Thursday, December 27, 2018

Tying 2018 up with a Neat Little Bow

I love looking back at my photos from the year and counting my blessings in this life. This past year was a big one for travel - I made it to a beach every month for my Beach of the Month challenge and I took two very big "Trips of a Lifetime". And whether my trips are a world away or just down the road, I am always grateful for the opportunity to see and visit a new destination. Let's see what 2018 looks like in the rearview mirror -

The Outer Banks of North Carolina
The Barrier Islands off of North Carolina known as the Outer Banks is one of my favorite destinations. Sun, sand, surf, locally owned restaurants and hotels, lighthouses - the Outer Banks just contains what I need for a fun vacation. We usually travel here in the off-season and I've come to appreciate these winter visits with less visitors, and this year, snow at the beach. I know it's not for everyone, but it's for me. I always look forward to the Outer Banks.

Pensacola Beach, Florida
I've wanted to explore more of the Florida Panhandle for awhile now and when I found out that Allegiant Airlines had inexpensive flights to that area, Mr. UR and I decided to make it happen. We spent a weekend in Pensacola Beach on the Emerald Coast and they're not exaggerating when they say the sand is as "white as sugar". We had dinner on the water and also drove along Gulf Islands National Seashore. A weekend was just enough to whet my appetite for the area and I definitely need to go back.
The Sugar White Sands of Pensacola Beach, Florida

A California Mystery Trip
When my oldest daughter graduated from college we made her trip back home into a "Mystery Trip" - we visited a new place each day and she didn't find out where we were going until the night before. So when she graduated with her Masters in May, Mr. UR said we should do it again. I decided to plan this trip to a place that was new to her and that I knew she would enjoy - Los Angeles and the surrounding area. We visited family in San Diego, spent a day at Disneyland, went wine tasting in the Santa Ynez Valley, took a train to Santa Barbara, took a day trip to Palm Springs and explored Hollywood. It was the perfect area for a Mystery Trip as there was so much to see and do that we couldn't fit it all in. (Always a recurring theme to travel)
On the Friends set at Warner Brothers Studios

Colorado and Nebraska
We've traveled to Colorado every year since my son moved there five years ago. We always find new things to see and do in this incredibly beautiful state. This year we decided to go over the border into Nebraska to go boating on Lake McConaughy for the 4th of July weekend. We based ourselves in the town of Ogalalla and rented a boat on Lake Mac for the holiday.
Lake McConaughy in Nebraska

 We headed back to Denver for some more exploring and I visited the restored Union Station for the first time, tasted my first Little Man Ice Cream ( it truly lives up to the hype) and did a mini brewery tour of RiNo. We also walked the Pearl Street Mall in Boulder and soaked our cares away in the delightfully chill Iron Mountain Springs in Glenwood Springs.
Iron Mountain Hot springs in Glenwood Springs, Colorado

A European Road Trip
We flew into Geneva, Switzerland to start our Grand European Road Trip in the fall. We drove through the French Alps, fell in love with Lake Garda in Italy, realized the dream of visiting Venice, drove up through the Dolomites in Italy and into Austria and then based ourselves in Munich to visit Oktoberfest. We moved on to a wine tasting in Liechenstein,visited Neuschwanstein Castle and then ended by spending two days in Lauterbrunnen, Switzerland.  It was the trip of a lifetime and it made all my European dreams come true. Of course, until the next European Road Trip, right?
Lake Garda, Italy

The Low Country of South Carolina
I visited Beaufort, Bluffton and Savannah for a long weekend of fun and the beautiful scenery of the Low Country. We happened upon the Bluffton Oyster Festival, visited Hunting Island State Park for the first time ( the most visited state park in South Carolina), took a trolley tour of Savannah and visited the haunting Old Sheldon Church Ruins. I need to make an effort to go here more.
Old Sheldon Church Ruins outside of Beaufort, South Carolina

North Georgia
Over the last few years, my sister, mom and I have tried to take a fall weekend trip to explore somewhere new, yet close by. This year we picked the North Georgia mountains where we visited the towns of Helen, Dahlonega and Blue Ridge. We did some leaf peeping, shopping, hard cider and wine tasting and ate some delicious food. I enjoyed it so much that I've scheduled another trip here with Mr. UR in 2019.
Mountain view from Amicalola Falls State Park

When I mentioned to friends that I was visiting my youngest daughter in Australia, and more than any other trip I've taken, the almost unanimous reply was "Oh, I've always wanted to go there! It's number one on my bucket list!" And it definitely lives up to it's reputation as a fantastic place to visit.
The view from Mrs. Maquaries Chair in the Sydney Botanic Gardens

 We flew into Sydney, where my daughter lives, and proceeded to visit Mr. UR's absolute dream destination, The Great Barrier Reef. We stayed in Airlie Beach and went to the Outer Reef and beached it in the Whitsunday Islands. Upon returning to Sydney, we walked the Sydney Harbor Bridge, visited the Opera House, hiked at Royal National Park, had High Tea in the QVB, enjoyed a day at Bondi Beach and ate supper at Watsons Bay, did a winery tour in the Hunter Valley for Mr. UR's birthday, took a tour of the Rocks and had dinner there.
Just outside of Royal National Park

And that's not all. My daughter and I flew to Tasmania - simply one of the most stunning places I've ever visited - where we stayed in Launceston and visited the northern part of the island - a winery and Bridestowe Lavender Farm - and then headed to "don't miss it" Trowunna Wildlife Sanctuary. We drove to the beautiful Freycinet National Park, had dinner with a friend in Hobart, explored Salamanca Place there and then did MONA. Phew. And there was so much more to see and do. I don't always feel the need to go back to a place but I would definitely do Tasmania again.
A Tasmanian Devil at Trowunna Animal Sanctuary

It was an incredible year of travel. I visited so many places that I never thought I would go. Memories for a lifetime. Thank you for stopping by here each week to travel along with me. I appreciate all your support. I can't wait to see what 2019 has in store.

How about you? Where did you travel to in 2018? 

Linking up with: Wednesday Around the World at Photographing New Zealand and The Weekly Postcard at Travel Notes and Beyond!

Friday, December 21, 2018

Happy Holidays from The Unpaved Road!

I hope all of you have a fantastic holiday! I'm taking this week off to enjoy time with my family. Thank you all for supporting The Unpaved Road this year and Blessings to all!


Thursday, December 13, 2018

Catching the Christmas Spirit in New York City

New York has to be one of the best places on the planet to catch that Christmas spirit. The city certainly does Christmas decorating and celebrating right! Last year was my first time to visit New York over the holidays - and it definitely didn't disappoint. Was it crowded? Definitely! Can you work your way around the crowds? Yes, it can be done. You just have to get creative. What can you do and see in New York at Christmas? Here's a short list:

Check out Macy's Windows
Macy's Flagship Department Store on Herald Square decorates it's windows with a different theme every year. So many people visit that there is a long line to just walk past them. We decided to go take a look during daylight hours so we could beat the crowds. We still saw the windows - they just weren't lit up. You pick and choose people, pick and choose.

View the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree and Ice Skating Rink
We decided to visit the Top of the Rock Observatory to view the sunset. Then we made our way back to street level and  took a gander at the large Christmas tree that defines Rockefeller Center at Christmas.The tree first appeared at Rockefeller Center in 1931 during the Depression and is decorated with some 45,000 lights.  It was quite impressive! We watched the skaters on the ice at the legendary Rockefeller Center Ice Rink.( And saw the seriously long line of people hoping to skate that night. It's a very, very small rink and unless it's always been your dream to skate there, I'd recommend you do some research and find somewhere less crowded and more affordable - it's $25 per adult and $15 per child to skate for an hour and a half, with skate rental being $15.)

This was by far the most crowded place that we visited - in fact, there were 6 of us and we got separated in the crowds. If you don't like crowds, you can always go during the day.Or maybe be an early riser and head there at 5am while it's still dark out to escape the crowds  Just expect that it will be mobbed at night. 

Catch a show at the Radio City Music Hall
Radio City Music Hall puts on one of the most iconic Christmas shows in New York with the Radio City Christmas Spectacular. The show features 36 Rockettes dancers doing their famous kick-line and the dance of the Wooden Soldiers. Live animals are also included in the show in the living nativity portion. The show is 90 minutes long and as soon as you know you'd like to go, I'd suggest that you secure tickets.

A Stroll down Fifth Avenue
Fifth Avenue brings out all the displays at Christmas time and you can take a walk to check it all out. Stores such as Bergdorf-Goodman, Tiffany & Co and Saks Fifth Avenue decorate their windows and hotels such as The Plaza do it up big, also. ( between 59th and 39th Streets)Even the New York Public Library decorates for Christmas!

We got swept away in the crowd from Rockefeller Center and ended up in front of Saks Fifth Avenue and it's holiday light show set to music. And fireworks, too. 

Bryant Park Christmas Market
Bryant Park, located behind the New York Public Library, turns into a Christmasy Winter Wonderland each year in it's pop-up Christmas Market that resembles a European Christmas Market. There are more than 125 holiday shops set in kiosks with twinkling Christmas lights and Manhattan's only FREE Ice Skating Rink (We like free!) There are two bars with patio (and fire pits) where you can just have a drink and enjoy the atmosphere. And who knows? You may even get a little shopping done, too.

Ice Skate at Central Park
The Wollman Rink in Central Park has shorter lines - and smaller prices - than Rockefeller Center and a killer view of the city. So if you don't have your heart set on the Rockefeller Rink, then this could be a good alternative. Adults $9 and kids $6 not including skate rental

New York City is just a magical place at Christmas, plain and simple. And there's so much more than this short list. Wouldn't it be cool to see the New York City Ballet perform the Nutcracker? I also didn't make it inside the Plaza hotel, or grab a drink at one of the Christmas pop-up bars, or see the train exhibit at the New York Botanical Gardens. As always, I guess I'll just have to go back.

How about you? Have you done New York City at Christmas? What was your favorite?

Linking up with: Wednesday Around the World at Communal Global, The Weekend Wanderlust Weekend Travel Blog Party and The Weekly Postcard!


Saturday, December 1, 2018

November Beach of the Month: Whitehaven Beach, Queensland, Australia

Whitehaven Beach is considered one of the world's most unspoiled and beautiful beaches. In 2016, it was voted the Best Beach in Australia and 5th Best Beach in the World. It's located on Whitsunday Island in Queensland, Australia and can only be reached by boat, plane or helicopter. Known for it's super high silica content, it's sand is blindingly white and soft. 

We based ourselves at an Airbnb condo in Airlie Beach for our trip to Whitehaven. We went by boat - we booked passage on Cruise Whitsunday's, a tour operator that runs out of Airlie Beach and Hamilton Island. 

We walked from our condo rental - about a 15 minute walk - to the Cruise Whitsunday's office at Airlie Marina. There is a cafe and gift shops available while you wait to board your boat.  Our boarding time was 6:45 am - yep, it was an early one and it was already 90 degrees outside - and departure was at 7:15. (We were on the half-day tour which was part of a package with our reef trip the day before. But you can take an all day trip with a hike to Hill Inlet to view the famous Whitsunday Island "Swirls".)

Our boat had an outdoor seating deck and two air-conditioned areas on the top and bottom deck with viewing windows to watch the passing scenery. Complimentary tea and coffee are offered along with toast when you first board. And morning fruit and muffins before you reach the island. It took about an hour to reach Hamilton Island where we picked up more passengers. And then it was about 45 minutes until we reached Whitsunday Island. 

Once arriving at Whitsunday the boat drops anchor and you are tendered onto the beach by a contraption called a "rail" that holds about 30 people at a time. The trouble on the day we went was that the winds were strong and "the northerlies" - winds from the north - which were less than ideal for our trip. We were told that we probably wouldn't be able to get to the beach. But as luck would have it, the winds started drifting more from the northwest and calmed a bit so we could actually get to the beach. Fun item: there was a bride and groom either getting married on the beach or taking photos - they sure picked a hot one for that!

We were transported by the rail and spent about 2 hours on the beach itself. Cruise Whitsunday's provided sand tents to stay out of the fierce sun, a guided nature walk, a volleyball competition and drinking water. We chose to walk the beach - it's about 5 miles long - and enjoy the delightfully aqua water. The temps were about 100 degrees by the time we reached the beach but as I said before, there was a big breeze blowing so that made it a little more comfortable.

In the warm waters off the Whitsunday's there are lethal jellyfish that can't be seen and the box jellyfish can kill an adult with it's venom within 2 to 3 minutes. So precautions are taken if you're swimming there in spring or summer when the waters heat up. That's when the "stinger suits" come into play. Cruise Whitsunday's offers a complimentary suit for everyone to wear and you're covered from head to toe except for your face. Aren't they the sexiest? (Mr. UR asked one of the crew if they were really necessary and his reply was "It's up to you, mate, but I wouldn't go in without one")

We enjoyed the swimming and the beach and then it was time to board up again. By now the winds were really picking up  so they beached the boat and we entered by gangplank for our 2 hour return trip to Airlie Beach. We arrived by 1:45 and headed out for lunch.

My daughter declared this one of the most beautiful beaches she's been to. I, also, thought it was beautiful but I've seen some beaches just as beautiful but easier for me to get to. (It was an hour drive to Sydney airport, a 2 hour flight to Prosepine, a 40 minute shuttle ride to Airlie Beach and then your time on the boat - not to mention 21 hours in the air from the US alone with 28 hour total travel time from the East Coast) Am I glad I went? Oh, most definitely! If you're on the East Coast of Australia - go! And if you're visiting the eastern part of Australia - go! I'm so glad that I did!

How about you? Have you been to Whitehaven Beach?

Interested in traveling to Whitehaven Beach? For more on the tour group we used - Cruise Whitsunday's - click here (This is not sponsored, just a good experience)

Linking up with: The Weekly Postcard at Travel Notes and Beyond and The Weekend Wanderlust Weekend Travel Blog Party!