Travel

Hello, this is Kim, reporting to you live from somewhere that isn’t my couch.

Goodbye Paris, Hello World (Our European Adventure: Day 10&11)

June 22nd, 2019:

It would take a long time for me to ever get used to sleeping in, yawning and looking out the window of my hotel room to see Paris, but with the warm welcome it had given us over the last two days, I looked out at the already sunny city, tipped my imaginary, bed head filled hat, and said good morning.

There were no concrete plans on the agenda today, just nine people ready to see the city and their iPhones ready to help them do it. So we set off from our hotel and walked down the streets of our new temporary neighborhood to O Coffee.

Since the group of us was so large and the restaurant was so small, we were met outside by the kind, Australian owner, who offered to take our order and prepare it for takeaway. We got five avocado toasts, four banana breads, a few coffees, a couple orange juices, and an apple juice, and then the owner threw in some madeleines for us to try. Everything was absolutely delicious and I could not recommend this place more.

As we ate, we came up with a plan:

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Starting at the Arc de Triomphe, we would walk down the Ave de Champs Elysees to do some shopping and sightseeing, and then follow the Seine River all the way up to Notre Dame. It was a three mile walk that we figured would be more like five when we added in browsing steps, but we were ready and the day was beautiful and so we finished our last bites of breakfast—and I spilled most of my apple juice—and then we were off.

The Arc de Triomphe is probably one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen. Built to honor the lives lost in the French Revolution and Napoleonic Wars, it is imposingly stunning. It is also the center of one of the scariest intersections I’ve ever seen in my life.

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The Champs Elysees reminded me of Rodeo Drive in Los Angeles. Huge designer stores lined the street and they tempted you to come in and spend money you definitely didn’t have. At one point we walked into a Sephora that made me say, “I can’t believe we haven’t reached the back yet.” On top of that, the street was freckled with beautiful greenery, including this little patch that I actually volunteered to have my picture taken in.

The Grand Palais, while we didn’t go inside, was gorgeous and made me want to go to Rome, and the Petit Palais made us all laugh because the phrase “small palace” is one that both contradicts itself and doesn’t exist in our day-to-day vocabulary. If I ever make my way back to Paris, I will go inside these beautiful museums, but for this day, we fell in love just looking at them.

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The Pont des Artes, the “bridge of arts”, is most famously known for the love locks people used to clip to its chain link. In 2015, all of the locks were removed because they were too heavy for the bridge and were causing parts of it to crumble. This however, has not stopped people from clipping locks to other bridges. On our walk, we came across a bridge named the Passerelle Léopold-Sédar-Senghor, which has started to collect locks of its own.

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The Louvre was something my museum loving heart was over the moon to see in person. After seeing pictures of it and hearing references to it for my entire time as an undergraduate art student, actually finding myself in front of it’s famous pyramidal structure was pretty surreal. We didn’t go inside, but only because we decided to save that for the next morning when we could buy tickets in advanced and skip the lines. But since the courtyard was so pretty and the nearby restaurant, Le Café Marly, came so highly recommended, we decided to have lunch there.

I ordered what had become a favorite of mine in French cafes, a croque-madame, which is a fried ham and cheese sandwich with a fried egg on top. I didn’t take a picture of any that I ate, but to give you an idea of this true gift to humankind, please look at this photo from this recipe on foodnetwork.com:

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IMG_7494Sainte Chapelle was one of the only places that we took the time to stand in line and go inside to see, and I’m so glad that we did. I had heard that it was a beautiful church, but nothing really prepared me for how beautiful. We walked around on the first floor thinking it was amazing, but when we climbed the stairs to the second floor the line of us gasped in a row like dominoes. I was speechless.

Notre Dame, while tragically having been damaged in a fire not long before we arrived, was still gorgeous. Even as someone who doesn’t know nearly enough about its history and the grandeur that it has held in the city for so many years, my heart ached looking at the large pieces that were missing and the construction that was going on trying to repair it.

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As a final stop to cap off our day, we walked to Berthillon ice cream. It came recommended from a friend of my aunt’s, but it was clear when we got there that this was no well-kept secret. Multiple shops holding the same name were open mere meters from each other, and all of them had lines out the door. I got one scoop of dark chocolate and one scoop of salted caramel (because #saltedcaramelforever), and while they were delicious, I was bummed by the shop’s “no free samples” policy and I still think about the fig ice cream I left behind. #I’llneverfig-etyou

Now, I understand this next part might bring shame/judgment/open mouth gapes but I’m here to say that we did it, we don’t regret it, and we would 100% do it again.

That night, after getting back to our hotel and showering, napping and freshening up, we went…back to McDonalds for dinner. I know, I know, we’re in Paris, what are we doing at McDonalds two nights in a row? And to that I say: LIVING.

I will tell you right now, Parisian McDonalds is better than American McDonalds and there is absolutely no way you can change my mind. After having an iconic egg mcmuffin the night before, my sister and I both ordered the goat cheese chicken wrap and then I ordered a Kit Kat McFlurry. I mean, how dare you, Paris. How absolutely dare you.

We then walked back to Eif and took a seat on the lawn to watch him sparkle. Because what else can you do when you’ve had a wonderful day besides end it with a dose of pure magic?

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June 23rd, 2019:

For our very last day in Paris, we woke up a little early and immediately made our way back into the city.

Since we hadn’t truly experienced a Parisian sidewalk café, we took a seat at Café de la Comedie and took in the beautiful morning. My sister and I ordered the breakfast special which was the equivalent of the petit dujour we had in Epernay and I was in absolute bliss.

From breakfast we walked over to the Louvre, where I’d purchased nine tickets online the night before. NOW, listen carefully here because apparently this is a mistake that people make all the time.

In buying nine tickets, I apparently flagged us as being a “group”—as a note, this label is given to any amount of people greater than six—and as a group we were apparently required to be assigned a guide and were supposed to meet said guide in the “group reception area”. So when we got in line and our tickets didn’t work, we were sent to this area where a man behind a desk told me there were no guides and it would be impossible to get one and I should not have bought “group tickets” if I did not want a guide. Oh, and also my tickets were non-refundable and that he couldn’t do anything to help.

First of all, no.

Second of all, if this happens all the time, don’t you think that’s an issue you should deal with, Louvre?

Third of all, we’re in Paris, I paid good money for these tickets and I WILL be going inside.

Needless to say, after walking up and down the stairs a few times and talking to four or five different people, we were eventually let inside. And was it worth it? YES.

I was floored by both the art and the museum itself. Once I was in and amongst the work, my frustration with the (clearly poorly designed) website and the (not nearly as helpful or sympathetic as they could have been) staff, melted away. I also got to say hi to Mo, though she seemed a little busy with some other fans at the time.

From the Louvre we headed to lunch at an Australian café called Café Oz and it was…well, a conundrum you might say. The menu was a hodgepodge of options including burgers, risotto, and chicken parmesan—all of which we ordered by the way—and they had a picture of the All Blacks (the New Zealand national rugby team) on the wall, which is practically a sin in an Australian themed bar. Like I said, a conundrum.

For our very last night in Paris and the very last day of our trip, we decided to go out in style. We had 8:00 p.m. reservations on a Seine River Cruise and we’d paid €5 extra for front row seats—which was totally worth it! For an hour and a half we glided along the river, seeing the sights from a whole new angle, and seeing the people of Paris enjoying their evening as much as we were.

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We saw friends chatting and laughing and comforting one another. We saw couples sharing snacks and smiling and staring off into the setting sun. We saw people walking and running and biking and salsa dancing. We’d all had a different day, and yet we were all here, in Paris, watching the same sunset, so that we could wake up again tomorrow and start over.

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As sad as we were for our trip to be over, we were happy to be going home. It was going to feel good to be back in our own world, in our own homes, in our own beds and get back on our own schedules. But as we watched the Eiffel Tower light up for the final time that night, I took note of all of the people around me. Maybe some of them would be leaving tomorrow too. Maybe others had only just got here. Maybe others just moved here and others still had lived here their whole lives.

No matter our stories, no matter our backgrounds or our likes or dislikes, we were together in that moment and we were sharing the awe of the Eiffel Tower. And even if none us would ever see each other again, there was still something special about that moment. It was our own little piece of history that we’d always share. Just like our trip will be something that the nine of us will always share. In the grand scheme of things, these 11 days will be a blip, but to us they will mean the world. And at the end of the day, it’s about remembering those moments because those moments are the world.

 

 

When in France… (Our European Adventure: Day 8&9)

June 20th, 2019:

So, as you can probably imagine by now, THERE. WE. WERE.

Our suitcases were upstairs, tightly packed and (miraculously) zipped, and we had twin taxis scheduled to pick us up at 10:30 a.m. for our 1:15 p.m. train. We were headed to Paris and I was fully intending to have bread at every meal.

The prospect of taking what my sister began calling the “submarine train” from London to Paris was a little unnerving. But we were all excited and I couldn’t wait to see it in action…

…so naturally, I fell asleep.

When I woke up, we were in Paris.

I’ll admit, this nap was a little more off putting than most. It’s one thing to wake up in another country, it’s a whole other thing to wake up in a country whose first language is not your own.

Our group waded through the crowds at the train station, trying to figure out where we could go to find information on where we should go. Then, after some thorough footwork by my dad and Aunt Tracy, and the help of a nice French man who spoke English, we all purchased metro tickets.

Now, I’m not here to start any arguments, but I will say that the Paris metro is, just, well, not as great as the tube in London. We packed our way in, trying not to run over any French feet with our suitcases, and kept our eye on the map, counting down the stops until our own.

Once we were off the metro and back above ground, we trekked through the streets of Paris in search of the Adagio, and when we arrived we were surprised to find we’d been given a room with THIS view:

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After the shock of that (kind of) wore off, food was obviously our next priority. So as soon as we were unpacked and freshened up, we were back out on the city streets, soaking in the Parisian sun with arms outstretched and smiles spread wide.

Le Pareloup came recommended by Google, and if I could recommend anything it would be the egg mayonnaise, which are hardboiled eggs cut in half with mayonnaise on top. YUM.

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After dinner, as the sun made its final descent into the horizon, we walked to the Eiffel Tower, which was only a mile or so from our hotel. On our way there, we stopped at a pop up pastry shop and ordered waffles and froyo, and then took a seat on the lawn and waited for the magic to start.

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Once the sun was officially down (at around 10:00 p.m.), the Eiffel Tower, who we immediately started calling “Eif”—because yes, we nickname everyone and everything—started to glow a deep yellowish orange We oohed and awed and took around 1000 pictures, and then settled in for part two.

Then the wind started to pick up.

Dressed in our sun soaking clothes, the breeze came as an unwelcome surprise. We began to bundle and huddle and pace, counting down the minutes until 11:00 p.m., when Eif would really shine. And though it was tough. Though we were shivering and chattering and all out whining for the time to just move faster, the moment that clock struck the hour and Eif started to sparkle, everything else kind of melted away.

We sat in stunned silence, all of our eyes reflecting the glistening lights and we smiled.

Oh my gosh, I thought to myself. This place, this tower, this city, it’s real. It’s real, I’m real and I’m here. I’m actually here.

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June 21st, 2019:

Our first morning in Paris started early. Making our way back to the train station, we grabbed a light breakfast at Starbucks and then boarded the train to Epernay.

Located in northern France, Epernay is known for its champagne houses, including Moet Chandon. My Uncle Bruce and Aunt Tracy are huge champagne drinkers and had long considered visiting Epernay a bucket list experience. So we’d booked a tasting tour with Moet Chandon at 4:45 p.m., but decided to get to Epernay early so we could take our time and explore the city beforehand.

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Our first stop was breakfast.

We found Le Khedive on our walk into the city from the train station, and upon taking a seat at a large table outside, our waiter placed this sign next to our table:

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The petit dejeuner, “little breakfast”, consisted of a hot beverage (tea or coffee), a glass of orange juice, a croissant, and two pieces of bread with butter and jam. So, you know, basically everything good in life.

Almost everyone at our table ordered the petit dejeuner, and to go along with it, we ordered two bottles of champagne. Because you know what they say, “when in France, eat carbs and drink champagne—even if it’s 10:00 a.m.” And for the rest of the day, we did just that.

Time moved both slowly and quickly as we sauntered up and down the streets of Epernay, stopping in at different champagne houses for tastings.

We went to Collard Picard, where we sat on the back patio pretending we were sipping champagne in the countryside of France—oh wait, WE WERE.

We went to Paul-Etienne Saint Germain, where we divided into groups and ordered three, three glass tastings that each included detailed descriptions and specifically instructed tasting orders from the host, and after each round we would vote on our favorites and cheer when we liked the same thing.

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We went to Michel Gonet where we began talking a little louder and laughing a little easier and when we ordered a second round of tasters the host misunderstood it as seven bottles to purchase and we had to kindly decline his beautifully wrapped bags of champagne.

By the time we made it to lunch, we were all feeling champayHEYHEY, if you catch my drift, and we binge ate our food as if it was the last meal we’d ever be given in our lifetimes.IMG_1941

(in case you’re wondering what “champayheyhey” looks like)

From there, we headed to our 4:45 p.m. tour with Moet Chandon, where we got to learn a little history about the champagne industry we’d been ever so supportive of during our day in Epernay. With two more samples there, we capped off our afternoon and walked back to the train station to board our train home.

Since the wind was blowing even harder that night, we decided to forego a visit to Eif, even though he was looking ever so handsome as we passed him in the Uber ride back to our hotel. Instead, we decided to close out our day of elegance and sophistication in the best way we knew how: ordering McDonalds for delivery.

As I sat in my sweatpants eating my Egg McMuffin at the table in our hotel room, looking out at our expansive view of the city, I thought to myself, damn, this is luxury. And then I ate one too many french fries, and went to bed.

Salted Caramel & the Buck (Our European Adventure: Day 6&7)

June 18th, 2019:

So there we were, boarding a plane in Ireland. It would be a short flight. Like, 10 hours shorter than our flight to Ireland and I was determined to soak in every minute.

So naturally, I fell asleep.

When I woke up, we were in London.

My mom, sister and I had been to London before, but it was over 10 years ago and the only thing I remember is hiding in a red phone booth from the wind, and the time we all got separated on the tube and thought maybe we’d just be lost in London forever.

So while we weren’t a wealth of information on the city and its history, we did know how to handle the tube. We knew to move quickly and mind the gap, and we brought that wisdom to our group of nine as we boarded at Heathrow Airport.

For my dad and Uncle Bruce, the tube, while slightly overwhelming at first, was a welcome change to the high anxiety driving they’d been doing for the last five days. So when I showed them a screenshot of the directions to our hotel via maps and they realized they just had to sit back and relax, I think I visibly saw three or so years added back on to their life.

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Once we made it to our hotel, we checked our bags into the luggage room (because that is apparently a thing in hotels that I am just finding out about now?) and then headed to Nando’s.

If you are unfamiliar with Nando’s, it’s a South African restaurant chain (popular basically everywhere except the US) that specializes in Peri-Peri chicken. When we walked in, our waiter told us to pick our chicken, pick our spice level and pick our sides. Most of our group chose the Lemon & Herb spice level (I went with plain because #babytastebuds) and then our side selections included garlic bread, fries, roasted veggies and corn on the cob. It was all delicious and I miss it already. Unfortunately for my fellow US dwellers, as of now you can only find Nando’s in Chicago and DC. #nandNO.

Being a group on foot now, after finishing our lunch, we again pulled out our phones for directions, this time to some nearby landmarks. We were prepared to walk off our lunch—if only to earn an even bigger and better dinner.

Our first stop was Hyde Park.

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Having spent the last five days in Ireland, our awe-tolerance had gone up. We weren’t going to be impressed with just anything. But as we walked into Hyde Park, we couldn’t help but “wow” and “okay, beautiful” and “oh my gosh” our way through the expansive green gardens and scenic pathways.

At one point a man ran by us, seemingly on a casual afternoon run, and I audibly gasped, thinking, he gets to run through THIS every day? An average run for me consists of a high school, a Subway, and that one house with a really great tree.

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Nevertheless, we made our way through Hyde Park, stopping in at Kensington Palace, the Wellington Arch and Royal Albert Hall to take all the touristy pictures and make all the touristy comments. I apologize to anyone and everyone who might have overheard our terrible British accents. We were just trying to sound classy and charming and less, you know, DUDE than we do back home.

(Which you can tell we are nailing in this photo)

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Our ultimate destination of the day was Buckingham Palace, which we almost immediately started referring to as “the Buck.” I can’t tell you why, because I honestly don’t remember which one of us started saying it first. But I like to think it was our way of making the prospect of seeing such an iconic building more casual.

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Once we’d thoroughly exhausted our cameras in front of the Buck, we all suddenly became very aware at how tired we were. Unbeknownst to us and our touring ways, we’d walked a total of almost six miles and were desperately in need of a nap.

Vacation pro-tip: a perfect itinerary always leaves room for a nap.

So, we hopped back on the tube, officially checked into our hotel, and promptly crashed for about an hour.

Right around 7:00 p.m., we headed out in search of food and landed at Phoenix, where the food was delicious (I highly recommend the Chickpea burger!) and our drinks were even better (if you’re into sweet drinks, try a Strawberry Woo Woo—trust me.)

Afterward, we moseyed our way into Snowflake Luxury Gelato where we learned—and I can’t stress this enough—that Salted Caramel is the best and only flavor you should ever order, thank you and goodnight. (The thank you being for Snowflake Luxury Gelato for their gelato service, and the goodnight for every other gelato flavor because take a seat.)

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June 19th, 2019:

When planning our trip to Ireland, I spent a lot of time booking things in advanced. But when it came to London, our group decided to play a lot of things by ear. So as we ate breakfast at our hotel Wednesday morning, I was Googling possible plans for our day in between bites of a croissant and sips of a mimosa.

“Okay,” I said, holding my phone up to our group like it was a tri-fold presentation in a high school science class. “Picture this.

I then took them on a hypothetical journey of our possible day, complete with dramatic hand motions and an aptly timed announcer voice. When I received an overall enthusiastic nod of approval, we all stood up, got in a circle and did a youth soccer hands in! cheer to send us off.

Okay, so we didn’t do that last part, but honestly, we should have.

Being tube regulars now (or, you know three timers) we walked to our nearby station as casually as if it were the frozen yogurt place down the street from our house.

“Where are we headed first?” my dad asked.

“Harrods.”

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The department store giant that is Harrods was something that I’d only ever heard about and never thought I’d actually see. But now, having been there and spent a hefty amount of time walking around/getting lost inside the seemingly endless collection of shops, I understand why it’s a “you have to see it to believe it” type of places.

There was whiskey literally more expensive than my entire livelihood. There was champagne that shot confetti when you opened it. There were jackets and scarves and gloves so soft that I almost got emotional. But perhaps the most fascinating thing we found among the twists and turning of the Harrods hallways were these displays that allowed you to squeeze a rubber handle you might find on a perfume bottle and lower your nose to the mouth of what looked like a trumpet so you could smell whatever was displayed under the glass dome. My favorite was “leather glove.”

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From Harrods we took the tube the Piccadilly Circus, which is like the London equivalent of Time Square. People moved in seemingly every direction and cars and double decker buses drove in what I can only describe as complete chaos. We stared up at tall marquees and listened to a street performer sing Ed Sheeran and trick naïve tourists into thinking that Beyoncé was arriving shortly to perform “Perfect” alongside him.

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For lunch we ate at St. James Tavern, and then we got back on the move, navigating our way through the misty London day to Westminster Abbey. On our way there, as we were passing through Parliament Square, we noticed a long line of taxis, none of which were moving. Then, when the man in the first taxi started to move, every single taxi to follow began honking. Turns out, there was a full-blown taxi protest happening in front of Parliament. We would later learn (from our own taxi driver) it was in response to the rise of Uber and the damage it was doing to their business, and while I can’t make any comments on this since I don’t really have the grounds to, I can say that the protest itself was pretty badass.

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For our last site of the day, we got off the tube at Tower Hill to see the Tower Bridge and the Tower of London. We also had plans of seeing the Crown Jewels, but discovered the exhibit had closed a mere 15 minutes before we arrived. By that time however, nothing could get us down, because the sun had come out and was glistening off the River Thames, making our afternoon in the city absolutely beautiful.

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That night, we walked to Santorini—the Greek restaurant near our hotel, not the city 2,000 miles away—and if there was ever a time to say I miss a specific food, I can truly and honestly say I will dream about their fried feta rolls for the rest of my life. Cue that middle graduation song that makes everyone cry.

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Knowing it was our last night in London, we decided to go HARD…

…so we went back to the same gelato place because #saltedcaramelforever.

We then finished the night with a few drinks at the Beachcomber. And as we made our final walk back to our hotel, I was happy to commit all of the sites and sounds from the last two days to memory. In fact, as I glanced up and down the streets of what had become our temporary neighborhood, I imagined what it would be like to call this place home.

It’s a weird feeling to imagine yourself living and growing in a different city, different country, different continent than your own, but there’s something about falling in love with a new place that makes you think it might be possible. That’s not to say I got home and repacked my bags or start international job-hunting, but it was a good reminder of just how big our world is. There is so much to see, to learn and to experience. And in those new discoveries we find new pieces of ourselves. So should you ever get the chance to travel, be it one hour from your house or thousands of miles, go. See more. Do more. And learn. Always learn.

It Started with Whiskey and Ended McNasty (Our European Adventure: Day 4&5)

Sunday June 16th, 2019

On an average day I don’t usually have whiskey with my breakfast, but when you’re in Southern Ireland and there is a Jameson Distillery twenty minutes from your hotel, sometimes you find yourself having whiskey for breakfast. Which is why at around 11:30 a.m. our group found ourselves feeling pretty good on our walk down the street in Cork in search of food.

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We’d learned all about the whiskey making process, history, and future, and had been given three samplers of the most popular Scotch whiskey, American whiskey, and Irish whiskey (which won by a landslide) during our tour, and a free full size drink at the end of our tour (which motivated a healthy and thorough perusal of the gift shop) so were feeling lighter as we made our way down the street to find some lunch.

Once we finished lunch, we stepped out into some heavy rain, which, unbeknownst to us, was actually the equivalent of a drippy faucet when compared with what was to come.

We walked, hoods on, talking about where we might stop en route to Belfast, our final Ireland destination. And like any touristy millennial would do, once I was back in our car listening to the Irish rain fall, I googled “castles near me”—which, unfathomably, garnered results.

An hour north, we found Rock of Cashel. It was another incredible feat of architecture and history that simply left us speechless.

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In what might be considered the castle’s “backyard” was a cemetery with headstones both modest and extravagant. Perhaps our least favorite was this grave where it appeared the deceased was inching a little too close to risen.

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Maybe he heard about Chick-Fil-A and asked for once more chance.

The rest of our drive to Belfast, while long and tiring, will forever be defined by the absolutely torrential rain that (sinisterly) welcomed us into Northern Ireland. We all handled it differently: my dad white knuckling the steering wheel, me wide eyeing the road, my mom and sister rotating between nervous laughing and nervous NOT laughing, and my brother sleeping as soundly as he would on a cloud.

When we finally made our way inside Darcy’s—a restaurant my sister found mid-death storm—we undoubtedly looked like we’d been through, well a death storm. We were wet and cold and all nervously laughing in that way that said hey that was crazy, huh? I really and truly thought we were going to die. LOL am I right? Am I crying? Because I feel like I should be crying.

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Yes, hello, we’d like a round of Xanax, please. 

After dinner, we went back to our Airbnb, showered and then fell (bel)fast asleep shortly after.

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Monday June 17th, 2019:

One of my favorite sites in Ireland that is almost impossible to capture in pictures is Giant’s Causeway. (Check out this post to hear about the legend associated with this formation, it’s one of my favorites!) I think the same goes for a lot of natural formations around the world. They are those things you have to see, touch, exist in the same air with to truly appreciate, understand, and ultimately believe that they live in the same world as you.

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We were once again blessed with a beautiful day with the sun shining and some wind that almost (I dare say) felt good as we hiked our way to the top of the red trail to take in another spectacular view.

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As we walked, my mom and I decided that if this whole human thing didn’t work out, we’d gladly come back and live out our lives as Irish cows—the kind who are so cute the owners let them moo around and eat until they die peacefully at pasture, and who somehow communicate that they want their last meal to be Belgian waffles and popcorn…but it’s not weird because we’re just quirky Irish cows.

I mean, come on.

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Once we were successfully awed (and slightly wind blown) we made our way back inside, had a light lunch at the café, and then got on the road back to Belfast.

A great thing about our group of nine is that we are almost always on the same page about our desired touring mode. We all know when to separate and let each other soak in what needed to be soaked in, we have similar touring speeds, and we all agree that we don’t have to take a guided tour just because it is available.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a curious person who loves to learn and especially loves a fun fact to drop in the middle of random conversations, but oftentimes when it comes to museums, exhibits and points of interest, I like to take them at my own speed, ask my own questions and do my own research.

That being said, if there was one tour I wish we could have taken while in Northern Ireland, it would be the Londonderry walking tour that my sister and I took on our trip with Contiki. (I looked it up and you can find that tour here!) To be able to hear from a local about the dark history of the city, and see the optimism in his eyes about its future was absolutely moving.

Having that memory in the back of our minds, we made sure to stop at the Peace Wall that commemorates the struggles of the past (and sadly, still present) and the hopes for the future.

May peace find you, and may you spread it outward from there.

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Here’s a fun fact for you: the Titanic was built in Belfast.

Walking through the Titanic Museum, we learned all about the infamous “ship of dreams”, from it’s humble beginnings in the Harland & Wolff shipyard—which you can see from the museum—in 1909, to the expedition that led to the discovery of its wreck in 1985. It’s amazing how the story never seems to leave you. Even if you’ve seen the movies, read the articles and walked through exhibits like this one, the heartbreak just sticks with you, I think it always will.

From the museum we headed to Pug Ugly’s for dinner. It’s a wonderful establishment that provides you with everything you need on a menu: pizza, beer, macaroni and cheese, and a pug in a top hat. Some recommendations from our table include the Pesto Chicken Club Pizza, the Goat Cheese Fritters, the French Dip sandwich, and the Homemade Burger.

For our last stop of the evening, and our last evening in Ireland, we headed to the oh so intriguingly named pub Filthy McNasty’s. Being a Monday, it was open mic night, and even though our group spent most of our time singing questionable renditions of popular songs, we opted to stay seated and cheers the bravery of others. Then, after a couple rounds of drinks, we walked back to our Airbnb, all nine of us in tow and in harmony—because we were once again singing, probably too loudly for 12:00 a.m. on a Monday.

We were sad to be leaving Ireland. Heartbroken actually. But we were excited for the new cities and new adventures to come. So as we tucked ourselves in and said goodnight, we tried to memorize every detail of our trip thus far. Could the magic follow us across the sea? Here’s hoping.

Castles, Cliffs, and a Horse Named Peppy (Our European Adventure: Day 2&3)

Friday June 14th, 2019:

Upon meeting our Airbnb host Carmel the evening before, she gave us a rundown of the house she’d so graciously rented to us for the next two nights. She also gave us a guidebook of the area and pointed out some of her favorite things that we might want to add to our itinerary.

Waking the next morning, feeling only slightly disoriented by the fact that we were on vacation in Europe and not at home getting ready for work, our group made breakfast in the kitchen. Carmel provided us with a wide variety of snacks, including waffles (that weren’t frozen?), fresh fruit, and something called “breakfast pudding” that none of us were brave enough to take out of the refrigerator.

Our first stop of the morning was Belvedere House Gardens & Park—a Mullingar locale that none of us had heard of but came highly recommended by Carmel.

The morning offered slightly cloudy skies and a chill in the air none of us were quite ready for, but we bundled up and headed out, my dad and Uncle Bruce taking the wheel and bravely setting off the on “wrong” side of road once again.

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Being a Friday morning, Belvedere House was not overly crowded, and we were able to saunter and explore at our own pace, flipping the hoods of our raincoats off and on as the rain came in spurts.

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We took a tour of the house, marveling at its architecture and grandeur, walked the grounds, and strolled through the fairy garden.

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Overall it was a very charming and welcome start to our day, and the perfect pit stop en route to the day’s main attraction: the Cliffs of Moher.

You know, these old things.

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We spent a good two hours here, blessed with a sunny sky and only periodic gusts of high wind that made my dad close his eyes and ask us to please stand at least 4 miles from the edge.

Among the many (hundreds?) (thousands?) of pictures we took, my sister and I made sure to get another hair by the Cliffs shot, paying homage to those we took a few years ago.

And I got to recreate one my of my favorite shots from our trip—this time with my brother in tow.

Quick sidenote: Can we talk about how tiny my hands look compared to his?

From the Cliffs of Moher, we headed to Galway, my cousin Taryn’s favorite city from her stay in Ireland, and she took us to her favorite pizza place (Mizzoni’s) and her favorite bar (The Skeff).

As we hung out and listened to live music from Vicaria Band, my sister and I introduced the gang to our favorite Irish born drink: Jameson and ginger ale, which aided in our table’s karaoke performances of Britney Spears, Tina Turner and Darius Rucker (among others).

The drive back to Mullingar, while a little long and dark, again provided us a place to call home and the group of us sat around the living room, sipping on nightcaps and laughing our way through the memories of the day. This was our last night in Mullingar, but Carmel and Fintan promised to send us off with a bang, and at 9:00 a.m. the next morning, that bang arrived in style.

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Saturday June 15th, 2019:

BANG.

Okay, so it wasn’t really a bang. It was more of a knock. Two or three of them. And then a call into the house: “Peppy and I are ready for ya!”

As you might (never) have guessed, Peppy was a horse, and Fintan ushered us outside to meet him, and take us on ride in the Peppy-drawn carriage.

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Pro tip: if you are ever given the opportunity to go on a carriage ride through the Irish countryside, say yes. There is truly no better way to start your morning.

After each family got a ride, we loaded back into our cars, waved goodbye to Carmel and Fintan (and Peppy) and got on the road to Cork.

Just under three hours later, we pulled into the parking lot at Blarney Castle.

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Now, Blarney Castle was a favorite from our last trip, mostly because of how beautiful both the castle and the grounds are, but also because of the undeniably funand for some, understandably terrifyingprospect of kissing the Blarney Stone to receive the “gift of the gab”. For a full recap of what that means, you can check out this post, but to keep it brief: you lie on the ground, have an Irish man help you more or less hang off a ledge at the top of the castle, and then kiss a thousand year old rock.

Legend says that after you kiss the rock you will be blessed with eloquent speaking abilities, though for anyone afraid of either heights or, more commonly I assume, being held over a ledge one hundred feet in the air, the sheer anticipation of kissing the rock can bring out profanity as eloquent as anything I’ve ever heard.

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To come down from the excitement/danger/fun/terror (depending on the person) we walked around the grounds, once again surprised by how beautiful everything is, though slowly getting used to the fact that Ireland is simply, consistently, even reliably beautiful. (Hear that, Irish tourism department? Reliably Beautiful. Call me.)

Our hotel for the night was the River Lee in Cork. While it was tough finding accommodations that fit a group of nine, or even a family of more than three, the River Lee was beautiful and we settled in nicely to three rooms, each with three single beds. (I found a great deal on Orbitz.com!)

We also enjoyed—once could argue too much—the hotel restaurant, where we spent a large chunk of time eating and eating and drinking and eating before heading out in search of one (or three) Irish pubs, where we spent the rest of the night drinking and drinking and laughing and dancing and singing our hearts out.

One request, Ireland pubs: play more Whitney Houston.

Other than that, you’re perfect.

Uh, Hey, We’re in Ireland! (Our European Adventure: Day 1)

June 13th, 2019:

So there we were. Overstuffed backpacks making our shoulders ache, wheeled suitcases constantly hitting bumps and threatening to topple over, and ankles far too bare for the unexpected wind that welcomed us into the Dublin morning. After 13 hours of travel, my family had landed in Ireland and were making our way to our European rental car, which promised a complete shattering of muscle memory.

Our plan was to make our way around Ireland in four days, and had decided to forego a bus and a designated schedule in favor of a terrifying adventure on the wrong side of the rode, a passionate new dedication and reliance on the design of Apple Maps, and the freedom to stop for pee breaks whenever we wanted. The pro and con list really could have been a novel in itself.

So there we were, in our just big enough car for a family of five with five suitcases, five backpacks and a lot of emotional baggage provoked by sleep deprivation. But alas, my dad started the car—from passenger seat, so it seemed—and we skittered into the streets of Dublin, each of us wondering if this was such a good idea.

Now, for any of you who have read my blog before, you might know that my sister and I went to Ireland a few years ago. And if pictures from that trip are any indication, we were disgusted to be back. I mean, imagine having to look at this for a SECOND time.

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Aside from simply wanting to visit this friendly, welcoming and beautiful country again, our main reason for making Ireland our first destination was to show my mom, dad, and brother the country that had stolen our hearts. We wanted them to see what our (pristinely executed) slideshow from three years ago couldn’t. And although we showed them ridiculously unmoving, definitely not borderline spiritual photos like this:

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…they still agreed to come along.

Our first stop after landing was the Guinness Storehouse, (pro tip: buy your tickets online in advanced to save money, skip the line and get a free pint!) where my sister, Natalee, and I had previously become “certified Guinness pourers.” We were excited for our family to achieve this status so we could finally stop looking down on them.

Our reservation was for 4:30 p.m., and although we landed late and took a few (or six) wrong turns trying to navigate our way through the city streets, we were still running a little early by the time we parked in a nearby parking structure and made our way to the front door. So to kill time we headed to Harkin’s, a pub in walking distance from the Storehouse, and dove headfirst into some burgers, beers, and Irish coffees.

As we ate, we met up with the other half of our adventure crew: the Stevens. My cousin Taryn had just finished up a three-week study abroad stint in Ireland and was the catalyst for our entire vacation/hijacking of her family’s vacation. What started as a “wouldn’t it be crazy to meet you in Ireland?” was suddenly a very real, “uh, hey, we’re in IRELAND!”

Once we finished our meal, we made our first walk as the newly imposing yet undeniably fabulous group of nine. We took our tour of the Storehouse, were all successfully certified (and recertified) and shared our first (and free!) pints of Guinness.

To my absolute unsurprise I still hated it.

Back at our car, we were met with our first dose of pure luck and (undoubtedly) heaven sent Irish hospitality. Being from Southern California, you’d think we’d be better equipped at reading street signs and might notice that our parking structure closed at 7:00 p.m. To our great fortune however, even though it was nearing 8:00 p.m., a security guard just so happened so be walking by and was able to unlock the gate, saving us a €100 retrieval fee, and a whole lot of over exhausted family angst. Slainte, you broad, Irish angel.

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In the planning of this trip, we had a lot of conversations as to how we wanted to get around Ireland, where we wanted to stay, etc. My sister and I had previously taken a clockwise route around the country, making pit stops in five main cities (Dublin, Cork, Gallway, Londonderry and Belfast) and so initially I assumed we’d do the same thing. However, in looking up lodging, I found that that route was going to be pricey. So, instead we opted to pick a city in the middle of the country to act as our home base—at least for the first couple days.

Which is how we wound up at the gate of this Airbnb in Mullingar.

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photo credit: Airbnb (check out the profile and rates for this place here. It’s way more affordable than it looks!)

Though it was a bit of a trek, the hosts, Carmel and Fintan, were incredibly charming and made us feel so at home that we were able to unload, unpack and crash—hard.

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As I lay there in the moments before falling asleep, with the Irish countryside sitting right outside my window, the trip became both real and completely unfathomable all at the same time. I knew we’d made it, to both this country, this house and this adventure, but I also wondered if I’d wake up the next morning and it would all be a dream.

Spoiler alert: it wasn’t.

A Weekend at Spring Training

If you’ve been reading my blog for a little while, you probably know that I’m a big baseball fan. My whole life I’ve grown up watching the Dodgers and two years ago I crossed a major goal off my bucket list by attending my first ever World Series game at Dodger Stadium.

This year, my family and I decided it was time to cross another item off the list: Spring Training! And so this past weekend, we did just that.

On Friday morning, as my normal work alarm went off, I (for once) didn’t hit snooze. I popped out of bed and finished packing my suitcase, ready to be out the door as soon as possible. My sister Natalee and I had a quick flight to Phoenix , so naturally I slept through almost the entire thing, giving me a nap that would come in handy later.

Upon landing, we met up with our friend Cody, whose parents, Darryl and DeeDee, had spent the first half of the week in Arizona with our parents, and Mel, who’d flown in from Utah. While our parents looked relaxed, slightly sunburned and well slept, the four of us all looked a little worn out and so relieved to be on vacation we had no idea where to start. Lucky for us, our vacation didn’t waste any time. Once we were all unpacked at our Airbnb, we grabbed some jackets and headed to our first game of the weekend.

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Natalee, Mel, Cody and I had tickets on the outfield grass, so once we got to Camelback Ranch, we just had to pick a plot and roll out our towels. Next, we raided the food court, where we were reminded that hot dogs at a baseball game, no matter where you are, will always be delicious, while Shocktop in a can is not. shrug_emoji-modifier-fitzpatrick-type-4_1f937-1f3fd_1f3fd

Natalee and Mel both brought their gloves with them, and Mel had her eye on getting a ball from one of the players. At the start of every inning, she stood up against the outfield fence, waiting patiently for the outfielders to finish warming up before she waved her glove in the air. This proved to be no easy task however, as each inning she was forced to field off crazed children who were willing to go full Lord of the Flies for these balls, often climbing the chain link, body sliding across the grass, and literally putting their glove inside your glove in order to catch a ball.

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But while most kids went home with nothing more than grass stains and a little bit of shame, Mel persevered, catching a ball from an outfielder on the opposing team (shout out to Heath) causing our entire group to erupt in cheers even though the Dodgers were only a few outs from losing the game.

The next morning, after unexpectedly staying up until two in the morning talking, playing card games, and laughing so hard I woke up with an ab, our group pulled back on our hats and made an early start back to Camelback Ranch.

While the game wasn’t until 1:05 p.m., we wanted to try and see the Dodgers (and the Mariners, Darryl, DeeDee, and Cody are from Seattle) practice before the game. We also wanted to get a chance to fully explore our culinary options. The night before, Mel and I had browsed the Food Map (the best kind of map) provided in the program, and all but drooled when we read about the BBQ Macaroni and Cheese helmets.

Wow.

Even now, just typing it out. Reliving it. What an absolute blessing.

I promise you it was as good as it sounds.

Our group also tried the bacon wrapped sausages from the right field grill, and just about every beer available at the park. My favorite was the Four Peaks Peach Ale.

After the game (which the Dodger’s won smiling-face-with-open-mouth-and-smiling-eyes_1f604) we headed to dinner at Salt. As it happened, the Los Angeles Kings, our favorite hockey team, were in town to play the Arizona Coyotes, and being the sports fans we are, we decided to go FULL SPORTS—this may not be the ideal vacation for some, but for us, it was heaven.

PSA: if you commit to a FULL SPORTS vacation, you may or may not find yourself staying up until three o’clock in the morning dancing, practicing proper diving form, doing yoga and attempting other various athletic feats—be sure to properly stretch.

The next day we had tickets to a Mariners game at the Peoria Sports Complex. And while my loyalty to the Dodgers will never falter, I’ve got to say: Peoria might have a slight edge on Camelback.

DON’T COME FOR ME.

Not only are the food options off the charts (loaded tots, funnel cakes, deep fried Oreos!!) the outfield has tons of kid friendly activities (meaning less Lord of the Flies antics in the outfield), and down the first baseline there is a “Craft Beer Courtyard” (which is actually just a booth) where for $20 you receive four tickets that you can cash in for beer, wine or liquor. Between Mel, Natalee, Cody and I, we bought two entry tickets, giving us eight drinks to split, which was essentially my dream because I got to try a little bit of everything.

As beautiful as the day was however, and as delicious as all the beer we drank and all the food we ate was, we couldn’t quite transfer all that goodness to the Mariners (we were fans for the day against the Indians) who ended up losing the game 16-3. Sorry, M’s.

From the game we headed somewhere completely random, somewhere you’d never expect us to go when you consider the weekend we’d had thus far. That’s right folks, we went to Top Golf, where we added our final explanation point in SPORTS!!!

Pro Tip: order (at least) one of the big sweet drinks in the souvenir cups, it only makes golfing more fun. 

Once we got back home, we did what anyone does when they realize a good trip is coming to an end: we found excuses to stay up late, even though we had early wake up calls, because it seemed like the only way to make the trip last a little bit longer. But even when mine and Natalee’s alarms went off a mere three hours after our heads hit our pillows and we knew we officially had to say goodbye to this one, as we walked down the jet bridge to our plane home, we already started counting down the days until our next one.

It’s Always Sunny in Seattle & Canada (At Least When We’re There): Spring Break Day 5&6

Day 5

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I’d like to consider me, Natalee and Mel pretty similar. For example, when we come across a highly recommended restaurant online and its menu includes things like “homemade biscuits” and “chocolate fudge waffles,” we’ll all agree it is a must taste. That being said, it wasn’t really a question whether we’d wait out the line in front of Jam Café on Wednesday morning.

It was our first stop of what was sure to be a full day, so after spending a solid 40 minutes waiting in the crisp Vancouver air, we sat down and ordered exactly what our hearts desired. For me, that included a chocolate milk and this masterpiece known as the “biscuit breakfast.”

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Animated GIF-downsized_largeFrom there we made our way up the highway to the Capilano Suspension Park, which was one of our most anticipated sights.

First order of business: crossing the bridge.

While none of us are afraid of heights, it is impossible not to wobble on this bridge, as the entire thing literally wobbles as you cross. To be honest, it kind of feels like standing up from a stool at a bar and realizing you’ve had too much to drink but are determined not to show it, so you try your best to walk straight, only to zig zag your way straight into a stranger.

Once we were in the middle of the bridge, we made sure to take a bunch of photos and videos, both to commemorate the experience, and to deviously show to my dad later who is terrified of heights. #sorrydad

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Awaiting us on the other side of the bridge was a series of paths that led us up amongst the trees and offered us views of the river down below. We walked slow, looking up and down and all around, trying to soak in as much as possible, knowing any pictures we took could never completely showcase the beauty of what we were seeing.

Back on the other side of the bridge, we took a final turn that looped us around on an even thinner path—again, sorry dad!—and then we made our way back to the car. Seeing as we’d soaked in a heavy dose of nature, we thought it was only fitting to head into…more nature!

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So, we drove back into town and rented a few bikes (we used Yes Cycle) to take a personal tour of Stanley Park. The loop around the park was about 5 miles, and we did it in an hour, which included stops to take pictures, say hello to Canadian geese, etc.

By the time we returned our bikes, it was about 3:30 p.m., and since we hadn’t eaten since breakfast, we thought the perfect spot for dinner would be Granville Island. So, after dropping our car back at our hotel, we walked the whopping 5 blocks to the dock and took an Aquabus across the water.

OriginalPhoto-543368639.672033Once inside the market, we had a few things we wanted to accomplish. First, we did a quick lap, taking in all the options both for dinner, dessert, and everything in between. Our waiter at the Jam Café had told us to “follow our nose.” But with the amount of sugary, salty and sweet smells, blindly following that advice would have left us running in circles for the rest of the day. So, after eating everything we possibly could with our eyes, we sat down for dinner on the top floor. From there we did a second lap around the market, this time making stops for a honey dip donut from Lee’s Donuts (a personal recommendation from our waiter), some caramel corn (which I’m currently munching on as I write this), and some red velvet cake (which Mel said was DELICIOUS.)

On our ferry ride back, we were all beginning to fade, but after a solid hour-long veg session, we rallied and made our way to the Shameful Tiki Room, another recommendation from our waiter at Jam Café.

As he promised, the outside of the restaurant was completely blank and easily missable for the average passerby. Once we walked inside however, we were transported into a zombie-fied tiki haven that was as dark and foggy as it was vaguely Hawaiian. The three of us opted to split “the mystery bowl,” a drink served in a large shell that was lit on fire and delivered in precession with the ringing of a gong.

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Note: it was far less poisonous and far more delicious than this picture might suggest. These reactions were primarily provoked by the flash, which in the moment felt like a direct attack on our corneas.

After we finished our drink (which was approximately 4 minutes later) we talked about our favorite parts of the trip, each of us remembering different moments than the other. And as we made our way back to the hotel, there was again a bittersweet air that hung around us, except this time it was mostly bitter.


 

Day 6

On our last day in Vancouver, we were in a bit of a time crunch. Since we were all flying out around 3:00pm and wanted to have ample time to return our rental car, we knew that any last minute adventures had to be timely and organized.

So, with Mel fully loaded with Wi-Fi researched and copied down directions, we pulled away from our hotel for the last time and made our first (very Canadian) stop at Tim Horton’s for breakfast.

Now, it should be noted that of the 5 days we’d been gone, this was the first and only day it rained. But when I say it rained, I mean it rained. Clearly Vancouver was as upset at our leaving as we were. Nevertheless, we proceeded with our sightseeing marathon, never hesitating to run out into the rain and take a picture.

First on the list: the Gastown Steam Clock.

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Next was the Olympic Village, though after following an address to a town square that had street names like “Athletes Way,” we didn’t find much else that memorialized the 2010 Olympics. (Note: we later found out the Olympic Rings are actually in Whistler)

IMG_3853Our final stop was the World’s Largest Tin Soldier. A delightfully tall and unexpected international WRLA! He stood overlooking the Fraser River, both welcoming us and wishing us well as we made our way back to airport.

Once we were on the plane—Natalee and I on one and Mel on another—I took my seat and looked out the window, wondering if I could see any of the sights one last time before we took off. A few minutes later, a family boarded and took a seat in front of us. It was a husband and wife and their three children. They were all on their way to Disneyland for the first time. The kids excitedly looked out the window, amazed at the prospect of flying and propelled by the promise of their first big adventure. It made the sting our adventure ending a little dimmer, as it reminded me of the promise that new adventures are always around the corner.

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It’s Always Sunny in Seattle & Canada (At Least When We’re There): Spring Break Day 4

Tuesday morning had a bittersweet taste to it. We were sad to leave Seattle, but we were excited for part 2 of our adventure: Vancouver!

Around 10:00 a.m. we made our way to the airport to return our rental car and rent a second one that would take us across the border. About two hours before we reached the border however, we made our first pit stop: The World’s Largest Paper Airplane!

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Similar to a few of the other WRLA’s we’ve found over the last couple years, this one was in quite an ordinary place. We spent a solid 10 minutes standing on the lawn in front of an office building, each of us taking a turn in posing with the airplane, until suddenly a woman from inside the office came out and offered to take a group shot.

“Do people come by often?” we asked, slightly embarrassed.

“All the time,” she said with a smile.

With another WRLA crossed off the list, we piled back into our car and headed for the border. Once successfully across—and only minorly traumatized by the border patrol agent—we headed to the Vancouver airport to return our rental car and rent, you guessed it, ANOTHER rental car. This would be our third and final one and would provide us with the perfect disguise (i.e. a BC license plate) to blend in with the locals.

Cut to a half hour later: we realized we didn’t have any service in Canada, meaning we couldn’t use Google maps, so we had to rely solely on the paper map we were given at the rental desk. Now, I understand this is how people have traveled for hundreds of years, thus it should not be terrifying, but it was. Thankfully Mel is a directionally gifted map whiz (a.k.a the ideal Amazing Race partner) and she was able to get us to our hotel (and around the city for our entire stay, thanks Mel!).

First order of business in Vancouver: dinner.

We were staying at the Holiday Inn-Downtown—which I’d highly recommend if you’re ever in the Vancouver area!—so we had access to a wide variety of shops and restaurants. Just a block down from us was Firecrust Neopolitan Pizzeria, which we all collectively agreed was the obvious choice.

From there we walked to our hotel to regroup—and to get Wi-Fi to figure out where everything else was. We skimmed the list of things we wanted to do in Vancouver and came across Lighthouse Park.

“Do you think we could make it there to see the sunset?” Mel asked.

We all looked at our watches: 6:45. Then looked up the time for sunset: 7:25. In unison, we stood from our beds.

“We could try!”

Grabbing our jackets, we ran downstairs to the car and immediately jumped on the road.

“Okay,” Mel said from the backseat holding the map in both hands. “You’re going to make a right and then a left to go over that bridge up there, then you’re going to take another left and that should eventually loop us around to the park.”

“Sounds good, let’s do it!”

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So, we oohed and ahh-ed our way through Stanley Park and across the Lions Gate Bridge, then we hung a left on Marine Drive and drove up the coast until we saw a sign for Lighthouse Park.

By the time we parked the car, it was 7:15.

Knowing we were short on time, we looked quickly at the information kiosk. Comparing her finger length to the distance scale at the bottom—I’m telling you, she’s an icon—Mel estimated we were about a half mile away from the point.

“I think we can make it!”

We started powerwalking, but when the road sloped downward, we took off running, desperate to catch the sunset in time. To fully immerse you in this moment, let me remind you that 1) we were all horrendously full of pizza and 2) we were not dressed for strenuous physical activity. For example, Natalee was in a jacket with a faux fur hood and I was in leather boots. Nevertheless, we made it! And as we stood looking out at the Strait of Georgia (panting) it began to sink in that we were actually in Vancouver!

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Walking back to the car—which was not nearly as fun, especially going up all the hills we ran down—we looked up at the trees and laughed at ourselves, wondering what we might have looked like to the people we ran past on our way in.

Spoiler alert, we looked like this:

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Worth it.

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Back in the city, we stopped at the Yaletown Distillery for a drink. Immediately after walking in, I thought about making it my permanent address, as it played classic movies on repeat and was directly adjacent to an ice cream shop. Mel and I ordered the Caipiroska, which neither of us could say correctly, even after the bartender repeated it to us, and Natalee ordered a Johnny Walker Red. As we sipped our drinks, we looked through the pictures from the first half of our trip and we laughed at all the inside jokes we’d already formed.

Once we were finished, we paid a visit to Mister, the ice cream shop next door (a.k.a my new neighbors) where Mel and I both ordered life-changing desserts. Mel ordered the S’mores bar, which is chocolate ice cream dipped in magic shell chocolate, rolled in graham crackers, coated in marshmallow fluff and then torched, and I ordered the “double Oreo” which is chocolate ice cream with Oreo chunks inside, stuffed into a chocolate waffle cone.

Yes, friends, these creations do exist right here on earth.

Observe:

 

It took me about three seconds to be transported to absolute bliss. While I know that sounds dramatic, it’s true. Case in point being that when we arrived back at our car and found a parking ticket on the dash, I practically laughed it off and threw it in the back seat.

“I can’t even be mad about the ticket,” I said as we pulled back into the driveway of our hotel. I rolled down the window to scan our room key and as I waited for the gate to the parking garage to open I turned to Mel and Natalee, ice cream in hand. “What can I say, life is just better when you have ice cream in your—”

It was at this point that my affection for the ice cream cone became so great that I squeezed it too hard and it cracked in my hand. In the seconds that followed, I was overcome with feelings of panic, protectiveness and sheer instinct. With my window down and our car a mere 20 feet from the lobby doors, I dropped a giant f’bomb and contorted my body into an ice cream catching shield. Having finished her s’mores bar, Mel handed me her empty cup and I scooped my ice cream pile inside just as the gate completely opened.

All in all, the death toll was low. And once we parked our car, three good things happened.

  1. Despite some minor cone loss, I was able to again reach peak bliss with my ice cream as we made our way back up to our hotel room.
  2. After doing some research into why we got our ticket, Mel was able to call and get us out of the ticket
  3. We laid out our plans for the next day, which was bound to be incredible.

It’s Always Sunny in Seattle & Canada (At Least When We’re There): Spring Break Day 3

With the three of us being Southern California natives, it became a daily ritual to check the weather each morning in Seattle. Was it going to be raining? Was it going to be freezing? Should I wear everything I packed just in case?

Monday morning, as we got off to another (wonderfully) slow start, we layered up for a cold day, but made sure our clothes had a little extra give in order to prepare us for our first activity. Among the seemingly endless benefits of getting to stay with/know/love the Beliel’s is their access to a baseball facility equipped with turf, batting cages and pitching mounds. Being the baseball lovers/ex-softball players that we are, we were anxious to take advantage of such a place. We mostly wanted to hit, mostly to see if we still got it, mostly to pump our retired though still prominent egos.

SPOILER ALERT: We still got it.

SECOND SPOILER ALERT: After hitting 6 buckets of balls each, we would wake up the next morning feeling like we were collectively run over by a truck and would spend most of the day groaning.

From the hitting facility we made our way to The Matador to meet Darryl for lunch. Now, the website for this restaurant notes it as being a “local bar chain serving classic & contemporary Mexican dishes, plus cocktails, in a stylish space.”

Let it be known that all of this is true.

I however, do not feel I can give you a completely accurate personal review of the restaurant, because after binge eating the pre-meal chips I ordered a meal that was too spicy for me to completely enjoy. In fact, after taking a few bites of the street tacos (which were loved by everyone else at the table, by the way) I realized that I, a giant wuss, was not properly equipped to enjoy them, and began trying to scrape some of the sauce off with a chip—which I quickly began referring to as my “safety chip.” Yes, this IS a completely ridiculous thing to do, however, it does work and I’d like to officially submit it as a lifehack for those similarly afflicted with baby tastebuds.

Around 2:00 p.m., the four of us wished Darryl goodbye and headed to Flatstick, a pub chain native to Washington known for its craft beer and indoor mini golf. Since we were all full—or in my case, still slightly aflame—from lunch, and were worried we wouldn’t be physically ready for all the bending and moving involved in mini golf, we opted for some beers and some Duffleboard.

duffleboard

You read that right: duffleboard. It’s basically the love child of shuffleboard and mini golf. You play to 21, but you have to get exactly 21. If at any point you go over, your score drops back down to 15. If I were to give you my best piece of advice, it would be: pay attention. It is so easy to get caught up in getting your form right or worrying about where your ball is or isn’t that you completely forget there are other players and then suddenly they have 21 and you only have 9 and the game is over.

This lesson took me about 15 games to learn. And of the near 30 rounds we played in total, I still only won two games. Thankfully, Flatsick also has Nintendo 64, where I was able to get some of my mojo back playing Mario Kart. My inner six-year-old was living. for. it.

Once we’d successfully completed every course of Mario Kart, we decided it was finally time for mini golf. Unfortunately, a private party had the entire course booked until 9:00 pm, and since it was only 6:00 p.m.—because yes, we spent 4 hours in the mini golf bar, not playing mini golf—we decided to go home, regroup and come back later.

In that time, we created and completed our own version of the Hot Guy March Madness bracket, this time crowning Channing Tatum as the winner, and ate Wendy’s in the Wendy’s parking lot like the classy adults we are.

When we arrived back at Flatstick around 10:00 p.m., we all grabbed a club, took to the course, and showcased some solidly sub-par mini golf abilities. Afterwards, we returned to the duffleboard table—where we may or may not have accidentally broken the club—and we sipped beer and laughed. At one point we talked about the plans we had made for that Monday. There was a ferry we were supposed to take. There was a park we were supposed to explore. There were sights we were supposed to see. But as we all leaned over the table, talking trash and watching the night tick by, we didn’t regret a thing.

As we lay down to sleep that night, knowing it was our last night in Seattle, Natalee, Mel and I kept saying the same three things:

1) We needed to make our own duffleboard at home

2) We wished we didn’t have to leave in the morning.

3) This trip was already everything we hoped it would be.