kristen reNae

travel

Medellín, Colombia

We received a proposal the first month of 2016 from our friends, Troy and Dorene, to come visit them in Medellín, Colombia. They had been living there for three months and had an available room in their apartment. So, two weeks later we packed our bags for another adventure.

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Originally we planned on three weeks, but I talked Mike into committing for four weeks. The trip started off a little rough, as we took a red eye to Miami and then flew into Medellín, Colombia early Sunday afternoon. Troy met us at the airport with his driver to ease us into South America.

The drive from the airport was mostly downhill, which provided magnificent views of Medellín. To compare to other large North American cities, Medellín is a city of 2 million people, however, instead of clustering all of their large buildings together, they are spread out with the mountains surrounding the city.

Once we reached our new apartment, our new housemates shared a beer with us and then got us acquainted with our neighborhood, Envigado. We went on to the bank to get some local currency for rent and other miscellaneous items. And then we headed over to the grocery store for some necessities.

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As soon as we stepped foot into Colombia, I knew we were going to face difficulties with the language barrier. Even with the little that Mike and I knew and the assistance we got from Troy and Dorene, it was still intimidating.

After getting some much needed rest, we began falling into our normal routing. Waking up, heading to the track for a few laps, and then beginning our work day.

The track was very convenient due to location (it was one block from our apt.) and provided entertainment while working out, as this was where the local teams practiced and played fútbol. All ages walked and ran around the track with fit camps on both ends.

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One of the things we were looking forward to, was the delicious Colombian coffee and our housemates had brought some back from Bogotá! No creamer or sugar needed!

IMG_6463The work week started off rough as we transitioned back to the Eastern Time zone. It was easy to stick to our normal breakfast routine with ample fresh vegetables and eggs available. However, Mike and I would also grab a fresh mixed juice from this place called Cosechas down the road. Always fresh and delicious!

Every once in a while we treated ourselves to arepe de juevos (two fried corn tortillas with a fried egg in the middle +a side of siracha), a pastry, and/or a buñuelos (which quickly became my favorite). We also tried an arepa de chocolo con queso (arepa with cheese and optional sauce) – a must try!

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As for lunch, about once a week, Mike walked down to a local café and got their “plato a la dia” (plate of the day which is similar to the Bandeja Paisa) which came with some type of freshly squeezed juice for the drink (refreshing), some type of soup, and a hearty platter of rice, chicken (meat of choice), salad and a mixed salad, yucca root and mini arepas. Most bandeja Paisa’s include rice, beans, meat, avocado, egg, and plantains. All for the great price of $2.79 American dollars (per plate). Now, that is crazy!

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Monday through Friday, after the work day was over, it was time to relax. I would grab a glass of wine and go out on the deck to enjoy the hustle and bustle of the neighborhood as everyone was heading home or out on the town. We lived off of a very busy street, and there was a lot of traffic, constantly. Our guide once made a comment that the dirt bikes were the “Japanese revenge”. This was no joke. The dirt bikes, motorcycles, loud cars and buses passed by every few minutes.

Dinner each night was whatever we could throw together. The prices were beyond reasonable, so we had many nights of fresh veggies and chicken made into different dishes. As for the rest of the night, it was a little bit of work and play.

Our housemates also introduced us to another local joint called Hugo’s. The owner, Hugo, and one of his employees, Carlos quickly became friends. Delicious food and always great conversation.

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Our first Friday evening we were there, Dorene took us to the language school a couple blocks from our apartment. Every Friday night the school hosts a meet-up for locals and those involved with the school from 5 to 9 pm who would like to practice Spanish or English. Sounded a bit intimidating, however, we showed up on the tail end and really enjoyed it. The owners are also creating a brewery, so they had a couple beers on tap to enjoy while we met and chatted with a few teachers and friends.

While we had our normal work week, we tried squeezing in touristy things on the weekends. We went into downtown Medellín and walk around the Botero Plaza and along the streets to a large farmers market. We enjoyed a fútbol game, tried local beer and food, and we participated in the “ciclovía” (the city shuts down one side of their street for locals to run, walk, or bike from 7-1). We also traveled to a couple other cities within Medellín and went on a couple tours (more posts to come).

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We walked around Poblado (aka the gringo/tourist area) where they had the Llanes Park with many restaurants surrounding it. We visited this area a few times as there was more going on here than our neighborhood.

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Many times when we were ordering, it was usually a struggle, and quite frankly became exhausting. However, the people of Medellin were always very patient, and as long as you put in the effort, they in return would do their best to understand and assist with the order.

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Our last evening there, our friends took us into Poblado for a final Colombian meal (per my request). They took us to this restaurant called 3 Tipicos and we were able to try another Colombian dish called Ajiaco (a rich potato-based soup). So scrumptious. Afterwards, we had intentions of grabbing a drink and hanging out in the local park. However, the police had a different plan and basically kicked everyone out that was drinking.

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The year of adventure started out with an unexpected trip to South America. A big thank you to Troy and Dorene for the invite!

Also, there will be more blog posts to come on our adventures in Colombia which will detail more of our experiences.

Cheers!

Catalina Island

In May 2015, Mike did a Wellness Bucket Challenge, and the very last challenge was to sign up for a fitness event. His just so happened to be an item from his bucket list, an ultra-marathon. At that time, we were living in Massachusetts, but were in the process of moving to California, so he signed up for the Catalina 50-mile race in January of 2016.

So, come January, we made our way to the island. This was my first visit to the island and I was pretty excited. I of course did my research and prepared for an awesome weekend catered to Mike for his big race.

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Now, with it being “winter” in California, I figured it would be off season; however, I did not expect almost half of the island to be closed. Honestly, the island people were so friendly that it was really pleasant coming in the off-season. However, my itinerary did not work out as planned.

The trip began with our drive to Dana Point to board the Catalina Express ferry. We had some pretty gnarly El Niño storms the week prior, which created ridiculous waves. Needless to say, that was the first time I actually felt nauseous and experienced motion sickness. That felt like the longest 1.5 hour boat ride of my life.

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We finally made it to the island and we walked straight to our hotel, Hotel Catalina. We then walked around the island and stopped in a few shops. With not many places open, we decided to grab a bite at a wine shop called CC Gallagher, which had great tapas and wine. As we were making our way back to the hotel, a local stopped us and suggested we go to Bluewater Grill for their happy hour.

To say the least, we had a great time there. The GM, Shawnene, was very friendly and her bartender made some great cocktails (he also let us sample the buffalo milk). After visiting with a part-time local – we ended up spending the majority of our evening there. Our intentions were to go to Maggie’s Blue Rose for dinner; however, as soon as we walked up, the doors were closing.  So, we ended up going to the Lobster Trap. I’m not sure if it was the late night menu or if we were just a little turned off from the fact that we got turned down at Maggie’s; but we were not a fan of the food or service.

However, Friday was a new day. I was up to catch the beautiful sunrise over Dana Point from my hotel window. We grabbed some pastries and coffee from the Catalina Coffee and Cookie; and this became our regular morning spot.

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As the afternoon approached, we went on a four mile jog around the island. Although the island is fairly large, we ran into a few dead ends and had to make a couple circles for the mileage work. Nevertheless, the island and views were magnificent.

Here is where the planned itinerary also took a turn. We intended to go to an early dinner at Villa Portofino; however, they were closed for the season. So, we had to make alternative plans. And before we left for dinner, I double checked the movie time, and for the week prior – the theatre was advertising “Joy” and when I checked the day of, they decided to play “Daddy’s Home”. Although a comedy is always on the top of my list, we weren’t in the mood and decided to skip it. (the theater only plays one movie).

We walked over to the hotel where they had the race sign-in and a short FAQ. After grabbing his gear we headed straight to dinner. Our second option for dinner was the very popular, Antonio’s. This place has an “original” location and another by the water. Due to off-season, the original location was only open. We only had about a 20 minute wait (as you can imagine all of the runners were wanting this place for fuel), and were soon served a pizza and pasta plate with wine, of course.

After our delicious meal, it was still fairly early, so we walked around for a bit and ran across this small arcade, so we got some tokens for the island style bowling. It’s identical to tenpin, just smaller. That was a first for me, and I absolutely loved it (probably because I won). 🙂

After a bit of fun, we decided to call it an early night (due to the race the next morning). I was a bit tired; however, Mike found enough energy to look up possible encounters with buffalo which kept him up all night. Womp womp.

Saturday morning came quick with the race beginning at 5 AM. As we made our way down to the starting “line” – you could feel the energy around us. So many runners, all excited and nervous. There wasn’t much of a countdown or a gun shot for the starting time; but as soon as 5 AM hit, the head lamps were turned on and the runners were off.

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I headed back to the room thinking I would take a nap, however, that was not the case. I think I was pretty nervous for Mike. What was he thinking? Was he doing ok? Did he see a buffalo yet? So, I decided to work on a few things, and before you knew it – it was almost time for him to finish the race!

Now, we didn’t know if he would have cell service or not, so we designated a time for me to be there. I showed up a little early and went back to the wine café to pick up a salad and sandwich to go. (As I talked to a local – born and raised – he did confirm what a few others had said – the place to eat, when in season, is Mr. Ning’s (chinese); who would’ve thought). While I was there, I picked up a “high five” card and a giant cookie as a small congrats for Mike.

I made my way back to the finish line to wait impatiently for his return after 10 hours. I waited almost an hour before I received a text saying that he had four miles to go. There were many runners still completing the race, so it was fun being within the energy and cheering on those still coming in.

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Finally, Mike was on the home stretch. It was so hard to try and hold two cameras while he was running in. I wanted to yell and scream at the top of my lungs when he crossed that line! What an amazing and emotional accomplishment! He did it. I could not be more proud of him. He has provided so much inspiration to others, not only by this race, but also the work he does through The Wellness Bucket.

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After a couple pictures and a handful of M&M’s, I knew he could barely walk. However, a couple friends that had participated in the race before advised that he take a dip in the ocean (freezing water) to support muscle recovery. So, as instructed, he headed to the water and took a “to the knees” dip.

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After that, it was a slow walk to the hotel and up the stairs to the room. After some stretching and a small bite to eat; it was time to relax. We planned on dinner, however, Mike’s body had a different schedule. After a small power nap, we decided to enjoy dinner at Steve’s Steakhouse. This wasn’t planned either, however, it was the running machines choice and it was a mighty fine one. Our view was overlooking downtown Avalon and the harbor. After dinner, it was an early and well deserved night of rest.

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Sunday approached quickly and we had all intentions of using our hotel hot tub for recovery. However, maintenance was refilling the tub and advised we wait 30 minutes for it to be filled and warm back up. We had our hesitations, but decided to give it time. We checked on it a bit later and were given the same story. So, we decided to head down to the dock to travel back to Dana Point. The trip back was much more enjoyable.

Overall, Catalina Island was a success, despite the fact that not one item on the itinerary worked out. I am looking forward to going back during their busy season where all of the shops are open and to explore the island a bit more.

If you have visited Catalina Island, I would love some suggestions for my next trip!

Napa Valley

Napa Valley

 

If you enjoy wine, then Napa Valley should definitely be on your list of places to visit. Living in SoCal and being so close, it was definitely a “to do”.

So, on a whim, we decided to make a long weekend getaway. We started our drive at 5 am to avoid L.A. traffic and get to San Francisco early afternoon. It was around 1 pm when we arrived and checked into our hotel. The room was beautiful with an amazing view of the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz.

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We bought our trolley tickets and began our journey. We walked around the Fisherman’s Warf and Pier 39, stopped in a little wine shop for happy hour, walked to Ghirardelli square, walked down Lombard Street (famous twisty street), and then dinner at Mama’s (to die for Italian). We then walked off our entire dinner by trying to catch a trolley back into downtown, but couldn’t. (Those hills are a workout.) After a lovely day, we were beat and decided to rest up for fourth of July, the next day.

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Our plans were to initially stay in San Francisco one more night to watch the Fourth of July Fireworks from the Pier, however, we were told the previous day that the fog was so bad, that it probably wouldn’t happen. So we decided not to chance it, and we packed up and headed to Napa.

On our way out of the city we stopped at the biggest/worst tourist zone of all – The Bridge. It was totally not worth the wait of trying to find parking and walking around all of the crazy people taking pics of fog. The day we were leaving it was so foggy, you couldn’t see the bridge at all. Better luck next time.

The drive was beautiful and not that long, only a couple hours from SF. So we got there in time to check out a couple of wineries before heading to their downtown area to watch Fireworks. There was a festival with food vendors, music, and more along the streets to enjoy before the show. So, as you can imagine, plenty of people watching. The show was along the water and one of the best we had seen. Afterwards, there wasn’t a lot going on, so we walked back to our B&B and grabbed a Pizza along the way.

As with every other trip we have taken, I made an itinerary. Of course, we didn’t follow it exactly, but this is our list of wineries we did enjoy:

Day 1: Alpha OmegaV. SattuiSequoia Grove

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** Be sure to stop by Oakville Grocery for any snacks!

(After fireworks, we found Pizza Guys for our dinner)

 

Day 2: SterlingCastello di AmorosaFrank FamilyProvenance

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Dinner: Ristorante Allegeria

Day 3: Corison Peju Chandon Darioush → Menage e Trois

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Dinner: Rutherford Grill (with the lovely couple pictured above)

Day 4: St. SuperyArtesa

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Be sure to check all winery websites for times and costs. Some require a reservation. For cost, you are looking at around $10-40 per person. Be sure to ask your hotel or B&B if they have any coupons. Usually they will have some suggestions along with deals, like 2 for 1. I also downloaded a Napa map to decide which wineries to go to, on which day, that way we worked our way down instead of driving all over the place.

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Cheers!