A Travellerspoint blog

Ice Ice Baby

Me: "I'm going to Iceland for vacation." Everyone else: "What? You're going where?"

Things I know about Iceland:
• Rotten shark is a delicacy and smells like ammonia.
• 320,000 people live there in total.
• Iceland is green, and Greenland is icy (Thanks, Mighty Ducks for that lesson).
• Bjork is from Iceland. She wore a swan dress to the Academy Awards one time. Not sure what that says about Iceland’s fashion.
• In more recent (and better) music history, Of Monster and Men is from Iceland.
• It is not a typical vacation destination for three 24 year old girls, or for most people in general.

How do three 20-something college friends end up going to Iceland for a summer vacation? Don’t most 20-something year olds go to a beach somewhere for summer vacation? In our defense, Iceland does have beaches.

Here is the story:
After a few months of being in the corporate world, I was ready for a vacation. (Well, really, I was ready after a day in corporate America but had to accrue some PTO. The Go-Go's "Vacation" is always playing on repeat in my head). I asked around, and my friends, Megan and Erin, had seen some gorgeous pictures of Iceland and wanted to go. I invited myself on the trip, subsequently apologized for crashing their trip, uninvited myself, and then got a real invitation to join them. After thinking about it for a few months, we bought our plane tickets, planned an itinerary, and fielded many peoples’ confused responses to when we told them we were going to Iceland.

We are a week from departure, so I have decided to start the Icelandic series of blogs. Like always, I start this blog with good intentions, but the following reasons may prevent me from updating:
• Frostbitten fingers from snorkeling in 32 degree water
• Injuries from falling off a horse while riding through the highlands
• Car troubles resulting in being stranded in the Middle-of-nowhere, Iceland
• Too much time-consuming fun exploring Iceland

Further, I don’t even know if there is Wi-Fi in the Middle-of-nowhere, Iceland which could seriously impede my blogging abilities; however, I will try my hardest to keep the world (read as: parents) updated about our Iceland adventure. It will be a hilarious adventure worth sharing.

Posted by lsto90 14:04 Archived in USA Tagged iceland Comments (0)

A Weekend in the Windy City


My college roommate of 3 years and best friend moved to the Windy City with her husband after we graduated college a year ago. We finally found a weekend where we were both available, and Southwest conveniently had an airfare sale at the same time. I purchased a plane ticket for a quick weekend visit to Chi Town as my friend Kanye West calls it to see Sam and Paul.

I went to Chicago a few years ago and saw all the major tourist attractions, so this time, I wanted to experience my friends’ version of Chicago and see what their post-grad life was like. Chicago knew I was coming, so it made sure to have perfect weather for the entire weekend—sunny and 70 degrees. I have a sunburn to prove it. You are welcome for the perfect weather, Chicago.

I arrived Friday afternoon, and followed my friend’s cryptic instructions to meet her downtown by her office. I traversed the airport following the CTA signs, got on the train line that is the color of the fruit I am allergic to (orange), and got off at the stop named after the first president and the drinks my friend and I can afford (Washington-Wells). I met her and two of her coworkers at Rivers for drinks. Yes, Rivers was on the river. How convenient. I was excited to meet her coworkers whom I have heard a lot about.


A few more people met up with us at happy hour, and after a couple of drinks, Sam, Paul and I hustled to make it to Second City right on time for the 8 pm show of Apes of Wrath. Second City is the famous improve club where many notable comedians, including Chris Farley, Stephen Colbert, Bonnie Hunt, Tina Fey, and Amy Poehler, got their starts. We bought the $28 floor tickets at the risk of being selected to participate in a sketch. One of my favorite sketches was this guy who was taking the American citizenship test. He asked the audience what some basic rights of American citizens are. My friend, Paul, screamed , “the right to bear arms.” The actor asked where he was from, and Paul screamed, “TEXASSSSS!” The room died laughing. It was hilarious. Things to know: Second City has a pretty large food and drink menu. Since we didn’t have time for dinner, we ordered some appetizers that hit the spot. After Second City, we grabbed a drink at Old Town Pour House by the theater and then headed home.

Saturday, we woke up and stopped at Millennium Park for the quintessential tourist picture at the Bean, which is actually named Cloud Gate. We headed to the Wicker Park neighborhood of Chicago. My friend described this area as a neighborhood experiencing a lot of growth—new businesses, new restaurants, new bars, etc. all coming to the area. We stopped at Max’s Wine Dive for a mimosa, and then met up with Paul’s cousin and family at Milk and Honey Cafe for brunch. On Saturday, the special was a pulled pork torta that was delicious.

Although we were completely stuffed, we headed to Lincoln Park for the Chicago Hot Dog Festival. It was a free festival with live music and hot dog vendors serving hot dog samplers for around $3. Sam tried the American hot dog at one vendor with truffle sauce and French fries. I, being a typical tourist, felt like being cliché, so I ordered a Chicago style hot dog at the Chicago Hot Dog Festival. We were 100% full but managed to scarf the hot dogs down. We also drank Goose Island Brewery’s 312 beer. Goose Island is a local Chicago brewery.


After listening to a Who and a Led Zeppelin cover bands, we ventured into Lincoln Park. We walked through the zoo which is free to enter, and then through the neighborhood around the park to look at the cute little brownstones. We met one of Paul’s coworkers for drinks at Halligan Bar in Lincoln Park.


Then, we headed to Waffles Café which is the real reason I went to Chicago. Waffles Café was recently in the press for the creation of the wonut—the perfect marriage of American's favorite breakfast foods: the waffle and the donut. Sam and I decided wonuts for dinner was perfectly acceptable, while Paul ordered a press sandwich that he said was delicious. Sam and I tried the oreo, cinnamon sugar, old fashioned, and Mexican chocolate wonuts. Our favorites were the oreo and old fashioned to go. Since the café was about to close, they gave us a free old fashioned and red velvet. We went to Sheffield’s Beer and Wine Garden by Wrigley Stadium after indulging in wonuts. Yes, the entire day can be summed up in the following words: walk, drink, repeat. We met up with her boss and some of their friends. I sent her boss an Outlook invitation to meet up with us, and she wisely accepted the invitation. Therefore, she got the free wonuts as a reward.


My weekend ended with an early Sunday morning flight back to Texas. While my visit was short, it was well-worth it and a fantastic weekend. As my friend Frank Sinatra sings, “My kind of town, Chicago is,” and for the past year, it has been filled with “my kind of people too.”

Posted by lsto90 20:49 Archived in USA Tagged chicago_wonut_ Comments (0)

In the words of John Denver, "Rocky Top Tennessee"

As the pathetic middle child, my parents still extend me an invitation on their family vacations, and I, with my five weeks of paid time off, gladly accept any invitation handed to me. For over a decade, my dad has mentioned visiting his childhood friend in Knoxville, Tennessee, and after years of thinking about it, we finally planned to visit. Then, there was a plot twist: dad decided we should road trip, so off we went for a week of a lot of family time in my dad’s Suburban listening to an audiobook about Amazon the whole way.

Day 1, we drove 9 hours to Oxford, Mississippi which officially turned the Tennessee road trip into the Tour of the SEC. My brother is in high school and a huge football fan, so he was all about this SEC Tour. The town of Oxford is cute and quaint. It is surrounded by green rolling hills, and the Ole Miss campus is gorgeous. We stopped by the famed Walk of Champions on Ole Miss’s campus to take a picture, and we ate at City Grocery in the town square. City Grocery was phenomenal. We devoured everything—from the grouper with caper sauce, the snapper with zucchini puree and fried green tomatoes, the mahi mahi with skillet corn, and the famed grits that have been on the menu for 21 years. We topped of our feast with a few desserts. The poached strawberries were amazing. City Grocery made our stop in Oxford well-worth it.


Day 2, we drove a few hours to Nashville. We stayed at the Omni Hotel downtown which is attached to the Country Music Hall of Fame. Relics from country music’s biggest stars, including Willie Nelson’s New Balance running shoes, decorate the lobby. We visited Vanderbilt whose campus I didn’t find that impressive after all the hyped-reviews people had given me about it. Near Vanderbilt is Centennial Park where there is a replica of the Parthenon which houses an art museum. We skipped the art museum and took a picture of the Parthenon instead. We headed back downtown where we stopped at Tootsie’s Orchids which is right by the Rhyman Auditorium (original Grand Ole Opry). Tootsie’s is one of the famous honky tonks on Broadway. It has multiple stages that always are hosting live bands. When we went, there was a cover band playing some country classics; however, if you are lucky, you may see a big name star grace the stage. We ate at Tavern which is a trendy, young professional type of restaurant with a gastro pub style menu. I was told to expect a wait here, and that was true.

Day 3, we went to the Country Music Hall of Fame. I like country music, but I am not a HUGE fan. I don’t follow it regularly and know all the new songs, but I found the Country Music Hall of Fame fascinating! Then, we headed to Andrew Jackson’s home—the Hermitage which was a working plantation back in his day. We toured the museum, his house, and the grounds. I love history, so I loved the Hermitage.


Afterward, we drove a couple of hours to the reason for the trip—Knoxville. We checked into the Four Points by Sheraton which a certain Peyton Manning is co-owner of. Unfortunately, Peyton wasn’t there this time, but rumor has it, you may run into him if you stay there. Conveniently I have a friend who lives in Knoxville; thus, I was given a break from family time. My friend brought me to Market Square (I notice a trend in these small Southern cities—they all have squares) for drinks and dinner. We ate at Tupelo Honey café where they serve delicious biscuits and jam when you sit down.


The next morning, we walked around University of Tennessee’s campus. I don’t particularly like universities called UT with bright orange as their color, but the University of Tennessee’s campus was really pretty. We saw the famous “Rock” and Neyland Stadium. We spent the rest of the day shopping around the downtown square and ate at Café 4 (try the fried green tomatoes) and Cru. Later that night, I got another respite from my parents and grabbed drinks with my friend again. We went to the Peter Kern Library which is a super cool speakeasy type of bar at the Oliver Hotel. The bar is hidden. You have to enter the bar from the back alley, not through the hotel lobby.

Day 5, we headed to the Smokey Mountains and drove through Cades Cove. It took forever because there was so much traffic on a Saturday morning. We saw a bear and hiked a little, but then just sat in traffic as we tried to make the Cades Cove loop. Then, we made the biggest mistake of our lives. We were ready for lunch and headed to Gatlinburg thinking that was the nearest city with dining options. Worst idea ever.

Gatlinburg is a combination of a theme park, a state fair, a Wal-Mart, and Panama City Beach. It is home to every single cheesy themed chain restaurant, like Dick’s Last Resort, random carnival games, and tacky souvenir shops. The traffic there was outrageous. Moral of the story: NEVER GO TO GATLINBURG!

After that horrible stop, we drove to the Nantahala National Forest and checked into a cabin at the Nantahala Outdoor Center (NOC). The NOC is where the Olympic kayak team practices. It has cabins fore rental, a general store, and two restaurants. We watched some kayakers practice and ate at the barbecue place. Note to all future visitors: don’t eat at the barbecue place. No no no no. It was disgusting and will give you an awful stomach ache.


The next morning, we woke up and went on a white water rafting trip. We opted for the trip with class 2 rapids and a couple of class 3 rapids because mom threatened us with our lives if we brought her down a river that was too turbulent. It was a great trip down the river. I sat in the front and was drenched by the frigid water by the end of it. Once we finished the trip, we, even mom, wished we would have gone with a more difficult route. Next time.

After drying off from our rafting trip, we drove what seemed like 9,000,053 hours to Tuscaloosa, AL. We drove around the University of Alabama (SEC school #3). Fact: the University of Alabama is GORGEOUS! All the buildings match (which is a stark contrast from my Alma Mater). We stopped at Bryant-Denny Stadium and found the 2012National Championship plaque that commemorates their 13-1 season, with that 1 loss being a result of my Alma Mater’s victory! Whoop!

The final day involved another 8,101,818 hour drive back home. En route, we stopped at SEC school #4—LSU and drove around the campus. Mike was roaming his cage, and we were almost back home.

Road tripping has its perks: you get to see a lot of the country and stop in some small-not-really-destinations places. However, I would prefer not to road trip anywhere for another decade.

Posted by lsto90 20:46 Archived in USA Tagged of music hall tennessee_knoxville_nashville_o miss_country fame_vanderbilt_alabama_nantaha Comments (0)

Lowcountry Getaway


I somehow bamboozled my mother into taking me on a vacation for mother’s day. Then, my sister cried (literally) her way into the trip. The destination was my choice, so I took a cue from Ray Charles and said, “Georgia’s on my mind.” Then, I took another note from James Taylor and said, “In my mind, I’m going to Carolina.” Thus, I decided to go to the lowcountry for a 5 day vacation. We took a direct flight from Houston to Savannah, Georgia which is around a 2 hour flight. The Savannah airport is the most charming airport ever. Who knew charming could ever be used to describe an airport? There is a little town square in it. It’s precious. The airport was a quick 20 minute drive to historic downtown Savannah.
We stayed at the Marriott Courtyard which is on the outskirt of the historic downtown. Note: Savannah’s historic district is very small and easily walkable. Our hotel was a quick 10 minute walk to the river. We strolled downtown and ate dinner at Chive. Chive is a small restaurant that serves delicious seafood! Try the tuna ceviche and Chilean seabass. After dinner, we strolled some more and headed to Leopold’s for ice cream. Leopold is a popular ice cream shop that was started in 1919 by three immigrant brothers from Greece. The original shop closed in 1969. The youngest child of the original owner, Stratton, headed to Hollywood and worked on a ton of cool movies. In 2004, he reopened Leopold’s, mainly because he knew I would be visiting in 2014 to test out the awesome ice cream. The shop now has Hollywood memorabilia from Stratton’s career decorating it. The line was out the door when we arrived, and the lengthy list of ice cream flavors made the decision making process quite difficult. The chewies and cream and pb and chippy are delicious flavors.
Savannah was one of the first planned cities. It was designed around 24 squares, of which 22 still remain today. So day 2, we set out to see all the squares via trolley tour. There are about three trolley companies in Savannah. We took the Old Town Trolley tour which cost about $30 per person. The trolley was narrated and had on-off privileges at 16 stops around downtown. In all honesty, skip the trolley tour. Go on a walking tour instead. The town is small enough where waiting for a trolley to come back is really pointless. You could save time by walking to the next location; however, the narrated tour was nice to get some history. Thus, I suggest a walking tour. Plus, you probably will need to walk after eating all the food in Savannah.


We started our day at Chippewa Square. “Forrest… Forrest Gump” once sat in this square and narrated his life story. Now his bench in is the Savannah History Museum, so unfortunately, I couldn’t sit on it with a box of chocolates. Instead, I walked to Gallery Espresso on the edge of the square and had the most delicious cheese, chive and bacon scone. So good.


From Chippewa Square, we walked to Juliette Gordon Low’s birthplace. Juliette aka Daisy started the Girl Scouts. You can tour the house, but we decided to save our $9. Basically, Savannah has a ton of old houses where someone famous once lived that you can tour. We just trolleyed or walked our way around the town, but we didn’t visit any of the historic houses. Other highlights of the city and our tour:
• Forsyth Park—The fountain in the city has become the recognizable symbol of the city. Our trolley guide told us it came from a mail-order catalog from a company located in New York City.
• The smallest house in Savannah is about 500 square feet and recently sold for a little under $300,000.
• Savannah has the second largest St. Patrick Day parade. NYC has the first.
• Nathaniel Green is buried in Johnson Square, not in Green Square which was named after him. Apparently, he is not the only example of people being buried in squares other than their own.
• Savannah’s downtown has a sip-and-stroll policy. You can sip alcohol while strolling.
• Savannah has an Olympic torch on the river. It was the village for sailing events in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.
• Clint Eastwood’s Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil was filmed and set in Savannah. I suggest reading the book or watching the movie before visiting Savannah, or you will not get all the movie references and be confused like me.
• Flannery O’Connor lived in Savannah. You can tour her house if you want.
• Cathedral of St. John is a very pretty Catholic cathedral that was one of the top tourist attractions of 2013 according to tripadvisor.com. It is free to enter.
• Jones Street is filled with swanky historic houses. Our tour guide Denise said this street is where the saying “keeping up with the Jones” came from. Denise also called a trolley passenger, “sugar lump” before telling another one to get off the trolley at the cathedral and be sure to go to confession while touring it. Oh Denise, so much sass.
• The campus of Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) is basically the entire downtown. Seriously, SCAD owns everything.
• Savannah Bee Company’s flagship store is in Savannah obviously. You can taste all the honeys, and buy anything and everything honey related.
• William Tecumseh Sherman gave Savannah to Lincoln as a present which is the reason he spared Savannah on his torching march to the sea.
• Oglethorpe, founder of Georgia, banned liquor from the colony, but he didn’t ban wine or beer because he liked madeira wine.
• I noticed in Georgia, they say the “War Between the States” instead of the Civil War. How formal.
• Byrd Cookies is a must visit. They make mini cookies in a ton of flavors. You can sample as many as you want. They are most known for their key lime cookies which are divine.
• Savannah Candy Kitchen is the go to place for deliciousness. They are known for their gophers and pralines.
For lunch, we ate at Vic’s on the River. The pork eggroll and biscuits are delicious. For dinner, we ate at B. Matthews which had the most delicious side dishes ever—great combinations of vegetables.


On day 3, we started with breakfast at J. Christopher’s which is a Savannah favorite. At 9 am on a Saturday, we didn’t have a wait. A little later we noticed people waiting for a table. It is not worth a wait. We then drove about an hour to Hilton Head just to say we went there. Then we drove another hour to Beaufort which is a small town in South Carolina. It has a cute main street with art galleries and shops and is along a river. We ate lunch at Plum’s. The food was mediocre, but it was on the river so that was nice. After another hour of driving, we arrived in Charleston. We were there on College of Charleston and the Citadel graduation weekend, so everything was booked. We stayed at the Ashley River Holiday Inn Express in downtown Charleston. It was a quick $10 cab ride to the Charleston sights. Fun fact: Charleston is bordered by two rivers: the Ashley River and the Cooper River. We took a cab to White Point Gardens and walked along the Battery (seawall) to see the pretty, old and pretty old houses. We saw Rainbow Row (street with thirteen colorful historic houses), Chalmers Street (old cobblestone street), and other historic houses. We ended up stopping at Husk for drinks before our dinner at Blossoms. Both were great.


We started our Sunday with a trip to Fort Sumter where the first shots of the Civil War were fired. Fort Sumter is free to visit, yet you have to pay for the narrated ferry to get there unless you have your own boat. The entire visit, including ferry, took about 2 hours. Once we arrived at the fort, a park ranger provided a brief history, and then, we walked around and looked at the museum. I have only been to one other fort in my life. I went to Fort McHenry in Baltimore which was more exciting than Fort Sumter. There isn’t a lot to Fort Sumter, but you should visit it. We ate lunch at Fleet’s Landing afterward. The fish special of the day was grouper which was really fresh. Fleet’s Landing was not our favorite meal, but it was decent. The rest of our day consisted of the following:
• We browsed all the vendors in City Market. There are a lot of Gullah people who sell their artwork there. One lady told us each painting has a story and proceeded to tell us about each painting’s story. The Gullah people also weave baskets out of sweetgrass. Those baskets are pricey!
• Kilwins is a candy shop in Charleston. The tuttles are one of their most popular items.
• Kings Street is a longgggg street filled with tons of stores—from boutiques to art galleries to major namebrand stores. On the second Sunday of the month, the street is closed to vehicles, pedestrians stroll the street, restaurants offer seating in the street, and musicians perform along the sidewalk. Lucky us, we were there on the second Sunday of May, so we spent the remainder of our day shopping. We then went to Cocktail Club for drinks before eating barbecue at Jim and Nick’s—both were on Kings Street.
o King Street is where Allie and Noah in The Notebook lied in the street to watch the lights change. It is also where the theater is that they went to.


We started our Monday with breakfast at Hominy Grill. The biscuits are so delicious! Then we went to the Citadel which is open to the public. The campus is a little austere, not full of old charm like West Point. After the Citadel, we went to the Old Exchange and Provost Dungeon. Admission was $9. The building served as customhouse, mercantile exchange, and military prison and was built before the American Revolution. The dungeon portion of the tour was guided by a guy in colonial costume. The rest of the building has old artifacts and stories of historic events that happened at the exchange, like the reading of the Declaration of Independence. After the museum, we ate at Magnolia. Magnolia is owned by the same people who own Blossoms. Magnolia is trendier and more casual than Blossoms. Blossoms has more of an old school feel. It is the type of restaurant you go to on special occasions.
Both Savannah and Charleston have their own distinct southern charm. Savannah is like a baby New Orleans with live oaks and Spanish moss decorating the town. Charleston has more of a coastal/beach feel to it. There are palmettos everywhere. Both towns have a plethora of historic houses, museums, restaurants and beaches nearby that you can visit, or you can just leisurely stroll around the cities like we did. It was a fantastic southern vacation that I would recommend to anyone!

Posted by lsto90 18:51 Archived in USA Tagged savannah charleston lowcountry Comments (0)

Spring Tradition

After 7 months in corporate America, I was in desperate need of a ski trip. I convinced my dad he needed another one too, and at the beginning of April, my brother, dad and I went to our favorite ski town--Park City, Utah.

Usually, we ski at The Canyons Ski Resort for convenience, but this time, we decided to switch it up. We read online reviews about the Lodge at Mountain village and knew we were risking getting an old condo or would luck out getting a newly renovated one.

We arrived late and after our arrival sushi tradition at Sushi Blue, we went to pick up our key from the lock box in the office. Of course, the key wasn't there. The guy at the desk didn't manage the condo we rented, and after dad had some choice words and half an hour later, we finally had a room. Of course, we didn't luck out. We got a room that hadn't been updated since the place opened, but at least it was a clean place to sleep.

Day 1, we skied at Park City. Skiing in April means potentially awful ski conditions, but we were fortunate. It snowed on day 1 and 2 lending itself to great conditions. I haven't skied PC in over a decade, so it was fun testing it out. Fun fact: Park City is home of the US Olympic ski team.

We finished the day with mass at St. Mary's--my favorite church ever. It has the best view of the mountains. Following mass, we enjoyed our go-to family restaurant--Bandits. Perfect for a hearty meal after a day on the slopes.

Before mass, the glass shower door fell on my dad. He caught it, so it didn't shatter. When he called the front desk to fix it, they said they didn't manage the property and couldn't help us. Dad was not going to stand for that. After numerous phone calls and choiced words, he found the property manager who agreed to find us new accommodations the next morning.

Fast forward to the next morning, we got upgraded to a giant condo at the Lowell. GIANT. Nicer than any house I will ever live in. We could have had 13 of our closest friends stay with us. It was awesome. No shower doors fell on us here.

Day 2, we skied at Solitude. It is a 45 minute drive from Park City and absolutely worth it. The resort is smaller with only 8 lifts but can keep you entertained for a whole day. It snowed all day and was the best ski conditions I have had in a few years of spring ski trips. I pride myself on never falling while skiing. After a few years of staying upright, it was bound to happen. This trip
I went on a falling streak. I fell 5 times doing stupid things. Not like I was going fast pretending to be Lindsey Vonn or anything. I literally would be coming to a slow stop or just standing and fall. Also, in 20 years of skiing, I have never collided with a person, but Joseph decided to ski right into me. Luckily, we were going slow, but having 200 pounds collide with you is never fun!

Solitude connects to Brighton resort, so it would be perfect for a 2 day ski trip. After Solitude, we ate at Shabu in Park City. Not my favorite, but it was good. Then we had to stop at our favorite dessert spot--Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory before bed.

Day 3, we skied Park City again. Someone accidentally picked up dad's skis which led to a humorous-dad-is-confused moment. We ended our trip by eating at the Wasatch Brew Pub which we haven't done since I was probably 10 years. It was decent affordable food--nothing fancy which is sometimes nice with all the hoity toity restaurants in Park City.

Overall, the trip was awesome and made us want to ski different resorts more often. We lucked out with perfect ski conditions and an accommodation upgrade. Plus, dad was happy with the money you save going later in the season. Everything was discounted. There were no crowds or need for reservations, making the vacation very relaxing and just what I needed after audit busy season.

Posted by lsto90 20:22 Archived in USA Tagged park city_utah_ski Comments (0)

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