AmsterDAMNNNNN

You guys, I just got back from one of the most fun trips of my LIFE! I flew to Amsterdam last week and took full advantage of my short time there.

Some quick highlights:

Van Gogh & Rijksmuseum

I Amsterdam sign

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Vondelpark- I stayed right near this gorgeous place.

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Heineken Experience- this was a BLAST. Tour of the brewery, boat ride to A’Dam, interactive experiences, bottling your own beer, everything!

A’Dam Lookout- come onnnnn, more like AmsterDAMN.

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Over the Edge- because why not?

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Anne Frank House- Truly an eye-opening and overwhelming experience to tour this annex and learn about this incredible young woman’s life and how her words have impacted us.

Dutch Pancakes & Coffee

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Floating Market

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Canal Tour- By the way, 12,000-15,000 of these bad boys get pulled out of the canals every year!

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Light Festival- so, so beautiful! Photographs don’t do justice. From November 30-January 21st, so I definitely picked the right time to go!

(These are just Christmas lights- but still, how spectacular?!)

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Dam Square

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Here, you can see bubbles in front of the Grand Palace.

Jordaan/Leidseplein neighborhoods

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Red Light District

I made fast friends with these lovely lads from Ireland and we had an amazing night out!

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I also got to see the charming countryside of the Netherlands:

Zaandam-  Behind me is the only working mill in the world that still makes paint.

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Volendam

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Cheese tasting is awesome. Until you’re a solid ten minutes in…

I tried kibbeling here, too. Delicious!

Marken

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Wooden shoes, anyone?

And I’ll leave you all with this bathroom stall wisdom from Friday night:

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Catch you wildly beautiful people somewhere in the world next time!

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The Launch

One day before my 27th birthday, I celebrated the release of my first chapbook, Next to Everything that is Breakable (Finishing Line Press 2017) at the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh.

Over 50 of my friends, family, and colleagues came out to support me as I launched this chapbook into the world.

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The author & the artist.

Books were for sale, as well as artwork by my dear friend Catherine (who also took the photograph on the cover of the book).

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Catherine’s creations with my poems.

Around 2:30 p.m., people arrived to mingle and get refreshments. Shortly after 3 p.m. my mentor, Tess, welcomed the audience and introduced me.

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Tess & I.

I became overcome with emotion as I looked around the room and thanked those that had helped me so much, for I knew without them this endeavor would not have been possible.

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After the reading, I signed copies of books and spent precious, too-short moments with the guests- even my high school English teachers came!

It was an intense whirlwind of an event, but I’m thankful for how smoothly it went. Seeing the people I love come together to show their support for my passion was the highlight of my birthday weekend.

Check out some pictures below:

P.S. For those that were unable to make it to the launch party but would like a signed copy of the book, please message me!

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The guest book!

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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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Belgium Under Bright Lights

Remember when I quit my job and bought a ticket to Spain in 2013? Where’d we leave off on that story of European adventures? Ah, yes. Ibiza & Paris.

It’s been three years since I existed in these photographs. Three years since I traveled to Belgium by myself. Three years since I met some of the closest people to my heart.

One thing I love about solo travel is that not only does it allow for self-exploration, but it also is how I’ve met the most incredible individuals. People always think that traveling alone has to be so lonely. And yes, sometimes, it can be. But it’s all in how you look at it. When you travel with a group of friends, you tend to stick with that group of friends. You talk among yourselves, go everywhere together, etc. However, when you are alone, it’s easier to be approached and more likely that you’ll approach others. Of course, this depends on whether or not you can put your fears (or pride) aside.

I can promise you right now that what stuck with me from this particular part of the trip is not the Renaissance architecture , the taste of chocolate, or the country itself, but the wonderful friends I made while exploring its cities.

Read my journal entries for yourself.

BELGIUM (BRUSSELS)

Tuesday September 10, 2013-  Here I am, about to board my flight to Brussels. I wish I would’ve booked this trip better. I still have to figure out what I will do when I get there, and pick which part of the country I am going to explore. I’m overwhelmed but so excited.

Okay, so I loved flying on Brussels airlines. They served a small roll with cheese and sauce, and orange juice, and a small chocolate. Loved it! Basically I just love food. Brussels airport was confusing. Ugh it was rough, but then even though my taxi ride was 60 euro, it was worth it because I had the sweetest old man as my driver and he showed me a lot of the sights of the city as we drove past. I checked into my hostel, a bunk bed in a private part of housing up the street that is just for females. My roommate hadn’t arrived yet. I charged my iPad a bit, researched some tours, and finally decided on Ghent and Bruges trip …took off on foot toward the city and of course it poured down rain. The map of Brussels I’d been given was awesome, really helpful. I went to see the Use It center and saw a girl with bright red hair and an infectious smile. It was there I made a friend- Radka.

She’s from Prague. We traveled in the heart of the city together and talked nonstop, she’s just lovely and so much better with direction than I am.

We set our sights on waffles- I mean, you can’t be in Belgium and NOT get them! Mine was tomato and ham and then with Belgian chocolate for dessert. (Yep- definitely got two. Told ya, I LOVE to eat.)

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We saw Manneken Pis ( a famous 1618  bronze statue of a little boy pissing into a fountain) which is pretty small in person. We took several funny pictures, walked on and stood in awe at the Grand Place (Grote Markt) and Royal Palace (official palace of the King and Queen). Stopped at Cafe Bizon, which reminded me of a small Irish pub, and I got Gueze Boon and Kriek Boon (hint of cherry flavor) and the easiest sour one to start with, Radka informed me.

It was so good to finally have some girl talk. We talked about relationships and travel, life and love, things we wanted to do in the future. And we laughed and laughed. It was hard not to be happy around her!

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I thought I was funny.

I was very tired at this point from a long day with little sleep. We decided to call it a night, and got cat called in Chinatown on the way back to our hostel. We laughed it off, but I think secretly pat ourselves on the back. We felt so alive and beautiful.

It was hard to say goodbye. Radka and I made possible plans for me to travel to Prague soon. I don’t know if it will work out, but I sincerely hope it does. She has been a blessing to have.

BELGIUM (BRUGES)

Wednesday September 11, 2013- I woke up early for my trip to Bruges. I  hurried to get ready, and grabbed a piece of bread with jam and called a cab to meet at a hotel for the departing spot. I was so late.  Luckily the receptionist called for me and I’m now on the bus, so stressful. Made a mental note to not let that happen again.

So I just met two people on the bus that became very dear to my heart very fast…Kathy and John from California. I can’t remember what got us talking, but once we did, we didn’t stop! They are incredibly kind people and I’m feeling very lucky that I chose this tour, so that our paths could cross. We started off in Ghent, which was a small and cute town.  We explored St. Bavo’s Cathedral when we got off the bus and then roamed as we pleased. It was pouring out and cold, so I tried to find some warmer clothes but they didn’t have too much, and it was more than I wanted to pay. [I started this trip off in June and in Spain, so I packed almost all summer clothes, with only a couple pairs of leggings and long sleeve shirts. At this point in my trip, I’m trying to be very careful about money, because I don’t know how things will work out or how long I’ll stay overseas.]

We also saw the Castle of the Counts of Flanders/Gravensteen Castle and drove through the countryside.

Upon arriving in Bruges, Kathy, John, and I walked the cobbled streets around one of the most romantic cities I’ve ever stepped foot in. We saw Minnewater (Lake of Love) and paused for some photographs. From there, we explored City Hall, the Market Square, and even more incredible sights.

We stopped to have lunch at a really nice restaurant…which normally I wouldn’t have done and stuck to my bread and Nutella sandwiches or got a cheap sandwich from a street vendor, but I technically did have the money and I really wanted to eat with them. We had cheese croquettes, beef stew in a beer sauce, and then chocolate mousse for dessert. It was the most I’ve treated myself on this trip. John got mussels and let me try some when he found out I’d never had them before. We had delicious white wine and shared fries.

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They reminded me so much of my parents back in the States who I missed so much, and I nearly broke down and cried when they insisted on paying for the bill…It was such an unexpected and kind gesture. They didn’t know how much it helped. They told me all about their children and how they met. Her daughter was getting married in two weeks so she bought a lace handkerchief for her and some chocolates…They took an interest in my life, asking about my travels and experiences, applauded the journey I was on. We devoured orange chocolate sticks and stopped for a beer since the weather was quite awful and we chose not to go on the boat in Bruges. The natural conversation and company more than made up for it! I’ve never felt so connected so instantly. Age didn’t make a difference, we felt like longtime friends. Kathy and I exchanged e-mail addresses and promised to stay in touch. I miss them and the comfort of their presence already.

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Gloomy day, but still beautiful!

Thursday September 12- I showered this morning, packed up, checked out of the hostel and printed my boarding passes, then scarfed down breakfast. Headed out to find the Nord station and to the vintage shops, hoping to find some warmer clothes. One had everything for four euros and if I didn’t have to carry my luggage on my back and was the old me, I would have bought so many clothes. It’s funny how you realize you don’t need all these excess material things. The other was small but had a jackpot- an outdoor raincoat. The lady said she’d take it for 14 euros but I only had twelve on me and she gave it to me. I FINALLY HAVE A JACKET. This time, I did cry. I had something to wear in this rain and colder temperatures, but the kindness of strangers, and the friends that I have made here, have been the sunshine that’s been missing the past couple days. Somehow, I know I’ll be seeing them again soon.  I grabbed my luggage, feeling completely rejuvenated, and walked to the Nord train station, ready for whatever was next.

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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!

 

 

 

First Anniversary!

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Whoa. Exactly one year ago I created From This Side of the Sun. I had zero clue how to use WordPress, let alone how to blog, and no idea what would happen once I let this baby out into the world. All I knew is that I had to do it. I had to create an outlet for my voice.

Since then, it’s been nothing short of an incredible adventure in itself, and my saving grace in its own right. I’ve been able to share my stories of traveling, my struggles and accomplishments with running, my poetry, and even opened up about my health issues. I’ve written about my passions and my most embarrassing moments, from wild adventures to every day life. I have connected with so many individuals across the country, and surprisingly enough, this blog has brought me even closer to those already here at home.

So a massive THANK YOU, from the bottom of my heart, for following along these past 365 days, being an instrumental part of my continuous growth and support of strength, and letting me share my world with you.

New here? I got ya covered. Here’s a snapshot of  some of my favorite memories (both old & new) of posts from August 2015-now. Time really does fly when you’re having fun, huh?

 

Can’t wait to see what’s next!

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