2016 – A Year in Review

Phnom Penh, Cambodia, independence monument, plaza, travel, explore, Asia, photo, Samsung Galaxy

To say 2016 was a strange year is understating it.  It started right off the bat with a scary family health issue (which, mercifully, is much much better by now) that took us all quite by surprise.  The year also had other small ‘hiccups,’ which is just life on any given year.  Nevertheless, and as is often the case, God certainly brings good out of the bad, and provides other great things to keep us balanced (or, sane!).

I want to share some of those great things, at least the ones that related to travel, exploring, hiking, relaxing, or enjoying food/wine to wrap up this year.  While I did not get to write as much this year as I normally do, I certainly never stopped dreaming of travel or of sharing the experiences.  Here is to a great 2017 for all!

Elton, Sir Elton

A work trip in early January resulted in getting invited to a private concert with Sir Elton John.  I got to stand close to the stage and enjoyed his music and showmanship (and the complimentary drinks with two great co-workers)!  While the year started with Elton John’s music, I can say that the song of the year (in my head, anyway) is “One Night in Bangkok,” if nothing else because I heard it too many times in anticipation of a trip that happened much later in the year.

Elton John, concert, CES, music, icon, travel, Las Vegas, photo, red piano

Brunswick in coastal Georgia

A brief work trip in February took me to coastal Georgia, to the sleepy-ish town of Brunswick.  I took some time to drive around the old part of town and caught a great sunset as I hunted for a place to sit down and eat.  Not bad!Brunswick, Georgia, sunset, sun, cloud, silhouette, golden, sky, photo

Oldest church in Atlanta

The Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in downtown Atlanta is the oldest church in Atlanta.  I got to work at the homeless shelter in the basement overnight a night in winter.  I loved the reflection of the church on the modern building across from it…

Shrine, Immaculate Conception, downtown, Atlanta, reflection, glass, photo, Samsung Galaxy

The Shrine of the Immaculate Conception – or its reflection

Hiking in north Georgia

Spring brought many opportunities to go hiking around and north of Atlanta.  Whether with my regular hiking buddy, Phil; or with my friend Troy and his two oldest children, Rehm and Caitlyn; or with a group from church that included my friends Chris and Wendy, springtime was full of hiking.  Here are photos from my hikes around Vickery Creek, up Pine Mountain, up to the top of Stone Mountain, or to and back from the awesome Hike Inn in north Georgia!

Vickery Creek, hiking, Georgia, waterfall, dam, nature, outdoors, photo, Samsung Galaxy

Around the Vickery Creek trails

Vickery Creek, hiking, Georgia, waterfall, dam, nature, outdoors, photo, Samsung Galaxy

Around the Vickery Creek trails – the dam

Pine Mountain, hiking, Georgia, waterfall, dam, nature, outdoors, photo, Samsung Galaxy

Trails around Pine Mountain

Pine Mountain, hiking, Georgia, waterfall, dam, nature, outdoors, photo, Samsung Galaxy

Trails around Pine Mountain

Hike Inn, sunrise, mountains, hiking, Georgia, waterfall, dam, nature, outdoors, photo, Samsung Galaxy

View of sunrise from the Hike Inn

Hike Inn, Georgia, mountains, hiking, trekking, Atlanta, photo

The group at the starting point to get to the Hike Inn

Stone Mountain, hiking, Georgia, waterfall, dam, nature, outdoors, photo, Samsung Galaxy

No kids were harmed in this photo on the rail line in Stone Mountain

Stone Mountain, hiking, Georgia, waterfall, dam, nature, outdoors, photo, Samsung Galaxy

Around Stone Mountain

Stone Mountain, hiking, Georgia, waterfall, dam, nature, outdoors, photo, Samsung Galaxy

Again, no kids were harmed… really…

Colorado spring!

In June, I got to visit my friends Annette, Kent and Austin to celebrate two great events in their lives.  It also gave me the opportunity to tour the Stanley Hotel which inspired Stephen King, and to finally hike around the table mountain right west of Arvada.  Oh, and I got to see a few other friends that I had not seen in a few years!

Stanley Hotel, Estes Park,  flower, Stephen King, Colorado, table mountain, explore, photo, Samsung Galaxy

The Stanley Hotel

hiking, Colorado, table mountain, outdoors, nature, photo, Samsung Galaxy hiking, Colorado, table mountain, outdoors, nature, photo, Samsung Galaxy, flower

Celebrating with my Mom and sister

In July, my Mom, sister and I made a long weekend getaway to the Ritz-Carlton in Sarasota.  We got to relax, laugh, and -of course- eat a lot of delicious food!

family, Ritz, Sarasota

With my Mom and sister!

Sarasota, sunset, purple, orange, palm tree, travel, rest

Great colors as the sun sets west of Sarasota

chocolate mousse, food, foodie, travel, photo

Mmm!!!!

creme brulee, dessert, food, foodie, photo, tasty

Creme brulee

Wine in California

I was fortunate to be able to go to California for work which allowed me to visit ex-Atlanta residents Jenny, Jason, Phoebe and Zoe.  While the kids were in school, my hostess and I escaped for a wine tasting at Testarossa – great locale and great wine!  Among the best things to do in Cali – wine tasting!

Testarossa, California, winery, wine tasting, fun

Entrance to the tasting room

Testarossa, California, winery, wine tasting, fun

Awesome setting for a winery!

Cheap fare to Stockholm

John, a college friend who knows how to find a good airfare, suggested a long weekend ‘jump’ to Stockholm.  A little bit mad, perhaps, but I could not say no to have another opportunity to explore this great city.  And then we drove away from the city to see what we’d run into.  Good stuff for another post!

Stamla Gan, Stockholm, Sweden, travel, explore, tourism, Samsung Galaxy

Great view of the heart of Stockholm

Sweden, countryside, cottage, yellow, travel, explore, Samsung Galaxy

Sweden’s countryside

food, mussels, Stockholm, Sweden, travel, explore

A great dinner on the first night in Stockholm

red ivy, Stockholm, Sweden, travel, explore, tourism, Samsung Galaxy

Beautiful Stockholm!

My travel capstone in 2016 – Asia

Great stuff up to this point but my trip to Southeast Asia certainly took the cake – not just for the long distance to get there (37 hours!).  I got to explore and sample Bali, Singapore, Bangkok and the countryside near it, and amazing Cambodia.  Wish I had had two more weeks to include Laos and Vietnam – and/or just for more time in these places.  Leaving something unseen for a future trip hopefully and grateful for the opportunity to see what I saw!

Bali, Indonesia, Asia, Seminyak, pool, W Resort, W hotel, awesome, Samsung Galaxy S7

The view from my room included a great view of the pool area

Our Lady Help, Mae Klong, church, Catholic ,Bangkok, Thailand

Cycling around the countryside outside of Bangkok

Bangkok, Thailand, tuk tuk, ilivetotravel, travel, adventure, explore

Tuk tuk adventures…

Bangkok, Thailand, temple, reclining Buddha, ilivetotravel, travel, adventure, explore

Standing Buddha with the reclining Buddha

Cambodia, Cambodge, sunset, lake, travel, explore, adventure, Samsung Galaxy

Sunset in Cambodia

Angkor Wat, temple, ilivetotravel, sunrise, ruins, explore, travel, Asia, Cambodia, Cambodge

Looking haggard after an early early wake-up to see Angkor Wat at sunrise

Ta Phrom, Cambodia, Cambodge, Angkor Wat, temple, ruins, banyan tree, travel, explore, adventure

Ta Phrom and its banyan trees!

Singapore, ilivetotravel, Marina Bay Sands, infinity pool, up high, travel, explore

Atop the Marina Bay Sands! (Thanks Phil I. for the photo!)

 Have a happy and blessed 2017, everyone!!!

In-and-Out: The Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, CO

Stanley Hotel, Estes Park, Colorado, lodging, architecture, photo, Samsung Galaxy S7

I headed to Denver to see friends and as luck would have it, an afternoon in Estes Park was in the books for me.  I would have about 3 hours to spend in Estes Park so I checked TripAdvisor for some quick ideas on what to see while there.  I had driven through Estes Park multiple times a couple of decades ago when I spent two summers in Boulder, Colorado to get to the Rocky Mountain National Park but I had never stopped in Estes Park.  I had no memory of it.

So, The Stanley Hotel came up in the search and it offered a 1.5 hour tour.  My local friends briefly shared about the hotel so I made up my mind and bought my ticket ($23 since I was not a guest at the hotel) for the 11 AM tour.

Stanley Hotel, Estes Park, Colorado, Rocky Mountain National Park, facade, architecture, photo, tour, The Shining

Grand hotel indeed!

I made it with barely a second to spare before the tour began.  Scary Mary saw me walk in and asked if I was Mr. Pino.  I said yes and immediately asked her if I could run to the restroom – I could not fathom an 1.5 hours waiting to go…  (did I share too much?)  She allowed the extra minute and I was glad.

Stanley Hotel, Scary Mary, Estes Park, tour, The Shining, Stephen King, photo

Scary Mary introduces us to the tour

Scary Mary, her self-proclaimed name, was funny and quirky and made for a great tour guide mixing deep knowledge about the place with humor and the dramatic touch when it came time to talk about ghosts and other supernatural stories.

The Shining and The Stanley Hotel

The hotel is more famous not for the quaint story of its birth but because of its ties to the movie “The Shining” with Jack Nicholson.

Stanley Hotel, Estes Park, Colorado, Rocky Mountain National Park, facade, architecture, photo, tour, The Shining

Art based on The Shining

It seems the hotel was the inspiration Stephen King needed when he stayed at The Stanley back in 1974.  The hotel was about to close for the season but King convinced the staff to let him and his wife stay overnight.  Maybe they pranked him when they placed him in the haunted room 217… (We also hear Jim Carrey should be asked about his stay in this room…)

Room 217, Estes Park, Colorado, Stanley Park, The Shining

Haunted Room 217

While the hotel was the inspiration for the movie, it was not the actual location where that movie was filmed.  Most was filmed in a studio set and exterior shots were done at a lodge near Mt. Hood.  Of lesser fame than The Shining, perhaps, is that the hotel was featured in “Dumb and Dumber” – especially a run up its main staircase by the two principal characters of the movie!

Stanley Hotel, Estes Park, Colorado, Rocky Mountain National Park, architecture, photo, Dumb and Dumber

The main staircase

Stanley Hotel, Estes Park, Colorado, lodging, architecture, photo, Samsung Galaxy S7, Cascade, staircase

Looking down the main staircase

A little of the history of the place

The tour begins with the story with how Freelan Oscar “F.O.” Stanley and his wife Flora got to settle there.  The Stanleys were an East Coast couple who had taken a trip to Colorado to help F.O. recover his health.  He was pretty much almost at the brink of death as he left Denver for a time in the mountains at Estes Park.  He made an incredible recovery and proceeded to build the hotel there as a way to have something comparable to the East coast life they were used to when they came out West, a place they had grown to love.

Stanley Hotel, Estes Park, Colorado, lodging, architecture, photo, Samsung Galaxy S7, Cascade, lobby, keys

Registration counter in the lobby with photos of F.O. and Flora (I presume…)

There are a few stories about supernatural events but those are best heard from Scary Mary, not me 🙂  But I will say there is a special force right smack in the middle of this staircase on the 217-side of the building…  Some kind of vortex if I understood right.

Stanley Hotel, Estes Park, Colorado, Rocky Mountain National Park, architecture, photo, vortex, supernatural

The vortex staircase

The Stanley Hotel today

The lobby clearly retains a feel for the past with the heavy woods and furniture arrangements.  While the setting of the hotel is spectacular, and the lobby and its spaces feel special, the main guest room floors do feel a bit drab.

Stanley Hotel, Estes Park, Colorado, lodging, architecture, photo, Samsung Galaxy S7, lobby

Lobby

Stanley Hotel, Estes Park, Colorado, lodging, architecture, photo, Samsung Galaxy S7

Guest room floor

The maze in front of the hotel was an ‘add’ to the grounds after throngs of visitors kept asking about the maze that shows in The Shining.  The hotel owners, I suppose, decided to play along and installed one (in its early stages of vegetation growth at the moment…).

Stanley Hotel, Estes Park, Colorado, Rocky Mountain National Park, maze, architecture, photo, tour, The Shining

The maze at the front of the hotel

Back to the interior, the hotel has good touches in the decoration using vintage artifacts from an automobile to mirrors, large and small.  Stanley Hotel, Estes Park, Colorado, Rocky Mountain National Park, photo, tour, mirror Stanley Hotel, Estes Park, Colorado, Rocky Mountain National Park, photo, tour, lamp, light fixture Stanley Hotel, Estes Park, Colorado, Rocky Mountain National Park, photo, tour, piano Stanley Hotel, Estes Park, Colorado, Rocky Mountain National Park, photo, tour, automobile, vintage car

Stanley Hotel, Estes Park, Colorado, Rocky Mountain National Park, photo, tour, hose fixture

Old fixture for fire hose

The views from the front porch – and I presume, the rooms – are pretty spectacular with the town below and the mountains beyond.  A key selling point to the hotel, I am sure!

Stanley Hotel, Estes Park, Colorado, lodging, architecture, photo, Samsung Galaxy S7, Rockies

Views of the Rockies from the front porch

The bar is pretty cool in its design, decor and feel.  There is an outdoor restaurant in the back.  I did not get to try neither the food nor the drinks so that may be left to a future visit!  I would love to stay there in the dead of winter sometime!

Stanley Hotel, Estes Park, Colorado, lodging, architecture, photo, Samsung Galaxy S7, Cascade, bar Stanley Hotel, Estes Park, Colorado, lodging, architecture, photo, Samsung Galaxy S7, Cascade, bar Stanley Hotel, Estes Park, Colorado, lodging, architecture, photo, Samsung Galaxy S7, Cascade, bar Stanley Hotel, Estes Park, Colorado, lodging, architecture, photo, Samsung Galaxy S7, Cascade, bar

I leave you with some other photos of the main building and the second guest room building.Stanley Hotel, Estes Park, Colorado, lodging, architecture, photo, Samsung Galaxy S7 Stanley Hotel, Estes Park, Colorado, lodging, architecture, photo, Samsung Galaxy S7Stanley Hotel, Estes Park, Colorado, lodging, architecture, photo, Samsung Galaxy S7

 

 

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My First Real Hike: to Pawnee Pass in the Rockies

National Park, Colorado, Long Lake, Rocky Mountain, hiking, view, vista, photo, Isabelle Lake, nature, outdoors

When I went to Boulder, Colorado for my first summer internship, my college roommate drove with me the 24 hrs. it took us to get there almost non-stop (except for the St. Louis Arch from where we got a great view at night time).  It was a wild drive in a way but we made a pact to pull over if while driving we felt sleepy and the other one was asleep.  It worked well and we made it safely to Boulder.  We had dinner and downed almost a pitcher of beer each.  Then we slept about 14 hrs. straight!

My roommate had family in Boulder and I got to meet them which was very nice.  It turned out to be my introduction to hiking.  My friend’s uncle invited me to go hike with him and his not-quite-a-teen son up to Pawnee Pass passing Long Lake and Isabelle Lake along the way to get to our destination at 12,550 ft in altitude, right at the Continental Divide.  I had no training for hiking and had only spent a couple of weeks at Boulder altitude.  This was going to be FUN.National Park, Colorado, Long Lake, Rocky Mountain, hiking, view, vista, photo

The views along the way were like nothing I had seen before.  While I had just driven around the Rocky Mountain National Park a couple of weeks before, these views were more pristine as this was a hiking trail, not for visiting drivers!

National Park, Colorado, Long Lake, Rocky Mountain, hiking, view, vista, photo, nature, outdoors  National Park, Colorado, Long Lake, Rocky Mountain, hiking, view, vista, photo, nature, outdoors National Park, Colorado, Long Lake, Rocky Mountain, hiking, view, vista, photo, nature, outdoors National Park, Colorado, Long Lake, Rocky Mountain, hiking, view, vista, photo, melting snow, nature, outdoors

National Park, Colorado, Long Lake, Rocky Mountain, hiking, view, vista, photo, Pawnee Pass

My hiking partners and I reach Pawnee Pass

I felt the altitude and the exertion but pushed myself through all that.  Oh, to be 24 again!  “Juventud, divino tesoro, te vas para no volver…” as the famous poet wrote mourning youth’s departure to never return…

A Year (or the World?) Ends… Either Way, I Travel

Photo of people reflected in the fender of a car

Well, today is the day the apocalypse was to happen.  I guess a few hours are still left so maybe I shouldn’t count my eggs just yet.  BUT, if the end did happen, guess what?  I can still blog from purgatory and you KNOW that would be an incredible travel story.  Just hope it is not one of being stuck there forever, like when I was stuck in Europe because of the Icelandic volcano (which did turn out well) or someone else’s horrible travel story.  Also, if the world did end, purgatory looks a lot like my house (and if the world did NOT end, I need to make some minor changes at home…).

So the end of anything usually calls for some reflection and be it the end of the world or the end of the year, I feel like reflecting on my very busy 2012…

A Texas tweetup in January

January saw me taking what felt like a bold step – to travel somewhere to meet people I met online.  At first that has an almost dirty sound to it, doesn’t it?  But I had been talking on Twitter with these three folks for many months and they were clearly people I would enjoy meeting in person and exploring with.  So off to awesome Austin, Texas for the Texas tweetup!  There I met in person @kirkcole, @L_e_a_h, and @LolaDiMarco.  Unfortunately, a severe cold hit me on the day I traveled so I was not able to partake in all the activities but enjoyed a good day’s worth of laughing and eating in Austin!

Photo of people reflected in the fender of a car

Can you find the Austin tweetup fab 5 in the picture?

Normal in February – and other months

Traveling to DC for work permeates every month this year so my normal continued in February.  Recovered from the Austin tweetup and post-Christmas parties in January, February was time to relax and be home (or in DC). Over the year, I got to check new things in DC that I had not explored yet in the last year.  Doing the White House tour was a long-time bucket list item that I finally made happen.  I continued exploring and enjoying many of the DC’s finest hotels like The Mayflower, the Sofitel Lafayette, and the Renaissance on 9th St.  DC is a wonderful town if you get out and explore.  Its many beautiful brownstones and local eateries are a joy to explore.

March Madness:  Mile High Skiing

The traveling continued in March – this time a great ski trip with dear friends to Vail and Breckendridge, two places I had been dying to try for many years.  The trip did not disappoint and neither did my skiing, not having skied since Valle Nevado, Chile in the Andes in 2010.  Vail and Breck WILL be in a future ski trip for me, I can tell.  The bowls of Vail where incredible:  one bowl, then another one behind it, then another.  It seemed to never end!

Statue of skier in Vail, Colorado

How thoughtful! Vail had a statue of me at the base of one of the slopes!

Amicci en Italia and diving into eastern Europe in April

April finally brought about the “long”-planned trip to Italy with two sets of great friends.  Though mainly focused on Rome (a city I love re-visiting), a side trip to finally see Pompeii and the Amalfi Coast was built into the itinerary.  It did not disappoint, especially our guide in Pompeii, one of the preeminent experts on Pompeii!.

But I took advantage of being on the other side of the pond to add another iconic destination I had never explored:  Dubrovnik, Croatia.  Its tiled roofs and architecture combined with the natural setting of its location made it a magical place for me.  Of course, ever eager to see more, I decided to get further into eastern Europe while in Dubrovnik by doing day trips into Bosnia & Herzegovina (Mostar) and into the beautiful mountains and bays of Montenegro!  These day trips were short, obviously, but they definitely opened the appetite to see more of these countries and this part of Europe.

View from up high of Kotor Bay in Montenegro

One of the ridges that divides Kotor Bay into 2 bays in Montenegro

Re-charging, re-connecting, and exploring Chicago

May saw a second tweetup, this time in the Windy City since we were eager to connect with other travel bloggers we had been chatting with for awhile.  The Windy City tweetup had a little bit of everything:  from French goodness (courtesy of the Sofitel Water Tower), Charlie’s Angels, boat tour, fallen traffic lights (not our fault!), doughnuts, cold coffee, good food, drinks (repeat), and the mob.  It was a very fun weekend indeed meeting @workmomtravels, @travelingted, @jettingaround, and @elatlboy in person.

Posing in front of the Bean in Chicago at Millenium Park

Being tourists at The Bean

More fun with fellow travelers and good learnings

In June, TBEX, a travel bloggers conference, held its North America conference in Keystone, Colorado (very close to Breckenridge where I’d just been 3 months before; who knew I would be returning to the area so soon!).  Besides the interesting learnings, the reception at the mountaintop on Friday night and the ensuing party at the pub at base (free!) really made the weekend a lot of fun and a good time to meet others who share the travel bug and re-connect with others.  Among the great folks I met (too many to list all!):  @BlBrtravel, @stayadventurous, @captainandclark, @lazytravelers, @budgettravelsac, and @travelrinserept.

A trek with a purpose in Romania and a true relic of the USSR

Romania had been a mysterious place that I had always dreamed of seeing.  Not because I knew I would love it but it just called to me.  A wonderful opportunity came my way to do a hike in the Transylvanian Alps with Trekking for Kids, a non-profit seeking to bring improved lives to orphaned/at-risk children around the world.  We worked with the orphanage and just “were” with the kids before and after a hike through some beautiful landscapes around Brasov – we even saw castles other than Dracula’s!  An experience I will never forget every which way, including it was my first multi-day hike ever!

Sphinx-like rock in the Bucegi Mountains near Omu Peak, Romania

Who knew there was a Sphinx atop the Transylvanian Alps (near Omu Peak)??

Since I was headed that way, I decided Romania (more precisely, the town of Iasi, Romania’s cultural capital) would be a great springboard to explore Moldova.  So with my great guide, I explored churches, monasteries, towns (including the capital, Chisinau), and wineries in this little known former Soviet socialist republic still working to undo decades of horrible communist dictatorship.  I am SO glad I made the time for this unpolished gem at the edge of eastern Europe!

The trip ended with a one-day, two-night in awesome Paris, my home away from home in Europe.  Always love re-visiting my favorite areas and still finding new things to enjoy!

Time with Family in Tampa on my sister’s birthday in August

August also included a trip to Tampa where my family lives – always good to be with them, and enjoy good Cuban food and TLC!  I had just been there in June (when I visited the impressively set-up Dali museum) but my Mom turned 70 while I was in Romania and my sister was hitting a milestone birthday of her own in August so I just HAD to go and celebrate with them!

Rest in September

In September, I took a break from travel.  Well, non-business travel… But read on, the year of travel is not over!

Architecture and Wine:  Tuscany or Bordeaux, you say?  No, Virginia in October!

I finally succumbed to friends’ suggestion that I explore Virginia wine country with them.  I had been wanting to do this for a long time but other travel got in the way.  I took advantage of being in the DC area for work to go ahead and spend a weekend with them in wine country.  And got out RIGHT BEFORE Sandy passed by!  As you can read in my writings about this central part of Virginia, Monticello, Charlottesville and the countryside are filled with early colonial history and architecture as well as delicious wines.  And there are close to 200 other wineries in the state to be found and explored!  I was glad to have this opportunity to see more of my own country and other places will be in my sights in 2013 (like Michigan and Wisconsin thanks to friends from Chicago who write about these places!).

Cemetery where Thomas Jefferson is buried in Monticello on a fall day

Cemetery where Thomas Jefferson is buried in Monticello on a fall day

OK, now I rest ‘xcept for Thanksgiving in November

So, my fun travels wrap up for the year save for visiting family again in Tampa where I discover yet another new place for good Cuban food!  Someone STOP the madness! 🙂

I reflect back on the year and I am amazed at how much I have been able to see of places I have always wanted to see.  And this is setting aside the twenty-something weeks of work travel to DC!   The bucket list shrinks and yet I add new places I learn about.  I consider THAT my most important key performance indicator – a never-ending travel bucket list!

Merry Christmas, happy holidays, and the best in 2013 for you and yours!

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