Upon receiving my cousin’s wedding invitation, I turned into a cartoon villain. Fingers and brows tented, I smirked. “Excellent,” I said. With that invitation, I had reason to go to Maine, the only state east of the Mississippi River I’d never set foot in and home to Acadia National Park, an almost 50,000-acre wonderland of rugged and rocky Atlantic coastline, woodlands, lakes and ponds. Excellent, indeed.
The result of all that planning was a six-day adventure, with an early flight in and a late flight out, that took me across 800 miles of northern New Mexico, though five National Park units and one bonus park managed by the Bureau of Land Management.
SIX DAYS OF NATIONAL PARKING IN NEW MEXICO
DAY 1. ALBUQUERQUE TO SANTA FE
My early flight out of Richmond got me to Albuquerque a little after 11 a.m., and I was in my rental car and on the road by noon. I grabbed tacos and a beer at the Standard Diner, then headed to Petroglyph National Monument, for National Park #1. At the visitor center, the ranger gave me directions to Piedras Marcadas Canyon, where there’s 1.5 mile loop showcasing around 400 petroglyphs.
After marveling at the petroglyphs, I headed north on the Turquoise Trail stopping in Madrid (pronounced MAD-rid) for a beer at the Mine Shaft Tavern before heading on to my Airbnb in Santa Fe. I’d plotted the parks I wanted to visit on a map during my planning process and Santa Fe was pretty much right in the middle, so for me, it made the most sense to base myself there. Once I got checked in at the llama farm, I went to Blue Corn Cafe & Brewery for dinner, where I got a beer and a giant plate of nachos before heading home, curling up and passing the fuck out.
DAY 2. KASHA-KATUWE TENT ROCKS NATIONAL MONUMENT & MEOW WOLF
I had breakfast at the Tune-Up Cafe, where I order the Veggie Breakfast Hash from the specials board. It was delicious, with poached eggs, cheesy hash browns and a whole pile of vegetables.
After breakfast, I headed to Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument. It’s administered by the Bureau of Land Management, so it’s not technically a National Park unit, but holy hell is it amazing. I hiked the Slot Canyon Trail, all the way to the top, and it was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. The trail takes you over rocks, under trees and through canyons and when you get to the top the view is made of magic. If you only hike once in the Santa Fe area, hike at Tent Rocks. It’s magnificent.
After the hike, I headed back into Santa Fe, to
Second Street Brewery
When I was deployed last year, along with John, my (now ex-)boyfriend, we started talking about trips to take after the deployment. He’s Italian. I’m Italian. We’d both always dreamed of visiting Italy, so Italy it was.
We spent the next few months trying to decide where we wanted to go. We wanted to experience different parts of Italy, but we didn’t want to feel too rushed. So we spent months – actual months – deciding on an itinerary and then, in May, we spent almost three weeks exploring Italy.
SPENDING 20 DAYS IN ITALY
DAY 1-2: JFK > FCO || Overnight & direct. Beautiful, except for the terrible child who screamed for 67% of the flight.
DAY 2-6: ROME
// Rome is huge and there’s so much to see. We spent four nights in Rome, longer than we spent anywhere else, and it was just the right amount of time to get a generous introduction to the capital city. I’d definitely visit again, but I’d spend my time further away from the main tourist attractions.
THE BEST: Eating Cacio e Pepe & Spaghetti Carbonara. Testing out our Italian language skills. The Colosseum. Walking up 500+ stairs to the top of St. Peter’s Basilica. Pizza. Walking across the Tiber and around Trastevere. The Pantheon.
DAY 6-9: ASSISI & UMBRIA
// Umbria is beautiful. It’s wilder than its neighboring cousin, Tuscany, but just as lovely. Assisi gets busy during the day with bussed-in tourists, but the nights tend to be more mellow. We had one of our best and most authentic meals in Assisi.
+ DAY 8 SIDE TRIP: SPELLO || We had a car, so we wandered south to Spello on our middle day in Assisi, just to get a feel for another city within Umbria. It was a Monday, typically a slow day in Italy, so the city was eerily quiet. We walked around. Met some cats. Drank some wine. And left.
DAY 9: SIENA
=&0=&On our way to San Gimignano, we pit-stopped in Siena for a few hours and it was magical. I really liked the way Siena felt. It was cool and trendy and had a modern feel while still being this incredibly beautiful Old World city.
THE BEST: The Siena Cathedral. Shell-shaped Piazza del Campo. The Palazzo Pubblico. The escalator from our parking area up to the city center.
DAY 9-12: SAN GIMIGNANO & TUSCANY
// When we found our B&B we starting freaking out. It was beautiful, overlooking the grape-vined hills of Tuscany. We both just started laughing, thinking there was no way our home for the next three days could be so beautiful. But it was. Plus, it was just a five minute walk into San Gimignano.
+ DAY 11 SIDE TRIP: FLORENCE || You guys. I didn’t like Florence. Maybe it’s because we didn’t spend much time there, or because we didn’t spend a night there, but I just didn’t like it. It was hot, crowded and everything we wanted to see required waiting in a stupidly-long line.
THE BEST: Our B&B, because really – beautiful views, a comfy bed and fresh-made breakfast every morning. Seeing the David. Wandering around San Gimignano after all the other tourists left for the day. Gazing at the Tuscan hills.
DAY 12-13: LA SPEZIA & CINQUE TERRE