weather and accommodations
I really couldn't have asked for better weather! It felt so nice to be outside and walk around to get some Nashville sun (although it did get cold when you stayed in the shade).
Accommodations in Nashville are expensive... Not sure if it's a normal thing but it was also an eventful weekend for Nashville... but then again, all of my Lyft drivers said it's always packed in Nashville so maybe it's always expensive?
We ended up booking a private room at a lovely lady's place in North Nashville. It definitely felt far from Downtown but the cost to get to and fro wasn't actually all that bad.
We started with a slow morning, having brunch/lunch at Monell's. I don't have any photos because I was too busy eating, but here's how it works:
Once I had the courage and energy to stand up from all that food, we walked about a mile to Frothy Monkey for some caffeine. They have really unique and interesting drinks so worth trying.
We explored downtown starting with Broadway first, which was crazy even at 1pm! All the honky tonks and bars were filled up already. We explored the streets, visited all the touristy spots like Ryman Auditorium, Johnny Cash Museum, and the Country Music Hall of Fame.
We made our way to Third Man Records, which was super cool. The entrance leads to a storefront for visitors to listen and buy records, and then a recording studio in the back. They also have a recording booth for anyone to record for $20. We also ran into Jack White, no big deal.
My friend found this gem: Carter Vintage Guitars. Heaven for any guitar player; ironically, neither of us play decent guitar HAHA, but we can't go to Nashville without playing some music, right? They have acoustic, electric, banjos, new and used pedals, amps... They also have a few small amp rooms to plug in and play, which was really fun! Highly recommended for guitar players visiting.
Channeling our basic selves, we took photos at the Nashville #WhatLiftsYou mural. Having walked all day, we ordered a scooter and made our way back Downtown where we got drinks at Layla's. Let's get it out of the way right now: It's safe to assume that every bar/honky tonk we went to had live music. We also stopped by Luke Bryan's Honky Tonk for dinner. I love the multi-tiered honky tonks because every floor is different: casual bar + live music, dance floor + live music, bar + seating, rooftop bar + dining.
The most awkward part about me not knowing the words to sing along. It's more people watching for me than it is for my own enjoyment. I so appreciate the musicality and honestly, how they remember to play all these songs on command, but it was hard to sit through half an hour of this.
We ended the night at a restaurant called Sambuca, after The Station Inn was sold out. There was a soul/jazz band performing and I had the most fun! They were super good and playing all the songs I loved. We probably spent over 2 hours there watching them.
We started the day having Sunday service at Fellowship Bible Church where their services are held at an elementary school & celebrated afterwards with some decadent 100-layered donuts from Five Daughters Bakery.
Afterwards, we explored 12 South. The area is quite small but it's still super fun to check out for an hour or two.
We made reservations at the Belle Meade Mansion. The tour was really interesting; only one-hour and you get a wine tastings included at the end, which I thought was worth it. The mansion is kept to its original form or items that imitate the original look as best as they were able to, so it's really impressive the lengths they went to keep the integrity of the plantation. No photography inside so I don't have any photos to share.
By the end, we were hungry and ready for food. We went to Edley's BBQ, which was my favourite meal of the trip! My friend and I split a full rib plate with collard greens + grits casserole as our side, and an added side of fries. The collard greens were spicy and really salty so I wasn't a huge fan of that, but the ribs and fries were amazinggggggg!! They do have waves of long lines, and the food takes a while to come out, but I think it's still worth it.
We ended the night at a lowkey bar, borderline speakeasy called Attaboy. The interior is really retro, has summer night in the 60s vibes. There's no menu: you tell the bartender you choice of liqueur + taste preferences and they concoct you a drink so all the cocktails are priced the same. A really cool bar that I'd definitely want to visit again!
Our last day in Nashville. We decided to explore East Nashville. They have a great deal of thrift stores, including a second hand bookstore where Charlotte the cat resides.
We made our way to Hattie B's to try their famous fried chicken. I know it's not their star dish, but I got a sandwich, which was still delicious! I got their medium heat because I'm too chicken (ha) to try their 'damn hot.'
Lastly, we went to Cafe at Thistle Farm, which was attached to a storefront where they sell goods like essential oils, jewelry, bath salts, etc, all made by women survivors. They're actually an incredible brand that happens to be a social enterprise (and not a social enterprise with mediocre products). Please please check them out here and support them. Their cafe was also delicious and delightful! Highly recommended.
the bottom line...
There are, surprisingly, hipster parts of Nashville that you would have never found if you went for a bachelorette party. I enjoyed my time there. I wished I knew more country music to I could follow along (jk I don't really wish that). I'd probably come again for a special occasion (bachelorette, birthday, etc.) but probably not on my own accord.
Brunch @ St. Ali Roasters. First time having coffee in Australia and probably in a good six months! Coffee was splendid. For food, I ordered buttermilk pancake. Two pancakes with fudge, berries compote, and hardened brown sugar. Super good but super filling.
Spent the rest of the Queen Victoria Market in Melbourne. Kind of like a farmers market, tons of craft and good stands, sectioned off by category. I was also treated with a cool performance from a band called Amistat, made up of two talented twin brothers. Find them on Spotify and give them a listen!
I lunched alone at Wonderbao where I ordered the pork belly + fried chicken. The pork belly was really underwhelming but the fried chicken was good.
Then took the tram to the Royal Botanical Gardens to visit the Shrine of Remembrance, which was stunning. Beautiful architecture and beautiful view. It reminded me of the memorials in DC (and I mean that in the best way possible). If I had more time, I would have loved to walk through more of the botanical gardens.
I headed back north into the main city centre to meet friends at Rooftop Cinema. No movie the night I went so there was no cover charge, which was nice. It's a super hip rooftop bar with seating, and bleachers covered in turf, with the type of music kids in their early 20s would listen to. I should've hated it, but I loved it. Tough luck that it rained about 5 minutes after I got my drink so I had to down it and run over to dinner in the rain. It's definitely on my places to go for next time though. Unfortunately I don't have any good photos to share, but take a look at their Yelp page. Highly recommended!
Dinner was at Burma Lane, obviously Burmese food. I saw good reviews online but there weren't that many people in the restaurant so it got me nervous. We ordered the tea salad, which was probably the best dish (but not the best tea salad I've had); the cheeseburger dumplings, were basically dumplings filled with beef and cheese, but really did taste like a cheeseburger haha; the noir noodles which were solid; and the beef brisket bao, which was salty and probably too much for us. It was okay, not the best meal in Melbourne but I suppose it was worth a try and my friends enjoyed it enough.
We started our day early with a breakfast stop at Baker D.Chirico. Every pastry and bread on the menu was phenomenal. My friends claimed it was the best bakery. It indeed was one of the best. It's a hidden gem of Melbourne that not too many people know about, thank goodness. I ordered a chocolate croissant and bombolini. You wouldn't think there isn't much of a quality different in chocolate croissants, but there is. It was perfection. The bombolini is basically like a filled donut, but fancy. It was filled with lemon zest and vanilla and the flavors were perfect, too. I probably enjoyed the bombolini much more just because of the flavors.
Then spent some time walking around the South Melbourne Market, where I walked around the stalls and stores, and ate yummy oysters.
We made our way towards the Great Ocean Road, which is basically like the PCH with the ocean on one side and a great forest on the other. It's an absolutely beautiful drive! I got to see the 12 Apostles, Loch and George, and the London Arch. We reserved an AirBnB in Torquay. On the road, I got to see a wild pademelon(I think) crossing the street, and signs for kangaroos (like the ones we have for deer). You'd have to get a hire car, unless you go with a tour company, but it's so worth the drive and seeing the more nature-y, beautiful side of Australia!
Melbourne Transportation Card: myki. My most common method of transportation using this card was tram. Be careful when getting off! Some of the trams let you off in the middle of the street near lanes cars can come in. By law, they need to yield to you but it's also good to look both ways. PS Australia drive on the other side of the street, like the UK.
Weather was HOT! I definitely wore my most summery items in my suitcase. Like Sydney, it wasn't humid which was nice. I feel like it was dry, if anything.
Find my Map here!
My wonderful hosts, Grace and Martin, used to host guests at their place via AirBnB + they're designers so it looks super hip.
I spent my first morning at a juicery called Urban Projuice and ordered an acai bowl. Met a lovely lady, a new mother, who gave some additional recommendations and shared some insight on motherhood.
Since I was in South Melbourne, I took the tram into the city centre and started my tour at Federation Square. Went through St. Paul’s Cathedral, the Treasury Gardens, the Old Treasury Building, and through some of the larger streets of Melbourne. I found a cute shop called Melbournalia that was full of local crafts and goodies! I bought these hilarious greeting cards that featured puns made from the various Melbourne train stops.
Lunch was at Chin Chin, probably the most anticipated restaurant on my trip. It's mostly Thai fusion, although I did see more Asian influences. I had seen it featured on tons of websites, and was recommended by multiple friends. Confirmed by three people that "everyone on their menu is good." I can honestly say: confirmed. We ordered the pat see ew, the crab fried rice, and barramundi salad. To my surprise, the barramundi salad was my fav. It was incredibly flavorful and delicious and I'm craving it now that I'm thinking about it.
I continued my self guided walking tour through Swanson St, Bourke St, Block Arcade, Royal Arcade, Walk Arcade... basically just a bunch of "arcades" AKA shopping centres haha.
One thing I love doing before I travel is looking for local events to the place I'll be visiting. To my luck, there was a night noodle market happening (free admission, woot woot). I've realised early on in my travels is that traveling alone doesn't give you the benefit of ordering multiple things on a menu and sharing it. Thus, I was limited to ordering just one item at the market. There were three different sections of the market, and I probably walked through each section at least twice to make sure my decision was the right one. I ended up getting the Oz Special Yakisoba(which means it had egg on it) from a Teppanyaki place. The portions were so big I ended up refrying it the next morning for brunch.
I spent half the day wandering around Fitzroy, which was supposed to be the hip, grungy neighbourhood of Melbourne. I visited a great deal of stores, but to be honest, I didn't find Fitzroy to be as amazing as people made it sound. Some of my friends went back because they didn't get to see everything, but I ended up finishing earlier than expected, which was kind of a bummer.
I did get to eat at a restaurant in Fitzroy called Alimentari. We ordered a small salad (which is basically a sampler because you're able to choose 3 salads from the menu) to share. The veal and pork meatballs over polenta seems to be the most popular dish on the menu, so we ordered that, of course. I also ordered the meatball wrap(panini pressed), which was freaking bomb. It was actually my favourite from everything. For dessert, we ordered a few items off the bakery menu and they were delicious! I highly recommend this restaurant, particularly the meatball wrap!
Since I finished Fitzroy early, I decided to go back to the city centre. I got to visit the State Library of Victoria, which was gorgeous. There were plenty of tourists and as well as people actually trying to read and study. The state library had plenty of beautiful reading rooms, a museum, air conditioning, and free wifi.
Next was exploring the shopping malls of Melbourne: Emporium + Melbourne Central. One of the items on my bucket list for Australia was to buy myself some jewelry. To my luck, I found a shop with jewelry that I might like. Looked around and fell in love with their items. I ended up buying myself a ring and gifted a dainty necklace for a friend. By the way, the store's name is Francesca if anyone is looking for some new nice jewelry!
I made a pitstop at Shortshop Donuts and got their Australian honey and Sea Salt. It was good, but too soft for my liking. It looked like a churro so I thought it’d be crunchy but it wasn’t... I would, however, go back to try another donut next time.
Later that night, I walked along the boardwalk of St. Kilda and made my way to il Casio ii for dinner, a very authentically Italian restaurant. We ordered the quattro formaggi pizza, and the mushroom pizza, a salad, and their house wine. I'm the type of person that will happily eat mushroom pizza but never really order it on my own will so I was worried about what the mushroom pizza would taste like. But to my surprise, it was spectacular. Easily the best mushroom pizza I've ever tasted.
We made it back to St. Kilda Pier in time for penguin watching. I've seen penguins at the zoo, but never in the wild so I was curious to see what this experience would be like. The penguins go out during the day to feed and come back around sunset. I saw a few of them coming in but they were pretty hard to spot at first. Once the sun went down, a bunch came riding in to the sand and would hid in the rocks. Some of the more confused ones would actually end up on the pier where people were so we got to see them upclose. There were some volunteers there with red flashlights to spotlight penguins, as well as sharing useful important regarding the penguins. I thought it a miracle that Melbourne even lets us see them so close, without putting up stricter borders, though I'm sure that would change if someone were to do something very foolish... My opinion is that it was mating season because I heard a lot of... noises from the penguins, and would see the male penguins running up against the back of a female penguin and then running away. It was quite entertaining. My friends said they've been a few times but never saw this many penguins so I count myself lucky. It was definitely a memorable experience and so happy to see this live for free!
Sydney transportation card: Opal card, prepaid loading card. Top up at any station, most convenient stores, or even online!
Sydney has lots of buses but a train system that has no name.
The weather was hot, but at least not humid. The sun really was scorching- I could feel my shoulders burn. It would randomly sprinkle from time to time, just enough to make you feel uncomfortable but not enough to put in effort to prep yourself for both weathers.
Random tidbit: Lots of places seemed to be closed on Mondays, and close early in general, so do check hours before making a trek someplace.
Find my Map here!
Arrived @ SYD in the early morning. Shout out to Nancy who woke up super early to meet me at the airport. We took the train with a car full of students on their way to school in all of their cute uniforms.
For brekkie, Nancy made me toast with Vegemite. It was not what I imagined. Going in, I knew people usually love it or hate it. Nancy describes it as burnt soy sauce. She is accurate. Needless to say, I wasn't a huge fan and I didn't take any home with me.
We went about our day to explore the grand city of Sydney. Stopped by The Australian Heritage Hotel for some Australian pizza. We ordered half kangaroo meat and half emu meat. I've had a Kangaroo burger in the past (in London) and remember it being quite juicy and delicious, but the kangaroo on the pizza was unexpectedly gamy, although the emu did taste flavorful and well.
We continued our tour through CBD, ate some dessert at Gelato Messina. I always do the same thing at any gelateria: sample like 4 flavors and end up getting nocciola (hazelnut). Gelato Messina is a popular (well-deservingly so) chain, with plenty in Sydney and Melbourne, both.
Inside QVB, a sign caught my attention: 40% off. I walked into the store, and just about everything inside was cute. I took a few more steps in and a wall of beautiful colours and patterns caught my attention; signature duffels with the store's logo on both sides, and perfectly sized to fit in an oversized bin. Of course I bought it, and I'm so happy I did. Apparently, the Country Road logo tote is a staple for Australian women. I ended up seeing a handful more at the airport, just like the retail associate said. Here's a link to the bag! I was able to find one photo I took of my bag for y'all to see. (:
Next we walked through the most popular sites, like the rocks, Circular Quay, Opera House, Botanical Gardens, etc. Of course I brought Hugo along with me!
Dinner was at a restaurant called Mappen (ramen/udon bar). You can choose your noodles, type of soup (they have both hot and cold), meat, and toppings. It was great for the price too. I got plain udon while Nancy got a fancy udon and hers was much better than mine haha.
Most of our day was spent at the Featherdale Wilderness Park. A wonderful place about 40 minutes northwest of central Sydney. Check my separate post on it here! Sneak peek: KOALAS AND KANGAROOS.
For dinner we went to this random pho place in Cabramatta. Some people told me Sydney was the place to eat Vietnamese food, but to be honest, it was just as good as the Bay. I didn't think it was phenomenally better, but again, I'm not a foodie so what do I know. The night ended with boba from Gong Cha because, it was right there in front of us so why not? :)
Brunch @ Three Williams in a lovely hipster neighbourhood. The wait was about 10-15 minutes for 2 as the place was awfully crowded. We ordered the Joe and the Spanish Omelette, photographed below. Both were really good. I probably preferred the omelette over the Joe from my recollection. However, I do regret not getting the Prawn Toast. It seems like their most famous dish on the menu and I failed to order it.
After brunch, we good Christian girls made our way to Hillsong (Waterloo campus). [If you want to know how it was, ask me in person.]
Post service became one of my favourite parts of my time in Australia: BONDI BEACH. Mind that I'm not much of a beach person, but Bondi was gorgeous and well worth the trip. The weather was expected to be cold and gloomy but for the 3 hours we were there: sun, wind, and perfection. And then as soon as we left the beach, rain. HAHA.
There were plenty of people on the sand sunbathing, playing volleyball, playing in the water, listening to music. It seemed like such a chill weekend activity! There's also a pool nearby called the Iceberg Pool that makes for a great photo juxtaposed to the beach, which I do not have. I compensate by showing you two photos I've taken and are quite proud to share. Ask me for more and you may regret the flood of photos I share (or not because this place is so freaking beautiful).
My flight was for the evening so I had a free morning of wandering alone. I dropped my bags off at the baggage storage inside Central station. It was about $15 for 2-3 hours?
Once that was all sorted, I brunched alone at Bills, a modern Australian restaurant. I ordered the Prawn Burger but immediately regretted it as soon as I got it. It was messy, not as good as I thought, and just not really my appetite. Those much wiser than me, ordered the ricotta pancakes. My reasoning for not ordering them was I ate brunch past noon, which is more like a lunch for me, plus the order looked huge and I wanted something smaller.
After brunch, I walked around Surrey Hills for about an hour. It would've been more but most of the stores were closed as I went on a Monday. I did get a chance to stop by and grab some goodies from Bourke Street Bakery. I got myself a pain au chocolat and a ginger brulee tart. The tart, pictured below, was freaking exquisite.
I wish my time in Surrey Hills was longer and that stores were opened. Lots of blogs and friends hyped it up saying it was the coolest hipster neighbourhood of Sydney, but I'll be sure to visit back!
the bottom line
All in all, my first trip to Sydney was a success and absolutely lovely all thanks to Nancy, who housed me, fed me, drove me, and entertained me. Also a huge shout out to her roommate Jess who was such a treat and who thoughtfully bought me Australian chocolate biscuits that I got to share with friends back home.
Thank you friends, and Sydney, for your hospitality, and I will be back!
Featherdale Wilderness Park is like a zoo in that it's a park with some animals in enclosures and some animals that are able to roam more freely. The location is about 45 minutes northwest out of Sydney, so you'd need to get there via car or tourist shuttle. It's a quite inconvenient getting there by public transit.
The entrance fee was $32 in Aussie dollars (discounts available for students, children, seniors). If you want a professional photo taken with a koala, it's $25 per session (they'll also take extra photos on your phone if you want them). The photos the park takes are printed instantly: 1 large photo + 2 smaller photos + digital copies online, so I felt like it was super worth it. Lastly, you can feed some of the animals (like kangaroos) by purchasing a cup of food for $2. We probably spent a totally of 2.5-3 hours there, which felt really worth it for us, especially most of the animals were Australian animals I'd never see otherwise.
For the Koala photos, I'd recommend checking in as soon as you get in the park since the queue can get long. We lucked out since there was no one in the queue when we got there.
They also have a gift shop for souvenirs. :)
which animals did you see?
Most of the exotic Australian animals you'd think of, I got to see:
Some of my most recommended and favourited apps:
FlightStats - most recently downloaded app but not sure why I didn't download this earlier! You can look up your flights and it'll tell you the terminal, gate number, baggage carousel, and any delays!
Guides by Lonely Planet - itinerary planning app. You can download guides by city plus offline maps. Solid app if you're looking for things to do or eat.
Google Maps - OK this is any smartphone standard app. I use My Maps a lot so it's helpful to visually see all the places I have pinned on my phone.
Lyft - best app to get around. Click on the link to get a $10 credit
Google Trips - helps with itinerary planning. It's extremely limited though- I think they're still working on it but there's a lot of improvements they need to make. The high advantage they have is that it integrates with gMail so they have tickets on file but there's no feature to search certain restaurants or places like you would on Google Map so you're limited to starring places they feature.
TripIt - I'm currently in the market for a good travel journal app so I can record what I've done on my trips. This one seems OK so far, probably the better free ones in the market. It lets me record my activity by day and time, and I can add photos and notes, which is nice. The other really nice thing about it is that it integrates with my gMail so it automatically records tickets for concerts, shows, and flights that I have. However, I wish the mobile app was as good as the desktop web version, and I also wish it was more integrated with other apps like Google Maps so I can see all the places within that city I've gone to, or be able to star different places that I'd like to go to.
PriorityPass - keeps your membership card stored (although most lounges require your actual card) + tells you which lounges are in which airport with super specific info like terminal, nearby gates, hours and amenities.
AirBnB (link gives you $40 off your reservation)
Units Plus (unit converter because America doesn't use the metric system while everyone else does)
Skype - to make international calls + if you want to subscribe to an international callback number
flight price tracker apps
Choosing A Device AND plan
If you haven't read my general post about wifi eggs, click here. We say 'hotspot' here in the States, but a lot of people use 'wifi egg' outside so I'll be interchanging the two, but they mean the same thing.
I did some research on which company I should use to rent a wifi egg in Europe. After reading reviews and comparing prices, I decided on Hippocket. To be honest, the prices didn't differ as wide a I thought, but some of these companies operate in various countries so the pick up locations were in their home country, or else you had to pay a hefty shipping fee (and return fee).
Since I was in France and the UK, I'd obviously want to be able to pick up in the first country I'll be in, return in my last country, and be able to use the device in every city I'll be in.
HIPPOCKET seemed to have great reviews and decent prices, I could pick it up from the airport I arrive in, it worked in all of the countries I was in, comes with charger, we can connect multiple devices at a time, and a return label for me to easily drop it off at any post office when I'm done.
Their Europe plan is now unlimited, meaning, it doesn't cost extra for extra data- the data comes unlimited so you never have to worry about usage.
During The trip
Using the wifi egg in France was a piece of cake. Never had any issues with it except it running out of batteries and us being on top of charging it. Probably lasts a good half day if everyone is connecting and using data frequently.
When we crossed into the UK, we noticed the device wasn't working at all. We had to email support about it and they sent us a PDF on how to make it work (something to do with international roaming), but because our plan was unlimited, whatever that roaming cost was on them; not us. Not something you really have to worry about since they're responsible for covering it all. The only hassle was finding free WiFi to email support, waiting a full day for them to reply and figuring out what to do about wifi in the meantime.
This actually happened twice in the UK so it was a bit inconvenient but it still worked out.
Our flight back to the States was out of Paris, which is where we landed, which is also where HIPPOCKET is based out of. Since they included a return envelope + return postage, returning the device was super easy. I put the device in the bag they gave me, put the bag in the return envelope, and dropped it off at a post mailbox at the airport. Easy peasy!
The Bottom line
Choosing which company to go with really depends on which countries you'll be visiting and which ends up being most cost efficient for you. In my case, definitely worth since it was the best option. Hiccups here and there but not anything you can't work with.
If you do end up going with this company, comment below or let me know and I can send you the PDF they sent me regarding roaming so you don't have to wait for them to reply with the same file.
You get to your destination and you arrive at the baggage carousel but you can't find your bags. After some time waiting after you've convinced yourself it's probably at the bottom of the pile, you see a rep from that airline slowly approach you with news you can read on her face: your bags didn't make it.
What now? They probably gave you a website with a case number and a number you can call which is basically a support number where you're put on hold for ten minutes before talking with an actual person. So now you wait. You wait for your bags to be delivered, or an update on your case.
The exact thing happened to my family and me on our way to Paris. Our first flight was from LAX to JFK where we were supposed to have a layover a little over two hours. That flight was delayed (that's another story for next time), so by the time we made it to JFK, we had fifteen minutes to get off the plane, take the shuttle to another terminal, go through TSA check and run to our gate. Fortunately, my family made it to the gate, but as you can probably guess, our bags did not.
An Air France rep met us at baggage to us know that our bags didn't make the connection, but that it was already on its way to Paris to the other main airport, where they'd deliver our bags to the doorsteps of our Airbnb. We were disappointed but not too upset because they offered to deliver it to us. They gave us an ETA, a case number along with a link, and a phone number.
We went to our Airbnb and waited all day for our bags. We originally had plans to tour the city since our time in Paris was already limited, but ended up scrapping it to make sure we were home when the delivery guys came. We expected them to come around 2PM, 3 at the latest. Fun fact: They never came. I bought international credit on Skype to give the airline a call. Every time we called , they gave us the same answer: keep checking the website for updates. I did, and found nothing.
The next day, we headed over to Versailles Palace since we bought tickets beforehand. We at least got to enjoy the Palace for a few hours, and headed back to the city where we visited the Arc di Triomphe. We enjoyed the sights for a minute, and then spent over 3 hours shopping on Champs Elysees because we still haven't gotten an update on our bags and were starting to assume the worst. The next morning we were headed to London so if we didn't get our bags by that day, we weren't sure when we'd ever get them. Post-shopping, my brother and I took turns getting our calls dropped by Air France. They're really really terrible at answering their phones... When we finally got a hold of someone, they admitted they weren't sure where our bags even were, which was reassuring. We had to prepare for the worst and bought clothes to get us by through the trip, and a new suitcase for all this new luggage we just bought.
Towards the end of the night, my mom looked at us and said in Korean something along the lines of "it's time to take matters into our own hands." She sent my dad and brother to CDG airport where they claimed our bags would be. My dad and brother were rerouted to several people until reaching the correct person where they had been denied access because that department was about to close and asked that they return the next morning. Obviously, I can only share what my brother shared with me since I wasn't there myself, but this guy was had absolutely no sympathy and was rude AF. After some time of arguing with this man, his supervisor finally came and spoke with them. After some more time of arguing and trying to convince them, she gave my dad access to the Air France luggage storage room, where all unclaimed bags go with a very limited amount of time to find all of our bags. Since everyone had packed their own bags, my dad wasn't sure which bags belonged to us... But, my dad being my dad, was finally able to find every one of them. They took an Uber back to our Airbnb with 4 suitcases in hand.
My dad described the luggage storage room being this crazy huge room filled with bags, and I thought of all other people who had their luggage delayed and never got a chance to actually go inside that room to find it. Due to airplane policy, I'm sure a lot of these people's bags were just marked as "lost" after 21 days when they could have gone and found it themselves. The system they use to track baggage is tragically faulted and hugely lacking. The people working with this system appear incompetent because of the lack of information they're even given. There is too much room for error and miscommunication that nothing gets done. I think often of what would have happened if my dad and brother never went to the airport themselves. Air France would still claim they don't know where our bags are, and probably wait to mark it as "lost" and just pay us the minimal fee to compensate for it, while we would have to compensate in other ways.
Since, we've filed a claim to Air France asking them to reimburse us for all of the clothes and toiletries costs, which we're still waiting on. Lucky for us, we bought our plane tickets and the new clothes with my Chase Sapphire Reserve credit card, which I'll be filing a claim for if Air France does not reimburse everything, so I'm confident that everything will be covered. However, no money could cove the cost of our time in Paris. We didn't get to sightsee because we were busy waiting for the delivery guys, or out shopping for new clothes; and we were stressed for those two days wondering if we'd ever see our bags again. They won't be able to reimburse us for that time. It's a crappy situation and not exactly how you want to spend your trip.
If there's anything I would have done differently: It would have been to subscribe to an international France number from Skype so I could have given it to Air France to call me when they arrived. Sure, they would never have called, but at least I could have spent the day touring the city until they called, and for me to call them periodically so I could at least enjoy some time there rather than worrying theh entire time.
Once I got back from Europe and told this story to my friends and colleagues, I heard too many stories of how the airline lost their bags or didn't track it correctly, leading to a ton of problems. Again, I was lucky enough to have my Chase credit card willing to cover whatever the airline didn't. But I would HATE for this to happen to any of you! Do yourself a favor and make sure you take protective precautions in case something like this happens to you!
Context: I'm traveling in the U.K. with my family via rental car. We've finished our morning in Cambridge, spent the afternoon in Epworth and was on our way to Manchester.
We were driving through this tiny town near Epworth on with tiny road alongside what used to be a river which is now is basically a drain ditch. The road is much too narrow for two cars to fit. My brother was driving- he'd done his best to slow down and move to the edge so when an opposite car came speeding down (for some reason cars zoom down this road regardless if there's a car on the other side or not).
There happened to be a car opposite of us who didn't make the effort to drive along the edge for both of us to fit. One thing led to another and our car ended up skimming off the road against grass and gravel, not too far off the ditch. Our car was at an angle which made the situation quite dangerous, and our car was stuck, unable to get it back on the road. I was in the passenger seat, on the ditch side (since the roads and drivers sit at the opposite side in the UK).
A man in a truck, two cars behind us stopped in front of us to help. He inspected the situation and tried to help us get it out. Our best bet was to first get this car back on the road and off this dangerous angle. As my dad and this man prepared to push this car out of the ditch, another car stopped behind us, where another man got out to help push. Both of these men, who didn't know us, didn't know our names, didn't know our story, pushed this car with all their might without question. Once they finally got it on the road, the man who came latter literally got back in his car and drove off like it was no one's business.
Our car came out with minimal damage to the exterior, but the two tires on the left were both punctured completely. The first man man who came to help advised we find a tire shop (or 'tyre' as they say) + tow truck to get the tires replaced. He called a bunch of places for us. Both tire and tow shops closed between 5-6 and it was nearing 5pm already so we were getting really anxious. (Side note: Most memorable thing about him is that he either started or finished his sentences with 'mate' or 'love.' It was oddly endearing.)
We found a tire tire shop willing to wait until we got there but still needed a towing company. The places we called were either closed, didn't take care, couldn't process our card correctly, or would take too long to get to us. Most of these places were crazy expensive as well. After about 20 minutes trying to make phone calls with us, the man who helped needed to leave. We asked how we could repay him. We wanted to offer him some money or pay for a meal, but he insisted that we not, and that it was no problem at all. He drove off leaving us completely dazed of his kindness and willingness to help. My biggest regret is that I didn't even have a chance to ask him his name.
I bought some credit on Skype to make more calls to find a towing service. After many calls, I found a tow truck who was closer and cheaper than all the other places we called. They even called ahead to the tire service for us letting them know we'd be on our way since they had a good relationship. As you know, a tow truck only fits about 2 passengers, so the tow truck man had his son bring another car to escort my parents to the tire shop. Surely enough, the tire man was waiting for us, not at all bitter or grouchy that we made him stay half an hour passed closing. We put on some used tires and was on our way.
The entire incident probably lasted 2.5 hours but felt so much longer. It was such a shitty experience but I've decided to focus on the good because:
I know they'll never read this, but a huge shoutout and thank you to the men who helped push our car out, the tow truck family business that was willing to stay open and help us, and the tire shop man who stayed open for us as well. <3
Shit happens. 🤷🏻♀️ At least this is an experience I will never forget.
I took a solo trip to Chicago, although I did get to spend a chunk of my time with my friend, who also hosted me! I remember the weather being cold and windy in the morning, and warm during the day (but still a bit windy) so the best way to cope is to come prepared in layers so you can + or - a layer throughout the day. Then very cold in the night again.
I got to spend about 2 full days in Chicago, which isn't much. I ended up not going to places that would cost money and decided to go to free stuff + roam around the city on my own. I purchased a transit day pass to make it easier on myself. I've always found it less stressful for myself to buy a day pass for a new city vs per ride.
I started my trip by taking the Chicago Architecture Tour via boat. It was a great experience, informative, and it's always fun to be on a boat as long as you don't get boatsick. I will say that the ticket price was a heftier than I expected, and it was freeeeeezing.
I mostly spent the rest of the day walking around the city, getting to see the sights, and just being able to experience Chicago.
Of course I visited the Bean in Millennium Park, as well as the Chicago Cultural Center, which was pretty stunning. It's open to the public and it looks like they have rotating social art/education installations, and some events.
Portillo's gave me the chance to try an authentic Chicago hot dog, but I didn't like it. Call me Californian, but it wasn't my cup of tea. To be fair, I'm not a huge fan of hot dogs in general, so, there's that, too.
For dinner, my friend and I made reservations for Girl & The Goat, which ended up better than I expected! Their dishes are meant to be shared so we got their Roasted Cauliflower off of their veggie list, the Wood Oven Roasted Pig Face from their meat list, and the Confit Goat Belly from their goat list. Three dishes was for sure enough for the three of us. All three dishes were incredibly delicious, but to our surprise, the cauliflower was our favourite!
I expected it to be super pricy because it's a pretty high end restaurant with an impossible reservation calendar. We ended up paying about $100 for all three dishes + a glass of wine each, and tax and tip.
My friend and I took the bus to Lincoln Park and visited the Lincoln Park Conservatory. They have really wonderful volunteers to give free tours, which was a special treat. It's a great place to spend a half day since the conservatory is part of a park, and at the other end, they have a farmers market (at least on Saturdays).
The best part of the greenhouse was a room full of hydrangeas, which are my favourite flowers! <3_<3
We for sure spent the most time inside that room taking pictures and taking it all in.
I was really set on trying Au Cheval but was very quickly discouraged by friends about how long their lines were. I compromised and went to Small Cheval instead in Wicker Park. I ordered the burger as is and it was GOOD. Solid burger. Probably not the best burger I've ever had but really solid and thoroughly enjoyed my experience eating it.
Walking through Wicker Park was really pleasant. It's a hip with a bit of grungy in it, but you can tell a lot of newer and hipper stores are coming in to replace the old. It reminds me a lot of Melrose Ave. in LA if you've ever been.
Later in the evening, I went to watch a show at Second City(we watched Best Of, which is a hybrid of written sketches + improv). The experience itself was really nice. It's first come first serve in terms of seating, and you can order food and drinks at your seat with your server. It's definitely worth going to, but to be completely honest, I think I enjoyed Second City shows in LA & NY better, but I believe it's because the shows I watched in other cities were pure improv the entire time.
Dinner was saved for an authentic taste of some Chicago deep dish @Lou Malnati's. We probably waited a solid 45 minutes (spent most of that time at a McDonalds about half a mile away, which was super bougie by the way). A lot of Bay area friends warned me that I'd be disappointed. I don't think I was necessarily disappointed per say, but I will say Bay area has pretty comparable deep dish, which is more of a compliment to these pizzerias, than a diss on Chicago.
Afterwards, we went up to the top floor of the John Hancock building and went to the restroom (apparently that's the best place to take photos and enjoy the view). It was really a beautiful nightview and I'm glad I made myself go even though I was tired and freezing.
Fair warning: there is a sizable line going up and especially going down.
I for sure did not have enough time to do everything I should've done! Here are some things I have on my list for next time:
Here's my Google Map of Chicago if you wanted some suggestions (thanks for my friends who gave me suggestions as I put this together)!
Some essentials that are in my purse while traveling:
[separate post coming on what I pack in my travel purse...]
We picked up our rental car at the airport (both times I went to Portland I got a rental car so I'm unsure of the experience taking public transportation). Generally, it was pretty easy for us to find parking in Portland and actually only paid for parking when we went Downtown. Other places had like 1-2 hour free parking or it was past the meter operations times so it was free.
Heart Coffee SW - Super cute and aesthetic, huge windows to bring in natural light, consistent coffee. They also had personal tables outside. Ideal place to spend some alone time or to do some light reading.
We walked about half a mile to a Blue Star to get some pre-breakfast donuts (very normal). One Blueberry Basil because it's a classic and we basic, and one Buttermilk Old Fashion because, old fashion donuts are the best. I don't mean to hype it up, but the Buttermilk Old Fashion is the best old fashion I've ever had.
Breakfast @ Maurice. I had no idea what to expect. We got their open faced sandwich (daily special) that included shrimp in a white sauce, greens, grapes, and roe. Even when I got the food I didn't know what to expect, but when I took a bite, I was thoroughly impressed and pleased with the taste of it. We didn't get a chance to try anything else but their desserts and pastries looked really good so I'd recommend trying that!
We walked around SW until it was time to check into our AirBnB in NE where we knocked out for a bit before we were so tired, not to mention that the weather was high-80s.
Once we freshened up we made our way to Stanich's where we had Nick's cheeseburger with grilled onions as our pre-dinner. I'd seen them featured as the #1 best burger Thrillist's quest for the best burger article. It took a while for us to get our food since multiple parties had sat down the same time we did and there was one server for the entire establishment. We finally got our food and it didn't look all that special, but it indeed was good. My friend described it as a lesser version of In-N-Out, which is quite agreeable.
On our way to dinner, we made a spontaneous pitstop at Hollywood Vintage. It ended up being such a cool place to explore- I'm so happy we found it even though I didn't buy anything. They have a room dedicated to sunglasses, and a huge space dedicated to costumes!
Dinner was at an up-and-coming, new and trendy, 'hot and new,' Korean fusion restaurant called Han Oak. It's the house of the chef, converted into an open-kitchen, open space restaurant where half of the seating is indoors and half outdoors. We had to make reservations a month before we got to Portland. The space was nicely done, considering it's also a house for a family of 4. We had their prix fixe Chef's dinner for $45 pp. A good amount of the dishes had a twist to its traditional counterpart, so it forced me to be open to new tastes.
We spent the evening at a super local music festival called PDX Pop Now. We got to see 3 bands throughout our event there. A very eclectic group of people, I will say. But I don't think we would've gotten a more authentic Portland experience have we not gone. The picture below was taken in some guy's van, which sounds very shady HAHA, but he's trying to upgrade his van to make it one of those event photobooths.
The night ended with a 30 minute line to Salt & Straw, naturally.
Brunch @ Helser's on Alberta. We got their Bacon & Cheese Hash + French Toast. I thought the hash was super on point and delicious. I was so full by the time I had my first bite of the French Toast but thought it was way too sweet for my liking anyways. I think it's so easy to get multiple dishes when in Portland because the food is generally cheaper than the Bay Area, but you forget how much darn food they give you. We probably had leftover at least half the time we ate out, and could never finish our leftovers.
Sunday service was spent at Bridgetown Church. It was such a great experience- the pastor and community all seem so solid and we were really blessed during our time there. Highly recommended!
The evening was spent on SE side. We put our names down for Pok Pok, and walked around the neighborhood for an hour. Had pre-dinner at OP Wurst. I could totally see myself going there often if I lived in PDX. Indoor and outdoor seating, sausage and beer, corn hole and a ping pong table. Looks like a potential Friday night spot for me. We finally got our table at Pok Pok and immediately ordered their famous wings + a papaya salad. Maybe I'm a wimp but I thought their papaya salad was so spicy (my friend begs to differ); but their wings were amazinggggg. Did not expect them to be so freaking good... Two thumbs up.
We picked up some coffee + a quick breakfast sandwich before making our drive to Multnomah Falls. We made a pitstop at Vista House and probably spent almost half an hour there, enjoying the view, taking photos, looking through the house, and restroom break (because Multnomah Falls usually have longer restroom lines). We got to Multnomah around 10:30am, and waited only a few minutes for parking. We went up to the bridge, and hiked a little more up. By the time we were walking back to the car, there were two cars fighting for our spot, and a never ending crazy long line of cars trying to get into this small parking lot... We were relieved to have gone early enough not to struggle. If you have a car, I highly recommend going to the Falls!
Once we got back to Downtown PDX, we put our names down for Tasty & Alder, which took about an hour. We spent that time exploring Powell's City of Books. It's a magical place filled with... well, books. I was personally disappointed by my meal at Tasty & Alder because the food was so salty and unfamiliar. Tasty Hangtown Fry was an open faced omelette, fried oysters, bacon lardons, cheddar, and a buttermilk biscuit. Just thinking about this dish gives me food coma. We also got potato bravas as an appetiser and that was pretty yummy.
As if that wasn't enough food, we got dessert at Waffle Window. We went home and I immediately took a nap. The evening was spent at the Rose Test Garden, which was obviously gorgeous. It was my second time there but still as stunning as the first.
We got pre-dinner at Anna Thai Basil food cart in downtown Portland. It was crazy cheap and I'm definitely going there again. Actual dinner was at Nudi Noodle, which was a mainly Thai restaurant with other Asian fusion influences. I got their kimchi udon which was pretty good! We picked up a bottle of beer each from a local craft beer store and called it a night.
Since this was both of our second times in Portland, I think both of us were a lot more lax and also wanted a taste of the local experience. There are still so so many places I didn't get to go that I have on my list for next time! I'm sharing MY PDX MAP in case anyone needs suggestions but I'd love to hear if anyone has been to places off this list so I can add more places.