Category Archives: Adventure

Amsterdam, Netherlands

For those who have never visited Amsterdam, it’s easy to assume a young, daring city with the reputable “coffee shops”, Red Light District, exciting nightlife, and Space Cake. I personally associated it with the hash brownie scene from Eurotrip. But Amsterdam is SO much more than that. It’s a city thriving with history and artistic heritage, a maze of canals and narrow houses, 17th century buildings that tilt at impossible angles, a beautiful countryside with some of the last remaining windmills that are centuries old, and the best made Gouda you will ever have in your life. There are few cities that can combine history with modern urban flair like Amsterdam. This city truly holds a special “personality” if a city could have one.
Bikes, Bikes, Bikes!
Cycling is the heart to Amsterdam’s character. It is a way of life and there are are nearly double the amount of bicycles than residents. Most people own two bikes; one for work, and one for leisure. Bikes are how Amsterdammers do everything – whether riding to work, or meeting a friend for coffee, or heading to a dinner date. If you’re feeling daring, head to a rental shop and take a spin. But you better keep up! Everyone yields to bikes. They simply rule the city.
Canal by Boat
If locals aren’t on a bike, they may well be on a boat. Amsterdam has an endless network of canals and many options for taking a boat ride. I would suggest taking an open-air canal boat or one of the free ferries behind Centraal Station. If you really want a workout, try the paddle-boats. But speaking from experience, it’s only fun for the first ten minutes… and make sure you can paddle and steer fast enough to get out of the way of every other boat on the canal. Paddle-boats never have the right-of-way.
Gezellig!
Amsterdam has a feeling of gezellig, a Dutch trait that translates something similar to content and cozy. It’s easier to experience than define. It’s as if time stands still, an awareness of the present that puts all of your stresses aside, at least until tomorrow. You can feel it anywhere, whether you’re sipping coffee at a traditional cafe, walking aimlessly through the flower market with the smell of fresh waffles in the air, or simple chatter after a tasty dinner. There is a calmness and quietness about this city – and I think it’s gezellig.
Zaanse Schans
Windmills are the icon of Holland. Amsterdam used to be filled with windmills for various purposes, whether to prevent the city from flooding or grinding seeds for mustard. Most of the country’s windmills have been taken down, some relocated to the outer city where wind conditions are more favorable. We ventured out to Zaanse Schans in the Dutch countryside for a day trip to see some of Amsterdam’s remaining windmills, followed by Marken and Volendam. I would highly recommend taking the trip!
Red Light District
Back in the day, as in the early 1300’s, women would practice the “worlds oldest profession” by carrying red lanterns (due to their flattering light), and waiting for sailors near the port. Amsterdam’s infamous Red Light District is a neighborhood of vice, skimpy prostitutes in brothel windows, seductive bars, haze-filled “coffeeshops”, strip clubs, and sex-themed museums. It’s not for everyone – but if you choose to satisfy your curiosity, here are some tips:
1. Watch for pickpockets. The Red Light District can be crowded, especially at night. Sticky fingers could be anywhere…
2. Don’t take pictures or videos of the prostitutes. I’ve heard that pimps will harshly take your phone and toss it into the nearest canal.
3. Have an open mind. The Red Light District leaves nothing to the imagination.
Grub
I noticed an on-going theme with the cuisine in Amsterdam. Dutch waffles (which are thin wafer-like cookies filled with honey or syrup), Gouda which is commonly paired with mustard, French Fries with mayonnaise, and croquettes with ham and cheese. Oh, and Heineken. All of which I was happy to eat in excess every day while I was there. But Amsterdam has inherited a variety of international cuisine including Argentinian steakhouses, Italian trattoria’s, Indonesian cuisine, and German Schnitzel. There is something to satisfy every type of craving. So you better have a big appetite!

A charming city that surprised me in every way. I truly cannot wait to return to Amsterdam one day. Come back soon for when I recap my time in Italy!

xx

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TEXAS HOLLYWOOD

I just returned from a week of last-minute, spontaneous trips. Two cities in five days. The first half was spent visiting a best friend in Austin, TX; the second half was with family in Los Angeles, CA. I literally spent 2 1/2 days in each place, but there was not a minute wasted. You can accomplish a lot in less than 3 days if you use your time wisely. If you ever find yourself passing through these cities for a short time, here are some places to go/things to see while you’re there!

AUSTIN, TEXAS
Standup Paddling on the Colorado River
Did you know there are two Colorado Rivers? I didn’t. There is one Colorado River which is entirely in Texas, and the other Colorado River which courses through Colorado, Utah, Arizona, Nevada, California, Baja and Samora. We went standup paddling on the one that belongs to Texas. This 862-mile long river is a stunning and endless gathering place for all outdoor lovers. Kayaking, standup paddling, canoeing, you name it. There are multiple spots along the river to rent equipment if you don’t have your own.
Graffiti Park
This colorful park tucked away in Castle Hill is easily one of the most impressive and coolest public art projects I’ve ever seen. Decorated with animals, cartoons, movie characters, declarations of peace and love, they have it all. The best part? It’s ever-changing. Go the next week and it may be replaced by new graffiti art, just as colorful and mesmerizing. This multi-level graffiti park was introduced in 2011 by HOPE, an Austin-based nonprofit along with the help of street artist Shepard Fairey.
Barton Creek Greenbelt
Oh man. I could have spent all day at “the greenbelt”. Apparently there are numerous greenbelts in Austin, but this particular one is so treasured that locals speak of it as if it were the only one. This one at Barton Creek is 12.68 miles of enchanting trails, limestone bluffs, and gorgeous swimming holes [when there is enough water in the creek]. We saw groups of friends scattered along the water, perfectly content with their own version of the perfect pass time. Listening to music, reading books, cooling off in the water, dancing, swimming, doggy play dates, hula hooping, etc. Easily one of the most enchanting places I’ve ever seen. I don’t know if it was the shallow water reflecting the surrounding trees, but it was literally a river of emerald green. I will never forget this special place.
Rainey Street
Renovated houses transformed into bungalow bars. A charming row on a tucked away street where bars reign supreme. You can easily visit 10 bars in one night without taking a taxi! Just stroll across the street to the next enticing bar, or take a carb break at one of the many food trucks parked in between. As much as I would have loved to visit every bar, the ones I visited each had their own unique charm and dazzle. Best bar-hopping spot in Austin for sure!
Bouldin Creek Cafe
Austin is known for its specialty of BBQ and Tex-Mex, but if you need a refreshing and healthier alternative, head over to Bouldin Creek Cafe. This eco-friendly bohemian cafe offers a lovely selection of hearty vegan/vegetarian dishes, coffee, and tasty cocktails. The portions are HUGE and the pricing is perfectly affordable. And, they make the best Curried Lentil soup in the world!

LOS ANGELES, CA | HOLLYWOOD, CA | SANTA MONICA, CA
PCH
PCH – as in, Pacific Coast Highway. This gorgeous stretch along the coast will travel from California to Washington. After my little sis picked me up from the airport, we cruised along the PCH for a few miles which was a beautiful way to start the day. Stunning views of the coast line, ocean, curving in and out of probably the most expensive residential areas in California. I felt like I was on an episode of “The Hills”.
Santa Monica Pier
A state fair on the ocean. A boardwalk of roller coasters, carnival rides, games, funnel cakes, and ferris wheels. I’ve visited the Santa Monica pier a handful of times since I was young and it’s always a treat to go back to. But sometimes the boardwalk can get a little crowded. When I’m not vibing the boardwalk or the beach, I like to rent bikes and ride along the path aimlessly. My sister and I rented bikes for $8.00/hour and pedaled from Santa Monica to Venice and back. Workout and a view!
Boot Star
If heaven had a country western store, it would be Boot Star. I stumbled into this store while walking along Sunset Blvd. and I was in complete mind-blowing country bliss! I could have stayed in the store all day to try on every pair of boots and would have been perfectly happy. They carry floor-to-ceiling wall length selections for men and women, and each pair of boots is uniquely different from the rest. I must’ve seen every style of boot from Western, to exotic, to biker, to chic. I wanted them ALL! And I am now saving for a pair of these boots.
Carneys
This former Pacific Railroad passenger train turned hamburger/hot dog joint is a gem in Hollywood. Family-owned since 1975 and serving some of the tastiest burgers and hot dogs in LA! Their menu has unbeatable prices and serves a variety of items including Polish sausage, Chili, salads, wraps, and beer! And you get to dine in an old passenger train! Like visiting a small town diner with friendly staff and tasty food, with train views of the Sunset Strip. Can it get any better than this?

Come back soon for a post featuring the Andaz Hotel on Sunset Blvd! You’ll want to visit this eclectic hotel the next time you’re in California!

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THE BIG EASY

I finally had a chance to go through my photos from New Orleans which are WAY overdue. The second the trip ended, I caught the flu which then transitioned to laryngitis. I’ve been germ-filled, lethargic, and apparently allergic to blogging for the past two weeks. But, I needed to revisit these photos. It was my “Bachelorette” weekend after all.

I’m doing this whole wedding thang a little backwards. I don’t have a wedding date yet but I felt that a weekend with my best girlies was in order. I’ve always wanted to visit NoLa and I hate Vegas. So I rounded up my Bride Tribe and we headed to The Big Easy! Now, I realize that these photos don’t show much proof of a girly, rowdy, Bachelorette weekend… and I shamefully only have one photo of us as a group. Sadly, photos of my friends were replaced by beautiful colonial buildings and enchanting street performers. But trust me, the weekend was filled with beignets, dancing, jazz, late night snack fest’s, endless Pringles, and a Chambong [A bong made for chugging Champagne. Yup, we did that. Numerous times.]

I loved New Orleans as much as I thought I would. A mysterious city surrounded by art, music, and culture. And I was pleasantly surprised with their love of ghosts, Vampires, tall slushy drinks, and fried chicken. I will definitely have to return one day. This time with more photos of the people who traveled with me.

xx

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HAVANA DIARIES: PART III

As I reflect back on my time spent in Havana, the most lingering feeling is how much Cuba surprised me. I remember in the middle of the trip while cruising in a vintage car, my best friend said, “I feel nostalgia for a time I was never a part of. A simpler time.” Havana was a time-machine for us. A chance for us to visit the 50’s, to ride around in old-fashioned cars, to see people interact organically without technology getting in the way. We wandered aimlessly through the streets of Old Havana, stayed content off-the-grid, and were fully present while absorbing the Cuban culture. To me, that was the best part of the trip.

Along with this, there were a few other highlights. A few places that were planned ahead of time, and some that we simply stumbled upon. For future visitors, be sure to make time for these places! I promise, it will enhance your trip [and you can thank me later].

Book Market in Plaza de Armas (Old Havana)
Don’t let the words “Book Market” defer you. This ain’t no outdoor library. It’s more of a vintage market buried in Plaza de Armas, but locals will refer to it as the “book market”. A handful of vendors will gather to offer antique and vintage goods for unbeatable prices. You can find anything from vintage cameras to cigar labels, stamps, old and new books including Hemingway, vintage postcards, jewelry, etc. I bought a vintage film camera for only $25 CUC!
La Floridita (Old Havana)
Buried in Old Havana is La Floridita – home to Hemingway’s favorite daquiri. He claimed it was the best in the world. Once inside, it is jam-packed with tourists. I actually never enjoyed a drink, but it was a beautiful old-fashioned  restaurant/bar to see. Hemingway’s bar stool is still inside, protected by a velvet rope. No touch-ee.
Fabrica de Arte Cubano (F.A.C) (Nuevo Vedado)
This former cooking oil factory is now a well-curated art exhibition and entertainment club in Nuevo Vedado. F.A.C. is easily the most impressive venue/nightclub I have ever visited, far from the nightclubs we are used to in the US. This multi-level venue is an endless display of creative work, music, local influence, and innovative architecture. AND, there are multiple bars! I enjoyed the largest mojito I’d ever seen; it was literally served in what looked like a flower vase. A truly remarkable place to see a younger, edgier, emerging Cuba.
Paladar La Guarida (Central Havana)
Hands down, the most stunning rooftop bar I’ve ever seen. The unassuming entrance into the building off of a run-down street in Central Havana invites you into a truly magical place. The building, originally known as La Mansión Camagüey, remains historic with its magnificent wooden entrance door and marble staircase up the two flights of stairs to the restaurant itself. At the top, you’ll have the most breathtaking views of Havana and lovely rooftop seating. Their menu also offers tasty nibbles and delicious cocktails.
Coppelia Ice Cream (La Habana)
Coppelia is the ice cream parlor chain of Cuba. Like our Dairy Queen, but cuter. Cheap ice cream, served in old-fashioned 1960’s ice cream cups. Need I say more?
Hotel Parque Central (Old Havana)
Next to Central Park and short walk from the National Capital, the rooftop bar at Hotel Parque Central had equally if not the most stunning views than all of the rooftops we visited in Havana. This beautiful historic hotel maintained its Spanish-colonial charm combined with modern amenities. The staff is extremely welcoming and friendly, and invites non-hotel guests to their rooftop bar. The bar is pool-side and has a wonderful menu of affordable cocktails and food. We devoured two Margherita pizzas. Random, but SO good!
The Malecón (Havana)
There is almost no other place to see more of Havana’s soul than walking along the long stretched Malecón. This boulevard runs nearly 8km along the coast of Havana, from the historical center (Habana Vieja) to residential Vedado. Between the charming buildings and endless sight of vintage cars, the Malecón is a resume of Havana’s history. The Malecón, which translates to “pier”, will give you the real feeling of Havana, and is a prime spot for sunsets.

 

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HAVANA DIARIES: PART II

Havana is where you go to travel back in time. Spanish-colonial buildings, vintage 50’s cars, NO modern influence anywhere. Spending time in Old Havana was truly nostalgic and humbling, like you got to go back to a simpler time. But we didn’t spend the entire time in Havana. We ventured out to Viñales and Varadero.

Viñales, Cuba
Cost – 
$67 CUC per person (day trip included round-trip transportation, tour, and lunch)
Tour Company – Cubatur
Travel Time – 2.5 hours by bus, approx. 179 km each way
My friends and I woke up early for a day trip and headed West to Viñales. Viñales is an extremely rooted and picturesque town in the heart of Cuba’s prime tobacco-growing region. We settled into the small town and started at a rum factory, headed on to Mural De La Prehistoria in Viñales Valley [where I fell in love with a horse in front of one of the most largest murals in the world], then to a 4th-generation tobacco farm where we purchased fresh hand-rolled cigars. We ended the day cave-exploring and then I met a water buffalo named Thomas. Needless to say, it was a pleasant rural getaway from the hustle and bustle of Havana.
Fun Fact – When Christopher Columbus first visited Cuba, he found the local population smoking a local herb, cohiba, through a pipe, or tobago. They called the act of smoking “sikar”. Columbus brought back some samples, and it wasn’t long before millions of Europeans were smoking tobacco rolled into cigars and cigarettes. Tobacco was grown commercially in Cuba as early as the 16th century, and by the late 17th century, it was the country’s most important export crop. By all accounts, the finest cigars in the world come from Cuba. [Source: Frommer’s Easy Guide to Cuba]

Varadero, Cuba
Cost – $190 CUC roundtrip by taxi
Travel Time – 2 hours, approx. 145 km each way
In short, Varadero is the prime beach destination of Cuba. It is a beautiful drive from Havana which stays along the coast to this resort-filled peninsula. My friends and I traveled to Varadero to visit some other friends who were staying there. This day trip was interesting to say the least.
Tip – Unless you are part of a tour group, or have hotel reservations, DO NOT visit Varadero on a whim. Most of the hotels are all-inclusive resorts, and unless you are a guest at one of these resorts, these places will not exactly be waiting for you with a welcome mat and a Mojito. We found it extremely difficult to step within 5 feet of these hotels once they found out we were not guests. Most wouldn’t let us inside, and we never found our friends who we intended to visit. For such a hospitality hub, I am sad to say that the Varadero we saw was anything but hospitable. One hotel even called security on me when I tried to get my money back after buying a failed Internet card. Ouch.
Now, I am not trying to slam Varadero. It is a lovely place to visit, and perfect if you need some R+R on the beach. I would simply advise planning ahead and making a reservation to stay at one of the hotels so that you can enjoy the amenities, or go with a tour company that will have everything lined up for you to enjoy.

Havana Diaries Part III coming soon!

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