Category Archives: Trips with Friends

¡Viva NashVegas!

What do you call a weekend filled with snow, speakeasys, girlfriends and frozen strawberry salad? I call it Nashville. The relaxed class of this city makes it easy to want to return time and time again. And I swear my unhealthy obsession with ABC’s hit show Nashville had nothing to do with my excitement for this trip. Nothing.

Waking up to Winter

Waking up to Winter

The Bluebird Café is prominently featured in the show, but I fell in love with the Bluebird when I first moved to Atlanta. At midnight on CMT they would show previously recorded performances – it showcases  songwriters better than any other venue I’ve experienced. The best part… it is in a nondescript strip mall. Only in Nashville.

You could drive right by and miss it.

You could drive right by and miss it.

I headed to Nashville to visit one of my very first friends in Atlanta, Erica, who has since moved with her family there. Erica has an almost three-year old and a three-month old and STILL knows all the cool places to go. Moms are hip y’all. She made reservations at Midtown Café. (The trout was insane.) From there went to a secret bar – the Patterson House. I have quite the crush on this place. No sign outside, just a velvet rope to let you know there is something behind the doors worth waiting for.

Rocket Fuel with an Orange Twist

Rocket Fuel with an Orange Twist

After nearly drowning in bow ties and tweed jackets, we made it behind the curtain. What awaited us was hand crafted cocktails, mixologists in speak easy apparel, and walls lined with book shelves – my nerdiest fantasies were coming true. And the second drink I ordered was possibly straight rocket fuel. This place doesn’t fool around. And neither does Nashville, you really should visit.

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2013 is Happening

In spite of the Mayan prediction and yet another Christmas with the fam,  Danimal and I survived and will be ringing in 2013 tonight with friends. But, we really threw down the weekend of December 15, just in case that was the last weekend on earth.

Spend time here. Check.

Spend time here. Check.

We went to where all the end of the world rumors began, Tulum, Mexico, for the nuptials of our wonderful friends, Kristen and David. Having grown up in Texas, I have vacationed quite a bit in Mexico. And, I can say with confidence that Tulum is the best destination I’ve been to in the country. Perhaps it is the lack of all-inclusive resorts and the plethora of boutique hotels, but this place has authentic charm.

I'm moving to Playa Azul.

I’m moving to Playa Azul.

We stayed at Playa Azul, which also happened to be the location of the welcome party. Every room is different and there are a mix of beach and jungle view rooms. The food and service was personal and kind. (Note: This doesn’t mean fast… remember you’re in Mexico.)

Also, apparently pinatas are for adults now. Awesome.

Also, apparently pinatas are for adults now. Awesome.

Kristen and David are my travel idols. One of their favorite travel activities is scuba diving. That is how they initially discovered Tulum and they wanted their guests to have this experience as well. While we weren’t certified to scuba, they arranged for the wedding party and our loves to have a guided snorkeling tour of the Cenotes.

Cenotes Dos Ojos: "To the Baticueva!"

Cenotes Dos Ojos: “To the Baticueva!”

This is one of the cooler travel experiences I have had. It ranks up there with baby lions. And, I should preface this by saying that I don’t particularly enjoy snorkeling. The cenotes were formed when limestone bedrock collapsed exposing groundwater underneath. You aren’t there to look for marine life, but the underground stalactites and stalagmites are like nothing else I’ve seen.

The #1 thing my mouth tasted.

The #1 thing my mouth tasted.

I don’t want to forget the food on this trip. We could have done nothing but eat and that would have satisfied me. From the brick oven pizza at La Siesta to the steak and fish at Casa Banana, it would have been impossible to starve. But the hands down award winning bite of the trip, was the ceviche at Ak’iin.

No money. No problems.

No money. No problems.

I want to say a huge thank you to Kristen and David for allowing their wedding to be an adventure that included all of us.  And, when I say included all of us, I mean everyone. These cats wondered down the beach in between the ceremony and reception. I tend to think they are less stressed out than I am.

The Danimal and I lovin' us some Tulum.

The Danimal and I lovin’ us some Tulum.

The best thing about the world not ending on December 21 is that you can visit Tulum. Perhaps it can be one of your resolutions for 2013.

Photo credit: I don’t have a fancy underwater camera so the picture of the cenotes are from a cool website called BlooSee: Take the Ocean Further.

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Positively Medieval

After much debate, I am honored to present Brugge with the prestigious award  of “Cutest Town in the World”.  Myself, Danimal, our travel agent, Paul Henry, and the Scotts made up this elite judging panel. I know you don’t know all of them, but you can trust them – most of the time. The town has the majority of its medieval architecture still intact and that is what draws you in the moment you arrive.

Market Square

Brugge radiates from two large squares – the Market and Brug. From an urban design perspective, I love the activity around the squares. Unfortunately, these are also the most touristy parts of the City. Once you go and experience the squares, be sure to move along to other side streets and canals to find the better restaurants and better prices.

View from the top of De Halve Moon Brewery

Other parts of the town are touristy as well, but when touristy translates to chocolate shop after chocolate shop and pub after pub… I’m more than okay with that. We tried many of the chocolate shops throughout Brugge and we both agree that Chocolaterie Sukerbuyc is the best. The chocolate was the smoothest, had the best fillings and the most variety.

A rare moment not eating chocolate.

If you are able to tear yourself away from beer and chocolate long enough, there are incredible museums worth a visit. My personal favorite was the Picasso Expo and not just because I love art. More than any Picasso exhibit I’ve seen before, this one focused on the relationship he had with other artists, such as Miro and Matisse, and how they influenced each other.

Enjoying Picasso

If I begin to talk about the beer and churches now, this post would go on forever. So I will stop myself her because I may or may not need another beer.

The White Queen… on location

[Author’s Note: PLEASE let The White Queen on BBC be the next Downton Abbey – if for no other reason than we can say it was filming in Brugge while we were here.]

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Tis’ the Season… Wedding Season

This weekend there was an article on CNN.com about wedding travel titled,  “Obligation Eating  Up Your Vacation?” Boy did that hit home. Earlier this year I did some math that made me pause. By the end of 2012 Danimal and I will have been to 47 weddings together. A whopping two of them will have been in Atlanta. (We even traveled for our own wedding.) The truth of it is though, we wouldn’t have missed any of them.

Vineyard Nuptials

These friends and family members have filled our lives with so much love. It isn’t always a good time or convenient location, and it can be expensive. But what better way to spend our money than to be with the people we care about most and to see and experience new places. Or in some cases rediscover the places we have been to countless times before. At this point we have mastered the art of turning a wedding into a vacation. Here are some of our favorites and ones we are most looking forward to.

Pike Place Market

Seattle

We turned a wedding weekend in Seattle into a week-long tour of the Pacific Northwest. We spent half our time in the City and half in the San Juan Islands. And naturally we stopped at several of the wineries in between. Adams Bench being my favorite winery find. I should also mention that  Casey + Kristen’s wedding was one of the most personal, unique and beautiful we have ever been to… complete with dueling pianos at the reception!

Palest Wedding Party Ever atop the Magnolia Hotel

Houston

Even weddings in my hometown have allowed me to see the City in a new way. Growing up we didn’t spend a lot of time downtown, but our wedding and Clare + Joe’s allowed us to see it with fresh eyes. Stay at the Magnolia Hotel, eat at Treebeards, ride the light rail and catch an Astros‘ game. (Biggio forever!!)

The Green Building

Brooklyn

For all of the times that Danimal and I have been to NYC, we have never been together. That will be remedied in August for Aaron + Sarah’s nuptials. The best part… the festivities will be in Brooklyn, a part of town itching to know better. And won’t it be easier for me to ask Danimal if we can move there, if he is right next to me? [Insert Danimal sigh.]

We’re going international!!!

Tulum

We are wrapping 2012 with our first international wedding. Tulum is the perfect Mexican adventure because it already embraces what we love about travel… it is authentic and off-the-grid. Thank you David + Kristen for what we know will be a tough wedding to top.

I can only imagine where 2013 will take us!

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Going Mainstream in Maui

The lack of regular travel for the first half of 2012 for me has been troubling. I’m itching to explore… thankfully, next weekend wedding travel season begins! Many of the trips this year will be to celebrate friends making it legal. And,  we are going to be heading to some cool destinations to witness these nuptials. In honor of wedding season, I’m featuring one of the most popular honeymoon destinations for U.S. travelers – Hawaii, specifically Maui. I fought Hawaii for years. It just seemed too mainstream… I mean if other, regular people liked it, would I? Then, I was convinced I should give it a shot. As it turns out, everyone was right – Hawaii is incredible.

It looks this perfect all.the.time.

From the gorgeous beaches to the sharp cliffs to the lush mountains to the volcanic formations, there is something for everyone. Now the rumors are true that the island is expensive, but you pay for what you get… especially food. Restaurant highlights include Mala Ocean Tavern (order the tuna), Sansei Seafood + Sushi (we went twice) and the unmatched, Mama’s Fish House.  Do not leave the island without going to Mama’s. And, if you like tuna at all, find a way to have it once a meal.

Cocktails @ Mama’s

Part of the reason I had hesitated to head to Hawaii is that I’m not really a beach gal. There is so much more to Hawaii than beaches. During our time there we snuba dived, hiked, zip-lined, went to a luau and even found a winery.

The closest I will get to a bathing suit shot…

Snuba diving is a combination of scuba and snorkel. In my opinion, a great test if you’ve enjoyed snorkeling to see if you might enjoy scuba diving. I do need to work on my underwater signaling… I mistook the ‘very poisonous’ sign for the ‘touch this’ sign.

A zip-line view

Zip-lining is one of the more adventurous ways to really see the island from above. Skyline Eco Adventures made this Danimal + my number one activity of the trip. Don’t wear a white t-shirt (you get dirty) and be sure to wear long enough shorts.

Hips don’t lie..

The luau was easily the most cliché meal, but you real need to check that box if you are going all the way to the islands. Do your research about luaus to find the least cheesy one possible. Cheesy or not, I will never be able to swallow fire or hula dance – my hips just don’t do that.

Thank you, Hawaii!

Whether you are celebrating wedded bliss or just need an escape, move Maui to the top of your list!

 

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Photo Friday: To Another Year of Adventure

To more ADVENTURE!

I’m shameless when it comes to birthdays. I just stinkin’ love them…  Today happens to be my 31st! What is my wish this year… for continued adventure. Today’s photo Friday is from one such adventure back in 2009 when Danimal + I headed to the San Juan Islands off the western coast of Washington state. We went ocean kayaking and lil’ seals swim right up next to us. This photo was taken at the western most point of the Continental U.S.

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“It’s Boots + Chaps. It’s Cowboy Hats…”

For two weeks each February the Livestock Show and Rodeo makes its way to Houston. 2012 marked the 80th year of the rodeo and it was high time that Danimal was able to attend. He acquired his first pair of cowboy boots the week prior so he would now look legit. The rodeo has three primary components: the livestock show, the carnival, the rodeo (bull riding, etc. plus concert). We were able to see the livestock show and carnival for a cultural experience Dan won’t soon forget.

And they call the thing rodeo...

The big show takes place inside Reliant Stadium. Depending on who the headliner is that night, seats can sell out in advance. (Some nights there are crowds of over 70,000!!!) If you want to see the bull riding, calf roping, and entertainer of the night, I suggest buying tickets when they go on sale. Everyone from George Strait to Beyoncé has taken the stage.
 

Chicken Fried Anything

 
Danimal and I headed to the rodeo with my brother, Bud, and his fab girlfriend, Kara. We made our way straight to the carnival zone. After all, we were in need of some sausage on a stick or chicken fried fill-in-the-blank. I’m not kidding – they sell almost anything you can imagine in a fried fashion. From there it was time to waste some money trying to win a life-sized stuffed animal. (Surely there was room for that in our carry-on luggage.)
 

Zero bottles down

We began with the milk bottle game and completely missed. Danimal did manage to do well enough at balloon darts to win us a miniature bear. Clearly we have room for improvement. The best bang for you buck is the quarters game. (No, not that quarters game…) It has the lowest buy-in with seemingly the most challenging road to victory. The quarter must land within rainbow without touching any lines. It is a good place for kids or game-challenged adults to spend their time.
 

Tiny Pink Bear vs. Giant Sponge Bob

 
Daninmal and Kara are normal human beings that enjoy rides. We Holders, not so much… While I consider myself adventurous, daring I am not. Out of peer pressure (or perhaps love) Bud and I agreed to ride just one ride that night. Speed was determined to be our best possible option.
 

NEVER again

Seriously, what were we thinking!!?? Speed is a double-spin ride. We survived. We won’t be doing this again. Our hearts still start beating fast thinking about the experience.

$cholarship Money

 

For me, one of the most enjoyable parts of the rodeo is the livestock show. Chicks, roosters, pigs, lambs, steers and goats (over 27,000) from across the state make their way to Houston. This is a great chance for kids to see farm raised animals up close. Texas 4-H and FFA students are able to participate. This year the livestock and wine auction raised over $11M benefitting the youth of Texas.
 
I hope you have officially added the Houston Rodeo to your ‘to-do’ list.
 
 
Photo credits: bull riding – seriouseats.com; livestock show- McCasland Farms

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