Weekly Wanderlust: Banff, Alberta

I’ve been to the Banff area twice, both times in summer, or rather the shoulder months (May and September). First was a brief adventure as part of a work trip, and the second time was a nice weekend getaway while I was traveling regularly to Calgary for work. I am not sure you need a guide to Banff, as it’s a pretty small ski town, and everything is beautiful, so you really can’t go wrong. Instead I’ll just share what I loved and hope someone else can offer up some great suggestions for when I definitely go back.

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Banff – view from the hill where we stayed

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Yes, that’s a golf course.

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Setting up for a wedding later…

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Lake Louise. As pretty in real life as it is on the postcard.

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That’s all for tonight – just a little bit of mountain dreaming. ūüôā

– Stassja

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Just Get Outside: Northeast Hikes

That’s been my mantra lately – whether it involves lunchtime runs, or evenings sitting by the pool – this is the time of year to just be outside as much as possible. The weather has been nice for Houston – but summertime is very clearly here, what with the intense humidity already arriving and many crazy tropical thunderstorms. So to capture the last few semi-cool moments before 100 degree days, we are going camping soon. Camping in Texas is pretty calm – usually some trees, a body of water with fishing, and hiking on basically flat ground. But this made me think about a few camping and hiking trips Mark and I took in the Northeast which involved cooler nights, much more strenuous hikes, and plenty of no-makeup time (as you guys know I love).

First up was Franconia Notch – a pretty amazing place¬†in New Hampshire. We did the Mt. Lafayette¬†loop hike – up Falling Waters and down Old Bridle Trail which was nice because the AMC (Appalachian Trail) trail hut was on the way down. You are hiking above the treeline most of the time, which provides some pretty awesome views. Plus it’s very doable in a day, but you are still exhausted at the end (or we were!) so just being able to have a glass of wine or beer at the campsite (we stayed at Lafayette campground) was so nice.

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View of the ridge hike up to Mt. Lafayette

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Even in the summer, it’s chilly at the top!

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About a year later, we decided to head to Vermont. We camped at Underhill campground¬†and hiked Mt. Mansfield. We did a loop again, heading up to the Forehead (yes, really) and hiked to the Chin, before coming back down the Sunset Ridge Trail. I thought it was a pretty good hike, but there was a guy running up the mountain next to us for his “weekend workout”. Nothing makes you feel less fit than that…

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Again, lots of above treeline time, leading to some fantastic views (and unexpected sunburn!). It’s worth noting that Underhill did not have running water, so after a long day of hiking and two nights camping, we headed over to Smuggler’s Notch to grab a shower. Those of you who are more outdoorsy than me could probably hack it.

Obviously both of these hikes were pre-kids, but I think you could do portions of them with a child carrier – especially the main summit routes which end up being shorter and therefore a bit more crowded. We will be hiking a bit with our kids here in Texas soon, but I use that term loosely, as really it’s just walking in a circle. We will see how the three-year old holds up on his own, but plan to bring the carrier for the baby. Most of our “real hiking” we save for weekends away that we very occasionally get thanks to my awesome parents. But once they’re older, they will definitely be joining us!

While this makes me miss my mountain views, I will say that tonight’s Texas sunset was something pretty special on its own. Flat land has it’s perks too. ūüôā

Until next time,

Stassja

Weekly Wanderlust: Italy

A coworker of mine jetted off to Italy this week, and there is no faster way for me to feel the travel bug. Italy is definitely on our list – we had a trip planned several years ago but had to cancel and never found the opportunity to go back. I think it will need to happen soon…especially the Lake Como area, seems amazing.

So, with that I bring to you, some fantastic¬†Italy pics…

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Images borrowed from 1 / 2 / 3 / 4 / 5

– Stassja

Enjoying Spring in Texas

The weather this week has been beautiful, so no wanderlust for me. Instead I’m happy to be somewhere with 70 degree days, a cool breeze and bright blue skies. I’ve gone running so many times this week at lunch, and I swear it was just to take advantage of the weather.

While Mark is up in the Northeast enjoying the snow, I’m trying to keep my crazy toddlers entertained and most importantly, outside. Today we (thanks Dad!) went to the Bayou City Arts Festival and walked around, ate from food trucks, purchased a picture for Annelise’s room, and just generally enjoyed being in the sunshine. Nolan did some art on his own too.

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It was a nice reminder to me that when the weather is good, anything is possible. Tomorrow, we’re off to Blessington Farms which I mentioned in my last Houston post. I expect to see quite a bit of this…(from last October)…

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Happy weekend everyone!

– Stassja

Close to Home: Camping with a Baby

Living in Texas, there are not many “outdoor” activities available that involve hiking boots, or a backpack. However, there are a few campgrounds nearby which we’ve visited either for overnight camping where you park your car in a spot and sleep in a tent (a.k.a. car camping) or for a day hike. We actually haven’t done any of this since Annelise was born, but we’re planning to go later this year, so we can update you on how camping works with older toddlers, but I’m optimistic!

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We’ve taken Nolan overnight camping twice – once when he was about 2 months old, and once when he was about 15 months old. We had a great time both times though I’ll say the baby is much easier. I personally would avoid taking kids camping during the crawling stage as there aren’t many options for them to crawl other than in an area with lots of dirt / bugs / etc. But once they’re walking, it’s actually a great place to explore. In fact, Nolan learned “wipe your dirty hands on your shirt” on the second camping trip and now we’re trying to get him to break that habit!

Camping with a baby can be easier than you think, as long as the people you go with are cool with some occasional crying. When Nolan was little, we just took our small backpacking tent, and used a changing pad in between our sleeping bags as his place to sleep. When he fussed, he was close by and I could feed him quickly and put him back down.¬†We also brought our travel crib and a stroller mosquito net to put over it – he napped reasonably well in there, and it was a good place to put him down when someone wasn’t holding him.

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For the hiking this trip, we carried Nolan in our Baby Bjorn, but an Ergo would have worked as well. He was a big baby, and after a few hours, my back started hurting so I traded with my husband. But obviously depends on how long the hike was – this was a flat ~8 mile course so the carriers worked fine.

For meals, we brought our Baby Bjorn bouncer so he could feel like part of the conversation. We just set it up next to the camping chairs.

camping 054The camping spot pictured above is Huntsville which is our favorite, and we will be returning shortly. We went in January (hence the long sleeves) but we also got pretty lucky with weather. We tried to go last year in February but had a forecast in the 40s and decided taking a 3 month old out in that cold would not be fun – so it can definitely be weather dependent.

Our second camping trip was with a young toddler (15 months). We did much of the same, except we got a larger tent and put the travel crib inside the tent for both naps & bedtime. Since we put him down earlier than we went to bed, we just crept in later. It helped that our campfire was at the second campsite next to ours so we could put him in the tent and be within earshot but not so close that we kept him up.

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We also went ahead and purchased a hiking backpack for this trip as he was now a stout boy, and required more support though I have friends who used the Ergo up to 18 months, so it may just depend on the kid. Nolan loved the backpack, and even fell asleep on the hike – you can see he slept right through our snack break!

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Since we knew we’d have some downtime, we also brought the wagon so we could walk him around the campground areas. This worked really really well since young toddlers do not go where you want them to go when walking. I think our running stroller would have worked well too.

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This trip was near Lake Somerville which was fun, but probably more for people who have a boat or horses (it was equestrian friendly). The hiking was different and slightly hilly (for Texas) which was a nice change of pace, but I find the Huntsville campground much easier. Good variety though!

So as I’m thinking about taking our one year old and three year old camping, are there any other parents out there who have done this? Any tips for how to get both kids to sleep in a tent at the same time? I think there will be some serious trial and error. ūüôā Luckily it’s a short drive away, so if we have to go home early, we’ll just do that. Wish me luck!

– Stassja

Weekly Wanderlust: SoCal

We’ve had rainy weather here over the past few weeks with a few moments of greatness, and lots of humid rain followed by cold rain and back again. The weather craziness is getting old, which makes me think about those who live Southern California where it is 70 degrees every single day.

We’ve been to LA & Santa Barbara a few times as Mark’s sister has been lucky enough to live out there for some time, so I’m sure we’ll do a more detailed download later. But for now, some California dreaming…

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Santa Barbara Harbor

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Santa Barbara Wine Country

Happy weekend!

– Stassja

72 hours in… Flagstaff, Arizona

I’ve had a list of dream towns in my mind for years. ¬† These are typically small western cities in the great outdoors, where someday I’ll work for an hour from home each morning in my pajamas, sipping coffee, before running out the back door¬†to train in¬†the hills, rivers and valleys (not for a race, but to conquer mountains). ¬†In the afternoon I would take a short nap before heading out to the general store, which would be like a Whole Foods only local, and then retire in the evening to an amazing restaurant, great friends, and the smell of a crackling fire on a crisp autumn night. ¬† Nastassja would have a real job that keeps her busy from 9 until 2, with Wednesdays and Fridays off. ¬†There are sometimes¬†children in this vision, usually helping to pack camping stuff or cooking breakfast for me, and they are always between the ages of 7 and 12. ¬† And I’m not old or retired but have limitless energy to climb mountains, learn how to fly fish, and drink beer, and plenty of money to buy all the cool stuff¬†I want from REI, including a drawer full of new Smartwool socks. ¬†I’m pretty sure all this could all be mine if I just move to the right town.

The one thing the¬†dream towns on my list have in common is I’ve never been there so there’s nothing to prove the dream wrong. ¬†So Nastassja and I decided we needed to start visiting these places to understand if there was anything to my vision. ¬†Our first stop: Flagstaff, Arizona, which we could also use as a launching point to visit the Grand Canyon. ¬†We dropped the kids at the grandparents and set out on a scouting trip/getaway.

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Three Days in Flagstaff, Arizona

We flew into Phoenix and rented a Tiguan. ¬†This is the world’s tiniest SUV. ¬†It was cute – something I’d own if I lived in a place like Flagstaff

We arrived at the “Inn at 410″ bed and breakfast in downtown Flagstaff a little over¬†2 hours later. ¬†Nastassja has never really been all that excited about B&Bs. ¬†I think it’s something about having to cohabitate with total strangers, that they are almost too personal. ¬†I’ve been to good ones and bad ones. ¬†And this… was a really good one. ¬†We had a great big room in the back of the house with its own separate entrance. ¬†And the location was just 3 blocks up the hill from the center of Flagstaff’s tiny downtown. ¬†We booked dinner at Flagstaff’s fanciest restaurant for a few hours later – located next door to the hotel – and got ready to explore the downtown. ¬†I was happy to see they had a “happy hour” set up in the living room, which looked a bit like the bar I had in my house in graduate school. ¬†Vodka? Gin? ¬†Tonic? ¬†Check and check. ¬†We helped ourselves to some lemon water and set off¬†into the late afternoon of what was a perfect weather day.

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The downtown was very compact, just a few blocks wide and long, with the old train tracks and rail station marking what I imagined was the boundary for the seedy side of town.  There was a little mall that had t-shirt stores and reminded me of a place near where we used to live in Cambridge.  There was an ice cream place.  There were about 5 stores that sold hiking clothes.   And yes, Route 66 ran down through town.

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We had an hour before dinner so we looked for a before-dinner drink and found this wine place called Vino Loco

The patio was packed with people drinking wine casually with their dogs and a few babies. ¬†This was our kind of place. ¬†Unfortunately the patio was full so we sat inside alone, but the bartender (a U of Northern Arizona student?) was goofy and the wine was good and it was nice inside.¬†¬†We enjoyed our glass of wine and thought, “maybe we’ll come back here tomorrow night and drink way too much?”, but it was time for dinner

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We went to Brix, Flagstaff’s #1 restaurant. ¬†It was still pretty casual, and we sat outside on a patio and had (more) good wine and pretty good food. ¬†It was a good night. ¬† We captured one picture.

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Grand Canyon

We were jet lagged and wanted to get in a full day, so we got up at 5 and headed out to the Grand Canyon. This was only about an hour and a half away. ¬†The drive itself was pretty, through the mountains and then along some quiet highways. ¬†If you haven’t been to the Grand Canyon then I can’t really explain it. ¬†Pictures don’t do it justice. ¬†It’s just really big and quiet. ¬†We walked around the rim trail and set off down into the Canyon.

The trail down into the canyon was pretty crowded and slow.  There are signs every 50 feet warning you that you will die if you hike too far down into the canyon in one day.  A strong gust of wind blew my favorite Phillies cap off my head and down into the canyon.  It was sad (see before and after below Рthe cap is somewhere a few thousand feet below the rock in the second picture).

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So about an hour and half in we got to a reasonable turnaround point and I argued with Nastassja that we should go further.  We got about another 100 yards and ran into a burro train.  It was a sign to turn around.

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We climbed back up to the top in about an hour. ¬†It wasn’t lunch yet and we’d pretty much seen what we needed to see of the Grand Canyon. ¬†It was time to head back to Flagstaff.

Flintstone rest stop

This place was about halfway back to Flagstaff and every bit as ridiculous and awful as it looks.   I regret to say we passed on the theme park and just browsed the gift shop a bit.

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Beaver Street Brewery

We got back to Flagstaff, cleaned up and headed out to this brewpub. ¬†I didn’t take this picture, but it was just like this.

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This is when I realized that Flagstaff had been frozen in time in 1997. ¬† This brewpub had the same food and beer as the brewpubs that were popping up around then, meaning it wasn’t bad but it wasn’t good. ¬†We had some heavy bar food and headed out.

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We decided to check out the beer place that was next to the wine place from the night before. ¬†It was “Odell Brewery Tap Takeover night”, which meant they had 20 different kinds of IPAs from Odell brewery on tap. ¬†Nastassja was looking for a wheat beer or a belgian beer. ¬†No dice. ¬†We were tired and I had two heavy beers in my stomach so I thought that might be it for the night, but I thought maybe we’d try another glass of wine at the wine place before we called it.

Vino Loco – part 2

First we sat and started playing a board game. ¬†Again, this isn’t my picture but we were sitting at that barrel on the left near all the wine. ¬†flagstaffwine

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Then a dude started playing an acoustic guitar and singing 90s alt-rock songs. ¬†Here is just a partial list of songs you could request. ¬†Wouldn’t you like to time warp to that night and join us? ¬† What would you pick?

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So¬†we ordered a bottle. ¬†Then Nastassja was running up with requests. ¬†Then we ordered another bottle. ¬†Luckily we found out we could take the rest of the bottle “to go” which saved us. ¬†We shut it down before it got out of control. ¬†Fun night.

Saturday

Morning punishment run

We got up early (again) and ran off the mild hangover from the night before. ¬†This was the thing I’ll remember about Flagstaff. We ran out of the B&B, up a big hill, then though a park with the mountains behind it, and if we’d had a bit more time we could have kept running right up into the San Francisco peaks. ¬†This was the dream, and tough work too. ¬†But we needed to get back to breakfast at the B&B.

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Bed and breakfast breakfast

Which was again, super cute and delicious.  I really liked this place.

We were undecided on what to do on day 2 so we did what came naturally. ¬†We went to the Flagstaff REI to get some hiking clothes. ¬†We were a little embarrassed to see the guitar player from the night before working in the shoe department, but we all pretended like it didn’t happen and got on with things.

Walnut Creek Canyon

We drove about a half hour to the outskirts of town and checked out Walnut Creek Canyon, an old native american site where the residents lived in caves carved into the canyon.  Pretty cool.

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Salsa Brava

Then we stopped at this weird tex mex place with amazing salsa. ¬†I don’t know how this wouldn’t be a hit in Houston. They gave you chips, then you went to a salsa bar and picked from 8 or 9 salsas¬†which ranged from spicy to outrageously hot. ¬†The food was good too. ¬†Score one for southwest mexican food.

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Red Mountain Trail

We decided to go to this red rock place to do one more hike, just on the other side of town.  It was very quiet and deserted.  It was a pretty cool hike, although it was a bit of an afterthought after doing the Grand Canyon the day before.

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On the way back I almost ran out of gas.  Nothing like creating a little stress out of an otherwise calm day.

Late for the Train Coffee

This was a coffee chain that reminded me of a coffee chain from 1998. ¬†They had regular coffee and espresso drinks. ¬†Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but the flagship Flagstaff coffee place just did not compete with the 2014 hipsterdom of Montrose or any other major city making pourovers with single origin beans or flat whites. ¬†I ordered a cup of something like “flagstaff blend”¬†and we headed back out.

A few other random places

We went to a cuban restaurant for dinner, owned by the same people who ran Brix. ¬†It was nothing special. ¬†Then we walked around and watched a guy playing guitar in the square outside the t-shirt mall. ¬†We got an ice cream. ¬†There were kids running around getting ready to watch a movie being projected on a wall in the square. ¬†Again I couldn’t shake the feeling I was frozen in time.

We looked for gifts then grabbed a final glass of wine at a pretty corporate place near the square. ¬†I realized then that we’d reached the end of Flagstaff. ¬† It was Day 2 and we’d¬†exhausted everything we wanted to explore. ¬†That was it… hiking, a few restaurants, one great unpretentious wine bar. ¬†Maybe we were missing something but I doubt it. ¬†So it had everything I thought it would have, but it would take some getting used to living in a small city in the middle of the high desert.

We got up at dawn and ate a to-go breakfast provided by the B&B.   We were happy to get home and see the babies.