[Dec 2012 - Jan 2013] It was time to turn cold weather into winter fun in December 2012 as three couples braved the snow and headed to bustling Steamboat, Colorado where we would ring in the new year donning ski boots and scarves. We met up in Denver and drove our rental minivan through the gorgeous mountains toward Steamboat where our friend Meghan and her family have a condo nestled in the snow. This condo did the trick… offering a mere walk down a picturesque hill to the main chair lifts which bring some of the best skiing in the U.S. Our sunset drive offered great views and we were happy to find home, check out the digs, and play some couples Scattergories with a couple beers before getting some rest for the big day ahead.
The next day was spent getting our gear and heading up the massive slopes. Our group of six [Meghan, Jack, Molly, Joe, Tom and myself] spent this crisp, sunny day taking in the views as we skied blissfully down the hundreds of runs on this freshly-powdered paradise. Sweating through our jackets after hours of joy, we found respite at the local pub at the bottom of the mountain, sipping much-deserved pitchers of cold Colorado brew. Back at the condo, we defrosted in sweats and enjoyed a homemade pasta meal before dipping our chilled bodies in the outdoor hot tub and drinking the night away.
Day two of skiing wasn’t unlike the first, except our sunny air was replaced with mountain fog and falling flurries. We carried on nonetheless and enjoyed the backside of this glorious mountain, finding our niche in hidden runs and beautiful tree-lined paths.
Later that night we fancied up for the big night out on the town… it was New Year’s Eve! We rode the convenient bus downtown and ate seafood and burgers at a local spot before heading to the bar scene sporting festive hats and crowns. Arriving early, we scored a long table right off the dance floor and proceeded to order the infamous beer towers standing several feet high. Now this was our kind of place! Tower after tower disappeared into our thirsty bellies and our dance moves progressed accordingly. Before we knew it the countdown was on… We kissed our chapped lips and welcomed 2013 in an excited state of delight. Soon, confetti and streamers covered the place as we caused quite the raucous and moved on to the next bar. In the wee hours of the morning, we rode the bus packed with fellow NYE revelers back to our sleepy home.
Day three was planned around our inevitable hangovers… so flying down an unforgiving mountain at lofty speeds with two skinny planks attached to our feet was thankfully not part of the plan. Instead, the plan was relaxation at a beautiful oasis in the mountains. That oasis is the unforgettable Strawberry Park Hot Springs, a plethora of natural hot springs tucked deep into the forested mountain. A long winding drive up the narrow pathway was met with entry to this hangover cure as we traded coats for bikinis and tested the various temperatures in the many pools. Surrounded by the unmatched beauty of tall evergreens blanketed in glistening white snow, we relaxed in the perfectly soothing water in a state of serenity. I could have stayed for hours, but as our skin became pruned we changed back and headed home to a lovely sunset walk around the village and endless games of catchphrase before heading out to a Mexican feast at the base of the mountain.
Our final full day was another of perfect sunny weather high in the mountains. This day was probably our best skiing yet… we found amazing untouched trails and challenged the fresh powdery slopes of every size. We couldn’t get enough! We reenergized with a beer and hot cocoa break in the gorgeous mountaintop cabin lodge and enjoyed our last few hours of skiing before returning our gear and heading to the nightly ritual of the hot tub. Our last night we enjoyed one last dinner downtown and did a little barhopping to celebrate such a successful trip.
[November 4, 2011] A somewhat impromptu girls’ trip was at hand in the Fall of 2011… so me, my mom Diane, and older sister Ashley would venture to the Big Apple for some quality girl time, (and some visits with my brother, Zach). The guarantees: a lot of shopping, a lot of cocktails, a lot of laughs.
Our flight was fun-filled… compliments of several mini bottles of lemon and black cherry vodka that Diane stealthily snuck on the plane. Before we knew it we had arrived in New York City and were greeted by Zach who brought us to one of his favorite local spots for cheap and authentic Indian cuisine. The place was adorable – we haggled for free appetizers while sitting below thousands of red festive lights… you even had to duck to walk below the starry ceiling. The food was of honorable mention… from the veggie paneer all the way to the tandoori chicken and buttery naan. WOW. It seemed my taste buds had transported me all the way back to India.
We washed down the spicy goodness with cheap beers bought at the convenience shop across the street, and capped the night with a few too many light beers brewed at one of my favorite NYC past-times… McSorley’s Old Ale House, [established in 1854]. One bar later and we were agreeably exhausted from the exciting day. Back to the room, we faced an imminent struggle to remove Diane’s tall boots from her swollen feet. That we did, and turned in for some much-needed shuteye.
The crisp morning brought a stroll, (lattes in hand), down the financial district, and then onto SoHo. With nowhere to be, we were thrilled with our “no agenda” day, and turned to window shopping in the lower west side. SoHo is a wonderful, somewhat underrated gem of Manhattan. The adorable shops, quiet side streets, and fashion-forward shopping bring the place to life. We spent all day wondering modestly through the shops, mostly looking, and buying a couple things here or there… To rest our sorry soles, we had Bloody Mary breaks at Gatsby’s pub, and a search for the “world’s best” chocolate cake shop, which turned out to be rather disappointing.
We later fancied up in our pint-sized hotel room for the night ahead… and met Zach downtown at the delicious Gradisca, a favorite of my parents’ for dining in NYC. We sipped the best martinis, pureed with fresh passion fruit, and dined on small plates and meats. Next stop was the trendy Bubble Lounge – an exclusive champagne bar serving delicious handmade cocktails and expensive bubbly. We sat on the swanky couches watching young socialites and rich entrepreneurs, pretending to fit in. A few cocktails later, I was anything but fitting in with my self-made dance party.
The last morning us girls enjoyed coffee outside a small café before visiting Zach’s new apartment and checking out his slightly above average, college-style digs. A long wait was in store at a local Brooklyn diner, after which we bid adieu to Zach and continued our “girls take over Manhattan” film reel. We jumped on the subway headed back across the bridge into Manhattan, where we played the ultimate tourists in visiting Radio City, Rockefeller Center, and Times Square. I played photographer and we scarfed down street hot dogs which were admittedly less than fulfilling. Chicago hotdogs prevail… no contest.
Our last few hours were spent sheltered from the rain in over-priced stores, and finally, the woman’s dream that is Bergdorf Goodman. We explored each floor and laughed at the ridiculous price tags, finally gawking at the gorgeous Christian Louboutin shoe art, which left us wanting. Diane refused, despite our best sister efforts, to purchase the $700 pair of Valentino patent pumps, so off we went to catch our flight… no shopping bags in tow. Nonetheless, it was a trip that was short but oh so sweet. No one telling us where to be or what to do, the city was ours so we did nothing but enjoy. In our books, it was a success. After all, girls just want to have fun…
Torrey and “Tommy Bahama” - Bahaman Cruise: South Beach (Miami, Florida), Key West (Florida); Nassau (Bahamas); Coco Cay (Bahamas)
For Christmas of 2010 I decided to surprise my boyfriend Tom with a vacation to the Bahamas! I found a great deal and booked without hesitation –
this was going to be epic… our first “real” vacation (no raccoons here!) and Tom’s first time out of the country. So we got him a passport before celebrating Christmas, brought in the New Year (2011) – and off we were!
The quick flight brought us to Miami, Florida for the night–
where we paid a ridiculous $50 on a taxi to our budget/dump hotel in the ghetto. (South Beach is for celebrities… not us.) We dressed up and got the hell out of our dumpy room for the night, crossing into the star-studded South Beach for an evening to remember. The strip was fantastic – Gucci-wearing jetsetters browsing
boutiques lining the cobblestone walkways – Italian lights on palm trees swaying above countless outdoor eateries… we weren’t in the ghetto anymore. After
exploring a bit we decided on a mid-priced restaurant where we imbibed on cocktails and enjoyed homemade shrimp pasta over candlelight. After dinner I convinced Tom to sit at one of the ritzy hookah lounges calling our names where we enjoyed some apple hookah straight from the pipe.
The night wasn’t over as we had to explore the famed clubs! The strip of bars lining the beach was impressive… the over-served patrons were not.
We settled at “Clevelanders”, a bar complete with a dance floor over a pool which winds through the entire outdoor establishment. Pretty cool to say the least. After deciding we had spent enough money for one night, we took the pricey taxi back to our side of town.
The next morning we hauled our luggage back to the strip where we grabbed cheap bagels and spent the morning at Miami Beach. The water was blue, the sun was shining, and our whole Cruise was ahead of us! After a while it was time to get on the ship: “Majesty of the Seas”. We checked in, reluctantly participated in the mandatory safety run, and sipped some mojitos to celebrate our departure. The ship was stacked with two large pools, hot tubs, a club,
piano bar, casino, theatre, dining rooms, and Johnny Rockets. The food was endless and the drinks kept coming. We entered heaven for the next 4 days.
Bob Marley rang through the speakers as we waved goodbye to the Miami skyline setting in the sun. A fancy dinner was to follow where we ordered the cheapest bottle of red and couldn’t decide between entrees so ordered two each. (This repeated every evening… fat.)
That night we gambled in the casino,
watched the live pianist, and danced in the club. Not too shabby.
The next morning we awoke to all-you-can-eat breakfast and the Florida Keys! We ferried over to Key West and explored the tiny town for the day. I loved the vibe here – pastel summer homes lined the streets where fresh
flowers were blooming and adorable shops sold trinkets and takeaways. There were an odd number of Key Lime Pie shops, and plenty of beer gardens where it is
perfectly legal to walk the town with cold brews. We of course did. We made it to Ernest Hemingway’s house, the beach, and the Southernmost Point of the
continental US… just 90 miles to Cuba. Back on the ship hours later we relaxed in the hot tub before Tom decided to join the main event… the Belly Flop contest. My man placed second with the whole ship watching…
We just had to indulge in Johnny Rockets burgers and milkshakes with a view of pure ocean… only to dress up for another extravagant dinner just
a few hours later. Fat.
We later caught a show in the theatre with live singing and dancing, followed by some time in the piano bar where I spontaneously joined the pianist with some singing of my own.
Ah… there is nothing like a morning at sea. To sunbathe on the ship deck and see nothing but cobalt blue waves in the distance is pure serenity. To add a bucket cheap Fosters beers is ideal. We could have done this all day, but as we saw the Atlantis resort freshly painted corral and beaming in the distance, we were immediately anxious to explore Nassau...
Now I must admit – my obsession with the Mary-Kate and Ashley flick “Holiday In The Sun” took large part in my excitement to see the famed Atlantis resort in my pre-teen years… I had been dreaming of coming here since I was a skinny fourteen year old twin wannabe. So as Tom and I ferried over to the strip of white sand claimed by the massive resort, I cared less about the celebrity homes our driver was pointing out and more about the destination.
Once we arrived, the place was as magical as I’d imagined. Perfectly groomed beaches and lush gardens were met with unbelievable aquariums housing dancing fish of every color. Every once and a while a massive manta ray would swim by, or a dolphin, or shark. WOW.
Tom and I refused to fork over $60 each to simply swim there for the day, so after getting frustrated with what the over-priced packages had to offer, we forfeited and found the only free public beach to rest our towels.
Cabbage beach was no eyesore with its pure blue waters, crashing waves, and silky soft sand. As the sun set we decided to walk towards the Atlantis just to
see how close we could get to the beach without being thrown out. Turns out we could walk right in from the back without being spotted by security! It was surreal. We were walking the entirety of the grounds at sunset, without a sole in site. We went to every lagoon, beach, and fountain. We even went inside and enjoyed the free aquarium exhibit where we held starfish and saw alien-like
underwater creatures that blew our minds. We enjoyed cocktails (we snuck them
from our room on the cruise ship) on the beach alone at dawn.
After getting our fill of Atlantis, we just had to stop at the Senor Frog’s – Nassau edition. We shared a couple of Coronas in the raging bar held on stilts above the ocean before making our way back to the ship.
We somehow drunkenly dressed up for another fancy dinner/theatre combo that evening, followed by a dance party on the top deck where I had dance-offs with the ship’s professional dancers courtesy of some liquid courage.
Our last day full day on the ship was sad. We forced away our hangovers to be the first to meet Coco Cay Island… we were also the last to leave. This place was euphoric. Sure it was fake and all man-made, but who
cares? What Coco Cay lacked in authenticity it made up for in beauty. Tom napped on our slice of paradise while I swam and held my own self-timer photo shoot. We
walked the perimeter of the island and decided to rent a paddle boat and float out to sea. We could see the corral right through the clear water, and even ran into a large-scale stingray. This day was my favorite – it was painful to leave. I knew we had full-time desk jobs and a nasty winter ahead of us back home. Couldn’t we just hide in a palm tree and leave on the next ship over? Tom and I both agreed we could live here at least for a few months.
Our last night was one of decadence with a fancy seafood dinner, a comedy show, and the final onstage performance by the Cruise line entertainers.
We stayed up on the ship deck looking at the stars until our eyes wouldn’t stay open. It was back to reality tomorrow. Snowy Chicago was calling our names…
While some travelers frown upon package vacations or Cruises in general, I for one am I fan. Is it true adventure? No. But that makes it no less enjoyable for me. After Tom’s first cruise he confidently decided he was sold, and dubbed himself a “cruise guy”… so I am sure this will not be our last.
As though our taller-than-average, more obnoxious-than-average family does not have enough going on, we used to try to squeeze in a family trip on our 2 and a half bedroom boat each year… exploring the coast of Lake Michigan along the way. The summer of 2010 was no different as we took a quick jaunt to South Haven, Michigan for a long weekend trip.
(If interested for some reason, click here for tales of the first boat trip I posted about).
So after the speedy trip across the lake and over to the tiny beach town of South Haven, we plopped our boat in the marine for a few nights of fun. The first day began with sunbathing on the local beach where some harmless banter turned into a full-fledged wrestling match in the sand. It was truly outrageous yet somehow entertaining. We washed off in the waves and took turns flipping on the beach. I impressed with my one-handed cartwheel while not spilling the beer in my other hand. My sister Ashley soon repeated the trick must to my dismay.
I drowned my sorrows in a gluttonous amount of BBQ ribs before finishing the night with strong long island iced teas at The Idler, the ship-turned-bar… and some raging karaoke.
The next day was the annual dog show – and as my family and I are self-proclaimed creepy canine lovers, we joined right in. After a biased vote, we decided our dogs Lucy and Ethel were much cuter than any other dogs so we left and got ice cream in town. We spent the next 20 hours of our lives playing Trivial Pursuit. I prevailed as the smartest of the Szofers.
(Dad must not have been participating).
We dolled up that evening to enjoy a fancy dinner in celebration of my brother Zach’s twentieth birthday in town complete with smoky steaks and tasty red wine. The next day was another lazy one spent lounging on the beach.
This was followed by a beautiful sunset with even more beautiful alcohol at The Idler. The End.
For Photos from this trip, see Michigan in the Photos page or click here.
Since my brother Zach was still a student at NYU and the weather was warming up, Tom and I decided to take advantage and head out for a long weekend in the Big Apple. It was our first flight together (4/8/2010) and Tom, without many flight tickets to his name thus far, stared out the plane window practically the whole time. We arrived to a gorgeous sunny day in Manhattan and watched passerbys as we waited for Zach to greet us in Union Park. The buzz of artsy college hipsters vying for places in the spotlight was ever so present… the city of lights where dreams come true. After a quick tour of my brother’s typical dorm room (a 4 by 4 room with posters taped lazily to the tired walls) we were off on the subway to enjoy the day. We refused to use a cab the entire weekend and succeeded.
Our first stop: Times Square. This was not my first time in NYC – my dad took me for my sixteenth birthday – so a lot of my enjoyment came from seeing Tom experience the metropolis for the first time. Honestly, Times Square was just as overwhelming on my second visit with the over-the-top ads, lights, shops, and mass of tourists. Tom and I took some photos, explored Toys’R’Us complete with a full sized ferris wheel inside, passed the famous Radio City music hall and NBC studios, and made our way to Rockefeller Center. We watched some ice skaters and tried to envision the countless concerts and memorable shows which have taken place at that very spot.
Next it was time to see the skyline from a higher perspective… 104 floors up to be exact. Elevator after elevator transported us up to the top of the Rockefeller building where we were free to roam around outside and take in the insurmountable views. The picture perfect sights of gaping Central Park on the north and the Empire State Building on the south were enough to keep us up there for over an hour taking it all in. Afterwards we made our way back to ground level where we walked 5th Avenue and met Tom’s good buddy Steve Valenta (living and working in NY post-college) for some fun. We reunited at a local pub where Steve’s company was hosting a free (yes, free!) happy hour of delicious bar food and bottomless kegs.
A few hours and few too many beers later, we made it back to the NYU dorm where we met Zach’s roommates, fancied up, and made our way back downtown to Zach’s theatre production dubbed ‘Rehearsal!’… a small yet entertaining compilation of amateur writing and hilarious scenarios. My brother of course played the over-the-top buffoon which he does so well. After the play Tom and I tried out Zach’s motorized scooter and had a few dark beers before meeting back up with Steve and Tom’s other friend Mike Anello who was visiting for the weekend as well. It was a night to remember with people we rarely get to see.
The slight hangover and overcast skies failed to damper our moods as we set out early the next morning to explore more of this enchanting town. We happily left the air mattress on the less-than-sanitized dorm floor, grabbed a traditional street vendor hotdog, and were off to Battery Park on the southern tip of Manhattan. We were both pleased to buy some knockoff illegal goodies by
haggling street sellers while we waited in line for our ferry ride to Ellis Island. As we sailed closer to the monumental Statue of Liberty, I tried to
picture myself as an immigrant years ago who saw the torch-holding lady as their ticket to freedom. The Statue is remarkable from every angle, and absolutely massive from below! (I had never been to see it before, so this was a treat for both of us). We explored the disappointing Ellis Island Immigrant Museum next, and once back on land made our way to the financial district and the unnerving spot where the Twin Towers once stood. This was before the memorials were
constructed and the emptiness brought chills to my spine.
It was time for some R & R so we found the oldest pub in NYC, McSorley’s, on behalf of my parents’ wonderful suggestion. We were so happy to
enjoy this gem of the city! The place has not been vacuumed since its erection
in 1854, so the ambiance is that of faded newspaper clippings covering the
walls, spider webs and dust hanging from the age-old light fixtures, and tiny
mugs of beer served four at a time which come in just two options: light or
dark. Yum! We ended up staying longer than planned as we wet our whistles on
tiny mug after mug of light brew, bringing us back in time.
There was no time to freshen up for our romantic night on the
town so we headed straight for Chinatown and then made our way to our destination: Little Italy. Benvenuto!
Ciao Bella! We were yelled at in Italian from all sides of the street – the chefs competing for us to enter their restaurant and try their homemade pastas. The smell of tomato sauce and fresh garlic envelopes the quaint cobblestone
street decorated in Italian lights hanging overhead. It was as perfect as I’d imagined…which made choosing a place to open our wallets quite the challenge.
Though we were starving, we made our way up and down the entirety of the street to experience the little pleasures and finally chose ‘Pellegrino’s’ where we enjoyed mouth-watering homemade pastas and a bottle of red wine amongst fellow patrons of New York. It is still one of our favorite dates we’ve had.
A quick change at Zach’s dorm and we were hauling our bags to Steve’s chic and impressive apartment where we were met with a pregame party of over 30 guests. Steve and his gang brought us to their favorite New York hotspot – home to flat screens lining the bar which played 80’s music videos the whole night.
A drunken dance party of course ensued.
Rise and shine for our last day in NYC – the city that literally never sleeps! Steve joined Tom and I on a walk through SoHo where I taught them how to haggle for stolen merchandise and cheap knockoff watches and sunglasses. We followed with brunch in Madison Square Park, saw the famous flatiron building, and took a brief pit stop in the Museum of Sex where Tom and I were
sporadically interviewed by the Dr. Oz show. Yes, we made it on the show; no, the dirty stuff did not. Phew.
A relaxing and picturesque afternoon in Central Park was to follow. Tom and I climbed around like kids, duplicated a photo my parents took when they were dating, and laid on the grass among blooming Spring trees. Zach
met us with some grade-A grass which led me to puke in the middle of the day in Central Park. Guess I can cross that off my bucket list. Our threesome enjoyed
the sunset before Tom and I parted for Times Square again where we spontaneously bought cheap tickets to a live stand-up comedy show. We later changed at Steve’s apartment and tried to make it out before basically falling asleep at the bar. It is safe to say we packed it all in… We left the next morning with “New York, New York” playing in our heads.
Two nights in a hotel, unlimited beer, a couple of meals, all-day ski pass, ski rentals... all for $125 bucks? It was decided… Cascade Mountain, Wisconsin here we come! I had been to this ski spot (just a 3 ½ hour drive due north of Chicago) many times before. I went four seasons in a row with pals from high school, so it was good to go back. Tom’s four siblings and their friends, plus our friends Joe and Molly soon met up in the tiny town of America’s Dairyland. Is it the best skiing? Far from it. But with the right people, a small adventure can be great fun.
Our first night was spent chugging beers in the hotel event room. We unfortunately dried all of the kegs with our ravenous thirst that first night, finally calling it quits at 4am. Tom was the first to wake the gang way
too early for comfort with a typical “Yes you can” motivational speech to rid our minds of the pressing hangovers. We obediently geared up and hit the slopes.
We had great fun with the many runs, jumps, and moguls. At one
point some of our fellow skiers (not to be named) reluctantly snapped off their skis to walk down the moguls run rather than brave the scary humps.
We laughed it off with some beers in the lounge. After a few more hours conquering the fun runs and stomach-turning jumps, Tom and I became bored of the short runs and bravely opted to trade our four skis for two boards…
There we were, two amateurs desperately teaching ourselves to snowboard. Being it was my second time trying to surf on snow I faired surprisingly mediocre, hitting the main runs and keeping up with friends. Tom had no such fate. Some bad wipeouts and a pretty severe concussion later, we were spent.
We got back to the hotel, checked Tom’s pupils for signs of brain damage, and recovered with a few early beers. Later we joined Joe and Molly in the hotel hot tub for some R & R. It was a short but sweet trip with great friends… it had been another skiing success!
The six hour drive is not stopping us… me, my sister Ashley, brother Zach, and mom Diane piled into a spacious SUV on our journey to the familiar Boyne City, at the northern tip of Michigan, to ski Boyne Mountain –
arguably the best skiing without having to board a plane. Boyne Mountain is like a hidden gem to my family and I. The large amount of long ski runs, consistently
ridiculous amount of fresh snow, off-roading tree runs, icy Black Diamonds, and tasty white bean chili have us coming back for more year after year. Our trip there was not without some drama as Diane forgot a key aspect of a roadtrip…. Gas. The fuel tank soon went from “E” to zero, leaving our foursome stranded on a desolate road in 3 feet of snow. Zach tried to emulate a“man’s man” by
trekking to a local gas station and filling up a gallon, only to realize his lack in car expertise as he could not figure out how to dispense the fuel into our thirsty tank. Thank goodness for a friendly lumberjack who towed our car and helped get us back in business.
A few hours later we had arrived at the adorable ski town. We wasted no time in strapping on some rental boots and hitting the slopes for our first nighttime ski. We skied in between beers at the bar “Eagle’s Nest” perched
atop the slopes, and later thawed out by the fire with a
cozy game of Scrabble.
The next day was all about the skiing! We found some amazing trails hidden in the back slopes behind the chair lifts… the snow was untouched and the trees whipped by as we cut in between obstacles left and right. After some quick hot cocoa and white bean chili at our favorite pub in town, we were off again until the sun slipped away. Diane, the good sport she is, was challenged to some steep icy edges in the pitch black (clearly we weren’t skiing where anyone could find us), and our spills kept on coming. Eventually we tired and turned to the comfort of pizzas, pitchers of brew, and an intense game of Monopoly. We were having so much fun we failed to nightski, knowing we had another long day on the slopes ahead.
Our last day was spent conquering new runs and enjoying laugh after laugh. Our gang can get pretty silly, especially when purposely avoiding the rules of the road. Sometimes we think we are expert skiers that can handle
towering moguls on Black Diamond runs, only to make our way down having a contest of who will fall the least. Were we exhausted and soaked in melted snow?
But our stomachs were as sore as our legs after a weekend of laughs.
Tom, high school football coach of the Lincolnway East Griffins, was given a coaching opportunity to go to St. Louis after the team’s nearby playoff game to scout an opponent. This meant a free night in a hotel in the small city of Missouri and a few free meals, so of course Tom and I jumped at the chance. After watching the Griffins lose in the playoffs, (meaning we didn’t even have to do the scouting), we drove on to St. Louis that evening. We were psyched to see the huge Gateway Arch greeting us from the expressway, lit up in full force. We drove around the city a bit, passing the Cardinals baseball stadium and a few other recognizable sites, before checking into our surprisingly swanky hotel which upgraded our room just because. We were granted a deluxe corner suite with wall-to-wall windows displaying a full view of the Arch… it looked so close you could jump to it!
We dressed up for a night out on the famed boardwalk, Laclede’s
Lady, exploring the nightlife. Two pulled pork sandwiches and a few beers later, we were having great fun bar-hopping until later in the evening when some not-so-friendly looking characters emerged from the darkness. We took this opportunity to leave the boardwalk and hit up a Casino where Tom won a random $50 off one coin in a slot machine.
The next morning we left our fancy suite to explore the streets. We opted to wait in the hour long line for a ride to the top of the Gateway Arch, the tallest memorial in the United States – and we are so glad we did! We got our ticket numbers and perused the mediocre museum built into the basement below the Arch before being paraded with other tourists like cattle into a dark tunnel. We joined three other people into a little white pod reminiscent of an alien spaceship from “Men In Black”, snapped on seatbelts, and were in for the ride. All of a sudden we were picking up a shocking amount of speed… our little alien pod swinging back and forth like crazy all the way up in darkness. At the top, we were allotted 15 minutes to gape out the pea-sized windows on all sides, admiring the cityscape below. This really gave a perspective of how high we had traveled in such a short span (630 feet to be exact)… it was scary to see.
After being transported back to ground level safely, we wandered the streets in search of a cute local restaurant. No such luck, so we settled on Hooters. Don’t judge. The wings were great and we were waited on by the St. Louis Hooter of the Year, so I’d say it was a win. Our short stint in St. Louis gave us a good perspective of the small yet vibrant city. Our last night we drove to Tom’s old college stomping-grounds, Illinois State, and partied the night away at familiar hotspots with good friends. We had once again mastered the jam-packed weekend trip on a budget.
Travel can range from fabulous jet-setting to faraway lands, all the way to measly adventures easy on the pocketbooks. My boyfriend Tom and I couldn’t quite afford any fancy vacations just a few months out of college, (not even a quaint bed and breakfast was within budget), so the Fall and Winter of 2009 brought some drivable getaways rewarding us with some unexpected adventure.
First came the next best thing to a hotel or hostel… a tent. After a stop at Costco to fill up on hotdogs and beer, we drove over 2 hours east into Buchana, Michigan to an adorable camping resort, Fuller’s. The sizeable camp grounds have been around since 1887, giving them a vibe of simpler times and small pleasures. Tom and I set up camp at the top of a hill, hidden beneath some of the tallest trees I’ve seen. We were the only ones on the hilltop that night which brought absolute serenity. After unloading our massive tent and food, we made our way down to the beach where we napped and swam away the afternoon.
We cozied up by a fire, roasted hotdogs, burgers, and
marshmallows, and sipped champagne out of red Solo cups. Our slumber was peaceful until we were unpredictably disturbed in the middle of the night.
Knowing we were the only humans on the hill that night and fighting the pitch black surroundings, we pondered at what could be causing the ruckus just a few feet from our tent. Was it a bear? A deer? A lioness? Frozen in fear, I sent Tom out with a flashlight to investigate. Sure enough, a mischievous raccoon had found our bag of marshmallows accidentally left outside by yours truly.
The next morning we awoke to a beautiful sunny day and an empty bag of marshmallows. We set out for the beach again and met up with a co-worker of Tom’s and his charming girlfriend. The foursome enjoyed some beach volleyball
and swimming – and just as a rainstorm began to set in, I noticed something out in the distance along the shore… a giant blob! Of course the next move was to sneak over to the three-story wooden platform leading to the giant, air-filled
mat calling our names. One by one, we flung our bodies onto the weight of the blob, catapulting the next person high into the air only to splash face-first into the water. This was GREAT fun.
Thank goodness for our two non-amateur campers who kept us dry in the tents they set up to prevent rain, well-fed, and occupied with games. The rain finally subsided in time for some games of bags and lots of drinking around
a bonfire into the wee hours of the night. To avoid a soggy floor beneath a haggard tent, Tom and I opted to sleep comfortably in the car.
A dirty shower in the public restrooms later, Tom and I bid adieu to Fuller’s Campgrounds and made our way to the nearby sand dunes in perfect weather.
We spent the day traversing the dunes, jumping cliffs, climbing trees, and playing like kids. A gorgeous sunset and couple of beers later, we hit up Blue Chip casino for some ill-advised gambling. Later that night we were happy with the trip we had made on less than $100. We were also happy, however, to be reunited with our beds.
For Photos of this trip, see Buchanan on the Photos Page, or CLICK HERE.
My family and I have been on many-a boat trip in our years as amateur mariners navigating our beloved schooner, (fittingly dubbed “Szo Far Szo Good”). The 50 foot vessel is home to our summer days, cruising Lake Michigan and enjoying some sun and H2O to rid our minds of frigid winters in Chicago. We had journeyed with organized boat trips before, (sometimes with 20+ other boats), courtesy of B & E Marine - and even once thought it was a great idea to bring along friends… a laughable nine people aboard the tight quarters. The summer of 2009 brought one of these excursions – this time to South Haven, Michigan, with just the family and my boyfriend Tom, and my brother’s friend Mike.
We crossed the lake into Michigan City, Indiana and set out for South Haven from there early in the morning the following sunrise. Tom and I occupied ourselves with intense Play Doh shaping contests during the wavy five hour ride. (The contest was dominated by yours truly). It wasn’t long before we were docked, changed, and hitting the beaches of South Haven. We basked in the hot sun all day, and capped it off with a pleasant barbeque dinner on the boat dock followed by long island ice teas atop a ship turned bar.
The next day’s wind brought choppy waters, which Tom and I embarrassingly thought our two person kayak rental could withstand. We continuously flipped into the water before giving up and settling for beach paddle ball and“skid boarding” – a dangerous hobby of attempting to surf on land where the waves hit the beach.
That night was the main event – the “Luau” B & E Marine threw on the dock…
We dressed in the most obnoxious tiki patterns we could find, got “laid”, and were serenaded by live music as we ate a delicious meal. We attempted but failed to silly string Zach as it was his birthday, and had a fun
night of karaoke in the South Haven beach town that evening.
The next day was the annual Dog Show/Festival along the water – where locals bring every kind of canine imaginable, enjoying the doggy stands and German Shepherd trick shows. The best laugh of the entire trip came soon after with a failed “Dog Dancing” performance by a crazy lady dressed in Indian garb. Despite a music malfunction, she performed embarrassing dance movements while her mischievous partner refused to follow along, ultimately running into the street mid-performance and almost becoming road kill.
Tom and I later rented bikes, cruising the cute shops and neighborhoods in town, and getting drunk on the beach. Our trip concluded the next day as we sailed back across the lake to Chicago. We floated on tubes in the Chicago harbor sipping frozen margaritas.