Opa!! Greece in Pictures!

This weekend is Greek Fest in Chicago….Lincoln Park Greek Fest to be exact. My friends asked me to go, but I’m busy packing for my Scandinavia trip! I leave tonight and couldn’t be more excited.

Greece was one of the most beautiful places I have ever traveled to! Never in my life have I see such bright blue and turquoise water. I spent a week in Athens, Santorini, Oia and Mykonos with one of my closest friends and we had a blast! We sailed around the gorgeous island of Santorini, laid on the white sandy beaches in Mykonos and raced around Athens to find the famous Poet Sandal Maker.

Although I’m missing Greek Fest this year, it was great to go back in my photo albums and pull up some of my favorite photos of the trip!

Enjoy the pics below and enjoy Greek Fest for all my fellow Chicagoans!

You will NOT believe what Lady Gaga and I have in common!!

A few years ago my sister, a close childhood friend and I attended Chicago’s Windy City Wine Fest near Buckingham Fountain in Grant Park. We fell in love with Cass Winery and made plans to one day do a Girls Weekend and visit the vineyard in Paso Robles, California.

In June 2013, the three of us headed to Paso for a fun filled weekend of wine tasting and sightseeing! We had a few areas of interest on our list, but the one I was most excited about was Hearst Castle!

Hearst Castle was THE place to be in the 1920s and many celebrities and political figures would often visit. Imagine Charlie Chaplin, Greta Garbo, Clark Gable, Bob Hope, Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill playing tennis, swimming in the beautiful pools, watching movies in the theater or walking through the world’s largest private zoo! We saw all of these on our Grand Rooms tour for only $25!!

Fast forward to 2014 and another celebrity has entered this enchanted castle….Lady Gaga! She filmed her new bizarre and perplexing video “G.U.Y” at Hearst Castle. It was fun to watch the video and remember all the spots that I had been…but then I thought “How could they let her swim in that pool!?!?! Clark Gable swam in that pool!! ”

See below for her latest video. I’ve also added some time marks since I’m sure you don’t want to sit through 11 minutes of this!

1:50 mark – Main castle entrance

2:20 mark – First views of Neptune’s pool

4:50 mark – First views of the Roman pool

7:20 mark – Beautiful shot and overview of Hearst Castle

 

It was such a beautifully foggy day at Hearst Castle when we went. The ride up to the Castle was surprisingly long and winding. You really got a good sense of the exclusivity and privacy these celebrities and political figures felt. When you see Neptune’s Pool and the Roman Pool, you truly go back in time!

Michigan Travel Map! Adventures of an unexpected drinking tour (without the drinking)!

For all those who read my last post – During my 40 days of sobriety, I went to a brewery, a distillery and two wineries! – you may be wondering if there is a handy map out there that you can follow for your own Michigan adventure.

Well, you’re in luck!!

Here’s the route we took from Chicago to Michigan, complete with the hotel we stayed at and each stop we made along the way! You can bet I’ll be using this map again when I make a trip back AFTER Lent! I can’t wait to actually try the assortment of drinks from Bell’s Brewery, St. Julian winery, Round Barn and Journeyman Distillery!

If you’d like to see a photo tour of the trip, make sure to check out my Pinterest Board – “Pure Michigan

Happy travels!!

 

Michigan Map

Michigan Map

During my 40 days of sobriety, I went to a brewery, a distillery and two wineries!

‘Tis the season for the Christian observance of Lent! It’s the time of the year that, if you’re a Christian, you’re  giving something up or proclaim that you’re going to be a better person in some way. I always find Lent entertaining because you’re always trying to one-up the other Christian in the group (to be God’s favorite of course). This year I gave up drinking. My sister gave up reading celebrity gossip. I honestly don’t know who won this battle ’cause it sure seems like we both lost!

I thought this Lent was going to be somewhat easy until I realized that I have two weddings to attend before Easter! The first wedding was in Plymouth, Michigan so three of us girls packed into a car and make the 4hr journey to celebrate with our close friend. What I didn’t realize was there was a number of wineries, a brewery and a distillery on the way to/from the wedding. Although I’m sober for Lent, I just HAD to make the numerous stops with my friends so they could taste all the yummy drinks!

The first stop on this epic road trip was Bell’s Brewery in Kalamazoo, MI! We stopped here for a lunch on the way to the wedding and ate a delicious meal at the Eccentric Cafe. After requesting water at the bar, the bartender proclaimed that she gave up Lent for Lent. Genius. I may consider this for next year!

After lunch, we walked next door to the Bell’s General Store and stocked up on our favorite beer! I love stouts and porters so I took a chance that I would love Bell’s selection and grabbed a custom 6-pack. My friends did the same and then we hopped in the car and drove the rest of the way to the wedding. My 6-pack is currently sitting in my refrigerator, ready to be opened on Easter!

Wedding time!! Lots of eating, dancing and no drinking for me, but the party went all night and we had an amazing time at the Inn at St. Johns! Congrats to Lara and Jason!

Lara and Jason Wedding

We woke up early the next morning to get a jump start on the 4hr drive back to Chicago. About 3hrs in, we stopped at St. Julian Winery, one of the original wineries in Michigan. The girls filled out their tasting sheets as I roamed around the festive store (it was St. Patrick’s Day and they had made a wine tree for the holiday). Michigan is known for making fruit wine and St. Julian’s selection didn’t disappoint. They also make a unique Vodka distilled from 100% grape spirits! Of course I had to pick up a few things to save for my own after-Easter festivities!

Travel Tip: Don’t forget your wine skins! A cheap purchase to save your precious wine during transport!

Right next door to St. Julian is Round Barn Winery (it’s also a Brewery and Distillery) so obviously, we had to stop there too! The girls filled out their tasting sheets, gathered their tokens and enjoyed a variety of yummy drinks! During the visit, we were told about another local distillery, Journeyman Distillery. Did we have time for one more stop?? Yep!!

About 10 minutes later, we found a somewhat hidden building with a small logo indicating we had arrived at Journeyman Distillery (Journeyman story video). The outside of the building is intriguing and once you step inside, it’s incredibly enchanting. From the wood flooring to the iron seating, this place instantly makes you want to kick back and enjoy a fine whiskey, rum or gin. Although the whiskey flight was only $4, the girls were a bit tired, so we purchased a few items from the gift shop and promised to return on another adventure (aka, my birthday in August!). I really can’t express enough how much I was kicking myself for making such a ridiculous Lent resolution!! This place is truly amazing and it’s a must-see if you’re in the area!

Our last stop of the trip was to grab a must needed bite to eat! My friend Ali had recommended a fantastic place called The Stray Dog. She had been there on a previous trip and had a whole list of great things to say about it. We walked in and immediately fell in love! There was dog stuff everywhere! Dog pictures on the wall, dog push pin artwork, dog coat hooks, dog glasses and dog napkin holders! I was in puppy heaven! We grabbed a table and ordered food for a family of 12 that consisted of chips & guac, veggie tacos and two pizzas (’cause we couldn’t decide on just one). Food was delicious and a perfect meal before we had to hit the road again for the last hour of our trip.

Unexpected road trips are the best!! What unexpected road trips have you been on?

I don’t want to be mean….but Sacramento, your “Chicago-style” pizza is terrible.

In my last post, I told you a little story about how I ended up at Folsom Prison…in my stilettos. Although a bit terrifying at first, it’s a great example about how fun and unexpected your travels can be! The reason I ended up in Folsom, CA in the first place was because 1/2 the people in my training class proclaimed that a certain pizza restaurant was “the best Chicago-style pizza in California.”

The restaurant they were talking about is called Chicago Fire and I’m sorry, but it DOES NOT taste like Chicago style pizza!! I suppose it’s ok if you’ve never had Lou Malnati’s or Giordano’s, but if you have, you’ll agree that it doesn’t quite match up. Although I figured I would come to this conclusion, I wanted to make a sincere effort and embrace the highly recommended spot. The Folsom location didn’t open until 4pm, which was 4hrs away, so I settled for the Sacramento location.

Chicago Fire

I ordered my take-away cheese deep-dish pizza and enjoyed a much needed drink at the bar. Remember, I had just been to Folsom prison so I probably could have used a few drinks at this point! The staff was friendly and the restaurant itself was lively which made for a very entertaining 30-40min wait. While I was waiting and scanning the bar scene, I noticed something missing…no Old Style. “Surely it’s a mistake,” I thought. How could you have a Chicago-themed restaurant with no Old Style? I kindly asked the bartender if they had any and I knew my answer when he looked at me like I had 3 heads. At least they had PBR (which debuted at the Chicago World Fair in 1893).

Tap options

Finally, my pizza had arrived!! I was so hungry at this point but decided to just bring it back to my hotel so I could eat and pack for my flight the next morning. Here’s what I saw as I opened the box…

Cheese Pizza

Looks amazing, right?! Probably tastes just as amazing, right?!? NOPE. While it LOOKS like a traditional Chicago deep-dish pizza, the taste was just….off. The cheese and tomatoes were similar to Lou Malnati’s, but the crust was just not right and if you can’t make a good crust, then what’s the point (in my professional opinion)! Unfortunately, I couldn’t take the smell anymore so in the hotel hallway it went.

20140307_203938

My advice, save yourself the trip and ship yourself a Lou’s or Giordano’s! A better option, if you’re in the traveling spirit, would be to book a trip to my hometown of Chicago!

When I say Folsom, you say Cash!!

Here’s a little fact about me….one of my favorite actresses of all time is Reese Witherspoon! Even if some of the movies she’s starred in are cheesy, I still love every bit of it and will re-watch them a million times! Legally Blonde (1 and 2), Sweet Home Alabama, This Means War…the list goes on and on! So, of course, when Walk the Line came out in 2005 I had to see it. I knew very little about June Carter or Johnny Cash, but I became an instant fan! Every now and then I feel a little bit country and can’t help singing along to the soundtrack or listening to the Johnny Cash station on Pandora.

Walk The Line Movie Poster - photo courtesy of Apple.com

Walk The Line Movie Poster – photo courtesy of Apple.com

This brings me to a little story about my recent week in Sacramento, California. It was a work trip (certification class), in a city I’ve never been to, and I was stuck for a week without preparing one bit for any type of sightseeing. If you ever find yourself in a similar situation, the best advice I can give you is ask around for guidance or suggestions. When people want to visit Chicago, I honestly won’t shut up about my city (the BEST city in the world!!) and others tend to do the same.

Since everyone in my class knew I was from Chicago they suggested I try Chicago style pizza and the best spot was in Folsom, California. Now, I didn’t tell them this because I felt incredibly ignorant, but what went through my head was “Folsom….as in Johnny Cash Folsom Prison?” I few days later I found out that it was EXACTLY what they meant. Unfortunately, the pizza place was closed so I decided to see what was happening at Folsom Prison. You know…the prison that’s no longer in use and has a nice big museum and gives you informational free tours???? WRONG. I was so very, very wrong.

It started of well. I spotted the entrance via a stone sign and drove in. It seemed safe and I made a note of the welcoming and natural landscaping. Nice touch Folsom, nice touch. “Exactly how a museum entrance should look,” I thought.

Entrance to Folsom State Prison

I parked in what I thought was the museum parking, but quickly noticed that this was also the parking for prison visitors. “Hmm, what prison visitors?” And then I saw it. A van pulled up and let off real prisoners in neon jumpsuits. Here’s what went through my head next, in order:

1. Wait…this is still an active prison? I’m in stiletto heels and totally overdressed for a prison.

2. The prisoners are looking at me in my stiletto heels and know I’m totally overdressed for a prison…but they probably like it. Creepy.

3. OMG, I think the entrance to the museum is where they let out the prisoners.

4. Yes, I am correct.

5. How fast can I run, in my stiletto heels, back to my car if one of the shackles breaks off?

The prisoners were quickly escorted away, clearing a path for me to walk to the museum. Behind the security office, I saw this.

Not what I was expecting, but I went in anyway. There was a nice man at the counter who took my $2 museum fee and told me to look around. The space is very small and there is a lot of stuff so you have to take your time to read all the little informational cards next to each cased item. Of course Johnny Cash posters and newspaper articles are everywhere.

Other than pointing out the Johnny Cash memorabilia, he did mention some additional “highlights.” One was that all the California state license plates are made at Folsom. Interesting. Next, he told me that Rick James was a prisoner there and that the museum houses his guitar. Strange. Here it is.

Overall, for $2 and very last minute planning, it was fairly interesting. It did leave me wondering a bit more about Folsom Prison and the history. I did find some additional information through Wikipedia and then watched a video about some of the history behind his visit.

Photo courtesy of solitarywatch.com

Photo courtesy of solitarywatch.com

Before I left, I snapped a quick shot of the prison. The same shot that Johnny Cash once took that’s now quite iconic.

Feeling satisfied with my visit, I headed back to the car and back to Sacramento. If you’re ever in the Sacramento area, I would suggest stopping by! It’s only 23 miles away and there is a nice quaint downtown area that you can spend time in if you’re not up for the whole prison thing!

Sochi Best Dressed list = My future travel plans!

Despite all the massive controversy surrounding the 2014 Sochi Olympics, I thought the Opening Ceremonies were vibrant, bold, risk-taking, well constructed and inspirational!

Wait…wait…I’m not talking about politics! I’m talking about the mostly fashionable Olympic uniforms and the controversy over the USA deciding to wear ugly Christmas sweaters. Seriously Ralph? Yuck!

Photo courtesy of Emag.com.uk

Photo courtesy of Emag.com.uk

I’ve decided to use this controversy to aid me in creating a future travel list (outside the USA), based solely on countries who I feel were the Best Dressed! Here we go:

1. Canada

I’ve been to Toronto and Victoria already, but just seeing these bright red wool coats makes me want to plan another trip. I may just buy one for myself and head up to Calgary to go on a bobsleigh ride! How very Olympic of me!

Photo courtesy of Huffingtonpost.ca

Photo courtesy of Huffingtonpost.ca

2. Germany

Was anyone expecting Germany to walk out in Rainbow jackets? Not me,  but I loved it! It’s colorful and playful and it just gives me one more reason to see this country that’s been on my list for quite some time. At the top of my list is Neuschwanstein Castle! That place looks so magical that I’m assuming there’s a permanent rainbow over it at all times!

Photo courtesy of Sportsgrid.com

Photo courtesy of Sportsgrid.com

3. Bermuda

What can I say? It’s the middle of winter in Chicago and I have ‘shorts envy.’

Photo courtesy of ew.com

Photo courtesy of ew.com

4. Lithuania

When I was a little girl, I boldly announced to my entire family that my first car would be a lime green Dodge Neon. Of course, as I got older, that completely changed, but I do still love the color! After doing a bit of research I was able to find all sorts of fun things to do there and now can’t wait to plan a trip.

Photo courtesy of Theweek.com

Photo courtesy of Theweek.com

5. New Zealand

New Zealand gets 3 S’s: Simple, Sleek and Stylish.

Wait…wait…who’s that guy carrying the flag? Ok, New Zealand gets 4 S’s – “Sexy” for Shane Dobbin. And my bags are already packed…

 

Which Olympic uniforms were your favorite?