Lessons learned from my first (and tenth) trip to Europe, part 3

IMG_7692Sydney Opera House at sunrise

Hello and happy Friday! I hope all my USA readers had a Happy Fourth of July. This is the third and final installment in my “Lessons I’ve Learned from Traveling” series – I’d love to hear if you’ve enjoyed my stories! If you missed the first two installments, read them here and here!

Make jet lag work in your favor – When we traveled to Australia, our body clocks were all messed up.  We took advantage of being wide awake at 5 am and scheduled an early morning backstage tour of Sydney Opera House. My daughter, who is a stage manager, loved getting a peek at the backstage workings and hearing the stories of things gone wrong during shows. It was a great chance to experience something I normally might miss. On a normal day, I never see the sunrise; but seeing sunrise at Sydney Harbour was spectacular! If you know you’ll be awake earlier than usual the first day or two of your trip, make full use of those mornings to enjoy sightseeing with fewer crowds or to schedule a special tour that you wouldn’t otherwise consider.

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Shoes must be comfortable – If you’ve ever gotten horrible blisters on the first day of a trip where you are walking 10-15K steps a day (or more), you’ll understand this one! When forced to choose, prioritize comfort over style – sometimes you can find the holy grail and get shoes that are comfy AND cute, but sometimes you have to settle for shoes that are cute ENOUGH in order to get comfort, which is key. I have learned through trial and error to always pack blister bandaids, moleskin (pack scissors or precut pieces sized for heels and toes) and a pair of flip flops. 

Try to learn a few basic phrases in the language – Anywhere I’ve traveled, people have appreciated my efforts to say “Hello” “Please”, “Thank You”, “Where is the toilet”, “May I have” and “Where is” in their language. Even when I butcher it, I laugh and smile and try my best and generally get smiles and help in return.

**When traveling by bike, I also learn “Please help, my bike is broken”!**

IMG_2340Our hotel room in Austria

Beds may not be what you expect – In some countries, you will get a bottom sheet and a duvet, with no top sheet on the bed. I’ve found this particularly in the Germanic speaking countries. You will also sometimes get two twin beds pushed together for a double, with a space between the two mattresses which can make it hard to cuddle if traveling with a significant other.

Yes, we have no bananas – Many hotels with a breakfast buffet in Europe have stopped serving bananas. I’ve been told this is because Americans take them for later in the day. In Europe, hoteliers generally expect that you will take what you need for that specific meal, not stash extra food for snacks.

IMG_7961Making memories!

Pictures of you and your travel companions will provide better memories than pretty pictures of landmarks and scenery – so make sure you get pics of yourself and your loved ones!

Currency – the best place to get currency is the ATM at a bank. I used to always get cash at the airport ATM’s, but lately the airport ATM’s seem to be connected to the currency exchange booths (which are horrible places to get money) so I’ve started bringing a small amount of the local currency from home. I generally bring enough to get me from the airport to my hotel, plus the price of one meal in case I want to check in and eat before finding a bank. Another tidbit – when given the choice between paying in dollars or the local currency at a store, choose local currency for a better exchange rate.

IMG_1636One of my favorite restaurants in New York City

If you find a place you like, make a note of the address/location so you can go back – This lesson was reinforced  for me on our last trip, when we spent several hours wandering around Venice looking for a restaurant that we thought was “right around the corner” from our hotel! Try to grab a business card or jot down the address when you find a place you like, to make it easier to find if you decide to go back.

Always carry your hotel name and address with you – So you can show it to a cab driver or use the street name to ask for directions if you get turned around in a new city.

IMG_8416First time in first class!

Don’t fly 17 hours straight in coach if you can help it – three years ago, we flew from Dallas to Sydney (17 hours nonstop) in coach, and I will NEVER do that again – it was absolutely miserable! We broke the flight up on the way back into 8 and 9 hour flights with an overnight break in between…so much better!

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A/C is not as prevalent in Europe as it is in the USA – If you are traveling in the summer, and air conditioning is important to you, make sure you confirm that the hotel you are booking has air conditioning. Also, in winter, many hotels and restaurants will have the heat blazing. In your hotel room, you will sometimes have a radiator which is adjustable – on our last bike trip, my friend spent an entire night hot and uncomfortable, only to find in the morning that her radiator had been on full blast all night long!

IMG_2412Who says you can’t spend an afternoon reading at an outdoor cafe?

You don’t HAVE to spend every waking minute sightseeing – it’s perfectly valid to sit at an outdoor cafe and read for an entire afternoon. I’m just saying – it’s YOUR vacation, so do what makes YOU happy!

Keeping a trip journal is so worth it – even if you just make short notes about best/worst thing each day, where you ate, etc. I used to try to write several pages each night, but found that impossible to maintain; so now, I jot down best, worst, good restaurants, best quotes, funniest mistake, etc. Super quick notes but they are so fun to look back on and even short notes jog my memory!

Be wary of over scheduling – Try not to jam pack your itinerary. Traveling between attractions will take longer than you  think, and you may not have as much energy as you anticipate. If you’ve been moving a mile a minute and just can’t stomach one more museum, change your plans and sit at a cafe for an hour instead. Allow time for bathroom breaks, coffee stops, and spontaneity. I like to travel slower than some…I break my schedule into morning, afternoon and evening segments, with only ONE planned activity per segment. I do, however, jot down lots of notes about nearby sightseeing options in case we have extra time.

 

Rental cars are usually manual – When renting a car, you must request an automatic if you want one and it will often cost extra. And not all manuals are created equal; I once got stuck in a rental car lot in Pisa because the manual I was driving had a funky trick for getting into reverse! Don’t be afraid to ask for help from the rental car attendant. When driving, it’s also nice to know the city names along your route, as road signs in Europe often point toward towns rather than route numbers.

IMG_2216 (1)This detour sign led to a great day – and gave my blog its name!

Above all, roll with the punches and be flexible – You WILL experience frustrations, hiccups, and giggles. My husband and I stayed in a hotel in Heidelberg where the light over our bed fell down on us, so we slept with our feet at the head of the bed and our heads at the foot of the bed. We’ve gotten parking tickets because we didn’t understand the payment system and the signs. We‘ve made five circles through a roundabout because we couldn’t figure out which exit we needed to take. I told a policeman at the Eiffel Tower “I have a little stink” when I was trying to say “I speak a tiny bit of French”. But if you think of it all as a grand adventure and bend to accommodate these unexpected hiccups, you’ll end up with great travel stories and meet amazing people along the way.

**As my dad always used to say when things went wrong…”we’re making memories!” Here’s wishing you incredible memories!**

 

Mother’s Day gift ideas for someone who has recently lost her mom

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Mother’s Day is not the same for me since my mom died seven and a half years ago. The first year after she died, it hit me like a ton of bricks that I no longer had a mother with whom to celebrate (obviously, I still celebrate the fact that I HAD a mother, but her death left a gaping hole which I particularly feel on Mother’s Day), and the weeks of commercials leading up to the day only intensified my feelings of loss. That first year, I spent the Friday and Saturday before Mother’s Day in bed, crying. The actual day itself, however, turned out surprisingly well, because my husband and my three kids were sensitive to my grief and were so very sweet to me.

It’s hard to know how to celebrate Mother’s Day with someone who has recently lost their mother. Should I talk about her mom? Will I make her sad if I do? Should we even celebrate Mother’s Day? All these questions circle in the brain – but the answer is YES, you should talk about her mom and acknowledge Mother’s Day! I asked a few friends what gifts and gestures they most appreciated the first year after their mom died. In honor of the upcoming day on Sunday (in the USA at least), here are some gift ideas for any woman who has recently lost her mom.

A Mother’s Day card with a twist – One of my most treasured Mother’s Day cards from my husband is the one he gave me that first year after my mom died, in which he listed all of my mom’s best qualities and how he saw them continuing on in me. I’m actually tearing up as I write this, because taking the time to think about the things he loved the best about my mom and then write them down for me was such a perceptive, sensitive and loving thing to do. If you know someone who has recently lost her mom, and you knew her mom, a card or even just a phone call to say “I really loved this about your mom, and I see the very same quality in you” will make her so very happy!

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Stories about her mom – So often we don’t speak of the loved one for fear of making the grief worse. Yet, all of my friends said that they loved hearing stories about their mom from people who knew her. One of my friends said, “Recognizing she’s no longer here is important to me.  Ignoring her absence hurts.” So a short note or a phone call sharing your favorite memory or a funny story about her mom would be a treasured gift!

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Gift of your time – Now that my kids are grown and scattered, time with my kids is precious to me. I don’t usually get to see them on Mother’s Day, but I love when they call or FaceTime with me on the actual day. That first Mother’s Day, my children (who were in middle and high school at the time) spent the entire day with me – they made me breakfast in bed, helped me plant in my yard and played some of my favorite games after dinner. I also love to hike – there is something about being out in nature that is healing, so taking her for a hike might be just the thing! Your time can be particularly important if she doesn’t have kids of her own with whom to spend the day. Sharing a few moments, either in person or long distance, with siblings who share the loss can also be very meaningful. One friend stated that “Talking to and texting my sister on Mother’s Day are also part of my post-Mom ritual.  We both lost our mother and we’re linked by shared history since our births.” This is something I wish I’d been better at those first few years…I’m going to make it a point to call or text my brother and sister on Mother’s Day from now on!

Mom and Dad

A photo of her mom – Find a great photo of her mom, or the two of them, and frame it for her. Another friend, whose mom worked her entire life with preschool children, said she loved getting a picture of her mom reading to a circle of children.  I asked my dad for a copy of their wedding picture, and have it on my bedside table. I also have a fantastic picture of my mom and dad, on their last vacation before her cancer diagnosis, which I keep in my living room.  I love seeing her beautiful smile when I walk past her photos.

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Time to be alone – she may not be up for a big celebration this year, so let her make that call. Sometimes, the best gift you can give someone is time alone to rest, recharge and feel sad. My friend said it best…”Feeling sad is healthy – where there is great love, there is great grief.  I don’t want my family to try to jolly me out of this necessary, though brief, poignant sadness.” If she wants to be alone, you can send a text (with no answer required), drop a card with a treat or flowers on her porch, or send a short email to let her know you are thinking of her.

A gift of service – Is there a project with which she could use help? Maybe one she started before her mom died which has been laid to the side? Offer to help her work on it! I am always so grateful when my kids and husband help me with planting – I love my garden, but it’s time consuming to plant every spring, and the fact that they willingly pitch in, despite the fact that they don’t enjoy it, is so very appreciated!

A quilt made from her mom’s favorite clothes – One of my friends, who is a quilter, received a quilt made of fabrics from her mom’s closet. What a thoughtful, personal gesture! I have a piece of my mom’s wedding dress, which I will frame in a shadowbox with my mom and dad’s wedding photo. Another idea would be to stretch the front of a favorite souvenir t-shirt (especially if it’s from a trip she took with her mom) over canvas to be hung.

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Her favorite flowers – As long as she’s not allergic to flowers (my grandma had such bad allergies that we could never give her flowers) a bouquet of her favorite flowers is always a good idea. If her mom had a favorite flower, include some of those in the bouquet as well. Yellow roses were my mom’s favorite, and every time I see them, I think of her. I would love to receive some yellow roses on Mother’s Day in remembrance of my mom.

This year, I am spending the Saturday before Mother’s Day with my aunt, cousins, and sister. I’m so excited to get together with these incredible women, with whom I have a shared history and all of whom have lost our mothers. We are going to celebrate having (and being) bad ass moms, and we’ll probably tell lots of funny stories about my mom, aunt and grandma. Sunday I’ll get to see my youngest son and a young man who is like a son to me, and then on Monday, on my drive home, I’ll stop by Arlington Cemetery to say hi to my mom (as a 20-year Navy Wife, she’s in the columbarium there). I’ll tell her how my kids are doing and about my husband’s job search, catch her up on the extended family news, leave her a yellow rose, and somewhere up there, I hope she’ll know I’m thinking of her.

Living in Limboland (aka dealing with uncertainty)

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Fun fact: I have moved 20 times in my life. I have lived in my current house for 5 years and 9 months, which is precisely three months longer than I’ve ever lived anywhere else. After 20 moves, I am in the first house I’ve ever really loved. My house and my yard bring me such joy; some of my happiest moments of the last five years and nine months have been spent on my front porch. I love Winston Salem – it’s the perfect size for me, there’s a great sense of community, and there are always fun things to do. And my friends here in Winston Salem bring me even more joy than my house!

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Not so fun fact: We will, most likely, be moving again in the not too distant future. My husband has been between jobs for a year, and may be getting a job offer (or two, or maybe even three, if we’re really lucky) in other cities during the next month or so. Now I know some of you might be out there thinking that he should just try to get a job here so we can stay in Winston Salem, since we like it so much.  And he has…but what he does is somewhat specialized, and one of the downfalls of living in a smaller city is that opportunities for him are not plentiful. I work very part time, so his job has a huge influence on where we live at this stage of our lives. I am, however, an integral part of the discussion and decision on which job and location is the best balance between his career goals and the needs of our family. And our long term plan is to come back here at some point for retirement, so it’s not like we’ll be leaving forever. 

**I hope I’m not jinxing the process by writing this post – if you’re paying attention, Fate, I didn’t write that he IS going to get a job offer, just that he MIGHT get a job offer**

Since last year, I’ve known the possibility of another move is in our future. And while I’ve tried not to worry about it, I have to say that the uncertainty has affected me. I’ve basically been living in Limboland for the last year, which equates to constant low level stress. For those of you who move frequently, the following situations may sound familiar to you. Or you may have experienced other worries. Here are some of the ways uncertainty has affected my life this past year, and how I’m dealing with it.

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Being afraid to make long term commitments – Last August, I was feeling drawn to a volunteer project that required a commitment for the entire school year. But it didn’t feel ethical taking on that obligation when I knew there was a chance we might move before the school year ended, so I didn’t volunteer. Now, of course, it’s almost the end of the school year, so I could have safely signed up – but I didn’t know that last August, now did I? Even something as simple as a dental cleaning caused stress – should I make the next six-month appointment? What if we move and I forget to cancel it before leaving? Should we buy the new couch we desperately need for our current house, or should we wait because our next living room may be completely different? Anything requiring a commitment more than a month out began a cycle of “what if” that drove me crazy.

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Anticipatory grief – Because I love where I currently live, I’ve been sad off and on this past year, knowing that I will most likely have to say goodbye to my house, my town, and my friends. Starting all over again in a new city entails so much emotional work – we’ll have to find a place to live (should we buy or rent? live close to work or farther away? can we even FIND a house we’ll both like?), new doctors (not just a Primary Care doctor, but a new dentist, GYN, a new dermatologist, etc.), a new hair salon (this is super hard for women), a new dog sitter, and a new place to workout (will there be a YMCA close to my new house? will it be a nice facility? will they have the classes I like? will there be any long bike trails to train for my ride in September?), along with a myriad other details I haven’t even thought of at this point. I’ve also been remembering how very lonely I was when we first moved here, and am dreading a repeat of that experience. And what if we end up moving somewhere I don’t like? You never really know for sure if you’re going to enjoy the next place until you’re actually there!

Excitement – I know you’re probably thinking “This woman just said she’s dreading saying goodbye – how can she be excited, for pete’s sake?!” It sounds contradictory, but along with my inability to make long term commitments and my dread of being lonely, there is a little fissure of excitement at the opportunity to explore a new part of the country. I inherited my love of travel from my dad (a career Navy man who traveled the world on submarines and aircraft carriers and loved every second), so there is a part of me that is drooling at the chance to share new adventures with my husband. I’m also excited about sharing my excursions with all of you here on the blog!

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Acceptance – One of my mentors from grad school told me “Life is never 100 percent; it’s always 60/40. As long as the 60 percent is the good stuff, you’re doing okay.” Every place has good and bad. I’ve found that focusing on the good and minimizing the bad to the best of my ability leads to an easier adjustment, so I’ve started making lists of the good things about our potential locations as a way to mentally prepare. Even my least favorite possibility has several good things about it, so no matter where I end up, I’ll be good, and my husband and I will be together, which is hugely important to me. We’ve shared many adventures through the years, and hopefully we have many more to come. Stay tuned for more news as things develop! 

An April goals update…

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Happy Saturday everyone!

Back in March, I wrote about my ideal day and my “feeling goals”, and said I would post an update in April.  I’m at a family wedding this weekend so am sharing this quick update today in lieu of a travel-related post.

If you remember, I described my ideal day as calm yet energetic, filled with fresh air and sunshine, something productive, something fun, something active, quality food to fuel my body, and a good night’s sleep. Using this scenario as a guideline, I chose the following Feeling goals: energetic, productive, happy, well-rested, and active.

How did I do?

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Doing one small task before my morning coffee – I accomplished this about half the time in the last few weeks, and definitely notice an improvement in how energetic I feel when I get one small (even tiny) task done upon first waking. Even something simple like drinking 16 ounces of water or making the bed makes a big difference! My goal for April is to create a list of simple tasks that I can tackle upon awakening (my brain can’t handle anything too complex before coffee lol) and then improve my percentages in May.

Blocking out time to work on my blog – I’m still struggling with time management and carving out time to work on the blog. I’ve recently been introduced to Google calendar by a friend, and I am currently playing around with the app to create reminders and goals. I’ve set a goal of working on my blog three times a week, for two hours at a stretch, in the afternoons. Google calendar looks through my events and finds a good time to squeeze it in, which is very helpful. Once it’s on my calendar, I can rearrange if needed, but I am much more likely to keep the time sacred once it’s blocked out.

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Trying three different coffee shops – I tried two coffee shops in March, and realized that I am not a fan of working at Starbucks, as the loud music doesn’t allow for the concentration I need when writing. I am currently researching independent coffee shops in Winston Salem for a blog post, so am making some good progress on this goal in April.

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Going to bed earlier and disconnecting from electronics by 8 PM – complete and utter fail! In the last five weeks, I have only been asleep before midnight 11 times, and asleep by 11:30 PM FIVE times! So I am really missing the boat on this one. I have done a bit better turning electronics off early, but it’s really more like 9 or 9:30 rather than 8 PM that they go off. I feel most energetic when I wake up between 8 and 8:30 am, so I’d like to be asleep by 11:30. I’d be very interested in hearing your tips on getting into good sleep patterns!

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Exercise – this is one goal where I’m doing great! My goal was 20 workouts in March, and I did 24. I checked off my “fresh air and sunshine” goal on 27 of the last 30 days as well, so I am rocking and rolling on the exercise front! My April and May goals are to do 20 workouts per month and one minute of planks five days each week. I find that when I do planks consistently, I feel stronger and it only takes a minute out of my day, so it’s a win-win.

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Breakfast – you are my downfall! After my morning latte, I’m not usually hungry, so I forget to eat until lunchtime, which is often when I end up having my fruit smoothie. I keep reading about the importance of fueling your body in the morning, so might try prepping “smoothie bags” on Sunday to make it easier for my morning brain – I could just dump the contents into the blender, add almond milk, and voila – breakfast! I’ll likely add a column to my chart for eating SOMETHING in the am, even if it’s just a banana or a hard-boiled egg. Look for my May update to see how I do!

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Something fun – While I only did one full day outing in March (my overnight to Macon, Georgia), I did go to the opera with my husband, meet friends for lunch, schedule coffee dates, and have lots of exercise dates with friends, so am definitely feeling happy with this category. I’ve also read several good books lately and traveled for family events (two weddings in April) which has been fun. I’ve got some fun trips planned in the next few weeks as well, so watch for some new posts in my Wednesday Wanderings series! And let me know if you’d like to hear what I’ve been reading.

**I’d really love to hear your tips for better sleep and time management! Leave a comment below if you have any advice!**

A Quick Life Update…and how I want to be remembered

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Happy Tuesday everyone! I hope you all had a lovely St Patrick’s Day weekend! My husband and I ended up driving to St Louis for his uncle’s funeral; it somehow seems fitting than an Irishman should be buried on St. Patrick’s Day, doesn’t it? I had a post almost completed on the steps I take every day to stay healthy (it will be up later this week), but then something the priest said during the homily turned my thoughts in a completely different direction. He said that Uncle Bill could be summed up in the following three statements: “He loved his family, he loved his country, and he loved God”. My brain started swirling…how do I want my life to be summed up after I’m gone? And does the way I live line up with how I want to be remembered?

After much thought, I’ve settled on four statements: I want to be remembered as someone who had a fierce love of family and friends; who was kind, caring and looked for the good in people; who had an adventurous spirit and loved exploring this big wide world; who loved her country with her whole heart and was dedicated to making it better.

Does the way I live line up with these goals?  It’s so easy to get caught up in the day to day minutiae of life and forget about the big picture. We all have times when we barely manage to put one foot in front of the other to make it through the day. But I think it’s important to step back now and then to ensure that our daily actions are leading us toward our bigger goals and dreams. I love to get away for an entire day two or three times a year for just this purpose, but sometimes I just quietly spend an hour alone at a local coffee shop for a short refresher.

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So here’s a quick update on the four areas and where I think I can be doing better…

Fierce love of family and friends – there is no doubt that I dearly love my family and friends, but I’m not always careful with my tone of voice, and I’ve noticed lately that I’ve been a bit grumpy with my husband. He is one of the most important people in my world, so he should get the best of me rather than the worst. I know that the people with whom we feel safest are the ones we dump on, because we are secure that they will love us anyway, but shouldn’t he deserve my best efforts to be caring? I am going to be more intentional about speaking kindly to this amazing man of mine.

Kind, caring and looking for the good in people – honestly, can’t we all use a bit of improvement here?? While I do think in general this describes me, I have to admit that 2017 was a challenge. I spent a lot of time angry at the current political climate and falling into the political divide of judging people who voted differently than I. But no more. Being judgmental benefits no one, and builds no bridges. Instead, I’m going to be curious, and look for the things we have in common. I’m going to look for good in everyone I meet, and more actively cultivate compassion and kindness, especially in the little everyday moments.

eddy-lackmann-57741-unsplashAn adventurous spirit and love of exploring this great big world – this has been a big focus lately, with the start up of this blog. Travel has always been my passion, and I’m having so much fun sharing my travels with you all! I’m based in North Carolina, so if there are any places in the South that you’d like to read about, let me know and I’ll happily explore and share what I find. North Carolina is beautiful in the spring, so I’m planning on searching out some botanical gardens for you, among other adventures. My outdoor training bike rides will be starting up soon as well, so you’ll probably see reviews of long distance bike trails in the Carolinas and Virginia – I have the Neuse River Greenway Trail and the New River Trail on my list for April!

Love of my country and dedication to making it better – As I previously stated, I spent much of 2017 angry. While I’m still angry at the current administration, I’ve decided to focus my efforts on making my community better and positive political action rather than just being angry all the time. So I’ve taken concrete action to make a difference in my community. I’ve started volunteering and I’ve committed to help get out the votes in my precinct. These actions are a better use of my time than just sitting around being angry, and have the power to make a difference in a positive direction.

So there’s my quick update! How often do you get away to reflect? Do you have any favorite places to go for a day or an overnight? As always, thank you for reading, and I hope you have a great week!