Traveler Diaries – Denver, Colorado – Returning Home After Two Years Abroad

Since returning to my home state of Colorado after two years of living abroad I find myself falling in love. I’ve fallen in love with the familiar sights – from the grandeur of the Rocky Mountains with their snow tipped peaks to the verdant foot hills. I’ve fallen in love with the familiar smells – the crisp clean air and the smell of the flowers. I’ve also fallen in love with its mercurial weather that I have missed so much with the sky that shifts from clouds, to rain, to snow, yet always returns to those sunny blue skies. After spending nearly two years abroad with humid climates, gray skies and wet winters and springs I find the dry air of Colorado to be most welcome. In short, I have fallen in love, maybe for the first time ever with my home state of Colorado.

As a kid I was born with a serious case of wanderlust. I used to love going to the library and getting books about travel. One of my favorite places to read about was Egypt, with its exotic mysterious air and its magnificent tombs and pyramids. Wanderlust followed me into high school as I continued to dream about far off lands. When teenage angst set in, I wanted to be anywhere but Colorado. As a teenager, I found Colorado boring. I wasn’t really an outdoorsy girl and I hated skiing having only skied once in my life. Sure, Colorado was pretty, especially when driving through the mountains but it lacked the excitement of New York City, or the romantic air of Paris. When the opportunity to live and work abroad came up, it was like a dream. I happily left Colorado to pursue an exciting life abroad first in Europe than Asia.

My first stop in Europe was Belgium. The first thing I noticed about Belgium was how often it rained. An umbrella was my constant companion during those gray and dreary days of rain. Once it was dreary and rainy for nearly two weeks straight. In Colorado there were never gray skies or rain for more than a few days at a time.

When I lived in Shanghai, one of the biggest cities in the world with 23 million people, I thought about all those times I had complained that Denver was too small. Having lived in Shanghai, where it took nearly 45 minutes to an hour to get anywhere interesting, I began to think Denver was just the right size.

Shanghai was also the literal definition of a concrete jungle with skyscrapers and buildings with few open green spaces. When I looked around Shanghai it wasn’t mountains I saw, it was just towering skyscrapers and concrete buildings. In Denver, whenever I looked to the West I could see the majestic mountains looking like a peaceful still painting.

As a Coloradan I also used the mountains as my compass. When I headed towards the mountains I knew I was headed west. From there, I could figure out where North, South and East were. I couldn’t do that anywhere else.

When I did go in search of mountains in Shanghai I found they underestimated the size of their mountains by a lot. Once I sought out an oasis from the city and traveled to Sheshan, a supposedly scenic area of the city, where I was told there was a mountain with a basilica at its peak. What I found, by my Colorado standards, was a very large hill. As a Coloradoan I just did not have the heart to call it a mountain.

When I traveled to Amsterdam in the middle of winter (which I don’t recommend) I found it brutally cold. While Colorado is known for snow and does get cold in winter, I now know the difference between “dry” cold and “wet” cold. The wet cold of Amsterdam was brutal and I had to don a heavy puffer jacket that added 10 LBS onto my petite frame to deal with the onslaught of cold. The wet cold of Amsterdam pierced my bones. The sun was also rarely seen during the month I spent in Amsterdam. I saw the sun only three times in the whole month I was there. I could not understand how the Dutch still seemed so jolly and friendly but I guess they were just used to it. As a Coloradan I was used to seeing the sun, even after a snow storm the sun would always surely return.

So now that I’m back in Colorado, I have a renewed sense of love and appreciation for my home state. I also see how much it has changed in two years. With the legalization of marijuana, more people have chosen to make Colorado their home. Colorado has become more bustling and hip now than when I left as I see new neighborhoods and districts popping up with trendy bars and hip cafes.

While I loved every minute I traveled, I am also loving the taste of the familiar and I think I will savor its taste for as long as it lasts (or at least until the travel bug bites again).

The Soap Diaries – Review of the Soap Shop: Handmade Soap from Colorado

The shower is a magical place. It’s one of the few places you can go in feeling dirty, sweaty, and gross and emerge feeling clean, fresh, and beautiful. The transformative potential of showers is why I have always been obsessed with bath and shower products. Any time I see luscious soap or fragrant shower gels I get excited. They’re like magical potions.

One day while driving through my home state Colorado, I was passing through Idaho Springs, a small mountain town known for its hot springs. While I usually stop there to have amazing pizza at a place called Beaujo’s, my appetite for soap was whetted when I saw a cute little shop simply called, “The Soap Shop.” The shop had a nice rustic look so I took a peek inside. The shop sells 100% organic, all natural soaps with a distinct Rocky Mountain theme. I was intrigued so I bought a soap sampler pack with eight different types of soaps.

Right away I started using my new magical potions and I was impressed with the quality. The soaps were soft, lathered nicely, and were nicely scented. The ingredients in all the soaps were: organic oils of coconut, sustainably grown palm, olive oil, and castor bean oil along with essential oils and fragrance. Here’s a run-down of the fragrances in the pack:

Colorado Columbine: The Columbine flower is Colorado’s state flower, and after using this soap I can see why. This one was my favorite! It had a nice light floral scent that lingered on the skin. The soap also had a nice blue/white swirl effect as a homage to the beautiful blue and white Columbine flower.

Lavender Fields: Lavender fields was a classic lavender fragrance. The scent wasn’t too strong, it was actually just right. The soap was a nice lavender and it didn’t have any pesky lavender buds added in. While lavender buds look like they make a great additive in soap, they actually turn mushy and end up looking like dead mosquitos in your bathtub.

Lavender Tea Tree: This was another one of my favorites. This had a nice herbal scent with lavender and tea tree oil, two of the best essential oils out there. Lavender has a calming effect on skin, while tea tree oil is good for fighting acne and other skin woes.

Mt. Evans Pine: This one didn’t smell as strong as I would have liked, but it had a nice fragrance to it using fir essential oil. It was a nice piney-green color and was reminiscent of the pine trees of Mt. Evans.

Blackberry: This soap was a nice dark purple. I’m not a fan of fruity smells, but this had a nice fruity scent balanced out with sensual vanilla.

Cranberry: This soap was a gorgeous cranberry color and it had a nice tart cranberry scent that wasn’t too strong. It reminded me of Thanksgiving.

Sandalwood Vanilla: Sandalwood and vanilla are two of the world’s sexiest fragrances to me, and this was no exception. It didn’t smell too strong, but it had a nice subtle sexy fragrance.

Honeysuckle Gardenia: This was another one of my favorites and one I would definitely purchase in a full-size bar. Honeysuckle always reminds me of summer, and gardenias remind me of spring. The smell of both together is heavenly and the scent is quite strong and lingers on your skin.

Overall, I was very impressed with the soaps offered at the Soap Shop from the Rocky Mountain theme (which appeals to my native Colorado girl) and the quality of the soaps themselves If you’re ever in Idaho Springs, Colorado you can check them out on Milner St, or you can check them out online at

The Adventuress Diaries – Life in an Intentional Community in Northern California

When you think of an intentional community, you probably think of a “hippy commune” or maybe even a “cult.” When I joined my adventure partner to live at an intentional community in Northern California I had no idea what to expect. I’m not exactly a hippie and I really didn’t want to join a cult. The name of the community, Christ’s Church of the Golden Rule, also gave me some cult-like vibes. Nonetheless, I decided to go in with an open mind. Here’s what I learned after living in an intentional community for three months.
Every intentional community has a story…

Christ’s Church of the Golden Rule is based in Willits, California on Ridgewood Ranch. The Church has officially owned Ridgewood Ranch since the 60’s and it is a beautiful property with over 5,000 acres. The property also has a long and interesting history. The land was once Native American land, with Pomo Indians inhabiting the beautiful valley. The Ranch is also known for being the retirement home and final resting place of the famous race horse Sea Biscuit.

Digging deeper into its history I also found it had some less than savory parts. During the Great Depression a group called Mankind United was founded by Arthur Bell. Bell believed in a worldwide conspiracy where the world was controlled by hidden rulers who were trying to create a worldwide slave state. Bell and Mankind United were trying to create a utopia based on universal employment with a short workweek, an economy of financial credit, and an artificial language. Bell also believed he could teleport and that he could ray gun people’s eyes out so this guy obviously had his shit together.

During World War II Mankind United was reincorporated as the Church of the Golden Rule as a tax dodge. Nonetheless, the group mostly fell apart once Bell left in 1951. However, some members of the newly rechristened Church of the Golden Rule remained and bought Ridgewood Ranch although they discarded the weird cultish philosophies of Bell and focused more on community building.
Every intentional community has a few characters…

Meeting the other characters who lived on the ranch was interesting to say the least. First, there was Ellen. Ellen was the manager of the Golden Rule Garden and considered the matriarch of the community. She was also the one we would mostly be working with as interns. Ellen was a feisty, tough as nails Colorado-bred farmer, who was as salty as vinegar. She ran a lot of the show, and we always tried to stay on her good side. Then there was Ellen’s husband Brian, a man who had a steely-stare and always looked stressed, but was as soft as a teddy bear once you got past the death stare.

Other interesting characters we met include our neighbor Mark. Mark was the kindest, most compassionate person I’ve met, but he did have one quirk – he did not care for blue-spectrum light. He wore yellow-tinted sunglasses indoors to protect himself from the harmful blue light that he believed was the cause of all our health problems. He also swore off blue light inside his own house, opting to use red lightbulbs so that his apartment looked like a red-light district brothel from the outside. Then there was Terri. Terri was kind and compassionate and was a Reiki healer. Terri really seemed to want us to stay at the ranch. She made sure we were in eye-view of the “elder committee” when we were cleaning the community dining room. “Oh good. The elders saw you working. That’s a good thing.” She said.

Elders? That sounded just a wee-bit cult like to me. As interns, we learned that there was an elder committee that would be deciding in a consensus meeting whether we would be allowed to stay as interns for the three months we were asking to stay. Every major decision at the ranch was made by consensus by the elders, who were the long-standing members of the church and community.

While the Church owns the property there were also several different players who operated on the property including a farm school, a mobile home village for seniors, and a non-profit organization called Ecology Action. As new interns it was a confusing labyrinth to navigate at first.

Living in a Community is hard…

“Community is hard,” Ellen once told us. “You have to put the needs of the community before yourself.”

Over time we found this to be true. While we were getting free room and board as well as free meals, we had to put in work to the community. Every night the community had community dinner where members of the Church would either cook or clean. On Tuesdays and Wednesdays we were assigned to clean up duty after dinner. Some days, we just didn’t want to do it either because we were tired or we wanted to just have dinner at home. But we had to put the needs of the community over our own so we did it begrudgingly.

We also helped with tons of other tasks. We helped prune apple and peach trees in the orchard, helped plant celery, kale, and carrots in the community garden, and we helped clean seeds to be sold for profit.

Over time, the challenges of living in a community, the isolating rural location, and the unraveling of my relationship with my adventure partner became too much to bear and I left the community. I definitely don’t recommend going through a break up when you’re living in an intentional community. The ruin of our relationship became gossip fodder and it became everyone’s business when I had to tell the elders that I was leaving because my relationship had ended.

Lessons Learned

Living in an intentional community was very difficult, and with a wide array of personalities and needs, there were often clashes and tensions among members. Over time I learned living in an intentional community just wasn’t for me. However, there were others who did adapt well to living in an intentional community. For example, there was Andrew, a 21 year old kid from San Bernardino California. Andrew was a quiet hard worker who wanted a simple life where he could live in a community, farm, and play his harmonica. It worked for him. Others also got along well. Today I still admire the hell out of the community for trying to create an intentional and welcoming space for members and I am so grateful for the time I spent there. Despite its cultish roots, I am also really grateful that I didn’t accidentally join a cult.

The Adventuress Diaries – What a Yoga Retreat is Really Like: My Yoga Retreat in Suzhou, China

Yoga is: A) the only form of exercise I enjoy and B) the only exercise I am any good at. I hate running. I tried joining the track team in high school and I quit after a week. I tried taking Capoeria, a Brazilian martial art, but I was too uncoordinated to learn the dance-like moves. Yoga is much more my jam. I love everything about yoga, from the physical aspect of twisting myself into different positions to the spiritual aspect of focusing my breath and having a mantra. When I lived in Shanghai, the opportunity to do a yoga retreat at a temple in Suzhou, a water town about an hour outside Shanghai, came up. Since I was feeling like I was in a funk I thought a yoga retreat sounded like the perfect thing to get me back on track. Here’s what I learned about what a yoga retreat is really like.

Be prepared to get up early

I am not a morning person. I envy those people who love waking up at the crack of dawn to be productive and awesome, but I’d rather sleep in thank you very much. I was in for a rude awakening when I got to Yunquan Temple, the location of our retreat. Tina, our lovely coordinator, informed us that our first yoga session would start every day at 4:30AM. 4:30AM?! The only time I ever willingly get up at 4:30AM is when I have to catch a flight.

Every morning we found ourselves being woken up by Tina, as she rang a bell at 4:30AM which announced to us it was time to get our yoga mat and begin our first session. The first day was the toughest as we all went in bleary eyed and without coffee. As we started moving through the session I noticed how nice it was to be doing sun salutations while the sun was actually rising. Around 5:30AM we could also hear the monks chanting their morning prayer.

By the end of the retreat I had stumbled into my old ways as I slept in till 5:00AM and arrived 30 minutes late to yoga class. When another girl and I stumbled into class late and tried to hide in the back Laksmhi, one of our yoga instructors, made us go to the front of class and gently scolded us in front of everyone, “When students come in late I always make sure they come to the front of the class so they know they can’t hide.”

Be prepared to eat austere meals

While I doubt you will enjoy austere meals if you’re doing a yoga retreat at one of those fancy retreats in Tulum or Thailand, if you’re doing a retreat at a temple be prepared to eat simple vegetarian meals. Breakfast at the temple was usually pickled veggies, plain congee (rice porridge), and steam rolls. Lunch was usually rice, veggies, and noodles. Tina, noting the lack of flavor in the noodles, asked the temple’s cook if they could add some chili sauce to it. There was also no tea or coffee at the temple, just hot water (no option for cold water).

While no one was awarding Michelin stars to the temple canteen, it was still quite an experience to eat among monks. During breakfast one of the monks was having a discussion with Tina, our guide, in Chinese.
Tina looked at the rest of us at the long table and translated for us. “The monk said, that nothing in this world belongs to us, not our lovers and not our families. So I asked him, ‘then what is the meaning of life?” Tina laughed.

Be prepared to have deep discussions

During our yoga retreat we not only did yoga but also made time to share thoughts and discuss everything from philosophy to soul mates.

We got on the topic of soul mates when a woman named Julia asked Akhil, one of our other yoga instructors, what he thought about soul mates.

What could be more important than love and the search for a soul mate?

“What do you believe about soul mates?” Akhil asked all of us, his eyes widening in excitement.

“I believe we can have several soul mates in one lifetime. Soulmates are those we are on the same vibrational frequency with. Sometimes one partner grows and their vibration changes, and then they move to someone who fits their new vibration. I believe this happens to a lot of married couples who after being married for a few years don’t think they’re soul mates anymore,” Julia said.

“I think you only have one soulmate but you can find them in different lifetimes.” Cecelia, a Belgian, chimed in.

“Oh yes?” Akhil motioned for Cecelia to share her story.

“Yes, we have a saying in Belgium, that when you meet your soulmate it’s like being in labor, you know when you’re in labor. It’s the same with a soulmate. If you feel half-hearted about it then it’s not your soul mate. That’s how you know. I am very lucky, I met my soul mate and I told him that he was my soul mate on our first date,” Cecelia said in her throaty Belgian accent.

“You didn’t scare him away?” Johnny, an American asked jokingly.

“Nope, I just knew. We went to a Chinese doctor who said that we have very similar energy. When you know, you know.” Cecelia said.

By the end of the retreat I found myself feeling much more grounded. While the yoga retreat didn’t erase all my worries and concerns, it left me in a better place than when I started. I also found another perk of the yoga retreat – I found I slept much better at night which I attribute to being grateful that I didn’t have to wake up at 4:30AM anymore.

Travel Snapshots – 5 Street Foods to Try in Shanghai

One of my favorite parts about living in Shanghai was the street food. It was convenient, cheap, and really delicious. Eating street food is part of the experience of living in or visiting Shanghai. There’s tons of options to choose from and while street food can be high in calories, the price is light on your wallet. Here are a few of my favorite Shanghai street foods.

Xiao long bao

Xiao long bao are the signature street food of Shanghai. While they look like steam buns, they have a soupy filling on the inside that can be a bit of a surprise if you’re not expecting it. They are small morsels of deliciousness filled with pork and a soupy filling that is hearty and delicious. You can find them all over Shanghai and if you want to get fancy you can find them at restaurants such as the well-known Taiwanese restaurant, Din Tai Fung, which is famous for its xiao long bao.

Steam Buns

Steam buns are also ubiqitious throughout the city and unlike xiao long bao, they lack a broth-like filling, but come with so many inside options. You can get plain steam buns without any fillings or you can get a steam bun loaded with everything from vegetables and bean curd to spicy pork. Steam buns can be found everywhere and are cheap. Their portability means they are the breakfast of choice for many Shanghainese.

Tea Eggs

I encountered tea eggs for the first time when I was at a Family Mart (convenience store) in Taiwan. I saw a bunch of eggs in a crockpot of brown liquid and it didn’t appeal to me at all. When I arrived in Shanghai I felt the same way and stayed away from tea eggs for the longest time. It wasn’t until another teacher convinced me they were actually quite tasty that I decided to give them a try. I learned the eggs are boiled in tea and a five-spice powder that brings out the yolks flavor. When I finally tried them I was impressed. They are inexpensive, taste good, and are a great source of protein. Compared to other fried street foods, tea eggs are also a healthier choice.

Egg Pancakes

One of my favorite breakfast foods in the world are breakfast burritos. Shanghai egg pancakes come close to replicating my favorite breakfast food, as it’s a thin pancake topped with egg, green onions, cilantro, and some chili sauce, and wrapped in burrito-like form. Egg pancakes are surprising filling and cheap and are great to have if you’re ever hungover.

Meat on a Stick

Meat on a stick is a very popular and easy-to-find street food in Shanghai. You select the type of meat you want (pork, chicken, lamb, hot dog) and watch as the vendor dips it in spices and cooks it right in front of you. Meat on a stick is delicious and portable, as you can enjoy it while walking and taking in the sights.

So there you have it, my five favorite Shanghai street foods. If you want to learn more about my Shanghai journey click here.

Traveler Tidbits – Two Days in Rome, Italy

Follow my blog with Bloglovin

With its Mediterranean beauty and sensuous air Rome charmed me pretty much immediately. From the moment I arrived, I fell pretty hard for Rome and its sunny weather, its lively piazzas, and the old ruins and monuments that dotted the city. My infatuation with Rome started out as an unrequited love long ago, as my love for Roman history inspired me to take Latin for two semesters in college. When I arrived in Rome I was finally able to declare my love, and the feeling was mutual. While I only spent two days in Rome, it was a grand two days of romance and beauty. Here are my recommendations on what you can see and do when in Rome in 2 days.

Check Out the Spanish Steps and Trevi Fountain

Just walking around the city you will find yourself running into sights to see without even trying. That’s how I ran into the Spanish Steps and Trevi Fountain. While the Trevi Fountain was undergoing restoration work when I visited (so no coin tossing for me) the restoration work has since been completed so you can toss your coins into this iconic fountain and make a wish. While lamenting the fact that I couldn’t see the Trevi Fountain up close, I also accidentally ran into the Spanish Steps. The steps are a perfect place to rest your tired legs and people watch. You can also climb the 135 steps, which were built between 1723-1725 to link the Spanish embassy and the Trinita dei Monti church, to get some good views. Word of warning: beware of the guys offering supposedly “free” roses. The guys will offer to take your picture and then ask you for money. Seriously, Rome has some hustlers so beware.

Stroll Around the Pantheon and Take a Pic with Some Gladiators

In another stroke of accidental luck I ran into the Pantheon without even trying. I also spotted some gladiators roaming around which also made me think I went back in time (FYI: the gladiators will charge you 5-10 euros to take a series of funny pictures. Damn hustling gladiators). The Pantheon was one of those works of grand architecture I drooled over in art history books. Seeing it in person was something else – it was awe-inspiring and breath-taking. The Pantheon was a former Roman temple, and today it’s a church and still every bit as breath taking as it was back when it was built in 118-128 AD. There are a series of café’s around the piazza housing the Pantheon, so grab a bite and some wine and enjoy this beautiful work of art.

Check out the Roman Colosseum

If there is one iconic sight Rome is known for this is the one. The Colosseum is a must-see. Since I am notorious for not planning, I did not buy a ticket in advance to stroll around the inside of the Colosseum, and I also didn’t want to stand in the long line to get tickets. Still, I was happy to marvel at the beauty of the Colosseum from the outside and what a sight to behold. The Colosseum is the largest amphitheatre ever built and it put on quite a show during its heyday in the Roman Empire. From gladiatorial contests to mock sea battles, the Colosseum was where Romans went to be entertained. Today, it’s still entertaining Romans and tourists alike with its beauty. If you plan ahead, definitely buy a ticket to tour inside the Colosseum, after all beauty isn’t only on the outside.

Check out Roman Forum

The Roman Forum is the ancient forum that once housed many important government buildings during Rome’s heyday. Strolling through the Roman Forum is like strolling through the ghost of Rome’s past, as the forum was once the center of ceremonial processions and a venue for public speeches. The Roman Forum is full of beautiful ruins and is the graveyard of Rome’s once glorious past.

Check Out Vatican City and Eat the Best Gelato in Town

After the Colosseum one of my favorite parts of my whirlwind trip to Rome was visiting Vatican City and checking out St. Peter’s Square and Basilica. St. Peter’s is famous for being the center of the Catholic Church and it has quite a history. St. Peter’s Square is one of the most beautiful squares in Rome, with its fountain, Egyptian obelisk, and its columned arcade. St. Peter’s Basilica is also one of the most beautiful and regal churches I have ever seen in my life. To be honest, I did find the vibe at St. Peter’s Basilica a little bit creepy, but perhaps that was because I felt like too much of a sinner to be in such a holy place. Nonetheless, I couldn’t deny its sacred and ornate beauty. Word of advice: cover up before you enter the Basilica. They won’t allow entry if you have bare shoulders or a skimpy top with no cover-up. There’s really a guy that checks. After you finish checking out Vatican City, take a stroll to the Old Bridge Geleteria, which is only a 5 minute walk. Before I left for Rome I sought out the advice of my glamorous foodie friend with high standards named Michelle (who has lived in Paris and Rome) and she said the best gelato could be found at Old Bridge Geleteria. Judging by the long line, she proved to be right. While I’m usually averse to lines, the wait paid off as I had one of the most delicious gelato’s I’ve ever had and it was served by a handsome Italian man with the bluest eyes. Swoon.

My Roman holiday was full of sunny days, beautiful sights and romance. It was a summer love that I didn’t want to end. As I went to take a taxi to the airport, I could hear Rome whisper in my ear, “Ciao bella.”

Soap Diaries – Yuan Soap Review


Living in China inspired me to seek out more organic and natural forms of skincare products. Skin is the body’s largest organ and it absorbs both the good and the bad from our environment and the products we use. Living in Shanghai with its terrible pollution definitely affected my health (*cough*) and skin. However, finding natural and organic beauty products while living in China proved to be quite a challenge. China isn’t known for having the safest products (rice made of plastic?), and beauty products are no exception.

One day while strolling through Shanghai’s trendy IAPM mall, my attention was drawn to a small shop called Yuan. The shop had a nice natural feel to it and I saw it had an entire display of natural soaps! The soaps had unique ingredients, including some I’ve never heard of, like Job’s Tears and Purple Gromwell. The soaps weren’t cheap, but I thought since soap is something I use every day it was worth the investment.

Yuan is actually a Taiwanese brand and the creator has been making natural soaps since 2005. Yuan has its own farm in Yangmingshan National Park in Taiwan, where the herbs and other ingredients are from.  I chose the “Auspicious” soap with its blend of Artemisia, mugwort and lemon grass which according to Yuan, “eliminate obstacles and beckon bliss.” While I wouldn’t go as far to say the soap helped eliminate obstacles or beckon bliss, I will say it did leave my skin clean and soft. The scent was strong and herbaceous and while it wasn’t my favorite scent ever, the scent faded over time. Like most natural soaps care has to be taken to keep it safe from standing water.

While the soap was a bit pricy, I would try Yuan soap again. It left my skin clean without feeling tight, and it lasted for a while. It’s also made from all natural ingredients and is free of sulfates and harsh detergents. If you happen to be in Shanghai, check out Yuan at IAPM mall – Yuan can also be found online here. (I have no affiliation with Yuan).

Travel Snapshots – Leuven, Belgium

Leuven is the small yet fun little cousin to Brussels, known mainly for its devotion to books (universities) and beers (breweries). Leuven is only a 30 minute train ride from Brussels and it’s great for a short day trip. I took a short day trip to Leuven from Brussels and found a quaint university town full of charm, beauty and yes beer.

Stella Brewery Tour

If you ask any beer snob what they think of Stella Artois, they probably won’t have anything great to say. They probably won’t say anything terrible about it either. Stella is one of those beers that as a friend once told me, “you drink it when you want something easy, it goes down watery and smooth.”  Even though I’m not a beer aficionado and I never had Stella before Belgium, I thought it might be fun to take a tour of the Stella brewery headquartered in Leuven.

The Stella Brewery holds tours every Saturday and Sunday. They hold tours in English at 11AM and 3PM. You can get tickets online or you can buy them directly from the Leuven Tourism office which is located in the city center (just a short walk away from the main train station). You can’t buy tickets directly from the Stella Brewery site…or so they say. Being a spontaneous traveler with a knack for not planning, I didn’t know you had to have tickets in advance. Still I joined the tour anyway. At the beginning of the tour, the guide asked if anyone needed a ticket. I raised my hand hesitantly, and put on my most adorable, “I don’t plan well but can I still join the tour?” smile. The guide gave me a ticket and I paid at the end of the tour. Still I suggest planning in advance and buying a ticket online. Also plan on getting there early as it can be a little tricky to find the entrance and they won’t allow entrance (even if you have a ticket) if you’re late.
The 90-minute tour itself is informative and fun, even if you’re not into beer. The tour goes into the history of the Stella brand, which has a history dating back six centuries! The guide on our tour was fun and offered many interesting facts about the ingredients used in the brewing process. Did you know Stella is made with Belgian water, French barley, and German and Czech hops? The tour also offers cool views of the bottling and canning areas. Finally the tour ends with a tasting session, where you can grab a pint and relax. All in all, if you’re passing through I highly recommend you check out the Stella brewery tour. Just plan in advance and have your ticket ready.

Leuven’s Town Square

Belgium definitely knows how to do town squares right and Leuven’s is no exception. Leuven’s Town Square dates back from the 14th century and offers an impressive array of Gothic style buildings. Leuven’s Town Hall is one of the most impressive town halls I have ever seen with its gorgeous and intricate Gothic architecture. The square is pedestrianized with lots of options for grabbing a bite to eat or a beer to drink while people watching and enjoying the atmosphere of this fine university town.

Traveler Tidbits – Five Hours with Paris, France

Once upon a time, I had a whirlwind romance with Paris. Our romance was a hasty one, and also one with terrible timing. I had only five hours to spend with Paris before I had to return by bus back to my true love Brussels (it’s complicated – read more about Brussels here). Nonetheless, I loved every minute I spent with Paris, from strolling around the Tuileries Garden to enjoying rich Parisian food. While I did have to take a taxi back to the bus station before I was ready to leave, I knew in my heart, I would come back. If you are visiting Paris with little time to spare, I recommend you do some planning before you go. Paris has so much to see it’s impossible to see everything in five hours, let alone a day or two. However, you can take some inspiration from a non-planner like me and see how my whirlwind romance with Paris played out.

1. Stroll around the Gardens of the Palais-Royal

I know most people talk about Paris in the springtime, but I think Paris in the fall is where it’s really at. The Palais-Royal and its beautiful gardens were a dream to stroll through during a beautiful fall day. The historic Palais-Royal was finished in 1639 and today it’s a gorgeous palace of arcades and shops with a lovely courtyard with beautiful gardens (how many more adjectives denoting beauty can I fit in this sentence?). Romance was certainly in the air when I strolled through the Palais-Royal, as I saw couples holding hands and even ran into a wedding.

2. Take a picture of the Louvre and tell your friends you visited

The Louvre is one of the most well-renowned museums in the world and is famous for housing works of art like the Mona Lisa. If I had a planning bone in my body I probably would have bought a ticket to the museum in advance. However, I do not and the line to get tickets was way too long. If you’re like me and don’t plan ahead, then just take a picture of the Louvre pyramid. You can prove to your friends that you were in fact at the Louvre. It’s up to you to decide whether you tell your friends if you actually visited or not.

3. Stroll Around the Tuileries Garden and People Watch

While I had already done my fair share of strolling around beautiful gardens, I ran into the Tuileries Garden, which is located near the Louvre, and it just beckoned me to take another stroll. Tuileries Garden is the oldest park in the city and is considered the Central Park of Paris. On a beautiful day, you can find tons of Parisians strolling around the green space, and couples lying in the grass. It’s a beautiful place to stroll and linger on a beautiful day. The gardens also house beautiful sculptures and museums, including the Mussee de l’Orangerie which is a gallery of impressionist and post-impressionist paintings, including works by Claude Monet.

4. Visit the Eiffel Tower

The Eiffel Tower is the iconic symbol of Paris and it was one sight I knew I couldn’t miss. You can see views of the Eiffel Tower from all over the city – it’s kind of like the moon in that it moves around in surprising ways. However, the closer I got the more excited I was to see this impressive tower. Again my lack of planning meant I didn’t buy a ticket to go appreciate the views from the top of the tower, but I did explore the Eiffel Tower’s bottom parts (that doesn’t sound right). I strolled around the Champ de Mars, the green space in front of the Eiffel Tower, and took pictures of the tower from all angles while also being harassed by street vendors who wanted to sell me selfie sticks. It was a beautiful sight.

5. Eat French Food

Besides not planning and having a penchant for getting lost I am also terrible at picking restaurants when I travel. I once had the worst calzone of my life in Rome and years ago I had the worst waitress at a Chinese restaurant in London who ignored my cries for more water. This time I did prepare and asked for some foodie advice from a glamorous foodie and former Parisian resident with high standards named Michelle. Michelle recommended a café near the Eiffel Tower called Les Cocottes, so named for the little pots they cook their casseroles and other dishes in (I also found out while writing this article that Cocotte used to refer to a fashionable prostitute). Unlike a fashionable prostitute, Les Cocottes did not turn any tricks on me, instead serving up delicious and reasonably priced (especially for my intern budget) French food.

By the time I finished my fine meal with Paris, I had to leave. I couldn’t miss my bus. I admit it was hard to say goodbye to such a beautiful city, especially when I wanted to stay, but I knew one day I would have my second date with Paris.