Travel

Vashon Island

Took a quick day trip to Vashon Island the other weekend to get outta town and get some more practice time with my camera. The island is about a 10 minute ferry ride from West Seattle and is far more rural than I’d expected. We spent most of the afternoon driving around, spotting farm animals and snapping pics. We also had lunch at The Hardware Store, which served solid sandwiches and delish fries.

Tell me about your favorite day trip? Where should we go next?

Seattle ferry boat SealthSeattle ferry boat SealthFDSC_0145FDSC_0181 FDSC_0184 FDSC_0187

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Quinault Lodge

Quinault LodgeJust thought I’d share a few thoughts from our quick side trip to Lake Quinault Lodge. We had some extra time to kill on the way down to the ocean over the new year holiday and I knew that it would be best spent headed back to a beloved childhood destination. My family spent many a mid-winter break (remember elementary school break?!) at the lodge. I’ve got nothing but THE BEST memories from this special place – swimming in the pool for hours on end, playing ping pong in the game room, sitting by the fire at night playing cards, hiking the nature trail – it was a lil slice of heaven for us kids. It’s also the place where we laid my grandpa to rest almost 18 years ago. In fact, the last time I saw him was on the way to the lodge, in the Duffy’s restaurant parking lot in Aberdeen. I recall him not looking well in the passenger’s side of their truck – he wasn’t able to go inside for his favorite slice of blackberry pie, which should have been a red flag for me. My teenage brain just didn’t comprehend how serious it was. Shortly thereafter he was admitted to the local hospital and passed away a few days later due to pneumonia complications. That parking lot was the last time I ever saw him.

His ashes, along with some of our dearest dogs, are spread on the Quinault River and not to get too morbid on you…I want to be put there too. It’s a beautiful, secluded spot miles up the river surrounded by moss covered trees and snow capped mountain sides. It’s so quiet, and so still. So peaceful. I haven’t been there in at least 15 years and it meant a lot to me to show my husband this special, special place, reminisce a bit and most importantly say hello to him. It had been far too long. I wrote him a message on the ice covered bridge, gave him the family updates and told him how much I missed him. It was a sad but extremely meaningful visit. I’m so glad we went. Lake Quinault Lodge Boathouse

Rain gauge at Quinault LodgeQuinault River, Washington State

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Winter escape: reminiscing about our favorite tropical vacations

We’re back from our annual NYE trip to the Washington Coast! I’ll share some photos with you later this week. Per usual, we had a fantastic time with fantastic people. It was sunny, but very cold which seems very contradictory when one is at the beach. Sand and warm weather go together IMO. So in honor of the true sun and sand combo, I’ve dug into the archives to find my five favorite tropical vacations. Enjoy with a side of margarita 🙂

PicMonkey CollageCabo San Lucas, March 2010
Granted, this trip was with the family but hey, it was a relaxing getaway anyways! I think I ate guacamole and chips for lunch nearly every day and poolside lounging was the no. 1 priority. My parents even sat through a boring timeshare meeting so we could get this awesome zip lining trip. This is one of the most fun activities I’ve ever done!

PicMonkey Collage2Panama, Fall of 2010
2010 was a big year of travel for us! We got invited to a close friend’s wedding in Panama and made a week-long trip out of it. Guests came in from all over the world and it was a big party moving from hostel to hostel until we arrived at the Al Natural Resort for the wedding. I will never forget staying in these rustic, wall-less cabins overlooking the ocean. Oh, and that beautiful beach wedding!

PicMonkey Collage3Tulum, May 2012
What can I say? I love me some Mexico! I found Tulum on a travel blog and those white, sandy beaches had me sold. We stayed in this funky little hotel right on the beach and spent our days swimming in cenotes and discovering the local ruins. I’d 100% go back to Tulum in a heartbeat! I even talked my parents into vacationing there this coming spring.

PicMonkey Collage4Austin, October 2012
I guess Austin isn’t exactly tropical, but it’s a warm destination compared to Seattle! We made a trip down south to visit our dear friends and take in Austin City Limits, our first major music festival. The beers flowed, BBQ consumed and the warm weather beat out those fall blues. What a cool, hip city to explore.

PicMonkey Collage5Jamaica, November 2014
Oh Jamaica and your all-inclusive resorts! Honeymooning there was the ultimate treat for us and the perfect unwinding destination after a stressful wedding. We even extended our stay to come home post-Thanksgiving. It was just that good. Quiet beaches, friendly people and bottomless drinks…pure heaven!

OK, I’m dying to hear about your favorite tropical vacation! Give me some ideas so I can start planning our next one 🙂

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Game of Thrones Self-Guided Tour through Croatia

Games of Thrones filming location in Dubrovnik, CroatiaOK, so I’m going to admit something very embarrassing…we based our trip on a show. Well not just any show, but Game of Thrones, the most epic of all shows in the entire world in my humble opinion. Some might have thought that it was the castles, or the history or even the people that enticed us halfway around the world. Nope, a TV show my friends. Ugh, we are SO American.

Game of Thrones self tour in Dubrovnik, Croatia - cultivatedrambler.com

I’m a HUGE fan so the thought of being able to see some of those beautiful filming locations live and in person = heaven to me. Croatia quickly rose to the top of the list and all of a sudden we had a 3.5 week trip planned and were headed to Eastern Europe. Obvi, after our initial research, we found a million other things to see and do so our trip wasn’t FULLY just about the show, but it was what got the ball rolling.

Trsteno Arboretum outside of Dubrovnik, Croatia - culitvatedrambler.comAs we were finishing up our final plans and reservations, I started looking into group tours because, I mean, that’s what’s important, right? And site after site showed some ridiculous prices, like $180 per person for a tour. #$%^&* I tried to justify it to myself, that we were coming here especially for Game of Thrones and how could we NOT go on an official tour. But my practical side couldn’t pull the trigger. That amount was days’ worth of meals and sightseeing for us and blowing it all in three to four hours didn’t seem right. I was depressed, I was let down, I was uber bummed…but then I came across this website.

Now I could see all of the sights without draining the bank account. Granted, we’d probably not get those insider scoops as to which actress was a pain to work with and what actor liked to skinny dip in the ocean but whateves. This gal was going to make it happen.

The walls of Old Town Dubrovnik - cultivatedrambler.comWe ended up seeing quite a few of the sites and in the end I got the taste of the show that I so desperately sought. If you happen through Croatia and want to see some of the sights, be sure to check out that blog! It’s a great resource for us Game of Thrones fans out there.

Kliss Fortress, Split Croatia - cultivatedrambler.comDiocletian's Palace cellars in Split, Croatia - cultivatedrambler.com

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Transportation in Eastern Europe

Transportation in Eastern Europe - cultivatedrambler.comWhile there were plenty of unknowns for our trip abroad, the most concerning thing for me was transportation. For some reason, I couldn’t find a ton of information on the subject which made me uber nervous. Our entire trip revolved around getting from point A to point B in a timely manner and any hiccups could have really thrown a wrench in things. I’m happy to report that we had zero issues despite my heightened anxiety. Phew!

So I thought I would recap our various modes of transportation to help those of you who might be making your way to Eastern Europe sometime soon.

Flights
OK, everyone knows how to book a flight. NBD. I set up a kayak.com alert and watched a few possible arrival cities to see which would be cheapest. I originally wanted to start our journey in Prague, but prices never went down so we ended up flying into Amsterdam, which saved us a couple hundred dollars. I know horrible, right? 🙂 We flew through Iceland, had a short 60 minute layover then took a three hour flight to the Netherlands. The flight was quite comfortable and I never felt like we were seated FOREVER. I bought these tickets (through Icelandair) with no return flight knowing that we’d save some cash booking them separately.

Getting from Amsterdam to Prague was another quick flight. The train would have taken us 12 hours and the flight was maybe an hour? Looking back, I should have just bought us the Seattle to Prague tickets as it was about the same cost as our two flights. Oh well! Lesson learned.

We booked our return flight with Condor, which I had read HORRIBLE reviews about. I told the hubby to prepare for the worst and it actually ended up being a really great flight (10 hours to Seattle from Frankfurt plus a short two hour flight from Dubrovnik to Frankfurt). The outer rows of the plane were just two seats wide, so we had our own little space to ourselves. They served us two meals plus a snack during our 10 hour flight and we each had our own TV. Economy seating was plenty comfortable for us. I wouldn’t hesitate to book with this airline again. AND a $500 plane ticket from Dubrovnik via Frankfurt to Seattle is like the best deal ever!

Trains
Trains, oh trains. How I wanted to love you but ended up hating you. Granted, you got us where we needed to go but man, do you have to be so uncomfortable? I had romantic notions of all of these train rides from city to city, but alas night trains are definitely not that.

Since we were taking two night trains (Prague to Krakow and Krakow to Budapest), I wanted to be sure we got the cabins we needed so we booked these before our trip. I used this blog to help navigate the booking websites as they were VERY confusing. I also found it helpful to get to the train station early and check in at the counter to make sure your documents were in order. For some reason, we still had a buy a general train ticket even though we had a cabin, which were upwards of $180 dollars for us. A minor inconvenience, but what can you do?

The sleeper cabins hold up to three people and there’s a special way you can book them to get it to yourself, which we did. I can’t imagine piling three people in one of those small cabins! The beds are fairly uncomfortable with a thin mattress and tiny pillow, but they keep the rooms warm. Both offered a croissant and coffee or tea in the morning. I found all of the train conductors to be helpful, friendly and English-speaking. You hand over your passport and tickets for the Krakow to Budapest train and they hold them for you the entire night – just an FYI. I know it’s hard to let a passport go, but no worries, it’s safe.

We did take one short day train ride from Ljubljana to the Croatia border, which was quite nice and more like I had imagined. I loved seeing the countryside go by! We shared a cabin with a young English couple and had a good time chatting them up. We bought these tickets the day before, but could have bought them the day of and would have been fine.

In conclusion, the train system is a necessary evil.

Buses
Buses were never part of the plan, but after Budapest shut down their station during the initial refugee crisis, we decided it might be wise to have a backup plan. Instead of the train, we took a Eurolines bus from Budapest to Ljublana, which was unfortunately not direct. I think it was $30 per person, which is a steal of a deal if you are looking for budget travel.

We spent eight hours on a cramped bus with two border stops since we had to pass through Croatia twice. I think those two stops took up about three hours of that drive time. Lots of on and off the bus and showing passports to border patrol. The buses do stop for bathroom and snack breaks too, but you are looking at gas station eats. We were definitely not in love with the bus, but it was great to have a back-up option.

Renting a Car
After bus and train rides, it was a major luxury to have a car again. We rented a small two door from Sixt, which ran us $325 for five days. We rented it from Zagreb, Croatia, drove it to Plitvice Lakes and Split, Croatia then to Mostar, Bosnia and finally returning it to Dubrovnik, Croatia. I’d read that Croatia’s public transportation wasn’t super convenient so figured this was a good option for us to cover the most ground.

Renting a car in a different country is always a bit stressful, but let me tell you, Croatia is totally easy people! Make sure you have some sort of navigation system and a back-up old school map…oh and maybe some snacks and you are good to go 🙂 Small bills are necessary too as they’ve got some toll roads. Unlike the U.S., people aren’t bumper to bumper commuting all day long. We never ran into any traffic and the main highways were easy to drive on and navigate. Croatians do love to speed though!

We crossed the Croatian/Bosnian border twice on our little road trip and I must admit, I had a bit of stress leading up to the first one. I just didn’t know what to expect. Luckily, there was no line and we drove right up to the booth, showed them our passports and were on our way. Smooth sailing! The crossing back into Croatia was pretty much the same, with maybe five cars in line.

I would definitely recommend renting a car in Croatia. Having the freedom to just pull over at any time to admire the views is worth its weight in gold. It was the best way to see the country for sure.

So what are your favorite modes of transportation when you’re in a new country? Do you like the freedom of the road or is public transportation your jam?

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