Category Archives: travel

Car Camping in Big Basin

I haven’t been camping a ton, just barely often enough over the years to not be completely clueless. I’ve never gone camping with kids though, and the idea seemed pretty daunting to me. It turns out I think a lot of my anxiety stemmed from the fact that I’m the most familiar with backpacking/backcountry camping, where if you forget something or something goes wrong you’re kinda out of luck.

So anyway, we signed on to a group of 7 other local families that were planning a weekend getaway in Big Basin, the oldest state park in California and about an hour drive from our house. It was fun sharing a campsite with some very experienced car camping families. The kids from about age 4 to age 8 mostly ran around like a pack and occasionally came back to gobble down a bunch of food. (And one or two performed some pretty epic meltdowns, not gonna lie.) Dakota and a few other toddlers hung out with the adults who collectively helped make sure they didn’t get too close to the fire or eat too much dirt.

Dirt face

Most of our camping gear is in good condition, but clearly bought with an eye toward backpacking. We got teased for our itty bitty 2-person tent, especially because we set it up next to one of the other family’s super palatial tent.

small tent, big tent

I was very envious of some of the cooking setups I saw on the trip, nice fold-out tables with various hooks and shelves, and some briefcase-sized camp-stoves with attachment points for mini propane tanks. We’ll probably pick up one of thos even before we look to upgrade our tent.

Dave was adamant that we shouldn’t bring stuff that would require refrigeration all weekend, though we did bring a cooler with burger patties for Friday, the first night. We’re comfortable keeping eggs at room temperature so we brought a dozen and had eggs cooked in a cast iron skillet both mornings. For lunch on Saturday we had canned tuna mixed with mayo and relish. I’m comfortable leaving mayo at room temperature too, but this particular mayo didn’t actually have eggs in it so it was double okay by me to not refrigerate it. For Saturday dinner we had a Mexican themed potluck. We brought all the supplies for guacamole, and it wasn’t bad at all cutting up avocados and juicing limes on the picnic table. Next time I think I may bring a bag for food scraps though and bring them home with us, I felt bad tossing all that compostable stuff in the trash.


Big Basin has awesome redwoods and no bears! There are some pretty tenacious raccoons though, so each campsite had a big metal food locker, as well as a big picnic table and metal fire pit. Every few campsites shared a spigot with potable water, as well as heavy duty trash dumpsters and restrooms with flush toilets and coin-op showers. Our car was parked right by the campsite so it was easy to just toss our duffel in the trunk each night. There was a camp store a few miles away that we personally didn’t end up needing, though we probably would have gone for firewood and insect repellent if the families we were with hadn’t been so well provisioned.


On Saturday we did a very slow-paced hike with some of the other families. Dakota walked a little but was mostly content to observe from the carrier. Other than that we just hung out at the campsite and chatted with the other adults, ate various snacks that everyone had bought, and tossed things on the fire because that’s always fun. 🙂

Family photo

On the ride home Dave and I were already setting lofty goals to try and do weekend camping trips every few months. California has so much amazing park land that we really don’t even need to travel that far to enjoy tons of natural beauty. We did agree that camping with other families was part or what made the experience so awesome. So our plan is to book places way in advance, and then hope we can convince people to go with us as the date approaches.


Cologne, Germany

Dave occasionally gets to go to interesting places for his work, and we had already pretty much decided that for the next one that came along, I’d go too. As it so happens, the locale ended up being Cologne, or Köln as it’s known in German. As a bonus, we knew that Dave would have a lot of downtime for this trip, so I wouldn’t have to spend much of the time being touristy by myself while he worked.

I think it’s fair to say that we’re both pretty much the exact opposite of what you would call “seasoned world travelers”.  I managed one whirlwind trip through Europe with my high school choir group, other than that I’ve only been outside the US for my sister’s graduation in Montreal. Before starting this job, Dave had never been off of this continent. This was his first trip to Europe, though I feel like he had a big advantage over me, having taken German to fulfill his foreign language requirements in school.

We were pretty insanely jet-lagged when we got there of course, but we managed to stay awake until the sun went down. Here’s a nifty “clock” in the hotel lobby…

(The wall it’s on is mirrored, if you’re confused as to why I’m in the picture.)

I’ll try my best to avoid an excruciating walk-through of our vacation, but I wanted to ramble about a few of our favorite thoughts and experiences from the trip.

Cars- we laughed a bit at ourselves for taking a stronger interest in the automobiles than in the medieval architecture. Actually, we were surprised right from the get-go upon stepping out of the airport and discovering that nearly all taxis were Mercedes.

More generally though, we are getting ready to buy a second car, and we had already decided a few weeks ago that we were looking for a compact hatchback. As I understand it, that’s pretty much the transportation of choice for most of Europe, and Cologne was no exception. We had already narrowed down our decision to the Honda Fit and the Ford Fiesta, and since then we’ve noticed that Fits are everywhere in California, but Fiestas are few and far between. Well Fiestas have been on the market for a while in Europe, and we saw them everywhere! I think I only saw two Hondas (and they weren’t Fits) and a few more Toyotas the entire time we were there.

We had some fun puzzling out all of the unfamiliar car maker logos- we got pretty good at recognizing Renault, Fiat, Corsa, Citroën, and Opel, all of which I believe had very nice-looking compact hatchbacks.

Food- while I’m definitely not a food connoisseure, my relationship with food has changed dramatically over the years, and I’ve found one of the best ways to set myself up for a really great day is to go all out for breakfast. So when we saw that our hotel had an extensive breakfast buffet, we just had to try it. There were eggs and bacon and a huge variety of sausage, as expected. I was pleasantly surprised to see kefir and full-fat yogurt, along with a various pickled things. (Sorry, not going to try the pickled herring, especially not at breakfast…) There was also a large selection of cold cuts and soft cheeses, and several different liver pâté things. One of the pâté things had capers mixed in… so good! Anyway, round one at the buffet was devoted to my traditional breakfast foods, for round two I tried out the different cold cuts and cheeses and such.

Needless to say, we weren’t even remotely hungry when lunch rolled around, so we skipped it.

We went pretty meat-heavy on the meals in general, so I slowly became a little more familiar with the German words for pork, chicken, beef, etc. Lamm was easy to learn… and delicious of course. 🙂

I’m not a beer drinker, but Dave stepped up and did the drinking for me; he’s a helper like that. We noticed a lot of restaurants seemed to focus on Tiki drinks for their cocktails, I have no idea if that just happened to be the restaurants we visited, or if it’s a recent fad or if it’s always been fairly popular there.

Sightseeing- We went to “the Dom” of course. It was nice,  but one of the only things I remember pretty well from my high school trip was lots and lots of old cathedrals, so this one didn’t really stick out.

We really enjoyed just walking around and soaking in the city, especially along the Rhine.

One of my favorite sights was this bridge over the river, where there were thousands of padlocks with people’s names and dates (and frequently hearts and phrases like “Forever Love”) written or engraved on them. It looks like a fairly recent tradition, considering the vast majority of the dates were from the last 3 or so years. Still, it looked seriously cool. About five seconds of googling turned up this article on the tradition. The Wikipedia picture for the Hohenzollern Bridge doesn’t really reflect just how full it is these days, maybe I should submit my picture?

We also had to hit up the Schokoladenmuseum… Museum of Chocolate! It was a little drier than I was expecting, considering the subject matter, but Dave says it’s pretty similar to the Hersey Park tour, minus the mechanized ride. I guess I was expecting Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory or something. Anyway, all of the biology, history and cultural stuff was still very interesting. My favorite was the big room with actual functioning chocolate-making machines. Go assembly line, go!

Afterward we visited their cafe and got some drinking chocolate. I got one with Baileys added, Dave got the normal one, but both tasted pretty much like rich hot chocolate. Bummer, I was hoping for something less sweet.

I still enjoyed it of course, (Dave didn’t actually drink both of them…) but I did end up going back the next day while Dave was busy and got the spicy one. It was AMAZING! Here’s the description:

Yes, that’s chili powder, tabasco, tequila, and rum. There really wasn’t much alcohol in it, but the sweet chocolate plus the spicy kick was just excellent.

Anyway, we’re back and mostly recovered from the plane ride. All in all, a very nice trip, but I’m glad to be back in sunny California.