Travel Series: Ang takes Denver!

We travel not to escape life but for life not to escape us.

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Well…that was a longer break than I anticipated.

But you can’t fight it, you know? When you need to get realigned, your soul and energy will let you know. You don’t feel inspired or motivated… so in other words, a bih was just NOT feeling it! But we can save the story behind this for another blog post.

Let’s focus on the reason I am here today after my long absence. DENVER.

And Denver is everything your imagination can ever dream and more! At least in my opinion. I took a long weekend trip there with my fiancé and best friend a few weeks ago and I came home with all of this inspiration. A drive filled with the need to share my trip with all of you. 🙂

So before I jump into all the details of Denver, let’s address the elephant in the room.

Yes. I traveled during this pandemic. Yes. I practiced all safety precautions. Yes. I value the lives of others.

I understand there are mixed views regarding the pandemic and the level of severity. I respect the opinions of all. I believe it comes down to a matter of choice.

If you do not feel comfortable traveling, that is more than understandable. However, if you would like to travel, my advice is to ALWAYS wear your mask, regularly wash or sanitize your hands, practice social distancing, and always make your best judgement from circumstance to circumstance.

OK, moving on…

Denver, Colorado aka The Mile High City is located on the west coast of America and offers breathtaking views of over 200 mountain peaks. The city earned its nickname because its official elevation is exactly one mile above sea level. But Denver doesn’t only offer scenic routes throughout the city, Denver also offers a thriving art scene along with an abundance of bars and restaurants to satisfy a foodie’s wildest dreams. And as if all of that was not enough, Denver’s weather during the summer is amazing. Cool in the mornings, hotter in the afternoons, and barely any humidity!

Hear are few fun facts about Denver:

  1. There are currently more marijuana dispensaries than Starbucks and McDonald’s combined. holy sheeet
  2. The very first Chipotle restaurant is located in Denver.
  3. Denver has 300 sunny days a year. That’s more than Florida!
  4. The Denver International Airport has been the subject of conspiracy theories since the finalization of construction in 1995.

Speaking of the Denver International Airport…

Some say the airport was built by the New World Order. Others say that it houses the Illuminati Headquarters underground. Conspiracy or not, you cannot overlook the strange murals and sculptures that are assumed to tell stories of the apocalypse.

We attempted to locate one of the infamous statues, The Blue Mustang, which is a 32-foot horse sculpture with glowing red eyes. Many people refer to the sculpture as Blucifer, an acknowledgment to the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Unfortunately, we were unsuccessful due to lack of time and lack of information offered by the employees at the airport. Coincidence? Maybe. But it seems that the affiliates of this airport are poking fun at us all. Just check out the message here. TOTALLY normal, I’m sure.

While at the airport, we picked up our car rental and was more than ready to hit the open road. So originally, I had a whole itinerary because in my mind we only had three days to explore the f**k out of this city. But you know life doesn’t work out like that. Needless to say, by the time we left the airport with our rental, we had already wasted 2.5 hours. *throw the itinerary out of the window* Seriously, just do it. Definitely research dope places to go but don’t become a slave to the itinerary. As ironic as it sounds, time and travel really don’t go together. Time never seems to be on your side and there’s always delays. I never seem to learn! But I digress. Who cares when you have the opportunity to explore a place you have never been before?? And so, Day 1 was freestyled and nothing but great vibes.

DAY 1:

Pike’s Peak

After the airport, we headed to Colorado Springs, which is about 1.5 hour away from Denver. Our first major destination was Pike’s Peak, the highest summit on the southern Front Range of the Rocky Mountains that offers views from 14,111 feet above ground. Read more on how to explore ‘America’s Mountain’ at https://www.pikes-peak.com/.

To enter, it’s a $15 ticket but the experience itself is worth it. You have the option of driving to the top on your own, driving mid way and taking a shuttle to the top, or hiking it. We opted for the combo of driving and shuttle because honestly going up an altitude that high not only messes with your car, but it messes with your lungs too! If you ever make it to Denver, make sure that you adjust to the change in altitude before you do any physical activity. I had such a tight heaviness in my chest and felt a bit winded until my lungs adjusted. Most importantly, listen to your body. Unfortunately, several people needed medical attention at Pike’s Peak.

The most amazing part of this experience wasn’t the views, surprisingly. Don’t get me wrong, the views are breathtaking and looks like pages ripped from a nature and wilderness magazine. But my absolute favorite part about this experience was the weather change as we went higher up the mountain. On ground level, the temperature was about 75 degrees Fahrenheit. By the time we reached the very peak, the temperature was recorded to be 41 degrees Fahrenheit and began to flurry. Insane! Snowing in July! Definitely a first for us and such a happy moment. The amazement in our eyes and voices as we realized it was snowing. My true inner child came out in that moment and my heart adored every minute of it.

Pike’s Peak is a recommended must see attraction while in Denver but I do have a few tips for you:

  • Give yourself plenty of time to experience Pike’s Peak. As I mentioned earlier, it’s about an 1.5 hour drive from Denver. Once you are there, you want to give yourself plenty of time to drive and stop along the way before the part closes at sunset. We ended up spending 5 hours there.
  • Get all of your footage of the views on the way up to the top. Once you are at the top, there is not much of a view due to construction currently taking place.
  • Layer up for the temperature change. I didn’t properly plan for this at all lol. All I had was a jean jacket and I suffered.
  • Get the donuts. There’s a café and a gift shop at the very top. Seriously, get the donuts. I still don’t understand how their old fashioned donuts tasted so delectable. I mean, it’s old fashioned donuts. I just don’t get it. BUT GET THE DONUTS.
  • Truly soak up the experience. How often do you get to be over 14,00o feet above ground with those kind of views? Be present and grateful.

DAY 2:

Denver Biscuit Company

We had a full, action packed day planned! Did we have enough time? Lol barely. But it was my fiancé’s birthday and I was determined. Our first stop was Denver Biscuit Company located in the Stanley Marketplace. For my fellow 813 peeps, the Stanley Marketplace is kind of like Armature Works. For those who still don’t know what I am talking about, the easiest way I can describe it is as a really dope flea market of local restaurants and shops.

The Denver Biscuit Company has many great reviews and is often referred to Top 10 best in the area for serving size and taste. The restaurant claims that the secret to their biscuits is love…and LOTS of butter. And they did not disappoint! Definitely come hungry. Beyond worth it and highly recommended. I ordered the shrimp and grits in a biscuit bowl [enter drooling emoji here].

See what the hype is about at https://atomiccowboy.net/wp-content/uploads/2020/08/Stanley-MainMenu-1.pdf.

The International Church of Cannabis

After one of the best breakfast experiences of our life, we headed to another highly anticipated attraction, The International Church of Cannabis. No pun intended. After a bit of research, I quickly realized why this is such a popular tourist attraction and it’s not the obvious reason. This church is aesthetically and visually appealing as its décor focuses on the power of color theory and color therapy. While visiting, we were told that the artist, Okuda San Miguel painted the gorgeous murals inside of the church in 5 days!!! I can’t even imagine that level of dedication!

In addition to the many displays of art inspo, the church offers a guided meditation and laser light show that was really cool to experience. The meditation and light show costs $25 and gives you a full power hour of awesomeness. Feel free to check out more details at https://elevationists.org/.

The International Church of Cannabis have stated that an individual’s spiritual journey, and search for meaning, is one of self-discovery accelerated by the way of ritual and mindful cannabis use. The members of this church are known as Elevationists. Because Elevationism claims no divine law or authoritarian structure, all backgrounds and religions are welcomed with open arms. At your visit, you will not be given anything for cannabis use. The church likes to remain as family friendly as possible so the kiddos can join in on the fun of the meditation and light show as well.

Denver Selfie Museum

After our visit at the International Church of Cannabis, we headed to the Airbnb to freshen up before we went to our next attraction on the list, the Denver Selfie Museum. This was definitely the highlight of the day! As the first and only Instagram pop up museum in Denver, this place offers a selfie adventure like one never experienced before. For a $29 dollar ticket, you can access every corner of the museum that is covered in art, murals, and props for the ultimate selfie. Such a dope concept! 10/10, strongly recommended to visit if you’re ever in the Denver area.

Check out more at https://denverselfiemuseum.com/.

Punch Bowl Social

After the selfie museum, we were way overdue to grab a bite and after a bit of google searching, we came across this gem of a restaurant. Punch Bowl Social offers a scratch-kitchen menu and pairs with a fun zone of entertainment options such as bowling, life size Jenga, pool, karaoke, and old school arcade games. Due to COVID-19, they current offer outside seating only. In my humble opinion, their menu is limited. But then again, I am a pescatarian so that limits the options for me regardless. However, I opted for the shrimp tacos and they were pretty delicious. But my absolute favorite thing I tried on their menu was their Buffalo fries!

Check out the vibes at https://punchbowlsocial.com/location/denver.

Sweet Action Ice Cream

There is ALWAYS room for dessert. If you have a sweet tooth like my best friend and I, there is an ice cream shop a couple of blocks from Punch Bowl Social called Sweet Action Ice Cream. We decided to walk there after our meal. The staff are extremely sweet…again, no pun intended…and vegan options are available. With flavors varying from Stranahan’s Whiskey Brickle to Vietnamese Coffee, there is a flavor to satisfy the most eccentric taste buds. Beware of the double scoop though, it’s A LOT more to take on than you think. See what other flavors that may satisfy your cravings at https://sweetaction.com/. No pictures for this one…I was too busy stuffing my face.

DAY 3:

And so, we are on our final day in Denver! Are you guys still with me? Good. The goal for Day 3 was really about visiting as many establishments as we could, mainly to kill time. We checked out of our Airbnb around 10am but our flight was not until midnight. A full day with an ample amount of opportunities to explore. *swoon*

Snooze, an A.M. Eatery

The Mecca of Breakfast. And to think we almost didn’t make it here. We were running a little behind schedule and after finding Snooze as a breakfast option, we quickly found out just how popular this restaurant is. Please anticipate a minimum of an hour wait if you ever come here. I think the main reason for such a long wait is because they are ensuring they do not reach maximum capacity for proper social distancing (which honestly, kudos to them) and the fact that they do not allow reservations. First come, first serve basis.

We put our names on the waiting list and debated if we should actually wait. We decided no. We found another restaurant 7 minutes down the road called Syrup and placed our names on their waiting list. We were told that it was a wait of about 25 minutes. We ordered coffee and mimosas in the meantime. But 25 minutes turned into 40 minutes and before we knew it, we were receiving a text from Snooze saying that our table was ready. It was a no brainer. We ran to the car and drove straight there as we received threats of losing our spot. But we made it! And OMG, how disappointing would it have been if we did? Cause the food is BOMB.

The bestie and I always like to eat off of each other’s plates, so we strategized what we would order. We decided she would get the OMG! French Toast and I would get the Smashed Avocado Benny, along wit Abri-ca-lav-ra Mimosas to wash it all down. The most satisfying. Delicious. Scrumptious. Love of a meal that I have ever tasted, I could cry. Don’t believe me? Check out the menu here at https://www.snoozeeatery.com/food-menu/. You’re welcome.

Red Rocks Amphitheatre

Located in Morrison, a city just 30 minutes outside of Denver, lies a concert venue and a park wrapped in one! Here, you can see the celebrity stars and the physical ones with views surrounding you, enhancing your experience all at once. You can either purchase event tickets or you can take the cheap route (like I did) and visit the venue during daylight hours before concert operations commence. And it won’t cost you a penny, only your time. 738 acres of land and an elevation of 6,450 ft. above ground, be sure to fully immerse yourself in the rich, reddish tint of the naturally formed statues that fills the park throughout. It truly is beautiful and a great attraction to add to your field trip while in Denver.

Want more footage of the views? Check out some live cam footage here at https://www.redrocksonline.com/explore-red-rocks/live-cam/.

MCA Denver- The Museum of Contemporary Art Denver

After Red Rocks, we headed to the downtown area of Denver to dive into some much needed art and culture by visiting MCA Denver. By the way, they offer free weekend access to all guests. Helloooo. Again, a no brainer. Nari Ward, a New York based artist and whose work is featured in the museum, creates his art composed of found objects from his neighborhood. With these, he highlights issues related to consumer culture, poverty, and race. We encountered so many deep and meaningful installations as we wandered the museum for 2 hours, digesting what our eyes have set upon.

If you’re ever in the downtown area, be sure to swing by their website and grab a few weekend access tickets at https://mcadenver.org/visit/tickets.

RiNo Art District

After the museum, we headed to the thriving art district of Denver. Listen…So. Much. Art. EVERYWHERE. And along with the colorful, eccentric art splashed across the walls of the buildings and streets, you will find the trendiest restaurants, breweries, and bars. It’s hard not to fall in love with this lively area that offers an escape from reality along with encountering the friendliest people you will ever meet.

Here are a few honorable mentions in the area:

The Preservery

We briefly passed by this establishment as we further explored the art district, mainly because they were closed by the time we arrived. However, the staff was so incredibly friendly and offered suggestions of bars and restaurants to visit in the area. Also, they allowed us to hang out and grab a few pictures of the urban aesthetics that seemed to cover every inch of their walls.

Want to find out more info? Check it out at https://thepreservery.com/our-space.

Lustre Pearl Denver

Ici tout est bon. “Here, everything is good.” Definitely one of our favorite bars in the area! It’s seriously a whole vibe. From the aesthetics to the drink selection, to the music that blasts into the street, to the laid back and conversational staff, it’s pretty hard not to have a good time here. We enjoyed our time so much here that as the day started to wrap up before our departure, we came back to soak up the good energy before our long flight. We didn’t eat there but I made sure to load up on the Asher Skye drinks; yum.

What drink would you choose? https://lustrepearldenver.com/drink

Dio Mio

You guyssss. I have never tasted pasta so good. I’m not even exaggerating. It was cooked al dente and everything! And I think what shocks me the most about this place, is that you wouldn’t expect a counter service pasta restaurant to be that good. BUT IT IS. Dio Mio offers a relaxed atmosphere paired with traditional pasta meals that are explosive with fresh ingredients. The portions are huge as well so you get plenty of bang for your buck. I ordered corn fritters for an appetizer and Cacio e Pepe for the main course, which is basically an alfredo pasta dish. My takeaway? Pasta heaven.

Are you a foodie who likes to read the ingredients of the meals, like me? Here, let me help you- http://www.diomiopasta.com/dinner-menu.

And so, our trip came to an end 😦

But the experiences I shared with my fiancé and best friend in this beautiful city, will forever be cherished in my heart. So many laughs, epiphanies, and great conversations, all shared while basking in the aura Denver shares with its local residents and tourists.

If I could summarize this trip in a single moment, it would be the moment as we were driving up Pike’s Peak. Teyana Taylor’s song, “We Got Love” was playing in the background and as the song began to finish, an audio clip started playing…

A lot of people define success differently

You know, for me, you can have everything

You can have all the money in the world

But if it’s not enjoyable, if it’s not sustainable, know what I mean?

If you can’t be a person of integrity while having all of these things

What does it matter? What does it mean?

The value is internal

Your value is internal

Ms. Lauryn Hill

And for a brief moment, I teared up, filled with the upmost gratitude for where I was at the moment, with two of the most important and meaningful people in my life. I hope you enjoyed reading about our trip! It’s good to be back writing for you all and can’t wait to hear your thoughts ❤

Travel Series: Wanderlust takes France

“Better to see something once than to hear about it a thousand times.” ―Asian Proverb

Whenever I think of France, I think of the city of Paris. Paris was the goal, initially. But you cannot want what you do not know, and all I knew of was Paris. Of course, I would love to see the Eiffel Tower, shimmering in the night sky. However, when a company you work for offers to send you to France to present a topic on one of the articles you’ve written, all expenses paid, you jump on that opportunity! So that’s exactly what I did. I had no idea what to expect, or what part of France we would be. Honestly, I didn’t care. All I knew is that I was grateful to have this opportunity. As a matter of fact, this trip taught me the art of gratitude and the beauty of disconnection. I will admit that this trip was far different than any of the other places I’ve traveled. A pleasant surprise. But more importantly, this trip taught me what it really means to step out of your comfort zone. Ironic- that was the topic I was presenting while in France. I had no idea that I would be pushed even more outside of my comfort zone than I already had prepared myself to do.

Our flight was on a Monday night at 7:45 PM. I was traveling with my manager and her husband. While waiting to board the plane, I overanalyzed my presentation and wondered if it was up to par to present in front of other people, let alone to my colleagues. I wondered if I would remain poise during the presentation. This particular topic meant the world to me because I was currently living it. My life had changed so drastically over the past year, that I am barely recognizable to myself- and it’s great! But still, I wondered if I would be considered ‘good’ enough. I am one of the youngest in the company, so it can be a bit intimidating. Finally, we boarded the plane and I prepared to settle into my seat. After 10 hours, 2 movies, and in and out of the worst sleep I’ve ever endured, we landed in Frankfurt, Germany for our layover. What seemed like a short wait, we then proceeded to board the plane to head to Toulouse, France. So I thought Toulouse would be our final destination, but it was not…in hindsight, now I know why we rented a car. We drove two hours to the small, quaint town of La Salvetat-Peyrales. Way high in the mountains, where civilization is questionable, stores are borderline non existent, with dirt roads lining miles of land, and not one sign of a street light lol. Turns out that one of the big bosses in the company bought a house in France with her husband about 5 years ago after finding it during their honeymoon. Honestly, the house is stunning and very much reminded me of my favorite Disney movie, Beauty and the Beast. When Belle sung about ‘this poor, provincial town’ she was talking about here. But I do not mean one ounce of disrespect. It is a very simple lifestyle filled with beauty.

The house came with 4 bedrooms, 3 bathrooms, 2 kitchens, an outdoor sitting area overlooking a pool, an upstairs lounge area placed outside of the house, and a family room. Some of us were able to stay here, while the rest of us stayed in a cottage about 15 min. walking distance down the road. I was one of the guests who did not get to stay here, but day in and day out for the next 6 days, we spent the majority of our days here presenting, strategizing, and taking trainings in an attempt to better the company and keep it growing- very cozy and family style. Which speaking of the cottage, I know the country life is not for me for the simple fact that it is way too dark and quiet for my liking. Every night while I was in France, I barely slept because I felt the place was either haunted or there would be some crazed killer out there to get me!

We arrived to the house around 5:00 PM where I met the gracious host for the first time. Between the 6 hour time difference, the long flights, and the long drive over here, I could have used some perking up. And that is when we were greeted with glasses of champagne and wine lol. One thing this trip allowed all of us to do is BOND. And I’m not talking that fake kind of bonding where you try to impress one another and hide all evidence of any flaws. Throughout the trip, we got REAL. And I realized in these moments that I DO NOT work for a conventional company- I loved every minute of it! France has a tradition called apéro which means cocktail hour, served with drinks and small appetizers. We celebrated apéro each day we were there so I ate and drank A LOT. The first night there, while enjoying the cocktail hour outside in their hosting area, I couldn’t believe my surroundings. Candles lit everywhere, a cozy fire burning, and GREAT red wine (I don’t even drink red wine like that unless it’s sweet). Total vineyard vibes.

The next few days we dived straight into work. There was not much sight seeing throughout the week, but in our off hours, we gathered together drinking more wine and champagne, and eating more food lol. This was definitely a social trip, for sure. I was worried I would be pre-judged and stereotyped (which was very possible, since I decided it was perfectly ok to wear my Poetic Justice hoodie with an enlarged picture of Tupac on the front lmao one time for the culture though!) After my experience with my last job, you could say I’m scarred but it was the complete opposite. Everyone was so authentic and encouraged one another to do so. So many jokes and laughs. But anyways, back to the food and drinks!

This is common drink in South France. It smells of black licorice and is definitely an acquired taste. Usually served with one ice cube and diluted with water because it is STRONG. But by all means, if you feeling froggy…

A lot of pork is eaten in France from various hams to salamis to bruschetta. The French also consume a lot of bread, olives, and various vegetables such as tomatoes and lentils. However, all produce has to be in season. Nothing is imported to France, so all produce is locally grown. If it is not in season, it does not exist to eat or sell.

A fig picked from a tree in the host’s backyard

We did venture out to a few restaurants where we ate authentic French food. It was definitely an adventure trying to decipher the menu and then order the items in French lol. Google was my best friend throughout this trip!

We went to a restaurant called L’oustal del Barry. As you can see the portions are much smaller than we are accustomed to in the U.S. However, these are three course meals- appetizer, main entrée, and dessert. Add that with wine and bread and trust me, you’re good and full! I ordered the ravioli, lamb, and a Nutella mousse cake.

When we weren’t going to restaurants, the host was cooking at the house. One of my favorite meals while there was the duck confit. If you’ve never tried duck, you’re doing yourself an injustice. Although I have eaten duck in the U.S before, I never tasted duck so amazing than I did in France.

Duck confit with spinach salad, lentils, and bread…of course!

Another item I tried was unpasteurized cheese…and this is not sold in the U.S. because it is considered unsafe to consume raw milk cheeses. But it is the best tasting cheese you will ever taste in your life!

In France, dessert IS THE LAW. Don’t ever turn down a dessert in a restaurant. I did that once and they looked at me as if I committed a crime. An honorable dessert mention was banoffee, which is basically banana foster pie. SO DELICIOUS…

As the week wrapped up, work slowed down. It was Friday and my presentation was pushed to Saturday due to all of us running behind schedule. In addition, we had to drive two hours to the small village of Roquefort-sur-Soulzon, where we would tour the Roquefort Caves. Legend has it, that after the Combalou Mountain collapsed and parts of the mountain disintegrated into a giant, chaotic heap of rocks riddled with natural faults and caves. These caves were ingeniously adapted for the purpose of cheese-making. Yes, I said cheese making. Fleurines, which are small tunnels that run throughout the caves makes it the perfect temperature and humidity to develop Roquefort cheese, with the help of microorganisms such as penicillium roqueforti. These caves have been transformed to a cellar that now holds as many as 300,000 loaves of cheese at a time. They had samples of the cheese, in which I tried, but it was a bit too strong tasting for my preference. This cheese is for the brave.

Saturday approached and it was the big day for my presentation. I wish someone could have recorded me or taken pictures. Everyone was so wrapped up in my topic and I had their undivided attention, which is great! My presentation included thought provoking questions that helped others realize the benefits of stepping out of your comfort zone. I got amazing feedback and was not mentally prepared AT ALL for how emotional my presentation made everyone. It was a room full of 10 people and not one person was dry eyed. I had stirred something in them emotionally and one by one, they started confessing things they felt they have held themselves back due to staying in their own comfort zones. It became a roundtable discussion with raw and honest answers of circumstances they struggled with. Each one would start crying as they openly became vulnerable and in return, provoked me to cry as well. But it was not until one of my colleagues opened up about her desire to be married with kids. That she felt she held herself back from finding someone to share her life with. That she feels she will spend her life alone. As she approaches her 30th birthday, she feels she has failed in this area of life. And I thought to myself, “maybe she has valid points, or maybe it’s just simply not her time yet.” And in that moment, I felt the need to share a painful truth of my own- the loss of a child. I didn’t share to be pitied. Honestly, it’s been one hell of a journey and I owe it all to my baby in heaven. If it wasn’t for me going through that situation, I would have never had the courage to write again. I would have never had the courage to leave my job and fall into a better one. I would not have the courage to submit my work to a local magazine and score a guest column. I owe everything to my angel. Sometimes, it is just the timing. Sometimes, we need the time and certain situations to happen to force us to learn and grow through. So that’s exactly what I told her. That her time will come, just like it will for me when the timing is right. And then we cried some more lol. I was so raw and vulnerable and yet, somehow poised. I was authentic and I caused others to take a deep look within themselves. Everyone raved so much about my presentation that I caught the attention of the CEO, so that’s an amazing feeling! I don’t want to overkill on this particular highlight of my trip but it was the main purpose of me going to France in the first place. I am just so relieved that not only did I execute it, I connected with my colleagues in ways I could not have imagined having the power to do so. A major accomplishment in my book.

After the presentation (and after we pulled ourselves together lol), we headed into the city of Albi, France for some more sight seeing. Albi was a charming city with streets lined with boutiques and restaurants. It was a nice change to see some civilization lol. We stumbled upon the Sainte-Cecile, a gothic cathedral dating back to 1280. It is considered the largest red-brick cathedral in the world. Every inch of the interior is decorated with extravagant tiles, gold leaf, and frescoes. You can visit the church and attend an audio tour for just 5 euros. It was definitely money well spent. Make sure you click on the slideshow to see inside 🙂

We had a late lunch in the city and continued to browse around in the small shops that paved the cobblestone streets. I was able to snag a cute shot glass that resembled a miniature wine glass, which seemed so perfect coming from France. The trip into the city was short lived and we headed back to the countryside to prepare for our last dinner spent together. We would all leave in the early morning. (Side note: in France, the majority of cars are manual aka stick shift. In order to get your license, you must be able to pass driving a manual before you can even think to be able to drive an automatic).

In the city square of Albi. I couldn’t help but capture this photo of these beautiful flowers splashed with the background of charming architecture.

France was not a typical wanderlust trip for me. I spent more time eating and drinking socially, connecting with my colleagues, and re discovering the importance of being present in the moment and putting my phone down. And in the nights that I spent alone in the cottage, I re discovered the art of solitude. I discovered that I am a force to be reckoned with. That I can stand powerfully in my truth and connect with others through shared pains. I learned that I have a voice. I learned that I never have to doubt myself again. This trip was for the soul. I opened up in ways that I have never allowed myself to before, especially when it comes to coworkers. I always felt I had to keep a certain level of professionalism. To prove that I am competent enough as a minority woman in what tends to be a white privileged corporate America. But the moment I displayed that authenticity, I was applauded. And I will forever carry that beautiful feeling in my heart. You see, often we think the action of traveling is meant to learn about the places we see and yes, to a certain extent that is true. But what about the things you learn about yourself being placed in an unfamiliar environment? I think this realization was my favorite part of this trip, after all ❤

Travel Series: Wanderlust takes Hawaii!

Hawaii is not a state of mind, but a state of grace.
-Paul Theroux

Constant sunshine. Breezy summers. Low humidity. Green, lush plants that surround all around you. Stretches of honey sand with crystal, clear turquoise waters. You step off the plane and are immediately greeted by mountains. It was the first time my fiance and I have ever seen mountains in person. Of course, we took a few minutes to document it like the millennials we are. But in that initial moment, we were filled with excitement. After a layover in Houston and 7 hours on a plane, we were ready to explore the beautiful island of Oahu…

Or were we?? lol I have to admit, with the time change and by the time we checked into our room, we were both exhausted. That first evening, we decided to stay low-key and hang around the hotel area. We stayed at the Hilton Waikiki Beach and the area is busy and filled with tourists. Upon our arrival, they were shooting a TV show (I’m not sure which one) and the hotel was crawling with extras. We made it to our room and was pleasantly surprised with the views. High in the skies, our room overlooked the city with a backdrop of mountains.

I quickly changed my clothes and anticipated a quick bite we could grab around the hotel. We opted for a poke bowl. I know, we’re in Hawaii and you expect a food item that is more exotic? Well, sushi and poke bowls are widely eaten in Hawaii. It was quick and good, and mine had fresh ahi tuna which is local to the island. After grabbing food, we walked around and explored Waikiki Beach. I have to admit, the beach is beautiful but way too overcrowded.

After taking a walk along the beach, I decided I wanted to grab a Dole Whip and it was amazing! Trust me, pineapples hit different in Hawaii. After doing some more sightseeing, we decided to head back to the hotel and rest. We were asleep by like 8 PM. Pretty uneventful first night lol but traveling can take a toll, especially international ones. And the jet lag is insane! I was up at 3 AM ready to start my day, bright eyed and bushy tailed. Luckily, I was able to fall back asleep and wake up at 7 AM.

Our first full day in Hawaii had a whole itinerary. First we would eat breakfast at a local restaurant call Shorefyre. It’s a short walk from the beach and my fiance and I witnessed many of the locals coming straight from the beach to go there, barefoot and surfboards attached to their hips. We figured if locals trusted the place, it must be good. And we were right! The breakfast was beyond satisfying and delicious. Definitely large portions as well. I ordered upside pineapple pancakes. They were made with locally grown pineapples and were as large as my plate. Price wise, it wasn’t too bad. Prices ranged from $15 to $20. A little tip- food in Hawaii can get very costly, especially in a tourist area. Just be mindful of that if you ever visit.

After breakfast, we headed to the Royal Hawaiian Center, an outside mall filled with high fashion stores. A fun fact about the tourist area in Hawaii: The Japanese has heavily invested into the area and placed attractions that would generate revenue and/or fulfill their shopping wants and needs. A lot of high end brand labels are extremely expensive in Japan, but in Hawaii, it is a lot more affordable than what they are accustomed to paying. We didn’t come to the Royal Hawaiian Center to shop though- they offer many complimentary classes focused on Hawaiian traditions such as lei making, hula dance lessons, and ukulele. When researching things to do in Hawaii, this was at top of the list. Traveling and staying in Hawaii can get expensive, so I was very adamant about find free or affordable activities to pass the time. We opted for ukulele lessons that was taught by a Hawaiian native born and raised in the island. I point out that she is a Hawaiian native because believe it or not, there’s not many left on the island. The majority of Hawaii’s population is Asian and White. Only about 11% of the population is Hawaiian native. The instructor has been working with the center since 1994 and was filled with knowledge about the island and great energy. Ukulele was a lot harder to learn than expected! We even had to sing the song in Hawaiian! We learned that Kaimana Hila means Diamond Head which is the mountain trail we climbed during the vacation. The reason this mountain is called Diamond Head is because during the 19th century, it was believed by British settlers that they have discovered diamonds within the land. However, it was not diamonds. They were actually calcite crystals that resemble diamonds but instead are a semi precious stone.

After the ukulele lessons, we had a long conversation with the instructor. We noticed how commercialized the tourist area was and wanted to get to know about the real Hawaii. The instructor was more than willing to offer some knowledge. Although Hawaii is considered one of the 50 states, Hawaiians rather not be associated as such. Queen Liliuokalani, the first and only reigning Hawaiian queen, was overthrown by the United States. Locals refer to us as the mainland but they rather keep the island separate in association. The instructor also informed us that many locals prefer to stay away from the Waikiki Beach area. As expected, this area is not the real Hawaii. But what I didn’t know is that many of the locals cannot even stay in the hotels in the area. Overall, they feel invaded and unwelcome.

The instructor also gave us some pointers on where we can find inexpensive food that locals enjoy. The popular spot mentioned was Rainbow Inn, a fast food restaurant that serves big portions for under 8 dollars. About a 20 min walk from our hotel, we decided to foot it and see what the hype was all about. It was definitely busy within multiple lines curling around the corners of the pole outside. I didn’t take a picture of this meal because honestly it didn’t look visually appealing lol but it was tasty. I opted for the mixed plate which served fried battered ahi tuna, chicken, and steak, with white rice and macaroni salad as sides. Another local menu favorite is the Loco Moco, which is two beef patties that sit on top of a bed of fried rice, topped with a fried egg. The Hawaiians eat A LOT of rice, beef, and pork for any meal of the day.

Later that evening, we went to a hula show at the Kuhio Beach Mound. This is a free event that takes place at 6:30 PM, right before the sunset. It does get packed quickly and seating is first come, first serve. Because of this we were at the location by 5:45 PM to grab a front row seat. It was enjoyable and the scenery was beautiful on the beach as the sun began to set. They opened the show with conch blowing followed by singing and playing instruments, along with displaying several different styles of hula dancing.

Because we were being extremely budget friendly, especially with the circumstances of myself being unemployed during this trip, we opted to buy a bottle and enjoy drinks outside of the typical bars and lounges. So long story short, it was a wrap for nightlife… you know I like to keep it honest! Plus we had an early morning and long day ahead of us. We would start our next day by hiking Diamond Head 🙂

Our morning started at 7 AM. We completely skipped breakfast, although I opted for a coffee and a banana at least for energy. We checked out the bus routes and decided to get an all day pass. The buses in Hawaii are very easy to maneuver and the drivers are friendly and helpful. Diamond Head was about a 15 min ride from our hotel. It was a hot, summer day… cliche. We started our journey up the entrance of the trail, which is a hike within itself! Once you get to the entrance, they only charge $1 per pedestrian, so very affordable. The time it takes to go up the mountain varies on your physical endurance and depends on how many breaks you take. I’m not the most active so I did take a few breaks when I felt like my lungs were going to collapse. The trail is very steep and there are many, many stairs. Also, there is a lot of steep pathways with uneven ground so it’s very easy to trip if you’re not careful. I definitely reevaluated my life throughout the whole way up 😀 and oddly enough, I figured out very quickly how claustrophobic I am when we went into the narrow cave. I have never sweated so much in my life! And by the end of the trail, when we made it to the top, I legitimately wanted to cry tears of joy. But when I tell you, the views were SO worth it. It’s like believing in magic for the very first time. You get so wrapped up in the technological advances we have in our world, that you forget such beauty exists in nature.

After the trail, we headed back to the hotel to get cleaned up. We wanted to check out Downtown Honolulu. First stop was the Iolani Palace, which was the royal residence of the queen. They offer self guided audio tours for just $25. Also, very close in the area, is the Honolulu Museum of Art. Tickets range around the same price as the palace.

Next stop was the Aloha Tower. Originally a lighthouse, the Aloha Tower is one of the most recognized landmarks of Hawaii, second to Diamond Head. It was built in 1926 standing as the tallest building in the islands for nearly four decades! It also served as a welcoming beacon to the island for sea travelers. Present day, the Aloha Tower is now part of a marketplace and the Hawaiian Pacific University. On the 10th floor of the tower is an observatory that offers city views overlooking the harbor.

After visiting the Aloha Tower, we decided to grab lunch (finally!). Chinatown is about a 10 minute walk from the tower. We spoke to a local bartender when we first landed and her top suggestion for food in Chinatown was The Pig and the Lady, a Vietnamese fusion restaurant. It’s a pretty casual place with cool accents within the restaurant.

The food was delicious, of course, and fairly priced…

Chinatown isn’t much of a scene during the week/day. I heard it gets very lively at night on the weekends but unfortunately, it was Wednesday and our last full day in Hawaii we had left to explore. We kept it moving.

After lunch, I had a sweet tooth and I knew just the place to go for it. When researching about Hawaii, I came across several websites that listed must try foods in Hawaii. I saw Leonard’s Bakery pop up 5 times, so you know I had to try. They are famous for their malasadas, Portuguese donuts that are fried and filled with custard or chocolate. We hopped on the bus for a 45 minute ride towards to reach our destination. After all, I was on a mission and oh so determined. As we approached the bakery, we realized very quickly that it was definitely a popular destination. The line extended all the way outside (very good sign 🙂 ).

…they didn’t disappoint. AT ALL!

After enjoying the malasadas, we went back to the hotel to rest a bit before getting ready again to head out at night. We decided to check out Wang Chung’s Karaoke Bar, another local suggestion and not too far from our hotel. It was a cool vibe with dope lighting. Lots of drunk people singing for your entertainment 😀

After having a couple of drinks, we decided to call it a night. Spending the majority of the day outside, in the heat, exploring from 8 AM to midnight, we were barely hanging on. I don’t think I’ve ever slept so hard than I did that night.

On our last day, I woke up at 6:30 AM and decided to watch the sunrise on the balcony of our room. I wanted to soak up as much of this place as I could before we left. Honestly, I didn’t want to go back to reality. The harsh realization always hits the hardest on the day you depart. And our trip felt incredibly quick! Back to responsibilities…ew. My fiance and I took one last walk to the beach. Our flight didn’t depart until 1 PM, so time was of the essence. We sat on the beach. People watched. Admired the slow pace of everyone as they lounged around enjoying their surroundings. Jumping off the high ledges and splashing into the ocean. It’s moments like that when you realize this is what life should really be about. The slow moments that allow you to fully express gratitude. To absorb it all. We often take nature’s beauty for granted. So preoccupied with the busyness in our lives to appreciate our surroundings. Besides the beautiful beaches, Hawaii has some of the most beautiful flowers and trees. I wanted to spend some intentional time appreciating it all.

My final consensus of Hawaii? It’s beautiful. But I do think it receives A LOT of hype. It is very expensive to have an ‘amazing’ time there. If you ever plan to take a trip out there, my suggestion would be to get a car and get out of the tourist area. Anticipate on having at least 500 dollars for just spending money…and this does not include flight and hotel. I would love to come back and check out Northshore, which was about 45 minutes away from where we were staying, driving time. I would also love to check out the Dole Plantation. I think I would visit another island besides Oahu, as well. I hear Maui is breathtaking. We made the best out of our trip considering we had limited time and funds. I have some must do things in mind for the next time we visit. But I definitely cherished every moment of this trip. Anytime I am able to get on a plane and just go somewhere, I am grateful. So until next time Hawaii, Mahaulo! Thank you for sharing your beauty ❤

Curly Girl in Corporate World.

I am not my hair. -India Arie

I didn’t always embrace my natural curls. My hair has been through extreme colors that damaged my hair. It has been fried and manipulated against its will. It has been chopped all off, AND has been left to grow its own wilderness. I never worried about the kinds of products I used on it. I never cared to condition it or do hot oil treatments. Although my hair was curly, it was never the kind of curls I wanted. My hair is fine and thin. It lacks volume and bounce. My curls are big and loose. I envy those that had massive amount of hair; curls that seemed to shrink and coil up. Those curls were beautiful, not mine. Once I discovered a flat iron, it was a wrap! I thought to myself, this is how my hair is supposed to be. This hair is beautiful. This warped perception began my unhealthy obsession with straight, “beautiful” hair, that went on for many years.

The first time I ever flat ironed my hair was at the age of 15. My Conair flat iron did me no justice when I think back on it, but I loved how long and shiny my hair was when it was straight. I was ashamed of my thin hair and my thinness seemed to magnify when it was curly. The sense of panic I feel, even to this very day, of seeing my hair fall out is ridiculous. I mean, I’m trying to keep what I have still on my head! In high school, I would wake up every morning at 5:30 am just to perfect my hair. There were days that I cried, due to its lack of volume, but excessive amounts of frizz. I decided that straight hair seemed to suit me. In my early 20’s, I began using the flat iron on my hair every single day. I would use a curling iron on the days I wanted to add a little pizzazz. My hair became my prized possession. It was long, dark, and full of shine. It made me look exotic and put together. It made me feel attractive, which is something I still struggle with. Straight hair during that time was my ultimate solution and I was sticking with it.

After many years of using the flat, my hair became very damaged. It became dry and brittle. My hair was constantly breaking off, leaving it filled with split ends. At this point, my curls were non existent. Anytime I tried to leave my hair in its natural state, this is what it turned out to…

I got tired of using my flat iron day in and day out. With curly hair becoming trendy again, I decided I would nurse my hair back to health at the age of 28. I got my first Deva cut in April of 2018 and chopped off over 4 inches of my hair. As I watched my crispy ends fall off the smock, I felt immediate relief. It was a fresh start. However, I was not prepared for the less than favorable reactions of returning to my curly hair.

When I started my corporate job last year, I stuck true to my roots. I started using products that were silicone and sulfate free. I began using masques and conditioners to promote growth and shine. I eased up on the hairspray and started using curl creams and vegan friendly gels. After a few months of consistent care, my curls came back healthier than ever…and it has been a struggle, especially at the workplace. I am one of the ONLY people there with naturally curly hair. It also doesn’t help that I am the only Hispanic as well. The few times I have straightened my hair, you should see the positive reactions I get- “Omg, your hair looks so soft and shiny.” “I had no idea your hair was this long!” “How long did it take you to straighten it?” “It looks so good, you should always wear it like this!” Or my personal favorite, “May I touch it?” Whoa. No the fuck you may not. It’s really offensive to hear these reactions because what they tell me is that you think less of me with my natural hair. One time, I read an article by Elle that stated that women with straight hair are perceived more seriously than girls with curly hair. It is considered more “professional.” Disheartening.

I shouldn’t feel inadequate because of my hair. I shouldn’t feel less put together than the average woman in the workplace. It is these negative perceptions that are causing little girls everywhere to look at themselves in the mirror and feel they must change in order to fit in. Because of these messed up societal ideas, mothers are making their little girls get damaging procedures done such as relaxers and hot combs are being put to their precious heads of hair. Going natural has been a difficult process for me. So many times, I want to pull out my beloved flat iron just to get that sleek look back. To be able to ‘fit in’ with my work peers. Comparison really is the thief of joy. I often remind myself why I did this in the first place. Yes, I wanted to get my natural curls back, but it was more than that. I wanted to learn how to love myself for who I really am,without all of the manipulation and facades. I wanted to learn to be comfortable in my own skin, to accept my unique beauty. Everyday is a struggle paired with a daily reminder. My hair is not what makes me beautiful. It is merely an accessory. I’m hoping one day I will look in the mirror and feel proud of what I see looking back at me. Until then, I’ll keep reminding myself. If anyone else has struggled with this, I would love to hear from you. What are some of the ways you have learned to love your hair? Do you still struggle? Do you ever feel overshadowed and intimidated by the women with straight hair in the workplace? Do you ever feel like you are perceived differently? Leave a comment and let’s have a conversation 🙂

Travel Series: Wanderlust takes Spain!

“The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.” -Agustine of Hippo

A part of me did not want to cover this destination on my travel series…not because I did not enjoy it- this trip was nothing but life changing. It was my first trip I ever needed a passport for. I remember the excitement when I received it in the mail. It was a college graduation gift to myself. It was the trip that started my wanderlust desires. The first longest flight I have EVER taken- about 7 hours, but considering the time difference, the jet lag was REAL. I spent 13 days in unknown lands, and I am eternally grateful for this experience. However, this trip took place 4 years ago and I am afraid my memory won’t do it justice! I visited so many cities in Spain! I saw, I conquered, even got a tattoo! And I also had the opportunity to meet extraordinary people who shared the same passion for travel. I will do my best to paint the beautiful picture Spain truly deserves, a trip I wish I could re live and re do over and over and over again.

I’m sure you guys know the drill by now 😀 here’s a few fun facts about España:

  1. The currency used in Spain is the Euro. This was fun trying to figure out while I was there. You can convert your money at the airport into Euros. The US dollar is actually worth less than Euros. $1.00 equals to 0.89 Euros, so make sure you spend wisely!
  2. The largest city and capital of Spain is Madrid. Madrid was one of the cities I visited during my time at Spain. Definitely has all of the big city vibes!
  3. Spain has a variety of foods and unique dishes such as paella (a type of rice dish) and tapas (a range of small snacks or appetizers). First of all, the paella was delicious! Don’t even bother ordering this dish in the states, because I promise it won’t taste nearly as good as the authentic paella in Spain. Second, I lived off of tapas! You can literally get any full size entree as a tapa upon request, and they are super affordable. One of my favorite tapas was papas bravas, a potato dish fried in oil and topped with spicy tomato sauce.
  4. The second largest city is Barcelona. Another city I visited- although it is considered the second largest city in Spain, I feel like you can’t ever get lost. It’s literally a big circle; you’ll eventually end up where you started.
  5. Flamenco is not actually a dance; it’s a musical style which can involve dancing. I saw a flamenco show in Barcelona, and fell in love ever since.
In Barcelona, waiting for the flamenco show to begin.

One of the first cities I visited while in Spain was Barcelona. It is a very elegant city, rich in art and history. The day we landed, we literally hopped off the plane, dropped our luggage off, and was out to explore! My Spain trip was booked through a college tour, and they had a full day planned for us. We headed to the city square and immediately dived into the culture.

We visited Park Güell, a public park composed of gardens and breathtaking architecture with amazing views overlooking the city. The park’s design was inspired by nature and the artist, Antoni Gaudí, was very adamant about the architecture containing no straight lines. He committed to this theory because in nature, he stated, “there are none.” Being one of the popular tourist attractions in Barcelona, the park was incredibly crowded. Many of the pictures I did have are floating around in Google Drive space, but I was able to recover these!

Another amazing tourist attraction I was able to check out was La Sagrada Familia, a large unfinished Roman Catholic church in Barcelona. It is a church that has been under construction for over a century! And no, it is still not finished. Designed by the same architect mentioned earlier, Antoni Gaudí, he knew this church would not be completed in his lifetime. Talk about the detail involved in his vision! And when I say detail, I mean it- The story of the Holy Trinity can be found in the sculptures in the altars, and the builders of this majestic building are immortalized in stone. That doesn’t even cover half of the building; stories of Christ are narrated in the sculptures throughout. It is the tallest religious building in Europe and is said to go through its final construction stage in the year 2026.

While in Barcelona, there was also a bike tour that took place…except I didn’t join…because I don’t know how to ride a bike and I definitely missed out! Don’t get me wrong, I definitely attempted. But after a few failed attempts, the tour leaders decided it wasn’t the best idea for me to go on the tour, for safety reasons. *insert sad face* Barcelona is considered a very bike friendly city. Many locals choose biking as their main source of transportation. However, this can leave beginners like me unsafe because they ride at FULL velocity. I’m accident prone as it is. So instead, I roamed the city alone and blended in with the locals.

I watched people get attacked by pigeons in the city square lmao

After Barcelona, we continued on our journey. We traveled to Figueres, the birthplace of artist Salvador Dalí. Yep, that’s right- I’ve had the pleasure of visiting the original Dalí museum in Spain; although the one in St. Petersburg, FL is amazing, the one in Spain is permanently engraved in my brain! So different and creative.

From Figueres, we spent overnight on a train to Granada. That was an experience! The funnest, most uncomfortable night of my life, SERIOUSLY. We had 4 girls to a cabin and all had bunk beds. Also, there were no showers. Only a sink in the cabin and a bathroom stall.

I sipped on coffee while enjoying morning views on the way to Granada.

Sleep deprived and anxious, we arrived to the beautiful city of Granada. By far, one of my favorite cities! It was magical with secret gardens, cute fountains, and mini boutiques throughout the city. With its medieval architecture dating back to 711, it was exactly what I envisioned for a city in Europe.

Granada also blessed me with the experience of La Alhambra, a hilltop palace surrounded by beautiful gardens and mind blowing views. Go on, take a peak below ❤

I also discovered that there is no such thing as Dunkin Donuts, but there is Dunkin Coffee. Mind. Blown.

Our days in Granada ended and we headed to Seville, a city known for its flamenco, Moorish architecture, and cathedrals. This city was another favorite of mine. While there, we visited the Royal Alcázar of Seville, a royal palace built for the Christian king Peter of Castile. This castle was surrounded by stunning gardens filled with the most vibrant colored flowers I’ve ever seen. I may be biased because of my love of purple, but you can decide for yourself.

Other cities we traveled to were Cordoba, Marbella, Toledo, and Madrid. I wouldn’t be surprised if I am missing any cities. We traveled around Spain so much! Cordoba reminded me of Roman cities we read about in history class filled with cathedrals. Marbella is gorgeous, a luxury city filled with Mediterranean beaches, villas, and night lounges. We only spent a night there but I took full advantage and hung out at Wallace Marbella, which was walking distance from our hotel. Toledo is an ancient city known for its medieval Arab, Jewish, and Christian monuments. I appreciated how quiet and traditional it was. A city that sits on hills high above the ground, it offered unforgettable views.

One of the last cities we visited was Madrid. Being the capital and the largest city in Spain, I was not surprised to encounter a busy lifestyle where the streets buzzed with energy all day and night. It kind of reminded me of New York City and immediately made me homesick.

By the way, it was 9:00 PM and the sun was just setting!

At this point, I was so accustomed to lack of sleep and being on my feet all day exploring. To think that it was coming to an end, stung a bit. It was a harsh realization that I would be returning back to reality. But I also have to admit, I missed my then boyfriend (now fiance) terribly. I wish I could have shared this experience with him. The experiences I made here were priceless. Spain taught me that it was okay to slow down and be present in the moment. It taught me that it is acceptable to drink wine at any time of the day. And that most times, dinner will be served at 10 PM. It taught me that bread served before your meal will cost you extra money lol. It taught me to be open to a different culture and way of life. There is so much more out there folks, trust me. Much more than we can ever imagine. I can’t express how grateful I am to have made the decision to go, despite my dad lecturing me of ALL the horrible things taking place outside of the U.S. I wish I could have went into greater detail with all of the cities in Spain, but then you would probably be reading for hours. Spain-you hold a special place in my heart. Thank you for all of the lessons and experiences with open arms. I hope we have an opportunity to meet again!