Heading West…again

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The warm rays of the sun draw me back. Into a place of peace, excitement, joy, abandon. I close my eyes and try to remember. The feeling of leaving. The feeling of going. To leave the cares and the constant. The constant flow of thoughts and to do lists. I am sitting here, back home in Tennessee, with the gentle breeze softly dancing across my bare skin as I sit under the hot sun. I cannot help but want to go. The stirring which I thought had stilled remains. Always the temptation. Always the dream. Of places yet traveled. Of places so little explored. My list keeps growing. The more I see, the more I want to see and explore and soak in. I want to feel the sun’s rays from a million different places. To smell. To taste. To listen to the world and understand its differences.

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My heart seems easily wooed these days. One city after another captures it, if only in that moment. For mine is a fickle heart. Or maybe my love is not really love. Only infatuation. Only a crush.  The thrill of the moment.

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LA won my heart.  So much so, I was ready to pack my bags and leave my life here in Tennessee behind and start a new.  To find a new home.  To make a new life for myself.  But for now, I am here.  Learning a lesson in choosing contentment.  Sitting under the blue skies of Tennessee dreaming of our drive across the country and through the southwest.  A drive to move my little sister out west.  To her new home.

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Our Route: Dayton, TN to Los Angeles, CA

Summers are not really the best time of year to take road trips through Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and Southern California, but that is exactly what we did.  Being the shortest route, there wasn’t much debate.  We didn’t want to spend all day driving.  We wanted time to see and do and explore.  We didn’t want to feel rushed.

Day 1:  Dayton to Memphis

We hit the road late in the day.  Of course.  We knew that we weren’t going to make it very far that day, so we didn’t feel pressure to head out early.  First pit stop, Nashville.  Dinner and conversation with my aunt.  Followed by the first of many latte stops.  Steadfast Coffee turned out to be one of the best stops during our trip.  Not because of the delicious lattes, but more for the conversation had.  We left happy and high, with a list of coffee shops to hit down the road and people to connect with in LA.

Day 2:  Memphis to Stillwater, OK

So, our plan.  Stop by 8pm each night and hit the road by 10am the next morning.  Don’t think we ever really accomplished that, but we tried.

Memphis surpassed our expectations.  The customer service and hospitality at the Double Tree in downtown was wonderful.  Sincere service.  And conveniently located, just minutes from the river walk which was perfect for a pre-drive exercise.

But, we couldn’t leave Memphis without two things:  coffee and BBQ.  First stop, City & State for lattes and some shopping.  Then to Central BBQ for a brunch made of a BBQ sandwich, BBQ nachos, and ginger beer.

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Pit stop:  Little Rock, AK…we weren’t fans.  Please, tell me what we missed and what we should have explored.  We did take the time to walk across the pedestrian bridge and run the steps to get our blood going.

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Final destination:  It is amazing how quickly a day can pass.  We only made it to a small town outside of Oklahoma City and late at night at that.

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Day 3:  Stillwater, OK to Santa Fe, New Mexico

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Albuquerque was on route.  However, we were so close to Santa Fe, we all thought an hour detour out of the way was worth it.  Who knows if or when we will be back this way.

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But first, pit stop in Amarillo, TX at Palace Coffee.  Definite recommendation from Steadfast Coffee.    Seriously such sweet owner and staff.  Wish we weren’t running behind schedule because we could have spent some serious time here.  But, we were hitting the road again to try to make Santa Fe before the sun went down.  Which we did, but barely.

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Day 4:  Santa Fe, New Mexico to Phoenix, Arizona

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We spent the morning in Santa Fe exploring the little compound we were staying at.  Santa Fe is wild and natural.  So much smaller than I expected, especially for a capital.  We were happy to stay outside the city as it was way more touristy than expected.

Before hitting the road for Arizona, we made one quick stop at Iconik Coffee.  I opted for tea.  I am a tea girl first thing in the morning, and was thoroughly pleased.  However, my sisters did vote the lattes as some of the best on the trip.  So, definite recommendation.

Next stop:  Flagstaff, Arizona and the meteor crater.

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Pit stop:  who knows where…we made a pact to stop every two hours no matter what to switch drivers and to do a set of five exercises.  We didn’t want anyone to ever get burnt out or struggle with sitting in a car all day.  The first couple of times might have been slightly embarrassing doing jumping jacks at a gas station but it was worth it.  Definite recommendation for any road trip.

So, our trip got pretty wild at this point. We were headed to the meteor crater when we hit our first massive storm.  Now, if we were at home, cozied up with a cup of tea, it might be one thing, but to be driving straight into a lightning storm in a seemingly deserted desert, pretty much we felt like we were either storm chasers or in some scary horror movie.  None of us actually felt like staying at the crater, let alone pay, to be out in the middle of a massive storm.  So back in the car and on the road we went.  Maybe the one time I longed for a bit more civilization and humanity (maybe also when we tried jogging in the back country of New Mexico).  There is something about feeling like we were the only ones out in the wild, that made us all a bit tense.  There were some definite screams as the lighting crashed down around us, and as I was driving, some very white knuckles.  But, then there was peace.  Even amidst the storm, we finally embraced the storm and waited for the beauty of each lightning strike.  God’s creation is amazing.  Powerful and mighty.  And so seemingly uncontrollable even though He is in complete control.

Final Destination:  The Boulders outside of Phoenix

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Hand down my favorite stay and probably my favorite stop on our trip.  If only we have had more time.  Such a peaceful respite.  We spent the evening lounging at our abode and the morning swimming in the pool, along with enjoying all the spa amenities.  This is a must return to.

We didn’t see much of Phoenix as we were on route to Joshua Tree and Palm Springs but we did stop at Cartel and loved it.  Definite recommendation.  Like I would take a trip to Phoenix based off of the vibe there.

Pit stop:  Joshua Tree.  How we thought this could just be a short pit stop, I am not sure.  But we hit it at just the right time.  Right before sunset.  Enough time to take a hike and then watch the sun light up the sky as it slowly sank between the hills.

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Final destination:  The Avalon in Palm Springs.  A perfectly cute boutique hotel.  The morning was spent lounging poolside once again.  Oh, if only more time, we would have been so sunburnt.

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Day 6:  Palm Springs to Los Angeles

Our final leg.  And once again, L.A.  Oh, just as good as the first time around, just more cozy.  More like home.  And lots of new favorites and recommendations.

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Coffee:  Verve

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Food:  Kitchen MouseLeo’s Taco Truck, and Van Leeuwen Ice Cream Truck

And then it came to a crashing hault.  Back to life in Tennessee.

 

Road Trip Upon Road Trip…Heading North Pt 2

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Heading north from LA was harder than expected.  We started our morning off at Abbot Kinney.  Our intent was to hit the road and head out from LA Monday afternoon around 1pm or so.  None of us seemed to be in too terrible of a rush, as at 6pm, we still found ourselves in LA.  Obviously we weren’t getting very far that night.  The second lesson learned on this trip:  don’t hold tightly to expectations.  We were hitting the road with no plan (other than being in San Fran by Thursday night).  We had no reservations.  Only a tent in the trunk and high hopes of camping along the way.  Hopes that we soon realized were sorely unrealistic in California in the summer.  Our plan was to start looking for a place around 7pm and to stop by 8pm.  That never happened.  Our average stop time was around 11pm.  And we never found camping.  So, needless to say, we ended up bringing a tent on the plane and all the way to California, along with three sleeping bags, to never use them.  Hotels and motels and crashing at a friend’s house it was for us girls.  All of which added to the adventure.  The motel was up there in the top five worst places I have spent the night (complete with a sink and toilet that didn’t work).  Camping would have been so much better.  Needless to say, we hit the road bright and early the next morning.  Lesson three learned:  finding a decent hotel on the road is not as easy as it is overseas.

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Highway 1

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We had one golden rule.  If at any point, someone wanted to pull over and check something out, they just had to say the word.  And each and every stop was totally worth it.  Those were the best.  The ones that were unexpected.  Like the sea lions sunbathing on the beach.  The hidden beach across the railroad tracks.  The organic strawberry farm where you could wash your berries in a sink and eat them right then and there.  The little town of Davenport.  The list goes on and on.

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Places to Stop Along the Route:

Honestly, I couldn’t even tell you if I wanted to.  We didn’t make note or pay too much attention to where we were.  I think that was the beauty and the adventure.  It was just happening upon things.  The delight was in the unexpected.  In nature.  In the drive.  In each other’s company.  We didn’t listen to music.  We just talked and drove.  And probably said oh my gosh a trillion times.  The nature was breathtaking.  It kept getting better and better.  It was what made my heart burst with excitement and emotion.  It was almost too much.

But, there were a couple of places of note that are worth a stop if you happen to see them.

First, any and all fruit stands!  With prices as low as 10 grapefruit for $1, how can you not.  Lesson learned.  We should have lived off of fresh produce.  Why we didn’t I don’t know.

Pezzini Produce Stand:

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We made a pit stop here without even realizing what it was…an artichoke farm.  I have tried to grow artichokes for the past couple of years (and quite unsuccessfully) so I was pretty darn excited to see an actual farm.  Plus, we had to try the artichoke cupcake and the food truck selling steamed, fried, or grilled artichokes.  Too tempting not to.

Fambrini’s Farm Fresh Produce:

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I wish we had more empty bellies and a larger car.  We could have gone crazy here.  So sweet and so quaint.  And hint…near the beach by the railroad tracks on the way to Davenport.

Big Sur:

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You will know when you hit it.  We were waiting for this the whole drive.  It was like nothing else.  Make sure to save some serious time here.  And if tons of cars are seemingly pulled over at an overlook, chances are it is worth stopping too.

…and then finally we crossed over into San Francisco, where we walked the streets for the next four days.

San Francisco:

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San Francisco Places to Eat:

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Seed + Salt:  After eating whatever we happened to find on the road, this felt perfect.  I don’t know if our mouths or bodies were happier.  So good.  Definite recommendation:  zucchini spaghetti w/ buckeye veggie balls and fresh tomato sauce

Jane:  An excellent recommendation from my uncle.  One of my sisters voted it the best latte she had in San Francisco (I was too tempted by other drinks to try their coffee).  The perfect start to the morning and our time in San Francisco.  Definite recommendation:  the turmeric tonic.

Four Barrel Coffee:  So California lattes took some getting used to.  Super creamy and not too strong.  Not bad.  Just not what we have become accustomed to.  Four Barrel Coffee definitely had the best hands down.  Plus, anyone who roasts their own always gets brownie points from me.

Sight Glass Coffee:  Another great coffee shop.  And they just happen to roast their own beans too.

San Francisco Things to Do: 

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  • Sunset ride across the golden gate bridge
  • Explore the Ferry Building farmers market

As our trip came to a close, all we wanted was for another trip to California.  Little did we know it would only be weeks away…

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Road Trip Upon Road Trip…West Coast Style PT 1

It was not planned. But yet it was.  Sometimes life takes a turn, and you just follow the path laid out. I planned on spending this year traveling as much as I could possibly fit in. Turns out it meant hitting the road quite literally. Two back to back road trips in Cali to be exact.

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I have always wanted to do a massive road trip, but just never made it a priority. I have had so many trips and travels that of late, I just jump for the ones that present themselves, rather than pursue the ones of my dreams. But then, sometimes, life and dreams fall into place and become one.

My sisters and I had a week to spend in Cali so what better use of ones time than a slow meandering up the coast from LA to San Fran?  We figured four days to drive would be plenty of time. How we underestimated the time we could have spent.  But we had to be in San Francisco by Thursday night.  First lesson I have learned this summer.  Although deadlines inhibit, they also help.  From a girl that prefers freedom always and avoids commitments, structure even amidst complete freedom and flexibility can be a beautiful thing.

So first up, LA.  A bit gritty at first, but the city quickly woes one with its vibrancy, and at the same time, its laid back and easy going vibe.  We all arrived into LA on a Thursday and staying through Monday.  Scattered arrivals meant I pretty much spent my entire day at the airport, but I was sitting in sunny California, so it couldn’t be that bad.  Even though sunny California was actually quite freezing and had been up since who knows when with only a couple hours of sleep.  How does one always forget (even after living in a place for three years) that California is not life on the beach and bathing suits?

LA Places to Eat:

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Dinette:  This has become a fav spot of ours.  I think I have had their vegan waffle three times now this summer.  (Pictured there on the right with coconut cream and flax seeds.  Oh my gosh so good.)  Definite recommendation:  Fig and Balsamic Vinegar Soda, Omega Waffle (vegan).  But pretty much everything we had was killer good.  Hard to go wrong.  And the perfect place to get a feel of LA life.  Sitting on the sidewalk enjoying each other’s company while eating delicious food and people watching.

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Ostrich Farm:  Just down the street from Dinnete (Echo Park was our go to place for eating first time around in LA), oh my gosh.  Such the right vibe.  Beautiful aesthetically, so hospitable, relaxed vibe, and delicious food.  As per traveling with my sisters, we tend to order a couple items and then just share.  We went a little overboard here though.  Our picks:

  • lamb meatballs with romesco sauce and yogurt
  • peach and burrata flatbread
  • brussel sprouts with bacon
  • salmon (can’t remember what it was served with shockingly…)

And for dessert…

  • Lemon curd, merengue, and cream with berries
  • profiteroles with lemon rosemary, chocolate grand marnier, and one other flavor that is escaping me
  • Cappuccinos

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In-N-Out Burger:  So, as this is a bit of an institution (albeit fast food), we felt it obligatory to partake.  And I will be honest, it hit the spot pretty perfectly.  And as sisters go, we all ordered different burgers and taste tested.  Ironically, I think we all were pleased with our individual choices.

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Red Window Coffee: Hands down our favorite spot in LA for a coffee.  No competition here.  Such the cutest spot, plus delightful owners and staff.  Highly recommend the salted caramel monkey bread.  Two times and neither disappointed.

Kreation:  Rustic Persian Cuisine and Modern Healthy Classics…need I say more.  Even though this is a chain, it was the perfect spot.  We felt like we had been living on lattes, cappuccinos, and sweet treats (oh and juice), so we all wanted some seriously healthy food.  My pick, the Ash soup, which consisted of Spinach, Parsley, Cilantro, Leeks, Mint, Quinoa, Barley, Garbanzo Beans, Black Beans, and a touch of Yogurt.  Seriously perfect.  Just what I wanted and what my body was calling for.

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Other recommendations:  Intelligentsia (like In-N-Out Burger, this is a bit of institution in my mind when it comes to the West Coast and is a go to once kind of place), Grand Central Market (home to a million – not quite – food vendors…you can find anything and everything here)

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Next time:  Mennoti’s for coffee, Café Stella for French food which is always a weakness, street vendors (I can’t believe we have been twice in a month and still have not gotten food off street vendors) specifically a hot dog wrapped in bacon (because it is apparently the rave), and a million other places we passed but didn’t take note of…until next time

LA Things to Do:

IMG_3595Griffith Park:  So there is the observatory, which is beautiful and worth a visit in its own right, but then the vast amount of trails and hills to be explored.  Oh, this is the kind of place that makes my heart sore with joy and excitement.  So contented.

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10932451_842997569081942_536817088_nSilly me, I forgot hiking shoes and had to spend four hours in backless sandals.  Thankfully no snakes spotted.  And we avoided two trails that would maybe have been a bit difficult.  But there is always next time.

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And, if you care to get a close up look at the infamous Hollywood sign, this is the place to do it.

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Abbot Kinney Blvd:  Definitely the place to hit for some shopping.  Our favorites on the street:  Buck Mason, Urbanic Paper Boutique, and Ilan Dei Venice

Neighborhoods still to explore:  Highland Park specifically York Street, Silver Lake, Echo Park, Downtown LA…pretty much all of them.  Even though we stopped at various spots in each area, we didn’t even dent them.

Next Time in LA:  The Getty, Hollywood Forever Cementary for a movie night, LACMA

LA Places to Stay:  Okay…so, even though there are probably a million great boutique hotels in LA, my sisters and I travel on a budget to say the least.  So, airbnb it is for us.  Our awesome find…loved the aesthetic and such the sweetest host.  Just wish we had more time to enjoy the place, but we pretty much just crashed there at night.  Too bad.

And now for the road trip…which will just have to wait for another post…

Austin, TX Round Two

“There are days when my soul drifts away to the thought of stayin’ in place”  Wandering Man – David Ramirez

It has been a year.  Only a year.  Twelve months time between when I first stepped foot into Austin.  If you told me I was going to be back so soon, I would have responded firmly that it was quite impossible.  Yet, there I found myself, once again in beloved Austin.  For business, but these days, business is just as delightful as if I was traveling simply to explore and wander.  The pull of Austin is strong.  Any reason seems as if reason enough.  You will always find me willing and ready.

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What to do in Austin:

Walk.  Even though we hit Austin a little later in the month then the first trip, it was delightfully so much cooler.  Which meant we spent our free time walking the streets.  Austin is an easily walkable city.  Albeit, we could have biked if we had gotten the notion in our head.  Walking is the best part of exploring.  For without it, half of the things you discovered would be completely undiscovered.

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Texas State Cemetery:  If you want history, this is the place for you.  We didn’t have time to read all the information offered or take a tour, but wandered the rows looking for a spot to sit and eat macarons.

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Oakwood Cemetery:  This is the type of place you could get lost in.  Just walking amongst the headstones and trees.  Quiet and worn.  Beautiful.

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Next time:  Barton Springs

Where to Eat + Drink in Austin:

Flat Track Coffee:  Can’t go to Austin without heading to Flat Track Coffee.  The first and the last stop heading in and out of town.

Figure 8:  Figure 8 was a recommendation, and we were delighted to stumble upon it while walking around the city.  So good we had to come back a second day.  Definite recommendation:  the cookies!  (and lattes of course)

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Salt + Time:  A discovery while walking the streets.  The most delicious salami!  We went in because we couldn’t resist.  (Confession:  I love salami)  We were embarrassingly disgusting and hated to enter an establishment dressed so casual and sweaty, but we did and were so glad to have.  After sampling their goods, we had to bring it home with us as well as make reservations for dinner the next night.  Definite recommendation:  the succotash (trust me)

Hillside Farmacy:  The perfect place to end an exhausting day.  We sat outside on the patio sipping cocktails and eating delicious fries with aioli.  So perfect.  Definite recommendation.

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Elizabeth Street Café:  I thought I was going to die.  You know when you go someplace and you are swooning and so in love and overwhelmed with excitement you can barely stand it?  Well, this was 100% that kind of place.  Thomas Hardy put it so well in Far From The Madding Crowd “Half the pleasure of a feeling lies in being able to express it on the spur of the moment, and I let out mine.”  How can you not die over a breakfast of a celery shrub and sticky rice with ginger sausage, poached eggs, herb salad, sriracha and hoisin?

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Thai Food Truck on Manor Road:  So, I didn’t catch the name, but I am pretty sure there is only one Thai food truck on Manor.  It is parked right by a gas station.  Hard to miss.  And so glad we didn’t.  Valerie and I were planning a progressive dinner.  Just order one meal here and then head to get tacos and share another meal.  However, even just sharing a meal, we couldn’t eat anything else.  So good.  Perfect.  Definite recommendations:  the red curry

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Anjore:  Oh my gosh.  Texas meets Indian.  Naan Croissants.  Water Buffalo culture yogurt.  Chai that is really made from fresh spices.  The list goes on and on.  Everything we bought was phenomenal.  If I lived in Austin I would hit up every market they attended to be sure.

In.gredients: Always.  Never miss out on this place.

Next time:  Micklethwait, Kerlin BBQ, Justine’s, Shhmaltz

If you couldn’t tell, this trip was 100% about eating and walking.  Two of our favorite things to do.

 

 

Meeting Marrakesh

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Morocco. Our latest trip brought me to a new city and a new country.  To a place that had never been on my top ten but one I knew I would go to eventually.  A place of romance.  Of history.  I went in search of my roots.  Of the stories I grew up on.  Of adventure.  Of exploration.

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Travel seemingly has gotten harder with time.  Life is so busy and so full that there is little time to plan, to dream, to even get excited before leaving.  It is pretty much just about showing up and seeing what you find.  (Not that I mind that…and even kind of like it.)  However, I did come prepared with a plethora of information and recommendations from friends and Instagram friends.

My family and I selected Marrakesh for no other reason than ticket prices.  They were cheap, and as we only had a handful of days, it seemed like a good option.  So Marrakesh it was.

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What to Do in Marrakech:

Walk the streets.  Just wander.  Explore.  Get lost (not really).  But get away from the center of action.  From the tourists and the main center.  I don’t think we were able to even scratch the surface of the maze of alleyways through the old city.  The best and only way to see the city.  Just be aware of landmarks.  We had no problem finding our way around.  Thankfully there was a good landmark by our riad, so it was always easy to stay oriented.

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El Badi Palace – Ruins which are now a beautiful, quiet garden of archways and tiles.

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Bahia Palace – The tiles.  The architecture.  Not to be missed.

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Next time:  La Jardin Majorelle and venturing outside of Marrakech, specifically the High Atlas Mountains

Where to Shop:

To try to describe the shops and their locations would be fruitless.  I could direct you how to wander through the streets to the places we loved and found the best deals.  But maybe that is part of the charm of Marrakech, stumbling upon your own discoveries and making your own bargains.

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Where to Eat in Marrakech:

Unfortunately, I feel like we didn’t get enough or really satisfy cravings.  There was so much to do and see and so little time.  I always recommend street food.  Especially in such a sweet country that is truly hospitable.  We only got street food twice, but loved how the men put cardboard down for us to sit on and gave us food on plastic plates which were to then be returned.  So sweet and thoughtful.  The people of Morocco truly were endearing.

La Mamounia:  Of all the wonderful places I have been, this will always leave an impression in my mind.  The service and etiquette exhibited was far beyond what I have experienced in a long time and a lesson in respect and hospitality.  The staff have been trained superbly.  Impressed to say the least.  The whole experience.  Such a treat.  We went for afternoon tea.  For history sake, both our country’s and our families.  Famous for the fact that Roosevelt and Churchill met to discuss World War II, but sentimental because my grandparents had stayed here long ago in their travels.  La Mamounia was a tranquil oasis amidst the chaos of the city.  We lounged and drank tea and eat macarons and Moroccan pastries.  One of the highlights of our time.

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I forget the name of this one, but it was perfectly located right by our riad, an easy and delicious place to eat dinner while the sun sets.  We were served a fresh juice of the day when seated along with cumin olives.  Definite recommendation:  the lamb tagine.IMG_1015

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Where to Stay:

Riad Amin:  The loveliest of riads.  So perfectly situated at the south end of the city walls, out of the center of the old city and away from all the tourists.  They were so hospitable and everything was gorgeous.  So well decorated.  So lovely.  So relaxing.  It was wonderful to come back to each day.  The welcome and care we received was beyond what we expected.  One thing of note, I don’t recommend leaving your windows open during the night.  The prayer calls were shocking the first night.  So loud and continuously throughout the night.

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What I loved most:

The people.  So gentle, kind, and hospitable.

The architecture.  I could not get enough and feel I must return to soak in more.

The tiles.  The color.  The design.  The craftsmanship.  Incredible.

Things of Note:

I don’t recommend a guide.  Let yourself wander and explore.

Be prepared to have people want to guide you and always trying to sell you things.  And honestly, as for engaging, just say no thanks and keep walking.  I don’t feel like you have to be overly rude.  But whatever you feel comfortable with.

We had heard stories about women traveling alone, but had absolutely no problem.  Just dress and act responsibly.  Use commonsense.

We were so thankful to have arranged airport pickup with our riad.  We arrived quite late at night and it was so nice not to have to try and navigate a new country in the dark with no idea of our location.

We withdrew cash at the airport but there were also ATMs in the new city as well as money change places in the old city.

 

 

English Days

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I am in love.  In love with the English countryside.  The architecture of old English farm houses.  The sheep that dot every hillside.  The slow rambles through the hills and farmland.  Traveling can be very akin to relationships.  Sometimes it is love at first sight.  Other times it takes wooing.   England has been a gentle wooing of my heart.  I have always loved my trips to England.  But this is the first time I am absolutely head over heals in love.  May the pictures speak for themselves.

We spent our time in the Cotswolds.  Specifically, Blockley.  A sweet, quiet little town.  Our days in Blockley were spent taking walks through the countryside among fields and farms, woods and villages.  But without question, my favorite place we visited was Daylesford Organic Farm.  Words cannot even begin to express how my heart felt as if it would burst with the perfection of Daylesford.  Every last detail was beautiful, as if being an organic farm was not enough.  A definite recommendation.  But more than that, it is a must visit.  A place of dreams.  Such a delightful lunch and afternoon.  The best meal and coffee we had in England on this trip.

Definite recommendations:

Places to stay:

  • Blockley – we rented a cottage
  • Daylesford Farm
  • Cheltenham – no specific recommendation, but the best city we visited full of good shops, etc

Places to eat:

Places to shop:

  • Daylesford Farm
  • Cheltenham

Churches:

Naunton Lane Evangelical Presbyterian Church

Next time:

The only town we did not have time to explore that we wished we had time for was Woodstock.  It looked like a charming town.

 

Passing through Thailand Part 2

It feels like Thailand is a faint dream.  The passing of time has loosened the hold that it had on my mind, my spirit.  I knew it would.  That it would fade.

Thailand changed me; it affected me.  More than I imagined it would.  I went to Thailand for adventure, for something new, for the experience, to be with my sisters.  I came back feeling distant, as if I did not recognize what I had left behind.  My friends, my work, the regular jaunts.  Nothing felt right.  But now, months later, I can look back and barely remember those feelings.  I have settled back into life, this life.  Yet, I don’t feel the same. There still is a stirring in my spirit that was not there before.  I feel that the life I was leading will never be the same.  I feel like I need it to change.  I want it to change.

I don’t think Thailand itself is what made me feel distant from my own life.  I think it was the passage of time.  It was disconnecting completely from the life I was leading.  It was stopping admist the ciaos…stopping after spinning around and around, dizzy, disorientated, unable to get my barrings.  Maybe that is just age.  I don’t transition as easily as when I was young.  But I don’t think that is what it was.  I think leaving everything behind enabled me to let go more than I have in years, since I began my business. I had hit a breaking point before I left.  I realized there was too much in my life.  I was not able to do what I loved admist the necessities of the day.  I had taken on too much and was not doing anything well or enjoying any of it.  My dreams had begun to fade.  I was surviving.  I am still surviving, if it can be called that….But that is a story for another day.  Soon.  Not yet.  This is about Thailand and the wonderful time there.  So, without further ado, part two…

Koh Lanta 

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Before leaving for Thailand, my sisters and I did do enough research to select the two places we would spend our trip, Chiang Mai and Koh Lanta (you can read about part one here).  We would have loved to have seen more, explored more, but we just had two weeks.  If there is anything I have learned over the years, don’t try to do too much.  Otherwise, it won’t feel like you did anything.  Or maybe that is just what it will feel like.  That you did things rather than experienced them.

So, we skimmed over blogs and guide books to know what island or beach to go to.  Pretty much we wanted confirmation that the place would be one, not touristy, two, not a party scene, and three, beautiful.  Koh Lanta was just those things.  It was perfect for us.  Underdeveloped and beautiful.  It had secluded beaches, awesome food, motorbikes for rent, gorgeous vegetation and topography…everything we could ask for.  We booked the flight like a day before we flew (not the cheapest way to do it) and ended up getting in pretty late into Krabi.  The guide books made it sound as if it would be too late for a ferry so that we should stay the night.  However, there were not too many options listed for places to stay in Krabi and we did not know how big a place it was.  What to do?  Instead of showing up at 10 or 11 at night with no place to crash and having to figure it out, we decided to book one night at any place we could find with private transfer to their hotel on Koh Lanta.  There were only two.  Baan Laanta for around $100 a night plus an extra charge $30 for the hotel transfer or the Pimalai, which was around $300 a night and free airport transfer.  We were definitely tempted but figured we would be just crashing and then checking out in the morning to find someplace cheaper to stay.  So, the Baan Laanta it was.

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Where to Stay:

Baan Laanta:  Small.   Quiet.  Quaint.  Perfectly situated.  We arrived ridiculously late (it was about a two hour transfer from the airport by van, driving and on ferries).  But when we got there, we were kindly greeted and shown to our room.  And what a room.  We weren’t able to appreciate it in the night, as it was late and we were exhausted.  All we cared about was it had a beach view, a gorgeous bed, and lots of character.  We quickly got into bed and crashed (we ordered an extra cot, but the three of us could quite comfortably fit on the bed).  Upon waking in the morning I was able to fully appreciate where we were staying…

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an excerpt from my journal on that first morning …

“We woke this morning to one of the most breathtaking views – truly stunning.  The bay surrounded by the jungle.  Unbelievable how vast the jungle is – how wild it is.”

Koh Lanta is a very mountainous island and everything was built into the hills.  The hotels all were terraced along the bay.  Ours tucked into the trees but with direct beach access. 

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There are only about 15 rooms at the Baan Laanta, so if you are wanting an intimate, private, relaxing stay, this is definitely the place for you.  We only saw 2 or 3 couples the whole time we were there (but it that was because we were traveling during the shoulder season – which meant reduced rates and less people, but risking bad weather).  The setting was perfect.  The view from the pool was fabulous, not that we used it much at all.  With the beach and the ocean literally right down some steps, it was hard not to pick the beach.

Next time:  Honestly, after exploring the island, I loved our little bay and thought it the perfect place.  The only other recommendation I would give would be the Pimalai.  However, there were a lot of great looking places on other parts of the island.  But I liked our location so much that I wouldn’t want to stay anywhere else.

Pimalai:  We were really tempted to stay here for one night.  It was just up the beach from our hotel and it looked amazing.  We did go check out the grounds and thought they were gorgeous.  Seriously.  However, upon viewing the rooms, they lacked the character that the Baan Laanta had.  It might have been worth the splurge, but we were content staying where we were so we opted not to upgrade.  But if you want to be spoiled and stay some place grand (for Thailand), this would probably be a good pick.

Where to Eat: 

Gosh.  You just had to walk up the street for fabulous food.  And I mean fabulous.

Kampung Restaurant:  We ate here almost every night.  It was fabulous, and when you get awesome food and an awesome experience, it is hard to want anything else.  Such sweet sweet owners.  It is owned by a young couple.  She is from the UK (we assume) and he from Thailand.  Both were so kind and sweet and just made you want to come back both for the food and to support them.  It was mango season and she talked of getting mangos from his uncle’s tree up the street.  Awesome.  And the food had just the right amount of heat.  Enough to intimidate but not kill your taste (but they were willing to accommodate anyone’s palate).

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The neighbor’s cat.  He totally knew who had food and he was not shy about trying to get some.  Love how relaxed Thailand was about sitting on the floor, eating dinner, and having a neighbor’s cat hanging out in your lap.  Definite recommendation:  everything!  The banana in warm coconut milk – yum.  All the curries we tried – so good.  We really loved everything we had here.

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Okay.  So I forget the name of this place.  But if you head from the Baan Laanta up toward the park, you will pass it on the right.  It is Sunset something.  We were riding our motorbikes passed this spot, which claimed awesome views, and the sun was just setting so we figured we would stop for some cocktails.  The view did not disappoint.  It was perfect timing.  I mean, drinks while watching the sunset on the ocean.  How much better can it get?

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Same Same but Different:  Another pick just because of the location.  We could walk here from our hotel for dinner and drinks on the beach.

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Loved the sculptures at night.  Even if we did not get a view of anything else, it was pretty phenomenal with the sound of the waves on the beach.  Just wish we had had a flash light for the walk back.  We came back during the day for drinks on the beach and thoroughly enjoyed the view.  The food was good enough but we had much better, and it was a bit pricier here.  You are paying for the location.  Definite recommendation:  coconut lassi or smoothie

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Another place I cannot name…located up the road from the Baan Laanta on the left, was a developers office with a coffee bar.  I don’t quite know if they were open or not when we stopped by but they were so hospitable and gracious.  We ordered lattes and ice cream.  The best coffee we had in Thailand.  And such a gorgeous setting.  The office itself was dream home worthy (there was even a moat with fish around it with a little concrete bridge).  We wandered up to look at their development and again, gorgeous.  Very modern; totally stunning.  (It was still being built though.)  It was all so delightful we had to come back again.  The kind of place that makes your heart happy because of your interactions and the genuine kindness of the people.  I feel as though words cannot express them.

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On the other part of the island, in the old city, there were a slew of places right on the water.  I don’t know how we lucked out, but we did.  All I wanted was a whole fish, but how to choose.  We picked one that was not busy.  Usually not the best sign.  And the owners kept calling us to come in.  Doesn’t typically woo me, but we entered.  I think we were all just so amazingly hot and hungry that we weren’t thinking straight and just needed someplace to sit.  We ordered the whole fish and were so delighted.  It was delicious and totally what I had been dreaming of before coming to Thailand.  Seriously, the best whole fish I have ever had.  It had just the right heat, a perfect balance of flavor, and melt in your mouth fish.

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Next time:

Drunken Sailors:  Closed for the month.  Literally the day before we got there was their last day.  It had a hammock on the porch and looked like the most perfect lounge hangout.  Sad to have missed it because it was given rave reviews by other travelers we met.  But, it did seem more geared to tourists.  I don’t know if we would have really felt like we were in Thailand.

What to Do:

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…other than swimming and walking along the beach and relaxing under the hot Thai sun…

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Rent motorbikes:  A definite recommendation.  We only rented them one day and wish we had been able to ride more.  It is the only way to see the whole island and without having seen the whole island, I feel my view of Koh Lanta would not have been accurate.  To see where the locals lived and how they lived (and to interact ever so briefly).  To view the treatment of the elephants.  To see the roads less taken.

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Snorkeling:  We booked a trip to Koh Phi Phi through our hotel.  Since we were going on the off season, our choices were limited and honestly we had to just take what they would give us.  We were at the mercy of the hotel to book us a trip.  And again, felt so blessed. We wanted the speed boat trip but had to opt for the ferry.  In the end, we were totally happy.  They transferred us to a long boat once we got to Koh Phi Phi and that is when we got to experience Thailand truly.  Not with a fancy fast boat.  But with a rough, loud, long boat.

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We were with a small group of other internationals and one Thai family.  We were the only Americans.  Loved that.  We took the ferry to Phi Phi Don where we then transferred to the long boat, which took us to two different locations to snorkel.  The first was an intimate cove.  Just us and the water.  It was shocking at first.  I had never been snorkeling and was not used to the constant prick and sting.  After exploring for a bit, they took us over to the main attraction…Maya Bay.  They brought us into a little cove and told us to jump out, swim across to the rope ladder and climb up.  Once at the top follow the path to the beach.  Let me just say…awesome.  So much fun swimming up to the ropes and climbing up them.  Loved how relaxed and casual they were.  No questions or instructions.  No warnings.  When we got to Maya Bay we almost immediately wanted to turn around.  People were everywhere.  It was crazy.  Did not expect that.  We got in the water and then headed back to the boat for lunch.  And did they serve lunch.  Two different curries with rice and pineapple.  And it was delicious.   So delicious.

Next time:

the national park on Koh Lanta.  We got there right when it was closing.  But after talking to a guy who lived in America but was visiting his family in Koh Lanta, we realized we weren’t up to trekking.  He thought we were crazy when we said we wanted to.  He said you really need to go with a local who knows.  And I think he was probably right.

Cooking class.  We didn’t give this much consideration but after the fact figured it might have been nice to have taken one.

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Things of Note:

Going on the off season felt a bit unnerving at first.  I mean it was deserted on our end of the island.  The first morning, literally the only humans we saw were the people working at our hotel.  It felt like we had woken up on the set of Lost.  But we soon adjusted to the lack of human beings and deserted surroundings, the emptiness.  And maybe it was just too early in the morning.

In the middle of the night the first night I was awakened by the most deafening noise.  I had no idea what it was.  All I knew was I was exhausted and just wanted to sleep.  And wondered if I could live in that noise.  Just as quickly as it started, it stopped.  Turned out to be insects.  They would start up periodically throughout the day.  But like everything else, I began not to notice as much.

Traveling on Koh Lanta: the taxis were charging ridiculous prices.  We hired rides through our hotel, which ended up being more affordable than if you sought out transportation independently (unless you are really good at bargaining).  Once booked into a place, motorbikes are the way to go, but the cost of gas can add up quickly if you are not careful.

Phone service:  I added an international plane before leaving for while I was there.  Just in case.  And so I could do business.  Pretty seamless.

Weather:  I have never been in such crazy powerful storms.  Or maybe it is just that I felt more vulnerable.  Thankfully they were at night when we were tucked safety into bed.  But even that did not feel totally safe.

Walking:  We were the only ones who seemed to walk.  And understandably so.  We didn’t realize how spread out the island was.

Cost:  I still have not figured out how much I spent all together but it was between $1500-2000.  The plan ride to Thailand cost $1050 and in Thailand $250.  I budgeted around $300 for expenses in Thailand and could have stuck to that but we started splurging toward the end of the trip.  $1500 is totally doable during the shoulder season when places are cheaper.  We just decided to say someplace a bit nicer and spend the extra money.

Overall, Thailand is a place that is wonderful and was beyond my expectations.  It is the kind of place you have to go to experience for yourself.  It is a definite recommendation!