We recently visited Seattle, over a cold and rainy weekend, but we didn't let that slow us down. We discovered it was a fun city to explore rain or shine! This was a work trip for my husband, so we had limited time to see the city, but we made the most of it.
If you're headed to Seattle anytime soon, here's some of the places we hit and enjoyed!
This is an obvious stop, but a must-do! Whenever we are traveling to a new city, we like to spilt our time between super touristy spots and places the locals hang out. This touristy spot provides some gorgeous views, along with the history of the city and how the needle was constructed.
Tip: Bundle up (you'll be glad you did!) and go before noon and you'll save $10.
Website: Space Needle
Pike's Place Market
Another hot spot and tourist destination! It's the market of all markets. There is plenty to do and see as you stroll through this nine acre market place - try local foods, explore the historic district, visit with local artists, watch the fishmongers at Pikes Place Fish Market shout orders and throw fish to each other, shop antiques and much more. I think we explored at least four floors of shops and it's all impressive! Plus, the original Starbucks is located right on the corner outside of the market.
Website: Pike's Place Market
This was such an interesting stop. There are only two Starbucks Reserve Roastery and Tasting Rooms in the country - this one in Seattle, another in New York and they are currently building one in Chicago. This one is just nine blocks from the original Starbucks at Pike's Place and this 4,000 square foot store showcases the entire coffee making process. You can watch the coffee beans roasting, taste rare Starbucks Reserve brews and specialty drinks, take the stairs in the library to the overlook to watch the entire production. It's a very unique and interesting experience.
Website: Starbucks Reserve
During this quick trip, we were able to meet up with my aunt and uncle who have lived in the Seattle area for many years, so they were our tour guides for an evening! We drove over the long bridge from downtown to Bellevue just as the sun was setting, which made the landscape even more beautiful.
We were having so much fun catching up, I hardly took any photos. We grabbed drinks at JOEY Bellevue, before heading to the botanical garden to see their Christmas light display! For dinner, we went to Serafina (more on that below) before driving back over the bridge and through the beautiful downtown area. They were wonderful tour guides, driving us through all the hot spots and sharing the history of the city. Such a fun night exploring!
Tilkum Place Cafe
We stumbled upon this place through Yelp since it's close to the Space Needle, which was our next stop. The coffee was incredible, the food was equally delightful and they were very accommodating and switched out the sides for us.
Address: 407 Cedar St. Seattle, WA 98121
Brave Horse Tavern
This was a fantastic brunch spot! They had shuffle board, darts, plenty of TVs to watch the football games, and great, efficient service. To start, I ordered my favorite, a spicy bloody Mary and it came with a short local brew too - both were delicious! For an entree, I chose the Smoked Brisket Hash, which was "smoked brisket, sweet onion, pickled peppers, house ketchup, breakfast potatoes, two eggs." Absolutely phenomenal.
Address: 310 Terry Avenue North, Seattle, WA 98109
This is a quaint little Italian restaurant located in the Bellevue area. My aunt and uncle took us here during our trip to the east side of Seattle and it did not disappoint! On the left was my entree, one of the specials described as, "braised beef short rib, baby potato confit, cipollini agrodolce, haricot vert, red wine jus, gremolata." It was superb. I didn't snap of photo of everything, so the one on the right is from Yelp, but it's what my husband ordered. He had the Rigatoni Bolognese, which was "anderson ranch lamb, fennel sausage, marjoram, pecorino."
Address: 2043 Eastlake Ave. East Seattle, WA 98102
Post AUTHOR: GRACE
It's the most wonderful time of the year! Autumn and the State Fair of Texas! If you have never been, you truly are missing out.
What could be better than a trip home to Dallas during October to enjoy family AND an afternoon at the fair?
Rach and I were both in town for my baby shower, the weather finally cleared up (it’s been raining for weeks in Texas!) and so it was the perfect day for strolling around the fair.
There is SO much to see and do! From the farm animals, to the shows, to the food, to the rides...you really can't go wrong. There is definitely something for everyone, young and old! And, did you know, it’s the longest running fair in the nation as well as one of the largest? Everything’s bigger in Texas!
Our first stop was to get a Fletcher's Corny Dog. It’s a once a year treat and, you guys, this is hands down my favorite food at the fair. It is SO good! Pregnant Grace was in absolute heaven. I paired that with fresh squeezed lemonade (also a must) and it was pure bliss.
There are some wild food and drink choices at the fair. The 2018 Big Tex Choice Award winners were Fernie’s Hoppin’ John Cake with Jackpot Sauce, Arroz con Leche (Sweet Crispy Rice) and Cotton Candy Taco. New drinks to try this year were Corn Dog Ale, Orange Julia’s Beermosa, Frosty’s Frozen Hot Chocolate, Cherish Erbert Champagne and Kool-Aid Pickle-Dilly Sangria.
For me, I’ll stick with the tried and true favorites!
It's always a blast to try your hand at the various games on the midway and they have SO many to choose from. I don’t even need to play, I have as much fun watching other people spend a ton of tickets just to try their luck at winning an oversized teddy bear. And sometimes, they do!
Your day at the fair will NOT be complete if you don't treat yourself to a good old fashioned funnel cake! I could eat an entire one by myself, but since fried food doesn't always make me feel great after, we all decided to share one. It was perfect! They are so light and delicious, I have to have one at least once a year!
The barns! One of my favorite places to stop. From the farm animals, to the crunch of the of hay underfoot, to the pride on the 4-H kids’ faces as they show off their livestock. I love it!
We couldn't get over the size of the cattle. They were HUGE! And they cannot be bothered, trust me, I tried to pet them. Not my best idea. 😉
There are multiple stages around the fairgrounds with live music everyday - something for everyone. There’s also hundreds of daily activities, exhibits and shows for the whole family.
I love getting to be with family as much as possible, so this was a special day for me. My feet may have been killing me by the end of the day, but my heart and belly were full of good food and wonderful family memories made!
If you have never been to the State Fair of Texas, mark your calendar now and plan a weekend trip to Dallas next year.
The fair runs for just over 3 weeks (usually opens the last Friday of September) and is open 7 days a week from 10 am to 9 pm Sunday thru Thursday and 10 am to 10 pm Friday and Saturday.
Some interesting things to now before you head out to the fairgrounds -
* Children under age 3 are free
* Admission for children under 48” is $14
* Admission for seniors (60+) is $14
* There are various discounts available for general admission, so check online before you go
* Strollers are available for rent
* You can bring wagons, coolers and food
* State Fair coupons are $.50 each and can be used for midway rides and food
* Coupons can be purchased at the coupon booths throughout the fairgrounds
* The Red River Showdown football game between the University Of Oklahoma Sooners and the University of Texas Longhorns takes place at the Cotton Bowl Stadium at Fair Park during this time - a ticket to the game includes admission to the fair, making it an exceptionally busy day at the fairgrounds!
Be sure to mark your calendar for next year so you can join the fun and spend a day exploring the great State Fair of Texas!
Post author: grace
A few weeks ago, my hubby spoiled me with a little out of town trip to celebrate the upcoming arrival of our sweet baby, Asher.
He asked me a few months ago where I would like to go for a babymoon and I knew right away that my first choice was Rosemary Beach, Florida. We'd never been before but had heard wonderful feedback from friends that had visited there.
My husband is the best of the best when it comes to planning and he took care of all the details, I just got to show up. What a blessing!
We decided to drive because it's an easy 7 hour road trip and with beach gear, we knew we would need a car. We are both fairly early risers so we hit the road early and arrived at our Airbnb around 3 p.m. It was the perfect size for us and was so adorable, not to mention CLEAN! It was also in the perfect location! We were right in Rosemary Beach and able to walk everywhere.
We got settled and set out to explore. When we started walking around, we realized we were famished so we stopped at the cutest little Tapas restaurant called La Crema Tapas and Chocolate. It was delicious! We ordered a yummy seafood dish and a delicious chocolate molten cake. We were in heaven after a long drive!
The following day we headed over to Alys Beach, not far from Rosemary Beach. Every building at Alys Beach is white and I love the clean lines. It was so incredibly beautiful and we found our new favorite coffee shop, Fonville Press.
The coffee is amazing and the breakfast is even better! We went here several times to grab coffee, eat breakfast or read before heading out to dinner. It was such a cute little spot with the perfect ambience. This is a must if you go to Alys Beach.
It was our goal to get to the beach each day between 9 and 10 am. This was perfect because we had plenty of space to set up before it got crowded. We spent a few hours each day catching some rays, enjoying the feel of the sand between our toes and splashing around in the water. I love being at the beach ... all I need is a good book and good company and everything else takes care of itself.
We had amazing meals every day, but my absolute favorite was at Cafe 30A. It was incredibly delicious and they do a two-for-one special if you arrive between 5 and 6 p.m. for dinner. Luckily, I'm an early dinner kind of gal, so this special was made for me.
I cannot emphasize enough how much of a MUST this place is. I don't think I've ever had a better meal ... that's how good it was! Plus, it's super close to Seaside which is an absolutely adorable little town you won't want to miss.
What are your favorite things to do at the beach? If you've been to Rosemary Beach, leave a comment below with your favorite thing about it!
POST AUTHOR: RACHEL
It's a Santschi family tradition.
We are spread out across the country, have crazy work schedules and often don't get to be together for the holidays. But we treasure spending time together and exploring a new city is one of our favorite things to do, so a few years ago our parents decided that in lieu of giving us gifts for Christmas, they would give us a one week family trip. Mom and Dad get to pick the location, somewhere we've never been and then on Christmas morning we each get an envelope with a post card revealing our next adventure location.
It's a win/win for everybody - we get a great trip and a whole week of dedicated family time! The challenge is finding a week that works for everyone, but somehow it always works out.
This year it was Grand Cayman!
We rented a beautifully furnished 3 bedroom condo on the northern end of Seven Mile Beach. We found this condo through VRBO.com, which is a great way to save on lodging costs. It was just a quick walk across the street to the beach and it came with kayaks and snorkel gear available for us to use.
Unfortunately, we arrived at the tail end of a tropical storm that was passing thru so we had a rainy start, but the good news was that we had plenty of food, drinks and family games on hand. We made the best of it and enjoyed sitting on the covered balcony listening to the sounds of the island and a summer country playlist.
Once the storm finally passed, we were excited to hit the beach to enjoy the sun, sand and beautiful ocean.
Here's some tips and recommendations if you are planning a trip to Grand Cayman!
Dad's daily breakfast spread can't be beat, so having a fully stocked kitchen is essential! We usually plan to have lunch or dinner out at least a couple of times during our trips - experiencing the local cuisine is always fun - but half of us like to cook and the other half don't mind cleaning up, so we prepare most of our meals at the house.
Also, we had heard that meat can be particularly pricey in the Caymans, so before the trip, Mom and Dad stocked the freezer at home with some of our favorites, vacuum sealed everything and loaded up a couple of soft sided coolers to bring with them. They had direct flights, so everything was still frozen solid upon arrival and we just thawed it as needed throughout the week.
We hit up the local grocery store and liquor store right after we arrived and filled the fridge with all the essentials for the week. Mom and Dad already had a meal plan prepped (and even brought our favorite spices, in case we couldn't find them on the island!) so we were just filling in with fresh fruit, veggies and dairy items. It really made that initial trip to the grocery store quick and easy. Of course, we went back to pick up a few extra items throughout the week, but the store was just a couple of blocks away.
We also had a great time exploring the island! Here's a few tips for excursions and some delicious food recommendations.
BIOLUMINESCENCE KAYAK TOUR
There are lots of excursion options available and plenty of places to explore! My dad does a fantastic job of researching and finding the best opportunities. We did two excursions during this trip.
The first was a two-hour bioluminescent kayaking trip through The Sweet Spot. Basically, it was a night kayaking trip through the ocean as it lights up like a glow stick. We met our group at sunset at Rum Point, got our instructions, our life jackets and started out on our tandem kayaks under a clear, star filled sky. Our guide did a great job explaining what we were seeing and stopped along the way to show us starfish and camouflage jelly fish. It was incredible!
We ended up in a cove where the water glowed brightly. A few brave souls in the group threw on their snorkel gear and jumped into the dark water to see the glowing light below the surface. Always up for a new experience, my dad was not going to miss this once in a lifetime opportunity and in the water he went. He was thrilled to report that it was stunning!
The tour is about 3 miles of paddling and takes about two hours and requires moderate paddling. You will get wet though, so bring a change of clothes or towels for the ride home.
SNORKEL, starfish & stingrays
The second tour was out of this world! It was through Acquarius Sea Tours and it was a full-day three stop trip. We were able to bring food and drinks, so we loaded up our cooler for the day's adventure.
The tour company provided transportation to and from our condo to the dock; which was very convenient. Once everyone was checked in and onboard the boat, we made our way out to a secluded area of the ocean. There were a few sprinkles during the boat ride out, but there was plenty of covered seating for everyone as well as a bathroom onboard.
The water was shallow, blue and crystal clear. Our first stop was snorkeling near the coral reef. They provided the snorkel equipment and even took complimentary underwater photos of everyone so we could just enjoy viewing the colorful underwater life. It was amazingly beautiful!
After snorkeling, we headed off to our second stop - Starfish Point. You guessed it, it's a beach area where many starfish can be found. Our tour guides picked up a few of the starfish to bring them closer to the group and explained how to hold them. You can't bring them above water, but you can pick them up and rest them on your hand under the water. They start out stiff, but once they begin to relax on your palm they become flimsy and their tube feet crawl around on your skin. It was a very unique experience. At this stop, again, they take free photos that everyone can have access to online after the tour.
From Starfish Point, we had one last stop, saving the best for last - Stingray City. We ventured quite a way out into the ocean and had the chance to swim with stingrays! Our guide was basically a stingray whisperer. Without offering the animals any food to lure them over, it was as if they knew him and came straight over to visit. He flipped a stingray up on our backs and said it was "the best massage you'll ever get." It was so interesting. We were able to touch and feed the stingrays and even KISS one!
We had a fantastic time on this tour! It was such a fun day and a wonderful memory to make as a family!
I would highly recommend Acquarius Sea Tours if you are in the Caymans. The whole crew was wonderful, shared anecdotes and loads of information about the island. It was one of the best tours our family has ever been on!
the sunshine grill
Everyone recommended we stop by this incredible restaurant known for their fish tacos and WOW! It's no wonder it is Trip Advisor's #1 rated restaurant in the Cayman's. The Sunshine Grill is a must! It's located inside the Sunshine Suites Resort along Seven Mile Beach. We stopped here for lunch and sat at a poolside table shaded by an umbrella.
A few of us ordered their "World Famous" Island Fish Tacos with grilled mahi and a side of Sunshine Scramble, which is a mix of deep fried fries, mushrooms, onion and jalapeno. Yum!
While we waited, we enjoyed a competitive game of Ring on a String and Hook game. The guys were thoroughly entertained!
The food was absolutely phenomenal and flavorful, and the portion sizes were more than plenty. Plus, after lunch, they brought us mini ice cream cones. Delicious!
kaibo beach restaurant
Another restaurant we visited was KAIBO Beach Restaurant near Rum Point. It is right on the beach with spectacular views of the ocean. We grabbed a booth facing the beach and ordered a number of items including some wood fired Cayman sausage pizza, buffalo wings, conch fritters and some other local cuisine. All of it, of course, paired well with a few fancy drinks in hand.
For dessert, they have some delicious ice cream and sorbet, which was the perfect way to cap off our meal while watching the sun set over the water.
Overall, an absolutely wonderful trip was had by all!
Even though the first few days were filled with rain clouds, the last few days were full of sun and so much fun.
We don't typically revisit a destination, but we've decided we might need to give the Cayman Island another chance. The tropical storm had the waters churned up a bit and the winds were pretty steep, but over and over again we heard how unusual it was for them to have a storm like that. We are already looking forward to a second trip to this beautiful island!
Regardless, it was a blast and, once again, we had an extraordinary Santschi family vacation!
post author: rachel
The final stop of our two week trip in Australia and New Zealand was to Auckland, which is on the north side of the island. Upon landing, we hopped on the SkyBus, which was a really easy way to get around town, plus there was a stop just a couple blocks from our AirBnB. It was a small apartment in the perfect location, right in the heart of downtown. We dropped our backpacks and went to explore the city and find dinner. We stumbled upon a Spanish style restaurant near the Sky City Tower called Bellota. Two sangrias and a large seafood platter later left us happy and full after a long travel day!
As I've mentioned in previous posts, throughout this trip we made it a habit to stop at the grocery store on the first day we arrived in a new city. We found that having snacks on hand, or breakfast readily available made for a quicker start to the day and saved us money. Buying a few bottles of wine also helped cut costs because the price for one bottle at the store was the same for one glass at most restaurants.
Following dinner, we walked to the grocery store to stock up, headed back to the AirBnB, opened some wine and watched a movie on Netflix to end the night.
Wine tour day! Can you tell we love wine?
We got up early, walked down to the Harbor and boarded a ferry for Waiheke Island - an island just off the coast of Auckland that produces some of New Zealand’s best wines. We stopped at a two wineries - Casita Miro and Thomas Batch - and one distillery - Dellows.
After the tour, we asked our guide to drop us off at Mudbrick Vineyard. We had dinner reservations there and were extremely excited to try it. It did not disappoint! This place is a MUST-TRY! When we arrived, we went to the tasting room and sampled some amazing wines. Neither of us favor white wines, but their Chardonnay was one of the best we've ever tasted. We then hiked up on top of the hill that’s located right behind the vineyard and were treated to the 360-degree views of the ocean and the entire island. Such an amazing sight! Take a look at the photos in the gallery below to see the view.
We then walked back down to the vineyard and found a bottle of wine and table in the shade to relax, snack and enjoy the out-of-this-world view. Ironically, our waitress was from Oklahoma and had just moved to NZ a few weeks before. It was fun to chat with her, hear her experiences and how she up and left the states to explore the country.
When we finished our bottle of wine at Mudbrick, our waitress had recommended walking over to Cable Bay Vineyards. It was a quick walk up the road and had more of a relaxed hipster vibe. After grabbing one last glass of wine, we ventured out to the patio area, which was a large lawn filled with bean bags overlooking another absolutely phenomenal view.
After visiting as many vineyards as we could on Waiheke Island, we decided it was probably time to head back to Auckland. We split a cab with another family back to the pier and caught the ferry to the city just as the sun was setting. What a beautiful sunset! To think, we almost paid to take a sunset dinner cruise! Save the money and just hop on the ferry at the perfect time.
We were up early and at the bus stop to meet our tour guide for Hobbiton - the location for the filming of The Shire in The Lord of the Rings series, and The Hobbit - and the Waitomo Caves - a cave filled with glowworms lighting up the walls.
The tour company we used, unfortunately, was horrendous. It was through Great Sights - do not use! Due to holiday traffic (it was Good Friday), and our driver not leaving on time, it took us over half the day to get out there! It's normally just over a two hour drive from Auckland, but the heavy traffic disrupted our plans. Since we arrived in Hobbiton so late, we missed our time slot for the Hobbiton tour and missed our chance to get over to Waitomo Caves on time, which we were the most excited about.
The good news was that the Hobbiton employees were able to shuffle a few things around and fit us into another tour for the movie set. Our Hobbiton tour guide led us through The Shire, walking along the same trails the hobbits used in the movie. She shared tons of movie facts, grounds keeping stories and even let us go inside a hobbit home! We walked through the 12 acre set and saw all 44 hobbit homes on the property that are exactly as they are in the movie. At the end of the tour, we went inside the Green Dragon Inn and were treated to an apple-cider ale. It was such a neat experience.
Peter Jackson, director of The Lord of the Rings series, is regarded as a king in New Zealand and it's incredible to hear about his work, his keen eye and his creativity. His attention to detail is absolutely impeccable.
This is well worth the journey! I'd suggest a different tour company than Great Sights or rent a car and make the trek out there.
This was our last day of the entire trip. Our flight was that evening on Air New Zealand (highly recommend this airline!), so we had the whole day to continue exploring the city. We had to check out of our AirBnB that morning, so instead of lugging around our 15lb backpacks all day, we packed our smaller day bags with the essentials and stored our backpacks in a locker at the bus stop. It was the cheapest and safest way to ditch our luggage.
We wanted to see the city all at once in just one day...the solution - the hop on/hop off tour through Auckland Explorer Bus. We bought our tickets, grabbed the map, circled which places we wanted to stop, and made our way through the city.
We started on the red bus and made our first stop at the Bastion Point lookout for some out of this world views of the island, just breathtaking. Then we hopped off by the Parnell Rose Garden, which contains over 5,000 roses.
At the museum, we switched to the blue bus to explore Mt. Eden and Maungawhau, which is the highest volcano in Auckland. The last eruption was about 28,000 years ago, leaving a crater 160ft deep. We walked to the top in just under an hour, and let me tell - it was worth climbing that hill! At the top it was a 360° view of the city! Such a magnificent sight.
We made the long trek down the mountain and back to the red bus. Our next stop was to a gorgeous park. We had packed a few snacks and one last bottle of wine in our bag, so we found a cute bench in the park near the trees and flowers and enjoyed the last of our New Zealand wine and food.
After indulging, we made our final stop of the tour - the Sky Tower. Our bus tickets included passes to the Sky Tower, the 23rd tallest tower in the world. It was a fun and unique way to see the city. Just outside the base of the tower, we stumbled upon a festival. There were a number of locals, vendors and dancers. It was a wonderful way to experience their culture and put a cap on our trip.
This two week journey was one of the best of our lives! My husband and I loved every second of Australia and New Zealand! During our bus ride to the airport we were already talking about when we could return.
Thanks for following along this trip with me!
post author: grace
Living in Nashville definitely has it's perks! There are always tons of fun things to do, amazing restaurants to try, and music everywhere. Having friends and family visit gives us lots of opportunities to try new things and explore our city a little wider and deeper... adding to our ever evolving list of must-sees/dos list! Currently, here is some of my favorite things to do in Nashville.
1. Arrington Vineyards
About 20 minutes outside of Nashville, Arrington Vineyards is a gorgeous hillside winery. Their wines are delicious and fairly priced. We never miss an opportunity to take friends and guests here.
You can pack a picnic, purchase gourmet chocolates, cheese, crackers and sausage on site or take advantage of the gourmet food and picnics offered by Simply Living Life. Bistro tables and tons of picnic tables are available or spread a blanket out on the lawn under a shade tree and, if the weather isn't cooperating, there's a fun barn with seating available too.
On Friday evenings from May thru October, they host Food Truck Fridays where you can enjoy live music and food from Simply Living Life and different food trucks. Visit their website here for the food truck and music schedule.
On Saturdays and Sundays from April to October they host Music in the Vines. Jazz groups are featured in the courtyard by the tasting lodge while bluegrass bands are by the Grand Barn.
The second Wednesday of each month, they host Cigar Night from 6 - 9 p.m. in the courtyard. My FIL would LOVE this -- live music, cigars and wine.
All of these events, as well as parking, are free!
But Sunday afternoon is by far my favorite time to visit Arrington because it offers the ideal setting to relax and recharge for the coming week. And what could be better than family and friends sharing good wine, good food, good conversation, and a gorgeous sunset? Now that's my idea of the perfect start to a new week!
2. Belmont University
Belmont University is set on 84 gorgeous acres near downtown Nashville. I first toured the campus grounds with my parents a few years ago and it was absolutely breathtaking! The architecture is stunning and the garden area is exquisite.
The university is open for guided campus tours Monday through Friday, but campus maps are available so you can tour the campus at your own pace if you'd rather.
To avoid city traffic or searching for parking, try an Old Town Trolley Tour. You can hop off the trolley, explore the campus and hop back on the next passing trolley. Plus, you'll get to see and learn about many more points of interest in Nashville.
3. 12 South
This is a wonderfully walkable neighborhood -- shopping, eating, drinking, playing -- you name it, it's here.
The small boutiques are unique and eclectic and there's a broad range of goods and price points. Something for everyone, for sure!
Food and drink options in 12 South are endless! Most notably Edley's, Burger Up, Five Daughters Donuts, Frothy Monkey, etc. It is the perfect area to sit on a patio and people watch for hours.
Also, the surrounding residential street are adorable. I could walk up and down those streets admiring the beautiful homes for hours.
And on Tuesday afternoons, from May to October, be sure to visit the 12 South Farmer’s Market in Sevier Park (hours are 3:30 to 6:30 p.m.) In addition to the amazing food and produce vendors, you'll find some of the city's best food trucks here.
4. The Listening Room Cafe
The Listening Room Cafe, located in Sobro, is a fairly new one-of-a kind venue and is the PERFECT live music Nashville experience. They've built a reputation for attracting the biggest songwriters and artists in the music business.
It's always a great time and pretty affordable (usually $5 - $15 cover).
People come for the music, but can enjoy food and drinks too. They offer lunch, dinner and late-night appetizers as well as a Saturday brunch.
I highly recommend giving this place a listen and you can check our their upcoming shows here.
5. Edwin & Percy Warner Parks
Edwin and Percy Warner Parks are awesome! These two parks are adjacent to each other, separated by Old Hickory Boulevard, and cover more that 3,000 acres. The parks are absolutely beautiful and have great hiking trails, horse trails, cross country courses, picnic pavilions, play areas, bathrooms, and a dog park.
The trails are well marked, suitable for all fitness levels, and shady so you can enjoy a hike through the hills even on the hottest days of summer. Also, they are pet and bike friendly.
These parks are just a few miles from downtown Nashville, yet being here feels a million miles away from the city. This is my favorite place to join a friend or two for a good hike, even better conversation while enjoying the beautiful surroundings and peacefulness of nature.
If you have never been to Nashville, start planning a visit to our remarkable city now. The people are friendly, the food is out-of-this-world delicious and the sights and sounds are abundant!
If you have been to Nashville, let me know what your favorite spots are!
post author: rachel
New Zealand is such a gorgeous and breathtaking place to visit!
In case you missed it, my husband and I took a two week trip in March, each with only one backpack, and explored Sydney, Cairns and Melbourne, Australia and then hopped over to New Zealand. It was an incredible experience and a trip we'll be talking about for a very long time.
March, by the way, is the start of the fall season in Australia and New Zealand so we had wonderful weather and were able to enjoy all the beautiful scenery. Check out the photo gallery at the bottom of this post for more astonishing views!
We caught an early flight from Melbourne over to Queenstown on JetStar, which we chose because it had the cheapest flights available. We had a 3-hour flight and, unlike traveling to Australia, you do not need a visa, you just need to show your flight itinerary when departing the country.
The view from the plane (photo above) was breathtaking! We were so ready to explore this beautiful land!
Upon arrival, we went through customs, which we found had some very strict regulations. They are very sensitive to any foreign substances being introduced into the local eco-system. Therefore, you have to discard all fruits, veggies, nuts, foods, etc. You also have to declare any golf shoes, other sports equipment, hiking boots, essentially anything that might contain bacteria or spores that could be introduced in New Zealand and have a negative impact on the environment. Not only do they police it intensely, but it’s also a $400 minimum fine for any item that you didn’t declare prior to arrival. They ask you about what you have in your bag and then it is sent through an x-ray machine for further examination.
Once through customs, we taxied over to our Airbnb. It was a small unit on the first floor with a wall of large windows overlooking the water and the mountains. Beautiful! We also had access to the hot tub in the backyard and, it was phenominal!
We took a quick tour of the place, dropped our backpacks and walked into town for lunch. Queenstown is situated along Wakatipu Lake and is nestled on the side of The Remarkables mountain range. The leaves were just starting to change colors, which added to the beauty of the town.
As we strolled through this quaint little town, we did a lot of window shopping at the boutiques, coffee shops and restaurants along the way. The town reminded us a lot of Breckenridge, Colorado, but with more spectacular views.
For lunch, we stopped at Public Kitchen & Bar, near the water. As I've mentioned in previous posts, my husband and I shared most of our meals when we ate out because the portions were usually more than enough and it helped us save a few dollars along the way. Plus, we always had plenty of snacks on hand if we needed them throughout the day so we were never famished when we sat down to order a meal.
We shared some delicious fried squid with aioli and a fried chicken burger. Yum! The only things better than the food, were the views of the majestic mountains, the crystal clear water and the impressive boats. The restaurant had massive windows lining the back wall and it was the perfect place to relax and enjoy the view.
After lunch, we did a bit more walking and wandering in an out of small shops, stocked up on a few groceries and wine for the next few days and then stopped at a local coffee shop. We enjoyed some much needed caffeine while sitting outside on the patio people watching ... one of my favorite pastimes.
Town wasn't from our AirBnB, but with our shopping bags, we decided to grab a cab back. We spent the rest of the evening relaxing in the hot tub and enjoying a bottle of wine, a few snacks, and some music. A perfect first day in New Zealand!
Day two was scheduled to be a full-day of adventure, but unfortunately the weather did not cooperate that morning and our trip to Milford Sound was canceled. The weather cleared up by noon and we were fortunate to be able to participate in the second half of the tour that afternoon -- a wilderness adventure and a jet boat ride up the Dart River! What an experience and one of our favorite tours.
The tour bus picked up around noon and headed down the highway that runs alongside Lake Wakatipu. The views were spectacular and, I promise you, the photos don't even begin to do it justice. Along the route of our 45-minute drive, our driver made several stops to let us enjoy the breathtaking views and to share stories with us about the history of the town.
When we arrived in the small village of Glenorchy, situated at the head of the lake, our excursion started with an off-road tour out of town and into Mt. Aspiring National Park, which is a UNESCO protected piece of the country. This area of land has been used to film the Lord of the Rings movies, The Hobbit movies, X-MEN: Wolverine, and several other Hollywood blockbusters. Experts say it has become a popular destination for filming movies because of the remote location. There are no power lines, highways, or any other human interference in this area. As such, several different movies have used the exact same mountain backdrop for their shots...and the audience is none the wiser. Mount Earnslaw is the most popular site for these filmings and after seeing it first-hand, it’s more amazing in person than on the big screen.
After a quick tour around the beautiful landscape, our guide led us on a on an easy hike through the forest and shared the history of the land.
We then met up with our jet boat driver for a trip up the Dart River. The jet boat was a 15-person speed boat that operates much like a jet ski. We cruised through water that was just a few inches deep and our driver took some exhilarating 360-degree spins with ease! The water is all fed from a glacier range and runoff from any big rains in the area so, the water levels are constantly changing. Because of that, the boat drivers have to be highly skilled to navigate those ever changing waters.
We sped through the river, twisting and turning, and occasionally stopping to appreciate the breathtaking sights -- magnificent waterfalls, crystal clear waters, towering peaks. We were awestruck by the Lord's beautiful work. It almost seemed too majestic to be real!
After an hour or so in the boat, our driver dropped us back in Glenorchy to rejoin the bus and head back to Queenstown. As we departed, our driver presented each of us with a small piece of the local greenstone. It is a sacred stone that early inhabitants of the area pulled out of the river beds and is considered a treasure. Greenstone is protected and you cannot take it without specific permits and permissions. It is widely used in making jewelry and sculptures today and we were thrilled to receive this special keepsake.
When we got back to town, we weren't quite ready to call it a day so we headed up the hill to the Skyline Gondola - one of the steepest cable rides in all of the world. This area of the world is truly a thrill-seeker’s dream! From the gondola, you can hang glide, bungy jump, swing 300 meters across the valley, or ride the popular Skyline Luge. Wow!
The Skyline Luge is essentially a motorless go-kart that rolls down a winding track of small hills and tight turns. The track also is at the top of the summit so it offers incredible views of Queenstown, Lake Wakatipu, the Remarkables Mountains and everything in between. Absolutely fantastic sights!
After enjoying several runs down the luge, we headed back down the hill towards town to find some dinner. We stopped at the legendary Fergburger, which came highly recommended from multiple sources. Upon arrival, it was a 30 minute wait to get to the counter to place your order and another 20 minute wait to get your food. Based on a tip from our jet boat driver earlier in the day, we called Fergburger (while standing in line) and placed our order ... it allowed us to skip the line and cut the wait time in half!
While we waited, we went and watched the sun set over the mountains (a much better use of our time and a great way to avoid waiting impatiently in line). Once our food was ready - a Fregburger and fries - we made the trek back to our AirBnB where we enjoyed our dinner with a bottle of wine and a little more relaxing in the hot tub. All in all, a wonderful day!
We woke up early, but again to a rainy start to the day, so we made some coffee and sat back to watch the rain splash down over the lake. Just as we were finishing our cup of joe, the rain lightened up a bit so we threw on our rain jackets and made the walk into town for breakfast.
We stopped at Mrs. Ferg’s, a local coffee shop with a variety of options. We ordered more coffee, a delicious fruit smoothie and a breakfast wrap. Mrs Ferg's is a cute little shop and it was filled with locals -- it was a great place to really get a feel for the community.
The rain had picked back up again, so we used that time to check in with our families and FaceTimed our parents. They were so excited to see us and hear about our adventures!
Once the rain finally stopped, we found a gorgeous walking trail with magnificent views and a spring flowing nearby. We walked quite a distance on the trails before making our way back to town. We were anxious to try The Winery - they have over 80 New Zealand wines on tap - after friends of ours (thank you Georgia & Cody!) who had visited a few months earlier highly recommended it. It did not disappoint!
We had our fair share of local wine before heading to dinner by the water at Blue Kanu where we joined another couple we had met on our excursion the day before. They too were from Kansas and had attended K-State, so we had plenty to talk about! Our double date dinner featured tapas style entrees with tastes of the Pacific - Hawaiian, New Zealand and Polynesian inspired foods. Amazing flavors that all paired well with more of the local wine.
This was our last day in Queenstown and we had a couple more spots we wanted to hit before we left.
Our first stop of the day was to a place called Yonder, a local breakfast spot right in the middle of town. We got a mimosa, a Bloody Mary, and split an egg & bacon sandwich. It was all delicious!
Following breakfast, we enjoyed one last stroll through this small community with the gorgeous mountain backdrop.
There are stores of all kinds in Queenstown. Everything from souvenir shops to high-end retail outlets. We also discovered some interesting sweet shops too. My favorite was Cookie Time. It houses multiple types of edible cookie dough that you can buy by the scoop! So scrumptious!
We got a few scoops and took our treats over to the park where we lounged on a blanket near the edge of the lake and simply relaxed and did a little more people watching. The skies were blue, the breeze was cool and crisp, and, of course, the views were absolutely spectacular.
I would highly recommend adding Queenstown to your bucket list. It was paradise and should not be missed!
Next up - Auckland! Be on the lookout for that post soon. In the meantime, take a look at the photo gallery below!
Post Author: Grace
Happy Monday and Memorial Day! We are so thankful for all of the men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom. We hope everyone has a chance to reflect on the meaning of today and enjoy time surrounded by family and friends.
Rach and I are enjoying one of our favorite times of the year - when the entire family gets together and spends a week away on vacation. It's a time to catch up, rest, laugh like crazy and connect, not to mention it's always at a surprise location.
Our calendars are all crazy, we're spread out across the country and we don't always see each other for holidays. So each year we all find a week, save up, and take a trip together. Each Christmas morning mom and dad give us a postcard to reveal that year's location. This year - GRAND CAYMANS!
I haven't been on a beach trip in two years and it got me thinking, what are some must-haves for the beach? After getting some things together (I'm an early packer), I compiled a list of must haves that I think everyone should have before they leave for the beach.
1. Mosquito Repellent Bracelets
If you are anything like me, then you can't stand the smell of bug spray. It's a necessary evil though, so when I saw that there were cute little bracelets I thought it was a much better option!
2. Texturizing Spray
Texturizing spray is awesome for when you are at the beach! Your hair naturally wants to have a wave because of the sea salt and this is that extra boost for those waves! Enjoy not having to do your hair!
You always need a koozie, even if you are just drinking water! It will keep your drinks cold and you refreshed. Wouldn’t it be fun though get some fun custom made ones for the entire family?
4. Ziplock Bags
I know what you are thinking, boring! But these will save you so much trouble. We always put our phones, food, jewelry, etc in little ziplock bags to keep them safe from water and sand. You will be amazed at what a difference maker something so simple is!
5. Beach Coverup
You knew I had to throw something fashionable in there! But seriously, putting dry shorts over a wet body is the most uncomfortable thing EVER! Why not get something easy to throw over your swimsuit? I love oversized shirts for coverups or little rompers.
What are your beach must haves? Comment below and let me know!
Enjoy your Memorial Day and take a moment to remember those who have given their lives to protect our country.
Post Author: Rachel
Our next stop in Australia was Melbourne! In case you missed the first few stops on our tour down under, I wrote about our adventures in Sydney and in Cairns earlier this month.
We arrived in Melbourne around 2 p.m. We took the SkyBus, which is much more affordable than a taxi. The bus dropped off in the heart of Melbourne at the Southern Cross station, which was right across the street from our Aribnb. We just dropped our bags and started exploring the city.
We were so hungry after traveling all day, we immediately went looking for a good restaurant. Get this - we went to multiple restaurants and bars, but found that most places do not serve food until 5 p.m. What?! They all serve alcohol, but no food. We finally found a place called Nando's, which is an Australian chain, but it was new to us and was the only place with food so we grabbed a table and chowed down!
After lunch, our next stop was at the Melbourne Star Observation Wheel, basically a giant enclosed ferris wheel that slowly takes you up and around so you get a view of the entire city. We couldn't have picked a better time to do this because it was not busy and only a handful of other people were in line. We got our own pod to take in the city together! It's a huge pod with an in-cabin audio recording, in English, talking about the city, it's history and pointing out landmarks.
After seeing the magnificent city of Melbourne from above, we walked through the city to take in all the details of the architecture and the sights and the sounds of the culture. We discovered a really delicious gelato and ice cream shop across from the Star and tried as many flavors as they’d let us. They were all so incredible!
Walking off the abundance of gelato was imperative, so we strolled down to the water front to check out the amazing views of the city and the yachts docked nearby. We also stopped by a local market for some snacks, a few items for dinner and a couple bottles of wine before heading back to our Airbnb to get some laundry started.
At this point in the trip, we had already worn everything we packed, so we needed some fresh clothes...desperately! We made sure to book Airbnbs with washers and dryers specifically because we had chosen to limit our packing to what fit in two easy to carry backpacks and knew we'd need to do laundry every few days.
But if you have to spend an evening doing laundry, do it while sipping a glass of wine and overlooking the lights of Melbourne! Stunning!
We booked an all day bus tour on Melbourne Boutique Tours through Wildlife Tours and it was phenomenal from start to finish! We were picked up in the morning on a 15 passenger van and our driver was an absolute pro. He was super friendly, made a point of learning our names within the first few minutes, was professional and shared tons of information about every place we visited.
We started with a scenic tour along the Great Ocean Road. This is one of the most famous stretches of highway in the world - very similar to Highway 1, the Pacific Coast Highway, in California. Thousands of tourists flock to this route each year, and after experiencing it for ourselves, we completely understand what all the fuss is about.
Tip - Be sure to take some Dramamine before the start of this trip because these are very windy roads!
We spent about 90 minutes driving southwest of Melbourne, but on the way we stopped in a small town for coffee at a general store that houses some world class baristas and one of the best cups of coffee we had all trip. Delicious! We then enjoyed about two hours driving along the coastline and stopping here and there along the way for photo opportunities, to stretch our legs and take in the spectacular views.
During the next stop, our driver took us up the hill in this town called Lorne to an overlook where we caught the most breathtaking sight of the ocean and coastline. The water was an intense shade of blue and the waves were crashing along the coast - it felt like a scene from a movie; almost unreal, but remarkably beautiful.
Our small group piled back into the van and pressed on. Our next stop was in a small town where we were able to go on a short nature walk a few meters from the road. We saw a couple koalas and some cockatoos in the trees! A true Australian experience!
Next stop, the small seaside town of Apollo Bay. It was named after the ship Apollo that used to deliver goods to the port. We grabbed some lunch at the Bay Leaf Cafe, hit the restrooms, and kept rolling. At this point, we were about halfway through the journey with all the best stops still to come!
Next up, driving on mountain roads through the Great Otway National Park. We stopped for a 30 minute hike through the luscious rainforest that led to a dazzling waterfall and our guide was happy to share lots of history about the area. This section of the rainforest dates back over 300 million years and scientists say this was what Antarctica looked like prior to the Ice Age. Australia broke off from Antarctica and headed north - this piece of the forest is all that remains from those days. According to our guide, only about 5% of the original rain forest still remains as the rest has either burned via wildfires or been developed. This area is now a protected national park in hopes of conserving it for years to come.
After another 90-minute drive, we arrived to one of Australia’s most famous landmarks, The Twelve Apostles. It was an all day journey to get to Port Campbell National Park, home to the Twelve Apostles, but it was totally worth every minute. These “Apostles” are large limestone stacks that sit out in the ocean. Wind, rain, and the ocean tides have eroded away a lot of the coastline over the last 18,000 years, but these stacks still remain and, simply put, it was SUPERB seeing these awe-inspiring structures!
We also climbed down Gibson’s Steps, 94 hand carved steps in the side of a sheer cliff, that take you from the street level down to the beach below. We slipped off our shoes, put our toes in the sand and walked through the water admiring the incredible sights.
Fun fact - the Twelve Apostles were initially called the Sow and Piglets, but some marketing folks felt like a name change would increase tourism, and they were correct! This was supposed to be the tourism “off-season”, but you wouldn’t know that by looking at the parking lots. There was hardly an empty space to be found and bus after bus lined the roads with everyone trying to capture the perfect picture as the sunlight reflected off these amazing natural landscapes.
Just past the Twelve Apostles are more natural rock formations that we honestly thought were more impressive than the headline-stealing Apostles. A short distance further is the Loch Ard Gorge, which is potentially the most amazing area of nature we've ever seen. Two horseshoe shaped beaches are met by the ocean that has worked it’s way into this small bay with towering cliffs on both sides.
This area is named after a ship, the Loch Ard, that wrecked during a storm and was slammed into the side of one of these massive cliffs. Only two people survived, a 15 year old boy named Tom and a 17 year old girl named Eva. They were washed ashore and sought shelter until the next morning when Tom was able to go for help in the nearest town. He was able to lead help back to the beach to save the girl and was deemed a hero. The British government rewarded him with various accolades. As the story goes, both he and the girl went their separate ways and ended up back in the UK. Thirty or forty years later, the woman had become a doctor and, get this, was reunited with the man that saved her life, by saving his! He had become very sick and she was able to return the favor of saving his life. How there’s not a movie about this story baffles me!
By the time we loaded up and were headed back to Melbourne, it was about 6 p.m. Keep in mind, we started the day’s journey at 7 a.m.! It was a full day and we still had a 3-hour trek back to Melbourne. We got back to the city around 9 p.m. and were on a mission to find some dinner. Similar to our other struggles to find food in Melbourne, apparently most kitchens close at 8 p.m...so apparently you need to eat between 5 & 8 p.m. or you miss your chance at most places! After striking out a few times, we finally found a pub that was open and grabbed some food and a couple glasses of wine to cap off the night. A full day of driving, sight seeing and adventure, but some of the most rewarding views!
We woke up to a rainy Saturday morning and decided to venture out to find a breakfast hot spot. Taking the recommendation of some locals, we walked a few blocks in our rain jackets to a place called White Mojo, a hipster cafe in a side alley.
Side note - Melbourne has a lot of alleyways and each is filled with cute boutique shops and restaurants. The locals say it’s one of the few cities where you’re encouraged to venture down alleys!
We ordered some caffeinated artwork, or coffee as it’s commonly known, and the Big Breakfast - mac n’ cheese with bacon, cauliflower, mushrooms and a sunny side up egg, all served open face on a croissant. Could be one of the best meals we ate in Australia!
Having devoured our meal, we decided walking and burning off some calories was in order. We headed to the Queen Victoria Market, which is the largest open market in the country. It was lined with vendors selling everything from produce, to Uggs, to boomerangs and kangaroo leather hats.
This particular day there was an Indian Festival, so they had street performers teaching patrons local Indian dances, bands playing Indian music, and several food trucks and vendors selling Indian food, clothes and other products. A really cool experience to see many cultures come together at this event.
After the market, and continuing our day trying to do what the locals do, we grabbed some tickets for the Aussie Rules Football game that was at the nearby Etihad Stadium. It was the home opener for St. Kilda, the home team, and they faced the Brisbane Lions. The game is played a lot like rugby, but with a few twists. We sat by some locals who had a lot of patience answering our many questions as we tried to get up to speed on the rules of the game. By about the second quarter we started to get the hang of it. The game was a great way to get a little taste of the local culture!
Afterwards, we walked over to the market and purchased some sushi for dinner. There is a large Asian population in Melbourne and their food is incredible! We paired our sushi with a nice bottle of wine and took it back to the apartment where we ate, drank and packed our bags to prepare for a very early morning flight the next day over to New Zealand. Be on the lookout for that post next!
Post Author: Rachel
Following up on our adventures down under, after Sydney we flew north to Cairns to explore the Kuranda and The Great Barrier Reef. It's a very hot, humid and rainy part of Australia, but still an absolute blast!
When we arrived mid-afternoon, we checked into our Airbnb, found a restaurant nearby, walked along the coastline and explored the small town. We also made a stop at the nearest grocery store to stock up.
Budget saving tip - We were really excited about some tours and excursions we had planned, but they can be a bit pricey so we stretched our budget by making breakfast and packing our own snacks and lunches when we could. At the grocery store, we picked up fruit, breakfast bars, bread, peanut butter, jelly, etc. Having coffee and breakfast at our Airbnb, saved us both time and money. Plus, with the long days we had planned while in Cairns, it was nice to have our snacks and lunch ready whenever and wherever we happened to be exploring. We were willing to trade the luxury of eating all our meals out at a restaurant for the convenience and savings of making our own.
Pictured above is the view from the Airbnb we stayed at. It was breathtakingly beautiful! Although it's sunny in this photo, I would highly recommend packing a rain jacket. We discovered that just when we were convinced it was going to be a beautifully sunshiny day, all of the sudden there'd be a 10 minute rain shower! It wasn't ever a downpour luckily, just a pesky drizzle.
Our first full day in Cairns was all about adventure! We scheduled the Kuranda Scenic Railway tour through Down Under Tours. Turns out, this was one of my favorite tours and the best tour company of the whole trip. They were phenomenal and I highly recommend them!
The bus picked us up in front of the hotel that was directly across the street from our Airbnb. After a quick bus ride to the train station, we hopped aboard for an hour long trip to Kuranda. We enjoyed some of the most magnificent views of cane fields, waterfalls and the rain forest!
Once we arrived in Kuranda, our tour guide handed us a schedule of the days events and kept us moving. First stop, the zoo area. We met up with our zoo tour guide - basically Steve Irwin - and learned about some of the incredible animals native to Australia. Plus, get this, there were kangaroos just hopping around in the open space! All the other animals were behind fences but these friendly, which is rare, kangaroos were out saying hello and eating some treats right from our hand! How awesome!?
After seeing dingoes, spiders, emus, crocodiles, wallabies and many other amazing animals we were able to hold a croc and a koala! Did I mention this tour was incredible? Because it was!
After our thrilling morning, we enjoyed a wonderful buffet lunch - it was quite the spread, with lots of really tasty choices.
When we were sufficiently stuffed, we hopped on an Army Duck for a unique view of the rain forest. Our driver was a plethora of information about the various trees, poisonous leaves, edible plants and the insects native to the area. It was all very interesting, and a little terrifying to hear about what was in the rain forest!
Back on land, we strolled to the amphitheater where we were treated to a performance of native dances by The Pamagirri Dancers. They were not only entertaining, but funny too.
We broke into smaller groups and were led by one of the natives we had just met. They showed us how to throw spears at targets, how a didgeridoo works, and even taught us how to throw a boomerang ... it's surprisingly more challenging than you'd think, but fun!
So much adventure, but we weren't done yet. Next, we caught a bus for a quick ride to the gondola where we got an entirely new view of the incredible sights from above. On our way down, we were able to hop on and off the gondola to explore different parts of the rain forest. The waterfalls were massive and magnificent and the foliage was beautiful. We also saw lots of very strange insects.
I can't say enough great things about this tour. It far exceeded our expectations and was an absolute blast!
As you can imagine, by evening we were wiped out. Back at our Airbnb, we made sandwiches for dinner, enjoyed a glass of wine and relaxed. A good night's sleep had us ready to hit the ground running for Day Two.
Another full day on the agenda! We woke up early, had our smaller backpacks packed, sunscreen on and met up with our tour bus for our Great Barrier Reef adventure! The bus took us to the pier where we boarded a boat and made our way out to the reef, about a 45 minute boat ride.
Tip - bring Dramamine. This was a LIFESAVER for us! We popped some Dramamine while we were on the bus in preparation for the long boat ride ahead and it definitely saved us from feeling sick on the water.
The Great Barrier Reef is unquestionably one of the world's most fascinating destinations. Imagine pristine blue water filled with colorful reef and equally beautiful marine life. Simply gorgeous!
It was a fun-filled day! We snorkeled, spent time at the beach and took a tour on a semi-submarine boat!
Take a look at the gallery below for all the photos, which by the way, don't even begin to do it justice.
We had a great time on this tour, but realized that if we could do it again, we would scuba dive so we could see more of the coral and fish. Still an amazing experience though.
That evening we were craving some American food and we found a place off the pier called "Howlin Jay's" featuring some of Nashville's Hot Chicken! We grabbed a couple of beers, some hot chicken and enjoyed kicking back and listening to the lull of the waves rolling in.
After dinner, we wandered around the small town once again, enjoying the sights and the sounds before heading back to our room to pack. The next morning, we headed down south to Melbourne. That blog post is coming soon!
Thanks for coming along with me to Cairns and enjoy the gallery of pics below.
Oh my goodness, I have so much I want to share with you all about our amazing trip to Australia and New Zealand! I've done a fair amount of traveling, but never have I had the opportunity to take this kind of adventure - where we really had the luxury of time to explore and soak in what each city had to offer.
To keep from being saddled with luggage that had to be checked, retrieved and pushed and pulled from place to place, my husband and I each packed a backpack. Yep, we were able to fit everything we needed for 2 weeks in a backpack weighing about 20 pounds; easy enough for each of us to carry. We also brought a smaller backpack to use for our day trips, but it doubled as a carry-on for the things we wanted to have ready access to on the long flights over and back. Be on the lookout for more about what and how we packed in an upcoming blog post.
Over the next couple of weeks, I'll pour through all our pics and videos and give you a glimpse into each day's adventure. I'll also share what to do, what to skip, where to eat and recommendations for must see places along the way. It was a a blast and I hope you enjoy traveling along with me.
Our first stop on the list - Sydney, Australia.
We visited Sydney during the third week of March. We caught the tail end of the their summer and the start of fall. However, the temps were in the 90's and even hit 100+ one day. It definitely still felt like the dog days of summer.
Our 15 hour flight arrived around 8 a.m. local time and we hit the ground running! We knew we'd never recover from jet lag if we didn't keep moving. We dropped our bags at our hotel, changed clothes and got on the road.
Bondi to Coogee Beach Coastal Walk
We started with the scenic Bondi to Coogee Beach walk. It gave us a much needed chance to stretch our legs and take in the beauty of the city, enjoy the ocean breeze and soak in the sunshine. This popular pathway is situated on a clifftop along the coastline and offers fantastic views and plenty of photo ops. It's generally an easy walk, with a few stairs, and plenty of water fountains and restrooms along the way. Plan to take at least a few hours so you can stop for photos, bring good walking shoes, and, for sure, remember your sunscreen.
This place is GORGEOUS!! We were in awe of this particular spot. Everywhere we looked we saw the incredible work of God's hand.
While at Bondi Beach, we stopped at the Bondi Iceberg Club, threw our backpack in a locker and sat at the edge of the pool with the ocean waves roaring next to us. For just $7 we got a day pass with access to the pool and sauna and it was so worth it. A perfect way to forget about any jet lag!
Sydney Opera House Bar
It was St. Patrick's Day so things were bustling and people were out and about enjoying the holiday. The Opera House is a stunning architectural marvel that was the perfect backdrop for enjoying an after dinner glass of wine, a live band, the cool breeze and gorgeous scenery.
Before heading to Sydney, we researched some of the best places to grab a bite for breakfast and on our list was Motown Coffee Brewers. It was wonderful! We also discovered that Sydney has some of the best coffee around. If you're a coffee lover, this is the place for you.
This is an absolute MUST and it was one of the coolest experiences ever! You can see all of Sydney in the most spectacular way. Our tour guide's knowledge of the city was impressive and we learned so much about the history of Sydney. Plus, the views were out of this world!
As you can see, we donned some very fashionable gear for this excursion. HA! When we arrived at the BridgeClimb location, we watched a safety video, filled out paperwork, breathed into a breathalyzer (yep, can't drink before this adventure!), threw on these jumpsuits and were checked to make sure our harnesses and gear were clipped correctly. Everything from your hat to your sunglasses are clipped on because you are climbing about 450ft above a highway! No phones, cameras, jewelry, water bottles - you can't take anything with you. We were able to store the rest of our stuff in the free lockers they have available.
We chose to do the morning bridge climb, ascending the upper arch in about 3 1/2 to 4 hours. The views, particularly at the top of the bridge, were sensational. The climb leaders take pictures and videos for you along the way that are available for purchase at the end of the tour. You will want those once in a lifetime shots!
The climb wasn't terribly difficult, but we were definitely ready for some lunch and a cold brew when we finished. Our guide recommended the Australian Hotel so we gave it a try and our lunch was delicious! We were already stepping out of our comfort zone, so we ordered up a kangaroo burger and devoured it in no time. Also, it was fun trying a couple of different beers since they have over 100 on tap.
Later that afternoon, we hopped on a ferry and headed for Manly Beach for a little exploration of the Northern Beaches of Sydney. We heard so many great things about this spot and it didn't disappoint. We made our way to 4 Pines Brewery, a local beer company, and taste tested a few of their most popular brews. We claimed a spot on the patio to relax and enjoy the view on a hot Sydney day.
That evening we had reservations at Fish at the Rocks where we ordered oysters and split a seafood pasta dish. The staff was attentive, the atmosphere was cozy, and and we loved indulging in a superb seafood dinner along with a glass of wine. Highly recommend.
Our last day in Sydney, we got up early to see the sunrise. We walked over to the Sydney Bridge to catch the sun as it came up over the Opera House. It was absolutely breathtaking! We were so glad we didn't hit the snooze button and miss this brilliant view. It was out of this world magnificent and pictures just don't do it justice.
Once the sun was up, we walked back to find some breakfast and enjoy our last cup of delicious Sydney coffee before hopping on our next flight.
By the way, we split every meal during our trip. The portions were plenty for two and we saved some cash too. Speaking of cash, you aren’t expected to tip in Australia. Staff is paid minimum wage and tipping is not customary. But be aware that also means the service is much slower just about everywhere. We planned about two hours into our schedule for each meal to compensate for the slower service and that worked well for us. We were never rushed and learned to enjoy the slower pace.
Sydney was by far one of my favorite vacation destinations ever. I'm already looking forward to our next opportunity to take a trip down under.
After Sydney, we flew up to Cairns to explore The Great Barrier Reef. I'll have more on that coming soon! I can't wait to share more photos and videos with you from this incredible adventure.
My husband and I just got back from a wonderful two week vacation in Australia and New Zealand! It was amazing! If you follow me on social, you've probably seen some of the photos and videos already. It was absolutely stunning and one of the most incredible places we’ve ever explored. I have so much to share about each city we visited and I can't wait to tell you about all of our adventures!
First things first though. During the 15 hour flight from Los Angeles to Sydney, I discovered there are some crucial necessities on long international flights.
Essential - on the flight over, my skin, my nose, my lips, everything was extremely dry. I caught a quick glimpse of my dry, peeling skin in the mirror and yikes! I didn’t make the same mistake on our return flight though. I packed travel size containers of face and hand lotion in my carry on bag and applied it every couple of hours and what a difference!
2. Eye mask and neck pillow
For an overnight flight, you won't have the sun disturbing your slumber, but there are all kinds of other lights that will keep you awake - TV & phone screens, reading lights, etc. The eye mask blocks all of that out and helps keep the air from drying your eyes out too.
Another must-have is a neck pillow. It's absolutely imperative, even if you have the window seat. Most airlines will give you a small pillow, but they’re never quite the same as one you pick for yourself.
Invest in these two items for a more comfortable snooze and you’ll be glad you caught those ZZZ's before arrival so you’re ready to hit the ground running.
3. Drink plenty of liquids
During the flight to Sydney, I got a major headache and attributed it to lack of sleep and hydration. I was limiting my intake of liquids on the flight since I had a window seat and I didn’t want to disturb other passengers that were resting by getting in and out of my seat with several trips to and from the restroom. I definitely needed to drink more water prior to the flight though. Also, grab a couple of water bottles at the airport to take onboard with you. Makes it a lot easier to get a drink at your convenience and you don’t have to wait for refills.
4. Extra pair of socks
I had read this tip on other blog sites and didn't really buy into the idea that I'd need them. I mean, I had socks on already, but I threw a pair in my bag just in case. Turns out they were right! Here’s why. I didn't want to wear my shoes the entire flight because it’s uncomfortable and restricts blood flow. But I also didn’t want to walk around the plane in my regular socks because those floors aren't the cleanest. Solution - I slipped on these big, fuzzy socks with rubber on the bottom for the duration of the flight and wrapped them up in a plastic bag afterwards.
Socks - I got some from Ross Dress for Less, but Amazon has a few as well.
5. Noise-cancelling headphones
It’s never really quiet on an airplane. If you’re like me, the bells, the beeps, the talking, the unhappy baby, etc. keep you from resting peacefully. These Bose noise-cancelling headphones are worth every penny! We wore our headphones the entire flight and when we weren't watching a movie, we were listening to music while we dozed. There were even a few times I had them on with nothing playing but to block out the noises around me. It made a huge difference and I highly recommend them.
Headphones - Bose
I made notes of the lessons learned on the flight over and adjusted accordingly for the 12 hour return flight from New Zealand to LA. Wow! It was so much more comfortable.
Let me know if you have any tips or tricks for traveling more comfortably in the comments!
Rachel has been scratching through her bucket list and has been exploring Australia and New Zealand with her husband for the last week!
It looks like she is having an incredible time, doing everything from climbing the Sydney Bridge, snorkeling the Great Barrier Reef and feeding a kangaroo! She will be sharing many more details about their trip, tips for flying internationally and the excursions that are a must in the weeks ahead!
For now, here's a look at some of her favorite pics so far. Be sure to follow her here for daily updates!
My sister is getting married and I could not be more excited for her as she walks thru this beautiful season of life with her groom. Shortly after she got engaged, she blessed me with her request that I stand by her side on that very important day and serve as her Matron of Honor. Of course, I said yes! I have dreamed of this special day my entire life and to get to spoil my sister, who always spoils me, is a true joy. We decided a girls' weekend in Fredericksburg, Texas (wine country) would be the perfect place for a bachelorette weekend. My sister is pretty easy going, so as I started planning, I wanted to balance a mix of relaxation with fun outings.
My first task was finding the perfect home to stay in while we were in Fredericksburg. We had 18 girls (crazy, I know!) commit to the weekend, so finding a house that was both affordable AND big enough would be a huge undertaking. BUT, thankfully I found THE perfect house. The owner was super easy to work with, the beds were incredibly comfortable, the decor was adorable and the location was spot on. I hit the jackpot!
Even better, we were also able to rent the cutest little cottage located behind the main farmhouse. The main house had beds for 14 guests and the cottage was very comfortable for the additional 4 guests. Both are just a couple hundred feet from each other and beautifully decorated. When I say it was perfect, I mean it. I could not have asked for a better opportunity to fall into my lap. If you are interested in renting these out for a trip to Fredericksburg, the VRBO homes are French Country Farmhouse and Charming Carriage House. You will not be disappointed!
I arrived on Friday night and had planned a pretty relaxing evening since everyone was arriving at different times. After the first few arrived, we headed over to Jennie's Smoked Burgers and Tornado Fries. One of my sisters (I have 3) had raved about how good this place was and we were anxious to give it a try. From the outside, the restaurant doesn't look like much, but don't let that fool you. It was one of the best burgers I have EVER had. The tornado fries are kind of like potato chips but are cooked to perfection and come on a stick. There were no complaints from this bunch and it was the perfect way to end a day of traveling. Five star recommendation from me, for sure.
We headed back to the house, continued to welcome the late arrivals, and had tons of fun playing lots of games. My abs got an intense workout from all the laughing! Best of all though, my heart was full seeing my sister surrounded by a group of women that love and care for her.
Saturday morning started with a huge brunch and mimosas before we headed out to two vineyard tastings. We went to 4.0 Cellars and Messina Hof. Both were incredible! The tastings are very affordable ($10-$15/person) and you get to try a variety of wines. They also have great outdoor seating to be able to snack and sip on wine after you select your bottle of choice from the tastings. The weather was fairly nice for January and it was surprisingly packed at both tastings! I'm so glad we only did two because we were really able to take our time and enjoy the wine, not rush through each tasting.
After the tastings, we headed back to the house. A little free time before dinner was the much appreciated by all. Some of us took an afternoon nap, while others explored downtown or went for a walk.
For dinner, a friend had recommended the Farm Haus Bistro at Fredericksburg Herb Farms. The farm is a quaint bed and breakfast with several adorable, woodsy cottages that surround the bistro. The Farm Haus is farm to table service and the menu offers a seasonal array of appetizers, entrees and oh-so-delicious desserts. Everything was melt in your mouth wonderful! The 230 year old farmhouse has 3 unique dining rooms and we were charmed by a sweet lady that came by and shared the history of this establishment with us. It was fascinating and we discovered the history in Fredericksburg is rich.
I was very pleased with the dinner, the service and the ambiance, and highly recommend you give it a try the next time you are in Fredericksburg! You will be glad you did.
The night would not be complete without a little lingerie shower for the bride. This is always my favorite part of bachelorette parties! It's so fun to name the lingerie, giggle about the gifts the bride received, and, of course, share special memories we have with the bride. It was a great time to affirm my sister and show her how loved she is.
I'm so glad we chose Fredericksburg and this beautiful home as our destination for this gathering because it was perfect. We ate, we drank, we explored, we laughed and we loved showering the beautiful bride with hugs, gifts and a weekend full of wonderful memories.
Have you been to Fredericksburg? If so, what is your favorite spot? Leave a comment below, I'd love to hear your thoughts!
Ciao! Welcome to my post on Florence! This was the last stop of our European adventure and it was one to remember forever. Florence is packed full of history, museums, art, steak and wine. If you are able, you need to stay here for more than a week to really soak up all it has to offer.
We stayed at another Airbnb and it was perfectly located, within walking distance of the Duomo, the third largest church in the world. The streets here are so narrow, most everyone walks or rides bikes everywhere.
After taking a few minutes to check in and drop our bags, we headed over to the most popular sandwich shop in Florence, All' Antico Vinaio. There is always a long line, even after lunchtime, but it moves relatively quickly and it’s totally worth it. The food was delicious! Crunchy bread and sandwiches were filled to the brim. An added perk is you can add wine to your to go. Huzzah! There is no seating in the restaurant, but we happily sat on a nearby curb and enjoyed the pretty architecture. Not a bad spot for lunch!
One of our highest priorities in Florence was to visit the museums. I'm going to let you in on a little secret. Get the Firenze Card. It lasts for 72 hours, gives you access to 72 museums, and it allows you to skip the lines. What could be better? The cost! It is only 72 euros. You may be thinking that 72 euros is a lot for a museum pass, but it saves money and time. Skipping the wait and going directly to the front of the line, was worth its weight in gold. We were able to visit so many more museums this way. Seeing art by people I studied about in school was remarkable. It made me thankful for my art history teachers who poured so much time and energy into their classes and made me apologetic for taking it for granted. Now I see why they enjoy art so much! So, if you love museums, get the Firenze card. You won't regret it.
The next day we had a vineyard tour with Italy on a Budget Tours. I know what you are thinking -- this sounds cheap and it likely was not a great experience. Instead it was awesome and affordable (50 euros). We toured 2 beautiful vineyards, tasted multiple wines, tried different olive oils and snacks, and visited San Gimignano. Our tour guide was hilarious and taught us so much about Tuscany. I highly recommend this tour because it was fun, light hearted and full of incredible wine. It was splendid to learn how to taste different flavors and notes in the wine and to learn the history of wine country in Tuscany. San Gimignano is also famous for the best gelato in all of Italy, Gelateria Dondoli. I'm drooling just thinking about it. It was the perfect way to end our vineyard tours. Plus, who doesn't love Gelato??
After our day of wine, we headed to the Piazzale Michelangelo. It was quite the hike and we climbed many, many stairs but the view was out of this world incredible. People say that the Duomo has the best view and, while it is amazing, I preferred the Piazzale; especially because you can see the Duomo from the Piazzale.
Florence is really known for its meats, not pasta, so you’ll want to splurge. More specifically, splurge on the Florentine steak. It is incredible! I enjoyed one of the best steaks ever at Trattoria ZaZa, which came highly recommended to us by a dear friend. ZaZa’s is quaint and has beautiful murals all over its walls and lovely outdoor seating. Make sure you make a reservation in advance because this place is very popular. This was our last meal in Florence, and it was just the two of us, me and Blake. It was so special and we spent hours talking about everything and anything. It will always be one of my favorite memories.
Florence was very special and will remain near to my heart. I was captured by the history, the architecture, the art and the food. The Italians are clearly living life to the fullest.
I hope you have enjoyed my European adventure posts! It has been so fun to share with you and I hope, if you one day get to travel to any of the destinations, I’ve helped you make your planning a little easier. Now I just have to figure out how I can get back to Europe again ;)
Welcome back! I hope you are enjoying romping through Europe with me. It has been a blast sharing this once in a lifetime experience with you. Today’s post features one of my most favorite - Lake Como. It holds a special place in my heart as it was my grandmother’s most loved place on earth and, now after visiting, it has become mine as well. It was a longtime dream come true and it stole my heart, for sure.
We took the train to Lake Como from Milan and, each time we got a glimpse of the lake, the entire train was oohing and ahhing. We stepped off the train and started walking towards the ferry, and the entire group couldn't stop talking about how beautiful it was. It was dreamy!
We took a ferry to our Airbnb in Bellagio, Italy. The towns surrounding the Lake are a little more expensive than the other places we stayed, but, for us, Lake Como was a priority. Therefore, we were willing to spend a little more and, I promise, it’s worth every penny. Our Airbnb was adorable and the perfect size for the 4 of us. It was exceptionally clean and well kept (below is a view from our balcony). Can you see why I didn't ever want to leave this incredible view??
We no sooner checked in, than we changed clothes and headed straight to town. I cannot even begin to describe how magical it is. From the century-old buildings to cobbled stairs, you could wander around for hours getting lost in the magnificence of this picturesque little village.
After wandering around a bit and grabbing a delicious lunch (pasta of course!), we headed to Lido Di Bellagio. This is a beach club right on the lake and it was perfect! We rented beach chairs, jumped in the lake … it was chilly … and then relaxed the rest of the afternoon. Let me repeat, it was perfect! After traveling most of the morning, it was nice to slow down, soak up the rays and just enjoy the glorious view.
Alas, we headed back to our place to get ready for dinner at Silvio, the most adorable hotel and restaurant within walking distance from our Airbnb. Our host had recommended dinner here and we immediately made reservations. The beautiful outdoor patio was filled with little lights everywhere that added so much to the ambience. We each ordered unique pasta dishes that left us all grinning from ear to ear.
Something I learned in Europe, especially Italy, was that Europeans eat dinner fairly late (typically 8:30/9 pm) and take their time. You do not rush your waiter. We would sometimes wait 20 minutes before seeing our waiter again. So if you want wine right away or bread, ask for it at the beginning. But, this reminded me that yet again, we Americans are constantly rushing and missing out on LIFE. The best conversations are had with a bottle of wine, relaxed dining and good friends.
After stuffing our faces with pasta, a little dancing was in order. We headed back to Lido di Bellagio to check out the night scene. Bellagio’s night life is limited and this was one of the few places to go, but it was actually fun! Be aware though, the youngest people there were 16....that was weird. It made me feel old! I know I'm not that old so you can refrain from the "oh ya, you're sooo old" eye roll. We made the most of it and had a blast even if we were the oldest ones there. Haha!
One of my favorite days in Lake Como, was when we rented a boat and, surprisingly, it was fairly affordable. I was super excited because a sunny day on the lake spent with good friends and yummy food is my idea of the perfect day! And, it was SO much fun. We packed our cooler full of meats and cheeses, bread, fruit and wine (surprise surprise!) and set out for the day. It was SO much fun. The boat was the perfect size and we really took full advantage of it. Plus, we got to see more of Lake Como and the beautiful towns that surround it. Our friend, Mat, grew up on the water and was in heaven. If you find yourself with a couple of days in Lake Como, you should definitely rent a boat. It's cheap entertainment and how often do you get to say that you rented a boat on Lake Como?? Also, ask around for the best places to jump off cliffs!
Side note: I would advise renting a car or mopeds, maybe even bikes, if you are going to stay in Bellagio for more than a few days. We wished we had done this because the hills to our Airbnb were fairly steep and there really isn't a taxi service. So make sure you rent something! Needless to say, we earned all of the bread we ate.
Lake Como was the perfect way to break up our trip and relax in between traveling and walking so much. If you get the chance to go, I'm positive you will fall in love with the Lake. Plus, the town of Bellagio is slow paced, dreamy, full of gardens to walk through and, of course, right on the water. The restaurants are lovely and typically in old homes which make it even more romantic. The history is rich and the culture is classic. I could go on and on, but just know this - there is nothing like it. So pack your bags and go!
See you next Monday on the blog; I'll be sharing Florence with you! Ciao!
Ok, here’s a bit of outfit details for you! My favorite thing about shopping on Shein or Zaful (linked below for my swimsuit and two-piece set), is that people leave reviews and take pictures of themselves wearing the clothes so you can see the fit. This is so helpful. The outfits are sooo cheap, you want to make sure they look as good on you as they do on their website. I only purchase items that have thorough reviews, that way I know I am not wasting time or money. And, lucky for me, these items fit me perfectly!
Also, Lulus is my favorite place to find dresses. They have SO many and the fit is very true to size. They also have awesome sales so sometimes I will snag a few at a time. Their maxi dresses are very long too. So if you are shorter, you may have to have them tailored. I am 5'9" and was still able to wear heels with the dress I was wearing. Enjoy!
Two-piece set: Shein
Dress: Lulus, Similar one here
Prague was filled with tons of fun, but we purposely scheduled an early morning flight to Milan to enjoy the unique shopping offered there. This was a short trip, but it was one to remember. Milan is primarily a business and fashion city, so as you can imagine, the mentality is "go go go!” And, boy, did we run around like crazy. There was so much to see in such a short amount of time, but my priority was shopping and pasta, both of which were hugely successful.
Naturally, one of our first stops was Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II. It is the definition of fabulous. From the floors to the ceilings, it is the epitome of stunning. I wish all malls looked like this! The Galleria contains the most expensive fashion brands and the stores are uniquely designed to perfectly display each upcoming collection. For clarity though, I was not shopping at the upscale stores … but I did do a lot of browsing there, for sure! Luckily, I was able to find some fabulous items that were affordable and memorable during our little shopping adventure. The Galleria has oodles of stores and it was fun to discover brands that I had never heard of, but can be ordered online. The romper I wore in our last Fashion Friday post was from Bershka, one of my new favorite stores.
After spending the better part of the day at the Galleria running around, we headed out to dinner. We intentionally left our dinner plans pretty loose because we knew would have a full day of shopping and didn’t want to be up against a time constraint. Most of the time we made dinner reservations in advance during our trip, but it was nice to allow one or two meals to be completely unplanned. You never know what fun and exciting places you’ll find along the way. In Milan, we discovered Da Puccini. We walked in around 9:30 p.m. and, quite frankly, didn’t really have high expectations as we hadn't read any reviews on it. But much to our surprise, it was delicious! My husband and I shared the veal with risotto. It was tender, creamy and cooked to perfection. Our friends ordered pasta and we all split a bottle of wine. Once again, wine is fairly affordable in Europe so it is easy to justify a bottle for the table.
Our time in Milan was short, but we definitely did what we came to do! We consumed mounds of pasta, visited some awesome rooftop bars, enjoyed delicious wine and definitely shopped till we dropped.
Here are some of my tips for shopping in Milan that helped make our experience stress free. Do you have any shopping/travel tips or tricks to add? Feel free to comment below.
1) Set a budget. I know my friends are rolling their eyes right now because this is so typical of me … but oh so helpful. Having a set budget allowed me to go in with a plan and not get overwhelmed with the vast number of stores and merchandise to choose from. How often are you shopping in Milan? Make the most of it and come with a plan!
2) Have a couple of ideas of what exactly you are looking for. For me, I wanted an all-seasons leather purse and whatever $$$ were left, was going toward my number 2 priority – clothes! Lucky for me, I found both. Woohoo!
3) Wear comfortable shoes. Wear comfortable shoes. Wear comfortable shoes. Seriously, my feet were killing me by the end of the day and I was wearing tennis shoes! If you like to shop, like I do, your feet will take a beating – but in Milan, it’s totally worth it. You’ll want to explore and discover all the fun stores so comfort is key. And, ladies, this look is totally in style with all the cute dresses available today!
4) Make sure you have a designated meeting time and place if you get separated from your shopping buddy. My friend, Rachel (not my SIL! Confusing, I know!), and I talked before we set out for the day about what we would do if we accidently went in different directions. We can both get lost in clothes (shocker), so sometimes it can be easy to get separated. Having a designated meeting time and place, put our minds at ease and gave us the freedom to browse without worry.
5) Keep your belongings close! This should be a no brainer, but nonetheless it’s a good reminder. There’s a high concentration of people in and around Milan and when they approach, they aren’t afraid to get in your personal space. Stay alert and don’t make yourself an easy target for pickpocketing. I kept one hand on my purse at all times and gripped it to my side. Do not put your purse down for any reason. I felt fairly safe everywhere else we traveled, but I definitely had to be more aware in Milan.
And there you have it, my top 5 tips for shopping in Milan. It is a once in a lifetime experience, so make sure you are prepared and ready to conquer.
That's all for now! In my next post we will be exploring Lake Como. Be prepared, it is one of the dreamiest places on earth!
Dobry Den! Translation - "Hello! Good day!" in Czech.
Kick off your shoes and sit for a few minutes with me cause we’re about to cover a lot of ground in Prague.
After 3 beautiful days in Paris, my husband Blake and I headed over to Prague. We arrived mid-day and went directly to our Airbnb located near Old Town Prague. Bonus points to our very kind host who had Czech beer waiting for us in the fridge! I highly recommend staying at an Airbnb for a couple of reasons. We have found it to be less expensive than hotel stays, the location is typically better, and it gives you more space than an average hotel room would.
After checking in, we ran out to grab lunch at Lokál Dlouhááá. It’s a traditional sit down restaurant featuring classic homemade Czech cuisine. They pride themselves on using “only fresh ingredients and spices that are sourced from renowned local suppliers”. Czech food consists of lots of meat and potatoes, not my favorite, but the meal was delicious. And, of course, we ordered two pints of beer with our meal, which is basically what Prague is known for. Beer is cheaper than water in Prague. I repeat, beer is CHEAPER than water! As you can imagine, my beer-loving hubby was pretty excited about this and ordered a beer with every meal.
We enjoyed quite a bit of free time the next day, before our friends from Nashville joined us, so we decided to take the plunge and join a free walking tour. Because the tour was free, my expectations were pretty low, but our tour guide was hilarious and shared a wealth of information. Side note – the tour is free, but the guides work for tips, so please tip in accordance to your experience. We learned SO much about Prague and its history that I couldn’t help but fall in love with the city. The majority of the buildings in Old Town Prague date back to the 10th century!!! It was amazing to walk around the city and marvel at the beauty of these old buildings that were rich in details and incredibly unique. It truly did not look real and pictures do not do it justice.
Later that evening, our friends arrived just in time to head out to the local clubs! We first hit up Roxy, a larger club with a killer lounge on top. We stopped at the lounge to get some drinks before heading down to dance. The dance floor was huge and each night they have a guest DJ. It was fun to hear the European tunes. After Roxy, we headed over to M1 Lounge Bar and Club, which was walking distance from Roxy. M1 was more of an R&B club (definitely more my style) and was a smaller venue than Roxy. After dancing for hours (seriously, I could dance all night and be happy), we headed to a Burrito Loco. If you ever find yourself in Prague, do yourself a favor and go here after a night out. Who would have thought Prague would have amazing TexMex?
The next morning we headed over to Maso A Kobliha, an adorable cafe near our Airbnb. The food was fresh and light, the service was amazing, and all the pretty little details left me inspired. We ordered fresh donuts, a light and refreshing salmon tartine (a fancy open-faced sandwich), and Scotch eggs. A Scotch egg is a hard-boiled egg wrapped in sausage meat, lathered in bread crumbs and baked. This is a staple in Prague. It is very heavy, but delicious, so you can easily split one.
We were glad to have a beautiful 40 minute walk afterwards to Prague Castle and it was completely worth it. The castle has beautiful gardens surrounding it that, in my opinion, would make for the perfect picnic spot overlooking Prague. The castle is out of this world and the view from the top....I'll just let you look at the pictures to see for yourself.
Later that day, we headed over to a Prague Beer Tour and it was so much fun! It was a small group of tourists from all over the world and two tour guides. Our guides were precious and took us to some of the coolest hole-in-the-wall pubs. It was such an unforgettable experience to be able to learn more about Prague from a local's perspective. We stopped at five different pubs and sampled a variety of beers. By the time we stopped at the last one, we were wiped out! Did I mention that in Europe you walk...a lot?! And thank goodness for that, because we ate and drank everything and anything we wanted. I'm thinking I would be much happier living in Europe and being able to eat what I want in exchange for walking a few extra miles a day. ;)
Prague is simply magical. I was charmed by the rich history and as well as its people. Prague will always hold a special place in my heart, and I hope I’ve inspired you to add it to your bucket list of must see places.
Paris is unique, elegant, artistic and rich with history. The city is gorgeous, the food is to die for, the fashion is unreal, and the people are charming. After doing some research though, we discovered that Reims, France, famous for holding some of the most incredible champagne cellars in France, was just a 40 minute train ride away. We quickly decided a day trip to Champagne Country was a must. We were pleasantly surprised to learn the rail service in Europe is very efficient and makes visiting other towns and cities a breeze. The train from Paris to Reims was spotless, the seats reclined, and the view was beautiful!
Our first champagne tour of the day was at G.H. Mumm & Co. Our guide shared her excellent knowledge of the history of this champagne company and of champagne production. She took us down to the cellars and walked us through each phase of the process, which was fascinating! Keep in mind, you descend 10 meters at a time and it gets rather chilly. I made the mistake of not bringing a jacket and definitely wished I had. But the 60 minute tour was so engaging, the time passed quickly and it was well worth the shivering – especially since the tour ended with champagne tastings. I tried the Rose Champagne and my husband, Blake, tasted the Classic G.H. Mumm Champagne. I was pleasantly surprised that in the end I preferred the Classic. It was smooth, light and very refreshing.
Afterward, we strolled through the city of Reims and visited the famous Cathedral Notre-Dame de Reims. This architectural wonder is absolutely breathtaking and we were amazed at its impressive size. We spent over an hour admiring the magnificent sculptures, the to die for stained glass and tons of intricate details. It boggles my mind to think about how they were able to construct such a magnificent structure without modern day tools and technology. Before we left, we took a few minutes in a beautiful, quiet area to just sit and pray. And, bonus, admittance is free.
We wrapped up our day with a 40 minute tour at Taittinger. The tour guide was wonderful, knowledgeable and friendly and the caves are impressive. We learned a lot about the history of the vineyard and, I think, we both have a greater appreciation for the process and why champagne is soooooo expensive! Our tour ended with a champagne tasting that was delightful and you have several options to choose from when picking your tastings. We tasted a variety of champagnes, but my favorite was the Classic. Are you noticing a trend??
Overall, it was a lovely day in Reims. Between the two tours, I’d say G.H. Mumm and Co. was the better one … it covered every question you could probably think of and I found it more interesting. But if I had to choose the best champagne, I would have to pick Taittinger. Either way, you can’t go wrong with these tours.
If you ever get to Paris and have a thirst for champagne, I highly recommend a visit to Reims. It’s a perfect little day trip if you love quaint, beautiful towns and, of course, a little bubbly ;)
Keep an eye out for my next post featuring Prague! You won't be disappointed!
Post Author: Rachel
I'm sure you can agree - life is always busy. With my crazy TV schedule, I’m always on the run, and combined with my hubby’s all over the map NFL schedule, it is a rarity for us to get a long weekend together. So when we do, we are out and about exploring something somewhere.
For Labor Day weekend, we snagged an inexpensive Southwest flight, some friends and headed out to the Windy City!
With so much to see and do, Chicago is a great place to spend a weekend. Plus, their transit system is affordable and super easy to navigate through the city. Once we landed, we hopped on the "L" and headed downtown. Luckily for us, my cousin and his wife live in Chicago and they graciously opened their home to us for the weekend. They live right in the heart of the city and you couldn’t ask for a more spectacular view!
I love how the city lights up and shows off it's beauty at night too. Stunning!
Entertainment, festivals and sports are never in short supply in Chicago. Being the sports enthusiasts that we are, there was no question we had to catch a Cubs game at Wrigley Field – and not just once but twice! We scored some unbelievable tickets and rooted for the home team all weekend.
And of course, a ballpark experience isn't complete without a hot dog and a cold one. So first things first, we hopped in line and ordered a Chicago dog. YUM! I got a few pickles on the side and loaded it with ketchup, mustard, tomatoes and a strange colored relish. Initially, I was a bit concerned about this lime green relish, but quickly found out it is a staple at this ballpark and a must on your dog. And, it’s surprisingly delicious. Now, I know it's not the Chicagoan way to put ketchup on your dog, but I love ketchup. I think it's great on just about anything.
On our first day, after the Cubs won and we all sang "Go! Cubs! Go!," we headed down Clark Street, which is lined with bars and restaurants. Two great stops we discovered are Sluggers World Class Sports Bar and Old Crow Smokehouse. Both had fantastic atmospheres, drink specials and great food.
The next morning we grabbed some coffee and walked to Grant Park. We enjoyed seeing the spectacular water show at Buckingham Fountain and walking along the water front admiring the many sailboats that line Lake Michigan. Helpful hint – mornings can be a little chilly near the water, so don’t forget to bring a light jacket.
For lunch, our taste buds were craving some made from scratch deep dish pizza. We have already had Giordano's once before, so we wanted to try something new and strolled on over to Lou Malnati's. It typically takes about 30-35 minutes for them to prepare a pizza and there is always a long line to get a table … about 45 minutes the day we visited. Let me assure you though, it’s well worth the wait! Fortunately, they also have a great system in place where customers are able to place orders at the counter while waiting for a table. The timing is just about perfect too – when your table is ready, so is your pizza. They have a nice little patio area, so after ordering, we grabbed a drink and enjoyed the gorgeous weather.
We ordered "The Lou," which the menu describes as "A pizza so good we gave it his name! Spinach mix, mushrooms and sliced roma tomatoes covered with blend of mozzarella, romano and cheddar cheese on garlic Buttercrust." It was amazing!
With deep dish pizza, all the ingredients are placed on backwards from a regular thin crust pizza. So even though the pizza looks like it's just cheese and tomatoes, the inside holds all the delicious veggies and meats. And the garlic buttercrust - phenomenal.
When traveling, I always love learning about the city, and Chicago is rich with history and boasts some incredible architecture. Luckily, this city also has some amazing tours to offer. We booked an early morning tour on Chicago's First Lady and hopped on a double decker boat for 90 minutes on a fun and educational river cruise. It was fascinating and our guide was friendly and full of insightful stories about the architecture and the design of the many buildings. I would highly recommend this!
Now, back to food. After Chicago dogs and deep dish pizza, next up - Italian Beef. Walking into Portillo's feels like going back in time to the 1960's when the restaurant was founded. It is a charming atmosphere and the food, or course, does not disappoint. The Big Beef with extra gravy and oven-roasted sweet and spicy peppers ...WOW! Safe to say, we split this huge gravy covered meat sandwich and then wanted to take a nap.
No time for sleep though, it was off to round two of watching the 2016 World Series Champs at Wrigley! We met up with a friend who now works for the team and got a sneak peek into the Cubbies offices and they are pretty impressive (photos in slideshow below).
Before leaving, we couldn’t resist the opportunity to stop by and say hello to the Commissioner's Trophy, an absolute must-see and located right next to the stadium inside of Jostens Jewelry store.
It was a quick, but wonderful trip to Chicago and with so much to do and see and not enough time, we’ll definitely be returning to the Windy City for more food and fun!