Surprise! I Went to China for a Week!

I just did the most spontaneous thing of my whole life- I went to China for a week. 

If you had told me this time last month that I’d go to China in a few short weeks, I would have laughed at you. After all, I have school! I have classes and exams! Traveling is expensive!

Now why in the world would I be so spontaneous, especially since spontaneity is not really a trait I possess? How and why did I go to China?fullsizeoutput_654Well, my boyfriend (news, I know!) decided to study abroad in Shanghai. Not too long ago he asked if I wanted to come visit him at the beginning of October because he had a week off school due to a national Chinese holiday. It sounded like an incredible experience. However, I thought, “No way!” at first for the reasons listed above (cost and school). Then I told my mom that I was invited to visit China and she said that I HAD to go if my professors were cool with it… because going to China is a once in a lifetime opportunity. I talked to my professors and, believe it or not, they said I should go to China! I’d be missing an exam in one class… the professor just said I could make it up when I got back and asked if I would see the Great Wall!

The next hurdle was cost, and it turns out tickets to Shanghai in October are relatively cheap ($650 round trip!!). I weighed my options of going versus not going, my overpowering thought being, “When else am I ever going to go to China if I don’t go now!?”

With that in mind, I decided to go for it. I booked my ticket, got my (expedited) Visa, and got ready to TRAVEL TO CHINA.fullsizeoutput_62d

Day 1-ish: Friday/ Saturday/ Sunday

My family drove to Chicago Friday evening, we spent the night, and then they dropped me off at the airport for my 13.5 hour journey while they had a day of fun at the Field Museum. Half a book, a nap, and three movies later I arrived on the other side of the world. It was late afternoon Sunday in the giant city of Shanghai, even though I left the USA early Saturday morning. My boyfriend, Elliott, was waiting at the airport for me and it was lovely to see him. We stayed in the heart of Shanghai, at a hotel in the World Financial Center, for the first two nights (above: the view from the room). We had an early night the first night- we just dined at the hotel restaurant overlooking the city lights.

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Day 2: Monday

We woke up around 9 and took the subway (just like NYC!) to the Jing’an Buddhist Temple, stopping for breakfast on the way. The menu was in Chinese but had pictures, so we basically just pointed at what looked good and hoped we got something we liked. I got veggie dumplings… which came with caviar on top (that I picked off). They were not my favorite, but I’m all about trying the local cuisine.fullsizeoutput_623fullsizeoutput_62a

The temple was so ornate. We explored the many prayer rooms and fountains. Afterwards we subwayed to the “fake” market underneath the Museum of Science and Industry where we “haggled” for goods. We tired ourselves out with some walking, then went back to the hotel for a nap. We had an early dinner at a restaurant called The Blue Frog inside the Financial Center (“The Applebees of China,” according to a review). I had the veggie platter obviously. Then we wandered around and saw the Oriental Pearl Tower, a crazy-looking radio tower built by a Chinese architect. I was amazed at the amount of greenery throughout the city: there are planters and trees everywhere!

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Day 3: Tuesday

We woke up and taxied to the train station for an 11 am train to Beijing for a 2.5 day adventure there. I tried my first “hot Asian bun” in the station, a savory vegetable mixture inside a more-bready-than-I-thought bun. It was so much better than I thought it would be… like it was amazing. We finally arrived in Beijing after a 5 hour ride. It was colder there (55 degrees F) but the sky was blue and sunny. We taxied to our fancy hotel, the Rosewood, unpacked, and checked out the Sanlitun district for shopping and dinner.

We snagged some authentic Vietnamese cold noodles at Saigon Mama then stopped at a rooftop bar called Cantina Agave. I highly recommend checking Sanlitun out if you go to Beijing. You don’t really have to worry about food/ drink safety here as the area is geared toward Westerners. Plus great food and dope buildings.fullsizeoutput_607fullsizeoutput_61e

Day 3: Wednesday

fullsizeoutput_61fWe woke up at 7 and gorged ourselves on the hotel breakfast bar. I tried all the fruit, watermelon juice, a walnut bun, fried potatoes, roasted tomatoes, and sautéed rosemary mushrooms. Elliott got Asian buns, eggs Benedict, pastries, and more. Then we met a guide at 8 and took a car to the GREAT WALL OF CHINA (the Mutianyu section). It was a 2 hour ride and the wall itself was quite crowded because of Golden Week (which celebrates the founding of the People’s Republic of China) this week so everyone was on vacation. We walked some steep steps up to the “walking part” of the Wall. The view was incredible, of both the Wall and the surrounding mountains. I can’t believe how long the wall is too- around 13,170 miles total!

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We took a cable car down the mountainside, then the car back to Beijing. We spent Wednesday evening wandering around the streets of the Dongcheng(?) district, a maze of shops and eateries. We got dinner at a questionably sanitary spot, and I ate some icky (what I thought were noodles but turned out to be) mushrooms. Definitely the grossest food I ate on the trip. Afterwards we went back to the Sanlitun district for dessert because we liked it so much.

Day 4: Thursday

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We woke up around 9 and went to the convenient hotel breakfast. The buffet was a little different today: they had rosemary roasted potatoes and mushrooms, a tomato chickpea stew, fruit, and more. From there we traversed to the Temple of Heaven and walked around there for a few hours before heading to the Hongqiao Pearl Market to haggle for souvenirs.

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The exploring continued after with a trip to Tian’anmen Square. We walked around the Square to Quianman Street, where we stumbled upon an ENTIRELY VEGAN restaurant! I had no idea before walking in that this would be my favorite food spot on the whole trip. We split the most incredible dumplings (green ones filled with some sort of coleslaw thing and white ones filled with veggies), a noodle stir fry (bottom left picture), a veggie eggplant curry, and “spare ribs” (veggie “meat” with peppers and sauce smothering FRENCH FRIES, bottom right picture). It was FANTASTIC.

We burned some of the calories we consumed by walking to and around the Wangfujing shopping district, which seems similar to the Times Square area of New York City with its bright lights and swarms of people. We went back to the hotel around 8:30 and I did homework (since I’m ditching class) before going to bed early.

Day 5: Friday

We had to wake up at 5:30 am for our 8 am train ride back to Shanghai. I tried some wasabi crunchy pea things while Elliott had some questionable ramen noodles in the train station. After the long ride, we checked into our new hotel then wandered around the “French Concession” area next door.fullsizeoutput_6dc

We stopped for lunch at Element Fresh, a chain of fresh food restaurants started by an American guy in China. I got a vegetarian Pad Thai which ended up coming with rice and a delightfully warming pumpkin soup. This was probably my second favorite meal of the trip behind the vegan place. We walked around some more then stopped for dinner at The Refinery, also in the French quarter. It was an enjoyable last night together.IMG_1808

Day 6: Saturday

fullsizeoutput_668My last day in China… SAD! We woke up and went to the breakfast buffet at the hotel. Then we subwayed to the Yuyuan Gardens, where we squeezed through the crowd to buy souvenirs. After bumping into too many people, we went back to the hotel and literally just sat around until I had to leave for my afternoon flight. I was sad to leave but happy to have been blessed with such a fun experience! I arrived home to my family around 10 pm Saturday night after a LONG day of traveling (12.5 hour flight from Shanghai to Chicago, 4 hour layover in Chicago, 1 hour flight home). What a week. Now it’s back to reality… and organic chemistry!

xx Ellie

Question: Have you ever missed school or work to travel? Where did you go?

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Fall Travel Essentials

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The temperature is decreasing in fall, and with these colder winds comes an itch to leave, to fly away somewhere warmer and summery. At least that’s how the birds and I both feel. As much as I like this crisp season full of everything pumpkin and falling leaves, I miss summer and crave warmth like you wouldn’t believe.

I don’t have any plans to travel THIS fall except to go to my real home for Thanksgiving break, but that’s only an hour away. However, I made a list of my fall travel essentials for those of you ready to jet off to somewhere exciting. Check out my travel advice and carry-on essentials, and let me know where you’re off to on your next adventure!

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Travel Advice:

  • Wear comfy clothing that you can sleep and relax in. My favorite travel clothes are leggings, a graphic t-shirt, and a sweatshirt. The pants from Betabrand are also great to travel in, and they have options from cute travel jeans to yoga pants.
    • Remember to keep in mind the temperature of the place you’re traveling to so you’ll be prepared clothing-wise when you land.
  • Wear layers. The temperature in an airport can be hotter than the sun or colder than Antartica within the same hour . Wearing layers allows you to be comfortable at any temperature by either taking clothes off or putting them on.
  • Bring a carry-on neck pillow so you can sleep more comfortably in the airport or on the plane.
  • Bring a carry-on backpack full of travel essentials.
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Some travel essentials: a comfy sweatshirt, granola bars, a journal and writing utensils, a water bottle, hand sanitizer, and comfy tennis shoes.

Here’s what’s in my carry-on backpack:

  • an extra pair of clothing just in case my suitcase gets lost: a pair of pants, a t-shirt, and undergarments.
  • activities for the plane
    • paperback books
    • my phone and headphones
    • journal and pens to write all about my travel experiences so I can share them on the blog! Check out my travel log on my trip to Guatemala here and my Asia trip log here.
  • snacks
    • granola/ granola bars
    • nuts
    • dried fruit
  • mini hand sanitizer
  • lip balm and lotion because planes are SO DRY
  • a water bottle
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Can you tell I like LÄRABARS?

Want ideas of what to pack in your suitcase? Look here! Want more travel advice, especially about traveling on a special diet (like veganism)? Look here!

Good luck with your fall travel! Where are you going, or where would you like to go this fall?

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Summer Snapshots

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Guess what!? Today was my FIRST DAY of SCHOOL! And not just any school… college! I am attending Michigan State University this fall as a freshman.

I moved in this past Sunday, and have been getting settled in and ready for classes since. I’ve also been making friends of course! It’s strange being at college. Even though I went to two classes this morning, it still feels like summer… like I’m just at camp or orientation and will be home next week. But now “home” is university! I have a dorm room. I have a room mate (her name is Emma and she is super sweet!). I have a meal plan! Which means I don’t get to cook or bake my own food anymore, which is kind of strange. Some dorms have kitchens though, so I think I’ll have to find a friend in one of those dorms to bake with since I don’t have a kitchen in mine. 😉

Anyway, college is very different but pretty good so far. I felt kind of out of place the first night I moved in but it’s gotten better every day. Have you been to college before? If so, where and how was it??

Even though my school has started, it’s still TECHNICALLY summer so I though that today I’d share some snapshots from earlier in the summer with you. They relate to a recipe that I’ll be sharing on the blog this weekend. Key word: LAVENDER. 100_8647.jpgAt the end of July, my mom and I decided to take a mother/ daughter road trip to Brys Estate and their “Secret Garden,” aka a lavender and blueberry farm. It was a nice secluded location in the ring finger peninsula of Michigan (see map).


We walked around lavender fields, picked blueberries, and enjoyed refreshments– lavender lemon ice cream for my mom and lavender lemonade for me. It was a pleasant afternoon with my favorite person!

Here are the “summer snapshots” of the trip. Enjoy!100_8516

100_8531100_8621100_8657Above are pictures of some of the plants sold at the farm, as well of pictures of the lavender field. 100_8550.jpgWe packed a lunch of peanut butter &jELLIE to enjoy at one of the property’s many picnic tables.

You could cut your own lavender! We didn’t- we just enjoyed looking at it.

From top left, clockwise: 1) the inside of the secret garden’s store (white building in the third picture). 2 ) & 3) the store was stocked with goodies made from blueberry and lavender from the farm, like laundry satchels (2), lavender s’mores bundles, and blueberry jam (3). We bought some cooking lavender. 4) The store had specialty ice cream, made in northern Michigan, with their products in it. The lemon lavender ice cream my mom got had Secret Garden lavender in it!

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Above, enjoying lavender lemonade from the shop.

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My mom and I each picked a quart of beautiful blueberries- YUM!

100_8603100_8652.jpgCute quotes marked the ends of each lavender row. I loved them, especially this quote!100_8659100_8532An impromptu little photo shoot between the lavender rows with my mom! Miss you, momma!


I hope you have a wonderful end of the summer! If you are in school, or are teaching school, have you started? If not, when do you start back up again? See you this weekend for a lil’ lavender recipe! 🙂

xx Ellie

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chicago Recap (part 2)

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Welcome to part two of my Chicago trip recap! PLEASE read part 1 of the trip HERE before continuing so you get the whole trip lowdown!

Okay so Chi-town part 2…

Saturday: 

**Today was the day that my friend Emily and I didn’t eat “real” (healthy) food for 24 hours. Because we’re almost adults and we can eat what we want!

I woke up and worked out in the hotel gym, then Emily and I sauntered over to Do-Rite Donuts to find- you guessed it- donuts! I got their only vegan donutlemon, and it was better than I expected! It was a baked donut, so it tasted like lemon cake. Yum. Emily got a vanilla bean glazed donut and a gluten free cinnamon donut.

We worked off our donuts afterwards by walking to the Maggie Daley Children’s Park, where we climbed up towers and slid down slides like the five year olds we are at heart.

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After that excursion, we ambled along the shoreline to Navy Pier, where we people-watched and enjoyed Ben & Jerry’s from the scoop shop. I got their VEGAN flavor, Peanut Butter & Cookies! It was to-die-for.

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Happy because of vegan ice cream!!

After that excursion, we walked back to Millenium Park and Emily saw “the bean” for the first time, a Chicago landmark and mirrored statue in the shape of a bean.

After we finished being touristy, we decided to shop some more and get a snack. I tried matcha iced tea for the first time at Argo Tea, which was quite refreshing.

Then we found dinner at a pizza place called Bar Toma that Emily heard was good. I asked if they had vegan options, and they said they could make their pizzas vegan by omitting the cheese on top. We split a small spinach & garlic pizza, but got half of it with cooked brussels sprout shavings instead of cheese for me.

IMG_2656The pizza was basically crust, a lemon zest/ garlic/ oil sauce, spinach, and brussels sprouts/ cheese. It was okay- it needed a lot more sauce. It was just what I needed at the time though, since before dinner I’d only eaten sweets the entire day. I literally hadn’t eaten a “healthy” meal since dinner the night before, which is a record for me! 

After dinner, we walked back to our hotel and collapsed into bed. We walked a lot throughout the day- like 12 or more miles!

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One of the attractions we walked past was the beautiful Chicago river!

Sunday:

Sunday was the day I was most looking forward to throughout the trip, and it did not disappoint. I started the day with a workout, and then we walked over to Meli Café for brunch. I chose Meli because it had a full-page vegan menu, as well as many non-vegan items for Emily. I decided on the carrot coconut pancakes, which turned out to be fluffy, fresh, and cinnamon-y cakes of delight.

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Emily got the Eggs, Toast, & Potatoes breakfast, which was toast, two (“really good,” according to her) scrambled eggs, and baby red potatoes.

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No one ever sees the AFTERmath of the meal! I felt so accomplished and SO FULL after eating all the pancakes. 

After breakfast we went to the hotel, packed up our stuff, and went to Lolla. As soon as we got into the festival on Sunday, we high-tailed it to see all the bands below…

  • Låpsley– highlights were “Operator” and “Hurt Me.” She was okay live- there was a lot of technology involved in her performance (like a voice changer) which I didn’t like. Em and I were in the third row for this show which was cool.
  • Oh Wonder (OW), aka the most WONDERful band ever (see what I did there?)- highlights were “Dazzle,” “Without You,” “Landslide,” and “Technicolour Beat…” but I love all of their songs! Can you tell OW is my favorite band? This was my second time seeing them live. While they were amazing as always, I liked the first time I saw them better just because I was closer (third row!) and there was a talkback after the concert. Give them a listen because I love them- plus they are such cute and nice people.

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After this we got food. Em got a lot of ice cream and I got a popsicle for lunch. When in Chicago, right¿?

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  • We stumbled upon the tail end of Marian Hill and I immediately liked them. So good, so soulful, and so much saxophone. 😉 Highlight was “I Want You.” I recommend listening to the duo when you’re feeling funky.
  • Years & Years– another band we stumbled upon that I fell in love with. SUCH a fun concert with such great, soulful, poppy music! I recommend listening to “Desire” if you’re feeling upbeat or “Eyes Shut” if you want a slower song.
  • Halsey– I love Halsey’s music, so I loved this concert! She was fabulous live. Highlights include “Castle,” “Hold Me Down,” and “Blue.”
  • AURORA– I first discovered AURORA this winter, and have loved her ethereal, upbeat music ever since. I was so excited that I got to see her live since she lives in Norway. Song highlights include “Running with the Wolves” and “Conquerer.”

Dinner time! Emily got deep dish pizza and I got a SPICY black bean tamale and an apple.

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  • Flume (a famous DJ)- this concert was okay- I wouldn’t call it a true concert though because he (Flume) wasn’t singing! He was just DJ-ing with his computer. I like live music with actual singers much better. The music was fun to dance to, though.
  • Ellie Goulding– aka possibly my favorite concert I went to at Lolla. She was AMAZING LIVE- OMG. I liked her before seeing her thanks to hearing some of her more famous songs on the radio, but now I know more of her songs and LOVE her music and and her (did you know she’s vegan?)! I am proud to share my name with her. 😉 Song highlights for Ellie’s concert were “Army,” “Don’t Panic,” and “Aftertaste.”

After Lolla, we walked back to the hotel, ate some food, and went to bed. An overall good day.

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Us right before the Ellie Goulding concert started!

Monday:

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I got the only vegan donut from Stan’s Donuts and it was SO DANG GOOD. It was a yeast-raised ring topped with granulated sugar and it tasted like a Krsipy Kreme Donut. 

Monday morning I worked out (surprise), we packed up, ate donuts from Stan’s Donuts, and drove back up north with Emily’s mom. It was a boring day compared to the others.


I hope you had fun reading my little trip recap! It was strange but fun to be on a trip with no parents- just me and my best friend. Have you ever been to Lollapalooza or a music festival similar to it? Have you been to Chicago? Tell me all about it in the comments if so!

Thanks for reading- it means a lot!

xx Ellie

P.s.- I’ll be back on Friday for some summer snapshots, then on Sunday for a wonderful bread recipe you might have seen on my Instagram story. 😉 Yay for sneak peaks!

Chicago Recap (part 1)

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A few weeks ago I went to a music festival in Chicago called Lollapalooza! My BFF Emily and I spent two days at the festival and two days wandering around downtown Chicago.


Friends and I drove from northern Michigan to Chicago on Wednesday evening, then we spent the night at their house. We stopped at Panera Bread on the way, which surprisingly had a few vegan options! I ordered the Mediterranean salad minus cheese.

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Thursday:

We got up, ate breakfast (I brought pumpkin date scones), got ready, and went to day one of Lollapalooza!

Here’s what Lollapalooza, or Lolla for short, is like: lots of people, and therefore lots of good people-watching. Lots of smoke. Lots of alcohol (which we refrained from). Lots of noise, from people and from instruments. Lots of standing. Lots of food. It’s a festival of plenty.

We had to wait in line for about fifteen minutes to get our bags searched to get into the festival, and in line, we noticed people from all over the U.S., as well as multiple drunk people- and it was only 2 pm.

When we got into the festival, we scurried from one concert to the next. Emily and I saw…

  • Melanie Martinez– highlights were “Dollhouse” and “Cake.” She was great live! It was a wonderful concert with which to open my first festival experience*.I highly recommend listening to her upbeat, spunky music- keep in mind though that she does swear quite a bit.
  • Bastille– highlights were “Good Grief” and “Pompeii” (of course). We were pretty far away, but it was still fun to listen to this British band. They were also great live.

*It rained during the Melanie Martinez concert, then just as we were finally dry at the Bastille concert it POURED. If you go to a festival, be prepared for all weather! Here’s Emily and I right before we were poured upon at Bastille.

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  • Daughter– we didn’t stay too long at this one because even though I like Daughter, their music is pretty slow and not the best to jam out to… which is what we wanted to do. I prefer listening to their music in the winter or while I’m doing something pretty “low key,” like editing pictures.
  • The 1975– highlights were “The Sound,” “Chocolate,” and “She’s American.” The lead singer, Matty, had so much energy and was such a great performer as he was very expressive and good at singing live**! I recommend listening to their music- at any time.

**Oh yeah, we witnessed a random girl peeing in the middle of the crowd during the 1975 concert. She literally just lifted up her dress and started peeing in the grass while everyone around her stepped away from her as quickly as they could. Note to everyone at music festivals- if you have to pee, please either hold it or leave. We don’t want to watch you do your business. K thanks!! Below is the 1975 concert. 

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  • a random DJ, which was fun to dance (specifically dab) to. Do you have a favorite dance move? I love dabbing.
  • J. Cole- we didn’t know any of his songs… but it was basically just swear word after swear word. Haha.
  • Lana Del Ray– like Daughter, this was a slower concert so it wasn’t the best show to end the night on. However, it was fun to sing along to some of her well-known songs such as “Summertime Sadness” and “Young and Beautiful.”

After the festival, we went back to our friends’ house, ate some food (I’m surprised at how hungry I was post-concert), and went to bed.

By the way, the food at the concert was pretty tasty and reasonably priced (for a big city)! Emily and I split the BEST FRIES I’ve ever had in my entire life- (vegan!) Triple Truffle Fries from the Franks ‘n Dawgs food booth. Basically the best $6 ever spent.

I also got a $3 mango popsicle that was very fruity and good. I was super healthy on Thursday (NOT). Heh.

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Friday

We woke up and explored Bucktown, the Chicago neighborhood where our friends live. We stopped in a few shops and ate Miko’s Italian ice, which was quite good. I tried mango and strawberry, and the cold treat was very smooth and fruity.

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Then Emily and I took the “L” train downtown to a hotel since our friends were heading back up north. It started raining, so we spent the rest of the day eating food and wandering around shops (ZARA, Topshop, Sephora, Urban Outfitters, Books-a-Million, Target, etc.). I also squeezed in a workout at the hotel.

We tried Native Foods Café, an entirely VEGAN CHAIN restaurant, for lunch thanks to a recommendation via Instagram. It was so nice to be able to pick whatever I wanted on the menu!!

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Our lunch experience was great. You go up to the counter and order like at fast food restaurants, but our food was delivered to our table unlike at fast food restaurants. The food was kind of expensive ($28 for 2 meals and a dessert to share), but the portions were HUGE and the food was healthy, vegan, and tasty so it was WORTH IT.

I got the Bangkok Curry Bowl because I was curious about the “tofu steak” advertised as being in it. While the tofu in the bowl didn’t end up being much like real steak, the meal was still good. The bowl, which was basically two servings, was full of steamed veggies, kale, brown rice, tofu, and coconut milk red curry.

Emily ordered the Thai Meaitball Bowl, Seitan “meatballs” tossed with mango-lime chili sauce on a bed of quinoa, kale, and other vegetables. Both meals were good, but I think next time I’ll try the soul bowl (fried “chicken” and beans, rice, veggies, ranch, BBQ sauce, and cornbread) or a burger.

For dessert, we split the peanut butter parfait, creamy peanut butter mousse topped with banana bread crumbles and chocolate chips. I have to recreate it because it was so good!

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It cleared up weather-wise right before dinner, so Emily and I decided to walk around downtown to find a good place to eat. Not the best idea. Moral of the story is to figure out where you want to eat beforehand. We walked for more than an HOUR and couldn’t find a restaurant we wanted to eat at, so we finally went back to the hotel and asked the concierge for a restaurant recommendation. We ended up going to the Marq, a somewhat fancy restaurant about a block from our hotel, since we were tired of walking. Service was fast, which was good because we were hungry!

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Emily ordered the Mediterranean salad and I got the Watermelon Farro Salad (minus cheese) because I was curious as to how watermelon would taste in a salad. Answer? Good! The salad was quite refreshing as it consisted of farro, watermelon, corn, edamame, basil, and a sriracha lime vinaigrette. After dinner we went back to the hotel and crawled into bed so we’d be ready for another full day of adventure.


I’ll be back tomorrow morning with part two of my trip! I had to split the post into two parts because I take too many pictures and use too many words. 😉

xx Ellie

Guatemala: Part 3, Adventures and Goodbyes

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This is the final recap to a fun-filled trip to The Yoga Forest (TYF), a yoga retreat in Guatemala. I want to go back to Guatemala right now, especially since it’s 80 degrees F there and 45 degrees F here! For now, though, I’ll have to fondly remember the trip through these recap posts and dream of going back someday.

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Catch up on the first part of the trip with recap #1 and recap #2!! Then book a ticket to Guatemala because it’s nice and warm there!

Sunday, Day 5

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I tried meditation this morning without mom. It went a little better. Then Mom and a few others joined the meditation gang for yoga. After yoga was the standard breakfast. Man, I miss the breakfast food there in general.

100_7776After breakfast, there was a temple dance at TYF, but Mom and I’d had enough of dancing what with contact dance and all so we decided to take a trip to another town on the banks of Lake Atitlán- Panajachel. Another guest from TYF, Melissa from Los Angeles (CA), came with us. We walked down the mountain to San Marcos, then took a small boat from the San Marcos dock to Pana.

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100_7948The bumpy ride took about half an hour, and it was 20 Q per person for a ride (which is about $2.50 U.S.). We saw an active volcano on the way there! It had smoke coming out of it and everything. It was dope.

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Vendors immediately started trying to sell us their wares as soon as we stepped off the boat and onto the dock. We did our best to turn them down, then walked down the street to the main market area of town. Town was fun and lively with tuk-tuks and a lot of shops, market stalls, and restaurants. We slowly strolled down the main street, looking for the best souvenirs to buy.

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We stopped at Chinitas, a Guatemalan/ Asian restaurant, for lunch based on a recommendation we’d gotten. I tried a horchata, rice milk and cinnamon in a glass with ice. I was curious to try it since Melissa said it tasted like liquid oatmeal. It was tasty and refreshing. The adults got alcoholic beverages (a margarita and a mojito) since booze is banned at TYF.

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Food-wise, I tried a traditional Guatemalan green cilantro sauce-filled dish with potatoes, carrots, and tofu with tortillas. It was okay. It didn’t compare to the fab food at TYF, that’s for sure! Mom tried a Cambodian salad with pineapple, rice noodles, and grilled tofu.

We shopped more for souvenirs after lunch. We haggled with multiple vendors for the best prices (always go with half of what they offer you, and you can always walk away). We left Pana at 4:15 with a pair of earrings for my mom, a patterned purse for me, a patterned purse for my cousin,  a woven pillow and table runner, three painted wooden trays, a painted pottery pitcher for my grandma, two t-shirts for my brother, a smiley face hat for my dad, and yarn friendship bracelets for the kids we tutor.

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We saw many different places, people, souvenirs, and events. One of the stranger things we saw was a typewriting class in progress! This woman is learning how to type.

We took the choppy ride back to TYF. We switched rooms when we got back so Mom and I had our own rooms! Then we had a flavorful and extremely filling dinner of roasted cauliflower with ground cashew “cheese,” roasted eggplant, spicy green beans, olive oil herb potatoes, a tomato-pepper sauce, and a hearty salad. We hung out in our rooms until lights out at 9 PM.

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Monday, Day 6 (our last full day!)

We woke up to a gorgeous view of the sunrise.

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Then we went to our last vinyasa class at the Forest taught by TYF owner. We savored our final breakfast and packed toast with peanut butter for Tuesday’s breakfast on the road.

We journaled, read, and relaxed after breakfast until lunch on a sunny hill.

Our final lunch was…

  • the most beautiful salad I’ve ever seen, full of blackberries, raspberries, and EDIBLE FLOWERS!
  • peanut noodles with broccoli and carrot
  • dill sauerkraut made by TYF yoga teachers

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After lunch, we went into town on a mission- to get a block of raw cacao from this cacao-obsessed dude named Keith who lives in San Marcos. We got the cacao brick (that we’ll end up baking with), as well as a brownie for mom and kombucha for both of us. We also went to a little health foods store and got some chocolate as a way to spend the rest of our Quetzals (Q).

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Where we bought the cacao. 

We rushed back up to TYF when we were done shopping to make it to the 4 pm yoga class only to find out that there was no 4 pm yoga that day because there were not enough people to have class (only three of us). Bummer! We felt spoiled to be able to attend two yoga classes each day, so missing one wasn’t the hugest deal. We did our own class instead, then read until dinner.

Our last supper (sorry to be so dramatic) was salad with mango, nuts, and coconut + rice in vegetables in a special sauce. After dinner, one of the yoga teachers said he could give me a concoction that would reduce the swelling in my ankle. He brought me into the small kitchen and showed me how to mix together turmeric, black pepper, and coconut oil. Then he made me eat the concoction he made. It was DISGUSTING. I cringe just thinking about it now. BUT. Tuesday morning I woke up and the swelling in my ankle was reduced by half so the nasty mix definitely worked!

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After this, we said our goodbyes to everyone at TYF as we were leaving at 6:15 AM the next morning. It has been so fun to meet people from all over who share our love of yoga and good vegetarian food! I miss TYF. I guess I’ll just have to go back! 🙂

We went back to our rooms, packed, and got ready to leave. We went to bed early so we’d be well-rested for our impending LONG day of travel.

Tuesday (homeward bound)

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We woke up at 5:45 and got dressed and ready to go. We had to lug our bags down to San Marcos (it was easier than dragging them up but it still wasn’t the highlight of the trip). Then we met the same shuttle driver that brought us to TYF, and he drove us to Guatemala City. We ate breakfast and slept in the car. We spent the rest of the day commuting from Guatemala City to Atlanta to our hometown. It was a long day, but all the travel we did to get to and from The Yoga Forest was worth it.The sickness my mom and I got the day after we got home that lasted for a week was also worth it (as horrible as it was).

All in all, our spring break was filled with high ups and looooow downs, but it was a great experience that I was happy to share with my BFF (my mom).

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I hope you’ve had fun reading my travelogue and that I’ve inspired you to travel to Guatemala!

xx Ellie

Questions for you: What did you do for spring break if you had one? Where is the most tropical place you’ve ever traveled? Have you ever been on a yoga retreat before? 

 

Guatemala: Part 2, Exploring San Marcos and Enjoying Pizza

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Happy May and welcome to part 2 of the recap of my fabulous adventure to Guatemala! Sidenote: fabulous is my adjective of choice at the moment.

Part 1 is here if you want to or need to catch up.

Let’s dive in, just like I’m sure you want to dive into that clear blue water in the picture above. Actually you don’t since Lake Atitlán is filled with waste water from toilets and such that people dump into it. ICK.

ANYWAY.

Day 3

We woke up to the sound of a very loud, very repetitive gong. Meditation time. We decided to try it. Key word: TRY.

I had really bad allergies for about half the trip (due to volcanic ash and fog). I write this because I was really feeling them during meditation so the deep breathing of meditation was difficult. About half way through meditation, my mom laid down… so I decided to follow her lead. This caused my mom to crack up, so I started cracking up, and because we knew how inappropriate it was to laugh while meditating we decided to laugh even harder (??). We FAIL. At least we didn’t fail the yoga class after meditation! I was the most focused I’ve ever been in a yoga class thanks to the meditation, and I actually fell asleep during shavasana for the first time ever!

After yoga, we enjoyed multiple servings of the usual breakfast100_7512100_7505

Then Mom, Katie (our friend from contact dance), and I walked down the mountain to the nearby town of San Marcos. San Marcos was pretty small (there are only a few streets), and a lot of people speak English since the town is populated with expats from English-speaking countries like the United States and Australia.

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We walked around and ended up at a smoothie shop where we split a mango/ coconut/ lucama/ macadamia nut mylk smoothie. We also went into a place that makes their very own kombucha (probiotic drink) and got some! It was yummy, and great for our bellies.

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We walked back up to TYF for a lunch of veggie curry, veggie stew, rice, corn tortillas, and salad.

After lunch, I hung out on the hammock on the deck of our room. P1270346

Then we went to town again to get dessert since there isn’t much of it at TYF and WE NEED DESSERT! I savored a deliciously rich (vegan!) chocolate tart with an oat base, a creamy banana filling, and a silky smooth chocolate topping from a local restaurant and hostel (Circles) for 20 Q (Guatemalan currency- 20 Q is about 3 US $). Mom got a non-vegan chocolate macadamia nut brownie. 100_7598100_7602

We traversed back up to TYF when we finished our dessert for an acro yoga class! Acro yoga is balancing yoga with a partner. I was a “flyer” so I got to balance on the “base.” We did some cool poses like the ones below.

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P1270454This evening was awesome because first there was acro yoga and second… it was PIZZA night for dinner! The local kitchen staff made thin pizza crusts and sauces, but we got to assemble the pizzas and put whatever toppings we wanted on them! The sauces were tomato and pesto, while toppings were grilled zucchini, grilled eggplant, tomatoes, spinach, onion, mozzarella cheese, and homemade goat cheese made from the milk from the goats cared for by TYF! There was also a side dish of roasted potatoes, beets, carrots, and herbs (my FAVORITE).

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Putting personalized pizzas into the pizza oven!

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Some people also made a delectable dessert pizza with a peanut butter base and topped with plantain slices and raisins. Everyone shared the pizzas while they listened to the live music (drumming and singing) performed by TYF staff. It was such a fun night.

Day 4

My allergies were bugging me again, so Mom and I decided to skip meditation and just go to yoga. Right before class started, I needed to blow my nose (bc allergies). There were no tissues in the studio, so I ran to our room to get some… but on my way there, running down the steep steps, I twisted my right ankle inwards and fell down onto it and onto the stone step below. I heard a loud pop and then I could barely walk. But I ignored the woman who saw it happen and told me to sit down because class was starting in any minute. Instead, I hobbled to our room, grabbed tissues, and limped as fast as I could back to the pavilion where class was taking place. Then I participated in class. And found out after class that my ankle had swollen up. Good job, Ellie.

On the bright side, breakfast was fab and the view was finally clear enough to see the mountains across the lake!

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Above: One of the local chefs flipping bread for toast, as well as a picture of our typical breakfast.

After breakfast, Mom and I put on our bathing suits and worked on our tan until lunch (while wearing copious amounts of sunscreen of course). Lunch was leftovers from pizza night- toppings plus the potato/ beet/ carrot medley. After lunch we continued to relax in the sun, and then we went to restorative yoga from 4 to 5:30.

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Dinner after yoga was pad thai and salad with zucchini and cashews- delicious as usual. Dinner was always one of my favorite parts of the day at TYF since I loved learning more about others at the Forest… and the food rocked! I showered after dinner in the dark under the moon and the stars. I felt so outdoorsy and I loved it.

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Check back on Monday morning for the final recap! Much love!
xx Ellie