September 24, 2023
We have arrived at the final newsletter detailing our latest trip to Europe. After Jake returned to Dallas, I continued to Dresden and Prague.
Dresden was interesting but I had way too much time there (four nights). In WWII Dresden was completely destroyed by bombs. A secret donor gave millions to ensure Dresden was rebuilt to its original glory. As opposed to what was going on in the rest of Germany where much of the old architecture and character was replaced with modern minimalism.
Dresden's Old Town was gorgeous. Very Baroque. You would never know all these buildings were "new". While I loved wandering around Old Town, the rest of Dresden was just "meh". Also, Old Town is very small. You can wander the whole thing in an hour. Overall there isn't much to do in Dresden and the day trip options are just so-so.
You can watch my full review of Dresden (as with Prague) on my Instagram highlights. Overall, I don't think Dresden is worth going out of your way for. The only situation I would include Dresden in your itinerary is as a stopover between destinations. You don't need more than a night in Dresden.
Prague on the other hand was wonderful. I had four nights in Prague. Three nights would be sufficient for the average traveler. This city is such a delight to wander. The colorful architecture, old-world bridges, quaint back streets, and skyline filled with towers make for a memorable time.
Unfortunately, both times I was in Prague just happened to be in August. My least favorite time to travel to Europe. I usually avoid August at all costs and for good reason. Europe does have heatwaves. It was in the 90s while I was in Prague. Not the most enjoyable for walking around outside all day. August also feels the least authentic for many European cities. Tourists swarm the streets while locals head to the beach for their summer holiday.
Even so, I still had a nice time. My favorite activity was climbing two towers. The Astronomical Clock Tower was my favorite. It was interesting to see the famous clock from the inside and the views at the top were stunning. Your ticket also comes with a tour, which is interesting. I climbed another tower that included a stop at the Klementinum Library. Sadly, you couldn't go inside, but it was still incredible to look at from the entrance. I definitely recommend the Astronomical Clock tour over the Klementinum.
While Prague isn't as cheap as it used to be (prices are more in line with what you find in Germany and Austria), tickets for tours, concerts, ballets, and other live events are very affordable.
I don't see myself returning to Dresden, but would return to Prague in December for the Christmas markets.
Whew, and now my review is complete for our latest Europe trip. Next up is Japan for my birthday!
Gewandhaus Dresden, Autograph Collection - one of the best hotels in Dresden. Breakfast was fantastic (free for Marriott Platinum members) and the location was steps from Old Town.
Augustine, a Luxury Collection Hotel, Prague - absolutely loved this hotel and highly recommend. The location was perfect for sightseeing. Rooms were spacious, breakfast in the morning (free for Marriott Platinum members) was great and the staff were wonderful.
September 10, 2023
Jungfrau... exceeded expectations and blew us away! Wow oh wow, this area was beyond stunning.
We based ourselves in Grindelwald and were very happy with our decision. It was a beautiful mountain town with gorgeous views, was well-situated transportation-wise that we were able to get to all our hikes and activities via train/cable car with no problem, and there were enough restaurants that we had plenty of options for dinner each evening.
4 nights was the perfect amount of time here. We fit in all the top hikes and visited the main mountain towns without feeling rushed.
Favorite experiences: Swiss cows and their bells (they were everywhere in the mountains), exploring the Jungfrau towns (Lauterbrunnen, Murren, Wengen), the long cable car rides (some were 20+ minutes), and eating too much fondue 😜.
Favorite hikes/walks: Kleine Scheidegg hike, Eiger Trail hike, Mannlichen Peak, Bachalpsee Lake, and the Grindelwald cliff walk.
Jake made a video of our time in Chamonix and Jungfrau. It gives a nice peek into how stunning this area is. However, the photos and videos still don't do it justice.
After Jungfrau, we headed to Lucerne. It was a bit of a letdown after Jungfrau. You'll already know this if you follow me on Instagram, but hours after arriving in Lucerne Jake had me book him an early flight home. He did not want to stay 2 nights in Lucerne plus another night in Zurich.
Overall, neither Jake nor I are impressed with the Swiss cities. It's just not worth the cost. I'll be diving more into this in my Instagram stories in the next few days with my "overall thoughts". While the Alps are worth the cost, the Swiss cities are not. There are a million other cities you can visit in Europe that are more enjoyable and 1/3 of the cost.
I gave Lucerne a chance but exhausted everything there was to do in the city by about 2:00 p.m. I decided to skip out on Lucerne and go to Colmar, France instead (it was just 2 hours by train). Best decision. I love Colmar and it was nice to not spend a fortune on mediocre food. To give you an idea, I had pancakes and a one-shot cappuccino in Lucerne...$38. I mean, seriously. The high cost becomes exhausting.
The only reason visiting Lucerne would make sense is if you aren't going to the Swiss Alps. You can visit the Alps as a day trip from Lucerne. But if you're going to the Alps, it doesn't make any sense to spend time in Lucerne...unless it's a quick stopover on the way to somewhere else.
From Colmar, I went to Zurich (another Swiss city you can skip) and then on to Dresden and Prague. I'll talk about that portion of the trip in the next newsletter.
Hotel Fiescherblick - we really enjoyed this hotel. The staff were great at providing recommendations for hikes. I was between this hotel and Boutique Hotel Glacier. I'll do Hotel Glacier next time since it has more amenities and the rooms look a little more comfortable.
Ameron Luzern Hotel Flora, Lucerne - this hotel was just OK. Wouldn't recommend it.
August 20, 2023
I'm currently writing today's newsletter from Dresden, Germany. Thus far, this trip has been a mixed experience. Some of the places have exceeded expectations. Others have been...a bit disappointing.
I was telling Jake the other day, that as we expand the destinations we visit to places that aren't as popular or well-known, the more often I realize why my favorite places are my favorite. Why I don't hesitate to revisit cities like Edinburgh, Florence, Seville, etc., because they really are amazing. I've had my fair share of times when I land in a new city and wish I had just returned to "one of my favs". This happened a few times on this trip.
The risky part about choosing destinations that aren't as well-known/popular is that you tend to have some "meh" experiences. That was how we both viewed the cities of Switzerland (Geneva, Lucerne, and Zurich) as well as Dresden, Gorlitz, and Leipzig (Germany).
I'll break our trip down in the next 3 newsletters so as not to drag on. For this newsletter, I will focus on the very beginning of our trip, which started off disappointing and went to amazing.
We started in Geneva, Switzerland. Originally we were going to land in Geneva and go straight to Chamonix, France. We decided last minute to leave the horrendous Texas heat a day early and spend the night in Geneva. It ended up being a complete waste of time and money.
Not only was Geneva insanely expensive (we learned all of Switzerland is), but there was nothing exciting about it. To give an example of price, the first night we had a poke bowl and falafel wrap with fries in a food court. Our bill was €50. No drinks, no sides, no desserts...just those two items. Our backup option was a regular restaurant where the cheapest item was a $30 burger in a so/so atmosphere.
I wandered the entire city center of Geneva and never found anything that would make this city worth visiting. We decided to spend an afternoon in neighboring Lausanne (just on the other side of Lake Geneva). This little city was more charming than Geneva, but still, just OK.
Obviously, I do not recommend Geneva to my fellow travelers.
Now on to Chamonix. What a dream! We LOVED it! I spent most of our 4 days alone since Jake was climbing Mont Blanc. I had a great time. I went to the summit of Aiguille du Midi at 12,600 feet via two amazing cable car rides, went inside a glacier, had some beautiful morning jogs, wandered along the tiny city center of Chamonix, bought some hiking apparel (since I am now, apparently, into outdoor pursuits now that I've been introduced to views like this), and walked up another summit to view Mont Blanc from the other side.
Chamonix was more expensive than other areas in France, but not by much. And it's France, so the food was MUCH better than Switzerland. The people were friendly, the views were fantastic, the hiking was incredible, and I honestly can't complain about a single thing. It also wasn't too crowded and I found that most of the tourists were other Europeans (not the case in Switzerland...more on that to come).
I was sad to leave. Both Jake and I agreed we would like to come back in Autumn when the leaves are changing.
Side note: those looking for a new ski destination should consider Chamonix. Apparently, the skiing is incredible and a fraction of the cost compared to the US.
Ruby Claire Hotel Geneva - I was limited on options since I booked this 2 days before. It was very mediocre and definitely not the 4-star rating it advertises. Felt like a 2-star.
July 31, 2023
I don't have too many exciting things to report this round. Since returning to the US, we spent a few days in Denver, and then I went home to Oregon for a week.
Denver was lovely as always. We stayed in Cherry Creek, which is our favorite area to stay. It's walkable, safe, and clean, with many good coffee shops and restaurants. Quality Italian is our favorite restaurant in that area (Hillstone is second). Aviano is our top coffee shop pick.
We stayed at an old favorite, The Jacquard, for the first half of the trip. It has a nice little rooftop pool and the location can't be beat. This used to be our favorite hotel until we tried out Hotel Clio (originally a JW Marriott that got a recent makeover). While Hotel Clio doesn't have a pool, we preferred the rooms and overall quality of this hotel.
I spent a week visiting my family in the Willamette Valley. I finally got to check out the new tasting room, Domaine Willamette. And I have to say, it's my new favorite tasting room. Gorgeous patio, well-priced tasting ($25), a delicious food menu, gorgeous views, and friendly service. Win-win-win.
We went to a stargazing event one night at Stoller (another wonderful winery), paddle-boarded along the Willamette Valley River, and visited my usual rounds of restaurants and wineries (which can be found here and here).
Willamette Valley is gaining popularity and is a great alternative to Napa Valley. It's more authentic, laidback, and MUCH more affordable. Plus, you have some great hikes and the coast right next door.
We leave for Switzerland next week and can't wait to get out of this Texas heat. It's been in the triple digits for weeks on end.
We start in Geneva and Lausanne, Switzerland, make our way to Chamonix, France (Jake will climb Mont Blanc), continue to the Jungfrau region (can't wait to hike around this stunning region), and finish in Lucerne and Zurich.
July 16, 2023
The last newsletter focused on the Venice portion of my trip. Today I'll go through the UK segment.
After Venice, I flew via Ryanair to Edinburgh. I stayed 6 nights in Edinburgh, 1 night in York, and 4 nights in London.
As many of you already know, Edinburgh is one of my favorite cities in the world. No matter how long I stay, it's never long enough.
They were having a "heat wave" while I was there. It was a glorious 70-80 degrees.
Since I've spent over 2 months in Edinburgh collectively, this portion of the trip was focused on work and revisiting things I've written about (coffee shops, afternoon tea, hotels, etc.) as well as looking for any new finds.
York was wonderful as always. I really feel like this is an underrated city. Many tout York as touristy and fake. Yes, there are many tourists (what worthwhile cities aren't crowded with tourists these days?), but it's still a wonderful city to visit.
The Shambles is the most charming, lopsided street ever, the coffee shop scene is on point, AND it's one of the most haunted cities in the world. If you're going to the UK, it makes for the perfect stop between Edinburgh and London as it's half way between the two cities.
London was crowded (it was a bit of a shock since the last few times I was there was during COVID). But like Venice, the crowds still aren't back to pre-COVID norms. This is why I say NOW is the time to travel!
I snagged last-minute tickets to Frozen, the musical. It was amazing! And worth every penny of the $70, prime seating, ticket. I always save musicals and broadway shows for London as tickets are a fraction of what they cost in the States. For example, I paid $100 to see Hamilton when people were paying $1,000+ for tickets in NYC.
I did a day trip to Bath while in London. I LOVE this city. It's beyond charming and easy to see why much of Bridgerton was filmed here.
I spent the day wandering the streets, enjoyed morning tea and scones at The Pump Room (connected to the Roman Baths and famous for their mineral water), soaked in the sunshine at the expansive lawns in front of The Royal Crescent, enjoyed the river views, and stopped at a few coffee shops (of course). A very worthwhile and easy day trip from London.
Bath also makes for a great base if you want to do some day trips to Stonehenge and the Cotswolds.
And then before I knew it, it was time to head back to the 110-degree heat in Texas.
Edinburgh: I stayed at the Edinburgh Sheraton Grand (same place I stayed last year). While the Sheraton is a meh brand in the States, it's often a 5-star in Europe. The rooms are spacious, there's a gym, and the location is great! It's far enough from the city center that it's quiet, but only a 15 to 20-minute walk from Old Town or New Town. I also love that it's close to The Meadows (my favorite jogging spot).
York: I snagged a great last-minute deal for The Grand York. It was marvelous and I can't recommend it enough.
London: I booked a single room (small but plenty of space for one person) at Kimpton Fitzroy London. It's a historic hotel and the location is great as it's walking distance to Covent Garden, Trafalgar Square, and the Theater District.
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June 25, 2023
I was shocked that Venice wasn't more crowded. Especially considering multiple travel publications have been saying Italy will be crowded as ever this year. The crowds in Venice actually felt more like they did in early March (when it was freezing) or late fall. Yes, St. Mark's Square and the Rialto Bridge would become busy in the afternoon, but it wasn't close to what I've seen in the past. I hope this is because Venice is cracking down on cruise ship visitors and day-trippers. Fingers crossed this is the new norm.
Per usual, I enjoyed Venice most in the early morning. I would get up when the sun rose and explore the most popular areas while they were empty. It doesn't start getting busy until about 9:00 am in Venice. Even then, it's easy to escape tourist masses. Just keep wandering and you'll soon find yourself in a quiet area.
The weather was fantastic. It was quite chilly the first 2 days, which was refreshing coming from Texas. The last 2 days were pretty darn hot...it was very muggy.
I decided to do a day trip to Verona while in Venice. It's a quick 1-hour train ride. I mainly wanted to see if this would be a city to spend 2 or 3 nights in the future. While the city was charming, I'm glad I did it as a day trip. I don't see myself returning or staying the night in the future. It was more crowded than I expected...busy areas didn't feel much different than Venice. And while it was picturesque, I would rather spend my time elsewhere (Florence, Rome, Venice, Cinque Terra, etc.). My advice to other travelers is: if you're in Venice and have had your fill, then go to Verona...otherwise...don't go out of your way.
My options for hotels were limited since I planned this trip just a few days in advance. I usually stay at AC Venezia, but it was sold out. Ca'Pisani is another favorite that's close to the Accademia Bridge...but the price was extremely high.
I ended up finding a great deal at Hotel Bisanzio. While the hotel was good (a bit outdated and really hard beds...which is pretty common in Venice), the location was incredible. In the heart of Venice and minutes from St. Mark's Square.
- Hostaria Osottoosopra - dinner spot
- Taverna Scalinetto - dinner spot
- Torrefazione Cannaregio - specialty/modern coffee. One of the few places to get a legit flat white/iced drinks
- Pasticceria Rizzardini - morning cappuccino and pastry
- Pasticceria Tonolo - morning cappuccino and pastry
- Osteria Al Squero - cicchetti bar (similar to pintxos in Spain, little toasts with a variety of toppings)
- Cantine del Vino gia Schiavi - cicchetti bar
- Terrazza Aperol - great spot for a spritz and people watching - located at one of my favorite squares
June 4, 2023
Well, it looks like I'm repeating what I did a few weeks ago and booked a last-minute trip abroad with all the house issues. We just hired our own paint crew (among other professionals) since we still haven't heard from our builder. With the house being covered in plastic...I decided to hit the road and stay out of the way.
The last time I left town because of house issues was Spain, this time it's Venice and Edinburgh.
I found an EDI to DFW flight for 11,500 points + $300 on Virgin Atlantic. Virgin Atlantic is part of the SkyTeam Alliance. This same exact flight was 230,000 points on Delta. No, that is not a typo with an extra 0. This is why it's so important to check all carriers when booking with points. For example, if I find a flight I like on American Airlines, I ALWAYS double-check what it's going for on British Airways and Iberia.
That deal was too good to give up so I booked my flight home first and then worked backwards. I was able to find a decent flight to Venice and a $50 Ryan Air flight between Venice and Edinburgh.
It will be interesting to see what Venice is like. The last two times I visited was during COVID when it was quiet and empty. I may regret my decision to visit in June, but the weather looks perfect and I feel like it's easy to escape the crowds. Venice is a place where you must visit the top spots early in the morning (St. Mark's Square, Rialto Bridge, etc.) and then wander off the beaten path in the afternoon.
I can't wait to share all my new finds when I return!
I promised to report back on Hotel Virginia in downtown Santa Barbara (Hilton Family). Overall, I really liked the hotel. The location was perfect. Just around the corner from State Street, you'll find you're steps from the action yet can have a quiet night's sleep. The rooms were basic, but modern and clean. The staff was wonderful and they also have free bikes to use. If you can find a decent rate, I would recommend it.
May 21, 2023
Scottsdale was a lovely time as always.
I stayed at the new Senna House hotel for the second half of the trip. The room was modern, spacious, and well-designed. It had a nice rooftop pool (no view really) and the location was OK. I was jogging distance to Old Town, but wouldn't say it was walking distance at a 20-minute walk.
I would opt for the Canopy over the Senna House. They have a very similar vibe and are both in the Hilton family. The Canopy location is much better and the rooftop view is pretty nice.
I am currently in Santa Barbara and basking in the perfect California weather. Santa Barbara is such an easy weekend escape. American Airlines has direct flights to the Santa Barbara airport. You can find some pretty good deals if you book far in advance. The car rental lot is literally across the street from the airport and you're a quick 15-20 minute drive from downtown.
Downtown Santa Barbara is compact and very walkable. The coffee shop and restaurant scene is wonderful. If you haven't been, I highly recommend considering a trip here. Beautiful weather, ocean views, laidback locals, and plenty of biking/hiking/nature walking opportunities.
This is a place (it is California after all) where you have to work not to be nickel and dimed to death. Get ready to spend some time searching for decent hotel rates (consider a bed and breakfast over a hotel), pack your patience when it comes to finding free street parking, and be sure to browse through restaurant menus before booking to make sure you're not paying an arm and a leg. As long as you know that going in, it can make for a really nice vacation.
Our first night was at the Ritz (where we stayed last time) because I got a steal of a travel agent rate. I DO NOT recommend this hotel. The rates are outrageous ($800+) and they charge $50 for amenities and $60 for parking on top of that! While the location is beautiful with coastal views, it's a 20-minute drive to downtown Santa Barbara and the rooms are extremely old and tired.
The second part of the trip I booked the brand-new Drift Hotel. Long story short, we ended up canceling the rest of our stay. I got a special rate with the 3rd night free, and even with that discount it was still about $1,000 for 3 nights. While the hotel concept was cool, it felt like a luxury hostel charging 100X what a hostel would charge (our room was 129 sq. feet). The main reason we moved is because the hotel was VERY loud. There was a hotel bar on the same level as our room and it was loud enough that you could hear the people and music through earplugs.
After canceling, we moved to Brisas Del Mar Inn for one night. We actually really liked this little inn. It felt like you were back in the '90s/early 2000s (a lot of inns and hotels in Santa Barbara are old), but the Inn was clean, spacious, quiet, and in a convenient location. Free parking on property was a big perk along with free bikes to use.
Tonight we are switching to the brand-new Hotel Virginia by Hilton on State Street (the heart of downtown Santa Barbara). I'll report back on my thoughts.
A few new fantastic finds in Santa Barbara:
- Dawn Coffee Shop (best iced Americano of the trip)
- Sunstone Winery in Santa Ynez
- SY Kitchen for dinner in Santa Ynez (dishes to note: truffle sliders, wild mushroom pappardelle, pistachio creme brulee).
April 30, 2023
Not much to report on the house end. Pretty much nothing has happened since we moved in. It's now been 3 weeks and we still haven't heard a peep from our builder. We met with two other families he just built for and their situation is even worse (walls are wavy, expensive upgrades look terrible, etc.). Thank goodness I stayed in/under budget and didn't do any upgrades. They also were ghosted by the builder once they moved in (like us), and like us, were promised the house would be perfect by the move-in date, but found a dirty and unfinished home come said date.
Luckily, someone is thrilled to have said goodbye to apartment life. Bailey is so happy that she can now go outside whenever she wants and sunbathe.
That's all I'll say on that matter. Through the process, Jake and I are beyond thankful that we have each other as we deal with the situation. We know in the big scheme of things, house issues are minor issues and I know we will get it figured out. It's a good reminder to be thankful for the things that matter most; faith, family, friends, freedom, and health.
Jake and I did a quick trip to Cabo with my family. We arrived a day early in order to use our free Hilton night certificate that was about to expire. I was able to book the Waldorf Astoria Los Cabos Pedregal. The property was GORGEOUS. Though I would never pay the insane prices they charge and we opted to go into town to eat vs at the hotel (a flat white was $10 to give some perspective). After 1 night at the Waldorf, we spent 3 nights at a house with my family.
In all honesty, Mexico isn't our favorite and this trip just confirmed our thinking of, why go to Mexico when you can add under an hour of flight time and go to Costa Rica. We MUCH prefer Costa Rica (for safety, price, and the animals/rain forest) and still, no spot in Mexico has come close to how much we love Andaz Costa Rica.
Coming up we have a wedding in Scottsdale. I'll be checking out a new hotel, Senna House, and will report back.
April 16, 2023
My time in Spain couldn't have been better. I'm so glad I was able to take a break as things got real bad real fast after returning home (more on that later). I have to say, April is a wonderful time to visit Barcelona. The weather was perfect. High 50s in the morning and 70s in the afternoon. Crowds weren't bad and I had an easy time getting into restaurants last minute.
I spent 5 nights in Barcelona and 2 in Valencia. While in Barcelona I did a day trip to Girona. It's my favorite day trip from Barcelona and where the photos above were taken.
My first hotel was Monument Hotel. The AMEX Platinum card comes with a $200 annual credit to use for hotels booked through AMEX travel. The caveat is these hotels must be in the Fine Hotels and Resorts collection. Which means they are usually 5-star and very expensive. Europe is a good way to use these credits as you can find 5-star hotels for under $300/ $400. The hotel was great, but I would have never paid full price.
I LOVED my second hotel, ME Barcelona. The hotel is brand new, the rooms were spacious and well-designed, and the location was perfect.
In Valencia, I stayed at the Westin. The location was a bit out of the way (about an 18-minute walk to the city center), but it was surprisingly nice. Westin doesn't have a great reputation in the States, but I've found that Westin properties can be really nice in Europe and many are 5-star. Since I didn't love the location, I would go for the Palacio Santa Clara Hotel next time.
My flight home from Valencia was a disaster. You can read more about that here. In short, my travel day went from 13 hours to 26 hours.
After returning home it was time to move into our new house. It couldn't have been more of a disaster. After going through the house with our builder a few days before moving, we were very concerned because the house was a mess and a million things were not done.
Big things like stain and sanding issues with the floors, paint issues, trim issues, etc. etc. We voiced these concerns many times and told our builder we could push back our move (for a fourth time) but he promised these were little things and it would all be done before move-in.
The night before the move...same situation. Again, the promise was made the touch-up and cleaning crew would be there all night and it would all be done and "perfect".
When we stopped by the house Friday morning (move day), we realized nothing had been done since we saw it yesterday. The house was filthy and there were still major issues with paint, floors, etc. At this point, it was too late to cancel movers, furniture deliveries, etc.
Once getting into the house we realized a lot of the issues were much bigger than we thought. Our builder has ghosted us (we haven't heard a peep for a week) and we are currently debating what to do. Do we completely move out, or do we live through the construction for weeks (possibly months) as everything is being fixed? Who knows.
I told Jake, "take me back to apartment life, I'm over this". Yikes. I'll keep you all updated 🥴
March 26, 2023
Well, our move date got pushed back again. And this time it was pretty last minute...so 80% of our apartment was already packed. Instead of living in boxes, I decided this would be a great excuse to skip town and head to Barcelona!
I haven't been since pre-COVID, so I'm sure I'll be plenty busy updating blog posts with places that have sadly closed and new spots that have opened.
Shockingly I was able to score decent flight deals using points. A few months back I transferred about 200,000 points from AMEX to British Airways when they were offering a 20% bonus on transferred points. I found a flight to BCN for 31,000 on Iberia Airlines (a OneWorld alliance member which includes American Airlines, Aer Lingus, British Airways, etc.). This flight was more expensive (points-wise) on both AA and BA. So I had to transfer points from BA to Avios.
Avios is a separate website and you have to log in with your AerClub account (the loyalty program for Aer Lingus). It's a weird quirk that you have to log in with the Aer Lingus account.
After transferring from BA to Avios, I could then transfer from Avios to Iberia. The transfer was immediate and I was able to book the flight. Long story short, sometimes you have to get creative on finding the best point redemption and Google search options on how to best transfer points.
The flight home I was able to find an Air France flight for 29,000. As I was booking, I found that I could upgrade to Air France Premium for 32,500 instead of 29,000. Yes please.
This is a new section on certain Air France routes. Premium Economy consists of just 6 rows and is behind first/business class. You have much more leg room, a leg rest, more incline (38 inches vs 29-31), an amenity kit, etc. I'll report back on my overall thoughts and how it compares to regular economy and Main Cabin Extra on American Airlines.
Side note for SkyTeam flights. SkyTeam includes Delta, Air France, KLM, etc. In recent years, Delta point redemptions have become TERRIBLE. I'm talking over 100,000 points for a one-way to Europe. BUT, you can often find flights on Air France for 19.500 each way for the same flight Delta lists at 100,000+.
I'll report back on the hotels I stayed at in Barcelona, new finds, and more! If you have recommendations, shoot me an email or message on Instagram.
March 12, 2023
The second half of our time in Maui was uncommonly windy. Which was a great excuse to just chill since paddle boarding and other activities were out of the question.
We did find an awesome new snorkel spot; Mala's Wharf. It's an old fishing pier that was destroyed in a 1992 hurricane. Over half the pier is actually in ruins underwater. There was a turtle cleaning station (where they rest and fish clean their shells) where I saw over 30 sea turtles. Some of the most massive ones I've ever seen...bigger than a truck tire. We also saw several eel, starfish, and even a group (pod?) of squid. Abby, my sister, found several White Tip Reef Sharks after I had already gotten out of the water.
This is an easy snorkel spot to add to your list. It's located in downtown Lahaina. Be sure to go at high tide as the entrance is very shallow and you need enough water to be able to float/swim above the coral for several yards before the ocean floor drops.
Now that we are back home it's been all house and moving preparation. Hopefully, by the next newsletter, we will have passed all inspections and have the green light to move it.
Southwest extended the below offer through 3/13/23. This is by far the easiest way to earn Companion Pass. This is how I earned Companion Pass last year.
Earn Southwest Airlines Companion Pass by applying for the Southwest credit card. For a limited time, earn 30,000 points and Companion Pass after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. Companion Pass is basically a "buy one get one free" for airline tickets. When you earn Companion Pass you get to name a "companion" who gets to fly with you for free!
February 28, 2023
Maui has been lovely as always. The whales are here, but not nearly as active as in recent years. Peak whale season is mid-January through March, so we're hoping things might pick up by the second half of our trip.
We've done some paddle boarding and snorkeling (saw quite a few eels and sea turtles). Yesterday we did one of my favorite quick hikes; Acid War Zone and the Nakalele Blowhole (bottom two photos). This hike is perfect for a windy day because the blowhole is crazy active. The first photo is from Ohai trail, a nice easy 1.2 mile loop trail with pretty views.
We also visited our favorite snorkeling spot, Kapalua Bay. We always see the best fish and coral here and it's a pretty walk through a lush forest to the bay.
The other day a monk seal was sleeping on the beach right in front of our hotel. A "Monk Seal Volunteer" quickly came and roped off the area around him. This has become a necessity in Maui sadly. Visitors have become so disrespectful of wildlife and nature. She was telling me just yesterday two parents were trying to put their 4-year-old on a sleeping turtle.
To help with these situations there are now wildlife volunteers who swiftly arrive to protect the wildlife if they come to shore. Maui has also instated hefty fines if you're caught touching wildlife. $50,000 if you're caught touching a Monk Seal and up to $10,000 for turtles.
The volunteer made a point that I think is a good reminder for everyone. When you visit a place you should be a respectful guest. It's the local's home and the animal's home. If you were visiting someone's home you wouldn't have your hands on everything thing, trash the place, and then just leave.
So let's encourage each other to set a good example and be conscious travelers. To treat the places we visit with care and speak up if we see something.
Today is the LAST DAY to earn Southwest Airlines Companion Pass by applying for the Southwest credit card. For a limited time, earn 30,000 points and Companion Pass after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. Companion Pass is basically a "buy one get one free" for airline tickets. When you earn Companion Pass you get to name a "companion" who gets to fly with you for free!
February 12, 2023
This short and sweet newsletter will be refreshing after the last few novels.
I've been consumed with final decisions on the home build. Fingers crossed we will be moving in soon! We leave for Maui later this month and can't wait to get some sun and relaxation in...mixed with snorkeling, whale watching, and morning beach runs of course.
Per usual, we will be staying at the Kaanapali Alii. This is a condo-style residence/rental property right on the beach in Lahaina. It's great for families as they have 1, 2, and 3 bedroom condos. The Alii is on the boardwalk that connects all the restaurants along the beach as well as Whaler's Village (an outdoor shopping area)...i.e. it's walkable and you really never have to get in the car.
I have some trips in the works for 2023 including hiking the Swiss Alps and Japan!
January 29, 2023
We have finally arrived at the final newsletter detailing our Christmas and New Year's trip.
After our time in Lyon, we flew to Rome in time for NYE. While some cities focus their fireworks in one area for a spectacular display, Rome was a panorama of fireworks. It seemed like the entire city was launching fireworks from our rooftop viewpoint.
Surprisingly, Rome didn't feel too crowded. I expected it to be overwhelmed with tourists considering that it's a popular NYE city. To be honest, it didn't feel much different than shoulder season and it definitely was not as bad as summer.
Jake and I didn't want to pay an arm and a leg for a pre-booked New Year's Eve dinner, so we winged it. We were able to snag a table at one of my favorite restaurants, MiMi e CoCo. They have the BEST carbonara and the prices are cheap...€8 Aperol spritz and €11 carbonara. We had dinner at DitiRambo, another favorite restaurant of mine, the following night,
We stayed 2 nights in Rome, which was plenty, and then moved on to Florence. Sadly, Florence was MUCH more crowded than expected. Which didn't really make sense since we were there after the holidays (January 2 through 6). Every restaurant seemed to be booked each night and popular tourist sights were packed. We still had a great time though and many great meals (including La Giostra).
Since returning to Dallas it's been fast and furious with building the house. Fingers crossed we are in the final stretch because I, for one, have major decision fatigue.
Rome: I upgraded our hotel from Navona Colors to Hotel Splendide Royal last minute because I found an incredible deal. BIG mistake. The hotel was a letdown and I'm shocked people actually pay the going rate. The one plus (and a big reason why we changed) was the rooftop from where we watched the fireworks.
Jake and I visited The Pantheon Iconic Rome Hotel (an Autograph Collection hotel in the Marriott family). I've had my eye on this hotel and wanted to see if it lived up to the photos. It was fantastic and I 100% will be staying there next time.
Florence: Sina Villa Medici is another Marriott family hotel. I've stayed here before and appreciate the spacious rooms and relatively quiet, but still convenient, location.
January 8, 2023
Happy 2023! My has this been a busy trip. Since my last email, I've been to Heidelberg, Strasbourg, Colmar, Lyon (day trip to Annecy), Rome, and Florence. In order for this not to be the never-ending newsletter, I'll focus on the Germany/France portion and leave Italy for next time.
I loved Heidelberg and thought it was beyond beautiful and charming. This is one of the few times I disagree with Rick Steves. He says to avoid Heidelberg as tourism has erased its charms. While I wouldn't visit during peak tourist season, I think it's a delightful place during shoulder/off season. Crowds were medium since the Christmas markets bring tourists, but I still loved the town. 2 days were perfect to enjoy the river views, tour the castle, enjoy the Christmas markets, and taste some of the best Wiener schnitzel ever (Weinstube Schnitzelbank).
From Heidelberg, I took the bus to Strasbourg. Nicknamed The Capital of Christmas, this city was a madhouse. Beyond crazy. Where Nuremberg and Heidelberg felt far more local (primarily Germans), Strasbourg felt extremely touristy. It reminded me of Venice. And similar to Venice, the only time I truly loved the city was early in the morning when it was empty. The markets were packed and I felt I really had to go out of my way to find the charming markets and areas.
Because finding a rental car was impossible on this trip, I booked a tour to visit the Alsacienne Villages. It was one of my favorite days. Jake and I visited several of these small villages on our own in 2019 and I couldn't wait to see them again (and visit a few new ones). I did this tour and couldn't recommend it more. They hit all the top villages (Ribeauvillé, Riquewihr, Kaysersberg, Eguisheim) and I felt I had enough time in each.
Funny story for Strasbourg. While at breakfast, someone came over and asked if I was Ashley Friemel. A friend of a friend had seen via Instagram that I was just in Heidelberg...which made her think it just might be me sitting a few tables away. What are the chances we would be in the same city, at the same hotel, and just two tables away from each other at breakfast? It's wild how the world becomes so small when you travel.
After Strasbourg, I met Jake in Colmar. Colmar never disappoints. The markets here are SO MUCH better than Strasbourg. Since we couldn't find any Christmas Eve or Christmas day dinner reservations, we ate our way through the markets (no complaints there...give me all the flammekueche!). We also spent time with friends we met at the Christmas market in 2019. We saw them every day we were in Colmar and they had us over for a 6-hour lunch. It was beyond special.
We then took the train to Lyon. I'm not the biggest fan of Paris and heard that Lyon is a nice alternative. Now that I've been I would have to agree. While there isn't a lot in terms of sights, the city was wonderful; clean, incredible food scene, well situated for day trips, and all-around lovely. We did a day trip to Annecy and adored it. Medieval vibes, water canals, and a gorgeous lake with the French Alps in the background.
I'll dive into Rome and Florence in the next newsletter. Ciao!
Heidelberg: Hotel Zur Alten Brücke - a tiny 18-room hotel perfectly located by the Old Bridge and steps from the heart of the city. I couldn't have been happier with the location and rooms.
Strasbourg: while I didn't love Strasbourg, I did love my hotel and couldn't recommend it more. It's part of the Marriott Autograph Collection and the breakfast was fantastic!
Colmar: James Boutique Hotel - this is also where we stayed in 2019. The location is steps from the heart of Colmar and the rooms are comfortable. Colmar is small and not as well-known...therefore the hotel options are limited. I still think this is the best hotel in Colmar.
Lyon: Intercontinental Lyon - originally a 12th-century hospital and was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site. Le Dome, voted one of the best bars in the world, is in the hotel and one of the most beautiful bars I have ever visited. This is THE place to stay when visiting Lyon.
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DECEMBER 18, 2022
Guten Morgen from Germany! While Nuremberg hasn't been my favorite city, it has made for a wonderful home base for several worthwhile day trips.
Don't get me wrong, the city has its charms, but there are better places in Germany. I've also been a bit let down by the Christmas market here. It's supposed to be the oldest and one of the best Christmas markets in Germany (and Europe for that matter). Sadly, this market is near the bottom of my list of favorite markets. Dusseldorf, Colmar, Strasbourg, Cologne, Aachen...these all beat Nuremberg.
I did day trips to Bamberg (second favorite), Regensburg, and Rothenburg ob der Tauber (favorite). Boy was my day trip to Rothenburg a hassle. I had 2 connections to make via train. The first train was late so I missed my connecting train. The station was tiny and not one attendant was in sight. The train office was also closed.
Luckily, I found two others who looked like they were lost and frustrated by missing their train connection. I asked if they were going to Rothenburg ob der Tauber, and they were, so we stuck together trying to figure out how to get there. Using Google Maps we found a different train to take from the station we were at and then a bus that would take us to Rothenburg.
We made it just in time for the 8:50 bus...which never came. We thought maybe it was late, so we stayed outside (it says it feels like 2 degrees at this point), and waited. The time for the next bus (9:27) came and went. We then found a cafe and learned that the bus only comes if you CALL for it and it takes 1.5 hours for it to get there.
We then decided it was best to ask the cafe worker to call us a taxi. All in all, the trip took 3 hours when it was supposed to take 1.
This is a perfect example for when people wonder if they are made for solo travel. If you would panic in this situation, I would say solo travel is not for you. You definitely have to be a natural (and calm) problem solver.
While getting there was more than frustrating, Rothenburg ob der Tauber was wonderful. Reminded me of the little villages in Alsace.
I've been surprised that 99% of the people here are German. I assumed there would be more international tourists...which has been a nice surprise. I've eaten my way through gingerbread, pork knuckle (famous in this area), strudel, spaetzle noodles, hot cocoa (I don't really like Gluhwein), sauerkraut (my mom, who is German and loves the stuff, will be happy to hear I like the real stuff), dampfnudel, and bratwurst. All I can say is that German food is very heavy and filling.
I stayed at Le Meridien Nuremberg. While I didn't love the hotel, the breakfast (free for Marriott Platinum members and above) was good and the location couldn't have been better. Minutes from the train station and about 10 minutes from the city center and Christmas market.
I'll report on the rest of my holiday trip in the next newsletter. Have a very Merry Christmas and enjoy time with family and friends!
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DECEMBER 4, 2022
I hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving. I spent time with my family in Oregon (Willamette Valley). Surprisingly, the leaves were gorgeous and DRY...which is a rarity this time of year.
We visited a few favorite wineries including Durant (the best charcuterie board) and Sokol Blosser (fantastic sparkling wine). Domaine Willamette is new to the scene and just opened their doors. While we couldn't get in for a tasting, I still stopped by to check the place out. Gorgeous! I will definitely book a reservation next time I'm in Willamette Valley. The food pairings are supposedly generous and delicious.
To celebrate my sister's birthday, we spent the night at the Headlands Coastal Lodge and Spa. This is a fantastic hotel on the coast in Pacific City. I highly recommend adding a night or two here if you're visiting Oregon wine country. Be sure to book a massage (their attendants are the absolute best).
After returning to Dallas, my schedule has been fast and furious with the home build. Paint colors, countertop slabs, lighting, and hardware are just a few things I've been finalizing before the next trip. Which is...
Christmas in Europe!!! I can't wait. I'll spend time in Germany, France, and Italy this holiday. No one does Christmas better than the Europeans.
November 13, 2022
Charleston delivered, as always, for great weather, incredible food, perfect morning jogs, picturesque streets, rooftops, and an overall fantastic weekend getaway.
The more we visit, the more we love Charleston...which is more than can be said about New Orleans. Charleston and New Orleans used to be two of our favorite destinations for history and food. Due to safety and how incredibly dirty the city has become, New Orleans has slowly been making its way off our list.
Basically, I strongly recommend skipping New Orleans and going for Charleston instead.
We stayed at Hotel Emeline. This is where I stayed for a girl's trip a while back. I loved it so much that I wanted Jake to experience the hotel on this trip.
The rooms are spacious, the service is great, and the location is PERFECT. You're right in the center of everything. 10 minutes to the waterfront, Pineapple Fountain, and Rainbow Row. 5 minutes from King Street (for shopping and restaurants). While Charleston is becoming quite expensive, if you book in advance you can usually find a great deal at this hotel.
We revisited a few favorite restaurants (Darling Oyster bar for oyster happy hour, Harkin cafe for baked treats, quiche and biscuit sandwiches, and the Ordinary for dinner). We found a new favorite dinner spot; Verns. Our favorite restaurant in this space closed down several years ago. I'm so happy the space is finally being used. The food and atmosphere are a 10/10.
Does anyone have their Christmas decorations up yet? Sadly, we are in our tiny 1 bedroom apartment and all our decorations are in storage (fingers crossed that we will be moving into our house sooner than expected.). I'll have to wait for our Christmas in Europe trip to get my holiday fix.
Happy (belated) Veteran's Day to all who have served our country, to whom we owe gratitude and thanks for the freedoms we so often take for granted.
October 30, 2022
On to part II of my trip to Spain. After Mallorca, Abby and I flew to San Sebastian. Two nights and two days were plenty. The city is quite small and completely walkable. Old Town San Sebastian reminded me of the Gothic Quarter in Barcelona. This is a great area to go on a tapas crawl. The rest of San Sebastian reminded me of France.
While there isn't a lot in terms of sights, this is a place to visit when the weather is nice and you can spend your time enjoying the beach and eating your way through the city. San Sebastian offers a high concentration of Michelin-star restaurants and is known as a "foodie city".
When visiting the beaches, just keep in mind that Zurriola beach is a nude beach and there were plenty of people tanning...well...everything.
We stayed at Hotel Maria Cristina, a Luxury Collection Hotel (Marriott) and loved it. The hotel was gorgeous. It was designed by the same architect who did the Ritz in Paris. Our room had a view of the ocean and overlooked a quiet square. The breakfast each morning (free for Platinum members) was excellent.
Abby flew home from San Sebastian and I flew to Seville. As many of you already know, Seville is one of my favorite cities in the world. I spent 6 nights here to really slow down, get some work done, enjoy multiple jogs around Plaza de Espana, and eat plenty of tapas. Seville is still very affordable (though I did notice an uptick in prices). Prices in Seville were much cheaper than in Mallorca, San Sebastian, and Madrid. I also think the food quality (and sangria) is better here than anywhere else in Spain (Barcelona a close second).
I stayed at the new Querencia de Sevilla, Autograph Collection (Marriott) and it really impressed. I was shocked when I realized it was right next door and overlooked one of my favorite buildings in Seville. The rooms were small, but cozy, and the location couldn't have been more convenient. I can't recommend this hotel enough.
For something new, I did a day trip to the white villages and Rhona. Honestly, I wouldn't recommend this. Either spend all your time in Seville or do a day trip to Cordoba. If you're dying to go to Rhonda and the white villages, do a private tour vs a group tour. The group tour was just blah and I didn't like how they broke out the time in each place.
Last was Madrid. While Madrid might not have the charm of Seville, it's more of a livable/working city. A full day in Madrid is plenty to see the top sights, two days if you like to take it slow.
I stayed a Room Mate Alba in Madrid. I'm a big fan of the Room Mate brand if you're looking for something affordable but clean, safe, and in a good location.
That's it for Spain, next up is Charleston!
October 16, 2022
I was finally able to tick Mallorca off my travel checklist. The island had plenty to keep Abby (my sister) and me busy for 5 days. Palma, the main city, felt like a mini Barcelona. More specifically, the Gothic Quarter in Barcelona.
While there aren't many sights and attractions, it's a nice city to wander and tapas crawl. We stayed 3 nights in Palma, which was more than plenty. You really don't need more than a day to explore the main areas, but having an extra two nights to take in the atmosphere was nice.
The food and sangria were a bit of a disappointment when compared to Seville and Barcelona...though...Abby who has not been to either city thought it was great.
Our hotel in Old Town Palma was Ca N'Alexander. The location couldn't have been better. The next three nights were at St. Regis Mardavall Mallorca, which was amazing (incredible food, spa, pool, etc.). I'm glad we didn't stay the entire time in Palma. Three nights was more than plenty and it would have been a hassle driving into and out of Old Town Palma for our day trips around the island. St. Regis had free parking and was better situated for day tripping.
One of the most memorable experiences was our day visiting the Arta and Drach Caves. The Drach Caves are considered the 8th wonder of the world. While it was very "touristy", the experience was incredible and beyond unique. I highly recommend visiting both caves as they are close to each other and quite different.
We also drove the Cap de Formentor peninsula. It was a bit stressful navigating the hairpin turns, tiny roads, cyclists, hikers, etc., but the views were spectacular.
Another favorite experience was our day of exploring the villages. Valldemossa was our favorite. Deia, Soller, and Pollenca were also lovely. If I had to do it over again, I would have taken a night off of Old Town Palma and one from St. Regis and stayed in Valldemossa.
On our last day, we visited the southeastern part of the island which has some of the best beach coves and inlets. If you love beaches I would consider staying in Ses Salinas.
I'll report back on San Sebastian, Seville, and Madrid in the next newsletter.
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September 25, 2022
Believe it or not, Jake and I were so impressed with Sedona that we are planning to return in December.
There are a few reasons for this decision.
1. I have Hyatt reward nights for both Jake and I that will expire at the end of this year (the free nights you get with the Hyatt credit card). It's hard to find a level 4 property in the USA to use these rewards on. We usually save them for the Eliza Jane hotel in New Orleans, but we are over New Orleans at the moment with how unsafe and dirty it's become. Hopefully things improve.
2. Our visit to Sedona landed over a holiday weekend. It was PACKED! This is not a place to visit over a holiday weekend. The city center is very compact, which means traffic is a nightmare (it's faster to just walk). The trailheads were also very crowded. Even getting up at 5:30 am and starting our hike by 6:00 am meant there was a good number of people already out and about. By the time we finished, the parking lots were full and the traffic was crazy.
3. It would be beyond cool to hike around Sedona when there's snow on the surrounding mountain tops.
Since Sedona, I have been running around like crazy dealing with our home build. I'm trying to get ahead of the game before I leave for Spain.
We leave for a quick trip to Chicago this week and will try a new hotel. La Salle Chicago (a Marriott property). We usually stay at The Gwen or The Renaissance (also Mariott). I'll report back on my thoughts.
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September 11, 2022
Our SW Roadtrip was a success...though very very hot.
We flew into Las Vegas and drove straight to Zion. We stayed at Under Canvas Zion and absolutely loved it! I would stay at Under Canvas again in a heartbeat, but when the weather is cooler. It's not the best place to stay when it's over 100 degrees as the tents don't have electricity (no A/C). Under Canvas is basically luxury glamping. They are actually very smart because they find unique locations that don't really have any decent places to stay. I can't wait to try out some of their other properties.
We hiked the Narrows the day we arrived. I highly recommend this as it's so unique. The hike is through a canyon and you essentially wade upstream. The river is low, but you're in water most of the time. It was beyond cool.
We took it slow the next morning, drinking coffee and enjoying the views at Under Canvas Zion before moving on to our next stop at Under Canvas Lake Powell. While this property was wonderful, Zion had MUCH better views. We did a raft trip around Horseshoe Bend, which I would not recommend. The tour should have been 1 hour, not 4, and the information was very dry and redundant.
We endured another night of sleeping in 90-degree temps and got up early the next morning to visit the Horseshoe Bend viewpoint at sunrise. It was stunning. Afterward, we toured both Upper and Lower Antelope Canyon. Both were mesmerizing, but Lower beat Upper by a long shot. It was a lot longer and the tour wasn't as rushed.
We woke up at 3:30 am the next morning to get to the Grand Canyon by sunrise for our hike. We hiked Skeleton Point via the South Rim. 2,200 vertical feet down and up in 3 hours. Phew was that a workout! We saw elk and bighorn sheep along the way. These views, just wow. I can't even put words to them.
Sedona was next. While we enjoyed Sedona, I would NEVER visit on a holiday weekend again. The city is very compact so traffic was crazy and trailheads were even worse. We learned you had to get up at 5:30 am to beat the worst of the crowds. We hiked Devil's Bridge and Cathedral Rock and took it easy for the rest of the time as we needed to get some work done. We had two fantastic dinners in Sedona; Mariposa and Elote Cafe.
Sedona is very expensive hotel-wise. After a LOT of searching, I found a great bed and breakfast, Inn Above Oak Creek. It was a fraction of what decent hotels in Sedona were going for and within walking distance to the city center.
We then drove to Scottsdale to work at Schmooze (one of my favorite coffee shops in Scottsdale), before catching an evening flight out of PHX airport.
All in all, I highly recommend this trip and I'm glad with how we did it. We will definitely go back to Sedona, but will probably visit during the week vs. the weekend.
August 21, 2022
I just got back from Scotland and have hit the ground running with designing our house. The frame is going up as we speak and I have a very long list of things to pick out.
The rest of my time in Scotland was a blast. While the first part of the trip was solo, my sister and mom met up with me for the second part. We stayed two nights in Inverness in order to do a day trip to the Isle of Skye. I highly recommend...absolutely breathtaking. You definitely need to choose a smaller tour as the larger buses would not be able to go where we went in our 16-seat mini coach (some tours have 32+ people).
While there isn't much to Inverness, seeing a Highlands city/town was a nice way to round out the trip. Both Edinburgh and Glasgow are in the Lowlands. Inverness is an excellent base for exploring the Highlands either on your own or through tours.
After Inverness, we went back down to Edinburgh to finish out the trip. The Edinburgh Fringe Festival (the world's largest art festival) was in full swing. If you want to experience the shows it's great, otherwise, stay clear as the crowds are insane and hotel prices reflect the influx of tourists.
The Edinburgh Military Tattoo is also during August which is a must. Military bands and other performances take place at the base of Edinburgh Castle. It was a definite highlight of the trip...I can't get enough of those bagpipes!
July 31, 2022
My time in Scotland has been lovely, not to mention a nice, cool break from the 100-degree heat in Texas!
I spent 2 days and 3 nights in Glasgow. As noted in my last newsletter, Glasgow wasn't my favorite. I'm glad I went, but then again, I'll be in Scotland for 3-weeks and didn't have to sacrifice time elsewhere to fit Glasgow in. For the average tourist, I wouldn't recommend going out of your way to include Glasgow. If you're really into street art and want to see a more "real/working" city, then do it as a day trip.
Edinburgh is a dream as always. I would move here in a heartbeat, I just adore this city. My time in Edinburgh started off with a bang as I was finally able to stay at The Balmoral. This iconic hotel had been on my radar for some time. JK Rowling stayed here to finish the Harry Potter series. The moment I checked in, I could see why. I could live in this hotel. It's beyond cozy, the service is outstanding, no detail is overlooked....it really felt like a home away from home.
The location couldn't be better and is ideal for sightseeing. Close to the Waverley train station, in the heart of New Town on Princes Street, and minutes from Old Town. I couldn't believe the view from my window. I could see Princes Street below and Edinburgh Castle in the distance...amazing. I also highly recommend the afternoon tea, which you can read about here.
Save this hotel if you'll be visiting Edinburgh. You won't regret it.
I've noticed an uptick in crowds the closer we get to August (festival season). While it's fun to visit the city with all the events, I much prefer October. Crowds are considerably lower and the weather really isn't that much different than summer. Also, Edinburgh is a popular weekend trip for locals, so try to time your trip during the weekdays to get the best experience.
July 24, 2022
I arrived in Scotland and thankfully had no issues transferring through London Heathrow. Even though this is a longer trip, I made sure to carry on given the situation with LHR (along with other airports) losing bags left and right. My transfer through LHR was surprisingly smooth and it definitely did not feel as crowded as usual.
Glasgow...not sure about my thoughts yet. So far I'm not loving it. But I'm also partial to Edinburgh, so that might be why. Tomorrow will be my first full day of sightseeing. I'll be sure to give a report once I fully explore the city.
On a side note, I've changed my tune on favorite airport lounges. AMEX Centurion used to be my favorite BY FAR. Not so anymore. Capital One is now my preferred lounge (the Venture X credit card gets you in for free). AMEX is always crowded and there's usually a wait to get in. Since the Capital One Venture X card and lounge is new, it's usually pretty quiet.
I also feel like the design is more comfortable and the grab-and-go food section is awesome. This perk really worked in my favor as the food on my American flight to LHR was terrible...glad I packed a backup.
July 10, 2022
Things have been pretty chill since returning from Turkey. Actually, I should use another word since Texas has been anything but chill for the last few weeks...hitting triple digits consistently. I escaped to Minnesota the last two weeks to get a break from the heat and our small apartment. It's been nice to get some nature in and Bailey appreciates watching the ducks, turkeys, squirrels, and chipmunks from the window.
I leave for Scotland at the end of the month. Edinburgh, of course, is on the itinerary as are some new places in Scotland including Glasgow, Inverness, and the Isle of Skye. The Edinburgh Fringe Festival will be in full swing and I just booked tickets to see Ian McKellen (Gandolf) play Hamlet...can't wait! If you're into the performing arts, the Fringe Festival is a great way to see live performances in a small setting.
June 25, 2022
Cappadocia...WOW! This is one of those places where it's even better in person than in photos. The landscape was out of this world...literally. No wonder this is where Star Wars originally wanted to film (the Turkish government turned them down). You really do feel like you're on another planet.
The history is also fascinating. We visited one of the underground cities (there are more than 200 in Cappadocia). It was 7 stories deep! This is where Christians hid when they were being persecuted. Talk about a reminder of how good we have things today.
Cappadocia is also famous for its cave dwellings. The Goreme Open Air Museum was beyond cool. It's a monastery made of various cave buildings that you can wander around... one cave was the kitchen, another the sleeping quarters, a church, and so on.
Like Istanbul, we ended up having to switch hotels. When we arrived, our hotel informed us the AC was not working. Usually, I would be fine working around this, but not for this trip. We would be going to bed early each night since our wake calls were 3:00 am - 4:00 am for the hot air balloon ride and to watch the hot air balloons from our balcony. This meant we would be going to bed early...way before the sun set...and it was HOT. I knew our room wouldn't get below 80/85 degrees (if we were lucky), so we decided to find another hotel last minute.
I ended up booking Divan Cave House, a cave hotel that had a beautiful balcony. Our room was an actual cave room, which was pretty cool.
This is one of the perks of planning your own trips. It didn't take long for me to book another hotel since I had other hotels saved or remembered specific properties from when I did my original research months ago. This made it easy to rebook another hotel without having to start from scratch or being clueless about what to do next. Remember, we had to move hotels in Istanbul as well.
A little over 2 full days was plenty for Cappadocia. On the first day, we did the hot air balloon ride (one of the coolest experiences we have ever had) and the red tour. The red tour hits all the main sights around Goreme. The next day we got up early to watch the balloons from our balcony and joined the green tour. The day of departure we got up early again to watch the balloons, had breakfast and then left for the airport.
June 12, 2022
Turkey...what a trip! I've fully planned and canceled this trip twice due to COVID, so for this to finally happen was beyond exciting. Today I'll talk about Istanbul and in the next newsletter I'll cover Cappadocia.
When Jake and I first arrived in Istanbul we weren't sure what to think. To be honest...we didn't love it at first (mostly because of the area we were staying in). I booked six nights at the Orientbank Hotel (an Autograph Collection by Marriott). While we loved the hotel (it was an old German bank and reminded us of a mini Gringotts from Harry Potter), we ultimately decided to end up switching hotels. This hotel was located in Old Town and we quickly realized, we didn't like being based there...at least not for six nights.
The positive to being based in Old Town is that you're close to a lot of the top sights (Hagia Sophia and Blue Mosque, Topkapi Palace, etc.). The negatives (in our opinion) are that it was very touristy, didn't have a great restaurant scene, not a great area if you want to jog, felt dead at night, was dirty, etc. If I had to do it over again, I would have stayed one or two nights in Old Town to get all the Old Town sights in, and then move elsewhere.
Also, because I booked with Marriott points, the only room available with points was the standard room, which was TINY. We've stayed in our fair share of small rooms, but this one would have gotten old real fast if we stayed the full six nights. The hotel was lovely and the breakfast and service were insane, so I would still recommend the hotel, just book a deluxe room with more space.
We called an audible after our first night, talked to the manager, and switched to the St. Regis in a different area of Istanbul. We were very happy with this decision. The St. Regis blew us away. The room and bathroom were massive, breakfast (free for Platinum and above) was wonderful, and the location was perfect.
The area around the St. Regis felt more European, was clean, next to a park (for jogging), and closer to a lot of the top restaurants. We quickly learned that our favorite areas for wandering were Karakoy and around Galata Tower. This is also where a lot of the best restaurants are.
Once we moved hotels, we really started enjoying the city. The locals were beyond friendly, some of the friendliest we've come across, the food was amazing, and everything was dirt cheap. 20-minute Uber rides were $4 and dinners were $20 to $30.
I included all the sights we visited in my Instagram story highlights as well as all our favorite restaurants, so check those out if you're thinking of going to Istanbul.
March 22, 2022
My girls trip to Scottsdale was wonderful (as Scottsdale always is). We thoroughly enjoyed our stay at Omni Montelucia and the Joya spa lived up to expectations. All five of us were very happy with our treatments (and I'm very picky, so that's saying something).
I'm currently in NYC. It's the first time Jake and I have been since COVID. The weather is amazing and it definitely doesn't feel as crowded (fewer tourists). We walked The High Line the first day we arrived (which happened to be the first nice/warm day NYC has had...according to my friend who lives there), and it wasn't crowded at all. Usually, on a weekend with nice weather, it's PACKED.
I was a bit nervous I would hate our trip here. That it would feel unsafe, I wouldn't be comfortable taking the subway, etc. Honestly, it's been fine. I've taken the subway multiple times. I do feel like you have to be more aware than usual and I wouldn't take it late at night, but all in all, it's not terribly different from how it usually is.
On our first night we stayed at Renaissance Chelsea which I would not recommend. The location and views were great, but the walls were very thin and you could hear your neighbors, the bar upstairs, etc. Neither Jake nor I got much sleep that night. I much prefer Renaissance Midtown.
For the second part of our stay we went to Omni Berkshire as it's right by Jake's office. A little outdated, but the rooms and bathrooms are very spacious and the service is great.
Since about 1 in 5 spots saved on my Google Maps are "permanently closed", I've been updating my NYC blog posts. Very sad to see places that have been open for 15+ years shut down. Also interesting that I'm reading/listening to Atlas Shrugged right now and the parallels to what's going on today are quite alarming.
NYC has always been expensive...but my gosh...can the inflation be felt here. It's actually made me thankful to live in Dallas. I still can't get over how overpriced everything is. $30 for a burger is normal. $17 for a meatless appetizer-sized salad. $7 for a pistachio croissant. $4.50 for an americano. $6 for a scoop of gelato. Yikes!
For those who have already asked...I have not had to show a vaccine card once and the only place that required a mask was the Harry Potter store. You're supposed to wear them on public transportation, but about 1 in 10 people actually do.
Next up is Turkey....can't wait to explore a new country. If you have recommendations, send them my way!
March 8, 2022
Travel is starting to pick back up this month. Today I leave for a girls trip to Scottsdale with my mom, sister, aunt, and cousin. Jake and I absolutely love Scottsdale and can't get enough of it. I'm excited to show my family one of our favorite cities in the US.
We're staying at Omni Montelucia (one of my top picks). It never disappoints. And of course, I will be taking them to UnderTow for nautical-inspired cocktails.
After that is NYC with Jake. We haven't been since the pandemic...which is crazy since we would usually visit twice a year. It will be interesting to see how the city has changed. I've heard a range of opinions and look forward to finding out for myself what the city is like today.
Last trip for the month is TURKEY! I have planned and canceled this trip twice. I can't believe we are finally going. I'll be sharing those details as the trip gets closer and when we return.
APRIL 24, 2022
April has been fairly uneventful travel-wise. Jake has been slammed with work and I've been busy with my makeup job (I do hair and makeup for weddings and events).
I did a girls weekend getaway to Austin It's a great change in scenery, though I'm a little sad about how the city has changed. What used to feel like a small city that was quirky, super casual, and inexpensive has now turned into a place that feels more like Dallas 2.0 or heading in the direction of San Francisco. There's now more of a "see and be seen" vibe, which just didn't seem to exist before. Hence why it was such a refreshing break from Dallas. Prices have increased ridiculously.
I still enjoy visiting as I love jogging around Trail Lake and getting a little bit of nature in. And honestly, if you didn't know the "old Austin", you'd think it was fantastic. So even though I miss what it used to be, I still think it makes for a wonderful weekend getaway.
We stayed at the brand new Thompson Hotel and really enjoyed it. The location was walking distance to Trail Lake and in the heart of downtown where there are plenty of restaurants and coffee shops to walk to. The pool and patio space were wonderful. The rooms with two queen beds were also very spacious and perfect for a girls trip.
April 10, 2022
Jake and I returned to Costa Rica to celebrate our 8 year anniversary. We've returned 5 times since our first visit in 2018...to the same resort...Andaz Papagayo. Returning to the same hotel isn't our travel style as we like to experience new places and things. So the fact that we've returned to this resort so many times speaks to how amazing it is.
On this trip, I decided to change things up. I booked two nights at W Costa Rica and 2 nights at Andaz Papagayo. I had heard good things about the W and it actually looked similar to Andaz...so I wanted to see if this would be a good value for my Marriott loyal readers.
Generally, we were disappointed we spent two nights at the W Costa Rica. Now, if we hadn't been to Andaz Papagayo previously (to compare), I probably would have thought the W was great. But we had been to Andaz and the W just didn't live up.
*These opinions are entirely my own and my Andaz Papagayo post (below) and this email are not sponsored. I have paid for each of my stays at Andaz Papagayo*
- Double the time from LIR airport (over an hour vs. 30 minutes for Andaz).
My overall complaints were:
- Felt dry and flat. Andaz is set on a steep incline, so you get some great views and height from your rooms (especially if you're on the upper part) and the pool. The views from the pool at the W were just OK.
- The beach is better at Andaz as are the sun beds/chairs.
- Food was hit or miss...Andaz is better.
- Grounds at the W were not as lush, colorful, or as well-kept as Andaz.
- A lot more wildlife (monkeys, deer, iguanas, Mexican raccoons) at Andaz.
- Not enough sun beds/chairs nor enough spots in the shade/umbrellas.
-Service was not nearly as attentive as Andaz.
- VERY loud music is played at the adult pool in the late afternoon, which totally kills the chill vibe.
- Andaz has perks like free snorkel gear, kayaks, electric bikes, paddle-boards, etc.
- The main perk is the free breakfast (buffet style) for Platinum and Titanium members. The breakfast was incredible and priced at $40 per person...so a great benefit for status members.
- The view from the bedroom is amazing. The bed faces the windows which makes quite the impression when you open your eyes in the morning.
We also realized March is not our favorite time to visit. We usually go in November, December, January, and July. March felt dry and the landscaping was not nearly as green or lush.
March 27, 2022
We had an incredible time in Maui!
We did a lot of snorkeling (I spotted an octopus twice and several eels), hiking, and paddle boarding with the whales (mid-January to March is peak whale season in Maui).
This was the first time I did a kayak whale tour, which was incredible. We saw whales below our kayak. One of them was a singer whale. He was nose down and did what they call a "whale song". The song can last up to 30 minutes, and may then be repeated for hours. The whale will sing the same song every year with a slight variation.
Apparently, they go into a trance-like state while singing (which is why he was nose down the entire time). We got some great GoPro footage which I've uploaded to YouTube and Instagram (Maui highlights). If you watch, be sure to turn the volume up!
Next up is Costa Rica for our 8 year anniversary. We are splitting our time between Andaz Papagayo and W Costa Rica. We adore Andaz Papagayo...it's one of our favorite resorts...ever. W Costa Rica is a new hotel and looks very similar to Andaz, so I wanted to compare the two. I'll report back on thoughts in the next newsletter.
March 6, 2022
As with other events this year, like Afghanistan, part of me feels silly for even talking about travel or writing newsletters like this.
While Jake and I had the best time in Maui, enjoying time with my family, the events in Ukraine were on all our minds. It's at times like this you're reminded of the constant hurt and pain around the world. Sometimes in far-off places. Sometimes in the house or apartment next door.
Current events paired with recently reading, In Order to Live, has made me that much more thankful for the country I live in and those that have/are sacrificing their lives for our freedom. I hope and pray that we all take a moment to evaluate our mindset and not take our freedom, family, home, friends, job, education (this list could go on) for granted.
If you're looking for ways to help Ukraine, check out this article: 9 WAYS TO HELP UKRAINE RIGHT NOW.
I'll save my Maui trip report for next time.
February 20, 2022
Jake and I decided to take it easy the last two weeks after having such a hectic January. We are fully settled into the apartment and loving our small, but cozy, space.
We leave for Hawaii today. I have to say...and I said this last year too...out of all the travel I've done during COVID, Hawaii is the craziest when it comes to travel restrictions and how specific you have to be with your test, how you upload it, etc.
Currently, you either need proof of vaccination or a negative NAAT test from an "approved provider" up to 72 hours before departure. You then have to upload everything to the Hawaii Safe Travels website where someone will approve or deny what you uploaded. If you don't get the green checkmark, you'll have to get everything looked at once you land in Hawaii.
We're staying at the Kaanapali Alii by Hyatt in Lahaina (where we always stay). While there aren't many new hotels in this area of Maui, I still prefer staying in Lahaina compared to other spots like Wailea.
It's great for group or family trips because you're walking distance to Whaler's Village, shops, restaurants, etc. It's nice not to feel like you're stuck at the resort or constantly getting in the car...which is what happens at resorts like Andaz Maui and the Four Seasons Wailea.
February 6, 2022
It's been a busy four weeks for Jake and me. We did a last-minute trip to Scottsdale, moved to a new apartment, spent a few days in Park City, and now we are in Denver.
Park City was awesome! The weather was perfect and we got some beautiful winter hikes in. We also did snowmobiling for the first time through Park City Peaks. The big surprise when we arrived was that the ranch we spent 3 hours exploring was the Dutton Ranch from Yellowstone! We had no idea as they don't advertise this. We saw Rip's house, the incredible views the show is famous for, the horse corals...it was a highlight to say the least.
We stayed at Hotel Park City (a Marriott Autograph Collection) and it was fantastic. Each room had a fireplace, a small living room, a kitchenette, and the breakfast (free for Platinum members and above) at Ruth's Chris was excellent.
We also wandered St. Regis Deer Valley which a lot of people recommended. We honestly liked our hotel better...and it was about 1/2 the price. To get to the hotel you have to take a funicular, which was fun the first time, but seeing how there was often a line, I could see how that would get old real fast. I would only recommend the St. Regis if you don't plan on leaving the property much (which it does have everything you need and is ski in/ski out).
A few days after Park City we left for Denver just in time to escape the ice storm in Dallas and experience the snowstorm in Denver We usually stay at the JW Marriott in Cherry Creek, but went with the Jacquard since the JW is undergoing some lobby improvements. Highly recommend both hotels.
January 23, 2022
Surprise...Jake and I are moving AGAIN. I can't even express how tired we are of packing and moving, packing and moving. Since we sold our house we have moved 5 times (this will be our 6th). This is in a 4 year time frame .
Long story short for this move. We are tired of living in the area we are in. The area turned (for the bad) after the riots last summer. We also appreciate things like...sleep...quiet...which is impossible when you have "Fast and Furious" style street racing going on below your complex. Not joking in the slightest.
Our house is delayed. We have no idea if we will even end up building this house due to labor shortages, supply chain issues, and prices going through the roof for things like lumber.
So, our option was to renew at a crazy rate where we were...or move again. We decided we wanted to end (hopefully this is the end) of our apartment living on a good note. We decided to rent a one bedroom instead of a two. Put the majority of our stuff in a POD (so we don't have to move everything twice), and take the bare essentials to the new apartment. Minimalist living here we come!
On another note. We snuck away to Scottsdale last minute to get some sunshine and take a break from living in a disaster of an apartment filled with boxes. It was a great escape. We always love our time in Scottsdale and wish we could stay longer.
If you're thinking of going to Scottsdale, my favorite hotels are:
- Omni Scottsdale Resort & Spa at Montelucia
- Andaz Scottsdale Resort & Bungalows
- Hermosa Inn
- The Phoenician, a Luxury Collection Resort, Scottsdale
- Canopy by Hilton Scottsdale Old Town (option in Old Town if prices at the above are outrageous)
January 9, 2022
Cheers to hoping 2022 is better than 2021
Jake and I spent New Year's in New Orleans...and I have to say...I've become a bit "disenchanted" with Nola over the years.
After visiting New Orleans and Charleston multiple times, and then practically doing them back-to-back, I'll admit that I don’t see myself returning to Nola for a while.
The city seems to get dirtier each time I visit.
Charleston is much more enjoyable. Cleaner, safer, has just as good restaurants, history, and architecture (if not better). Jake still enjoys New Orleans because he likes a gritty city visit and French creole cuisine.
I see us returning to Charleston often, not so much with Nola.
This last trip we stayed at the Q&C Hotel (a Marriott Autograph Hotel). I do not recommend staying here and much prefer The Ritz New Orleans and The Eliza Jane. I happened upon Maison de Luz and it looked incredible! We found it on our way to the hotel's speakeasy, Bar Marilou. I recommend checking both the hotel and bar out.
December 26, 2021
I’m writing todays newsletter from McMinnville, Oregon…my hometown. Every time I visit, I’m blown away at how the Willamette Valley is growing and gaining popularity. It’s easy to see why as the wine if phenomenal, the views are spectacular, and the price tag is a fraction of Napa Valley.
This trip I discovered the most incredible Bed and Breakfast, Youngberg Hill. Located just 10 minutes from downtown McMinnville (the town I recommend basing yourself as it has the best restaurants, cutest main street, and most charm), this B&B is the perfect wine country getaway.
The hilltop location offers some spectacular views. The rooms are cozy, complete with a fireplace, the gourmet breakfast each morning is wonderful, and the staff are ready to help with recommendations for wine tastings, restaurants, and wine country experiences.
One of things I loved most about Youngberg is that you feel like you’re a world away…surrounded by nature, the buzzing of insects, and some serious star gazing at night…yet you’re in the heart of Willamette Valley and a short drive from restaurants, tasting rooms, and shops.
Check them out if you’re thinking of visiting Oregon wine country!
After spending Christmas hanging at home and enjoying some wine tastings, we’re off to Pacific City to hang at the coast for a bit. I’ll report on that next time!
I hope everyone had a wonderful Christmas!
December 12, 2021
Have you ever visited a destination on your wish list and felt like it was completely overhyped? That happened to Jake and I the other weekend. The only other time we've been extremely underwhelmed with a city was Santa Fe. This time around it was Savannah.
Now, don't get me wrong, Savannah is adorable. The trees draped in Spanish moss, Forsyth Park, riverfront, and restaurant scene are wonderful. Jake and I originally planned to stay in Savannah for three nights. We arrived around 2:30 pm on our first day. After exploring that afternoon and evening, getting up early the next morning and biking around the entire historic district...we started asking ourselves "is this it" and "what on earth are we going to do for the next two days".
My first thought was that we were missing something. So I reached out to everyone I knew who had been to Savannah. The overwhelming response was that we were not missing anything and we had covered all the musts. I asked Jake his thoughts on how we would spend the rest of our time in Savannah and his response was that we would basically eat and drink our way through the city. Which, as much as I love trying new restaurants, didn't excite me.
Instead of having a bust of a trip we decided to switch gears and drive to Charleston (a city we love). We canceled the last two nights of our hotel (a perk of booking with Marriott points is that you have a better chance of being able to cancel without penalties). I booked another Marriott property with points since prices were crazy, rented car, and made the two hour drive to Charleston.
We absolutely love Charleston and were so glad we called a spade a spade and moved on. Charleston in November is ideal. The colors were beautiful and the weather was perfect.
We stayed at Hotel Bella Grace. It had always been on my radar because of the prime location, but I had been hesitant to book because it's labeled as Residence Inn on the Marriott website. Don't let that throw you off. Outside of having a microwave in our room, it felt like a normal, spacious hotel room.
I still prefer Emeline and The Dewberry because they come with perks like free bikes and the overall design is fantastic. Hotel Bella Grace is a great backup if prices are outrageous. You can read more about my favorite places to stay in Charleston here (which I'll be updating to include Hotel Bella Grace).
November 28, 2021
I hope everyone had a special and memorable Thanksgiving! Per tradition I made my pumpkin caramel bundt cake…which is super easy and works with both regular and gluten free flour.
Last week I was in Orlando for Harry Potter World. I’ve been three times now and I have to say, I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of visiting. Orlando truly did a fantastic job with the design and attention to detail…not to mention how addicting the butterbeer is.
I was surprised at how normal Universal felt. Masks were encouraged but not required. Maybe 10% of people were wearing masks. No vaccine or negative test needed. I heard that Disney World had different rules that were more strict.
This was my second to stay at Universal’s Loews Sapphire Falls. I pick this hotel because it’s close to Universal Studios. Either a 15-minute walk (along the water canal which is quite enjoyable) or a 5-minute water ferry from the hotel. You also get early park admission by staying here as it’s one of the official Universal hotels.
I then met up with Jake at his work conference. We were at the brand new JW Marriott Orlando Bonnet Creek. This is where we'll most likely stay in the future for when visiting Epcot. It’s less than 10 minutes from the park and includes a complimentary shuttle.
Capital One is launching its first-ever premium travel credit card, Venture X *Jake and I both have this card and are working towards earning the bonus"
November 7, 2021
Carmel Valley was the perfect Halloween weekend getaway. The weather was foggy creating a spooking village atmosphere and even though a lot of restaurants and hotels were fully booked, it never felt crowded.
A few realistic thoughts on Carmel Valley and Carmel by the Sea.
- prices are very high in Carmel by the Sea for subpar quality. You will typically pay 4 or 5-star prices for a 2 or 3-star hotel. Hotels and bed and breakfasts are also fairly outdated. This is a place you must do your research to find a good place (and book well in advance). Our friends ended up checking into their hotel and walked right back out to find a better place to stay. They ended up at La Playa Carmel (which was much better). The common areas were cozy, breakfast was incredible, and the location was in the heart of Carmel by the Sea. Rooms were small and basic, but this is a good find for something under $500 a night.
- a good alternative is to stay in Monterey. It's a 7 minute drive from Carmel by the Sea and has big name brands like Hyatt and Marriott. We stayed at the Hyatt Regency Monterey and were happy with our choice. I used free night certificates, but when I booked the price was $229 a night (much lower than Carmel). The hotel was recently updated. The patio and fire-pits overlooking the golf course were wonderful after a day of exploring. Hyatt did a great job with the lobby update including a giant fireplace in the center surrounded by seating. Rooms were spacious and had a few modern updates to the furniture and bedding, but still felt a tad bit outdated. The Marriott was our backup option and looked similar to Hyatt.
- Plan on 2 nights to enjoy Carmel by the Sea, visit a few wine tasting rooms, see Bixby Bridge, walk Scenic Drive, visit Pebble Beach, and complete 17 mile drive. 3 to 4 nights is needed if you want to add a few hikes, visit Big Sur, and/or golf.
- No one in our party was impressed with the dining scene. Plan to pay $30+ for mains that are pretty basic and forgettable. Quality coffee shops were also sparse. My favorite was actually in Monterey (Captain + Stoker). If you're ready to shell out some serious cash there are some beautiful spots with a view. Sierra Mar (located at the ultra-luxury Post Ranch Inn) offers a 4-course prix-fixed menu for $145 with views over looking Big Sur. Basically, this is not a place like Napa, Charleston, New Orleans, etc., where you come for the food. You come to Carmel for the views, nature, and charming town center.
- Carmel is very dog-friendly. We brought Bailey on this trip and had no problems. In fact, I think half of Carmel knows Bailey now and her "rescue story", and our guess on what her breed is, ha!
October 24, 2021
I just got back from Portugal and couldn't have asked for a better birthday trip. Here's a breakdown of our itinerary and hotels:2 nights Sintra at Penha Longa Resort
We wanted to chill our first two nights. This was a great base to spend one day visiting Sintra palace and one day at Cascais (beach town). The hotel was great (Ritz brand). Grounds were spacious, golf course, pool with beautiful view, etc. The only negative is that the rooms felt a bit outdated, which I find common with the Ritz brand.
3 nights Porto at Maison Albar Hotels Le Monumental Palace
Oh my...this hotel was incredible. We splurged for my birthday and also used several AMEX credits that come with our AMEX Platinum cards. The location couldn't be better, the best hotel breakfast I have ever had, and the spa, sauna, and service were all top-notch. This hotel was GORGEOUS.
1 night Douro Valley at Ventozelo Hotel & Quinta
We decided last minute to take one night from Porto and spend one night in the Douro Valley. Originally we planned to do this as a day trip. I am SO glad we spent the night. The Douro Valley was the highlight of our trip. The views were incredible and I was so glad we got to enjoy it at sunset and sunrise. Our hotel room was an old wine storage room/cave converted into a spacious one-bedroom suite. We loved it and it was very unique. The breakfast area also had incredible views of the valley. There were several walking paths you could take from the hotel to really soak in the views.
5 nights Lisbon at the brand new Marriott Autograph Collection, The Ivens
I was nervous about this hotel as it literally just opened and had two reviews. We ended up loving it. The decor was over the top (in a good way). The theme was safari and the hotel was scented in Jo Malone perfume. It was heavenly. Breakfast is included if you're a Platinum member and above. I highly recommend staying here as the location was ideal...you're close to everything.
I have to say, I've never been on a trip where every single hotel we stayed at exceeded expectations. I would recommend all the above.
Portugal was very easy to enter. All we needed was a negative COVID test within 72 hours of arrival. We uploaded our test in the United app prior to departure and no one asked to see it. Not even at customs.
The country is open and welcoming tourists. It felt very "normal". Masks were hit and miss. I rarely saw people wear them outside. It was common to see people wear them when inside shops or entering a restaurant, but not everyone did and no one really enforced this.
This was my second time in Portugal and I still have the same thoughts I did the first visit. Porto is my favorite city by far. Lisbon is cool, but there are many cities in Europe I would rather spend my time...like Seville or Barcelona.
All in all, it was a fantastic birthday trip. Part of the reason Jake and I went abroad is that prices are astronomical in the states. I quickly realized we could spend 11 days in Portugal for the same cost as 4 days in Napa, Scottsdale, West Palm Beach, or Charleston. And that analysis includes flights! I really hope this trend of hotel rates being 4x higher than normal is not here to stay.
September 26, 2021
Rome and Florence are seeing a return of tourists. Italy is more crowded than last year (I was in Florence, Amalfi, and Venice in September 2020) but still far less crowded than usual. I noticed a lot of Europeans in Italy and a few Americans. What really helps with crowd levels are the lack of massive tour groups. I did see several river cruise walking tours...but those tours were about 20 people. In the past I've seen groups of 50+.
Another positive is that ticketed attractions were obviously limiting the number of visitors per day. Even though open sights like the Trevi Fountain or Ponte Vecchio felt crowded, the Sistine Chapel was probably 1/5 of the normal tourist levels.
The current rules are that Americans can enter Italy if:
1) they provide a negative COVID test combined with either proof of recovery (no older than 6 months) or proof of vaccination OR 2) provide a negative COVID test, self isolate for 5 days, and take another COVID test after the 5 days.
I stayed at the Terrace Panthion Relais and highly recommend it. The rooms were spacious (for European standards) and the location couldn't be beat. I could walk everywhere...the Pantheon, Spanish steps, Vatican City, Colosseum, etc.
I usually stay at Room Mate Luca when in Florence, but this time I decided to try a new Marriott Autograph Collection hotel, Sina Villa Medici. It was nice, but I'll probably stick with Room Mate Luca next time. I didn't love the location of Sina Villa Medici and though the lobby and breakfast room/courtyard were lovely, the rooms felt a bit stale. If you like to stick with American brands, I would recommend booking either the Westin Excelsior or the St. Regis Florence.
September 12, 2021
Bruges was a dream. It’s easily my favorite city in Belgium. Bruges is ideal for wandering...winding canals, Flemish architecture, tiny waffle shops, grand squares, and cobblestoned streets. I’ve been to Brussels, Antwerp, Ghent, and Bruges. This was my second time in Bruges and the one place I would visit again and again.
Most people usually shy away from Bruges or do it as a day trip because it’s known for being touristy and crowded. I highly recommend basing yourself in Bruges instead of doing it as a day trip. The crowds are the worst in the afternoons since everyone else does Bruges as a day trip. In the mornings and evenings, it’s pure magic. Also, if you time your trip right, avoiding the summer crowds and beginning/middle of December when the Christmas markets are the busiest, you’ll have a much more enjoyable experience.
Last time I was in Bruges was during Christmas. Jake and I spent Christmas day in the city. If you visit Europe during the holidays, the closer you get to Christmas the less crowded it becomes. I loved visiting Bruges when the weather was warm(ish) (it felt like fall) and the flowers were in bloom. I have to say that I prefer the holidays. The city was even more fairytalelike with the twinkle lights reflecting in the canals and the cafes and restaurants felt that much cozier.
I stayed at Grand Hotel Casselbergh on this trip and couldn’t recommend it more. Ideal location, spacious rooms, wonderful service, and a decent breakfast. Jake and I stayed at Hotel Relais Bourgondisch Cruyce last time and enjoyed that hotel as well. It was right on the canal and beyond cozy with its old-world charm.
I spent three nights in Bruges and two in Ghent. I really enjoyed Ghent and would recommend a night there. I also did a day trip to Antwerp which I wouldn’t recommend. I wasn’t at all impressed and it doesn’t hold a candle to Bruges or Ghent.
I stayed at the Marriott in Ghent and it was perfect! The picture above is what I saw the moment I stepped out the back door.
After Belgium I flew to Italy. I was surprised no one asked to see my negative COVID test. I guess it’s because I was flying within the EU. I’ll talk more about Italy in the next newsletter as this one is already much too long.
AUGUST 29, 2021
I’m off to Belgium! I booked a flight during a sale a few months ago. $530 roundtrip which ended up being 35,300 Chase Ultimate Rewards points. I booked directly through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal. If I had booked that same flight directly through United Airlines, it would have been 66,000 points + $100 in taxes and fees.
Since we’re on the subject, let’s take a quick look at my strategy when using points to buy airfare. I haven’t paid for a flight in about seven years, so I’ve had some practice
If you want more info on my credit card strategy, check out this post. I also did two series on my Instagram stories highlights titled “1 - Credit Cards and 2 – Credit Cards”
Hands down, one of the best credit cards to own for earning points and redeeming them for airfare is the Chase Sapphire Reserve. One of the perks of having the Chase Sapphire Reserve is that your points are worth 1.5 when redeeming through the portal. Other travel credit cards are typically just 1. So, my $530 ticket would have been 53,000 points with other credit cards. Or, if you have the Chase Sapphire Preferred (the lower-end version of the Reserve) your points are worth 1.25, which would come out to 42,400 for a $530 ticket.
I’ve learned one of the best ways to use points is to wait for flights to go on sale, and then book through the Chase portal. Credit card portals, like the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal, determines how many points are needed based on the flight price. When you redeem points directly through the airline (United, American Airlines, Delta, etc.), those are usually based on a reward chart. So, whether the flight is on sale for $500 or full price for $1,000, it will be the same amount of points.
I haven’t discussed my plans for this Europe trip because I wasn’t sure if I would make it. With cases on the rise, I knew there was a high probability that travel restrictions would change or something would happen that would force me to cancel the trip.
I’m sitting on the airplane as I write this…I don’t want to say “I made it” just yet in case I jinx myself. Jake kept asking if I was excited for my trip and my response was “I won’t get excited until I clear customs in Belgium”.
Stay tuned for all the details in the next newsletter. I’ll share everything that was required, what it was like using the United Travel Ready Center (it made it MUCH easier to keep up with travel restrictions, upload required documents, etc.), getting through customs, and what the crowd levels are like.
I want to close with a note completely unrelated to travel. Please keep the horrendous situation in Afghanistan in your daily thoughts and prayers. We so easily forget the hurt, struggle, and pain that is constant in so many countries and in so many lives around the world. I’m reminded through recent events to be thankful for everything I have and not complain about inconveniences or minor setbacks. To remember that each day is a gift. To love those around me, including those that have different viewpoints when it comes to health, politics, etc.
AUGUST 15, 2021
Our last-minute trip to Scottsdale was a nice little getaway. It was hot, but not too terrible...and cooler than Dallas....so we figured it was a win. I said I would share my thoughts on the JW Camelback Scottsdale Resort. Not a fan. It was very outdated and the pool wasn't anything to write home about with cheap chairs and an overall "public pool" feel. Instead of pristine landscaping like many other resorts in Scottsdale, there was just a lot of pavement and rock, giving it a very unhappy monotone look.
Sadly, this property doesn't come close to my two other favorite resorts (Omni Montelucia and Andaz Scottsdale). I can't figure out how the JW is charging the same (often more) than the other two resorts. Quite frankly, it's a joke. We ended up ditching the JW pool and spent time at Omni and Andaz instead.
If you're planning on traveling, get ready for airline delays and cancelations. Jake has been traveling for work every other week for several months now. About 90% of his flights have been delayed. I'm not talking 15-minute delays, I'm talking hours.
We ended up having to stay an extra night in Scottsdale because our flight kept getting delayed. The last time this happened with Southwest Airlines, they ended up canceling our flight. So we decided to play it safe and rebook for the next morning vs. spend hours waiting at the airport to potentially have our flight canceled in the end.
Delayed and canceled flights seem to be the norm. Airlines being short-staffed is a major contributing factor. Read this article for more info.