Barcelona 2020

After a glorious few days in Portugal we made our way to Barcelona as the 2nd destination for our February 2020 birthday trip (before the world closed down). This is the second part of our birthday trip beginning with Lisbon + Sintra. We arrived later in the evening and checked into our amazingly central and affordable hotel, Hotel Ciutat de Barcelona, in the El Born district just next to the Gothic neighborhood. It was both John and I’s first time in Barcelona or Spain for that matter (neither of us ever studied Spanish and never studied abroad so we were pretty excited). I wanted to be in an area with tons of restaurants, bars, and shops in walking distance but I also wanted to be close to the Gothic area as it’s one of the oldest parts and most historic. El Born seemed really fun and our hotel was in the perfect location! We spent our first night walking around El Born, grabbing dinner and drinks and resting up for our big first full day of exploration.

The next day we walked over to La Sagrada Familia, stopping along the Arc de Triomf for some photos and grabbing croissants and coffee. Of course due to popularity we got our tickets in advance, but on a weekday in February it was not busy at all. We spent a good hour and a half walking around, exploring every nook and cranny and listening to the guided tour. It’s incredible the amount of work and planning for this cathedral and Gaudi’s vision! It’s absolutely beautiful inside – the beams and posts are similar to trees and looking up is like looking up in a forest. The lighting is gorgeous and it feels peaceful.

Afterwards we walked by Casa Mila and throughout the Eixample neighborhood. I almost thought about staying there as it’s more of a neighborhood and less touristy than Gothic/El Born areas, but since it was our first time we were happy with our hotel location and choose to explore other areas when we could.

Gaudi’s influence is apparent throughout Barcelona. It’s such a distinct vibe unique to the city and we were all about it. Just walking through different neighborhoods and checking out the eccentric architecture was a fun activity in itself!

After walking around for a good few miles we had a delicious lunch in the Gothic district with the most amazing croquettes. I became seriously addicted to croquettes on this trip and even now dream of biting into their golden brown cheesy deliciousness. We decided to explore the Barcelona History Museum for free and learn more about how Barcelona came to be a powerhouse in the Iberian peninsula. There are ancient ruins underneath the city that you get to walk through too!

We then grabbed some empanadas and went to Terrace La Isabella for a rooftop happy hour and saw beautiful views of the city. Absolutely stunning with our divine weather! Also there aren’t many skyscrapers in Barcelona, the views are mostly hills and cathedrals. However the 1992 Olympics brought some modern architecture into play.

But really, Barcelona is SO much fun! I was really impressed with the history, the AMAZING food, endless options, fun walks, good wine – the list goes on and on. I would gladly go back and spend more time there – the energy is great. Kinda reminded me of parts of Paris and also parts of NYC.

We ended the night with an AWESOME night out at the most adorable alley spot in El Born for happy hour followed by a delicious Spanish meal for John’s bday! Iberian ham is the way to go, especially paired with fresh sangria. I can’t remember the name of this spot we went to but it was both our favorite place during our trip.

Our next day we spent at the morning at Las Ramblas markets and then rode public transit up to Park Guell just north of downtown. It’s a big hill to climb up to get to the top but it was a super interesting view and experience. There’s also tons of performing artists sprinkled throughout the climb, so beware if you feel yourself getting lost – you can hear faint singing to guide you back to your path 🙂

Park Guell was Gaudi’s vision for a utopian neighborhood in the early 1900’s and it looks sorta like a surrealist wonder. You have to go as early as you can because it will be crowded and hard to get photos without too many people in the background, but definitely check it out! We didn’t get tickets in advance but we were able to purchase them on our phones in line for a quicker entrance.

In the evening we went on a walking ghost tour and it was one of our favorite things we did together! We ate in the Gothic area and met our guide outside the steps of the Cathedral de Barcelona for an adventurous evening.

Our tour guide was originally from Mexico City but also sort of grew up in the suburbs of Houston – and we bonded over Texas. She was so incredibly rad and was an awesome story teller – there are so many messed up stories she shared from Barcelona’s history. Like how the Opera house had burned down multiple times or the Vampire of Barcelona who kidnapped and murdered children. We really enjoyed walking around, exploring, and hearing more about the dark tales of the city. We ended the night with drinks and bites in a cute bar by the water. She offered us goat brain! (it’s a delicacy)

Our last day we were supposed to go on a fun excursion riding bikes along the water to the wine country, complete with tastings and lunch – however our trip was unfortunately cancelled last minute. We didn’t let this stop us, so instead John and I picked a winery that looked good, was open and didn’t need reservations, and booked a car to get us there. It ended up being the most fun day in Alella!

We opted for Alta Alella Vineyard because it had the best reviews and also didn’t require reservations. I’m not kidding the cab dropped us off at the end of a dirt road in front of their gate, driving off with dust in our faces. There was an intercom that I pushed to speak to someone and John legit turned to me and said “what if they are closed or won’t let us in and we are stuck here” and voila – they opened the gate and we walked about half a mile in to the tasting room where we enjoyed amazing Cava. It was such a funny moment. He was briefly scared I got us into a tough situation.

Originally we weren’t going to do a full vineyard tour, as there was already another group with a reservation with a private Catalonian tour. However they invited us to join, and they spoke both Catalonian and English so it ended up being the perfect experience!

When you are determined, anything is possible. I’m so glad we persevered and went despite our plans changing. I would recommend this experience to anyone who spends a few days in the area.

Alella

We enjoyed a 15-20 minute walk from the vineyard back to town for a bomb dot com lunch at Cal Barquer. Check out this amazing Iberian pork tonkatsu! It melted in my mouth.

After our fun filled afternoon in Alella, our last full day in Barcelona was coming to an end. We made one last stop at the Picasso Museum just a few short blocks away from our hotel, followed by our last meal.

Of course there was tons of things we didn’t get around to experiencing, like a Flamenco show. But I wouldn’t have changed anything about our amazing trip. We ate delicious food, explored art and historical museums, saw beautiful sights crafted by Gaudi, walked a ghost tour, bought some fun souvenirs, and enjoyed the culture.

Barcelona was a VIBE and we were there for it. I would love to go back to Spain and southern France on another trip because it’s just so gorgeous, a nice change of slower pace, and delicious food and wine for days. Here are some tips if you find yourself in Barcelona:

  1. Endless food options! You can eat anything you want – we even had fantastic Thai. The food IMO was better here than in Portugal but I enjoyed cuisines from both countries.
  2. Make sure you try Iberian ham, multiple times, in different forms! Also – the croquettes!!! I will not say it enough how good they are.
  3. There is a lot of stuff to do in terms of nightlife, it’s sort of like NYC meets Paris – but chill. If you like those cities you’ll enjoy Barcelona.
  4. They have a rich history and don’t really discuss WW2 or the 1930’s. In fact they refer to that time as the Struggles and it’s kinda kept quiet.
  5. There is an ongoing independence crisis that seems to be growing through the last few decades. Catalonian people are very proud of their heritage and speak a different language (like the folks on our vineyard tour).
  6. Get tickets for Sagrada Familia in advance and opt for the guided tour.
  7. Spend time exploring Gaudi architecture and Park Guell!
  8. The markets at Las Ramblas has tons of food options and tastings from all corners of culture – visit at least once.
  9. Have few day drinks and then opt for a siesta.
  10. The best shopping is in El Born.
  11. We walked a ton and only rode public transit for our visit to Park Guell, so I can’t speak to the metro system but if you stay in El Born/Gothic area close to Las Ramblas you probably will walk to most things.
  12. Visit wine country if you have the time.
El Born, the cutest neighborhood and our favorite!

Thanks Barcelona! Until next time.

Portugal: Lisbon + Sintra 2020

We were so incredibly lucky that we were able to sneak in our international birthday trip RIGHT before the world shut down from COVID. By mid-late January there was tension around the new virus and travel. We believed that we would be safe in Europe in early February, and amazingly we were. This is the first of a two part post from our incredible travel adventures to Portugal and Spain in February 2020.

We planned this trip through TripMasters, which is what my sister Bryana and I used when we visited Ireland in 2015. It’s a budget planner so you build a trip around the countries you want to visit, add in flights, car rentals if you want, hotels, and you get the biggest bang for your buck. The only catch is that you’re pretty much locked in after you plan, so there isn’t much room to make changes. I would suggest leaving plenty of room between flights if you are on a layover because we almost missed our flight to Lisbon out of NYC due to bad weather! However we made it on time (by the skin of our teeth) and things went smoothly from there.

Day 1

We decided to get the Lisbon transit pass during our stay which included unlimited public transit, a free roundtrip train ride to Sinta, and discounts for museums. It was well worth it, I highly suggest! We easily and quickly rode from the airport to our destination hotel at the Esquina Urban Lodge in city center. This eco-hotel was absolutely adorable, modern, and in the perfect location! The staff shared great travel tips and told us where to find the city elevators, which I never would have figured out on my own (they are built into cliffs and will easily take you up 8 floors). Everyone said, “Lisbon is so hilly, blah blah blah” – but coming from San Francisco I thought I was good with the hills. “There is no way it’s hillier than SF, we are prepared” I thought. I was so wrong! Lisbon makes SF look flat! We used the city elevators a few times, mostly when we visited the Castelo de S. Jorge.

After checking in, we opted for lunch at a cute sidewalk cafe, visited the Azulejo Museum (wow these tiles were gorgeous), and then found the famous Ginjinha bar and loved the cherry shot. They were so delicious! We probably visited 3 times over our stay and I bought a bottle to take home.

After taking a quick nap for our jet lag, we got dolled up and went out for a Fado show at A Tasca do Chico because we saw that Anthony Bordain visited and he enjoyed it, so we felt like it would be a good spot (is that lame to admit?). It’s always busy there but it’s worth the wait. Order tapas and wine and listen to the powerful melancholy melodies of the Fado singers. It was a totally unique experience!

We got some drinks and explored the nightlife in the Biarra Alto neighborhood afterwards; I have the funniest video of John and I taking fire shots (literally the waiters lit them on fire). It was cozy exploring the bars and sidewalk cafes in the alleys. I am happy we experienced the area, but I’m also glad we stayed about a 15 minute walk away in an area that’s a little less busy at night.

Day 2

After a wonderful night of rest, we visited the Sao Jorge Castle in the morning, explored the Alfama district with lunch by the water, rode transit to the National Coach Museum, the Jeronimos Monestary, and then rode bikes by the Belem Tower. It was a jam packed day and so much fun! I think we got in 11 miles walking alone. Are you tired just reading about all the crazy things we did in one day? (I’m tired just typing this!)

It was so incredible how efficient the public transit system was. I think out of every place we’ve ever traveled, it’s up there next to NYC and London. You can always get anywhere you want to go without waiting too long, there are multiple routes, and it’s just so cute. The Alfama district is right next to the castle so we grouped those outings together and rode across town to Belem where the rest of our museum sights were set.

It’s so crazy to think that these magical carriages carried royalty over terrain centuries ago and here they are on display in their golden greatness. Can you imagine traveling like this?! They are so ornate; it’s something you don’t get the chance to see often, if ever, so definitely check this out.

The Monestary is absolutely gorgeous and really close to the coach museum. Pay attention to the details! The architecture is like nothing I’ve ever seen before. So amazing! By this time our feet hurt so we rented some bikes to ride by the water. The bridge even looked almost identical to the Golden Gate!

This was my favorite memory with John in Lisbon. It was just such a happy day, we had seen so much cool stuff, and we were so playful riding around in the sun. The only thing that would have made it better was if we were able to ride a sunset sailboat cruise, but alas they were all sold out. If that is something that interests you I’m sure it would be such an amazing experience on a day with great weather. But still this day was top 5 of all time days. ❤

Belem Tower

We wound down by visiting the Time Out market for some delicious seafood pasta and wandered around the famous Pink Street for some shopping and drinks. It was a fun-filled day with many memories!

Day 3

We used our roundtrip train ticket for Sintra, which is something friends of ours suggested and I’m so glad we did it! It’s about a 45 minute train ride each way and you must go early in the morning because it will get crowded. Everything I read said that you wouldn’t be able to do everything you wanted, so just pick 2 castles and make them your priority.

We grabbed some of these lovely Portuguese egg pastries (Pastéis de Nata) for breakfast and made our way via train. Ok these things were delicious and we had them every day!

Once we made it to Sintra, we bought the bus pass for the castle route that included Pena Palace. This is the most famous castle and it’s best to go as early as possible, it’s also pretty far (about another 25 minute drive) on very windy roads. Our bus driver was damn amazing taking our ginormous vehicle up huge hills on twisty roads. Thank god I didn’t get sick!

It was just so dreamy; almost like we were in a fairy tale. You could see awesome views of the Castle of the Moors from the top!

There are dozens of castles in Sintra, you could easily spend several days exploring them all. And you feel like you can do so many in a day, but really you can comfortably visit 2, maybe 3 if you aren’t relying on the train. Because everything is so spread out, you must factor in the time it takes to get from the train station to each castle and then the time spent at the castle grounds. After we had a drink at the bar on the castle roof it was already lunch time so we hopped on the bus towards downtown and picked a fabulous spot that I can’t remember the name of, the experience only lives in my memory. But the dish was delish! And so was the view 🙂

After an amazing meal we visited Quinta da Regaleira which was in walking distance from downtown. It was the perfect plan to start with Pena Palace because it was so far away and busy, once we were downtown we could take our time. I chose this castle because it looks absolutely ethereal, like Great Expectations or some amazing dream.

I loved this castle so much! It was the most picturesque. Talk about a dream come true! If you have an extra day in Lisbon it’s worth visiting Sintra! Also this is weird to say, but I love moss a lot and the greenery of this castle made my heart sing.

We finished up and headed back to Lisbon for our final night in the city. We were pooped! Lots of sight seeing was done in three days, but I always like to jam pack my visits with everything I can do because who knows when you will ever be back again! Our last meal was spent over by the Pink Street we visited earlier because we liked those dive bars the best. I think there was even one named “Bar Texas” – LOL.

Portugal was a blast! Here are some things to keep in mind should you find yourself there:

  1. It is very hilly! Make sure you know where the elevators are and bring comfortable shoes.
  2. Group things you want to see by neighborhoods. Pick the top 3-5 neighborhoods you want to explore and then create a list of things you want to see in each area.
  3. Get the metro pass if you are there for 2-3+ days. It’s worth it!
  4. See as many museums as you can because there are so many interesting and unique things to Portugal that I’ve never come across before.
  5. Fado show is a must.
  6. The food is great! Make sure to really explore the vast culture of the food. It did hurt my stomach a bit (but I have a sensitive tummy) so I would look up the best places and see what’s available (and also bring Pepto should you need it).
  7. There are loads of guys that try to sell you drugs in city center – be aware!
  8. You won’t be able to do everything you want – aim for your top picks.
  9. I wish we did a sailboat cruise! If you want to do that you have to buy tickets in advance. Everything else you can just do whenever you want (which is so nice you can go at your own pace).
  10. It’s a lot like San Francisco.

Thanks Portugal!

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!

¡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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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!

 

 

 

33 And Me

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HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO MEEE ❤ . Last Friday I turned 33 years old and had a big ole Olympic themed birthday extravaganza to celebrate. It was a special birthday and the vibrations were high on life! Maybe because of the energy of the Olympics, since it comes every 4 years, but things felt great and now I’m even older than I was before.

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I’m aging like a fine wine and some things that I’ve really started to love in my 30s are:

  • Staying in to cuddle / play with my cat. Yes I am a cat lady and have always been. But I didn’t get Beatrix until about 3-4 years ago. My 20s were all about exploring events, meeting new people, finding things outside of my home to occupy my time. I wanted to have my own cat for many years before I finally did it, and I’m glad I waited because I don’t think I would have had the full 20s social experience that was mine here in one of the biggest cities in the country. Plus my cat rules so hanging out with her is always a win in my book! I think it makes me MORE creative…
  • Habitually reading before bed / going to bed at a reasonable hour / getting up earlier in the day. YES. I know. I am NOT a morning person by any means. However getting up around 8am on a Saturday morning to make tea and head to an early yoga or boot-camp class…SIGN ME UP. I love being productive earlier in the day and relaxing at night. And the crazy books I’ve been getting into lately….MORE PLEASE!
  • Realizing that food / drinking / lack of sleep affects my body differently now. You have to change your habits from your 20s because they make you feel like ass in your 30s. It might sound sad to you if you are in your twenties now, but believe me it’s not sad at all. In the last few months I’ve realized a LOT about my health and patterns that I needed to change, and honestly I LOVE FEELING PHYSICALLY good!
  • Personal / life reflection. I’ve been really introspective in the last year. 32 was a super challenging year for me emotionally, realizing things about myself that I wasn’t very aware of in the past. I believe it’s always good to be open and honest about who you are and where you want to go. Sometimes you can’t get there without letting go of some baggage.
  • Wanting more podcasts and documentaries. YES. I never thought I would not listen to music regularly or want to watch something scripted, but LEARNING is where it’s at in your 30s my friends. WELCOME TO THE WORLD OF REAL LIFE STORIES!

 

IMG_1036.jpgI can haz Rick & Morty?!

We are all unique individuals who live on this rotating planet, on the third rock from the sun (anyone else here grow up watching that gem??) and it’s a pleasure that shouldn’t be taken for granted. I MADE IT ANOTHER YEAR! I get to learn even more crazy things I like about myself and evolve! Here’s to many new adventures in 33 🙂

 

 

February Vibes

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It’s Groundhog’s Day and Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow earlier this morning. What a strange tradition we have, waking this little guy up consistently at dawn every February 2nd and have him predict the weather. Why him? WHY NOT A GIRL GROUNDHOG?  6 MORE WEEKS OF WINTER?! All that really means for the Bay is more rain, but the next two weeks are completely clear and sunny for us soooo maybe Phil isn’t a genius? I kid I kid…I love that we have this weird annual ordeal (and it IS AN ORDEAL people! Have you ever watched it on TV?! I wanna go!!) and I will also not pass up an opportunity to watch Ground Hog’s Day starring THE BEST comedic actor of our time – Mr. Bill Murray!

Anyways – February is one of my favorite months. I would say it’s a toss up with October, but I love Halloween so much that it usually wins. But the energy in February is where it’s at. January is pretty slow, a time to reflect and start new habits and take it easy from the busy holiday period. January is awesome if you are an introvert, or an introverted extrovert, but February is when people start coming out of their cocoons and you’re like WHO DIS? ❤

Best things about February:

  • Groundhog’s Day, DUH
  • It’s my birth month! And John’s! And my nephews! And my sister’s! And like 100 of my friends and like MILLIONS of other people! (seriously, EVERYONE has birthdays in February and I share my actual birthday with my nephew, and have same birth week as my sis, so I never felt like it was MY BIRTHDAY growing up. That whole, THIS IS MY BIRTH WEEK thing? NOPE. Do y’all have a lot of Febby babies in your lives too or is that just me?)
  • My love-hate relationship for Valentine’s Day! Seriously, I like the idea of Valentine’s Day, but I HATE the marketing around it. And I hated the way Valentine’s Day made me feel when I was single, like I was supposed to be on some cosmic date that SHOULD have been the best night of my lifeeee. But in reality I would go to the movies alone and LOVE every minute of it or I would meet up for dinner with another single gal pal. I also hate the restaurant culture of Valentine’s Day, with the special pre-fix menu BS. They hike up the prices and the wait times are like 1000x longer than normal for a table and it’s so annoying because MARKETING TOLD US TO DO THIS Y’ALL! Buttt at the end of the day, I know I’m lucky for my main squeeze and don’t need Valentine’s Day to remind me of how we should be treating each other. We always opt for making dinner together, usually some sort of pasta dish, and snuggle while watching some crazy movie marathon or something with our cat. Awwww. I will say though, the BEST part of Valentine’s Day are the cute red and pink dresses for sale – I would love to have that year round!
  • My love-love relationship for Galentine’s Day! YAS QUEEN! Celebrate those badass female friendships in your life all while nodding your praise for Parks and Rec – I’m all about that! ❤
  • Black History Month – there are so many awesome documentaries are out there and I am always eager to learn more.
  • President’s Day Weekend – BUILT IN LONG WEEKEND PERFECT FOR A RANDOM TRIP, sign me up!
  • Spring clothes start to come out to all of the stores and the days get longer! (time change is around the corner I can feeeeel it!)

What do you love about February?

 

It’s the Lands End Of the World as We Know It

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As January comes to a close I reflect over the past 31 days with fondness. January felt really awesome in a lot of ways! Did you feel that too, or was it just me? From slowing down and being more available “with myself” to incorporating more yoga into my routine to FINALLY getting a DSLR and embarking on a new hobby (and goal) –  I feel very pleased with how 2018 has blasted off. Nope, I didn’t watch the State of the Union Address either because I am focusing on things that make me happy at this time in my life, but I heard about the crazy drinking games surrounding it and I think that WOULD be the only way I could have watched it tbh… but let’s move on to the BEAUTIFUL LEFT COAST!

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Just creepin’ around….INTO YOUR SOUL.

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Lands End is one of my favorite places for a nice trail walk in the city. It’s at the edge of the city (hence the name Lands End…DUH) right where the cliffs meet the ocean and the thick fog meets the gorgeous forest. It’s not super close to our house but also not too far either. It’s a great way to enjoy the outdoors without having to drive away from the city or embark on a strenuous 8 mile hike. Or as I would say, lazy nature. ❤

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I am really getting into this photography thing and I’m also pleasantly surprised that John is taking a liking to it too, maybe even more so than me! But that’s all good news because #instagramhusband and all. (Who else is going to take my picture to prove that I’m a #realblogger? 😉 )

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Look at the surfers from way up top! They look like ants. The ocean is like a center for ants….

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This view is so gorgeous. The west coastline takes my breath away for real. When I get overstimulated, I take a walk outside, find a park, breathe in the fresh crisp air, and think about all of the things that I am grateful for, like THIS CITY OMFG Y’ALL!!!!!

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And what a perfect flower to stumble upon at the end of our walk, SPRING IS COMING and I’m taking it all in! But right now, let’s live for today and focus on what is in front of us…like BIRTH MONTH FEBRUARY – HOLLA! ❤

Alamo Squarin’ Around

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Y’all – I did it! I bought a DSLR. If you read my last post you know that getting a professional camera was a goal of mine that I was adamant about tackling this year. I have been feeling SO MOTIVATED so far this year, I just went ahead and bit the bullet and got a Canon Rebel T6 and I feel so happy about it! At the end of the day, I could keep researching, constantly changing my mind on what the “most perfect camera option would be” or I could just shut up about it and get one that felt right and explore. NO REGRETS! And now I can check off one of my goals 🙂

John and I took it out for our first spin and captured these shots of our beautiful foggy neighborhood…

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One of my favorite things about living in SF are the gorgeous Victorians around every corner. These buildings are over 100+ years old, are painted all sorts of vibrant colors, and are a window to the past when times were very different. While John and I walk around the neighborhoods we play a game called “WHICH ONE?” – and ask the other what their favorite Victorian is on the street that we currently find ourselves on and which one we would pick to live in (get it?!). I never take for granted that Alamo Square park, one of the most photographed parks in the country, is outside my doorstep. I know how very lucky I am to have a rent controlled apartment here in this massively expensive city. It was fun to act as tourists for the afternoon, capturing majestic shots just like this one….

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DANCE FLOOR QUEEN up here in Club Alamo Square Park…

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Mr. Environmentalist & NASA research extraordinaire!

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I LOVE these two houses, they are my favorite alongside the square because of the pink and purple pastel realness. SWOON!

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On lazy Sunday afternoons when the weather is nice, we like to get sandwiches from our favorite cafe a few blocks away and post up in the park for a bit, enjoying the atmosphere and either making some art or reading. I would LOVE to get a cat harness for our beloved #beatrixvonwhiskerton so we could bring her to the park someday, but she’s SUCH a scaredy cat that we worry it won’t go over well….TBD y’all. ❤

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This is the famous Westerfield house. It has it’s own Wikipedia page and they are making a documentary about it. It’s across the street from our house and I STILL need to take a tour.

I have this super cheesy ghost radar app that my sisters and I used that time we ghost hunted in Charleston. While it constantly went off in SC, it didn’t really do anything in my house or street. I was kinda sad that I don’t seem to have any ghosts lurkin’ around that my app picked up (that John could have PROOF of), but perhaps it’s best to have good rest and be thankful that I don’t need an exorcist just yet. <tee hee>

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I hope you enjoyed this window into my neighborhood! More pics and adventures coming your way soon.

xo

New Year New Me

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Welcome to 2018!

I really, REALLY LOVE January y’all. I know, most people think that the month of January equates to Monday within a week because of how slow it usually is. But I disagree. I actually like Mondays (what??) and I freakin’ LOVE January.

I LOVE the energy of the new year. The energy that makes you think about change, goals, what you want to achieve in this lifetime and how you want to be a better person. Personally, I prefer to always think about these things and not just in January, but there is something about the energy of the start of the year that gets me excited. While I hate the idea of creating rigid goals, the ones that set you up for failure, I am very much a fan of progressive goals. These are the longer term goals that aren’t as black and white, but more about making progress (as small as it may be) towards something of value.

For me, the big thing that I am focusing on is how I speak to myself internally. Being an idealist, it’s hard to not get wrapped up in the IDEA of things being perfect. And when they aren’t (because let’s face it, they NEVER are!) I get really down on myself and then I have negative self talk. I am working on letting go of my perfectionism because it isn’t real, but I am a human and I AM REAL, and coming to terms with the fact that I am perfect JUST AS I AM in this moment in time is AMAZING! It will always be a struggle and not just something you can “cross off” a resolution checklist, but being aware step #1.

And now, I present some goals (small and large) that I would like to focus on this year:

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  • Gratitude Journal. I bought the 5 minute journal to help with my thought process, focusing on gratitude and happy things that happened throughout my days rather than thinking of what wasn’t perfect. I have written in the journal every morning and night this week so far, and I LOVE it so much! I wish I started doing this earlier! Many CEOs and Entrepreneurs swear by this journal, as it keeps them motivated and also grounded. SOLD.
  • More me time, less social obligations. This one has been an issue for me for a while now. I tend to be a people-pleaser in the way of giving my time. I want to be a supportive friend, coworker, sister, daughter, etc. and I feel bad for saying no to things if it hurts someones feelings. I tend to carry other’s feelings as my responsibility on my back. And while it’s taken me a long time to come to terms with my patterns and why I do this to myself, one thing I do know is that I need to learn to say no more. 2017 was a lot about everyone else. Work trips. Anniversaries, birthday celebrations. Family things. While most of it was fun, a lot of it was not about me. And I constantly felt burnt out and stretched thin. I barely had time to myself to think, create my own traditions, patterns, habits before sprinting off to the next thing. Being supportive doesn’t mean you have to show up to everything. And how can you be supportive if you aren’t supporting yourself first? I vow to follow my inner voice a bit more and do what feels right for me.
  • Pick up a new hobby. I’ve been saying for YEARS that I want a professional camera. I’ve looked into getting a DSLR over the last year and just decided that I wanted to go mirrorless. 2018 is the year I make my camera love a reality. I already signed up for a Udemy photography class (which you can take without a special camera, even if you just use your iPhone!) and I can’t wait to see what happens.
  • Travel, for ME. I traveled A LOT last year. I went to 7 states and Canada in a year! Like I mentioned above, those trips coincided with work events or family things. I didn’t plan ONE of those out of state trips for myself or John. He tagged along with me to NYC, which was for work, so it wasn’t technically the same. I am planning a vacation this year that has nothing to do with work, family, or friends. I already have some travel planned in early 2018 as a result of a friends wedding (Cabo for the bachelorette party) and my dads 70th (we will celebrate in Nashville) but this is the year that John and I make it to Scandinavia!
  • Write to please the soul. Not only am I journaling more regularly, I plan on being more active with my blog as it helps motivate me with my other goals. AND YOU KNOW YOU WANT TO READ MORE! ❤
  • Attempt more art. This is a no brainer. Watercolor time, here I come!

2018 is already off to a great start and I am feeling more in tune with my inner voice. I can’t wait to share my progress. What are some of your goals?

xo

Emily