I have to admit, I went to Disney World in Orlando, Florida for literally years before I ever visited Epcot. For some reason, it was always overlooked by us. Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom always had our full attention. However, it only took one visit for Epcot to jump to the top of the list for me.
From the time I was a young child I have been fascinated with other countries and their cultures. I would look through social studies books for hours, studying the photos closely and reading everything I could on the far off lands. We did not have computers in our homes at that time and Google certainly did not exist. To a southern girl in the tiniest of towns, two hours from any city, these places seemed unreachable and beyond fascinating!
I am no longer in that tiny southern town, far from it actually, but I have never lost my love of other countries and cultures. When I decide I’m ready for the taste of another culture, and a long trip across the ocean is not possible, I plan a visit to Epcot and make my way around the world to 11 different countries!
Epcot is home to the World Showcase, which consists of 11 pavilions representing 11 different countries from around the world. The countries represented are Canada, China, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Morocco, Norway, the United Kingdom and the United States.
When you walk from country to country it is pretty mind blowing. You feel as if you are truly in that country. Just like with all things Disney, they go above and beyond and have made sure to represent these countries as true to their culture as possible. The architecture is true to the country, the music playing in the streets is original to that country, all wares and food items are authentic to that country. The staff and artists that are working in the shops, restaurants and/or performing are from that country. In fact, Disney has a fantastic program that allows students from the represented country to come live and work at Disney, in the country of their origin, in the World Showcase. While having this experience they are also offered schooling opportunities. The different young adults that we spoke with were so happy and thankful to have the opportunity to live in America while also representing their country.
One of my favorites things to do is experience the authenticity of the food prepared in these countries. The chefs that prepare the meals in the restaurants of each country are of course, from that specific country. Their dishes are authentic and simply delightful to the taste buds!
My favorite restaurant in all of Epcot is Tutto Italia in “Italy”. The dishes are exactly what I remember from my time in the literal country of Italy years ago. Eating at Tutto Italia brings back memories of a special time spent in Italy but it is more than that. The atmosphere is nice and quiet and relaxing and the service top notch!
The food at Tutto Italia is definitely comfort food for me…and the taste is nothing like American Italian food! I always get the lasagna and it only takes one bite to take me back to the first time I had lasagna in Italy and the delightful shock of how very different it is from American lasagna.
My husbands favorite is Teppen Edo in Japan. I do admit, it is amazing food and the chef who prepares your food in front of you is delightful. Our daughter eats only a plant based diet and has for many years now. We were impressed with Teppen Edo for several reasons but the main one was due to the fact that the chef paid close attention to her diet restrictions and thoughtfully prepared her food first. Therefore, the grill was not touched by a single piece of meat before her meal was cooked and served to her. That truly meant alot to her.
Italy and Japan are also two of our favorites as far as architecture goes with Morocco coming in among those top three favorites.
As far as enjoyment of conversation. It is Japan hands down! The young adults working there, and representing their home country, are so joyful and thankful to be here. They are eager to have a conversation and to show you things like the Japanese candies that they love and why we should try them.
If you have not visited Epcot I highly recommend you do. But don’t just fly through the countries. Really take your !me and you will be very pleasantly surprised at the detail that leads you to believe that you are truly in another country. You will learn beautiful things about the countries and cultures if you really pay attention!
March 5, 2017 was a beautiful spring like day in northern Colorado. Our souls ached for an adventure and fresh air so we took off. We headed an hour north of Fort Collins to the Red Feather Lakes region as it was an area we had yet to explore. It made a perfect afternoon getaway!
Red Feather Lakes consists of a rustic mountain village that sits beside a lake and is surrounded by the Roosevelt National Forest. The people are few yet friendly and the main road of town is dirt. This Sunday afternoon the sky was bright blue and the air was fresh and crisp with snow still covering sections of the ground.
In early March the lake is still frozen but shallow areas are beginning to thaw. As beautiful as the lake is when frozen it was inviting to my imagination as to how beautiful it must be during summer when the grasses are green, trees are in full bloom and the sun is dancing across the water. I could almost hear the hum of activity along with children’s laughter as they enjoy the clean mountain air, bright sunlight and cool water. The locals tell us that the place is busy and full of life during the summer months and I can easily see why.
The drive up to Red Feather Lakes was beautiful and open with few houses, or homesteads, dotted around the mountainous hills. Once we arrived at the village there really wasn’t a lot of exploring to do by car. As I said before, the main road of the village is a dirt road. It is short and wide with less than 8 local businesses divided on each side.
There was one old gas pump that stood in front of the Trading Post and that was it! No gas station full of digital pumps and no convenience store with snacks and/or souvenirs. I liked it that way! It gave me a feeling of life being simple and relaxed.
A Secret Society of Gnomes
The roads leading to the Red Feather Lakes area are well maintained and easy to drive. They are not crazy curvy like other mountain roads which I’m thankful for! Nevertheless, by the time we were there, I was car sick. Seriously, it is such a pain with how easily I can become nauseous from the motion of a moving vehicle.
The first thing we did once we found the lake was to take the dirt road that cuts a path through the middle of the lake to homes, and forest, on the other side. We were simply exploring. Getting a lay of the land and figuring things out.
After crossing the land bridge, we came to a fork in the road and Jason paused while deciding if he should go right or left. In that moment, I exited the Jeep with little warning. I was so nauseous that I desperately needed my feet on the ground, and to walk it off.
The fresh air, and my feet firmly on the ground, took away my queasiness in no time at all. By the time Jason put the Jeep in park and climbed out to join me I was feeling much better. Such relief!
I wasn’t ready to get back in the Jeep though. I needed to walk some. Before moving forward, I took in my surroundings. To my surprise, I spotted a group of Gnomes standing on a large rock nearby. They were staring at me! With a touch of excitement in my voice I pointed them out to Jason and Raine, who had also climbed out of the Jeep, and we went over to get a better look.
The gnomes appeared to be guarding the forest. What an unexpected delight to find them in such an unexpected place. Oh, but what a fitting place for them to reside! I began to take a really good look at my surroundings, peering closely among the boulders and trees. It was only a matter of seconds before I spotted another gnome.
One was sunbathing on a rock that looked more like an island in the snow. Another could be seen peeking out of the snow at us. In astonishment, we realized that we were surrounded by gnomes, and other woodland creatures, that someone had taken great care in placing. Some were on top of giant boulders looking down at us. Some were in little crevices between, or under, boulders. I even found a dinosaur in a tree! It almost felt like a game of hide and seek and as we explored we discovered more and more.
Someone had put a great deal of thought into the placement of these little guys and it was a great diversion to my car sickness! Honestly, for the first time ever, I was glad that I had become car sick. If I had not felt so sick I wouldn’t have exited the Jeep for fresh air. Being out of the Jeep is the only reason I spotted the little Gnomes hiding along the forest path. We were all 3 glad to have discovered this place. It put a smile on our faces and made us feel as if we had discovered a special little secret in the wooded area by the lake.
Because it is still winter in this area there wasn’t a great deal of exploring to do this day. However, our day was not done! A few miles south, back the way we came, is a 600 acre area called The Shambhala Mountain Center. Stay tuned and read my next blog about this beautiful and peaceful place hidden away in a small valley among the peaks.
Trail Ridge Road, which lies within the Rocky Mountain National Park, near Estes Park, must be added to your bucket list if it isn’t there already. At an elevation of over 12,000 feet above sea level it is the highest continuous paved road in the United States and is known around the world as a road to travel.
My first venture on this sky-high roadway was May 31, 2016 and it was something that made quite an impression! The views of Rocky Mountain National Park from this road are breathtaking, as is the sharp wind at such an elevation. You drive through a variety of habitat, from mountain meadows and ponderosa pine woodlands to well above tree line into the alpine tundra.
The day we drove this magnificent road was only the 2nd day that it was open for the season. There were still walls of snow on each side of the roadway that towered over our Jeep and the weather was drastically different than what we had left back in Estes Park. In fact, when we left our home, an hour away, it was blue skies, sunshine and 60 degrees. On Trail Ridge Road, it was 30 degrees, windy and snowing. There were people up there that were joyfully playing in the snow and then there were those who only watched, with smiles on their faces, from their warm cars because they were unprepared for such a temperature difference and did not have warm clothing. So be prepared when you travel Trail Ridge Road and have jackets and hats with you.
Due to the roads extreme elevation, and location, it is impossible to keep it clear of snow, and ice, much of the year. Therefore, it is only open, on average, 4 months out of the year, from Memorial Day to late September. Along the drive, you go from 7,800 feet to more than 12,000 feet at its highest point. The snow up there is known to reach 25 feet deep and there are places where the walls of snow still tower over you in early summer. It is something else to see.
I do highly recommend this drive although there are places along the way that will give you butterflies in your stomach. There are spots where the drop is tremendous and there are no guard rails.
If you choose, make a day of it and follow Trail Ridge Road all the way to Grand Lake, which in itself is a wonderful place to visit. Or stop at the Alpine Visitor Center, have a snack and travel back the way you came to Estes Park. If you travel the road later in the summer, when the snow has had time to melt, there are great trails that you can hike. Simply ask for a trail map at the Estes Park visitor center before you enter The Rocky Mountain National Park.
Make sure you have a full tank of gas as you will find NO gas anywhere along this road or in the park.
There are so many amazing communities, towns and cities in western Colorado that call to my sense of adventure and curiosity. The many that we have visited have not disappointed but have thrilled me with their beauty, history, and quaintness. There is a prevailing positive attitude throughout Colorado that is evident in the way of life and the atmosphere of the communities.
Of all of the small mountain towns we have visited in Colorado, Estes Park is one of our favorites. It holds a special place in our hearts. We have had many amazing adventures in and around Estes. It is a “must visit” mountain town that is nestled in a cozy little valley and hugged by the Rocky Mountains. It is a place that we return to over and over again and never leave disappointed. Estes hosts many street festivals throughout the year along with a downtown trick-or-treating bonanza that is hard to beat. Estes Park is so much more than the shops and restaurants. It’s the friendly and welcoming attitudes of the locals, along with the adventure and beauty to be found in the Rocky Mountains, that brings so many people back year after year.
You can reach Estes Park from different routes but my favorite is Highway 66 through Longmont. By taking this route you go straight through Lyons which is another beautiful little mountain town.
You must stop at the St. Vrain Market, Deli and Bakery, located on Main Street in Lyons, and purchase your lunch. They make the very best, made-to-order, sandwiches using fresh made bread, top quality meats and cheeses, and fresh vegetables! Grab a piece of fruit, and a bag of chips made locally in Boulder and you have a wonderful lunch. If you’re starving, eat it on the ride up to Estes Park but if you can wait, save it until you find that perfect spot to sit and enjoy the views, and fresh air, while you eat!
When you arrive in Estes there is a wonderful Welcome Center just on the edge of town. It is full of information on trails, adventures, history, places to eat, places to play, etc. It’s a great starting point!
Make sure that you do not speed while traveling around town as you are likely to come upon a herd of Elk walking the streets. The town has invaded their space so they roam freely among the streets when they choose.
Kind Coffee is possibly my very favorite place in the entire town. It is locally owned, organic and Fair Trade sourced. It is the very best coffee you will EVER taste. I’m not a coffee drinker but I love their coffee…crave it even! Kind Coffee is a favorite among locals, and tourists as soon as they discover it, so there is usually a line. Don’t let the line discourage you! The baristas work fast while keeping a relaxed smile on their face and friendly atmosphere. They know what they are doing! Oh, and if you don’t want coffee, you can choose from many different teas or other hot drinks. Just trust me, and try Kind Coffee.
Estes Park is a place that many choose to stay while exploring Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP). The East entrance into the RMNP is located on highway 36 just 3.5 miles west of Estes Park. It is known as the Beaver Meadows Entrance Station and is a favorite starting point for many. When visiting Colorado let Estes Park be your base camp while you spend at least a couple of days exploring RMNP. I think you’ll be glad you did!
Oh, and if you don’t want to go into RMNP every day that you are in the area, but want a great hike, there are many trails to choose from in the Estes Park area that are not in RMNP!
We are on our way!
Eighteen days of travel. Seeing new places. Meeting new people. Making new friends.
On our first full day of travel we left northern Colorado and entered Wyoming. We traveled 10 hours deep into that beautiful and somewhat lonely state. I didn’t really take any photos today as we were simply pushing hard to get as many miles down as possible. We didn’t leave the house until noon and needed to get at least 8 hours in!
Although I didn’t take the time for photos this day I can tell you that Wyoming is a beautiful land that is somewhat mesmerizing in it’s vast and empty landscape. Empty meaning you see few people. You see homesteads few and far between with ranching land going on for miles and miles. Mountain peaks, rolling hills, wide open prairie…Wyoming has it all along with a sky that goes on forever and a night sky unlike any you have every seen! There are no city lights to block out the stars and the view will take your breath away. The wind will also take your breath away! No kidding!
The Wyoming landscape is so amazing that Pixar actually used it for their movie, The Good Dinosaur. Pixar sent a team, twice, to Wyoming, to get the landscape correct. In the photo below, that is the Grand Tetons they are looking at. How cool is that?
Our first night in our custom-built camper was in the Walmart parking lot of the tiny town of Riverton, Wyoming.
That we stayed in a Walmart parking lot for our first ever sleep in our camper is a little humorous to us. But hey, it didn’t matter where we parked. What mattered is how we slept, how warm the camper kept us, how cozy we were and how safe we felt.
We were not disappointed!
Our new beds were super comfortable which allowed for a good night’s sleep. We were thrilled to wake up well rested with no achy body parts!
It was cold when we woke early the next morning, but not overwhelmingly cold, and our small portable propane heater had the camper warm in only a few minutes. The outside temp was in the low 30s so I would say the insulation we put in the camper was a wise choice!
Cozy? Yes! Jason designed it well for our storage needs as well as comfort. Everything we needed had a place and could be found easily. Adding the blankets, pillows, curtains and rugs added warmth and made it cozy.
And, yes, we were safe. The door has a dead bolt lock on the inside so we can lock ourselves in. I felt much safer than I ever did in a tent that is for sure! But then, I wouldn’t be pitching a tent in a parking lot either!
So, our first night in our camper was a huge success!!
Now! On to The Grand Tetons and Yellowstone National Park!
The roads we were traveling were not lit by streetlights.
There were no townships or cities nearby.
We couldn’t even see any signs of houses but we know there were some ranches scattered about somewhere in the darkness.
We were on a country road, in the dark, in the middle of Wyoming. To say it was dark is an understatement. It was a darkness unlike anything that I had ever seen. Inky black with diamonds in the sky.
The stars were the only light that we could see.
The night sky appeared to be brilliant but our tinted windows dimmed our view somewhat.
So, we pulled over to take a better look and it went like this:
Jason pulls onto the side of the road. I’m a little nervous, thanks to my over active imagination, so I move slowly in exiting the Jeep.
Jason and the girls open their doors and climb out eagerly. I’m not sure if it was more to see the night sky or desperation to exit the vehicle we had been traveling in for the past 9 hours.
Raine: “Oh, wow!!”
Their exclamations overlapped each other and their voices were filled with wonder and amazement. It was a little comical to hear but without a doubt caused me to hurry up my pace in exiting the Jeep.
I was speechless. I have never in my life seen such a breathtaking night sky. I can’t adequately describe it and my camera did not capture the magic of it at all…didn’t even come close!
It was as if I were looking at the sky in an IMAX movie…the kind that makes you wonder if it could possibly be real because it is far too beautiful and detailed.
The Milky Way in full glory, the clusters of stars that looked more like rivers of stars in some places, the variations of sparkle and brightness! And guys, the canvas before us went on forever! There was nothing on the horizon to take away from the vision in front of us. It was cold outside and the sky was clear and crisp. We could only stand and stare in amazement…until we began to shiver.
We climbed back in the Jeep, happiness bubbling over in what we had just observed, and headed on into the darkness. We knew that the town we were seeking was only an hour away and we were ready to be there.
It only took us a minute to pull over on the side of the road. We only spent 10 minutes, standing, staring and soaking in the beauty and enormity of the sky above us.
Those ten minutes that we took to slow our pace, and make an unexpected stop, made such a beautiful impression on us that we may never forget it. That’s a GOOD memory! A snapshot in our minds eye that we will always hold onto. We all agree that one of the very best things of our 18-day trip was the Wyoming sky at night.
So, if you are ever traveling through Wyoming at night, please take the time to view the sky.
Make an unexpected stop along your path, no matter where you are, and take in what is around you.
It just may blow your mind a little and make a positive lasting impression in your life.
Why did we decide to build our own custom camper? What made us choose this route? Why not simply purchase an already existing manufactured RV camper? Let me tell you…
First of all, we put a lot of thought into this decision and ultimately knew that it was absolutely what makes the most sense for us.
We love adventure! We love to explore, get dirty and get exhausted in our explorations. We also love a good night’s sleep in a comfy clean bed after a day of playing and exploring.
We love to camp and be in the outdoors but when you are on an air mattress in a tent in the middle of a wind storm in Utah you do not sleep! When it is July and you forget to take into consideration the higher altitudes in specific areas of the Rockies and it is 40 degrees but you packed for JULY, you don’t sleep. When your air mattress has a slow leak and the ground is hard and rocky, you don’t sleep. SO, our main reasoning for reluctantly leaving behind our tent camping was the need for sleep after long, active, usually exhausting days.
Our second reason was wanting to be able to camp in locations where only hard shell camping is allowed due to threat of bears and mountain lions…which is far more places than you realize here in the west.
We added up the cost of hotels when doing a road trip…it can get ridiculous and who has that amount of money to throw away on one night’s sleep in a hotel? (I’d rather spend the money on an experience.) And what if you are in an area where there are no hotels? Or, motels? We have slept in the SUV when there were no other options!
So, why not find campsites along the way? Well, we do…BUT who wants to set up camp every single night after hours on the road or hours of adventure? Sure, if it’s a small single person tent that just pops right up that is no problem at all. Our tent has to sleep at least 4 so it is large and is NOT fast to put up. If you stay put in the same area for 2 or 3 nights, which we like to do, but you don’t sleep well on the air mattress which makes you exhausted and achy the next day it kind of takes the fun out of the road trip!
So we reluctantly began exploring the option of a hard shell RV camper. When we first began to explore our options I was adamant that we only needed a place to sleep. We don’t spend our days inside so why purchase something large that mimics a home when we won’t be in it most of the time? Jason, on the other hand, doesn’t like to be as rustic as I do on our road trips, or camping adventures, and wanted a bathroom, shower and such in a RV camper. UG! Not necessary!
We realized in looking at different sizes and types of RV campers that they are overpriced for the quality of work and type of material used. We also never found one that exactly met our every need and want…which really wasn’t a long list in the first place.
Jason is a problem solver and began researching other ways to have what was best for us without spending a lot of money…which we didn’t have.
He wanted to build our own camper and to build it well. That way there would be no wasted space, the quality of work would be top notch and the materials used would be durable for our roughness, yet look good. It had to be safe and well-built and sufficient for at least 4 people. After lots of research we decided on a contractor grade cargo trailer that we could turn into our own safe and secure camper!
We have very carefully drawn out the plans for sleeping, and storage space, that makes the most sense for us. Can our entire family sleep in it? No…but because of the ages of our kids we only needed to account for our youngest and her best friend. Sadly, most of our future adventures will not include our older children because they are grown. If they want to join us they are more than welcome and we will figure out sleeping at that point.
So, we chose to build our own camper for several reasons…
- For the adventure of it!
- For the sake of a good night’s sleep!
- For safety reasons when camping in the wilderness. **Check with the National Park, or campground, that you may be heading to if you plan on tent camping. Many of them in the Northwest no longer allow tent camping due to bears.
- For the money we will save not staying in hotels…which is A LOT!
- For the large amount of money we saved not purchasing a manufactured camper.
- Because we were able to design every aspect of it and that was fun!!
- Because the thought of not having to keep everything in a suitcase, or pack up necessary daily items every time we head out, and then having to rummage for needed items the entire trip sounds great!
- Because the thought of always having a clean comfortable bed ready and available, that is ours, sounds beyond great! We purchased REAL queen sized mattresses, guys, that are comfortable and inviting!
And did you know that there is an app that tells you all of the places all over the US that allow and encourage travelers with RVs or campers to stop and stay the night for FREE. Yes, there is! It is locations like Cracker Barrel stores/restaurants, Walmart parking lots and many others. This is excellent for travelers like us who often decide to stop and explore an area we are passing thru. When you have a locked in reservation at a hotel you feel like you have to press on no matter how tired you are or what you will miss exploring! Pulling our comfy, cozy, no-wasted-space home-away-from-home, we can explore any little town, mountain top, lake or museum we unexpectedly come to and still find a safe place to lay our weary heads at night…happy, safe, content and comfortable in our own beds with our own sheets and blankets and no chance of bed bugs! How great is that?
UPDATE: After our 18 day road trip down the Oregon and California coast we can without a doubt tell you that we did the right thing in building our own camper. It passed every test…kept us dry, cozy and safe. You wouldn’t believe how many strangers, at campgrounds, asked to look inside. They were always pleasantly surprised by the comfort as well as everything we squeezed into the space. I can tell you that the hidden drawers inside the stairs were plenty roomy enough for the 4 of us. The shelves and closet space were great and we never wished for more space for clothes, shoes or personal items.
TRAVEL APP: The travel app for finding a place to pull over and sleep did not disappoint us! It is called RV Parky, it has over 100,000 downloads and a 4.6 Star rating. Every place that it led us to, for an overnight stay, was in a very safe, clean and well lit area. The Walmart parking lots that we stayed overnight in were all newer stores that were very clean and the parking areas were very large. I highly recommend this app for any road trip.
Hidden messages are in our walls!
I am a positive minded person. I’m always looking for the good and positive in every situation and/or person…and I think little sayings and quotes that are positive, quirky and uplifting are the best!
Therefore, before the bead board walls went up I suggested that the girls each write a message somewhere on the insulation. The messages would be hidden little jewels of goodness and I liked the thought of that!
Raine grabbed her colored Sharpie Markers and they got busy.
I was tickled to return outside and see just how many hidden messages they had written. There were “Don’t Ever Give Up On Your Dreams” and “I Don’t Care How Long It Takes Me, I’m Going Somewhere Beautiful” which were both fitting for our family. Some of the little messages made me smile, some warmed my heart and a couple made me laugh out loud! I won’t add photos of all of the little hidden messages but here are a few…