Safari: Cats

I have never really been a “cat person.” Growing up, we always had dogs. Even now, Reed and I have three dogs. I have never really owned or enjoyed any feline. However, our safari time might have changed my mind. We weren’t exactly seeing house cats, but these larger felines had quite big personalities and surprising habits.

Let’s start with the obvious… the lion! Lion cubs are usually born in litters of 2 to 4. Surprisingly enough, cubs are born with spots (see below), but lose their spots as they mature. Born in litters, the cubs learn to wrestle with each other and eventually their parents. This wrestling gradually teaches them the skills they need for basic survival, killing prey, and leading their own pride. Male cubs are pushed out of the pride when they are mature enough to survive on their own, or are becoming a threat to the male dominance within their pride. Males can form group with other males, often brothers, to eventually build their own prides.

**Lion King trivia: “simba” actually means lion in Swahili**

This cub’s spots are easily seen now, but will lose them after a year or two.


This cub is practicing hiding and pouncing on his father. The parents encourage this to help prepare the cubs for survival as adults.

Although the male is the dominant in a pride, the females do a lot of the work. Besides the birthing, nursing and parenting of the cubs, they are responsible for most of the hunting. Occasionally males will hunt, but, more often than not, the lioness is responsible for feeding the pride.


When not hunting or eating, lions are actually quite lazy! Although we found several eating, most of the time, we found prides relaxing and cooling off in the shade.


Their coloring is the perfect camouflage for hiding in the tall, dry grass.


Don’t be fooled, he’s just yawning! 



One of the smaller cats in East Africa is the serval cat. Relatively the same size as a bobcat, the serval cat is nocturnal. They track small rodents and birds to survive. We saw one from a great distance at dusk, but this one was out hunting midmorning. We watched it track something small through the tall grass, maybe a mouse or small rabbit, then finally pounce on its prey!

Another example of how coloring and camouflage makes it easy for them to hide in the tall grass. 


Pouncing on his prey

The other two big cats in East Africa are the cheetah and leopard. These cats often get mixed up or mistaken for the other, but once we learned their differences, they are very easily distinguished! First off, the leopard is much larger than the cheetah, but not as large as a lion. The cheetah has a very slender body, however the leopard is larger and appears thicker. Second, their spots are very different and help when identifying them. Cheetahs have a light tan coat with black spots. Leopards have a slightly darker coat and their spots are more like a black “U” around a brown spot.

Although both are incredible agile, fast and carnivorous, the cheetah is faster and spends more time on the ground. Leopards are quick, but spend a lot of their time in trees.

A cheetah’s tail is like a fifth limb. Their tail helps them steer and stabilize when running at high speeds.
This young male leopard was resting in this large tree with his mother


Notice the leopard’s paw, much longer, almost like a human’s foot, compared to the small paw of the cheetah


Safari: Ngorongoro Crater

A few days ago, I posted about the Serengeti, the first blog in my Safari series. If you missed it, you can read it here! Tanzania is so diverse and has so much to offer, so we decided to split our time between the Serengeti Plains and Ngorongoro Crater. Although they are pretty much neighbors on the map, these two conservation areas could not be more different!


To give you some background information, the Ngorongoro Crater was once an active volcano that imploded, causing a caldera or volcanic crater. It is believed that, before its fall, Ngorongoro was actually taller than Mount Kilimanjaro. Now, one of the seven natural wonders of Africa, the remaining crater has now created an oval shaped basin about 21 kilometers wide by 19 kilometers long. Due to the rocky layer from the crumbled mountain, roots cannot go very deep, making the crater floor mostly plains, with the exception of one forest and two marshes. The remaining walls of the volcano now look and act as a circular mountain range, closing the crater floor off from the rest of the plains. Animals can still get in and out if desired, but due to the steep crater walls and the complete ecosystem within the crater, most remain in the crater.

View of the Crater from what is believed was the peak of the mountain before its collapse
Inside the crater, looking across the plains at the one forest on the crater floor

To access the crater, one must drive up and over the crater wall and down to the crater floor. The drive on the dirt road can take up to two hours, one way, depending on weather, or even elephants in the road. This conservation area is run by the Tanzanian government, unlike the game reserve we were previously at, so there are very strict guidelines for entering/exiting, driving through, and viewing game in the conservation area. Also important to note, a conservation area is different from a game reserve or even a national park. Game reserves are usually privately owned by a company or individual, allowing them to determine guidelines, etc. A national park is usually strictly for nature and game to be preserved according to the country’s guidelines, but no human habitation can occur. A conservation area can often allow for humans to live or tour in the area, as long as they adhere to specific and strict guidelines. Since Ngorongoro is a conservation area, they allow the Maasai tribe to continue living in and around the crater as they have for many generations. Traditionally, Maasai tribes are warriors and grazers, defending their tribes and grazing cattle. They live in small villages composed of several huts and are often identified by their bright red wraps they wear.

On our way into the crater, you can see the small huts of a Maasai village

Viewing the crater from above, it seems as though it is barren and lifeless, but once you descend the 2000 feet of elevation, its entire ecosystem is quickly seen. As opposed to the Serengeti where there is plenty of space to roam (or escape a predator), the confined space of the crater naturally allows for more animal interaction. Herds mingle, prey accidentally walk right in front of sleeping predators, movement can be spotted from far off, resources can be scarce, but always shared. We saw more animal interaction in our short time there than we did in over a week in the Serengeti!

Beautiful sunrise peeking through the clouds

One of my favorite interactions was seeing two Thomson gazelles dueling. Unlike impalas who live in bachelor herds, Thomson males live on their own and are very territorial. Their territory is more than just where they live, this also determines who they mate with. If a male challenges another’s territory, it will result in a fight like is pictured below. The two males will wrestle, pushing the other with their head and/or horns. The first to surrender, give up, or get tired must immediately flee the area or risk getting hurt by the champion. Sometimes, their horns can accidentally lock together. This can have serious consequences if they cannot untangle themselves, such as one breaking a neck, a broken horn, or a predator taking advantage of the stuck animals. As we watched this match, they did actually get stuck and struggled for quite a while. However, I am happy to report they were able to untangle themselves, a winner was declared and the loser was chased off his territory.


Notice how their horns are both stuck in a compromising angle across the others faces. 

Another thing we loved about the Ngorongoro Crater was the lions! Although we saw more cats (including leopards and cheetahs) in the Serengeti and were able to get much closer to them, they were often sleeping or not doing much due to their nocturnal nature. In the Ngorongoro Crater, these cats were almost always on the move!


In the Crater, many habits (eating, sleeping, etc) are different due to the geological circumstances of living in the Crater. If prey walks by a predator, they might go after it, even if they’re not hungry. We got to see many different instances of lions stalking and chasing, eating, or protecting a prey they had just killed. We even witnessed a lion chase down an unsuspecting warthog, the warthog barely escaping with its life!  On the surface, the killing of any animal can seem terrible. However, this seemingly “bad” part of the circle of life is just another example of God’s perfect design within Creation. The most obvious results of lion killing a prey are that a lion (and his or her pride) is fed and natural population control of herds of zebra and wildebeest. However, there is so much more. After a lion and his pride have had their fill, they move on looking for water. Waiting very close behind them are the scavengers – hyenas, jackals and other small carnivores. After the first round have had their fill, the next group moves in. Vultures, other carnivorous birds and even safari ants (who only eat protein) all depend on larger predators to provide their basic necessities. None of these animals can kill or take down an animal such as a zebra or wildebeest, but their diet cannot survive without it, therefore by the Divine design of our Creator, the life and wellbeing of many species literally lives and dies by prey and predator relationships.

While these 2 lionesses finish off a wildebeest carcass, the golden jackal waits patiently for his turn.
This male is protecting their kill from a hyena hiding in the grass, trying to sneak an early snack. 
Here at the river, you can see how water is life. All creatures need it, therefore it was a prime spot for game viewing, especially during the dry season.

We did not have the opportunity to see a hippopotamus in the Serengeti, but in the two marshes within the Crater, hippos are happily bathing in the mud. These massive creatures are very territorial but if relaxed, often found just trying to cool off during the heat of the day.


Don’t miss the baby swimming next to Mom! 
We stopped for breakfast one morning on the shores of the larger marsh, occasionally spotting a hippo peeking from the reeds. 


Kori Bustard, the world’s largest flying bird, can weigh up to 42lbs 
The Superb Starling bird has one of the most beautiful plumage I have ever seen, ever changing between blue, green, black and purple with every movement.
A lone, “soldier” Cape buffalo, likely pushed out of his herd by a younger, stronger male for dominance
Grant gazelle

My mom traveled to Kenya and Tanzania in the late 1960s to safari with her mother and grandparents. Over the past few weeks, I have been sharing our experiences with her and we’ve been comparing stories. In every conversation, she kept saying how it was exactly as she remembered, to which I would think “Of course it is!” But it wasn’t until a comment she said just yesterday that it really struck me… She said, “Through the 50 years since I went to Kenya and Tanzania, everything man has made has changed, either by developing or deteriorating. But everything God has made has stayed the same.” She hit the nail on the head. His design, His will, His purpose.. everything is perfect and everlasting. He is unchanging.

Trying to write or even photograph what we experienced is near impossible. Not because it can’t be explained or captured, but just the way God lays out His creation and His perfect design… its just such a testimony to His good and perfect will. And if this is His design for animals and birds of the air, can you imagine how good and perfect His will is for us?



Safari: Serengeti

Hi everyone! We’re finally back after about two weeks of exploring Tanzania! This was, by far, our favorite place yet! We already knew we loved Africa, but had never traveled Tanzania. We quickly fell in love with the land, food, animals, and especially the people! We saw and experienced so much I have decided to do a series of posts to adequately show and discuss what we experienced.

Remember the scene in “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory,” where Wonka sings as he’s revealing his world of candy and chocolate… “Come with me, and you’ll be in a world of pure imagination. Take a look, and you’ll see all the beauty.” That’s what I felt God was whispering to me this week… “Look at my creativity.. the product of my imagination. My Creation.” Everywhere we looked, His perfection was shown. From the intricacy of a bird’s feathers to the vastly different social patterns between two seemingly similar gazelles, it was undeniable that He put this all into motion. Each animal and species has different patterns of birthing and parenting their young, eating, social habits, and defense mechanisms, just to name a few. Sadly, evolution is what is generally believed and woven into education and even explanations on game drives. But the more we saw, the more it was confirmed to us this was part of His Divine design. There is no way this happened by chance. Our Creator purposely placed every detail very strategically.
“And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good.”
Genesis 1: 31
Our first stop was a former game hunting block turned game reserve the northwestern side of the Serengeti Plains. Game drives are usually flexible, but for prime game viewing, its best to go before and after the heat of the day when the animals are often most active. The two daily drives are usually 6am – 11am and 4pm – 8pm, each with a stop for coffee and snacks to stretch your legs. Beyond that, there is usually no agenda other than to follow the animals. All rangers, or guides, are constantly sending out updates of any rare animal sightings across the reserve so all can have a chance at any particular sighting.
Our first drive did not disappoint! We came up on this mother-son pair of usually elusive and nocturnal leopards casually relaxing in a tree.
Mother leopard
The young male leopard will leave his mother when old enough to hunt and fend for himself.

This lion pride consists of 5 male brothers and their females and cubs in total, but prides are not always found together. We spotted part of the pride with 2 males, 2 females and 4 cubs. These cats were on the move when we caught up to them.


This cub was preparing to pounce on its father. Cubs are encouraged to pounce and wrestle with their parents to learn how to eventually track and kill prey.
After reaching a certain age, male cubs will be pushed out of the pride by their father, keeping the father’s dominance of his own pride and forcing them to create their own prides. 

It can be rare to see animals interacting, but we caught these two warthogs (or ngiri in Swahili) wrestling. They would stand nose to nose to hook their tusks then try to swing and push each other around. There was no female present that they would be fighting over, so they were probably just wrestling for social purposes


One of the things that makes the Serengeti Plains so iconic and prime for game viewing is the wildebeest migration. Every year, the wildebeest migrate clockwise from Masai Mara down to southern Serengeti to drop their calves, then journey back. Constantly on the move, the 2.5 to 3 million animals make this annual journey across the plains, often joined by zebras.

Grazing wildebeest and zebras in the morning mist


Impalas are a medium-sized antelope. The males live and feed in “bachelor” herds, while the females and young are called a “breeding” herd. Impalas are easily identified by the black “M” on the hind legs and tail.


Male impala

Much like the impala, giraffes live in bachelor and breeding herds. Females give birth while standing up and the young is usually up walking around within 5 minutes. A group of giraffes is called a “journey.”

This bachelor herd had a total of 14 males. 


Zebras can appear to travel and live in large herds, but they actually have very specific families they belong to. A zebra harem, or family, is usually made up of one male, two or three females, and their young. When traveling, they are in a single file line, male at the back to protect his harem from any potential predators.


Zebras often stand facing opposite directions to make sure they are not attacked from the rear.
Male waterbuck, with his female standing behind him

Although we were mainly camping in the bush, we would occasionally go to a neighboring lodge for lunch. At one particular lodge, they have lots of trees surrounding their dining area. Black faced monkeys fill the trees waiting for staff to leave so they can jump down and steal a snack from guests. This cheeky monkey jumped down right as we were eating dessert, grabbed an almost empty bowl and quickly finished it off, scurrying off just as the waiter came back!

Africa is hot and I had just taken a huge bite, but there’s the culprit behind me!
Another monkey from the same tree carrying her baby. This baby is probably less than a week old and will switch to riding on the mother’s back in about a week when it is strong enough. 

Pictured below is the Cape buffalo. These male dominated herds can range from small to large numbers. Once the dominate male(s) are too old and weak to keep their dominance (shown/measured by pushing and wrestling with their head and horns), younger, stronger bulls will push them out of the herd. These lone males usually live in small groups of 2 or 3 at a time and are often called “retired soldiers.” Although generally peaceful grazers, these large animals can stampede if feeling threatened.


Another amazing animal on the Serengeti is the elephant. Being the largest animals on the plains, elephants can weigh up to 13,000 lbs. Their size coupled with poor digestive systems, elephants spend up to 18 hours per day eating. They favorite snacks are small, thorny acacia bushes and the inner side of tree bark. Their force while eating often results in uprooted and/or knocked over trees. A herd of elephants consists of females and their young. Everyone is usually very closely related. For example, there is a matriarch and she will be accompanied by a sister or daughters and their young. Bull (male) elephants usually roam solo. Elephants are very protective of their young and can be very dangerous when feeling threatened, charging, stomping and swinging their massive trunks at the threat. Despite all of that, they are so majestic. Their generally slow gait shows grace and the use of their trunk is fascinating.


This male has stripped bark from a tree and now chewing on the inner part. 

We loved our time in the Serengeti, but don’t worry… there’s more about Tanzania coming soon! Stay tuned!

Our evening breaks usually occurred right at dusk, allowing us to experience some amazing sunsets!



Serengeti, we will be back!

San Sebastian, Spain

San Sebastian has never really been on my travel radar or bucket list. I honestly did not know much about the Spanish beach town until the past year.

As Reed and I got more and more interested in food (especially over the last year), we began watching food documentaries, following chefs and restaurants, and, as you know by now, trying to seek out any and every kind of food experience. We have some friends who are equally, if not more, interested in food and food experiences. They shared with us San Sebastian is on their travel bucket list because of its food. Following their recommendation for this destination, we began researching and quickly decided we needed to add this to our itinerary.
We arrived at our hotel Sunday night, so couldn’t see anything until the following morning. However, our late arrival did not deter our dining. Everyone in Spain keeps a late schedule, so arriving at dinner at 10:00pm was just on time! We had researched some dinner places but once en route to our Trip Advisor recommendation, we decided to ditch it for a busy tapas bar. Not having much experience with tapas, we quickly felt intimidated. If you’ve never been, typical tapas bars are long bars filled with what looks like appetizers. Small plates of little sandwiches, meats, fish, cheese, etc. and you pay for what you take. There’s usually not a lot of ordering, just grabbing and paying for what you eat. Everyone is standing around, eating, and chatting. Its loud and we don’t speak a lot of Spanish, so we were nervous to order.  (If I’m being totally honest, I finally googled “How to order tapas at a tapas bar!”) A kind waitress finally saw our struggle and helped us. Despite a huge language barrier, she walked us through it (not a lot of words, just a lot of pointing and gesturing) and we ended up having a great meal! (It really is pretty simple and we now feel a little foolish for not knowing, but you just need to have a little confidence to step up and get what you want!) We even returned the following evening for dinner, this time choosing a sit down meal. The same waitress served us, but we asked her to choose her favorites for us (which in our broken Spanish sounded something like “tu favoritas para dos?”)… again, we were not disappointed! Through our travels, we have found some of our favorite meals have been when someone else is ordering for us!
Tapas bar
We woke to an amazing beach view. Originally a port and naval base, most of the city is situated in regards to the sea – everything wraps around the coastline. We spent our first morning trying to get our bearings, aka – trying to find some coffee and a place to do our laundry. After that, we really got going exploring the town. We quickly found it is a very walkable city. Small streets and quaint squares make for picturesque scenes.
When I used to think of Europe, I imagined every city looked like the movies – small streets, outdoor markets, church bells ringing and little cafes. To some extent, you can probably find that in every city, but like anywhere else, cities are just that.. cities. San Sebastian was the exception to this. Walking around, this was the Europe I had imagined – cobblestone streets, markets, and cafes on every corner!
Tapas al fresco
We love dining al fresco, so we decided to have lunch on the beach. We ran to the market to grab a few bites. On the outside, their markets look like a typical grocery store, but on the inside, they feel more like a farmer’s market… individual vendors for different items such as fruits, vegetables, meats, and cheeses. We got an assortment of fresh goods and hit to the beach! The weather was perfect – sunny, but with a gentle breeze!
Lunch on the beach
We also visited several churches throughout San Sebastian. It is so fun to be exploring such small streets and then it opens up to a square, revealing a huge church! I won’t go into detail of all the churches we visited, but I will show you my favorite, San Vicente. Rather empty when we walked in, San Vicente was very dark. There were a few other couples in the pew as we looked at the beautiful high altar. We were having a hard time seeing and figuring out the design on the altar when we heard someone drop a coin into a metal box. Instantly, the altar was illuminated, a stunning reveal.
San Vicente altar
The multilevel altar showed the story of the crucifixion of Christ. Beautifully intricate and delicate carvings, paintings and statues told the most sacrificial story in history. In each scene, from Judas’ betrayal to Christ hanging on the cross, you can see every detail, muscle and facial expression of each person. The art truly drew us in and reminded us of His ultimate sacrifice. Although we both know and have heard the crucifixion story many times, Reed and I both felt this was a unique retelling of the story. We sat in awe for quite some time observing each scene.
As stated in my first blog post, our goal for this trip was to experience God’s creation in all shapes and forms. We firmly believe His creation includes the gifts He has given people – art, music, food, and so much more. We loved how this creative expression of art was not just for retelling a story so many already know, but reminding us of His love and the reason we worship Him.
Front of San Vicente
Another day in the city, we hiked Monte Urgull. The hike was relatively mild, but the views were incredible. The winding path leads up to the remains of La Mota Castle. Originally dating back as early as the 12th century, the castle served as a naval base and port. Changing hands about as many times as the country changed ruling parties over the following centuries, the castle experienced many attacks, demolition, and new construction. It became a public park in the early 19th century and received the Statue of the Sacred Heart (Jesus Christ) in 1955. Now, the castle remains have been turned into a museum telling the castle and city’s history. The viewing decks give the perfect bird’s eye view of the city and mountains.
San Sebastian
As I’m sure you can guess, we experienced many other restaurants while in San Sebastian… Reed has another food review coming soon!

Vienna, Austria

Vienna was not on our original travel itinerary. We had put it on our travel wish list, but when we had to start narrowing down to what we could fit in, unfortunately, it got cut. We were supposed to be elsewhere this week, but after a very thoughtful friend sent us a travel advisory for our destination, we decided we would rather be safe than sorry! Thus, we found ourselves heading to Vienna.

(We did travel to Edinburgh before Vienna. I am so behind on blog posts, I do not think I will write about our time there. However, we were there with Reed’s brother and his family. Our sister-in-law wrote a great post about our time there. You can read that on her travel blog here.)

It was quite the journey… delayed flights, lost luggage, not arriving to our room until after 1:00am.  As we ordered dinner, Reed found an NFL game on TV. It was in German, but needless to say, he was a happy camper after such a long day! img_9225

We allowed ourselves to sleep in the next morning, but quickly began exploring a city we knew nothing about! We had again relied on our SPG loyalty reward points to help us find the Hotel Bristol, conveniently located in the city center.  Being so centrally located, we took off on foot to explore museums, cathedrals and many of Vienna’s city parks, or “gartens.” We so enjoyed the friendliness of the city and the beauty of its architecture in every building.

Our first evening, we found tickets to a concert honoring Austrian born and raised composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. I grew up playing the piano, so I spent many years learning and playing classical music. This concert was such a nostalgic event that took me back to my piano-playing days. The music was phenomenal and was so fun to show Reed the musical side of my youth! img_9298

One thing that has quickly become one of our favorite things to do is worshiping in, praying in, and touring churches and cathedrals in each city we visit.  Vienna was most definitely an amazing place to do so. We first visited St. Stephen’s Cathedral. Although first construction completion was in 1160 and major reconstruction and expansion was completed in 1511, time, wars, and pollution have caused ongoing construction and renovations to this day.

Street view


Here, you can see the Gothic and Romanesque architectural style coupled with the colorful tiled roof. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We opted for the full tour, which included a self-guided headphone tour of the cathedral and a guided tour of the catacombs.  These two tours taught us so much about the architecture, history and spirituality of the church. Over time, St. Stephen’s has experienced many governments, wars, uses, life and death, but it remains as a beautiful monument and, most importantly, a sacred place of worship.

From the side, you can see the effects of pollution. The lighter stone shows areas of the exterior that have been restored.
The intricate pulpit
The detailing on the handrail up to the pulpit shows the battle between good and evil, but the banister has 2 different types of wheels. The 3-prong wheels are shown to be rolling upwards, representing the Trinity going up with the priest. The 4-prong wheels are shown to be rolling down, representing the four seasons (representing mortal or worldly life) going away from the priest as he preaches. What a prayer to pray over our pastors as they teach and preach!
High Altar – The painting shows the stoning of the church’s patron, Stephen, but the altar itself was designed to draw the eyes upwards, towards heaven.
View from the North Tower
South Tower

We toured several art museums, but sadly were not allowed to take any photos. When looking at our tourism map, we saw there was an aquarium, Haus des Meeres! On a free afternoon, we decided to go! It had a great mixture of fresh water, salt water, land creatures and birds!

Nibble fish – the feed on dead skin, but its very ticklish!

Our time in Vienna also consisted of smaller stops, tours and exploring, but our last major stop was Schonbrunn Palace. The former summer residence of the imperial family was originally built in 1642 by Emperor Ferdinand II’s wife, but the extensive 1400 rooms were redesigned by Maria Theresia in 1743 after Turkish occupation. It continued on to be the home of the royal family, but is now a restored piece of history. The beautiful estate also has immense gardens, grounds and a zoo to be explored and enjoyed.


Vienna was unexpected, but an amazing stop! We hope to be able to return and explore more of Austria soon!

Coming soon… San Sebastian, Spain!



London Calling

Last week, we explored and enjoyed London!

After our week in Ireland, we popped over to London for a few days. Neither of us had ever visited London, so we were excited to explore some iconic London landmarks and historical sites.

Not very familiar with London’s neighborhoods, we resorted to our Starwood hotel loyalty account to help us find a good hotel. We ended up at the Le Meridian Piccadilly. Again, not really knowing where we would end up, this turned out to be the perfect location! Right around the corner from Piccadilly Circus and walking distance to many major sites in London, including Buckingham Palace! Piccadilly Circus is quite a busy tourist area, similar to Times Square. We really tried to avoid the heart of it due to massive amounts of bright lights and tourists. However, just down the side streets off the main square, it almost instantly quiets down and the crowds thin out. These little side streets are lined with cafes, coffee shops and other small businesses. Our location was on the border of Piccadilly and Soho, so we really got a good taste of both.

Upon arrival to our hotel, we dropped our bags and headed out in search of lunch on some recommended streets in Soho. We stumbled upon Dishoom, a casual Indian restaurant with comfortable dining and a quaint courtyard where we dined. I haven’t really experienced a lot of Indian cuisine, but I must say, this place was amazing! Small plates, comfortable seating and friendly staff. There were also many other great restaurants and  cafes in this area, so we would definitely recommend Kingly Street and Carnaby Street for easy dining with lots of options.

Dishoom in Soho

Our first full day in London, we set out to hit some of London’s most popular sites. We headed straight for Big Ben, the House of Parliament and Westminster Abbey. Since you cannot go inside Big Ben or House of Parliament, we just admired the two from the street level. Even from there, you can see the intricate detail and amazing architecture.

Big Ben

We then turned to visit Westminster Abbey. We decided to skip the large group guided tour and opted for the self guided, headphone tour – such a good choice!  With about 20 stops and detailed, historic descriptions of the church, architecture, tombs and memorials on the tour, we were able to experience the church on our own and it was such an experience. I was so consumed with the architecture and beauty of the building itself, knowing its original purpose was to bring praise and glory to the Lord.  The time, devotion, money, design and continued restoration that the building contains just shows He is alive and deserves to forever be praised. We were there also for a time of prayer. The way the prayers echoed throughout the building gave me goosebumps, knowing He was present and He was being glorified.


Westminster Abbey // Photography is not allowed inside, so I don’t have more photos. However, if you have never been before, do a quick Google image search of the Abbey to see more! 



Tuesday, we took the Tube to visit St. Paul’s Cathedral. Same as Westminster Abbey, we were immediately awestruck at the size and beauty of the cathedral. Its intricate details and decor were equally amazing. We opted for the self guided headphone tour again and were not disappointed. Much like Westminster, St. Paul’s statues and memorials are beautiful. However, what I found more amazing and special about St. Paul’s was all of the detailed paintings and mosaics depicting Christ, Bible stories, the disciples and others on the ceilings and domes. Here, we were able to attend their Eucharist (Holy Communion) service.


St. Paul’s Cathedral with the statue of Queen Anne in front

As most of you know by now, Reed is a pretty big “foodie” (and I’m happy to follow along on all his food explorations and adventures) and he follows lots of innovative and creative chefs and/or restaurants. When we decided to do this round the world trek, we knew we had to take advantage of our destinations and experience the culinary culture – from world renown chefs to pizza stands and street food – we want to experience it all! We had lots of requests asking Reed to do a food blog, so his first report is about The Clove Club. To read his first food blog, click here.

Check out Reed’s review of The Clove Club here

Wednesday, we had big plans to explore Buckingham Palace and the exhibits currently open (The Royal Gallery, Royal Mews, The Queen’s wardrobe from the last 90 years, State Rooms in the Palace). However, we arrived to purchase our ticket, only to learn you are assigned a designated time for later in the day to tour the Palace state rooms and current exhibits. Sadly, we couldn’t come back at the later time, the only thing we could fit into our morning was the Royal Gallery. Not knowing a lot about art, Reed and I were initially bummed and only went to the gallery so our ticket wasn’t wasted. I am so glad we went! The Royal Gallery is always rotating exhibits, but the two exhibits available when we went were Maria Merian’s Butterflies and Scottish Artists from 1750-1900. The Butterflies exhibit was really nice, but what we loved was the Scottish Artists’ works. These paintings and drawings created a beautiful collection of commissioned family portraits, Scottish landscapes and drawings collected as mementos from vacations and other visits. No guided tours were currently available, so we happily took the headphone tour and it provided plenty of information regarding the artwork, artist and which royal acquired it. We enjoyed getting to observe the collections centuries of Royals have acquired.

Scottish Artist exhibit // The Royal Gallery at Buckingham Palace

That afternoon, we got to the part of the week Reed was most excited about – Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. Reed and I both enjoy any kind of live performance – concerts, street artists, musicians – but our favorite is probably live plays and musicals. Reed also grew up reading the book series, so this was something we were both excited about. Although we both loved the show, its music, actors, and more, they ask everyone to #keepthesecret for those who have not read the latest book or seen the show.


All in all, London was a great city! We both love New York City, but London might take over as our new favorite. From the history, royal family and traditions, beautiful churches, cathedrals and more,  London was so fun to discover!


Gates at Buckingham
Tower Bridge



Ireland… Part 2

Hey friends!

We have wrapped up our week in Ireland. If you didn’t see my post on Connemara, go back and check it out here before reading about the rest of our trip!

After leaving Connemara, we decided to head South. As I said in my Connemara post, we are driving ourselves all around the country, so we have the freedom to stop anywhere or change our itinerary if we choose to do so. On our way to stay at Gregan’s Castle, we stopped in Oughterard for lunch at Power’s Pub where we all had delicious traditional Irish dishes.

Leaving the small village, we stumbled upon Aughnanure Castle. Taking the tour, we learned how these castles were not always for glitz and glamour. Owned by local chieftains and their families, these Gaelic era estates were built with a strong emphasis on protection and defense from outside attacks. Although a seemingly basic rectangular structure, every detail of the castle, from the roofline to the front door and the stairs to the trap doors, was designed to protect from or get rid of unwanted guests. Each floor is more or less one open room, so living was in close quarters with everyone – family and servants alike. This particular castle was built by the O’Flaherty clan around 1300, but there are hundreds of similar castles throughout the country that reflect the Gaelic time period and a family’s need for protection.

Aughnanure Castle
Entrance to Aughnanure Castle

The same afternoon, we made our way to Gregan’s Castle for a quick overnight stay. This quaint, but lovely house is situated in the countryside near Ballyvaughan. Each room is unique and has its own personal style. From the drawing room to the dining rooms and garden, you feel like you’ve just been invited to someone’s personal country home for the weekend.(Also rumored J.R.R Tolkein stayed here!)  Our favorite part of our stay was the amazing dinner served in their dining room. Their award-winning dining room served us an amazing 3 courses with several accompanying “snacks” from the chef, served throughout the meal. Amazing service and we definitely hope to return someday!

Gregan’s Castle

On our way to our next stop, Killarney, we visited the Cliffs of Moher. These cliffs are quite popular for movie scenes, but I think they are even more popular for their sheer size and striking beauty. Being on the coast, it was wildly windy. Paying a small fee to enter the national park, we hiked up the path to the edge of the cliff to view the sheer drop offs, caves and crashing waves below.

Cliffs of Moher

On the national park side (owned by the government), there are barriers and safety guidelines to keep you away from the edge. However, part of the cliffs are privately owned and the owners graciously allow visitors to explore the cliffs on their property. On the private property, there are recommended barriers, but one can easily walk closer to the edge to experience the magnitude of the cliffs. Being the adrenaline junkies we are, of course we jumped the barrier with everyone else to experience the cliffs in all their majesty. These cliffs were amazing and left us awe-struck. I truly felt they reflected the Lord’s divine design as they displayed such power and beauty.

Upon arrival in Killarney, we checked into the Lake Hotel, originally built in 1820 and family owned since the 1940s. This historic hotel sits on Lough Leane and adjacent to Killarney National Park (Ireland’s first national park). We explored Killarney National Park a few different ways. We hiked up to Torc Waterfall on Torc Mountain. Stunning waterfall and gorgeous, green hike. We also explored the Muckross Estate, including the house and abbey. The original estate was over 11,000 acres and used for hunting and fishing. After exchanging hands a few times, the estate was eventually gifted to the government for preservation and history to be accessible by all. We took a guided tour via horse-drawn carriage. Sadly, I did not take many pictures of the house. We then toured the old Muckross Abbey. Although the abbey was originally not kept up as much as the house and most has fallen away, the old monastery still holds so much reverence and you could feel the Lord being honored in the past and present throughout the building.

Torc Waterfall
Our carriage ride with “Paddy”
Muckross Castle
Muckross Abbey
Muckross Abbey

The next day, we drove through the Ring of Kerry. I must admit, at this point, we were so tired of driving, however, this drive was so gorgeous and the views of the countryside were absolutely incredible. We stopped at Ladies’ View, before heading to Blarney Castle to hang upside down to kiss the legendary Blarney Stone! Legend says if you kiss The Blarney Stone (while hanging upside down off a ledge), you are to receive the gift of eloquence. Blarney also included a gorgeous house and intricate gardens on the grounds. We spent an evening in Cork, although we didn’t get to enjoy the city very much due to needing to get to Dublin the next morning.

At the top of Blarney Castle
Blarney House
Lane and Rusty in front of Blarney Castle

Overall, I had no idea what to expect from Ireland, so my expectations were pretty low. However, I was so pleasantly surprised at the food, hospitality, landscape and history of the country. We quickly fell in love with the country! We also quickly learned Ireland takes pride in sourcing as much, if not all, of their ingredients from their own land or waters, so every meal was incredibly fresh and in very generous servings. We can’t think of one meal we didn’t love! You can find my restaurant recommendations at the bottom. Ireland was incredible and I loved experiencing their culture, food and people!

Next stop, London!

So thankful for Lane and Rusty who have invited us on many travels with them. So special to celebrate Lane’s birthday in such a beautiful country!

Restaurant recommendations: Powers Pub in Oughterard; Guy’s Bar in Clifden; Maxwell’s in Galway; Blackberry restaurant in Leenane; Killarney: Castlelough at Lake Hotel, Bricin’s, The Laurels; Cork: Market Lane; Dublin: Gallagher’s Boxty, Rustic Stone 


Last weekend, we traveled Chicago, Illinois, to experience the culinary genius and creativity from Chef Grant Achtaz. Invited by some friends who had a reservation, we were so excited to get to experience Achtaz’s surprising culinary style at Alinea.

We had first discovered Alinea through a documentary series. Over the summer, we were hooked on the Nexflix series “Chef’s Table.”  The series interviews and exposes some of the world’s greatest chefs. Most, like Alinea, are Michelin rated, but the documentary series focuses on their background, culinary history and their culinary specialties that keep their reservations booked out for months.

Alinea was featured in the series for many reasons, but if I were to guess, Alinea and Chef Grant Achtaz were featured because of his culinary mission to surprise your senses and allow you to experience and enjoy food in a way you never have before. Our experience at Alinea pushed our senses to a whole new level, encouraging us to indulge in food with more than our tastebuds.

Chef Grant Achtaz

After their recent complete remodel of the restaruant and menu, we had no clue what to expect going into the evening. Walking into the restaruant, we were seated at a communal table with 16 guests. The first course consisted of 5 small glass containers filled with black tuffle pudding, crab, an herb mix with pickled onions, caviar, and an egg pudding. We were served brioche toast and instructed to “Have fun!” This restaruant being award 3 Michelin stars, I was pleasantly surpised at the very precise, but also relaxed attitude of the meal.


We were then escorted into the kitchen for a cocktail and bite, giving us an intimate and exposed view of the kitchen, staff and prepartions that go into every dish. Back in the dining room, the room had been transformed to have multiple tables and we were seated with our party. The menu had been revealed, but wanting to keep the element of surprise, few words were used to describe the upcoming courses. I won’t go through all the courses, but I will do my best to elaborate on Alinea’s fun and mind bending dining experience.

Wanting to keep the element of surprise, the menu is very vague, using only one or two words to describe each course.

Trying to decipher the menu was like trying to decode a treasure map in an unknown language – near impossible – so we resigned to the anticipation and surprise of each course. The “Crunch Paper” course was a surprising twist on sea scallops. Dehydrated sheets of sea scallop were served in a bowl, a sweet corn broth was poured over it while we were provided with chopsticks to use. Served alongside was a sea scallop cannoli. “Yellow” was a sweet potato and yellow curry served in your hand. In “Cloche Bone,” my favorite element was a Wagyu beef rice crispy treat. Yes, steak on a rice crispy. I was expecting to really dislike it, but I was so pleasanly surprised at the flavors contrasting and complimenting each other, all at the same time.

Multi-sensory courses are a fundamental belief in their dining experience.

The most interesting course was the combining of “Contrast,” “Sparrow-Glass,” and “Swirl.”(Pictured above) Not only were the flavors and ingredients so full of flavor and intrigue, but the ingredients were in fabulously, unique form and presentation. However, the center piece quickly became an active participant in our meal. A teapot poured into our centerpiece, which seemed to be an innocent bowl of fruit, soon began overflowing with the most fragrant smoke as we ate. Light and fresh, it added an extra essence to each bite.


Dessert consisted of two courses. The first was an edible balloon filled with helium! A little sticky, but the treat left you with a silly, high pitched voice. However, the finale was our favorite! Removing pieces of art from the ceiling, a plexiglass “canvas” was placed on each table. Lights were dimmed and the show began… A series of chefs came by each table sprinkling, tossing and painting the ingredients all over. When the lights came on, it revealed a whole new piece of art on top of the art removed from the ceiling. As a communal dessert, we scooped and scraped up all we could from the dish!


Although Alinea has earned 3 (well deserved) Michelin stars, their prestige and precision does not overshadow or interfere with their desire for guests’ interaction, sense of wonderment, and enjoyment. Due to its popularity and high ratings, I went in expecting an uptight atmosphere and strict dining experience, but I left feeling laid back and shared several laughs with the sommelier and other staff. I know there are many with more credability who have dined at and reviewed Alinea, but it was truly an experience! We loved the sense of anticipation and excitement of the meal. We will definitely be returning to experience what else Achtaz and his team dream up and create!