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.

A Trip After My Old Lady Heart

My mom called me one day to ask if I wanted to go to a little town called Jefferson, located right on the east edge of Texas. I think her old lady club (love ya, mom!) had been talking about it and she wanted me to go with her because she knew my old lady soul would enjoy it too. Spoiler alert: she was right!

We got in Thursday evening, just in time to check in at the Excelsior Hotel, which had been in business (and historically protected) since the 1850s. My mom booked us in the “Ladybird” room, which Ladybird Johnson had actually stayed in. It was so cute! Besides the antiques in the room, including a massive four poster bed and a magnificent wardrobe, the floral wallpaper was exactly my style.

Friday morning had us up early to start the day, enjoying the “Plantation Breakfast” provided by the Excelsior. The funny thing we soon learned about Jefferson, was that nothing really opened until ten in the morning. So after a rather lazy start, we made our way to the Museum of Time and Measurement.

Here we walked through the three rooms, guided by the owner himself, as he answered my mom’s questions and showed us his massive antique clock collection. He had just opened a special music room where he had a new collection of music boxes and phonographs. Everything there was so cool!

Next it was time for our first home tour! We explored the “House of Seasons,” a beautiful three story home with as much done as possible to keep it true to its past. At the top, facing every cardinal direction was a pane of stained glass, all different colors to relate to the different seasons. This stunning detail is how the home got its name. The sun would hit the panes of glass at different times, creating a really beautiful color effect down the center of the house.

After a quick pit stop for lunch at the Bayou Cafe, we hurried back to the Excelsior to catch their tour. This hotel is taken care of by the Garden Club, who give a tour not only of the rooms that are unoccupied, but of a stationary train car across the way. This train car was the personal train car of Jay Gould, who was an infamous mogul back in the day. The rumor is he stayed in the Excelsior and when the town wouldn’t go for his train route deal, he left and cursed the town. (Soon after the dam that kept the river high was destroyed and Jefferson could no longer be the major outpost it was trying to be.)

We explored the town some more by doing a carriage ride tour. It was a nice break from walking around doing a bit of local shopping. By this time we were famished and I’d heard good things about Austin Bistro. Boy, I’d heard right! You have to get their homemade bread if you go. We started with the assorted bread basket, and it was so good!

My mom and I were having such a blast, but we’d packed in a lot of activities! We were learning so much, seeing so many homes, and taking a true tour through the past. Just as the town opened at ten, it closed by five – and that was fine by us! We were ready to embrace the old lady spirit and relax as much as we needed.

National Mall, Having a Ball

On our first full day in Washington D.C., we had plans to play tourist! After lacing up our comfortable walking shoes and grabbing a breakfast which included homemade poptarts at the cutest diner, Ted’s Bulletin, we made our way to all of the nation’s capital’s hot spots.

Conveniently, D.C. has something called the National Mall, which lies right in the heart of downtown and holds almost all the monuments and memorials on a massive four blocks of lawn. Our goal was to hit them all!

We started with the White House and planned on working our way counter-clockwise through the gardens. These were all famous from our history books, such as the iconic Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial. For me, I had the added bonus of collecting all the National Park site stamps for every one of these monuments, basically doubling my collection in the span of a few hours.

I won’t list them all, but I’ll tell you my highlights. The Lincoln Memorial was impressive, both smaller and bigger than I’d imagined it somehow. The Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial was really great – I was surprised to have never seen or heard of it before. And oddly enough, the Korean War Memorial was strangely impressive; it was weird to see big statues of soldiers scattered through a field imitating real war.

It had gotten surprisingly hot on our trek around the National Mall, so after the last memorial, we were glad to head to grab a bit of eat at the Jazz Garden that was in front of the Smithsonian. We were a bit early for the jazz to start, but just sitting there in the shade, sharing a pitcher of sangria was super great. We had seen so much, read so many quotes, been both inspired and disheartened by history.

After a bit of a nap and freshening up, we decided to hit up an Ethopian restaurant, Dukem. Almost all of us (myself included) had never had it, so it was a great new cultural experience. I had a tray of sambusa, which was very delicious! And, you could’ve guessed it, I made everyone walk to get the local homemade ice cream (Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams) after dinner. Yum!

We met up with the bride and groom after their rehearsal dinner for some amazing mint juleps at the Willard Hotel downtown. Coming from a pretty casual group of people, we were all feeling pretty fancy having gotten all dressed up to have drinks at a really nice hotel bar that was located in downtown D.C.  Also after the delicious foods and the introduction to the best mint julep I’d ever had – there was no way the night could’ve gone wrong. Celebrating our long-time friend and his pending nuptials was just a fantastic bonus!

How I Plan a Travel Itinerary

Trip planning can be complicated depending on how much time you have and how many people there are to please. But, while I do like a bit of spontaneity, having an itinerary when I travel is always a big help! It makes sure I get done the big things on my list and can also save time and money. Below is the easiest way to lay out a trip!

  1. Figure out arrival and departure time
    This will help you frame your travel (obviously)! You’ll need to know exactly how much time you’ll have, which includes airport nonsense. Don’t plan anything for an hour after “flight arrival” and plan to be at the airport 2-3 hours before “flight departure.”

2. Do your research; create a list
This is my favorite part. I can spend hours on Tripadvisor and other blogs reading reviews of what there is to do in a city. I will definitely look into museums and nature areas (gardens and National Parks), but I also like to try to find the unique stuff. I want to fill my time with stuff I can only do at the place I’m visiting. Make a list – and try and rank it, that way you know what you won’t want to miss.

3. Plot everything on a map
This is how you figure out your locations. You’ll find you can sometimes learn the “burroughs” this way in a big city. Grouping things by location will help you plan how you’re getting to places. If you know they’re close to each other you can save time knocking them both of your list. You can also save money by walking if two things are close enough together. Sometimes something will even drop off my schedule if it’s too far and/or by itself.  Don’t forget you’ll also want to plot the airport and where you’re staying every night!

4. Planning for time
Once you have a vague idea of the location you’ll be in on a certain day, you can start trying to plan for how much time you’ll need at a certain attraction. If I have three things in one area, I will check out opening times. Whatever opens first will start my day and from there I decide how much time I think I’ll be at one thing. Don’t forget to also check out closing times! You don’t want to have something that closes the earliest as the last thing on your schedule.
Important: Leave wiggle room in your schedule! You want to plan more time than you think you’ll need at every place. Plus you don’t want to forget “travel” time between destinations. 

5. Leave space as a catchall
You took more time than you thought at place 2, so you missed place 3? No worries! Create time in your schedule for things you missed or things you only discovered once you got into town. Creating “blanks” in your schedule can be very comforting. While I do like to accomplish a lot on trips, I still like to have a good stress-free time! This time can also be used to be lazy, if everything else is going according to plan. (I tend to plan more “blanks” the more people there are.)

So that’s the basics of trip planning (specifically city travels)! You’ll notice I’m not very good at planning eating – I usually just don’t care that much where we eat since I get a Caesar salad petty much everywhere. Sometimes though, there’s local spots that have something rare- like in DC one breakfast spot had homemade poptarts. And if you know me at all, you know I love finding local homemade ice cream. It’s always a must-have on my list!

There’s one last thing I’ll say about trip planning: Things will go wrong. I’ve not had one flawless itinerary to date. No matter how much research I do, how flexible my schedule is – there’s some things you can’t plan for no matter what you do. So you have to be flexible! Be willing to move things around or drop items off your list. It’ll make a much more enjoyable trip, trust me.

Feeling like a Pointless Tourist

Some things have become kind of infamous just for being something that “needs to be seen.” Marfa, Texas is kind of like that. It’s out in the middle of nowhere, doesn’t exactly have a lot to do there, but people still flock to it. I won’t lie, I’ll tell you right away that Marfa felt pointless.

After a day of National Park sites, it felt like the perfect opportunity to check out this tourist must-see destination. Most people know Marfa for the Prada store right outside its city limits. This art installation was created years ago and in this new age of social media, its image has become well-known.

I guess sometimes it is fun to just take the picture.

In general, the town of Marfa was very aesthetically pleasing. There were so many places in the city that looked “instagrammable.” It makes sense when you realize that Marfa is an artists’ community originally. But because it’s still a small Texan town, there’s also a lot of empty buildings and places that have fallen into disrepair.

It’s such a tourist town, most people plan just a day stop while passing through, so a lot of food places closed before 4 pm – on a Friday! After driving through town for ten minutes, I’d seen pretty much every shop left open.

I saw that there was a bookstore so decided to stop in. Unfortunately for me, this was actually an art book store. There were a few books local to Marfa and West Texas, but the majority were those massive coffee table art books.

There wasn’t much else to do but have dinner, so we headed to Hotel Paisano, where they had Jett’s Grill, one of only three places open. After that, it was time to meet up with my friend Austin, who would be joking us on the rest of our weekend journey.

We went to a beer garden called Planet Marfa that was one of the coolest (and only) places to drink. Something about this place felt more relaxing. All afternoon everything in this small touristy town had felt expensive and unnecessary – but finally here was a place that looked fun and didn’t charge an arm and a leg for a drink.

Sitting there, finally relaxing, we all waited for it to get darker and darker so we could check out the “Marfa Lights,” an interesting unexplained phenomenon. We actually saw lights! They were very distant and faint, but there were definitely one or two lights moving in weird patterns. And it was so dark we couldn’t even get a picture!

The one thing actually exciting in Marfa that has a purpose to share – and your picture looks like a black screen! Isn’t life funny?

Thankful for Coffee

If you know me at all, you know how much I’m love coffee. Even if you don’t know me, I think I mention coffee a fair amount of times in my travels. So since it’s Thanksgiving this week, I’m talking my favorite local coffee shops! Thanks, delicious coffee!

Mudsmith

Hours: 6:30a-11p, Parking: Backlot, Seating: Always something open, Favorite drink: Chai (do NOT add a shot)

Probably my favorite in regards to location, hours, vibes, and of course, taste! The decor is pretty outdoorsy/adventure with some great couches in the back. This coffee shop is located on Lower Greenville, one of my favorite haunts because it’s so close to me. The staff is super friendly, but also knows when to leave you alone when you’re wanting a productive visit.

Wild Detectives

Hours: 10a-12a, Parking: Neighborhood, Seating: Inside is harder but outside always something, Favorite drink: Coffee (Oak Cliff Coffee Roasters)

What’s better than a coffee shop? A coffee shop that is also a book shop! This place is too cool, full of friendly baristas and mustached hipsters. I love the book recommendations that are always relevant and changing. There are lots of twinkle lights on the outside (front and back) so go when it’s not too cold out.

Halycon

Hours: 7a-12a, Parking: Backlot, Seating: Always something open, Favorite drink: Almond milk latte

This place is great for late nights when you want to get stuff done. They’re open late and have tons of space – also their decor is vibrant and trendy. It’s a great space to be productive because the lighting is bright and there’s always seats available. I also love that the coffee comes with animal crackers!

White Rock Coffee

Hours: 6a-11p, Parking: Open lot, Seating: Always something open, Favorite drink: Almond milk latte

The best thing about WRC is that they have an “express shop” that is right near my house and on the way to everything. I love driving through and picking up a latte because it’s not only convenient, but also tastes great! Side note: they have freaking great homemade muffins. This is what I always pick up when I’m on the go, but I also like that the main location has a mellow upstairs section for being productive.

Cultivar Coffee

Hours: 7a-8p, Parking: Open lot, Seating: Not a lot of options, Favorite drink: The Local Honey

This place is one I recently discovered. They have my favorite drink anywhere called The Local Honey which is a cappuccino with locally harvested honey. I love great foam and honey (and espresso duh) so this drink goes above and beyond for me. It shares its space with a little eatery/grab&go which can be convenient if you’re picking up food or beer. The seating could be a little cozier but it’s got a very cool modern vibe.

Crooked Tree

Hours: 6a-11p, Parking: Neighborhood, Seating: Good spots go fast, Favorite drink: Seasonal flavored latte

I love the “homey” vibe in this shop. It’s definitely a place to come and hang for hours. They’ve got tables for working but also a lot of eclectic couches and chairs for catching up with friends. They definitely want you to treat it like a common room because they have board games and lots of outlets available for whatever kind of night you’re wanting. I’m also not super big on flavored syrups, but their selection is always on point.