THE CHRISTMAS MARKET AT THE TATE MODERN <> LONDON, ENGLAND

Every so often, I have a travel experience that is like no other and it prompts a recommendation for your bucketlist. My latest recommendation is exploring European Christmas markets. Most of them start running from the last day of November through end of December/early January. If you have ever been to an European market, then just imagine that experience on an elevated level with all the things yoyu love about this time of year. If you have not experienced European market, then visiting one of the several hundred Christmas markets is a great introduction. If you find yourself in Europe this time of year - be sure to look up Christmas markets close to you. Some of my favorites include the Christmas markets in Paris , Tate Modern in London, Bath, and Barcelona. The world famous Strasbourg Christmas market is one I am hoping to check off soon. You can find a listing of top Christmas markets in Europe here. For now, here are snapshots from the Christmas market at the Tate Modern in London.

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HIGHWAY ONE ROAD TRIP RECAP AND TIPS FOR THE DRIVE

I returned from my week away in California filled with excitement and gratitude that I get to follow my passion to see the wrold. I also returned with a bit of FOMO (fear of missing out) due to our time exploring Big Sur. We rented a car from LAX and started out Sunday evening en route to San Fransico. We stopped in Malibu to spend some time at El Matador state beach before heading to San Barbara where we spent the night.  We left Santa Barbara mid morning on Monday to explore Big Sur with plans to spend the night in Monterrey. Tuesday morning we explored Monterrey before heading to San Fransico for a few days. We ended our trip in San Diego. My favorite stretch of the trip was driving the winding roads of Big Sur. We got to see some incredible sights that still blow my mind and as I edit all the pictures I have to pinch myself because I got to see this beauty. Having done the Highway one route now - there are a few things I will do differently (especially on the Big Sur stretch). I thought I will share that with you along with some tips. I have a list of 18 , so here goes....

1. The drive from San Fransico is better. Having started our trip from LA, I honesty believe the drive from San Francisco is much better because most of the vista points and stops are on that side of the road.

2. Take your time. The stretch of highway from Santa Barbara to Monterrey is about 4 hours if you drive it in one shot. Big Sur is a stretch of 90 miles with a speed limit of 35 mph. I recommend starting early and just taking your time and stopping at the Vista points along the way.

3. Take advantage of the Vista points. There are clearly marked Vista points along the way. Stop at each of them. We only got to stop at a few (part of my regret) and each one offers a more incredible and unique view than the last.

4. Have cash on hand. We planned to stop at Limelkin state park and McWay falls. However, you need to pay to park to access both and they only take cash which we did not have. Parking was $10 at each of those stops. 

5. Do your research. This is an add on to point 4 which we discovered after we returned - for McWay falls, if you can find a perch on the road side - park there and follow the footpath to the the falls. We did not know this until after we returned.

6. Stock up on food and gas. The stretch of road does not offer much in terms of affordable dining or gas stations (at least none that we saw) so it is best to have some snacks in the car and make sure you have enbough gas to make it across the stretch of highway.  

7. Cell Phone and Internet service is very spotty along Big Sur - plan ahead. We had our map downloaded which was very helpful.

8. Recommended stops. If like us, you want to cover a lot of ground in little time and don't want to stop at every Vista point. Here are the ones I recommend - Bixby Bridge, Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park (McWay falls & Ewoldsen Trail), Pfeiffer Beach, and Henry Miller Library.

9. Plan some non-driving days. As with every road trip - it is good to camp out in a place for more than one night and to have one or two days of no driving. We chose to spend a few days in San Diego and San Fransico. Having those none driving days was helpful to relax and have proper vacation.

10. Make reservations. A few spots along big sur coast require reservations like Limelkin park. Besides not having cash on hand , the park was full when we arrived.  The attendant told us it was best to make reservations.

11. Lodging. We found the best option was to avoid the big name hotels and chains. We stayed in a mix of inns and motels (some of them were significantly better than some chain hotels in terms of amenities and customer service). If you are on a budget I recommend this option. 

12. Look at the fine print. In the San Francisco area, a lot of the hotels we tried to reserve had parking fees ranging from $25 to $45 per day in addition to the already steep room rates. Keep that in mind when you make reservations. We also had some places that wanted to charge a deposit even though we were going to have a credit card on file. Thankfully we discovered this before heading out and made alternative plans.

13. Uber Always (at least in San Fran). We discovered how priceless it was to have an uber account when we arrived in San Francisco. Our hotel was in Daly city (it was significantly cheaper and we did not have to deal with $45 daily parking) but that meant upping our transportation budget, tack on to that parking woes and fees in San Francisco - Uber saved us a ton. The rates were significantly better than cabs and public transport. We always chose the Uber pool option to save even more money and we met some fun people along the way - including the gentleman from Baton Rouge - it was great reminicing about the good days of LSU football and living in Baton Rouge.

14. Go with friends if you can. This is trip you can take solo, but I think it is better with friends to split cost, driving duties and company along the way (plus - a designated "instagram spouse or friend - lol).

15. Paid vs Free Beaches. If you don't have budget constrains then absolutely see them all but if you want to save some money - be mindful that some beaches are paid i.e Pebble beach. As an alternative, we went to Asilomar state beach instead.  The picture above does not do it justice and it was free.

16. Plan to see Sunrise or Sunset. Specifically, along Big Sur, Carmel and Monterrey - you have to watch the sunrise/sunset. Personally, I recommend watching the sunset. The purple, gold hue of the sun set in Carmel was spectacular.

17. Rent wisely. This may not matter to most but having a car with great gas mileage meant we did not have to fill up as often. We drove over 1000 miles and filled up three times (including the fuel up before dropping off the rental car). 

18. Take your time. This bears repeating. We missed some highlight in our rush to get to Carmel. I don't completely regret it because we saw the most beautiful sunset in Carmel. I guess that is the trade off for rushing along big sur coast.

Have you made the drive ?

If so, will love to read your tips and recommendations in the comment.

A FALL DAY AT KESINGTON GARDENS <> LONDON, ENGLAND

The colors of fall, who doesn't love them ?

I am obsessed with the season and the colors; something about the yellow, orange, green hues send me into zen. Maybe because I don't get to see much of it at home, I sometimes go overboard with camera clicks. While traveling, I have seen some swoon-worthy fall colors in the Northeast and some parts of Europe. One of my favorites to date is from Fall 2012 (before the days of this blog). While on an extended layover in London, what I really wanted to do, was stay under the covers in my hotel, drink copious amounts of tea and alternate between naps and binging on my favorite shows.

But ! I have a fear of missing out aka FOMO (I don't think the term had been coined them). I never want to look back on a trip and think I missed something.  After a lazy morning, I talked myself into an afternoon stroll through Kensington gardens. I figured that was a good balance  between staying in bed all day and combating FOMO. I am so glad I did because I got to  experience one of the most beautiful fall scenes I have ever seen. Yeah, I would have definitely regretted missing this one.

PUMPKIN BUTTER PANCAKES RECIPE

I guess I could just say - find your favorite pancake recipe, add several scoops of pumpkin butter, stir and make pancakes; but then, you won't get to read about my woes with coming up with a pumpkin butter recipe. I am on my third jar of pumpkin butter for the season and started to think - there has got to be more I can with this besides smearing it on everything. Seriously everything !

I went on a mission to create a pumpkin butter recipe. I tried a to make a pumpkin butter bundt cake - that failed woefully; then I thought instead of a bundt, maybe cupcakes ?!? - Another epic fail. Then I tried to come up with a pumpkin butter cookie recipe. It tasted fab but the"cookie" crumbled bad - I feel awkward even calling it a cookie. Then, a random Wednesday evening - I decided to try one more thing before calling it quits on pumpkin butter recipe for the year. Bute fate was shining down because - I found my recipe (woo hoo). I love this so much. In the last two weeks - I have made several batches of this and nibble on it for snacks, breakfast, dinner (and just about any time of day, really). Sometimes, I eat it with a drizzle of honey, other time, I smear on pumpkin butter or strawberry jam. The piece de resistance is smearing Nutella on the pancake - hallelujah.

What you need: 

  • 1-1/2 cup of flour
  • 3-1/2 teaspoon of baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon of nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 tablespoon of sugar
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 egg
  • 3 tablespoon butter, melted
  • 1-1/4 cup of milk
  • 4 tablespoon of pumpkin butter (I get mine from Trader Joe's)
  • oil or cooking spray

How To:

In bowl, combine milk, egg and butter and whisk. Set aside. Sift flour, salt, baking soda and powder, nutmeg, cinnamon, sugar into a mixing bowl. Make a well in the center and pour in the milk.egg.butter mixture. mix till smooth.

Add pumpking butter and mix until fully combined.

Oil the griddle or fry pan over medium heat. Scoop batter into pan (or griddle) - I use eiither ice cream scoop or 1/4 cup depending on size of pancake I want. Cook until it start to bubble or golden brown, flip over to cook the other side. Serve hot with drizzle of honey or maple syrup OR you smear with pumpkin butter, strawberry jam or nutella.

A LONG WEEKEND ON THE WEST COAST

A few years ago, some girlfriends and I headed off to San Diego for a long weekend. Because, flights to SD were expensive, we chose to fly into LAX and drive the hour and half to SD.  The week before our getaway, news of wildfire in the area around SD broke leading us to consider staying in LA for the long weekend (that was the plan when we boarded the flight). What transpired over the five days we were on the West Coast ,is what I call whirlwind travel and although I returned to Dallas needing another vacation I would not trade in the time with my nearest and dearest,

DAY 1 - WEDNESDAY - LOS ANGELES

We checked into our room at Renaissance Hotel Century City around 6 in the evening. After a catch-up session and nap, it was time for dinner at the famous Roscoe's Chicken. After dinner, we headed to China Town, past the Chinese Theater and walk of fame. The area was too crowded for us and because we were still exhausted from the flight it - we called it a night.

DAY 2 - THURSDAY - LOS ANGELES + LAS VEGAS

Due to reports of heavy smoke fog in the area surrounding San Diego, we deferred our trip to SD and spent the day exploring Rodeo drive.  While trying on Jimmy Choos and deciding to not spend my savings on the Louis Vuitton Speedy Bandouliere, someone mentioned Vegas. Without much thought or time, we hurriedly abandoned window shopping to pick up our rental car from the hotel. One hour later we were headed for Vegas. An hour  and a half into the drive, it was evident we were not the only ones with Vegas on the mind.  The normally four-hour drive from LA to Vegas took us almost seven hours. 

Arriving in Vegas about 8:15 p.m - we were worn out from the long drive. We checked into the Encore hotel and took much-needed nap/rest before heading out to the strip just before midnight. We walked the length of the strip; played the slots at the hotel casino (I won 75 cents - whot !). The Encore is connected to the Wynn and both have an incredible interior. We walked the grounds before calling it a night. 

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DAY 3 - FRIDAY - SAN DIEGO

Before we left for the West Coast "F" had one request - to spend her birthday in San Diego. We left Vegas mid-morning after a lovely meal at one of the Encore restaurants. It was a much pleasant drive than the LA to Vegas drive the day before. We arrived in SD just in time to make our dinner reservations at University Club atop symphony towers. After dinner, we strolled through the gas lamp district before calling it a night.  

DAY 4 & 5 - SATURDAY & SUNDAY. LA JOLLA + LOS ANGELES

Back to Los Angeles - but first, a quick stop in La Jolla and breakfast at Cody's. We arrived in LA mid afternoon and made out way to Santa Monica.  We walked along Santa Monica pier stopping to people watch and stuff our faces with everything unhealthy from funnel cake to ice cream. We missed out on the beach because none of us thought to pack swim suits for a trip to Los Angeles. We planned to round off the day with beverages and an incredible view from  Joan's on third, but the wait was a bit much. Instead, we did some window shopping at Nordstrom.

Our crazy trip itinerary was starting to catch up with us. We had an early (and quiet) dinner at Baja Cantina before calling it a night at the Ritz-Carlton Marina Del Rey.  Next morning, we packed up and headed back home, but not before stopping at Whiskey Red for brunch. This place was recommended as a great brunch spot, I thought it was overpriced.