Friday, March 27, 2015

Yoo 660 - Disneyland for Dogs

There's a place in southeast Texas that is actually the happiest place on earth. Disneyland doesn't want to know this but it's true. The Congressman Bill Archer dog park is amazing. I don't know much about Bill Archer or his politics but bravo on getting a dog park named after you.

So this dog park has a bone-shaped swimming pool. An almost mile-long hiking track. Fake fire hydrants. A million dogs. And mud puddles. Mud puddles as far as the eye can see.

Also, it's free and there are dog-washing stations.

I'm really struggling to imagine something it's missing. Besides my name. I want a dog park this cool named after me.

Greg's sister told us about this place last year and we stop by every time we're in Houston. Roscoe loves loves loves it. And we love love love it. Watching pups be a dog and roll in all the mud puddles and wrestle with all the friends and fetch the tennis ball from the pool over and over again is extremely satisfying. I'm basically boiling over with happiness when I'm there. And we could spend hours there, walking around the trail and dodging wet dogs. Eventually we do have to leave because we can tell Roscoe is exhausted but still throwing himself 1,000 percent into his play and probably close to keeling over dead with pure puppy euphoria.

He's always asleep in the back of the car by the time we pull out of the parking lot. And really fluffy from his bath.

Dogs are awesome.

Have a great day :-)

Monday, March 23, 2015

Yoo 659 - The Canoe Trip That Never Was

For our second anniversary last July, we had a three-day canoe trip down the Neches river in East Texas planned. Because nothing is as romantic as three days without showers while camping in snake and alligator-infested swamp forests! Seriously though, we were looking forward to this. I'd spent two evenings packing up our supplies and putting together food and everything was ready to go. That Friday morning we got up before the sun and drove five hours to get to the canoe outfitters. Unfortunately, our arrival there coincided with the moment that a flash-flood warning screeched from my phone. All trips were cancelled.

We were bitter, though we did get to spend an evening with family and take Roscoe to the Disneyland of dog parks on our way back to San Antonio. But instead of paddling down a rare pristine stretch of Texas river, our third year of marriage began in our house, watching a documentary on the Pacific Crest Trail while making cinnamon rolls. It fueled our desire to thru-hike the PCT but was otherwise anti-climactic.

And I still wanted to do that canoe trip.

Fast-forward to spring break a couple weeks ago. Perfect time to try the trip again! The weather wouldn't be as blazing hot and we had a three-day weekend. So I got everything ready to go, Greg drove five hours, and there we were.

Same story, second verse.

River was flooding and all the trips were cancelled.

We spent an hour being really bitter and complaining to each other while parked in a Wal-Mart parking lot. It was a low moment. But while in that parking lot I found a state park in the somewhat nearby vicinity that miraculously still had campsites available during a busy spring break weekend. We booked a site and headed for Huntsville State Park in hopes of salvaging the trip.

And salvage the trip we did.

I just love camping. Even if it's with a million other people at a designated site with flush-toilets and hot showers nearby.

I also just love this dog. He's so funny in the tent. Can't figure out where his "spot" is so he just stretches his dog body wherever it may go...and it's usually squarely on Greg's sleeping bag with a few limbs crossing over to mine. We have so much fun camping with him.

He's super impressed with the camera. And being in the tiny tent with us.

We did get to do a bit of canoeing while there. Even paddling right up to our campsite for lunch one day! That was fun. Rule number one about the canoe was "Roscoe can NOT jump in the water". Pups and I reviewed this frequently because the park rangers warned us about alligators and how they "lose handfuls of dogs every year to the gators".

That would be tragic times ten.

I don't know if it's true or false but Roscoe settled into the canoe just fine and we didn't have any problems. Or see any alligators.

Also, he wears a life jacket so he has handles, not because he needs it to swim. Plus he looks cool in it.

I'm including a picture of the fire to remind me about all the effort that went into getting this fire. We'd scavenged some leftover firewood from another site that turned out to be quite damp. Fun thing about camping is you usually don't have anything better to do than try your hand at dumb challenges, like starting a fire, sans lighter fluid, with damp wood. So we grabbed our tinder of choice and gathered kindling and alternated donating lung-fulls of oxygen for two hours and, voila! Fire.

It was really pathetic compared to the fires of nearby campers but they had GALLONS of lighter fluid. Cheaters.

(I love lighter fluid and yes I was jealous).

The sunsets were beautiful each night, as sunsets usually are.

We bought THE nerdiest sun hats. Bought as in, yes, we actually paid money to wear those things. Eight dollars even. We basically broke the scale of dorkiness the moment we put on them on but they work and I stand by my decision. I mean, my dad owns a sun hat that is at least somewhat respectable and then there's us.

At least they can hide our faces!

Roscoe pulls the hat off a little better.

We hiked over seven miles in our sandals one afternoon...again, hadn't packed the hiking shoes because we were expecting to be sitting in a boat all weekend.

Good morning to you too, pups!

This picture makes me want to pet my dog forever. He has the softest ears. Also he's the cutest thing on the planet.

He decided he was tired of waiting for us to set breakfast in front of him.

I'm so happy when I'm spending time outside, away from cities and hordes of people, just talking with Greg and watching my dog explore. It's a good reset button. And there are always stories. I'm still a bit bummed we didn't get to go on the canoe trip, and we'll probably never try again, despite the "third time's a charm" saying. But I can't complain about what we came up with instead.

(Even though I did for a bit...)

Have a great day :-)

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Yoo 658 - Appian Way

We sucked the marrow out of our last day in Rome. Completely on foot. I was tempted to "map my run" with our walking route so I had an impressive mileage to share but a) I can't remember our exact route anymore and b) that would take forever. Suffice it to say, we were limping by the time we returned to our hotel that evening.

View from the hotel room. Have I mentioned that the redeeming quality of our hotel was their breakfast? We soooo looked forward to that every morning, heads popping off pillows. The croissants! Nutella and raspberry and sugar-crusted and plain. They melted in the mouth. Then there were donuts and muffins. And fruit. And yogurt with granola. And fresh-squeezed orange juice. And omelets. And prosciutto and cheese. Lots of prosciutto and cheese.

Greg usually ordered hot chocolate because he could.

I usually ate 4 croissants because I could.

We FILLED up on breakfast so we could get away with snacks until dinner. Breakfast was awesome.

The whole day went like this: we walked until we saw something cool, then we explored that something cool, then we walked some more.

Our main goal was to see the Via Appia Antica or Appian Way. It's one of the oldest and most-important roads of ancient Rome and is still the longest stretch of straight road in Europe. Also, it's free and the weather was perfect.

Don't pick the flowers.

I think this is part of an ancient aqueduct but don't quote me on that.

A good portion of the Via Appia Antica is closed to traffic on Sundays. We started where the road begins, near the Baths of Caracalla (which are huuuuuge), and quite liked this first stretch of calm road (pictured above).

Further along, after passing thru Porta San Sebastiano (one of the biggest gates of the Aurelian Walls), traffic began again and it was decidedly less enjoyable. A tiny partial sidewalk to escape the cars and wannabe bicycle pelotons flying past.

Then we made a critical error at this intersection. I decided we needed to go left, according to the "Via Appia Antica" signage and Google maps on my phone, when I should have gone straight. Straight would have led to this:

This was beautiful without a car in sight. We super loved it on our way back in the afternoon. But instead we went left and got this:

This doesn't look THAT bad but there were a million plus two cars racing past and absolutely no sidewalk or shoulder. That should have been our first clue but we soldiered on, one of us pretending that we were enjoying the day and the other one of us being very vocal about how we were not.

BUT, it didn't last long.

The one of us that was being vocal about hating this road darted inside a public-access gate and found a set of stairs to sit on and re-evaluate plans. It was whilst sitting on these stairs that we realized we were right close to the San Callisto Catacombs and that they were in fact open on Sunday. Best of all, we didn't need to walk along the suicide street anymore to get there.

Unfortunately they don't allow any pictures on the tour but the catacombs were cool and super cool. Comprised of four or five different levels and sprawling over 37 acres underground, it's big. The guide said that walking all the tunnels would cover something like 20 kilometers. Now that would make for an interesting long run...

"Catacombe" by User GerardM on nl.wikipedia - Originally from nl.wikipedia; description page is (was) here10 jul 2004 22:19 GerardM 1600x1200 (585.737 bytes) (eigen foto). Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons -

The pic above is from Wikipedia but it gives a good idea of what we walked thru. Narrow dirt halls lined from floor to ceiling with loculi. These holes were dug to the size of the body and whatever possessions the body was to be buried with and then sealed with cement to help prevent the spread of disease. They've all since been moved to churches or ransacked centuries ago.

Many popes were also originally buried here in the "Crypt of the Popes", along with dozens of early-Christian martyrs, including Saint Cecilia.

After the catacombs, we continued our walk along the Appian Way, passing the ruins of the Circus of Maxentius and watching a live theater performance from afar.

We stumbled upon the free site, Capo Di Bove, which is an ancient private complex with thermal bath remains. It was serene, with beams of sunlight sparkling the dew-covered grounds and casting shadows on the tiled-floor mosaics. Then there were the statues...

Awkward family photo idea?

Ideally we would have rented bikes to really cover ground along the ancient road. We kept toying with the idea but never pulled the trigger. Instead I pushed us to walk further and further to "see what was up ahead" while Greg reminded me that we'd have to retrace all of our steps. We were both enjoying the time though. The weather was beautiful and the day felt laid back but interesting.

Finally, when feet started to feel tired, we turned around (our walking day wasn't even half over...).

I loved our time along this road. Ruins from different centuries scattered about. Locals running and biking and walking. Conversations with Greg. I decided I might be able to live in Rome if I had this to run along on the weekends. Maybe spend some time figuring out and identifying more of the ruins.

There are many miles to cover and it'd be an easy way to escape the city for a bit.

Cute doorway, decked out for Christmas.

Snack! The bar thing was gross but Nutella makes most food palatable.

I thought the umbrella or stone pines looked so cool.

Greg being Greg. Stopping to read every sign.

The sun was lined up so perfectly with this gate...I had to.

Our walking route took us past the Circus Maximus. Even longer than it looks when your feet are throbbing. Palatine Hill is off to the left in this photo.

Crossing the Tiber into Trastevere for an audio-guided walking tour. Not pictured is the long pause to sit on the bridge and rest our feet. Pain!

Saint Cecilia in Trastevere church. It's believed to have been built on the site of her house and now contains her and her husband's relics. However it was closed so we didn't get inside.

We did get to see inside the Basilica of Santa Maria in Trastevere AND watch a youth choir perform. Though I was mainly trying to figure out where we should eat because all I could hear was my stomach growling. Critical path.

Pizza won. Are we surprised? Greg put down this massive calzone. Not surprising. And I put down this entire salmon pizza. Salmon pizza! It was awesome and I'd do it again.

Back at Piazza Santa Maria we sat on the steps of the fountain and listened to a live band while watching a young man spray paint THE coolest pictures. Some were of the Colosseum and others where whimsical nature settings overshadowed by a full moon. Kind of Lisa Frank-ish but not quite as crazy. I was really really close to buying a couple, especially his solar system one, but I wasn't convinced that they would survive the trip home.

So neat to watch though.

Over the river and thru...there aren't any woods. But we left Trastevere for further romeings (see what I did there?).

Largo di Torre Argentina. A complex of ancient temples sunken 20 feet below modern street level. Claim to fame is that it contains part of the Theater of Pompey where Julius Caesar was murdered. Nowadays it's home to a cat colony. The cats moved in when excavations of the site were finished and now it's known for the cats. An organization takes care of the over 250 feline residents, most with special needs, and works to adopt them out.

I only saw a few cats so either they were being really stealthy or the other 247 were asleep in hiding.

Eventually a gelato hankering took us to a different part of the city and, after asking the guards, we discovered we were right in front of Quirinal Palace, or the Italian president's house. It was quite big. At least that's what my feet were saying as we walked the entire length of the place, still looking for a certain gelato store.

Come il Latte. We had such a good experience our first time here, we decided to top off our Roman experience with another few scoops. Mmmmmmm.

The flowing chocolate fountains...

And the still melty chocolate at the bottom of the cone! So good.

We were finally ready to call it quits on the day but first we needed to find an ATM to get cash to pay the stupid hotel city tax the following morning. It was something like four euros per person per night but the dumb part was you could only pay in cash. We were short a couple euros to pay this tax and I was a little bitter that we'd need to take out at least another 20 to cover it...basically losing a lot of money in exchange fees back and forth as we weren't planning on spending any more money in Italy after this tax.

I scoured the ground, hoping to find a lost euro or two to no avail. We both cleaned out our packs to make sure that we hadn't misplaced any euros during the week. I tried to buy a pack of gum with my debit card to get cash back but that didn't work. Finally I (bitterly...) withdrew another 20 wasted euros at an ATM.

The real kicker is that Greg found a five euro bill folded up in his passport the next morning while passing thru customs.


He's since (mostly) been forgiven.

The night was killed on our hotel rooftop. Watching the stars, listening to the city, talking about how we were going to miss it, and resting our feet. And freezing, a little.

Almost to the end.

Have a great day :-)