kristen reNae


Washington DC + Cherry Blossom Festival

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When Mike and I moved to the East Coast, we were excited to live closer to his family. However, his immediate family lived in Maryland at the time, which was about a seven hour drive from us. Fortunately, we were able to drive down several times a year to visit.

One of our first trips to Maryland happened to fall at the tail end of the Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington DC.6.30.14 027

His sisters had been a few times and suggested we make a day trip out of it. This was the perfect time to go, there were trees still blossoming and we beat the busy crowds from the first weekend of the festival.6.30.14 042

The crisp East Coast weather and the blossoming trees symbolized the arrival of spring for our visit.

The story goes that the plantings of the cherry blossom trees originated as a gift in 1912 from the emperor of Japan to the United States as gesture of friendship and goodwill. Since then, the number of trees has expanded from 3,000 to approximately 3,750 trees of 16 varieties on National Park Service land.

Obviously there is a ton of history to begin with, but the addition of these beautiful trees to the already magnificent landscape was incredible.

I had never been to DC before, so there was everything and more that I wanted to see! However, with only a day to explore, we didn’t visit any museums; that would be a definite for next time. I would highly recommend spending more time there.

Here are a few photos from the adventure:6.30.14 025 6.30.14 024 6.30.14 017 6.30.14 036 6.30.14 048



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After spending the day walking through the memorial grounds, cemetery, and monuments, we made our way to Alexandria, Virginia for dinner and then we walked around the harbor area before heading back to

I will definitely be planning another trip to the Washington D.C. area and would love any recommendations on places to eat in the area and museums to see! Please leave suggestions and comments below!


Pablo Escobar

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Those “who forget their history are doomed to repeat”

Our tour guide from Comuna 13 advised us to contact him if we wanted to venture out, as he also offered private tours. When in Colombia, you of course need to do a Pablo Escobar tour. I mean, how can you live in Colombia and not learn about a man that ultimately changed the city of Medellín? So we set up a private tour for that following Saturday.

The first stop was to Escobar’s private “jail”, aka “La Catedral”. The government negotiated with Escobar, convincing him to surrender in exchange for a reduced sentence and preferential treatment at this jail. The agreement would stand if he ceased all criminal activity, however, if he was caught, then they would prosecute and extradite him to the U.S..

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The jail consisted of separate rooms for him and about eight personal body guards, a helicopter pad, and a fútbol field. In 1992, the government found out that Escobar was still operating his drug business from La Catedral, so they sought to move him to a more conventional jail. However, he found out about the plan and escaped before they could move him.

His total jail stay was about a year until his final escape. Escobar was on the run for over a year until he was finally caught at his uncle’s house. There, they surrounded him, and contradictory to what many believe, is that he shot himself in the head before his captors could kill him.

Pablo drove a hearse during his escape to stay under the radar.





Our tour explored the jail grounds (which now serves as a retirement home and also a place that priests conduct exorcisms), his grave, the neighborhood he stole his first bike, the house he grew up in, the café he was a regular at, the place he died, as well as, the neighborhood he built. The only place we did not visit was his “ranch” – which other tours will take you on (and I would definitely recommend).

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We were told that Medellín was split between those that loved him and those that hated him. There were also many men under him who had way too much power and exploited a lot of the city and the people. Throughout this time, many people were killed; some out of hateful actions towards a specific person, but many were innocent bystanders.

At one point, Escobar offered anywhere from 2000 to 5000 pesos to civilians who killed a cop. They were instructed to remove the police patch as proof and the payment depended on the cops level of hierarchy. So in retaliation, the police began killing civilians. They stated that for every one cop that was killed, they would kill four civilians at random. Sometimes they would pull up to a street corner and take fire at a crowd. These were horrible times the people had to live through – but Medellín has become a much more peaceful city now.


As with the last tour – our guide showed much pride in the progress this city has made. They are rebuilding the city, offering the metro, cable cars, and a new trolley system – much of it free to the people. The city has been recognized with the happiest citizens and other countries have approached Colombia to copy the systems they have put in place for creating better welfare for their citizens.

So, although Escobar created a lot of turmoil for his country and the people, Colombia has risen from those dark times and created a much better environment.

Comuna 13

During our month long adventure in Colombia, we had an extra day off due to a North American holiday, so we decided to take advantage of it and book a tour. The Comuna 13 Tour was recommended by our housemates and had great reviews on TripAdvisor.


We were asked to meet our tour guide and group at the metro station. From there we took the Metro to the cable cars and then by bus up to Comuna 13. This area is one of the poorest sections of the city. When Pablo Escobar was in power, many fled to the hillside, which was former boss, Don Berna’s neighborhood. It was extremely divided with crime and gang war, which continued even after he was extradited to the US in 2008.


Our guide, Roger, was extremely detailed in explaining the history and transition the city has gone under. When we finally arrived at the top of the hill, he treated us to a mango popsicle (diced mango frozen and lime juice poured on top).

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In most North American cities, the people that have the best views on the hillside are the rich, however, it’s the opposite here. The mayor and the city of Medellín have placed new opportunities for the people of Comuna 13 and are slowly building up the neighborhood.  When they decided to revamp this area, the residents could choose whatever color they wanted to paint their house. For the houses that were no longer stable or livable, they began creating massive apartment complexes for them to move into and after 15 years, they would own that apartment.


The escalators were also created for the Comuna 13 people. Before, the hillsides were divided my imaginary lines formed by the gangs, and if you crossed it back then, you would disappear or be killed. The escalator served to replace that line to provide unity between the sides and decrease commute time. The people had requested this because it would normally take over half an hour to get to the top. Essentially it assisted with workflow and transportation. After they were installed, it decreased commute time down to five minutes.


At the top, there was much more graffiti, and views of Medellín below.


The mayor and city of Medellín created schools, gyms, and libraries to assist the Comuna 13 people. A lot of the amenities are free to them, including childcare, schools, transportation, and job assistance. The majority of this community has low to no income, therefore they are not subject to pay taxes; here, the wealthy pick up the majority of taxes.


On our walk back we stopped at a local street vendor, recommended by our guide, to try an oblea. Oblea is a Colombian dessert; it is a very thin, but large waffle sandwich with a mix of sauces and cheese on the inside. Very different, but delicious. And then Roger took us to a local restaurant for a traditional Colombian meal.

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After that, we took the metro back into the city to the Poblado area and walked around until we found a restaurant and bar for social hour. A couple cocktails completed our very full and exciting day of adventures.