Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Vegas Wedding

So today it's 5 years since I met M. To celebrate that I'm posting the Video of our Vegas-wedding! The wedding is something I'm planning to get back to with a how-to get-married-in-Vegas special. But today I'm drinking bubbly and spending the evening as madly in love as since the first day I met her!

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Travel stories: Defying death in Death Valley

So just met two guys in the bar the other night that are planning their first road trip to the US. They are driving the west coast and said they might be going to Vegas so i gave them the suggestion to check out Lake Tahoe and maybe take the drive to Vegas through the infamous Death Valley. I told them about my blog and since they showed interest that's why I'm throwing in a few posts from our travels through that area. Part of the idea with this blog was to share information and experiences with fellow travelers and hopefully some people will be inspired and experience this great way of travel themselves.

Now this was also in our road trip of 2007, just after leaving Lake Tahoe and spending a night in Mammoth Lakes which itself was a story well worth sharing in a later post. We drove down the 395 south which is a gorgeous drive. It follows the eastern borders of the Yosemite national park and shows some amazing scenery. From the lush forests surrounding Lake Tahoe to desolate mountain landscapes covered with black lava rocks which give you the feeling of driving on the moon. The 395 is that perfect excuse why whenever you have the chance you should leave the big highways and go for the smaller roads. Road trips is as much about the drive as the destination and every time we've took one of these smaller country roads we've had an experience surpassing everything else.

Death valley is both the hottest and the lowest point in the US. It is one of the most inhospitable places on earth. Some of the early fortyniners seeking gold and glory in the california gold rush made the fatal decision to leave "the old spanish trail" hoping for  a short cut through Death valley. The passing was very dangerous and the valley was soon littered with the remains of those who parished along the way. To be able to write home and tell their loved ones where they fell names were made up of places along the desert with such encouraging names such as "desolation canyon" and "coffin peak".

I would like to take a moment and give you people planning to do this drive, especially during summer a warning. I would not recommend this drive if you are not in good physical shape and even more important the condition of your car. If your car breaks down you are in serious danger! So always bring plenty of water and make sure your cell phone is fully charged.

The first part of the drive after entering the west entrance to the park was a bit of a roller coaster ride. Descending from the Sierra nevadas down to 282 feet below sea level (86m) takes you down winding roads with little or no protection against the steep cliffs on the side of the road. M doesn't enjoy heights and still refers to this as the worst driving experience ever, me however I loved it! We started the drive with top down on the car but soon realized that if it'd stuck we'd be fried. Temperature was rising so fast so we stopped to fix the car roof and the heat was already unbearable. If my memory serves me well i think we climbed down another hour or so before it flattened out. We stopped for a drink at the Panamint Springs Resort. I'm not sure how to properly describe this motel/restaurant, but the movie the hills have eyes comes close to mind. And i don't mean that in a bad way. It's just that you don't really expect anyone to live here at all. I spoke briefly to one of the staff who lived out there and he thought nothing of the heat but I felt the people living there were a bit goofy. Anyways the restaurant had AC and cold drinks and that's all we needed at the point.

So we got back on the road and drove all the way down to the visitor center. This time getting out of the car the heat almost knocked us out, you could actually feel your body shutting down. We hurried for the soothing coolness of the visitor center air conditioning. Here they have an exhibit about the nature and the early cultures of Death Valley. It was quite interesting to learn that not only is there a variety of animals who live here but hundreds of years ago people lived here as well. It's amazing how nature adapts and life can exist in the harshest conditions. After enjoying the exhibit we took of for Vegas. It's hard to describe in words how awesome this drive was but it's almost a religious connection with nature when it's only you and the road that disappears at the horizon, and there's no sign of human existence for miles and miles. For you considering this drive i say, go but go prepared!

Friday, April 22, 2011

Travel stories: River rafting in Lake Tahoe

Back on our very first road trip in 2007 driving from Napa valley and the wine yards, all the sudden the landscape changed dramatically. From the relatively flat lands of napa valley we were now surrounded by tall and majestic fir and pine trees. We felt like we were driving straight into a David Lynch movie.Being new to the road trip experience we only had a vague idea of what to expect of this leg of the trip. Our trip was pretty much focused around the triangle formed by L.A - San Francisco - Las Vegas, and Lake Tahoe just seemed as a natural place to rest since we were heading towards Vegas and wanted to travel through notorious Death Valley. Myself I had actually spent a few nights in Lake Tahoe as a child and had some idea of what to expect, but to be honest I thought of it mostly as a place to Spend the night before going on with the trip. My folks had been urging us that we should stay a few nights in Tahoe but I wasn't really that convinced beforehand. Man was I wrong. Lake Tahoe is a mountain paradise!

Lake Tahoe is a fresh water lake in the northern Sierra Nevada's that according to local legend is so pure and crystal clear that a white china plate is still visible if submerged 75 feet. Located along the border between California and Nevada it's the second deepest lake in the U.S. It elevates at 6225 feet over sea level(1897m) and during winter season boasts to have some of the finest skiing in the states. This however being summer the ski tourists was long gone and the locals have found a different leisure to pass the time until the next snow fall, river rafting!

So we drove up to the north shore of the lake near Tahoe City. The place is packed with motels and hotels in all price ranges and as a summer tourist I can't imagine you would need to book one in advance. And since there is such an abundance of free rooms you can probably make a bargain if you take time to ask around in a few motels. It's to long ago for me to remember what place we chose but it served our purpose, being clean and affordable.

So there are a lot of alternatives for river rafting and any motel will have a bunch of flyers with coupons that offer discounts. There are a variety of different levels depending on how experienced you are, and since it was our first time me and M decided on a beginners ride with a company operating the Truckee river. Truckee River Raft Co let's you rent a raft and life wests for about 35 dollars per person (even though our instructors insisted it was more important to bring beer than life wests) and pick you up in a bus at the end of your trip to drive you back to your car. 

The water levels were pretty low at the time so the rapids were even slower than normal but that didn't bother us at all. Here we were floating down this gorgeous mountain stream in a perfect pace without even having to paddle. You crack open a beer, lay back in the almost tropical summer heat and take in the breathtaking nature around you. The river runs in the bottom of a ravine with tall trees on each side and every now and then the water gathers up in small ponds where you can stop for a swim. Also if you get to warm you just jump in the water and the current will pull you along side your raft. Awesome! There are plenty of places you can stay and eat your picnic and as soon as your done you just get in your raft and float on down to the pickup point. I'm pretty sure you could do the whole ride in about 30 minutes but with our stops we did it in about 2 hours. We even got to experience some minor rapids that were pretty exciting for us as beginners. 

Lake Tahoe is a beautiful place on earth and we really felt that given more time we could have spent days there just relaxing by the beach at the lake with occasional river rafting when getting bored. It really is one of the most relaxing places I've ever been to and I often catch myself thinking whenever I'm stressed out about work or school, "I wish i was on a raft on the Truckee River!".

Monday, April 4, 2011

Road trip of 2011 - the American East Coast

OK so it's been awhile since my last post. I've just finished mid-term exams for my university studies so I've been pretty occupied. On top of that I work full time so it's hard to find time for this. Well I just finished my exam and me and M are celebrating a bit with the rum i got for my birthday about a week ago. We're spending this sunday night as so many before planning our next road trip. So I thought I'd fill you in on our plans so far. The dates in the list shows what city we're staying in that night.

June 20th - June 25th - New York. Staying at the place we stayed last time Chelsea International Hostel. Perfect location and affordable. 120 dollars a night for a private room with shared bathroom. If you're fine with sleeping in a dorm you get it even cheaper. In fact it's so popular they only let you stay a week at a maximum. They have a great court yard to hang out and once every week it's free pizza night. 

June 26th - Jersey Shore. Driving down to Seaside heights, shooting location for popular show Jersey shore. Might just get some G.T.L in. Of course we'll wear fresh t-shirts!

June 27th - June 28th - Philadelphia. Cheapest stay we could find within a reasonable distance Apple Hostels seemed just right for our budget. About 75 dollars a night was the cheapest we could found and gives us a semi private room in a mixed couple dorm. Independence hall and the liberty bell will Satisfy my lust for American history for sure!

June 29th - Gettysburg. Visiting the historic battlefield from the American civil war is a dream for me. M is more excited that she'll finally experience amish culture first hand as we'll pass through the ironically named city of Intercourse. Looking forward to that myself.

June 30th - July 1st - Washington D.C. Took us forever to find something affordable but after searching through numerous travel sites i found out that as long as you live near a metro station you're fine. Kalorama Guest House only set us back about 80 dollars a night which is the budget we set for an average night for two in the U.S. Also includes a continental breakfast. Perfect for exploring the nations capital.  

July 2nd. Gonna be a busy day. Traveling first to Colonial Williamsburg and then on to Historic Jamestowne for the first permanent english settlement in the U.S we're gonna put as much milage in as we possibly can for our next destination

July 3rd - July 4th - Charleston. Staying at what we believe is gonna be an awesome stay Notso Hostel a hippie-ish hostel for the price of about 70 dollars a night for a private room. Planning to celebrate our 3rd ever independence day on the beach in Charleston, hoping for some amazing fire works. 

July 5th - Savannah. Gonna perfect that southern accent!

July 6th - July 7th - Orlando. Last time we did Universal Studios. This time we're going for their flag ship Islands of Adventure

July 8th - July 11th - Somewhere in Florida. Floridas west coast. Might be a stop in Tampa, might not. This will be done for sure though! Swimming with Manatees

July 12th - July 13th - Sanibel Islands. After falling in love with a picture in our beloved travel guide we knew we needed to stay here. Seahorse cottages is the place where we'll sit back, have a barbecue and pretend we're locals. A studio set us back 110 dollars a night. Way over budget but hoping to save some on cheap motels along the way.

July 14th - Somewhere in south Florida. Guess we'll be grand where ever! 

July 15th -July 16th - Key West & Key Largo. Being denied for us due to hurricane Ike we're finally getting to one of those places i need to see before i die. Walking the foot steps of Hemmingway there is bound to be plenty of Papa Dobles and snorkling with dolphins!

July 17th - July 19th - Miami. Back to our beloved south beach we're staying at the same place we stayed last time. Riviere hotel which i cant seem to find a website for due to the fact they opened a luxury hotel with the same name is a awesome hotel in South Beach latino quarters located two blocks from the beach. Clean and affordable with comfy beds and a big flat screen TV. Somewhere around a 100 dollars a night. Beach in the morning, siesta in front of TV and then hit the nightlife with cheesy clubs and cheap cocktails. I'm in Miami b**ch!