Takin’ It Slow in “The Big Easy”

I’ve never been the type of person who has a singular, large group of friends (think How I Met Your Mother, Friends, or any sitcom for that matter). For the longest time I thought that was a bad thing, but I have always been blessed and grateful that I have close friendships from travel and work-related adventures (see a previous post with this same sentiment). I’m an “introverted, extrovert” who values my quality time with one or two people more than big groups of people, even as an ENFJ. And one of those friends I have gotten to know over the years is Jes.

Jes and I worked together during the pandemic (fall 2020 through spring 2021 to be exact), but never met in person until July, 2021. I decided to part ways with the company, move to Chicago and start something new; as much as this was the right thing to do at the time, knowing that I wouldn’t be in Asheville with Jes, Carolina and the other amazing women I met at The Pritchett Company was difficult to grasp. I HAD to visit Asheville and meet Jes in person, something that felt long overdue.

Jes (left), Carolina (right) and I (middle) in Asheville, North Carolina (July, 2021)

Jes and I planned a somewhat spontaneous trip to New Orleans (NOLA) a few weeks ago, and we had such a fun, easygoing weekend here in The Big Easy. Between the snowy weather and mechanical issues at O’hare in Chicago on Friday morning and the delays heading home last night, here were some of my favorite aspects of our time together.

Ghost and Cemetery Tours

As lovers of all-things haunted, Jes and I signed up for a walking ghost tour and a cemetery bus tour to end each night in NOLA. On Friday, we strolled through the French Quarter and we learned about all the haunted, ghost-infested sights from NOLA’s beginning to Marie Laveau‘s voodoo presence to Nicholas Cage’s drunken shenanigans—resulting in him getting kicked out of the city for good. Some of the most disturbing stories involved children dying of yellow fever and throwing themselves out of buildings, and how horribly slaves were treated. If you like spooky minus the graphic detail, I recommend a bus tour instead of a walking tour.

Pro tip: Go earlier in the night if you want more history than “fun.” A lot of tipsy folks will be on the later tours, and it can take away from the seriousness of NOLA’s haunted history!

Pro tip II: Get your palms or cards read! Jes and I did this and had a great time, learning something new along the way. Just make sure you go to a reputable place.

Art

Whether we were in the city centre, Congo Square or our tattoo studio on Magazine Street, Jes and I greatly appreciated the art as we strolled each afternoon. There is such a unique vibrant art scene in New Orleans that I appreciated very much. If you ever have some time to kill between activities, especially on a nice, sunny day, please take your time and get to know the local artists. Jes actually closed on a house Friday morning, which was the perfect excuse to buy new pieces!

Not only did we get artwork for ourselves, we also had some artwork done on ourselves…

Pro tip: Avoid tourist traps at all costs! You won’t get the authenticity and personality in your gifts from a “Made in China” shop. Artists will charge more for their time and brand, but it’s SO worth it.

Jazz Music

As a Detroit native and longtime lover of jazz, this was a must for my time in NOLA. We found a lowkey, casual absinthe bar (a plus!) and had to check it out. Jes and I each enjoyed a cocktail and swayed to the music before heading out on one of our tours. Boy did this make me miss Detroit!

Pro tip: Even if you don’t like jazz or want to carve time out for it per se, you can always pop into a dive bar, grab a drink and some bar food, and enjoy yourself for a song or two.

People Watching

^two truest words ever spoken about this city. My definition of a “wild night out” is three drinks and in bed by midnight. Some of the tourists here go HARD, and it shows even while waltzing down Bourbon Street. Even though we felt out of place, it’s worth a stroll and some snaps.

Pro tip: Please don’t be an idiot. Wear your mask.

There is truly something for everyone in The Big Easy. The food, energy and charm are truly one of a kind, and even if you’re a Midwesterner like myself, I highly recommend this southern city! I can’t wait for my next girls weekend with Jes 😀

Photos and videos taken Friday, January 28 – Sunday, January 30

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 🙂

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… 🙂

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.

I absolutely loved Lisbon!

My vacation in Portugal came at a weird time: we were about to move out of state, my role suddenly became busier at work and certain relationships remained in a strange place. Despite the chaos that was September and some mishaps while traveling, I was very excited to go on an international adventure again. My last trip outside the US was in 2019 when Juan and I explored Ecuador and Chile together, and I appreciated every moment of my time in Europe.

After a full day of train rides and an overnight flight from Chicago to Toronto and finally Lisbon, my friend Dani and I arrived first thing in the morning. Our incredibly gracious Airbnb host, Sarah, picked us up from the airport and gave us a brief tour of the city. She even offered to stop for some amazing views and took a few photos of us. Although we were both exhausted and I seriously wanted to put some makeup on, this was such a kind gesture and these are some of my favorite photos from the trip.

Prior to our check in at Sarah’s Airbnb, Dani and I stored our luggage at her laundromat and shared a lovely afternoon in the city center. We admired the cobblestone streets, winding roads, quintessential Portuguese architecture and laid back demeanor of the locals. Dani and I sat in the park on the grass – and soaked up some sun and good conversation. As simple as this moment sounds, it was probably one of my favorite memories from our girls trip. We shared some laughs and enjoyed beautiful landscapes and playful dogs around us… until a dog who was chained to a chair took off, was running in circles with the chair behind him, and headed toward us! Dani was unfortunately in the chair’s direction, and was hit in the side! I can’t even begin to explain how or why this happened, but this would only happen to her. Despite this “incident” for the lack of a better word, we laughed and it became one of many inside jokes from our vacation.

Late afternoon was filled with some logistics: heading to the Airbnb, receiving the luggage from Sarah’s husband, unpacking and freshening up before dinner. Taking that first shower made me feel like a new person, and I was ready to take on the evening. We ventured back into the city center at a slightly slower pace than we anticipated; one of our bus drivers didn’t stop for us when we were at the stop! Travel mishaps like this are supposed to happen, and that’s when you laugh it off and enjoy the slower pace that is Europe – something I’ve been craving for a very long time.

Our first dinner in Lisboa was spent outside at smaller, cute tables with some cocktails and Latin food. I had a wonderful pisco sour and some vegan tacos. Although messy, they were SO worth it. Dinners are served later and slower in Europe, but I actually prefer meals that way, so I soaked it in and felt right at home. Dani and I strolled around and saw some fun street performers and other diners smiling, living in the moment. We took a bus and walked back to our Airbnb, had some difficulty with our door and asked some neighbors for help and were excited for the rest of our time together.

Photos taken Friday, September 17, 2021

Swanky Speakeasy

One if my favorite spots in my tiny hometown of Fenton, Michigan is the Relief and Resource Co. – a speakeasy with amazing cocktails, great eats and superb service. The ambiance and artwork are bar none! My friend Donna and I enjoyed gin cocktails and charcuterie here this week, and had a wonderful time per usual.

The only thing that would’ve made it better is if Linley could’ve joined us 😌

Photos taken August 31, 2021

August Gratitude

August was, admittedly, a month full of turbulence, and was my last full month in Michigan. Despite all of this, there’s always light in the darkness. Here are some highlights that made me smile 😌

August 1 – kayaking, hiking and dining in Ann Arbor with Juan and Linley

Hiking at Gallup Park

August 2 – dinner and hot coco with my favorite cousin who visited from New York

Reunited with Katy

August 3 – an evening on the lake with one of my best friends

August 4 – Linley enjoying himself at Home Depot (and loving all the attention!)

August 5 – back to Home Depot!

August 6 – a good night with a great friend

August 7 – profound conversations

August 8 – checking out the Chicago home

Wrigleyville here we come!

August 12 – a night out with an old friend, and some new ones

August 13 – meeting Mindy, Tom and Autumn at the dog park

Lin’s favorite spot

August 14 – heading to Detroit’s infamous Eastern Market with one of my best friends, and being a friend’s plus one to the greatest wedding I’ve ever attended

August 15 – lots of small pups for Lin to play with at the dog park

August 18 – Linley getting Bark to School photos taken at camp, and playing with his friends at the dog park (again!)

August 19 – a dear friend taking my late-night phone call, and making my evening brighter

August 20 – a fun night in downtown Detroit

August 21 – Linley finally cooperating for a bike ride

August 22 – an afternoon at Belle Isle and eating ice cream

August 23 – getting to know my friend’s new boyfriend and having a little too much to drink on a Monday evening

August 25 – dinner and drinks with a bestie

August 26 – a best friend being a great listener

August 27 – celebrating Juan’s “big promotion” at our favorite jazz club

August 28 – reuniting with two of my best friends and spending the day together

Gonna miss Rochester Brunch House!

August 29 – family bonding in Ann Arbor

August 30 – seeing Lin run around with his friends at the dog park

August 31 – dinner and drinks at my favorite speakeasy with one of my closest friends

Speakeasy in my hometown

And, Lin was just grumpy all month long 😂

Cliff Bells

With heaviness in my heart, I reminisce about my times at my favorite Detroit jazz club. After moving to the Detroit area a few years ago, Cliff Bells instantly pulled me in with its allure and 1950s Art Deco. Now that we’re moving to Chicago next month, we won’t have the luxury of visiting every so often. I wish I could bring Cliff Bells with us, as selfish as that sounds…

Juan and I almost got married here.

Some of the better moments with my parents were shared over dinner and drinks here.

The best live music I’ve ever heard was played here.

Milestones were celebrated here.

Here, I laughed more than I’ve ever laughed in my life.

Here, I truly felt alive.

How can anywhere else compete with all that this jazz club has given me? Has given us?

I am beyond grateful for this incredible place, and hope to find something similar (not a replacement!) in Chicagoland 🥲