Planning Our First Adventure Together

Planning Our First Adventure Together

James and I are in the middle of planning our honeymoon. It’s so exciting! The only problem is that there are so many places I’d love to go, it’s hard to pick just one.

Of course, a honeymoon is different from a normal vacation. We want something super relaxing, preferably with nice beaches. We want someplace we’ve never been. We also want some place that’s not more than 5-6 hours away from DC in a plane. This pretty much puts us in the Caribbean. Neither of us have ever been, and I’ve always wanted to go. So what’s holding me back from booking?

First of all, for someone who’s never been to the Caribbean, picking an island is intimidating. We were leaning towards Puerto Rico, but since we’re using Marriott points and the only Marriotts are in the middle of San Juan, we decided against it. Right now we think we have narrowed down our options to St. Kitts and St. Croix (USVI). We want nature, calm beaches without huge waves, history, and great dining options (it’s not for nothing that I own TheCheeseLog.com). Also, as someone who spent many a childhood vacation in the Outer Banks, a little pirate lore is a plus.

The other problem with picking a honeymoon spot is that I keep thinking of all the other places on my travel bucket list. I definitely have a bad case of the travel bug. You might call it daydream overload. Luckily, I’m only 20-something. Hopefully I have many more trips in my future. In fact, our Tour de France excursion is already in the initial planning stages…

Cheesesteaks + Football = Love

Cheesesteaks + Football = Love

This weekend, James and I took a mini-vacation to Philadelphia. It’s one of our favorite places to visit. James is a huge fan of the Philadelphia Soul arena football team, I am a huge fan of Philadelphia’s colonial history, and neither one of us believes in setting a limit on cheesesteak consumption.

Surprisingly, for all the times we’ve gone to Philly and checked out historic sites and football games, we’ve never really spent much time in City Center. Even more surprising is that for having lived 26 years in the Megalopolis, James had never seen a skyscraper up close. I had a feeling it would be a new thing for him. I knew he has never been to New York City, even though it’s only 4 hours from where we live. So while we were driving through the middle of Philly, I pointed through the sunroof and said, “Hey, Look up!” He peeks up through the roof and says “Holy Shit!!!” It was his first close encounter with a structure that was nearly 1,000 feet high. This was his first view:

Comcast Center, Philadelphia's tallest building

2012, the year of engagement. That was almost the title of my Facebook album for the pictures from this weekend. After years of dating and worrying that things will never fall into place for you to finally get married and start a life together, it happens. Suddenly, you have people running around worrying about caterers and guest lists, and 800,000,000 details and decisions that threaten to take the focus away from what’s most important, the relationship that is on its way to becoming indissoluble. I love the commitment and the promise of a future together that comes with engagement. I love knowing that a wedding is just a number of months away. But I do miss that, before we were engaged, every date was purely about getting to know each other. I want more of that. I’m really glad that the Catholic Church requires some marriage preparation sessions. I’m looking forward to spending more time focussing on each other, and not so much on wedding details.

So, during this year of engagement, James and I will be doing everything we can to keep our focus on us, and not our wedding. We’ll be making memories, seeing new things, and learning as much about each other as possible. Sure, we have a lot of business to attend to, with finding a place to live and picking out a cake. But I’m trying hard not to stress about wedding decisions. The most important thing we’ll be doing this year is beginning to form our new identity as a family.

My travel bucket list

Lately I’ve been thinking about all the places I want to go, so I decided to make my travel bucket list. Why? Because life is too short to sit around saying you wish you could do something, someday.

Me at the Acropolis in Athens

In no particular order, here are the places I am going to explore:

1. England: I want to see the sights in London, but then I want to drive around and see the countryside as well. Maybe we could take two or three weeks and make it up to the Scottish Highlands too.

2. Australia: I want to spend a night looking at the stars in the Southern Hemisphere, preferably far from city lights.

3. Florence and Tuscany hill towns: I want to see the art at the Uffizi, then check out Siena, Pisa, and little off-the-beaten-path places.

4. Switzerland: I’ve flown over the Alps during sunrise twice. Now I want to see them up close.

5. Austria: I have always wanted to see Vienna and Salzburg, since I was a young kid, mostly for the history. And, who are we kidding, there’s something about the combined forces of Mozart and the Von Trapp family.

6. Caribbean: Um, can I be there right now? Maybe we’ll make it there on our honeymoon.

7. Africa: I want to see the animals, but I’ll stay away from bush food and death by hyenas. Might take some work to convince James on this one.

8. Patagonia: penguins!!

9. France: to see Le Tour de France, of course! This is actually one of future hubby’s dreams. I’ve already been to Paris, Chatres, and Versailles, but I’ve always wanted to see more of the French countryside. I want to learn French first, though.

10. Spain: I want to see the Prado in Madrid, the Alhambra castle, the Mosque of Cordoba, and flamenco dancing in Seville. Basically, I want to make a day stop to Madrid for the art museum, then spend a week galavanting around Andalucia.

There are a few more places I could add, like medieval towns in Holland, Belgium for the chocolate, Germany for kicks… but I think these are the main ones. Not sure if I’ll ever make it out to Africa, the shots and the toilet situation might be enough to keep me away. BUT… Fiancé and I are already making plans to go to 2 of these places by 2014! Guess which!!

Trip to Athens and Istanbul?

First of all, sorry for neglecting the blogosphere for so long… I’ve been completely overworked and overstressed… no excuse, I know. Now getting down to business..

I have a few friends who would like to go to Greece this summer, and they found a great deal on a trip that includes Athens… and Istanbul. I’ll admit that there are many things in Istanbul that I’ve always wanted to see, but…
I’m an American girl, blonde, somewhat overweight – in otherwords, obviously western. I’m not stupid, but the only languages I speak are English, Spanish, and Italian. I’m also not loaded and I hear things become insanely expensive over there, as they jack up prices for Americans.
My question to you all:
Should I be worried?

Our Dinner Cruise in the Baltimore Harbor

Yesterday evening James surprised me with the most romantic date I’ve ever been on in my life.

He picked me up in the afternoon with 24 pink roses! 24! Pink roses! My favorite! Then he told me, we were going to the Inner Harbor in Baltimore for a dinner cruise on the Spirit of Baltimore.

We boarded the ship at 6:30, and were led directly to a table for two near the window. That was the next big surprise. Usually on these cruises you sit at a table with other passengers, but James had indicated that this was a celebration of some sort, so they gave us our own table. Our waiter asked us what we were celebrating. “A new adventure,” said James. It was perfect.

Our dinner was delicious. Chicken stuffed with creamy spinach, garlic mashed potatoes with a white cheesy gravy, baked salmon with a hint of fresh lemon, green beans with almonds, and a carving stations with ham and roast beef comprised an impressive all-you-can-eat buffet.

While we were eating, James whispered something to the waiter. After dinner we walked up to the third deck, an outdoor  area with tables and chair where we sat and watched the sunset over the harbor. It was a beautiful scene. The moon was high in the sky as red and orange light flooded the horizon. We passed Fort McHenry, the site of the 1812 battle where Francis Scott Key wrote “The Star Spangled Banner.” Massive ocean-going vessels docked for the night, sparkling lights coming from the city, this is certainly one of the most romantic ways to see Baltimore.

While we were sitting on the upper deck, enjoying the breeze, the DJ announces, “This song goes out to Connie,” and all of a sudden they start playing “Unbelievable” by Diamond Rio. “James, you didn’t!” I was all smiles. I was smiling so big that my cheeks started hurting, but still I couldn’t stop smiling. No one had ever dedicated a song to me like that. It was so exciting!

When it finally got dark, we went back downstairs to have our dessert. Out came our plates, with cheesecake and these chocolate things that looked like ice cream scoops, but turned out to be a brownie topped with mousse and dipped in chocolate. Garnished with a strawberry and whipped cream and drizzled with raspberry sauce, the dessert was the height of elegance.

While we ate out dessert, the waiters provided live entertainment. The kitchen manager came out in a blue sport coat and began to sing “My Girl.” While singing, he came over to our table and let James sing into the microphone. James was grinning ear to ear when he sang to me. It was so sweet. I couldn’t stop smiling.

After the singing, the DJ began to play dance music. James and I danced a little and then decided to go back outside on the upper deck. We stayed out there for a while, enjoying the breeze. We didn’t go back downstairs until the ship was nearing the Inner Harbor.

As soon as we got to our table, the DJ announced, “Now to end the night, let’s slow things down a little for all you couples out there,” and he put on “Amazed” by Lonestar. It was our song! Even James had no idea they were going to play it. It was a beautiful surprise for both of us.

It couldn’t have been more perfect. There we were, dancing to our favorite song with the glittering lights of the Inner Harbor in the background.

I’ll never forget that night as long as I live.

A Romantic Date in Washington, D.C.

James scored major points Friday night when he took me on a very fun, romantic date in downtown D.C. Having grown up in the area, we had both been to see the monuments on the National Mall before, but this time was special. I had been craving the city lately, so James decided to take me to the National Mall Friday night for a little monument hopping.

We arrived at the Washington Monument around 7:30pm, just as the sun was starting to fall towards the horizon. The weather was warm and breezy, perfect for a walk. We went up to the monument and walked around, making jokes and just having fun. The view from the base of the monument is fantastic. If you look to the east you have a clear view of the Capitol. Turning toward the west is a spectacular view of the World War II memorial, the reflecting pool, and the Lincoln memorial.

It was just beginning to get dark as we made our way to the World War II memorial. This is my favorite of all the monuments, not only because of the glittering fountains, but also because of the emotions etched in stone. Walking around, reading the quotes from various contemporaries, it was so hard not to cry. Here was the memorial to the Greatest Generation, the Americans who stood to fight for the preservation of Liberty throughout the world. This was the monument to the Americans who fought to save the world from the greatest evil of the 20th century. The most gripping part of the memorial is the wall of gold stars, each representing 1,000 American casualties. The words below the wall read, “Here we mark the price of freedom.” My heart rises up to my throat every time I look at that wall.

This memorial holds a special place in my heart because my grandfather fought in the Navy during the war. He was in the south pacific fighting the Japanese. When I was a kid he was always telling me stories about the war. Every time I saw him, it seemed he was reading some book about World War II. He was very proud of his service, and even made copies of his wartime diary to give to his children. If he had lived to see this memorial, he would have been so proud.

James and I spent a lot of time at this memorial. At night when the fountains were lit, the scene was breathtaking. After reading everything, we walked around holding hands, looking at everything and seeing only each other. It was perfect. At one point James looked at me and asked, “So, is this romantic? Because the website said it’s supposed to be romantic.” I laughed. “Yes James. It’s perfect.” He was so cute. I wonder if men really have the same concept of romance as women do, or if “romance” is something that girls invented and men put up with to make them happy?

Eventually it was time to move on the Lincoln memorial, which was absolutely crowded. It’s always the most crowded monument at night. Abe looked stunning in white.

On a serious note, the Lincoln memorial took on a whole new meaning for me now in 2009, more serious than ever before. Inside the memorial, two of Lincoln’s speeches are carved in stone: the Gettysburg Address and his Second Inaugural Address. Both are equally powerful, in their own ways. The Second Inaugural Address is about how the country split, and the way the war was fought to preserve the union. Today, there is so much talk about secession. The American people are once again divided. Like last time, many people feel that the federal government is trampling on their rights. 37 states have now raised the issue in their own legislatures. Americans are being taxed out of everything they own—this in a country that was created by a war fought against over-taxation. This has led some people to suggest secession. Secession… it’s like divorce in the political world. Theoretically it shouldn’t happen, but it does. And when it does happen, it rips the world apart. The Union that Lincoln and millions of other fought so hard to preserve is once again beginning to break apart. I hope there is a way to resolve our differences without losing the great country that I have loved all my life.

 

After the Lincoln Memorial, we went around searching for the Vietnam Memorial. Neither of us had seen it before, so we weren’t sure where it was. In the meantime we stumbled across the Korean War Memorial. Like the Vietnam memorial, this once involved a big black wall. There aren’t names, but there are lots of faces. In front of the wall stand a dozen or so life size statues of soldiers, posed to look as though the are moving through the jungle together. It’s very haunting. You expect the soldiers to start moving at any minute.

The Korean War memorial was also special to me, as my other grandfather fought in the Korean War as an MP. Unlike Poppie (my mom’s dad) who loved to recount his time in World War II, Grandpa was virtually silent about Korea. During his service, he won the medal for distinguished service for manning his post for 40 consecutive hours when his replacement failed to appear. That’s all I really know at present about his time over there, though I’ve seen plenty of the muscle-man pictures he sent to my grandmother. 😉

After the Korean War memorial, we finally found the Vietnam War memorial. This truly is the saddest, most heart-wrenching place on the Mall. At all the other monuments and memorials, people talk and laugh and carry on normal conversation. But not here. Here people are silenced by over 58,000 names of the dead and missing. Like a cemetery, people leave flowers and teddy bears under the names of their loved ones. James and I were quiet as we listened to a tour guide tell the stories of various individuals whose names were on the wall.

After all that, we walked back up to the metro. Delays on the red line meant our trip home took an hour longer than it should have, but we had fun. The monuments were beautiful. Walking around at night together, enjoying the breeze, what more could you ask for? Seeing our people’s history preserved in stone and remembering the cost of our freedom made the experience truly memorable.

All this talk about war and politics makes it seem like the date was extremely heavy, but it wasn’t. It was spectacular. It was as if we had a date traveling through time, stopping along all the most important parts in our nation’s history.

We had a wonderful time together, walking through tree-lined paths on a summer’s night. We’ll never forget it.