Coming Home

Coming Home

We had quite the adventure coming home…

We left Paris on a quiet, warm Friday morning and braced ourselves for the journey back to Gare du Nord. Of course, we encountered a large mob of people entering our train car when we got to the station right before, but we didn’t have any incidents like the one at the beginning of our trip, fortunately.

Getting through security and border patrol was a pain, only because the people managing the queues were completely unorganized. We would have missed our train back to London for sure if it had not been for a kind woman allowing us to cut in front of her.

The train ride back was uneventful, and the extra time we planned to have in London leisurely getting to the airport was chopped away since our train was delayed by 30 minutes…

We managed to make our flight, but by the time we reached our gate, we were all pretty snappy with each other and hanger was all too real. We flew with Norwegian Air back to LA, and were surprised by how cool and overcast the weather was in LA. Compared to the sunny, hot weather we had experienced over the past two weeks, it was a great change.

Before heading back to my place, we all went out for dinner. Urban Plates in Marina del Rey was close enough to the airport and sounded appetizing enough for our weary, hungry traveling bodies.

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The menu and set-up was pretty confusing I must admit. It was like they offered so many sides that you could literally ask for a plate of sides and that “meal” was on the menu. The salads seemed the least intimidating, but also pretty descriptive and delicious-sounding.

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I went with the Local Beet Salad, which came with a colorful spread of beets, and a mized salad topped with soft cheese and a slice of crusty bread.

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My Dad and sister split a veggie sandwich that came with chips, and got asparagus and mac and cheese as sides.

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I sampled some of the chips, but honestly, the salad was flavorful and filling enough. My only wish was that there had been more beets…especially the yellow ones!

After dinner, we all got back to my place, unpacked, and went to bed soon after. My Dad was leaving back fro Oklahoma in the morning while my sister and I were heading to San Diego for my marathon there. The three of us shared a bagel breakfast at Panera before departing ways, and from there, my sister and I were off to the SD Convention Center.

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It’s interesting how I was not too enthusiastic about sticking around after getting my bib this time around. The set-up of the race expo just seemed repetitive to me, and I found myself quickly getting bored. We didn’t leave without getting whatever samples we could though.

Honey Stinger and Daiya had awesome set-ups!
Honey Stinger and Daiya had awesome set-ups!

What I did manage to gather wasn’t too bad, but I’ve done way better at gathering larger collections previous races.

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My sister and I were still jet-lagged (and I wasn’t sure how bad it would affect me in regards to the race…) so we mostly napped for the rest of the afternoon before heading out to an early dinner at the Native Foods location of Balboa Park!

Native Foods, Balboa Park
Native Foods, Balboa Park

I had a chat with my running coach in the parking lot before we went inside. Once we were at the counter, I ordered my tried-and-true favorite Native Nachos. My sister got her classic favorite, the Soul Bowl.

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We were too tired to talk, but hungry enough to eat. I demolished my plate of nachos, and possibly even felt too full. I didn’t regret my choice though, since I consider this dish the epitome of fast casual vegan cooking.

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We retreated back to our Airbnb right after, and caught up on the SNL episodes we missed while we were away. I easily fell asleep around 8pm, which was perfect since I planned to catch an Uber around 4:30am to take me to the race start. It seemed like so many things were happening at once—returning from a two-week trip, only to run a marathon right after—but I couldn’t imagine it being any other way. I was mentally ready to run, but physically? I would see soon enough…

Urban Plates Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Parisian Shock

Parisian Shock

Oh France, oh Paris. Instead of falling in love with what is supposedly the romantic city on Earth, I left exasperated, exhausted, and not to thrilled about our experience there.

Leaving London
Leaving London

I wasn’t at my best physically, since the soreness I first experienced in Wales was sticking around…along with bloating and major water retention. One thing I’ve always hated about traveling internationally is how it messes up with my hormonal/monthly cycle, and these PMS-like symptoms didn’t help me feel eager about wanting to continue our travels to France.

The Eurostar train ride was about three hours, and it was time I used to get some sleep. We reached Gare du Nord, the beginning of our troubles, around noon Paris time.

We spent a while scrambling to find the “left luggage” department so we could drop off two of our larger suitcases so we wouldn’t have to lug them around for three days. Then we stood in front of the Metro ticket station, clueless as to what was the best deal. We ended up getting a little book of tickets (more like stubs…) and caught a train heading to Bréguet Sabin, where our Airbnb was located.

Gare du Nord --- the scene of our unfortunate encounter
Gare du Nord — the scene of our unfortunate encounter

We waited at the station, minding our own business, but then I remembered something about pickpockets being notorious in Paris. I reminded my sister quietly so as not to bring attention to ourselves.

When the train came, I was hesitant to get on because it seemed like a lot of people were getting inside…and there were a group of guys standing near the door who were eyeing us and not going out of their way to make room. One of them offered to help my sister up and I was like “Oh no…“.

After that, my sister said she felt someone tug at her bag strap but it was a woman sitting behind her. We later found out the woman tugged on my sister’s bag in order to prevent them from pickpocketing her. Then my Dad who was trying to sit down lost his balance because some of the guys were getting to close to him. He ended up falling on another guy and saying, “Sorry mate…”. It’s something we laugh at now, but the entire time I was thinking why on Earth did we get on this train??

One of the guys that originally surrounded my Dad before the fall “helped” him up and tapped on a hand rail on the side, suggesting that my Dad hold onto it…most likely so they could reach into his pockets. My Dad didn’t oblige, and so we were able to thwart our first pickpocket encounter.

My sister was somewhat shaken up by the experience, but she was thankful for that woman’s help. She ended up calling her out French angel who we couldn’t even say “merci” to because we were at a loss for words, haha!

We got off at our stop in one piece after that shocking experience. Our Airbnb was a ten minute walk away, and walking along those Parisian streets to get there was far from romantic.

Yes, we passed cute cafes and shops, but overall the environment wasn't overly welcoming...
Yes, we passed cute cafes and shops, but overall the environment wasn’t overly welcoming…

 

The roads were dusty, every other person had a cloud of cigarette smoke around them, and I got the vibe from my surroundings that you either fit in here or you didn’t, and if you didn’t you were ignored. Yeah, I get it that tourists can be annoying but I knew from then on that Paris was not going to be a welcoming city.

This unassuming blue door did not disclose the pain that we would endure just to get to our flat.
This unassuming blue door did not disclose the pain that we would endure just to get to our flat.

Our flat was six floors up, and I definitely underestimated the ascent even though our host warned us via message. Climbing up after a long morning of travel and with luggage was a challenge to say the least. We were sweating bullets by the time we reached the top.

We were semi-joking about wanting to stay in the flat for the remainder of the trip, but we were able to take some time to calm down and cool off to decide to walk to lunch. I heard about a cute vegan burger place in a SAFE neighborhood, and we used the opportunity to see what Paris was like on foot.

Eyeing that French architecture
Eyeing that French architecture

For lunch, we made it to Hank Burger, an all-vegan burger place that was built within what seemed to be an old loft.

Hank Vegan Burger
Hank Vegan Burger

We ordered downstairs and then climbed up to the top floor where wooden booths were covered in soft blankets and pillows. The chairs and other furniture were tiny though!

<3

Our burgers came with special sauces depending on what type of burger we got. The tray papers were adorable too.

My burger had a fig-based sauce (left-most)
My burger had a fig-based sauce (left-most)
If I took French high school, maybe this could have been useful now as a worksheet :P
If I took French high school, maybe this could have been useful now as a worksheet 😛

The burgers were enough to make us feel more calm and comfortable with our surroundings. After lunch, we had enough fuel to walk back towards the flat, but not without stopping by Bastille which was nearby.

Bastille
Bastille

 

We also stopped by flower garden, but the heat was getting to us so we slowly made our way back eventually. I also still felt incredibly sore and bloated so going back and resting up sounded perfect.

Short walk around some nearby gardens and park.
Short walk around some nearby gardens and park

We stopped at a local grocery store on the way home so we could pick up some snackables to have for “dinner”. The remainder of the evening was spent on the couch relaxing while French dubs of American tv shows played in the background.

We weren't like the locals who were out that night waiting in anticipation for something...
We weren’t like the locals who were out that night waiting in anticipation for something…

I got one appreciated the extra rest that evening because the next day was just as eventful…

Return to London

Return to London

We left Wales on a Monday morning (more like mourning…) with a sad Little M that didn’t even want to come to the train station to see us off because she was upset. I felt the same way—I didn’t want to leave! 
 
Little P and her Dad accompanied us, and we left the train station back to London around 9. It was a pleasant ride back, and got crowded only one stop before Paddington. People were dressed up in light blue and white, and some sports event was going on (maybe soccer—erhm, football?) so that must have caused the crowds. 
 
We took the Tube to Euston Station in King’s Cross, closer to where we were staying for our second hotel. We checked in early, and then walked back to the station to figure out where we were off to. Since I never got my vegan fish and chips, I did push for us all to get Cornish pasties. I vaguely remember being fond of the cheese ones as a child. I had to find and eat one for the memories! 
 
pasties
Golden, flaky savory pies!
 
Luckily for us, The Pasty Shop was right there and so we were able to treat my cravings. We ended up getting a mixed veggie and a mushroom filled one since those were the ones labeled as being vegetarian.
 
pasty_shop
The Pasty Shop in Euston station
 
There weren’t any seats inside the food stall as the pasties were meant for take-away, so we went to the Starbucks next door and munched on them, haha! 
 
cornish_pasty
Vegetarian savory pasties
 
The crust was super flaky, and of course you could smell and taste the butter coating. The filling was mediocre—I wish I remembered which shop carried those cheese pasties I was fond of!  
 
After eating, my Dad and sis went off to the Tate Museum. I wasn’t in the mood for museum walking, and thought it would be more interesting to walk around a neighborhood on my own, perhaps do some shopping. Act like a local for a day…and I got away with it until I had to talk to cashiers and my accent wasn’t British…
 
I ended up going to Hammersmith because there were a few stores I wanted to check out there. 
 
primark
Primark Euston
 
My first stop was at Primark, a cleaner, less ostentatious version of Forever 21. I think I spent almost two hours in here, and only bought some basics like socks and layering tanks! 
 
I then hopped on over to Holland and Barrett’s (a fancy British version of GNC), Poundland (lol like the Dollar Store), and T.K.  Maxx. Yes, T. K. Maxx.  Oh, and were the clothing items better than what could be found at T.J. Maxx. 
 
And of course…I didn’t buy any more clothing than what I got from Primark, but as far as British brand protein bars and chocolates from Poundland, I got that covered. 
 
My sis and Dad eventually made their way to Hammersmith as well, after their Tate Museum adventure. It had started to sprinkle, and we weren’t too hungry to go out and find a place to eat. We were all content with going to Sainsbury’s to pick up some snacks and fixings to make a simple meal at the hotel. We had to hurry into the store quickly though, because everyone was closing up shop early due to the Bank Holiday. 
 
It was tiring train ride back, but once we got back to the hotel, I immediately showered and got into lounge mode. Along with having some hummus with crackers and a half a sandwich, I tried out some of my snack purchases from the day, like this Cadbury’s chocolate bar filled with popping jelly candy. 
 
Cadbury Dairy Milk Marvellous Creations Jelly Popping Candy Shells
Cadbury Dairy Milk Marvellous Creations Jelly Popping Candy Bar
 
Can someone tell me why chocolate from the States is NOTHING like this?! Seriously, popping candy and jelly pieces stuffed in the middle of a solid milk chocolate bar?!? Haha. 
 
I also tried the Toffee Treat flavor of the Nakd Bites I first tried when we first stopped in London, before Wales. 
 
Nakd Toffee Treat Nibbles
Nakd Toffee Treat Nibbles
 
All of this while rearranging our stuff for Paris, and watching Britain’s Got Talent. We would leave from St. Pancras (I wanted to say St. Pancreas the whole time lol) to take the Eurostar train to Paris immediately in the morning, so we made sure to have all of our stuff ready to go. 
 
st. pancras
Walking around in the evening near St. Pancras
 
I wasn’t sure I wanted to say goodbye to the U.K. just yet, and actually with the way things in France went, I would not have given a mind at all if we had made a decision to complete our trip here. More on that in the next post…

The Pasty Shop Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Welsh Country

Welsh Country

Going into this Europe trip, I honestly didn’t think much of Wales as more than where my cousin and her family lives. We used to live in the U.K., and we actually did visit Wales when I was younger. I remember having a shirt from Wales with a bunch of cartoon sheep on it. It was one of my all-time favorite t-shirts.

On a Friday morning, we caught the Great Western Railway (GWR) from Paddington Station. It was easy to board, except we had to make it exactly on time. It’s not like Amtrak where they’ll wait for an extra fifteen minutes after the actual departure time before leaving…

At Paddington Station
At Paddington Station

Fortunately we caught our train, and settled in for the three hour ride. I was asleep for most of the ride (of course), but when we got to Wales, everything looked so bright and cheerful compared to the dreary gray and smoggy London we left that morning. I’m not sure why, but I just felt happier looking at the scenery. Signs in Welsh started popping up as we made our way through the Cardiff station.

When we saw our cousin, we immediately went into hug mode. It had seriously been SO long (like seventeen years…). She and her husband picked us up, and we made our way back to their house.

Welsh Land
Welsh Land

The roads, highways, rolling hills, and architecture is the houses were so amazing. It was like walking through a suburb with a strong Medieval history.

Our cousin had lunch prepared, and afterwards she, my sister, and I went to pick up her younger daughter from primary school. Imagine a peppy and petite Desi girl short enough to be five, but is actually eight, with a thick Welsh accent and that’s Little M. She came out in her uniform, saw us, and became very bashful. Her mom was like “Oh, so now you’re quiet!” She did open up to us soon enough though!

At home, we met my cousin’s older daughter, who I’ll refer to as Little P. She presented herself as quiet, but was very polite. We were all then introduced to Muffin, the baby of the family.

Just look at those adorable eyes...
Just look at those adorable eyes…

Apparently, her sibling won the title of “Best Pug in Wales”. Go figure.

The plan for the evening was to go for an hour drive west to the cliffs in Swansea. The car ride was absolute fun since the girls were so full of energy. They took a particular liking to my sister, especially Little M.

Drive to the cliffs
Drive to the cliffs

We parked near a lush green cliff and saw sheep not too far from us. The girls jumped out and ran manically towards them and the sheep bounded just as fast. It was a funny sight for sure. Near the cliffs was The Worms Head Hotel/Pub, we found a table out back, and ordered some plates of garlic bread and chips.

chipsandfries
Garlic Bread & Chips

Little M was adorably hyper, and would not stop chatting. We couldn’t help but laugh, even though her parents told her to calm down a bit for the consideration of others. I could see others were smiling though.

We didn’t go down to the cliffs, but we walked for a bit after, down a gravel-packed trail. There were a bunch of dogs, and the girls had to pet them all. When we got back to the car, it was almost 8pm but we just had to stop at Verdi’s Ice Cream before going home.

Verdi's Ice Cream Parlour
Verdi’s Ice Cream Parlour

Verdi’s was by the water, near a dock with a bunch of boats.

Mumbles, Swansea
Mumbles, Swansea

It was getting chilly, but it wasn’t too cold to deny ice cream. My cousin recommended the Turkish Delight ice cream, and I eagerly jumped at the chance to try a new ice cream flavor. It ended up being a winner for me.

Turkish Delight Ice Cream
Turkish Delight Ice Cream

The ride back was more quiet, since the girls fell asleep, but drive back while the sun was setting was a gorgeous sight indeed. Watching Wales turn down for the night only emphasized to me how magical this place was.

This weekend was certainly going to be a great one.

Have you ever visited Wales?

Verdi's Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

‘Ello London!

‘Ello London!

We left for London bright (oh so bright…) and early on a Wednesday. There wasn’t time for a decent breakfast so I had some coffee and then helped pack all of our luggage into the car. The hour drive back to KEF seemed to go by quickly, perhaps due to the fact I pretty much dozed off for a good portion of the drive. Actually, I woke up right as we were pulling into Avis. 
 
Going through security was a chore. They took my bag for “examination”, but literally only took a piece of paper to “swipe” it, and then let me go. I guess I couldn’t have been be too surprised by this happening, considering the things going on, but I just found it very odd and unnecessary to hold up my time for no explicit reason. 
 
After making our way through Duty Free, we found our gate. We were flying with EasyJet, a British-based airline that had a very retro feel. The inside of the plane was literally transplanted from the 1970s. 
 
Before boarding, I had to do something about my gnawing stomach. Snacks were going to cost us on this flight, so I picked up a European candy bar to try. 
 
Lion candy bar!
Lion candy bar!
 
This Lion bar had a thick chocolate coating, nougat, and crunchy nut pieces. It could have totally been a breakfast bar…I mean, you’ve got your nuts…and then chocolate and caramel for taste 😉 
 
The flight was about 3 hours long, and my face was getting more oily by the minute. I arrived in London in much more of a tired-looking state than when I arrived in Iceland! 
 
We flew into Gatwick, and from there took an express train into London.
 
Gatwick Express
Gatwick Express
 
When we got off, we found a black cab to take us through the city up north to West Hampstead. What should have only been a ten minute drive took almost an hour due to traffic. With the heat, humidity, and dust, it was pretty tortuous. 
 
Seen on my ride.
Seen on my ride.
 
Good thing there were enough landmarks and people to watch to keep us somewhat distracted during our drive. 
 
We stayed at a hotel in the area for our first two nights in London. For dinner, we didn’t want to travel too far so we walked a few blocks over into the food/shopping neighborhood of West Hampstead. 
 
West Hampstead, London
West Hampstead, London
 
We were about to have Lebanese, but then I spotted Nando’s from afar. I had been wanting to go there since learning their only US locations were on the east coast and Illinois. Funny thing was, Nando’s practically ruled the U.K.—it was pretty much in every neighborhood! 
 
Nando's menu
Nando’s menu
 
There were a good amount of veggie options to choose from. I went for the quinoa salad topped with feta crumbles. My sis and dad got veggie and portobello mushrooms.
 
Nando's famous sauces.
Nando’s famous sauces.
 
My sister also got a side of mash that we were all intrigued by. My dad even asked one of the employees if he could know what was in it and they brought over a recipe book!
 
Yum, yum, YUM!
Yum, yum, YUM!
 
I was a fan of the halloumi cheese, and gobbled up the leftovers of my Dad and sis. 
 
 
The next morning, I decided to go for a run, even though I knew the weather wasn’t going to be the best…and of course, it wasn’t. I ran 9 miles, but the entire my time my legs felt heavy, I was sweating profusely, and I was craving water. I can’t imagine how London runners do it, but if I ever want to live here in the future, I have to keep this in mind…
 
Running through hot and muggy London in the morning!
Running through hot and muggy London in the morning!
 
I made it back in one piece, quickly showered and got ready, and then headed out with my Dad and sis. We took a double decker bus into the heart of the city since a stop was near our hotel. We got off on Bond Street, and found a Selfridges to walk into. 
 
Selfridges Food Hall!
Selfridges Food Hall!
 
I headed straight towards the Food Hall, but had no idea what to get given the food stalls present. Ultimately, we decided to pick out some things from a bakery in the corner right near the entrance. Honestly, I wanted EVERYTHING. 
 
Oh. my. what. to. choose.
Oh. my. what. to. choose.
 
I was able to pick out one thing for myself, while my Dad and sis split a huge loaf of olive focaccia and a mini cake. My heart was full just looking at the pink-glazed, pistachio-topped chouxnut that lay before me. The texture was chewy,  and the cream filling had a vanilla flavor. My only regret was that it was tiny, and it was gone within a handful of bites. 
 
Strawberry and pistachio chouxnut
Strawberry and pistachio chouxnut
 
After breakfast at Selfridges, we began our tourist adventures. Our first stop was Trafalgar Square, and we made it there successfully via the Tube. If there’s one thing I learned from this trip, it’s to “mind the gap”, haha! 
 
When we reached TS, my Dad immediately noticed how there was a scarcity of pigeons. Apparently they used to rule the grounds, but there wasn’t one in sight. Also, there are a number of Bollywood movies that have had the romantic meeting of hero/heroine here. 
 
What pigeons?
What pigeons?
 
After taking some touristy pics of statues and next to them, we decided to go inside the National Gallery since it was right there. I was feeling very exhausted, and my legs felt super sore, so I sat out the exploration part. I was also very hungry, and found it was best to listen to my body even if it meant “missing out on art and culture”. 
 
But I was embracing the culture, in a way, by snacking on these U.K.-based Nakd Bites. I was expecting crunchier pieces, but each mini bite was soft and flavorful! I tried Coconut Bliss and Salted Caramel, both of which were rich in their respective flavors.
 
Nakd Nibbles
Nakd Nibbles
 
When my Dad and sis were done, our next destination was the London Eye. We were able to get advance tickets and save some time not standing in line. Ultimately, this spot is hyped up more than it should be. It was like riding on the slowest ferris wheel ever. The views were great, but the constant Coca-Cola plug wasn’t. 
 
London Eye
London Eye
 
When we reached the ground again, the three of us were more than ready for a late lunch. Out lunch plans turned out different than planned, but we ended up making a very popular choice in the end…
 
London: love, hate, or indifferent ?

Nando's Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Iceland, Day 2

Iceland, Day 2

Once we were well rested, we were ready to head out for dinner. We had to stop by another store, similar to Target or Wal-Mart, but the name started with a “H” and now I can’t remember it. Of course, it was hard to find anything under 10,000 Kroner ($10 USD), and even essentials like travel size shampoo, milk, and eggs seemed like pricey purchases. When in Iceland I suppose…

Before coming to Iceland, I didn’t think there would be too many vegetarian/vegan options around, but to my surprise, there were quite a number! Kaffi Vinyl got a lot of rave reviews, and I thought we should check it out sometime during our visit, and avoid any chance of missing out.

kaffi
Kaffi Vinyl

The cafe had a hipster vibe for sure. Everyone working and sitting down looked like they came straight outta Berkeley, haha.

kv
A hipster vibe here…

Even though the decor and ambience made me feel like I was back in Nor Cal, the food (and price tag) did not. The burger, noodle dish, and quinoa salad we ordered were familiar in name but with an Icelandic twist.

noodlesquin_Oa
Pad Thai and Quinoa Salad of some sort. Packed with veggie-based protein!

My burger was full in size and rich in flavor. It also came with a side of generously salted sweet potato fries.

kaffi__
“Dinner in Iceland was just as good too. Pricey, but oh so delicious! My meal was a black bean/quinoa burger topped with pickles, grilled pineapple, blueberry jam, and spicy kimchi sauce. Vegan in Iceland is definitely doable 👌🏽 🍔🌱”

After dinner, we walked around the city center again, going by souvenir shops before closing, and checking out the Hallgrímskirkja church, apparently the tallest building (or it was?) in Iceland. It got chilly really quickly, so we immediately chose to head back to the BNB to get warm and get some shut eye.

Our second day in Iceland started bright, but not too early. We struggled to make the room dark once 10pm the previous night hit. The sun didn’t set until 11pm and rose again around 3am…poor Icelandic people and their circadian rhythms!

I wanted to stay cozy under some blankets while sipping on Senseo coffee, but I decided to go out for a 5 mile run to get a feel for the landscape, and to shake out my legs from the previous tow days of exhausting travel. That morning, we also learned about the horrible attack in Manchester, and were a little bit concerned since we were flying to London the next day. Getting out for some fresh air certainly helped ease the anxiety.

We were lucky to have picked out an Airbnb that was so close to lush green hills and a walking/horse riding/running path that surrounded a clear body of water. My legs felt super heavy, but I pushed through and was able to do some intervals in Iceland, haha!

When I got back, my Dad and sis were ready to hit the road and I quickly got ready. Our first stop for the day was exploring Grotta. We were hoping to stumble across a hot spring during our trip, and according to the map this location was closest to the city.

Grotta was an expansive green and brown grassland, with a rocky path towards the lighthouse. There was a sign that prohibited walkers from crossing, but we went anyway. We saw some rebellious tourists climb over the rope, and we followed suit.

iceland1
Rocky in Grotta

We were successful in pinning down the lighthouse, but there was no hot spring in sight. It was a bummer, but we were hungry enough to move on from our disappointment.

iceland2
Lush, windy pastures

We ended up back at the Reykjavik city center for lunch. Honestly, it’s the most happening place in the city so it was no surprise we were back here again. We found a cheaper eatery in Noodle Station.

iceland4
Noodle Station

18 Kroner for two veggie pho bowls. Nice!

iceland3
Veggie Pho!

We were quickly warmed up and ready to head back outside. My sis and Dad accompanied me to a fish spa so I could check that off my list, haha! I’ve read so many reviews and articles about fish spas, and knowing that they are illegal in the US, I knew I’d only get the chance to go to one when traveling internationally.

This spa was owned by a gentleman who took extra care in making sure conditions were absolutely sanitary—especially for the fish! The walls were painted a deep purple and tranquil music was playing in the background.

I first had to wash my feet, then add some disinfectant to my skin before stepping into a tank. I then sat back while the fish got to work. And since it was my first time, the owner recommended I spend my 20 minutes with the baby fish.

fishs pa
Get to work fishies!

It was ticklish at first, but then I got used to it. I read about how some people had uncontrollable laughter the whole time because of how sensitive they are—I just held it in by smiling the whole time. Finally, my callouses runner’s feet were getting some RNR 😛

The three of us still wanted to see a hot spring before leaving, and so after my session with the fishes, we thought we’d head to see The Geysir, a part of the Golden Circle. It was an hour drive from Reykjavik, and we left around 3pm. I knew we were going to be tired as soon as we got there, but that comes with the territory of traveling! We tried to also keep on the lookout for sheep, since Iceland is famous for livestock roaming around the hills and trotting along countryside roads. We saw some in the distance, and the sheep stayed put.

We parked in front of the visitor’s center and upon stepping out so wanted to go back in the car and turn the heater on full blast. I was too sensitized by Cali weather—40 degrees Fahrenheit was just too much! I was able to get a warm cup of cappuccino and hold onto that to “trick” myself into thinking I was warm. Then we were able to walk towards the Geysir.

geysir
Geysers along the way…

There were smaller springs along the way, but we knew the one of interest was blocked off by rope and had a group of tourists anxiously waiting for it to erupt. We were waiting for at least twenty minutes, and literally after I said “this is getting ridiculous”, it erupted and splashed in our direction, causing the three of us to flee in different directions. It was a funny sight for sure.

statue
Funny/weird statue at a gas station on the way back to Reykjavik.

We called it quits after that and from there, drove an hour back to Reykjavik. I would intermittently fall asleep during the ride, but immediately perked up when we got to the city. For dinner, I gave a list of places for my sister to decide and she picked Kaffihaus Vesturbaejar.

kaffihaus
Getting cozy at Kaffihaus Vesturbaejar

When we parked outside, my Dad was like, “not another hipster place” and I was like, “Dad, I can’t control how these vegan-food serving places run their business!” But we were all pretty hungry so our restaurant style preferences took a backseat to what food was offered/what we could eat there!

burger
“After a day of trekking to the Grotta lighthouse, a fish spa treatment for my calloused runner’s feet (can finally check that one off the list 😁🐟), and a long drive to visit The Geysir, the fam and I were able to relax at Kaffihus Vesturbaejar, and split two “Veganbogaris” 🍔🌱 and fries 🍟 among the three of us. This was honestly my favorite meal of the Icelandic leg of our trip so far—just enough food and a pretty presentation 💕”

We pretty much had one option—the Veganbogari. We got two and split them between the three of us. The portions were as perfect as the crispy exterior of the potato wedges that were served alongside the burgers. The creamy green aioli sauce was also perfection.

We drove back with full bellies and content with that we explored of Iceland. It was by no means an epic outdoor adventure, camping in the arctic tundra for days on end, but I feel it was a good introductory visit to one of the Scandinavian lands.

I won’t deny however that I was more than ready for London!

Have you ever visited Iceland (or Greenland)?

First Stop, Iceland!

First Stop, Iceland!

Our European adventure began on a Sunday morning, with a stop for bagels before heading to the airport. My Dad had a rental since we used it to move my sister’s stuff, so before heading over to our terminal, we dropped it off and took the shuttle from there.

Checking in and security was surprisingly not too bad! TSA Pre does have it’s advantages…since our first leg was a domestic flight to JFK Airport in NYC.

Our flight was about six hours long, but on Jet Blue, so we were set, haha. Once we landed, we realized we had to walk over to another terminal and go through security again (this time, a much more tedious process), before being able to find something to eat.

Options for food at JFK’s international terminal are all things mediocre and mundane. We ended up getting personal pizzas and a salad to “get our greens in”. It took about an hour between dinner and finally boarding on Icelandic Air.

When we did board, we were handed cute water bottles with the top part of the bottle shaped like a glacier. And the music playing was very Enya-like.

Glacier bottle?
Glacier bottle?

There were no free inflight meals or snacks, but we came prepared with our own. I mostly slept for the majority of the flight, so hunger wasn’t a huge issue. We reached Reykjavik (actually Keflavik) by morning.

Upon landing, we had to exit out of the side of the plane (in the cold…) and board a bus to take us to the airport. After going through immigration and collecting our luggage, we were able to grab a rental and head out on Icelandic roads.

Everything looked so dreary and foggy, but overall it actually felt quite peaceful. It was an hour drive from the KEF airport to Reykjavik proper, but we knew we were in “civilization” upon seeing large warehouses and more traffic.

The address to our Airbnb was so short, I was surprised Google Maps didn’t come back with an error message. We weren’t too trepiditious about the apartment we would be staying in once we got settled in.

Airbnb digs.
Airbnb digs.

Yeah the bathroom was tiny, but the rooms were simple, clean, and our host left us a good number of blankets on the sofa so we wouldn’t get cold. Plus, I think tiny bathrooms are part of the whole European living experience, haha.

After freshening up, we got in our rental and drove to the city center. It was freezing cold, and I wanted to make sure we knew exactly where our coffee/breakfast destination was before getting out of the car! Good thing we parked in front of Reykjavik Roasters.

Reykjavik Roasters
Reykjavik Roasters

It was like walking into someone’s kitchen/garage. Half of the space had a bakery counter and tables, while the other half was “storage” for large bags of coffee beans.

coffee
Eclectic decor, eclectic people
roasters
Bread and baked goods 🙂

We first realized Iceland was pricey when we saw that the coffee would be 800 Kroner…$8 USD for a single cup of coffee. It was sticker shock for sure, but we knew we’d only be here for two days so we put up with it. Along with coffee, we split some fresh nut bread with cheese and jam, a cinnamon scone, and a coffee “jogart” parfait topped with honey and almonds.

Icelandic breakfast
Icelandic breakfast

Everything tasted so fresh and warm, and even though I was the one that had the coffee jogart, I gobbled up my piece and leftover crumbs left from the scone.

After our authentic coffee break, we walked a couple blocks towards the water. There was a huge walking path that was carved alongside the water, hugged by rocks. Walkers, runners, and photographers could all be seen walking along the trail.

icelandddddddddddd
A glimpse of Icelandic coast

We stopped to take pictures along the way, including one of what we thing is an abstract sculpture of a viking’s ship.

Before heading back to the apartment for a few hours of rest, we stopped at a shopping mall called Kringlan to see if we could grab some snacks that weren’t, uh, so pricey in comparison to the morning’s meal…

kringlan
Kringlan

We stepped inside a store similar to the dollar store, and came out with nothing since everything for sale was extremely overpriced for what it’s actually worth. It left me wondering, are Icelandic people just richer than the rest of us? Or is it really that much of a struggle to live here?

1500kroner
An expensive fish pilow

We felt more justified buying food, and when we entered Bonus, an Icelandic-based grocery store, we were able to make it out alive with our wallets not undergoing a huge drop in weight, haha!

bonus!
Oh hello Nutella!

After our purchases, we were able to rest up, and then head out again for dinner—at Kaffi Vinyl! More on that in the next one 🙂

Pending Travel

Pending Travel

This post was written weeks ago, but with all the traveling I’ve been doing and no time to sit down and post, here it finally is with no edits to verb tense, haha!

These past two weeks have been on hyperdrive! Even my efforts in running seemed to be sub-par in comparison to my performance in previous weeks. Stress has been subconsciously hitting me I guess!

I’ve been scrambling putting together stuff at work, as well as prepping for two weeks of international travel. I haven’t packed yet (no surprise) but I do have a list going. Things are going to be coming back-to-back with no pause in between—sister’s graduation, traveling in Europe, my marathon in San Diego—this time off seems to be like it’s a lot more work than intended.

Salted Caramel Cluster...it blew me away in a good way. A mild, creamy base with a super salty caramel swirl, rich chocolate chunks and CASHEW pieces. So many more @so_delicious flavors to try 😩 it may take me forever but it should be a fun quest to complete 😋 #WhereIsMySponsorship #JkJk #Sorta 😉
Salted Caramel Cluster…it blew me away in a good way. A mild, creamy base with a super salty caramel swirl, rich chocolate chunks and CASHEW pieces. So many more @so_delicious flavors to try 😩 it may take me forever but it should be a fun quest to complete 😋 #WhereIsMySponsorship #JkJk #Sorta 😉

But hopefully the payoff is good. I’m anxious-excited about seeing my cousin, whom I haven’t seen in 17 years, and her 13 and 9 year old daughters I haven’t met yet, at all!

I went to the Westfield mall in Culver City last weekend with E to shop for said daughters. My cousin enlightened me on what they would really like as gifts and I was ready to have fun with it. I bought the younger one two cute dresses from Old Navy and The Children’s Place. I remember my wardrobe was literally all TCP from ages 7-10, and I was taller-than-average for my age lol.

Gifts!
I come with gifts!

For the older daughter, I got two pieces from Hollister…hard to believe (or is it?) that the brand is still popular among teens. Man, I remember feeling SO much unspoken peer pressure to wear Hollister and Abercrombie, haha.

After buying some chocolates from Target, and a cookie butter jar from Trader Joe’s (which I’m hoping they’ll love since Trader Joe’s isn’t available in Wales!), E and I decided to take a lunch break at the happening food court.

I spotted Bibigo down the walkway, and headed towards it while E went next door to Burger King.

Bibigo, Westfield Culver City
Bibigo, Westfield Culver City

A nice, warm veggie bowl with cool toppings sounded so appetizing at the time. So for my base, I had a bowl with salad greens. On top of that went pickled veggies like onions and slaw, and of course kimchi.

Side of wontons, warm tofu, and fres, cold veggies!
Side of wontons, warm tofu, and fres, cold veggies!

To finish it off, warm tofu cubes added a nice touch along with seaweed flakes. Even a guy who was behind me in line commented on how good it looked, haha.

A fantastic creation.
A fantastic creation.

The bowl was just filling enough to get my energy spent from shopping back up, and to power me to get back home. E and I had a fun bus ride back to the train station, and from there I traveled my usual commute home.

Couldn't resist snapping this pic of my city <3
Couldn’t resist snapping this pic of my city <3

It was too late to take a nap when I got home, but I tried to turn in early enough so that I could catch up on some sleep. At least it was a productive day overall though!

Do you like planning for trips?

Her 21st

Her 21st

Last weekend’s events were spectacular. I am so grateful for being able to visit my sister on a milestone occasion—her 21st birthday!

cakkkkke
Slice of chocolate birthday cake. Can’t pass up a slice in celebration!

I wanted to maximize the time I spent with her so much that I took a night MegaBus so that I could get to Oakland by 7am that Friday morning. From there, one of our besties who also didn’t want to miss out picked me up, and after getting coffee we drove 3 hours to Fresno!

My sister couldn’t contain her excitement when she knew we were close. She skipped class (haha) so that we could all have lunch together at Taqueria Don Pepe.

don_pepe
Taqueria Don Pepe

It was incredibly hot outside (pushing 100s!!) but they had a small, shaded patio where we could sit down and enjoy our lunch. My sister and I both got vegetarian tortes while our friend got enchiladas (despite talking nonstop about her taco craving for the 3 hours I drove with her, lol).

don_pepe
Pickle bar, small interior

The torta was made with a soft but toasted hoagie roll and filled with refried beans, good ol’ avocado, tomato slices, onion, and shredded cheese. My friend seemed to like her enchiladas, but she actually got bored mid-plate and started talking about splitting fries with my sister from Dog House Grill next door!

veg_torta
Veg torta anyone?

We went shopping for a bit afterwards at Target, and then came back to my sister’a dorm for some rest before heading out to dinner.

filling
Everythannnng in here

My sis and friend spent forever doing their makeup, and opened a bottle of wine to drink before we left. I was “designated mommy” since I don’t drink, so I let my sis enjoy her new-found freedom with alcohol. She’s actually probably the smartest person I know when it comes to drinking safety…she did her research and did not go crazy at all. She told me she stayed hydrated and drank only after eating something substantial the night she had her first drink, on her actual birthday. Obviously I’m bragging now because I’m such a proud older sis.

After they had their fun, I drove us all to The Cheesecake Factory because my sister had a giftcard she wanted to use, and because I had never been to TCH!!

lol
The Cheesecake Factory on a Friday…so busy!!

We had to wait about 45 minutes before we could get a table, and when we were taken to our seats we came across a server who was scrambling to set up our table. It was the most awkward thing ever, as it looked like he was literally playing musical chairs with silverware. We stood there in polite silence, but were all actually thinking what the…

drinks_chips
Sis and friend’s drinks…I helped myself to chips and guac.

We ordered A TON, and I ended up reprimanding both ladies for it afterwards because we needed up taking four boxes home. We devoured a whole bread basket, shared chips and guacamole, and my sis and friend ordered huge plates of burgers with sides. My sis got a side salad that she didn’t even touch because she got the kale salad appetizer. I tried the mozzarella flatbread, and while it was crisp and creamy from the cheese, it was not the most stellar thing to cross paths with my tastebuds.

pizza
A sub-par flatbread pizza

After dinner, we walked through the mall for a bit and then drove back. We finished the night with the Bratz movie (just to make fun of it, and it was unsurprisingly the only thing we could all agree upon) and I was the first one to fall asleep.

I woke up the next morning to squeeze in a 6 miler, but as soon as the ladies woke up, we for ourselves ready for an eggy brunch—Fresno style!

Do you drink?

What was your first alcoholic drink ?

Taqueria Don Pepe Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Seattle Adventures – Part 4

Seattle Adventures – Part 4

Our last full day in Seattle began with yet another bus ride to Ravenna, where we were the previous day drinking tea. This time though, we had brunch at a hipster cafe, and one of my favorite places we ate during the whole trip: Wayward Cafe!

Wayward Cafe
Wayward Cafe

The clientele, employees, and restaurant space all had a hipster vibe going on, so obviously my sis, friend, and I felt out of place but this did not chase us from getting our share of comforting vegan food!

Countertop eating
Countertop eating

We sat at the counter, so in a way, we were somewhat secluded from the rest of the diners. It didn’t matter though, because we were all quite hungry and didn’t mind so much that the view in front of us was a mix of kitchen gear and foggy windows showcasing a highway.

Coffee :)
Coffee 🙂

We each started off with coffee/tea, and you know I took those extra stevia packets for the road 😉

Country Bumpkin!
Country Bumpkin!

For my dish, I was all for the Country Bumpkin. I finally got my biscuits and gravy craving taken care of on this trip!

Friend's dishes
Friend’s dishes

My sis got the Dixie Fried with a circular scone look-alike biscuit, and my friend got a gorgeous enchilada (I think) type dish smothered in sauce and aligned next to seasoned cubed potatoes.

Our grand-in-flavor brunch was also easy on the wallet, and we were able to catch a bus to downtown feeling renewed. On the way there, we rode alongside not one, but TWO adorable animals! The first was a cat “with an eating disorder” headed to the vet. He was a golden, obese tabby who had the most precious meow. The next was this adorable groomed pomeranian who obediently sat on his/her owner’s lap all the way to downtown! I have yet to see an animal board a bus here in LA so I was probably a little too excited upon observing these animals boarding the bus, haha!

LOOK AT THAT ADORABLE POM OHHHH!
LOOK AT THAT ADORABLE POM OHHHH!

Once we were in downtown (yet again), we actually took the time to go inside Pike’s Place Market (just like many other tourists), walk around, get bored, and then walked further down, ending up at the gum wall!

The infamous gum wall!
The infamous gum wall!

After taking a couple pictures with the wall in the background, doing our best to not LEAN against the wall, we walked back towards our starting point, and then made our way towards the movies to watch the latest Alice movie, since we couldn’t watch it the day before due to my sister not feeling well, and my friend was dying to see it. I never was a fan of the Disney Alice movies (I guess I liked the animated one?), so I found myself getting restless at some parts, but I was glad that watching the movie made my friend happy 🙂

After the movies, we obviously had dinner 😛 . And how could we pass by a Veggie Grill and not go in?

Veggie Grill, Downtown Seattle
Veggie Grill, Downtown Seattle

We all ended up ordering hearty meals like burgers, mac and cheese, and even shared my sis’s favorite chocolate pudding from when she tried it the first time we visited a VG.

Friends eat right.
Friends eat right.
Oh man, that pudding.
Oh man, that pudding.

I got the Buffalo Bomber, oozing with spicy BBQ sauce and a side of coleslaw.

How did I not have this before?
How did I not have this before?

Having warm meals in a restaurant with an orange hue made us feel so cozy with the weather starting to get cold and rainy outside.

Even though it looks the same, this VG seemed cozier than the others.
Even though it looks the same, this VG seemed cozier than the others.

After dinner, we just wanted to get back to the Airbnb and relax for our last night in Seattle. I actually ended up staying up until midnight, which is something I rarely do, but I had the energy to do so, and I wanted to really enjoy the time I had with my sister and friend because those chances are so few nowadays.

After a long night’s rest, I woke up the next morning, and got everything packed. After getting my sis and friend to do the same, we headed out to the Fremont District for one last adventure before flying out of the glorious PNW.

Welcome to Theo's Chocolates!
Welcome to Theo’s Chocolates!

Our destination was a chocolate tour at Theo’s Chocolates!

Welcome to Theo's Chocolates!
Welcome to Theo’s Chocolates!

The cost of the tour was only $10, but there were samples galore and learning about the process of making fair-trade and organic chocolate was quite interesting.

Theo Chocolates Factory Tour - waiting room
Theo Chocolates Factory Tour – waiting room

After putting on hairnets, we were guided into a small green room with benches where our guide explained to us the story of how the cacao plant becomes what we know as chocolate.

Theo Chocolates Factory Tour - lecturin'
Theo Chocolates Factory Tour – lecturin’

During her talk, she passes around samples, and I fell in love with a flavor speckled with raspberry.

Hello, raspberry.
Hello, raspberry.

After the short lecture, we were taken inside the factory, where we saw the vats and got to sample some cacao nibs: the mild and bitter ones! My sis and friend ended up buying a bag of the mild cacao nibs from the gift shop after the tour.

Inside the factory
Inside the factory

Once we made a rotation through the actual factory, we were lead into the kitchen, a.k.a. the best room on the tour. In this room, we were given the opportunity to sample truffles, limited edition chocolate flavors, and other intriguing sweet (and savory!) chocolate items. And immediately after that, we were given coupons and directed straight into the gift shop…where there were even MORE samples.

Theo Chocolates Factory Tour - store!
Theo Chocolates Factory Tour – store!

I literally made laps around the store sampling all the chocolate, even finding myself at one point just pacing near the main wall where the samples for the original chocolate flavors were. When my friend and sis were done picking out their cacao nibs and truffles, I even took some store samples for the road! I guess I didn’t completely overdose on sugar, because I still had some room in me for a small lunch! Flying Apron was just along the way, so we decided to sit down there and munch on something savory.

Flying Apron
Flying Apron

I was able to hit it right with my order of red lentil soup with a slice of their bread of the day (which I believe was multigrain).

They have shirts?
They have shirts?

My friend and sis however, weren’t so lucky. They shared three dishes among the two of them, a pesto salad, mac and cheez (with lots of spinach apparently), and a BBQ tofu pocket, all of which were doughy, and lacked flavor to the point where it tasted completely bland. I had to taste them myself just to believe it, and my sis and friend were absolutely right.

Flying Apron - the good, bad, and ugly
Flying Apron – the good, bad, and ugly

If I wasn’t sweetened out by all the chocolate I had earlier, maybe I could have tried a sweet baked good and could have given the chance for Flying Apron to redeem itself. Oh well, I was happy with my humble bowl of soup.

Maybe it would have been different with the sweets...
Maybe it would have been different with the sweets…

We spent another hour strolling around the Fremont district, and then took the bus back to our Airbnb in order to get our luggage and call for an Uber. My sis and friend were sharing a second suitcase filled with books from their Amazon Books adventure, so it was necessary.

It was hard to bid goodbye to them at the airport, since I was flying back separately to LA and the both of them were flying back to Nor Cal together.

Bye, Seattle. It's been fun :)
Bye, Seattle. It’s been fun 🙂

Overall, I was so happy that the trip happened at the time that it did. Right now I’m already wrapped up again in my work but prior to my vacation, I was running on fumes and felt so burnt out from my work! There’s no doubt that I’ll probably need another week off (at least) by August rolls around, but until then, I think I feel refreshed enough to continue being my normal busy self. The fact that summer is just beginning kind of helps too 😉

Have you been on a food factory tour before?

Wayward Vegan Cafe Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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