unfortunately quite cloudy, and we were unable to see the incredible view that can be seen from the observing desk. While the views may have been a little disappointing, the observatory had other exhibits to enjoy. Underneath the main building is a series of ice tunnels with ice sculptures inside them. The ice stays preserved perfectly due to the colder temperatures, allowing people to walk around without ruining the tunnels. Back down at ground level, we explored the impressive and powerful Trümmelbach Falls, guarded from its wild spray by ponchos and raincoats. The water of Trümmelbach Falls has carved its way through the inside of a mountain over the ages, and the result is a wild and turbulent multi-level underground waterfall that is deafening as it pounds across the rocks and sends spray flying back onto the observer platforms. If I were to choose another place in the world to live, it would be in the Swiss Alps. As a lover of mountains, I can never get enough of the views that the Alps have to offer, and I would travel there again and again in a heartbeat.
Wednesday, April 19, 2017
Out of all the places I have been, Florida is easily the most “common” location. I’ve traveled south to Florida many times for a few different reasons. The primary place that I visit is Walt Disney World. Yes, a theme park doesn’t have much in common with the places of natural beauty and history that seem to make up most of my other travels, and is surely a much more expensive destination, but Disney has kept me returning from before I can remember all the way up to today. I would not have as many visits to this special place without my grandparents, who spend close to a month staying at various Disney resorts for a month each winter with their Vacation Club membership. But, since they are Disney lovers, the rest of our family was (thankfully) roped in as well! My favorite part of Disney as I have grown older is the atmosphere that the theme parks and resorts provide. I always feel right at home no matter where I am, and with so many different styles of restaurants and attractions, it’s easy to get lost in the “perfect” world that is created for you. As I said, this comes at the cost of quite a bit of money, but I’ve made far too many wonderful memories with wonderful people to say that it’s not worth every cent. Outside of Disney, I have been to the Naval Aviation Museum in Pensecola, near which I saw a B-29 Bomber take off, one of the few that remains from their active service in World War II. Further south, I braved the scalding summer heat to enjoy some of the waterfront areas, including Daytona Beach and Palm Beach. My excursion to Palm Beach was especially unique, as it was the location of one of my free days during my 2016 drum corps tour. This tour took me to Lakeland, Jupiter, and Orlando, where I performed shows and stayed in various housing locations such as an elementary school and a fairground. Florida in the middle of the summer is not the best place to be when you are participating in an intense, outdoor, physical activity, but it’s hard for me not to enjoy myself anytime I’m near palm trees! Part of my family is from the south, so I think I can safely say that I got my mother’s southern blood when it comes to tolerating hot temperature over cold ones. Florida is one of the few true “vacation spots” that I frequent, always providing an exciting and fun getaway.
Monday, April 17, 2017
There is a reason Oregon natives try to convince everyone that their state isn’t nearly as great as it seems – if everybody knew how gorgeous Oregon is, the United States would be unable to handle the mass migration that would occur. The Oregon coast is a wonderful blend and cacophony of ocean and shoreline life. I have spent time tide pooling among the rocky coast, and amount of life that stays behind in a few small pools of water is incredible. It was here that I saw my first wild sea anemone, a creature that seems very surreal when you see it just beneath the surface of the water. Snails, plants, small fish, and crabs were just a few more inhabitants of the pools, and one pool was so filled with crabs that we couldn’t resist the urge to pick up a couple of the smaller ones. Despite gently and safely grasping the sides of the crab’s shell, one of them still managed to get a nice vice grip on the end of my finger, and after that I decided it was probably best to just look at them. Further out on the rocks, there were several seals that were sprawled out in the sun. I would have liked to get a close look at them, too, but that would have involved either some swimming or some dangerous rock climbing, so I we settled for watching them from a distance. Keeping with the sea life trend, we also visited the Portland Aquarium, which was fun and interesting but not nearly as enjoyable as seeing many similar creatures while tide pooling. We didn’t spend much time in the inland areas of Oregon, as our coastline stops were a bridge between touring Washington and California, but driving along US Highway 1 offered some wonderful views of the coast and parts of the nearby hills and forests as it snaked just between the two. Another feature of the Pacific Northwest that I absolutely love is the weather. For many people, frequent rain is a bother and seems to negatively affect people’s moods. For me, though, warm and rainy weather is my favorite, and the sounds and smells of fresh rain enhance and complement the vibrant greens of the coast in a wonderful way. Overcast days make me feel cozy and comfortable, so Oregon and its neighbors always seem very attractive to me as places to visit and even places to live.
Sunday, April 16, 2017
My travels to France are limited to the northern regions, as the furthest south that my family ventured was to Paris and Versailles. We started our French adventure on the shores of the English Channel, visiting the various beaches involved in the D-Day landings of World War II. There is some incredible history embedded that area, and I was especially intrigued by some of the old artillery bunkers that are further back from the shore. While some of them are still intact, most of them are overgrown piles of concrete and dirt, separated by large divots in the ground created by shell explosions. It’s amazing that the remnants of a war that happened over 60 years ago can still sit out in the open as a tangible piece of history. Visiting the American and German national cemeteries was a somber experience, and it is eye-opening to the horrors of war to stand among the endless rows of markers that stand in memory of fallen soldiers. After moving on from the Normandy beaches, we went to Paris. I am not a city person to begin with, and I can’t say that I recommend Paris as the beautiful destination it is often made out to be. Certain areas, such as the Champs Elysees, Palace of Versailles, and other well-kept buildings and gardens, are beautiful and worth the visit. The rest of the city, however, was very dirty and seemed unfriendly. Perhaps that was just my initial dislike of cities showing through, but I had others in my family confirm my feelings. We were visiting Europe during the Euro, and, while we were in Paris, the French national team was eliminated from the tournament by Spain. There was an interesting atmosphere immediately following that result, a combination of riots in public viewing areas and people driving circles around the Arc de Triomphe waving Spanish flags out of their car windows! What better time to experience foreign culture than a time of intense sports competition… I will be returning to France for another visit soon, as my sister is studying abroad next semester and we will be joining her around Christmastime to see the area of France that she will be living in, an area that we have yet to visit. In many ways, France reminds me of places in the U.S., and I will be eager to see if that trend continues into the more average areas off the country.
Another location of the frequent vacation variety, Gulf Shores served as my family’s February getaway for a few years. Although being in college stopped me from joining my family down south this past year, I still have my fair share of Gulf Shores knowledge. The actual shoreline in Gulf Shores is lined by a mix of high-rise and home style condominiums with a beachfront store or restaurant every so often. Every building that serves as a living space in this area is built one story off the ground to accommodate for potential flooding that can happen during hurricanes and other such weather events. If you’ve never been to a southern coastal area, the buildings “on stilts” might be the first things that catch your eye. My family has never chosen a high-rise condo, as we would rather have the feeling of a miniature home by the sea than a balcony view 20 stories up. The beaches at Gulf Shores gave us plenty to do – beach soccer, flying kites, building sand castles, or just walking along the water’s edge enjoying the sound of the waves. One of our favorite restaurants, Bahama Bob’s, also sits right next to the beach, only a couple of buildings down from our regular condo. Speaking of restaurants, our Gulf Shores experience was never complete each year without a visit to De Soto’s Seafood Café, Lambert’s (home of the throwed rolls), and a trip back into the bay to pick up some fresh shrimp. Seafood is the dish of choice in the area, unsurprisingly, and there truly is nothing like fresh seafood by the sea (or ocean, or gulf…). Beyond the food, Gulf Shores can be a little geared toward the tacky tourist image, with large souvenir and surf stores dotting every street corner. If that’s what you’re into, then there’s plenty to do, but if you’re like me and prefer the less touristy approach to vacationing, some of the aforementioned restaurants may be more up your alley. Gulf Shores is also outfitted with the normal entertainment venues that complete any other city, such as movie theaters and mini golf courses. Since we often were in the area during Mardi Gras, we even headed to a nearby town for a Mardi Gras parade (the family friendly variety), another cultural experience of southern living. Gulf Shores has always been a relaxing getaway for my family from work and cold temperatures, and I’m sure other travelers have found it to be just as welcoming as we do.
Saturday, April 15, 2017
There is so much to say about my home state… I am from Southwestern Michigan, but as a good and dutiful Michigander, I have taken my fair share of family trips up north to the Traverse City area and beyond. The furthest north that I have been was Sault Ste Marie, visiting the Soo Locks and learning about boating history in Lake Superior such as the sinking of the Edmund Fitzgerald. Driving over the Mackinac Bridge to the Upper Peninsula can be a little disconcerting, as gusts of wind can (and have) shut the bridge down due to a danger of lifting cars off the edge! Across the bridge, Mackinac Island offered an interesting new experience. Cars are not allowed on the island, so any visitors must take a ferry over, then find alternate transportation. The “alternate transportation” of choice? Bikes and horses! We rented bikes and rode around to various sights, including a stop at one of the famous fudge shops and a visit to the arch rock. We also chose to take a horse and buggy ride around the island, but our horse seemed to be stuck on the “slow” setting, which made it slightly less enjoyable. Further south, Sleeping Bear Dunes is another park that I have taken for granted each time that I went there as a kid. The dunes are impressive – tall and steep – and they stretch out along the distant coastlines. Some of them are completely protected and blocked off from climbing (for the safety of visitors as well as the preservation of the dunes), but there are a couple that are open to the public. Climbing hundreds of feet up steep banks of sand is no easy task, and the dunes are so big that people have gotten stuck at the bottom, without the strength to climb back up the mountains of sand. My favorite place to travel in Northern Michigan is not well known, despite it being a source of a significant amount of childhood memories. Paradise Hollow on Lake View is a small resort that my family spends a week at each summer, staying in small red cottages and enjoying the sights and activities of a no wake lake: fishing, kayaking, playing shuffleboard, and many other wonderful things. These vacations introduced me to another gem of Michigan, Moomers Ice Cream. With some of the best ice cream I have ever tasted, Moomers is a destination that I will never skip during summertime trips to the Traverse City area. Unfortunately, I have been unable to go to Paradise Hollow the past couple of years due to other obligations, but when I do have the opportunity to return, it will be a wonderful week in Northern Michigan.
If this post seems oddly specific in comparison to other locations that I’ve chosen, it’s because Yosemite National Park deserves a section of its own. Yosemite was my first exposure to true mountains and the breathtaking views that come with them, an eye-opening experience that would change my perspective on where I want to travel in the future. To stand beneath the cliff face of El Capitan or hear the pounding of the water in Yosemite Falls was incredible, but it wasn’t until I got up to Glacier Point that I was truly awestruck. To stand on the edge of a mountain, so high up that the rafters on the river below were mere specks and the surrounding mountain ranges visibly stretched for miles, was incredible. As someone who, prior to this trip, had always been in reasonably flat areas of the country, the first time I experienced mountains of this magnitude was difficult to even understand. I think that feeling of awe, the inability to wrap my head around the scale of what I’m seeing, is one of the reasons why I loved Yosemite and every other similar place I have visited since then. Still, I can’t hope to truly put into words the way that these experiences make me feel, so I’ll move on to the other attractions of the park. Although I didn’t get the opportunity to spend time hiking the numerous trails of varying difficulties that snake through the park, my family did take one of the major hiking/biking trails in the middle of the main valley. The scenery was more simple, with fields and trees along the side of a river, and it would have passed for a normal riverside park in the summertime if not for the stunning backdrop behind it. The day that we visited was quite hot, so we found respite in the air conditioning of a small chapel and the shade of trees just outside the building. I would love to return to that chapel at this point in my life, so I could fully appreciate the beauty of such a small building juxtaposed against the towering cliffs that rise nearby. In fact, I would love to return to Yosemite in general, to relive the memories that sparked a love and fascination, which are now beginning to fade a little. I would get so much more out of the park now than I did when I was younger, especially given the time to explore some of the trails and other natural beauties that the park has to offer. No matter where I travel, Yosemite will always have a special place in my traveling soul.
I have little to no experience with the Georgian Bay as a tourist destination, but for visiting personal properties, the complex archipelago that makes up the southern tip of the bay is a wonderful vacation destination. I spent time at a family friend’s cottage that sat on a small island (not much bigger than the cottage itself). In order to enjoy the bay properly, you at least need a small boat of your own. Exploring the less inhabited islands, boating in between the bigger ones, and looking at all of the properties and scenery are fun and interesting uses of time. Many of the waterfront properties are quite impressive, and I can imagine that it is quite a privilege to own a place on one of the more major islands. While we were there, we witnessed groups of daredevils taking turns jumping off a reasonably high cliff face that was just across from our cottage, returning either to the shore to go again, or to a waiting boat in the nearby water. More than once we went to an island for a picnic and some exploring/tide pooling. The further north you get, the more the bay opens up, and larger yachts would often cruise through the center channel on their way from a harbor to the open water. This presented an opportunity for my favorite activity, kayaking. The maneuverability and personal nature of kayaks makes them my favorite watercraft to use, because they offer so much control in any kind of water. I would kayak out from the island toward the channel and ride the wakes from larger boats as they left the harbor through the channel. If the boats came close enough, I could catch some decently sized waves without venturing out into the channel itself. If you’re a storm chaser, the gales that blow in from the bay can be quite impressive (as long as you don’t have to rush around shutting windows to protect against the blowing rain!). I experienced one gale while I was there, a storm that spun up very quickly, with high winds and hard rain that suddenly started coming inside through open windows. The storm would have been fun were it not for the small craft that capsized in the small channel between our island and a neighbor’s – the people made it to safety on the opposite shore but their boat lost its motor to the depths. Regardless, my trip to the Georgian Bay created many memories, and I would love a chance to return at some point in my life.
A large portion of my ancestry comes from Germany, so much of my time here was spent discovering people and places that had some sort of connection to family several generations back. My extended family and I were treated like honored guests wherever we went. We visited a living relation in Emden and Greetsiel, discovering the old-style harbor towns of northern Germany and sharing in some wonderful tea and history of the area where we were staying. We were accompanied by an accordion player and a local reporter when we took a boat tour around peat farm waterways, as our massive family’s visit to such a small place gathered a significant amount of attention. Perhaps the most extravagant welcome we had was in Würzburg, where we were treated to a garden dinner party by the Duke of the region. The blistering heat that greeted us that day was offset by the magnificent fruit platters, live brass band, and the food prepared for us by the Duke’s brother. As a somewhat average group of people, it was a strange experience to be treated like we were extremely important wherever we went! Chasing history, we visited a church with a beautiful ceiling mural, commissioned by an ancestor, stayed in a hotel that was owned by a another relative, and walked through a cemetery to find the gravestones of family members from before the United States transition. History and family were not the only reasons to visit Germany. The beautiful region of Bavaria seems as though it was made for postcards, with rolling green hills and buildings sporting medieval architecture and red brick roofs. Summer, it seems, is a wonderfully lush time throughout Europe, as my travels seemed to indicate. Another highlight location for me was Burg Eltz castle. A little more tourist-oriented, Burg Eltz is nestled in a valley at the bend of a river. Once a strategic stronghold, the castle seems to have been plucked from the pages of a storybook and placed in the middle of Germany. The long hike that took us down a winding road on the side of a mountain was well worth the effort, as the pastel colors and vertical design of the castle captivated my mind, sending it back to the medieval era that the structure represents. Germany is a fascinating blend of old architecture and modern advancements and is overall a welcoming and beautiful country.
Friday, April 14, 2017
My connection to the lovely country of Scotland runs deeper than a plane ticket and a rental car. Prior to my lifespan, my family spent a fair bit of time living and working in the Edinburgh area, long enough for my sister to be born abroad from our normal home in the United States. Although my first trip to Scotland was before I can remember, a more recent jaunt overseas has left me with lasting impressions of a place that could have been my temporary home, were I born just a couple of years earlier. Scotland is a very atmospheric place, with quaint towns, majestic lochs, and a rich history represented in castles of varying degrees of preservation. My family’s expedition from East to West took us from the busy streets of Edinburgh to the quiet simplicity of Iona and back, with much to see in between. Maybe it was just the summer climate, but the time that I was there gave me the impression that Scotland is a country of green. The fields of the countryside, the mountains of the glens, even the rocky coastline crags seem to have their fair share of lush green pigment that makes for a picturesque setting. Being a Michigan native, I am quite used to large bodies of water, but the lochs that we visited (Loch Ness, Loch Shiel, and passing glances at several others) were very different than the lakes of other regions. I can remember sitting up on a hill near the Glenfinnan Viaduct (a landmark Harry Potter fans might recognize) and being awestruck by the gently sloping mountains that gave way to the dark waters of Loch Shiel. So much of Scotland is untouched by development, beyond the odd house here and there, that it has a mystical and calming atmosphere nearly anywhere you go. Being the mountain lover that I am, I was disappointed that I didn’t have the opportunity to climb the elevated plateaus of Glen Coe, although simply driving through the valleys was wondrous in and of itself. Our last stop before turning around to return to the East coast was the isle of Iona. Accessible only by ferry, Iona is a small island that harbors an old Abbey, famed as the source of Christianity in Scotland, and has a small but thriving community of islanders to support the frequent visitor to the Abbey who seek a break from their regular lives. Of course, a view of Scotland would not be complete without mentioning the sheep. We would joke about the frequency of sheep along our drive… “If you look to your left you will see sheep, to your right… more sheep!” Yet another quirk that adds to the unique beauty of Scotland.