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…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…