New years resolution?? Explore more.
It seems only fitting that TJ and I rang in the New Year by doing just that. We welcomed 2018 in a new city that we have surprisingly never been to before: San Francisco. Even though we only had 48 hours to see the city we definitely made the most of it.
When we found out that one of our favorite bands, Tycho, was playing at the iconic Filmore on December 31st, we just had to be there. Starting the year off with music and adventure really set the tone for the rest of an epic year.
-Downtown. We stayed at the Grand Hyatt in downtown SF, right near Union Square. Our room was on the 31st floor with amazing downtown views; it was truly badass. The first day we were there we made up our own little walking tour of the city. We started in Union Square, and then took off making our way past Lombard Street (an unintentional surprise), Chinatown, Little Italy, and eventually ending in Fisherman's Wharf. On the way got some exercise and happened upon some awesome hilltop views of Alcatraz and the Golden Gate Bridge.
-The Buena Vista. This place serves THE BEST Irish Coffee I have ever had; it's no wonder the place is busy af all the time. Seating is a free-for-all, and the place is packed full of people trying to snag the next available table or bar stool. Luckily, just two minutes after we squeezed into the building, I spotted a couple leaving at the front bar and we slid right in. This is a must visit in SF, my mouth is watering just thinking about those velvety coffees. Can't wait to have another.
- Fisherman's Wharf. The neighborhood is filled with shops and restaurants, clam chowder galore! Obviously we had to stop for a bowl, some oysters, and cocktails. We even got to see local fisherman selling fresh fish to the locals straight off of their boat.
- The Fillmore. Such an awesome historic venue in SF. The Poster Room they have upstairs in this place is amazing. It is covered from floor to ceiling in radical psychedelic sold-out concert posters, a must see. When we first got there I kept noticing random people standing around eating apples, I even saw some half eaten on the ground outside after the show. It was hilarious and super random. Apparently, there is a barrel of red apples in the lobby for anyone that wants one. A red apple and some awesome tunes, what more do you need?
- Baker Beach. An awesome beach where you can find locals walking their dogs, having picnics, hanging out, playing games, and casually walking around butt-ass naked. You heard me. This is a clothing optional, nude beach. The day we went was so cold we figured there was no chance people would frolic around naked. We were wrong, and they did: walk, climb, spin and twirl, stretch, and some weird yoga(ish) moves I've never seen before. Go to this beach for some killer views of the Golden Gate Bridge and a little entertainment.
- The Golden Gate Bridge. Obviously the most iconic landmark in SF. We walked from Baker Beach over to the bridge and made it just in time for the sunset. It was really awesome to stand up on the bridge and take in all the sights. It was cold and getting dark so it wasn't overly crowded either. As we were heading back towards the visitors center we were lucky enough to see the first supermoon rising across the bay. It was pretty spectacular and happened just by chance. We had no idea the first moon of the year was a supermoon, or that we'd end up with prime views of the event.
- Piccolo Pizza. Not kidding when I say this is some of the best food we had in SF. We ate it late night and then again for breakfast the next morning. Delish! Craving pizza anytime or late night, try this spot! Full disclosure: not endorsed by Piccolo Pizza, but maybe should be...
Overall, San Francisco is an awesome city with a lot going on. There's good food and drink pretty much everywhere you look, it's easy to get around, the people are friendly, and it's super scenic. Can't wait to go back to spend more time and get to know the city better. If it's not on your list put it there and start making some plans!
Paris is a city that feels very nostalgic; theres a familiar feeling, something reminiscent, even when visiting the city for the first time. It's romantic and charming, filled with delicious food & wine, friendly people, rich history, and beautiful architecture. Everywhere you look there's a new cafe to try, neighborhood to explore, and ample history to discover.
This past summer was my second time visiting Paris, and I feel so lucky to that I was able to return. The second time around I was older and brought a fresh perspective to the table. I feel like I saw the city, people, food, and culture with a new set of eyes. Now I have a more complex understanding and appreciation for this romantic city.
We went to Paris at the end of June to celebrate my boyfriend's mom's 60th birthday. She had always dreamt of visiting Paris, so TJ, his sister Jen, and I decided that this was the perfect time to take her. The weather was super hot; the locals told us they were experiencing an extreme heatwave. Despite the heat our timing was perfect. We hit it at the beginning of summer, but before the huge influx of tourists arrived. The attractions were busy but not overly crowded, we got around easily, and never had to wait for primo seating at a cafe or restaurant.
Of course when seeing Paris for the first (or second) time, there's a long list of the touristy must-sees and do's. There's an endless list of museums and cathedrals to explore, jardines (gardens), shopping, and of course the iconic Eiffel Tour, just to name a few. As with all trips, there's never enough time to do it all, so it's best to prioritize the top must-sees/do's and go from there. To me, it's also extremely important to allow for spontaneous adventures and going with the flow. These moments of unexpected adventure and exploring usually lead to some of the most memorable experiences.
We spent 4 days in Paris and definitely made the most of the time we spent there. We hit up many of the iconic places in Paris, but also took the time to sit back and take in the sights, scenes, and tastes that Paris had to offer. Many of my favorite memories of this city were spent on a cafe patio, outdoors, eating amazing food, and sipping on a chilled glass of wine.
Where we stayed: We stayed at a small, 4-star boutique hotel called Hotel La Lanterne. It is a stylish and comfortable hotel, located in the 5th Arrondissements (district). It is just 5 minutes walking distance from Notre Dame. The staff was extremely friendly and helpful, the rooms were sleek, clean, and updated, has an indoor swimming pool, and the breakfast they served was on point. After a long day of exploring, those beds were some of the most comfortable I could think of.
What we did:
- River cruise on the Sein. This is a beautiful and relaxing way to see the sights in Paris. They even have a bar on the riverboat, so we popped some champagne and celebrated our arrival.
- Paris Office de Tourisme. A good place to buy tickets and get information for different attractions. We got asked multiple times by the grumpy Parisian behind the desk if we could read or if what we were looking for was on the list; he thought we were dumb as rocks. Pretty hilarious.
- Tulleries Garden. Beautiful grounds and statues.
- Avenue des Champs-Élysées. Shopping avenue that ends at the Arc de Triomphe.
- Arc de Triomphe. Buy the tickets, go to the top. The spectacular 360 degree views do not disappoint.
- The Louvre. Was told buy a local that Americans pronounce this funny (also that Americans smile all the time, while Parisians frown). Obviously some epic art and architecture here, also expect crowds and to elbow your way to the front of a lot of people with cell phones to see the Mona Lisa. I got a great picture of a guy taking a picture of that good looking lady.
- Notre Dame. I stopped for two seconds to take a picture in the courtyard outside and immediately lost everyone. Lines to get in can be long, but are totally worth it. Beautiful architecture, sculptures, stained glass, candles, and a massive organ just to name a few. Breathtakingly beautiful.
- Moulin Rouge. This show blew me away!! It was so much better than I had ever expected and then some. If you buy tickets online you can get a complimentary half bottle of champagne per person (we got 2 bottles because there was four of us). This is a must see in Paris. It had everything from roller skaters and hoop spinners, to mini ponies and massive snakes.
- Palace of Versasailles. Just a short drive out of Paris. Beautiful grounds, architecture, gold, and chandilliers. Really crowded with a lot of large tour groups. We had a small tour group with an amazing guide named Natasha.
- Champ de Mars. A place where locals and tourists alike gather on the lawn to drink wine and watch the light show on the Eiffel Tower. This was the perfect way to end our Paris trip. We sipped champagne on the grass and watched the iconic tower light up. It doesn't get much better than that!!
- Eiffel Tour. We took the elevator up the tour and took in the nighttime views.
What we ate/drank:
- Le Coupe-Chou. This restaurant consists of different rooms with some dating as far back as the 14th to 18th centuries. Cozy space, delicious wine, and the best tiramisu I have ever had.
- Chez Papa. This restaurant was recommend to me by one of my French friends who was born and raised Paris. Must be an adventurous eater to eat here. We couldn't read the menu and literally had no clue what we ordered. We were recommended the foie gras trio (it is a luxury food for Parisians). Foie gras is specially fattened duck or goose liver; TJ was not a fan.
- Prescription Cocktail Club. Reminded me a of a bar you would find in LA. Cozy, dark space, cool furniture, nice bartenders, and yummy cocktails (not strong by American standards but tasty nonetheless.) https://www.facebook.com/Prescription-Cocktail-Club-198121943593/?rf=197589633704800
- Le Flore en I'lle. Cafe across the street from Notre Dame. This was the first place I have ever tried escargot. We all liked it so much we ordered a second round. We also had some bomb onion soup (not called "French onion soup" when you're in France), and refreshing white wine.
- Chez Paul. So-so food, but seemed like a cool neighborhood with lot of bars.
- Maison Souquet. This is a MUST for a cocktail or two. Its a boudoir hotel right around the corner from the Moulin Rouge. We stopped there for a pre-show drink and could not have been more pleasantly surprised. Amazing decor, overly friendly staff, and good cocktails. Their bathroom is in the basement though, which I am positive is haunted; so get in and out of there as fast as possible. https://www.maisonsouquet.com/en/
- Marrow. TJ's friend from the states recommended this restaurant to us; his friend is the owner/chef there. It was definitely a locals spot and seemed a little hipster to me, like something you would find in LA. No English menu, but our server was very patient in explaining what was on it. Good cocktails and the octopus was delish.
- Take advantage of Uber. It is fun to experience the subway system, but for the majority of the time we took Ubers. It took all the hassle and stress out of figuring out where we needed to go and how to get there.
- Smile, be kind, be patient. There is a language barrier but most everyone we met was kind and willing to help us out when we needed.
- Eat cheese. Eat bread. The cheese and bread were always so phenomenal; we ate them both for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and dessert. Treat yo'self.
Every time we travel, we always hit the ground running. When we landed half way across the world at 4 a.m., this was no exception. We were promptly picked up by our friends (Mara, Nathan, Shan) and whisked away on our Sri Lankan road trip.
On our first trip to Sri Lanka we were fortunate enough to travel with close friends, and make some great new friendships along the way. We were so lucky to get a locals perspective and inside to all the best things to eat, see, and experience while we were in Sri Lanka. It is always amazing to make memories and connections that last a lifetime.
We all needed some fuel that early in the morning (especially coming off such long flights: LA>Dubai- 16 hrs, Dubai>Colombo- 4.5 hrs). Nothing was quite open yet, and our first stop for food in Sri Lanka was McDonald's. That's right people: McDonald's, in Sri Lanka. Piping hot hash brown and black coffee, don't mind if I do. Also if we were really feeling it, they even offer curry and rice at McDonalds in Sri Lanka; now you know. But not to worry, a couple of hours into our road trip Shan took us to a roadside restaurant for a traditional Sri Lankan breakfast. We had chicken and fish curries, kiribath (milk rice), idiyappam (string hoppers), pittu (dense rice/coconut cake), and pol sombol (spicy coconut garnish). Spicy, filling, and so good! Shan also knew about a famous yogurt shop, where we had to stop for a snack. They serve fresh buffalo curd, which was good but tasted kind of cheesy to me.
After, we drove to the top of Ethugala (Elephant Rock). There we offered a giant buddha statue blue water lilies (Sri Lanka's national flower) and took in some killer views. Afterwards, we went on a Jeep safari to see wild Asian elephants. The ride was rough and muddy, but it was so amazing to see this creatures up close and personal. Also a great full body workout trying to hang on as the Jeep four-wheeled the terrain (we were sore the next day!)
Our first day's journey ended in Habarana. We stayed at a beautiful, off the beaten path (literally) hotel called Sorowwa Resort and Spa. We watched the sunset over the lake, drank coconut arrak, jumped in the freezing cold pool in the rain (thanks to Mara), and got a private serenade from a 3 piece band playing an accordion, bongos, and a guitar. Doesn't get much better than that!
In the morning, we awoke to a torrential downpour. After the rain let up some, we climbed up slippery stone stairs to the top of a hill where we visited Dambullah Temple. Here, we took in the views and watched monkeys snack on people's offerings. The caves have beautifully painted ceilings and are filled with hundreds of Buddha statues, including some that are lying down. When we returned outside to retrieve our shoes, they were missing. Apparently, the people who work there go around and collect them. They essentially put the shoes in a shoe jail and charge people to bail them out; they claim the monkeys steal them, so they pick them up for safe keeping. Luckily, we got them back with no hassle.
Our next stop was Kandy. One of the things that Kandy is most famous for is Sri Dalada Maligawa, The Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic. Here we walked barefoot on scorching hot pavement to the home of Buddha's tooth relic. It is kept in elaborate gold shrine inside of the palace grounds. There are rituals for the tooth relic 3 times a day and the Kandy Esala Perahera, also known as The Festival of the Tooth once a year. Thanks to Shan and a guard at the temple, we got access to a few parts off limits to tourists. We got to tour the museum alone, see giant honeycombs being built by the local bees, and we got to step out onto a private balcony to snap some pictures of amazing views of the city.
After the Sacred Tooth Relic, we sipped Lion beer while watching a traditional Kandyan dance at the Kandy Lake Club. The dance featured elaborate costumes, music, and fire-walkers. Afterwards, Thilanka (our driver), suggested a good spot for street food, or what Sean referred to as "junk food". Here we pigged out on huge portions of curry and cheese kottu. We ended the night by telling ghost stories, while driving up a haunted road to Club Lespri, the inn where we stayed for the night. The wind gusted so hard and loud, there was a breeze in our room without the windows being open. After all the ghost stories, lack of sleep, and slight creepiness I felt in our room, I did not sleep easy that night.
We awoke in the morning to a delicious home cooked breakfast and breathtaking views. We could see for miles at the tip top of the mountain, so no wonder the winds were so strong. As we made our way back down the hillside, a tuk-tuk stopped us and told Shan that we had a flat tire. We found ourselves in the middle of nowhere, with flat tire and 2 broken wrenches; that tire was stuck on there good. Luckily, we were able to just make the best of the situation. We flagged down two tuk-tuks and coasted our way down the hill and to the next destination.
With some amazing effort by the tuk-tuk drivers, we made it up some seriously steep roads to the destination (we had to get out and walk at some points because the tuk couldn't do it will all the weight, feel the burn!) Here we landed 3567 feet above sea level at the Ambuluwawa Temple. The building has a Dr. Suess like appearance, with a spiral staircase twirling around the outside to the very tip-top of the building. The winds were strong and the staircase seemed a little janky, but we went for it. The views were obviously amazing and so was the adrenaline rush. By the time we reached the top, my legs were jello and I couldn't even take out my phone to take a picture, still totally worth it!
Back at the bottom, Shan met us with some soursop; the local women sweeping the grounds gave it to him to share with us. Soursop is a white, mushy looking fruit, but it was super juicy and delicious an awesome way to end our climbing experience. By this time Thilanka was back with the tire repaired, so it was on to the next.
On our way to catch our train in Nuwara Eliya, we drove through tea many plantations and stopped at the Mackwoods Labookellie Tea Estate for a snack and some tea (obviously). Somehow, Shan had pulled some stings, working his magic yet again, and got us a private bungalow afternoon tea session. It was the plantations first time serving there in the newly renovated space. We downed everything pretty fast because we had a train to catch, but the tea was delish!
The train is a must experience in Sri Lanka. It winds through Sri Lankas beautiful country side, boasting amazing views of tea plantations, villages, nature and more. We snacked on cassava chips, ate rice and curry, drank tea, and took in the stunning views of the Sri Lankan countryside. The trains even have outdoor observation decks in between the train cars so you can ride outside. TJ and I spent most of our time out there drinking in the fresh air, and soaking up the sights.
We hopped off the train in Hatton, where Thilanka picked us up and took us back for a close up of a couple of waterfalls we had seen from the train. From there, we made our way to our glorious inn, Hatton Summer House. Hatton Summer House is situated atop a hill, overlooking a lake. The property is covered in beautiful gardens and has an amazing pool area. You best believe we took full advantage of this killer location. We drank arak, went swimming, and even had our dinner brought out poolside. Shan's cousin Kumar even came for a visit, gifting us with more food, arak, and fresh-from-the-plantation tea.
The next morning was our last long haul drive. Destination: beach. Driving in Sri Lanka takes a lot of time. It is like playing hundreds of games of chicken on narrow, one lane, winding roads, with thousands of tuk-tuks, busses, trucks, cars, and motorbikes. The whole trip, we dodged animals and passed questionably close to pedestrians on the side. There was a lot (A LOT) of breath holding and eye closing, and at this time coming out of the mountains, mild carsickness. On the flip side, we also experienced major adrenaline rushes and laughter, were immersed in breathtaking views, and got to see a lot of the country that most tourists wouldn't.
The finale of our road trip around Sri Lanka couldn't have ended more perfectly. We rented a room at the Sea Rock Villa in Bentota. The staff greeted us with refreshing king coconuts and showed us to our room. Every room at the place has gorgeous ocean views (the ocean was less than 100 feet away). The grounds were beautiful, equipped with hammocks, lounge chairs, and a pristine pool. The ocean is the warmest I felt in my entire life, and the beaches were surprisingly empty. It felt like we had a private island all to ourselves! We swam in the ocean and the pool, soaked up the sun, drank local Rockland White Rum and cokes, paid a cobra charmer (terrifying!), ate a whole fresh snapper, watched an epic sunset, and had a private, candlelit dinner on the beach.
Our last night in Sri Lanka were spent eating takeout food, laughing, and playing cards with friends in their city center Colombo apartment. The next day, we were lucky enough to be treated to a home cooked Sri Lankan meal at Shan's parents house. The best meal that we had all trip and the perfect send off from our Sri Lankan road trip
Sri Lanka is a sensory overload in all the right ways. It is a country bustling with with life and color. Everything is saturated, bright, in your face colors, including the buildings and clothing, to the tuk-tuks and temples. The food is spicy and in your face flavorful, and the people are friendly. The colors, textures, flavors, and way of life in Sri Lanka coordinate effortlessly together to create a vibrant, beautiful scene. Definitely one worth visiting and experiencing for yourself one day.
A note on Sri Lankan food:
- The food is full of flavor and is super spicy. If you know me well or have ever eaten with me, you would know I like my food spicy, so Sri Lankan cuisine was a win right off the bat.
- The main staples of Sri Lankan food are rice and curry. One of my favorite dishes was dahl (a lentil curry). - Portion sizes in are huge, even by American standards; they definitely do not skimp on rice, curry, or sambol; you will not go hungry!
- If you want to fit in and eat like a local, forget the fork! Sri Lankans eat with their right hand, so just dive in and scoop it all up (rice, curry, sauces, everything). I was told I eat like an elephant when I tried to fit in; obviously didn't work out so well, but was awesome eating the traditional Sri Lankan way nonetheless.
- Trying Sri Lankan street food is also a must. Tasty "junk food" include different variations of kottu (stir fried flatbread, can have veggies, meat, egg, cheese), cassava chips (our favorite were the hot and spicy ones, obviously), and wadai (whole fried shrimp in a fitter). I had no idea it was completely acceptable and super tasty at that to eat a shrimp in its entirety (head, shell, tail, and all).
Every year I make a list of the places I want to travel to. We have been traveling abroad a lot lately, and sometimes it's easy to forget about all the amazing cities in the United States that are just a short flight away.
We decided for my birthday in January we would check at least one city off of the list: Seattle. Seattle in January? Sounds cold, wet, and miserable right? Wrong. It didn't rain once while we were there, and the day we landed was actually sunny and unseasonably warm. Apparently the city was experiencing some unusual weather patterns, but I am not going to complain about that!
Our first stop off the plane was a "true Seattle" type restaurant (according to locals) called Elliot's Oyster House. It is a massive waterfront restaurant with beautiful views of Elliot Bay, the Puget Sound, and the Olympic Mountains. They have a huge selection of oysters, amazing cocktails, local beers, and super tasty food. Our server was very friendly and gave us suggestions of what to do. He even called his friend that worked at the Colombia Center (the tallest building in Seattle) to get us free tickets to the observation deck. He also suggested we ride a ferry to one of the nearby islands to get some killer views.
One thing we quickly discovered about Seattle is that the people are super friendly. We would talk to people (servers, bartenders, locals) and they would jump on any chance to give us suggestions of where to eat, drink, and what to see. We received more than one hand written note full of great bars and restaurants. One time, it was almost a competition between two men trying to give us the better suggestions; nevertheless, we had a kick-ass list after leaving that place. The people of Seattle take great pride in their city and there is definitely many reasons for them to do so.
Being it was our first time in Seattle we chose to stay at a hotel downtown. It seemed like a good central location as could walk to Capitol Hill, Pikes Place, Pioneer Square, pretty much anywhere we wanted to go.
Our favorite neighborhood was Capitol Hill. It is a younger, hip crowd, with a cool vibe. Our first stop in Capitol Hill was a bar (naturally) called The Comet Tavern. It is a great space with pool, ski ball, and a photo booth. We sipped on local IPAs and got down with the local beer Rainier, which kind of tastes something like a PBR. The bartender Max, saved us from ordering any food at the tavern and said he liked us enough to not let TJ order the pickled eggs.
We befriended a local at The Comet Tavern named Anthony, who let me ride his 1940s bicycle, then escorted us to a hidden restaurant called the Tin Table. Delicious food and cocktails with another friendly bartender named Logan. We ordered a mountain of truffle shoestring fries, chicken wings, and buffalo tempura cauliflower (super healthy I know). We finished the night off with a nightcap a rum bar that Logan had suggested called Rumba. Mouth watering drinks and the perfect way to end our night.
Pikes Place was also a pretty cool neighborhood. It is home to the world famous Pike Place Fish Market, where they throw around a bunch of fish and you can buy fresh oyster shooters (don't mind if I do).
From the market it is a short walk to the ferry station where we bought tickets to ride over to nearby Bainbride Island. The views of the city are amazing and it was just a short ride. They even have a restaurant, bar, and cafe on the ferry. There is not much to do on Bainbridge Island so we ate lunch at a (not so good) Mexican Cantina and went back to Seattle. Worth the trip for the views alone!
For dinner we ate at Matt's In The Market, which is a really nice restaurant (make reservations) with beautiful big windows and a nice view of the market lit up at night. Across the hall is a poppin' bar called Radiator Whiskey. Their whiskey selection is amazing and they serve you a bowl of salty popcorn when you sit down. We finished off the night at a bar/venue called The Triple Door where they had a live band playing.
In Pioneer Square we had a beer at The Central Saloon, which is the oldest bar in Seattle. TJ thought it smelled funny, but what do you expect? We also did the underground tour which was also smelly but something cool and different to do. Pioneer Square has a lot of great old buildings, big trees, and a cozy, yet somewhat seedy feel to it.
Other noteworthy spots:
* Taylor's Shellfish (Capitol Hill)- good happy hour, delicious oysters, yummy seaweed salad
* Starbucks Reserve (Capitol Hill)- massive Starbucks where they roast coffee
* Tallulah's (Capitol Hill)- good neighborhood brunch spot, good bloody marys
*Cone & Steiner General Store (Capitol Hill)- found vintage perfume bottle, cute gifts
* Hello Robin (Capitol Hill)- cute bakery with delicious fresh cookies
* Bathtub Gin (Belltown)- huge gin selection, friendly staff, weird layout
* Copperworks Distilling Co- distillery tour & tasting (had their gin at Elliott's Oyster House)
Seattle is a cozy city, with a super friendly people who love their city and love to drink. Needless to say we will be back! Til next time...