Napa Valley is an iconic wine region in Northern California known for its dry Mediterranean climate and fertile soil. Its ideal conditions are perfect for growing wine grapes, harvested and produced into award-winning red and white wines, sparkling wines, and blends. Home to over 500 wineries, Napa Valley is also the first Agricultural Preserve in America.
I was lucky to have the chance to visit Napa Valley a few times while living in the Bay Area, each time discovering a new winery and experience. Here I'm rounding up my favorites, and while they're temporarily closed due to COVID-19, you can still enjoy their wines by ordering online with special deals and discounts!
These are my top 5 must-visit wineries in Napa Valley:
Ceja Vineyards is special to me because it's the first winery I visited in Napa! It's owned by a family of first-generation Mexican-American winegrowers and has a small and intimate family feel with super friendly service. The wine tasting at Ceja really encourages you to explore your own interpretation of the wine, which I thought was really interesting!
Current quarantine offers include 15% off when you mix and match 6 or more bottles, and $10 flat rate ground shipping on 6+ bottles. cejavineyards.com
My favorite: Dulce Beso Late Harvest White Wine
Domaine Carneros is the epic Napa winery you've imagined! The huge, gorgeous chateau is surrounded by vineyards and neatly maintained shrubbery of all shapes and sizes. You can't spend time here without feeling classy! Domaine Carneros is known for their sparkling wines, and you can spend time outside on the terrace or inside in the tasting room.
Right now Domaine Carneros is offering $5 shipping on any 6+ bottles sent to the same address. domainecarneros.com$5 shipping on any 6+ bottles to a single address
My favorite: Ultra Brut
Tank Garage Winery
Tank Garage isn't your typical winery, and that's what makes it so great! Opened in 2014 and located in a former mechanic's garage and gas station, the theme carries through with the garage doors and old gas pumps outside (no, they do not work). Tank Garage is located in northern Napa Valley in Calistoga. Here they focus on utilizing various grapes and blends from the region to create their own reimagined wines. The vibe is funky and cool, and the label designs on the bottles are super unique as well!
Tank Garage is offering a few specials, including a Quarantine 6-Pack Kit
My favorite: Too Much to Dream Red Wine
Artesa Estate Vineyards
I was really excited to visit Artesa because it's the U.S. counterpart to Codorníu winery in Barcelona - the oldest producer of cava and one of the oldest wineries in the world. The Raventós Codorníu family has built an empire in Spain, and planted roots in California in 1991. Artesa is known for its pinot noir and chardonnay. The winery is absolutely beautiful inside and out, designed to be a part of the natural landscape, and with hints of inspiration from Barcelona. Artesa was also featured in the movie Wine Country!
Fair warning: All Napa wines are on the expensive side, and Artesa is no exception. They're offering really fun (but pricey) tasting at home kits. Or, you can get 1 cent shipping on any 6+ bottles. Sign up for Artesa's mailing list and get 15% off your first online order! artesawinery.com
My favorite: Albariño - Los Carneros
Castello di Amorosa
Also located in the town of Calistoga, Castello di Amorosa will transport you out of California and into Tuscany! A true castle, it was built over a 14-year period to be as authentic to 13th century Italy as possible. Being there is an experience in itself, but Castello di Amorosa also offers a wide collection of wines and tasting and tour options.
Castello di Amorosa always offers sales on online purchases, and right now you can get 50% off shipping, plus a discount depending on the number of bottles you buy. castellodiamorosa.com
My favorites: Dolcino Gewürztraminer
Of course, there are what feels like a million more wineries to explore in Napa Valley - and there's Sonoma Valley right next door too!
I'm looking forward to the day when we can visit again, but until then, I'll be wine tasting from the comfort of home. Cheers!
Happy Earth Day 2020! As humans in the 21st century, we often forget that we exist in but a moment of our earth's life. From striking mountain ranges to vast oceans, from unforgiving deserts to brutal tundras, and from vibrant rainforests to silent canyons, our earth is an incredible, diverse wonder that we are so lucky to witness and call our home - along with so many other creatures.
Every thing we do, use, and eat has an impact on our earth, in one way or another. The earth is our collective home, and we need to take care of it! Just by swapping out a few of your everyday household products for those that are reusable, cleaner, and more sustainable, you can significantly reduce your impact on the environment. On top of doing well by the planet, making these changes also helps your wallet. You can save money by choosing better, healthier alternatives!
Join me in celebrating the 50th anniversary of Earth Day by making a few small changes that can make a real, positive impact. These are a few examples of product alternatives I've personally implemented and really love!
Cloth Towels instead of Paper Towels or Napkins
The United States spends almost as much on paper towels as every other country in the world combined (The Atlantic). We've built a habit of using paper towels unnecessarily and going through them like it's nothing. But it's not nothing - manufacturing paper towels utilizes water, trees, and fossil fuels, and used paper towels end up being a serious problem in landfills.
We started using cloth towels in place of paper towels just earlier this year, after I received UNpaper Towels by Marley's Monsters from my sister for Christmas. And we haven't used a paper paper towel since! The cloths can be used just the same as paper towels, then washed and reused, eliminating paper waste. We recently purchased this more affordable version from mamamade on etsy to have some extras as paper towels, and to use as napkins as well.
Using cloth towels instead of paper has been helpful during quarantine and while supplies are limited, but it's a sustainable habit that will continue to relieve our impact on the earth.
Reusable Cloth Makeup Pads instead of Cotton Rounds
At the end of last year, I really started to get in a good habit with my face care routine, but I felt so wasteful using the basic cotton rounds from Target and discarding them after each single use. One of my best friends told me about reusable makeup remover pads she was trying, and I decided to give them a shot too!
As with most reusable items, there are several brands and options out there. I chose to purchase from Green Estate Goods, a local Arizona company. Their cloth pads have a dual use - the black side to remove makeup, and the white side to apply toner. 14 pads come in a pack for a week's worth of use, along with a bag to wash them in. They're super soft, extremely effective, it feels so much better to avoid all of that waste - plus save money in the long run.
Bamboo Toothbrush instead of a Plastic Toothbrush
Did you know that every plastic toothbrush produced since the 1930s still exists somewhere on the earth? As they've become trash, they've ended up in waterways and oceans, killing marine life (One Green Planet). Floss packaging contributes to this as well. As an alternative, bamboo will degrade in a matter of months, opposed to hundreds of years. Bamboo is also antimicrobial and grows quickly. When looking for a bamboo toothbrush, be sure to check that it's 100% plastic-free, as some companies may still use some type of plastic in the product.
A great option for purchasing a bamboo toothbrush is ME.Mother Earth - I met the team at the Phoenix Vegan Festival earlier this year and they were so kind! They sell a wide variety of eco-conscious products - and just look at that awesome plastic-free packaging! So far, I love the bamboo toothbrushes and vegan floss.
Dropps instead of standard laundry detergent or pods
Have you ever thought about how much plastic you use just related to laundry products? Every minute, one garbage truck of plastic is dumped into our oceans, and many fish that humans consume have at one point ingested some type of plastic (Earth Day).
To reduce single-use plastic in our laundry practice, we've switched to using Dropps! Dropps are laundry pods, but they're not the same as Tide and the other brands. Dropps come in recyclable and compostable cardboard packaging rather than plastic. They are made out of plant-based ingredients and Dropps doesn't test on animals. They also partner with Oceana to educate people about how our choices impact our oceans and marine life. We love a mission-driven company!
Other Earth-Friendly Habits to Try
By now I hope you're mildly fired-up to make a few changes with your products around the house, switching to alternatives that are healthier for you and for the planet! Here are a few more ways to do that:
Our earth is hurting, and we are undeniably the problem. None of us are perfect and we are all using products that are harmful in some way to the environment. But there is great opportunity in choosing items that make as little impact as possible! In celebrating Earth Day, many eco-friendly companies are offering discounts on their products this week, so what better time to try something new?
When you hear the word "vegan," what comes to mind? Do you think it's just a bunch of hippy dippy nonsense? (Good news: It's not) Or are you curious about what it means to be vegan, but just not sure how to ask?
As I move through my journey of adopting a vegan lifestyle, I become more and more passionate about it, wanting to share with others how it can really transform your life. So, I'm starting a new blog series to share the various ways to level up in veganism and why it's crucial to the health of people AND the planet! I'm kicking off the series with the basics about what it actually means to be vegan.
But let's start with a couple of disclaimers: I am NOT a licensed medical professional, nor do I claim to be an expert on diet, fitness, or nutrition. What I share here are my personal suggestions and recommendations. I will add links to some sources, but I encourage you to do your own research, too!
So, what does it mean to be vegan?
The most basic definition is this: vegan (noun) - a person who does not eat or use animal products. (Oxford) But there are a surprising amount of complexities to being vegan and living a vegan lifestyle.
The first thing to know about being vegan is that it is not a diet. Veganism is designed to be a lifestyle - and that's important! What you do, eat, and use is not meant to be temporary, nor is the main goal of being vegan to lose weight.
The second thing to know about being vegan is that it's not just about what you eat - it's also about the products you use. I'd argue that it's also about the activities you choose to engage in - but more on that in a future post!
And the third thing to know about veganism is that the motivation for people to be (and stay) vegan is mainly for both health and ethics. Pursuing a vegan lifestyle minimizes the impact a person has on the environment and on animals, as well as the impact that animal products will have on their bodies and their overall health and wellbeing. Some things involving animals are difficult to avoid - using transportation (impacts land and habitats), or getting a flu shot (many contain egg product) for example. But living a vegan lifestyle is our way of doing our part in as many ways as we can to live a healthier and more ethical life.
What's the difference between vegan and vegetarian?
,As a basic definition, here are the differences:
Vegans not only abstain from eating meat, but we also don't consume dairy products (cow's milk, cheese, butter, or eggs) or any other products from animals - like honey or gelatin, for example. Friends, if you don't know what gelatin is made of, click here.
There is also a difference between eating vegan versus living a fully vegan lifestyle - for example, you can avoid all of the food items derived from animals, but still be using animal products on your body and in your home.
What do you mean by animal products? There's not animals in the things I use.
Oh but boo, there are. There really really are. This has been one of the more eye-opening areas of my vegan lifestyle journey, because WOW are there animal parts in everything. I'll dive deeper into this subject in a future post, but these are just some examples of things we use every day that are not vegan (Business Insider and Raise Vegan):
So though at first you may think of things made with leather, fur, wool, etc. - there are so many everyday products that are made with some form or type of animal substance. Gross!
While certain things are almost impossible to avoid - computers, for example (LCD displays can contain cholesterol taken from animals (LiveKindly)) - living a vegan lifestyle is all about being conscious of this and trying to minimize the use of animal products as much as possible. It's easy to find alternatives and read labels when you have this mindfulness to do so!
Why be vegan?
I mentioned health reasons and ethical reasons, but here's what that means:
Being vegan for your health:
Being vegan for the animals:
Animals are living beings just like humans are. Many vegans are motivated to give up eating meat and using animals products because they care about the treatment of animals and refuse to support industries that kill, abuse, and exploit animals. Examples of this include:
Being vegan for the environment:
So much of animal agriculture impacts the environment, in turn impacting weather, air quality, and natural disasters. For example:
As with most things, animal agriculture operates on supply and demand. The environment is relevant to veganism because if less people are consuming meat, there is less of a demand, and thus there would be a decrease in destroying our world to breed animals to eat and use. This article from VICE explains the issue related to the Amazon fires last year.
Vegan Society shares some additional info on why people go vegan here.
So these are the basics of being vegan! There's so much more to say, but I hope this summary has been helpful in giving you some main points of information about what veganism is and why people choose this lifestyle.
Easy ways to learn more:
In future posts, I'll be sharing about my personal journey to live a vegan lifestyle, how to get started in going vegan, some easy recipes to try, how to choose vegan products for your body and home, vegan travel, and more! What I'll say in every post is that going vegan is not meant to be a quick process or an overnight life transformation. Things that are different from what we are comfortable with are intimidating and daunting - it's okay to feel that way about going vegan. Taking small steps is great! Any effort to make better choices for your body and for our earth is better than nothing. You can grow through this experience, and it's so rewarding! You just have to start.
We all know that if there's one iconic structure to represent San Francisco, California, it's the Golden Gate Bridge! It's a must-see on every tourist's trip, and it's in fact not golden, but a striking red color. The bridge is actually named for the Golden Gate Strait that connects the Pacific Ocean to the San Francisco Bay.
During the five months that Brandon and I lived in the Bay Area, we had the chance to see the Golden Gate Bridge from many angles - high, low, near, far, through trees, from being on the bridge itself, etc.! Here I'm rounding up what I think are the five best viewpoints of the Golden Gate Bridge:
Lands End Labyrinth
Location: Lands End Trail, San Francisco, CA 94121
This viewpoint takes a little bit of work to get to. Taking the Lands End Trail, you'll twist and turn through trees and sandy pathways to arrive at the Lands End Labyrinth - a labyrinth of rocks on a cliff overlooking the ocean. The labyrinth itself isn't incredibly impressive in real life, but it has the added benefit of far-away views of the Golden Gate Bridge. And of course, on a sunny day it's even more gorgeous, and there's something to see in every direction.
Important to note: Wear comfortable shoes for mild hiking. I didn't realize how involved the trail would be (not difficult, just complicated), and my sandals suffered!
Location: 1199 E Beach, San Francisco, CA 94129
This is a classic viewpoint bound to be on any "best views of the Golden Gate Bridge" list. Here you can find a green field and a sandy beach for plenty of angles and options. This is the one location on my list that provides an opportunity for more of an upward view - we took photos from further away, but there's plenty of space here to explore.
Location: Fort Winfield Scott, San Francisco, CA 94129
Here you can get a great view of the bridge itself and the cliffs overlooking the Golden Gate Strait. Be careful around this area, as the the terrain and the battery itself may not be well maintained. Use caution along the cliffside to snap your photos from a safe position.
Background info: A battery refers to a location housing weapons for war. Because San Francisco was a major coastal city, it was equipped for seacoast defense. There are several batteries on either end of the Golden Gate Bridge, and now they make for great bridge-viewing and photo-taking locations!
Golden Gate Overlook Near Battery West
Address: Langdon Ct, San Francisco, CA 94129
Depending on where you park, just before getting to Battery Boutelle you may walk near this Golden Gate Overlook. It's a circular platform with park benches and a few stairs. You'll find the most perfect straight-on view of the Golden Gate Bridge framed by two trees.
Get the shot: The trick is for the photographer to get wayyyy down and to zoom! It doesn't look as close in real life, so you have to get a little creative.
Address: Conzelman Rd, Sausalito, CA 94965
Battery Spencer is one of the most iconic spots to see the Golden Gate Bridge, and we visited several times during our stay in the Bay Area! There are actually quite a few viewpoints and overlooks leading up to the battery, so you can stop as many times as you'd like. This was my favorite of all of the Golden Gate Bridge viewing locations we tried.
Pro tip: It gets v crowded here, so you may want to try to visit at a time when it's less likely to be busy, or be prepared to wait and/or try a few times for a parking spot. I never felt unsafe here, but there are signs posted warning about the possibility of theft from your vehicle, so don't leave any valuables inside.
While a trip to San Francisco may not be in your near future because of the coronavirus pandemic, I hope this post might be helpful for your next (or first!) trip to the Bay Area when it is safe to travel again. In the meantime, start planning your San Francisco itinerary on Google Maps and pin a few of these Golden Gate Bridge photo spots to save for later!
For now, stay safe + stay home <3
While living in the Bay Area, we had the opportunity to venture to South Lake Tahoe not once, but twice, all thanks to a crazy snow storm on our first go-around (but we had a redemptive second trip!). South Lake Tahoe is a popular destination for skiing and snowboarding, bordering the U.S. states of California and Nevada. It's about three and a half hours from Oakland, CA. I first learned to ski at Breckenridge in Colorado and had a pretty successful experience, so I was ready for my second attempt almost a year later at the Heavenly Resort on the Cali side of Tahoe.
Between our two trips to South Lake Tahoe (February and April), we found some great spots to eat, and fun things to do besides skiing and snowboarding. Check out my video below for a little overview from our April trip, and read on for my recommendations for where to stay, where to eat, and what to do in South Lake Tahoe in the wintertime.
Where to stay in South Lake Tahoe
For a cute ski-lodge-meets-upscale-motel vibe, check out Basecamp Tahoe South! We loved the style of the rooms, the games and fire pits outside, and the on-site brewery with live music! I'm a huge fan of Hotels.com and found Basecamp there. We were able to keep our car parked at the hotel and walked to the Heavenly gondola, as well as the main strip of shops and restaurants.
On our first trip to South Lake Tahoe, we stayed at the Heavenly Inn - which was also in a convenient location for walking to the gondola and the main boulevard, just not as cute or unique. That said, we were at the Heavenly Inn when we got snowed in for a few days on our February trip, and we appreciated the fact that the room had a small kitchen/dining area which helped us feel a little more at home while there. And they use a total American Horror Story style font, and I can't get over that.
Where to eat
These were our stops for vegan food in South Lake Tahoe:
Things to do in South Lake Tahoe besides skiing and snowboarding
Four words: Emerald Bay State Park! Emerald Bay is the most gorgeous part of South Lake Tahoe - besides seeing the lake from the slopes, of course! You can enjoy activities like hiking, biking, and swimming in the summertime, but in the winter it's just as beautiful to take a drive to the lookout point(s) and stare into the various shades of blue water. From the lookout, you can see Lake Tahoe's only island - Fannette Island.
A quick stop for a pretty sunset is Lakeside Beach. Again - more options in the summertime, but we braved the chilly weather during our April trip to South Lake Tahoe and were amongst a few groups of other people who came out to say goodbye to the daylight.
Other things to do in South Lake Tahoe:
Of course, the main thing I would recommend out of everything is taking the gondola ride up to catch the incredible views of Lake Tahoe - even if you just ride back down. I am absolutely terrified of gondolas in general, but I braved my fears and it was 100% worth it!
From our two winter trips, we got to see a lot of what South Lake Tahoe has to offer - incredible scenery, a lively dining scene, and endless opportunities to relax and re-connect.
Way back when I first started this lil bb blog, I wrote a post about my trip to Milford and New Haven, Connecticut to visit two friends who were completing their very first travel nursing assignment at Yale. Fast-forward three years, and we found ourselves living in New Haven as my husband completed a contract at Yale!
As per usual, we were eager to see and do as much as possible during our 13 weeks. We found Connecticut to be the perfect base location to visit all of New England - and beyond! Below I'm sharing our best day trips and weekend trips from New Haven:
Weekend Trip or Day Trip from New Haven to Boston
Distance from New Haven to Boston: 2.5 hours
Boston is an ideal destination for a day trip or overnight weekend trip - and we did both! You can choose to stay within Boston to do things like explore the North End, frolick through the Boston Public Garden, visit the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, or have afternoon tea at Abigail's Tea Room. Or you can venture out to explore Salem, Cambridge (check out the MIT Museum!), or another surrounding neighborhood. I've written about how to do Boston on a budget, but being able to drive back home to New Haven certainly helped us to save money on a hotel night!
Weekend Trip or Day Trip from New Haven to New York City
Distance from New Haven to NYC: 2 hours
One of the most convenient weekend destinations from New Haven is New York City, as you can take an Amtrak train to avoid driving/parking. While in New Haven, we did a day trip to NYC, and I also did a weekend trip with my family. There's no shortage of things to do in the Big Apple, and New Haven's convenient location makes it easy to see and do as much as you desire.
Weekend Trip from New Haven to Woodstock, Vermont
Distance from New Haven to Woodstock: 3 hours
We lived in New Haven during prime leaf-peeping season, so I was stoked to make a visit to Vermont! I found that Woodstock was my favorite place that we visited, but we made it all the way up to Stowe on a two-day trip from New Haven. We started our drive heading north on 91, crossing through Massachusetts, and eventually cutting just west to Woodstock, followed by a stop in Montpelier and finally, Stowe. From Woodstock to Stowe it was another hour and a half-ish drive. In Woodstock I recommend walking around the town itself, then visiting Sugarbush Farm. We didn't stay long in Montpelier, but really liked the cute downtown area and quirky shops. And if you make it all the way to Stowe, check out Cold Hollow Cider Mill, Ben and Jerry's, and of course, the mountain resorts!
Weekend Trip from New Haven to Dublin
Distance from New Haven to Hartford Airport: 1 hour / Flight from Hartford to Dublin: 6 hours
YEP! Aer Lingus offers a nonstop flight from Hartford's BDL airport to Dublin. We found a great deal to visit in the fall, and made a long weekend trip to Ireland! Check out our fast travel 4-day itinerary for Ireland here.
Weekend Trip from New Haven to Portland, Maine
Distance from New Haven to Portland: 4 hours
I had previously visited Portland for a work conference, so I was delighted to go back to this sweet coastal town. Before Portland, we spent a night in Newport, Rhode Island, which is also a great weekend trip from New Haven in itself. Portland to me just seems so accessible and fun! I love the shops, restaurants, and hidden streets, live music and of course, the Portland Head Light! While in Portland, we opted to make the journey out to Acadia National Park for the day, which was a long day trip, but well worth it to check another U.S. National Park off of our list. From Portland to Bar Harbor/Acadia NP it's about 3 hours - a day trip within a weekend trip!
Best Weekend Things to do in New Haven
I would be remiss if I didn't share some of my favorite things that we did while living in New Haven! We really did enjoy our time in the city in addition to the day and weekend trips. If you have some time in the area, these are my top to-do's:
Other notable mentions for weekend trips would be Providence, Rhode Island, or anywhere in New Hampshire.
If you're planning a New England getaway, or finding a new home in New Haven, I hope this list of potential weekend day or overnight trips has been helpful for you! Happy exploring :)
As we prepared for our ~four months living in Connecticut, my natural instinct was to identify any and all possible weekend trips we could take. CT sits in an ideal location to access all of New England, but why stop there? Being at the east coast, an international trip became a very real possibility - so when a flight deal presented itself, we took advantage of it! *Shout out to Aer Lingus ILY*
We left from Hartford's BDL airport on a nonstop Wednesday night flight to Dublin, Ireland. From the moment our feet touched the ground on Thursday morning, we didn't stop wandering and exploring throughout Ireland and Northern Ireland. Here's our fast travel itinerary:
Day 1: Cross-Country Road Trip: Dublin > Limerick > Cliffs of Moher > Galway > Dublin
Upon arriving to Dublin, we hopped into a rental car and started on a road trip traveling west across the country of Ireland. Our first stop was Limerick, Ireland. A cozy town full of rich history, we found Limerick to be quiet and quaint. We walked along the outskirts of King John's Castle, St. Mary's Cathedral, and the Bishop's Palace. Next, we crossed the Thomond Bridge to see the Treaty Stone, and wandered along the River Shannon to circle back across the Sarsfield Bridge. After a mini stroll through downtown we ended at the Locke Bar for brunch - a fun spot for us because it's my married name!
After our morning in Limerick, we continued to the west coast to visit the Cliffs of Moher, a historic landmark and one of the most famous sites in Ireland. Stretching five miles long, the cliffs are majestic and such a grand example of the beauty of Ireland. We spent time admiring the cliffs from a variety of viewpoints, and got lucky with such a beautiful (albeit freezing), clear day!
Starting our loop back east, we headed just slightly north to visit the famous city of Galway, Ireland. *cue Ed Sheeran's Galway Girl*
Slightly pressed for time, we grabbed a quick lunch and took a walk through downtown Galway, taking in the hustle and bustle of the shops, the holiday lights, and the Irish folk preparing for a weekend of merriment. Galway was lively and loud, and I'd love to go back to spend more time in the city - but was happy to experience it, even if only for a few hours!
From Galway we drove eastward all the way back to Dublin to return our rental car and check into our Airbnb. Exhausted, but accomplished, we called it a night!
Day 2: Dublin Day
After such a busy first day traveling all over Ireland, we spent our Friday enjoying the city of Dublin. Some of the main sights to see we had already experienced on a previous weekend trip to Ireland, so this day was a bit more relaxed and also involved getting some souvenirs in the form of tattoos (!).
We did repeat one activity from our last time in Dublin - a visit to the Guinness Storehouse. While we're not really stout drinkers, visiting Guinness provides you with a cultural connection to a proud local yet global organization, and panoramic view of Dublin from the Gravity Bar. This time I also partook in the Guinness Academy to learn how to craft the perfect pour - and it was a success!
A new add-on option to our Guinness ticket was a visit to Roe and Co - a whiskey distillery housed in the old Guinness Power House just across the street. We weren't sure what to expect, but were greeted by such friendly staff right away and led through the gift shop to the bar area for drinks. Roe and Co is absolutely gorgeous inside, with an old school slightly tropic vibe that is a stark difference to that of Guinness. Although the only spirit of choice was Roe and Co whiskey, the menu offered a variety of cocktails based on the five basic tastes: sweet, bitter, sour, salty, and umami. The menu is designed like a manual and the cocktails are named after job roles from when the facility was a power house. A 10/10 experience that I highly recommend!
Later in the evening, we met up with friends from college for dinner, then drinks in Dublin's Grafton Quarter.
Day 3: Day Trip from Dublin to Belfast
Though the majority of us traveling together had been to Ireland before, something new we experienced on this trip was a day trip to Belfast in Northern Ireland. If you're not familiar, Northern Ireland is indeed north of Ireland, but it's more than that - it's a completely different country, governed differently, uses different money, etc. though its history is intertwined. The entire island used to be one, but decades of political, religious, and territorial differences led to the separation. Northern Ireland is a part of the United Kingdom, just like Wales, Scotland, and England. Belfast is the capital of Northern Ireland and Dublin is the capital of the Republic of Ireland. In the last decade, Belfast has seen an increase in tourism, and we were eager to be a part of it!
It was easy to take a train from Dublin to Belfast, and the journey only took about two hours. Upon arriving to Belfast, we explored St. George's Market, busy on the weekends and full of vendors selling food, handmade crafts, and touristy goods. Continuing on to City Hall, we found ourselves at the very first day of the Belfast Christmas market. Our willpower was strong as we meandered through the vendor booths without buying anything - to be honest, I loved the flowers, plants, wreaths, and decorative greenery, but they wouldn't have traveled well!
A few of the other spots we visited in the city were Victoria Square, Pottinger's Entry, the Albert Memorial Clock, and the Salmon of Knowledge (also known as the Big Fish).
We crossed the Lagan Weir and walked along the River Lagan to one of the highlights of our day - the Titanic Museum. Did you know that the Titanic was built in Belfast? We noticed some sassy signage in town touching on the quality build of the ship ("She was fine when she left here.") but the museum offered an inside look at the life of people in Belfast at the time, the various steps of design, production, and promotion of the ship, and the infamous journey that took place after she departed from the Harland and Wolff shipyard.
While it was a somber experience visiting the museum, we were glad to understand more of the history behind the construction of the ship, and the museum itself was incredibly beautiful. Each exhibit was thorough and interactive in some way - it was easy to spend a few hours there!
After a smooth 2-hour ride back to Dublin, we dined at Sova Vegan Butcher and had drinks in the Temple Bar area.
Day 4 - Morning walk in Dublin + fly home
Our flight back to the US was in the late afternoon, so we had just enough time to take another walk around Dublin and through the Grafton Quarter to grab a breakfast snack, check out the street art/murals, and visit a few shops.
Though our trip was short, it was so sweet! I will ALWAYS say - if you have the opportunity to visit a place even just for a few days, it's always better than not at all.
- - - Thanks to Steven Dalton Photography for some of the photos included in this post!
Getaway is all about disconnecting to connect and enjoying time in nature with those close to you. Brandon and I had the chance to take a Getaway from Pittsburgh this fall, to the new Getaway Beaver Creek location (convenient to both Cleveland and Pittsburgh). Read on for the details of our experience, and why you should have a Getaway of your own!
What is Getaway?
A Getaway house is a modern vacation cabin for a modern lifestyle. With all of the noise/tech in our world, having an escape into nature while maintaining the conveniences we humans love is perfect for anyone. Getaway cabins come equipped with a bathroom, including a shower, bed(s), mini kitchen with cooking supplies, AC/heat, and outdoor fire pit, table, and chairs.
You can find a Getaway outpost within 2 hours of major U.S. cities, such as New York, Boston, Atlanta, D.C., Portland, L.A., and Dallas. You don't know the exact address until you've booked your stay, leaving a little mystery to your adventure.
Getaway Beaver Creek Review
I had been following Getaway for a while on Instagram, so I was so excited to find out about the new outpost, Getaway Beaver Creek, located in Lisbon, Ohio. This location is marketed to Pittsburgh and Cleveland, and is about two hours from each city center.
We booked our Getaway to celebrate our two year anniversary in September. After booking and before our arrival, we received a few emails with helpful info and tips, as well as a playlist curated for our drive there (cute!). These thoughtful touches continued throughout our experience, and I lurrrve that kind of attention to detail.
Upon arriving to Getaway Beaver Creek, we realized that the site used to be a campground, but the cabins were staggered and had enough trees in between so that each one felt private and secluded. We were assigned the cabin called "Albert"- each cabin is named for a grandparent of a team member. So sweet! Checking out the inside of the cabin, we found a welcome note, books and games, food items to purchase in case you forgot anything, and a cell phone lock box to encourage a distraction-free experience.
The best part about a Getaway cabin is THE BIG WINDOW! Whether you have one or two beds in your cabin, you'll always have a giant square window for a gorgeous view of nature and earth - no lights, no people, no buildings, just peace.
Once we got to know the outpost, we explore a little bit of the local area before the sun went down. We visited downtown Lisbon and had dinner at the Courthouse Inn & Restaurant - a super eclectic spot that had a few vegan options. It started to rain, so the rest of the night was spent inside the cabin, and we didn't end up having the chance to use the fire pit.
No problem though! We played a game of cards, read some of the astronomy book that was on the shelf, and answered question prompts from the Getaway Guide that was provided to us inside the cabin. Questions about our past, present, and future selves, designed for developing connections with one another. Through all of this, I didn't think about checking my phone, or even what time it was. The environment and all of the details made for such a peaceful evening and real, quality time together.
All in all, we loved our time at Getaway Beaver Creek and wish we could have stayed longer! The cabin was comfortable with just enough space, and had everything we could have needed. I'd love to return again to experience better weather and the chance to sit outside at the fire, to do a local hike, and to spend more intentional time listening to the earth and to each other.
Book your own Getaway here or check out these tips for getting away.
Each summer, my husband Brandon and I travel to Europe to serve as staff members with Forum-Nexus Study Abroad. Before or after our summer spent with 50+ university students, we like to enjoy some personal travel in other cities/countries in Europe. For years I have been dreaming about traveling to Portugal, and this summer my dream finally became a reality! We spent 6 nights split between Lisbon and Porto, and we absolutely loved the colorful tiled buildings, friendly people, and laid-back vibes. I already can't wait to go back to these cities and discover even more of Portugal someday.
Read on for our 6-day itinerary, with details about day trips, transportation, where we stayed, and more!
Day 1 - Arrival and Exploring Lisbon
I always count the first day of any international trip a 50% type of day. You're tired, jet-lagged, and just getting adjusted to your new environment. I never try to pack in a lot on an arrival day, but rather explore my local neighborhood on foot and take in all of the new sights and sounds (and languages!).
We flew on Air Canada from Pittsburgh to Lisbon with a stop in Toronto. Upon arrival, we made our way via taxi to our hotel, the My Story Hotel Tejo. There are several My Story hotels in Lisbon, but we found this one to offer a good price on Hotels.com (my favorite site for booking accommodations - not sponsored!) and this hotel was in a nice location that is not too far from the action but not too close to it, either. The next most important thing? FOOD. We walked around the corner to what became our favorite spot in Lisbon - Eight, the Health Lounge.
After lunch, we wandered around to see some of the main parts of the city:
Remember the 50% part? We ordered dinner in to our room that night and fell asleep early!
Eat: Lunch at Eight - The Health Lounge, dinner from Vegana Burgers
Stay: My Story Hotel Tejo
Transportation: Our own two feet!
Travel Advice: Invest in a hot spot and snag a data SIM card upon arrival to Europe. Providers like Vodafone offer cards that work across the EU, so you can stay connected as you travel from country to country.
Day 2 - Self-Guided Lisbon Art and Architecture Tour
There is SO MUCH to see in Lisbon in the way of art and architecture. We opted to put together our own sort of tour based on what interests us most. Our self-guided tour consisted of the following:
The Pink Street - exactly what it sounds like!
Belém Tower (a UNESCO World Heritage Site)
The Padrão dos Descobrimentos monument (Monument to the Discoveries)
Ponte 25 de Abril (25th of April Bridge)
Banksy: Genius or Vandal? exhibit at the Cordoaria Nacional (open through 27 October 2019)
Lunch at Buzz Lisboeta, found in Village Underground
LX Factory (checking out the murals and street art around this area)
Livraria Ler Devagar bookstore
The Castelo de São Jorge
Eat: Breakfast at Eight, lunch at Buzz Lisboeta, Princesa do Castelo for an early dinner and vegan pastel de nata (!!), sunset drinks at Portas do Sol
Stay: My Story Hotel Tejo
Transportation: On foot, Uber, + Lime scooter
Travel Advice: Make a list of 10 things you want to see/do in Lisbon and designate your top 5. Work out a plan to ensure you check your top 5 off of your list, but fit in the additional 5 if you can. We didn't end up taking public transportation on this day because it just made the most sense to Uber or walk (the scooters were a last-minute choice!) based on where we wanted to go. Your top 10/5 will be different, so you may use different methods of transportation and build your day differently. No matter what, you can't go wrong with things to do and enjoy in Lisboa!
Day 3 - Day Trip from Lisbon to Sintra, Portugal
An extremely popular day trip from Lisbon is Sintra, Portugal. Less than an hour away via train, Sintra is a colorful resort town known for being a vacation getaway for the royal families of Portugal's past.
I'm planning to share my Sintra trip in more detail in a different post, but here I'll share the highlights.
Chalet of the Countess of Edla - being here felt like being in a storybook! #SnowWhiteVibes and we basically had the chalet to ourselves to explore, a stark contrast to the crowds at Pena Palace.
Parque da Pena - we walked about 30 minutes from the chalet through the park to get to the palace. Not as many people choose this option, and while it was a little more strenuous than we expected at times, it was really lovely and added a nature element to our day. On this walk we saw the Abegoaria and Quinta da Pena, the Little Birds Fountain, and the Temple of Columns before reaching the palace.
Pena Palace - This colorful gold, red, and blue palace is a national monument and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The variety of styles in the architecture and design of the palace represents Romanticism. We paid to enter into the palace, however you can access outside parts for free, and the outside really was the best!
Quinta de Regaleira - One more heritage site on our list in Sintra! This property includes a palace, chapel, and a huge park with fountains, wells, and lakes. It had many owners over the years, and has a few quirks about it too, such as the "Initiation Wells," which never actually served as water sources.
After a long but amazing day in Sintra, we headed back to Lisbon to relax and pack for the next section of our Portuguese holiday.
Eat: Breakfast at Rossio Station, lunch on the rooftop cafe in Pena Palace, dinner at daTerra
Stay: My Story Hotel Tejo
Transportation: Train, tuk tuk, on foot, and local car service
Travel Advice: Because of the popularity of Sintra, tourists are greeted by a swarm of tuk tuk and taxi drivers upon exiting the train station. Even with a few hired rides throughout the day, we did A TON of walking - so be prepared for that if you add Sintra into your Portugal itinerary!
Day 4 - Travel Day: Lisbon to Porto by Train
Though our time in Lisbon had come to an end, it still felt like we had gotten a nice sense of the city and had a variety of experiences. We checked out of our room in the morning and left our bags with reception while we snagged a last lunch at Eight before making our way to the main train station.
Upon arrival to Porto, we hopped in an Uber to get to our hotel - Selina Porto. This was our FIRST hostel experience, y'all. And it was great! Granted, we opted for a private room with a private bathroom, but it was so fun to be amongst other young people in a social environment. Selina was styled BEAUTIFULLY - very hippie chic - and our room had only what we needed, nothing extra. You can find a Selina in other cities, mostly in South America, but there are a few in Europe!
But let's get to the highlight of our day - having an incredible meal at O Oriente no Porto, including a traditional francesinha - but vegan! A francesinha is basically a sandwich packed with a lot of meats and cheese, covered in a tomato and beer sauce. The vegan version had tofu, tempeh, vegan cheese, and a tomato sauce blanket that was so delicious. We had the sweetest waitress and sat alone outside watching the sun set as we enjoyed our meal and complimentary hot mint tea, sourced locally from their garden.
Eat: Breakfast at Eight, lunch in the train station, dinner at O Oriente no Porto, drinks at Selina
Stay: Selina Porto
Transportation: Uber, train, on foot
Travel Advice: While my job consists of precise planning and organization, this personal trip did not - as in we didn't have train tickets for Porto ahead of time. We had traveled to and from nearby cities in other European countries and it was always easy to get a ticket day-of. Lesson learned on this day, as we had to wait for a later train in order to get two regular tix. No problem though - we explored the massive train station and got caught up on some work to-do's in the downtime. But for future trips, I'd plan my train travel farther in advance to avoid any time wasted.
Day 5 - Discovering Porto + Port Wine Tasting
I found Porto to have so much charm. It was lively and loud, but also quiet and relaxed. We spent our first full day just exploring - not assigning ourselves a strict itinerary or schedule. After brunch we literally just started walking around with no particular direction in mind. We wandered through an artisan market, and we eventually made our way over to Gaia - the town across the Douro River accessible via the Dom Luiz I bridge. Keep scrolling for the highlights!
Admiring the azulejos (handpainted blue tiles) of the Igreja do Carmo
Exploring the Ribeira neighborhood, right along the Douro River
Walking across the Dom Luís I bridge to Vila Nova de Gaia
Cálem port wine tasting
Eat: Brunch at Zenith, snack at the Mercado Beira-Rio market, dinner at O Oriente no Porto (yep - we loved it so much we went back for a second meal)
Stay: Selina Porto
Transportation: On foot, all day!
Travel Advice: Give yourself one day to explore with no official plans. Remember that traveling is NOT about the photos - it's about experiencing the incredible things that different places offer to us.
Day 6 - Local Gems and Tourist Attractions in Porto
Today was all about checking two major attractions off of our list: the São Bento Railway Station and the Livraria Lello bookstore.
The São Bento station houses an incredible 20,000 azulejos tiles telling the stories of Portugal's past.
Livraria Lello has been named "one of the most beautiful bookshops in the world," and for good reason. The architecture is stunning - most notably the staircase and the ceiling - so much so that it's said J.K. Rowling got a little inspo for Hogwarts from the bookshop when she was living in Porto and a regular patron.
Eat: Brunch at Nola Kitchen, coffee break at Selina, dinner at Hand Go pizza!
Stay: Selina Porto
Transportation: On foot
Travel Advice: A lot of travel bloggers wake up before the sun to get the perfect shot or to access a place before the rest of the crowds. This is not my move, boo. But I find that visiting places at normal times is totally okay. Sure, the train station and bookstore were both crowded as hell, but that's really how they are. I think it's better to have an authentic experience than a staged one!
Whew! You made it all the way to the end of this article. Thank you for reading! I had such a sweet time recounting my experiences in Portugal, and I hope you have the chance to get there someday. Please feel free to contact me with any questions about anything that I mentioned here!
When Tennessee became the destination for our vacation with Brandon's family, I really didn't know what to expect. He and I had suggested it because of a deal we had for a few condos for us to stay in, and we thought, "Why not?" None of us had been there before and we all loved the outdoors.
During our week-long stay, we experienced a little bit of everything, but here I'm recapping what stood out to me as the best tips to share if you're thinking about visiting Gatlinburg and/or Great Smoky Mountains NP!
Avoid the Crowds + Disconnect
Wow. Gatlinburg is B U S Y. I don't think any of us expected the Disney-eque nature of this town, or how many signs and attractions would be in our faces non-stop. While we did make a few trips in (shout out to Mellow Mushroom), I think we all felt relieved to return to our condos about 25 minutes away in Sevierville on the top of a hill with literally no service, wifi, anything. That in itself also sounds nerve-wracking, but it actually helped us to communicate in different ways (as in, face-to-face) and step away from the outside world in order to focus only on family for a week. And it helped us to have a nice balance of rowdy and relaxed environments throughout the week. If you're planning to be in the general area with a purpose of visiting the national park, I highly recommend staying outside of Gatlinburg.
Get Out on the Water
We decided to spend a day out on Douglas Lake and rented a pontoon boat and water tube. The 8 of us spent time tubing, sunbathing, fishing, and enjoying the beauty of the lake together! It was also a great way to stay cool in the summertime! I have to give a shout out to H2O Sports because our day got cut short due to a thunderstorm, and they allowed us to finish out our rental the following day. If you're feeling lost amongst the tourist traps or are looking for something to do outside of the national park, getting out on the lake is a great option!
Go to Clingmans Dome
Clingmans Dome is the highest point in GSMNP and the highest point in Tennessee! This was my favorite part of what we had the chance to experience in terms of the national park. We were lucky enough to have a clear June day and could see for miles!
You can reach the parking lot by driving through the park, and it's a 0.5-mile trek to the observation area. Though steep, the trail is totally doable and you can take your time! The observation tower allows you to experience a 360-degree view of the Great Smoky Mountains.
Overall, we had a nice time in Tennessee. I've since traveled to Memphis for work, but I'd like to explore other cities like Nashville and Knoxville. Our family trip, though with some unexpected twists and turns, turned out to be a great way to connect and disconnect and experience an incredible part of the natural landscape of our country.