Travel Tuesday: Athens Day 1

Last spring, I took an absolutely incredible trip to Athens with two of my best girlfriends and their significant others. They were already going to be in Europe and when they asked me to join them in Greece, I couldn’t say no. Mostly because it was just so affordable – flights on British Airways through London were fairly inexpensive and we stayed in a beautiful AirBNB  in downtown Athens for about $20 per person per night. I left Baltimore Thursday evening and touched down in Athens Friday afternoon where I hopped a train from the airport to downtown. Before long I was climbing the stairs to our third floor apartment and joining my friends for an amazing Greek adventure!

I was exhausted but eager to explore the city so our group headed out for a walk to dinner. The weather was PERFECT the whole time we were there. Pleasantly hot and sunny during the day and comfortable in just a cardigan or light jacket at night. The walk from our AirBNB took us through the National Gardens and we ended up at a vegetarian restaurant to appease our veggie friends. For my first meal in Greece I wanted something traditional and opted for the falafel platter – the first of many delicious meals! After dinner we had a couple glasses of wine at the apartment and called it a night.

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We were up early the next morning for a day of sight seeing but first, coffee. After a quick breakfast of scrambled eggs (with feta cheese!) at the house, we ventured to Coffee Island – a chain coffee shop that we saw throughout Athens. Coffee Island was the bomb – they made amazing frappes, had clean bathrooms and free wifi! Frappes are a nescafe drink unique to Greece and Cyprus – instant coffee, sugar and water are shaken to make a foam which is added to cold water, ice cubes, and evaporated milk. You could specify how sweet you wanted it and it was so, so good. I had one a day and have been craving it since coming back to the States.

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After our coffee fix we started our walking tour of Athens. We followed a walking tour in our Fodor’s guide book and started at the Temple of Zeus where we purchased a set of passes for 12 different landmarks. The giant columns are all that remains of an enormous temple dedicated to the god Zeus. The columns were so impressive and this was one of my favorite sights in Athens. Right outside of the Temple of Zeus is Hadrian’s Gate – an arch honoring Roman Emperor Hadrian built in 132 AD. This seems obvious, but we couldn’t help being awestruck at just how OLD everything was during our walks around Athens.

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From the Temple we walked to the Theater of Dionysus and then on to the Acropolis (which were two additional sites we had access to with our passes). All of the ancient structures were so impressive.The Acropolis was noticeably more crowded than the other sites but not too overrun with tourists as March is still their off season. The views were fantastic!

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From the Acropolis we walked down the opposite side in search of lunch. We found a cafe with outdoor seating and dined on chicken kabobs, tzatziki, fries and pita. We spent the rest of the day walking around downtown Athens in a popular area with shopping and restaurants. We took an afternoon break at a cafe to rest, use free wi-fi and refuel with coffees (and spiked hot chocolate) and desserts. For dinner that night we walked to Smile Restaurant. The menu was vegetarian friendly and super affordable (like most places in Athens). I had a Greek salad with an enormous slab of feta and a delicious moussaka.

By the time we walked home from dinner we were exhausted – it was quite a busy first full day of vacation!

Friday Five: Introducing Maya

Happy Friday! Maya Evelyn arrived almost six weeks ago so I thought it was high time to introduce her to the blogosphere with her very own Friday Five all about Maya and what life has been like since her arrival! 🙂

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  1. Maya was born January 21st at 11:39pm. 7 lbs 12 oz and 19″ long.
  2. Maya was born at University of Maryland Medical Center and throughout my pregnancy I saw the Ob/Gyn practice at Redwood associated with the hospital. I thought all of the doctors and nurses were fabulous through pregnancy, labor, delivery and our four night stay at the hospital. UMMC also offers a number of classes of which we took advantage: birthing class, breast feeding and newborn care + infant CPR. As first time parents these classes were a huge help and taught us so much!
  3. Maya came out with a full head of hair that she still has six weeks later! Newborns often lose their hair and it can grow back a totally different color or texture so that is what we expected to happen. Nope, still has her lovely brown locks. maya-one-month
  4. Being a new mom is hard. Learning to adjust to life with an infant is definitely a challenge – what with not sleeping, breastfeeding, worrying about the little one, recovering from a c-section, and riding a hormone-induced emotional roller coaster. Around week five I felt like I finally got my footing and things became a little easier, but every day brings new curve balls and of course new joys because Maya is the cutest, snuggliest little thing.
  5. Mom and dad have been living off of carry out, delivery and meals dropped off by friends and family. We are so grateful to everyone who has been looking after us and making sure we eat! We’ve been dining on Honeygrow, Samos, Mi & Yu, Nalley Fresh and burgers from Mother’s (thanks to Amazon delivery!). We’ve made one attempt at dinner out with the little one – we made it through salad and bread at Brendali before packing up our entrees to eat at home.  We are excited to get back to some of our Baltimore favorites!

Mostly, I feel so lucky to be Maya’s mom and can’t wait to take part in some of the activities and resources available to moms in the city!

2016 Reading

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One of my specific goals for 2016 and ongoing goals for life is to continue to make time to read for pleasure. It’s so easy to get home from work and sucked into television or netflix, but I’ve tried to make a conscious effort to spend some time in the evenings reading, especially before bed. A few other factors helped me reach my goal: Joining a book club provided incentive to read more and to look outside of my usual favorite authors and genres. I also traveled quite a bit this year and I always bring a book to read while traveling – reading intently during take offs/landings/turbulence helps distract me and ease any stress I feel while flying. I’ve always been partial to having an actual book in my hands, but I have loved using my kindle since Adam gifted it to me for our anniversary back in March.

Here are my thoughts on some of the books I read during 2016 – let me know what you thought if you’ve read them too and leave some comments about what should go on my 2017 reading list!

A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab

Kell is one of the last Travelers-magicians with a rare, coveted ability to travel between parallel universes, connected by one magical city.There’s Grey London, dirty and boring, without any magic, and with one mad king-George III. Red London, where life and magic are revered-and where Kell was raised alongside Rhys Maresh, the rougish heir to a flourishing empire. White London-a place where people fight to control magic, and the magic fights back, draining the city to its very bones. And once upon a time, there was Black London. But no one speaks of that now.

Kell is a smuggler, servicing people willing to pay for even the smallest glimpses of a world they’ll never see. It’s a defiant hobby with dangerous consequences, which Kell is now seeing firsthand. Fleeing into Grey London, Kell runs into Delilah Bard, a cut-purse with lofty aspirations. She first robs him, then saves him from a deadly enemy, and finally forces Kell to spirit her to another world for a proper adventure. Now perilous magic is afoot, and treachery lurks at every turn. To save all of the worlds, they’ll first need to stay alive.

I’m kind of into fantasy novels so this book was right up my alley! The first book of a trilogy, it was a fairly quick read that kept my interest and made me want to learn more about the universe the books were set in. I just purchased the second in the series from Amazon and am planning to start it in the next few days. The final book of the trilogy comes out next month!

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The Nest by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney

Every family has its problems. But even among the most troubled, the Plumb family stands out as spectacularly dysfunctional. Years of simmering tensions finally reach a breaking point on an unseasonably cold afternoon in New York City as Melody, Beatrice, and Jack Plumb gather to confront their charismatic and reckless older brother, Leo, freshly released from rehab. Months earlier, an inebriated Leo got behind the wheel of a car with a nineteen-year-old waitress as his passenger. The ensuing accident has endangered the Plumbs’ joint trust fund, “The Nest,” which they are months away from finally receiving.

Something like a cross between a Liane Moriarty book (for character development) and Devil Wears Prada (for dysfunctional NYC elite) and The Goldfinch (for post-9/11 art) without being quite as good as any of them, but still really good. I was pulled in by the story of each of the Plumb siblings and the sort of overarching sadness that the family held.

 

Divergent by Veronica Roth

One choice can transform you. Beatrice Prior’s society is divided into five factions—Candor (the honest), Abnegation (the selfless), Dauntless (the brave), Amity (the peaceful), and Erudite (the intelligent). Beatrice must choose between staying with her Abnegation family and transferring factions. Her choice will shock her community and herself. But the newly christened Tris also has a secret, one she’s determined to keep hidden, because in this world, what makes you different makes you dangerous.

On one of my many work trips to Chicago, I finally decided to start reading the Divergent Series – appropriate as it takes place in a futuristic dystopian Chicago. The first book was so, so good and I literally could not put it down. Book 2 was good, book 3 was meh. As with the Maze Runner series below, I just never seem to like the subsequent books in a series as much as I like the originals.

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Maze Runner by James Dashner

If you ain’t scared, you ain’t human.

 When Thomas wakes up in the lift, the only thing he can remember is his name. He’s surrounded by strangers—boys whose memories are also gone.

 Nice to meet ya, shank. Welcome to the Glade.

 Outside the towering stone walls that surround the Glade is a limitless, ever-changing maze. It’s the only way out—and no one’s ever made it through alive.  Everything is going to change.Then a girl arrives. The first girl ever. And the message she delivers is terrifying.

 Remember. Survive. Run.

COULD NOT STOP READING the first book in the series. Or the second one, which I bought on a later flight. By the third though…I was struggling and ultimately dissatisfied with the ending and I haven’t bothered with the two prequels. Like many YA fantasy series, Hunger Games, Divergent (see above), my interest fades after the first couple of books and I am almost always disappointed by the third. So definitely read the Maze Runner but then maybe just stop there?

 

The Rosie Project by  Graeme Simsion

The art of love is never a science: Meet Don Tillman, a brilliant yet socially inept professor of genetics, who’s decided it’s time he found a wife. In the orderly, evidence-based manner with which Don approaches all things, he designs the Wife Project to find his perfect partner: a sixteen-page, scientifically valid survey to filter out the drinkers, the smokers, the late arrivers.

Rosie Jarman possesses all these qualities. Don easily disqualifies her as a candidate for The Wife Project (even if she is “quite intelligent for a barmaid”). But Don is intrigued by Rosie’s own quest to identify her biological father. When an unlikely relationship develops as they collaborate on The Father Project, Don is forced to confront the spontaneous whirlwind that is Rosie―and the realization that, despite your best scientific efforts, you don’t find love, it finds you. 

This book is a super cute, light-hearted read. I couldn’t quite stop thinking of the main character as Sheldon from Big Bang Theory, but that didn’t stop me from enjoying it.I ended up reading the second book, The Rosie Effect too which I didn’t like quite as much (I also read it in the throws of morning sickness not realizing that much of the book is about Rosie’s pregnancy), but still found to be entertaining and I enjoyed the ending.

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In the Time of the Butterflies by Julia Alvarez 

It is November 25, 1960, and three beautiful sisters have been found near their wrecked Jeep at the bottom of a 150-foot cliff on the north coast of the Dominican Republic. The official state newspaper reports their deaths as accidental. It does not mention that a fourth sister lives. Nor does it explain that the sisters were among the leading opponents of Gen. Rafael Leonidas Trujillo’s dictatorship. It doesn’t have to. Everybody knows of Las Mariposas―“The Butterflies.”

In this extraordinary novel, the voices of all four sisters―Minerva, Patria, María Teresa, and the survivor, Dedé―speak across the decades to tell their own stories, from hair ribbons and secret crushes to gunrunning and prison torture, and to describe the everyday horrors of life under Trujillo’s rule. Through the art and magic of Julia Alvarez’s imagination, the martyred Butterflies live again in this novel of courage and love, and the human cost of political oppression. 

This was a book club book that I loved! Based on a true story and told from the point of view of each of the sisters, this pulled me in and captured my attention the whole way through. Even though you know there is ultimately a sad ending, you can’t help but root for the sisters as they fight for the cause against an oppressive dictator.

 

Truly, Madly, Guilty by Liane Moriarty 

Sam and Clementine have a wonderful, albeit, busy life: they have two little girls, Sam has just started a new dream job, and Clementine, a cellist, is busy preparing for the audition of a lifetime. If there’s anything they can count on, it’s each other.

Clementine and Erika are each other’s oldest friends. A single look between them can convey an entire conversation. But theirs is a complicated relationship, so when Erika mentions a last minute invitation to a barbecue with her neighbors, Tiffany and Vid, Clementine and Sam don’t hesitate. Having Tiffany and Vid’s larger than life personalities there will be a welcome respite.

Two months later, it won’t stop raining, and Clementine and Sam can’t stop asking themselves the question: What if we hadn’t gone?

I’ve seen that this book, Liane Moriarty’s latest, has gotten some negative reviews, but I have to disagree! It wasn’t my favorite of hers (Big Little Lies), but I still loved it. Something about the way Moriarty develops each character with so much insight into their personality keeps my attention even as the “big mystery” of the story was pretty slow to unravel. I wouldn’t say it’s an uplifting read as the characters are dealing with some heavy and depressing stuff, but if you’re looking for a good, juicy novel, this is it.

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Why Not Me? by Mindy Kaling

In Why Not Me?, Kaling shares her ongoing journey to find contentment and excitement in her adult life, whether it’s falling in love at work, seeking new friendships in lonely places, attempting to be the first person in history to lose weight without any behavior modification whatsoever, or most important, believing that you have a place in Hollywood when you’re constantly reminded that no one looks like you.

I don’t typically read non-fiction, but like most of my books I bought this in an airport and the options in Houston were fairly limited. Good thing I love Mindy and the writing in her book is similar to the writing on her show, the Mindy Project. It kept my attention, kept me laughing and gave some interesting backstory into her career and relationships.

 

What books did you love last year? What should go on my 2017 reading list? 

2016 Year in Review

Happy New Year, Baltimore! Long time no blog, but in 2017 we will be back at it. To catch up real quick on what’s been going on, I’m here today with a year in review! See what happened in May that temporarily derailed blogging.

January – The first month of 2016 was bookended by travel – in early January, Adam and I spent a few days in Miami and at the end of the month I met my bff in Nashville for the NHL All-Star Game. Nashville is such a fun city and even though I was there for work, we managed to squeeze in some fun. Both the skills challenge and all-star game were a blast and Jessie and I snagged a pic with the Stanley Cup.

February – We celebrated Valentine’s Weekend with dinner at Brendali , made the trip to College Park to watch the Terps lose to Wisconsin and had a Galentine’s Day lunch at Cheesecake Factory. Work travel continued with a trip up to Buffalo for an event with the Sabres. Since it was my first time in Buffalo I had to see Niagara Falls and even though it was absolutely freezing, the falls were gorgeous and so impressive!

March – Obviously I was feeling the travel bug in 2016 because in March I flew to Athens for five amazing days with a couple of my best girlfriends. We ate Greek yogurt and Greek salads with tons of fresh feta, souvlaki, spanakopita, moussaka, octopus and it was all fabulous. We rented an AirBnb downtown and walked all over the city from the Acropolis to Lycabettus Hill. We took a ferry to nearby Aegina and rented a car to spend the day exploring. The whole trip was super affordable and we felt so welcomed by all of the Greeks that we met. Every morning we made a pit stop at Coffee Island (a coffee chain that’s probably the Greek equivalent to Dunkin’ Donuts) for frappes – an icy, sweet drink made with Nescafe instant coffee that I wish I could find in the US! Greece was clearly my March highlight, but I also did some fun things when I got back in town: Jeanette and I ran the Shamrock 5k and had a great time at Light City and Adam and I celebrated our first anniversary!

April – Since apparently I can’t stay in one place for too long, I flew to Chicago for a night in April for a Chicago Blackhawks game for work. The rest of the month was spent in Baltimore, celebrating Jeanette’s birthday and running my first 10k – the Sole of the City – completing one of my goals for 2016.

May – We packed a lot into May, we celebrated Mother’s Day, made a trip to the Maryland Zoo, saw Beauty and the Beast at the Hippodrome, and had friends over to watch the Preakness.  But, this particular May will go down in history as the month we found out we were expecting!

June – Most of the summer was a blur of morning sickness and exhaustion, but in June I celebrated the wedding of Adam’s cousin, ran walked the Baltimore Women’s Classic 5 and had a staycation at the Hyatt. June also marked the final blog post of the year because let me tell you, pregnancy is no joke and making it to work and home to bed was pretty much all I could manage.

July – Still not feeling so hot, but spent a week in Chicago for work including an afternoon of sightseeing in Millennium Park and dinner at Shaw’s Crab House. We also celebrated the wedding of friends at the Sheraton Baltimore. The ceremony was beautiful and we had a blast dancing and taking pics in the photo booth.

August – In August, we spent a week at the Outer Banks with my mom, soaking up the sun, drooling over Duck Donuts and playing miniature golf. We also spent a long weekend with Adam’s cousin and her boyf in Ocean City. People usually knock beach food, but we had a great dinner at Liquid Assets.

September – Back  to the beach, this time to Bethany with Adam’s family. We ate at Off the Hook (my fave kale caesar with a crab cake) and played more mini golf. Later in September, I celebrated my birthday with a few friends at Brendali followed by froyo at Afters. Brendali – with it’s no frills look and delicious food – was perfect for a festive group, especially since it is BYOB.

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October – The month of falltivities: Renaissance Festival, Larriland Farm and my cousin’s gorgeous fall wedding at the Homestead. I also spent a week in Houston for work and was finally feeling completely over morning sickness!

November – Celebrated Adam’s birthday with an amazing dinner at Charleston and spent a weekend in DC for a little baby moon. We stayed at a Marriott downtown and enjoyed great dinners at Zaytinya and Le Diplomate. We also made our first trip to the Newseum and to the famed Daikaya for ramen. We enjoyed Thanksgiving with Adam’s family and by the end of the month I had sort of almost recovered from the shock of the election.

December – Another busy month to close out the year! A weekend of showers with a bridal shower for one friend and a baby shower for another, two Terps games, a festive Christmas Eve dinner at Grano Emporio,  a visit to 34th Street in Hampden to see the lights and New Year’s dinner at Sobo Cafe.

And now here we are, January 2017 and baby due in three weeks! Hoping we won’t go silent for another six months and we’ll be able to update you all on our escapades in our favorite city.

Best wishes to everyone for an amazing year!

Weekend Recap: Staycation

This weekend was fun and BUSY. My bff since first grade came to visit from New York and we had a blast with a mini-Baltimore staycation. We did a staycation in DC last summer, and followed the same pattern this year by choosing a hotel with a rooftop pool. Backing up a bit, Friday night was low key with a frozen chicken parm meal from Trinacria. Saturday morning I woke up early for a mani/pedi followed by my favorite gyro salad for lunch at Samos before picking up my visiting bff from the bus station.

Then the real fun began as we checked into our room at the Hyatt Regency. This hotel was definitely a bit of a splurge, but worth it for the outdoor pool and location. We quickly changed into our swimsuits and headed to the pool deck to post up for the afternoon. The pool was small but perfect for our needs and surrounded by lots of comfy couches and lounge chairs. The view of the harbor was awesome and we enjoyed a lovely afternoon in the sunshine alternating between soaking in the pool, laying out and sipping bay breezes.

After a few hours by the pool we were craving Mexican food and ended up at Blue Agave for guac and enchiladas. Following dinner we ended up back on the Hyatt pool deck for s’mores at the fire pit! We bought a s’mores kit at the front desk complete with graham crackers, marshmallows, chocolate and a long stick for marshmallow roasting. It was a gorgeous night and we has a blast acting like kids and setting our marshmallows on fire. I can’t remember the last time I had a s’more and it was delicious.

Saturday morning we woke up early for the Baltimore Women’s Classic 5k.  I ran the race last year and was excited to participate again. It was another great experience and we enjoyed the supportive, inspiring feeling that comes from a women-only race. It was a HOT morning and we certainly worked up a sweat during the race. After the race we went back to the hotel for much-needed showers and checked out before post-race refueling brunch at Metropolitan. I ordered a croissant sandwich with egg, cheese and turkey sausage that hit the spot!

To cap off the weekend with more eating, we got carry out pasta from Grano. You choose your noodle and you choose your sauce. Hello drool-worthy spaghetti Bolognese, house salad and bread with olive oil.

 

What was the highlight of your weekend? Have you ever done a staycation?