Sunday, October 25, 2015

Laconia, NH: For Fairy Dust-worthy Memories Then and Now

Laconia.... Weirs Beach... in my family, the name of those places drums up more nostalgia than any other place on earth. When I was young, we had a condominium in Laconia walking distance from major attractions, including our motor boat on Lake Winnipesaukee and Weirs Beach. (In this post, I share Laconia. Weirs Beach will makes its appearance in a post at a later time.) My husband couldn't be 'in' on how mentioning this place or our time there would almost light up the room with fairy dust. So, I took him there over the summer (with instructions from my father of things I must photograph so he could see, too :)

Our condo unit was still there, as apparently was the same window air conditioner my dad installed in the late 1970s. Glad the current owners may enjoy it. A short stroll from the back of the unit down a gentle slope led us to the pond on the property. It was too overgrown now for pond-skating in winter, but this new kind of beauty had inhabitants that made me smile.

[click on any photo for larger view]

The view from the highest point in the community was as stunning as I remembered.
View of Lake Winnipesaukee

A building, which backed up to the condo properties, still stood, every bit as mysterious-looking as my childhood brain remembered. I used to sneak on the grounds just in front of the building and pick through all sorts of parts strewn on the ground. I can only guess now that they may have been auto parts. But what a thrill when I was young to be where I wasn't supposed to and every second hope that I wouldn't get caught. I never did (hopefully my parents won't be reading this entry...).

For lunch, we visited Hart's Turkey Farm, a restaurant we had eaten at regularly, in Meredith, NH.

The hearty food, home-style feel of the (now much larger, complete with full gift shop) restaurant were just as inviting.
In a hushed voice, I asked our waitress if we could have some place mats and napkins to bring home. She laughed and said that ever since they'd been on The Travel Channel, people ask all the time.

With full turkey bellies, we headed to The Kellerhaus, a place that, for me, was like stepping into Santa's land and a fairy land all in one. Candies, ice cream, holiday gifts, unusual other gifts and more are available for purchase. When I was little, I recall going into a downstairs section of The Kellerhaus where they had crystals hanging from the ceiling. According to a young employee with whom I spoke this past summer (and admittedly, who wasn't alive 'back then'), the only downstairs was where they made their chocolate. I'm going to remain faithful to my memories.

I hoped to catch a drive-in movie, a rare find these days, I think. As a kid, my dad would set up blankets and a pillow in the back of the car, intending that I sleep as the films played. I never did. The theater, still in operation today, had closed for the season at the end of Labor Day weekend. We missed it by a day. I like knowing it's still there. If you go, it plays on four screens now instead of a double feature on one.

Our last stop before heading to Weirs Beach for some play-time was the place where we used to dock our Sea Ray, Sum Fun. I was looking forward to shopping for souvenirs in the convenience/boating/lake supplies store, Handy Landing. Unfortunately, Handy Landing had been demolished and replaced with small rental units. Our boat, was of course not there, but the dock and memories were. It would have been more than some fun to take the boat out, down the channel and past Weirs Beach. Maybe we'll rent a boat if we visit again. In the meantime, I can dock at Weirs Beach or in Wolfeboro, or anchor for a swim, paddle in our raft, or blueberry pick in one of the lake's coves, with just a thought any time I want.

What childhood places have you shared with your partner? What places from your childhood rings in nostalgia with your family?

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Digging Into My Boston Roots - As A Tourist

This summer, I chose to show my husband my roots. I had planned to cover our entire trip in one blog post, but I filled this one with Boston. We'll head to New Hampshire in a later post.

When I had lived in Boston, I visited some of the attractions on school field trips, to entertain visiting friends or relatives and just wandering about because it was a beautiful day (e.g., no frigid harsh wind, gray imposing clouds, or barrels of dumping snow).  

During my time in Boston this summer, I was able to enjoy the city freely. By freely, I mean for the first time I visited without having homework waiting, a job down the road beckoning, or any other responsibilities weighing on me there. With new eyes--the eyes of a tourist--I explored my roots. I may have had more fun than my husband.

Though I mentioned eyes, I'm going to start with the mouth. Seafood is a must in Boston. This is not me telling you. This is what my family told me when I was growing up. And when I was a kid, I did not like seafood. My mom and aunt thought perhaps I'd been abducted by aliens who altered my taste buds. Happily, as an adult, I love almost anything from the sea. The freshness of my meals in Boston this summer sent me into food heaven (no aliens were present).

Scrod, Scallops and Shrimp (dairy-free)
at The Salty Dog, Quincy Market

Lobster Salad at Durgin Park, Quincy Market

For the first time, I walked the entire Freedom Trail (both ways). The red bricks and painted line led us easily through informative, beautiful, thought invoking history and city sites. And, since the trail is around 2.5 miles each way, we got some great exercise.

There are 16 sites along the Freedom Trail. None take a great deal of time to explore, though you may wish to spend some time imagining the history and taking photos. An added benefit is that the trail also leads you through different Boston neighborhoods and provides a good means to get your bearings as you explore Boston. But overall its purpose is to: "Learn about the brave people who shaped our nation. Discover the rich history of the American Revolution, as it began in Boston, where ever step tells a story"

Another popular tourist attraction that I had only ever taken through a work outing was the Duck Boat Tour.  This time, for 80 minutes, on land and on the Charles River, I wanted the driver guide to keep talking. I couldn't hear enough Boston trivia and history. Just fascinating. How had I not known all that before? One of the other highlights was watching kids drive the Duck Boat on the Charles River, even when one steered us toward rocks. The the joy and exhilaration on the kids faces made me smile like I was one of them.

On the Charles River looking to Boston

Even my old apartment building stunned me with its beauty. My mom spilled the beans to my husband that it was once a brothel. (beans... a Boston pun, as it is nicknamed Beantown) This building is also rumored to have had the Boston Strangler as a guest. The best part of my 825 square foot, 1 bedroom apartment was the clawfoot tub, fireplace and view of Fenway Park. On game days,  crowd's cheer and announcer's deep voice filled my living room. Those lights at Fenway were so bright that even while the crew cleaned after a night game, it seemed like daylight was pouring into my windows.

Below are photos of additional places that left me with a greater appreciation of my roots.

View down Huntington Avenue. The Prudential is tallest on left. John Hancock is all glass to the right.

Architecture on Newbury Street. Great shopping and restaurants.

Frog Pond in Boston Common (founded 1634)

Make Way For Ducklings statue. A classic children's book must read by author Robert McCloskey!

Swan Boat at the Public Garden (founded 1837)

Emerson Colonial Theater (112 years old). Several old theaters still operate in the Theater District.
We saw The Book of Mormon.

If you've visited places you grew up as a tourist, how did it make you feel? What aspects did you appreciate with this new perspective?

Monday, June 22, 2015

Honeymoon Encounter With a Hammerhead Shark in Galapagos

Vote. That's what we asked our wedding guests to do. Vote on our honeymoon destination. We gave them six options and there was a tie--my mother had voted twice.  After a brief hem and haw session, she chose Bali. Yes, Bali was the winner. But the only month we could take proper time for a honeymoon (I'm talking about 3 weeks) was during Bali's rainy season. So, Galapagos became our honeymoon destination. We also spent a few days before in Quito, Ecuador and a few days after in Banos, Ecuador, which made for the perfect itinerary.

We cruised for 7 nights/8 days on the luxury yacht, Beluga. ( on the Tower Itinerary.  If you plan a Galapagos cruise, you will soon become an expert in choosing a western itinerary, eastern or perhaps a combination.

During the first excursion, we spotted a Flamingo eating (apparently they eat about 12 hours a day). We live in Florida and had never seen one--a fact that stunned our on-board naturalist, Juan Tapia (amazing, amazing, amazing at what he does:

I made new friends, too--lots and lots and lots of sea lion friends. If only I could have gotten one home. We do have a pool and a lake right outside!  We kept away from the male seal lions, who could be a little aggressive sometimes. And who can blame them--each is on his own, protecting his whole beach-full of females against any challenging males that might swim in.


See my camera? It worked great five years ago on a safari to Tanzania (see my post "A" is for Attitude). But it paled in comparison to Juan's with its 50 zoom and crystal clear shots. So... next trip will include enough budgeting for a new camera!

The marine and land iguanas in the Galapagos were works of art. Just stunning.

Make sure to bring a waterproof camera to take snorkeling. The Beluga provided snorkeling excursions (and equipment) daily. Being in the water with these little Galapagos Penguins (and sea lions, of course) was a lot of fun.

And also fun were all the birds in the Galapagos. I could do several posts just about them. They might have been the most fascinating of the wildlife on our trip.  On the Beluga's farewell survey, we marked Genovesa Island as our favorite given the exposure to the birds.  It was hard to pick a favorite, though. Each island offers something unique. There was an excursion to Sullivan Bay at Santiago Island that made you feel as if you were walking on the moon. It had incredible lava formations and patterns. But back to the birds... there is one bird that the locals make some money on--Boobies.

Blue-Footed Boobie
Baby Boobie

Red-Footed Boobie

Pair of Nazca Boobies
Yes, I gave in... 

What wasn't all the way fun at the moment it happened was a Hammerhead Shark. Juan told us we might be seeing some on a particular snorkeling excursion. I figured they'd be deep down or that maybe it was a rare occurrence.  Well... a large gray body with fins (it seemed just about everywhere) passed under me. I stared harder, trying to make sense of what I was seeing. A head (a hammer head!) swayed left of the body. I screamed for my husband. He didn't hear at first given how far he'd drifted. When he came over, he took off in the direction of the shark. I thought he'd lost his mind. We didn't have a working underwater camera. None was needed for me. The image of that head and that body is burned into my brain (cliche, but true!)  But, guess what? I swam with a Hammerhead Shark on my honeymoon!

What memorable travel moments are burned into your brain?

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

At-Home Vacation in South Florida (tips from a local, here!)

A visitor to my blog thought it would be interesting to know my perspective on the place I call home.  (That's the West Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale, Florida area).  She made a point that super touristy can be fun, but they're often expensive, overcrowded and don't always paint a true picture of what a place is like.

I wondered for a moment if she was a mind reader. My husband and I take either Saturday or Sunday each weekend as a vacation day. We pretend we're tourists in our own neck of the woods. It's also one day we set aside all our cares... that is just for us. So, what have we done for our at-home vacation days?

Everglades Air Boat ride!  See various species of birds and alligators!  It's a short side trip rather than a day's adventure. So this activity can be fit in with other vacation day fun.  There are many air boat operators to choose from.

Fort Lauderdale Water Taxi!  This is an inexpensive, entertaining, eye-popping way to visit the Fort Lauderdale sites.  You can hop on and hop off as you please. During our first water taxi experience, we stayed mostly on the water taxi.  The stories were just too good. A water taxi employee narrates as you go about various sites along the intracoastal waterway, which yacht is whose (Steven Spielberg's was docked one time we went) and the history of some of the homes (and lists a who's who of its inhabitants).  This is also a fun way to see some pretty holiday lights on the mansions and yachts.

Not Steven Spielberg's. Just so pretty.

Fort Lauderdale's White House

Nature walks!  We love Green Cay in Boynton Beach, FL and Wakodahatchee in Delray Beach, FL  These are free and offer an incredible variety of plants, marine life, birds, mammals and insects. Another we enjoy is Okeeheelee in West Palm Beach.  Remember a hat, sunblock, sunglasses, water, camera and binoculars.

Japanese Gardens! One of our favorite spots for tranquility and beauty and some wildlife is Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens. Eat sushi there, too. The gardens flow from one theme to another. Don't miss out on feeding the enormous fish and turtles. (I always root for the turtles). You can buy food for a minimal fee at the hutch near the Bonsai Collection.  Water is provided (free) at strategic points throughout the gardens and restrooms are available at the entry and then half way through the gardens.  It has never been crowded when we visited. But you may want to check if there is a special event planned on the day you wish to. We attended the Lantern Festival a few years ago. It was beautiful. But it has become very popular. So, if you plan to attend purchase tickets real early.

Lantern Festival on a stormy night

Sushi! Our favorite place for sushi (perhaps in all our travels) is Yakitori Sake House. It is a little pricier than some sushi places in the area. But, we think it's worth it. And, we signed up for emails and receive coupons often. They offer unique and delicious sushi rolls (my favorite is Tokyo Sun) and their shrimp and lobster wonton soup, Four Seasons Roll and Mongolian Beef are other items we order over and over again.   The restaurant has indoor and outdoor (covered) seating. We have yet to sit inside. The service is impeccable.  After our meal, we enjoy walking around the Royal Palm Plaza. Quite a few shops, bars and galleries.

Other at-home vacation activities that we've enjoyed: Mini Golf in Delray Beach, FL (, Pottery Painting in Boca Raton, FL (, Vizcaya in Miami (, kayaking on the Loxahatchee River in Jupiter, FL and McCarthy's Wildlife Sanctuary in West Palm Beach, FL (by appointment only) (

McCarthy's Wildlife Sanctuary

Kennedy Space Center is a good option for a day when we want to venture out from home a bit longer. For weekend trips, we choose St. Augustine, Florida (the oldest European continuously-occupied settlement in the U.S.) and Key Largo (instead of the farther and busier Key West). 

What do you enjoy for your at-home vacations? Share with others who may visit your town.

And on that note, there was an app introduced to me the other day called Uber (  Seems like it could be handy when in someone else's neck of the woods. According to the website, by seamlessly connecting riders to drivers through their apps, they make cities more accessible, opening up more possibilities for riders and more business for drivers.  Here's a promo code for $25 off your first ride in the US in case you want to give it a try  Might've come in handy when visiting South America recently (but those adventures are for a future post!)

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Svalbard, Norway: Arctic Literally Means Arctic

My husband said let's go on vacation in Norway. I figured since he was familiar with the country and I was swamped at work, I'd let him plan and surprise me with the itinerary once we arrived there. Before our departure, he mentioned that we'd be going to the Arctic. I didn't know he meant literally. I figured Norway, as in Oslo and Bergen (which we did go to), but he truly meant this:

Svalbard is located at 78 degrees

And this:

Before we arrived in Norway, we headed to Bass Pro Shop and the one local ski store near us in South Florida. I purchased a lovely Sunice jacket. We also purchased gloves, long underwear, wool socks, a hat, water and windproof pants and several other warm weather items. (But, one of the key items I purchased was at Trapper's Hotel in Longyearbyen, Svalbard - hand warmers!  We loved our stay at Trappers Hotel. Comfortable rooms, hot drinks, cookies and friendly staff were the highlights.  You can see my reviews on TripAdvisor (I'm BornForTravel).)

At Bass Pro Shop, my husband insisted on purchasing me wind and waterproof pants.  I thought it so thoughtful of the love of my life to want me to be warm as we toured the cities of Norway. Ha!

I cannot emphasize enough that when your travel companion, who is the planner of the trip, says you are going to the Arctic, he means literally.

Wearing Bone-Dry pants from Bass Pro Shop over silk long underwear and yoga pants kept my legs and butt warm, dry and comfy the entire hike. (A tip just  for the ladies, bring a PStyle with you outdoor adventures lacking facilities. You really can pee standing up and without having to "drop-trou"!).

Since I look horrible in hats, my husband decided we should play it up. So, he chose a kid's hat for me. 

My failed attempt at a laser-eyed stare

As to our hike up a mountain (and, here, "up" literally means up) to a glacier, we used Svalbard Wildlife Expeditions Day Tours.  Ask for Alex and see if he'll bring his dog Troll.  Watching this 8 month old puppy run up and down the mountain, back and forth between us and Alex, only exaggerated our huffing and puffing as we trekked. It was hilarious and also refreshing to be around that energy.

But, be careful. He might think your mittens are his toy. 

Despite my shock at having arrived in the actual Arctic, it was a worth-while, unique and memorable adventure.  The photos above and below demonstrate this. Whether it was also a vacation is something my husband and I still debate :)


Barentsburg (a Russian settlement)
On the hike