Weekend in Austin

My husband and I spent last weekend eating, walking, and (at least for Aaron) running through Austin, Texas. It was my third visit to Texas’ capitol but Aaron’s first, so we wanted to make sure that we hit the city’s best highlights during our short stay.

Greetings, y'all!

Greetings, y’all!

We didn’t do a lot of planning in advance for this trip; just some “Best Austin BBQ” Google searches and one Facebook post:

Austin recs

We received tons of great recommendations from friends who recently visited on lived in Austin, so we consolidated those notes and made a tentative game-plan. While we are in no way claiming to be Austin experts, below is a list of the places we checked out and would recommend to other visitors.

Friday:

– We arrived in Austin around 9:30 pm and asked our taxi driver to make a pit stop at Torchy’s Tacos on our way downtown. Even though one friend told us to skip tacos altogether and just focus on BBQ while in Austin, that friend was DEAD WRONG because Torchy’s tacos are not to be missed. They have an excellent secret menu, too.

torchy's

– Once we had secured our tacos, we checked into InterContinental Stephen F. Austin. The hotel was in a perfect location for the Austin Marathon (our whole reason for this particular Austin visit), but the downsides were the extra charge for in-room wifi and the lack of an outdoor pool.*

Saturday:

– We wanted to start the day with a breakfast for champions: the “Don Juan” breakfast taco from Juan in a Million. Holy moly that thing was good, and just one of them can easily feed two people. (Pro tip: ask for extra tortillas.) Don’t be discouraged by the crowd waiting outside the restaurant; the line moved quite quickly and we were seated in under 15 minutes.

juan in a million

– After breakfast we took a cab to the South Congress neighborhood (ask to get dropped off at Doc’s then walk south.) We grabbed iced coffees at Jo’s then wandered around the eclectic shops. It was especially fun ducking into Allens Boots and ByGeorge — those two stores couldn’t have been more different, but both were awesome! Our only regret was being too full from breakfast to try any of the cafes or bars in the neighborhood.

Had too much fun at Allens Boots. They even had U of M ones!

Had too much fun at Allens Boots. They even had U of M ones!

– The marathon expo was on our way back downtown, so by the time we walked over there and got Aaron checked in he had worked up enough of an appetite to justify a root beer float from Sandy’s. The perfect treat on a hot day.

FullSizeRender (28)

– We lucked out with gorgeous weather, so we walked all the way through downtown to the Capitol Building, then continued north to check out the University of Texas at Austin campus. I love seeing new college campuses, but man they can make you feel old! Also, it didn’t feel right being surrounded by so much burnt orange.

My best "Eyes of Texas" impression

My best “Eyes of Texas” impression

– From campus we took a taxi back downtown so we could walk through 6th Street before the evening’s debauchery began. We walked through the Red River district over to Rainey Street which used to be one of my favorite spots in town. Now, sadly, there are new condo buildings being constructed all around the quaint old houses and food trucks, killing the easy-going vibe. Nevertheless we still enjoyed a beer and some snacks at the Banger’s beer garden.

beer

– After Rainey Street we made our first bad decision of the trip: BBQ at Stubb’s. Fine music venue, not great BBQ.

Continue reading

Advertisements

Real Honeymoon: The Maldives

My friends Cara and Eric went on a quintessential tropical honeymoon in the Maldives last year. While the Maldives can certainly be one of the world’s most expensive vacation destinations, Cara and Eric were smart about splitting up their trip between two differently priced resorts, and the result was perfection! Read all about their incredibly gorgeous Maldives honeymoon below:

When and where did you honeymoon?

Eric and I decided to honeymoon in the Maldives, which is a grouping of 26 atolls in the middle of the Indian Ocean.  The Maldives is basically as far away from San Francisco as you can possibly get.  We went for two weeks directly following our labor day weekend wedding [September 2014].  We stayed at two resorts, to break up the trip (and the second hotel allowed us to not break our bank account).

Maldives honeymoon

Tennis in the Maldives

yoga in paradiseResort #1: Anantara – Dhigu
Amazing customer service.  Over water bungalow is a must.  We went with the half board, which consisted of a fantastic breakfast buffet (could not get enough of the local  fresh fruit) and  a 3 course dinner at all restaurants on the island.  Water surrounding hotel is a like a lagoon, so there are no waves and allows for a safe haven for baby sea life – including friendly reef sharks!  The resort supplies you bikes you can take around the island and had they had a fantastic spa that we would highly recommend.  Not as much of a water activity focus here, but there are islands you can swim or kayak to within the resort that allows for great snorkeling.

unnamed (2)

Resort #2: Kuredu Island Resort 
This was more of a party resort – which we later discovered when we arrived.  We did the all inclusive option, which allowed us access to 3 buffets per day and all the drinks we wanted!  The water there was rougher, so we spent more time in the resort pools.  The activities were plentiful, giving options for diving, snorkeling, tours and tennis.  They also throw a white party every Friday, which I judged at first, but ended up closing the place down.

10284713_10100339536627744_936310682761394486_o

How did you decide on your honeymoon destination(s)?

I had some big dreams for our honeymoon and one requirement: I wanted to stay in an over-water bungalow.  Surprisingly, there are not many places in the world where these villas exist, so this limited our selection right off the bat.   We created a short list of destinations and compared average hotels costs and airline costs.

10355441_10100339553493944_3809910131736898347_oUltimately, we decided to splurge on a “once in a lifetime experience.”  Our close friends did their honeymoon there the previous year and raved about the location, so we also felt comfortable staying in a resort that someone was able to vouch for – because who wants a bad honeymoon experience?

unnamed (6)

The best part about our honeymoon was…

The water.  It was crystal clear, allowing us to see all of the baby sharks, fish and sting rays that swam by.  At night the hotels would put lights on in the water, which would attract all types of fish and allow for viewing at dinner.  The snorkeling was amazing, I have never seen so many different types of fish in one place.

unnamed (1)

If I knew then what I know now, I’d change…

Nothing really.  One thing to keep in mind is when you are booking your travel is account for travel back to the airport from your resort.  We had to take a seaplane from Kuredu and the last one the resort had out was at 4pm, while our flight was at 10pm out of the Maldives airport.  Spending 6 hours at an airport where alcohol is illegal and the fine dining was Burger King left more to be desired.

unnamed (5)

Continue reading

Real Honeymoon: Bali

High school sweethearts Johanna and Arthur were married at one of my favorite places in wine country, then jetted off to Asia for additional wedding celebrations with their families. To cap off the festivities, they went on a spectacular honeymoon in Bali. I have a particular fondness for Bali honeymoons (ahem), but I think you’ll love reading about their trip, too:

When and where did you honeymoon?

We both have quite a lot of family who live overseas, so shortly after our wedding in the fall, we planned to also do dinner banquets in Hong Kong and Taipei during the holidays for our families who couldn’t come to the wedding.

Since we were “in the area” for our families, we wanted to go someplace close by in Asia for our honeymoon. We wanted to go somewhere that would be a good mix of tropical, relaxing (but not boring!), fun to explore, and lastly, someplace new for us. After running through a bunch of location ideas, Bali was definitely our top choice! Our itinerary was a bit different from what most people do, since we didn’t go to the southern part of the island where a lot of the water sports are in Seminyak and the party area of Kuta. We spend most of our time in the cultural center of Ubud, which is in the middle of the island, and also in the more remote western coast, in Manggis.

DSC_3086

In Ubud, we stayed at Amandari, and at Amankila in Manggis. They are part of a larger hospitality group called the Aman Resorts. We loved the properties and the hospitality at Aman, it’s very warm, welcoming, and well run. The properties themselves were gorgeous. Amandari was built to resemble a Balinese village, and Amankila was built in homage to one of the water palaces in that part of the area, so it was a really unique experience.

How long was your trip?

We were in Hong Kong and Taipei for 2 weeks (or, as Johanna’s coworkers called it, the second and third weddings!), and in Bali for a little under a week.

DSC_3110

How did you decide on your honeymoon destination(s)?

We’ve been lucky to have had the opportunity to travel throughout East Asia quite a lot, so we both really wanted to go somewhere new in Southeast Asia. We wanted to go somewhere that had a good mix of culture, exploring, and relaxation, and we really found Bali to be that perfect fit. The history of the island, religion, art, and plethora of outdoor activities just made for a super fun and well rounded trip for us.

DSC_3194

DSC_3112

The best part about our honeymoon was …

This was definitely was biking through the terraced rice fields that Bali is known for (the island is 20% rice fields!), jungle, and villages, and somehow ending up a coffee shop; and taking a Balinese cooking class. We were able to go to the street market to learn about/buy all of the ingredients for the day, try our hand at bargaining down the prices at the market, and then go to our guide’s family home to cook in his courtyard underneath a mango tree, and eating our meal in the middle of the jungle overlooking a river. And now I can make Balinese curry at home!

DSC_3223

Continue reading

Real Honeymoon: New Zealand

My good friends Becky and Niall had a legendary wedding in Ireland in 2013, and they went on an equally amazing honeymoon in New Zealand the following year. It was well worth the wait! Read all about their incredible trip below, and remember that it’s never too late to honeymoon.

When and where did you honeymoon?

New Zealand, Oct-Nov 2014.

  • 1 night in Auckland. Visited the SkyTower, took ferry to Devonport (Lorde’s hometown), and watched the Giants in the World Series!
  • Flight from Auckland to Wellington, then Interislander ferry from Wellington to Picton.
  • 2 nights in Blenheim (Marlborough Wine Country). Stayed at the Marlborough Vintners Hotel (highly recommended). Did bike tour to visit three wineries: Hans Herzog, Cloudy Bay, and Wairau River Wines.
  • 2 nights in Abel Tasman area at an amazing Airbnb (cottages on an organic farm). Highly recommend the guided day kayak + hike trip in Abel Tasman National Park with Marahau Sea Kayaks.
  • 2 nights in Hokitika. Visited the Hokitika Gorge and the Glow Worm Dell.
  • 1 night at Frank Josef Glacier. Did the Glacier Valley trail walk and visited the hot pools. Stayed at the Rainforest Retreat.
  • 1 night in Wanaka. Hiked Mount Iron and visited lots of local watering holes.
  • 1 night in Te Anau. Hiked the Rainbow Reach trail (park of the Kepler Track).
  • 1 night in Milford Sound on an overnight cruise. One of the best nights of the entire trip! Can’t recommend it enough.
  • 3 nights in Queenstown at the Queenstown Park Boutique Hotel. Love love loved it! Did the 5+ hour hike up Ben Lomond from the top of the gondola (tough but worth it!). Food highlights were Fergburger, Fishbones, and brunch at Vudu Cafe.
Taking a break from kayaking in Abel Tasman

Taking a break from kayaking in Abel Tasman

Hiking in Fiordland National  Park

Hiking in Fiordland National Park

How long was your trip?

2 weeks.

Milford Sound at dawn

Milford Sound at dawn

Natural rock wonder called Punakaiki or Pancake Rocks. Blowholes have formed inside the flattened rock formation.

Natural rock wonder called Punakaiki or Pancake Rocks. Blowholes have formed inside the flattened rock formation.

How did you decide on your honeymoon destination?

So as background, I’m from the SF Bay Area and we live here now, but my husband Niall is Irish. We met in Ireland and I lived there for 3 years. When we got engaged in San Francisco, we both knew right away we wanted to have the wedding in Ireland, both to accommodate elderly family on Niall’s side and because, well, it’s just an amazing place that is dear to our hearts. Given the wedding was a destination from our home in California, we were a bit maxed out on wedding planning to even think about a honeymoon. We ended up spending one week in the West of Ireland (Galway) after our wedding, but we considered that a somewhat faux or  ‘group’ honeymoon because it included friends and family.

So… it was always in the back of our minds that we needed to take a proper honeymoon just the two of us. We considered all the regions & places in the world that neither of us had been to, and New Zealand kept rising to the top of our list. Given we are both light-skinned and get sunrash after 10 minutes of being at the beach, New Zealand’s fall climate was a big pro too. And last but not least, we love hiking, walking, animals, and wine, so New Zealand offered all those things in spades. Basically, it ticked all the boxes so we bit the bullet and booked the trip!

Wine tasting at Cloudy Bay Winery in Malborough

Wine tasting at Cloudy Bay Winery in Malborough

Insanely beautiful scenery along the drive from Wanaka to Queenstown

Insanely beautiful scenery along the drive from Wanaka to Queenstown

The best part about our honeymoon was…

We both loved the day trip we did kayaking + hiking in Abel Tasman National Park. It was out of our comfort zone because neither of us had ever done sea kayaking before, but wow it was just spectacular. First of all we got super lucky with the weather that day because the days leading up to it were a bit ‘changeable’ with periods of torrential rain and wind and then sunny moments. But on the kayak trip day there wasn’t any rain at all. And it was truly magical to be in a remote corner of the world, and even remote by New Zealand standards, out in a kayak just chilling with nearby sea lions swimming around.

Another reason we loved Abel Tasman area was where we stayed… 2 nights at a lovely AirBnb called Matahua cottages. We stayed in a private cottage on an organic farm overlooking a quiet inlet bay. It was only 5 mins drive to a little village area called Mapua with delicious seafood restaurants.

View from the cottage

View from the cottage

If I knew then what I know now, I’d change…

I would try to go for an extra week if possible. Two weeks was a good chunk of time, but we really were pushing ourselves to see and do a lot. In the 2 weeks there we stayed in 9 different places, which is kind of crazy in retrospect. I love that we saw so much and really journeyed our way from Auckland to Milford Sound with stops along the way… but it also became exhausting at one point after we had 4 nights in 4 different places. By the time we got to Queenstown where we stayed our last 3 nights we were so glad to just stay in one town for a few days.

Showing their Bay Area pride at the Ben Lomond summit above Queenstown

Showing their Bay Area pride at the Ben Lomond summit above Queenstown

Continue reading