Sedona, Arizona – Arriving In The Desert

Rachel and I were a phone call away from moving to the southwestern United States in late 2019. The desert vibe really called to us and I love the heat. I enjoy when my face is melting off from the toasty warmth of the sun. When things fell through, we still kept talking about exploring more of the western half of the country. It was an area largely untapped by us except for a handful of trips in the past.

Overlook at a rest stop on I-17.
Related Stories:

My favorite hikes in Sedona

Sedona was chosen for a few reasons. The two biggest were that we’ve read so much about how beautiful of an area it was and it was a good spot for outdoor activities, which was a plus for COVID times. Here’s how our trip went:

Reagan National Airport (DCA) is not an airport we fly out of often in the DMV area. We usually find ourselves at BWI or IAD. The first thing we noticed was how ridiculously expensive parking was at DCA. The economy lot was $17/day and there were essentially no nearby lots available with better rates. Lesson learned from this: book parking well in advance or get a ride to the airport.

We flew with American Airlines for the relatively quick flight cross-country. There were two minor inconveniences that we ran into, however – first, I was unable to use the trip credit I received from switching our flights back in May. Since I couldn’t do that, I booked the tickets through the Hopper app which saved us a good chunk of change. When boarding passes became available, I was notified that my seat selections didn’t go through so we were randomly distributed into the cabin. No biggie, I was able to nod out for a good portion of the early morning flight.

Rental car Volkswagen Jetta from Hertz
Whip for the week.

We were picking up a car from Hertz which according to their website, “is prohibited from providing Pick Up and return Service if you arrive at an airport- either from the Hertz airport location or from any Hertz off airport location.” A quick Uber ride over, we were able to pick up our car for the next few days. I went with dealer’s choice netting us an early 2010s VW Jetta. A few dings and smoke stains, but an otherwise reliable vessel to get us from point-A to point-B.

We set off on our venture, an easy two and a half hour drive up I-17. The first thing we noticed was how green it was. We had expected it to be a barren desert all around with a few cacti poking up. It was really green however, with some rolling meadows and small tree forests blanketing the landscape. We passed the first two exits that our GPS had suggested, opting instead for the famous State Route 179, also known as the Red Rock Scenic Byway.

[To be continued in the next post…]

Highway 179, also known as the Red Rock Scenic Byway
Driving into Red Rock country

Two Of The Best Hiking Trails In Sedona, Arizona

Devil’s Bridge Trail and Doe Mountain Trail

Sedona, Arizona is a hotbed of outdoor excitement with fun excursions for every tier of adventurer. From fast mountain biking to a leisurely round of golf. Off road jeep tours to mind-blowing hot air balloons. In this post, I’m going to talk on hiking, specifically two trails that we did on our recent trip to the beautiful city.

Rachel had just broken one of the toes on her right foot one week before our flight left from Reagan National Airport (DCA) to Phoenix Sky Harbor (PHX), so despite her ability to manage the pain and keep it properly bandaged (remember, she had to nurse up an injury in Koh Tao, too), we wanted to keep the trails to beginner-to-intermediate in intensity. That turned out to be just fine, because the two that we did ended with rewarding treks and incredible vistas.

Devil’s Bridge Trail

One of the most popular hikes in Sedona is Devil’s Bridge Trail. We found three places to start from – if you have a 4×4 vehicle with high clearance, you can drive up to the parking lot for the trail and it’s a quick 1 mile hike to the viewpoint. If not, most people park in the Dry Creek Road parking lot and spend most of their hike walking along a dusty, dirt road until they reach the “official” lot. What I recommend is starting on Mescal Trail, which is just a few meters to the right from the end of Boynton Pass Rd. This will give you a more scenic walk.

We woke up at 4:00am for this hike, which is my usual wakeup time for work, but Rachel was surprisingly spry and ready. I made some energy giving breakfast in the form of eggs, tomatoes, and toast (I would later add onions and call it T.O.E. Toast.) I took 5 units of basal insulin and we set off for a twenty minute drive from our resort.

You start into the Mescal trail, which is an easy walk through some low trees, cacti, and yucca. As you pass by a shallow run and through the remainder of the trek, there are dozens and dozens of tiny little frogs hopping out of your way. I think I’ve figured them out to be Western Chorus Frogs because of their size, but I don’t recall them being particularly loud, nor does it fit the behavior section of their Wikipedia page. I will be sure to get a picture of the small amphibians the next time I’m there.

It’s a relatively easy walk without much elevation change as the glow from the sun has finally started to peak above the mountains, giving you just enough light to illuminate the path. By this time, you may start to see some of the nearby hot air balloons being inflated for a sunrise takeoff.

Devil's Bridge Trail, Sedona, Arizona
Panorama from just below the bridge. You’re almost there!

You’ll soon cross over a wide, dusty road into the actual parking lot and onto a wide, smooth path. It’s only about a mile to the finish from here, with a brief section of steep rock scrambling. Here is where your work pays off, as the view is more incredible than any picture can give it justice for. We got to the bridge at 6:35am and there were three parties of people in front of us, waiting to get pictures. Everyone was super nice, however, and swapped photography jobs while the others got to pose. A couple of girls were doing some intense acroyoga poses when we arrived!

My glucose levels had fallen to the mid-60s during this hike, but we had picked up some vegan oatmeal bites from Whole Foods on the way that provided a high-fiber source of carbs for me. In hindsight, I should have stopped to have one every half hour, instead of waiting to get to the top.

Devil's Bridge Trail, Sedona, Arizona
The views are spectacular!

The way back is just the same trail reversed and when you get back to the trailhead, you’ll now have the entire day ahead of you and an incredible hike already notched in your belt.

Doe Mountain Trail

While Devil’s Bridge is one of the most popular trails in Sedona, Doe Mountain Trail is arguably one of the most underrated hikes in the area. We took the same approach to this hike, waking up at 4:00, but we really wanted to get to the peak before sunrise, so we got ready and scarfed down some breakfast much quicker, reaching the parking lot at 5:00am. This lot has a public restroom and requires a $5 parking pass, which is payable with card via a kiosk at the trailhead. I scaled back to 4 units of basal to avoid a low, which kept me at a much steadier blood glucose level.

We started into the path, which was essentially just a series of switchbacks and moderate rock scrambles until you reached the final climb. We were here to beat the sun, so we didn’t stop to take much in. On the way down, however, we were slower and able to appreciate the trail a bit more, including a view of Bear Mountain to the north.

The final ascent is a climb through a narrow cut in the rock. It’s easy, but you’ll need to use your hands.

Rock scramble at Doe Mountain, Sedona, Arizona
The final rock scramble.

Once at the top, a series of markers will lead you to the other side of the mesa and reward you with an amazing view of the valley. We beat the sun to the mountain top and were able to set up on a perch while we watched it climb over the mountains in the east.

I call this trail severely underrated, because it offers 360° views of the area and we shared the top with only one other guy who raced up the trail with the same, sunrise-beating intention.

There is a loop around the top which is fairly easy to stray off of, which we managed to do. The cell reception is actually pretty good, so we used the AllTrails app and followed the perimeter of the mesa until we found the trail again. Going as early in the morning as we did, granted us plenty of time to explore around the top; however, in the later parts of the morning, you’ll want to be aware of the sun and how much its beating down on you in the limited cover.

Hugging the edge of the mesa, we followed a group of hot air balloons as they ascended around the mountain, getting so close that we could hear the whoosh of the flame and the chatter of the ballooneers.

Unparalleled.

The trek back down is fine and when you turn around and see the scale of the mountain you just climbed, you feel really proud. We even got to see one of the hot air balloons land which is much more impressive feat than I had thought – they worked in tandem with a van on the road to land on a trailer it was pulling!

These were two of my favorite hikes I’ve done, and I cannot wait to get back to Sedona to see more of its beautiful scenes.

Have you been to Sedona? What are your favorite trails?

Understanding The Pyramid of Positive Thinking

How I Completely Missed The Purpose Of This Art Piece

Along our trek back from Aldea Zama, I wanted to stop by an art installation that I had read about, the Pyramid of Positive thinking. It was right along our path back to the resort.

The start of the path.

The structure starts with a path that winds through the trees, ducking beneath red arches that represent a snake that leads to a small opening and a large pyramid. 12 meters wide and 12 meters tall, the Pyramid of Positive thinking was constructed by Xavier de Maria y Campos to commemorate the year 2012, which coincided with the end of the Mayan calendar cycle – an event that signals the transition into a new Baktun.

The Pyramid of Positive Thoughts

Upon approaching the installation, I ignored the detailed signage that was posted to instruct visitors about the purpose of the art piece and how they can contribute to it. Instead, I walked straight for a set of very steep stairs on the side of the pyramid and climbed to the top. I peered inside of the pyramid and was immediately disgusted; it was full of plastic bottles. I had thought people turned what could have been a really nice work of art in the middle of a nice neighborhood into an oversized trash bin.

I was wrong.

Inside the pyramid.

When I got home, I did some more research on the pyramid and found that the bottles were fully intentional. Xavier had encouraged visitors to write down one positive thought on a piece of paper, insert it into a PET bottle (Polyethylene terephthalate – a 100% recyclable plastic material), and layered within soil containing regional plant seeds. Over time, the structure will decompose and leave a pyramid of green that has been imbued with the positive energy of the visitor’s thoughts.

Reflecting back, I wish I had taken the time to read the signage and learn about the art piece before passing swift judgement and leaving the area with a poor taste that it didn’t deserve. Nearly a decade later, I do think the artist may have leaned towards a more environmentally-safe method of building the structure (a biodegradable substance rather than plastic) if he had created it today, but I am encouraged by the mission behind the art piece and look forward to slowing down the next time I see a piece of art that has been designed to spread positivity.

Finding Aldea Zama

In previous posts, I mentioned how our resort was on a never-ending, dusty road and we were forced to walk for what seemed like an eternity to get anywhere. That’s what we thought until one day we noticed a few cars were turning right off of the road onto a bumpy, sandy side street. A quick GPS search back at the resort and we found out there are a few shops down that road so we set off one morning to do some exploring and eating.

The neighborhood we ended up finding down this side street was called Aldea Zama and it was dramatically closer to our resort than either of the other destinations we had been going to – the Tulum beachfront and La Veleta.

The first thing we noticed was how quiet it was. The neighborhood had a very posh look to it and it seemed to be recovering from the pandemic, as every other window had a promotional sign trying to get you to buy an available condo and there was plenty of construction projects going on.

A nice, chill atmosphere.

We reached our first stop, Matcha Mama, a cute little smoothie cafe that made incredible use of the tiniest space. Seriously, they crammed an entire shop into a booth the size of a standard closet. We had a broad choice of seating options to enjoy our Mango Tango smoothie bowl, but we hunkered under the balcony for a little shade. This thing was delicious and one bowl easily satiated both of our bellies.

Mango Tango.

Our next stop was the number one reason I wanted to stop by this neighborhood; we were headed for Mamazul, a 4-star hotel with an incredible mezcaleria on the ground floor. I checked the screenshot I had of Google Maps and we set off down one street, made a turn here, walked down another until I said “hmm…”

Now I am one of those people that will walk forever around a place, half-getting to our destination, half-just checking out the new environment. Rachel, whom I was with, is not like that. She took my brief pause of uncertainty to mean that we were lost in the jungle with no way out, a feeling only further exacerbated by the burning heat of the mid-day sun.

The place was just one block over…

The first thing you notice is the huge, open-concept layout of the bar with a super high ceiling, a front entrance that was open-air, and a stretching shelf of mezcals behind the bar that needed a rolling ladder (like what you associate with libraries) to reach the top shelves.

Isn’t it lovely?

We downed some fresh juices that sounded better than they ended up being, but where they disappointed, the mezcal tastings did not.

We sipped down the smoky, smooth elixir, letting the feeling linger at the back of our throats and debated over which of the endless bottles had the coolest label design. Between the drinks, the decor, and the overall atmosphere, I will 100% be returning to Mamazul when I get back to Tulum. I really wanted to purchase a bottle of mezcal right after to bring home, but I never check a bag on my flights so I had to wait for the duty-free shop which had a much larger selection that I remembered. Luckily, I had started packing “empty space” before trips to allow myself to grab a bottle of alcohol souvenir before heading home.

As we headed back, I wanted to stop by an art installation that I had read about, The Pyramid of Positive Thinking. First and foremost, I need to voice out an apology for this piece, because I did not understand the project at all when I had viewed it in person. My thoughts have since changed.

We made our trek back, still shocked by how close this cool, little neighborhood was to us this whole time.

Relaxing At An Oasis In Tulum

The sun was hot, beating straight down on us. The trees that flanked the dusty road did nothing to shade us from the heat. We were walking from our AirBnb from the previous night to our resort that we would stay at for the remainder of the trip. As we passed a semi-busy looking resort called Mystiq, we paused for a second to make sure we were heading the correct direction. Yep – shouldn’t be much farther. Our resort had only opened earlier this year so a lot of online maps weren’t quite updated enough to show an exact location.

Finally, after what seemed like a while, we came upon a very large, wooden sign that read KAN Tulum. Beyond the sign, a dirt path stretched into the jungle. I didn’t even mind the extra walk, because at least it was in the shade. We passed some signs on the trees that definitely fed to the younger-generation lifestyle. “#GreenVibesOnly.”

Once we approached the security gate, we were let in and WOW! I couldn’t believe this lush, green oasis was just a stone’s throw away from the hot, dusty road on which we were just walking. We were guided to the reception desk where Edith welcomed us and gave us a tour of the property. It was absolutely beautiful. The paths intertwine through large, vibrant plant life, passing a hanging tear drop chair, a hammock, then to the pool which was fairly well centered and gave us a good visual of the property. A large building on the far side of the pool was where they offered massages and a really neat, bamboo-covered bridge led you to their breakfast/drink bar and the resort eventually plans on opening a vegetarian restaurant once they’ve expanded.

We were allowed to roam the property until our room was ready (check-out from our AirBNB was 4 hours prior to our check-in at KAN Tulum) but right when we went to get our swimsuits from our bags, they told us it was ready. Sweet!

We were shown to our room, which I guarantee had the best view on the property (seriously, we could see everything while still maintaining a little privacy on our terrace.)

According to their website, there are five room floorplans (which I think only two currently exist, the rest are part of the expansion. I could be wrong.) and it was very well thought out. The room we stayed in wraps around from the bedroom/kitchenette to the bathroom with a large, beautiful, two-sided mirror acting as the barrier between the king-size bed and a big, Instagram-worthy tub.

They used a breathable concrete made from a local root

I’d like to take the next couple sections to talk about 3 amazing highlights from our stay:

The Bar

Now this isn’t at all for the obvious reason. We did get one drink from the bar here – a really tasty passionfruit, mezcal cocktail – but it was $15 and we had other options. Mystiq, from up the road, had a mini-mart on its property where you can find bottles of wine for reasonable prices.

What the bar offered that really made our trip fantastic was its breakfast and coffee. Every morning, Saoul and his team presented a buffet style breakfast of vegetarian options from oats to fruit to beans to eggs and the styles varied each day. There were pitchers of fruit-infused water that I’ve been super exited to replicate at home in the new goblets I got in Charlotte. The meal was so good and we felt very healthy enjoying it.

Breakast views.

The staff was also always available to present us with coffee all the time. There was always someone around to brew together an Americano or Almond Latte. We really appreciated sitting at the pool and being handed a “cold coffee” which was really set off by coconut flakes.

The Pool

Despite seeing other people staying at the resort, we essentially had the pool to ourselves whenever we wanted. The water was comfortably warm like a bath and the sun fluttered in and out from behind the shade of the trees giving you an alternating warm shine and a cool escape from the heat. It was the perfect recipe for a nice tan.

The Cenote
View from the walkway.

One of the absolute best things to do on the Yucatán peninsula is to visit and swim in cenotes, underground water wells that are created by the collapse of limestone caves. KAN Tulum just happens to have one on the property, a few strides from the pool and overlooked by the bar.

A pump-fed waterfall creates a really nice look to the cenote, but once it turns off, you can see all the way through the calm, cool water to the bottom. We jumped in, splashed around, and floated above the water surrounded by cavern walls.

I cannot wait to come back to Tulum and explore the ruins and area around here and I will undoubtably stay at KAN Tulum again.

There are a couple nests above the rooms with great views; we just couldn’t think of a pose.

We Rode Bikes To The Tulum Ruins… And They Were Closed!

Our recent trip to Tulum was largely for rest and relaxation purposes, especially after the obstacles that jumped in our way. Still, there were a few occasions where we wanted to leave the sanctity of our little jungle oasis to go exploring. One day, we rented a pair of bicycles from our resort – these turned out to be more in line with mountain bikes than the typical beach cruiser we saw everyone else riding around.

It was a scorcher this day, settling around 90° F (32° C) by 11am, and we set off right when the sun was peaking just past noon. The road outside of our resort was an endless line of dust and sand-colored pavement that seemed to extend towards the horizon. No worries, though, according to Google Maps and the front receptionist, this should be a quick 13 minute ride to the beach and another 15 minutes to the ruins with a nice sea breeze for the second half.

The bike/walking path provided a nice buffer from traffic.

The stretch of road down to the beach had trees on either side, but since the sun was directly above, they didn’t provide any shade to utilize. We made sure to sunscreen up and brought a bottle along with us to reapply when needed. This stretch ended up taking twice as long as anticipated. It drug on and on and on with cars passing by, some giving us plenty of space, others narrowly avoiding us like we just weren’t there.

We finally arrived at the beachfront road (with limited visual access to the beach beyond an extended wall of hotels, restaurants, and clubs) and took a water break before continuing along. We did pass a stretch of beach where we noticed that the sargassum infestation that plagued our Cancun trip two years prior was still abundant. There were piles and piles of the smelly seaweed sitting on the beach and brown pelicans were using it as a resting nest. I didn’t think to take any photo or video of them, but we got to catch a few of these birds diving into the water in search of lunch.

What kind of Olympic athlete did they time to create this time expectation?

The stretch along the beach was full of trendy looking shops and restaurants, but we were on a mission. A side path for walkers and bikes began after the shops that gave us a little breathing room from the constant traffic as well as a little shade. The rest of the ride was racking up the minutes, though just a brief bit after we were supposed to arrive, we passed by what looked like a gate to the ruins. That turned out to not be the case. That was just the halfway point. We continued past beach club after beach club for a while until we finally approached the gate to the ruins.

Keeping a smile despite the circumstances.

A trio of blue-collared shirt clad individuals stopped us to tell us the ruins were closed. At this point, we had been riding for about an hour in the hot sun and just wanted to pause on the side of the road to finish our water, reapply sunscreen, and comprehend the news we were just given. The officials started to offer us alternative excursions that we could purchase at their stand which we declined. I became skeptical that this was just a sales tactic to catch unknowing foreigners before they could get to the ruins.

I saw an American couple come from the other side of the gate who were stopped by the same trio for the sales pitch (there was another entrance on the other side that led to downtown Tulum) so I decided to wait and talk to them when they passed by.

I asked them what was on the other side and they said they thought the ‘closed ruin’ news was a scam too so they continued all the way to the actual entrance to the ruins where they were turned away, confirming the closure. We later were told by a different employee at our resort that there was a confirmed COVID case at the ruins and they were closed for sanitation.

A break and refreshment.

After a brief sigh, our ride back was slow but steady. We passed some big iguanas and a coati that seemed to be overly comfortable with two local guys, acting like their pet. We stopped at a pharmacy on the way back to pick up some water and a little rest. I like to think I’m in good shape and I usually have no issue with endurance, but this ride kicked my butt.

Upon arriving back at our resort, lounging by the pool was the only to-do for the rest of the day.

The pool was much needed after today.

How To Get To Tulum From The Cancun Airport

So you’ve just arrived in beautiful, hot Mexico. You’ve ditched the sweatshirt you were wearing on the cool flight down and your sunglasses are on. Your next step is getting to your hotel, hostel, AirBnb, or wherever you’re staying in Tulum. Here are four options to fit your travel style and budget:

1. Taxi

The quickest way to go is via a taxi. Don’t worry about availability here; you will be met by no fewer than two hundred drivers that will continuously ask you where you’re going and if you already have a ride to your destination.

Be warned, these aren’t your typical yellow taxi. These are essentially private drivers that charge an astronomical fee (sometimes over 3000 pesos (~$175USD) to get you to where you’re going.

2. Shuttle

This is probably my recommendation if you’re not traveling on a shoestring budget. We used a shared shuttle service to transfer from our hotel (included pickup) to the airport. The journey took about 1 hour, 45 minutes and cost $83USD + tip. We only picked up one other pair of guys on our trip. The downside is the A/C was broken and the windows couldn’t open, so our drive in the 90 F degree (32 C) heat wasn’t the most pleasant. You can book either directly through the Cancun Airport website or a private company with a quick Google search.

The ADO bus stop is to the right once you exit the terminal. You can purchase tickets here.
3. ADO Bus

The budget option. We took the bus upon arrival down to Tulum due to our flight arriving about an hour before the next bus left. It was $18/person, but what we didn’t realize was that it made a stop in Playa del Carmen on the way down. This turned into a 3.5 hour drive that got us to Tulum pretty late. The ride itself wasn’t bad, with toilets on the bus, A/C, and comfortable seating. It drops you off in the middle of Tulum Centro and La Veleta. Our AirBnb for the first night was a nearly 2km walk over bumpy roads on a dimly lit street. We underestimated the bus drive time and the fact that it got dark so early in Mexico.

4. Rental Car

If you can, check out renting a car. This provides the maximum freedom that you may want to explore the Yucatán peninsula. Prices can start as low as $10/day, but do acknowledge that there is some form of mandatory coverage that will most likely be added to the bill. I’ve read dozens and dozens of reviews and forums and I still can’t find a consensus of if using a credit card with travel perks can cover at least part of the mandatory coverage. If you’ve had experience renting a car in Mexico, please leave a comment below.

The roads around the airport and major cities aren’t bad at all and very drivable. Having a rental car will let you explore ruins and cenotes at your own leisure without having to rack up expensive tours or transportations.

The downside to the bus is that it drops you off in city center, so you’re on your own to get to your sleeping arrangements from there.

Why Would I Go To Tulum?

Cancun is the top destination when flying into the nearby airport, attracting over 6 million foreign visitors in 2019 alone. It has a very chain-restaurant, chain-resort feel to it. If you’re looking to stay at an all-inclusive resort, by all means, enjoy your trip. However, Tulum has become a millennial-friendly spot, seeing an influx in digital nomads in recent years.

I was a big fan of its commitment to eco-tourism and health (seriously, you’ll find a raw food or açaí bowl every fourteenth step) that the city provides. You feel a nice connection between supporting locals and learning their culture while still having access to the conveniences that make travel easier. I will definitely stay in Tulum on my next visit to the region and make sure to share more stories with you.

We’re Cancelling Our Costa Rica Trip – How To Call An Audible On Your Trip In 2021

COVID-19 is frustrating. We just had to cancel our trip to Costa Rica that was supposed to happen in less than 48 hours. The country was one of the only places in the world that was allowing U.S. citizens in without the need for vaccination, negative testing, or quarantine periods (the latter-most being the biggest selling point.)

Additionally, our plans were based around excursions that enabled us to maintain social-distance and were all outside. Unfortunately, news from the end of April highlighted a huge spike in positive COVID tests, leading to a shutdown in the capital region that started this past Monday. While we were not going to be within 3 hours of the capital (our flight landed in the smaller, northern airport of Liberia) we inevitably decided to cancel our trip.

There are currently 403 ICU cases in the country, which takes up all available beds. Locals are restricted from driving after certain curfew times. There are a shortage of tests being done. Due to all of this, we did not wish to put any unnecessary strain on the medical system here. We feel awful about cancelling our reservations at some absolutely beautiful homes during a time when the country’s economy can really use the help, but we look forward to staying at them once the situation is a bit safer.

The Airbnb reservations were simple enough to cancel, with the one downside is we missed a cancellation policy by a few hours which meant we had to pay for the first night and a service fee (~$140). Our travel insurance and car rentals cancelled easily with a couple emails. Now here is where this story changes…

Since we purchased our American Airlines flights before April 1, we had no change fees and we could change them to another flight or receive flight credit to be used within a year.

After some intense searching, price-checking, communicating back and forth, breaking for a delicious barramundi lunch, and asking each other “are we sure?” a million times, we successfully switched our trip to Tulum, Mexico!

I feel really weird putting that into a small paragraph that is only one sentence long because of how intense this was due to the time constraint we were facing.

Mexico doesn’t require a negative test or quarantine period and the positive test statistics are on par with Maryland, where we live.

Due to the change in flights, we bumped our arrival time to the mid-afternoon and actually received a $200+ flight credit that we’ll use later this year. That’s essentially a pre-paid trip somewhere!

In an effort to maintain distance from the more crowded hotel zone and to splurge on ourselves a little bit to get out of the funk of losing our initial trip, we booked a stay with what looks like an incredible eco-resort. I’m excited now and I hope we made the right choice.

A Weekend In Charlotte – Pt. 2

Continued from Part 1

The plan was to sleep in and recharge after a long week of early mornings, but our body’s alarm clock woke us up with the sun. Luckily, we took a nice, long time to wake up and get ready.

A short trip to a nearby Goodwill (Rachel runs a brilliant, thrift-based online clothes shop and wanted to add to her inventory) and Starbucks got us started off right.

More alert and ready for the day, we met up with our friends at Sunflour Bakery for some breakfast. The food looked delicious and comes with rave reviews. The service was meh, but it was some decent food and the coconut macaroons were soooo good.

Tom and I explored around Heroes Aren’t Hard To Find, a comic shop across the street, for a few minutes. I was in search of the second part to Anthony Bourdain’s graphic novel, Get Jiro: Blood and Sushi – a story about a badass sushi chef set in a dystopian future where the city is run by rival restaurants. Technically, it’s a prequel, but I couldn’t find it nonetheless.

We met up with Rachel and Courtney around the corner in a really cool thrift store, East 8th Thrift. They were happily at home here, rummaging through some sweet, vintage finds. I dawdled my time by petting the shop dog and looking through some neat cocktail glasses. We came across a cool set of ceramic goblets and a pitcher that we ended up coming back for later. I got real sipping-wine-from-on-top-of-the-Parthenon vibes from the set.

After spending some time back at their place, we set out to explore the Mint Museum. There are two locations which have different collections. The one in Uptown is modern and focuses on contemporary and American art as well as collections from North Carolina’s craft & design past. While tickets get you into both locations on the same day, we opted for the Randolph location. Walking through here is like walking through an old manor as you explore the history of North Carolina’s first coin mint, costumes from African heritage, and a lot of pottery.

In the spirit of continuity for this trip, we made sure to reward ourselves with more drink and feast. Legion Brewing provided the first libations of the day along with a pretzel much bigger than my head. Over the past year, I had moved away from beer and towards spirits and wine more, so I chose a pilsner for my first drink. It was also called Penguin Pils, which is definitely in my top 3 favorite animals. If you know what my #1 favorite animal is or want to guess, leave a comment below!

For my second drink, I went with their mystery Adventure Tap. You don’t get to choose the beer, but $1 of every drink sold goes toward a rotating, monthly charity. April saw donations go towards Autism Charlotte. The mystery brew ended up being the pilsner again. So much for the adventure, but it was a good drink.

My newly chopped off hair.

Next stop was The Bohemian wine bar. We sat at the front window that overlooked the empty parking lot and street. It was a nice setting to enjoy a glass of vinho verde. This style of wine comes from the hilly, northern region of Portugal, where you can find many households still practicing the old-style of growing grapes and wine-making. I cannot wait to explore this region in the near future. (Sidenote: The European Union is in talks to open up to vaccinated U.S. travelers this Summer.)

Wine and sunlight.

After my palate enjoyed a taste of Iberian Peninsula, our taste buds decided to trek back over the pond to a more American-Mexican food at Three Amigos. Courtney and I got enjoyed some fishbowl sized margaritas with some delicious, greasy food. I go through phases in my Mexican food journey, where I will order the same thing over and over without change, then I’ll cycle on to the next menu item. I love it all, but for some reason, I’ll get on these kicks where I want just one thing. Right now is fajita season.

Charlotte is a cool city with a nice pace to it. There’s plenty to do, but it retains charm, nature, and walkability. I would love to explore more of the city in future trips, like Uptown or the U.S. National Whitewater Center.

Would you make a trip to Charlotte? Have you been and have suggestions? Leave a comment below with any tips you might have.

QUICK READ: Driving from Maryland to Charlotte, NC.

For a quick weekend trip, we went down to visit some friends in Charlotte – it’s about a 6.5 hour drive from west-central Maryland where we live. The drive is mostly along one of my least favorite highways, I-81, but it wasn’t too bad for the way down.

Starting from Frederick, MD, I can either drive all the way back up towards the MD/PA border to get onto 81 or I can take some backroads through the boonies to merge onto it in West Virginia. I chose the latter.

Slight majority of the drive is open like this.

The first half of the trip offers plenty of stops and sights. Some of my favorite being:

  1. Harper’s Ferry – a historical beauty of a town where Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia meet at the crossroads of the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers. I really enjoy stopping here for the Maryland Heights hiking trail then grabbing some well-deserved ice cream or a beer on the way out.
  2. Hollywood Casino at Charles Town – I went a few times over the stretch of two years in my younger 20’s. I made the mistake of winning a little bit on my first couple trips which boosted my confidence enough to lose all of those winnings in subsequent trips. Nevertheless, it’s a fun place to give away your money until 3am.
  3. The next couple hours are home to some pretty vies of farms and tons of farm animals. Seriously, I have never seen that many cows in one span of time.
  4. Natural Bridge and Virginia Safari Park – I have been to the second one and it’s a great time that I highly recommend. I’ll write about it here in the near future. The first stop, however, I have not been to, but would love to see the 215-ft tall limestone gorge.
  5. Luray and the surrounding caverns – I can’t say I have a big interest in cave systems or the underground (read my post about the Parisian Catacombs for my thoughts on naked mole rats), but it would be neat to see the largest and most popular cave systems on the U.S. east coast.
  6. Asheville, NC. – Okay, so this isn’t exactly on the way. It’s at least 1.5 to 2 hours out of the way, but it’s a badass town that I only got to explore once and have plenty more to see.

There’s a beautiful vista along the highway just before you get to the VA/NC border that makes you say “wow” when you pass, and if you’re lucky enough to get on the road without a bunch of tractor trailers, the drive isn’t too bad.

Pop on a playlist or podcast of your choosing and enjoy the drive.

Have you been down 81 in Maryland, West Virginia, Virginia, or North Carolina? What stops do you like to make or do you just drive straight through/