wanderlust during a pandemic

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Isla Mujeres

This time of year is when I am normally planning our late winter or early spring vacation. For retailers, particularly in the liquor business, the frenzied holiday shopping grinds almost to a halt in January and doesn’t return to a more normal pace again until March or April. It’s a much-needed reprieve, especially after a record-breaking year like 2020. I miss travel planning, and my Facebook memories aren’t helping. It seems like every single day a travel memory pops up, taunting me. Here are the trips I’ve been thinking about.

4 years ago, we were preparing for our first vacation in Mexico. We chose Cancun because it was a non-stop flight, which is important when flying to and from the mountains in winter. Otherwise, you might make it back to Denver but get stuck there, and your car is in Eagle or Aspen. Not fun. It is actually the opposite of fun.

We’d heard great things about Dreams Resorts, but wanted a relaxing trip sans anyone else’s kids, so Secrets Maroma Beach Riviera won our business. It’s the adult-only sister company of Dreams, is all-inclusive and has lots of restaurants, activities and entertainment. Our goal was to sit on the beach and relax, as opposed to many of our previous vacations that tended to have lengthy itineraries. There was no itinerary here, except one outing to sail on a catamaran to Isla Mujeres and do some snorkeling. (The header photo was taken on the island.) That was the only time we left the resort. It was awesome.

This turned out to be a dream vacation. The service and the property itself were impeccable. We saw one piece of trash, and it was so out-out-of-place that we sat and watched it for the 10 minutes it took for an employee to find it. (The only exception to this were the cigarette butts some guests left in the sand. Seriously. Some were less than two feet from an ashtray. Grrrrrr!) The food and entertainment were exceptional as well, and I would give the spa 50 stars. Highly recommend!

2 years ago, I was busy organizing a work trip to Napa and Sonoma. I know. Work, work, work. 🙂 It’s trickier than just booking airline tickets and lodging, though. Our wine reps set up tastings for us every day we were there. I had detailed maps of both areas highlighted with distances between each spot and possible spots to eat along the way. This was the mother of itineraries for me! It was around 4 pages long and turned out to be invaluable. We ignored most of my restaurant suggestions and relied on locals to provide us with recommendations, which resulted in some amazing meals at places we never would have found on our own.

RELATED: WHERE TO EAT IN SONOMA

In Sonoma, we visited Rodney Strong, Iron Horse Vineyards, Hannah Winery, Hook & Ladder Winery, Alexander Valley Vineyards, Francis Ford Coppola Winery, Cline family Cellars, Gundlach Bundschu and Jacuzzi Family Vineyards. Our Napa stops included Sterling Vineyards, Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars and Frog’s Leap Winery. We didn’t forget California beer! The Lagunita’s Brewing Company taproom in Petaluna was a sunny afternoon well spent, with live music in the large patio, and no craft beer lover should miss a stop at the Russian River Brewing Company‘s Santa Rosa Brewpub for some Pliny the Elder. Before you think all we did was work, we visited the beach and spent some time exploring the Jack London Historic State Park.

RELATED: A DAY IN SONOMA

Getting to this trip was a lot easier than getting home. With flight cancellation and delays, we ended up renting a car in Sacramento and driving home across America’s Loneliest Highway. It was a fun drive and we got home sooner than our flight would have.

1 year ago, which honestly seems like a lifetime ago, Scott and I separately came up with the idea to visit the Gulf Coast so that was an easy decision. We have family in Indian Rocks Beach, which is a wonderful destination with beautiful sunsets and beaches and lots of great restaurants. We spent several days with our cousins Brian and Peggy in their waterfront home that’s affectionately dubbed Club Peg. Though we did venture to the beach a couple of times, sitting on their dock watching pelicans and dolphins was pretty tough to beat. And spending time with family was something we’ll never take for granted again. They were amazing hosts, and we can’t wait to go back.

RELATED: TIPS FOR VISITING ANNA MARIA ISLAND

Next, we headed to Anna Maria Island, a favorite destination of our best friends. Now we know why. The island is just seven miles long, with gorgeous beaches, a free trolley and lots of shopping and restaurants. Our beachfront condo at Bali Hai was at the northern end of the island, and we could walk to restaurants and shopping. There was a trolley stop right there for easy rides to and from the southern part of the island. Another spot we’re eager to revisit. We are SO glad we scheduled this trip for early February before travel restrictions kicked in.

So, it’s January again, but we have no travel plans. In addition to COVID-19, sometimes it’s just hard to leave town when you own a business that’s open every day except Thanksgiving and Christmas. We’re hoping to get away for a long weekend or two as soon as it warms up a little, but there’s nothing in the works for anything longer than that. Here’s to hoping we can all hit the road, hop on board a plane or train or ship, and get the heck out of Dodge soon.

Thanks to Heiditown.com for the idea to relive past trips when wanderlust sets in. You should subscribe to her blog if you haven’t already.

Thanks for tuning in to TalesFromtheEmptyNest.com!

Do’s and Don’ts when visiting Anna Maria Island

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Room with a view on Anna Maria Island

We are so fortunate to have spent a week on the beach in Florida before COVID-19 really set in. I’ve been dreaming about going back ever since. Here are a few things we learned about Anna Maria Island so that you can start planning your trip right now.

Shrimp tacos at the Gulf Drive Café & the Kokonut Hut
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a day in Sonoma, California

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Of our four days in Sonoma County, one was spent in and around Sonoma, a historic city in northern California at the heart of the renowned Sonoma Valley wine-making region. Its history is fascinating.

According to VisitCalifornia.com, “In the mid-1800s, the town now known as Sonoma was just a collection of ranchos, governed by Mexico. Even though the U.S. government and the State of California took over the territory not too long after that, you can still sense its heritage. The centerpiece of town, Sonoma Plaza, is still anchored by the northernmost Franciscan mission in California—and it’s even the birthplace of the California State Bear Flag, created by Americans rebelling against Mexican rule. Today, however, Sonoma Plaza is lined with charming shops, tasting rooms and popular restaurants.”

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ruffing it with fido: how to take your dog camping

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Camping with Fido

Guest post by Aurora James

Spending time in the great outdoors with your canine companion can be quite a treat. However, if you’re planning on camping or spending the night, there are a few things you will want to do to prepare. With these tips, you’ll be ready to enjoy whatever nature throws at you. Continue reading

months 7, 8 and 9: recuperating in sunny Arizona

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Recuperating in sunny Arizona.

Recuperating in sunny Arizona.

I’ve been a bad blogger. My name is Mandy, and my last post was in January. The past three months have been a little rough and a lot busy. On the bright side, if all I did was write about beaches, lighthouses, mountains, wine and lobster, you’d get pretty sick of me.

Before and After

Before and After

We spent the winter in San Tan Valley, Arizona, which is between Phoenix and Tucson. On January 13, I had a total knee replacement. I’m not going to lie; that wasn’t a lot of fun. Recuperating in an RV can be challenging, but I was able to spend the first week after surgery at our Aunt Dawn’s house. It was perfect; we had our own room, there were no stairs and she spoiled me rotten with chicken soup, chocolate pudding and fresh grapefruit—right off the tree and into my breakfast. I’m a big fan of fresh grapefruit!

Knee replacements have come a long way, baby. Mine was an outpatient procedure. We arrived at the surgi-center at 6 a.m. By 11, I was wobbling around with a walker and at 1 p.m. we were settling in at Aunt Dawn’s place. An I.V. nurse, a home health nurse and a physical therapist came by frequently to take care of me. The outpatient option is fairly new; I was my surgeon’s 24th patient to try it. There were also no stitches or staples in my incision; it was glued together and covered with a single piece of gauze. You know it’s uncommon when the nurses are surprised.

Casa Grande Ruins National Monument

Casa Grande Ruins National Monument

The first week went pretty smoothly until I had an allergic reaction to the glue. Hello, Prednisone, and all of its side effects. I became a little emotional. And by that I mean that I cried when we got back to our camper because the floor was dusty. Imagine that, a dusty floor in the desert. My husband is a saint.

The next few weeks were a blur of physical therapy and ice packs. We didn’t get out and about much to explore Arizona. When we did, we found some wonderful spots!

Our first outing was to the Casa Grande Ruins National Monument. The Casa Grande, which means great house, dates back to around 1350 A.D. Aptly named, it’s one of the largest prehistoric structures ever built in North America, measuring 60 feet long and four stories tall. There’s a nice visitor center and museum. Two thumbs up for this historic site!

The Windmill Winery

The Windmill Winery

In nearby Florence, we visited the Windmill Winery. I know. You’re shocked that I found a winery. The real shocker is that we were just half an hour away and didn’t find it for three months. It’s located on the site of an old brick factory. They’ve used the bricks to make walkways and patios around the property, which is beautifully landscaped. It’s a popular wedding venue. Our favorites were the Dutchman’s Bold, which is made from the Norton grape, and the pomegranate wine, which neither of us expected to like but did.

Schnepf Farms and the Queen Creek Olive Mill are just across the street from each other. I recommend breakfast at Schnepf Farms—the cinnamon rolls are to die for. Burn some of the calories hiking around the farm. We were there at the tail end of the Peach Blossom Festival and enjoyed walking out to the orchard. You can pick your own fresh veggies and there’s a petting zoo with baby goats. I don’t know when the goat craze started, but count me in. Baby goats are just plain fun.

Goats at Schnepf Farms

It doesn’t get much cuter than this.

Next, head to the Queen Creek Olive Mill. There’s a large, outdoor seating area surrounded by olive trees where they hold a lot of special events like art festivals and wine tastings. You can take a tour to see how the olive oil is made, and the store sells more kinds of olives, olive oils, sauces and dressings than you can imagine. You’ll also find Arizona wines, lavender products, coffee, a bakery and a restaurant. We tried the pizza one evening and listened to live music. Good stuff.

Our home for the winter was a 55-plus RV park. They broke the age rule for us because Scott’s Dad has spent the past five winters there. We were definitely the young whippersnappers. I was actually told to slow down on my bicycle by one of the older residents. I almost fell off the bike looking around to see if he was talking to me! Then I felt like quite the rebel. Our neighbors were supportive and friendly. They cheered me on as I progressed from using the walker, to a cane, to limping and then eventually walking around the park.

Schnepf Farms

Schnepf Farms

Those retirees have a lot of fun. Many come back year after year and have developed close friendships. The cocktail hour is alive and well there, and groups gather around campfires most nights. There’s a lot of laughter, and you can occasionally hear snippets like, “and then he took off his swimsuit,” followed by even more laughter.

Our daughter came down for spring break during our last week in Arizona. She only had three days off from work, so we made the most of it and took her to some of our favorite places. She’s also a big fan of baby goats and petting zoos, so Schnepf Farms was a big hit. We walked around Old Town Scottsdale and loitered at the Poisoned Pen bookstore hoping that Diana Gabaldon would drop by. If you haven’t read the Outlander series, you should. We didn’t spot her, but we always love a good bookstore.

The Poisoned Pen

Looking for Diana Gabaldon in Scottsdale

Two days later, we packed up and hit the road back to Colorado. We had driven 23,146 miles since we started our road trip last July without any real car trouble. Notice the past tense. In Utah, we had to unload the Harley on the shoulder of I-70 so that Scott could ride back and forth to get the parts to get the truck running again. He had to go to five places to find a suitable replacement, but he found one and was able to make the repair.

All’s well that ends well, right? We arrived at Rifle Gap State Park about five hours later than planned, but we made it safe and sound and got set up right before the rain started. Whew!

My knee gets stronger every week and I’m pretty darn mobile, considering. What’s next for us? We’ll let you know when know for sure. Hint: It involves Colorado. Thanks for reading. Stay tuned for more Tales From the Empty Nest.

 

top 5 travel recommendations from 2014

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Colonial Williamsburg Capitol travel blog

The Capitol building in Colonial Williamsburg.

Looking back on 2014, some of it is a little fuzzy. Change was definitely the word of the year. To recap, we put our house on the market in the spring, sold it in June and then had 40 days to cut our possessions in half, pack and move what we kept into storage. Scott and I headed out in the RV in early July with no plans other than to see a lot of the country and visit with friends and family. Road trip! Continue reading

month three: these are a few of my favorite things

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McCall, Idaho, on the shore of Payette Lake.

McCall, Idaho, on the shore of Payette Lake.

We’ve been on the road for a little more than three months now, during which we’ve been to 17 different states and traveled more than 12,000 miles. Coast to coast, Portland to Portland, Newport to Newport. In honor of our first three months, here are my three favorite… Continue reading

from sea to shining sea

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We’ve been on the road for three months and have already traveled from sea to shining sea! We spent the morning exploring Acadia National Park, had lunch at Thurston’s Lobster Pound, visited the Bass Harbor Lighthouse, and enjoyed a tasting at the Atlantic Brewing Company with ribs from the Mainely Meat BBQ. I’ll write more about this magnificent day soon, but here’s a look at what we saw.

Thanks for visiting Tales From the Empty Nest! Come back soon.

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campground review: Pony Express RV Resort in Salt Lake City

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Pool at Pony Express

Go for a swim at the Pony Express RV Resort.

Why camp here? There are lots of reasons to visit Salt Lake City. It was just a stopover for us this time due to other time commitments, but we hope to stay longer next time to explore the area. The 35-acre Temple Square, the most-visited attraction in the state, is top of the list of places I’d like to see. I also want to tour the Territorial Statehouse  since we enjoyed our visit to the Wyoming Territorial Prison so much. There’s a nice list of locals’ favorites on the Visit Salt Lake website, including the Epic Brewing Company and Tony Caputo’s regional market with, get ready for this, a state-of-the-art cheese cave, old-world butcher shop and the nation’s largest selection of ultra-premium chocolate. A cheese cave and ultra-premium chocolate? Count me in! Continue reading

campground review: Blue Ox RV Park

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Springhill Winery

One of the many perks of camping in the Willamette Valley. This is at the Springhill Winery.

Why camp here? This was one of three stops during our trip through Oregon. We visited places that were new to us and chose Albany because it’s close to my cousin and his family. Boy, did we luck out. It’s smack dab in the Willamette River Valley!

The Blue Ox RV Park is located close enough to I-5 to be really convenient, but not close enough to hear the traffic. There are lots of stores, services and restaurants nearby, plus the Timber Linn Park with paved walking trails, bike lanes and the nicest dog park I’ve ever seen. Continue reading