To celebrate my 29th birthday this year, we took a weekend trip to Barcelona. It was a pretty spontaneous decision, booking the tickets only a few weeks out! But, we saw a good deal and it was a worthy occasion to knock a city off our travel bucket list... so, off we went! With only a few days set aside to explore one of the most beautiful and historic cities in the world, we decided to stay within the gothic quarter, limiting our exploration to a smaller area than the full city.
After flying in, we caught a metro train to the city centre and then made our way on foot to our hotel. Spaniards tend to eat dinner late into the evening, so even though it was past 9pm, it was the perfect time to pop out for an authentic seafood paella meal! It was supplemented perfectly with a few traditional Spanish tapas too, including our favorite, chorizo sausages. We were well and truly exhausted by this point, so we called it a night.
We woke up to a beautiful sunny day; a warm breeze blew in through the balcony doors, which directly overlooked an open-air art market. It was the perfect start to my birthday! We set off for breakfast and coffee at a cosy cafe, Elsa y Fred. From there, we explored the Arc de Triumph and made our way down to the beach promenade. We were generous with our stops along the way too, visiting wine bars tucked away along the narrow cobbled paths. After enjoying the ocean views and sunshine, we spent the remainder of the afternoon sampling tapas and wine at several restaurants along the coast. It was difficult to choose our favorite plate, between the chorizo or padrón peppers! It's worth mentioning, it was at Restaurante Agua where we had the single most delicious strawberry piña colodas of our lifetimes. That drink alone will be worth a trip back!
As we explored more of the impressive architecture, we stumbled upon some Roman structures! This was promptly set aside as a priority to explore the next day.
Finally, it was time to refresh in our room (and take and impromptu - and rather tipsy - balcony photoshoot) to get ready for the big birthday night out. On the recommendation of our hotel manager, we started in the lively square of Plaça Reial, which was a beautiful courtyard of bars and restaurants encircling a grand fountain. We found a table at Ocaña, where we were greeted with two extremely glamorous drag queens - a fantastic sign for a good night if there ever was one! We settled in with potato alioli, drinks and such engaging conversation that we didn't even notice the time flying by! Before we knew it, it was past 1am! Over the course of that evening, we had managed to go through 8 expresso martinis (4 EACH!!) and were pulsing with so much caffeine that we knew dancing was our only option. Fortunately, the bar also had a nightclub in the basement, so we made our way downstairs and danced off our energy - quite literally until they kicked us out!
Given the late night, we were actually a little surprised to not wake up feeling more fragile than we did! As our last day in Barcelona, we pulled ourselves together, and this time headed off to the very popular Milk cafe for breakfast. We stopped to see the Cathedral and more of the Roman ruins we'd glimpsed the day before - we even saw some original Roman columns leftover from the first century BC!
After a quick break for some fresh squeezed pomegranate juice, we finished up with a walk along the famous street "La Rambla," which was bustling full of tourists, street performers and vendors. With one final tapas stop, it was time to collect our bags and head back to the airport.
We are so grateful that we were able to sneak this spontaneous trip in when we did, as only a few weeks later all travel screeched to a halt due to the global pandemic. We were so lucky to make these memories while we still could!
It became apparent to me around October that my office would be closed over Christmas and New Years, while Ron would be continuing to work a mostly normal schedule. I mentioned this to my mom in passing, and she suggested that instead of spending those few days lonely and bored at home, that she buy me a flight home as a Christmas present. After mentioning this solo trip to Ron's family, his dad secretly convinced Ron to come home as well, and gifted him with his own Christmas ticket! So, for two months we prepared for the upcoming surprises. And the closer it came, the harder and harder it became not to slip up! We even got to fly premium economy for the first time on this flight (what a life of luxury!), and couldn't gush to our families about how high-class we felt.
When we landed in St Louis, my parents picked us up from the airport and then dropped us off outside the house before opening the garage. Knowing that my sister (who thought they were out doing something else) would come to greet them in the kitchen, Ron and I snuck in the front door and popped around the corner to surprise her! But the surprise was far from over. The next morning, Ron's family came to St Louis to meet me for lunch, because as far as his mom knew I'd flown in alone for this trip. So as we sat at the table chatting, he snuck up and tapped her on the shoulder to catch her off guard! After the lunch, Ron went back to Columbia to spend as much time as possible with his family during our short visit, while I stayed in St Louis. He was so thrilled to celebrate Christmas with everyone, and to finally meet his new (and first!) nephew, Cooper. Based on these photos he sent me, it looked like they bonded famously!
Meanwhile, my sister's boyfriend arrived that night to join us for board games, at which point we surprised him too. And after a long evening of Yatzee and very strong danish wine, we woke up bright and early to prepare for the Jincks family Christmas brunch, which was also the scene for surprising my brother and sister-in-law. Mom set up the surprise by asking them to help her connect to Skype, since they still thought I was joining the Christmas festivities digitally, from England. Finally, the secret was out and we could enjoy the rest of our visit openly! We finished up our Christmas party with games and LOTS and LOTS of food!
A trip to St Louis would also be incomplete without a night of margaritas and Mexican food with Kristen! And then, once we had our fill (and finished disturbing the rest of the restaurant with our antics), we met up again in the morning to say goodbye over breakfast.
During my visit, we also decided to stop by the brand new St Louis aquarium, complete with World's Fair style rides and games, a mirror maze, and of course, the beautiful marine habitats to explore.
Finally, Ron came back to St Louis and together we wrapped up our trip with the traditional Jincks family New Year's Eve dinner at Kobe's Japanese Steakhouse. Afterward, we tried our luck at the Casino, ringing in the new decade to the sweet sound of $33 in winnings! Can't wait to see what 2020 has in store...
Nearing the end of 2019, we realized that we had not used any of the year to explore Europe – the singular goal of having moved aboard! So, we decided to tick off a bucket list item and book a Christmas holiday to Copenhagen, just in time for the year end.
So, after we finished up the holiday celebrations for our respective work parties, we started our little festive getaway. Upon arrival, we dropped off our bags and immediately headed to the world-famous Christmas markets, affectionately known as julemarkeder. This was where we had our first experience of Danish Glogg, a mulled wine with soaked rasins and almonds, and later we tried it with a shot of spiced rum as well. It was a perfect warm buzz to keep us feeling cozy in the cool winter air! We also sampled some of Denmark’s traditional bacon dishes (one of which was called “Burning Love,” served with potatoes and onion).
After exploring the markets for a while, we made our way to CopenHot, an outdoor spa specializing in wood-burning hot tubs, which sat directly along the city's canals. With some flip flops and fuzzy hats, we braved the brisk winter air and watched a Copenhagen sunset from within the toasty tubs. Ron even braved the Baltic Sea with a polar bear plunge directly off the docks - something I couldn't even be paid to try! That marked the end of our first day, so it was back to the hotel for a very well deserved (and desperately needed!) night of rest.
The next morning, we made our way to Tivoli, the city-center amusement park. During Christmas each year, the park undergoes a total holiday makeover, complete with decorated trees, string lights and fake snow. We decided to visit the park to get a taste of their Christmas spirit, as being away from our home and our families was starting to steal a bit of our holiday magic! That day, we shared hot chocolate and some warm-roasted Danish almonds (an absolute delicacy!) For dinner, we had a traditional Danish Christmas meal at the Københaver Café, which featured the renowned smørgesbrod, red cabbage and cherry rice pudding.
Next up, we started the morning of Christmas Eve with cakes and coffee for breakfast at La Glace. A canal boat cruise gave us views of Copenhaven from the water, including the Gammon Strand and Nyhavn Canals, as well as a glimse at the Christiantown canals. As everything around town was starting to close up, we took a final tour around the cobbled streets and finished off with a lovely Christmas Eve dinner at the Leonard Christian restaurant in Nyhavn. And of course, tucked into bed watching Die Hard (with Danish subtitles!)
On Christmas day, we packed up our bags, checked out of the hotel and made our way across town to our final destination, Restaurant PUK. Here, we indulged ourselves in what was described as a 3-course meal – but could arguably have been 8 courses – of herring, plaice, shrimp, salmon, duck, pork and more…
All of this gluttonous meal was under the watchful eye of one very knowledgeable and passionate New Zealand foodie, who throughout our meal told us his wild stories of meeting celebrities and of becoming the second ever legally married gay couple in the world (quickly followed by the first ever legally divorced gay couple in the world). Whether the stories were in fact truth – we may never know! But what we do know, Christmas in Copenhagen was a beautiful and inspired experience.
This year, Ron's Aunt Shelly and Uncle Eric stopped by to visit us as a detour on their international anniversary trip. And on top of that, they were also celebrating Aunt Shelly's 50th birthday! So needless to say, we owed them a fantastic time in Newcastle. This, of course, would have been incomplete without some authentic British pub food and a tour of the Newcastle Castle.
We also spent a day exploring the coast at Tynemouth, which included pub fish and chips and a tour of the Priory. On the way back, we stopped in for a classy afternoon tea at the beautiful Great British Cupcakery.
And then, it was game day: Newcastle vs Man United. We started the day with Sunday Roast at the Town Wall (which was actually the first place that Ron and I had the traditional dish 3 years ago too). After some pre-game drinks at Rosie's pub, we headed to the match - the stadium is conveniently located right across the street from our new flat. And then, we were thrilled to watch Newcastle pulled off an unfavored victory! (Aunt Shelly, however, was most shocked by the language of some Geordie children sitting nearby.) After calming down from all our excitement, we finished off the night with Indian dinner and a birthday cake for Aunt Shelly.
Ron & Andee
Two Americans documenting our adventures abroad!
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