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May-ments in time

31 May

The month of May had me feeling amorous ❤

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Like this view: Giving me love, despite the grey skies.

 

For this post, there are *8 categories of love. 
*Editors Note:  Eight is arbitrary.   Or, arb-eight-trary. 

 

  1. Friendship Love:

 

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Matching energy

 

In May, I was asked to be interviewed on stage about travel and, for those of you who know me (which you probably do because you’re reading my blog), you’ll know that I have stage fright.  I don’t like the attention.  I said yes, despite this, both because they were friends of mine and because I was flattered.  However, when the week finally arrived…I was freaking out. Helen had also been asked, by the same friends, on the same show, to come and do a little standup.  She was going to close out the night. Spoilers: She crushed!

Bel and I had not been on a show together (because, duh, I don’t perform comedy) since our Improv 101 class show.  This was an exciting night! Officially, we got to hangout out together in the green room, talk to the other performers, and relish the experience…right up until the time I had to go on stage. Gulp.

Luckily, Helen, (aka my best friend), came on stage with me. (THANK YOU, HELEN).  We had been planning to do this since I had been asked to come on the show and luckily, the hosts had said that it would be fine.

 

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Moral (and actual) support.

 

Bel acted as my initial mouthpiece and stepped in whenever I became overwhelmed. She rubbed my back, reminded me of the stories I was going to tell, and provided invaluable support.  She made the whole experience fun(ish) from start to finish.  And then — I got to return the favor. Kind of. She let me (and Sarah) sit on stage with her while she performed her killer set.  Bel and Bam, in bright lights! 

 

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The after show hang

 

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  1. All sorts of other shows, Love.

 

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A magic — I mean, a comedy show

 

A music show:

One Wednesday, I met an awesome group of friends at banjo night.  Emily had gotten wonderful people together; Laura, Trisha, Joe, Erin, Josh, myself, and of course Emily! It was such a fun night, hanging out with people I don’t get to see often enough.  We even got to take a private tour of the Elk’s Lounge — courtesy of Erin — and it was super cool. I’m (still) considering becoming a member.

 

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#friendship and #memberperks

 

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  1. Exercise Love:

 

Sure, I worked out in the gym. #alwaystrying   But outside of that (I’m talking literally outside), I joined a kickball team with a fantastic name (see photo caption below).

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Kickball team name: Pitch, please. 

 

The selfie below was taken on a particularly messy game day when Emily, Dan, and I made, in my opinion, the best possible use of some very muddy fields.

 

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Not pictured: my car’s interior… but you can imagine

 

The photo below is from an actual mud run. Or rather, it was inflatable 5k that felt like a mud run, celebrating Laura’s birthday. So fun! (Happy birthday, Laura!)  And afterwords, we all went to Hitchhiker brewery to celebrate. Because what’s a birthday party without having to explain to everyone else why you showed up dirty. 

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Running into 31 like…

 

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  1. Dating Love:

 

I’m keeping (some of) the juicy details to myself, but I went on some pretty fantastic dates — including a surprise date that I got to plan.  It was May 24th, on a Friday night, by most metrics a classically romantic time. This evening was going to be no exception. I gave Collin, my date, some clues and a couple of chances to guess, but mostly, I chose to keep the suspense — and the mystery — alive:

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This was exciting.

 

Question: What (and where) was our surprise date?!

 

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A Bright Star surprise. 

 

Answer:  An (adorable) Northside date to the New Hazlett Theater to see a production of Bright Star (a musical that Steve Martin wrote with incredible bluegrass accompaniment).  

But wait, there’s more!  Would a romantic evening be complete without a walking picnic (especially when I knew my date was going to show up at my doorstep hungry)?!?  I could let you guess, but the answer is ‘nope’.

I packed us a walking picnic — aka rotisserie chicken in a bag — that we ate (the food, not the bag) on our way to the theater.  And when we arrived at New Hazlett my handsome, traditional, Friday night date chose the best seats in the house, and we fully enjoyed the phenomenal show.

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Enjoying live theatre

 

I genuinely felt the full range of emotions at this play;  I laughed, I cried, I loved;  The experience was incredible — especially the music, the storyline, the location, and the company.  Col and I left LOVING LIFE and, great news, our date didn’t stop there.  Once the show was over, we walked back to the dreamflat to make, unbeknownst to us at the time, THE BEST CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES I’VE EVER EATEN IN MY ENTIRE LIFE!!!!! Let me repeat that, the best chocolate chip cookies that I’ve ever eaten in my entire.life. “And I love cookies!”  Bonus: These incredible cookies are vegan (#dairyfreemonth) and OH MY GOD ARE THEY GOOD.

 

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Cookies so good I (almost) forget it was dairy-free month.

 

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And then, the great dates kept on coming.  Like the super fun double date we went on with Mike and Kendyll.  Mike and Kendyll are people whom I was destined to meet. These two gems are past-Sammi’s neighbors (circa 2012-2013). They live directly next door to where I used to live. (And when I lived there, they lived there too…except on the other side.) The universe has been trying to connect us for awhile 🙂 Thanks, universe! 

 

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Double the fun

 

As the four of us hung out on a restaurant patio, Kendyll and I could not help but notice…and then laugh at…a guy wearing a neon bike helmet dining with his family.  Were there some hidden dangers we were unaware of?  A piano falling from the sky?  Mike, like a champ, changed the subject and told the waiter “we’ll take another round!” And, my night ended perfectly, with Col and I alone at the dreamflat, laughing hysterically until we cried… just the way I like it.

Collin and I continued to organize lots of at-home dates in May.  One that stood out, in particular, was this one (pictured below) that Col planned:  He greeted me at the door with a bouquet of stunning, fresh roses *happy sigh* ❤️  And then we went food shopping at the farmers market directly across the street #northsidepride Our dinner that night was prepared ONLY with the ingredients we had bought there. Local, home cooked, and made with love?!  You can see the results below.  Collin is fantastic in the kitchen!  And those roses that he had brought were absolutely gorgeous!  I wanted to make room for them on our table.  So, to save space, I put a single rose in my water glass, and that rose and I got to sip from the same, refreshing drink all evening long. Talk about a tall glass of water! 

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Sooo much goodness in one picture; it’s like a Where is Waldo, except everything is Waldo

 
That evening, as I mentioned, it was *supposed* to be a date night at home. Except. Well, I had just found out that the Harry Potter house party that Helen and I had attended last year was happening again.  And Collin loves Harry Potter!  So, we went, for Collin.  We cleaned up our dinner, left the dreamflat and, we went to the Housecup party — Team Ravenclaw (Claw! Claw!) — for the rest of our very fun(ny) night.

We got there just as the party was getting started.  Games galore!  First up?  Flip cup (which I’m not good at) with spells.  Followed by a horcrux hunt.  And, well, this is where Col points to as the turning point in his night, a game of quidditch where we had to finish three bottles of wine before our seeker could be released.  Allison coached us. Collin was competitive. Jesca was a masterful seeker. AND RAVENCLAW WON (this game)!!! Claw! Chug! Claw!

Next game? Act out a scene.  Collin was on the microphone and he narrated the Ravenclaw’s skit.  While our scene was good, the most memorable part, for me, came when the Slytherians pointedly defended their choice to cut down an “invasive species of plant”.

“Can I say something?”, Col, not very quietly, leaned in and asked me.

“Uh, no, I don’t think so. What do you want to say?”

“I would tell them that they are DORKS!!”

“Yeah, don’t say that. It’s time to go.”

And with that, we left, missing the final game of the night  — trivia. We got into the car with mumbles from Collin…“We were supposed to stay in.  I thought you said we would have fun. Why did I drink like that?”  I did my best to comfort him and when we got home, into bed, I read a text from Allison…. Ravenclaw had won the Housecup this year!!!! WAHOO!!!  THIS WAS GREAT NEWS!!!!  I leaned over to share the glory with Col but, understandably, he’d already fallen asleep — I’m sure with dreams of the Harry Potter world flip (cupping) around in his head.

 

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  1. Family Love: 

 

I was happy to spend time with my parents this month as well.  It was on a road-trip to FL where I quantified exactly how much I like to stop and got to play the question game.  Then, when I arrived, I GOT TO TRY OUT A NEW VERSION OF SURF AND TURF: Lobster pizza with a side of steak. YUM!   After dinner, my family took us to see the sights; a mini road trip around the gorgeous lake.

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When the steak hits your eye with a big cauliflower-pizza pie, that’s amore

 

My parents also came into Pittsburgh to visit me to see a slanted house.  Which was an interesting experience (and a no go) but the best part was driving around afterwards, looking at and appreciating all the other the cute houses that I didn’t have to own.  Then!  I took my parents to Hello Bistro (for their first time ever) where we enjoyed each others company and ate huge salads.

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  1. Bonus Love:
  • A Thai dinner with Emily’s mom (Hi, Cindy!), sister, nephews, and girlfriend (love to you, too, Laura 🙂 ).

 

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 Meeting mom!

 

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Those precious nephews

 

  • Being asked to write out a set list for my first time ever. It was AN HONOR!

  • I got myself an official boyfriend, and my boyfriend got himself an official girlfriend ❤  (Looks like I really wanted to bury the lead back in May.  ’cause it’s August right now and I’d like to shout this fact WITH JOY!)

  • Dinner at Fat Heads to meet some family with a hashtag I shouldn’t spread and a game I made up…but Taylor Swift was my inspo (Is it more disrespectful to wear Pappy’s glasses or to wear black?)

 

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Fashion guru.

 

  • BECAUSE I went to Fat Heads, I got to “woo” when, later at a comedy show, the audience was asked who’d been to Fat Heads most recently.

  • …emphasis on that Club Cafe after-show hang, which was full of first time LOVE.

  • I drank a bed beer after therapy, asked for matching dogs, and came to terms with the fact that I’m not good at transitions.

  • Meeting the infamous Triplets at a fun Park House hang, with an exciting kamikaze, and a bonus, late night scooter ride.

  • Spoiled by stuffed breakfast mushrooms.

  • The friendly cabin for Memorial day!
  • A happy encounter — Brian and Andrew at the Game of Thrones bar. 
  • And, speaking of GoT, I know this post is all about love in May, but the one thing that there’s questionable love for was that GoT finale… it was “like finding out they had run out of PhDs after getting all the way through school.”

  • Spending a belated Mother’s Day with my mum, in Pittsburgh, house hunting, and eating a delicious Caribbean lunch.

  • Pride party planning commenced!

  • “Have you ever ordered from Amazon?”

  • A hang with Jodi (!) and Bel, eating pizza from the Northside.  That must have been on my dairy free cheat day because there’s no other explanation.

 

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  1. Photo Love:

 

Here are three photos of 3 things I’m grateful for:

 

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A snuggly place to sleep.

 

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Homemade breakfasts with arugula.

 

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And sweet views out my car windshield, reminding me of best friendship.

 

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  1. Selfie Love:

 

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Good morning, I love you!

‘mi

Memorial Day Cabin

27 May

There are many, many things I love about Victoria and Helen, but their infinite list of lovable traits got even longer when they decided to arrange a trip to a cabin in Ligonier for Memorial Day weekend.  

Cabin Crew: Victoria, Helen, Betsy, Emily, Laura, and yours truly.

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We headed out for the weekend; cars brimming with drinks, snacks, food, and everything to share.  Big thanks to our cabin crew!  It was clear that we were all ready for an unforgettable weekend. 

I drove up with Emily, Laura, and Not your Father’s Root Beer.  The cabin didn’t have a house number– bold — but we had no trouble finding it because Victoria’s truck was already parked out front.

 

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Gettin’ cozy.

Betsy manned that fire while the rest of us got to lounge 🔥

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Talented Victoria’s spot-on painting of the view.

 

Stunning views, fresh air, outdoor fires, and deepening friendships weren’t the only beautiful parts of our Memorial Day weekend.   There was also the well-plated, delicious sustenance [which we took gorgeous pictures of (below) before devouring].

 

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Definitely as good as it looks.

 

 

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Breakfast of champions.

 

Bel and I decided to make the best chocolate chip cookies on earth, which you will see featured (and pictured) in another blog. This time, though, we had put the coconut oil in the fridge, making it difficult to mix the batter…but no matter! They turned out amazing — they always do. 

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In between the talking, the laughing, the cooking, and the eating, we played board games like What Do You Meme and Pandemic.  Emily and Laura decided to spice up (literally) our Pandemic-game by making a new rule where we had to eat a spicy peanut ghost pepper everytime we had an “outbreak.”  They were INCREDIBLY hot, as you can imagine.  Betsy, the genius, stayed within the new consumption rules but decided, instead of chewing the peanut, to swallow the ghost pepper peanut whole. What.an.innovator!  

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Our cabin bliss checklist:

✅ fantastic company

✅ scrumptious food

✅ rambunctious games

✅ hot-tubbing….

Yes, there was a hot-tub! We didn’t even let the rain stop us– in fact, it only enhanced our experience.  I would go so far as to say that hot-tubbing in the rain is my favourite type of hot-tubbing.  Another perk of hot-tubbing at this cabin?  Admiring Emily’s gorgeous bathing suits!  Next time, thanks to Amazon, Bel and I are going to match with her.

Of course, since we were at a cabin in the woods, it would’ve been very confusing to not actually go into the woods. And so, with our powdered drinks, we went for a walk 😃 ✅

 

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Cabin Crew feet.

 

On the walk, we came across a house with absolutely no windows and then, farther down the road, a sign that clearly read “No Trespassing for Any Reason,” which Victoria and I thought would be fine to check out since we were trespassing for no reason (the devil’s in the details, your honor).

We took a lot of pictures along the way. Actually, Victoria took most of the pictures.  Including a serious where we got to smoosh our faces together. When she got to “3” we had to change our pose.

123  123  123  123  123snake

We all turned at the same time and we all saw what she was looking at — a snake that was the size of a house python — and then we all simultaneously SCREAMED AT THE TOP OF OUR LUNGS AND RAN!! 

 

!!!!!!!!!!

 

It would have been comical if we weren’t so genuinely scared.  #screamedandscattered

 

 

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Post-python attack. And by python I mean snake, and by attack I just mean appearance.

 

Now, this next part isn’t chronological, or much of a transition…but I did save it for last because, wow.  The MOST gorgeous pond that I’ve ever laid eyes on:

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Does it get any better than this?

 

This well-maintained pond had tadpoles (huge ones!) and frogs (cute ones!).  And it was here that we found out that Emily is really (really) good at catching frogs — which is a talent you wouldn’t find out about your friend unless you spent time together at a pond. 🐸 

 

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Princess charming? Is that you?

 

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Glimmering.

 

I’d like to reiterate that almost all of the photo credit goes to Victoria (thank you!). And, this is one of THE MOST GORGEOUS PONDS that I have ever laid eyes on.  Luckily for me, it also had a rope swing — so this was about to be the most gorgeous pond that I had ever plopped into… 

 

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Getting a running start!

 

 

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Walking on water– another talent you wouldn’t know your friends had!

 

Emily had a very memorable drop like a starfish ⭐️

But there is one thing about this pond that I didn’t tell you.  What you didn’t know, but what we did was that this was the neighbor’s pond and not public property.  Eek!  Jim, the owner, caught us red-handed (probably literally, since our hands were red from holding onto the rope) and came over to give us a scolding. He told us that he “wasn’t a bad guy”, but that it was a liability issue.  We understood!  And tried to express lots of gratitude for our afternoon spent in that idyllic pond.

After that, our cabin crew wasn’t quite done with water… So, we decided to spend some (more) time in the cabin hot tub where we brainstormed about how Jim might’ve told the story (about catching 5 girls swimming) to his wife.  We had fun musing about the possible iterations of Jim’s subsequent interactions.  

 

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Despite (or maybe because of) getting in just a teensy bit of trouble, our cabin crew left Ligonier closer than ever.  It was a fantastic Memorial Day Weekend.  Thanks to everyone for making it so special 💕

Cabin bliss,

‘mi

Ba*es in Boston

22 May

It was the first flight in the morning — the 5:40am flight.   Our alarms were set for very, very early.  Collin and Sammi’s first trip together!  Boston!  AHHHH!!!!!!! WE WERE SO EXCITED!  After some yawns, we got to the airport way before I thought it was necessary but since we were flying standby, it was crucial to ensure that we got seats next to each other. 

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Happy in the morning!

 

Collin works for JetBlue, so he got to fly for free (incredible) and I got to use his (super duper) discounted buddy pass. Thank you, Collin! And thank you, JetBlue!  We took our seats and before the plane took off, “angel Don”, popped in to give us a wave.  I promptly closed my eyes and fell asleep with reassurances from Col that “in 50 minutes”(ish), we’d be in Boston.

 

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Welcome to the east coast!

 

Speaking of free and discounted transportation, did you know that Boston has a FREE public bus-turned-subway into downtown straight from the airport?!  Col and I took it as we began our (very jam-packed) adventure.  First stop?  Breakfast.

Before the trip, I’d done research about where Col and I should go, taking into account our specific interests (like his love of diners).  We’d been going dairy-free for a bit, with one day off each week to get down and dairy #downanddairy.  Muls Diner, a classically Boston spot, was the perfect time to splurge.

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They had fantastic Eggs Florentine and spectacular taste in ketchup.

 

True to every movie that I’ve ever seen featuring a Boston waitress serving food in a Boston diner, our waitress had a thick Boston accent, a heavy Boston attitude, and served up a stereotypically perfect cup of hot coffee.  Needless to say, Col and I left full and satisfied, to walk around Boston Harbor and to listen to a downloaded walking tour.

One of our stops had us looking at a building in the financial district.  It wasn’t until we got to the end of this particular audio chapter that we realized we’d been staring at the wrong building for the entire talk.  Whoops. So, Collin took matters into his own hands and playfully pointed out the importance of this mural, which was a stop on his (better) tour. 

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“The According to Collin Travel Guide” says this is important.

 

The tour I had downloaded wasn’t great, but we had fun following it along the Boston Harbor anyway.

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Boston Harbor: Home of America’s Best Tea Party. Some say the water is still caffeinated.

 

The last, official, stop of this particular walking tour was at a touristy market with loads of food.  Since Col and I were still full from Muls Diner, we gave it a miss and instead headed to The Green Dragon, a really cool old pub that Collin had picked out for a drink and a warmer.  Next door, literally, was Bell in Hand, which is advertised as “America’s oldest tavern” — we couldn’t help ourselves, we also popped in there to see what we could see.  

Ambitiously, he and I then set out to go on (yet) another walking tour this one called, The Freedom Trail.  And, since freedom was the name of the game, Col and I decided to just stop wherever we pleased as we made our way across town.  We walked for miles, learned about cool history, passed through Little Italy, saw the oldest publisher’s house which had been converted into a Chipotle (burrito bowls are the new books, folks), and visited Paul Revere’s grave. 

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The final destination on ‘Paul Revere’s Midnight Ride’ (January 1735- May 1818)

 

Eventually, our hunger reached historic proportions, and so, in keeping with the ‘freedom’ theme, we got some pizza to celebrate our free-from-dairy-free day.

 

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The Boston Pizza Party– a significantly less revolutionary but way more delicious event.

 

Belly’s full of pizza and brains full of historical facts that we could use to win Jeopardy, Col and I headed to our Airbnb to check in and rest.  It was 4pm — we’d been walking around with our backpacks on, awake and active for over 12 hours!  I needed a nap; knowing that when I woke up in 50 minutes…. we’d STILL be in Boston.  Plus, then it would be dinner time.  I was thrilled with the restaurant options and Col let me pick where we would go.

 

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Map Code: Pink pins are must-sees that I’d researched prior to the trip.

 

I chose a place called Bergamot. I’d read lots of reviews that complimented both the food and the service and we were not disappointed on either front.  Col and I got to the restaurant around 8pm.  Even without a reservation, the hostess greeted us with gusto and gave us the best seat in the house (right next to the window).  The lighting was dim — just the way I like it.  While she got the table ready we sat on a couch and, while we waited, pretty much every employee at the restaurant came over to check on us, to make sure we were taken care of and that we didn’t need anything.  So attentive! When our spot was ready, the hostess sat us down at a table set for four.  When the hostess came back, she removed the extra table settings.  I apologized to her saying “there are only two of us”, and she told us that she had set out all of the place settings so that we could choose where to sit and not have her choose for us.  So thoughtful!  We were thoroughly impressed.  

Col and I were served complimentary freshly baked bread and fava bean butter.  We ordered lobster risotto, Brussel sprout salad, and a plate of ravioli to share.  The customer service was impeccable and so was the food.  Dinner at Bergamot was one of my favorite things we did in Boston.  Date night while we were already on a date… Was this a double date?

 

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Incredible food. Incredible place. Incredible company. See you in 20 years!

 

I wanted to be awake and see live music, so we headed to Toad, albeit just for a second.  It was very loud (and I was very tired).  When our Uber driver dropped us off he said, “I rate you 5 stars, and I hope to be your driver again.”  Which I loved and immediately started to repeat.
Ultimately though, we went to bed.  And it was a good thing we did.  We couldn’t sleep in.  The people who lived above our Airbnb were up early making a ruckus, BUT, we were HAPPY TO BE AWAKE!!!  HAPPY TO SPEND THE DAY IN BOSTON!!!!!

For breakfast, Col and I were back to the dairy-free grind.  We got Acai bowls from a cafe called Nu and I even got to drink my water from a sustainable pasta straw.  

 

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No surprise, these were delicious.

 

After eating our dairy-free delicacy, we called a Lyft and headed to Beacon Hill, the poshest part of town.  Col and I enjoyed the next part of our day holding hands, walking around, admiring the brick houses, the streetlamp, and the shops.  We went to the Botanical Gardens, played in the park, and saw a “Make a way for the Ducklings” installation.  We then walked across the street to THE place to be in Boston: 

 

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Cheers, yinz!

 

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The gangs all here.

 

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Grabbing a beer with Norm.

 

We got to the bar right when it opened and saw the owner giving a TV interview.  Our friendly neighborhood bartender, Pearse, was great to chat with, especially with his thick and memorable accent.  We drank and cheersed to Cheers.  Col even got us matching hats as a memento, so fun!

For lunch, we had our hearts set on some dairy-free pizza.  Neither of us had ever heard of it before…so we ordered, to go, vegan pizza with VEGAN CHEESE, from Upper Crust.  We walked back to the Botanical Gardens for a picnic….and ate just a couple of bites before promptly deciding that while we were all about that dairy-free life we were definitely not all about vegan cheese.  It was so bad it almost ruined our day.  Almost.

We tried to forget what had just happened and walked through some more interesting parts of town, stopping for edamame, and visiting an exclusively Harry Potter shop (SO neat!) before heading to the “Mapparium” at the Mary Baker Eddy Library for the Betterment of Humanity, or what I like to call ‘The Library.’  Now, you might be wondering what a “Mapparium” is.  I certainly was.  I knew it had the word “map” in it, which I liked.  The “Mapparium” is a giant map at The Library which is made up of glass — it’s so big you can walk through it! I was v excited… that is until we actually got there and it was located in the Christian Science Monitor building.
What?
Col and I were both pretty confused, the propaganda was hard to ignore.  We were required to join a tour (and even though we were in the birthplace of the Revolution, we couldn’t claim our independence from the group).  We learned, on tour, that the Christian Science Monitor has won 7 Pulitzer prizes.  #themoreyouknow

After several minutes of listening to whatever we had to in order to gain entry…into the world we went!  Col and I entered the “Mapparium” and were suitably impressed.  Even though there were countries missing and a few of the boundaries weren’t accurate, it was really cool.  Since they’d made this map in the 1930’s, I was in a forgiving mood. After all, they didn’t have Google back then, we gotta be understanding.  Col and I walked around, admired the stained-glass world, and listened to the echoes. We weren’t allowed to take pictures inside, but, below, is the Christian Science Monitor-approved selfie we snapped.

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World explorers.

 

After that, we got some delicious, dairy-free, Thai food in the air conditioning and enjoyed lots of noodles . To work off our huge meals, we walked to Fenway Park to see their community center, sit at a bar called Bleachers, and enjoy the views.  

 

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I like to call this one ‘Fenway through the Fence’.

 

The next stop was “home”.  The Airbnb was perfect.  We relaxed, got changed, and talked about how badly we needed a coffee.  We were about to head to…. the Boston Handbell festival!!!  This only happens once a year and, this year, it was on one of the nights that Collin and I were in town!  It was 100% fate!!!!!  I reminded Collin that he loves live music, which he does. “I’m taking you somewhere that you’re going to love.”

 

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Gotta hand (bell) it to them, they did a great job.

 

At Old South Church, Collin knew the first song that the handbell musicians played.  Yay! I knew he would love this festival!  Throughout the show I kept whispering, “Isn’t this the greatest? I know how much you love live music.” 

The festival was chill and relaxing but the two of us still needed a caffeine jolt.  Col and I left to go to Dunkin’ Donuts in order to grab a warm cup of joe. We took our coffees to go, got onto the subway (shout out to the orange line), and headed to Mr. Dooleys where I got some peach in my Jameson from Terry the Irish bartender.  Collin and I then lounged and relished (some more) live music — this time from Calm O’brien who played Irish songs including Molly Malone, a favorite. 

The coffee did the trick and Collin and I appreciated a late night in Boston, hung out for hours, until eventually heading back to our apartment.

—————-

The next morning, we got this good-looking grain bowl that I had been craving (see below).  

 

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Energizing grain bowl is equal to or greater to energizing coffee.

 

I LOVED IT SO MUCH!!! I swore I could’ve run 6 miles.

However, ten minutes later, the grain bowl decided it didn’t love me back so Collin had to carry my bag.  We walked to Harvard Yard where I read us a walking tour out loud, learned about their library, and saw a statue of a guy who’s not who he says he is.

 

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The imposter statue.

 

The Harvard Yard was our last stop in Boston, and, soon after, we headed to the airport where we hung out and lived our dairy-free life in the lounge.

 

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A look of satisfaction.

 

Overall, the trip was a raging success.  Setting the tone for many more.  There were enough things that kept us moving and exploring… but we also went with the flow.  It was full of love, joy, play, serious talks, incredible food, and experiences to remember for a lifetime.

Long live Boston,
‘mi

Take a picture, it’ll last longer (another sort-of slideshow)

30 Apr

April brought a lot of beautiful things like….

 

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These gorgeous pink flowers

 

  • Planning and embarking on a trip to Guatemala! (posts to come!)

 

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Hiding a note in the Pittsburgh airport

 

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Patrick’s birthday!!! ❤ ❤

 

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Helen’s birthday!!! ❤ ❤

 

  • …At Helen’s birthday party where I got to pet Victoria’s cat and micromanage some seating arrangements 🙂 — so it was really like I was the one getting the presents.

  • “They call me Crash.”
  • A visit to Findley Lake where I got to see my cousins Wendy and Paul! (and, at the local restaurant, briefly meet that weirdo.)

 

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Photo credit: the beautiful Wendy

 

  • THE RETURN OF GAME OF THRONES, which brought about the smiles below.  And then, spoilers, took away the smiles below.

 

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Playdate

 

  • A fun brunch (but not a delicious brunch) at Enix Brewery with April, Emily, and Laura.
  • But then a stopover at the super cool Voodoo Brewery, plus VB shirts!
  • An emotional breakdown after The Improv.
  • Eating, with Matt (all the way from Australia!) and Col (a hometown favorite) in the Northside at, what the sign referred to as “the best chicken salad in town,” (it’s not) and, on a different day, getting to actually eat the best chicken salad in town (it is) back at my parents’ house.  

 

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A party at my new friends Joe and Trisha’s with Emily, Erin Tobin, and April ❤

 

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This VIEW outside of my bedroom! I love this season!

 

  • A bad-beer power hour with Bella.

 

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And lots of board game days ❤

 

….Which we were assured would be fun.

 

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Peppered reassurances are as good as a money-back guarantee

 

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The peppered reassurances were accurate — It was fun!

 

  • Spicy, yummy soup delivered to me when I was sick.
  • A Federal Galley date involving the question game.
  • The Table celebrations edition was published!
  • A(n annoying) closure of our 9th street bridge.
  • A gorgeous dinner party for 5 hosted by my best friend, VB.
  • Inspired by outdoors-y films, in particular a mother daughter movie, at the Banff Mountain Film Festival ❤

 

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Great lightening in the Byam Theatre loo!

 

  • Victoria Pinksburgh coming out for the year!!!!!  Huge shoutout to Laura who babysat, and by babysat I mean stored the little cutie. ❤ ❤ ❤ ❤ ❤

 

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Her maiden voyage.

 

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Full bloom.

 

  • A new tradition with Emily and Laura, we eat lunch together every week!

 

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All this friendship is making us hungry. 

 

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LUNCH WITH LAURA’S DOG CHARLIE (AND HELEN) – who also gets her name in caps because, honestly, it’s just as exciting

 

  • April 12th: My and Victoria’s best show ever!!  Drinking champagne, celebrating, sitting next to the Wildys.
  • April 19th.  At The Improv again.  Sitting next to Victoria.  Always glad to be there together! But this time wishing we had ordered our small drinks earlier.

 

 

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Helen got to do a guest set on Ray’s show.

 

  • MATT FROM AUSTRALIA COMING TO VISIT!! ! !!! !!!! !!! ! !! !  HOW EXCITING!!!!!  

     

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    Forever friends.

     

  • Going with Matt to Bingham Tavern to watch the Penguins game (FYI: I’m a fan now) and getting involved in trivia on accident, which, thanks to our bonus player, we ended up winning ON PURPOSE.
  • And then, taking Matt to the Micro Diner for pancakes and listening to his accent while he spoke with Dana, our server, whose Yinzer accent (and openness!) served to remind me (thanks for the service, Dana!) how there are people in each corner of the world with a genuine eagerness to show off their hometown (#hometownpride)  — and to help someone from a different place realize why ….(whatever city they’re in)…. is so great. 

 

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Battle of the accents, except not a battle because everyone wins.

 

I always love this time of year,
‘mi

3. GUATEBUENA: The one with the birthday!

24 Apr

Hello! Helen here again! Fresh off the trail, literally, we went exploring for the perfect place to spend the night and to wake up on Patrick’s birthday. We had one set birthday goal: Hike a cloud forest in search of Guatemala’s national bird for whom their currency is named: the RESPLENDENT quetzal. If you’re not using the word resplendent in your day-to-day vocab, I recommend throwing it in your rotation.

RESPLENDENT, adj.: attractive and impressive through being richly colorful or sumptuous.

The word you didn’t know you were missing in your life. We first learned it in Spanish when we were reading about the quetzal and it was described as “resplandeciente.” After a quick Goog, we learned “resplandeciente” was Spanish for “resplendent” which, I’ll remind you, was English for “attractive and impressive through being richly colorful or sumptuous.” I’m using the full definition twice so you feel comfortable using it, too. Go ahead! Try it. You might like it. Here’s an image from Google of the quetzal as a visual aid:


Shining, shimmering, resplendent.

 

We found a place to stay near the cloud forest and ventured into the nearest town, Purrulha, to find snacks and supplies for the night. If there’s one thing we love, it’s matching. If there’s a second thing we love, it’s going on a quest. We knew what we needed for the night: Snacks and a few birthday Gallos. After finding FREE PARKING(!!!), we took to the streets of Purrulha, exploring the stores for ice cream (always), snacks to take to the hotel, and Gallo.

 

Little town, full of little people, waking up to say……. Hola.

 

She’s the leader of the pack. Vroom Vroom!

 

First, we found a stand selling CDs and games. We were so excited because we had been wanting to pump some jams in our perfect rental truck and had only been using whatever music was downloaded on our phones and a wee bit of radio. We each picked out 2 Spanish language CDs (which had 100+ songs on each), and spoke in Spanish to the store’s owner. We told him we were visiting from the United States, staying nearby and going hiking in the morning in hopes to see a famous Quetzal. He immediately said “You can’t hunt them. It’s illegal to kill them.” Apparently, we Americans have a reputation. We assured him we just wanted to look at them and had no interest in killing them. He was thrilled. Glad we talked that out!

 

Continuing on our quest, we popped into another Comedor to give it a shot. This time, we were the only people there. We asked if we could order a meal, pay in advance, and come back in 15 minutes to eat it after we ran through the grocery store on a snack mission. They were confused, but they decided that would be fine. We meandered through a grocery store on our timed side quest and found all sorts of delicious snacks. Our ever-wise Sammi told us it was important to pick snacks with funky shapes and she was right; the more unique the shape, the more delicious it somehow tasted. Two women who worked in the grocery store followed us around and started speaking to me in Spanish. They told me they wanted me to teach them English. I spoke to them in English and told they responded in Spanish. It was very sweet.

 

Clasicos

 


Hen’s pic of hens.

 

SNACKTRICK, n.: Our best friend who is always on the hunt for fun, interesting, and delicious snacks. Keeper of the Snackpack (n.: a backpack full of snacks) and distributor of the snacks. Happy birthday, Snacktrick! #alwaysbesnacking


Patrick saw one of these baseball-themed gumball machines from his childhood and scored a gumball homerun!


I scored an out! Does that count as scoring? Negative points? This is why we prefer cooperative games. #pandemicforever

 

Come once more to the Comedor! (We actually don’t recommend them.)

 

We made it back to our hotel which was beautiful. It was rustic and cozy, with wood-burning fireplaces in the corner and private huts for sleeping. There were wild birds that were allegedly turkeys, but they looked even more terrifying somehow (am I the only one who is afraid of turkeys?) and squawked at us as they roamed the property. One thing you may not know about Guatemala is that 40% of the people are indigineous. There were parts of Guatemala that spoke in tribal languages, rather than Spanish. There was a traditional dish called Kak’ik, which is a spicy turkey soup. Our resort served its own, homemade Kak’ik with the wild turkeys they raise right there on the property. As a vegetarian, I didn’t try any but Patrick and Sammi said it was delicious! This random place we found to stay for the night served some of the best food we had in Guatemala (except the Macadamia Nut Farm #neverforget). We put on our matching Gallo hats (reminder: WE LOVE MATCHING!) and had a few birthday Gallos outside.

 

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Birthday feast-esta (This is a fiesta pun. Is that coming through?)

 


Kak’ik-ing up with the Kardashians

 

Never been more thankful for a window.

 

They’re simply the best. Better than all the rest.

 

As it turned to night, we moved inside and continued our bestie fun by a wood-burning fireplace. Our waiter for the evening, Miguel aka Mike, was the sweetest. It was our entire experience that Guatemalan men are super polite and respectful. We were never catcalled, approached, or bothered in any way. Over the course of the evening, we grew to love Mike more and more. We were thankful he didn’t speak any English so we could practice our Spanish. And, with a few Gallos in us, we were feeling more confident than ever in our team’s ability to speak Spanish. “I feel like we know enough Spanish to ask questions, but not always enough to understand the answers,” Sammi observed. “Okay, team!” I declared before every interaction with Mike, “I’m going to ask some questions and I need all ears on deck for the answers!” Together, we could usually figure it out. Our Spanish was taken to new heights as we asked for wood (madera) to burn in the fire, and to arrange a surprise at midnight for Patrick’s birthday. We couldn’t believe the vocab words that were coming back to us. Thanks, Gallo!

 


What would Usher do? Let it burn.

 

Mike was sweet and helpful and got us everything we could ever ask for. He was on board for our midnight surprise. We told him our plan was to stay up till midnight to ring in Patrick’s birthday, and then we would go to bed. We sat around the fire for hours, laughing, chatting, translating, admiring Mike (and Guatemalan men, in general), and bonding. It was the best.

 

Fireside chats

 

Birthday boy’s birthday joy

 

After a delicious dinner, we had another round of Gallos and then were pretty exhausted. It was only 10 PM. We realized, unfortunately, there was no way we were going to make it to midnight. Patrick promised us he was not disappointed and was excited to start more birthday fun in the morning on his actual birthday. We pulled Mike aside so Patrick wouldn’t hear, and explained to him that we were not going to make it to midnight after all, so the surprise was off, and thanked him, verbally and financially, for everything he had done for us. On the way to our beds, Patrick made us promise we could sleep through the night and we wouldn’t wake him up at midnight. It would be his birthday all day (“It’s the day all day!”) and we had an early hike in the cloud forest to try to catch a glimpse of that sweet, resplendent Quetzal, afterall. We promised and went to bed.

 

Our home for the night.

 

“I’ve never slept in a room of this shape.” – Dr. Patrick Marti

 

IMAGINE OUR SHOCK, when we awoke to a knock on the door at midnight. We were all terrified. We had no idea what time it was or who would be knocking on our secluded cabin door. It was Mike in his pajamas with a cake and a crew, serenading Patrick in Spanish. It was jarring. We thanked him profusely, and realized our Gallofied Spanish was not as good as we had thought. He had not understood our request to cancel the surprise. But he had understood our request for a midnight surprise! Go team! We all went back to bed and fell asleep laughing.

 

The next morning, we awoke and gave Patrick our present! Those of you who know Patrick (and/or followed his viral #tayoftheday on Tik Tok — check it out @og_marti_parti), know he is #craycrayfortaytay. That is to say: The man is in love with Taylor Swift. (Aren’t we all?) As fate would have it, the one and only TAYLOR SWIFT had cryptically announced that she was releasing SOMETHING on April 26, 2019. However, she gave no indication of what it was. April 26th was just 2 days after our beloved Patrick’s birthday! We were excited to all be together in Guatemala for this exciting release! Based on Taylor’s Instagram messaging and colour-schemes, we knew it had to be one of two things: She was either releasing new music OR she was opening a boutique clothing store in upstate New York. Desperate for a new Taylor Swift album, we gambled on new music and got Patrick an iTunes gift card so he could get whatever it was. (SIDE BAR: IT WOULD TURN OUT TO BE LEADING US ALL TO HER 7TH ALBUM, “LOVER,” WHICH IS THE BEST.) Our girl Swift was SO good at Easter Eggs that she planned a new music video for her single “Me!” to be released THE WEEK OF EASTER. Are you kidding me? Easter eggs on Easter week?! The woman is a genius.

 


He never goes out of style.

 

After a birthday breakfast, we went hiking in the GORGEOUS cloud forest across the street. It was genuinely across the street. I highly recommend Ram Tzul as a place to stay if you’re ever in Guatemala! Ask for “Mike.” We chatted as we made our way up through the cloud forest, keeping our eyes open for quetzals and other critters. The cloud forest was called “Biotopo del Quetzal,” after all. We were optimistic.

 

 

On the top of the world, looking down on creation.

 

Not a bad way to start one’s 36th year, eh?

 

We only saw one quetzal, sadly, and it was the taxidermied one in the information center at the end of the hike. But even in death, it was resplendent as ever.

 


RIP: Resplendent in Peace

 

How do you top a birthday morning in a cloud forest?! A birthday evening in a bat cave, of course!

 

About to get batty,

Bel

2. Guatemala? More like GuateBUENA!

23 Apr

Hello, adventure-loving blog readers! It’s Helen (sometimes aka’d on here as Bel, Bella, Hen) here to blog about all things Guatemala! Guata-fun surprise! With a loose itinerary of what we wanted to see in Guatemala for the next few days, we picked up our rental car and (after very carefully detailing every single scratch and dent it had on a piece of paper) hit the road!

We could not have been happier with our rental truck! It was a big and sturdy 5-speed, with 4-wheel drive and air conditioning, and it had the most ridiculously good fuel economy of all time. We were blown away. It was also the perfect place to let our birds fly.

“Wow! You really get a fantastic view of the birds back here.” – Sammi

 

We were off to the races! The roads leaving Antigua were gorgeous: Wide and paved, with a very clear speed limit. The birds weren’t the only ones flying, am I right? I’m wrong! As it turns out, Guatemalan roads have massive speed bumps every so often to keep you (me) in check, even in the middle of highways. They would often appear out of nowhere and the first few took us by surprise. Sammi was in the back seat and squeaked every time we hit one. It was a learning curve (or a learning bump), if you will.

We made the 4 hour drive to Salama through winding, narrow, mountainous roads with only one brief scuffle. Every time we passed through a town, our stop-happy, bird-loving passenger in the back seat would request a stop. “You two really should see the birds from back here. You’re not going to believe it. OOOH! Is that a town?? Pull over!!” However, parking in the towns proved to be tricky with our massive truck. We made a few futile attempts to stop at adorable towns (one of which had an outdoor, public foosball table — my dream scenario!), but we couldn’t seem to make the parking happen. It was like a duller version of “Speed” where we still couldn’t stop but for very different reasons. It’s a bad analogy because we were super safe. Not like poor Sandy and Keanu. #dodgedthatBullock #sweetReevlief

We stopped at the first restaurant we saw with a parking lot. It wasn’t exactly what we hoped it would be. After ordering nachos, fries, and guacamole, we were surprised with what came to the table.

Not our dream chip to guac ratio.

 

Not a macadamia nut in sight.

 

We made a few more stops for ice cream, of course, and fuel. As the driver, I was alarmed. Back in the States, Bam (Sammi) and I both drive adorable, matching, manual Mini Coopers (We told you in the last blog, we LOVE matching). They’re fuel-efficient and adorable. After driving a beast of a truck up and down mountains, through winding roads and villages, for 4 hours with the air-con blasting the entire time, I was worried that the fuel gauge had barely moved. I started to talk about the gas tank as much as Bam was talking about the birds. “Just a fuel update from the driver, we still have a full tank. Seems like something is off because we’ve been driving for hours.” Having a science teacher in the group — shout out to Patrick, aka Dr. Marti — we decided to conduct an experiment. Pull over at the next gas station (that has ice cream, claro) and fill her up to see if the gauge is wrong. What we learned is that you cannot pump your own gas in Guatemala (gracias a todos), and that the gauge was dead on. This beast of a truck was barely using any fuel as it hauled us up (often in 3rd gear) and down mountains. We were amazed. We celebrated over ice cream and stretched our legs.

Pro Tip: Here’s something I’ve learned from traveling with Sammi over the years. The availability of ice cream is a pretty good (and delicious) indicator of how developed a nation is. Keeping ice cream cold requires a lot of electricity. Transporting ice cream to sell at roadside stands/gas stations/etc. requires vehicles with the ability to keep the ice cream cold in transit and the infrastructure to easily move ice cream about the country. Ice cream in Guatemala was available everywhere; we were on a mission to try as much of it as possible. Bam took over driving and from the back, I have to admit, the birds were stunning. Patrick, our faithful navigator, was in the front seat directing us to Salama.

Roadside views

 

We arrived at Salama right as the sun was setting and it was beautiful. However, it was a much more bustling town than Antigua had been and, once again, we really struggled to find parking. Here’s a fun twist: we also really struggled to find a place to stay. Everywhere on maps.me no longer existed (Pro Tip: When you travel abroad, download the country’s map in maps.me. You’ll be able to use GPS without an internet for WiFI connection. It’s terrific but be warned: The hotels aren’t always where they say they are in Salama.) Eventually, we pulled over and I hopped out to ask someone in Spanish if they knew where any hotels were and sure enough, we were about 50 feet from one. Huzzah! Patrick and I left Sammi in the car (with the doors locked) and walked the 50 feet to check out the hotel. It had no identifying marks on the outside to let us know it was a hotel, but it was real! And they had a parking lot! Musica a nuestras orejas!

Hidden but private hotel parking with a sign you can’t see after dark

 

Upon checking in, we immediately noticed something odd about our hotel room’s bathroom. We had to go through the shower to get to the toilet. Bold design choice.

Hello from the other side.

 

We were happy to be parked, situated, and checked in to our hotel before the sun had finished setting. The night was young! We went exploring Salama and found more gorgeous churches and, you know it, delicious street food in the town square.

Small business owner

 

In the town square, we sat and enjoyed our street food which was 10/10 delicious. Salama had the best street food in Guatemala. There. I said it. As we sat, we were surrounded by stray dogs, interested in a wee bite of the goods. You can feed them (it’s hard not to want to) but reminder: Don’t pet them.

Our guide book had told us there would be comedores all over the country, where you could stop and get a hot meal for a good deal. We love a good deal. They were essentially diners or small restaurants that were often on the side of the owner’s house that featured a fixed menu of exactly one meal. Salama was the place to try it. Upon entering the comedor, we were nervous. The entire restaurant was full of hungry police officers and Bam and I were the only women in the comedor who weren’t working. Initially, we were nervous. But as it turns out, Guatemalans are polite and welcoming to foreigners. At the comedor, we learned that it is tradition to say “Buen Provecho” (Spanish version of Bon Appetit) to everyone at your table at the start of a meal. We also learned it’s traditional to say it to anyone you see sitting down, enjoying a meal. As the police officers started to leave the restaurant, they all passed our table and said “Buen Provecho!” respectfully to us.

You’re under a restful watch.

 

“I have an idea,” said Patrick. “Every time we have a meal together, let’s say ‘buen provecho’ no matter where we are in the world.” Such a cute idea but I’d say we’ve managed to nail it for < 1% of meals outside of Guatemala. Let’s raise those numbers, people!

“Cause you’re once, twice, three times a meal.” The Commodores at a comedor.

 

The next morning, we explored the Salama under the sun! It was a beautiful town with exciting energy. We walked the streets until we saw what we’re always looking for, delicious street food. We found the perfect spot for breakfast. It was an adorable stand run by a father and son and it was bustling! We got in line and ordered what everyone was having (but he happily made one without meat for me) and sat down with the locals to enjoy it. A business man sat next to us and gave us a smooth “buen provecho,” reminding us of the pact we had made and forgotten the night before. We ate and people watched until the cutest scene unfolded before us in Spanish: The business man asked the boy to put salsa on his breakfast and the boy accidentally spilled it all over the man’s trousers. The man laughed and good-naturedly joked in Spanish “I meant on the meal! Not on me!” The wee boy laughed, blushed, and handed him some napkins. We all laughed together. It was such a sweet exchange.

 

Best breakfast spot in Salama. “Sin carne, por favor?”

 

As we wandered through the town, we saw the cutest Gallo hats at a stand. We told Patrick he needed to get one because it was the day before his birthday #birthdayeve and they were so cute on him! Obviously, Patrick knows there is no better present than MATCHING your besties, so we ended up getting 3 matching, though individualized, Gallo hats. #welovematching #happyalmostbirthdaypatrick #weareteacher #wearebirthday

 

Matching in the sun. That is what we are.

 

We made it back to the hotel ready to check out and hit the road only to find our truck surrounded by motos. It was an adorable problem. After waiting for about 3 minutes, perplexed about our next move, the motorcyclists came one by one and took them away as if summoned by our confusion. Gracias a todos.

Stuck in the middle with you.

 

And just like that, we were on to our next stop, a hike to a waterfall outside of Salama. We spent half an hour driving up and down the main street of a tiny town looking for the trailhead. Every time we asked for directions, we were once again told it was in the opposite direction. Were they all telling the truth again? Were there multiple trailheads? Kids were chasing after our truck, offering to be our guides on the hike for money. We were nervous. Our guide book had warned us that Guatemalans are untrusting of white people around their kids, afraid they would take them home never to be seen again. After asking a few more adults, we finally found the trailhead and encountered an interesting Dutch couple, Alexander and Katarina, who had just finished the hike. They had just made their way to Guatemala after traveling for 18 months all over the US and Mexico, while living in their van. They warned us about bandits, telling us to keep a few small bills in the front of the car and hide everything else for when we’re inevitably stopped by bandits and told we cannot pass without giving them money. That would prove to be the biggest PRO TIP of the trip. Generously, they gave us a tour of their home, which was a converted van, and showed us all of the features. It was incredible.

Depending on the weather, they had option to sleep on the roof in the tent rather than in the mattress in the back.

 

All you need is love. (And a mini kitchen with some bonus storage and filtered water.)

 

Before we said goodbye to our new Dutch friends, we asked them a few questions about the hike. How long did it take? What was the difficulty level? Was there somewhere to swim on the way? They said the most challenging part was not missing the entrance to the trail that leads to the waterfall. “There’s a horse trail and a human trail. It’s a left with a tiny bridge. Make sure you go left.”

We began our hike meticulously evaluating every possible left turn. “Is this it? Wait, is this the horse trail?” Patrick, thankfully, chose our left wisely and we found the tiny bridge! It was a stunning hike with gorgeous views. We spent our hike playing a fun game idea in honour of Patrick’s pending birthday. As he was turning 36 the next day, he kicked the game off telling us what he had done on his 35th birthday, then 34th, then 33rd, and then 32nd. At that point, I shared what I did for my 32nd birthday (as I was a few days away from turning 33) and then Sammi jumped in for the round of our 31st birthdays. Once everyone was in the game, we took turns for each year as far back as we can remember. I think we only got to 18 before we made it back from the hike. Try this game at home!

Hike views

 

Trailblazers

 

You must be the horse trail.

 

Best friends! 🙂

 

Guater-fall-a

 

All together now 🙂

 

With the hike completed, we were onto our next mission: Find the perfect place to wake up on Patrick’s birthday. And spoiler alert: BOY DID WE!

Stay tuned,
Bel

1. Guatemala? More like GuateBUENA!

21 Apr

Two of my best friends, Patrick and Helen (pictured above), have birthdays in April just a few days apart! I guess I’m a sucker for a Taurus. We decided it would be fun to go on a trip over their birthday week to a country none of us had ever been to before. After careful consideration, it came down to South Korea or Guatemala… and Guatemala had better flights from Pittsburgh.  The plane Helen and I took from Atlanta to Guatemala City was delayed, which meant some fun lounge perks #livelaughlounge, and when Bel and I finally landed in Guatemala, it was after 1 AM. We were advised not to spend any time in Guatemala City, so we immediately took an Uber (thanks, airport WiFi!) to Antigua, a gorgeous city about an hour to the west. Our Uber driver, Jennifer, was sweet and helpful. She stopped at a 24 hour convenience store so we could buy bottles of water and asked us, in Spanish, if we minded if she stopped to get gas later on our drive. No problema! The 1 hour uber, including a generous tip, was $22 dollars. We were thrilled. Less thrilled was our Air BnB host, with whom we had been communicating all night as our flight kept getting more and more delayed. She was very patient and kind but clearly exhausted when we arrived after 2 AM. As we drove through Antigua in the middle of the night, we were shocked to see this old city (“antigua” straight up means old in Spanish) was bumping. There was a festival happening in the streets with vendors of food, souvenirs, and keepsakes as far as the eye could see. The fiesta was going strong. We were muy impressed. After being greeted by our very patient, very tired Air BnB host, we received a quick tour and matching locally-made bracelets (WE LOVE MATCHING!!) and immediately went to sleep.

Our home for the night.

The next morning we woke up excited as can be. It was our first day in Guatemala and PATRICK was joining us! Patrick had booked us a 3 person room in La Cucaracha Hostel (which, despite the name, turned out to be lovely) and he was meeting us there at 2 PM. We had all morning to walk across town to meet him. Patrick is a very savvy traveler, as avid readers of the blog will know — we met many years ago in the Peace Corps in Jamaica and have gone on many travel adventures together since. He opted to use this trip to Guatemala as an excuse to be technology-free for 8 days and didn’t bring his phone on the trip. I repeat, he didn’t bring his phone on the trip. Not for the planes, not for the layover in Mexico City, not for the maps, not for Uber, not for photos. He was a man off the grid. We made our way to the hostel early as were quite keen to meet up with him and to our delight and surprise, he was already there. “Patrick? He just checked in…” the concierge told us. He lead us back to our room and there was our Patrick, phonelessly reading a book on the bed. Helen and I often joke that spending time with Patrick is like reading a book. We walk away learning so much. This time, it was about Nonviolent Communication. Ladies, he’s single.

Found him!

 

After spending some time catching up in our room, we got ready to hit the streets on a crucial mission: find sunblock and ice cream. In Guatemala, the day between Good Friday and Easter is referred to as Black Saturday. As if living in a spoiler-free world, we joined the Guatemalans in wearing black in mourning of Jesus, who had died 1 day (and 1986 years) before. We had to hold off on our colorful clothes until the following day, when we could celebrate the news of the resurrection. Again, “news” being a surprising word choice. #1986yearslater We walked around the streets of Antigua and were blown away by the art. In celebration of Easter, murals had been made with dyed sawdust, stenciled on the ground into (usually) floral masterpieces. They were breathtaking.

 

Making a masterpiece.

Always be stenciling.

 

The processions (word to the wise: do not call them parades) marched through the streets and walked directly through the sawdust. Once the processions had gone through, volunteers were immediately out behind them sweeping up the trampled sawdust. These street murals were designed to be temporary.

 

FLO(O)RAL MURALS

 

When the Virgin Mary tramples your masterpiece

 

We wanted to make sure we had a rundown of the processions, so Helen asked strangers on the street, in Spanish, what time and where the processions were taking place. Every person gave us a different answer. We were very confused. We had read in our guide book that Guatemalans often will give you an answer rather than saying they don’t know. We assumed we were experiencing exactly that until we discovered there were MULTIPLE processions starting from multiple different churches. That’s when it dawned on us. Ooooh. Everyone we asked was telling the truth. GuateBUENA, indeed. As it turned out, there was a procession that marched directly in front of our hostel at 4 PM and there was a candlelit vigil #RIPJC at 8 PM in the middle of town.

We went off on an adventure and found the most delicious ice cream that looked like a frozen, upside down “Fruit on the Bottom” yogurt cup. It was DELICIOUS.

“I don’t know what this is, but I want to always have one in my hand.”

 

We wandered the beautiful streets of Antigua and saw many more stunning floor murals. The streets were alive with food vendors, natives, tourists from all over central America, and TV stations broadcasting live from the square. When it comes to Easter weekend, Antigua is THE place to be. We were all startled by how POLITE Guatemala was. As we stood in a square surrounded by hundreds of people, we couldn’t believe how quiet it was. “I’ve been in groups of 4 that are louder than this.” We were confused. Was this silence usual or was it out of respect for the somber nature of the day? We would soon find out Guatemala is just a very polite and quiet country. Even the ambulances would pass with their lights on but no sirens and would honk when only absolutely necessary.

In addition to the sawdust murals, streets were lined with enormous, themed vignettes — depicting different scenes from the life (and death) of Jesus and homages to the Virgin Mary — that would be motorized in a parade in the USA. But of course, this wasn’t a parade (never forget) and we weren’t in the USA. Underneath the vignettes, were a couple dozen women holding the weight on their shoulders, getting ready to march it through the streets of Antigua.

YOU RAISE ME UP

 

We ended up in front of the biggest church in the middle of a town square just before its procession was about to start. Marching bands (primarily consisting of different sized drums) were playing ominous music that felt appropriately like dirges. Mass was happening inside the church and, as as soon as it let out, the women started marching their tribute to the Virgin Mary around the square, one wobbly step at a time to the rhythm of the drums, before they went and onward throughout the city and made the loop back. It was 3 PM when the parade #dontcallitthat started, we’d later see them at the halfway point, passing the church with the candlelit vigil at 8 PM. These women were volunteers — members of the church who were honored to be selected for this duty.

Once we had watched them go around the block, we hung back for the 40 minutes it took them to walk up the street, and found a place to sit and eat some street food. We love street food. Street food safety tip: Look for places with high turnover. You don’t want to eat food that has been sitting in the sun for too long. Places with long lines usually move lots of food quickly. That’ll ensure you’re getting the freshest possible street food.

Delicious. And she even made a vegetarian sandwich for Helen!

 

So nice, we had it twice.

 

We hung back for a long time to give Mary a head start, and started back towards our hostel, eating anything delicious looking on the route. We came across a particularly delicious taco stand in a parking lot. Patrick and I wanted tacos but Bel couldn’t have them because they had carne. The taco stand advertised “2 TACOS!” and that was exactly what we wanted! A taco each! We ordered the 2 tacos but didn’t realize until they arrived that each order came with 2 tacos. We had 4 tacos. What a delicious accident. The tacos were INCREDIBLE. One of the tricks for staying cool on a hot summer day in Guatemala is enjoying a Choco Banana, which is just a frozen banana dipped in chocolate. (“There’s always money in the banana stand.”) Helen asked the man running the taco stand if he knew where she could get a Choco Banana while we ate our tacos. He told her the price and asked her for some quetzal (Guatemalan currency), and he sent his kids on a mission to get one from a stand somewhere else in the market. They came back with the Choco Banana and the change. Guatemala is a well-oiled machine.

Full of choco and tacos, we made our way through the shops in the market and came across the BEST SHOP OF ALL TIME: One with a rack full of birds, hand-made from beads. They were GORGEOUS. We were overwhelmed. If we had known the word “resplendent” at the time, we would have used it. There were so many birds to see, with varied color schemes. It was joyous. I entered the store and sat down and looked at each and every bird while Helen and Patrick sat on a bench just across from the entrance. Every so often, I’d call them in to show them the favorites I had narrowed down from hundreds. Just as I was about to make my selection, the woman who owned the store pulled out another basket of birds for me to sift through. “Sam, do you see that she’s getting more birds out?” Patrick called from the bench. She wanted to make sure I got the right bird. Eventually, we knew what we had to do: get 3 matching birds.

This is the one, right?

 

With our birds in hand, we headed back to the hostel for a nap. We were so proud of our birds. We couldn’t wait to show them off. Helen laid them on the bed and took a picture to send to her girlfriend, Victoria. I took it from her hand. “You can’t send her this picture, it’s hideous!” We spent longer than you’d think staging the birdfect photo.

The Chosen Ones

 

Whew! Feeling accomplished, we went out on the town! It was still only 6 PM and we wanted to circle back to a bar / restaurant that had advertised LIVE MUSIC! We wandered the streets until we found it and ended up in an adorable outdoor space with twinkle lights and a guy playing an acoustic guitar.

Hanging with the locals

 

The waiter came over and asked us what we’d like to drink. “What’s your favorite local beer?” Helen asked him in Spanish.” He looked excited, “Gallo!” And with that, we ordered 3 bottles of Gallo, a Guatemalan beer brewed in Guatemala City. It was delicious. Thanks to that enthusiastic waiter, Gallo would be our drink of choice for the rest of the trip.

Once we had finished our Gallos, we headed back to the streets to see the festival and the candlelit vigil at 8 PM. There was a singer, standing outside of the church, and hundreds of people watching as the same Virgin Mary vignette went through. Many people were crying as the Virgin Mary passed. We could not believe we had lived a full Antiguan adventure and these women were still carrying their Mary through the streets. They were officially at the end of their route and now had to make the 4 hour voyage back to the church where they started. We were exhausted for them.

CANDLELIT VIGILANTES

 

The vibe of Antigua had completely changed at night. We meandered through the streets on our way back home.

Ta’cool for Ta’school

 

Once we were safely back in our room, Patrick and Helen chose their sleeping arrangements and I was SHOCKED. There were 2 bunk beds and a queen mattress. Helen and Patrick took the bunk beds, leaving me ALONE in the BIGGEST BED. “I’ve never heard anyone complain about getting the biggest bed before.” – Patrick

“Aww! We share everything!” “Sure…Except beds.”

 

The next day, we awoke to the good news: JESUS HAD RISEN! We took our breakfast coffees, eggs, fruit, and (lots of) Nutella to the roof and did some reading about Guatemala. We had some research to do to figure out where we would be spending the rest of our trip. Once the breakfast spread had been taken away, Patrick would occasionally run out to get us more street food. We each took on a few regions of Guatemala in the guide book (which was written by former Peace Corps volunteers!) and gave a summary of what that region had to offer. The region we chose would really determine the nature of the rest of our trip.

Breakfast cutie

 

Rooftop views

 

After reading (and snacking) for a few hours, we had finally come to a consensus: Every region of Guatemala has a lot to offer. We highly recommend this country. We chose the central region full of natural wonders, bat caves, hikes, cloud forests, and quaint towns. We decided to rent a car to best explore a region, as all of the sights were spread out. After all, a trip to Semuc Champey was a 14-hour bus ride, one-way, down a very bumpy mountain. We thought we had best take that into our own hands. (Pro tip: if you’re renting a car in Guatemala, make sure it has 4-wheel drive.)

Rooftalk the red-nosed reindeer. Oops, that’s Christmas. This was Easter. Where are the Easter songs?

 

From the rooftop, we could hear people singing “When The Saints Go Marching In” in Spanish! There were celebrations in the streets! And we knew exactly how we wanted to celebrate: By visiting A MACADAMIA NUT FARM. Luckily for us, we were just one town away from one. We called an Uber from our hostel but couldn’t get it due to all of the Easter parades. There were more sawdust masterpieces on the ground, but they didn’t slow us down. We decided to walk away from the city in the direction of the macadamia farm to get a head start on calling an Uber, but we didn’t have any internet service once we left or hostel. Eventually, we stopped in the entry of another Hostel to use their WiFIand they were SO helpful. Shout out to 3 Monkeys Hostel in Antigua. We got our Uber and were a short 20 minute drive from DELICIOUSNESS.

BIENVENIDOS A VALHALLA

Upon arrival, we were offered a free (gratis!) tour and jumped at the chance to learn about macadamia nuts. First, we learned about the trees and the limited number of countries that grow macadamia trees in the world. Then, we learned all about harvesting of the nuts. You never pick them from the trees, you only gather them once they have fallen. Prepare yourself for a photo lesson.

 

The wheel removes the skin from the nut

 

Then we slide them down this ramp, which sorts them into bins of like-sized macadamia nuts

 

Macademics.

 

We fell in love with the Valhalla Macadamia Farm. The shade from the macadamia trees made the farm a cool, welcomed change from the past few days of wandering the hot streets of Antigua. They had all sorts of macadamia nut products for sale: batter for pancakes, macadamia nut chocolate, everything you could imagine. As well as a philosophy we could all get behind:

Como se dice “Preach!”?

 

A bathroom with an obvious love for potted plants.

 

After the tour, we sat down to look at the delicious menu (which I recommend checking out: http://valhallamacfarm.com/valhalla-restaurant/) which features the macadamia nut in every single dish. We had no choice but to order 4 dishes to share (Minus the chicken, sorry Helen), it was a holiday after all! We got roasted chicken with macadamia nut BBQ sauce, white chocolate macadamia nut pancakes, macadamia nut-filled ravioli with macadamia nut pesto, and a macadamia-breaded eggplant sandwich with caramelized onions, lettuce, tomato, cheese, and a honey-mustard dressing. We were beside ourselves with joy. We love Easter Sunday.

HAPPY FEASTER!

 

After a few hours of eating, chatting, and trying not to pet the dog at our feet (Pro tip: Don’t touch animals in foreign countries), we headed back to Antigua for a night on the town! The festival was still bumping and we were ready to explore.  Antigua sure knows how to celebrate a resurrection! We walked through the streets with our eyes peeled and our hearts open, ready to see whatever called to us. Our first stop was in Vagamundo, another hostel, which had live music playing in the back. A 6-piece band comprising of horns, drums, guitars, and a piano was JAMMING. This was exactly the vibe we were looking for. We made ourselves at home and did some more research for our upcoming week. When the time was right, we moved on and explored some outdoor markets. It was overstimulating. We walked around the square and looked at (read: tried) all of the street food. There were booths with candy, jewelry, games, everything you could think of. We dipped into a pub to explore with full intentions of leaving quickly and taking in more of the festival. We spent a bit of time watching a soccer match, laughing, figuring out our ratios, and ordering Gallo like the locals. Unfortunately, we must have been at the tail-end of the festivities because as soon as we came out of the pub, everything had been taken down and packed up as if we had dreamt it there an hour before.

El gallo mas gallo.

 

We are the Three Amigos, and Amigos forever we’ll be.

 

 

We went to bed in our beloved hostel, excited to wake up early and get to our rental truck in order to hit that Guatemalan road.

Hasta pronto,
(A)‘Mi(ga)