Category Archives: Travel

HEADED WEST

I have a feeling this summer is going to be the summer of road trips. I just returned from two back-to-back weekend road trips, and it’s surprising how inexpensive and accessible these kinds of trips can be. The first weekend was spent driving west with my sister from Colorado to California, and the second was heading south with a couple of girlfriends from Colorado to New Mexico. As long as you have good company, a full tank of gas, a backseat filled with snacks, a trendy/affordable Airbnb, and a wish list of places to see, it’ll be a successful roadie adventure. Here are my go-to recommendations if you happen to road trip this summer!

NEVADA
In N’ Out Burger
Old-fashioned burgers, french fries, and milkshakes. You can think of it as “fast food”, but the quality is everything the opposite of typical fast-food. A must if you need a bite on the road, or if you’ve simply never had In N’ Out before! You’ll thank me.
Seven Magic Mountains
Just imagine Candy Land in the middle of the desert. Just off of Highway 15, south of Las Vegas is Ugo Rondinone’s art installation of seven towers of colorful, stacked boulders each scaling over 30 feet high. A beautiful burst of color after spending hours in the car. It’ll be worth the pullover.

CALIFORNIA
Balboa Island, Newport, CA
Tucked in the harbor of Newport Beach is the tiny community called Balboa Island. We spent the morning walking around the farmer’s market, exploring the quaint shops and restaurants, and watching the surfers from the pier. There is also a boardwalk and a ferry on the island which is more of a peninsula. It was a nice hidden gem away from the hustle & bustle of California weekenders.
Tabu Shabu, Costa Mesa, CA
O-M-G. Forget sushi and ramen and sashimi. Tabu Shabu is the new way to explore traditional Japanese cuisine. This style of fondue or “hot pot” allows you to cook thinly sliced meat and vegetables in your own pot of boiling broth (usually tonkatsu or miso), dipping into homemade ponzu and goma sauces, and accompanied by rice, ramen, or udon noodles. I have always loved Japanese cuisine, but I became quickly obsessed with shabu shabu! So much so, that I begged my sister and brother-in-law to go twice in the same weekend that I visited them. 2 times in 3 days. And I savored every frickin’ bite!
The Crack Shack, Costa Mesa, CA
If you like Chick Fil A, (or chicken sandwich in general), you’ll go nuts over The Crack Shack! Simply one of the tastiest chicken sandwiches and french fries I’ve had in years. I recommend The Firebird and Schmaltz fries. Great weekend treat for a casual lunch or dinner.
Fashion Island, Newport, CA
Explore Orange County’s premier shopping center at Fashion Island. My sister lives down the street from it and it was an endless promenade of shops and restaurants. Not to mention the largest Anthropologie I’ve ever been in! (I actually managed to get lost inside) It’s a great way to spend the afternoon if you need some retail therapy or quick eats.

NEW MEXICO
The Plaza, Santa Fe, NM
The Plaza is the heart of Santa Fe with its rich history, beautiful churches, authentic restaurants, and endless art galleries/jewelers. The soul of New Mexico is portrayed everywhere with beautiful turquoise jewelry, vibrant art, rich food, stucco/adobe inspired buildings, and cultured people. I couldn’t get enough of the squash-blossom necklaces, long horn skull heads, chili-infused cuisine, and colorful pottery.
Kakawa Chocolate House, Santa Fe, NM
Sadly I didn’t have the chance to visit Kakawa Chocolate House, but I can’t tell you how many blogs/websites mentioned this place when I was researching places to visit in Santa Fe. So it must be good. From what I gather, Kakawa specializes in handmade chocolates, chile chocolates, chocolate drinks, and chocolate elixirs. I heard it’s the perfect afternoon treat. And a sweet reason for me to go back to Santa Fe one day.
Paloma, Santa Fe, NM
Hands down, Paloma was the best dining experience we had during our weekend in New Mexico. This stunning kitchen & bar is intimate, vibrant, and offers an incredible menu. Mexican-inspired with an exotic twist. The staff is extremely welcoming and friendly, the service was flawless, and the food was simply outstanding. A beautiful representation of Santa Fe cuisine with a lovely atmosphere. Highly recommend for a great meal!
Meow Wolf, Santa Fe, NM
I don’t even know how to begin to describe Meow Wolf. In short, Santa Fe is not really known for it’s night-life, so the young and eager go to Meow Wolf for entertainment. A venue filled with unique and mind-blowing art installations that will push your mind beyond reality. Someone best described it as “part haunted house, part fun house, part acid trip”. I felt like I was in a 2-hour episode of Stranger Things. If you are ever in Santa Fe, you MUST go. It’s a beautifully overwhelming and fascinating experience.

Have fun road-tripping this summer! xx

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the paint mines

 

Just your typical Saturday in December, plus 60 degrees. Unusually warm weather in Colorado naturally means grabbing your best friend, driving down south, and pretending like it’s summer while you frolic in the Paint Mines. I’ll use any reason to collaborate with the lovely @taranasoruxwrx.

The Paint Mines is an enchanting, unassuming place with its own magic. A place I’ve been meaning to check out for a while after hearing its reputation of 9,000 year old rock formations and colorful clay used by the Native Americans. Our intention was to take photos with the vibrant pink, yellow, and orange rocks until we discovered a valley with pure white rocks. And this became our prime spot for the day.

Will definitely need to return to this special place for sunset, when the colors really show their potential!

xx

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Paris, France

I’ve been a little unmotivated and down lately, mostly on account of my iPhone and Mac crashing in the same week. Yup. And even after I recovered both devices, I still wasn’t entirely motivated. Maybe it’s writers block or the sad reality that I don’t know how to be fully creative without the assistance of technology. But I read a quote this morning that said, “Ask yourself if what you’re doing today is getting you closer to where you want to be tomorrow.” Sometimes all you need is a little push or reminder or piece of encouragement. No more excuses. Which also means I’ll be flooding my blog with some overdue posts, including this one. My favorite place in the world. The place that makes me cry when I have to leave. PARIS!

This particular trip was my second time visiting Paris, this time with my fiancé. We were in the most romantic city in the world and I got to fall in love with him and Paris all over again. And every day was spent in the traditional Parisian way; sleeping in every morning, riding bikes along the River Seine, dining in a neighborhood bistro late at night, eating too much bread, nibbling on crepes underneath the Eiffel Tower, sipping Champagne, and endless strolls around the city. We couldn’t get enough of Paris’ timeless familiarity, effortless beauty, and iconic landmarks. But personally, I most enjoyed overindulging in what Paris is best known for: fashion and food. Parisians are synonomous with style, and Paris’ dining is iconic. I truly think I belong in Paris and may have been Parisian in my past life. I discovered some new gems on this trip that are now plenty of reasons to go back.  Here are my personal recommendations and highlights of Paris!

Astier
We dined at this cozy French bistro on our first night in Paris and made a double-date night out with our friends who were also visiting. They left it to me to pick the restaurant and I had remembered reading about Astier in a food blog. Astier is tucked away in the 11th district and approx. 30-40 minutes outside of central Paris by Metro (subway). When we walked up to the restaurant we discovered that they are also Michelin-rated! Talk about a happy accident. The interior is everything that you would expect and hope for in a French bistro; intimate, cozy, authentic, simple perfection, and the smell of butter, herbs, and meat wafting out of the kitchen. We took our sweet time enjoying delicate cocktails, fresh-made bread, intricate appetizers, and probably the best rib steak I have ever had in my life. Every bite was perfection.
L’As du Fallafel
Hidden in the “Pletzl” Jewish quarter of the Le Marais neighborhood is L’As du Fallafel – the best Mediterranean food I have ever had. My sister told me about L’As du Fallafel during her last trip to Paris, and she is my designated foodie guru. It is a tourist trap, but totally worth the wait if you need a break from French cuisine. The food is plentiful and perfectly affordable, with a great menu and incredibly friendly staff. I almost always finish a meal in one sitting, but their falafel sandwich is like a food challenge! There are two lines – one for to-go, and one to dine-in. The line may look overwhelming, but the staff is good at rotating each line in a timely manner. Trust me, it’s worth the wait!
Champs-Elysees
The Avenue des Champs-Elysees is the most famous avenue in the world for promenading in Paris. A stroll down Europe’s grandest boulevard will give you Paris at its most Parisian; intimate cafe’s for coffee sipping, colorful macarons in beautiful bakeries, wide sidewalks made for window shopping, luxury flagship stores, and instantly recognizable architectural icons. Built in the 17th Century but still holding its original chic and allure. A must-see when visiting Paris!
Le Grand Colbert 
On our last night in Paris, I wanted to indulge in one more night of classic French cuisine. My fiancé told me to find a restaurant, and I randomly thought of Diane Keaton in Something’s Gotta Give, one of my favorite movies. She told Jack Nicholson of her favorite bistro in Paris with “the best roast chicken in the universe”. I Googled the restaurant which was conveniently 10 minutes away from our Airbnb, and an hour later, we were sitting in the stunning dining room that was known for hosting the lovely Diane Keaton, Jack Nicholson, and Keanu Reaves. And it was everything I had hoped for! We stuffed ourselves with wine, bread, escargot, steak & frites, and the infamous roast chicken. It was truly magical and the perfect way to end our trip in Paris. Classic French cuisine at it’s finest.
Latin Quarter
After dining at Astier on our first night, our friends introduced us to the Latin Quarter and its special Bohemian charm for some late night drinks. This vibrant, artsy and eclectic quarter is one of the oldest areas of Paris. During the middle ages, the Sorbonne University attracted scholars from all over Europe who learned and spoke Latin, which gave the quarter its name. This historic and academic quarter is a medieval maze of narrow streets, stone-paved alleyways, with a few quiet, hidden squares. We spent the night bar-hopping and exploring the enchanting quarter. Easily one of the liveliest nights I’ve had in Paris!

                                                     “Paris is always a good idea.” – Audrey Hepburn

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Taormina, Sicily

Until my fiance decided that he wanted to trace his Sicilian roots, I had never thought of Sicily as a place that I would visit. I let him take the reigns on this portion of the trip and he suggested that we stay in Taormina, a charming hilltop town perched on the side of a mountain on the east coast of Sicily. Although warned as a chi-chi touristy destination, I found Taormina to be one of Sicily’s best-kept secrets. A hidden gem with breathtaking views and cliffs that drop down to the sea. And maybe a bit overlooked with Mount Etna and Palermo as some of Sicily’s main attractions. We spent 4 lovely days here and I couldn’t get enough of the town’s dolce vita. This island was truly different than any other place I have ever visited in Italy – a rooted Italian culture with Mediterranean influence. Here is my share of helpful tips and top recommendations for Taormina, Sicily!

Take a taxi – don’t rent a car!
While the winding roads of Sicily may look idyllic to drive, I would not suggest renting a car. Taormina is approx. 1 hour north of Catania airport (CTA), and while taxi fares to Taormina are expensive (approx. $100 Euro one way), the hassle of a rental car is worse. First, all road and highway signs are in Italian. So unless you are fluent or have a very reliable GPS, it can be very difficult to navigate. Second, gas can be pricey and we learned the hard way that if you don’t get out of the car fast enough to gas up yourself, you’ll be charged nearly double for the “gas attendant” to put the nozzle into your car for you. Third, Taormina not built for cars with their narrow streets and tight corners and is very limited with overnight parking options. We got two parking tickets during our stay because we simply couldn’t find parking anywhere else and left it on the street overnight. Last, Taormina is extremely walkable around town and offers many tour/bus options for going out of town. So stick to taxi’s and local transportation – it’ll save you from lots of headaches and parking tickets.
Mount Etna
Dominating the landscape of eastern Sicily, Mount Etna is easily the island’s natural epicenter. At 3,329m it is Italy’s highest mountain south of the Alps and the largest active volcano in Europe. From Taormina, visiting Mount Etna is the perfect day trip. There are many tour excursions and trekking adventures available, but Rob and I went on our own (and our trusty rink-a-dink rental car…). Drive time from Taormina is approx. 1 hour and 15 minutes, and there are a couple of different entrance points. We followed the south entrance which leads directly to Mt. Etna’s small village of shops, restaurants, tourist information, and transportation to the top. The “Funivia dell Etna” (cablecar of Etna) will travel up to 2,500m for approx. $30 Euro per person, and from there you can pay another $30-$35 Euro per person for special off-road busses to continue up the volcano (tour guide included).
Isola Bella
I unknowingly saw dreamy photos of Isola Bella on Pinterest before realizing that this enchanting island is just a cable car ride down from Taormina. The Mazzaro cable car from Taormina is an expressway down to the base of the mountain ($7 Euro roundtrip). From the bottom, it is a quick 7-minute walk to Isola Bella with surrounding restaurants, shops and hotels along the way. This beach is unashamedly crowded but totally worth spending the day. The beach is formed with small rocks and pebbles instead of sand, so I would recommend renting a couple of beach chairs and an umbrella at the Mendolia Beach Club for $10 Euro per person. The beach club also has a restaurant with tasty lunch options and a lovely view of Isola Bella.
Teatro Antico di Taormina
One of the icons of Taormina is the Teatro Antico di Taormina, an ancient Greco-Roman outdoor amphitheater built in the 3rd century BC which is still in use today. Unfortunately we were not able to step inside the theater because of summer concerts and events, which was a heartbreaking tease because the theater was a 2-minute walk from our B&B. Still, I hear that it is a MUST SEE in Taormina and I am using it as a reason to go back one day.
Corso Umberto I
The Corso Umberto I is the vibrant main street and soul of Taormina. The ultimate delight is to wander this pedestrian-friendly street which is lined with boutiques, restaurants, gelato parlors, and souvenir shops. Start in Palazzo Corvaja which dates back to the 10th Century and make your way to Piazza IX Aprile and its stunning panoramic views. Standing tall in the square is the Chiesa San Guiseppe, a beautiful church that dates back to the early 18th Century. The entire square is surrounded with rich history including the Torre dell’Orologio, the 12th Century clock tower. Take a break and dine at the Piazza Badia, a charming trattoria which easily became our favorite restaurant in town. We dined there nearly 3 nights in a row. Owned by the coolest couple with authentic food and home-cooking vibes. Ask for Anastasia – she will spoil you to death and will treat you like family!

Next on the blog (and my favorite place in the entire world), PARIS! Check back soon!

xx

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Venice, Italy

“My love of Venice begins with the lagoon in which it stands. Although often overlooked, this 550-sq-km shallow bowl is as great a marvel of engineering as San Marco’s golden domes. Every palace and every person is reflected in its teal-colored waters creating the mirage-like double image that lends the city its magical quality. Not only has it inspired the extraordinary physical fabric of the city and countless creative and technological inventions, but it also shapes the unconventional and creative spirit of all who reside here. Therein lie possibilities barely imagined in other cities.”
– Paula Hardy

Taking a trip to Venice is like taking a gondola ride back in time, to a fairy tale city of marble palaces built on a lagoon. Kind of sounds like Disneyland actually. But Venice is truly unlike anything I have ever seen before. Imagine the world’s biggest outdoor promenade with the best selection of Venetian cuisine, Prosecco, endless shopping, masquerade influence, canalside bistros, and sightings of romantic gondola rides floating through emerald green and enchanting blue waters. One of the strangest and loveliest things about the city was the absence of cars. No honking, no roads, no traffic, no chaos. Just boats and gondolas taking their sweet time with their awe-inspired passengers. I wish I could have spent a little more time there. If you ever get a chance to visit, and I hope you do, here are some of my personal recommendations and highlights:

GET LOST
Put down your map and wander. Don’t bother trying to find your way – you’ll get lost in Venice no matter what. Even with the best GPS. But that’s the fun part! If you work tirelessly trying to navigate the impossible maze of Venice, you’ll miss what else Venice is hiding; the calming serenade of gondoliers, a morning Spritz in a sunny square, unassuming bars with lavish spreads of cicheti (Venetian tapas), storefront windows displaying the most beautiful Masquerade pieces, and fuschia-pink sunsets that have inspired centuries of artists. I think in Venice they would call these pleasures la bea vita (the beautiful life).
Hotel Mercurio
If you want affordable and authentic lodging in Venice, I would suggest Hotel Mercurio. Just a quick 4-minute walk from the San Marco ferry stop, but perfectly tucked away in Venice and all of its magic. For an unbeatable price, we upgraded to a suite with a canal view which happened to face Mozart’s home. Can’t get more historic than that! Our room was beautifully decorated with Venetian art, high ceilings with wooden beams, Italian furnishings, and marble floors. The hotel also delivered Prosecco to our room and offered complimentary breakfast every morning. Lovely. Just lovely.
Piazza San Marco (aka St. Mark’s Square)
Piazza San Marco is the heart of Venice. I’ve seen it in countless movies, but I never realized it was in Venice. The “lightbulb” moment happened for me when I saw swarms of pigeons frantically fighting for rice and crumbs and I had a flashback of Ashton Kutcher fighting them off in Just Married. Visiting Piazza San Marco is definitely a MUST; here you will see St. Mark’s Basilica with its great arches and marble decoration, the stunning palace of Doge, Piazzetta di Leoncini, the free standing Campanile, the Clock Tower, and a handful of shops and restaurants lining the square. And definitely take some playful photos with the pigeons.
Dal Moro’s – Fresh Pasta To Go
Customized made-to-order food is universal. We all love it. For America it’s Chipotle, and for Venice it’s Dal Moro’s. They were also voted #1 for Italian food in Venice! This unassuming take-out spot serves fresh pasta with made-to-order sauces in Chinese to-go boxes, leaving you to explore Venice with lunch in hand. I sadly did not have a chance to experience Dal Moro’s, but my sister swears by it and I did see the line of people wrapped around the block. That was convincing enough of their popularity.
Lavanderia Gabriella
Laundry. Totally random, but totally necessary. My sister recommended Lavanderia Gabriella after her trip to Venice. And after living out of a backpack for two weeks, I was in desperate need of clean clothes. Gabriella and her adorable mother run their own laundromat and they are perfectly affordable, approx. $15-$20 Euro for 1-2 hefty loads! They’ll even fold your laundry for you. Did I mention Gabriella speaks English? TOTALLY WORTH IT.
Rialto Bridge
Crowded, but another MUST. Ponte di Rialto is Venice’s most popular bridge and overlooks the Grand Canal. The view from the top and center of the bridge offers the most iconic view of Venice where you can observe the gondolas, ferries and boats travel between the most mesmerizing buildings. Try visiting the bridge at sunrise. You won’t regret it.

Up next…SICILY! Specifically Taormina. Come check back soon!

xx

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