Life, Uncategorized

Back in the US of A

August 18, 2016
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Almost two months ago Adam and I were in Tokyo. For the last 54 days, we’ve been adjusting to life back in the US and life back in a city where we both grew up. Here’s what’s been going on in my neck of the woods since we’ve been back:

Quality family time

The vast majority of our social time has been spent hanging out with family. I guess we’re catching up on those eight years that we were gone. It has been really nice to be able to hang out at a more relaxed pace. I’ve been used to those weekends when we travel home and try and fit in as many things as possible before a 10-hour car ride back to Charleston. Now it’s nice to be able to swing by my parents on a Tuesday morning for breakfast without feeling like we’re rushing to get out the door.

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Enjoying some of Adam’s famous homemade pizza

Looking for a place to live

We’re currently living at Adam’s mom’s while looking for a more permanent residence. It has been beyond nice and convenient to be able to stay somewhere comfortable immediately after coming back from our trip. However, it’s not a permanent situation. As much as I love my current roommates, plus their dogs, we need to eventually find our own space. We’ve currently on the house buying route and if all goes according to plan, I’ll have some fun updates to share soon.

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That one time we dressed up for a friend’s wedding

Rediscovering our hometown

The last time I lived full time in Cincinnati was right when I graduated high school. Cincinnati has changed immensely in those 13 (!!!) years. There are so many new restaurants, parks, breweries, shops, and bars to check out. Neighborhoods that I might not have visited during high school have become completely revitalized. I’ve loved seeing the downtown develop into a gathering place and really look forward to exploring new spots and rediscovering hidden gems.

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Playing spectator at an FC Cincinnati game

Adjusting to a new work/life balance

In this new chapter, Adam and I are both working from home. Since we’re not in our permanent living situation yet, everything is fluid and changing. I’m slowly figuring out what “at home” or outside work location works best for me. I don’t know if that’s setting up a full office in our new place or finding a nice coffee shop to work from for a few hours every day. I’m also working on defining what my “business” hours are. Finding that balance between work time and leisure time is a new challenge since I’m freelancing and have started my own floral design business.

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With my mom and brother after lunch at Findley Market

While there are a lot of adjustments happening, our day to day life has been pretty slow paced. I think it’s exactly what we needed after a wild trip and big move from Charleston. Cheers to new adventures!

Travel

Photo of the Week: Trekking in Sapa, Vietnam

June 15, 2016
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Oh yikes. I’m way behind on this blog. The last few weeks have been pretty go, go, go. The fast-paced travel life doesn’t translate well to writing detailed blog posts. In the last four weeks we’ve been to Malaysia, Cambodia, Hong Kong, and Vietnam. We’re about to wrap up the Vietnam portion of our trip in two days and then we close our entire backpacking journey in Tokyo. In t minus ten days I’ll be back in the good ole U S of A. Crazy.

The photo above is from a couple days ago in Sapa, Vietnam. Sapa is a mountain town that’s about an eight hour train ride from Hanoi in Northwest Vietnam. We hired a local Black H’mong woman from a village right outside of Sapa to lead us on a trek during our stay. It was an incredible day. We hiked through gorgeous rice paddy covered mountains, visited several minority villages, and had a homemade lunch at our guide’s auntie’s home.

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We’re reaching the point in our trip where we’re starting to plan our life back home. Unfortunately, we can’t backpack forever. We have to be real adults again. In case you aren’t my Facebook or Instagram friend, I have some news; I’ve launched my own floral design business, Surcee Florals. If you know of anyone looking for a wedding florist in the Cincinnati area, I’d love a referral.

I’m hoping to be back to a regular blogging schedule soon – but in the meantime, follow me on Snapchat (@carlymessmer) or Instagram (@carlymessmer) for the best real-time updates.

Travel

Photo of the Week: Angkor Wat

May 31, 2016
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Exploring Angkor Wat in Cambodia

Today’s our anniversary! Crazy! We keep calling it our wedding’s second birthday. To celebrate, I’m eating as much dim sum as my little heart can take. Bring on the dumplings.

We’re currently in Hong Kong, in the middle of our 5 countries in two weeks tour. Since we left Thailand we spent a night in Kuala Lumpur, four in Cambodia, are in the middle of our four in Hong Kong and then in two days we take off for Vietnam. I feel like I’m experiencing a different type of culture shock every couple days.

Destinations, Thailand, Travel

Photo of the Week: Elephant Nature Park

May 23, 2016

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From my personal Facebook account this week:

For the past week we’ve been volunteering at Elephant Nature Park in Northern Thailand. Our duties have included prepping elephant food, planting trees, cleaning up elephant poo, cutting grass and corn, and bathing the elephants.

Most all of the elephants at this park have been rescued from the logging and tourism industries. These elephants have been physically and mentally abused for most of their lives. Elephant Nature Park provides the sanctuary and rehabilitation services for these elephants to “retire” and live the rest of their time with dignity.

Last night we had the pleasure of hearing Lek, the founder of ENP, speak with incredible passion and drive to help spread awareness of elephant abuse.

As my plea, I just ask that before participating in elephant tourism (rides, circus, even simply paying to feed the elephant) research and vet the company that you’re about to hand your money over to. Ask yourself whether the activity benefits the animal’s welfare. After spending a week observing the elephants in a near-natural environment, I can tell you it’s incredible to see these magnificent creatures living amongst their families without pressure to ever perform.

Lek and her team have done an amazing job at ENP. I highly encourage everyone to check out their website (elephantnaturepark.org) to learn more.

Destinations, Food, Thailand, Travel

Our Experience with Thai Farm Cooking School

May 16, 2016
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One of the activities I was most excited to take part in while in Thailand was participating in a Thai cooking class. I wanted to learn more about Thai food and expand my obsession beyond Pad See Ew and Pad Thai.

We learned the importance of Trip Advisor and other third-party reviews pretty quickly in Thailand. There are a lot of “tour agencies” all around Thailand and they help you book activities, trips, and transportation. These companies are extremely convenient because they book everything from start to finish for you (including transportation), but there isn’t really a lot of information on the reviews and feedback of the tours that are offered.

We learned this the hard way after booking a snorkeling tour in southern Thailand only to find that almost all of the reviews were extremely negative. Since we don’t have cellular data (WIFI only) we weren’t able to vouch the company before booking the tour. This isn’t to say that every tour the companies sell are negative, it’s just that you really need to find independent verifiers. We only made this mistake once (and ended up switching tours) so while it takes more time, we’re always double-checking companies to ensure they have favorable reviews before booking.

So finding the cooking class was simple; we just chose the best and more frequently reviewed company in Chiang Mai. This brought us to the Thai Farm Cooking School. For about $37USD each we spent a full day with our instructor learning about Thai cuisine, food culture, and how to make popular Thai dishes.

Our day started at 8:30AM with a pick up from our hostel in Chiang Mai. There were nine students in our group under the care of our excellent instructor, Pern. Pern was awesome. She was funny, friendly, warm and helpful – everything you want in a teacher. Before heading to the cooking school, we stopped by a local market to learn more about how Thai people shop for food and learn about ingredients that aren’t as common in the US.

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Once we arrived at the cooking school you could see how serious of an operation this was. Several other classes were going on throughout the farm. I was really impressed by the organization and flow of the entire day.

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Before we started cooking we took a tour of the farm to see how the ingredients we were about to be cooking with actually grew. We saw mangoes, pineapples, cashew nuts, holy basil, eggplant, rice, coconuts and more.

When you sign up for the school you’re able to choose from a selection of dishes that you want to make for each meal. We were all able to pick a curry, soup, a stir-fry, and a noodle dish, and a dessert.

Thai food is based on a mix of five flavors: sour, salty, spicy, sweet and bitter. When balanced correctly these flavors create complex tastes and aromatic meals. The mix of these flavors and balance of the sweet vs. sour and sour vs. salty, bitter vs. spicy, etc., etc., can really change the entire flavor profile of the dish. Throughout the class we would experiment with our sauces to detect the difference in flavor if we added more fish sauce or squeeze more lime juice. Most dishes we made used the same group of ingredients, it was really the preparation and sauce that would completely change the taste of the meal.

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Since most of our class didn’t eat breakfast, we started our day making the soup. The soup didn’t take long at all to make and it was a great starter to satiating our empty bellies. We had the option of either making Tom Yam (a slightly sour soup) or coconut soup (a creamier version of Tom Yam). I went with the traditional Tom Yam but mixed it up a bit with a few teaspoons of coconut milk to give it a creamier base. Adam went all out and made a coconut vegetable soup.

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Tom Yam with Shrimp

INGREDIENTS

1-5 crushed hot chillies
1/2 cup of sliced mushrooms
1 stalk of lemongrass ( slice into 3cm long pieces )
1/4 cup of sliced onion
1/4 cup of sliced galangal
1/4 cup of sliced tomatoes
3 kaffir lime leaves
2 tsp. of lime juice
2 tbsp. of fish sauce or soya sauce
1/2 tsp. of sugar
1/2 tbsp. of shrimp chili paste
2 cups of water
5 shrimps ( take the heads off and keep )
1 tbsp. of chopped spring onion
1 stem of coriander plant
1/4 tsp. of salt
2 leaves of Thai parsley

PREPARATION

Put water in a pot, heat until boiling. Add lemongrass, galangal, shrimp chili paste, shrimp heads and onion. Cook until fragrant. Add tomatoes, shrimp meat and mushrooms. When done, flavor with fish sauce, salt and sugar. Stir thoroughly and finally add lime juice, spring onion, Thai parsley, coriander and lime leaves. If not spicy enough add hot chillies. Serve with rice.

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Our second dish for the day was a curry. I chose red curry with chicken. Before the cooking began, we first had to make our own curry paste.

The before:

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And the after:

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The red curry was one of my favorite dishes of the day. I love how the spicy flavors of the curry work with the creamy and cool coconut milk. It’s refreshing and brings in the heat in tandem. The curry is the dish I’m most looking forward to recreating at home.

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Red Curry with Chicken

INGREDIENTS FOR CURRY PASTE

2-3 red dried chillies ( soak in cold water about 15 minutes before using )
1 tbsp. of chopped shallots
1 tsp. of chopped galangal
1/2 tsp. of chopped kaffir lime rind
1 tsp. of chopped garlic
1 tbsp. of chopped lemongrass
1 tbsp. of chopped krachai ( or ‘Thai ginseng’ )
1/4 tsp. of roasted cumin seeds
1/4 tsp. of roasted coriander seeds
1/4 tsp. of salt ( or 1/2 tsp. of salt if you would like to keep the paste longer )

OTHER INGREDIENTS

1 cup of sliced eggplants ( or other vegetables like cauliflower, broccoli or potato )
1/4 cup of smaller pea-like eggplants ( MAKHEAU PHUANG )
1/3 cup of sliced onion
70 grams of sliced chicken
1 tsp. of sugar
1 tbsp. of fish sauce or soya sauce
3 kaffir lime leaves
2 stems of sweet basil ( HORAPAA )
1 cup of coconut milk
1 cup of water

PREPARATION OF RED CURRY PASTE

Put the ingredients for the curry paste in the mortar. Pound with the pestle until everything is mixed and ground thoroughly. You can also use a blender.

PREPARATION OF RED CURRY

Pour the coconut milk in the pot and turn on to medium heat. Stir until oil appears. Add red curry paste and chicken and stir until almost done. Add your vegetables, water, sugar, fish sauce, salt and turn the heat up. Stir a little. When everything is cooked, put the sweet basil and lime leaves. Serve with rice.

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Posing with my red curry

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To accompany our curries, we also each made a stir-fry dish. I made the fried chicken with basil leaves and Adam made the sweet and sour chicken. I love the smell and taste of holy basil so I was really excited for this dish.

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Chicken with Holy Basil

INGREDIENTS

100 grams of sliced chicken
2 tbsp. of oil ( soya bean oil or palm oil )
5 cloves of crushed garlic
1/3 cup of sliced long beans
2-3 hot chillies
1 cup of holy basil leaves
1 tbsp. of fish sauce
1 tbsp. of oyster sauce
1/2 tsp. of sugar
1/4 cup of sliced onions
3 tbsp. of water

PREPARATION

Pour the oil in the wok on a low heat. When oil is hot, add garlic, onion and chillies. Stir until fragrant. Add chicken and turn the heat up. Stir until well done. Next add long beans, fish sauce, sugar and oyster sauce. Add a little water. Stir together well. When everything done, add basil leaves and stir once again. Serve with rice.

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For our noodle dish, I opted for spring rolls over making Pad Thai. I’ve been eating a decent amount of Pad Thai (and watching a decent amount be made in front of me), so I wanted to try something new.

Also, at this point in the day, our class was starting to feel like zombies. The double curry and stir fry meals made everyone full and loopy. We were starting to all go a little stir crazy. We felt like little kindergarteners that really needed a nap. The spring roll was a little less intense than the Pad Thai, so I was happy to have a brain break.

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Spring Rolls

INGREDIENTS

1 tbsp. of grated carrot
1/2 cup of finely sliced cabbage
1/4 cup of finely sliced onion
1/2 cup of bean sprouts
1/2 cup of glass noodles ( dried glass noodles have to soak in cold water about 15 minutes until soft )
1/4 cup of sliced tofu
1/4 tsp. of salt
1/4 tsp. of pepper
6 spring roll sheets
1 tsp. of soybean oil
1 stem of coriander
1 tsp. of sugar
2 tsp. of soya sauce

INGREDIENTS FOR DIPPING SAUCE

1 red chilli
1 1/2 tsp. of vinegar
2 tbsp. of sugar
1/4 tsp. of salt
1 clove of crushed garlic
1 tsp. of flour
1/3 cup of water

PREPARATION OF SPRINGROLLS

Heat up the oil in the wok. Add tofu, cabbage, onions, carrots, bean sprouts, sugar soya sauce and salt. Stir fry until vegetables are soft and dry. Turn the heat to low. Add glass noodles, coriander and pepper. Stir fry again until mixed well. Set aside to cool.

Take a spring roll sheet and put some filling on it. Fold the sheet over the filling. Roll a bit, then fold the sides in and roll up tightly. Before closing, glue with some mixed egg. Deep-fry the spring rolls until golden brown.

PREPARATION OF DIPPING SAUCE

Crush garlic and chili. Put in a pot together with water, salt, sugar and vinegar. Heat on a low fire to boiling. Mix flour with some water and add to the mixture to make thicker.

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Masterchef Adam!

For dessert we made one of my favorite things in the whole wide world, mango sticky rice. It’s incredible, two months ago I didn’t even know mango sticky rice existed and now, I don’t want to live in a world without it. It really needs to become more popular in the US. It’s so good and delicious and it just makes you happy. Luckily, now I know how to make it if I’m ever hit with a craving.

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Mango Sticky Rice

INGREDIENTS

1 cup of steamed sticky rice
1/2 cup of coconut milk
1 ripe mango ( peel, remove the seed and slice into pieces )
1-2 tbsp. of sugar
1/4 tsp. of salt
1 tbsp. of roasted mung beans

PREPARATION

Put coconut milk, sugar and salt in a pot. Heat until boiling. Turn the heat off. Add steamed sticky rice. Mix together well. Let it cool. Serve with mango and top sticky rice with mung beans.

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Bon appetit!

We really had the best day at the cooking school. It’s up there in the top of my favorite activities while traveling list. It was definitely great to make these classic Thai dishes, but my favorite part was just hanging out with a great group of people and goofing off and learning together.

All recipes via Thai Farm Cooking School

Destinations, Food, Thailand, Travel

Photo of the Week: Enjoying Street Food in Chiang Mai

May 13, 2016

This week has been relaxing. We’ve been in Chiang Mai for a little over two weeks and have crossed most of the tourist “to-do” items off of our checklist. We’re starting our adventure at Elephant Nature Park in a few days and we’re still a little unsure of how physically intense the volunteering will be. So instead of running ourselves ragged around Chiang Mai and showing up to ENP exhausted, we’ve been just hanging out and centering our day around finding food and coffee. It’s been most pleasurable.

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One of my absolute favorite things about Chiang Mai (and Thailand) is enjoying street food. There is something so wonderful about ordering a delicious bowl of freshly made noodles and then posting up at a little table street side to people watch. On top of that, you can also walk over to the nearest 7-11 (there’s always one within a few feet) and grab a beer for about $1USD to accompany your noodles. Heck, sometimes the beer is more expensive than your dinner.

Thailand is a place that assaults all of your senses and my favorite time for that to happen is while slurping down a bowl of noodles.

Travel, Travel Bloggers

Travel Blogger Series: Suzanne from PhilaTravelGirl

May 9, 2016
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Today’s featured blog guest is Suzanne from PhilaTravelGirl. Suzanne’s blog is a great resource for budgeting for your trip. We’re attempting to fly back to the US on rewards points only, so Suzanne’s blog has been a helpful to learn new tricks and tips.

Suzanne is also a Virtuoso affliliate travel advisor so now you can read about her travels and reviews, Being an affiliate, Suzanne can help book similar travels for you. The new site is Arden Road Travel www.ardenroadtravel.com.

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Suzanne with the Fiat500 tour in Florence

How do you stay healthy when you travel?

I try to walk as much as I can, sign up for bike tours and use the stairs whenever it makes sense (definitely on cruise ships but not always on the London Underground). Having a good workout routine at home, Lithe Method, allows me to take a workout break to indulge on the road without much guilt – there are too many great wines and desserts to sample around the world! I divorce my food journal, count zero calories and really enjoy my travels

Any tips to learning more about a culture and meeting locals when you don’t speak the language?

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Antipasti on a private tour of Sorrento in Italy

I’ve hired many private guides to show me the popular and hidden spots in their hometowns. Learning about the food gives you a peek into the culture – In Sorrento, I had a fabulous tasting lunch at a local restaurant, in Split and Lisbon, we stopped roadside to order local sandwiches from the food window. In Lima, I attended a cooking class and made local Peruvian foods (those chefs are miracle workers as my food was actually edible!). Bike Tours, Walking Tours and Behind the Scenes tours are also great options to learn more about a destination.

What’s your favorite thing about traveling?

The ability to escape my bubble at home and reset my mind, body and spirit while exploring the world and learning more about people, culture and myself along the way. I love to meet new people around the world, share stories and return a changed person. Nothing is more relaxing and exciting than a window seat looking out at the clouds, the sunrise or the sunset knowing that my journey is just beginning.

What’s your travel pet peeve?

  • Solo (Single) Supplements – I hate them as they prevent many people from traveling.
  • Gate lice (the hoards of people in the US at the gate trying to get ahead of others to get their bag in the overhead bin)
  • Travelers in Business Class walking in and out of the bathroom with bare feet and then putting their feet on their seat (yuck!)
  • Hotel Check In Times – I hate to wait to get into my room, we need more hotels on a rolling 24/7 check-in/out schedule
  • The $30+ Hotel Breakfast

What’s the most surreal place you’ve ever visited?

Okavango Delta Botswana

Okavango Delta in Botswana

In 2012, I had the amazing opportunity to redeem for award travel to Easter Island in Spring and Africa for a month in Fall. It was a crazy year of surreal experiences. One highlight (of many) was the Okavango Delta in Botswana is where I sat in my mokoro boat guided on the water watching the African sunset and realizing how blessed I was to have the desire to learn more about the world. We had just finished our walking safari tracking animals and I was gliding back through the channels of reeds blowing in the warm wind content that I had found a part of the world unspoiled and still off the grid. They say Africa changes you and for me it definitely did as I started writing about my travels, found a community of travelers around the world I now call friends and gave me the opportunity to start my own business, Arden Road Travel, planning travel for others interested in exploring the world with a side of luxury.

What are some of your “must pack” items? Why?

  • My Nordstrom Tissue Cashmere Scarf – it’s lightweight yet warm and functions as a scarf, blanket or head covering
  • Fleece Pullover – I get cold everywhere including the plane so this is always in my carryon
  • My Snack Bag of Chocolate, Cashews & Cookies – I’ve made many new friends and bribed a few others with chocolate and/or cookies. It’s hard for people to be grumpy when eating chocolate or cookies. The cashews are great snacks but not great bribes.
  • Bags, Bags and More Bags – I generally have a collapsible duffel in my suitcase in case I need to make check in weight on an overseas flight or ship my clothes from one city to another. I have a reusable bag for market treks and my LuLuLemon bag for snacks. These three plus lots of ziploc bags (great for takeaway food, icepacks and jewelry) make me a bit of a bag lady ready for a plethora of situations.
  • Magazines and Books – I prefer to disconnect and catch up on the pile of magazines in the house and read a hardcover/paper book. I can then share them once done with other passengers (it drives me crazy when folks fly with nothing to do but stare ahead for hours), flight crew and others along the way.

What do you use for luggage? Are you team backpack or suitcase?

I’m team “kneel on the suitcase to expel all possible air out to make the checked luggage weight”
Depends on the trip, but usually I have backpack as carryon with the important things (camera, laptop, contact solution/glasses and 1-5 above) and a suitcase as checked luggage.

Any tips for jet lag?

Know your body and what works for you. For travel to Europe on the overnight flights, I will often pay extra for the hotel room the night before to guarantee an early arrival (say 7 a.m.) so I can go to sleep and reset my body. I’m not a fan of sleeping in the lobby waiting for check in time. For Australia, I recently went via Asia and stayed overnight to get sorted on the time zone. It was the first time, I wasn’t down for days due to jet lag. It’s all about a routine – I bring my cookies and snacks (powerbars, cashews, etc.) to keep my stomach on food it knows.

What are your favorite travel apps?

  • WhatsApp
    XE Currency
    TripLingo (language app)
    WordLens (translate menus and other foreign words on screen)
    Your Rights (EU transit rights)

If I visit your country, what’s one meal I can’t miss?

The U.S. has amazing foods by region and cities so there are a plethora of can’t miss meals depending on where you are. For Philadelphia, I enjoy taking visitors to the Reading Terminal Market where they can sample a Cheesesteak, Roasted Pork Sandwich, see the Amish and taste their popular doughnuts made fresh in front of you (the lines are worth it). With vendor stalls throughout the market you can also enjoy Italian cannoli, freshly made chocolate, PA General Store locally made foods and the Sour Cherry Sea Salt Chocolate Chip Cookie from Metropolitan Bakery.

Can you share your favorite hidden treasure (place, food, event) that you found while traveling? I understand if you can’t!

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Gozo in Malta (Azure Window)

  • Paul A Young Chocolates in London – I’m addicted to the Popcorn Pave of Sea Salted Caramel, Chocolate and Popcorn in thin squares
  • The Underground Tour of Street Art in Paris
  • Garry of Longhorn YOUnique Tours in Melbourne – the Great Ocean Road was made even more fabulous with Garry and his homemade treats on a small private tour
  • Malta and the Island of Gozo
  • The Okavango Delta of Botswana

What’s your favorite thing about travel blogging?

I don’t have a ton of readers but it only takes one to say “thank you for writing about x, we went there and loved it” – that’s just such a great feeling to know I helped someone travel. I’ve also connected with travel bloggers around the world who are now friends and great resources.

If you can answer, favorite place to visit?

London, Paris, Sydney, Seattle are on my repeat list

Where is the next place you’re traveling to?

I’m planning on going back to the Toronto International Film Festival in September as I love the movies from around the world. It’s a great showcase to show no matter where we live, what our backgrounds might be, we all strive for the same things – to be happy in our work, to provide for our families and to be loved. No language translation apps needed – the emotional stories are on the screen.

I’m also planning on hopefully taking my mom on her dream trip to Ireland.

Destinations, Thailand, Travel

Photo of the Week: Relive Resort in Chiang Mai

May 6, 2016
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We’ve been in Chiang Mai, a city in Northern Thailand, for the last week and for four of those days we stayed at the most wonderful resort about an hour outside of the city. I found Relive Resort through airbnb and it looked like the perfect place to just get away and be in the country for a few days.

We’ve been in big cities like Bangkok and Singapore for the last couple weeks, so it was a really nice break to finally see some green grass and mountain landscapes.

At Relive we slept in a bamboo hut and ate each and every one of our meals from the resort restaurant. The food was wonderful, the staff was beyond great, and even better – they had two hilarious little puppies at the resort. It was a stress-free few days.

We took one small zip lining adventure while in the mountains, but most of our time was spent relaxing, eating, and for me – reading the Harry Potter series over again. I’m through book three and have no intention of slowing down.

We still have another 11 days in Chiang Mai before our next big adventure at Elephant Nature Park begins and I’m seriously tempted to escape again to Relive Resort. It was that awesome.

Life

Updates from Thailand

May 4, 2016
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Hi, everyone! Today I’m linking up with Jenn and Jessi to share what’s been hap-pinning with me lately.

// We’ve been in Asia for a month! That is crazy to me. You wouldn’t know it from my blog (still working on those New Zealand recaps), but we’ve been in Thailand (and a little bit of Singapore) since April 5th. Wild.

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Oh hey, that’s me right now!

// Thailand has been interesting. I’ll write about the country and days in more detail, but suffice to say nothing is what it seems in Thailand.

// I’ve had one bout of sickness that lasted for about four days, but otherwise I’ve been doing well. Luckily my food poisoning wasn’t terrible. It was mostly inconvenient and a little painful. But not as bad as other stories I’ve heard. Adam has a stomach of steel and he’s been almost 100 the whole time we’ve been here. I’m hoping my stomach and bacteria toughened up during my short period of sickness.

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Thailand loves temples

// I’m going to start a new weekly feature on the blog where I post a photo of the week. Since my bulkier recaps are so far behind, I wanted to post something that’s a little bit more relevant to how the current week is going. So on Fridays, I’ll be publishing a short post with a photo and small update on how our week has been.

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My favorite activity, eating

// I really need to figure out how to watch Game of Thrones over here. I’m about to quit Twitter for the rest of our trip just so I’m not spoiled. I’ve already been a little spoiled and I don’t know how to avoid it besides just giving up social media!

// I, like the rest of the world, am obsessed with Lemonade. I even signed up for Tidal Singapore. The things Beyonce makes you do. I still haven’t listened to Views; Drake is farther down the totem pole.

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We went zip lining!

// We booked our return trip! We’ve been monitoring dates and flight miles for the last month and a really good deal popped up yesterday. We’ll be back in the good ole U S of A on June 25th. Now that we have a return date I really feel like we’re under a deadline! Only a little over 7 weeks to go! Eeek. We’re over halfway done with this trip.

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Celebrating Songkran, Thai New Year, in Bangkok

// We’ve also booked out the rest of our flights for the duration of the trip. Our remaining time is about another month in Chiang Mai, a night in Malaysia, 4 nights in Cambodia, 4 in Hong Kong, 15 in Vietnam, and then a week in Japan. So we’re basically chilling out for the next month and then it’s go, go, go our last four weeks.

// America, I thought you guys would be done with Trump by now. Please. Stop him.

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What up, America!

// I am newly obsessed with dim sum and am upset it’s taken me so long to discover. My only plan in Hong Kong is to eat as much dim sum as possible.     

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Just navigating through a million market stalls to get to our hostel

Hope you’re having a good week!

Destinations, New Zealand, Travel

Exploring Wellington, New Zealand

May 3, 2016
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We had the best time when we hiked the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. The weather was perfect, the hike was challenging yet doable, and we were able to get away from a busy city and stay in a lodge for a couple nights.

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Our accommodations outside of National Park

There were pros and cons to staying in a lodge in the middle of nowhere. Pros: quiet, peacefulness, calmness with nature, and opportunity to meet a lot of other people in the lodge without distractions.

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The hallway of the lodge

Cons: No access to food except what you brought. Now this wouldn’t be a big deal if you planned well, but if you were like us and only considered your food for the hike (not the other dinners and breakfasts where you needed food) then you’d be screwed. And screwed we were.

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A monster-sized table that was at one point going to be used for the Hobbit movies

The National Park is where we discovered the goodness of the Free Food box in hostels. The Free Food box is normally full of oils, rice, and other basic items. It’s the food backpackers leave behind because they either have no room in their bags to carry it to their next location or they’re just really sick of eating rice.

We ended up taking advantage of the free food box (rice and pasta FTW) plus the bread, bananas, peanut butter, apples, granola bars and tuna lunches that we brought. We weren’t eating much of a diverse diet for those few days; however, it was enough calories to get us through. We weren’t indulging, but we were fine.

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Totally carb-loading for the hike the next morning

Also as a side-note: if we really did need food, we could have asked someone at the hostel to drive us 15 minutes to the store or hitch hike there. Hitchhiking is actually super common and safe in New Zealand. We wouldn’t have starved at the lodge.

Anyway, all of this is a long way of saying that once we made it to Wellington, New Zealand’s capital, we were really happy to be in a city setting again where it was easy to find and walk to everything we desired.

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Wellington was a really cool little city. It had a lot of things to do, but was small enough that we were able to walk everywhere. Wellington is situated at the southernmost point of New Zealand’s North Island on the Cook Strait.

We stayed in Wellington for two nights, but only had one full day in the city. We ended up fitting a lot within that day: we walked through Wellington’s Botanical Gardens, explored downtown Wellington, and then spent the evening along the waterfront and in the National Te Papa Museum.

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At this point in our trip we’ve been to lots of botanical gardens, but Wellington’s still ranks right up there with some of the best. The rose garden, in particular, has been the best rose garden I’ve ever seen. I could have spent hours walking around and looking at the different varieties of roses. I started to take pictures and write down the names of my favorites, but quickly realized that the list would never be manageable. Instead I just stopped to enjoy all of the beauty of these sweet blooms.

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In addition to the rose gardens, there were great plants and flowers within the conservatories and in other gardens throughout the area.

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The peak of the botanical gardens overlooked the city. It was an awesome view. We were right by the location where the cable car runs up and down the city. Wellington is full of hills and steep streets, so the cable car would have been an easy way to get back to the waterfront. We chose to make the walk instead.

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The walk down was steep. Again, I’m used to living in a place that’s totally flat, so any sort of incline is new to me.

Once we were in downtown Wellington and closer to the waterfront, we were on a mission to find some food. Doing what we normally do, we just chose a place based on the line out of the door. This ended up being a great plan. We found a sushi a’la carte restaurant where you can pick and choose pieces from a ton of rolls. Prices ranged from $1-$3 a piece. Another plus, since it was in the middle of the afternoon, it was half price sushi. We were both well fed for about $10 USD. This has to become a thing in the US if it isn’t already. Please let me know if you know of places with grab and go sushi.

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Enjoying sushi in the park      

After enjoying sushi, we explored the Te Papa museum, New Zealand’s National Museum. The museum was fantastic. We learned a lot about sea and wildlife around New Zealand, New Zealand’s history in World War I, past and future earthquakes, and general New Zealand history. At this point in the day my phone had died (I took too many pictures of flowers), but I just want to reiterate how great the museum was. We were really impressed. Admission was also free – another bonus.

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Wellington was a great place for us to chill out and explore for a couple days. We were able to really slow down our traveling pace and catch our breath. One of the little things that made me laugh the most was spotting this magnet in our hostel:

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It was good to know that fellow Cats fans approve of Wellington too.