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Travel

Travel Diaries: Taos

The last stop of  my epic New Mexico road trip was Taos, a town I have wanted to visit for years as it was a favorite haven of my late professor and mentor, Harald Becker.

When I am visiting a walkable town, accommodations in the heart of things are my top priority. In Taos this meant staying at the Historic Taos Inn, right on the main drag and easy walking distance to all of the shopping and restaurants in the area. The building is full of southwestern character and is home to both a restaurant and a bar featuring live music on a nightly basis. I totally scored on a great rate at this place because I went in April, which is not a busy time. If you can make it around that time I highly recommend it- the weather is beautiful and the area is not flooded with tourists.

I opted to stay in the main building, which had its advantages and drawbacks. On the positive side, I felt extremely secure and had easy access to the hotel amenities. The staff was friendly and they gave me great recommendations for things to do in the area. The walkway outside my door looked down over the bar area and there was a small table there, so I was able to come out in my sweats with a glass of wine and watch the musicians perform, which was a great way to wind down at the end of each day. The downside was that my door and windows might as well have been made of tissue paper for how well they blocked out noise. The music from the bar and the noise from the road outside were pretty loud. Even still, I had a great experience and will definitely stay there again- I’ll just opt for a different building next time.

For my first day I stuck to the town. I walked around the shopping areas and dropped into the tasting rooms for the El Chipara and Black Mesa wineries. Both were excellent and I ended up taking home a few bottles- particularly special was the Chocolate Caliente from Black Mesa, a spicy, chocolatey red dessert wine that is supposedly even better when warm. An absolute must-visit was Chokola, a small bean-to-bar chocolatier offering sipping chocolate, truffles and mousse. The place is really cute and I was seriously in chocolate heaven watching the amazing artisans make everything and getting to taste the fruits of their labor.

The next day I took to the roads to explore. My stops included the Taos Pueblo, the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge and Earthship Biotecture.

The Taos Pueblo is the oldest continuously inhabited community in the United States. Archaeologists believe that the current buildings were constructed between 1000 ad 1450AD, making them approximately 1,000 years old! Many of the native people who live there continue in their ancestors’ traditions of intricate beadwork, pottery and other crafts. Some of them operate shops out of their homes, and when you visit the community they will welcome you in to see their products and view the inside of these remarkable structures. Be sure to only enter into homes to which you are invited. While the community is open to visitors, the homes of individual residents are, of course, private. Make sure you get cash, as most of the shops and refreshments don’t accept cards.

One lovely woman I met was selling fry bread, which I’m pretty sure is still clinging to my hips but was super delicious and worth every bite.

On my way to Earthship Biotecture I passed over the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge, and I couldn’t resist stopping to take some pictures. The gorge is massive and so deep that I couldn’t actually see the water running at the bottom. The pedestrian walkway allowed me to stand right over the center, which was simultaneously awe-inspiring and terrifying.

After managing to not fall into the gorge, I was on my way again. Earthship Biotecture was only a few miles down the road and it was the place in Taos I was most excited to visit. H and I have long dreamed of building our own net-zero home, and earthships have been a major source of inspiration for us as we have considered our future plans. We even have a friend who interned there for a few months and has always raved about the wonderful community there.

The experience of actually touring a functioning earthship and learning about how the different components work was absolutely fascinating. The builders of these homes have found ways to regulate temperature without using electricity, ways to grow and dehydrate food in the windows using the sunlight, and ways to re-use water for 3 different purposes before finally surrendering it.

The homes themselves are built mostly from recycled material and adobe, which are both easily attainable and extremely affordable. The colorful circles you see on the tan and green buildings above are all glass bottles, and many buildings incorporated dirt-packed aluminum cans that functioned as bricks when building walls. Rainwater collection provides water, and is ingeniously built into the roofs of different structures.

When I was driving back into town I saw Taos Mesa Brewing and pulled off to grab lunch and a pint. The beer there was great and I was really excited to see that a new vintage trailer hotel, El Mystico, was being built right next door! It looks a lot like El Cosmico in Marfa, which is HIGH on my desired trips list. Hopefully El Mystico will be finished the next time I come to Taos so I can give it a try!

I wrapped up my visit to Taos by spending some time in the nearby community of Arroyo Seco, which is home to some lovely art galleries, pottery studios and restaurants. Some friends of ours from college live near there, and I was able to enjoy dinner with one of them at the absolutely amazing Aceq restaurant.

Overall Taos was a delight. I wish I could have spent a few more days there, but with only a 5 hour drive separating us I know I will have many opportunities to return. Hopefully next time I can get in some snowboarding!

I would love to hear about your favorite road trip destinations! What makes them so special?

Happy Trails,
KD

Travel

Travel Diaries: Santa Fe

Last week I packed up Ruby the Rubicon and took a solo road trip to New Mexico.

It was, in a word, awesome.

I love traveling with H and my family, but there’s something special about solo adventures that I cherish. Traveling alone sharpens my senses, strengthens my independence and gives me time to reconnect with my truest self. Plus it’s pretty great to be able to do whatever I want, whenever I want without having to meet the desires of a whole group or even just one other person.

My first destination was Santa Fe, which is one of the most unique cities I have visited so far. The buildings are a beautiful red adobe with incredible, colorful doors and strings of chile ristra hanging everywhere.

During my first day in Santa Fe I hit up all the touristy spots. I went to see the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi, which was absolutely stunning inside and out. I walked through the shops in the center of town and visited both the Plaza and the Palace of Governors.

The number one thing I learned about buying souvenirs in Santa Fe is that, if you want something authentic, you are better off buying from the artisans in the Plaza or the native people who sell jewelry at the Palace. Many, many of the items available in the stores are imported from Mexico, and I even found a few things with “Made in Pakistan” stickers that had been partially scraped off. At the plaza I bought some beautiful tassels made by native women, and I loved the look of the ristra so much that I bought a string from a man who was making them on the side of the road. He gave me a better deal than I had seen at any of the stores in town, and I felt better about supporting a local artisan directly.

 

The second day was Easter, and many of the local businesses were closed. So, I started my morning with a beautiful hike at Chamisa, which was just a short 15 minute drive from the center of town. Then I walked down Palace St. to look at the beautiful homes. If you walk down Palace St. from the center of town, it eventually meets up with the renowned Canyon Rd, which is home to world famous art galleries and is truly a place worth visiting.

Things to know about Santa Fe:

  • It is an extremely walkable city, so wear comfortable shoes and prepare to explore on foot!
  • The food is expensive.  The cheapest options at even the more affordable restaurants I looked at hovered around $13, and nice restaurants can be much more. However, the food is excellent. So when you are looking at your budget for your visit, be prepared to devote more $$$ to food than you might in a different city.
  • Many local businesses observe Sunday as a day of rest, and are therefore closed.

My additional recommendations:

  • Sazón on Shelby St. was easily the most exquisite meal of my entire trip. I had a cocktail called the “Latin Lover,” which was topped with an edible orchid. The queso fundido was out of this world, and there was a special soup of the day with crab so good that I could have happily died swimming in a vat of it. It is one of the more expensive restaurants around, but the experience was worth every penny. Definitely make a reservation, or plan to eat in the intimate, well-decorated bar.
  • Kakawa Chocolate House on Paseo de Peralta had a wide variety of chocolate elixirs, truffles and bars. I tried their Rose Almond elixir, Chili elixir and Champagne Berry truffle. All 3 were incredible. Their hand-painted cup sets were so beautiful that I bought some to bring home, along with the Chili elixir mix. Kakawa has decent traffic in and out but it’s not loud, and it’s a place where you can linger over your treats without feeling like you need to rush out.
  • The Teahouse on Canyon Rd. is one of the more affordable restaurants in town. They have food available for breakfast, lunch and dinner in addition to excellent coffee/tea beverages and wine. Their Matcha Chai is incredible. I tried the roasted pears with pecorino toscana and truffle honey, which were an excellent complement to a glass of Fontanafredda Briccontondo Piemonte Barbera (the wine is as delicious as the name is long).
  • Cafe des Artistes on Canyon Rd. is the perfect place to stop for a snack while perusing the art galleries and sculpture gardens. Their Amaretto Cake is incredible, and they have a New Mexico Brut on the wine list that was crisp and refreshing.

Have you ever been to Santa Fe? Are there any other spots the rest of us should check out the next time we’re around? Share in the comments!

Happy Traveling!
KD

Travel

Travel Diaries: Iceland

Iceland snuck up on me in a lot of ways, and boy am I glad it did!

A couple of years ago I was in a weird place. There was some funky stuff happening at my job and the dissatisfaction was seeping out from my “career box” to slowly infect other parts of my life. I was questioning my career path, itching for adventure and desperately needing to reconnect with my truest self. One night in the midst of all of this, I saw a post on Facebook that immediately peaked my interest. The poster’s name was Kym and she specializes in curating/leading small group trips around the world. I had been connected with her by a mutual friend who had traveled with her through the Balkans and had an amazing experience.

Kym’s post explained that she was organizing a group trip to Iceland in less than a month, and she was accepting applications for people who would like to join. As soon as I read it, I knew that I just had to go with her. There was no doubt, no fear about traveling to a new country with total strangers. I just had this bone-deep certainty that I needed to make this happen.

I applied and she accepted, we had a joyful and inspiring exchange of emails and a few short weeks later I found her in the Reykjavik airport. The week that followed was one of the best of my life thus far. We frolicked with Icelandic ponies, stood laughing in the freezing spray of waterfalls and marveled over the black sand beach at Vik. We swam in blue hot springs, screamed in unfettered joy at the Northern Lights and talked late into the evenings, all huddled together in the back of our camper van.

Part of the the beauty of Iceland is that you don’t need to go in with much of a plan. There is so much natural beauty to explore, you can easily just pull off the road when you spot something interesting and go check it out! The top 3 spots that I recommend are Vik, Stokksnes and Jokulsarlon.

Traveling by camper van is definitely the way to go if you ask me, it was great to spend the entire day exploring and just stop to sleep wherever we were when the sun went down instead of spending a ton of time driving back and forth to a hotel.

We spent a couple of nights in Reykjavik, where we had spicy noodle soup at Noodle Station (major yum!) and were thoroughly entertained by a row of bars and restaurants that all had American pop culture themes. My favorites were the Chuck Norris Grill and the Lebowski Bar (complete with bowling themed decor and of course the house drink… a White Russian). The Laundromat Cafe was also a great Reykjavik find, where you can do your laundry and drink at the same time!

Iceland changed me. It was the first time in many years that I have truly acknowledged and followed my instincts, and it was the beginning of finding my way back to myself. The string of decisions I made as a result of the strength and intuition I rediscovered on that trip have changed my life, our life, for the better.

You can get a glimpse of our experience below, and you can find Kym and her partner Eskil on Instagram at @kympham and @digernes.

Iceland by Camper Van from Kym and Eskil on Vimeo.

Have you ever taken a trip that left you completely changed? Share your experience in the comments!

Get out there and explore!
KD