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Saturday, 7 November 2015

Harry Potter World - Orlando

The magical world that is Harry Potter. As one of the BIGGEST fans I had to make my way to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter theme park in Orlando. It's really everything I want and more. I truly felt like I was walking into Hogsmeade and meeting my friends Harry, Ron and Hermione for Butterbeer. 


My real life fantasies came to life in Orlando. Magic was in the air and the smile on my face was permanent. 

I started at Universal Studios and entered Diagon Alley. All your favorite shops were down the cobble stone and even in 85 degree weather, I felt like I plopped right in the heart of London on a crisp winter's day. The amount of detail that was put into the structure and planning is unbelievable. 


I made my way to Harry Potter and Escape from Gringotts ride (which was my favorite).

We took the Hogwarts Express over to Hogsmeade on the Island of Adventures side. I almost believed that I would be meeting Hagrid on the other end and finding my acceptance letter... :) 

The castle was bigger and better than I could've imagined but the greenhouse was my favorite - mostly because Herbology is one of my favorite classes! 

If you get the opportunity to visit this magical, mystery land jump. It's an experience like nothing else. To me, Harry Potter is more than just fantasy. It taught me to be brave and fight for the ones I love; to value my education and that it's ok for girls to be smart and successful; and above all else, to love and support your family and friends for they are the ones who will be there until the end.

Weekend Trip to Colorado

For my 25th birthday I decided to spend the weekend out west. I knew I wanted to spend time in the mountains and have amazing weather. So what better place to visit than colorful Colorado?

I fly into Denver but immediately made my way to Boulder. The short drive was beautiful with the mountains guiding the way. 

I ate at the classic 'Diners, Drive-ins and Dives' the Sink. The restaurants is filled with old graffiti and is bustling with college students and yummy grub. After meandering downtown Boulder, we made our way to the gorgeous Mesa Trail. There are different levels for your desired workout and I took the medium trail. The views from above the city were breathtaking, and I even saw a double rainbow. 



I drove up to the very top of the mountain after and breathed the cleanest air. It's amazing all the people that live up the mountain, and sure takes some serious guts! I'd be lying if I didn't admit that driving up and up on the gravel road didn't make me nervous. But holy moly, was the view worth it. I could a storm and snow in the distant, and was able to walk out to the cliff edges. 



On the second day, I traveled further west to Glenwood Canyon for white water rafting! It was one of the coolest experiences of my life. Floating between the canyons and pushing my limits in the rapids was thrilling and adventurous! Except the water was so cold! On the drive to Glenwood Canyon we drove through Vail and other ski towns, which only intensified  my desire to come back in the winter time for winter sport action. 

On the third day, I went back to Denver but visited the much anticipated and well-known amphitheater  Red Rocks. 

It so reminded me of my time in Arizona and how I wish there was a concert that available that night. The rocks are breath taking, the view of Denver is a sight for sore eyes, and the venue is just cool with so much musical history. We browsed through the store and exhibits of all the infamous talent that has made its way to Red Rocks. Such an inspiration.


I did get stuck a storm during the hike through Red Rocks and had to hide under a rock until the rain lightened up -- but so worth it!

As always, my trips are too short and want I want to do more, see more, and learn more. I'll definitely be back Colorado. 

Thursday, 16 July 2015

Summer Music

One of my favorite things to do is listen to live music outside. There's just something about the warm breeze, starry, nights, acoustic guitars, and musicians that are eargasmic. Chicago has amazing venues, summer concerts, and festivals that appeal to all flavors of music lovers.

My ultimate-favorite-numero-uno-best-band-ever MUMFORD & SONS came to Chicago and it was the best night of  my life.

As part of their Wilder Mind / Gentlemen of the Road tour, Mumford & Sons along with The Macabees stopped in Chicago and played an unforgettable set at Montrose Beach Cricket Hill. Originally scheduled for Wednesday, June 17, 2015 but due to our unseasonably cold and stormy weather the show was postponed to Friday. (I was happy about the news because then I didn't feel so bad about the few extra beers I drank.)  


In true Chicago form, the night was a bit windy and chilly near the lake, but the boys on stage were a sight for sore eyes. They played songs from all three albums, and we sang, we danced, and we drank in their musical spirits. Mumford & Sons has a way of connecting with the music and the crowd on such a personal level because their lyrics are like nothing else. And if it's even possible, I believe they sounded better live than on record. I've I had all the marbles in the world, I would whip out my best Penny Lane attire and follow their tour around the world.



Pitchfork
This was my first time at Pitchfork and honestly I only new a hand full of songs across all of the bands but it was still one hell of a time. I went with a new friend and we spent the entire Friday set together. (I only had a one day pass.)

It was an extremely hot July day in Chicago and we were away from the lake, so not much breeze. But...luckily PF provided lots of cool brews and the lines were never long. 

There's just something about must festivals and soulful people that make these events so magical. The spirit from the artists and the genuine love for music from the audience simply resonates within creating the happiest, at ease feeling in the world. 

Friday night featured Mac Demarco, Chvrches, Panda Pear, and our very own hometown glory, Wilco. Mac Demarco gave a great performance and really engaged the crowd but Chvrches was my favorite performance of the night. The lead singer is a bad ass bitch and she totally rocked it out on stage. If you haven't already jump on that bandwagon. This electric-pop trio from Glasgow is super fun and very energetic. I recommend listening to 'recover.'

The main event of the night, Wilco, was, in my opinion, a little underwhelming. They certainly know how to jam and played some classic hits, but they lost me a bit in the middle. That same day, July 17, they dropped a new album, Star Wars, which I hadn't had the opportunity to listen to, and they performed several songs from that. However, they are a favorite of mine and I will always love them.

So I thank my friend for inviting to my first Pitchfork experience. And if you are looking for a jamsesh with some super chill and funky individuals make it there next year. 

Lollapalooza

Three days. Countless beers. And a helluva time.

I arrived on Friday, July 30 at 4:20 pm just in time for my favorite man, J Tillman of Father John Misty. His eclectic, folky, rock music with witty and satirical love songs from I Love You, Honeybear, fill my heart with joy and laughter. Not to mention his commentary between songs kept the crowd on its toes. 

Friday was by-far the busiest day for me. With bands like: The War on Drugs, Cold War Kids, Broods, BORNS,   Kaskade ALABAMA SHAKES, and Paul McCartney we were racing from stage to stage trying to get a taste of everyone. 

Let me tell you about Alabama Shakes. That was probably one of my favorite moments all weekend. You could literally feel Brittany Howard's voice pouring out of your chest. It was simply amazing, heartfelt, powerful, and alive. 

Friday, 29 May 2015

The Book of Mormon - Mother's Day

This year, we saw the Book of Mormon, in Chicago at the Bank of America Theater. Holy moly, it was fantastic and hilarious, and satirically touched on many religious and social issues. What's great about the Bank of American Theater is that no matter where you are sitting you have a great view of the stage.




I have to a take a minute to praise the cast. They were amazing! The singing, acting and dancing were all so fresh, energetic and flawless. This musical had me laughing from start to finish, but also made me question certain values and beliefs that our society holds so dearly. It reminded me that we absolutely do not live in a perfect world, and challenges us to recognize the flaws and how we will understand the differences.




Unfortunately, it is no longer playing in Chicago, but I urge you do see this anywhere!

 
 
 
Before the musical, we had a fabulous lunch at Eataly - wine, bread, pasta, and steak (for my family members, not me) and the best part, yummy, yummy gelato! You can easily spend a day in Eataly. Take a tour through the markets, different eating areas, and of course you can't forget about the dessert.



Saturday, 23 May 2015

Palm Springs, CA

Last week, I went on my first ever business trip! I only started working at my new job two weeks ago and they needed some extra hands on deck. Extremely nervous and excited, I packed my bags, laptop, binder and as many notes as I could muster to prepare for the conference. 

Since it was a last minute booking and direct flights to Palm Springs are minimal...I scored a FIRST CLASS seat! It was surprisingly cheaper than economy seats. I flet like a high roller-princess-travel guru-mile higher all in one. I flew American Airlines and the service was phenomenal. 

When I arrived in Palm Springs, I went directly to the hotel, the Renaissance. The hotel staff was delightful, welcoming and very accommodating. Again, since it was a last minute booking, I scored a SUITE. Obviously, the room was much too big for just me, myself, and I but it sure made me feel special! My balcony view faced the large pool deck area, AND THE MOUNTAINS! What a sight for sore eyes. Each morning I woke up at 5 am opened my balcony doors, played soothing music, sipped my coffee and watched the sun rise from behind me and shine down on the mountains. I think that fueled my fire and gave me the positive energy for a long day of conferences. 

The conference was a hit, the staff and I had an amazing time! I got to meet people that I've only corresponded with via e-mail, and pretty important scientists and experts in the field. 

Luckily, the Renaissance Hotel is in walking distance to the "down town" area, so after a few cocktails on the pool deck, we walked downtown. We wined and dined at Sammy G's Italian Restaurant. It had live music and offered in door and out door dining experience. Plus an array of vegetarian options. :)

Below is a panoramic view from the balcony of my hotel room at sunset.





Thursday, 7 May 2015

Chicago Segway Tours

This post is way past due but it was totally awesome that I must share it and it must be my first Chicago post.

Almost one year ago, my family and I decided that Father's day was going to be an adventure. My mom suggested that we go on a Segway Tour. So excited and eager to learn moves like Paul Blart, I immediately found the tour guide, booked our tickets for the Lake Shore Drive tour and off we went! (FYI these tours can be a little pricey but there are lots of "groupon" like deals you can find on the internet for reduced prices/packages!). 

Our tour was set for 2pm at Navy Pier. We decided to get there early and have lunch on the pier. We chose to eat at Harry Carry's Tavern. I wish I had a picture of my Fish Tacos because they were BOMB! I highly recommend.



We met our tour guide and they give a brief overview and precautionary details about riding a segway through the streets. Then, once we were assigned a guide, we made our way to the park and had a private tutoring session on how to properly ride a segway. It is very easy to drive a segway and is really appropriate for all ages (but check the website for children under 14!). Once we were qualified to drive the seaways our tour guide (and I'm sorry I can't remember his name, but he was super cool and from Denver, CO.). We began by going under Wacker and onto the walking/bike patch towards Soldier Field. 


We took various stops by the marina, Buckingham fountain, and the museums. At each stop, our fun and groovy tour guide gave us a bit of history on the landmarks and some of the skyscrapers. It was very cool and educational!

The tour took about 1 hour and was well worth our money, plus the whole family got to spend a wonderful day outdoors in Chicago! 




Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Florida Road Trip

Since I'm back in the States and jobless,  I decided to join my sister on her spring break! We took a road trip from Martin, TN to Florida.

I rented a car, packed my backpack and a bag full of snacks, put in a full tank of gas, and hit the road! Leaving behind the FRIGID Chicago weather and heading SOUTH. My sister and her roommate live in Martin, TN, which is exactly half way to Florida. I drove 7 hours to Martin and then another 7 hours to Pensacola, FL.

Unfortunately, it was the first week of March and the weather was unseasonably cold. Pensacola was just barely over 55* with patchy sunlight. However, we made the most of it. Pensacola Beach is filled with wonderful restaurants all beach front. We spent our days laying n the beach in shorts and sweaters, reading books, and squigging our toes in the sand. Ate lunch on the heated beach patios, and ate amazing seafood. (Huge fan of fish tacos!)

But since this is spring break and we were in desperate need of sunlight and suntans, we decided to drive an extra 6 hours to Clearwater Beach, FL where the sun was hot and the temperate was 88*. This was the best decision we made all trip and well worth the extra driving hours.

Don't get me wrong, Pensacola Beach was beautiful but Clearwater Beach was GORGEOUS. White sand beaches and legitimate clear water, I understand why so many people vacation there.

We stayed at a hotel in-between Clearwater Beach and Tampa, FL, which made it easy to commute to different restaurants!

I do regret to admit that the three of us girls managed to get VERY SUNBURNT! Our bodies were clearly not prepared for the Florida sun. So please, do not make our mistake and use plenty of SPF.


Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Galena

Well, I've been home for two weeks now and it's strange how quickly I've adapted. After a mere 24 hours, it felt like I never even left - I guess you never really leave home, right? The cold weather on the other hand I did not adapt to quickly or willingly. My dad is home from the hospital and is on the right track to recovery! Being home and jobless has given me the opportunity to showcase my wonderful, yet limited, cooking skills! I love finding heart healthy recipes for my dad and the whole family. 

After learning that my dad's surgery went swimmingly, I was able to spend time and celebrate a friend's birthday in Chicago (A post will soon be available noting all my favorite Chicago hot spots and touristy things!).

But this post is about my weekend getaway in Galena, Illinois. My best friend has a family cabin in Galena and she invited me to stay with her and try snowboarding for the first time! Of course I was game and I packed my backpack right away. Sometimes it is easy to forget just how beautiful your own backyard is. It had just snowed in Illinois and all the trees were capped with glittering snow and the air was crisp. On the Mississippi River, Galena offers beautiful landscapes, valleys, bluffs, and lots of deer. Galena has such a quaint downtown area that offers a variety of local restaurants and bars, boutique clothing shops, AND the hill from The Field of Dreams. Everything is in walking distance and the river walk is scenic, quiet, and beautiful. 

I've gone skiing before and I'm definitely not an expert by any means but I thought this would was a great opportunity to try snowboarding. I'm not going to lie, it's hard! It took a while for me to get used to balancing on the board and shifting my weight so I don't fall flat on my behind, which I did at least three times. After a couple trial and errors, I started to get the hang of it and even made it down the small hill twice without falling! However, attempting to snowboard takes a lot of energy, so after lunch I decided to switch to skiing  and enjoy the rest of the afternoon and see the other slopes. Chestnut Mountain was so beautiful. From the top of the hill you can see beyond the Mississippi River into Iowa and all the farms. If you live close, this is a great weekend getaway spot or even just for the day! Most people over look Illinois and Iowa but when I'm driving on the highway through Iowa and Illinois it feels like home. 





Monday, 12 January 2015

Life Happens

With a heavy heart I'm afraid this will be my last blog post in Australia, at least for a while. I woke up this morning to the news that my dad is in the hospital after suffering major chest pain to learn that he needs open heart surgery. I immediately looked up flights and bought my one-way ticket home. Some things are simply more important than galavanting through Australia and family is definitely numero uno.

So I guess now is as good a time as any to fill you in on my stay in Melbourne!

Danielle, Kayce and I were lucky enough to spend yet another holiday with the McMahons! They graciously invited us for Christmas with their family and it was filled with love, joy, and Christmas cheer! We are extremely grateful for their constant support and open arms.

News Years in this part of the world is very much like the 4th of July in the States. Everyone is outside, there are BBQs and FIREWORKS. Basically, the streets in downtown Melbourne shut down and it's a free for all. There were four designated areas where live music and fireworks were hosted, and trust me they went all out! It was awesome, and I got to ring in the New Year with my two favorite girls. Plus it was 80*, which was a lovely trade to the usually tundra that is Chicago. 

Since then, the three of us have been exploring Melbourne. We visited Fitzroy's Brunswick Street, which is as cool, hip, and artsy as you would imagine. We had drinks at Naked For Satan and I think it's my favorite bar of all time. Not only is the theme pretty wicked but the drink selection was on point AND the rooftop eating/drinking area is amazing with the best view of the city. But Brunswick is filled with awesome bars and gin joints, local restaurants, thrift stores, and hole in the wall bookstores. I was clearly infatuated. 

Kayce's parents and cousin made it to Australia and we got to show them around the city before they left us for Tasmania. Sigh.

And then there were two.

Danielle and I got to take a drive down the southeast coast of Melbourne with Jacqueline (the woman we work for) and made it all the way down to St. Andrews beach at the end of the bay and tip of Australia. The scenic drive and massive waves were a delight. I could easily pick up a past-time to simply watch surfers all day and all night. I'm really amazed because honestly it looks frightening up close and the water was absolutely freezing! I couldn't even feel my legs after several minutes but it was 106* so cold water was necessary.

Danielle and I spend most of our days walking around the city, going to St. Kilda beach, and visiting all the city markets. Per usual, the people here are extremely friendly and welcoming.

I'm not sure if I will be back within the year to finish up my visa but it's the last thing on my mind. I have to believe that everything happens for a reason. I was meant to work for Jacqueline, study and learn about health, which has inspired me to evaluate my choices and decisions. This was obviously not part of the plan, but as much as I wished that life back home would simply pause while I live in a dream bubble in Australia that just isn't life. And "the world isn't a wish granting factory." I've had 6 beautiful, adventurous months in Australia and I owe this all to my dear friend and sister Danielle. Thank you for inviting me to explore Australia, encouraging me to go beyond my comfort zone, and standing by me during difficult times. I love you so much and I'll see you when you get home!

Xx

P.S. I can't wait to see family and friends in Chicago! I've missed you like crazy.