A Weekend in North Carolina

I’ve heard rave reviews of North Carolina (for some reason it seems like there are tons of New Yorkers from there) and thanks to a friend’s wedding I was finally able to come up with a good excuse to spend the weekend in North Carolina. I loved it way more than I imagined (I guess I thought it would be similar to Texas? But it definitely wasn’t) and I’m already dreaming up another return trip. My friend’s wedding was located in Wilmington, but because the flights to Wilmington are few in number and slightly expensive, I decided to fly to Raleigh instead and drive the 2 hours to Wilmington.

Raleigh

I can’t begin to explain my obsession with Raleigh. Prior to my arrival, and boy did I have a rough arrival (my plane sat on the Raleigh airport tarmac for an hour after having been delayed in New York for 2 hours so I actually didn’t land until 1am), I thought that Raleigh would be similar to Houston in that it would pale in comparison to NYC and have that boring big city vibe. I was so wrong! Its hard to describe what the Raleigh vibe is exactly, but it is definitely the opposite of boring. For starters, the food scene here is the best. There were so many restaurants I wanted to try and so little time that I knew I had to make another trip here. My friends and I are all fans of the James Beard award winning chef, Ashley Christensen, so we made it one of our goals to eat at her restaurants. Unfortunately, Beasley’s Chicken and Honey had an insane line out the door so we made the difficult decision to walk away (don’t worry I will be back!) and we later ate at Poole’s Diner instead. Poole’s macaroni and cheese is to die for- its also plated in the biggest bowl ever so be prepared to share with friends (although yes I did attempt to eat the entire bowl myself). One of my travel goals is to drink my favorite drink, bubble tea, in every destination I go to. So I stopped by Budacai for their cute little teas and loved how milky the drink was! Another unfortunate thing that happened to me on the trip (food related of course) was that because my flight was delayed so long I missed the dinner reservation at Bida Manda, an award winning Laotian restaurant. I had been looking forward to trying their unique Asian dishes and was sorely disappointed that I would be missing out. To help lighten my disappointment, however, my friends brought me to Heirloom Coffee Shop, owned by the same brother/sister owners of Bida Manda, where I was able to drink a delicious honey lavender coffee and eat a black sesame mochi donut. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed the simplicity of Raleigh and I can’t wait to return!

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Wilmington

The main reason why I was even in North Carolina to begin with was located here! I watched my beautiful friend Amanda marry the love of her life in an adorable church (and I can’t really explain how adorable it really was) on the corner of a darling street in Wilmington. I’m pretty sure many eyes teared up when the couple was exchanging vows- I know mine did!

The day after the wedding I had some time to explore the rest of Wilmington, which led me to the outdoor restaurant, Dockside. If you’re looking for southern classics mixed in with seafood, this is the place! I was finally able to get my fried green tomatoes here (something that isn’t served in the north) and the bartender was so nice that she didn’t bother charging me for my virgin strawberry cocktail.

We also walked along the Wilmington Boardwalk, which appeared like it came out of a dream with its quaint wooden buildings and clear shimmering waters. I felt as if I was in a Nicholas Sparks movie, which for those of you who don’t know, all Nicholas Sparks movies are based on locations in North Carolina. Upon further research, I realized that there are websites dedicated to visiting Nicholas Sparks filming locations so I will keep that in mind for my future North Carolina trips.

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Wrightsville Beach

Wrightsville Beach is about a 30 minute drive from Wilmington and one of the most charming seaside towns I’ve ever seen. Its a very quiet and peaceful sort of place and I desperately wish I had more time to stroll its tiny stores or read a book on its sandy beach.

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My newfound love for North Carolina was so unexpected! Where should I visit next in this beautiful state?

The Perfect Day in Nyack, New York

As my days in New York neared the end, I made a conscious effort to explore outside of New York City more since I knew my opportunity window to see some cute New England towns was getting smaller and smaller. After reading my favorite blogger, Cest Christine’s blog post a few years back, I’ve had Nyack, New York on my list of places to visit but never had the chance to take the short trip upstate. I love exploring the unknown and choosing to visit places where the average tourist might not normally go and finding reasons why the place is actually worth visiting. Its also nice to change up the pace occasionally and explore somewhere that isn’t swamped with selfie stick wielding tourists and over photographed on Instagram. So when someone told me that they had never heard of Nyack, it made me even more determined to explore this cute upstate town. Upstate New York can be brutal during the winter season, so as soon as the weather calmed down in May I took a quick train ride up north on the Metro North. The train does not go directly to the town of Nyack, but there is a convenient bus that stops right outside Tarrytown train station that brings you the rest of the way. Nyack is full of sunny outdoor brunch restaurants and adorable little homes. My favorite stop was the glazed donut and icy Arnold Palmer at Boxer Donuts- so delicious and such a good find! I enjoyed a day of walking around the town and then stopping by the former Rockefeller estate, Kykuit, in Sleepy Hollow on my way back into Manhattan. Kykuit is only reachable by reserving a tour ticket as a special shuttle bus and guide brings you to the home for viewing. There are three different types of tours of Kykuit- some are longer and more in depth than others so choose wisely based on your available time. While photos aren’t allowed inside the grand mansion, there is plenty of photo taking opportunities on the expansive estate grounds.

Strawberry Place

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Downtown Nyack

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PickWick Book Shop

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Boxer Donut and Expresso Bar

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Kykuit Rockefeller Estate

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A Weekend in Sunny Los Angeles

After suffering through another bitterly cold New York winter (And yes sadly it is not over yet), I was really looking forward to escaping to sunny Southern California and its perfect 70 degree weather for a weekend of fun, food, and friends. As a personal travel rule, I usually don’t prefer to travels towards the West Coast just because in the 6-7 hour flight it takes for me to go there I could also be taking a 6-7 hour flight to London or other European destinations. It just didn’t seem worth my time to stay in the U.S when the same about of time could take me to a foreign country. However, since the main purpose of my trip was to attend a wedding of a close sorority sister, I decided to make the trek there. And boy did I love it in Cali! I haven’t been to Southern California since my senior year of college when I attended a weekend women’s conference in LA so I had forgotten how wonderful the slower pace of life was and how gorgeous the city was. It was a much needed change from the hustle and bustle of New York- I was able to ride in a convertible (with the top down of course!) and feel the cool breeze in my hair and not have to deal with the loud honking of cars and the constant braking for crazy pedestrians. As a 4 year veteran of New York City, I feel like I’ve been ingrained to live a fast paced life filled with activity after activity just because there is so much to do and see in the city. In LA, I felt that I could take a step back and just enjoy a carefree 3 days in paradise without actually being too bored.  

Disneyland California

 One item on my bucket list is to go to every single Disney in the world. So far, I’ve managed to check off DisneyWorld in Florida, Disney Hong Kong, Disney Paris, and Disney Tokyo. Thanks to this LA trip, I was able to add Disney California to the list, leaving me with only Disney Shanghai to visit. While this California Disney was so much smaller than I expected and sadly the castle was under construction, I still very much enjoyed my day there. We spent over 12 hours taking advantage of fast passes to ride all the classic Disney rides (Indiana Jones was my favorite!), stuffing our faces with Mickey Mouse shaped beignets and macaroons, watching the Disney characters march in a parade down Main Street, and ending our night with beautiful fireworks. I like to consider myself as somewhat of a Disney theme park expert now so here are some tips on how to navigate the overwhelming world of Disney parks:

 1.     Arrive early- If the park opens at 8am, arrive before 8am. The lines for popular rides, such as Space Mountain, can have up to a 2 hour wait later in the day, so arriving early and taking advantage of less people in the lines will definitely pay off. Also, fast passes are distributed based on time slots and each individual can only hold one pass at a time. The earlier you’re able to grab a fast pass, the earlier you will be able to return to ride the ride and grab another fast pass for a different ride.

2.     Take advantage of fast passes. Fast passes are free and included with your admission ticket. These passes allow you to skip the lines and go right into the ride, thus saving a huge amount of time. The catch is that you’re only bale to have one at a time. So read your fast pass ticket and it will tell you when you are next able to grab another fast pass. Make sure you go and get your second one before returning for the first fast pass ride!

3.     Plan your rides in advance! There are SO MANY rides inside the park so looking at the map of attractions ahead of time and deciding which rides you really want to go on will pay off later.

4.     Bring your own bottle of water. As you can expect from any theme park, bottled water is expensive. After shelling out over $100 for a admission ticket, the last thing you want to do is spend $5 on water and then spend another $5 on water later in the day. It is more economical to bring your own bottle and then fill it up at the various water fountains in the park after you run out.

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Smorgasburg LA

I love the Smorgasburg that happens in Williamsburg, Brooklyn every summer, so when I realized that the LA SMorgasburg is even open in the spring (most likely because they have normal spring weather instead of the typical 40 degree March weather in NY) I knew I had to take my Texas friends there so they could experience the delicious food stands. I was really looking forward to drinking a matcha milk tea from Sip Matcha, which is co-owned by one of the funniest Youtubers ever, David So. I was also able to taste the infamous White Rabbit candy inspired ice cream from Wanderlust Creamery. White Rabbit is a Chinese candy that every Asian kid devours as a kid- it reminded me so much of my childhood! Smorgasburg LA also has a shopping area in addition to food and the market is all located in a bigger space than the Brooklyn one so not having to fight the crowds was pretty nice.

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Yellow House Café

I first heard about Yellow House through the Youtube eating show hosted by Stephanie Soo. She would always order her food from here and my mouth would always water as she ate it. Located in Koreatown, Yellow House Café is a gorgeous Korean restaurant with a huge outdoor patio and tons of delicious authentic Korean food. I caught up with a study abroad friend whom I hadn’t seen in 5 years (can’t believe my Hong Kong adventures were so long ago!) over a huge plate of spicy Korean dukbooki, fried dumplings, and ramen. It was so nice getting to chat and eat yummy food while enjoying the outdoors. Bonus- any drinks purchased along with a dish here is 50% off!

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Bakers and Baristas

Such a cute little spot about 20 minutes away from Anaheim that was perfect for a cozy breakfast and coffee. I discovered Bakers and Baristas while watching Youtubers Bart and Geo’s vlogs and have to say they have great taste in cafes!

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 Orange County Cherry Blossom Festival

I had a few hours between the wedding ceremony and the wedding reception so I decided to go to the Cherry Blossom Festival located in Huntington Park. I was surprised that there were any cherry blossoms in Southern California, but there are a few! The Festival is filled with unique Japanese inspired foods, including this delicious fried sushi taco and this refreshing thai tea, as well as tons of Asian themed performances. Plus, dogs are allowed and as you can see I spent most of my time snuggling with my friend’s new corgi puppy, Brisket!

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Broad Museum

I’ve been wanting to tour the Broad Museum ever since I saw pictures of the giant table and chairs exhibit on Instagram. Tickets to the Museum are free and distributed online starting 30 days in advance. Certain days sell out fast (like the weekends) so reserving tickets as far in advance as possible is a must. The Museum is also currently hosting the Yoya K____  Infiniti Mirror exhibit, which has attracted long lines at all the locations its been located at. While the Broad is no different, each person wanting to tour the exhibit puts their name down on a separate waiting list once entering the Museum. The Museum will then text you once your time to enter the exhibit arrives so there is no wasting time standing in a line. My friends and I toured the entire Museum during our quoted 1.5 hour wait time. The Infinit Mirror exhibit doesn’t disappoint! If it ever comes into a city near you, I highly recommend it.

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I loved LA and I can’t wait to go back! What else should I see/eat on my next visit?

What I Did in Madrid: Part 3

I’ve realized after this trip that 3 days is the perfect amount of time to spend in Madrid. The city isn’t that big and the most popular thing to do is it sit outside and eat tapas (which you can really only do for so long). 3 days is also the perfect amount of time for a solo trip. While I love being alone and experiencing a new city on my own terms, by the last day I was starting to miss my friends and life’s connections. I spent my last day in Madrid wandering the streets, eating and shopping and taking pictures. The weather was amazing and led to a perfect ending of a beautiful trip- Madrid I’ll definitely be back!

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El Rastro Flea Market

The El Rastro flea market is only open on Sundays beginning pretty much as soon as the sun rises. It was located right near my hostel so I walked through the already crowded streets perusing through various knick knacks, clothing, and souvenirs. I wished I had brought a bigger suitcase so I could have actually bought some of the stuff! I saw the cutest faux fur coats, vintage telephones, Madrid themed silverware, and handmade jewelry, Many streets are blocked off from cars so taking a walk through the flea market was a great start to my day. I luckily made it through before the even bigger crowds arrived because I could see how pickpocketing could be a problem here.

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Brunch @ La Infinito

La Infinito was heavily recommended on many searches I conducted about the Madrid food scene so I made a quick stop here after walking through the flea market. Something I’ve noticed about many restaurants is that there is always an English menu if you just ask- La Infinito was no different. Although the English menu wasn’t a super clear translation, I was able to finally order the Iberico ham (otherwise known as Jamon Iberico) and try it on top of tomato bread as many Spanish eat it. The set breakfast also came with a calming tea. I felt like a local dining in this little slice of a quiet Madrid neighborhood.

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Matcha Lattes @ Ruda Cafe

I wanted to try Madrid’s coffee scene at least once before leaving so after searching online for a decent coffee shop that was open early and located around the area of the flea market (I had grand plans to sip my latte while meandering through the many streets of the flea market) I finally found Ruda Cafe. To my surprise (but should I really have been surprised?), Madrid cafes are not open that early on the weekends. Many places didn’t open until 10am… which is a huge change from New York coffee shops that open literally at the crack of dawn even on the weekends. Ruda Cafe is located on a side street about 5 minutes from the main street of the El Rastro Flea Market in a tiny hole in the wall looking storefront. My matcha latte was delicious and not too bitter (a problem I find with many matcha lattes). I loved how warm it was in my hands as I perused the flea market items.

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Circular de Bella Artes

One of my favorite things to do in a new city is to see the view of the city from up above. Circular de Bella Artes is actually an art gallery, but has a rooftop cafe up top that is known for its gorgeous views of Madrid. There is a 4 Euro fee to visit the rooftop (even if you plan on ordering a drink at the cafe), probably because too many take advantage of the views without purchasing anything. I got to the rooftop right when it opened so it wasn’t too crowded yet and I was able to leisurely stroll around the barriers taking pictures of and experiencing Madrid from all angles. It was a beautiful sunny day and I felt like life was grand just viewing everything on that rooftop!

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Mama Framboise

I made a pit stop at the adorable Mama Framboise pastry shop to try their berry yogurt macaroon and caramel biscuit tart. I wish I had more stomach space because I would have also loved to have a second brunch here and try their brunch menu. The cafe was packed with customers and I could barely grab a side bar space to sit down and eat my desserts. This place is so worth a stop- the pastries were SO delicious!

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Monastery de las Descalzas Reales

I didn’t read the website clearly and realized after I had already purchased my nonrefundable ticket that all tours of the monastery were only held in English so while I could not understand a single word the tour guide said, I throughly enjoyed walking through a centuries old monastery and looking at their priceless art collection (and also looking everything up on Wikipedia afterwards). I definitely wish I had brushed up on my Spanish skills before going on the tour because it totally sucked not being able to hear the elaborate stories the tour guide was telling (and I do know they were elaborate because she talked A LOT and everyone was laughing… except me). The Monastery is actually affiliated with the Spanish royal family and founded by a Princess Joanna in 1559. It is filled with paintings, tapestries, and statues so if art is your cup of tea and you are tired of visiting art museums, then this Monastery should be right up your alley. Just be prepared to listen to a Spanish only tour guide!

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Jardines de Sabatini

This garden was a surprise find on my walk to the Temple Debod. It is located to the side of the Palace and offers free entry to all visitors. I wasn’t sure if this was part of the Palace or if it was a separate garden, but its nevertheless beautiful! Be prepared to climb up and down a ton of stairs to reach this garden though.

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Temple Debod

I originally wanted to come here for the sunset, but was so exhausted from all the walking and sightseeing I had been doing over the past two days that I decided to just go ahead and visit earlier and then call it a day and go back to the hostel. So while I wasn’t able to get those breathtaking sunset photos, I still enjoyed the free spirited park the Temple is located in and loved sitting on the benches and the edge of the Temple Debod and people watch. The Temple does get crowded the closer it gets to sunset (I saw hoards on people arriving while I was leaving) so if you want to avoid the crowds and enjoy a more peaceful scenery then I highly suggest arriving earlier as well. Also fun fact- there is another Egyptian temple very similar in appearance to the Temple Debod located in the Metropolitan Museum called the Temple Dedur that is also worth a visit!

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Malaspina

This was probably the only time during the whole trip that I wished I had someone else there with me. Only because the food at Malaspina was SO GOOD and I was sadly unable to finish all of it just because the portions were too big for one person to eat. I ordered the homemade ham croquettes and the patatas bravas and stuffed myself until I thought my stomach would burst. If I had another person there I would have definitely enjoyed more items off the menu, but since I was by myself my meal of croquettes and potatoes was a fabulous last meal of tapas in Madrid. Malaspina is located on a back street in the center of Madrid and it is surrounded by tons of other bars and tapas restaurants so if I had more time (and stomach space) I would have loved to tapas hop and taste more of what Madrid had to offer culinary wise.

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This was my last day in Madrid and it was the most peaceful day! I truly appreciated the quiet beauty of Madrid and can’t wait for a return trip. Now it is off to Portugal for a 9 hour layover!

What I Did in Madrid: Part 2

As you can probably see by the length of this blog post, my second day in Madrid was VERY busy. Since it was my first full day in the city and only 1 of 2 that I would have, I didn’t want to waste a single second. While I ended the day with extremely sore feet, it was such a rewarding day and the beginning of my love for Madrid.

Han So Cafe

Hanso is located in the trendy Malatesta neighborhood and thus a little further away from the typical touristy Madrid hot spots, but walking through the neighborhood to reach the cafe I simply loved how peaceful everything was and how the streets were so empty and cute! There are tiny fashionable shops lining the streets and many other adorable cafes. I was really looking forward to eating at this Spanish Korean cafe, but sadly their famed matcha and okinomiaki waffles were both unavailable (apparently they only start serving waffles at 2pm on weekends). Instead, I ate an avocado toast with scrambled eggs and tun topped with my favorite kewpie mayo. My delicious red velvet latte was beyond my expectations, although it wasn’t too strong.

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Buen Retiro Park

Originally I was planning to rent a bike and ride around the Park, but when I got to the bike rental shop, Rent and Roll, it wasn’t open yet (I guess Spanish shops aren’t too prompt on the weekends…) so instead I just took my time wandering through the Park. Although I live just minutes away from New York’s expansive Central Park and am use to gorgeous parks, I loved Buen Retiro because on the clear and sunny day I was visiting everything looked so magical. I loved the crystal palace located right in the center of the park and the giant pond where people were invited to partake in rowing through the peaceful water.

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Almudena Cathedral

A huge (and I mean huge) mass was going on when I visited the Cathedral so I wasn’t able to fully walk around….. but it was pretty cool listening briefly to a Spanish mass. Almudena is also located across the street from the Palace so it was a good place to kill some time before my entry time. I’ve heard that the Cathedral has a museum and a viewing area, but I wasn’t able to figure how to enter those areas because the mass pretty much limited movement inside.

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Palace of Madrid

One of the things I love doing when touring European countries is visiting their palaces. The monarch history is just so interesting to me because in America we have never had kings and queens. There is something so glamorous about walking the same halls as royals and getting a glimpse of where they lived and worked. From Buckingham Palace in London to Versailles in Paris to Schonbrunn Palace in Vienna, I have throughly enjoyed visiting these palaces no matter the cost. So I knew I had to make a stop at Madrid’s beautiful palace! Fortunately, I booked my ticket in advance and had a scheduled time to enter so I avoided the long line at the ticket booth. I highly recommend doing this in order to save time- a prebooked ticket allowed me to fly right in, pick up my also prebooked audio guide, and begin touring the palace in under 10 minutes. Make sure to allocate around 2 hours for the palace tour! The audio guide lasts around an hour total, but if I include taking pictures, visiting the armory museum exhibit, and just standing around soaking all the gorgeously decorated rooms in the whole palace experience definitely lasts two hours. One thing I noticed was missing from the Madrid Palace was a garden. Both Schonbrunn and Versailles has beautifully created and maintained gardens behind their palaces, so I was slightly disappointed there was no garden to walk through.

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Mercado San Miguel

Hands down, the San Miguel market was my favorite part of Madrid. I enjoyed the market so much I went there twice! I love tapas, but since I was in Madrid by myself I wasn’t able to eat as much variety of tapas as I wished because I had no one else to share them with and the portions were too big for just one person. However, at Mercado San Miguel I was able to buy tapas by the piece. Meaning I was able to eat a vast variety of delicious bread based tapas, fried calamari and octopus, croquettes, quiche, empanadas, and dessert. Mercado San Miguel is a food hall located near the Palace of Madrid that has numerous vendors inside selling all kinds of tapas. It is extremely crowded though so be prepared for the crush of people and watch out for your belongings!

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Shopping on Gran Via

I knew before coming to Madrid that I would HAVE to check out the Spanish headquartered Zara there as well as my all time favorite store, Primark. Although we have both Primark and Zara in the U.S, it is really not the same. Primark (a London based retail store) is absolutely huge in Europe and sells everything a person could possibly dream of having at affordable prices. The Primark on Gran Via was 6 floors and filled to the brim with cute clothing and other products. A definite destination for those traveling on a budget, but still wanting to check out the shopping. Back home, Zara is one of my favorite brands, but I’ve always felt that the prices are slightly higher than I would sometimes be willing to pay. Since the store is based in Spain, I knew the prices would be much lower and I knew I wouldn’t be able to pass up the opportunity to pick up some outfits at the Gran Via Zara.

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100 Monditas

I was looking to experience the cheap tapas culture of Spain so I decided to make a quick stop at 100 Monditas and try out their 1 Euro tapas. It turns out that they only had mini sandwich based tapas so while the variety and quality wasn’t too great, I loved having nachos and Spanish omelet sandwiches for 3 Euros only. This tapas bar is a chain and located everywhere in the city. If you’re craving a quick snack in between meals, then stopping by 100 Monditas is a fantastic idea. I wouldn’t suggest it for a full meal as the portions are simply not big enough.

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Flamenco Show

Flamenco dance is a type of dance that originated from Southern Spain and Flamenco performances are plentiful throughout Madrid. I had never seen a Flamenco dance performance before so I randomly bought a ticket from Teatro Flamenco, which claims to be the first Flamenco theater in the world, and sat down to watch a show on Saturday night. While it wasn’t what I was expecting at all (I thought the outfits would be more red!), I really enjoyed watching the natural talents of the musicians and dancers and learning a little bit more about Spanish culture. Tickets were 16 Euros for students/youth and 25 Euros for adults so its pretty affordable. The show lasted about an hour so I was able to make it out in time for…. dessert!

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Chocolateria Valor

After my first night at San Gines, I desperately wanted to eat more chocolate and churros, but one of my main travel rules is to never repeat the same experience twice while traveling because there are just way too many things to experience (although I later broke this rule because I couldn’t resist going to Mercado San Miguel twice). After some quick Google searches, I discovered that Chocolateria Valor is also known for its churros, which are slightly different from San Gines’. There was also an option to have 4 different types of chocolates for dipping, which I immediately went for. It was interesting to try the clear sugary chocolate as well as the Madrid version of milk chocolate, dark chocolate, and drinking chocolate. Also, what is with the length of the churros in Madrid? I could get use to these giant churros! American churros need to definitely take note.

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How I Carried My Stuff- One of the main worries tourists, including myself, have when visiting European countries like Spain is pickpocketing. Pickpocketing is so common in Europe and the thieves are so smooth and skilled that most victims don’t even know something is missing until much later. This was one of my biggest concerns because the last thing I wanted was to be stranded in a foreign country alone without my phone, wallet, or passport. To avoid having to deal with this issue, I decided to use my Longchamp Le Pilage Large Nylon Shoulder Tote instead of my usual backpack (where weight is more evenly distributed and thus results in less shoulder strain). I suffered through one shoulder always feeling weighted down and managed to avoid getting anything stolen by having the zipper in front of me instead of behind and always keeping a hand on the zipper. The Longchamp tote is also spacious so there is plenty of room for a water bottle, camera, leather jacket, souvenirs among other belongings.

Hope you enjoyed my Day 2 in Madrid adventures! What are you most interested in doing if you have the chance to visit the city?

What I Did in Madrid: Part 1

I finally hopped on the solo travel bandwagon and headed to Madrid for four tapas filled days this past President’s Day weekend. I honestly didn’t know too much about Spain before I started planning for my Madrid vacation (which by the way I booked super last minute in January) so I was surprised by how much I enjoyed the country. When people think about Europe, they mainly think about London or Paris or Amsterdam. Madrid, when compared to all those more mainstream cities and even its more popular Spanish counterpart city Barcelona, is always kind of under the radar or overlooked. But WOW it is an amazing country. I fell in love with Spain during this trip and I can’t wait for the next opportunity to go back. I loved how easy it was to get around using English, how the Spanish people come outside on sunny days to chat and eat delicious tapas, and how affordable everything was!

Plaza Mayor and Plaza del Sol

If I could describe both plazas in one statement it would be: Madrid’s TImes Square. The plazas are packed with people with stores lining all sides and different entertainers (aka people dressed in creepy costumes asking you to give money to take a picture). Throughout my trip I was constantly walking through both Plazas so it appears that they are pretty central areas of Madrid. Don’t miss out on the famous Bear and Strawberry Tree statue in Plaza del Sol!

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Prado Museum

2019 marks the Prado Museum’s 200 year anniversary as it was officially opened to the public on 1819. Because of this 200 year celebration, there was a special exhibit inside the Museum detailing 200 years of the Museum and it helped land Madrid on numerous 2019 travel bucket lists. Insider Tip- The Prado Museum is free from Monday to Saturday from 6-8pm. Although there is a long line to enter, it is worth it to save almost 15 euros! The line moves pretty quickly and there is plenty of time to wander through the museums. Personally, I’m not a huge fan of art and museums. I find them kind of boring and dry and I would much rather be outside walking the streets of the city I’m in or experiencing the city’s food scene. But some museums are just must sees! Prado is definitely one of them and going during the free hours makes it less burdensome to have to spend lots of time there. I wandered through the museum for about 1.5 hours (its actually a huge museum) and then was on my way to dinner.

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San Gines Chocolateria

A quick Google search of what to eat in Madrid will easily lead you to the San Gines Chocolateria- famous for its chocolate and churros. If you’ve only had American churros and hot chocolate, you will definitely be in for a shock. The chocolate is thicker- almost like it was just melted chocolate in a cup and slightly more bitter. The churros are a lot bigger and not drenched in cinnamon sugar. They are still sweet though! There was a small line when I arrived at San Gines after dinner, but it moved quickly. After finding an open table, guests give their already paid for ticket order to a passing waiter who then brings out the food after a few minutes. Everything moves fast so even if there are no tables available when you go, one will open up soon. At 4 Euros for chocolate and churros, San Gines is a great deal for a late night dessert.

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La Mallorica

This popular (and crowded!) pastry shop is located on a corner of the Plaza del Sol. While most tour guide books will tell you that anything surrounding these touristy plazas is not worth eating, I really feel like La Mallorica is the exception. The pastries here are exceptionally made and very appealing. Look how adorable my strawberry macaroon was!

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La Fragua de Vulcano

One thing I desperately wanted to eat in Spain was seafood paella. Ever since my trip to New Orleans last summer, I’ve been a little obsessed with paella. Who knew rice in tomato sauce could taste so good?? One of the downsides of being a solo traveler in Spain was that I had noone to split my tapas with so I was forced to order less variety and eat all of it myself. Next time, I will definitely be coming to Spain with someone else! When I arrived at La Fragua it was around 7pm- prime dinner time in the U.S- but in Spain it is considered a relatively early time slot to be eating dinner. I dined in a largely empty restaurant until the very end when the Spanish finally began dining (and I was headed back to my hostel for an early night due to jet lag…). I love how different cultures are around the world. Its so interesting to escape your tiny little American bubble and experience how other countries do even simple things like eating meals late.

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Where I Stayed: 2060 Newton Hostel

This was my first European hostel experience and I came away from it with mixed feelings. While I was able to save a lot of money (all three days only costed $86) and the central location was a huge bonus (everything was basically within a 20 minute walk), it was slightly uncomfortable sharing a room with 6 other girls who all had different schedules. Because I was an early riser, there were a few times when I wanted to turn on the room light so I could find my clothes and get ready for the day, but I felt a bit bad about disturbing the other sleeping girls. Having the privacy curtains definitely helped though- especially because I usually knocked out around 11pm due to being so active during the day. Sharing a bathroom was also a big change for me- I didn’t even do that in my college dorm! Taking turns with 6 other girls all wanting to use one tiny bathroom was one of the biggest difficulties, I always felt that there was so much hair (I get it girls do shed a lot!) on the ground and so many shampoo bottles lying everywhere. I decided that I would only do the hostel experience again if it was a 3 day or less stay because any longer and my germophobe body probably wouldn’t be able to handle it anymore. Despite all this, the hostel management was really sweet and did everything they could to make my stay comfortable. There was free churros and tea/coffee every morning for guests and free walking tours every day at 11am. I didn’t take advantage of any of the free walking tours since I had my own schedule planned, but next time I decide to stay at a hostel I really want to fit one in. A tip I would give a future first time hostel stayer would be to bring shower shoes (aka flip flops) and bring your own lock to lock up your belongings because there is no guarantee that the hostel locks are strong or secure.

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Have you been to Madrid? What was your favorite thing to do?

Postcards from Luxembourg

I know its 2019 and I know I went to Europe back in Summer 2018, but as I spend a few much needed weekends back home in New York City, I thought I would share some posts from my previous travels that I was unable to post earlier. I had the opportunity to work from Brussels for two weeks due to a client being located out there and I took a few day trips on the weekend to see more of Europe. Seeing as how Luxembourg is a completely landlocked country that's known for being, well, tiny, I knew if I didn't take the chance to visit while in Belgium (one of its neighbors) I probably wouldn't ever go. Basically, I wanted to visit out of sheer curiosity so I took another Viator tour and headed to the Belgium border. If I could use one word to describe Luxembourg it would be YELLOW. Everywhere I looked I saw yellow. From the sunshine to the yellow painted buildings all my memories of Luxembourg are awash in yellow. The country is definitely small (there isn’t too much to do besides walk around and gawk at its natural beauty) so I would say a day trip is enough to get your fill of Luxembourg. I mostly walked around the city wall and the city center soaking in everything I could about this tiny country.

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What do you guys think of Luxembourg? Would you visit?

A Few Nashville Favorites

Many of yall know that I prefer traveling alone or with one other person just because of it is usually easier to plan and organize a successful trip. Large groups can be slower (its hard to get everyone to show up on time!) and everyone has their own separate opinions on what to do and where to eat (it can be very hard to agree on an itinerary). Nevertheless, there is also the upside of experiencing your travels with so many of your friends and learning about the destination through their perceptions and lenses. So I decided to organize a girlcation with some of my sorority sisters and head to Nashville for MLK weekend! Although, I do have several solo trips coming up (Madrid!) I was really looking forward to hanging out with some of my close friends and being back in the South (aka I was dying to eat fried chicken). I made sure to bake some extra time into Nashville so that I could still experience some of the city on my own. Side note- this time last year I had the fiasco with a cancelled Quebec City vacation (so much false hope and so much wasted time at the airport) so when I saw that snow was in the forecast again for MLK weekend I was prepared to be snowed in and booked several activities last minute when I was sure that my flight would not be cancelled. Luckily, the snow held off and I made it to Nashville! I’m so used to the hustle and bustle of New York and how brusque New Yorkers can be (yes I admit to be one of them too) so I loved how Nashville embodies Southern hospitality. Everyone I met was so kind and welcoming! 2019 is definitely off to a good start.

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Suzy Wong’s House of Yum

When I heard that there was a drag show brunch in Nashville (because how fitting is that!) I knew we had to eat there. Bonus- the food is Asian fusion and I love a good fusion restaurant. The drag show at Suzy Wong’s occurs every Saturday and Sunday in 30 min intervals and costs an additional $3 (a small fee when you consider the how much the drag shows in New York costs). In reality the show was a bit of a disappointment as only one performer performed at a time and it was surprisingly all lip syncing. Nevertheless, we had a good time interacting with the drag queens and chowing down on some delicious katsu chicken and waffles and breakfast potatoes. There were so many bachelorette groups here so I guess its the place to be for girls wanting to have a good time!

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 Crema

My own personal motto is that no vacation can kick off without a cup of aromatic coffee. It’s the perfect pick me up after the stress of flying and getting into town late and puts everyone in a good mood for the rest of the trip. Crema has such good reviews on Yelp and is located near the Cumberland River so I headed there before brunch to savor my iced Cuban latte (made with sweetened condensed milk). I wish the weather had been better because it would have been so nice to sit outside on the patio in the sun and enjoy. But I’ll have to save that for my next Nashville trip because I will definitely be back!

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East Nashville

I arrived in Nashville a day earlier than my friends (I had to get some solo time in!) and chose an Airbnb in East Nashville because its often an area overlooked by many tourists for the hyped up downtown Nashville neighborhood. Instead of eating a cold bagel sandwich on the plane (like I usually do), I opted to wait until landing to Uber to Five Points Pizza and try a slice of their delicious prosciutto and basil pizza. It didn’t disappoint! Of course motto #2 is to never end a meal without dessert so after my pizza, I walked next door to Soda Parlor to try their famous waffle and ice cream combo. I definitely wish I was able to bring my friends to these places because I know they would have loved how yummy everything was, but it was nice to soak in my first few moments of Nashville alone. I highly recommend staying here if you’re in the East Nashville area! The hosts were so sweet and the room was so comfortable and huge.

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 Listening Room Café

I love listening to live music and as Nashville is the live music capital of the world, I knew I couldn’t leave without experiencing some of it. The famous Bluebird Café (of which celebrities like Taylor Swift have performed) was impossible to get tickets to so instead we opted for the equally famous, but much bigger, Listening Room Café. Cover is $10 (we booked in advance) and there is a $15 food and beverage minimum, which isn’t a big deal since most shows start around 6pm, making it perfect for either dinner or a pre dinner drink. Simply put, I loved the Listening Room. The songwriters performing were beyond talented and amazing and you could tell they were so dedicated and passionate about their craft. We had the privilege of listening to Corey Batten (who wrote Blake Shelton’s She Wouldn’t Be Gone) and Jesse Lee (who wrote Kelsea Ballerini’s Peter Pan) perform live in such an intimate environment. I loved that we got to hear the brains and talent behind the hit songs that are usually sung by other famous individuals. Another highlight of our night was definitely hearing up and coming artist, Jesse Labelle, sing songs off his newly released album. We even took a picture with him at the end of the night so if he ever makes it big we can say we heard it first at the Listening Room! Definitely come here for live music if you’re in town.

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 Grand Ole Opry Backstage Tour

While we weren’t able to see a show at the Grand Ole Opry (again tickets sold out in a flash because Sara Evans was performing that night), we managed to get tickets for a backstage tour. At $35.50 a piece these tickets weren’t cheap, but were so worth it. The hour long tour allows for an inside glance at one of the most famous music venues in the world and the opportunity to learn a bit about country music history. We were able to see the dressing rooms where the artists get ready in before each performance and we peered out into the audience pews from the stage where the artists performed every Saturday night. Of course the highlight of the tour was being able to step into that well known ring and hold the same mic that is used by so many great country legends.

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 Hattie B’s Hot Chicken

When I first told people I was visiting Nashville over MLK weekend, the first recommendation most people had for me was to try Hattie B’s Hot Chicken. They all claimed that it was the best they’d ever tasted so even though I’m not the biggest fan of hot chicken (it can be a little too spicy for my tastes), I still wanted to try it. Luckily for me, Hattie B’s has different spice levels for their chicken- no spice, mild, medium, and hot. I went with the mild because I did want to eat a somewhat spicy chicken to get the Nashville experience and the chicken turned out to be amazing. I scarfed down all the food because it was simply irresistible! Be prepared to wait in a line if you’re wanting to indulge in Hatti B’s chicken though because it is long.

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Vanderbilt University and Centennial Park

I had a few moments on Monday before heading to the airport so I thought I would check out Vanderbilt University. I’ve always been curious about how other University campuses are and what it would be like to be a student there. After visiting, all I can say is that Vanderbilt University students are very lucky because their campus was gorgeous. So many stately buildings and beautiful architecture. I loved seeing all the students walking around- it made me miss my alma mater UT! Across the street from Vanderbilt is Centennial Park- a spacious area filled with swinging benches, a giant lake, and the stately Pantheon replica building. I took a quick stroll around the Park and marveled over how peaceful everything was. Definitely a nice change from the city!

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Country Music Hall of Fame

I didn’t plan to visit any museums while in Nashville just because I wanted to experience walking around the streets of the city and seeing everything. Unfortunately for me, the weather on Sunday in Nashville was way too cold (even for this New Yorker!) so I decided to spend some time indoors at the Country Music Hall of Fame and learn a little about the musicians that have made Nashville famous. From Roy Acuff to Willie Nelson to Dolly Parton to Carrie Underwood, the Hall of Fame museum provided a wealth of information on some many successful and talented individuals. The best part of the museum was walking into the airy and bright atrium where the plaques of all Hall of Fame inductees is located. It was so interesting walking around and reading about who was part of the Hall of Fame and why they were chosen to be inducted.

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Nashville Farmer’s Market

I also wasn’t originally planning to visit the Farmer’s Market because it was a bit on the outskirts of central Nashville, but in the end couldn’t give up the opportunity to try bubble tea in Nashville. For those that know me well, they know I have a strong obsession with bubble tea (as any Asian does?) and I love drinking bubble tea anywhere I go. I’ve had it in its original Taiwan, across America, and even in London and Brussels. While Nashville lacks good Asian food and Asian culture, there was one spot in the entire city, Bubble Love, that served up my favorite drink. While at $6 it is quite expensive, I thought it was still a pretty accurate taste. Since it was winter the Farmer’s Market fresh fruit and vegetables were sadly not being sold, but inside the indoor portion of the Market plenty of food stalls were open and ready to serve the hungry public. I recommend coming here in the summer time to get the full Farmer’s Market experience, but savoring a delicious bubble tea is worth a trip as well.

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12th Avenue

On my last day in Nashville I was again on my own and decided to stop by the highly rated Five Daughters Bakery to try its popular 100 layer donuts. I have a love hate relationship with donuts- the first bite is always SO good, but a few more bites in it becomes too sweet and it starts to seem too big to finish. I was doubtful on how good these donuts could possibly be, but boy was I wrong. This is for sure the place in Nashville to get your sweet tooth fix at. There werent too many seats available for eating the donuts and I wanted to wash down my donut with a nice cup of coffee, so I chose to go next door to the Frothy Monkey café and sip a Monkey Mocha (chocolate and banana infused coffee) while savoring my oatmeal whip donut. Something to note- the Frothy Monkey was SO packed when I arrived (and at 9:30am too!), but there are a lot of seats available in the back including a few communal tables so don’t be discouraged if it looks like there’s nowhere to put down your coffee cup. One of the things I loved most about 12th Ave was that it had the same laid back casul vibe of Nashville without the frenzy of Broadway street. There were so many adorable shops lining the street and plenty of eateries and cafes along the way. I was even able to take a picture with Reese Witherspoon’s store Draper James! 12th Ave reminded me so much of Austin- it even made me a little nostalgic for my college life when I was so many Vanderbilt students studying inside Frothy Monkey.

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And there you go- that was my Nashville trip in a nutshell! There were just way too many things to do, places to eat at, and live music venues that I was unable to fit into my short 3 day weekend so I’ll just have to come back to Nashville someday! Taking recommendations for my next trip…….

My Top Costa Rica Experiences

My high school friends and I were trying to see where we could all travel together for our reunion trip and when Costa Rica was brought up, I knew we had to go. Costa Rica is the perfect destination if you are an adventurous traveler like me! There are so many activities to do (many of them are ones you can’t find in the States). We only had about 5 days in the country so prioritizing everything we wanted to do was key. Many people don’t realize but due to Costa Rica’s terrain being filled with mountains and forests and other natural wonders, traveling around the country can take some time. There is only one international airport located in the center of Costa Rica at its capital San Jose. After doing extensive research we decided that renting a car would be the best way for us to travel around the country (although buses and private shuttles are also options). Driving from San Jose to anywhere else in Costa Rica requires around 3 hours so be prepared for a long haul drive. Because of the drive time and the short amount of time we had available for the vacation, we chose to mainly stick to La Fortuna and Monteverde and forgo the more tropical beach destinations for another time. Prepare for a bumpy drive because the road between La Fortuna and Montverde is SO rocky. The roads were not paved at all, which translated into a slower drive. In hindsight we really wish we had rented a more suitable car (aka a jeep), but we made do with our little Hyundai. The drive is a perfect way to see the natural undisturbed beauty of Costa Rica.

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I had heard that Costa Rica is the leading country for people to experience ecotourism, but the reality of being the beautiful country completely blew my expectations out of the water. Costa Rica is so green and fresh! But the best part of our girlcation was definitely all the new experiences. This was by far the best way for me to end 2018 (Costa Rica is my 20th country!)- I’m so blessed to have had a year of wonderful travels. Cheers to 2019 and everything yet to come!

Waterfall Rappelling - Rappelling was a lot more difficult than I thought it would be. It’s definitely against my nature to just jump over the side of a waterfall I guess! Nevertheless, I don’t regret doing it because it is a once in a lifetime experience. The views of the rainforest were breathtaking and I loved the hike in between waterfalls. For this experience as well as the white water rafting, we chose to go with Desafio Tour Company and didn’t have an regrets. All the guides were very safety oriented and knowledgable.

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White Water Rafting - We rafted during the second part of the day of our Desafio tour. Although, Class 2 and 3 rapids were expected, I felt that most of the rapids were 1 and 2- making me want even more to try Class 4 rapids! The Balsa River is beyond gorgeous and the half day trip was the perfect amount of time. Expect to get wet!

Ziplining - Ziplining across the Monteverde Cloud Forest was easily my favorite part of my Costa Rica vacation. It felt like I was flying over all the trees. I loved the wind around me and being able to see for miles. There was a total of 15 zip lines (some longer than others) and there was also an opportunity to hike in the rain forest in between zip lines. We didn’t realize but the zip line tour ended up being a private tour. Our group of 4 had 3 guides with us and we didn’t see a single other group in the forest during our zip lining. I highly suggest Selvatura Adventure Park for zip lining because it is extremely organized.

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Yoga - A private yoga class at La Fortuna Yoga was the best way to kick off our Costa Rica adventure. After spending 3.5 hours on the plane from Texas and then another 3 hours driving from San Jose to La Fortuna, I welcomed the opportunity to stretch and enjoy the peace and stillness. I booked this class via Airbnb Experiences and even though it is typically not held on Sundays, the instructor was gracious enough to open a private class for us.

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Chocolate Tour - This was one of the highlights of our vacation. Don Olivio’s Chocolate Tour ended up being a family run business which included tons of fresh fruit sampling (they were SO generous) as well as showing us how to press sugarcane into sugarcane juice and make chocolate from raw cocoa beans. We ended the two hour tour with a glass of homemade hot chocolate created from the cocoa beans grown on the farm. You can sign up for the tour via Viator or TripAdvisor- it’s only $25!

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Hanging Bridges - My friends thought this hanging bridges hike (which lasted around 2 hours) was a bit long, but they can’t deny the natural beauty of the bridges. There is a total of 15 bridges, although only 6 of them are truly “hanging”. The rest are made of metal and are at varying heights. Walking around the park also provided an opportunity to see all kinds of wild animals such as spider monkeys, tarantulas, praying mantis, and toucans. The main downside of this hike was that it seemed a bit touristy and crowded. We saw people everywhere and it could be hard at times to enjoy the nature. It is one of the main attractions of La Fortuna though so I can see why it was so crowded.

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Hot Springs, Volcano Hike, and Waterfall- La Fortuna is filled with hot springs. Almost every hotel or resort will offer it. There are even free ones! We visited a free hot springs on our second night in La Fortuna (tip- there is one across the street from the Tabacon Resort) and it was crazy sitting in a pool of water that I knew was being naturally heated while staring at the forest of trees around me. We also did pay to go into a more exclusive hot springs at Paradise Resort and boy was it private! There were 8 pools of water which were heated to varying degrees. The hottest one was 125 degrees! A visitor can’t go to La Fortuna without experiencing the breathtaking La Fortuna Waterfall and hiking the gravelly Arenal Volcano hikes. I was able to even swim at the base of the waterfall, although I was personally too scared to get too close because the current seemed extremely strong.

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I know I’m definitely going back to Costa Rica in the future- there is just so much left for me to do there! Do you guys have any suggestions for future trips?








Eating My Way Through Columbia, South Carolina

I recently visited the capital of South Carolina in order to meet the girls of my sorority’s newest chapter at the University of South Carolina. After doing some research on Columbia, I came to the conclusion that there was nothing to do in the town and I started wishing that I was going to Charleston or Myrtle Beach instead. Usually I’m not a Debby Downer when it comes to travel and I always find something to do no matter the city. I was even excited to go to Columbus, Ohio! So it was a real disappointment when I seriously could not find a single exciting thing about Columbia. Until I started looking into what to eat there. I was SO surprised that this tiny capital town had so many amazing food options! My list was so long I knew I had to prioritize because there was just too much that needed to be eaten in one trip.  Maybe its because I’m originally from the South and have a weakness for good bbq and tex mex, but all the food in Columbia appealed to me. Just a word of warning- your stomach WILL start grumbling as you read this post and look at all the yummy photos of food so its probably best this post isn’t read on an empty stomach.

Real Mexican Restaurant

As the name states, they definitely serve real Mexican food here. And in big generous portions for cheap prices too! I am so use to New York prices on everything that when I noticed the $5 price tag on a bowl of queso I caved and got that plus a bowl of bean dip. A girl can never have enough melted cheese in her life! This place isn’t too big and fills up quickly so make sure you come at a good time to snag a table! This restaurant is located on the outskirts of Columbia so if you are driving from Atlanta its a great place to stop and eat before you complete the last 20 minutes of your drive.

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Duck Donuts

Before this trip to South Carolina, I had never been to a create your own donut bar! Although you don’t physically make the donut, you do get to choose the donut type, filling, icing, and toppings you want. There are so many options that it looks like you’ll never run out of a combination to try. I got the vanilla cake donut with raspberry drizzle and oreo crumbs. Duck Donuts also has a selection of coffees to choose from- perfect for our 3 hour drive back to Atlanta. I was also a little shocked at how cheap everything was here. I don’t know if it’s the New Yorker in me or what, but I guess I just expect even snacks like donuts to be overpriced. But I think I only paid $3 for a small coffee and my own personalized donut!

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 Midwood Smokehouse

Midwood is your typical bbq place and serves good solid meat and the cheesiest queso ever. We added brisket to our queso (because why not) and was obsessed with the combination. My Carolina pork combo plate with mac and cheese was also a great choice. The restaurant is located in a shopping center and is right across from Duck Donuts (there is a huge parking lot too so don’t even worry about having to squeeze into street parking). The prices are reasonable and its a good place to get some solid barbecue.

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 Southern Belly BBQ

I had high hopes for the barbecue bar, but while the service was so friendly (it is Southern hospitality after all), I was slightly disappointed in the food. We went there for brunch, which was probably not the best choice because it was clear the bar was still recovering from the previous night. Many items on the menu (champagne and french fries) were out and the restaurant hadn’t had time to restock yet. So if you’re dying to try one of their famous bbq sandwiches, I suggest coming for dinner or a late night snack. Plus, the extremely oily sandwiches and potato chips (which we resorted to when they told us that fries were not available) were a bit much for a 11am meal. It was a cool food concept through- there are about 7 different sauces that are unique to Southern Belly and we were able to try a sampler of the sauces before deciding which ones we wanted on our sandwiches. The bar also only serves pork so if you don’t eat or like pork, this place will have to be a skip for you. The pork is cooked very well though and was delicious!

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JJ Tea House

This may be the only bubble tea cafe in the entire city of Columbia so if you have bubble tea cravings like I do, this cafe will for sure be on your hit list when you visit. JJ is located on the corner of the University of South Carolina’s main campus and as a result, is usually filled with hungry college students. Don’t let that deter you though because their drinks and their giant shaved ice bowls are amazing!

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BONUS

After my first trip to South Carolina, I returned to Atlanta for a week of work and continued my Southern eating tour. Here are two of the highlights of that quick trip. This was actually my second time in Atlanta this year and because I was there for work, I wasn’t as adventurous as my first trip which you can read about here.

Iberian Pig- If you love tapas (or just being able to taste several dishes), I strongly recommend this tapas bar located in downtown Decatur. Be sure to bring a friend (or two!) in order to try multiple dishes! You’re mouth will be watering while reading the menu and you’ll want to order everything because their menu is amazing and everything we ate was SO good. My favorite dishes were the patatas bravas and the pork and truffle dip that came with toasted bread.

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Fox Bros BBQ- While writing this blog post and flipping through my pictures of the food eaten this weekend, I realized that boy do I eat a lot of barbecue. Maybe its my Texas upbringing or the fact that since I live on the East Coast now and I’m unable to have legitimate Southern bbq on a constant basis, but I’ve become addicted to juicy, perfectly flavored meat. I switched it up a little at Fox Bros though because I was dying to try the fried pork ribs and the brisket fries. Fox Bros has two locations so take your pick and don’t miss it on your next trip A-town.

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Next time you are in South Carolina (or Atlanta)… Happy Eating!!


Why A Weekend in Quebec City is the Perfect Winter Vacation

If you’ve been following along with Toast and Travel over this past year, you’ll know that I attempted a trip to Quebec City back in January over MLK weekend but due to weather conditions in New York and Canada, I was unable to board my flights and thus had to cancel the vacation. You can read about my emotions on missing out on the trip here, but if you’re reading this post its obvious that my Quebec City dreams eventually came true! My second weekend in December was spent in COLD snowy weather with beautiful Christmas festive decorations and all the splendor that is Canada. Canada is one of my favorite countries- so many people don’t know about its truly friendly citizens and how European its French Canadian side can get! This was my third time in Canada (I have previously visited Vancouver, Toronto, and Montreal), but this visit I really felt like I had left North America and gone to France. The official language of Quebec is French (and only French), which means that all the signs and menus were only in French and many people were not able to speak English. I was so surprised by how immersive this city was in its French roots and I loved that if I closed my eyes I could just imagine myself on the streets of Paris again.

 It was beyond freezing in Quebec City this time of year (although I heard it gets even colder in January), so if you’re visiting in the winter time (which I highly suggest because its just too magical) make sure you pack lots of warm clothes and a good sturdy pair of waterproof snow boots (no Uggs won’t cut it). Don’t let the weather prevent you from visiting the city though! There is plenty to do both indoors and outdoors. The temperature fell into the negatives two of the days we were there and we even took a winter themed walking tour! The key to a successful and comfortable trip is definitely preparation.

 What to Do

Parliament Building Tour- This free tour takes place only during the week and provides an educational look into how the Canadian, and more specifically the Quebec, government operates. Prior to visiting I had little to no knowledge about how our Northern neighbors governed themselves and this tour opened my eyes to how interesting it can be to hear how different even Canada is from the U.S. Quebec has only one legislative body, although there are four different parties represented. All discussions and meetings are conducted in French so if you cannot speak the language you will have a hard time getting elected. Only a maximum of 10 people are allowed per tour and tickets are passed out on a first come first serve basis, so arrive early in the day to ensure you get a ticket!

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Plains of Abraham- This giant park is basically a great big space of open land. All we could see was miles and miles of snow- from the pictures we took it even looked like we were in the wilderness surrounded by deep snow. Plains of Abraham is located right across the street from the Parliament Building so it’s the perfect place to kill some time if you’ve arrived early for your tour.

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Dog Sledding- My main reason for wanting to come to Quebec City was to go dog sledding, which was something that has been on my bucket list for a while. I have to say it did not disappoint! After some research (there are a lot of dog sledding options in the area), I went with a small family operation, Chenil La Poursuite. Since I was by myself, I lucked out and was paired with the guide. This turned out to be a good thing because dog sledding was way more physically challenging than I expected. Stepping on the breaks took all my strength (those dogs are STRONG) so after a while I was glad that the guide offered to take over so I can ride in the sled and enjoy taking pictures of everything. The dogs LOVE being out in the snow and running so it can be hard to control them but they understand basic commands (only in French of course) so its not hard to make them stay the course. I loved visiting the puppies afterwards too and wished I could take one home. Beware that it is really cold and loud here! Its also hard to reach so while an Uber can drop you off, you will have to call a local taxi company to bring you back into the city.

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Old Quebec Walking Tour- I booked this winter walking tour on Airbnb Experiences (one of my recent obsessions) and felt that it was a good price ($20) for 2 hours of guided wlaking around Old Quebec. The guide pointed out to us many things that we ended up going back to after the tour was over. I learned even more about Quebec City history! Although fair warning, towards the second hour I started to seriously freeze. The guide was nice enough to take us on a indoor break inside the Notre Dame church where we were able to see the only Holy Door in North America. I highly recommend taking this tour if you are in Quebec City for a short amount of time and want to gain some knowledge about the city.

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Terrasse Duffrin and Tobogganing- I had never even heard of tobogganing before this trip, but I’m always down to try new winter sports. I grew up in Texas where snow doesn’t even exist so I always feel like I have to catch up on a lifetime of winter sports in the few short years I’ve been living on the East Coast. The Terrasse Duffrin is also a long boardwalk that overlooks the St Lawrence River and borders the Chateau Frontenac. In the winter time its covered in snow and the view is gorgeous.

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Quartier Petit Champlain- This area consists of a few streets that are so cute and so ready for the holidays! We took our time strolling along the streets, shopping and taking in the sights. At the bottom of the street there is a spot to take the most perfect picture of the Chateau! Also, if you are a Korean drama fan like me you will recognize many of the filming scenes from the popular drama, Goblin, in Old Quebec. The Chateau is featured heavily in the drama as well we the red door in which the Goblin uses for time travel. Our tour guide told us that when the drama was first release, hordes of tourists would line up to take pictures with the famous red door. I’m happy to report that since the drama can be considered “old news” now there is no line to snap the elusive picture of the door!

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German Christmas Market- This market was a little smaller than expected- most likely because we’re use to the huge Christmas markets in New York. But it was just as festive! We warmed ourselves by the fire with churros and even met Santa Claus. The market is divided into three different sections so make sure you walk through all three sections and don’t miss out on any of the adorable stands.

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What to Eat

 Chocolato- Warm up with a nice cup of hot chocolate in this chocolate themed café! There are over 20 different types of chocolate that you can choose from to make your hot chocolate with. I’m the most indecisive person ever so it too me a while to finally make a decision (I mean who can decide between strawberry, white chocolate blueberry, and nutella), but I finally chose the cookies and crème white chocolate for my drink. Despite all this chocolate, the drink was not too sweet. Instead, it was the perfect balance of chocolate and milk. Chocolato is located on Rue Saint Jean near Old Quebec and so many other delicious restaurants.

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La Lapin Saute- This cozy restaurant is right in the middle of the famed Quartier Petit Champlain and is known for its rabbit dishes and its cheeses. Be prepared for a bit of a wait no matter what time of day it is because the food is that good! We ordered the cream of brussel sprouts soup, fried cheese fondue (yes this actually exists!), rabbit poutine, vegetable casselote, and duck lasagna. The taste of everything was different from what we expected, but it was still delicious. I especially loved how creamy the brussel sprouts soup was- perfect for a cold wintery day.

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Aux Anciens Canadiens- This restaurant was recommended on several websites I came across in my research as one that served genuine Quebec food. We came here wanting to try one thing and one thing only- the famous Quebec meat pie. But what we didn’t realize was that the menu is pre fixe only so for the price of $20 Canadian dollars were only able to eat the meat pie, chicken and vegetable soup, and a slice of maple pie. If you are into flavored and seasoned food, the food here may seem a little bland to you, but still give it a try as you immerse yourself in the Quebec culture!

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Paillard- Such an amazing bakery! We actually came here twice because we loved it so much. Paillard serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner as well as dessert. Its known for its bread and pastries so with my major sweet tooth, I couldn’t pass up the raspberry neopolitan and the fruit pastry. The café is also located on Rue Saint Jean and has a big open space so you don’t need to worry about waiting for seats.

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La Maison Smith- Another delicious bakery, although this one is a chain and located at several locations throughout Old Quebec. It reminded me of the cuter, better version of Starbucks. We stopped here before our walking tour to warm up and snack on some flaky buttery croissants.

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Bugel- We ate our last Quebec City meal here and boy was it a treat! Many people don’t know that Canadians are also known for their bagels, which are slightly different from American bagels in that the shape is thinner and bagel itself not as fluffy. Although New York bagels will always hold a special place in my heart, I loved that the bagels here tasted like bread- it’s a little hard to explain so you have to visit Montreal or Quebec City to see for yourself! Also, support local Canadian businesses by ordering the matcha lemonade iced tea.

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If you’re wondering why this post is more about food and less about activities, its because we had to take so many indoor breaks because of how cold it was outside and because French food is truly amazing. Despite how cold it was, I wouldn’t suggest going to Quebec City during any other season. There is something so magical about the streets of Old Quebec around Christmas time and it is definitely something to be experienced. I know many people seek out warm temperature vacations around this time of year, but experiencing winter at its finest is not to be missed out on!

Have you guys been to Canada before? What were your favorite cities? Where should I visit next?

A Weekend in the Virginia Countryside

When I first received my friend’s wedding invitation and discovered that her wedding would be held in Berryville, Virginia I was kind of confused on where this tiny town was actually located and how I would be able to make a weekend out of it since the wedding was taking place on Labor Day Weekend. After some Google mapping, I found out that Berryville is located smack dab in the middle of Virginia wine country and some of the country’s most beautiful hiking trails. I was amazed by the beauty of Virginia and all the things there were to do out there! Fair warning though- there is a LOT of driving involved and if you’re a New Yorker like me who is spoiled by convenient public transportation and cheap Ubers be prepared to either bring a friend who happens to be a good driver or practice your driving skills in advance. The drive was a total of 6 hours (7 with traffic) from New York and some of the roads were not well lit at all. The roads can also be quiet steep and winding so definitely be careful! Thankfully, one of my best friends was in town to attend the same wedding and graciously flew into New York so we could make the drive down together (aka so I wouldn’t have to drive). If there is anything I’ve learned from this trip it is that while I love outdoor activities like hiking, road trips are not for me. Other than the long drive, I truly enjoyed my time in Virginia! 

Shenandoah Valley

One of the main things I wanted to do in Virginia was go hiking because I had heard rave reviews about the gorgeous scenery in the Virginia mountains. Luckily, our Airbnb wasn’t far from the Shenandoah Valley and we headed there for a moderately difficult hike to the waterfalls. Just a note of advice- more than likely your phone (aka GPS) will not have service once you enter the National Park so I really recommend either downloading the map off of Google Maps in advance or getting a physical map from the Visitor Center upon entering. We chose to hike a trail that led to a beautiful little waterfall and took around 3 hours round trip. The trail was clearly marked, not too crowded, and offered some amazing views. I strongly recommend bringing a lot of water because with all the steep stairs going up and down you end up sweating A LOT and will definitely need to stay hydrated. I did not heed this warning and ended up with a slight migraine the rest of the day. Driving along Skyline Drive, which takes you through the center of the National Park is also worthwhile- there are so many stopping points along the Drive that allows you to pull over and take in the view. Living in New York City, I’m use to the gray pavements, rusty subways, and trash on the streets, so I was very amazed by how green and fresh everything was. I have to say it was a nice change!

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Skyline Caverns

A lot of people don’t know this about me, but I’m a little bit obsessed with caves. There is just something so mysterious about them that pulls my attention in and makes me really curious. Over the past years I’ve visited several caves (including in Bermuda!) and really educated myself about them. Did you know that the pools of water inside caves are so clear that it makes the pool appear to be much deeper than they really are? The fact that there are so many beautiful natural formations under our feet is just astounding to me. Skyline Caverns was definitely one of the biggest caves I’ve had the opportunity to tour- there was a total of 17 rooms! We weren’t sure what time our hike (see above) would end so we did not book our Cavern tour tickets in advance, but there was still space for us on the last tour of the day! Visiting the caves can be easily combined with a Shenandoah Valley hike if you plan out your time well because the Caverns are located just outside the North entrance of the Park. It can get chilly inside the caves so make sure you bring in a light jacket. There are also some other activities located at Skyline Caverns, like a mirror maze, so the little ones can be entertained as well.

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Great Country Farms

 My biggest regret about my trip was not having enough time to go fruit picking at the local farms. I would have loved to grab some fresh apples or peaches to take back home with me and enjoy throughout the week, but unfortunately with our jam packed schedule there was just no time. Instead, we went to Great Country Farms and explored their general store, stocked up on some juicy peaches, and tasted their homemade jams. Next time I plan to ride the wagon out into the fruit fields and spend hours just wandering around looking for crispy apples, sweet strawberries, and tons of peaches. Tip- Great Country Farms is located right across the road from Bluemont Vineyard so make sure you have time to enjoy the fresh fruits as well as the delicious wine!

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Bluemont Vineyard

 Wow. Bluemont Vineyard was definitely one of the biggest highlights of my Virginia trip. I’m not a big wine drinker, but I couldn’t skip out on visiting a winery when I was staying in the center of Virginia wine country. I love the vibe at vineyards and how beautiful and serene it is to site outside under the calming sun and sip on wine. I’ve been to wineries in Long Island’s North Fork as well as in the Finger Lakes region, but Bluemont instantly became my favorite winery because of its gorgeous location and the quality of food and wine offered. One big bonus of Bluemont Vineyards is that it also has delicious huge flatbreads to accompany your wine sampler. My friends and I had a grand time tasting 6 different types of white and red wine, all created and made locally on premise, while eating a cheesy breakfast inspired flatbread. Plus, the Vineyards are located on top of a hill so the view overlooks all of the fields and is such a nice background for a perfect Sunday afternoon. Get there early and beat the crowds to ensure you get a nice table under a large umbrella. You might also catch one of the many friendly cats on their property that sunbathes under the picnic tables!

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Historic Rosemont Manor

My friend’s wedding was held at the Historic Rosemont Manor and what a gorgeous venue it was! There was so much history involved- we actually stayed on the venue site in a cabin that use to house soldiers during the Civil War. The outdoor ceremony was simply stunning with a huge green space as the backdrop. Afterwards we celebrated with a bonfire and tons of pizza and beer- the perfect ending to a wonderful weekend. Congrats again Sophia and Sang!

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Have any of you guys been to Virginia before? What other activities have you done there?

Highlights of Bermuda

Before my 25th birthday over a year ago I made a promise to myself that I would celebrate the rest of my 20s birthdays in a different country. Traveling is (obviously) one of my favorite activities and what better way to spend my birthday than to  use my passport and explore somewhere I've never been before? Last year I went to Montreal with my sister- you can read about my Canada adventures here. This year for my 26th birthday I decided to go to the lovely island of Bermuda with my friend, Jewel. Its been on my list of countries to visit while living on the East Coast so I felt that it would be the perfect fit for my summer birthday celebrations. Bermuda was so beautiful and the warmth of the local residents truly surprised me. Coming from New York where most people just mind their own business and are always in a hurry to get to a destination, I wasn't expecting complete strangers to say hello and good morning to me every day or to offer their help so kindly when we asked for directions. Bermuda isn't as popular a tourist destination as the Caribbean islands so I didn't know too much about it before going and thus felt a little apprehensive in the beginning. But once arriving, I realized that the people on this island watch out for each other and I started to get the feeling that the whole country was one giant community. Such a refreshing change from my fast paced life in the city!

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There aren't too many flights going in and out of Bermuda, but direct flights out of NYC are reasonably priced and only about 2 hours making the country the perfect weekend getaway. A huge bonus we discovered once there was that because Bermuda wasn't the huge tourist destination, the beaches weren't overcrowded or loud, traffic was basically nonexistence, and nothing was ever booked up or sold out. We arrived in Bermuda with nothing except our Airbnb booked and we managed to do everything we wanted and eat at popular restaurants with either a last minute reservation or no reservation at all. The only downside to the country is transportation. Tourists aren't allowed to rent cars (hence the lack of traffic) so the main options to get around the island are scooters/motorcycles, public buses, and taxis. We tried to rent a scooter our first day but it was simply too daunting for us to ride around, so we were forced to abide by the public bus schedule which was sparse on the weekends (and also cost $31 for a 2 day pass) as well as the taxi services which were extremely expensive (the starting fare is $5.15 and its $2.75 for every mile). If I were to do the trip over again, I would definitely have shelled out more money and stayed at one of the big resorts (even though I loved my Airbnb host and he did give us free rides to and from the airport) simply because of the convenience of having things to do on site and free shuttles to other locations. Grotto Bay Resort is one that I would highly recommend. We actually spent an entire day using the amenities there and loved the private beach access and impeccable service. One of the highlights of my birthday trip was swimming in a cave on the Grotto Bay grounds! Its so easy to walk past the nondescript opening of Cathedral Cave and miss what it has to offer, but inside will take your breathe away. Its the only cave you can swim in on the island and worth it, despite the cold temperature of the water. I loved it so much I stayed until closing (5pm). If you burn in the sun easily like I do swimming in the cave is the best way to avoid that! Its also a great place to hide if you get caught in one of the sudden rainfalls that occasionally hit Bermuda.

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I experienced many firsts on this trip and driving my own motorboat was one of them. It was a lot easier than I expected! It also provided us with the freedom to explore the water and snorkel. We rented our little boat from Blue Hole Water Sports at Grotto Bay Resort for $120 for two hours- one the most reasonable rates I found when compared to other boating shops. It was amazing to be able to go around the cove and explore Tucker's Point, which is usually only accessible by the extremely rich. The only issue we had with the boat rental was that we didn't know how to anchor the boat! For some reason, no matter how many times we tried we just could not get our anchor stuck in the sand. In the end we just turned our boat engine off and floated aimlessly around the cove. Because it was early morning there were no other boats around so this was possible. That being said, I really suggest taking the boat out before others get there so you can have a more peaceful and private experience. And also it can be kind of scary to drive a motorboat around when you know there are swimmers in the water.

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I thought the beaches on Bermuda would be packed with people, but because there are so many beaches and not too many tourists, even the most famous Horseshoe Bay Beach wasn't overcrowded which made for a perfect day. Plus, if you're coming to Bermuda to take in the pink sand you won't be disappointed at Horseshoe Bay! The water is as clear as can be and the sand is indeed a pale pink. The beach had a deal for lounger and umbrella rentals- 2 loungers and an umbrella for $40- so its a good idea to take advantage of that to avoid toasting in the strong sun. A perk of coming later in the day is that you can probably take over the chairs and umbrellas of people that are leaving. The beach doesn't have a time limit on how long they can be rented so if you come when people are leaving definitely ask if you can have their umbrella. We had the most perfect day just lying under the sun and playing in the waters. I even caught up on some reading! Elin Hilderbrand's The Perfect Couple was sooo suspenseful and a great beach read. Other beaches recommended to us by locals include Elbow Beach (also known for its pink sand) and John Smiths Bay Beach. I wish we had more time to have checked out both those beaches!

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The Royal Dockyards are located at the furthest end of Bermuda and is where all the cruise ships dock so it can be crowded at times, but its worth a trip because most water tours leave from this area. We took Captain Kirk's Glass Bottom Boat and Snorkeling tour on our first day in Bermuda and it was the best way to start off our vacation. Our tour guides were so funny and informative and took us snorkeling in the middle of the ocean. They pointed out the various types of coral reefs (there is apparently a type of reef called the Fire Coral that can actually give you second degree burns if you bring it to the surface), the shipwreck Vixen which we glided over, and different kinds of fish that called the Bermuda waters home (fyi sharks do not call Bermuda home due to the fact that the coral reefs provide a barrier around the island that larger aquatic animals do not penetrate). I even held my first sea cucumber! It can be difficult to reach the Royal Dockyards because of its far location, but if timed right it is possible to catch a ferry or bus from Hamilton. Definitely do not take a taxi as that can run a fare of up to $70!

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I've always felt that island life isn't for me because its much too slow paced for my liking (if you can't tell already I prefer activities over just lying around), but being in Bermuda for 4 days made me kind of envious of its residents having the opportunity to reside in such a beautiful country with warm and welcoming neighbors and the most amazing beaches basically at their fingertips. It was so nice to be able to push away all my life worries and any stressful thoughts and just be able to relax for a few days in sunny paradise. On top of that, I truly enjoyed celebrating my 26th birthday in Bermuda. It was the perfect vacation! Reflecting back on my (now) 26 years of life, I continue to feel blessed for everything that I have: my close relationship with my family, my strong network of supportive friends, my job that provides me with financial security, and the opportunities I have to pursue my life passions and travel the world. In the next year of my life, I hope to continue to make a positive difference in the lives of those around me and to keep pursuing those activities that I"m passionate about, including this blog!

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Now that I'm 26.... where should I go for my 27th birthday? Taking suggestions!

London Calling! - What To Do When You're in London

One of the items on my New York bucket list since the very first day I moved to the city was to go to London. Where else in the U.S will I be closer to London than in New York? Its only a 6-7 hour flight, which by the way is around the time it takes to get to Southern California and is shorter than the time it takes to reach Hawaii. I knew it was an opportunity I couldn't miss. Plus, I've always felt that London is the perfect "gateway" country to exploring Europe. Everyone speaks English and all the signs are in English so the major issue of language barrier is gone, which makes many people believe that it is a safe first European country. Although, it wasn't going to be my first European country (I've been to Czech Republic, France, the Netherlands, and Austria before), I knew I would still appreciate the ease of communication and access. So this past June I finally fulfilled my wish to visit Will and Harry's home country! I originally thought that London would be similar to any other major city I had visited, but London has its own magical charm that is unlike New York or Shanghai or Paris. I felt so British when I was there and I'm definitely planning to visit again!

One of the highlights of my trip was riding a bike around Hyde Park. Sometimes visiting touristy places like parks can get kind of mundane and crowded so doing something a bit different like biking around can make the experience more memorable. Plus, you get to see more of the park at a faster pace and less physical labor is involved. There are Santander bike rentals at almost every entrance and it only costs $2 for 24 hours of rental so if you are really bold, you can even take the bike and ride around the city (on those crazy streets) before returning it to any rental location. The only downside of exploring the park on bike is that you have to stay on the designated bike paths which are on the outskirts of the park- so you'll miss out on what's actually inside the park. However, there's always the option of getting off your bike and walking it while you explore further- you can always pick up on the bike path later. I made a rookie mistake and wore a skirt that day, but the bike paths are pretty flat and not steep at all (unlike Central Park) so it was smooth sailing!

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Obviously no trip to the U.K is complete without a stop at the palaces where the British Royals live. Although I did not see Will or Kate or their adorable children, I did manage to get a glimpse of their life at Kensington Palace, see the church where Harry and Megan married in Windsor Castle, and watch the guards walk around at Buckingham Palace. The Royals often don't seem real to me so to visit a piece of the long English history and envision how it relates to the modern world was something I really enjoyed. If you are in London from July to September you're able to tour Buckingham Palace- something that I was unable to do so I had to settle for a photo outside. Windsor Castle is actually located outside of London (it is about a 1 hour journey one way), but if you use the London Pass it includes the train ticket to Windsor and a stop at the information booth inside the Paddington train station while provide enough details on which route to take. Don't be deterred by the distant location of the Castle- it is worth the trip! Just make sure you arrive early (I suggest getting there before it officially opens) because the lines are crazy and there will be a long wait otherwise.

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Whoever said food in London is not good, definitely did not go to the various markets around town. There is more to the London food scene than fish and chips! Borough Market, Camden Market, Brick Lane Market, Covent Garden, and Sunday Upmarket are just some places that are must eat stops. At these markets, you'll find a variety of cheap but delicious snacks and meals. From homemade pasta to crispy fish and chips to fluffy donuts, the markets are where you should be having your breakfast, lunch, and dinner! Camden Market, located in Camden Town, is a tad far from the central tourist attractions, but totally worth the subway trip. The market has tons of delicious food stalls as well as cheap souvenir stores and clothing stalls where bargaining is key. We went towards the end of the day when many stores were closing (one thing I discovered in London is that businesses close early around 5 or 6pm) so we didn't get to do much shopping and heading straight to the food. The Sunday Upmarket (only open on Sunday as the name states) is a food centric market and is located right next to the Brick Lane Market (which has food and artwork/handmade crafts) in Shoreditch. To get the most out of your time, its best to hit up both markets simultaneously- expect crowds for sure. Covent Garden was beautiful, but the food options were severely disappointing so I would suggest just walking through and eating elsewhere. If you're looking for fresh fruit, produce, and bread, then Borough Market will be right up your alley. My mom couldn't get enough of the freshly produced honey and I loved the donuts at the Bread Ahead bakery stalls.

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If you don't have much time (aka a quick layover) and want to get as much out of the city as you can, walking along the Thames River or taking a short river cruise lets you view the gorgeous London scenery and take in all the famous sights. I loved the giant Tower Bridge and the London Eye! They add such a dramatic touch to the skyline. Going up the glass Shard building is also worth doing (if you have the London Pass) as it gives you a bird's eye view of the city- complete with a bar stocked with champagne! Unfortunately, Big Ben (or Elizabeth Tower as it is suppose to be called) was under construction while I was visiting so I didn't get to take one of those epic London skyline photos. Construction is suppose to finish in August 2021 so maybe that's when I need to go back! If you have the London Pass (something I highly recommend), you'll be able to enter the Tower Bridge and explore the glass walkway that connect the two towers.

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London exceeded all my expectations. I never expected to fall in love with a city that was so full of life and I appreciated every aspect of my trip. If you're looking for a vacation that is filled with activities, diverse food options, and amazing shopping, then I highly recommend London (but be prepared for some serious walking). I'm so envious of the millions of Londoners that get to call the city home!

Have you guys been to London? What were some of your favorite places?

A Day in Delaware

I kept a promise to myself that I would travel at least once a month by doing a solo road trip to Delaware last weekend. I honestly had this trip planned for weeks, but because of the constant bad weather (and bomb cyclones) that have consistently hit the East Coast I had to keep postponing my trip. Originally I even wanted to stay overnight in Wilmington so I could maximize my time there and see more things, but it just wasn't meant to be. I definitely plan to return one day (in the summer) to explore the state's gorgeous beaches and the Nemours Mansion (which was closed when I went).

Ironically, the day I was (finally) able to hit the road turned out to be a clear sunny day, albeit cold, but still a rare "good weather" Saturday. I guess my weeks of waiting through snowstorm after snowstorm finally paid off and I was rewarded with amazing roadtripping weather. Delaware was a lot more beautiful than I expected. Actually, I didn't even know what to expect because its not a state that many people talk about or visit so I wasn't sure what was out there. So I was pleasantly surprised when I discovered how plentiful Delaware is not only in beauty, but also in activities. It turns out Delaware is a mix of natural beauty and old American glamour. The French American du Pont family dominated Delaware for over a century and a lot of their homes and factories are still standing today. I constantly braved the cold wind and had my windows rolled down during the drive just so I could snap pictures of the passing scenery because everything I saw was amazing. Wilmington, Delaware is only a 2 hour drive from New York so it was perfect for my first solo road trip and it became the perfect day trip as well since it wasn't hard for me to get back in time for a late Manhattan dinner.

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Breakfast @ Scrumptious

I started my day out with brunch at Scrumptious, located in downtown Delaware. The food was simple American brunch fare- scrambled eggs, breakfast burritos, and eggs benedict. But the cafe also has a huge section for frozen yogurt! It was too early in the day for dessert for me (yes even I have limits), so I'll have to put this on my next time list. The only thing I wish I had known before was to take a table near the front window of the cafe so I could glance out into the streets, but I instead chose a table towards the inside of the cafe where my only view was the frozen yogurt topping selection.

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Winterthur Mansion and Garden

Winterthur was breathtaking. That's basically the best word I could come up with to describe everything that I saw there. The estate of Henry Francis du Pont is located about 15 minutes from downtown Delaware and lies on around 1000 acres of open land and pure beauty. I still can't believe that one family (with only 2 children!) lived on such a large area of land and in a mansion with 175 rooms. Taking the mansion tour was one of the highlights of my day trip- I was able to see how the family lived during their time. The Winterthur house tour changes every few months to include a different set of rooms so visitors get to see a new side of the mansion every time they visit. Included in your house tour ticket, is a garden tram tour that takes you around the grounds and provides even more information into the du Pont family and their life at Winterthur. My tram guide (who was dressed like a leprechaun in honor of St. Patrick's Day) was so delightful and knowledgable about every tree and building on the grounds. He also drove extremely slowly so I could capture all the scenery!

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Hagley Museum

The Hagley Museum was kind of hard for me to find (thank goodness for Google Maps) because its literally located at the end of a small nondescript road with only a sign to distinguish it. But behind this sign was another 235 acres of gorgeous du Pont land. Hagley was the gunpowder manufacturing site and mills of E.I du Pont around the early 1800s. The tour guide informed us that although it was considered dangerous to build a house so close to an area where explosives were being created, E.I insisted on doing so to show his employees that he was as invested in the work as they were. This devotion made E.I du Pont one of the most successful businessmen of his time and his home one of the most historical in Wilmington. Their is a shuttle bus that takes you to all the sites in Hagley, such as the schoolhouse, the steam engine room, the mills, and finally the bright yellow mansion. The house tour takes you on the first and second floors of the house and also to the massive barn where the actual conestoga wagon used to transport gunpowder in the 1800s is stored. I loved soaking in the 1800 lifestyle and imagining the grounds filled with people running a gunpowder facility.

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Coffee @ Brew HaHa

To prep myself for the drive back home (I was pretty tired after all the sightseeing), I stopped by Brew HaHa, a local Delaware coffee shop, for a delicious Snickers iced latte and a peanut butter brownie. All their lattes sounded delicious (german chocolate, creme brulee, brownie mud) so I can't wait to come back!

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Have any of you guys been to Delaware? What are some places you've been so I can add them to my list?

Best of Atlanta

I hopped on a plane to Atlanta for President's Day weekend and spent 3 glorious days in the South with my friend Rita. We ate at mouthwatering restaurants and toured famous Atlanta tourist sites. Although I had previously been to Atlanta before for a work trip, I immediately got into a car and drove to the suburb of Alpharetta for the week so I never really had an opportunity to explore the city. A few years back my sorority had a convention in Atlanta (which I missed) and all the girls came back with tons of good things to say about the city so I knew I had to visit some day. Luckily, direct flights from New York to Atlanta are cheap and frequent (thank you Delta) and I was easily able to find a flight that suited my schedule and my budget despite it being a holiday weekend. In my opinion, Atlanta is one of those underrated cities that people don't know too much about, other than that its home to the Coca-Cola headquarters. Many people asked me if I would even have enough to occupy my time, but I felt like it was the perfect weekend trip. I felt like 3 days in Atlanta was an ideal amount of time and that I accomplished everything I wanted to do. I do wish the weather could have been warmer for a hike to Stone Mountain, but that wasn't meant to be this time around. Darn you winter! Personally, I thought Atlanta was slightly similar to Austin, Texas (but less weird) so if you love Austin I would strongly recommend checking out Atlanta as well.

Side Note- I ate at too many wonderful places so my Atlanta food tour will be detailed on a separate post- otherwise this one would have be LONG.

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CNN Tour

CNN.com is one of my go to sites to stay updated on current events in the U.S and around the world so touring the CNN headquarters was one of the top things I wanted to do in Atlanta. I strongly recommend purchasing timed tour tickets in advance online (even a day in advance is enough) because they sell out quickly if you arrive day of and attempt to sign up for a tour. Or you would have to arrive pretty early in the morning and then come back later for your assigned tour, which can potentially be a waste of time if you're on a tight schedule. The tour starts at the top of the world's longest continuous escalator (close your eyes if you are scared of heights because it is HIGH) underneath a giant globe that apparently use to be part of an amusement park. The tour takes you behind the scene to how news is produced and edited as well as how its researched and fact checked. Unfortunately due to the sensitivity of news these days, all viewing is done behind glass windows at a distance and no pictures are allowed. Security was tight on the tour with security guards following our group everywhere and posted at every turn. To be honest, I was a little disappointed by the tour as the guide only offered basic information about CNN (that I could have researched on Wikipedia) and didn't tell any interesting stories about the headquarters or go into specifics. It was a very high level generic tour and the type of thing I would only do once. Also- I did not see Anderson Cooper! Apparently, he records in New York, although I've never seen him here either...

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MLK Historical Site

I arrived early (around 9:30am) to the MLK Visitor Center to claim the highly sought after MLK Birth Home tour tickets. Beware- these go FAST. They were actually sold out for the day when I came back from my tour. While the tickets are free, they aren't available for booking in advance or online so that was the main reason why I wanted to arrive early. The Visitor Center opens at 9am, which is when tickets can be claimed, and the first tour of the day begins at 10am. The tour is about 1 hour and highly interesting. Our tour guide was so knowledgable about MLK and his childhood life and told many stories that were actually passed down through the King family. MLK lived in the house until age 12 and the tour painted him as a normal little boy who loved school (and excelled at it by graduating high school at age 15), had fun playing with his younger brother, and hated doing chores and playing the piano. I loved walking through the house and imagining a young MLK and his family doing everyday things in the different rooms.

Also part of the historical site, but ticket-free were the museum exhibits inside the Visitor Center, visiting the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church where King and his father and grandfather were pastors, and also paying respects to MLK and his wife's burial tombs. I really enjoyed learning about MLK's life and his passion for nonviolent protest and his drive to make a difference in the world.

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World of Coca-Cola

Definitely a must see one of a kind experience! I don't even like or drink soda, but I thought the World of Coca- Cola was amazing. Located in Pemberton Plaza, across from the Georgia Aquarium, the World of Coca-Cola isn't just for kids! I had a lot of fun walking around and soaking in the long history of our nation's most famous drink. Don't let the long line to enter faze you because it moves relatively quickly and the sheer amount of people doesn't detract from the experience. Inside, there is a section for photos with the adorable Coca-Cola polar bear (be prepared to wait for this), museum exhibits about Coca-Cola's history, a 4D movie ride, and an opportunity to see the vault where the famous secret Coca-Cola recipe is supposedly stored. I always knew that Coca-Cola was founded by John Pemberton, but had no idea the lengths he took to prevent his soda recipe from leaking to the public. He was the only one who initially knew the location of the recipe and was the only one who knew how to create it from scratch, which was one of the main reasons why he used the bottling and distribution method (a new method during his time) to get Coca-Cola out to the world.  The museum portion has so much Coca-Cola paraphernalia that I was completely in awe.

The most popular area in the center is probably the tasting pavilion where visitors can taste soda from all around the world, including interesting drinks that I had never even heard of from Africa and Asia. I also really enjoyed the many different themed Coca-Cola bottles placed around the building- there was even a series designed by modern fashion designers such as Fendi and Moschino. Make sure to save time to shop in the gift store because its simply overwhelming. 

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Emory University

I briefly toured Emory University as part of a admissions information session and found it to be a very modern and convenient campus. While I'll always believe my own alma mater, the University of Texas at Austin, has the best campus ever (#longhornpride), I think Emory is a beautiful school.

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Carter Presidential Center

Although I've always known that U.S Presidents have libraries/museums built in their honor after they leave office, I was never interested in exploring their museums since I feel like I'm alive while they were in office and thus aware of their accomplishments and failures. However, since President Carter's term was before I was even born and before my parents came to the U.S, I was curious to learn about how he shaped America during his four years in office and how he influenced the world after he left office. I found the Carter Center to be a wealth of information about President Carter and his family (especially his wife Rosalynn Carter), the policies he championed as President, and his international peacekeeping affairs he participated in after retiring from public office. Inside the Center, there is a replica of the Oval Office as it looked when Carter was President. Many of the artwork and gifts he had decorating his office are on display. I especially loved learning about his beautiful wife, Rosalynn, and how she championed mental illness and made huge efforts to lessen the stigma associated with it. She was a true partner for President Carter and I enjoyed reading about their love story and the life they built together. The Center itself is beautifully built with a gorgeous Japanese garden in the back and a fountain in the front. Visiting here actually made me wonder about the other presidential libraries and museums out there and I'm excited to see how the Obama museum will turn out (its going to be located in Chicago). Currently, the Carter Center is used to continue President Carter's work and beliefs.

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Ponce City Market/ BeltLine

If you know me, you know that I love street food and night markets where a variety of food is available and I have the opportunity to try a little of everything. The Ponce City Market is basically a giant food hall with tons of food and boutique shopping. I loved wandering around the Market and and enjoying the variety. Bonus- the Market is connected to the Krog Street Market (similar) and Piedmont Park but a long walkway where people are able walk or bike. The Market and the BeltLine is something that reminds me of Austin and made me fall in love with Atlanta even more. The building which houses the Ponce City Market actually used to belong to the Sears, Roebuck & Company, and renovating it was one of Atlanta's largest development projects to date. I found out later that you can even live here! Their are several apartments located directly above the Market.

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What are some of your favorite spots in Atlanta? If you haven't been before, what are some spots you want to visit?

Postcards from the New York Travel Show

Since moving to New York one of my major regrets thus far is never having gone to one of the many conventions or conferences that have come into town. It seems like there is always something new going on- BeautyCon, Comic Con, Brunch Con (yes its a thing), KCon, etc... So when I discovered that The New York Times was hosting a travel show I knew I needed to buy a pass and check it out.

The Travel Show ended up being such an amazing experience. Overwhelming, but definitely amazing. There were so many interesting booths that I actually got a little dizzy in the beginning because I didn't know where to start and everywhere I looked there was just something else that was new. I had to spend a few moments orienting myself with the exhibits map because I knew I wanted to see EVERYTHING. Luckily, I had glanced over the seminar schedule in advance (thank god) and had already planned out my day so I wouldn't have to waste a moment and possible miss a great speaker (yes I definitely have a Type A personality). All in all, I benefited so much from attending the Travel Show and I strongly recommend checking it out in future years if you're in the New York area. I know I'm already counting down the days until the next conference!

TIPS FOR GETTING THE MOST OUT OF A CONVENTION

1. Buy your tickets in advance and not at the door. You don't want to be stuck wasting your time in some long line and miss half the day. I purchased my badge well in advance so I was even able to get it in the mail and skip the badge registration line and breeze right in. If you decide last minute you want to attend, definitely come early to beat the crowds.

2. Remember to bring your badge! Otherwise, its pointless that you registered in advance because you'll still have to wait in line...

3. Plan your day out in advance. If you're really excited about lots of speakers and exhibits, then chances are so is everyone else. You'll want to look at the schedule in advance so you aren't wandering around trying to figure out last minute what you want to do while the speaker sessions fill up.

4. Learn, Experience, and Explore! This is your chance to find out about things you've never heard about or didn't know existed. At conventions, you're literally paying for the knowledge and the experience so don't waste your time by gravitating towards things you're comfortable with.

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SEMINARS

One of my favorite seminars, The Frugal Traveler, gave me some good ideas on how to find the best deals out there without lowering my travel standards, but also without breaking the bank. Here are some tips The Frugal Traveler spoke about: 

  • Sign up for price alerts on deal websites, like Travel Pirates, so you're in the know whenever cheap prices appear.
  • Travel is all about experiences now and some of the best websites that provide these experiences abroad are: Ifonly.com, Vayable, Visit.org, and Airbnb.
  • Look into hotel alternatives such as Airbnb, Guest to Guest (home exchange), private rooms in hostels, and Tripping (aggregator of vacation rentals) as that really lowers the cost of a vacation.

He also clarified the myth that certain days offer "better" plane ticket prices. I've always believed that buying tickets on Tuesday or Wednesday mornings around 2 months in advance provides the best chance at getting the best prices, but apparently not... It's just luck I guess! One thing he said that really stood out to me was that most people earning a modest salary have can afford travel (at least to somewhere), but its a matter of priority for most people. If you are serious about wanting to go to Florida or Cuba or China, then maybe consider eating at home more instead of dining out or saying no to a bunch or nights out on the town or putting that $300 bag back in the store where it belongs.

I also had the opportunity to hear Andrew Zimmern from the Travel Channel's Bizarre Foods speak about his experiences traveling and eating all over the world. Truthfully, I was filled with envy during his entire talk because who doesn't want to travel the globe and eat unique foods while getting paid for it! I wish it was my job!

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I ended the day with a talk by Anthony Falco, the "pizza guru" who is the head chef from Roberta's in Brooklyn. If you've visited New York and you haven't eaten pizza at Roberta's then you're seriously missing out because its delicious. To hear Anthony's inspirational story of how he got into pizza making (it was mainly because he wasn't doing well working a tech job and just couldn't compete with the thousands of talented techies out there) and how he managed to become an international pizza consultant (another envy worthy job!) made me realize that there is truth in turning your passions into a lifelong successful career as long as you work hard. Anthony travels around the world now advising different chefs and restaurants on how to make the best pizza- he flew to Japan for months last year to study how the Japanese make their pizza just so he could properly advise his client who was based in Kuwait. If that doesn't sound like an amazing job, then what does?

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EXHIBITS

The booths were set up to discuss new travel opportunities and give us a sneak peek into all the difference places that people can now vacation at. I loved talking to representatives from Belarus and Rwanda and learning all about what their countries offered in terms of tourism. Both countries were places I had never previously considered for travel and it was interesting to find out the different points of interest located in each country. I found out about some awesome tour opportunities to Cuba and that while its still possible for US citizens to travel there, going on an "educational" tour is now mandatory (there is no more freedom travel). I spoke to Intrepid Travel about the possibility of going on a 6 day food tour to Jordan and made promises with myself to add it to my long list of must see countries.

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There were many cultural performances put on by different regions and exhibitors throughout the day. These performances gave a sneak peak into what travel to those countries might be like and offered a different type of travel education insight. I loved the Japanese ninja performance and the Irish traditional dance!

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If you're interested in learning more about the New York Times Travel Show, more information can be found here.

Food Adventuring in Austin, Texas + Thoughts on Travel Anxiety

I recently went back to Austin for my sorority's National Board Retreat and got to eat at some of my favorite college spots as well as try some of the new eateries to hit town. Being in Austin reminded me of 5 of the best years of my life. I loved my school (Longhorn pride!) and I loved living in such a vibrant young city. Since I wasn't in town to tour or really see the sights, I thought I would let you guys in on my 2 days of foodie life. One of the few things I do regret about my college career was always pinching pennies and was never really being adventurous in exploring new restaurants. Back then, I preferred to either eat or home or stick to chain restaurants that I was familiar with. It wasn't until towards the end of my college years that I started to fully appreciate what an amazing food city Austin is and that I had a lot to catch up on. Now, every time I visit Austin I take every opportunity I can to try new places to eat and truly explore the Austin food scene. So before I even arrived, I already had an idea of where I wanted to eat and my Sisters were kind enough to let me make all the decisions when it came to meals!

Side Note- This was technically my first weekend trip of the year since my Quebec trip was cancelled. Because of the horrible experience I had (spending 7+ hours at the airport filled with constant false hope only to turn around and go home and pray that my money would be refunded) previously, I was filled with anxiety and panic the few hours before departing for my Austin trip. I was so nervous that something would go wrong with this flight that I constantly checked my weather app for any slight change in good weather and when I noticed that rain was predicted for Austin on the day I was to return to New York I even decided to bring my work laptop with me just in case I couldn't get back home. Even after I had boarded and was just waiting for the plane to push back from the gate, I kept wondering if the flight was even going to take off (I sat on my Delta plane to Canada for 3 hours). What if something was wrong with the plane? Or what if the airport was having issues again? These thoughts just couldn't leave my mind no matter how hard I tried. When my departing flight finally took off on the runway, I breathed a tiny sigh of relief and was able to relax and have fun on my trip until the last day when I began to worry about my returning flight (if the rain would have an impact, whether or not I would make the connecting flight). It just seemed that my memories of my failed trip would never leave my mind and would continue to cause me stress every time I had to prepare for a flight. This type of behavior has honestly never afflicted me before- I generally don't find travel to be a stressful situation otherwise I wouldn't love it so much- so I wasn't sure how to deal with it at first. I know that from all my bright photos it always seems like all I do is have tons of fun when I travel, but I just wanted to be honest with some of the down sides of traveling. That being said, if anything this whole experience has made me want to push forward and keep taking flights and keep going places. The only way to get rid of fear is to confront it head on until it doesn't bother you anymore. I'm not going to let a little bit of anxiety stop me from traveling to far flung places or from completing my 2018 plan!

Now back to my Austin food adventures!

Cafe No Se - My first official Austin meal was at this bright and airy cafe located inside the South Congress Hotel on the touristy South Congress Avenue. I had high expectations for this fan favorite brunch spot, but was sadly disappointed by the dish I chose. I did, however, order takeout instead of dining in their cute restaurant so that potentially could have affected my view on their food. My friend and I both ordered the sausage and egg on a roll with a side of potatoes. We were surprised that "roll" was actually just a hamburger bun as we were expecting something a bit smaller and more unique. Additionally, the sausage patty had a strong similarity to ones that lie in a sausage McMuffin so we felt like the overall sandwich was nothing special. Needless to say, despite the warm and inviting atmosphere, the food wasn't what we were expecting.

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Jo's Coffee- What tourist (yes I considered myself a tourist this weekend) can go to Austin and not visit Jo's? If only for the famous graffiti sign, "I love you so much", its a common attraction on South Congress! The iced latte I ordered was what I expected from a tourist place- overpriced and very generic. But Jo's is basically an Austin icon so I'll cut it some slack (aka its a must see regardless of the quality of food). On the plus side, its one of the few places on South Congress that has a relatively large free parking lot so its easy to experience and there is a nice little patio on the side!

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Tapioca House - Tap House was my favorite bubble tea cafe in Austin throughout my college years and despite the 3 years that have passed since graduation, it's still one of my favorite spots in town. Over the years, however, it has clearly been renovated and the menu has been extended to include a wider variety of teas and slushies. My strawberry milk tea was delicious! The cafe is located on Guadalupe Street (otherwise known as The Drag by my fellow Longhorns) and is a convenient walk from campus.

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East Side Tavern - A bbq spot I was very excited to try out, East Side Tavern is located in East Austin, a once sketchy neighborhood that has in recent years been gentrified and now has many hipster cafes and good restaurants. While I would recommend the brisket and cheddar tater tots (yes its a thing!) as well as many of the other appetizers and meat plates, their main dishes were only alright. I ordered the grilled cheese sandwich with pulled pork and a side of herb fries. The sandwich itself was a little dry, although the fries were decent. The vibe here was of a typical sports bar- loud, dark, and fun.

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Spun Ice Cream - Slightly expensive, but delicious! Spun is a liquid nitrogen ice cream cafe- they use nitrogen to freeze their liquid ice cream mix right in front of you. They have a constant rotating list of flavors and a long list of toppings. My salted caramel ice cream with pecan praline topping on it was the perfect way to end my night. Spun is located about a 5 min drive away from East Side so its a great place to grab dessert after dinner.

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Grizzelda's - Beyonce ate here! If that doesn't convince you, then just know that Grizzelda's is a Southern brunch buffet complete with a giant queso bowl (who doesn't appreciate unlimited queso) and tons of bowls of Mexican chocolate pudding. The buffet line was filled with fresh guacamole, enchiladas, pulled pork, scrambled eggs, home fries, and many other yummy options to choose from. There's also a cute patio in the back of the restaurant that is awesome for eating in when the weather is nice outside. I loved it here just because I was able to eat to my hearts content for only $20!

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Vintage Heart Cafe - Probably very underrated as its located in a small nondescript house, but their iced vanilla latte was so well made. The cafe would have been the perfect place to study had i discovered this place back in college. There were plenty of tables and comfy chairs set up and even a nice outdoor patio. The line for coffee moved slowly as they only had one person working, but it gave me time to enjoy their homey environment. Bonus- they have a variety of syrups that you can add into your coffee! 

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Have you guys been to any of these Austin eateries or cafes? Are there any other places you would recommend?

A Day in Hartford, Connecticut

As you've seen in my previous post, I was very disappointed that I was unable to go to Quebec City- a trip I had been planning for months. Instead of wallowing in self pity and disappointment, I decided to go on a last minute day trip to Hartford, which was a city I had been thinking about touring for a while now but never had the time. I bought the bus tickets at noon on Saturday and on 5:30am Sunday morning I was on my way to Connecticut. 

Upon doing some research of the city, I knew that Saturday would have been a better day to go since more activities would have been open, but as I had no other option I decided to make the best of it. Overall, I really enjoyed myself in Hartford- a lot more than I expected. I originally thought I would run out of things to do and would have to read in a coffee shop to kill time so I brought a book along. But instead, I discovered that the 3 museums I visited were so much more interesting than I had expected! In hindsight I wish I had bought a later return bus ticket than my 4pm because towards the end of my day I had to start rushing in order to make the bus time.

How to Get There- I usually travel on Megabus since that was the bus company I was familiar with back in Texas, but since Megabus doesn't go to Hartford I had to look for other options. The Amtrak trains were my first choice since it's faster than a bus, but the tickets turned out to be way too expensive ($60 one way!). So in order to take the best advantage of the bus times and the ticket prices, I bought a one way ticket to Hartford from Port Authority from Greyhound Bus Lines ($17) and a one way returning ticket from Peter Pan Buses ($17). Both buses had two stops before reaching the destination I needed, but Greyhound was significantly better than Peter Pan and now I know to prioritize that company over others.

Sarah's Coffee

Due to the timing of the bus schedule, it was either arrive in Hartford at 8:30am or 11am when half the day would be over, so I chose the earlier arrival which meant that I would have around an hour to kill before the museums opened. I found this adorable coffee shop in downtown Hartford and ordered myself a raspberry mocha and a banana nut muffin. While the coffee and food was nothing too special, I loved the sunny and quiet vibe. It was the perfect place to read! It was also located a convenient 6 minute walk away from the bus station and a short walk away from my next destination.

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Bushnell Park

I can imagine this park being beautiful in the spring or fall time, but since it was winter (and freezing), the lake was frozen over and the trees were leafless. It was still a peaceful environment and I was able to get a good view of the State Capitol Building and the surrounding downtown skyline. Unfortunately, I couldn't wander around the park for too long because pretty soon it felt like my fingers were about to freeze off.

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Mark Twain House

I loved my 11th grade American English class and kept most of the required books we read throughout the year. One of that year's standout books was Mark Twain's Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, which instead of being a sequel to Twain's other novel, Adventures of Tom Sawyer, actually became commentary on racism in America. Since reading the book (I also really enjoyed The Prince and the Pauper), I've been fascinated with the author whose real name is Samuel Clemens. Upon choosing Hartford as my day trip destination, I was most looking forward to touring Twain's home and finding out more about his life. This was actually the home where he wrote Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and I imagined him writing furiously at his little desk in his billiards room (he was forced to write in there as his original office was turned into a school room for his 3 daughters). In addition to viewing him as an author, I learned so much about his marriage to his wife whom he met through her brother and fell in love with at first sight and his 3 daughters, only one of whom outlived him. Located in the affluent Nook Farm neighborhood, this was the first house Twain built for his family and the family lived there until they went bankrupt and was forced to move to Europe. Visitors are only able to view the home through scheduled tours, which are led by a trained and highly informative tour guide and last about 1 hour. The guide told us that about 85% of the furniture and items in the house actually belonged to Twain and the remaining items are from his time period. Sadly, no photos are allowed in the interior of the house, so you'll have to go there yourself to experience the magic that is Mark Twain. Don't forget to leave time for the informational movie and the exhibits that are located in the adjacent visitor's center.

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Harriet Beecher Stowe House

Next door to the Mark Twain House is another author, Harriet Beecher Stowe's home (yes the 2 authors were neighbors). Stowe wrote the famous novel, Uncle Tom's Cabin, which went on to become the 2nd most popular book of its time (only exceeded in popularity by the Bible). The book is fiery rebuke against slavery in the US and was written to motivate Americans to rethink their opinions on the topic of slavery. Thousands of UK women ended up signing petitions against slavery and sending volumes of their signatures to Stowe (pictured below). Stowe was inspired to write the book after being traumatized when she accidentally saw a slave auction while visiting a friend in Kentucky and witnessed a slave mother forcefully separated from her child. Stowe's feelings against slavery was magnified when she lost her own child a few years later and began to empathize with what the slave mother's must have been feeling. Uncle Tom's Cabin was a revolutionary book of its time, not only because of its strong commentary on slavery, but also because it was written by a woman (women at the time didn't have many rights). It was actually Stowe's husband, whom she met at a literary club, that encouraged her to pursue her passion for writing and to continue writing her book. Stowe lived in this house towards the end of her life. The House can also only be toured with an official tour guide and also lasts at least 1 hour. Where this tour differed from the Mark Twain one, is that there was much more emphasis on the current events and social issues instead of Stowe's life in the home. The tour starts out in a discussion room and the guide asks a lot of thought provoking questions. Bonus- if you tour both the Mark Twain House and the Harriet Beecher Stowe House on the same day, you can get a $3 discount on the second house tour. Pictures inside the house are allowed!

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Wadsworth Athenaeum

Make sure you have lots of time here because the museum is bigger than you think. This was around the time I started to feel rushed due to the fact that I still had to eat lunch and walk back to the bus station, so I was unable to explore a vast majority of the museum. Although it is named Athenaeum (and there is a tiny researchers only library inside), Wadsworth is actually mainly an art museum containing all types of art from many different periods. From my brief tour, I saw Monet Water Lily paintings, modern art (Andy Warhol), and even odd sculptures. It reminded me of a mini Met Museum! If you enjoy wandering museums by yourself and getting lost among amazing artwork, I would recommend checking this one out. Admission is $22, but if you have a student ID admission is only $5.

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Bear's Smokehouse Barbecue

This bbq gem is located behind the Wadsworth Athenaeum and is DELICIOUS. Like many bbq places, you stand in a line to order and your food is prepared immediately and ready right when you reach the end of the line to pay, Coming from Texas, I have high standards when it comes to bbq so while I felt like the meat wasn't the best I had ever had, I thought that the food was overall very yummy and menu very creative. I ordered a brisket sandwich and fried mac and cheese balls that were actually infused with pieces of brisket.

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Have you guys done solo day trips before? Where have you gone?

Thoughts On My Quebec City Trip Cancellation

I was prepared to write a post after this weekend on my adventures in Quebec CIty and what was suppose to be my first foreign city of the year. Unfortunately, due to weather conditions in both New York (heavy fog) and Canada (winter storm) I was unable to take the trip. The type of disappointment I felt after being forced to cancel (after waiting at the airport for 7 hours) was something I hadn't experienced in a long time. I had been planning for the trip for months now and was really looking forward to a weekend full of dog sledding, cheese fondue and walking around Old Quebec. Instead, I was faced with calling two separate airlines and Airbnb to try and get refunds for everything I had already paid for and I had to deal with the reality that my first trip of the year was a fail. Not only was the experience very stressful (airlines don't really care about you...), but it was also sad because I hadn't traveled in a while so I had wanted to fulfill all my wanderlust on this one trip.

The day we were suppose to leave, there was heavy fog and thus poor visibility in New York so our Delta flight to our layover in Montreal was delayed 3 hours. We actually boarded the plane a first time only to discover that the plane did not have a pilot aboard and we deplaned to the news that we had to wait for pilots to arrive. Upon boarding the plane the second time, the crew realized that gate checked bags had not been loaded and we were forced to wait on the plane for an hour while the airport figured out how to get an employee to our gate. Something that should have been a simple task took the airport so long to deal with. After the bags were finally loaded, the pilot broke the news that an American Airlines plane had arrived at the wrong terminal and was stuck behind our plane until a taxi crew could come and tow it to the right terminal as it was too big to move on its own. Because of the additional 2 hour delay this mistake caused, I would have definitely missed my connecting flight in Montreal to Quebec City, which was also the last flight of the day. Faced with the fact that I had to spend a night in the Montreal airport and that the winter storm would hit Canada the next morning (which made getting a flight out the next day extremely unlikely and perhaps getting back to the US impossible), I made the difficult decision to get off the plane and cancel my vacation. It was a huge mess of weather and airport inefficiency and a waste of my time, thus leading to my initial anger and eventual disappointment.

Luckily, Delta refunded my flight and my Airbnb host was kind enough to refund my money after hearing my story even though his refund policy was listed as strict. I'm also grateful that an airport manager gave both my friend and I vouchers for a car service home after listening to my lengthy complaints. It can be easy to place blame on the people that work for the airline and airport (and I definitely succumbed to that), but at the end of the day these people (however slow or confused they may be) are still people who are just trying to earn a living just like you and me. It was probably just as stressful for them as it was for me to deal with the situation.

As I'm not usually such a negative person, I tried my best to look on the bright side of things. I was able to attend my friend's birthday dinner at the best speakeasy in the city, Beauty and Essex (there's a free champagne bar in the bathroom). We've been friends since middle school and since she lives in Texas and was only visiting New York for the weekend, I was really happy I got to spend time with her and celebrate with her (something I would have missed out on had I gone to Canada). I believe that everything happens for a reason so I felt that there was no point to wallowing in my regrets. The only thing I could do was move forward.

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I also turned the weekend around by traveling somewhere else so stay tuned for my next post!