An Instagram Day Trip from Berlin: Szczecin, Poland

We were so close to Poland… it was right across the border! I couldn’t resist the urge to try to get in. My first thought was Warsaw or Krakow, the two big Polish hubs most people are familiar with. But taking a train into these cities needed advanced booking in the summer, so we weren’t about to take our chances as we were on a tight schedule. Luckily, there was one train that would take us into Poland, just not exactly the town we were expecting. Early in the morning, we boarded a packed German train heading towards our final destination; Szczecin. Little did we know how entertaining this whole experience was going to be.

First Impressions:

You’ll get a good sense of the cultural difference between the Germans and the Polish just by hopping on one of the trains heading to Szczecin (pronounced “Schechin” by the way). The trains are packed with kids running around and parents trying to keep everyone together. There is a harsher, but almost warmer community aspect to the people of eastern Europe, and Poland kinda falls in the center.

We were under the assumption this train was going to take us all the way to the train station in Szczecin, but we knew we were going to have to stop at the border and probably have our passports checked…. ya, no. The train did stop at the border, but to our surprise, everyone, I’m talking 150+ people with kids, rushed out of the train car, ran full tilt towards this small train parked in front of us blowing its horn and we had no idea what was going on. So when you don’t know what to do, and everyone is running…. best to just follow the crowd! It was a good thing we did because we jumped onto the train car right as it was pulling away. About 30 min later on this small little polish train, we arrived in Szczecin.

The train station is small, but it has a few little bakeries where you can pick up some snacks! The best part of this whole little day excursion was being greeted by two smiling faces handing out free beers to anyone who walked by. They weren’t trying to sell you anything, not trying to promote, just handing out free ice cold Heineken’s. And that folks, is when we fell in love with Poland! We found out later that it wasn’t their regular Heineken. It was their non-alcoholic beer and it sure tricked us! We thought it was alcoholic beer the whole time which is a great sign! Heineken did well.

The best way to explore this town is by meandering with a loose goal in mind. Below are a few spots in the city that I found really pretty and might give you an idea of where you want to set off. I will say, half the fun is finding your own little gems, so wander as long and as far as Szczecin will take you.

The Harbor Front

We started by following the river upstream. The town is fairly small, so we were able to walk most of it. In the summer you’ll notice that Europe is busy with festivals and this remains true while in Poland.

When we visited Szczecin there was a fair along the river bank, and there were stalls along the streets offering delectable polish treats! If you’re interested in some cool photography shots, you’ll notice the industrial look of some parts of the river bank.

Walking the streets

If you head further inland, there are a myriad of authentic polish streets with old architecture, orthodox churches and graffiti all on one block.

This city has quaint little parks where you can just take a break from walking, but there are trams if your feet get tired. Although we personally didn’t take the trams, to learn more you should check out this blog from TraveLux. They have a great explanation on how to use the Szczecin tram system.

Szczecin Old Town

While you’re walking upriver from the train station, you’ve got to check out Old Town! The architecture of the buildings with all the bright colors are spectacular, and a great area for shopping and food. This isn’t the largest old town I’ve seen in Europe — it’s actually quite small — but it’s perfect for Instagram pics! While you’re in this neck of the woods, you should definitely check out the Szczecin history museum. Even if you’re not a big museum buff, going inside will give you some appreciation of the city. Understanding more about the location, the culture and the history gives travelers more insight and increased admiration for the area they’re visiting. Taking pictures is awesome, but not having context to those pictures can make the whole experience very shallow (trust me, I’m guilty of this)!

Walk by the Passport Office

Once you’ve visited Old Town and you’re still tracking the river northward, you’ll come to The National Museum in Szczecin and the Passport Office. These two buildings are stunning, and there are two great ways to take pictures of these places. Two places I, unfortunately, realized after the fact! But in my defense, these locations were also covered with fair equipment). The first step is to make it down onto the lawns in front of these buildings, and the other is to actually cross the river via the Labuda Bridge. On the other side of the river, there are beaches and a marina. Here you can take some great landscape shots. If you’re lucky there will be an event going on and they’ll have the old ships docked at the harbor!

Karłowicz Philharmonic Szczecin

This is another awesome spot to take pictures. In fact, it seems like this place was designed perfectly for an Instagram gallery. The modern architecture and the plain white background make for great shots. But I will tell you, it’s a little difficult to get just the right angle. You have to be on the other side of the street to truly capture the size of it. We only had a few hours so I never went inside, but the Karłowicz Philharmonic Szczecin is actually an Orchestra house.

City Park

If you wander far enough, you’ll also find a nifty city park near the Karłowicz Philharmonic. The park is actually concrete, but again, there’s some pretty cool architecture where you might be able to pick up some unique Instagram shots. There’s also a bronze angel standing as a reminder of the riots that took place in December of 1970. There were increases in food prices by 20-40% and the people began to protest. The protests were met with aggression and 1000’s were injured, 40 or so were killed. I’ve never been a big fan of taking Instagram selfies with memorials as I find it tends to be disrespectful, but I definitely recommend capturing the ominous beauty the angel omits looking over the square, remembering the impact that food deserts and poorly managed governments can have on communities.

For being a little polish town, there are a ton of treasured locations to photograph, fun summer events to participate in and free beer the second you step foot onto Polish soil…. I mean who can complain?

If you’re interested in exact locations of any of these pictures, shoot us a message! Also please comment, like and share with your friends if you enjoyed the post!


Cologne in 48 Hours

Cologne is usually on everyone’s bucket list when they plan their trip to Germany. I would say it’s one of the top 3 cities people think of when they’re planning their itinerary; Berlin, Munich, Cologne. I’ve flown through Germany many times, stopped for a few days on business and kept moving, so this time I made sure I was going to visit Cologne.

Cologne is famous for its Christmas markets, but unfortunately, I wasn’t there over Christmas. Instead, I was there over the summer (during a heat wave), so my experience of this city wasn’t all twinkling lights in the snow.

Before you visit Cologne, here are some things you should know:

First Impressions:

I arrived in the city via train… probably should have rented a car for my Germany excursion… but that’s another post. If you don’t know anything about German trains, they’re usually fantastic! I’ve never been on a bad German train (except for one leaving Berlin into Poland). But trains allow you to get into a city and not have to worry about parking a car. So as long as you’re traveling light and you found accommodations close to the train station, you should be fine.

Cologne Train Station:

The Cologne train station is actually pretty awesome, especially if you’re only in the city for a few hours or a few days. If you’re in the city for a few hours, Cologne’s train station is very convenient. There’s a Starbucks where you can go and grab some free Wi-Fi so you can situate yourself on google maps, as well as a luggage locker for all your stuff if you don’t want to carry it around the city (I wouldn’t’ recommend it, there’s a lot of walking). There are also a ton of shops inside the station where you can either grab a quick bite, purchase some additional traveling gear or even shop for a nice new outfit. You’ll also find there are great information kiosks – so if you’re interested in those Euro rail passes or other package type deals, these kiosks are the places where you’d pick them up. The train station is conveniently located right in the city center, so it’s not a terrible walk to most hotels.

Cologne in the summer:

Keep in mind that Cologne can get very hot, and a lot of European hotels don’t have air conditioning. I can’t speak to the hostels or the 5-star hotels, but your average 3-4 star might be lacking that precious cool air. Also, note that summer in big German cities tends to mean lots of bees! As much as my husband and I love sitting outside drinking a cocktail in the warm summer breeze, in Cologne this meant being swarmed. In fact, I saw a poor young woman trying to just eat her meal outside and her hijab was covered in bees! So if you can eat inside, it might be better than trying to fight off these pests.

Must Sees:

If you ask a young German (a German who isn’t from Berlin), most of them will tell you that the city you need to visit is Cologne. That’s because it seems to be the party central of Germany. If you’re into drinking, staying out late and clubbing… Cologne has a lot of options for you. If you’re more the sightseeing and cultural traveler, then the following list has great options for you to check out:

The Cologne Cathedral

There are a few main highlights to a Cologne trip, and this is definitely the most famous. Luckily, if you take the train, the cathedral is directly outside the station… you can’t miss it! You’ll see a lot of people eating outside on the cathedral’s steps, or you’ll see hoards of tourists taking selfies in front of the masterfully built church, but inside there are some pretty cool finds as well. Inside there is the Dreikönigenschrein, it’s a golden shrine that apparently holds the remains of the biblical Magi.

Walk along the water

After checking out the cathedral, we grabbed a bite to eat at the Funkhaus Cafe-Bar-Restaurant and checked into our hotel. After dropping off our bags, we started to explore the city and do some shopping. PS. if you want some cheap shopping, go to The first place we headed to was the water’s edge. If you walk along the river and up and over the Hohenzollern Bridge, you’ll see thousands upon thousands of locks with lover’s names scratched into them. I would definitely recommend getting a few city shots from this location as well.

The Ludwig Museum

After crossing back over the bridge, you may run across the Ludwig Art Museum. It’s a showcase for art after the 1900’s. We never actually went in, only took a look from the outside and into their main lobby area, but I’ve heard great things. Inside you’ll find Picasso’s and Andy Warhol’s.

Old Town

If you head further south along the river, towards the chocolate factory, you’ll stumble across Old Town. This is a gorgeous little area with tons of hidden streets and courtyards. You’ll also notice the stunning medieval looking homes colored up in pastels. If you’re looking for a great Instagram shot, head towards the back of the Great St. Martin Church, along the water’s edge and you’ll find 5 beautifully colored homes. I would definitely recommend checking this spot out!

Chocolate Museum

There are a ton of museums in this city, so if that’s your thing, go check out this list! But if you like chocolate, you’ve got to see this place! It’s right along the water called Imhoff-Schokoladenmuseum. Inside you’ll see a gift shop, how to make chocolate and a 3-meter tall chocolate fountain. This museum closely works with Lindt… you know those amazing chocolate balls with mousse inside!? Ya those guys, so if you want to pay $20 or so to get in, it’s defiantly a fun place to be!

If you’re really wanting to go to Cologne, I would recommend doing it in early December so you truly get to experience what Cologne is known for… it’s Christmas markets! Again, I went in the summer, but I had a few coworkers when I lived in England, who would always head here for some classic German Christmas ornaments. Going to be honest, Cologne isn’t my favourite city in Germany, but you’ve got to knock it off the list right?

Comment below and let me know what you think of the list. Should there be more added to it?

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My Laser Hair Removal Journey: Part 1 — Understanding the concept and finding a location

Just a heads up, this is where the TMI begins:

Why get laser hair removal:

I’ve always had issues with my body hair. As a western woman, it really isn’t socially acceptable to have hairy legs or hairy armpits… the natural way your body comes. It’s not something the public apparently wants to see… Suprise! A shame, I know! And this social requirement can be quite painful and a huge pain the ass! I’ve spent 10 years removing my body hair. For 10 years I’ve tried shaving, hair removal creams, waxing, and threading, some of which work better than others.

One of my major problems with shaving (the most efficient method, and the most cost-effective method to remove hair), is that my skin is so sensitive! The skin gets highly irritated when I shave over my thighs, my bikini area, and my armpits. I get itchy razor burn all over and then come the ingrown hairs! So I tried Nair… nope, not much better and now it smells terrible! Plus, Nair made my skin itch just like shaving did. So I went back to shaving again and tried a myriad of different razors. If you check out my blog on “how to avoid razor bumps,” you can see the different shaving methods I used in order to avoid those nasty itchy spots. The problem was, I never really fully got rid of the razor bumps or the ingrown hairs. So I needed another solution.

When I was 18, I waxed for the first time! It was so scary and I had no idea what to expect. I went with my best friend to a place in downtown Ottawa, Canada. It was very painful, but not unbearable… again… more on waxing if you click on this blog post! This was the first time that I realized I wasn’t getting those itchy spots and I didn’t have as many ingrown hairs. Finally! Something was working…. well kinda. They were still there, just not as many, and I had to wait 3-4 weeks before I could wax again (meaning the hair had fully grown back). So that’s at least a week or two without wearing shorts in the summer. Not to mention, the cost of waxing every 3-4 weeks was $$$$. If you’re interested in what an average wax will cost you: Check out this blog post!

Waxing was becoming tedious, shaving was annoying and itchy, and chemically burning off my hair with expensive cream wasn’t worth my time, money or scent. So I finally bit the bullet and decided to opt for laser hair removal!

What is Laser Hair Removal?

Laser hair removal is the procedure where highly concentrated light which kills hair follicles. Essentially, when the follicles absorb the light at such high concentration, it will destroy the follicle and fail to grow hair anymore. The only time when this hair follicle may start hosting more hair is if your hormones change. This is why if you ever go to a medical spa where laser hair removal is performed, they shouldn’t tell you it is 100% guaranteed hair loss. Therefore, things like pregnancy, menopause or your environment changing drastically, can cause the hair to grow back.

The pain of laser hair removal kinda depends on the person and the type of equipment being used. Some people claim the procedure is extremely painful, others say it is less painful than a Brazilian (which is good news for anyone who has had a Brazilian wax)! I personally have heard both. Also, the more sessions you do, the less painful it is.

Are you a good candidate?

After you understand the process, it’s best to understand your own body and if you should get it done. The best candidates for laser hair removal are fair-skinned people with dark hair. This is because light is attracted to darker objects. If you have fair skin, the light will be much more concentrated on your dark hairs and avoid being deflected onto your skin. I’ve noticed that everyone who is olive skin toned or darker tend to have a more painful experience than those who are lighter skinned. Now, this doesn’t mean if you’re dark skinned you shouldn’t get it done, but I would definitely recommend going in for a consultation before buying any package deal or jumping right into a procedure!

Deciding what you want done?

Deciding what you want done can be a very difficult and an almost obsessive decision. The reason I say this is because normally you go in knowing exactly what you want to remove… there is usually a problem area. But once you see the list of things they offer, you tend to get excited and want to remove everything! I would personally recommend choosing the areas you want done the most. So here are some of my tips:

First, I chose my legs because I always get razor burn and/or my legs look like prickly cactuses only after 48 hours of shaving (my hair grows quickly)! If I was tight on cash, I would choose the thigh area because that is where I tend to get the most amount of ingrown hair.

Second, I chose the Brazilian. Now this is just a preference of mine! I get ingrown hairs here all the time when waxing, so for me it’s more comfortable to just remove all the hair. Keep in mind that you can always ask them to keep a landing strip (or whatever your preference is for pubic hair style). A Brazilian (if not specifically requested by you) will remove all hair around the butt pad area, all the hair around your lady bits, and the front pubic bone area.

Third, I chose my underarms. My underarms also tend to get ingrown hairs and my hair grows quickly there as well, so I basically have to shave every other day, which as a result can irritate the skin. It’s a vicious cycle! Anyways, this area is a very popular one! In fact, if you’re strapped for cash, I would start with this one.

Lastly, I chose my sideburns (which I haven’t yet decided to fully remove or shorten). Keep reading through my journey to find out if I went ahead and got rid of them!

Now I am thinking about doing my hairline, getting rid of all those random wispy hairs in the back (but I haven’t yet decided). Whatever you decide to choose, they’ll probably be able to get rid of it. There really isn’t a spot on the body that can’t have laser hair removal done. The only spot that I’ve heard of is below the eyebrows.

Oh, let’s talk about the eyebrows! I was thinking about getting this part done, but I decided that eyebrow style changes every decade and they’re easy enough to tweeze, wax or thread, so I was going to keep these hairs on my face to play with as the styles change.

Who to go to? What you should be looking for in a provider?

Choosing the right provider can be very nerve-wracking cause you don’t want to go spend a ton of money for a poorly done procedure. Therefore the first thing I did was consider Google reviews and Yelp reviews. If you’re finding a place with 20+ reviews and they’re all 4.8 or up, that should be your starting point.

From there, find out how close they are to you, find out prices and then gather a list of questions to ask them. Here are some great questions to ask:

  • How much are the procedures for these areas? Single session? Multiple sessions? (most people have to do 5-9 sessions, sometimes more)
  • How long does a normal leg/face/Brazilian session last? (Leg sessions should be around 30-40 min)
  • How painful is it? (See what their answer is)
  • Are there package discounts when buying more than one area?
  • When are you open for sessions? During the day? After work? (This will depend on your needs)
  • Is there a consultation? (There should be!)
  • Is the consultation free? (It should be!)

After you ask around to a few different places, see which one you felt the most comfortable with and choose that location for a consultation. Remember once you go in for a consultation, you don’t need to pick them right away. It’s a lot of money and it’s a medical procedure, so take your time choosing what type of place you want to go to. Dermatologists tend to be more expensive, medical spas tend to be a nice medium, salons are little less reputable and tend to have lasers with less strength (hence why they’re cheaper!)

Before I chose the medical spa I was going to go to, I first talked to a few friends who had gotten the procedure done before. This helped me gauge what I was looking for and who was offering the best deals.

Who I chose:

I’m in DC, so I chose my location based off of reviews, price, when they were able to have patients come in (I needed to work around my busy schedule), how close they were to my house, their atmosphere and their guaranteed! I was actually torn between Izalia Spa in Old Town and DermApproach in Reston, Virginia. DermApproach had great reviews and was cheaper, but they were much farther away and they didn’t have the lifetime guaranteed that Izalia Spa had. Essentially, Izalia Spa in Old Town said that after 8 treatments, if your hair came back at any point in time, they would remove it for free. This was a huge relief because my biggest concern was, what if I had kids and my hair came back? Turns out, they will laser it off again for free!! Touch-ups are also super easy and usually don’t require multiple rounds of treatment — just one.


Yikes, the cost is a doozy! For all the things I was getting (full legs, Brazilian, underarms, sideburns), it cost me $4,900 for 5 sessions… and let’s be honest, I’m probably going to need 6-8 sessions. The reason why they put 5 sessions in a package is that most people need at least 5 sessions before they see hair completely gone. Now let’s say I need 6-8, at that point, they start discounting the sessions by 40% – 50% because there is far less hair they need to remove.

How to prep yourself for your first session?

Once you’ve committed and booked your first session, there are 6 steps you need to take before you go in to ensure you have a successful and comfortable session…

  • Make sure you shave EVERYTHING before you go in! That means that when you decide what you want done, you shave every single strand of hair in those areas. If your hair is hiding away, exfoliate exfoliate exfoliate! This will make sure that the light of the laser is getting into the follicle and not refracting. The smell of burnt hair isn’t nice and neither is pain… making sure you’re fully shaved will help to make this experience less smelly and less painful.
  • Do not wax or pluck the area… only shave. There needs to be a dark follicle at the bulb, nothing should be pulled out.
  • Make sure you shave within a 24-hour window so there isn’t any stubble.
  • Make sure that before you go to the appointment you don’t put any ointment, cream or makeup on the areas that you want done. Doing so will ensure that the light isn’t refracting off the surface of your skin causing more pain.
  • Don’t have a tan when you arrive, make sure your skin is it’s normal shade and definitely don’t fake tan during this process
  • Don’t exercise strenuously (so going to the gym or out for a run) within 12 hours of the appointment. Doing so will cause your skin to get hot, and that could cause complications with the laser. You don’t want your skin to get extra hot when the light from the laser hits, causing burn marks. Even though you may think you’ve cooled down after a few hours, your skin may not have… so make sure you follow that 12-hour rule.

Now that you’ve followed all these steps, you’re ready for your first appointment! Make sure to click on the next step of laser hair removal journey!

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What to do in Luxembourg if you’re just passing through

I hope this doesn’t offend anyone from Luxembourg, but on the travel itinerary, it’s usually an add on, an extra pit stop when you’ve got some time to play with on the German, French or Belgian border. Maybe you’re on a European train excursion and one of the stops just happen to be in Luxembourg city… this has been my experience when talking to people who’ve visited this little country. The only other people I’ve talked with, who had been to Luxembourg on purpose, was for business… and Luxembourg is a business/banking hub!

I do have to come out and be honest though, this isn’t a blog post about how I knew it was going to be amazing so I stayed for a week and lived like a local. On the contrary, I arrived in Luxembourg the same way most people do… on a whim with extra time. We were staying in Germany on business, so we had a rental car and a few extra days of leave to blow. I wanted to go explore Belgium as it was close by, but I’d already missed an opportunity to go to Lichtenstein, and I wasn’t about to do the same for Luxembourg!

So for about 6 hours, I had the opportunity to pass through this little place… little but wonderful place. Here is what I would recommend you do when visiting Luxembourg for a day:

Explore the alley ways

You can truly get lost in Luxembourg’s rabbit warren of streets, but they’re so pretty that you really won’t mind. We found some parking right downtown (driving is a little tight – make sure you’re in a small little European car) and we wandered out from there. Truth be told, the city is very walkable… in fact, if you don’t have any knee/foot problems, you should be able to walk around the entire city. One thing I noticed about Luxembourg is the gorgeous architecture and the picture perfect doors! For some reason, I’ve always been a fan of artistic doorways, and Europe, in general, doesn’t disappoint! But Luxembourg (in my opinion), had some of the prettiest doors in Europe.

Go check out the river

If you’re in the city and head east, you’ll find the Azette river within 10 -15 min of walking. The cool thing about how the city was designed, is that it is built up along the banks of the Azette, therefore winding roads that make it down to the river bank provide a very picturesque cityscape. There are cute little shops and places to get ice-cream while you stroll along.

See the market

On Wednesdays and Saturdays, Place Guillaume II (the town square) holds an open market where people sell jewelry, clothes, fresh produce, baked goods and a smorgasbord of trinkets. We actually picked up some really cool little pieces to add to our home décor. One of my favorite pieces was a pair of traditional wooden clogs. If you’re learning French, or you’re pretty good at it, this market is the best way to practice and bargain using your French language skills. In fact, I found that speaking French to the locals of Luxembourg City was actually a lot easier than speaking with those from France or Canada. For some reason, I found their French to be slowed down and much clearer than other native French speakers. This is why this market is an awesome place to interact with the locals if you’re interested in practicing your French (did I mention they’re also very patient!?). If you’re not a French speaker, no worries (neither is my husband) and he was able to communicate just fine in English… Gotta love the European education system!

Shop and get some chocolate

One of the cutest little streets we found for shopping was Rue Philippe II. I will warn you… shopping in Luxembourg will break your bank, but window shopping can be fun too, and this street provides! This is going to sound really stupid, but the first time I ever discovered Hermes was in Luxembourg… I saw a really cute purse in the window and thought… oh, I think I want to get that… little did I know this stunning accessory would put me back 15 thousand dollars! So obviously… I bought it!!!
Just kidding – I wish.
What won’t break your bank are the cafés, although still expensive (it’s Luxembourg City after all), you can get some delicious chocolaty treats and continue meandering through the city.

Visit some of the main attractions.

Luxembourg isn’t all just walking through alleyways trying not to go broke, it also has some pretty cool tourist attractions! Old Town can be quite stunning as the river winds its way through the town center, there’s a castle that you’ve got to at least take a picture of; Chateau de Vianden. Go inside Notre Dame Cathedral to see beautiful stain glass windows around the pulpit. Also… if you want a cool pic for Instagram, take a few shots around the “Philharmonic Luxembourg” – The city’s concert hall.

This country may not have the grandeur of its larger neighbors, but it’s still got a ton to offer. It’s hard for me to judge a place properly when I was only in it for 8 hours… that’s not long enough to judge an entire nation! Therefore, don’t take my word for it. Don’t just explore what I’ve mentioned… create your own adventure and explore out of the city, go on a hike in the countryside or even take a boat tour down the river Azette. This was a place I didn’t have enough time to truly soak in, so I’ve always planned on going back and properly giving this place the time and attention it deserves. Don’t be like me… give this country some proper loving!

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The Smithsonian Zoo — Tips & Tricks

The Smithsonian Zoo is a really cool part of DC to check out. If you’ve got time to make it up to Adam’s Morgan, you’ll really enjoy what this place has to offer. That being said, there are a few things you’ll want to know before going so you can make your experience as painless as possible!

When to go

You’ll want to check to see how long it is going to take you to get from your place to the zoo. There are two entrances to the zoo so one might be closer to the other. The first entrance is on Connecticut Drive, this is the major entrance that most people enter through (it can be very crowded in the summer). The next entrance (or exit) is near Beach Drive. You should check google maps and decide which entries will be easier for you. To give you an idea, it takes about 1 hour to get from Alexandria, Virginia to the Zoo entrance on Connecticut Drive if you’re taking the metro.

You should make sure to leave in the morning, earlier the better. We went around 1pm, and most of the animals were nowhere to be found. A lot of them will go to sleep in the mid-afternoon, so early morning, right after their breakfast is the best time to see them moving around (or so we’ve been told).

In terms of the time of year when you should visit the zoo… summer is always great because the walk around the park is much more enjoyable and more of the animals are out, but in the winter the panda’s come out to play in the snow so… that’s pretty adorable!

Getting There

I would recommend the metro, but I always recommend taking the metro! It’s just so much easier to hop on, hop off and not have to worry about driving amongst some pretty aggressive drivers. Plus, if you survive the drive, you then have to find parking in DC… and if you know anything about DC, good luck and $$$$$.

There is one metro stop that will get you close to the zoo — Woodley Park, it’s off of the red line and will get you close to both entrances. Head up Connecticut Avenue to go to the main entrance or head south along Connecticut, take a left down Calvert, then take another left on Beach. Keep taking Beach all the way to National Zoo Drive. This is a bit longer of a route, but you avoid the crowds at the front entrance. I love avoiding crowds — who doesn’t?!

What to do before you get there

When you come out of the metro at Woodley, you’ll see a Starbucks and a few restaurants… I would recommend getting something to eat outside the park … lines are less crazy and it’s cheaper to buy food and drinks. But, if you like food trucks, there are some great food trucks at the park!

Let’s say you decided to drive. It is probably easier to park outside of the park and walk in, rather than try to find parking at the Smithsonian. But there are parking lots at the Smithsonian if needed. If you’re looking for parking outside of the park, type “parking” into google maps around that area and it should show you a bunch of options around the Woodley metro stop and just north of the zoo.

What to see

Going on their site will show you a bunch of options, and it really depends on what animals you’re interested in. The Asia exhibit is really cool… cause Pandas! Unfortunately, when we were there this summer, we didn’t get to see any of the different Panda species, but that’s why I said to go in the morning when it’s a bit cooler.

The elephant exhibit is pretty awesome too. When they’re inside or at the watering holes, you can see them up close! Otherwise, they wander around their section and you can see them eating, sunbathing or trying to get a sneak peek at you!

The Ape exhibit was at the top of my list! Again, a lot of the primates weren’t visible when I went, but I did get to see an Orangutang, which was amazing!!

The reptile section was very crowded, but if lizards are your thing, you’d love the selection of species they have. They also have a pretty cool Amazonian exhibit. I didn’t fully check it out, but next time I try to go see the panda’s I’m going to discover how many exotic fish I can find!

My favorite section was the “Big Cats.” They had 2 Tigers and 2 lions, and they were absolutely beautiful! A lot of the times these creatures are sleeping or basking in the sun, but I’ve never been so excited for a cat to get up and walk around than I was when the tiger rolled over, stood up and majestically found a shaded patch of grass.

What to do afterward?

Once you’re done walking around the zoo, I would recommend checking out Adams Morgan. Leave the park via the South entrance (the one I mentioned was a little quieter). You’ll be walking towards it once you pass by the “Big Cats”, the “farm”, and the “Amazonian exhibit.” Wander your way through the neighborhood and walk down the bustling 18th street to find some great restaurants! Check out my the blog post “Places to Eat in Adam’s Morgan” to find some great restaurants!

To be honest, I prefer to see animals in the wild, but the Smithsonian takes very good care of their animals… animals which normally wouldn’t be able to survive in the wild on their own anyway. But if you really want to see Lions and Elephants… ethical safaris in Africa seem like a better, more natural, option.

Have you guys ever been to the Smithsonian Zoo? How many animals did you get to see? Did anyone get the opportunity to see the Panda’s playing in the snow?


Meal Planning For A Sane Person

Have you ever gone on Instagram or Pinterest and looked up meal planning? There are like these super fit models on their strict diets who have planned the SAME meal out in 12 different Tupperware containers, sprawled out in front of them… and they’re like “it only takes a few hours on a Sunday!”

Hahah right! Well, I have a few problems with this… (and it’s probably because I’m lazy), but they haven’t considered the amount of time actually planning what they’re going to eat, going out and buying groceries, then prepping the food, then cooking it, then letting it cool, then packing it away in Tupperware containers. That’s more than a few hours… or at least it didn’t take me 3 hours… it took me like… 5 hours on a Sunday. I’m sorry but I have better, lazier things to do on a Sunday! I have a stressful job, I’m learning languages, I try to work out as many times as I can and I run my business, so when I have time to just brain dump, I take it… Sundays are my lazy brain dump days.

Now let’s say you had the motivation to actually do ALL this one Sunday or even maybe pulled this off for a few months… You’ve now got the same meal or same 3 meals for the next 12 days…………… yikes. I don’t necessarily call myself a foodie, but I love food and I think if you’re going to eat, it shouldn’t be a chore. Eating is enjoyable for us homo sapiens and therefore I don’t think making it a chore is a healthy thing to do.

So here is what I decided to do after a few attempts at regimenting my meals… relax and stop stressing. I still wanted to be healthy, I still wanted (at the time) to minimize my calories, but I also wanted to spend some nights going out for drinks, or having a cookie or not spending 12 dollars on a salad across the street from work. I wanted to save money, eat well, and lose weight… how hard could that be right? Don’t get overwhelmed by Instagram and Pinterest, it’s actually quite doable and as a result, you also waste a lot less food!

Here’s the plan:

Make your plan! This is the most important step… and it should only take about 30 min. This step also needs tweaking depending on your needs (size of your family, how big are the meals, etc.). But for a couple who works all day and has restaurants nearby at night, this is what we tend to do.

Step 1: Find one or two Pinterest/ Instagram/ youtube or cookbook recipes that you want to try. Remember an old dinner you love? — pick that too! Now pick something easy like grilled cheese or spaghetti or whatever floats your boat. Then maybe (if you want), leave a Friday or a Saturday for fast food/ eating out/ or whatever. Essentially you should have 4-5 meal options for a 7 day week. If you’re doing a big soup or a huge pot of chili… that could count easily as 2 dinners and 2 lunches for a couple. If you have 5 kids… different story, as I said, this will take some tweaking.

Step 2: Create a list of ingredients, I use the app Listonic to put together my grocery list. In my grocery list, I tend to include some fruits for snacking, instant oatmeal in the morning, or whatever else I like to just nibble on.

Check out my post on how to snack and lose weight!

Boom! Saturday’s meal planning is over!

Go to the grocery store and pick up your ingredients. If you’re ambitious (and not lazy like me) you can create some healthy snacks that afternoon, and or just stick to making your first Sunday meal that night. Once the meal is cooked, and devoured, put the leftovers in Tupperware containers, cut up a few pieces of fruit and nuts, or some other snacks you may have bought, and pack them away for lunch tomorrow. Lunches don’t need to be huge, just pack enough to eat so that you’re not starving at work. Again this will take a few weeks to figure out. Once I packed way too little and had to go out and grab a breakfast sandwich by 10am… I figured out the next week that I’d pack a few more snacks. If you’re interested in knowing how to snack healthy at work: check out this blog post!

Monday night:
Now you’re home from a long day at work… there are two options you can do… eat your lazy meal (spaghetti or whatever) or put on a cooking show and start creating one of your exciting new Pinterest recipes. Get creative! Sometimes I’ll throw on an audiobook while cooking, throw on some traditional music of the country in which the dish came from, or I’ll get my husband to help and we’ll knock out the meal and clean up together. While I’m cooking Monday’s meal, I also sometimes prep Tuesday’s meal. That could mean cutting up veggies ahead of time, putting everything in the crockpot so all I have to do is plug it in Tuesday morning. There are all sorts of ways to make your life easier. Again when everything is done, enjoy and put the rest in Tupperware.

At this point, you may find you have more than a few lunches (depending on how many servings came with your recipe). This is where you can either take a break the next few days or keep repeating the same process and freezing extra lunches you don’t need.

Thursday Night:
By this point, you might be tired of cooking and just want to chill and watch Netflix. Hell, maybe even go out and have a drink… after all that your boss put you through… you probably deserve an old fashion by now. It’s Thirsty Thursday…. they can’t judge you for throwing some back! In this case, you can either order pizza (have a slice or two then put the rest away for lunches), make some Mac & cheese, go college kid style and make some ramen… you do you… but definitely, have a drink (or two)! Thursdays are a great reason to drink 😉 If you’re going to do a lazy meal this night, make sure to make enough that you have leftovers. Or have some great easy meals in the pantry you can just grab and go. Some of my favs are ramen packs, miso soup packs, and 90-second rice packs + some Bombay potatoes in those 60-second heat-up packs. Easy to just throw those in the microwave the night before, split the rice in two, split the toppings in two, plop in your Tupperware containers and bam… good to go! Another easy option is just to make a quick sandwich…. PB&J…. make it a classic!

At this point, there are probably a lot of leftovers in your fridge, so you can start scrounging, or maybe you planned a big Saturday night feast, or you want to go out to a restaurant… the weekend is your oyster! Plan for the week ahead and enjoy once again.

FYI: A flank steak is an easy slab of meat to cook, and if cut in 4, it’s a great meal + lunch option for 2 people.

How do you guys meal plan and does it change depending on your work schedule?

Visiting Petra, Jordan – Tips & Tricks

Driving through the Jordanian desert with my father, I was horribly ill after eating something I probably shouldn’t have, but on this day, this was one of the better days. As the majority of this trip was spent focusing on providing assistance to Syrian refugees in the north of Jordan, a little tourist excursion was a pleasant getaway. As we approached Petra, the excitement overtook the queasy stomach. When we arrived, we weren’t entirely prepared for the excursion, so we asked a few locals for tips, and were we glad we listened! Here are seven ways to make the most of your trip to Petra in the beautiful Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan!

Get there early!

My father and I arrived in Petra around 6:00am, which is right when the ticket booths open. You’ll want to arrive early in order to avoid the eventual crowds that arrive a couple hours later. As we were the first people to arrive (literally), acquiring tickets was painless, and we had Petra all to ourselves. As a tourist who is not a Jordanian citizen, you must pay more, but the fee for entry depends on how long you’ve been in the country. We were definitely there for more than three days, so our tickets cost us 60 Dinar (JOD) or roughly 84 dollars (USD). If you’ve only been in the country for two days it costs less, around 55 dinar, and if you’ve only been in the country for one day it costs only 50 dinar. When you arrived at the first monastery, there will be about six camels waiting for you — another reason to show up early — you don’t have to wait for one!

Don’t take the carriage ride!

At the ticket booth, they’ll ask you if you want a carriage ride. A local told us to not bother paying the extra 20-40 dinar — and he was right! First of all, this allows you to stroll through the mesmerizing gulches full of ancient art decorating the canyon walls — something you wouldn’t be able to witness if you flew by on a carriage. Another reason to avoid the carriage is that they are terribly bumpy — just imagine a rickety carriage flying over cobblestones and uneven rock…not my cup of tea. The only true benefit to the carriage ride is not having to constantly tell the Bedouin children you are not interested in their jewelry…unless of course, you are interested in a souvenir, then go ahead and splurge!

Side note: The longer I spent in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, the more I realized how much of a ripoff a lot of the touristy places were. The guides have no problem lying to you about historical facts and offering you “historical” items, later requesting you pay for what they handed you. Of course none of these “artifacts” they offer you are actually real and the prices skyrocket once you enter these areas. In all honesty, prices skyrocket once they realize you’re a foreigner, even in local rural markets, it’s just something you have to accept. You still do have the option of attempting to negotiate prices–it is your money after all. Local rural markets offer a lot of the best stuff!

Ride the Camel

Once you get to the treasury (the first spectacular work of ancient architecture), you’ll see camels lying down and Bedouin men offering you a ride — TAKE IT! Spend the money and saunter (or run) through the lower half of Petra via camel, they’re a ton of fun to ride and the experience will make you feel as though you’ve gone back in time. The Bedouin men tend to hold the rope as they walk beside you, but if they feel you’re a competent rider, they’ll let you take control of the camel…which ultimately decides where you’re going.

Take the Donkey

As you wander, you’ll come to a cliff face and will have to make your next big decision — walk the rest of the way, or take the donkey? If you’re scared of heights, or the possibility of dying in a crevasse in the middle of Jordan — do not take the donkey — just choose to walk. Walking takes about four hours for the average person, or if you’re fit, maybe two hours (the “Bedouin” kids can do it in about 20 minutes). My father and I decided to take the donkey as per the local’s recommendation, but we had no idea the absolute terror we were about to endure. I would be lying if didn’t tell you that the daredevil in me was utterly thrilled at the idea of a 1 1/2 hour near-death experience. My father on the other hand — a man who I had never seen afraid of anything in my entire life — was now debating this donkey-decision with every precariously placed step of the donkey’s hoof. The Bedouin men had control of the donkeys when they needed to, but mostly let the donkey follow it’s own instincts.

Going up wasn’t even the worse part of the adventure…it was going down. The specific problem with going down was that the donkeys wanted to go fast. So here you are at deathly angles with your feet at the donkey ears, finding yourself holding on for dear life as this animal careens down the side of what seems to be an almost vertical cliff. The cliffs seem to get steeper and steeper the farther down you go, leaning to my unprecedented willingness to try to get killed in the Middle East. But I would not have had it any other way.

Explore at the top!

Petra’s upper Monastery

After passing many little stalls selling jewelry and trinkets and crossing over dangerous precipices, you’ll arrive at the top. Around the bend, you’ll see the monastery, grandiose and lonely in the morning light. I honestly wish I would have stayed longer and got some better pictures, but at the time of this adventure I wasn’t thinking about photography or blogging, but rather experiencing. Regardless, make sure to climb the nearby rocks and get a far away shot of this beautiful structure!

Be willing to Say “No”

You’ll find that people are trying to sell you a ton of things when you get to Petra (or anywhere in Jordan for that matter), but be wise. A lot of what they are trying to sell you is not what they claim. Chances are they are not selling actual silver or gold. Chances are those are not actually historical items but replicas. Chances are you’re getting a really bad price. If you really do want something, by all means, indulge and just accept you’ll never get the “locals” price. It’s something you just have to get used to in crowded touristy areas or markets, the art of saying, “no.” Sometimes the art of saying “no” is gentle and calm, and other times it will take a firm and abrupt “no” to get the job done. It will all depend on the situation, but don’t feel like you’re being rude if you don’t want to buy something that’s being thrust into your path. Also do not accept anything they try to put in your hands (this should apply for any country), because once it’s in your hand, they’ll require you to buy it or claim that you were trying to steal the item — so just be wary.

Have any other suggestions for a trip to Petra? Let us know by commenting below!