10 Days in Guatemala – Adventure, Culture, and Affordable Luxury (Jan 2023)

Between Marjorie and I, we’ve almost been to all of the central American countries (we’re gonna get to you eventually, Panama!) and right now we can easily say that Guatemala tops the list. If you’ve been eyeing this country as a potential destination, don’t sleep on it. We had such a fantastic experience!

We made three stops while there – Lago Atitlan, Antigua, and Paredon. We highly recommend them all!

Lago Atitlan

Day 1 – Travel to Guatemala – Lake Atitlan and Casa del Mundo

Anytime you travel, there’s always an interesting debate on whether you stay in the city you arrive in, or continue an already long travel day to make it that much longer. We opted for longer, since notoriously Guatemala City is more of a means to an end. Is there something valuable in the capital city? No idea. We only saw the airport, the traffic (so much traffic), and then we were on our way.

We both arrived in Guatemala City shortly after noon. We knew we wanted to go straight to Lake Atitlan so we arranged for a private shuttle to pick us up from the airport. It’s not a short drive (2+ hours) and the shuttle wasn’t cheap ($120 USD total). But it was convenient and dropped us off in the main city of Panajachel (Pana) at Lake Atitlan. This is essentially your only way in or out of the Lake Atitlan area by car – all of the little towns connect by boat.

commuter boat

We found our way to the boat shuttle and they were able to take us directly to the dock for our hotel, Casa del Mundo. Be warned – anytime you are taking a boat from Pana, you’ll be waiting. While all the other locations seemed to be constantly moving, these is the “origin” spot and they’ll basically wait until the boat is completely full until taking off. We easily sat for 15-20 minutes each time we boarded in Pana.

But once you are moving, it goes quickly. I was personally surprised by just how big the lake was and how bumpy it could get, especially in the evenings. If you are a motion sick person like me, make sure to pack extra Dramamine. I took one every day I was there.

That being said – it’s absolutely beautiful and pulling up to the self-proclaimed “magical” Casa de Mundo was… well… magical. There are a lot of establishments around the lake but let me tell you this place is 100000% worth the hype.

Reception at Casa Del Mundo

We spent a total of four nights here and the staff and service was impeccable. The grounds were so much fun to explore with a seemingly infinite amount of cozy beautiful nooks and crannies. But – the stairs here are no. joke. I’ve never felt so out of shape in my life. Our room was beautiful but toward the top of the mountain (yes, mountain) and I was absolutely fighting for my life by the time we got to the door, every time.

One out of six flights to get to our room

But then we had this view. So… yeah, it was worth it.

View from our private patio

And let’s not forget that Casa del Mundo has an incredible restaurant. The Lake Atitlan area has lots of little towns – emphasis on little. You aren’t going to find a ton of restaurant options outside of Pana – and you pretty much have to be back to your home-town by dark because the boats stop running. So Casa del Mundo was where we ate all of our breakfast and dinners and we never got sick of it.

Day 2San Juan and San Pedro

Our first stop was ultimately our favorite of all the little towns around Lake Atitlan. We got up and took the boat over to San Juan – the “artsy” village on the lake. Right when you get off the boat you immediately walk up a road lined with art galleries, food, and souvenir shops. You have the umbrellas all over it -it’s an Instagram dream.

Main street of San Juan

We stopped in the very first art gallery we found (and all those thereafter) but the first one ended up also being our winner. The owner, Senor Gonzalez, was truly painting and while you’ll find a lot of repeat designs throughout the town, you can feel confident they are hand painted. He explained that there are many lessons and schools in the town and as the students are learning they essentially all make the same prints. Likewise most artists get into a groove of style and roll with it – it’s not just “art” but also a living so they figure out what sells and it works. I fell in love with a painting and was able to purchase it, have it rolled up, and carried it with me through the rest of Guatemala.

Packing up my painting

San Juan was a lovely town to bop around in with a few good spots for photos. We stopped at Maja Bistro to get a drink (blended mint lemonade!) before wandering a little more and deciding to use our sore legs to get to an absolutely breathtaking viewpoint at Mirador Kiaq’Aiswaan. It’s worth the cost (about $10 each for foreigners) and stairs, I promise.

Observation deck in San Juan

We spent ample time enjoying life before walking back down and grabbing a tuk-tuk to head over to San Pedro. Not every location is connected by roads but the places that are means it’s very easy to get a cheap ride in a little tricycle motorbike.

Our first tuk-tuk ride

We had ours plop us in the middle of town and then we found lunch at Sababa restaurant. The food was good with an excellent view – though the only table they had left put me absolutely roasting in the sun. Still, I’ll do anything for a good outdoor view.

From there we headed back to Casa del Mundo for some rest. If you travel to the Lake in winter you’ll find you often have early nights – the boats don’t run long after dark and if you aren’t home by then, then you aren’t getting home. We found ourselves eating every dinner at the Casa and we weren’t mad about it at all.

Day 3Santa Cruz, Santa Catalina, and San Antonio

Beginning of the walking path to Santa Cruz

If you stay at the Casa del Mundo, there’s a lovely little walking path you can take to Santa Cruz. So we climbed even higher than our room (brutal) and then the path led us directly there – but only halfway up the nearly vertical town. Quads burning, we made it to the Cafe Sabor Cruceno for breakfast. It’s a culinary school with a cute little gift shop and it was nice to support the non-profit. It also has amazing views, though when we were there it was very overcast. Still, well worth the stop (honestly, one of the only places in Santa Cruz!) if you are going to visit this town.

View from Cafe Sabor

Walking all the way down to the dock was killer on the knees, but it’s the only way to get out of there, other than the way we came. So we took a boat over to Pana where we then waited until we could go one to explore two other teeny towns – Santa Catarina and San Antonio. We stopped first at Santa Catarina due to the way the boats were landing. Honestly, we didn’t find anything to “do” there at all – but I personally really enjoyed seeing it. It’s a vibrantly colored town, heavy on blue, and around every corner you could find some beautiful murals.

the beauty of Santa Catarina

It’s a maze of narrow stairways and we had to ask for directions to find an actual road. We were probably wandering through people’s backyards but no one seemed to mind. We eventually made it to the top and had an incredible view.

Overlooking Santa Catarina

We flagged down a tuk-tuk to take us to San Antonio, the tiny town known for its blue pottery. He dropped us at a pottery workshop where we purchased a couple pieces and then they kindly took us to the back rooms so we could see the different parts of the process. The pottery is unique in design but also due to it’s clay – as you might expect in such a volcanic area it’s special in it’s own right and apparently it’s great to work with.

Part of the pottery workshop

We spent some more time wandering a town that is thoroughly not meant for tourists before taking a long tuk-tuk back to Pana. We grabbed lunch at The Little Spoon (delicious with a rooftop!) before heading back for an afternoon and evening reading and enjoying the space at Casa del Mundo.

Day 4Lunch with a Local

Pre-trip we had booked a Kayak Hike that was cancelled last minute (honestly, we didn’t have a great communication history with Ox Expeditions. They might be great, but I’d shop around if you are thinking of using them). So instead we found a cultural experience that was really memorable. While not perfectly coordinated, we did meet up with a lovely local woman in Santa Cruz and battled that dang mountain again to find ourselves in her kitchen. She showed us how to made a traditional lunch over her woodburning stove.

Cultural excursion

We provided minimal help but she was kind and listened to our chatter. She then showed us, and allowed us to try our hand at, two of the weaving styles. Our Spanish dialects didn’t work well together – she mostly seemed to speak a more local dialect/language entirely – so we only spoke high level but she was so kind and it was a lovely glimpse into her life and supported the Mujeres de La Luna non-profit.

showing us one weaving style
trying another weaving style

After that, we really just spent the rest of our time at the hotel. It may seem boring, but Casa del Mundo is a destination in of itself. We did take a very short walk (5 minutes) over to the docks at Jaibalito and grabbed a snack at El Indigo Bistro just to move around a bit. (It was fine, but not great). But it was a truly pleasant last night at the Lake.

Relaxing at Casa del Mundo

If you are planning your time here, this was perfect and perhaps even a smidge long to spend there. Totally depends on your pacing. If you want to take it slow then 4 nights is *chefs kiss*. But if you need a little more excitement you might want to plan an extra excursion or one less night. That being said, most of our time there was overcast until our final day so I highly recommend you give yourself plenty of down time because you can’t depend on the weather – and the views are essential.

Lago Atitlan

Day 5 – Travel to Antigua

This was our day with the biggest snafu that wasn’t really an issue at all. We started off slow with breakfast and then got all checked out and down to the boats. They took us to Pana where we then grabbed a tuk-tuk to Crossroads. I picked up some really great coffee beans so I recommend this place for coffee but not for wifi, given they had none. That had been part of our plan because we had heard that instead of getting a shuttle, we could likely call an Uber to Antigua. It’s a long trip so we weren’t sure it was going to work but decided to give it a try anyway.

Not surprisingly we weren’t able to get on after all so we ended up taking a tuk-tuk back to the tour agencies and had to wait around a little for a shuttle. It worked out fine though we did waste an hour or so in the waiting. Still – in no time we were in what was practically a private van (just one other couple) and heading our way to Antigua.

Our driver was great and ended up giving us tidbits about the area we were driving through. Guatemala is very agricultural and we saw some amazing crops. Broccoli was being harvested at the time and there were piles everywhere.

Iconic Antigua

We eventually made it into the hustle of Antigua and in a flurry of activity we checked into our hotel and then power walked to get to the free walking tour for the day. You know me – I love making my first activity a walking tour to set the ground work and this one did just that. Antigua is quite small and we quickly were shown a number of the best sites, along with recommendations of what to go back to. I wouldn’t say it was the best tour I’ve had but he didn’t steer us wrong on any of the places we went back to.

Free walking tour

Our first dinner was at Angie’s Cafe – a truly beautiful spot with decent food . They do have live music, though not while we were there.

Angie Angie Art Cafe

Day 6 – Explore Antigua and hiking Volcan Pacaya

Our hotel gave us breakfast tickets to Fernando’s Kaffee – unfortunately while we were at this hotel so was a massive group that was here for some kind of service trip and they had completely taken over the cute place. It’s worth enjoying though there are lots of places in Antigua to get coffee and breakfast so we did spread the love.

Streets of Antigua

We decided to take a nice walk through the streets and then up the path to what was supposed to be a beautiful look out at Cerro de la Cruz – only to find it completely blocked off with construction at the time (WHY they couldn’t put a sign at the bottom, my thighs will never forgive). It would totally be worth it, once the construction is done.

What a view!

We then took our obligatory arch pictures, stopped at the world’s prettiest Starbucks (just for a photo op, obvs) and grabbed a smoothie at Y Tu Pina Tambien.


We did pay to see the Cathedral de San Jose ruins which was a nice spot before heading to eat at Rainbow Cafe (tasty!) and back to our hotel to get ready for our trip up the volcano!


If you research volcano hikes in Guatemala, the most common one you’ll hear about is Acatenango. It’s supposed to be amazing, but we opted for Pacaya – known to be an easier and shorter hike. We weren’t prepared to do more than one night in a tent and the timing worked really well.

We did our tour with Old Town Outfitters and I can’t recommend them enough.

Our amazing crew!

We did the overnight tour which I highly recommend. The high was strenuous without being too difficult and our guides were amazing. Leaving at 2pm, we made it to the top of the mountain just a little ahead of sunset. We had absolutely perfect views and were able to see all the volcanos in the distance as well as the one right next to us.

We were rewarded with a roaring fire, with marshmallows to roast, and a delicious camp cooked meal. They pulled out all the stops. It wasn’t supposed to be a private tour but no one else showed up – while that meant we didn’t get a reduction on our sliding-scale pay, it did mean a private tour.

I ended up having a touch of altitude sickness so my night in a tent wasn’t the greatest experience but that was definitely no fault of out guides (in fact, our guide took my pack when I was having trouble catching my breath on the way up – he was seriously SO kind).

Day 7 – Hiking down from Pacaya, Antigua Exploration

In the morning we didn’t get to see any pre-dawn lava flow because it was way too foggy. We were totally engulfed in the clouds which was honestly cool in of itself.

It was definitely a major life highlight. How often can you say you’ve camped on a volcano? It was beautiful, unique, and just the right amount of exertion.

Post hike they dropped us off at our hotel where we tidied up and then grabbed an Uber out to the Valhalla macadamia farm.

Macadamia nuts set to dry

I had been looking forward to this for forever and it didn’t disappoint. It was a small, beautiful spot where they walked us around and gave key insights on how macadamia nuts are grown/farmed. There is a restaurant on site that served lots of delicious options. We got a free mini facial which felt amazing and bought great souvenirs with macadamia nut oil (soaps, etc). It was so fun and unique and a very easy ride from Antigua. Highly recommend.

Macadamia Nut White Chocolate Pancakes!

We did a little bit more walking, grabbed some ice cream at Glacy (I personally found it way too sweet, but Marjorie didn’t mind hers) and then crepes at at well recommended place, Luna de Miel, that we were not impresed with. Then made an early night of it.

Antigua at night

Day 8 – Travel to Paredon

Breakfast on the square at Cafe Condesa was tasty and then we decided to take advantage of our last morning in Antigua and toured the ruins at Convento Santa Clara . They were beautiful and we did opt to get a quick tour from one of the guides on site. He gave us tidbits we never would have realized on our own, it was worth the extra quetzales for his time.

Convento Santa Clara ruins

Then it was back to the hotel to check out and then we started anther attempt at using Uber. It ended up working out, though to be honest I’m not sure how. But it saved us a ton of money when we found a guy willing to drive us the 2 hours to the coast. If you can find an Uber, go for it, but there’s definitely shuttles that will also make the trip.

It was a long and beautiful drive but eventually we pulled up to Swell on a sandy road. From there we started out last couple of days of beachy paradise.

Our amazing space

Day 9 – Beach

Honestly, did we do anything on our first full day at Paredon? We really didn’t. The day was hot, the sun was out, and we spent hours by the pool.

Pool perfection

We ate all of our meals at the restaurant at Swell which was super tasty as well as diverse enough that we still hadn’t tried everything after three days. Other than our outdoor shower not being nearly warm enough, it was absolute paradise.

Like every other person in Paredon, we headed to the beach each evening to watch the sunset over the water with our beverage of choice. For me, the local beer, Gallo, was a great beach drink.

Paredon beach

Day 10 – More Beach and Chula Tours

We decided we couldn’t spend two entire days lounging, so we did book a fun tour with the local non-profit, Chula Tours. They had multiple options and we ended up going on the Turtle Tour. A local fisherman took us along to see giant turtles popping up out of the water.

Boat tour

We skimmed along the mangroves, which I always love. And the highlight of the tour in my opinion, we stopped by a salt farm. It was a very quick pitstop but it was so interesting to see how they harvested pure sea salt. We even bought some direct from the source (ask me sometime about that story, cultural worlds colliding led to hilarity). It was a delight to learn something new.

Salt farm!

Even if you are not a surfer, Paredon was an amazing low key spot. I would highly recommend Swell to stay for a few days- the combo of comfort at the pool with the black sand beach only steps away was the perfect way for us to end our trip.

Last sunset at Paredon

Day 11 – Travel Home

Our afternoon flight meant we had time to grab breakfast right when they started serving it and then head out. We did have to arrange for a private shuttle. Regular shuttles to Guatemala City don’t really exist and besides we were leaving too early.

It’s a long drive with a significant portion of it sitting in bumper to bumper traffic in Guatemala City. Definitely listen to the local on how much time you’ll need – we had plenty but it definitely took us longer than we anticipated because traffic is always dense.

Then we were off! With another fantastic trip in the books.

Short List of Recommendations

Lago Atitlan – Casa Del Mundo – I cannot recommend this place more! Amazing.
Antigua – Hotel Posada La Merced – we booked via Airbnb for this. It’s pretty barebones but the staff was so kind! Perfectly affordable since we left it empty one night when we hiked the volcano.
Paredon – Swell – Perfection.

Lago Atitlan: Santa Cruz – Cafe Sabor, Pana – Crossroads (coffee only), The Little Spoon
Antigua – Angie Angie, Fernando’s Kaffee, Y Tu Pina Tambien, Rainbow Cafe

Santa Cruz – Mujers de la Luna
Antigua – Valhalla Macadamia Farm, Pacaya Hike with Old Town Outfitters
Paredon – Chula Tours

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Berlin to Copenhagen in 9 days – Summer 2022

When you finally get to take the trip that COVID disrupted – this was originally fully booked for Aug 2020 – it feels just that much more special. Add in that I got to check off a bucket list item (traveling in Germany with Sam!) and this trip through Germany and Denmark was definitely a keeper.

In just 9 days we saw incredible spots in 4 cities and 2 countries – all connected by easy train rides!

If you want to hit the highlights of Northern Germany with a dash of Denmark this was a really fun and quick itinerary with no back tracking!

Day 1 – Travel and Arrival in Germany

After an 8+ hour overnight flight to Munich, with then a transfer to Berlin, we were finally on the ground in Germany. It was a Herculean effort and when we got there we were wrecked. We stayed at Hotel Zoe which was a solid choice. Walkable to a few areas and multiple train stops (though not often the trains we really needed). Despite it being SO HOT in Berlin this year, the heat wasn’t unbearable despite the lack of air conditioning at the hotel.

Given how exhausted we were, we chose to do a river boat tour and it was the perfect way to “do” something on our first night without really doing anything. We grabbed a beer and laid back to relax. If you can plan it out, you should reserve your tickets ahead in the summer. We almost didn’t get a spot when we stood in line last minute – our only saving grace was some impending rain!

Getting off the boat it was still far too early to go to sleep but so we hoofed it to Brauhaus Das Lemke where we wasted no time getting another beer and our first currywurst in Germany. The outdoor space was absolutely delightful even in the oppressive heat and, while maybe not the most “standard” currywurst I’ve ever had, it was very tasty. Definitely find time to enjoy this space.

Then, being the party animals we are, we went back to the hotel and fell asleep for 12 hours. No regrets.

Day 2 – Exploring Berlin

Just down the street from Hotel Zoe is Cafe Latrio. We were able to grab breakfast there and it was quite good. They even had a couple of sidewalk tables for us to use to enjoy the quiet street. The whole area was under construction at the time so I’m not sure if it’s always so quiet but for us it was really nice.

Then we decided to take a walk! We planned to do a walking tour later but knew it wasn’t going to make it to the Brandenburg Gate and the Tiergarten so we kicked that off ourselves in the morning. It was a hike from our place but worth it instead of doing a train transfer and to just see more of the city. Walking around Berlin is so easy and I highly recommend it.

After that we took the Berlin Street Art Alternative Tour. I won’t list it here because, honestly, I wouldn’t recommend it at all. Maybe it was out guide but it wasn’t very engaging and while we did see some cool spots I didn’t necessarily get much from the “tour” – we also missed a few of the more iconic street art spots so I feel like it would be easier/better to just map out what you want to see on your own.

We then made our way to the Holocaust Memorial and Museum. This was something I wanted to make sure I prioritized and, while I’m glad I went, it wasn’t the most emotional memorial I’ve seen. I didn’t feel the impact of the grave-like structures outside and the interior was designed to inform people of the Holocaust as if they had never learned about it before. This wasn’t the case for me, so only a few tidbits stood out as being interesting. If you don’t know much then absolutely go and learn about it but if you already have a good understanding it might not be worth your time.

After that we went to eat and drink and ended up at a super cute beer garden called Schleusenkrug. Americans could liken it to a fancy concessions stand. You sit at long picnic tables and order at the stand. You can view the locks of the river and generally just enjoy a beautiful summer day. I did accidentally buy a bowl of boiled pale sausages floating in water (our German language is very lacking and this was not a tourist destination so English was minimal from the staff) but, as always, the beer was good.

We took a break for a bit at the hotel and then headed back out to view the Berlin Wall Memorial. I found this incredibly fascinating and think they did a really good job of telling the reality of the recent past. Highly recommend stopping by this open air exhibit.

Marking a portion of the Berlin Wall

You’ll be shocked to hear that we rounded out our day with more beer at Eshenbrau in the Wedding neighborhood. This place is super tucked away – we thought we were for SURE going the wrong direction – but once you find it, it’s a beautiful oasis. So much fun. They technically have food there, ultra thin pizzas that seemed to be served on a crust made like a saltine cracker, but the beer was the main attraction.

Day 3 – Last bit of Berlin -> Travel to Hamburg

We started off our final day in Berlin by getting hopelessly lost on the train. I’m usually really good with train directions but for some reason Berlin really confused me – I think it’s because their subway and regional lines use a lot of the same stops and – operating old school with maps because we were being stingy and cheap with our phone data – made it hard to understand what connected where.

We hit up Checkpoint Charlie which is just as disappointing as everyone says it is. Definitely skip. But we saw that because we were intentionally trying to see a long portion of the Berlin Wall still intact nearby – that was super interesting and well worth walking past.

We enjoyed breakfast at this Backerei which was tasty with good outdoor seating and then even stopped at this really cute courtyard near the Hotel Zoe which was a good location for coffee (Röststätte Berlin) and souvenirs.

Gem of a courtyard area with lots of shops

Then it was time to check out and we made our way to the train station for our trip to Hamburg! The train was fast and easy and we conveniently stayed at the Reichshof Hamburg right across the street from the train station. This was honestly a much nicer hotel than I anticipated. If you are doing train travel it’s very convenient and also a good place to kick off walking around the town.

We met with our old friend, Sam, who has been living in Flensburg -she played pseudo tour guide and we hit up all the best places on another scorching day. Hamburg is a truly beautiful city to just walk around and explore. I do highly recommend you take the time to go up – and below – St. Nikolai though. The small museum underground is really well done and hard hitting.

View at the top of St. Nikolai

We enjoyed a truly lovely meal outside at Frau Möller, highly recommend. And just walking along that road in such a trendy area was a delight.

Day 4 – Explore Hamburg – > Travel to Flensburg

We started our morning with a nice long walk along the waterfront – Hamburg is gorgeous. We had a limited amount of time and Eric was convinced he couldn’t leave the city without the famed fish sandwich (Fischbrotchen) – so – fish for breakfast! There’s a bunch of options but Brucke 10 did not disappoint. It was the perfect spot to sit and watch the water. I myself had a coffee at 9am, thank you very much.

We made it back to the hotel in time to check out and then headed straight for the midday train to Flensburg. This town would have NEVER been on our radar if this trip weren’t doubling as a reunion. And as much as I enjoyed the other cities in our trip, Flensburg was hands down my favorite. If you have the opportunity to visit, I highly recommend. Even without your own personal guide, it would be a delight to discover.

Flensburg is a little university town where our friend Sam has lived for a number of years now and it’s the perfect mixture of laid back and small, but because of the harbor and university there’s plenty of activity and shopping too. It’s the perfect stop over on the way up to Copenhagen and well worth at least a night (honestly, two was perfect!).

We stayed at Sam’s apartment while we were there so I have accommodation recommendations. Our days were filled with amazing food (don’t forget to grab a Doner!), incredible conversation, and some good old fashioned walking and sightseeing. Flensburg is a dream and I cannot wait to go back someday. Our first night we enjoyed a snack and beer at the Flensburg Beach Club – there’s a whole line of fun restaurants right on the boardwalk and this one was a great spot to sit and watch the sunset and goings-on.

Day 5 – Glucksburg Castle + Exploring Flensburg

In the morning we hopped the ferry to the Glucksburg Castle. It’s a really fun and easy 45 minute ride with coffee available on the boat. Pro tip: Stop at Migge’s Danish Bakery before you get on the ferry – their pastries are top notch and cheaper than ferry food! Once you’re on this small island there’s a lovely walking path to get to the castle for some cute pictures.

Back in Flensburg for lunch where we stopped at HafenLiebe and had another currywurst (because, GERMANY) and make sure to get our bottles that plopped! This part is an absolute must. Flensburg has their own style beer bottles that make a lovely little popping noise when you open them. And the beer isn’t half bad either! I recommend the Radler style since that’s a very uniquely German beer + juice mix.

Photo evidence of the Flensburg beer bottle

Flensburg is such a truly beautiful little city. From the shopping areas, to streets full of flowers on cute houses. I highly recommend taking at least a day or two so you can slow down and just spend some time wandering these streets.

There are so many hidden courtyards with cute, fantastical items.

Another supper recommendation is this little fixed menu spot, Hafenküche. It’s one of the most upscale places we went and had a truly delightful beer selection and really tasty menu items. The back patio area was gorgeous and, being way down on the boardwalk, makes for the perfect evening walk afterwards, too.

Patio at Hafenkuche

Day 6 – “Rest” of Flensburg and Train to Copenhagen

Our morning led us to breakfast at Cafe K (delightful on the square with outdoor seating). Then we spent the rest of our time wandering all the way down the shopping streets. We stopped into a couple nice bookstores (plenty of English selections).

If you get to Flensburg, you can’t forget to check out the part of the road were all the power lines are completely taken over by shoes! Apparently they regularly have to take them down and put up new empty lines because it gets too heavy. There’s no specific story as to why/how this started other than “college kids” which – you know – really does explain a lot.

You can follow this all the way down to the old arch into the city. We did this, which was a lot of walking, so we took one final break at Feuerstein for a beer. Then it was time for a goodbye to our friend and off to the train station to Copenhagen!

The train to Copenhagen did require a transfer but it was super easy and comfortable. Pro tip: buy a seat. Our trip was very crowded and plenty of people didn’t have seats. Especially in our second portion – I’m not sure if it’s normal or not but there were a lot of younger people, seemingly students, who all had to sit on the train floors for the duration of the decently long trip.

We got into Copenhagen fairly late but found our Airbnb in the Meatpacking District easily. Sparse on amenities, but it had a great location and the inner balcony courtyard area was fun.

Since we were tired and it was late, we meandered into a restaurant we normally wouldn’t choose on our own – Pate Pate. It was nice if not great, but the vibes were worth it. That whole area is super fun with lots of choices!

Day 7 – Exploring Copenhagen

We started off our day slow, stopping at The Living Room for coffee before our Free Walking Tour. If you know me, I always highly recommend the first activity in a new city to be a walking tour as it can check off soooo many boxes right away and this is no exception. Our guide was from Australia and was a strong Dick Van Dyke look-a-like. He did a great job giving us the highlights of the city. It was very busy so be sure to book ahead as they go have group size limitations.

Outdoor seating at The Living Room

After the tour it started to get a bit hairy as what had previously been a drizzle turned into full scale rain. We found all of the place we planned to go to that I had researched on blogs or travel guides were packed to the gills with no options to wait for a table. I’m not sure if it was due to the rain or the popularity, but lesson learned – if you want a specific restaurant in Copenhagen, I recommend making a reservation!

Due to this we ended up near the Paludan Bogcafe (because books and coffee will forever be my kryptonite) but it was so packed it wasn’t fun at all. Around the corner though was a random Lebanese restaurant, Mahalle, that ended up being really good.

Admittedly, wandering the streets of Copenhagen in the rain is not the most fun I’ve had. The tiles of the road and sidewalks get slippery and full of puddles. But we were already thoroughly soggy so we wanted our way back across town and, on a whim, decided to go to Tivoli.

Originally we weren’t going to bother with Tivoli – without our kids around it seemed a bit depressing and we weren’t going to do rides on our own. Honestly, though? Highly recommend checking it out! It’s like traveling back in time and the grounds are absolutely beautiful. It was really fun to go in during crummy weather too because there were no crowds at all! So if you end up in Copenhagen on a bad weather day but don’t want to spend it all inside, this is the place to go.

By the time we got back to our Airbnb and had finally dried out, we had earned our trip to Mikkeller for a few brews to round our the night.

Day 8 – Exploring Copenhagen and the Pride Parade

For me it was 100% crucial to visit a “true” Danish bakery and we were not disappointed by Backeri Brod. We got there early and there was still one heck of a line. The options were so tasty and they offered a full service coffee bar. We ate in the square before taking our first subway trip (the trains are SO CLEAN, you guys). We spend the morning on the 1 hour boat ride that leaves from Nyhavn. If you went on the free walking tour you should be able to get 10% off tickets. While not spectacular, it was pretty fun and showed us parts of the city we hadn’t yet seen – including the thoroughly lackluster Little Mermaid statue. If you do have to see it, this would be the only way I would recommending doing so.

We were super lucky to be in Copenhagen during a very festive Pride week and that day was the huge Pride parade. And I mean huge. For lunch we went to Smagsloget which is more takeaway than restaurant but they have incredible sandwiches and two tiny tables out front. We snagged one and managed to sit there enjoying the food and the start of the parade.

It truly went on forever and was a fun experience, but felt a little tame. Then I remembered the only other pride parade I’ve attended is the one in Chicago – and what doesn’t feel tame compared to a party in Boystown?

Our afternoon taken up by the parade, we spent the rest of the day walking back to our Airbnb, grabbing some souvenirs (Anker Chokolade was soooo good) and finally rounding out the night with beer at Fermentoren. No food, though they have bags of chips, but their outdoor space with lots of picnic tables it really nice. Highly recommend on a beautiful night.

Day 9 – Travel home

Travel to the airport from our location was super easy and we left early!

All in all the trip was truly lovely. We spent so much time walking through these beautiful cities in Germany and Denmark. Each location was so unique. For us, Berlin’s perk was its history. Hamburg, its architectural beauty. Flensburg was an entirely different beauty with such a laidback, beachy, and small town vibe. Copenhagen offered unique beauty and even more culture. It was easy to feel at home there even with how short our time really was.

Our itinerary could easily be stretched out to add a night or two more in any of these cities – but at the same time we don’t feel like we missed anything either! All in all, another great bucket list trip in the books.

Berlin – Hotel Zoe
Hamburg – Reichshof Hamburg
Copenhagen – Airbnb in the Meatpacking District

Berlin – Brauhaus Das Lemke (beer and food), Cafe Latrio (breakfast/coffee), Röststätte Berlin (coffee), Eshenbrau (beer and snacks), Schleusenkrug (beer, lunch, snacks), Backerei (breakfast, coffee)

Hamburg – Brucke 10 (fish sandwich), Frau Möller (traditional German dinner/lunch)

Flensburg – Hafenküche (dinner), Feuerstein (beer + food with outdoor seating), Cafe K (food, breakfast, ice cream), Migge’s Danish Bakery (bakery), Flensburg Beach Club (beer/light dinner), Doner

Copenhagen – Fermentoren (Beer/snacks), Smagsloget (sandwiches), Backeri Brod (bakery/coffee), Mikkeller (beer), Mahalle (lunch/dinner), The Living Room (coffee/light breakfast), Pate Pate (dinner)

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Road Trip in Paradise – Belize 2022

While not without its set backs, our trip to Belize in January 2022 was the perfect mix of relaxation and adventure!


Figuring out travel these last couple of years has been no joke and, truthfully, this trip never should have lifted off. When Marjorie and I booked our road trip through Belize in April 2021, things were looking up. Surely, we thought, even if there were still masks and regulations, getting to and from Belize would be fine!

Oh… we were wrong, wrong, wrong. And yet we still had a fantastic trip! Traveling safely in the midst of the ridiculous omnicron flare up was messy and yet we were able to navigate it safely. Belize ended up being the perfect destination for mid-pandemic travel. Their masking and COVID safety were top notch (frankly way better than what we experienced in the USA, even in our home bases of Chicago and New York).

Day 1: Travel – US to Belize City

Traveling originally from Chicago and New York, we met up in Atlanta the night before – because flying in winter means anticipating winter delays. It allowed us to get a good night’s sleep and then we were in the air and on the ground in Belize by 12pm CT. When I say this is the most stressful entry I’ve ever had, I’m not kidding. The omnicron variant was destroying the United States and we had a disaster of a time getting our testing completed in order to leave. Every step we had taken for the last two weeks put us on edge, and at risk, of not being let into Belize. But with a few forms we made it through customs and out into the gorgeous 80 degree sun. It was really, really hard not to cry.

The taxi into Belize was easy and about $20 USD. USD and Belizean dollars are used interchangeably and fixed at 1:2 ratio. The taxi took us straight to the pier, where we would catch the ferry to Caye Caulker. If you get there early, there is a restaurant by the ferry but I only recommend it if you are desperate. The food is lackluster at best and very expensive, but does offer wifi access and a free bathroom (if you don’t buy food, there is a pay bathroom around the corner). If you do have time to kill, the Belize giant letters sign is a quick 5 minute walk away so you can snap that and come back, rather than waiting in the mini shopping area. We booked our ferry tickets in advance and were easily able to switch them to an earlier ferry at the help desk. Due to the pandemic we didn’t have any issues with crowds but supposedly January is peak season normally so booking ahead is worth it and was very easy to do.

The boat ride to Caye Caulker was extremely nice. No waves at all and there was roof seating so we could enjoy the sun. When you arrive there are golf carts ready to take you where you need to go. We opted to walk along the beach path to our spot at Colinda Cabanas. The trek was kind of long to do with our bags but totally do-able and if you feel like making the effort.

Colinda Cabanas

We highly recommend Colinda Cabanas. The staff was amazing, their beach front was to-die for, and the cabanas were adorable. They are at the end of the road which made for longer walks but I found it fun – it made me feel like we truly explored the whole island.

Our private deck at Colinda Cabana

We went to dinner at Maggie’s Sunset Kitchen – a truly delightful spot. I personally really enjoyed my coconut curry shrimp. Even our extended conversation with Maggie’s father, Earl, who was very friendly but perhaps a little too open about his recent prostrate surgery, didn’t ruin my appetite.

The beach at Colinda Cabanas

Day 2: Beach Relaxation and Exploring Caye Caulker

We spent our day wandering the island and enjoyed the relaxation. We got up and walked to get stuffed fry bread at Errolyn’s House Of Fryjacks (omggggg) and then over to get some coffee at Ice N Beans. This is a great spot for coffee and they typically also have gluten-free options. We sat in their Adirondack chairs and enjoyed the ocean view. Then we walked back, got in our swimsuits, and thoroughly enjoyed the perks of our habitation.


Eventually we had to leave the perfect spot on the island to get food so we walked to grab some souvenirs at Little Blue Gift Shop (loved this place!) and ended up grabbing lunch at Rainbow Grill & Bar. The food was only okay but the spot was gorgeous so – you know – worth it.

We had booked a tubing excursion around the Split that was unfortunately cancelled due to a boat engine issue but it sounded like a blast so definitely look into it. For dinner we ended up at Pelican Sunset Bar which was hopping, offered great ceviche, and was aptly named – we had great view of the sunset.

Caye Caulker – Pelican Sunset Bar

Day 3: Caye Caulker and Snorkeling

We took a lot of tips from this blog. She had raved so hard about Caveman we figured – why not? They didn’t disappoint. Caveman was professional and kind. We’d had on and off again storms so far on our trip and while the weather was clear for our snorkeling we did have fairly choppy waves. By the end of the trip I did end up feeling really seasick even with my Dramamine but that’s what happens to me if I spend all day (and eating!) in a boat. Still, I managed not to lose anything and wouldn’t ding the experience at all just because of my weak stomach.

We did everything – we tried to manatee spot but it was a bit too early in the year for that. We did feed tarpons (that was SO much fun) and snorkeled in some really cute spots. Some stops were individual snorkeling and some were guide led which was nice. We also found a spot where they fed the sharks and we were able to snorkel around them – that was a really cool experience.


After getting back we got cleaned up and then made our way to Chef Juan’s (no website). It was fantastic. Watermelon juice with red coconut curry with a fish filet and shrimp. Complete with coconut rice and a salad. It was perhaps a bit spicy for me, but I’m a weenie about that and it was still delicious. But the best part was the absolute best key lime pie I’ve ever had. Marjorie shared with me and before we were even halfway done with it we decided we needed another slice.

FYI – as ice cream connoisseurs there was really nothing to brag about here. I think we tried two – one was closed – and all of them were only ok. Go get the key lime pie every night instead, ha.

Day 4: Road Trip to San Ignacio

Waiting for our coffee at Ice N Beans while it poured

After grabbing coffee again at Ice N Beans we took the early ferry back to Belize City. A taxi took us to Crystal Car Rental where we picked up our vehicle. We highly recommend them as a service, they are the only car rental that will allow you to pre-pay for a permit to go across the border to Guatemala. Pro-tip, if you call ahead they’ll pick you up at the ferry and you won’t have to pay to get taken there by a taxi.

It took us about 2 hours to drive literally across the entire country of Belize – which is a really funny thing to say. The drive was nice and really easy to do. Even though public transportation is supposedly pretty easy we enjoyed having a car – both for COVID security and for ease of movement. I highly recommend a car in San Ignacio, too, which was our next destination.

All in all, San Ignacio is a home base for some of the coolest destinations. While we found good food there, it otherwise wasn’t a very exciting place to be on its own. We stayed at Log Cab Inn which meant having a rental was essential. It was cute and well maintained but I wouldn’t say I give it amazing reviews. You won’t be wrong staying there, but I bet you can find something nicer in the area.

View from our spot at Log Cab Inn

When it comes to food, we highly recommend Martha’s Kitchen. We had lunch here on our first day and breakfast there every day we were in San Ignacio. They have great hours, outdoor seating, and the kindest staff. Honestly, I’d probably stay there if I ever went back for food proximity alone but I can’t vouch for anything in the guesthouse. But the food is a delight, super authentic, homey, and just all around great.

The breakfast I got every day at Martha’s ❤

And of course, you can’t forget ice cream! The Ice Cream Shoppe was cute and definitely hit the spot.

Day 5: ATM

Picture from Mayawalk – this is the deepest swimming you have to do and it’s maybe 10 feet

If you’ve read anything about Belize so far, then you’ve already heard about ATM. Like others will say – it’s 100% an adventure you have to take. Now my travel companion, Marjorie, would disagree and it was definitely a cornucopia of thinks that give her panic attacks (tight spaces + swimming + dark caves) but if you feel fairly good about managing through that it’s a must do.

Picture from Mayawalk – most of the cave is walking through water about mid-shin deep

I won’t repeat the things you’ve heard everywhere else. Just know you’ll never forget the experience and that doing it with Maya Walk Tours is absolutely the way to go. The guides were top notch (and so helpful if you do get a little freaked out!). I loved it and it’s something I will never forget. We used Mayawalk Tours and would recommend you use them as well. Their office on Burns Street is great to stop into to ask after tours, also, if needed.

Picture from Mayawalk – eventually it dries off and you walk in socks to see the artifacts

Day 6: Caracol

Literally the only people at Caracol

Our trip to Caracol was a spontaneous one. Part of the reason why we rented from Crystal was because we planned to spend this day driving across the border to Guatemala so we could visit Tikal – some of the most famous Mayan ruins. Well, due to COVID, border crossings weren’t exactly a walk in the park and we were getting really mixed information on what was going to happen at the Belize border (testing, no testing, etc) coming back from a day trip in Guatemala. We decided to cut our losses and because we had just a great time with Maya Walk the day before, we signed up to do Caracol with them.

If you are able to fit this into your trip, you need to do it – 100%. Even though we were on a guided tour it felt so off the beaten path. It’s a ridiculously long drive on unpaved roads – our guide’s truck legit popped a wire off his battery and died in the middle of nowhere from all the bouncing – to end up at these truly impressive ruins. Whether due to it’s difficult terrain, the stormy weather (it was pouring when we arrived), or fewer tourists due to the pandemic we literally had the entire site of Caracol to ourselves. Seeing amazing places is special – seeing them without any crowds is a truly one of a kind experience. While I’m sure Tikal would have been amazing, I am so glad we were able to see Caracol before it becomes a true tourist destination, which it will in just a few short years. Belize is working on making the road actually drive-able. You should get there before the experience changes.

Waterfall on the way back from Caracol

That night we went to The Burnz for dinner which was another delightful spot with the nicest staff ever. While the menu doesn’t give you a lot of confidence on the food quality, I hope this picture does. It was delicious and they make a mean coconut mojito.

App at The Burnz

Day 7: Chilling in San Ignacio

This was, admittedly, our most lackluster day of our trip. Due to the cancellation of Tikal we had more time to kill than we expected and that, unfortunately, ended up on coinciding with a really rainy day. Tired from two long tours in a row we opted to chill out at our place but found the pool area to be less than comfortable (seriously the worst lounge chairs ever). Looking back, I wish we would have just donned our rain jackets and checked out the Belize Botanic Gardens because it looked really cute but, still, there’s a perk to reading all the way through a book on vacation.

We did get to The Guava Limb that night for dinner which was truly excellent. It has a very high class vibe to it and the food was very tasty. It deserves all the positive reviews.

Day 8: Xunatunich and Road Trip to Hopkins

Literally the only people at Xunatunich

The weather lifted and we decided to check out the Xunatunich ruins before getting on the road and out of San Ignacio. We originally planned to skip it since everyone says it’s not nearly as interesting as Tikal or Caracol but it was cheap to visit and so close – and I’m really glad we did. While definitely smaller, the main Castillo was truly impressive and, since it’s situated on a hill, looks way bigger than it actually is. The view was incredible and because we got there just after it opened we, yet again, had the place to ourselves. It was a special adventure.

You had to cross a hand-crank ferry to get there which, to be honest, is just kind of weird. I honestly don’t understand why this isn’t just a bridge?

Our drive to Hopkins was pretty incredible. We stopped at the Orange Gallery (you’ll see signs along the way) and it’s a fantastic spot to get some really nice souvenirs. I bought a lamp! Sounds weird, but it’s amazing.

After a short while you hop on the Hummingbird Highway and it is, truthfully, a gorgeous drive. The scenery is to die for and when you’re just about ready to get out and stretch your legs – and maybe even vocalize hopefully that maybe you’ll find an ice cream shop – The Country Barn shows up to your left.

It’s 10000% worth a stop.

The rest of the drive is easy and soon we found ourselves in sleepy Hopkins. Significantly smaller than it’s local larger friend of Placencia we pulled up to what might be the best airbnb of all time. Hopkins Inn has cabanas to die for. We stayed at the Anniversary cabana because our love simply can’t be beat.

Dinner at Windschief by recommendation – it had great specials.

Day 9: Chilling in Hopkins

Barely moved from this spot for an entire day

Honestly – we had some grand plans when we booked this in the cold weather in the United States. We found all of these snorkeling tours and night hikes in the jaguar sanctuary and while, yes, I wanted to do all of these things… when the sun rose high and we looked at the perfection that was our cabana and hammocks – we said screw it and stayed just where we were. I can’t even regret it.

The Anniversary Cabana at Hopkins Inn

Hopkins Inn had a stand up paddleboard and I took it out for about 15 minutes that morning before the waves started up. I honestly don’t remember where we had lunch and dinner – most of the restaurants at Hopkins are basically the same, with picnic tables on the beach and a fish of the day. Fresh and basic, take advice from your hotel/hostel and you won’t go wrong. Just make sure you don’t skip out on going to Nice Cream for ice cream. We simply enjoyed our time in paradise.

Nice Cream

Day 10: COVID panic and Road Trip to Belize City

Getting to Belize was stressful – we had to do a lot of COVID tests within a strict amount of time. Leaving was no exception and was a constant dark cloud over us during the trip. Of course, we didn’t want to get sick in general, but also because of what it would mean. At the time, Belize had a rule that if you tested posted for COVID you had to quarantine for 10 days. No exceptions. And the United States had a regulation that you had to test within one day of your return flight.

So, one day before our flight, we sat down to do our at home testing and I tested positive. I was distraught, flabbergasted, and stunned. Marjorie was negative and all of a sudden I was spiraling and thinking I might have to stay in Belize for much, much longer.

Because of this we cancelled the tour we had lined up for our last morning and – after a significant amount of panicking – decided our best course of action was to drive to Belize City and that I would test again, officially, with the Belizean government instead of relying on the at home tests. I had been so nervous during my test that I spilled the liquid and I had a fleeting hope that I had a false positive.

So – can I say the trip back to Belize City was “fun”? No. We were in a tail spin. Add on that the owner of Hopkins Inn convinced us to take a different route home, which ended up being 88 km of unpaved road, and it was a comically bad experience.

Stick to the Hummingbird Hwy guys, and not this disaster

We dropped off the car and spent one night at the Sea Side Chateau. If you need to stay near Belize City, this place is amazing – very close to Crystal Car Rental and the airport. However, I do not recommend eating there, the food was very disappointing and expensive.

Seaside Chateau

Day 11: Fly Home

After a fitful night, and lots of quarantine planning and research, I was shaking like a leaf by the time the official COVID rapid test rolled around. For $75 USD, a tester came to our facility. He swabbed me and I was negative. As I had suspected (since I had no known exposure, fully vaxxed and boosted, always masked, Marjorie was negative, and I had no symptoms) my home test had given me a false positive from my sloppy testing and likely poor storage. I don’t know how I managed to hold myself together until I got back to my room and then bawled my eyes out.

I loved Belize, but I’ve never been so excited to leave a place as beautiful as Belize. There’s nothing like thinking you’ll be trapped to make you realize you are very ready to go home.


All in All

We ultimately had an amazing Belizean vacation.

Everything you read about this country is true. It’s small but mighty, with the perfect balance of adventure, unique discoveries, and relaxation. Starting and ending our trips with the beach was cathartic to our soul, especially given the state of the world. Even looking back now and the ruin that was the last day when we thought I would be trapped, it was a truly amazing experience and country. Like any good travelers, we were able to use a couple of our hiccups (not wanting to cross the border) to gain amazing experiences (Caracol!).

Sunrise in Hopkins
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Adventures in Alaska – Our One Week Alaskan Road Trip!

Alaska seems to be a top Bucket List item. Since going to our northernmost state, I’ve had a constant stream of people saying it’s one of their must-travel spots. And with good reason! I can echo the sentiment that Alaska is a sight to behold.

What’s great is, despite its impressive size, you can see a lot in one week. We hiked glaciers, kayaked past icebergs, and hiked 11 miles to visit a frozen lake. Oh – and did I mention the sun never set? Not even once?

~2am out the window of our Airbnb

Alaska is one of those places where every day provides the opportunity for a once-in-a-lifetime adventure and I’d love to share the moments!

Planning and Choosing Alaska

Marjorie and I chose to go to Alaska over the summer solstice – which I highly, highly recommend. To be honest, it wasn’t a conscious decision. Marjorie’s goal of running a race in every U.S. state meant we had to plan around one of their races and we chose the Mayor’s Marathon Race (we did the 5k, we’re not that crazy). It ended up being a great time to visit. The lack of sunset meant planning the long drives of the road trip was easy – no worrying about driving in the dark and watching for moose. It also provides a daily reminder of just how different life up there can be.

Because of our race and the timing we had, we ended up bracketing our race day with travel. This made some of our options limited since we knew we would fly into Anchorage, be tourists, drive back to Anchorage for the race, then have a couple more tourist days, before going back to Anchorage to fly out. Most people won’t want to do this trajectory since it’s a lot of out and back, but it worked splendid for us.

In doing this, we had to make an important decision – to Denali or not to Denali? You’ll find when you research Alaska it’s almost always the first item mentioned outside of Anchorage. But we struggled with the logistics. The main activity is a very long bus tour in the hope of seeing some wildlife and maybe Denali peak (apparently that’s a slim chance). We just couldn’t stomach that kind of tour so we actually chose to skip Denali. It was a bold move but one we are confident was the right choice for us. So – what did we do instead?

Day One: Travel!

Depending on where you are coming from, it’s almost certainly a long flight to Alaska. We landed in Anchorage at the eye-watering time of 11pm after a 6 hour direct flight from Chicago. It’s an easy flight, but a long one, and given the three hour difference we were dead on our feet. And yet – it was still light outside! The lack of sunset does wonders for that second wind and we managed to get our car and head to our hotel (nothing special, we opted for the familiar and stayed at the Four Points Sheraton. No complaints and a great option if you are looking for a chain hotel in Anchorage).

Day Two: Glacier Hiking

We wasted no time on our Alaskan Adventure dawdling. The next morning we were up and out early, stopping only at the Fred Meyer’s to stock up on snacks and Starbucks for a caffeine hit. Unsurprisingly, given Anchorage has fewer than 300,000 people, there were not a lot of options especially before 8am so we went with the familiar and hit the road.

Matanuska Glacier

About 2-2.5 hours east of Anchorage you’ll find the Matanuska Glacier – it’s a ridiculously easy drive with a very well maintained road that doesn’t even have fearsome switchbacks. We signed up to do the Ice Fall Trek with Mica Guides and it was perfect for us. Our guide Kendall was kind and authentically passionate about the glacier.

The tour completely exceeded our expectations – every time I thought we were turning to go back we were instead heading down another crevasse or exploring another section of the glacier. You spend a ton of time in your crampons and are truly hiking on ice for over half of your tour. It was a great workout but not exhausting or treacherous.

The views are out of this world – maybe other people know this but my own glacier knowledge being slim to none I had no idea I would see the vibrant blue of the truly cold and dense ice – or the deceptively black ice just an inch blow the silty sludge. It was cold and a bit rainy and four hours of a truly glorious adventure.

Blessedly, at the Mica Guides stop there is an adorable little hut that serves decent coffee and ice cream (that sounds sooo good but sadly we didn’t get to partake in). Even if you aren’t doing a tour (though you absolutely should) if you are headed to Valdez it’s a great stopping point.

After we changed into dry clothes and caffeinated, we hopped back in the car for the remaining 4 hours of our drive to Valdez. While long, the drive truly didn’t feel cumbersome. The whole way you’re gazing out at miles of untouched forest or watching the approaching picturesque mountains. The last hour-ish in particular is amazing as you wind through the valley between mountains with huge and amazing waterfalls cascading right next to you.

waterfall next to the highway – nbd

Truthfully, Valdez is tiny and not the largest tourist hub so there are not a lot of accommodation options. We did stay with an Airbnb which served the purpose. It was clean, convenient, and had a hot shower but wasn’t otherwise a spot that would call for glowing reviews.

Day 3: Glacier Kayaking

Marjorie and I figured – when in Alaska, do all the glaciers. So, not even a day after we got off the Matanuska Glacier, we found ourselves decked out in very attractive rain gear and on a boat headed to another one of Alaska’s famous Glaciers – Columbia. We did this trip with Pangaea Adventures and definitely recommend them. Great crew.

This was the only day on our week long journey where it didn’t rain and we were so glad for it. We couldn’t have asked for better weather – mid 60s and clear sunny skies greeted us for the entire boat right out to the glacier and ice fields. It’s not a short ride – 2/2.5 hours – but it’s epic. I stood almost the entire way at the back of the boat, watching and enjoying the scenery.

The mountains were amazing and we always stayed close so the water was calm. Getting closer and closer to the glacier was so much fun as we started to go through the ice fields – huge chunks of iceberg just chilling next to your boat was something to behold.

And that was before our excursion even started! We pulled up on a remote little beach, got a few kayaking instructions, and then were off.

We were able to paddle around the ice, occasionally picking up pieces and chew them. It was trippy how you could eat fresh untouched glacier water, even though it had been floating in salt water. Every ten minutes or so you’d hear the glacier calve, sometimes seeing the billowing aftermath of snow as it avalanched down.

After an hour or so we stopped to eat our packed lunch and then back into the boats for more kayaking. It was a challenging but not strenuous adventure – it’s a lot of time kayaking but the water was calm and beautiful so it made for easy rowing.

The whole ride home to Valdez I gazed out at the water, the glacier, and the mountains. All I could think about was how amazing and unique it was to be there.

Day 4: Road Trip back to Anchorage

Having hit everything we wanted to (and really everything there is in that petite little town) we left early and made our way back to Anchorage. A six hour road trip, that you previously drove, is typically daunting but I’m not joking when I say it really didn’t feel long at all.

Despite driving in quite a bit of rain, it was still an easy and beautiful drive. A minor moose sighting and a lot of time to chat, sure, but we still pulled over at a few different areas to get amazing pictures.

If you are taking this trek, it’s well worth pulling off in Palmer. We got lucky because of our timing to find an adorable little outdoor market/fair near the train station. We were able to wander and found a truly delightful little bookstore, Fireside Books. It was the only bookstore of note on our entire trip (and we went to literally all the ones we could find in ALL our locations!). It had a great selection and an author signing out front too (I’ll add the book once I read it and can recommend it!) .

We got into Anchorage early enough to check in and then lay around, waiting for a break in the weather. It eventually did lighten enough for us to have dinner at 49th State Brewing and their rooftop. It’s a highly rated spot and well worth it – the place is huge with plenty of outdoor seating. The menu is perhaps too big and therefore all the food is good but not great. Still, the beer options were solid and it was a great spot to sit.

Anchorage itself, though, doesn’t have a lot to offer. Marjorie phrased it well – it’s a city with an identity crisis. There’s a block that feels hipster/up-and-coming, next to a block of random and halfhearted businesses, next to a block that has a significant homeless population. Any downtown/walking area is approximately 2 or 3 block square and that’s being generous. Still, there are some key establishments that we did enjoy, but otherwise it’s not a city worth spending significant time in.

Day 5: 5k and Drive to Seward

Our 5k started, to our irritation being morning people, at 11am. We spent the morning dozing and watching TV in our hotel room, desperately hoping the driving rain would peter out in time for our race. It did not.

Still, the 5k was well designed and took us on a lovely little path. Mostly flat too! But by the end our feet were soaked and I was reminded of how I don’t mind a 20-30 minute jog but something about the 5k is a mild form of torture.

Our late check out (thanks to Marjorie’s Marriott status, holllllla) gave us time to shower before we had to move on. We had a late breakfast/lunch at Snow City Cafe and then got on the road to Seward.

Now that is a delightful little drive. Just over two hours you hug coast the whole way. Easy and beautiful with a bunch of pull overs. Alaska is funny that way – it’s literally always beautiful and so it got to the point where we’d see another “scenic overlook” spot and purposefully pass it up. How many more amazing panoramas did we need, really?

A very keenly placed sign worked vey well and we were able to stop and buy fudge at a little hamlet called, no joke, Moose Pass. If you are going to Seward, do not hesitate to stop there. The owners were hilarious in that small town way and their fudge was legit.

Google maps made it easy for us to find our best accommodations yet – a true yurt run by Sourdough Sue (fun fact, a “sourdough” is someone whose been in Alaska for 30+ years. She does not make bread… much to my disappointment). That was the only thing that lessened our stay, however. The yurt was amazing. It was the definition of glamping and I loved it so much. She even turned on our oil-burning stove for us because we were not going to even try to touch that thing. Indoor plumbing, a cute little porch, and the beds were comfy. Highly, highly recommend a stay here.

Day 6: Hiking to Lost Lake

We woke up to a downpour which, I had to admit, sounded SO COOL on our yurt roof. It did not, however, bode well for our pre-paid trip with Exit Glacier Tours to hike to the Lost Lake. Given all the glacier experiences we already had, we decided to have a more authentic hike while in Seward and we really enjoyed this getaway. It’s clearly one of the lesser booked trips and we almost had a private tour as we were only joined by one other woman from Colorado. Janice, our guide, was more like an Airbnb host just giving us a tour of her favorite running trail. It was fun and we didn’t see anyone until about mile 8 of our 11 mile in-and-out adventure.

This hike was the perfect difficultly level. It’s a great distance – just at that peak of being “oh my god are we done yet?” and it has a good elevation increase but nothing too steep all at once. Trekking poles were super helpful, both as things got challenging (there were a few massive snow piles we had to climb too – even that late in June) and also just as something to hold.

The top of the mountain is legit out of The Sound of Music and for the last half of our hike I was humming Edelweiss.

The whole time our guide warned us we might have to turn back sooner if the snow was going to get too deep. But we pushed on and finally made it to the Lost Lake lookout. We watched as her face fell, a look of realization and horror crossing it.

“It’s frozen! I’m so sorry!”

Because, of course, if it had been such a chilly spring so far that the snow was still an obstacle, it wasn’t surprising the lake would still be covered in snow – and not the bright, shining blue that usually drew people in. She looked so worried that we would be disappointed but I was personally ecstatic. I love the idea that we got to see something that most people didn’t. It felt pretty badass to say we hiked as much as we did in the snow to see the Lost Lake still frozen over.

The frozen Lost Lake

By the time we made it by the rain had started again (we managed to avoid the worst of the weather while hiking, thank goodness) so we enjoyed the sound of the rain in our yurt until we headed into Seward for some takeout and spent the rest of the night chilling.

Day 7: Driving back to Anchorage and heading home

The fun, or not fun, thing about Alaska, depending on your perspective, is that it seems they arrange the majority of their flights to leave and arrive very late in the day. Is this just a seasonal thing due to the lack of sunset? I don’t know. But, for good or evil, our flight out of Anchorage wasn’t until 11pm on Monday night. So we had plenty of time for more tourism before heading home.

The day finally opened up clear and we were able to explore Seward properly on Monday morning. Unfortunately most of the cute shops of the downtown area were closed (although this one, aptly named Alaska Shop, was open and was actually exceptional for souvenirs – and I don’t usually buy souvenirs). But we took a walk down by the harbor. It’s an amazing walk and well worth it for the views.

We timed our departure so we could arrive at Whittier and experience North America’s longest tunnel. It was $13 and worth it if only because the whole experience was trippy and thoroughly quirky. It takes approximately 7 minutes to drive through the single-lane tunnel and it’s simultaneously a total normal experience and one where you can’t help contemplating how much oxygen you need to live and what would happen if an earthquake happened, like, rightthissecond.

We made it through to the admittedly halfhearted little alcove of Whittier. It’s a bizarre place where everyone lives in one dorm-like building and there is one half-street with seafood restaurants. That being said, the one where we ate was quite tasty (Swiftwater Seafood Cafe – no website, but you can’t miss it) and the view was gorgeous. It was a fun little stop on our way back to Anchorage.

When we made it back to the city we went to a use bookstore that was so disappointing I won’t even name it and then waited for a very long time for a table at a ridiculously busy pizza place, Moose’s Tooth. Given that we had literally hours to kill before our flight we didn’t mind the wait and I’m so glad we weren’t scared off. We had a cauliflower crush pizza that literally blew my mind. I forced Marjorie to stop eating it because I was convinced it was gluten, called the waitress back, and watched her (very-well deserved) smug expression as she assured us that it was, in fact, cauliflower and that we weren’t the only people to be tricked. It was the best pizza I think I’ve ever had and ultimately a solid send off for Alaska.


Our trip to Alaska was a quick one with a lot of driving but we really enjoyed the entire endeavor. Valdez and Seward are amazing towns that gave a great perspective of small town life in Alaska. They were both charming and well worth the time to visit. The tours were all phenomenal and ones we would highly recommend. Anchorage, of course, was an easy jumping off point but not one to spend any more time in than necessary. Even though less than a week isn’t usually worth it for a 6 hour flight we felt like we were able to see and do so much in that time.

Food and Ice Cream


  • 49th State Brewing – great option for dinner with good beer and plenty of outdoor seating (rooftop with a view, yes please!) Located in the only part of Anchorage we found that might be called cute and/or walkable.
  • Snow City Cafe – this place definitely gets busy but we were able to get takeout and eat at one of their outdoor seats as the skies cleared. Good food and super adorable interior (so maybe rainbows!). Great lattes too.
  • Moose’s Tooth Pub & Pizzeria – this pizza 100% blew my mind. It was exceptionally good. Go there FOR SURE while you are in Anchorage.
  • WooHoo! Ice Cream – Cute little spot with some unique flavors. In a strip mall with other very literally named businesses. It gave me a chuckle.


  • The Potato – we went were both nights because the food was excellent and they have cute outdoor seating. Highly recommend. If you are gluten free they’ll just replace your wrap or bun with a bed or fries. YES PLEASE.
  • Northern Treats – even though this is soft serve, it’s quite good. It’s also, literally, the only ice cream in Valdez so, you know, can’t be too picky. But still, it’s worth it and it’s adorable.
  • Latte Dah Espresso – seriously, what is not to love about this place? The name (I mean come ON), the artwork, the cute seating décor …and the drinks! Great specialty latte options. I was sold.


  • 13 Ravens Coffee & Books – coffee was decent and the location adorable, but don’t expect to actually get a book…
  • The Lone Chicharron Taqueria – surprisingly excellent tacos, we really considered eating there twice.
  • Red’s Burgers – really great reviews and a very long wait for what ended up being pretty normal burgers. Not disappointing necessarily, just not quite as the level I expected given all the rave reviews. Super cute establishment though in the bus!
  • Sweet Darlings – truly excellent gelato!
  • Moose Drop-In Trading Post (just outside of Seward) – for fudge!

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Coffee In Chicago: The Ultimate Curated List of Best and Unique Coffee Shops

Has anyone else started new traditions in the midst of this pandemic? Our family sure did. In an effort to get two feral children out of the house + help keep small coffee shops afloat during shutdown and shelter + feed our burgeoning caffeine addiction we started our own self tour of the city and coffee shops all over.

And it’s been so much fun! The lack of traffic makes getting downtown a breeze, giving us the chance to explore and see so many neighborhoods we never would have bothered trying to visit. I mean, who would drive and sit in traffic for 45+ minutes just for a new coffee shop? But now we are hooked and, since we’re a family of early risers, we still find ourselves checking out and exploring new spots.

So – our exploration is YOUR gain! I wanted to curate this extensive list of coffee shops that we’ve visited – I’ve clustered them by neighborhood-ish. This is thoroughly unscientific. It’s all my personal preferences but to give you an idea, here’s what brings a coffee shop to the top of the list:

  • Good coffee!
    • My husband always gets a black coffee so he provides his thoughts on that staple coffee
    • I am a latte/froo-froo coffee gal so I LOVE finding a place with fun and unique specialty lattes to try
  • Snacky/snacks
    • The pandemic has also brought rise to “Donut Saturday” in our house (blog post to come there, too!) and so a coffee shop with tasty snacks/food is also a plus
  • The Cute Factor
    • Give me a cute coffee shop – kitschy, sophisticated, whatever – and I’m sold. I’ll also get you a list of coffee shops that are great for indoor/outdoor workspace too, once I can properly test that (hard to say when we couldn’t sit indoor for, you know, over a year)
  • Kindness
    • We’ve all been there – the coffee shop that is waaaay too cool to be serving you. That doesn’t do it for me. I want the friendly neighborhood barista, I want the helpful rep who can walk me through what’s in their indiscriminately named latte and I’ll come back for the service.

You can use the map – interactive! – right here!

And now! My Favorites:

Elevate Coffee (Boystown)
I’m low-key obsessed with this place. One, because I love boystown and being anywhere in that area. Two because the service is spectacular, and three because their coffee was soooo good. They have the best rose latte ever – it’s Rose Marzipan and has real rose petals and I was awkward-love-moaning while drinking it. If that isn’t a review, then I don’t know what is.

Two Hearted Queen (Boystown)
Absurdly kind staff with very tasty drinks and do NOT pass up on ordering the scones. They are incredible. They have another location in Roscoe Village too that I’ll try to hit up some day.

Brew Brew Coffee + Tea (Avondale/Logan Square)
They have tasty and fun specialty lattes along with some pastries, bagels, and tortas. We tried the mushroom and “sunrise” torta and both were exceptionally good (if soooo messy). Outdoor seating and even a couple spots inside right now. Park is right nearby too which was fun and nice.

Four Letter Word (Logan Square)
Hard to tell the atmosphere as they did the walk-up window but coffee was good and the premise was cute so I’m all for a return visit.

necessary & sufficient coffee (Logan Square)
Okay, I really enjoyed this cute little place. Fun lattes, and I tried their mushroom breakfast sandwich and holy COW was it tasty. Window walk up so not sure on seating I plan a repeat visit.

Sip of Hope (Logan Square)
Love what this place stands for! We visited in the hardcore lockdown time so there wasn’t much to see but the place looked cute and the coffee was good. With 100% of their profits going toward mental health & suicide prevention how can you not want to buy something?

Botanical Cafe (North Center)
Look, I’ll be honest. I don’t really remember the coffee. It must have been at least fine – but really, this place wins for being the cutest cafe of all time. It’s also a plant store! I mean COME ON. I was dying a little and loving all of it. Must see.

Spoken Cafe (West Ravenswood)
I loved this adorable little spot – right under the train tracks which made it fun and they had such a lovely put together outdoor seating area with beautiful flowers. Not to mention the coffee and breakfast sandwiches were totally on point. Great find.

Cafe Urbano (Irving Park)
Good coffee, good sammies, cute little flatiron style building location. I’ll take it.

Coffee Lab + Roasters (Lakeview)
They have some amazing creative lattes and I want to try them all. Great coffee, good vibes, and donuts on the weekends (hollllla)

Doppio Coffee House (Lakeview)
Nice place with good drinks and donuts. Strong lakeview vibes but I can dig it. It’s nice to experience nice things, you know? I can be classy.

11 Degrees North (Lakeview East)
Here’s the thing, they had good coffee. Sure. But that’s not why I will be back. I’ll be back for those arepas man! Yummmmmm! Super cute, super nice staff. Definitely worth a stop.

Hero Coffee Bar (Lakeview)
I’ll be honest, I wasn’t suuuper impressed coffee-wise with Hero. But they have a few locations and I did get something floral (I forget if I got rose or lavender) but those can be tricky. So I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt. Especially because they had a selection of bagel sandwiches that were quite yummy in my tummy so I won’t fight anyone who wants to take me back.

Goddess and the Baker (Loop)
Seriously – what’s not to love about this place? It’s adorable with the most impressive display case with rainbow cakes and truly exceptional decorated cookies. And THEN they have great coffee and breakfast/lunch sandwiches? Sign me up. They tend to get super busy and aren’t nearly large enough for the crowds but if you can snag an outdoor seat it’s super fun as it’s right beneath the train.

Kapej Coffee (Old Town)
This snug little place pops up out of nowhere on a pretty residential street. It’s long and narrow and would be so much fun to snuggle into on an autumn or winter day with a crackling fire and – just, lovely. The staff was friendly and kind and they have a nice selection of various lattes and options. Been here twice and it feels like a place you’ve discovered.

Sip + Savor (Hyde Park)
There are (I think) a few Sip + Savors around Chicago but we’ve only been to the Hyde Park location. Solid coffee and I love the spread of unique lattes and mochas. Snack selection is sparse but there’s lots of indoor space and an absolutely gorgeous park across the street with a great playground so major bonus for an outdoor place to enjoy your brew.

AndySunflower Cafe (Beverly)
This place is so cute and the two women behind the counter (99% sure one was the owner) were exceptionally kind and helpful in explaining the menu to me. Excellent brews!

Big Shoulders (Gold Coast)
Super cute inside and looked like they have cushy seating in non-pandemic times. It looks exactly like a “coffee shop.” They legitimately toasted a marshmallow for me when I got the marshmallow latte soooo they obviously are in my heart forever now. They have a couple other locations but I’ve only been to this one on State Street.

Wormhole Coffee (Wicker Park)
It’s hard to be more hipster than Wormhole – but that’s why we love it, isn’t it? Smack dab in the midst of Wicker Park you’re right near Jeni’s (oh, heck yes) and they are serving up great coffee with a smidge of an outdoor space. If you can grab a spot, you can watch the riff-raff slide past and love every moment of it. Or at least I do.

Bru Coffee (Wicker Park)
Just a littel further down Milwaukee Ave you can find Bru Coffee which has three things going for it – solid coffee selections, a spot right next to Myopic Books (be still, my heart), and a selection of to-die-for crepes. Seriously… what’s not to love? The crepes took a while when we were but holy cow were they worth watching for.

Caffe Streets (Wicker Park)
Look, I’ll be honest, it was a little hard to judge this place in the midst of the pandemic. They had the whole window service thing going on and were ulllltra hipster so options were pretty limited. But the drinks were good and I appreciate solid COVID plan so they were worth the stop.

Atmos Coffee Shop (Bucktown)
Solid stop for quality coffee! Cute and friendly. I particularly enjoyed my Almond Bar Latte- delish.

Sawada Coffee (Fulton Market)
I’ll be honest here – Sawada Coffee didn’t do it for it. You’ll see they come up on just about every Chicago blog and I get it. They are clearly in-the-know when it comes to coffee and they mix a ton of their stuff with matcha – which, you know, cool but not really my flavor profile. They have donuts on Saturday at least and a few other selections so I feel good about that. But this is one of those places where it’s not just hipster, it’s the kind of place where if you are not hipster (which… guys, you’ll be shocked, this 30+ year old mom of two doesn’t quite fit the hipster vibe) you get side eye. And don’t you dare expect a smile, or even significant eye contact. This place is too cool for that.. but the coffee is solid. So there ya go.

Heritage Bikes and Coffee (West Loop)
Gah, loved this place. They have a few locations but have only hit up this one so far. Fun lattes, good pastries, and a handful of other knick-knacks. Sufficiently quirky to give me happy vibes.

Groundswell Coffee Roasters (West Loop)
This place has the perfect “my local coffeeshop” vibe. Friendly staff on a perky little section of Madison street that just begs to be strolled down. They had some donuts, some good coffee selection, who wouldn’t want to stop in?

Metric Coffee (West Loop-ish)
Okay – this place is kind of hilarious. You get here and it’s all industrial and you totally have that vibe where you wonder if you put the warehouse or something in your GPS. Don’t fear, it’s real, you can walk in and order your very sophisticated coffee. But – FUN FIND – they had this amaaaaazing selection of ridiculously fancy donuts that I bought too many of (oops?). Not sure if that’s just a weekend thing or not but I’m willing to, you know, fight for the cause, and go a couple more times to confirm for you. No need to thank me. It’s a service.

Dark Matter
Mothership (Ukrainian Village)
— Osmium (Boystown)
— Electric Mud Coffee Bar (Wicker Park)

Dark Matter has a few different locations and I’ve had the opportunity to frequent a few of them. They, honestly, are all about the same. Same menu, same vibe (uuuuultra hipster!). Their coffee is DELICIOUS and they have a few specialty options that are the bomb diggity. Not really any seating available, this is a get your coffee fix because it’s amazing and head out the do’ kind of place. Worth it and usually they have a selection of Do-Rite donuts available so, can’t fault that.

Places to pass on:

Look, I’m not trying to be mean, but there are a couple of places that just missed the mark and are worth saying – yeah, just skip them.
– Printers Row Coffee Co. (Lincoln Park) – just fine, but not great.
– Maison Parisienne (Lakeview East) – I went here because of the promise of pastries and they were decent but crazy $$ and the coffee was just okay to almost bad…
– Ritual Coffeehouse (Irving Park) – just fine
– GroundUp (West Loop) – coffee was not great and despite it smelling amaaaazing in there, the food was just okay.
– La Colombe (Randolph/West Loop) – yeah, yeah it’s a chain and it shows. Nothing to brag about.
– Oromo Cafe (Ravenswood) – accidentally went there twice and both time where ho-hum. Their specialty lattes sound delicious but both times I went their was sooo much debris in the bottom I had to ditch the last 1/4 of my cup. Disappointing.
– MeLatte Coffee (Logan Square) – so this place is ADORABLE but the coffee was only so-so and unfortunately the empanadas, a huge draw for me, were not great. I don’t be stopping by again.

Oak Park

Okay so I live in a suburb just west of the city, so you can bet that I’ve been to our local stops. I wanted to pull these aside for special props. If you can get out here (it’s actually super easy to do so by car or green/blue line) I highly recommend doing so since we have some great brews:

Kribi Coffee (Forest Park)
Kribi is AMAZING. They have delicious coffee and one of the best chai tea lattes I’ve had. They offer specialty lattes and are always updating them for the season. Gelato and a little pastry selection, breakfast sandwiches and avocado toast, it’s easy to get a light meal. Donuts on the weekend from Do-Rite and lots of indoor and outdoor seating. One of my favorite coffee shops of all time. Also they have amazing staff, I always feel so welcomed (plus a frequent visit punch card, yes please!)

Wise Cup
Such a cute place with really tasty coffee (and samosas and amazing chutney!!). A few other pastries but nothing worth chatting about. They have outdoor seating on Lake Street which, if a little noisy, is a fun and hopping spot in Oak Park.

Sugar Fixe
More bakery than coffee shop, they still make a mean cup (I am a little obsessed with their caramel-vanilla). This is the place to go if you are looking for some legit pastries and light snacks with your coffee. Amazing scones, croissants, and very classy desserts. Their indoor is really limited but their outdoor seating, while also limited, is adorable and on my favorite street, Marion, just off the main drag. Perfect spot to sit and enjoy life for a while.

Brewpoint Coffee
With another location in Elmhurst, this is a fairly established brand in Chicagoland and I’m sooo happy to have a spot here in Oak Park. They have super creative specialty lattes and other drinks and aren’t afraid of floral vibes (lavender, rose, etc – my faaaaav). Cute spot with indoor and outdoor seating. Well worth a stop.

Addis Cafe
Addis makes great coffee and has their own homemade chai (helllllo). They also have the best waffles you’ll ever have. Period. Indoor seating is really cute and while their outdoor seating is on a busy road and might not be there post-pandemic since it’s in the parking spots, there are a few options.

Whirlwind Coffee Company
New in town but already making strides! This place donates 100% of net profits to charity (holla) and their coffee is no joke. Great brews and while they don’t have froo-froo options on the menu they aren’t without flavors so it’s well worth the exploration. They are still ramping up so it was a little bare-bones but they have a side space outdoors that’s lovely. Great spot to stop.

Mulata Kitchen + Coffee
Admittedly the name of this coffee shop is very controversial so I have two minds of this place, but they do serve a good cup of coffee and they have truly amazing empanadas.

BOOKMARK THIS PAGE, FOLX! We are still exploring the city and I’ll be updating as I go! I would love to hear from you about any place not on this list that is worth a visit!

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#SpringIntoLoveBingo Picks

Need some inspiration? Here are some of my romance favs and where they could fit in the mix! More to come – and I’m happy to add in recommendations!


– Excuse Me While I Ugly Cry by Joya Goffney (haven’t read yet but the synopsis talks about blackmail!)
– Perfect on Paper by Sophie Gonzales (haven’t read yet!)
– You have a Match by Emma Lord (now this has a BIG secret!)
– The Ex Talk by Rachel Lynn Solomon
– How to Love a Duke in Ten Days by Kerrigna Byrne (haven’t read yet!)

Spring Cleaning

Set in Continental Europe
– Kisses and Croissants by Anne-Sophie Jouhanneau (haven’t read yet!)
– The Spanish Love Deception by Elena Armas (haven’t read yet!)
– Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins

Makes You Laugh
– Literally every book by Lyssa Kay Adams (Bromance Book Club FTW)
– Boyfriend Material by Alexis Hall
– The Ex Talk by Rachel Lynn Solomon

– Tweet Cute by Emma Lord (I think you can call their agreement to have their twitter challenge a pact)

Out of Comfort Zone

Black Love
– Excuse Me While I Ugly Cry by Joya Goffney (haven’t read yet!)
– Take a Hint, Dani Brown by Talia Hibbert
– Happily Ever Afters by Elise Bryant (haven’t read yet!)

MC Has Unusual Scent
– The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang

Sophomore Novel
– The Intimacy Experiment by Rosie Dann (haven’t read yet but The Roommate was the BOMB)

Clinch Cover
– Written in the Stars by Alexandria Bellefleur
– The Rakess by Scarlett Peckham (haven’t read yet!)

Social Media Rec

I mean – all of them?

Term of Endearment

Favorite Trope (for me, that’s going to be enemies to lovers OR only one bed)
– You Deserve Each Other by Sarah Hogle (haven’t read yet!)
– The Hating Game by Sally Thorne (haven’t read yet1)

Competition or Reality TV
– One to Watch by Kate Stayman-London
– The Theory of Second Best by J. Bengtsson

– Love Your Life by Sophie Kinsella
– The Happy Ever After Playlist by Abby Jimenez

– The Switch by Beth O’Leary (I definitely remember some gardening here!)

Spring Break: Vacation
– People we Meet on Vacation by Emily Henry (haven’t read yet but Beach Read was spot on and could also work for this box!)
– The Unhoneymooners by Christina Lauren
– Field Notes on Love by Jennifer E. Smith (haven’t read yet!)

Queer Historical
– Slippery Creatures by K.J. Charles (haven’t read yet!)

Big City Romance
– Love Your Life by Sophie Kinsella

PNR/SFF Romance by AOC
– Death Wish by Harper A. Brooks


Mental Health Rep

– The Roommate by Rosie Dann (okay, to be honest, I don’t remember if forearms are specifically mentioned but SURELY they are)

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Travels in Utah – A Literary, Pandemic-Friendly, Adventure

If I could give just one piece of advice to a happy life, it would be this. Find yourself a travel buddy. Someone who is willing to plan a trip with you a year in advance.

I happen to have two – and it’s glorious.

Before this crazy thing called a pandemic started, Zoe and I were sitting in Texas and decided our next adventure would be beautiful. Outdoorsy. Full of hikes and lots and lots of time to sit, talk, and write. Little did we know in planning this trip it would be the perfect (the only?) safe trip to take during a global pandemic.

I’ll admit, it was still strange to get on a plane in early November, double masked and wearing glasses, wondering if we were being stupid by not cancelling this pre-booked trip. But, with me in Chicago and Zoe in Los Angeles, we actually figured going to the remote towns in Utah would probably incur less daily exposure. So we kept on and, with careful masking, hand washing, and distance, I am happy to say we emerged from the endeavor without spreading the virus to ourselves or others.

And it was SUCH a wonderful adventure. Utah, folks, while often overlooked, is well worth the time and energy. We spent a single night in Salt Lake City and were able to see a good portion of the sights before hopping in our rental car and making the drive to Moab. Our goal – Arches National Park and a lot of writing.

All in all – mission accomplished.

Exploring Salt Lake City

We landed early in SLC and got our rental car from Rugged Rental, via the Qeeq app. This was new to me and felt maybe a little sketch, but I found the service to be excellent with Rugged and the process flawless. Give it a try if you aren’t married to one of the big rental companies. Rugged isn’t based at the airport so it’s a little annoying needing to take a shuttle, but it was quick, easy, and cheaper.

You’ll be shocked to learn our first stop was a bookstore and café for lunch. We highly recommend checking out Oasis Café and the Golden Braid Books for books. Both are adorable and the food at Oasis was excellent – try the toasted brie sandwich. So simple. So heavenly.

Toasted Brie Sandwich from Oasis Cafe

By the recommendation of just about every blog or travel guide you see, we made our way down to Temple Square to walk around and see the sites. As someone who, admittedly, knows nothing about the Church of Latter Day Saints that wasn’t taught in the musical Book of Mormon, I found myself amazed, and somewhat bewildered, by the sights. There was beauty in the structures, but Salt Lake City is just so new – and it showed. The gaudy, built in the 80s, office building for the church was both an eyesore and yet somehow endearing. Like – bless their hearts, they were so enthusiastic they didn’t even think about the aesthetics.

The entire area around Temple Square was pretty, but eerily quiet. We weren’t sure what to make of it. It was a nice day in November – mid ’70s – but perhaps a little windy and cloudy. Sure, there’s a pandemic on, but regardless we were basically the only people around aside from the overly friendly guides in their skirts and always walking 2 by 2. The spider-like structure over a main road that had oddly Germany in the 1930s tones didn’t help much either.

I’m being judge-y. Salt Lake City is a cute, quiet little place with some lovely parks. We bopped around and found some cute street art too!

By the time we had walked around the Temple Square area, we decided it was time for another book store and made it over to Weller Bookworks. This place was lovely with a large selection, used and new. Definitely a good stop.

Dinner for us that night took us to the East Liberty Tap House which had a nice patio space with firepits. We both opted for the lamb sloppy joes which, while odd in theory, were magic in my mouth. We then walked down the street and found the grand opening of Pie Fight and snagged pumpkin cheesecake hand pies for dessert. They were excellent and the new business has such a cute walk-up window.

Our airbnb for the night was just blocks from the capitol, which is such a beautiful area. Our place was above a garage and so adorable it was worthy of a squeal. Highly recommend.

Salt Lake City is so well planned – the beauty of the foresight for what it would be is not to be dismissed. Sure, it’s rigid planning with excessively wide roads made those of us from lesser planned cities feel a little uncomfortable. To me, other than the couple hipster neighborhood we found, Salt Lake City felt a little too prescriptive – very clean, very structured. A little Big Brother feeling. It was interesting and new but I wouldn’t spend more than a day or two there.

Utah Road Trip – Salt Lake City to Moab

We took the long way to Moab since we had plenty of time between check out at 10am and check in at 3pm. So we went slightly out of our way by first heading to Park City and getting a coffee at Atticus Coffee + Tea. This place was adorable and busy. Lots of kitschy items and while, yes, there were some books but to call it a book shop was a stretch. Still, fun drink options so well worth the stop.

We walked the long length of the road and immediately wished it were later than 9am since many of the shops weren’t open. But there was lots of potential with other restaurants, galleries, book shops, etc. The boutiques looked classy and not repetitive. I’d love to go back there and explore Park City again.

I’ll never forget that it was here, after a nice stroll down the role, that we learned Biden/Harris won the 2020 election. Glorious, glorious morning.

We made our second road trip pit stop in Provo and visited Pioneer Book. Despite its lovely size, I have to say I found this book shop disappointing. It felt dated and they didn’t seem to do a good job with the inventory on the shelved – there were 10 copies of the same Danielle Steel book shelved next to another 10 copies of another Danielle Steel book, for example. I mean, books are books so it was nice, but definitely not my favorite book store.

We stopped at Peace on Earth for coffee and lunch. The coffee was amazing, but our grilled cheeses were pretty terrible. So – opt for drinks and skip the food.

Provo was our last stop until we got to Moab, whose size and variety of stores genuinely surprised us. This town is way more bustling than we guessed – it was certainly more alive than Salt Lake City! There are tons of food options though we found getting delivery to be absurdly challenging.

Side note – on our way back to Salt Lake City from Moab we stopped in this tiny town, Helper, for coffee at a place called Happiness Within. It was a nice little stop, coffee was decent, and the whole place felt kitschy. Worth pulling off the road for if you need to stretch your legs.

Highlights of Moab

We stayed at this airbnb, which was picked exclusively because there is an indoor rock climbing wall in the master bedroom and the second bedroom has a 3-story bunk bed. It was wild and also perfect. Highly recommend.

There are quite a few options for coffee in Moab but our favorite was definitely Doughbird. Good coffee (and while we didn’t taste any, the doughnuts looked amazing) but even better the staff was wonderful. So friendly! We went back to that exact reason.

Mural on the side of Doughbird

We made most of our food during our stay, but we did end up getting take out from Arches Thai and Fiesta Mexicana and both were very tasty.

The best highlight of Moab though, was their bookstore, Back of Beyond Books. High praise for this place. Usually book stores in these little towns barely qualify to be called a book store but this place was legit.

Old and new books, lots of title relevant to the area, but even though the selection of fiction was small it was not limited. Someone is on top of it and had so many brand new books, really cognizant of what is going on in literature, amazing editions. Honestly, I was so impressed. Do NOT skip this place if you are in Moab!

The Hikes: Arches National Park and Canyonlands

Let’s start with the whole reason we were in Utah.

Arches National Park.

Its beauty truly knows no bounds.

The drive alone was magnificent but the hikes were also lovely. We’ll admit that even in November it was pretty busy. We heard that was likely a pandemic situation and that the weekend we were there, especially since the weather was okay to kind-of gross, typically would have been a lot quieter. Still, we and the other hikers were great with masking.


Aches National Park is well laid out with almost all the hikes being quite short. A lot of the sights are barely off the road which meant we were able to see Balanced Rock, Double Arch, Windows, all in quite succession. We took the most possible trail to Delicate Arch which we highly recommend. It was just far and challenging enough to finally feel like a real hike and the end sight of Delicate Arch was so worth it.

Double Arch

Honestly, we were able to see the vast majority of what we wanted to see of Arches in about 4-5 hours total. We missed a couple of spots and hoped to come back but the weather stopped us. It’s say you need no more than 2 days at Arches but it is sooo worth the stop.

Delicate Arch

Our last full day took us to Canyonlands to get a little variety and, we hoped, to try and catch better weather. We were wrong and ended up driving and hiking through some pretty significant snowfall. We had hoped to do a different trail, maybe more than one at Canyonlands, but the snow changed those plans. Instead we just went the short distance to Mesa Arch which was lovely and super eerie to see with the total storm clouds.

Mesa Arch

We probably missed some of the sights because of the weather but I can definitely say the views from the drive through Arches far exceeded Canyonlands. It’s an easy stop though if you find you’ve “finished” Arches and still have time on your hands.

Five Days in Utah – and we still want more

Ultimately, any place is going to be amazing when the purpose is to get together with an old friend and just be. But Utah was all we hoped it would be. Even with less-than-ideal weather we were really able to enjoy the outdoors and the amazing scenery. It’s a location well worth exploring and one that book lovers can snag some great finds too.

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#SnowInLoveBingo Picks

If you’re like me, sometimes you need help filling in these bingo squares! Here are some of my favorites and their categories – and also some of the ones that I hope will fit the categories! I’ll fill these in as I read and learn more so come back through Feb for more hot picks. And let me know what I can add!

Set Outside The US/Europe
Shipped by Angie Hockman – haven’t read this yet, but it’s set in the Galapagos!
A Summer for Scandal by Lydia San Andres – set in Spanish Caribbean

Family Drama
Beach Read by Emily Henry – Female MC has all kinds of family angst
The Roommate by Rosie Danan – Female MC struggles against the family ties
Like the Wind by J. Bengtsson – plenty of family drama for this male MC
Tweet Cute by Emma Lord – sooo much family drama. Like, the whole point!
I Owe You One by Sophie Kinsella
Love Your Life by Sophie Kinsella – male MC has some serious family issues
Spoiler Alert by Olivia Dade – major drama with both MCs!
In a Holidaze by Christina Lauren – literally the whole thing.
The Switch by Beth O’Leary

Hot Beverage
Take a Hint, Dani Brown – Talia Hibbert – romance brews over coffee!

Beach Read by Emily Henry – Both are authors
The Bromance Book Club by Lyssa Kay Adams (and any of the sequels!)
Love Your Life by Sophie Kinsella – main characters meet at a romance fiction writing retreat

Neanderthal Seeks Human by Penny Reid
Almost anything by Lauren Blakely – Well Hung, Mister O, the list of good ‘uns continues.
Love Your Life by Sophie Kinsella – I mean there’s some learnings but this feel super fluffy
Instant Karma by Marissa Meyer

Childfree HEA
A Rogue of One’s Own by Evie Dunmore
The Roommate by Rosie Danan
Love Your Life by Sophie Kinsella
Written in the Stars by Alexandria Bellefleur

Into The Woods
Beach Read by Emily Henry – at some point there is a woods, and camping.
The Simple Wild by K.A. Tucker – Alaska, lots of woods out there, eh?
City of the Lost by Kelley Armstrong – okay, this one isn’t technically a romance novel but there IS romance and detective work and SO MUCH TIME IN THE WOODS so it totally fits, IMO.

Black Historical
Rebel by Beverly Jenkins – haven’t read it yet but it sounds soooo good. Jenkins has a number of other novels that would likely qualify in this category!

Feels Like Home
My (Not So) Perfect Life by Sophie Kinsella – In this one the character “returns home” – and to be honest, all of Sophie’s books feel like home to me. I just love her.
Evvie Drake Starts Over by Linda Holmes – I can’t remember if, technically, either of these characters “comes home” but I feel like MCs have to get to the root of who they are.
Crazy Stupid Bromance by Lyssa Kay Adams – they actually have a line about “coming home” to each other. So BOOM.
In a Holidaze by Christina Lauren – how homey this feels is kind of the WHOLE point
The Switch by Beth O’Leary

Fake Relationship
Boyfriend Material by Alexis Hall – okay, so I never quite got why they had a fake relationship but this book is sooo funny I don’t even care.
The Unhoneymooners by Christina Lauren – not just a fake relationship, but a fake marriage!
Written in the Stars by Alexandria Bellefleur

Cover/Title You Love
You Had Me at Hola by Alexis Daria
Written in the Stars by Alexandria Bellefleur

Happy Holidays
The Christmas Wager by Delilah Marvelle – I haven’t read this one yet but I am a big fan of Marvelle’s stuff!
In a Holidaze by Christina Lauren

Audiobook or HEA
Like the Wind by J. Bengtsson – great on audio!
Mister O by Lauren Blakely – this is sooo goood on audio
The Simple Wild by K.A. Tucker – I really enjoyed this on audio

Brown Eyes
Well Met by Jen DeLuca – I am 99% sure Simon has brown eyes. If I’m wrong, I’m not sorry for suggesting this book.
Spoiler Alert by Olivia Dade – female MC has brown eyes

Small Town Romance by Author of Color
The Duke Who Didn’t by Courtney Milan
A Summer for Scandal by Lydia San Andres – haven’t read yet

Head Over Heels by Hannah Orenstein – definitely some snowy scenes in this one
Bringing Down the Duke by Evie Dunmore – there’s on particularly cold and frosty scene in this one that starts to warm things up! *wink wink, nudge, nudge*
In a Holidaze by Christina Lauren – lots of snow in Park City, Utah!
The Simple Wild by K.A. Tucker – Alaska – nuff said

F/F Contemporary
Before You Say I Do – Clare Lydon
Written in the Stars – Alexandria Bellefleur – this one was lovely

Messy Characters
Fix Her Up by Tessa Bailey – to be literal here, at one point the female MC gets super muddy. Ha!
Love Your Life by Sophie Kinsella – female MC is super untidy and just like… a mess. Hahaha
In a Holidaze by Christina Lauren – their situation is so messy IMO

Specific/Unusual Profession
Wild Cards by Simone Elkeles – okay, so this is YA so it’s not really a “profession” but she’s a female football player soooo…
Red, White, and Royal Blue by Casey McQuinston – surely being a prince is an unusual profession?
Spoiler Alert by Olivia Dade – female MC is a geologist!
The Simple Wild by K.A. Tucker -male MC is an Alaskan bush pilot.

10 Blind Dates by Ashley Elston
Get a Life, Chloe Brown by Talia Hibbert
The Duke who Didn’t by Courtney Milan

Like the Wind by J. Bengtsson – gotta love an MC who is a pop star
The Happy Ever After Paylist by Abby Jimenez – rock star boyfriennnnnds
Cake by J. Bengtsson – another rock star

Eligible: A Modern Retelling of Pride & Prejudice by Curtis Sittenfeld
Cinder by Marissa Meyer (or any in the series)
Heartless by Marissa Meyer

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