Colorado Part 3: Put A Bird On It

 

If you missed the first 2 posts in this series, check them out here:

Colorado Part 1

Colorado Part 2

Day 5

The next day, I decided to explore the town and do some shopping. I started with breakfast at Claire’s On The Park, went in to many many “Always Christmas” shops, picked up some souvenirs, a lot of saltwater taffy and generally just embraced life as a tourist in a tourist town. At first glance, I can imagine Estes Park could be perceived as just another tourist trap due to the large number of “t-shirt and hat” stores, with a large selection of easily reproducible merchandise one might also find at the Denver Airport. But in between the generic storefronts, there are some very unique, quaint and altogether lovely stores. The Wildflower Mercantile is one of them – the lovely shop owner will gladly point out the rest of the good ones. Not to mention, my favourite watering hole, Kind Coffee where I spent another hour or so sitting by the river, reading, sipping on my “Tundra Pika Latte” and eating a toasted bagel with herb and garlic cream cheese, all of which was made fresh in store (best bagel of my life). Once I was all shopped out, I drove up once again to Trail Ridge Road to try catch a glimpse of the notorious sunset, thankful today had a clear sky. I chased the sun and found it setting directly behind yet another group of majestic Elk, grazing on the grass in front of me. I also met a nice, retired couple who watched the sunset with me and we talked about their road trip adventures. When I got back to the lodge, Peter, Ellen, and their kids, Nathan and Sarah were sitting around the campfire, making smores. I sat with them and Nathan made me the most gigantic smore of all time. Around 9pm, Ellen made a weird face, and moved her head to look behind me. When I turned around, I saw about 20 feet away, a small black bear approaching the front porch of the lodge. Everyone around the campfire laughed at the little bear’s mischievousness, no one appearing to be frightened in the least. Ellen yelled at it to stay away from her laundry and it scooted away into the the neighbour’s yard. About 10 minutes later, from down the street, we heard a car’s horn blaring continuously for about a minute. It stopped, then started back up again a minute later. Then we watched as a police cruiser made its way down the street towards the horn. We all wandered out to the street to join in the community spectacle and were told by a neighbour that the bear had managed to get inside someone’s car and was happily eating a granola bar while leaning on the horn. The police ended up shooting a bean bag at the bear – harmless, but startling enough to motivate the bear to move on with its life. The smores were finished, the fire was snuffed and I happily made my way to bed, full of chocolate and marshmallow.

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Shopping in Estes Park
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Shopping in Estes Park
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Shopping in Estes Park
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Shopping in Estes Park
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Shopping in Estes Park
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Shopping in Estes Park
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Shopping in Estes Park
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Shopping in Estes Park
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Shopping in Estes Park
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Shopping in Estes Park
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Kind Coffee
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My new shirt!
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People watching the Elk Rut
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Chasing the sunset in RMNP
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Chasing the sunset in RMNP
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Chasing the sunset in RMNP
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Chasing the sunset in RMNP
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Chasing the sunset in RMNP
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Chasing the sunset in RMNP
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Smores around the Campfire at Misty Mountain Lodge
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Smores around the Campfire at Misty Mountain Lodge
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Smores around the Campfire at Misty Mountain Lodge
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Smores around the Campfire at Misty Mountain Lodge

Day 6

The next day, I woke up early and drove to the southern entrance of the park to the Wild Basin trailhead to do the hike up to Ouzel falls. This was basically the epitome of the American Forest hike I had always wanted to experience. Early in the morning, the air was cool, but streaks of sun peeked through the tall trees, the smell of pine needles covering the ground. It reminded me of the treehouse at my grandparent’s house I used to play in as a child. Little woodland creatures scurried around me and friendly groups of retired bird watchers stood huddled every so often staring up at the treetops with their binoculars. There was a skip in my step and I quickly made my way past Copeland Falls and Calypso Cascades, with a goal in mind to reach Ouzel Falls with plenty of time to sit and enjoy the view. The smell and sound of water permeated the air as the trail followed the river up to 870 feet of elevation. When I arrived at the Falls, there was already quite a large group of people, enjoying a rest by the water. It was gorgeous and there was a “secret” little pathway that took you behind the falls looking out at everyone, so close you could reach your hand out and touch the falling water. After having a delicious lunch on a log (turkey sandwich and trailmix), I slowly made my way back to the trailhead, taking my time to enjoy the views I had sped past on the way up.

On the way back into town, I stopped at yet another charming coffee shop, Coffee on the Rocks. They too have amazingly creative flavoured drinks and snacks with a sandalwood vibe and chairs by the river so you can feed the ducks while you chill.

After a bit of a rest in my room, I drove to The Twin Owls Steakhouse, and was excited because Tripadvisor had ranked it one of the top restaurants in Estes Park at the time. I won’t go into this in great detail because I don’t want to be “that guy”, but I have to say my experience here was pretty terrible. The hostess was very rude, the server I had was lovely but that was the only saving grace. My cocktail was just a glass of pure liquor (not my style), my lamb which I was so excited about because lamb is my favourite was entirely raw. Not rare. Raw. I tried to suffer through it, but I gave up and asked my server to see if they could cook it longer (to her credit, she made a disgusted face when she actually looked at the meat, and brought it back speedily). All in all, not what I had hoped it would be. And to add insult to injury I think the raw meat did a number on my tummy later that night. So needless to say, not my favourite meal.

That night, to makeup for the bad dinner, I ate a box of cookies and fell asleep watching Stepmom in front of the fire. Evening salvaged.

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Hiking Ouzel Falls
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Hiking Ouzel Falls
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Hiking Ouzel Falls
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Hiking Ouzel Falls
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Hiking Ouzel Falls
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Hiking Ouzel Falls
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Hiking Ouzel Falls
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Hiking Ouzel Falls
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Hiking Ouzel Falls
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Hiking Ouzel Falls
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Hiking Ouzel Falls
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Hiking Ouzel Falls
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Hiking Ouzel Falls
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Hiking Ouzel Falls
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Hiking Ouzel Falls
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Hiking Ouzel Falls
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Hiking Ouzel Falls
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Hiking Ouzel Falls
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Hiking Ouzel Falls
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Hiking Ouzel Falls
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Coffee on the Rocks
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Coffee on the Rocks
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Coffee on the Rocks
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Tea by the fire
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Watching Stepmom of course

Day 7

On my way to Estes Park from Denver on that first day, I had stopped briefly in Boulder for a bio break, a coffee and a chance to stretch my legs. I parked downtown and saw just enough to know I wanted to come back when I had more time. This was my last full day in Colorado, and the perfect opportunity to go back and look around. I parked next to the main strip, where “Pearl St. Mall” is located. The mall is not actually a mall at all but a large, outdoor expanse of red brick pedestrian walkways, connecting the shops. I walked around, did a little window shopping, visited one of the most beautiful book stores I’ve ever been in and ate some sushi. A lot of the stores are centered around outdoor and healthy living, whether it’s a Patagonia store or a healing crystals shop. The vibe is academic hippy and it was a lovely place to be under the shady trees on a warm day. But I didn’t have much room in my suitcase and had purchased most of my souvenirs already so after a couple hours I was ready to head back to say my last Goodbye to the beautiful Rocky Mountains. I drove to the RMNP entrance and made my way through the park to Sprague lake. It was very windy and a storm was rolling in, but Sprague lake turned out to be the best place to say my goodbyes to the trees and the lakes and the mountains. Sprague lake is a very easy loop with man-made trails; a perfect half-hour stroll on regular occasions. But on this day, as soon I arrived at the path, I saw a large group of people huddled, staring at something in the trees. I walked over and saw 2 enormous Moose wading in the water, a Park Ranger making sure no one ventured too close. They were so much bigger in person than I realized and I totally understood why people had been sitting here all day just watching them hang out. After a few minutes, I decided to finish my stroll and made my way around the loop. Towards the end of my walk, as I approached the moose again, it started to rain and most of the people who had been watching, left to go back to their cars. I stood watching the pair a little longer and no sooner had the crowd dispersed than the moose slowly waded towards the path, heaved themselves out of the water and started walking towards me. My heart was racing and I slowly backed myself up until they veered left, up a hill towards the woods. I watched them disappear into the trees until I couldn’t see them at all. I really felt like something special had just happened. Like The mountains were saying goodbye back.

That night, I found myself in my favourite spot in Estes Park. Watching the sunset, from a seat on the white, wraparound porch of the Stanley Hotel with a Lucky Lucy in one hand and and a piece of chocolate cake to go in the other (It was Peter’s birthday). When I finished my drink, I said goodbye to the ghosts and started toward my last stop before bed; smores and birthday celebrations around a campfire with new friends.

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Pearl St. Mall, Boulder
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Pearl St. Mall, Boulder
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Pearl St. Mall, Boulder
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Pearl St. Mall, Boulder
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Boulder Book Store
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Boulder Book Store
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Boulder Book Store
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Boulder Book Store
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Boulder Book Store
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Boulder Book Store
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Pearl St. Mall, Boulder
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Back at Coffee on the Rocks
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Sprague Lake
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Sprague Lake
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Goodbye trees!
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My friends, the moose
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One last Lucky Lucy
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Stanley Hotel Porch
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Goodbye Stanley Hotel
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Goodbye Colorado

 

Thanks for coming on this Rocky Mountain Journey With me!

If you missed the first 2 posts in this series, check them out here:

Colorado Part 1

Colorado Part 2

Colorado Part 2: The Mountains are Calling… From Inside The House!

If you missed the first post in this series, check it out here: Colorado Part 1

Want to Skip to Part 3? Here you go: Colorado Part 3

Day 3

Hiking Day! I had been suffering from a pretty bad cold over the last few days and was glad for the opportunities to do some less physically demanding tourism, but the primary goal of this trip was, after all, to hike The Rocky Mountains. I woke up just as sick as the days before, but motivated to do what I had come here for. I packed a lunch and some dayquil and walked over to the visitor’s centre to get some tips about where to start. I hopped in the car and started driving towards the park entrance. It takes about 10 minutes to drive from downtown Estes Park to the RMNP entrance. The first time I arrived, I bought my week long park pass at the entrance booth and made my way to the Park and Ride where I caught the shuttle to the Bear Lake trailhead. The day was cool but the sun was shining so bright, any time you walked in a sunny patch you warmed up immediately. Bear lake was a great first hike to warm up the limbs and the brain. It’s such an easy hike that I shared it with new parents pushing a stroller around the loop. It took about 20 minutes to do the full loop and it was peaceful and shady with a constant uninterrupted view of the lake. Once the loop was finished, it was very easy to veer off and start the slightly more challenging hike up to Lake Haiyaha. Lake Haiyaha is a turquoise pool surrounded by giant boulders that makes visitors eating their mid-hike snack look like tiny specks on round stones. I sat and ate my sandwich there and listened to what seemed to be a couple on a first date talking about their various sexual adventures. Aaah the soothing sounds of nature. After my snack, I walked back down to where I started and after briefly contemplating returning to the car for the good of my cold, I threw caution to the wind and started a new hike up in the opposite direction and the next thing I knew I had hiked to Nymph Lake, Dream Lake and Emerald Lake as well. Day of Lakes! All in all, I hiked 11km with the highest elevation gain being 865 ft (Lake Haiyaha). Not bad for someone who had a hard time breathing through her nose! I took a bit of a rest at the lodge before making my way back to The Stanley for the ghost tour.

So, now that I know what this tour really is, I will no longer refer to it as a “tour” so much as an “attempt to summon the spirits in the company of many tourists who believe this is possible”. I love a good ghost story. I am also completely open to the possibility of ghosts being real. In this specific case, I would have preferred to explore these possibilities with friendly, like-minded people instead of the 9 member family from Alabama who refused to acknowledge the “no vaping in the hotel” rule while continuously exclaiming “The damn ghost keeps touching my hand!”. Maybe those of you out there will have better luck during your experience, but unfortunately, by the end of our walk no one had conclusively proven the existence of paranormal activity. Personally, I liked the historical tour better, but if you’re into that sort of thing, the ghost hunt was fun and I’d still recommend it. One ghost we learned about extensively was Lucky Lucy, the namesake of my favourite cocktail of all time. And once her name was spoken aloud, her spiritual hold led me directly to the Cascades bar after the “tour” was over. Spooky…

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Bear Lake
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Bear Lake
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Lake Haiyaha
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Lake Haiyaha
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Lake Haiyaha
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Hike to Nymph Lake
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Nymph Lake
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Nymph Lake
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Dream Lake
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Hiking
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Stanley Hotel Ghost Tour
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Stanley Hotel Ghost Tour
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Stanley Hotel Ghost Tour
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Stanley Hotel Ghost Tour
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Harry Houdini used this trap door…
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Stanley Hotel Ghost Tour
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Lucky Lucy at Cascades
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Spooky Stanley Hotel

Day 4

I woke up early on this day with the mindset to put on my winter gear and drive myself up to 12,183 feet to Trail Ridge Road to hike “The Timberline Trail” I had read so much about in my nerdy hiking books. The morning started out sunny but as I made my way up and up and up the windy road, I saw the clouds start to assemble. I had heard talk over the past few days about recent lightning storms in the area and knew that if there’s one place you should avoid during a lightning storm it’s an exposed area above the tree line. But the weather report hadn’t said anything concrete yet, so I kept going. I made some stops at various look-outs, in awe at how different the view gets when you’re that high up. Most signs of vegetation disappear, apart from the tiniest grey ground cover, and everything around you turns to jagged rock and dust. I stopped in at the Alpine Visitor’s centre because I hadn’t been able to locate the Timberline trailhead yet. The gentleman at the centre laughed and said The Timberline Trail was a bit of a joke in his circle because it’s been featured in many books about the area and yet, no trail is actually called “The Timberline Trail” and it causes a ton of confusion. Instead, he directed me to a trailhead literally across the road from the visitor’s centre that would put me on the path of the “Ute Trail”. He said that so far, the weather seemed like it would hold off but if I found myself out in the open seeing lightning in the distance to start heading back to the centre immediately. I layered on every piece of clothing I had and started out onto the side of the mountain. This was the most exposed, desolate, tree-less hike I had ever done (ok, apart from Iceland…but that’s Iceland). After the initial uniqueness wore off, it got a little repetitive and boring as there wasn’t much new to look at after a while (Oi with all the glorious vistas already). I had walked about an hour when I felt the first drop of rain. I had only passed one other couple on my hike so far and wondered if others were scared of the rain, the cold or just knew better than to be up here during the threat of storm. I looked around, saw nothing but mountain, sky and cloud and basically decided the value of finishing the hike was not worth the potential anxiety I would experience if I kept heading away from the only spec of civilization out here. So I started back. The rain started in earnest about 10 minutes after that. I increased my pace to a light jog and by the time I could see the visitor’s centre appear on the horizon it was hailing. Covering my eyes and face with my hands I skipped towards the parking lot. Taking one last look behind me towards the trail, I saw a single bolt of lightning crack down on the side of the mountain, a thunderous noise echoing through the range, eliciting shrieks and laughter from under the awning of the gift shop and the cafe I was heading towards. In my car, I removed my soaking wet outer layers and sat for a moment, listening to the hail pitter patter on the metal and glass. I unwrapped the sandwich I had packed for myself and ate it, watching the underdressed tourists sprint from the washrooms to their cars in distress. It was great.

The drive back down to Estes Park through the pouring rain was part stressful, part exhilarating, part freedom incarnate. Blasting Fleetwood Mac, I felt as liberated as anyone could, driving 8km an hour. Half way down, I saw a long line of cars stopped for seemingly no reason. It wasn’t until we started inching forward as a group that I saw the reason for the hold up. About 20 Elk ladies (cows) were feeding around the road ahead of us. It was absolutely breathtaking. It’s the closest I’ve ever come to so many big, wild things. I drove slowly past them, their bushy tails feet away from my car and as I got close to the front of the pack, I saw the Bull. He was gigantic, watching over his “harem”, giving the stink eye to every driver that crawled by. This day was so chalk full of experience, I couldn’t have asked for more, despite only having actually walked for about 2 hours. That night, I walked to a local Italian restaurant by the river called Mama Rosa’s, drank rosé and ate pasta while I read my book. #wild.

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Trail Ridge Road
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Trail Ridge Road
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Trail Ridge Road
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Hiking The Ute Trail
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Hiking The Ute Trail
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Lady Elk
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Manly Elk

 

Want to know what happened next? Spoiler Alert: I drink more cocktails and make some new gigantic friends. Check it out in: Colorado Part 3

 

(If you missed the first post in this series, check it out here: Colorado Part 1

Colorado Part 1: Red Rum and Whiskey

 

Intro

Let me first say: I realize it takes me 7 million years to blog about my trips. Maybe it takes me that long to fully absorb the beauty and importance of my time away from home. Or maybe I literally find it difficult to motivate myself to brush my teeth some days, so writing a blog post can sometimes seem daunting. So there’s also that. Let’s just say, I’m very happy my good friend, Kate keeps harassing me to put this post up. It’s due to her relentless reminders that I’m writing this and I’m so glad. I love being able to look back on these trips on the inter webs. Maybe one day my children will discover these hipster retro things called websites and they’ll be able to see that long ago, their mom was cool and went on solo adventures to remind herself she was a strong, independent lady. And it did her good.

Day 1

My most recent solo independent lady adventure was in September 2017 in Colorado, USA. I spent a week in Colorado Springs for work (and was luckily able to deal with a small bout of altitude sickness) and when the show was done, I rented a car and hit the open road, listening to Fleetwood Mac, heading towards Estes Park.

Estes Park is an adorable mountain town just outside the entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park. It’s full of log cabins, woodland themes and inexplicably, saltwater taffy. As soon as you arrive in town, the first thing you notice is the incredible vistas surrounding you in every direction. Everywhere you look, there’s another spectacular horizon.

My first stop was Misty Mountain Lodge where I would be staying for the next week. Misty Mountain was very affordable and really close to downtown, so I could easily explore the town by walking, without having to worry about driving and parking everywhere. The owners, Peter and Ellen were so sweet and their family hosted nightly campfires with good conversation and smores which was great because I never really felt alone. My suite at the lodge included a living room with a tv and fireplace, a full kitchen, bathroom and bedroom. It was great because I could make my own breakfasts and lunches which kept the trip pretty affordable. It was also so comfy and cozy and I loved having my own fireplace which I used frequently for its ambience even though the weather still felt like summer most days.

After I unpacked a few things, I started to make my way towards The Stanley Hotel for dinner. Of all the places I had planned to visit on my trip, I was most excited for The Stanley Hotel. This is where Stephen King had stayed during an unexpected snow storm and was inspired by the hotel to write his book, “The Shining”. It’s gorgeous and full of history and spooky stories and I made sure my first meal in Estes Park would be there.

I had booked a spot at “Table: A Culinary Journey” which is a weekly event at The Stanley where different Colorado chefs take turns preparing the evening’s meal for a select group of individuals all sitting at one big farmhouse table. The night I attended, the theme was “Whiskey Pairings” (not coincidentally, the Long’s Peak Scottish and Highland Festival would begin the next day down the street) so I thought it best to walk to the hotel, considering I’d be asked to sip whiskey all night. Plus, it was a great way to look around the town for the first time. So I made my way through the town and up the hill towards the hotel. At some point the road became more like a 2 lane country highway and the sidewalks disappeared. I noted this for next time, but as traffic was virtually non existent it didn’t bother me too much. I arrived at the Stanley Hotel and was immediately handed a fantastic whiskey cocktail and introduced to my fellow diners. The dinner itself was only Ok, considering it was supposed to be mind blowing, and I’m not a big whiskey fan to begin with so the whiskey tasting itself was not my favourite, but dessert was incredible and I sat next to a young couple who were hiking through the park and I had a great time. I made my way to the lobby and booked BOTH the historical tour for the next day and the ghost tour for the evening after. Then I asked the woman behind the desk for the number of a local taxi company to make my way home. She stared at me blankly for a few seconds and finally said “I don’t even know if this town has a taxi…”. The hotel shuttle had stopped its rounds an hour earlier and after finally acquiring the number of “the taxi driver in town”, he told me he wouldn’t be able to make it to The Stanley for another 2 hours as he had customers booked up until then. By now it was pitch black along the highway with no sidewalk from whence I came and I sat next to the giant, haunted fireplace for about 20 minutes trying to think of a plan. Finally, I called Peter at the Misty Mountain Lodge and he told me he and his son would come to pick me up in 10 minutes. That first night, when I saw their white minivan approaching through the mist like a knight in shining armour, I knew I was not truly alone on this journey and if I really needed someone, I knew who to call. As a solo lady traveller in a new place, I have to tell you, that’s one of the best feelings you can have.

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Estes Park
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Estes Park
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Misty Mountain Lodge
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Misty Mountain Lodge
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Misty Mountain Lodge
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Misty Mountain Lodge
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Estes Park
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Stanley Hotel
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Table at Stanley Hotel
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Whiskey and Dessert

Day 2

The next morning, I woke up to the sound of chickens outside my bedroom window; an unexpected but not unwelcome surprise (we were downtown after all). I got dressed, had some breakfast and head out for the day. This weekend, Estes Park was host to some 80,000 people celebrating the Long’s Peak Scottish-Irish Highland Festival. I hadn’t realized I would be around for the festivities, but as a former Highland Dancer and current Cameron clan member I found it difficult to resist the call of the bagpipes. I watched the parade make its way down the main strip, waving at the adorable pale children (they’re just like me!) and shouting embarrassingly loud as the Cameron troupe marched by. Before I caught the shuttle to the Fairgrounds for the rest of the festivities, I stopped in a lovely coffee shop called Kind Coffee which would become one of my most frequent stops throughout the trip. It sits right beside the the Big Thompson River which flows directly through the middle of town, so you can sit and drink your coffee and listen to the water trickle by. They also have a fun selection of flavoured lattes and other beverages, all seasonally named after the Rocky Mountain terrain. Once I had my coffee, I set off and spent the day listening to bands play Bagpipes and Didjereedoo, walked through the tents selling all manner of Scottish and Highland wares, picked up a few Cameron tartaned gifts, said hello to a couple distant relatives and started back home before the Jousting really got going.

That evening, it was back to the Stanley for the historical tour. I have to tell you, I’m not really one for tours. It’s not really my jam, but I LOVE Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. It’s one of my favourite movies of all time and I thought I’d enjoy hearing the history behind the hotel that inspired the story. My tour guide’s name was Andy or “Voodrew” and he did a fantastic job telling us about the history but also making us laugh and keeping us from getting bored (which I kind of expected). There was a lot about the various ghosts that haunt the hotel – so much so that I wondered what the ghost tour the next day was going to be like….After the tour, I got a table at Cascades Restaurant, inside The Stanley. I ordered a delicious steak and beet salad and on the recommendation of my server, I tried a bourbon cocktail called “Lucky Lucy” named after one of the ghosts that haunts The Stanley. The Lucky Lucy is the best cocktail I have ever had in my life. Cascades has the largest whiskey collection in Colorado with over 1,200 whiskeys so I guess it’s not surprising they’ve got their bourbon game down to an art but this cocktail seduced me back to the hotel on several occasions afterwards…like a literal spirit calling to me in the night…

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Longs Peak Scottish-Irish Highland Festival
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Kind Coffee
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Kind Coffee
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Kind Coffee
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Longs Peak Scottish-Irish Highland Festival
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Longs Peak Scottish-Irish Highland Festival
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Longs Peak Scottish-Irish Highland Festival
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Longs Peak Scottish-Irish Highland Festival
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Longs Peak Scottish-Irish Highland Festival
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Longs Peak Scottish-Irish Highland Festival
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Longs Peak Scottish-Irish Highland Festival
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Longs Peak Scottish-Irish Highland Festival
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Stanley Hotel Historical Tour
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Stanley Hotel Historical Tour
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Stanley Hotel Historical Tour
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Stanley Hotel Historical Tour
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Stanley Hotel Historical Tour
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Stanley Hotel Historical Tour
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Stanley Hotel Historical Tour
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Stanley Hotel Historical Tour
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Stanley Hotel Historical Tour
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Stanley Hotel Historical Tour
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Stanley Hotel Historical Tour
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Cascades Restaurant
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The Lucky Lucy
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Stanley Hotel

 

Want to read about what happened next? I’ll give you a hint: I get haunted…by Southern tourists! Read all about it in: Colorado Part 2

Want to skip ahead to the end like a crazy person? Go ahead: Colorado Part 3

Strolling With My Homies… Part 1: Downtown Toronto

Hello Poppets!

I’m very excited for this post as it’s the first in a new blog series I’m embarking on, called “Strolling With My Homies” based on the “wildly popular” book series by Nathalie Prézeau, “Toronto Urban Strolls…for Girlfriends”. I happened upon this book in my local Chapters and decided I would go on every one of Nathalie’s 28 Toronto walks stopping at every one of her suggested pit stops. SUMMER GOALS!

For this experiment, every stroll I go on must include a girlfriend or suitable alternative. Otherwise, what am I really doing here. On stroll 1, I was accompanied by one of my most favourite people, my friend Kate! She was the perfect partner for the first stroll because she has the same love for exploring that I do, and the same ability to pause reality for a few hours to pretend that the places we are visiting are not ones we see every day, but fresh new places like we are tourists in an exciting foreign city!

Stroll 1: Downtown

Full Loop: 4.6 km (1 hr, 10 minutes, but it took us 5 hours because we ate and gossiped and took elaborate photo shoots also)

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Katie Mae: Navigator

This stroll starts at Roy Thompson Hall, goes east along King St. then takes you down through the Courtyards in and around the Financial District, spitting you out near Front St. near the Esplanade, where you walk back West towards the CBC building (which is perfect because Kate HAPPENS to work at the CBC and gave me an exclusive tour of the building).

LET US BEGIN. (Story told mostly through photo captions because I don’t have all day!)

Stroll 1 of 28 complete!

Ugly: I guess I’ll say that the construction downtown in this area at the moment was not the greatest, but then again, looking back over the photos, I don’t notice it at all. Also, it did rain for a hot minute but that wasn’t even bad because it forced us down into a warm and cozy pub for brownies. Can’t actually see the downside there…

Awesome: I just really loved this day! Most of these routes I’ve walked a thousand times in the 14 years I’ve lived in Toronto, but this was a great way to prove to myself, there’s still so much I walk past but take for granted. I flipped a switch in my brain this day to really look around and take things in – the landscape, the atmosphere, the architecture, the art and try to experience it like it was brand new to me. And I was surprised by how many things I’ve never noticed! Also Kate was the perfect stroll companion and I hope she will do many more strolls with me!

Viking Tombs and Blue Lagoons – Iceland Part 3

Here we arrive at part 3, the final contribution to my Iceland saga! If you missed Part 1 or Part 2, check them out!

On the 7th day of our trip, we woke up in our favourite campsite, Kirkjubæjarklaustur to the sounds of sheep bleeting and children yelling to their parents about how high up they’ve climbed the mountain behind us. And the craziest thing happened. I listened for rain and I didn’t hear it. I felt for the howling wind pushing our van around and I didn’t feel it. For the first morning since we arrived, I opened the van door to shining sun! This made for a good morning as we ate our Skyr and granola and set out to find our free coffee at the gas station down to the road.

We were heading west this morning, on our way to The Blue Lagoon which we would be visiting later in the afternoon. We planned to stop at a few places on the way back, the first of which was Hjörleifshöfði, a supposedly haunted hill just east of Vik. The legend goes that the hill’s namesake, Hjörleifur Hróðmarsson was a Nordic viking who settled on the hill, building a farm, during the winter of 874 with his Irish slaves. Within a year, the slaves had killed the Viking. His brother, Ingólfur Arnarson, (who because of Hróðmarsson’s death became known as the first Nordic settler in Iceland), sought revenge on the slaves and killed them one by one. Ever since, this hill is said to be haunted, the tomb of Hjörleifur sitting at the very top, overlooking the Ocean.

After climbing the hill, visiting the tomb, signing the guestbook (weird…), and walking through some farm ruins (not the original farm…a more recent farm), we got in the van and drove towards Vik to fill up on gas and chocolate.

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Driving to Hjörleifshöfði
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Driving to Hjörleifshöfði
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Driving to Hjörleifshöfði
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So much time was spent in this van…
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This happened all the time…
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Starting the trek up the haunted hill.
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At the top of Hjörleifshöfði.
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The Viking tomb and guestbook.
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Hjörleifshöfði

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These are the graves of a family who built a farm on this hill a very long time ago.
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Together at the top.
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Overlooking the black sand beaches.
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On our way down.
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The remains of the stone farmhouse.
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nestled between hills.
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Hjörleifshöfði
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At the bottom of Hjörleifshöfði
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Jamie in the flowers

After surviving the insanity of a rare gas station on a lonely road on a Sunday afternoon, we drove to Reynisfjara Beach to check out the basalt columns (the black rock that looks like cubes stacked on top of each other), the big cave and of course, the black sand. This is the most famous of Iceland’s black sand beaches, and it’s got the tourists to prove it.This was a beautiful spot and the islands jutting out of the ocean are cool to see in person. If we had more time, I would have liked to hang out more here, but we had a plan! There’s a restaurant called Black Beach restaurant which we considered eating at, but instead decided we would hit up the Fish and Chips truck we saw earlier in the trip at Skogafoss.

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Reynisfjara Beach
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Reynisfjara Beach
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Reynisfjara Beach
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Reynisfjara Beach basalt columns
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Reynisfjara Beach basalt columns
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Cute church at Reynisfjara Beach
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Fish and Chips truck at Skogafoss
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Fish and Chips truck at Skogafoss

So back we drove to the Fish and Chips truck. Let me tell you, on a long, mostly desolate road, seeing this bright red, adorable Fish and Chips shack seems like a gift from the heavens. But in all honesty, although the owners were lovely and there was nothing really wrong with our meals, I was hoping to get a bit more out of this. Back home, chip trucks are where you get the most delicious, fresh french fries. These fries were very clearly frozen McCain or similar. The battered fish was yummy and filled us up. But for both of our baskets which each contained 1 small piece of fish and a handful of fries, the $40 didn’t seem worth it. I would recommend trying out the Skogafoss restaurant or the Black Beach restaurant instead.

Then it was my turn in the driver’s seat, taking us the rest of the way to The Blue Lagoon. This was by far the most recommended experience in Iceland – everyone asked if we were going, everyone wanted to make sure we had booked in advance (we booked a spot in the pool a week in advance but were too late to book massages – some people book 6 months in advance for this). I had a perception of this place before we went that it would be a very serene, spa like experience. And to a certain extent it was – there were luxurious change rooms to get into your bathing suits (with futuristic lockers that were hard to figure out), then you go through a door to the indoor co-ed hot tub entrance. Once you decide it’s time to venture outside, theres a half-underwater door that takes you through an “informational cave” that has a recording of the facts about the Blue Lagoon (it’s man made lagoon that’s full of natural mineral-rich water that comes from underground – the minerals in the water are said to have many health benefits). And then you just float around in the warm water! You’re also encouraged to get a free mud mask, so when you look around it’s just a sea of people with white goo on their faces. There’s a nice section that has a dry sauna, a wet sauna and a steam room like other spas I’ve been to. But unlike other spas I’ve been to, this one also had large groups of tourist children on school trips. Because although this is spa-like it’s also a very popular tour destination. So while I might have expected a quiet, float around the pool, I didn’t expect there to be several 15 year old Scottish boys on a field trip doing pull-up competitions on the wooden archs. I also didn’t expect there to be a swim up bar either, but that was more of a happy surprise. All in all, it was gorgeous and I loved it. Floating in warm water can do no wrong.

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At The Blue Lagoon…In the information cave
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At The Blue Lagoon…In the information cave
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Out in the foggy mist at The Blue Lagoon
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Jamie also thinks this is a romantic place.
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The hoards lining up for free face mud masks
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mud masks acquired.
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Mud monster in the mist…

That night, we had our one and only restaurant dinner in Iceland at Snaps Bistro. I had mussels and frites and a pistachio, goat cheese, honey concoction for dessert. It was delicious. Slightly better than hot dogs and Sidekicks, I will admit. The next morning was our last in Iceland and we spent it roaming around Reykjavik looking for souvenirs and taking in the city. It was so charming and there were so many lovely shops with lots of unique stuff.

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Delicious…and yes the French Onion Soup is 2.300 Icelandic Krona. Or $23 Canadian dollars… This is why we only ate out once.
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cheeyaws!
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Americans at the bar drinking $25 Long Island Iced Teas.
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Reykjavik
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Rooster in Reykjavik
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The Always Christmas store!
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Such nostalgia for childhood here
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Fancy stores selling fancy designer stuff
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lots of yummy smelling things
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Just the kind of random cute shops I love
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Love all the paintings on the wall
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The famous Hallgrímskirkja Church
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HOT BUNS
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Pretty red door
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Reykjavik street art
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More Reykjavik street art

We had breakfast at one of the most delightful cafes I’ve ever seen, called Stofan Cafe. If you’re in Iceland looking for Hipsters, go here. They’re all here drinking coffee out of adorable tea cups and eating pastries on varying, eclectic antique chairs. Jamie had a healthy granola and berries while I dampened my sadness at this being our last day by eating a piece of chocolate cake. We strolled around until we caught our bus to Kaflavik to catch our flight home.

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Stofan Cafe – best for Icelandic hipsters
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Love the eclectic feel of this place
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In love with the retro antiques
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Healthy breakfast for Jamie
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Chocolate Cake for me.

Ugly: In Iceland, we could only afford dinner at one restaurant, the Fish and Chips truck was too expensive, and I found myself craving hot dogs and sidekicks for months afterwards. I did this to myself.

Awesome: I loved that for the last couple days of our trip, the sun came out to put a positive spin on everything we did. It’s crazy how much the sun/ weather colours our memories in a certain way. I loved walking around the city with our coffee in the sun, the fresh breeze feeling like fall. I love that it’s my last memory of Iceland.

Well, that concludes the Iceland saga! I hope I’ve provided some info for those making the trek seeing as EVERYONE I KNOW seems to be travelling there. And I couldn’t be happier – if you have the opportunity, don’t miss it. And tell me all about it when you get back.

 

 

 

 

April Showers Bring Bridal Ones!

More like May showers, considering how drizzly and gross it was out today. But despite the terrible weather, I had a great day!

My amazing, gorgeous friend, Monica is getting married in June and I get to be one of her bridesmaids!  In addition to taking a super fun trip to Vegas for her Bachelorette party in a month, I also got to help throw her Bridal Shower which was today. I’m pretty happy with how everything turned out. We basically stole everything from Pinterest, but that’s ok because it’s so damn pretty!

Considering it was pouring rain outside and traffic was insane because of the Goodlife run,  I think we managed to pull it off and I think everyone had a good time hiding from the weather.

Monica’s sister, Dana made a whole bunch of delicious food, Gillian, Michelle and I pieced together the decor, drinks and treats and our extraordinarily talented friend, Sara made the Drake-themed “Hot Lime Bling” Cupcakes.

All around, it was a fun day to celebrate two people who are pretty awesome.

Ugly: SO MUCH RAIN. Grossy gross weather.

Awesome: SO MANY CUPCAKES. One lady said they were the best cupcakes she’s ever had.

 

 

ART ATTACK!

HI ALL!

In accordance with official 100th blog post protocol (Section 5, paragraph 2) I took a little break from blogging. In that time, I had a Super Bowl party, attended an Anne of Green Gables marathon, spent Valentine’s Day with my friend, Kari, while our menfolk shot a commercial in Capetown, South Africa, went to the AGO, saw my new favourite band, Cousins, live in concert and on the same day, sprained my ankle giving my pal, Sandy, a hug.

I hope to post a few mini-posts in the next few days with fun pictures from all these random events – mainly because I now have an internal, personal obligation to post all of my memories to the inter webs where they will live forever and ever.

So, I’ll start with my visit to the AGO to see The Great Upheaval Exhibition. I wasn’t allowed to take photos in the exhibit, but I captured some of my other favourite parts of the AGO. I went with my friends, Adam and Leigh which proved to be lucky because Adam is basically a human art encyclopedia and provided a lovely, interactive, British audio guide as we toured the exhibit. Although, I bet the mechanical, plastic audio guide wouldn’t have stared blankly at me when I frequently stated “This one has too many colours”.

UGLY: Getting to the gym every single day with increasing motivation, only to sprain my ankle hugging someone and slipping on the ice. USELESS.

AWESOME: I bought a 1000 piece puzzle of The Lady of Shalott at the AGO and it will take me 7 years to finish.