Monday, February 06, 2023

3 Days in Arizona: 3 Seasons in 3 Hours (Drive)

With the COVID-19 restrictions now behind us, it is time to dust off our backpacks, and head out into the world again!  

Last weekend, we have decided to do a quick trip to Arizona, to enjoy the much-needed warmth. Since Sedona and Grand Canyon are only a short drive from Phoenix, which is serviced by direct flight from Canada, we have planned to spend a day exploring each. This quick excursion exceeded all expectations, and I felt that others will benefit from our 3-day itinerary in Arizona.

After spending the first night in Phoenix, we rented a car and drove to Sedona Desert. Sedona is only an hour or so away from Phoenix, and it is a beautiful and easy drive. While Phoenix treated us to a balmy 18C, the temperatures were climbing down as we were climbing (driving) up nearer to Sedona. Our first stop was Bell Rock Vista, where we planned to hike/climb up the Bell Rock and walk around the Courthouse Butte. After paying 5 USD for the daily parking, which is valid for other Red Rock Country trails, we headed up. 

The climb up Bell Rock was somewhat tricky as we did not bring proper highking shoes, and the melting snow (yes! snow in the desert!) made the rock a little slippery.
The trail around the Courthouse Butte is easy to follow and has some of the best views! As we walked by, there were many people who were meditating, praying, etc. Not surprising, as the energy around the Bell Rock, which has a number of healing vortexes drawing people from all over the world, is out of this world (pun intended)! 

While the walk is not challenging, it takes about two and a half to three hours to complete. Even though the temperatures were very comfortable - around 12C, it was clear skies and the sun was beating down mercilessly! It is important to have enough water, and drink often! Plus, we took a few packs of dry fruits and nuts, which were very handy.
After completing the loop around the Courthouse Butte, we headed to the Chapel of the Holy Cross. It is a chapel located atop the red rock buttes, which has incredible views of the Sedona area. We were lucky to arrive during the service and enjoyed the spiritual singing and the scenery.
The town of Sedona has many options to eat and drink, and is very pleasant to walk around for an hour or so. As the evening was drawing in, we had to leave this stunning place, and drive to Flagstaff where we planned to stay overnight. The 89A highway takes you through Coconino National Forest and is absolutely beautiful. With better planning, we could have stopped at Slide Rock State Park, but alas, it was getting dark.

After having a fix of tacos and margaritas at Salsa Brava (highly recommended to make reservations!) on the famous Route 66, and a good night's sleep and hearty breakfast in Country Inn by Radisson, we headed to Grand Canyon. Coming here in winter gives it a different vibe!  Maybe it is the snow-covered tree tops and the cliffs, or maybe it is the lack of crowds, or maybe it is the French onion soup after a high at the legendary El Tovar hotel. Regardless of what it is, it was magical!
The Grand Canyon park provides a number of options for hiking, climbing, canyoning, backcountry camping, snow-shooing, eating, drinking, shopping, lodging, etc. It is possible to explore the pack using your own car, however, the park operates free shuttle buses that are clean, heated, and run very frequently (plus, reduce CO2 emission). The entry fee of 35 USD is valid for a week, and there are unquestionably enough activities. There are numerous signs that suggest 2-hour, half-day, full-day, and multiple-day itineraries, or the park rangers can suggest a customized plan.

We have decided to follow the suggested half-day itinerary, have a meal at the legendary El Tovar hotel dining room, explore the village, and head back afterward. With temperatures barely above 0C and 5ft of snow a few days before, the less traveled trails were covered with snow and ice. It made the experience even more spectacular!

The original plan was to return to Flagstaff for the overnight stay, but we wanted to soak up the heat before heading back. Therefore, the decision was to change the hotel reservations and drive straight to Phoenix. On the way, we stopped at Valle Luna for another "fix" of good quality Mexican food.

On the last day, we wanted to see as many cactuses as we humanly could, and South Mountain Park and Preserve aaa

Thursday, July 19, 2018

A Week in Azores...

There are beautiful places, there are amazing places, there are places with fantastic food, there are places with welcoming people... but there are rare gems that have it all and Azores is one of those places!

From Toronto, there is a very convenient service, direct flights operated by Azores Airlines (previously known as SATA). The flight takes only about 5 hours, which is great when you are traveling with smaller family members who are anxious to get out and explore... the fellow passengers' patience limit.

The prices of the flight, accommodation, food, and drinks are more than reasonable! One thing I would recommend is to definitely rent a vehicle - even though the island is small, you will be able to see and experience more if you have a means of transportation.

As for the itinerary itself, we have decided to take it slow on the day of arrival and simply wandered through Ponta Delgada.

For the following 5 days, we have followed the absolutely excellent "Ultimate 5 Day Itinerary in São Miguel Island, the Azores" (link:, and the remaining days we spent in Ponta Delgada minus "Swimming with Dolphins and Whale-Watching"...

A few tips:

  • Rent a car! and don't take shortcuts through a gravel/mud road and check and doublecheck where GPS takes you. That is especially important during or after a rainy day!

  • In Furnas, I would definitely recommend trying Cozido das Furnas in Terra Nostra Garden Hotel. The guide (link above) recommend a few other places, BUT... even though Terra Nostra Garden Hotel is only 2-3 EURO more expensive, the restaurant itself is by far better and it gives you free parking and free access to the Terra Nostra park and the thermal pool (8 EURO).

  • Unless you are cooking yourself, it is highly recommended to book restaurants ahead of time. Even in slow season, the popular restaurants are filling in quick! In Ponta Delgada, I can recommend the following: A Tasca, Taberna Açor, Casa da Rosa and Armazéns Cogumbreiro (breakfast and light lunch). Try to work in a lunch Lagoa Azul when exploring Sete Cidades.

  • If you see a thermal hot pool, stop, park and relax for an hour or two...

  • ... and the most important tip: DON'T RUSH AND ENJOY THE ISLAND!

Saturday, February 25, 2017

... and Another Phase of Renovation Has Been Completed!

This year, we have focused our attention on the ground floor, namely the (my) office, dining room and the entrance hallway (which included the staircase and the hallway on the second floor). The staircase was the most time consuming as it required restoration of the original wood and carvings, as well as original baseboards. Here is the end result:

Entrance and the Staircase

Dining Room:

Monday, January 16, 2017

Easy Ciabatta Recipe

Oh, the smell of fresh bread! It is simply irresistible! Today, I will share with you a very quick and easy Ciabatta recipe I have tried (and perfected) over the weekend...
  • Warm Water (100-110F) - 2 cups
  • Sugar - 3 tbsp (or slightly less, if the bread is too sweet)
  • Salt - 2 tsp (or more, if you prefer the bread more savory)
  • Olive Oil - 2 tbsp
  • Flour - 4 cups
  • Dry Yeast - 1 3/8 tsp
1. Place all the ingredients (in order) listed above in a mixer (or bread machine) and let it knead for approximately 5 minutes. If using an automated bread machine, simply select "dough" option and skip to step 3.
2. Let the dough stand for approximately one (1) hour in a warm place, covered with a wet towel. Resist the urge to lift the towel, as it will dry (and chill) the air.
3. Divide the dough into two halves and shape it as desired. Slightly dust with flour and let it stand for additional 15-20 minutes in a warm, draft-free place.
4. Preheat the oven to 425F, and bake the bread on a middle rack for 25-30 minutes. During the first 5-10 minutes, moist the top of the bread (with a water bottle or simply sprinkle with your hand) to let it rise to its full potential and to have the delicious golden crust.
Enjoy the freshly baked bread responsibly!

Monday, December 07, 2015

Renovation is going strong...

It is a second year we are renovating our house. So far, we have completely remodeled the kitchen (including excavating the ground beneath it, rebuilding foundation and the floors) and a washroom on the ground floor. Here are a "make over" of our kitchen: