Moving Across Country… in a Global Pandemic!

Moving is never a walk in the park. Moving across country any time, is a HUGE change. Now imagine doing that…in a global pandemic. Yep, that’s what we did and I’m here to tell you ALL about it!

I recently talked about our reasons for leaving San Francisco. It was definitely a hard decision but we both felt that we were ready to grow, ready for change, and wanted be closer to my family. Once we broke the news to our family and friends, the plans were made…

We knew we wanted to ship about 60% of our stuff, specific furniture that we loved that had sentimental value, all of our art (we own TONS of nicely framed unique artwork), clothes (again, MANY boxes were comprised of clothes, shoes, and jackets alone), and random nick-knacks and things we couldn’t part with. We also knew that we didn’t personally want to drive our stuff across multiple states via U-haul. While we wanted to do a cross country drive with our cat Beatrix, the pressure and stress of tugging our stuff was not appealing and we quickly decided on a pod type move. I made a few calls and got quotes, both from PODS and UPack, and we decided to use UPack because they were a bit cheaper and quicker. While on the phone to both companies, representatives at each place told me that this was the last reservation available for 6 weeks out and that the #1 place they were moving people to was…Austin. Interesting! My intuition was correct. Folks were leaving SF by the droves and also heading to Texas.

After we sold off the stuff we could and gave the rest away to Goodwill, we packed our things very tightly, literally putting EVERYTHING in bubble-wrap. You see, UPack is just a storage container-shipping service, so packing is completely left to you (and you can’t claim breakage if you packed poorly). You also have to hire movers separately if you need and because our SF apartment was on the 2nd floor with a winding staircase, we opted to pay movers to help lug our stuff down into the containers. Boy were they especially quick and experienced! The next day, UPack came to pick up our stuff and it was en route to Texas, we would see it in about 7-10 business days. The rest of the week we slept on an air mattress and worked from our folding camping chairs, and stayed a few nights with friends.

We jam packed our stuff into TWO UPack pods (this is only half our stuff) and luckily only ONE GLASS broke!

The morning of our big departure we walked through Alamo Square for the last time. The air was thick and foggy, and also incredibly smokey from the wildfires – making it hard to breathe. I cried and felt incredibly grateful for my time here and very hopeful for our future. But I also had so much adrenaline to get going – and get to Texas! We threw our last remaining items out, tidied up the apartment, got our rental car, and packed up with Bea and were off!

We chose a one-way car rental from SFO airport to the Austin airport over about 5 days. We already had plans to buy our friend’s car in Texas, so this was the most efficient way for us to move across country. Our car was packed with a few suitcases of clothes, our computers and camera, a handful of items we wanted to personally hang onto (like paperwork and family heirlooms) and of course our baby cat. The plan was to drive down the 5 to Bakersfield and hit Las Vegas, then through Utah to stay in Moab, cross into Colorado and stay in Denver, drive down through Colorado Springs, cross New Mexico and into Texas to stay in Amarillo the final night, with the last day driving through until we reached Austin. We did this route because both of us recently spent time in New Mexico (and I in Arizona) and neither of us have really explored Utah or Colorado – so we wanted to go where we could explore more things, even if it did take a little longer.

I didn’t book us any hotels in advance. And luckily, we drove through states where they weren’t implementing quarantine for COVID (another reason we didn’t stay in New Mexico, they were more strict in the pandemic). We took turns driving our fun Hyundai Sante Fe mid-size SUV which was perfect for us. Keep in mind, I haven’t owned a car in 12 years and I didn’t drive much in California, so I wanted something that I felt comfortable in and this car was amazing. We agreed in the future if we ever saw a good deal on this vehicle we would get it! So smooth and safe. Two thumbs up from us!

The first day of the trip was the WORST. I knew it was going to suck hard, not only because of being emotional saying goodbye, but it was the longest drive of the whole trip, it was hot en route to Bakersfield which also isn’t a super interesting landscape, and we knew Bea was going to have a really hard time. For about 2 months before we left, John practiced taking Beatrix for drives around the city, although in shorter spurts of 30 minutes. It got a lot easier for her after a few times, but that was no where close to being in the car for 8 hours or so. We had a flexible cat carrier and I put a sweater of mine down that she loves to sleep on, and brought toys and treats. We had a travel liter box as well and kept her in a cat harness the whole time she was in the car. Initially we wanted to keep her in the middle seat, but she cried way too much and I put her on my lap. It was a LONG drive. We passed through burn scars from the fires on the 5, only 2 days after it was put out! It was a chaotic time to leave and the energy was crazy. Bea wouldn’t stop crying and once we made it to Bakersfield, we decided to stop to let her walk outside in the park on her leash – she did NOT like this at all and immediately ran back into her cat carrier, and we didn’t hear a peep from her the rest of the drive.

We finally made it to Vegas. I booked us a room at the La Quinta over by Red Rock Canyon because they are pet friendly with no additional charges (other hotels wanted anywhere from $20-$100 extra and half of the hotels didn’t even allow animals). The first night I really questioned our driving plan. I seriously thought about just going through Arizona and NM and getting to Austin ASAP because Bea had such a hard time and I was worried about her. John assured me everything was going to be ok, and once I had a good night of rest I would want to proceed with our plans. Boy was he right! The next morning, we left Bea in the hotel so we could go explore Red Rock Canyon on our own and enjoy what we could while she felt safe. It was so beautiful! It took about 45 minutes for us to do the scenic drive and we were only about 5 minutes from our hotel. We decided to keep this strategy for the rest of the trip: pick a place we want to explore in our destination, find a La Quinta nearby that location, leave Bea in the room and go explore in the morning, checkout by noon, and onward to the next location. This was AMAZING for us and worked well. And Beatrix was in much better spirits on the second day, she loved exploring the hotel room.

I really wanted to see the Hoover Dam while we left Vegas but it was closed due to COVID. I looked up if we could see anything driving by, but others had attempted the same thing on TripAdvisor and confirmed no dice. So I just drove us straight out of Vegas, through the corner of Arizona (for about 30 minutes, hey at least we saw the backside of the Grand Canyon!) and into Utah. I visited Salt Lake City in high school once but never spent time in southern Utah. Man, it was GORGEOUS! Wow. We stopped almost every 30 minutes to take pictures because the geology was so unique and constantly changing. It was the best part of our drive, the most mesmerizing and gorgeous.

We made our way to Moab and checked in to La Quinta, dropped off Bea, and went to a lovely dinner on an Italian patio on the main strip. The food was good but the atmosphere of Moab was amazing. What a cute place!

While Bea was curled up by the window, we spent the next morning at the Arches National Park, just a 10 minute drive from our hotel! If you are ever in Utah, this is a MUST DO! It was INCREDIBLE. Words can’t describe being surrounded by the beautiful GINORMOUS red rocks. You stayed in the car (hey, a great COVID activity!) and drove to each point of interest where you could get out for photos. It was one of our favorite things we have ever done together. It really felt like Land Before Time.

After the park we grabbed some delish quesadillas and did a little shopping on the main street for some cute Moab shirts, souvenirs for family, and an ornament before packing up and making our way to Denver. We also saw that there were fires in western Utah and eastern CO, so they were basically everywhere this point in the summer (hey climate change is real)! We left behind red rocks and arches for trees and mountains, and lots of super windy roads.

An old college roommate of mine lives in Denver and we made plans to meet up for a beer at the local brewery, so we opted to stay at the La Quinta in Lakewood. It was great to see Jessica and her beautiful family! And the beer was as good as they say it is in Denver. 🙂

My old college roommate and I being safe and socially distant! We used to wait tables together at Hyde Park Bar & Grill and also worked together at the famous NXNW.

The next morning we explored downtown and Sloan’s Lake. We got coffee and vegan donuts and walked around Confluence Park and saw the city before making our way to the peaceful lake. This was the only time we were able to see views of downtown and they were really nice. I also felt a bit out of place because I was dressed up a bit in boots and a skirt, while literally everyone around me wore workout clothes by North Face or Patagonia, LMAO.

We packed up Denver and made our way to Colorado Springs for a picnic lunch in the park and some boutique shopping. I always heard the best things about Colorado Springs and it didn’t disappoint – I actually liked the vibe more than Denver, personally. The shops were adorable and I scored a few things like a crystal candle, moon earrings, and a tie dye scrunchie. And just look at our adventure cat enjoying the town square!

I drove the next stretch down southern Colorado, across New Mexico and into Texas. It was extremely flat in the panhandle and I had never seen that part of Texas before! Crossing the state line made it the more real that yes, we are Texans now.

We were on a mission to get to Amarillo (by mornin’…) to check into our final La Quinta and grab a chicken fried steak. And FANTASTIC chicken fried steak we had! Bea even got accustomed to hotel living, she was a real great indoor house cat on our journey.

Our last night was spent on the west side, 10 minutes away from Cadillac Ranch. John brought his own spray paint just so we could tag the cars. I had no idea how many people actually tagged this art installation every day! Less than 2 weeks before we went, Rhianna was there and left a tag that said “Fuck Trump” and put a picture of it on her Instagram. All of the local Trump supporters immediately went and painted all the cars red with pro Trump slogans. By the time we got there, everything was completely covered with various tags – you would have no idea that this even happened. (also SO MANY spray paint cans on the ground which I wasn’t a fan of, we took ours with us)

After breakfast we loaded up and began our journey to Austin. We had to stop in Lubbock though because John’s dad has a romanticized view of Lubbock from previous work history and we needed to send him photos. I went to Lubbock only two times before, once for a UT football game where I got hit in the head with a dried up tortilla (yes, Texas Tech does this and it makes no sense) and the other time was to visit a friend after college. John’s reaction was “that’s Lubbock?” – LOL.

The last day was another hard one for Bea. At this point in the trip she was over the car. And we were about 7 hours away from Austin so it was almost as bad as day 1. But we persevered! I had never driven through that part of Texas before and wasn’t used to the rolling hills. That’s not the Texas that I am familiar with, but it was cool to see! What WASN’T cool to see were the buttload of Trump signs. But as we got closer to Austin those became less frequent. Our last pit stop was in the town of Ballenger where I grabbed us amazing Mexican food to go, and we ate in the town gazebo with Bea. (man I SO WISH I got a picture of this moment!) Our new home was so close!

Five days and 7 states later, we arrived! We dropped off our things at our new house, returned the rental car, and stayed the next few days with our friends Jen and Ian until our stuff arrived from UPack. What an incredible journey! Looking back, I can’t believe how quickly we made everything happen. And Bea loves the new place! She has more rooms to explore, more windows, and more sunlight (which she LOVES to bathe in and never really got to do much in SF as we didn’t have much natural light in our place). She watches the grackles chirp each and everyday from her cat tower and the back kitchen door, peering into our backyard. Being in the car for multiple days in a row is a very distant memory for her.

There will be more posts from my new perspective in Texas in the coming months. I loved our time across country and will cherish those memories forever. But to be back, see family, and have new energy and state of mind is such a great feeling! It was DEF the right move. Texas, Texas…yeehaw!

Edinburgh, Scotland 2019

Edinburgh, Scotland was the second portion of our European birthday trip from February 2019 (we traveled in Iceland prior to arriving in the UK). John and I have our birthdays 4 days apart in early February, and over the years we’ve created a tradition to explore someplace new together. We had a tiny layover in London after departing Reykjavik but it was a smooth travel experience and we made it to our AirBnb in Old Town Edinburgh by 5pm, just in time to have celebratory shots with our neighbors before hitting up a pub for dinner and drinks! (Seriously this never would have happened in Iceland, as mentioned, folks are a bit more to themselves. First thing we heard after opening our door was “Hey are you visiting? Want to come take a shot?” – talk about contrast!)

We stayed a hop, skip, and a jump away from the Edinburgh Castle and had the most beautiful views from our AirBnb. The next morning we made our way over to the castle for a tour and high tea service. It is one of the touristy-historic things I had on my list and worth it! We got our tickets online a few days before, but it wasn’t busy at all when we were there.

After the castle tour, as we walked down the street, we passed a man with an owl named Genevieve and she took a liking to John. We didn’t even ask to hold her, she just flew over to him as we passed by (I’m sure it’s a scheme but I sorta have this idea that birds flock to John because he’s some sort of secret Disney prince, like what happened when we were in British Columbia).

The Scott Monument was my FAVORITE building.

Victoria Street is the inspiration for Diagon Alley in Harry Potter! It is adorable and full of cute boutiques. We got everyone in the family plaid scarves for a real deal. I scored local watercolor art prints of the castle. And John got a cute old-timey Scottish cap.

Remember how I mentioned that you had to plan everything in Iceland? Well, Scotland was the opposite and in the evening we had time to explore something random in the moment, so we ended up going to see this local Sherlock Holmes improv troupe at the Monkey Barrel! It was fun to see their interpretation, complete with a PIANIST who also made up the melody as the story evolved? Hands down some of the most fun we’ve ever had. This was our favorite day on our whole week’s long trip. A little bit of structure but time to adapt to our surroundings and also spontaneously see something new. AND LAUGH! It was a creative show and only $5!

We also explored the area around Arthur’s Seat and Holyrood Park. I wanted to climb to the top but totally wore the wrong outfit: pink corduroy pants with fancy booties. When in doubt, choose functionality over fashion in Scotland <lol>

The next morning we wanted good Scottish comfort food and enjoyed Mum’s for shepherds pie. GO THERE! One of our favorite things to do is ask the locals places they enjoy to frequent: bars, restaurants or shopping areas. This is how you find the best gems that are not always obvious to the tourist (or even on Google). She guided us to a fun underground bar called Bramble. It was actually underground, had the most creative cocktails, and a DJ spinning hip hop records. We loved it and still talk about it to this day! We even went twice…hehe.

Afterwards, we made our way to Craigmillar Castle where I had a crazy paranormal experience. I felt some intense negative energy downstairs in the wine cellar that stuck with me for 2 whole weeks. (Intense demonic dreams, severe stalking and harassment from men, just general unease). After researching I found out that King James III kept his brother prisoner in the wine cellar where he died, after being accused of witch craft. And I also found out that there was a secret entrance to a Hellfire Club down there in the 18th century. These clubs were super misogynistic and anti women’s rights – so basically that energy did NOT like me while it had no problem with John. It was one of the craziest things I’ve ever experienced. I saged regularly for 2 weeks before I felt myself again.

Oh also, they filmed scenes from Outlander there.

After the castle we walked around the city some more and had a delish pasta dinner before going to the haunted underground vault tour. We read this was one of the most unique things to do and wanted to end our journey with this experience. It was creepy but also amazing to see this bizarre old underground vault, literally UNDERNEATH Edinburgh. Def recommend!!

I love how old the city is. Around every corner there is an awe of Gothic architecture. It literally feels like Hogwarts. It’s actually where JK Rowling wrote Harry Potter (we even visited the cafe where she wrote the books). The buildings are so incredibly old and BOLD. It has a VIBE.

Fun things about Edinburgh:

  1. The city is built on top of itself, so there are layers of streets on top of each other – making GPS hard to follow in certain areas.
  2. The people were the nicest folks we have ever met in any country. Very friendly and warm, but not too much into your business, but also willing to get to know you and hear your story. I felt incredibly safe.
  3. It has a vibrant arts scene filled with poets, writers, comedians, artists – it felt amazing to be encompassed in creative energy.
  4. I have a habit of going on ghost tours every time I travel. I can say, hands down, Scotland is the most haunted place I’ve EVER been.
  5. It is our favorite international city we’ve explored, and we would love to live here! Words can’t describe how at home we felt being in Edinburgh. It’s chock full of amazing history, architecture, an expanding arts scene, and visually stunning nature. We didn’t get to make it outside of the city but can’t wait to eventually explore the Highlands and surrounding islands. It’s a breathtaking country that we feel called towards.

We CAN’T WAIT to come back. If there is one place to go in all of Europe, I highly suggest Edinburgh. You won’t be disappointed!

Iceland 2019

I’ve always wanted to go to Iceland and in 2019 for our February birthday week, we made it happen (alongside a stop in Edinburgh, Scotland which will be a 2nd post). Here’s a trip down memory lane for our amazing winter experience close to the arctic!

One thing about traveling in Iceland that I didn’t expect was how much you had to plan everything you wanted to do weeks and months prior. Every excursion, car or bus transfer, even seeing the Blue Lagoon was timed via a ticket by the hour that sold out in advance, so we had to carefully plan each and every days worth of activities, which I normally don’t like to do. (Hello spontaneity!)

We had a non-stop flight from SFO directly to Reykjavik, which arrived early in the morning, and the first thing we did was head straight to the Blue Lagoon. Because of the proximity to the airport, it’s easiest to experience this national treasure either after arriving or before departing. Our arrival was so early and we couldn’t check into our Airbnb for hours, so we opted to do this first and really soak up (no pun intended) the Icelandic experience. We booked this service to take us to the Blue Lagoon from the airport, which also included a drop-off in the city after we were done.

The Blue Lagoon is incredibly accommodating for tourists. There is an area where you can store your luggage (since most folks come before/after the airport) and easily explore the hot springs. These phone case lanyards were very handy keeping our phones dry so that we could still take photos without worry. Our tickets came with a mask and a cocktail (but you could purchase more if you wanted) and the masks are AMAZING! My skin felt so nice I opted for another treatment. I researched beforehand and found that many people experienced very dry and brittle hair for days after getting it wet in the lagoon, so I pulled it up in a bun the entire time which I highly suggest (especially if your hair is colored).

After about 3-4 hours at the Blue Lagoon, we transferred to Reykjavik and enjoyed a very local lunch (including a smoked meat + fish flatbread) before checking into our Airbnb for a tiny nap. It’s hard to acclimate to the time change so we eased our way in by napping, exploring the city a bit and having a beer, followed by getting groceries to cook for a cozy night in and early bedtime. It snowed pretty heavily at this point and carrying our bags across the town square was quite comical.

Tip: eating out in Iceland can be pretty pricey due to the fact that it IS a remote island close to the arctic <lol> – I highly suggest renting an Airbnb purely for the ability to cook some of your meals. The grocery store isn’t actually that expensive, so getting things for breakfast and a dinner was what worked for us. Plus, Airbnbs are actually a lot cheaper than hotels in certain neighborhoods so this makes it a double win. (Here is where we stayed and loved it! This part of downtown was the perfect spot, it was a few blocks away from the bus stops, the church, and included walking distance to good bars and restaurants.)

This is the Hallgrimskirkja, the most famous church in all of Iceland and also the tallest building in the city (and one of the tallest in the country). We paid $6 to take the elevator to the top to take in panoramic views and snap these pics. I highly suggest doing this if you can!

Check out those icicles!

Reykjavik is so quaint and beautiful. I adored the colorful homes and buildings and how they popped against the white snow canvas.

One of the most fun things we were able to experience was the Lava Tunnel, about 41 KM southeast of Reykjavik. Once again, tickets included roundtrip bus fair from downtown and was easily my favorite part of the trip. We saw the most wonderful sunrise with amazing pastel colors, it felt like a dream. Because we were so far north and in early February we had limited daylight. Sunrise actually happened at 10am and sunset around 3:30. For this very reason, and because of the unpredictable weather patterns (not to mention neither John or I are experienced winter drivers) we didn’t rent a car. Most all excursions include transportation from Reykjavik, so we were perfectly happy with this decision. Though we do want to go back in the summer time where we there will be more daylight so that we can rent a car and explore the rest of the countryside.

Upon arrival they gave us crampons for extra grip into the tunnel. We heard excellent folklore tales about the underground trolls and also the history of geology in the region. It was fascinating!

The next day for John’s 30th birthday we had PLANNED a full day at the Golden Circle, complete with 3 waterfall stops and ending with a soak in the Secret Lagoon. However, life had other things in store for us. The weather in Iceland is very unpredictable, especially in the winter, and we faced winds upward of 125 MPH. All excursions were cancelled and all roads outside of town were closed. We even tried looking into renting a car so we could go on our own but, NOPE. There was nothing we could do, and we couldn’t push this to the next day because we were flying to Scotland. I was understandably heartbroken. I think I cried for about 20 minutes and then pulled it together because, hey, we were still in Iceland and there were tons of other amazing things to explore inside town! (Again, why I hate having to plan an itinerary for this very reason! But it is the way it is in Iceland.)

It was John’s birthday afterall and the coldest and windiest day of our whole trip! So how did we start our day? By visiting the Big Lebowski Bar for some White Russians! Yes. There are about a dozen Lebowski bars in the world and one was just down the street. What a great way to turn around the energy!

We then went to the Perlan, Iceland’s natural science and geology museum, and got to explore an ice cave! There are so many geological wonders in Iceland, being able to take in the history was pretty awesome (I took a ton of geology in college and am a bit of a rock nerd). Plus the cafe inside has EPIC views!

It was FREEZING! Have you ever tried walking around in 125 MPH winds?! We found a brewery and restaurant by the water that sounded good for lunch and took the (yes, FREE) bus across town. The local fish fare is delish and you can’t go wrong with any local beers.

While we had lunch we looked up what was around us and saw that the Aurora Reyjkavik (the Northern Lights museum) was within walking distance. We weren’t lucky enough to actually see the real lights during our stay (again, hard to plan seeing the Northern Lights as there are many variables involved), so exploring the history and science behind them was the next best thing!

This is a big surprise, but for dinner we had the best thai food at Krua Thai (honestly the best food we had the whole trip – I know it’s weird because “good Thai food in Iceland?” – YES!!), visited Mikkeller & Friends Brewery, and then ended the night with a famous hotdog from Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur. It ended up being the most fun day! Sometimes where life takes you is better than what you plan for ❤ .

This was the end of the first part of our 2019 European journey. The next morning we had delish pastries from Braud, a bakery down the street from us, and flew to Edinburgh for the second portion of our trip. Here are a few takeaways from our time in Iceland:

  1. In order to ensure that you experience most things, you MUST plan in advance.
  2. The caveat is, the weather might turn on you and your plans may change – if you are able to leave a bit of wiggle room in-case this happens, the better.
  3. Also, because of this, try pushing most of your “plans” into the first part of your trip so that if anything happens you can use your extra “non-plan” days as backup.
  4. Most excursions include roundtrip transit, so you don’t NEED a car if you stay in Reykjavik.
  5. Winter weather is unpredictable and you *probably* won’t see the Northern Lights.
  6. It’s a very small country, population wise, and most people tend to stick to themselves. Folks are nice if you ask questions or need directions, but don’t expect to strike it up with strangers in a bar.
  7. Go knowing that you likely won’t be able to do sand see everything you want, but it’s such an incredible place that anything you end up doing will be amazing!
  8. Iceland is AWESOME and I can’t wait to go back!! You will want to go back.

Stay tuned for part two of our 2019 adventure into Edinburgh!

Don’t pop my hot air Balloon Fiesta! #twistedsisterblowshotair New Mexico October 2018

I am the youngest and have 3 older sisters, and if you’ve read previous posts you’ve seen a few sister trips (Nashville, Charleston, British Columbia) and know that sister travel time is important to me.

My closest sister in age, Bryana, and I have traveled together the most in my life; we even have a pseudo name for ourselves when we get together formed from an inside karaoke joke. #TwistedSister came about because that’s what we call ourselves when we sing “More Than Words” by Extreme, which is the most mellow and bizarre karaoke duet ever. Obviously this means that for the most part, we try to sing this song karaoke whenever we go on trips together, which I’m sure is rather exciting and annoying for all other karaoke patrons.

In October of 2018 we decided to meet in the middle (as I lived in California at the time) and experience the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta. We quickly made plans to participate, hot air balloon ride and all, just a few weeks out. To clarify, Albuquerque is one of the most popular destinations for hot air ballooning due to the location and winds, so there are several companies that regularly offer rides. There is also a once a year Balloon Fiesta, complete with hundreds of balloons, food, drinks, and games to experience while watching them take flight. It’s extremely expensive to book a ride in one of these balloons, so we opted for a regular ride outside of the festival for our balloon experience, and got tickets for the main event as a viewer which is exactly what I would do again if I had the chance.

When I told my friends about this idea, the most common immediate reaction was “are you sure you WANT to ride in a hot air balloon? That sounds scary” and I said it was “NBD, and duh.” (But for those of you that don’t know me, I have anxiety around anything that could potentially cause me harm or more specifically, DEATH, but I also oddly like doing things outside of my comfort zone even if I have major anxiety about it. I TOTALLY wasn’t googling hot air ballooning accidents or anything prior to takeoff…)

Thank goodness we opted for the early flight, because we eventually took off over an hour late and the flight scheduled after us ended up being cancelled. Though waking up at 5am that morning after arriving before midnight was not fun, it was so worth it for the experience of being up, up and away! And for those of you interested, my sis Bryana doesn’t really have a fear of heights nor is she as anxious as me and has even been on a hot air balloon before, and once we got in the balloon, I was the one that wasn’t bothered at all and she was nervous. It’s like we switched places! Of all the things I’ve done and felt anxious about WHILE doing it, riding a hot air balloon would be at the very bottom of the list. It was bizarre.

The view from our balloon! All the other balloons are from the fiesta.

We asked our balloon guy the strangest story that he had experienced while up in the air. Our basket was shared with about 12 other folks (you can select the size you want at booking, if you want something more intimate it’s more expensive) and he explained that in another ride with a similar basket, a man proposed to his girlfriend and everyone clapped. 5 minutes later, another man proposed to his girlfriend and everyone thought it was fake but then also eventually clapped. He said the 2nd GF was pissed. I mean – can you imagine? Why didn’t he abort the mission and do it another way? (I really wish this happened on our ride though to be fair).

Looking up

After we soared in air for several hours we went downtown for an early Mexican lunch and shopping in the square. There was not ONE place that served alcohol which made it a bummer when we wanted to cheers to the completion of our first hot air balloon ride. I found that whole thing super strange, but chalked it up to perhaps maybe downtown Albuquerque doesn’t get many tourists looking for happy hour or to celebrate. There were mostly older folks and churches though so I dunno <shrug>.

We also ended up getting our Big Dipper / Little Dipper matching sister tattoos RANDOMLY. We picked a tattoo place in the heart of a hipster neighborhood, walked in, and took the plunge. It felt a little weird just going into a random spot that we had no real information on, but we’ve both gotten tattoos before in similar circumstances so it wasn’t that out of the norm for us. And they turned out great!

We then napped, had dinner, and of course – karaoked. We also witnessed one of THEE strangest singing experiences of our karaoke careers.

Picture it: a young teenage girl seductively wearing a short black dress, red corset, super high red stripper shoes and lots of dramatic makeup sang “Phantom of the Opera” – in classical opera style – alongside….her MOM, who opted to wear oversized mom jeans and a sweater vest with sneakers who sang the part of the Phantom. The mom looked like the SNL parody of “Mom Jeans” with Tina Fey. This memory is forever burned in my brain.

The next morning we again woke up SUPER early to make our way to see the morning launches at the Balloon Fiesta. While it was incredibly hard getting up early, yet AGAIN (can you tell I’m not an early morning person??) it was so worth it to see the little balloons light up in dusk. It was breathtaking to see them all go up at once!

We then drove up to Sante Fe for frito pie and an afternoon of art at Meow Wolf and the Nedra Matteucci Galleries. We didn’t have a ton of time so crammed into Meow Wolf for about 3 hours, though I’ve heard people staying all day long and even coming back multiple days to figure out the puzzle.

The whole point is to solve a very layered and crazy family mystery that deals a lot in the metaphysical world. There are clues everywhere and the tiniest details can lead you down a rabbit hole. You can try to piece everything together and figure out what happened, or you can also go through it and take in the unique design and experience knowing you won’t be able to solve it. It is very crowded and you can spend HOURS combing through one exhibit.

Visually stunning! Around every nook and cranny were impeccable details and unique forms of art.
Anyone want a seance?

It’s a unique art immersion experience that we’re so thrilled to have seen and participated in, however it’s incredibly overwhelming and overstimulating, so afterwards the low energy of the art gallery was much welcomed.

The next part of our trip was my favorite, as we spent the next two nights at Ojo Caliente Spa outside of Taos in a pueblo hut. It was amazing to be in the middle of nowhere, surrounding by healing natural spring waters and spa, breathing in the palo santo and relaxing. I would do this again in a heartbeat, it was incredible! (Though I think they recently experienced a fire and it’s temporarily closed).

The waters felt so good, it wasn’t very crowded, and we got massages at the spa! We also totally didn’t watch Young Guns before going to bed…totally didn’t…

The last day of our trip was spent driving around Taos, exploring the historic pueblo, and getting the best green chile mexican food of the trip.

This gorge was amazing!

I’m so thankful I’m able to do trips like this with my family, it’s nice to be able to make memories one-on-one since my family is so large. Bryana has visited me the most of anyone, we have a special sister bond ❤

I can’t wait to be able to travel again and explore something new! But for now, I’m thankful for the memories. New Mexico was a blast! I got to ride in a hot air balloon, got a tattoo, dove into an immersive art experience, relaxed in healing mineral waters, got a massage, saw a pueblo and ate delish food all in THREE DAYS. Just wow.

Vancouver Vibes in 48 Hours

Piggy backing off my recent post reminiscing our hiking adventures in British Columbia, I wanted to review our collective 48 hours in Vancouver – so here it goes!

We arrived in the evening and made our way to the old fashioned Victorian Hotel in the Gastown district. Before booking our hotel I researched the neighborhoods a bit and wanted something that felt unique to the area with walking distance to fun restaurants and bars. Plus I love historical areas so the Gastown district was perfect because we found an eccentric spot close by for dinner and drinks at The Diamond! We stopped at another cute bar on our way back to the hotel and took in the nightlife and I remember feeling like I could spend a good chunk of time in the area.

Burrata, basil, and heirloom tomato salad at The Diamond.
The Victorian Hotel

The next day we hit up the famous Capilano Suspension Bridge park just outside the city. We didn’t rent a car because we were only in town for a very short period of time so we opted to use the free bus transit service the park offers from select parts of town. Finding the location for transit was super easy and was about a 15 minute ride (the ticket also included a free ride back to the city after the park, so it was a great perk!).

The suspension bridges of Capilano.

We had a great time exploring the area up in the air! It was such a unique and fun experience in the massive redwoods of Canada. Tip, if you’re interested in exploring I would go as early as possible in the morning because this park gets super crowded and it’s hard to have an intimate experience. We didn’t like how packed it got towards the end of our visit, but it was so pretty we didn’t care.

Once we made our way back to town we wanted to explore more of the Gastown district as well as downtown, so we walked around and got a few beers and bites along the way.

The famous clock of Gastown!

This is the point of our trip where we met up with my sister Krista and drove off to Whistler for our hiking adventures for a few days, but we all planned additional time in Vancouver on our way back.

After our amazing time out in the mountains of Whistler, we made our way back to the buzzing city life of Vancouver to our hotel downtown. We felt so sore and tired that we wanted to treat ourselves to a super nice spot to rest for our last night and it did NOT disappoint. I mean look at this view!

View from our hotel room at the Hyatt Regency, in downtown Vancouver.

We treated ourselves to the best pasta dinner and wine, but I didn’t get any photos of this experience nor do I remember where we went (just the dinner conversation will have to live on in my memory ❤ ). Krista left super early the next morning, so John and I spent the rest of the next day hopping around different breweries and boutiques in Gastown since the weather was pretty rainy and there are many good options close to us.

We LOVED Postmark Brewery – from the design of the logo and coasters to the interior design of the building, to the food menu and of course the beer. This was our favorite brewery hands down. You MUST check them out if you are in the area (plus their IG page is gorgeous and I still follow them 2 years later).

Hamburger with a side of the BEST tomato soup I’ve ever had at Postmark Brewery.
John is a Saison man.

We walked throughout more of the Gastown area which was so charming and fun. Not to mention we found some fun souvenirs and enjoyed walking the cobble sidewalks and taking in the vibe of the city.

We found the cutest place on the corner with delish brews and mac & cheese with views of the area called Peckinpah. I remember they played vintage disco music from San Francisco on the record player and knew this place was legit. Definitely stop there if that’s your thing!

Please note, we all wore plaid the entire trip. It was uniform – when in Canada, wear plaid. PLAID FOR LIFE!

Loved our experience in Vancouver and can’t wait to go back!

Bobby Hill forever.

Wish we had more time to explore the city and surrounding areas, but I just know we will go back because this corner of the world is so damn beautiful and fun! I still sport this plaid Canadian jacket I got 2 years ago. From the moment we arrived I felt like I belonged in Vancouver and enjoyed every minute of our trip – the city, the hiking, the beauty of the wilderness. I love the PNW so much and this was just an extension of that.

Mad love and respect for Canada…until next time!

British Columbia Hiking Adventures – September 2018

I would never call myself an “outdoorsy person” until a few years ago. And even then, it’s not natural for me, but more like I’ve grown into not being “an indoors-only person.” Sort of like an indoor-outdoor cat. While living in California and being with John for many years, I became more comfortable with hiking, camping, and wilderness adventures that would have definitely intimated me 15 years ago. But adventure has always called me, especially when it’s outside of my comfort zone! So when my sister Krista asked us if we wanted to join her on an REI guided hiking trip in British Columbia, we didn’t hesitate.

It was 3 days of hiking ranging anywhere from 7 to 10 miles per day, upward of 3,000 elevation gain in a single hike. Labeled as moderate it was no joke, and to train John and I did more advantageous hikes (2-3 a month, from 5-8 miles each) for 10-12 weeks prior to leaving. This meant I had to acclimate quickly, get boots that were easy to break in (hello Danner boots which I LOVE), and build my endurance. While I have always been a workout fiend completing multiple half marathons and ongoing weekly circuit training sessions, serious hiking is a totally different skill set, and despite that I was in shape – I felt very unprepared for what I was about to get into! I will post the hikes we did for training with a whole separate piece on my favorite hikes in California, but just know many miles went into preparing for this experience throughout summer of 2018.

The REI portion of the trip was 4 days / 3 nights at the Whistler Lodge with about 12 other guests plus 2 guides. It was nice being able to hike throughout the day and stay in a comfortable room and hot tub after (as opposed to backpacking) but I’m pretty sure anything you do in this area would be considered amazing due to the sheer beauty of everything. John and I met my sister in Vancouver and rode up to Whistler together, and we sandwiched some Vancouver fun on both ends of the hiking portion (which I’ll cover in a different post).

We hiked in our group of other like-minded individuals from all over, though John and I tended to stick with Krista the majority of the time in the back, as it was challenging for all of us at different times. Plus I enjoy taking my time and hiking slower than others (maybe because I’m short with short legs? I don’t feel the need to rush and walk fast and lead the way, I’d rather be the tail end so that when or if danger appears I am likely more safe 😉 ha!).

Day One was spent hiking all of the Joffre Lakes trail, from the first to the second lake, and the hardest portion of getting to the third lake with the glacier at the very top. This was one of the most BEAUTIFUL places I’ve ever seen in my life. It is the picturesque vision you imagine being enthralled in when you think of hiking in Canada.

On our way up we made a stop at the second lake and John had an incredible nature experience – check out this bird that landed on his hand as if he was a character in a Disney movie!

Going up was steep but I did it without using any poles. Once we were up at the top lake we were able to view the glacier and enjoy a nice picnic. However it started to rain and coming down was super challenging without poles so one of the guides lent me theirs and I was able to make it down the large slippery boulders. This was the scariest moment for me as I felt very anxious being the last one in the group, moving slowly to ensure that I didn’t fall in the pouring rain – but in the end I made it out only 15 minutes behind everyone else and was able to take my time, so I call that a win.

Day Two we made our way up Skywalk Trail on Rainbow Mountain in a beautiful old growth forest. It felt as if we were hiking in Lord of the Rings or some fantasy flick and was one of the coolest settings I’ve ever been in!

I used the poles for the entire journey on this day because this hike was super steep (upwards of 3,100 elevation gain), and because we were slow pokes we broke the bigger group of 12 into two, with the fast walkers leading and our group casually took our time. This was nice to not feel rushed and enjoy the amazing scenery, but also because this was a very long hike and if you had any goal to make it to the top you had to book it (even that group didn’t get all the way up after hiking 9 hours).

Krista also experienced a freak accident! Somehow a yellow jacket nest ended up on the ground and after many people walked over it, they buzzed out piping mad and stung her 4 times on her legs! It was so crazy and she ended up getting steroid shots from her legs ballooning up. We laughed about it later but in the moment was so bizarre.

This was John’s favorite hike and a special moment for us to share together!

After hiking we went out to dinner with our group and got to know everyone a little bit more; there as a newlywed couple from Ohio, an older couple from Houston, someone who came alone from Maryland who also went on an REI adventure in Iceland, a newly divorced older woman from South Carolina – so many unique folks!

We had one more excursion on Whistler + Blackcomb Mountain (where the 2010 Winter Olympics were held) to close out our REI adventure.

The weather turned extremely cold unexpectedly and the area had the first snowfall of the season over Labor Day Weekend! This changed our plans because none of us were prepared for hiking in the snow, and we had to do a less intense trail on the middle of the mountain (as opposed to the top). While riding the ski lift up to the top before we changed direction, I completely freaked out and felt so ill-prepared for the snow, (all while Krista laughed at me 😉 ) so I felt great about changing plans. Though John did try to go as far as he could into the unknown abyss…

It was nice closing out the intense few days of hiking with something a bit easier and relaxing, as that is my kind of hiking! But I know we definitely want to go back and explore. I think British Columbia Canada is one of (if not THEE) most beautiful places I’ve ever seen.

The next area in Canada we want to hike is in Banff National Park, and hopefully after the nightmare of Covid we can make that happen! I had an incredible time with REI on this guided trip and would totally book something similar again. Having a guide allowed us to experience places we never would have found on our own and we felt safe and relaxed not having to worry about how we would get from point A to point B. And we loved our group too!

I’m also glad I got to experience something life-changing with not only my amazing partner John, but with my sister Krista as well. We loved our trip and frequently bring up those memories. ❤

Krista didn’t miss traveling together in that crazy white van though…that will not be missed LOL.

Feel free to ask me any questions about this REI trip or specific trails mentioned!

Nashvillagers

 

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This past March was my dad’s 70th birthday, and my sisters and I celebrated by taking him to Nashville (similar to the Charleston trip we made with our mom back in October). My father has gotten pretty deep into genealogy research and discovering distant relatives, so he was stoked on heading to Nashville as his ancestors hailed from Tennessee. #TheOnlyTenISee 😉

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We started off at the Ryman Auditorium, the ORIGINAL Grand Ole Opry, with a show from the Gatlin Brothers! It was really neat to sit in the original auditorium pews where many others enjoyed their favorite country and western singers from so long ago. We even did a backstage tour and hungout in Johnny Cash’s old room. My dad was so excited!

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The main thing my dad wanted to do was genealogy research, so we headed to the Tennessee state archives for a deep dive into the history of Blount County, on a search for Cindarella Davis. We made memories that I’ll cherish forever ❤ …and if you’ve never been to a state archive, I highly suggest!

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One thing we weren’t expecting was the absurdly cold weather in April (it snowed one day!) so we opted for a tour of the Belle Meade Plantation to take advantage of being indoors. We learned that they bred horses, including the famous Bonnie Scotland, descendant of the majority of Derby winning horses! (What a crazy horse family tree that would be… 😉 ) Also the Derby used to be in Tennessee and only moved to Kentucky because of a law that outlawed horse betting in TN in the early 1900s. Oh and they made terrible wine and decent spirits, but the wine pourer HATED us…. HA ha ha.

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I LOVED our AirBnb house in East Nashville! It’s the sort of Bungalow meets Victorian style home of my dreams and I can’t wait to buy something similar someday. Our neighborhood was ADORABLE and we were even in walking distance (3 blocks) to the gayest, diviest bar around Nashville and had a phenomenal karaoke night out at Lipstick Lounge.

30222160_10111456613581420_4782410963631319442_nSisters on a porch swing.

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It was so nice to have some quality time with dad as we stuffed ourselves with artisan donuts, southern fried chicken, BEER, and all the fixins! Eating out at The Flipside (must order the bloody mary) and The Mockingbird (cough cough GET THE COCKTAIL IN A BAG – you won’t regret it) were the most memorable and delish!

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Drinking in honkytonks were a BLAST and made me really question whether or not Austin was really the live music capital of the world….I really felt like I saw so many talented singers and groups all over town, on every floor of every available bar. Bachelorette and bachelor parties EVERYWHERE though, heads up.

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It was cold but these boots kept me fashionable AND warm 🙂

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I had a great time, TN! I hope to come back someday in the WARM WEATHER and swim in some water holes, hike, and also head towards Memphis to Dollywood…. SOME DAY.

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¡Viva México! #tequilastrikesback

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At the end of January a big ole gaggle of girls headed out to Los Barriles, about an hour drive north from San Jose del Cabo, to celebrate our bride to be Kate! I had never officially been to Mexico before, only border towns, and was ready for some girl time in a new place. Kate asked me to be in her wedding last year and we are getting really close to the whole 9 yards! Their wedding is coming up at the end of the month in the mountains of Santa Cruz.

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While I’ve been in all 3 of my sisters weddings growing up (when I was 9, 14, and 23) I haven’t been in a friends wedding and haven’t had that whole adult wedding party experience (my sister’s bachelorette party when I was 23 though…one of the weirdest chain of events I’ve experienced in my family).

But #tequilastrikesback was all about a chill house in the middle of January in Mexico, in a remote town. We danced to silly 80s songs (thank you Whitney and Janet) and had the BEST food prepared for us by the sweetest ladies! When food is made with love, it tastes even better ❤

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Look at them wigs! WIG POWER.

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I live here now…k thanks. DREAM HOUSEEEEE ❤ ❤ ❤

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cocos

Coconut chic.

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We rented ATVs and drove down the beach to the closest town, had lunch, and explored a little through some shopping. I was nervous, not gonna lie, about the ATVs toppling over on the sand but luckily that didn’t happen and we all lived happily ever after! PLUS I got the best Michelada of my lyfe!!!

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Some strange Barbie collection that I stumbled upon in a random store in town. Gotta love that Amidala Star Wars doll right in the middle there…. Kate and Josh are obsessed with Star Wars so she opted for the #tequilastrikesback hashtag and coincidentally pointed out that doll out to me. HA!

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Me, in the rear-view mirror, trying to get an artistic shot along the bumpy road.

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And our bride to be, Kate, in her happy place. I had a lovely time and made some new friends with some rad ladies! Butttt I could have done without the Federales stopping our car, searching it with ginormous guns, and taking photos of us unknowingly. Luckily we didn’t have to pay any bribes and safely made it to the airport where we proceeded to have another round of drinks to relax. LOL. #isurvivedmexico2018

Until next international trip!

 

 

 

Bonjour Montréal!

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This year has been a pretty busy time for me with travel, especially work travel. Luckily I had the chance to attend a gaming conference in Montreal last week, during their FIRST BLIZZARD OF THE YEAR! Wooo! Even though I’m from Texas, most people don’t realize that I was actually born IN A BLIZZARD in Germany (or at the time, West-Germany as the Berlin wall was still intact) and I also spent about 4.5 years growing up in Ohio. I have had my fair share of experience with cold weather and snow, and I love it. My body temperature naturally runs hot, so hot temps are pretty miserable for me. (HOW DID I EVER LIVE IN TEXAS?! I have no idea…I am a furnace that profusely sweats. But moving on to more attractive things…like Montreal!)

I actually made it to town a night early to meet up with my good ole concert buddy, Jordan, who lives close to the border in Vermont. We hung out in the trendy Mile-End neighborhood (which also happens to be one of the coolest places to live in the world, who knew?!) and caught up, ate delish food, and karaoked at a really cool LGBT dive bar! #karaokequeen

IMG_9043.jpgIf this isn’t a poster for a guaranteed good time, I don’t know what is!

I started the week off by brainstorming with coworkers in a quaint and super cozy cafe with the best tomato soup I’ve ever had. #getinmybelly

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While I did have meetings, client dinners, and events to attend, I was able to have a good amount of solo time to walk around the city and explore on my own. Old Port of Montreal stole my heart – it might be the most charming city in North America! AND THE FREEEEENCH! I oddly took French in high school (yes I know everyone else took Spanish but I was the different, alternative, quirky girl – OKAY?!!) and conveniently forgot everything (I DO remember how to ask to get to the bathrooms though, and that’s a very important ask!).

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Late night poutine at La Banquise was everything. We opted for the traditional poutine PLUS bacon. It was heaven. THE END.

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LOOK AT THIS CRAZY SNOW! It happened within 12 hours and what was once an easy walk around the corner to the conference center became snow ridden.

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Inside the conference center was amazingly beautiful and WARM.

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Snow selfie

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The last night in Montreal I actually had time to get dinner alone and explore a bit before the big end of conference party, and I was SO happy for some solo adventures!

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This restaurant was where Charles Dickens wrote A Tale of Two Cities back in 1842. They also happened to have bomb dot com spaghetti, which is one of my favorite foods, and just what I needed to combat this cold weather. SO cozy!

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I mean LOOK AT THIS PIC! It does a great job of capturing the cozy winter wonderland that I found myself in.

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I randomly stumbled into this underground speakeasy called The Coldroom while I was in Old Montreal. I found it on Yelp and saw it had 5 STARS, so I thought, why not? It took me a minute to realize that this was no regular bar but indeed an underground speakeasy that required me to ring the doorbell of the CORRECT door and wait for someone to let me in. I waited 5 minutes in the snow in an alley wondering if this was a good idea. Long story short, it was THE BEST idea I had all week. After descending down a few flights of stairs underground (and yes, again wondering if this was a good idea, me being led down a dark stairwell underground as a female alone in a “foreign country” but trusted my gut that it would be worth it) – I finally stepped into one of the most magical bars I’ve ever seen. Total privacy. Everyone was local and spoke French. Unique cocktails – it was perfect! I opted for a beet cocktail conveniently called “Beauty and the Beets” 🙂 which sounds weird but was insanely good. Before leaving, the bartender told me to check out the Christmas pop up bar in the hotel across the street, which you can’t find anything about online. Soooo, I had to ya know?

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This is the view from the top of the Hotel William Grey at the Miracle Bar Christmas pop-up. It was fully decked out in Christmas decor and everyone who worked there wore ugly sweaters. From this table you can see the Ferris wheel in the port. It was a lovely surprise and I’m happy it worked out that I could visit.

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After my solo jaunt, I headed to our close out event with clients. It was held in a co-op work space, so not really like a bar or event venue. It was a crazy time, and a group of us headed out to karaoke after in a tiny bar back over in the Mile-End. I think I sang like 10 songs but who is counting… ❤ #foreverkaroake

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All in all my first time to Montreal was a complete success! I wish I had more time to explore, but I need to come back with John. Apparently they have a really cool biodome and also they have IglooFest in the winter, which is basically a crazy EDM festival in the snow (GOOGLE IMAGE IT – IT’S NUTS). But I really want to come back in the summer when we can do more things outdoors, like hike or kayak or ride bikes.

Sweet Montreal, a slice of Europe in North America.

Au Revoir~

Emily

GUALALAAAAA LOVE

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Last month John and I had a little getaway up north to Gualala, just right off the coast. It very much felt like the vibe from the AMC series of Bates Motel, if that means anything to you (not gonna lie, if it’s creepy I’ve probably seen it). We found a badass Airbnb on a private property in the redwood forest WITH A PRIVATE HOT TUB!!!!!

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It was so nice to get off the grid for a little bit. Working in tech and living in SF can make one lost in touch with nature and the outside world of not being on your phone all the time, which is why we always make an effort to get outside and hike and remove ourselves from technology. We were blessed with great weather that allowed us to kayak for a few hours, and it was a ton of fun just the two of us, the river, kayak, and sunshine.

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Northern California is just SO DAMN BEAUTIFUL, I tell you what (any King of the Hill fans here?). While mid-kayak we stumbled into this campsite off the river that was in off-season. It felt strange walking around this abandoned campsite, exploring the space alone. Although this particular campsite was super awesome and beautiful, I would totally go camping there in the future.

IMG_8014.jpgHello 1983? Can you bring back 80’s camping movie vibes into current modern day media? K, thanks~

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The water was pretty low since it was in fall season. John had to drag us through a couple low points barefoot which was funny to experience. But if you happen to make a trip to Gualala, I highly suggest kayaking or camping as it is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen!

IMG_7987.jpgHOT TUB TIME MACHINE HAPPY HOUR FOR THE WIN!

Relaxing in the woods was just what we needed. It could have been a scary movie at any point, as most start usually with a cabin in the woods or a hike gone wrong. But luckily we didn’t fall victim to any weirdos out there lurkin’. (#murderino #stayoutoftheforest)

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One night we ate out at St. Orres, this enchanting old timey parlor house that serves delicious fancy cocktails. We definitely knew we were in a small town as we were asked frequent questions about who we were, where we were from, what were we doing in Gualala, WHAT WERE OUR RISING SIGNS?!, etc. It was a completely different vibe from the city, that’s for sure 🙂

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We took one last hike from the back of our Airbnb to this glorious viewpoint before heading out on our next adventure up the road at Hearn Gulch Cove.

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We found the enchanting pathway that lead from the top of the cliff down into the cove, and felt like we were the only people on earth!

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IMG_8083.jpgGoonies vibes, anyone? #ourtimedownhere

After saying goodbye to Gualala we drove down the beautiful PCH and ended up at Fort Ross, an old Russian fort from the mid-1800’s, because #history.

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What a much needed refreshing weekend with my boo in a gorgeous and relaxing environment! Happy to share our experiences with you. ❤