26 October 2017

Shoulder Season in Ketchum, Idaho

Image: Limelight Hotel website

Occupying prime real estate on the main street of Ketchum, Idaho, is a swanky new hotel called The Limelight. It's modern, dog and child friendly and located within walking distance of restaurants and shops. The hotel opened early 2017 and is gearing up for a great winter season of skiing at one of the oldest ski resorts in the country.

Idaho locals get to take advantage of reduced room rates September thru mid-December. We decided this was a great reason to head to Ketchum, a quick 2.5 hour drive from Boise. It was a perfect spot for a getaway in this gorgeous Fall weather.

Ice Skating at the Sun Valley Lodge

Also in Ketchum is a ski resort you may have heard of: Sun Valley. The resort has been around since 1936 and was America's first destination resort built by the Union Pacific Railroad. It was founded by Count Felix Schaffgotsch of Austria who was looking for a untapped area to build a ski resort. He found just what he was looking for in this small mining town in sun-drenched Idaho.

We visited Monday through Wednesday in the shoulder season of October. The summer mountain bikers and hikers have headed back to their cities and the ski tourists have yet to arrive. The town feels sleepy and laid back, with locals enjoying quieter lunches on patios. Even our hotel was rather quiet, with only a few people milling about.


We arrived on Monday just in time for lunch at one of our favorites, Christina's. White table clothes, delicious Italian food and a fireplace in the corner, always leave me wishing for another trip to Italy. The food here is good enough to think you're there!

Bigwood Bread - best Sourdough bread!

The Children's Library

We then walked around town, poking our heads in some of the fancy, upscale stores that line the streets of town, as well as an impressive Children's Library.

Patio of room 216

We checked into the hotel and enjoyed the afternoon sunshine on our patio. Yellow aspen trees danced in the wind as we overlooked the mountains, watching the sun sink behind the mountains.

The Limelight hotel makes great pizza in their pizza oven. Kiki was under the weather with a cold, so we decided to stay in for dinner and enjoy our beautiful hotel rooms. We ordered pizzas and salads from the hotel restaurant and drank the wine we had packed from home :)

Found Pacman

Game room filled with books, toys and games

Breakfast is included with your hotel reservation. They presented a beautiful buffet spread of eggs, homemade granola and yogurt, fresh fruit and local breads. This is so convenient with kids - when Kiki was done with her breakfast, she happily played in the kids room while we finished our coffees.

We had plans of riding the Roundhouse gondola up the mountain for some nice views, but it had closed for the season. We will have to wait until we are on skis to return for a ride! Instead we enjoyed some outside walking around the base.

Our final evening ended up being an unexpected Bingo night at the hotel. This activity seemed to bring people out of the woodwork! I don't know where they'd been the rest of the time, but the huge room was filled with hopeful players, looking to win some Limelight swag or free drinks from the bar.

Overall, our stay at The Limelight was excellent. What a great addition to Ketchum. We look forward to going back during a busier to season to see the place in full action!

23 August 2017

The Middle Fork of the Salmon River

"Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it." - Norman Maclean

Out in the vast spaces of the Frank Church - River of No Return wilderness area, one of the most epic white water river flows. Surrounded by 2.5 million acres of natural beauty, wildlife, and a few hundred lucky rafters each year, I now understand why the Middle Fork of the Salmon River is such a sacred destination. 

It took stepping outside of my normal vacation destinations, placing preconceived notions aside and trusting that the best trips are often ones that contain the most unknowns.

If you've never been to Idaho, you may have visions of potato farms and cowboys. But this beautiful state is filled with mountains, rivers and wildlife, untouched compared to many states. This is a mecca for river rafters and we had a spot to boat down 75 miles of the Salmon River with the Middle Fork Rapid Transit (MFRT).

What a way to end summer. 

MFRT has been running the river since the early 1980's. Grant Porter, whose father started the company and now owns it, has been rafting this river since he was a young boy and his passion for the river is contagious. From the very beginning, every detail was accounted for, communications were prompt and no stone was left unturned. Whether you were an avid rafter or novice, you felt prepared for the journey. The packing lists were my favorite! 

I packed in a 40L Patagonia duffle bag for the 6 days - all of our gear had to fit into a "dry bag" that would float down the river with us on the "sweep boat." I packed a down jacket, long underwear, pants, shorts, swim suits, a hat, sunglasses and plenty of sunscreen. A pair of river shoes, flip flops and wool socks were all one needed for footwear. They provided our Personal Floatations Devices (PFDs) and everything else (think tent, sleep bags, sleep pads, food, drink).  

By the time August rolls around, the river is flowing slower and lower than when the snows first melt in the Spring. Our journey started at Indian Creek and the only way there was by airplane. We flew in on a tiny 4-seat prop plane, enjoying the remote scenery, the largest roadless area left in the lower 48 states.

As our new friends were landing on the dirt air strip, we were assigned our dry bags and PFD's and became acquainted with one another. After a safety talk by our guide, Dagney, we boarded our boats and started down the river as the sun was warming us up and the water was sparkling.

There were 4 oar boards, one paddle boat, 3 "duckies" or inflatable kayaks and a "sweep boat." We had 6 guides who safely and graciously led us down the river. They were caring, funny, helpful and talented. There were 22 guests of all ages and from as far away as Holland. Each day, the guides loaded and unloaded our boats with all of our gear and food and drink. They cooked us three gourmet meals each day, washed dishes and set up camp. I haven't felt that cared for (or lazy) in years!! It was fantastic. 

Our days started around 7:00am with coffees at camp. We were served breakfast around 8am. While the guides packed up the kitchen and started loading the boats, we packed up our own bags and broke down our tents. The "sweep boat" was then loaded and two of the guides took off for our next camp. They would have tents assembled and the kitchen put together by the time we arrived on the oar boats later that afternoon. 

We would float about 15 miles each day, stopping for lunch, hikes, hot springs, waterfalls or swimming. There was time for talking, laughing, learning and just being present. There were no phones, no music, no distractions. I felt more connected than I had in a long time. It felt so good to be without the "pacifier" our cell phones become. 

We usually reached camp in late afternoon/early evening. We would grab our bags, find a tent and set up our beds. And most importantly, change into dry, cotton clothes! Everyone would then gather around our ring of camp chairs to enjoy drinks, play camp games like bocce ball and leg wrestling (!!), and talk. Eventually, appetizers would be serves before we were served meals like salmon, salad and potatoes or lasagna and chocolate cake. 

The evenings were capped off with a bonfire, guitar and singing. People would retire to bed here and there. Being outside all day makes a person tired in the best way. I didn't even have time to get past page 6 in my book! 

Each day found us in a different ecological region. The trees changed from towering Ponderosa pines to steep rock cliffs in the "Impassable Canyon," the third deepest in North America. We saw petroglyphs from the native Sheepeater tribe and watched bald eagles, big horned sheep, trout and snakes thrive in their habitat. 

The rapids on the river were not as scary as I thought they would be as a rider (I wouldn't say that if I were in charge of the oars). I'd never done anything quite like this before, so my imagination got the best of me. But, once I saw the competence of our guides and how they could maneuver their boats, I felt much more at ease, traveling through these obstacles of boulders and water. Not that the rapids couldn't be scary, because people die on this river, but we were in good hands and knew what to do in case we flew out of the boat. I hung on tight!

And I am going to hang on tight to these memories and friendships. In our world of connectivity and comparison and distraction, it felt good to let go and go back to just being present. It was a true vacation. And I know I made friendships that will fuel my soul well past our float trip. 

I would highly recommend MFRT to anyone looking for an escape into the wilderness. A true adventure into a stunning part of our country, where a river runs through it. 

29 July 2017

Back Home

Yesterday, as we were sight-seeing in our own city, I was thinking about all of the places we have lived in the past 10 years. Every 2 to 3 years, we have moved somewhere new, renting homes in new neighborhoods and making new friends. There was always something to discover, be it restaurants, museums or outdoor attractions. It was fun and exciting and always kept that adventurous spirit alive.

This month marks 4 years of living in Boise. The longest place Dan and I have lived together and the place we now call home. It's easy to let that adventure slip away into the daily hum drum of life. Sometimes I need a kick in the buns to keep exploring and seeing what is out my front door. No matter where you call home, there are new things to explore, new people to meet and new adventures to start. We are enjoying putting down roots here, becoming a part of this community and taking in all Boise has to offer. And it's not just potatoes.

And while Boise is our home now, last week we got to back to Minnesota. It was my first home and I love sharing it with Kiki. We spent 4 days in Minneapolis. It's true what they say: sometimes you have to leave a place to truly appreciate what it has to offer. Those 4 days were almost entirely spent with family, celebrating my grandparents' long lives together, but we also made sure to enjoy some of the city too.

It's hard to beat a Minnesota summer days and nights when everyone is outside, enjoying those precious moments, for all too soon they know winter is coming. People are biking, walking, running, paddle boarding, swimming and eating al fresco, every chance they get. It's just beautiful, really. While we were there, I kept thinking of the many things I never saw or did, probably because I had always lived there. It took leaving and going back for a visit to swim in Lake Harriet and ride bikes to Minnehaha Falls.

I love to travel, as you all know, but as the summer starts winding down, I am feeling this draw to enjoy Idaho, our new home, for all of it's space and charm. Wherever you are, find the beauty that exists there and live in it, for there are many people wishing your home was their vacation destination.

14 June 2017

The South of France

Whenever possible, I enlist the help and advice of friends or family, when planning a vacation. I do a lot of research on my own, whether it is through travel blogs, travel magazines, Instagram or books, but the best advice I always receive is from people who have been to the place and experienced it themselves.

So this trip was no different. I had been to the Cote d'Azur many years ago in college, but those were very different days. I was really starting from scratch with my planning. I contacted a friend from Albuquerque who is French and I knew traveled there often with his young daughter. I respected his opinion and knew his point of view would jive well with our (and our friends') wishes. 

He shared a website for booking a vacation rental called Maison Azur. The woman we were in touch with was helpful in answering questions about room configurations and outdoor space, as well as favorite restaurants and activities in the area. We decided on a villa that would accommodate our group of 6 adults and 4 children.

Booking accommodations tends to be the task that requires the most thought and planning and research. I find it the most stressful part of trip planning (I've been responsible for some doozies). Especially with small children, your home base is your mecca. It is a place to retreat to after a long day out and about. Evenings will likely be spent here while your children snooze and you finally get time for uninterrupted rosé sipping. You'll be cooking meals in the kitchen (we cooked every breakfast and dinner in our kitchen this trip). And the beds and bathrooms will hopefully make all guests comfortable.

We found a lovely place to park-it for the week. It suited all of our needs and I would highly recommend it to anyone looking for a place to stay in the Nice, France, area.

After finding accommodations, the next step we took as a group was to write down our individual wish lists - things we would love to see or do while we were there. We knew we would never do everything, but we felt like traveling with a group our size needed a little structure. We were lucky enough to have one of Dan's work colleagues, who lived in this region of France for a number of years, share his favorite beaches, day trips and ideas. His recommendations were all spot on and I look forward to returning some day to complete the list!

From our villa, we took day trips. We ate a hearty breakfast, the kids ran around in the yard and usually begged to stay and swim in the pool. Sometimes it's like pulling teeth getting out the door, but finally we crammed into our two Euro SUV's and hit the road. The roads as narrow and curvy. The round-a-bouts are BRILLIANT and I loved watching the joy on Dan's face driving a diesel manual transmission. Someone sat shotgun, listening to Siri pronounce the French street names (what did we do before Google maps?) and we found our way around the region.

How does one put a week's worth of memories into one readable post? I don't think I will ever be able to do it justice - the joy I feel traveling, the thrill of adventure, being out of my element but brought back to days when I lived in Europe for a semester. And at the same time, feeling this peace about just being. Being away from the daily grinds and demands of life and having meaningful conversations in the evenings, under the stars, over bottles (:o) of wine and reminiscing about the day just spent. There is something so romantic about traveling and really living in the moment.

Our moments were rich and wonderful. They were simple, but grand. And I think each of us really took time to appreciate each day we were there.

Our first day found us soaking up the grounds, the flowers, the paths and the pool. It was Sunday so the boys set out to grocery shop at E.Leclerc - a supermarche full of goodies. Afternoon rolled around and what else is there to do on a Sunday before a holiday in France? Go to the beach! We quickly learned how challenging parking can be...thank goodness for valet...and promptly parked our derrières on the beach. The kids played in the sand (Warren ate the sand), we ordered pizzas (why not?) and sipped rosé as the sun made it's way over the Cote d'Azur. You better believe we ended the day with gelato.

We chose a close jaunt for our second day. The night was rough for some - 3am wake-ups due to jet lag - and we wanted to ease into things. Of course there was swimming in the pool! But our excursion found us heading up the hill to Saint Paul de Vence. The quaint cobblestone pathways, fountains, art galleries and vistas won us over. That evening we dined on Niçoise salad on our massive outdoor table.

Day three found us on winding road to Grasse. The parfumeries here send scents of flowers out their doors. If you have time, they even have classes where you can craft your own perfumes. The smell of tuberose and jasmine and lavender are impressive. Most days, we ended our outing with food and drink. It makes everyone happy - young and old. We enlisted the help of Yelp! and found two tables outside to eat meals laden in gooey cheese.

Day four started on a high note for me (I am a baker by heart, after all) with freshly baked pastries. There were croissants, tarts, brioche... I tried them all. And then we went to the beach - yikes. This day, we chose a stone beach in Cagnes-sur-Mer. We paid for lounge chairs and soaked up some sun as the kids stacked rocks and played in the water.

Day five was probably the highlight of the trip for everyone. We hopped on the freeway and drove east to Eze. Almost every guide book will tell you it is a "must see" and I think we would all agree. This old town is perched on the high cliffs overlooking the crystal clear Mediterranean Sea. Our destination was "Le Jardin exotique" found by navigating tiny passageways by way of small signs. The garden was dreamy. Overlooking the sea and filled with larger-than-life succulents and taller-than-man cacti, the beauty was overwhelming. The children loved it, the parents loved it. The views were exactly what I imagined them to be.

Day six brought us back to St Paul de Vence. We split up the group today - it was our last day and we all had different things on our minds. Some shopped for art and some visited the sculpture garden. We all convened for the 3 hour meal that included escargot, shrimps, risotto with truffles and other local delicacies. I am not quite sure how the children made it through this, but they were as impressed by their meals as we were with ours.

That evening was our last... We never came close to crossing everything off of our to-do list (maybe on purpose? It leaves reason to return!). The older kids begged to return to the beach, so some of us headed back to a sandy beach near Antibes on a Friday evening to play in the waters. Watching the girls frolic in the water as the sun danced off of the waves was surreal. It was a moment I will remember forever. Our family with the 11-month-old decided that seeing "Old Nice" was better and they enjoyed the beautiful architecture, sculptures and sights along the promenade.

We all met up back at home to pack our bags and prepare for a 3am wake-up.

I think we are all still dreaming of unpasteurized cheeses, attempting conversations in French, days when our biggest decision was what city to visit and what wine to drink with dinner. Grateful for friend who wish to share the craziness with us. Ready to plan the next adventure! Who is in?