Paradise in Punta Cana

Punta Cana Beach

Paradise can be found in many places around the world and Punta Cana, Dominican Republic is one of them.  With exquisite beaches, gentle breezes and rolling waves it is a perfect place for rest and relaxation.  Our friends choose the Excellence Punta Cana, an all inclusive resort for their destination wedding.  We were excited to join them and celebrate with friends and family.

bride and groom

The Excellence took great care of us with stiff drinks at the swim up bar, plenty of relaxing areas at the pool and gourmet meals prepared throughout the day.  My favorite drink was the coco loco.  It’s like a Pina Colada using coconut water.  Some mornings I would order one without rum to cure my hangover.

Local vendors set up shop just around the corner from the resort. We picked up some jewelry and new artwork to hang in our house to remind us of the good times we had.

Shopping

Our week long celebration ended too soon and we bid farewell to the newlyweds.  I still dream about Punta Cana and can’t wait to plan our next trip to the Caribbean.

bed on the beach

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5 Must Eat Foods in Prague’s Old Town Square

me in Prague's Old Town SquarePrague’s Old Town Square is known for it’s history, amazing architecture and the world famous Astronomical Clock.  We were surprised to find so many tasty treats from local vendors around the square.  Here are five of our favorites that we went back to several times during our visit and would definitely recommend you give a try.

1- Trdelnik.  Let’s start with dessert!  Our first clue that these toasted slinky looking pastries were going to be sweet were all the bees swarming around the stands.  The dough was a perfect blend of crispy and soft with sugar, almonds and walnuts sprinkled all over.  A few bees followed us away from the stand to continue munching on our trdelnik, but I shooed them away before they ate too much.

2- Grilled Cheese. Now you may be thinking what could be so great about grilled cheese? I’m not sure the type of cheese this is but I do know that it is unlike any cheese I’ve had before.  It’s a harder cheese shell with softer cheese in the middle.  They press these “pockets” of cheese into perfect portion sizes and grill them right in front of you.  They serve the cheese on top of a slice of bread, which is not necessary since the cheese is so flavorful by itself.  I lost count how many we ordered while in Prague and have dreamed about them ever since.

3- Peasant Potatoes.  Served at multiple vendor huts in so many different ways.  One stand had a massive skillet which the cooks kept adding ingredients to it while it continuously cooked.   Another stand had smaller skillets with several types of mixtures. Some with sausage, cheese, ham, peppers and onions with different sauces.  They all smelled so good and the ones we tried tasted awesome.  They do charge by weight so make sure they don’t load too much on your plate.

4- Potato Chips.  These light and crispy chips were served in a paper cone and fun to eat.  They went great with a Pilsner Urquell which you can find pretty much everywhere you go in Prague.

5- Ham.  They slow roast these massive hams over a wood-fire and slice off a huge chunk when ordered.  They also charge by weight so be prepared to empty your wallet and fill your belly!

Ham

The Hotel Lippert, in the heart of the Old Town Square is a great place to stay to explore Prague’s tasty treats. They have awesome views overlooking the bustling square. We have so many good memories from the short time we visited and definitely want to go back to explore more.

Overlooking the Old Town Square

Top 15 Travel Moments in 2013

The year 2013 was filled with exploring new places and seeing familiar faces.  With visits to Cabo, Hawaii, Europe and a road trip across the U.S., it was tough to narrow down our highlights of 2013.  Here are 15 moments that stick out when I look back over another amazing year.

1- Ringing in the New Year in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico where each day ended with a magnificent sunset was a perfect way to start the year.

1-Cabo Sunset

2- We took the ferry to Orcas Island for a weekend of camping and hiking. This view over the Rosario Strait to Mount Baker was breathtaking.

1-Mount Baker from Orcas Island

3- This is my favorite beach in Hawaii.  We made sure to fit a day in here on our trip back to Hawaii in February.  Waimanalo State Recreation Area has a long beach with the softest sand to stroll down.  The surf sometimes can be rough, but the waves are fun to play in.

3-Waimanalo Beach

4- Who doesn’t love a Hawaiian sunset?  We had an awesome time hanging out with old friends during our last visit.

2-Hawaiian sunset

5- Juniper Dunes Wilderness Area is a unique area west of the Tri-Cities.  It’s bare landscape is very different from most hikes in the lush forests of the Pacific Northwest.  Over Memorial Day weekend we bounced around the dunes before a storm rolled in.

4-Juniper Dunes

6- On the Fourth of July we climbed to the top of Mount St. Helens.  While standing on the cornice seemed scary, it was worth it to look down into this sleeping giant.  We saw steaming vents and heard many rocks crumbling into the crater.

5-Into the crater at Mt St Helens

7- On a ferry ride to Seattle from Bainbridge Island we had an awesome view of Mount Rainier in the distance behind Safeco Field, Century Link Stadium and the cranes of the Port of Seattle Shipping Yard.  I miss this view and riding the ferries in Washington State.6-Ferry ride from Bainbridge

8- Glacier National Park was our first stop on a road trip across the U.S. The peaks here are spectacular!

7-Glacier National Park

9- On the other side of the Continental Divide the sharp peaks turned into flat lands quickly.  Here is a storm cloud rolling in at the border of Wyoming and South Dakota at sunset.

8-SD WY border

10- While I may not remember everything we did in Milwaukee, I can tell you that these people know how to party!  We visited a couple breweries, saw a Brewer’s game and then joined a pub crawl with Milwaukee natives.  The next morning we woke up with a cowbell in our possession?  Don’t ask me how.

10-Miller Park

11- Shortly after we moved to North Carolina we hopped on a plane headed to Europe.  We packed in so much during our time in Paris. We visited the Louvre, Versailles, the Arc de Triomph and of course the Eiffel Tower.  The night we spent chilling on the lawn at Champ de Mars is still one of my favorite memories in Paris.
11-Eiffel Tower midnight light show from Champ de Mars

12- Munich was next on our trip in Europe.  This scene in the Hofgarten at sunset was gorgeous.  The Theatine Church in the background may have been one of my favorite buildings in Munich.  At night it was lit up so perfectly.

12-Germany

13- The Riessersee in Garmisch-Partenkirchen is home to a beautiful resort near the Zugspitze, the highest peak in Germany.  We enjoyed a couple afternoons swimming in this lake during the warmest days of summer.Riessersee2

14- Our view over Prague’s Old Town Square looking towards the Tyn Chruch may have been the best view out of all the hotels we stayed in Europe.  Here is a picture of how it looks just after sunrise and before the square fills with vendors and tourists.  We had the best food in this square.  Two words: Grilled Cheese!
14-Prague's Old Town Square2

15- September arrived and we have been settling into North Carolina.  We bought a couple kayaks and have already spent a few weekends exploring Jordan Lake.15-NC-Kayaking Jordan Lake

Whew! It will be tough to fit this much in to next year.  We’re looking forward to traveling around this corner of the country.  The south is very different from the Pacific Northwest, but I think we are adjusting well.  I hope you all have a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

The Not-So-Badlands

Badlands painted hills

on the road through the BadlandsIt’s surprisingly beautiful in Badlands National Park east of Rapid City, South Dakota. Before entering the park we were surrounded by what seemed like endless flat lands and prairies for many miles.

Badlands entranceVibrant reds, yellows and orange hues painted the canyons and buttes in the Badlands.

BadlandsWe stopped here on our road trip moving from Seattle to North Carolina.  The heat was strong and sweltering on the day we visited.  I tried to imagine what it must have been like for early settlers to navigate through the canyons on a hot day like this hundreds of years ago.

Badlands yellow hillsAfter wiping the sweat from my forehead, I hopped back into the car where we cranked up the air conditioner and got back on the road heading east.

Badlands 2

Weekly Photo Challenge: Horizons from Kendwa Beach, Zanzibar

hammock at Kendwa Beach

Looking out to the horizon from Kendwa Beach was very peaceful.  My husband took this picture of me in a hammock and I love how the horizon lines up with the beach.  The simplicity of the tree and the single boat just reminds me of how relaxed we were at this moment.  That’s why I choose it for this week’s photo challenge: horizons.

Kendwa Beach sunset

Kendwa Beach is on the northwestern tip of the island of Zanzibar in Tanzania.  We went there for some much-needed rest and relaxation after our safari and climbing Mount Kilimanjaro.  It’s been over five years since we went to Africa, yet I can still vividly remember our trip.

boats offshore at Kendwa Beach

Interested in the Weekly Photo Challenge?  Follow the Daily Post to get the weekly theme every Friday.  Make sure to tag your posts with “postaday” too.

The Mystique of Neuschwanstein Castle

at Neuschwanstein Castle

On our recent trip to Germany we visited Neuschwanstein Castle, one of the most popular castles in Bavaria.  It was a rainy day, which may not have been ideal weather but the castle was still spectacular and magical.  Dark clouds swirled around it adding to its mystique.  It was as if we were stuck in a Disney movie when the evil queen takes over the castle.

 castle courtyard

Speaking of Disney, Neuschwanstein is said to have been one of many castles across Europe to have inspired the design of Cinderella’s Castle at Magic Kingdom.

 from the bridge

We thought the wet weather would mean less crowds, but we were wrong.  By the time we arrived there was a long line at the ticket office.  While in line we learned that anyone can wander around the perimeter of the castle but you need a ticket for a tour inside.  The next available time we would have been able to get tour tickets was four hours later.  We decided to pass on the tour and explored the grounds.  I’m sure it would have been a great tour but I know I’ll be back for another visit.  Maybe next time we will get there early.

Walk This Way: Crossing the Charles Bridge in Prague

Charles Bridge

Strolling along the Charles Bridge is like visiting a popular museum.  With ornate statues, artists, vendors and gorgeous views of the Vltava River, it’s easy to see why it draws a big crowd.  The Charles Bridge is one of the most famous sites to visit in Prague.  Each of the 30 statues are captivating and held my gaze for several minutes.

Even though the statues are now replicas of the originals, they are still quite impressive.  The originals are on display in the National Museum of Prague.

This statue below of St. John of Nepomuk is thought to bring good luck when you touch the base.  For a saint who was thrown from the bridge in 1393, I’m not sure exactly why it’s good luck.

St John of Nepomuk statue-1

The Charles Bridge was one of many sites we explored while visiting Prague.  It is such a beautiful city with amazing architecture around every corner.  I would definitely go back for another visit and would recommend you add it to your next trip to Europe.

Pislner Urquell at the Charles Bridge

Sparkling Eiffel Tower at Night

Eiffel Tower- Night and Day

During the day the Eiffel Tower quietly poses for millions of pictures while by night it comes to life with thousands of twinkling lights.

Looking up the Eiffel Tower at night

Our first glimpse of the Eiffel Tower in Paris was at dusk before the lights were illuminated.  We admired the tower for several minutes from the Champ de Mars. There were many people lounging in the grass, enjoying their wine with a view.  This looked like a great idea so we came back the next night.

Eiffel Tower midnight light show from Champ de Mars

There is no bad view of the Eiffel Tower from the Champ de Mars. We easily found a great spot to relax for the evening.  The tower grew brighter the later it got.  Around 11 pm the lights sparkled for a few minutes, then again at midnight.


At 1 am the main lights turned off which left the smaller flickering lights.  It was as if the Eiffel Tower were vanishing right before our eyes.


Then all the lights went out.  It was perfect timing since we had just finished off a couple of bottles of wine and a bottle of champagne.

Eiffel Tower after midnight

Throughout the year the Eiffel Tower is host to multiple light shows.  I can imagine how beautiful it must look on New Year’s Eve.  If you are planning a trip to Paris I would suggest you save one night to do this too.  Au revoir!

Josh and I at the Eiffel Tower