Archive for the ‘the states (vay-cay!)’ Category

I loved our evening treks across the beach bridge.  At this point we had seen our sights and made our family visits and eaten our meals for the day; there was nothing left to do but revel in sun and surf and quality time with one another.  Saturday’s beach-time was especially satisfying, as the sunset was particularly beautiful and Jules was particularly fun.

Moana’s voice piped through my head every time Juliette waded out into the water – I’m the girl who loves the sea, It calls meeeeeee…

The ocean calls me too, kiddo!

Juliette and I romped in the water for a good hour that night, playing until my dress was soaked up to my waist and we were both exhausted from wave-jumping.

A swell of foreboding storm clouds rolled in and we wondered if we should dart for cover.

As quickly as the clouds rolled in, though, they rolled out.

We were packing up shop for the night when Juliette found this amazing sand-plane a short ways down the beach, so we delayed bedtime by a few minutes to let her take a quick flight.  Such a magical place, this little stretch of sand…

By Sunday I was itching to get out of town, so my mom and dad offered to hang with Juliette while Shane and I drove down to Saint Petersburg to check out the scene there.  We grabbed coffee at a hip little shop and then strolled down the main drag, ending up at The Mill for brunch.

We walked off our bacon and eggs with a trip down to the Dali Museum on the waterfront.

And then, not wanting to deprive my parents of additional solo time with their granddaughter, Shane and I lingered over iced Americanos and Monopoly cards at Indian Shores Coffee.

We landed back at my parents’ condo mid-afternoon and heard all about their turtle-watching adventure with Great Grandma Alice.

Then, POOL.

Then, BEACH.  The ultimate daily rhythm.

We ate dinner that night at a beach bar on the waterfront, feasting on crab cakes and broiled shrimp one last time.

The ocean seemed extra-warm and extra-mellow that night, so Shane and Juliette waded way out in search of dolphins.

When they didn’t find any, Juliette asked Shane to be her dolphin.  Being the stellar father that he is, he obliged.  My happiest of happy places is on a quiet stretch of beach, my feet dug into the warm sand, watching these two be silly together.

On Monday morning we packed up our things and turned in the keys to our beach-front abode.  Knowing that we had a long day of travel ahead of us, I caffeinated with a double latte at the Coffee Mill.  My Grandma opened this store 40 years ago in a brave, faith-filled effort to make a living for herself after she and my grandfather divorced.  Though business ownership was demanding, it sustained her and the few of my family members who worked there in various capacities throughout the years.  I so vividly remember visiting this store as a kid, staring wide-eyed at the rows of candy jars, feeling like I’d hit the jackpot when Grandma handed me little bags of gummy fish and jelly beans and Holland mints.  My Aunt Karen eventually took over the Mill and just recently sold it, but I couldn’t resist returning for a stroll down memory lane.  The smell of roasted coffee and the creak of the wood floors took me back, though I dearly missed the sight of Grandma’s smiling face behind the cash register.

We met up with my Aunt Karen and my mom’s cousin Gail for breakfast that morning, getting the scoop on more family happenings…

And then set out on an alligator hunt.  We found what we were looking for at Taylor Park, in the form of two beady eyes peering out from the water 30 feet off-shore.  Juliette gasped excitedly, but lost interest once she realized this particular alligator wasn’t going anywhere.

We stopped by my Grandma’s place before heading out of town and I was thrilled by her exceedingly warm welcome.  She hugged me and grabbed both my hands and gushed over how happy she was to see me.  She knew me!  Like old times!  And then she went to introduce me to the friends at her lunch table and drew a blank with my name, remarking that she hadn’t seen me in years and years.  It was as if our visits over the previous few days had never taken place.  I held back tears, knowing that by the next day she’d likely have forgotten me completely.  I’m not so good at living in the moment – I’m much more prone to reminisce about days gone by or look ahead to the next great adventure.  But for Grandma, the moment is largely it.  So I took a deep breath, steadied my voice, and asked her if she wanted to show me around her place.  And just as she did on my previous visit, and on the one before that, she took my hand and led me through her endless courtyard, remarking about the trees and the squirrels and the sun overhead.  I nodded encouragingly, telling her how beautiful it all was, how happy I was to be there with her.  In that moment.

I hugged Grandma extra-tight as we said our good-byes and then she wrapped up Juliette in the warmest, most grandmotherly embrace a kid could wish for.  I’m so glad Jules had a chance to meet Alice, a woman who has lived a life of unwavering kindness and generosity and faith.

Tears stung my eyes again as we made our exit and the door swung closed behind us, Grandma smiling and waving from the hallway.  My heart overflowed with both gratitude and sadness on our drive to Tampa.  Gosh, good-byes hurt.  But after lunch, as I watched Juliette happily slurp up drips of key lime popsicle juice and chatter about Great Grandma Alice and turtles and pelicans, I felt the scales tip toward gratitude.  This trip was all I’d hoped it would be.

We spent Friday morning with my Grandma, playing a rousing game of “Name That Tune” with her and her friends.  As I listened to her dash off verse after verse of Amazing Grace, I was reminded that all of the old Alice was not lost.

We thought about doing some sight-seeing in the afternoon, but…POOL.

My parents offered to hang with Juliette for dinner while Shane and I snuck away for a happy hour date.  I was itching to scope out the legendary Don Cesar, with its abundance of green palms and pink stucco, so we headed there for a couple of patio cocktails.

Swanky!  Some day, we’ll get a room.

We rejoined my parents and Juliette just in time for some sunset beach play.

This picture makes me so happy, to see my mom and my daughter so happy together.

It was about a mile walk from the beach near my mom and dad’s condo to the beach near our rental, so Juliette and I decided to walk it while Shane took the car.  We strolled and chatted and stopped to carefully inspect this dead fish that had washed up on shore.  It’s the little things…

Golly, I love hangin’ with this kid.

Once again, Shane did bedtime while I got out my nightly walk – I have never breathed so deeply so often.  Salve for my soul, the ocean is.

I was really intent on showing Juliette Florida’s wildlife, so we headed to Eagle Lake on Saturday morning in search of turtles and alligators.

Found an egret!

And turtles!  So many turtles!

We met up with my family for a lunchtime picnic at Largo Central Park.  Juliette really liked the rock wall there.

Like, really.

As comfortable as my grandma seems in her home, she was clearly thrilled to be out on the town.  She looks good, doesn’t she?

My cousin Kristen was there with her family and we spent awhile trading notes on motherhood and Harry Potter.  Four generations of lady power in this pic!

And then…POOL.

I’m gonna save Saturday’s sunset for my next post, ’cause it was extra-good and deserves an opening spot.  So stay tuned!

Golly, this ol’ blog has taken a hit with all the packing and the moving and the unpacking and the yadda, yadda, yadda.  But I’m back!  With vacation pictures!

We’ve come to rely on a March or April sun-break to get us over the final hump of Seattle’s eight-month rainy season, opting for a long weekend in Santa Monica the past three years for our Spring doses of Vitamin D.  But this year we made grander plans, booking a trip with my mom and dad for a week in Florida to catch some rays and catch up with the extended family I haven’t seen in years.

We were up well before dawn to catch our non-stop flight to Tampa and checked into our beach-front cottage late that afternoon.  We shed our sweaters and our shoes before we’d even unlocked our front door, eager to see how the Gulf waters felt on our feet.

Answer:  they felt GOOD.


Seriously, you guys, those past few weeks of rain and gray skies had been rough.  We were sun-starved.

We joined my parents for dinner that night at one of the multitude of beach bars in the neighborhood and then headed right back out to our happy place.

Shane kindly offered to get a tuckered-out Juliette ready for bed while I went for a sunset walk and slipped quite solidly into vacation mode.  I needed this.

We woke up Wednesday morning eager to be out and about in the 80-degree sunshine.  Shane and I took turns going for long morning runs along the beach while Juliette ran shorter laps from the water to the beach chairs and back.  SO MUCH BLUE!

We hit up the smoothie stand and the playground and then met my parents and aunt at my grandma’s place, a memory care home she settled into last year.  My grandma has been dealing with progressing dementia for the past few years and I had prepared myself for the fact that she likely would not know me as her granddaughter.  She didn’t.  But still, she was as kind and welcoming as ever, and took great pride in showing me around, touring us past the gazebo and the activity studio and the resident one-eyed cat, Winky.  It was hard, having to limit our conversation to the immediate present and roll with Grandma’s frequent confusion, but there was comfort in seeing glimmers of the same thoughtful Alice I’ve always known.

We spent the afternoon bouncing from the beach near our house to the pool at my mom and dad’s condo down the road.

I accidentally left Juliette’s trusty Giants cap back home, so we grabbed this fancy straw hat at Target, which ended up popping off every time the slightest bit of wind of blew by.  But dang, she worked it for those first few minutes…

Once we were all pooped from running in the sand and splashing in the waves, we rested up with…a trip to my mom and dad’s pool.  This kid’s got stamina!

We closed out the day with wings at Abes and a quick peek at the sunset.  Vay-cay 2018 was going swimmingly.

We met up with Shane’s uncle and his wife in Bradenton on Thursday morning for brunch and caught up on their latest Florida haps.

And then spent some time at the Riverwalk Splash Park, because we hadn’t yet checked that form of water play off our vacation list.

These springtime trips are a splurge for us, but the joy that spills forth from water and warmth has assured us that this is time and money well-spent.

My goofy little tree-hugger…

Photo cred a la Jules!

We drove along St. Pete Beach on the way back to our house and were detoured along the waterway side by some construction.  I kept my eyes peeled for pelicans, wanting to show Juliette the real-life version of the birds we love on Finding Nemo.  Found some!

We perched on the waterfront for awhile to watch the birds and have a snack.  These are the moments I relished in a relatively plan-free week.

We spent the rest of the afternoon at the beach, playing fetch with the ocean and challenging the waves to dual after dual.  Jules was knocked off her feet once or twice, but just laughed hysterically and popped back up – these warm, gentle gulf waters were made for four-year-olds!  As were the pineapple-flamingo goggles we grabbed at Marshalls on a whim last month.

“Come at me, ocean!”

I took a late afternoon stroll and had stretches of beach entirely to myself.

We ate dinner at the house and then desserted at John’s Pass with giant mint-chip ice cream cones.

My parents popped over in the evening to catch a particularly glowy sunset with us.

Juliette coached my mom on the appropriate way to jump over each cresting wave.  She got some impressive height!

It’s a magical world we live in, isn’t it?

My first thought upon waking on Monday was, “Nooooo!  We can’t be leaving tomorrow!”  But I resisted the urge to pout and committed to seizing the day – 24 hours and counting to work on my golden glow!  After coffee and coconut pastries, we headed east to check out Wailua Falls, which were rip-roaring and gorgeous.  We regretted the fact that access doesn’t exist to the bottom of the falls.  Someday, I’ll swim under a Hawaiian waterfall.  Someday.

20130603 kauai1 sm

20130603 kauai2 sm

From Wailua, we hit the road to the North Shore, stopping briefly at ‘Opaeka’a Falls.

20130603 kauai3 sm

And then I was ready to hit the water!  I had read that Queen’s Bath, near Princeville, is a beautiful natural pool and major swimming destination.  I was picturing a quiet little cove, maybe with a sandy spot for us to spread out our beach towels and catch some rays.  So I was surprised when our 10-minute downhill trek landed us at a field of black rock.

20130603 kauai4 sm

And gushing, foamy water.

20130603 kauai5 sm

But dang, it was pretty.  And that water was so blue!  As long as you weren’t trying to climb into the pool as waves were crashing over its rocky edges, it seemed to be safe(ish).  And there were other swimmers there (Shane managed to crop them all out of his shots), so we went for it.  I found a rock to perch on and watched the fish swim around my feet while the tide gently pulled and pushed at us.  In retrospect, after hearing that afternoon from a gentleman at the hotel that people frequently die at Queen’s Bath, perhaps we should have skipped this place and opted for one of the nearby sandy beaches.  Perhaps.

20130603 kauai6 sm

20130603 kauai7 sm

20130603 kauai8 sm

20130603 kauai9 sm

Having unknowingly cheated death, we dried off, grabbed our things and headed back toward Poipou , detouring for pineapple frosties at Banana Joe’s and a quick gander at the Kilauea Lighthouse.

20130603 kauai10 sm

And then we were “home” again, settling into our lounge chairs for one last laze-fest at the pool.  We hit the water slide a couple more times, bobbed around the saltwater lagoon, and put the finishing touches on our tropical tans.  As much I loved our daily adventures to the far reaches of the island, these care-free afternoons at the pool were the highlight of our trip.

One final evening meant one final sunset – we drove over to Salt Pond Beach Park and stretched out in the sand just in time for the golden hour.  It was no Polihale, to be sure, but it was still pretty great to lay my head on Shane’s shoulder and be fully present to enjoy such warmth and beauty.  “In-the-moment” living doesn’t come easily to me, as I’m usually caught up in thinking about the next place to go or task to be done.  And yet, for those few days, that sense of constant distraction completely melted away.

20130603 kauai11 sm

20130603 kauai14 sm

20130603 kauai12 sm

We had our best meal of the week that evening on the terrace of Plantation Gardens.  Super-fresh fish, passion fruit cheesecake, and real-deal margaritas (yes, I only got a sip or two of Shane’s margarita, but he only got a bite or two of my dessert, so it all evened out).  We had set out that morning to seize the day and patted ourselves on the back that night for job well done.

We got up early on Tuesday for a walk to the Maha’ulepu Cliffs – these sandstone cliffs were just beyond our hotel’s beach and I’d been meaning to check them out all week (but had always gotten sucked into pool before I could make it any further).

20130604 kauai1 sm

20130604 kauai2 sm

20130604 kauai3 sm

20130604 kauai4 sm

20130604 kauai5 sm

It’s like this island was constantly standing by to surprise us with something amazing around every corner.  And I like the idea that baby Schnell was along for the ride – even though he or she doesn’t know a Hawaiian beach from our own backyard at this point, I want to believe that we’re already bequeathing a spirit of adventure to our child.  Get ready, little one – we’ve got some pretty incredible stuff to show you when you get older.

20130604 kauai6 sm

We walked back to our room and packed up our things, sniffling a little as we said good-bye to the ocean, to our beloved pool, to that sexy car…

20130604 kauai7 sm

Mahalo, Kauai!  This trip was all we’d hoped it would be, plus so much more.  I would have been thrilled with simple shave ice, but then that delicious scoop of macadamia nut ice cream appeared at the bottom of my cup and I was left reeling from the splendor of it all.  We’ll be embarking on a brand new journey this Fall where pot-holed roads and helicopter rides will be struck from the itinerary, but I think I’m ok with that – this island gave us one heck of a send-off.

Oh, Sunday, Sunday, SUNday!  Since Saturday’s beach-hopping hadn’t left us any time for poolside lounging, we staked out a couple of chairs under an umbrella first thing Sunday morning and spent most of the day doing this:

20130602 kauai1 sm

And a little bit of this:

20130602 kauai2 sm

Gosh, I adored that pool (and that slide!).  We set up shop there at 8:30 am, and as we peeled ourselves from our lounge chairs at 3 pm to head back to the room, I sighed a sigh of sheer contentment.  I always believed that I was the kind of person that wanted vacation to be primarily about seeing/doing/eating new things, but I’m rethinking my go-go-go mentality.  Life in the slow lane is pretty dang great.

20130602 kauai3 sm

After fish tacos at Island Taco in Waimea and shave ice round 2 at Jo Jo’s, we embarked on that day’s grand adventure.  The last couple of sunset skies we’d seen were gorgeous, but we had yet to actually see the sun descend over the horizon line – this is tricky on Kauai, as much of the island’s west coast is inaccessible by car. Shane had done some sleuthing and read that Polihale Beach is the place to go for an unobstructed view of the west, but there was a rub: accessing this beach requires driving for a few miles on a super-rough, poorly maintained dirt road.  Was our Mustang up to the task?  We’d find out!  The first mile wasn’t bad.  The second mile got a bit bumpy, but we held tight as sturdy SUVs and big pick-ups and zipped past us, leaving us in their dust.  By mile 5, I felt like a bobble-head, my head wobbling on my rubbery neck while the rest of my body gripped my seat, tensely trying to stay still in the midst of such mayhem.  But eventually we made it, and as I set my feet upon smooth solid ground (praise the Lord!), I immediately saw that the trip had been worth it.  Sandy beach reached on forever to the south, and to the north, the start of those gorgeous Na Pali mountains.

20130602 kauai4 sm

To the west, wide open waters as far as the eye could see!  I stretched out in the warm sand while Shane played in the waves – this Minnesota boy feels amazingly at home in the ocean.

20130602 kauai5 sm

And to sweet baby Schnell – I’m so sorry to have put you through all that jiggling, buddy…  But look where we took you!

20130602 kauai6 sm

Shane dried off and joined me on the beach towel for what we had come to call the “Golden Hour” – that period right before sunset when everything is bathed in the warmest, richest light imaginable.

20130602 kauai7 sm

20130602 kauai8 sm

I definitely got my wish – complete visual access to the sun setting over the horizon, waves crashing in the foreground, my feet buried in soft, warm sand.  Awesome.

20130602 kauai9 sm

Going, going, gone…  We sat there until that little pinprick of light dropped completely out of sight, soaking in the beauty of what we’d just witnessed.  I like to think this is one of those evenings we’ll recount on our 50th wedding anniversary, it was that good.  Apparently it’s true in Hawaii, as it is in life, that the bumpiest roads lead to some of the very best rewards.

20130602 kauai10 sm

Saturday brought more glorious sunshine and more island adventure.  After fueling ourselves with pancakes the size of vinyl records at Kountry Kitchen, we grabbed some gear from Snorkel Bob’s and headed to the North Shore to check out Kauai’s aquatic life.  Our first stop was Tunnels Beach, and wowsers!  Such smooth, yellow sand, such rugged, green mountains in the distance, and the fish!  Purple and yellow and polka dots and stripes.  It was like floating through one giant, coral-bottomed aquarium.

20130601 kauai1 sm

20130601 kauai2 sm

We left the beach when we felt our backs starting to burn and grabbed sandwiches and iced tea on the patio of a cute little cafe in Hanalei.  But we still weren’t ready to part with our snorkel gear, so we drove over to Anini Beach after lunch to see what its reef had to offer.  The water there was super-shallow and a little murky, so I was ready to call it quits after 30 minutes.  But thank God Shane is more patient than I am – just as I was heading for shore, he popped his head up and waved me over.  He had discovered a sea turtle just five feet away, lazily snacking on goodies from the ocean floor, then flipping up to the surface every so often to take a breath.  Seriously, swimming with turtles…how dreamy is that?  Our little friend eventually swam away, and we ditched our masks to just sit in the water for awhile, chatting and squishing the sand between our toes.

20130601 kauai3 sm

All our ocean time had tuckered us out, so we headed back to our hotel from Anini.  But first, one very important stop: shave ice from Hee Fat General Store in Kapaa! Upon that first ultra-fluffy bite, we believed this place had Jo Jo’s beat, but the ice melted too quickly and left us with a cup of syrupy water in the end.  So the jury’s still out…

20130601 kauai4 sm

Once we had washed the sand from our bodies and lounged for awhile in the hotel’s plush bathrobes, we headed back out to catch the sunset at Sprouting Horn Beach.  Between the fish and the shave ice syrup and the pink, golden skies, I don’t know that I’d ever spent a day rich with so much color.

20130601 kauai5 sm

20130601 kauai6 sm

Tacos for dinner and ahhhhhhh, another lovely day had come to a close.  I was officially head over heels for Hawaii.

Aloha!  Shane and I landed back in Seattle last night after a few days in Kauai, and oh em geeeeeee…  It was nothing short of paradise.  I had hoped to “live blog” while we were there, but I was too drunk with sunshine and Hawaiian shave ice at the end of each day to even consider opening the laptop.  So, a flashback:

We arrived in Kauai Thursday afternoon, and from the moment we stepped into the lobby of our hotel, with its tropical gardens and glistening ocean view, I knew we were in for something special.

20130530 kauai1 sm

We were in our bathing suits and down at the pool within minutes of checking into our room – we would log some serious hours here over the next few days.  I loved the long,meandering swimming pool, with it’s mini waterfalls and multiple seating niches.

20130530 kauai2 sm

Shane favored the huge man-made saltwater “lagoon”, with it’s sandy bottom and shallow spots, perfect for lazily bobbing around.

20130530 kauai3 sm

The small beach just beyond the lagoon was beautiful as well, but not so ideal for a couple of bobbers like ourselves – those waves were rough, and the ocean floor was fairly rocky.  Shane has the bruised shin to prove it!

20130530 kauai4 sm

After successfully rinsing ourselves of any travel fatigue, we got dressed and drove over to Keiko’s Paradise for a dinner of fresh fish and (virgin) mango margaritas. We dined outside, reveling in the feeling of being in tank tops at 9 pm.  We were coming off a fairly cold week in Seattle, and I was determined to soak up every last bit of island warmth.  Everything else was just icing on the cake.

Our first big adventure came early Friday, when we boarded a helicopter for a tour of the island.  We had opted for the “doors-off” package, so the sides of the helicopter were totally open to the outside – gotta have a lot of faith in that seat belt to hold you in place!  My stomach fluttered with butterflies when we first took off, but any nervousness quickly faded away as the beauty of Kauai rolled out below us.  There are not words to describe how incredible this hour was.  Shoot – photos don’t even do it justice.  Easily one of the most memorable travel moments of my life…

20130531 kauai1 sm

20130531 kauai2 sm

20130531 kauai3 sm

20130531 kauai4 sm

The flight over the Waimea Canyon took my breath away:

20130531 kauai5 sm

20130531 kauai6 sm

20130531 kauai7 sm

20130531 kauai8 sm

And just as I started to catch that breath, we took a turn toward the Na Pali Coast, and I was again left gasping:

20130531 kauai9 sm

20130531 kauai11 sm

20130531 kauai12 sm

20130531 kauai13 sm

20130531 kauai14 sm

20130531 kauai15 sm

From there, we swooped along the North Shore, checking out its blue waters and sandy beaches:

20130531 kauai16 sm

20130531 kauai17 sm

20130531 kauai18 sm

20130531 kauai19 sm

20130531 kauai20 sm

20130531 kauai21 sm

And then we headed inland again, for more of those verdant, green-carpeted mountains.  I couldn’t get over how lush it all was, every surface covered in dense layers of dark green and light green and bright, glowing chartreuse.  I suppose I can’t begrudge those rain clouds for blocking my shots – they’ve made for some pretty rich landscapes:

20130531 kauai22 sm

20130531 kauai23 sm

20130531 kauai24 sm

20130531 kauai25 sm

20130531 kauai26 sm

20130531 kauai27 sm

20130531 kauai28 sm

20130531 kauai29 sm

20130531 kauai30 sm

20130531 kauai31 sm

20130531 kauai32 sm

Eventually it was time to make our way back to Lihue.  Too soon, too soon!  I could have floated up in that sky all day.

20130531 kauai33 sm

Post-flight, giddy with adrenaline, we drove over to the nearby K-Mart for breakfast.  Yup, read that right – there’s a woman with a little booth out front, where she makes and serves fresh malasadas.  These fluffy, fried, sugared dough balls were so, so good. So bad, but still, sooooo good.  We scarfed down our breakfast and then cruised back to the hotel for another afternoon at the pool, again bouncing from pool to lagoon to lounge chair, repeating the rotation when the sun got too hot.  Pretty grand.

I was determined to find the best shave ice on the island during our stay, so we headed over to Waimea that evening to visit Jo Jo’s.  And dang, it puts sno-cones to shame.  Fluffy ice, fruity-but-not-too-sweet syrup, and a scoop of macadamia nut ice at the bottom for an extra treat.  Shane gave me a Hawaiian ice machine for Mother’s Day, and now I have something to aspire to!

20130531 kauai34 sm

Refreshed by our icy snack, we drove up Waimea Canyon Road to check out the views.  We had upgraded our economy rental car for the first time ever and splurged on a Mustang convertible, and let me tell you, there are few things more fun than cruising through the Hawaiian mountains with the wind in your hair and the guy you love at your side while Macklemore and Jack Johnson and Taylor Swift pipe through the stereo (we have very eclectic taste).

20130531 kauai35 sm

We took the windy road to the very end and arrived at Pu’u o Kila lookout, taking in the stunning view of the Na Pali Coast and the great Pacific. It was so quiet up there – just us, a few stray chickens (they’re all over the island), and the Big Guy that put this all in place.  Praise be to God.

20130531 kauai36 sm

The sun was setting as we made our way back down the mountain, and we pulled over so I could snap a quick pic of the gorgeous sky – thus began our 4-night stint of sunset-chasing (more on that later).

20130531 kauai38 sm

We ended the day with a simple cafe meal and fell into bed sleepy and slightly sunburned.  But also so, so excited to see what else Kauai had in store for us.

We arrived back in Seattle last night – Texas is once again a faraway land, and on Monday we’ll return to work and the associated “real world”. But it was a pretty grand vacation, up until the very end…

We kicked off Thursday with a walk along the riverfront – the Colorado River ran right past our hotel and was bordered by a beautiful walking path that ran for miles in either direction.  We didn’t see quite as much sun as we’d hoped in Austin, but those warm, humid mornings were still wonderfully tropical.  If I can be in a tank top at 10 am, I’m a happy camper.

20130426 texas5 sm

Post-walk, we grabbed coffee and breakfast tacos at Jo’s – one of the places we’d vowed to return to after our first stroll down South Congress. Their patio is the perfect place to camp out with a book and a latte, and we sat there for awhile, alternately reading and people-watching (this place is hipster central). It’s also the coffee shop with the best graffiti.

20130425 texas1 sm

We spent the early part of the afternoon at the downtown AMoA Arthouse, taking in their latest contemporary art exhibits. I majorly dug the architecture-inspired drawings by Seher Shah. From there, we picked up a picnic lunch at the market and drove over to the sister Arthouse at Laguna Gloria. The art collection at this site was small, but the grounds were beautiful. Our old friend Steve, Shane’s best man at our wedding, lives in Dallas and made the drive out to Austin to catch up with us over salami and cheese.

20130425 texas3 sm

20130425 texas2 sm

20130425 texas4 sm

We headed back to our hotel and I got some rest while Shane and Steve chilled out on our patio. It was so good to see the easy way they fell into conversation with one another, as if hardly any time had passed in the four years since they last saw each other.

20130425 texas5 sm

The three of us grabbed dinner that evening at Black Star Brewery. We sat at our table well after we’d finished eating and talked about theology, about dreams for the future, about finding our callings, and then it was time to say good-bye to Steve as he hit the long dusty trail back to Dallas.

20130425 texas6 sm

I assumed we were calling it a night after that, but Shane had other plans up his sleeve.  I raised my eyebrows when we missed the turn to our hotel, and he grinned that mischievous cocktails-on-the-brain grin of his.  We parked on 4th Street and headed toward Peche, known (in Shane’s circles, at least) for their impressive absinthe selection.  But first, we paused for a moment on the sidewalk to listen to this band’s rendition of “Sweet Home Alabama”.  Gotta love Austin.

20130425 texas7 sm

Shane’s absinthe pour was all he’d hoped it would be, and I was quite taken with my lime ricotta tart and cherry whipped cream.  Double-score.

20130425 texas8 sm

We started Friday morning with another long walk along the river (still working off that brisket!), and then brunched Bouldin Creek Cafe.  The food was excellent, the hippie vibe was lots of fun, and I reveled in what I feared may be out last outdoor dining experience for awhile.

20130426 texas1 sm

We had an evening flight and a couple of hours to kill until then, so we drove up to Mount Bonnell to check out the view of the city.  That morning mist had yet to burn off, so things weren’t super-clear, but the stairclimb definitely did me good.

20130426 texas2 sm

20130426 texas3 sm

Temperatures were in the 80’s by this point and we were feeling ready for some lounging, so we drove over to Barton Springs Pool to grab a seat on the lawn.  This pool, an offshoot of the river, is incredible – it’s absolutely huge and has this cool mixed character of man-made and natural.  I wasn’t equipped for a swim, but it felt good to kick our shoes off and lay in the grass for an hour.

20130426 texas4 sm

20130426 texas6 sm

A quick stop at the Ice Cream Social truck for waffle cones, one more iced coffee at Jo’s, and then it was time to say so long to Austin.  We were a couple pounds heavier, a bit more tan, and a lot more relaxed than when we’d first arrived – the city had been good us.

20130426 texas7 sm

Steve asked Shane and I on Thursday night what it was that we hoped wouldn’t change with the arrival of the baby, and this question has been rattling around in my head ever since.  There were so many moments in this trip that were decidedly kid-less (long mornings in bed, late night cocktails, the absence of any sort of set schedule), and as hard as it may be to see that sort of freedom go, I’m ok with it.  But the laughs?  The joy in sharing a new experience?  Our ability to have silly, unbridled fun together, to genuinely enjoy just laying on the grass with one another?  That’s the good stuff, the stuff that’s here to stay.

We hit Texas hard on Wednesday, as we ventured out of Austin for a day full of eating and sight-seeing. First up: real Texas barbecue in nearby Lockhart. We arrived at Kreuz Market around noon and promptly ordered ourselves a pound of the beef brisket, rumored to be the best in the entire state. The man behind the counter shaved four super-thick slices off a warm hunk of just-done beef, slapped it down on a thick sheet of butcher paper with a full stack of Saltine crackers, and directed us to the adjacent dining hall to dig in. We sat down at our table and scratched our heads for a moment over how to go about eating this. Was there barbecue sauce? Forks? No and no. Shane did manage to rummage up a plastic knife, I fetched a lemonade at the drinks counter, and, taking our cue from the cowboy seated next to us, we just had at it. I suppose the thinking is that meat prepared this perfectly doesn’t need sauce or proper utensils, which is a point that’s hard to debate. Tender, moist, perfectly charred around the edges – this was the real deal.

20130424 texas1 sm

20130424 texas2 sm

But Shane hadn’t come all this way to let some New York Times article tell him what was the best brisket in Texas – he needed to decide for himself. So we took a few minutes to let round one settle, then made our way over to Black’s Barbecue to see what the alleged runner-up had to offer. We restrained ourselves (a little) at this place, and ordered just one slice of beef, a couple of ribs, and a side of mashed potatoes. I favored this place, where the meat was a little smokier, but Shane favored Kreuz, so I suppose the jury’s still out.

20130424 texas3 sm

My baby bump was bulging extra big by the time we waddled out of Black’s. Shane read somewhere that babies start to have taste buds at this stage, and that you can actually get them used to the taste of certain foods depending on what you eat while they’re in utero. I guess vegetarianism is out of the question for little Schnell?

20130424 texas4 sm

From Lockhart, we made the hour-long drive over to San Antonio to check a few things off our to-see list. We started at the Alamo, which admittedly, we found a little underwhelming. The history of the site was interesting, and we learned a few things about the Texas revolution, but after 30 minutes there, we were ready to move on. To be fair, I think we were both in such a deep beef-induced stupor that I’m not sure anything would have captivated us at that point…

20130424 texas5 sm

We had heard good things about the San Antonio Riverwalk, and that sounded like the perfect way to burn some calories, so we parked our car in the city center and took the nearest staircase down to the waterfront. It was beautiful down there – charming cobblestone bridges, lush tropical plantings, umbrella-covered tables. We walked the loop, loving the sense of “urban oasis” that came with the sound of birds calling overhead.

20130424 texas6 sm

20130424 texas7 sm

20130424 texas8 sm

20130424 texas9 sm

We happened to be in San Antonio during “fiesta days”, so we followed the sound of live music back up to street level and wandered through the giant street fair taking place adjacent to the central Mercado. A band doing Sublime covers on one stage, a couple of guys crooning smooth Spanish ballads on another, food stands peddling street corn and funnel cakes and fresh fruit – “festive” hardly begins to describe it. I bought a cup of watermelon agua fresca and we took it all in, overwhelmed by the colors and smells and sounds.

20130424 texas10 sm

20130424 texas11 sm

20130424 texas12 sm

We had hoped to have dinner in the city, but the thought of food was still entirely unappealing at 6 pm, so we headed back to Austin, hoping we’d regain our appetites during the drive back. By 8:30, we felt like we were ready for a snack, so we made our way to Papi Tino’s for a light dinner. The perfect Texas tacos continue to elude Shane, but his margarita was top-notch, and the green sauce on my enchiladas was the best I’ve ever had. Determined to live it up and capitalize on Austin’s vibrant night life, we headed over to Donn’s Depot after dinner to check out their house band, which we’d heard packs out the dance floor every night. We were both surprised and amused to walk into the bar and find ourselves the youngest ones there by nearly 40 years. But it’s true – the house band was hoppin’, and the dance floor was packed, so we ordered drinks and snagged a seat to watch those ol’ cowboys and their poofy-haired ladies strut their stuff.

20130424 texas13 sm

20130424 texas14 sm

Cheers to a day full of so many memorable moments.

We landed in sunny Austin on Monday evening, eager to explore the city we’d heard so many good things about. But first things first: tacos! Shane had booked us a table at La Condesa for dinner, just across the river from our hotel. It was a perfect evening for a stroll – warm, a little breezy, sidewalk terraces filled with people.

20130422 texas1 sm

Admittedly, the tacos were no match for Turlock’s finest taco truck, but this place definitely wins on presentation and ambiance.

20130422 texas2 sm

After dinner, we wandered over to Sixth Street to check out Austin’s famous nightlife. Horse and buggies, a dude riding a mechanical bull, bar after bar with live music of all sorts – it was a scene. But seeing as how it was 8:30 on a Monday night, most places were relatively empty, so we called it a night without taking any of those hustlers up on their 2-dollar margaritas (you know Shane shudders at this “quantity over quality” approach to cocktails, anyway).

20130422 texas3 sm

We rolled out of bed gloriously late on Tuesday and headed down to South Congress Cafe for brunch. Carrot cake French toast with creamy pecan syrup? Yes, please. It was rich and sweet and fluffy and ridiculously decadent – perfect vacation fare. Shane went nuts over his Migas Eggs Benedict.

20130423 texas1 sm

20130423 texas2 sm

We loved the hip little stretch of shops and restaurants on South Congress – I bought a pair of handmade earrings, Shane looked in a shop window and wondered aloud whether he could pull off trendy western-wear, and we lamented the fact that we were too full to check out any of the street’s other culinary offerings.


20130423 texas3 sm

After making note of a couple places to return to, we drove to the other end of Congress Avenue to visit the city’s Capitol building. The exterior is constructed of unique red Texas granite, and the dome stands taller than our nation’s Capitol building in D.C. And thus concludes the trivia portion of this blog post…

20130423 texas4 sm

20130423 texas5 sm

20130423 texas6 sm

By late afternoon, I felt like I was due for some quality cafe time, so we headed over to Mozart’s to enjoy their sunny river-view patio. We sipped our cold drinks, read for awhile, and sank further into vacation-mode. Felt good.

20130423 texas7 sm

20130423 texas8 sm

Our brunch had finally settled in our stomachs by 6:00, so we made our way over to Contigo for happy hour. It’s been a little tough to watch Shane drink his tasty cocktails while I play the part of the responsible pregnant lady, but I hardly missed the tequila in this concoction of ginger ale, lime, cucumber and mint.

20130423 texas9 sm

We made it back to our hotel just in time to catch that evening’s “bat exodus” at the Congress Avenue bridge. Yes, you read that right. The underside of this bridge is home to 1.5 million bats, and every evening at dusk between March and October, they leave their bat caves to come out and eat. We stood there on the lawn and watched them pour out of the concrete crevices and swarm in the darkening sky. It was incredible. And a little creepy. But mostly incredible.

20130423 texas10 sm

From the food to the (relatively) warm weather to the fascinating flocks of night creatures, this city was showing definite promise.