Travel Treasures: Ceramic Plates From Florence

Poached eggs on avocado toast is a staple in my breakfast repertoire. What makes this breakfast meal particularly special for me is serving it on this pretty dish I purchased in Florence, Italy.

Avocado toast on dish from Florence, Italy

I bought these dishes when we were in Florence several years ago. While Dave rested in our hotel,  I used the free time to shop and went to a ceramics store recommended in this adorable shopping guidebook, The Civilized Shopper’s Guide to Florence by Louise Fili. The book is four inches square, so it’s easy to carry with you while exploring and shopping.

Luckily I still have the book because I can not remember the name of the store, but I remember the inside clearly. There were tables and shelves of beautiful plates and ceramics, each more beautiful than the next. It was hard to decide what to purchase, although I was limited by my desire to take the items with me and not ship them home.

I purchased four of these plates to use for small bites, snacks and sandwiches. They are bright, colorful and always bring a smile to my face, and they remind me of our wonderful trip to Florence. I also purchased four small bowls which are the perfect size for serving ice cream at home (unfortunately, while the bowls remind us of Florence, the ice cream is not the same as the gelato we had in Italy).

I recommend purchasing this book if you plan to visit Florence, and you like to shop! There are so many artisan shops listed here, and we also discovered a list of gelato cafes to visit. Those suggestions alone were worth the price of this book!

Here’s the page for the ceramics store from the book – Sbigoli Terrecotte – I made notes! Normally I don’t like marking my books, but for this one, I decided to jot notes to help me remember which stores I visited and what I liked about each one.

The Civilized Shopper's Guide to Florence by Louise Fili book on ceramics on Florence Italy

The page for Sbigoli Terrecotte ceramics shop in Florence from The Civilized Shopper’s Guide to Florence (note Lau Lau on the bottom left looking up at me)

The book is divided into walks around different neighborhoods in Florence. Each walk includes a section on eating and drinking, and we used these suggestions to try different gelato shops. Vestri was one gelato cafe we particularly enjoyed (my notes in the book say, “Yummy!! I think best gelato we had.”). There is also an index by specialty in the back of the book, with categories such as Frames & Prints, Children, Linens, and Paper Goods, for example.

Vestri gelateria in Florence Firenze Italy

Dave enjoys Vestri gelato and chocolate in Florence, Italy

Although ceramic plates are difficult to transport while traveling, I realized that I enjoy purchasing items to bring home that I need, rather than a random souvenir. I use these dishes and bowls every week, and it is nice to have a small reminder of our trip in our kitchen.

Have you been to Florence? What special items did you bring home?

Travel Treasures Ceramic Plates from Florence Firenze

 

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South Bay Scenes – December 26, 2016 – January 1, 2017

The chilly temperatures of Christmas Eve and Christmas Day continued in the week between Christmas and New Year’s in Los Angeles. With family visiting, I did not make it to the beach and outdoors as much as I normally do, but I was able to venture outside a few days and take some pictures while out walking the dogs.

Our walk on Thursday night, December 29th started late, and soon we we were walking in the dusk and then the dark along the Strand. But with so many houses displaying Christmas lights, there was something to enjoy. I realized I had not taken any photos of the decorated Manhattan Beach Pier, so I made sure to walk on the pier to capture the pretty lights.

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Strands of white lights lead the way to the “tree” atop the Round House Aquarium

Manhattan Beach Pier Round House Aquarium Christmas tree lights

The Pier Christmas Tree in lights

My phone could not focus on the lights with the darkness, but I still thought they were pretty even though they are blurred.

Manhattan Beach Pier holiday lights

On the Manhattan Beach pier looking east to downtown Manhattan Beach

Looking from the end of the pier back to Manhattan Beach

The Season’s Greeting sign hanging across Manhattan Beach Boulevard was there as usual.

Season's Greeting lights over Manhattan Beach Boulevard

Looking west on Manhattan Beach Boulevard to the Seasons Greeting sign and the Manhattan Beach Pier

Seasons Greetings in Manhattan Beach with pier in background

On New Year’s Eve, we were determined to take the dogs for a long walk on the Strand. They needed to stretch their legs, and we wanted to tire them out before the inevitable fireworks at midnight that scare them.

It was a cold and windy day. I brought their rain coats in case it started to rain, and not ten minutes after we started walking, the rain came. It was a steady rain, so even though the boys do not enjoy wearing their rain coats, it kept most of the water off of them.

Koa and Lau Lau dogs wearing raincoats in Manhattan Beach on New Year's Eve

Heading down a walk street to the Strand in Manhattan Beach

Wet and rainy Manhattan Beach

It was very gray, but the sun is peeking through on the horizon.

There was hardly anyone out on the Strand. The wind made it feel colder than it was and my hands felt very raw. Luckily I had a good rain jacket that kept me dry.

Manhattan Beach strand and flowers on New Year's Eve

Looking through the flowers to the sun on the horizon

Dogs in raincoats on the Manhattan Beach Strand on New Year's eve 2016

Koa and Lau Lau making the most of the wet, cold and windy weather on New Year’s Eve along the Strand.

Manhattan Beach Strand on New Year's eve with ships in the ocean

Sun on the horizon lights up the ships in the ocean

Snack shop on El Porto Beach in Manhattan Beach on New Year's Eve

This snack shop is normally busy no mater what time of day you walk by.

Manhattan Beach Strand on New Year's Eve 2016

The wet and windy Strand on Manhattan Beach on New Year’s Eve. No one was out!

Manhattan Beach Strand sunset on New Year's Eve 2016

The sun setting with the gray clouds overhead

Manhattan Beach Strand sunset on New Year's Eve 2016

It was sunny on the horizon but not where we were! Look at the light catching the tips of the plant.

Final sunset of 2016 from Manhattan Beach Strand on New Year's Eve

Last sunset of 2016

Dogs wearing rain coats on Manhattan Beach Strand on New Year's Eve 2016

The boys sporting their rain coats.

Dogs wearing rain coats on Manhattan Beach Strand on New Year's Eve 2016

Lau Lau in the front and Koa in the back.

The next day, the storm and the clouds moved on, and we were treated to a bright, clear day at the beach. The Strand was very crowded, especially compared to the day before, as everyone was outside enjoying the day and the first day of 2017!

Manhattan Beach on New Year's Day 2017

What a difference compared to the day before!

Manhattan Beach Strand looking north on New Year's Day 2017

You can see on the far right the snack shop is busy compared to the day before! And you can see the mountains near Santa Monica and Malibu

Instagram 2016 Best Nine

Happy New Year! Everyone is once again doing the round-up of their best nine Instagram posts for 2016. I had fun looking at my top posts last year (see my 2015 best nine here), and it was interesting to see which photos generated the most feedback and likes. As we approached the end of 2016, I was curious to see which of my photos were the most popular.

Here are my best nine Instagram photos for 2016:

Instagram 2016 Best Nine

Most Popular Photo – Stickhouse Gelato

My most liked photo (in the top left of the collage) is from Stickhouse Gelato in Santa Monica, California. I had heard about this shop that sells gelato on a stick, and I finally made time to try it in June. It was delicious!

 

Second Most Liked – Alfred Coffee

The middle photo in the top row is from Alfred Coffee in the Brentwood neighborhood of Los Angeles, near my old office. One weekend, after a meeting, I was able to stop there for an iced coffee. I loved the decor.

 

Photo #3 – Manhattan Beach Sunset

The third most popular photo (top right corner) is of a Manhattan Beach sunset. Sunset photos always seem to be well-liked when I post them, but this one was especially vibrant because the sky was filled with smoke from the Sand Fire in the Angeles National Forest in July. The fire was fueled by high temperatures and windy conditions. I remember when I was walking the dogs along the Strand on that day, everyone was taking photos of the surreal sunset.

Fourth Most Liked – Magnolia Bakery

While visiting New York City in August, I met friends for dinner on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. For dessert, we stopped in at Magnolia Bakery. Their cakes and cupcakes were beautifully decorated. But, I did not have a cupcake – we ordered their famous banana pudding. Oh my goodness, it was delicious. And, I have since learned that they have a location in Los Angeles! It is probably better that it is not too close to home, because I would want to eat a treat there all the time.

 

Middle Photo – Sunset in La Jolla

Our family spent a week in La Jolla, California, in May, renting a house a block away from this beautiful scene at Windansea Beach. Unfortunately, on most days we experienced the, “May Gray,” skies typical for this time of the year in southern California. But this one night, the sun broke through and we had a beautiful golden hour of light before the sun set.

The sun broke through right at #sunset last night. #LaJolla

A photo posted by Kiera Reilly (@kierareilly) on

 

Sixth Most Popular – Plane Video!

I used to always want to sit in the aisle seat when flying cross-country, as I liked the ability to be able to stand up and stretch my legs without needing to disturb my seat-mates. Recently though, after a few flights sitting by the window, I now pick the window seat when flying over land. I am often mesmerized looking out the window at the clouds or the landscape below. This is video I took while departing LAX in December. It was a beautiful day for flying.

 

Seventh Place – Santorini

After spending a week exploring Crete in May with fellow travel bloggers, my friend Kat and I took the ferry to Santorini for a short two-night stay. I wanted to see this magical island which seems to always look its best in photos. The stark white buildings, vibrant blue sea and stunning landscape of Santorini did not disappoint.

Bright white, blue sky and sea in Oia, #Santorini #Greece

A photo posted by Kiera Reilly (@kierareilly) on

 

Last (Ninth) Place But Not Least – Flytographer in Budapest

This photo, from a photo-shoot with Flytographer in Budapest, is actually two years old. I was visiting European Christmas markets on a solo trip in December, 2014. And at the last stop on my trip, in Budapest, I had the opportunity to have a Flytographer photo shoot. Wow, the pictures captured the magic of Budapest’s Christmas markets, and the photographer Roky took so many fantastic pictures, it is hard to pick a favorite one. It makes me want to return to Budapest for more mulled wine and sparkly lights! You can see more photos from my shoot and read more about my experience in my recent post here.

The Best Nine

2016 was so much more than these nine photos, but it is fun to share daily photos and see which photos receive the most likes. Once again, food and coffee photos are popular, as are sunsets on the beach. I try to mix up the things I post, so that there is a sampling of beautiful cars, food and drink, and a travel location. It will be interesting to see in my mix of photos for 2017 what everyone likes the best!

Have you discovered your #2016bestnine?

To generate your, “best nine,” Instagram posts for the year (which nine posts received the most likes), visit https://2016bestnine.com/, type in your Instagram user name, and the site searches your posts and compiles the top photos in a collage you can post to Instagram, share to Twitter or save as an image. The site also compiles your total number of likes (15,935 for me) and the total posts you shared in 2016 (362 – a little more than one each day).

Happy New Year! Here’s to a great 2017!

Strolling Along Candy Cane Lane in El Segundo

After sixteen years of living in the South Bay, I finally visited El Segundo’s Candy Cane Lane on Christmas night. Every holiday season since 1949, the 1200 block of Acacia Lane in El Segundo, California transforms into a festival of lights.

Candy Cane Lane in El Segundo

Closed off to vehicle traffice, Candy Cane Lane attracts all ages to wonder at the beautiful Christmas light displays.

On my way home from a family Christmas dinner in Santa Clarita, I decided that I should stop off to see the lights. Driving south on the 405 Freeway, I took the 105 Freeway west and exited at the first exit past the end of the Freeway (California Street). Acacia Lane is only a few blocks away. Luckily, I was able to find a parking spot on Acacia Street only a block from Candy Cane Lane, perhaps this was because it was Christmas night. I hear parking can be a challenge during the weeks leading up to Christmas.

House decorated on Candy Cane Lane in El Segundo, California

A simply decorated house on Candy Cane Lane. I love the greenery around the front door, lit wreath overhead and Christmas tree in the window.

The street is blocked off to vehicle traffic so pedestrians can walk freely and appreciate the lights without worrying about being hit by a car. There were a fair amount of people the night I went, but it was not overwhelming. Many families with children were enjoying the lights.

Candy Cane arch on Candy Cane Lane in El Segundo, California

The Candy Cane arch at this home was a popular spot for taking pictures

Every house had a different look or theme, but all of them were covered in lights.

Animals in the yard at Candy Cane Lane in El Segundo, California

Animals in the yard at this home

Simply decorated home with Christmas lights on Candy Cane Lane in El Segundo, California

One of my favorite light displays – I love the lighted jars and chandeliers hanging from the tree.

The lights might still be on for New Year’s Eve, and some homeowner’s have started taking down their displays. But, the opening date for Candy Cane Lane in 2017 is already announced – December 9, 2017.

It is well worth a visit if you live in the South Bay, or if you are traveling through LAX Airport in December. Candy Cane Lane is a short drive south from LAX!

See more photos from my visit below the details!

Details

What: El Segundo’s Candy Cane Lane, 1200 Block of Acacia Lane, El Segundo, CA

When: Opens nightly, 7:00 – 9:00 PM, starting December 9, 2017

Parking: Street parking in El Segundo (be prepared to walk several blocks on peak nights leading up to Christmas)

Cost: Free

Note: Santa visits on certain nights – be sure to check the schedule on their Facebook page.

Christmas lights decorate a home on Candy Cane Lane in El Segundo, California

One of my favorite decorated houses. I love the wreaths in the upstairs windows

 

Model trains and Christmas lights on a home on El Segundo's Candy Cane Lane

This house had several train tracks running trains on their lawn

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This home had a North Pole Airport theme, appropriate since it is only a short distance to LAX Airport

 

 

Pinterest pin Strolling along Candy Cane Lane in El Segundo Christmas Lights

Festival of Trees Sparkle at the Indiana Historical Society

Earlier this month, we were in Indianapolis for Dave to attend a conference, and I had a free day to explore. While driving through downtown Indianapolis, I saw a sign for “Festival of Trees.” Since I love all things Christmas, I was intrigued. A google search led me to the Visit Indy website, which listed many interesting things to do and explore in the city – including the Festival of Trees at the Indiana Historical Society!

Located downtown, close to other museums, the Indiana Historical Society’s annual Festival of Trees featured 72 decorated trees throughout the museum – up from 50 trees in 2015. The exhibit opened November 18th and closes on December 30th. It seems to be an annual exhibit, so if you miss the display this year, be sure to mark it on your calendars for next year!

The trees are spread throughout the museum, which offered me the opportunity to explore the entire building and all of the exhibits (though I admit I was determined to see every single tree!).

Pro tip: Admission to the Indiana Experience is $9 for adults and includes complimentary parking in the lot behind the museum.

After purchasing my admission, I collected a guide to all the trees and their locations, and started my journey.

Indianapolis Motor Speedway sponsored Christmas tree at Indiana Historical Society FOTrees

In the lobby, it was hard not to miss the tree decorated by the Indianapolis Motor Speedway

The main hall of the museum displayed many of the trees – each decorated or sponsored by a different local organization or company.

Christmas trees in the main hall at the Indiana Historical Society FOTRees in Indianapolis

Walking through the main hall I found the Cole Porter salon – a room dedicated to Indiana native Cole Porter, the famous songwriter and composer. His Tony award for Kiss Me Kate was on display as were other photos documenting his life. A singer was leading the room in singing of Christmas carols and Cole Porter songs, which was especially festive.

Cole Porter's Tony Award for Kiss Me Kate on display at Indiana Historical Society

The Tony Award Cole Porter won for Kiss Me Kate

Paris Christmas tree in Cole Porter room at Indiana Historical Society Festival of Trees in Indianapolis

The “I Love Paris,” themed tree in the Cole Porter room

While I enjoyed the beautiful trees, there were also interesting exhibits to explore. There were interactive exhibits on Ball Mason Jars, Eli Lily and Company, and the founding of the state of Indiana. In each of these exhibits we were ‘transported’ back in time as actors/historians dressed in period dress and answered questions.

Indiana Historical Society Ball mason jar exhibit in Indianapolis

Women works at the Ball mason jar company exhibit

Eli Lily exhibit at Indiana Historical Society in Indianapolis

A worker answers questions as we enter Eli Lily’s druggist store

Founding of Indiana exhibit at Indiana Historical Society in Indianapolis

These gentleman told us about the founding of Indiana and the writing of the state constitution

These exhibits were all interesting, as were the facts about Indiana’s statehood displayed throughout the museum (and they were especially timely as Indiana was celebrating its Bicentennial on December 11). But, I wanted to be sure to see all the trees, so I kept wandering.

Snowman Christmas Tree at Indiana Historical Society FOTrees

Snowman Tree presented by At Home – the Home Decor Superstore

Book Christmas tree at Indiana Historical Society FOTrees

A tree of books

Zoo Christmas tree at Indiana Historical Society Festival of Trees

I loved this tree decorated by the Zoo

Frozen themed tree at Indiana Historical Society FOTrees

This Frozen themed tree was downstairs near the cafe. It was presented by Total Restoration General Contractors – I appreciated the metal pipes/tubing decorating the tree

The museum’s cafe is one level down from the main entrance, and offers hot and cold food and drinks for purchase. With the cold weather outside, it offers a nice option for a rest and a snack break while exploring the museum.

Pro tip: Check the cafe’s serving hours. I saw a sign saying the cafe closed at 4:00 PM, but when I went down for a snack at 3:30 PM, they were no longer serving food.

Ball Christmas tree by the Ball Brothers Foundation at Indiana Historical Society

A Ball themed tree presented by the Ball Brothers Foundation

It was truly magical wandering the museum and seeing all the differently decorated trees.

Festival of Trees at Indiana Historical Society in Indianapolis

So many trees!

After seeing all of the trees, I voted for my three favorite trees near the entrance. It was hard to pick a favorite as each one was unique.

I saved time at the end of my trip to visit the gift shop, and I am glad I did. There were many items made in Indiana, including a few Indiana Bicentennial Christmas ornaments (I purchased one), t-shirts, books, games and other novelties. I was impressed by the selection!

Pro-tip: Be sure to check the sale rack in the back of the shop. I found a book on a WWII photographer from Indiana for $5!

Indiana Historical Society Festival of Trees

The Enchanted Forest tree presented by Carson Pirie Scott sits next to the ticket desk and right outside the Basile History Market

If you love the Christmas season, and are like me, can not get enough of holiday decorations, the Festival of Trees at the Indiana Historical Society is not to be missed if you are visiting Indianapolis!

South Bay Scenes – Week of December 12 – 18, 2016

I have not posted any South Bay Scenes in a while, and this week’s scenes all come from this past weekend. But the skies were clear and the golden hour light beautiful when we walked the boys late on Saturday afternoon, and I couldn’t stop taking pictures!

Earlier in the week, there was rain and then high winds, so it was not ideal for nice walks along the beach. By Saturday the rain had moved on, and it was a glorious day.

beach volleyball in El Porto beach in Manhattan Beach California

Beach volleyball in El Porto, Manhattan Beach

looking north from the walk section of the Strand in Manhattan Beach California golden hour

Looking north from the walk section of the Strand in Manhattan Beach

Looking south on the Strand towards the Manhattan Beach Pier in Manhattan Beach California

Looking south from the walk section of the Strand toward the Manhattan Beach Pier

This group was playing beach volleyball while the sun was setting.

Playing beach volleyball in Manhattan Beach California

Playing beach volleyball as the sun sets

Beach Volleyball north of the Manhattan Beach Pier

The Manhattan Beach Pier, a setting sun reflected in the water and beach volleyball

Manhattan Beach Pier with Catalina Island in the distance

The Manhattan Beach Pier with Catalina Island in the distance

The sun getting ready to slip beyond the horizon.

The sun sets in Manhattan Beach California

Even as we walked away from the Strand, I kept taking photos of the pretty sky.

Manhattan Beach walk street as the sun sets

Walk Street Manhattan Beach

walk street in Manhattan Beach with street lights decorated for Christmas

Pretty street lights decorated for the holidays

The weather was beautiful, but it was also cold. When I went out to my car early on Sunday morning, there was frost on my windshield! I do not think that has ever happened here in Redondo Beach. I took a picture of it after I scraped it off so I could see where I was driving!

frost on windshield in Redondo Beach California

Frost on my windshield

It’s time to turn on the heat!

cold temperatures in Redondo Beach California

 

Capturing Christmas Magic in Budapest with Flytographer

Two years ago, I arrived in Budapest, the last stop on my solo European Christmas markets trip. It was my first visit to Budapest, and after a week of traveling solo through Vienna and Bratislava, which included losing my wallet my second night of the trip in Vienna, I was a bit tired and frazzled.

After arriving at the Keleti train station from Bratislava and making my way to my hotel using the city’s trams and subways, I settled in to the hotel bar to enjoy a glass of wine and unwind. It was time for the #luxtravelchat Twitter chat, so I hopped online to chat with fellow travelers before I ventured to explore the city on my own.

Buda Castle in Budapest by Flytographer Roky

Buda Castles at night. Credit: Roky, Flytographer

Flytographer in Budapest

During the chat, Nicole Smith, the founder of Flytographer, mentioned that the Flytographer service was expanding into Budapest, and she wondered if I had free time for a photo shoot with one of their new photographers? Since my only agenda during my stay was to explore the Christmas markets and then add in anything else that seemed interesting in my free time, a photo shoot to document my trip sounded perfect to me.

Flytographer is a vacation photography service with photographers that can be booked in 180 cities around the world. There are different shoot package options, and shortly after the end of your session, you receive a link to high resolution images of your vacation photos, ready for you to download.

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Budapest buildings along the Danube by Flytographer Roky

Nicole connected me to Roky, the Flytographer in Budapest, and we communicated via WhatsApp to set a time and place to meet for our photo shoot. I wanted pictures of me walking around the Christmas markets experiencing the sparkly lights, the stalls filled with Christmas decorations and the food vendors selling mulled wine and other hot beverages to keep you warm. Roky suggested that perhaps we should meet a bit before dark so we could also photograph some of the city’s landmarks. We decided to meet by the Széchenyi Chain Bridge along the Danube River, the river that separates the Buda and Pest sides of the city.

Starting the Photo Shoot with Roky from Flytographer

I met Roky right as the sun was setting. He had arrived earlier and took some photographs of the landscape since he loves to take photos and Budapest is a beautiful subject! We chatted briefly and then he directed me to the bridge so we could take some photos before the sun disappeared.

The Little Princess statue along the Danube River by Flytographer Roky

The Little Princess statue along the Danube River by Flytographer Roky

Roky took some initial shots of me, and while I am usually comfortable having my picture taken, I felt a bit uneasy at first since I did not know Roky, I was not simply standing in front of a landmark and smiling, and I was posing by myself. Since Roky was hoping to capture some candid shots, that added to the pressure since it is difficult to wander around and act like you do not realize that your picture is being taken!

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One of the first photos Roky took of me, with the Danube River in the background

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One of our early photos by Flytographer Roky

Shortly after we started though, I was smiling and laughing and enjoying the moment. Roky has an friendly, easygoing way about him, so I soon felt comfortable as he directed me to stand here, turn this way, look up and smile.

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We walked on the Chain Bridge to take some photos Credit: Roky from Flytographer

He would stop along the way to show me the photos he took so I could see our progress, and he also explained some of the settings he was using on his camera. As you can see, he has quite the eye for getting some gorgeous shots!

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Taking pictures as a yellow Budapest tram approaches Credit: Flytographer Roky

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Watching as the tram passes Credit: Flytographer Roky

Night Shots at Vörösmarty Square Christmas Market

After taking these photos by the river, we walked a short bit towards the Vörösmarty Square market, as the day turned to dusk and then night. Roky wanted to experiment with some techniques, and I was game, as I enjoyed chatting with him about Budapest, his photography techniques, and our favorite travel experiences.

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Approaching the Vorostamy Square Christmas Market Credit: Roky, Flytographer

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Standing still for a longer exposure while people pass by Credit: Roky, Flytographer

The Vörösmarty Square market was one of my most favorite that I visited during my entire trip (Vienna-Bratislava-Budapest), as it had so many beautiful ornaments and Christmas decorations that were handmade. The food stalls were huge, with large pots of stews and local delicacies. Of course there was spiked punch (and you could choose which spirit to add), mulled wine and hot chocolate!

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Pretty light balls hanging in the trees over Vorosmarty Square Christmas Market Credit: Flytographer Roky

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Looking at the traditional chimney cakes Credit: Roky, Flytographer

Roky let me wander through the market, explaining what some of the different foods were, and we stopped for some mulled wine. It was all traditional Hungarian foods, and everything looked delicious.

Trying Somlói Galuska at Gerbeaud

Somehow we started talking about chocolate while we were walking around, and Roky told me I must somlói galuska, a traditional cake dessert with chocolate. Since we were right near the famous Gerbeaud cafe on Vörösmarty Square, he asked if I would be interested in trying it then. Am I interested in dessert? Of course! So into the cafe we went, a beautifully decorated space, and the desserts looked all delicious. We each selected a dessert to try, and then of course, I had to post a photo on Instagram.

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Trying somloi galuska in Gerbeaud Photo by Roky of Flytographer

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Instagramming my somloi geluska at Gerbeaud cafe Photo by Flytographer Roky

After finishing dessert, it was time for our Flytographer session to come to an end. I had a fantastic time taking photographs with Roky; he captured beautiful pictures documenting my joy and wonder exploring the Christmas market. These photos are my most treasured souvenir of my solo trip, and the easy friendship I developed with Roky is a fond memory too.

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When I returned home, I was blown away by the pictures, and they instantly reminded me of the sights, sounds, smells and tastes from that night. My friends were equally impressed – when I shared one of the photos on Facebook, the response was overwhelmingly positive.

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Daylight photo on the Chain Bridge. Photo by Flytographer Roky

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Enjoying mulled wine Photo by Flytographer Roky

Flytographer – the Best Travel Souvenir

Flytographer is the best thing you can purchase while traveling, as the photos capture a moment in time and help you remember a special trip forever. I have also had sessions with Flytographer in London and Buenos Aires, as a single traveler and with family (read my post about our London experience here), and I can not recommend them highly enough. And, Budapest is a great city to visit in the Christmas season (if these photos haven’t convinced you).

You can receive a $25 off for your next Flytographer session by booking through this link. Use #FlyFan when you book to receive the credit.

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Drinking mulled wine at Vorosmarty Square

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In front of the Four Seasons Hotel Gresham Palace Photo by Roky of Flytographer

While my shoot in Budapest with Flytographer was complimentary, the opinions of my experience are entirely my own.

Sabor a Cabo – A Festival Celebrating the Tastes of Los Cabos

It is hard to believe that I live so close to Los Cabos, Mexico, yet have never traveled there. Many in Los Angeles escape to Los Cabos because of the warm weather, beautiful ocean water and short flight from LAX. And as I learned at a press event in September, there is another reason to add “Cabo” to my list of places to visit: Sabor A Cabo.

Los Cabos Tourism invited me to a press event in September to highlight and promote the Sabor a Cabo festival which takes place December 4 – 10, 2016 (they also hosted the July Travel Massive Los Angeles event, which featured fantastic food and drinks). Sabor a Cabo is an international food festival featuring the cuisine of Los Cabos and also the cuisine from visiting chefs from notable restaurants around the world. This year, Mexico’s most famous rock band Mana will perform a benefit concert at the main event on December 10th.

The Sabor a Cabo press event was held at Rock & Brews in El Segundo, California. Dave Furano, the co-founder of Rock & Brews, graciously welcomed us. In addition to Rock & Brews in over a dozen U.S. cities, there is a Rock & Brews in San José del Cabo and Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. Chef Rodrigo Cabeza de Vaca, Chairman of CANIRAC, the National Chamber of Restaurants and Seasoned Foods Industry in Mexico, spoke to us about the event and its growth since its founding eleven years ago.

We were treated to a light lunch featuring samples from several top Los Cabos chefs: Ángel Carbajal of Nicksan, Jesús Castro of Edith’s Restaurante, and Paolo de la Corte of Sunset da Mona Lisa. Their tasty bites were a wonderful representation of the local flavors of Cabo.

The food presentation, as you can see, was beautiful, and the food did not disappoint. All of us were oohing and ahhing as each course was delivered to our table.

Chef Angel Carbajal of Nick-san's Compache with Poke at Sabor a Cabo at Rock & Brews El Segundo

Chef Ángel Carbajal of Nick-San prepared this Compache with Poke

Chef Angel Carbajal of Nick-san's Compache with Poke at Sabor a Cabo at Rock & Brews El Segundo

Chef Paolo de la Corte of Sunset da Mona Lisa oysters with truffels for Sabor a Cabo event at Rock & Brews El Segundo

Chef Paolo de la Corte of Sunset da Mona Lisa prepared these oysters with truffles. They were heavenly.

Sabor a Cabo chefs pose with Kiera Reilly at Rock & Brews in El Segundo for Los Cabos Tourism

Posing with Chef Angel Carbajal of Nick-San, Chef Jesus Castro of Edith’s Restaurante, Chef Rodrigo Cabeza de Vaca of La Galeria, and Chef Paolo de la Corte of Sunset da Mona Lisa

The growing popularity of this festival is such that we were told that some of the ticket packages for Sabo a Cabo was already sold-out in September, so make plans now to attend this festival next year. More information can be found on the site, Sabor a Cabo.

Watching Formula 1 in Los Angeles

Last weekend, we licked our wounds because we weren’t in Austin to watch a beautiful, sunny weekend of Formula 1 racing at Circuit of the Americas. But we found a salve for not being there in person with the next best thing, watching the race live with fellow Formula 1 fans in Los Angeles at Pirelli P Zero World.

LA F1 Fans at Pirelli P Zero World to watch Formula 1

Watching the USGP at Pirelli P Zero World with fellow F1 fans

Thanks to the LA F1 Fans meet-up group Mark Sternberg created a few years ago, each week during the Formula 1 season LA fans gather to watch the races with fellow F1 enthusiasts. We once thought we were the only Formula 1 fans here in the US, since hardly any of our friends knew what we were talking about when we said, “Formula 1.” Now we meet with other followers of the FIA’s premier motorsport series, Formula 1, to watch races at various locations throughout Los Angeles.

Most race weekends, the group watches a tape delayed broadcast of the race due to the international nature of the sport. With races occurring around the world, finding a location to watch a race in the middle of the night, and the willingness to watch in the middle of the night, is a tough proposition.

Usually, the LA F1 group gathers at the Britannia Pub or Cock and Bull Pub in Santa Monica. For the season opener in Australia, Mark arranged for a viewing party at Tom’s Urban in downtown LA. A few weeks ago, the group returned to Tom’s Urban to watch the Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka live – starting at 10:00 PM Los Angeles time. The new U.S. Formula 1 team, Haas F1, sponsored the party and offered team hats and other team promotional items that Mark raffled off. Over 100 people gathered to watch.

Last weekend, for the U.S. Grand Prix in Austin, the LA F1 Fans group met at Pirelli P Zero World in Century City. Pirelli is the official tire for Formula 1. A catered buffet, wine, and beer were offered (for a fee), and we enjoyed a big screen viewing of the race.

Pirelli P Zero World LA F1 fans viewing party

Pirelli’s P Zero World in Century City, Los Angeles

Lavazza cappuccino at LA F1 fans Pirelli P Zero World for Formula 1

A Lavazza cappuccino and Formula 1 viewing

It was a good, but not great race. Our group really made some noise when Carlos Sainz, Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa were battling for fifth position near the end of the race and Alonso and Massa almost took each other out.

LA F1 Fans at Pirelli P Zero World to watch the USGP Formula 1 race

Watching the USGP at Pirelli P Zero World in Los Angeles

During the commercial breaks, the fans chatted with each other and looked at the cars on display and parked outside.

McLaren at Pirelli P Zero World for LA F1 Formula 1

A McLaren 570 GT parked in the back of Pirelli P Zero World

McLaren Pirelli P Zero World LA Formula 1 fans

McLaren 650S in Pirelli P Zero World

McLaren at Pirelli P Zero World for LA F1 fans viewing

There’s a McLaren behind us but we’re all focused on the action on the track!

Williams Martini Racing Pirelli LA F1 fans

Wearing my Williams Martini racing shirt to support Felipe Massa by this beautiful Maserati

This weekend, Formula 1 is in Mexico, offering US west-coast fans an opportunity to watch the race live at a reasonable hour. Join them tomorrow at the Britannia Pub in Santa Monica, and cheer for your favorite team and driver among fellow Formula 1 fans!

What: LA F1 Fans watch the Formula 1 Mexican Grand Prix live

Where: Britannia Pub, 318 Santa Monica Blvd, Santa Monica, CA

When: 10:30 am

Details and to RSVP: http://www.meetup.com/LAF1Fans/events/235117340/

While Mercedes AMG Petronas has clinched the constructor’s title for the third straight year, the driver’s championship is still in play. Nico Rosberg could clinch his first F1 world championship if he wins the race and his teammate, reigning world champion Lewis Hamilton, finishes tenth or lower. But Lewis is on the pole for the race, with Nico in the second grid position and the Red Bulls breathing down their necks in third and fourth. It should be an exciting race. We hope to see you at the Britannia to watch with us live tomorrow!

Who do you think will win the race? Who do you think will win the driver’s championship?

More photos from the USGP viewing party are here:

McLaren Pirelli P Zero World LA F1 fans viewing

Back of the McLaren 570 GT

McLaren Pirelli LA F1 fans viewing

The McLaren 650 S from the back

 

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Airport Restrooms – Why Can’t Stalls Be Larger?

(First published on Cloud Surfing Kids; this post has been updated since its original posting in December, 2015)

Traveling through airports is often a hassle and sometimes downright unpleasant. But with many airports being renovated with new food and retail vendors, sometimes the down-time waiting for a flight, in between layovers or unexpected flight delays can be more pleasurable than in the past. Except for the bathrooms. I cannot speak to the men’s restroom situation, but it seems that whoever designs airport restrooms these days has not considered how most of us travel in modern times – with a rolling carry-on bag. These small rolling luggage bags are wonderful – if you pack smartly and efficiently, you do not need to check luggage. If you check luggage but still bring valuables and other items on the plane, these wheeled bags are much easier for traveling through the airport, eliminating the need to carry heavy items on our shoulders or arms.

Yet, if you need to use the restroom and are traveling alone (and thus need to bring said carry-on bag into the bathroom stall with you), one must be a contortionist. The bathroom stalls in most restrooms are simply not deep enough to accommodate both you and your wheeled bag while closing the door. I often wheel the bag in, slide it next to the side of the toilet, close the door, then wheel the bag against the door while I use the toilet. To exit the stall, I repeat, or I climb over my bag. I often say a quick prayer that I am able bodied enough to contort my limbs to fit into the stall and climb over my bag, and I wonder how others who are not as flexible manage. Sure, many people wait to use the stalls intended for those with disabilities, since they are larger, but there are usually only one or two of those stalls per bathroom, and if there is a line and you are short on time before your flight, you may not have time to wait for one to be free. Not to mention that those stalls should be kept open for those who truly do need the extra accommodation.

wheelchair cloud surfing kids

What amazes me now as I travel to new, modern airports is that many have large restroom areas, with several feet of space between the sinks and the stalls. Yet the stalls are not deep enough for a person to walk inside and close the door, much less walk inside and close the door with a bag in tow. I did not even mention the self-flushing toilets that seem to be quite popular. With all the contorting I do to situate myself in the stall, the self-flushing toilet flushes at least three times before I even use it!

(Cloud Surfing Kids Editor’s Travel Tip: carry mini Post-It Notes in your bag to cover the sensor on the auto-flushing toilet. This will keep it from flushing until you remove the Post-It Note. Especially good when traveling with children who might be frightened by the toilet suddenly flushing when they are still on it!)

I take pictures in airport restrooms (if the room is relatively empty since I do not want people in my pictures and people are suspicious if you’re taking photos in the bathroom!) because I am always delighted by the stalls with enough space to walk in with my bag and close the door. I silently award bonus points for stalls that have a shelf for your purse or bag. The small hooks on the backs of most stall doors are not strong or large enough to hold a coat and large bag. I am also astounded at all of the “space” in the bathrooms that could be utilized for deeper stalls, so I sometimes document that too.

Some of the best airport restrooms I have encountered in my travels:

PHL  Philadelphia – Terminal D

While this terminal was a bit run-down as it is not for the main PHL carrier (US Airways, pre-merger with American,) but for United, Southwest and Delta, it has some nice bathroom stalls. They are not new or always necessarily the cleanest, but the stall doors open outwards into the restroom and not inwards into the stall! I have never had an issue bumping into other travelers, and it is so easy to enter the stall with a wheeled bag. At the beginning of the terminal, what used to be right after going through security, but is now near the terminal exit, are some wonderful bathrooms with super-large stalls – so big that an individual sink is in each stall. The sinks never seem to be in working order, but I love that the stalls are big and I am not bumping into every wall while trying to secure myself and my belongings so I can use the facilities. There are only a handful of these super-large stalls, but whenever I visit that restroom, there is never a line and only one or two other people using them.

Terminal D is being remodeled, and when I traveled through there recently, I was nervous as I walked into the bathroom – did they keep the stall doors that open outward into the room? I am happy to report that they did! The new bathroom features bright colors and two rows of stalls with doors that open outward. The stalls seem slightly longer too, so with the length and the door opening out, I was easily able to bring my bag into the stall with me. The sink counter-tops are worthy of note too. I am often frustrated by sopping wet counters because water splashes everywhere and hand dryers or paper towels are across the bathroom from the sinks.

As I was looking in wonder at the new restroom and finding my phone so I could take some photos, another woman exclaimed, “This must have been designed by a woman!” She was amazed at the sink stations and how the paper towels were right by the sink.

PHL Philadelphia Airport bathroom stalls

Bright color and stalls that open out at PHL’s Terminal D bathrooms

PHL Philadelphia airport bathroom stalls

Looking at the stalls at PHL from the other direction. The frosted glass windows allow some natural light to brighten the room.

PHL Philadelphia airport bathroom stall

Bright green tiles along the back of the stalls. The stalls are deep and the doors open outward (though the restrooms needed servicing).

PHL Philadelphia airport bathroom sinks

The sinks at PHL terminal D restroom. Automatic faucet, soap dispenser and towel dispensers!

SAN  San Diego

I had not visited this airport for several years and was pleasantly surprised by the beautiful open floor plan and the bathrooms – deep stalls! A shelf on the back wall of the stall to stow a bag! Automatic water and soap dispensers!

SAN San Diego airport restroom stall

SAN bathroom stall – could be deeper, but note the shelf above the toilet – with bars – to hold a bag

SAN San Diego airport bathroom stalls

SAN bathroom stalls – plenty of room between stalls (tall doors – nice) and the sinks, so it would be nice if the stalls were deeper. Frosted glass windows add natural light

SJC  San Jose

The newer terminal building bathrooms are a delight – big restrooms, large stalls, automatic faucets and Dyson hand dryers.

CLT  Charlotte 

I visited this airport last year en route to London. The terminal was bright and airy, and so were the restrooms. An opaque window in the restroom allowed natural light to enter, and the stalls were deep.

CLT Charlotte airport bathroom stalls

Stalls at Charlotte airport – with frosted window providing natural light – and taller/longer doors

CLT Charlotte Airport individual bathroom stall

CLT bathroom stalls – deeper, and with a side shelf to place a purse is nice, but nothing to secure bag on the shelf

CLT Charlotte airport bathroom sinks

Sinks at CLT airport bathroom. Automatic faucet and soap dispenser with towel dispensers and trash cans next to the sinks!

IAD  Washington Dulles

I traveled through Dulles on a late Saturday afternoon and the airport was very empty. These stalls were a nice size, and the automatic faucets for the sinks worked well. Note the paper towel dispensers right above the sinks with holes in the counter to dispose them! Usually, trash cans are at the exit to the restroom, so after utilizing the sink, you must find a receptacle to dispose of your paper towels. And then you turn back to the sink to freshen up. Having trash cans built into the sinks keeps the sinks cleaner, and makes it easier to dispose of trash!

IAD Washington Dulles airport bathroom stalls

IAD bathroom stalls (note how ‘short’ the stalls are compared to Charlotte’s – less privacy)

IAD Washington Dulles airport bathroom individual stall

IAD bathroom stall – wider than most but could be deeper

IAD Washington Dulles airport bathroom sinks

IAD bathroom sinks – nice to have automatic sinks and faucets with paper towels above and trash receptacle in one place

COS Colorado Springs

Colorado Springs is a smaller regional airport, and while the bathroom stalls are not particularly large, they are not crowded. Finding an open stall was not an issue, something I appreciate in smaller airports. I was particularly struck by the shelf with what I assume are coat hooks – a plus for traveling in the winter months with bulky outerwear.

COS Colorado Springs airport bathroom stall

COS bathroom stalls – not particularly deep

COS Colorado Springs airport bathroom disabled stall

COS stall for disabled passengers – slightly wider stall and the door opens out

COS Colorado Springs airport bathroom shelf and coat rack

COS bathroom with coat hooks, shelf (for bags?) and electrical outlets

Airports with restrooms that could use improvement

DEN – Denver

Denver’s bathrooms are large, befitting a large airport, and they should receive bonus points for the amount of both stalls and sinks. However, the towel dispensers are opposite the sinks, as are the hand dryers. I think it would be more convenient, and perhaps efficient, to have the sinks and towel dispensers and hand dryers close to each other. On the opposite wall with the mirrors and a shelf, passengers can use the mirrors to freshen up. The current situation means that the mirrors are blocked from people drying their hands.

DEN airport bathroom stalls in Denver

Plenty of stalls in DEN

DEN bathroom individual stall at Denver airport

Individual stalls at DEN were OK, but could be at least a few inches deeper.

DEN Denver airport bathroom sinks and hand dryers

DEN sinks and dryers. Only a small shelf – above the hand dryers.

DEN Denver airport bathroom baby changing station

DEN baby changing station

IAH – Houston

I was amazed at the space between the stalls and the sinks in Houston– I don’t know if someone expects a line of 10 people waiting outside each stall, but the stalls themselves are so short it makes no sense! Either make the stalls deeper or have the stall doors open out. Otherwise, you need to be a contortionist to fit in the stall with your bags, and yet there is so much open space in the restroom itself.

IAH Houston Airport bathroom

Lots of open space in this Houston airport bathroom, but no room for larger stalls?

SFO – San Francisco

Re: the restrooms in the United terminal by the 70s gates:  A bit older, there is plenty of open space in the restroom itself, but the stalls remain small. Bonus points for Dyson hand dryers.

LAX – United Terminal (7/8)

I fly United the most so am most familiar with terminals 7 and 8. While I know that there are new stores and food offerings, the restrooms are in serious need of an overhaul, and in fact, they are being remodeled. But the stalls are older so I can’t fault them for not being deep.

LAX – Tom Bradley International Terminal

I took photos of the bathroom in the new Star Alliance Lounge at Tom Bradley International Terminal (TBIT). While featuring wood doors and a modern design to provide that luxurious feel, the bathroom stalls are not very wide or deep for accommodating a wheeled bag.

LAX TBIT Star Alliance Lounge bathroom stall

LAX Tom Bradley International Terminal Star Alliance lounge bathroom stall – nice full length door but stall could be wider and deeper

LAX TBIT Star Alliance Lounge bathroom sinks

LAX Tom Bradley International Terminal Star Alliance lounge bathroom sinks

Notable Feature:

This is not restroom related, but I like the new trend of providing stations for refilling water bottles in the airport terminal. Using these stations will hopefully decrease the need for purchasing bottled water past security, which is often expensive, and cut down on plastic waste.

I have spotted stations in SFO (San Francisco), SEA (Seattle-Tacoma) and ORD (Chicago O’Hare).

ORD Chicago O'Hare airport water fountain

ORD O’Hare offers a water refill station connected to their water fountains. Eco-friendly!

SEA-TAC Seattle Tacoma Airport water bottle filling station

Water bottle filling station at Seattle-Tacoma airport

Tips for using airport restrooms:

  1. If traveling with another person, take turns visiting the restrooms and watching each other’s bags. Bring only your purse and whatever toiletries you might need – the less you bring in to the restroom, the easier it will be to navigate the tight stall spaces.
  2. If traveling alone, allow extra time and wait for an available disabled stall – these are larger and easier to use if you have a wheeled bag with you.
  3. Explore the terminals – ask a flight attendant or gate agent for recommendations – like the Philadelphia airport example above, there might be hidden restrooms with more room than others.

*Note to Airport designers:  Consider how travelers utilize all of your facilities – not only the gate areas (where extra electrical outlets are always welcomed and needed), and the food and shopping options, but also the restrooms! Allow for more space, maybe add a shelf in the stall, perhaps even a shelf over the sink to place a bag while washing hands. Doors that open outward help a lot!

What about you? Do you have a favorite airport restroom? We would love to add to our list of airport restrooms that better accommodate the modern traveler. Comment on our Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram page or on the Cloud Surfing Kids Facebook, Twitter or Instagram pages. Send photos using the hashtag #bestairportstall. We will add a “best of” post as we get additional airport stalls that are noteworthy.

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