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.

 

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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.

 

Budapest

After returning from a trip to Budapest this week, my friend said to me:  “Budapest is a place I never think of people going for holiday, yet it’s a city I hear so much about.”

I admit, Budapest had a mysterious intrigue to me.  Having never travelled to central or eastern Europe, I was eager to experience and ingest a new culture unlike anything I had known before. Like my friend, I had heard about Budapest, but didn’t have any concrete expectations beyond what I hoped would be a color-filled, unique city.

Driving in a taxi from the airport to my hotel, I was too busy chatting away with my sister, who I hadn’t seen in months, to take in the city!  However, what I could see was, to be blunt, slightly disappointing.  Budapest was not the vibrant city I was hoping for, rather it seemed a tired, worn city showing fatigue from the regimes of communism.

It only took a day of walking the city to prove me wrong.  I don’t hesitate in saying the effects of communism can still be seen in small ways, such as the Hungarian flags which fly throughout the city with wholes in the center where the communist insignia once flew, but there is much more to this city than it’s past.

The Danube cuts the city into what is known as the classy, residential Buda side and the trendy Pest side.  Both sides exude art, culture and architecture and while most of the restaurants, cafes and shops are on the Pest side, I was easily wooed to the Buda side by one amazing restaurant….

If anyone travels to Budapest I beg of you to partake in Baldaszti’s divine cooking.  You won’t be sorry!  Set on a quite street below Budapest’s castle, this restaurant is neighbor to a cute clothing boutique, gourmet market and elegant wine store.  What more do you need?!

When walking into Baldaszti’s Kitchen it looked like an adorable cafe, but only after siting down to order, did I notice all the small touches which added to the magnificent ambiance.  Tables were set with vintage green sundae glasses and personalized paper place mats, similar to Cake Vintage’s.  A chalk board painted wall displayed the enticing menu, while painted wallpaper covered other walls and open shelving displayed crisp white dinnerware.

I caught myself taking mental notes of detail after detail to keep in store for my dream home.   Yet, it wasn’t just the ambiance that stole my affection, the food was worthy of equal praise.  I took the waiter’s recommendation and ordered a meal I would never normally be tempted by, a traditional but modernized Hungarian dish of savory chicken pancakes, “hortobagyi” style.  A simple yet elegant presentation with creme fresh and fresh cilantro made them to die for!

What’s even better was going with three others and having the pleasure of sampling more culinary masterpieces by Baldaszti’s Kitchen such as the ewe-cheese risotto, layered Savoy cabbage and egg dumplings.  What’s even better is that these gourmet, tapas style dishes were only 4 Euros!!

Now, it’s no secret I have a sweet-tooth and so I couldn’t leave without a taste of dessert.  Once again, I took the waiter’s recommendation and had a Hungarian trifle and cappuccino.  Both were absolutely perfect and the icing on the cake!

Sitting in my kitchen in England after a failed culinary attempt at dinner, I can’t help but contemplate how to justify a plane ticket to Budapest for another Baldaszti’s meal.  I say well worth it! ….Stepheny