I fell in love with Belgium as soon as I landed. Well actually being more honest it wasn’t untill I got to our AirBNB. I went to bed in Madrid at about 4:30 am on NYE and then left for the airport at 5:30 am. I landed at 9 am and couldn’t check in till 12:30 so I decided I would take the train and then walk the 20 minute walk to the loft to kill time, though my head really wanted to just get in a cab. I figured out the train pretty easy but then I started the walk and things went down hill from there. What was supposed to be a half mile walk ended up taking me an hour because I walked three miles in all the wrong directions. I struggled to work my older work iPhone so when I was leaving the train station I couldn’t figure out which way to go. Then I must have accidentally bumped it because I eventually realized I was walking to a post office, not the loft. I was so embarrassed about the amount of times I went back and forth in front of open cafes that I started carrying my suitcase so hopefully people would hear me rolling it on the stone sidewalk. I found the loft with 30 minutes to spare and sat on a bench and waited. At least I got to see more of Brussels?
Also how awesome is this AirBNB? And this is when the love for Belgium started.
Brussles during the holiday season is magical. The Le Grand Place is without a doubt one of the most mystical and enchanting places I have ever been. There is a light show that has music synchronized to it and it happens every 30 minutes. I could have watched the light show repeatedly all night long. We did end up seeing it about five times. We also didn’t wait very long to dive into the beer scene. We spent our first night at Moeder Lambic and Delirium Tremens bar.
Now let’s talk about the one drawback of visiting Belgium during the holiday season. Every place we wanted to go was closed. Yes you heard that correct; every single place. My initial reason for visiting Belgium was to see Saint Sixtus Abbey Westvleteren and drink Westy 12 at Cafe de Vrede and visit Saint Bernardus brewery and both were closed. Every restaurant I had researched and come prepared to try were also closed (things started opening again Monday January 4th . This was super frustrating but made for a pretty humorous experience. Also we ended up going to two extra cities, Antwerp and Ghent, because we had extra time.
The food you see above was a spontaneous restaurant pick because we wanted to go to Fin De Siècle but that shockingly enough was closed. This was the restaurant that made us realize things were closed. The mussels below were also a on the fly pick because Au Vieux Bruxelles was closed. We actually had quite the adventure on our last day in Belgium. We wanted to get mussels and frites so we attempted the Au Vieux Bruxelles and then two more which were closed. We then made our way over to Jaloa and we pull up expecting at this point it had to be closed but no this one was open but had moved locations. Of course we picked an open restaurant that had moved. All while trying to navigate around the ever so difficult city of Brussels. The streets signs are pretty typical for Europe but they are on the side of the buildings and not easily visible. Good plan Belgium, good plan. We finally found the new location of the restaurant and now needed to deal with the second hardest part, parking. Amazingly enough there was a spot on the same street almost in front of the restaurant. We went in and enjoyed champagne and oysters and then did damage on so amazing mussels and frites while enjoying more amazing beer. It was exactly what we needed after our stressful driving experience. We headed out to the car and I noticed an older man looking into our car and then we walked up and realized we parked in front of his garage. Duh there is never a front row spot. Lucky for us we some how didn’t get towed.
On the last night we had planned on taking the car back to the airport to not have to deal with city parking but it was raining and getting dark and we thought it would be easier to keep it. We tried to drive to our hotel and ended up on pedestrian streets just driving around. I was talking to the police in very broken French like, “Conduisons le voiture dans la rue a gauche or a droite?” Which means “drive the car in the road right or left.” I just needed directions to get out. Some how we made it safely to a garage and then got lost finding the hotel. In Belgium I really learned how bad at directions I am.
Even with all the challenges Belgium was a country that I felt a connection with. Like I said before I was in love.
Our day with the elephants was a highlight of this trip to say the least! When we decided we were going to Thailand and started planning visiting elephants and bathing with them was a must. We did some research to make sure we were visiting an authentic elephant rescue and rehabilitation center and we picked Elephant Nature Park.
In 1989 Thailand banned logging which meant these elephants which were now domesticated were now “unemployed.” Some were forced to still participate in logging illegally or in Myanmar (Burma). Many were injured while logging either by abuse, stepping on landmines, or injury from logging. It was really sad to see the animals that had been abused. In the picture below with two elephants one is blind from being shot with a sling shot in the eye and the other stabbed. The other elephant is her friend who helps guide her around the sanctuary.
The Elephant Nature Park takes in these elephants that no longer can survive in the wild and lets them live a peaceful life. Us coming and spending the day with them gives them the income to feed and care for the animals. We started the day by feeding them and then walked around the forest with them feeding them some more bananas. After lunch we went into the river and bathed them. We did not ride them and they don’t offer that there because their main goal is to provide a peaceful life for them and not tourism. Also each elephant has a mahout which spends almost all their time together—aka they are besties. The elephants learn to trust them and they train them.
It was a beyond rewarding experience. When the baby elephant was rolling around in the water and we were pouring buckets on him it was incredible.
We were picked up for our hotel at about 8 am and dropped back off at 5ish. We were provided an amazing lunch, seriously amazing, and it was a total of $72.
If you go to Chiang Mai, do not miss this experience! Also I suggest prebooking because we noticed that the park sold out!
The best meal I had in Thailand was in Chiang Mai was a suggestion from a friend/coworker who had honeymooned in Thailand last year. This restaurant was basically in a parking lot. And since the restaurant was basically just a restaurant with a cement base and tin roof in a parking lot it made it pretty hard to find but the adventure was worth is.
The Khao Soi Khun Yai aka Grandma’s Khao Soi is located just inside the old city so I thought it would be pretty easy to find looking at the map above. Eh not so much but I am absolutely the worst person with directions so the fact that I found the way to get the group there means it probably isn’t that hard at all. The key to finding it is the below sign.
We turned off on Sri Poom like 4 or 6 when we needed 8. We didn’t realize the streets were named the same. We then were in the back streets and found a cooking school and I tried to ask them directions and the language barrier was too much. We hoped back on our bikes and went to go back on the main road and turned the corner and saw the orange sign. We couldn’t believe we had found it. It really was perfect timing because hangry was starting to creep over our group.
The sign is on gates and the way they are angled you don’t see the restaurant so you need to have a picture of this sign with you to reference. This picture is from the blog Eating Thai Food and this blog really helped us! Another thing to note is they are only open Monday through Saturday 10-2pm.
Now let’s talk about Khao Soi. It is a northern Thailand dish so we ate lots of this in Chiang Mai and Pai but not down in the islands. The dish has Burmese influence and translates to mean “cut rice” in thai but in Burmese the word for noodles is khao swè which shows there really is a heavy Burmese influence on this dish. The broth is full of different complimenting flavors like shrimp from shrimp paste, curry and coconut. They serve the broth over egg noodles and top it with boiled egg noodles. It is served with a “toppings sid plate” that includes pickled mustard greens, shallots, lime, and ground chilies fried in oil. You can get beef or chicken but since we arrived at 1 pm the only meat left was beef.
Each year on our friendsgiving trips we have a favorite food that we know we will crave when we get home and this was that. The noodles are thicker since they are egg noodles and have a nice bite to them and with the beef it tasted like a hearty stew with Thai flavorings.
You would think it would be too rich to finish, but no that is not the case.
I spent NYE in Madrid with coworkers on a “work” trip. I put quotes around work because I can’t really call it work if I’m in Madrid. I was able to see a few places I haven’t been and visit an old favorite. First I was able to go inside the Royal Palace of Madrid which in my opinion is possibly better than Versailles. Manuel Azana, president of the Second republic, was the last monarch to live in the palace around 1940. It is now used ceremoniously and for tourists to explore.
The nativity scene in the Alabarderos Room.
I also went to the beautiful and charming city of Toledo this trip which I had never been before. Toledo is located about an hour outside of Madrid and is located on the Tagus River. The city is surrounded on all four sides; the river on one side and stone walls on the other. It is known as the “City of Three Cultures” because Christian, Muslims, and Jewish people all lived within the city walls.
And the old favorites I visited of course involved food. We made a stop at Mercado de San Miguel and then had an amazing tapas night at a restaurant close to Puerta del Sol.
On NYE we got our wigs and were ready to party! Everyone should do Madrid for NYE what could be more fun than wigs and grapes (explanation in a second). We started with a Flamenco show which was amazing. The performances were so intense it was hard to look away. We then headed to a restaurant where we enjoyed dinner and the grapes at midnight. Yes you read that correctly grapes. The Spaniards eat 12 grapes at midnight for the 12 strokes of the clock. This is a superstition and is supposed to give you good luck for the next 12 months of the year. I was beyond excited for the grapes. I also didn’t think it would be that hard to eat 12 grapes consecutively to the 12 dongs. Let me tell you I was wrong. I got like three in and then fell behind and started putting two in my mouth at a time. Then I dropped one on the floor and panicked it would be bad luck so I ate it anyways. I’m feeling like I did it pretty well and should be pretty lucky this year. Fingers crossed!
On our last day in Bangkok we went to the Grand Palace. The palace was the home for Thai Kings from 1782 to 1925 and now is used for official events and the king now lives in Chitralada Villa in the Dusit Palace which is north of the Grand Palace.
You have to pay 500 baht to enter which is about 14 USD so it is a little expensive but I thought it was worth it. From the pictures below you can see how beautiful it was. It was also so hot. I would be just standing there dripping in sweat. Everyone had warned me to be prepared but it was crazy hot.
Advice: do not believe anyone who talks to you outside of the palace. On our first day in Bangkok we planned on going to the palace but we were told it did not open till 3 by a local outside and then they gave us advice on what to do till three. We decided instead that we would just head back to the hotel and go the next day. In reality they were telling us this because they wanted us to use their tuk tuk and take us around and pay them. The next day as we were entering we were told we couldn’t go in for an hour because there was a Chinese tour group inside and we were skeptical so we went in. Once again they just wanted us to use them as a guide instead of going in the Palace. Also don’t buy clothes outside if you don’t have covered shoulders or a skirt, they will provide them. Anyone who talked to us was kind and accepting when we walked away but we almost missed the Grand Palace all together because of them. Keep this in mind.
After the palace we enjoyed beers in the park across the street before heading to the airport. We had our traditional bloody Mary’s and McDonalds in BKK before heading to Chiang Mai. There wasn’t anything too crazy on the McD’s menu but I did try the corn pie. It tasted like how corn bread would taste if it was a pie and had a soft filling. So it was good!
On to Chiang Mai to meet up with more of the group!
Khaosan road is unlike any place I have ever been. I had booked a lot of our Thailand trip but my friend Becky took charge with Bangkok so I didn’t do much research on where our hotel was located or the nightlife. We had booked a room at Dang Derm Hotel because her flight attendant friend had stayed there before. I figured we took her suggestion because it was a decent hotel for a good price and in a good location, not that we would be staying in the heart of the party of Bangkok—I was 100 percent wrong.
We arrived after about 20 hours of travel to the infamous Khaosan road and we walked down the street to our hotel which was half way down the road. Each restaurant or bar had tables spilling into the road and each one played their own music—as loud as their systems would go. Each spot had a store front of about 30 feet (I’m sure this is not correct but they weren’t huge) and if I’m painting this picture correctly you are starting to understand how loud and how many different types of music/songs were playing all at once. It was awesome. It was at this moment that I realized I was officially on vacation in Thailand!
(I took a video with the hopes that you could hear how loud it was #fail)
We checked into the hotel and the receptionist asked us if we wanted to pay more for a room not on the street side and we were like no we aren’t falling for that and paying more. When we walked in our room it was as loud as walking into a club. It was hilarious. We called down to the front to see if we could get a different room and they didn’t have any more three person rooms so the obvious solution was to stay. We also found out that the music has to stop at 2 am so we realized in reality that wouldn’t be a problem since we would most likely be out that late each night.
We grabbed a beer and walked the street and got street food. My favorite pad thai I had in Thailand was 30 baht ($1) from a cart on Khaosan Road. This road will always have a special place in my heart. The Beatles have Abbey Road and I have Khaosan Road.
We came together to meet in Bangkok; three flights starting from Denver, one from Chiang Mai and three from London. This year Friendsgiving began in Bangkok for Sarena, Becky and me and we were ready to see what Bangkok had to offer. We were meeting the rest of the gang in Chiang Mai and they were doing Hong Kong first.
I had heard mixed opinions on Bangkok and I’m glad I didn’t listen to the negative ones because I really enjoyed it. I mean they had tuk tuks so how could you not like the city? After my first tuk tuk ride it became my favorite mode of transportation. Bangkok also has lots of wats which also means there are lots of Buddhas.
We started our day by hoping on a tuk tuk and getting a tour. Our driver took us to three wats and then dropped us by the Chao Phraya River to go on a boat tour of the canals—yes you read that correctly Bangkok has canals. They also took us to a clothing store, which was clearly one of their friends, where we could get dresses and suits made. Though you can tell this is why they charge so little, 5 baht or 14 cents, for the ride in the hopes that you will buy something they were very friendly when we said we weren’t interested, so don’t be worried if this happens to you.
First we stopped at Wat Intharawihan aka the standing Buddha, next the lucky Buddha, and finally the reclining Buddha which is in Wat Pho. Then we headed to the water. I loved the long tail boats. They took us around the different canals and we were able to buy beers from the ladies selling tourists items on boats. Don’t fall for the scam of buying the driver a beer. We did and I’m 99.9 percent positive they just keep it unopened and eventually hand them back to the lady. You will see in my posts about this trip a common theme of Becky and I falling for the tricks—Sarena was the wise one.
For sunset we made our way over to the Banyan Tree Hotel. Another tip is that traffic in Bangkok is awful so make sure to give yourself a lot of time. We pretty much missed the sunset, and we gave ourselves over an hour to get someone where that should have taken 30 minutes, but it was raining at that time anyways so the roof top wasn’t open. Instead we went to the Latitude Lounge which is just a few floors down and covered. Here we treated ourselves to Thai sparkling wine, which to our surprise it was actually pretty good. Luckily the weather cleared up after we finished our bottle of bubbly and we were able to go up to the Moon Bar which puts you on the 61st floor. It was an incredible view. We had been traveling for one day and already needed to treat ourselves. We are really good backpackers. Second tip is to make sure you have the location on a map—our driver had a really hard time understanding us and that added to our delayed arrival.
Day one in Bangkok was amazing and we had Khaosan Road to come home to. Khaosan road deserves its own post so standby.
This past August we made the long journey, seven hours, from Denver to Telluride; impressively enough we made it starting at 5:30 pm and arriving at 2 am, thanks to John’s mad driving skills. We set up camp in the dark and awoke to a beautiful area. We were camping at Alta Lakes and it was an incredible spot—though a very scary drive to the actual lakes and camp site. You drive up a road that on one side is a major cliff. You can not do this with a low clearance vehicle.
Telluride is incredible. The town is located in a box canyon that was originally founded as a mining camp. At the head of the canyon you will find Bridal Falls which I’m sure you can figure out how it got that name. You are able to drive up a road then do a really easy hike to the top of the falls. We had lunch up there.
For dinner we made a pretty luxurious camp fire dinner if I do say so myself—lunchables as an app and hot dogs and cheeseburgers for dinner!
The next day we did the most amazing hike to Hope Lake. The wild flowers were in full bloom and I must say it is one of the top five best hikes I have ever done.
We spent the afternoon in the town of Telluride and were lucky enough to stumble upon the Mushroom Festival that was happening. We drank beers and margaritas and got take out pizza from Brown Dog Pizza and went back to the camp site to watch the sunset and hammock.
This town is so charming and inviting. When you are there all your worries and daily concerns leave you and you are just present. Leaving the next morning was very, very, hard—but Henry didn’t hate the ride home.
The best thing I ate in Costa Rica was chifijo (pictured below) and from what I heard this is the most classic Costa Rican dish you could try. It is composed of chicharrón, which is crispy fried pork, regular pork, beans, rice and then topped with chimichurrri (which tasted exactly like pico de gallo to me). The ingredients are how you get the name; CHI from chicharrón and FIJO from frijol or beans. I am including this fact because everyone is quick to tell you that detail because the name is actually patented by the creator Miguel Angel Araya Cordero and it was a dramatic process. He is also the owner of the restaurant chain called Cordero where you can find the original chifijo. The crunch and saltiness from the pork paired with the freshness of the pico, I mean chimichurri, was perfect! You’ll find this staple boca (bar food) at bars because it is meant to be paired with a nice cold Imperial.
That is the question that I was asked on Friday the week before Labor Day. My obvious answer was “Yes, Yes I can!” Logistics were looked over that weekend and then I booked my flight on Monday and got on the plane on Wednesday. I spent two days in San Jose and spent two days up at the Buena Vista Lodge in Guanacaste. Here we had a post season meeting with the local guides, about 35. But it wasn’t all work but also some play. We had an evening to say “thank you” to our Costa Rica staff which was thermal spas, dinner, and salsa dancing! This event was amazing. The staff here are so close and are like family. They were great to talk to about Costa Rican life as forgiving when they tried to teach me how to dance salsa or merengue.
We rode a tractor down from the lodge to the spas. First we sat in the sauna, then covered ourselves in mud and let that dry, then washed it off and relaxed in the different temperatures of spa.