Wedding in Charleston, South Carolina

Had a fun couple days in Charleston, South Carolina. My cousin got married at Boone Hall Plantation in Mt. Pleasant, SC. You may be familiar with the plantation if you have ever seen The Notebook, as it hosts Allie’s family’s summer home in the movie.

The wedding was beautifully decorated
The wedding was beautifully decorated

It was great to have the whole family down in Charleston. We spent some time hanging in Charleston during the trip.

The fam and my beautiful cuz
The fam and my beautiful cuz

I loved the menus. They names were beautifully hand drawn.

Loved the detail in the menus
Loved the detail in the menus

Although the weather was unexpectedly cold and rainy, everyone had a great time. I’m happy for my cousin and her husband and wish them the best.

Off to the honeymoon
Off to the honeymoon

It was nice and relaxing to spend time in a cozy bed and breakfast for a couple nights. Charleston offered some great food at the many nice restaurants. Strolling around the old city provided some nice charming scenery.

Trees in Charleston
Trees in Charleston

Charleston is a nice old place to get lost in. You can spend a lot of time strolling around the city and exploring things that have been there for centuries.

This cemetery was tucked away in a city block
This cemetery was tucked away in a city block

After a nice couple days in Charleston I had to get back and unpack, and then repack so that I could be off on my two week road trip of the United States.

Colorado New Year’s 2014

Colorado is an awesome place. The place has everything you could want in a place to live. Awesome nature, great food and local beers, lots of friendly young people, delicious coffee, a health conscious community, a thriving tech community, an affordable cost of living, and a million other things. It’s easy to see why part of my girlfriend’s family moved out there. And I’m happy they did because it gave me the chance to visit this beautiful state. This was my third time out to Colorado and the trip was as awesome as always.

Hiking the range near Boulder
Hiking the range near Boulder

Hiking and getting into the mountains in Colorado is a must. The Rockies are beautiful. A quick drive can often get you to one of the many gorgeous trails. It’s nice to venture into the woods and take in the beautiful scenery.

Hiking in the Rockies
Hiking in the Rockies

Stopped by the National Center for Atmospheric Research just to check it out. The weather exhibits were pretty fun but the supercomputer setup they have there is remarkable. It was nice to see the gear humming along. I saw this signed photo which was tremendous.

Seymour Cray, the father of supercomputing
Seymour Cray, the father of supercomputing

So far we saw some tech, some nature and hung out with some cool people. But we were in need of some delicious local brews. They were provided by Front Range Brewing Company, a quick walk from the house in Lafayette. The sampler is recommended. Eight small samples packed with flavor. Then we went off to Odd13 Brewing for more bites of Colorado food and local brewed beers.

One of the many awesome breweries in Colorado
One of the many awesome breweries in Colorado

The next day included some frisbee golf. Frisbee golf is an activity that is very Colorado. It’s slightly different than what you might be used to. It’s outdoors. It’s a bunch of fun. Frisbee golf is just regular like golf. You start far away. Then you toss your frisbee and try to get it into the basket in the fewest throws. I witnessed a tremendous attempt from B-Large. He’s standing to the left of the next picture and threw it all the way to basket on the right of the picture. It hit the basket but didn’t stay in.

B-Large is a wizard of the disc
B-Large is a wizard of the disc

After frisbee golf we had to make a quick stop at Left Hand Brewing. The Nitro Milk Stout is one of my favorites, so I was pumped to grab this in person. It’s amazing how much better beer is when you get it at the brewery that it was brewed at. Many times better than when you get it at your local liquor store.

Nothing beats a beer at the brewery
Nothing beats a beer at the brewery

I decided to show my thanks to my girlfriend’s family by cooking up some of my signature cioppino. It’s kind of hard to beat an assortment of scallops, king crab, shrimp, clams and mussels in a spicy tomato broth with a nice piece or two of garlic bread.

Cookin up some cioppino
Cookin up some cioppino

The next day we went off to Steamboat Springs. The ride out there was gorgeous. I was pretty happy to grab this shot of a Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep that was chowing down right along the road.

Sweet Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep
Sweet Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep

The ride offers stunning landscapes.

I heard about plateaus but never seen one before
I heard about plateaus but never seen one before

Eventually we made our way to the town of Steamboat Springs. It looks like a great place to carve up the fresh powder, but we spent our time checking out the shops in town. We actually grabbed some po’ boys at a New Orleans restaurant called Sunpie’s Bistro which was an unexpected surprise. We spent the day strolling through town.

My love and I
My love and I

After we were done strolling through Steamboat Springs we went to Strawberry Park Hot Springs. The hot springs provide quite the experience. Strip down in the freezing cold into your bathing suit and hop into the pools of hot water. It’s interesting because if you dip your head under water and then keep it above water for a short period of time, the water on your hair will freeze due to the below freezing temperature of the outside air. There is a really hot pool and a lukewarm pool, and another pool that is has incredibly cold water.

Strawberry Park Hot Springs
Strawberry Park Hot Springs

After the hot springs we freshened up for a night out. The rest of the night was spent trying to keep warm, hustling around Steamboat Springs from place to place. Supposedly we just missed the guys from Duck Dynasty who visited a liquor store a couple minutes before us which made sense because they were in Steamboat Springs at the time.

The next morning we woke up, grabbed some good breakfast, strolled some more of the town, and then hopped in the car for our return back to Lafayette. The drive was once again beautiful, with gorgeous scenery along the way.

Back to Lafayette we go
Back to Lafayette we go

The rest of the night was spent hanging out at the house getting ready for our trip to Red Rocks Amphitheatre and the New Year’s Eve festivities. Red Rocks is open for visitors for free at any time when there is no concert. A lot of people use the steps for various exercises, which as I would imagine is very effective.

Center stage at Red Rocks
Center stage at Red Rocks

The top of Red Rocks provides a nice view of Colorado. You can see the tall buildings of Denver in the distance. Looking out from the top will provide you will a stunning view. The red rock provides a beautiful contrast to the blue sky, the white snow, the dark pines, and the faded grass.

From the top of Red Rocks
From the top of Red Rocks

The area around Red Rocks has some beautiful trails which are worth the trek. The scenery around Red Rocks is gorgeous.

Even without a concert it's worth a visit
Even without a concert it’s worth a visit

New Year’s Eve was spent in several places. Stopped by a friend’s house party. Then went off to a place in search of food. None of the restaurants/bars were serving food on New Year’s Eve so we had to score some Chinese food from Double Happy. Met back up with everyone with just a couple minutes to spare. Toasted to the New Year. After our celebrations we woke up and headed to the airport for our return back to New Jersey. As always, it was a great time in Colorado.

True Kentucky

Went to visit my sister’s place in Kentucky. There’s not much to do in Kentucky, which can be both good and bad. It’s relaxing but if you start itching for something to do then you are out of luck. It takes 45 minutes to get to the grocery store. Coffee shops don’t exist. I couldn’t even get internet on my phone. But if you are willing to sacrifice the essentials of an east coast tech nerd then you can get some good relaxing in.

Kentucky!
Kentucky!

The scenery in Kentucky is repetitive. You can drive for long stretches and see the same plants and architecture repeat. You start to think you’re stuck in some repeating dream. Driving in the back country of Kentucky must be what it’s like for a computer to run through recursive code. It’s very repetitive but after it’s over you hopefully end up where you want to be.

There is a lot of farmland in Kentucky
There is a lot of farmland in Kentucky

One of the must sees in Kentucky is Mammoth Cave National Park. It provides a necessary and beautiful contrast to the never ending sea of hay, tobacco, soybean, corn, and wheat. There’s also a lot of marijuana (the number one crop in Kentucky) but that’s usually tucked away out of site out of the roads. Mammoth Cave also provides a nice way to get out of the summer heat for a little while.

Well this is a change of pace from the farmland
Well this is a change of pace from the farmland

As you head down the cave and feel the temperature drop you’re not really ready for the amazingness of what’s to come next. You hear how it’s the world’s longest known cave system and how it has more than 400 explored miles, but you can’t really comprehend what that means. The immensity of the cave is apparent soon after you get out of the sunlight.

At times tall and wide, at times very narrow
At times tall and wide, at times very narrow

As soon as you get in there, your mind starts to ask questions. How is there 400 miles of this? How did someone have the guts to explore this without any modern lighting or equipment? It was nice having a guided tour for 2 beautiful, comfortably paced, well lit miles with an expert and a nice group of tourists but it would be another thing to explore the cave with a lantern by yourself, not having a clue what was in there. Supposedly the cave system has human use going back 6,000 years when Native Americans used the cave for mummification practices.

This tour is worth the stop
This tour is worth the stop

Getting out of the cave and back into the hot air was kind of a bummer. The unexpected spooky beauty of the cave is something that you don’t want to leave. We hopped back in the car and went over to Glendale, Kentucky and walked around the town. Had to setup the tripod to score this True Kentucky shot.

Nothing false about it
Nothing false about it

The next day included a stop at Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historical Park. They’re pretty certain he lived here, but you can’t really know anything for sure.

Abraham Lincoln Memorial Building
Abraham Lincoln Memorial Building

I’m glad I got to hang out with my sisters in Kentucky. It was a nice time and I was forced to relax due to there being not much to do. I don’t know if I would recommend anyone to go to Kentucky, but if you find yourself there you might be able to fall in love with that country pace or stumble upon a hidden gem like Mammoth Cave.

This is by a stream that Abraham Lincoln may have drank from
This is by a stream that Abraham Lincoln may have drank from

Vancouver and Home

When we woke up in the morning we were getting ready to dock in Vancouver. Since our plane didn’t leave until almost midnight, that gave us a full day in Vancouver to hang out. We grabbed a hop-on/hop-off bus pass that gave us unlimited rides on the bus system. Vancouver is a cool place and there are plants and trees and flowers everywhere in the city.

Plants everywhere in Vancouver
Plants everywhere in Vancouver

The people of Vancouver take their parks very seriously. We went for a tour around Stanley Park, which was a nice place to see and probably a nice place to visit if you are a local.

Lord Stanley, as in the Stanley Cup
Lord Stanley, as in the Stanley Cup

After Stanley Park we went to Granville Island which was a bunch of fun. There were restaurants and shops and places to hang out.

Granville Island
Granville Island

The Granville Island Public Market is really a must see in Vancouver. I would love to have a place this awesome market next to where I lived. The assortment of fresh foods in here is incredible.

Granville Island Public Market
Granville Island Public Market

There is a bunch of great ingredients and product like these fish.

Salmon and other fish
Salmon and other fish

And these dried meats and cheeses.

Dried meats and cheeses
Dried meats and cheeses

And these bakery items.

Bakery items at the market
Bakery items at the market

And these chocolates.

Yum, these look sweet
Yum, these look sweet

The fresh pasta looked amazing too.

Can't beat fresh hand made pasta
Can’t beat fresh hand made pasta

After Granville Island we ventured off to Gastown to grab a drink and a bite to eat. We found ourselves at Chill Winston which had some great appetizers and beers.

Nice little beer sampler
Nice little beer sampler

And some apps to keep us fueled up before the long journey back home.

Wild mushrooms, fish tacos and crab cakes
Wild mushrooms, fish tacos and crab cakes

After hanging in Gastown we hopped on the train and made our way to the airport to catch our overnight connecting flight to Ottawa before ending back in New Jersey. By the time we got home we were exhausted, but that hardly mattered. Alaska was an awesome place and the memories of the trip will hang around for a long time.

Ketchikan, Alaska and Cruising Inside Passage

Ketchikan was a cool place. It has these gritty undertones that at times I’m not sure are there or if I am just imagining them. The bootleggers and prostitutes have moved out long ago but remnants of the old way of life can still be seen. The brothels of Creek Street have been converted to gift stores.

Creek Street
Creek Street

The seals in the harbor are playful and put on a show. They are incredible swimmers. There are a lot of salmon in the harbor and the seals effortlessly catch them. You can see the seals playing with and toying with the salmon before they enjoy their tasty lunch.

Oh hello there seal
Oh hello there seal

Ketchikan is a good place to stroll around and not see much. Get lost and try to see the gritty undertones. We went for a quick ride on the Cape Fox Hill-Creek Street Funicular, which is a mix between a cable car and a railroad cart. At the top was a hotel and nothing too much more. We walked back down the hill and strolled through town some more. There is a tiny little park by this eagle reserve and salmon hatchery that is nice. Supposedly the reserve and hatchery is closed, it was when we were there.

Walking through Ketchikan
Walking through Ketchikan

But there is salmon all over the place in Alaska so that was not really a big bummer. Strolling back through Creek Street we got to see these salmon.

Salmon swimming in the creek
Salmon swimming in the creek

We stopped at Annabelle’s Keg & Chowderhouse and grabbed some king crab legs one last time before we hopped back on the ship. We hung out on the ship before grabbing some sleep while the ship headed off for the Inside Passage and the ultimate destination of Vancouver.

The day cruising the Inside Passage was a nice relaxing day after spending the previous three days hanging out in three awesome Alaskan towns. There were still sites to see as always.

Cruising Inside Passage
Cruising Inside Passage

We grabbed dinner at the Italian restaurant on the ship which was pretty good. They had an Italian restaurant and a fancy seafood and steakhouse style grill on the ship that both provided a nice alternative to the buffet which became a little tiresome after the week.

It was fun getting fancy some nights
It was fun getting fancy some nights

The service on the ship was awesome. The staff knew my name before I ever saw them and we always had fun towel animals. Here we are with our rabbit.

Oh hello there rabbit
Oh hello there rabbit

Juneau, Alaska

The capital of Juneau was the biggest stop on the cruise. But even though it’s a large city for Alaska standards, the nature never stops being everywhere. We decided to do some whale watching and it was well worth it. We got a good deal by buying on the shore instead of through the cruise line. We saw a bunch of eagles up pretty up close.

Saw a couple eagles while whale watching
Saw a couple eagles while whale watching

And we saw a bunch of whales. It’s pretty magical heading out on a small little boat in search of creatures that are many times larger than your vessel. Getting to see and hear these creatures this close is amazing.

Pfshewww!
Pfshewww!

Our tour guides were awesome. They were very knowledgeable and respectful of the whales and the water. They found a pod and got us close.

Humpback
Humpback

It’s pretty typical of Alaska to be in the midst of a pod of whales set amongst a stunning backdrop while an eagle swoops down and catches a salmon.

Eagle hunting for salmon while whale watching
Eagle hunting for salmon while whale watching

I’m not exactly sure which of the wildlife pictures that I took eventually won me the bet of who could take a better wildlife picture but there were a lot of great shots that came from this trip.

Gotta be happy getting this shot
Gotta be happy getting this shot

After whale watching we got a chance to see Mendenhall Glacier, which was included in the tour. It was pretty cool, but its beauty may be diminished due the number of glaciers you see everywhere in Alaska. That is currently changing though. Although Mendenhall Glacier is 12 miles long, it is retreating due to global warming.

Mendenhall Glacier
Mendenhall Glacier

A wild bear decided to show up. We followed him for some time and got some good shots. The park ranger who was escorting us said that the older bears have predictable routes that they follow every day and aren’t really a threat. It’s the younger bears who haven’t established their daily routine that are more dangerous. It’s interesting to see this behavior that is so common in humans repeat itself in bears. We both search out the repetitive daily grind and then grind it away until the end of our days. We probably would do best to be like the young bear, exploring the world and experiencing new things than to do the exact same thing every day of our lives like the old bear.

Wild black bear crossing a beaver dam
Wild black bear crossing a beaver dam

I trusted the park ranger and so we walked along and got pretty close. At one point the bear was only a couple feet away.

Wildlife in Alaska is hard to beat
Wildlife in Alaska is hard to beat

But I wasn’t worried because, like the joke goes, you don’t have to outrun a bear to survive. You just have to outrun the people you are with. I was sure my girlfriend and I could outrun the seniors who were also following the bear, trying to get a better look.

After a long day of taking in some great nature and wildlife, we had to stop in at Tracy’s King Crab Shack (as seen on Top Chef!). This is the place to go for king crab in Alaska. There was a line but it moved pretty quickly.

The line at Tracy's is worth the wait
The line at Tracy’s is worth the wait

The king crab legs here are huge and delicious. They also sell Dungeness crab which is honestly a waste of money in comparison. You just can’t beat king crab in Alaska. Fresh and delicious.

Some of the legs weigh in over a pound
Some of the legs weigh in over a pound

Our stop in Juneau was another great stop. We hopped back onto the ship and checked out some music and did some dancing.

Haines, Alaska

Our first time back on land was when we finally got to Haines. Haines is a cool little town.

Pretty much the whole town of Haines, Alaska
Pretty much the whole town of Haines, Alaska

After we got off of the ship we went around the little shops before heading into the woods for some hiking along Mount Ripinsky Trail. It was nice to get into the woods after being on the water. The green provides a nice contrast to the vivid blues that you see.

Hiking the Mount Ripinsky Trail
Hiking the Mount Ripinsky Trail

There are bald eagles all over Alaska. They are massive and beautiful to see flying around. They are gracious, elegant, and powerful creatures. Trying to get shots like this is why I think I would pick up a nice zoom lens. I thought I had a decent setup with my DSLR but sometimes the nature in Alaska is just too demanding to score a great shot with a basic setup.

It is awesome to look up and see this
It is awesome to look up and see this

We hiked several miles before turning around, a little short from the peak. But we were breaking a good sweat and in need of some hydration and food. This was provided by Big Al’s Salmon Shack back in town.

Fried halibut and salmon
Fried halibut and salmon

The seafood in Alaska is tough to beat. Getting that fresh high quality product on the land really overshadows the cruise ship food back on the boat.

After we changed out of our hiking gear and through on some nicer threads we strolled the town a little more. There’s a nice cemetery hidden amongst the pine trees on the outskirts of a park in Haines. For dinner we went to the Fireweed Restaurant which was a little disappointing with its lack of seafood choices (I can get a pizza back in Jersey). The view was nice and we had a chance to look out on Mount Ripinsky and were pretty impressed at how far we had hiked up the mountain. After dinner we headed back to the ship where I was greeted with “Oh hello again Justin Bieber” by one of the workers which always gave me a laugh considering I looked like this on the trip.

Classic Justin Bieber
Classic Justin Bieber