Marrakech Express: My Trip to Morocco

Since we have all been under quarantine measures the last month or so, I thought it would be fun to take a trip down memory lane and finally write about one of my all time favorite trips. And no, it’s not Italy but don’t worry, I will be posting more in that series soon!

Back in May of 2017 I went to one of the most visually stunning locations in the world: Marrakech, Morocco. It was a *very* last minute trip and one of my absolute favorites to date. If you are thinking of heading to Morocco I can’t recommend it enough and I hope to return one day. This post is fairly detailed, so feel free to skip to the bottom for the ~lite~ version.

I normally plan bigger trips like this well in advance. However, my jet-setting friend Dana had a trip planned and when I jokingly suggested (three weeks out) I should tag along on her upcoming adventure, she invited me. The next thing I knew, a far fetched dream had become a reality and I bought a plane ticket to AFRICA!

Marrakech is an ancient city, in the foothills of the stunning Atlas Mountains. We stayed in the ‘medina’ area of Marrakech. This is the older, central section within the original city walls. Outside of the walls, there are modern looking buildings, boulevards, a McDonald’s 🤣, etc. like any larger city. Within the medina, you will find a maze of brick and straw houses, narrow unpaved alleyways, and motor bikes speeding around every corner. Most of the buildings here are crafted from red sandstone, giving the city a warm earthy appearance. Stalls line the roads, filled with fresh fruit, herbs, and pastries. It is bustling with people, day and night.

Because I didn’t do a lot of planning (zero tbh) for this trip, I didn’t really have any expectations. When I thought of Morocco before this journey, certain words came to mind: sandy, isolated, antiquated, and mirages in the desert (lol). Many of these words are very much applicable, but I left knowing that there is also so much more to Marrakech and the surrounding area! It is completely inspirational from an architectural and design perspective, and while there are European influences, it was entirely different than anywhere I’ve gone before.

Typical colors of Marrakech

I am going to go through some of my favorite experiences and hope that this will serve as a guide if you are looking to explore the area. Or, if you’re a daydreamer like me, maybe it will offer a little inspiration. Luckily, I made a huge note on my iPhone during this trip which served as a great reminder of everything I saw. Let’s get to it!

I couldn’t believe my eyes most days.
Beauty and inspiration around every corner.

Some of my favorite things:

Take a few hours to walk around the medina and accept that you will probably get lost. The streets are like a maze and can be difficult to figure out at first. There are dozens of ‘riads,’ or guest houses (similar to bed and breakfasts in the US), throughout the medina, that serve tea, food or drinks. Go explore and see what you find! I saw some of the most incredible scenes all within the riads of the old city.

Stained glass window.
I love the intricate stone carvings on each of these columns.
The tile work and artistry in Marrakech is unbelievable.
Ceiling detail.

Make your way to the central square known as Jemaa el-Fnaa. The square is full of vendors selling their wares. It is very lively (a tad hectic) and full of locals and tourists alike. You don’t need to stay long but I definitely recommend visiting for the experience (and this is coming from someone who doesn’t love crowds).

Ben Youssef
A beautiful door on a typical alleyway

After you’ve had your fill wandering through Jemaa el-Fnaa, head next door to the neighboring souk. I bought some exquisite traditional pottery here that I was able to pack and take home with me. I also picked up a lovely Jacques Majorelle print and had it framed back home. It’s one of my favorite souvenirs ☺️.

The stalls are filled with everything you could imagine. If you have been looking to redecorate your home in the very #ontrend Moroccan style – make sure you spend time exploring this area. Berber carpets and pillows, woven baskets, lanterns, leather poufs, stools, furniture, etc. at a fraction of the cost of items for sale in the US. They will ship items for you as well!

Once you’re done shopping, leave the souk and wander the nearby narrow streets, stopping for traditional Moroccan mint tea. There are a ton of cafes with rooftops in this area. Head upstairs and away from the crowds. The views over the city are beautiful and Moroccan mint tea is a daily ritual for many citizens. Served hot (or iced) with handfuls of fresh mint and home baked pastries, it is a celebrated activity, and not to be missed.

Daily tea at the riad.

If you are up for a more *adventurous* activity, visit a traditional hamman. A hamman is similar to a turkish bath – a public type of steam room – and they are very popular in Morocco. My friend and I went to the hammam located within the exquisite La Sultana Hotel and it was incredible. Before you visit, I would definitely recommend researching what the experience entails as it may not be for everyone (hint: you get naked and your entire body gets exfoliated beyond belief.) There are separate areas for men and women, and at La Sultana, they offered private spa services as well. At the end of the “experience” I felt utterly relaxed. We were served mint tea and enjoyed their pool for several hours. I loved it and would do it again!

Detail of the beautiful hotel.
Just stunning. The elegant chairs, lanterns and red tile floor.
We stayed here a while after the hammam ☺️

If you stay at or visit La Sultana, make sure to head next door to ‘Saadien’s Tombs,’ a beautiful necropolis dating back from the 1500s. Sultans, sheiks, and other royals have been buried here for centuries. The architecture and buildings within this space are breathtaking. Detailed tile, carved stone, and beautifully colored arches adorn the buildings. The Chamber of Twelve Columns is the stunning centerpiece of the tombs.

Chamber of Twelve Columns – speechless!
Intricate carvings on a wooden door at the Saadien Tombs.

Another favorite stop on the trip was The Jardin Majorelle. French painter Jacques Majorelle planned and created this enchanting urban garden over several decades. Filled with the most striking colors and lucious plants from the world over, it was definitely one of the most visually stunning locations in all of Marrakech. I loved wandering around surrounded by fronds and palms. Most of the garden is well shaded and a welcome respite from the high temperatures.

I’m convinced this is the most beautiful shade of blue ever: Majorelle Blue.

From the official website: “We amble along shady lanes, in the midst of trees and exotic plants of dreamy origin; we walk past refreshing, burbling streams and pools filled with water lilies and lotus flowers; we hear wafting through the air, laden with sugared fragrance, the rustling of leaves and the chirping of numerous birds who come here to take refuge; we stop, and the path turns unexpectedly, revealing a building with Moorish charm, with a hint of Art Deco, painted in astonishingly vibrant primary colours, glowing with an intense blue the artist perceived in the Atlas Mountains.” I mean….. don’t think I can top that description.

It is a very popular spot with tourists and fairly #instafamous, so I would recommend arriving early to beat the crowds. We came here as part of a bike tour in the afternoon and as such, it was a little bit crowded. Make sure to check out the adjoining exhibits and gift shops.

Once you’ve had your share of exploring the medina, venture out of the city to the Atlas Mountains. There are tons of day trips or guided tours to choose from – hiking, camping, caravan-ing, etc.

The lush landscape of the Atlas Mountains – unexpectedly verdant.

We did an overnight trip to the Sahara Desert and it was truly one of the most magical and memorable experiences of my life. We rode camels into the sunset with Berber guides and arrived at a well setup camp on the outskirts of the Sahara.

One of my favorite pictures I have ever taken.
Just call me the ~dromedary~ whisperer 🐪

The sky was a beautiful clear blue and the moon and stars twinkled above us. Our host, Youssef, poured the group tea while we learned about his life and experiences. The only downside in all of this were the giant scarab beetles scurrying through the sand. Gave me flashbacks to “The Mummy,” but hey, if I can get through it (and love it), I guarantee you can too.

One of our hosts, Youssef.
Sunrise.

Another day trip that is a must in my opinion is Ait Ben Haddou. This ancient ksar, or grouping of buildings, is a UNESCO world heritage site and “illustrates the traditional earthen habitat, representing the culture of southern Morocco.” Ait Ben Haddou is a well preserved former trading post that sits in the shadow of the Atlas mountains. It has recently become a more popular tourist destination, appearing in several films, including a personal favorite, “Gladiator.” I recommend getting a tour of this site if possible.

Throughout your stay, make sure to sample copious amounts of local foods. Moroccan food is a unique and mouthwatering blend of Middle Eastern, European and African cuisines filled with spices and flavor. A a typical dinner might include a tajine, which is a cone shaped pottery dish, used to cook herbed meats and vegetables, along with delicious fresh couscous. We also loved the homemade breakfast at our riad. Fresh squeezed orange juice (the best I’ve ever had, don’t skip it!), yogurt, and delicious pastries each morning.

Our daily breakfast.
Dreamy lunch setting at El Fenn.
Mint goes with everything here.

Lastly, take time to relax! Many riads and hotels offer beautiful pools for a small fee. The temperatures are HOT (90s) so taking a dip in a pool is a welcome activity. Pick out a few places you’d like to visit and plan out a few hours of relaxation throughout your stay. Most of the hotels who have pools also have wonderful spas with a variety of affordable treatments.

Wrapping it up:

I hope you enjoyed this post about Marrakech. Going through these photos was such a joy, especially with our current state of affairs. Taking time to reflect and appreciate past trips is so important and often forgotten in this fast paced world. I loved this city and wished I had more time to see it all – and in the surrounding areas as well. The people, culture, food, etc. were all amazing. Marrakech is city of contrasts- both new and old, bold and subdued, coexisting in a beautifully symbiotic way. Have you been to Morocco? What was your favorite part? Where else would you recommend exploring? Check out my “quick hits,” section below for even more suggestions! Thanks for reading and following along.

Quick hits:

Where to Stay: We stayed at a the cutest boutique hotel called Riad BE Marrakech. It was honestly perfect with some of the best service I have ever experienced anywhere. The co-owners were younger (one Swiss, one Moroccan) and very helpful and welcoming. I would stay here again in a heartbeat. Here are some other options for a variety of price ranges:

  • Riad Yasmine – couldn’t find pricing but I remember researching this place and it looked amazing – great reviews and location!
  • Riad Karmela (Budget & great reviews – $48 USD/night)
  • Riad Saba (Budget – $60 USD/night)
  • Riad Palais des Princesses (Budget -$70 USD/night)
  • Riad & Spa Spirit of Morocco (Budget/Moderate – $94 USD/night) – we actually came in here and had drinks by their lovely pool!
  • Riad Les Yeux Bleus (Moderate – $150 USD/night)
  • 72 Riad Living (Moderate/higher end – $170 USD/night)
  • La Sultana (Luxury – $380+/night)
  • El Fenn (Luxury -$420+ USD/night)
  • Royal Mansour Marrakech (Luxury – $500+ USD/night)
  • La Mamounia (Luxury – didn’t look and don’t want to 🤣!)

There are also tons of places listed on AirBNB. A lot of boutique hotels list their rooms on this platform so I would be sure to check their inventory as well. The bottom line is you could easily stay in a nice, safe hotel for well under $100USD/ night. With breakfast included, I think its one of the more affordable trips I’ve been on!

Where to Eat:

Ugh. I didn’t do the best job of keeping track of where we ate when we visited, but I do remember everything being very good. I love Middle Eastern food in general so it wasn’t hard for me to find things I liked.

My two most memorable meals were very different. The first was the meal we had on our desert excursion trip. Fresh baked bread, and tajines full of savory chicken, lamb, onions, and vegetables. We ate communal style inside the yurts of our Berber hosts. It was so simple but so fresh and delicious. The other meal I still remember to this day is the lunch we had at El Fenn. The hotel itself is next-level beautiful. I *highly* recommend dining here as the food and service were both incredible. Fresh everything. We ate on their rooftop terrace and it was just perfection! If you visit El Fenn, make sure to check out the shop within the hotel. It is full of remarkable and unique handmade goods.

As I mentioned before, the breakfasts included in our stay were a delight. I suggest booking a hotel or AirBNB that includes breakfast. Fresh cappuccino, orange juice (not to be missed, even if you are not an OJ fan), tea, flatbread, yogurt and fruit each morning.

What to Do:

  • Shop in the souks and look for spices, pottery, leather items, or home goods. Make sure you barter to get the best price!
  • Explore the various riads throughout the city. We wandered around and walked into ones that caught our eyes for tea, coffee, a snack, or meal.
  • Enjoy a refreshing mint tea and don’t forget a fresh squeezed orange juice as well
  • Visit Jemaa el-Fnaa and let it all soak in!
  • The Saadien Tombs – significant necropolis for Moroccan royalth
  • Ben Youssef Madrasa – A historic Islamic college with beautiful Andalusian architecture
  • Palacio da Bahia – A beautiful 19th Century Palace
  • Jardin Majorelle – Stunning garden oasis
  • Musee Yves Saint Laurent Marrakech – didn’t get a chance to make it here but this museum is entirely devoted to the iconic fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent
  • Ait Ben Haddou – UNESCO heritage site outside of Marrakech
  • Book a bike tour – We did a bike tour that was amazing! We had a guide for a few hours that took us to several amazing sites. The roads can be a little bit scary as there are people on motor bikes, cars, and even goats, but our guide was very patient with us.
  • Book a spa or hamman experience – We loved La Sultana however there are a plethora of options to choose from in different price ranges. This was considered a luxury spa and the hammam which was at least an hour was $38USD. You could go to the public hammam or a much less expensive one as well, but this option felt like a treat.
Until we meet again!

My Skincare routine and favorite products

Hello all & happy weekend!

Today I am going to walk through my skincare routine and some favorite products. A few friends, coworkers, and others have asked me about skincare (much to my bewilderment), so I decided to do a quick little post. To be honest, my skincare routine isn’t the most regimented, and I think that I was (very fortunately) genetically blessed with fairly low maintenance skin, which always helps. However, over the last five years or so, I have been focusing on trying to use better quality products and take better care of my skin overall.

So, what prompted my skincare journey (aside from realizing I am no longer 22)? My sister also has great skin, and several years ago, I asked what her routine was. She sent me down a rabbit hole of Korean skincare products that I still use today, in addition to some other items I recently picked up. Let’s get started!

Step One (Wash your face): Cleansing Oil

So the first step in any skincare routine is to obviously washing your face. I do a “double cleanse” which is just fancy talk for slathering on a cleansing oil, and then washing it off with a typical gentle cleanser (step 2 below). I absolutely love this oil and it’s a very affordable option. I have used it for about 3 years, and one jar lasts anywhere from 8-10 months. It blends really well and gets off absolutely every last bit of makeup. It smells incredibly fresh/ wonderful and is really a treat to use. Your face will feel soft and luscious after using this cleanser. For a more luxurious option, try this Elemis cleansing balm. The scent is ridiculously good and it can also be used as a face mask! It is also a good sized jar that will likely last a long time. I have both and will do a splurge or save post in the near future!

Step Two: Foaming Cleanser

I used this Hadalobo product for a couple of years and loved it. It’s gentle and does a great job of cleaning off any residual dirt/grime/residue after the oil cleanser. Buy it here. Again, this cleanser usually lasts me upwards of a year! You just need a pump or two each time you wash your face. I recently started using Cerave foaming cleanser. It works equally well! With the double cleanse system, you don’t need to use any cleansing products with lots of harsh chemicals or astringents.

Step Three: Serum or Essence

This is the step where you want to tailor your selections to your skin type specifically and can get creative. You can use vitamin C, salicylic acid, hyaluronic acid, ampoules (basically supercharged serums), etc. all based on the needs of your skin! I always use this lotion right after I wash my face. It instantly makes my skin feel moist (ew) and honestly, plump (double ew). It almost acts like a primer* (*I think, I do not use primer so I am unsure) in that it makes my skin feel super smooth. As part of Step Three, I also recently started using one of my all time favorite skin care products, Dr. Dennis Gross Peel Pads. These are honestly transformational and make my skin look completely revitalized like no other product. I was definitely #influenced to buy them, and they are one of the pricier items on this list (and in my entire skincare/beauty regime), but they are 100% worth the hype and the price. This is one of the only skincare products I have ever seen visible results with. If you buy one thing from this entire list, I would buy this. I would also highly recommend doing some research on which serums/ essences would be best for your skin type!

Step Four: Moisturizer

Again, this is where you want to tailor your selection to your needs. I have fairly oily skin, so I usually use a light moisturizer. You can’t go wrong with classic Oil of Olay (although it’s categorized as on the “heavier” side it’s always worked for me and feels light). I think I have been using this moisturizer for ten years. I also just recently bought Elemis Pro Collagen Marine Cream. This is waaaay more expensive than Oil of Olay, so unless it’s a miracle worker, it may just be a one time purchase for me. First impressions though – amazing. The smell alone is *almost* worth it. It’s one of those smells that just feels clean, luxurious, and fresh all at once. Kinda makes you feel like you are in a spa overlooking the ocean somewhere (and hey, that’s worth something right!?). Also, a little goes a long way, it is super blendable and absorbs quickly. I have heard this compares to the famous “La Mer,” cream so we shall see.

I love to also use a night time moisturizer, especially in the winter months when my skin resembles that of a shedding snake. This Banila mask is a winner in my book. I have also loved some other products from Laneige, so I want to try this one soon too.

A few more options – all of these have been on my list to try. This Banana Sleep Mask – love the packaging and have read multiple good reviews! Missha is another great K-Beauty brand. I have tried other products from this company and loved them. This sleeping mask is only $12 (on sale right now) and I have also heard good things about it.

Step Five: Sunscreen

Last but not least, you must finish off your skincare routine with an SPF. This is the one step of my skincare routine I need to focus on more (I tend to forget it). It is so important from a health perspective, as well as for an anti-aging routine if that is a concern. The one SPF I love (recommended by my sister 🙂) is this Biore product (from Japan). This doesn’t feel or look like a sunscreen at all and is more of an essence-type product. It is so lightweight and better quality than much more expensive sunscreens like Supergoop, La Roche Posay, etc. This sunscreen is recommended on tons of Korean beauty forums/blogs, is inexpensive, and it lives up to the hype. This is probably the other product I would recommend most (after the peel pads).

Some other favorite skincare products:

  • Lip balm: Nivea Lip Balm – So moisturizing and so lightweight. Love the smell too.
  • TULA Eye Balm: This product is wonderful. It is very cooling and provides a little bit of highlight under the eye which is great especially if you struggle with baggy or dark circles.
  • Neocutis Lumiere Eye Cream: This eye cream is wonderful. I have literally tried a bazillion eye creams over the years and this one has actually provided a noticeable brightening effect.
  • Sunday Riley Luna Sleeping Night Oil: This bright blue oil is applied before bed and turns clear as you rub it in. It contains trans-retinoic acid ester complex and gives a nice glow the next day. It does contain retinol, just something to keep in mind.
  • Sunday Riley Good Genes All-in-One Lactic Treatment: I bought this and had it over a year! I use it at night paired with the Luna Sleeping Oil. This is an exfoliating product and contains purified lactic acid. It also has a nice fresh citrusy scent. If your skin is sensitive, I would definitely ease into using this item. You can almost feel it tingling immediately on your face.
  • If you are a fan of face masks, I highly recommend this Caudalie Exfoliating Mask. I have had this product now for two years (is that even allowed with skincare!?) and it is amazing. Apply to clean, dry skin and leave on for ten to fifteen minutes. I notice visible clarity and that *glow* factor after I use this mask. I only use this mask every other week at most.

Editor’s note: I am obviously not a dermatologist (or a beauty product expert) and you should probably speak to one if you are starting a new skin care regimen and you plan on using items with any sort of elevated pH. I also think it’s great to speak to a dermatologist in general about these products as they may be able to recommend some items with prescription level retinol, glycolic acid, lactic acid, etc. These are just my personal favorite items that I have used consistently and have made a difference.

What are you favorite skincare products? Any must haves? Let me know in the comments below. Stay tuned for an another beauty products related post, coming soon!

Florence, Italy

Ryan and I went to Italy 🇮🇹 in October of last year, and I am finally getting ready to post some pictures six months later! First up, Florence!

I won’t be doing a traditional post with extensive recommendations, etc., because we barely scratched the surface with what we saw in our few days there. I do have one recommendation if you are planning a trip to Italy – it helps to do some reading and research prior to going. Various websites, travel forums online, and podcasts all proved helpful. I also read a couple of books about the Duomo di Firenze and Florentine art. I ended up purchasing ‘Florence: The Paintings and Frescoes’ which I would highly recommend to anyone interested in art, history, or if you are planning to visit several museums or churches throughout Italy. It provided great context for Italian Renaissance art and beyond. It’s also a gorgeous book. You can purchase it here.

Florence has to be one of the most magical cities in the world. It is truly breathtaking and of another time. Around every corner lies a piece of history on full display. The cobblestone alleys, marble facades, worn wooden doors and ochre stucco buildings form an enchanting maze of streets that are a joy to explore. There is an overwhelming amount of museums, churches, palaces and places to visit. Incredible food and wine are just the icing on the cake! Florence is also very walkable and easy to navigate, especially with the Arno river serving as a beautiful landmark. It’s almost indescribable and I can’t recommend visiting enough.

Shots from around the Arno River:

A look across the Arno.
The spectacular view from our AirBNB.
This was taken on our last night.

Views of the city:

One of my favorite shots ever ☺️
Golden hour, my favorite time of day!
The most dramatic lighting I have ever seen. A storm had just passed through and the sun illuminated the Duomo in brilliant light.
The narrow streets of Florence.

One of the “must sees” in Florence is the Florence Cathedral, aka, ‘the Duomo.’ It is located in the center of the city and cannot be missed due to its sheer size. It’s truly an architectural marvel and a wonder to behold. On this trip, Ryan and I did a guided tour to the top which was amazing and so informative. I definitely think it’s worth it to make the climb up, and the views are stunning. The inside of the cathedral itself is fairly simple vs. the outside, however, the dome has an amazing fresco by Vasari which is an incredible sight as you make your way up.

A caveat: Yes, it is extremely touristy. The wait was four hours to get into the cathedral (if you hadn’t purchased a ticket ahead of time). The square where the cathedral is located is also swarming with tourists. However, that said, it is completely worth it to at least walk around it and observe from the outside. The exterior is much more detailed than the interior, other than the dome. Also, only a tiny percentage of tourists climb to the top, so when we got up there, it was hardly crowded at all! Another option is to walk around at night. We did this multiple times and it was very enjoyable.

Pictures can’t do it justice.
😩😩😩
The Last Judgement – Vasari + Zuccari (sponsored by Cosimo I de’ Medici)
Don’t look down!
Giotto’s Bell Tower and terra cotta rooftops.

We also visited Sante Croce on this trip. It is one of the most beautiful churches I have ever been in. It is the burial place of some of the most illustrious Italians, such as Michelangelo, Galileo, Machiavelli, the poet Foscolo, the philosopher Gentile and the composer Rossini, to name a few* (*this sentence came straight out of Wikipedia, but it sums it up quite nicely 🤣). Sante Croce was much less crowded than the area around the Duomo, and I truly think the interior is more aesthetically pleasing. We just waited in a very short line right when it opened and bought our tickets then and there! Timing is everything – if you visit places on the earlier side, they are much less hectic.

The exterior.
Wow.
Again, pictures don’t come close.
Incredible frescos and stained glass throughout.
Ryan in the Sacristy of Sante Croce. The frescos behind him were so beautiful! (Gaddi, Gerini and Arentino). Opposite Ryan (and out of the frame) is the crucifix of Cimabue, which was unfortunately irreparably damaged during flooding in the 1960s. Still beautiful!
A beautiful courtyard within a museum housed in a former Medici villa.
Detail of fresco.

Some other favorite shots from Florence:

Detail at the top of the Duomo.
Interior of San Miniato al Monte
Interior of San Miniato al Monte. One of my favorites.
Winding streets and Cyprus trees 🌳.
Just couldn’t get over this view!
Amazing pizza. I came to this same pizza place with my Mom three years prior! Still just as good.
Enjoying some rosé on our balcony.
Quintessential Italian trattoria.

I have so many incredible photos to share but as you can see, my blog post would be book length at that point. To summarize: if you’re thinking about visiting, do it! My only regret is that we didn’t have more time.

Highlights:

  • The unbelievable art and architecture throughout the city. It felt like a treat to wander down each and every street. Unparalleled museums and history everywhere you look!
  • Gelato every night – the one by our apartment happened to be incredible! Il Procopio is another favorite.
  • Walking tour of the city at night. It wasn’t crowded, the temperature was perfect, and we learned so much history along the way. Pro tip: Try to do any guided (or self guided) tour early on in your stay so you can become familiar with the city.
  • Climbing up to the top of the Duomo – would also have loved to climb to the top of the bell tower.
  • The food! There is no shortage of amazing food. Cured meats, cheeses, Florentine steaks, pasta, gelato, croissants, cappuccinos, etc.
  • Wine. I’ll just leave that here.
  • Walkability – truly a walkable city which makes it easy to explore. I especially loved walking along the river and up to San Miniato al Monte.
  • The incredible churches. I am not religious and I would highly recommend adding several into your itinerary.
  • The Uffizi Gallery – unbelievable to see all of the pieces in here. The building itself rivals the Louvre.
  • Wandering around. So fun to walk through the streets, peruse shops and stalls, and stop for a glass of wine along the way!
  • The Giardino di Boboli- acres and acres of manicured gardens overlooking rolling green hills. A perfect escape from the crowds if you need it!

What I’d like to see next time:

  • The Museo dell’Opera del Duomo
  • Basilica di San Lorenzo
  • The Bargello
  • Santa Maria Novella
  • A few more of the palazzos-turned-museums
  • More photos of Ryan and I, and more food pics! Not to worry, I more than made up for this on other legs of our trip ☺️.

We had four full days in Florence and it was incredible. We can’t wait to return someday. Next up: Rome, Praiano, and Orvieto. I hope you enjoyed this post! What do you love to do in Florence?

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!

 

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!

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!

Charleston Architecture Appreciation Post

Ryan and I just got back from an amazing trip to Charleston, SC. We had perfect weather the whole time and it was a great mix of beach days and sightseeing. I want to share some pictures from the walking we did around the historic neighborhood. This is definitely not an all inclusive blog post, but a good starting point with a focus on the city itself.

This post is all things beautiful in historic Charleston! Without further ado….

This picture below might be one of my favorites from my trip.

The curved scrolling iron handrail, the trails of ivy on the steps, magnolia leaves dappled with warm sunlight…. and the red brick driveway of course, all come together in such a charming and classic way.

I love the worn facade below:

Pink and green perfection!!

^notice the chimney between the two homes!

The below photo is another favorite. I love the weathered white exterior and gray shutters with the scalloped roofing. This house is on East Bay Street, overlooking the Charleston Harbor and Fort Sumpter.

The boxwood 😍. Can you imagine how tall the windows are inside? I often found myself wondering if the interiors matched the outside of the homes. Beautiful, majestic, and ancient (for us Americans!).

^The iconic “Rainbow Row. ” Very hard to photograph because there are many cars in front. The colors of the houses dates back to the prohibition era, while the actual structures themselves are much older.

^ a random private courtyard I spotted. I love the salmon door and half moon window above it. It kind of reminds me of an orange slice 🙂.

I guess I have a thing for brick + ivy. Again, I love the windows here.

^One of my absolute favorite homes I saw. I’ll take it! I love the pink door leading to the carriage house on the far left.

Ryan in front of St. Phillips cemetery.

Church steeples dot the entire city skyline (there are no skyscrapers). Charleston is called The Holy City because back in the early 1700s, in order to attract settlers to the (swampy and very muggy) newly formed settlement, the government allowed people to practice whatever religion they chose (vs. adhering to the Church of England). Many different churches belonging to different denominations sprung up because of this.

^ The way the clouds are passing behind the steeple almost makes it look illuminated or glowing! They are really framing the outline of the building quite well!

^ Beautiful live oaks along the harbor.

Me + flowers = pure happiness! Also already dripping in sweat by 11AM if you couldn’t tell🤣.

Details on a building (below). Not sure what this was! But thought it was neat.

^ We had an amazing meal at Husk, a delicious restaurant set inside an old Victorian home on a quiet cobblestone street. The interior is even more stunning, but I forgot to take any photos… I had food on my mind!

That’s about all for this post. I am hoping to put together a more comprehensive weekend travel guide soon!

Have a great week everyone.

St. Augustine Fun

Happy Saturday!

I wanted to share a super quick recap of my trip to St. Augustine, Florida a couple of weeks ago.

We went to St. Augustine for my stepsister’s birthday. It was such a fun getaway and it was so nice to be able to spend some quality time with the ladies in my family.

St. Augustine may seem kind of random (and it kind of was 😁) but we wanted to avoid a big spring break crowd (Mid-March in Florida), and still enjoy some warmer temps. This location worked best for the group (we were flying in from three different cities) and it was such a blast.

St. Augustine is the oldest city in the US, founded in 1565 by Spanish explorers, and it has some amazing architecture and buildings that have survived through the centuries.

The trip was super relaxing. We enjoyed amazing food, drinks, conversation and Publix Key Lime Pie (if ya know, then ya know). I am going to share a few pics below.

These are mainly iPhone photos since my camera died on Day 1 and I forgot the charger 😫.

St. Augustine Light House:

Beautiful old southern live oak trees:

I just love these southern oaks. They look so majestic and the sunlight filters through so beautifully. Plus they just remind me of warmer weather and sunny days 🤗.

Boardwalk on the way to the beach in Anastasia State Park:

^ you can see the lighthouse in the distance here!

It was a perfect beach day. I cannot overstate how welcome even a little bit of sunshine is in the depths of a long winter. After this trip I vowed to do another warm weather trip next year!

Had to get a pic with my sista – we were matching in stripes (not planned).

We walked around and explored the historic area of St. Augustine:

^ Group shot! We also enjoyed a wonderful sunset harbor cruise. The captain was personable and informative and we saw dolphins playing 😁 .

We had brunch at a cute Mexican place that reminded me of Tulum. I had chilaquiles and the food was all phenomenal! Definitely recommend a stop here if you ever visit.

More tree pics 🤣:

^ the view from our lunch spot.

On our last day, we visited a local distillery and did a tour. It was very cool (although that tour guides were somewhat bizarre- think SNL sketch within a Distillery). We learned that they source all of their ingredients, materials, and workforce locally. Their alcohol was pretty tasty too, and we got to sample four different drinks. For more information check out their website here: St. Augustine Distillery

We also visited a cute art gallery. One of my favorite souvenirs to get is a piece of artwork from the city I am visiting. This trip was no different and I purchased a beautiful print. I will share it once I get it framed.

All in all, this trip was amazing and so relaxing. It was nice to spend time with family and reconnect. Hope you enjoyed the pics, and if you’re looking for a cute, easy weekend trip, St. Augustine is a perfect option!

Powder Room Renovation

Hi all, and happy Sunday!

Our powder room renovation is finally complete and I wanted to share some pictures from the makeover!

First I need to give some background (and before photos!). Our house was built in 1937 and probably didn’t come with an original powder room (meaning it was added into the existing first floor layout at some point).

It is a very small room, probably smaller than my cube at work or a typical closet. It’s also a very odd shape which presented us with some design challenges.

The before: a lovely bright lilac color 🤣.

Ugh that flooring ^.

We had already ripped out the sink and toilet at this point. The sink was covered in various layers of paint from over the years, and the toilet was so large, you could barely sit down.

My Dad and Ruth helped us with the “demo.” The powder room butts up to a small entry way closet which we wanted to keep for some storage. We took out the walls of the closet (to make the bathroom bigger) and moved them inwards, took out all the trim, and removed all of that lovely laminate flooring.

We enlisted the services of a local contractor to help with rebuilding the walls, putting in new marble tile and hardwood flooring, new light fixtures, and bead-board amongst other things.

The project took much longer than anticipated due to long shipping times for certain items (the tile and toilet). We weren’t in a big hurry but this is definitely something we will keep in mind if we do any other home projects!

Now, time for some after pictures!

We are so happy with how the bathroom turned out. I especially love the tile which was a little bit hard to find. Our contractor also did an amazing job installing the hardwood and staining it to match our kitchen.

^In process pic- new hardwood floor!

We wanted to keep the overall aesthetic in line with the age of the house and therefore didn’t do anything too modern or trendy.

I had hoped to use wallpaper in the powder room, but I literally couldn’t decide which pattern to use! I ordered at least a dozen samples and couldn’t decide on any. When Ryan suggested we use the paint leftover from our guest room it seemed like an easy (and cheap) solution! I absolutely love the color and think it looks perfect and better than any of the wallpaper samples I received.

    • Some other details/ sources for anyone who is interested.
    • Bead-board/baseboard – purchased by our contractor in Amish country
    • Marble tile- 2 inch style, purchased online by our contractor
    • Light fixtures and mirror- Amazon (I know)
    • Paint- Sherwin William’s “Hinting Blue,” we had some leftover from our guest room
    • Faucet- purchased online at Vintage Tub & Bath
    • Sink & Toilet- Home Depot

    Some things to keep in mind if you are embarking on a home improvement project:

    I think a project of this size could be largely DIY if you are at all handy with “home stuff.” Since we were moving walls and installing new drywall and light fixtures in a different part of the drywall, we went with a contractor.

    Any home improvement project will take longer than you expect, for any number of reasons! Items may be on backorder, there may be scheduling conflicts, unforeseen structural issues may come up (hopefully not the case ever). Patience is key in all of this.

    You can get great deals for your home projects if you’re willing to do a little research! We got everything for a steal by planning ahead and having an idea of how we wanted the room to turn out. You can also use some materials you may already have on hand, like we did with the paint.

    Too many choices can hinder progress to meeting your end goal. Just stick with your gut intuition and move forward with your selections. I wasted so much time trying to force myself to like any of the wallpaper samples I had ordered, but it just didn’t end up working for me!

    We worked with a great contractor and couldn’t be happier with the results!