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Pete & Amanda in Mexico

Source: imgur.com via Amanda on Pinterest

 

One of the highlights of our 2009 trip to Riviera Maya was the excursion to Chichen Itza followed by a visit to Ikil Cenote. More on Chichen Itza another time (as one of the New Seven Wonders of the World, it certainly warrants its own post). Today I’ll focus on the cenote.

After touring the ruins all day in the sweltering, unrelenting sun, our group stopped at Ikil Cenote (translation: “Sacred Blue Cenote”). A cenote is an amazing, magical sinkhole filled with fresh water. Cenotes are created when the original limestone landscape of the Yucatan Peninsula collapsed. If you want to know more about how cenotes are formed, go here.

The blue-green water is 120 feet deep after you already stepped 90 feet below ground. It’s a beautiful site and the water was so refreshing, especially after the long, hot day…

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David Eustace

I stumbled across this guy while working on a school assignment.  Scottish born photographer, David Eustace gives an amazing glimpse of Scotland from behind his camera lens.

I find his photography is breathtaking…refreshing…inspiring.  Check out his collection of “Scotland” photos here: Highland Heart.  It’s absolutely gorgeous.

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Up North

Michigan is already north for lots of people…but those who live in the mitten…down in the suburbs of Detroit, Grand Rapids, well, they’re not ‘up north’ so to speak.  Going up north is anywhere past the Flint or Saginaw line (and you’re free to have your own opinion of where that invisible line starts…this is mine).  Lots of southern Michiganders own cottages on lakes in northern Michigan.  Others rent a cottage for a week, or whatever suits their fancy.  It’s their little get-away within the state.  A home away from home.  A place of escape…rest and relaxation.

Mullet vs. Mullett

You can rent cottages along one of the Great Lakes or along an inland body of water, Silver Lake, Green Lake, or Mullett Lake (it was named after John Mullett.  Have to admit, I always thought of, yeah, a mullet and wondered what would possess a person to name a lake after the hideous hair style), and so on.  It’s your choice.  I’ve done both, and I have to say I like the inland lakes better.  Why do I prefer the inland as opposed to the Great Lakes?  The top most reason would be that they are warmer.  They are not this huge body of water that never really warms up for the summer.

Marina on Lake Michigan in Petoskey, MI

Mullett Lake

My first memory of swimming in one of Michigan’s smaller lakes was when I was about 2-3 years old.  My mom, sister, and I were all on a raft…precious.  Great bonding time, that is until the raft tipped, and we took a plunge.  I recall looking through the brownish water up towards the sun.  I thought I was going to drown.  Once I surfaced, to my absolute indignation, my mom and sister were cracking up.  Apparently, my “near-death” experience was all blown out of proportion in my head.

Fortunately it was not a life scarring experience, and I have since enjoyed many trips up north since than.

There are quite a few things to do up north.  Fishing, hiking, swimming, visiting Sleeping Bear Dunes, sailing, tubing down the Sturgeon River (the river is spring fed, so it’s freezing.  Still fun though)…they’re all up for grabs.  You can also visit the trademark tourist attraction or traps…Castle Rock, The Mystery Spot, Mackinaw Island or Mackinaw City.  Traverse City is gorgeous in the late springtime with all of cherry trees in bloom.  They claim to be the Cherry Capital of the World.  Their annual crop of cherries is around 300 millions pounds.  So, I suppose they have a right to that claim they make.

Sleeping Bear Dunes (thanks to Andrew McFarlane)

...more of the sand dunes (thanks to Kerry Kelly)

It’s a simple pleasure in life, but one of my favorite things to do up north are the cookouts around the campfire…competition for the Perfect Marshmallow…shooing the dog away from the food…watching the sky grow darker…and finally laying out on the dock gazing up into the star-studded sky looking for shooting stars, hearing the soft splash of the water against the shore and the lonely call of the loon off in the distance.  Yep, it’s a wonderful life.

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A Little Hungary

Hungary.  Not “I’m hungry” (that’s what I thought when I was little…who didn’t?), but the country of Hungary, or as the Hungarians call it Magyarország.

I personally don’t often hear of this country as being a common tourist destination.  But let me tell you, it’s worth the money to check it out.  It is absolutely gorgeous.

The picturesque landscape is full of lakes, mountains, rolling hills, golden fields, and dark forests.  Dotting the hillsides, you will see ornate churches and quaint houses.  The Danube’s bank nestle against the country’s capital, Budapest.  In this large city, you will find McDonald’s and the ancient aqueducts from the Roman Empire.

Hungarian Countryside

Hungarian Countryside

The signature food of Hungary is Gulyás (gou-yash).  It’s a mix between soup and stew.  It’s full of vegetables (potatoes/carrots/onions) and chunks of meat, not to mention the most popular spice in Hungary, paprika.  It is usually served with slices of hot peppers.  Note to self, do not touch face after cutting slices of pepper for the soup.  It burns.   Sometimes it is cooked outside in an open vat, which makes the meal even more tantalizing.  Delicious?  You bet.


Another traditional Hungarian dish is cabbage and pasta.  I regret to say the only healthy thing to found in the dish is the cabbage…I think the rest will just help clog your arteries.  That’s probably why it taste so good.  Here’s the recipe (well, the Americanized version of it…still tastes very much like the stuff I had when I was over there):

      5 slices bacon, diced

      2 tsp. sugar

      1 tsp. salt

      6 cups chopped cabbage (1-inch squares)

      3 cups cooked noodles (4 oz. uncooked)

      1 cup sour cream

      Paprika 

Saute bacon until crisp in large frying pan.  Remove bacon and set aside.  Stir sugar and salt into bacon drippings.  Add cabbage, stirring until cabbage is coated with bacon drippings.

Cover and cook 7 to 10 minutes.  Add cooked noodles and bacon, stirring to blend.  Adjust seasoning to taste.  Spoon into a 2-quart baking casserole; cover tightly and bake at 325 degrees for 45 minutes.  Spread sour cream over top of casserole; sprinkle with paprika and return to oven for 5 minutes more.

(Note: Usually I drain some of the bacon drippings, so I don’t have to serve all that fat)

Okay, I’m done with the food.  It’s starting to make me hungry.

The city/town of Szentendre is full of quaint cobblestone streets lined with little shops.  There is a certain spot in the town where you can overlook all the red tile roofs.  Very old world and very memorable.

Shop along the cobblestone streets

Rooftops of Szentendre

Have you ever wanted to push a pause button on life and let time stand still?  The little, rural village of Hollókő is just that.  Developed in the 17th and 18th centuries, Hollókő has kept to itself over the period of time.

Here all of the buildings are whitewashed, be it a home or a shop.  And this is where I say, “Make sure there is a sign outside of the building before entering.”  You may be barging into someone’s home.  And that would be kind of embarrassing.

Hollókő also has this amazing castle.  It’s been dated back to sometime in the 1300’s.  Climbing up inside of it and looking out over the hills to the edge of the dense forest will bring your imagination to life.  Let it go wild…you’ll be able to see the enemy armies lurking behind the dark trees, or troops descending the mountains off in the distance.

Hollókő Castle

The castle ruins of Hollókő

The village of Hollókő thanks to Krzyżówki from Wikimedia Commons and Ookaboo!

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The Perfection of Preparation

I have an infatuation with traveling.  I love visiting new places…or not so new places.  Catching up with out-of-state friends and family…or going somewhere strange and foreign and making new friends.

For me, traveling began with those yearly family vacations (which included going to different cottages in northern Michigan or making the long car trip down to Florida).  Over time, my enjoyment in traveling has evolved and has turned into, well, an addiction you might say.  I am no longer content to stay in one place for an extended period of time.  From time to time, I get the “itchy feet” syndrome, and I know that it’s time to pack my suitcase and (in most cases) book a flight.

So, my favorite mode of travel is flying.  There’s nothing like feeling the transition of taxiing on the runway and taking off to be swallowed up into the vast blue yonder.  I can hear Nemo’s dad Marlin (from Finding Nemo) calling out to me, “Now go have an adventure!”.  And that’s exactly what I intend to do each time I board an airplane.

I’ve found that the best place to purchase airline tickets is through Travelocity.com.  It’s my all time favorite website (for travel). Travelocity offers the best prices, and the site is relatively easy to navigate.  It’s a rare thing to find me buying a ticket through an airline’s website.  Another tip to finding tickets at lower prices is to purchase your ticket a few weeks in advance…no sooner, no later…a seasoned traveler shared this with me.  One time, I waited a couple of days too late and ended up paying around an extra $100.  If you move slow, you’ll pay.

After the ticket is purchased, the all important task of packing is next.  There is nothing like trying to stuff a stray article of clothing into an already packed suitcase…and then having to weigh it again to make sure it hasn’t gone over the 50 pound limit.  Before I really started traveling, I never realized that packing could build muscle, resourcefulness and creativity.  Just try lifting up that awkwardly shaped 50 pound piece of luggage while stepping onto a scale, meanwhile, trying ever so (un)successfully to look down and see the numbers on the scale.  It’s a workout.   And as far as the resourcefulness and creativity…well, you learn that rolling your clothes in tight “balls” conserves a lot of space, which means more room in the suitcase!

BEWARE!  Don’t try to be like the world-wide traveler and limit your suitcase sizes and such.  This is personal experience speaking.  On one occasion, I was going for the “look-how-little-I-need-to-pack” look.  Dumb.  I came home with an extra box.  Save the time, money and hassle and just use all the suitcase space the airlines allow you.  If you’re positive you’re not coming back with more than you left with, then by all means, pack smaller.  Hey, sometimes you can get away with only a couple of carry ons…and no suitcase, period.  Save that extra 25 or so dollars.  I’ve also tried this method and it works quite well.

Oh and before you leave the house…always, always, always…check your flight schedule.  Check it the week before, the day before, morning or evening of.  I’ve missed a flight because I misread an e-mail sent out by the airline I was flying with.  They were informing me that my flight was leaving an hour or so earlier.  I was busy shopping at Ikea when I was notified of my mistake…or more that the plane had already taken off.  So much for that leisurely shopping trip.  Thankfully, I was able to reschedule the flight for later one in the evening, but I arrived at my destination around midnight instead of in the afternoon.  Fortunately for me, it was an inexpensive lesson.

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