A look back at 2016

A look back at 2016

After traveling in the Caribbean for 10 days over Christmas, Steve and I returned to our home in Crete, Nebraska, about 15 seconds before the clock struck midnight Saturday night and just in time for a New Year’s kiss to ring in 2017. Before we delve into our travel plans for the upcoming year, we wanted to take a look back at 2016 and thank all of you for coming on this journey with us.

Last year, we rang in the new year with friends and family at home spent most of the spring in our home state of Nebraska. In February, we drove to nearby Wahoo to pick up a half a beef and ended up spending a delightful day in the town previously known as the home office of the Late Night with David Letterman Show.

 

 

In March we drove to the central region of the state to witness, first hand, the incredible Sandhill Crane migration. It was an absolutely amazing sight.

 

 

Although I’ve spent most of my life in Nebraska and had heard lots about the Sandhill Cranes, for some reason, I’d never taken the time to visit the sanctuaries and see these majestic birds up close. Let me just say, if you live in or near Nebraska — GO SEE THE CRANES! I would rank this experience among my Top 10 best travel experiences ever.  You can read more about our visit HERE.

Another Nebraska highlight for us was our visit to the Museum of American Speed in nearby Lincoln.

The car driven by Louis Chevrolet in the 1915 Indy 500. It achieved a maximum speed of 81 mph.

The car driven by Louis Chevrolet in the 1915 Indy 500. It achieved a maximum speed of 81 mph.

 

We hadn’t really heard of this museum and were absolutely amazed by the quality and massive quantity of car and speed-related items in this hidden gem of a museum. Not only did the three-story building include car collections, it also had a metal lunch box collection, a taxi cab collection, and lots of guitars, record albums, and movie posters. It was absolutely amazing and great pit stop for those traveling Interstate 80.

In May, we returned for another visit to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, and then went on to Minneapolis for the North American TBEX, a conference for travel bloggers. We loved the conference, met some great new contacts, and became even more exited about growing our blog. We also had a chance to spend a day in Stillwater, Minnesota, while we were there. You can read all about HERE.

In the summer of 2016, we took one of the best vacations of our lifetimes to northern Europe. We’d been planning (and saving) for this trip for a long time and it exceeded all of our expectations. I picked Steve up from work the day his summer vacation began and he was able leave the middle school where he is principal. We flew to London, England, and took the Chirton Grange car service to South Hampton with a stop at the iconic Stonehenge.

 

Stonehenge

After a night in South Hampton and a visit to the local museum that chronicled  the sinking of the Titanic, we gathered the courage to board a ship and set sail on a 14-night cruise on the Baltic Sea.

The magnificent gold fountains at Peterhof Palace in St. Petersburg, Russia.

We had an incredible experience on the Celebrity Eclipse and enjoyed stops in Belgium, Germany, Russia, Estonia, Sweden, and Denmark.

Bath, England

Bath, England

We disembarked in South Hampton and took a train to Bath, England, for a couple days and spent another three days visiting friends in Taunton before flying back to the States. It was an absolutely unforgettable vacation, filled with new experiences and adventures that we’ll always treasure.

Upon our return, we spent one day doing 12 loads of laundry, then packed up the car, picked up our daughter, Meghan, and headed out on a road trip across Nebraska. Less than a month after visiting Stonehenge in England, we found ourselves taking selfies at a cheesy replica called Carhenge in Alliance, Nebraska.

Carhenge

We had a great week exploring our home state as a family, including stops in Hastings (where Kool-Aid was invented), Grand Island, North Platte, Scottsbluff/Gering, Crawford, Chadron, Valentine, and Norfolk. We loved taking the highways instead of the interstate, stopping to explore small (sometimes abandoned) towns, visiting quirky tourist attractions (like the Fort Cody Trading Post) and eating peanut butter sandwiches in city parks along the way.

With the exception of a short trip for appointments at the Mayo Clinic, we spent much of the fall near home and enjoyed taking friends and family to Nebraska Cornhusker football games. We even got to go to one away game when we flew to Columbus Ohio to see the Huskers play the Ohio State University in the Horseshoe. Great flight. Awesome venue. Devastating loss.

While we typically are home for Christmas, this year we decided to escape the cold and did another Celebrity cruise — this time to the Caribbean. We flew to Puerto Rico on Dec. 23 and boarded the Summit on Christmas Eve. We spent Christmas Day at sea and then enjoyed stops in Barbados, St. Lucia, St. Martin, St. Kitts (our favorite island) and St. Thomas before returning to San Juan and flying home on New Year’s Eve. Can’t wait to share some of those experiences with you, soon.

All in all, we traveled to two U.S. territories, six states, and 11 countries in 2016. We are still working on our travel schedule for 2017, but will likely spend most of our time in the United States, as there is so much here we have yet to see and experience.

Where did your travels take you in 2016? Let us know, we’d love to hear from you. 

A peek at this year’s new ornaments

A peek at this year’s new ornaments

For the past several years, we’ve decorated what we like to call our Christmas travel tree. [We wrote a blog post all about it that you can read HERE.] We had lots of help decorating for Christmas this year. Our daughter, Meghan, was home and we invited a couple local college students over. We also had the privilege of hosting Elodie, a young woman from France who we met on our cruise last summer.

Each year, typically Thanksgiving weekend, we empty our postcard jar and select a few postcards that best represent our year in travel and they go right onto the tree. We also hang new ornaments purchased from places we visited that year. It’s always fun to find and unpack the ornaments and reminisce about all of the wonderful things we were able to see and do each year. Here’s what’s new to the tree in 2016.

Ornament from Russia

We purchased this ornament in St. Petersburg, Russia, this summer. It was our first, and quite possibly our last visit to this former Soviet city. While we enjoyed seeing iconic places like Peterhof and the Hermitage Museum, there was much about St. Petersburg that still represented very dark times for the people there. As a side note, when we get new ornaments for the tree, if they don’t already have a year on them, I usually try to add it with a Sharpie permanent marker to help us remember what year we traveled where.

We put lots of new postcards on the tree this year, including two from Stockholm, Sweden. We were in Stockholm this summer while cruising on the Celebrity Eclipse and enjoyed a walking tour of the city, eating Swedish meatballs with pickles and lingonberries, and visiting the Vasa Museum.

 

The Vasa Museum gave us a fascinating look at a salvaged ship that sank in 1628 and spent 333 years on the sea bed. Of course, we had to get a postcard there.

Stonehenge

Seeing Stonehenge in person for the first time was just amazing. It was our first stop after landing in London, England, this summer before embarking on our 14-night cruise through the Baltic Sea. We had both wanted to visit this iconic structure and we joined hundreds of other tourists that day who walked around the enormous stone structures shaking our heads. CLICK HERE for five interesting things we learned about Stonehenge.

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Just three weeks later, we were back in our home state of Nebraska and couldn’t resist a stop at our own iconic replica — Carhenge, near Alliance, Nebraska. This crazy creation in the middle of a field is a Midwest favorite and a must-see when traveling the western end of the state. We wrote a blog post about it that you can read HERE.

Talinn

This beautiful, hand painted ornament was one we found at a small, local shop in one of our favorite places, Tallinn, Estonia. We just loved Tallinn and it’s pastel buildings, colorful markets, and welcoming people.

Bath postcard

When we returned to England at the end of our cruise, we took a few days to explore some more of Great Britain. We took a train to Bath, England, and quickly wished we would have allowed more time in this incredible city. We toured the ancient Roman baths and even had a chance to soak in the thermal waters at the The Gainsborough Bath Spa. It was truly one of the most relaxing, luxurious days we’ve ever had.

Bath Abbey

In Bath, we also visited the Bath Abbey — twice. We stumbled upon it while walking the city streets and were absolutely amazed when we went inside. We’ve been to dozens of churches, cathedrals and abbeys on our travels, but there was something very different about this one. It was SO ACTIVE. There was organ music playing, children singing, and displays throughout that demonstrated the various ongoing ministries of the church. We spent a lot of time here and couldn’t resist purchasing a few books and this ornament from the gift shop before we left.

Bailey Yard

Just two days after returning from our summer vacation in Europe, our daughter, Meghan joined us for a week-long trip across Nebraska. We had a wonderful time exploring towns like Hastings, Grand Island, Scottsbluff, Crawford, Chadron, Valentine, and Norfolk. One of our favorite stops was Bailey Yard in North Platte. It is the largest railroad classification yard in the world and hosts a great display on the North Platte Canteen.

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We picked up this ornament by local artist Beverly Clappsaddle at the Clear Lake Arts Center in Clear Lake, Iowa, this fall. We were on our way back from a visit to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, when our travel blogging friend Sara, from Travel With Sara, mentioned a holiday open house in Clear Lake just as we were about to pass through there. We decided to make an unanticipated stop and were not disappointed.

Nebraska Life

The last postcard we decided to add to the tree this year was one we picked up in Norfolk, Nebraska, this summer. It is from our visit to the Nebraska Life Magazine office and is a great reminder that while we love traveling the world, it is always good to come home to The Good Life.

A quirky place called Carhenge

A quirky place called Carhenge

When we were in Great Britain last month, our first stop was at iconic Stonehenge, a prehistoric monument in Wiltshire, England, where a ring of standing stones is set. Its history and purpose have boggled the minds

Our visit to Stonehenge in England earlier this summer.

Our visit to Stonehenge in England earlier this summer.

of archaeologists and visitors for hundreds of years.

No one we met there had ever heard about Nebraska’s Carhenge, and by the confused looks on their faces when I mentioned it, I’m not so sure they didn’t think I was making it up. I’m also convinced they were probably muttering something like “crazy Americans” when we were out of an ear’s reach.

But Carhenge is real. I saw it for the third time last week while on a family road trip with my husband, Steve, and daughter, Meghan.

Carhenge, Alliance NE

Carhenge is located three miles north of Alliance on Hwy. 87.

It’s not a place you just sort of stumble across. You have to want to go there. And we wanted to go there. Having just visited the original inspiration a few weeks prior on our three-week vacation in Europe, we couldn’t resist a stop at what is undoubtedly one of Nebraska’s strangest attractions and eagerly drove out of our way to Alliance and then three miles north on Hwy. 87 to see this Nebraska oddity.

 Carhenge

Meghan, me and Steve. Stonehenge is visited by about 60,000 people each year.

Carhenge is the artistic creation of Jim Reinders, who built a copy of Stonehenge out of cars in 1987, the summer I graduated from high school. Having lived and studied near Stonehenge in England, Reinders used 39 automobiles placed in the same proportions as Stonehenge, to build this incredible site. According to the Friends of Stonehenge website, “some of the cars are held upright in pits five feet deep, trunk-end down, while other cares are placed to form the arches and welded in place.”

Carhenge

Carhenge was constructed by about 35 members of the Jim Reinders family in the summer of 1987.

The cars are all spray painted gray and the honor of depicting the heel stone goes to a 1962 Cadillac. As the story goes, Reinders built Carhenge one hot sumer as a memorial to his father who had once lived on the farm where the structure now stands. About 35 members of the Reinders family gathered to build Carhenge and it was dedicated during the Summer Solstice in 1987 with champagne, poetry, songs, and a play, according to the website.

Since then, additional sculptures in a “Car Art Reserve” have been built at the site. I’m especially fond of the “Fourd Seasons” inspired by Vivaldi’s Four Seasons and constructed only of Ford vehicles and representing Nebraska’s four seasons.

Carhenge

The car art reserve.

Unlike the protected and roped off areas at the original Stonehenge, visitors here can walk among the stacked cars at Carhenge, gaze up at the hubcaps and grills, and even touch the automobiles of yesteryear to confirm they are real. I think the place is amazing! And, I’m not the only one. 60,000 people visit Carhenge every year and it even has a Wikipedia page!

I love how Wikipedia includes sections on structure and history and shows aerials of the two sites side-by-side.

I love how Wikipedia includes sections on structure and history and shows aerials of the two sites side-by-side.

Eventually, Reinders donated the 10 acres of land where Carhenge is located to the Friends of Carhenge who preserved it until 2013. In October of that year, Friends of Carhenge gifted the site to the Citizens of Alliance, Nebraska.

We roamed around the site taking pictures for a while and made a quick stop at the small, one-bathroom stall gift shop near the site.  There, we purchased a postcard and mailed it to the folks at Stonehenge in England.

We couldn't resist sending a postcard from Carhenge to Stonehenge in England.

We couldn’t resist sending a postcard from Carhenge to Stonehenge in England.

We count it a real privilege to have visited both Stonehenge and Carhenge within a month of each other. From the sublime to the ridiculous (you be the judge of which is which) — we loved them both.

Have you been to Carhenge? What did you think? Let us know, we’d love to hear from you. 

5 interesting facts about Stonehenge

5 interesting facts about Stonehenge

We arrived in London, England, as scheduled and had a lovely drive (thanks Chirton Grange)

The obligatory selfie.

The obligatory selfie.

through the countryside to our first stop — Stonehenge. It was amazing to see this ancient phenomena in person and learn even more about its history and mystique. We spent about 40 minutes in the visitors’ center learning about the history of the stones and looking at artifacts and models of what it might have looked like thousands of years ago. Then, we went outside and saw the stones for ourselves.

Here are 5 facts we learned on our visit.

1. It took about 160 stones to build Stonehenge. Many of those stones are gone or deteriorated. The weight of the largest Sarsen stones was 35 tons and the heel stone was estimated at 40 tons. It is said that some of the stones were likely brought from 300 miles away. Today, there are 83 stones remaining.

Stonehenge

2. Historians still do not know why this structure was built. Although it was likely built over the course of more than 1,000 years (during which everyone involved knew why they were building it), there is no written history. There are a variety of theories (house of worship, burial ground, place of healing, etc.) but none has been proven conclusive so no one really knows why today.

Stonehenge

3. Stonehenge is seen by more than 1 million visitors a year. People come from all over the world to see the stone for themselves and explore the surrounding landscape. Stonehenge now boasts a modern visitor’s center where you can download a free audio guide, learn about the site and the excavated remains, and take short bus ride to the main attraction. There are also a cafe, gift shop, and clean restrooms.

Stonehenge

4. Women were prominent members of the ancient society there. While many ancient burial grounds reveal the remains of men, there are fewer where the remains of women are found. A recent excavation at Stonehenge went against that trend, revealing that it is probable that women were prominent members of society because they were buried in a cemetery likely reserved for the VIPs of that day and age.

5. Nobody there had ever heard about Carhenge in Alliance, Nebraska, USA. Sadly, as popular as the Stonehenge replica is in Nebraska, no one at the real site in England had ever heard about it. In fact, I had to show people a picture of Carhenge so they didn’t think I was totally crazy. Nonetheless, we couldn’t resist the opportunity to send the folks back home at Carhenge a postcard from the original in England.

Stonehenge to Carhenge

Have you been to Stonehenge (or Carhenge for that matter)? What did you think? Let us know in the comments section. We’d love to hear from you. 

Thanks, Jim and Kelly

Thanks, Jim and Kelly

Our friends and neighbors, Jim and Kelly, celebrated their 34th wedding anniversary this summer by traveling back to their original honeymoon destination — The Black Hills of South Dakota.

We were delighted that they would take time out of their anniversary trip to send us a postcard — and a fancy one, at that. When it arrived in our post office box, we quickly noticed something different about this one. The postcard featured photos the couple took on their vacation, and the note on back was personalized, but not hand-written. And, there was no stamp.

With little closer look (and a phone call from Kelly)  I realized they had used a phone app called Touchnote to design and send the postcard. With Touchnote, you just download the app on your mobile phone, upload some pictures, and plug in an address. Then, for $1.99, the postcard is mailed to the recipient. That’s it. Super easy to use and a great alternative to stopping at a gift shop, looking for a place to buy a stamp, and finding a post office or drop box.

It was great to see photos from Jim and Kelly’s return visit to Mount Rushmore and see the the progress of the Crazy Horse Memorial. They even explored two new places they’d never seen in western Nebraska — Chimney Rock and the infamous Carhenge. Kelly even shared a couple snapshots from their honeymoon back in 1981 when they visited Reptile Gardens, another Black Hills favorite.

Kelly and Jim on the giant tortoises at Reptile Gardens near Rapid City, South Dakota, in 1981.

Thanks again for sending us a postcard, Jim and Kelly, and congratulations on 34 years of marriage. We wish you many more years of great adventures together!

[well]When you’re traveling next, be sure to send us a postcard at Postcard Jar, P.O. Box 334, Crete, NE 68333. We’d love to hear from you![/well]