Germany: Christmas Markets Itinerary

christmasmarkets

I’ve always wanted to see the famous Weihnachtsmarkt in Germany so I decided to take a two-week, freezing cold solo trip through Germany to get into the Christmas spirit!

Day 1, 2 and 3: Berlin

I flew into Berlin and found my way to my Airbnb just steps away from Alexanderplatz. This was the perfect location to explore the city with my first Weihnachtsmarkt directly across the street and public transport right at my doorstep.

I spent my first two days in Germany wandering the city, seeing the major sites and spending my evenings at the Christmas Markets drinking waaaaaaaaaaay too much Glühwein.

Berlin Highlights:

  • Glühwein
  • Curry Wurst
  • Brandenburg Gate
  • Checkpoint Charlie
  • East Side Gallery
  • Holocaust Memorial
  • Potsdamer Platz
  • Nightlife
  • Public Transportation Info

Day 4: Day trip to Potsdam

I woke up early and went to the HBF to hop on the RE to Potsdam. A short 20 min ride and I was in the beautiful city of Potsdam. I immediately took a local bus to Sanssouci Palace and Park where I spent the majority of my day exploring the palace and grounds. Unfortunately, since it was winter, the grounds were quite bare and it was freezing, but it was still lovely and quite worth the trip.

Once my fingers were numb from the cold, I went back to town to indulge in a hot bowl of soup and large cup of cocoa before hopping back on the train to Berlin for the night.

Day 5: Dresden

A quick 2 hour ride on the Eurocity train had me in Dresden before noon. After checking in at my Airbnb, I set off to explore the city. The city does have public transport, but it is a small city so I decided to do the whole day by foot. Most of the major attractions are in one area of town so it is easy to spend the day in the center of the city, but one day here was definitely enough.

The markets here were so beautiful. Nothing compared to Berlin size wise, but still lovely. I had to restrain myself from purchasing all of the amazing handmade items for sale, but I did splurge and eat all of the goodies in sight! I definitely fell into a deep sugar comma sleep that evening.

Dresden Highlights: 

  • Church of Our Lady
  • Bruhls Terrace
  • Zwinger Palace
  • Pfund’s Dairy
  • Semper Opera
  • Procession of Princes
  • Royal Palace
  • Neumarkt
  • Pillnitz Castle

Day 6: Berlin

I took an early train the next morning back to Berlin so I could catch an evening flight to Munich. The trip from Berlin to Munich can also be done by train, but the price was relatively the same to fly so I decided to take the quicker option.

Day 7, 8 and 9: Munich

Munich was by far one my favorite stops on this trip. The architecture, the Christmas Markets and the beer had me hooked! Daytime was spent sightseeing and beer drinking while evenings were spent at the Weihnachtsmarkt drinking Glühwein and eating Kartoffelpuffer.

Munich Highlights:

  • Nyphemburg Palace
  • Residenz
  • English Garden
  • Neus Rathaus
  • Linderhof Palace
  • Schleissheim Palace
  • Pastries! Surprisingly, Munich had some of the best pastries Ive ever eaten! Stop by a bakery.

Day 10: Füssen

I took a RE train to Kaufbeuren where I quickly transferred to a RB train to Füssen (roughly 2 hours). Once in Füssen, there was a shuttle bus waiting to take passengers from the train up to the castle. This was a short trip, but definitely too long to walk. Once in Hohenschwangau, I bought my tickets to both the Hohenschwangau Castle and Neuschwanstein Castle and wandered the small town until my reservation.

My first trip was a short, beautiful walk up to Hohenschwangau Castle. This was a much shorter tour than Neuschwanstein, but still interesting and beautiful in its own right.

My next stop was the famous Neuschwanstein Castle. I decided to walk to the top which was quite a hike. It’s all uphill and took about 40 minutes. There were also horse-drawn carriages and shuttle that you could pay to take to the top of the hill if you are unable to walk that distance.

I walked up early to snap some photos and take in the view before I started the 30 minute tour. The castle was truly incredible and beyond beautiful, the story was amazing, and I was so glad I made the trip to see this iconic castle with my own eyes.

After the tour, I wandered around a little longer, ate dinner in town and took the bus back to Füssen where I enjoyed some music at a tiny Christmas market before getting some rest at my local Airbnb.

Füssen Highlights:

  • If you know when you will be visiting, go online and reserve your tickets in advance as tours are sold out quickly.

Day 11 and 12: Nuremberg

I took a 3.5 hour train ride from Füssen to Nuremberg and immediately went to nap at my Airbnb. That evening, I went to explore the Christmas market and drink more Glühwein. All of the markets had been very crowded, but this one in particular was extremely packed and hard to move around. Despite the crowds, I was still able to leave the market with a beautiful hand crafted Nutcracker to take home!

The next day, I explored the city which can easily be done in a day and took a tour of the underground Rock Cut Cellars. The cellars are great as long as you aren’t claustrophobic! The ceilings are quite low in most parts and you go quite a few floors underground. If you’re prone to anxiety attacks, this is not the place for you! The stories of the cellars though are very interesting and worth the tour if you have time!

Nuremberg Highlights:

  • Kaiserburg
  • Rock Cut Cellars and Dungeons
  • Tanner’s Lane
  • Haubtmarkt

Day 13: Munich

An hour ICE train ride had me back in Munich for my last day in Germany. I enjoyed a few more delicious German beers before I headed to the airport feeling ready for the Christmas season!

Trip Highlights:

  • It was EXTREMELY cold, check the weather and prepare to dress appropriately as you will be walking outside a lot at the markets.
  • Public transportation is amazing, no need to rent a car unless you really want to.
  • Train tickets from city to city are slightly cheaper if you buy online in advance.
  • Each city has their own public transportation system. Make sure you buy the appropriate tickets for each system you plan to use.
  • I found Airbnb to be  much less expensive than hotels and in really great locations. If you’re new to Airbnb, get a free travel credit here!
  • Bring an extra bag to pack all the lovely hand crafted items you will buy at the markets!

Hiking Trolltunga Norway

The Mission: Finish off Norway’s “Big 3” by backpacking Trolltunga

The Prep: 
Grab enough food for 2 days and check the weather to ensure you have appropriate gear.

The Gear:
See Camping Essentials

For this particular hike, sturdy waterproof boots were essential. The weather also changed quite a bit so I packed layers including waterproof gear and the waterproof cover for my pack (which I definitely ended up using). And don’t forget the camera!

The Execution:

We arrived at Trolltunga and hit the trail at around 3:00pm. We planned to take about 6 hours to reach the summit and have plenty of time to spare to pitch our tent before nightfall. We carefully arranged our packs and hit the trail.

The first mile of the hike is the most intense, it starts up a steep incline of steps that were built by Sherpas from Nepal.  It had rained heavily the day before and the trail was a slick, muddy mess. I made use of the rope to steady my balance and took a few breaks to catch my breath. Once we conquered the most grueling part of the trail, we were hot and sweaty as we strolled through an open valley under the bright sun. We stopped and filled our water at the flowing stream and continued on.

We crossed a few wooden planks that were placed to keep us from sinking into the mud before we were met with another steep, rocky incline. This time there were no steps, but a rocky trail. This portion was also steep, but nothing like the first mile we had encountered. We took our time, took in the view and then climbed up a not quite as steep rock face towards a plateau.

We were relieved to have another “rest” period of mostly flat terrain. The trail continued on, we stopped for lunch, paused for photos, breathed the fresh air and pushed on. There were a few additional climbs, but again, nothing quite that steep or long making the final push of the hike easier as we neared the troll’s tongue.

The hike out to Trolltunga ended up taking us about 6 hours as we had predicted. We arrived at Trolltunga just before sunset and had the area almost all to ourselves. Words cannot describe the beauty, it was more incredible than we could have ever imagined. We took tons of photos and sat out on the Troll’s tongue before we found a spot with a view to pitch our tent.

In the morning, the area was filled with tourists and fellow campers taking in the view. We were happy that we had the time to enjoy the place to ourselves the night before. We spent an hour or so hiking around the area, up to a glacier and checking out the emergency cabin up on the hill before heading back down.

Our hike back to the car was a bit quicker than our hike up and took us about 4 and a half hours. Luckily the sunshine had dried a bit of the mud and the trail was not quite as slick, making our descent a little less stressful.

The Highlights:

  • Level of difficulty: Strenuous
  • Water and toilets at the trail head
  • Pay to park
  • We filled up our water in the streams along the hike and had no health issues
  • Plenty of camping area at the top
  • There is an emergency cabin near the Troll’s Tongue if needed
  • Sturdy, waterproof boots were a must for this hike!
  • The weather changed multiple times; we had hot sunshine, cold rain and gusty winds. Prepare for everything!

 

Hiking Kjeragbolten Norway

Kjerabolten

The Mission: Conquer my fears and step out onto “The Boulder”!

The Prep: There was no potable water available at the trail head so we filled up prior to arriving at the hike. We also packed a lunch to eat at the summit.

The Gear:  Please see Anatomy of a Day Hike

The Execution:

We arrived at Kjeragbolten around 7am and the parking lot was already beginning to fill with fellow hikers. We paid the parking fee, prepared our packs and began our day of hiking.

The initial ascent was rather steep, but there were chains bolted into the rocks for assistance in climbing. After a bit of tough uphill hiking, we stopped for a breath and a view in a nice flat valley.

After the flat valley, we were met with another climb. Luckily, this one was shorter and not quite as steep as the initial ascent. We continued on through the downs and ups, including a nice fairly level stretch near the summit. We continued to follow the red “T” trail blazes and eventually made our way to “the boulder”.

The walk out onto the boulder was much less terrifying than we had imagined. There is an easy way to walk right out onto the rock, but the scary part is definitely looking down! We took our photos and enjoyed our lunch before exploring more of the area. We spent quite a bit of time enjoying the views from the top with stunning sheer cliffs and deep blue water below.

The hike down was quite intense with wind gusts up to 40mph. At some points I could barely move because of the wind resistance. We were relieved when we finally made it to the bottom and had some reprieve from the weather as we warmed up in our car.

The Highlights:

  • Level of difficulty: Strenuous
  • Pay to park
  • Bathrooms at trailhead but NO POTABLE WATER
  • Cafe available at trailhead
  • Area at the top of the mountain is mostly rocky and exposed, not great area for camping
  • Gloves were essential for warmth and holding onto cold chains while climbing
  • A wind breaker was necessary this day as it was incredibly windy. It helped keep off the chill and keep us dry in the light rain.

 

Hiking Preikestolen Norway

The Mission: Complete our first hike in Norway and the first of the “Big 3”

The Prep: 
Filled up our camelbaks at the trail head and packed a lunch for the top!

The Gear:
See Anatomy of a Day Hike

The Execution:

When we arrived at Preikestolen, the parking lot was packed with tour buses and hikers. Since this is the easiest of the “Big 3” hikes, we anticipated this trail being more crowded than the others so we decided to start later in the day, around 4pm when the crowds were starting to thin out. Luckily, since it was summer, the sunset wasn’t until 9:30pm so we had plenty of daylight.

The trail was rocky and had a few tough climbs, but overall a moderate hike. The entire hike to the summit was filled with amazing views and we stopped along the way to take photos and relax. Right before the final ascent, there was a nice, relatively flat stretch where we stopped to look at a waterfall in the distance and enjoy some lunch.

After lunch, we continued our climb to the summit. When we arrived at Preikestolen, we could not believe the sheer drop off of the cliffs below us. We carefully inched our way towards the edge and looked down into the fjord below us. The drop was so steep and so sheer, I immediately backed away to catch my breath.

We walked out onto Pulpit Rock and took some photos before continuing up the small trail behind us. A brief walk led us past some campers setting up for the night and then to an overlook where we could see down onto Pulpit Rock with a bird’s eye view. We spent quite a bit of time exploring the area and hiking around before heading back down the trail to our car. All in all, the hike back down to the car only took us a little over an hour.

The Highlights:

  • Restrooms and water available at trail head
  • Pay to park
  • The most crowded hike of the “Big 3”
  • Plenty of camping and picnic areas at the summit

Norway Self Drive Itinerary- Western Fjords

Norway

Day 1: Fly into Bergen

We flew into Bergen and immediately picked up our rental car and started our drive to Stavanger. The drive took a little over 4 hours and included two ferry rides. Exhausted, we arrived at our Airbnb in Stavanger and got a good night’s rest before we started our adventures.

Day 2: Hike Preikestolen (Pulpit Rock)

We stopped at the grocery store before heading out on the hour and a half drive to Preikestolen. This drive included one ferry ride. We paid for parking, used the restroom and filled up our camelbaks before starting out on the 2-4 hour hike.

This hike can definitely be done in under 4 hours, but the views are exceptional and we spent a lot of time hanging out and enjoying the scenery.

For more detailed info, see Hiking Preikestolen.

After our hike, we started driving the two and a half hours towards Kjerabolten. We stopped to camp right near the entrance of the hike so we could get an early start in the morning.

Day 3: Hike Kjeragbolten

Even though we started our hike early, the parking lot was nearly full. We spent almost the entire day on this hike, enjoying the scenery, taking photos and exploring the area.

For more detailed info, see Hiking Kjeragbolten.

Tired, we started our four and a half hour drive towards Trolltunga. It had started to rain so we stopped and set up our tent under a small shelter and spent the night.

Day 4: Hike Trolltunga

In the morning, we continued our drive to Trolltunga and stopped in the town of Odda to get a bite to eat before beginning the hike. Once our bellies were full, we drove to the trail head and prepared our packs.

The hike to Trolltunga took us roughly 6 hours. We arrived around dusk, set up our tent for the night and enjoyed the evening with an incredible view.

For more detailed info, see Hiking Trolltunga.

Trolltunga

Day 5: Hike Trolltunga

The next day, we explored more of Trolltunga and hiked the 4 hours back down to the parking lot.

When we arrived back at our car, we were so excited to remove our shoes and packs! We took a few minutes to stretch and relax before we started our hour and a half drive to Voss where we would camp for the evening.

Day 6: Kayak Gudvangen

We woke up early in Voss, grabbed breakfast and drove a quick 40 minutes to Gudvangen. A beautiful, sunny day, we rented a double Kayak at Nordic Ventures. There are also Kayak tours you can take here, but we decided to rent a kayak and explore on our own. They offer full day and half-day rentals and we opted for the full day so we could take our time and enjoy.

Nordic Ventures supplied everything we needed: kayak and paddle, skirt, wet-suit, booties, waterproof jacket, life vest and dry bags. We packed a lunch and began paddling out into the fjord. We passed a few other kayakers and lots of tourist boats. The water was calm and the view was breathtaking. We stopped off to explore a waterfall and dip our toes in the freezing glacial water.

We paddled a bit further and stopped for lunch on a small, lush, green,  sun drenched pasture. We ate our lunch while lambs roamed around us with the serene sound of waterfalls in the distance. We even took a swim in the fjord and laid on the shore to dry in the sun. I could have stayed here forever, but we had to get the kayaks back by 5:30pm so we geared up and started our paddle back to shore.

Our arms were quite tired on the way back so we took our time and enjoyed the scenery and the lovely weather. We made it back just in time for closing, returned our gear and began the five and a half hour drive to Hoddevik. We were very tired so we stopped on our way at the town of Lem and camped for the evening.

Day 7: Surf at Hoddevik

Day 7 started out with a stop at Bøyabreen Glacier, Fjærland. Here we found a lot of tour buses so we didn’t stay too long, but it was an amazing spot to view the glacier. The water in the lake below was an incredible shade of blue with small ice chunks casually floating by. We could feel an icy chill coming from the glacier above as we marveled at the large, blue ice sheet. There was also a restaurant and restrooms here where many of the tour buses stopped for lunch.

After our glacier stop, we continued the drive to Hoddevik. It started to rain, but it didn’t stop us from hitting the surf. Hoddevik is a very small town so it wasn’t hard to find the board rental shop right by the beach. We rented boards and suits and hit the waves. While the waves weren’t huge, they were consistent and there were very few surfers competing for waves.

After a few hours of surf, we headed to nearby Ervik. There are also surfable waves in Ervik, but we came here on a suggestion from a local to check out the old Nazi tunnels in the mountain. We hiked across the beach and up a cliff, through a gate and finally reached the entrance to the tunnel. There were two paths in the tunnel. The path to the right led us to an amazing view of the ocean where the path to the left let us to some old broken stairs up to a small house out on the cliff. This was definitely an off the beaten path stop, we were the only people around and were able to enjoy a nice quiet hike with only sheep as our company and the sound of waves crashing as our soundtrack.

After our hike, we began the three and a half hour drive towards Geiranger, but stopped about an hour in and found a spot to camp for the evening.

Day 8: Hike in Brunstad (or go to Geiranger)

The next day we had planned on heading to Geiranger, but the weather was fierce so we decided to take a detour and spend the day in nearby Brunstad. We got an amazing Airbnb with a wood burning stove and incredible view.

We took a VERY rainy hike up to a nearby Norse village. The old farming village was like a time warp, sending us back to the days when farmers would bring their livestock to this tiny village for summering. We decided to continue up the mountain hoping to reach a lake we had heard of, but after about an hour of hiking in the pouring down rain, we decided to call it a day and head back down.

Norse Village

We were soaked and muddy and happy we had a nice warm cabin to go home to and dry off. We got an amazing night of rest and were sad we had to leave our quiet little village the next day.

The touristy thing to do here would definitely be to go to Geirangerfjord, but we really love immersing ourselves in the local culture and enjoyed our time away from the tourist crowds and exploring Norway off the beaten path.

Day 9: Drive towards Bergen

The next day we began the six and a half hour drive towards Bergen. We stopped multiple times to veer off course, take small side roads and explore anything and everything that seemed interesting and beautiful.

FullSizeRender (10)

After a day of admiring our surroundings, we had a nice dinner at Stryn Hotel and found a campsite near by for the evening.

Day 10: Hike in Bergen

On our final day, we finished our drive and spent the day in Bergen. We checked into our Airbnb not far outside of town and took a local bus to Stoltzekleiven. We hiked the 722 stairs up to Sandviksfjellet and the view was well worth the effort.

Bergen Hike

After enjoying the bird’s eye view of Bergen, we hiked back towards a small lake. Here we were met with multiple hiking trails. We were surprised there were so many hiking trails right in the heart of the city.

We took a trail from the lake all the way down to the city center. We passed several other trail heads and even some backpackers heading out for a night of camping.

We treated ourselves to a delicious dinner at Bare Vestland and explored the city for the evening before returning to our Airbnb and packing up to fly out the next morning.

Bergen

Day 11: Fly home

Goodbye, Norway! Leaving Norway was really hard. The entire trip was beautiful and breathtaking with something to wow at after every turn. I’m already starting to plan my trip to return!

Norway Travel Tips:

  • There is a very cool law in Norway that says you can camp just about anywhere. We took advantage of this to save a lot of money on our trip.
  • Norway is expensive, plan accordingly. For reference, gas was about $7USD/gallon and a meal at the gas station was about $30USD.
  • Grocery stores are closed on Sundays, make sure you stock up beforehand.
  • If driving, you will be taking quite a few ferries. Check schedules beforehand.
  • Tolls and ferry rides are also expensive, make sure to factor this into your budget.
  • Most gas stations did not take our US credit cards at the pumps which made getting gas difficult after hours. Make sure you fill up while stations are still open.
  • We used our US credit cards everywhere and rarely needed local currency.
  • If you haven’t used Airbnb before, it’s a wonderful, cheaper alternative to hotels. If you’re new to Airbnb, get a free travel credit here!

Photo Inspiration- Japan

e92efc22-ea2f-4a8a-8879-f008bcbd5410

01675c3e-bb3f-40fb-8703-099ba8dc9c03

6fe68127-717d-4cea-ba79-b26087ef5d0c

0f82e672-1348-42cf-b119-87d362394120

a6f06826-89c8-4902-8584-83ce9b772adf

ddf9aaf5-aacd-425b-b8bd-ea390f7a00fa

e8c8d891-0219-4f16-9f30-fb33fa6bc794

1f451134-a8e6-40f8-9355-2ad28d671bdc

67f8d979-0d6c-4b42-945c-4dd910242fcf

17d37ede-0220-4c18-bb1e-ed354eef7282

9ab33ffd-7ebe-4c38-8898-37bff93318f6

453da06e-35e9-467b-97e3-74dc2ba6fc50

636a9b09-b1a2-4604-b20d-86b17801f917

e2b75fa3-675a-4774-985a-0a9c9158db10

Japan was my first stop on my first trip to Asia. I was excited and nervous, but fell in love with the country on my first day. From the modernness of Tokyo to traditional Kyoto, I found something new and exciting at every turn.

One of my favorite experiences was staying at a traditional guest house (Ryokan) and participating in a traditional tea ceremony. I could have spent weeks exploring Kyoto, but only had a few days. I hope to make it back there soon!

 

A Weekend in Sequoia National Park

The Mission: Spend a weekend at Sequoia National Park with my mom!

The Prep: I booked our campsite 3 weeks in advance for Potwisha campground and got the last campsite available! Book as early as possible and don’t count on just showing up and finding a spot.

The Gear: Please see my post on Camping Essentials

The Execution: We arrived at Sequoia National Park in the morning and paid our $30USD entrance fee, good for 7 days. Not far from the park entrance, we found our campsite at Potwisha, a small, quiet campsite equipped with flush toilets. We set up our tent and secured all of our food and scented items in the bear locker provided.

After getting our campsite settled, we drove roughly 40 minutes from Potwisha to the General Sherman Tree parking lot. Mileage wise, this is not far, but the roads are very windy and speed limits are slow so it took us awhile to get all the way up the mountain.

Once we found parking, we hiked a quick half mile down to the General Sherman Tree. There is also a shuttle that goes from the parking lot down to the tree area if you are unable to walk that distance.

After checking out General Sherman, we started hiking along Congress Trail (2 mile loop) to explore some more of the Giant Sequoias. We veered off onto Alta trail for a while to get away from the crowds before turning back and finishing Congress Trail.

Back at the General Sherman Tree, we hopped on a shuttle that took us to the Giant Forest Museum. After a few minutes in the museum, we hopped on another shuttle up to Moro Rock. We stopped to check out the Auto Log and then continued on to the rock.

The steps to the top of the rock are rather steep, but there are safety rails that lead the way. At 6,725 ft, the view from the top was magnificent, but I wouldn’t recommend this hike if you’re afraid of heights!

After Moro Rock, we hopped back on the shuttle, grabbed our car and headed back to camp for the night. Unfortunately, we were hit with a major thunderstorm that evening, complete with flashes of lightning and heavy rain. We stuck it out through the night, but were soaked by daylight.

We decided after a long sleepless night to give ourselves a break and do a short hike near the campsite on our last day before driving home exhausted.

The Highlights:

  • Campsite cost about $22USD.
  • If you want to camp, book a campsite as early as possible. Backpacking is also an option, but requires registration and a bear canister.
  • Crowds are heavy around the major sites, but if you hike just a short distance off a main trail, the crowds thin out and you will get to enjoy more of the park.
  • Take advantage of the shuttle as parking is scarce. Shuttles run every 10 minutes so you never have to wait long.
  • There is a small restaurant and store at Lodgepole Visitor center for food and firewood.

Backpacking Big Sur- Ventana

The Mission: Camp at Big Sur Memorial Weekend with no reservations!

The Prep: We found parking near the Big Sur ranger station on the side of the highway. Parking is also available in the lot at the trail head for a fee, but there are very few spaces.

The Gear: Please see my post on Camping Essentials

The Execution:  We started off down Pine Ridge Trail toward Ventana, passing a rather loud campsite at Pfeiffer Big Sur. The sign states that there is no camping before Ventana and there really was NO camping before Ventana. The trail is rather narrow and cut into the side of the mountain… so there really is nowhere to camp before you reach Ventana camp.

6b74f02a-0b9b-4059-860f-1a5dd4c7a242

The trail out was mostly uphill with small stretches of downhill to flat. We were met with sweeping views of the valley and higher mountains surrounding us with giant redwoods stretching low from the valley to high above our heads. The fog from the coast rolled in through the mountain peaks keeping us cool and shaded on our hike and the sound of rushing water from the stream in the valley below provided our soundtrack.

After plenty of steep uphill hiking, we reached a sign for Ventana camp, just one more mile away.

We were now sent all the way down to the valley through a series of switchbacks winding down the mountain. When we finally reached the bottom, we were greeted by groups of campers dotted around the valley on both sides of the stream. Although it was a holiday weekend, there were not as many campers here as we had anticipated. We found a nice little clearing away from the water and set up camp for the night.

We built a small fire, ate some dinner and listened to the sound of the rushing water as we sat under the stars.

The next morning, we got an early start to tackle the switchbacks up the mountain. We were dreading these switchbacks all night, but they weren’t nearly as bad as we had anticipated. We knew if we made it through the switchbacks, the rest of the trail would be mostly downhill and easier than the previous day on our hike out.

We had a gorgeous, cool morning for our 5 mile hike back to the ranger station as we enjoyed the fresh air and beautiful redwoods surrounding us. We’re looking forward to returning to this area and doing a longer hike next time!

The Highlights:

  • Level of difficulty: moderate to strenuous
  • Trailhead  begins near the ranger station: Big Sur Station, 47555 CA-1, Big Sur, CA 93920
  • The hike to Ventana is 5 miles. The next camp area after Ventana is an additional 5 miles (10 miles total).
  • If you plan on building a campfire, get a free permit in advance.
  • Watch out for poison oak, it’s everywhere!!
  • Bring a water filter if you plan on drinking from the stream.

10 Day Morocco Itinerary

From the vibrant city of Marrakech to the serene Sahara Desert, Morocco is a diverse country for exploring. To avoid the crowds and intense heat, we traveled to Morocco in January. The weather was perfect with daily highs around 70F and daily lows around 50F.

Morocco Itinerary

Day 1 and 2: Marrakech (2 nights)

The only accommodation for this trip booked in advance was our first night in Marrakech. We booked online and scheduled an airport pickup service. The driver dropped us off in a roundabout where another gentlemen walked us through the winding alleyways of the Medina. The Medina is extremely hard to navigate so we were lucky to have local help in navigating our way to the Riad.

We spent 2 days wandering the maze that is the medina, eating tagine, browsing the souks, relaxing in Jardin Marjorelle and admiring the tile work at Bahia Palace. We were itching to explore more of the country so the wonderful gentleman of Riad Houdou assisted us in renting a car. For about $400USD +gas, we were able to rent a car for the remainder of our stay and discover Morocco on our own schedule.

Highlights:

  • Getting lost in the medina
  • Eating slow roasted lamb in Mechoui Alley
  • Bahia Palace
  • Jardin Marjorelle
  • Snake charmers in the Medina
  • The liveliness of Jamaa el Fna after dark

Day 3: Ouarzazate (1 night)

The drive to Ouarzazate from Marrakech took us over some of the highest peaks in Africa through the High Atlas Mountains. The long, windy road through Tizi N’Tichka pass to Ouarzazate took about 4 hours. The landscape changed vastly as we drove up and over the mountains, making a stop at the fortified city of Ait Ben Haddou Kasbah at dusk.

Highlights:

Day 4: Merzouga (1 night)

Early the next morning, we began our 5 hour journey to the Sahara. We arrived in Merzouga just in time to book a camel trek into the Erg Chebbi Dunes. For $120USD, we booked a night in the desert including camel ride both ways, accommodation, dinner, breakfast and shower back at the hotel in the morning. I would recommend booking in advance as we had some trouble finding an opening last minute.

We mounted our camels at dusk and road for about an hour into the depths of the dunes. We arrived at a lovely camp complete with sleeping tents, dining tent, restroom and campfire. After eating a delicious tagine dinner, we roamed the dunes in the darkness with the brightness of the stars and the Milky Way lighting our way. Upon return to the camp, our Berber hosts treated us to some mint tea and played traditional music as we huddled around the fire. We went to bed in our tents made of rugs wearing every layer we had available and still ended up freezing all night!

Morocco

Early the next morning, we packed up and rode our camels back to Merzouga. There was a traditional breakfast waiting for us and we were allowed to use the hotel facilities for a quick shower. We said our goodbyes to our new friends and camels and set off on our way to Fes.

Day 5 and 6: Fes (2 nights)

After a 7 hour drive, we finally arrived in Fes. Exhausted, we found our Riad and went straight to bed. Early the next morning, we had a delicious Moroccan breakfast and headed to the Medina.

For about $5USD we found a local to give us a private tour of the Tannery, including a climb up the terrace for an incredible view. Despite the pungent smell, the technique and care that goes into creating the leather products from start to finish was fascinating.

After the tannery tour, we spent the rest of the day exploring all the Medina has to offer including the beautiful Attarin Medersa, incredible city views from rooftops and Bab Boujloud- the gorgeous blue gate that welcomes you to the city of Fes.

Fes

Highlights:

  • Where to stay: Riad Fes Aicha
  • Tannery tour
  • Walking the Medina
  • Attarin Medersa (Entrance fee roughly $1USD)
  • Bab Boujloud (Blue Gate)
  • Rooftop views of the city

Day 7: Chefchaouen (1 night)

A “quick” 3.5 hour drive from Fes turned into a stressful drive through the windy roads of the mountains. There is a highway that goes from Fes to Chefchaouen, but on the map it looked farther so we opted for the more “direct” route. Lesson learned…always, ALWAYS take the highway!

After a strenuous drive, we arrived in the enchanted city of Chefchaouen, known for its blue hue. Chefchaouen is a small, quaint town with not much to do other than marvel at the extraordinary color that paints the town. So 1 day here was more than enough. We strolled through the square, wandered the maze of alleys and admired the many shades of blues.

To get a bird’s-eye view of the blue city, we took a short 20 minute hike to the top of a hill nearby. We exited the medina near The Hotel Atlas  and walked uphill to the Spanish Mosque perched above the town. Even on a rainy day, the blue of the city brightened the sky.

Chefchaouen

Highlights:

Day 8: Tetouan-Tangier (1 night)

The next day, we took a short 2 hour drive to Tangier, a port town known as the gateway to Europe. On the way, we stopped at the small town of Tetouan to explore the markets and eat a delicious lunch at Blanco Riad.

Stepping into the city of Tangier was like stepping into another country completely. Right away, you could see the European influences and energy brought from the influx of travelers from across the Strait of Gibraltar. We spent the night and hopped on the first ferry to Spain in the morning.

Highlights:

Day 9: Gibraltar (1 night)

First thing in the morning, we parked the car at the ferry station (free) and took the ferry from Tangier to Tarifa (1 hr). Once in Tarifa, we hopped on a  free shuttle to Algeciras (30 min, show your ferry ticket).  From Algeciras, we took a short taxi ride to La Linea ($25USD) where we walked across the border (which happens to be an airport runway) to Gibraltar.  Once in Gibraltar, there is a local bus, but we decided to walk so we could explore. For dinner, we hopped back over the border to Spain and enjoyed some tapas before heading back to Gibraltar for a good nights rest.

First thing in the morning, we decided to hike the mediterranean steps to the “top of the rock”. The steps, built by british military start at Jew’s Gate cemetery and run along the eastern side of the rock. The hour-long, grueling hike was well worth the struggle with incredible views beyond imagination.

Monkey

The Rock

At the top of the rock, we toured the battery before walking down to the Military Tunnels and St. Michael’s Cave. We ended the day from a secret spot we found inside the rock where we watched the sunset over the water with Morocco in the distance.

Gibraltar

Highlights:

  • Where to stay: Rock Hotel
  • Where to eat: La Chimenea
  • For a less strenuous approach to “the top of the rock”, there are several options including the cable car, bus or private tour.
  • The only food/refreshment on the rock is located near St. Michaels Cave.
  • Plan to spend an entire day exploring the rock.
  • If hiking, take plenty of water.
  • The temperature drops drastically at the top of the rock so plan to bring a warmer jacket.

Day 10: Safi (1 night) 

Arriving late in the evening to Tangier, we decided to get right on the road and begin our 7 hour drive to Safi along the African coastline. We made brief  stops along the way in Rabat and Casablanca before arriving in the beautiful town of Safi at sunset.

We spent our last day in Morocco walking the coastline and exploring the small Medina in Safi, one of the smallest, most local towns we visited. We stood on the cliffs watching the sunset, wishing we had more time in this beautiful country before we drove back to Marrakech to catch our flights back home.

Highlights:

Morocco Travel Tips:

  • Money: Most places are cash only and ATMs are hard to find. Plan on bringing enough cash for the entire trip, including accommodations.
  • Dress: Women should plan to dress modestly, but it is not necessary to cover your head.
  • PDA: Avoid kissing, hugging, holding hands etc with your significant other in public. This is considered inappropriate and you will likely get some dirty looks.
  • Access: Non-Muslims are typically not allowed in the Mosques. If you are unsure, it’s best to ask before entering.
  • Accommodation: Stay in a Riad (traditional Moroccan house). We learned the hard way that it’s best to book accommodation in advance if you can!
  • Tipping: Carry small change. You will need to tip often for everything from directions to parking and on your restaurant bill.
  • Tours: Do not pay “guides” that offer you tours on the streets in the Medina. Instead, go to a tour office or ask at your accommodation.
  • Haggling: Don’t be afraid to negotiate on prices for everything from cabs to souvenirs.
  • Stay in Touch: Likely, your cell phone will not work here, but you can purchase a local sim card. We used Maroc Telecom which was a bit spotty, but worked for our needs.
  • Driving: When driving, roads are not marked well (ie: It will not say N1 or N10), so look for the name of the city you are heading towards as these will be the only “directional” markers you will see.
  • Checkpoints: Driving through Morocco, you will pass through many checkpoints. They may ask for your passport, but typically we were not even stopped.
  • Women Driving: While you may get a weird look or two, I had no issues as a woman driving in Morocco.
  • Filling Your Tank: Gas stations are few and far between outside of the main cities so make sure you fill up when you see one. Stations are full service and take only cash. Unlike in the states, where pumps have a sensor and stop filling when the tank is full, the attendant looks down into the tank and takes a guess whether it is full or not. Check for yourself and make sure your tank is full before leaving.
  • Avoid Getting Lost: When navigating the Medinas, look for permanent landmarks to mark your way such as doors or shop signs. If for example, you say “turn right at the shoe stand to get back to the riad”, the shop may be closed on your way back and you will not be able to tell where the shoes were.
  • Plan for Closures: Friday is a holy day so be prepared for shops and establishments to be closed.
  • Health: Drink only bottled water to avoid getting sick.
  • Communication: A variety of languages are spoken across Morocco including: French, Moroccan Arabic, Berber and English.
  • Sanitation: Take your own TP! Most public toilets in Morocco do not have TP so it’s best to bring your own, just in case. I’d also recommend hand sanitizer!
  • Drink: Develop a liking for mint tea as you will be drinking a lot of it!
  • Eat: If you see a lamb hanging by its feet on the side of the road, STOP! This means the meat is fresh. We had some of the most amazing lamb of our lives on the side of the road in Morocco. Covered in cumin and grilled, you won’t want to miss it!

 

M*A*S*H Site Hike

The Mission: Hike to the site where the hit show M*A*S*H was filmed.

The Prep: I parked on Mulholland Drive to avoid the parking fee and started from the trail head along the road. You can also park at the main parking area for $12. There are restrooms and water fountains in the parking lot.

The Gear:
Trail shoes
Shades
Sunscreen
Hydration pack
Hat

The Execution:
I grew up watching reruns of the hit show M*A*S*H on television and couldn’t resist the opportunity to hike out to the site where the show was filmed. I arrived early enough to find street parking and avoid paying the fee at the park entrance. I entered the park through a trail head on Mulholland Drive and was quickly met with myriad forks in the road. I didn’t have a trail map so I pulled out my phone and looked for “Crags Road”. The actual site lies on this road so it was a good directional reference point.

A short way down the path, I ran into a lot of families heading towards the swimming hole. It seemed as though the majority of the people I saw were not here to hike, but rather to picnic and swim. I came to a fork in the road where the majority of the crowd veered to the left towards the water and I stayed right towards the M*A*S*H trail. The scenic hike took me up a short hill with expansive views of the canyon and mountains in the distance. As I descended, I was met with more trail heads in a variety of directions, I continued straight on hoping I was still on the correct path.

Eventually I was met with the sign above, and relieve washed over me as I realized I hadn’t strayed from my course. I crossed over a small bridge that was desperately trying to hide the smelly, stagnant water below. As the path grew narrower, I continued through the trees until the trail opened up to reveal the site I had been waiting for.

I strolled around the site admiring relics of a past life that were now overgrown and rusted. Informational plaques dotted the area offering a glimpse into the bustling past of the secluded site. It was hard to imagine this dense, dry habitat as a former home of Hollywood magic. I sat at a picnic table to enjoy my lunch and bask in the history and drama of the scene before leaving my old television memories to the past and heading home.

The Highlights:

  • Level of difficulty: casual
  • Trail is mainly exposed so it gets quite hot. Wear sunscreen and bring plenty of water.
  • Trails are not well-marked, but if you have your phone, use google maps to ensure you are heading towards or on Crags Road.
  • Park address: 1925 Las Virgenes Road, Malibu Creek State Park, Agoura Hills, CA 91301