Dazzling Sights in Chiang Mai

It has been well over a month since we returned home from our nearly three week trip in Southeast Asia.  With the holidays, building a home and life just getting in the way, I haven’t had the time yet to write about this experience.  Lack of writing aside, I have had plenty of time to reflect and be grateful for such an amazing trip and hopefully this next series of blogs illuminates which moments were most significant to us.  I considered breaking this blog series up into two parts: activities and food (the food was just incredible and so different everywhere we went, it deserved it’s own post!).  In the end, however, I decided to continue writing about each, individual place as a whole experience.

On my list of places I would most want to revisit Mykonos (from a trip I went on without Scott in 2011) and Chiang Mai would be at the top.  I hope that the photos throughout this composition make the excellence of this place obvious and fully explain why we would want to return so badly.

Scott and I traveled for 30 hours before landing in Chiang Mai.  This is BY FAR the longest day of travel I’ve ever had.  We flew EVA Air from Seattle to Taipei, Taiwan to Bangkok and then took a regional airline to Chiang Mai.  For the longest leg of our flight, we took Advil PM and we will now be doing this for any flight we have that’s over 7 hours.  We were dead asleep for 8 straight hours.  One thing of note during this travel was the Taipei airport:  it’s full of themed waiting rooms and shops that make it quite obvious you’re in Asia.  The most popular of which was a Hello Kitty waiting lounge which looked like something straight out of the cartoon.  We also had some of our first Asian cuisine while waiting in the Taipei airport and it set me off on a dumpling obsession that continued for the rest of the trip and likely for the rest of my life.



Finally arriving in Chiang Mai, we couldn’t find the car that was supposed to be waiting for us to take us to our hotel so we ended up waiting in the WORST taxi line of all time.  We checked in at Amata Lanna Village Hotel after dark, but even without light we could see that it was an incredibly beautiful place to call home for the next three nights.  We walked over a koi pond on cement stepping stones to a lobby with traditional Thai architecture.  The doorways to each room were fully carved and each feature seemed to have detailed artwork incorporated into the design.  Most exciting of all was that we could see the first night of Loy Krathong (the Thai paper lantern festival) taking place in the background.  It seemed as if Chiang Mai was greeting us as we watched thousands of paper lanterns drift through the sky and over our hotel from the doorway of our room.

Our view of the lanterns from right outside our room
View from our hotel room towards the city during daylight
Our bathtub
Our room was second from the right on the top floor!
These sculptures were placed throughout the hotel property…so cute!

On our first morning in Thailand, we were scheduled to visit the highest peak in Thailand, hike some waterfalls and visit Doi Inthanon.  We ended up getting so much more out of this day.  The hotel we were staying at was owned by a family and they were amazing hosts.  Breakfast begins at 6AM with a menu of fruits, sticky rice, bacon, sausage, eggs, porridge and more.  We were given an appetizer of Chinese fried bread and fresh fruits.  I had my first taste of Mango Sticky Rice and I will now be seeking this out for breakfast whenever I can.


To-Die-For Mango Sticky Rice


My daily tropical fruits fix
Enjoying my coffee and Chinese bread

After breakfast we were picked up by our tour guide and started our first day of sight-seeing in Thailand.  Our first stop was going to be the tallest peak in Thailand, but we stopped and purchased some fresh fruit from a street vendor on the way up the mountain.  Our tour guide wanted to make sure we got to try everything.  Our first new fruit to try was called a longan (a small version of a lychee with a tough peel and squishy, grape-like insides).  We also tried persimmons, Thai sweet potatoes, fruit wine, and several different dried fruits.  We ended up purchasing plenty of samples for our family back home.

One of the many markets that lined the streets
Peeling and tasting a longan in our karaoke/tour van

My favorite thing of all, however, was a sweet pork dumpling that our tour guide bought us from another street vendor.  I spent the rest of the trip looking for more of these delicious, warm, sweet rolls filled with ground pork.


Next, we arrived at Doi Inthanon National Park and peered over the tallest peak in Thailand.  There was pretty dense forest surrounding the peak, so there wasn’t much of a view to show off, but stay tuned for some killer views of Chiang Mai we got the next day!


After leaving the highest spot in Thailand, we traveled winding roads towards the stupas of Doi Inthanon.  Along the way, we saw several Buddhist offerings nestled into the forest and I was fascinated by the intricate details and the effort put into these works of art.DSC_0001.jpg

The primary attractions of the day were the stupas and gardens of Doi Inthanon built for the king and queen.  Each stupa was the same number of feet tall as the monarch was old.  Inside each stupa were statues of Buddha corresponding to the day of the week the queen/king were born.  Each stupa and corresponding garden were designed around the personality of the queen and king.  The queen’s was ultra feminine with purple glass tile decorating every surface while the king’s had more of a brown and brass tone throughout.  It was truly something to behold and it is difficult to pick any number of pictures to represent it’s beauty because Scott captured so many gorgeous images of this place.

A view of both stupas over the garden pond


A close up of the king’s stupa
Scott and I in the gardens
The view from the gardens over the cliffs
Some of the tile work outside of the queen’s stupa
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The Buddha inside of the queen’s stupa
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More of the incredible view from the gardens
Some of the tile work outside the king’s stupa
Inside the king’s stupa
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The garden was getting some maintenance
About to head up the long stairway to the stupas

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After spending a lot of time gawking at these masterpieces and wandering the gardens, we were off to have lunch and visit some waterfalls.   Lunch was at a huge gathering place with several restaurants and one communal outdoor cafeteria with a covering.  We had cashew chicken, a Thai omelette, steamed veggies, and one of our favorites: Thom Kha Gai (a spicy coconut based soup with chicken, mushrooms and lemongrass).  On our way to the first waterfall, we got to hike past farms and rice fields and were able to see some of the canal systems and methods for farming in the region.

A close up of some crops
Rice fields amongst the jungle


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The tour guide prompted me to test the strength of the vine so I pretended to be Tarzan over a farming canal.

The first waterfall we visited was called Siriphum Waterfall.  After Costa Rica, we had seen our share of jungles and waterfalls, but there was something truly special about this national park and we loved hiking over the rickety bridges to get closer to the powerful spray of Siriphum.


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Resting by the river
Trying to show Scott something cool from the bridge viewpoint
Hiking over to the bridge



The next waterfall we visited was the largest in Doi Inthanon National Park: Wachirathan Waterfall.  After seeing this beauty, we continued on a path that followed the flow of the water and found some of the most vibrant rainbows I’ve ever seen.  Usually rainbows are hard to capture on film, but these were not camera shy one bit.

Not our best photo, we were getting hit directly in the face with cold waterfall spray

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Wachirathan marked the end of an amazing first tour and we were driven back to our hotel.  We decided to rest for a brief period, change our clothes and head out on the town to get our first taste of an Asian city.  We decided to go on foot (which we would later regret) and walked over the river towards the Nawarat Bridge which was supposed to be the center of the town.  As soon as we started our walk we could tell something special was happening in the city.  There were street vendors set up everywhere selling toys, sweets, lanterns and other celebratory wares.  We decided to get dinner at River Market Restaurant so we could stay near the bridge and watch as the celebrations picked up in fervor.  We enjoyed spring rolls and massaman lamb curry (YUM), and Scott had a Chang beer (this would soon become one of his all time favorites) and I had some Chardonnay.  As we ate, we began to see people practicing the lighting and releasing of lanterns.  We were shocked to see lit lanterns landing in trees or lawns and continuing to burn and then just going out.  The vegetation was so wet that fires just never started.  Coming from Washington State this went totally against our prevent-forest-fires nature!

Finally, the sun went down and we went to the bridge to join in the festivities.  We chose not to purchase a lantern because we had no clue what we were doing or what was being celebrated and felt like imposters.  We truly felt lucky just to watch.  We had a great viewpoint on the bridge and watched several people try and fail to set off lanterns (who knew it would be a challenge?!).  Eventually, lanterns started successfully taking off all around us!  After watching several successful launches, we decided to help a group of young travelers from San Diego launch theirs after many failed attempts.  They were gracious enough to give us a lantern to launch of our own.  We succeeded on our first attempt thanks to all of our observing.  We learned that the releasing of the lantern symbolizes letting go of negativity and sending blessings into the New Year.  The festival takes place on the evening of the full moon in November which is the 12th month of the Thai lunar calendar and, therefore, the end of the lunar year.  It was such a happy accident to arrive in Chiang Mai during this festival and getting to share it with the local people is something we will never forget.

View from our restaurant


That’s our lantern!

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When we felt it was time to leave the festival, we walked all the way home.  We dodged traffic (mostly scooters and tuk tuks) and walked through narrow unlit streets for what felt like several miles.  I was wearing sandals and ended up having blisters on my feet for the rest of the trip, but it was totally worth it.

The next day, we had another jungle hike and temple tour booked.  Again, we were served a delicious breakfast and then we were off to Doi Suthep.  The previous day, Scott and I were the only members of our tour.  This day, we were joined by four Asian Canadian students and a Dutch couple.  Unbeknownst to us, we actually had quite an extensive hike through the jungle to arrive at today’s temple.  Luckily, we were both dressed for the miles we had to trek through dense forest and my blisters decided not to give me too much trouble.  At Sai Yoi Waterfall we did get to take off our shoes and frolic in crystal clear waterfall pools and climb some giant boulders to cool our feet.  During the hike we were surprised to come across monks leading individuals into the jungle.  They are portrayed very accurately in art and media and seem to radiate a kind of peace and tranquility in their mannerisms.  Eventually, we arrived at a kind of cabin resort for temple visitors at the top of the hike and were able to rest before exploring the temple itself.

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Our group at the first waterfall before the hike began
Jungle trekkin
Waterfall pools with small catfish in them!


Barefoot, wild and free

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Finally arriving at the cabins with one of the temple’s gold pagodas in the background

Since we had just hiked straight up a mountain through the jungle, our group was starving.  At the bottom of the stairs into the temple there was a huge, bustling market where we found a cramped noodle place and had our first authentic phad thai and thai iced tea.  Honestly, they were quite like what we were used to in the U.S. and super delicious!  We enjoyed getting to know the Dutch couple and learned that they were from Amsterdam so we got all the travel tips we possibly could for our upcoming 2018 Europe trip!  Finally, it was time to enter the temple.  Everyone made sure there knees and shoulders were covered (most of the girls had to buy sarongs to enter) and started a secondary hike up a long, ornate stairway.

The temple was so stunning it’s difficult to describe.  There was genuine worship taking place all around us and the smell of incense was sweet and heavy as soon as we crested the top of the stairs.  Every square inch of the structure was decorated and dazzling.  Gold, jade and other precious jewels were everywhere you looked.  This is by far one of the most incredible manmade sights I’ve ever beheld.  I hope these photos can portray some of the wonder this place instilled in all of us, but it’s definitely something difficult to capture.

The long stairway to the temple
A close up of the dragons on the stairwell
An epic entrance way
Each of these Buddhas represents the day of the week you were born.  You are supposed to pray to your own Buddha.  I was born on a Sunday so I am the first buddha called “in pensive thought Buddha”.  He stands upright with his hands clasped low contemplating his wisdom.  Scott is Thursday so he is the meditation Buddha (fifth from the left).

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Elephants represent good luck in Thai culture
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We love goooollldddd!
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You have to kneel inside of the prayer rooms, we were fortunate enough to watch a monk lead a mass blessing in a similar room.
A jade Buddha
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A close up of the gold pagoda
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Some realistic Buddhas


The breathtaking gardens outside of the temple’s exit

After exiting the temple we walked through stunning gardens like the one above and went up some more stairs to a gazebo that looked over the entirety of Chiang Mai.  It was an incredible view and the underside of the gazebo was decorated with carvings of the different Buddhas.  I became a little obsessed with learning about my Sunday Buddha and seeking him out in religious artwork.  The tour ended with a bathroom break in a ginormous store full of anything you could imagine made out of jade from chess sets to bangles (unfortunately, it was such a quick stop we didn’t get any photos).

Another elephant sculpture on the way up
More stunning architecture outside of the temple
An incredible view of Chiang Mai
Our tour guide helping me find my Sunday Buddha
The whole gazebo
Looking out over Thailand


I didn’t even know I was doing my Buddha posture!

It was a really intense day of hiking and sensory overload at the temple, but this was our last night in Chiang Mai and we weren’t done with this city yet!  After we rested off our tour, we got changed and ordered an Uber (no more walking) and went to the Chiang Mai Sunday Market.  We were instantly struck by how busy this place was!  Crowds filled the entire width of the street and the smells of street food wafted out from behind the people selling their trinkets.  Even more shocking was the price of this stuff!  So inexpensive we could hardly believe it.  We ended up buying clothes, lanterns, art, and other gifts for people back home.  Then we stopped at a restaurant called Cooking Home and I ate one of my favorite Thai dishes to date:  Khao Sui.  This is a yellow curry soup that you can only get in Northern Thailand and it’s to die for.  When the night was over, we took our first tuk tuk (basically a chair rigged to the back of a moped) ride back to our hotel and so ended our time in Chiang Mai.

The huge crowd in the market
Not the prettiest picture but the most delicious dish:  Khao Sui
Tuk Tuk Driver!
Feeling a little nervous on our super fast tuk tuk ride

Chiang Mai was our favorite part of Thailand and we can’t wait to go back.  BUT I can’t wait for my next installment in this series where we visit the insane and massive city of Bangkok!

Costa Rican Honeymoon: San José and the Pacuare River

Costa Rica is famous for its white water rafting scene.  People come from all over the world to raft here and the Pacuare River is destination numero uno.  Although I’d never white water rafted before, we decided we couldn’t pass up this opportunity.  Plus, there was a hotel nestled in the jungle along this river that I was DYING to experience.  We may have gotten a little more than we bargained for, but one thing is for sure, we will NEVER forget our final few days of honeymooning in Costa Rica.

While planning our trip, I Googled the most stunning honeymoon suites in Costa Rica and found The Pacuare Lodge.  This lodge is listed amongst the National Geographic Unique Lodges of the World.  I didn’t know this, I just thought it was gorgeous.  You could book a treehouse with a private pool and we had to try it out.  It wasn’t until we were half way through our honeymoon that we realized why this place was so unique.  The only way to get there was to get picked up in San José at your hotel, take a bus ride for a few hours East and then white water raft two more hours down river.  You are also allowed very limited luggage as it has to also arrive at the lodge by raft.

Scott and I arrived in San José (TERRIBLE TRAFFIC), got a quick bite at McDonald’s, and settled in at the Crowne Plaza Hotel.  Then we spend the rest of the evening attempting to pack ONE backpack with enough clothes for both of us to last three days knowing that we would also need clothes to get wet on the rafting trip.  It was a challenge…I don’t pack light usually.

The next morning we got up super early and grabbed a quick bite at the hotel (I had more amazing mango that I couldn’t get enough of) and waited for our river guide to pick us up.  Our luggage would remain at the Crowne Plaza until we got back.  Our river guide, Danny, showed up right on time and we drove through the city to pick up another couple.  As we drove, Danny told us about his trips to California, Oregon and other parts of the U.S. where he spends time as a river guide and his passion for life on the river.  Then we stopped at Bocadito Del Cielo for a bite of second breakfast.  This name of the restaurant translates to Little Taste of Heaven because it sits overlooking stunning views of the valley.

Some views of the drive through San José
Views from breakfast

Finally, we arrived at the Pacuare River.  We were taught on the spot how to raft while we were geared up and our luggage was handed over to a skilled rafter named Rafa.  We were taught commands so we knew when to paddle forward and backward and when to jump inside the raft or lean.

The start of our rafting journey

At first, I was terrified of rafting.  Especially since I was brand new and would be starting out on Class 3 and 4 rapids.  Scott had been rafting in Oregon, but failed to mention this until after I’d had a few moments of panicking.  It only took a couple big rapids, however, for me to LOVE it!  I was smiling and laughing pretty much the entire trip and the two hours which had seemed so daunting went by in a flash.  We did have one break where we were able to visit a secluded little waterfall and take a swim.   Of course, we couldn’t pass up the opportunity and we were the only ones to jump right in the river, clothes and all.  We did learn later that the Pacuare River is full of piranha, but they have soft teeth and aren’t dangerous to humans.  We also saw the biggest spider I’ve seen to date sitting on a rock that our raft got VERY close to, and enjoyed watching different birds in their natural, untouched environments.


Eventually, we rafted by a couple of extremely remote and off-the-grid cabins before arriving on the banks of the Pacuare Lodge.


We were then escorted to the Honeymoon Suite which was a short hike up from the main lodge and restaurant for seclusion.  Our suite was nestled right up against the jungle and raised up a hillside so as to be in the canopy and turned into a treehouse.  This was by far the most gorgeous hotel room I’ve ever been in.  It was made out of rich woods with a tree platform, hanging bridge, hammock, private pool, 4-poster bed, glass walls, and an outdoor shower.  We were then informed that there was no electricity except for in the main lobby and we would need a solar flashlight, rubber boots and an umbrella.  We also told that when we came down for dinner (which was served at a very specific time) a worker would come to our room and light a whole bunch of candles for us.  Being near the equator, the sun sets around 6PM all year round.  We were given two choices for dinner and were asked to make our selections and were left to rest after the long travel and rafting day.

The pool and the bridge to the tree platform


The cute little sign they made for us
View to the tree platform
Walking back towards the room
View of the room from the tree platform
Enjoying the hammock and the deck
A teeny tiny lizard we found in our curtains

We were so secluded that we didn’t even both to unpack our swimsuits to test out our private pool.  It was cold but so refreshing after a rafting workout in the humid jungle.  Then we quickly changed into dry clothes and went down for lunch.  Our river guides became our servers and chefs at the lodge restaurant!  They served us an elegant spinach soup, mushroom tomato penne, coconut flan and some DELICIOUS beers that they brewed onsite.  After lunch, we went upstairs from the restaurant to the bar and ordered some tasty sangria, the spiciest margarita ever and sweet coconut mojitos.


Finally, we were just exhausted.  We went back up to our paradise room, watched some downloaded shows on our iPad and had a long nap with all the doors open.

Since dinner was at a specific time, we had to get up from our nap and head down not long after.  The restaurant was also without electricity so we were seated with candle light and had to bring our solar lamp everywhere.  We enjoyed really good wine, bread, and squash ginger soup.  Scott’s entree was steak with eggplant puree and potatoes while I had a tuna steak with green beans and rice.  Dessert was a passionfruit mousse for me and a chocolate torte for him (he made the right choice this time…yum).  The daily menu was designed and executed by locals without formal training but with an inherent love for cuisine.  I thought it was super unique and everything we ate was awesome!

After dinner was when the real adventures began.  We went back to our room in pitch black and got ready to brush our teeth.  As we rounded the corner to our bathroom we saw a HUGE cockroach stuck on his back in the hall.  It wasn’t moving so Scott grabbed some tissue to try and pick him up and throw him outside.  My job was to hold a phone flashlight so he could see in the dim candlelight.  Of course, as soon as he touched the roach it started moving furiously and we both screamed and then he didn’t have any light and comedy ensued.  He tried two more times before finally getting it outside.

Unfortunately, that was only the beginning.  Our bathroom was backed right up into the jungle and wasn’t very well sealed.  There were two spiders hanging out waiting for us and almost no light to see by.  We knew this was going to be a long night at this point.  There were a few small insects on the mosquito nets surrounding our bed AND another layer surrounding the entire bedroom.  This got in our heads and we felt like bugs were everywhere.  After watching some more shows we tried to blow out our candles and go to sleep, but we kept feeling bugs crawling on us (probably just in our imagination) and had to relight a candle and keep it burning all night for our sanity.  At one point I got up and went to the bathroom on my own and saw a shadow on the ground.  When I put my phone’s flashlight on it, I saw that it was a massive cave dwelling spider.  From that point on neither of us went to the bathroom alone or got much sleep.  As terrifying and restless as this night was, Scott and I were totally bonded over our mutual fear of creepy crawlies and the fact that we loved each other enough to accompany each other to the bathroom over and over.  Like I said, we’ll never forget it.

The next day we were scheduled for two serious activities: an extreme seven hour hike and a candlelit dinner in the treetops that we had to zipline to get to.  At breakfast we were surrounded by bees and ants and we had just had a night full of bugs.  We realized that a dinner in the treetops where we wouldn’t be able to really see our surroundings was more than we could handle.  We knew we would be exhausted from our hike and, frankly, couldn’t handle the idea of new and exciting bugs to befriend.  So, we canceled our dinner and got ready for the hike.

This was the most difficult hike we’ve done to date.  Due to the wetness and wildness of the jungle, we had to do the entire thing in rubber boots and long socks or pants.  We were warned about bullet ants (a bite from one of these will paralyze you and give you extreme fever for a couple of days) and poisonous snakes and spiders.  After we were shown the bullet ants we recognized them from right outside our suite…great…However, this hike was a truly incredible experience.  We had two guides: a Costa Rican named Edgar and an indigenous local named William.  They were incredibly kind and knowledgeable and let us practice our Spanish with them.  Their aptitude and fitness for the jungle was astounding.

The jungle was insanely humid and we went through several large canisters of water.  Walking sticks were entirely necessary for the steep and slippery terrain.  At one point, we crested a hill and could see over the canopy.  A breeze from the Caribbean came through and was the most refreshing thing I could imagine at the time.  We walked past indigenous villages and farms completely hidden within the jungle.  The final destination, however, was a hidden waterfall that we could only reach by repelling down a sheer rock face.  Here we had lunch, stripped off our rubber boots, and took a lonnngggg, well deserved rest.

Getting ready: Scott looking fine in his rubber boots
The indigenous village
Trekking through pretty untamed trails
A look up at the canopy
The start of the repel
Finally reaching the waterfall


Our awesome guides

The trek back was long and painful, but it was totally worth it.  At one point, Edgar found a jaguar den and we had to be very quiet and walk really close together.  Honestly, I was more scared of the spiders in our room, but I had heard of guides and tourists being stalked and snatched by jaguars.

When we returned to the lodge we enjoyed coffee and cookies and hung out near the river for a while before dinner time.  This time we I had duck and Scott had pork ribs.  I honestly still think about this duck dinner, it was SO good.  Night two really didn’t go much better than night 1 and our spider friends returned to torment us.

The next day we were due to raft back West towards San José and return by bus to the Crown Plaza.  We packed up, said goodbye to the spiders and went down for breakfast and to wait for our river guides once again.  While we were waiting, Edgar (our guide from the day before) grabbed us and told us he had something that I’d been waiting to see.  He had set up a telescope and told me to look through it towards a treetop.  On our very last full day in Costa Rica, I finally saw a wild sloth!!!  I was so happy! It was sleeping, but I could still see it really well and watched as it breathed as slowly as you would expect a sloth to breathe.  He also showed us a glass frog which camouflages with its eggs perfectly on the bottom of leaves, a blue jeans frog which is very loud and colorful, and a green iguana-type lizard which was so well camouflaged that we had to look directly at it several times to see it.

On the four hour rafting trip back, we went through much more advanced rapids.  At one point the guide turned the raft completely backward so we wouldn’t see the size of the upcoming rapid.  Apparently he didn’t trust us not to spook and ignore his commands, but it was so fun.  We stopped along the banks and the river guides turned our raft into a buffet and served us a lunch of fruit, salad, sweet tea and delicious chicken burritos.  This is when we were shown the piranhas.  You could throw a piece of cheese into the river and a SWARM of fish would destroy it.  We let them eat out of our hands and felt their soft teeth.


On the bank where we had lunch and fed piranhas


The raft buffet
For this trip we had to have a safety kayaker for the more dangerous rapids

When we resumed rafting, we came upon a canyon and everyone jumped off the raft to float through the green waters and admire the scenery.  It was truly a moment of peaceful surrender for all of us.

The canyon with a primitive bridge
Clearly I’m enjoying the float


Finally, we finished our river adventure, took the bus back to the Crowne Plaza, had some sushi and crashed out in Costa Rica for the last time.  In the morning, we returned our rental car which had driven us all over the country, went to the airport, bought some more amazing coffee, and got on the plane that ended our honeymoon.

We chose Costa Rica because we wanted adventure in a beautiful, relaxing place.  Honestly, we had mostly adventure and not much relaxing, but that’s more our style anyways.  Maybe next time we’ll spend our days on the Caribbean side and take in more of the beach life, but there’s really way too much to experience in the land of Pura Vida.

Costa Rican Honeymoon: Volcanoes and Jungles

For Part 2 of our Costa Rican honeymoon, Scott and I travelled inland to visit the cities of Arenal and La Fortuna.  We drove quite a distance from Tamarindo to get to our hotel in Arenal.  We stopped at a Costa Rican Walmart and tried a ton of local snacks: chocolate covered pineapples and bananas, yuca chips, and palomitas (popcorn).   We also enjoyed a scenic drive around the entire perimeter of Lake Arenal which is a manmade lake at the base of an epic volcano.

For this portion of our trip, we stayed at the Arenal Manoa Hotel.  This is one of the many hotels in the area with a STUNNING view of the Arenal Volcano and in-house hot springs.  We were greeted with a blackberry drink and taken to a villa with a view.

View from our villa
Enjoying some Chardonnay on our porch
A beautiful Bird of Paradise
Humid volcano selfie!

After we got settled in, we went down to the pool and swim up bar where we had a few too many mango daiquiris and margaritas.  The pool was busy and had a party atmosphere so we enjoyed people watching.  Then we got changed for dinner and went to the hotel restaurant, La Saca.  We had SUPER rich mushroom risotto and pesto gnocchi and went back to the villa to go into a sugary drink and rich food coma.

One of the swim up bars

The next day we woke early, had a 10 minute breakfast stop at La Saca, and went to catch a shuttle for an all day tour.  We were going to tour two major destinations:  The hanging bridges at Mystico National Park and La Fortuna Waterfall.   These two hikes were very different, but equally incredible.

At the hanging bridges, we saw unique plants, vipers, tarantula, countless birds, loud and fascinating cicadas, howler monkeys, and the most rare sighting of day: peccaries!  Upon entering the park, we saw a deadly, baby viper right away.  Then we looked back towards where we walked in and saw a small herd of peccaries!   The deeper into the forest we went, the louder the buzzing sounds throughout the air became.  We learned that these were cicadas and they became the soundtrack for this entire trip.  They provide a constant humming melody that differs depending on region.  These massive insects live only one day, but certainly make their presence known during their short lives.  We had wonderful tour guides who spotted camouflaged animals that we would have never seen.  My recommendation after this trip is always to do wildlife tours with a guide!

At the entrance for Mystico National Park
A juvenile viper (could kill a human with one bite)
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Peccaries looking for food
Some cool plant-life
Fuzzy caterpillar!
A spider in a crazy tunnel web



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Super speedy lizard


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A cicada next to his old skin


Another big lizard


Our shuttle picked us up from the hanging bridges and took us to our next stop:  La Fortuna Waterfall.  This was one of my favorite parts of this trip!  We had to hike down about 500 steps (which meant we eventually had to hike back up them) and arrived at a gorgeous waterfall and crystal clear pools.  We were able to swim in the pools amongst tons of not-so-small fish and mossy cliffside.

A view of the waterfall from afar
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The hundreds of steps to the pools
A close-up
Staring at the powerful waterfall in awe
Waterfall selfie!
Sitting on a rock and channeling my inner Little Mermaid

After a long day of touring, we all enjoyed lunch together.  This was our first experience with a Costa Rican cuisine staple:  Casado.  Casado consists of meat, tortillas, beans, rice, a fried plantain, salad, cheese and sometimes eggs and sautéed onions.

It was a long day of hiking, so we spent the rest of the afternoon watching American football in Spanish and napping.  For dinner we drove slightly outside of the hotel to a delicious pizza place called !Que Rico! which means “How Delicious!”.

The next day we had another tour planned.  This time we drove two hours in a shuttle to do the Rio Celeste (translates to Light Blue River) hike.  This was one of the most fascinating sights and the photos truly don’t do it justice.  The Rio Celeste is full of minerals that create the optical illusion of a light blue color.  The water is in fact clear, but the reflection of the light off of the white mineral particles makes the water looks like an opaque, bright blue.  We saw many more animals on this hike including frogs, different kinds of insects, spiders, monkeys, snakes, and coati (a raccoon-like mammal).  We also saw hallucinogenic leaves the size of a car tire and one of the largest and oldest trees in the country.

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Catarata = Waterfall
Another long hike down to a waterfall, but this one was a no-swim-zone.


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The water bubbles like it’s boiling here and smells STRONGLY of sulfur.
A very rickety bridge that you had to cross one-at-a-time.
Where the minerals enter the stream and change the water from clear to bright blue.
A wild turkey
A female spider who eats her tiny, brown mates
A giant and ancient tree
A poison dart frog
A very well camouflaged cricket
Scott on another rickety bridge.

We finished this day with a delicious meal of arroz con pollo (chicken and rice) and a dip in the Termales (Hot Springs).  These hot springs were at our hotel and were actually rerouted from a naturally hot river that’s heated by the volcanoes.  Of course, the hot springs also had a swim up bar and we had to take advantage on our last night in Arenal.

The following day was the day we were supposed to travel to the capital, San José, but we couldn’t resist squeezing in one more activity while we were here: A Coffee Tour.  If you’re ever in Costa Rica, do a coffee plantation tour!  I have alway been an avid coffee drinker and this tour completely changed the way I buy and drink coffee.  Scott has even been drinking more java after this experience.  During the tour we planted, harvested, roasted, and ground beans to see every step of the process.  We also made our own chocolate and sugar cane juice which was amazing!  We may have gotten bitten by some ants in the process, but it was totally worth it.

Harvesting coffee beans the old-fashioned way
Making chocolate
Juicing sugar cane

The coffee tour marked the end of our time in Arenal and the beginning of our journey to San José and the Pacuare River.  Another treacherous drive that ended in some horrific traffic began and a whole new scene awaited.  Part 3 will outline our time in these Eastward destinations!


Honeymooning in Costa Rica: Pacific Coast

FINALLY I’m getting around to writing about our Honeymoon!  Scott and I chose Costa Rica for our 10 day honeymoon because it offers adventure, romance and relaxation all in one.  We started this adventure September 5th which is actually during Costa Rica’s rainy season.  We took a risk going during the low tourism season, but it paid off!  Not a single activity was interrupted by weather and we felt as if we had beaches, bars and restaurants all to ourselves!  We chose three distinct regions of this gorgeous country and each was so full of unique experiences that they warrant their own posts.  Our first stop was the Pacific Coast, specifically the Guanacaste province.

We flew United airlines without incident from Seattle to San Francisco to a hurricane ravaged Houston and finally to Liberia, Costa Rica.  After picking up our rental car, it was  about an hour long drive to our hotel in Tamarindo.  The drive was AMAZING and we knew right away that we would love our time here.  There were tropical farms, colorful houses, and crowded neighborhoods to view along the sides of the highway.  We had to stop for sheep in the road and dodge crazy Costa Rican drivers.

View from the plane

For our time in Guanacaste province, we stayed at Cala Luna Boutique Hotel in Tamarindo.  We were greeted with a hot towel and some of the most delicious lemonade I’ve ever had.  While our room was prepared, Scott and I took our exhausted butts to one of the hotel restaurants to enjoy tropical drinks and some ceviche.


Of course, we were beyond tired from a full day of travel, so once our villa was ready, we took a long and well deserved nap.  One of the best things about our hotel was that they offered free sunset cocktails on their stretch of beach.  We couldn’t miss the opportunity to see our first Costa Rican sunset so we headed to the sand.  On our way we had our first of many wildlife sightings: a tiny tropical skunk.

Since Costa Rica is so close to the equator, the sun sets at around 6PM every day regardless of season which was hard to get used to coming from a Seattle summer.  However, we loved seeing the beach at twilight.  There were heavy clouds, massive volcanic rock formations, crabs and seashells.  The most interesting part to me was how the beach backed right up to a dense jungle.  Definitely not what I’m used to from the beaches in the United States or even Europe.


After sunset cocktails, we took a night swim at the pool and I saw my first lightning bugs all throughout the night sky.  They were followed by actual lightning warning of the storm to come.

After our swim, we got cleaned up for dinner and had some more tropical drinks and tropical seafood.  We watched two resident cats politely beg for scraps and saw lizards scurrying over the walls.  Half way through our meal we experienced a total power outage and we knew we were in for a pretty decent storm.  Later, as we snuggled up and watched People of Earth on our iPad, we heard the most insane thunderstorm of our life! We tried to capture video of the massive rolling thunder and super bright lightning, but it was a challenge.  In the end we really only have a selfie to show for it.

Nighttime thunderstorm selfie!

The next day we had our first planned activity:  paddle boarding!  After breakfast at the hotel (with amazing tropical fruits and Costa Rican French press coffee), we went to Playa Tamarindo and picked up our paddle boards from Kelly’s Surf Shop.  We found out that the locals call this area “Tama-Gringo” because it has some of the best surfing in the world which draws thousands of tourists during peak season.  Being September, we were some of the only “Gringos” around.  After a super nice Costa Rican man who sells coconuts helped me carry my paddle board to the surf and Scott lost his sunglasses to the waves, we were finally out in the bay and able to see a whole new side of the beach.


After a couple of hours of paddling around the bay, we returned our boards and walked along the beach.  We found tons of pristine sea shells and some crazy blue crab claws.  Then we bought a coconut from the man who helped me (DELICIOUS) and had some beers at Volcano Brewing Co.  I recommend the Tropical Golden Ale, it was sublime.



The towns of Costa Rica were so quiet, it was hard to use our usual method for choosing a place to eat:  go wherever there are the most people.  So, we had to use a new technique:  our noses.  While walking around Tamarindo we smelled Longboard BBQ and ended up getting some mojitos, ribs and smoked fish tacos there before heading back to the beach and body surfing until we were reading to go back to the hotel.  When we returned to our hotel we saw monkeys swinging through the treetops surrounding our villa (the jury is still out on whether they were spider or howler monkeys).


If possible, the sunset the second night was even more breathtaking.  Unfortunately, sunsets are one of those things that a camera just can’t do justice to, but Scott sure tried!



The next day was our last full day in this region and we took full advantage of it.  Rather than take the surf lessons we had planned, we ate breakfast at our hotel and then began an hour and half long drive inland to Diamante Eco Adventure Park.  The roads were washed out, steep, winding and super dangerous.  We even drove straight through two rushing rivers.  When we safely made it to the park, we were relieved to have a shuttle pick us up in the parking lot.

We then did a multi-stage zipline that included a free fall and a super long, face first portion with views of the coast line and jungle.

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View from the platform
Waiting for my first ride (pretty good GoPro pic)
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Suited and booted!

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The zipline adventure was followed by a tour through the animal sanctuary.  We arrived JUST in time for feeding-time for Lucy the sloth, got a private tour of the jungle cats (jaguars, margays, pumas and ocelots), and spent some time in a massive butterfly enclosure.

My new bestie, Lucy
Blue morpho butterfly (these were EVERYWHERE)
A napping female jaguar.

The park served us an amazing lunch (arroz con pollo, yummmmm) and we started the scary drive back to Tamarindo.  Once back on the coast, we explored the town stopping at juice stands, shops, restaurants and bars and ended our last day with dessert at our hotel.  I had some incredible passionfruit mousse while Scott had caramelized bananas with caramel ice cream.

The next morning we had insanely good coffee at Nordico Cafe in Tamarindo and started another long drive to our next destination!  Writing about this reaffirms my convictions that this was not our last trip to Costa Rica.  The people, coffee, and activities were all wonderful and I can’t wait to return.

Celebrating Love in Maui: Part 1

Less than a month before our wedding, Scott and I went to Maui to celebrate his Uncle Tom and Aunt Lori’s 25th wedding anniversary (July 2017).  I titled this blog “Part 1” because we will be returning to Maui for the wedding of our friends, Vince and Morgan, in March of 2018.  Maui seems like a pretty great place to celebrate love, but it’s also a great place to have some adventures.  Hopefully, “Part 2” will be full of totally different experiences on this incredible island!

This time, we stayed at a condo at the Maui Schooner Resort which is in Kihei.  The beaches here are lovely and it’s a quieter part of the island.  I definitely recommend it for people who like to stay out of the super touristy parts of the island.  However, the rest of our family were staying at the Marriott Ocean Beach Club in Lahaina which is heart and center of tourist activity.  Although these two resorts were a short distance apart, the traffic on HI-30 made for about an hour drive in between.  Luckily, this highway is incredibly scenic and makes for pretty great ocean viewing.

The View from Maui Schooner Resort
The Beach at Marriott Ocean Beach Club

For our first full day in Maui, we enjoyed the very family friendly pool at the Marriott and then swam in the ocean.  It was hilarious to watch the waves force us all to take a tumble at some point.  There was quite a bit of coral in the surf and eventually, I sliced my foot open and ended my ocean fun for the day (this seems to happen to me a lot).  I took the opportunity to go snuggle my brand new, baby niece Alice and get ready for our first ever Luau.

The luau was at the neighboring Hyatt resort.  We watched several performances which portrayed the history of island cultures (not just Hawaiian) and they saved the best for last: the fire dance, of course.  The food was incredible and we ate too much, but the drinks were basically sugar bombs with no real alcohol in them.

The next day was my favorite day from this short trip.  We took a Trilogy Snorkeling tour to Molokini Crater.  They played Pirate and Moana music while we sailed away from the marina eating cinnamon rolls and drinking coffee.  We took about an hour long catamaran ride and arrived at the Molokini Crater where there was incredible marine life and crystal clear waters to explore.  They also offered professional photography and and snuba diving.  On our way back to the main island, we took another stop to see massive sea turtles and eat a delicious BBQ chicken lunch.  I got a little sea sick, but it was totally worth it.  At the very end of the day, the captains turned off the engines and we did some true sailing back to the marina.  The crew made this so fun and you can tell they really loved their jobs (I mean, who wouldn’t?).


Scott and His Mom


The whole crew!


After an exhausting day, we stopped at a fruit stand and went back to the condo.  The mango and pineapple were out of this world!  I also finally got to stick a straw in a coconut!

The next day, we did a little shopping at some of the markets and craft fairs in Kihei.  I was on a mission to buy my bridesmaids all gifts and was able to find plumeria earrings for all of them.  You can definitely find a lot of Larimar, pearl, mother of pearl and opal in jewelry stands throughout Hawaii.  We ended our shopping experience at a restaurant called Three’s Bar and Grill which had AWESOME food and drinks and a fun, tropical sport’s bar type of atmosphere.  That night, we got dressed up and went to Tom and Lori’s anniversary celebration in Napili Bay.  Scott took a bunch of family photos and we had an incredible special menu at Sea House Restaurant for a night of celebrating.


On our final full day in Maui, we did The Road to Hana.  We took our rented Jeep, Tahoe, and Old-Van-With-No-AC and drove them ALL day over winding roads and past incredible scenery.  There are tons of hikes and adventures along this old road and views that take your breath away.  Although any of these stops are said to be fun and exciting, we were heading for The Pools of Ohe’o (Seven Sacred Pools) in Haleakala National Park.  You can no longer swim in The Pools, but it is still a sight worth seeing.  There are cliffs, jungle hikes, waterfalls and sapphire blue oceans.  There are also lots of fun places to eat on The Road to Hana.  We stopped at a taco truck at the entrance to another park and it was DELICIOUS!  They also had any kind of fruit smoothie you could ever want.

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Chillin in a Crazy Tree
Hiking the Cliffs

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Until next time, Maui!

First Bite of The Big Apple: 14 Things to Do in NYC

Last year Scott’s youngest sister Raynie graduated from Middle School and in celebration, we took her to New York City.  Scott had been once before, but Raynie and I were first-timers.  We stayed at the Grand Hyatt in Midtown Manhattan (https://newyork.grand.hyatt.com/en/hotel/our-hotel.html) which was an incredibly convenient and central location.  As it was our first time, we wanted to do everything!  I think we did a pretty fantastic job of experiencing the city and seeing the sights using the following New-York-City-Newbie Itinerary:

  1. Central Park:  I know this one sounds cliché, but it really is top of everyone’s list for a reason!  Central Park is massive and incredible.  We visited it several times during our trip.  I later found out that this was Scott’s original choice of places to propose, and I can definitely see why.  Our first visit to Central Park took us ALL day.  We began at the Southern most end of the park and walked the entire length of it, ending on the Northern side where we decided to get pizza in Harlem.  Although Harlem is not usually recommended as a tourist neighborhood, the pizza we had was worth the adventure.DSC_0005DSC_0008DSC_0013 (1)DSC_0015DSC_0020DSC_0030
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    The view from the tower of a castle inside of Central Park

    DSC_0037The next time we visited Central Park, we decided to check out the zoo that is in the park.  We got to sea the sea lions at feeding time and it made our day.DSC_0083 (1)DSC_0090DSC_0094Each time we visited Central Park, Raynie and I would try to become acquainted with the resident turtles.  There is a larger number of animals in Central Park than one would expect in such an urban setting.  It’s like an isolated little world.DSC_0075.jpg

  2. See A Broadway Show: While in New York, we got to see two Broadway shows.  One of my life-long dreams was to see Phantom of the Opera.  I never saw it in another city when I had the opportunity because I wanted to see it on Broadway in its original theater.  Although it was hard to hear the dialog and Raynie and Scott were a little lost, I LOVED IT.  When you know a show by heart, you don’t need clear dialog.  However, if I’m being honest, the better experience was seeing Something Rotten.  I had never heard of this show and it was amazing: good music, great comedy and expert production.  We had so much fun!DSC_0102IMG_3074
  3. Carnegie Deli: It’s breaking my heart to write this, but Carnegie Deli closed four months after our visit.  However, you can still order their food to be shipped nationwide (http://carnegiedeli.com), also there was a restaurant competitor across the street (whom sold the same sandwiches and cheesecake, but didn’t have the notoriety of Carnegie) which might be worth a try.  We went to Carnegie Deli late at night after experiencing Broadway and it was incredible!  Their hot pastrami sandwiches and strawberry cheesecake can’t be beat.
  4. Brunch in The Upper West Side:  I was lucky enough to have an old friend living in New York for an internship while we were visiting.  We wanted to see her and we wanted to do brunch, so we asked her for a recommendation.  We ended up going to Jacob’s Pickles in The Upper West Side (http://jacobspickles.com) and it was awesome!  Super creative drinks and delicious southern style food.
  5. The 9/11 Memorial: If it’s your first time in New York City, I would not miss this attraction.  You can feel how New York City has been shaped by the horrific events of 9/11 as you’re walking the streets, but you really understand it when you see these exhibits.  The monuments outside are one thing, but the museum itself really takes you back to that day.  We all left feeling awe-inspired, melancholy and full of thoughts and questions.DSC_0042DSC_0044 (1)DSC_0046
  6. The Museums:  The museums throughout New York City are incredible!  During our time here we visited a few of them (including the 9/11 Memorial Museum), but we spent the most time in the American Museum of Natural History.  There was something about the fossils of ancient creatures that kept us enthralled for hours.DSC_0056 (1)DSC_0060 (1)
  7. SHOPPING!: Raynie and I love to shop when we get together and New York might be an expensive city, but it is also a city of bargains!  We shopped on 5th Avenue and in Times Square and can’t wait to go back.
  8. Times Square at Night:  Times Square is a chaotic place.  It definitely feels hectic and urban and isn’t a place in which we wanted to spend a ton of time.  That being said, it is a place everyone should see if they’re in New York.  It’s captivating and you never run out of new characters to look at.  Some of the street performers have been doing the same thing for generations and have a “classic” act while others are constantly changing and updating to shock the public.  IMG_3053IMG_3073
  9. Walk The High Line: The High Line is a repurposed rail road that has been turned into a park.  You get incredible views of the city, run into plenty of interesting New Yorkers and get to stretch your legs in a beautiful setting.  We never would have done this if my friend, Katie, hadn’t recommended it and I’m so glad she did.  One of the coolest things we did during this trip.DSC_0223 (1)DSC_0229
    A sculpture that tricked our minds on The High Line 

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  10. The Empire State Building:  This might seem like another “duh”, but don’t miss this!  The inside of the building feels like it’s frozen in time and is a relic of a glamorous era.  The view from the observation deck is simply the best view of the city you can get: 360 degrees of unobstructed Manhattan.DSC_0166DSC_0200DSC_0170 (1)DSC_0206DSC_0173DSC_0215
  11. The Statue of Liberty: Confession:  We didn’t even get off of the boat when we took a ride out to the The Statue of Liberty, but we didn’t need to.  The view from the tour boats is as good as it gets and we were getting exhausted with crowds.  In person she is more impressive than we could have thought.  Her power isn’t in her size, but in her presence and it is a formidable one.  Plus, the boats give you a new perspective on the New York City skyline.DSC_0255DSC_0259 (1)
  12. Make a Pit-Stop at a Pret A Manger: We first discovered Prets when we were in London and were ecstatic to find them all over New York City.  If you want delicious, organic coffee and a plethora of healthy lunch and breakfast choices, this is your spot.  Walking the streets of Manhattan is exhausting and we found ourselves grabbing quick bites at Pret throughout our time here.
  13. Sip Cocktails at a Rooftop Bar: We only got to do this one during the daylight hours since Raynie was only 14, but we definitely got to see the draw for rooftop bars in the city.  Our next trip will be full of glamorous night caps at these stunning locations.
  14. Explore the Streets:  Finally, just see the city!  Whether you see the city by foot or take a bus tour, explore as much as you can.  The architecture, people and artwork are amazing (and have been seen in so many movies) and there’s never a shortage of sights.  We happened to walk and ride a bus tour during our visit and each method gives a different perspective.DSC_0098DSC_0127DSC_0150DSC_0134DSC_0121 (1)DSC_0152IMG_3065

Last Stop: London

To round out our 2016 trip to Europe, we just had to Stop in the United Kingdom to visit one of my best friends, Kirsty, and her family.  We spent three nights at a hotel called Thistle which was right by Trafalgar Square in the heart of London (Thistle Trafalgar Hotel).  It was modern, clean and incredibly centrally located.

I had been to London, Oxford, and Brackley back in 2011 when I was studying abroad in Greece so I had five specific things I wanted Scott to experience:

  1. Indian Food
  2. London Theatre
  3. A Sunday Roast
  4. Afternoon Tea
  5. A Bus Tour

The first thing had to be the incredible Indian food that is ALL over the United Kingdom.  Indian food in the UK is like Mexican food in The States, and it’s amazing!  Rather than going to a curry house of which there were many, we went to a more gourmet Indian experience and chose a restaurant close to our hotel called Lotus (http://www.lotus.london).  Unfortunately, Lotus is now closed, but we had a great time there sampling some dishes we’d never seen at Indian restaurants before.

Scott and I spent a very short time taking in the sights before we had to take the Underground (London’s version of the subway) to a train station and get ourselves out to the countryside to see Kirsty.  As incredible as London is, there is something about the English countryside that really called to us.  It is vibrantly lush and green and the people are kind.  We were exhausted and amazed so we completely forgot to take photos, but we adored our train rides out to Kirsty’s house.

Upon arriving in Brackley, we settled in to Kirsty’s guest room and prepared for dinner with her parents and brother.  We drove a short way out from Brackley (on the opposite side of the road which was trippy for Scott at first) to Aynho and came to a small farm-like restaurant nestled into the green hills of England called The Great Western Arms (https://www.great-westernarms.co.uk/index.html).  This was some of the best British food of our entire stay here in the UK and it was gorgeous!

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The next day, we scooped up Kirsty and took her back to London with us where we all stayed at The Thistle and played tourists for a day.  There is SO much to see in London so we all bought a Red Bus hop-on-hop-off tour and spent the day driving around and staring in awe.  The coolest thing about London, to me, is the juxtaposition of new and old everywhere you look.  There is nothing like it in The States.  There are glass and steel skyscrapers in the background and ancient stone castles in the foreground.  Scott was shooting off of the open air bus for hours and I could post his photos for days.  Here is a sample of the sights:

Red Bus Tours:  A Must for London-First-Timers
Trafalgar Square Street Performers


Kirsty and I in front of Parliament and Big Ben


Scott and I in front of the gates of Buckingham Palace


That evening we went out to a casual restaurant that Kirsty had been dying to show Scott (because Scott’s favorite food is simply: chicken) called Nando’s (Nando’s Website).  This place is so popular in the UK that they even have a slang phrase “Cheeky Nando’s” for when someone is being feisty.  It definitely lived up to the hype.

After dinner, it was time to see a show.  Similar to New York, you have to see a show if you’re in London.  Every day they sell discount tickets, dinner-and-a-show packages, and other ways to have the experience at a discounted rate.  In 2011, Kirsty and I saw Chicago and it was my first live musical.  It was life-changing.  This time, we all decided to see Thriller, which was a montage of Micheal Jackson songs.  I’ve NEVER seen an audience get so involved in a show, the energy was so high and the performers looked like they were having the time of their lives.  We even got to meet some of the cast members after thoroughly enjoying a night of theatre.


We finished with a few drinks at a pub in London in a trendy area and met some true characters before crashing after a long, active day.

The next day Kirsty had to return home to Brackley and Scott and I had another day to explore the city.  At this point, we had been abroad for a couple of weeks and were starting to miss our bed, our dogs, and our friends, but we were determined to see what we could see.  So, we took the advice of some friendly strangers and went to check out some of London’s amazing shopping.

If you’re shopping in London, your first stop should definitely be Oxford street.  Here you can find everything from low budgets trends to high end fashion statements and I bought enough to fill a second suitcase (which I did not have, oops!).

One of the last items on our list was a famous British Sunday Roast.  Scott and I got reservations at a very fine London hotel and had the experience of a roast with all the fixens:  Yorkshire pudding, roasted carrots and potatoes, roasted turnips, au jus, etc.  You can literally find this at almost every pub, restaurant or hotel in England on any given Sunday.


Then we went to one of London’s incredible street markets: Camden Passage.  The street markets in London are like nothing I’ve ever seen before (they blow Seattle’s Pike Place Market out of the water).  These places are eclectic, hectic and exciting.  I believe that everyone who travels should collect something.  In every country I visit, I find a piece of street art so that I can be taken back to that place whenever I see that particular piece.  In the markets of London, we found some of the BEST and most affordable street art hidden in their crazy bazaars throughout the city.  We bought some for our home, our friends’ homes and still wanted more.  We also found jewelry, clothing, and food that we couldn’t resist.

After shopping and exploring until our feet were about to fall off, we visited a curry house near our hotel for the second or third time called Salt N’ Pepper (http://www.saltnpepperuk.com) and returned to our hotel room to drop off our loot.

For our final night in Europe, we were so tired we couldn’t imagine another dinner out or walk around the city, so we simply revisited the theatre district and discovered what it was like to go to the movies in London.  We saw The Secret Life of Pets and ended our night early to get ready for the long flight home.

The one thing on our list that we didn’t get to do this time was Afternoon Tea.  This was one of my favorite experiences from my first trip, I guess that means we will just have to plan a return visit to one of my favorite cities!!



A Parisian Pit-Stop

During our time in Europe, we spent the majority of the trip in Spain with the intention of going to the UK to visit one of my best friends (and bridesmaids) on our way home.  However, we couldn’t resist the temptation to stop in Paris since neither of us had ever been there.  It’s one of the most famous cities in the world!  How could we not?!  We didn’t have a ton of extra time in our itinerary so we were only able to stay in Paris for about 48 hours, but we squeezed a lot out of that limited time.  As always, Scott took some incredible photos of this timeless city.

The first night, we arrived fairly late in the afternoon/early evening.  We took a LONG taxi ride through incredibly dense traffic to the heart of the city.  We noticed several things on this ride.  First, Parisian drivers are the most terrifying we’ve seen so far.  They didn’t seem to care for other vehicles, pedestrians, motor scooters or bicycles.  They would honk and yell out their windows at one another and I had never been so grateful to not have a rental car.  Second, we were reminded immediately that there were soccer finals going on and Parisian fans represented the teams they supported with a fury I hadn’t yet witnessed.  There were flags flying out of vehicle windows, people yelling off of balconies and out of their cars, it was madness.  Finally, Paris has ethnic districts unlike any I have seen.  When we entered the city, it was as if we were in India, then we transitioned into Africa, then China.  Every block seemed to have signs in a different language, clothing of a different style and people of a different color.  Once we arrived in the center of the city, however, it became extremely diverse.  You could hear different languages all around you and the city was full of life and color.

Our hotel was very urban and the entry way was hardly noticeable stuffed between different storefronts as it was.  We hurried up to our TINY hotel room (we didn’t even have a place to set our suitcases other than the bed) and quickly changed so that we could enjoy our first of only two nights in Paris.

Our hotel was just down the street from The Louvre which was on our agenda for the following day.  Not knowing the city at all, we went towards the only landmark we knew from our taxi ride, The Seine River, and started to explore.  Sun was setting over The Seine, we caught our first glimpse of the tip-top of The Eiffel Tower and could see the ferris wheel spinning amongst the fire-orange clouds.

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We stood on the bridge for a while, taking it all in.  We watched river boats cruise up and down under the bridges, couples walked along the sidewalks that lined the canal-like river, lovers stopped for sunset photos, and locals marched home from work or out for a meal.

One of the things we were most excited to experience in Paris was THE FOOD, of course! We had dinner reservations for the following evening, but the first night we were flying by the seat of our pants.   We saw a restaurant a couple blocks away directly on the river and thought that it looked inviting and traditional so we walked over and hoped it wasn’t too fancy to allow a couple of tired looking walk-ins.

We were seated right away and we were NOT disappointed.  In fact, this impromptu, late dinner was our favorite of all the Parisian eating experiences we had during this short visit.  The restaurant was called La Frégate (http://alafregate.fr/en).  We started our meal with Foie Gras, which Scott had never had, and my first taste of French red wine.  I was totally in love with French wine after this night.  Growing up in Washington wine country, I’ve always loved wine and I’m turning Scott into quite the wine-o, as well.


We then ordered entrees that we thought would give us a true taste of French fine dining.  Scott got rack of lamb and I got duck with raspberry sauce.  We savored these meals because, though simple, they were EPIC.


After an delectable dinner, we strolled along the river under the street lights for a little longer before returning to our tiny room and passing out.  We had big plans for our one and only full day in Paris which was yet to come.

The next morning we had early passes to The Louvre.  We got up, showered in the teeny tiny bathroom, got a coffee and a croissant (something I had also REALLY been looking forward to), and walked the short walk to The Louvre.  We were immediately overwhelmed.  The outside of The Louvre is a work of art in itself and spans 652,000 square feet.  The courtyards are all immaculately landscaped and the entrance to The Louvre is a glass pyramid with escalators inside.  We knew we were only going to be able to see a tiny fraction of the hundreds of thousands of pieces inside.

We chose to see Greek sculptures, Renaissance paintings, ancient Egyptian works, and historical Christian pieces.  Essentially we were following the yellow-brick road that would lead us to the Mona Lisa (which is what every other patron seemed to be doing, as well).  Although we have about 100 photos of the pieces, murals and rooms at The Louvre, I’ve chosen only a few to share here.







When we got to the Mona Lisa, we were shocked by how tiny the painting was.  She was contained behind a wall of glass and hundreds of  pushy tourists were snapping photos of her.  Surrounding her, were hundreds of incredible, large-scale, paintings from the same time period that were equally awe-inspiring, but were ignored due to the fame of this one portrait.  It was quite a scene to take in.

Eventually, our eyes and legs were exhausted from scouring the rooms and walls of this immense museum.  We had so much more to see and decided to return to our hotel room, change into some walking shoes, and hit the streets of Paris.  Of course, we had to stop first and get some lunch at a corner cafe and get some to-die-for fresh fruit juice.

One of the landmarks I most wanted to see was Notre-Dame de Paris.  I had grown up watching the Disney movie, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and I wanted to see it with my own eyes.  I was amazed at the skills of the animators.  They were able to take an incredibly ornate, stone structure and turn it into a cartoon while preserving the character of such a place.  I felt like I actually recognized some of the gargoyles.  One of the things you don’t get to see in the cartoon, however, is the garden.  The courtyard at Notre-Dame is just as gorgeous as the bell towers that have become so well known.


After Notre-Dame (which was quite a trek from our hotel), we did some more walking along The Seine, explored the street markets for souvenirs, and returned to the hotel to get dressed up for our planned Parisian fine dining experience.


For dinner we had reservations at Le Violon d’Ingres (http://www.maisonconstant.com/violon-ingres/) which we found by searching “fine dining near The Eiffel Tower”.  Before hailing a taxi to take us towards the 7th arrondissement of Paris (the district in which The Eiffel Tower resides), we stopped in a small bar near our hotel and ordered a few glasses of wine.  The bar tender was friendly and informative and helped me pick out some new favorite varieties of French wine.

At Le Violon d’Ingres we ordered a bottle of wine and both decided to enjoy their tasting menu.  This was a six-course meal with two appetizers, two entrees and two desserts.  The unanimous favorite course was the first one: a truffle bisque with tiny bits of fried pork belly.  This course set the tone for a ridiculously rich meal (thankfully the courses were quite small) complete with pigeon, macaroons, and a salad with a soft-boiled egg on top.  We were so enraptured with the food that we completely forgot to take pictures of the stunning presentations.  After the third, surprise dessert course, I was stuffed and uncomfortable wearing a pretty tight, red dress but so satisfied.  We decided to walk off our feast by heading over to The Eiffel Tower.  As the evening sun went down, we watched the famous tower light up.

We had NO IDEA that the final soccer game was letting out at the same time and as we came upon The Eiffel Tower (which had a huge inflated soccer ball hanging from it) the streets became FLOODED with angry or ecstatic fans.  Feeling full from a rich meal, we were overwhelmed in such a huge, rowdy crowd.  We found some steps that led directly into The Seine and we wet our feet while the world calmed down around us.


This marked the end of our one day in Paris.  The next morning we would be getting up very early and flying to London where Scott and I would meet up with my dear friend, Kirsty, and visit with her and her family.  Someday we will return to Paris and enjoy the plethora of things we weren’t able to see during the hours we had in the summer of 2016.

We Did What in Ibiza?

After spending seven days on El Costa del Sol (the Southern coast of Spain) with Scott’s family, we set off on our own to spend four days on the Spanish island of Ibiza.  Of course, Ibiza has a reputation as the party mecca of Europe with it’s mega-clubs and easy access to substances of all kinds.  This reputation spiked even more in 2016 with Mike Posner’s hit song “I Took a Pill in Ibiza”.  We learned very quickly, however, that Ibiza has more to offer than a fantastic party scene and we had a blast exploring and learning about this amazing place.

The view upon flying into Ibiza was undeniably spectacular!  I had been to the Greek island Mykonos before in 2011, but we took a ferry.  This was my first time arriving on an island by plane and it was an incredible sight.  We could see entire bays filled with super-yachts and turquoise waters turning into a deep blue.  We weren’t able to get great photos from our airplane window, but we definitely tried:


Arriving in Ibiza felt similar to arriving in Las Vegas.  You cold feel the excited energy on the plane (especially as people hit the runway and rushed into the airport).  Everyone expected to have the time of their lives.


Our first order of business was to check into our hotel and get a refreshing beverage.  We stayed at a super modern hotel called “Midjorn” in close proximity to some of Ibiza’s largest clubs and most popular restaurants.  There was a pool in the center of our hotel that bumped dance music nearly 24/7.  We went to the bar nearest to pool for our first drink.  Scott was smart and ordered a delicious mojito.  I tried to be adventurous and order something new (but with coconut which is my favorite) so I decided to try something called cachaça.  It came in a bag and must be an acquired taste…

Scott with his mojito and my coconut-in-a-bag drink.  Also, how cute is he?!

After a couple of cocktails, it was time to wander the beach and find a good place to score some grub.  We ended up just following the noise of music and raised voices to an open-air restaurant called Bora-Bora Ibiza which opened up onto the beach.  This was pretty much what most people expect from Ibiza…mass amounts of alcohol and people dancing on plastic table tops in the late afternoon.  Unfortunately, the food did not align with the crowds of patrons at this restaurant, but we were hungry and getting exhausted from our flight so we chowed down and went back to Midjorn to pass out for an early evening nap.

We didn’t sleep long because the pool was still blasting music outside our window and we were excited to check out this famous club scene!  The night scene in Ibiza doesn’t start until after midnight, but I threw on a sun dress and we hit the street.  Luckily, Midjorn was on the same street as one of the clubs we had heard the most about called Space.


We stopped at an open-air bar to get a couple of drinks before the club and wait for things to really pick up.  We watched as people in crazy clubbing outfits strutted past and drug dealers yelled at people blatantly on the street.  They would advertise marijuana, but we would hear people ask them point-blank about more risqué inventory.  Although this was some of the best people watching I had ever seen, it was eventually time to continue the walk to Space.

Unfortunately, we don’t have any photos of Space, but it was certainly a sight to be seen.   It had tons of different rooms on different levels and each room had different music and an entirely different scene.  One room was neon-tiedye-70’s themed and full of people reenacting the Summer of Love.  Another, was mostly red and patrons were smashing their glasses all over the floor (we didn’t stay here long).  Still another was a super-rave with a massive light show, DJ, and dance performers.  We spent most of the time on a jungle themed patio with throw-back hits playing to people who wanted a more chill dance party.  We arrived expecting to stay an hour or two, but ended up leaving at 5AM.  The party was still in full swing and did not look like many people had any intentions of heading home.  Space was purchased by a competitor and shut down within a month of our visit so I’m glad we saw this “super club” when we did.

The next day was all about exploring this stunning island.  We woke up at a decent hour, grabbed a quick breakfast at the restaurant in our hotel and took our beach towels down to the sand.  More so than the mainland, the women here had the tendency to sun bathe topless (including myself, when in Rome, right?) and club promoters would walk the beach interrupting conversations and trying to give special access to whichever attraction they were selling.  We ended up talking to some of these promoters for quite a while and buying discount tickets to see David Guetta the following night.


After we felt good and crispy, we needed to find a good spot for lunch.  We found another open-air restaurant with a much more grown-up vibe called Restaurante Moorea.  We ended up eating here every day while we were in Ibiza.  They had a huge variety of food, super friendly staff, and a good selection of wine.


After lunch, we took a taxi to the other side of the island.  We walked down the coast to the edge of a cliff side that came straight out of the sea.  We were able to see miles of coast line and some of the more popular places for Ibiza visitors to take their yachts.  I wanted to come this way because I heard you could see a filming location from one of my favorite shows, Game of Thrones.  The scenery did not dissapoint.



The ancient stone wall on the cliff you see in the photos led all the way up and around the hill side to a castle in the distance (you can see it in the last photo).  We decided we had to make this hike (even though I was in flip-flops) to explore this relic of medieval times.  This walk straight up hill took some time, but we saw amazing things along the way:  super yachts parked in the marina, alley ways with bright purple flowers hanging out of the windows, restaurants that set up their tables on the sidewalks where the locals would eat, monuments, a ridiculous amount of scooters and more breath-taking views.


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Eventually we discovered a short cut through an ancient tunnel that had had electricity added in the relatively recent past.  It took us up the remaining height of the hill to a castle and a chapel.  The building was closed to tourists, but we were able to check out the outside and imagine what this place would have looked like in its glory days.


What goes up must come down: it was now time to make the hike back down the winding cobblestone roads.  We ended this adventure the way we do so many when we are on vacation: with a delicious glass of wine.  This one just happened to have a view of multimillion dollar yachts coming in and out of docks nearby, and locals walking their dogs on the boardwalk (I was more interested in the dogs than the yachts, of course).


We took a taxi back home and ended our second day on this island with a relaxed dinner and an early night.

The following day we had another long lounge on the beach and a refreshing lunch at Moorea.  We knew we had a big night ahead so we took our day slowly and made sure to nap.  Eventually, it was time for our only big show during our time in Ibiza: David Guetta at Ushuaia Ibiza Beach Hotel.  Unlike our experience at Space with a room for every level of party animal, David Guetta was a true rave in the open courtyard of a massive hotel.  It was extremely crowded, but we found a spot against a fence at the far right of the stage.  The fence was directly under the balconies of hotel suites so we watched hotel guests experience the show from their room in style.  During the opening act, Afrojack, we took in the sights including large art installments throughout the courtyard.  One of them was a faucet in mid-air with running water cascading down to the ground.  It was hilarious watching people stare in awe not able to figure out how this was possible.



When the sun went down, David Guetta came on and the energy of the crowd changed completely.  People rushed to the stage, got out props, and began dancing as only ravers do.  I was overwhelmed so Scott took me to a bench to listen and watch the spectacle.  Guetta’s set was SO SO GOOD and we ended up being some of the last people to leave.  The show ended at 2AM which is extremely early for a night in Ibiza to end so we walked straight from the courtyard out onto the beach.  We laid in the sand, listened to music on our phone, stared at the city lights along the coast and talked about how our life together is changing.  After some comical encounters with other people ending their nights out (such as a girl who decided her friends weren’t as fun as we were and a man who had lost his phone AND his pants), we were pretty much alone on the beach in a pitch black night.  As ridiculous as it sounds, we decided to take our shoes off, put my phone in Scott’s pocket, and slow dance knee-deep in the waves to the soft music coming from my iPhone.  A night that began with a massive, overwhelming crowd full of loud and extreme music ended with just us, the city lights, a black ocean, and the quiet voices of Adele, Tom Petty and Bob Marley.

Our only photo from the beach that night (notice my face covered in sand)

The next day was one of my favorite days of this entire trip!  We took a catamaran tour to a tiny crescent beach a little ways out from the main island.  Apparently, this beach continuously makes in onto the lists of most beautiful beaches in the world and I definitely see why.  In all honesty, the catamaran ride wasn’t my favorite activity.  We didn’t realize that this was marketed as a “family cruise” complete with face painting, pirate themed games, and a kid-friendly lunch.  I love kids, but I’m prone to seasickness and my stomach was uneasy from the night before, a quiet cruise would have been nice.  However, the less-than-ideal boat ride brought us to the place that I most want to revisit in the entire world (so far).  We had to unload from the catamaran straight into the ocean which was crystal clear and wade to shore through schools of fish.  Scott and I decided to trek far away from the catamaran (and the kids) to our own little slice of white sand and the hour we got to spend here was not nearly enough.


We spent one more (very exhausted) evening in Ibiza, went to bed early and boarded our flight for Paris the next day.  Ibiza may have a reputation as the greatest place to party and dance in the world (which it more than deserves), but it is so much more than that.  It’s an island filled with people from a plethora of different countries (I heard more languages here than anywhere else), history, architecture, food, and incredible beaches.  Scott and I loved our time here, and fully intend to return.

Next time, we head to Paris!  Although we only spent two nights here, we crammed in a multitude of new experiences and I will have plenty to write about.


Cádiz: A Drive Worth Taking

I’m fortunate enough to have a grandmother who has been to Europe a few times.  When she heard I was going to Southern Spain she said, “If at all possible, take the drive to Cádiz.”  I could not be more glad that I heeded her advice and we took the 2.5 hour long drive along the coast to this incredible city.  Of the excursions we took whilst staying in Málaga, Cádiz was BY FAR my favorite place.

Luckily, it wasn’t hard to convince Scott’s family that this would be a road trip worth taking.  We loaded into our tiny, black, European car and started our journey West.  This was our first major excursion in which we were able to drive ourselves (and not get nauseous on an over-stuffed bus) and it was amazing to get to see the Spanish countryside in a more intimate manner.  We saw coastlines, mountains, tiny villages, acres of sunflower fields and  whitewashed towns nestled into hillsides.


When we arrived in Cádiz, we began wandering through quintessential, narrow, European alleys.  We were there fairly early in the day, but we were craving paella so we found a small restaurant that was cooking up their first batch of the day.  We agreed that it would be nice to simply sit, sip some drinks, watch the passerby and wait for the freshest paella we could possibly get.


During our time in Spain, we explored many grand and incredibly ornate cathedrals.  The most elegant and interesting of all of these places, was the Catedral de Cádiz.  The photos below outline our discovery of the detailed arches, expansive pews, and ancient crypt below.


Scott likes to take pictures of me staring in awe


The most elegant organ
Another incredible organ in the loft of the cathedral
One of the many alters.  This one is made entirely of precious metals.
An image from the crypt below full of respected religious figures.

After thoroughly trekking through the interior of the cathedral, we went back out into a beautiful and bustling square and saw that one of the bell towers was open for exploration.  It was a long, long climb through narrow passage ways to the top, but we couldn’t resist.  Scott’s grandma agreed to wait on the elegant stone steps of the cathedral while we made the climb to the top.  We could not have anticipated the views we would be rewarded with.  The bells of this cathedral spend their days peering out over 360 degree views of the entire city and two stunning coastlines.

Looking out of one of the few windows on the windy climb up the bell tower.





After seeing the city in its entirety from an elevated view, we decided to see some of it up close and personal on foot.  We took the climb back down the tower and walked down the coast line.  We stopped several times to take in new views of the city and eventually came upon a castle.  The castle was only accessible by one pathway that cut through the turquoise waters.  We had a blast running down the bridge path and jumping off of it onto micro beaches and rocks with waves crashing against them.

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Our one week in Málaga had many excursions to lovely places such as Gibraltar, Ronda, and Puerto Banús, but if I could revisit just one of these places it would most certainly be Cádiz.  The scenery, food, history, and culture were astounding and we were only there for a matter of hours!  Should we return to Southern Spain in our lifetime, Cádiz will definitely be our home base.

This is the final installment of our time on the Spanish mainland.  My next account will take us to the Spanish island of Ibiza were Scott and I spent four days alone dancing, exploring, eating, people watching, and getting much more sunshine.