jaunt chats: trancoso, brazil

my friend, derek, recently traveled to trancoso, brazil for his honeymoon with his lovely wife, brandace.  i hadn’t heard much about trancoso, but vaguely knew of bahia.  his photos floored me and i begged him to write about his trip for jaunt.  thankfully, he agreed, and it’s safe to say that most of you will add trancoso to your travel list before you finish reading.  enjoy!


making your honeymoon your own…for better or for worse

when you became engaged, you are not only committing to a lifelong marriage but also to months of stressful wedding planning.  perhaps that is why the honeymoon has become the quintessence of unwinding.  luckily for me, my future wife and mother-in-law assumed most of the tasks of sorting through flower arrangements and table linens, thus leaving me with my favorite hobby: travel planning.

for me, thoughtfully arranging a vacation with my new bride was just as important as arranging our wedding itinerary. i began exploring options by visiting popular travel websites, “top 10 honeymoon destinations” slideshows, and other married friends’ facebook albums.  every location promised secluded romance, tropical beverages, and beautiful seascapes to take the obligatory “feet on beach” instagram.


i settled on a spot that would deliver all of those requisites and much more; however, you would not find trancoso on any “top 10 honeymoon” list.  in the remote discovery coast of bahia, brazil, sits a half-century old fisherman’s town that only received electricity 15 years before our arrival. the inherent risks to choosing a place like trancoso for a honeymoon included all of the possible nightmares of foreign travel: 18 hours of planes, airports, dodgy roads, poor plumbing, and a language barrier. but doing a little homework would ease those fears and trancoso would prove to have come a long way over the last decade.

brazil – my own

my mother is brazilian and i have always considered myself half brazilian; that is, until i was forced to deny my dual citizenship in order to obtain a tourist visa, otherwise face the long battle of renewing a brazilian passport used only once as a toddler.  nevertheless, i was determined to explore a slice of my heritage and share the experience with my wife.  also weighing on the decision was the upcoming world cup, which would be hosted by brazil in the days following our departure.  for the locals, the anticipation of the world cup provided an air of excitement that outweighed the woes of preparation.

trancoso-brazil-resortthe eventual winners of the world cup would not miss the enchantment of the discovery coast, either.  in brilliant tactic, the german national team set up “camp” just north of trancoso so they could adapt to brazil’s weather conditions and train in relative privacy.  their accommodations seemed to fit the building code of coastal bahian living: natural wood framed, open-air bungalows equipped with modern luxuries.  no one who sees pictures of bahia’s beach-lined villas would say that these people are roughing it.  quite the opposite, the wealthy and fortunate vacationers have discovered a style of living that could only be achieved in coastal bahia.

trancoso – paradise discovered

the road to trancoso was not originally paved in gold.  in fact, the roads arriving to trancoso are still not paved at all.  the town and its locals seem to cherish some of its oldworld feels in spite of the recent renovations.  when the mode of transportation is not by foot, locals find a dirt bike or the rare pickup truck sufficient for traversing the 3-mile wide city.  for tourists, trancoso is mostly confined to your private villa resort and the town square called quadrado.  what you will not find confining in trancoso are the endless beaches. except for the few beachfront pousadas (private inns) and restaurants, you could easily stroll the main 1-mile stretch of beach without passing another person.


trancoso has become a popular vacation destination for wealthy brazilians and urban youth looking to party.  during carnival and other summer holidays, trancoso will transform from a quiet hideaway to a 24 hour sun-drenched nightclub, a “paradox and dream” amongst urban brazilians and free-spirit bahians who have witnessed the intermingling of their complex and simple worlds.  more often, the locals are required to adapt to the draw of their own private paradise.

our honeymoon happened to land during the “off-season” (based on brazilian standards) when most beach-going brazilians choose not to put up with chilly 75 degree days and the occasional rainstorm.  for that reason, we were able to experience trancoso during its quiet season. we felt as though we had the beach and villa resort to ourselves.  and with all that space to yourself, you find it natural to want interaction with whoever crosses your path.  often that interaction was only with local staff or bartenders, and despite the language barrier (we created our own portuguese-spanish hybrid dialect), the conversation was always pleasant.


when planning the trip, i understood the key to a tranquil honeymoon was to keep the itinerary open and flexible.  we knew of a handful of activities offered by local groups but resisted scheduling anything more than a day ahead.  when the weather forecast called for rain the next day, we booked a canopy-covered, outdoor couples massage.  when we were bored of the beach, we booked a quick round of golf.  when we got tired of the same scenery and routine, we hired a car service to take us to another unique beach.

by the end of the trip, our minds and bodies were in perfect harmony with the trancoso way of life.


for better or for worse

making a vacation experience your own forces you to takea leap of faith.  the risks of traveling a less beaten path often means you will make new discoveries.  some good and some bad, but it’s usually the obstacles we overcome while traveling that give us the longest lasting memories.

after about two days of unwinding it had become clear that the memories my wife and i were making were always going to be our own.  a blank itinerary with only a room reservation and a return flight home gave us the freedom to face new challenges together.


the “top 10 honeymoon destinations” lists will probably never bear the name trancoso.  truthfully, we (and the locals) do not care if it ever does.  it’s difficult to say whether our stories and pictures will ever inspire others to book a trip to trancoso.  but we hope that more couples make travel a mode for self-realization rather than just fulfilling a predetermined checklist.

after all, your honeymoon will always and only be your honeymoon. and much like your marriage, you have committed to a lifetime of building your own memories for better or for worse.  you have the opportunity to write the first review.

jaunt chats: key west, florida

katie and jason at the southernmost point in the us: key west, florida

katie and jason at the southernmost point in the us: key west, florida

i honestly do not know how my friend, katie, does it.  between working, hosting open pool days at her house, being a social butterfly, and preparing for a new baby (soon!), she still finds the time to travel.  and travel often!  she is always an inspiration to me, and i love scrolling through all of her vacation photos (spoiler alert: she always has a blast).  so i’m thrilled that she was willing to share with me a couple of her recent trips.  first up: key west, florida, one of my own favorite trips (many, many years ago) that involved key lime pie, hemingway’s six-toed cats, and a whole lotta blue water.

jb: when did you travel to key west?

katie: my husband, jason, and i traveled to key west from dallas over memorial day weekend 2014. we took the trip as a “babymoon” when I was 22 weeks pregnant with our first child (due 9/25 – it’s a girl!). i had been to key west previously for work but jason had never been there. we were able to fly into key west (through miami) thus avoiding the 4 hour drive and getting our vacation started a bit earlier. the flight from miami into key west was literally up and down, 45 minutes max.

view of key west from the (short) flight from miami

view of key west from the (short) flight from miami

jb: how did you plan for your trip?

katie: we used both yelp and trip adviser reviews to research resorts and restaurants (mostly yelp). We found a great resort/boutique hotel called the parrot key resort that was a bit off the main drag (i.e. duval street – more on that later) and we thought that it looked very calm, peaceful, and relaxing – just what this mama-to-be was looking for in the hustle that is so often key west!

one of the four pools at the parrot key resort boutique hotel

one of the four pools at the parrot key resort boutique hotel

jb: what are some of your favorite moments from the trip?

katie: we had some great dinners, the best of which was at latitudes, located on sunset key island which is just a quick ferry ride out (tip: you are supposed to show up to the ferry at the time of your dinner reservation). you can sit right on the beach, but be cautious of where you sit depending on the time of day and sun. we ended up moving our table from right against the water back a little bit into some shade where we still had a spectacular view of the water and sunset.

the sunsets in key west

the sunsets in key west

for something more casual, you must stop at dj’s clam shack on duval street for the lobster roll and mahi mahi fish tacos (share with a friend so you can try both). this place was featured on diners, dives, and drive-ins on the food network and the hype is real.

the famous lobster roll from dj's clam shack

the famous lobster roll from dj’s clam shack

we did an excursion with sebago water sports – the morning reef snorkel. key west has some of the most expansive barrier reefs in the world. to protect the ecosystems, they are very serious about not touching any of the reef as you go out and explore. the sebago team was great, and they suggested that we grab breakfast at the cuban coffee queen (photo below), a little shack popular with the locals, serving up giant breakfast sandwiches, smoothies, and of course coffee creations of all kinds. this was a great find and there’s a little shop adjacent or benches out front to pass the 10-15 minute wait time.

for more on those and my other favorites via my yelp reviews, click here.

jb: any crazy things happen in key west?

katie: a college friend of mine was there at the same time and we were able to meet up with him for drinks each night. he’s a private pilot and had brought a client down for the weekend and was there just hanging out. it’s always fun when travels bring you close to friend, especially when it’s unexpected!  also, we really enjoyed spending time at RICK’S  where they had a live performer singing and telling dirty jokes. he pretty much picked on anyone and everyone, whether you walked into the bar or just were walking by on the street. not for those who are easily offended (then again, KW is not for those who are easily offended).

running into friends in key west!

running into friends in key west!

jb: ha!  i would be too nervous for rick’s, i fear.  or i would need to take you with me when i go.  anything else cool?

katie: you may be interested to read up on the history of the u.s. presidents who spent time in key west (truman, eisenhower, kennedy, carter, clinton). i found out about this when we stumbled upon the harry s. truman little white house and explored a bit further.

duvall street - the main drag in key west

duvall street – the main drag in key west

jb: so how was the weather?  i hear horror stories of the florida humidity.

katie: it was hot and a bit humid with lots of sunshine! perfect for being poolside by day but a little warm for extended walking around and exploring during the day. the evenings were not as bad humidity-wise and i was more comfortable walking the streets in the evening (not like a hooker…make sure your readers know that!)

jb: katie is “not” a hooker.

snorkeling in key west!

snorkeling in key west!

jb: ok, so what’s the overall vibe?

katie: key west is definitely an adult scene. i was surprised by how many kids i saw (and strollers), much in the way that you may be surprised by seeing young children up and down the las vegas strip. duval street is a party scene for those not easily offended (be prepared to be called out for anything by local performers in the bars up and down the street). that being said, duval street also has great people watching! there’s also a big LGBT scene down the way on duval.


jb: packing essentials?

katie: must pack a bathing suit, flip flops, sunscreen, casual outfits for the evening – whatever you’re comfortable in.

jb: any tips?

katie: stay on or near duval street if you want to be part of the scene. this will cut down on your cab fares and allow you to get around very easily by foot for the most part. if you’re going with a group and want something upscale and a bit more private with easy access to the duval scene, check out sunset key where the westin has private cottages and is just a short ferry ride from all of the action.

jb: what did you read while traveling?

katie: well, it had nothing to do with key west, but i read we the eaters by ellen gustafson and i highly recommend this book. *disclaimer: my cousin wrote this book and it was recently released (may 2014)!

reading "we the eaters" poolside - check it out!

reading “we the eaters” poolside – check it out!

jaunt chats: cleo patterson’s travel journal

cleo patterson's small travel journal of her trip to texas, as found in my garage as i moved in

cleo patterson’s small travel journal of her trip to texas, as found in my garage as i moved in

while moving into our new home last summer, we came across a few items in the garage that were left behind by previous owners.  one such item was a thin, small black leather “memo book.”  upon further inspection, i was so pleasantly surprised to find – hark! – a travel journal from 1940!  how fortuitous!  i sat down this week and reread it, which only further solidified my thoughts that travel journals are a must.  do not leave home without one!

 the journal, written by cleo patterson in the spring of 1940, is titled “my trip to texas.”  an hour with google later, i learned that miss cleo (as i’m calling her), later moved to texas (must have liked that trip!), and passed away in lubbock in the 1990s.

i’ve included below some of my favorite passages from her journal.  i’ll include some more in a second post so you can see how the trip (and not just the voyage) passed..  enjoy!

miss cleo's route from ohio to texas (as depicted on google maps)

miss cleo’s bus route from ohio to texas (as depicted on google maps): (a) columbus, ohio; (b) richmond, indiana; (c) indianapolis, indiana; (d) terra haute, indiana; (e) st. louis, missouri; (f) sullivan, missouri; (g) waynesville, missouri; (h) springfield, missouri; (i) carthage, missouri; (j) joplin, missouri; (k) vinita, oklahoma; (l) tulsa, oklahoma; (m) chandler, oklahoma; (n) oklahoma city, oklahoma; (o) clinton, oklahoma; (p) shamrock, texas; (q) amarillo, texas.

“Saturday, May 18, 1940

I left the office at 12:00 o’clock noon.  Ethel Evers took me to the Bus Station.  Ate lunch there with Sam [believe her son?].  My Bus left at 1:20.  All seats were taken, so I sat with a girl whose name was Eileen and who was from New York State.  She was going to Los Angeles to be married.  She was very interesting to talk to and we rode together all the way to Tulsa, Okla.

 Sunday, May 19

We crossed the Mississippi river about 1:00 o’clock, and it was a most beautiful sight to see the lights from the docks all up and down the river.  We arrived in St. Louis, Mo. at 1:30.  Here we changed busses and received new tickets at the ticket window…We did not have a new bus as we had the first part of our journey, and were very uncomfortable.  I bought a pillow, but even that did not help must.  There were plenty of seats, so I had one to myself and tried to curl up in the seat, but was not able to sleep.  I tied my hair and tried to get some dirt off my face with cream.

Then came the dawn, and we were passing through the Ozark Mountains and it is a sight I shall never forget.  A particularly beautiful spot was when we were going thru a pass called “Devil’s Elbow.”  Our next stop was at Waynesville, Mo. at 6:30 where we drank a cup of coffee.  We were still in the Ozark Mountains.  Waynesville was a very quaint little town and most picturesque.  The drive from Waynesville to Springfield was rolling hills and winding roads.  Very beautiful all the way.  The bus station at Springfield was very beautiful and I was wishing for a picture, but unfortunately my Kodak was stolen.

While crossing Kansas and a small section of Oklahoma, we could see huge mountais of sand and gravel, white and gleaming in the sun.  It was really very beautiful.  I did not learn until I arrived in Texas that this was nothing but slec from the lead mines.

Our next stop was Vinita, Okla.  We had dinner here and it was a most excellent meal.  Here we had to pay sales tax and instead of using stamps they use little tin slugs that reads 1 mill 5 mills, etc. I was quite puzzled as to what they were and thought they were trying to pass me some phony money.

oklahoma city's capitol building sits atop an active oil well

oklahoma city’s capitol building sits atop an active oil well. photo attributed to matthew rutledge, https://www.flickr.com/x/t/0092009/photos/rutlo/3863799533/

We left Tulsa at 4:10.  Here I saw my first oil well.  Next we arrived at Oklahoma City at 7:45; There I saw many oil wells which were almost in the Capitol yard.  It was a very interesting sight.  From Oklahoma City to Elk City I had a very interesting companion who pointed out many interesting things and told me many other things of interest about the country.  One thing that impressed me most about this state was the red earth or soil.  It is very beautiful to see the green things growing out of the red soil.  Our next stop was at Clinton, Okla at 10:40, where we had 10 minutes.  There I drank a coca-cola.

Wednesday May 20

Our next stop was at Shamrock, Texas at 12:50.  We had a 10 minute stop.  I got off and walked up and down until time to get on the Bus.  I tried to sleep, but I was afraid I would miss something.  By this time, I was too excited to even think of sleeping.  The moon was showing so bright you could see for miles and miles.  The next and last stop was Amarillo.  As we were nearing the city, we went under an UnderPass that  was all lighted up with hidden lights.  It was a beautiful sight.”

a glimpse into cleo patterson's travel journal of her bus trip from ohio to texas in 1940

a glimpse into cleo patterson’s travel journal of her bus trip from ohio to texas in 1940

i’ll post a few more tidbits next week from miss cleo’s visit to amarillo.  i was so sorry to hear her kodak was stolen – how unfortunate!  so funny to read her accounts of oklahoma, especially the oil wells on the capitol yard (they are still there!), and the red earth.  growing up in oklahoma, we didn’t refer to parts of the state via cities or counties, but rather based on the earth.  tulsa, where i grew up, is green country, due to the rolling hills, higher rainfall, and more lush trees.  in contrast, oklahoma city is red carpet country, which, as miss cleo noted, is named after the thick red earth that spreads for miles and miles.

jaunt chats: wherever you go, there you are

Just a day in England

Just a day in England

how delighted i was when an old friend from oklahoma wrote to tell me how much she enjoyed jaunt. it has been so much fun for me to write, and sometimes i just assume i’m the only one reading. kelly embodies the true spirit of jaunt, finding adventure wherever life takes her. she offered to write about living in a foreign land, as this is something about which she knows quite a bit. i was completely unprepared, though, for the beautiful post she returned to me last week. so perfectly worded and honest, please join me in convincing her to start her own blog. i want to read more.

India- riding an elephant on my birthday!

India- riding an elephant on my birthday!

“Having now lived, worked and volunteered in the US, Czech Republic, UK, India and Canada and travelled to 35 countries here is what I know. Not much. The more you learn the more you know how very little you can really know. I may have a Master’s but I’ve learned much more from experience and people I’ve really connected with the world round. I grew up in Tulsa, Oklahoma and sometimes I think back to the girl I was (our entire body – cells and skin – is replaced every 7 years so am I even really the same person? Just a thought… I would have been thrilled and delighted to hear that I would travel to and volunteer in India on my own, study at the University of London, marry my own Mr. Darcey and travel to 35 countries. How did I do that, it’s magic really. How did I get myself here? I often think… what else might be possible?

My husband, Mark and I at Kent Castle

My husband, Mark and I at Kent Castle

When you live in a different culture you are changed. You can never un-know the precise detail with which the English use our shared language. I never used the word pedantic before moving there. You start to see your own culture as outsiders do. This can be enlightening and uncomfortable. You could always pick out the Americans on the tube as they speak in a tone 8 octaves above every other sane person on the train. Was I ever that loud? Did I sound that brash? Yes. After 7 years in the UK trying to assimilate, taking tea, donning my vintage frocks and developing the usual pint after every imaginable activity (Film and a pint, jog and a pint, cycle ride and a pint , shopping and a pint… etc.) the foreign became the norm as did the aspects I adored about British culture. The humour interjected at every single possible opportunity, the non- PC flirting that on a good day boosts your self-esteem (it’s not doing any harm is it eh?) on a bad day it re-invigorated my feminism! When you fall into a pattern of life, the seasonal norms that are comforting, eating cream teas in pub gardens in summer, heavy pies and roast dinners in Autumn and Winter, picking up local venison from the country estate nearby, the noise of pheasant hunting in the distance on country walks and knowing that Christmas starts Dec 1st with heaps of minced pies, chocolates and brandy butter. It is expected and very well accepted to gain 5 pounds in December. Normal. You’ll need the fat to keep warm in poorly insulated old housing! I LOVE this mind set, much healthier than our skinny = successful, good, worthy, pretty, intelligent culture in the US. There were aspects of British life I could never quite adjust to and ultimately I knew I wasn’t happy to stay there forever even though I did get my British citizenship.

Citizenship Ceremony - Bristol England 2011

Citizenship Ceremony – Bristol England 2011

The daily bureaucracy is very trying. You think getting a correct electric meter reading is something fairly simple. Think again. Setting up bank accounts, converting your driver’s license, parking could all be quite stressful. Hence the frequent pub visits and tea times, but therein lays my revelation. In order to enjoy the lovely, (magical even) parts of living in England you just had to put up with and to really hit the nail on the head, joke about the utter pain of existing and operating in the UK. Sweet and sour if you will. The British have made an art of making fun of their own national short comings ( and everyone else’s) Something the US could really learn from. They could learn from our DVLA offices though, it’s really not that hard to process a driving license.

on holiday in Scotland March 2011 (very ill with morning sickness!)

on holiday in Scotland March 2011 (very ill with morning sickness!)

I now feel not quite American, not quite British, although there was quite a lot of proving, taking the citizenship exam. So I figured why not try being Canadian next? I am only 11 months in to living and working in Canada and I am reserving final judgements and anthropological assessments…

West Coast of Canada since 2013

West Coast of Canada since 2013

My shorter time in the Czech Republic was also trying (sobbing trying to speak broken Czech) and enriching (preforming with a folk dancing troupe in a 90 year old dress in the National Ball) in hind sight.

I lived in Prague 7 in an old villa, previously occupied by communist party officials. The family was welcoming in a Czech sort of way, which looks very different than an American welcome. I knew I was welcome because the house parents were often in their underwear on Saturday mornings! I knew I was welcome because I was invited to go drag car racing on an ex-communist air base along with the whole family. Cultural acceptance and immersion means getting out of your comfort zone and into a racing car with a full face helmet on. The area had become a nature reserve with high radiation levels in all the wildlife due to the poor management of military land. What a poignant way to learn this with deer racing across the drag strip.

Bavaria for a friend's wedding

Bavaria for a friend’s wedding

I found myself on trams out to the suburbs getting lost, trying to find niche folk dancing clubs and getting the oddest reception upon my arrival. Why do you want to do this? There was always genuine surprise at anyone’s interest in 1.the Czech Republic 2. Traditional dance. Cultural Anthropology was my (very useful) undergraduate major. I developed a close knit group of Czech friends through this dance and learned people’s personal stories and histories of the Velvet Revolution. There is so much more to Prague and the Czech nation than the normal 3 day tour can show you.

Wine Country - Kelowna British Columbia with my daughter Sasha

Wine Country – Kelowna British Columbia with my daughter Sasha

I suppose the only real lessons from these diverse, amazing, uncomfortable, confusing, heart wrenching and soul connecting, dancing in circles with strangers until they are your genuine friends moments and collections of moments that make up our utterly messy and beautiful lives is that everywhere you go there is something exotic. Everyone you meet may be on your wave length, even the hardened nuns I worked with in India- I softened them up in the end! Every place can be sacred, every field golden, every mountain a triumph. If you want to go, go. If you want to be a new person, you might already be. You can be a tourist in your own town; you can discover a new dish or shop or park in Rome or in the next county and it’s all part of being truly alive.”

Kelly Schaecher – Vancouver, Canada



my jaunts: where do i go next??

one great thing about my job is that i currently earn four glorious weeks of vacation per year. this seems shockingly high given some of my friends’ vacation accruals (unless you live outside of the US, and then you are probably laughing hysterically that four weeks seems high). however, it is always so difficult to find the time to take it! i have so many ideas for future adventures, yet there just seems too little time to take them. this weekend i attended the dallas gilt city warehouse sale with my friend, becca, and i purchased the jetsetter (travel arm of gilt) bon voyage book. with it comes the ability to have a jetsetter concierge plan a vacation for me, even down to creating the itinerary and booking the hotels. this makes me very excited. excited is actually an understatement. i am giddy!

so now on to the difficult part: where to go? i’ll let you in on a few of my ideas, and please let me in on a few of yours! there is literally nowhere where i am uninterested in visiting, so the sky’s the limit!

  • southern africa – this is really at the top of my list. i’ve never visited africa before and, well, it’s huge. how do you even choose where to go in a giant CONTINENT? i read brendan’s adventures blog, where he drove a motorcycle through africa, and it has inspired me to explore the chobe national park in botswana and the red sand dunes in namibia. also, if you haven’t read his blog, you need to – beautiful writing and quite the adventure. i’ve also wanted to see victoria falls in zimbabwe/zambia and tour the wine country of south africa. sounds like i may be biting off more than i can chew, but when you’re already taking the longest flight of your life, you kind of want to take advantage of it. :)
  • yucatan peninsula, mexico – i have this vision of the most perfect road trip ever, but i’m still afraid for safety reasons of traveling to mexico (if you’ve been recently, please leave a comment letting me know if my fears are unfounded!).  i’d love to start in cancun, taking a brief jaunt to the islas de mujeres, where the beaches are supposed to be wonderful.  traveling south to tulum i could then take in the mayan ruins (though let’s be honest, can we really honor the mayans after the calendar-ending-in-2012 debacle?) and laze around on the breathtaking beaches.  next up would be a trip to the cenotes of the peninsula, which are these crazy sinkholes that have created other-worldly caves below the earth’s surface.  and finally, a trip to merida to see the old town and meet its people.
  • scandinavia – i don’t know much about scandinavia, but i’ve been drawn to it ever since the norway ride in epcot’s world adventure.  the design, the people, the bent on life – it’s all different and extremely fascinating.  i’d love to see the lush gardens, boat culture, clean streets, and try different foods.  from the cloud-covered island of litla dimun in the faroe islands to the glass igloos you can sleep in to view the northern lights in finland, i’m intrigued by the unique natural phenomenons that occur in this far north region.  viking river cruise, anyone?
  • turkey – well, turkey seems to have it all, and i’m always so excited to see friends post photos of trips here.  the markets look exotic with heaps of colorful spices; the country seems colorful and welcoming, with plenty to offer in the way of fantastic photo opportunities.  outside of the cities, the beaches are supposed to be beautiful, and the natural rock pools in pamukkale appear to be fake!
so where do i go? i’m leaning towards africa for the moment, but i am open to any suggestions. any if anyone has great ideas on how to fund these vacays, do fill me in on your secret.

jaunt chats: texas hill country

biking through central texas hill country

biking through central texas hill country

during my husband’s and my anniversary trip to san antonio a few weeks ago, i was struck by the beauty of that part of texas. rolling hills covered in dense trees make for a picture not at all what most people expect when they think of texas. my husband, parker, has always loved this area, and recently went on a biking trip through hill country with some of his friends. his stories of german-settled towns and gorgeous scenery were so great that i had to share. read on, and then come explore this part of texas!

the boys while biking through hill country, texas

the boys while biking through hill country, texas

jaunt: where did you travel, and when?
parker: three of my friends from high school and i traveled to central texas (an area of the state known as the “hill country”) in early october for a biking/camping/drinking trip. the hill country is located south and west of austin and extends basically from west of san antonio all the way to a bit north of austin. two of my friends and i set off down I-35 to meet kevin, another friend of ours, at his house in austin. after eating a few tacos at a delightful little dive off south congress in austin, we hit the road. we were at our destination in fredericksburg by 4pm.

jaunt: how did you plan for your trip? any good sites or books you’d recommend?
p: my friend, derek, bought a book called “biking trips across texas,” which had a bevy of great ideas. we ended up settling on a route that would allow us to stay in fredericksburg one night and then camp in two highly recommended state parks the following two nights. fredericksburg is a really cool place and should be a must-visit for anyone who is going to that part of texas. we also learned the hard way that if you’re planning an “active” trip with friends, it’s essential to find out who already has certain pieces of gear. even though four of us were biking, we were together the whole time, so you only need one bike pump, etc. thankfully we didn’t end up needing much of the gear we brought, but it’s good to always plan out who should bring what ahead of time.

the boys taking a break during biking

the boys taking a break during biking

jaunt: ok, aside from planning out our gear in advance, what are the three things jaunt readers must do or see while in the hill country?
p: if you are going to spend any time at all in the texas hill country and are inclined toward being outdoors, then you will not be short of things to do. here are my top three:

1. spend a night at lost maples state park and have your mind changed forever about texas being a flat, ugly state without any trees. due to some geographical oddity, this part of texas is filled with stands of maple trees that would be more at home in the northern united states than in central texas. when you combine the maple trees with gently flowing streams and gorgeous, rugged hillsides, there is no wonder that the park general store sells a coffee mug that proudly proclaims, “Lost Maples State Park: The Most Beautiful Spot in Texas!” side note: i bought said mug for my wife, so if you come over to our house for a cup of coffee then you can see it for yourself!

a river runs through it

a river runs through it

2. take a dip in the frio river. we spent the third night of the trip at garner state park, which is about 25 miles from lost maples. garner was also really beautiful, but was a bit more crowded than our previous camping experience. one of the highlights of this particular state park is that the frio river flows right through the middle of it. the frio is spring-fed, so its water stays very cold all year long. the region was in the midst of a heat wave when we there, so swimming in the frio felt completely amazing. the water is also really clear and you can rent paddle boats and inner tubes that allow you to lazily float and look at the fish.

frio river in hill country, texas

frio river in hill country, texas

3. eat german food and drink german beer in fredericksburg. much of central texas was founded by german and czech immigrants, and the small town of fredericksburg (about 50 miles from austin) takes its heritage quite seriously. the main street of the town is lined with german breweries and german restaurants. we spent a night eating sausage – knockwurst, bratwurst, and weisswurst – and drinking an amazing array of beers. for those traveling from big cities, you’ll be amazed at the affordability of everything.

jaunt: what is the overall vibe of this trip/to whom would you recommend this trip?
p: the hill country is definitely a relaxing place. there are a lot of interesting towns, most of which are separated by beautiful drives. our trip was a bit different because we spent so much time biking (which can be relaxing in its own way but is probably best described as taxing). nevertheless, one can find anything in this part of texas – from nice resorts to bed and breakfasts to beautiful camping. basically, you can plan a trip to fit any vibe or mood.

go pro shot of biking through the hill country

go pro shot of biking through the hill country

jaunt: ok, i’m sold (minus the biking part). what did you read while traveling? would you recommend?
p: one of my favorite books is about this part of the world. it’s not about biking, camping, or the hill country, in particular, but it is about texas politics in austin in the 1950s. it’s called “the gay place” by billy lee brammer and it does a wonderful job of evoking the details of a certain time in a certain place. as any trip to the hill country will probably start or end in austin, it would make for a great read. there are also several books about road biking in texas, including the aforementioned one that derek purchased before our trip.

note: thank you to derek for all photos in this post!

hill country, texas

hill country, texas

jaunt chats: macau

macau landscape

macau landscape. source: see-ming lee link to photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/seeminglee/8698207921/

so…who’s heard of macau? i had heard some stories (mostly along the lines of vegas on steroids), but had yet to talk to anyone who had been. and then my friend, kate, was sent over for an entire month for a work project. bingo. read on for her recount of the this many-faced city.

first impressions
i was sent to macau, china on a work trip in february 2012. i had never heard of macau before i was told to board a plane in three days, so i spent a couple of days researching the macau and hong kong areas of china before i left. i found out macau was the las vegas of asia, except about ten times bigger and with much higher stakes poker. hong kong was a very western city with a large mix of ethnic and religious backgrounds. so i shoved as many work pants and sweaters into my suitcase as i could and headed out!

once i landed, i had to figure out how to get from hong kong (where my flight landed) to macau. commercial airlines do not fly to macau so i needed to take a ferry. i recommend anyone traveling to macau from the US stay the night in hong kong before and then figure out the ferry the next morning! you’ll be exhausted after a long plane ride and that way you can look up the ferry schedule in the morning and not have to wait – the ferries run about once every two hours. however, since i had to report to work the next morning, i had no choice but to wait for the ferry the evening i arrived in hong kong. i just missed the 8pm ferry and had to wait two hours in the hong kong airport until the 10pm ferry. not ideal, but i made it!

grand lisboa casino in macau

grand lisboa casino in macau. source: By WiNG (Own work) [CC-BY-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons from Wikimedia Commons link to photo: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AMacao_Hotel_Lisboa.jpg

i had never been to asia before, so there were lots of memorable moments. when i arrived at the casino in macau (we were investigating fraud at a casino, so i worked and lived there), people started taking my picture for no reason. i think it is because i’m tall and beautiful – ha!

i also liked watching my male coworkers interact with the very aggressive prostitutes in the casinos. if any male decides to visit macau, you must prepare yourself for continuous cat-calling in mandarin. one prostitute followed a coworker up to his room and knocked on his door!

asian gambling is much different than in vegas. no one drinks any alcohol – in fact, we had a difficult time getting an alcoholic beverage in the casinos. they drink tea and smoke cigarettes and concentrate on their poker game.

interestingly, macau was a portuguese colony and there were many catholic churches and beautiful cathedrals. i was in macau on ash wednesday and walked to a local catholic church for mass. there were a ton of nuns at the church – all of different ethnic backgrounds. they mostly spoke mandarin and some english, but they were very friendly and wanted to hear about the catholic community in the united states. they let me keep a psalm book in mandarin with a photo of pope benedict to give to my grandfather. he loved it!

st. paul's ruins in macau

st. paul’s ruins in macau. source: taken by stephanie (creative commons) link to photo: http://www.world66.com/asia/northeastasia/china/macau/lib/gallery/showimage?pic=asia/northeastasia/china/macau/st_pauls_ruins_1

i was not a fan on mandarin cuisine, but it was fun to get to try it in asia. there are a ton of high end restaurants and shops on the casino strip and each casino had a food court with a mcdonald’s, pizza and kentucky fried chicken – for some reason the locals seem to love KFC!

must-see sights
if you are going to visit for a day, you must spend a day walking around the casinos and people watching. i had so much fun walking through the casinos. the shopping is also fabulous; there are a wide range of shops, from high end like prada and gucci to cheaper local stores. however, the clothes are designed to fit asian women – so if you’re tall of curvy, nothing will fit. but accessories are still available and one size fits all!

senado square in macau

senado square in macau. source: taken by lao loong. link to photo: http://www.world66.com/asia/northeastasia/china/macau/lib/gallery/showimage?pic=asia/northeastasia/china/macau/macau_largo_di_sen

if you like religious churches and cathedrals, macau has some very beautiful sites. i walked around the town one weekend afternoon and saw a handful of different churches. the downtown square area is also fun. i just missed chinese new year by a week, but the decorations were still hanging on the streets. there was also a traditional dragon dance in the square when i went – i’m not sure if they perform every day or if it was a random dragon dancing event. there are tons of cute china and stationary stores in the square. i would recommend walking around the city during the day, it can get pretty dark and confusing at night – the streets aren’t very well lit and the landscape is pretty hilly. you can definitely see the city of macau, outside of the casinos, in a day.

i also had fun experiencing a night club in a casino. unlike the gambling, the night clubs are very similar to vegas – think lots of glow sticks, glitter, dancing and alcohol. most people visiting the casinos are from mainland china or hong kong and can speak english, so you’ll make friends on the dance floor. techno music and avril lavigne were hot when i was there!

macau tower

macau tower. source: By WiNG (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons from Wikimedia Commons link to photo: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AMacau_Tower_2009.jpg

who should go
i would recommend anyone who is into gambling and likes to focus on the strategy and competition, as opposed to the social aspect. the gambling looks pretty intense. i didn’t get to visit a spa at the casino, but i heard they were very nice. the night clubs were also fun – so anyone into dancing and glow sticks would also have fun in macau. if you’re already planning a trip to hong kong, macau would be fun to see in a day or experience a night dancing and eating out, but i wouldn’t recommend planning a long vacation to macau, unless you really like the casino experience.

what to pack
i recommend packing layers. it can be cool in the mornings, but gets pretty muggy by afternoon. don’t forget eye drops and nasal spray – smoking is allowed everywhere, so your allergies can flare up if you’re not use to cigarette smoke. i would also bring a computer/iPad to communicate via email with friends and family. the internet in the casino was free and with the time difference, calling home is difficult. a small purse or something to keep money close to you is a good idea as well as pick-pocketing can happen. and lots of books/movies for the long airplane ride.

mandarin food in macau

mandarin food in macau – photo by kate

last thoughts
you are probably going to stick out in crowds – so embrace the tourist mentality. most people were very friendly and helpful. and knowing a few phrases in mandarin before going would be helpful as well. most casino employees knew english, but taxi drivers, and local store owners did not. if you’re up for an adventure and aren’t afraid of experiencing new and different cultures a trip to macau would be for you!

old portuguese quarter in macau

old portuguese quarter in macau. source: taken by stephanie (creative commons) link to photo: http://www.world66.com/asia/northeastasia/china/macau/lib/gallery/showimage?pic=asia/northeastasia/china/macau/old_portugese_quar

jaunt chats: wine country, california

allison *trying* to overlook the castello di amorosa vineyard

allison *trying* to overlook the castello di amorosa vineyard

i’ve spent the last five years in california, and at times it is overwhelming to think of all the places within the state to visit. between the beaches and deserts of southern california, the cool and dramatic coastlines of central california, and the nature-defying beauty of the lush parts of northern california, there is always something to see (don’t even get me started on the cities within california and that little park out east called yosemite). i’ve tried to hit up as many sites as i can before leaving for dallas, but there were just some i had reserve for future jaunts. the northern wine country (i.e. sonoma and napa valley) is one such area that will remain unexplored by me for at least the near future. luckily, my friend, allison, spent some time there last july, and was willing to share some of her favorite places.

jaunt blog: where did you travel, and why?

allison: my boyfriend, dan, and i took a super relaxing trip to wine country in northern california over the summer (july). we stayed in sonoma for just under a week, but spent significant time in napa valley, sonoma valley, and the russian river valley. sonoma is in between the russian river valley (to the west) and napa valley (to the east). we were looking for a vacation spot that gave us a nice mix of opportunities for activity and relaxation, being indoors and outdoors, and didn’t require huge spending.

sonoma town square, one of many photos allison snapped of the square!

sonoma town square, one of many photos allison snapped of the square!

jaunt: how did you plan for your trip? any good sites or books you’d recommend?

allison: we mostly perused the internet for things to do. i’m a loyal marriott member, and the website for our hotel (the lodge at sonoma renaissance resort & spa, which was amazing) had a little “local attractions” section that we used as a starting point. we also did clever google searches like “sonoma things to do” and “wine country visit.” we are clearly super advanced travelers. also, all the people we met in sonoma were super friendly and happy to offer tips on where to go, what to eat, etc.

old theater in the sonoma town square

old theater in the sonoma town square

jaunt: tell us about your favorite moments on your trip. what do you remember most?

allison: my absolute favorite thing of the whole trip was the sonoma town square. i know, it sounds lame, it’s a town square. give me a chance here. you wake up at your hotel that you love, grab your glorious cup of illy coffee, and take a stroll just under a mile to the town square. the square is a giant spread of grass with trees everywhere, paths lined with benches, and little fountains/ponds with ducks cruising around. surrounding the square are all independent restaurants, tasting rooms, art galleries, and little shops. there is no law against open wine bottles in the town square, so you can enjoy a picnic, which we did on the 4th of july, while we watched the fireworks. the bear flag revolt happened here, which, for those of you who didn’t have to learn california’s state history, was in the 1800s when california pulled a texas and became its own country for a hot second. did i mention the lack of open container law?

dan, geeking out at the rock commemorating the bear flag revolt

dan, geeking out at the rock commemorating the bear flag revolt

another favorite of the trip was our bike tour with ace it bike tours. our tour had us and one other couple, and our guide was awesome. the tour went through the russian river valley, which has adorable mom & pop wineries. we biked along the santa rosa creek, and through scenic backroads that went along farmland and vineyards; we tried some wine; it was grand. the total trip was about 20 miles of biking; while it wasn’t at a rapid pace or anything, this definitely wasn’t just a leisurely ride for a few miles.

jaunt: sounds pretty great – definitely feeling this trip. if i were to visit wine country, what are some places i shouldn’t miss?

allison: you must go to gott’s roadside (formerly known as taylor’s refresher); i recommend the st. helena location, but there is also one in napa and one in san francisco. their burgers will change your life, and you will be totally okay with the onset of the food coma from this, as it is the BEST CHEESEBURGER OF YOUR ENTIRE LIFE. you can’t go wrong—traditional cheeseburger (i recommend adding grilled onions and avocado), mushroom burger, BBQ burger. people say their fish tacos are good, but i mean, it’s a burger stand. get a burger.

delicious hamburgers at gott's roadside (formerly taylor's refresher)

delicious hamburgers at gott’s roadside (formerly taylor’s refresher)

you must go wine tasting, duh! we were aiming to hit up a place called far niente (which has a classic car collection dan would consider stealing), but didn’t plan far enough ahead. we went to castello di amorosa, which is a castle that has a winery, a little disneyland (literally – they had the brave premiere here not long before our trip), an awesome tour, and legitimately good wine. my favorite winery was silver oak—make a reservation for the tour because it’s really fun, and they literally just keep refilling your wine glass and giving you some of their super fancy reserve. the grounds are breathtaking. dan and i were recently back in the area for a wedding and went to a place called cade, which had a fantastic view of the valley and delicious wine.

if you also like beer, stop by the russian river brewing company in santa rosa. dan’s a big beer guy and apparently russian river has amazing stuff.

barrel room in the caves of the castello di amorosa winery

barrel room in the caves of the castello di amorosa winery

jaunt: what was the funniest thing that happened on your trip?

allison: if there is one thing we are all going to remember about the summer of 2012, it is going to be the great phenomenon of fifty shades of grey. given that dan and i were rocking some awesome hotel points to fund our stay at the lodge, and that the going rate for rooms is otherwise a bit out of our price range, we were more of the outliers in the hotel crowd. poolside, just about every woman was between the ages of 35 and 65, and just about every one of them was reading fifty shades of grey. my book of choice for the trip (recommended by the jaunt blog author herself) was the black dahlia. for those of you who don’t know about the black dahlia, it is a very dark novel about a detective who becomes obsessed with a very violent murder of a young woman. additionally, the cover is kind of gross and shows a dead woman with a giant cut coming from the side of her mouth. i totally fit in.

jaunt: any travel tips for others taking this trip? any must-pack items?

allison: plan your trip loosely in advance so that you don’t end up driving all over the valleys; we chose one or two things to do each day in generally the same area so that we could minimize the time in the car. when we were up in napa later in the year, we spent a lot of time in the car and wished we would have planned as well as we had over the summer.

outside the silver oak winery

outside the silver oak winery

yep, it's a castle: castello di amorosa winery

yep, it’s a castle: castello di amorosa winery

jaunt chats: charleston, south carolina


college of charleston

college of charleston

i’ve heard such great things about the laid-back vibe of charleston, south carolina; with its beautiful and lush scenery and delicious food it has always been high on my “must visit” list, though i have yet to book a ticket. my friend, patricia, traveled there regulary, and always had the best stories about the city. i sat down with her recently to get a flavor for charleston’s southern charm.

jaunt blog: tell us a bit about your travel and how you planned for your trips.

patricia: i traveled to charleston extensively to visit my boyfriend, tom, who’s in the navy and was stationed in the area. i flew there one weekend a month for that one and a half year period. yelp was the website that i used most in planning my trips. tom and i are huge foodies, and we planned all of our trips around great restaurants. our favorites were FIG, the glass onion, kilwin’s ice cream (ohmygoshsogood), husk…the list goes on and on. we also like to watch diners, drive-ins and dives and get restaurant ideas from that show. that’s how we found the glass onion (get the cornbread, and don’t be stingy with the fresh honey).

also, I highly recommend paying the premium to stay in a hotel in the downtown area so you are walking distance from everything. we were able to find a great priceline deal for the andrew pinckney inn which we LOVED. stay there if you’re able to; it was my favorite hotel of all my trips.

patricia and tom at kilwin's in charleston

patricia and tom at kilwin’s in charleston

jb: tell us about your favorite moments on your trip. what do you remember most?

p: i have wonderful memories of walking around downtown charleston. it’s so historic and it feels that way; you feel like you’re walking through the setting of Gone With the Wind. one of my absolute favorite memories was watching 4th of july fireworks at patriot’s point. there’s a decommissioned aircraft carrier and submarine in the water at patriot’s point, and on the 4th of july, they shoot off fireworks from the deck of the aircraft carrier. we walked around the aircraft carrier, drank beer (there was a little 4th of july fair in the parking lot) and then watched the fireworks from the back of tom’s truck. the view was spectacular; probably the best view of fireworks I’ve ever had.

patriot's point in charleston

patriot’s point in charleston

jb: that sounds amazing! if i were to visit charleston outside of the fourth of july, what are some things i must do or see?

p: you MUST have the cinnamon crumb cake ice cream at kilwin’s. i know it’s a chain, so you could have it in a number of kilwin’s on the east coast, but you have to have it. a walk around downtown charleston is definitely in order, to see as much of it as you possibly can.

oh my gosh i can’t believe i almost forgot my absolute FAVORITE place in charleston: the gin joint. you will have the best cocktails of your life. it’s tucked away downtown, and they also have brunch if you’re in the mood. my favorite cocktail is the new orleans gin fizz, which i discovered at the gin joint.

oh and also! go to folly beach if you’re there in the summer, and hit up the folly beach crab shack. get an oyster shot if you’re feeling adventurous (a raw oyster in a shot glass filled with a bloody mary). their seafood buckets are soooo good.

charleston beach

charleston beach

jb: who should visit charleston?

p: i would recommend charleston to anyone who likes history, food, beaches/the ocean, a delicious cocktail, and a lively downtown scene where everything’s within walking distance.

jb: i’m totally sold; you had me at “cocktail.” what should i pack?

p: it gets very hot and humid during the summer (a great excuse for a trip to folly beach!). as a result of the humidity, there are a ton of bugs, so bug spray is a must. pack loose clothes if you’re going to be there in the summer, and warm clothes for the winter (it’s right on the water). tom and i got majorly into the help and read it together while he lived there. it’s a fantastic book and even if you’ve seen the movie, i would still recommend it.

college of charleston willows

college of charleston willows

downtown charleston

downtown charleston

the battery, the promenade in charleston

the battery, the promenade in charleston

jaunt chats: tokyo

a park in the middle of tokyo

a park in the middle of tokyo

my friend, erin, really has it all figured out. she works a full-time job, is extremely over-educated (she is going for her doctorate in education now…that is, at the same time as working her full-time job), and still manages to find time to know all the cool things going on about los angeles. she also wants to go on a river boat cruise with me, so that scores major points in my book. she went to japan recently, and agreed to write a bit about it for us, despite almost all of her photos being deleted post-trip! make sure you check out her itinerary, which includes visits to areas like roppongi, harajuku, and shibuya.  arigato!


walking through tokyo neighborhoods

walking through tokyo neighborhoods

well, japan has always been my husband’s dream place to go – and we like to go on an international trip at least every two years… so we finally made it happen! we booked our trip through a travelzoo deal (our second through travelzoo) which included airfare on singapore airlines, hotel at hilton tokyo, a half day bus tour and airport transfers. we decided to go during mid/late march in hopes that we would see the beginning of cherry-blossom season but not have to deal with all of the traffic that comes with cherry-blossom season.

i had an office friend at the time who lived in tokyo for five years, so she gave me the low-down on the places to see and eat. she even went so far as to draw me a diagram to the best ramen shop (which was amazing and perfect and everyone should eat it). we went to the ramen shop on a cold, wet day when we had over-exhausted ourselves with walking instead of taking public transportation – so the ramen was exactly what we needed.

anywho, i could really go on for days about the wonderful food (like an entire restaurant that just serves gyoza, the amazing selection from convenience stores (see below) or getting up early to eat barely dead fish (see below again!) at the tsukiji fish market). but what really blew me away was the fact that this HUGE city felt manageable. each “neighborhood” had its own feeling/vibe, which helped you adjust to the throngs of people and giant skyscrapers.

barely dead fish at the tsukiji fish market

barely dead fish at the tsukiji fish market

also – there were parks all over the place, which were really like peaceful historic sites. tokyo and japan in general have a great respect for preserving history. it was remarkable to be shopping one second and look over and see a shrine and a park the next. it was exciting, peaceful, and made you want to live there (minus how expensive it is and the high suicide rate…)

if you go during the month of march/april expect it to be rainy and a little chilly. you’ll warm up with the tea served at all the restaurants and with all of the walking (and brisk walking if you’re short like me and trying to keep up with taller people). i brought layers and some waterproof shoes and was just fine. also – their info about feeding pigeons is hilarious.

plus – i’m that crazy girl who does really detailed itineraries and keeps them – so hopefully this will help you!

shrine in a park in tokyo

erin in a park in tokyo

the multi-colored and delicious snacks from tokyo convenience stores

the multi-colored and delicious snacks from tokyo convenience stores

best ramen in tokyo

best ramen in tokyo

please don't feed the pigeons

please don’t feed the pigeons.