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#traveltuesday: The Florida Keys

It’s the middle of December, we’re inching closer to the winter solstice, the days are short as hell, and I bet some of us are even dreaming about, planning, or executing sunny vacations to warm places with tropical drinks in our hands. I know the shorter days have got me a bit down, but the solstice will turn that all around as the days start to get longer. When this happens sometimes I do reflect on the years I spent my winters in the Florida Keys, one of the places where I laid the groundwork for some of what I do now — nannying and dog sitting, as well as the true beginning of my luxury customer service career.

Don’t get me wrong.. I played a lot too, in the sun and sand, in the waves — on kayaks and motor boats and pool floats and everything in between. All those activities are sure to leave one feeling hungry and I thought I would share this list of some of the best places to eat throughout the Keys. I personally lived less than a mile from Marker 88 and can’t speak highly enough of the lively atmosphere and serene setting on the bay that meld together for the perfect afternoon of drinks on the water, or evening out to dinner with friends.

Snorkel with local wildlife if you’re driving through!

If you have plans to travel to the Florida Keys, or are just dreaming about them to get you through the winter, check out this list of the top restaurants on the southern-most 100 mile stretch of US1.

Where do you dream about traveling to when your surroundings (the weather or the atmosphere or the lack of sunlight) have got you down?

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#traveltuesday: I’m tired.

Writing blog posts isn’t exhausting, but sometimes the thought of it is. I’ve been exhausted myself these past few weeks — with the unexpected travel, the Birds of Prey Ski races — working and spectating them — my mom traveling to visit me for the weekend, and my entire schedule being turned on end.

So it’s not the blog post that’s exhausting, but the thought of doing it almost feels like the straw that broke the camel’s back this week.

But luckily! Here I am with some travel tips for those on a tight budget. I book marked this page late last week and I’m glad I did because now I have something easy and useful to present to you.

Hostelworld is one of my favorite places to book international accomodations. The setup is easy, user friendly, simple and quick — while offering cheap accomodations and cheap protection so that you retain your money to use again on their site should you not be able to make your trip. I can’t tell you how many times this website, their prices and their reservation protection, helped keep my budget intact while I was studying abroad.

Last week Hostelworld published this article about traveling on a budget which offers some simple tricks to help you make the most out of your budget so you can explore as far and as wide as possible on this big green earth. For example — Travel Tuesday isn’t just alliteration and a kitschy hashtag, it’s also traditionally the cheapest day to fly!

Check out the article and comment about what travel destinations you’ve set your sights on for 2019. Maybe I’ll pick one to write about next week!

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#traveltuesday: Christmas Markets

Now that Thanksgiving is past and we can swing fully into the holidays season I want to share with you one of my favorite parts of the holidays that we don’t really have an equivalent for here in America: European Christmas Markets. Sure, in the United States we have all kinds of Christmas bazaars but I’ve never been to one here that rivals the magic of the streets, in Paris, Rome, Vienna and Salzburg, filled with vendors, mulled wine, treats and gifts.

As I mentioned, this tradition is one of my favorites, though I’ve only been able to explore these markets once, in December of 2012 when I was studying abroad. On a trip with Bus2Alps, a student tour operator, to Austria I got my first taste of this beautiful experience. From lollipops the size of your head, mulled cider and hot chocolate for €5 (with a souvenir mug!), lights and candles and holiday ornaments.. there’s something for everyone to enjoy!

I was able to explore these amazing markets in Vienna, Salzburg and out front of Schonbroon Palace, as well as along the Champs-Elysées in Paris, on the hill in Montmartre and in the piazzas of Rome, but they exist in many other European countries as well The sights, sounds and smells are intoxicating at these streetside markets. From fresh homemade soap and candles to roasting sausages and freshly baked bread your senses will be overloaded in the best possible way. I think a trip to the Christmas markets is at least as entertaining as any other attraction you might find — and all the while you are deeply immersed in the traditions, food and decorations of another culture.

One of my favorite memories is purchasing a little “befana” — a witch on a broom that brings presents to Italian children on “Little Christmas”. Now she hangs in my mom’s house as a reminder of our wonderful travels together.

Speaking of travels with my mom — it’s never cheap to travel, but my family has always been on a budget, so I’ve learned a few tips and tricks along the way to really stretch every dollar. Enjoying the Christmas markets as a cultural escapade is definitely one way that we’ve spent our time abroad without spending a dime — except on the mouth watering sausages with fresh mustard — YUM!

Along with finding free things to do, I’m a big fan of budget airlines in Europe. Their airports don’t charge the same taxes that American airports do, so flying can be much cheaper. Specifically RyanAir is a great choice. (Insert MOAN from some luxury traveler here who just can’t fathom the idea..) Listen, we’ve all heard horror stories about RyanAir — people do actually clap when the pilot lands the flight, but that’s a part of the friendly culture, not enthusiasm for not crashing the plane (or maybe a bit of both, but you know what I mean, they’re trained pilots just like anyone else who flies). They don’t ACTUALLY charge you for using the bathroom or drinking water — but when you pay nine euros (~$13) to fly from Rome to Paris, would you really mind if they did? Many of the budget airlines in Europe offer great sales, so you’ve got to keep your eyes peeled to really maximize how far your money can go.

Check out this article from Travel & Leisure regarding the best Christmas markets in the Europe, and for more tips, tricks, advice or if you’re ready to take the plunge and book travel but don’t know where to start — consider contacting me and I would be happy to consult with you for an hour or more to help you learn ways to save money but have a blast in any city you choose.

Happy travels! I’ll be back next week talking about tropical destinations that those of us in the cold winter climes may be dreaming out. Until then, au revoir!

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Today I’m skipping my recipe blog post — it’s been a long week with the holiday and my trip back east. I’ll leave you with a recipe you can try if you like, but more than cooking and savoring food, today I am encouraging you to Opt Outside with REI and the 3.1 million other humans around the world who are skipping shopping, unplugging, unwinding and opting outside.

Since I’m sure you’ll need to cook dinner anyway, try out this four ingredient chicken that you can throw together with a roasted cauliflower for a healthy, filling meal full of protein to refuel you after your day outside, in under 40 minutes.

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Charlotte Courthouse, Virginia

This week for #traveltuesday I’m writing about a place I ended up in unexpectedly. My grandfather (John) has been sick for a bit and while we were hoping he would hang on until the spring and keep telling us all the stories of his 87 years, unfortunately that just wasn’t the greater plan. After his passing last week our family gathered round to support my Gram and help her through this difficult time, and our gathering place was the southern town of Charlotte Courthouse, Virginia — my Gram and John’s home together for just over ten years.

Charlotte Courthouse is a small lumber town in south-central Virginia, not far from the North Carolina border. This is where I could insert countless paragraphs of local history if John were still around to help me sort out details. Instead I’m left with some beautiful photos and memories of John that I hope will last a lifetime.

Charlotte Courthouse really isn’t close to anything — it’s about two hours from Richmond and Raleigh — but it does sit in the outer (outer, outer) suburbs of Farmville, home to Longwood University. Somewhere in the middle sits the Fishin’ Pig restaurant, and it’s a must-stop kind of place for down-home southern cooking. Their BBQ — from chicken to pork to brisket — comes piled high on a bun, the fried green tomatoes are to die for with just a bit of cream cheese inside the batter served alongside a citrus-dill remoulade, and the fried catfish is lightly breaded, and fried to perfection.

I would say one of the main attractions in this part of the country is the outdoors. What my mom called “desolate” I would call “remote,” and remote makes for some of the best hunting, fishing, camping, hiking and general outdoor activity areas. I don’t hunt, but if you do you should check out Fur Fins and Feathers, a beautiful hunting lodge featuring fishing, deer and fowl-hunting right out the front door. You’ll have to call to find out more information, but if you do let them know “Nancy’s grandaughter” sent you, and June and David will treat you like family at their beautiful retreat.

Check out a few photos below from my trip — the weather truly was gorgeous this time of year, and if it weren’t for the sad circumstances it would have been such a lovely family trip. Shout out to my mom for helping get me across the country at this time when I so needed to be near my Gram.

Drop me a line below about a time you turned an unfortunate trip into a time to explore someplace new! I would love to hear about your favorite unexpected travels.

I’ve finished life’s chores assigned to me,
So put me on a boat headed out to sea.
Please send along my fishing pole
For I’ve been invited to the fishin’ hole.

Where every day is a day to fish,
To fill your heart with every wish.
Don’t worry, or feel sad for me,
I’m fishin’ with the Master of the sea.

We will miss each other for awhile,
But you will come and bring your smile.
That won’t be long you will see,
Till we’re together you and me.

To all of those that think of me,
Be happy as I go out to sea.
If others wonder why I’m missin’
Just tell ’em I’ve gone fishin’ 

-Delmar Pepper

Rest in Peace, John William Tharpe, 1931-2018

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A Faux Pas I’m sure..

Today’s #traveltuesday is running late and once again talking about Vail, Colorado!

I’m sure this is a faux pas, to post about the same town twice in a row when there is a whole world to travel, but for the first time in over ten years both Vail and Beaver Creek ski resorts are opening earlier than scheduled due to the massive amounts of SNOW we already have!!!!

I’m sorry for the exclamation but if you know anything about Colorado wildfires this season, or drove I-70 near Lake Dillon this year you’ll know how very very important snow is this season to help turn around our drought stricken predicament.

Last season at this time we didn’t have any significant snowfall and had to delay openings across the state. This year couldn’t be more different, or more of a miracle for this mountain town.

So here’s my plug for Vail, Colorado: come see us! Last season was rough but this one might be epic. Don’t miss out on your “experience of a lifetime” 😛❤

Blog, Travel Blog

A Snowy Retreat to Vail, Colorado

Today I’m launching my very own #traveltuesday compilation, where every Tuesday I’ll offer up a new destination, piece of travel advice or the latest deals to you, my readers, and I’ll start with my beautiful current-home-town of Vail, Colorado, and the reason I am starting here is because ski season is upon us, even arriving early this year!

While Vail and Beaver Creek Ski Resorts are not open just yet, their sister resorts Keystone and Breckenridge located just on the eastern side of the Vail Pass (elevation 10,662′) will be opening their lifts tomorrow, after receiving nearly 5′ through yesterday afternoon.

With ski lifts running just 45 minutes away, Vail is still the perfect place for a quiet retreat with views of snow-capped peaks, while still being able to capitalize on some of the off-season deals that abound in the valley.

Grouse Mountain Grill continues to offer an Autumnal Chef’s Tasting Menu, with three courses for $39, among other restaurant deals to be had, and hotels & ground transportation companies, such as B-line Xpress Limo Service, are still offering their off-peak rates for travelers looking for luxury on a budget.

In just a few weeks we’ll be celebrating the official “Opening of Winter” at Beaver Creek, with the Birds of Prey downhill and slalom ski races, Beers of Prey Colorado beer-tasting and live music, which leads us into further live music mid-December as Nathaniel Rateliffe and the Night Sweats take the stage at Vail’s Snow Days.

Winter is a magical, action packed time around the Rocky Mountains, and I’m proud to be a part of a community that remains so vibrant, even covered in feet of snow.

Come send it with us this winter and see what the mountain life is all about!