I came back from Spain on a Thursday, but was heavily jet-lagged for a week. My mood and emotions were all over the place, and my sleep schedule definitely took a beating. I remember wanting to take a nap at 5pm on the following Sunday, only to wake up in my pitch dark room and glancing at my phone to see that it was midnight…needless to say, getting back to my routine was a challenge, but I was able to succeed and feel somewhat like myself by the time the next weekend rolled around.
My sister was free to meet me on a Saturday, and so we made plans to head to Hollywood and check out the Museum of Broken Relationships. A good excuse to get out of my West LA bubble, and make it to the north central part of the city for once!
Since we were in the area on a Saturday afternoon, it was impossible to escape tourist traffic. We soon found the museum unassumingly positioned at the corner of Hollywood and McCadden. It was actually much smaller than we expected…
It was cute though. And surprisingly, there were a ton of couples walking about…weird, haha!
The “Wedding Dress in a Jar” and the minuscule “pay attention to me” note caught my eye…
There were also some zany and crazy displays of random objects, paired with some heart-breaking stories as well. Each item was paired with a description of who donated it, when the relationship ended, and the meaning of the item.
There was a second story to the museum, where we saw this weird sculpture (?), but other than that, the displays were limited:
So we were out in about an hour. Our next stop was a late lunch/early dinner at Pink Taco on Sunset. After raving to my sister about it (at least based on the experience I had at Century City years ago before that location closed), she was dying to check it out too.
Finding parking was a nightmare, but we found a street parking in a nearby neighborhood and walked over.
We made it just in time for happy hour, and made ourselves comfy among the already-settled crowds of “basic” folk, haha.
We devoured the complimentary chips and salsa as soon as the waiter brought them over.
I already knew I wanted nachos, especially since they were cheap off the Happy Hour menu. The sis went for the tacos, and was not disappointed.
The nachos were just as magical as I remember them being. The cheese wasn’t queso-like, but there was so much guac and jalapeno peppers so it balanced out in the end.
Our portions were just right, but when my sis suggested we get dessert close to my place before she headed home, I agreed!
So after getting through traffic, we drove down Santa Monica Blvd. until we got to Downtown SaMo. I suggested we check out Creams & Dreams.
I’m not sure why C&D was on my foodie list to begin with, since after stepping inside, nothing struck me as it being unique in any way. There are a number of liquid nitrogen ice cream shops now in So Cal, so I’m not sure why I had bookmarked this place…
Regardless, they had Speculoos and Nutella ice cream, so I caved and went for that (despite their offering of avocado or creamed corn)!
My sis stayed to true to her main love of chocolate, and topped it with fruity pebbles.
We walked back to the car with ice cream in hand, feeling sticky from the ocean breeze. This particular weekend helped me get back into the swing of things, and ready to take on October!
After spending a full Saturday exploring pockets of Barcelona, I woke up the following Sunday morning thinking it would be nice to get a run in, even though I couldn’t run in the Cursa De La Mercè race.
I ended up doing a short 3 miler, out and back, on the city streets. There weren’t too many people out, and since a race was taking place, there were actually a number of runners warming up. I actually ended up walking by the course and seeing the runners when I was on my way to coffee and chocolate con churros, haha!
For my late-ish breakfast, I actually ended up having churros with just coffee. The language barrier prevented me from clarifying if the churros came with hot chocolate, so what I ended up getting was coffee to dip them in.
The churros themselves were hot and crispy, but they had no sugar or cinnamon on them so they literally tasted like fried pieces of unflavored dough. But at least it was authentic unflavored Spanish dough?
After spending some time in the cafe, I walked back to my Airbnb and packed up all my things slowly. I made the walk over to Sants station so that I could catch a train headed to Sitges, where my conference was taking place.
The train ride to Sitges was about a half an hour, and a lot of the people that got off with me were decked out in beach gear and barely had any belongings with them. A sign that this beach town was a getaway for most people living in the city. The first thing I noticed while looking out the window on the train was how bright blue the ocean was…like, unbelievably, I’ve-never-seen-the-color-blue-until-now, blue.
The train station was a small one, and the set-up of he town was adorable. Of course I made the wrong turn when trying to navigate to my Airbnb with Google Maps, but once I was able to orient myself correctly, it was just a short walk away from the station to my Airbnb.
Later that afternoon, I walked over to where my conference was taking place, and it happened to be just around a mile in distance so it was another short walk.
The conference actually began in the late morning, so I arrived in time for some of the later talks and the reception.
After marking my attendance there, I slowly walked back so I could take in the gorgeous landscape around me.
Along with stalking stray cats…
The views were just incredible…no wonder the city folk come here so nonchalantly for a break from bustling city life.
I ended up on a path that led me directly to the shores of the beach, in front of a couple of restaurants. I saved time for more exploring the next day, since I was feeling a bit tired and wanted to get back so I could just chill, haha.
I spent the majority of the day the next day at the conference, jotting down notes during the talks, sipping on cups of free coffee, and munching on finger foods and a buffet-style lunch at the hotel restaurant.
Poster session 1 also took place that day, so I was able to review and discuss the projects of other grad students and post-docs who were presenting. My poster presentation was the following day, so it was a good preview for me.
In the evening, I went out for a long walk, starting out in the opposite direction from where I started yesterday.
I stumbled upon opportunities to capture panoramic views of the gorgeous Mediterranean sea…
I walked through the neighborhoods and felt like I stepped back in time…
There was so much activity and noise from people strolling about…there was so much to see.
I walked for a while on the road parallel to the train station, walking in and out of shops until I ended up in a residential area.
I stopped to sit down at a bench facing the sand and ocean when I got closer to the beach again. The sun was setting, and the moment was just perfect to stop and reflect. I didn’t have a pen or paper to manually write thoughts onto, but I did write a personal entry into my Notes app. I was definitely feeling some feels, so jotting my thoughts down (even digitally) was something I had the urge to do.
And because it had some iconic significance, I stopped by the Iglesia de San Bartolomé y Santa Tecla (I totally copied/pasted the name from Google, haha). Just like you can’t draw the NY skyline without Lady Liberty of LA’s without the Hollywood sign peeking from the background, this church found its way into all of the coastline pictures I took.
I realized my stay had been a short one the next day, after attending and presenting my work on the final day of the conference. It would have been nice to have had an extra day (rather than just two evenings) to explore the town more. The people I had been staying with were so thoughtful and engaging, and they even helped me out with getting a return train ticket back to Barcelona since my whole credit card/PIN thing was an issue at the Sitges station! I wish I could have had time to talk to them more too. I guess all of these are reasons to go back one day…
I took the train back to El Prat de Llobregat since I was staying at a place close to the airport. Again, because I could not purchase a metro ticket because I lacked a PIN number, I learned that being close to the airport was equivalent to ~50 minute walk. It was the first time on this trip I did not make a single wrong turn when heading out.
My 2.5 mile walk with luggage was enough of a reason to get a legit order of chocolate con churros. I spotted Caffe di Fiore when I entered my departing terminal, and was grateful that I had enough time to sit down and eat!
Now, this was what I imagined when I set out to find this on Sunday morning:
The churros were crispy (not at all soft and doughy on the inside like the ones I had on Sunday were), and the hot chocolate was thicker than a generic Swiss Miss hot chocolate drink, but had a thinner consistency than say, chocolate frosting.
Whatever, it was good, and that’s all that matters.
I took Aer Lingus from Barcelona to Dublin, and even though going through three security checkpoints in Dublin felt like a total nightmare, at least I didn’t have to worry about all of that fun stuff when arriving in LA. It was like getting off a domestic flight: straight to baggage claim!
I got out of my jet-lag funk and processed a lot of thoughts post-trip—
Usually when I come back from a really good trip, I feel a longing to be back that eventually goes away with time and settling into my routine, but it’s as if the opposite happened with Spain.
I was feeling hurried and worn out before I left for Spain. I was coming off of three additional overnighters in lab, and wrapping up some time-sensitive experiments. There was no time to really plan anything. It was like I was going with a “just got to get this conference thing checked off” attitude vs. a “OMG I’m GOING to Spain on my own for the VERY FIRST TIME” one.
My feelings changed over the course of the day I spent exploring Barcelona. I felt so independent, confident, and free, going where I pleased and finding joy in everything around me. And then when I got to Sitges, it felt like I was the leading female protagonist in one of those “young woman goes abroad on her own” novels, haha.
To be honest, I did come with a sense trepidation, considering the idea of being targeted by pickpockets or being singled out because I was a young lady traveling on my own, but I actually found the people I interacted with to be very kind and thoughtful. I didn’t leave with a heavy heart, but even as I write this almost a month later, I have a longing to go back.
The experience made me realize that I want to travel, or at least live in a different country for a few years.
When I moved to LA in the fall of 2014 (time flies by so fast…I can’t repeat that often enough!), I was anxious and excited to finally be living on my own and in the city. Over the course of three years, I found a way out of my eating disorder struggles, I worked my way through the beginning stages of recovery, I established strong friendships (both old and new), and most importantly, I found (and continue to find) peace with my body. Self love and confidence were probably the things I would say I am most grateful for achieving since moving to LA.
And after this past year of travel and exponential self-growth, I am seriously considering moving outside of the country for my “next move” after getting my PhD. I feel like I would only be holding myself back if I stayed here…in my now comfort zone. I feel like I want and need to ready myself for a whole new cultural immersion and way of living. I’m excited just thinking about it…
I’m not setting anything in stone or making my mind up permanently, but I am comfortable with keeping my options open. After living so long with limitations, just feeling limitless is exhilarating enough.
Even though it was “just a park”, I would say that walking through Parc de la Ciutadella and just taking in the sights and sounds of all that was going around me was hands down my favorite part of my Barcelona day visit.
I felt genuinely happy and at peace. It was as if time stood still, and this perfect afternoon existed for me to enjoy.
I may have been soaking in all of this serenity on my own (female solo traveler, heyyy), but I felt like I had struck gold in terms of having “properly toured” Barcelona.
I mean, the lush, green courtyard was full of gems…ahh, just typing this up makes me want to go back…
I definitely selfie-d here, haha:
As I continued walking, I didn’t want to leave the idyllic park, but the Gothic Quarter was just a few blocks away and was calling to me.
Oh, and the beauty just continued:
I didn’t get to the beachy side of Barceloneta, but I did get in some gorgeous views of a marine dock.
It was late afternoon by the time I got to the dock, and since I was running low on my phone battery, I thought it would be best to head home and charge up before getting dinner later on that evening.
When I did head out for dinner, Vegetalia in the Gothic Quarter was my destination, so pretty much the area was in just before. I took a bus again, and used Google Maps to navigate my way through some alleyways lined with shops and cafes. It was 6pm, and the hip neighborhood was starting to grow in crowds.
I waked past Vegetalia for a few blocks, but eventually found it tucked away surrounding a giant outdoor seating area.
I read before leaving for Spain that Barcelona has a bunch of cool vegan-friendly places to check out. Vegetalia stuck out to me the most since I saw it made quite a few appearances on Instagram. Especially for their paella…
It wasn’t too crowded, but their were other tourists around as well. A German couple sat in front of me, at least based on what I could tell from their conversation. In order to avoid mispronouncing anything and embarrasing myself, I simply pointed to “Paella vegetal de arroz integral” when the waited came by my table.
It only took like 15 minutes or so before a hot, steaming pan filled with bubbling rice and veggies (including artichoke hearts!) arrived at my table. Because it was so hot temperature-wise, I took the time to savor each bite and the flavors.
After my meal, I slowly walked back through the alleyways to the bus stop I got off at. The sun was setting and people were stirring about. It was a Saturday night the crowds outside were definitely warming up for some night adventure. I didn’t mind heading back to home base though, since I did want to get a run in the morning before leaving for Sitges in the afternoon.
I had heard about the La Merce 5k/10k run that was going on, but I wasn’t able to register in time. Part of me wanted to just show up at the race start and see if I could still participate, but I decided to just go with the flow and worry about it in the morning.
I’d have to say that the chance to go was definitely unexpected. Work-related business ultimately led me to this opportunity, and I’d go so far as to say that it was one of the best experiences of this year. I’d like to use my last recap post of the trip as a “personal reflection”, but I’m incredibly behind on recapping in general, so I’m just gonna get right to it!
I left for Barcelona on a Thursday morning, Cali time. It felt odd to not go into lab, but I quickly got into the traveler’s mindset when my Lyft came by to take me to the airport. I flew to Charlotte via American Airlines, and while this leg wasn’t so bad, I quickly grew to despise AA when flying out of Charlotte.
I was carrying a conference poster rolled up in a tall case, and every time I tried to secure it in an overhead compartment, it would promptly roll out. Passengers around me had no problem tapping my shoulder and pointing at my loose poster roll, but did anyone bother to help me out? Yeah-no.
When it fell out and the cap burst off and rolled under someone’s seat beyond my reach, I requested their help but no one would budge. I asked a stewardess to help, but she quickly proved herself to be one big female canine if you know what I mean…
Eventually a guy stood up, found the cap, and helped me secure the poster better. I thanked him but I still felt heated from the whole situation. At least I had eight or so hours to myself and to cool down…
I arrived in Barcelona at around 11am local time. I didn’t have a window seat, so I missed out on getting a sneak peak of the city, but my concern upon landing was how would I make it out to the city.
My first Airbnb was near a major transport hub, and my host recommended Intake Aerobus. But that’s when I encountered my first issue.
Lesson #1 – Always bring cash when traveling in Spain from another country.
I quickly learned that in order for me to be able to use a credit card overseas, at least at a ticket vendor machine, I needed to have a PIN associated with that car. Clueless me was puzzled about this when I attempted to purchase an Aerobus ticket. The ticketmaster ultimately came over, and after trying it for himself, he simply said “No.” and handed the card back to me.
Again, my concern was just making it out to the city in one piece, so I had to find a way. I next tried to purchase some Metro tickets at one of the automated kiosks. No luck there, since it once again asked for a PIN and I was stuck. Luckily, a woman who was supervising the area gave me the recommendation to get a HOLA BCN card at the counter, since I could purchase it with a credit card without providing a PIN.
That was a success, and it only cost me €14 for a 48hr pass! I immediately found the station out, and headed towards Plaça de Espãnya.
I was staying at an Airbnb that was near the center of all things—it was close to a multi-story mall that was converted from a bull fighting arena, and there was just activity all-around.
I was in awe of everything around me…I did clutch on my backpack and suitcase tightly because I had read about pickpockets (and I wanted go avoid what I had experienced in Paris earlier this summer with my family), but as soon as I saw the Airbnb I was staying at, I became more relaxed.
I checked in easily, set my things aside, and immediately fell into a glorious nap! I woke up later that afternoon and talked to my Dad for a bit before deciding that I should at least go for a walk to get rid of the grogginess. It was cold and rainy outside, and I probably should have packed a jacket, but I made do and walked north in the direction of Plaça de Cataunya.
I walked by an array of shops, markets, paella cafes, and coffee cafes, but what blue me away was how clean the streets were. Compared to the polluted streets of London and dusty roads of Paris, Barcelona was pretty much spotless, haha!
There were two Starbucks along my route, and I stopped at each in order to use their wifi and check where I was. I didn’t want to go out too far as it got darker and colder, and since I was feeling tired, I turned around after getting to Plaça de Cataunya. I tried to find a vegan place that was supposedly in the city center, but it was hard to navigate to and I was getting more tired, hungry, and impatient.
I ended up deciding on a place close to the Airbnb: SandwiChez.
It was a cozy coffee shop chain, and I got myself a simple Falafel Wrap with a side of chai tea. Everything was warmed up, and I found a convenient little spot by the wall to relax and enjoy my meal.
I surprisingly didn’t have too much jetlag that night, and I was able to fall asleep pretty quickly. I did wake up a few times in the early morning, but I was tired enough to stay in bed until 9am the next morning. I slowly got ready, and tried to map out what I’d like to do and what would be the best way to get to these attractions.
Park Guell sounded intriguing, almost like an architectural amusement park. It was also a destination that required some travel planning, so I decided to check that out first. I used the Metro to get to the closest station, and when I exited, I found myself in the most gorgeous-looking, quiet, European neighborhood. It almost reminded me of the hilly streets of San Francisco combined with the green earthiness of the PNW.
I ended up walking in the wrong direction for about 20 minutes before re-orienting myself and actually heading towards Park Guell. Even though it was on top of a hill, it wasn’t too arduous to get to…there were escalators guiding visitors up!
And the view was very well worth it…
Everything was architectural eye candy…
My favorite were these iconic arch structures:
After walking for a bit, I stopped for some coffee, and even took a look inside the gift shop.
There were so many colorful and cute knick-knacks, but I didn’t find anything that called out to me as “gift material”.
I soon walked out of Park Guell, and into another coffee shop (Coffee Park) that was just outside the exit. Since I didn’t have any food (just coffee), I was on the hunt for some churros, or something.
What actually ended up catching my eye were the cannolis. I intended to order one, but since they had a minimum credit card charge, I “had” to get two 😉
They were delicious, but maybe two was overkill, haha.
I walked back to the closest metro station and easily used the map to get off at the Sagrada Familia station. As soon as I stepped out from underground, I was met with a stunning view of a gothic cathedral. Everyone around me was just standing and staring at the grand, behemoth building before them.
It was hard to get a clear picture due to the sun rays, so I walked around to the entrance on the other side. I didn’t go inside the cathedral, but seeing the outside was enough for me.
I did some more exploring of the neighborhood by foot. I even stopped inside a supermarket and just walked around, familiarizing myself with what a typical Spanish person eats on a daily basis.
I heard that the Arc de Triomf was worth checking out, so I used my HOLA BCN card to hop on a bus. Ever since moving to LA, I’ve made it one of my unofficial missions to learn how to use the modes of public transit in the cities I visit. I got a taste of how the trains work, so it only made sense that I hop on board a bus eventually during my visit.
Just walking under the structure and along the pathway was such a happy event. There was a good crowd, not too many people, and so much activity taking place. I really wanted to take a selfie but angles just weren’t cutting it.
This was proving to be the place to be, especially on a sunny day right after a cold and rainy one.
My second full day in Vegas started off at a steamy 95 degrees. I kept waking up throughout the night due to the heat/constant shuffling in and out of the bathroom of the other guests, and so I decided to actually wake up at 6, since sleeping in just wasn’t going to work out.
I told my friend to pick me up from the convention center at 9, and so to kill time, I tried to find a session or two to join in. I didn’t find anything too remarkable, so I just participated in a yoga class that was going on. It made me quickly realize that as a runner—I need to stretch more.
When my friend arrived, she looked tired due to her long working day on Friday, but we still followed through with our plans and headed out to Red Rock Canyon.
But just soon as we stepped out of the car, we stepped back in. The heat was unbelievably unbearable, but we couldn’t leave without a selfie, haha.
She was hungry and had a craving for eggs, especially after hearing about a chain of brunch-type restaurants called Egg Works. We stopped by one of them on her way to work.
It definitely had a mom-and-pop vibe, and even though we were offered seats at the bar, we were able to snag a cozy booth and enjoy our meals without background kitchen noise.
Their menu was extensive, with not only egg dishes, but the sweet breakfast stuff too. But since it was practically noon, I was all about something savory and eager to get some protein in me.
The Veggie Benny was mine, while my friend ordered a Benedict as well, with extra bacon on the side.
I pretty much wiped my plate clean, except for the tomato slices I had on the side. Maybe I should have been like my friend and gotten some cubed potatoes for my side…
After finishing up brunch, we drove around for a bit on the way back to Town Square since my friend had a shift a work starting at 2pm. I found a spot in Whole Foods to work on some things via laptop to pass the time. I grew restless about two hours in, and decided to spend the rest of the time doing some window (and real) shopping.
I met up with my friend again after 6pm, and from there we drove our tired selves over to The Strip. It was still blazing hot outside, but we managed to find free parking at Planet Hollywood, and after going down five flights, walked inside the hotel casino before stepping out and walking in the southern direction of The Strip.
For dinner, we agreed on burgers and Bobby’s Burger Palace was on the way.
Of course it was packed, like any other restaurant on The Strip on Saturday night. Everything was also very meat heavy, except for two veggie options: a Veggie Burger and a Grilled Cheese.
I went for the veggie burger, and even though my friend and I ordered back-to-back, her plate came out a good fifteen minutes before mine did. We blame it on the party of ten who ordered at the register next to us…we think their orders got mixed in with ours and caused the delay, haha.
My Veggie burger was alright thought! I mean, even Bobby is looking adoringly at it on that napkin holder. There was a good ratio of sauce to burger, so it didn’t taste too dry or soggy. It also came with a huge pickle on the side, all of the burgers did actually.
After getting food in our systems, we were in a chattier mood. The sun also went down so it was a bit cooler than an hour before. Our next destination was Sambalatte, right outside Monte Carlo.
It was a cozy little coffee shop, and while it didn’t make much sense to get coffee at night, I had my reasons…
I would drink coffee at midnight if it meant having a mug of this Unicorn Latte. For the ‘gram, if nothing else.
TBH, it’s taste didn’t match it looks. While it looked like it was a coffee made out of rainbow rays, it needed the help of some sweetener. My friend and I took turns sipping at the mug, and then walked into the casino next door. We quickly turned around when her BF texted her to come home since the were meeting family for a late night get together. The abrupt change in plans was a slight disappointment, since I didn’t know the next time I’d be able to see my friend again, but she offered to drop me off at my BNB before heading out.
The next day was nothing momentous. I was glad to finally leave that weird BNB and head back to LA. Of course I wish I could have spent another day or two with my friend, but she also looked like she needed some rest. I guess as long as she’s there, I’ll have a reason to come back to LV.
My weekend trip to Vegas was planned on a whim, mostly due to the fact my bestie from Nor Cal moved there recently. BlogFest was also occurring the weekend I planned to visit, and there wasn’t any time-sensitive experiment holding me back in lab, so everything seemed to work out in my favor.
I worked some long days earlier in the week (including a 12hr stint the day before I left), but once Thursday arrived I was ready to for the desert country.
My MegaBus wasn’t leaving LA until 12:45, so I took it easy in the morning. I decided to take the weekend off from running since I knew the 90-110 temperatures in the Vegas heat would be unbearable to run in. After getting some coffee, I packed up the remainder of my stuff at home and then made my way to Union Station.
It was pretty hot in LA as well, so I was antsy until the bus came and we could finally sit down in an A/C regulated area. The bus ride was pretty uneventful, but I was able to fall in and out of sleep pretty easily. My body had been wanting to catch up I suppose!
I arrived in LA around 6, and my friend had just gotten off work so she was able to swing by and pick me up. I was expecting myself to experience a weather shock but the 105 degree temperature difference felt insane. She also looked pretty exhausted, so finding some place to eat for dinner was an immediate priority.
I had been wanting to check out The Protein House ever since it was featured on the Food Network in one of those undercover, we-fix-your-restaurant shows.
Many years later, I was standing in one of their locations with my friend, deciding which plant-based protein entree to get and a smoothie to complement it.
I ended up getting their Plant Power Bowl and the Chocolate PB Crush crush shake while my friend got a Spicy Thai Chicken Wrap and a Peanut Butter Dream smoothie. With her purchase, she was able to score a free shaker cup—something she said she probably will not use, haha.
Our food came out relatively quickly, and while our smoothies were flavorful and thick, both of our entrees were pretty dry. A little mix of some sauce and everything would have been dandy…
My friend was still pretty tired after we ate, so we just walked around the Town Square shopping mall a few miles off the strip since she works there. We spent an hour or so walking through Sephora and some of the other boutiques. Around 9pm, she dropped me off at my AirBnB which…was quite an experience.
The listing forgot to mention a few things…like the apartments were in a semi-sketch area (doubt that anyone would say that but…), the private room I was renting was opposite another private room housing two male guests and that there was a shared bathroom for both rooms, and that some rando would be sleeping on a pull-out couch in the living room my entire stay without a shirt on. Welcome to Las Vegas 👌🏽
But my room was clean and everything else seemed okay. It was a weird situation, but I could tolerate it for the weekend.
The next day was the second day of BlogFest and since my friend had to work all day, I spent most of the day at the convention center. I woke up at the crack of dawn, and was ready by 7:30. I decided to walk over, and despite the weirdness of the surrounding area, it was a safe walk over. Even though it was early in the morning, it was already hitting the 90s, and I couldn’t avoid sweating despite my attempts at walking slowly and under shade patches.
I was able to make it to the day’s earliest event which was the networking breakfast with a yogurt bar sponsored by Bell Institute.
I made sure to get a bowl of Good Culture cottage cheese topped with berries and a large mug of hot coffee with creamer.
I stayed for the keynote speech and the morning sessions, and around noon stopped by the expo to, ya know…pick up as many freebies as I can!
I grabbed enough protein bars, protein powders, kale chips, and other random items to fill one large reusable bag and my backpack. I was (mentally) tired to stay any longer, so I made the decision to walk back to my room in the 105 degree heat around 3:30pm. I wanted to rip off my skin and dunk my organs in an ice bath by the time I got back, but I survived. Opening the door and finding a half naked guy sleeping on a pull-out bed in the living room was awkward, but I retreated to my room and counted the hours until I could hang out with my bestie the next day…
Have you ever had an awkward hotel/lodging experience?
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.
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.
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.
My Dad and sister split a veggie sandwich that came with chips, and got asparagus and mac and cheese as sides.
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.
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.
What I did manage to gather wasn’t too bad, but I’ve done way better at gathering larger collections previous races.
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!
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.
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.
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
For lunch, we made it to Hank Burger, an all-vegan burger place that was built within what seemed to be an old loft.
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!
Our burgers came with special sauces depending on what type of burger we got. The tray papers were adorable too.
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.
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.
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.
I got one appreciated the extra rest that evening because the next day was just as eventful…
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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 was by the water, near a dock with a bunch of boats.
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.
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.