Reims, so far

We arrived on a Sat evening, and easily found our way to our AirBnB. This is our first time using the service, and its worked out brilliantly. The apartment is small (even smaller than my SF place) but well-designed, centrally located, and has everything we need (other than maybe an umbrella). Our host even left us a bottle of champagne to welcome us to Reims.

We grabbed a quick dinner at a nearby bistro. The vegetarian food was so-so, but the house champagne was excellent and the The German had a decent meal.

They have an incredible cathedral here, and our host let us know there was some kind of light show there that night. We wandered over after dark and it was unexpectedly great – there were multiple projectors casting imagery onto the cathedral itself. At times the cathedral looked like it was painted in oil paint, then it looked colourized, or sometimes there were scantily clad men pretending to work on it (that part was weird). All with dramatic music. Not bad for our first night.

The next day was Sunday and most shops are closed. Luckily, I did manage to find an open cheese shop. The cheesemonger spoke English and was very helpful recommending some local cheeses. We also bought The Best Butter Ever. Seriously. I didn’t think I cared much about butter but The German is a fan and the cheesemonger recommended it so we bought it. I don’t think I’ve ever had such flavourful butter before. I’m now officially a Butter Snob.

The cheesemonger recommended a bakery down the street that was open so we could get some baguettes. Neither of us speaks French and not many people speak English here, so its been fun negotiating things with my terrible tourist French and charades. That said, we still managed to purchase a pretty incredible baguette.

A similar transaction happened in a wine store just before it closed (whew!), and since it had been raining non-stop, we decided to hunker down in the apartment for the rest of the day. We basically ate bread, cheese, butter, and champagne for lunch and dinner, while making great use of the wifi for travel planning and Netflix.

Monday it was still raining but we needed to get out of the house (at least for more bread), so we went to check out the interior of the cathedral. It is certainly impressive.

Since the rain wasn’t letting up, we decided the wisest thing to do would be to head to a champagne cave. Taittinger is the only champagne house that doesn’t require advance reservations, so we decided to walk there and maybe find lunch on the way. However, most places are closed on Monday, and looking things up on Yelp & Foursquare didn’t help. So one hour later we were drenched and decided to skip food and go straight to champagne.

The Taittinger tour was very interesting (and thankfully we arrived in time for an English one). A few things I learned: in France you are required to pick grapes by hand – no machinery allowed. Also, Taittinger is one of the largest houses, and 70% of their sales are from their base champagne, which is of very high quality (as they tell you, over and over again).

The tour starts with a video that explains that only “champagne” comes from France (for those dumb Americans who don’t know that), how France is the best country in the world, and how Tattinger is amazing and better than all other champagnes ever. This was accompanied with footage of the Eiffel tower, snooty people drinking champagne, etc. The condescending video went on for about 10 minutes before we got to go into the cellars. Thankfully, it improved from there.

They have almost 300 hectacres of grapes, and the caves are in a 13th century abbey over 4th century chalk mines. So in other words, this place is serious about bubbly has some major history. All in all, the caves are pretty impressive – they are seriously old and very massive. Quite a difference from Napa. Our guide did a great job – it was the right amount of education and photo-taking before they took you to their very modern tasting room.

We paid for the tasting that got us the maximum number of glasses (duh – have you met me?). It started with their most popular champagne, the Brut. This really is a great glass of champagne. Then we had a choice – I went for the Rose and Stefan had the Brut Millisémé, which I have to admit was much better. The final glass was of their highest end bottle, the Comte de Champagne Blanc de Blanc (€120/bottle), which was just as amazing as the snooty intro video implied.

It was raining even harder when we left, so we took refuge in a champagne store on our way home, where a very helpful clerk recommended a few bottles for us. (Incidentally, prices at the champagne houses are actually more than the local stores.) I’ve been telling clerks “I like Krug, except for the price” and they’ve made great recommendations.

So in summary, we spent hours walking through the rain to drink champagne on an empty stomach, and it was glorious!

Sponsored by Betabrand

Being restricted to just one (reaonsably-sized) suitcase of clothing was the thing I was most anxious about as we prepared to leave. Not terrorism, not health insurance – clothing. It sounds ridiculous, I know, but I’m someone who enjoys having lots of options and having the perfect outfit for any occasion – whether that means a costume party, a fancy dinner, or just working out. I had to be very selective about what I brought with me, and so far, I’ve been pretty happy with my choices.

Which brings me to Betabrand… I’ve been a fan of the SF-based clothing company for many years now. Their clothes are designed with both form & function in mind, are generally very durable, and usually good value for the price. And the company has a cheeky sense of humour in everything they do.

I love how they engage with people… Not only are their emails very entertaining, but their Model Citizen photos showcase the creativity of their customers, and let you see how their clothing looks on a variety of people. They support indie designers by “crowd-funding” their designs – if enough people pre-purchase an item, they put it into production. Or if you have a vision for a garment, submit it to their Think Tank and they will help you turn it into a protytpe, and then a real product if enough people vote for it.

But I was really blown away when their founder published all the details about their Fly Away Program – they put all of their company purchases on a credit card account that collects miles, and then they use those miles to send an employee on a trip! How cool it that? And they think every company should be doing something like this, so they published all the details of exactly how they do it. This is a company that clearly cares about its employees as much as it does its customers.

So while I’m not officially sponsored by Betabrand, I am traveling with 6 pieces of their clothing (and have many more back in SF), so I’m obviously a fan. Not only do I love their merchandise but these are people who do innovative things with both their products and their internal operations, so I wanted to take a moment to sing their praises.

And if you’re curious about what I have with me, I’ve put details below. (I promise I’m not getting commission). Their products tend to be in fairly limited batches, so don’t drag your feet if you’re interested in something:

Travel Cargo Pants:
For long-haul flights, these are amazing! They feel like yoga pants, have a plethora of pockets, but look like normal trousers. The thigh pocket is the perfect size for my passport and was especially convenient in the airport. They are lightweight, stetchy, and waterproof. And they look good.

IMG_5123Grey Work-It Dress:
Again, yoga pants material, but its an adorable dress with pockets! (Yes ladies, pockets!) I’ve had this for years and the colour hasn’t faded and it never wrinkles. Plus the structure makes it very comfortable, but it still looks stylish.





360 Reversible Dress:
4 dresses in 1! You can wear it forwards and backwards, plus its reversible. And its a lightweight material that dries quickly, doesn’t take up much room in my suitcase, and looks cute!


Don’t Sweat It Top:
Another great travel essential – its warm but breathable. Perfect for airports where you seem to constantly be going from “too hot” to “too cold”. It has a cute, sporty look but the draping around the neck makes it a little more fashionable. Its odor-resistant and sweat-wicking, yet still cozy and soft.



Shopping for cheese on a rainy day in Reims

All-Day Coat:
I’ve gotten tons of compliments on this one – its a cozy coat that has breathable lining so you don’t get sweaty armpits. It has a hood and high collar if its very cold, and the snaps are biased towards the top of the coat so you have easy access to pants pockets. It has 2 large pockets (though full disclosure, I did lose a lip-gloss as the shape is a little shallow). It is perfect on freezing airplanes, and it means I can get away with mainly short-sleeved clothing since I can just throw this over any of my other outfits if its chilly. Plus, it was designed by a Project Runway competitor.

IMG_0435.jpgMiss Print Skirt:

No special features on this one – I just find it cute and comfortable. Its made from scraps of fabric, so each one is different.






And while I didn’t bring them with me as they are too bulky, I’m also a huge fan of their Vajamas, which are pajama pants that are fuzzy on both the inside and outside!

Why I Love London

We basically wound up with 24 hours in London before taking the train to Paris. My days of jet-setting in Business Class lay-flat seats are behind me, so we spent most of it in a jetlag-induced stupor…

I’ve always loved London, and here are a few reasons why:

  • People put some effort into what they wear, especially for work. Men are typically in jackets and often in suits, women are in nice outfits with structed handbags, usually with a full face of makeup. (This became painfully obvious as we took the tube from the airport during morning rush hour, where everyone looked clean and well-groomed while I hadn’t brushed my hair or teeth in almost 24 hours.)
  • London is such an international city and there are different languages or accents everywhere. And “where are you from?” is rarely a topic of conversation since people from all over the world live in London. Its just normal to have so much variety.
  • Indian food is amazing.  I have no idea why its so much better in London, but it is.  I’m guessing its similar to why is near impossible to get a good bagel on the West Coast.
  • The energy of the city is great.  It seems like there’s a buzz here that I didn’t get from SF. I don’t know if its because its such a large city, or if Londoners just have more energy, or maybe its because summer is just starting in London so everyone is frisky. Every pub seems like its overflowing with people by 5pm on Fridays – everyone is out with their friends, laughing and having fun.


That said, all of these thoughts came to me on a lovely Friday evening, when the temperature was around 70 and it was light until almost 10pm. I had to remind myself that the weather is miserable most of the year. Also, walking down a sidewalk is like an advanced game of Frogger (or Crossy Road, for the kids out there), which means I could never live near the West End or I’d go completely insane. So its not perfect… but I always enjoy being here.

Wifi Scavengers

So one of the challenges has been figuring out what to do about our phone plans (without spending a fortune on data roaming).

We’ve been in Europe less than 24 hours and we’ve already turned into wifi scavengers… We actually hung out for an 30 extra minutes in Heathrow baggage claim just to use their free wifi.

I really wanted to be reachable on a consistent phone number (at least until we go to Africa in August) so I’ve kept my AT&T contract and added their cheapest int’l plan. This only gives me 120MB of roaming data per month (and is still
costing $80), so I’m trying to be extra-conservative and just use it for things like maps, etc. In other words, I’ll be on Facebook a whole lot less.

Stefan is going to buy SIM cards everywhere we go. You can get a lot more data for less money that way, but his number will change every time, and he will need to buy a new one in every country. (And they are only good for 30 days). So in cases like now, where we are in London for only 24 hours, he has no service at all.

All of this adds up to us becoming ridiculously excited about wifi at cafes, airports, hotels, etc (or especially angry if a hotel’s wifi isn’t decent). You’d think it was on the same level as clean drinking water – that’s how worked up we get. It’s certainly an adjustment coming from our unlimited international data plans that were paid for by work.

I promise not to make fun of the people standing outside of Apple Stores at all hours to use the free, speedy wifi ever again. 🙂


Miami was a great final stop on our US roadtrip. I got to see my Aunt Debra, Uncle Rick and “Tanta Pam”, plus some of Pam’s family who I haven’t seen in many years.


Chili the Vizsla was kind enough to let us stay in her guest room. She has a large, beautiful home complete with a pool and live-in chef. When we weren’t spending ridicuolous amounts of time planning the next couple weeks of travel, Chili would take us swimming and have her chef make us some amazing meals.

My Uncle is also a great pilot and he took The German for a small tour of the Everglades in his open-cockpit Cub:

And while Uncle Rick can’t be beat in the kitchen, Debra held her own when it came to making cocktails:

The girls spent one afternoon at the zoo, despite the heat & humidity (which is oppressive at times). The zoo had some very active Harpy Eagles which were fascinating to watch, but feeding the giraffes was a definite highlight:

I always have fun with Rick, Debra and Pam and I only get to see them every few years, so this was a great way to end our trip. (Though we are certainly leaving a few pounds heavier, thanks to Rick’s cooking and all the fabulous champagne!)

All in all, the roadtrip was really great – we both got to see some new places, I got to see a lot of old friends, and it was nice to give The German a taste of the South. I’m glad this was how we started our adventure.

That said, we’re both also excited to not drive for a while, and slow down our pace of travel. So now we are headed to Europe, where our first stop will be a week in Reims, France.

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter

Chillin’ at Grimmauld Place…

I was super-excited to stop at Universal Studios Orlando for The Wizarding World of Harry Potter! If you are even remotely a fan, I highly, highly recommend it!

If you enter from Universal Studios, you can take in some sights from London, including Grimmauld Place, and the emptiest version of Leicester Square you’ve ever seen.




Chatting with the Knight Bus crew



All of the staff are extremely decidated to their roles – pretty much any interaction with anyone is going to be in character, from the Knight Bus Driver to the person serving ice cream at Florean Fortescue’s.









Then you basically walk through an unmarked passage into Diagon Alley… its absolutely like walking into the movie. Everyone turns the corner and stops, jaws dropped.  Then the next thing is to immediately start taking photos in every direction. Its truly a fantastic recreation.

People clearly had a lot of fun working on this…


There is so much thought and detail put into every aspect of the worlds:

The Owlry even has fake bird poop on it!

The frozen Butterbeer was my favourite – like a very rich cream soda slushy, with some buttery foam on top:


The most notable attraction in Diagon Alley was Escape from Gringotts.
The line for this ride takes you all through the Goblin bank, complete with very convincing Goblins, then you get on a coaster with 3D effects that recreates the escape from the bank sequence from the movie.

The lobby of Gringotts


From London, you can take the Hogwarts Express to the other part of the park. Just walking to the train is a lot of fun, as it departs from platform 9 3/4, of course! This is a charming train ride with some great effects to recreate some movie elements:

If your kids love trains, they will flip out.

Once you arrive at Hogwarts, there’s another huge environment to explore. The highlight of this one is the Forbidden Journey ride. They have faithfully recreated many rooms from Hogwarts that you walk through while in line:

All the portraits moved and spoke, of course.

Then the ride itself is an impressive tour through the films, including a Demeantor attack, a close pass with the Whomping Willow, and participating in a Quidditch match! The effects are incredibly convincing – it really felt like I was flying on a broom. I especially loved the Quidditch match. We went back and rode this one twice while the line was still short.

I’ve been to tour the film sets in London, which was also very cool but in a more academic sense. Universal has really done  an incredible job making it feel like you’re in the world of Harry Potter – it’s a very different experience.  I absolutely loved it.

If you are planning on going, here are a few tips:
• There aren’t discounted tickets to this park. If someone says they offer them, it will come with a 90 minute timeshare pitch.
• Staying on-resort will get you in one hour before the general public. This would be worth doing if the resort prices are reasonable. (Pretty much everyone in the park is in the Harry Potter section – it gets very crowded in the afternoon so having time before the park fills up is much nicer.)
• Express Passes aren’t usable for most of the Harry Potter rides, so bother buying one if that’s where you’re planning to spend most of your day.
• The parking lot is about 20-30 minutes walk from the park gates. I made us get there extra-early to ensure we’d be there the moment the gates opened.
• Go directly to the Harry Potter stuff as soon as the park opens. Lines for the two main rides get very long later in the day, so I recommend riding them first (before you walk around and take a million photos of all the environments).


It goes without saying that New Orleans is a lot of fun… I love the energey of the French Quarter, the warm weather, and the blues/bluegrass/jazz music coming out of every door or on every street corner.

I love the look of the French Quarter – we spent a lot of time just walking around and looking at all the cute buildings.

I really loved our accommodation – it was a building with a lot of history and charm, but still really comfortable. If you’re ever down there, I highly recommend the Olivier Guest House.

Perfect for a historic (and haunted) guest house in the French Quarter)

We basically spent our short stay eating and drinking the entire time. While we were having a drink in one of the oldest buildings on Bourbon St – Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop – the jukebox caught my eye:

You can take the girl out of Cupertino, but…

So I guess there is some new stuff in the historic French Quarter…

It felt great to have a couple days in the South – people are genuinely friendly on the street (without ultimately asking you for money like in SF), the pace is so relaxed, and even the muggy weather felt good to me. Though it wasn’t the same as Memphis, it was a nice little taste of the culture and energy that I grew up with.

5 Days in Texas


The landscape changed immediately once we hit Texas – we traded the impressive rocky landscape for wind farms, “nodding donkeys”, religious billboards and armadillo roadkill. (How do so many of these poor critters get run over? I’m surprised they aren’t extinct!)

Our first night was in Lubbock, which was a good stopping point on the way to Austin. Lubbock makes quite a bit of wine (who knew?) so we decided to try out a local tapas place run by a local wine producer. It was a cute little spot called La Diosa with cozy couches, mis-matched chairs, queso that included artichokes (surprisngly delicious) and excellent sangria.

We decided to Uber there since we were both exhausted from the 7 hours of driving. On the way home, our college-aged driver was having a tough time finding us since it wasnt a bar he knew. When I described it to him, he declared it was “a fancy one”, which is really laughable by SF standards.

The next day we made it to Austin where we spent a couple days visitng my folks, washing everything we own, and using their excellent wifi. When we weren’t busy doing laundry, we spent most of the time drinking wine and/or playing rummy cube.

I also went to one of my mom’s Jazzercize classes… I turned it into a decent workout by incorporating jump-squats at one point and doing every high-impact moification I could think of. I am really missing my Zumba class and Zumba crew! I hope once we get to Europe I can start taking classes again.

We made sure Stefan got some BBQ and some Tex Mex, and had a great view of Lake Travis before the rain hit.

Overlooking Lake Travis

The next day we did a whirlwind tour of Houston to see some of my favourite folks… First up was Ben, who I went to high school with in Memphis. We were super-close… we drove to
school every day singing Pixies at the top of our lungs, hung out on weekends, passed notes between classes. I’ve only seen him a couple times since I left Memphis, but it always makes me smile to hear from him and makes me even happier when I get to see him. He’s my link to my Southern roots, and it makes me nostalogic and sappy and warms my heart to get to see him. I finally got to meet his wife, Jennifer,  who is just as lovely as I imagined. They both seem to be happy and doing well in Houston.


Alana, Ajax & Justin at El Real – Text Mex spot #2

Later that day I caught up with my college buddy, Justin. He & I lived on the same floor freshman year of college, and have remained friends pretty much ever since. Seeing him is never not fun – he’s ridiculously funny and very astute. It was so nice to spend some time with his awesome wife Alana, who I only met previously at their wedding. She’s my kind of people and they are so great together. And their son Ajax knows how to work a room!

And as a cherry on the cake of the day, Justin took us to an excellent Tex Mex place at a converted movie theatre, El Real. Margaritas come in pitchers and the tortialls are made to order. I definitely got my Tex Mex fix, and loved getting to spend time with them so it was win/win!



Week 2: Nature (and other attractions)

After leaving Vegas, we headed for the Hoover Dam. Its a relatively short drive and an impressive structure. You can also walk across the Memorial Bridge (which lies opposite the dam and is incredibly high up). Looking back at the dam from thw windy, narrow bridge gave me an irrational fear of accidentally flinging my phone or car key over the edge for no reason, which is why this photo isn’t very well framed:

After that we headed towards Utah. The scenery was pretty much gorgeous the entire drive.  There was one stretch that reminded us of Mad Max – it was like driving through towering boulders. I wish I had managed to take a photo of it.

The next day we slept in and leisurely made our way to Zion National Park… which we soon realized was a huge mistake. The park was incredibly crowded and it seemed like we’d be destined to spend the day looking for parking. This is when we realized our complete lack of planning wasn’t necessarily going to work with these parks.

I finally managed park the car in some grassy area near a campground. This made The German very uncomfortable as it didn’t appear to be an officially sanctioned spot, but I was determined to get out of the car.

We took a 2 hour hike up to some incredible vistas, so it was worth the stress. These photos don’t at all do it justice:



A rare glimpse of me, in nature, wearing bluejeans.
From the peak of the second trail – another stunning view



The next day was Antelope Canyon. To our surpise, its not possible to go without being part of a tour group. We basically got the last 2 spots for the day, which was an 8am check-in time. (We have learned our lesson and will go back to our over-planning ways from here on out.)

Antelope Canyon is other-wordly… absolutely beautiful. Its a bummer you can’t ever be alone in there (seriously, the tour groups are nose-to-tail in there), but the guides do a great job of ushering people through while still making sure you get amazing photos. Its like nothing I’ve ever seen before and still seemed magical despite the crowds.


While we were too early to see the light rays cascading through the canyon, it was slightly less crowded at that hour, so it worked out well.

At the risk of making it a theme, we then went to the Grand Canyon. Despite all the warnings about getting there before 9 to avoid crowds, we had a very easy time entering the park and there were plenty of places to park throughout the vista points. (I do think it helps that we entered on the east side of the south rim.)

We didn’t have time to do extensive  hiking, unfortunately, but still had plenty of time for taking photos and wandering around the various vista points. Its just so vast – we spent a lot of time just staring at it in awe.


I highly recommend all three of these parks if you’re in the area – they don’t disappoint!

Next up: family visit in Austin!



Thoughts on Travel

Some random thoughts on travel since we hit the road:

Packing Remorse:
• Why did I bring 8 bottles of wine but no corkscrew?
• I need to ditch at least half the makeup I’m carrying… who was I kidding when I packed all that stuff?

Packing Genius:
• As previously mentioned, 8 bottles of wine!
• The German brought a HDMI cable and a connector for the iPad so I can still watch Game of Thrones on a big screen. ❤

I seriously think Trip Advisor needs to add a way that you can sort hotels by wifi speed. I would take a crappy hotel with good wifi over a good hotel with crappy wifi.

Why are most ice buckets half the size of a bottle of wine? I’d like to chill the entire bottle, not just the bottom half.

I’m way more dependant on a data connection than I realized. While I’m fine going all day without checking email or reading Facebook, I’ve hit long stretches of dead zones on the drive and I have no map in the car and no general idea of where I’m going. It made me realize that I’m relying too much on my phone and not enough on my brain. I’ll have to work on this.

Since we started traveling, I have left my credit card at 2 different restauants. Thankfully, I was able to recover it both times, but this is totally out of character for me. As in, the only 2 times I have ever done this in my life. What is wrong with me?