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Jan 052016
 

With all the excitement over my recent engagement, maybe you forgot that I also went to Jamaica over the holidays? ūüôā

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Yep, the day after Christmas, Fabio and I joined my mom, stepdad Fritz, stepsister Maggie and her boyfriend Nick for a family vacation in Montego Bay, Jamaica! This has become a bit of a yearly tradition for us, and like last year we spent the days in between Christmas and New Years at the Riu Palace hotel in Jamaica.

I was really excited about our trip before, but once Fabio proposed I was even more excited! What a perfect way to celebrate our engagement! I spent a lot of time admiring my ring in the sun. ūüôā

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(Don’t worry, Fabio had it insured before he gave it to me so I didn’t have to worry about losing it or anything!)

Hooray!

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Weirdly enough,¬†Fabio’s best friend Hayden was actually staying at the same hotel as us for the first day and night! Fabio had texted him on Christmas letting him know that we were engaged, and Hayden responded saying he would love to call and congratulate us¬†but he was in Jamaica and the cell phone bill would be too expensive to call.¬†Of course Fabio then asked where in Jamaica Hayden was staying, and it turns out he was in the exact same resort as us! It was so fun seeing him (and his family) for a little while. ūüôā

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What a nice surprise for Fabio especially!

The rest of our trip was spent lounging in the sunshine and enjoying lots of food and drinks from the all-inclusive hotel.

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Most days included lots of lounging in the sun for me, and lots (AND LOTS) of volleyball for Fabio.

One of the days, however, everyone broke off and did something different!

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Maggie and my stepdad, Fritz, decided to go on a horseback riding adventure, which they said was a lot of fun.

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Go Maggie!

Meanwhile, Fabio and Maggie’s boyfriend, Nick, decided to go golfing, which they also loved. (No surprise there.)

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As for my mom and me? We stayed behind to look at wedding magazines on the beach!

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Right before we left for vacation, my mom picked up a few bridal magazines for me and we had so much fun browsing through the images, talking about what we liked, bookmarking pages, and making plans for everything to come. It was so much fun! Plus you couldn’t beat the views – looking out at the gorgeous blue ocean while talking about fun wedding plans¬†was so surreal.

In the evenings we did the usual: get all dressed up and go out to dinner! I’ve mentioned this on the blog before, but I should warn any new readers that my mom’s side of the family likes to get very dressed up for dinner. This is a habit of my stepdad’s that we’ve all sort of followed so we don’t look completely under-dressed standing next to him. I don’t mind of course; it’s fun to get dressed up!

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All of our dinners were a ton of fun with great food, lots of wine, and plenty of laughs. ūüôā

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Surprisingly delicious sushi

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Shrimp spring rolls

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Duck ramen

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Shrimp & veggie tempura 

After our dinners, we usually headed over to the beach bar to continue the shenanigans. Each night we had fun playing Heads Up (the best iPhone game there is!), drinking too much rum, and dancing the night away. It was such a blast!

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There was also a professional photographer on the property who came over to take some pictures of our group two of the nights. I just love the pictures he took!

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How cute are those two? ūüôā

All in all it was an amazing vacation, and I can’t think of any other way I would have wanted to kick off this year of engagement festivities!

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Thank you mom and Fritz for taking us on this incredible vacation!!

Question of the day: Do you like to be active on vacation or rest?

For me it depends on the vacation; when we go to Europe I am go-go-go and want to see and do everything. In the Caribbean I am all about relaxing in the sunshine!

 

 Posted by on January 5, 2016
Dec 072015
 

Hello, hello! I’m back from an amazingly fun weekend in New York City with some of my best friends from high school. I had been looking forward to this weekend for months, and now I’m so bummed it’s over. Wahh! Take me back!

Fabio and I arrived in the city late on Friday evening, and after grabbing some New York pizza (mandatory) we headed to my aunt’s apartment in the Upper West Side (where we were staying) to hit the hay.

On Saturday morning, we met up with these three in Central Park!

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Hana lives in the city – a little further downtown – and Bianca and Sam had come in from Hoboken and Philadelphia, respectively, for the weekend. It’s crazy that we all live in different cities now (even though Hana and Bianca are pretty close to one another) and I’m so thankful that we still keep in touch as much as we do.

On my way to meeting up with the girls, I stopped by the famous Levain Bakery for some delicious cookies for us! These cookies are seriously ridiculous and weigh almost a pound each! I shutter to think of how much butter and sugar is in each one…oh well. Worth it!

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Finally, after meandering through the park a bit, we found each other!

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Hooray!

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It was a beautiful day to explore the park, and we had a great time wandering around.

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Girls! I have to thank Fabio for snapping so many pictures of us, haha. What a trooper!

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Some selfie stick action in front of the boathouse. ūüôā

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The boathouse was really beautiful, and I loved watching the row boats go by.

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We wound up stopping in the boathouse for a quick drink, and then Fabio’s friend Hayden joined us! After a¬†cocktail, our group continued exploring the park. ūüôā

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Soon enough, it was time to head over to our brunch reservation. Don’t worry, we snacked on some more cookie bites along the way.

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A little before 1:00 pm, our group sat down for brunch at Osteria Cotta on the Upper West Side.

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The restaurant had a ton of delicious brunch entrees (our group decided to share a bunch of things) plus bottomless mimosas, bloody marys, or sangria.

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Everything was delicious, but my favorite dish had to be the eggs in purgatory – eggs and polenta in a spicy tomato sauce. So delicious!

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The best part though was just getting to sit and chat with my friends! I sure did miss them.

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More cookie bites happened too.

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After brunch, our little group continued walking around the city! I loved seeing all the beautiful holiday decorations.

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New York City at Christmastime is the best!

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More selfie stick action in front of the Rockefeller Christmas tree. ūüôā

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Girls again!

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My handsome guy. <3

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Skating rink!

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After that, we walked over to Bryant Park to check out another beautiful Christmas tree, as well as all the holiday shops.

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It was beautiful, and I think I may have¬†liked this tree¬†better than the more famous Rockefeller one. ūüôā

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Up next, we headed over to Rolf’s, a famous German restaurant¬†in the city known for its Christmas decorations. Hana¬†made reservations for us about a month ago to ensure we’d get a table, and I’m so glad she did. The line to get in was ridiculously long, and we didn’t have to wait at all! Thanks, Hana!

It sure was beautiful inside – just look at this!

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We couldn’t get over how beautiful the decorations were and I think we all got a bit of a neck cramp from staring up at the ceiling for so long. It was so festive in there!

We enjoyed a couple of delicious German beers while we took in the decorations.

Rolf's New York City

So fun!

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NYC Christmas Bar Rolf's

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ūüôā

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Later in the evening, a bunch of our friends came over and we got ready to go out!

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We wound up going to a fun bar downtown that played amazing music including hits like Whitney Houston’s I Want to Dance With Somebody.

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You better believe we sang out loud to every single word and had ourselves a little dance party. It was so much fun! Fabio’s friends all met up with us too, and it was really nice to see them. ūüôā

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Sadly, on Sunday morning Fabio and I had to hop back on the bus to go back home. Overall it was such a fantastic weekend, and I’m so glad I got to spend so much time with my best friends. ūüôā

Until next time, New York!

Question of the day: Have you ever been to NYC over the holidays? If so, what’s your favorite part?

Last year we saw the Rockettes’ Christmas Spectacular, and it was a lot of fun!

 Posted by on December 7, 2015
Nov 252015
 

Hi friends! Today I’m back with the second (and final) recap of my vacation in San Diego with my good friend, Catrina. If you missed part 1 you can find that here!

Catrina and I both had the day off from work on Monday, so we decided to sleep in a bit (ha! Neither of us are good at sleeping in late) before hitting the pavement for a run! As I mentioned in my last post, Catrina lives in Pacific Beach which is an adorable beach town outside of San Diego. Her typical three mile route includes a run along the beach and the bay, which is just insane. Can you imagine running with views like this in perfect 70+ degree weather every day? I swear, this place is not real.

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After running along the beach, we turned off onto a side street that would take us over to the bay. The side streets were so adorable, and I felt like I was in Fire Island or some other quaint beach town. All the bungalows were so charming!

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We wound up running three miles and then walking about half a mile to cool down. Not a bad way to start the day!

After showering up at Catrina’s, we headed out for acai bowls for breakfast. I had never heard of an acai bowl, but here’s how Huffington Post describes it:

An acai bowl is basically a really thick smoothie that’s been topped with oatmeal, fruit or peanut butter, and then you wolf it down with a spoon. For breakfast. After eating a bowl, you will not only feel happily full (for hours) and have satisfied a sweet craving (no need to cave for a donut), you’ll have also done something that was good for you. Win win.

Sounds amazing! Acai bowls are everywhere in Southern California, but Catrina took us to her favorite spot: Cafe 976. Check out how cute the patio is! I love how all the restaurants in San Diego are so open and/or have outdoor seating; I guess that’s what happens when the weather is always perfect.

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Catrina and I both started off with delicious coffees (if I’m remembering correctly, I ordered something like¬†a Milky Way, which was chocolatey and delicious) and then it was time for the acai bowl!

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If possible, it was even better than I was expecting. Underneath all the fresh fruit was a cold acai smoothie-like texture, and it was delicious! I definitely need to find a place that sells these on the east coast.

After breakfast, we headed off to our main destination of the day: the San Diego Zoo!

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Haha! We are nerds. ūüôā

Catrina knows I’m obsessed with animals, so¬†she figured I would love the famous San Diego Zoo. Well, she was right! Although I am still partial to the National Zoo here in DC (it helps that it’s free…), I was very impressed with San Diego’s zoo and loved how close we were able to get to the animals!

We spent the day bopping around from animal to animal, and especially loved watching all the monkeys. They had so many different kinds!
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The elephants were pretty amazing too. ūüôā

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After walking around for a while, we discovered a “Zoo Brew” and we each got ourselves a beer to sip on. Sunshine, animals, a best friend, and beer? Welcome to my happy place.

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Soon enough we came upon the panda enclosure, which was so amazing! In DC the pandas are always really far away and you can barely see them, if they are even out (sometimes they are sleeping inside). That was not the case in San Diego at all!

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I don’t know if it’s just the time we were visiting or what, but these pandas were very close to the edge of their enclosure so we could see them perfectly! One of them was even sitting back and watching us while he rested his bamboo on his tummy. #MySpiritAnimal

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After we were done visiting the pandas, it was time for the tigers! At first we couldn’t see them anywhere, but then we discovered they were over by a watering hole playing with one another.

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This was by far my favorite part of the day – we got an up-close look at the two tigers playing in the water! Please note these pictures were all taken with my cell phone and, although they aren’t great quality, it shows you how close we were to them.
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This one isn’t even zoomed in!

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Amazing, right? Overall I had such a fun time at the zoo, and I’m so thankful that Catrina thought to bring me there. She actually wound up having a really fun time too, which I don’t think she was expecting. ūüôā

After the zoo, we walked around in downtown San Diego for a bit, before going back to Catrina’s to relax. We wound up ordering Thai food, drinking wine, and watching the latest Hunger Games movie, which was the perfect way to end the evening in my opinion.
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Tuesday

Catrina and I both needed to work on Tuesday, so we wound up next to each other on the couch with our laptops open and Food Network on TV. Not a bad way to work at all!

At lunchtime we headed down to a Greek place in her neighborhood for salads, stuffed grape leaves, and about a hundred pieces of pita. Yum!

When we were done working, we headed down to the beach!

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I really wanted to stick my toes in the Pacific Ocean – just to say I did it – so that’s exactly what I did! It was pretty cold, but beautiful. Catrina watched from afar; you can tell she lives in California now because she said it was too cold for her. ūüėČ

After that, we headed to a CrossFit class! Catrina goes to CrossFit a lot during the week, and I loved being able to see where she works out.

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Our workout was a tough one and at the end we wound up practicing all kinds of push-ups. Phew! It’s going to be a long time before I can do ring push-ups, that’s for sure. They’re so hard!

After showering up, we met up with Catrina’s friend Eden in Ocean Beach for Taco Tuesday, which is a big deal in Southern California. I really wanted to try a shark taco (!!) but sadly the restaurant ran out. Boo. Luckily the mahi-mahi and regular fish tacos were still delicious!

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After dinner we stopped for some fro-yo, before Catrina dropped me off at the airport for my lovely red eye flight back east.

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As if you couldn’t tell from these two posts, I had an absolutely amazing time in San Diego visiting Catrina, and I’m already looking forward to when I’ll be able to go back (slash move there? That weather!!). Thanks for having me, Treen!

Question of the day: Have you ever considered moving yourself to a totally different location?

 Posted by on November 25, 2015
Nov 232015
 

Hey friends!¬†Did everyone have a good weekend? I spent mine up in Otis – a town in the Berkshire mountains of Massachusetts – at my aunt CC and uncle Steve’s mountain house. It’s so beautiful there, and we always have so much fun when we go.

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It’s actually Sunday night as I type this up, and after spending most of the day in the car driving home I’m feeling pretty exhausted. I’m going to keep this recap fairly short and let the pictures do most of the talking. Here are some scenes from my weekend!

In the mornings, my mom, stepdad, uncle David, Steve, CC, Fabio, and I would all sit around this table drinking coffee and catching up. CC also made a fantastic pound cake and pumpkin muffins for us to snack on.

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Then my uncle David and stepdad would cook (a second) breakfast for the group. They are some seriously awesome chefs. Look at these perfectly poached eggs!

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On Saturday morning, I headed out for a hike with CC and my mom.

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It was a beautiful day, and we were all happy to get moving.

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Although my mom loves being outside, she’s not exactly what you’d call outdoorsy. She wears dresses and heels every day, and her idea of a hiking outfit included a blazer, dress pants, and open-toe wedges. Plus her fancy red coat with mink trim. Yes, seriously. I can’t even explain to you how ridiculous¬†it was to see her hiking in wedges. She did it though, and didn’t complain a bit! What a trooper.

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Our hike was about three miles and took us up to the beautiful Upper Spectacle pond.

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CC said this area was absolutely gorgeous a few weeks ago when the leaves were changing colors. I can only imagine.

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The best part of our hike was definitely the¬†girl talk. The three of us don’t get to see each other as often¬†as we would like, and I know we all cherished this time together.

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When we got back to the house, we sat around the table for a while chatting, snacking, and just being together as a family.

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CC put up her Christmas decorations early this year so we’d get to enjoy them during our stay.¬†How beautiful is her tree?

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The rest of the house is also super cozy, especially the giant leather couch with the knitted throws. That couch is so dangerous – I can never sit on it or I won’t get back up!

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As for snacks, we had homemade pumpkin hummus, veggies, and CC’s horseradish cranberry sauce, which was absolutely amazing. I definitely ate way too much of this.

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There was also a fizzy cider drink made with ginger beer, which I loved.

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We also played with the cats, Addison and Clarence. Hi, Addy!

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Later in the evening, we all got ready for dinner. CC made butternut squash lasagna with homemade lasagna noodles. It tasted as good as it sounds. Actually, better.

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While she cooked, I munched on plenty of cheese. I <3 cheese.

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Soon enough it was time to eat! Look how beautiful the table was.

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Instead of napkin holders, each of our plates was decorated with a special ornament that CC picked out for us. My ornament was in the shape of a camera (which was perfect since I played around with my camera a bit this weekend) and Fabio got an ornament shaped like golf clubs. Typical. (He and Steve played golf while we were hiking.)

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CC also got us an ornament¬†in the shape of Jack, which was so thoughtful. ūüôā

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I was too busy laughing, talking and eating during dinner to take pictures of my food, but I had a perfectly cooked steak, butternut¬†squash lasagna, and a salad. Plus wine. ūüôā

After dinner we all sat around drinking and being silly.

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Mom or Ygritte?

Later in the night we pulled out Cards Against Humanity, which caused my mom to blush a lot and made me Google a couple of new-to-me words. There was a LOT of laughing during the game, and it was such a fun night with my family.

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Sadly on Sunday morning we had to head home, but overall it was such a great weekend with my family, and I’m so thankful I got to spend this time with them. Thanks for having us, CC and Steve!

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Question of the day: What does your family do when you get together?

Cards Against Humanity was a first for us, and it was so fun!

Pssst Рplanning for Thanksgiving later this week? Check out this site for TONS of delicious stuffing recipes, and watch this video showing that using blue plates and displaying food buffet-style can save lots of calories. 

 Posted by on November 23, 2015
Nov 172015
 

After a very busy and stressful week in Los Angeles for work, on Saturday morning (Nov. 7) I hopped on the train to San Diego for a few days of fun! As you probably know, my good friend Catrina moved from New York to San Diego a little more than a year ago, and I’ve been dying to visit her ever since. I figured this trip out west was the perfect opportunity!

I had heard from some friends that Amtrak’s Pacific Surfliner train from LA to San Diego was the best way to get down the coast, and boy were they right! The train only cost about $40 and I was treated to some seriously gorgeous views of the ocean along the way. I also saw¬†lots of surfers tearing it up!

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I’m also not sure if this is just a west coast thing or what, but the train’s conductor was really silly and would sing all the stops aloud over the microphone. He also sang about how much he loves California, and everyone would clap and cheer when he was done. People were also pretty rowdy on the train – they would talk and laugh with one another with abandon – and it totally added to the fun train atmosphere. It was definitely a great way to travel!

Catrina was waiting for me at the train station when we pulled in around 11:30 am, and after quickly dropping off my bags in her apartment we headed down to the pool! It was sunny, 82 degrees, and glorious.

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Please note we are definitely not naked in this picture, just both wearing strapless bikini tops. ūüėČ I also want to apologize for the plethora of snap chat screenshots that I’m using in this post – when you’re having so much fun it’s hard to remember to take a real picture!

After the pool, we walked over to the Fish Shop right by Catrina’s apartment in Pacific Beach. We each¬†got a mahi-mahi taco complete with mago salsa, and we also shared an order of mahi-mahi/shrimp ceviche.

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Everything was delicious and so fresh! I loved seeing the fresh fish at the counter where you order; it made me feel really good about the quality of fish I was about to eat.

After lunch, we drove over to Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve for a hike! After parking our car, we walked across the beach to get to get to the start of the hike.

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From there we followed a winding path and some gradual steps to hike our way up the cliffs. It wasn’t too challenging of a hike – the incline was pretty gradual – but it was still a fairly good workout and it made for some breathtaking views of the Pacific!

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I especially liked checking out some of the cool geological features, like this crumbling mountainside and the striped rocks in the next photo.

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Can you see the stripes?

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I honestly have no idea how much ground we covered, but we were out hiking for a couple of hours. It was such a gorgeous day, and Catrina and I had so much fun catching up along the way. What a perfect afternoon!

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After our hike, Catrina took me down to the beach near her apartment to watch the sunset.

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It was a beautiful, clear evening, and I was definitely in my happy place. California is so pretty!!

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After showering up and relaxing for a bit (with wine!), we headed¬†to dinner at Isabel’s Cantina, a Mexican-Asian fusion restaurant. I really wanted to try a tamale (I’d never had one before but had always wanted one) so I ordered a green chile chicken bowl with a sweet corn tamale.

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It was delicious! The tamale definitely lived up to my¬†expectations! ūüôā

After dinner, Catrina and I headed over to a bar called Backyard where we met up with a couple of her friends.

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After Backyard we headed to a bar called¬†The Local and then finished up our night at another bar called Open Bar (I think – hopefully I’m getting all these names right). All of the bars were so much fun and they had some great music for dancing! The last bar played Killing me Softly at the very end of the night, and we all had a blast singing the words out loud in the crowded bar.

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It was such a fun night of bar hopping and dancing,¬†and¬†we had an absolute blast. ūüôā

Sunday

Catrina and I both took off from work on Monday, which left us plenty of time for a Sunday Funday! We started off¬†at a restaurant called Tavern for breakfast, and upon arriving I hit up the bloody mary bar for a spicy bloody mary with bacon. ūüôā Yum!

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For breakfast, Catrina recommended the breakfast bun which is a bacon, egg, and cheese sandwich with garlic aoli on a pretzel bun.

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It was absolutely fantastic, and I didn’t mind the extra calories since this was a vacation and all. ūüôā

After my bloody mary I ordered a Moscow mule – one of my new favorite drinks – and was once again in my happy place. There were no windows in the restaurant, and the sunshine and good company had me feeling great.

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After brunch, Catrina and I met up with a few more of her friends (this time from CrossFit), and we spent the day watching football and hanging out in some more beautiful Pacific Beach bars.

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My absolute favorite bar of the day had to be Shore Club, a spot right on the beach with a view of the Pacific Ocean. Seriously!! That’s the ocean!

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Later in the day a group of us headed back over to Local, where we watched the sunset from a roof deck. San Diego is just too pretty.

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It was another super fun day of bar hopping in Pacific Beach, and luckily we savored our drinks fairly slowly so things didn’t get too out of hand. ūüėČ We finished up the evening with dinner at Duck Dive¬†and¬†ice cream sandwiches from the Baked Bear (true story) before calling it a night.

I promise part 2 of my San Diego¬†recap is a lot less boozy and a lot more healthy, but hey – it’s vacation!

Question of the day:¬†Have you ever seen someone surfing in real life? I hadn’t until the train ride – it was incredible!

 Posted by on November 17, 2015
Nov 122015
 

I’m baaaaack! After 12 days of running around beautiful California, I was more than ready to sleep in my own bed last night. I have a lot to share with you guys about my trip, so I decided to break it up into two posts: one about my time in LA and one recapping my fun in San Diego.

Ready? Here we go!

On Halloween morning, I hopped on the plane to LAX (with a dream and my cardigan – welcome to the land of fame excess, am I gonna fit in…sorry I couldn’t help myself).¬†The flight itself was pretty uneventful, and after working on a PowerPoint presentation on my laptop for a while I was able to get some sleep. When the pilot¬†announced we were beginning our decent I started getting excited – check out those mountains!

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Yep, definitely not on the east coast anymore!

After we landed and picked up our luggage,¬†a few of my coworkers and I¬†took¬†a cab to downtown LA where we’d be spending the next week. My work meeting was held in the Los Angeles Convention Center right next to the Staples Center and the LA Live hub, which is in the heart of downtown. (Or at least that was my impression…)

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During my stay I resided in the Luxe hotel, which was nice enough and had plenty of fluffy bathrobes and slippers. #Priorities

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My favorite part of the Luxe hotel though was the outdoor patio on the second floor. It was beautiful!

I didn’t have to be at the convention center until Sunday, so on Saturday afternoon I enjoyed the sunshine while getting some work done on my laptop. The weather was 80 degrees and absolutely perfect. Even though I was busy working, I was in my happy place.

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The rest of my week was spent cooped up inside the freezing cold¬†convention center. I can’t tell you how sad it was to walk past windows with blue skies and palm trees only to be stuck in a dark concrete air conditioned building. Bleh. Luckily the meeting itself went really well, and everyone was really happy with my work. Yay!

Even though I had lots of work to do and some¬†days I had to be at the convention center at 7:00 am and didn’t stop working until 9:30 at night, I was still able to squeeze some fun into¬†my time in LA.

First, let me tell you about my workouts! On Sunday morning, I ran a speedy two miles (average pace was 7:53 – not sure how that happened!). I was planning to run¬†farther, but I had one glass of wine too many with my coworkers the night before, and didn’t leave myself as much time in the morning as I would have liked. Plus my head was seriously pounding with every step. Oops. Oh well, two speedy miles is better than none!

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On Monday morning, I joined my coworker Kelly for a quick gym session! There weren’t a ton of machines in the hotel gym – just one treadmill, a bike, and an elliptical – but we made it work. After spending 10 minutes on the¬†elliptical with a steep incline and high resistance, I completed the following countdown workout that I had saved from Pinterest.

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It was a good one, and it was perfect for the hotel gym¬†since it didn’t require any equipment. After that, I ran about¬†.3¬†miles on the treadmill before getting distracted in the realization that I could see the Hollywood sign out the window. Obviously I hopped off the treadmill to take a picture (which came out horrible – I’ll spare you) at which point Kelly and I decided we were done working out for the day.¬†Good enough!

On another morning (they all started to blur together toward the middle of the week…) I used my ClassPass flex city option to take a spin class at YAS. YAS stands for Yoga and Spinning and offers a variety of yoga and spinning combo classes. I only had time to take a 30 minute spin class (and even that had to be at 5:30 am for me to have time for it) but I would have loved to continue with the 30 minutes of yoga that followed. What a cool concept!

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The class itself was fast-paced and challenging with a good assortment of music. I can’t say I liked it as much as my favorite DC studios (FlyWheel and Biker Barre at the moment) but it was still good! If I ever make it back to YAS I definitely want to try the yoga too.

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Other highlights from the week include outings with my coworkers! Running a meeting is hard work, so we made sure to celebrate appropriately.

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On Thursday night, our meeting hosted¬†a big party at the Belasco theater. We had the whole venue to ourselves along with an open bar and live band. Here’s my coworker Trimmer showing off his dancing skills with an older lady. What a trooper.

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The dance floor was quite the scene and we had a great time observing all the (older, mostly white/not-rhythmic) doctors and researchers tearing up the dance floor and pumping their fists to Katy Perry. Honestly it was some of the best people watching¬†ever, and combined with the free drinks, my coworkers and I had a great time. ūüėČ

After the party, a smaller group of us headed up to the rooftop of the Standard hotel and a bar called Perch. It was a beautiful evening and – although I prefer¬†the DC and NYC skylines to LA’s – I had¬†to admit LA was pretty fantastic. So much fun!

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For my last night in LA, a group of us took a cab into Hollywood to check out the Walk of Fame.

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We spent about an hour walking up and down the streets looking for famous names. There were so many, I took a bunch of pictures of my favorites.

We also found the Zoltar machine from the movie Big, which I must have watched 100 times as a kid.

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Zoltar

[Source]

#90skid

Overall it was a great week, even though the work part got pretty stressful at times. Everyone seemed really happy with how the conference turned out, and I got to have some fun while we were out there too!

On Saturday morning, I took an uber to the train station that would take me down to sunny San Diego. Recap to come!

Question of the day: Have you ever been to LA? What did you think? What about Hollywood?

I actually didn’t love LA in general (it was so spread out and I didn’t like that you couldn’t walk everywhere) but that weather?! Man, that’s enough to make me move west in itself.

 Posted by on November 12, 2015
Sep 222015
 

Hi friends! Today I’m popping in with the final recap of our European adventure: Paris! If you missed any of the earlier recaps you can find those here:

Friday

On Friday morning, Fabio and I arrived in Paris after a quick 40ish minute train ride from Reims. Not bad! We quickly dropped off our bags at our friend Bryan’s apartment and then set off to explore.

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Thanks for hosting us, Bryan!

Fabio and I have been to Paris once before, but since we were only there for a few days we only had time to tour Notre Dame and climb to the top of Eiffel Tower. Both of us regretted not visiting the world-famous Louvre museum on that trip, so we made sure to knock it out during our first day in Paris this time.

Everyone always says to get to the Louvre super early to avoid long lines, but Fabio and I decided to do the opposite. We sort of figured that everyone waits in the long lines early in the morning, so theoretically the lines should be much shorter in the late afternoon.¬†We decided to buy tickets for 3:00 pm, and since it was a Friday the museum didn’t close until 10:00 pm anyway, giving us plenty of time to explore. We bought our tickets online ahead of time and then picked them up from a little tourist¬†office close to the museum.

After picking up our tickets, we stopped for lunch where we shared two French essentials: French onion soup and a croque monsieur!

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Both were delicious!

After lunch, it was time for the museum! We entered through the secret side entrance along the Porte des Lions and literally had NO line. None! We were inside right away.

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Once inside the museum we purchased audio guides for about 5 euros, which were totally worth buying. Since the museum is so huge, we came prepared with a list of “must-see” displays and then just casually browsed through¬†everything else.

Obviously we saw the Mona Lisa, which was frankly rather underwhelming. Something about the crowd of people swarming in front of it and taking selfies just really detracted from the beauty of the piece. It was also much smaller than I expected.

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Hmm. Not my fave.

While in the museum we also saw the Venus de Milo, Raft of Medusa, Winged Victory, Coronation of Napoleon, Psyche Revived, and some of the jewels from ancient Egypt. I loved all of these! Even with just visiting those few displays, Fabio and I spent more than two hours in the museum.

Honestly I didn’t really enjoy the Louvre¬†that much because I felt like it was too overwhelming. Even though I knew this going in, I was still disappointed that I couldn’t really enjoy what was in front of me because there was just too much STUFF everywhere to compete with! Sheesh. Still, it was a must-do experience and I’m so glad we went.

Later in the evening we met Bryan back at his apartment and then headed out to a fun dinner at Maguey! Bryan is studying at Le Cordon Bleu culinary school in Paris, which is why he’s living there right now. Some of his professors recommended Maguey to him, so he took us with him to check it out.

When we arrived, we were given a menu with four adjectives on it (in French). We were told to pick two adjectives each, and then our menus would be created based on the words we chose. Cool! I picked convivial (friendly) and soyeux (silky).

My first dish was mushrooms with savory corn pancakes and some sort of sweet corn whipped cream on top. It was SO delicious! I especially loved the little corn pancakes.

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Each dish also came with some sort of beverage, so while the boys’ dishes came with wine, mine came with whiskey! Yikes! As the waiter explained what was on each dish he mentioned that whiskey came “all the way from Pennsylvania in the USA” which I thought was pretty funny. ūüėČ

Next up was my main dish: lamb with pistachios and hazelnuts in a pistachio puree with blackberries. I loved the unique flavors and components to this dish. So good!

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This time I got a delicious red wine that was nice and earthy. The waiter told me to expect it to taste “leathery” (in a good way…) and he was so right!

Cheese plate intermission! We all split this course before dessert. Cheese plates, in Paris especially, are just the best thing ever. Gimme all the cheese! <3

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Then it was time for dessert! I was surprised with a plate of fresh figs, merengue, and berry ice cream. Delicious!

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I had a sweet dessert wine with this course which I usually don’t love, but this one paired perfectly with the lightly sweet dessert.

At the end of our meal our waiter brought over our menus so we could see everything that we had just had.

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I absolutely loved the element of surprise with this meal, and I liked that the boys both had totally different meals as well. How fun! Definitely check out this restaurant if you’re looking for a fun meal experience in Paris.

Saturday

Fabio and I didn’t have any plans until 1:00 pm on Saturday, so we took our time lounging around in the morning. I think the long trip was starting to catch up with us!

Finally we got ourselves together and headed down the street to grab something to eat. We had passed a bakery the day before that sold delicious-looking sandwiches on baguettes, so we gave that a try. I chose one with ham, tomato, lettuce, and mayo on it. Fabio captured my look of sheer joy after my first bite.

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This was literally one of the best sandwiches I’ve ever had – it was just so simple and delicious! Sigh. I need more of that bread.

After eating, Fabio and I made our way down to the Fountain Saint-Michel at 1:00 pm for another free walking tour! Fabio and I had so much fun doing the Sandeman’s free walking tour in Amsterdam that we decided to do it again in Paris!

We spent the next 2.5 hours exploring the beautiful city and learning so much about the history. Fabio and I had so much fun during our tour, and we both agreed that these tours are an absolute must-do in a new city. They are so informative!

The tour took us through the Latin quarter (which I always assumed was named for Hispanic/Spanish people, but is actually named that because of the international students who used to come study at the nearby Sorbonne university, where Latin was the common language everyone spoke. Cool!), Notre Dame, Pont Neuf, Louvre, Tuileries gardens, and more.

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We once again had a fantastic time and I can’t recommend these tours enough! I feel so knowledgable about Paris now. ūüôā

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After our tour we checked into our Air BnB for the night (Bryan had some other friends in town on Saturday night). It was absolutely minuscule – seriously my freshman dorm room was bigger – but it was so cute and efficient! It had everything we needed!

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At this point Fabio and I were feeling a little hungry again so we turned to recommendations left by our Air BnB hosts for a local bakery, cheese shop, sausage shop, and wine shop. Now that’s my kind of shopping. ūüėČ

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Snack time! Why can’t I eat like this every day?

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Later in the evening we cleaned ourselves up and met up with Bryan, his two friends, and our friend Michelle who was randomly in town too for dinner! We went to Pershing Hall and it was the perfect location Рgreat ambiance and food!

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We ordered the appetizer sampler to share among the six of us – holy food platter!

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Everything was fantastic. For my meal I ordered cod with a seaweed salad and it was SO. GOOD. Dare I say the best fish I’ve had in my whole life?

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Seriously delicious.

After dinner we headed over to Andy Wahloo, a trendy bar that Bryan has been to a couple times before.

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Once we got there we realized it was only two doors down from our Air BnB! Literally two doors! Talk about convenient! ūüôā

The cocktails at this bar were phenomenal and I enjoyed an old fashioned with a chocolate spoon. Yes, a chocolate spoon.

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Cheers!

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Sunday

On Sunday Fabio and I headed over to the Musee d’Orsay which I was really excited about. I’m a big fan of impressionist paintings so I couldn’t wait to check out my favorites! Since it was the first Sunday of the month admission was free, but the line was pretty long (we stood in line for about 45 minutes). Still, not too bad!

Housed in an old train station, the museum has some beautiful architecture and cool clocks.

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Fabio and I spent almost an hour and a half walking all over the bottom two floors of the museum without seeing any of the famous impressionist paintings we were expecting to see (except Van Gogh, who we had just seen in Amsterdam).

Where was all the Monet? Finally we asked at the front desk and found out that all the paintings we wanted to see were housed on the fifth floor. Ah!

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Finally we found what we were looking for and spent some time soaking in the beautiful works of Monet, Degas, Renoir, and more.

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These are two of my all time favorite paintings!!

This Renoir painting also holds a special place in my heart; my grandma painted a copy¬†of it and when I was little she used to tell me the blonde one was me and the brunette was my cousin, Sarah. I had to take a picture for her. ūüôā

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Such a great museum! Next time I think we’ll just head right up to the fifth floor and skip most of the downstairs. ūüėČ

After our museum we grabbed a quick lunch (another croque monsieur only it’s called a croque madame because it had an egg on top. Funny.)…

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…and then we enjoyed some crepes with nutella and banana for dessert! We ate them outside of an old church while a live band played music and little kids danced around. How Paris.

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Later that¬†evening we joined Bryan for dinner at the wine bar at L’Avant Comptoir, which was recommended to us by a bunch¬†of people!

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The L’Avant Comptoir restaurant is usually really crowded, but the standing-only wine bar is usually a little more manageable. We were able to get a spot at the bar without too much trouble.

At this restaurant, foods are featured on cards that hang on the ceiling!

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To order we pretty much pointed at different foods and the bartender would bring them out to us. Everything was tapas-style (i.e., small plates) so the three of us were able to try a bunch of different foods!

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Fresh mozzarella and pesto

One of my favorites was a savory waffle with ham on top.

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I also had to try a fois gras macaroon! It was really good!

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After our meal we walked off all our food by climbing the steep steps to get to Sacre Coeur!

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Our 270-step climb rewarded us with breathtaking views of the city.

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(I left my DSLR back in the apartment, so you’ll have to use your imagination.)

From there we each bought a small cup of gelatto and then sat back and enjoyed the view.

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I can’t think of a better way to end our European vacation!

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So fun! Ok, I’m ready to go back now! ūüôā

Question of the day: Have you ever been to Paris? What was on your must-see list?

 Posted by on September 22, 2015
Sep 182015
 

Hello, hello! Happy Friday to you all! Today I’m coming at you with the second to last recap of our European vacation. I can’t believe there’s just¬†one more recap to post next week! In case you missed the first few posts, you can catch up on those here:

Let’s jump right in! Warning: it’s another long one!

After a fun day in Brussels, Fabio and I hopped on an early morning train to Reims, one of the major cities in¬†the Champagne region in France. When Fabio and I were first planning our trip we knew we wanted to see another French city other than Paris, and since Reims is in the north (i.e., close to Belgium) and¬†is known for its plethora of champagne houses, we were sold. The train ride didn’t take long at all, and before we knew it we had arrived in our first French city of the trip!

Our Air BnB was a quick 10 minute walk from the train station, and after dropping off our bags we headed out for lunch. Our Air BnB host recommended an adorable lunch spot called Central Park Cafe, which was basically a bunch of tables and chairs set up in a small park with a fountain. What a beautiful location!

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When our waiter came to the table it became clear that we were not in Belgium anymore Рthis guy knew zero English and the whole menu was in French. Luckily I took some French in college so I could at least string a few words together, but it was very different from the Belgium atmosphere where everyone spoke English.

Fabio and I both decided to order steak et frites Рsteak and fries Рmostly because someone seated at a table nearby got it and it looked delicious, plus it was something we could pronounce and recognize.

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Luckily we were NOT disappointed! This meal was absolutely delicious and I think it was our first realization that the food in France was going to be so much better than anything we had eaten so far on the trip. It was so simple and tasty!

After lunch it was time for our first champagne tour of the day: the Veuve Clicquot house!

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Fabio and I are big fans of Veuve Clicquot champagne so we were really excited for the tour. Upon arriving we met with our guide and learned a bit about the history of the brand.

Apparently it was founded by Mr. and Mrs.¬†Clicquot in 1772, and¬†when Mr.¬†Clicquot passed away in 1805, everyone assumed the champagne brand would die out too. Luckily for us, Mrs.¬†Clicquot decided to keep things going, which was very rare for¬†that time period. Mrs.¬†Clicquot actually did a great job of getting the champagne into the hands of buyers, and soon this female entrepreneur had a booming business on her hands! I love this story of girl power back in the day. ūüôā By the way, Veuve means “widow” in French, hence the name Veuve¬†Clicquot.

After hearing about the history of Madame¬†Clicquot, as she was known, we headed down into the cellars!¬†Our guide warned us that the cellars are seriously huge, and we shouldn’t wander too far from her or we might not be able to find our way out. It’s like a gigantic maze down there!

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While we were underground, our guide explained how champagne is made. I actually think is a pretty cool process!

To be considered champagne, the grapes have to be hand-picked from the champagne region in France. There are three different kinds of grapes that are picked, and the grape juice is stored in separate containers based on what type of grape it is and which village in the region it came from. They used to store the grapes in big wooden barrels, but now they use stainless steel.

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Once the grape juice is fermented and becomes¬†still wine, professional tasters come in to select the right blend of grapes. Depending on the harvest from that year, sometimes they use all three types of grapes and sometimes they use just one. The tasters have a really sensitive pallet and are good at figuring out how to blend the grapes create the same taste year after year. I wouldn’t mind that job!

Once the mixture is just right, they bottle up the champagne and then add yeast and sugar to it to create the bubbles. Fun fact: when champagne was first created, it used to be super sweet, almost like a soda! Gross.

Once the yeast and sugar are added to the bottle, they leave the champagne in the cellars for about three years to let it age.

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Then when the yeast is dead, they have to extract it from the bottle so you get a nice, clean (not-gritty) taste. Apparently this involves storing the bottles upside down so the yeast falls to the neck of the bottle, and then – get this – they put the neck of the bottle in a freezing liquid so the champagne with the yeast turns into an ice cube. Then they open the bottle and remove the yeasty ice cube. Weird right? Who knew so much work goes into a bottle of champagne.

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After the cellar tour was complete, it was time for the tasting!

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Ah, this was definitely the best part of the tour. ūüėČ

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Fabio and I each enjoyed a tasty glass of bubbly and then bought a bottle to take with us to Paris. So delicious!

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After the tour, Fabio and I had some time to kill so we sat in the sunshine at some cute tables outside of the Clicquot house.

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So fun!

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Up next we headed over to G.H. Mumm for our next tour! We heard a lot of similar information about making champagne at this tour, but I liked that they focused a little less on the brand itself and a little more about this unique industry in France. They also had a whole room full of old tools and gadgets that people used to use to make champagne, which I thought were really interesting.

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Like Clicquot, the cellars at Mumm were gigantic! This never-ending hallway holds tons and tons of champagne bottles.

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During our tour, someone asked if there is any interesting graffiti on the walls in the cellar. Our tour guide told us that since the original Mumm family was German (Mumm is a German name) the Nazis actually occupied the champagne house during WWII, and you can find some of their graffiti¬†on the walls throughout the cellars. Apparently the Nazis let the¬†Mumm workers continue making champagne, as long as they shared the bottles with them. As a way of getting back at the Nazis, the Mumm employees would give them all the bottles that hadn’t been aged yet (so they were really bitter and too bubbly) and kept all the good bottles for themselves. The Nazis didn’t even notice they were getting crappy bottles, so it was a nice little show of resistance on the Mumm employees’ part. Just another fun fact for you! ūüôā

After the tour it was time for another tasting!

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Fabio and I had never tried Mumm before, but we both liked it a lot.

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We will definitely keep our eyes out for these bottles in the future!

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After our Mumm tour, we were ready for dinner! Per another recommendation from our Air BnB host, we decided to check out Le Clos, an adorable outdoor bar with quirky driftwood furniture and strung-up Christmas lights.

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When we walked up to the bar we could see that everyone was drinking champagne – almost no one had mixed drinks or beer – so we decided to join in with a bottle of our own!

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We had so much fun sitting in this cute outdoor bar with our bottle of champagne and just reminiscing over our trip so far.

Eventually we got hungry and were considering leaving to find someplace with food, when a food truck pulled up and started making gourmet cheeseburgers and fries! Sweet! The smell alone was enough to make that decision easy.

We decided to get one more bottle of champagne a couple of burgers. YOLO!

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The burgers were incredibly delicious, and Fabio said it was the best burger he’s ever had.

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It was such a fun evening!

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By the way, this bar got really, really crowded when the sun went down, and we didn’t see¬†any other tourists or people who spoke English! It was so fun feeling completely immersed in the¬†French culture. ūüôā

After finishing our champagne we decided to wander around the city a bit, since I had heard that the Reims cathedral is really beautiful at night. I’m so glad we did this, because just look how pretty it is!

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(Even with the renovation being done in the middle part…)

Fabio and I had both seen the famous Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris before, and we were surprised that this cathedral was maybe even more beautiful because of all the ornamental decorations on the outside.

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I think we spent a good twenty minutes just walking around the exterior of this beautiful church and taking in all the details.

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We especially liked the gargoyles, and some of them reminded us of Jack.

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Overall we had such a fun time in Reims, and I would 100% recommend it if you’re looking to spend a day outside of Paris.

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Take me back, please!

Question of the day: When was the last time you had champagne and what was the occasion?

P.S. All of this history and¬†champagne¬†making information is just from what I remember hearing during our tours. I think¬†I got all the details right, but there’s always a chance I mixed something up! I’m definitely no champagne making expert!¬†

 Posted by on September 18, 2015
Sep 152015
 

Hello there! Today I’m back with the third recap of my recent trip to Europe! If you missed my first two¬†recaps you can find them here:

I hope you guys are still enjoying reading these because I’m having a lot of fun writing them. Today’s recap is another long one and an alternative title could have been “The Time I Drank All The Beers.” Ready? Here we go!

Brugge

On Tuesday morning, Fabio and I were up bright and early to make a day trip from Ghent to Brugge! Brugge is only about 30 minutes away from Ghent by train, making it the perfect destination for a day trip. The train tickets are interchangeable throughout the day, so even though we bought a ticket for 10:00 am we could have gotten on the train at any time. I love that we didn’t feel rushed at all!

Once we arrived in Brugge we quickly settled in for some breakfast, which featured waffles of course! #WhenInBelgium

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Once we were fueled up, we once again turned to our trusty travel book from Rick Steves and began exploring the beautiful old city. First up was a trip up the bell tower!

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It cost us less than 10 euros to climb the tower and although we had to wait in a bit of a line to enter (they only allow about 40 people up the tower at a time) it moved quickly. After just five minutes of waiting, we began our ascent. The steps were super steep and narrow, and it was really hard allowing people to come down as we went up. We really wanted to make it to the top of the bell tower at the top of the hour so we could hear the bells ring, so we took the 350ish stairs pretty quickly. Phew! This was definitely a workout.

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Eventually we made it to the top in time to hear the bells toll! It was really, really loud and very cool. I loved it! The views from the top were amazing too.

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So pretty!

After climbing back down the¬†bell tower (which was also tricky), our walking tour with Rick took us to some of the other major sights in Brugge including the Burg square…

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The old fish market…

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…and of course the Church of our Lady with a Michaelangelo sculpture!

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Funny side story: While we walked around Brugge we saw a bunch of people following the same walking tour in the Rick Steve’s book. We kept bumping into them everywhere and followed the same people¬†around all day! One of the stops required us to go into the Crowne Plaza Hotel and ask the receptionist if we could see the old ruins in their basement. Apparently the hotel was only allowed to build on that location if they allowed visitors to view the ruins whenever they want. This attraction wasn’t very well publicized¬†at all, and when we got down to the basement we met another couple following Rick’s walking guide. I bet the only people who go down there have Rick’s book! Haha!

Toward the end of our walking tour we arrived at the¬†Brugse Zot brewery, which was on the top of Fabio’s list¬†for must-see Brugge attractions. We quickly booked a tour with the brewery and sat down to wait for our turn.

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The tour itself was really cool, and we loved hearing all about how this beer is made right in Brugge. In the old days, they used to deliver bottles of the beer¬†to people in the morning – sort of like milk bottles used to be delivered. I’ll take one overnight order of beer please! ūüėČ

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We also got to head up to the roof of the brewery to see where the smoke used to come out when they used to roast the malt themselves. It was another gorgeous view!

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After the tour was over we were treated to two of the blonde beers, which were delicious.

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Next we tried the double beer, then the triple beer, and then decided our trip wouldn’t be complete without trying their fourth beer, the quadruple, as well. At this point we were pretty tipsy – especially since each beer was stronger than the last – but we were happy that we had tried all the beers made at the brewery. When we told the waiter that we had tried them all he looked at us with something akin to pity and told us that they actually had a fifth beer out for the summer. Ahh! We thought we had tried them all! He was then nice enough to bring us one of the summer beers to share (for free!) so we could really say we tried them all. Phew! #AllTheBeers

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We were feeling pretty good at this point (no surprise there)¬†so we finished up our walking tour with a bit of a beer buzz. ūüôā I honestly can’t remember any of the history¬†about this lake or this house, except that it was beautiful and there were swans. Haha!

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Our tour ended back at the main square, and Fabio and I enjoyed walking around for a bit longer before we decided to call it a day and head back to Ghent.

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What a fun day trip!

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Later on in Ghent we enjoyed dinner at a delicious meatball place and then headed to a bar for – drumroll – some more beers. (More! Ah!)

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Honestly I was pretty beered out by this point, but the atmosphere of the bar was really fun!

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Fabio was on a mission to try all the Belgian Trappist beers (special beers made by monks that have all these specifications) so I had fun¬†trying those with him even though they weren’t beers I would normally enjoy.

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We wrapped up our beer-tastic day with a gorgeous stroll around the canals.

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Seriously, how pretty is this city?

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I think Ghent might have been my favorite place we visited. It was just so unexpectedly beautiful!

Brussels

On Wednesday morning we headed off to Brussels! It was another quick train ride, so we arrived bright and early and ready to explore. We once again brought Rick Steves along for the trip and followed his walking tour around the city.

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After the medieval beauty of Ghent neither one of us were honestly that impressed with Brussels, which felt like it had all the dirt and grime of New York City but without all the charm. It was pretty for sure, but I think we both enjoyed the smaller cities like Ghent and Brugge better when it came to Belgium.

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Naturally we had to stop and see the Manneken Pis – Brussels’ famous statue of a peeing boy – but we found it totally underwhelming and weird. Why is this their most famous statue?!?

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During our walking tour we got hungry for lunch, so we turned¬†to Rick for a suggestion. Like usual, he didn’t disappoint! We found a cute little walk-up fish bar in the middle of the cute St. Catherine neighborhood.

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I have to say that the closer to France we got, the better the food became! Fabio enjoyed some perfectly cooked kibbeling (white fish) and I had some amazing shrimp croquettes. Delish!

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This lunch was easily the highlight of our time in Brussels. It was SO good!

Once our walking tour was done we spent the rest of the afternoon meandering around and trying a few different chocolates and waffles.

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I wound up getting a plain waffle at the Waffle Factory and it was the best one I ate during the whole trip! Perfectly warm, fresh, and delicious.

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I’ll take one of those now, please.

For dinner we went to Fin de Siecle, a traditional Belgian restaurant that was recommended to us by a couple of different friends. The food was delicious and we loved the atmosphere. It was definitely a good dinner spot.

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After dinner it was time for – what else – more beers. We headed over to Delirium village, a collection of bars that got recommended to us by every person we know who has ever been to Brussels.

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Delirium has the world record for the bar with the most types of beer sold, and I believe it. Just look at this menu!

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Fabio started playing a game where he flipped through the book and then placed his finger randomly on a page to decide which beer he wanted. It was a fun game, but we wound up with some pretty gross beers in my opinion. (Cherry beer? No thanks.)

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We wound up meeting two girls from Australia who I instantly bonded with, and then we left the bar once they got cozy with two guys from Ireland. The bar was so international!

After two long days of exploring and overloading on beer, I was perfectly¬†happy to head back to our Air BnB rather early. I was also really happy that we were headed to France the next day and didn’t have to drink any more beer! Woohoo!

Final thoughts on Belgium: I really enjoyed the smaller cities in Belgium (Ghent & Brugge) as opposed to the bigger ones (Brussels). I also really liked seeing how the culture changed as we moved south. When we started our trip up in the Netherlands, everyone spoke Dutch and English and had a very easy-going attitude. The culture was also like this in Ghent and Brugge, but in Brussels (which is further south) everyone spoke French and the culture was more similar to the French. Historically, Belgium has had a huge clash between the French and the Dutch, and I thought it was really interesting to see how these differences continue today.

Question of the day:¬†What’s your favorite beer?

 Posted by on September 15, 2015
Sep 112015
 

Today I’m coming at you with part 2 of my recent European adventure: Ghent! If you missed part 1 (Amsterdam) you’ll want to read that first here. Ready? Let’s dive right in!

Fabio and I left Amsterdam on Monday morning and hopped on the train to Ghent, Belgium! On our way we stopped in Antwerp, which we’ve heard is another beautiful Belgium city. Just look at the train station!

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Next time, Antwerp.

Our train ride took no time at all and soon enough we had arrived in Ghent (or Gent, as the Belgians spell it). We quickly dropped off our bags at our Air BnB, which was close to the city center and very clean and spacious. Perfect!

For our entire trip in Belgium, Fabio and I relied heavily on a travel book from Rick Steves, which was a recommendation from one of Fabio’s coworkers. Neither of us had ever used a Rick Steves book before, but now that we’ve traveled with one we will never leave home without it! Rick’s spot-on suggestions, down-to-earth nature, and quirky sense of humor had us exploring the three Belgian cities like a couple¬†of pros, and his book¬†didn’t leave my side the entire time we were in the country. It looks like his books mostly cover Europe, but he does have books for a few other areas which is nice.

For Ghent, Rick provided step-by-step directions for a two hour walking tour around the city center, so as soon as we dropped off our bags we headed out. After about a 10 minute walk, Rick – as we lovingly started to call our invisible travel guide – led us to this amazing view.

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I don’t know what Fabio and I were expecting from Ghent, but it was not this. We were both completely blown away by the beautiful medieval scenery. Check out all that gothic architecture!¬†IMG_5171

Rick did a great job of leading us through the city and explaining the historical significance of each building. In addition to outlining¬†the history, his book offered fun facts and hysterical descriptions of everything (e.g., he referred to a sculpture of a male angel as a “frat bro” because he was sculpted to be muscular with a smirk on his face).

He also had separate tours of most of the main attractions, including in this case, St. Bavo’s cathedral. He told us what to pay attention to in the cathedral, and explained the significance of the beautiful Ghent altarpiece (which I read about in Monuments Men, so I thought it was pretty cool). A piece of the altarpiece was actually being restored while we were there, and we could peek in on the men who were working on it. Eek! I could¬†not handle the stress of a job like that. What if you messed up and ruined the whole thing??

Our tour also took us up into the bell tower, which offered amazing views of the city.
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I loved this bird’s-eye view of the cathedral with its flying buttresses.

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I’m sure anyone else out there who is a fan of the books¬†Pillars of the Earth and World Without End can appreciate some flying buttresses. ūüėČ

Halfway through our walking tour, the skies opened up and completely drenched us – despite us having rain jackets – and we had to run into the nearest building. Luckily for us, that just building happened to be a coffee shop with fresh waffles! Yes!

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Here I had my first true Belgian waffle, complete with chocolate and whipped cream. It was as amazing as it looked. IMG_5181

Take me back!

Soon the rain petered off to a drizzle, so we continued our walk and headed over to a castle!

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Now it wasn’t a very big castle by any means, but neither Fabio nor I had ever been in a castle so we thought it was really cool. The views at the top were also¬†amazing. Ghent is just so pretty!¬†IMG_5194

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I also liked these views from the windows in the castle. It was sort of hard to envision the people who would have lived here. Can you imagine if this was your bedroom window?

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The castle also featured a room with old torture instruments and drawings of how they would have been used. We were then led into the dungeon, which had creepy music playing. Yikes!

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Cercei, are you in there? (GoT reference, sorry.)

Overall, we loved our day exploring in Ghent!
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What a ham. 

Once we finished the walking tour, we took a break for beers because that’s what you do in Belgium. ūüôā¬† IMG_5255

Eventually our stomachs told us we needed to run on more than beer and waffles (though that doesn’t sound too bad…) so we asked our waiter where we could find¬†some traditional Belgian food. He recommended a place called Aba Jour that was right on the canal nearby. Fabio got stoveri – beef stew – and I got some kind of chicken stew that might have been Vol-Au-Vent but I’m not entirely sure. Our food was great, but overall I don’t think I’m a big fan of Belgian food. They should stick to beer, chocolate, and waffles. ūüėČ

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After dinner we were pooped so we called it a night and went back to our Air BnB. What a fun day!

I was going to try to recap Brugge and Brussels in this post as well, but this recap is already entirely too long. You’ll have to wait for next week for those!

Question of the day: When you travel, which of these do you use: map, tour guide, mobile app, travel book, recommendations from locals?

 Posted by on September 11, 2015