Puerto Rico

Snorkeling at Culebra Island, Puerto Rico

To be honest, it was hard writing this post.

A few days before Hurricane Irma struck the Caribbean and Florida, my husband and spent a long weekend in Puerto Rico.

We weren’t affected by the hurricane (made it back home safely before landfall) and Puerto Rico didn’t suffer widespread catastrophic damage like St Thomas or St Martin and other nearby islands. However, the news coverage is still so unsettling about how many people are struggling.

This makes me feel uncomfortable writing about the trip. But I hope I can share what we appreciated this lovely part of the world.

Ocean Park Beach outside of San Juan

We stayed in an AirBnB in a neighborhood called Ocean Park. It had a relaxed local feel, and our stay was absolutely delightful.

The owner of the Airbnb created several beautiful spaces in her own home, and you can see from the sign outside her house, her warm positive outlook on life. 

I loved the eclectic decor which combined modern and classic Spanish influences, collected from vintage stores and flea markets.

Our room was built as a sort of tree house attached to the top of the house, and this was our very narrow spiral staircase leading to it.

The most notable aspect of our room was the outdoor shower. There is something so relaxing about taking a shower outdoors in the early evening, listening to the birds and crickets in the trees around us.

Of course, you have to get comfortable with the idea that you’re- you know- outside without any clothes on. But once you do, it’s cool.

This outdoor shower ended up being one of my favorite things are the trip (my husband not so much!) He kept thinking people could spy on us, even though there were pretty high barriers around the shower.

Breakfast at the outdoor communal kitchen

Each morning, we’d stumble down our spiral staircase to have breakfast with the other guests in the garden. This AirBnb had an outdoor communal kitchen, and each morning, she’d place bread, nut butters, fresh jams, granola, hot coffee, coconut water, and homemade beet juice.

It was such a fun way to interact with the other guests.

Perhaps the absolute best thing about this location was the beach, which was literally across the street!

There’s lots more to share about Puerto Rico coming up, including a wonderful dinner we had one night, all the tasty local dishes we tried on a food tour, our day spent in Old San Juan, and our snorkeling trip. 

How do you feel about the outdoor shower? Would you be comfortable with it?

A Day and Night in Rotorua

From neon green lakes during the day to pool tables at night

So, this is my VERY LAST POST about New Zealand. I’m kind of sad about it, but you’re probably thinking Finally!

We spent our last day in Rotorua.

Rotorua is a rather interesting place. It’s what I imagine Earth must have been like during Dinosaur times.

Pockets of steams rising all over the place, volcanic craters, molten hot springs, neon green bodies of water, and a noticeable sulphur smell.

In fact, you can visit the Waitopo Geothermal Park park to see a concentration of all these ancient wonders in one place.

Walking around the park, you are greeted by many scenes of this…

It was hard to get a good shot of this lake which would do it justice.

The wind kept blowing steam into the picture. So, I’ll just describe it to you.

A two tone pool. A body of emerald green water surrounded by a bright orange ring, colored by the minerals in the water around the rim.

It wasn’t all just sulphur and steam though. The park also has beautiful walking trails through trees like this.

My favorite place in this park though was this bright neon green lake. Yes, it really is that color. Did you ever guess that hue existed in nature?

After walking around and contemplating prehistoric environment, we headed to our very special resting place for the night, the Hamurana Springs Lodge.

When researching this inn, I didn’t pay too much attention to the description. It just sounded like a decent place to stay.

But it ended up being my favorite stay of the entire trip.

This lodge was a bit out of town in the country side, sitting on its own estate surrounded by fields of horses. Once you turn into the road leading to the inn, you see the lodge perched up on a hill.

Then you drive down this wonderfully long path to the inn

Finally, you reach this cute old inn.

Once you’re inside, you’re greeted with all kinds of lovely views of the countryside

as well as portraits of local Maori tribespeople on the walls

Being there on a Thursday night, we had the random luck of being the only guests.

Not only did we have the run of the place, but we got so much specialized attention from the staff.

In fact, we joked that we felt like we were in an episode of Downtown Abbey. The staff tended to our every need, building a fire for us and stoking it through the evening, offering nice drinks, and so on.

We took advantage of all the lodge’s amenities including this beautiful fire place in a sitting room where we read books and drank wine for a few cozy hours. They piped in old fashioned jazz music and we felt like we had gone back in time to a different era.

Though I’m not skilled at pool at all, we also enjoyed playing a few games

That night, we slept so well, probably the best I slept the entire trip.

And the next morning, we went down to the dining room and were greeted with this nice breakfast. Fresh croissants. Cheeses and meats. Berries with yogurt.

After eating seconds and drinking a few cups of coffee, we spent a little time in our room just enjoying the view and feeling grateful that our trip to New Zealand ended on such a high note.

Exploring Otago Region, NZ

Queenstown is a perfect location to spend a few days as your home base on the South Island.

From there, you can explore the Otago region for its lakes, glacier mountain pools, historic Gold Rush towns, and wineries. We thought about doing a few organized tours, but in the end, opted for the flexibility of a rental car.

Our first order of business was a visit to the stunning Blue Pools.

It was a little out of the way north of Wanaka, but it was worth it.

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You drive into Mount Aspiring National Park (isn’t that a great name?), then walk through a small wild mossy green forest across a wobbly suspension bridge, and then you reach these jewel colored pools that are absolutely clear to the bottom.

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This particular day was so dismal and overcast and I really didn’t think the water would be so vibrant. I thought there needed to be sun to get that gorgeous glittering blue, but I was so wrong.

The pools were the most beautiful color! They get their distinctive hue from light refraction of particles in the icy mountain water.

It’s sort of crazy to think about this beautiful place in nature just hiding in middle of a dense forest. I wonder how many more undiscovered places lie waiting around the world? And I wonder what the first people to come upon these pools thought about their discovery. 

Don’t you want to jump in?

After the blue pools, we did some more driving through Wanaka region, stopping to take pictures at every turn and seeing lots of sheep dotted across the countryside.

This photo sort of looks like a folk art painting to me. I love how there’s a layer of mist hanging low over the small village.

Remember our wine-tasting day at Waiheke Island where we befriended several New Zealand ladies? Well, one of the places they highly recommend to us was the Cardona Hotel.

This historic spot was built in the 1860s for gold miners. Today it’s a cozy little stop between Queenstown and Wanaka, and the food was fantastic! In addition to the tiniest retro sink in the bathroom (you could only fit one hand in at a time!) I’ll always remember this place for serving one of the best coffees I’ve ever had. (Eventually, I’m planning to write a post about New Zealanders and their obsession with coffee!)

Driving back to Queenstown, we took advantage of our rental car to visit the Gibbston Valley winery and cheesy. (Yes, cheesery is a word, I learned on this trip.)

This charming winery with its red barn buildings, birds, and rose garden (still hanging on even in early winter) was so picturesque.

We spent a little relaxing while here sampling a few of their sheep and goat cheeses along with some glasses of Otago wine. There is a nice restaurant there too, where I would have loved to eat dinner, but we had plans in Queenstown for a meal instead.

Overall, our plan to rent a car and plot our own itinerary from Queenstown was the right decision. In fact, I highly recommend you do that if you’re planning a trip here too. There’s just so much interesting scenery and stops and you’ll want the flexibility to pull off the road when you want to.

 

 

 

 

Queenstown. NZ

I’m excited to share with you our time in Queenstown, New Zealand.

In recent months whenever I mentioned this trip to friends and colleagues, they always said, “You have to go to Queenstown!”

Mountains. Fresh air. Beautiful views. Outdoor adventures.

And I’m so glad we followed their advice. This mountain village has it all.

We stayed at the Novotel Queenstown Lakeside with views facing Lake Wakatipu. All this beauty was literally steps away.

The first afternoon we spent leisurely walking around the lake and soaking up the beautiful winter sun. Queenstown is on the southwestern side of the South Island, so it was quite a bit cooler here than Auckland. It was bright and sunny, but a down coat was definitely needed!queenstown-5

The next morning, we took the gondola up to the peak overlooking the city. We were lucky that the clouds lifted and we were able to get these panoramic views looking down on Queenstown.

It was still early in the season, so no skiing was available yet. But year-round, you can all do all sorts of other activities from there including hiking, paragliding, and the luge!

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Zip down the side of the mountain and take in the views as you go. Not bad, right?

After spending a few hours at the peak, we decided to hike down instead of taking the gondola again.

It only took us about one hour and we appreciated getting the fresh air to stave off the jet lag. 
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We spent 4 days in Queenstown, so it became our home base for lots of other outings and adventures including day trips to the famous Milford Sound, Lake Wakana, and Otagu region wineries.

We thought the natural scenery couldn’t get much better than here, but we were wrong. I’ll be sharing so much more soon!

Sundays at the Winery

With weather in the 80s the last few days, it already feels like summertime here in the DC region. And I’m not complaining!

Last Sunday, we took advantage of a pleasant morning before the afternoon heatwave to visit Barrel Oak Winery in Northern Virginia.

This is one of our favorite wineries ever. The pastoral farm setting is so peaceful, the wines are nice, and best of all, it’s dog friendly!

We timed it so we could enjoy their Sunday morning special which includes a breakfast champagne cocktail, bagel, newspaper, open space, and all the green you can take in for miles.

One of the things I really love about this area is that roads are sign and billboard free, meaning there’s just nature to appreciate. And what could be more peaceful on a lazy Sunday morning than that?

This winery can get crazy crowded on the weekends, but the morning hours had the  perfect amount of folks for people-watching and interacting with other dog-owners. We were able to snag a picnic table with umbrella next to the fields.

There are so many wineries in this area and we always vow we’re going to branch out and try something different. but in the end, we gravitate back here though because the setting is so pretty.

It’s safe to say, I’m sure we’ll be making lots of trips back here over the next few months. How about you? Do you have a favorite nature setting in your area?

*My dress is from Brooks Brothers .

 

 

December in Northern Virginia

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Late fall and early winter in the DC area makes for great outdoor time!

While temps are chilly in the morning and evening, the days are pretty mild. (Update: today we got our first winter arctic blast!)

Recently, my husband and I headed to Great Falls, Maryland to hike the Billy Goat Trail. The sky and scenery was beautiful, and I’m so glad we got to experience it before our proper winter arrives (which apparently it has!)

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For the hike, I threw on this zip high neck sweater from Zara, my Lysee denim leggings from Nordstrom, and comfy Vasque Talus Treks. Both the sweater and leggings are still available! The sweater is so cozy and I like how it’s sporty but could be versatile for other looks too. These leggings are so flattering- the denim material is thick and offers a lot of coverage so you don’t feel like you’re wearing gym leggings out somewhere. They are offered in different colors too.hiking-outfit view zara-sweater vasque-boots

How’s the weather where you are? I already see snow storms and blizzards on the news!