Havana Good Time

Last month, I stepped back in time with the two best friends a girl could ask for. Havana, Cuba was unlike any place I’d ever been.

From the bright colored homes, classic cars, and heart of the Cuban people, nothing was more spirited.

We saw Fusterlandia (above) and admired the beautiful works of art. Then, we sampled different rums, savored the most delicious (and only) flaming coffee I’d ever had, and I had my first cigar, which I loved! We brought several back 😉

From Old Havana, to Mafia Mojitos, we soaked in every experience.

Getting lost around the capital.

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And come on, our balcony view was right near the famous Malecón!

We also caught El Morro cannon celebration and the most breathtaking sunset! What a way to end a trip of a lifetime.

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Please- If you are from the U.S., do not let what is going on right now steer you away from this incredible country. I urge you to see it for yourself. You can get a visa at the airport like we did for support of the Cuban people. Stay at an AirBnB and exchange money beforehand. All things were actually less of a hassle than we expected.

This is one place you will be so happy you didn’t miss!
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The Maine Attraction

Ever since I took that trip with my mom to Punta Cana, I’ve been asking her to travel with me again.  Though I already have a great relationship with my parents, I especially value our time together as we all get older. To my surprise, she finally said yes! (Maybe because this was a domestic trip, for once? Haha.)

We flew into Portland on Thursday evening. She had never seen whales in real life and wanted to see them, so we opted for a cruise that next day. Of course, we had to get our first fresh lobster roll beforehand!

 

We got lucky and saw three fin whale, and a couple harbor seals! And, of course, the famous Portland Head Lighthouse.

 

Walking around Portland/Old Port: Portland Observatory, Eastern Promenade, East End Beach, Fish Point, Fort Allen Park, Lincoln Park, Wadsworth-Longfellow House, Bug Point, etc.

Our favorite spots to eat included: DiMillo’s on the water, Becky’s Diner, Portland Lobster Company, The Holy Donut, Gilbert’s Chowder House, and so many more.

The next day, we rented a car and drove to Acadia National Park.

Such a beautiful day! Highlights included: Eagle Lake, Sand Beach, Cadillac Mountain, Thunder Hole, among others.

We took a ferry to one of the many islands surrounding Portland the next day. We opted for Peaks Island and enjoyed blueberry soda while soaking up some rays. We didn’t know that wild blueberries grow naturally here- 44,000 acres, to be exact.

 

Coastal Maine is surely a sight for sore eyes, and there’s no other person I’d rather soak in that beauty with then my incredible mother. I know we’ll both cherish this time together in years to come.

 

Until next time,

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La La Louisville

Some of you may recall my trip to Minneapolis last year for the Sigma Tau Delta Convention.

I was lucky enough to be accepted to present again this year at the 2017 Convention, held in Louisville, KY.

Although it was a short trip to the south, we covered a lot of ground. (If you haven’t realized by now, I like to do that.)

Without further ado, here’s less than 72 hours in Louisville!

We arrived on a Thursday, checked into our hotel and immediately headed out to find a place for dinner. Right near our hotel was 4th Street Live, an entertainment district with a lot of restaurant chains. It wasn’t overly crowded when we arrived, but then again, it was still early. There was the famous guitar outside the Hard Rock, the impressive Jim Beam Urban Stillhouse, and neon lights outside every lounge/club.

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The next morning, I presented my poetry collection, “Leaving Season” at the Marriott.  I met another presenter from Pittsburgh and we gushed about some of our wonderful teachers and poets in the Pittsburgh poetry community.

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Reading from my poetry session.

After my session, I traded my heels for some comfortable shoes and we set out to explore what we could in the short time we had. We stopped into the Louisville Visitor Center for a map and some helpful hints. I tried on fancy Derby hats while JJ pretended to not know me. We were given some recommendations for restaurants and things to do, and decided to not waste any more time. We headed straight to the river, where we saw the Belle of Louisville (think the Gateway Clipper of Pittsburgh) and walked along the waterfront.

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Belle of Louisville.

Although it was cloudy, we pressed on. Since we only had the day, we decided not to go to the Louisville Slugger Museum (although we walked by the field) and also skipped the Muhammad Ali Center. By the time we reached the Waterfront Park, the sun peaked through. We stopped at a playground to sit & swing for a short break. We’d done a lot of walking!

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Feet in the clouds.

We decided to rent a bike to adventure across the Big Four Bridge to Indiana. It might have saved us some time, but trust me- it wasn’t that much easier. We both pedaled our hearts out to reach the top of the ramp to the bridge. Once we got to the top, we finally caught our breath. From there, it was a breeze pedaling across the bridge, not to mention an incredible amount of fun.

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Ominous clouds over the ramp & our sweet ride.

Having beat the rain, we found our way around a couple neighborhoods, like the East Market District. We ducked into an adorable coffee shop, Please and Thank You. I mean, if you put a sign like this out front, I don’t see how I’d be able to stay away!

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Not to mention that we discovered the bathroom had this framed inside:

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Pittsburgh & Louisville!

There were tons of cool shops, not to mention the street art everywhere!

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We saw Thomas Edison’s house, where he invented the light bulb, walked past the KFC Yum! Center, and ate at an awesome place called “Troll Pub Under the Bridge Pub,” which was exactly what it sounds like. So sure, we didn’t have fried chicken or go to the Derby, we both had colds and it could’ve been better weather, but we had a BLAST. We loved our time in Louisville!

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Crossing off our bucket list one trip at a time.

And that’s a wrap!

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From left: JJ & I at the convention, beautiful blossoms by the river, 4th Street Live, and trying on Derby hats!

 

OH. And one more thing- I was awarded two prizes for my collection! We were unable to be at the convention awards Saturday night since we drove back to Pittsburgh early for Andrew McMahon & The Wilderness, but I found out that I got first place (for the second year in a row!) & an honorable mention. I didn’t find out the good news until days later when it was announced on the website. I was beyond excited!
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So for those of you who have already been, what did we miss in Louisville? Would love to hear your thoughts!

 

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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!

 

 

 

Living for the Weekend

You do it, I do it, we all do it.

Crossing off the days on our calendars at work, counting down the minutes left in our 9-5, living for the weekend. Ah, those blessed mornings where we don’t have to set an alarm or have anywhere to be for 8 hour time blocks. Or, sometimes, if you’re like me, you jam that open weekend full of every ounce of fun you can possibly fit.

This past weekend, JJ and I headed to Rehoboth Beach, DE.  We started a tradition of going camping every Memorial Day weekend, and this year, we took our trip to the beach.

We kicked the vacation off with spending a day at Cape Henlopen State Park. The sand was hot, and the water was freezing, but we jumped in anyway. We enjoyed lunch on the beach and then fell asleep on a blanket under the sun. It was amazing to just relax.

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Since the park was a former military base, we drove around and climbed to the top of an observation tower to take in the view. Later that day, after we cooled off in the pool back at the campground, we hit the boardwalk. Since no trip to the beach is complete without ice cream, we opted for Starkey’s. My indecisive self was lost when we looked at the menu-  100+ delicious flavors! How would I ever choose?!

A stroll down Penny Lane shops and a sweet treat from Starkey’s.

 

The next day, we got to Rehoboth Beach early and watched the fog roll out. After walking along the beach, we sipped some strawberry wine and got the biggest bucket of fries we could find- Thrasher’s original boardwalk fries, of course. I am still craving that salt & vinegar goodness.

Boardwalk fries & patriotic swimsuits for the win.

While we didn’t make it to Dogfish Head, we stopped by Rehoboth Ale House for a couple brews and listened to some live music before going to Zogg’s for dinner- a raw bar & grill with a million different kinds of rum. I was more than pleased with my Key West grouper taco & signature rum punch. After such a long day of eating, sunbathing, and wandering, we were more than ready to spend our last night taking it easy.

Dinner on the boardwalk and back to the campground to relax around the fire.

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Apple pie moonshine & s’mores!

 

Minus the traffic on the drive back home Monday, it was truly a wonderful vacation.

So, are you thinking you’re in dire need of a weekend escape? 

Here are some getaways that aren’t far from Pittsburgh, PA:

  1. Presque Isle State Park, Erie, PA
  2. Ohiopyle State Park, PA
  3. Deep Creek, MD
  4. Cedar Point, OH
  5. Put-in-Bay, OH
  6. Washington, D.C.
  7. Chautauqua, NY
  8. Cleveland, OH
  9. New River Gorge, WV
  10. Gettysburg, PA or Hershey, PA

 

Have more suggestions, or don’t see your favorite listed? Comment below! I’d love to hear more.

Also, I will be working flex time during the summer months (meaning I’ll work four 10 hour days, and get an extra day off) so I will be looking for easy, fun trips to take within a 3-4 day time frame! Anywhere from big cities to hiking trails to amusement parks to beaches, I’m open for it all.

Until next time, weekend warriors.

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