Category Archives: adventures

around the world and back again.

Somehow I blinked and all of my anticipated travel came and went. With the exception of two trips to NYC in the next couple of months, I’m officially done traveling for the year.

I wish I had made an effort to write about my trips in a timely manner. I’m only sitting down now to write something down because all of my trips over the last seven months have been so important to me. I’ve passed through countries I didn’t know I would ever see. I’m grateful for the experiences I’ve had so far and look forward to planning future trips, both locally and internationally.

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I loved Rome so much more than I thought I would. It’s big and beautiful and busy. The best gelato I will ever have is in Rome; it’s so good I went a total of three times in the span of a few days. We saw the sights you’re told to see, the structures that have stood the test of time. But I think my favorite moments in this city were just wandering around, lounging on steps in Trastevere or exploring Pigneto, where our Airbnb was. And it goes without saying that the food is amazing. Even on our first night, when we arrived late and went to a small cafe around the corner to get dinner, it was so, so good.

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Our time in Florence was unfortunately marred by a stomach bug that left us both incapacitated for a chunk of our trip. We managed to get over it after a day and a half, thankfully. If anything, it’s reason enough to return to Florence someday to make up for lost time. I’m glad we chose to go to the Amalfi coast last, as it was a really relaxing way to end our honeymoon. My favorite memory of our last couple of days was walking up a steep hill in search of dinner and stumbling upon a restaurant with a beautiful view of Positano down below.

I thought two weeks was the perfect amount of time for this trip, even though it still went by insanely fast. Italy is everything I thought it would be and I’m glad we picked it as our honeymoon destination.

Then in late May/early June, I was in Seoul for a work trip:

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While I was on-site working the majority of the time I was there, it didn’t stop me and my co-workers from heading out every night to explore. Koreans are really nice and helpful; I had people come to my rescue on at least two separate occasions due to the language barrier. I only knew how to say hello and thank you; while that was helpful, it didn’t exactly bridge the gap. I arrived to Seoul a couple of days early and stayed a couple of days after my work assignment, which helped immensely with getting used to the time difference (14 hours!) and relaxing before the long journey home. I ate amazing food and bought a hilarious amount of Korean beauty products. Korea has never been high on the list of places I want to travel to in Asia, but I really enjoyed my time there. Seoul is so huge that there was no way to see everything, so I know I could easily go back and see new things.

Now it’s summer here in Chicago and my 30th birthday is a mere 20ish days away. Not that I’m counting or anything. I’m really glad I was able to fit in so much international travel before the big 3-0; it was an important milestone I wanted to hit before I leave my 20s. And I’m already planning potential trips in my mind for the next couple of years.

saying yes to adventure: thailand

Last summer, I was on the cusp of turning 29. Getting that much closer to turning 30 didn’t bother me (at the time), but I had a realization that did: I have never traveled overseas.

Sure, I’ve traveled internationally. But only to Mexico and Central America, both of which are regions that speak a language I know and are in the same time zone as Chicago, give or take an hour.

I had never been on a plane for more than 4 hours. I had never experienced jet lag. I had never stepped foot in an airport where the majority of the signs were in a language I didn’t understand.

In college, while my friends went to study abroad, I stayed behind on campus. Given that I had already chosen to attend an out of state, private university, it was a luxury I couldn’t afford. After I graduated, I toyed with the idea of taking a trip for myself to Europe, or anywhere really. But I was ultimately more concerned with finding a full-time job and paying my bills to do anything so spontaneous.

Which brings us back to last summer. I have a full-time job, am paying my bills, on the verge of 29, and a few months away from getting married. Life seems on track, but the lack of overseas travel bothered me. By happenstance, my good friend Adrian mentioned casually that his friend was getting married in Phuket and due to a lack of vacation time, his girlfriend wouldn’t be able to go. I jokingly volunteered myself as his travel buddy, and then seriously volunteered myself.

There were a million reasons I could have used to talk myself out of this trip. But like I said before, it’s really easy to talk yourself out of doing some spontaneous, for the sake of being practical or responsible. I had no real reason to say no and ultimately, I knew it was something I really wanted to do.

Since all the traveling I did during this trip didn’t kill me, I can only assume it made me stronger. I met Adrian in NYC, since it was strangely cheaper to fly to Thailand via China from there than from Chicago, even with the flight to NYC and back on top. One small problem: I was flying into Newark, since our connection with Air China was supposed to be flying out of that airport. Until they decided it was going to fly out of JFK instead. So I spent the morning traveling from New Jersey to Queens, which isn’t exactly fun. Even less fun? Missing our connection to Thailand because our first flight left late, resulting in spending a couple of hours in the Beijing airport and arriving in Phuket about 10 hours later than we intended.

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Most people would assume this trip is already turning into a disaster. And considering that Adrian and I had never traveled together before, much less internationally, we could have easily turned on each other. Instead, in our delirium, we laughed it off, drank Chinese beer while we waited, eventually made it Thailand, stumbled into our hotel and checked in before promptly passing out for a few hours. We only spend two days in Phuket before moving on, but relaxing by the pool and the wedding itself were a solid way to start this vacation.

I don’t know what possessed us to fly out so early the next day after the wedding, but we did and headed to Bangkok for a couple of days. Bangkok was even more of a blur, filled with lots of walking, temples, good food, and markets. During our first day, we went to the Jim Thompson House, Wat Pho (the Temple of the Reclining Buddha), and the Grand Palace. We thought we could squeeze in more but exhaustion eventually got to us. We ended the day with dinner at Soul Food and grabbed beers at Mikkeller Bangkok.

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The 2nd day was a little more laid back, which a trip outside the city to two markets: the Maeklong Railway Market and the Damnoen Saduak Floating Market. To make things easier, we ended up hiring a tour guide who essentially organized everything for us. He was really familiar with both markets and knew the locals, as well as the language of course. Tourists tend to flock to both of these markets, but for Maeklong, I only saw tourists outside on the railway section and not inside the larger market found in a neighboring building. Our guide helped us buy a few things, including fresh Thai chili peppers and dried fruit. Everything is so delicious and cheap, it’s kinda insane. I would have loved to have done a different floating market since Damnoen Saduak is very popular and crowded, but it was the only one open during the week. I did get to try mango and sticky rice, as well as coconut ice cream, which is my new favorite dessert.

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We relaxed at our hotel before flying back to Phuket, where our trip be ending. I would go back to Bangkok in a heartbeat; there’s so much to see and do.

Back in Phuket, we stayed on a different beach and spent our first day back seeing elephants. Elephants are native to northern Thailand and I would have much preferred to see them in a sanctuary but I went with a local place that was well reviewed and recommended. The elephants were well taken care of, which is all that mattered to me. After that, it was an afternoon of hotel pool lounging. Note: all hotel pools should have a swim-up bar. It’s amazing.

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On our last day, we went snorkeling, which lasted all morning and well into the afternoon. It was my first time ever so it was a bit overwhelming for me; it didn’t help that the waters at our first location were choppy and difficult to navigate. By the 2nd stop, I felt comfortable and was really able to enjoy it. And of course, the amount of tropical fish I saw was awesome. We also stopped at a couple of different beaches, where I saw the bluest water I have seen in my life.

After some confusion about our flights, we made to the airport just by the skin of our teeth and actually got back to New York in time. I stayed in Brooklyn for a night with one of my best friends before finally heading back to Chicago.

The thing about going halfway across the world for only a week is that it passes by insanely fast. Even the 13 hour flights didn’t seem that long (although I did sleep quite a bit). I’m so glad I went. I’m glad I got to spend time with a friend I otherwise hardly see.

Alex and I are heading to Italy for our delayed honeymoon in late March, and I’m already beginning to plan that trip. From here on out, I’m looking forward to saying yes to more adventures.

another life update.

So much can happen in just a few months. The last time I visited this space, I was a day away from my 29th birthday. Since then:

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I got married, for one. After a year’s worth of planning and stress eating, our wedding finally came and went. They’re not kidding when they say the day of goes by so quickly; it was over before I knew it. And while I had so much fun and was so grateful to be surrounded by family and friends, I’m kinda glad it’s over. Wedding planning was (in my humble opinion) not fun. Now it’s back to business as usual, since married life is essentially the same as non-married life.

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We just got our proofs over the weekend and I absolutely love how they turned out. Our photographers are amazing and I completely recommend them for any in the Chicagoland area — or out of state, they love to travel!

And speaking of travel:

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This past summer, a good friend of mine jokingly said he needed a date for a wedding in Phuket because his girlfriend couldn’t make it. I jokingly said I would totally go with him. That eventually turned in a serious conversation about how I would actually go with him because well… why not? I’ve never left North America and suddenly an opportunity to travel to Thailand of all places had presented itself. So a few weeks ago, we bought our tickets and are officially headed out the first week of December.

I am equal amounts excited and nervous for this trip. I’m glad that despite the cost I agreed to go because one of my major goals before turning 30 is to travel a lot more. And also, I had no real reason to say no. It’s so easy to talk yourself out of doing some spontaneous, for the sake of being practical or responsible. I had some money set aside and I realized I really couldn’t pass up the opportunity. While it’s a shame I can’t share this adventure with Alex, I’m glad I’ll be with a good friend, even though we’ve never traveled together before.

I’m hoping to utilize this space a bit more. I sound like a broken record, but I’ve been itching to write for myself more. I have this tendency to draft things and let them sit, unfinished and forgotten. It’s a side effect of being a perfectionist and also being hesitant to put certain thoughts or feelings out there for everyone to read. But I’m hoping to break past that. With the end of 2015 coming up quickly and my 30th birthday looming next year, there’s plenty I want to accomplish and write out. So I’ll consider this a baby step in the right direction.

mexico, lindo y quierdo

I knew since before I left for Mexico that I would want to sit down and write about my experience. It was only a matter of when and it’s sadly taken me a few months to finally sit down and collect my thoughts. But now that I finally have the time, I find myself struggling to really put it into words.

I knew that going to unfamiliar parts of my home country would be a great experience, but I didn’t really realize what a profound impact it would have on me. Much like my trip to Central America, I worked unbelievably hard. The days were long and hot and I almost always slept like the dead because of how tired I was. But when we weren’t working, we did manage to have some fun. We ate and drank and explored. I’ve always known that much like the States, Mexico is vastly different depending on what part of the country you’re in. I had just never seen it for myself.

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Cuernavaca, while rather busy and crowded, had hidden oases in the form of beautiful gardens and pools. Puebla took me by surprise. As part of the project site we were visiting in Cuernavaca, we made the three hour journey with the local group to Puebla. Upon entering the city limits, I was taken aback by how modern the buildings were. Puebla is one of Mexico’s most historical cities that has been able to embrace both new and old. We worked and stayed in the colonial district, where old, colorful buildings make up the majority of the area surrounding the zocalo. We only had a day and a half in Puebla before driving to Mexico City for our flight to Monterrey. I already know that I have to go back someday.

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I also went back to Monterrey for the first time in about 7 years and it’s still very much the city I’ve always loved. It’s a city of industry but surrounded by a gorgeous mountain range. We traveled 6 hours outside of city to a remote region and stayed in cabins at a national park. After easily one of the longest work days of the trip, we were treated to BBQ and drinks by a waterfall. Definitely made the day worthwhile.

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The trip ended in coastal Mexico. We landed in Puerto Vallarta and traveled north to a small, sleepy beach town called Chacala. I’m grateful that the last leg of the trip was the most calm, serene place of the bunch. It’s probably also the region that I miss the most, but eating on the beach for several days, with fresh fish and fruit constantly at your disposal, it’s to be expected.

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I walked away from this trip with a renewed love for Mexico and a sudden need to travel more. Maybe it’s because I’m coming to end of my 20s and I’m realizing that I haven’t gone any further than Central America. We live in a vast, beautiful world and I have yet to even a see a fraction of it. That’s something I need to desperately change.

So, I’m hoping to make traveling a priority over the next year. I’m hoping that if an opportunity presents itself, I’ll seize it rather than talk myself out of it. Whether it be for work, or with Alex, or with friends, I’d like a few more stamps in my passport.

Here’s to making that happen before I hit the big 3-0.

our trip to austin, tx

Our vacation quickly came and went, and I immediately hit the ground running once I got back to work. It’s only now that I’ve managed to carve out some time to sit down and blog about our trip. Hurray for four day weekends!

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I will admit, being back in Austin was a little weird. It was both exactly the way I remembered and incredibly different, all at once. It’s grown significantly since I moved away, but I was glad to see some of my favorite places were still around and doing well. I feel like the best way to break down this trip is talk about the highlights from each day:

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Our first day in town involved getting lunch at Torchy’s (man, did I miss those fried avocado tacos) and talking around South Congress before checking in at our Airbnb in East Austin. We then made our way out to the Alamo Drafthouse at Slaughter Lane for dinner and beers while watching the new X-Men movie. Alex says that he would move to Austin for the Drafthouse alone and I kinda don’t blame him; it’s easily the best way to watch a movie.

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On our 2nd day, we had lunch at Frank and watched a World Cup game. It was a little before noon, but that definitely didn’t stop us from getting drinks with our meal. My cocktail was called La Sandia, which is watermelon puree and mezcal with a chili salt rim. It’s easily the best think I drank during this vacation and I’ll probably spend the majority of the summer trying to replicate it. Alex also had his first Frito pie ever and was a big fan; I told my sister later on that day that he had never had one before and she was surprised/horrified. Not everyone grows up eating chili and cheese in a bag of Fritos, but she still seem baffled.

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One of the things I always loved about Austin was the awesome street art. We stopped by the HOPE Outdoor Art Gallery at my suggestion (I had read about it randomly before our trip) and it was pretty amazing. It’s an abandoned condo development turned art gallery, with layers upon layers of graffiti and art pieces spread throughout the cement walls.

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Of course, no trip to Austin would be complete without stopping by my favorite cupcake shop of all time: Sugar Mama’s. The red velvet cupcake is awesome as I remember it.

austin6austin10Our third day in town was a day of beer. We drove out to Jester King Brewery, a good 40 minutes outside of Austin proper. If you haven’t heard about this brewery, this Good Beer Hunting article is really great. We sampled all of the beers that they had on tap (which are on rotation every week) and got to enjoy the gorgeous weather with their outdoor seating. Afterwards, we headed to the Draughthouse, a great beer bar near my old apartment on 45th St. My favorite beer there was the Guadalupe Brewing Texas Honey Ale; not too sweet or light with a decent ABV.

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East Austin has expanded so much over the last few years; we spent our Sunday walking around and exploring the neighborhood. I wish I could start every day with breakfast tacos from Tamale House East, because that’s how amazing they were. We also ended the day at my old favorite bar on the east side, Rio Rita.

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But in-between the beginning and the end of that Sunday, we headed to the Rainey Street to check out Bangers for beer and sausages (veggie sausage for me, of course) before heading over to the Mohawk to catch the last half of the US vs Portugal game before seeing the Mountain Goats. The only other time I’ve seen them live was in Austin, so maybe I’ll only ever see them perform in Texas.

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Last but not least, on our last morning in Austin, Alex and I went to Gourdough’s Public House for breakfast in the form of giant doughnuts. I had the Freebird, a doughnut topped with cream cheese, fresh fruit, and graham cracker crumbs. So, so good.

So yes, we had lots of food and beer on this trip. I got to see my college buddy Steve and hang out with my family for an evening. It was nice to be in Austin again, but somehow, it also reminded me why I left. Say what you will about Chicago, but I have a lot of love for this city. I’ll always be a Texan at heart, but I’m going to be a Chicagoan for the long haul.

Even though it feels like we just got back from this trip, today is day one of my four day weekend. This is me not complaining though. Over the next few days, we’ll enjoy the beautiful weather, grill with Alex’s folks, and say goodbye to a dear friend of mine. But that’s for another blog post.

 

chicago neighborhoods: andersonville

It’s been a while since I’ve written about Andersonville. Actually, according to my blog, it’s been almost two years. Now that I live closer to this ‘hood, I’m hoping to make visits to this area a regular thing.

Alex and I spent a chunk of Saturday afternoon in Andersonville, beginning with lunch at Jerry’s. This is their 2nd location; the original is in Wicker Park. It’s a great place for a burger and some beer.

andersonville2andersonville1 Other great restaurants in the area: Hamburger Mary’s for yet more burgers and craft beer, Acre for casual, rustic American food, and if you’re vegetarian like me, Reza’s is great for veggie-friendly Middle Eastern food. If you’re in the area for brunch, you can’t beat the Bongo Room.

Afterwards, we walked over to one of my favorite local shops: the Andersonville Galleria. It’s a collection of handmade goods from local merchants; it has everything from art to clothing to food. It’s three stories tall and it’s highly unlikely you’ll walk out of there empty-handed, so don’t say I didn’t warn you. I can never resist picking up a bag of salted bourbon caramels and Alex picked up some homemade soap (that smells damn manly).

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I can never go to Andersonville without stopping at Hopleaf for a pint, so we ended up at the bar for a quick drink before heading out for more shopping. Hopleaf is easily one of the best beer bars in the city and has a reputation for keeping great beers and ciders on tap and in stock. I’ve never been disappointed there.

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The best thing about Andersonville is all the vintage shops to check out. We ended up at Brimfield, one of my favorites. It’s an eclectic mix of stuff, mostly Americana (think old liquor bottles, wool blankets, and taxidermy). It looks like everything in there came from old cabins and homes around the Midwest and I sorta love it.

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Alex walked out with a glass decanter he is currently keeping whiskey in and I had restrain myself from grabbing a candle I definitely don’t need. Other great vintage shops in the area to check out are Roost, Scout, and White Attic.

I didn’t make it to one of my favorite places in the area, which is The Coffee Studio in the northern part of the neighborhood. I’ll definitely swing by soon, since I love buying their delicious pre-made iced coffee mix. It’s bound to be warm enough for iced coffee soon… I hope.

Once summer hits, I’m looking forward to doing more posts like this. I never get tired of visiting other neighborhoods in this city. :)

summer weekends: markets and beer

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I’ve been wanting to go to the Green City Market all summer long. It’s probably one of the biggest farmers’ markets in Chicago and the last time I went was actually in 2010 (!) so I was determined to stop by.

Alex and I got up relatively early (for a Saturday anyway) and ventured to Lincoln Park. And thankfully, Green City Market was totally worth the trek. Alex found a handful of peppers you can’t find in grocery stores and immediately bought them. I also bought some delicious peaches and a bag of cheese curds straight from Wisconsin. We had a light lunch in the form of veggie tamales and homemade apple mint soda. This market is always pretty busy, but there are so many vendors to check out. It was pretty much the best way to start the day.

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From there, we headed back to our neighborhood to begin a long walking tour of the areas we’d like to consider living in. Our lease is up at end of September and we’re on hunt every day for a new place. But before we got started, we stopped by Half Acre’s tap room for a quick pint:

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Alex had the Sky Devil Saison and I had a glass of the Summer Rules pale ale. Honestly, I can’t believe we’ve lived within walking distance of this place for so long and have yet to actually stop by the tap room or take a brewery tour. We’ll definitely have to go again before we move (they tap new kegs on Friday!) and also take part in a tour.

I have to say, I did a ridiculous amount of walking this weekend. And luckily for me, I discovered Moves right before our weekend-long walk around our favorite neighborhoods. Moves is an app that tracks how many steps you take per day, much like a pedometer, but also knows when you’ve been cycling or running. It’s a free, simple way of see how much you move per day. The app doesn’t drain your phone’s battery and keeps tracks of where you whenever you use it. So far, I’ve seen that on an average work day, I walk about 4,500 to 5,000 steps. This weekend, I walked over 14,000 steps both Saturday AND Sunday. That’s five miles! It’s really cool to see how far I walked, but I could also definitely feel it in my legs and feet.

This work week promises to be crazy busy and it’s only Tuesday. But as always, there always another warm summer weekend to look forward to. :)

to california and back

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My week in California came and went, in the total blink of an eye. I working long days during my work conference. I was on my feet quite a bit and was constantly running around. I definitely didn’t have as much free time as I thought I would, but that was mostly because I helped out wherever I could outside of my assignment.

Whatever downtime I did have, I immediately went outside to enjoy the weather. Being out and about in San Diego meant getting dinner with my co-workers (we had two free nights to find dinner on our own) and got to try some seriously tasty food and drinks. The best place I went to was Starlite. I would definitely love to go back to San Diego, if only to try more restaurants and squeeze in some shopping!

While the work conference I was at was hard work, I got to meet more of my co-workers and get to know them, which is always good. I also had today off from work, so I got to have a bit more downtime (I flew back in on Saturday afternoon) to run errands and take care of a few things. Even though it’s freezing cold in Chicago (the high for tomorrow is 9 degrees. SINGLE DIGITS, PEOPLE), I’m glad to be home. Since I won’t be traveling for a while, I can finally focus on myself and the things I hope to accomplish in the next couple of months. I’ll hopefully have a blog post up about that soon, of course. :)

it’s beginning to look a lot like christmas.

It’s December! And the holiday season is in full swing. Alex and I got a head start on Friday night and went to check out the Christkindlmarket downtown. This is our 2nd year going together so we have a little tradition now of walking around while drinking deliciously hot mulled wine (from a tiny boot), eating fries with weird but awesome German ketchup, and sharing a skewer of chocolate covered fruit.

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The market was surprisingly packed that evening and the line for mulled wine was crazy long but worth it. We walked around the booths and admired Chicago’s giant Christmas tree. I love that the majority of downtown is now covered in twinkle lights. It’s always worth the trek to Daley Plaza.

Saturday was a fairly laid-back day. The Renegade Craft Fair is back in Chicago for the holiday market, but we didn’t check it out until today. I am a huuuge fan of Reuse First and insisted on buying Alex a candle in a Malort bottle. It’s as awesome as it sounds.

We headed a place on our list of restaurants to check out for lunch: Handlebar, which is right in my neighborhood and vegetarian/vegan, but I’ve weirdly never been.

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It was pretty delish; Alex had seitan for the very first time in the form of a BBQ seitan sandwich and I got the enchiladas verde. The lunch items we had were really good, but we’ve decided we need to go back for brunch as well.

I’ve decided to switch it up a bit with how I edited the photos for this post. After hearing a few different bloggers talk about it, I decided to check out the Afterglow app and I sorta love it. I’ll be using it a lot more often since I try not to constantly repost Instagram pics on here.

How was your weekend? Are you excited about the holidays? :)

a sunday in pilsen.

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Every year for Dia de Los Muertos, I always go to the exhibit at the National Museum of Mexican Art. It’s a tradition that started in college and something I’ve managed to keep up. Even with I wasn’t living in Chicago, I was always in a city that had an similar exhibit I checked out.

This year it was just me and Alex. We decided to walk around Pilsen so I could make use of my film camera and snap shots of the murals before checking out the museum. We also grabbed some elote on the street, which was so necessary (and delicious).

The exhibit is different every year and there are always pieces that stick out to me. Two of my favorite paintings are pictured above.

After the museum, we got some coffee at Cafe Jumping Bean to keep us warm before going to Honky Tonk BBQ for dinner. The nice thing about this place is that they have a handful of veggie options to choose from; I got the veggie version of their BLT (with mushrooms instead of bacon) and Alex naturally got a meat-filled meal, which he enjoyed thoroughly.

It was a nice little day trip to a different neighborhood and worth the trek. When I first moved to Chicago a couple of years ago, I spent a lot of my first summer in Pilsen, drinking coffee and walking around. Now it looks like my favorite coffee shop is gone for good and I didn’t even know it. I think this is probably a sign that I need to visit the area a lot more often.

Saturday was a day of errands and what not for me since Alex was working (luckily for him, working on a Saturday means he gets Monday off). I also waited in line for two hours to vote that afternoon. And while that meant I ended up not finishing everything on my to-do list, it was still very much worth it. It’s the first time I’ve voted in person since 2004 (I voted with an absentee ballot in ’08) and it was weirdly gratifying. I hope you have plans to vote too.

How was your weekend overall?