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!

My 2018 Travel Plans

The new year is right has officially started and that means a whole entire year filled with endless travel opportunities! Because of my work schedule and different family obligations throughout the year, I try to plan my entire year's worth of travel at the beginning of the year just so I can properly allocate my time and money. Obviously, I have the spontaneous small trip here and there, but for the most part my bigger trips are set. This way I can take full advantage of any holidays and use my limited paid time off days to the fullest. People are always asking me how I travel so much and still have a full time job. This is my secret! I plan everything way in advance, utilize my vacation days wisely, and combine travel plans with holidays and weekends. While travel plans can change (life happens) throughout the year, at least I have an idea of what my goals are for the year.

My new year's resolution is the same every year- to travel to at least 3 foreign countries. I've been very lucky to be able to have accomplished this for the past 4 years. In 2016 I did a small tour of Europe so I hit 7 total countries during the year- Vietnam, Canada, the Netherlands, France, Czech Republic, Germany, and Austria. For 2017, I actually went to a total of 4 countries- United Kingdom, India, China, and Canada. I hope 2018 is no different and I can visit at least 3 countries successfully! Obviously nothing besides my January and Feburary plans are set in stone yet, but here is a sneak peak of the travel blog posts you can hopefully look forward to reading about.  Also, these are the trips that I'm about 90-100% sure that I will be taking, but there are defintiely going to be more trips than the ones listed here happening.

January

Quebec City, Canada- The plan is to visit my first foreign country early on! I've always wanted to try dog sledding and I've heard that Quebec City is one of the best places to do it.

Austin, Texas- Back to my good ole' college town I go! Since I am on my sorority's National Board I will be attending our annual National Board retreat here. I can't wait to taste all the delicious barbecue and eat those spicy kimchi fries!

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February

Atlanta, Georgia- After reuniting with my friend, Rita, in DC this past summer and having so much fun, I've been itching to go to Atlanta to visit her. Luckily, I get President's Day off which allows for a 3 day weekend and trip to the South.

March

Wilmington, Delaware- I've discovered the joys of car rental and will be going on a solo trip here the first weekend of March. Delaware is the perfect distance away from New York (2 hours) and will give me the chance to explore a different state, but still feel safe. I haven't done a solo trip since Vienna, Austria in 2016 so I'm excited to be by myself and see everything I want to see on my own time.

April

Philadelphia, Pennslyvania- A sorority sister is getting married here and one of my best friends is a bridesmaid, so I'm looking forward to the wedding! Philly is one of my favorite weekend trips to take because of all the history and food- I went there 4 times in 2017 alone.

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Charleston, South Carolina- My friends and I have been talking about how beautiful Charleston would be in the spring and are seriously considering a trip down there for a weekend.

May

Miami, Florida- My best friend is (finally) graduating from Pharmacy school! To celebrate, we will be going to Miami and spending some quality time lying on the beach, drinking mai tais, and exploring the Cuban cuisine. We rarely get to see each other so this will be a good time to get a cute girl's trip in.

June

London, England- Although I had a brief stop in London this past year where I got to take photos with Buckingham Palace, it only ignited my thirst to see the city. I plan to spend a week here exploring the giant city and also taking day trips into the countryside to see Stonehenge and Oxford University. Afternoon tea is on my list too!

Galveston, Texas- My sister is having her white coat ceremony (she's going to be a physicians assistant!) and I wouldn't miss for the world.

July

Seattle, Washington- My best friend recently bought a house in Seattle and I've been itching to see it. The only thing that has kept me from visiting so far is the 6 hour cross country flight... but I think this will be the year I take the plunge and just go. He's completely enticed me with all the hiking and sushi!

Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts- The Junior League girls and I have been in discussion over when the best time would be to visit the glamorous Martha's Vineyard and get the chance to wear our Lilly Pulitzer dresses. We feel like a summery July time frame would be ideal.

August

Chicago, Illinois- I'll be heading back to the city of the shiny bean for our sorority's annual National Convention. Can't wait to be reunited with this gorgeous view and all my sisters.

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New Orleans, Louisiana- My sorority sister, Bobbie, is getting married and asked me to be a bridesmaid last year. We'll be hitting up NOLA for her last vacay as a single lady!

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September

Houston, Texas- Heading back home to Texas to host Bobbie's bridal shower!

October

Dripping Springs, Texas- I'll be reporting for bridesmaid duty in this cute little country town outside of Austin for Bobbie's wedding.

December

Singapore and Malaysia- I've been wanting to go to these two countries for the longest time, but the stars have never aligned for me. 2018 will be the year! I'm very excited to try out that famous infinity pool at Marina Bay Sands in Singapore.

Family Vacation- We haven't set a specific location yet, but our annual tradition of traveling for the holidays is back on. Taking recommendations for the perfect spot!

 

Where are you planning to travel next year? Any wishlist spots?

Blogmas Day 25- Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas!!! I can't believe its finally Christmas! I also can't believe I've been able to write and post for 25 days. I can tell you this Blogmas thing has been kind of draining and stressful (somedays there was just nothing to write about!), but overall it was the kind of experience I was looking for. I got to celebrate Christmas on my blog in my own way and now I have memories of how I spent the 25 days of Christmas in 2017. If you missed any days, links are below! Remember to stay warm and make lots of joyous memories today :) See you all in 2018!

Blogmas Day 1 - DIY Ornaments

Blogmas Day 2 - Miss Lily's Review

Blogmas Day 3 - 5 Restaurants with Parental Approval

Blogmas Day 4 - NYC Christmas Markets

Blogmas Day 5 - Postcards from Yankee Candle Popup Shop

Blogmas Day 6 - Kathleen's unique Gift Guide

 Blogmas Day 7 - Best Christmas Vacations

Blogmas Day 8 - Travel Lover's Gift Guide

Blogmas Day 9 - Five Tips to Packing the Optimal Carryon

Blogmas Day 10 - Ugly Sweater Season

Blogmas Day 11 - Maison Pickle Review

Blogmas Day 12 - Postcards from NY Botanical Gardens

Blogmas Day 13 - Top 5 NYC Eats

Blogmas Day 14 - NYC's Most Inventive Ice Cream Desserts

Blogmas Day 15 - Postcards from NYC Department Store Windows

Blogmas Day 16 - Rosemary's Review

Blogmas Day 17 - Dessert Potluck Ideas and Recipes 

Blogmas Day 18 - Chaan Teng Review

Blogmas Day 19 - Kathleen's Travel Bucket List

Blogmas Day 20 - Annabel's Review

Blogmas Day 21 - Tsurutotan Review

Blogmas Day 22 - The Butcher's Daughter Review

Blogmas Day 23 - Home for the Holidays + Thoughts on Reunions

Blogmas Day 24 - Christmas Eve in Texas + KDrama Recommendations

Blogmas Day 24- Christmas Eve in Texas + KDrama Recommendations

Its so nice to be back home in Texas with my family. Everytime I come back I feel like its just a huge break from the hustle and bustle of New York City and my busy life. I love living in NYC and wouldn't trade it for the world, but it can definitely sometimes be overwhelming and tiring. Having the opportunity to step away occasionally allows me to rejuvenate and refresh myself, and it honestly makes me appreciate my life even more. There isn't too much to do in my Houston suburb so I enjoy the simple things in life that I often overlook living in a big city- waking up later with no set agenda for the day, breakfast in bed, watching TV all day in pajamas.

I've been asked several times to do a post on my favorite Korean dramas since I'm always watching them. I've been addicted to Kdramas (and I'm not even Korean!) for years now ever since my mom introduced them to me senior year of high school. They differ from American TV shows in that they typically don't continue on past one season (there are a select few that do have a season two at most) and range anywhere from 12 to 100 episodes. The story lines are usually less sexualized and more dramatic. I personally enjoy the romantic comedies because the stories are always so cute and it allows me to step away from my own life for a few hours. If you haven't seen any, I highly recommend checking one out. Below are a few of my favorites!

My Girl- This was my very first Kdrama and it was life changing! It was funny and cute, but touching at the same time and the leads had amazing chemistry. The plot had lots of ups and downs, but I loved every single minute of it. This was the drama that started my addiction!

Goong- Every girl's secret dream is to fall in love with a prince and become a princess and this drama makes that dream come true! The drama also explores the inner workings of palace life and the intracacies that comes with being a member of the royal family.

City Hunter- To this day, City Hunter is one of my favorite dramas. The story line is revenge driven (a common theme), but the specifics are different and unique. The fight scenes were good and having an attractive male lead definitely helped too!

Boys Over Flowers- Sometimes this drama made me cringe over its cheesiness and over the top scenes, but I became so enthralled by the character's relationships and emotions. It's based on a pretty popular manga and remained mostly accurate. If you think having one attractive male actor was nice, imagine a team of 4 of them!

Queen Inhyun's Man- This drama was highly overlooked in my opinion, probably because it came out around the same time as another similar drama that had more a popular cast (Rooftop Prince). But to be honest, it shouldn't have! I was hooked on every episode and wouldn't leave the house for days until I finished. The story line isn't too unique (time traveling), but the lead actor and actress had some of the best on screen chemistry that I've ever seen. They went on to date as well :) 

My Love from Another Star- This was the drama that made chicken and beer insanely popular. It launched super fans from all over the world, including myself. The characters had such strong personalities and their Romeo and Juliet style love story was beautifully portrayed. If you're looking for laughs, this is a good one.

Mask- A thriller with a romantic twist. This drama sucked me in every step of the way. I actually felt emotionally invested in the characters' relationship. I can't say more otherwise I'll ruin the many twists and turns, but I highly recommend!

Ojakgyo Brothers- One of the best family dramas to ever come out, in my opinion. It won tons of awards the year it was released and catapulted its main actress, Uee, into drama stardom (she was a singer before). It portrays the family dynamics well and with so many characters, it was able to remain interesting throughout the 50 episodes.

School 2015- The School dramas is one that has reoccurring season, although the cast is usually different and the plots are never connected to previous seasons. The series has been going on for a while now and portrays students in different genres (1988, 2017, etc...). School 2015 casted an amazingly talented lead, Kim So Hyun, who had to play two characters and did such a great job. The story was intense and heart felt.

Blogmas Day 23- Home for the Holidays + Thoughts on Reunions

It is Day 23 of Blogmas! In other words, Christmas is almost here! I'm traveling back to Texas today to spend the holidays with my family and reunite with some old friends. Although I've had the chance to go home several times this year, nothing beats coming home for Christmas time and seeing the house brightly decorated, eating homecooked meals, playing with our 3 puppies, and doing crafts with my sister. Since my family is not traveling this holiday for the first time in a while, I'm excited to get to open presents under the tree on Christmas morning and drink tons of homemade hot chocolate. I'm bringing back a DIY photobooth I had created for my ugly sweater Christmas party and I can't wait to force my family members to take pictures with all the props!

Another bonus of being home for the holidays is getting to see some of my oldest friends again. I went to elementary, middle, and high schools with some of these people and I haven't seen many of them since graduating college 2 years ago. As soon as I get off the plane today I'll be having lunch with 3 of my high school besties. We live in Houston, Dallas, Detroit, and New York, but we've stayed in close contact over the years and followed each other's lives faithfully. I love reunions like these because it gives us the opportunity to catch up and pick up like we were never apart. I'm excited to hear about their many achievements in life (switching jobs, getting married, raising a puppy, moving) over some delicious food! Because I live all the way in New York and I don't get to see a lot of my old friends often I truly appreciate the opportunities I get to meet up with them (whether in New York or in Texas) since I'm able to understand the value of old friendships. While there will always be new friends, there is something special about having friends who knew you when you were growing up through all those awkward phases. We're able to reminice about embarrassing high school crushes, senior prom, and how hard academics were back then. It all makes me so nostalgic! Even though we lead different and separate lives now, I know we'll always be there for each other.

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Do you guys have reunions with old friends?

Blogmas Day 19- Kathleen's Travel Bucket List

A new year means that new travel opportunities are just around the corner! I always have a long list (and I mean LONG) of all the places I want to visit and the experiences I want to have. There is never enough time or money for it all, but someday I hope I can do everything on my travel bucket list. Since I'm wallowing in a case of the travel bug right now (I have not been truly traveling since October), I thought I would share some of the items on my list. They aren't listed in any particular order since I really would like to go to all of them.

Iceland- There is a lot of hype around the famous green Northern Lights, but what I really want to go to Iceland for is to scuba dive between two techtonic plates. In other words, snap an insanely cool picture between two continents.

Abu Dhabi- Who doesn't want the opportunity to try drinking coffee with 24 carat gold flakes in it? Plus, I've never been to the Middle East and am very curious what it's like there.

Bermuda- This little island is only a 2 hour flight from New York and offers some pretty cool diving opportunities (shipwrecks) so its no surprise why I want to go here!

Galapagos Island- Blue footed birds and giant tortosies? You see why this island made my bucket list. Because no humans permanently reside here, the animals and their habitats are not disturbed by outside factors. The animals are suppose to be very approachable since they aren't afraid of people.

Alaskan Cruise- My family and I have wanted to take a cruise to Alaska for a while now. The gorgeous scenery is suppose to be uncomparable.

South Africa- One of my coworkers recently returned from a 2 week trip here and could not stop talking about her trip and the many safaris she was able to experience. I've never been to the African continent so its definitely on my list.

Salar de Uyni Salt Flats- Located in Bolivia, this salt flat is the largest in the world (there is actually one of a smaller size in Utah). Its a tad expensive and hard to reach, which is the only reason why I haven't gone here yet. Some of my friends went last year and their pictures looked AMAZING.

Hong by Starlight Kayaking Tour- This breathtaking kayaking tour takes place in Phuket, Thailand and lets you explore sea caves and paddle through some of the clearest water ever. Its been on my bucket list for the longest time and I'm desperately waiting for the chance to go to Thailand to try this.

Prince Edward Island- Ever since I was a little girl, I've been obsessed with the book, Anne of Green Gables. I wanted to have red hair and braids and wear gingham dresses so badly! This Canadian island is where the author, Lucy Maud Montegomery, based her novel off of since its her home town. There are lots of Anne themed attractions now, such as Avonlea where Anne lived. Coming here would be a nostalgic trip for sure.

Zhangjiajie National Forest Park- Located in the middle of China, this Park was one of the filming locations for the movie, Avatar, and is beyond beautiful. We just don't have this type of scenery in America.

What places are on your bucket list?