Tupananchikkama (Peru: Part I)

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Tupananchikkama (until we meet again)

That’s what we whispered as we peered over our shoulders to catch a glimpse of Huayna Picchu one last time. And for me, I truly meant that.

The plan:

  • Cusco, 4 days
  • Lima, 2 days

The activities:

  • Mountain biking to Moray and Salt Mines
  • Machu Picchu tour
  • Chocolate making class
  • Horseback riding
  • EAT

Like Canada, this was another short notice trip, by my standards anyway. We finalized travel plans in March for our trip in May. Looking back, I wish I had spent more time planning because there are so many things we didn’t get to do. But that’s why we have to go back, right?

This being my first international trip (to another continent), the travel time to Cusco was almost unbearable. We took a red eye to Lima, with a layover in Panama City, and then a domestic flight to Cusco. All in all, the total travel time including layovers was 17 hours. I am so so so thankful for airport lounges because we were able to relax, take a nap, stay hydrated or caffeinated, use wifi, and have access to clean restrooms.

When we finally arrived in Cusco, we were too tired to deal with having to negotiate a cheaper taxi fare so we just took an official taxi offered inside the airport. The ride to our hotel in the San Blas neighborhood cost us 50 soles (~$15). You can definitely get a cheaper fare (~15 soles) if you bargain with one of the many taxi drivers waiting outside in the airport parking lot.

Fair warning: taxi drivers here are CRAZY. I’m pretty sure I saw my life flash before my eyes a few times so I’m still amazed how we were not involved in any accidents nor did we witness one.

The best thing about our hotel, Pension Alemana, was this amazing view of Cusco…

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Having this view did come at a price, physically. Since it is situated higher than the main part of town, walking to and from our hotel was a real workout. While we didn’t suffer from any symptoms of altitude sickness (we took medicine beforehand), our lungs felt even the slightest bit of incline.

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our daily walk… so. many. steps.

The other pros of the hotel included continental breakfast and having water/tea/coffee/fruit available all day near the front desk. The continental breakfast is offered with made to order eggs in the restaurant upstairs (not just hard boiled eggs yay!). Tip: the wifi is actually MUCH better in the restaurant than in the room so make use of the free drink coupons provided or just grab a beer during whatever downtime and use the wifi there. 

The cons included thin walls and poor wifi. Our room (#303) was close to the stairs and we were able to hear people walking up and down. And even though our itinerary didn’t allow for us to sleep in much, we were still woken up fairly early due to construction on the building across the street.

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After checking in and freshening up a bit, we headed to dinner at Pachapapa, known for their cuy (guinea pig). YAAAAAS, WE TRIED GUINEA PIG! AND ALPACA!

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We enjoyed our meal with some live entertainment…

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when in peru… cuy horneado con huacatay y aji panca (roasted guinea pig) / pachapapa (alpaca) / ceviche de trucha (trout ceviche)

I was not a fan of the cuy. I’ve heard people say that it is too “gamey” but it wasn’t that for me. There was just so little meat! Despite the skin being nice and crispy, I honestly felt like I was just eating skin and fat, and if it was just that, why am I paying so much (72 soles!)? The alpaca, on the other hand, was delicious! The tenderness of the meat reminded me of veal and the flavor was very mild and not distinct. It was hard to pinpoint what it tasted like… chicken? beef? mixture of both? The ceviche, although good, was my least favorite ceviche we had during this trip.

The next day was spent exploring Cusco.

We started by heading down to Plaza de Armas, where there was a parade going on.

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Next we created our own foodie tour of San Pedro Market

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Our game plan was to not get full off one thing and try a little bit of everything. We also targeted booths that seemed to be filled with locals, not tourists.

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first stop: jugos de frutas! i had naranja con mango y cherimoya

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second stop: some damn good caldo de gallina

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third stop: seco de cordero (lamb stew)

We tried our best, but by this time, we were pretty stuffed. We couldn’t pass up tamales though. We even bought a few extra in case we needed a snack later on.

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SO GOOD!

We finished our tour of San Pedro Market by perusing through the merchandise area for souvenirs to bring home. Afterwards, we set out in search of a local coffee shop for a pick me up and wifi.

As we were walking around, we passed by ChocoMuseo. While I was in the midst of planning this trip, I had considered booking a truffle making class, but held off since I wasn’t sure if we would have enough time. Now that we were actually there, I caught a major case of FOMO and didn’t want to leave Peru without taking a class. Unfortunately, the truffle class wasn’t available, but we were able to snag spots for the chocolate class later that day! But committing to the chocolate class meant that we had only 2.5 hours to get to and explore Sacsayhuaman, about 1 mile away. It would be a 30 minute walk, which didn’t sound too bad, so we decided we would walk there and take a cab ride back. Within 5 minutes, I regretted our decision…

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When we got to the first gate, I was so out of breath! To give you some perspective on the steepness of the walk up to Sacsayhuaman, this view is only half way up…

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Our exhaustion made us susceptible to hustlers. When we were approached by men offering us horseback riding to Sacsayhuaman with stops at other sites in between, we were basically like, JUST TAKE OUR MONEY.

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We stopped to check out Temple of the Moon while our “guide” (he really didn’t do much besides keep the horses in line) took a nap.

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While at the top of Temple of the Moon, CT was told about another temple nearby, Temple of the Monkey. We followed the general directions provided and even tried using GPS, but after 15 minutes of searching, we gave up and headed to Sacsayhuaman.

When we first agreed to horseback riding, we thought that we would be riding horseback to Sacsayhuaman. This turned out to not be the case. We had to get off our horses and walk down the main road for about 15 mins to get to Sacsayhuaman. This was pretty annoying since we were short on time. We essentially paid 40 soles each for an hour of riding, which isn’t bad when you about it in US $ (~$13), but it probably wasn’t the best deal. However, I definitely would recommend horseback as a means to see the various ruins around Cusco!

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Sacsayhuaman, a fortress-temple complex made of stone, is one​ of the many sites included in the boleto turistico. There are a few options in purchasing the boleto turistico:

  • A complete ticket (130 soles) gives you access to all participating sites and is valid for 10 days
  • A partial ticket (70 soles) is broken up into circuits:
    • Sacsayhuaman, Q’enko, Tambomachay and Puca Pucara. Valid for 1 day.
    • Museum of Regional History, Museum of Contemporary Art, Koricancha Museum (but not Koricancha itself), Museum of Popular Art, Native Music and Dance Centre, Pachacutec Monument, Pikillacta & Tipon. Valid for 2 days.
    • Pisac, Ollantaytambo, Chinchero & Moray. Valid for 2 days.

Since we had planned to visit Sacsayhuaman and Moray, we purchased the full boleto turistico.

By the time we got to Sacsayhuaman, we really didn’t have much time explore. We walked around for about 15 mins, took some pictures, and headed back to town for the chocolate class.

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Was I sad that we didn’t have more time to explore Sacsayhuaman? Sure. Did I regret booking the chocolate class? Not for a second! I’m really glad we were able to take the class. It was informative, hands-on, entertaining, and most importantly, tasty! We sampled chocolate from various regions of Peru/South America and went through most of the steps of the chocolate making process. I say most because the class skips the step of melting chocolate for the sake of time. We also learned to use ingredients for other purposes: shells of the roasted cacao beans for tea and and paste we grinded from the beans into hot chocolate.

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At the end of class, we made our own chocolate molds and added whatever ingredients we wanted.

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We ended the day with a delicious dinner at Barrio Ceviche, one of the many restaurants that line Plaza de Armas.

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This was one of my favorite meals of the trip. We ordered the El Trio which is essentially a taster of the restaurant’s most popular dishes: classic ceviche (fish only), seafood fried rice, and fried seafood.  It was very reasonably priced and the portions were a good size. We also ordered an additional ceviche that included other seafood (octopus, calamari, shrimp).

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(left) ceviche clasico; (top) arroz con mariscos; (right) jalea

 

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ceviche arequipa

This meal was a delicious end to our jam-packed day. We headed back to our hotel after dinner since we had an early start for our mountain biking tour the next day.

to be continued…

Verdicts:
Pachapapa, 3.5/5
San Pedro Market, 4/5
Barrio Ceviche, 4.5/5

O Canada!

My first trip of 2017 was to the beautiful Canadian Rockies: Banff/Lake Louise. Banff has been on my radar for quite some time now. I actually intended to visit during summer so I could hike and canoe on Lake Moraine, but when I found out that there are a couple of popular ski resorts in the Banff area (included in the Mountain Collective Pass btw), I decided to stop waiting and persuaded CT to go.

The plan:

  • Fly into Calgary + 1 night
  • Drive to Banff/Lake Louise + 4 nights

The activities:

  • Peyto Lake lookout
  • Ice skating on Lake Louise
  • Ice Magic Festival
  • Banff Snow Days
  • Snowboarding
  • Snowmobiling

Prior to boarding our Air Canada flight, we relaxed in the Air Canada Maple Leaf Lounge at LAX. I’ve never actually been in a lounge before – it was always rush to the airport and wait by the gate. The lounge offered free beverages (middle-shelf alcohol and wine included), free food, clean bathrooms, comfy chairs. sweeeeeeet!

The flight to Calgary was about 3 hours + 1 hour for the time change. I had the window seat and was excited to see what Calgary looked like from the air and all I saw was…

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brown.

We breezed through Customs, grabbed our luggage, picked up our rental and headed into the city where we booked an AirBnB for the night.

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The location of the condo was fantastic. It was walking distance from bars, coffee shops, stores, restaurants. We even walked to dinner at Ox and Angela!

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stuffed squid in its own ink / salt cod and potatoe croquetta / jamon croquetta / paella

The paella, which I was most excited for, turned out to be most disappointing. Such a shame! The rice was overly salty while the calamari had absolutely no flavor. It was as if the calamari was an afterthought, just sprinkled on top instead of being incorporated into the dish. Everything else was really good, especially the jamon croquettes (not pictured). CT was not a big fan of the stuffed squid. I enjoyed them; they reminded me of the Vietnamese stuffed squid that I LOVE.

After dinner, we went to get ice cream. Because… I’m always down for ice cream. Even in 30 degree weather!

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The next day, we checked out and brunched at OEB.

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super cute decor!

I picked this place because of their expansive menu, which, for someone as indecisive as myself, doesn’t quiet make sense. It turned out to be surprisingly easy for me to order. My eyes honed in on two words: truffle and cheesecake.

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“gold digga” / “sweet dreams are made of these”

Underneath the beautifully poached egg of the “Gold Digga” were duck fat fried potatoes, pork belly, cheese curds and black truffle, all smothered in Hollandaise. To satisfy our sweet tooth, we ordered the “Sweet Dreams Are Made Of These”, which is essentially a slice of NY cheesecake sandwiched between two pieces of french toast.

After this delicious meal, we rolled ourselves out and headed to Lake Louise. I’m not sure how I managed to keep myself awake during the 2 hour trip there. I’m a notorious car napper. Maybe it was because of the beautiful scenery…

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We stopped in Lake Louise to rent snowshoes. I had planned to hike to Peyto Lake lookout and from my research, I knew we would be walking in snow. I just wasn’t sure how deep it would be so I wanted to play it safe. Plus, now I could say that I’ve snowshoed!

Peyto Lake, the infamous wolf headed lake, is about a 40-50 min drive north of Lake Louise on Hwy 93 (Icefields Parkway). As you can see (below), in contrast to the Trans-Canada Highway (above), Icefields Parkway is not regularly plowed or maintained. The road was labeled as being in “poor condition” while we were there. If you’re planning to travel on the Icefields Parkway during winter, I would strongly suggest inquiring about snow tires. I’d also like to note that cell service is spotty at best in this area so plan accordingly.

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{Bow Summit And Peyto Lake Lookout In Winter } – this website was a great resource for me while planning this hike. I was able to recognize the trail head and the trail to the lookout based on the pictures posted.

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start of the trail: walk past the wooden washroom…

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then walk past the trees and turn right…

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continue up the road…

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you’ll pass a speed limit sign on your left, which could be covered depending on the amount of snow (this pic was taken looking down to the start of the trail) …

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continue until you see this sign…

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follow the path to the right and you will find…

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Gorgeous, right?!

If we didn’t have to return our snowshoes by 5pm, we would have hiked around the area. Instead we just lingered a bit to eat our packed lunch.

Back in Lake Louise, we essentially traded our snowshoes for ice skates

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bucket list: ice skate on lake louise √

Again, gorgeous right?!?!

I loooooove ice skating, but ice skating on natural ice, surrounded by beautiful views, with snow falling was just unreal.

We happened to be in Lake Louise during the annual Ice Magic Festival so we decided to check out the sculptures after ice skating.

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The festival is held outside Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise, between the hotel and the actual lake. The first time we visited (after ice skating), the participants had just started working on the sculptures. We came back to see the finished products a couple of days later. Here are just a few of the amazing creations!

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Afterwards, we drove to Banff, checked into our hotel, Fox Hotel & Suites, and ended the day with a nice dinner at Three Ravens Restaurant.

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amuse bouche; smoked elk tartare with dehydrated bison; green eggs and ham duck breast; beef tenderloin; tonka bean creme brulee

Three Ravens is one of the more upscale restaurants in Banff. It is located in the corner of a large dining hall (cafeteria) on the 4th floor of the Banff Centre. With tall glass windows overlooking Banff, I’m sure the view is amazing. Unfortunately, we had dinner at 8PM, well after sunset.

The food and service were excellent. My duck and CT’s steak were cooked to perfection! I was less impressed with the creme brulee, but overall, it was a great meal. I would definitely recommend if you’re looking for a nice evening out in Banff.

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We spent the next couple of days snowboarding at two popular ski resorts in the Banff area: Sunshine Village and Lake Louise. My personal favorite is Lake Louise, but here are my general observations of both…

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Sunshine:

Pros (1) more runs (more variety), (2) better/more snow

Cons (1) more flat areas, (2) must take loooong gondola ride from base to mid mountain lifts

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Lake Louise:

Pros (1) longer runs, (2) consistent weather, (3) easier access from base (lifts or gondola take you mid mountain)

Cons (1) Farther drive from Banff (additional 30-40 mins)

So, Peyto Lake was gorgeous. Ice skating on Lake Louise was amazing. Snowboarding was fun. But what was the highlight of this trip?

Snowmobile tour. Hands down.

We woke up early and took a 2 hour bus ride to Panorama, BC for a full day snowmobile tour with Toby Creek Adventures.

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After checking in and gearing up, we met outside to pick our snowmobiles.

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I ended up being the first one in the group, which gave me a lot of anxiety. Given that this was my first time on a snowmobile, I was afraid that I would slow every one down! Thankfully, this was not the case. We did about 4-5 laps around a practice course and I quickly got the hang of accelerating and turning.

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And then we were off!

We rode up the mountain, stopped a few times to check out the beautiful views and got a brief lesson on avalanche control.

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Our destination was Paradise Mine/Basin, an old mining town located at about 8000 ft. elevation. When we arrived, we warmed up in small cabin with some hot chocolate and cookies.

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And then it was play time!!!!

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Our guide showed us the perimeter of the designated play area (the basin) and then we had about 40 mins to ride around. It could have been more or less, I’m not exactly sure, I was having way too much fun to keep track of time. I can assure you that there was definitely enough time to ride your heart out.

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The feeling of flying downhill was exhilarating. Also a bit scary, not gonna lie. But I never felt unsafe! However, we did hear about an accident in another group: a lady, who was riding as a passenger, fell off of the snowmobile. It didn’t seem too serious since she didn’t need medical attention. When I booked the tour, I contemplated whether to book two drivers or driver/passenger. Obviously, I ended up booking two drivers and I’m so glad I did because (1) riding as a passenger would have been boring and (2) either of us would have probably fallen off given how fast we were going off the hills.

Our tour included lunch which consisted of burgers or hot dogs. Nothing fancy, just enough fuel to get us back down the mountain. We took a different route descending and stopped for a short hike to a frozen waterfall.

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smith falls

I actually wasn’t expecting to see this waterfall. The site that I booked the tour through didn’t mention it or maybe I just didn’t pay attention, but it was a nice surprise. And a good prelude to the following day.

Our last dinner in Banff was at Block Kitchen + Bar. To be honest, I was hesitant to dine here at first. As evidenced from the menu, I would classify this restaurant as Asian fusion and my experiences with these kinds of restaurants have not been good. But I gotta say, Block Kitchen was GOOD. I legit could not stop eating the curry!

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asian lettuce wraps with duck / panang curry with prawns / red devil calamari

The dishes were so well executed and the flavors seemingly so authentic that we had to ask, who the heck is the Chef? We were told that Chef Stephane Prevost lived in Japan for a number of years and Asian influences helped refine his cooking style.

It would have been a great last night of our trip if I had developed some kind of stomach illness during the middle of the night. I highly doubt it was food poisoning since CT did not experience the same symptoms. But interesting enough, he did have some stomach pains a couple nights before. Maybe our stomach pains were related. Maybe not. Who knows? All I knew was that I wanted to die.

I had planned to hike to the waterfalls of Johnston Canyon the next morning and I was determined to not let my stomach pains get in the way. So I sucked it up and we made the short hike to the lower falls.

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The path was icy at times. I had bought Yaktrax specifically for this trip but was too lazy to put them on. Instead, I just walked slowly and carefully with my winter boots.

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The trail continues onto the upper falls, but I only had enough strength for the short hike to the lower falls. When we got back to the car, I immediately knocked out and napped all the way back to Calgary.

We were on our way to a quick meal before heading to the airport when we passed the Peace bridge. Of course we had to stop for a quick photo op with this amazing piece of architecture.

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This trip was everything I had hoped it would be (minus the stomach illness). And it made me miss the whole trip planning process. CT had a great time as well so I can proudly say that in terms of trip planning, I still got it! I can’t wait to plan our next trip.

Verdicts:
Ox and Angela, 3.5/5
Village Ice Cream, 4/5
OEB, 5/5
Three Ravens Restaurant, 4/5
Block Kitchen + Bar, 4/5
Noodle World Restaurant, 3.5/5

2016

2016 was a roller coaster. There were many highs (my promotion) and just as many lows (my toxic relationship with T). But overall, it was a good year. A year of growth, personally and professionally. Before I welcome 2017, let me reflect on all that happened in 2016…

I furnished my place…

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I received two awards at work: employee of the quarter and team of the quarter. Also got promoted! 💵 😁

I traveled to…

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I completed some amazing hikes…

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I cooked up some new recipes and made some oldies but goodies…

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Looking back, I really can’t complain. It’s been a good year and I look forward to even bigger and better things in 2017. Bring it on beeeeetches!

xoxo, kc

Pho Is Life

For as much Vietnamese food I consume, I must have been Vietnamese in my past life. pho reaaals.

When I was with H, we ate pho almost every weekend.

T, who is Vietnamese, expanded my Vietnamese food horizons. Thanks to his sister, I was lucky enough to have home cooked Vietnamese food basically everyday. And family events on the weekend? Food. Heaven.

Now, with CT, my Vietnamese food cravings are as strong as ever. And though he’s very supportive, it’s usually just me in SD, so it’s up to me to satisfy my own cravings.

So what’s a girl to do? Make her own pho of course. In her instant pot.

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Tadaaaa

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Happy tummy. pho sure!

I Left My Heart In Seattle

For b‘s vacation before lactation (credit: g), I suggested Seattle. I could not think of a better place for a quick girls getaway. Thankfully, my suggestion was warmly welcomed! I was so so so exited to show them why I loved Seattle so much. And in true kc fashion, I detailed planned our trip, by the hour, in an excel spreadsheet. That’s how I do.

b had a few requests, which were happily obliged:

  • Sushi Kashiba (at sushi bar)
  • Chihuly Garden and Glass
  • Hike

We arrived in Seattle late Wed night and tried to make it to Toulouse Petit for a late night snack. Unfortunately, they had already made their last call for food so we walked down the street to Mecca Cafe. We legit demolished their corned beef hash and chicken fried steak. When it’s 1am, you’re super hungry, and you find yourself in Lower Queen Anne, head to Mecca!

After our first pig out of the trip, we headed to Gas Works Park, my favorite spot to see the Seattle skyline, especially at night.

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absolutely gorgeous

By the time we checked into our AirBnB in the Fremont neighborhood, it was almost 3am! We settled in right away and knocked out. The cozy, affordable studio was just perfect for the three of us. I would highly recommend and would definitely stay there again.

We started the next day with coffee at a local coffee shop before heading to the Fremont Troll. Yes, it’s touristy, but it’s just something you have to see!

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selfie inception game strong

After the troll, we stopped by Paseo for some sandwiches. Paseo has always been my top recommendation for anyone vising Seattle. The prawn and scallop sammies were so freakin’ delicious! In the days leading up to the trip, I craved them. I dreamt about them. There might have been some drooling involved. But when I actually got my hands on the sandwiches, I was disappointed. The prawn was overly salty. Almost to the point where I didn’t want to finish it. There was also less meat than I remembered. I thought Paseo was pretty generous before, but this time around, I got more lettuce and sauteed onions than anything else. Hopefully this was just an off day…

To work off our lunch, we rented kayaks and paddled out to Lake Union. I absolutely love water sports so this is one of my favorite activities in Seattle.

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One of b‘s requests was to eat at the sushi bar of Sushi Kashiba. Reservations aren’t offered for the sushi bar so in order to secure a seat, I booked a reservation at 5:00pm, right when the restaurant opens. But being natural laggers and not accounting for the terrible parking sitch at Pike Place, we got there around 5:15pm and the sushi bar was already full. Luckily, we were told that the second seating for the sushi bar would start around 7pm so we had to option of either sitting at a regular table right away or waiting for the sushi bar. Of course we chose the latter.

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I’ve never had omakase before and I’m so glad my first time was at Sushi Kashiba. The fish was so fresh, the selection and progression was perfect for my tastes, the service was outstanding, and to top everything off, this delicious meal + sake was only $120! What a steal!

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aahhhhmazing

The last piece was blue-fin collar, my favorite of the whole meal. Talk about saving the best for last!

We followed up an amazing dinner with an amazing sunset down at the waterfront.

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The next day, we started with a quick visit to Snoqualmie Falls. It’s been 7 years or so since I last visited and there must have been some renovations because I remember the lookout point very differently.

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We then proceeded to the highlight of our trip, an 8 mile hike, or in this case, more like strategic walking on jagged rocks.

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If it wasn’t for the rocks, I would classify the hike as moderate

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The view was definitely worth it. All the pain, the exhaustion, the hunger, the thirst. EVERYTHING. Our only regret was not starting sooner so we could play in the water.

By the time we started heading back to the trailhead, it was already late. We hauled ass so we could make it home in time to get ready for a night out. Our poor feet.

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The promoter that g was talking to told us that we had to be at the club by 11pm, otherwise, there would be a really long wait. Well, we got there at 10:50pm (which btw we’ve probably never done, like ever) and it was COMPLETELY EMPTY. Not one single soul. So we just took a few shots and went to the lounge next door to drink some more.

Best. Decision. Ever.

It was so much more fun! One of the funnest nights I’ve had in a long while. Best part of the night? Witnessing a former male stripper twerk in a handstand. WOW.

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my loves

The next day, we ended the trip with a visit to Chihuly Glass and Garden, as b requested. And of course, we couldn’t leave without indulging in oysters!

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10 years ago, Seattle was just this mysterious place that was known to be rainy and depressing and the only significance it had was that he lived there. Seattle now has my heart for completely different reasons than it initially did, and I have all the wonderful memories from my numerous visits in the past 10 years to thank. From living in a treehouse to kayaking Lake Union to taking in the beauty of Mt. Rainier as I hit mile 10 of my first marathon, Seattle will always have a special place in my heart.