A Travellerspoint blog

Seattle and the San Juan Islands: Sailing Day... or Not


View Seattle and the San Juan Islands 2012 on cgplatt's travel map.

Update: All new posts can be found at http://thewanderingmind.net.

Snugly curled up in the comfortable bed, I slowly wake as the gray morning light begins to filter through the window behind my head. In a moment, I remember that I am not in my bed at home, but instead I am in a bed in the loft bedroom of a cabin on Orcas Island! I excitedly sit up in bed and turn to peek out the window, wondering what view the morning will bring. I am especially concerned about the weather, because this is the day we will go sailing. Even the clouds cannot take away from the beauty of the sea, the islands, and the mountains I can see outside the window. I breath a contented sigh, but begin to wonder why the alarm clock I set the night before has not yet gone off. I finally take a lazy glance at the clock and, for a moment, I think I must be reading the time incorrectly. Because, how can it possibly be 4:30 in the morning?! 4:30 in the morning! My sluggish brain finally processes the fact that the time difference from home combined with a very early sunrise means that I did, in fact, wake up at 4:30 in the morning.

Fortunately, I was able to fall back to sleep for a couple more hours and then wake up, for a second time, to a no less beautiful, but unfortunately more cloudy, view. Knowing we needed to be in Deer Harbor, which was located on the south side of the western half of the upside-down-u-shaped island, by 10 am, we left our cabin just after 8 am to ensure we had plenty of time to stop for breakfast (e.g. plenty of time to ensure that I was adequately caffeinated - I think Clay's nightmares consist of being confined in a small space with me when I have not yet had my coffee). On this particular morning, we chose Rose's Bakery and Cafe in Eastsound. As we would experience at other restaurants, we practically had it to ourselves.

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Focusing on locally sourced and organic ingredients, even the eggs were fresh from local farms. With many delicious options to choose from, we (cough-I-cough) decided to begin our meal by sharing a cinnamon roll and then each ordered our own more substantial, but no less wonderfully carby, dishes. And yes, I know it was a lot of food, but we totally needed to ensure we had enough energy to make it through a tough day of sailing. I really think the cinnamon roll made a difference!

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I had never before experienced "baked eggs," but I really liked them prepared that way - it was sort of a cross between a poached egg and a fried egg. And the baguette, oh the baguette! I was not aware that a simple piece of bread could be so delicious.

It was during this meal that we received a phone call about our scheduled sailing trip - the skipper (and owner of the charter company) was willing to continue as scheduled, but the weather was predicted to be better the following day if we wanted to postpone our sail. Hoping for some sunshine tomorrow, we agreed to wait. So, as we finished our large-enough-to-feed-an-entire-family breakfast, we discussed other options for our first day on the island.

We were staying in the central part of the island and would be heading west the next day for sailing, so we finally settled on exploring the eastern part of the island. Our first stop was Orcas Island Artworks. Located outside of the town of Olga, the gallery is an artists' cooperative for local artists. I especially liked the madrona wood bowls and handbound journals.

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We spent much of the morning driving around the eastern portion of the island simply enjoying the gorgeous scenery. One moment we would be surrounded by impossibly tall and dense trees and the next we would come unexpectedly upon an open field. Every now and then we would get a glimpse of the sea. The landscape was surprisingly varied, but constantly beautiful.

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After a bit of aimless wandering (and Clay pointing out every deer on the island), we headed into Moran State Park.

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We planned to do a combination of driving and hiking, stopping to enjoy some of the shorter trails to maximize our time in the park. However, we kept noticing signs indicating that we needed a "Discover Pass" in order to be in the park or to hike the trails. Being a bit of a rule follower, I was relieved when we finally figured out what it was all about. We kept noticing the "Pay Stations" located throughout the park; really they were nothing more than a wooden post with a plastic box attached. We simply filled out the form (which could also be used to pay for the use of camping facilities), added our $10 check (cash was also accepted) to the envelope, dropped it in the locked drop-box, and displayed the tear-off portion of the form on our dashboard. Let's just say that having this knowledge in advance may have prevented a bit of an argument, so consider this information an investment in your relationship.

And, yes, I realize I am getting all soap-boxy (that is totally a word!) for a moment, but the whole process seemingly operates as an honor system. But seriously, $10 is so worth enjoying and supporting a beautiful state park. If you cannot afford a $10 pass, then I assure you that you cannot possibly afford to be on the island. $10 was by far the least amount of money we paid for anything. Okay, soap box over - time for some pictures!

These are from a lookout point about half way up Mount Constitution.

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The views from the top of the mountain (which is also the highest point on any of islands) were incredible.

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There were various buildings throughout the park that were originally constructed in the 1930's, including a small facility built to utilize a natural spring.

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The water of Mountain Lake was so smooth - only the occasional fish disturbed the glassy surface of the water. We enjoyed the quietness and solitude that would likely be less available later in the summer or on a "prettier" day.

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And what day would be complete without a hike to a waterfall (or two)?

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After an enjoyable morning and afternoon of spending time outdoors, we stopped in the incredibly charming Eastsound for some shopping.

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We did have to get some grocery items (for s'mores, obviously), so we unfortunately had to shop in the local grocery store. The prices were incredibly expensive. Tip of the day: if you are not scrambling at the last minute to catch the ferry, pick up marshmallows, graham crackers, and chocolate bars before you get to the San Juan Islands!

Dinner that evening was at Allium. Recommended as one of the two places for an especially nice evening out on Orcas, the experience was quite disappointing. The view was great, of course; the Allium was located directly above the Madrona Bar & Grill.

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Essentially, we could have enjoyed the same view at the latter restaurant with better food and for less money. Not that the food was particularly bad, but the experience should have been more than mediocre. To be fair, Clay did enjoy his steak, but again felt it was way overpriced for the quality and taste of the meal.

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The real issue I had was with my dinner. It is here where I confess that I departed from my usual "vegetarian ways" (as Clay describes my diet, always with a hint of disgust in his voice!) and ate seafood, lots of seafood during our vacation. One would think that the fish of the day, in this case halibut, freshly caught and prepared ON AN ISLAND would be the best dish on the menu. However, the fish was flavorless, a characteristic not helped by pairing it with rice and a spiceless, bland red curry sauce.

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Fortunately, this would be the only negative restaurant experience we had during our trip, but unfortunately, it was also the most expensive.

Not ones to let a less than stellar meal ruin our evening, we consoled ourselves with another sunset soak in the hot tub.

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Our day did end on a delicious note, with a warm fire and s'mores.

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After a very fun day, we again climbed up into our loft bedroom, again looking forward to sailing around the islands the next day.

Posted by cgplatt 11:17 Archived in USA Tagged washington san_juan_islands Comments (2)

Seattle and the San Juan Islands: Getting to Orcas


View Seattle and the San Juan Islands 2012 on cgplatt's travel map.

Update: All new posts can be found at http://thewanderingmind.net.

Our Washington adventure began bright and early on a Monday morning with a flight from DFW. Although our destination was Sea-Tac, we had a brief flight to Houston with a short layover before a longer flight to Seattle. Our first flight was on time, but (surprise) I was already concerned about making it to the ferry that would take us to Orcas Island. This anxiety was not helped by a mechanical issue that required deplaning after we had boarded our plane in Houston. Ultimately, our second flight was delayed by about an hour and a half, so when we arrived we crossed our fingers (and our legs because we did not have time to stop to use the restroom) and drove our rental car straight to Anacortes hoping to be in time for the 6:25 pm ferry.

I do want to mention the the new rental car facility at Sea-Tac. Although the shuttle to the facility was somewhat of an inconvenience (every second counted), the shuttles were frequent and the process was very quick once we arrived. We easily found the Hertz desk and after completing the necessary paperwork, we were given directions to where our car was parked in the giant rental car parking garage. Overall, the new facility was well organized and efficient, so before we knew it, we were on our way to Anacortes.

Anacortes is located about 90 miles north of Seattle, so we knew we would be cutting it close. The biggest issue was that apparently the ferry to the San Juan Islands is pretty popular and in the summer the recommendation is to arrive at least an hour and a half early if you are planning to drive a car onto the ferry and even then you might have to wait for one or more ferries to get on. Even if we did not hit any traffic, we would be arriving with, at most, thirty minutes to spare. Good thing I am such an easy going person (haha). Fortunately, I had downloaded the Washington DOT app, so I knew that if we missed the 6:25 ferry, there would be another one at 8:55. Plan B was to grab dinner somewhere in Anacortes and wait for the later ferry if we missed the earlier one. With an alternative in place, I could relax (at least a little) and enjoy the incredible scenery between Seattle and Anacortes. Arriving in Anacortes at just after 6, we were just able to get onto the 6:25 ferry. This would be a recurring theme of our time in the San Juans - the weather in early June is much less predictable (read: less sunny and warm) than later in the summer, but the crowds are smaller. I will take that tradeoff any day!

The fare is only collected on westbound ferries, so we paid our $60 (which covered a car and driver along with an additional passenger) knowing we would not be paying anything on the return. There is a strategy to this - if you plan on visiting more than one ferry served island, it is best to go to the one that is furthest west and work your way eastward. In our case, we only had plans to visit Orcas Island.

Having barely squeezed into the line of cars for the ferry, we had a few minutes to get out of the car and explore the area around the ferry terminal before it was time to board. The cool sea air was a nice change from the Texas heat!

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As we drove onto the ferry, I could finally feel all of the stress of a day of travel melt away. We quickly left our car to enjoy the view from the passenger deck. The views during the hour-long ferry ride just did not stop being beautiful. Tree-covered islands, impossibly green, surrounded us in every direction, rising from the seemingly motionless sea. The beauty of the islands is impossible to describe and difficult to capture, but that certainly did not stop me from trying. While frantically snapping pictures, I became more and more excited to reach Orcas with each passing minute.

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After a quick stop at Shaw Island, we finally reached our destination!!

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Our first goal was to find the cabin we had rented through Vacation Rentals by Owner. This was our first experience with vrbo, but it was such a positive experience that it will not be our last. With directions like "turn left on the road by the gas station" and "keep going straight on the gravel road even though you will see a huge, blue, private property sign" I was somewhat concerned about arriving at the correct place, but as we crested over the last hill of the "driveway," the cabin was unmistakable and the view was unbelievable.

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Perfect for two people, one could easily stock up on groceries and never leave. Located on several acres of land, the cabin had everything you would need to settle in for a few days in complete solitude. However, because of the cabin's location close to Eastsound, it was easy, albeit expensive, to find find a variety of restaurants in which to eat. Unless, of course, you wanted to eat after 9 pm. Which was the next challenge we faced. Fortunately, the Madrona Bar & Grill was happy to stay open "late" when we walked in at 8:55. As we waited for my veggie burger with garlic fries (the perfect way to begin a romantic vacation, right?) and Clay's fish and chips, we enjoyed watching the slow sunset over the water.

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After a really delicious dinner, we could think of nothing else to do but return to the cabin and enjoy the hot tub. What a difficult way to end the day! Although it was after 10, it was still somewhat light outside, so we enjoyed the remainder of the sunset and watched as the lights of the the mainland (both Washington and Canada) began to twinkle in the distance. We officially dubbed this the best hot tub view ever, which is of course a challenge. We now have a mission to find a better view from a hot tub. We may never be successful, but we will certainly try our best!

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There was no better way to decompress after a long day of travel! Thoroughly relaxed, we climbed up into our loft bedroom and dreamed of the next day's adventure - sailing around the islands!!

Posted by cgplatt 18:47 Archived in USA Tagged ferry washington san_juan_islands Comments (0)

Seattle and the San Juan Islands: Packing


View Seattle and the San Juan Islands 2012 on cgplatt's travel map.

Update: All new posts can be found at http://thewanderingmind.net.

Thus begins what will most likely be a long and drawn out series of posts on our recent trip to Washington. Between packing, working on my dissertation, moving, and starting my internship, I doubt blogging will be a priority. So, my apologies in advance if it takes me the next year to write about a one-week vacation.

The trip began when our friends asked us if we would like to tag along on their trip to Seattle to see family. We would have a free place to stay and gourmet meals courtesy of our friend's aunt. Sounded like a great idea to us!! Wanting to stay longer than the four nights our friends were going to be there, we started to consider various options for extending our time in the Seattle area. After deciding against at least 5 other options, we finally settled on the San Juan Islands (thank you, 1000 Places to See Before You Die, aka the ultimate tie breaker). The thing was, we had never really heard of the islands before planning this trip and neither had anyone else we knew. Apparently a popular destination for individuals from the Pacific Northwest, they are not really on the vacation radar for us Southerners. My research loving heart went pitter-patter as we began deciding what we wanted to do with our time in a place we knew next to nothing about. After months of planning, it was time to leave, but of course, we had to pack first. Let me just say that packing for June in the Pacific Northwest is surprisingly difficult when you live in Texas and temperatures are already flirting with 100 degrees! You kind of forget what 50 degrees feels like.

I realize packing posts are not the most exciting, but as someone who constantly fights against my overpacking alter ego (incidentally, this is also the alter ego who can eat an entire pint of ice cream at once) this is also the kind of post that I find incredibly helpful when preparing for a trip. Thus, the early-summer-weeklong-trip-to-Washington packing list was born. And I have to say, I think I am making progress. To change things up a bit from the previous packing post, I am including pictures of (some) of the outfit combinations that were possible with the items of clothing I packed. And, although I did not actually attempt to pack my own suitcase, I do believe I could have fit everything into a carryon. Take that overpacking alter ego! So, without further ado, the list:

I packed:

  • Pants

Black yoga pants (worn on the plane)
Brown slacks
Dark jeans
Blue capris (I did wear these, but could have easily gotten by without them)

  • Shirts

Teal tank top (worn on the plane)
Black and gray striped shirt
Coral t-shirt
Floral tank
Navy and tan tank
Long sleeved black shirt
Gray cardigan (worn on the plane)
Tan cardigan
Purple(ish) sweater
Blue hiking shirt (not pictured)
Various camisoles

  • Shoes

Clark's Privos (worn on the plane; these are my new favorite shoes for traveling - they almost deserve a post of their own!)
Off-white flats
Hiking boots and socks (not pictured)

  • Accessories (nothing expensive or irreplaceable)

Scarf
Teal and silver necklace (worn on the plane)
Brown, teal, and gold necklace/bracelet
Brown and gold necklace
Multi-color necklace

  • Other things (not pictured)

Swimsuit
Underwear
Cosmetics (including bug spray and sunscreen)
PJs
Small purse (I always take a larger bag on the plane with me)
Raincoat(s - at the last minute, Clay convinced me to bring my nice rain coat along with the more casual one)
Water bottles
Guidebooks and other info (e.g., info on tours we had booked, auto insurance)
Phone/charger
Camera/charger
Nook/charger
Cash

And of course, Clay did his usual - after packing my carefully constructed list of items, he threw together what he wanted to take in a matter of minutes. That is oh-so-representative of how we approach life. Moving on from the philosophical meaning of our respective packing styles, the following were some of the outfits I was able to put together with the clothes that I packed. I tried to choose things that could go together in many different ways to minimize what I took, while also giving me some flexibility in what I wore.

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It probably took an hour or so of trial and error to create the most efficient combinations, but in the end I think I ended up with a relatively compact yet versatile wardrobe for our trip. By the end of the trip, I had worn/used everything I packed, even the extra raincoat. And can I just point out that I only included three pairs of shoes, one of which was a hiking boot and one of which I was wearing on the plane!! That, my friends, is progress. Now to work on the ice cream thing, darn alter ego.

Posted by cgplatt 20:21 Archived in USA Tagged packing seattle san_juan_islands Comments (0)

A Surprise Trip to Oklahoma

Update: All new posts can be found at http://thewanderingmind.net.

It started with a text message from Clay – “I have a surprise for you when you get home.” It was the Friday morning of what had been a horribly awful week. Needing something positive to think about, I spent the rest of the day wondering what Clay could be planning to cheer me up. Given that it would have to be pretty drastic to actually work, my thoughts drifted to things like a spotlessly clean house, a shopping spree, or an entire gallon of my favorite ice cream free of judgment for singlehandedly consuming it over the course of the weekend (hypothetically, of course). However, when I arrived home that afternoon, it was quickly apparent that my surprise involved going somewhere. Clay told me to pack a weekend bag with comfy clothes (in other words, not the things I normally wear) and to pack Sydney’s (our dog’s) bag while he took care of a few other errands. This was certainly a promising way to begin a weekend!

Soon enough we were loaded into the car, me still clueless as to where we were going. Of course, if I had any sense of direction, I would have noticed we were driving north, which would have been clearly apparent to a normal person as the setting sun was to our left. I, however, did not realize Oklahoma was our destination until we actually arrived in Oklahoma.

Perhaps I was distracted by the vast amount of food Clay had packed. I know we enjoy food and clearly he was planning on cooking most of our meals for the weekend rather than going to restaurants, but did two people really need two bags of chips, over a pound of fajita meat, along with hot dogs and hamburgers? And did he really think I could eat two pints of ice cream over the weekend (ok, maybe this one could actually happen, especially after my horribly awful week). Not one to be bothered by this detail when there was a weekend getaway to consider, I quickly moved on to thinking about what our destination could possibly be.

Three short hours later we, and a very excited Sydney, pulled up to a most inviting cabin in Broken Bow, Oklahoma, just outside of Beavers Bend State Park. I excitedly began exploring the cabin as Sydney excitedly began exploring the woods around it. Neither of us was disappointed. The cabin came complete with a fully stocked kitchen, indoor and outdoor living spaces, and more room than the two of us (plus Sydney) possibly needed. There was a master bedroom on the first floor and two more bedrooms upstairs. Although the inside of the cabin was lovely, the best part was outside – a hot tub with a fireplace, surrounded by lots of space and plenty of trees. Clay knew exactly what I needed. I needed to get away (far, far away) from the city (and grad school!), to relax, and to spend time with my love. It was perfect!

large_IMG_1046.jpgThe road in front of our cabin

The road in front of our cabin

large_IMG_1067.jpglarge_IMG_1070.jpgThe kitchen

The kitchen

Living room

Living room

The master bedroom

The master bedroom

The second floor walkway - one bedroom was located at each end

The second floor walkway - one bedroom was located at each end

Checking out what was upstairs

Checking out what was upstairs

One of the upstairs bedrooms

One of the upstairs bedrooms

After testing out the hot tub (we had to make sure it was working properly!) and enjoying the delicious steak dinner Clay prepared on the grill, we were just relaxing on the couch when Sydney suddenly wanted to go outside.

Friday night dinner

Friday night dinner

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Clay's disapproving face because I shared my ice cream cone (cone, not the ice cream) with the pup

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Clay went outside with her and, to my utter and complete surprise, walked back inside with my brother, his wife, and my nephew (who, just so we are clear, is just about the most adorable kid in the whole world). I have mentioned previously that Clay is not great at surprising me – well, this time he was successful! I almost could not believe they were there (for context, I live several hours away from my family and I had not seen them in months and I was really missing them).

Best surprise ever!!!

Best surprise ever!!!

If you need help picturing my truly shocked and surprised face, just imagine a teenage Justin Bieber fan Completely.Freaking.Out. I was jumping up and down, fanning my face, crying, and saying, “Oh My Goodness!!!!!!!” over and over while on the verge of hyperventilating. When I finally could put together even a moderately coherent sentence, all I could manage was, “I knew there were too many chips!” as I hugged my sister-in-law and nephew. I was soooo surprised and overwhelmingly happy. When I compare this response to my usual “surprised” face, it is glaringly obvious that I do not fake a surprised response very well, at all. Just as I have been pretending to be surprised for years, Clay must have been pretending to be convinced.

Although I thought the weekend was perfect before my brother and his family arrived, it was beyond perfect once they were there. We had the best weekend doing quite a bit of nothing. We stayed up late talking, ate really good food that Clay cooked on the grill, took naps, and explored the beautiful Beaver’s Bend area. We watched Sydney run around, in doggie heaven with the opportunity to roam through the trees, and spent lots of time loving on my nephew, who is growing up oh-so-quickly. We sat in the hot tub (for hours) and drank wine before roasting marshmallows by the fire while talking some more. It was a blissful weekend and just what I needed to recover from my week. We are already planning a return trip, although I can do without the horribly awful week next time!

The hot tub - we definitely made use of it during our short stay

The hot tub - we definitely made use of it during our short stay

Saturday morning was beautiful - sunny but still cool

Saturday morning was beautiful - sunny but still cool

View from the back porch

View from the back porch

Sydney loved running around outside the cabin

Sydney loved running around outside the cabin

The fire pit

The fire pit

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Cutest kid ever :)

large_IMG_1025.jpgThe boys enjoying the hot tub Saturday morning

The boys enjoying the hot tub Saturday morning

large_IMG_1048.jpgLunch was hamburgers and hotdogs grilled to perfection by Clay

Lunch was hamburgers and hotdogs grilled to perfection by Clay

large_IMG_1071.jpgExploring Beavers Bend State Park

Exploring Beavers Bend State Park

large_IMG_1080.jpglarge_IMG_1082.jpglarge_IMG_1091.jpgLove him!!

Love him!!

large_IMG_1097.jpglarge_IMG_1100.jpgSaturday's dinner was delicious fajitas

Saturday's dinner was delicious fajitas

We loved the outdoor fireplace

We loved the outdoor fireplace

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Roasted marshmallows :)

A warm fire on a cool night

A warm fire on a cool night

large_IMG_1139.jpgMy perfectly content and happy face

My perfectly content and happy face

I miss my brother - so sad for the weekend to be over

I miss my brother - so sad for the weekend to be over

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Posted by cgplatt 18:05 Archived in USA Tagged sydney family oklahoma surprise Comments (0)

Honeymoon Highlights: Chicago

Update: All new posts can be found at http://thewanderingmind.net.

Sadly, our honeymoon in Ireland eventually had to end. Neither of us was quite ready to go home, so it was fortunate that Clay had decided to include an overnight stay in Chicago on the return trip. As you may remember, we had flown to Dublin from Chicago after taking the train from Little Rock. Thus, our tickets to Ireland were roundtrip from Chicago, so we had to book additional flights to get us all the way home. Clay had decided to make the flights back to Arkansas for the following day, so we had a brief stay in Chicago. All that to say that the extra night in Chicago was the perfect way to begin easing us back into real life (like being able to use our cell phones for the first time in over a week, but not having to actually return any calls).

Honestly, we did not do all that much. We relaxed at our hotel and ate really good Thai food. We stayed at the incredible Hotel Monaco. This was our first experience with Kimpton Hotels, but certainly not our last. From the amenities to the service to the unusual touches and unique decor, we absolutely loved everything about the Hotel Monaco. We enjoyed the complimentary wine hour in the afternoon, received our very own pet goldfish for the course of our stay, and were really impressed when the concierge directed us not to the very expensive and trendy Thai restaurant across the street, but instead to his personal favorite (and much more affordable spot) a couple blocks away. Because we were on our honeymoon, we were upgraded to a suite where we were greeted with an unbeatable wrap-around view and a bottle of champagne. Centrally located in downtown Chicago, this hotel would also be a perfect location if you had plans to do things other than relax and eat Thai food. Plus, Kimpton Hotels are known for their pet friendliness, even offering a special room service menu for dog meals and treats.

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Although we were dragging our feet, we could not avoid the inevitable and so we flew home the next day. I was sad that our honeymoon was over - I had enjoyed every moment of the perfect-for-us trip that Clay had planned. Since then, we have been fortunate to travel together to many places and I hope there are many more adventures in our future. Regardless of where we go or what we do, I am thankful that I get to experience the world with the love of my life and my best friend. What more could a girl ask for?

Posted by cgplatt 15:50 Archived in USA Tagged hotel chicago Comments (0)

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