May Lake: A Truly Enjoyable Hike

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy hiking, but it can be hard work.  The view from the top is almost always worth it, but the steep climbs, heat, sweat, and sore legs can sometimes take away from the fun (and that’s just on the way up – the way down brings knee and ankle problems that people twice our age experience). 

I was so happy when my Yosemite-obsessed friend suggested May Lake for our hike this past weekend.  It’s one I have never done and I’ve seen pictures – it’s gorgeous.  The other great part?  The hike was nice, short, and very easy compared to our usual hikes (Yosemite Falls and anything from Happy Isles up – Vernal Falls, Nevada Falls, or all the way up to the top of Half Dome). 

The worst part about this hike is the almost 1.5 hour drive from the valley floor (we stayed in the Upper Pines campground).  Luckily, there are closer campgrounds that we passed along the way, including the Yosemite Creek, Porcupine Flat, and White Wolf campgrounds.  One thing to note is that Tioga Pass Road is open seasonally, so your best bets for hiking up there (or camping in one of the campgrounds) is from about June to September.

The hike itself is just over a mile and while it has a steady incline throughout, it is not a steep incline.  No fancy gear is required – just make sure you wear comfortable clothes and some sort of tennis shoes.  No swimming is allowed in the lake, so no need for a swim suit.  Bring water and food for a picnic at the lake, but if you are only going to the lake, your caloric needs will be no where near those of Half Dome or Yosemite Falls.  There is also a restroom at the top, which is a recent addition.

And finally, after an hour and a half drive and a 30 minute hike, you are rewarded with a breathtaking view of peaceful May Lake: 

May Lake, Yosemite National Park, California

The short hike is perfect for an easy backpacking trip.  There are campgrounds at May Lake (May Lake High Sierra Camp).  A wilderness permit is required, which is a separate reservation system from the Yosemte campgrounds (such as Upper Pines).

Add an extra 4.5 miles (roundtrip) to your hike by ascending Mt. Hoffman.  This is a great choice if you are backpacking and staying at the High Sierra Camp, but even if May Lake is a day trip, it is doable!  We were just there to enjoy the scenery, so we opted out of the additional trek up Mt. Hoffman. 

May Lake is the perfect hike for a low-key Saturday in Yosemite.  Next time, I’ll stay in the area and save on the driving time to and from the valley.  Enjoy!

When in Rome….Where to Stay?

We’re fortunate that we don’t have a tight budget for our Italian adventure, but that doesn’t mean I want to splurge on hotels for no reason.  I’ve been particularly surprised by the higher-priced hotels in Rome — yes, there are cheaper options, but I have a specific area in mind and am looking for a certain something in the hotel we choose.

After a bit of research, we found that the Campo de Fiori/Pantheon/Piazza Navona area is the place to stay.  While we’ve found some very promising prospects, we have not found anything that makes us say “wow.”  Capturing the trade-offs with each option is key, and we will eventually make a decision.  Location is the main constraint in the search.  Since we plan to be out and about most of the time, I am less concerned with the actual room and amenities than I normally would be for a stay.

Residenza Canali

The nonrefundable rate for the lowest level room (standard double) is just under €100 per night.  However, we’re looking at either the double room with terrace or junior suite with terrace, since the price is still within our “budget.”  The nonrefundable rates for those rooms are €336 and €380, respectively (if we choose the “long stay” discount, it’s €378 and €427).

Honeymoon Suite, Residenza Canali, Rome, Italy

While the rooms aren’t anything special, the location is great: it’s located just steps away from Piazza Navona (where the annual Christmas Market will be set up!).  And since it’s not right on the square, we should be able to stay away from the crowds, if we desire.

Albergo Cesàri

Rooftop Terrace, Albergo Cesari, Rome, Italy

Again with this hotel, the location is a huge plus: it’s located off of Piazza della Rotonda on a less crowded side street.  It’s still in our preferred area.  The rooms are not upgraded and some of them are described as being “cozy and comfortable, “but the rooftop terrace is a major win, such as those at” Also, breakfast is served on the terrace, and at 6 p.m., the bar opens up.

The cost is €378/386 total (depending on the type of room – I’m not sure what the difference is, though).  There are also more expensive rooms extra room, but that’s not something we need in Rome!

So do we choose the hotel with the private terrace, or the one with the shared rooftop terrace (and bar)?  And does it matter whether or not we have a terrace if it ends up raining the entire time?  I’m still debating whether one location is superior to the other (they are fairly close – only a 9 minute walk, according to Google Maps).

We’ll give it another month or so (and keep checking to make sure there’s availability) before booking, and maybe even later if we go with Residenza Canoli and opt for the nonrefundable rate.  However, it seems we can’t go wrong with either of these hotels!

Venice in November – Acqua Alta Risk?

Acqua Alta

We are visiting the end of November, which is at the height of the Acqua Alta (or high water) season.  A last-minute change in our trip plans this year and work schedule conflicts led to us scheduling our Italy trip later than we’d normally go.  Despite the weather risk, we are confident we’ll still have a great trip after doing some research.  Let me explain…

Acqua Alta

Graph created using data from City of Venice

The graph above is scary for a November Venice visitor.  Since 1872, one third of all Acqua Alta events (defined as tides 110 cm above sea level, effectively flooding 14% of the city, and most visibly, St. Mark’s Square) have occurred in the month of November.  Over time, due to subsidence and human modifications to the natural environment, the frequency of events has increased.  In recent history (since 1966), Acqua Alta events occur about 4 times each year.  What the graph and pictures don’t show you, however, is that Acqua Alta events are actually fairly short in duration.  A similar graph to the one above on the City of Venice website shows that Acqua Alta events occur predominately in the morning, between 8am and noon.  The actual time where flooding occurs is driven by the tide cycles.  As seen in the graph below, showing the tide cycles over 3 days, the peaks span at most 4 hours.  So, at worst, an aqua alta event will impact a morning.  It’s also important to remember that the Acqua Alta events are driven by astronomical reasons, not meteorological.  Just because the water is high, doesn’t mean it’s raining.

Venice Tide ChartThe final thing we uncovered in our research that made us comfortable visiting Venice in November is the amount of resources the city invests in preparing for Acqua Alta.  In addition to a dedicated monitoring and warning department, the city also erects elevated platforms along main streets to allow people to walk above the water.  The vaporetto water buses continue to operate and many hotels we looked at provide water boots for guests.

In addition to reading about Acqua Alta, we also took a look at the historic weather trends for late November. is a great resource for pulling weather statistics by date.  For this trip, I built a quick Excel spreadsheet to summarize the temperature trends, chance of precipitation, and chance of “heavy rain”.  For our time period of interest, I obtained the following results:

Avg. Low Avg. High Any Precipitation “Rain”/”Heavy Rain”
40 51 17% 2%

We felt very comfortable with the results.  We can mitigate cold temperatures with warmer clothing, and a 2% chance of heavy precipitation doesn’t seem unreasonable compared to what we’d expect at any place anytime of the year.

After addressing the weather risk, we became extremely excited to visit in the off-season.  Visitors are often turned-off by the extreme crowds in Venice.  We last visited in early September, and although very crowded, we still enjoyed ourselves and found seclusion in the city late at night.  However, in late November, we are expecting solitude even in the daylight hours.  According to statistics from the Veneto Region government used to construct the graph below, November is nearly tied with December and January for the lowest nights spent by tourists in Venice per month.  Relative to when we last visited September, there will be almost as little as a third of the people visiting Venice.  Meanwhile, unlike more rural destinations or seasonal destinations, Venice will be completely open for business in November.  All of the hotel and restaurant options we’ve looked at are open.

Nights Spent in Veneto by Month

We were able to use online resources to effectively address our concerns about weather in Venice in November.  We are looking forward to a very romantic visit and an opportunity to see one of our favorite cities with far fewer crowds.