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My Birthright Trip to Israel: Adventure of a Lifetime!

Where to even begin??? 

This summer my sister and I were lucky enough to be accepted on a Taglit Birthright trip to Israel for 10 days. It is open for young adults 18-26 with at least one Jewish parent to go on a free trip to Israel. We picked to go with the LA group (since we are originally from CA and there are no groups that leave from TX). There are many different themes for the trips such a culinary, LGBTQ, outdoor adventure, and yoga, but we chose to go with Israel with Israelis. The entire 10 days we had current IDF (Israeli Defense Forces) soldiers with us as well as former IDF soldiers and one security guard. Our Israelis were amazing and became like family to all of us over the course of the trip. Having them as guides through their own cities enriched the experience in a significant way that we would never have been able to attain on our own. They, along with our guide, Yossi, and our trip leaders, Natalie and Amy, truly made the trip an experience of a lifetime.

This is going to be a longgg post so bear with me. I am going to try to summarize as best I can but it was a JAM PACKED 10 days. There is a lot to tell!

Pre-Trip (Wednesday)

I had the day off from work and had to finish packing up my house because it had already sold and was closing RIGHT when I got back from Israel. Got my hair done (#travelbun) and then Tara and I flew to LA to meet our group. Our trip was going from LA to Toronto to Tel Aviv (I realize starting in LA was going in the wrong direction, I couldn’t help it!) We chilled in the American Airlines lounge in DFW for awhile and they had an open bar 🙂 Our flight to LA was a little delayed, but that was cool since it meant less wait time in LAX.

We finally got to the Air Canada desk in LAX and were the second group to arrive at check in. We waited for a few more hours for people to arrive and then we made the mass exodus to our gate.

The six hour flight to Toronto went well and I slept most of the time. We had about a two hour layover in Toronto to get snacks and stretch our legs before the 10 hour flight to Tel Aviv. Tara and I didn’t get to sit next to each other on either flight, but we both slept a good portion of the time and have movies to watch so we were ok. I like meeting new people, but once you’ve already been on two other fairly significant flights, the third one becomes a struggle. I’m very glad I slept though because apparently almost everyone around me was throwing up for most of the flight. I don’t handle throwing up well for either myself or others (reason #1 I should have never declared myself a nursing major) so sleeping through most of that was probably the best thing that could have happened.

Day One (Thursday)

We finally landed in Tel Aviv, went through a veryyyy long security line, collected our luggage, and met Yossi, our guide, and our Israelis! They greeted us with mini-falafel sandwiches and a group dance.

We then boarded a bus for a 2 hour ride north to the Sea of Galilee in the Golan Heights where we would stay for the next three days in our Kibbutz. Upon arrival we were given our room assignments and I was nervous because Tara and I were not rooming together. It wasn’t a big deal though since both of my new roommates were really cool (shoutout to Ali and Zoe!) and were also closer to my age. I had waited quite awhile to go on this trip since I wanted to go with Tara and both of our schedules for the last few years have been super crazy. I was about to age of the program so I was one of the oldest on the trip at 26.

We ended the first day by hanging out at the Kibbutz and enjoying the beautiful sunset over the Sea of Galilee. We were warned not to go down into the water since there is a very strong undercurrent. While we were there two people (not in our group) actually died from drowning in the sea! It looks calm above, but is very dangerous below the surface.

Day Two (Friday)

The next morning we ate what would become our normal breakfast buffet of salad, pastries, homemade bread, and fruit. Almost everywhere we stayed had a similar spread, but it was delicious at every single stop.

After breakfast we went on a water hike through the Zavitan stream. Yossi tried to tell me there was a shark in the water, but I was not fooled. It was extremely cold and an interesting start to the trip.

We then were told that we were going to see the boarder of Syria and then have another water adventure. Kind of the downside of not being the only Birthright trip is that you do actives in a very weird order. There are specific sites that Shorashim and Taglit want you to see, but you have to compete with other Birthright groups for the same locations so everyone sees the same things, but usually in a different order. It’s nice because then there aren’t 20 groups in the same place at the same time, but it’s weird because then you sometimes see things in a very strange order. It was weird to us that we couldn’t do the two water activities back-to-back, but there was a method to the madness.

The Syrian border was very surreal. We in America hear all of the time about the fighting that is constantly happening over in the Middle East and I actually got to experience it. Even though we were still in Israel, we could see and hear guns and bombs going off in a boarder city not that far away. While we were there we were told not to be concerned about the bombs hitting us since the Syrians were just fighting with each other. We later found out that about 45 minutes after we left a stray Syrian bomb fell on the Israel side of the boarder and we would have had to evacuate! It was not meant for Israel, but things like that happen often. There is always a military presence to keep watch over the fighting and ensure that it doesn’t get too close to Israel. The watch point we visited was an old IDF bunker on top of Mount Bental, complete with coffee shop.

After our sobering experience on the boarder, we went on a rafting ride down the Jordan River. It was very similar to going floating down the Brazos in Texas, but instead of hearing Spanish I heard Arabic and Hebrew.

It was a very fun afternoon and great start to Shabbat. I grew up mainly only celebrating random Jewish holidays, but never going through real Shabbat or attending Synagog. While on the trip we experienced two Shabbats and I plan to take some of those traditions into my own every day life.

Day Three (Saturday)

Shabbat starts at sundown on Friday night and ends at sundown on Saturday night. During Shabbos you are not supposed to use technology (if you’re really strict) and basically just rest and spend time with your family. We all hung out at the Kibbutz, listen to Yossi give some lectures on Jewish Identity, and some people made a slip-in-slide out of trash bags. My sister led a good portion of the group in yoga and everyone really seemed to enjoy the experience.

We visited the graves of some of Israel’s most famous poets since it was only a short walk away from our Kibbutz. Our Israelis (with soloist, Ann) sang us a lovely song and we learned the national anthem that one of the poets buried there wrote. We went back to the Kibbutz to end Shabbat with a ceremony called Havdallah

Day Four (Sunday)

We had breakfast, packed up our stuff, and drove to Tel Aviv! We got to pick where we all wanted to go for lunch so I went with Ann and a group of others to Aroma, which is basically the Starbucks of Israel (but with really good food). I got my first Israeli Iced Coffee and it has changed my life. Basically anytime I saw an Aroma after that I had to stop in for a coffee. Amazing.

Then we went to Independence Hall which is where David Ben-Gurion declared Israel an Independent Jewish State in a 30 minute ceremony. The curator of the hall was extremely well-spoken and knowledgeable which only added to our excitement of finally being in air-conditioning.

After the talk we went to the Taglit Birthright Entrepreneurship Center right next to the Stock Exchange. Israel’s nickname is the “Start-Up Nation” and there is a huge emphasis on technology and innovation. We listened to a young entrepreneur tell us about his fitness product that he is launching to major retailers and were able to ask him questions about his journey. Before the tour was over we got hang out in this room that showed some of the major advancements Israelis have made in the fields of technology with apps, water purifying inventions, and virtual reality. I learned that my favorite navigation app, Waze, is actually an Israeli invention!

Tel Aviv is home to Jerusalem Beach as well as a bunch of jellyfish. We made our way there next and were delighted to get the opportunity to swim in the warm, Mediterranean Sea. Most left the water not long after getting in due to the jellyfish stings. I was zapped a few times, but there were also little fish that liked to take nibbles on my legs so I was never sure if was being stung or bitten. I wish we could have stayed longer, but time was precious and we had a lot more to do that day.

We checked into our hotel, were assigned new roommates (shoutout to Danielle and Stephanie!), and got ready for dinner. Our restaurant, Dr. Shakshuka, was an experience. Shakshuka is a tomato dish with baked eggs; you eat it with bread and it is glorious. We sat outside (still very hot even at dark) at these communal tables and ate family-style with our new family.

After dinner we finally got to have a night out! Most of us made our way to a random bar, danced a little, drank a little, and had a group toast with Arak, this Lebanese liquor that taste like licorice/anise. The group mainly split up after that and I found myself with a group of the recent UC Davis grads going to a Hookah bar. It was right down the street from our hotel so we hung there for awhile and eventually most of the group caught up with us and we had to head back to the hotel. We continued the party back at the hotel and then I stayed up with my roommates having Girl Talk. It was a blast 🙂

Shorashim has gotten very strict over the past few years about drinking and going out, but several people had siblings/friends/cousins who had gone on the trip back in the day and had a crazyyyy time. Even with the “strict” rules, we still managed to have a good time; it was basically a party wherever we went. Our group got along so well, especially compared to the other groups that were there at the same time as us. I am so happy we picked the LA group instead of my first choice, New York. This would be a very different blog post if that happened.

Day Five (Monday)

The next morning came very early. The motto of the trip quickly became “Sleep when you’re dead”. We ate our usual breakfast in the hotel and then were split into two groups for tours of Tel Aviv. Tara got into the Graffiti Tour and I was assigned the Market Tour. We were very pleased with these decisions and made sure to fill each other in afterwards.

Markets in the Middle East are still very much a part of everyday life. They are also called “shuks” and sell literally anything you could ever want from fresh vegetables and fruit to tchotchkes to fake Kylie Jenner Lip Kits! I could spend all day in these markets and still never see everything.

You also get to do one of my favorite activities: Haggling! Not sure if I am the best at it, but it’s seriously so much fun. I was on the lookout for souvenirs since we actually didn’t have that much time to shop at any of our stops thus far. (At the end of the trip I managed to lose a bunch of stuff I bought, unfortunately). During the tour we talked our tour guide into stopped at THE BEST HUMMUS PLACE EVER! I took literally the best picture of this hummus (see below) and it was actually reblogged by a bunch of Israeli Instagram accounts, including the restaurant’s and the Official Shorashim account!

We were walking around the Shuk and I could have sworn the temperature was 115 degrees, but when I checked my phone said it was only 86…. THAT IS HOW HUMID IT IS. Britney Spears was there at the same time that we were and the newspaper said “Heat Me Baby”. Unfortunately we did not run into her, but we were very hopeful.

After our tours we accidentally ran into the Mayor of Tel Aviv! His office is right next to Rabin Square, which is also where an assassination had taken place in the 80’s.

Our activity was to go up to people and ask if they remembered what happened, what changed after the assassination, and how they feel about politics now. Not going to lie, I was not really feeling this activity. It was veryyy hot. I was wearing a Maxi-dress since we needed to dress modestly for the activities later in the day and I made the dumb decision to wear that allll day instead of just throwing it on later for a little bit. After the activity we got lunch and hung out at the Shuk for awhile before meeting back up with the group and heading to Jerusalem.

Our many bus rides mainly served us as extra nap time. There are way too many pictures of me circulating around napping while wearing my travel pillow. Also: that travel pillow is the real MVP. It was a total game changer in the nap arena. If you are going on a trip like this do yourself a favor and #treatyoself to this pillow. I got mine at Target and it is grey, comes with a carrying case, and can double as a real pillow if you are lying on the group. It has these little clips on either side that clip together and then you can tighten it so it stays on when you’re resting your head. I think it was about $40, which seems like a lot for what it is, but trust me it’s so worth it.

Once in Jerusalem we visited the Jewish quarter and finally got to go to the Western Wall. Literally everyday, multiple times a day, there was something that just made me go WOW and this was no exception. All my life hearing about this region, the history, the people, the conflicts, it all cumulated to this point.

Surreal doesn’t even begin to describe the feeling of being at the Wall. We learned that we were going to return at the end of the trip for Shabbat at the Wall! This day though, while crowded, was way less intense then Shabbat at the end of the trip. I was very over walking by the point (skirts, thick thighs, and hot weather do NOT mix. TMI?) so fortunately we were checking into our hotel/Kibbutz. It was not the original one were supposed to be in, but this was easily the nicest place we stayed the entire trip (also had the best food). I did not want to leave. Also: the only hotel with a hair dryer so guess who took advantage of that! 😉

That night we had a chat from a professor on a little bit of the history of the conflicts that are still happening today and then we regrouped afterwards to prepare for our visit to Yad Veshem, the Holocaust museum.

Day Six

We woke up, ate the best breakfast, and packed our stuff. We immediately went to Yad Veshem. Yossi told us that whenever a foreign dignitary visits Israel they immediately visit here first. When we got there the museum was preparing for the Indian Prime Minister to arrive so we took a different path than normal. We saw a specific memorial to the children lost in the Holocaust and it was super trippy. Our tour guide was very long winded so we all eventually just toured on our own through the museum (I might have been really tired and fell asleep whenever I sat down in any given exhibit, my bad).

This was a very large museum compared to the one in Dallas that I am used to, but the one in DC is also awesome and I think I enjoyed that one more. I ran into another Liberty grad in the museum, but I figured out that we weren’t at school at the same time. Still, really cool that we are all over the world! Yad Veshem had a lot of interesting things that I had not yet seen before in any of the other Holocaust museums I had visited in the past. I am hoping to return another time when I am not so tired and have a better guide. In the gift shop Adi showed me a book her grandfather had written!  She said it was his life story about living in Amsterdam during the Holocaust. It will soon be translated into English and it is called “Denouncing and Rescue; Dutch Society and the Holocaust“.

We then drove south to Sderot and visited a playground in a bomb shelter that the Jewish National Fund (JNF) built. They showed us a video about how when a bomb is coming near the city an alarm goes off and everyone has 15 SECONDS to get into a bomb shelter. It’s now a law in Israel that every single home has a bomb shelter. In other cities they may have longer to get into the shelter, but instead of 15 seconds maybe one minute. The video depicted a children’s birthday party being interrupted by the alarm and everyone having to scramble into the bomb shelter.

The director of the playground said that there have not been bombs for the past few months, but to live constantly in fear that you could get bombed at any time is incredibly scary. The playground is built so that anything is easy to jump off of so when the alarm sounds the kids can quickly get into the bomb shelter. We were able to play with some of the kids and hang out in the air conditioning for a little bit before heading to our next Kibbutz.

We got to the next Kibbutz and were assigned new roommates again. Tara and I finally got to room together along with Rachel. We got dinner and then Yossi taught us some traditional Israeli dances! It was extremely hot in our little meeting room, but we all had a blast learning the dances and putting our own twist on them. That night coincided with the 4th of July so after the dances the Kibbutz opened up their bar and almost everyone went down to party and celebrate. I unfortunately was not feeling well and was greatly in need of some alone time so I just went back to my room. I love being with other people, but sometimes I just need to be alone and recharge. I apparently missed quite a night so that is my main regret of the trip (besides losing like half of my souvenirs!

Day Seven (Wednesday)

We ate breakfast and started hiking in the Negev Desert. Every two seconds the leaders were reminding us to “Mickey Mickey!”. It’s a drinking game that Israeli’s play, but instead of alcohol we had water. Staying hydrated is crucial in Israel since the climate is so hot and humid.

After the hike we went to David Ben-Gurion and his wife’s graves. He could have been buried in another cemetery that we visited later, but he wanted to be different and be buried in the desert. Yossi told us that Ben-Gurion was really into headstands so we had our resident yogi, Tara, demonstrate a headstand.

There was a snake sighting at the graves, which was scary, but what was more exciting were the Ibex goats that we saw! They were super cute and skittish. We were all obsessed with them.

We got on the bus and headed deeper into the desert to the Bedouin tents where we would spend the night. We all shared a huge tent where we dropped our stuff and then finally got to go ride the camels! #humpday

I had been wayyy too excited about riding the camels ever since I first saw the itinerary before the trip started. Tara pulled the vegan card and refused to ride the camel so I shared Clarissa the Camel with Sarah.

I wish we could have ridden longer, but my 15 minutes with Clarissa were magical and will always be remembered fondly. After the camel rides we had a traditional tea and coffee ceremony with a real Bedouin. The IDF do not let them roam freely anymore so this campsite was more of a re-creation of one meant for visitors.

Some may have been upset that this was not the “real deal“, but this was about as close as you could get since the real thing no longer exists. My opinion was that this was a FREE trip and we should be grateful for the opportunity to be here so they can take me wherever they want to go.  I still had a great time and enjoyed seeing all of the other Birthright groups that were there at the same time. A few tents away was a musical group trip from Argentina. They played music allllll night, but were amazing so I didn’t care that I only got three hours of sleep.

Day Eight (Thursday)

We awoke before dawn to pack up and go hike Masada. There really wasn’t breakfast so Tara and I ate some snacks that we had brought along just in case. Tara, as previously mentioned, is a vegan and we were nervous about not having enough food options for her before we left so she bought a ton of snacks. However, Israel is suuuuuuper into veganism so finding something for her was never a challenge.

Masada is the ancient fortress of King Herod and is quite a hike! There are several ways to reach the top, but all of them are challenging (except the gondola that I found out about after the hike…). We hiked up before the sun had fully risen and were greeted with the most amazing view.

I also appreciated that we were there before the heat hit full impact. We hung out on the top for awhile, saw where the inhabitants used to collect the water, and then several people in our group put on a little play directed by Yossi. After the play we finally got to have our Bar and Bat Mitzvahs! Since Tara and I did not grow up going to Synagog we had never gotten the opportunity to participate in this aspect of Jewish culture.

It was very exciting to recite our Torah portions (that Roi had taught us the night before) and finally “become women“. I think Natalie has a promising future as a Rabbi and I’ve even commissioned her to perform a future Bris. 🙂 (google it at your own discretion)

We then hiked down Masada, which was almost worse than hiking up! At the bottom we enjoyed our lunches and then changed into our swimsuits to swim in the Dead Sea! There was a little gift shop in front of the beach that you had to enter to get to the beach and they sold the mud that you see so many people in pictures using. At least at this part of the Dead Sea there isn’t any mud on the actual beach so you buy a cheap, large bag of mud to slather on yourself.

You are not to put your head under the water or get the water in your eyes. There are freshwater showers right next to the beach to rinse yourself off from the salt. It was seriously SO SALTY. You hear that, but until you experience it it’s rather alarming. What I hadn’t heard before is that the water is also kind of oily from all of the minerals and the bottom of the sea is actually like rock salt. You must wear either flip flops or water shoes in or else your feet will get torn up. Of course the only cut on my body was this huge blister on my foot so that wasn’t very pleasant. Before we arrived at the beach, I was worried we wouldn’t have enough time there, but our two hours was plenty. My skin felt amazing afterwards though and I bought some more Dead Sea products at the gift shop for gifts. Those made it home!

After the Sea we got back on the bus and headed back to Jerusalem where we would be the rest of the trip. We ended up in the worst hotel of the trip for the next three days. We were back to the roommates from the night before the tents so Tara, Rachel, and I headed up to our room to unpack and shower. It was time for lunch and shopping so I grouped up with Ann, Lior, Stephanie, Cheyanne, and Jordan to get some food and explore more of Jerusalem. We had a lovely afternoon of chatting and shopping, but yet again we had to move on to our next activity.

This is the part where I took so long to write this that I totally don’t remember what we did, sorry!

Day Nine (Friday)

In the morning we visited Har Herzl, the military cemetery. There are also many former Prime Ministers buried in the cemetery, except Ben Gurion. There was a funeral going on while we were there and we also spoke with the family members of a solider who had died several years prior who were there visiting. Yossi showed us several specific graves and told us the stories of the people who were buried there. It was a very sobering visit and I think very important for our group to see.

After the cemetery we went to the shuk in Jerusalem to shop, get some lunch, and buy something to bring to Shabbat. An organization called OneTable gave us each a little bit of money to get a snack to share for Shabbat. Amy and I teamed up to bring tea and then I bought wine with the intention of bringing it back for my dad, buttttt it might have gotten drunk a few hours later… oops 🙂 Of course I had to many another stop at Aroma per usual to get my iced coffee fix.

We went back to hotel and got ready for Shabbat. We were going to go back to the Kotel and I really didn’t know what to expect. Honestly, it was incredible. To see so many people gathering for Shabbat at such a holy and ancient place is something I will remember the rest of my life. There was dancing, singing, praying, laughter, reunions, and of course our favorite “game” Sha-sha-shabbat-shalom! It reminded me of like a huge family reunion, which in it’s own way it sort of was.

We were trying to be as observant of Shabbat as possible for a group of non-religious Jewish millennials AKA we walked home instead of taking the bus (but we still used IG,snapchat, and WhatsApp). That walk home was fun at first, but someone failed to tell me how long that was going to be and my sandaled feet were not prepared.

It was really interesting to see NO cars on major roads and highways that night going into the next day. Apparently Jewish teenagers take pictures of themselves sitting on highways during this time since there are hardly any cars out and the ones that do show up you can see coming from really far away.

We got back to the hotel and ate dinner then had our Shabbat snack. Another memorable round of sha-sha-shabbat-Shalom and we were free to drink for the evening.

Day Ten (Saturday)

Shabbat was still happening so we walked to our morning activity of seeing some government buildings and other parts of the city. We had a lively political discussion, which I think was much needed to show some people that not everyone believes the same thing in Israel. Israel has many different political parties ranging from conservative to religious to liberal to secular. Even among our Israelis there were many differing views and it was refreshing to hear the conversation that took place. Now, it was probably a little late in the game for a few, but valuable nonetheless.

We got back to the hotel and were broken up into groups to do little skits about all of our days on the trip. The creativity was very apparent in some groups with songs, dances, and artistic interpretations of the activities we had gone through. The whole trip was a blur at this point and we all felt like we had known each other forever. After the skits we went around the room and said something we were grateful for on the trip and something that we would take back with us after it was over. I didn’t realize that we were literally going to go through allllll of us so I saved mine for one of the very lasts and was called out by my own sister (but I got her back later 😉 )

We ended Shabbat with Havdalah and were invited to dinner and swimming at Amit’s family’s house. We piled into the van and had a dance party on the way over. It was so much fun and her family made us sooooo much good food. They were so sweet to open their home to about 50 crazy strangers and we had the best time. We left and continued the hang out back at the hotel with the rest of the wine. Pretty sure I only got about 30 minutes of sleep before it was crunch time to get packed up and head to the airport.

Heading Home (Sunday)

Not going to lie: totally didn’t shower after swimming before a 16+ hour plane ride. Shame me as much as you want, I deserve it all. We headed to the airport and said our tearful goodbyes. Tara had decided the day before that she was going to extend her trip for another month and I was really sad that she wasn’t going to head back home with me. I am really glad she decided to stay though since it was such a great opportunity and she was with people I trusted. Ann and I cried multiple times. We all did our group dance that we did when we first joined the group at the beginning of the trip and then we headed through security. Ben was super nice and helped me out carrying my other carry-on that Tara was originally going to help with since I bought so many souvenirs. He was a life saver! We got on our first flight to head back to Toronto and I fortunately was able to sleep most of the way. We had our layover in Toronto and got some food. Amy was super nervous that we were all not going to make it onto the plane since some people enjoyed wandering off and she had to run to a business trip after Israel so she couldn’t stay to find us. Fortunately we all made it back to LA safe and sound. I still had some points leftover so I had gotten a room at the Renaissance Marriott. I immediately took a shower and slept for what felt like forever. I had gotten a later flight the next day so I chilled at the hotel pretty much the whole day and just enjoyed being along for the first time in like two weeks. I made it home and the rest as they say is history.

Post-Trip

This was without a doubt the most important trip I have taken in my whole life. Here we are several months later and we still have our group chat going in WhatsApp. Several people have traveled across the country AND back to Israel to see each other. The bonds created within this trip is everything that I read and dreamed about. I’ve talked to others who have gone on different birthright trips and they may have one or two people that they kinda keep in contact with afterwards, but nothing like our group’s connection. Next month Tara and I are going to meet up in NYC with a few people, one of the girls from the trip lives in Dallas and came to my house warming party. I still talk daily or weekly to several people from the trip and I hope to always continue to keep in contact with everyone. I am really trying to make a reunion trip happen with everyone who is available next year.

Tara and I are planning to eventually do Aliyah and hopefully Masa. Several people from our trip have already signed up for one or the other and I am so excited for the new experiences that they will have and hopefully share with our group. This is one of the most positive things I have ever done in my life and I am so glad that I didn’t let it pass me by before I turned 27.

If you are on the fence about going my advice to you is stop worrying and just GO! If you have any questions please feel free to reach out to me in the comments or on my social media accounts and I will be happy to answer any questions you may have. If I can’t answer them then I can find someone who can. I am convinced that every Jewish kid NEEDS to go on either this trip or the equivalent trip through another organization. I can only speak for Shorashim, but I hope you can tell that I had an awesome experience and if I could do it all over again I totally would in a nanosecond. I’m already trying to figure out ways to get back there and get all of my friends there too. All of my coworkers and non-jewish friends are super jealous that they can’t get on this trip and I tell them even if you have to pay for it, go. It’s so worth it.

I think this post is now sufficiently long AND overdue (I got back in July and it’s now the middle of October…) so I will end it. Here’s to amazing adventures, good friends, and crazy dancing. Also Tubi60 is the best and Texas is a boss for importing it.

Also: Not all pictures are my own. Borrowed from other’s in my group. Credits: Natalie, Rachel, and Brandon

Happy Reading!

Savvy

Dallas Denton Personal

Fall Activities 2016

After coming back from Ireland I was immediately thrown back into the swing of parties, weddings, and dinners. I got back a Thursday, had Friday off, went to a birthday party on Saturday, and had a wedding shower on Sunday. Never a dull moment!

My friend Blake was turning 26 and his girlfriend Kyla suggested we all go to The Deep Ellum Brewing Company to celebrate! They have this really cool deal on Saturdays: they close down the brew house and host tours. You pay $15 and get a souvenir glass and three beers of your choice. Pretty good deal and I don’t even like beer!

I had actually never been on a brewery tour so this was pretty exciting. I do prefer winery tours, but learning new things whilst drinking with your friends is usually a good time. The weather was really nice, the company ideal, and it was essentially just an enjoyable afternoon.

The next day I went to a wedding shower for my friend, Becca. Sadly, the only downside to my Europe trip was that I had to miss her Bachelorette Party 🙁 Her shower was a ton of fun. Her Maid-of-Honor and my friend Melissa’s mom makes cakes and certainly delivered for the shower! She also made her wedding cake a few weeks later and of course I devoured my piece in mere seconds (but that is for another post).

Halloween was slightly less than enthusiastic this year, but we still had fun nonetheless. I was Ginger Spice/Baby Spice and Karma was a Beer frau. Basically, we were Europe. If I had been thinking about it more then I could have been #Brexit. Tara was Sailor Moon and we went to this little block party in Denton for about five seconds before leaving to get Thai and go home.

As per tradition, my friend, Danielle, hosted Friendsgiving 2016 in her new apartment. I made Macaroni with a Beer Cheese sauce in the crockpot. Easy and delicious! There was wayyy too much food, a mannequin challenge, and free flowing wine.

Ignore the fact that the video doesn’t have Black Beetles playing. The struggle was real to just upload it.

 

On November 23rd I finally made one of my personal dreams come true……

I MET GOOD CHARLOTTE!!!!

Not only did I get to see them at Edgefest 2016 (RIP 102.1), but I also got to meet them IN THE FLESH because your girl shelled out for VIPPPPPP! I HAD to! I met each and every one of them, gushed a little bit, gave them thank you notes, and basically fan-girled. To make the long story very short, I was running REALLY late to their concert and thought I would miss the Meet and Greet before the show. I happened to get there just in the nick of time and was the last person to see them before the Meet and Greet was over. Did that give me the chance to leave a lasting impression? I sure as heck hope so! They liked my outfit and my cat shoes. I basically dressed exactly like I did in 8th grade and it worked out. I am now blonde and decided to add glitter roots, but other than that it was basically the same. They had 3 openers, which I considered excessive and helped solidify the reality that I am in fact too old to be in the pit for punk shows. #dontpushmebro 

They finally took the stage before my stamina and bladder gave out and you know I was in the front row singing along with all of their songs, crying my little eyes out. My friends were a little drunk and FaceTimed me right when they were singing Hold On. It was perfection.

The next day was Thanksgiving. We weren’t meeting up with the fam until later so my sister and I took advantage of the gorgeous weather to take Christmas pictures with Karma. There is a little park down the street from my house. We were hoping to be able to put her in a baby swing, but this park didn’t have a swing set. It did have a baby slide so that became the next best thing. Karma’s face is priceless in these next few pictures.

Disclaimer: she wasn’t hurt in the taking of these pictures. It was a baby slide and Tara was waiting at the bottom to catch her.

Whew! That was a lot of activity for basically just one month. I’ll leave December to it’s own devices.

Sneak peak into what’s next: two weddings, a car adventure, birthday parties, company Christmas party, friends, food, Christmas, Hanukkah, and probably New Year’s Eve. It looks like it’s going to be another exciting month!

-Savvy

 

Travel

Leg Four of Europe 2016 – Berlin

Guten tag from Berlin!

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On Sunday I left Amsterdam for Berlin, Germany. The nice thing about my Air Bnb in Amsterdam was that it was fairly close to the airport. Schipol is apparently the fourth busiest airport in all of Europe. It was rather large, but everything was run very efficiently. I flew KLM, which is very popular here, but not as popular in Texas. My flight was only just over an hour, but they gave out free sandwiches! It was a full flight and I had the middle seat, but no one came for the window so I just scooted right on over 🙂 The flight was uneventful other than that, which is exactly what you want to hear; traveling with only a carry-on has greatly helped in that regard. I think I am a converted traveler after not checking a bag this entire trip (except for the very first leg to Dublin and on the way home in a few days).

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I took a taxi from the Berlin airport to my Air Bnb here in Berlin, which is in Marlene Dietrich‘s old apartment building! I thought that was pretty cool in itself, but my apartment is also super awesome. It’s really artsy and well thought out for a flat. It’s basically one medium-sized room broken up into sections. The bathroom is right next to kitchen, which is a little odd, but works for this space. The bed is on a platform with a closet and underneath the platform is another bed as well as a printer. I could totally see myself living in a place like this if I could bring myself to purge about 80% of my belongings 🙂 My host is also suuuuper awesome. Even though there is a printer it wasn’t working with my laptop and if you fly Ryanair you have to print your own boarding pass or pay a $50 fee… I asked him if he knew a internet cafe nearby so I could print my boarding pass back to Dublin and he just had me email the boarding pass PDF to him and brought it over to me! He is totally going to get a glowing recommendation for sure. 🙂

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I got here on a Sunday and fortunately the weather was very lovely. My Airbnb host also told me about this cool bar that is on top the 25 Hours Hotel near the Berlin Mall called The Monkey Bar. The bar overlooks the Berlin Zoo’s monkey enclosure. Due to the language barrier, my understanding was that you could drink with monkeys so I was off! I was sadly mistaken that you could only view the monkeys, not actually drink with them, so after a quick self-guided tour, I moved on down the block. I walked so much that first day and ended up seeing a few sights that were actually going to be on my tour the next day (that seems to be a theme with me). I’m glad I did a ton of walking to orient myself that day with the nice weather though since the next two days proved to be fairly miserable with rain.

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I was also very excited to get my hands on some authentic German food since I had such fond memories of being in Mannheim 10 years ago and eating so much good food. Apparently, Berlin German food is very different than Mannheim/Frankfurt/Heidelberg German food  AKA no spatzel! 🙁 You don’t even know my level of disappointment. I had to drown in in making up for it with schnitzel and strudel, which were both still very tasty, yet not spatzel…

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The next day I had booked a walking tour throughout many famous Berlin sites from World War II and The Cold War. Everyone always tells me how FUN Berlin is…. not going to lie, this portion of the trip was rather depressing. I totally have to come back and only do fun things because I definitely got all of the sad parts out of the way right off the bat. I do feel that I learned so much though in these past two days and from really knowledgable sources. My tour guide through the actual city was a lady named Merren from Australia, but is of German descent. She has her master’s in history and came to Berlin four years ago. She had some great insights and managed to walk us briskly through the cold all while being several months pregnant! Fortunately the rain stayed away until right after the tour was over, but it was significantly colder than the day prior.

Sights Seen in Berlin:

  1. A portion of the Berlin Wall

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2. The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe: a very controversial memorial since there is no set meaning to the art piece, there are no descriptions on the slabs identifying that this is for the Jewish people, and the company who produced the chemical that is coating the concrete slabs to protect them from graffiti is the same company that provided concentration camps with the chemicals for the gas chambers. Here is the wikipedia article to give you some more information. It was very erie to walk through and actually experience.

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  1. Checkpoint Charlie

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  1. Museum Island

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  1. The Brandenburg Gate (in the daytime and I had accidentally already visited the previous night)

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  1. The site of the Berlin German book burning in front of the Bebelplatz. There is a clear window into the ground into a room with enough blank bookcases to hold the amount of books burned that night.

  2. The statue of “Mother Holding Her Dead Son

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8. Topography of Terror: a museum where the SS offices used to be.

  1. The car parking lot over where Hitler’s bunker used to be. Only a small signs marks this spot so as not to make it a memorial for Nazi sympathizers. The sign is a recent addition from the last time the World Cup was held in Germany (2006).

  2. The hotel where Michael Jackson dangled his infant son, Blanket, out of the window. (not WW2 related, just interesting and happens to be right next to the Brandenburg gate)

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Germany has made many of these sites free to the public as part of their “penance” for so much of the wrong that was done to so many different people groups. They want everyone to be able to view these sites without having to worry about cost since it is such an important part of all of our histories.

After this very intense day of sight seeing I went back to a biergarden with some others from the tour. Although I do not like the taste of beer (they didn’t have cider) I had to take a picture with one of the traditional glasses.

As if one day of intense images wasn’t enough, the next day I went to a concentration camp just outside Berlin called Sachsenhausen. Ironically, it was also my half birthday; what a way to celebrate…. If you are a new reader to this blog let me just let you know now that I am Jewish.

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Fortunately, most of my relatives (to my knowledge) managed to escape the majority of WW2 terrors. My great-grandfather actually escaped from a concentration camp and made his way to America. It was incredibly sobering to be in a place that was dedicated to the cause of wiping out entire people groups: Jews, Slavs, Gypsies, Homosexuals, etc… Even though I am not full-blooded Jew, just being partial would have been enough for the Gestapo to arrest me and send me to die in a place like Sachsenhausen.

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My guide today also had his master’s in history: specifically in how Germany treated public school history textbooks post-WW2. Apparently, they initially basically cut out everything after the 1860s. Up until 1960 this was happening until the young adults realized what had happened and started the movement to add it back into the textbooks so future generations would know so it would not be repeated. During this time period that age group felt a tremendous amount of guilt for what had happened, even though they had not even been born during that time period. Now the country is trying to reach a medium where they are not racked with guilt for something they personally did not do, but are not having “amnesia” about the events since it did in fact happen in their country.

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The concentration camp was eventually taken over by the Red Army who tore down parts of the camp in an attempt to show this as a victory for the Soviets and a place to come revel in that victory. Portions of the buildings still exist and most have had to go through major restorations. In the 1990s a small group of Ne0-Nazis tried to burn down some of the buildings; you can still see their efforts in one of the barracks where the ceilings and walls are charred from the fire. Several buildings remain as well as part of the gas chambers and the crematoriums. There are several marked sites over the grounds to show where the ashes of the burned prisoners were dumped once the trays were full.

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It was a very serious day and sort of a sad way to basically end my trip. I am very glad I went and thankful I was afforded the opportunity to pay my respects in this way. I am not sure how many of my other family members have visited other concentration camps, if any. My mother came to Berlin back in the late 70s/early 80s when the Wall was still up. She was able to visit East Berlin on a bus, but was not allowed to get off of the bus to walk around and explore. The answer when people ask how old Berlin is is basically “26” since that’s when the Wall came down. Berlin is still in a huge state of change and will probably be totally different by the next time I visit. There are construction cranes everywhere you look trying to build more apartments and bring in more tourism so the city can continue to rebuild and have a positive future.

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Tomorrow I head back to Dublin for a night then it’s back to the good ol’ USA after being gone for almost an entire month. As much as I love traveling/being on vacation, I do enjoy my routines and am eager to see my sweet little puppy. I am getting back right in time for a birthday party, Halloween, and a wedding shower so there is still no slowing down for awhile, but that’s the way my life always goes and I enjoy it.

Stick around!

-Savvy

Personal Travel Uncategorized

Leg Three of Europe 2016 – Amsterdam

Hello from Amsterdam! 

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Leaving Paris was bittersweet for me since I never want to leave, but at the same time I was so excited to go into the unknown once again. Dublin, London, and Paris, while not quite home, are familiar. It’s been several years since I’ve truly been immersed in another totally foreign culture. I have never been to Amsterdam, I don’t speak the language, know the transit system, etc. so it was a new and exciting challenge.

This brings up a few tips for next time:

  1. Try to book your accommodations as close to the city centre as possible. This will generally save you transit money (and confusion) even if it costs a little bit more per night. Trust me, when you don’t remember if your train stop is Waterlooplein, Weesperplin, or Wilbaustrautt and it’s getting late you will thank me.
  2. Learn a few key phrases in the local language
  3. Have the address of your hotel/hostel/Air BnB saved into your phone where it doesn’t require wifi or data to access it
  4. Download/Screenshot a map of the area
  5. Try to rely on wifi/data as few times as possible. Even if a country is in the EU that doesn’t mean that your data will transfer from one country to another. If you have a US data plan be prepared to pay a huge fee when you get home too…. #DreadingThatSprintBill

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The people in Amsterdam are very friendly, super chill (probably from the weed), and generally have a great grasp on English so this isn’t an incredible culture shock. The worst part was just remembering the train/bus stops. There are easily more bicycles here than cars (at least near the canals), but unless your GPS is working incredibly well I probably wouldn’t try to get in the fast lane with the more experienced cyclists. After breaking my tailbone in sixth grade, I generally avoid riding bicycles if at all possible so I was not eager to hop on for this trip. If I had a guide to show me where I was going then I would be more apt to rent one for the weekend. Side note: how they remember where they “parked” their bicycle is a mystery to me. There will be MASSIVE racks of bicycles that basically all look the same. There must be some trade secret that I am just not privy to to explain this situation.

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Marijuana and prostitutes are legal here and don’t have the same stigma as they do in the states. I did have to walk through the famous Red Light District just to see it for myself. It really is as easy as walking up to the door where the girl or guy is and hopping into the rented room. One prostitute thought I was there with someone else as a couple and I quickly managed to get myself out of that situation. There are tons of “cafes” where you can purchase all manner of weed varieties as well as edibles and mushrooms, but in most of them you cannot also get liquor, only beer or wine. However, Stoopwaffles are available everywhere and only contain fat and sugar 🙂 Illegal on my real life diet, but totally legal on my vacation diet!

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I also finally got to cross something off my bucket list: visiting the Anne Frank Museum. Unfortunately, they do not allow you to take pictures of the inside, but I got the see the actual red-checkered diary in which she started writing down her novel. If you do go, I suggest booking your tickets online in advance through the museum website. It’s around $12, but you also pick your time slot for the museum so you are guaranteed entrance. I am visiting in off-season and it was still packed. Make sure you do carve out at least an hour for it since there is a lot of reading involved and people in front of you may move slowly. Everything is in Dutch as well as English and you get to see the real rooms and the bookcase that covered the secret entrance to their annex.

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On Day 2 of the trip I went on another Viator tour to Zaanse Schans, which is about 30 minutes away from central Amsterdam. It is a historic town with a ton of old, restored windmills that are actually working to this day. Each windmill works for a specific purpose: one mills wood, another grinds the pigment for the paint used in the town, another made mustard! It was really cool to walk through them and see the people who are so dedicated to preserving their heritage. (again, not sponsored)

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After the windmills we were then transported to another village where we watched a cheese making demonstration. I have a great love of cheese and I was excited to find out that:

A.) They were making Gouda

B.) I CAN TAKE IT IN MY CARRY ON!!

I bought a regular wheel as well as an Italian herb one so invite me to ALL the cocktail parties! 🙂

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After the cheese demonstration we got lunch at a local restaurant. I got fried mussels, which were very tasty. I had previously mistakenly gotten the wrong type of waffle recommended to me by my friend Julia, but the correct type of waffle was being made right next door so I managed to snag one for dessert. True to form, they were tasty, but how can you go wrong with dough and nutella??

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Once the time in that village was complete we were herded onto this river cruise, which normally I would think would be delightful, but it was FREEZING. Of course by the time I got onto the boat all of the inside seats were taken so I froze outside about 80% of the time until I couldn’t handle it anymore and just stood inside to thaw out. Once the ice boat ride was complete we finally got to go to another little village that makes the traditional wooden shoes you always associate with Holland. Back in the day it would take 3 hours to make one shoe; now with “modern” machinery it takes 5 minutes per shoe. I succumbed to my inner tourist and bought a pair…. they are supposed to be water proof so maybe I’ll wear them around in the garden? Orrrrr just put them in a place of honor on my travel wall…..

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It was an action-packed day and a great way to end my time in Amsterdam. Next time I come I’m definitely staying closer to the city centre to take more advantage of the nightlife. Living so far away kinda put a damper on that idea for this go around. Not a problem though since I will most definitely be back and I really could use the down time in a very comfy bed 🙂

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I am now back in my Air BnB taking advantage of the fact that there is a washer and dryer available for my use since all I brought was a carry-on and we are now 7 days into the trip. I am fairly proud of the choices I made in my small carry-on, but I will make a mental note to bring fewer leggings, fewer shoes, and more shirts next time. I feel like traveling by carry-on would have been much easier in warmer weather. It is steadily getting colder and I know that I am going to probably need to buy a scarf in Berlin if this keeps up. #moresouvenirs 

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Tomorrow I head to Berlin for my last real stop on my European tour! After Berlin I’m back in Dublin for a night to pick up the rest of my luggage and then head on back to Dallas. There are still no direct flights to Dallas from Dublin (weird, I know) so I will have to make the journey back through… dun dun dunnnn CHICAGO. I swear to God, if I get stuck there again for another three days it will NOT be good. (if you are confused about to what I am referring, please read this post for context.)

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Leave me some love in the comments and stay posted for the rest of my trip!

Savvy

Personal Travel

Leg Two of Europe 2016 – Paris/Normandy

As sad as I was to leave London, the upcoming rest of the trip was still very exciting. Paris is a city I have visited twice previously. Once on that same London trip when I was 13 and once for a day on a Germany trip when I was 15. I’ve always have a love for Paris and even decorated my childhood bedroom in all of my souvenirs (i.e. useful postcards because I don’t do trinkets) from my first trip. I’ve never bothered to change it so when I visit my room at my parent’s house I get to relive that trip over and over again. Both of my previous trips were in July so it was really cool to see how the city changes in the autumn weather.

Instead of flying to Paris it was significantly easier to just take the train. Previously, on my first trip my family and I also took the train so this wasn’t my first rodeo. However again… that was 12 years ago and I wasn’t in charge that time. I managed to get from the train station to my Air BnB unscathed and was pleasantly surprised to find that the location was as close to the Eiffel Tower as previously described. I was literally across the bridge from the tower and could see it from around the corner of my apartment. This was super convenient especially giving that my grasp of the French language was way stronger in my head than in real life. My French Rosetta Stone computer program is still collecting dust on my bookshelf…. #goals

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I managed to avoid the Metro by being this close to all of the major sites, which from my memory, saved me from some smells I would rather not ever smell again if I can help it. I did notice that in the past 10-12 years Paris does seem a lot cleaner. Maybe that’s just my memory or maybe it was because both previous times were during the height of tourist season and the city just couldn’t keep up with the demands of the people. I really enjoyed exploring the city without the previous hustle and bustle that can occur during the summer months. Either way I wasn’t about to chance it for the smell and for the fact that I most likely was going to get myself lost. If I was here for a week or so, not a problem. Three days is not enough time to salvage time from being lost. I know, I know, “getting lost is part of the adventure“! I’ll save that adventure for my fourth trip to Paris, thank you very much.

The first day was basically just getting to my apartment and walking around the neighborhood a bit. I of course had to visit the Tower several times and Day 1 was no exception. Traveling as an adult who needs to actually be in charge in a new place is way more exhausting than I remember as a teenager who just needed to follow a group. Couple that with anxiety and just getting to my next destination is already enough struggle for most of the day. I managed to get to my destinations and that was basically all I could handle for that day. I have consistently been going to bed super early mainly due from exhaustion and from the paranoia of going out at night in a new city where I don’t know where things are. My love for adventure sometimes takes a back seat to my personal fears and capacities, but that is probably what has kept me safe many a time. If you’re reading this looking for wild stories, then this is probably not the trip for you (but stay posted for other trips with more people and when I’m not in charge). 😉

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The next day was some more low-key sightseeing, which totally needed to include a trip to the Champs-Élysées! Since I had already done my major purchase in Dublin for LV, I just needed a quick run-through of the flagship store in Paris. If I hadn’t already looked at my credit card statement I might have been tempted to buy another addition to my now growing collection. I reigned it in for a few more stores, but then I ran across Longchamp. In my extensive research of what to buy in Paris I discovered than not only LV, but also Longchamp bags were significantly cheaper. They are also a great travel bag since they fold up fairly small and are made from nylon which is more water resistant than the calf-hair MK crossover I had been carrying. Yet another useful souvenir was purchased 🙂 Between the two bags I have probably saved over $500 dollars that I would have spent at some point. I already have been wanting them for a long time so it just makes logical sense to buy them both now at the cheapest I’ll ever get them rather than waiting until I’m back in the states. If I ever get the opportunity, there is also a Burberry outlet in London I discovered for the next trip! I may like to shop, but I am not into paying more than I have to for anything.

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After Longchamp the Ladurée macaron store was calling my name. I would have brought back some for others, but as I am not checking a bag that would prove difficult and they do not travel well. Let me just tell you that they were every bit as delicious as I imagined. Dublin and Harrod’s in London actually have their stores as well, but I decided to wait until Paris to get some for the real experience. I only got 4 for a little snick-snack. Coconut, pistachio, coffee, and salted caramel; all of them delicious. This one also had a little cafe inside, which I probably should have visited, but alas, there were sights to see! Someday when I am rich and famous I will spend more time on this street and the cafe will be my headquarters.

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I walked down the entire district and ended up at the Louvre glass pyramids. I had been previously had spent the better part of four hours in there the last time so I decided to skip it for this trip. However, it did remind me of the time when I went with my parents and sister. My parents left me in charge of 10-year-old Tara (who looked 7) while they went to figure out tickets for our next attraction. All around the glass pyramids there are ponds with ducks. Anyone who has met or knows of my sister probably knows about her love of animals. There are ducks everywhere on the ponds so she was just minding her own business looking at the ducks when all of a sudden an Asian family swooped in a scooped her up and started walking away with my baby sister! Thirteen year old, gothic Savannah was not as assertive as you might think and I was stumped on what to do. I sort of followed them at a concerned pace until I realized they thought she was a cute, french child that would be perfect for their family portrait. They sat her in their family picture, put her down, and walked away without a word. I was never more scared/amused in my life. Fortunately, Marc and Sarah soon returned and I did not get into trouble (my main concern). Tara and I have laughed about that for years. I can just imagine a gigantic blow up of this picture on some random family’s wall hanging there for the past 12 years.

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I like to book tours especially when I’ve already seen most main sites and want a different perspective from an insider. They also take the pressure off of me trying to figure out where I am going for the day/driving. God knows I avoid driving in foreign countries at all costs. I just get flashbacks to watching my parent’s honeymoon video of my dad driving around the Arc de Triumph, videotaping with one of those gigantic 80’s film cameras, narrating, and my mom screaming bloody murder. You need dramamine just to watch the tape. I will not be a part of any driving accident abroad if I can help it. It also doesn’t help that my manual transmission driving skills leave a lot to be desired. Marc took it upon himself to teach me in his Z06 Corvette around the North Texas Motor Speedway a few years ago… let’s just say it didn’t end with flying colors on my part.

My tour for that random site-seeing day was dinner at the Eiffel Tower followed by a show at the Moulin Rouge! I was pretty hyped since this was my first “adult” thing to do in Paris since both previous trips I was barely in high school. Let me save you the trip: it’s basically a dated Vegas show with nothing you haven’t already seen. I’m not going to lie, it’s going to be really cool to say I went, actually going is a different story. Save your money. Dinner at the Eiffel Tower was also pretty cool, but I think I would rather book it on my own next time now that I’ve done it. I had read a lot of travel blogs who hyped it up a lot so I had one image in my mind, but it was actually very different. Because it was a tour and we are on a time schedule there was just a set menu that everyone got (which was good, don’t get me wrong), but probably wasn’t what I would order if I was there as just a normal patron. I will put it on my list to return next time, but it will most likely be for lunch and not on a tour.  The tour was fun though and it was nice being taken all of these places on a comfortable coach bus and skipping lines. You know how much I love living the VIP life.

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The next morning came very early for my Normandy tour. Fortunately, the meet-up spot was right down the street from my apartment, which made my early morning, anxiety-ridden walk that much easier. Our tour guide, Felix, was a very friendly and knowledgable former history teacher from Croatia. I enjoy having tour guides who aren’t from the actual city since they are most of the time not biased the way nationals would be. That being said nationals/locals should know the area really well in their own way and can offer different insights. I have been very fortunate to have really awesome tour guides most of the time so I could myself lucky. I usually book all of my tours through Viator. They have the best deals and always a wide selection to chose from. I’ve had issues with tours not being available on the dates that I want, but that’s usually my fault for looking last minute. (again: not sponsored)

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We left Paris for Normandy around 7am. I am pretty good about sleeping anywhere and everywhere so I slept the majority of the way to our first site, which was the farthest away. The bus was fairly small and didn’t have Wi-Fi (my major complaint) so sleeping was my best alternative. I do have data for some reason in all of these places, which I am sure my cell phone company is going to remind me about on my next bill even though I am on an international plan. I tried to get a portable Wi-Fi device, but even if a country is in the EU that doesn’t mean that their data plans transfer from country to country. That makes no sense to me and in this day and age with international travel being so prevalent this needs to change steps off soap box.

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Our first stop was a gas (petrol) station for breakfast and a leg stretch. We hopped back on and pretty soon were at our first site, Utah Beach. Not going to lie, I am not the biggest history buff. All of my family, that I know of, survived WW2 and no one was stationed in France so I have no personal ties to these historical sites in that way even though I did have several serve in other capacities. We did have one veteran on the trip (he hates Trump) so that was interesting especially since Felix was a history professor so he had his own personal questions, which made for a lively discussion on the bus during our “down time”. After Utah Beach we drove past a German cemetery where all of the graves were buried vertically to save space since it was such a small cemetery. After this we went to a Cidery (my favorite part) and learned about the history of the Cidery and the plans for the future. The owner just got FDA approval to sell in the US so I didn’t feel too bad that I couldn’t buy any at the moment #carryonproblems 

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After the Cidery we went to lunch in a nearby fishing village at a Michelin starred restaurant. I had probably the best Haddock I’ve ever had in my life and I am so glad I took a picture of the restaurant. I sat next to a father/son duo from Minnesota so we chatted about that for a bit since I had visited briefly in college at the Mall of America. I also discovered that there were two other Texan groups on the trip: one from Houston and the other from Forney (near Dallas)! Again, such a small world.

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After lunch we went to Pont du Hoc, which was not that far away, then to an American cemetery for their closing ceremonies where Teddy Roosevelt was buried, and then Omaha beach. We had a long drive back, but managed to stop back just in time for the Eiffel Tower to sparkle at 10pm. It was a great way to end the last night in Paris. 🙂

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Stay tuned for the rest of Europe!

-Savvy

Ireland Personal Travel

Leg One of Europe 2016 – London

After Dublin the plan is: London – Paris – Amsterdam – Berlin – Back to Dublin for a night – Texas. 

London: my parents took me here when I was 13, but that was 12 years ago. A lot can change in 12 years! I decided to do a highlights tour as well as hit up some of my favorites sites from last time. I had also never been to Buckingham Palace so this time I made up for it by accidentally going twice…

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Getting to London from Dublin COULD NOT BE EASIER. Ryanair is basically the European version of Spirit airlines (aka budget) and if you book your trip in advance (and on their app) the flight is 20 EURO…. Obviously I would be going EVERYWHERE if I lived here. That’s cheaper than a tank of gas just getting me around Dallas! The seats don’t go back, but the flight is 45 minutes; a small price to pay for such a deal! I will be using them later in the trip from Berlin to Dublin so stay posted on my feelings after a 3 hour flight…. The only issue is that Ryanair doesn’t fly into Heathrow, it flies into Gatwick. All you do is take a train from the airport into Victoria Station and then take either the Tube or a Taxi to wherever you need to go.

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I stayed in the Hampton Inn in Waterloo (thank you, Hilton points and Gold status!). Honestly, it was way nicer than I thought it was going to be. Also, the included breakfast was probably one of the best free breakfasts that I have ever had at a hotel, domestic or foreign. I would totally stay here again (not a sponsored post btw). It was really close to the Waterloo Tube station as well as most major sites. I totally did my fair share of walking, but I appreciated being so central to everything.

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I visited Harrods, Buckingham Palace (2x), the London Tower, London Bridge AND Tower Bridge (not the same thing!), a few cathedrals, saw some Roman ruins, had a wonderfully colorful British tour guide, and ended up getting to hang out with one of my friends from college! London was the shortest leg of the trip, but I made sure to pack in as much as I could.

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I had messaged my friend Alex about a month prior to the trip and asked for some recommendations. We met at Liberty in the HR cognant, both were in SHRM, and both worked at J. Crew. He has been living in London for the past few years and I caught him just in time since he is about to move back to the States! It worked out that he was free one of the nights I was going to be in town and asked me to go with him to the London outpost of Hillsong. I had actually never been to a Hillsong service even though they visit the Dallas area fairly often and I was actually in the Hillsong “neighborhood” back in the day on my Australian trip (never actually saw the campus though). It was such a great service and I was really happy I went. The guy speaking we are pretty sure spoke at Liberty our Sophomore year (I still need to verify the speaker schedule) and he also played the saxophone! He played “What a Wonderful World” and Justin Beiber’s song “Let Me Love You” (which my new little friend group and I continued to sing the rest of the night). After the service I was invited to tag along for dinner with Alex’s friends aka my new friends. We went to this Brazilian restaurant and stayed for a super long time just laughing and talking. Almost everyone wasn’t from London and I actually met someone who went to the same high school as my cousin! It truly is a small world. If I ever get to come back to Dublin/London I know who to call 🙂

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London was a great couple of days and, per usual, I wish I could stay longer. I could totally see myself living in London, especially once I figure out the Tube system!

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Stay tuned for the rest of Europe!

-Savvy

Ireland Travel

Solo Travel – Dublin Wrap Up

Hello again!

Last year when I came to Ireland I didn’t know a soul. I managed to make quite a few friends in my month here and develop a sort of routine. This time I am coming into these few weeks with a roster of ready-made friends, but these people all have lives too. I cannot solely depend on others to keep me entertained and that’s a bad habit to have anyway. Always be as self-sufficient as possible. #lifemotto

Tips for times like these:

  • Be flexible if possible – make a list prior to the trip of places that you would like to see, but don’t necessarily have to stick to a strict schedule.
  • Download some books (or bring some along if space/weight isn’t an issue)
  • Always have pen and paper (or the electronic equivalent)
  • Comfy shoes – exploring on your own might entail getting a tad “lost”.  Always count on walking more than initially intended
  • Bring cash/currency, but not too much at one time

Here are some pictures  places I’ve been in the past few days. I of course had to spend a leisurely afternoon in St. Stephen’s Green park, which is handily across the street from my hotel. I have had the good fortune of nice weather this trip and that day was the perfect day for a stroll in the park.

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I also checked an item off of my personal bucket list: buying my first Louis Vuitton Neverfull (on my own!). Please spare me your arguments on how these are overpriced la la la… I wanted one, did my research, and discovered that Europe is the cheapest place to buy them due to the imports and how well the US dollar is doing against the Euro. Ideally, I would have liked to buy this in Paris, but since I am not checking a bag all of the money I saved by buying it in Europe instead of in Dallas would have been diminished. I can get it hot stamped back in Dallas so that’s not a problem. I don’t like to get the normal souvenirs. I want mine to be useful and what could be more useful than a designer bag? 😉

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Solo travel is going to become more a part of my life as my friends start to pair off and my sister is still in college (aka broke) so it’s either deal with being alone or don’t go at all. Not going at all and missing out on all of the opportunities that come up is a sad way to live. That being said, even if a travel partner becomes available they may not be the best fit for your type of travel, so choose wisely. Sometimes being alone is better than being with the wrong person (true in travel life and real life).

Here is an actual picture of my hotel from the outside and my room. I was pretty pleased with my stay at The Shelbourne. I think there are some updates still being made to the hotel so if I ever get the opportunity to stay here again my next room might look a bit different. I loved the location and how close it was to Grafton. The food here was also great, which is incredibly convenient when it is a typical rainy Dublin night and you just don’t have the energy to find a new restaurant.

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I also FINALLY made it into Copper’s! For those of you who don’t know, Copper Face Jack’s is the #1 most profitable nightclub in all of Europe. I thought it was fairly packed, but apparently it wasn’t even the busiest evening since you were still able to move around a bit. They play “cheesy music” (aka 90’s and early 2000’s pop – Spice Girls, B*Witched, etc…) and it’s basically a great time. This is a place where you end the night, so you can’t get there too early (or too sober). The Dubs definitely have a different way of dancing than we do in the States; cue to me being the only one fist pumping….. The funny thing too is that if you passed it on the street you probably wouldn’t even know it was a club. This one as well as another called Dicey’s (which I went to last time) are both located next to business offices in historic Georgian buildings. I totally passed here in my cab probably 20 times before I even noticed the fairly non-descript sign outside the door.

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And with that, my posts about Dublin are over for the moment and the rest of my vacation can begin! I apologize about the posts being so spread apart, but I was pretty busy during my time in Dublin. I will be back for a night in a week so I may have some more to add later. Keep on the lookout for the rest of my posts from other parts of Europe!

-Savvy

Dallas Personal

Dallas Holiday Adventures

Hello Readers!

I know I’ve already posted about the end of the year, but I had a few more things to add before we close the book on 2015.

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My sister, Tara, is home from school. She goes to Liberty University where I also graduated from, but is transferring to TWU. She is a yoga teaching vegan who is studying to be a dietician. She is also becoming a Doula in her spare time. We enjoy exploring all that Dallas has to offer and sometimes our mom comes along for the ride.

The other day mom and I got pedicures (Tara opted out) and then decided to hit up Dallas for some tacos and thrifting.

I had to take them to one of my all-time favorite places right outside of Uptown called Velvet Taco. No matter what time of day I go it is always bustling with people. They have a wall of options and then every week they have a new taco to try. My favorites are the Tikka Masala Chicken tacos and the Fried Oyster tacos, but all of the other ones I have tried I enjoyed. If you wanna grab a side they also have these awesome potatoes, tater tots with an egg on top, or mexican street-style corn. They are famous for their Red Velvet Cake (which I have yet to try). They also have Margaritas and a nice beer selection. I highly recommend you go try them out, but be forwarned that there might be a wait. My favorite/worst time to go is right before all of the bars close (2am). Its super packed, but that is exactly when you need a taco. Since you’re in Uptown, Taco Bell or Taco Bueno is just not going to cut it. I’ve yet to try Fuel City Tacos, but I’ve heard they are also hard to beat. Those will just have to wait for a future post.

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During our outing we also ventured to…..

The Gypsy Wagon: an awesome store right down the street from Velvet Taco

Dolly Python: The best oddities/vintage/antique shop in Dallas! (I’m sure there will be more posts on this)

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Of course I also have to mention that the moment I have been waiting for for like 10 years finally happend!!! STAR WARSSSSS!!!

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My friends bought a group of tickets so on December 18th at 10:30pm in NorthPark Center AMC, I got to witness the newest Star Wars film to grace our presence. It was magical. I’m going to have to go see it again just to be able to appreciate the greatest that is Star Wars + Disney + JJ Abrams.

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Since this is a new year and the holidays are over I have gone back on my diet (which will be discussed in another post) so to celebrate my last meal I had to go to one of my favorite sandwich shops! I took Tara on a jaunt to IKEA and then, since we were so close to Plano, we went ahead to East Hampton Sandwich Co.  They have tons of east coast inspired yummyness. Head on over to the site and check out the menu and the locations. I got the Crab Avo Club this time, but the Lobster Roll or Fried Chicken Jack are also big winners in my book. Bring some friends and get a pitcher of the Sangria (or go alone and drink the whole thing by yourself). It’s right next to the Dry Bar so make an afternoon of it!

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Go see my next post about the wonders of Dry Bar 🙂

Happy Reading!

-Savvy

Dallas Personal

2015 Recap

Happy New Year, Readers! 

I hope your 2015 was amazing and everything you wanted it to be.

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Here is a recap of a few exciting things that happened in 2015:

  • Went to IrelandIowa, San Francisco, and Austin
  • Bridesmaid in Lauren’s wedding in May
  • Took two cooking classes
  • Saw several of my friends get engaged
  • Created new friendships, let some old ones go
  • Ran a 5k
  • Lost 30 pounds
  • Explored more of Dallas, Denton, and Ft. Worth (plus surrounding areas)
  • Started this blog!
  • Had some professional victories
  • Saw Maroon 5 in concert
  • Celebrated Galentine’s!
  • Went to a Murder Mystery Dinner
  • Celebrated many friend’s birthdays as well as my 24th birthday

There were so many highs and lows to this year, but I can definitely say I learned a TON and hopefully will be taking some new habits into 2016.

Some goals for 2016:

  • Run another 5k (and potentially a half marathon)
  • Lose 50 more pounds
  • Pay off my couch and eliminate unnecessary spending
  • Spend more time with my dog and my friends
  • Focus more on my blog and professional goals
  • Travel to Ireland and Italy, hopefully Virginia and Colorado, potentially some other places
  • Celebrate my 25th Birthday!
  • Get back into reading at least one book a month
  • Start the MBA process
  • Take better care of my skin {even though that might mean no more tanning ;(}
  • Cook more (since I got new pots and pans for Hanukkah!)

I am sure there are other things that I would like to accomplish for 2016, but honestly I think this list will cover the whole year and then some. I am already trying to figure out how to prioritize my life for these next 12 months.

Holiday Recap

I had a great Hanukkah, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Eve. There was so much going on in such a short time frame, so sorry for the lack of updates (because I know everyone cares so much lol). I blogged a little bit about Hanukkah already so I won’t bother your with more of that.

Christmas went well. My sister came back to town and will be here for a whole month so we’ve been hanging out. She made me these really cute little embroideries for my travel wall in my house so my best friend came over and helped me hang them along with some other house stuff. I will have to post a house tour on here in a few weeks when I FINALLY finish my Travel Wall in my living room/dining room. I’ve only lived there for almost a year and a half….. no big deal. 😉 We went to my Grandma’s house and I hung out with my little second cousin, Liesel. She is seriously the cutest/happiest baby ever. I’m in love.

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We have so many people in such a small house so my sister ended up getting the special chair in the Annexed part of the house next to an extra table.

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We were tired of having the same food for Thanksgiving and then just a few weeks later for Christmas so we decided to add some Mexican flair since a good portion of my family is Hispanic.

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For New Year’s Eve I was supposed to go out in Uptown with some of my friends. Unfortunately I got kinda sick the day before and it has lasted several days. So last night I ended up just going down the street to Julia’s house and playing games with her, her family, and some significant others, which was exactly what I needed. We had a really great time and I got to see some of her siblings that I don’t normally see. This morning my dad made New Year’s Day brunch since I decided to spend the night.

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Karma and I tried to get it together in time to make a Christmas card this year, but it’s going to end up being more like a New Year’s card (if I even hand them out) (probably not, let’s be honest).

We both wish all of you happiness for the New Year! Let’s make 2016 the best yet!

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Dallas Personal

First 5K!

Happy Weekend, Readers!

I hope your holiday weekend has been filled with fun, family/friends, and food. I on the other hand have just been bumming in my house making recipe cards and doing laundry, but hey, we all celebrate in our own ways.

This past Thursday was Thanksgiving as all of you remember. It was also the day I had been waiting for all year, the 48th Annual Dallas YMCA Turkey Trot! After seeing all of the pictures of my friends and family doing this over the years I decided last Thanksgiving that this was going to be my goal for 2015. Let me remind you how much of a runner I am not before I tell you my most embarrassing public moment of the year.

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In January I decided to join a Planet Fitness location since it was cheap and close to my house. I figured if I was the one paying for it then I would be more apt to go. I also determined that since I had 11 months to train, by the time Thanksgiving rolled around then I would be in tip-top shape to run those 3.1 miles.

My first day at PF was a rainy, cold Monday night. Since everyone is still into the “New Years Resolution” phase of their work outs, it could not have been busier. I find the only open treadmill in the entire building. Since I had never been there before (I enrolled online) I didn’t know where the locker rooms were or if I had to bring my own lock, etc. so I just placed my stuff next to me. The base of my treadmill was rather large so I put my huge purse on it so it would be out of people’s way, but still near me.

I had downloaded the Couch to 5k app earlier that day so I turned it on and started walking. If you’ve never used the app it basically tells you when to run and when to walk for about 30 minutes. Every week it increases the amount of time you run and decreases the amount of time you walk. You start with a five minute warm up walk and then it has you run. I think for the first day it’s something like 30 seconds of running (but don’t quote me on that).

I am 10 minutes into my first day and as I start running for the second time, unbeknownst to me, my large purse falls onto the track. I have not figured out about pacing yet so I am running 6.5 miles an hour and proceed to trip over the purse. Time basically starts to go in slow motion as my life flashes before my eyes. I manage to grab onto the bars of the treadmill and kinda catch myself with one leg, but with a track going 6.5 miles an hour, I clearly can’t stay that way for long and my leg falls out from under me. I am now being dragged by the machine and I have to make the decision to let go. I am THROWN into the treadmill behind me in this super crowded gym and I crumple to the ground. Immediately, I am hit with an incredible amount of pain in my right leg. I have several piercings and three tattoos; I’ve broken my left wrist and my tailbone before. Given this information, I was pretty sure I had broken my leg.

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I slowly look up while I am still on the ground to see if anyone wants to help me. No one is making eye contact. Finally the girl who was on the machine next to me looks back and in a disgusted, annoyed high pitched voice asks if I am ok. “Yeah…. I’m fine,” I meagerly eek out. “Well I know first aid,” she replies then turns back to walking on her machine. No other offer of help is given, God forbid she stop her work out. I manage to collect myself and stand up. I determine that my leg is not broken, however it has definitely sustained some sort of damage. I get the rest of my belongings, which are now scattered all over the place from my fall. My jacket is wrapped up on one of the poles, my purse is laying sideways behind me. I hobble myself out of there as fast as my mangled leg will let me and just cry in my car. Fortunately, I don’t live that far away and am able to make it home fairly quickly.

After that incident I didn’t go to the gym again for a few months. I never went to the doctor since I try to avoid them as much as possible, but I sustained some nerve damage in my calf and now have two lovely large scars from the belt of the treadmill dragging against my legs. It is much better now, almost a year later, but once in awhile that knee will hurt for a bit. I have yet to try to get that footage from Planet Fitness, but I will reach out to see if I can’t get that clip to submit to something like #GymFails.

All of that to say, my running career took a bit of a break for awhile and then in September I realized that November was coming faster than I had anticipated. I was only on week 4 (of 8) when the Turkey Trot came, but I was determined to do as well as I could. My best friend, Becky, was also doing C25K and we had signed up together this past summer. My mom and sister also signed up and I realized later that actually a lot of people I knew had joined as well. Unfortunately, this is more like a “fun walk/run” than I had realized. People walk this race wearing corduroys and holding their Starbucks. It just became too much to try to pass all of the walkers after awhile (I heard there were 25,000 people there) so Becky and I just decided to walk the last part. We still managed to get quite a bit of exercise on a day that is solely dedicated to food, which to me is a major win.

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There is also an 8 mile run course for the Turkey Trot that, as you can guess, is much less crowded. That has made it to our running goals list as well as doing a smaller, more race-centric 5k in the coming months. That means I will still have some attainable fitness goals to be working towards instead of just mindlessly running for no reason. I have heard many times that you are more likely to reach a goal if you write it down.

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Even though I didn’t full out run the Turkey Trot then way I had imagined, I still set a goal and accomplished it. I finished the race, I put work into making the goal attainable in the months before the race, and I did it with people that I love. What could be better than that ? 🙂

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Happy Reading!

-Savvy