Amsterdam and Vienna

Only a day in Amsterdam and a few hours in Vienna, but we made the most of it.

Vienna: we had time to take a quick walk and grab dinner and I got to practice my 5+ years of German for a few hours. We will have to get back here and explore a bit more.  Also, some pictures from our overnight train car. We splurged for a private car and felt like royalty.

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Amsterdam

We had a full day and night here. The food was amazing. Alas, the space cakes did nothing for either one of us. We stayed at Hotel Not Hotel, where our room was behind a bookcase. We also visited a cat museum, wherein I found an apt drawing of what it’s like to own a cat.

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Paris

A few highlights from our days in Paris.

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London

Photo dump. In random, jumbled order: the Globe, St. Paul’s, Trafalgar Square, London Bridge, the London Eye, Highgate Cemetery, Prime Meridian Line, Brangelina, Westminster, Big Ben, the Great Fire Monument, Tower of London, and the British Museum. And other things.IMG_2279IMG_2285IMG_2287IMG_2300IMG_2319IMG_2332IMG_2340

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Wisconsin Water Park Review Part 2

Did you think we forgot Great Wolf and Kalahari? Ha.

Great Wolf

This park is fresh in my memory because we just stayed there last month. Great Wolf is one of the big parks you can see from the highway. You’ve probably seen the giant tornado shaped ride that juts out of the side of their park, or their dark brown log cabin inspired hotel. Great Wolf is the medium water park, not too big, not too small, but just right. Great Wolf is the biggest water park chain in the U.S., so they know what they’re doing.

The rides at Great Wolf are like most of the other parks, with body slides, tube rides, a very tiny lazy river, and a medium sized wave pool. There are two hot tubs, one for everyone and another one for just adults, which was nice. There are quite a few areas for kids to play, and many rides geared toward them.

The ride with the biggest thrill was the Howlin’ Tornado. This was almost the exact same funnel ride that Wilderness Territory has, but this one struck me as more terrifying. We rode this one four times, and the thrill was still there on the last ride. Highly recommend, but remember to hold on! It could very easily toss you out of your tube if you don’t.

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Photo from greatwolf.com

At different times, some of the rides were closed due to lifeguards rotating around the park. The wave pool area didn’t open on time the day we went. That being said, there were a ton of lifeguards who were very active.  The lifeguards are required to pace back and forth, which was bizarrely hypnotizing to watch. If I were a parent, active lifeguards would be a huge plus. Even as a general adult human being, it felt very, very safe.

We did eat inside this park, and the food was your standard fare, overpriced and extra salty. For reasons that are unexplained, we ended up buying their $13 all you can drink mug, so we made sure to fill that up as much as we could. There was a self-service station for the mug in their small convenience store, and within the park Icees were available, so after all was said and done, we might have gotten our money’s worth. For real dinner, we walked five minutes to Panera and didn’t have to pay out the nose.

Great Wolf is partners with MagiQuest, so they push that experience, but we didn’t do it. They had a medium sized arcade that we took a stroll through. Great Wolf is adjacent to outlet shopping and a larger arcade/restaurant, which we checked out and enjoyed.

A few things to note about Great Wolf…

-it wasn’t very busy when we went, which was great. We didn’t wait for any of the rides we wanted to go on, which may also explain why some rides were closed from time to time.

-middle of the road prices

-your wristband is linked to your credit card and it opens your room! Cool but maybe dangerous if you are prone to spending money.

-a large portion of the park is devoted to kids

-their cable package is missing E!. If you’re like me and don’t have cable at home, missing E! is extremely upsetting. Especially if it’s a Sunday and you want to watch the Kardashians. Note: this was not a problem (actually more of a bonus) for Kris.

I recommend this park for…families who are ready to advance from Chula Vista. There’s a lot to do for the kiddos, and enough to keep parents engaged. This felt like a very safe park in regard to lifeguards.

Kalahari

This is a huge park, second only to the Wilderness Territory (the overall park, not the indoor water park. Kalahari’s indoor waterpark is the biggest in Wisconsin, to be clear). It’s also one that you can see from the highway. You might have glimpsed their giant six-story ferris wheel through the windows as you drive by, as the resort also houses a gigantic indoor amusement park as well. Kalahari is a chain with two other resorts.

The indoor water park’s coolest ride is their Flo Rider, which simulates surfing. Kris tried it and almost lost his swim trunks, which was fun for me to watch.

Flow Rider

Photo from wisconsin-dells-fun.com

They have an indoor roller coaster ride that isn’t as jerky as Chula Vista’s, along with a medium sized lazy river and a small indoor wave pool. They offer tube rides and body slides, along with a body slide where the bottom of your platform drops out from under you, which was too scary for me to try. They also offer a toilet bowl ride, Tanzanian Twister, that swirls you around and then drops you out the center. I made the mistake of not riding this one properly and I knocked my head pretty good and had a miserable experience on this one because I wasn’t expecting to be under water (something I avoid as a contact wearer). So, be careful on that one!

The highlight of this one for me was their indoor/outdoor hot tub and swim up bar. We had a great time in the hot tub, and it was cool to be outside as snow fell into our tasty tropical drinks. We even had entertainment as a super drunk patron climbed up on the bar and was making a scene. There are also five (!) other hot tubs sprinkled throughout the waterpark. We tried them all out, but be careful…getting in and out of hot water repeatedly can make you light-headed or worse. 

Kalahari Bar

Photo from pinterest.com

There is something special about Kalahari. They pay great attention to every detail and cultivate a unique experience. They had wildlife trainers and a lion cub on display in their lobby that you could get a photo taken with, for a price. Their park had the greatest variety of rides. Their indoor arcade was insanely huge and we spent a fair amount of time playing some fun games in it, including Bejeweled, which I enjoy. For sheer variety, Kalahari wins.

A few things to note about Kalahari…

-it was medium busy on a Sunday, so this place probably gets quite crowded at times.

-the water was consistently chilly for me. I had goosebumps in their wave pool and lazy river.

-the wave pool and lazy river were subpar, especially compared to Wilderness Territory

-make some time for the arcade because it was surprisingly fun

-prices were average

I recommend this park for…just about anyone, but especially for your thrill seekers. This park gets the adrenaline pumping. Ideal for families with teens who want independence as they explore.

Final thoughts:

-All of the parks had the same amount of cleanliness. Look, you’re going to spot a used bandaid or a piece of gum if you look hard enough. So take a deep breath and remember there’s enough chlorine going around to kill almost anything.

-The food within the parks is also going to be about the same, so don’t expect amazing eats. The Dells offers plenty of good food outside of the water parks (probably for cheaper), so try and find a restaurant that suits your taste.

-Prices range from about $150-$200 for your hotel room, which includes a park pass. Kalahari and Chula Vista sell day passes if you want to stay somewhere else. All of these places offer larger accommodations (2 bedrooms or more) for the whole family.

-It’s  good to remember that not only will there be a lot of walking, but there’ll be stairs for rides and you might be hefting a huge tube up those stairs, so unless you’re going to park it in the lazy river, consider an indoor water park vacation to be on the more active side of vacations.

Richanda’s final rankings:

  1. Wilderness Territory
  2. Kalahari Resort
  3. Great Wolf Lodge
  4. Chula Vista

Kris’ final rankings:

  1. Kalahari Resort
  2. Wilderness Territory
  3. Great Wolf Lodge
  4. Chula Vista

-We only tested the indoor water parks, but we look forward to testing the outdoor parks in the future. Noah’s Ark here we come!

 

Wisconsin Indoor Water Park Review Part 1

We’ve tried four of the biggest and best Wisconsin Dells indoor water parks and we’ve gracefully come to share our thoughts and feelings so you don’t waste your money and vacation time on a sub par experience.

Few things can rival frolicking around in your swimsuit as the temperature hovers around freezing outside. Every winter we’ve made a point to take off a Monday and spend a Sunday night at a Wisconsin Dells water park. Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock, you know that Wisconsin Dells is a tourist town in southern Wisconsin (about 45 minutes from Madison) that boasts some serious natural scenery along with quite a few water parks and other attractions like magic shows, Paul Bunyan’s Cook Shanty, and an overwhelming amount of tourists traps and shops. Let’s not forget about the Ducks or Top Secret, either. Warning: Top Secret is as fun as lighting a five dollar bill on fire.

I could go on and on about things to do in the Dells, but just know if you’ve never been that it’s a fun, completely wild and random little town. Here’s a rundown of our thoughts on four of the largest indoor water parks in Wisconsin Dells.

Wilderness Territory

This was our first adventure into indoor water parks in the winter, back in 2012. Maybe those early romantic dating days colored my view of this park, but it was my favorite. The Wilderness is one of the colossal parks tucked in Wisconsin Dells proper. You can’t see it from the highway like some of the other ones. According to Wikipedia, this is THE LARGEST water park. As in ever, as in the whole wide world. So, be prepared to walk, or figure out how their shuttle system works.

What does the Wilderness Territory have going for it other than size? My favorite times were in their immense wave pool. The wave pool has huge waves, not the puny ones that most wave pools churn out. The roof to the wave pool is glass, so if the sun is shining, you’ll get a dose of Vitamin D. I spent a good chunk of time in the wave pool enjoy peace and chaos in turns. The clear roof also helped heat the water so I wasn’t constantly fighting goosebumps.

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Image from budgettravel.com

Their lazy river was pretty nice, although it doesn’t really stick in my memory as much as The Hurricane, which is a funnel-like ride that lifts you right up out of your tube. My heart was racing, especially that one time Kris decided not to hold on to his tube…ahem. We rode the Hurricane quite a few times, and it never got old.

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Photo from themeparkreview.com

There were a nice variety of other rides that gave some good thrills, but what made this park stand out was the wave pool. There is nothing like it in the Dells, at least not indoors.

As for the rooms, they were about average. Honestly, there aren’t any hotel rooms here that will knock your socks off because that’s what the water parks will do. Kris and I sprang for a Jacuzzi tub, but in hindsight that was not necessary, especially after spending all day in the park.  For food, we ate off site at Monk’s, which was okay. I would highly recommend bringing at least snacks and your own booze because the food prices at all of these parks is inflated.

The Wilderness also has a big indoor video arcade that brought back memories of being a kid and desperately trying to get enough tickets to collect novelty pencil erasers. I wasn’t the only one collecting those…right? Right?

A few things to note about Wilderness Territory:

-they don’t sell day passes to people that aren’t staying overnight. This can be good or bad, depending on your wallet and vacation preference.

-one whole water park section was closed when we visited. There was so much to do I honestly didn’t notice, but that would be upsetting if you had your heart set on a certain ride or park.

-they’ve made quite a few changes since we visited in 2012, including a swim-up bar and a ropes course

-their prices are on par for the rest of the Dells.

-it was medium busy, even on a Sunday in February. I can only imagine that it would be very busy during a weekend or Friday.

I recommend this park for everyone. There was plenty to do for kids, couples, and teens.

Chula Vista

Chula Vista is nestled among a more scenic setting than the other water parks, away from the highway and most of the Dells bustle. It has the best natural scenery of all the water parks. When we were planning our wedding, Chula Vista was one place we checked out because it backs up to a beautiful expanse of the Upper Dells. Chula Vista apparently has a river walk that would be cool to check out sometime, but, alas, during our winter overnight we didn’t walk it.

This is was the smallest indoor water park we went to, but it was still pretty big at 80k square feet. The highlight of this park, for me, is tucked away from the main water park. There is a giant hot tub that backs up to the woods with a huge fireplace. I need this for our backyard! Since it was a million degrees below zero it was a shock to the senses, in a good way, to get in and out of the hot tub. This hot tub was perfect for relaxing, and it was mostly adults in the area.

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Photo from chulavistaresort.com

Chula Vista’s indoor water park also boasts a ‘water coaster’, tube rides, body slides, a lazy river, a ‘mat-racing’ slide, and a huge play area for kids. The tube rides were fun and I rode those quite a few times. That being said, the roller coaster bumped and jerked around quite a bit and it was slightly unpleasant as a normal size adult to do that ride.

The drawbacks to Chula Vista were that I found the water to be slightly chilly. I got goosebumps once or twice, but that could just be because of getting in and out of the water. Unfortunately, I think we should have done this water park first because it paled in comparison to the other parks in terms of variety of rides and general enjoyment. By the fifth time I did a tube ride, I realized it was because I didn’t really have anything else to do.

That’s not to say that this park doesn’t have its perks. This, in my opinion, would be a great park to go to if you have small kids. The smaller size of it means you can keep a close eye on the kiddos. The tamer rides would also be ideal for younger children. They also have a small arcade that would be manageable with the young’ins. There was also a sizable outdoor area that appeared to have some unique rides that was obviously closed in February. All the parks had outdoor rides, but Chula Vista and Wilderness had the largest outdoor areas that we ignored in the wintertime.

Chula Vista houses a very fancy steakhouse that we didn’t try, but it looked good. I am curious to know what $17 worth of mashed potatoes looks like. We have some food vouchers and went to their Market Fresh Buffet instead. We paid under $10 after all was said and done, but our consensus was that it would have been better to spend that $10 at McDonalds. The rooms were average. Ours had a nice deck that overlooked the woods.

A few things to note about Chula Vista:

-it was cheaper to book a room here than anywhere else. There are frequent Groupons for it.

-ask how to get to the outdoor hot tub or get a map because it is tricky to find.

-avoid the buffet.

I recommend this park for…families or parents with young children who are dipping their toes in the indoor water park pool. It’s perfect for a little taste, and may whet your appetite for a bigger and likely better experience elsewhere.

Part 2 coming soon.

Kris and His First Marathon

Here’s a guest post from Kris about his marathon!

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I have to get this marathon thing out of my system, and one good way to exorcise the demon is to write about it. This isn’t meant to be a ‘humblebrag’ or anything absurd like that, I just found the process of running the marathon interesting, and hoped that by sharing my experience, others may find it worthwhile (or perhaps definitively not worthwhile) to try out.

Below is something akin to an annotated timeline of my marathon experience, and how I was feeling during the run. Overall, I felt (and still feel) very good about the run, and much better than I thought I would. I missed my secret time goal by nine minutes, but I chalk that up to ignorance on my part more than a bad showing. Apparently, the average marathon time for a man in 2014 was about 4 hours and 20 minutes, and for a woman 4 hours and 45 minutes…which makes me ridiculously happy to be below average. Here are a few more average times from 2014, if you are curious. It tells me that I am above average for the shorter races (5k and 10k) and just below for the two big guys (half and full marathons). C’est la vie.

Now for the race itself:

Pre-race: This is easily my least favorite part of any race…the waiting for the start. When I am running at home, I dive straight in with only a small amount of stretching (warning: works for me, maybe not for you). With a race, you are on their schedule. To kill the time, I checked out the various costumes (it was a Halloween race; I went as a runner…not a convincing costume). There was a Chippendale’s dancer, Miss Piggy and Kermit, several Batmen, Supermen and Wonder Women, and Minnie Mouse.

I left my music off before the race and listened to the announcer (dressed as the Flash) try to keep everyone loose. Start the race so we can finish!

Mile 1: Feeling good! Stuck behind a power walker who I am afraid will beat me. I got off to a great start, and I hit a rhythm that was nice and steady without being slow and was breathing calmly. I could tell right away that it should be a good run. I put my marathon playlist on shuffle and the first song is “Big Little Baby” by Reverend Horton Heat. A good up-tempo song to get me started.

Mile 3: Still feeling good. I’ve passed the power walker for good, but now comes a turn-around. The runners have to come to a complete stop and head back the way they were going. It has to be done on these long races, but it is psychologically draining to turn around and keep going. I did get to see the marathon leaders as they practically sprinted past me the other way…though this wouldn’t be the last time I would see them. The music kicks me in the ass with an amazingly fast Copyrights song called “Trustees of Modern Chemistry”. I can feel the music’s energy power through me.

Mile 5: I have caught up to Miss Piggy and Kermit, and along with another runner, have formed a quadrant of marathon power. The four of us are all going at the same clip and it really helps me to keep the speed and pacing correct. By this point, I am projected to finish the marathon in about four hours and five minutes, which is an incredible rate for me. The pace is helped when I get an injection of pure adrenalin via my music: “Prisoner of Society” by The Living End. Good stuff.

Mile 7/8: I’ve been running for over an hour now, and, unbelievably, am doing better than I ever have in a run. My happy little quadrant with the Muppets is still going strong. I glance to my right and see a mass of extremely fit humanity coming my way. The half-marathon just started, and the marathon route put me right near the beginning of the half-marathon route. Soon I was swallowed up by very fast racers flying past me as they went for personal bests in the half-marathon. The route was now crowded and the pace harder to keep with many others catching up. My music is still going strong with a barn burner from The Tossers: “The Rover”.

Mile 10: I’ve left the Muppets behind and passed Minnie Mouse.

Mile 13:  The Halfway point! This was very exciting for me since I was still at about a four hours and eight minutes pace and had no problems. Usually my legs are cramping up, or my breathing gets off, but not this time. However, the marathon leaders pass me here, having complete the first loop already (see below). They would finish about two hours faster than I would. That’s not discouraging, but I am duly impressed and give them both an ovation and the finger. Meanwhile, the music took a turn towards ska with Hepcat’s “Riding the Region”. Easy to run to, a nice break from the frenetic punk I am usually hearing.

Miles 15/16: Still feeling okay, but I have now developed a few hatreds, which is common for me during a long-distance run. I hate farmers who spread manure while I am running. I hate steep hills. I hate lemon Gatorade (but I still drink it at the aid stations). I’ve started to slow down, but I was expecting that, and don’t mind. For now, I have to run the looped part of the route again. Miles 8-15 and 15-22 are the same route, as you can see on the map of the race below. Here we go again. (Click on the map to make it larger.)

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Mile 18: I’ve hit a wall, and hard. I finally stopped at an aid station and drank some water while walking for a few minutes. I am so glad that I finally came around to walking through the aid stations. It gives the legs a break, and allows you to get the liquid into your mouth instead of splashing everywhere. However, the legs have started to wave a white flag, which is an ominous sign with eight more miles to go. The music does what it can to help, with a jaunty song by Toh Kay called “Shantantity Town”.

Mile 21: This is officially the farthest I have ever run. My left quad has started twitching as it cramps up and my right calf has curled into a fetal position as I force it to keep going. My choices are two: keep running and risk injury or walk and lose my pace. The choice is easy and I walk/limp for about eight to ten minutes, or about half a mile. I still have my breathing under control and the water has helped as well, so despite the problems with the legs, I am optimistic for the final five miles. Gogol Bordello chimes in with “60 Revolutions”, which gets me moving again.

Miles 23/24: I have been walking about 1/3 of the time and running about 2/3 of the time, as the quad cramp comes and goes the calf muscle has repeatedly signaled that I pulled it. Minnie Mouse passed me a while ago, and now Miss Piggy has as well. Harsh. I have another drink of lemon Gatorade and nearly gag. Marathon morale has hit rock-bottom.

Mile 25: The final aid station is at mile 25.2, which means one mile to go. I stop for one more round of water and prep myself for the final push. After about six minutes, a few cops working on traffic control tell me how close I am, and I get the legs moving for the final ¾ of a mile.

Mile 26.2: The finish line (and relief) is in sight! I can see the finish with 3/10 of a mile to go. I can barely feel my legs (which is a good thing now, keeping the pain out). Carolina Chocolate Drops take me home with “Don’t Get Trouble in Your Mind”. I get a high-five from Richanda, and cross the finish line at four hours, thirty nine minutes, and thirty four seconds (4:39:34).

I finished 101st out of 140 runners, with a pace of ten minutes, forty seconds (10:40) per mile. I dropped drastically in the last eight miles, since at mile 18 I was on pace for four hours, fifteen minutes. That’s okay! I finished without any catastrophic injuries (my legs are better). Finishing the race was what truly mattered to me and I accomplished that goal.

Want to try it yourself? Do it. Give yourself at least two months of training and stick to it. You cannot afford to miss too many of the workouts. Pick out a reasonable goal, and have some music to get through the hours on the road (I would NEVER have survived without the tunes). Try a 5k or 10k first and see what you think of this weird running phenomenon, and work your way up to the big dance. Listen to your body and be aware of injuries.

Those are my tips. I’ll be on the couch eating Doritos if you need anymore.

Was it fun? I wouldn’t go that far. Was it worth it? Yep. I did a short and sweet three mile run three days after the marathon and felt great afterwards. To me, that means it was all worth it and I regret nothing. Except losing to that jerk Miss Piggy.

Goodbye, Great Lakes

We did it. This morning, I entered the last payment on Kris’ student loan, which means we kicked $19,000 of debt to the curb in 2015. Goodbye, Great Lakes! How does it feel?  Pretty good. I’ve been thinking about this day for a long time and am pleased we made this a priority. It just goes to show what planning can do because I am not a natural saver. I love spending money. It’s my favorite, actually. So how did we do this?

Caveat: of course, it helps that we are DINKs and have money to throw at debt, but it wasn’t without sacrifice.

Every dollar had a job to do and was already accounted for. There was no “leftover” at the end of the month to spend on silly things. I planned ahead of time for expenses that are out of the ordinary, such as license registration and car insurance, along with the usual monthly expenses.  That gave us an idea of how much we could put toward the loan every month, and the goal of finishing it in September.

We cut back. This is sort of self-explanatory and a no-brainer. Less dinners out on a whim on Friday night (Outback, we’ve missed you) and more meal planning at home. Less impulse purchasing on iTunes and more thought put into needs vs. wants. This part wasn’t easy and we weren’t perfect, but having a budget of $100 “fun” money made us recalibrate the extras we buy every month. This was slow and difficult and felt like a punishment sometimes, but on the flip side, I appreciate $100 a lot more now that I did when I would easily drop that at Target without a thought.

Side hustles! I resold clothes on eBay and wrote a few freelance articles. Kris also sold an article and he worked on a project with a professor for some extra cash. We sold some furniture and some other things we weren’t using. The extra cash helped us get through some tight spots. I don’t know if these are something we can develop further, but it was exciting to have a little unexpected cash.

What now? Our other big goals were Europe (ticket purchased!) and LASIK for me (appointment is made!). We are now saving up to afford those things and we look forward to working on a solid emergency fund and throwing a little extra toward retirement.  Or, you know, some coconut shrimp at Outback every now and again.

Philly Food

So everyone knows Philly is famous for its cheesesteak. Let’s get this out of the way: we didn’t make it to Geno’s or Pat’s. You have to leave something for next time, right? We did, however, have tons of delicious food and Philadelphia blew me away with the variety. Every meal was a treat and I can’t wait to go back and eat.

One of our first stops was Campo’s. Did you know that the hoagie is actually Philadelphia’s official sandwich? Weird, but true. In 1992 the mayor made it so. I don’t understand why a city needs an official sandwich, but…so be it. We ordered a hoagie and a cheesesteak to kick our culinary adventure off.

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I loved the hoagie, which surprised me. After a few bits of the cheesesteak, I finished the hoagie. I guess I wasn’t as big a fan of cheesesteak as I thought, but it was a very hot day and cheesesteak is a hot sandwich. We did order the cheesesteak with traditional Cheese whiz. The Cheese whiz ends up melting a bit and it isn’t as gross as most novices assume. Anyway, Campo’s was delicious and their sandwiches were huge.  We left clean plates.

Reading Terminal Market was fantastic.

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It reminded me a lot of Pike Place in Seattle, but it had more places to buy sandwiches and a large area to sit, along with a large selection of fresh fruits, veggies and meats. We met for lunch here one day. I had to try the cannoli from Termini Brothers Bakery. They had a giant bag of cannoli filling suspended from the ceiling. I wanted to crawl in there.

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I had a magical turkey stuffing sandwich from The Original Turkey. Kris and I both ate sandwiches from DiNic’s, which got a lot of press from the Travel Channel. My sandwich was hot, greasy, and lived up to my expectations. Go there hungry.

A vendor of the conference Kris was attending opened up Reading Terminal after hours for us one night. It was a highlight because this place was bumping during the day, so to see it turned down was very fun. Different vendors were open and we sampled more food, even though we had already eaten dinner at Barbuzzo, a Mediterranean restaurant.

Nutella crepe:

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The candy case at Chocolate by Mueller:

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I wanted to try everything. I did try the chocolate covered Oreos and wasn’t disappointed.

Here’s the fruit stands, very similar to Pike Place:

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Reading Terminal is a must if you go to Philadelphia. You can’t go wrong with finding something to eat there.

Philadelphia has the U.S.’s third largest Chinatown, which we were both surprised to find out. Our hotel was a few blocks from it, and one night when Kris was pressed for time we wandered over for a quick dinner. We ended up at Penang. I had the pad thai which was soooo freaking tasty that I’m still dreaming about it. As an appetizer we ordered the roti canai. Its similar to a flat croissant with a curry-potato dipping sauce. It’s apparently a Malaysian dish. Very good!

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I also saw Utz potato chips. Maybe I haven’t been paying attention, but I don’t think I’ve seen these in the Midwest. I have, however, heard Judge John Hodgman talk about them at length on his podcast, so I bought a bag. They reminded me of a thinner and saltier Pringle. I also felt better about myself because I didn’t have to cram my hand into a can to eat them. Winning!

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We also sampled some Tastykakes. This is apparently some sort of Hostess sibling. Perhaps a step-sibling. Tastykakes was the one disappointment. I did like the coffee cake flavor, but I guess I was born and raised on Hostess and Little Debbie. I don’t have room for Tastykakes in my life.

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We had so much good food that I think we’re still working off the calories. On the plus side, we now have many reasons to go back. And now I’m off to the kitchen to see what’s in the fridge…

Philly Recap

Back in mid-July (seems so long ago!) we had the chance to go to Philadelphia for a five day trip. Kris was there for work, attending the American Association of Law Libraries annual conference. In the past, this conference has taken us to Seattle and Kris went to San Antonio last year, so we try and turn it into a fun trip. It’s not as fun as a real vacation since Kris has to work, but I’m getting used to exploring cities on by my lonesome. Plus, we couldn’t pass up the chance to see Philadelphia together. Our first date was to see a watch party of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.

Philly was HOT. The temp index was in the mid-90s. I don’t do well when it gets that hot, but I tried my best. I usually ended up in the hotel during the hottest parts of the day. Luckily, there was a Keeping up with the Kardashians marathon going on.

Day one we tried to hit up a lot of things since this was one of two days we’d both be able to see things together. We checked in to the hotel and then hit the streets to go see the Mutter Museum, the museum of medical oddities. They don’t allow any pictures, but suffice it to say it was disturbing! I have a pretty strong stomach, but the heat combined with travel and then being confronted with medical oddities made me feel a little nauseous. It was very interesting, though, and worth checking out, especially if you dig science.

Isn’t Kris short? This skeleton was one of the medical oddities. There were a lot of skeletons and preserved fetuses. Consider yourself warned.

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After that, we hustled across the downtown to get to the Liberty Bell. Apparently, it underwhelmed this history nerd.

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We then crossed the street to see Independence Hall. The urge to watch National Treasure was strong!  We did the short tour and got to see where the Declaration of Independence was signed.  Cool and also free.

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The next day, since Kris was conferencing all day, I checked out the Museum of Art. You know—Rocky steps! I left early and climbed the steps before the museum opened, but even in the early morning I was sweating profusely. I half ran them, half walked them.

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spent a long time wandering around the museum and snapping pics. Amazing collection.

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Highly recommend, even if you aren’t super into art museums.

Also pictured: City Hall, the Rocky statute (which is hidden away from the Museum of Art like a redheaded stepchild) and Independence Hall from the outside.

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I also checked out the Magic Gardens. It was unassumingly tucked into a regular looking neighborhood, but the inside was quite amazing. Makes me miss art class!

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I also took a very tourist-y Duck tour where they drive you around to see the sights on land and then we took a quick boat ride in the Delaware. It was a good afternoon pick to avoid the heat, but not a must do. I did learn that whenever a new building goes up in Philly, a certain percentage of the construction budget must be donated to the arts, which explains why Philadelphia has so many statues and art. Hint hint, Madison.

We also (maybe because we were a bit tipsy) stomped around in the fountain by Love Park.

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On our last day, we went to Eastern State Penitentiary. It was an old prison designed like the spokes of a wheel, with prisoners being separated from each other as a way of rehabilitation. So, basically solitary confinement for each prisoner. The prison was closed in 1971 and it became very run down after that. Now it is a U.S. National Historic Landmark. There were a few high school classes touring when we went through, in fact. The Penitentiary has a haunted house that would be amazing, I bet. The place was creepy enough during daylight.

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So creepy. I’d go back to Philly for two things: the haunted house and the food!  Oh, yes, food recap up next.

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Feels like we did 31 fun things to celebrate my birthday this weekend. I’ll let the pictures do the telling.

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Did you get your free slurpee? I had to brave the traffic of Art Fair on the Square and some serious road construction by Regent Street, but I got my fill of blue raspberry.

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My first double red blood cell donation went fine. 
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A Madison tradition. There’s a Gritty in Sun Pizzle, so that’s the one we went to. You can drink for free, but I only had one because I’m pretty sure the nurse at the Red Cross said I would die otherwise.
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We scored a ton of books at Albertfest.

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Cat show on Sunday. Kris is either thrilled or terrified.

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A Bengal cat. So pretty!

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They are Siamese, if you please.

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Kris found this at Goodwill.  Ha.  Warrior pride amirite?

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I ended the weekend at the cat rescue. This kitten is smaller than her food bowl!

Not pictured: we saw Inside Out (very good, but I got teary eyed a few too many times…must be getting sentimental in my old age). I also partook in two birthday naps. It was a low-key and fun weekend.

Maquoketa Caves

Last month we went camping in Iowa. It’s hard to believe, but Iowa has some cool stuff going on! I never really think of Iowa as a vacation destination because it’s…well, Iowa. But I am a big dummy for writing it off.

We took off on a Friday afternoon and drive about two hours to Dubuque, where we stopped for dinner and to ride the scenic Fenelon Place Elevator. I had never heard of the elevator until a Pinterest search. Pinterest has featured a large role in a few of our vacations and alerted us to some interesting things to see and do. The Fenelon Place Elevator is a funicular railway (fancy way of saying a steep vertical rail) and it carries a cable car up and down a hill on the edge of the Mississippi.  For $3 each, we got round trip tickets and we had the cable car to ourselves. It was a cheap thrill in the best sort of way, and made me a little nervous to watch the cable drag us up the hill.

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The view of Dubuque:

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From there, we ate at Crust for dinner, which was delicious. They served little pieces of fried bread as a (free) appetizer. Yum.

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After some arguing about directions, which I’m sure shaved a few years off our marriage, we made it to our final destination, Maquoketa Caves State Park. Here is a picture of the wrong way dirt road we ended up on:

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The park is home to a system of trails that link up a network of caves. The caves vary in climbing difficulty. We stuck to mostly easy climbing, but even that resulted in muddy hands and knees. I’ve never valued my iPhone flashlight more, either. It’s a good idea to bring clothes you don’t mind getting dirty, solid hiking shoes, a flashlight/phone with a light, and to layer your clothes. The caves were very cool temperature-wise but the rest of the hiking was hot.

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The caves were awesome. It was fairly busy on Saturday as quite a few families came to the park. The park itself is free to visitors, which was great. We took about three or four hours to do most of the trails and caves.

We camped overnight on Friday for $13/night. Apparently Iowa doesn’t require state park stickers like Wisconsin does (Wisconsin’s sticker is $25 annually and you need it to get into most state parks). The camp ground was small but clean. I’m not a fan of sites that are super close to each other, and there were, which led to overhearing a drunken fight between brosephs at around midnight. Ugh.

Saturday evening found us in the town of Maquoketa.  We randomly stopped at Goodwill because I had finished my book and wanted another to read. Kris spotted a hardcover copy of And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini, which was a small miracle. I had the book at home checked out from the library, but they only let you keep it for two weeks when it’s a new/popular book. So we snapped it up for a buck vs. paying $17 on Amazon. Goodwill for the win.

After shopping,  we ate dinner at the Decker Hotel in their downstairs bar and made sure to watch American Pharoah win the triple crown.

All in all, a nice, low-key getaway with some interesting sights.

Keeping Motivated

It sure isn’t easy to keep financially motivated when there are all sorts of fun things to do now that summer is here.  While we have made excellent progress on our debt ($9k in four months!) it’s an every day battle between spending and focusing on our larger goals.  One of our big goals for next year is another international trip:  Europe!  I’ve never been.  It’s been nine years since Kris went.  We are penciling in two weeks next April and I’m so antsy I’ve been checking flights already.  It won’t be cheap, though, obviously, so I wanted to hang some motivation where I could see it.

It took a while to find them, but I snapped up these nine 8 x 11 oak frames from Goodwill for about $3/frame.  I’m trying to like oak (really trying since that’s the main wood in our house) but these would not do.

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I am a big fan of rubbed oil bronze, and I was curious about this paint (about $8 at Home Depot).

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It’s essentially a dark, dark brown/black with gold flecks.

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Pretty.

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1 (4)Two.  I probably could have done a third, but I was lazy and I also had to go stain the deck so I left the frames out in the sun to dry.

I scoured the internet for vintage travel posters and settled on ones I like.  We are planning on seeing all of these cities, in this order.  Vienna is kind of a cheat since we’ll probably just do a quick stop there, but I suppose it counts.  I knew I wanted nine pieces, so I found the middle poster after some searching.  It kind of looks like Kris and me.  You know, if I owned a plaid coat and he wore a hat.

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I found the perfect spot in our study and went to work.  They still aren’t 100% perfectly aligned, but I will continue to mess with them.

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So, there it is.  Our Europe 2016 trip hanging on the wall to remind us that we have bigger things ahead of us and a good reason to save up and maybe not spend all the monies.