Exploring our state: Malibu, Hollywood, and Venice Beach

Since moving to California last year, I’ve jumped at the opportunity to explore more of our new state. Ollie and I spent a sunny weekend in July checking out Malibu, Hollywood, and Venice Beach (finally utilizing our proximity to LA). Although they were all quite touristy, I still wanted to see what the hype was about at least once. We strolled along Malibu Pier, the Walk of Fame, and Venice Beach. The color of the water in Malibu took my breath away. Getting to see the Harry Potter square in Hollywood was so much fun since I’m such a huge fan. And even though I wasn’t too impressed by Venice Beach, it is pretty famous and I’m glad I got to experience it. Here are some snaps from the weekend… I love you California!

Check out the vlog here: Malibu, Hollywood, and Venice Beach

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Ireland Photo Diary

One year of marriage seemed like a good time to throw it back to our long weekend in Ireland where we got engaged! Endless amounts of Guinness, driving through the beautiful countryside, hanging out in cemeteries, kissing the Blarney Stone… I definitely miss exploring this country and can’t wait to get back. I won’t say more, I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves 🙂

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Get (Dis)Connected

Not being able to connect to wifi for any extended period time seems crazy and/or impossible in the world we live in today. Our smart phones have become an extension of our bodies. We are constantly texting, instagramming, facebooking, snap chatting, emailing, “connecting.” But it turns out when you spend 3 days on a volcanic island in the middle of a lake in the middle of a third world country in Central America (cue Isla de Ometepe in Nicaragua), the wifi connection isn’t too great. In fact, it’s so bad that the hostel we stayed in didn’t even bother with it. So after panicking about how I would survive without internet connection for that long, I decided to put away my (now useless) phone and just live. My time on Ometepe ended up being the best part of my trip to Nicaragua and also the most vivid in my memory.

Here’s what you do when you can’t be on your phone: you take the long way to get somewhere, passing tobacco fields and waving to passersby along the way; you rope swing into Ojo de Agua mineral pool and feel no rush to ever leave; you drink beers in the top of a treehouse while you share stories, laughs, and views of the sunset with new friends; you spend hours at an organic restaurant sampling as much of the menu as you can, relishing in the flavors; you play pool again and again even though you’re really bad at pool, but it’s somehow fun; you eat breakfast and dinner with everyone at a big table and actually have conversations instead of hiding on your phone. I talked to more people while I stayed on Ometepe than I did on the rest of my trip combined. It left me feeling truly connected during my time there, which is ironic because it’s the longest I’ve ever been disconnected.

I took away an important travel lesson after that experience about how important it is to disconnect from our smart phones in order to really connect with the people and places around us. As hesitant as I was at the beginning, and as uncomfortable or unentertaining I thought it might be, it ended up being a huge blessing. I left feeling very grateful for my 3, wifi-less days on Ometepe. Here are some photos I took on the island–which I couldn’t share on the internet until days later 😉 (how amazing is that sunset?!?!)

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Lasting Impressions From My 1st Time in a 3rd World Country

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I think it’s pretty fair to say that most travelers go into a trip hoping to be changed by it in some way (i.e. want to have a life-changing experience). That’s how I’ve always felt before embarking into the unknown on all of my travels. Will this trip change me? What will I learn? What will I feel differently about when I return?

I wondered about these questions more than usual before heading to Nicaragua because I knew it would be a trip full of many “firsts.” Visiting has definitely left a lasting impression on me. Being in a third world country was a lot different from the way I am used to living, and it put me outside of my “comfort zone” physically, but I loved experiencing the daily life there. I want to share what “third world” looked like to my eyes:

  1. No heated water for showers.
  2. You can’t flush the toilet paper in most places because there really isn’t a plumbing system (you throw it away in the garbage can).
  3. Houses are kind of half built, meaning the walls may not be completely connected or closed off to the outside. They don’t keep much out as far as spiders and rats go.
  4. The language barrier was challenging. People from America expect everyone in the world to speak English. Not the case.
  5. Riding in a chicken bus squished between what seemed like way too many people to be riding on one bus, with little children maneuvering their way through the aisle to try to sell the white people stuff 😉
  6. You can experience SO much for SO little.
  7. Living simply.

Many of these things may come off as sounding like a negative experience, but it was just the opposite. Showering in an outdoor shower with cold water in the middle of a jungle with spiders on every wall actually felt amazing, exciting, and refreshing. Rats coming into our room during the night and eating through my bag was actually funny and made for a really great story (the rat wasn’t interested in us thank god!). Dealing with the language barrier was tough, but it left us feeling satisfied and proud of ourselves when we would succeed. It also made the experience more authentic. Riding in a chicken bus was not what I would call comfortable, but it got us from point A to point B on the cheap. It engaged all my senses–listening to the locals talk on the bus, looking at all the goodies the children were coming around with, seeing the sights pass by through the window, etc. Nicaragua was a very affordable country to visit, without lacking any beauty or activities you would find in a more expensive location. We did so much, ate so much, and drank so much without going broke.

I was also struck by how simply the people lived (but were happy). One local in particular has stuck with me–our surf instructor in Popoyo. He had lived there his whole life and got to spend every day surfing. Popoyo is such a gorgeous, untouched beach front town, and I couldn’t help but be in awe of the fact that he got to wake up to it every day and just surf. He was such a nice, sweet person and a really great (and patient) surf instructor. His life is so much simpler than mine, but I can’t say that’s a bad thing. I’m grateful to have grown up in America and wouldn’t trade it for anything, but just because someone lives in a third world country doesn’t mean they are worth less or have it bad. People have it good everywhere, and people have it bad everywhere. It doesn’t really matter if it’s in a developing country or a highly advanced country. Visiting Nicaragua gave me some perspective on that, which I think is really important and is a huge reason to travel.

Lastly, I would like to address one question that will always come up when you mention you are traveling to a third world country. When I told one friend I was going you could see the look of fear cross her face before she asked me if it was even safe to go. And I know my family was worried about me and less than pleased at my choice of country to visit over Christmas break. So did I ever feel unsafe? The answer is (for the most part) no. There was only one moment in the whole trip that I was a bit scared except it wasn’t your typical scary story. We were standing outside a hostel in San Juan waiting for our ride after purchasing our Sunday Funday tickets. It was broad daylight and there were loads of people around. I noticed a local man yelling a bit down the road (not sure at who), and before you know it he came running out of his house with a machete trying to chase after someone. The women in his house had to physically hold him back and yell at him to stop and come back inside. Nothing ended up happening and he never even looked in our direction, but it did make me feel a bit uneasy (most likely because I’m not used to people getting around carrying machetes, which was very common in Nicaragua). Besides watching that uncomfortable scene that many people I was with didn’t even notice, there were no points in time where I felt unsafe, and I obviously never went anywhere alone. I’m glad I didn’t let fear hold me back from visiting this amazing country.

My trip to Nicaragua will always be special to me–it was my first time in a third world country and also my first time backpacking. More on the backpacking aspect of the trip soon!

Nicaragua Photo Diary

Our route and where we stayed 🙂

I flew into Managua, Nicaragua and met up with Ellen at the airport. We decided to only spend one night in Managua since there was not much of interest to do. We stopped by a local bar for our first Tonas and tostones of the trip!

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Next we were off to Isla de Ometepe for a couple nights on a volcanic island. It reminded us of Jurassic Park! We swam in Ojo de Agua, ate at local restaurants, and spent the days exploring by foot and by bike.

Hostel: Little Morgan’s

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We decided to head to Popoyo, which was not originally in our plans. I loved this surf town! We wandered along the untouched, empty beach, watched gorgeous sunsets, and got into the water for some surfing with a local instructor.

Hostel: Magnificent Rock

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Then it was time to head to the popular San Juan del Sur! We had lobster dinners, celebrated Christmas, hiked to the Jesus Statue, visited more beaches, gave surfing another go, and partied at the Sunday Funday Pool Crawl.

Hostel: Casa de Olas

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It was then time to head off to our final destination: Granada! We gazed at the city’s beautiful architecture, wandered through the street markets, went to the top of Mombacho Volcano, cruised around the isletas in search of monkeys, and spent a lot of time eating and drinking on Calle Calzada.

Hostel: Hostel Oasis

 

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While in Granada our hostel arranged a day trip to Laguna de Apoyo (at Paradiso Hostel), which was one of the best days of the trip for me. We lounged on a floating dock, drank pina coladas, and swam in the warm volcanic water. Bliss.

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We sadly did not have time to visit Leon or the Corn Islands, which I would have loved to check out! Next time 🙂

My experiences in Nicaragua hold a special place in my heart, and I have a couple more posts to share about my trip coming soon. Muchos besos Nicaragua! If this country isn’t on your list it should be!

Wales Was A Fairytale

You know a place is good when even an iPhone can capture its beauty. I came to Wales almost on a whim–booking the tour was a last minute decision we made after realizing we would have a day to spare and would be in the area. To get the most out of the one day we had, we booked a day trip with Busy Bus. A lot of travelers will put down doing organized tours, but you can’t deny their convenience and efficiency if you only have a short amount of time to experience a certain destination. Plus, having a guide gives you a chance to learn about the sites you visit and take away some knowledge. Tours also give free time to explore on your own, so they’re not always the picture of tourists with fanny packs following around a guide with a microphone like you may imagine. Our day trip took us through Llandudno, Conwy, Llangollen, and more. I got to go into Britain’s smallest house, learn how to pronounce the longest railway station name in the world, walk across the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct, see the charm of Betws-Y-Coed, the moodiness of an overcast seaside resort, and the lush greenness of Snowdonia National Park. It was a fun-filled day of exploring, and I’m happy that Wales is now on the list of countries I’ve been to!

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I used Busy Bus for this day trip! It was the Northern Wales Adventure Tour. Find them here: http://www.busybus.co.uk