Wanderlust is Calling! Travel Resources & Inspiration Hilarystyle

#guidebooks

Generalife Gardens Alhambra Spain

It’s no secret that exploring the world and everything it has to offer is something I love and want to do more of (hence this blog), but realistically I can’t always be traveling… So how do I keep my wanderlust at bay? I admit it’s not always easy, and some who know me, mainly my husband, might say I fail miserably.

#generalife
Relaxing in the Generalife Gardens of the Alhambra Granada Spain 2015

Feed Your Wanderlust

Feeding my wanderlusting spirit is a full time job! Have I mentioned, I love my job!? Eating out and cooking food from favorite destinations, or places I dream of going is a fun way to satisfy my wanderlust. In fact, we’ve picked destinations based solely on a meal!

Our first family trip to New Orleans came about while planning a ski trip in Tahoe. Sitting in a New Orleans themed restaurant planning, we realized, why not New Orleans? We went straight home and booked our tickets! To this day we’ve never made it to Tahoe, but we do visit New Orleans every year.

#lovecitypark
Taken in City Park during our most recent visit to NOLA in April 2017.

Interested in visiting New Orleans? I’ve written a “few” Articles:

I love fish & chips, and they’re a nice reminder of our  visits to London, a favorite destination of mine. We make regular visits to The Wee Chippy, on Venice Beach, and although they don’t offer mushy peas, it does help keep that particular craving satisfied.

#theweechippy

We love the food in Spain with two of my favorite items being Manchego cheese and chorizo. I keep a steady supply of both these items in the house at all times!

I don’t know how “Spanish” the Spanish Latte at Menotti’s is, but I do love the coffee in Spain, so this is a nice reminder.

#menottis

Cheese is easily my favorite food! My local market has a great selection and I was pretty excited to discover they even had Blarney Castle cheese?!

#kerrygoldblarneycastle

Cork Blarney Castle
Here we are at Blarney Castle in 2016

Blogs & Books

Blogs

hilarystyle blog header tim

Of course I don’t only write a travel blog I also read other travel blogs, which not only helps with planning, but they’re also great for “visiting” places I may never make it to, and for inspiration and advice!

#datdog
I met  up with my fellow Blogger, Cory, from Fifi & Hop in New Orleans!

I’ve discovered many wonderful blogs, and have come across real world advice which I know I’ll use. In fact, I already have!

I’ll be traveling throughout Nevada, Utah, and Arizona in a few weeks, and I booked rooms based on Oregon Girl Around the World‘s blog. Thanks to Tanama Tales, I learned I’ll need advance reservations for the Las Vegas Neon Museum, a place I definitely plan on visiting.

Travel Blogs I read frequently:

Clare from Suitcases and Sandcastles writes about family travel. Her photography is stunning, and her destinations are wide ranging, they include everything from remote Greek Islands to The Hundred Acre Wood (otherwise known as Ashdown Forest)!

Katy from Untold Morsels  writes about her family’s travels with an emphasis on food and unique places to stay! After reading about her stay in Amsterdam I’m definitely putting houseboat on my list!

Lorelei from Caliglobtrotter is a California girl currently living in Germany. I love reading about her adventures, especially the many castles she visits! Her photography is amazing, and now I know how to pronounce Ljubljana! (Pronounced: Lub-lee-yana)!

Erin of Oregon Girl Around the World currently lives in Copenhagen, but we’re both from the PNW, and I love that we connected with eachother via blogging! She’s full of fun and eco-friendly ideas!

I always look forward to reading posts by The Adventures of Daisy the Bus, written by Jonny a father of four, who loves to travel to places off the beaten path. He paints a lovely picture with his words, his photos are pretty great too, and I have wanted to visit just about every place he mentions!

Cory of Fifi & Hop, who I was lucky enough to meet in New Orleans, writes about her family’s adventures on the East Coast and abroad! I especially loved her post on Tuscany, I was ready to book a flight after reading it!

I love reading Joy Loves Travel who seems to have some similar interests to my own! Her info on Belgium came in handy prior to my own visit there.

Dannii Jane of A Beautiful Thing writes a lifestyle blog, but features her adventures in and around London and Europe. Thanks to her we found ourselves in Camden during our last visit!

Books

#guidebooks

I admit I have a guidebook habit. As soon as I learn I’ll be going somewhere, or even if it’s just a possibility I’ll pick up the guidebook(s). I also love travel magazines, the big glossy photos, Best Of lists and the off the beaten path recommendations all feed my passion to see more of the world!

Though not a book, Instagram is great for inspiration, and I have discovered not only far away places, but many fun ideas much closer to home.

Some of my favorite Instagrammers:

⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ 🇬🇧 Photo: @cleeve_04_ 🇬🇧 ______________________________________ Good evening from the very edge of the known Northern Roman Empire – Hadrian's Wall, Northumberland, England. I absolutely love this shot..but some of you might be thinking "eh? what's this?"… let me explain. On becoming Roman Emperor in 117AD, Hadrian set about making the Empire more secure, separating Roman and Barbarian territories. This was the result…Hadrian’s Wall was the north-west frontier of the Roman empire for nearly 300 years. It was built by the Roman army on the orders of the emperor Hadrian following his visit to Britain in AD 122. A World Heritage Site since 1987, Hadrian’s Wall is an astounding feat of engineering. The concrete alone is a marvel.. Roman concrete (as seen in the core of Hadrian’s wall) was made by pouring liquid mortar (fine volcanic ash) over a layer of broken stones, allowing it to harden before repeating the process. It's stood the constant battering from rain and snow for thousands of years! Hadrian's Wall leaves a lasting impression on any who visit, including writer George RR Martin who used it as inspiration for his own Wall in the bestselling books and hit TV series, Game of Thrones. This is probably one of the few places I recommend going when the weather is a bit wild. Sunshine isn't the same… dark clouds adds to the atmosphere. I've uploaded a story from my recent trip there… a very brooding atmosphere. I don't know who that figure was standing at the top near the end of the footage…when I walked back up, there was nobody in sight and I could see for miles. A visitor from the past? Or had I had one too many warming whiskeys in the nearby cosy pub? (And yes…this was the location used in the Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves film with Kevin Costner and Morgan Freeman!) – Beautiful shot by @cleeve_04_ 🇬🇧 Want your Photos of Britain to be featured? Follow us and then add the tag #photosofbritain and tag us in the picture too! 🇬🇧

A post shared by Photos Of Britain 🇬🇧 (@photosofbritain) on

wander 🌎 wonder Photo Credit: @london #WRDSMTH #WRDSMTHinLondon #flashback

A post shared by WRDSMTH (@wrdsmth) on

🌎Interlaken, Switzerland 🇨🇭 📸Photo by: @veronique.yang

A post shared by Best City Shots (@best.city.shots) on

Preserve your Wanderlust

#mpixbooks

I’m sure I’m not alone when I say I have TOO many photos on my computer and no idea how to manage them all! Recently I’ve started creating photo books using not only my travel pictures, but the text from my blog posts as well. They look lovely, and make great keepsakes.

#mpixbooks

We don’t just shut our photos up into books on a shelf, we love to print them out for display too! Some of our favorites from near and far are hanging in large format around our home. We love it when people come to visit and ask about the different locations!

#mpixprints
These 20 x 20  London dessert prints hang in my son’s room!

It’s not all about photography! We love a good project, and have created various pieces of art around the house, which represent loved places. Most recently I painted this “graffiti” Union Jack flag using spray paint and resin. I’m practicing for those Venice Art Walls! We can’t forget about the around the world furniture projects!

#unionjackpainting

#diychairs

Lego Destinations

#legolondonskyline

We’re big lego fans in our house and we get excited when sets are created that represent places we’ve been!

#legotowerbridge
This rather large Lego Tower Bridge lives on top of my guidebook shelf!

We built this Tower Bridge set over the winter holidays. I’m anxiously awaiting my Houses of Parliament set, which should keep me busy this summer, while planning what I hope is a Christmas trip to the UK.

Be A Hometown Tourist

#gettycenterviewWhether or not you’ve lived very long in a place, I guarantee you haven’t done it all! We’ve had such a great time this past year playing tourist in our own town, and with all that Los Angeles has to offer, I see no signs of that slowing down!

In case you’re interested, here are just some of the articles I’ve written about our recent discoveries in and around the Los Angeles area!

The J. Paul Getty Museums 

8 Reasons VENICE Should Top your LA List

50 Things To Do in Los Angeles

The Museum of Ice Cream Los Angeles

The Hidden Staircases of Silver Lake

Downtown Los Angeles Graffiti & Mural Walking Tour

InstaLA! 15 Places to Snap Those InstaGood Pics

InstaLA! Part 2: #WallAntics

Tourist In My Own Town

One Amazing Day in LA!

Warner Brothers Studio Tour

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter

The Last Bookstore…


Pin for later:

#travelinspiration

40,000 Problems… A Holiday Gift Guide

Wait! What? Who has 40,000 problems and what kind of gift guide is this anyway?

No, I’m not gifting you 40,000 problems, but now that I’ve got your attention…

I love to take photos, but I don’t love to delete them, and until recently that wasn’t a problem, until it was. A big one! Sitting in my hotel room in the middle of the trip of a lifetime the storage was full on both my phone and my computer and I was suddenly unable to upload anymore photos.

40000-problems-a-holiday-gift-guide-9773

What initially felt like memories too precious to delete now felt like 40,000 tedious problems that had to be sorted. Now! That was a few months ago, and I’ve now deleted thousands of photos, but I still have a long way to go.

40000-problems-a-holiday-gift-guide-9789

My love of snapping pictures hasn’t gone anywhere, so even though I’ve learned my lesson about hitting the delete button, new photos are added daily, making this a two steps forward one step back kind of thing.

So, how is this a gift guide?

Well, with all these photos their must be some worth keeping and sharing, right?

holiday-bannerOne solution to all these “problems” has been to find new ways to display and store my photos off the computer. In my quest to do so I’ve sent, displayed, framed, published and gifted photos. With as many photo companies to choose from as there are photos on my hard drive it can be hard to know which one to use.

Are you considering giving photos gifts this year? If so, here is what I hope is a helpful guide to some of what I’ve learned:

Consider Frames Instead of Flowers

#holidaygiftguide

Consider sending an enlarged photo of you and your loved one, or of a mutual favorite place instead of flowers when friends or loved ones are under the weather or for a holiday gift this year. Ordering beautifully framed prints from companies like Shutterfly can be very affordable, especially if you take advantage of promotions, and they will last forever.

#holidaygiftguide

For an even more budget friendly option there’s IKEA. Their frames come in all sizes and colors, some priced as low as $1.49, which you can use to frame photos you print yourself or have printed at your local drugstore. I personally use these to frame my son’s art and its great!

Teen Decor

#teendecorideas

Anyone whose ever tried knows teens are incredibly difficult to shop for, however, they love to take photos. Consider having some of their favorite snaps printed. Using an app called Mixtiles we chose some of my son’s favorite photos and had them enlarged and mounted on removable foam squares. The entire process is done on the phone, takes minutes and according to the FAQ the tiles can be rearranged as many as two dozen times each.

Snail Mail

#postcardfromlondon

Postcards: Looking for something a little lower budget? Everyone loves to receive snail mail (so long as it’s not a bill)! I’ve been using the LaLaLab app to send postcards to friends and family directly from my phone using photos I took myself and its super fun! It’s a great way to say thank you, I miss you, or just hello. What a nice surprise to open your mailbox and find a personalized postcard with photos from a recent visit or fun moment.

#2014holidaycard

Holiday cards: I love sending holiday cards every year and I love receiving them! Each one is like a little gift and I know many people feel the same. I never feel organized enough to hire someone and usually take my own photo. This year I tricked my boys and told them our photo shoot was just a practice session. I got the photos I needed in 15 minutes!! This year’s card is still under wraps, this one is from 2014.

#movingcardMoving cards: Don’t forget to send moving cards. I know its better to give than to receive, but… There are many great websites and designs to choose from and I usually go with the one having the best sale! This year I used Minted to print my holiday cards and Tiny Prints for our moving announcement.

Photo Books

#photobooksCreating an album of people or memories is the best way to get those files off your computer and they make wonderful gifts too. I’ve been trying out a number of different photo book companies in all different price ranges and skill levels. Here is some of what I’ve learned so far:

Mpix  – Premium Panoramic Photo Book starting at $49.99

This was the most expensive of the books, but with a linen hardcover and lay flat pages it’s also the nicest. I created the book on my computer and once I learned their system was really able to make the book my own, creating custom layouts and adding text. The quality of the paper and prints is excellent.

LaLaLab. – Photo Book $30.00

Offering a range of photo products the LaLaLab. app couldn’t be easier to use. Choose your product, choose  your photos, personalize, and purchase! That’s it! If you’re looking to edit, alter or add text this is not the app for you. While the book did come out nicely, I’m not sure it’s $30 quality.

Chatbooks – Custom Photo Book starting at $12

The cute compact size of these books is a definite plus, however I’m not sure it’s the right company for my needs. I ended up adding a lot of pages, which made it somewhat cost prohibitive. I found their app complicated and the end result less than what I was hoping for. Chatbooks offers a subscription service which would be the perfect gift for a teenager or grandparents who might not be so concerned with all the fine details.

Mosaic – Photo Book $20 plus shipping

Created from your phone and delivered in just 4 days, Mosaic couldn’t be simpler and makes a great gift, especially if you are short on time! Chose 20 photos, rearrange them if you’d like, choose the background color, review and press order. I used Mosaic to create a memento of a girls weekend to New Orleans.

With so many photos left to sort, I’ll be making more books in the future. I’m planning on trying out Apple’s new book formats, along with Blurb, Montage, Mixbook and the Mpix softcover version. Do you have too many photos on your computer? How do you manage them? Will you be giving photo gifts this holiday season? If so, which companies do you love?

 

 

Mom Stuff: I’m Not A Soccer* Mom…

My kids don’t play organized sports and that’s okay! In fact I’ve always liked it that way, but more importantly they like it that way. Please don’t misunderstand I’m not anti team sports, and we did encourage the boys to try…

#soccercampIn fact after years of signing my older son up for the “right” team, getting up early on weekends, shlepping the little brother along, volunteering, preparing snack, washing the uniform, losing the uniform, returning the uniform and driving back and forth to soccer, baseball, basketball, and swim team I rejoiced when he finally asked to quit.

In truth he didn’t really have the drive necessary to succeed, but expected success, how was that going to work long term? I could see years of disappointment ahead and as a mom I could hardly bear it.

It wasn’t all bad and there were some nice moments along the way, but none of them made up for all the times I had to drag him all of us to practice knowing he wasn’t even really having fun. I used to pray for a rain out and we live in California –  where we’ve been experiencing a drought for the past 5 years.

Freedom

Once we’d liberated ourselves from the grueling team sport schedules, I worried about what would happen to our friendships after spending years being part of “the team.” What would happen now? Would it be okay? Turns out it would! Phew!

We slept in on weekends while our friends did the sports thing and then met up with them later… But, that all changed as soon as we moved. It’s hard to be the new kid when you’re not into team sports? How do you meet people?

Guess I’d Better Set That Alarm After All

#surfteam

Simon discovered surfing this past summer and joined his school’s surf team! How cool is that?! Watching him practice and seeing the look of joy on his face has finally opened me up to what it must feel like for other parents during their child’s sporting events. Instead of a field we meet at the beach, it’s the rash guard that’s lost and the wetsuit that needs a wash, but the little brother loves the beach and even though surf boards make carpooling difficult I’ll do the shlepping, because I love to see the look of happiness on my son’s face!

#surfpractice
Sunset Surf Team Practice
#carpoolwithsurfboard
Heading to sunrise surf practice

So maybe it’s not a Ball Sport as Simon calls them, but he’s found his passion, which sadly for me means no more sleeping in on weekends. Its back to those early mornings, afternoon practices, team events and competitions, only this time I won’t mind a bit!

So, I guess I’m joining the sports mom club after all… better late than never!

*Insert team sport here.

Donuts Are The New Cupcakes!

#crosstowndoughnutsDoughnuts are the new cupcakes, which in turn were the new bagel or were they the new frozen yogurt? It’s hard to keep track, because very much like fashion, food fads come and go.

#donutsarethenewcupcakes

Beignets from Cafe du Monde in NOLA have always been my personal favorites, the king of donuts! In fact, other than trips to New Orleans, I go years without eating any type of donut because IMHO, there is no other donut. That is, there WAS no other…

#shakethebagThese days with gourmet donut shops popping up on just about every corner it’s getting harder to resist. I’m not usually one to jump on the bandwagon, but, Hey… I’m jumping on! Of course the kids and Tim will need to assist! Care to join us? Keep reading…

DonutsThis list will be our version of a best of, and as we currently reside in SoCal, many of our donuts will be located here, however as this fad seems to have taken the world by storm, I’ve included a few places worth mentioning from two of my other favorite cities. The more the merrier!

Honorable mentions:

District Donuts – New Orleans, Louisiana

#districtdonutsWe discovered District 2 years ago and when I’m not in NOLA, I drool over their daily donut creations on Instagram. They’re not beignets, but these guys sure know how to make a donut! Not to mention their sliders and brew (coffee) are pretty great too!

Crosstown Doughnuts – SOHO London, England

#pb&jdonuts

We stumbled across this yummy place one afternoon on a recent visit to London, we found ourselves back the very next day. The cinnamon rolls were my favorite! Alas there are no photos, as we ate them up too quickly for pictures!

hilarystyle’s Top Donut Shops

Okay, so there are only 5* donut shops on this list, I fully intended to make this a top 10, but between ice cream distractions and repeat tastings, I’ve decided my waistline just can’t take a top 10 list, so without further ado, starting with #5, here are hilarystyle’s top 5 donuts in the greater Los Angeles area.

5. Stan’s Donuts – Westwood, Los Angles

Stan’s donuts were decent, but not spectacular and a bit on the dry side. We sampled maple glazed and the shop specialty a peanut butter filled donut with chocolate glaze and chocolate chips. In fairness we went to Stan’s around 9pm on a weeknight, but parking was so tough, I’m not sure its worth going back for a second try.

4. DKs Donuts – Santa Monica

#dksdonutsI must admit my first impression of Dks wasn’t the best. It wasn’t super clean, but it was super popular. That says something… doesn’t it? There were many donut choices ranging from strange and unusual (Ube, anyone?) to the classics. We sampled a strawberry crueler, red velvet oreo, peanut butter chocolate, a cronut and a cinnamon twist. The donuts were fresh and we all agreed the peanut butter and chocolate was the best!

3. Blue Star Donuts – Abbot Kinney, Venice

Offering unique flavors like Habanero PB&J, trendy flavors like maple bacon, and the more traditional like lemon poppyseed you’ll find something for everyone at Blue Star. Elliot loves the Meyer lemon & key lime curd, but the crisp edges of the lemon poppyseed make it my personal favorite. Maybe it reminds me of the crisp edges on beignets?

2. Sidecar Doughnuts – Santa Monica

We love this place and until very recently it was hands down our number one! The doughnuts are beautifully made, always fresh and I’ve yet to taste one I didn’t enjoy. Simon loves them so much he knows the shop hours by heart! We’ve had multiple flavors including: lemon meringue pie, vanilla twist, huckleberry, maple bacon, and more, but Simon and I both agree that the vanilla twist is our favorite!

#happybirthdaydonuts
Birthday Donuts from Sidecar!

1. Cafe Dulce – Little Tokyo, Los Angeles

DonutsSwooping in at the last second to claim the number one spot is Cafe Dulce in Downtown Los Angeles’ Little Tokyo. Though technically not a donut shop, donuts dominated their pastry case and after tasting one I can see why! We shared the strawberry cream though I would have loved to try the Fruity Pebbles donut or the Chocolate Creamy donut…The dough was the lightest, fluffiest dough we’ve had yet and the flavor was delicious. I am thankful this place isn’t near my house, but I’m sure we will find our way back!

Donuts

Artisanal, traditional, old school, specialty, trendy and unique…

Which one’s your favorite?

You’d better hurry, because, ice cream…

 

*Some donut shops didn’t make the list.

Hotel Reviews! Hilarystyle!

When I think of travel many things come to mind, adventures, seeing new sights, trying new foods, and dedicated family time. I love all of those things so much, however there are a few things about travel that I don’t love… Though worth bitching about mentioning, there is nothing that would stop me from embarking on my next journey, let’s not carried away!

hotel-reivew
Arriving in Dublin!

Having recently had the opportunity to stay in 12 different hotels over the course of 6 weeks I had a lot of time to think about the things I love and don’t love in hotel rooms. Before I tell you specifics I’ll admit upfront that I’m a bit of a hotel snob. However, I do try to be objective. Really!

A few of my not so favorite things:

  • Why are there never enough towels!? Enough said…
  • Data – in this age of instant satisfaction spotty data just won’t cut it, especially at the rates they’re charging for it?! This is especially irritating when one is attempting to watch the season finale of Game of Thrones from a hotel room and there is little or no wifi service!
  • Laundry services – Is it just me or do all hotel laundry services use the same very bad strong smelling detergent? And too much of it at that! Since Elliot insists on throwing up in just about every country we’ve ever visited and Simon fills in the blanks we’ve had plenty of occasions to notice.
  • Crappy shampoo – In an effort to travel light and pack everything in a carry on suitcase packing shampoo isn’t always an option, so more often than not travel equals bad hair that never quite feels clean. High on my dislike list are the two in one shampoo options!
  • Weak Hairdryers – and don’t even get me started on where to find the hairdryer! I like to think of it as a game: Find The Hairdryer. I get to play it at each new location! Yay me.
  • Plug placement – Why oh why can’t their be a hairdryer plug in the bathroom?! I’m traveling with a man who doesn’t shave on vacation (yes, even when traveling for six straight weeks), yet there’s always a shaver plug available!

Between bad water pressure, hard water, soft water, weak hair dryers, scalding hairdryers, cheap shampoo, rain, and humidity it’s almost impossible to have a good hair day while traveling, but throw in the fact that the hairdryer isn’t located in the bathroom and I’m absolutely sunk!

Ireland The WestburyI’m sharing a room with three other people, none of whom wake up as early as I do, so while I can take care of everything else quietly in the bathroom, drying my hair isn’t an option unless I want three extremely grumpy traveling companions!

hotel-review-headerAll of this has prompted me to come up with a personal rating system for places I stay and blog about!

I’ve decided this hairdryer icon hairdryer will work perfectly. Moving forward I’ll use a scale of 1 to 5 with 5 being the best! I’ve just finished a series of blog posts about our recent travels through Ireland, so I’ll start with those properties first! While cleanliness, comfort, and service are paramount. My ratings will also include the following criteria:

  • Water pressure
  • Shampoo quality
  • Placement of the hairdryer plug

Reviews:

The Westbury Hotel – Dublin

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Dublin The Westbury Hotel ReivewThe Westbury Hotel had lovely bathrooms, with really good water and pressure! The shampoo and conditioner smelled and worked great! The hairdryer plug wasn’t in the bathroom but instead located at the mini bar/coffee station right next to the bed. The hairdryer was so hot I had to use the medium setting or risk burning my hair – that’s a first! If only the hairdryer plug had been located in the bathroom.

Overall this hotel was a lovely property located in a great part of town and I would absolutely stay here again. If you’re interested in a visit to Dublin, you might like to read Three Days in Dublin and if you’re a beer drinker or even if you’re not check out my post about The Guinness Storehouse!

The Ross Hotel – Killarney

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Ireland The Ross HotelThe lobby and main areas in The Ross Hotel were fun and very trendy, but this didn’t carry over to the rooms which weren’t nearly as cheerful as the rest of the property. The bathrooms were pretty utilitarian with dark shower stalls and although the water pressure was decent, the shampoo and conditioner were awful. I never really felt like my hair was clean during our stay. The hairdryer was in the bathroom, but it was so weak it was hardly worth it.

Considering Killarney isn’t a big town and the staff, service and location were great I would consider staying again, but I would bring my own supplies. Killarney is well worth a visit as is The Ring of Kerry and if Castles and Cliffs are on your list than you are in the right part of the world for those as well!

The Twelve

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#thetwelvehotel

The Twelve located just a few minutes down the road from Galway had a lovely and helpful staff and the rooms were very spacious for a family of four. Little touches of whimsy were placed here and there, so I really wanted to give them a better review… However, even great water pressure won’t help if the shampoo is terrible and it not only smelled bad, but it didn’t do anything. Unfortunately, the only plug located near the mirror was on the floor, so I had to dry my hair while kneeling on the floor. The hair dyer was decent though… In hindsight, I might like to stay just a little closer to Galway, so probably won’t choose to stay at The Twelve again. Galway was a lovely little town and if you fancy a chilly dip in the bay you’ll be in the right place!

Stay tuned for more hotel reviews hilarystyle!

 

Cocoas Around the World!

#lisbon

#corinthiacocoa

These days everybody’s an expert! Wine, food, specialty coffees, you name it, but in our house we specialize in one thing, cocoa! Yes! That’s right, cocoa! We’re cocoa connoisseurs and for the past three years we’ve we made it our business to sample cocoa in just about every place we’ve visited.

In the beginning Simon kept a notebook dedicated to his tastings and even kept a list of favorites, ratings and critiques. More recently, he’s been less diligent about keeping up the notebook, but we’re still enjoying cocoa wherever we go. From the West Coast of the United States to the coast of Spain and beyond, from the most basic instant Nestle packet made at home to the surprise and delight we experienced when ordering at the Corinthia Hotel in London, ordering cocoa has become our tradition! It’s become a great way to get the kids involved with our travels and in the moment! Even Lego Batman joins in the fun!

We’re currently working on adding to our list, but in the meantime we thought it would be fun to share with you some of our previous findings*!

Simon’s Original Cocoa Findings:

Great Cocoas

Pastisseria Bubó Born  – Barcelona

This was a lovely little cake shop just steps from our hotel room in the Born district of Barcelona and situated in the square just to the right of the Santa Maria del Mar.

#barcelona

Black Medicine  – Edinburgh, Scotland

“Great topping and rich sweet cocoa.”

We stumbled upon this cozy place while wandering one afternoon. It was a perfect place to stop for a rest and a warm up.

#edinburgh

Corinthia Hotel – London, England

“Good. Not sweet, but can be when you add the flavoring from four toppings.”

The cocoa that started it all! It’s not just about the cocoa here, but the toppings as well! Often our first stop when arriving in London, this is the king of all cocoas!

#corinthialondon

Cafe Venezia  – Palo Alto, California

“Great. Rich and thick and close to home.”

Not far from our home the boys love the cocoa here, though in my opinion its more like a cup of pudding.

cocoa

Home or Nespresso – Bay Area

“good. From home. You can create frothy hot cocoa with a button.”

Fine Cocoas

Cafe Richelieu Louvre – Paris, France

Louvre

Wagamama – London, England

Wagamama is a fast causal Asian style noodle restaurant that we all enjoyed. Apparently, according to Simon, their cocoa wasn’t too shabby either!

#cocoa

Just Okay

Caledonian Hotel – Edinburgh, Scotland

Bad

Pastisseria Bubó Born  – Barcelona

Apparently, the second visit to Bubo wasn’t as good as the first, which earned it a place at the bottom of our list.

#barcelona

Unfortuantly, I don’t have photos for all the cocoas on Simon’s original list, but don’t worry there are plenty of photos from other tastings!

Cocoa By The Country:

Scotland

Cafe Noir – Edinburgh

#Cafenoir

Crannog Restaurant – Fort William, Highlands

Lucky us, we stumbled upon Crannog, which is considered to be one of Fort Williams best eating establishments, and thoroughly enjoyed our meal and the view. Not to mention this very tasty cup of cocoa, which I still remember to this day tasted a bit like Nestle Quick.

#

France

A lovely little cafe beside Fontaine Stravinsky  just outside the Pompidou Center.

#paris

Spain

We had the good fortune to spend an afternoon with a friend of Tim’s who is also a local. He took us to a fabulous cafe, which he had been coming to since he was a small boy, where we enjoyed chocolate y churros!

cocoa
Granja La Pallaresa – Barcelona

#barcelona

Mercat Princesa – Barcelona

We loved this food market and found time to visit almost every day while in Barcelona. Not only was the cocoa lovely to look at but it was tasty as well. Every single thing we ate here was fantastic and the people were incredibly friendly!

#barcelona

NH  Collection Victoria Hotel – Granada

After a long day and evening exploring the Alhambra, we enjoyed relaxing with a cup of cocoa in the hotel lounge.

#granada

El Cafe de las Monjas – Toledo

#toledo

The boys loved this place as did I! The pastry were incredibly yummy and Simon had tough time walking away from his mug before he had downed every last drop!

#toledo

Portugal

Hotel Santa Justa – Lisbon

Have I mentioned, there’s no better way to start your day than with a nice tall cup of cocoa?

#lisbon

Hotel Algar Seco Parque – Carvoeiro, Algarve

#algarve

Restaurante Boneca Bar – Carvoeiro, Algarve

#algarve

United States

Twede’s Cafe – North Bend, Washington

Home of the famous Twin Peaks Cherry Pie and a Damn Fine Cup Of Coffee, I must say I thought the cocoa was far superior to the coffee!

Cocoa

NOT Cocoa, but absolutely worth a mention!

Now, don’t get me wrong I LOVE a great cup of warm cocoa as much as the next person, but fabulous Spanish coffee, this amazing and unique acorn liquor, and of course traditional tried and true English breakfast Tea are all pretty high on my list as well!

Cocoa Gallery:

*Simon wrote these reviews when he was 11.

 

Glasgow…Whoops! I did It Again!

Glasgow day one-3336Whoops! Accidentally hit the publish button before I was ready, again… Tomorrow we will be two weeks into our six week whirlwind adventure, which includes six countries, multiple cities and countless experiences! Keeping track of everything over the course of six weeks will be a challenge, so keeping a daily log of everything we are doing, eating and seeing will ensure that I can share it with all of you! Oops! My plan was to work out the correct spelling, punctuation and small details later, but things don’t always go as planned. I’ll chalk it up to spending the day traveling from Belfast to Glasgow and settling into our 5th hotel in just under two weeks time.

Though we haven’t had time to see very much of Glasgow as of yet, what we have seen is pretty great! I’ll look forward to writing all about it later, but until then here are a few photos from this afternoons first glimpse!

Glasgow day one-3348

Glasgow day one-3373Glasgow day one-3380

 

Backpacks. Who needs ’em?

Backpacks!-1834I won’t lie, I’ve always been a backpack hater, but maybe not for the reasons you might think. Though it’s true they are often far from stylish or fashion forward the main reason I hate them has more to do with the people wearing them…

Yes, I’m talking to you oblivious backpack wearer!

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You know who you are. You, who fill your giant pack with as much stuff as it can hold and head out for the day, completely oblivious to the fact that every time you move to the right or left you’re knocking down small children and hitting people in the face.

Of particular annoyance, backpacks on airplanes! As soon as I see one coming I just know it’s going to hit me in the head, its wearer completely unaware that they’ve just taken out half the plane on their way down the aisle.

Another pet peeve, sightseers with backpacks! Historic monuments, castles and other similar tourist attractions weren’t built with millions of visitors in mind. You might not notice, but when you try to squeeze into these spaces it’s not just your pack rubbing on the wall, but the zippers and plastic buckles as well. As the years go by, the countless backpacks, zippers and buckles rubbing the walls of these amazing places cause extreme and often irreparable damage. Do I sound bitchy? It’s not just me! Really! In recent year’s I’m seeing more and more restrictions placed on the size and type of personal belongings allowed in when visiting popular tourist destinations. The Alhambra and Westminster Abbey to name a few.

Just Be More Aware, okay!

I get it, backpacks are convenient, they hold a lot of stuff, give you the convenience of having both hands free and are for the most part more comfortable than other bags. I’m not saying don’t use them, just that I wish backpack wearers would be more aware and therefore more considerate of their fellow travelers and surroundings. If you do hit someone with your bag, at least notice!

But really, who needs em? 

Apparently, I do.

Wait, what?! I know, I know, how could I? After all that bitching, what happened? What changed my mind? Well… wandering in New Orleans we stumbled across, Vegas, a men’s shop on Magazine Street where I discovered an adorable backpack! This alone would not have been enough to sway me, but combined with the padded laptop pocket, and my desire to blog while traveling through Europe for six weeks and I was sold!

Tim says I won’t like it and probably won’t use it, and he might be a tiny bit right, but I’m going to give it a try. It is my hope that it will do the double duty of holding my carryon necessities and be perfect for protecting my laptop during the air and train portions of our trip and I promise not to hit anyone in the head when boarding!

Not a true convert, I plan to pack my Hobo tote in the bottom compartment of the suitcase; it will hold just what I need for day trips and visiting historic places while my backpack and laptop stay put back in the hotel!

So… What’s in my backpack?Backpacks!-1832

For the most part my carryon bag is holding those items that I want to make sure are with me at all times in the event that my carryon suitcase is lost or in the event I am forced to check it.

  • Laptop computer
  • Prescription glasses & sunglasses
  • Liquid toiletries
  • Makeup bag
  • One each extra socks and underwear
  • Wallet
  • Phone
  • Pouch with charger, Advil, pen, business cards, hair ties and lip gloss
  • Camera and extra lens
  • Headphones
  • IPad for reading *
  • Lightweight sweatshirt*

 

*Not shown here

 

Mom Stuff: Ripping Off The Bandage!

#bandages

#rippingoffthebandageWe’re in the dark about so many things before becoming parents. One of them is how your heart literally breaks the first time your child suffers pain of any kind, and each and every time it happens thereafter. I will never forget the first shots, the first time they fell down, or the first time their feelings were hurt at school.

As far as physical injuries went it wasn’t long before my boys grew to hate bandages. While it soothed their initial pain, the fear of having them ripped off was too great.

#rippingoffthebandageI wasn’t ever sure how to handle it… How should I rip off the bandage? Slow or quick? Should I rip at the count of three, or fib and say I was counting to three, but rip at one? Maybe I should just do it a little bit at a time?

The Proverbial Bandage

As they’ve gotten older (and more coordinated) it’s become more about soothing emotional injury. In my opinion this is the much more difficult of the two… It’s even worse if you’re the cause. For example, giving your child bad or difficult news?

How do you deliver? Slow, or quick? All at once, or a little bit at a time? Is complete honesty the best policy?

1…2…3…RIPPPPP!

Recently, when I had to tell my boys 1, 2… WE’RE MOVING 3! I had the chance to find out.

Yep, see how I did that? Started out a little slow but then… riiiiip!

Wait! What?

After 8 years in the Bay Area we will be heading back to Southern California at the end of this summer.

While we are very excited about our new home and life in SoCal we are equally as heartbroken about leaving our NorCal family. We were so lucky 8 years ago when we landed in one of the best communities anywhere and leaving will be incredibly difficult. Friendships like these don’t just come and go and we know we’re in it for the long haul no matter where we call home!

Actually this wasn’t how we told the kids, this time…Oops! Yes, we tried that method previously and it didn’t go over well. Lesson learned. This time we included them in the decision making and house hunting process as much as we could and though it’s bittersweet they’re pretty excited about their close proximity to many of the fun things SoCal has to offer!

In the meantime we’ve got a lot of fun happening around our house between now and our upcoming move, which means many more posts about not only recent travels but future travels as well. we are looking forward to a six week journey around Europe to keep us very occupied! So exciting!

Hopefully I won’t need to rip off  any bandages in the near future but should the need arise… How should I do it? 1, 2, 3…

#rippingoffthebandage

Though not in anyway complete here are just a few photos representing some of the amazing memories we’ve created over the past 8 years.