Skiing in a Winter Wonderland

It’s now officially spring, but many parts of the U.S. still definitely feel like winter! And I’m actually totally okay with that! Growing up, I went skiing every winter with my friends after school.  We had an after school ski club that most of us attended throughout the winter each year.  My parents skied, my grandparents skied, so it was only natural that I learned when I was young, too.  It has truly always been one of my favorite pastimes! Living in Florida for the past few years, though, skiing is hard to come by.  That’s why I was so excited to set aside a weekend recently to head out to the mountains to partake in some snowy fun!

It has been years since I’ve worn my ski boots and, at first, getting them on was a but difficult.  The plastic sections on the front had kind of warped out of shape, so locking the bindings on them was almost impossible (it took two people to finally get them on my feet). They were a little stiff at first, but walking around and skiing downhill on them all day loosened them up a bit and brought them “back to life.”  If you’ve never skied, just know that there is nothing worse than uncomfortable ski boots.

I started off on the smaller slopes to warm up, genuinely surprised how quickly it all “came back” to me since it had literally been years since my last downhill run. After I was sure I could once again handle myself on long planks stuck to my feet, I headed to the more difficult slopes.  The conditions were pretty nice, but the temperature was positively freezing. I ended up going inside a couple times to warm up, but even hot chocolate couldn’t completely shake the cold from my bones.  I wanted to get the most out of my day on the slopes, though, so it wasn’t long before I geared back up and headed up the mountain again.

Once the sun set, the temperature really, really turned cold. Tired and hungry, I decided to turn in to the lodge.  It was a wonderful day and lots of fun!! Skiing will always be one of my favorite winter activities!

sarahheart

 

Luray Caverns, Virginia

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The first time I ever went into an actual under-the-ground cave, I was about nine years old and living overseas with my family. I was absolutely fascinated by the inner workings of our earth.  Stalactites and stalagmites? Yes, please! So, when passing by Luray Caverns in Virginia while on a road trip recently, I took the opportunity to head below ground.

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I first visited Luray Caverns when I was a child.  I remember being awed by the large underground rooms and the strange, damp smell that was everywhere.  On my most recent descent into the caverns, everything came right back to me – it’s so cool to revisit a place you haven’t been to in such a long time!

The tour guides are extremely knowledgeable and even have lots of great little puns and jokes to keep you plenty entertained while below the Earth’s surface. Luray Caverns have a few stand-out features including an underground musical instrument, “Pluto’s Ghost,” “fried eggs,” an underground lake, and a host of other unique cavern attractions.

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There is just something almost magical about being below the ground and seeing the beauty that is inside the Earth. We work so hard to make gorgeous buildings and landscapes, but Earth does a pretty good job of that all on its own.

There are a host of other attractions at the caverns, too, including lots for kids and families. Upon ascending to the “outside world,” I was able to catch a picture of the mountains before the lower clouds rolled in. It’s a beautiful sight!

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If you ever find yourself near Luray, Virginia, definitely take the time to see the caverns, there! It’s a sight worth seeing!!

sarahheart

Bok Tower Gardens

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Bok Tower glimmers in the central Florida sunlight and is visible from every direction for miles and miles. It sits atop Iron Mountain, one of the highest geographical points in Florida peninsula.  The tower was designed and constructed in the 1920’s.  Edward Bok imagined a beautiful landscape for people to enjoy and commissioned famed architect Frederick Law Olmsted Jr. (the Biltmore Estate, the White House, Jefferson Memorial). Today, the grounds surrounding the awe-inspiring tower are home to magnificent gardens with winding paths and walking trails that lend themselves to the enjoyment of the outdoors.  The tower is also a “hot spot” for various birds and wildlife. The area itself, being one of a few that remained above water when Florida was long ago below sea level, hosts a variety of unique plant and animal species.

I went in the late afternoon and was lucky to find very few people.  There is a wonderful cafe at the visitor center that I really enjoy, so I grabbed myself a yummy tropical salad and a grapefruit beer and soaked up some sun before beginning my walk through the gardens.  Much of the grounds have been re-landscaped in the past year. There are new walkways, gardens, open areas, and even a shuttle to take you straight to the tower. I headed down the main path and began my adventure to the tower!

As I wandered through the paths, I stopped by the “Window By The Pond” – a cabin structure that features a large window overlooking a pond where you can sit and observe wildlife and marine life.  Unfortunately, there wasn’t much to see when I went, but it was very evident that the pond area had been redone to look even nicer than before.  If there’s one thing that’s true about Bok Tower Gardens, it’s how beautiful it all is! From there I made my way to the Pinewood Estate, a stunningly gorgeous property that is open to self-guided tours.  Though I didn’t do the tour on this particular day, I did it previously over the holidays when the estate was decorated and it was truly picture-perfect.  It’s a Mediterranean-style building and is surrounded by a beautiful sloping lawn, citrus trees, gardens, and a pond.  It’s one of my favorite spots at Bok Tower and is a perfect place to bring a picnic lunch!

After the estate, I headed toward the tower itself. The tower raises up 205 feet into the air, perched atop one of the highest points in Florida to begin with. There are eight levels within the neo-Gothic tower with just as much to see both inside and out (though the inside is only opened on rare occasions for exclusive members).  The tower features colorful tiles, a brass door, hand-wrought gates, a “moat,” and a sun dial depicting the zodiac.  Large koi fish live in the water surrounding the tower.  I hung around for a bit watching them and feeding them (fish food is available on sight) and just really enjoyed the views.  There is also a fantastic view overlooking the “flatlands” of Florida from the tower.  There were a couple people having photos taken here – it’s so picturesque!  The tower houses a carillon, a large structure of at least 23 bells.  Live performances are given throughout the day in certain parts of the year, or else visitors can listen to the recordings that play periodically from the tower.

On the way out, I meandered through some more of the gardens and even spotted a notable palm tree – one that was planted by President Calvin Coolidge in 1929.  The property really is full of little historic gems like this one.  I really just love exploring the grounds and finding little new things each time – it’s part of the fun!

Bok Tower is certainly one of central Florida’s most notable landmarks, but is often overlooked as people tend to visit the theme parks and larger attractions.  If it’s quiet and beauty you’re after, though, Bok Tower is what you want! Spend the day, relax, and enjoy the incredible views 🙂

 

sarahheart

Snow Tubing in The Mountains

I couple weeks ago, I flew north to New York City and then made a short trip to the Poconos in Pennsylvania to visit family, see my old childhood home, and to take advantage of the snowy, cold weather activities in the mountains!  I had been wanting to go skiing for quite some time but, due to time restrictions and traveling, decided on going snow tubing instead.

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I looked up a few of the mountains in the Poconos that offer tubing and decided on Big Boulder, which part of the Jack Frost/Big Boulder Ski Resort.  Although it is a smaller location than say, Camelback Mountain (which boasts 42 snow tubing lanes!), I decided on Big Boulder because it’s super close to my family’s home, it’s a scenic drive (especially if you enter through Split Rock Resort), and the price and time slots available were right.  So the drive from NYC to the Pocono Mountains began!

After arriving at Big Boulder and finding the parking for the tubing area (which is all the way beyond the ski slope parking), I added my final cold-weather layers to my attire and headed out to the mountain! I signed a release form stating I wouldn’t sue if a I died and attached my wicket and ticket to my coat (I had a great moment of nostalgia attaching the wicket to my coat, haha… I hadn’t done that in years!).

I grabbed a snow tube and headed for the “magic carpet” tow that took me up the mountain (more of a hill, in this case).  At the top, there were different lanes you could choose to tube down, so I hopped in line for one and waited to glide down the snow!

It’s such an exhilarating feeling, “teetering” at the top of the hill and then rushing down! I love a good adrenaline rush and snow tubing is great, especially on a steep hill with drops! The snow and ice kicks up while you go down, though, so protect your eyes if necessary.  I saw a number of people with ski goggles on, but I braved the hills without any (I was a little blinded the first time down, but it got better after that).

As time went on, fewer people stuck around into the evening and the lines at the top of the hill got shorter, making for quicker runs and returns to the top. It was a blast!  Eventually, my toes were cold enough for me to consider heading in, so after my final run down the hill, I headed into the small “snack lodge” to warm up.  There was also a large fire pit outside to warm up around.  Now that I live in the south, I really miss simple things like fires in the winter and going out in the snow.

Snow tubing at Big Boulder was incredibly fun!  I miss winters in the Poconos a lot, so it was nice to get back and enjoy a wonderful day outside in the snow!

 

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Wanderlust Wednesday: Zurich, Switzerland

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On this Wednesday I’d like to explore one of my wanderlust wishes that is to see Zurich, Switzerland! I was in conversation with someone about places to see and travel to and they mentioned Zurich was on their list. It struck me as one of those places that I can definitely see myself wanting to travel to, but had almost forgotten about while pondering other, non-European locales. Between my own research and talking about it with others, it’s clear that Zurich has a lot to offer as a destination!

“Why Zurich?” I asked in regards to why one would rank it as a must-see location.

“Because of the history, it’s got fantastic Swiss food and chocolate, and it’s by the mountains and a huge lake so there’s hiking and outdoors stuff,” is the reply I received.

It became suddenly clear to me that Zurich met a lot of my “requirements” as a location (that’s not to say a particular place does or doesn’t “make the cut” based on any exact thing) since I tend to value outdoor adventure and history a lot. If I can learn and have fun while seeing some cool sights, I’m in!

Zurich certainly has a ton of history, even more so than many places throughout Europe that are “old.” Located in north central Switzerland, Zurich is a city that’s pretty much been around for over 2000 years in various forms. Just exploring that history is a feat unto its own (and something I honestly wouldn’t mind doing!). Like most European cities and towns, shifts in politics, wars, human migration, and climate has played a large role in molding Zurich to the city it is today.

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The language in Zurich is fairly unique because, also the standard “formal” language is German, there’s a spoken dialect of “Zurich German.” Like many Swiss cities, though, one can hear many different dialects of German spoken, which I always find personally intriguing (the history behind the development of varying dialects in a particular region always really interests me). I don’t speak any German, unfortunately, but there is a high percentage of English-speakers in Zurich, as well.

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I love cities that have geographical points of intrigue and Zurich certainly delivers! Lake Zurich sits on the south of the city, offering gorgeous views and lots of opportunities for outdoor recreation. The Swiss Plateau also nestles against the city, providing trails for hiking and fantastic sightseeing. There are even gondola rides up the mountainsides. I’m a sucker for outdoors things like these!

Especially since we’re now entering the holiday season, it’s a point to note that Zurich is home to some wonderful Christmas markets and is done up to look absolutely gorgeous during the season. When it starts to snow, it really looks postcard-perfect!

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Between the vast history of the city, the outdoor activities, and the chance to experience some aspects of Swiss (and partly German) culture, Zurich truly is an ideal city to visit.   I always find that there is a certain charm to these types of old European cities that I find really appealing. The history probably draws me in more than anything – the rest is just icing on the cake!

If you’ve ever been to Zurich (or Switzerland in general), leave a comment with your experience below! Happy travels!

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