Sydney, Day 1

Sydney, Day 1

5:50 AM wake ups don’t seem too bad when you are jet lagged and your body wants to get up at that time naturally. Within 15 minutes, we were dressed, had the rest of our PB&Js for breakfast, and were walking down to the car to head to the Auckland airport for our flight to Sydney. We had to fill up the gas tank and couldn’t find a station until we got to the airport. We paid for that $2.18 a liter which is like $5.36 per gallon! After we got over the sticker shock, it was back in the car to the rental drop off, onto a shuttle to the airport, and through security to our gate. We grabbed some yummy banana bread while we waited for the plane and were on and ready for take off in no time. I ended up watching The Kingsman on the 2.5 hour flight to Sydney and we celebrated with some champagne (its 5 o’clock somewhere right?!) and had an AMAZING view of the city from the plane.

Customs in the Sydney airport was the quickest and easiest we had ever experiences. We used the electronic portal which took our picture and printed out a form that we gave to the customs person. He gave us the “Go!” in under a minute and we picked up our bags, went through one last security check, and were done in probably 15 minutes. Most of that time was spent walking! We exited the airport and took a cab to my sister’s extended stay apartment in Surry Hills.

Little did we know, the extended stay place was an old hospital and was converted into a hotel and my mom was actually born where we were staying! My sister came out and we had a big hug reunion! I was so happy to see her – it had been 5 months and we are insanely close. Getting to spend a week with her in our mother’s homeland was so special.

We went up to her place to unload and then took off to Sydney Harbor to meet my friend from college, Monique, who was also living in Sydney. The plan was to take the ferry over to our favorite fish & chip / calamari place called Doyles on The Beach. We had tons to catch up on during the ferry ride over to Doyles in Watsons Bay and the weather was perfect for the ride there.

Growing up, my family would go to Doyles every time we visited Australia to see my mom’s side of the family. My sister and I have so many good (and tastey) memories there. We even saw Elton John there once (leave it to me to be within 5 feet of such a legend and not realize it until he left)! With all of that history, I had to introduce my husband to Doyles.

We decided to order a few things to share so we could taste a varriety of dishes. We got some of the most buttery oysters I’ve ever had, barramundi (an Australian fish), salmon, fish & chips, steamed veggies, and some Doyles wine to top it off. It was so light and delicious!

You can walk from the Doyles’ beach up to the cliffs that separate the harbor from the ocean so we decided to do a little trek to walk off lunch. Both Ryan and I were still sore from our 6 hour Tongaririo Crossing hike, but we somehow made it up the hill to the views.


We also had a great view of Sydney harbor on the way back down!

After we were done fiddling around, it was back on the ferry and back over to Sydney harbor. We decided to grab a drink at Opera Bar, a bar literally under the Sydney Opera House that overlooks the harbor bridge. It was a great spot for people watching and seeing all of the very aggressive seagulls attempt to steal food!

After that, it was back over to Crown Street in Surry Hills for another drink and a little pizza. We ended up at The Dolphin Hotel, which looks small form outside but opens up to a two story bar and restuant inside. It was filled with graffiti and so cool. We learned that bars are actually called “hotels” in Australia because, up until 1980, all bars had to provide hotel rooms for those who over indulged. I had no idea!

With such an early morning, were fading quickly, so we said goodbye to Monique and headed over to a grocery store to get fresh eggs, bread, and fruit for breakfast. I definitely loaded up on passion fruit (my favorite fruit that are far too small and expensive in the States). After we were stocked up, we went back to the hotel and watched an episode of Black Mirror before heading to bed.

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Dubrovnik to Hvar

Dubrovnik to Hvar

Today was so relaxing – even with the trip from Dubrovnik to Hvar, Croatia! It started with 11 hours of much-needed sleep, a few snooze buttons, and a 9:30 wake-up. We grabbed a delicious breakfast at the hotel, and then changed into our swim suits for some spa time. It was supposed it rain all day so we decided to stay in at the Hotel Dubrovnik Palace spa and relax – boy was that needed! The hot tub was the perfect temp, and we experimented with the wet and dry saunas before hopping into the heated pool. Fortunately for us, the spa had an amazing outdoor view so we were able to relax while looking out over the ocean.

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We enjoyed the spa until 11:30 and then it was time to pack and freshen up before our 12 check out. Since the spa at the hotel was fully booked for the day, we took a cab to Touch of Thai day spa for massages. Since it was a Thai spa and we’ve been to Thailand, we got to use some of our Thai language skills on the staff and they seemed to be delighted when we said hello and thank you in Thai! How cool was that! I had a very relaxing aromatherapy massage while Ryan got a deep tissue massage. He, unfortunately, refused to wear the super sexy, shower cap looking undies that the massage place provided (haha!). The massage was excellent and lasted the entirety of the rain storm that rolled though!

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Once we were finished, we ran through the remainder of the storm to a shopping area to wait on a Uber.  Ubers are 1/3 of the price of cabs in Dubrovnik so I highly recommend them over taxis.

We arrived back to the hotel and were welcomed by the warmth inside as the rain brought the chill. We decided to go to the “Thin” restaurant for lunch, thinking it would be lighter and cheaper, though it was not cheaper. Who charges $20 for spring rolls?! Ryan and I split a delicious French onion soup and Thai noodles but they were not worth what we paid for them…

After lunch we grabbed our bags from reception and hopped in another Uber to the port to catch our boat to Hvar. The boat was huge and had an excellent view off of the bow.

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The ride to Hvar was about 3 hours and 30 minutes. We mainly napped and read some books that we brought along with us. Before we knew it, the sun was setting and it was 7:30 PM as we sailed up to the Hvar dock. There was a bell boy from our hotel waiting to take our luggage from us so we could walk the ten minutes to the hotel. The half-mile walk along the shoreline was beautiful. We passed multi-million dollar yachts and catamarans filled with people enjoying wine, the view, and each other’s company, a huge castle atop the mountain overlooking the harbor, and beautiful gardens. There was even an awesome bar overlooking the water that was hosting a wedding! We were already in love with the city of Hvar!

We walked up to the Amfora Hvar Grand Beach Resort and couldn’t believe how beautiful it was. It had an amazing view of the coast (even in the dark of night), a luxurious pool with day beds, and was right on the water. I was relaxed just walking up the steps to check in. We even had champagne delivered to the room in congratulations for our recent wedding!


After a quick refresher, we decided to head back to the harbor for dinner and some shopping. We walked the shoreline until we found a string of cute little pizza / pasta restaurants and came upon Posteni. It was the right price and Ryan was tired of looking at menus so we decided to try it – and were we glad we did! The menus were covered by cute little framed paintings of the coast and, per our waiter’s suggestion, we opted for the truffle linguine and shrimp and the Bravos pasta with muscles. The house wine was the best we had in Croatia so far and Ryan swore his pasta rivaled our meals at Gagan and Nobu. My muscles were scrumptious, we were in food heaven.. and it was at that time that I realized any of my pre-wedding fitness achievements were going far out the window on this trip!

The restaurant’s owner, his wife, and daughter were all sitting across from us and we cheers’ed them for such a great meal. Our waiter even brought a complementary shot for Ryan and a honey infused desert wine for me! Yum!

In fantastic spirits, we walked the coast line home and listened (/danced) to the near by wedding’s music until it was time for bed. In my wine enhanced enthusiasm, I accidentally brought down one of the window curtains while dramatically closing them, so Ryan and his height helped me Velcro the curtain backup. It was quite the silly way to end a perfect evening.

Continue reading this adventure..

Denver To-Do List

Denver To-Do List

As I am sure you have heard, there is so much to do in and around Denver, Colorado! From the thrill of skiing to the amazing views found on the trails, exhilarating white water rafting to relaxing at a brewery, there are so many options and nailing down your exact itinerary can be a little overwhelming, which is why this post is here to help!

There are two main types of Denver vacations – warm and cold weather. If you are going in winter to ski outside of Denver, I recommend renting a 4-wheel drive car, planning for extra-traffic through the mountains going to the airport on our way home, and checking out my ski-trip packing list and skiing 101. If going in warmer weather, check out the below:

Things to do in downtown Denver:

  • Breweries, breweries, and more breweries – There are 4 of the top 50 breweries in the US located in Denver and many breweries within walking distance of each other. We went to Hogshead and the Denver Brewing Company. Not only did the Denver Brewing Company have an awesome patio and great beer, they were having a block party when we went. There were tons of games, other vendors and food trucks giving out freebies, and tons of adorable dogs since the whole place is very dog friendly.

Denver Brewing Company

  • Go to a Rockies baseball game at Coor’s Stadium – Coor’s Stadium has a super cool top deck bar area great for socializing, grabbing some drinks, and enjoying the game in a “sports bar” type of vibe but at the stadium itself! If you do not want to go into the stadium, check out Viewhouse – a huge bar across the street with a giant rooftop patio, outdoor lawn game area, cabanas, and awesome food and drinks.
  • The Denver Modern Art Museum – The Art museum is 5 floors and spans over two buildings connected by a sky bridge. It has a diverse mix of modern and historical artifacts and you can spend about 2-3 hours there easily.

  • Shopping – Feeling in the mood for a little shopping but don’t want to spend such a nice day indoors? Check out the Denver Pavilions outdoor mall in downtown for an open, outdoor shopping experience.
  • Check out the food co-op for lunch or dinner – Trying to find a restaurant with indecisive people or ones with conflicting opinions on cuisine can be tough. Luckily, Denver is home to the Avanti Food Court which has 7 different eateries, 2 bars, and indoor and outdoor seating, to greatly satisfy any wants or needs!

Things to do within an hour of Denver:

  • Red Rocks Amphitheater – The Red Rock Amphitheater is a concert venue tucked into giant red rock outcroppings about 45 minutes away from Denver. Not only can you see awesome concerts there, you can do yoga in the theater and there are tons of awesome hiking trails that provide insane views!
  • Go for a hike – Day Hikes Near Denver is a great resource for finding the perfect hike for you. It outlines the trail maps, details what the trails are like from difficulty level, time it takes to complete the trails, elevation changes, scenic stops, and proximity to Denver city. You can even see George Washington’s sleeping face (See below)! Additionally, check out my recommendations for a hiking packing list to keep you prepared wherever you go.

Arrowhead Golf Course in Littleton, Colorado

  • White water rafting & ziplining – Just about 35 minutes away from downtown Denver, there are multiple place to raft down the exhilarating rapids and zipline in adventure parks.
  • Stand up paddling or kayaking – There are quite a few manmade lakes, reservoirs, and ponds with beaches to relax on and water to sport in. Check this out to for the top 10 places to water sport outside of Denver.

With so much to do, especially a bit outside of Denver, I recommend renting a car so that you do not rack up a huge ride-sharing bill. You will have a lot more flexibility to go to and from your points of interest with a rental car but, of course, if you are doing a lot more partying in downtown and are not venturing out too far, drive responsibly or get a ride-share.

There are so many options for fun in Denver, what will you choose?!

Hiking through Roxborough State Park, Colorado

Beach Vacation Packing List

Beach Vacation Packing List

Weather you are heading to the exotic beaches of Mexico, Australia, or Thailand, island hopping through the Virgin Islands or Hawaii, or just heading to the US coastline, beach packing is pretty standard across the board! The following packing list should help you get everything you need together for an amazing trip with no “I can’t believe I forgot ….” moments!

Clothing:

  • Swim suits: A few of them! Who wants to wear a wet bathing suit multiple days in a row? A few options, like strapless suits for your lazy days on the beach so you won’t get crazy tan lines and more sturdy suits that tie around the neck and wont fall off while you are snorkeling or going on excursions with more movement, will be your best bet. While my favorite swim wear comes from Everything But Water, Target and Aerie have reasonably priced options you can’t beat as well
  • Tank tops: Light, breathable tops to keep you cool but give you some sun coverage when you need it
  • Shorts: Make sure they will not chafe and are comfortable / easy on / off when wet. If your thighs rub together like mine (*sigh*), longer shorts, like those at Gap, can help prevent the rub when your sticky from the salt water
  • Easy on / off rompers or sun dresses: Perfect to wear to the beach or resort pool as a cover up and cute enough to go to a restaurant after
  • Athletic leggings / shorts and tops for excursions or workouts: Focus on light, breathable, sweat-wicking, and easy to clean clothes for your zip-line or adventurous tours
  • Formal wear: Don’t forget flowy dresses or a cute skirt / top combo for nice dinners and dancing. Heels might be a bit much for the casual beach scene, so wedges, chunky heels, or cute sandals might be the easier to pack, more practical option
  • A scarf or light jacket for those cool beach nights (and the plane ride to and from your destination)
  • Don’t forget your undies, socks, and bras!

Accessories:

  • Water bottle for excursions: I love Swell bottles. They are easy to travel with, keep drinks cold for hours and hours, and are super cute
  • Water proof camera (if not your phone with a water proof case)
  • Umbrella: For both sun and rain protection
  • Floppy sun hat and sunglasses: A MUST. Bring nice sunglasses for pool days and some cheaper, “it’s ok if I lose these” ones to go in the ocean / on excursions with
  • Day bag: Pack-able backpack for your sunscreen, poncho, water and snacks, towels, and anything else you may need on excursions
  • Sun screen: Make sure you apply often! Don’t forget an oil free version for your face to avoid breakouts
  • Waterproof phone carrying case: This will save your phone when you are on bumpy jet boats, in rain, and are surrounded by water
  • Hand sanitizer, lip balm with sun screen, water proof make up, lots of aloe just in case of sun burns, and bug spray
  • Reading material for the plane or by the pool

Shoes:

  • Comfortable walking sandals that can get wet and keep your feet secure from slipping around. My personal favorite are Chaco’s. While they might not be the cutest shoes, they are so comfortable for miles of walking and are easy to clean. Note, black shoes tend to soak up the heat when you are in the pool or at the beach so lighter shoes are better
  • Sandals for walking beach
  • Sneakers and / or water shoes for adventure tours or a mid-vacay workout (funny right?)
  • Wedges or comfy heels for any “nice” nights out

Hopefully this list will take some of the packing stress away and help you have the best time on your beach vacation!

On the beach in El Salvador

Seattle

Seattle

The alarm sounded at 6 AM and it took every ounce of my being to get out of bed. With our bags packed, we headed to the dining room for breakfast before we needed to debark. The breakfast in the dining room was basically the same as the buffet and I had my usual oatmeal with brown sugar, grapefruit, and sausage. The coffee on board was delicious so I had a few cups of that as well to wake up fully since we had a big day ahead of us.

Ryan predicted about a 45-minute debarkation process and boy were we surprised! We did the self-debark where we carried all of our bags to the Crown Grill for our debark time. Right as we got there, the staff rounded us off and walked us to the gateway. We were off the ship in under 5 minutes from our debark time and through the customs check in another 5. It took us a total of 10 minutes to get off the boat and to our Uber pick up! We were very impressed.

We all piled into one giant Suburban and rode to our downtown Holiday Inn. I liked the Maxwell hotel so much more, with its spunky personality and super comfy beds, but the Holiday Inn worked as well. We dropped our bags off quickly, freshened up, and then Ryan and I took off on foot to Pike’s Market. It was about a 20-minute walk through the drizzly downtown streets, but we passed some really cool statues, art fixtures, and graffiti. Seattle also has amazing architecture and almost every building has some unique color or quirk that makes it visually appealing.

Pike Place Market in Seattle, Washington

We arrived at the market and was shocked at all of the fresh produce and the prices! While one side of the market was filled with flowers of every kind and color at prices from $5 – $15 for a beautiful bouquet, the other side had fresh produce that looked picked that morning, right-off-the-boat fish and seafood, fresh pasta of all flavor varieties (we got some basil linguine to try), cheeses and cured meats, honey sticks, and a huge variety of other goods to buy.

Not only was the market multiple blocks long, but it was 6 stories deep! We wandered down to a lower floor, tried some BBQ pork buns from a take-out Chinese window, window shopped through some old record shops, hippie boutiques, and a pet store that made us homesick for our puppy. I could have perused the market for hours!

Not only is Pike Place Market a big attraction, but there are other hidden gems inside and around the market that make for interesting stops. Across from the market is the original Starbucks with a line out the door 50+ people. It has the original Starbucks logo and everything. On top of that, the notoriously sticky gum-wall in an almost hidden corridor of the Market beckons gum chewers to make a deposit, leaving their brightly colored gum as a marker of their visit to the wall. We checked out both of these places before our stomachs brought us to Pita Stop for a gyro before the trek back to the hotel.

EMP Museum in Seattle, Washington

I changed my galoshes out for my hiking boots and we were back on the streets, walking to the EMP Museum underneath the Space Needle. We opted for the EMP since we have traditional science museums in Dallas and a very nice aquarium, so the EMP offered something different for us to try, and boy were we glad we did! Contained in an architecturally complex and colorful building that you can’t help but be curiously drawn to, the EMP Museum offers exhibits like nothing I have seen before. All of the exhibits feature priceless artifacts in theme, my favorites of which included Light Sabers that were actually used during the filming of the originally Star Wars movies in the “Infinite Worlds of Science Fiction” exhibit, Gizmo from Gremlins in the “Can’t Look Away: The Lure of Horror Film” exhibit, guitars and hand-written lyrics from both Nirvana and Jimmy Hendrix in their retrospective exhibits, and the actual costumes from all of the main characters in The Princess Bride! There was also a music lab with booths containing every type of instrument where people could literally make music and jam out on any instrument they pleased. Again, so interactive and cool. I highly recommend the EMP to anyone visiting Seattle!

After exploring the museum, we went out the backdoor to a huge park with an interactive playground for kids. There were white tents set up at the back of the playground and the smell of hot dogs drew Ryan’s stomach and my curiosity over to the tents. They started with lots of kid’s activities, and as we walked further into the tent mass, we realized we stumbled upon the Folk Art Festival taking place. There must have been thousands of people with the most unusual range of styles I have ever seen in one place! There were hair colors ranging every spectrum of the rainbow, clothes that looked like they dated back to the early 1900’s, folk bands set up every 20 feet or so playing on instruments ranging from old wash boards to beer bottles! We strolled through the crowds and were astonished as the free-flowing and happy nature of all of those participating. It’s amazing what a little curiosity off the beaten path will lead you too!

Folk festival in Seattle Washington

We spent about an hour in the festival before our feet couldn’t bare walking anymore and we returned to the hotel. Unfortunately for our feet, Ryan’s family was ready to go to dinner almost as soon as we returned, so we took off again to Vinason Pho & Grill for some of the best pork vermicelli I have ever had in my life! They added mint to the dish with a touch of cinnamon and the freshness of the ingredients made for a delightful experience. I topped dinner off with a strawberry macaroon from the Macadons up the street.

Pork Vermicelli in Seattle Washington

Ryan’s brother-in-law’s sister drove in town from Oregon to see us for her 21st birthday, so we topped off our night with some celebratory drinks. The bar was the oldest family run restaurant in Seattle, open 24-7 with a huge menu, and had quite a personality. We also had free entertainment as a juggler set up right in-front of our patio table. With a margarita and some good conversation under our belt, we headed back in the misty night to our hotel for some much-needed sleep.

Seattle – Back to Dallas

Ryan’s family took off early back to Houston, so we said our goodbyes and then went to an Einstein Bros Bagels up the street for some hot coffee and delicious bagels. My favorite it the everything bagel with honey butter – yumm! It was pouring out, but thankfully with my wellies and rain jacket on and umbrella ready to go, we were ok to walk around town for something fun to do. A lot of things in Seattle are outdoors, so we needed to find something easy to do inside and we found out that the REI flagship store was a little under a mile away. While a dangerous decision for our wallets, we took off to find our shopping mecca.

We came up to a rainforest and also functioned as the entry to the store! We went up a winding dirt path, past a waterfall, and across dirt bike testing trails before getting to the 3rd story entrance. The place was HUGE! It was two floors of everything outdoors and even had a 3 story climbing wall looking out over the forest and a big wooden fire-place to gather around. Not only that, but they were having their biggest sale of the year and it was packed! We spent an hour gallivanting around, wide-eyed at all of the great deals and things we wanted to take back. The REI in Dallas is about 1/3 of the size and this place made me want to move north so I could be a permanent camper. If you are in Seattle looking for something free to do and are any sort of outdoorsy type, you need to come check this REI out, just be credit card careful.

With some new gear in hand, we went back to the hotel, grabbed our bags and a driver to the airport, and started our journey back to the sunny and warm state of Texas.