Weekend in St. Augustine

Hello friends and happy Monday. How was everyone’s weekend. Here in Connecticut if finally broke 40 degrees so pull out the bathing suits!! Summer is here. (eyeroll)

I have been dreaming about the warm winter days I had a few weeks ago in northern Florida. These below freezing temps we have been getting along the shoreline in Connecticut have been killing me. If it’s going to be cold can’t I at least get a snow day out of it? Instead mother nature has been hovering at a whopping 24 degrees for the past few weeks. Instead of sitting through this crazy weather, I decided I needed a mid-winter break and headed down to St. Augustine, FL for a few days.

Did you know St. Augustine claims to be the oldest city in the country? I’m not really sure how they can back that claim because Florida wasn’t part of the original 13 colonies but its okay. I’ll let them have it. So, in St. Augustine, you can see the oldest house, oldest street, oldest school house, and pretty much oldest EVERYTHING. It became the running joke of the trip, but they sure are proud of their history.

What We Did
We decided to take the Old Town Trolley Tours. Essentially it is a hop on, hop off trolley tour of the town, which happens to be a fantastic way of getting around town. We ended up getting a three-day pass which was perfect because we were there for just that amount of time and we were able to see everything we wanted with those three day tickets.

The first day we spent the morning on St. George Street, the uber popular pedestrian-only street that is full of original buildings that are now chalk full of restaurants, candle shops, clothing boutiques, ice cream shops, and handmade pottery stores. Walking the streets, especially so early in the morning, before the crowds came out, it was easy to feel like you stepped back in time.

We wandered down to the Plaza, which we learned was a requirement that Spain had for every major city in the new world. Lining the Plaza was also the Government House and Cathedral Basillica of St. Augustine, also both required by Spain, plus a ton of shops and restaurants (required by the present day tourists).

On the far end of the Plaza is a trolley stop where you can pick up a beach shuttle. This was perfect because we essentially never needed our car during the day. We hopped on the beach shuttle and crossed the Bridge of Lions over to St Augustine Beach. Here you can make stops at the Alligator Farm, the super popular St. Augustine Lighthouse and museum or head out to the beach like we did to relax under the Florida sun.

The shuttle runs every hour so you can really spend a good amount of time on the other side of the bridge.

After a long day of exploring we needed to check out the libations that St. Augustine had to offer. We took the trolley over to the St. Augustine Distillery, an old ice plant turned small batch distillery who specializes in whiskey, vodka, and gin. The quick half hour, free tour tells the history of the locally owned distillery and how they are involved in their community, shows tourists how the different spirits are created and what makes them different, and ends in the tasting room where you can try three different mixed drinks. All curated from the spirits created right there in that building.

What I really loved about the distillery is their dedication to their carbon footprint. For instance, all of their bottles are hand bottled, sealed and labeled. Because to ensure their whiskey can be labeled bourbon, all of their char-oaked barrels can only be used once. So instead of getting rid of the barrels at the end of the aging process, they share them with local wineries and other distilleries to create other spirits.

One of the wineries the St. Augustine Distillery shares their barrels with is the San Sebastian Winery just up the street. This was our next stop on the trolley. The San Sebastian Winery was built in an old railway building and they get their grapes from the west coast of Florida at their sister property, Lakeridge Winery. San Sebastian Winery focuses on dessert wines. Sweet wines are not my favorite and I didn’t honestly love any of them but they have won a ton of awards for their wines so if sweet wine is your thing, defiantly check them out. They also have an amazing roof top that I would absolutely check out again. Thursdays through Sundays the rooftop is open where they have jazz performers. The view from the top is beautiful.

Another one of my favorite stops off of the Old Town Trolley was the Castillo de San Marcos. This was the main fort for the village of St. Augustine to protect against intruders. In the 17th century, if the city of St. Augustine was under attack all of the towns people, and their animals could fit in the fort and in the dry moat that borders the base of the fort. This National Monument covers 20.5 acres of land and is run by the National Parks Service so there is a small fee to enter. If you like history, check it out. It was really interesting. And if you don’t like history, check it out anyway. There are some beautiful views from the top of the fort.

The Old Town Trolley Tour had so much to offer. Below I listed some other stops that I would love to check out next time I’m in town.

  • Lightner Museum and Café Alcazar – This was formerly a hotel which Henry Flagler (who pretty much built up St. Augustine) built for his famous and rich New England friends according to the Old Town Trolley Tour guides. The Café is super popular for lunch and is in the base of the pool of the hotel. Like what!
  • Flagler College – Named for the city’s founder this college has the largest collection of Louis Comfort Tiffany stained glass windows. Can you imagine being in college and stumbling into the cafeteria hung over to sit next to the largest collection of Tiffany’s stained glass. What the heck!

Where We Ate
We didn’t get to explore the food scene in St. Augustine the way I would have liked. I have a cousin that lives a half hour away so we spend one night with them having a little cocktail party with amazing appetizers that filled us up completely. But I do have a list of a ton of restaurants I’ve heard amazing things about, and some that my cousin’s wife recommended first hand.

Maple Street Biscuit Company – I’ve heard so much about Maple Street Biscuit Company that when I found out there was one in St. Augustine, I dragged my non-breakfast eating mom to try it out. (She’s fine, she had kid’s mac and cheese at 9am and was a happy camper.) I totally over indulged and got the Ralphie and added a fried egg on top. It was A LOT! One of the breakfast sandwiches would have probably been enough but how do you go there and not try their gravy?? I may need to try to push a trip to the Maple Street Biscuit Company for our Charleston trip in April.

The Kookaburra – This Aussie-American coffee shop is located right on the Plaza in St. Augustine and was a perfect spot for an afternoon pick me up. Their cold brew was everything I needed and their Aussie pies were an awesome snack. The actual location was so small and got pretty tight when a group of 8 business men came in to place their order also. Just a little tip- they have a small location just outside and across their patio for a sitting area.

Salt Life Food Shack – I would LOVE to check out Salt Life during the summer. This restaurant was across the Bridge of Lions in St. Augustine Beach, it had a huge outdoor patio with a fire pit and outdoor bar. There was, what looked like, a pretty big rooftop that during the day you would have views of the beach. The rooftop was closed while we were there, I’m assuming because it was January.

I started my dinner with a bowl of Bahamian Fish Chowder which was delicious… but HUGE. Definitely only needed a cup of that to try the soup. I ended up having Lobster and Shrimp Pasta and it was amazing (and again, huge). My parents both had tacos and they looked amazing. They have a full raw bar and sushi as well as burgers and sandwiches. Anyone can find something there and I’m pretty sure everything would be awesome!

Here is the list of other restaurants we didn’t get to try but came highly recommended:

  • A1A Ale Works
  • OC White’s Seafood and Spirits
  • The Tini Martini Bar
  • Raintree Restaurant
  • Columbia

To be honest, I’m not a huge fan of Florida. It’s hot and sweaty, and sticky and yuck but this trip gave me a different perspective of our southern most state. St. Augustine was so charming and historical. I’d love to go back to St. Augustine and explore a little more. Have you ever been?

Weekend in Philadelphia

Hey there friends, and happy Sunday! I spent the last week catching up and getting back to work. I was away for a long weekend that spilled into last week’s work week. This year, one of my goals was to visit 10 new cities and so far I got two under my belt. Last weekend I went down to St. Augustine, FL to do a little exploring, but a few weekends ago a group of us headed down to Philadelphia for my first weekend trip of the year.

I have a friend I grew up with who plays base in a band, so when we had the option to go to Boston, which we’ve all been to a million times before, or Philadelphia to see the Revivalist play, my friends and I chose Philly. We had the show at the Met on Saturday night so that gave us 24 hours to eat all the cheese steaks and visit as much of the historical city as we could.

What we did and Where we ate
Our first stop was food. We headed to Reading Terminal Market to explore Philly’s food scene. Conveniently located across the street from the Pennsylvania Convention Center, and just a few blocks from Philadelphia City Hall, Reading Terminal has a plethora of coffee shops, fish markets, cheese stands, and a ton of cheese steak places. We started our food explorations with Old City Coffee and an amazing black iced coffee.

For our first Philly Cheese Steak we tried Spataro’s traditional with cheese whiz and grilled onions. I know, I know I questioned it too but it wasn’t half bad. I’m not a huge fan of cheese steaks to begin with so this one didn’t really knock my socks off, but it was ok.

We walked a few blocks up Arch St. to snap a quick photo of the Chinatown Friendship Arch. There were so many eateries I would have loved to run into but we had just left Reading Terminal Market and were not ready to stuff our faces with Pho and Dim Sum.

After checking out Chinatown, we really wanted to see Love Park. We headed down Arch St. until we essentially walked straight into Love Park. Beautiful. The views down Benjamin Franklin Parkway, with the stunning views of the Philadelphia Museum of Art were outstanding. I would love to see these views during the summertime. I could only imagine how stunning it would be.

After all of our exploring and walking we needed to sit down and enjoy some of the libations Philadelphia had to offer. Sansom St. was very good to us. We visited Mission Taqueria, a cute bar that channeled all of my Los Angeles vibes with the indoor-outdoor feel and cute little outdoor courtyard in the middle of the restaurant. The drinks were fantastic but my favorite was the Bee Sting.

One thing that we kept hearing the entire day was that we needed to try Jim’s Steaks on South Street. Before this month, when I hear of Philly, I heard about Pat and Geno’s. The two dueling cheese steak restaurants that are open 24 hours, and fight for customers as well as the title of best cheesesteak in town. But the locals (and Ubers) said they’re both overrated. (Listen to your Ubers people, they know what they’re talking about.) We needed to go to Jim’s. We went late night, and it may have been the drinks from the concert so take this with a  grain of salt, but Jim’s was lifechanging. But in all seriousness, the area was beautiful. Skinny streets, pretty row homes, it looked like an area that would be great to walk around during the day, close to the water with a super local feel.

The next morning, we headed back to Sanson St. to Harp & Crown for one of the best brunches I ever had. Harp & Crown is a beautiful English pub style restaurant that apparently has a secret basement bowling ally for late nights. Next time I fully intend on taking advantage of this.

How we got around
Ultimately Philadelphia is a very walkable city. We stayed across the Schuylkill River right near the campuses of Drexel University and the University of Pennsylvania. To get over to the city center it was about a 10-15 minute drive but parking is not too easy to find, and definitely not cheap. We decided to try out the SEPTA, or subway system.

We are used to New York City subways, where the stations are packed and the trains are plentiful. This was the complete opposite. There weren’t a ton of people on the subway, and it was pretty easy to get to different areas of the city on the subway, but we waited for about 10 minutes for our train. Once we were in town, we decided to check out Ubers to get back to our hotel and the price was AMAZING and there were a ton of cars available. It was even cheaper, and quicker to grab an Uber from our restaurant back to our hotel. From then on, we stuck to rideshares.

We didn’t get to try it out but there is a trolley system also run by SEPTA and it seems like there are a ton of stops as well. Maybe something to try out when the weather is a little warmer.

Where we stayed
We ended up staying a little out of city center, but the Sheraton Philadelphia University City was a great place to stay, especially if you are visiting either Drexel or the University of Pennsylvania. For us it was right along the subway line and just a quick two stops to city center.  There was a good amount of quick bite restaurants around and a few shops that we ended up taking advantage of to buy new outfits for the concert.

Friday Five – October & November

Happy Friday!!! Who else is pumped to gain an hour this weekend?? I know my waking up in total darkness the past few weeks has not been prime motivation. A few weeks ago I was able to take a three day staycation and it was fabulous. I binged “Anne with an E” on Netflix and relaxed for a few days, just in time for the craziness of the holidays to swing in full force.

I’m looking forward to the holidays more than usual this year. I have some exciting news in early December but I can’t say much for now. For now, here are five things that are getting me through October and November.

A night at the theater
When I was living in California I really started to fall in love with the theater. My good friend’s family ran a local community theater and their productions were out of this world. Being that we were in Los Angeles, there were even a few professional actors that performed at the theater on the side. I really fell in love with Les Misérables while I was out there so when tickets went on sale at the Shubert Theater in New Haven, I new I had to see the national touring company perform live. It was insane!

Day tripping to Newport, RI
I think Newport, RI is such an underrated city. In the summer it is the perfect New England city with fresh seafood restaurants, little shops to explore, and breathtaking sunsets over the water. In the winter the town gets sleepy but winter is the perfect time to go to Newport and truly rest and relax. The skinny streets make you feel like you’ve gone back in time and wandering in and out of bars is really the best way to spend a snow day. I went last week to explore something else that is famous in Newport. The Newport Mansions. Not too long ago New York City’s elite used Newport as a place to summer. Their summer “cottages” were bigger than my high school. A few girlfriends and I took the two hour drive east to explore the Breakers and Marble House, two of the Vanderbilt family’s homes from the late 1800s.

Pumpkin carving parties
My girlfriends and I try to get together as often as possible, but with husbands, kids, careers, and side projects, it’s not always the easiest. Last weekend we were able to be festive all weekend. We celebrated our favorite two year old’s birthday with a Halloween themed birthday party on Saturday, and Sunday had a Halloween party and pumpkin carving contests as a housewarming at another friend’s. It was the perfect way to get into the spirit of the season before fall blows away from us completely.

Exploring the Viking Star in Boston
Part of my full-time job is getting out of the office and visiting the ships that we send our clients on. When Viking Ocean Cruises invited a few travel agents onto their ship, the Viking Star, I jumped at the opportunity to see this ship. Viking is known for their river cruises, being one of the largest river cruise companies in the world, but when they expanded into ocean cruises a few years ago, I knew I wanted to see their ships. I love the clean lines, and the Scandinavian style of their ships. What I love about Viking is their attention to detail and how although they’re not a luxury cruise line, you still feel like a princess while a guest on their ship.

Making a Murderer part 2
A few weeks ago, I did a post about my favorite bingeworthy shows and since, I’ve already gotten through the new Marking a Murderer part 2. I actually watched it in just three days. If you watched part 1, be prepared that this one moves a little slower. We know the story already so now we are going through new evidence and learning information we didn’t know before.

 

Tips to Get You Through a Long Flight

Flying can be exhausting. I’ve done a lot of long flights. A red-eye across the country can be pretty draining but really, that’s a simple and common flight if you really think about it. Trips to Asia, New York to Hawaii, coming home from Eastern Europe, that’s a true long flight. Here are some tips to get you through any length trip that you may a little help with getting through.

  1. Wear layers. No matter what the weather is, I always travel in a light top and with an oversized scarf. Wearing a light top makes layering easier and even though 90% of the time your flight is going to be cold, you really never know. The scarf you can use it as a pillow, blanket, shawl, or wrap. And easiest thing is that it can be taken on and off easily. I also try to keep a light jacket or sweater handy if it gets too cold on the plane or in the airports.
  2. Have your snacks prepared. The worst is when you aren’t prepared with any type of snacks and you can’t find anything in the airport that’s easy to snack on. Back in July, I was so early for my flight and hadn’t brought anything to the airport, I ended up buying $20 scrambled eggs and literally wanted to die. TSA will let you bring anything that is not opened through security (as long as it’s not liquid obviously.) I usually take some sort of nuts and protein bars with me in my bag.
  3. Dress comfortable. Not like a slob, comfortable. If you want any chance of getting an upgrade at all, whether it’s at an airline, car rental or hotel, you need to be dressed properly. I’m not saying dress up but there’s a way to be comfortable and still not look like a hot mess express. I love a good pair of compression leggings, a cute top and sneakers.
  4. Have your technology prepared and backed up. I always make sure my laptop and phone are fully charged, as well as my back up battery pack. Before any flight, while I still have WiFi, I make sure to download my favorite podcasts or movies. I’ve sat on too many planes in front of a broken TV with nothing to do for five hours to not have a back up plan anymore. I also make sure I have multiple headphones. I once downloaded a bunch of podcasts just to get on the plane and not have my iPhone headphones. (palm to face)
  5. Pack up my toiletries. I make sure I always have WetOnes, tampons, tinted moisturizer, mascara, deodorant, hand sanitizer, and a toothbrush at arms reach. Usually right under the seat in front of me. There is nothing worse than being stuck in the window seat and needing to grab something from the overhead bins. Talk about annoying. So, keep them close to you so that you can grab them all if needed.
  6. Have a pen handy. Especially when traveling internationally. You don’t want to be that one asking everyone around you for a pen when you’re filling out your immigration forms. Stick it with your toiletries for easy access.
  7. Back up sleep aids. Sometimes, no matter how tired you are, you just can’t get comfortable enough on the plane to sleep. It’s terrible. I’ve tried a few different tricks though: sleepy time tea, wine, taking melatonin. My new favorite is using my Young Living sleep spray. I brought this with me to Canada and spayed it on my chair before we took off, and on my pillows before going to sleep and I slept throughout the whole night.
  8. Have a good bag. I FINALLY found my favorite carry on. For me, a backpack works best. I found this one on Amazon a few months ago and it worked perfect for my trip to Canada. There’s a spot for my laptop, a cord to charge your phone, an outside pouch for those easy to grab items you may need (ID and passport), and not too big that I’m going to load it up. I actually used it while hiking too and it was perfect.

Banff Travel Guide

There was so much to love about our trip to Canada last month but the little town of Banff really topped it for me. I love me a quaint little town. All of the craftsman houses that lined the crisscrossing streets, which were named after woodland creatures made me want to open an ice cream shop and call myself a local. Banff Ave and Bear St is where you would find most of the restaurants, shops, and coffee houses but that’s not all there is to Banff.

What we did
One of my favorite places of the entire trip, I almost missed out on. I really wanted to get back to town, sit at a coffee shop and get to writing after an already long day of exploring. (There’s something about traveling and being in a town no one knows you that really inspires me.) But with a little bit of peer pressure, and a toddle temper tantrum on my part, my sister and friend talked me into visiting Johnston Canyon.

This short half mile walk to the lower falls was my bar the easiest “hike” we did the whole week, and not something to miss. We exited the highway just after the town of Banff and drove a few miles into the canyon. The drive itself was stunning and we were keeping our eyes pealed for wildlife the whole time. Once we got to the canyon we saw there is a whole little resort there. The little lodge and bungalows looked absolutely beautiful and I’d love to wake up right in the middle of the wilderness.

Like I said earlier, we only went a half mile into the canyon to the lower falls. The upper falls is another mile in and it was starting to get dark and rain a little so we opted for the shorter route.

We didn’t have time but one thing we were told was a must do was the hot springs. Banff has a hot springs just outside of town but a few locals told us it was more or less a glorified hot tub and they suggested us to head to Radium Hot Springs. This was more than an hour and a half south of Banff and we defiantly would have taken the trip if we had time in our schedule.

My favorite part of the town was walking up and down Banff Ave., going in and out of all of the shops. We saved this for our last day and it was a great way to relax, veg out a little, and try some local food and treats.

As you know from my Lake Louise travel guide, I have a love for good hotels. We didn’t stay at the Fairmont Banff Springs, mainly because I knew it was a little out of the way and we really wanted to be as close to town as possible, but we headed over there one day and it was just as stunning at the Chateau Lake Louise. We explored their grounds, got the famous hot chocolate at STOCK Food & Drink and even did a little shopping at Fernweh, a cute little shop at the hotel.

This hotel is just as stunning as you could imagine a castle in the middle of the Rocky Mountains would be. It was pretty over cast while we were there so we couldn’t see the amazing views but just walking the amazing property was well worth the quick trip up to the hotel.

Where we ate
Banff Ave Brewing Company – When there’s a local brewery in town, we have to try it out. We started with splitting their sampler to be able to try six of their home brewed beers. I opted for a pint of Head Smashed IPA and Michelle and Michelle opted for the We’re Jammin’ Apricot Rhubarb Ale. We split a soft pretzel and headed out. Definitely a good place for bar food.

Block Kitchen + Bar – This was absolutely my favorite meal of the trip. We woke up on our last morning to a rainy and over cast day and were in desperate need of a little pick me up. Someone the night before told us about Block and told us it fills up quick but to wait because they have the best food in town. We were luck to grab the last table available in their small, maybe 10 table restaurant.

We started with three tapas, Pig Duck and Fig Cretons, Pork Gyoza and Bao. As you can see the menu is definitely Asian inspired. We didn’t stop there. Because the appetizers were so good we each ordered a bowl of their special: Thai Curry Ramen. It. Was. Amazing. I am still craving it. If you’re in town, definitely stop by Block. Their small menu seems like it is constantly changing which is always a good sign of a fun chef.

Pacini – After a week of hiking, these three Italian girls needed some good pasta in our lives. We grabbed a late dinner at Pacini in the Moose hotel mainly because of the outdoor firepits we saw as we drove by, but when it was raining and we had to sit inside, we were a little bummed. The food made up for the weather though. There were so many good options but I got the Seafood Linguini and I would defiantly recommend it! And when your meal starts with a bread bar, is there anything better? Try it out.

Second Cup Coffee Co – We had breakfast here one morning and it was my favorite of the coffee shops we stopped at. They had a build your own oatmeal bowl which was awesome. It looks like this is a Canadian chain and you have options all across Canada.

Cows – Apparently people in Banff take their ice cream very seriously. We were hoping to go to Cows since that’s what we had read the most about. Our overly opinionated taxi driver on our first night in Banff told us not to waste our time, that its over rated and somewhere else was better. I honestly don’t even remember where he recommended because a few other locals we talked to basically told us he was nuts and Cows is the best, and they did not disappoint. Go to Cows. If there’s a line, wait in it. It’s worth it.

The Grizzly House – We had to take a pretty late reservation to get into this popular restaurant on a Friday night, but it was well worth the wait. We opted for the Four Course Fondue meals but we bartered with our server. None of us are big dessert girls so he let us trade our dessert course for both appetizers.

We started with the soup and then had the cheese and garlic fondue with bread to dip and veggies boiled in a delicious oil broth that was out of this world. For our dinner course we were each able to pick what type of meat combo we wanted. We got the Original Fondue dinner (beef and chicken), Hunter Fondue Dinner (wild boar, buffalo and venison), and their Seafood Special Fondue dinner (lobster, prawn and scallops). Our server set us up with hot rocks to grill on and oil fondue and told us which meat is better to be cooked.

The Grizzly House is definitely not somewhere to miss. Make a reservation and go hungry because you will leave full and unbuttoning your pants.

Where we stayed
In Banff we ended up opting for an AirBnB, mostly because there were very little options. We started looking for lodging only a month before we went on our trip. I thought that’d be plenty of time but it wasn’t at all. Our options were either stay for at a hotel on Banff Ave for a crazy amount of money each night, or stay in the Tunnel Mountain area of town, which was a pretty good location and just a quick 5 minute cab ride from town.

Protip: There are no Ubers in Banff so you have to rely on local cabs. This really only was a problem once we were in town and couldn’t call a cab from our phones because we were using WiFi. But we were always able to find someone to lend us their phone so it wasn’t too bad.

There are a ton of hotels right in town, and they probably would have been a little more convenient then our AirBnB but you need to book early for availability. While we were looking for accommodations we were actually getting a little nervous because campgrounds were the only thing that was coming up for a while, and lets be real, that wasn’t going to happen.