Best of the USA Road Trip

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I began tabulating this road trip post months ago, but never finished it until now. And fittingly, it is being published & shared on the exact one year anniversary of when Andrew and I set off in my little Honda Civic, bidding farewell to all we knew from our life in Seattle and driving all the way to New York State.

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Road tripping across the US with my partner-in-adventure was absolutely incredible. And to think it wasn’t even in our original plan! Seeing the vast areas of America out the windows of a car can be so mesmerizing. From the evergreen-filled northwest to the cliffs along the pacific coast highway, the desserts of the southwest to the swamps of Louisiana and the islands up and down the east coast – this country is meant to be experienced from the road at any chance. If you are anything like me, you will never regret the chance to hit the road.

Now that I’ve had plenty of time to reflect, what’s a big ol’ road trip without documenting the best of the best?! Here are my picks…

Best city to get around (walking/public transportation) For me, it would have been NYC if it wasn’t for that silly crosstown bother. Boston is small enough to walk from nearly any point in the city to another, with the option of an easily navigable subway called the T, and therefore feels like a major metropolitan area you can get around with the most ease.

Best burger Andrew’s all-time favorite food is plain bacon cheeseburgers with a bottle of ketchup, so we hit up A LOT of burger places across the country.
For my favorites, I have to break it down…
Best veggie burger was from Burger Fi in NYC’s Upper East Side.
Best beef burger was homemade and grilled at my aunt Lynne & uncle Bob’s home in New York. I still think about that perfectly juicy burger, topped with a toasty bun and cooked with love!
And there’s no shock that my top fast food burger nod goes to In-N-Out. If you’ve experienced a meal at this institution, you understand exactly how this place lives up to the hype.

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^^ disclaimer: not the veggie burger

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^^ Yassssssss

Best French macaron Hands down, Bakery Lorraine in San Antonio. The soft but crisp meringue biscuits perfectly sandwiched a smooth, velvety center – even more flavorful if you can wait for the macarons to come to room temp.

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Best dessert/sweet snack I am gluttonously unable to pick just one here.
The big fat donut creations at Gourdoughs in Austin, Texas are mind-blowing and made-to-order. These donuts melt in your mouth, and the flavor offerings on their menu are carefully selected combinations, of which surely everyone can find at least one that suits their sweet tooth.
My other favorite sweet dish was Magnolia Bakery’s banana pudding. Not sickeningly sweet, as some pudding desserts can be. Instead, it was a delicious combination of soft vanilla wafers, creamy pudding and fresh bananas. My NYC girl Angela told me to skip the cupcakes and head for the banana pudding and thank goodness I took her advice!

Best pizza Of course there are categories here because, well let’s be honest, not all pizza is created equal.
Best plain cheese pizza is my forever my hometown West Winfield’s NY Pizza joint on Main Street. Although it is not as incredible as it was when I was younger, it is still doughy, with the right amount of delicious red sauce, loads of fresh mozzarella cheese and baked to golden perfection.
Best topping pizza was Ciro’s Pizza in Pacific Beach, California. Their huge slices are topped with everything from bbq chicken to pineapple, ham and bacon, to five cheese. Thin and crispy, Ciro’s pizza was ideal any time of day or night and had us returning several times during our stay in Pacific Beach.
Best wood fired pizza was surprisingly devoured in New Orleans! Arriving late at night with an Austin hangover, we were so ready to veg in our gorgeous hotel room and catch up on Breaking Bad. We searched online & found a nearby Domenica, and ordered some pizzas to go. They didn’t last long and were so tasty we went back for more before departing Nola.

Best BBQ Have to go with Dino BBQ. I can’t stray from my family’s favorite NY bbq institution. Their original slather sauce and maple whipped sweet potato side dish complemented the coleslaw-topped pulled pork so well.

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Best drink My favorite liquor drink was Raspy Mule at Bare Back Grill in Pacific Beach. Nothing better than a fruity refreshing drink on a warm beachy day. Muddled fresh mint and raspberries with a splash of good vodka make a winning combination in my book.
My favorite wine was Phileo at Barboursville Winery in Virginia. Fresh, fruity and sweet, while not being too syrupy. Phileo can be perfectly paired with cheese and nibbles after a winery tour and tasting!
((And why even bother with a non-alcoholic favorite, am I right?))

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Best shopping There is no better shopping than in NYC. You can find just about anything imaginable in the shops of NYC. I even spotted a pop-up Halloween costume shop for dogs! High end to secondhand bargain shops scatter the five boroughs that make up NYC. Good thing our days were limited in the Big Apple, otherwise my hubs would have spent all our travel budget on a new wardrobe!

Best beach While I fell in love with the Pacific Beach neighborhood as a vacation spot, my ‘best of’ award goes to the beaches surrounding Bald Head Island in North Carolina. Soft sand leads you to the warm ocean water. The beaches were incredibly clean and quiet since it was the off season, but I would imagine that even during high season these beaches are hard to beat.

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Best day trip I almost went with Napa wine country, but then realized everybody needs more than just one single day in Napa. So with that said, Bald Head Island wins again here! Taking a day trip to BHI reminds you of how important the simple things in life are. Keep your electronics behind; rent a bike and cruise around the island; have a picnic lunch; sunbathe on the beaches and have a dip in the ocean water before a return ferry ride back to the mainland. Such a special little parcel of land off the coast of southern North Carolina.

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Best fun activity my warm weather favorite was Barton Springs Pool in Austin. The water so refreshingly cool and enjoyable once you get past the slimy rocks on the bottom. Pack a picnic lunch and watch the day go by.

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Best US state border sign In a country full of boring state border welcome signs, Arizona is my favorite with that giant star and bright sun rays motif. It just makes my feel so happy to be crossing the border into the Grand Canyon state! Side note: I think each of the states should do an artwork contest open to the public, select a winner and then update those old boring existing signs. Right?

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Best Graffiti hands down Richmond VA, and I am sure you’ve seen the photos all over my instagram, twitter, facebook feeds to prove it. The tasteful graffiti in Richmond gives the city such a fresh hip artsy vibe and I cannot imagine it any other way.

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Even after a two and a half month trip across the country, there is so much more to see, and last year’s experience only got me further amped up about future time on the road. My list of must-see places like Salt Lake City, the national parks of Montana, and a return to the Grand Canyon only grows with time. Road trips are the most intimate & best times spent with loved ones. Who’s ready for another road trip?

What destinations in the US are your favorite places to see by car?

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why I changed my diet for a year of travels

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Prior to this past year’s personal sabbatical, I had lived the previous few years on a diet of mostly plant-based foods and avoided meat, eggs and dairy. Eager to see if it gave me more energy and a better overall feeling in my personal health, I jumped right into this way of eating in 2010, enjoyed trying new foods, old foods new ways, and loved scouring the internet for varieties of recipes to try at home.

As September 1, 2013 approached, I made a conscious decision that I would forego this type of diet for my travels. It wasn’t so much that I was ready to give up that lifestyle for my old carnivorous ways as it was me wanting to eat what I wanted in places that I wanted. We would be in a car, tent, hotels, other people’s homes for an entire year, and I wanted things to be simple. I didn’t want to create difficulty for me or anyone else worried about what I would/could eat or not eat.

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In-N-Out burgers in California // barbecue in Texas // cheese in England & France // quiche // bratwurst in Germany // Sunday roast at the pub in England // Belmont pizza in Richmond // french macarons everywhere

I wanted to eat all of these things and not hold back from enjoying the foods I would desire during my travels. Leading up to my departure from Seattle, I wondered how I would feel about eating things that I avoided the previous few years? How would my body handle it? Would it be difficult?

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The answer is certainly in the billion pounds 12 pounds I’ve gained over the past year! Oops. Apart from the day of being in a horribly uncomfortable food coma after a heavy meal at The Salt Lick in Texas, it has felt completely natural to break free of any rules, and I never looked back or felt much guilt about what I’ve eaten. Honestly I’ve always eaten what I wanted, it just happened to be more specific the years I was avoiding animal products.

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^^ this ham and cheese toasty heavenly pocket warmed my heart and soul on a cold December day in Berlin

If you know me, you know food is really my thing in so many ways. It is my addiction, my obsession, my passion. Even though I am pretty much a disaster in the kitchen, I still love cooking for people who appreciate a good meal. I love teaching myself how to chop veggies, prepare new things, find my own shortcuts and substitutions for recipes. I love shopping for food at the grocery stores, and I love seeing amazing photographs of food as art on social media. Everything about beautiful and delicious food appeals to each of my senses.

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^^ I am not prepared to think about the past year occurring without this sticky toffee pudding

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I have eaten some truly delightful meals over the course of the year. Many of them while being a guest in the homes of family and friends. Man, can our friends and families cook some serious meals! And family in the UK – their meals and presentation put anything I know or do to shame and therefore I will from this point forward be forever honing my domestic skills and etiquette. I bow down to them! ((by the way, I am super sophisticated & stuff because I know how to eat with a fork AND knife after so much time spent in the UK and now want to force everyone else I know to use their knife instead of their fork to cut food)).

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My preferences haven’t changed much. I still prefer healthy meals put together from fresh whole food ingredients. I prefer veggie to meat choices a lot of the time because vegetables in any form are my favorite. But at the same time, from this experience of ‘no rules’ I have a new outlook on what the next year and beyond will look like. I no longer want to label myself based on what I am or am not eating. I want to eat what my mind and body desire. I want to be healthy and feel energized and cook with quality ingredients. I want to avoid processed foods as much as possible, and especially avoid anything with high fructose corn syrup in it. I hate that stuff. I could go on for days about how detrimental it is to our health is in this country, but I’d digress.

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The past few years for me have been quite the interesting evolution of diet. I grew up on so many processed foods like Fluffernutter, Kraft mac & cheese, and Banquet fried chicken in a box, then lived on what was cheap & easy to prepare during college and well into my 20s ((insert Ramen noodle jokes here)). Living in the PNW opened a whole new world of how foods should really taste and I do miss that about living there. I plan to continue to nurture my own personal evolution of preferences and educate myself about new foods and their benefits. I am anxious to be back in a kitchen of my own. Like over the past year, I plan to eat what appeals to me ((but hopefully burn it off on a more frequent basis!)) and not just what follows the rules of a certain diet, fad or label. So many unforeseen lessons starting to seep out from this year off, eh?

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^^ don’t worry my dear garlic, my undying love for you has never wavered

Do you stick to a certain way of eating when you are traveling, or do you institute a ‘no rules’ clause?

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one year later!

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Saturday, July 26 marked one year since my last day in the working world. It was also that same time one year ago in which I started this little blog. I couldn’t help but feel somewhat sentimental, and therefore reflective on such milestones.

It seems we always want what we don’t have. When I was working, I wanted so badly to quit and travel. I wanted to leave Seattle for a while, and experience settling in a new city. When I am away from Seattle, I miss it. Some days when I am sitting around watching the day slip away, I wish I was working.

I think no matter how stressful a job can be, there is something about the daily routine of it, the mental stimulation and challenges, the banter and camaraderie between co-workers that we humans thrive on.

As much as I have relished in the fact that I was able to live off savings without any income for a whole year, I am not wired to do this unemployed thing for very long. Besides watching television, cooking/eating, going for walks, refreshing my twitter and instagram feeds, I don’t have any true hobbies. Basically, I need a life, and by life I mean I need to go back to work. But if you’ve ever tried to find a new job, you know it is incredibly difficult and a constant emotional roller-coaster of finding exactly what you want, applying, and then never hearing from the company. Ah well, I will keep plugging along. Anyone out there want to hire me??!!

Whomever said ‘time flies when you’re having fun’ probably took a year off to travel. This past year has flown by me like no other. I have gotten out of this blog what I have put into it, and although there are things I sometimes think I could have done differently, i.e. post more content, I am so pleased with the way I chose to chronicle my year of adventures.

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^^ one of my favorite memories of the USA road trip was attempting ((and failing)) to ride a mechanical bull in Austin

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^^ Richmond rivals London with the best graffiti that we saw

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^^ freezing our bums off in Boston and falling in love with the city anyways

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^^ one of my favorite photos of the entire year, taken by Andrew of course!

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^^ visiting Anfield, at last

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^^ how breathtaking is Rocamadour in France?

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^^ seeing this big kid at home on Christmas was for sure a highlight

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^^ possibly the best thing I ate all year, from L’As du Fallafel in Paris. Drooooooooool x 100.

Some fun data from the past year…

number of posts: 65 ((including one not yet published that I swear I will get around to finishing one of these days))

number of countries who have visited my site: people in 63 different countries have come across my blog, and that stat alone completely blows my mind

most popular post: Change of Plans – rather than where I went, ironically, my post about unexpectedly coming back to the states in February was the most popular.

most popular photo on instagram: with 41 likes, this photo of the Eiffel Tower happens to be one of my favorites, too! I always loved that gorgeous structure printed on various trinkets, but seeing it in person was absolutely one of the top highlights of the past year for me.

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number of weddings attended: 2 ((one of Andrew’s friends was married in January in Lewes, UK and the other was a very special April day in London spent celebrating the formal union of Andrew’s bro Alex and his bride Rosie))

number of US states visited: 20 plus the District of Columbia ((WA, OR, CA, AZ, NM, TX, LA, MS, AL, GA, SC, NC, VA, MD, PA, NY, MA, WV, KY, TN))

number of countries visited: 6 ((USA, Canada, Iceland, England, Germany, France))

number of airports visited: 9, plus 2 for pickups ((BOS, KEF, LHR, SXF, LTN, SEN, CLT, JFK, RDU + ILM & RIC for pickups))

One of these days, I will add up the total miles traveled over the past year. I know the road trip across the states was 7,341 miles, but it would take some figuring to add up all the rest including flights. And how about the amount of beds I’ve slept in? I lost track sometime last year after 21, but it would be fun to tally up that stat as well.

In some ways, I am more eager than ever to add to all these stats. I want to go everywhere; see everything. First, though, we need to replenish our bank accounts. And perhaps the majority of future adventures will be the standard 1 – 2 week allotments. But who knows, an extended trip may be in the cards again sometime in the future now that we’ve done it once.

I cannot thank you readers/friends/family enough for following along with me on this journey ((which doesn’t seem to be ending, btw!)). Mostly I wanted this site to be my way of keeping a journal throughout this year, but your patronage and support has been the icing on the cake. Today I am sending much gratitude your way!

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July Update

Uh, hi. Hello. Were you wondering where Mary went? I guess I could say I lost my keyboard or busted my iPad or fell off the face of the earth. But none of those things actually happened. I was just taking a break while in New York. Sometimes I lack that little bit of inspiration and motivation to update my blog, and I noticed feeling that way especially when I was back in my hometown. Everything there feels so familiar, which is not to say that it isn’t enjoyable, it just isn’t a new experience that I want to run home and hop on my tablet for. And voila, days turn into weeks and then a whole month passes me by.

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I spent exactly one month in New York staying with my sister and also with some of my friends. It was really special to spend time with everyone back home – my dad, my sister and her family, my aunts & uncle, my best girlfriends and their kiddos. Since I arrived there mid-June, I was able to attend the end-of-the-year school activities. I was able to celebrate at a baby shower for a good friend, a 10th birthday pool party for my niece, cheered at softball games, soccer games, enjoyed fresh air on motorcycle rides with my dad, and watched many World Cup games on the television. There was also a lot of sunning myself out by the pool at my sister’s, which has given me quite the enviable suntan. There were several day trips to nearby places like Cooperstown, Old Forge, and too many visits to local ice cream establishments. There is just something about summer in upstate NY that makes me crave soft vanilla or twist ice cream cones, covered in sugary chocolate sprinkles. Why don’t they have soft ice cream like that on the west coast?!

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Andrew has been in Seattle since May 22, which means we are coming up on two months apart. After 10 months of the two of us being together almost every day, being separated isn’t ideal, nor is it the easiest, but he had some job prospects that he wanted to pursue. I have missed having him around, that goes without saying, but I am glad he is out there with his bff, playing soccer and keeping busy with projects, job interviews, the World Cup and Sounders action. He even checked on our old house the other day, curious to see what the latest status was. Perhaps you’re interested to know that it is currently fenced off and being used for SWAT team training. Glad it’s being put to good use before it gets torn down. I think? And have I mentioned how much I love iMessage, FaceTime and Skype? Thank goodness for those things which keep Andrew and I in regular contact with each other.

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^^ chatting with Andrew via FaceTime while kitty is all up in my face

From all the jobs I have applied to so far, I have only been rewarded with one very brief phone interview which was then followed by a standard rejection email. Blah. I wrote a little bit about the ups and downs of life after the travel ends, with my abundance of mixed emotions about the uncertainty of how long we would be apart and without jobs and a home. Just as I was starting to get over that hump, wouldn’t you know Andrew gets an email from a company who wants to fly him to the east coast for a 2nd interview. A reminder, I suppose, to trust things will come together, and to take it one day at a time.

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^^ sunset over Otsego Lake in Cooperstown

As I was planning a return to my mom’s home in North Carolina after time in New York, my cousin invited me to come to Virginia to stay & help her with her 11-month old for a while following a minor surgery. She wouldn’t be able to lift the baby for 2 weeks, and since I am a registered baby hog, I naturally leapt at the chance.

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^^ I wasn’t about to say no to that face

I can’t stop expressing my admiration and sincere gratefulness to have so many family members willing to provide me with a bed, meals, alcohol, conversation, activities, love. I am so lucky.

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^^ trying to take an acceptable selfie with my aunt was a comical highlight

I will be in Virginia for a couple of weeks, and then presumably I will head back to my mom’s where I will continue the job hunt. Things are so uncertain and could change on a dime, so I really am just planning one day at a time. I really adore Virginia, so I am not the least bit sad to be here right now! I hope one of these companies will see Andrew’s incredible worth & potential, and offer him a position so I can follow suit and so we can get settled. Although there is no real news to pass along, we are on the verge of big things – I just know it. Stick around!

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Back in New York State

The beauty of feeling like I need a change of scenery in my life right now is that I can make it happen without too much difficulty. Sure I disliked departing the warm North Carolina sunshine, but I knew it was time to change venues and come spend time with my family and friends in New York.

Last week went by in a flash. My cousin Melissa and her happy-as-a-clam 10-month old came to visit my mom and I for a few days. We had so much fun hogging the baby, watching old home movies, and showing them around Old Salem and Mount Airy. After they departed, it was time to pack my bags not for the west coast, but for a road trip up the other coast.

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^^ I mean, I dare you to try and resist this little lady

Trust me when I tell you my parents know a lot of people. Even though I am from a very small town in upstate NY, it never stops blowing my mind just how many people we know who are spread out across the East Coast and therefore driving up and down the coast from time to time. A couple of weeks ago my mom and I were brainstorming a plan to get me up to New York. My mom’s eyes opened wide when a lightbulb went off in her brain that family friends would be in nearby Virginia visiting their grandkids, and therefore driving back to NY afterwards. We phoned them up, asked a favor, and on Saturday I was in the back seat with their sweet dog Gracie, traveling through VA, WV, MD, PA and finally NY. Bam. That was easy.

Things came together so quickly that I didn’t really reach out to let people know I would be arriving back in NY, apart from my dad and sister. Despite that, I have already had a fantastic bbq lunch with two aunts, an uncle and three cousins who were in town for the weekend. I got to see my niece play soccer ((and score a hat trick!)), and celebrate Father’s Day with my dad. And by celebrate I mean break his chops as much as possible. I also ran into three girls from high school, whom I haven’t seen since I graduated oh so long ago, and told me they loved following my blog which of course made my day.

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^^ cousin time is the best. one of them even joined in via facetime!

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I get to see my best girlfriends this coming weekend, which is sure to be filled with enough laughs and shenanigans to make my stomach sore for days. Other plans with family and friends will certainly be added to the agenda while here. I can’t wait to play soccer in the side yard and swim in the pool with my nieces and nephew. Of course I will continue to apply for jobs and hold out hope that someone will contact me to set up an interview. I shall stay until the wind changes, or maybe until I arrange a ride back to North Carolina.

I am still terribly missing my husband, but I will relish in some me time, knowing we will soon be reunited. The adventure continues…stay tuned!

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^^ father’s day with sister & my dear old dad

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Stopovers in Iceland with Icelandair

Did you know many airlines offer what’s called a stopover at no additional cost when you fly with them? Say you have a connection in a foreign city, which is a major hub for that airline, before reaching your final destination. Well, you can delay your connecting flight for several days to explore the layover city/country.

I first discovered this sweet stopover thing back in 2010 when I was planning a trip to the UK with Andrew to visit his family. Direct flights to London with British Airways were fantastic, but the price started to creep up to be over $1,000 round trip. We then started seeing bus adverts in Seattle for Icelandair. Not only did they offer service from Seattle to London, but you can stopover in Iceland for up to a week at no additional cost. We were immediately sold not only on their reasonably priced flights, but also on the chance to spend a couple days exploring Reykjavik, someplace where Andrew had always wanted to visit.

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^^ just imagine seeing the northern lights! photo from Icelandair website

This stopover was a genius idea to get visitors to Iceland to help pump money into their flailing economy after the massive economic crisis in 2008. What better way to show the world the Icelandic way of life and the utter beauty of this interesting country?

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^^ you, too, could be right here soaking in that hot water at the Blue Lagoon

From the moment we landed at Keflavik International Airport in December of 2010, we were hooked on Iceland. The people are so incredibly friendly, and the scenery is even more breathtaking that I imagined. Virtually everyone I know who has been to Iceland shares that sentiment of immediately falling for this tiny little nordic island.

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^^ photo from Icelandair website

Andrew and I have done the stopover twice now, and have since decided a short couple of days is not nearly enough time spent in Iceland. We stuck mostly around Reykjavik, the Blue Lagoon, and the airport in Keflavik both visits, fighting jet lag and the time zone change. We are desperate to get back and stay for longer so we have time to rent a car and drive around the island, to see the waterfalls, glaciers and horses that I’ve admired in countless photographs since my obsession with Iceland began.

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^^ photo from Icelandair website

During the past year, I flew to and from London via Icelandair and it felt 50 shades of wrong to not have a stopover planned either direction. I felt sad sitting at Keflavik airport for a few hours between flights, unable to leave the airport and go exploring a country that I have fallen in love with.

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^^ photo from Icelandair website

If you are planning a visit to Paris, London, Manchester, Oslo, Bergen, Amsterdam, Barcelona, Copenhagen, Frankfurt, Milan or any one of the other dozen destinations they fly to from the US and Canada, you must consider a stopover in Iceland. Currently, these flights are available from Seattle, Anchorage, Denver, Minneapolis/St. Paul, DC, Orlando, NYC and Boston, as well as a few hubs in Canada. I have no doubt Icelanair will add additional North American locations in the future.

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^^ photo from Icelandair website

Andrew and I are already plotting a Scandinavian adventure for hopefully the not-so-distant future when we are able to travel again, which will most definitely include a stopover in Iceland – long enough to drive around the entire island. This country is so special to us in many ways and we can’t wait to get back there.

Stopover aside, Icelandair has quickly become my favorite airline. A great fleet, laid back yet kind employees, ample choices of in-flight music, movies, information about the flight and Iceland right at your seat all make for a seamless transatlantic flight. If you are planning a trip to Europe, add a stopover in Iceland and see for yourself what all the hype is about. I promise you won’t be able to stop thinking about how soon you can plan your return.

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^^ aerial downtown Reykjavik photo from Icelandair website

Have you done a stopover in Iceland?

((although many of these photos are borrowed, the opinions are my own))

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this part sucks

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I started writing this post one evening recently when I was feeling particularly miserable and sad for myself. Since then, I’ve felt a little bit silly of it because things could be so much worse. Everyone has their struggles and this current situation of mine isn’t really something many people are going to sympathize with. I’m coming off a period of ten months of not only unemployed by choice, but also spending precious time with family and adventuring around the US and parts of Western Europe with my darling husband. Then I talked myself into publishing it because 1) I’m still a human being with a few real feelings, and 2) this blog is my public journal chronicling the adventures, including the not-so-hot moments.

I am not going to sugar coat it. This part is difficult. The part where I am back in the US but still without a job or a place to call my own. I’m apart from Andrew, while he’s on the west coast pursuing what will hopefully become opportunities for employment; not sure when we will reunite. I’m feeling let down from the halting of almost a full year of adventures, and in some capacity I’m not ready for it to end. I’ve spent more money than I feel comfortable with, and therefore I am not really participating in much other than working on my suntan, reading books ((serious shout out to public libraries everywhere)), applying for jobs and desperately hoping I will be contacted for interviews, trying to avoid writing super depressing blog posts ((and failing)), and feeling overwhelmed by pangs of FOMO ((that’s what the kids are saying these days; stands for fear of missing out)) more than I’d care to quantify. There is nothing on the calendar to think about or plan and look forward to. Apart from the impending World Cup, that is, which I am very VERY excited about.

Even though I still want to hop on the next plane and visit yet another destination on my never-ending wish list, in some ways I am ready to settle down. I need to replenish my savings, so I am coming to terms that it is indeed time to get on with life as I used to know it.

I have been fortunate to stay with so many generous family members throughout the year, and I hope my complaining won’t take away from the appreciation, but I am ready to sleep in my own bed, prepare meals in my own kitchen, have space that is mostly mine with all own my crap cluttering the surfaces.

Before Andrew and I departed Seattle, I was so ready to bid farewell to the Emerald City. I called it the seven-year itch. I was missing both families and moreover just ready to experience new cities to see where I may want to live when our travels were coming to an end. Plus I thought I had seen all I needed to see of Seattle in my seven years spent there.

Well guess what? I have been missing the West Coast a lot over the past few months. I couldn’t quite pinpoint if it was because it was the most recent familiar place that was home for me, or if I genuinely missed physically being there. Maybe it is a little bit of both. Thinking about the brutal New England winters and sweating through hot & humid summers in the southern tier do not have the greatest appeal to me. Especially the hot part due to my general disgust for people wearing shorts, myself included, which is why I own exactly one pair and try not to be seen in public wearing them.

In my humble yet expert opinion, the food, scenery, progressiveness are all better on the west, and a long weekend could mean a jaunt to Crater Lake, Arizona, San Francisco, Vegas, British Columbia, Pacific Beach, or any place that can satisfy my In-N-Out cravings. I can’t help but think the West Coast still suits us the best. Maybe I really am a PNW girl after all?

I have also come to the realization that like so many others, I will always be torn between where I live and where I wish I was. If I continue to live on the West Coast, I will miss being around for East Coast birthdays, other life events and everyday activities. If I live on the East Coast, there is a good chance I’ll be longing for the West Coast. Not to mention missing out on most happenings with family in the UK no matter where we are in the US. Until, of course, someone offers me free use of their private jet. Anyone??!!

Right now, our focus is currently on targeting some places in the Northwest, but since we are both at the mercy of employment and receiving a paycheck again, job offer(s) will determine ultimately where we settle. So all this could change if nothing happens within the coming weeks, and I am not naïve to that because, well, what ends up happening is usually the opposite of what I say is happening. But for right now, I am hoping I will be called to once again pack my bags; this time for a flight to the left coast. And in the not so distant future, I will appreciate these rough times, for they make the joyful peaks that much more gratifying.

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Memorial Weekend & Family

I spent the recent Memorial Weekend here in the US doing exactly what I wanted. Laying on a beach, listening to the waves crashing and seagulls shrilling, being beckoned into the ocean water by my nephews. Sometimes I forget how much of a pisces I am, and just need a weekend near the water. Not only did I spend some much needed time with my feet in the sand, I ended up doing some other spontaneous activities that made the weekend nothing short of spectacular, reminding me that family is everything.

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After dropping off Andrew at the airport in Raleigh to fly west, I continued east to coastal North Carolina. My sister and her family would be awaiting my arrival for the weekend, although my nephews didn’t know I would be there when they got off the bus to surprise them.

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After spending part of Friday sunning myself at Wrightsville Beach, my sister mentioned to me there was a Wilmington Hammerheads home soccer game that evening and I decided we had to go. The boys would love it. I would no doubt enjoy it. The five of us piled into the car, grabbed burgers for dinner on the way, and headed to Legion Stadium.

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The Hammerheads are a USL Pro team, who’s season runs April through September. It was my first game not only in Wilmington, but also my first USL game. Tickets were $8 for everyone that evening – what a decently reasonable family night out! My mom and her significant other would be meeting us at the stadium on their way back from a vacation spent at the Outer Banks of North Carolina.

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Let me shout from the rooftops how fantastic the Hammerheads experience was. The crowd was excited; there was lots of kids/families in attendance; Sledge the Hammerhead mascot was making his way around the field and grandstand during pre-game activities. The guy seated next to me mentioned the boys could go on the field to make a tunnel when the players are announced, and after a little hesitation, both decided they would participate. We waved to them and took photos as they passed by on their way to the center pitch, to prepare their tunnel for the players’ introduction.

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If that wasn’t enough excitement, there were Hammerheads tshirts thrown into the crowd with each goal – there happened to be 5 that night in a 5-1 rout of the Pittsburgh opponent. A local Special Olympics team of cheerleaders performed at halftime which was completely heartwarming and fun to watch. After the game, the kids could all meet the players and get their team sheet, shirts, shoes, arms autographed. It was such a special night to be a part of. It always makes me smile to see a community supporting their local soccer club, and it is very evident Wilmington loves their Hammerheads.

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^^ my iPhone doesn”t take the best nighttime pics, but we couldn’t resist a photo op with a former Seattle Sounders player who now plays for Wilmington AND was man of the match that evening!

Sunday we spent as a group on Long Beach at Oak Island. Monday, we loaded our beach towels, sandwiches and sunblock into the car and headed to one of my favorite places on the East Coast – Bald Head Island. I wrote about it here during my road trip across the US. My mom had never been to the island and endured years of my sister and I telling her how beautiful it is. We spent the day biking and golf carting around the island, lunching on a beach, venturing out to a sandbar, sunbathing at another beach, body surfing on the waves. I can never get enough of this island. It reminds me of the simple life. I get such a high from riding my rented cruiser bike on the pathways through the trees. There are no cars, no commercial areas. Just peaceful existence. If you get a chance to spend a day or longer there, trust me it is worth it.

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I only wished my dad, my other sister and her brood were able to join us in North Carolina for the holiday. The weekend got me to thinking about how grateful I am for a family that loves and supports me. Maybe it is because I am the baby of the family, but every single one of them would do anything for me. They’ve always had that mentality. I’ve stayed with each of them during the past ten months; they’ve fed me and made sure I was happy and had whatever I needed. And not only do I have an immediate ((and extended)) family in the US that supports me, I have one in the UK who does the same. The Darbyshire family treats me like one of their own. They also share the mentality of doing anything for Andrew and I. How lucky am I? And I don’t want to take any of it for granted for one minute.

Mom, Dad, Kate, Greg, Beck, Druce, Keith, Sue, James, Emma, Alex, Rosie, Peter, Stephanie, Nan, Bob, Lynne, Nate, Shawn, Evandro, Donna, Dennis, and since friends are family too, James, Kyle, Lindsay, Angela – THANK YOU ALL from the bottom of my heart for loving, supporting Andrew and I and giving us a bed to sleep in and countless delicious meals in our bellies. You are individually and collectively the reasons we could embark on this adventure. We wanted to spend time with each of you; get to know you even more; bring some adventure and Andrew-and-Mary-brand happiness to your homes; have you get to know us as a couple a little better, which has been a rare occurrence while we lived on the West Coast.

Although I may not fully realize the impact of this past year for some time, I do already feel & understand the gratitude I have for all of you. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

((There are a number of additional friends and family, who aren’t mentioned by name here, but have loved & supported us unconditionally, and we absolutely appreciate you, too, and thank you.))

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Mary in Paris: The Sights

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Now that you’ve seen/read about my visit to the Eiffel Tower and What I Ate, how about taking a tour around Paris with me to see some of the other sites?

Paris is just as spectacular as you would imagine. Maybe even more so. Sometimes you get so hyped up about a place, which is then followed by disappointment or confusion at it not being what you thought. To me, Paris was every bit that I envisioned. Apart from the amount of street performers playing accordians. I wanted more of that. I only saw two playing on the Metro and one playing on Pont des Arts bridge. I suppose I hoped a sweet old Parisian man would follow me around Paris the entire weekend playing Edith Piaf tunes on his accordion as my own personal soundtrack.

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As with the Eiffel Tower, I am still blown away that I stood in front of each of these famous landmarks. Being in Paris for a weekend meant there really wasn’t ample time to go inside and thoroughly explore each of them. So we admired from a short enough distance, waited for the rain to pass, and got the photographic reminders of being there in that very moment.

Musée de Louvre

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Pont des Arts

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Sacre Cœur

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Notre Dame

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Arc de Triomphe

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I refuse to select a favorite sight, but I will say I was most surprised at how photogenic the Louvre was. Nearly impossible to get a bad photo of it from any angle, and there are lots of angles because that place was huge.

After painfully longing to visit Paris for much of my life, I am left contemplating which location now takes over as the object of my desire. A return to Paris is obviously a must, but it won’t be the same deep longing for someplace I’ve never been. I need a new place to obsess over. Eating my way through Italy comes to mind since we never made it there this time around. New Zealand? Scandinavia? Although I may never deeply long for a solo city like I did Paris, something tells me it won’t take much time at all to feel those reoccurring pangs of voracity to plan another sizable adventure.

How grateful I am to Mr. & Mrs. D for showing me Paris. It was most definitely a weekend to remember.

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Mary in Paris: What I Ate

Food. It is kind of my thing. Ok, completely my thing. Therefore, it only makes sense to tell you what I ate in Paris. Also, you should assume the components below were all accompanied by large amounts of wine or vodka mojitos.

French Macarons
French macarons have nothing to do with those flaky toasted coconut things called macaroons we have in America. It is difficult to believe I tried my first French macaron only as recent as about a year ago at a French bakery in Seattle, called Le Rêve, after a co-worker informed me of what I was missing in life. Seeing and tasting those sugary, fluffy little pillows was love at first sight. Ever since, I’ve been on a mission to try macarons practically everywhere I go. But true French macarons in Paris are taking it to a whole new level.

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I did some research on the best macarons in Paris, and quickly noticed the same two places were always mentioned – Ladurée and Pierre Hermé. I made it my mission to find both, try their macarons, and decide for myself which is the best in Paris.

I didn’t have to go far to find Ladurée because they have a large storefront and tea room on the Champs-Élysées just around the corner from the apartment we stayed in for the weekend. I waited in the long line of people, but before long it became my turn to place an order. The large dessert offering looked like delightful works of art, and I was tempted to stray from my plan of macarons only, but I snapped out of it and requested four macarons ((€1,90 each)): 2 pistachio ((always pistachio)), 1 salted caramel, and 1 lemon. They were incredibly flavorful, but a little on the soft side. I have come to prefer a just slightly harder, crispy outer macaron shell with a soft and creamy ganache filling. The flavors were undeniable, and overall the macarons were extremely nice.

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Later that same day, I found myself at Pierre Hermé. I wasn’t intending to perform my macaron test all on the same day for fear of sugar overload, but there is no way I could have walked by without going inside. It was a small boutique with lots of chocolates, teas, cakes, and other goodies for purchase. Once again, I somehow focused solely on the macarons. This time there was no line, and I had to decide quickly which flavors to select. No messing around, if this is the best, I shall go with SIX please ((€2,10 each)): 1 pistachio, 1 chocolate, 1 lemon, 1 caramel, 1 olive oil & vanilla, and 1 mysterious flavor.

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I am going to get straight to the point. Pierre Hermé macarons have got to be the best in Paris. So what if I only performed my research at two places. I am convinced after a small sample size and many other people writing and voicing the same sentiment – these were the best. I have no idea how the bakers/pâtissiers/creators, or whatever you call a person who makes macarons, pack so much flavor into such a small dessert. The olive oil and vanilla was my favorite of the bunch if I had to pick – because it was unexpectedly creamy and subtle. Each of the flavors were incredibly delectable though. Pierre Hermé gets it right on the macaron front on every level, and tucking into macarons from one of his ten locations within Paris is a must.

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French Onion Soup
My first meal in Paris was at Café Kléber near the Jardin du Trocadero. I wasn’t overly hungry for a big meal, and when I noticed Soupe a l’onion on the menu, I knew that would be my selection.

Delightfully salty, full of soft onions and topped with soggy bread below an inch-thick layer of cheese, my first official onion soup in France was incredible.

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Nutella banana crepes
You didn’t expect me to visit Paris without eating my weight in crepes, did you? I am not sure if Parisians eat crepes, or if it just us tourists, but I enjoy them very much. Why bother with any other flavor that smooth, chocolatey Nutella accompanied by perfectly ripe sliced bananas? Ahhh, bliss.

Croissants & baguette ((and any other bread item straight from the boulangerie))
I am going to be honest here. You have not had true croissants and fresh baguette until you’ve had them in France. All other versions are simply not worthy. I can no longer think of bread the same way. During my visit to Salviac in southern France in January, we would walk to one of the two bakeries in the village and order our morning croissants and baguette for the day. And soon devour them. French bread is so simple and so fresh. The baguettes and croissants are a crispy golden brown on the outside, and fluffy on the inside. Nothing is pre-sliced. There are no preservatives; they are baked that day and meant to be sold and consumed the same day. No simpler and greater lunch in France is complete without a baguette and also it would make sense to include some butter and cheese.

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I cannot help but be disappointed in most bread ever since my two visits to France this year. I am just underwhelmed by the processed pre-sliced junk here in the US ((with the exception of legit bakeries like Camino Bakery in Winston-Salem who do make a mean loaf of crusty bread)). Take me back to France!

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Falafel
At some point over the past year, I read a few blogs about Paris and L’Aus du Fallafel and how spectacular it is. I had no choice but to add it to my Paris list, and track down the little establishment in Le Marais and try it for myself.

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My father-in-law went ahead while Andrew took some photos, and he soon came back to inform me that my falafel place was closed. Oh the disappointment. Andrew suggested we go down Rue de Rosiers anyway, to have a look and maybe take a few photos. I had seen images of the official L’Aus online and knew what to look for. We passed by the falafel restaurant that was closed Mondays, bragging on it’s outside facade that it was the best falafel in the world. HA! That’s not the place I’m looking for, I exclaimed. Guess what? The real house of falafel was open with a line of customers waiting to place their orders. Most of them were Americans. I guess we love our fallafel? I stood in a downpour and placed my order of one classic falafel pita and paid the €6 with the order-taker and waited at the window for my perfect little creation to be passed over the counter and into my arms.

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No big deal. It was only the best falafel of my entire life. Perfectly crispy outside, and not in an overly fried way, with a soft inside. The flavor of the other fillings like fresh cucumber, cabbage, eggplant and hummus or tahini sauce ((can’t recall which it was)) complemented the falafel perfectly, all folded into a beautiful pita. I can’t stop thinking about that little meal full of love, and without a doubt I could eat at L’Aus du Fallafel several times a week. Again, I demand, take me back to Paris!

As usual, I ate my way through the weekend. And yet there is so much more to taste in Paris. One of the countless reasons to return!

What is your favorite thing to eat in Paris?

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