The Beauty of the Ozarks

Number 135 on my adventure list was to see the Shepherd of the Hills play in Branson, Missouri.  My parents took my brother and I to see this when we were little, but I don’t really remember it.  I have been wanting to see the play as an adult ever since I read the book a few years ago.

I have a beautiful old copy of The Shepherd of the Hills that my Grandpa JB let me have.  It belonged to his mom – her name is written in the front of the book.  Sadly, it sat on my shelf for several years before my dad convinced me to read it.  I am so glad I did because I ended up loving it.

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Shortly after I read it, I was talking to my Grandpa on the phone about the play in Branson.  He mentioned that it had shut down recently.  I was so disappointed!  I felt like I had missed my chance to go.  But then the play reopened.  Unfortunately, K and I got busy and didn’t end up making it to the play during the summer of 2016, so I decided to make it a priority for the next season.  And then it shut down, again!  I felt like I had really blown my chances to see it.  But luckily, it reopened, again.  We booked our tickets for a Saturday night show and planned a weekend getaway to Branson.

We stayed in a beautiful airbnb that had a stunning view of the Ozarks.  I could have spent a week here instead of just a couple days.

Get $40 off your first airbnb stay by signing up here!  

During the day on Saturday, we went to another place I have been wanting to go to – Dogwood Canyon Nature Park.  This place was amazing!  There are so many little waterfalls throughout the park.  The path is paved and flat, so it is an easy walk (6.5 miles).  The waterfall that is furthest from the park entrance is the most beautiful, so it is definitely worth it to walk to the end.  You can also rent bikes or take the tram tour if you prefer.  I would definitely go back here.

That night, we headed to the outdoor theater to see The Shepherd of the Hills.  We had good seats, the weather was perfect, and the actors all did a great job.  Of course, the book was better.  The play added more drama and comedy, which makes sense for theater.  What I was expecting to see, though, was an exact portrayal of what I read without all the entertainment add-ins.  All in all, it was still an enjoyable experience and I’m glad that I got to see it.  I only wish I could have told my Grandpa that I finally got to go.  He passed away about 10 months before we went.

After heading back to our airbnb, I sat out on the deck to enjoy the quiet and beauty of the Ozarks with a cup of hot chocolate.  I don’t think that this area gets enough credit – the Ozarks are truly one of the most beautiful places in the world.  But maybe I am a little biased, because for me, it feels a little bit like home.

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Have you been to Branson before?  What are your favorite things to do here?

-A

Castles in Europe

Before I start blogging about this year, I want to share my adventures from last year.

It was a pretty big travel year for me.  I have been dreaming about going to Europe for years, specifically to Neuschwanstein Castle in Germany.  Last March, we made those dreams come true and I was able to cross #1 off my bucket list – tour castles in Europe.

And as always, along the way, we had many other adventures that weren’t on my list. I’ll start with Germany.  I did organize a fairly detailed itinerary for our trip to make things easier for us since we were traveling alone and don’t speak the language.  We also booked our airbnbs for all three cities (Munich, Venice, and Rome) before we left the States.  However, other than specific dates for each city, the rest of the itinerary was fairly flexible.

We started off our Eurotrip by flying into Munich on March 18, 2017 and arriving in the morning.  From the airport, we took a train to central station in Munich.  We had some difficulty figuring out how to buy a train ticket and then how to validate it, but luckily a local helped us out.

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We couldn’t check into our airbnb until later that afternoon, so we stored our hiking packs at the central train station.  They have lockable boxes you can rent for pretty cheap.

Then we took a train and bus to Dachau Concentration Camp.  On the train, we met a very nice man from Australia who was also heading to Dachau.  I was relieved that the directions I found online of which train and bus to take from Munich to Dachau were accurate.

Dachau Concentration Camp was surreal.  K referred to it as a “sobering experience”.  The museum was very informative and interesting from a historical perspective, but it was of course very sad.  Apart from the museum, you are free to wander around the camp.  We spent several hours here – there is a lot to see.  The weather was cold and rainy – luckily we brought some warm hats!

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After we got back to Munich, we grabbed our bags and then headed off to find some lunch.  Unfortunately, we walked for ages and couldn’t find a single place to eat.  By this time, I also really needed to find a toilet, which proved to be more elusive than a restaurant.  This was a low point of our trip.  We were cold, wet, jet-lagged, hungry, in desperate need of a bathroom, and in a country where we don’t speak the language.  By some stroke of luck, we finally stumbled upon an Italian place as we headed back in the direction of the train station.  Although we would be in Italy in a few days, we decided to stop here anyway because it was warm, it was food, and there was a bathroom.  After a few minutes, our stress faded away.  I think the drinks helped with that.

We checked into our airbnb flat after lunch, which happened to be right next to the Italian restaurant.  Our home for the next couple days was very nice and close to the train station.

That night, we went to a beer hall that K read about online, called Augustiner.  This place was my favorite thing about Munich.  When we arrived, it was all community seating at big long tables.  We found what looked like the only empty spots, two seats next to each other across from a couple older gentleman.  It turns out that they were from Sweden, but they spoke German too and some English.  It was definitely a humbling experience for me to see that most people we encountered in Europe spoke more than one language.  I don’t think that we do a very good job of that in America.

We actually never found out the names of the gentlemen we sat with at Augustiner, but they were very nice.  It was pretty loud in the beer hall.  Their English was limited and our German was reliant on a pocket translation guide, with our Swedish being non-existent.  But despite language barriers, we had a fun night with those guys, who we affectionately referred to as Pieter and Marten from that night on.  The food was amazing and the beer at Augustiner was actually the first beer that I have ever liked.

As we were leaving, we met a really funny (and very intoxicated) English man who had us rolling with laughter.  All in all, it was a great night.

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Unfortunately, K woke up sick the next day with a bit of a travel bug.  This was the day we planned to take a train to Neuschwanstein Castle, and it was the only day we would be able to go as we were leaving Munich the following day.  I offered to go on my own while K rested at our flat, but despite being sick, he did not want to spend our last full day in Munich in bed.

We grabbed croissants and coffee for breakfast at the train station.  The train took about 2 hours and then there was a short bus ride to Hohenschwangau, the small town where the castle is.  The view on the train was very scenic.  Also, I just love trains.

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We booked our tickets for both castles (Neuschwanstein and Hohenschwangau) in advance before our trip, but were able to upgrade to an earlier tour time once we arrived.  We toured Hohenschwangau Castle first, and then stopped for a quick lunch.  I had a delicious schnitzel sandwich and poor K, still sick, nibbled on a pretzel.

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We had a little bit of time in between the castle tours, so we went for a walk around the area.  There was a beautiful lake nearby.

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Can you imagine waking up to this view every day?!

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The lake water was so beautiful!

Finally, we made the trek up to Neuschwanstein.  I was pretty much bursting with excitement.  My ultimate travel goal was actually happening!  The sound is pretty soft on this video, but you can see the excitement on my face!

No photos were allowed inside the castle, but if you are ever in Munich, I would highly recommend that you take the day trip to Hohenschwangau.  The castles are amazing and the scenery in the area is absolutely beautiful.  This place was everything I hoped it would be and more.

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We were pretty tired by the time we got back to Munich and K was still feeling pretty bad, so we grabbed some food from the train station and took it back to our flat.  If he would have been feeling better, it would have been fun to have one last night out in Munich, but we decided to stay in so he could rest up for the rest of our trip.

The next morning, we took a bus to the airport.  We had some trouble finding the bus stop, and actually ended up running to make it on time.  Nothing like jogging with a heavy pack on your back in the early hours of the morning!

Once we got to the airport, our troubles were not over.  I had some difficulty getting through security because apparently I had too many liquids in my bag.  It was a little nerve-wracking to have problems at a foreign airport.  The security officer actually pulled my liquids out one by one to examine them, but most of them he referred to as “medicine”, such as my contact solution (“medicine for the eyes”), so these were excluded from the limit.  I ended up having to throw out one small container of dry shampoo that was almost empty anyway.

We departed Munich at 8:20 am on March 20th, 2017.  It was a quick trip, but we were able to see a lot in a couple days.

Next stop, Italia, but I’ll save that post for another day.

-A

Behind the Waterfall

Number 116 on my adventure list was to go swimming next to a waterfall.  I have always loved waterfalls (but really, who doesn’t?)  When I was a kid, one of my favorite movies was Behind the Waterfall.  I won’t spoil it for you, but there is something magical hidden behind the falls in this film.  When I think of waterfalls now, I still think of magic.  That’s probably why this one ended up on my list.

Living in the midwest, I don’t get the chance to see very many waterfalls.  But in January, I found myself at this enchanting little spot in New Zealand.

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This swimming hole is on my brother-in-law and his fiance’s property.  The privacy and seclusion of this spot just adds to the charm.

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Although the water was a little cold, and I was a little afraid of potential eels lurking about, it was definitely worth it to jump in.  This was one of the most beautiful spots I’ve ever seen.

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Also works as a water slide

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Top of the falls

GOPR0572.jpgWe didn’t find anything mysterious behind the waterfall.

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But there’s always next time.

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-A

7 Tips for a Short Stay in Vegas

 

Four best friends in Vegas…

No, I’m not talking about The Hangover.  In November, I traveled to Las Vegas with my husband and our two friends.  We didn’t steal a tiger or throw a mattress off the roof, but we did have a great time.

We played the slots.  And some of us won.  And then we all lost.

We played Blackjack.  And some of us won.  And then we all lost.

We ate at a classic Vegas buffet.  And some of us ate too much.  Okay, we all ate too much.

If you’re planning a trip (and you should), here are my recommendations:

  1. Stay in a central location on the Strip (or on Fremont street).  We rented an awesome condo on the Strip through Airbnb.  Our place was walking distance to almost everything.  The condo also had the added benefits of providing coffee (much needed after a late night) and a spa pool (great for relaxing after a long day of walking).  Have you tried Airbnb before?  We love using it.  We have gotten to stay at some great places for a cheaper price than a hotel, but with more space, a kitchen, and a local’s recommendations for things to do in the area.  Sign up here and get $40 off your first trip.  Just make sure the host you choose has positive reviews from other people, first.  🙂

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    The view from our room

  2. Try to see as many of the unique casinos as you can.  Even if you’re not a gambler, the architecture of the the buildings is worth seeing.  The Luxor, Excalibur, and The Paris were a few of my favorites.
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    The Paris

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    Excalibur

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    The Cosmo

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    The Luxor

  3. Make sure you check out Fremont Street.  It’s a different vibe from the Strip.  I would love to spend more time here on our next trip.IMG_3316.jpg
  4. Go to a lunch buffet.  It’s cheaper than dinner, but still has amazing food.  We went to The Golden Nugget – so good. IMG_3318.jpg
  5. Go see the sign.  You know the one.  The iconic Welcome to Las Vegas sign.  It’s touristy, packed with people, parking is terrible, but seeing the sign in person is worth it.  We did have to drive here from the Strip (but you could take an Uber or taxi if you don’t want to rent a car.)  15232299_10208394089912120_1892026850154465942_n.jpg
  6. If you have time, get away from the city and check out the Hoover Dam.  Truly an amazing sight. IMG_5517.jpg IMG_3336.jpg
  7. If you have lots of time (or in our case-one day), drive to the Grand Canyon.  You can make the trip in a day, which is what we did, but I wouldn’t recommend that.  It’s a long drive (~4 hours each way).  It would be better to stay the night (or a few nights) near the canyon (maybe in Flagstaff), so that you have more time to enjoy the park.  Oh, and make sure you check the weather before you go.  Because apparently, it does snow in Arizona in November.  IMG_5526.jpgIMG_3422.jpgIMG_3426.jpg

Las Vegas is an unforgettable experience.  Brightly decorated buildings as far as you can see; aggressive street solicitors loudly slapping cards at you; peppy slot machine music echoing through your head (even after you leave); the flicker of excitement running through your body as you push “spin again”; cloudy rooms full of smoke, hope, regret.  There’s no place quite like Vegas.

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Have you been?  Would you like to go?

-A

 

 

Over the Mountains and through the Woods

This year, I visited 7 state parks, 6 of which were parks that were new to me.  That means I can cross #126 – Visit 5 state parks that I haven’t been to before – off my list.

Earlier this year, I wrote a post about my love of state parks and detailed my visits to Watkins Mill State Park (June 2016) and Lewis and Clark State Park (July 2016).  You can read more here.

In August, I went with my parents to Katy Trail State Park, which is different than a traditional park in that it is comprised of a 240 mile trail on the former Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad.  I only walked a few miles of the park, but it is a really nice trail.

K and I went on our 3rd annual road trip to visit friends in North Dakota in September.  On our way back to Missouri, we stopped at Palisades State Park in South Dakota.  This park is absolutely beautiful.  I wish we could have spent all day there.  The only negative part was that we got a parking ticket because apparently parking is not free at South Dakota state parks.  Alas, it didn’t sour our experience too much.

In October, K and I spent a wonderful weekend in Southeast Missouri with my parents.  We went to Taum Sauk Mountain State Park and Elephant Rocks State Park.  Taum Sauk is the highest point in Missouri.  It was a great place to go hiking and there were some really pretty views.

But the highlight of the trip for me was Elephant Rocks.  I have never seen anything like it.  I was expecting just a few big boulders, but the park is covered with these elephant rocks.  Even better, it’s like a giant playground because you can climb and jump your way across the rocks.

I’m really glad I put this goal on my adventure list.  I would not have gone to any new parks this year if I hadn’t made this a goal.  It’s so much easier to do the same things every weekend, but it’s so much more fun to go to new places.

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When’s the last time you went somewhere for the first time?

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-A

The People’s Parks

I love state parks, and really, what’s not to love?  They’re beautiful, free, a great excuse to get some exercise and fresh air, and a fun way to spend an afternoon.  Growing up, I remember visiting several state parks with my family, my favorite being Ha Ha Tonka State Park.  Shortly after K and I started dating, we took a road trip to this park.  It was just as great as I remember!

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Another park that I went to as a child (but don’t really remember) and later returned to as an adult is Johnson’s Shut-Ins State Park.  This is hands down one of the most beautiful places I’ve been to in Missouri.

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These family trips likely inspired Number 126 on my adventure list – visit 5 state parks that I haven’t been to before within one year.  This summer, I have visited two (new to me) state parks in Missouri.

Watkins Mill State Park (June 2016).  This was a nice park with lots of space.  We enjoyed a long walk on the paved trail.  There was a lake beach, but the posted sign said it was not currently safe for swimming due to bacteria levels.  We also visited the Watkins Mill Historic Site which was part of the park.

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And people are still swimming…

Lewis and Clark State Park (July 2016).  It was a small park, but the overlook of the lake was worth the trip.  Lots of wildlife around the water.  It was interesting that Lewis and Clark were in this exact area on July 4th and that was the same day that we visited.

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I have plans to visit several other parks this summer/fall, including Taum Sauk Mountain State ParkElephant Rocks State ParkGrand Gulf State Park, and Palisades State Park.

What’s your favorite state or national park?

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-A