The Fools Go to Europe

The Fools Go to Europe

In fall 2018, Mr. Fool took Ms. Fool on a whirlwind tour of Europe. With only a loose itinerary in mind, and the first week’s travel and accommodations booked, we left LAX for Heathrow. Below are some of our trip highlights. Or click the city name to jump to that specific blog section: London: Part I, Paris, Prague, Berlin, Amsterdam, Bruges, London: Part II.

London-bound!

We stayed with two of Mr. Fool’s college friends. Though they have their hands full with two energetic little ones, they graciously let us share their flat for our first few days in London.

Walking to breakfast with Mr. Fool’s friends on a drizzly London morning.

While there, we did a lot of walking (the October weather was pleasant, for the most part) and managed to see quite a bit. A few of the places we visited:

  • Westminster
  • St James’s Park
  • Buckingham Palace
  • Palace of Westminster
  • Big Ben
  • The London Eye
  • The Tower of London
  • All Hallows by the Tower Church (We had a fun little discovery here: the crow’s nest from Sir Ernest Shackleton’s ship the Quest.)
  • London Bridge
  • Tower Bridge
  • Ten Bells Pub (famous because it’s where Jack the Ripper allegedly scouted some of his victims)
  • Camden Market
  • Borough Market (cider-lovers should stop here)
  • Shakespeare Globe
  • St. Paul’s Cathedral
  • Chinatown
  • Soho

A few of our favorite London photos:

Buckingham Palace
The crow’s nest from Sir Ernest Shackleton’s ship The Quest
Chinatown
St. Paul’s Cathedral
The Tower of London

Bonjour, Paris!

From London, we flew to Paris. Our very modest hotel was in Montmartre, right above the 9th district and steps away from a bakery whose chocolate and almond croissants we will forever remember. We started our trip by visiting one of the classic attractions: the Louvre. The next few days were a blur of running from place to place to take in things like:

  • Fontaine Saint-Michel, a statue of St Michel slaying a dragon
  • Latin District
  • Pantheon and Crypt
  • Luxembourg Gardens
  • Notre-Dame Cathedral (where the lines were so long we had to wait a day to go up the tower)
  • Arc de Triomphe
  • Eiffel Tower (which is now surrounded by high barriers–a new addition since Mr. Fool’s 2003 visit and an eyesore)
  • Sainte-Chapelle (one of Mr. Fool’s favorite places in the city)
  • Paris Opéra
  • Sacré-Cœur Basilica
  • Moulin Rouge
  • The Catacombs of Paris (which people lined up for well in advance of opening time)
  • Vertical Garden
  • Palace of Versailles (a mad house of tourists with 5-hour long waits to enter. Fortunately, we had advance reservations)
  • Marie-Antoinette’s Estate
  • Petit Trianon
  • Grand Trianon
  • Marie-Antoinette’s Estate

Our sightseeing was peppered with frequent stops at various eateries. There’s nothing original we could say about the glorious Paris food scene. Ms. Fool’s one bit of advice: go to Ellsworth. She had her favorite meal of the trip there.

A few of our favorite Paris photos:

Louvre Palace
Pantheon
Luxembourg Palace
Sainte-Chapelle
Sacré-Cœur Basilica
Moulin Rouge
The Catacombs of Paris
Palace of Versailles
Palace of Versailles
Notre-Dame

Prague: City of a Thousand Tour Buses

Prague’s architecture was charming. Our visit was not what we hoped, however, because of the throngs of visitors and many tourist-trap amusements. Still, we made the most of our time there, visiting places like:

  • Prague Castle (worth half-day visit)
  • Letna Park
  • Charles Bridge (a mad house, and the fastest way to get pickpocketed)
  • Old Town Bridge Tower
  • Old Royal Palace
  • St. George’s Basilica
  • Petrin Tower
  • St Lawrence Church Prague
  • Petřín Park
  • Hunger Wall
  • Prague Astronomical Clock
  • Church of Our Lady before Týn
  • Jewish Quarter
  • Sex Machines Museum
  • Powder Tower

A few of our favorite Prague photos:

Prague Castle
Old Royal Palace
Petřín Park
Prague Astronomical Clock (left) – Church of Our Lady before Týn (right)
A hillside view of Prague

Swinging By Berlin

Our Prague-to-Berlin bus took us through Dresden, which was leveled by WWII bombings. From the window, we saw some of the rebuilt structures.

Berlin gave us a nice chance to decompress after being trapped between groups of tourists all day every day in Prague. A few of the highlights from our trip:

  • Brandenburg Gate
  • Berlin Wall Memorial
  • Checkpoint Charlie Museum (easily could eat up a half day because of the information-rich exhibits)
  • Gendarmenmarkt Square
  • Hugenottenmuseum
  • The Memorial to May 10, 1933 Nazi Book Burning
  • Berlin Cathedral Church and Crypt
  • Berliner Fernsehturm Television Tower
  • Charlottenburg Palace
  • Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe 
  • Hackescher Markt
  • Berlin City Center

A few of our favorite Berlin photos:

Brandenburg Gate
Berlin Cathedral Church
River Spree
Berliner Fernsehturm Television Tower
Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe

Taking in Amsterdam

We watched the German countryside give way to scenic Holland, with its charming windmills, from a train.

Many of our acquaintances immediately think of the red light district when they think of their visits to Amsterdam. We think of the food and the architecture. We took in a good pancake breakfast in the smallest restaurant in Europe. We ate fried cheese and lots of fries. We had mouth-watering apple pie at Winkel 43. And we spent hours walking the streets so Mr. Fool could marvel at the crooked buildings. He could not stop taking pictures and pointing out how far over the water they leaned. (He later read that the houses had been built using poles pounded into the muddy ground. Some poles did not go deep enough, some were just too weak to support the structure, and some had rotted. All of these things can cause structures to tilt.)

Our visit to Amsterdam was short, and we had just enough time to see

  • Molen De Otter (The Otter Windmill)
  • De Wallen the red-light district.

A few of our favorite Amsterdam photos:

Amsterdam
Pancakehouse Upstairs
Some of the many leaning houses in Amsterdam
Bikes, bikes, bikes
Mysterious sculpture

Living a Fairy Tale in Bruges

A bus took us to our final new city of the trip: Bruges. We stayed in the nearby coastal town Blankenberge, as it was only a 15 min train ride away and a lot cheaper.

We both loved Burges. The crowds were smaller and the centuries-old buildings well-preserved. It was like walking around in a medieval fairy tale city…but one with plenty of artisan chocolate shops, which Ms. Fool loved. Over the course of a few days, we crisscrossed the city  to see everything we wanted. Highlights included:

  • Gruuthusemuseum
  • Church of Our Lady Bruges
  • Bruges Provincial Court
  • The Belfry of Bruges (This is where *spoiler alert for those who haven’t seen In Bruges* Brendan Gleeson jumps to his death)
  • Windmill walk along the Handelskom river to see 4 old windmills in various conditions
  • Basilica of the Holy Blood (They claim to have a vile of Christ’s blood here. For a few Euro, you may view it.)
  • Ten Wijngaerde (Begijnhof Brugge)
  • Begijnhuisje
  • Kasteel Minnewater

A few of our favorite Bruges photos:

Gruuthusemuseum
Chocolates
Another church in Bruges
De Neuwe Papegaai Windmill
Bruges
Homes with a view in Bruges
Color coordinated in Bruges
Ten Wijngaerde (Begijnhof Brugge)

London, part deux

After having near-perfect weather our entire trip, we headed back to London for a final few days.

For our first day back in the city, we booked an early-morning tour to see Stonehenge and Bath. Stonehenge was predictably crowded, but we enjoyed seeing the storied stones in person. Bath was likewise crowded. We had to push and shove our way though The Roman baths, as the museum was not built to handle the high number of people. Regardless, we enjoyed seeing that part of history.

We capped off our final day in London with afternoon tea at The Wolsley. It was fun experience, and it left us with a new appreciation for clotted cream and scones. After our repast, we tried to burn off some of the calories by walking to Abby Road and then Baker Street.

Our final days in London included:

  • The Circus (in Bath)
  • Royal Crescent
  • Pulteney Bridge
  • Hyde Park
  • Kensington Palace
  • Kensington Gardens
  • The Wolseley
  • Abbey Road Zebra Crossing
  • 221b Baker Street

A few more of our favorite London photos:

Stonehenge
Floor supports in the Roman baths

Pulteney Bridge

Abby Road Zebra Crossing

Final Thoughts

We spent a total of 22 days on this trip, walked around 161 miles, and hiked up 325 flights of stairs. We somehow had great weather, never got sick, and never missed a flight, train, bus, ferry or any other form of transportation we took. The only “mishap” was Mr. Fool lost a plug converter.

When we return, we plan to rent a car and skip the big cities in favor of smaller towns.

 

How to Spend 4 Days in New Orleans

How to Spend 4 Days in New Orleans

Swinging a Big Easy Stopover

New Orleans has been on our bucket list for a while. We finally had the chance to visit after the winter holidays by arranging a detour on our way back to California from the East Coast. Read up on our 4 days in New Orleans to get our recommendations for where to go, what to see, and how to best stuff your face.

Note: our itinerary excludes day trips to popular attractions outside the city such as the bayous and plantations. The reasons were, respectively, because of the weather (unseasonably chilly weather meant fewer creatures would be near the water) and our primary mode of transportation (our feet). Knowing we wouldn’t have a car, we booked a cozy Airbnb along Canal Street, a few blocks north of the 10. A walk to the French Quarter was a pleasant 1.5 miles each way, and a good way to work off some of the rich foods we ate every day.

Day 1 Itinerary

We walked down Canal Street to the Riverwalk along the Mississippi River. After strolling along the breezy waterfront, we grabbed breakfast: biegnets and hot chocolate from Cafe Du Monde.

Cafe Du Monde

Because these are a New Orleans must, expect long lines. If you’re like us and don’t care about sitting in the restaurant, walk behind the building to the (usually) shorter takeout-only line. You can take your hot, sugary treats across the street to Jackson Square park. We ate them on a bench while listing to street musicians.

Loaded on sugar, we wandered Decatur Street, Chartres Street, and Royal Street in the French Quarter, taking in the architecture.

Houses in the French Quarter.
An old house in the French Quarter.
So much ironwork and hanging plants to be found.
Pink, blue and yellow houses.

For lunch, we ducked into Johnny’s Po-Boys for their acclaimed sandwiches: shrimp for Ms. Fool and blackened chicken with a side of fries for me.

Johnny’s Po-Boys

Then we walked over to The National WWII Museum a mile away. The museum’s free area, a large multi-story building with a number of vintage planes suspended from the ceiling, has a few exhibits and an ancestry lookup. We spent a few hours exploring and then headed back to our Airbnb to rest up a bit before dinner.

A cool building we passed while walking to the WWII museum.
Bomber in the WWII Museum.

After a quick nap, we called a ride to our final destination of the day: Bacchanal Fine Wine & Spirits, a wine bar with live music and a laidback vibe.

Delicious! Bacchus Chardonnay, mussels with tomato saffron broth, chargrilled broccoli, roasted cauliflower, bread & butter, confit chicken leg

We picked a bottle of wine after entering and made our way to the second floor, where we snagged a corner table just as the band was setting up. The wine flowed, music played, and lots and lots of food was piled in front of us. We fell into bed that night in a pleasant food coma.

Day 2 Itinerary

For our second day, we headed to the Garden District. We started at the corner of Felicity Street and Magazine Street. After four blocks of walking past quaint shops, we stopped at our brunch destination: Stein’s Market and Deli, a really good NY-style joint.

Stein’s Market and Deli

We grabbed a B.L.T. + avocado, a tuna melt, a matzah ball soup, and OJ. The sandwiches were good, but with the cold weather we were having, the soup took the cake for us. There was plenty of seating inside and a low wait time, so we were in and out in under an hour.

Directly next door was our dessert destination: District Donuts. Yes, we had dessert after brunch because vacation, ya know?

Chocolate raspberry and blueberry cheesecake donuts

Our donuts were really, really good: light and fluffy and not too sweet. District also serves donut sandwiches and breakfast tacos that are highly recommended by online eaters. We eyed the entrees around us longingly. If we hadn’t stuffed ourselves minutes earlier, we probably would have had a second breakfast.

After our donuts, we walked west along Magazine Street for a little over two miles to window shop and admire the architecture.

Slightly creepy garden decorations.
Love the colors.
Police station.
Car with matching building.

During our walk, we stumbled upon La Boulangerie, a French bakery. After seeing the strawberry tarts, we decided to pause for another sweet treat and some lemonade.

La Boulangerie

To cap off our afternoon, we walked to Lafayette Cemetery. We explored the old graves for a little while then exited for a self-guided walking tour in the area.

Graves in the Lafayette cemetery.
Graves in the Lafayette cemetery.
Beautiful old home.
The house that Disney’s Haunted Mansion was based on.

After finishing the walking tour, we returned to our Airbnb for a pre-dinner nap.

Then to start our evening, we returned to the French Quarter.

Skeletons tossing beads.

Our destination: 9 Rose Cafe, a well-reviewed Vietnamese restaurant. They have a really good “cheagen” (cheating + vegan) pho, so called because it contains no sliced animal protein but is beef broth-based. Alongside our “healthy” pho, we had braised pork belly steamed bun sliders, which we highly recommend, and spring rolls, which were pretty standard.

9 Rose Cafe

And you knew this was coming: dessert. Of course.

Off we went to Sucré for a box of decadent, handmade truffles.

Worth savoring every bite: 2 PB&J chocolates 2 red velvet, 1 raspberry cheesecake, 1 hot chocolate, 1 gingerbread, 1 dark chocolate

We took the chocolates to go and headed to Frenchmen Street. While many partiers love Bourbon Street due to the nightclub-like atmosphere, we prefer the dive bar scene. So Frenchmen Street was more our pace. Music spilled out of the lounges, jazz clubs, and bars as we wandered along. We stuck our heads into a few places until we found some music we liked. After listening to some music, we returned to our Airbnb to scarf down our chocolates.

Walking along Bourbon Street.

Day 3 Itinerary

We woke up and caught a Lyft to Dante’s Kitchen for a Southern-inspired brunch. It was one of the best meals we had during our trip.

Dante’s Kitchen

We shared their fluffy buttermilk biscuits and a mimosa. Ms. Fool went crazy for their shrimp and grits, and I wolfed down their banana pecan pancakes and duck fat hash browns.

To work off the meal, we strolled to to Audubon Park, where we checked out the Labyrinth, a circular stone walking path, and the Tree of Life, planted circa 1740.

Walking though Audubon park.
The Tree of Life, planted circa 1740.

We then headed back to the French Quarter to visit the New Orleans Historic Voodoo Museum. It was $5 each, and thank goodness – any more and we might have been disappointed. It’s a very small museum but has lots of small things to read and see.

New Orleans Historic Voodoo Museum.
New Orleans Historic Voodoo Museum.
New Orleans Historic Voodoo Museum.

Next, we walked to the 1850 House Museum. It cost $2, and we think that’s a fair price for what you get. It gives you a tiny peek into what your living situation might have looked like back in the day. It’s not an entire house: it’s a series of preserved time capsule rooms.

Marching band passed us on the way to the 1850’s house.

There’s nothing like walking though a few museums to make your stomach scream, “Feed me!” So we popped into French Market Place, an open air market with food and clothing vendors. We grabbed a few smoothies and then retired to our Airbnb for a nap.

The French Market.

It was really hard to wake up and head back outside.  It was dark and cold, but we wanted to watch the fireworks over the Mississippi. The show marked the end of 3 Kings Day and the start of the Mardi Gras season.

Santa and his Alligators.
Fireworks on the Mississippi for 3 Kings Day.

And then it was time for dinner at Carmo, a restaurant that specializes in healthy cooking and locally-sourced ingredients. We ordered kottu roti, creole chicken, creole-seared avocado, vegetable soup, and passion fruit juice.

Carmo

The kottu roti was my (Mr. Fool’s) favorite food item. It’s a Sri Lankan street dish made with strips of Godhamba roti that are fried with shallots, garlic, and onion, and then covered with curry and Havarti cheese. Ms. Fool found her chicken good, but craved other textures and flavors halfway through her meal. The soup neither of us would order again.

Overall, it was a decent meal, but the service was a bit off. We had to wait despite our reservation, and the wait staff mixed up our order and billed incorrectly.

We rounded out the night with a quick stroll down Bourbon Street to see how raucous the nightlife would be once Mardi Gras season was underway. The street was packed with drunk and dancing people clambering for beads being tossed from the balconies. After five or six blocks, we called it a night.

Day 4 Itinerary

We started our last day in New Orleans by returning to where it all begin: Cafe Du Monde. We then returned to The National WWII Museum. We used the museum’s free bag check to keep our luggage, and then paid for day passes and tickets to Beyond All Boundaries, the museum’s 4-D movie experience.

Beyond All Boundaries is very well done. The screen is a huge and wraps around you, set pieces seamlessly appear and disappear, and different light and smoke effects really immerse you in the story.

The rest of the museum is well designed and deserving of the hype it receives in travel guides. It’s very interactive, and it has lots of interactive exhibits that bring the war experience to life. There were rooms that looked like bombed-out cites or freezing forests torn apart by war, and an area designed to feel like you were a lookout on a naval ship. We expected to just spend a few hours at the museum but spent closer to five.

The WWII Museum had amazing design work.
WWII Museum exhibit.
WWII Museum exhibit.

We finally stepped away for late lunch at Seed, which bills itself as a healthy eatery. We had blueberry pancakes, sweet corn polenta, fresh fruit, and a vanilla matcha smoothie.

Seed

Our food was okay: a little over priced but it served its purpose.

Afterward, we walked to the well-reviewed market Big Fishermen. After reading about it online, Ms. Fool wanted to try some of their seafood. We’d stopped in twice the previous days, and both times they were low on the day’s catch due to the cold weather. We figured we would give it one last chance, so we made the hike over.

The pickings were once again slim. But Ms. Fool ordered some fish and corn on the cob just for the sake of it.

Big Fishermen

We grabbed some food to-go (there’s no seating) and headed to our final food destination of our trip: Bakery Bar

Top: King cake. Bottom: Maple blueberry bacon cake bites

The King cake was good, but the fondant exterior was a bit too sweet for us. We felt similarly about the maple blueberry bacon cake bites.

After collecting our bags from the museum and eating the seafood sitting on a bench outdoors, we bid farewell to New Orleans.

 

Canyoneering Keyhole – Zion National Park

Canyoneering Keyhole – Zion National Park

Tackling A Classic Beginner Canyon: Keyhole Canyon

For our last adventure in Zion, we ran Keyhole Canyon. It was a little hard to get motivated after running The Subway and Pine Creek, respectively, the previous 2 days. Fortunately, Keyhole is arguably the easiest, shortest canyon in the park. So we didn’t feel like committing to doing it would be a mistake we would regret for long.

After picking up our permit, we drove to the start/end location for the canyon. (The path is a loop!) We put on our damp wetsuits and geared up. Because the canyon is short, and its rappels top out at around 20 feet, we packed super light, bringing a 40-foot rope and 60 feet of webbing.

We hiked along the road a few minutes and then turned and worked our way up the wash to the drop-in location.  It was 9:45 – a late start for us – and a chilly 54 degrees. But with so little gear, we were able to make quick progress and keep warm in the process.

The approach.
Keyhole had a few tree jambs to rappel from.
Ms. Fool depending into the darkness.
Dark enough that we needed headlamps.

The Most And Least Enjoyable Parts Of Keyhole Canyon

The water in Keyhole was terrible. A few of the potholes were ripe…really ripe. Standing in a pool, Ms. Fool said she felt like her skin would take ages to lose the stench of urine and decomposing plant matter.

Keyhole has some really scenic parts. The slot walls are very pretty, with multi-colored bands of stone and narrow passages. Larger people may struggle in some of the most narrow passages, which require lots of leaning and good footwork to make it through.

A man-made tunnel for drainage was part of the exit hike.

The last few pools were full of tadpoles in various stages of metamorphosis into frogs. We took some time to watch them swim around and exited just shy of 2 hours after we started. And, best of all, our car was right there waiting for us.

Checkout the video we slapped together for Keyhole – Zion National Park

Final Thoughts

Keyhole is an easy introductory canyon with some water, short rappels, and narrow passages. Just remember that “easy” does not mean accidents will not happen. People have died and broken bones in this canyon many times, and larger or claustrophobic canyoneers could may struggle in the narrow spaces. We never ran into other groups when we ran it. However, we have heard it can get quite crowded, which takes away from the experience.

**Disclaimer: Canyoneering comes with serious risks and should only be done if you have proper training or an experienced leader. The information above is not to be used to attempt the canyon and is purposely vague. For proper guidance, check with your local canyoneering experts.

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Canyoneering Pine Creek – Zion National Park

Canyoneering Pine Creek – Zion National Park

Heading To Pine Creek

The day after we ran The Subway, we dropped into Pine Creek, another iconic Zion National Park canyon.

We finished The Subway after the Visitor Center was closed, so we had to wait until the next morning to grab our Pine Creek permit. That was fine by us. We did not mind sleeping in a little to recover from the previous 10-mile day.

At 9 am, we parked our car at the entry point for Pine Creek, snagging the last open parking space. (Sweet!) But the next step was putting on our still damp wetsuits in the nippy morning air. (Not sweet. At all.)

The Fun Begins

Shivering slightly, we began the short downhill scramble to the first rappel.

Walking to the first rappel.

Pine Creek is a beautiful canyon with lots of narrow, high walls and pools of water. No other groups were in front or behind us, so we took plenty of time to admire the canyon.

About to get wet.

The 3rd rappel is called The Cathedral, and it’s one of the most beautiful rappels I have ever done. No pictures I captured on my GoPro do it justice. You can’t quite see what lies below the start of the rappel. Once you are safely hooked into the anchor and begin the descent, you’re quickly surrounded by soaring multi-colored walls. The small shafts of light from above bounce around as you rappel into a pool of water. It’s very dark and very cold, but the visuals are worth it.

GoPro footage does not do the cathedral ceiling justice. Its really amazing to see in person.
Working our way though the canyon.
Ms. Fool rappeling on the second to last rappel.

We decided to finish the canyon on an alternate (read non-standard) rappel. We dropped past more towering canyon walls into another pool.

The beta recommended a down climb to finish the canyon, but after judging the drop, we set up a cairn anchor instead.

The alternate rappel that drops you inside a large open area.

Once safely out of the canyon, we cleaned up in one of the large pools before entering the long boulder field that separated us from the road back to our car.

A Tricky Trek

The hike is very tricky: no real trails, lots of guessing, and seemingly endless scrambling up, down, and around boulders. There’s plenty of potential for a twisted ankle.

When you’re physically and mentally exhausted, it’s best to take it slow, which we definitely did. We stopped beside a picturesque pool of water for a much-needed leisurely lunch break.

Lunchtime.
Hiking out as the sun starts to set.

The Most Irritating Part Of The Day

You end at one of the many overlooks along the side of the main road, well below where you started. Walking back to your car isn’t practical. So I made myself as presentable as I could, and hitched a ride back to our car with some friendly sightseers.

Pine Creek beta estimates canyoneers will spend 2-6 hours navigating the canyon. We spent a little over 7 hours, including the time it took to exit.

Check out the video of our trip though Pine Creek – Zion National Park

Final Thoughts

Pine Creek should be on any canyoneer’s bucket list. It is a beautiful canyon well worth seeing. Plan on spending some extra time admiring it as you work your way through.

**Disclaimer: Canyoneering comes with serious risks and should only be done if you have proper training or an experienced leader. The information above is not to be used to attempt the canyon and is purposely vague. For proper guidance, check with your local canyoneering experts.
Canyoneering The Subway (Russell Gulch) – Zion National Park

Canyoneering The Subway (Russell Gulch) – Zion National Park

A Long Weekend In Zion

Ms. Fool and I decided to take a long weekend to run some classic Zion National Park canyons. First up was The Subway via Russell Gulch. We packed up all of our gear, picked up a friend at LAX, then headed north, arriving in Zion at around 1 pm.  After retrieving our canyoneering permits from the wilderness permit desk, we decided to make the most of the daylight by hiking Angels Landing.

Angels Landing is an iconic Zion hike. With a trail roughly 2.4 miles long, the peak rises 1,488 feet above the valley floor and tops out at an altitude of 5,790 feet.

In the cool weather, we made quick progress on the switchbacks to the top. Both Ms. Fool and I gave completed the hike, but our friend had not. So while she accompanied him along the remaining ridgeline,  I dozed at a lookout point.

Finishing up the switchback section of Angels Landing.
View from the top of Angels Landing of Zion National Park below.

Entering The Subway

If you’ve looked up pictures of Zion, you’ve probably seen pictures of The Subway. The canyon looks remarkably like a subway tunnel. It’s so popular that it requires an advance lottery to see it during peak tourist season. While the lower portion can be done as a rappel-free day hike, it’s much more fun and scenic to descend from the top. It’s also more exhausting: the canyon is rated 3B III (3B IV with the Russell Gulch approach) and takes 5-12 hours to complete the 9.5 mile trek.

We woke up at 5:30 am and left our little hotel room in the town Hurricane, stopping for some coffee along the way. Our reserved shuttle picked us up and dropped us at the start of the hike. By 7:45, we were on the move.

Unloading the car to catch the shuttle for our drop-off point to run The Subway.
The sun took its time rising as we hiked.

The hike in was not too bad – mostly flat or downhill. We watched the sun chase away the shadows.

With three 100-foot rappels, the Russell Gulch approach is nice way to enter the canyon – especially since all the rappels in The Subway are less than 30 feet. We changed into wetsuits at the first 100 foot rappel, expecting to land in water at the bottom. However, once down, I was able to lock off and swing to the side, completely avoiding the water. I was pleased with myself. In long canyons, it’s nice to stay warm and dry for as long as possible.

Expecting to end up in the water, we changed into our wetsuits.

But by the time we reached the third 100-foot rappel, we were wishing we had gone in the water. We were so hot, sweat was dripping out our wetsuits sleeves, and our socks and shoes were sweat-soaked.

The last rappel in Russell Gulch.

We took a short breather just before reaching the official start of The Subway.

Reaching The Tunnel

We hiked and swam for several hours, enjoying the cool fall weather and foliage.

Hiking though some steep wall sections of the canyon.
Swimming though the fallen leaves was extra fun.

After around 5 hours, we finally reached the section The Subway is known for. We took a snack and photo break while we drank in the view. Little did we know what lay ahead.

The fallen log. We’re getting close.
Really pretty view upstream.
The Subway! The iconic section did not disappoint.
Enjoying a quick rest and snack before moving on.

The Struggle Was Real

The exit hike proved to be brutal. Slippy water and stones mixed with sandy dry areas and uneven terrain and heavy wet backpacks made it slow going. By the time we reached the exit climb, a zigzag of switchbacks filled with loose rocks, we were exhausted. It was at that point we regretted hiking Angels Landing the day before.

Almost finished ascending the final leg of the hike out.

Bats flew overhead as we finally made it to the car at 7:15 pm, 11 hours and 30 min after we started.

Check out our video for The Subway (Russell Gulch) – Zion National Park

Final Thoughts

It was awesome to do such an iconic canyon, but I don’t think I ever need to do it again. I really prefer longer rappels and less hiking.

**Disclaimer: Canyoneering comes with serious risks and should only be done if you have proper training or an experienced leader. The information above is not to be used to attempt the canyon and is purposely vague. For proper guidance, check with your local canyoneering experts.

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Canyoneering the Seven Teacups/Kern River

Canyoneering the Seven Teacups/Kern River

Mr. Fools Meets Seven Teacups, His First Swift Water Canyon!**

I, Mr. Fool, have been training hard to run swift water canyons. It’s taken a lot of work to get to this point. I’m relatively new to canyoneering. My more experienced counterpart, Ms. Fool, introduced me to the sport last year, and she has been teaching me increasingly difficult technical know-how.

Ms. Fool and I share the goal of tackling plenty of swift water canyons. These are some of the most dangerous types of canyons there are. Swift water makes canyoneering  – already a dangerous sport – more challenging and risky. There can be strong rapids, hidden underwater traps, and (of course) chilly temperatures. But often these canyons allow you to experience beautiful places up close and in new ways.

We picked Seven Teacups as our first swift water canyon together. Many canyoneers use it as a training ground for more difficult swift water canyons. Plus, Ms. Fool had completed it before.

To prepare, we ran some beginner-friendly dry canyons. Then we moved into canyons with a little water. After that, we flew to Las Vegas for a swift water canyoneering lecture taught by Rich Carlson. Finally, one day when the conditions were deemed manageable, we pressed “go.”

Check out the video of our escapade, and then read about it below!

Trekking To The Teacups

We wanted to get an early start, so we drove up the night before and camped. Early the next morning, we ate a light breakfast, navigated to the trailhead, and started hiking. The weather was perfect. The temperature highs for the day were forecast in the low 70’s.

Hiking to Seven Teacups.
Lots of wildflowers blooming along the way.

When we reached water, we suited up (wetsuit-ed up, that is), and made our way downstream. The water was chilly. Thankfully, we were equipped with Merino wool base layers, wool socks, and neoprene gloves.

Jumping into the cold water.

Going For It

Once we reached the start of Seven Teacups, we were able to confirm that the water level was safe. The night before, we looked at data from various reporting stations. Everything looked good. But overnight there was lots of lightning. So we weren’t sure if any rain upstream had made the canyon too dangerous to complete.

The water indicators looked good. So we jumped in. Well, I did. Ms. Fool had me do the first swim. I fully submerged myself beneath a stone arch while building our first anchor.

Swimming under the arch to set our anchor.

The water flow was strong. But we are both solid swimmers. So our first rappels/jumps were fun and easy for us. However…

It’s Not All Smooth Sailing (Er, Swimming)

The transition from the 3rd to the 4th teacup was a little hard and took some teamwork to get safely past. The water funneled over a narrow lip into a waterfall, and the current was swift. Ms. Fool is light, so she couldn’t get close enough to the anchors without almost being sucked over. (Finally, a reason for her to eat more junk food!) I was able to straddle the lip, set the rope, and descend first.

A good 6-7 seconds passed as I rappelled down the waterfall. I couldn’t breath, see, or hear anything but the water pelting me on all sides. It was the most risky part of the canyon. Definitely not place you would want to get hung-up.

Setting up the anchor for the 3rd to 4th teacup transition.
Taking a deep breath before vanishing into the waterfall.
A sigh of relief as I finish the waterfall rappel.
Ms. Fool about to vanish into the pummeling water.

The Adventure Continues

Other than feeling a bit chilly, it was smooth sailing after that. We jumped some of the teacups, rappelled some, and even skipped a few. (Hey, we were cold, okay?) By the last rappel, we were both exhausted.

Too tired to rappel? Why not jump?
Nothing but waterfalls.
Almost at the end.

The Adventure Comes To An End

We crossed the Kern easily and hiked the long way back to the cars. We saved ourselves some walking by floating down the gentlest parts of the river.

Hiking back along the Kern River.
The bridge that brings you home.

Final Thoughts

It was a great first experience for me. I’m glad I put in the work doing smaller, less exciting canyons, and making sure I was equipped with the right gear and knowledge. With the water levels as high as they were, it could have quickly gone from fun to scary. Knowing what to do, researching thoroughly beforehand, and learning emergency safety measures is crucial.

**Disclaimer: Canyoneering comes with serious risks and should only be done if you have proper training or an experienced leader. The information above is not to be used to attempt the canyon and is purposely vague. For proper guidance, check with your local canyoneering experts.
North Carolina Beach Vacation & Eclipse

North Carolina Beach Vacation & Eclipse

Enjoying The #BeachLife On North Carolina’s Topsail Island

There’s an island off the coast of North Carolina called Topsail Island. Since I was a kid, my (Mr. Fool’s) family has loved to visit. It’s a small town with a leisurely vibe and clean beaches that are scattered with seashells and sharks’ teeth. Perfect for a family vacation.

We rented a beach house that was practically right on the water: walk down the steps off the back porch, and your toes were in the sand.

Our days were spent sleeping in late, playing in the warm surf of the North Atlantic Ocean all afternoon, and walking the beaches at dusk to take in the amazing sunsets.

Another beautiful North Carolina sunset off Topsail Island's beach
Drinking in a beautiful North Carolina sunset while we walked along the beach.

I brought my drone (DJI Mavic Pro) and flew it a few times while we were there. It handled the high winds decently well and even got a little rain on it one time. Check out the short video below.

Pursuing The Total Solar Eclipse

It so happened that the 2017 total solar eclipse was happening during our vacation. Since we were only a few hours from a path in the totality, on the day of, Ms. Fool and I woke up early and drove to Turbeville, SC. It’ a small town away from major cities, so we figured there would be less traffic.

It was cloudy for long parts of the drive, and we were worried we wouldn’t be able to see much. But, as luck would have it, the sun was no longer hidden by the time we finished driving.

A few minutes before the totality, I flew my drone up and let it hover to capture the moon’s shadow crossing over the earth. I got some cool footage you can see below. Watch the lower part of the screen: you can see the street lights lining the road all come on.

For fellow drone enthusiasts: I rotated the drone 180 as the shadow passed. The result: it looks like I just graded the footage dark to light.

 

Exploring The U.S.S. North Carolina Battleship Memorial

On the last day of our trip, we had a few hours to kill on our way to the airport. We stopped by the U.S.S. North Carolina Battleship Memorial to check it out.

Entrance to the U.S.S. North Carolina Battleship Memorial.
Entrance to the U.S.S. North Carolina Battleship Memorial.

We wandered around the decks and crawled inside a turret where there was hardly space to move. The living spaces below deck were hot and small. It’s incredible to think about what our enlisted endured.

Wandering around the deck of the U.S.S. North Carolina.
Wandering around the deck of the U.S.S. North Carolina.

You could easily spend more than a few hours on the ship reading all the exhibits and following their audio tour. But it’s also nice to take a quick self-guided tour, as we did.

Paragliding: Discovering Flight

Paragliding: Discovering Flight

This story brought to you by Mr. Fool

A Chance Encounter

It all started one summer day in Malibu, CA, circa 2009. While rock climbing with friends, I met a solo climber, Steve, who ended up joining our group for the day. That evening, before we parted ways, our new friend put forth an offer: free tandem paragliding flights as a thank-you for our kindness. At the time, I had zero knowledge of the sport. I didn’t even know what paragliding was. So naturally I said, “Sure! Why not?”**

Love At First Flight

I met up with Steve on a hot September day. We hiked a couple thousand feet up a weed-filled hill and waited for favorable launch conditions. As we waited, Steve explained to me the fundamentals of flight. He pointed out features of the terrain he looked for and the basic physics of how to stay aloft.

When the conditions were judged “right,” Steve spread out a soft nylon wing, hooked us into our own harnesses, and away we went.

When I was a kid, I dreamed of being able to fly. On that day with Steve, it felt like those dreams had come to life. We flew around for roughly an hour, soaring along the hillside, using columns of rising warm air called thermals to circle higher and higher. Even though we were sitting in a fabric chair attached to what was essentially a large kite, completely exposed, the ride felt stable and relaxing. It was also a rush. By the time we landed. I was hooked.

But I wouldn’t fly again for years.

Shortly after that flight, my job changed. I bounced around the United States and among several countries. I thought about that flight often and hoped I could learn to pilot my own wing one day. But I didn’t have the time or the locational stability to keep up any hobbies back then.

Fate Intervenes

By chance, work took me back to California. And once again, while out climbing, I met another paraglider pilot. I didn’t waste any time: I got names of instructors. My first paragliding lesson was shortly thereafter.

Mr. Fool flying in Brazil

Piloting came naturally to me, and I quickly progressed with my instruction. I flew at multiple domestic and international locations and completed courses on advanced maneuvers and cross-country flying techniques.

Taking Friends On Tandem Paragliding Flights:

Mr. Fool taking a friend for a tandem flight in the San Bernardino mountains

 

Last year, I began pursuing my tandem instructor license, which would allow me to do for others what Steve did for me: share the experience of flight.

I have since become a qualified tandem pilot, and now I take my friends flying whenever I have the opportunity, hoping that some will also catch the bug and decide they want to become pilots as well. For me, there is nothing like it. You see the world from a perspective you never knew was there.

Floating around in La Salina, Mexico
**Disclaimer: Paragliding is a dangerous sport that should only be done by qualified individuals with the proper training and licensing. If you happen to be in Southern California and want to take a tandem flight or sign up for paragliding lessons, we recommend you contact Atmosphere Paragliding.
19 Days in Morocco

19 Days in Morocco

19 Days in Morocco:

We packed light for our visit to Morocco: each of us had one daypack and one checked backpack. Our trip was to last 19 days total, 15 of which would be spent on a G Adventures tour. The other 4 days, we hoped to explore on our own.

Our plan was to arrive in Casablanca in the early morning and spend a day independently exploring before meeting our tour group for a trip that would cover Tangier, Chefchaouen, Meknes, Fes, Merzouga, Todra Gorge, Ait Benhaddou, the High Atlas Mountains, Essaouira, and Marrakech.

Map of Morocco Trip
Right away, we hit a few little bumps. Our Paris layover ended up being so short that our checked luggage did not make it to Morocco. So we spent 6 hours in the Casablanca airport until they arrived on a later flight. We made the most of our time, though, by buying a SIM card ($20 USD for local calling & 6 gigs of data without a contract!) and getting cash from the airport ATM. (Travel tip: open a checking account that doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees or ATM withdrawal fees. Best way to stretch your travel budget.)

By the we got our bags and checked into the hotel, it was close to midnight (so much for sightseeing the first day!), and we were exhausted. But we decided to take a quick walk and get something to eat. The city was as lively as any other major US city on a Friday night, with lots of people outside and plenty of bars open for business. We ducked into a small sidewalk cafe and, unable to read the Arabic descriptions on the menu, blindly picked 2 items. One of them was a yogurt dish that had fruit and nuts in it. It tasted amazing. After my first bite, I declared it a “bowl of heaven.”

The next day, we hiked with our backpacks for 5 miles along the ocean and though the city to reach the G Adventures-designated hotel. We dropped off our luggage and made a quick stop at the Hassan II Mosque before returning to meet our travel group and tour guide and enjoy a group dinner.

Determined to find another “bowl of heaven,” Mrs. Fool and I separated from the group after dinner. While walking the city streets, I bumped (accidentally, I thought) into a guy, who then apologized for bumping me. He then shook my hand, welcomed me and Mrs. Fool to Casablanca, and asked if I knew anything about soccer. As he spoke about soccer, he moved in close to me and kicked at an imaginary ball. After a few seconds, I realized something was off. I instinctively touched my front pocket, and then I grabbed his hand and asked very calmly (but with some profanity) if I could have my wallet back. With a somewhat stunned expression, the guy handed me my wallet and began to apologize. I released his arm, told him off, and then walked away, happy to have not lost a cent. That was, fortunately, the only negative encounter we would have on the entire trip with a local.

The next morning we set off early in a travel bus with 13 other people from all over the world, our tour guide and bus driver.

Chefchaouen, Morocco:

Chefchaouen, founded in 1471, is a beautiful town nestled in the foothills of Rif Mountains. We spent one evening and a full day in the town, which was hardly enough time. There is a maze of streets winding around the closely-packed buildings, all painted shades of blue, with open markets and street food. We spent a good part of the day hiking up to a Spanish mosque and then farther up into the Rif Mountains to a small farmhouse for a lunch that consisted of mint tea, bread, and chicken and vegetable tagine. A interesting thing to note is that the Rif Mountains are home to many farmers who grow marijuana plants for export. We passed vast fields of marijuana along our hike.

Chefchaouen, Morocco Chefchaouen, Morocco Chefchaouen, Morocco - Tagine

Merzouga, Morocco – Sahara Bedouin Camp:

As we got closer to Mezouga, civilization gave way to sand, and the last half hour of driving was just on sandy dirt. Our hotel was built on the edge of the Sahara Desert, one side surrounded by dense, clay-like ground and the other, sand dunes. That evening, we spent a little time swimming in the outdoor pool and then enjoyed a group dinner. The next afternoon, we rode camels into the Sahara, snaking between towering rust-colored dunes. As the sun began to set, we all hiked up to the top of one to watch the sun sink into the sand. We then had dinner at a Beber-styled camp while listening to music and then retreated to canvas tents for the night.

Merzouga, Morocco - Camels RidesMerzouga, Morocco - Camel Shadows Merzouga, Morocco - Sunset

Essaouira, Morocco:

We arrived at the seaside city in the evening, and after settling in at the hotel, we explored the dozens of narrow, vendor-packed streets, looking over paintings, tasting crepes, and admiring intricately carved wooden chess boards and figurines. We paused for a half hour to dip our toes in the chilly ocean, which had very few swimmers and even fewer sunbathers. The next day, we headed to the local fish market to pick out some freshly-caught seafood. Our tour guide went to several stands, plucking up shrimp, crab, squid, and multiple types of fish. He then shepherded us across the street to a makeshift outdoor restaurant tucked between boats in the process of repair. Everyone sat in plastic chairs at folding tables, munching on bread and green olives while our fish was skillfully cleaned, filleted, and placed in thin wire baskets over charcoal grills. As each fish or mollusk was finished, it was heaped on a plate and presented to our table with a bowl of salt and slices of fresh lime for seasoning. While I dislike most seafood, Mrs. Fool happily gorged herself.

Essaouira, Morocco - Market Essaouira, Morocco - Blue Boats Essaouira, Morocco - Fish Market

Marrakech, Morocco – Djemaa el Fna Market Square:

The final leg of our trip took us to Marrakech. The temperature was topping 100 degrees, but we were able to find some places that were not too hot to visit. Mind you, we’re Southern Californians who are used to scorching days, and so “too hot” is an incredibly subjective term.

We spent the morning hiding in the shade of the Jardin Majorelle Botanical Gardens, and then, after an afternoon snooze, headed to Jamaa el-Fna Square to wander around the many markets and enjoy street food in the cooler evening air.

The very last night, we spent inside the medina at the Riad Hotel l’Etoile d’Orient. The hotel was conveniently located to the square and very quiet. With the continued high temperatures, it was really nice to be able to explore a while and then retreat to the cool air-conditioned room. For our last dinner, we stopped at a street food vendor selling sandwiches to a crowd of hungry Moroccans. We watched as he deftly sliced open a piece of khobez and shoveled in hard boiled eggs, potatoes, and harissa. A quick drizzle of olive oil, a roll in a sheet of paper, and the package was handed to us. Simple and delicious.

Marrakech, Morocco - Djemaa el Fna Market Square Marrakech, Morocco - Djemaa el Fna Market Square at Night

The Wrap-Up:

Our entire trip to Morocco lasted 17 days, and by the end, we were ready to go. The G Adventures portion – as they cautioned on their website – was fast-paced, and the constant movement and heat (temperatures hit 105 F during a surprise heat wave) became a little tiresome by the end. We had a great tour guide, and most of the local guides were good or entertaining. We got to see and do so much that everything became a little bit of a blur. However, I think it was a great way to see Morocco. Everything was taken care of: no worrying where we would stay or how we would get from one location to another or which tour guide we should go with. We had a little bus trouble, but it was quickly resolved by our guide. Accommodations were decent, meaning don’t expect modern bathrooms, hot showers, or comfortable beds at every spot. Food was usually good, but we had some of our best meals outside of the tour when we ventured off on our own.

We Fools would advise going a day early and staying a day or two at the end like we did, as it gives you a little breather on either end. The last two days were relaxing knowing we had no schedule, could sleep in, wonder the medina, browse the shops and try different restaurants at our leisure.

Just about everyone on our tour got a stomach bug at some point, some worse than others. Though we played it safe – brushing our teeth with bottled water, avoiding most salads and fruits that were freshly washed – we both got a little sick midway though. So be sure to bring some Imodium or the equivalent.