My House in Budapest

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I’m not a scientist, but I’m almost positive something chemical happens in my body when I find a place I truly love. The silly, floppy kind of love. While yes, I have a tendency to set one foot down in a city and declare that I’m staying forever, the electric sensation of being in love has happened with only a few of those cities… and now I’m adding Budapest to that list.

Budapest is enchanting. All the romance of Paris, without the grime (sorry, not a Paris fan…). I was floored at how quickly Budapest became my reality, a reality I adjusted to like nothing I’d ever adjusted to before. I fell into a rhythm of knowing I’d learn something on every single street we walked down. Ever a fussy eater, I simply accepted that I’d never know what the heck I was ordering at any given meal because Hungarian is very, very hard. It was that kind of love, all in one day.

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Our Contiki itinerary gave me just one day in Budapest, but that was all it took.

In the morning, my friend and I walked over a mile from our hostel to the Széchenyi Baths, in which we floated about blissfully with people from all over the world. Probably a mildly gross concept, which we ignored, as time became nothing but a fleeting concept once we started splashing around. It took everything we had not to just stay there all day.

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We lapped the city at least three times. We passed by St. Stephen’s Basilica, hunted down a Costa Coffee (True American northeasterners; we had to have the coffee. Costa is a British chain. We found one in Krakow, too. Get an iced latte if you do ever find one. I’m ashamed by my inner American, but I do love iced coffee.), tried on the iconic embroidered Hungarian shirts in Nagycsarnok, the Great Market Hall, and stopped in one of Budapest’s adorable cafes (full recap on that here). I think that was what I was most bummed about; there were so many cafes to try, and 24ish hours or so was not enough time to try them all. That, and there’s a big emphasis on vintage clothing and thrifting in Budapest. My carry-on sized suitcase hardly allowed for that either (I may have a slight shopping problem, which was very evident once we got to Italy.).

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St. Stephen’s Basilica

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So no, I don’t actually have a house in Budapest (yet…), but Budapest now has home in my heart. For me, revisiting places internationally tends to happen on a “this opportunity fell into my lap” kind of basis, but I’m breaking that pattern with Budapest.

I could never let all those cafes and vintage stores go untested anyway; I just might need a bigger suitcase next time…

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Venetian Fairytale

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In 2012, I went to Italy for the first time with my family, and I hated Venice.

Right after I’d graduated from high school, my sister and I begged and pleaded to go abroad, and my foodie parents selected Italy. We all loved the food and the culture, but not one of us was big on Venice. It was July, and therefore it was hot, dark, crowded, and confusing. We stuck to St. Mark’s Place for almost the whole day.

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Kind of blurry in Venice, 2012

On Contiki’s Eastern Trail, we got to spend one whole, incredible day in Venice, which completely changed my perspective.

We were set loose upon Venice with zero plan. My friend and I opted out of the trip’s additional activities for Venice in favor of others at different stops on our trip, but our own personal wanderings gave our fellow travelers a little something to be jealous of.

We picked just any cafe for lunch, mostly because we were ravenous by the time we arrived in Venice, after being squished on our bus all morning (There was a lot of being squished on the bus all morning on our trip, but I kind of love the whole mush-pile tour bus thing? Long bus rides are for deep thought, finding yourself, and unintentionally cuddling with whoever ends up sitting next to you… or for taking intense, mouth-open kind of naps. Whatever floats your boat… because Venice. OK, I’ll stop now.).

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Afterwards, we took a lift to the very tippy top of Campanile di San Marco (Eight or nine euros for a breathtaking view. No, I did not cry, but it was definitely one of those “this is actually my life” moments in which I got dangerously close) and very carefully navigated the warped floors of Basilica San Marco to avoid any ankle-breaking. We then spent the afternoon happily lost, souvenir shopping and treating ourselves until we could no longer find any justification for our purchases. We followed the yellow and black signs from Rialto Bridge to Piazza San Marco and back again, before making ourselves at home along the Grand Canal with our loot and two Aperol Spritzes. It was my favorite afternoon of our whole trip, and probably one of my favorite afternoons ever.

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I will never get over this view.

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Aperol Spritzes

We did dinner in reverse and started with dessert, because when you find what you’re looking for in Venice, you do not walk away because you’ll never find it again. Gelato is acceptable for any meal anyway, right? Our backwards dinner were some of the best things I ate, which can be found here.

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I found myself exceptionally sad as we boarded the little charter boat back to our bus, as I watched Venice disappear behind us, and as our bus driver drove endlessly around a roundabout so we could finish singing along to a playlist our group had curated. It was a day I’d only heard other travelers tell stories of. One that never felt like it’d ever be mine, and in such a place I had so disliked years before.

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But it was mine, and it was pure magic.

I Traveled With #NoRegrets

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October, 2016.

Everyone I know is still attempting to adult post-graduation. My friend texts me and asks if I want to go to Europe, to which the answer is always yes.

By November 2016, we’d booked a trip through Contiki, a high-energy tour operator intended for travelers from all over the world between the ages of 18 – 35. We were to embark on Contiki’s Eastern Trail, which made stops in Vienna, Krakow, Budapest, Ljubljana, Venice and Rome. Contiki encourages all participants to seize the day and travel with #NoRegrets. My friend and I then spend the next several months tagging each other in things on Facebook and sending screenshots of our respective countdowns to our trip.

April, 2017.

Our trip comes and goes far too quickly, as trips always do. We loved every second of it. Here are some notes on our adventure if you’re considering Contiki for your travels:

1. Your Group

Your group is a complete toss up. Ours happened to be 3/4 Australian girls between the ages of 19 – 21, with a smattering of other new friends from England, New Zealand, Canada, America, and Japan. This is not at all a negative; just something to keep in mind. Our group was fun and loud and loved to party, and were very accepting of my friend and I, who kind of became a package deal (Entirely my doing without explicit consent from the other party involved. Major points to my friend for always putting up with me.).

We actually joined in the middle of a trip that had been running for about two weeks. Our group, endlessly social and welcoming, wanted to get to know us from the second we joined, tossing names and hometowns at us, which became a lot for two already-kind-of-introverted and nervous people. I can only imagine it could’ve been ten times more overwhelming as a solo traveler. Everyone seemed to have an established group or at least one friend already. We had several pairs in our group, including a set of sisters, two coworkers, and two or three actual couples. However, most of our group really was solo.

Whether or not you wish to travel with a buddy is entirely up to you; Contiki trips work for either. Prior to departure, I was told that Contiki trips are all wild and rowdy. In general, I am a little bit socially anxious, so such news was disconcerting. I was grateful to have a travel buddy on this one. As a collective unit, we were more muted than the rest of the group. Now that I know what to expect, perhaps I’d consider going solo in the future, but my trip wouldn’t have been nearly as amazing as it was without my friend.

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2. Your Itinerary

There’s a chance your itinerary does not actually start in the city it lists first. Just be careful on this. While we “started” in Vienna, because of the nature of Contiki’s modular trips we actually arrived on the rest of the group’s last day in Vienna, so we did not make it in time for any of the activities. By the time we arrived, we hadn’t slept in approximately 36 hours, but we were a little disappointed that we wouldn’t get to see any of the city.

Otherwise, the itinerary was exciting, accurate, well-managed by the Contiki team with us, and was always on time. As far as Contiki’s “Me Time” additional events, we enjoyed them but also savored our free time. We opted out of some in favor of having the opportunity to wander. My friend and I loved having time to just do our thing or check things off our own personal bucket lists, and join back up with the group later.

3. Your Experience

You’ll probably drink a lot, swear a lot, and find yourself picking up some new words for the duration of the trip. You will meet cool people from all over the world, ones genuinely interested in getting to know you and sharing their experience. You’ll get up early, you’ll walk kilometers on the daily, you’ll stay out all night and then do it again the next day. You’ll get very lost, stumble upon exciting things, sing on the bus, and learn something new every single day. A Contiki trip is what you make of it.

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Thanks for sharing Krakow with me, for making me fall in love with Budapest, for introducing me to Lbjuljana, for giving me the most perfect day in Venice, and for allowing me to see Rome again, Contiki. I truly have #NoRegrets and can’t wait to do it again someday!

Rhode Island Gems

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New England in the fall. Ask anyone who’s lived there, and they’ll probably tell you that’s what they love most about the area (or they’ll tell you it’s the only thing they love about the area, but that’s beside the point..).

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Providence is not your average city; there are no Starbucks on every corner to pee in if the need arises. That’s one of the top things I adore about it. There are few cities in this world in which commercialization does not reign supreme. Instead, my friend and I spent the weekend exploring, eating, and stomping through the leaves.

My friend took me to Wickenden Street for a day. Wickenden is more of a small-town shopping street than a big city avenue, but it is home to a spot for afternoon tea, a place that does pancakes at all hours, and a three-floor thrift store. See why it’s perfect?

Nostalgia is a massive antique store with zero rhyme or reason to their arrangements, departments, or merchandise. It’s an ideal hodgepodge of everything with just a sprinkle of Boston pride in case you’ve forgotten where you are (You’ll find occasional Boston Bruins stuff). It reminded me of Uncommon Objects on South Congress in Austin. While we didn’t purchase anything, we were happily lost inside for about three hours poking through everything.

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All the fun warrants a meal. We went to The Duck & Bunny. To be honest, I didn’t know what to expect. It could’ve aired on the side of snooty, or it could’ve been a real rare find. The other guests were snooty, actually. But putting that aside, the food is 400% worth it.

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The “snuggery” serves a full menu. We started with savory crepes; mine was a ham/cheese/mustard sort of situation. But like, the world’s most outstanding honey mustard. It just begged to be devoured shamelessly.

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From there we moved to cupcakes. I say you can gauge how good a place’s cupcakes are by ordering a classic, which is how I’ve earned my title of “That Annoying Food Blogger Friend,” to which I say you should still get a Red Velvet at The Duck & Bunny because it will be unforgettable. The cake and the ultra-sugary icing quite literally melt in your mouth. My friend (who went Chocolate Mocha) concurs, to give you some further perspective. Because Red Velvet is simply just another cake flavor dyed red, it usually isn’t very unique, but at The Duck & Bunny it really is in a category of its own.

And while all that’s fine and dandy (That’s a new verbiage situation for me, OK sure, let’s roll with it…), the only thing that makes it even better is a buddy who will join you in intentionally and ruthlessly destroying neat leaf piles or eating for 95% of the day.  That’s one of my mine below. We’ve been friends since we were four years old. If you were wondering: yes, we are secretly the same person, and yes, it is absolutely adorable.

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Many more adventures coming soon!

In My Humble Opinion…

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South Beach, Miami never gets old.

It’s my favorite beach in the United States, and quite possibly the whole world.  I’ve been in search of another beach with perfect sand, clear blue water, great food, and endless people-watching, and South Beach just wins every time.

I’ve spent most of my time in South Beach with my behind happily planted in the sand next to the lifeguard stand near the 5th Street entrance to the beach. It’s the perfect jumping off point for walking the beach or swimming in the Atlantic, and is easy to find again if your party splits up.

The water is clear and blue and arguably perfect, though I grew up in the Northeastern United States, where our waves our stellar but the water is so murky that you’ll never find your feet. That’s not the case on South Beach. Feel free to splash as much as you like, without fearing anything beneath the surface.

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Frolicking on my most recent visit! Special thanks to Submarine and 9Two5 Fit for the amazing swimsuit. Yes, it was a gift, but they’re Miami-based designers, and I would without a doubt happily pay for their stuff. Worth every penny to feel like a beachy princess!

 

If you can drag yourself off the beach for a little while, make a stop at Under The Mango Tree on 6th Street. Under The Mango Tree, a haven for acai bowls and smoothies, was one of the first places I ever reviewed on my blog. I’m not sure the post is still up, but regardless, the cute little shop has expanded since my first visit. There’s now more seating, more fun bohemian products to poke through, and more fruity goodness on the menu. There’s a little bit of a wait, especially if they’ve got a crowd, because everything is made fresh. It’s worth it, I promise, and the Mango Tree smoothie is undoubtedly the best way to fuel up after being out in the hot Miami sun.

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Mango Tree smoothie; ingredients are simply mango, apple, strawberry, and agave syrup. Impossible to recreate, though I’ve tried. Would fly back just to satisfy the craving.

It you’re feeling more of a lunch kind of thing, take a break from tanning and stop by Apple A Day Café. It’s not near the beach, but it is the best lunch in all of South Beach. Apple A Day is a health food café that has been in business for 24 years. They create their own pressed juices, smoothies, bowls, omelets, wraps, soups, salads, etc. The O’Baked Chicken Bowl is my favorite, jam-packed with all sorts of healthy stuff (red cabbage, broccoli, bean sprouts, the works), but it’s so pretty and filling you won’t even think twice about the fact that it’s mostly vegetables. The juices are very expensive, but ask for a sample at the counter before committing, and they’ll happily help you out (The Raw Cacao one is my go-to because it tastes like chocolate milk, and is also less terrifying if you’re a pressed juice newbie. I got into pressed juice in Austin, and even I haven’t graduated to the really hardcore green stuff yet) And, if an adorable, bubbly girl with super-short hair happens to be working behind the counter, say hi, she’s my cousin!

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O’Baked Chicken Bowl

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Clockwise from the top: Pitaya Bowl, one of their many salads, Cold Killa pressed juice, Power Omelet, O’Baked Chicken Bowl

Whether you’re in search of perfect waves, the world’s best smoothie, or just a place to sit and watch eclectic locals go by, South Beach has something for everyone. And it just keeps getting better.

Collecting Memories

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I’m an avid picture taker, and an avid writer (Obviously…). But, as I cleaned out my phone and laptop in preparation for new adventures (OK, mostly because I have far too many pictures of food floating around…) I found myself thinking about my collection of best travel moments, almost none of which are preserved in any of my pictures or journals. I think this is the beauty of travel, really… To collect memories of the moments you can’t put into words or keep forever in picture.

A few of my favorites (and perhaps my best attempt at some pictures to explain):

  • Hopping on a plane from Austin to Boston by myself at 3 AM in full hysterics, because loneliness is 200% a real emotion. I was so impressed with myself for trusting my gut. It’s also, to date, one of my favorite summer weekends; more here.
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Boston Skyline, from the tarmac at Logan International

  • The Western Wall on Shabbat, the holiest day of the week for those of the Jewish faith. Whether you know what’s going on or not, there was a spirit and energy in the air that I hadn’t ever felt before, and haven’t been able to find since. The women’s side of the wall is full of song, dance, and celebration. Cried through most of that one too, but happy tears, I promise!

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  • Taking residence on this balcony in Rome to watch everyone go by on Via Nazionale (No cappuccino though, unfortunately!).
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Via Nazionale

  • Picnicking under the Eiffel Tour on the most perfect August day.

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Walk The Moon @ Music Hall of Williamsburg

  • Breezing through London on one of those ridiculous tourist buses on my second trip to the city. I swear those things are secretly gold, and having been just a few months earlier, nothing was better than getting to see everything again in a different light.
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Top of St. Paul’s Cathedral

My addiction to traveling is all about memories like these. Every time I think about them, I get all excited about the prospect of having more of them. Side effect of the travel bug? I mean, at this point, it wouldn’t surprise me…

Falling In Love

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… With yet another city where the weather sucks about 75% percent of the time and the people have some degree of a bad attitude, but are we really surprised?

My friend and I declared it a mini-vacation, left our laptops in our rooms, and traded NYC for Boston for the weekend. We kicked it off with two (exceedingly awesome) seats to Ed Sheeran’s first and only US stadium show at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, MA on Friday night (things we’ve been counting down to since literally June…). He is nothing short of incredible live; it’s just him, a loop pedal, and his guitar. To top it off, it was my first night ever in a stadium, and the very first time I’ve ever seen a crowd of just iPhone flashlights light up an area with 50,000 people in it, as if someone had turned the stadium lights on. The night was breathtaking, and for the girl who’s always thinking about her next trip, there was nowhere else I would’ve rather been at that very moment. It was the kind of show that leaves you saying, “Give me five or ten minutes collect my jaw off the floor, and regain my cool, if that’s at all possible” (It’s not. I had no composure for most of the show and most of the evening afterwards, he’s THAT GOOD).

IMG_2300IMG_2343And when we woke up the next morning and had finished recapping the night 700 times, we headed off to spend the afternoon in Boston. Boston was adorable. Having only ever really been once before at about age 11 (I don’t think this summer counts…), this was a treat. A purely walking city, I set one foot down on the cobblestone street and knew Boston was much more my speed than many places I’ve been recently. I fell hard and fast for the stately buildings, the harbor, the history, the flawless weather, their new Primark, and the extensive use of the word “wicked” to describe everything but the Broadway show. I know the perfect autumn breeze doesn’t last forever, but I feel like the New York-meets-London-meets-Copenhagen vibe might. Someone had basically taken all my favorite parts of some of the world’s best cities and stuck them all together, leaving me wishing I had more time to explore (as always…).

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Boston Harbor

I’m aware that most of my posts about cities are more like love letters than anything else, but nevertheless, it felt good to be back on better (less total and complete meltdown?) terms. I’m already planning another visit to really get my hands on everything. Who knows, Boston could be my next big move…

Whaddup, Let’s SUP

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A weekend where I’m 4-6 hours from the nearest beach? No bueno (I’m from an island, this is the longest I’ve been without access to actual body of water…). But a weekend that I get to go paddle boarding? That is a Saturday afternoon I can get behind!

In my quest to check everything off my Austin Bucket List before going back home, today I finally got to go stand-up paddle boarding, or supping for short. I’m really not sure whether I feel super cool or completely ridiculous using the term “supping”, but anyway…

I’ve paddle boarded once before in Florida with my family, held my own for someone who is generally uncoordinated and unathletic, and absolutely loved it. Today, one of my friends from my internship (who also happens to be an exceedingly cool native Austinite) drove down to EpicSUP to paddle board on Lady Bird Lake.

In typical Austin fashion, you just kind of show up to a little dock, drop everything, pray no one touches your stuff, and get out on the water. It was so refreshing to hear the little current slap up against the bottom of my paddle board. We paddled, took a break to tan and float, struggled to turn ourselves around, dealt with me idiotically getting sunscreen in my eyes, got exhausted battling the current, and soaked up the sun.

And, dare I say it, we might’ve even looked good doing it. 🙂

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EpicSUP

2200 S Lakeshore Blvd

Austin, TX 78741

http://www.epicsup.com/

I Think I’ll Go To Boston

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So if you aren’t familiar with one of my all-time favorite songs, even though New York and Boston are sworn enemies, click here. And yes, I totally played this song as we took off from DFW, and descended into BOS.

I have to admit it. I got lonely, a little bit sad, and it got to the point where I was willing to put down just about any amount of money to be in the presence of anyone I knew and loved. So I did.

Right up there with my most brilliant ideas? Maybe not. Worth it? Absolutely.

I made a really impulsive, very expensive decision about four days before the 4th of July to crash at one of my friend’s houses just outside of Boston. We talk non-stop, but I hadn’t seen her for months and I missed her like crazy, and I really needed someone to validate my consistent use of the word “hella” and be accepting of my constant talking about New York.

Honestly, the first thing we did when I got off the plane (besides encounter some severe issues finding each other) was go to Costco. We have one in my little suburban town back home, and as a kid I never liked going (because I was, and probably still am, that kid who doesn’t like shopping unless it’s specifically for me), but it was the most fun I’ve ever had going to Costco. Being away makes you appreciate all of the little things you take for granted, like going for thirds on all of Costco’s samples.

We grabbed pizza and visited an old-fashioned candy shop, and saw Magic Mike XXL just for Channing Tatum and Twitch. We made several Dunkin’ Donuts runs (Dunkin’ was invented in Massachusetts so they’re everywhere, and I can’t get to the one in Austin!). On the 4th of July, we crashed someone’s backyard fireworks show. In reality, it was the simplest suburban weekend in the history of ever, but it might have been the most fun I’ve had all summer.

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On top of that, perhaps what made me happiest (since I am currently attempting to live alone for the very first time) was that I got to go off to bed for two nights knowing my friend was asleep on the other side of the room, instead of several states and a time zone away. Apparently I never realized how much of a difference it makes to know that your parents are just down the hall, or your sister is next door, or that your friends live just 3 floors below you or across the street. It’s another thing I have clearly taken for granted (Being an adult is going really well, guys…).

It was over all too soon, I was missing it before I even left the ground at Logan International, and I already cannot wait to go back.

I hear it’s nice in the summer… Augustana, I can assure you it’s all that and then some.

Hey There, ATX

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I’ve been a resident of Austin, TX for almost a week now, so I’m declaring this Austin Update #1!

The weather is a complete 180 from rainy Stockholm, and although the humidity and my curly hair aren’t quite friends, very few complaints about the sunshine from this end.

Work has started as well, and I’ve tossed headfirst into a whole bunch of cool stuff… including our weekly intern events, which this week involves something called the Panic Room (Whether that means I should actually be panicking, I’ll have to let you know…)

I haven’t had much time for exploring just yet, but hopefully I will in the coming weekends. I have to admit, it’s tough to blindly move to a state where you don’t know anyone. I’ve always talked about doing it, but in reality, it’s a touch lonely. Thankfully, I’ve made some new friends at my job who have offered to show me around, and I’m really looking forward to it.

More to come! Got suggestions for things to do and see? Send them my way: thegeekytravelerblog@gmail.com

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Waller Creek