Luxembourg + Trier

During my whirlwind week in Europe, I visited so many different places! From Madrid to Luxembourg to France to Germany, I covered a lot of ground in a very short amount of time. However, Luxembourg and Trier hold a special place in my heart because they were the first two places I visited, and they were the places that I got to visit with my hosts!!!

If you’ve read my previous blog posts, you’ll know that I chose to travel to Germany because I wanted to visit Kerstin, who was my au pair growing up. She and her husband, Marco, live in the Frankfurt area with their two boys! I’d never met their kids, and could not wait. I had the best time with them exploring Luxembourg and Trier, it was absolutely a highlight of my trip to be able to spend this time with them.

I flew in from Madrid on Saturday night. I was thoroughly exhausted. I had left Chicago at 4p.m. on Friday, and had been in transit almost a full 24 hours by the time I arrived and met them at the airport. After dinner, by the time we got home, it was almost 10 o’clock at night! And I still had to shower and unpack a bit before I could get to sleep. I told them that I would set an alarm for 9a.m. the following morning, because I didn’t think I would need that much sleep.

At 9:30 the next morning, Kerstin and the kids had to wake me up! My alarm didn’t go off, for some unknown reason, and I totally would’ve kept sleeping had they not woken me up. Once I woke up and was dressed, they greeted me with an amazing breakfast. A perfect way to start my trip!

After cleaning up breakfast, we packed and headed out the door to Luxembourg. None of us had ever been to Luxembourg, so it was an exciting day! I chose to visit there because I have a fascination with Christmas Markets, or as they are known in Germany, wiehnachtsmarkt. Luxembourg is known for their Winterlights. I was very excited for this to be the first stop of my European Christmas Market Tour.

Luxembourg was about a three hour drive from where they live, north of Frankfurt. With two kids, we had to make one stop on the way there! We stopped in at a gas station to use the restroom. Something interesting I noted is that you had to pay to use the restroom at the gas station! There was an attendant standing by the doors collecting Euros from those who used the facilities.

It’s something that I continued to see throughout my trip, as well. At a grocery store, I had to feed the bathroom door .50EUR to make it open! I found that to be really interesting because in all my research about traveling in Europe, that wasn’t anything I had ever read about, or expected. Along these lines–paying for water in restaurants?! Also a totally foreign concept to me.

After our bathroom break, we cruised on to Luxembourg. At the border, there was no security or any sort of border control, you were able to drive right through. I was saddened by this because I was hoping to add some new stamps to my passport. Actually, I visited 4 countries on my trip, and only one of those four countries stamped my passport upon entry! I’m pretty bummed about that.

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Once in Luxembourg, we hit a bunch of traffic going into the city. They’re currently in the middle of this massive construction project that will add a tram/trolley through the main streets of the city. We sat in traffic for a long time. I had a good laugh at this taco place… I still look at it in bafflement. It’s called O’Tacos. It’s in Luxembourg. They serve original FRENCH tacos. There is a lot to unpack there! French, Hispanic,and Irish restaurant in the heart of Luxembourg? I actually kind of wish I would’ve popped in and checked it out!

After struggling through the traffic, we found our hotel! Of course, the hotel parking garage did not open automatically, and there was no indicator of how to get the door to open so we could go in to park. Due to traffic behind us, we decided to just drive around the block again while figuring out a plan. I realized I should just hop out and go talk to them while Kerstin and Marco (who had driven separate cars), circled the block.

I walked into the hotel and just planned to ask them about parking. Of course, neither of the guys working the front desk spoke any English! My French and German skills are nothing to write home about, so I had a fun time trying to explain our unique situation. See, Kerstin had driven one car with me in it because we, and the boys, were going to spend the night. Marco had driven separately with the boys because he was actually going to have to go home that night because he had work on Monday! So we had two cars that we needed to park, but only one car was going to have to stay the night.

I’m trying to explain to them that we just need to park the two cars, and that one car would be leaving before nightfall. I’m also trying to figure out how to pay for parking! They told me that two cars would NOT be allowed to park there because they have very limited space. They would only allow us to park one car in the hotel. I tried to call Kerstin and explain, and of course, because I had switched countries for a third time in 24 hours, my service was non-existent as my phone struggled to figure out where it was.

I went to stand outside and wait for their cars to pull up. I had paid for parking for one car, and was going to wait outside for them and then run in and ask the guy to open the door. I’m still desperately trying to get the phone to work and get Kerstin on the line, because I felt bad that they were just driving in circles, especially with two small kids in the car!

All of a sudden, they’re walking up the street, carrying their bags. Turns out, there was another parking garage not even 50 meters down the road. They had pulled in and I’d somehow missed it! Marco left his car there, and moved Kerstin’s into the hotel parking garage. We all dropped our stuff off into our hotel rooms (they got me my own hotel room which was totally unnecessary, but very appreciated!), and then went downstairs to check out the city and walk to the Christmas Market!

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Google Maps said that it was only a 20 minute walk from us to the main downtown area of Luxembourg City, so we just decided to walk it instead of trying to deal with the traffic and parking situations. It was actually such a nice and easy walk, I’m very glad that we walked! It was also a really nice walk, despite all of the construction.

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Pont Adolphe, as seen from the Christmas Market

Once we got to the Winterlights Market, it was PACKED. It was like the Christkindlmarket in downtown Chicago on it’s busy day of the year, times six. It was insanity! The fact that it was it’s opening weekend probably contributed to the insanity. Luckily, the weather was really nice. It wasn’t too chilly at all!

We wandered the market, keeping a close eye on the boys. We let them ride the carousels and the train rides around the market, stopping for cotton candy for me, and other treats along the way. We also got food for dinner, and I was able to get my first Christmas Market mug of the trip! Each Christmas Market has a unique mug, and I was determined to collect a mug from each place I visited.

After eating, we wandered around a little bit more, and rode a few more rides. Then, we decided to call it a night! I was still exhausted despite the sleep I’d gotten the night before, so I didn’t think I really needed to spend any more time wandering around! I got to see most, if not all, of the market, which is all I really wanted. And I got to check out the amazing Christmas lights.

On the way back, we stopped by the Christmas Market that was next door to our hotel. This is the amazing thing about Christmas Markets in Europe… They’re everywhere! I went to Strasbourg and visited 3 different markets in the span of less than a mile. The same with Wiesbaden! But more info will come on that later. So we were able to stop by the small market next to our hotel and just check it out. There was no crowd, so I was able to get cute pictures of the lights. It was a great way to end the night!

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At the main market, I could hardly get a picture of the sign due to the crowds (see pictures above). The market near our hotel was so empty that we were able to be the only ones in this shot!

We headed up to our hotel rooms and Marco left to drive back to Germany. Kerstin and I stayed up and talked for a bit, and then I let her get the boys to bed. I headed over to my own room where I stayed up for a bit, reading a book. I finally closed my eyes at about 10p.m., ready to catch up on sleep.

Of course, it’s never that easy. The jet lag got me. I woke up at 1a.m., and stayed awake until 4a.m. I don’t think I’ve ever been quite that miserable. For the first two hours, I just laid there with my eyes closed, trying to convince my body that it was nighttime. The third hour, I gave up and started reading a book again. At 4a.m., I closed my eyes again, just begging for a bit more sleep. The next thing I know, my alarm is going off at 8a.m., and it’s time to start the day!

We headed down to the hotel lobby for breakfast. Man, I could get used to breakfasts like this one. It was buffet style, and I definitely loaded up on chocolate croissants. They didn’t have any bagels in Luxembourg (why?), so I had some different types of toast with cream cheese in place of a bagel. Why have cream cheese with no bagels? Why? We enjoyed our breakfast, then headed out to explore the city a bit more!

On our walk across the Adolphe Bridge (in French, it’s called the Pont Adolphe, “pont” meaning bridge), the night before, I had noted how there was a valley below and how I wanted to walk through it! So that was one thing we set out to do. The other thing we noticed is that there was a walking bridge BELOW the actual Adolphe Bridge. We also wanted to check that out!

We slowly meandered our way through Luxembourg. It was amazing because, as it was Monday morning, the construction had started up again! This was the kind of thing that could make a 4 year old and a 6 year old’s entire day. We got to see all sorts of neat construction stuff. And yes, I’m a giant nerd too, I could totally watch a construction site and come up with questions and observations for hours on end. So this was no skin off my back, walking slowly and checking it all out!

We walked across the top of the Adolphe Bridge, then decided to try and figure out how to get into the valley. I found out that it was actually called the Vallee de la Petrusse. The river that runs through it is named the Petrusse. This whole park area is absolutely gorgeous! I could have spent days wandering through it. Once you’ve walked north across the Adolphe Bridge, you can find the descent into the valley itself on the western side of the bridge. This is also where you will find the entrance to the neat walking and bike path below the bridge.

There are two pathways down to the middle part of the valley/the base of the bridge. One pathway is ridiculously narrow and steep. The second is much more wide, even, and ADA-compliant (I don’t think that’s the term that would be used in European countries, but it’s the only term I know that will help describe it!). This second path is also clearly meant more for bikes, strollers, and the like. We opted to take the crazy narrow path down, as it seemed to be a quicker route to the bottom! And why not?

We made it down to the base of the bridge, and then walked east. There was a lot to take in! So much greenery and natural beauty. We also got to check out all of the neat rock formations and ancient buildings. We pretended that they were castles that we were in. It was such a neat place to explore, and we didn’t even make it all the way down to the bottom of the valley, where the river runs through!

With two little boys, I knew that they would not last walking all the way down, then walking all the way back up, and then walking 20 minutes back to the hotel. And, that was totally fine with me! So we cut our exploring short, and started trekking back up. We decided to walk back across the bridge underneath, on the lower level of the Pont Adolphe. This was an adventure! I personally thought it was so neat. Opened in 2018, whoever thought of this was an architectural genius! It’s brilliant. The placement and the design are amazing, and it’s the perfect way to help ease pedestrian congestion on the upper level of the bridge. Pont Adolphe is a huge tourist attraction and symbol of Luxembourg, so there are lots of tourists around. The lower level pedestrian and bike bridge makes total sense. However, the boys did not love it. It was a bit dark, but it felt totally safe and was just really cool to check out.

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The lower level of Pont Adolphe.

We slowly walked back to our hotel, where was used the bathrooms and then hit the road! Leaving the parking garage was an experience. Marco had parked the car for us yesterday, so we didn’t really get to check it out. But, the parking garage was TINY. Getting the car out was an experience. We loaded the car up and held our breaths as we tried to maneuver around the very narrow corner of the parking garage. Interestingly enough, it was lined with carpet already because so many cars had scraped up against the walls trying to get out! That just contributed to the nerves as we tried to leave.

Then, we ran into an unforeseen problem! Apparently, you were supposed to tell them that you were leaving. That’s how the door would open, it was not automatic. Luckily, after we sat there for about 5 minutes, the guy came out and goes, “Oh, you’re leaving? You’re supposed to tell us! Have a good day!” And he opened the garage door so we could go. It’s just good he noticed, we would have been trapped otherwise! There was no getting out of the car with how narrow the drive was.

From Luxembourg, we headed to Trier, another famous German city. Trier was totally amazing, I wish I could’ve spent more time there! We parked across from Porta Nigra, one of the most famous monuments in Trier. Porta Nigra literally translates to “Black Gate”. It is an ancient Roman gate, built in 170AD. It is one of 4 gates built around the city, and it’s the only one still standing today. And as a history student, this is one of the coolest places I got to see on my trip!

Something really interesting that I found out while reading about Porta Nigra is that New Trier High School (a relatively big deal in Northern Illinois), is actually named after the city of Trier. Their logo is Porta Nigra! As someone from Northern Illinois, this was kind of an interesting fact to learn.

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Trier was such an interesting place! We decided to do the Römer Express tour of Trier. It departed every hour, and we tried to catch the 1p.m. tour, but missed it by just a few minutes. It wasn’t a big deal though, I got to check out their Wiehnachtsmarkt and get my second mug while I waited!

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Mug #2

Kerstin got the boys McDonalds for lunch while I wandered the market. After the kids ate, Kerstin and I got waffles for lunch!

We wandered back up to the Porta Nigra with plenty of time to make the 2p.m. tour. We climbed into the front of the train and we were off! The announcements and information on the tour plays out in three different languages. German, English, and French. The tour was really interesting, but it would have been nice if it was a hop-on, hop-off tour, so that you could see everything better! Trier has lots of great sites to see, it’s hard to check them out fully if you’re on a little train that continues to move with the traffic flow around the city. But it was still really cool and a good way to get information quickly!

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This was the only picture I was able to snap on the tour, and it’s not a great one. We flew by so quickly, and there was this giant smudge on the window. Oops! It was still very informative.

After the tour, we went back to the Porta Nigra. We found out you could climb up to the top of it, so of course we had to go up and check it out! It was really cool to be inside a building that old. And we had it basically to ourselves, which was also pretty neat.

The inside of Porta Nigra.

After that, we checked out the statue of Karl Marx! Karl Marx was actually born in Trier. You can see his house on the train tour we did, but you just speed by very quickly! So I had to get my picture with his statue instead. I also bought a Karl Marx-head cookie cutter at a local shop! From there, it was getting time to head back. We had to pick up my rental car!

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Kerstin called the rental car place and we found out that it closed at 6. I should’ve done my research. We were going to have to RUN to make it back there in time. Marco agreed to meet us there, that way he could drive home with the boys while Kerstin drove a bit with me, and then she and I would drive home separately. We got to the rental car place just in time, and I was able to get my car!

We did a few practice laps around Wetzlar, then I followed Kerstin back to their house! And so ended my adventures in Trier and Luxembourg.

7 Hours in Madrid

If you’ve been reading my blog, you’ll know that I recently planned and took a trip to Germany! I found a fantastic flight deal, and was so excited to be taking my first trip to Europe.

I found round trip plane tickets for around $300. Initially, that price was for non-stop flights from Chicago to Frankfurt, but because I didn’t commit and purchase the tickets right away, by the time I booked my flight, I had to book a connecting flight both ways.

I chose to stop in Madrid on my way there. I had an hour long layover, which made me very nervous, but after researching the airport and seeing that on my ticket, both tickets said Terminal 4 (for arriving and departing), I assumed that I would be okay.

I got to the airport earlier than usual on Friday, the day I was supposed to depart. Checking in was confusing. I was expecting to go to Terminal 5, as that’s the International Terminal at O’Hare. However, my tickets and all the information I could find actually said to go to Terminal 3, which is American, and the terminal that I almost always fly out of.

I was flying Iberia, a partner of American Airlines, so it didn’t seem too crazy to be leaving from Terminal 3. I found the Iberia check-in at the far end of Terminal 3. I’d been to Terminal 3 so many times before, and never even noticed their tiny area! As I paid to check my bag in, the woman told me that my flight was about 40 minutes late. It was interesting. She said that, but that information was not reflected anywhere on the arrivals/departures boards around the airport. Anyways, I went through security and waited for my flight.

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Hello, Chicago.

I spent the time sitting in the Admirals Club (for this reason, I was grateful I was in Terminal 3), getting work done on my laptop. With about an hour before takeoff, I got up and asked at the desk if it was true that my flight was delayed. There was still no updated info on the boards, or on the app, or on the website. I figured I’d just ask in person before leaving the comfy Admirals Club and making my way to my gate. She called down to the gate for me and informed me that my flight was, in fact, 45 minutes late.

I had a feeling I wouldn’t be making my connection in Madrid, and so I texted Kerstin, who would be picking me up in Frankfurt. We hoped for the best, and I finally boarded my flight.

The flight wasn’t bad at all, on the way over. It was less than 7 hours from Chicago to Madrid. It was an overnight flight, which I thought would make life easier for me. We took off at 5p.m. Chicago time, and landed just before 9a.m. in Madrid. I thought that would make it super easy to sleep. Unfortunately, I got on board and fell asleep right away. I slept for 2 hours, before being woken for dinner by my seatmate. After that 2 hour nap, I couldn’t fall back asleep for the rest of the flight! I got maybe another hour of sleep, max. I spent most of the flight reading on my Kindle.

When we landed in Madrid, I saw that based on the time alone, it was highly unlikely I could make my flight. As we descended, they played a video that explained the layout of the Madrid airport. It had Terminal 4, and Terminal 4S (a satellite terminal). The video depicted how you get from one to the other and what you have to do. You have to go through customs, then go back through the airport, then get on a train, and then walk to your gate, to go from Terminal 4S to Terminal 4. After watching that video, I knew I would never make it, but was determined to try.

I got off the plane and hustled through the long walkways of Terminal 4S. After I got off the final moving walkway, a woman was standing there calling out, “Connecting flights? Connecting flights?” so I approached her. She asked for my name, and immediately pulled out a new boarding pass for me.

She informed me that there was no way I could make my flight and that they rebooked me for the next flight from Madrid to Frankfurt. Unfortunately, it wasn’t until almost 4p.m. She said to go to the desk and ask for a voucher.

Well, I wasn’t in any hurry now, so I lined up at the desk and waited to talk to an agent. She told me that they could give me a voucher for lunch at the airport, which I took, just in case. Then I asked her if I would have time to leave the airport. She told me that I absolutely had time. She gave me directions on how to use the subway, and recommended places for me to check out and walk around in. Luckily, it was a gorgeous day.

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Passport Control in Madrid.

I made my way slowly through customs. The line was agonizingly slow and long, but I finally made it through into Spain! I regretted choosing to carry a duffle bag rather than a rolling carry-on. It got heavy really fast. Once through customs, I had to take the train over to the main terminal. I finally got to the exit of the airport. I thought of taking the subway, as the gate agent had recommended. However, Google Maps said it would take well over an hour, and I wanted to make the most of my time in Spain.

So I walked over to the cab stand and asked if cabs took Visa (I hadn’t yet changed any money to Euros). Once I got an affirmative answer, I headed outside and hopped into a cab, telling him to take me to the Museo del Prado, the place the agent had recommended. While in the cab, I did some quick googling. Firstly–Was I supposed to tip in a cab in Spain? The answer is no, and that made me super happy, because the cab ride was not cheap! It cost me about $30 to get from the airport to the center of the city. Secondly, I needed a Bagbnb. My duffle bag was already killing me, and if I was going to spend hours walking around, I needed to not have to lug it with me.

I talked about Bagbnb in my post about Seattle! I’ve now utilized the service 3 times, and would not hesitate to use it again. It’s like coat check for bags, if you have a late check in or early check out. It works perfectly for so many different purposes!

Luckily, I was able to find a Bagbnb location only a block away from where the cab was dropping me! I booked a slot for my bag starting immediately, planning to drop it off ASAP so I no longer had to carry it. The cab dropped me off right in front of the Museo del Prado, and I hopped right out.

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I took my time heading to the Bagbnb. Well, as much time as I could, considering the bag was KILLING my shoulder. I stopped and took a few pictures, and meandered around to the burger place where my bag would stay.

After dropping my bag off, I headed back towards the Museo del Prado. I walked up and around that area, finding myself in a place called Parque de El Retiro. I contemplated checking out the Botanical Gardens, but I was trying to keep costs low on this unexpected outing, and I had already spent a fortune on a cab. I think it was only like, 2EUR for students, but I’m glad I didn’t do that and just checked out the free Parque de El Retiro instead. I sat and enjoyed the sun. It was about 50 degrees Fahrenheit and sunny, so I just enjoyed it.

Parque de El Retiro

After sitting and relaxing, I spent awhile just exploring the park. It’s MASSIVE. And looking at the map online as I write this, I’m realizing, I didn’t even cover half of it! It just keeps going. I walked out of the park back around to the Museo del Prado. I didn’t want to go too far and risk getting lost. My phone was still adjusting to being out of country, and so my service was not the most reliable. I definitely did not want to get lost.

I walked around and listened to a busker sitting outside the Museo for a little while, then walked up and around through the Cortes area of Madrid. I told myself I would grab lunch at the next little place I stumbled across, and of course, it took me 7 years to find any sort of place to eat at!

But I did find a fantastic place, El Almacén del Pan, and grabbed a bite there. I ordered a sabrosa, which was a delicious smoothie of mango, pineapple, and orange. I had this with a slice of chicken and bacon quiche.

At this point, I believed that my flight departed at 3p.m., based on my quick glance at the new plane ticket I had been given. I knew I didn’t need to rush back to the airport, but my exhaustion was finally catching up to me. I decided I should just head back to be safe.

I slowly headed back to the restaurant where my bag was being stored. I took my time getting there, and actually sat down in the sun and just enjoyed it for a bit longer. I didn’t want to go back to the airport and do nothing, but I was so tired, it just seemed like a better plan than possibly missing my flight to do nothing but sit in the sun. I decided to call and Uber, instead of hailing a cab. I thought it might be cheaper (which it was).

I got my bag and called an Uber. Interestingly enough, Uber in Spain asks for all of your passport information. So I had to dig out my passport and find the number and enter it, all before I could get a ride. The minute I got into the Uber, my exhaustion really hit. I could hardly keep my eyes open! They kept sliding shut and I was so nervous that I was going to fall asleep in the back of this random guy’s car in the middle of a foreign country. Oops!

I got out of my Uber, thanked the guy, and headed inside. I decided to exchange my currency while I had the time, so I went to the currency exchange and got a bunch of Euros, then headed to the bathroom to freshen up. Next, I went back through security.

Unfortunately, I was so early to my flight, there was no gate information yet. I’m not a fan of how the Madrid Airport does this. Once through security, there are very limited seats in the middle of the Duty Free shops. The Airport only announces gate information like, 40 minutes before your flight. So you have to fight for a space in the tiny areas and wait for that information to be released. This is also when I realized that my flight was not actually at 3p.m. That was the boarding time. My flight actually was not until 3:40p.m., so I still had a bunch of free time.

I checked out the duty free shops and just wandered around until my gate was finally announced. Of course, it was about 7 miles away. So I started walking. Once I got there, I just sat and waited. I FaceTimed my little brother, showed him the exciting Madrid Airport, and just waited for my flight.

Something else that’s interesting about the Madrid Airport… They don’t make boarding announcements over the PA system! I was literally sitting not 50 feet from the gate, waiting for them to call Group 4 for boarding. It didn’t seem like many people were going through, so I was just waiting. Finally, I looked up, wondering, “What’s taking so long?!” To my shock, above the gate, the words, “Final Call” were flashing. I hustled to my feet with the other stragglers and asked them if they knew if it was time for us to board. Everyone else was confused, so I just walked up, scanned my ticket, and headed towards the plane.

I was about the last person in line to board, and of course, as soon as I get into the jet bridge, no one is moving. We all had to stand and wait there for a slight delay. Finally, we were allowed out onto the tarmac, where AGAIN, we had to wait. And it started to rain. Typical. Once I was on that plane, I PASSED out. I was so exhausted, I slept through almost the whole flight!

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When we touched down in Frankfurt, I was over the traveling. It had been almost 24 hours since I left home, and a lot had transpired. Of course, we got off the plane onto the tarmac, and immediately had to board a bus. The bus then drove us all the way to the terminal. Once at the terminal, we all got stuck waiting outside, because police had to check our passports one by one.

Finally, I got into the airport and to baggage claim. For the first time ever, my bag was one of the first off the plane! I grabbed it and headed towards what I thought would be more customs. But nope, the police check was it! I finally was in Germany, ready to greet Kerstin and her family!

So… My unexpected 7 hours in Madrid was definitely not as amazing as it could have been. Had I known it was going to happen, I would’ve researched and made a thorough plan on what to do and see while there. I also totally would’ve downed some cold medicine or something so I would’ve actually slept on my flight! However, I think that the gate agent recommended a good place to walk around! It was so nice and touristy, and I’m glad I got to check out Madrid! It’s definitely now on my list of places to go back and explore more.

It’s Our Little Story

Only a life lived for others is worth living.

Albert Einstein

This semester, I was a full time college student, worked 20+ hours per week, traveled to 5 states and 4 countries, and started a blog. I also volunteered in my spare time because I have a great cause that I wholeheartedly believe in.

I volunteer with an organization called It’s Our Little Story. I was introduced to this non-profit a few years ago by a friend.

It’s Our Little Story is a non-profit organization who’s mission is to involve, educate, and empower abused, neglected, and at-risk children and adolescents.

I am so happy to support such a great organization. IOLS works with families in the foster care system in Northern Illinois. I don’t have any ties to the foster care system myself, but I do absolutely believe in helping out these kids. IOLS also wants every child to be able to write their own story, which is something that I believe that every kid should be able to do. So I’m happy to help out in any way that I can.

I have had amazing opportunities throughout my entire life, and I had a fantastic childhood. I wish that I could guarantee that for every kid. Helping out with IOLS makes me feel like I might be able to help make a difference in children’s lives.

Journey Through the Holidays

IOLS does events throughout the year, but the biggest thing is a Journey Through the Holidays Drive and Holiday Party. Yes, of course I want my holidays to be even crazier with a holiday drive and party. Why not?

In the past years, I’ve helped out by gathering gifts and doing small things. This year, I jumped in headfirst. I took over the responsibility of trying to gather donations for the foster care parent goodie bags.

The party is held on a Saturday in a donated space, a few weeks before Christmas. Families arrive at the party and are welcome to stay for the whole event, during which we have activities such as crafts and games, food, a professional photographer who will take good family pictures, and more. There are even pinatas!

Beyond that, we distribute “Santa’s Goodies.” Santa comes to the party and gives out little gifts to each child that attends the party. It’s a big hit. We don’t want anyone to leave empty-handed, so we do goodie bags for the parents, as well. We want to extend this giving, holiday spirit to the parents. I sought to find some great donations to include in the goodie bags this year.

The party is a really great time. Everyone has so much fun, and it’s amazing to see how happy the kids are when they get their gifts from Santa!

For the goodie bags this year, I was able to get donations from places such as Sports Clips, Northwestern University Athletics, DePaul University Athletics, Crystal Lake Park District, a local bakery, chocolate bars, and more. I was ecstatic when my goodie bags were a huge hit!

The registration table, where I set up signs that thanked our donors!

Beyond putting together the goodie bags and gathering donations for that, I also tried to find items for us to raffle off. Most organizations have raffles and are trying to raise funds. So they sell the raffle tickets. Not us! We actually gave a raffle ticket to each family just for showing up, which is great. It’s a totally free thing that we do! On top of that, their odds were great. We had about 25 families at our party. There were 8 raffle prizes that could be won, so they had pretty good odds.

I clearly didn’t know this picture was being taken of me, but here is me calling out the winning raffle numbers!

Raffle items included passes to the gym, a bag of Trader Joe’s goodies, and passes to a theater show or to a museum. I was not expecting to be in charge of announcing the raffle and drawing the tickets, but I actually enjoyed it! I had so much fun at our party.

This picture was taken a week prior to our party. In the final week, I had a ton more donations come in, so there was even more beyond what is pictured here in each bag!

Volunteering with IOLS has been great for me. It’s opened my eyes to the fact that volunteering is not just something you do in high school so that your college application looks fantastic. I used to go through the motions and think, “Oh, I’m such a good person for putting in 15 volunteer hours with so and so.” Because so much requires volunteer hours! For college apps, you need volunteer hours. When I was in NJHS in middle school, even they required that you volunteer.

Volunteering for something I actually believe in is totally different. When I was desperate for volunteer hours in high school, I spent a week as a counselor at Vacation Bible School. If you know me at all, you know that is totally not my thing! I did it just because it was “easy volunteer hours.” I didn’t think twice about it or whether or not I actually liked it. It was something I “had” to do if I wanted to get into a good college.

With IOLS, especially this year, it’s been really eye-opening. I actually like to help out! I realized that last year when I had such a great time, and then seeing those kids’ eyes light up? It’s amazing. But this year? It hasn’t even seemed like work. I’ve enjoyed chatting with these different individuals and organizations through email or even on the phone about different ways that they can help out. And after the party when I heard that people were excited about the goodie bags? My first instinct was, “Oh, I need to email so-and-so at Organization X and tell her ‘thank you’ again, because everyone adored her donation!”.

And going out and asking for donations? It’s actually not as bad as it sounds! It means I can spend the afternoon driving around, talking to people, and seeing if they’re able and willing to help out this great cause. If you’d told me in high school that my volunteering was going to consist of hours of driving around and talking to people, I’d have asked for another task.

I also worked on my organizational skills while trying to organize all of the donations I received into 50 “equal” bags!

This helped me grow my professional skills as, while trying to get these donations, I was emailing and networking with different people I would not have met or spoken to otherwise. Seriously. In high school, you wouldn’t have caught me actively reaching out to people. I hated talking to strangers or having to ask for anything or possibly inconvenience anyone.

When Loyola was taking too long to get back to me regarding my ticket donations? I emailed this girl three times, called her twice, forwarded her BOSS the email chain (which I know, is sucky, but I had been trying to get in contact with her for over a month to no avail), and then called him twice as well! Being persistent paid off, as they finally got back to me after almost two months and told me they were sticking a bunch of tickets in the mail!

I’m so fortunate that I’m able to help out this amazing organization. Before I knew anything about this, I would never have bet that I’d be spending hours working on something if there was no incentive for it (either monetary or school related). Now I have a blast trying to get stuff together and help pull off miracles for these kids.

I’m happy to report that this year’s holiday party was a huge success. I hope that all of the foster care families had as great of a time as I did, and I can’t wait til next year!

One final note, if you read this and you’re interested in helping out IOLS either by donating or volunteering, we can always use help, so please check out for more information!

How I Spent 5 Days in Florida – Part 2

My first two days in Florida are described in my blog post, “How I Spent 5 Days in Florida – Part 1.”

Sunday – Universal Day 2

We woke up bright and early and headed back to Orlando. Today, our plan was to do Universal Studios. Miss Tina had said that she preferred Islands of Adventure, so our tentative plan was to do IoA two days, and only do Universal Studios for this one day, unless I absolutely loved it.

It’s not that I didn’t love it, but IoA had more rides that I liked, so that’s why we ended up back there on Monday, as well. But Universal Studios is cool in it’s own way! Naturally, upon entering the park, I had to take a picture of the iconic Universal globe.

I should have taken a picture of me with it. I’ll have to do that when I go back!

It was another ridiculously hot, September, Florida day. We had barely made it into the park when I started seeking out air conditioning. We ducked into the Jimmy Fallon Tonight Show store because a) I love Jimmy Fallon, and b) we needed air conditioning! From there, we decided to check out The Mummy ride.

Miss Tina had not done it, and I hadn’t heard anything about it when I researched the parks. So we weren’t really sure what to expect going into it. All we knew was that it was NOT a virtual ride, we made sure to triple check. I think I didn’t like Universal Studios because almost all of the rides there are virtual. IoA had more options for someone like me, who can’t necessarily do the virtual rides.

The Mummy ride is dark. Literally dark. The line is downright dangerous. You can’t see, it’s very dimly lit, and there are stairs and all sorts of other “obstacles”‘ that you’ll have to contend with to get onto the ride. That’s the one and only downside of the ride.

Man, this was such a cool ride! While I’m writing this and thinking back on it, I wish we would’ve done it more than the 3 or so times we did! It was just totally unexpected and really awesome. I don’t want to spoil it for anyone.

Not far from The Mummy ride, we found this restaurant, and of course I had to take pictures with it! I am a Richter, after all. I wish I could claim that it is named after me, but nope. After checking it out, we have established that it is named after the Richter Scale. Which is also not named after me.

From there, we kept walking around the park. And all of the rest of my childhood dreams came true. I got to visit Diagon Alley. If I could squish the two parks together, I would give Diagon Alley and the Mummy (also maybe Rip Rockit) to IoA, and let Universal Studios have the virtual rides from IoA. That would be a dream.

The Knight Bus

Honestly, I could have spent hours exploring Diagon Alley. But, Miss Tina is not a Potterhead, so I tried to keep my nerding out to a minimum. One of the coolest things was that we were perfectly in time for a story. They told the Tale of Three Brothers, and it was absolutely amazing. They actually do multiple “shows” throughout the day. We caught Celestina Warbeck singing, as well.

Diagon Alley was absolutely my favorite thing. And as you can see, we had the perfect time to go! Everything was deserted.

While in Diagon Alley, we also got to go into Ollivander’s for a show. This was pretty cool. It’s kind of hard to find. And unfortunately, it’s not something that you can video/photograph. But it’s definitely worth doing if you’re going to be there.

After we left Diagon Alley/the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, I had Miss Tina snap a picture of me in front of Twelve Grimmauld Place, and then we were back to exploring the rest of the park.

12 Grimmauld Place

The next ride we did was the Men in Black Alien Adventure. This one was pretty cool! I always loved the Men in Black movies, and it was really fun. The theming as you walk through the line to get to the ride is excellent and very spot-on with the movies. I wished I would’ve brought my phone along and been able to take pictures of it all, but this was another ride where you had to stow your belongings in lockers.

The theming and everything for Men in Black was great, but the ride itself was a bit lackluster. It also didn’t help that it’s set-up like a contest. You shoot aliens and get points. Somehow, by the time the ride ended, Miss Tina had like 67,000,000 points, and I had about 38. I think me “losing” so badly contributed to my not loving the ride. Also, this ride is not great for someone who gets motion sick or has migraines, because at one point in the ride you’re spinning in circles while strobe lights are going off.

So, I didn’t love Universal Studios for the rides. But I will acknowledge that they had some really cool stuff! Also, it was like Disney. I met a lot more “characters” at Universal Studios than we did at Islands of Adventure.

We both embraced our inner children in Woody Woodpecker’s KidZone. Universal Studios definitely didn’t have as much for us to do, so we did go to the KidZone, and yes, we did ride the kids roller coasters. We also absolutely played in the Curious George play area!

Miss Tina had never been to a place like The Ball Factory in the Curious George area. We used to go to the Great Wolf Lodge in the Wisconsin Dells, and they had a place just like this. It was amazing as kids! I had a blast showing her how everything worked. And because it was so empty, no one was judging two adults playing by themselves in the KidZone. In fact, we had the whole place to ourselves for the majority of the time we were in there.

After we had our fun in the KidZone, we wandered back out to the main path around the park. There, we met even more fun characters!

It was getting really hot out. We happened to walk past and see that Universal’s Horror Make Up show was about to start. We knew nothing about it. But it was air-conditioned, so we decided to check it out! We ended up being really glad that we did.

We had no clue what to expect going in, but it was hysterical! When I said that we really did not have as much to do in Universal Studios, I meant, we really did not have as much to do in Universal Studios. We actually ended up going BACK to the Horror Make Up Show later that afternoon simply because we had nothing else to do/see, and we needed air conditioning! The second show had a different set of actors, and unfortunately, it wasn’t as funny the second time around.

The girls assured us that it was improv when we met with them… That definitely wasn’t the case, as the show was basically performed verbatim when we saw two guys putting it on later that afternoon. Oh well. I later googled it and found out that the show is pretty much the same, every time. They always choose a specific type of person out of the crowd, and it always goes pretty much the same way. The first time when we didn’t know what to expect was awesome. But hey, we got an extra half hour of air conditioning when we went for the second show.

We also looped back around to the KidZone. When we had left it earlier, we just missed the Trolls! They’re only allowed out for 15ish minutes at a time due to the extreme heat. So I took note of when they would be back out and was able to get a picture of myself with Poppy, Branch, and Guy Diamond. I did it for my little sister!

And, when we walked back around the park, we also checked out Diagon Alley one more time. This is when we caught Celestina Warbeck. I wanted to try butterbeer ice cream. However, I wasn’t sure I wanted it right at the moment. I was going to see if I could get it at Islands of Adventure the next day.

We ducked into Florean Fortescue’s to see if I could ask if the ice cream was served in the other park. We didn’t even get into line (and there was a significant line), I simply leaned over the counter and asked an employee. She informed me that they did not sell butterbeer soft serve in the other park, and that this was the only place that you could get it.

I resigned myself to paying the $8 and went to stand in line. She called me back over, though, and goes, “Sh. It’s on the house!” and she gave me a soft serve ice cream cone for FREE. I didn’t even have to wait in line! She made my entire vacation.

The ice cream was definitely better than the butterbeer.

Another cool thing that we saw while walking around the park was the fountain show! Neither of us knew that it was a thing, we were completely taken aback when we were walking through Central Park and all of a sudden the fountains started going.

It’s similar to the Bellagio. It’s a fountain that is synced up to music. It’s pretty cool! Besides that, we also got to meet Popeye and Olive Oyl. He asked me if I ate spinach, to which I replied, “of course!”. I also got to take a picture with Everest. Abominable had not even come out in theaters yet, and I knew nothing about it other than that my brother wanted to see it. So I took a picture with the guy for him. And I’m glad I did, because Abominable is one of the best kids movies that I’ve seen in a long time.

After that, we closed out our day with a ride on the Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit. We had made a deal that was similar to our virtual rides deal. Miss Tina had ridden Hulk and Rockit last time at the parks and gotten killer headaches. I had not ridden a legitimate roller coaster in 6 years. Hagrid and The Mummy were roller coasters, yes, but there were no loops or crazy corkscrews. I wasn’t sure how my head would handle it. So we agreed to make it our last ride of the day.

Man, I wish we would’ve done it sooner! It was insane. I truly think it was the first “legit” roller coaster I’ve ridden. Yes, I’ve been to Six Flags. But I haven’t been there since they added on the crazy new roller coasters. I never rode Raging Bull or V2, or anything like that. I was too scared. Rockit was such a thrill! And neither of us felt sick afterwards. I should’ve ridden it more than once. Oh well, just another reason to go back!

From there, we had actually booked an Airbnb close to the parks for the night, so that we did not have to drive all the way back to Bartow. We checked into our Airbnb, which was in a nice gated community, and headed over to the pool.

After sunbathing and swimming for about an hour, we decided to head over and check out Downtown Disney (now called Disney Springs, but whatever). I remember loving Downtown Disney as a kid, but going there as an adult was a totally different experience! I realize now that our parents never let us see the whole place. It was a lot more walking then I remember, and a lot more upscale then I remember. I remember playing around with Legos and splashing in the fountains. This trip? It was all about checking out the high end stores. Such a difference.

Monday – Universal Day 3

The last day at the parks was bittersweet. I wanted to stay for the Hogwarts light show, but I knew that neither of us was really up for a twelve+ hour day at the parks. And since we were staying close, why not have a relaxing morning?

We checked out of the Airbnb and headed back over to the pool. We spent a few hours laying in the sun and relaxing by the pool, which was a perfect way to start the day. From there, we decided to save money by going to Dunkin for breakfast on the way to the parks. That way, we didn’t have to pay whatever exorbitant prices the parks would charge for food.

We went back to Islands of Adventure for our third and final day at the parks. I thought that it had been really hot the three days I had already been in Florida? No. This was the hottest day, hands down. We entered the park with the intent of heading straight back for Hagrid to enjoy the air conditioning during the hottest hours of the day. We had agreed that we didn’t mind the wait! And it was actually only at 90 minutes. By the time we got back to Hogsmeade/Wizarding World of Harry Potter, I was disgustingly sweaty. I cannot believe how hot it was.

We were absolutely shocked. When we got in line, the wait was 90 minutes. We were on and off the ride in less than 45. Because of that, we decided to go again. About 30 minutes in line. Then, one last time, just for the heck of it. Another 30 minutes in line. It was so easy! And that ride gets better every time. The theming is so on point, you notice something different each time!

After exhausting ourselves on Hagrid’s, I decided to ask if I could walk through the line for Forbidden Journey. I had no desire to ride the ride again, but I did want to see if I could just walk through and take pictures of the inside of Hogwarts. The employees were super nice about it, so I’m really glad I asked.

From there, we looped around and rode Jurassic Park several times. There was about a 20 minute wait for the ride, BUT, if you did single rider, you could walk on. So we did single rider about a zillion times, because it actually is a pretty great ride.

After we got nice and damp from the Jurassic Park River Adventure, we decided to head over to Ripsaw Falls. I wanted to do it again. This time, when we got on, I decided to put my bag underneath my feet. Bad, bad, bad idea.

We came off the ride absolutely SOAKED. But I begged to do it again, one last time. We might as well do it while we’re already wet, you know? So we got right back on, and got even more soaked. When we got off the ride, we were dripping wet. This was maybe at three o’clock in the afternoon. When we left the park at nine o’clock at night, I was still not completely dry. And that’s with the Florida heat and sun.

Unfortunately, because I had put my bag by my feet, it meant that not only was I soaked, but everything in my bag was drenched, too. We ducked into the Toon Lagoon Cafeteria where I stole tons of napkins to try and dry myself and all of my stuff off a bit. But it was so worth it! I’m glad I rode the ride twice, and I probably would have done it more times if I had been dressed more appropriately. Birkenstocks are not good shoes if you plan on getting soaked, and wearing a wet backpack all day is 0% fun.

From there, we rode Doctor Doom probably 5 times? There was no wait, so we would get off the ride, then stroll back and ask, “hey, there’s no line, can we get back on?”, so we just kept riding it! We did end up getting in trouble when we did this. At one point, we just stayed on the ride because no one had come to take our spots. The employee did NOT like that. Oops!

We took our time strolling around the park and I got to meet Thing 1 and Thing 2. I only let myself buy one souvenir on my entire trip, and it was a Thing 1 stuffed animal. I don’t care that I’m an adult, it’s the cutest thing I’ve ever seen, and I will never regret that $16 stuffed animal.

We also rode the little kids roller coaster in Seuss Landing, because we needed some other way to kill time before the light show at Hogwarts! It actually was fun, and provided great views of the entire park.

After we rode that roller coaster, we headed back to secure a good spot to view the light show from. We got there really early, and still barely managed to get a good seat! But it was really fun to see.

From there, it was time to leave Universal. We stopped for popcorn on the way out, and then we realized. We had just enough time for one more ride on Doctor Doom! And thus ended my days at Universal. It was time to drive home to Bartow!

Tuesday – Time to go home.

We slept in and relaxed on Tuesday morning. Then, we headed to Tampa for lunch. We went to Eddie and Sam’s for lunch. The pizza was delicious! After scarfing down a slice, we headed to Dough Nation. Man, I wish there was a Dough Nation up here! They serve cookie dough and ice cream. I just got a serving of cookie dough.

But, after that pizza, there was no way I could finish the whole thing. I didn’t want to waste it. So I asked the guy if it would make it home to Chicago with me. He took it from me, wrapped it up, and offered to keep it in their fridge while I explored Tampa. He assured me that when I came back and picked it up, that it would make it home to Chicago with me. And it did!

While my dough was chilling at Dough Nation, we walked down to the river. It’s a really beautiful area. We just enjoyed the sunshine and people watched. It was a really good ending to my trip. From there, we went back and picked up my cookie dough, and Miss Tina dropped me off at the Tampa Airport (TPA), and that was that.

I had the best time on this trip! I got to see my Mame and Papa, my aunt and cousin, and Miss Tina! On top of that, I got to finally go to Universal Orlando, I got to spend time in the pool and the sun, and I got to eat delicious food. What more can a girl ask for? I hope to make it back sometime soon!

How I Spent 5 Days in Florida – Part 1

Days 1 and 2

Earlier this year, I got to take a trip to Universal Studios in Florida. I had wanted to go there since I was a kid, but never had the chance! Well, my chance finally came when I was able to find round trip airfare from Chicago O’Hare to Tampa, Florida, for less than $100.

Later on, the airline would bump me to a 4p.m. flight home instead of one at 1p.m.

When I was a kid, my parents hired a nanny before they chose to go the au pair route. My first and only nanny, Miss Tina, is one of my favorite people in the entire world! She came and visited us even after she was done being our nanny. We stayed close throughout the years, and a few years ago, she moved down to Florida. A town right in the middle of Tampa and Orlando. For years, I had said I would come and visit her, and just never actually did it.

When I saw that airfare, I knew it was finally time! I texted her, told her the dates, and the next thing you know, I’m planning a trip to Florida!

Miss Tina works as a teacher. Since I was going to be there basically five full days, Friday-Tuesday, she told me that she could only take 2 days off of work. Which I totally understood. She decided to take Monday and Tuesday off, but told me that she would have no issues getting me from the airport late on Thursday night! But, if she got me, then I would just be sitting around at her house on Friday doing nothing. So we tried to find an alternative option.

Then I realized, “Wait. I have family in the Tampa area!”. And I texted my Mame and Papa to see if they would be willing to get me from the airport on Thursday and spend the day with me on Friday. They were totally willing to do it!

So, I flew into Tampa on a Thursday night, and they greeted me at the airport to drive me to Sarasota with them. It was a late night for them, but I am so grateful that they were willing to have me and that I got to spend some time with them!

Mame and Papa’s guest room was so picture perfect I had to take a pic of it!


On Friday morning, I woke up, and my Mame decided that we should drive around and see Sarasota and the Keys, because I had never been. We also decided to meet my aunt for lunch. We left their house and drove to downtown Sarasota and checked it out. Then, we went to meet my aunt for lunch at a restaurant called Gecko’s Grill and Pub.

On the way to Gecko’s, we had driven past a shop that had a banner that caught my eye. It was a donut shop that had just opened! Of course Mame and I had to stop there on our way back. You can read my full review of The Farmhouse Donuts and Decor in my Donut Digest post!

Mame and I, enjoying our donuts.

After we ate our fill of donuts, we decided to drive around the Keys. Mame took me to Siesta Key Beach, which is her favorite spot. It really was a gorgeous beach! I would love to go back one day and spend some time there.

I always thought that the Keys were overrated. I’d never been there, but so many people went there and raved about it, I was sure they’d be lame and nothing special, and just totally overrated. From what I saw though, I’m very wrong! I would love to visit them for real sometime. From Siesta Key Beach, we drove to my aunt’s house to visit her and my cousin! It was a short visit, but I’m so glad I got to see them.

We went back home and grabbed my stuff. Then, Mame and Papa drove me up to Brandon to meet Miss Tina and hand me off. It was about halfway for them both, so it worked out well, and I’m glad they were all so willing to accommodate me. After dinner at the Cheesecake Factory, we headed to her house in Bartow. We played a round of Friends Trivia (which is actually incredibly difficult to win), and went to bed.

Friends Trivia.

Saturday – Universal Day 1

We woke up early and hit the road to Orlando. I was so excited! We parked the car and headed to the parks. For Day 1, we wanted to go to Islands of Adventure. I did not get a park-hopper, because it cost a lot more money! We simply did 3 day passes.

Orlando in early September is HOT. It was at least 95 degrees Fahrenheit and humid every day that we hit the parks. But, the perk of going to the parks in September is that, every kid has just gone back to school. The parks were EMPTY. The only line we had to wait in was the line to ride the very newest ride in the park, which is understandable.

My excitement built the entire walk from the car and into the park. However, when we got into Islands of Adventure, it hit me. I hadn’t been to an amusement park in almost six years! I used to go to Six Flags relatively frequently, but hadn’t gone in more than five years. Which is crazy to even think about. Anyways, we got in line for Doctor Doom, a ride she loved. I was apprehensive because I absolutely HATE heights.

We’re standing in line and I’m getting more and more and more nervous. It had been so long since I’d been on any sort of roller coaster or theme park ride. As a kid, I got motion sickness very easily. I still struggle with it pretty often, even as an adult. I can’t do things like ride backwards on the L train. It doesn’t work for me, I get terribly sick. As I’m in line for Doctor Doom (the wait was less than 10 minutes), I’m starting to think, “Oh god. What did I get myself into? Did I just pay $300+ to not be able to enjoy the rides at any of these parks?”. I was majorly freaking out.

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On Doctor Doom’s Fearfall, you shoot 185 feet up in the air. The worst part is the suspense! The countdown is different every time, so you never know when it’s coming.

Finally, we made it up to the front of the line. I called dibs on chair number 4 because it’s my lucky number, and having that number reassured me a little bit. We put our stuff in the bins and strapped in. I held onto the restraints for dear life. And with that, we were off.

Holy COW. I didn’t know what I was missing out on! One ride on Doctor Doom, and I was ready for anything. I got the craziest rush of adrenaline, and all of a sudden, I wasn’t scared to try any of the rides! I wanted to do them all.

From Doctor Doom, we took our time meandering through the park. Because it was so empty, there was no rush to get to the rides. There was virtually no wait for anything! For that reason alone, I recommend going in September or another off-peak time.

The next ride we got onto was Dudley Do-Right’s Ripsaw Falls. Miss Tina lives in Florida. Another girl that she used to nanny for went to Universal with her once on a visit. Since I’d met up with her, Miss Tina is going on and on about how when she and Kaycee went to Universal, they wanted to do a water ride because it was hot. And she said they got head-to-toe DRENCHED. I’m thinking, it can’t possibly be that bad. Just a splash! Oh no. I was so very very wrong.

I’m just grateful I purchased a water-resistant backpack. We climbed into the car on Ripsaw Falls, and I’m thinking it’s going to be like Logger’s Run at Six Flags. It is, in theory. In practice, not so much.

I sat with my backpack on my lap, wedged between me and the lap bar. I recommend this, if you’re bringing anything you don’t want to get soaked. I’ll explain why later. We go around the first couple mini drops, and I’m getting soaked, and starting to understand what she means. This ride is no joke.

Finally, we’re heading up to the big drop. Oh my GOD. You will end up drenched from head-to-toe. I seriously had thought she was completely pulling my leg and exaggerating. I walked off the ride, and I had worn Birkenstocks. They were soaked to the point that my feet were slipping and sliding around on the soles. My shirt had zero dry spots on it. It was insane. But man, that’s a fun ride! I would do it again (and I did!).

Jurassic Park

From Ripsaw Falls, we made our way over to the Jurassic Park River Adventure ride. We were already soaked, why not do another water ride right away? It was definitely hot out enough that neither of us were arguing against another water ride. This ride is so fun. I think it’s probably the ride that we rode the most!

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Jurassic Park River Adventure

After a quick river adventure, we FINALLY headed over to Hogwarts. Before I go into detail about my pure joy when I made it into the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, first, can we appreciate the fact that I’m basically the only person in this picture? That’s how dead the parks were. I walked through, and no one was there. We did not have to wait to take this picture. Nope. It was dead.

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Hogsmeade and Hogwarts

I nearly cried when we made it to the entrance to Hogsmeade. I had spent so many years imagining how awesome it would be, and I can safely say, it did not disappoint me.

When we walked into Hogsmeade, we got sidetracked because Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey had no wait, and it was right there. Now, I mentioned I get motion sick? On top of that, I get migraines. It’s great! Most of the rides at Universal are, unfortunately, virtual rides. I think it’s stupid and much prefer real rides, but I guess a lot of people do enjoy them.

Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey was one such virtual ride. Miss Tina also doesn’t do well on rides like that, but we had agreed. We would try one ride. If it went well for me, then I’d do them solo while she sat and waited! Same went for her. Trying this ride was the one thing I regret from the trip. According to Wikipedia, the duration of the ride is 4:06. Let me tell you. It was the longest 4:06 of my LIFE.

Oh, it was bad. I do not recommend trying the virtual rides if you get motion sick or if you get migraines! I kept my eyes tightly closed almost the whole time (I chanced opening them a few times, and each time, it was a bad call), and was pretty woozy when I got off the ride. It was rough. The picture of us on the ride was hysterical. They managed to get a shot of me with my eyes wide open in terror. Miss Tina was next to me, and her eyes were squeezed shut. Neither of us looked like we wanted to be there. We grabbed our stuff back out of the lockers and made our way to Hogsmeade!

When we finally got into Hogsmeade, the first thing I wanted to do was try butterbeer! I had heard so many great things about it. Over the years, of course I’ve tried to make it at home. I actually have had some success. I’ve gotten some pretty good tasting butterbeers from Pinterest recipes. I was pretty excited to try the Butterbeer that Universal sells, because everyone raves about it! Unfortunately, this was my reaction…

I thought that she was being ridiculous when she wanted to capture my reaction to it, but I’m actually really glad I have these goofy pictures.

Needless to say, it was not what I was expecting. But I paid $8 for it, so I did finish the whole thing!

We got into line for Hagrid’s Motorbike Adventure. Now, this is the newest ride at Universal Orlando. I had done my research before getting to Florida. I read horror stories of people waiting 8 hours in line only to have the ride shut down just before they reached the front. People were perusing Reddit looking for advice on the best way to get to the ride before everyone else. Every time I had checked the app, the line was over 2 hours long.

We decided that we weren’t in a huge hurry to do anything, we might as well try the ride once! I had my Butterbeer to finish. We stowed our stuff in the lockers (you are not allowed to bring personal possessions with you), and got into line. The line looks pretty unassuming from the beginning. You spend a lot of time winding around outside, and then you reach the “entrance” to the inside. And you think you’ve made it and are close to the front! Nope, that’s not the case. The line is never ending. As girls, we did not have convenient pockets for our phones. So we had to leave them in the lockers. When we got into line, we got into line with nothing but a Butterbeer.

We waited almost two and a half hours to get onto this ride. It was rough. We got into line and we were in the blazing heat for the longest time. The line is so long, they literally sell concessions in the line for you to have while you’re waiting. It would be great, except you don’t bring your wallet or anything onto the ride with you, you leave them in the lockers! Multiple people gave up and left the line.

We finally made it to the indoor portion of the line. We had been waiting so long, people started sitting on the floor. The family behind us in line told us that they had waited 2 hours for the ride a week prior, and then been turned away right when they had reached the front. The ride had been shut down for some reason or another. We were getting really worried.

FINALLY, we made it inside to the shade. People were sitting on the floors and waiting. There was a period of probably a half an hour where the line simply didn’t move. It was brutal. But in the end? It was kind of worth it! The ride itself was AMAZING (we went back and did it 3 more times), and we did get to be in air conditioning for most of the hot Florida afternoon!

After the ride, we got our stuff back (it took some doing–I had locked the card we needed to use as a key inside the locker with our stuff). And then we headed to get some food. We also met Puss in Boots!

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We then walked up through Seuss Landing and back around to Super Hero Island. I got to prove that I’m a child at heart by taking pictures with the truffula trees and the quirky quotes in Toon Lagoon!

We did a few rides on our way back around. We did Doctor Doom again (which might tie with Jurassic Park for the ride that we did the most), and also Jurassic Park! We made our way back into Hogsmeade where we explored a bit more and had our picture taken with the Hogwarts Express. If you have a Park Hopper ticket, you can take the Hogwarts Express from Universal Studios to Islands of Adventure.

We did not have park hoppers, so this was not an option for us. Luckily, they have another Hogwarts Express that you can have your picture taken with!

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Then it was time to head home. We left Islands of Adventure and stopped in CityWalk for dinner. We were hoping it would be slightly less expensive than the food that is available inside the parks, and I think that it was. I got a delicious sandwich from Bread Box.

From there, we stopped at Cold Stone on our way out because I needed an ice cream fix after a hot Florida day. Then we hit the road to get back home to Bartow!

I’ll be writing another, separate blog post detailing my other three days in Florida! It was way too long to all be one blog post. Check back next week to read about the rest of my trip.

Seven Hours in Seattle

My younger sister goes to school in Portland, OR. I’ve been lucky enough to visit her not once, but twice! On my second trip out there, American Airlines was offering a connection in Seattle. I could have flown non-stop, but they offered a connection in Seattle, which would give me a really long layover. My sister, Aj, had school all day on Friday. If I was going to fly in in the morning, I would have had to spend the day alone.

Basically, my choice was to spend a day alone in Portland (which I did the previous year, and was going to be doing already on this trip), or to spend seven hours exploring Seattle. What do you think I chose?


The view on my flight into Seattle.

My flight landed in Seattle (SEA) at 8:40 a.m. on a Friday. I did not check bags, so I had nothing to worry about on that front. I got off the plane and walked to the public transport, the Link Light Rail. I had time to spare as I could not drop my bags off at the bag storage place until 10 a.m. The walk from the terminals to the train is actually a pretty decent walk! Most of it is open to the outdoors, so it can be chilly, as well.

Since I had time to spare, I just downloaded the app and paid for transit tickets on my phone. There is an option to do it at the station, but I figured “why not just get the app?”. It made more sense to me. I was able to get on the train and get a seat with no problems. The airport station is called the SeaTac/Airport Station (duh). You need to ride eleven stops on the train to get to University Street Station, which is where Pike Place is located. This takes about 40 minutes.

Bag Storage.

By the time that I got where I needed to be, I was still ten minutes early. I was planning on storing my bags with a program called Bagbnb. I used them last year in Portland and had an amazing experience with them. However, this time, I wasn’t as lucky.

The Bagbnb storage place is less than a block from Pike Place. It was slated to open at 10 a.m., and I reserved for my bags to be held from 10-5. I was expecting to walk in and out, as I had last year. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case this time! The store owner was running late, and I had about a twenty minute setback waiting for her. It was no big deal though, someone else was waiting and we had a nice conversation.

Bagbnb is incredibly convenient. You reserve storage space online. It’s a flat rate of $6 per bag. It’s great if you’re doing a long layover, like me, or if you can’t check into a hotel before a certain time. The places are totally random. The first time I used the service, a Qdoba is where my bag was stored. The second time? It was a fine Native American arts store. Very different.

You walk in with your bag, tell them you’re there to store it, and they give you some receipts to fill out. It’s similar to coat check. You hold onto your stub, and then when you come back to check your bag back out, you give it to them so they know which bag it is, etc. Very simple.

Pike Place.

Immediately after I dropped off my bags, I headed to Pike Place. The first thing on my list was to stop at Daily Dozen Doughnuts, as I had read rave reviews on Yelp and was dying for some good breakfast food. I had been up since 3 a.m., Chicago time, and it was now about 12 p.m. in Chicago. I was starving.

The one thing that I had NO IDEA about was the layout of Pike Place. My sister was the only person I knew who had been to Seattle that I had actually talked to about it. She told me, “Seattle is hilly. When you’re from the Midwest, you forget that not everything is flat.” Man, is that ever true!

I was made aware of this the hard way, actually. When I walked out of University Street Station, my internal compass was still a bit messed up from the flights and the subway and the 6 hours of travel. I turned the wrong way and had to walk around the block. The block was ALL hill. And I was lugging a suitcase. I had no idea that a city could be so hilly!

Anyways, I had no clue that Pike Place was 6 stories and that it was essentially built into a hill! So when I walked in, I was looking for Daily Dozen. Of course, I went right when I walked into Pike Place. This led me away from the doughnuts I was craving and into the maze that is Pike Place Market. Before I knew what was happening, I’d wandered all the way down to the end of the market, and then somehow ended up down on the first floor! Which meant stairs. Ugh.

After a lot of wandering and getting distracted, I finally found Daily Dozen. They were pretty good! If you want to read my full review of Daily Dozen, check out my Donut Digest blog post.

After I had my donuts, I spent a bit more time wandering around Pike Place, and seeing what there was to see.

Argosy Harbor Cruise.

Having done my research before I left Chicago, I knew that I wanted to do the Argosy Harbor Cruise while in Seattle. It was incredibly affordable, and I knew that I did not want to spend all 7 hours of my layover walking around. This gave me a chance to rest my legs and see the sights of Seattle.

Honestly, I think that this boat cruise is incredibly worth it. I think I paid about $30 for it. It’s about an hour long, and you learn a ton about Seattle. As someone who has done the Architectural Boat Tour in Chicago about 700 times, and raves about it to anyone who is not a Chicagoan, I can safely say that this boat tour is a close second to the Architectural tour!

The boat tour, I believe, is $35 normally. However, if you take public transit to Pike Place (which is where the cruise departs from), you can save money by showing your receipt. This is why I paid less. The cruise was very convenient for me because of where it departs from. It’s super close to Pike Place, and easily within walking distance of many tourist attractions. It makes it incredibly easy!

The picture above is one taken by the company. About 40 minutes before the boat departs, people can start boarding. So if you want a really good seat, you should be there early. You line up on the docks. Then, they start letting groups come forward to take the picture. You can skip it if you want, but it doesn’t hurt to do it! It only costs money if you CHOOSE to buy it at the end of the cruise.

So for this reason, it takes awhile for everyone to board. The line appears to be moving really slowly simply because they stop everyone for pictures before you board. Once you’re on board though, the boat is so nice.

The boat has several levels. I chose to stay on the first level because the day that I went was very chilly. Many people did go on the top deck to enjoy the views, but I felt like I could see fine from the inside of the boat and didn’t want to deal with the cold. They serve drinks and snacks on the boat, which is really nice, but you can also bring your own water bottle on board.

There is a Starbucks right next to the ticket office, so I just ran in and grabbed a bottle of water before boarding because I wasn’t sure what the prices on board would be.

The one thing that I thought was AWESOME about the boat tour was the guide. The information she had was incredibly informative. When I’ve done boat tours in the past, a big issue is that you simply can’t hear the guides because the boat is too loud. This is not a problem with Argosy’s Harbor Cruise! I was able to hear our guide the whole time, and it made for a very enjoyable and informative experience.

One of my favorite parts of the cruise was when we passed the Edgewater Hotel, and our guide told us a bit about it! People used to fish out of the windows, and among those “people,” were the Beatles. After hearing that, I googled it, and sure enough, there is a very famous picture of the Beatles fishing out of their hotel windows. Now, that hotel is an item on my bucket list! To stay in a hotel where the Beatles stayed would be pretty cool.

Isn’t this a cool picture?

When you get back to shore, you disembark and they have all of the photos out on a display board. It’s not digital at all. They have a giant board, and you can go up and find your picture, and if you want it, you can purchase it. The perk of this is that you can actually just snap a quick picture of your photo, as I did. Typically, if there is a set-up like this, someone will stop you and tell you it’s not okay to photograph their professional images. I actually got yelled at once for doing it on a cruise. The guard stood over my shoulder and watched and made me delete the images off my phone. So after that experience, I’m pretty nervous about doing stuff like this. That security guard situation was definitely not the case with Argosy. 94% of the people coming off the boat were snapping pictures, and staff was standing by and letting it happen!

All in all, I definitely recommend it if you have time to kill in Seattle. It was such a neat cruise, I would do it again!

Back to Pike Place.

After the Harbor Cruise, I headed back to Pike Place to explore some more and grab lunch.

The two places I knew I did not want to leave Pike Place without trying were Pike Place Chowder and Daily Dozen. Since I’d already had my donuts, it was time for some chowder!

It took a bit of doing to find Pike Place Chowder. It’s not in the main building of Pike Place, it’s located in Post Alley, which is across the street. When I got there, the line was crazy! I was determined to wait, but others were not having it. So many people turned around and left upon seeing it, but it ultimately wasn’t terrible. I waited maybe a half hour? And the chowder was SO, SO worth it.

I chose to get the four chowder sampler. I knew it was going to be a ton of food, but I also wanted to try fresh chowder while I had a chance! I’m so glad I tried it. I was actually able to finish a lot more than I thought I could.

I tried the traditional New England Clam Chowder, the Crab and Oyster Chowder, the Market Chowder, and Seafood Bisque. This all came with a side of bread, and cost me less than $16. To some, that may seem like a lot of money for lunch. I’m not denying that it’s a lot of money, but when you’re used to Chicago prices, that’s a pretty normal lunch price!

At Pike Place Chowder, you are not allowed to sit at their tables and reserve them for someone in line. You have to order, then find a seat. The woman next to me did not follow this rule, but I wasn’t going to rat her out. I fought for a corner seat at the counter and she came up next to me to save a seat for her husband. She had already grabbed food elsewhere. When she saw my chowder sampler, she immediately ran back over to her husband to tell him about it. I told her it was excellent, and the next thing you know, he’s ordering it too!

But really, the chowder was insanely delicious. I have dreams about it. One day, I’ll be back!

After my lunch, I went back to the market and just wandered for the rest of my time. I walked past the first Starbucks, but didn’t bother going in. The line was crazier than the line for Pike Place! It was insane.

First Starbucks.

Then, it was time to go. I sadly left Pike Place (with a quick detour to the Gum Wall), and headed to pick up my bag. From there, I went back to the airport. And thus ended my seven hours in Seattle.

The Gum Wall.

Things I Wish I Had Known.

1. I wish I had taken my sister seriously when she told me how hilly Seattle was. I think I climbed these stairs times six!

I felt like Hulk during Avengers: Endgame. “Hate the stairs” – Hulk.

2. The Gum Wall! It’s underneath Pike Place. So if you go down the stairs or the alley to the left of the main “Pike Place Public Market,” sign, that is how you would find it. It took me awhile, and Google Maps was super confusing. Also, I really wasn’t all that impressed by it? It was a lot less than I was expecting.

3. Starbucks is insane, and can’t possibly be worth it. From what I saw, it’s a normal Starbucks. Unless you’re dying for caffeine and can’t walk a few blocks to the next Starbucks location, I’d say skip it.

4. Hang around Pike Place Fish Company! If you’re lucky, you’ll get to see them throw a fish when someone places an order. It’s pretty neat. Just be careful not to block other people who are trying to walk around there… It gets crazy crowded as that is the entrance to Pike Place. People are trying to get through!

5. If you can, take public transit to Argosy, as it will save you money on your ticket! If you’ll be in Seattle for longer, then the CityPass is definitely the way to go. If I had been there for longer, I would have done the CityPass! The Harbor Cruise is included in it, and I believe you get a deal if you purchase the pictures, as well.

6. Pike Place is SO crowded. You see all those great pictures of the famous Market sign, with nobody in the front of it, or just one person in the image. That’s virtually impossible to get, from what I saw. Going early does kind of help, as it gets busier as the day goes on. I got there around 10:30a.m., and it wasn’t horribly busy. By the time I was leaving at 3p.m.-ish, the crowds were insane. So many people trying to get their picture with the iconic sign!

I had a great seven hours in Seattle! I was able to do a boat cruise through Argosy, and spend a lot of time wandering around Pike Place. I’d love to go back to Seattle someday and see more of the city, but for now, these seven hours will have to suffice.

A Weekend in Cannon Beach

How I Did Cannon Beach Without a Car

When I heard about Cannon Beach, OR, it sounded magical. I became fixated on it. When I went back to Oregon, I knew had to go to Cannon Beach. Cannon Beach, or bust!

However, I’m 20. My sister is 19. If any rental car agencies were willing to rent to us, it was outrageously expensive to do so because they charge exorbitant “young driver” fees. I scoured the Internet to try and find the best options for us. It was suggested to me that I should just, “Rent a U-Haul truck.” I calculated out what the price of that would be. It was nearly $200, despite listing the start price as $19.95. Car rental services such as Turo were also suggested to me, but the price point was still high due to our ages.

We considered skipping Cannon Beach. In fact, almost everyone was against us going. My sister didn’t even understand why I was pushing so hard for it. Our parents thought we (well, me, specifically), were crazy for wanting to go all the way there. What did I do? I made it happen.

Getting to Cannon Beach

Fortunately, this was the easy part! Cannon Beach is a small coastal city in northern Oregon. It’s about 80 miles from Portland, so it’s an easy day trip. The easiest way to get out there without a car is to take an Amtrak bus.

Union Station gave us major Teen Wolf Season 6 vibes.

The bus leaves early in the morning, so we took the 9:30 a.m. bus from Union Station in Portland. A round trip ticket cost $34 each, so $68 total. Union Station is pretty far from Reed College, where we stayed, so we took an Uber to get there. It is doable via public transit, but we decided to just splurge on the Uber to make our lives easier and to allow us to sleep in.

The bus ride is actually so relaxing. I thought that we would be on a highway for most of the trip. Highways are how you get anywhere in Chicago, I thought it would be the same in Oregon. But no, most of the way is winding, narrow roads through massive forests and hills. It’s an unbelievable drive! I’d like to do it myself one day because then I could stop at the little hiking trails on a whim and check stuff out.

Day 1

The bus got to Cannon Beach around 11 a.m. It lets you out south of the main part of town, right where you can walk out and find Haystack Rock, near the Sleepy Monk coffee shop. My sister had fallen asleep on the bus, so the Sleepy Monk was our first stop to get her some caffeine.

One nice thing about Oregon is that there is no sales tax! So the price you see is the price you pay. If your coffee costs $2.50, you’re going to pay $2.50. It’s very straightforward. We got our coffees and sat down to relax. I got a slice of their pumpkin bread and oh my goodness was it delicious. The Sleepy Monk is a super cute place, but it is tiny.

After we got our food, we wanted to go down to the beach. This was when I realized something was wrong. I had broken out my rain boots for the trip. I hadn’t worn them in a year, and had owned them for at least 3 years prior to the trip. They were well-loved.

In packing for Cannon Beach, I packed lighter than I had ever packed in my entire life. I’m a notorious over-packer. Packing light is not something I do, ever. I had a small backpack, which I had stuffed to the brim with a set of pajamas, my toiletries, a change of clothes for the next day, a raincoat, and my phone charger/Kindle etc. It was stuffed full. I was impressed with the amount it held!

Well, packing light? It did not help anything when I looked down as we were leaving the Sleepy Monk. BOTH of my rain boots had split open at the seams. They were no longer waterproof, and they were incredibly uncomfortable to walk in, as my feet were basically shoving out the holes with every step I took. I wanted to cry. We didn’t have a car, and our bus ticket home wasn’t until the next day. Everything was nearly a mile away by foot. A nightmare. To top it off, a quick google search revealed that there were exactly 2 shoe stores in Cannon Beach. One sold Birkenstocks and Blundstones (so it would’ve cost an arm and a leg), and the other was a boutique shoe store (which in my mind, would be expensive and probably not shoes meant for heavy walking). Amazon didn’t even offer any sort of 2 day or express delivery to the area. Ugh.

My plan to wear the rain boots while I walked into the ocean to avoid getting my feet in the cold, October ocean was scrapped. We walked to the beach while I tried to come up with a plan. I took off my socks and boots and carried them. Aj sat down on the beach to read and do school work. I decided to explore barefoot and come back and deal with the problem of the shoes later on.

One of the first photos I snapped.

I had not been to the Pacific Ocean since a Hawaiian vacation circa 2007. I’d never actually been on the West Coast other than to visit Portland, which doesn’t count because it’s not coastal. Seeing it again made my heart so happy. This is coming from someone who hates the beach. But I had a better vacation than I’ve had in years over the weekend I spent at Cannon Beach! It was everything I had hoped it would be.

Can you tell I’m happy?

After exploring for an hour or so and doing a ton of walking up and down the beach, I knew I had to deal with the shoes. I decided to walk up and check out the boutique and Birkenstocks stores. They were about .8 of a mile from where we were hanging out on the beach. Let me tell you… Walking .8 of a mile in broken shoes on a ridiculously hot October day is exactly 0% fun.

I first went into the Birkenstocks store. Every pair that I looked at, they did not have in my size, or it cost well over $100. I was not prepared to pay that price. I walked right back out, and headed over to Sea Soles. My heart was sinking, I had no idea what I was going to do if I could not find new shoes. Our Airbnb was over 1.5 miles away from where I was!

I walked into Sea Soles and wanted to cry. It was what I had expected. Cutesy beach sandals with price tags I did not want to confront. But then, my day turned around! I found a pair of red rain boots on the shelf. Did they match what I was wearing? No. But were they functional? Yes!

The woman took one look at me, listened to my story about my boots, and immediately grabbed my size in the red boots. It was actually the last pair she had in that size. I was super lucky. Then, she told me that they were actually on sale. She rang me out, and let me wear the red boots out of the store. She threw away my old ones for me, which I appreciated because it meant I didn’t need to deal with finding a garbage for them on my own.

At this point, Aj had wandered down to join me in the main part of town. We grabbed lunch at Sweet Basil’s. This place was so good! And it was one of the few places we could go to that would cater to her “vegan/vegetarian” diet. Tip: If you pay cash the bill is less!

From there, we explored the shops. We checked out the yarn/knitting store, a book store, a toy store, and the kite store. We actually bought a kite to use on the beach the next day. Then, it was time to go get our Airbnb keys and information.

We booked an Airbnb through Cannon Beach Vacation Rentals. Their office is located near where the bus dropped us off. It meant trekking another mile back south. At this point, we were exhausted. It was way hotter than we had thought it was going to be, Aj had her backpack and her overnight bag, I had my backpack, we had just gone shopping and eaten a full meal. Neither of us were in great moods on that walk to the office.

One thing I had really wanted to do when planning this trip was to visit Ecola State Park. I had heard it was amazing! However, because we did not have a car, we ended up having to scrap this plan. We were exhausted from all the walking already, and it would have been a lot more walking to get to Ecola. Maybe one day I’ll get back there.

We got to the office and picked up all of the information we needed. And of course, they gave me a coupon that would work at Sea Soles! No way was I hiking all the way back there, but now I know for next time, if I stay with CBVR, they’ll give me a coupon. We also arranged for a late checkout, which was very awesome.

Then, Google told us that the bus wasn’t coming for about 45 minutes. We were pretty content to sit and wait. We went to the bus stop, but it was confusing. The one bus stop “shelter,” the only place with any bus signage, is on the northbound side of the road. We went into the shop on the southbound side and asked where to wait for the southbound bus. She told us to wait on the northbound side of the road! And this came from a local. It seemed backwards, but we dealt with it, and sat on the other side of the road.

Then, the bus was delayed. So we sat and waited. Finally, it pulled up on the northbound side of the road where we were sitting. The bus driver asked us where we were headed. When we told her we were heading south, she looked at us like we were crazy! Turns out, the shop owner was absolutely wrong. We could’ve been in Tolovana already! Ugh. Luckily, she was making a loop for some unknown reason. We had to drive up to town and wait 15 minutes (because she was somehow ahead of schedule? Their bus system is crazy). Then we finally headed south to Tolovana. The bus dropped us off right in front of the grocery store.

This was less than a half a mile from our Airbnb! We picked up some groceries for dinner and breakfast, and then walked to where we needed to be. Finally, we could rest.

After having a quick bite to eat, I was eager to get back out and explore the beachfront. I googled what time sunset was, and planned to leave about an hour before sunset to explore. I ended up leaving earlier than planned because I was so antsy and ready to check more stuff out!

Sunset in Cannon Beach was one of the most magical things I’ve ever seen. Holy smokes. It was just amazing! Our Airbnb was barely two blocks from the beach, so I went down the stairs to the beach and just walked.

Initially, I wanted to walk north and get some good pictures of Haystack Rock. After all, it was kind of what I had come to Cannon Beach to see! However, there were so many people swarming around up on that portion of the beach. When I looked south, it was empty! I decided that Haystack could wait. I wanted to explore where there weren’t as many crowds and people.

The view looking south from Tolovana.

Don’t get me wrong. Initially, there were a lot of people out walking the beach. But the further south I went, the fewer people there were. I think that I made the right call! I was able to walk mostly uninterrupted and just enjoy the beautiful sunset and beautiful Saturday night.

Of course, the walk was not without incident. I did not know it at the time, but it was high tide. Based on how much beach there was, I assumed it was low tide. When I came back out the next morning, I would see how wrong I was. I wanted to walk around this rock, and get close up to it to take some good pictures of the sea life and such that were growing and living on it.

The rock in this image is the one that I am referring to.

I had to time it just right with the waves. Sometimes, they’d come in and completely surround the rock. Other times, you’d have a bit of time to sneak up, snap a picture, and retreat. I really thought I could do it.

I was wearing a fleece jacket (which I really didn’t need, the weather was gorgeous). I had tied it around my waist, but was still storing my phone in the pocket when I was not holding it in my hands. I threw my phone in the pocket after I had taken the pictures and was just walking close to the water. All of a sudden, a MASSIVE wave rolled in. And with it came a dead jellyfish!

Now, I’m not an ocean girl. I had no idea if a dead jellyfish could harm you or not. A quick google search now reveals that it might have been able to sting me, especially because I was barefoot. Regardless, I saw the dead body floating in, getting dangerously close to me, so naturally, I took off running away from it.

When I was a safe distance away, guess what I realized?? My phone was no longer safely tucked into my pocket. I jogged back down to where I had been chased away by the jellyfish. Sure enough, my phone was floating face down in the shallow water, right next to the jellyfish corpse. Just my luck! I quickly rescued it.

Dead jellies were super prevalent on the beach the weekend we were there. I spoke with a local and she said that that is not common.

Luckily, I have a Samsung that is water-resistant! I did my best to dry it off, and just kept moving along down the beach. When I got back to the Airbnb, I took a blow dryer to it to dry out the charging port, but other than that, my phone was absolutely fine.

I kept walking down the beach. I wanted to make it down to the large rocks that I could see just off the coast, a bit south of me. I knew I could make it before the sunset, but I was starting to worry that it would be black out by the time I got home. I was determined to make it there, though. I was not going to let sunset stop me!

You can see the rocks that I was trying to get to way off in the distance in this image.

I enjoyed my walk and finally made it to where I was headed. A woman was standing perfectly in front of the rocks as I was trying to take the perfect shot. I was waiting patiently to get a good, clean shot of the rocks when she approached me and asked if I would mind taking a good picture of her.

I believe that the largest of these rocks is called Jockey Cap. Don’t hate me, but I think that these were much more impressive than Haystack!

Of course I don’t mind! I just asked that she return the favor for me, if she did not mind. I snapped a few pictures of her on my phone, as my camera was better. We exchanged numbers and I quickly sent the pictures over to her.

After a quick discussion, we realized that we were both going to be heading back to Tolovana, and decided to walk with each other. Rita was absolutely lovely! She was older, but she was amazing to talk to, and she was willing to take as many pictures of me on the beach as I wanted.

We really had an absolutely lovely conversation. She had been coming to Cannon Beach for years, and told me what to see and do the next day. We also just talked about life! It’s always nice to meet someone new and make a friend while traveling.

Rita also convinced me to pick up this bull kelp! I had walked past it on the way down, but was slightly terrified. I hate fish. They make me really nervous. Seeing this thing washed up on the beach, I had no idea what it was. So I kept my distance. When we walked past it on our way back, she immediately told me to pick it up! And it’s now one of my favorite pictures of me. I sent it to people back home, and apparently, it wasn’t just me. No one knew that this type of giant seaweed was a thing!

Bull Kelp.

Because I’m a curious person, I looked it up as soon as I got back. Bull kelp is really common in the Pacific. It grows with the long stem-end in the ground of the ocean, and then the top, where the “hair” is, waves around gently in the ocean. It tends to grow just off the coast. They sometimes get ripped out of the ground and end up washing up on the beach!

It’s actually edible, there are different places you can buy it. You should not eat it if you find it washed up on the beach though, because chances are, it has started to rot. Bleh. It was pretty cool to find this thing and learn about it.

But the best part about the walk on the beach? Beyond meeting Rita and picking up a piece of bull kelp? It was the fact that I got to see these views.

Day 2

I wanted to explore the beach further in the morning. My conversations the night before with Rita had left me yearning to walk even further south on the beach. She agreed with me in that Haystack was far too touristy. We both wanted to see stuff that was more “off-the-beaten-trail”. She had told me to try walking down to Arch Cape. I didn’t think I would make it that far, as it was about 3 miles away. Which would mean a 6 mile round-trip walk! But I wanted to go as far south as I could.

I woke up, and decided to get going. I left my sister to do her schoolwork and told her I would grab coffee/breakfast on the way back. There was a little coffee shop that we had passed that seemed worth trying! It was north of the Airbnb, and I was planning on walking north at first.

Then, I looked south. And again, there was no one south of me! I shot off a text to Aj saying, “hey, I’m going south instead. Coffee may be awhile.” And I just started walking. This is when I learned that what I had seen the night before had actually been high tide. I was able to get up close and personal with these rocks with much more ease than I had the night prior!

I continued to walk south with no intentions of turning back before I absolutely had to. I enjoyed my walk as there were not many people out on the beach so early in the morning. I was able to get really close to Jockey Cap, which was amazing!

In the lower left picture, if you look closely you can see the “cave” through Jockey Cap.

It was so neat to be able to get this close to these massive rocks. At Haystack, you can do the same, but the experience is totally different because there are crowds of people around. I can safely say that I was the only person near these rocks at the time these pictures were taken. I was free to take my time and photograph what I wanted to photograph. When I was ultimately interrupted by the next person walking down the beach, I took it in stride because I had had almost 10 minutes of uninterrupted picture-taking. It was awesome.

As I walked further down the beach, I became aware that it was not just a walk to see the sights of the ocean, but that the coastline was also offering some amazing views. Here are a few of my favorite images of the shore.

I made it about two and a half miles down the beach before having to turn back. If I had gone any further, I would have been trapped. The tide was coming in, and if I had walked down the beach further, it would have trapped me on the other side with no way to get back to my Airbnb. As much as I wanted to keep going, I knew it wasn’t feasible.

One of my favorite things that I saw was this Lion Rock. This was as far as I could make it down the coast.

As you can see, the tide is coming in. If I had walked further and between those two rocks, I would have been trapped on the other side of the beach.

I was carrying my boots with me and walking barefoot. In attempting to get these pictures, I almost lost my second pair of boots! I set them down further up the beach (or so I thought), so that I could get closer to the rocks and the ocean and take some cool pictures. I turned around to look back at them, and the waves had grabbed them and are pulling them out to sea.

Luckily, I was able to rescue them. But I couldn’t believe I had almost lost a second pair of shoes in one weekend. I was also very lucky that the shoes didn’t tip over and fill with water. That would have been the icing on top of the cake.

I was able to get lots of gorgeous pictures of Humbug Point and Lion Rock. One day, I’ll come back at low tide, start out early, and make it past this point of the beach! I imagine it’s just as gorgeous as everything else I had seen. It was finally time to head back and pick up the coffee I had promised Aj.

I took my time wandering back up the beach to Sea Level Coffee. There was no line, and I was able to get her a fancy matcha latte. I got myself a maple bourbon sticky bun as a treat after my almost 5 mile round-trip walk (all of which was done barefoot–my back still feels the pain from that).

When I got back to the Airbnb, the first thing I did was shower. Low tide had done me no favors, I smelled completely and totally like fish. Gross. Then we relaxed and enjoyed having some time to just sit. Our checkout was not until 2 p.m., which was fantastic. We left AT 2 p.m. and went to sit down on a bench overlooking the beach and just enjoyed the sunny day.

We decided to walk up to town along the beach instead of waiting for the terrible bus again. And honestly? The walk was not bad at all! Except, the minute we got up from that bench, the day turned windy. It was fierce, cold wind that was pushing against us. It made the walk a lot more difficult.

Halfway up the beach, we remembered that we had bought a kite the day before!

Our tiny yellow kite was very anxiety-inducing to fly. It said it was perfect for “low winds”. Google claimed that the wind speeds were 11-13mph (“low wind”), but I’m skeptical. The winds were severe, from what we felt, and we were worried it might fly away. It was a short-lived venture due to this fear. But it was still fun! While I was distracted watching her fly the kite and trying to get a video of it, an intrepid seagull found where we had left our bags on the beach and started trying to drag one away. I was not able to get good pictures of the kite flying because I was too busy chasing off the seagull. Those are some persistent birds.

I finally made it to Haystack Rock and Needles. I had arrived the day before, but had been so busy seeing everything else there was to see that I didn’t actually see and get close to Haystack until Sunday afternoon.

We found a piece of driftwood near Haystack, and Aj set up shop to wait for me while I went to explore a few shops that were near where we were. I wandered and checked out a few stores, and then went back to find Aj.

Together, we walked back across the beach to get to the restaurant we wanted to go to for dinner, Pelican Brewing Company. We wanted to go to a sit down restaurant to kill some time before we had to get on the bus.

When we arrived at Pelican at about 4:45 on a Sunday night, it was way busier than we anticipated. We did have a slight wait to be seated, but it was fine because we were trying to kill time! And the food was totally worth it.

One of my fish came out “broken,” and did not look presentation-worthy, according to the restaurant. They gave me another piece of fish to make up for it.

After dinner, I walked down to the beach to see a little bit of one more Cannon Beach sunset. And it did not disappoint. As you can see though, it was much more crowded at sunset up by Haystack Rock than it was down by Jockey Cap.

With that, we went to sit in the bus station and wait for our 7 p.m. bus back to Portland. And thus ended our Cannon Beach adventures!

Tips and Tricks for Surviving Cannon Beach Without a Car

  1. Make sure you bring reliable shoes! Don’t be like me. Make sure your shoes are going to last, and if you’re not sure that they’ll last, bring a spare pair.
  2. If you book through Cannon Beach Vacation Rentals, make sure to do your shopping AFTER you check in, as you will get a $5 voucher to use in certain stores.
  3. The bus is not the most reliable. It may be better on weekdays, but we did not have a good experience on the weekends. If you’re taking the bus, make sure you’re waiting on the right side of the road. Also be sure to have exact change for the fare.
  4. Stop in at Family Market and buy some of their homemade caramels. You won’t regret it.
  5. Enjoy the sunset! It is truly unbelievable.
  6. Walk south along the beach, if you can. The things I saw south of Tolovana and Cannon Beach were way better than anything I saw in town.
  7. If you don’t have a car and are walking from Cannon Beach to Tolovana, or to anywhere south, DO NOT WALK ON THE ROAD. Walk on the beach if possible! My plan was to walk along the road. Then, we decided to take a bus. Seeing the road from the bus, I am so glad we did not walk along it. It’s a narrow road, and it is pretty hilly and twisty-turny. I would not have felt safe walking along the side of the road there.

I really had the most fantastic vacation while in Cannon Beach. I cannot recommend it as a weekend getaway enough! If you head out to Cannon Beach, I hope you’ll find these tips and tricks helpful.

Exploring Michigan’s Upper Peninsula

For those who don’t know, the Upper Peninsula of Michigan is absolutely magical. It is one of the most beautiful places in the world, and luckily, it’s a hidden gem. Not many people have it on their travel bucket list. But, it absolutely should be on everyone’s bucket list! 

This year, I’ve been fortunate enough to make it up there not once, but twice! It’s about an eight hour drive from the Chicago area, so it’s a bit of a haul, but it is absolutely worth it. I put together an insane itinerary that allowed us to cover 1,463 miles in 4 days this summer. 27 hours in the car. And honestly? The stuff that we did? It made those 27 hours crammed into a car with a seven year old totally worth it. We traversed Northern Wisconsin and the Upper Peninsula. In this post, I’ll specifically be talking about the stuff worth seeing in the Upper Peninsula!

Tahquamenon Falls, Paradise, MI

If I was blown away by this, what must Niagara be like?

Tahquamenon was one of the coolest places we saw! Tahquamenon’s Upper Falls is one of the biggest waterfalls east of the Mississippi. For someone who has never seen Niagara or anything larger, the Upper Falls are quite a sight! This entire trip made me fall in love with waterfalls. Now, I actively seek them out while traveling. 

We visited over a holiday weekend, so the park was PACKED. Have you ever seen a line of cars backed up down the highway because every single one of them was trying to get into a state park? Well, neither had I. Tahquamenon is located off M123, and coming into the park from either direction, the highway was backed up like crazy. We talked to the woman manning the desk when we finally pulled in, and she told us that the day before (the Fourth of July), cars had been backed up over two and a half miles down the highway! She waited almost two hours in the traffic trying to get into work. This illustrates the appeal of this particular State Park. 

Tahquamenon Falls has two parts, the Upper Falls and Lower Falls. Due to time constraints on our trip (1,463 miles in 4 days), we had to skip the Lower Falls. You can walk from the Upper Falls to the Lower Falls, but it’s a pretty long walk. Most people choose to drive over, and unfortunately, the entrance for the Lower Falls was just as crazy, so we opted to skip it and go on to our next stop! The Upper Falls is absolutely amazing, though. The water is an interesting color due to tannins from the cedar swamps that drain into the river. The Upper Falls is affectionately nicknamed, “The Root Beer Falls,” because of the coloring the tannins give it! 

If you’re in the UP, Tahquamenon is definitely a place you’ll want to check out!

A glimpse of the stairs.
Things to Note:
  • Tahquamenon is a State Park, so you will have to pay a $9 admission fee to enter for the day. This park does have a ranger manning the entrance, it is not based on the honesty policy!
  • There are a LOT of stairs to get down to see the best view of the Upper Falls! Be prepared for that. You have to climb down them for the best view, which is nothing. But to get back to your car, you have to climb all the way back up!
  • This place is a tourist attraction. There will likely be crowds no matter when you go!

Lake of the Clouds, Porcupine Mountains, MI

Just over the border from Wisconsin, the Porkies, as they’re called by locals, are also a neat stop! If you’ve seen real mountains like the Rockies, then the Porkies won’t be all that impressive. However, they’re pretty impressive when you consider the fact that this is still the Midwest! The Porkies border Lake Superior, so on your drive up to Lake of the Clouds, a good portion of your drive will be along the lake! 

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This is what your drive up into the Porkies will look like!

Lake of the Clouds was spectacular the first time I saw it. When you get out of the car after driving up the crazy hills to the parking lot, there’s not much to see. A short trail will lead you to a rocky outlook. If you’re not sure what to expect, then the lake will take your breath away. The parking lot doesn’t make it seem like much, but once you get up the trail, it’s a pretty unbelievable sight!

Lake of the Clouds was amazing on my first visit in the beginning of July. It was such a neat stop that I had to go back in the fall to see the changing colors. And man oh man, it was more worth it than I ever could have imagined. Lake of the Clouds is outstanding during summer, but during autumn? It’s a whole different world. Everyone should see it once in their life! 

Things to Note:
  • There is an admission fee. I believe it is $9 per day to get into Michigan State Parks. But, if you are visiting multiple parks in one day, you only have to pay the $9 once!
  • It’s a bit of a steep walk, and if you want the best view, you’ll have to climb over a very uneven rocky area. There is a nicer, level, wooden viewing platform, but if you scramble up the rocks, you’ll get the best view in the house! There is a concrete wall built to prevent anyone from falling/getting injured, but on the whole, the rocky area is a bit of a gamble. I did it in flip-flops the first time and it was not easy. The second time I had boots so it was a much better experience! Also, a lot of the walk through the woods is on wooden pathways. They can get slippery if it’s wet out!

Point Iroquois Lighthouse, MI

A view of the boardwalk in front of the lighthouse, along Lake Superior.

This was another neat last minute stop. Our itinerary did not include this stop, but when we realized that the route to our motel took us right past it, of course we had to stop and check it out.

A view of the lighthouse from the beach.

Point Iroquois Lighthouse is an old lighthouse built in 1871. The lighthouse is no longer a functioning lighthouse, but there is a museum that you can walk through, and you are able to climb the stairs up into the lighthouse itself. It’s also right on the shore of Lake Superior, and you can get some beautiful lakefront views of the lighthouse. You can also see straight across to Canada.

To get to the lighthouse, you can drive the Whitefish Bay Scenic Byway. This is a beautiful stretch of road that follows Lake Superior’s coastline. You can get some killer views from this road alone! 

The narrow winding staircase to the top of the lighthouse.

There is also a really nice boardwalk. You can walk out to the “beach,” and see Lake Superior, Canada, and the lighthouse. There’s not much of a beach, but it’s still nice to see after a long stretch in the car. There is a nice bench to sit on on the boardwalk, too.

A view of the “beach”

This is a great quick pitstop if you’re interested in history. The museum is full of neat information, and it’s always cool to climb up into a lighthouse! 

Things to Note:
  • Point Iroquois Lighthouse is a really interesting stop.
  • One nice thing is that they have a really clean public bathroom. That’s always something good to know.
  • The museum is small, but very informative. They also have a gift shop where you can get little souvenirs.
  • If you’re going to climb into the lighthouse–It is an incredibly narrow spiral staircase. When I say incredibly narrow, I mean, really, really narrow. It’s a tight squeeze, and getting in and out of the actual “lighthouse” area, can be a squish. Especially if there are a lot of people visiting! When you get to the top, the space is tiny. You essentially run up it to check it out, then have to hustle down, especially if other people are wanting to get up there.
  • If you’re looking for the aforementioned public bathrooms, they are not located in the museum/lighthouse. There’s a separate building that has the bathrooms in it.

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Munising, MI

My hastily snapped picture of the “Lover’s Leap” arch that is advertised on their billboards and on the Pure Michigan commercials.

In all honesty, this place was not the magical, astonishing, breathtaking place that I thought it would be. Don’t get me wrong. It’s a cool place, and it’s definitely worth a visit, but from what I saw, I didn’t really understand the hype.

East Channel Lighthouse

We did the Spray Falls Cruise through Pictured Rocks Cruises. As soon as you get into the Upper Peninsula, this place advertises EVERYWHERE. You cannot drive for more than 50 miles without seeing a billboard advertising them. On top of that advertising, you know those Pure Michigan commercials, where you see the pictures of the arch on the water? That’s this place! The arch is called “Lover’s Leap.” When I was planning our trip, it seemed like the thing to do. It looked like it could be a fun outing! It’s also incredibly affordable, as boat cruises go.

The cruise was about 2 hours long. I think that the weather may have contributed to me not loving the cruise. The boats are nothing fancy, and you can either sit inside or outside. We started inside and then later on moved to the top deck! The weather on the day that we went was cloudy and chilly, barely above 60 degrees. The cold Lake Superior air doesn’t help much either. I was cold, and I was bundled up in a sweatshirt and a windbreaker. Keep in mind, we went in July. July. And I needed all those layers to be warm!

The Pictured Rocks were beautiful, but I don’t think that the cruise is necessarily the best way to see them. From what I saw, I think I would’ve enjoyed hiking the Pictured Rocks way more than I enjoyed the cruise! But, if you’re looking for an inexpensive way to see Pictured Rocks quickly, then, in my opinion, the Pictured Rocks cruise is perfect.

The cruise is really awesome if you’re wanting to learn about the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. It’s basically two hours of non-stop information about places you’d never learn about otherwise, such as the East Channel Lighthouse. And Grand Island. I never would have known anything about these two places, much less that they existed, without the Pictured Rocks Cruise, so that’s one neat thing about the cruise!

Things to Note:
  • As I mentioned, the weather is something to watch. We went on Fourth of July weekend, and it was a high of maybe 65 degrees Fahrenheit. Being on Lake Superior on a boat that’s going relatively quickly? You’ll get cold fast! So dress appropriately.
  • You are allowed to bring food and drinks on board (as of July 6, 2019). This is great, especially if you’re doing a cruise at lunchtime. I recommend stopping at Muldoon’s Pasties (literally less than 5 minutes from the docks), and grabbing pasties! They’re a really easy lunch to bring on board. I got a traditional beef pastie (warmed up) with the intent to eat it on board. I had that pastie in my bag for the entire cruise, and just never got around to eating it. We got back to the car, and miraculously, it was still piping hot! So I recommend stopping there, grabbing a bite, and taking it with you for the cruise.
  • If you want really good pictures, get there early. We got there super early and people were already in line. Seating on the boat is first come, first serve. If you sit on the starboard side of the boat, you’ll get to see everything first. If you’re on the port side, you’ll have to wait until the boat is headed back to get pictures and a good view of the cliffs.
  • You WILL get wet if you sit on the top deck. The day we went wasn’t particularly windy, but it’s Lake Superior! It’s the biggest and wildest Great Lake. Waves are inevitable. We were sitting in the middle of the top deck, away from the sides of the boat, and we still got decently sprayed.
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Muldoon’s Pasties

Oswald’s Bear Ranch, Newberry, MI

What a racket! This place must RAKE in the money. Oswald’s charges $20 per car to get into the park, which really is quite affordable, especially if you’re a larger family or group. With the amount of cars that they move in and out of this place, they must make buckets.

A brief description of what exactly Oswald’s is! This sign is mounted on one of the enclosures.

They’re located right next to Tahquamenon. This, I’m sure, increases their business as if you’re already in the area for one, why not do both? And it is a pretty cool stop! It’s like a zoo, but only for black bears.

Oswald’s Bear Ranch has many different enclosures. You can view the female bears, the male bears, and the cubs. They also have a separate enclosure in which you can pay more money (I believe it is $10 per picture) to hold a bear cub. Obviously, this is a big attraction. We opted to skip it because the line was CRAZY. They allow you to feed the bears, which is pretty neat! And the enclosures are really large so you can really see the bears enacting with one another. While we were there, we got to see bear cubs running around, and the adult male black bears were actually fighting. We believe that one had marked ‘his’ territory, and was fighting the other bears who wandered over.

If you’re already at Tahquamenon Falls, or are planning on doing Tahquamenon, why not stop at Oswald’s? It’s a pretty neat place. And how many people can say that they’ve held a bear cub?

Things to Note:
  • As I mentioned, it’s $20 per car to get into the park.
  • The bathroom situation is ~interesting~. I didn’t have to use the bathroom, but the bathrooms, from what I saw of it, and from what the 7 year old told me, are not anything fancy. It’s essentially a shack, and honestly? I’m not sure there is running water. It’s possible, but it definitely did not look like much. It’s very much an outhouse-type set-up. I am very grateful I did not have to go to the bathroom there!
  • The line for holding bear cubs can be crazy long! If that’s something that you’re interested in doing, make sure to plan extra time for that.
  • It involves a lot more walking than you think it will. It really is like a zoo, it’s a pretty big place.
  • This goes along with the walking, but almost the entire place is sand. The parking lot is really dusty as the majority of it is sand. Walking around the bear enclosures? You’ll be walking through sand. And it’s the very fine, soft, dusty kind of sand, which is almost worse because it blows around in the air! Especially in the parking lot with all the cars driving through. I absolutely hate sand, with every fiber of my being, so this was a very unwelcome surprise.

Sault Ste. Marie, MI

The Soo, as it’s called by locals, is one of my favorite places in the world. We had family there for many years, so I’ve been fortunate enough to travel there more than once. The Soo is an interesting place, because it’s on the border of the U.S. and Canada. Actually, there are two cities named Sault Ste. Marie. There is a Canadian Sault Ste. Marie, and a United States Sault Ste. Marie. Both are pretty interesting, but I’ve spent the bulk of my time there on the U.S. side.

In front of the locks they have a really nice park that you can walk around! If you cross the street, that’s where you’ll find downtown and all the food and shops.

The biggest attraction in the Soo is the Soo Locks. These locks are affectionately called “the Linchpin of the Great Lakes” by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, who maintain and oversee the locks. Constructed in the mid-1800s, the Soo Locks connect Lake Superior to Lake Huron via the St. Mary’s River. 

The Soo Locks has a visitors center on the U.S. side of Sault Ste. Marie. You can walk through and learn more about the locks here. There is also a viewing platform where you can walk up and watch the ships go through the locks, which is pretty cool. I recommend stopping for ice cream, and then walking over and eating your ice cream while watching boats pass through!

The guys on the boats are super accommodating if you’re trying to get some neat pictures of the locks! When you’re on the viewing platform, you’re actually close enough to carry on conversation with them.

Another neat place to see in the Soo is the Tower of History. My Uncle took us here once when I was young, and the two things I remember about it are the many, many, MANY, stairs that it took to get to the top, and the AMAZING view you get once you’re up there. You can look right across the St. Mary’s River into Canada. You also get a pretty killer view of the Soo Locks. It’s definitely worth stopping in here, as well. 

Things to Note:
  • If you’re going to be in the Soo, you may as well plan on crossing and going to Canada. It’s so close, you should bring your passport just in case. There is a really cool museum dedicated to the Canadian bushplanes that fight wildfires just across the border.
  • Ice cream! Ice cream in the Soo is a must. We typically stop at Zak’s Candy Haus for our ice cream.
  • If you’re in the UP and you’re close enough to the Soo, just drive there for food. Good food is hard to find when you’re in the middle of nowhere in the UP, but in the Soo, you’ll always find something good!

Bond Falls, Paulding, MI

Bond Falls as seen from the viewing platform at the foot of the falls.

Bond Falls was a totally unexpected gem! I had read briefly on it, hoping to make a stop on our way to my brother’s college visit at Michigan Tech. I didn’t read anything major about it, other than that it was a cool waterfall that happened to be right on our way to the school.

We were planning on doing the Porkies on our way up, and stopping at Bond Falls on the way home. We left our hotel in Rhinelander and awhile later, we’re driving down the road and I see a sign that says, “Bond Falls, next right.” After a quick u-turn and a relatively long drive down a windy road, we made it to Bond Falls!

Another glimpse of Bond Falls from the lower viewing platform.

We got out of the car, and I was shocked to hear the sound of rushing water. From what I’d read, I didn’t think that Bond Falls was anything major, but we could definitely hear the water from the car. It was snowing and super cold when we were there, but it was still a great sight to see.

The viewing area at Bond Falls is really nice. There’s a wooden platform that you can walk and see the falls from all angles, and get some great pictures. You can also walk down to the water. If it’s warmer, you could risk climbing on the rocks and getting some great pics! However, it was cold, and I was not about to chance getting soaked and having to sit in cold wet clothes for 3 hours in the car. Maybe one day I’ll get back there when it’s warm out!

Beyond the viewing area at the base of the falls, you can actually climb up to the top of the falls and see everything from that viewpoint too. It’s really neat. It’s a great pit-stop, especially if you have a seven year old in the car who needs to stretch his legs and get some energy out!

Things to Note:
  • Again, be aware that there is the $9 park fee to get in here. However, this place is not as big of an attraction as say, Tahquamenon or the Porkies, so it is on the honor policy. If you don’t have exactly $9, you’ll have to face the fact that you won’t be getting change! You simply fill out an envelope, put your cash in, and drop it into a locked box.
  • Also, like the Porkies, the wooden viewing platform can be slick if it’s wet when you’re visiting.
  • Finally, if you plan to climb to the top of the falls, know that it’s a harrowing trek. They have concrete steps built into the side of the falls, but the steps are very haphazard. They are not uniform, they are uneven, and they’re very narrow. To top it all off, there is only a railing on one side of the steps. Climbing up isn’t so bad! But when you’re faced with going back down the stairs? It’s a little nerve-wracking. They’re super steep, very uneven, very narrow, and the railing is only on one side. You’ll think you don’t need the railing. But you will. Having said all that: It is absolutely worth it to climb up there! It’s a cool view, and it’s a good way to stretch your legs after a long drive.

Hungarian Falls, Hubbell, MI

Okay. This was our most interesting adventure. We dropped my brother and Mom off for a college visit at Michigan Tech, and headed up to Hungarian Falls. Now this place? This is off the beaten trail. We had a harder time finding these falls than we did finding anything else. And honestly? We didn’t even technically find the falls!

Not even twenty minutes from Houghton, Hungarian Falls seemed like a good, close, waterfall to try to find. Again, it was half snowing, half raining, and freezing out the day that we tried to check these falls out.

I put it into Google Maps, and we tried to find this place. The map brought us to the middle of nowhere. According to Go Waterfalling, a website I check when we visit these northern waterfalls, Hungarian Falls should have a small parking area, and then you have to walk down a gorge to find the falls.

The area we found? It was a teeny road that ended in… Hm, I hesitate to term it a cul-de-sac or a circle. It was more like a small trail dead-ended into a tiny area to turn around. The road we drove down had barely enough room for our mid-size SUV to fit down without getting scratched by branches. Then we got to the “parking area” and there was no pavement or even gravel. It was mud. Did that stop us? No. We were determined.

There were a few trails. Straight wasn’t an option because there was the aforementioned gorge! We chose to walk to the left, and we soon found a larger clearing. We believe that that’s where Google had meant for us to go. It was fairly close to where we had parked, but it was a much larger space and much more suited for the entrance of a “park” or “nature area”. When we walked the short distance and found that clearing, this was the first thing we noticed! This beautiful bridge, surrounded by fall colors.

Isn’t it beautiful?

It was a beautiful walk, despite the temperatures and the weather, but we didn’t see much of anything waterfall-wise. If you looked down over the sides of the bridge, you could see the gorge and water below, but it was really far down into the gorge, and we were not prepared for that kind of a trek.

If my brother chooses Michigan Tech, I’d love to come back and explore it when the weather is better!

Things to Note:
  • In case my experience doesn’t make it clear, this place is HARD to find. Google Maps got us close, but I still think it wasn’t completely accurate. Be prepared to be slightly lost.
  • The gorge is really steep. If you want to climb down and find the falls, I’m not sure the best way to do it. This is definitely no Bond or Tahquamenon Falls, there is no sort of viewing platform that we were able to find, beyond that bridge.
  • There is NOT a fee to see this place. There is virtually nothing out there besides the crumbling buildings. So enjoy this free nature hike!

Why Should You Visit?

Well, if these stunning pictures, places, and stories haven’t convinced you to visit, I don’t know what will. The Upper Peninsula is truly one of my favorite places on Earth. I think it’s criminal that so few people know about the beauty that can be found up there!

Furthermore, this is probably only one quarter of the things that you can find up there. I have a massive Upper Peninsula bucket list, of all the places I want to see, and all the things that I want to do up there one day. If it weren’t so far from Chicago, you can bet that I would be there a lot more frequently! The Upper Peninsula truly has something for everyone. If you’re ever looking to take a trip, consider the UP!


A quick guide to UP terminology and pronunciation:

Yooper – someone who lives in the UP

UP – Upper Peninsula (in case that wasn’t clear)

pastie – pronounced “pass-tee,” a pastie is a Cornish baked pastry that was brought into the Upper Peninsula during the mining boom. They’re traditionally filled with beef, potatoes, rutabaga, and other veggies. But, that’s far from the only ‘flavor’ of pastie you can find. We’ve tried breakfast pasties, pizza pasties, all sorts of different pasties! But the best kind? The original beef and potato. You can’t beat it. Calumet, MI actually holds a pastie festival every year! That’s one of the things on my Michigan bucket list.

The Soo – Sault Ste. Marie!

Sault Ste. Marie – pronunciation: ‘Soo Saint Marie’

How I’m Preparing for My First Trip to Europe

I’m flying to Europe for the first time at the end of this month. I’ve imagined traveling to Europe for basically my whole life, and I still can’t believe that I’m about to be there! When I grew up, we had au pairs. They were a perfect solution for our family, and I can’t imagine not having had them around when we were growing up.

They truly became a part of our family. So much so, that when I saw a great deal for round trip airfare to Frankfurt, Germany, I knew I had to go! I immediately texted one of our old au pairs asking if she would be willing to host me. It’s been nearly ten years since I’ve seen her, and we’ve both grown and changed a lot, but she immediately agreed to have me! So at the end of the month, I will be visiting her, her husband, and their two little boys in Frankfurt, Germany.

The first thing that I do whenever I book a trip is research. I read blog after blog and website after website trying to find as much information as I can about where I’m going, what I can expect, and what I need to do and see while I’m there. This trip is no different. I had 2 important things on my list that I wanted to try to do while in Frankfurt. I wanted to take a trip to Baden-Baden for a spa day, and I wanted to do another day trip to Luxembourg just because it was close and sounded cool! 

I find it always helps to actually write everything out.

I did all my research and was prepared to take a train or a bus from Frankfurt to these places. With less than 3 weeks before my trip, I started looking into getting the train and bus tickets. I don’t know if I waited too long, or if this is normal, but the prices and trip durations that I found have absolutely shocked me. One route that I looked at, from Frankfurt to Strasbourg, was going to take nine hours and fifteen minutes, and it involved three transfers to get there. This is only 280ish kilometers (approximately 150 miles) from Frankfurt. They wanted to charge me 100EUR (more than $100) each way for this ridiculous bus ride. No, thank you!

The route from Wetzlar to Strasbourg.

So, there I was, less than three weeks out, realizing that I needed to rent a car and drive solo in a foreign country. Well, technically 2 foreign countries because I will be driving to Strasbourg for a day trip. I have about 2 weeks to learn everything I can about driving in a foreign country. How am I preparing for this, you ask? The internet! 

Surprisingly, it’s much easier and less expensive for someone under the age of 25 to rent a car in Europe than I would’ve thought. In the past, I’ve looked into renting cars in the States, and there are virtually no rental car companies that will do it. If they do, you’re paying ridiculous rates to rent the car because you’re a “young driver.” The company that I’m going through, Europcar, is one of the biggest car rental companies in Europe, and they’ll rent to people as young as 18. Thanks to my research, I was able to find out that they will not only rent me a car, but they’ll rent me a car with an automatic transmission, which is super important because I can’t drive a stick. I also had to learn how rental car insurance works. Instead of going with insurance through the rental car company, I’ve decided to get insurance from an outside company, Allianz, for better coverage.

Itinerary Planning

Beyond figuring out how I’m going to be getting around in Europe, I’ve also started writing out itineraries and a budget. This is how my 8 day trip looks, as of right now. When I come home, I’ll have to put together an updated itinerary of how it all actually played out.

Day 1: Arrive in Frankfurt. Stay close to the city and check out local attractions.
Day 2: Drive to Luxembourg by way of Trier. Spend the night in Luxembourg!
Day 3: Drive home from Luxembourg, and stop to pick up rental car. Practice driving to get the hang of it.
Day 4: “Rest Day”. Not sure what I’ll be doing today. I’ll probably stay close to Frankfurt to get comfortable driving. Maybe a short drive to Wiesbaden?
Day 5: This is it, the big driving day! Drive from Wetzlar, Germany, to Strasbourg, France. Stop in Heidelberg for lunch and a bit of exploring. Spend the night in Strasbourg.
Day 6: Drive from Strasbourg to Baden-Baden. Wander around Baden-Baden, check out Lichtentaler Allee and Merkur Mountain, and have a spa day at Caracalla. Drive back to Frankfurt.
Day 7: “Rest Day”. Again, I’ll be staying closer to Frankfurt today. I’ll likely drive up to Cologne and check out another German city. Return the rental car by 7p.m.
Day 8: Fly Home!


As a college student, I don’t have a ton of money to blow on a vacation. The biggest reason that I’m going is because I was able to find the airfare for such a reasonable price. Anything beyond that, I do a ton of research to make sure I’m getting the best prices and not spending too much money. Take the rental car insurance. The rental car company wanted me to pay an extra $70 for insurance through them. Their insurance would not cover nearly as much as the alternate insurance that I found for cheaper. Shopping around is super important, it’s how you find the best deals!

As I mentioned, a rental car (even with the young driver fee), is much more reasonable, in my opinion, in Europe than in the U.S. With that said, the rental car is still the biggest chunk of my budget. It’s another $50 for the rental car insurance, which I also think is fairly reasonable. I’d rather pay for it than have something happen and have to pay out of pocket, especially as it will be my first time renting a car, and my first time driving in another country.

Then, I’ve budgeted for my spa day at Caracalla Therme, which is incredibly affordable at $30 for a full day’s access to the bathing pools and sauna areas. It was recommended to me by a friend (thanks, Gussie!). It’ll be my one big “splurge” on the trip. I also set aside money for food and gas. Gas, I’ve learned, costs nearly double in Europe! Yikes.

Beyond that, I’ve also looked into little things I want to do in these places, such as taking the longest funicular railroad in Germany up Merkur Mountain to see the views of the Black Forest, and set aside money for that. In case you’re wondering, a funicular railroad is a train, specifically one on a mountainside, where the train is operated by cables with the ascending and descending cars counterbalanced.

Another thing that I’ve spent some time googling is the parking situations everywhere that I am going. The spa, for example, has a private lot that you need to pay to park in. So does the downtown area of Strasbourg. I have to be cognizant of the fact that parking is not always free, and that I need to have a plan for where I’ll be parking. The other thing I had to account for, when planning my budget, was a cell phone plan.

Initially, I wasn’t planning on getting a cell plan, and was going to rely on Wi-Fi. Once my plans changed to driving solo for nearly 600km, I’ve decided that I need to have a cell plan so that I can have access to things like Google Maps or Waze. And god forbid something goes wrong, I’ll be able to call someone no matter where I am, even if I don’t have Wi-Fi. So that was another important aspect I had to consider when figuring out how much everything was going to cost. Researching ahead of time and knowing how much things cost is the best way to travel, in my opinion.

What I’m Bringing With Me

I’m a notorious overpacker. And this will be the longest vacation I’ve taken in a long time, so I’m all but guaranteed to overpack.

One of the first things I do when planning any vacation is look at the weather averages for that location at the time I’ll be there. In November, Frankfurt’s average high is 48 degrees Fahrenheit. It’s average low is 39 degrees Fahrenheit. It rains, on average, nine days, every November. For December (because I’m traveling at the end of November, I feel it’s necessary to check both months), the weather shows an average high of 42 degrees, and a low of 35 degrees. Knowing this information helps me know what to pack. With this in mind, I have a tentative list of what I’m going to be bringing with me. This list will probably change a lot over the next two weeks, but for now, this is the plan.

  1. Passport – Uh. Duh? I can’t go anywhere without my passport! It is the most important thing for me to bring. Along with my driver’s license and other forms of ID and paperwork.
  2. Portable Charger – I cannot LIVE without this thing. I bought it for my trip to Orlando and it has changed my life. As long as I have this guy, I never have to worry about my phone dying.
  3. Duffel Bag – Because I’m doing two overnights (one in Strasbourg and one in Luxembourg), I think it’s important to bring a smaller duffle bag that I can use on those days.
  4. Car Charger -Now that I’m renting a car, I have to remember to bring a charger for my phone for the car. This way, I can run Google Maps without worrying about running down the battery on my phone. Another thing I might bring is a mount so that I can have the phone up in my line of sight instead of having to glance down at it for directions.
  5. Travel Power Adapter – Wow. Most of the things on my, “I absolutely cannot forget this”- list are electronic related. This stuff is so important because I don’t want to get to Germany and realize I can’t charge anything.
  6. A winter coat, gloves, scarf, and hat – Since the weather is going to be between 30 and 40 degrees while I’m there, winter clothing is important. Especially because I’ll be driving 600 kilometers solo, and if I break down somewhere, I want to make sure to be prepared for anything, weather-wise.
  7. A swim suit for my spa day – Baden-Baden is famous for it’s thermal waters. The spa that I’m going to is one where they require that you wear a swimsuit in the bathing area, so it’s important to remember this! I will also be bringing a pair of flip-flops to wear in the locker rooms and showers at the spa. Along with swimsuits and flip-flops, I also need to research the protocol for towels. Their website is super vague, and as are reviews. I will have to call them and see if you have to bring your own towels in.
  8. 4 pairs of pants – If I’m going to be in Germany for 6 full days, I need plenty of clothes. That six days is not accounting for the days I’ll be traveling. If you add those in, it’s almost 9 days! However, if I pack four pairs of pants, I should have enough to last through the trip. This also doesn’t include the pair that I will be wearing on the plane.
  9. One nice dress – Just in case I end up doing something a bit fancy, I want to be prepared with a cute dress. I’ll bring a pair of tights too, as it will probably be a bit chilly for bare legs!
  10. 8 blouses/tops – Again, packing for redundancy! 8 should be plenty, considering that I’ll need shirts for six full days, plus one day of travel. That leaves me one extra, and if you count the dress I’ll bring, that’s two extra days worth of outfits.
  11. Shoes – Beyond the flip-flops I’m bringing for my spa day, I need to bring a few pairs of sensible shoes, as well. This is where I am least decided on what to bring. It’s incredibly weather-dependent. I think that I’ll probably bring a comfortable pair of heeled booties, and then possibly a pair of sneakers. However, if the weather is snowy, then the heels are out in favor of some more weather-proof shoes.
  12. Treats – So, when Kerstin used to come visit us, she would bring Kinder Eggs, because we couldn’t get the good ones here. I want to return the favor for them! I did a lot of googling, and I’ve found that among the things you can’t get easily in Germany are, Hostess anything, AirHeads, PopTarts, Peeps, Cheetos, and more! So I’m going to pack a bunch of goodies in my suitcase, as their boys have probably never tried many of these things, and she and her husband might enjoy them too.
  13. My Kindle – I’m not entirely sure what the protocol in German spas is. But since I’ll be going alone, if it’s an option, I’d love to bring my Kindle and soak in the pools. Beyond that, if I have my Kindle, I can sit and read in a restaurant instead of sitting on my phone the whole time. Same goes for when I’m in the airport or on the plane. It helps keep me busy and it won’t drain my phone battery. I don’t know where I would be without my Kindle! It comes everywhere with me.

Obviously, this list will be changing as I get closer to going on the trip. The weather for the week may be entirely different than the averages that I’m seeing listed for weather in November. I might need to pack completely different clothes! We’ll see. For now, this is my tentative packing list for Germany.

This is how I have prepared so far! Here’s hoping that with all this prep, my trip will be relatively smooth sailing. Two weeks away and I’ve pretty much nailed down my packing list, my budget, and my itinerary! Is there anything I’ve forgotten or that I need to consider? Let me know in the comments below!

Donut Digest

My first job was at a donut shop. We simply called it, “the donut shop,” despite it having a real name. It was a little mom-and-pop donut shop that was run by a family. I was one of the few employees who was not related to the family in some way. That job taught me a lot about life. But, more importantly, it taught me a lot about donuts.

When I worked at the shop, we had a policy. At the end of the day, if we had, say, 3 dozen or more donuts left over, we would call a church or charitable organization and they could come and collect them for a food pantry-type situation. However, if there were less than 3 dozen donuts left, it wasn’t worth having the church people drive over, as they came from pretty far away. These donuts were either going to be tossed, or they needed to be brought home by somebody. 

Lechon: A whole, roasted pig.

I was raised in a family where you do not waste food. We once ordered lechon for a family gathering and had so much leftover pig. My Auntie almost fainted when we told her that we weren’t going to keep the whole thing. The next thing I know, my little Filipino Auntie is grabbing two big black garbage bags and sliding the pig carcass into them, preparing to shove it into the trunk of her car. She refused to let us waste that food. 

That anecdote is one of many that I could tell on the topic of Filipinos not wasting food. But, not wasting food was something that was instilled in me from a young age. So the thought of dozens of donuts being tossed out each day? It was preposterous! Naturally, I brought them home pretty much every time it happened on my shift. My family had so many donuts in the year and a half that I worked there that I’m surprised anyone still has a stomach for them! Beyond that, we were allowed to eat the donuts (to an extent), while we worked. If we worked a morning shift, we could help ourselves to breakfast. If we worked a lunch shift, it meant donuts for lunch!

Because of this experience, I consider myself a donut connoisseur. I’ve tried so many different flavors of donuts, you wouldn’t believe me if I told you them all! I was on a trip earlier this year, and I realized, I tend to go get a donut whenever I’m traveling. I just gravitate towards donut shops, I guess. Then and there, I decided that that was going to be my goal. I want to try a donut from a mom-and-pop donut shop in each state, and beyond that, anywhere I go where they make donuts! 

I tossed this idea out to my Mame, who I was with at the time, and she said, “Well, why don’t you write about each donut you try?” I brushed the idea off, because writing about my travels online was not anything I was considering at the time. Lo and behold, a month and a half later, here I am, starting my Donut Digest. 

This compendium of donuts will consist of where I tried the donuts and a ranking of the donut shop on a scale from 1 to 10. As I try new donuts, I’ll update the Digest!

Best of the Best

Pinkbox Doughnuts – Las Vegas, NV

According to their website, Pinkbox was cited as the Best in Las Vegas in both 2017 and 2018. Pinkbox absolutely blew me away the first time I tried them, and honestly? They might be my number one donut shop of all time. When I go to Vegas, it’s one of the first places that I know I need to stop at!

Pinkbox is a bit different than a normal donut shop. When you walk in, they do have the typical donut shop display case. But, instead of the employees grabbing donuts out of the glass display cases, they only have one or two donuts on display. The rest of the donuts are stored on baking racks, and the employees grab them straight off of the racks instead of out of the display cases. As someone who frequents donut shops, I’d never seen a setup quite like that before and found it interesting! 

Pinkbox does one of the best cronuts I’ve ever had. I’ve come to realize that many people do not know what a cronut is! I guess it’s something you only really know about if you’re very much enamored with donuts, as I am. A cronut is, you guessed it, a mix between a croissant and a donut! A.K.A. Heaven on earth! They’re probably one of my favorite foods. Pinkbox really outdoes themselves with their cronut, or, as they call it, a DoughCro. They also do really fun, cutesy donuts that are totally instagrammable! The first time I stopped there, I got a red velvet unicorn. The second time? It was a poop emoji donut! 

Pinkbox, in my opinion, is the best of the best. If you ever stop in, you definitely need to grab a DoughCro! 

Donut Digest Rating: 8 out of 10!

The Farmhouse Donuts and Decor- Sarasota, FL

You just read me raving about the DoughCro at Pinkbox. Honestly, I thought that nothing would ever top that cronut. Until I spontaneously stopped into a tiny, just opened donut shop in Sarasota, FL. My Mame and I were driving down the road and I spotted a pretty banner on the side of a building advertising a newly opened donut shop. I immediately said, “OOH what’s that?” We both decided to check it out on our way back from lunch we were headed to. I am so glad we did. I have DREAMS about those donuts.

This place was super neat! There are 3 locations, one in Sarasota, one in Bradenton, and then one in Georgia! They sell custom and pre-made furniture, all of which is gorgeous! And they make donuts and sell coffee and other foods as well. 

When you walk in, you grab a “menu”. Their menu is a piece of paper on which you can check off which donuts, drinks, or food items you want. Then, you bring it up to the counter and place your order. There were so many options that we had to try multiple donuts each despite being stuffed from lunch!

We decided to do a mini of the “Farmer’s Sugar Toast,” which was a donut topped with cinnamon sugar, maple, and marshmallow drizzle. It was out of this world. We also got a “Sweet Squealing Pig,” which was a maple, bacon, and salt donut! I’m not a huge maple bacon person (shocking, right?), but this one was pretty dang delicious! But, the pièce de résistance was the cronut. 

Oh my LORD. This was the best cronut I’ve ever had, and I’ve tried many cronuts. They brought it out warmed up and covered in warm glaze, and I think I died and went to heaven. 

Overall, this place ranks WAY up there on my list of best donut shops in the country! I cannot imagine a single donut tasting badly from this place! And the whole shop is adorable, with all of the furniture that they constructed on display. If you’re ever in Clayton, Georgia, or Sarasota or Bradenton, FL, it’s absolutely worth your time to stop in!

Donut Digest Rating: 9 out of 10.

NOLA Doughnuts – Portland, OR

Last year, I tried Blue Star Donuts in Portland, and was quite honestly a bit disappointed by them. They’ll be briefly mentioned in the Digest, but their donuts don’t warrant a lengthy mention. This year, I needed to try something new, and I stumbled across NOLA Doughnuts.

NOLA Doughnuts is located pretty much next door to Powell’s! If you’re visiting Portland, chances are you’re planning a trip to Powell’s. And if that’s the case, why not stop in at NOLA?! It’s a slippery slope, I’ll tell ya. 

I wasn’t really hungry, yet I found myself devouring every bit of the entirely too much food that I ordered. Now, I’ve never been to New Orleans or had a proper beignet. NOLA Doughnuts claims to be authentic because they’re run by siblings born and raised in New Orleans. I can’t speak for how authentic they are, but I can vouch for how delicious they are! 

While they do sell traditional beignets, I was drawn to their “specialty” item, which is the La’ssant. According to their website, a La’ssant is a square doughnut with “great complexity of flavor, a deep richness, and a delicate, crisp outer layer.” And you know what? Every word of that description rings true. I was drawn to the S’mores La’ssant, although I’m not a huge s’mores person typically. It definitely was the right call. It was covered in chocolate ganache, topped with marshmallow fluff that was somehow still melty, and a graham cracker cookie butter. It was one of the best things I’ve ever eaten. Holy smokes. 

On top of that, I got a few Doughnut Bites, which were also fantastic! They weren’t too sweet, and they were the perfect size for a quick snack. You’ve heard me going on about my love for cronuts, but I think I have a new love for La’ssants. They’re both so delicious.

If you’re in Portland, you have to make some time to stop in at NOLA!

Donut Digest Rating: 9 out of 10

Daily Dozen Doughnut Company – Seattle, WA

Daily Dozen is located in Pike Place Market. I do a ton of research before I go anywhere. I always have a plan. My plans for the day that I arrived in Seattle had me dropping off my bags, and heading straight to Pike Place for a stop at Daily Dozen. But when I got to Pike Place Market, I wandered for a good half hour before I laid eyes on Daily Dozen! It’s a bit hidden. 

When you walk into the main entrance of Pike Place, instead of walking towards your right, towards the flowers, you need to go LEFT, past the Pike Place Fish Co., then hook another left almost immediately. It will then be on your left hand side. It’s very disorienting to try and find if you’ve never been to Pike Place and you’re busy trying to see all that there is to see!

Daily Dozen is cash only. I knew that going in because of my extensive online research! There was virtually no line when I went, and I got a half a dozen, assorted. This place had ridiculously good Yelp reviews, and basically everywhere I looked online said that it was the place to stop while in Seattle.

As a donut connoisseur though, I was disappointed. The only one that stood out to me was the cinnamon sugar donut. If I ever went back, I would get a half dozen JUST cinnamon sugar. 

I just wasn’t impressed with it overall! The sprinkle and powdered sugar donuts were dry. And they made a mess. If you’re a person who hates messy food, like I am, then you will not love this place. You order your donuts, and they grab a brown paper lunch bag. Then, they throw in plain fried donuts (if you’ve ordered cinnamon sugar), and take a big shaker and shake the cinnamon sugar right into your bag. Essentially “making”  the donuts in front of you. The powdered sugar and sprinkle are already made and then thrown haphazardly into the bag, too. It’s pretty messy to try and eat, and I wasn’t really a fan of it.

Another thing to note about Daily Dozen is that there is VERY limited seating! So just be aware of that if you stop in. Would I go back? Yes. But I would only get the cinnamon sugar! Those were the one redeeming quality of this place! 

Donut Digest Rating: 6 out of 10. 

Doughnut Vault – Chicago, IL
As you can see in this image, the Doughnut Vault on Canal is so cute!

Time for some bias. Chicago has a GREAT donut scene. Two Chicago donut shops are making my “Best of the Best” list! Doughnut Vault has two locations, but I’ve personally only stopped in at one of them. One location on Canal, and one on Franklin. I’ve had Doughnut Vault many times, and it’s always delicious! 

The location that I’ve been to, Canal Vault, is super cute and instagrammable! The donuts are a bit pricey, like all the food in Chicago is, but they’re delicious! The best days at work are the days when someone brings in a box from Doughnut Vault! Someone actually brought in a box this morning, and it made my whole day. It’s also nice because the Canal location is located right on my walk to work. Well worth a stop if you’re in the city.

Donut Digest Rating: 8 out of 10

Firecakes – Chicago, IL

Firecakes was one of the first Chicago donut chains that I tried. After I had them once, I was hooked. It was lucky that they weren’t easy for me to get to, it was a pain to walk up to their location, and it was annoying to take the train such a short distance. So I rarely got them. 

Fate intervened. They opened a Firecakes location TWO BLOCKS from my office. And I got to eat them more often! 

Firecakes does an amazing raised (yeast) donut. They use Valrhona chocolate on their donuts, and if you’ve never had that, it’s life-changing. It’s actually an item on my Christmas wishlist this year, because although I think it’s ridiculous to pay $13 for a thing of cocoa powder, I won’t stop someone else from buying it for me! The Valrhona chocolate donut is one of the best things I’ve ever tasted, and everything else from Firecakes is amazing as well! 

Donut Digest Rating: 8 out of 10

Honorable Mentions

Blue Star Donut – Portland, OR

Donut Digest Rating: 4 out of 10

Voodoo Doughnut – I’ve seen them in Portland and Orlando!

Donut Digest Rating: 5 out of 10 

Stan’s Donuts – Chicago, IL

Donut Digest Rating: 7 out of 10

Do-Rite Donuts – Chicago, IL

Donut Digest Rating: 7 out of 10

If you have suggestions for doughnuts or doughnut shops that I need to try, I would love to hear them! Drop a line here!