I could always depend on a summer trip with my dad. Whether it was for his birthday in August, or Father’s Day in June, we always made it a point to reunite for a week during these summer months. Most of the time, we took advantage of the glorious weather in the Pacific Northwest where he lived, but sometimes we made the occasional trip to San Francisco for our favorite rivalry games between the Dodgers and Giants.
But it wasn’t always this way. There was a short phase in my life where my father and I didn’t speak. I recently remembered when I told him not to come to my Stanford graduation, which also fell on a Father’s Day. Looking back, I can’t imagine how it broke his heart, but he had a different perspective. Years later, he told me that he made peace with it by knowing that I was comfortable voicing my opinion, and that his daughter “wasn’t going to take shit from anyone”.
Maybe you’ve been in one of these emotional droughts with a loved one, so you’ll understand. Luckily, my dad and I reunited and developed a meaningful friendship that evolved with every conversation and interaction.
Those interactions go all the way back to my childhood memories on this beach in Anacortes. My dad lived there for many years, and my brother and I would trek up to Washington each summer to enjoy this magical season called summer. We built rafts, roasted marshmallows, picked apples, and created memories that would last a lifetime.
In June 2015, my dad and I drove to this beach where he used to live over 20 years before. The new owners mentioned that they were thinking of selling the property in a few years, but my dad and I both had a bit of sticker shock when they told us of the price.
As we made our way down the steps in silence, my dad and I found our respective rocks on the shore. I don’t know what was going through his mind, but I could feel the heaviness in the air. I gave him some space.
After a moment of repose, I came and sat next to him on the sand. I could tell that he had been crying. Tears of what I don’t know, but we hugged each other in solace. I don’t remember what I uttered, maybe a mention of happy memories of days past. I guess at that point, the words really didn’t matter. What mattered is that we had this time together and the chance to travel around one of our favorite parts of Washington.
That was our last trip to Washington together as my dad died the next summer. Our last Father’s day spent cruising around Puget Sound. Our last summer trip.
I’m not a morning person. So when I saw the itinerary for the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta, I did a double take. 6 a.m. start time! With a little coffee, I managed to make it through the early morning(read 4 a.m.) trips from the hotel to the park, all bundled up in my layers of thermals and wool. After learning from my hotel concierge that this was the largest ballooning event in the world, I was a bit curious…
Once I saw a few of these colorful globes take to the sky before dawn, all of my fatigue melted away. The few brave balloons, known as the “Dawn Patrol”, tested the wind patterns for their fellow fiesta goers still on the ground. This scene was absolutely stunning!
What’s even better than the visual of the gas balloons set against the vista of the Albuquerque mountains, is the sound of them lighting up. The powerful “whoosh” of the helium and hydrogen flooding these giant globes is almost as magical as the sound of the crowds cheering them on as they lift up to the heavens.
And what a crowd! I literally saw generations of families, young and old, groups of friends, couples on honeymoons, photography clubs, and every combination of group you could think of. The Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta is fun for everyone. If you don’t marvel at this magnificent event, then there’s something definitely wrong with you!
My family decided to attend this annual display of color to celebrate my brother’s 40th birthday. In between balloon fiesta fun, we got a chance to sample some of the delicious cuisine in Albuquerque, known for its generous use of red and green chiles. If you don’t like spicy – ask them for super mild. Trust me on this one!
When we weren’t eating the tasty New Mexico treats(like sopapillas), we did some shopping in the town square and picked up a few souvenirs along the way. My favorite finds were a store called Masks Y Mas, which housed art, jewelry, and of course, masks. Then just a few doors down I discovered, Off Broadway, the most decadent vintage shop that had me pulling at my purse strings as I piled my dressing room with a number of gorgeous gems. I walked away with this wool coat – perfect for the brisk New Mexico breeze!
After some well-deserved naps, my family and I headed back to the park to witness what is known as “Balloon Glow”. This evening event is not to be missed, as the visual of vibrant balloons against the night sky envelops you. Everywhere you turn there’s some new wonder to be seen. It’s no surprise that this is the world’s most photographed event, with over 25 million photographs being taken each year!
Since the balloons don’t embark at the evening events, you’ll get to wander among them in all of their colorful glory. The hum of the gas lighting up these beauties gave me the chills! And hearing the oohs and ahhs coming from everyone around you, all of us in collective childlike wonder, is enough to give you goosebumps.If you want the true VIP experience at the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta, get tickets to the Gondola Club. And don’t wait until the last minute! We waited a bit too long and were only able to get them for one morning, but we’re sooo glad we did. A hot breakfast buffet, open bar, and fire pits greeted us as we descended on the park for another early morning of fiesta fun.
And when you’re ready to get up close to the balloons, there’s a VIP tram waiting to drive you closer to the action. This is one of the best Gondola Club benefits since the park is over 350 acres big. The highlight of that morning was watching Annabelle, the Creamland Dairy mascot, finally come into her udderly full glory. After the team tried for a couple of days to get her up, she finally made it to the skies and set sail with the rest of her balloon friends. The crowd went wild as she was set free!
These balloons are too gorgeous for words. No filter is needed for your photos! In fact, I spent very little time editing photos because the light and color of the New Mexico sky is just perfect. Pro tip – bring an extra memory card and a portable charger. You’ll be out there from around 5 a.m. to 11 a.m., so it’s good to be prepared. And bring a backpack or bag to hold your gloves, hats, etc. You’ll want to shed some layers as the sun comes up – it gets surprisingly warm!
Swirling in a serene symphony led by Mother Nature’s wispy winds, the balloons drift above your head and then eventually out of sight. The heavens, dotted with color, will leave you in awe. As I watched everyone gaze up at the sky, some of us snuggled next to our loved ones for warmth, I felt so happy to be here. What a unique experience!
Even with the early mornings and bone-chilling cold, I would do it all over again. There’s nothing like gazing up at the sky and watching the balloons dance along the desert sky. Next time this California girl will pack her earmuffs. And I’ll make sure to get my Gondola Club tickets well in advance!
Do you want to visit Albuquerque? Then fill out the form below!
I recently went behind the scenes at the Los Angeles Travel & Adventure show, which is just one stop along the travel show’s ambitious tour throughout the United States. With my press pass, I was able to go behind the scenes and speak to some of the tour operators and country representatives about what makes their travel experience unique, and why travelers should spend their precious vacation time heading to their destinations. Here’s what I learned:
Never judge a book by its cover. Just like the old saying goes, think twice before passing judgement. Especially on a country you’ve never been to! When I spoke with Elsie from Bella Guatemala, I was surprised to learn that this Central American country could be an adventurous “girl’s trip” hot spot. How so? Well, Elsie shared with me that not only can your fellow girlfriends hike inside a volcano, but they can also follow that daring adventure with a spa trip near one of Guatemala’s picturesque lakes – awesome! And since Guatemala is one of the world’s largest producers of jade and silver, your girlfriends can participate in a jewelry making course with local artisans. Sounds fun to me!
Wellness is not a trend. Spa retreats and detox destinations made their foray into the travel landscape years ago as “alternative” travel. But if recent trends are any indication, like the $500 billion spent on wellness vacations in past years, wellness travel is here to stay. I had the lucky fortune of interviewing the cofounder and president of Wellness Tourism Association, Anne Dimon, who has been in the wellness travel sector since 2004.
“Wellness truly means something different to each of us, but generally it is simply the overall health of the mind, body, and spirit. When a wellness vacation is planned with intention or with a specific objective in mind AND it is the right fit, it can truly be a gift to oneself that keeps on giving,” Anne shared. I was even more thrilled to learn that Anne had helped plan the Wellness Sessions at Virtuoso Travel Week 2016 where I learned about Miami’s Carillon Wellness Resort. I excitedly told her that I had a trip to Carillon planned for April, and she smiled ear to ear when I told her about my very first wellness vacation in Spain many years ago. Stay tuned for more on Carillon…
Explore your own backyard. I’m lucky enough to live in California where there are plenty of escapes within a two hour drive, but I’m ashamed to say I haven’t taken advantage of all that my home state has to offer. And I’m sure that can be said for most of us. A couple of my favorite discoveries at the Travel & Adventure show are right here in my own backyard! After speaking with the team from Visit 29, the gateway to Joshua Tree National Park, I added this stunning natural oasis to my bucket list. Besides being an art colony to artists like Noah Purifoy, Twentynine Palms hosts the Joshua Tree Night Sky Festival – a must see for all of you stargazers out there!
Another find was Yosemite’s Tenaya Lodge. This luxury resort in the California High Sierra is perfect for family reunions, girls’ getaways, and year round fun – no matter what the season is! At the Travel & Adventure Show, the team shared with me some of their favorite amenities, including a private tour in their shuttle that has no roof so you can see all of the beautiful nature around you. I have to do this soon!
Explore the “other” landmarks. Each country or travel destination has its proverbial bucket list landmark. Paris has the Eiffel Tower, Peru has Macchu Picchu, New York has the Statue of Liberty, and so on. But if you want to avoid crowds and have an experience that’s just as authentic and meaningful, sometimes it’s ok to head off the beaten path.
When talking with the team from India Tourism, I was enthralled to learn about all of the other places to see besides the Taj Mahal. On the west coast of India is Maharashtra state, which is home to the historic Ajanta and Ellora caves. These exquisite specimens of architecture are also a glimpse into the country’s faiths of Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism. And in central India, there’s the magnificent Khajuraho temples, a UNESCO heritage site that dates back to the powerful Chandela rulers. Definitely lots of exploring to do here!
Africa is not a country. Well, I knew this already. But I often hear travelers say, “I want to go to Africa”. That’s like someone saying, “I want to visit North America”, and I think we can all agree that a weekend in Newport, Rhode Island is going to be quite different from a weekend in Cabo San Lucas.
Did you know that Africa is a continent made up of 55 nations. Wow! I admit I didn’t really understand its size and scope as a travel destination until the Travel & Adventure show when I had the chance to talk to representatives from Rwanda, Zambia, Tanzania, and specialty tour operators highlighting a diverse range of experiences. Did you know that Rwanda is the safest country in Africa, and the 9th in the world? And that you can see gorillas, chimps, and other primates in their rainforest habitat?
Or maybe birdwatching is more your thing…and if it is, then head south to Zambia where you can visit Lochinvar National Park and see over 400 species of birds. Amazing! There’s always the African country of Tanzania for those travelers who want that unforgettable wildlife safari or an enviable beach vacation on some of the best beaches in the world along the Zanzibar coast. My bucket list is growing…
If after reading this, you’ve added a few new places to your travel bucket list, email me to help you plan your next trip. You won’t be disappointed! I’ll close with a quote from one of my favorite authors, Mark Twain. “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts.”
My dad used to have an old adage: “there are two seasons in Seattle: August and the rest of the year.” His local wisdom explained why I summered here as a child, and why I never visited during any of the other months. Seattle, the site for a recent family reunion, is the cosmopolitan gem of the Pacific Northwest. Boasting a beautiful backdrop of lush evergreens, the city acted as an anchor for my exploration of Puget Sound and the San Juan Islands.
Flying in on a Friday afternoon, downtown Seattle welcomed me with a crisp, fresh breeze and stark, blue sky. Fighting hunger pangs from my flight, I dipped into my favorite pub, The Brooklyn. Just needing a quick bite to hold me over until dinner, I debated between the baker’s dozen and the beer & oyster flight, which pairs 4 draft brews and a complementary oyster for each. With eyes bigger than my stomach, I ultimately opted for more oysters. These hand picked delicacies, sourced from Washington, British Columbia, and California, did not disappoint. Served up with accompanying sauces, my baker’s dozen hit the spot and was polished off with the perfect partner, a clean and citrusy Haystack Hefeweizen from local brewery, Snoqualmie Falls.
Wandering through downtown, I passed some vibrant murals that reminded me of a recent art walk I did in Los Angeles. I ended up at Pike Place Market, which is an obligatory stop for anyone visiting Seattle, and my eyes, ears, and nose were met with an array of sensory delights such as hot buttered perogies, fresh seafood, and colorful vegetables. Stopping by Beecher’s Handmade Cheese in hopes of finding a hostess gift, I was pleasantly surprised by the selection of house made cheeses that were being churned right behind me! After sampling a few of the staff favorites, I opted for a few tubs of cheese curds after the salesman ensured me that they’d last a few hours at room temperature, and would make a great appetizer for Friday night’s dinner.
Weaving my way over to historic Pioneer Square, I made a stop at one of my favorite shops in Seattle, Laguna Pottery. Greeted by rainbowed rows of Bauer, Franciscan, and Fiestaware dishes, I felt like a kid in a candy store. Laguna Pottery is a must-see for any pottery enthusiast hoping to find a unique piece to fill in their collection. Constrained by both my budget and space in my carry-on luggage, I chose a small turquoise Fiestaware serving platter from the colorful sea of cups, plates, and dinnerware.
With my teal treasure in tow, I made my way to the ferry for the next stop on my itinerary. The ferry system is a great way to see the expansive landscape of this picturesque region. Whether traveling by car, bike, or on foot, the passengers are ferried along seaside towns throughout the Sound.
Meeting up with other members of my family, we congregated at the ferry dock and meandered through the seaside town of Port Townsend. Although I had been to Port Townsend many times before, I discovered a new boutique, the Green Eyeshade. The Green Eyeshade, situated right in the middle of Water Street, is the perfect store to find a unique hostess gift, quirky cocktail napkins, or that elusive kitchen gadget. I always scoop up a few hard to find unscented tapers for dinner parties, knowing there’s not many guests who enjoy eating salmon smothered in the scent of sandalwood, and this store had them in every color and size. After taking a break at Pippa’s Real Tea for a refreshment, my family and I gathered nearby and planned out the rest of the weekend.
Unlike the typical family reunion, which features a dodgeball game and water balloon toss, my family’s uniting activity is antiquing. In almost sportlike fashion, we huddle at the front of the store and advise each other about what’s on our “hit list”: radios, butter pats, car shop signs, ivory jewelry, and other odd requests. First stop on our antiquing adventure is Snohomish. Voted by Budget Travel as one of America’s “Coolest Small Towns”, Snohomish is the unofficial antique capital of the Northwest. The quaint downtown, which is nestled along the Snohomish River, hosts boutiques, cafes, and plenty of antique stores. To fuel our day, we started at Snohomish Bakery, where I opted for a well-balanced breakfast of vegetable quiche and a sticky bun. Midway through the day, my family reconvened to share with each other the trinkets and treasures that we uncovered during the morning expedition. My proud find from Antique Station was an antique lipstick holder that I held up like a brand new puppy for everyone to see.
After a long day, my dad arranged a bonfire where family members, young and old, shared stories and reminisced over those classic summer staples of hamburgers, hot dogs, and s’mores. But the highlight of this balmy summer evening was the dedication of the Marion E. Taylor library. Built by my father with careful attention to the angle of the sun, timing of sunsets, and shade of the tall trees, this craftsman’s masterpiece features stained glass from England, family photos, a small fireplace, and a literary collection to keep one busy through the winter.
While dedicating the library, which bears my grandmother’s name, my father said a few poignant words and played Hoagy Carmichael’s “Stardust” to close the night. As I looked up at the star-filled sky with teary eyes, I thought about value of family, relationships, and the ties that carry us through.
The next morning launched the last leg of the reunion weekend in La Conner. The day commenced with a visit to Calico Cupboard, whose tagline is “best buns in town”. Enticed by the motto, I started the day with my weekend diet of quiche and a sticky bun. But this time, I opted for the house special, which was a sticky bun smothered with fresh raspberry compote. Walking off our breakfast, my dad and I stopped in his favorite store, The Wood Merchant. Marveling at the handcarved wood that fabricated everything from rocking chairs to jewelry racks, I was impressed with the designs and talent of many of the featured artists. Afterwards, I dipped into the neighboring boutique, Pelindaba Lavender, where I picked up a birthday gift for a friend whose favorite color is purple, as well as some culinary lavender for myself.
Weaving our way through Whidbey Island, I was mesmerized by the endless farmlands with dizzying rows of colorful tulips, daffodils, and irises. Stopping for a quick break at Snow Goose Produce was a welcome surprise. Greeted by the aroma of freshly pressed waffle cones, my two tough decisions were what ice cream flavor to choose and how much produce to squish into my carry-on luggage. Boxes of green peas, red raspberries, and plump marionberries were calling my name. The neighboring countryside, lush with seasonal crops, made this a difficult choice. Eager to grab bushels of this picturesque produce, I restrained myself and purchased a modest pound of green peas. En route to the airport, my family and I used the time to catch up and connect, retelling stories of reunions past, and brainstorming ideas for our next one. With a soundtrack of laughter and chatter, we made more memories, which is truly the essence of all reunions.