...and we're off!

taking a year of pretirement to travel the world

on may 23, 2013, we quit our jobs and began our year of "pretirement." these are some of our adventures around the world.

new france / old canada

We woke up bright and early Monday morning in New Glasgow, Nova Scotia, ready for a long 9-hour drive west to Quebec City. Little did we know that this would end up being one of the best days of our road trip. After several hours of driving, western New Brunswick became more and more sparsely populated. Finally, after a long stretch of smooth road and almost no traffic (or cops), I decided to reduce the drive time. For a good 150 miles the M3 happily cruised along at autobahn speeds, whipping by the very occasional right-lane driver. I could hardly think of a better way to spend a Monday afternoon than listening to great music and watching the rolling Canadian countryside fly by. Around Edmundston, NB we noticed a thick haze in the air that looked like a dense fog despite the hot, humid weather. We later found out this was smoke blowing down from a huge forest fire in northern Quebec. It became more intense as we continued northward but also provided a beautiful setting for the forested mountains near the very northern border of Maine.

The weather and scenery were so perfect once we crossed into Quebec that we started thinking about camping instead of finishing the drive to Quebec City. While lightly discussing the idea of camping we saw a small blue sign suggesting a campground at the exit immediately to the right. I quickly pulled the car off the highway and we decided to poke around the town of Notre-Dame-du-Lac. The town is built on the shore of a long, thin lake with steep hills rising out of the water on either side. When standing at the shore the haze gave it an almost mystical quality—it was very striking. After a short drive along the lake we came upon a municipal campground. We were lucky enough to have our choice of campsites and walked up to an absolutely perfect spot right on the water. After pitching the tent I tried to ask the French-speaking man at a camper nearby where a person could buy some beer or wine. He didn’t have an answer but he did seem to think I had my priorities straight because he poured me a cup of neat brandy - “you like... bran-dee?” Carla, the man’s wife and another couple (all in their 50s) quickly joined and we did our best to communicate back and forth as we all had a glass of brandy. Thankfully their group knew enough English between them to keep me in the conversation. Empty glasses were refilled and refilled again, the sun approached the horizon and the whole world went pink and orange. The smoke had created a sunset like we had never seen. We had a great time getting to know our new friends from Gaspe, Quebec while drinking late into the night around a campfire.

We woke up at sunrise the next morning to a fresh, dewy scene almost as beautiful as the sunset the night before. I sat down and read by the lake that morning and could not help but think of how good of a decision we’d made to take this trip. After packing up, we took the scenic route along the St. Lawrence River, passing through some quaint villages on the way to Quebec City. We stayed in a residential neighborhood to the north of downtown but mainly spent our two days either walking around the old city (touristy but cool) or enjoying the sunny weather in the large park to the south of downtown. I was surprised at just how French Quebec is—aside from the language, the whole culture seems different from North America. Many people live in small apartment buildings rather than houses, even in the suburbs, and the sidewalks are full of people out for a stroll. Just about any café or bar would have seating out front to accommodate people watching. We arrived in Montreal the next day after camping in Trois-Rivieres and stopped for a quick walk around Rue St. Denis.

The next stop was Toronto. Our friend Kim was good enough to let us stay with her near downtown and we arrived on a Friday. This meant we were quickly snapped back to big city life:  nice dinners (it was Kim’s birthday weekend), trendy tequila bars, and of course hangover brunch. We also got to see Carla’s old friend Mike. It was very reminiscent of New York. We had a great time.

We then drove down to Waterford, ON where Carla’s lola (grandmother) and two aunts live. It was unfortunately a sad occasion—Carla’s mother’s side of the family was gathering for her lolo’s (grandfather’s) memorial service. But it was also an opportunity for everyone to get together from around North America and we were able to spend some quality time with her family. Carla’s parents and brothers made the drive from Milwaukee and arrived just before we did. It was fun meeting some of Carla’s relatives who I hadn’t met before and hearing old family stories. Of course, given the constant oversupply of good food, I don’t think I was ever hungry for a minute during the two days I was there.

On Monday morning it was time to start the long drive back to NYC. We took the scenic route through southern Ontario and stopped to check out Niagara Falls, which I hadn’t seen before. The photos speak for themselves—it’s spectacular. That night we wearily pulled into our parking place under the BQE and stumbled up to Rachel’s apartment in Brooklyn for the second time.

// road trip to date: 18 states, 4 canadian provinces, 6,500 miles

the far east (of canada)

alex and i crossed into canada and spent five days exploring new brunswick and nova scotia. the two provinces have a combined population that's smaller than brooklyn’s, so it was an interesting change of pace. the drive through new brunswick was beautiful, but a bit isolated. on our way to the bay of fundy, we were surrounded by open fields and craggy  rocks. this was a place where nature didn’t yield to the people living there - it was very much the other way around, which was quite striking.

we stopped by cape enrage, then dashed over to the hopewell rocks and got there just as the park was closing. we saw these incredible mud flats, which seemed to go on forever. after a quick jog down the trail, we arrived at the famed rocks only visible at low tide. we slipped under the “TRAIL CLOSED” sign slung across the entrance and carefully went down the steps to take a look. the rocks were spectacular, especially knowing that they're hidden underwater half the time!

we spent the night camping, then started off for halifax. we met my cousin alex for dinner in wolfville, where he goes to school at acadia university. after a little tour of the campus, we made our way back to our motel in "dirty dartmouth" across the river from halifax. the next day was humid and rainy, but we managed to do a bit of exploring around halifax. for lunch we shared a chili cheesesteak poutine, which was as amazingly delicious as it sounds. after a couple of beers and some pretty entertaining people-watching at one of the pubs, we enjoyed a night at the westin - our first nice hotel in a long while (thanks to a sweet last-minute rate!). 

we ventured even further northeast to cape breton island. the national park there is incredible; until only a week before, we had no idea it existed. as we drove through the park to get to pleasant bay, we stopped along the way to take some pictures. we were lucky enough to spot a mother moose and her baby (another one for the cuteness passport!). the sun started to set, and at one point the winds picked up and it began to rain. there we were, on top of a mountain, with dark clouds hovering over this beautiful sunset. it was both beautiful and terrifying, standing there by the cliff at the mercy of mother nature. in that moment, i felt very alive and humbled. 

we did a 5.5-mile hike along the skyline trail the next day, then drove north to meat cove at the suggestion of alex’s cousins audrey and sky. after a bumpy ride down a winding road, we were once again greeted by a spectacular view. there was a campsite right on the edge of the rocks which we would’ve been more than happy to stay at, but the forecast wasn’t in our favor. we hung out for a bit with two campers from stratford, ontario - a town close to where my family lives which is apparently justin bieber's hometown (cray cray). these guys were great - a father and son getting in some quality time. The dad kind of reminded me of “the dude." when we told him about our pretirement travels, he was really enthusiastic about it - he and his wife had done the same thing, and it had a profound impact on his life. i can't wait to say the same thing one day.

we took the scenic route down the eastern coast of the island, then crossed back into new brunswick and stopped in new glasgow for the night. the next day, we were headed for quebec. time to bust out my broken french!

// road trip to date: 18 states, 2 canadian provinces, 4,800 miles 

reunited in maine

Carla, Rachel and I hopped in the car early Friday morning and got involved in the NYC rush hour. We were headed up to Rockland, Maine for a family reunion on my dad's side. This would be my first time meeting my dad's 1st cousins since I was about 5 years old, so I was looking forward to it.

Our day and a half in New York was relaxing -- we spent time meeting up with friends and generally being day people. New York still feels very much like home. Our first stop on the way up to Maine was a quick lunch with Carla's Aunt Chit and Uncle Joe (and their singing dog, Tiny) in coastal New Hampshire.

We arrived at Penobscot Bay just in in time for a group lobster feast right on the water. I met all of the extended family for the first time and enjoyed getting to know them throughout the long weekend. The next morning we woke up to fresh air coming off the bay and caught the early ferry to the island of Vinalhaven. This is a foggy, hilly island about an hour's ferry ride off the mainland where my dad's cousin Audrey is the postmaster. It is a beautiful, isolated place with a permanent population of about 1,300 and a summer population of over 4,000. The waters around the island are thick with lobster buoys. The rest of the weekend was spent hopping from picturesque scene to scene, checking out their under-construction house (which Audrey's husband Sky is building himself -- no helpers allowed) and watching the more pain-tolerant of our group swim in the frigid water.

Carla and I struck off northward on Monday for Acadia National Park. We pitched a tent in the Seawall Campground and, after roasting some marshmallows for s'mores, fell asleep to the faint sound of the waves. Acadia is an interesting national park because it is made up of a patchwork of land donated by the Rockefellers and others on Mount Desert Island. Much of the island is still private and there are quite a few small towns as you drive through the park. We woke up the next morning and took in the view from Cadillac Mountain, which is pretty unique. We did some hiking and drove the rest of the park, then kept moving northward toward Canada.

We spent our last night in Maine in a low-ceilinged motel in a desolate, somewhat creepy town called Machias. We woke up unmurdered the next morning and bolted for the border.

// road trip to date: 18 states, 3,500 miles 


5 days, 1500 miles

last saturday, we bid farewell to the midwest and headed south. we knew we wanted to head down to nashville and spend some time in the smoky mountains, but beyond that, we didn't have any real plans. there was nowhere we had to be that day, or the next day, or the day after that. for the first time, we were completely free of any obligations! it was a newfound sense of freedom that neither of us had ever experienced, and that in itself was a thrill.

the great thing about being on the open road with a wide open schedule is that it gives you the chance to see people you haven't seen in ages. on our way to music city, we had lunch in indianapolis with alex's family friends chuck and ahna, who are both yoga instructors. they taught us a few simple stretches and poses and even let us try out their chi machine! afterwards, we drove to bloomington to meet up with michelle, a friend of mine from middle school whom i've only seen once in a decade or so.

we spent the night just outside of nashville, and the next day tooling around the city. this was the first place alex had ever been where the locals spoke with a drawl - can you believe it? we enjoyed delicious bbq at jack's, bobbed our heads to live country music at one of the honky-tonks, and tried on some cowboy boots (obviously). after surviving a crazy thunderstorm on the road later that night, we woke up early and went to smoky mountain national park to do some hiking and take in the spectacular views from clingman's dome, the park's tallest point. the next day we drove to asheville, which was full of great restaurants, boutiques, and good vibes. if you ever go, definitely have brunch at the tupelo honey cafe - i seriously had the best sweet-potato-and-granola pancakes of my life!

at this point it was time to make our way to new york. we took the breathtaking blue ridge parkway part of the way there, then spent the night in roanoke, virginia with our friend greg, who's just finishing up his second year of med school. the rest of our 1500-mile journey from chicago to new york included my driving 3 hours on the interstate (a first on a stick for me!). the minute we saw the empire state building from the freeway, we were overwhelmed with joy and nostalgia. it had only been two weeks, but it felt good to be back in nyc! the day and a half we were home, we repacked, caught up with people, and helped our friend jess celebrate her birthday.

friday morning, it was time to get back on the road - this time with alex's sister rachel in tow. we were off to maine!

// road trip to date: 14 states, 2,800 miles


from miltown to chitown

This past week we split our time between Milwaukee and Chicago, visiting family and friends. Needless to say, we were very ready for a shower and a real bed when we arrived in Milwaukee. We enjoyed a little more time with no travel and no responsibilities staying with Carla’s family, while roaming around the city during everyone else’s workday. We visited the Milwaukee Art Museum, which had a pretty impressive collection and a beautiful building on Lake Michigan, and read books by the waterfront. I also got to try some awesome home-cooked sinigang (Filipino tamarind stew) courtesy of Carla’s mom.

By Thursday we were excited to start turning the odometer and exploring more of the country. We brought Carla’s brother Kevin down to Chicago for a Cubs game, then stayed with her cousin Tricia in her 62nd floor condo overlooking downtown and the lake. Our timing couldn’t have been better because not only did we get to catch our friend Lani’s DJ gig at Drum Bar on Thursday, we also got to help ring in her birthday on Friday night. We took in some excellent food and music at the Taste of Randolph Festival, enjoyed a few birthday drinks at some nearby bars, then eventually made our way back to Lani’s place for a few hours’ sleep. Chicago was a blast.

Bright and early Saturday morning, we hopped back in the car with the GPS arrow pointed South. Next stop, Tennessee.

the farm

last friday, alex and i began our road trip around the states and canada. after a week of relaxing with our families and old friends in milwaukee and minneapolis, we were both ready to hit the road and start our travels! our first stop? alex's family cabin near the tiny town of hanover, illinois.

"the farm" is 44 acres of land that belonged to alex's great great uncle stewie.  every once in awhile, his family has walnut trees harvested there. right in front of the cabin sits a 7-acre field, which alex decided would be the perfect place to camp. until last weekend i had never been camping before in my life, so i was excited...but extremely anxious. i love the outdoors, but i'm a city girl through and through, and lots of questions swirled around in my head. how bad do the bugs get? will strange animals come to eat us at night? wait - there's no running water? so i have to dig a hole in the ground to...gaaahhh!! 

that said, i am happy to report that my first camping trip was a very fun and successful one, all thanks to alex and his awesome parents, jon and cindy. we made little bonfires, shot rifles (alex's aim is pretty amazing), and made furry friends at the alpaca farm. i also got my first few lessons in driving a stick - which is definitely a bit nerve-racking when you're learning on an M3, ha. we also went into the neighboring towns to grab meals and do a little wandering.

our favorite meal was at a crazy hippie pizza place called bombfire pizza in sabula, iowa, a little town on an even littler island in the middle of the mississippi river. the restaurant's a riot - full of fun little treasures, peace signs, great food, and a funny old woman playing a dinky piano and singing her heart out a bit off-key. you'd never in a million years think that a place with this much personality would exist in the middle of nowhere, but it does! i'm looking forward to seeing what else we come across along our journey.