One Happy Island, One Happy Girl

Bon bini! I took a mini vacation over the fourth of July holiday, because why not? Destination: Aruba. Scroll on to see “one happy island” for yourself!

Day One- I arrived in Aruba in the late evening of June 30th, so I saved my explorations for the next morning. I woke early, grabbed breakfast, and walked along Palm Beach and Eagle Beach, breathing in the fresh air.

With a cool breeze, white sand, and blue waters, it was hard to believe I was in such a beautiful place!

Later that afternoon, I climbed Hooiberg Lookout for a view of the entire island:

(Definitely want to bring lots of water with you for this one! Speaking of which, Aruba has the cleanest/most pure drinking water.)

Since I was only staying on the island for a short period of time, I was determined to see and do as much as possible. After the hike and exploring downtown, however, I was beat! I headed back to my hotel to relax with my newly arrived book, and watched boats come in to shore.

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Boat coming in at sunset.

Day Two- To see most of the island as possible, I booked a jeep tour. This covered most of the eastern side of the island, from the northernmost point all the way to Baby Beach. We also explored:

  • Bushiribana Gold Mills Ruins
  • Ayo Rock Formation
  • Hidden caves
  • Arikok National Park

My all-time favorite spots were the natural bridges and pools that we stopped at.

Natural bridge, above, and natural pools, below.

More sights: Alto Vista Chapel, a donkey befriending us, and the California Lighthouse.

After a long day, I needed to refuel. I love being close to the ocean, so I chose to have a delicious seafood dinner on the pier.

Day Three- Beach day! Soaked up the sun, chased lizards (which are everywhere!), and drank fresh fruit smoothies. And no, I can’t take credit for that sand sculpture.

On my last night, I was dazzled yet again at sunset:

The island of Aruba is small, but I was only just beginning to uncover the heart of it. I talked to as many locals as I could, learning about the language (Papiamento, but most Arubans can speak four or five languages), their lifestyle, and how tourism makes up the majority of their economy. The country may be a popular destination for couples and families, but I still enjoyed myself and was grateful to be able to relax and take in the beautiful sights.

Even before I got on my flight home, I knew I wanted to come visit again.

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The only good thing about leaving is this incredible view!

Catch ya on the flip side,

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Land of Fire & Ice (And Everything Nice)

Bright rainbows breaking through clouds, the rush of a waterfall around every corner, rolling green fields, and the nicest people you’ve ever met?

Sounds like heaven, but the name is Iceland.

I was lucky enough to visit this incredible country this past week- this time with my boyfriend for our three year anniversary. It was our first international trip together, and his first time outside of North America- something I’ve been wanting to experience with him since we started dating!

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We got a sneak peek of the mesmerizing Northern Lights as we flew over Greenland. Our captain woke us up to instruct us to look out the left side of the plane for the show!

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Due to the weather, this would unfortunately be the only sighting we’d have the rest of our trip, but the views alone of this country and the adventures we went on more than made up for it! We spent the first full day exploring Reykjavik. The country’s capital and largest city, and it charmed us from the very start. Take a look at some of the city’s gems:

We saw the Sun Voyager, a striking steel sculpture along the water.

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Harpa, a concert hall near the harbor where we saw an awesome exhibit.

Hallgrímskirkja, an immense church that boasts outstanding panoramic views of the entire city.

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Perlan, a glass dome rotating restaurant where we enjoyed a delicious dessert after a long day of hiking.

 

Lake Tjörnin, Ráðhús Reykjavíkur (City Hall), Monument to the Unknown Bureaucrat,  etc.

 

As much as we adored the city, we loved the countryside even more. We couldn’t pass up one of the most famous routes out of Reykjavik- the Golden Circle- featuring Þingvellir National Park, Haukadalur geothermal area (Geysir, Strokkur), and Gullfoss waterfall.

Gullfoss waterfall– This double-tiered waterfall reminded me at first of Niagra Falls, but I loved how close we could get to it!  Not to mention the way the sun reflected off the water- the rainbow was a gorgeous payoff for the long climb and the downpour of rain we got caught in!

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Þingvellir (Thingvellir) National Park the site of two tectonic plates (American and Eurasian) that drift apart at a speed of 2 cm/year, and also the site of Althingi, the oldest functioning parliament in the world. We couldn’t get enough of the history and autumn colors here.

 

Haukadalur geothermal area (Geysir, Strokkur, etc.)

Bright blue bubbling pools, hot springs, and mud pots, this place was a delight to see! Although the sulfur smelled like rotten eggs, you forget all about it with the excitement of seeing Strokkur explode every 5-10 minutes.

 

We made a stop at Fákasel Horse farm to see the famous Icelandic horses. They are all pure bred- once an Icelandic horse leaves the country it cannot ever return, and no horses can be imported. They also have five gaits instead of four, making them very unique.

 

We didn’t think we could top the Golden Circle, but we were proven wrong during our exploration of Iceland’s South Coast shores:  Skógafoss waterfall, Reynisfjara’s black sand beaches, Sólheimajökull glacier, Eyjafjallajökull volcano, and Seljalandsfoss waterfall, among others.

Skógafoss JJ and I were able to climb to the very top of this powerful waterfall. (Look to the top right of the photo- that’s where we were!) The slippery steps led us to an unbelievable view looking down below.

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Black sand beaches of ReynisfjaraThis world famous beach was like nothing we had ever seen before! Gray pebbles, dark sand, basalt sea stacks, rocky pyramids towering over us. The impressively strong, high waves crashing into the shore and gusts of wind were scary and wonderful all wrapped into one spectacular visit.

 

Sólheimajökull glacier- This glacier emerged right as we rounded the bend after a 10-15 minute hike. It completely took our breath away- it was the first time either of us had ever seen a glacier in real life! We learned it covers Katla, a dangerous volcano that is threatening to erupt in the near future. (Which we were glad we missed.)

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Eyjafjallajökull – You can’t see the glacier here in this photo below, but the left photo is the volcano that erupted in 2010 and stopped air traffic throughout all of Europe. The photo on the right is a massive rock in which houses have been built into. It’s been called the “elf house.” Many Icelandic people believe in elves. JJ and I weren’t convinced, but it is ironic that after we took this photo, our camera stopped working…

 

Seljalandsfoss– By far one of our most favorite destinations. This magnificent waterfall has a path that leads you BEHIND it, so you can actually walk to the other side for an even more stunning view. But beware: you absolutely will get soaked to the core. Definitely worth it!

 

So okay, you get it. We saw some extraordinary things in nature and kissed under a lot of waterfalls. But what did we eat?

Pylsa– Iceland is known for their hot dogs, and I certainly had my fair share of them. Not joking, I could really go for another one as we speak! The picture on the right is at Bæjarins Bestu, which proudly displays a picture of Bill Clinton enjoying his meal. If you order one with everything on it (which I recommend), it includes raw onions, crispy fried onions, ketchup, special Icelandic mustard, and remoulade.

Don’t believe me about how AMAZING and renowned they are? Check it here.

Flatbrauð- rye bread with smoked lamb & Malt drink (non-alcoholic, typically mixed with orange soda for holidays)

 

Skyr– A thick yogurt that was very filling.

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Several different soups to help warm up on colder nights:

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Traditional Icelandic Meat Soup.

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Turnip soup- never had a turnip in my LIFE but this was delicious!

And, of course, who could forget FISH?

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The best fish either of us had ever tried at the Drunk Rabbit.

Chuck Norris Grill– we couldn’t stop laughing at all of these sayings!

 

Dillon Whiskey Bar– Sampled some Balvenie (aged 12 years) here that I loved!

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Drinks- Icelandic Pale Ale & White Ale, Viking, Thule,  Egils Gull beer, Somersby cider. etc. We tried it all but the Black Death, Brennivín, which we plan on trying in the States.

 

Blue Lagoon– How could we come to Iceland and not visit one of the 25 wonders of the world? On our last day, we spent a full day here relaxing and literally soaking it all in. With blue water the temperature of 100° F, a swim up bar, and silica mud masks that left your skin feeling 10 years younger, there was no better way for us to wrap up our romantic, fascinating, and completely breathtaking vacation.

 

We could not have asked for a more beautiful adventure together, and already can’t wait to go back. Iceland captured our hearts from the beginning, but if you’ve read this post, it’s not hard to see why.

 

 

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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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That Time I Took My Mom on Vacation

My mom gave me life, so the least I can do is take her on an all-inclusive vacation, right?

I’d been pushing her to do a mother/daughter trip with me for quite some time, and finally, the opportunity presented itself at the beginning of this month. Last Thursday through Sunday (Mother’s Day), we headed to Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic for the blue beach, to bask in the sun and bronze burn our booties.

 

Right away, it was an adventure. We were greeted at the airport and escorted to the shuttle that would take us to our resort, where we met a couple visiting Punta Cana for their third time. Turns out they knew my aunt and uncle. You may think, how does that even happen?! But growing up in a small town, and attending a small college, showed me years ago how strong connections can be and how fast they spread. I can’t say I was even fazed.

And then my mom (making conversation, of course) asked them the question: “Are the native people here really poor?” Embarrassed, I tried to shush her, but she went on, loudly. “They seem really poor.” All in earshot of our driver, who was clearly a native of the country. *face palm*

It was like that scene from Mean Girls.

 

 

A small part of me worried what I was getting into, but I just laughed. This was going to be a trip! We got dropped off at our hotel and were greeted with a flute of cold sparking juice and damp, cool washcloths to put on our necks to relieve us from the heat. My mom, as you can see, was in heaven. “I’m never leaving!” she exclaimed. Below, you can see the photos of our hotel and beach areas. (That flamingo was kind of a bitch.)

 

 

Although mom doesn’t drink, she was loving the non-alcoholic cocktails and smoothies. Every day, she’d say, Let’s get a drink. Oh gosh, I sound like such a lush! We spent the majority of our time relaxing at the beach laying out or under the shade of the bed, or hanging out in our VIP pool.

 

 

Steps to vacation: Eat, drink, relax, swim, sleep, repeat.

 

Then my childhood dream came true on Friday- I swam with a dolphin in the ocean. Absolutely everything I thought it’d be! They are such powerful, playful, and beautiful mammals.  Posters and knickknacks of them used to cover my bedroom from wall to wall growing up, and here I was, actually kissing them, swimming with them, having them jump over me. Surreal. Like a true mother, my mom’s enjoyment came out of just watching my excitement.

 

As amazing as the views were, the best part of the trip was the talks we’d have before bed. Mom told me some stories from her childhood, how her parents didn’t have money, and things she had done for fun. I told her my fears, my summer plans, vented about my “problems.” She listened intently, giving advice like only she can do. We talked about my future: traveling, kids (no), marriage. Her regrets, and aging.

We never think about our parents getting older until we notice small things- forgetting something we told them, not being able to walk as far, needing glasses to read, getting frustrated with trying to teach them technology, my mom reading lips because she was struggling to hear me, etc. I have this irrational fear that because my mom handles literally EVERYTHING for our family and constantly has a mind that never stops running, that she’ll develop Alzheimer’s, though I know that’s not how it works.

She mentioned, with tears in her eyes, that her mother would have never done something like this with her. She had died when I was six, and to be honest, I don’t remember much of her. It hit me then that my mother was also a daughter. Crazy as it sounds, I forget that beyond being a mother and a wife, she is a daughter.  She is a woman who does not need to be defined by her roles. A woman who probably, even at 61, still has those empty spaces in her heart from the ones she has lost. A woman who still has dreams and needs and sadness and really tough days where she doesn’t know what the hell to do. A woman who ignores those feelings because so many depend on her strength. That thought made me feel so guilty. I had been blind for so long. So insincere and thoughtless as a teenager, so selfish. So blissfully unaware of how lucky I am to have her.

People talk about how their mother is the glue that holds their family together…mine is the nails used to build us, the glue that keeps us, and the duct tape when all else fails. She has been my backbone in a lot of ways, and I can’t picture a world with her not in it. My parents have worked their entire lives to provide a better life for my brother and I, and even in their sixties, they are moving firewood, taking care of my grandparents, managing three properties, and still picking up the phone when I call. As they near retirement (jealous) my hope for them is that they are able to relax and enjoy themselves.

Now that we’re back in rainy PA, I’m reflecting on this trip and I know that was one of the reasons for going- for everything my mother has given me, it’s always been my dream to give back. Since I can’t buy her a house, or a brand new car, I figured my time and this experience would suffice. Another lifetime couldn’t be long enough to learn from and be loved by you.

I love you mom, hope you had a wonderful Mother’s Day. I’m always missing you.

 

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Leave nothing but footprints,

take nothing but pictures,

kill nothing but time.