Martin Luther King Jr. Day at The Art Institute of Chicago

Although Martin Luther King Jr. Day is deemed a “company holiday,” this is a day of remembrance of his life and celebration of his contributions—mixed with the harsh reality that we still have a long way to go.

For more inspirational Martin Luther King Jr. quotes, click here.

I felt guilty “celebrating” a day off this year, so instead of binging Succession or some other waspy program of the like, I wanted to further educate myself on black artists and activists by visiting my favorite art museum: The Art Institute of Chicago. The photography exhibit which featured black and LGBTQIA+ community members especially spoke to me; I loved seeing people of all walks of life be their authentic selves and become more prominent in their industries.

And yes, even Kanye is featured at The AIOC!

I believe Martin Luther King Jr. paved the path for other activists in the US and abroad. I originally wanted to say, “I wish there were more people like him,” but a better statement is, “I’m thankful there are more people like him out there!”

I hope to see a world without racism, sexism, homophobia… in my lifetime, it’s unlikely, but I am hopeful that our younger generations will continue to push society in the right direction.

A letter from Norway// Hello 2022!

As 2021 comes to a close, I can’t help but reflect on, arguably, the most difficult year thus far, while also taking inventory on all the good things that have happened during the pandemic. One of those things has been maintaining contact with my family friend in Norway, Kjell.

Sitting with Kjell (Spring, 2016)

Kjell was a foreign exchange student who lived with my mom and her family in high school. He was part of my childhood and early adulthood from afar through handwritten letters, photos and memories exchanged between him and my mom, but I finally had the opportunity to stay with Kjell in 2016. Those two weeks with his family in Askoy, Norway (near Bergen) has as much impact on me now as it did then.

Here are some of the highlights from my time with Kjell:

Despite the fact that we’ve switched our channel of correspondence from handwritten notes to email, Kjell and I have kept up with regular check-ins and photo sharing! He recently wrote me, shared some family updates and of course, beautiful photos of Norway.

Our fishing spot in 2016 🥲

I wish all of you a happy new year, and wish you continued travel and adventures with friends in 2022 🙂

Chicago Architectural Tour

Last month, Juan and I joined some tourists (mainly fellow Michiganders) on an architectural boat tour of our ‘new home.’ We already knew the true meaning of why Chicago was named “the windy city” but wanted to learn more about the beautiful buildings surrounding us—as well as other quips!

For starters, there are a few prevalent styles of architecture found in the city, including but not limited to: art deco, Chicago school, post-modern and gothic revival. As much as I love art deco, the other styles complement my fav 1950s vintage incredibly well. It’s also important to note some of the most famous architects in the city: Boyington (Chicago Water Tower), Frank Lloyd Wright (various redesigns downtown) and the infamous architects from Studio Gang (St. Regis). If you’re in the Chicago area as a resident or visitor, I highly recommend going on this tour.

I especially love and admire Jeanne Gang, the designer of Chicago’s Aqua Tower. Born in 1964, she was first widely recognized for this building, the second tallest woman-designed building in the world. Aqua was recently surpassed in 2021 by the nearby St. Regis Chicago, also of her design. Gang is one of Chicago’s most prominent architects of her generation—as her projects have been widely awarded. How cool!

Photos taken Saturday, November 13, 2021

Last Day in Lisbon

Tuesday, September 21 was our last day in Portugal, for differing reasons. Dani was leaving for Italy in the afternoon to see someone on the Amalfi Coast, whereas I was flying back to Michigan to finalize packing before moving to Chicago. Our experiences leaving Portugal couldn’t have been more opposite—which I will get to later…

After a not-so-great night of sleep, I was feeling tired yet excited to check out Boca do Inferno: beautiful cliff dwellings and and scenic views in Cascais. I had to check them out before heading home. A cave had been formed from the crashing waves, so as you may imagine, the ocean air and sun on my face felt refreshing after a restless night. We saw individuals, couples and groups of friends hanging out on the rocks, taking photos, laughing together and even fishing! This instantly brought me back to fishing with Kjell, a family friend from Norway, five years ago in Bergen.

The rest of my day went downhill from there (notice I said ‘my’ day and not ‘our’ day). On our late morning train back to Lisbon, I wanted to check in for my flight. I never received an email, which was odd because my flight was in less than 24 hours. I checked my email, airline website AND the Lisbon airport site to find that some of my flights – including Lisbon to London and London to Montréal – had been cancelled. Instead of parting ways with Dani and enjoying a relaxing, solo afternoon in Lisbon, I had to say goodbye at the airport and figure out how the heck I was going to get home. After a realization that this was out of my control and I had to get home ASAP to pack and move, I had to purchase an entirely separate flight home from my phone at the airport—luckily taking me from Lisbon to Paris, directly to Detroit. Near-panic tears and $600 later, I decided to “shake it off” and enjoy my last evening in Lisbon.

Once my sweaty hike to the Airbnb concluded, I was able to enjoy how cute the apartment was. I sent some videos to my friends – both of the apartment and of my sweaty, exhausted self – before taking a shower and heading out for the evening. I enjoyed some street art on my way to find food, wandered into a local cork shop, and even got hit on during my walk to dinner—and trust me, that never happens! I found myself back where Dani and I were the night we met Julian and Max, and I immediately felt nostalgic. I nursed a Coca Cola with lime, some fries and a caprese salad as I watched the sun set over beautiful Lisbon and our European adventure.

Even writing this now is difficult because things have been hard… But that last night taught me to find the positive in every situation, to enjoy doing things solo again, and to let go of what isn’t in my control. Until next time 😉

Photos taken Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Craving Cascais

Cascais, one of Portugal’s most beautiful beach towns, was a must-visit on our week-long adventure. Although Lisbon was my favorite of the three cities, Dani and I were craving the sun, sand and sea that Portugal had to offer.

After an exhausting morning of travel mishaps, we were ready to do absolutely nothing on the beach. We walked down beautiful winding roads toward the shore, where there were tons of authentic restaurants and tourist traps ready to be explored. Past that was a smaller, somewhat crowded beach, but we found a secluded spot to lay our towels and our heads for a little while.

I can’t tell you how refreshing it was to hear the sounds of the water crashing on the cliffs around us, people speaking different languages again and feeling the sun on my cheeks (cheeks on my face that is — it wasn’t “that” kind of beach!) 😂

Dani wanted time to herself, but I wanted to eventually get in the water. It was cold, refreshing and was exactly what I needed. Ever since I was a little kid, I loved the cold water because it gave me an instant rush and felt like comforting bath water after a little while. I’m not sure if it gives me a “nostalgic” feeling per se, but being in the water is my happy place. Dani woke up and took some candid photos — which is normally a cringeworthy idea for me — but I felt good about myself and figured I should embrace the feelings I had that day.

Although I was soaking wet, we had a lovely dinner at a nearby Indian restaurant. It was nice to sit and talk about absolutely nothing as we enjoyed some spicy food. Soon afterward we wandered around and explored some cute shops, including a gelato place we were aiming to check out on our way back. The sunset was too good to miss, and we even met some Swedish women with the most adorable dog — instantly bringing me back to my study abroad days. All in all this was the most relaxing, peaceful evening of the trip, which was much needed for both of us. We shared some laughs, grabbed some gelato and moseyed our way back to the apartment.

Little did I know my entire trip home was about to change. I had a COVID test-related scare based on my airline and it honestly put me in a spiral. I had to call Juan and everything… foreshadowing to what was probably my worst travel experience to date. But in the spirit of positivity, everything worked out the way it was supposed to, and I was able to calm myself down to enjoy my last evening with Dani.

I was deeply saddened that Dani wouldn’t be spending the last night back in Lisbon with me, but I did enjoy the time we had together. It was a great vacation full of culture, exploration, getting lost together and meeting the coolest strangers-turned-friends along the way ☺️

Photos taken Monday, September 20, 2021

A bumpy ride from Sintra to Cascais

One of the pains of international travel are all of the “twists” you encounter: things don’t go according to plan, circumstances change… but it’s also one of the unexpected joys of being somewhere new! Adapting to changes and allowing yourself to be so immersed that you’re flexible and shrug it off is going to pay off in the end ☺️

Once Dani and I had nasal swabs stuck up our noses, we checked out of our charming AirBnB and started our journey to Cascais–a lovely beach town on the coast of the Pacific Ocean.

Although our tests went smoothly, the journey to breakfast didn’t. Our driver was very touchy on the breaks, and in tandem with the windy roads, Dani was a little car sick. We chose to grab a quick bite to eat in the fresh air with a stunning view. And to add even more to our “off” morning, it took us forever to grab a bus from Sintra to Cascais, and when we finally arrived in the mid-afternoon, we were both feeling a little woozy.

Breakfast with a view

As we freshened up and got settled in the city center, we called an Uber to drop our bags and change into our bathing suits at the AirBnB. Our driver was one of the nicest I’ve met, and even got out of the car to ask someone in a café where our building was located in the complex and carried Dani’s luggage up to our door. The elevators in the building were semi-broken, and the apartment itself was… bare bones to say the very least. Our host even made us leave four euro in her mailbox as a COVID tax–something the other hosts didn’t even mention or require of us.

Our “beach resort” AirBnB

All of these bizarre turns irritated both of us, but we handled it in very different ways; Dani was more “put off” than I was, and I tried to shake it off and make the most of our beach day. We strolled downhill toward the coast for about 15 or 20 minutes, and the rest of our afternoon and evening was one of the most relaxing we had the entire trip. Stay tuned… 🙂

Third Anniversary

Nine years of knowing each other, eight years of schooling combined, seven job changes total, six states visited, five countries together, four years in Saginaw, three years of marriage, two homes and one cute pup!

Spellbinding Sintra (Part II)

I haven’t been writing for a while, mostly because I haven’t felt like myself for some time now — but I’m back at it!

Dani and I got ready to Britney Spears before we ventured off to the National Palace of Pena, arguably the most famous palace in all of Portugal. Little did we know that our efforts to beautify ourselves would be ruined by the uphill treks, gusting wind and eventual tuk tuk ride up to the park entrance. I enjoyed the tuk tuk very much, because this was how I frequently got around in Thailand, and I instantly felt a rush of nostalgia.

The park itself was beautiful, and was full of over 80 species of trees, plants and shrubbery. Seeing Asian, African and North American trees in one shot deems this the prettiest arboretum…

The winding path up to the palace was just as breathtaking as the structure itself. This was Dani’s first castle experience, and although this may seem like a dumb analogy, I would assume this is how parents feel when they see things through their child’s eyes again. I had a similar enthusiasm as I did when I saw castles in Germany and France for the first time, which I appreciated and needed immensely.

As my beloved travel guru Rick Steves always says, the architecture means nothing without the history and greater context of the era. To keep it short and sweet: the Palace de Pena embodies the quintessential art of Portugal’s 19th-century Romanticist period (in other words, this would be perfect for a romantic afternoon or evening)! Even the gardens and and park surrounding the palace are historic in their own right. Everything about this magnificent place screams imagination and whimsy. The palace was inhabited by a variety of royalty, by death, remarriage and other circumstances, which inevitably led to the additional romantic aesthetics of the national park today. For more history and specifics, feel free to visit their official website.

After a quick pickpocketing scare, we grabbed a cab and received a great, local dinner recommendation from our driver. We enjoyed port wine, warm meals and some of the best chocolate mousse we’ve ever tasted. One thing that I love about dining in Europe is the slower pace, and I’m grateful that some of my favorite spots in the US have adopted this way of operating as well.

Once we finished up our meal, we walked around the corner back to our Airbnb, played dominos and went to bed early because we had another big day ahead…

Photos taken Sunday, September 19, 2021

Spellbinding Sintra (Part I)

Lisbon was a wonderful city, but it was time to move on and explore more of Portugal. Sintra, which is a relatively quick train or bus ride away, was our next destination on our girls trip. Dani and I (mostly me!) were a little hungover from the night before, but it was so worth it. We slowly got around, packed up a little bit, sent a good morning photo to our new friends Max and Julian, then ventured in the city center to find some breakfast. Our original plan was to grab a “traditional American breakfast” consisting of more than pastries, but they were packed – which is to be expected. Plan B was still great because we had some great beverages and a big, filling breakfast. The best part? We saw the most adorable dogs walking by! How much better could it get?

After breakfast, we checked out of our favorite Airbnb and headed to the train station. Something about the train station in Lisbon reminded me of my first out-of-country travel experience: Hamburg, Germany in 2012. It was a very deja vu moment, but it sent me into nostalgia and comfort. Dani and I sat on the ground and talked about some of our favorite TV shows as we waited for the first train to Sintra. Maybe it’s all the train rides between Michigan and Chicago, Illinois when I was a kid, but I’ve always loved the train and it’s my favorite way to travel. We boarded the train early, got settled in, and arrived in Sintra about an hour afterward. Downtown Sintra was so cute and we were gushing at how adorable the city was. Dani lost her train ticket, which we needed to exit the station, so we both had to book it through one, timed gate with her luggage and mine. She went ahead of me and we booked it, but the gate automatically closed on my backpack! Thank goodness it didn’t crush me because that would’ve hurt!

Once we arrived to our next Airbnb, we were truly in awe. It looked like a mini castle! The architecture was stunning, the flowers and greenery around the yard were adorable and we instantly felt like we were in a quaint, English countryside home. The inside was also decorated with nice bedding and unique designs accompanied by a map where we could pin our home locations and a guest book to sign. Dani and I had been sharing a bed during our nights in Lisbon, and it was weird to have two separate bedrooms this time! But it was also nice because we had a lot of room for each of us to freshen up, jam out to some Britney Spears (#freebritney) and put on some dresses to visit the castle.

Stay tuned for castle photos, history and anecdotes!

Photos taken on Sunday, September 19, 2021

Enjoyed Lisbon a little longer

The blessing for someone like me is that travel plans can always change – oftentimes for the better. When traveling, especially internationally, adaptability and spontaneity are crucial when you want to have a good time. Luckily, Sarah (our Airbnb host) picked us up and allowed us to store our luggage in her laundromat, and shared that we needed to scrap our day two plans, and stay in Lisbon another night. Dani and I quickly agreed that was the right move to make, so I quickly cancelled our Airbnb in Obidos and booked another night in central Lisboa. All I have to say is that Sarah is an incredibly kind, adventurous soul and more people need to be like her!

Once we dropped our luggage, we grabbed a quick bite and wandered to the flea market – the largest one I’ve ever seen (even compared to the one on Le Cours Mirabeau in Aix-en-Provence, France). The vendors were smiling, organizing their stations and even creating art on-demand. Dani and I fell in love with these gorgeous dresses: hers was long, navy and a unique brown/rust color, and mine was a burgundy/purple masterpiece. We obviously had to buy them! Rather than the typical “tourist traps,” try finding places like this because you’ll come home with the most authentic gifts – for you and your loved ones.

After meandering the cobblestone streets of central Lisbon, we ventured to the sea for some air and a great view. We walked along the ocean on a walking and bike path to a cute glass pop-up restaurant for some chips and guac before we had to meet our next Airbnb host. Little did we know that our next Airbnb would be the best, most amazing one I’ve probably ever stayed in – especially considering how last-minute it was. Kids, sometimes it pays to travel without a plan!

All I can say is… wow. THIS place was truly perfect. The view. The space. The furniture. The central location. The surrounding architecture. The sounds of the people and the city. It was *perfection.* We were like little kids on Christmas morning! Dani and I relaxed, took photos on the balcony, and even walked around all the rooms to admire our amazing, rare find (and dare I say channeled our inner photographers and models!).

Little did we know our time in Lisbon would only get better…

Despite the fact that we wanted to keep soaking in the sun and wonderful views from Carlos’s apartment, we dressed up and got ready for an evening stroll and one of the best dinners of my life (no exaggeration!). We dined at a local hotspot (shout-out to Sarah for the great recommendation) where we could see a beautiful sunset on the ocean. I chowed down on some sweet potato, beets and zucchini with arugula salad (and fries!) and enjoyed a dry, red, full-bodied Portuguese wine. Dani ordered some dessert, which led us into one of the best nights of our trip.

Two men sitting next to us eyed our dessert and asked what we ordered. Max and Julian, a couple from Germany, immediately fit into our conversation as though the universe wanted us to meet. We told them to slide their table and chairs over, which led to sharing sangria and several hours of laughs and profound conversation. We talked about love, friendship, traveling, and laughed about so many little things in between. Max and Julian truly wanted to get to know us, and vice versa. It was probably my favorite interaction with strangers while traveling that I’ve had in a long time, and maybe ever. It reminded me why I love travel as much as I do (especially solo travel). You never know who you’re going to meet and how much of an impact they’ll have on you 🙂

The four of us didn’t want our night to end, so we headed downstairs for more drinks at the bar. I think Max and I both had about five or six drinks that night, and not did I pay for it the next day! But nevertheless it was worth it. Julian is half Portuguese, making our drink orders significantly less complicated. I wish I lived closer to max and Julian, and hope to see them again sometime. It was around 2:30am when we finally decided to head home. Dani and I strolled back to our Airbnb sad that we had to say goodbye, but blessed to have spent such an incredible evening with even better friends. We talked for another hour or so, sat on the patio to soak in the sounds of Lisbon at night, and went straight to bed.