Sedona: a wonderfully relaxing getaway

My husband has been bugging me for years that we should do a getaway to Sedona. As we live in Colorado, it’s just a short flight away (to Phoenix and then a 2 hour drive north.) So we finally decided to go in 2020 for our anniversary in April. But then the pandemic came and that plan went up in smoke.

However, we decided to try again in 2021. We discovered in 2021 that we liked staying in AirBNBs. Originally we had planned to stay in Sedona proper in a hotel but being that it was March this time (my birthday) and neither of us were vaccinated yet, we decided to skip the hotel and find an AirBNB in the Village of Oak Creek, just about 10 minutes south of Sedona. Good choice! It’s less crowded here and a lot less traffic. We stayed in a house just minutes away from shopping with tons of privacy, and of course, great views. Well, pretty much anymore in Sedona has great views but we feel that Oak Creek is a lot less hectic. The con is that there aren’t as many dining options. But that was the point – we wanted to stay away from crowded restaurants.

What to do: Well, first of all, Sedona is known as the day hike capital of the US. And from my observation, that’s a very accurate description. Since we were there only 3 nights, we devoted one day to hiking, although we could have easily done more. But for the non-hikers there’s plenty of shopping, “new age” activities such UFO tours and Vortex experiences, and your usual group tours. I’m not into new age stuff, but I did wish we could have gone to Slide Rock. I recall going there as a child. But it was too cold in March to do this. It’s a natural sandstone slide on Oak Creek. Not surprisingly, it’s super popular during the hot summer.

Slide Rock State Park (PC: azswimmingholes.com)

The hike we chose to do was the Bell Trail that takes off from the Bell Rock Trailhead and encircles Courthouse Rock. It’s about a 4 mile loop and is pretty easy with hardly any hill climbing, unless you decide to climb up to the Vortex at Bell Rock. Start early, though! This parking lot can get packed. Many people just chose to go up to the Vortex and by the time we returned the parking lot was packed. And this, as I mentioned, was in March! It was a little drizzly when we started but it cleared off quickly and we were treated to a beautiful hike.

View from our AirBNB

Courthouse Butte

Baby Bell Rock

Bell Rock

Another hugely popular trail is the Cathedral Rock trail. The picture below is from our vantage point on the Bell Trail. But it does have its own trailhead. I imagine it’s a zoo in the summer. They were doing some work there to prevent people from parking on the entrance road as it is near a residential area.

But if you’re not into hiking there is still plenty of sightseeing to be done. Two places I recommend are Sedona Airport Scenic Lookout with spectacular vistas of the Sedona area and also the Chapel of the Holy Cross, which is built into the rock cliff face.

Last but certainly not least, there’s plenty of shopping to be done. On the north side of town on 89A there are plenty of the typical touristy shops to get souvenirs and such. I couldn’t help myself and posed in front of these cute pink Javelina.

But for a more upscale shopping experience wander over to Tlaquepaque Arts & Shopping Village on the west side of 179. Even though I didn’t buy anything they did have a lot of interesting shops and galleries and I enjoyed the pueblo-like atmosphere there. It’s very interesting to look at all the Sycamore trees which the buildings seem to be built around.

Overall, I have to say that Sedona was a pleasant surprise. It was very temperate in March and during the pandemic the crowds weren’t bad. Fall would also be a great time to go as well. If you’re coming to enjoy the water activities along Oak Creek, well, obviously March would not be a good time. But try to hit it before it starts to get scorching hot in the summer months.

Second Pandemic Refresh/Remodeling Project almost done!

If there’s one good thing about the Pandemic, it’s that it’s forced us to focus on some home projects. We plan to sell our house in a few years and it’s essential that we update it. Last year we did our master bath and we were so pleased with the results that we used most of the same tile choices, with the exception of the floor, in the refresh of our powder/guest room on our main floor.

This bathroom technically is not a powder room as it has a bath/shower, but it’s hard to call it a guest bath either as the room next door could not be classified as a bedroom as it doesn’t have a closet. However, it functions well enough as a guest room as we have a bed and a dresser. Good enough!

Anyhow, the builders of this house put wood floors in this bath. How dumb is that? Once the toilet did flood and we were in a panic. I guess it’s just as dumb as the carpet they put in the master bath. In the master bath we ripped out the carpet and put in gray plank tile. It is stunning! However, since I didn’t think it would make sense to have the plank tile intersect with the wood floor, we went with a matte porcelain tile that looks like marble. I’m really pleased with the end result. I was worried about ripping out the wood floor, but thankfully my contractor did a good job.

Plank tile in Master Bath

In the shower we used the same white wave tile and accent tile that we used in the master.

We are not quite done. We kept the same vanity and we’re having that painted. I’ll post pictures of the completed project in about another 2 weeks, along with the name of the tile we used as reference for those who are interested. In the meantime, enjoy a sneak peak with my cat.

My husband dodged a COVID bullet

My husband plays volleyball with a group of adults here locally in Colorado. Their volleyball facility closed down for a while But in the summertime they still got together and played at outdoor sand courts. They returned to playing at the club in the fall. It was operating at reduced capacity and requiring masks while they played.

My husband hasn’t gone in a few weeks. He did consider going this week but because we have contracters in our house, he thought it would safer not to go. Talk about a smart choice! He got a text from one of the team members this past Friday notifying people she had tested positive for COVID. Then another team member who had opted out this week said she was quarantining due to possible exposure.

I’m hoping my husband stays home all month now. We’re going to Arizona the first week of March and don’t want anything throwing a wrench into our plans. It seems like it’s getting harder and harder to avoid it as more people are letting their guard down.

One thing people must remember is that even if you have had the vaccine, you can still pass it on to others. The vaccine activates your body’s immune response but does not prevent you from being an asymptomatic carrier. Please please please continue to wear your mask and socially distance. I’m not crazy about my husband’s volleyball team. They’re Trump supporters and really don’t think COVID is a big deal. However, this might be a wake-up call for some. One was bemoaning the fact that he was going to miss a pickle ball match and a birthday party. The woman who caught it at first wasn’t going to notify the facility but reluctantly she agreed.

Stay safe! We still have a long ways to go!

Traveling in Florida during the Pandemic

My husband and I often do a January getaway to celebrate his birthday. Several months ago we decided to go to St. Augustine. While we knew it probably would be chilly as it is further north (it was!), we felt it was a bit safer than some other spots in Florida.

The plan was to fly directly to Jacksonville, the closest major city to St. Augustine, but sadly Southwest canceled our direct flight and put us on a route that went through Atlanta. Changing planes and being exposed to more people didn’t seem like a good plan. So we decided to fly to Orlando and do a 2-hour drive up to St. Augustine.

Thankfully, our flight to Orlando was not full, so we did have some spacing between us. However, the return was packed. It looked like a lot of people were returning home from Disneyworld. But people were all masked up and I’m keeping my fingers crossed. We flew in October on another packed flight to Tennessee and did fine. However, Florida is more of a hot spot now than Tennessee was then. Nonetheless, I am lying low since my return (which is pretty much all I do now anyhow) and limiting contact.

My first observation when I got to Florida is that people in the airport were generally good about mask wearing and social distancing. However, once outside, that seemed to change. As a resident of Colorado (more specifically, the very left-leaning county of Boulder) I am used to seeing people wearing masks pretty much everywhere. Even outdoors, many people wear them or will pull them up if they see people coming toward them on the walking paths or sidewalk.

But that was not the case in Florida. We stayed in a condo that we rented out through AirBNB. I was surprised that our property owner actually did an in-person check-in. Nowadays that’s pretty rare here in the US it seems. (AirBNB encourages property owners to allow self check-ins, although it’s not required.) The issue I had was that he did not wear a mask when he met us at the condo. Wow! That was very strange.

When we were out sightseeing it seems that people did comply with mask-wearing rules at attractions with paid entry. However, it was hit or miss at stores. Signs were posted that mask wearing was mandatory, but I saw people in stores without them. In grocery stores all the clerks wore them, but some customers did not. Back in Colorado they would be asked to leave or put one on. On St. George Street in St. Augustine (a popular tourist area) only about 50% of the people wore masks. What I found most astounding was that some shopkeepers had signs up about wearing masks, yet they did not wear one themselves. Okaaay! I also had clerks standing outside with samples approach me, sans mask. Talk about unacceptable! No wonder Florida is having problems. It’s like they are living in an alternate universe.

As for restaurants, all the servers I saw wore them. Like in Colorado you are asked to wear masks at your table until you order (although compliance there is not always observed) and if you get up to go to bathroom. We ate out only once per day at lunch since we wanted to do patio dining and it was a bit chilly, even with heat lamps. It seems like that was a popular choice with most people, although I did observe a large group of senior citizens (at least 30) eating inside at one restaurant. They were all seated closely and at the time had no masks on and no food in front of them (I don’t know if they had finished or had just ordered, but I would have thrown a mask on in that situation). I did observe at one coffee shop in St. Augustine, City Perks, that the baristas did not have on masks. That would be a big no-no in Colorado.

For the record there are roughly 4.5 million seniors in Florida. From what I saw in St. Augustine they were some of the worst offenders. Most of the younger tourists wore masks. I also was very impressed one day when I walking on the beach where they were doing some beach restoration work when the young construction worker pulled up his mask to talk to me to tell I couldn’t pass at that time. Good for him. I wish all of the residents in Florida would adopt this attitude. I love this state and I have traveled here many times, but some folks still seem to be in denial.

2016 PTSD – Election Night Eve

I just got back from a lovely walk with my pug Spanky. It’s hard to believe that a week ago we had snow and tonight it’s in the mid 50s (although it will get colder). Today it got up to 70.

Anyhow, late last week I was watching Stephen Colbert as I usually do before bed, and he referred to the anxiety so many are feeling here in the US as 2016 PTSD. So true! Everyone in my family has voted and we’re trying to be positive, but I remember four years ago feeling positive that we’d have our first woman president. Well, we all know what happened. In previous elections when the candidates I voted for didn’t win I never felt so down. But 2016 was different.

It’s been a long hard road to this election. The Covid-19 Pandemic has only made it worse. I hope people recognize Trump’s total mismanagement of it here in the US and vote him out. I know my 90-year-old aunt, a life long Republican, has voted for Biden. And the Lincoln Project gives me hope that other Republicans will vote for Biden. However, in the end, all we can do is wait and see because I don’t think anyone trusts pollsters anymore. Word is there might be a lot of “shy Trump supporters.” But as Colbert said, Trump supporters are anything but shy.

In the meantime, I’ve got a small bottle of bubbly chilling and on standby. It might be a few days, it might be a few weeks, or it might not happen at all. But at this point all we can do is pray.

Paris in the fall (2017)

Back in late September of 2017 we took a 3 week trip to Europe. The first week or so was spent primarily out in the English countryside. We then hopped on a train in Cambridge that took us to King’s Cross in London, then walked over to the International train station, St. Pancras, and boarded the Eurostar to Paris. Taking trains in Europe is definitely easy and economical. While you do have passport control and security, it is much quicker than the airport (you only need to arrive about 45 minutes before departure) and you can bring on liquids (yes, even a bottle of bubbly).

Transportation in the city

We took a taxi from the train station to our hotel in the 1st arrondissement of Paris (near the Louvre and across the Seine River from the Eiffel Tower. We paid about $50 for that taxi ride and he didn’t even take us all the way to the hotel. An outdoor concert was taking place nearby and he said the streets were closed off. We didn’t see evidence of street closures as we trudged our way through the rain to our hotel. So on the way back we used Uber. Much better. I think we paid about $30. We were just becoming comfortable with Uber. Do check before you travel to see if Uber operates in the country you’re going to. Uber has had some issues in London but last I heard they were once again cleared to operate. Hopefully, they are still operating in Paris.

Other than that we walked everywhere. We did not go to the Palace of Versailles. The easiest way to get there is the Metro. Next time!

Lodging

I wanted to stay closer to the Eiffel Tower in the 7th arrondissement. But my husband wanted to be closer to the river. Overall, I think either is a good choice. I think perhaps over near the Eiffel Tower there might be more dining options. But I cannot complain about our accommodations and staff at the Hotel Brighton. Even though it overlooks the busy Rue de Rivoli, it was quiet with large rooms. The location is very close to the Louvre and right across the street from the Tuileries Garden.

One thing we discovered is over on this side of town you should definitely ask the front desk to make dinner reservations for you. It is very hard to get a seat at good restaurants unless you do so. We did this the first two nights, but on our third night we did not do so and that was a big mistake. We ended up eating bad Chinese as no place had a seat.

Rue de Rivoli from our hotel room
Fall Colors in Jardin des Tuileries and the Eiffel Tower. (view from our hotel room)

Sightseeing

With 2 1/2 days planned for Paris, we had a relatively short list of places we wanted to see: The Eiffel Tower, the Louvre Museum, the Arc de Triomphe, and Notre-Dame. Why we did not include Palace of Versailles I’m not sure. Perhaps because we were just looking for walkable destinations. Looking back that was a mistake. I think I would have rather stayed an extra day in Paris and one less day in London.

Here’s a short recap of our visit:

Day 1: The Louvre

My dad lived in Paris in the early 1950s and had such great stories about it, including how you really needed a pair of roller skates to see the massive Louvre. He wasn’t kidding. Of course, you can’t but it sure would help. After all, it’s over 650,000 square feet, making it the world’s largest museum. Its most famous work by far is the Mona Lisa.

Right now of course Americans can’t travel to Europe so it’s pointless for me to talk about the entrance procedures. Those will most likely be more stringent than ever. But I will say do utilize advance ticket options and self-guided audio tours. We wandered haphazardly around the museum and spent way too much time there, retracing our steps and trying to figure out where to go next. My husband loves museums and even he admitted that we perhaps didn’t tackle the Louvre very well. We didn’t have any problem finding the Mona Lisa (lots of signs) but after that we really didn’t have a plan. We ended up spending most of our day there, as well eating our lunch in a cafe within the museum. Certainly our lack of planning was evident. In retrospect, we could have spent only an hour or two there and seen something else in the afternoon. However, we did get rain that afternoon so perhaps that’s the way it was meant to be!

Day 2: Eiffel Tower and Arc de Triomphe

It bears repeating. Paris is a very walkable city but it can be very hot during the summer, so try to go in fall or spring. We were there early fall and although we did get rain on the first day, the second day was magnificent. The walk to the Eiffel Tower along the Seine River was so scenic. They do have river boat tours but we did not do one. Perhaps in the hot summer, but on this beautiful day it was very enjoyable just to walk. Like any big city there’s lots of traffic, but it’s not as crazy as Rome or New York City, and directionally challenged North Americans don’t have to worry about cars coming from the wrong direction like in England.

The Pont Alexandre III Bridge

We did not need to make a reservation to go up the Eiffel Tower (I’ve heard that others have had to but perhaps we just got lucky. Here again, post pandemic entrance procedures are bound to change). By the time we arrived the clouds had moved on and we were treated to a spectacular view. I had never quite understood the fascination with the Eiffel Tower until I was there. It is truly worth while seeing in person.

After a leisurely al fresco lunch we headed back across the river to the Arc de Triomphe. It’s a little over a half hour walk, about 1.5 miles away from the Eiffel Tower. The weather was lovely so we hit the jackpot. Then, of course, you’ll want to walk the stairs to the top – a mere 284 steps. Or you can cheat and take an elevator to the mid level and it’s only 64 steps. Like the Eiffel Tower, seeing this monument, commissioned by Napoleon, is even more impressive in person. We then walked down the Avenue des Champs-Élysées. Sure, we popped in a few stores, but we mostly just enjoyed the uniquely French atmosphere.

Arc de Triomphe

Day 3 Notre-Dame

Our plan to see Notre-Dame was to walk there, take pictures, and then head back to the hotel before heading to the train station for our early afternoon train back to London. It was a pleasant half hour walk from our hotel. As expected, there were already long lines to go in. Having seen so many churches in England we didn’t really feel like we were missing out. Of course, had we known that a terrible fire would cause extensive damage to the structure a little over 18 months later, I think we have made the effort to go inside. But alas, who knew? Who expects this to happen to these magnificent structures? However, I count myself lucky that I was able to see it from the outside. Such a beautiful church. I hope they’re able to restore it.

I hope you’ve enjoyed my trip down memory lane. Some day we’ll all be able to travel again, as long as we continue to follow recommendations and take proper precautions.

Up and down weekend

I’ll start off with the good news! My oldest son rode his bike up Mt. Evans! That is one of the two 14,000 foot peaks in Colorado that have a road to the top, the other being Pikes Peak. Now, of course, he didn’t start at sea level, but his elevation gain was just over 7,000 feet and total round trip mileage was 58 miles. The elevation of Mt. Evans itself is 14,271 feet (4348 meters). This summer the road to the top is closed to cars due to Covid-19, so it did make it an ideal time (if there is such a thing!) to do it.

Doing this bike ride would be an accomplishment for anyone, but for my son, it is especially amazing. He has been a Type 1 diabetic for nearly 20 years. While he was young it was hard for him to compete in sports due to managing his blood sugars. But since he started wearing Dexcom’s Continual Glucose Monitor (CGM) five or so years ago, he has started to become more active. He now can look at his phone and know exactly what his numbers are without doing a finger prick. It’s truly an awesome medical device.

at the top of Mt. Evans 14,271 feet

Now about the downside of my weekend. I cut my finger on Saturday and required five stitches. I was cutting a watermelon and the knife got stuck. I yanked it out and it hit my finger. This is the second time I have cut my finger during the pandemic. The first time was on the tip of my pinkie while cutting an apple with a serrated knife. While not as deep it was a really tough one to bandage. I thought about going to the ER but I was a bit concerned as it was early on in the pandemic and we were in lock down. Fortunately, this second cut was easy to stitch, but it was sure painful when the doctor gave the lidocaine shots to numb my finger. I have put a picture below but don’t scroll down if you get queasy. I’m happy to say I haven’t had any throbbing at night, but I have to be careful still as it hurts if I knock it in to anything.

Ouch!