Tulum Trip

Howdy! If you are in need of a vacation (or just some inspiration) then this post is for you. Ryan and I recently got back from an incredible week long trip to Tulum, Mexico. We have been having a very gray winter here in Cleveland (as per usual) and a dose of sun and sea was just what we needed!

A Little History: Tulum, (if you haven’t heard of it) is a town about an hour and a half south of Cancun in the state of Quintana Roo on the Yucatan peninsula and sits on some of (if not the) most beautiful beaches in the world. Tulum got its start many centuries ago as a port for the ancient Mayan city of Coba (a little bit further inland). It was one of the last cities to be occupied by the Mayans, and remained so even after the Spanish arrived. Unfortunately, it was quickly decimated by disease and soon thereafter abandoned.

What remains of the ancient city is now protected in a national park. The *very* well-preserved ruins are perched on a cliff overlooking the turquoise ocean below. We visited this site on our last trip and it was truly spectacular.

^ Here I am at the ruins on our first trip to Tulum.

Pro tip: Get there right when the park opens to avoid the barrage of tour buses from Cancun and Playa Del Carmen.

The Mayans had the right idea.

^ Some of the buildings are in near perfect condition.

Nowadays, Tulum is more of a beach-y, tourist town that I highly recommend visiting!

Why we love Tulum: Ryan and I have visited this area twice now, and we are already planning a third trip. Tulum really has the best of all things. It has amazing food and culture, beautiful weather, and of course, it’s located on one of the most stunning stretches of land I have ever seen.

^ just looking at this picture makes me feel *zen*. Also, the sky just looks unreal.

We’ve stayed in Tulum town now on both trips (vs. staying directly on the beach). The town is about 2 miles away (by bicycle) from the beach. For our third trip we are contemplating staying directly on the beach, but you really can’t go wrong with either location. Most AirBNBs have bikes so you can easily ride to the public beach or beach clubs, and there is amazing food/drink to be had in both locations.

Pool at our AirBNB:

IMHO, Tulum town is a little bit more authentic than the beach area. There are many Mexican/Mayan people visiting and working in town. In the beach area, we noticed it was less diverse (in some ways) and more touristy, probably due to the higher price points. You likely won’t find a lot of authentic Mexican/Mayan food close to the beach, but, that being said, there are some truly amazing restaurants in this area as well, it just depends on what you’re in the mood for and the experience you want to have. Given the proximity of town to the beach and vice versa, you really don’t have to choose since you can easily go to both areas!

Below: One of hundreds of vibrant murals throughout town.

No matter where you stay, we found people to be friendly and welcoming. The landscape is otherworldly. Lush jungle pushes right up to the ocean along the coastline. Going to the beach is an experience in and of itself. Thick green foliage lines either side of the dirt road as sunlight filters through. You can feel and smell a little bit of the salt spray from the ocean, and as you park your bike under the palm trees on the white sand beach, it feels like you’ve just arrived in heaven (at least my version!).

The color of the water is somewhere between crystal clear and light turquoise. Everyday we arrived to the beach it truly took my breath away and I had to pinch myself.

A true vacation: The best part of this trip for me was how utterly relaxing it was. I recently started a new position (same employer) and the transition has been particularly tough. There is a huge learning curve for this role and a lot of work to be done. This vacation (which was planned well before I took this new job) was much needed by the time it actually rolled around.

Usually when we travel (particularly internationally) I have a lot of places saved, a list of things to do, etc. On this trip, we had nothing planned. It was amazing. We just woke up and decided what to do as the day progressed. Most days we ended up eating a large breakfast and heading to the beach afterwards. On some trips, this lack of structure might not work out so quite so well. For example, when I am visiting a big city like Paris or Rome, I find myself trying to see all the places I grew up reading about in history books, in less than a week’s time. There is often a subconscious sense of urgency for me to see it all on these types of trips (as much as I try to fight it!).

I think generally we do a pretty good job of balancing the “must-sees” with just letting the experience unfold, but I loved this trip because it was a true vacation in every sense of the word. No pressure to see anything, be anywhere at any specific time, or do much of anything at all. I thoroughly enjoyed it!

What we did (Other than eat, beach, repeat): On this past trip, we cooked with a Mayan family in a very small village called Muchucuxcah (located in the Yucatan state). The family was incredibly welcoming and friendly. Since we did not share a common language, I thought there might be a barrier but it was amazing how much we could communicate through facial expressions and gesturing. We made tortillas, traditional bean wraps using banana leaves, and an amazing dish called ‘pollo pibil’ – chicken in red chile spices, cooked underground.

Finished chicken product:

Our host, Alberto, was really wonderful. He grew up in Mexico and ended up going to graduate school in Belgium on a scholarship for engineering. He began teaching Mexican cooking classes as a means to stay close to his roots while being halfway around the world. Eventually, he took his love of cooking and brought it back to Mexico (full circle!). He met the Mayan family he works with through his brother, and he has been cooking with them for five years. This partnership with the family has helped support them and their community.

Our host family’s casa. ^

Alberto was very informative during the trip to Muchucuxcah and Ryan and I both learned a lot about Mayan civilization, Mexico, and cooking as well. We always try to do some sort of food related activity when we visit different areas. This was by far one of the best we have ever done, and one of the best guides we have ever had.

Aside from this phenomenal culinary excursion, we also enjoyed several other amazing meals. We ate a lot of seafood, tacos, and Oaxaca cheese 😁. We also had our fair share of tropical fruits and vegetables. The produce is so fresh in this part of the world. Having delicious coconut, mango, papaya, avocado, and pineapple on hand truly made me yearn to live in such an ecologically blessed area!

^ Why does my arm/ hand look massively large here? Anyways, cheers to this view ☺️.

We also visited an amazing cenote about an hour from Tulum. Cenotes are naturally formed fresh water pools that are below ground level. There are thousands of them in the Yucatan peninsula, and are all connected via an underground river. It was about 70 feet below ground and spectacular. Long vines hung from the opening at ground level and tumbled down into the blue water below. The water was a deep cerulean blue and completely clear. Ryan and I both swung off a rope (!!) and swam around with the fish for a while.

Tulum thoughts: We have absolutely loved visiting Tulum both times and can’t wait to go back. Have you ever been to Tulum? Do you recommend any other places in Mexico?

*Check out my quick (soon to be published) Tulum guide for more details on what we did, things to do, and other tips.*

Thank you for reading, please leave comments below!

 

Book Review: The Great Alone

Hi all-

On a recent trip to Mexico (blog post coming soon!) I was able to get in some serious reading – 3 books in a week 😊. One of the books I read was called “The Great Alone,” by Kristin Hannah. Hannah wrote another book I really enjoyed called “The Nightingale,” so I figured I would give this a read!

Here is my candid review: I loved this book for an exhilarating, fast paced read. It was such a page turner I could barely put it down and I think I finished it within one full day. That said, this book is not necessarily a philosophical study of morality but instead a dramatic page turner.

“The Great Alone,” is largely set in rural Alaska over the span of several decades and focuses on a young woman, Leonora, and her relationships with her mother and father. Her father is a Vietnam vet and the family struggles to put down roots anywhere until they land in a town of approximately thirty full time residents closer to the North Pole than anywhere else. Life is tough in Alaska, there is no running water or electricity, and the looming threat of the impending winter season is constantly present throughout the book.

The book also focuses on the relationship Leonora (Leni) has with herself. I thought that this was perhaps the most interesting part of the book. Leni constantly struggles internally with the battle between her head and heart, and I think this struggle is something most people can resonate with. She also struggles with feeling like an outsider, or an imposter for most of her life. The exploration of these feelings is sad, beautiful and familiar.

Without giving too much a way, I highly recommend this book. Hannah weaves a network of relationships and characters in such a beautiful and realistic way you can almost picture each person as your flip through the pages. At times it is difficult to read, but it is beautifully written and thought provoking. It made me take an introspective look at my own life and surroundings. It created such a vivid depiction of Alaska, I felt as though I could look out my window and see the glacially carved mountain peaks, hear the bays of the seals in the harbor and feel the snow falling softly around me. This book made me want to visit Alaska immediately (even though I’d only ever be a tourist.)

My only criticism (which is maybe a common theme for me!) is I felt the latter quarter of the book was somewhat rushed and less relatable/ almost clichéd. This book developed amazing characters and I think that could have been extended in the second half, especially in the last few chapters. It shifted quickly and to me the writing felt more rushed towards the end.

That said, I think I liked this just as much as the “The Nightingale,” and I definitely recommend it for a quick, exhilarating read. I would give it 3.5/4 out 5 stars ⭐️ ⭐️⭐️⭐️. Have you read this book? What are your thoughts?

It must be beautiful this time of year…

Hi all! Just popping on to share some pics of our home all dressed up for Christmas. We just put our decorations up and are getting in the holiday spirit. These first few photos are actually from last year, but the scene is virtually unchanged this year!

Here are some pics from Public Square in downtown Cleveland. I took these walking home from work the other day. The decorations are truly beautiful and make the sun setting at 4:30 slightly more bearable 😊.

Finally, Maggie is also ready for the colder months:

Don’t worry, she shook off these antlers approximately 2 seconds after this photo was snapped.

I hope everyone is enjoying these last few weeks of 2019. Soon it will be a new year, and a new decade at that! Enjoy the season everyone!

Fall Things

Hi everyone! It’s been a while since I posted. Fall is upon us, and I wanted to post a few pics from our walk with Maggie today. I’ve probably taken 250+ pics of the foliage over the past few weeks and today was a typical fall day in Northeast Ohio- blustery, overcast, and beautiful foliage around every turn! So I finally grabbed my camera for the first time in a few weeks and Ryan and I walked around the Shaker Lakes area.

I love this kind of weather and fall in general- it’s easily my favorite season.

Maggie ❤️

Ryan and Maggie patiently waiting.

I love this part of the path- lined with old oaks on either side.

This scene was so beautiful, it’s hard to capture in a picture. It was very bright (although overcast) for a lot of the walk, but the colors really popped along this bend in the road. I’m glad I turned around to look behind me!

Hope everyone is doing great and enjoying all the seasonal things!

PS I am hoping to do an Italy post soon. Ryan and I got back from an incredible trip and I have so many photos to share!

Exploring the Van Aken District

Hi guys!

Today I want to chat about a little area that has been majorly revamped over the last couple of years: the Van Aken District in Shaker Heights, OH.

Van Aken is the name of the street that ends at the intersection of Warrensville and Chagrin Boulevard (about 4 minutes from our house conveniently!) and has experienced a complete renaissance as of late!

A few years ago, it was a mess of an intersection (literally, it had 6 stoplights) and a collection of aging strip malls. Today, it has been reimagined and redesigned with amazing local shops and restaurants. It has quickly become one of our favorite places to visit and discover. It definitely reminds me of downtown Cleveland, or an area you might see in a more urban setting vs ~the ‘burbs.~

Let’s start with the #eeeeeats. This place has so many good options (mainly casual but a few sit down restaurants), your only problem will be choosing where you want to dine!

To name a few:

  • Brassica– casual Lebanese restaurant. Think Chipotle but with roasted veggies, falafel and tahini instead of fajitas, steak and salsa. So delicious!
  • Restore– juice bar/ all around healthy options (smoothies, bowls, avocado toast, and of course fresh pressed juice). I have been getting smoothies here after my spinning classes and they are fantastic. Highly recommend Smoothie #1- Bluebs, Almond Butter, coconut oil, flaxseed, banana and almond milk.
  • Mitchell’s Ice Cream – no description necessary. My ultimate indulgence/forever craving.
  • Rising Star Coffee– my favorite coffee in Cleveland. Amazing lattes, mochas, espresso drinks, delicious vegan pastries.
  • On the Rise Bakery– the original location is just a mile or two away on Fairmount Boulevard. Amazing bread, pastries, and sandwiches. Their croissants and tarts are heavenly. Good iced coffee to boot!
  • Nature’s Oasis– a small organic grocery store with a full service cafe inside. They make fantastic waffles, and a smorgasbord of other options as well. Their other location is in Lakewood, OH and was one of my favorites!

There’s a bunch we haven’t tried too, and I can’t wait to check them out this summer:

  • Michael’s Genuine Food and Drink (have heard good things)
  • ChutneyB (casual Indian joint from Doug Katz)
  • A new TBD Jonathan Sawyer restaurant with a rooftop wine bar!
  • Banter (poutine… drool) – the other location is in Gordon Square on near west side
  • Scorpacciata (fresh handmade pasta, double drool)

A lot of these places are housed in “Market Hall,” sort of like a giant cafeteria. They offer beer and drinks too. There is communal seating inside and outdoor seating available as well, which is perfect for the summer weather we’ve finally been having!!

There are also a ton of shops in the area. Most are local, and all are fun to stop into!

Personally I am more into eating than shopping, but why not support a few local businesses while you’re grabbing a meal!

  • Cleveland Clothing Co– all things Cleveland + clothing. I love their t-shirts!
  • Room Service– mix of trendy clothing and home goods
  • Shinola – a fancy boutique featuring American made leather goods and watches (started in Detroit)
  • Stem (handmade and yummy smelling soaps)
  • Luster– cute boutique with home goods and fun knick-knacks
  • Bonobos– fun menswear with a flair for patterns and prints (and fitting well)

As I referenced earlier, there is also a spinning studio here. I took my first class a few weeks ago and I have to say, I can see what the hype is all about! The studio is called GrooveRyde and so far each class and instructor has been amazing! It is such a challenging workout, but actually fun at the same time (sounds cheesy buttt its actually true). The studio staff are extremely welcoming and helpful, especially to a nervous newbie like me 😁.

Outdoor seating for Market Hall:

^Nature’s Oasis, one of many casual (and wonderful) dining options.

Love this mural in the little square area.

I am so happy to see this whole space focused on local shops, stores and restaurants doing so well.

The area also hosts pop up shops with other local shops, the North Union Farmers market every week, and has happy hours every Friday as well!

It’s easily accessible via the RTA for Clevelanders who live in other areas. Have you been to the new Van Aken District? It’s definitely worth checking out!

In the summertime…

Just sharing some pics from a nice weekend. We spent time with my mom (birthday celebrations) and her sister (my Aunt Jeannie) who was visiting.

I also grabbed some flowers at Trader Joe’s:

And picked some from our yard ☺️

My mom + Maggie = 🥰🥰🥰

Mini photo shoot by Ryan 😄

We also visited the cultural gardens (sneak peak below) which I blogged about here.

^ Maggie chewing eating a stick per usual.

Her gnashing little teeth 🦷🤣.

Enjoying a Lake Erie sunset 🌅.

Dinner and delicious drinks at the Fairmount!

Such a fun weekend! Thanks to Ryan for capturing some great pics of the three of us and Happy Birthday to my wonderful Mom! It’s been a great summer so far.

The Cleveland Cultural Gardens

Today, my mom, aunt (who is visiting from Louisiana) and I went on a guided tour of the Cleveland Cultural Gardens. Ryan and I had some of our engagement photos taken here, and I’ve visited several times throughout the years but never really knew much about the history.

The Cleveland Cultural Gardens are located in East Cleveland and stretch along a picturesque few miles of MLK and East Boulevard. There are currently about 35 gardens and more in the process of being build.

Today we saw the Italian, Hungarian, Hebrew, Syrian, Croatian, German, and Irish cultural gardens. The weather was absolutely gorgeous and we learned so much.

The land on which the gardens sit was dedicated to the City of Cleveland by John D. Rockefeller back in 1896, and the first garden, the Shakespeare Garden, was dedicated in 1916. Ten years later, the Hebrew Garden was dedicated and the city began to set aside other plots of land for other cultural groups.

From the Cultural Gardens Website: “In the 1930s and 1940s, the federal Works Progress Administration – Franklin D. Roosevelt’s jobs and infrastructure program – helped the city build the bridges and stonework that to this day beautify Rockefeller Park. Many of the early gardens representing European immigrants were helped along by the WPA and were an early testament to  multiculturalism in Cleveland and the country.

“The Cultural Gardens are unique to the world. They represent the diversity and multiculturalism that is Cleveland, and bring life to the Gardens’ mission of “peace through mutual understanding.”

I love that dozens of different cultures work together through gardens to create such a beautiful and harmonious environment.

Our tour guide mentioned that oftentimes the most marginalized immigrant groups found peace and understanding through community and the building of these gardens. They are truly a reflection of Cleveland’s immigrant history, past and present.

While we were visiting the Hungarian garden, we met a volunteer named Ernie. He had been at the dedication of the garden back in the 1930’s as a child and still comes to help today (he is 93 years old!).

If you have a chance, I would definitely recommend doing a guided tour of the gardens. We learned so much and all of the different gardens were stunning. As I look through my pictures it’s hard to believe that such a place exists so close to us!

Now for some of my favorite photos:

Italian gardens:

Syrian and Croatian gardens:

^this arch is meant to mimic a structure in Palmyra, Syria which has been largely destroyed in recent years.

^ This is one of my favorite pictures. Walking in between gardens, and looking through the beautiful foliage, it would be impossible to know you were in right in the middle of Cleveland.

Greek Garden:

Hebrew, Hungarian, German, Croatian, Irish, misc: