Pacific Northwonderland

I needed no excuse to go to Seattle- Alex (my oldest high school friend) lived there, it was surrounded by water and soaring mountains, and I had no plans for Memorial Day weekend.

I arrived late on Friday night.  On Saturday, Alex and I went downtown to fit the most of Seattle sights in during one day. We strolled the iconic Pike Place market and wandered down the alley to the famous gum wall. Tourist attraction, but I couldn’t miss it. It was equal parts fascinating and gross.

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Alex wanted me to get a better view of the city, so we (just barely!) caught the ferry across to Bainbridge Island. Once the ferry pulled back, I could see the whole city and encircling mountains. It was a sunny 75 degrees and the clearest day, so the view was unreal. Alex pointed out landmarks: the Space Needle, Mt. Rainier, etc.

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Once the ferry docked safely back at Seattle, we decided to explore downtown more. Grabbing a donut and coffee (no, not Starbucks!), we walked to the neighborhood of Capital Hill. This is where Alex is moving soon. He showed me his favorite bookstore, Elliot Bay, and we popped into a couple shops. Next, we drove to Discovery Park where I saw the West Point Lighthouse and stuck my feet in the cold, refreshing water. The bright colored sails of sailboats contrasting with the blue of the water and jutting mountain ranges left me speechless.

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Since we only had limited time, and there was still so much more he wanted me to see, we didn’t stay long. We drove to Green Lake and laid out in the sun, people watching. It was the most perfect day. Came back to his apartment, got ready for dinner, and walked around his neighborhood of Ballard. I could see why he loved it. We chose Ballard Annex Oyster House for dinner. Since it was happy hour, we filled up on fish and chips, clam chowder, and calamari for almost half the price. Dessert is not optional for me, so a stop to Hot Cakes dessert shop was in order.  Just when I thought the day couldn’t get better, we ended it with a trip to Golden Gardens park to watch the sunset.  The beach was packed, so we stayed further down on the rocks, but the skies couldn’t have been more clear. It honestly was so breathtaking, I wanted to cry. The sunset was this indescribable golden orange and calming blue. I wanted to bottle it forever.

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On Sunday, we got up early to pack Alex’s car for our camping trip to Steamboat Rock State Park. We met up with another friend, Michael, and set off, stopping about halfway in Ellensburg for food and gas. It was a beautiful drive, the first part through Snoqualmie Pass was all evergreen forests,  rich blues and dark greens, and then later, all desert. We wasted no time, setting out to hike the rock as soon we pulled in to our site.  The beginning was steep uphill on loose rocks. Once at the top we did a long loop, admiring the views from the cliffs.

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Top of the rock.

We weren’t the only ones out & about: we passed a deer, two groundhogs that ran away, and only one other couple on top of the rock. When we cut through higher grass to circle back to the trail head, Alex heard a rattlesnake. And suddenly it was HIGH KNEES like I was in boot camp. (I’m terrified of snakes, not to mention a rattlesnake!) Once back, and sweating hard, we changed into our bathing suits and waded in the water. As the sun cooled off, we set up camp, made hot dogs and chili for dinner, and climbed a little sand dune to look at the stars at night.

The next morning, I woke up to sunlight spilling across my pillow- sure that it must be at least 7 a.m., but it was just barely 5 a.m. So bright out already! We enjoyed breakfast, then got back on the road, stopping at Dry Falls overlook, and Ellensburg again for gas and food. Due to the holiday, traffic was really bad coming through Snoqualmie Pass.  When we finally returned to Seattle, I was lucky enough to meet up with another great high school friend, Frank, who I hadn’t seen in years!

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Over coffee, we caught up on each other’s lives and talked Washington and traveling. He was nice enough to drop me off at the airport, where my next big adventure awaited: ALASKA.

(To check out my trip to Alaska, read about it here.)

When I returned from The Last Frontier, I was lucky enough to spend the weekend in Tacoma, just south of Seattle, where my boyfriend J.J. was spending two weeks training at Lewis-McChord AFB. He had the weekend off, and spending it with him was much better than just coming home to Pittsburgh early!

When I landed on Friday (June 2nd) afternoon, he met me at the airport and we checked into our hotel. Soon after, we set out to Wapato Park, then walked along the waterfront: Jack Hyde Park, Hamilton Park, Dickman Mill Park, etc. and ended with a delicious dinner on the water. Drove through Point Defiance Park after, which was gorgeous as the sun was setting.  On the way back to the hotel we stopped to get some food for our hike we were planning on doing the next day. And also a huge bag of Skittles. Totally healthy and good for sustaining energy.

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The next morning, Saturday, we got up early for breakfast, repacked our bags and programmed the GPS to Mt. Rainier.  We stopped in Longmire for coffee, but it was so necessary. It helped wake us both up and instantly rejuvenated. Paradise was still covered in snow, but it was another beautiful, sun-shining day and we still hiked through it. What a workout! We also covered the Silver Falls trail which was in completely different conditions. And had to see the famous Grove of the Patriarchs before driving through to the other side of the mountain to exit the park and head back to Tacoma for dinner and much needed rest, at that point.

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No words.

Two very different conditions: Snow-covered Reflection Lakes, and Silver Falls.

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Grove of the Patriarchs

Sunday, our last day together, we caught the ferry to Anderson Island. We weren’t really sure what all was there, but walking around looking at the incredible homes and enjoying the sunshine and the company of one another made it a wonderful outing. Once we took the ferry back over, we drove to Seattle to spend some (very short) time before my flight. Got Dicks drive-in which was so good, it would have been worth the drive just for that. Delicious burgers & shakes! I showed J.J. Pike Place Market, the view on the deck of the Seattle Great Wheel and waterfront, and we marked our spot on the gum wall with Bubble Yum.

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I was lucky enough to visit during the most perfect weather, and could easily see why so many people loved living here. Seattle and the PNW surely left its mark on me!

Until next time,

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72 Hours in the Queen City

It seems that I have a thing for visiting cities and making the most of them even if it’s less than 72 hours, and Charlotte was no different.

I love North Carolina, but this was my first time in the Queen City. I was finally visiting and reuniting with my best friend Stephanie who moved there last year.

Here’s how it went down:

I arrived Friday night, planned to go to a food truck festival with live music, but it was chilly (AKA, about 50ish degrees) so we opted for drinks at Fahrenheit with spectacular city rooftop views and followed those with a mouthwatering-ly fresh dinner at Sea Level instead.

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Delish!

Surrounded by bright city lights, we left the restaurant and walked around town. I was in awe of the skyscrapers. We were in the midst of the most beautiful hotels, museums, theaters, and modern banks. (After all, it is the second largest banking center in the U.S..) Although I didn’t have time to check these out, Charlotte is also home to the NASCAR Hall of Fame and the Mint Museum, among others.

Saturday morning, Steph and I set out to hike Crowders Mountain, a state park in Gaston County (roughly 30-40 minutes outside the city).  The two peaks, Crowders Mountain and The Pinnacle, offered a bit of a challenging hike, but we were rewarded with this view upon reaching the top.

Hawks soared peacefully through the sky, the sunshine warmed our already flushed faces, and the gentle breeze cooled the sweat on our skin. We couldn’t have asked for a more beautiful day. Capturing it was impossible, so we put our phones away and focused on appreciating life in that moment.

Later that evening, we headed to the Spectrum Center for a Hornets game! Although I’ll always be a Knicks fan, I was pumped for my first Hornets game and to check out the Spectrum Center. We got a Cam Newton bobble-head the moment we walked through the door. The Hornets were playing the Washington Wizards and although it was an edge-of-your-seat game, the Hornets took home the win that night with a final score of 98-93!

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Girls Night Out!

The next morning, we walked around the gorgeous neighborhood of Cotswold. One of the things I instantly liked about Charlotte was that the city was spread out among all these smaller neighborhoods, and each neighborhood had its own unique charm. We then headed to brunch at ToastCafe. I can’t remember loving brunch any more than I did in that moment, sipping hot coffee in that wooden booth. I opted for the Raspberry Walnut flapjacks, and knew I made the right decision as soon as I sank my teeth into the warm dish. An interesting concept about the cafe is that “every server is your server,” so we didn’t see the same waiter/waitress twice! Everyone took care of us.

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The one instance where I regret not photographing my food.

All too soon, it was time for me to return to Pittsburgh. Although we crossed off some items on Steph’s restaurant bucket list and climbed a mountain, I realized in those short three days that Charlotte really has so much to offer (no matter who you are or what you’re into) and I didn’t even begin to scratch the surface! That just means another trip is in order…

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(Looking at you, Steph!)

Have you been to Charlotte? What was your favorite place? I’d love to hear!

Until next time,

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Part I: The Heart of Thailand

Tuesday, December 13th, 2016- I was ready to check Thailand off my bucket list and step foot on my 5th continent! I was not, however, ready for the 15 hour flight ahead of me or the dreaded jet lag.

CHIANG MAI

Two important things I instantly knew about Thailand: the people are INCREDIBLY friendly, and the death of their King Bhumibol Adulyadej in October has had a tremendous impact on the country. The mourning period is one year from the date of his death, though with the amount of Thai people you see dressed in black or adorned with black ribbons on their clothes, his memory will live on long after that. He was loved fiercely during his 70 years as King, and as I found out more about him, it’s not hard to understand why.

 Tropical beaches, glittering temples, ancient ruins, royal palaces, rich culture, and not to mention the food- these were all reasons why I’d been wanting so badly to visit beautiful Thailand. On my first day, I woke up to a delicious breakfast-  Thai sweet blue sticky rice and mango, toast, juice, and coffee. One of the first things you’ll learn when you go to Thailand is etiquette- especially when it comes to taking off your shoes. I knew this to be true before entering temples, but also when entering homes and some businesses. It’s the same in hotels and hostels. Also, particularly in northern Thailand, it’s common to eat while seated on the floor (which I personally loved). As a girl who grew up in the country and would be barefoot 90% of the time if she could, I didn’t mind it one bit.  The reason for all this? The head is the top of the body and where the spirit resides, so it is thought to be the most important. Your feet are obviously furthest from the head, and therefore believed to be the lowest part of the body spiritually as well.  This also means you should be careful to not point your feet toward others, especially Buddhas and monks. No matter your beliefs, it is best to be polite and sensitive to the culture of the people and places where you are. Also, any attempt to speak the language is appreciated. A simple “sawadee ka” (for women) is a polite greeting and can get you far. Although Thailand is known as “The Land of Smiles” and its people are friendly and forgiving, being respectful of the culture will not only set you apart from most tourists, but also help enhance your experience.

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Breakfast is served!

After eating, I set out to explore. Chiang Mai’s Old City is in the shape of a square, and is surrounded by a moat and walled with four gates. Although this seems simple, as I figured I’d just walk around the square, there is so much to see around every corner! I stumbled upon the Nong Buak Haad Park, where orchids sprawled across the green lawn, fish swam in the small lake, and many people were using the exercise equipment placed throughout the park . I wish I could describe the moment the first temple came into view. I had never seen anything like it! I saw many temples including Wat Phra Sing (near my hostel) Wat Chedi Luang Worawihan, Wat Chiang Man, Wat Pa Prao Nai, Wat Dab Pai, Wat Sumpow and countless others.  The temples were so incredible….not only stunning on the outside, but so peaceful in all their golden glory. You have to of course remove your shoes before entering, and be dressed modestly  to go inside. Shoulders and knees must be covered. (AKA: no shorts/tank tops, etc.) Many are open grounds where you can just walk around, and are free! These pictures are only quick snapshots and don’t do ANY of them justice.

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Sweet & sour chicken- my weakness.

Since I had the time, I figured I would visit Doi Suthep, which was recommended to me. This temple is atop the mountain of the same name, a national park that you won’t want to miss if you visit Chiang Mai. You can take the shared songthaew (taxi truck) up from the North Gate for about 50 baht each way.

The road up the mountain was very winding but not unpleasant. We stopped at a viewpoint for pictures and then at Huai Rap Sadet waterfall on the way down. The temple at the top of the mountain is actually named Wat Phra That Doi Suthep RatchaWarawihan (but often just called Doi Suthep). It was breathtaking- both in its beauty and the 300+ steps it takes to climb up to it!

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The city of Chiang Mai behind me.

 Wat Phra That Doi Suthep RatchaWarawihan

When I returned back to the heart of the city, I wanted to try khao soi, a soup-like dish with egg noodles and curry sauce, which I had heard so much about. It’s a dish that northern Thailand is known for. Very spicy but mouth-wateringly good. Note to travelers: although cards are accepted at many businesses, it is best to get out cash. Some businesses don’t accept cards, and (especially coming from the U.S.) things are so affordable that the minimum amount you need to charge won’t be met, anyway. Plus, it’s always good to have some Thai baht handy!

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Delicious khao soi

Remember how I said Old City is just a simple square? Well, it seems like there is still a lot I missed, and I haven’t even gone outside the gates yet! So off to explore more.

I found out that there is a Chiang Mai marathon on Sunday! Wish I was staying one extra day to run in it. Walked around and saw a couple more temples: Wat Chetawan, Wat Buppharam, Wat Upakhut. Crossed the Nawarat Bridge over the river to visit Wat Ket Karam. Saw two markets, the night bizarre, so so much stuff, lots of clothes and jewelry and street food.

Side note: my definition of being “close” in traffic has completely changed. Walking in this city is no joke as is driving or even being a passenger.  And EVERYONE and their mother has a motorbike. Many people wear masks for the pollution.

For dinner, I had red chicken curry with rice and a berry smoothie. As you can imagine, much of Thailand’s food is so spicy and delicious, but you also eat it praying that it doesn’t burn right through you. I walked through the park on my way back, and enjoyed entertainment from some street artists.

So, have you ever seen photos of people who visited Thailand and rode elephants? Lots of my friends had gone and came back with the same amazing photos. What an experience, right? But after looking into how the elephants were treated, I decided it was unethical and I could never ride them.  At the last minute, however, I did decide to visit an elephant sanctuary where I fed, bathed, and played with the elephants. Guys, I can’t even tell you how incredible it was…  Once I got there, Miriam ( a volunteer from Germany, now a new friend) and I immediately started to feed them bananas. Doesn’t matter how much they eat, they’re always still hungry. (My spirit animal.) They were reaching deep into my pockets with their trunks and getting into my bag looking for more!  They were gentle giants, so incredibly beautiful. And lucky me, I had all four elephants to myself! I was a little apprehensive at first just because they’re so big and unfamiliar and I had never been this close to them.  Their caretaker is called a mahout, and they are bonded for life. It’s amazing to watch them interact.  We changed into the jean outfits shown below with our bathing suits underneath and went for a walk. Miriam showed me mimosa, a plant that closes up when you touch it. Then we walked further through the jungle along a river. I tried passion fruit straight from the vine. After our walk, we helped bathe the elephants in a watering hole. The water was so fun, splashing each other!  Then they got all dirty and sandy again, of course. (They put dirt on their backs for sun protection.) At the end, the oldest elephant lifted me up by the trunk, and I was given a kiss. And it was a kiss. Like a suction cup. (See bottom left photo.) The whole experience was truly surreal.

Maerim Elephant Sanctuary

Miriam and I changed out of our wet clothes and had a cup of tea. We made spicy Thai noodles- noodles, cabbage, soy beans, cilantro, garlic, ginger, then choice of protein, crushed peanuts, tomato paste, oil, etc. all delicious! Only cook for 10 seconds. (That’s a dinner I can get behind.) I had two big bowls and fresh watermelon for dessert. We talked a lot about our countries and education and travel. It was a refreshing conversation.

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Yum!

After I’d returned back to the hostel, I repacked my bag and prepared for my next stop- Bangkok!

Despite Chiang Mai being my first stop in Thailand, I already had a feeling it would be hard to beat…

BANGKOK

Once I touched down at Don Mueang  International airport and checked in to my hostel, I quickly found and walked down the famous Khao San road- a backpacker’s delight. It was already nighttime, and people were pouring through. I’d heard a lot about this area, and decided to see it for myself. Tons of hostels, street vendors (clothing, jewelry, food, Thai massages, etc.) lots of live music and also pop/techno party music blasting from the bars. People drinking out of buckets,  or workers advertising them with signs that said, “Very strong cocktails, and we don’t card you!” scorpions tourists pay to eat or photograph, etc. It was jam packed and wild, sweaty frat boys and drunk girls, people of all ages and races, so close together that you could barely walk through. Definitely a sight to see, but once was enough for me.

 

 

My goal while in Bangkok was to make it north to the ancient capital city Ayutthaya, and I did just that. My first stop was Wat Yai Chai Mongkhon, one of the landmarks of Ayutthaya. Honestly such beautiful gardens and ruins, and a reclining buddha there as well. (See photos 3 & 7 in collage below.) Next Wat Mahathat- where flowers bloomed among the ruins (photo 8), stretching as far as my eyes could see, along with this famous Buddha face in the tree:

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Wat Mahathat

 

Then Wat Lokayasutharam- a white reclining Buddha on the outskirts of Ayutthaya (Photo 1).  I also made it to Wat Phu Khao Thong and Wat Phra Si Sanphet, some of my favorite sites that you can see in the photos below.

Important if you go by tuk tuk: be aware of the driver telling you temples are closed. Most likely they aren’t, and the driver is just trying to rip you off.

When I returned to Bangkok, I changed my shoes at the hostel and headed out to see the Grand Palace. Just crossing the intersection was terrifying. Not only because of the manic driving, but the heavy amount of traffic. Pro tip: Go in a crowd and act like you know what you’re doing. And at least that way you’re less likely to get run over in a crowd of people. But really.

I took the river ferry for 3.50 baht and saw Wat Arun (Temple of the Dawn). It was under construction, but I got there just as the sun was setting.  One of my personal favorites in Bangkok was the gorgeous Wat Pho/Temple of the Reclining Buddha (top left picture) that I managed to explore after the sun went down. (Photo 4)

The next morning, I set out to see the Grand Palace going the way I knew from the night before. There were so many Thai people are dressed in black mourning the King’s death. It was a spiritual silence that I could feel and resonate with, even as an outsider.  Important: Be exceptionally respectful of this mourning period and of the King. Do not speak ill of him, and if you want to talk about him, it’s best to ask the individual first if it’s okay.

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Dressed in black for the period of mourning.

 

A look inside the Grand Palace:

 

 

 

After a long and eventful morning, I decided it was time for some R&R. I hung out at the pool for an hour to soak up some sun before heading back to the airport.

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Although I’ll admit that I didn’t have the highest expectations for Bangkok after hearing it was like other big cities (crowded, dirty, etc.), I’m still glad I chose to explore its hidden gems. Next stop, Phuket! And then, a surprise destination…stay tuned!

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Less Than 72 Hours in Chicago

Bold architecture? Delectable food? Astonishing art? Chicago, one of the largest cities in the states, has it all.

I’ve been looking for a chance to explore this city, and when I saw flights* for less than $100 round-trip (on a holiday weekend!) I took it.

I left Thursday, September 1st and returned Sunday, September 4th. During my stay, my friends Shawna & Shelly were kind enough to let me stay at their apartment that they just recently moved into.

Here’s what I experienced in my short time there:

First experience on the ‘L’

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**The transit system- easy to use, only $20 for a 3-day pass (purchased from O’Hare station) and quite convenient.

A run on Lakefront trail

I convinced Shawna to squeeze in a 2.5 mile run early in the morning. Loved this view!

Wrigley Field

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While I didn’t catch a game here, I could feel the atmosphere from outside the stadium. Cubs fans and gear everywhere!

Views from the Skydeck (Willis Tower)

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The lines were absolutely terrible, but the view beneath my feet made it all worth the experience.

Chicago style hot dogs at Portillo’s

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We got the tip that this local chain was the place for Chicago style dogs, and not only that, but they had delicious chocolate cake- plus it was all very affordable and had a very retro vibe! 

A theft

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Obviously, this was an event we didn’t plan. Shortly after we left Portillo’s, Shawna received an e-mail about a fraudulent charge on her card. Somehow, someone had gotten her wallet. The next couple hours were spent cancelling her credit and debit cards and accounting for everything that would need replaced. It was stressful, but it could have been much worse. Besides, what’s the full city experience without a little chaos?

Riverwalk

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Did I mention I love these colors? I could take my lunch break along the river any day.

Deep dish pizza from Lou Malnati’s

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***Honestly think I am going to crave this delicious, heavenly pizza for the rest of my life. 

Revolution Brewing, Co. beer

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Another must after a long day of walking. Shawna had this in her fridge, and I was a big fan. Spiced with coriander & orange peel.

Navy Pier

For a holiday weekend + Lobster fest going on, this place = absolute madness. However, the crowds were no match for the views of this landmark. 

Jazz Festival

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I picked a great weekend to visit- the jazz festival was going on downtown and we caught a captivating performance in Millennium Park. 

Lincoln Park/Lincoln Park Zoo

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Lincoln Park Zoo is an incredible place to visit if you have kids, as it’s FREE! We walked through Lincoln Park to the beach. 

Lake Michigan

The contrast of the sand & water with the city skyscrapers in the background was incredible to me. And as you can see, I was really enjoying the weather!

Molly’s Cupcakes

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Because sometimes you have to treat yourself! This place was adorable, complete with swings for seats. May I present to you: The Ron Bennington, Blueberry Cheesecake, and Peach Cobbler cupcakes. 

Millennium Park

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Tons of sculptures, cool architecture, and mesmerizing art. This is where a lot of concerts & large events are held.

Cloud Gate (The Bean)

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Jumping for joy because I love this city!

Buckingham Fountain

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Caught this right as the sun was reflecting off the buildings. An incredible ending! This is one of the largest fountains in the world.

Knickerbocker Hotel

I tried really hard to convince the manager to give me the hook up, since the hotel and I share a last name, but he wasn’t having it. He did, however, show us the crystal ballroom where there was a wedding going on. Beautiful, historic hotel.

Stan’s Donuts

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Okay, people. I really loved this place. A wide variety of flavors, old fashioned charm, etc. The donuts were scrumptious, but don’t inhale them and chug your coffee like I did. Also, maybe avoid diabetes and get one donut like a normal person?

 

Some tips:

*Fly Frontier or Spirit–  If you are flying into Chicago, look for cheaper flights on these airlines. If you can do it, only bring a backpack. I flew Frontier and they charge for carry on and checked bags, but a backpack that fits certain restrictions is free. If you’re only there for a short time, it’s all you need!

**Get the Ventra 3-day pass at the O’Hare airport. I only paid $20, and was told that anywhere else, they charge you for the $5 card fee. This lets you take both the L and the buses an unlimited number of times in that 72 hour period.

***Don’t be afraid to talk to locals. I would have gotten so lost if I didn’t ask someone for help, and we would’ve missed out on a lot of great spots if we didn’t take our new friends up on their recommendations. (Obviously, use common sense and your gut instinct when it comes to your safety to avoid any dangerous situations.)

 

So there you have it. There is PLENTY more ground to cover whenever I visit again, but this little getaway was all kinds of perfect.

 

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Have you been to Chicago? What did you love/do/see/eat? Let’s hear all about it!

 

 

 

The Blur That Was Ibiza & Paris

Wednesday, September 4-Tuesday, September 10, 2013

From raving with David Guetta & parasailing into sunsets in Ibiza, to eating dinner atop the Eiffel Tower, it was all unforgettable. Even a little rain couldn’t put a damper on these adventures! I drank pink champagne outside the Louvre, devoured macarons, saw Jim Morrison’s grave, took in Moulin Rouge and the Palace of Versailles, visited the Notre-Dame Cathedral & Arc de Triomphe, went on a breathtaking night cruise on the Seine River, and locked my love in one of the most amazing cities.

 

 

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All Safeties Off

Great news! My poem “All Safeties Off” was published in Pittsburgh City Paper.

Check it out here.

 

All Safeties Off

It was Christmas Day in our backyard
when I first shot my dad’s hunting rifle —
felt it kick back into my shoulder as he looked on,
keeping distance
as shells went flying.
I fingered the trigger,
breathed the weight of it all
burning hot metal
swallowing painted targets
my shaky hands steadying & aiming —
all safeties off.

And I thought, here I am
deep in December — sweating
because
there was something
within the chamber
I couldn’t point to
barreling through me just the same
& the weapon clicks
white knuckle grip
I need to reload, but what’s the point
if all my ghosts wear bulletproof vests
& don’t understand the word no
or stop
& my dad yells, Bull’s eye! 

& I drop
the gun.

 

 

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Thx, Mpls.

This time last week I was watching the sun rise over Chicago, headed to Minneapolis to present at the Sigma Tau Delta Convention. You can learn more about my experiences at past conventions here.

Without further ado, here is a wrap-up of our visit to the City of Lakes.

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Flying out from Chicago.

 

After arriving, we checked in to our hotel and headed to the convention to pick up all my conference materials. We explored the city through the skyway, which is a wonderful thing to take advantage of in cold weather, but confusing as hell at first.

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Minneapolis Skyway.

Walking around, we saw the Orpheum Theatre, State Theatre, The Skyway Theatre, Target Center, Target Field, Nicollet Mall, and the Convention Center. We had a drink at Union and people-watched.

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Orpheum Theatre.

We chose a spot for lunch called The Newsroom. The bar is in the shape of a ship, as you can see below, and the entire place is designed with eye-catching newspaper articles. Certainly a unique atmosphere, with pretty good burgers, too!

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The Newsroom.

That evening called for an early night, as we were running on only 3 hours of sleep and I had to get up early for my presentation the next morning.

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My biggest supporter.

I was up and dressed at 6:30 a.m. Right before my session started at 8 a.m., I got the chance to see one of my professors from college, Dr. Vaccaro! It was fantastic to have her in the audience. There were four others presenting at that time, all with their own interesting creative works. Afterward, we had a wonderful discussion analyzing themes of language, the idea of home, and the writing process.

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Dr. Vaccaro & I.

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Presenting my poetry collection.

*Note: It’s pretty hard to get a picture of someone reading. You either have your mouth wide open or are looking at your paper. But you get the idea.

 

After my presentation, I kicked off my heels and changed into something more comfortable. We headed to Matt’s Bar for the famous Jucy Lucy- a burger with the cheese melted inside the meat instead of on top. It may not look like much from this picture, but it was one of the best burgers I have ever had. Melted cheese is everything! I love discovering hole-in-the-wall places like this.

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Jucy Lucy!

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Matt’s Bar.

 

Next, we headed to the Mall of America. You’ve got to see some of the touristy stuff! Although we didn’t buy anything but ice cream, the four levels of shops were incredibly impressive. Lots of window shopping and walking. This place even has a theme park inside!

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Mall of America.

Later that night, we got dressed up and headed to the Guthrie Theater after a nice Italian dinner. We saw The Critic/The Real Inspector Hound, which was hilarious and thoroughly entertaining, a murder mystery with a surprise ending.

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Guthrie Theater.

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Drinks before the show.

Check out one of the shirts I got at convention. Seeing the merchandise is one of my favorite parts simply because of how witty and creative English majors can be.  Like magnets that say “Metaphors be with you.” I mean, come on. I live for this.

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Best shirt.

After breakfast Saturday morning, we scored big with getting into the Walker Art Center for free. Because it was a gorgeous day, we left Loring Park and the well-known Spoonbridge and Cherry to explore Lake of the Isles Park.

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Spoonbridge & Cherry.

This place was fantastic. Lake of the Isles, Lake Calhoun, Cedar Lake, Lake Harriet, etc. There were runners out everywhere, and moms pushing babies in strollers, and plenty families with their dogs out for a walk. I can only imagine this place in the summer!

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Lake of the Isles.

Saturday night was the Red & Black Gala Dinner and Awards. I ran into Dr. Vaccaro and was able to meet several students from Westminster College, my alma mater. We all sat together at dinner, which was lovely. JJ & I recounted memories from our time there during undergrad, and they told us of what all has changed since four years ago. Reminiscing and swapping stories brought back a lot of feelings of nostalgia.

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WC group.

Then, to my complete shock, my name was called during the award presentations! As soon as I heard “This Side” I froze and said, “Oh my God” and then my brain reminded my legs to move, and I collected my prize (a check for $375) and got my photo taken with the Executive Director of Sigma Tau Delta, William Johnson. My poetry collection “This Side of the Sun” had taken 1st place in the Alumni Epsilon creative works category.

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1st place!

It’s a well-known joke that writers don’t make any money, so I was overwhelmed with shock/happiness when my name was called. I am so glad JJ was there to share this experience with me.

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At the gala.

After the gala, we met up with the rest of the WC group for drinks at The Local, where I awkwardly got hit on by a very drunk man on my way to the bathroom and also had one of the best Irish whiskey cocktails in existence.

Might have to take that back…because after we left The Local, we saw a blues rock band play at Dakota, a swanky yet intimate jazz club. The atmosphere was great but the live music and drinks were even better. I don’t even like gin that much, but Sweet Thunder was delicious.

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Cocktails at Dakota Jazz Club.

 

Sunday morning after breakfast at the hotel, we took an Uber over to Minnehaha Falls. Our flight didn’t leave until the evening, so we had time to kill.

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Hiking.

I’d been told that no matter what season you visited in, this was a beautiful place, and it didn’t disappoint. Many people were ignoring the “No Trespassing” signs and climbing out onto the ice.

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Minnehaha Falls.

Because I was starving (and I get very hangry) we had my favorite meal of the day at Nicollet Diner. And ohmygosh. I couldn’t even eat my chicken sandwich like a normal human being because it was dripping and spilling its goodness everywhere. Don’t even get me started on the milkshakes. So delectable and the full size is no joke.

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Yummy.

Although we could barely walk after, we wandered around Uptown, and then after checking out of our hotel, got a view of the Stone Arch Bridge, the old flour mill, and Mississippi River.

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Walking across the Stone Arch Bridge.

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Mississippi River.

All in all, I got to reconnect with friends old and new, tour a city I’d only passed through, hear some amazing written work, present my own, consumed such good food, and went home feeling accomplished.

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Flying home.

 

Until next time, Minneapolis.

 

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