The other day a friend asked my husband how I can afford to drive a Lexus since I’m *just* a teacher (the friend was curious, not trying to be rude, and I welcome money talk!). Here’s how… I bought it used from a small town dealer we found on Craigslist which made it cheaper than said friend’s brand new “modest” car. I have a car payment but I can afford it comfortably (even though car payments suck) and that’s all there is to it.
My mind starts to wander when I see photos on Instagram of friends in Europe or Palm Springs. And you know what… I’ve been one of those people on Instagram posting pictures from my “lavish” vacations.
:: 1 :: Not really a tip but taking advantage of an opportunity – The past five summers we’ve gone to Idaho with On River Time (the nonprofit my husband Greg works for part-time). This is not a vacation, this is actual work so they pay for our flights – thus they pay for our return flight. We discovered that once we’re out west, one-way flights to other western places are pretty cheap and the west is a great place for a road trip. Where can you tack on a vacation to an obligation?
:: 2 :: Flight Alerts – six months out from any potential travel I set up alerts. I use Hopper, Google Flights, & Scott’s Cheap flights emails. There are more hardcore ways but I’m not willing to work that hard. Also, we recently got a Delta AmEx so we’ll be cashing in on our miles each year too.
:: 3 :: Pay as much as you can in advance (admission, event tickets, lodging, car rental) – This is more of a mental trick. If you pay for things in advance as you’re planning it doesn’t hurt as bad! You don’t feel all uptight once you’re on vacay about all the money you’re spending because you’ve already paid for most in the months leading up to it. Also I’ve found car rentals are actually cheaper the more advance you book them… mistakes have been made on my part.
:: 4 :: AirBnb y’all – A few months out I start looking for cool AirBnbs and using the save feature on the website. I have found the majority of the time they are cheaper and more convenient than hotels. We aim for $100 a night and have found some really great places to stay. We’ve only had one “meh” not great experience. But you know what is even cheaper… friends that live in cool places! We have done that a few times too. We’re great guests. Where do you live?
:: 5 :: Pick a meal a day – Since we stay at AirBnbs/friends’ places where we have access to at least a refrigerator (usually a full kitchen), we eat two meals a day at “home.” As soon as we get to a destination we go to the grocery store for coffee, yogurt, eggs, snacks, and frozen pizzas. That way we splurge a little at dinner and don’t feel bad about it. (Though when we went on our epic road trip last year we only ate out once! That trip was more about sightseeing than eating.)
:: 6 :: Live within your means the rest of the year – Greg and I are just not big spenders. Granted we don’t have children but we bought the cheapest house in the neighborhood, have only one car payment, we eat at home 90% of the time, workout at home, and I’m constantly turning lights off (I’m not sure how much of a difference that makes but it makes me feel better). We both work multiple “gigs” too. Oh and Greg’s motto is “they can’t put you in jail for student loan debt.” So there’s that.
You know how sometimes it takes a minute to process what happened… well in my case it can take up to a year. This is all for posterity’s sake.
Last summer I went to London and Paris with my longtime childhood friend, Hamp. Since Hamp is a weird combination of a geriatric and a toddler, he “let” me do all the planning. Which worked for both our lifestyles.
I made a detailed itinerary but here are spots of note we hit:
British Museum, Neal’s Yard/Seven Dials, St. Dunstan-in-the-East, Tower of London, Borough Market, St. Paul’s Cathedral, St. Chapelle, Notre Dame, Cluny Museum, Eiffel Tower, The Lourve, Millennium Bridge, Notting Hill, Portobello Road Market, Tate Modern, Victoria & Albert Museum, Trafalgar Square, Sketch, Kensington Palace & Gardens, Westminister Abbey, Tower Bridge, Parliament of England, Stonehenge, Bath
If you would like the exact itinerary details it will cost you. I’m upping my fee from one ice cream cone to two. Thank you very much.
We almost missed our flight to London but we ran through the Charlotte airport like the scene from Home Alone and made it on to the plane with minutes to spare. What I didn’t research before going to London is that it was going to take 3 hours for us to go through customs once we got there. Luckily we made friends with some folks in line including Typhoid Dylan (we don’t know his real name but that’s his name in our hearts).
Anyway, here are some pictures pretty much in sequential order.
The young and the restless made it to London!
St. Dunstan-in-the-East is basically a secret garden that’s not so secret.
We walked across Tower Bridge.
Got lunch at a market… how very English of us!
We got up early and hopped on a train. It is true what they say… Paris is always a great idea.
I’ve been to Paris before but I think I’ll never tire of it.
St. Chapelle is undeniably beautiful, floor to ceiling.
Back in London and we took a walk around Notting Hill. How dreamy!
All the colors! Now I need a magenta door.
Like any vacation of mine, there was a lot of art and ice cream.
When you’re in England you might as well go see Stonehenge, right? ** If you go to Stonehenge, I highly recommend paying a little extra to go on the tour before or after the site is open to the public so that you can go all up in them! Totally worth it! **
On our trip to Stonehenge we also went to Bath (which was a gorgeous city) and the ancient town of Lacock (quintessentially English).
Back in London I tried to take the most London AF pictures ever.
One of my favorite exhibits I’ve ever seen was Balenciaga: Shaping Fashion at the V&A on our last day.
And no trip to London would be complete without high tea at Sketch.
That was the extremely condensed version of the trip. Overall, London is a great city to visit! It’s easy to get around and there’s so much to see. Believe it or not, I didn’t see everything. I’m ready for my return trip!
After our trip to Idaho and San Jose, we traveled up to San Francisco for a few days. San Francisco has been on my list since I saw Forest Gump in the Dothan movie theater.
Greg and I pretend to be outdoorsy from time to time so our first stop was to cross the Golden Gate Bridge to Sausalito en route to Muir Woods. We ate a really unique/delicious salad and pizza at Bar Bocce (highly recommend this place for food and views!). Sausalito is picturesque. It’s hard to believe anyone lives there.
Next we headed to the main event… Muir Woods. I looked up a few different trails ahead of time. We settled on one that was about 2 miles long. We wanted to see the woods but not spend the entire day there. Muir Woods is a busy/touristy place. I recommend taking a trail that is at least 2 miles or longer to get away from most of the tourist traffic. Besides the traffic, Muir Woods is pretty incredible. It’s so quiet! It feels like you’re on set for Jurassic Park. Something about the light gives it another worldly feel… not to mention the trees are hundreds of years old and HUGE.
After Muir Woods we crossed the Golden Gate Bridge again back to SF. Before heading to our AirBnb we stopped at Palace of Fine Arts… I just like to see as much crap as I can. Palace of Fine Arts was neat. I wouldn’t say it’s a must see though.
Finding a place to stay in SF that wasn’t super expensive was difficult. We ended up booking this super cute AirBnb in the Mission District. If you’ve never stayed in an AirBnb there a few things to know: 1. Always read the listing carefully 2. There will be surprises 3. It’s not a hotel. With that being said we were pretty happy with our stay. When they said “Mission District” they really meant “closest to.” When they said “yogurt and granola” they meant “there’s some there but it’s been there over a year, check the dates!” What did not surprise or disappoint was the resident cat, Squirrelly Joe.
To end day one we went on a taco hop for dinner, watched street celebrations of the Golden State Warriors winning the NBA championship and finished it with ice cream at Humphry Slocombe (I got the “Secret Breakfast” flavor). We had the best homemade red mole sauce at El Metate that I’m still dreaming about!
Nothing like starting off a day of vacation with a phone interview! We also had to return our rental car. Driving in SF is an experience… one that I would not like to have again. With the dreadful tasks out of the way, we headed to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.
Art Museums are weirdly (?) comforting to me and I really enjoyed the SFMOMA. It has a diverse collection of fun/entertaining art for everyone. It wasn’t so woo-woo-out-there like some modern art can be. I would highly suggest checking it out. One of my favorites was Warhol’s Dolly’s, of course.
We did some walking and headed toward Ghirardelli Square/Fisherman’s Wharf because you haven’t been to SF if you don’t. Along the way we stopped and got a donut at Bob’s Donuts and then I stopped in the precious shop of an illustrator/stationer I follow on Instagram (@paristosf), Ferme à Papier. I bought a few cards because how could I not.
I’m not one for staying on the beaten path but we went to Musée Mécanique in Fisherman’s Wharf. It was actually pretty neat and comical. My favorite “game” was the Opium Den where you put in your quarter and skeletons start coming out of the walls and doorways of the puppet living scene. It was so wacky.
We continued our walking tour to Chinatown and stopped in the famed City Lights Bookstore for a browse.
Finally, we decided to have a traditional SF dinner of oysters and po’ boys at Hog Island Oyster Co. In standard Vacation-Mollie style we finished off the evening with ice cream and picking up a bottle of wine before heading back to our temporary home.
This day we decided to explore the Mission District. To start, we ate at Tartine Bakery which definitely lived up to all the hype. We got an open faced sandwich thing and a lemon tart. This is also where we had the best coffee of the trip. Definitely go to Tartine!
I love art and Greg loves history so we went to the Mission San Francisco de Asís. It’s the oldest building in SF and has survived fires and earthquakes. It also has a pretty little cemetery.
We hung out in the park for a while watching everyone’s dogs play and a hippy girl with her butt hanging out walk a white fluffy kitten on a leash. Some guy brought his parrot to fly around and buzz everyone and that’s when we tapped out.
We had lunch at a really cute Cuban place called Media Noche. I got the ceviche which was perfectly refreshing and Greg got the Cuban sandwich. Their bathroom has shiny pink banana wallpaper which was a plus for me.
There was more ice cream.
Later we met up with Greg’s friend Jack (who we stayed with in San Jose) for dinner. We went to the Lyon Street steps for some views before walking to Hong Kong Loung II for dim sum. The dim sum was delicious.
Because we can’t stop the party, we went bar hopping. Most notably was the Tonga Room and Hurricane Bar inside the Fairmont Hotel (which is beautiful itself). Let’s just say I was excited, Greg and Jack were… less than excited. It’s super kitschy and the drinks are not great and expensive but it’s a definite experience! We finished the night at a little hole in the wall and called it day.
Our flight was at noon so we wanted to get in a good breakfast before we left. We went to Mission Beach Cafe as soon as they opened at 9. I got the pancakes with bourbon syrup and they hit the spot. The story of the rest of the day was flight delays and getting home at 2am. Oh we did sit by Lou Holtz. Nonetheless, we had a great trip!
*** Tips and Thoughts ***
- Here’s the google map I made with a bunch of places that were recommended to me, we visited, or I researched. I have it organized and color coded. I even plotted where there are some murals (art walls) to see.
- SF is definitely walkable. I wouldn’t recommend driving. We either walked or took Lyft everywhere. We didn’t use the public transportation because I didn’t look into how to do it. Bikes are also an option.
- There is a big homeless population in SF which was kind of shocking to me. More so than NYC.
- Greg doesn’t normally wear his sweaters on his shoulders like that… he was tired of carrying them.
Once again Greg and I were lucky enough to make the trek out to Idaho with On River Time (the nonprofit Greg works for). This was our third year together (Greg went one year by himself). Yet again, we parlayed it into a mini/cheap vacation. Check out last year’s post here and 2015 here.
We had a great time with the kids. I even got to go out and fish this year. I was not excited about it at first because tbh I knew I was going to have to wear a hat but then I caught one! And then I caught more! Despite the hat, I had fun fishing. Oh and in that first picture I didn’t know how to hold a fish for the camera… no one told me! All fingers with a little bit of fish *eye roll*.
Usually the kids get to visit Yellowstone but this year we switched it up and went to the Grand Tetons. We had an awesome guide named Sarah who picked up a lot of random animal poop all in the name of nature and learning. She took us on a hike and to see a beaver dam. She was awesome. She was totally nerding out on nature and that’s exactly the type of guide you want.
After our Idaho adventure we hopped on a plane to San Jose where we spent a few days with Greg’s college buddy, Jack. He and his girlfriend, Char were our gracious hosts. Really, they were great and it’s awesome to have friends in appealing locales (anyone live in Hawaii? Costa Rica? France?).
As we were leaving a couple came to take their wedding pictures and I cannot think of a better place. There are so many colors in cliffs and then the water and then the beach, oh my. I would love to see their photos.
On our way back to San Jose, we stopped in Monterey (Big Little Lies!) for lunch and picked up local sea bass to cook for dinner. It was pretty much the idyllic day with perfect weather and good company.
The next day we went on a five mile hike in the San Jose valley. As we were hiking the view continually changed. The terrain is just so different than Alabama. It felt other worldly at times. And at times it felt like we were in Italy. Everything is golden and green and so much texture.
When we got back from our hike we had the ultimate Silicon Valley experience… we went to LinkedIn. Jack has been working there for the past year as a coder (whatever that means, idk). He gave us a little tour around the building he works in (because LinkedIn has multiple buildings). Everything was Marvel themed. They have espresso machines, sparkling juice machines, snacks, and fridges packed on every level. Like, no wonder everyone wants to work in tech. It was really neat to see and despite what you might think they don’t have cubicles per se and there is a lot of natural light.
We went to a near by town where popped into a local bookstore and then to a beer garden. We had a low key dinner back in San Jose. The next morning we left for San Francisco!… Stay tuned for that post.
Part 1 of NYC in 2 Seasons here.
In December I went back to NYC with my friend Whitney to celebrate her birthday. It was her first time and I’m always down for a trip to New York. I was excited because I had never been during Christmas and I knew it was going to be magical.
Well, things didn’t start off so magical. I bought a new iPhone a couple days before specifically at this time so I could use it while we were there. On the first plane ride I discover that it was defected and the CAMERA DID NOT WORK. The front facing camera worked so… I could only take selfies. I tried not to see this as a bad omen but I’m afraid it set the tone. Things got worse.
We landed in Charlotte (at 12:30pm) and had about an hour before our final flight to Newark. Long story short, our flight was delayed. We somehow missed out delayed flight, was on standby for three flights when we finally got on a plane at 10:30pm to… wait for it… PHILADELPHIA. That’s right. The only plane we could get on that would get us anywhere close to NYC was to Philly. We stayed the night at a Microtel which had a heater that sounded like a plane was taking off in her room every five minutes ALL NIGHT LONG.
We finally made it to NYC the next day around 1pm. We had to take an Uber to downtown Philly to get on a train to Trenton, New Jersey to get on the NJ transit to take us to Newark Airport where Whitney’s baggage was (don’t check a bag for a weekend trip!). From there we got another Uber to our Airbnb (which was awesome btw).
Here’s what we did in our limited amount of time: (and here’s the detailed color coded Google Map I made)
Sites: Washington Square Park, 9/11 Memorial, Oculus, The Met, 5th Avenue Window Displays, Rockefeller Center, Central Park, Chicago The Musical
Places: Harlem, Upper West Side, Greenwich Village, Lower East Side, Manhattan
We tried to make the most of our time despite snow and super cold temperatures (for two southerners). On the morning we were leaving, I go to check us in on our flights and our connecting flight from Chicago had be CANCELLED. All flights to Birmingham, Atlanta, Nashville, and Huntsville were full. After an hour and a half on the phone we were booked on a flight to Memphis where Greg had to drive 3.5 hours to pick us up. What a trip, am I right?!?
In July, Greg and I decided we hadn’t traveled enough this summer (ha!) so we loaded up the car and drove 14 hours north to Brooklyn. Luckily, we always have a place to stay with his brother and sister-in-law – thanks Scott and Meredith!
The first two days we were there it was PERFECT weather. I wore jeans and a tank top and never sweated. Things then took a dramatic turn to HEAT and HUMIDITY.
Despite the weather conspiring against us we go out there and suffered I mean… had fun.
Sites: 9/11 Memorial, Washington Square Park, The Whitney, The Met, Chelsea Market, random art galleries, Prospect Park, Strand Bookstore, DUMBO, Transit Museum, Oculus, random pent house open house (G’s SIL had artwork in it)
Those are the exact places I could remember the names. We ate a super authentic ramen place in Chinatown that was a real experience. We went to a whiskey tasting and a chocolate tasting in Red Hook. And in between everything we had a lot of coffee, pizza, and bagels.
Now the pictures:
And if you made it all the way to here, bless you! You get a badge too! Stay tuned for part 2…
There are a ton of posts out there on travel tips and I’ve read a lot of them. This summer I did quite a bit of traveling and I thought of things that I haven’t read before but I think are useful and worth sharing.
1 :: Have a Goal ::
This is something I tried for the first time when we went to NYC this summer. I’ve been to New York a handful of times so I’ve done all the touristy things and this time I made it my goal to try a different ice cream shop every day. I love ice cream, I love trying something new, and I love ice cream. The beauty in the goal is that it can be anything and it’s just for F-U-N. Here are some ideas: See some art every day, Try something new every day, See how many dogs you can pet, Visit a different park every day, See how many strangers will talk to you, etc… I’m full of ideas if you need more.
2 :: Plan for Good Food ::
I’ve been on too many trips where we ate bad food. Food is life y’all. If you’re not eating good food, you’re not enjoying life! Plan out a few places in advance that either have been recommended to you or you would like to try and work them into your trip. The most miserable thing to me is being hangry, not knowing where to eat, and stumbling into the closest Cafe d’Disappointment. A bad meal can really put a damper on the day. If you’re feeling extra confident, make reservations. Eating is an activity.
3 :: Be an Ask-hole ::
Ok, not really but kind of. Wherever you are ask whoever is around… Where can I get the best bagel in town? Where can I hear live music? If I only have an hour what should I see at the Met? How do I ride the trolley? What’s the best flavor? You get the picture. Whenever I go somewhere new I always like to be in on what the locals know. I usually find places I wouldn’t have found otherwise and a lot of times it leads to other fun conversations and tips. People like to feel valued in their opinions. Why do you think I write this blog?
4 :: Bring a REAL Camera ::
I know iPhone’s camera keeps getting better and snapchat and all but I’ve never once regretted bringing my nice digital camera with me. Face it, phones can’t compete with the quality a real camera provides. I have a large framed photograph in my living room that I took of the Eiffel Tower with my camera. My iPhone could not have taken the same picture and be printed at the same size and kept it’s quality. It’s photography math you guys. Unfortunately I don’t have a tip for remembering to actually take pictures with the camera but I’m sure you’ll work it out.
5 :: Take the Free Version ::
This tip comes courtesy of Greg Robinson. We’ve traveled a lot together over the years and have somehow managed not to spend a lot of money. The one thing we do is take the free version or less expensive version of excursions. For example, the first time we went to NYC we decided to take the Staten Island Ferry that goes right past the Statue of Liberty for free instead of paying for a tour and spending hours to get a little closer view. That way you get a taste and don’t spend all day and your money on a negligible difference of experience. Spend more time in the rest of the museum instead of automatically paying for the paid exhibit, opt out of the brewery tour and just do a tasting instead, or just sneak past the ticket checkers.
!*!* BONUS *!*!
:: You Only Need Two Pairs of Shoes, Bandaids, & Advil ::
Ok, so you may have heard these before but they are worth repeating and all related. Unless you are going to a formal event, you really only need two pairs of shoes. Believe me. I
am used to be a habitual over-packer. This also applies to all my minimalists out there that think they only need one pair. YOU NEED TWO. This is where bandaids come in. Even shoes you’ve worn all day at work before can and will give you a blister. Thus you need to wear a different pair of shoes the next day AND bandaids. Keep those suckers in your purse, pocket, or wallet. Because you’ve been walking all day and over indulging in the adult bevs you or someone in your party will need Advil. Take it. Don’t try to be a hero and tough it out.
:: Trip Formula ::
SOMEWHERE TO DRINK + SOMETHING TO SEE + SOMEWHERE TO EAT (in any order)
This is great for short or long trips or even stay-cations. I’ve tested this formula out for many years now and I really think it’s a great starting off point for longer trips and perfect for day trips. If you have time and you’re being a travel ask-hole, you’ll find other things to do through the day. If you know you only have 4 hours in a place, you’ll feel like you’ve actually visited. The best part is you can make the formula fit your interests. My “somewhere to drink” is usually a local coffee shop but maybe yours is a brewery or an old timey soda fountain. I like to visit art museums but maybe you like historic landmarks. Your something to eat could range from dinner to the best doughnut in town. Try it!
Alright, do you have any secret travel tips? I’m always looking to make traveling less stressful and more fun.
On June 1st, Greg and I set out west again for 14 days (read about why we go and last year’s trip here). It was tiring, surreal, and mostly fun. We spent ten days this year in Idaho with two consecutive groups of 12 kids. It was pretty similar experience to last year and we even went back to Yellowstone.
Since we had two groups of kids it kind of felt like Groundhog Day. We ate the same things, did the same activities, everything the same like it was the first time. Except when the second group of kids left for Yellowstone, Greg and I headed to Las Vegas!
It was a nine hour drive from Idaho and I didn’t drive a mile. I did read a whole book though. We stayed only one night with Greg’s childhood friend before heading to California for our final destination. Neither of us really had any desire to “do Vegas” but I wanted to experience it a little bit. My friend Claire recommended eating on the patio at Todd English’s Olives restaurant in the Bellagio. We saw fountains, the strip, casinos, and had great food. I feel like we got enough of the Vegas experience in one night.
On our way out we did get to see the famous Dale Chihuly glass installation in the lobby so that was neat.
Because I’m really into jamming a trip full of activities, the next morning before we headed to Cali, I planned for us to visit the Neon Museum. It was pretty hot out even at 9:30 in the morning but it was so worth it! If you ever go to Las Vegas I think this is a must do and see. I took a lot of pictures so feast your eyes…
I don’t make Greg do ridiculous poses. I encourage him and he’s always willing, God love him.
The museum is all outdoors and tours are an hour long. There are certain historical/popular signs they tell you about but I don’t remember anything because I was too busy taking pictures and trying not to melt.
The arrangement of the signs were so thoughtful. Some look like they were put there haphazardly but that’s part of the subtle intention. It’s a photographer’s dream!
I have a thing for rust and patina and these signs are so perfectly worn. It’s almost like it was manufactured BUT IT’S NOT!
AND LOOK AT THOSE COLORS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Oh look, I found mine and Greg’s initials. How sweet.
After the tour we walked around “Old Vegas” for a while, got some coffee and breakfast. And here’s one last shot of me being a tourist… Giant flamingo!
You still here? Good! Next stop is SEVEN MAGIC MOUNTAINS! And it’s just as magical as it sounds.
Out in the desert about 15 miles from Las Vegas is a new art installation by Swiss artist, Ugo Rondinone, that went up in May. I don’t remember how I found out about it but I’m going to say Instagram.
It’s really in the desert. There are signs telling you to not leave the path because you will be bitten by a poisonous snake and die if you do. So it really has that “wow factor” you know?
It will be up until May 2018. It really is super cool seeing these giant neon boulder statues in the middle of the desert (and risking your life to see them). I like your style, Ugo! I didn’t want to leave but it was kind of hot.
Back in the car we go and our next stop is Orange County, California. We left the blow dryer air for cool ocean breeze. We stayed with a buddy in Costa Mesa. He took us out for superbly delicious tapas that night and the next day we met two of my college homies in Venice for brunch. We ended up parking right near the Gold’s Gym Arnold Schwarzenegger made famous.
We ate at a really pretty place called Rose Cafe. It was so picturesque. If I’m being 100% real, that’s why I picked it.
I ordered avocado toast and took this picture…
Sometimes “basic” just feels so right.
Venice seemed really very California. I wish we could have spent more time there but I guess I’ll have to go back!
After brunch we headed to The Getty. I love museums so much. I didn’t take any pictures because I WAS ENJOYING THE ART LIKE ONE SHOULD so you’ll just have to take my word on it.
We didn’t want the day to end with Max and Amanda so we headed to Hermosa Beach for more tapas and pitchers of sangria.
The only picture of the four of us is this screen shot of a snapchat. It’s perfect though. (We did miss you Liz!) After we left Hermosa Beach, Greg and I headed to Laguna Beach for gelato and watched the sunset… can’t stop, won’t stop!
I really wanted to do some hiking where I could see the ocean so the next day we hoped on the Pacific Coast Highway and went down to Crystal Cove. We were supposed to do a 5 mile hike but it turned into a 6.5 mile hike because we hiked in the wrong direction to a parking lot instead of taking the trail. Whoopsies!
Once we got on the actual trail, the hike did not disappoint. We started by hiking in the canyon and then it wrapped down toward the ocean. It was an incredible view. You could see all the beaches from Newport to Huntington. It was the most ocean I’ve ever seen.
I was slightly obsessed with seeing cacti “in the wild.”
After lunch in Laguna we hit the road again. I don’t know if we were delirious or addicted to seeing things but we decided to head down Huntington Beach Pier to watch the surfers. Do as the Californian tourists do.
Congratulations, you made it to the end!
We left the next morning out of LAX and made it to Birmingham around 9 pm. Don’t worry because we already have next year’s trip planned!
Next month we’re driving up to NYC and then I’m heading to Houston for a a couple of days. If you want to follow along, you can find me on Instagram and Snapchat under the user name: @molliejoydesign
Do you have any trips planned? I’d love to hear!
In June I got to travel to Salt Lake City, Idaho, and Yellowstone Park. It was kind of random but totally fun.
Greg (my boyfriend) works for a non-profit called On River Time. On River Time takes abused and neglected children fly fishing in Idaho on the Snake River. On the trip this year were sixteen kids from Big Oak Ranch and a ranch out in Texas as well as ORT’s director’s eight-year-old son — my reason for going this year!
The kids fly into Jackson Hole but Greg and I flew into Salt Lake City and drove to Irwin, Idaho from there. The drive is about four hours but when the speed limits are 75 it doesn’t quite take that long. We stopped at the most picturesque rest stop ever.
While in Idaho, the kids had two full days of fly fishing on the river. While they were fishing and Greg was working, I was hanging out with my buddy Ben. We played games, annoyed Greg, and ate Cheetos.
Each night when the kids got back from fishing all day we had dinner together and hung out afterwards. One of the days the kids worked on making a fire pit for the lodge. We had a bonfire and s’mores that night. I ended up with s’mores in my hair but whatever!
The last day of the ORT trip is a visit to Yellowstone. It’s about a three hour ride from the lodge. IT IS SO AMAZING Y’ALL. It’s hard to fathom how expansive it is. I really wanted to see a moose which didn’t happen.
We went to “Artist Point” and had the most incredible view of a waterfall. The colors were beautiful on the cliffs. No wonder it is a popular spot for artists (Fun Fact: There is a painting at the Birmingham Museum of Art exactly the view where Greg and I took a picture!).
Early the next morning the kids were flying out of Jackson Hole. On the way there we stopped at a hotel in the Grand Tetons for dinner. Let me be real, the Tetons ARE SO GRAND. This is what I’ve always imagined mountains looking like. They are “young” mountains so they are still all pointy and gorgeously snow capped.
We drove back to the lodge for the night and headed to Salt Lake the next day. Whenever Greg and I are passing through a city or take a detour for the day we pick out a good place to eat (Yelp or recommendation) and one or two things to do/see. We basically had 4-5 hours to explore the city before heading to ‘burbs to stay with Greg’s aunt and uncle before we left the following day.
A girl we met at the lodge recommended a place called The Copper Onion so that’s where we went (SLC isn’t known for their food apparently) after we did a driving tour around downtown. It was a nice place with outdoor seating. Definitely “trendy.” We were both pleased and surprised with our meals. I got their ricotta dumplings which were flavorful and interesting. Since coffee is our drug we went to this coffee place Greg stopped by last year when he was passing through called caffe d’bolla.
They are one of about a handful of places that use the Japanese hot infusion siphon method in the country. The owner went to Japan and studied it there and is considered the best in the nation at this method. It takes about 20 minutes to get your coffee. He told us all about the history and process. Basically it looks like he’s making you meth. We were instructed we could only drink it black and it had to be from a particular kind of cup to get the best flavor. Greg and I ordered different origin coffees and had different wait times on drinking it. It was crazy and delicious and one cup was $10.
We only had about an hour left and we decided to visit the Natural History Museum of Utah because we thought it would be most representative of SLC. Since we were limited on time we chose three exhibits to go through: Extreme Mammals, Past Worlds, and First Peoples. It is a really cool museum and full of Utah history. The museum is super nice. It was recently built at this location at the University of Utah. I definitely want to go back when we have more time.
This was a really cool trip and not one I would have planned on my own but I think that made it extra special. The time Greg and I had with the kids from Big Oak was my favorite part. I can’t tell you enough how awesome On River Time and Big Oak Ranch are for our community. I also can’t tell you enough how incredible the kids are despite their beginning circumstances. It blows my mind. Each one has an incredibly heartbreaking story but you would never know it from their attitude and outlook. It’s amazing and John Croyle and his family are inspirational.
*If you follow Auburn and Alabama football you know the Croyle’s. John played during the Bear Bryant era. I cheered at Auburn in 2005-2006 when his son, Brody was quarterback for Alabama. This was my first time meeting Brody and after chatting with him for a while I nonchalantly mentioned we had been on the same field together. He was surprised and confused and then I told him I cheered at Auburn. It hit him and he gave me a look and said “Was that ‘Fear the Thumb’ year?” That was the year we beat Alabama six times in a row and Brody was sacked fourteen times (they made bumper stickers that said “Honk if you’ve sacked Brody Croyle”). I acted all coy and was like “Yeah, I guess it was.” We laughed about it. He did tell me there have only been two games in his life that he wanted to be transported out of and that was one of them (the other was the last pro game he started in). Brody is a good sport and one of the nicest guys I’ve ever met.
I moved to Birmingham right after I graduated college in 2008. I grew up visiting my grandparents and extended family here so it’s always been a familiar place. In the past seven years I have explored the city and found some of my favorite places.
One wouldn’t normally think of Birmingham as being a tourist destination but it is a great stop if you’re passing through or here for a weekend trip. Recently Greg’s brother and sister-in-law came down from Brooklyn, NY and we had to give our best to show them the city away from The City. We’re cool too, Brooklyn! Here are two days packed with fun places and good eats:
Vulcan and Vulcan Park
We figured if we were going to show them the city we would literally show them the city from our iconic landmark, Vulcan, the largest cast iron statue in the world. If you were to only go one place in Birmingham this would have to be it. You can see ALL of the city. For about six dollars you can actually go up to the top of Vulcan to get a better view but the view from the park is awesome too. Your admission to to the top of Vulcan also gets you into the museum which is full of Birmingham facts and a life size replica of Vulcan’s foot. If you go, tell Marie (my grandmother’s best friend who works at the park) I sent you.
After our visit to Vulcan, it was time for some lunch. Our city folks don’t get good smoked meat in NYC so we decided to take them to eat at The Little Donkey near by.
The Little Donkey
Little Donkey is a blend of traditional Mexican food with a touch of soul. They make their own taco shells from scratch. The owner of Jim n’ Nick’s also owns LD so they use the same meat… I believe that’s the relationship. Anyway, Little Donkey is a fantastic spot for lunch. I recommend getting the gauc, queso, salsa trio for starters. The queso is exceptional to me. I LOVE the picado salad with pork for lunch but all the tacos are delicious. Greg’s sister is REALLY into the catfish tacos.
After lunch it’s time for the best coffee you can find in basically anywhere in the nation.
Octane is seriously the best coffee you can find. Don’t take that lightly. Octane (formally Primavera) meticulously roasts their own coffee. The master roaster and founder, Brett, spent months working on a coffee bean farm in South America. He has won numerous awards and it shows in the quality. I suggest a pour over of any of their rotating roasts. I prefer the Homewood location but there is another in Uptown (near the civic center in Bham) as well as locations in Atlanta.
Since we were already here we couldn’t NOT get a popsicle.
Steel City Pops
Probably the perfect guilt free treat ever. It’s guilt free because it’s so good you don’t care. These are homemade popsicles. The menus is always changing. In the winter they do chocolate dipped pops. I prefer the creamy ones over the fruity ones but they are seriously all good. They have a few locations all over town and now in Huntsville. I like the flagship in Homewood. I suggest the strawberries and cream or a dipped caramel.
We’ve had the view from the top, now it’s time to explore it on ground level.
Birmingham Museum of Art
I first moved to Birmingham as a graphic design intern at the museum. It has been one of my favorite spots in town since I was a kid so I hold it close to my heart. Greg’s brother and sister-in-law are both artists and have some of the world’s greatest art just a subway ride away from them. I was a tad nervous they wouldn’t think the museum is as awesome as I do. I’m proud to say they were so impressed they came by a second time without us! My favorite part of the museum is the newly renovated African art gallery. It’s a must see.
After all of that it’s time for dinner and drinks.
Parkside Cafe & Hot Box
Parkside is the bar and Hot Box is the air stream trailer behind it that serves food. Located in Avondale, Parkside is a charming little joint serving many of the local brews. It feels like a hole in the wall place you would find in NYC. Out back they have another bar area, outdoor seating, and Hot Box. Hot Box’s menu is always changing but it has somewhat of an Asian flair and always interesting. This is a nice chill place to have drinks after work or catch up with friends.
Saw’s Soul Kitchen
Because the Brooklynites can’t get enough smoked meat we took them to the best smoked meat in Birmingham, Saw’s. I prefer the Avondale location because it’s closest to our house and we usually do pick up. It is in an old barber shop with about six tables. The first time I ate here I made the mistake of coming at 7 on a Friday night. The line was out the door and they ran out of pork. The burgers are good but I recommend getting the pork and greens plate with a side of wings. (image)
After all that deliciousness we needed to burn a few calories.
This is a sort of a flea market, sort of an antiques store. It is located in my official neighborhood of Crestwood. Just a hop and skip from Saw’s. I love a good browse and peruse the aisles of this one often. I have bought many a Christmas present here as well as a few things for my house. The prices are pretty fair. Some things are overpriced but it depends on the seller. On this particular day one of the vendors was in the store and was so excited that we brought Scott and Meredith in that he gifted them with a fish fossil and enamel bird earrings. Southern hospitality, y’all.
When we got done shopping it was time for more coffee of course.
Satellite is part of the new venue in Avondale called Saturn. They serve awesome coffee from Stumptown Coffee Roasters during the day and then it’s a full bar at night. If you didn’t get it from the name it’s space themed. They play old episodes of Star Trek on the TVs and the drinks all have “far out” names (see what I did there?). My favorite touch is the rocket shaped air duct. As an added bonus they sell pastries from a local bakery, Baking Bandits. If they have the cheese danish, get it!
We have our caffeine buzz now to get a real buzz. Time for a tour of some of our local breweries.
Avondale Brewing Co.
ABC is Conveniently located across the street from Satellite. ABC is what I consider to be the “cool” brewery. It’s kind of like a grown up frat party. It’s in a historic Avondale building and they really embrace the area’s roots. Avondale was the original site for the Birmingham zoo and the star was an elephant named Miss Fancy. Miss Fancy can be found in ABC’s logo and is also the name of one of their beers. Get a flight to sample six or more of their beer. It is a generous amount and only about $12. If you want only one beer you can’t go wrong with Vanillaphant Porter Ale. P.S. everyone brings their dog.
Next we moved towards downtown for stop number two.
Trim Tab Brewing Co.
Trim Tab is relatively new (opened in the last few years). They are located between Avondale and downtown. They are becoming one of my favorite spots for a drink in town. I like that they display local artists’ work in the tap room. It’s somewhat of a mixed crowd that comes here. It gets busy with the after work crew. Again, if you’re into tasting beer I would definitely order a flight. If that’s not your jam I would suggest the Raspberry Berliner Weisse or if you want to be semi adventurous go with the Cucumber (if they have it).
On to stop number three of the brew tour and also my favorite.
Good People Brewing Co.
Don’t quote me but I believe Good People was the first brewery in town. They are serious about beer. I’m not the biggest beer fan (I’m more of red wine girl) but they really turned me on to craft beer. Long gone are my days of Mich Ultra or Corona Light. They recently renovated but it still has it’s signature laid back charm. If you want to indulge in a delicious complex beer grab a Coffee Oatmeal Stout. If you want to get knocked off your feet try the acclaimed Snake Handler. In the summer though I’m all about the Bearded Lady and cornhole in the side yard. This is a prime spot to take a picture in front of Regions Field at night. (image)
Now it’s time to go home and eat some junk food.
No trip to Birmingham these days would be complete without a ride through the colorfully lit underpass. It’s the little things sometimes that make trips fun and memorable. In the past few years Birmingham has really stepped it up to make our city a nice place to live and visit. This is one of the many efforts; moving from our darker past to a light and positive future.
And as the locals say, “It’s nice to have you in Birmingham!” (image)
Ps. You can find Scott’s paintings here and Meredith’s here. Scott also started a really cool website called Painting Is Dead that publishes articles, essays, and reviews on emerging artists and more established artists as well. Check them out!