AUSTIN, TEXAS; FEAT. WACO

Early this year I made a few friends who I found out were pretty partial to Austin. They talked about the concept of "Keep Austin Weird," they gushed about Barton Springs and the amazing food and music and outdoor jaunts. I'd been wanting to go to a new city in the states for a hot minute, so when the stars aligned and I had a couple reasons: I went.

So a few days after my 27th birthday, Andrea watered the plants, Megan pulled into our driveway, and we all hopped in my car for a nice six hour drive to Arkansas, a little shake of Memphis, and another six hours to our Barton Springs Airbnb. The straw that I'd found to motivate the trip, was a show featuring Josh Garrels and Strahan at Emo's. I love live music, and I'm thankful I've seen a lot of it. I don't tear up at many shows, but this one was full of love and emotion and HOLY MOLY some great sounds. Also picked up a local brew: this Enneagram 9 chuckling the whole time. After the show we found food at Spider House, which had been recommended to us by no less than five friends prior to this trip.

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In the morning we headed to the brunch of our lives at Hillside Farmacy. If you know me at all you know I'm pretty particular about brunch, and this place didn't disappoint in any way shape or form. The space was heavenly, and the food was amazing as well, and not too filling, which was good considering we were about to fill the rest of our stomachs with cupcakes at Silos Baking Co., when we zipped on up to Waco since we'd missed in in our haste to get to Austin the day before.

Upon our return we met up with a friend I'd met while working Fuge in Asia (why do I meet all my friends in Asia??), Caleb, and if there way anyone we needed to get up with to know where to eat, sip coffee and taste beer, it was him. Before figuring out where we wanted to eat dinner, we spent the late afternoon exploring the shops along South Congress Avenue, where I promptly forgot to take pictures, distracted by a million things (clothes, books, and all the cute stuff). We ate family style tapas at Sway, an incredibly modern Thai restaurant with a beautiful patio that almost made us forget how hot Austin is. Caleb took us to Lazarus Brewing afterward, and over a flight, we spent the better part of two hours discussing reformed theology, personality, and getting the real skinny on where to visit the next couple days.

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Early the next morning, Andrea and I walked through Zilker Park and headed to Rowing Dock on the Colorado for some SUPing. I was brand new to this, and as someone who's not really that balanced in yoga that's on a very solid floor, I was a little hesitant. Helpful that the boards are meant to balance and therefore help you out a little bit. I found this to be true. The hardest part for me ended up being the line of floating ducks outside the docks, probably took me a whole two minutes to get past those jokers.

Truly taking a vacation vacation, we napped and napped and finally headed to Kerbey Lane for lunch with Hilary, a friend who I knew from Asia (surprised?). Felt like home being there, a gem of a breakfast spot in the midst of an unassuming strip mall. Reeling from pancakes and mimosas we headed to the library, which we'd heard was lovely and huge and as book-lovers we were all impressed, yes. Unable to borrow, we took the books we'd brought with us to Figure Eight for iced coffee, because non of us could dream of ordering a warm drink, thanks Austin.

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That afternoon we made reservations at Café No Sé, per Caleb's recommendation. It seems we stumbled upon so many of the visually lovely places thanks to his picks, and this place was no exception. Our food was pricey, but it was delicious, and the kind that was totally worth it. We played a very-well-loved game of Scrabble (the letters were rubbing off of all the tiles) at Blue Owl Brewing while hastily sampling sours in the last hour before closing. Megan and I are the sour lovers in our trio, but the night saw Andrea bringing home liquid souvenirs.

As we headed out on Sunday, prepping for a full day of driving, we fueled up at Better Half, excited to hear from Caleb about the future plans for the space, delighted to try their amazing brunch menu (better order anything with a biscuit). Dreading thirteen hours on the road may have been the main reason we didn't want to leave, but I definitely think Austin hit the nail on the head when it comes to a proper vacation: exploring, rest, outdoors, food and drink. 14/10 would visit again. Only probably in the winter, though I'm not sure Austin is ever not hot.

DENVER + BOULDER + FORT COLLINS, COLORADO

I am a very lucky person. Why, you ask? Because two people I love very much married one another and moved to a place that I've never been but always wanted to visit. Sam and Tyler moved to Denver last May, and in January I figured they'd surely have explored enough to have a visitor. Sure enough, visiting them was an adventure full of city views I wasn't used to, mountains I could have never fathomed, and bucket list items. Also beer-tasting. And food halls. And a giant German Shepherd.

I flew to Colorado via Frontier Airlines, and with as many complaints as I saw online, I was impressed. Though, being used to Asian airlines, the lack of space wasn't annoying. I guess it just made it more natural to chat with my seat buddies, who ended up giving me a million recommendations and gushing about their recent vacation in Nashville.

When I arrived in Denver, Sam met me at the airport (surprised me at baggage claim, actually!) and took me to her and Tyler's charming townhouse in Aurora. I met Mosby (scroll down for more cute pictures of this creature), and after being lazy for maybe a little bit too long, we headed to Avanti F&B for some of the most delicious sushi and local beer I've ever tasted. Bamboo Sushi, you will see me again.

In the morning, Sam and I slept in before dragging ourselves up to go to Black Eye Coffee for brunch. The Cap Hill location absolutely screamed Gatsby, something modern and lovely in every corner. Sam ordered the breakfast sandwich and I tried shakshuka for the first time and fell deeply in love. Think breakfast chili meets baked eggs.

After we left with our bellies full, Sam and I headed to Union Station where we poked around for a bit to waste time until her meeting. While she met, I walked over to visit the Artifact Uprising offices. AU is a printing company I've used for several years now, producing some of the highest quality work I've ever seen. It was so fun to chat with them about the importance of the tangible and to see the sleek offices they call home.

I meandered around the area and found myself back at Union Station, where I met Sam before heading back to her house for a break. That night we went to Denver Central Market for dinner, selecting a super fancy pizza to chow down on. The team who made our pizza accidentally left the walnuts on it, but after realizing, offered to make us a new pizza and gave us a choice of a drink, too. Thanks for taking care of us, Vero. Also, the goat cheese, arugula and fig pizza was to die for.

After dinner we headed to another food hall called The Source, where we tried a sours bar called Crooked Stave. I've only recently become a fan of sours, and being able to try several at a time was a fun experience. They're not everyone's glass of beer, but the atmosphere of the place was industrial and open and a few of the options were less tart than your average sour. 

On the third day of my trip, Tyler had made it home from a trip to build fences out in rural Colorado, so we made a day of it and headed to Boulder. I'd been told by several to go check out the little town, and none of the views disappointed. This place is gorgeous. I met up with one of my favorite adventure and lifestyle bloggers, Erin, and we talked about everything from travel to doubt to faith to next steps.

Per Erin's recommendation, we headed to Avery Brewing to check out another brewery and grab some dinner. It seems to me (especially in Colorado) that breweries always have the best food and the vegetarian tacos I ordered didn't change that opinion.

The following day Tyler went to build another fence, so his sister–who lives in CO Springs, joined us for a trip to Fort Collins and Red Rocks Amphitheatre. I'd never really heard of Red Rocks until I began working at the Half and Half and began shipping and numbering prints with beautiful illustrations of the park. I swore one day I'd see it, for something musical or not. Seeing it just to see it only made me want to attend a show here that much more.

One of my favorite things from the entire trip was our visit to New Belgium Brewing in Fort Collins. It was jam packed, but we were able to try so many different brews, including one (1554 Black Lager) that I haven't seen outside Colorado, and unfortunately made it to my top list. There were about 35 dogs hanging out, and with food trucks and dollar tasters, it was hard to leave.

Someone once said that Main Street, U.S.A. in Disney World is loosely based off the main drag in Fort Collins. I didn't get many pictures of it, but it's cuteness overwhelmed me. Even more overwhelming, might be the Asia vibe I got from the Jessup Farm Artisan Village. Little eating-drinking-shopping villages pop up all over the place in Thailand especially, and there are even some in Nashville now. We dropped in on a few of the shops and had our final cap to the evening at the Farmhouse, where I tried a delicious chai mule and we celebrated Tasha's birthday with a fancy way-too-small dessert.

Well, Colorado. You're the farthest west I've ever been, and you're the most mountainy I've ever seen. There's a lot of you I didn't get to, but you've whetted my appetite for mountains in the middle of the country instead of the little buddies we call the Blue Ridges. Hopefully I'll see you again soon...

ASHEVILLE, NORTH CAROLINA

If you've known me for any length of time, you know that Asheville has been and always will be a place incredibly close to my heart. My first experience in this heaven of a city was a summer I spent living in Black Mountain, a small town outside greater Asheville, with FUGE, where my duties included documenting a bunch of middle and high schoolers' adventures in the mountains for three sunny and sweaty months.

I've spent loads of time in this area of the Blue Ridge Mountains exploring, backpacking, driving, eating, drinking, listening to music, dancing to music, looking for jobs, interviewing for jobs I never got, etc. It was only fitting that it was a stop early this winter, and it was only the BEST THING IN THE WORLD that two of my closest gal pals came with.

Sarah and Alex and I met in February 2014 at an international job fair, where we all proceeded to accept jobs that plucked us from our southern homes in the states and chucked us over to the other side of the world. Thankful beyond just about everything that I was able to see both of them over the following three-ish years, we had not all three been together since that job fair so long ago. When Alex, the last of us to return to the states, got back home, we planned a trip to celebrate all that God had done in our lives since our last meeting.

Kindred spirits like these two are INCREDIBLY hard to come by, and I say that because I know for a fact that God put sisters in three different families and we are them. We share so many interests, and one that I'm thankful for is a love for new, good and "twist-on-this" foods. Alex and Sarah will tell you that my list of researched and desirable Asheville restaurants would have lasted us for nigh a month, so we had to be picky.

Night one, we ate in Black Mountain at My Father's Pizza, a local favorite, casual and delicious. Afterwards, we headed to Jack of the Wood, a bar/music venue in downtown Asheville, where we listened to smooth tunes from Moonshine Rhythm Club, a group of talented guys from Music City.

Our first stop the next morning was Early Girl Eatery. We arrived at 9am, the perfect time to arrive, as the dining room filled up immediately after we were seated. Per usual for us, we ordered three delicious plates to pass to the left every ten-ish minutes. Best hash of my life. Best french toast of my life, best benedict of my life.

We continued spending the morning downtown, grabbing some fuel at Trade & Lore per the recommendation of a trusted coffee-loving friend. We wandered to several shops downtown that fed our love of Asian culture and quirky interior aesthetic. See Asheville Market Basket and LOFT.

We stumbled upon our favorite stop that afternoon, Horse + Hero. They offered an incredible selection of art prints and cards, and it was here we discovered our next days activity, The Big Crafty.

Before spending time exploring the River Arts District, we stopped for drinking chocolate and macarons (Let's be real. I stopped for these things.) at French Broad Chocolate Lounge, which had since my last visit expanded to a much more spacious and lovely location. We ordered and tried an incredibly intimidating drinking chocolate, something with rose and citrus in it, I'm sure.

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While at the arts district, we chatted with a few of the artists, some creating while we were perusing. We took advantage of the outrageously colored brick walls and met the folks who run Sunnyside Trading Co., a bohemian furniture company who gets their textiles and fabrics from overseas: I recognized several Thai designs and some quilts I'd seen in the Chiang Mai markets.

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Grabbing a cuppa at Pennycup nearby, we headed back to our cute Airbnb in Black Mountain to do a little wandering around and enjoy the blue-grey weather.

That night we had one of the most divine dining experiences ordering small plates at Rhubarb, a rustic and farm-to-table restaurant on the main drag in downtown. We ordered the preserved plate (the best thing I've ever eaten), Mongolian barbecued lamb ribs, and a couple other things that have since exited the constantly changing local menu. We finished up with some cakes at Old Europe, where we decided that it was much to cold to try to use the hot tub at our place, even with the spicy ginger ales we'd picked up to enjoy. Asheville had reminded us all too well how cold the NC mountains get in December.

We spent our last night watching The Secret Life of Walter Mitty since Sarah hadn't watched it (shocking, yes), and turned in rather early, since the next day was our departure and we still had lots we wanted to do. In the morning we ate at Biscuit Head, home of the gravy flight and the jam bar. The rain kept us from exploring quite as much as we had hoped, so after browsing the colorful and loud (and beautiful) craft fair, we spent our last hours at High Five Coffee reading (typical of each of us, actually) to waste the time before we dropped Sarah off at the Greyhound station.

Our weekend, though full, was relaxing and packed with some of the best conversation I'd had in months. If you've ever lived overseas, you know what it's like to connect with those who've had the same experience. There's something about those who have repatriated as well, no matter how long it took them, is taking them, or where they lived and loved before. I am forever grateful to Alex and Sarah for sharing their lives with me, and will think back on this trip with so much happiness. Honestly, it's only a matter of time before we just recreate it. We still have the other four fifths of the list of things to see, taste, do that I'd made before we even left.