Collegiate Nostalgia; My Favorites at OU

It took me a couple of years to stop wishing I was still in college – ah, what a “carefree” time before adulthood. I went to college at the University of Oklahoma in Norman, OK. (Side note: one of the major reasons I picked it was for how beautiful the campus is.) My time there was spent learning how to discuss literature, discovering the wonder of instant streaming, figuring out how to tolerate all types of alcohol, and meeting some best friends who I’m still close to today.

Lucky for me, I have two reasons that take me back yearly to Norman for visits – my friend Amanda still lives in the area and my mom is an Oklahoma football season pass holder! My mom always is generous enough to let me tag along for a game or two and we have such a blast.

Football is definitely a big deal as an Oklahoma Sooner. Partly because the state has no official NFL team and partly because our team takes home a lot of trophies. Besides national championships and Heisman trophies, we just overall win a lot – which obviously makes it fun to watch and root for the team. Football on Saturdays is something you plan your weekend around when it’s a Home Game. Where to tailgate, what to wear, and who you’re trash-talking (for that week). It’s packed with school spirit even if you’re not super into sports.

Besides that, some of my favorite food is only in Norman. Ted’s is a great Tex-Mex place where you can get freshly made tortillas, queso, salsa, and chips as a part of the standard table setup. Pizza Shuttle has the best cheesy bread I’ve ever had, and I’m kind of an expert.  And T.E.A. Cafe, ah, that Asian restaurant is responsible for a couple of missed classes (sorry mom) and still holds my favorite vegetarian fried rice anywhere. Plus special mention to the cheap and delicious Caesar wraps at O’Connell’s, which is a bar but definitely does not serve bar-quality food. Seriously, I cannot explain why all the food is so good.

Also, if we’re talking about food, we have to talk about The Mont, which has become my favorite place to visit when I head to Norman. They have the most amazing cheese fries (but as I get older I’m finding it harder and harder to finish them without a tummy ache- haha). But they also have delicious swirls! Swirls are frozen sangria-slash-margaritas and these ones are the best. I graduated college before I turned 21 – I actually had a swirl at The Mont as my first official of-age drink – but me and my college best friends, Cassie and Amanda, love seeing how many swirls we can tackle the older we get.

As I get older, I also find I can afford more of the stuff at the shops on Campus Corner. They have a ton of great OU stuff, so you can always find cute college sweatshirts and tees. But they also have a lot of great fashion boutiques that have a lot of really cute clothes. My favorite store, Antique Garden, always has such great gifts too! I’ve probably bought at least five gifts from there over the years. I love shopping around Campus Corner Friday afternoons before the weekend – it’s like having “adult” OU fun. Because I’m not as broke as when I was a student!

Third Time’s a Charm, Falling in Love with Albuquerque

I’ll be honest all I really knew about the city of Albuquerque was a Weird Al Yankovich song. What’s funny about falling in love with Albuquerque, New Mexico is that originally the first time we were just passing through. Being a major city, it makes for a great pit stop on a road trip.

The first time, on a northern New Mexico road trip (Timing is Everything), my friend Jenna and I had stopped for dinner and then I looked up an ice cream shop. That ice cream shop led us to Green Jeans Farmery – an outdoor eating area perfect for when we had the dog with us and fine in any weather with its big outdoor fire pit. It helped that the ice cream was amazing!

There’s also an amazingly zesty Caesar salad! So of course, now that we had the perfect food pit stop, the next road trip (on our way to Utah) brought us not only back to Albuquerque for Green Jeans, but also to explore around town a bit more. While buying the infamous Breaking Bad “meth” candy from the little shop The Candy Lady, we stumbled upon Old Town.

Old Town is a small outdoor area with lots of cute shops and a big pavilion area where special events are held. They sell lots of local arts and crafts as well as Mexican-inspired goods, like sugar skulls and Mexican blankets. There were even tea lights along the street and a mariachi band outside of one store. Everything was so charming!

Now that we had our meth candy, it was time to see the Breaking Bad house. The actual house used as the front (and the notorious pizza scene) was located in Albuquerque, so we drove to see it. I’d seen a few seasons and still mean to finish it eventually, but the overall experience was fun even though I’m not a super fan.

Now on my third time to Albuquerque, I was finally here for the National Park site, but I had one more big bucket list item for this awesome city. The International Hot Air Balloon Fiesta! I’d seen the billboard almost ten months before on my second trip, and wrote down the dates to make sure I saw it.

This Fiesta was our first stop for our remaining New Mexico National Park sites. We drove through the night to get to Fiesta Park at sunrise, just in time to see them take off. We got inside as there were about twenty in the skies and more and more taking off. It was so cool! It was definitely amazing to see so many in the sky, but seeing them up close as they inflated and lifted off was also incredible!

The area is set up kind of like a festival, with food and drink booths and stands for merchandise and local crafts. So after grabbing a local coffee and some tiny Tom Thumb donuts (yum), we walked around to enjoy the balloons taking off. It’s definitely a worthwhile experience to see hundreds of hot air balloons, especially with the wide open space and mountains in the distance.

Until next time, Albuquerque!

Seeking that “Number One Tourist Trap” in Tulum

After a night of just drinking and exploring the souvenir shops, it was time to get up early and hit the tourist spots. The main attraction in Tulum is the Tulum ruins, which is the site of old Mayan temples and buildings. As you may know, I’m not super into ruins, but these ranked number one on almost every Tulum tourism list.

Originally, I had dreams of biking here, but it was hot and Tracy and I were definitely a bit hungover, so driving it would be. We got there early to try and beat the heat (it only helped a little) and got in without a tour guide. I’d been told we’d want a tour guide for this excursion, but getting in and speed walking around on our own was so much better. The buildings were still very in tact, so I could see the appeal, but mostly they were cool because of the nature landscape around them. These ruins were right up next to the ocean!

From there, it was time to chase my dream Tulum experience. After doing so much research through other travel bloggers there were two things I wanted. The first was breakfast at Nomade, where I could get pancakes made in front of me on a private stovetop. I’d seen a picture of this and was so excited for the experience of an individual hot plate with great looking decor.

We found Nomade and got in, but it turned out the breakfast looked to be for guests only. So after walking the eating area awkwardly, we led ourselves right back out the way we came. Tracy and I were so hungry at this point anything sounded good, so we went to a nearby restaurant called Canopia. We each ordered a delicious, brightly colored smoothie and awaited our meals. Tracy wasn’t super into her meal, but I was about to have the best breakfast ever. Sure, it wasn’t pancakes cooked in front of me, but little goat cheese toasts with a fried egg satisfied me way more.

The second “dream” of Tulum was having a drink on a rope walkway overlooking the “jungle” of Tulum. After our breakfast, I was excited knowing this was number one on my own list and essentially was what I came to Tulum for. We found the hotel Azulik, which housed this spectacular bar, only to find it wouldn’t open for another five hours! Complete fail. I was pretty disappointed of course. After so many travel fails in the previous year due to when a place opens and closes, this was the one that cemented the lesson for me. Places all over have weird business hours – look them up, Alicia!

However, I didn’t want this to get me down. I started processing the logistics and to make this bar work, we’d would’ve had to have gone the night before. Which would mean giving up the amazing night we had. And that would’ve been a gamble I don’t think I’d make, even if it meant getting to lay on suspended ropes over the jungle drinking a margarita. Because exploring our own little piece of Tulum was so much better! Walking the couple of blocks within our Airbnb and discovering hidden gems on our own was such a blast! You don’t always win by following someone else’s travel plan, doing the typical tourist thing, and sticking to what others recommend. You never know what will end up being our own personal “number one” on a trip.

Let me also say that the tourist tips do get a thing right now and again; at the top of several lists was the Grand Cenote. A cenote (because yes, I also had to google the word) is a pit or sinkhole that exposes the natural water underneath. Basically, these holes lead to long underground tunnels of freshwater that is perfect for swimming and exploring. In my research, I didn’t realize how fun it would be! This would be our last stop in Tulum and I’m glad we went for it.

Neither Tracy nor me had it high on the must-see list, but after checking it out, I wish we’d had time to go to the other ones! It was the perfect treat to get out of the heat. Also, being able to swim with little fishes, near turtles, and under bats in the cave above was incredible! After our swim, we dried off in a relaxing hammock. It was the perfect goodbye to the juxtaposition of excitement and relaxation Tulum had been for us.

Tequila + Tulum = No Worries

Since last minute getting my passport last year, I made it my goal to travel outside of the US at least once a year. I started getting nervous because I didn’t have an international trip planned and I think this realization spurred my sudden obsession with going to Tulum. I’d read a blog about some great places in Tulum and the more research I did, the more I saw how affordable a weekend getaway to Mexico would be!

I started asking a couple of my best friends who’d be interested in randomly heading to Mexico. Tracy, who like me usually prefers a structured plan, was down! So one Friday on a bit of a whim, we booked our round trip flight. It was the first time I’d booked flights without a real plan – it was so exciting! And then pretty much immediately terrifying. I decided this kind of trip was just what I needed. Something a little scary, a little unstructured, and a lot of fun!

By the time we were thousands of feet in the air with drinks in our hand (we had to splurge a little), we pretty much had a rental car, two nifty Airbnbs booked, and a lackadaisical list of stuff we’d like to try. For me, this weekend was all about the somewhat scary excitement for international travel but also having an easy good time.

We landed, picked up our rental car, and then it was time to drive down a Mexican highway to Tulum. After my obsessive look into different aspects of Tulum, it was hard to believe I was finally doing it! The whole time Tracy and I couldn’t believe we’d booked this random trip for a quick weekend getaway in the middle of our regularly scheduled lives.

After reaching Tulum with no hiccups, we stopped at a grocery store to pick up some tequila. We searched for a long time looking for salsa (of all things to be hard to find) and then were ready for drinks and snacks back at our home for the night. Our next task would be to find it.

There’s no real addresses in Mexico, so our Airbnb gave us a nearby intersection and one picture of the outside door. Not going to lie, it took a lot of circling around on one-way streets until finally we found it. Once there though, it was awesome! A little hidden bungalow loft in the middle of downtown Tulum nightlife.

After a drink (maybe two) we headed out to explore. We grabbed dinner and made a furry friend. Stray dogs were pretty common and very low key, just coming up and plopping nearby to where people sat. We had one sit near us while ordering drinks and having quesadillas. (In Mexico, these were actually just a small flour tortilla with some melted cheese – haha!)

We spent some time walking around, ordering more drinks, shopping the souvenir stores along the main strip, and ended up finding another restaurant with actual swings along the bar! It was so relaxing. Not having a real plan, we went back to our Airbnb, cooled down and made ourselves another drink. After hanging for a bit, wondering if we should settle in for the night we realized we could see some of the bars from our balcony and decided – heck, why not? – and headed back out for more drinks.

It was so easy-going! It was such a fun time to just walk around, try new things, listen to the live music, and chat. We ended up at a pretty cool dance bar, hoping the drinks would be enough to give us some liquid courage, but by that point we were too hot and tired. If it sounds like all we did that first night was walk around and drink – you’re exactly right.

Our first night was the perfect start to a stress-free weekend getaway!

Surfing in the Middle of Texas

As I’m sure is true of most kids from Texas, I have never surfed. I grew up with the fake ocean at the water park, Hurricane Harbor. My first beach was going to Port Aransas on a high school trip. The water was murky and full of lifeless jelly fish. (It was still incredible.) But believe it or not, I recently learned to surf in the middle of Texas, at a “surf resort” in Waco.

My dad is big into surfing on wave riders, like the one he originally  learned on at Hurricane Harbor. When I mentioned to him that I wanted to learn to surf on a real surfboard, he was interested in joining me. Just when I thought there’d be no time in my schedule for an impromptu trip to a real beach, my dad mentioned the BSR cable park that had only recently opened their surf section.

After a lazy Sunday morning, I met up with my dad to head down to Waco. I’d been bummed that I couldn’t make it to Colorado again this summer (to retry our kayaking adventure), so planning on spending the day together was nice.

We got there early to check out the place. It was cool checking out the wake boarders using the cable pull system to ride the lake. They also had a little lazy river where people floated and big slides that sent people launching into the air. We headed over to the “beach” area to check out some surfing. The current session was a beginners’ crowd, but a lot of people looked like they were pretty good.

Eventually it was time to grab our own boards because our hour time slot had approached. A helpful guy told us to grab the longest boards possible because it would be easier. (I would find out later this was bad advice.)

No one really monitored to us after we got our boards, so my dad and I kind of just swam out to where ten or so other surfers headed. The wave was produced every five minutes or so evenly across the water, and immediately people started going for it. My dad and I had definitely expected an instructor, but we started by just watching everyone around us and mimicking what they did.

Luckily for me, the beach manager started coming around and saw me struggling so took me under his wing. He told me where to lay on the board, where to put my arms and legs, and taught me the timing of the wave and when to swim hard. Finally things were happening! Every time I paddled back I’d shout the information over to my dad.

After four waves the manager told me since I’d gotten good at timing and form, to just get on my knees to ride the wave. And then he left to help another girl nearby. The hardest part was definitely timing. Looking back and learning when to start swimming hard and cresting the pull of the curl started to feel rhythmic.

For my last couple of waves I rode it on my knees all the way to the shore. Just as I was getting ready to try getting up (or at least on one knee) our hour was up. It had gone by so fast! The sport mentality had taken over and I really got submersed in learning new things, but overall it had been so fun! It was surprising how little I was able to talk to my dad though – it really felt like a singular sport.

The manager met up with us again to take our boards and said we had done great for our first time so that was nice. He said it took a lot more hours to be ready for the advanced group, but that we could definitely do it if we practiced. Watching the advanced group, who had now taken the waves, was awesome. They made it look so effortless!

I will for sure be surfing again some day! But I might stick to the man-made waves for now. Much less swimming means much less getting tired out means much more practice! Now don’t get me wrong, I was still sore as heck the next day.

From Nature-Made to Man-Made, Crossing the Golden Gate

Before my friends and I could head into San Francisco, we needed a coffee stop to become more human. After camping for the last couple of days and getting some odd hours sleeping cramped in our little rental car, we needed the caffeine and a restroom.

We stopped at the Sausalito Bakery & Cafe, a couple minutes north of the Golden Gate Bridge. After some coffee and a hobo shower (using the bathroom sink to clean ourselves up as best we could) it was time to try and get a good shot of the Golden Gate Bridge.

I’d done some research (of course) and seen the best place to get an overhead shot was the Battery Spencer. It was early morning and so, so cold! Because of the morning – or the cold? – the bridge was basically completely covered in fog. I knew this was a common occurrence in San Francisco, but it was really messing up my desired shots! Still they ended up looking pretty eerie.

Putting a pause on the bridge shot, we headed off in search of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, which would be one of the stops we needed in our passport stamp collection. Looking for this area, we ended up crossing the Golden Gate Bridge three separate times. While this should be fun, it got us pretty frustrated. It turned out we were already in the area, so our sleep deprivation was at work.

The sun was coming out, so we headed to Fort Point, not only another National Park site, but also a great view of the bridge from below. This was actually a pretty cool fort because it was one big building of different rooms, rather than the usual plot of land laid out with several small buildings. It was located right at the base of the bridge, so it was also way more crowded than the previous forts I’d visited.

Along the coast, we finally got our Golden Gate Bridge shots! The fog had cleared, the sun was out, and it was an incredible sight to see. As with most big city icons, after a visit it’s usually easy to see why they remain such an impressive landmark. It definitely lifted our mood!

At this point we were way past ready for a warm meal, so we ventured into San Francisco for brunch. I’d read up on how long the wait lines could be on the weekends, so I’d picked a spot that looked good and you could make a reservation. Driving through the city, we passed a dozen or so long lines outside little restaurants, so I was glad we were able to walk right into ours, Fiore Caffe.

It was almost time to head out to to our departure flight in San Jose, but we had about half an hour left to check out the Castro District. Driving there was a great experience because of all the cute colorful homes and the insane hills you travel up and down. It’s full of great street photography and people watching!

Originally, we thought we maybe wanted some souvenirs but after spotting Dog Eared Books, I knew where to head. We passed the iconic Castro Theater on our walk and of course a lot of rainbows because Castro is legendary in the LGBT community for the first openly gay neighborhood in America. People were out and about, the colors were vibrant, and lots of shops had some pretty interesting items for sale (haha).

But if you know me, you know I love bookshops, especially if they have a resale collection. Dog Eared Books was worth the time. They had a very good selection and because we were at the Castro location, they’d curated it to promote interesting gay and transgender voices. They also had a substantial wiccan selection and feminism selcetion. I looked at books I’d never heard of before. I didn’t have much room in my carry-on backpack so I was able to leave with only a sticker.

This brief pitstop in the city was a great end to my Redwoods trip. After exploring nature, it was nice to come back into the manmade world and still feel in awe. I know I will definitely have to head back to San Francisco because I only scratched the surface of all they’ve got to offer!

(DC) What You Can Before You Go

My friend Derek’s wedding was terrific (so great I took zero pictures) and we were down to our final hours in Washington DC. The friend group had varying flights out, but I had almost a whole twenty-four hours left to see what I could get up to! A few of us left on Sunday decided we would check out the International Spy Museum.

Since we’d be in the area, I took a quick solo jog over to Ford’s Theatre, which was another National Park site for me. The unguided tour was timed, so I waited with a group of school kids in the gift shop until they finally called our time. I skipped a lot of the general information, honestly, to get to the “day of” Lincoln’s death. It was pretty cool to see a side-by-side of both Lincoln’s and Booth’s final hours. Then of course, you actually get to step into the theater’s seating to take a look at Lincoln’s box where he was shot.

Then I met back up with my friends at the International Spy Museum and tested my merits as a potential spy. In the beginning of the museum, they give you a few simple facts about an identity you are to take on to try your hand at deception. Long story short, I did not do well at this. I have such a poor memory, the simple questions I was asked at the computer I failed, not remembering my hometown or what specific business I was in London for. Definitely would not make it as a spy.

This museum focused heavily on the fictional spy, James Bond, which seemed unnecessary. I really enjoyed the many gadgets and spy inventions they had on display. Even the ones that had come from the James Bond franchise – ha! Personally seeing tiny concealed cameras and compartmentalized weapons was pretty awesome.

Finally, there were just three of us left to explore DC in the final hours before my flight. We started with my last National Park site, Frederick Douglass’s home. We watched a little informational film, which did not do justice to the man’s fantastic autobiography (which I’d read several years before).

Then we climbed the little hill to look at his house, still in excellent condition, and with a great view across the river into downtown.

Our trio then headed to the Renwick Museum, which I’d heard was really fascinating and worth stopping in for the current art installation. The contemporary art museum featured several pieces from Burning Man.

Overall it was pretty trippy. As most art is, a lot of it was thought-provoking. I think the giant paper moving jellyfish were my favorite. The technology incorporated into so many of the pieces was so impressive!

After grabbing quick bites at a collection of food trucks, we knew we had just enough time to check out the Presidential Portraits at the Smithsonian. It’s weird to know all the faces of these famous people and not really know them at all as people. Checking out all the portraits, they’re familiar and yet still strangers. I enjoyed Obama and Kennedy’s more artful portraits just as much as the more traditional ones of Washington and Lincoln.

Thus, my trip to DC came to its end. I had seen so much history it was hard to process it all. It’s so weird to think about these famous historical figures walking and seeing the same things I’d seen over the course of my long weekend. And it was also such a blur with all the time spent with such a big friend group! I was glad to have spent my time with a healthy mix of tourism and friendship.