Coronacation – Midwest Style

I have often been accused of turning a sour situation into a spontaneous adventure. I’ve also been accused of being a bit of an opportunist. So when I found out my step daughter was going to spend three weeks in Chicago and needed a ride, I jumped on the opportunity to turn it into a road trip!

Traveling during COVID is not for the faint of heart. I am a bit of a germaphobe and absolutely terrified of getting sick. When I think about it, I get this glimpse of me laying in a hospital bed on a ventilator dying alone. Terrible imagery, right?

As you read in the last post, I’m a big believer in face masks, so I packed all of my favorite masks, my HEMPZ Hand Sanitizer and headed north. We left our home around 5 am and made a quick stop in Columbus for breakfast. I have been low-carbing since Memorial Day, so I had to figure out how to travel and eat. I opted for the Egg White Grilled Chicken Sandwich. I tossed the bun and ate the chicken and egg part. It was blech. I don’t recommend it (from Chick-fil-A.) After breakast, we zoomed through Chattanooga, Nashville, and stopped in Louisville, Kentucky around 1 pm. My friend, Kristy, suggested we eat a place her fiance grew up going to.

We stopped at Rumors Restaurant in Louisville. I ordered wings and Tim ordered shrimp. We both agreed, it was absolutely delicious. Honestly, some of the best wings I have eaten to date!

To be safe, we chose to sit outside in the blistering heat to avoid the restaurant. Luckily, there were fans blowing on us and plenty of hand sanitizer all around the restaurant. The wait staff were even masked up.

After lunch, we had a nice long, 5-hour drive through the state of Indiana. We arrived in Lockport, Illinois (a South suburb of Chicago) around 7pm. I had some friends that live about half an hour South of Chicago, and one of them had an adorable art shop in the charming town of Lockport. She talked to her landlord, and they agreed to let us stay in the apartment above the shop for free! So for the next two nights, we were living in downtown Lockport. My friend Leanne and her husband Phil, took us to dinner at a little restaurant across the street from our apartment called The Stagecoach. It had this western theme and had a super interesting menu: everything from rattle snake to rabbit!

On Friday morning, we got up and ate a local diner in Lockport then headed to downtown Chicago! The drive down was really easy and we made a point to get Google maps to avoid toll roads. Maybe it added 15 extra minutes, but boy oh boy, did it save us a little money. We weren’t really sure where to go and what to do, because the trip was just to drop Alex off. I had watched a few videos on You Tube about the sites, but with the pandemic, I knew so many places would be closed and to be perfectly honest, if they were open, I would not be interested in going into them. So we made our way to Navy Pier.

Face masks were required in Chicago and the pier is mainly outside, so we felt very relaxed exploring the skyline and the small mall they had there. I finally got to see Lake Michigan, which, for the record, was very clear! We debated taking a boat ride, and instead opted for a coffee and did a little souvenir shopping. After our adventure, we drove through some of the streets of downtown and made our way to Jody’s for an authentic Chicago dog.

This was a quintessential locals place. As you know, I’m low-carbing, so I tossed the bun!

A chicago dog is very interesting. It has tomato, pickles, relish, cucumbers, peppers, onions, and mustard on it. Don’t ask for ketchup, whatever you do!

After lunch we headed back to the apartment to rest and refresh before we went to a BBQ at my friend Leanne’s home in Joliet.

We had such a great time! I just adore Leanne & Peggy! We finally got to hang out on Leanne’s home and see all of the photos she has posted for years come to life. If you have been following me since the beginning – Leanne, Peggy & I became blog buddies way back around 2006 or so. Just last year, we finally all met in person in Plains. And now, I have been to see them! I finally got to meet the husbands and the kids. I got to see first hand Leanne’s majestic sunflowers and taste her delicious margaritas. Phil is such an amazing grill master! We had such an awesome time. We laughed and talked from 4:30 pm until about 10 pm!

It did my heart so much good to spend time with my dear, dear friends.

The next morning, we popped down to the art shoppe for a little shopping and a goodbye. I hated leaving. We felt so loved and cared for while there. Leanne, Peggy and their clan are good eggs and I am better for knowing them.

We stopped for breakfast at this place called George’s and then headed Southeastward to Southern Indiana. Our next stop: Vincennes, Indiana. This is where my dad is from. We ended up staying at the Hampton Inn. I have to say, the process for check-in was seamless. There were 2 six foot tables blocking you from getting too close to the counter. Most people were masked, and our room had a Lysol seal on the door, which means no one had entered the room since the cleaning.

We met up with my cousins and toured all of the important sites from my father’s childhood and my childhood Summers. We visited a national historic site, had lunch at Buffalo Wild Wings, and viewed the river walk at the Wabash River.

We made our way over to Monroe City to see where my Grandma Thurston lived. The house above is where we would spend most of our Julys.

We had such a great time getting to know my cousins a little better. Chris (the dad in the pic above) is just a few years younger than I. His mother and my dad are brother & sister. After our time in Vincennes, we got up on Sunday morning and drove straight to Nashville, TN to see my friends Stacey & Jonathon. We had lunch at the new home!

It was good to catch up with old friends that had moved from Macon, also.

After a nice long, 14 hour trek up and 12.5 hour trek back, we made it home, safe and sound. Covid free & Carb free!

It was completely possible to safely travel during the pandemic. Would I recommend it for people elderly or with a compromised system? Absolutely not. We took precautions, we took as few risks as possible, but even with all of that, it was still rolling the dice. I’m pleased to say we made it through and I am glad we did! How are you traveling during the pandemic?

Seeking Peace

Has it really been July since I last wrote anything?

Apparently, it has. Sorry about that.

Sorry about not writing as much or writing about real things like I used to.

Sorry about all of it.

Come to think of it… who I am really apologizing to? I suppose… myself. I’ve sort of let myself down in this department and I truly wanted to be more consistent. Blogging used to be my therapy and was a wonderful way to put things in perspective. I have let that go because…

Life. Responsibilities. Fear of looking vulnerable. Fear of people judging. Blah.. blah.. blah.

But blogging/writing… it is so much a part of who I am. It’s sad that I put it up on a shelf.

If you have followed me since Destination Unknown 1.0, you know I used to write daily about EVERYTHING. When I say everything, I mean – everything. I lived in a much bigger city and had a sense of anonymity. When I moved back home, I remember sitting in a interview for a museum job and the director telling me that he Googled me and read my blog. I sat there with eyes wide open. I had written about my abusive relationship with my ex-husband and so much more. He let me know that because of  my writing, he actually wanted to hire me. However, he knew that the town would get nosy and it was best to probably hide or delete the posts. So I deleted them.

I needed a job. It was post recession and I was trying to climb back out of being let go from a job in Birmingham and needed a way to house and feed myself (outside of my parent’s charity.)

I deleted the good stuff. The heart wrenching stuff. The stuff that made my blog relate-able to thousands of women. (I’m not exaggerating. The amount of emails I received from women all over the world was amazing.) I shut it down. I canceled the reality show.

Then I attempted a softer version with this blog. And yes, I keep it semi-real from time to time. You will find more of what I am doing and less of what I am feeling. The jobs turned into awesome experiences, and the bad relationship turned into a healthy relationship, and I hate to admit it, but chaos and drama makes for some awfully yummy prose.

Here is the catch… a lot of that crap still exists (on a much smaller level,) but I have been trapped in the responsibilities/job/small-town/government life privacy trap.

*sigh*

Here is the thing – I NEED to write more. I keep so much more inside due to my age, my position, my location, etc. I have not developed a true tribe outside of work. I pretty much go to work, go home, cook dinner, go to the gym, then go to sleep. Only to get up and do it again – OR attend some event in an official capacity. It looks like a LOT of fun, and it is sometimes a lot of fun, and often if I describe it as fun, it means I probably (actually) did have fun. But it has NOT been easy.

I promised to share what it is like to move to a place where you know no one.

I also promised to share what it is like to live in South Georgia, become a step parent, and to navigate government life. (to a lesser extent/work-wise.)

I’ve decided to hold myself accountable and share those experiences with you.

Attempt: Daily. If I get at least 3 a week, I’m doing great. I won’t always post these on the Destination Unknown FB page. But you can subscribe. Most will make it there, others will just be here. (Unless you are a really, truly close friend and are on my private FB page – that page will see it all.)

Is it worth your time? It just might be!

I will be tackling:

  1. Moving to a small town and what that looks like for a girl that would thrive in a larger metropolitan area.
  2. Marrying someone with teenage daughters, when I never expected (or honestly wanted) kids.
  3. Building a house and what that means when you don’t entertain anymore.
  4. Navigating a super toxic in-law situation/ex-wife situation. DUDE… if you only knew.
  5. Building a relationship with an incredible man. Legitimately incredible and what I have learned this time around.
  6. Working in not just a small town, but sharing that space with a super power. Seriously!
  7. Wanting to be an agent of change, yet surrounded by people who are comfortable with the status quo.

    There is much more. A lot of good to. I promise there is good.

    The truth is, I’m in that not-so-good space right now. Somethings have transpired that were completely out of my control and really have very little to do with me, but it is affecting me. I have a tremendous amount of anxiety right now and have taken steps to set healthy boundaries. As for family: My family is good. Dad is sick, like (really) sick, but otherwise, my relationship with them is fine. My niece is kicking butt at life and I am watching it from a far. I call my friends back home from time to time to have a safe space to talk. Tim is wonderful and I am having to support him as he sets healthy boundaries with family members that have used guilt and co-dependence as a way to control behaviors. Our home is lovely and we are finally moving into the re-decorate stage. As for work, my numbers are awesome (but the support is lacking.) But folks, that’s just the surface stuff.

Nothing is perfect, right?

Here is a sneak peek at a few highlights since July to catch you up:

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Made time to hang out with people I really, truly adore. It is a tiny tribe, and we don’t hang nearly enough… but it does happen.

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One thing I love about living down here is the farm life. I got to see cows! We even played music for them!

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Cotton took ballet and I did get to pick her up once from class. Totally made my day! Full circle and all.

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I have been going to the gym regularly for about 4 months now. Very proud of this. Got a bazillion miles to go on this one, but I am attempting to be more active.

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I did attend the wine festival with my friend & co-worker, Haley. We had a nice girls’ day.

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Salvatore is still in love with me and I remain his very best friend.

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Tim and I have found a beautiful spot in our yard to catch the sunset over the farmland. It is our special spot and we sort of use the sun and wine and conversation to heal from harsh weeks.

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Still indulging in the good life.

I did attend the Georgia Governor’s Conference in LaGrange. Was so good to see my tourism besties, but totally sucked being in LaGrange. I’m willing to give the town one more shot, but um…

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Still indulging in Fall’s goodness.

Tim, Alex and I made it to a childhood delight – the Robins Air Force Base Air Show. Loved it… caused some issues later.. that’s a WHOLE other blog post. 🙂

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You know I love a good excuse for a theme party.

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Don’t worry, all will be well. All IS well. Just re-shifting and trying to figure things out.

But that’s life, right?

Birthdays & Old Ways

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Back in June, I surprised my husband, Tim, with a birthday trip to St. Augustine, Florida; the oldest city in the United States. He had never been, and I had visited half a dozen times over the years, so I figured it would be an easy trip, with little concern over directions, what to do, and where to go.

We took off on a Thursday night. Part of the deal was to give him a clue every few hours as to where we were going. Before we even pulled out of the driveway, I have him his first gift. I said, “It will either be insect repellent (for the mountains,) or sunscreen (for the sea.) He opened the sunscreen and knew immediately that we were heading South.

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We drove about two hours and stopped for a night in Valdosta, Georgia. Valdosta is right on the Georgia/Florida border. My guy loves steak, so we picked a steakhouse and indulged our carnivorous tongue. We pulled up to an Austin’s Cattle Company , located just one exit away from our hotel. The location was a bit odd to us – a nice steak house in this budget-looking motel, but the quality was super delicious! After dinner, we popped back over to our stay for the night, the Drury Inn.  Surprisingly, our hotel was really quite nice, with lots of little features to make our stay comfortable. The price was right, and the room was quiet – and off we went to sleep. Before we went to bed, I gave him our next clue – a peacock pen. Now, if you have ever been to St. Augustine and visited the Fountain of Youth, you know about the beautiful peacocks roaming free. However, he had no idea. Still puzzled… we went to sleep.

The next morning, we were pleased to find a fantastic breakfast bar in the hotel (and it was free!) So far everything was going swimmingly!

We headed south. His next clue would still stump him until much later – it was a stuffed lion. He looked at me, smiled, and said, “Oh I know where we are going! Busch Gardens!) Well.. I started giggling and knew I had officially stumped him.

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Right before we got to Jacksonville, I gave him his next clue – a painting my mom did of the St. Augustine light house. Still.. not sure what beach we were heading too, but knew we were heading toward the coast. Finally, as we turned to head south down A1A, I gave him his final clue – a book about Hernando de Soto (the explorer that founded St. Augustine.) Finally – he got it and was incredibly excited.

As soon as we got to the town, we stopped at the Fountain of Youth. Since this was his actual birthday, I thought this would be appropriate – so have a sip of this magical elixir.

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While there, we walked around, admiring the sites and reenactors, and enjoyed the views!

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After the FOY, we drove over to St. George Street to explore the gorgeous city and grab lunch.

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Our pick was the Bull & Crown Publik House. Man oh man.. hands down one of the best pubs I have ever visited. The food was incredible!

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I cannot recommend this place enough. Seriously. Make sure to pop by there if you are visiting.

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It is hot as hell in Florida in June, but they had these fantastic fans blowing on us the entire time, so it was completely possible to eat outside without feeling like you would melt. It’s right on St. George Street and perfect for chilling out and people watching.

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After lunch, we walked around and visited a ton of the shops.

19390685_10155410827039929_3911272965060972149_o I bought Tim this super fancy hat from the Panama Hat Shop. Then we made our way over to the oldest Catholic Church in America.

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After saying a little prayer for my guy’s birthday, we decided to make our way over to our Air B&B.

Our place was located one block from the light house.

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We were in the second oldest house on St. Augustine Beach! We rented the top floor and had an adorable set up. So private and very shabby chic. Our host left us a bottle of bubbly!

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We rested up a bit, then headed back into the historic district for dinner. I made reservations at Columbia – a Spanish Restaurant on St. George Street.

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As soon as we got there, we ordered the homemade Sangria. They literally prepare it for you table side.

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Our dinner was amazing.. and the salad.. have mercy! The 1905 Salad was the hit of the night! It’s rare for a salad to upstage everything else. But man oh man!

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We next morning we got up to catch the sunrise. Another first for Tim! He had never watch the sun rise on the Atlantic, so we set our clocks and made our way over to the beach!

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After that, we went to this total dive –

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Little Margie’s Cafe! The food was really good and the service incredible. Talk about some delicious omlettes!

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After breakfast, we went home and took a nap. Only to pile back into the car and drive to another St. Augustine Beach favorite –

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The Conch House. We met my former foreign exchange student, Elena (from Moldova,) and her husband, (Mexico!)  We went from eating English to Spanish, to Cuban to Caribbean!

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We got to sit up in these cool little tree houses. The drinks, the view, and the breeze was awesome!

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We were having so much fun, we did not want the afternoon to end. So Elena and her husband took us to San Sebastian Winery – where we enjoyed a fantastic wine tasting! You guys know I can’t pass up a good wine tasting!

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After we indulged (again!) we drove to Palm Coast to meet her family. We enjoyed traditional Russian cuisine and village dances. Yes… they danced… in a circle.. holding hands.. to music. It. Was. Awesome.

Add Russian food to the weekend.

We finally headed back, got a good night sleep, and drove back to home.

It was probably one of the most random trips I have ever half way planned.

What was so refreshing was getting the opportunity to introduce my husband to things I liked, and seeing how he would respond. From the history, to the foreign cuisine, to the culture, to the beach – we were in heaven. Happy 47th, Tim!

 

Woodstock – A City Unexpected

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This past Spring, I got the opportunity to spend a week in Woodstock, Georgia. It is a small city, just north of metro Atlanta. I went there for a business trip, specifically for the Regional Visitor Information Center conference, but ended up experiencing a very cool bleisure trip! (Just what is bleisure? It’s business mixed with leisure!)

The tagline for Woodstock is – A City Unexpected, and unexpected it was!

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According to Money Magazine, Woodstock was named one of America’s 50 Best Cities. It has a world-class trail system, excellent shopping & dining options, and apparently one of the best breweries in America!

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When I first checked into the conference, I looked at two other attendees standing there and asked where they were going for lunch. We decided to pop across the street to Canyon Burger Company. DELISH! Not only did I indulge in an incredible burger, I also made two new friends from Lake Lanier Islands & Dahlonega.

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The trip wasn’t all fun – there was a LOT to learn as far as Welcome Centers go. We were in classes for several days going over everything from brochures to branding, merchandising to events, and so much more!

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Backing up a little, the first night I was there, I had dinner alone at a little Mexican restaurant near my hotel. Hands down some of the BEST beef tacos I have ever tasted!

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Some of the highlights of Woodstock, that I got to see, included:

  • The Greenprints Trail System, a city-wide trail network. (Just a brilliant idea that I need to implement in Sumter County!)
  • The Elm Street Cultural Arts Village (where our conference was held.) Basically, they refurbished an old church and turned it into the perfect conference space.
  • The Downtown Woodstock Shopping & Dining District (which features over 20 restaurants and 35 stores.) Apparently, this community was pretty much nonexistent, and like the phoenix rising from the ashes, so did their downtown.
  • The Outlet Shoppes at Atlanta, the closest outlet mall to the city of Atlanta with nearly 100 shops

The City of Woodstock folks put us all on a bus and drove us around to see these sights and get a feel of what their city had to offer and the layout of the land. It gave me tons of ideas!

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On one of the afternoons, we stopped by the Historic Dixie Speedway, which is ranked one of the best dirt tracks in America. It seems to be a family owned business, and we were told all of the great NASCAR drivers, at some point early in their careers, got to race here. It was also featured in a movie. It has a 3/8 mile clay oval track, and hosts stock car racing every Saturday night, May through October.

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One of my favorite nights in Woodstock was at a private party hosted by and at Reformation Brewery. I just loved their mission – “is a values-based company that seeks to reform beer culture and liberate beer from societal extremes.” How cool is that?

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The brewery was established in October of 2013 and is located within the renowned Etowah watershed of Woodstock. They offer tours, tastings, and take home beer options. We pretty much had an open bar and were given these fantastic custom designed craft beer glasses. (It’s a hard life.. I know.)

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We had a BBQ catered meal complete with homemade banana pudding. The folks from all over the state of Georgia that run Welcome/Visitor Centers were in attendance.

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One of the coolest things that they did was have an artist on hand to draw each of us! Boy… am I sassy!

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One of the other private parties was at Madlife Stage & Studios. We had a specially catered meal and open bar and got to watch a really awesome band perform.

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After the dinner and drinks, we headed to the VIP room of Stars & Strikes in Woodstock.

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Again – open bar, tons of catered food, and a private bowling alley, unlimited game card, bumper cars, and laser tag!

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I was like a kid in a candy store! I love places like this. All that was missing was Mini Golf!

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Overall, the trip was very informative, I met a ton of awesome people who do exactly what I do, won a bottle of Habersham wine in a silent auction, and explored a city I probably would have never visited otherwise.

If you get a chance, or are passing through Atlanta, give it a try!

Epic Honeymoon: Paris Edition

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I remember back in 2007, I had a moment of distress. Here I was flying over Europe heading to Cairo, Egypt, realizing that I was heading somewhere else, somewhere other than Paris. As a child, my one little international dream was ALWAYS Paris. Granted, I have been extraordinarily fortunate to travel to places some people only dream of visiting. My life has been blessed and I am aware. But it took year #44 of my life to fulfill that one little place I wanted to visit more than any other.

And the more I think about it, the more I realize that it did not disappoint.

It was a true gift from God- My first trip to Paris was with the man of my dreams. My love, my husband, and not just for a trip, for THE trip – our honeymoon.

We flew out on Monday night, hopping an Air France flight non stop from Atlanta to Paris. We were armed with our 4 bags, our passports, and an amazing itinerary that my dear friend and travel agency owner, Telisa Asaro (with EurTravels) arranged. Let me preface all of this with saying: You NEED a travel agent. Yes, you can figure this out by yourself, trust me, I was almost there. But by God, it was a complete blessing to turn over my “homework” to a trusted professional. Saved me time, headaches, and absolute confusion. As I go through our little story, and it’s a long one – sorry, I am going to share what we learned, what we would have done differently, and what is 100% awesome and so worth it. For someone who has dreamed of traveling here, trust me when I say – this was WELL RESEARCHED.

Back to our essentials: Passport, itinerary, tickets (pre booked, and yes – that is KEY,) and a few travel books. We ended up booking our hotel & flight through Expedia. We got a package deal for two people, non stop flights. We booked the Melia Colbert in the Latin Quarter.

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Le Colbert is a stunning boutique hotel in the heart of the Latin Quarter. It was built in the 19th century.

Other items we pre booked:

We arrived in Paris around 7am. Now you think that might be too early, but trust me, it’s not. Remember, you have to make your way through border patrol & customs which is never a quick trip. Unfortunately, neither of us were able to fall asleep on the plane. We were cramped in economy with a 3rd person sitting on the outside seat. By the time we were in line to go through customs, I was just about to fall asleep standing up. That whole process took about an hour. Finally, we were free to pick up our bags, and luckily everything made it! We followed the directions to contact our shuttle (which was included in our booking price ($75 and TOTALLY worth it.) We used Super Shuttle. Our driver was from Madagascar and super kind and helpful. I even got to practice my French with him a little. However, he spoke English very well.

We got to our hotel by 10:30am. Yes, it took that long with rush hour traffic. It began to rain, and out came Antonio, the hands down best front desk person at any hotel I have ever met. He handled us so delicately, used English, and gave us the run down on how things work in Paris. The hotel was beautiful! He was super kind, and knew we were exhausted, and went ahead and checked us into our room (which he kindly upgraded since it was our honeymoon.) We were in room 245!

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Now it is important to know that the hotel rooms in Europe, for the most part, are very small. However, we were pleasantly surprised. As we went to head up to the 4th floor of the hotel, Antonio warned us that the lift (elevator) was very Parisian. We sort of looked at each other, entered it.. and realized.. oh.. we need to take this one at a time. Our room over looked the front courtyard and an old building that was one the anatomy school.

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I loved that there were crank windows and I could see the flowers and smell the air!

After we got settled in, we decided that as tired as we were, we needed to keep moving! Time to find lunch! We walked out of the hotel and looked and each other and said, “Which way should we go.” I was standing to the right of Tim, so I looked right and took in a breath. My God…

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We were across the street from the Notre Dame. That sort of answered our question. We crossed the little bridge and just stood there. I was in awe. THIS was everything. Even Tim got a huge smile and said, “Wow. This is amazing.” These photos do NOT do it justice. At this point, it is almost noon, so we decided not to get in the long line to enter. We started across the square, and no sooner than we did, the Gypsies approach and we had to shoo them off. Basically, they were running their survey scam. That’s just one of the million scams they are running. To learn more about that (and I HIGHLY recommend you read this.) Trust me – we were completely prepared when we got there.

After we kicked the Gypsy to the curb, we headed over to a fantastic cafe right across from the Bell Tower. We settled into our first cafe experience with very little problem. It’s customary to greet the shop owner as soon as you enter with a simple, “Bonjour!” And from there, things will go swimmingly.

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Our first meal was fairly standard – French Onion Soup, cappuccino, espresso, baguette, steak frites, salad, and a piece of bread with ham & cheese melted on top. It was delicious!

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And thus began our culinary journey:

After our delicious lunch, we wandered the streets and headed for Sainte-Chapelle. This church is probably one of the most beautiful churches I have ever seen pictures of. We make our way over there, and boom – the guys says they open at 2pm. Boo – we had to leave and head down to the Eiffel Tower to make our reserved time.

We found the big red Hop On/Hop Off bus and pulled out our voucher for the driver. It was so incredibly simple. They handed us two receipts to hold onto and show every time we used the bus. We had to use the 2 day pass on the two consecutive days, but were told we could use the cruise any night! So off we went for a ride around Paris on a double-decker bus! And boy did we see everything! It was a wonderful way to orient ourselves with the layout of the city.. and let’s be honest, to get off of our feet. We made our way to Trocadéro, an area of Paris in the 16th arrondissement, across the Seine from the Eiffel Tower. We knew we had a little time to kill, and honestly, I wanted to eat some cheese! (I had been dreaming of cheese the entire time we were flying to Paris,) so we made our way over to Cafe Klebler.

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The best part? We had an awesome view of the Eiffel Tower! After the delicious stop, we walked over to the Eiffel Tower.

Now.. it is almost 3:30pm at this point. I have been up since 7:30am the previous day. I am BEAT. I’m starting to get a little whiny, and the walking.. oh the walking. Needless to say, we make it over there and proceed to go through 500 different security points to even get in the final line to take the elevator up the Tower.

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We finally made it to the tower… 32 hours of no sleep, and 44 years of waiting for this moment. My brain was very close to shutting down. Also, it is important to know- I AM TERRIFIED OF HEIGHTS. We get on the elevator and make it to the 3rd floor. Here is the view from there:

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We are still VERY high up. The big mistake is – you HAVE to get off to get on the next elevator to go to the summit.

I chickened out. I just could not do it. I don’t know if it was the lack of sleep, the stress of travel, the exhaustion, the jet lag, the frazzled feeling I had from the whirlwind weekend – I flat out panicked. But it is what it is. I offered to let Tim go up without me, but he refused. He said we were to do it together or not at all. I felt soooo bad for him. But at this point.. I JUST WANTED TO SIT DOWN or sleep.

We grabbed the Big Red Bus back to the hotel and freshened up. It’s almost 7pm and again – we were up for almost 40 hours at this point, but we soldiered through and found a fantastic restaurant that served Basque regional food.

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After dinner, we wandered back to hotel and finally fell asleep at 9pm. I crashed. HARD.

The next morning, we felt refreshed and were excited to venture out and have a little breakfast. We stopped at this lovely cafe (which we would end up eating at twice!) right across the street from the Notre Dame. Maybe I was hungry, or maybe it was just that good – but I experienced the best omelet of my entire life.

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The biggest kick I got was that we ordered a ham & cheese omelet and a cappuccino, as well as a basket of croissants. It was not the fact that we ordered this that tickled me, it was the fact that they serve you bread…. with a side of bread. Every meal – you get baguette. We devoured our meal and decided to pop by the Notre Dame. Finally.\16602853_10155050881149929_6948707388655438746_n

There is no reason to even post the interior photos or video. It is something that you must see for yourself. What I can share is this photo of Tim checking out how the structure was engineered. You see, he is a structural designer, and this one place blew him away more than any other place.  We wandered throughout and even spent an additional $10 to go through the antiquities museum. It was well worth the money.

After our trip through the Notre Dame (which, btw, is free,) we hopped on the Metro to head to Montmartre.

I made that sound really, really easy. It was not. I don’t even know if I have the energy to tell you what a monster cluster-eff this was, but, rest assure, the Metro was NOT easy. No, no, no , no. And this was not my first rodeo.

After struggling with the purchasing of the tickets (a carnet of ten,) and swatting gypsies like South Georgia gnats, we finally got on our train. Which was… going the wrong way. We finally got on the right train to getting off to change trains.. and realizing I had to stop by the restroom at Gare du Nord. (PS – you have to pay to use the public restrooms.) Finally got on another train (going the wrong way,) to find the right one.. to have some drunk Gypsies threatening each other down this random underground hallway…

Needless to say.. I was soooooo over it by the time we got to Montmartre. DANGEROUS route. I am not lying.

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We get there, and BOOM.. the sky bursts into a torrential downpour. And we make our way to a cafe to drink MORE cappuccino and wait out the storm. Finally, we decide to use our Google Maps walking option (a life saver for certain!) and make our way to Sacre Coeur.

Now… Let me just preface this as I was SOOOOO disappointed in Montmartre. I have always been a huge lover of all things Paris and all things bohemian and the arts, and I don’t know if it was the jet lag, or the rain, or the stress from the train, or those God forsaken hills and steps… but I was soooooo ready to leave and just go back to Paris proper.

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We had to climb three of these. And these were placed on a hill. These stairs mocked me.

We FINALLY get to the top:

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Eh.

At this point, you’ve seen one great church, you feel like you have seen them all. But we made it. We did it. In the rain. In the cold. I stood there and said, “Okay… we need to regroup.” And luckily we were able to do so and do it heading down hill.

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I knew the only way to get in a better mood was to do a little shopping. THAT always helps. Then we headed to a Chocolate Museum. And chocolate always makes a girl feel better.

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After that, we made it back to the metro for yet another fiasco heading back.

Don’t ask. It was terrible, and took 45 minutes. (PS – I HATE the Paris Metro.)

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We made it back to St. Michel/Notre Dame Metro and decided to go take a nap. We needed to regroup and get our head straight. We were slowly turning on each other, with the ultimate feeling of frustration and confusion, and we both knew we needed a time out. We slept, took hot baths, and made our way down the river to Musee de l’Orangerie. I did not have any huge desire to head to this museum, but we picked it because Tim wanted to see Monet’s Water Lilies. This was one of the few requests he had, and I wanted to make sure we honored that. I have to admit, this was hands down the BEST surprise of the entire trip, We were excited to use our vouchers (Museum Pass,) and had hoped it would be just as simple as the Hop On Hop Off bus was. We get to the front of the building and what do we see?

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You got it! Rodin! My little heart began to skip a beat. We made it inside and I presented my voucher. The woman spoke no English, I spoke so little French, but she was having a hard time getting her wand to accept the voucher. Finally she just waved us in. We made our way into the big rotunda…

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Blown away. Two big rooms in all of Monet’s glory. If you went to college in the 90s like I did, you know every girl’s dorm room had this as a poster or Van Gogh’s cafe scene or starry night. I was dazzled by the colors. Tim walked out of the first room and headed to the second and he got the shivers. I asked him if he was feeling okay and he said, “Yes. This is just blowing my mind.”

That was worth everything.

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We finally made it down stairs and I am pretty sure the museum guards got a kick out me saying, “Oh Wow! Can you believe? Look at this?” It was a French Impressionism Mecca. Everything from Picasso to Soutine. We both were all smiles by the time it was over. What a save!

Later, we walked back over to the Latin Quarter for dinner. Unfortunately, the Big Bus stops operating tours at 5pm, so we walked the 45 minute walk back to our hotel. THIS was a huge learning experience. The museums are open into the evenings, but your easy transport is not. The Big Bus will stop at all of the major tourist destinations, BUT, the time limit is something you need to be aware of. Chalk that up to lesson #1.

We grabbed a wonderful dinner at a restaurant in the Latin Quarter. Tim had Duck Confit and I had boeuf bourguignon.

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We decided to go with the fixed menu. This is a wonderful way to save money on the trip. For 35 Euros a person, we had an entree, which is their starter (mine was French Onion Soup,) and for the main course was my beef dish above, a carafe of white wine, and for dessert, I enjoy a chocolate mousse.

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We did a little shopping after that and made our way back to the hotel to rest.

The next day was a BIG day for us! It was time to tackle the Louvre! We were told that the walk would be about 15 minutes from our hotel (which was really more of 25 minute walk.) As we passed over to the other side of the river, we ended up on the bridge with the love locks. You are to inscribe your initials and lock it onto the bridge and throw the key into the Seine.

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We finally made our way to the Louvre and were blown away by the sheer size of this building. We got through the various security checks and found our way to the Paris City Pass line. Get to the counter and BOOM – they tell us that we need the tickets from the Paris City pass, and that to get them you need to walk another mile or so into a neighborhood to the office to pick them up.

Uh.. no. Lesson learned. Go with the Paris Pass that would be mailed to you. It’s more expensive.. but damn it. We were beat and did not want to wait in another looooong line. Not sure what I mean?

We opted to pay. It was 30 Euros for the two of us. And we set off to find all of the very cool “must sees!”

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This place is amazing… and huge… and exhausting. After walking so far to get there, and standing in line… we saw what we needed to see and decided to trek it back.

Again.

But not without catching all of the good stuff along the way!

As we were making our way back, we decided to randomly stop at a great little cafe along the Seine. We were able to regroup and consume enough carbs to put us into a lovely coma for our afternoon nap.

Along the way, we decided to stop at the infamous, Shakespeare and Co!

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I bought a few books and reveled in being the very place so many famous authors hung out!

Another wonderful nap and off we went (metro and THIS time we got it right!) to where the Bateux Mouche would be!

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We took a night cruise of the River Seine. We got to see the Eiffel Tower twinkle (which happens at the top of each hour for 5 minutes!) It was fantastic!

After this, we made our way back and I got my Fondu!

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Tim went for the scallops! We had a great night at a wonderful little restaurant in the Latin Quarter.

That night, the hotel staff gave a wonderful gift for our honeymoon- Champagne!

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On Friday morning, we got up early, had breakfast and made our way to Versailles! Again, an amazing sight! Long lines, croweded as hell, but oh so worth it!

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The craziest thing – this is the off season. We kept remarking at how crowded this would have been if it were the Spring or Summer!

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While in Versailles, we picked up a little something special and then headed back to Paris!

Once in Paris, we decided to have lunch, rest up, and get ready for our trip back up to Montmartre.

We both agreed, a midnight ride on the metro from there was NOT going to do it for us, so we opted for Uber. Best decision yet!

We made our way to MY absolute favorite site – Moulin Rouge!

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THIS was the easiest experience of them all! Uber: Tapped the app – 2 minutes later we got a ride. $15 total and 20 minute ride. Got out – went straight to the ticket office, exchanged our voucher, made our way over and BOOM were seated.

OH… Moulin Rouge was EVERYTHING this former dancer ever dreamed of! Sparkly, red, dazzling – I can’t think of enough fantastic descriptive words! Not to mention, the incredible art work by Toulouse Lautrec on the walls!

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The show was marvelous and the champagne- DIVINE!

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Again – Uber tap, 1 minute 30 seconds later he was there. We made it home in 15 minutes for $15. Boom and done.

And thus ends our experience. We flew home in 11 hours and life is back to normal.

Except, this time I am his wife. And this time, I have seen those places I have always wanted to see. And this time… Paris is in my blood.

And just know:

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