Campy

Posted By on October 27, 2014

I went camping recently.

I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking “wait, I know you haven’t posted regularly in years, but I seriously doubt you’ve changed THAT much that camping is now your thing.”

You would be right. I am not a camper. Nor will I ever be a camper. Nor could you really call what we did camping. But my friend Alli wanted to go camping for her birthday, so camping we did!

We stayed in cabins. And these cabins had heat. So the fact that it got below 32 on Saturday night and we woke up to frost didn’t really affect our sleeping. So as far as camping goes, that’s probably not considered camping.

But there was no running water in the cabins. It was just some beds and a heater and a door. And a lot of bugs. We had to use the bathrooms on-site at the campground. We cooked all our food over an open flame. I didn’t shower the whole time. So to me? That’s camping. People who choose to camp in tents and sleep on the ground are just dumb. Also, just because it was a “bed” should not imply that it was comfortable. In fact, the ground might have been comfier. So says my left hip that is still sore days later.

It was actually a lot of fun. The showering thing doesn’t really bother me, because if I’m being honest, I can easily go a whole weekend without showering. But usually in those situations, I’m not around anyone besides my cats and possibly a food delivery/drive-thru person.

We stayed out in lovely Utica, IL, which is close to Starved Rock State Park. We would have stayed at the park, but you can’t drink there and well, what is the point of camping with no booze, am I right?

Friday night was interesting, as we tried to start a fire in the pitch dark and 40 mph winds. We gave it several valiant efforts before I went into the little store to buy lighter fluid. After that, the fires were easy to start! (I also love my use of “we” here, which could not be further from the truth. Besides bringing the lighter, buying the lighter fluid, and providing some really awful back seat driver fire-starting advice, I just sat and watched.)

On Saturday after I tried to sleep off my hangover, we went over to Starved Rock and took in the very pretty views. I have lived in Illinois almost my whole life and have never been to Starved Rock. It’s a shame, since it really is quite pretty. We caught it at almost a perfect time, with it being late fall and the leaves having changed almost completely.

fall-colors

We hiked for a bit, exploring a few of the canyons. I’m still amazed at how big the park is, and how beautiful it is.

starved-rock1

starved-rock2

After hiking, we grabbed lunch and headed over to do some horseback riding.

I haven’t been horseback riding in probably 25 years (man I’m old). We used to go regularly after my parents were first divorced, with my dad, who was a stereotypical divorced dad and just kind of threw money at us to make us happy.

This was fun, but the guy who owns the ranch is kind of a dick. We weren’t allowed to trot or canter or anything, just walk. And he would throw out these vague instructions, like I’ve been tending horses my entire life. Look, dude, I’m no Pioneer Woman!

I got called out A LOT. One, because my butt was too far to the right? He kept saying I was off-center and to move my butt to the left, and then it felt like I was falling off. Before we started, the really nice horse lady told me two things: one, don’t ever bump Lacey (my horse), and two, she will try to eat any chance she gets.

She was not lying about the eating. This poor horse was a pig! She ate anything she could get her mouth around. And then it made the mean horse man keep yelling at me to pull her head up. You know what? A horse’s head is really heavy! THEY NEVER MENTIONED THAT IN THE GODFATHER.

So then I got some extra-special attention from Haughty Horse Man because my stirrups were too low. The stirrups I was not allowed to touch or fix. The stirrups they fixed for me and my insanely long legs. Apparently this was why my butt was leaning to the left. Except this did nothing but make my knees bent and do exactly the opposite of what he told us in the beginning about the stirrups, which means, it was a damn good thing I didn’t fall off and get dragged by good ol’ Lacey.

I actually really liked Lacey. She didn’t care which way my butt was leaning. She was also too smart for her own good. She knew that she had a new rider every hour, and that her head was heavy as shit, and she used this to her advantage to eat all the things. I can’t deny a living creature food! She must have known this too.

horseback-riding

This was fine until she saw something she HAD to eat, right near this creek we had to cross. So she got off the path, made a beeline for this weed, and we were precariously close to a small cliff that went into the water. I tried to turn her back, but again, she’s determined to eat and her head was heavy and we were kind of in a bit of a corner. So the Uptight Horse Man yelled at me to get her back and to “bump” her. And then I just did everything else BUT bump her. Because rule number one was “DO NOT BUMP HER”! So then he yelled that those instructions meant only unless HE told me to bump her. Which was contradicting as hell, and I’m just glad I stayed on the horse and we made it through the whole thing unscathed.

Shouldn’t horseback riding be peaceful? I was hoping for that. I mean, it was fun, but I definitely don’t think I’d go back to this guy. I understand horses are powerful and I respect that, but I also don’t think yelling and stressing us out does any good for the horses.

Overall, it was a really great weekend. And I really enjoyed it. But I think I’m good on camping for a while. At least until next year when Alli’s birthday rolls around again.

Sleep Cyclezzzzzzz

Posted By on June 10, 2014

Huh. So I haven’t posted in a while. And it feels even silly to mention that. Because, duh, is this thing on? I mean I never even finished my Europe posts. And that was because I still, nine months later, haven’t uploaded Germany photos to Flickr, so I just gave up. I will get to it, though. Maybe before September.

But Regan just posted something about being in a funk and it really resonated with me and I thought that maybe old school writing on my blog might help. It can’t hurt.

I read this thing back a few weeks ago about sleep cycles. It was in some health & fitness email, basically saying that sleep is the magic cure to all the things. It basically says that we sleep in 90 minute bursts. And if your alarm goes off in between one of those 90 min cycles, you’re going to be groggy and tired. The ideal number of hours of sleep is 6, 7.5, 9, 10.5 and 12.

It got me thinking – I wake up every morning groggy. Granted, a lot of that is because I snooze 11 times for like 45 minutes. But I also think it is because I generally try to get 8-9 hours of sleep a night, or more. Generally it was probably 8.5 or 9.5. Something outside those magic windows.

(I know that seems like a lot for someone who is not an infant, but I love sleep. I can still easily knock out 12 hours of sleep on a weekend and not give two shits about the time I waste. And then I’d probably take a nap a few hours after getting up, if it was a perfect day. Sleep beats almost everything in my book.)

But after reading this article, I started to notice that on most mornings I’d wake up before the alarm and feel pretty good. And instead of my usual “sweet, I still have 2 more hours of sleep!” thought, I thought “huh, maybe I should get up now.” I have only ever thought that because a) getting up early is bad enough and b) getting up early and getting to work earlier is like my idea of hell on Earth.

It got me thinking, though, as I continue to get up every morning groggy as all hell. I used to think that meant I needed more sleep, but now I’m thinking I could feel way better on LESS sleep.

They have these sleep cycle apps. I’ve tried 2 different ones. You leave your phone on your bed and it basically tells you if you’re in deep sleep or not. And then you tell it you want to wake up at a certain time, and it will (hopefully) wake you up near that time when you’re in your cycle of lightest sleep, depending on your movements.

The one I tried woke me up at 5 AM for a 7:15 alarm clock. I deleted that app. I may have felt pretty good, but I try not to regularly get up before the sun.

The second one had a function to wake you within a half-hour of your desired wake-up time. That way they’ll find the time you’re sleeping lightest and wake you up then, as opposed to being in a deep sleep, which can just mess you right up. And supposedly, at the very worst, you’ll get up 30 minutes earlier. I tried that one last night and it woke me up at 5 AM, again.

With both of them, even at the butt-ass early time of 5 AM, I noticed that I felt rested. I didn’t feel groggy. I didn’t feel the need to slap the snooze button. But then because I love sleep and hate mornings as much as Garfield, I note it and then turn off the alarm and go back to sleep. Because my 10 year old brain will always turn into Homer Simpson and say “woo hoo! Two more hours of sleep!”

And both those mornings, after sleeping that extra few hours, hitting the snooze, I felt like a groggy mess when I got up. More sleep didn’t seem worth it.

I think there is something to it. And I realized, as I sat tired and groggy at my desk all day today, yawning through meetings, that maybe it would help me out of this funk to get good sleep, not just a lot of it. And instead of feeling like there aren’t enough hours in the day, I could use those hours to knock out a run or a workout, or go in early to have more of my evenings to clean, watch TV, etc. And maybe, just maybe, I can become a for reals functioning adult.

But let’s be honest, I’m still probably going to hit snooze nine times out of 10.

garfield-mornings

Have you ever heard of these sleep cycles? Have you tried an app?

Na zdraví!

Posted By on December 3, 2013

I decided to maybe skip the rest of the trip seeing as I’ve been back over 2 months and still haven’t finished telling you about my trip. But I wanted to document it all for myself, so here we go. I only have like 3-4 more posts to write. I can do this.

Our only full day in Prague started with actually sleeping in a bit, partaking in the free breakfast in the hotel and then sightseeing.

I think I mentioned before that Alli had been to Prague before, so she had done the walking tour and seen all the sights. She had the day to herself while Melissa and I did all the touristy things. We did a Prague in a Nutshell tour, which showed us a lot of the city and then took us to Prague Castle and the Charles Bridge.

This tour was on a bus until we got to the castle. I would have preferred a walking tour and still, for the whole trip, I think my favorite tour was the free walking tour in Budapest. Do these tours anywhere you can!

After driving in rush hour traffic in Prague, we got to Prague Castle. From there the rest of the tour was on foot. Most of the group was leaving us after the castle. Melissa and I and two other women did the long tour, which included lunch and a boat ride.

Prague is so pretty. Hands down the prettiest city we went too. Prague Castle is huge and like 100 buildings set into a fortress. In the middle of it all is a very pretty church that was like a billion years old.

The only thing I remember from the tour about the church was that a) it was really old and b) there was a sculpture on the front of the front door with some dudes presenting a severed arm on a tray. I, of course, took a photo of it.

We could have waited in a huge crowd to see the changing of the guard, but our wise tour guide told us that it wasn’t worth it and that we could see them marching as we got further into the castle. It was pretty neat!

After walking through the Castle, we had lunch overlooking the whole city. Lunch was good and there was a salad, which was so lovely since we hadn’t had vegetables in a long time. And then my main course was goulash, because of course it was!

After lunch, we headed down to this garden. This was the prettiest. There was this giant pond with these giant koi in there. And also just hanging out are peacocks, including the famous albino peacock. They were just chillin’. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a peacock, not even at the zoo!

We walked around some more through the gardens and the grounds and made it to the Franz Kafka Museum. We didn’t tour the museum, but got to look around the gift shop, which was enough for me. I don’t know enough about Kafka, except for that book from Bridget Jones’ Diary, Kafka’s Motorbike. (One of the greatest books of our time! Well at least in the top 30.)

Outside the museum, though, is a statue of two guys peeing. They move and supposedly write out quotes in the water. Our guide told us it was supposed to be Stalin and Hitler peeing on the Czech Republic. (I cannot find anything online to support this.)

Then it was on to the famous Charles Bridge. The bridge is old and is only open to foot traffic. The biggest story I remember about the bridge is that back in the 1600s, 27 Protestant leaders were beheaded for not being Catholic and their heads were put on spikes at the entrance to the bridge, warning people who entered Prague that they did not mess around. (DULY NOTED, PRAGUE!)

After we crossed the bridge, it was on to our boat ride. It was just an hour cruise, taking in the sights of Prague from the Vltava River. The city is even prettier from the water and there were swans everywhere! All these zoo animals just hanging out in Prague!

We cut the tour short after this because it was going to Old Town Square and we had seen all of that the day before just walking around. We wanted to get in a nap and change before we headed out for the night on our ghost tours.

The first tour was an underground tour by lamplight. The guide freaked us out, telling us that it was pitch black and underground and that if you were at all claustrophobic, not to go on the tour. Melissa and Alli freaked out as soon as we walked into the pitch black hall. And at that point we were still above ground.

So they skipped it. I wasn’t going to miss out, so I stuck with it and it was pretty fascinating. I’m pretty sure the guide was being dramatic about all the paranormal activity and how it made her get winded and short of breath. I didn’t notice anything. It was dark and we seemed to go pretty far down, but it was fine. I’m just glad a boogey man didn’t jump out of the dark because I may have then murdered someone with my screams alone.

This building was the dungeon and torture chamber, back in the day, including back in the 1600s when there was that huge massacre. There was a room that served as a holding room before the prisoners went out to get executed. There are all sorts of carvings on the wall from these prisoners, which is creepy, but cool. It even includes things from the 1400s and 1500s and people who just etched symbols because they didn’t know words.

After this tour, we had an above ground ghosts and legends tour. This was really interesting about different myths and legends from around Old Town Square, but behind all the hustle and bustle. Our guide was from New Jersey and really loved his job. I really liked him, until halfway through the tour when he jumped out from behind something and grabbed me and made me almost shit my pants! (The worst part was I mentioned to him how I saw this happen with another tour and he was like “we don’t do that on our tours.” LIAR, LIAR, GHOSTY PANTS ON FIRE!)

He took us to an old hospital that is known to be haunted. It is also a place that has been known to have orbs photographed due to ghosts or whatnot, so we all stood around taking photos of this building looking for orbs. This was the best I got.

After the tour, it was still early, so we decided to check out the English pub right in the square to have some of Prague’s Budweiser. (It is so good!) (Actually, come to think of it, we only went in here because the bouncer told us how pretty we were and said we could get a free drink. Which was a thimble full of something.)

After that, we decided to check out what is supposedly the oldest pub in Prague, which someone had told us about. It was like a good old beer hall with Pilsner and pretzels, so we were happy as ghosts in a graveyard.

We then called it a night and headed back to the hotel. We had a long train ride the next day to Munich, and we knew we would not be so lucky to get a train car to ourselves on a train heading to the heart of Oktoberfest.

See the rest of my Prague photos here.

Praha

Posted By on November 20, 2013

I really didn’t expect that long of a lapse before moving on to Prague. I’m not sure where my hesitation is coming from. Probably because I loved Prague so much and that after Prague is Munich and then it’s the end. And I’m still sad about being home from the vacation; I’m going to be even sadder to have no more excuse to relive it here.

Anyway! Last we left off, we were spending our last day and night in Vienna. The next morning, we had an early train to Prague. The Prague train was longer than the one from Budapest to Vienna. But, thankfully for us, not crowded at all. So between the three of us, we had 2 cars to ourselves and we slept. For five hours. It was glorious until Alli was waking me up by shouting “we just slept for five hours straight!” Like this was a bad thing.

Our hotel in Prague was nice and close to the train station, so we just walked to the hotel. After checking in and changing into non-stinky train clothes, we went to grab something to eat near the hotel.

The hotel was in the major touristy area, so a lot of the restaurants were kind of theatrical and pricey. We found a place that seemed just like a café and ate outside to take in the scenery.

Did you know that Prague is known for an awesome delicacy of fried cheese? It’s like mozzarella sticks, but bigger and usually cheddar or something else. Regardless, it is AMAZING. And I ate as much of it as I could.

After a late lunch, we wanted to check out the Museum of Communism. It is a small, self-guided museum above a McDonald’s, but I thought it was really fascinating. It was interesting to hear the history of Communism in Prague and to know that had the American troops gotten to Prague one day sooner, their entire history would have changed and they wouldn’t have fallen under the Russian regime.

After that we headed to Old Town Square because we had plans to go on a Beer Tour. Prague is known for its beer, specifically home of Pilsner Urquell. We figured this would be a great way to see some local pubs and get drunk at the same time! WIN!

This was an amazing tour! Our guide, Josephina, was awesome. She was young and knew all the fun, cool spots. We started off at Lokal, which was a Pilsner bar only. It actually gets the Pilsner right from the source, so there was no extra processing and/or additives. It was so smooth and delicious.

After Lokal, we went to the Prague Beer Museum. I can get behind any city that has a beer museum. This place had a huge menu and like 100 beers on tap. So we asked our guide to pick out a flight for us. They were all pretty good. And by this time, we were feeling pretty, pretty, pretty good.

Next up was another local brewery place. It was Pivnice Stupartska. I only know this because I took a photo of it.

I also remember we ordered fried cheese here and it was delicious!

Our final stop was the Vodka Propaganda Bar. This place was really cool, I thought. It was dark and clubby, but the walls were plastered with all the old Communist propaganda posters.

After that, our tour was officially over. But we loved our guide so much (and I friended her on Facebook!) that we asked her for fun places to go and if she wanted to come with us. She said she actually had never really wanted to hang out with a group after a tour, but we were a lot of fun.

We went to some bar and met some of her friends. After that, she told us about a cool party on the outside of town. We thought it sounded cool, so we took a cab out to some club. It wasn’t really close to downtown.

There was a cover charge and it was a PARTAY inside! The place was packed and it was loud and we were the oldest by about 10 years! I wish we had stayed for a drink, but we didn’t, so we got in a cab and went back to the hotel.

After some more street food (what is a European vacation without ending a night with street food?), we called it a night and decided we needed to rest up for day two in Praha.

Next up: the sights of Prague, including ghost tours!

The Hills Are Alive…And Burning My Lungs

Posted By on November 6, 2013

On our only full day in Vienna, we did a wine tasting and bike tour of the Wachau Valley outside of Vienna. Going into the trip, this was the one thing I wanted to do. I could take or leave any of the other things we did, but this! This I wanted to do!

And we were not disappointed. Hands down this was probably my favorite part of the whole trip, even though it required actual physical movement and exercise.

We actually almost didn’t even make it. We were running late and didn’t have the time allowed for the subway. So we tried to hail a cab, which proved to be damn near impossible on the busy Vienna streets. We finally saw one dropping off a lady across the street and ran the cab down and forced it to take us to our meeting point.

It was really fine, actually. They build in a lot of buffer time with these tours. We had time to check in and get some water and take a photo before we even took our walk over to the subway to go to the train station.

After a short subway ride, we made it out to a train station that was going to take us to our bikes. The train ride was about an hour or two, and uneventful. Except for the three people sitting behind us, who were annoying as fuck. They were like 20 and in the midst of traveling across the world for a year and not only did their voices grate on my nerves, I was also extremely jealous.

I should point out here that I cannot tell you the last time I rode a bike that was not a stationary one in a gym. High school? Maybe college? Bottom line: A long, long time ago.

I wasn’t that worried about it. I mean, that saying has to have a bit of truth to it, right? That was until I got on the bike, weighed down by a heavy backpack on my back that was throwing off my equilibrium, and I was very, very worried about how I was going to bike for the next several hours.

I almost fell off right at the beginning. It was a giant group of us, all trying to get moving and there were some curbs and turns and I almost ate it. This was one of many times I was grateful for my long legs. It makes falling off a bike a lot harder when you can just touch the ground with your feet while still sitting on the bike.

I finally got my bearings and we were off. And it was the most beautiful scenery I had ever seen. The hills and the mountains right near the Danube River were majestic and so, so pretty.

Our first stop was at Domane Wachau. The Wachau Valley is known for their white wines, particularly their sweet wines like Riesling. We tried several wines at this place and they were all really good. I would have loved to buy a bottle, if I had known how to get it home. I really should have bought some of those wine bags for my suitcase.

After that stop, I handed the backpack off to Alli, thankfully. It was a hell of a lot easier to ride without it. We strapped it into her basket to make it a little easier for her. And then we were on our way, winding our way through the vineyards, trying grapes off the vine, and heading to a town for lunch.

Lunch was in this adorable little town where the youngest building was from like the 1600s. Lunch was good and we had some cocktails with lunch, which probably wasn’t the best idea, since we were still riding bikes for like 5 more hours. But thankfully, this stop included time to walk around the town. It also included a chocolate and liqueur tasting at a little shop.

Everything in this town was apricot flavored. We tried apricot mustard (so good! I actually bought some! And I hate fruit in all things!), an apricot liqueur and some apricot chocolate. They also sold anything and everything made with apricots – soaps, lotions, you name it!

And then we were off again! This part of the tour had some amazing views and then we went down this hill and wheeee! This is a piece of cake! I could ride a bike all the livelong day!

Oh, hahahahaha, self! That downhill part was the ONLY downhill part! There were then a lot of giant hills on this part of the ride. And poor Alli had to lug that backpack! We finally huffed and puffed our way to the next stop, a wine tavern. And where was this wine tavern? AT THE TOP OF A GIANT HILL THAT REQUIRED ONE THOUSAND STEPS TO GET TO!

Alli smartly threw the backpack at me halfway up, because she was probably ready to ditch it all at that point. But it gave us such a dewy, fresh look in photos. Dewy = sweaty.

At this point, I didn’t even want wine. I wanted a car and a gallon of water. But the views? WORTH IT!

I made someone take a photo of me in my best “The Hills are Alive” Sound of Music reenactment. It wasn’t the same, but it works. It was the closest I was ever going to get to any of the Von Trapps and sexy Christopher Plummer.

After this stop was more riding and then we got to the river. We were taking a self-propelled ferry across the Danube to the other side to continue the tour. So we actually made it on the Danube in both Budapest and Vienna!

The rest of the trip was through apple orchards and other parts of the winery. At this point, we were apparently running a bit late. We had a few slow people on the tour that all but died after the hills and slowed us down. Normally it is OK, but we had tickets for a train back to Vienna at a certain time.

We made it, barely. There was quite a bit of running (my turn with the backpack, of course) to make it to the train on time, but we made it. Thank God! But even if we hadn’t, there was another train in an hour, so we would have been fine. And probably less sweaty.

After the tour, we got back to the hotel and got ready to spend our last night in Vienna. We actually found a really good Italian place near our hotel for dinner. It was a nice break from all the goulash and meat.

Melissa went back to the room after dinner, so Alli and I wandered around the city that night. We went past the oldest church in Vienna, which was beautiful all lit up.

Our first stop was to get a famous Sacher torte from the Hotel Sacher. (Spoiler alert: I had it the next day when it was probably a bit dried out, but it wasn’t that great.)

We tried to find an area of town that the guide from the previous day mentioned, but we just ran into a lot of dead ends. We ran into this sign a lot, which we decided told people they were not allowed to dance in the streets.

We couldn’t find anything that looked open (it was a Monday night) so we decided to go back to the 1516 Brewery, since we knew where it was and that we liked it. The place was PACKED! There was a soccer game on and it was a giant sausage fest. Minus the couple making out next to us at the bar, it was a good place.

I didn’t know Alli super well before this trip, but it was nice to have a night with her to just hang out, chat and get to know each other. We are bonded for life after going on this trip and I hope I get to travel with her again!

We smartly only stayed out until a little after midnight. Our train to Prague the next morning was early and we were getting picked up at the hotel in like 7 hours. Yay for being responsible adults!

Up next, what was probably my favorite city – Prague!

Rest of my Vienna photos are here.