Cabo San Lucas! Viva Mexico!

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Back in 2010, my parents, sister and I went to Rivera Maya (Cancun) for my mom’s birthday. While the resort we stayed at was really nice, I was not a fan of the city of Cancun. The weather was also really humid, and I got bit by about 100 mosquitoes. Yikes! So when Kevin mentioned that his company’s annual conference was going to be in Mexico, I wasn’t completely thrilled but was excited for an opportunity to take a few days off and relax. Like Orlando, I was only responsible for paying for my flight (about $400), and my taxi to/from the airport, but the hotel was covered by Kevin’s company.

If I had known how nice Cabo San Lucas was, I would have gone sooner! What a huge difference from Cancun! Cabo San Lucas is located on the tip of the Baja which is as far west in Mexico as you can go. It was not humid, and I did not experience any mosquitoes! One thing I noticed was a lot of construction going on in the area. Cabo was hit by a hurricane almost two years ago, and they are completely rebuilding. Many hotels are offering deals to get tourists to come back now that the hotels are rebuilt/fixed. Therefore, most everything is brand new! We stayed at the Hilton Los Cabos. The hotel was about a 30 minute drive from the airport. I was welcomed on the property with a (free!) margarita. What a beautiful resort with excellent service. Every single room has an ocean view and outdoor space. There were several bars/restaurants on the property along with the pool bar in the hotel’s infinity pool! Drinks and food at the hotel were expensive (it is not all-inclusive), but since we didn’t have to pay for our room, it wasn’t a huge deal. In late March, when we went, a room could run you between $300-$400 a night for a standard room. This is WAY more than Kevin and I would normally spend on a room, but after experiencing it…I’d spend the money staying there again. Sometimes you get what you pay for. Luckily, during the off-season (like July), the hotel is much more affordable and you could get a room for closer to $200 a night.

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View from our room!

When I join my husband on a work trip, my days are free and my evenings are spent with Kevin and his customers/co-workers. I was spoiled rotten and got a private cabana next to the pool for one of the days. I wouldn’t normally splurge on something like this, but what a treat! The strawberry margaritas were delicious! I was able to get some sun and read my book…just what a vacation should be, in my opinion!

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View from my cabana

One of the nights we were there, a group of us went to dinner in downtown San Jose. What a cute area!! When Kevin and I go back to Cabo someday, this is an area I would like to explore some more. There were many shops, restaurants, and bars, and I felt safe. San Jose was celebrating, as they do yearly, their patron saint, so the downtown area had a lot of people and music and dancing!

The next afternoon Mitsubishi Electric coordinated an excursion to whale watch on the Sea of Cortez! To get to the boat, we had to go downtown Cabo San Lucas. What a party town! Senor Frogs, Cabo Wabo, Mango Deck, etc., were located by the marina. We didn’t have time to explore downtown since we had to get to our excursion, but it certainly looked fun!  I had never seen a whale in the wild before, so I was totally stoked. We were welcomed on a very large yacht with a yummy glass of sangria. IMPORTANT: If you ever go whale-watching on the Pacific, BRING MOTION SICKNESS MEDICINE. I did not and I regret it immensely. I have been on cruises before and never needed Dramamine, so I figured I would be okay for this excursion. Wrong. The Pacific Ocean is pretty rough. About 30 minutes into the ride, I was woozy. The humpback whales were amazing to see – they are so graceful – but I was not really able to enjoy the experience because I was trying to focus on keeping my lunch down! Lesson learned.

Cabo San Lucas was an amazing trip (minus the boat incident). Kevin and I cannot wait to go back – but we wish it were closer to Atlanta! (about 4.5 hour flight, but SO worth it if you go for a week – it was a little far just for the weekend)

Viva Mexico!

Cruise to the Bahamas

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Ahoy! Since many of our vacations are not exactly RELAXING (we tend to do a lot of exploring, early mornings, etc., on our trips), Kevin and I decided to go on a cruise to the Bahamas. We didn’t plan any official excursions or anything because that really drives up the price – the plan was not to have a plan. For us, that’s a big deal. We got a great rate out of Ft. Lauderdale on Princess Cruises for a 4-day cruise to the Bahamas. When I say good rate, I mean a little under $1000 total for our cruise. This price did NOT include airfare. Our ship was the Emerald Princess. We have cruised Carnival Imagination before and wanted to see the difference between cruise lines. Carnival definitely had a bigger “party” vibe and attracted more families, but Princess was a little bit of an older crowd, which was just fine for us! It was quieter that way. Because the rate was so affordable, we booked a balcony room which was absolutely worth the extra money. We enjoyed many hours reading and relaxing out there!

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Our first day was at sea, so we spent some time drinking fruity drinks while laying out at the pool. The first stop was Nassau. We were not huge fans of this city. Perhaps some of the resorts are nice, but to us it smelled like garbage and food and drinks are VERY pricey. The area near the cruise port had a lot of souvenir shops and bars. Before decided on a cruise we toyed around the idea of staying at a hotel in Nassau, and we are VERY glad that we didn’t. We even went back to the ship early to lay out at the pool!

We really enjoyed Princess Cay, Princess Cruise’s private island. We spent our entire day at the beach soaking up the sun! Since it was Princess’ island, they even had lunch available included in the cost of our trip. Drinks and beach furniture were available plus there was some live Bahamian music! A lot of people rented tubes and floats and things for the water, but Kev and I were content just to lay on the beach.

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Arriving at Princess Cay!

Cruising is such an easy way to travel. You know exactly what you are going to be paying beforehand and the staff is always very energetic and helpful. There will always be food you’ll like (even if it’s 3000 calories), drinks are yummy, and there is a lot of free, fun entertainment on board! It was nice that we weren’t very interested in the ports because it put less pressure on our days, but it was also a bummer finally getting off the ship to ports that were kind of disappointing. It’s a double-edged sword. We probably won’t cruise again for a while – not to the Caribbean at least. We did achieve our goal of relaxing but as always, we wish we had one more day.

Hilton Head Island, SC

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In November of 2013, my in-laws purchased a home in Long Cove Club on Hilton Head Island, South Carolina. Kevin and I joke with my father-in-law (Rich), that we really appreciate him buying us a beach house! We love visiting Hilton Head every few months to experience “The Salt Life,” so I wanted to give you all some tips and suggestions if you ever visit!

The locals will tell you that they avoid going out, pretty much anywhere, during the weekends in peak season (Memorial Day – Labor Day) since the island is so crowded. Most people have to drive into Hilton Head Island (HHI) because the airport is teeny-tiny and only a flight or two come in a day. Therefore, traffic can be a bit of a problem, ESPECIALLY on Saturdays which is when most travelers check-in and check-out. Even with the traffic, summers in HHI are a party and incredibly fun! There are many bars, restaurants, golf courses, and seasonal activities to check out. However, going to Hilton Head in the off-season is delightful as well. You may not be able to sun bathe, but year-round the weather is generally cooperative enough to take a walk along the beach any time, and you avoid the crowds. Plus hotels are much more affordable in the off-season AND the weather isn’t as humid.

We have been to Hilton Head several times now, but going for the 4th of July was special this year. Rich has really adjusted to island-life. He has a social calendar that is hard to keep up with these days! For the 3rd and 4th, we were part of Rich’s entourage and did some bar and party hopping. One of our favorite watering holes in HHI is the Tiki Hut. This bar is right on the beach, and is open during the day and at night. It is tucked away at the Hilton Head Holiday Inn, but even if you are not staying there, the Tiki Hut is open to the public. If you are interested in staying at a hotel in HHI, I might consider this one if you are looking for a good time. A lot of fun events go on in this part of the island! Since it is peak season in July, the Tiki Hut hosts concerts on the beach at night. It was a lot of fun to go have a drink and listen to some fun dance music! We also enjoy going to the Tiki Hut during the day to have a Strawberry Daiquiri and watch (or play) corn hole and beach volleyball or just sit on the beach!

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The reason this 4th of July was special was because I attended my very first Low-Country Boil! Basically, this is South Carolina’s version of a New England clambake – not that I’ve ever done that either. I’m from the Midwest, we grill brats and burgers for the 4th of July…

ANYWAY, one of Rich’s friends invited our family (Rich, my sister-in-law and her fiance, and my husband) to join in on his annual tradition. The “boil” part consists of shrimp, crab legs, sausage, corn and potatoes. The hosts spread big newspaper on several tables in the house (it was raining so outside didn’t work) and everyone just grabbed a beer, butter, and some paper towels and dove right in! What fun!

Fireworks for 4th of July on the island were really great, as well! We attended another party hosted by Rich’s friends who had a fantastic outdoor view of Shelter Cove and the fireworks set off from the barge! I felt so southern this weekend, and I can’t wait for more fun in Hilton Head next time!

 

 

Orlando, Florida

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Orlando, Florida

Until this trip, I had never been to Orlando. It’s true! I have been to other Disney parks, but my family never did a trip down to Florida when I was a kid.  I have heard mixed reviews about Orlando. Some people LOVE it down there because of all of the theme parks and fun in the sun, and other say that it is overcrowded, humid, expensive and too commercial. Kevin goes to Orlando for work for pretty regularly, and he isn’t a huge fan. However, when I was presented an opportunity to go to Florida with Kev for his company’s annual distributor conference, – hotel paid for – I was excited to take off a few days from work and maybe catch some rays of sun! I went into the whole experience with pretty low expectations, but I was actually pleasantly surprised. I enjoyed my relaxing 4-day weekend thoroughly.

Kevin’s conference was at The Swan Resort (a Disney resort), so this is where we stayed. Typically this hotel runs about $270-$300 a night. Kevin and I typically don’t spend this much on hotels because we are out and about sightseeing, but it was a nice treat to stay at a Disney resort that was a quick walk to Disney’s Boardwalk. There were several pools and restaurants available on-site, so visitors could spend days here without needing to leave.

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One really nice feature of tagging along on a corporate trip is the perks! The first night I arrived, Mitsubishi Electric had rented out Hollywood Studios which meant no wait for rides like the Aerosmith Rockin’ Rollercoaster and Tower of Terror! The next couple of days, Kevin had to work and golf so I was able to get some rest by the pool during the days and we went to Mitsubishi dinner events at night together.

The highlight of the trip, and the reason I wanted to tag along so badly, was to visit THE WIZARDING WORLD OF HARRY POTTER! Kevin had a day off, so he was a really good sport and joined me. I’ll mention the only downside of the experience first. The price. The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is actually in two separate parks. To be able to experience the entire thing (and ride the Hogwarts Express) you have to buy tickets to both Universal Studios and Island of Adventure. The ticket to do that, WITHOUT a fast pass, was $155 per person. We didn’t do the fast pass, but it would have been nice to have. Fortunately, since there were just two of us, we avoided some line time by going in the single-rider lane.

For Harry Potter fans who have not had this experience…GO. It was magical. For fans, the details are so elaborate, and there is so much to see and do. Even non-fans (like Kevin) can appreciate the experience. The Forbidden Journey inside Hogwarts Castle and Gringotts were my favorite rides. Again, because of the detail. Like many other Universal rides, many of them are 3-D with a lot of movement. If you get motion sickness, even if it is only sometimes, I suggest bringing some Dramamine. Both Kevin and I were a little queasy after a couple of the rides (but it didn’t stop us!). Diagon Alley was my favorite part of the day. While Kevin didn’t really understand why I wanted to buy a $50 wand, we both ended up having a lot of fun trying the interactive activities that were available around the park if you had purchased a wand.

We did a few other rides outside of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter that were fun (Men in Black, Transformers), but without HP World, the money spent on Universal would not have been worth it to me. I will certainly be back to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

Overall, Orlando was a great quick getaway, but I could see how it could easily get VERY expensive, especially for a family. In my opinion, this is a trip that needs to be planned (and budgeted) very well. Food and lodging is more expensive than one might expect, but it could be an experience that is very memorable for you and your family/friends!

Hong Kong!

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My husband, Kevin spent five years of his childhood living in Hong Kong. He and his family always spoke about it with such fond memories. Kevin’s mom passed away this past April, and it was her wish that we take a family trip back to Hong Kong. My father-in-law VERY generously took us on the trip of a lifetime in her memory. So, during the week of Thanksgiving my father-in-law (Rich), my sister-in-law (Kelly), her fiance (Julien), my husband and I all traveled to the last of the Far East!

I had never been to Asia before, so I was nervous and excited because I did not know what to expect at all! First of all, the plane ride was ROUGH. It was about 24 hours of travel to get to Hong Kong. If you are flying to Asia, be sure to wear comfy clothes and pack some toiletries (toothbrush, deodorant) in your carry-on. My knees were sore from sitting for so long! But the long flight was SO worth it.

We stayed at the JW Marriott Hong Kong – one of Rich’s favorite hotels. It was one of the nicest hotels I have ever stayed in. We had a harbor view room, so the sights of the South China Sea and the many buildings were such a luxury! The bathroom was enormous and came with a shower and a jacuzzi tub along with a robe and slippers. We were also served welcome tea upon our arrival – what a treat! But the best part of the JW Marriott Hong Kong, hands down, was BREAKFAST! Holy cow! I woke up early every day just to run down there for the buffet. Is it ridiculous to say the breakfast may have been a trip highlight? Probably. But I’m saying it. I LOVED THAT BREAKFAST. There was authentic Chinese food, American food, a smoothie bar, pastries, and the list goes on.

We arrived in the early afternoon, but after so many hours of travel, we needed a nap! We woke up for an early dinner and walked over to the Peak Tram. This tram is a railway that takes you to the upper levels of the island. The views from the top of are out of this world.

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One thing I realized right away was that I did not pack for Hong Kong correctly. I should have packed more short-sleeves! Hong Kong is pretty tropical – it was also humid. So in November it was in the 70s and 80s! The nights were cool, but with all of the walking we did, short-sleeves were important for during the day.

For our first day, we went back to the Miskewicz stomping grounds in Repulse Bay. We visited their old apartment, Kevin’s old school, the American Club and their family’s church. We also spent a couple of hours in Stanley Market. Stanley was my favorite part (aside from breakfast) about Hong Kong. It has tons of little shops and restaurants and is located very close to the water. Rich even took us to his old watering hole, Smuggler’s Inn to have a beer! We used the public bus to get to and from Stanley. The bus was affordable, clean and easy to navigate. Since Hong Kong was a British territory until 1997, everything is in English and many people speak English. I will say, Hong Kong is very hilly and those drivers made me a little nervous whipping around the corners of the cliffs, but we made it everywhere safe and sound!

For the next day in Hong Kong, we went to see the Tian Tan Buddha on Lantau Island. This was the tourist attraction I was most excited about! This experience is a must-have if you visit Hong Kong. When the Miskewicz family lived in Hong Kong, the only way to Lantau Island was by bus. When we went, we took cable cars over the water! If you are afraid of heights, just don’t. But look at the lush views!

That evening we went to Lan Kwai Fong for dinner/drinks. We took the subway. Again, very to easy to navigate through, but it is EXTREMELY crowded, so if you plan on taking the subway, you need to be okay with not having much personal space. Lan Kwai Fong had many bars, restaurants, and neon lights! This was a happening place to be!

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Another trip highlight was the Mid-level escalators which we experienced the next day of our adventure! It is the longest covered escalator in the world! Basically, if you were to live in the Mid-levels, you would commute to work by way of escalator! How funny (and awesome!)

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Above: View Coming Off Mid-Levels

On the same day as the Mid-Levels, we took the Star Ferry to Kowloon. For 26 cents! Kevin loved the ferry when he lived in Hong Kong, and he really enjoyed our ride this time around. In Kowloon we went shopping for pearls and stopped inside the Ritz Carlton Hong Kong lobby (wow!). The night views of Hong Kong from Kowloon were INCREDIBLE.

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On Day 4, we took a day trip to Macau. To put it simply, Macau is the Las Vegas of Asia. Macau is a former Portuguese territory so there are a lot of European influences in the architecture. To get to Macau, you must take a ferry from Hong Kong. The ferry ride is about an hour and costs about $20 USD. The ferry was a struggle for me since I get pretty motion sick, especially since we had to go below deck for the ride. It was rocky! I persevered, but I was pretty woozy! Bring some Dramamine or motion sickness bracelets if you suffer from this ailment! My favorite part about Macau was the Portuguese Egg Tarts! I tend to be a little weary of street food, but I made an exception. So delicious! We spent most of the day going through all of the casinos including the Grand Lisboa, Wynn, and MGM Grand. The ruins of St. Paul, iconic in Macau, was also a neat photo-op, but aside from a quick look and a photo, this tourist attraction is a really quick one.

For our final day in Hong Kong, Kevin and I spent some time on our own and went back to Stanley to do some more shopping. We also enjoyed tea that evening at the JW Marriott on the Executive Floor (thanks for the access, Rich!).

Hong Kong was more than I ever expected it to be. I loved it. It was so beautiful, modern and clean! Isn’t it funny that when we make assumptions about a place before experiencing them, they are usually wrong? I had no idea an Asian city could be so Western. I could see myself living in Hong Kong someday, and I will CERTAINLY go back. Kevin and I are so grateful to his mom and dad for this amazing trip – what a priceless memory for all of us.

Munich, Germany

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Before the trip, I was so jazzed about Dublin and Salzburg, I didn’t have many expectations for Munich. It wasn’t a city “on my list,” but Kevin wanted to check it out, so I went with the flow. When Munich turned out to be totally awesome, it was a pleasant surprise! We were only in town for two days, so I would go back in a heartbeat to visit again. If you are a beer drinker, this city is for you!

We stayed at the Mercure Hotel Muenchen City Center across the street and down a block from the train station. It was great! It was walking distance from the train, clean, affordable and it had a free mini-bar with drinks and snacks! Plus the staff was SUPER friendly.

Our first stop? The Hofbrauhaus. The beer was delicious, the ambiance was great (the more polka, the better), and the sausage/sauerkraut was awesome!

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After our stop at the Hofbrauhaus, we stopped at the Glockenspiel Clock in the Marienplatz. Since our time in Munich was so short and we had many things we wanted to see, we didn’t have the luxury to be at the clock when it moved. Even without the movement, the Glockenspiel was a really cool stop.

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The next day, we decided to buy another set of Hop On/Hop Off bus passes since we liked them in Dublin so much. We took a guided tour of the city from the top of the double decker and stopped at Nymphenburg Palace and the Olympic Park from the 1972 Games. Without the bus pass, we probably wouldn’t have seen either of these places. Neither location was a “show-stopper” for me, but they were enjoyable. We also spent some time at BMW Welt – again we didn’t have time for a guided tour, but it was fun to sit in some of BMW’s nicest cars and “ride” on some of their motorcycles!

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Our dinner that night was recommended to us by our friend Ryan from Dublin. He said get the Kaese Spaetzle. This dish is basically loaded mac and cheese. With an ice cold German beer, it was the most delicious mac and cheese I’ve ever had! If you like lots of cheese and onion, this dish is a must-try!

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Two days was not nearly enough in Munich. I would have liked to stayed for four or five days and done some more touring inside and outside of the city.I cannot wait to explore more of Germany someday – the region of Bavaria will remain on my “favorite places” list.

The Hills are Alive!

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Since I was out of the womb, The Sound of Music has been my favorite movie. Salzburg (because of its iconic Sound of Music Tour) had been #1 on my Bucket List for as long as I can remember. We flew Aer Lingus from Dublin to Munich and then took a train to Salzburg right away. The train ride from Munich to Salzburg was about two hours. The German signs at the train station were pretty difficult to read, especially since neither Kevin or I had any experience with the German language. Luckily, in Munich a lot of folks spoke English, and we could ask. We found less English-speakers in Salzburg.

Upon our arrival in the afternoon, we walked around the Old Town, and I wish we had a hotel located there instead of on the outskirts of the city. We decided to stay outside of Old Town to save a couple of bucks but looking back, it would have been nice to spend the money on staying closer to the historic city center. The little shops and cafes were so much fun to experience at a leisurely pace. One of our favorite parts of our trip to Austria was the outdoor polka festival we stumbled upon downtown that first night! Yummy beer, pretzels the size of your head, and beautiful city scenery…what better?!

One thing to note: everything in the city shuts down by 8PM. What a delight! Kevin and I prefer to get up early and go to bed early anyway, so the Salzburg lifestyle worked just fine for us!

Our second day was the Sound of Music tour.  I am aware that I am a tad over-dramatic and highly emotional, so needless to say tears of joy streamed down my face on the tour. Everything was so just so lovely and wonderful, I will let the pictures speak for themselves. The hills truly are alive.

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One thing to note, is that there are a lot of parts of the movie that were filmed in a studio (such as the inside of the VonTrapp House), so the stops on the tour were the ones filmed on location such as Mirabelle Gardens for the Do Re Mi song. The absolute best part of the tour was going up into the mountains to the town of Fuschl – the views were out of this world.

Kevin and I absolutely loved Salzburg, and we cannot wait to go back.

Luck of the Irish

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Since buying our first house was the #1 priority for the year we got married (2012), we postponed our “European Honeymoon” and went as a two-year anniversary gift to ourselves! We chose three locations for our European Extravaganza: Dublin, Salzburg, and Munich.

Geographically speaking, Salzburg and Munich are only a quick train ride away from one another, so grouping them together made sense, but why Dublin you ask? Well aside from hearing great things about the city, it was WAY cheaper to fly to Dublin than to Germany or Austria. Living in Atlanta flights are usually pretty affordable and convenient due to the large airport, but we always check nearby airports just to see if we can get a better deal. It just so happened that flying out of Chattanooga, Tennessee would save us around $700, so we made the two hour drive to the Chattanooga Airport. For that kind of savings we thought that was a GREAT bargain! (It felt a little silly having a layover in our home city of Atlanta, but more to spend on our trip, right?!)

Because Kevin travels for work, he is used to staying at hotels. I decided to change it up a bit and research some Bed & Breakfasts! He was a little bit nervous about the whole idea at first, but he was a good sport and tried it all the same. We actually had a great experience at the B&B we stayed at. Tinode House  on Drumcondra Road was less than 2 miles from city center. We purchased the Leap Card for the bus system which basically stopped right in front of Tinode House. We used the city buses a lot – they were clean and had free WiFi! I would definitely recommend purchasing the Leap Card. Not only did we have great hosts (thanks Maureen and PJ!), but we also had a private bathroom and a full Irish breakfast each morning!

For our first full day on the Emerald Isle, we decided to purchase the Hop On/Hop Off Bus Tour. Another fantastic idea! Since we were wanting to see the tourist-y things, it was perfect and stopped everywhere we wanted to go and then some! It costed about 20 Euro for the day. It was different than the Leap Card because it only stopped at about 30 tourist destinations whereas the Leap Card we purchased was for the city buses.

Above: Tinode House (left), Hop On/Hop Off Bus (right)

We arrived in Dublin in the late afternoon, so we decided to venture out for dinner. One of our neighbors in Atlanta has a twin brother, Ryan, who lives in Dublin, and we gave him a call and he took us out! Ryan brought us to a local pub called The Black Sheep with craft brews, whiskey, and board games. Later on, we made a stop at the iconic Temple Bar, but Kevin and I certainly preferred the local experience. If you are ever in Dublin, check out The Black Sheep – what a blast! Looking back, it was one of our favorite parts of the trip.

Above: The Black Sheep (left), Temple Bar (right)

Guinness was our first stop on day 2! While they don’t let you inside the REAL brewery, they provide a museum-like experience with interactive activities including learning how to pour a Guinness properly, a tasting room, and some neat displays on the brewing process. We spent about three hours there.

After a nice little buzz, we went on to some other attractions in the city such as Trinity College and Christ Church Cathedral. The Trinity Library was hands-down my favorite site in Dublin. The rain was kind of a bummer, but expect that in Ireland and bring an umbrella – we were certainly glad we had ours! Our last stop of the day was an unplanned excursion: Kilmainham Gaol (a former prison). I had never heard about this place until the guide on the bus tour mentioned it, so Kevin and I decided to “hop off” and check it out. We spent about two hours on a guided tour of the jail learning about the history of the 1916 Easter Rising. This attraction was another trip highlight and recommended for those who enjoy history. We went to the Chilli Banana near our B & B for dinner and had a delightful Thai meal. I had already done fish and chips twice, so I needed something different!

For our final day in Ireland, we decided to use our Leap Cards to go outside of the city to the town of Howth. It was a 40 minute bus ride, so technically Howth is considered a suburb of Dublin. Our B&B owner recommended this town to us, so we decided to try it out. What a lovely day by the sea! When I imagined Ireland before our trip, Howth was what I pictured in my head. It was a quaint village with some restaurants and beautiful views! It could be a half day trip, so plan some time in your schedule to visit!

Above: Howth, Ireland

All in all, I think three days was plenty to see Dublin. We did not get the opportunity to see some other cities in Ireland like Cork or Galway, but maybe someday!

Sweet Home, Chicago

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My husband Kevin and I both grew up in Chicagoland. His parents have recently relocated to Hilton Head Island, South Carolina (a post about THAT is in the works!), but my parents still live in the ‘burbs. The city of Chicago will always be a place we visit when we’re home for the holidays.

For a Christmas gift to ourselves, Kevin booked a night at the Palmer House Hilton on Monroe Street the day after Christmas. The price was EXTREMELY reasonable (around $140 for the night), and because Kevin is a Gold Member at Hilton (he does a lot of travel for work) we were upgraded to the Executive Floor. Basically the Executive Floor has a private elevator and breakfast, appetizers, and drinks are provided at no extra cost for Executive Level guests. I know, fancy schmancy.

The Palmer House is STUNNING. It is old, but that is part of its charm. The service is excellent, and it is in a great location. We will stay at the Palmer House again.palmer

Above: The famous peacock elevator at the Palmer House Hilton

For dinner that evening, Kevin and I went to Eataly. Eataly Chicago opened a few months ago on East Ohio Street. It is a 2-story Italian market with wine (for drinking and for purchasing bottles), groceries, bistro-type restaurants, gelato and even a Nutella bar! It was pretty crowded, but if you don’t mind crowds and some lines it was a unique experience to have downtown.

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After eating some meat, cheese, fresh-baked bread, and gelato (of course!) we went to Howl at the Moon, a dueling piano bar on West Hubbard Street. If you like live entertainment, cheesy music, and mixed drinks this is DEFINITELY the place to go. Yes, it’s highly commercial and drinks are a bit overpriced, but I enjoyed myself.

The next morning we checked out and walked around on Michigan Avenue (right around the corner from the Palmer House), shopped and checked out the Christmas displays that were still up. It isn’t as fun after Christmas is over. For those of you who have never spent Christmastime in NYC or Chicago, window shopping in the city IS a big deal.

All in all, this was a great little getaway for native Chicagoans. We’re going to try to make it back for a night next year!

California Part Deux

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To celebrate our 1st anniversary, Kevin and I decided to use our soon-to-expire Delta miles to take a trip to one of our favorite destinations: wine country!

We didn’t waste any time getting to Napa for a 3-day stay, and we had a blast visiting some of our old favorites: Jacuzzi Family Vineyards (Sonoma), Andretti Winery (Napa), and Silverado Vineyards (Napa).

Some new favorites were Mumm (bring on the bubbly!!!!!), Domaine Chandon, and Chateau Montelena. Hollywood turned Chateau Montelena’s story into a movie starting Chris Pine called Bottleshock. For those of you who love wine and haven’t seen it – you should definitely check it out. Their award-winning Chardonnay is nectar of the gods…and I’m a Cab Sav kind of gal.

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Chateau Montelena

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Bubbly at Mumm

Our last day in the valley, we decided to spend a leisurely morning downtown Sonoma.  We had a delicious breakfast of bread and cheese at the Sunflower Caffe, and we shopped at the quaint boutiques we fell in love with last year.

Sunflower Caffe (Sonoma)

Sunflower Caffe (Sonoma)

After Napa, we spent a night at the Hilton Union Square in San Francisco. Chinatown & the Golden Gate Bridge are always a must-see, and the Tonga Room is always a must-do (see my previous post from June/July 2012). But this trip, our experience in San Francisco was quite unique because it was Gay Pride. Not only was Pride the weekend we were in town, but it was just days after gay marriage was legalized in California. The city was ELECTRIC, and so much love was reverberating through San Francisco. Attending the Gay Pride Parade at such a historical time in the fight for equality, was one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen. Happy tears were streaming down my face for the thousands of people who were able to marry the loves of their lives that weekend. It was truly beautiful.

Napa 2013 082

SF Pride 2013

I will ALWAYS want to be in California. The city by the bay and wine country hold so many wonderful memories for Kevin and I, and our visits have been highlights of our marriage (so far). We will go back as soon as we can! (after some new adventures, that is!)