Labor Day Weekend in Des Moines & Minneapolis

Over Labor Day weekend Mark and I spent a 3 night/4 day trip in Des Moines, Iowa and Minneapolis, Minnesota.

We started our trip by flying into Minneapolis and driving the three hours to Des Moines, Iowa.

Mural in Des Moines, Iowa

We stayed at an AirBnb in the Civic Center Historic District of Des Moines. Des Moines has a lot of cool bars, restaurants, boutique shops, and breweries. We had lunch at Zombie Burger (a zombie-themed restaurant) followed by a beer at both 1717 Brewing Co and Peace Tree Brewing Co which are across the street from each other. On our way to an improv comedy show we had booked at Tee Hee’s Comedy Club, we went for a walk around Pappajohn’s Sculpture Park.

The next morning we started our day with breakfast at a café called St. Kilda. We then started our journey to head to Minneapolis, and stopped at the town of Clear Lake, Iowa for lunch at the Lakeside Landing Kitchen + Bar. The town of Clear Lake, Iowa is known for being where Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and The Big Bopper, after playing a show in town, had their airplane crash as they were leaving town. This plane crash later inspired the song “American Pie” by Don McLean.

In Minneapolis, we stayed at the Canopy by Hilton Mill District (highly recommend) and walked over to Mill Ruins Park, which is where Minneapolis’ flour industry used to be based. We ate dinner at Aster Café which is a popular restaurant in town.

Dinner at Aster Cafe

The next day we went to have lunch at a Somali restaurant called Baarakallah. Minneapolis is home to a large Somali population so that is why we were interested in trying their ethnicities’ cuisine. After, we went on a boat cruise on the Minneapolis Queen, which left from Bohemian Flats Park, an area where many flour industry workers used to live. Our last stop of the day was an escape game at Escape the Room Minneapolis.

Overall we were pleasantly surprised at how much we liked Des Moines and how easy it was to travel between the two cities.

Would you like to visit Des Moines or Minneapolis?

Our Dream Wedding Day – August 21, 2021

Mark and I got engaged in southern Portugal in late October 2019 after three and a half years of dating, part of which was long distance. We were both a stage of life where we were ready to be committed to each other long-term, and Mark was willing to move to the U.S. to be with me.

Cue the start of the planning process. We agreed early on the wedding would be in England instead of the U.S. I was initially hoping to get married in London, the city where we met, but it was challenging to find a space we liked that was large enough, had the right amenities, and wasn’t astronomically priced.

Instead we ended up finding the venue Colehayes Park in Devon, just down the road from Dartmoor National Park. Colehayes Park is a Grade II listed manor house, had accommodation for 80+ guests to stay overnight, gorgeous grounds, and we’d get the venue for the entire weekend – Friday afternoon to Monday morning. Since we knew we’d have guests coming from abroad, this seemed ideal. Colehayes also allowed a lot of flexibility in how you used their space, what vendors you used, and how you wanted to structure your wedding weekend.

We had a welcome dinner on Friday, complete with a pizza truck, mini golf course, corn hole, and an open bar. On Saturday we had our ceremony followed by the usual drinks reception, wedding breakfast, cake cutting, and a night of dancing and drinking. A nice perk of our venue was that it had a games room in the basement, so we had two nights in a row of after-hours beer pong, flip cup, and pool that our guests could partake in. Sunday morning we saw off our guests with an English breakfast before tidying up before departing the venue Monday.

It was truly a beautiful weekend, and I was so pleased that everything we had thought through and planned for 22 months (!!) was finally coming to fruition. It actually turned out much better than I hoped for, and many guests told us they had a really wonderful time. We ended up with about 55 guests in total, which actually fit the venue space incredibly well and felt like a large enough wedding to us.

Obviously, as with many weddings over the past year and half, COVID-19 created a considerable amount of issues for us. We moved our wedding date from mid-June 2021 to late-August 2021 in February once it was announced that in both the U.S. and England people would be vaccinated by the end of July. I think we mistakenly thought that international travel would open up and the world would go back to normal by then, which obviously hasn’t happened.

We fortunately knew a few months out we’d be able to invite our full guest count (per England’s laws), but were left stuck waiting until a few weeks before the wedding for confirmation that vaccinated U.S. and E.U. citizens could enter the country without quarantining (albeit with taking a few COVID tests). The announcement came so late – it was initially thought to be announced a few months before the wedding – that by that point some of my guests had RSVP’d no. There were also a few of my friends and family who were weary of traveling internationally during COVID times, and one of my bridesmaids who lives in South Africa was unable to travel to England since South Africa is currently on England’s “red list”.

COVID-19 also meant that a lot of wedding vendors had either closed or changed their business. Our florist told us that she decided to stop doing weddings and the pizza truck we hired for the welcome dinner closed their business. Both told us pretty late in the game and it was a scramble to find someone new. We also had to find a new caterer and harpist when we changed our date.

As all things go though, we made the best of it. Our new caterer was a pleasure to work with, the harpist we had hired recommended a student harpist she knew, I was able to leverage our decorator for venue flowers, and the new pizza truck we hired was spectacular. I actually think I ended up much happier with these changes in the end.

Planning a wedding from abroad was not as hard as I thought it would be. The majority of my communication was done via email. In the entire 22 months we were planning the wedding, I visited the venue once. The only thing Mark did from the England end was have the cake maker mail cake to him to try. We never tried our caterer’s food and just went off reviews from others. Our venue did have a list of vendors it recommended, but you were free to pick your own. We also hired a wedding planner later in the process who helped us with the last two months ahead of the wedding and was the weekend coordinator. Mark’s mum (who lives in England) let me ship décor to her house. She’d take a photo when the décor arrived so I could see it, and then stored it for us.

We’ve now been married for just over a month. We’ve flown home, looked through our wedding photos (we’re in progress of getting them printed to hang in our home), read all of our wedding cards, stored our wedding mementos, and are enjoying being newlyweds. It feels like a weight lifted off my shoulders that we were able to pull off such a great wedding and can now resume our regularly scheduled lives.

Our next adventure is a fun one – planning our honeymoon! We decided to wait till after the wedding to plan it, and are planning to take the trip itself sometimes in the first half of 2022. We are hoping to go to either Fiji and New Zealand, Argentina, or Chile (or Argentina and Chile). It will depend on how travel rules play out as the year continues, but we are hopeful at least one of those countries will work out.

Do you have any questions about wedding planning? Where would you go for your honeymoon?

Thailand Travel Tips: An Epic Guide to Exploring Thailand

This is a guest post courtesy of Thailand Visa. To determine if you need a visa to visit Thailand, check here.

One of the popular Southeast Asian countries, Thailand offers a bountiful of activities and attractions to its guests. Witnessing millions of footfalls throughout the year, Thailand is the most visited country in the region. Its street-food obsession, rich heritage, golden temples, exotic wildlife, tropical islands, lively clubs and unspoiled landscape make it an entertaining holiday package. From the ultramodern cityscape of Bangkok to the natural trails of Ko Samui, the country has the potential to easily become your favourite destination.

Before you set off with Thailand Visa and explore the destination, we have assorted the best travel tips and facts that will help you safeguard the vacation. Read our ultimate Thailand guide to have a hassle-free and comfortable journey:

What is the Best Time to Visit Thailand?

Thailand has three prominent seasons: Rain (roughly May-Oct) Winter cool (Nov–Feb) and Summer (March-May). Throughout the country, the climate is varied, and you can make a getaway at any time of the year. To be more precise, the best time to visit Thailand is from November till early April, when the sun isn’t too harsh, the sky clears up, and the rain is at the bay. It is perfect for outing and beach activities.

Grand Palace, Bangkok

What Places to See in Thailand?

  • Grand Palace and Wat Pho

Visit the dazzling architecture in Bangkok, Grand Palace. You will be in awe of its intricate architecture and exemplary craftmanship. Its sprawling complex was once the official residence of the Kings of Siam. Today several royal ceremonies and state functions are held within the walls. The complex is also home to Wat Phra Kaew (Temple of the Emerald Buddha). Continue your trip to Wat Pho that has a life-size reclining Buddha statue.

  • National Museum

Featuring an impressive collection of prehistoric and art items, Thailand’s National Museum is one of the largest museums in Southeast Asia. The primary exhibitions include the Gallery of Thai History, decorative arts and ethnology and history wing. You can discover well-preserved images, murals and sculptures of Buddha and Hindu Gods, handicrafts like traditional musical instruments, ceramics, clothing and textiles.

  • Khao Sok National Park

One of Thailand’s natural landmarks, Khao Sok National Park is known for its animal-spotting excursion through the jungle, exciting boat tour on Cheow Lan Lake, floating bungalows, beautiful cascades, mysterious caves, and memorable adventures.

  • Chiang Mai

A city in mountainous northern Thailand, Chiang Mai bursts with off-beat attractions. Hike the vantage point Doi Suthep, explore old temples, go for the night safari, relax at the park, and walk down the walk down San Kamphaeng Road.

  • Koh Samui

Popular amongst the beach bums, Koh Samui is dotted with palm-fringed beaches. Bask in the sun and rejuvenate in the resorts. Indulge in plenty of adrenaline-rush activities like scuba diving and snorkelling. Pamper yourselves in a spa, visit Wat Phra Yai, trek through the jungle, and meet exotic animals.

  • Pattaya

Tucked on the eastern coast, Pattaya is a vibrant city with verdant gardens, street performances, cabaret shows, water parks, and 24-hour clubs. One of the best things to do in Pattaya is to browse the floating market, which has shops and stalls selling food, souvenirs, fruits, art, handicrafts, and textiles. Other famous destinations are The Sanctuary of Truth, Pattaya Dolphinarium, and Nong Nooch Tropical Garden.

Sea kayaking in Thailand

How to Travel to and around Thailand?

After you get your Thailand Visa, you can easily fly to the country as there are several connecting flights and well-established airports. The seven main international airports are Bangkok (Suvarnabhumi and Don Muang), Chiang Mai, Hat Yai, Krabi, Phuket and Ko Samui.

Within the country, there is an effective widespread network system. The most indigenous mode of transport in Thailand is the 3-wheeled vehicle, Tuk Tuk. There are also air-conditioned taxis that will amp up your journey. Bangkok has the largest bus system that will help you get around cities and towns without hassle. For travellers who are on a certain budget, motorcycle taxis are your best bet. Other transport options include BTS Skytrain, Songthaew, and Train.

Where to Stay in Thailand?

Thailand is a cheap destination. It has budget-friendly accommodations, especially in Northern Thailand. The backpackers can choose the dorm rooms which offer basic facilities at reasonable rates. You can opt for cheap guesthouses that cost around 200-300 THB (6-9 USD) per night. However, if you seek luxury with no constraints on budget, Bangkok and the southern islands are buzzing with top-notch places for your stay. Starting from 1,550 THB (49 USD) per night, there are opulent hotels, big bungalows, and beachfront resorts that combine the best facilities with hospitable service. Airbnb is the new trend and Thailand has got a wide-ranging selection of it.

What to Eat in Thailand?

Thailand has mouth-watering cuisine focused on 5 essential tastes: salty, sour, spicy, bitter, and sweet! These are aromatic and healthy that would force you to lick your fingers. You haven’t actually tasted the real flavours of Thailand until you hog on the street food. There is an array of delicious soups, noodles, salads, curry and rice here. Some of the world-renowned meals are Guay Teow, Spicy Shrimp Soup, Pad Thai, Gaeng Keow Wan Gai, Gaeng Daeng, Tom Kha Gai and Gai Tod. You will love how each dish has its own uniqueness and will exhilarate your taste buds.

What Tips to Follow in Thailand?

  • Take insect repellent to avoid diseases spread by mosquitos, ticks, and even some flies.
  • Drink bottled water instead of tap water.
  • Don’t ride the elephants, because reports have claimed that these animals are ill-treated.
  • Do not talk and discuss the Monarchy.
  • Go island hopping to discover hidden gems.
  • Pack clothes for sacred visits like temples.

Conclusion

Embrace these ideas and tips on your trip to Thailand and you will enjoy every moment with complete joy.

2021 Thus Far

Wow! It has been a long time since I’ve written. I had drafted a few posts over the past few months but life got busy and I never finished them. I figured I’d catch everyone up on what I’ve been doing so far this year.

Mark moved to the U.S…. and we moved to Maryland!

After a few years of being in a long-distance relationship, Mark was able to get a job in the U.S. He still works for the same place he did in England (as a civil servant), but in a multi-year posting to one of their American offices in Maryland. Markell and I also moved from our house in Northern Virginia to Maryland. We now live about fifteen minutes outside Baltimore. So far we are really enjoying our new house, neighborhood, and starting to make friends in the area. Markell is finishing his school year at his Virginian school virtually, and will be attending the local Maryland high school in the fall.

Mark in front of our new house in Maryland

I got my first COVID vaccine

I can’t tell you the amount of relief I felt about being able to get my first COVID vaccine earlier this month. I’m scheduled to get my second one at the end of April and will be considered fully vaccinated by mid-May. I got the Pzifer vaccine. We’ve already been able to hang out in larger groups since the majority of our friends are vaccinated (or in progress of getting vaccinated now). My mom is fully vaccinated, Mark is fully vaccinated, and my dad is in progress of getting vaccinated as well. We are also looking forward to being able to travel to destinations that are opening up to vaccinated travelers. I am hoping that the Pzifer vaccine will be approved for 12-15 year olds in the next few months so Markell can get vaccinated.

We moved our wedding from mid-June to late-August

Due to COVID and Mark and I’s wedding being in England (with my half of guests coming from the U.S.), we made the hard call in February to move our wedding from mid-June to late-August. The vast majority of people we’ve invited will be able to get vaccinated by August and travel will be starting to open this summer, so we felt it was the right move to make. We were also fortunate that eleven of our fourteen wedding vendors could work with the new date that our venue had free.

Our wedding venue in England

That’s all for now – I will start posting our travel and life plans as we make more of them in the coming months. Looking forward to the rest of spring and summer ahead!

What have you been up to lately? Do you have your COVID vaccine yet?

Safety Tips for Solo Hiking

Hiking is one of my favorite ways to get outdoors and exercise. A long solo hike makes me feel peaceful and in touch with nature. It is, however, important to stay safe while hitting the trails. As an avid hiker, I’ve outlined some of my top tips for staying safe while hiking.

Potomac Heritage Trail, Great Falls, Virginia

Only Bring Necessary Valuables

When I hike, I do not take anything that is very valuable with me except necessities like my cell phone, car keys, FitBit (which tracks my hike), and my ID. I feel safer knowing I am not wearing expensive jewelry or carrying items that may make me a target for theft.

Hike Where There’s A Signal

If I am hiking alone, I try to avoid areas that do not have a cell phone signal or heavy foot traffic. With a bit of research online, you can usually find out if the area you want to hike should have cell reception. Or if you want to go hiking in an area that doesn’t have cell reception, try to pick a popular route so that you won’t be alone on the trail. There’s safety in numbers.

Shenandoah National Park, Virginia

Hike With A Charged Phone

Make sure your phone is well charged before you go hiking. If you need to use the phone for directions incase you get lost or to call someone incase you get injured, having a charged phone may end up being your life line.

Tell Someone Where You’re Going

It’s never a bad idea to let someone know where you plan to hike and approximately when you think you’ll be back or plan to next get in contact with them.

Leckhampton Hill in Cheltenham, England

Bring Enough Food and Water

When it comes to hiking, it’s definitely better to bring more food and water than you think you’ll need. In the event you get lost or your hike takes longer than you expect, you don’t want to be hungry and unable to focus. A few of my favorite hiking snacks that are filling are beef jerky, dried fruit, and trail mix.

Know The Area Animals

It is important to try to know if there are any potentially dangerous animals where you may be hiking, and what actions you should take if you see any. I’ve been on several hikes where I saw snakes, but they have always been ones that are non-venomous so I just walk around them. I’ve also hiked in Shenandoah National Park which is known for having bears. Often if potentially dangerous animal is common in the area, there are signs telling you to watch out for them.

Cotswold way in Cheltenham, England

Carry Some Sort of Protection

When I hike alone, I carry pepper spray. You can buy pepper sprays that are travel size and can easily clip onto a hiking backpack or pants. Other options would be to carry a stick or knife with you. Depending on where you are hiking and your personal comfort level, I do know some people who hike with a gun, but you need to make sure you know how to use it and have the right carry license to do so.

Do you enjoy hiking solo?