Memphis in May (and April)

Well hello there!

Or should I say hey ya’ll.  At least that’s how we do it in Memphis. A lot has happened over the last month or so and all good things. First things first, we got hitched!

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I am still waiting for all our professional photos by the amazing and talented Rana of Roohi Photography to do a full recap but it was the most perfect weekend ever! Everything came together beautifully and Peter and I just had the most chill weekend celebrating with all our family and friends. It was everything I wanted out of our wedding and so much more. Most importantly, we were able to relax and focus on each other and just take in all the details we have been planning for months and months. Not to brag or anything (ok yes I am bragging), but it was the most beautiful and most expertly executed wedding I have ever experienced! I thought I would be really nervous and stressed but instead I was so calm and was literally smiling my face off all day. It was such a joyous day and we are so happy :-)!

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After a post-wedding brunch at my parents house (that was a bit rough), we drove over to St. Pete Beach for our honeymoon! We stayed close to home which was the best decision ever since we travel so much. Our gracious friend let us stay in her beach house for an entire week and we basically slept, ate and lounged by the pool and beach all day. I was so physically and emotionally exhausted from the wedding that I literally could not move for an entire day. Wedding are hard work!

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We had to drive into town a few times to get work done on my car and tie some loose ends before our big move the next week. Our friends and my sister stopped by the beach house a few times too which was so nice. Plenty of sleep, plenty of sunshine and time with my new husband is exactly what the doctor ordered.

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After the glorious week at the beach it was time to pack and drive to Memphis, our new home! We took about 3 days to completely pack up all our wedding gifts and my bedroom. It was weirdly emotional despite the fact that I have been living in Malaysia and China with Peter for a couple of years. For some reason, our time in Asia has always seemed temporary or like extended travel. Asia has never really felt like “home” which was a way for me to cope with the intense life of an expat. Also, I’ve never fully moved out of my bedroom in my parent’s house since I’ve come back to live with them for extended periods of time. But now that we are living back in the United States, it was time to pack EVERYTHING and officially move out of Florida.

After three days of packing, getting more work done on my dysfunctional car, and one late night of meticulously shoving everything into a Uhaul trailer, we made the 12 hour drive up to Memphis with a night-stop in Alabama. And alas, we arrived on Friday at our temporary apartment on the 3rd floor to realize that OH THERE’S NO ELEVATOR. YEAH. So the two of us had to carry ALL OF OUR STUFF up two flights of stairs, OH MY GOD. It was actually one of the hardest physical challenges I have ever encountered which is saying something. I honestly thought I would not be able to do it, like my legs were physically unable to propel me up the stairs. BUT WE DID IT IN ABOUT AN HOUR. SAY WHAT. It was almost as exhausting as our wedding weekend. Whew.

But the excitement was far from over because that weekend was also the Beale Street Music Festival! 

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On Saturday afternoon we made it to the river just in time to catch the end of Flogging Molly and then we saw the super fun and retro set by The Bleachers. It was so 80’s, we loved it!

On Sunday we arrived earlier to see Hozier (not my favorite) and Ed Sheeran!! HOLY MOLY ED SHEERAN IS SUCH AN AMAZING PERFORMER SAY WHAT. It was probably the best live performance I have seen, ever. Honestly, Peter and I were blown away, especially when he played I See Fire. Best concert ever!!

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The next week we went hard-core house hunting then flew back to St. Pete on Wednesday! Hahaha, we just can’t stay away right? Peter flew out to Denver with his friends and I stayed to celebrate Morgan’s graduation from UT! I am so proud of my baby sister ;-).

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After that amazing weekend back at home with my family, we flew back to Memphis and Peter started work while I continued house-hunting like a mad woman. We continued our Memphis in May fun at the big BBQ competition Thursday night where we partied at a friend’s team tent. Memphians take their BBQ very seriously. So do we:

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I made Peter eat fried Oreos, he was grateful to never have to eat them again.

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The next day was my 27th birthday! We celebrated with a double feature at the movie theatre, watching Pitch Perfect 2 and Mad Max back to back. Because we are nerds. We continued the birthday celebration that weekend with some house hunting and clothes shopping which is always awesome. I have the best husband :-).

And that’s what’s been happening over here in Memphis. We are in the midst of watching the Lightning in the playoffs and house-hunting which is taking up a lot of time. But we are married and living in the United States… life is pretty good.

The Only Constant is Change… We’re moving back to the States!

Hello April! 2 weeks until the wedding!

It seems like whenever I post on this blog I’m always saying “omg time flies” or “sorry for posting so late” or “whoops here’s travel photos from a year ago enjoy!” Well, it seems like this is a constant theme in my life so I’m just going to own up to the fact that the only constant is change. Time certainly does fly when you’re planning a wedding and a big move… Yes, we are moving back to the States! But I don’t want to get ahead of myself just yet.

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So much has already happened in 2014. Thankfully life as a perpetual expat and seasoned traveler prepares you for almost anything and I am blessed with a complete inability to be surprised anymore. That might sound a bit depressing but it is a coping mechanism to adapt to unpredictable environments and remain emotionally intact. Living in China has always been an blip on the radar and I was determined to survive by viewing my experience as temporary. But that is a dangerous way to think because it gives you a free pass to not be fully involved in your life. For more than 4 years, I have been waiting to find a home, a place where Peter and I can build a life beyond the unsatisfying Asian mega-city existence in which we have found ourselves.

But we did it. WE FOUND A HOME, A PLACE TO PUT DOWN SOME ROOTS. Let’s review:

February 2014

If you remember, we moved into a new Shanghai apartment, a cool place in a really great location.

Then I flew home for my Epic Bachelorette Party in Key West. #1DAF

Peter and I were blessed to spend a couple of weeks together back home in St. Pete and attend an amazing wedding shower thrown for us by our closest family friends. It was so great for Peter to see just how supportive and big our community is here in Florida. We have an amazing group of people who have gone above and beyond for our wedding and we could not be more grateful.

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Out of the blue, Peter was contacted about an amazing job opportunity in the States. So he immediately flew out to Memphis, Tennessee for an interview. I was excited but didn’t want to get my hopes up, we were supposed to be in China for at least 2 more years! Well 3 days later he surprised me with the news… he got the job! This all happened during a time when one of our close family friends passed away. The news was a blessing in our time of mourning and a total shock to the system.

Yes, WE ARE MOVING BACK TO THE UNITED STATES. GOD BLESS AMERICA.

March 2014

After being shocked with the news that we are indeed leaving Asia for good, Peter flew back to China to wrap up his current gig while I went to work in Florida. My dad and I organized another successful charity tournament and I continued to scramble around with wedding related tasks. Wedding planning is CRAZY.

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There were two more wedding showers and everybody was just so lovely and gracious. While being the center of attention is not exactly my cup of tea, I enjoyed being with my close family and friends. It was definitely fun announcing that we are moving stateside and can actually use all our amazing wedding presents! Thank god. I am so excited for all my kitchen gadgets! I’m going to have nice pots and pans and an oven!! No more greasy woks and undrinkable tap water! No more drying clothes on a line! No more frozen dumplings!!! Life is good ya’ll.

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This month I also attended a lot of hockey games. Lightning are playoff bound!! GO BOLTS.

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Besides hockey games, I attended 3 different shows including the Sing-Off, Joshua Bell, and Flashdance the Musical. Oh my god, the Sing-Off was an a cappella daydream that had me and Madeline dancing in our seats and constantly exclaiming “OMG did you hear that?? Did they just hit that note?? THIS IS INCREDIBLE.” It was seriously one of the best concerts I have ever attended in my life and I was just floored by their vocal performance. There was a group from Nashville and I wanted the scoop on a cappella groups in Memphis (unfortunately they didn’t know). Oh and before the show we encountered a massive lizard in the street and tried to save him but he refused to cooperate with my stick. Sorry, we tried to save your life.

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April 2014

So far April has been a lot of fun. I met Peter in Memphis and we went house hunting! It was a very surreal experience and a total 180 from apartment hunting in Shanghai. We drove around in this massive Suburban and checked out neighborhoods and country clubs while stopping for lots of amazing BBQ. It was a perfect pre-wedding trip that got us excited to move to Memphis for real! Somebody pinch me. Or just give me some ribs. Please.

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I had never been to Tennessee before (except for that random time my family went to Dolly World) and I was impressed by the natural beauty of the area. We mostly explored Germantown and I just fell in love with all the SPACE and LACK OF PEOPLE. It was glorious, let me tell you. We found a great walking trail along the river, a concept I absolutely love. I have met so many people who love Memphis or lived there before and have nothing but positive things to say about it. Everybody we met was just so nice, we were actually kind of weirded out! Are people really this nice?? While we heard that some areas are not safe and the summers are dreadfully hot, honestly I do not care. THIS IS AMERICA. Of course it is not going to be sunshine and rainbows all the time but I look forward to living in a country that I understand and most importantly, where I feel comfortable in my own skin.

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I do not believe in coincidences. I believe that everything happens for a reason. And when you least expect it, life will surprise you. Most of all, as soon as you let go and accept that everything is as it should be, THAT’S when good things come to you. I was ready to get married and return to China for two more years of the challenging but fulfilling life of an expat. Well apparently there is something else in store for us. We have the amazing opportunity to build a HOME and build a LIFE back in the United States. And after living the life of a perpetual expat, I will never take it for granted. I know that everything will not suddenly be easy just because we are back in the States. But I do know that I am embracing this new chapter in our lives.

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So what lies ahead? Hopefully still a life of travel and the ability to roll with the punches.

Just this time, we are home.

 

New Zealand 3: Waitomo Glowworm Caves and Doing the Haka

New Zealand Day 2: Boarding the Stray Bus and Raglan Beach

After our night in the rainforest (or so we dubbed our Raglan hostel), we boarded the bus and drove towards Waitomo for a day at the famous Waitomo Glowworm Caves. While most of the bus opted for the scenic boat ride through the caves, a few of us decided to do something a little more adventurous…

Cave Tubing with the BlackWater Rafting Company! 

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Donning some very sexy water resistant suits, rubber boots and head lamp helmets, my group of English, Swedish and Irish friends took off across sheep farms towards the cave entrance. It was a surprisingly long but nice trek literally on top of the caves and through the hilly fields which was quite awkward in a skin-tight suit. But I enjoyed getting nice and warm before descending into the chilly 50 degree water of the caves below. Also, did I mention it was lambing season, so there were baby lambs EVERYWHERE and they were of course adorable to watch.

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Once we got to the entrance to the caves I was actually shaking with fear. I don’t like being cold and wet, which is exactly what we were going to be for about 2 hours. What if I got claustrophobic and wanted to get out? Thankfully we didn’t have much time to consider our predicament before we were climbing down a slick ladder between the rocks and into the darkness. Peace out!

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At the bottom of the ladder, we stepped foot into the shallow water of the cave, our footsteps echoing around us and guiding us towards an endless dark pathway. It reminded me of that scene in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets when they are walking through the cave passageway towards the chamber (thankfully we didn’t encounter a massive snake!). Immediately we followed our guide forward, careful not to touch the sides of the cave and disturb any limestone formations. Over the next two hours we stomped along the slick belly of the cave, encountering narrow pathways and rushing rivers that flooded our boots with icy water.

Meanwhile our two guides explained the science of the caves and the glowworms that famously inhabit them. We saw enormous stalactites and stalagmites and were forced to squeeze into and crawl military style on our hands and knees through the narrowest parts of the cave. Then we turned off our headlights in suspended silence and watched the glowworms come to life above us. It was beautiful, like a living and breathing starry sky.

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At one point we came upon a calm body of water and were instructed to grab a tube and launch ourselves into the water. I was terrified, but did it and was immediately submerged in the frigid water. BRRRR! We then linked our ankles together and floated in silence down the slowly moving corridor of water beneath the glowworms like some Disney ride. It was my favorite part of the entire tour.

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After almost two hours of a very physical tour including a nice break for a hot beverage and chocolate, I was tired and my toes were completely frozen. Caving is fun but COLD. I couldn’t wait to get out and bask in the sun with the lambs. Although this tour was challenging and a little scary, IT WAS SO MUCH FUN. I really enjoy challenging myself when I travel (remember biking in Cambodia?) because I think you learn a lot about yourself and have a memorable experience to go along with the place you are visiting. I won’t just remember the Waitomo Glowworms Caves, I’ll remember freezing my toes off, scrambling along the rocks and laughing hysterically with my friends in the Waitomo Glowworm Caves. And that is just so much better!

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When the tour with Blackwater Rafting Company (check them out here!) was over, we emerged into the sunlight (thank god!) and walked back to their outpost on the farm. There we struggled to peel ourselves out of our wetsuits and I took the most marvelous hot shower of my life despite the pins-and-needles feeling in my toes. I was exhausted but so content by the time we met up with the rest of our bus who were dry and energized in comparison!

We then drove to Mourea where we would be exposed to Maori culture for the first time. We met our guide for a short bush-walk in Okere Falls Scenic Reserve. We learned about the significance of the area to the indigenous Ngati Hinerangi people and saw the Tutea and Okere waterfalls (they looked scary!).

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We then drove to our destination for the night, a traditional Maori Lodge of the Ngati Pikiao. On edge of Lake Rotorua and Rotoiti, the lodge is a peaceful place where we would be exposed to Maori culture for the first time. Upon arrival, we were welcomed by the family into the wharenui (Maori meeting house). The building is a sacred place that represents the ancestors of their tribe and the women enter first after removing their shoes out of respect. Our hosts then performed the traditional welcoming ceremony which included a welcome speech and song in the native tongue and a hongi or pressing of the noses together. I was so nervous to go up to everyone in such an intimate gesture, but Maori consider hongi the acknowledgement of the spirit through shared breath. I could do that, awkwardness be damned.

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We then joined the family for a traditional and AMAZING meal of roast meat and vegetables before participating in Kapa Haka or traditional Maori song and dance. I really enjoyed the singing the dancing, especially the exaggerated facial expressions, intended to frighten opposing tribes or enemies. And then we were asked to do it ourselves, girls vs. boys!

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The girls performed the poi, a surprisingly complicated dance with a ball on a string, complete with a song which I DOMINATED by the way. Linda was our fearless leader, leading the girls in our Maori song and swaying of our hips seductively while swinging a ball around. It was hard but we did so well! I have video evidence but will spare you for you now! The boys performed the Haka or traditional war dance made famous by the All Blacks rugby team. Honestly the Haka is so much easier, you just slap yourself and yell while making ridiculous faces. The boys won our little competition which meant the girls had to do the dishes for the evening. BOO. But wow that was so much fun!

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Our fun group! I love these people.

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That evening we spent the night in the meeting house on mattress pads and sleeping bags on the floor. Linda had NEVER SLEPT IN A SLEEPING BAG BEFORE which had the both of us laughing hysterically at the ridiculousness of our sleeping arrangements. We were cracking ourselves up getting ready for bed under a very “exposed” ancestor carving and with 60 other backpackers in the same room. We stayed up late drinking tea and chatting with our friends before taking a shower in the amazing bathroom facilities and going to sleep in our communal lodgings. It was a ridiculous but fun experience that felt a lot like summer camp. I definitely enjoyed the entire evening and it is definitely something neither of us will ever forget!

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We slept fitfully and dragged ourselves out of our sleeping bags for another full day, this time at the magical village of Hobbiton! Let the journey begin!

Happy St. Patrick’s Day! An Ode to Ireland

Happy St. Patrick’s Day! Are you celebrating? In honor of today, here is my brief ode to Ireland, one of my favorite places in the world. We are going back this September and I could not be more excited to return to this beautiful country.

To Ireland.

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The land of endless green.

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The land of giants and ancient stones from times past. 

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To a land of division and a land of hope.

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To a land of friendship and good cheer.

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And to the land of Guinness.
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Cheers! I’ll be drinking a pint and having the craic in honor of you.

New Zealand 2: Boarding the Stray Bus and Raglan Beach

After 3 very long and wet days living it up in Auckland, we woke early Tuesday morning to walk to the appointed meeting place for our North Island adventure! Upon finding Stray Bus, we immediately knew that this was going to be nothing like we expected. We watched as the bus slowly filled up with 20-30 something backpackers from mostly Europe while I silently prayed that my mother-in-law would not hate me by the time this was over!

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As we headed south, we met some of our fellow passengers including a group of Stray Bus trainees, a Belgium girl on sabbatical, a Swedish boy traveling during his gap year and an English girl who just graduated from college. Everybody seemed really nice so we were happy. Maybe this wouldn’t be so bad?

We drove for about 3 hours and arrived in Raglan, a small surf town on the west coast of the north island.

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We had a short stop in town to visit the harbor and buy some food. I found a quaint little Japanese restaurant decorated with vintage surfing and Japanese art and ordered some salmon and rice to-go. Rice is definitely life.

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We then hopped back on the bus and drove along the windy coast and into the jungle towards Karioi Lodge, our hostel for the night. The hostel was comprised of long wooden cabins situated up in the hills and deep in the foliage off the coast. Linda and I bunked with our Belgian friend Gaelle and English friend Stephanie in a tiny room with two twin beds and a bunk bed. We had a shared bathroom in another cabin and even had to rent a couple of towels. Pretty standard stuff for a hostel but I could tell Linda was feeling a little uncomfortable. So I suggested we go walk with everybody down to the beach and watch the people who elected to take surfing lessons.

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It was a magnificent and steep hike down to the beach and I was finally struck by the absolute beauty of New Zealand. This was the pure, wild landscape I had always imagined. THIS WAS IT. The water was positively chilly but the sun was effective at blasting us with heat. So we buried our toes in the sand and walked down the beach, reveling in the warmth.

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Honestly I don’t know how people an surf in cold water! Brr!!

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We were surrounded by the most gorgeous landscape I have ever seen, straight from a fantasy novel or jurassic park. After days of nasty cold weather in Auckland, the sun was out, the sky was blue and everything was saturated with the perfect shade of GREEN and BLUE. This was the New Zealand of my dreams. And our trip had just begun!

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After a few hours, Linda, Gaelle and I decided to forgo the bus back to the lodge and walk back instead! That cliff was a bit more difficult to climb up but we eventually found the road which provided a blissful view over the coast. However we did have to dodge several cars speeding down the hill, including a van full of our fellow backpackers running into town for some beer! We did however see an actual chicken crossing the road which had us laughing our heads off while Linda tried to adopt the chicken and take it home as a pet when it began to follow us! I refused.

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We made it back to the lodge before dark and showered before enjoying a lovely dinner cooked by our guide and trainees. Linda and I played pool with our Swedish friends (hilariously winning after playing awfully) before taking a walk to see the glow worms in the pitch black night. We found the glow worms lighting the path which Linda adamantly believed were just Christmas lights! I was like no… those are the glow worms! Haha. We then joined a group of Danish friends to stargaze on a wooden mountain platform overlooking the ocean. We saw so many shooting stars and laughed under millions of twinkling lights till our bellies ached. It was an absolutely beautiful and perfect first night, one that I will always remember.

We eventually called it an early night in our steamy room with our little bunks and slept lightly. But it was going to be a jam packed day! Next up is the Waitomo Glow Worm Caves and Mourea!

Bachelorette Weekend #1D2KeyWest

Whoah is it already March?? Where has the time gone??

Our wedding is in 6 weeks and I still can’t believe it. What a fun season punctuated by lots of quality time with family and friends. It is so invigorating to be home with everything that is happening, it is busy but so rewarding.

After my two week stint apartment hunting in Shanghai, I flew back to Florida and immediately got ready for my Bachelorette Party!

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My sisters who are my lovely maids-of-honor organized a weekend in Key West with my other bridesmaids and our good friend from Tampa. On Friday night we drove down to Fort Myers and stayed in a swanky hotel room before departing in the early morning for the ferry down to Key West! Waking up was hard and we were all a little cranky, especially when the ferry was packed full of people who wouldn’t let us sit together! But we eventually found some seats scattered throughout the boat which was great since it was freezing outside. After 3 hours of attempting to nap, we arrived in sunny Key West where my girls showed off their sweet shirts designed by the one and only Carina!

We were pretty excited. So I busted out the selfie stick. Selfie time!

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We dropped off our stuff at the Sheraton and immediately headed to the pool to lay in the sun. It was an absolutely perfect start to the weekend. Sunshine, pina coladas, and a One Direction towel!

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We do things in style (harry styles… lol).

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After the pool we rested up and got ready for our big night out! My girls know me so well and decorated our room perfectly with the theme of the weekend… One Direction! Hahaha, oh my god I was so excited to find this cardboard cutout of Louis standing in the corner of the room as the speakers blasted 1D music. It was so silly but so fun. I love my girls for indulging my obsession with a boyband and not judging! We opened presents, played a few games including Quiz the Groom and basically laughed a lot while sipping champagne. It was amazing and just so perfect.

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Selfie time with Louis! Hahaha so good.

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We then took a cab out to Duval Street to grab some dinner and go dancing!

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We had an extremely late dinner at Conch Republic after an epic fail at finding our original restaurant. But we finally found our way to Sloppy Joe’s where they had an incredible cover band playing all night! We stayed there all night, dancing and singing at the top of our lungs amidst some relatively creepy dudes. But no matter, we were having the times of our lives and I couldn’t have asked for a more perfect evening. Honestly. It was fantastic.

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The next morning was a bit rough but we pulled ourselves out of bed for brunch at Blue Heavens. Thank you to Morgan and Madeline who waited for hours to get us a table. We listened to some great music and watched chickens cluck about while enjoying delicious food and amazing company.

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After brunch, Morgan, Taylor, Tana and I went snorkeling! It was really a fun trip despite the slightly rough seas. We saw a lot of barracudas and other sea life in the sort of murky water but it was a relaxing activity. Back on the boat we drank beer and margaritas and laughed at the crew guy relentlessly hitting on Taylor. “You’re a ten!” It was amusing to say the least.

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That night we had dinner at the hotel before heading downtown for dessert at “Better than Sex”. Omg this place was crazy, we had wine in chocolate dipped glasses and extraordinary desserts in a dimly light room. So funny.  Afterwards we went to a few weird bars but decided to go back to the hotel after witnessing a bar fight. Weird. But back at the hotel we played a few more games and laughed hysterically until our neighbors yelled at us. Whoops. But overall a good night!

On our last day in the Keys we went back down to Duval for lunch at Hot Tin Roof and to do a bit of shopping. We enjoyed some rummy slushies in honor of Fat Tuesday and bought a few hats. A great combination.

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Some of the girls stayed to shop while Carina and I went back to chill on the beach before boarding the ferry. We ate our frozen key lime pies and laughed and laughed in the sunshine. Then we all packed our stuff and brought it over to the pier. Before boarding the ferry we stopped for snacks and beer at the pool bar across the street. I love my girls!

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We again did not get good seats at all on the ferry (my god people are so territorial it’s funny), but we were able to sit together and chat for which I was grateful. I even napped on the floor which was great since we had to drive back to Tampa from Fort Myers. Thankfully Tana and Carina allowed me to jam out to 1D during the drive back. They are the best.

All in all my bachelorette party weekend was absolutely perfect! I had sunshine and my best girlfriends all around me. Thanks to my girls I love you!

#1D2KEYWEST FOREVER

 

New Zealand 1: Rain, Wine and Waiheke in Auckland

Last September 2014, I traveled to New Zealand for the first time. It was one of my favorite trips ever and I am excited to finally be able to share it on the blog.

My fiancé had a trip to NZ planned already with his groomsmen and there was no way I was going to be left behind in China for 2 weeks. So I went. With his mother :-). Thankfully Linda was awesome enough to meet me across the world and let me plan the entire trip… backpacker style. After such an incredible experience in Ireland with Shamrocker Adventures Bus Tour, I found a hop-on hop-off bus tour company called Stray NZ and went from there. But before we took off around the North Island, we met up in Auckland for a few days.

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Peter and I took the 12 hour flight from Shanghai, arriving in Auckland in the afternoon. We met with his customer who showed us around the city and took us to a nice outlook point and dinner at a great restaurant. I was surprised at how cold and windy it was! But I guess that’s what you get for traveling at the end of winter. September ended up being the perfect time to travel to NZ since it is considered the slow season. That means fewer tourists and cold weather! Hooray! It felt amazing to leave steamy hot Shanghai behind for a few weeks and escape into the wilderness.

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The next day I picked up Linda from the airport while Peter spent the day with his customer. We settled into our swanky hotel downtown and went to bed, exhausted from traveling. The next day was a flurry of drama when Peter slept through his alarm and wasn’t there to meet his friends at the airport. They ended up calling me at 5am, lost and confused. Whoops! We met the boys for a fun dinner before they began their journey in a rental car down to the South Island.

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Later boys. Girls trip starts NOW.

Linda and I stayed in Auckland for 3 days and it basically rained the entire time. Yuck. It was cold and dreary and not entirely pleasant. We shopped quite a bit and ate a lot of good food which was nice. We also stocked up on cold weather necessities like long underwear and wool hats, better prepared than sorry! But I hate big cities and was anxious to get out and see New Zealand.

On Sunday we took the ferry to Waiheke Island for a Wine Tour.

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We boarded a small tour bus and headed out towards the wineries. It was another gloomy day with a chilly rain blanketing the island which reminded me of a small-beach town in the winter. You know, except for the dramatic cliffs and wild landscape. Now THIS was the New Zealand I had imagined with rolling hills and scruffy trees dotting the green landscape. FINALLY.

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We visited a winery and olive grove for lunch, a badass brewery in a basement, and another winery with a stunning view. We sampled everything from merlots and pinots to ginger beer and lagers. It was fun! I love a day full of eating and drinking.

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My favorite was probably the hipster brewery in a basement and the Mudbrick winery, situated on a gorgeous hill overlooking the gulf.

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They had lavender plants everywhere, how lovely is that?? Apparently it is a popular wedding location as well and I can definitely see why.

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It was a nice little day-trip that had me salivating for more. We spent one final day in Auckland preparing for our bus tour and getting free facials at the Lush store. Auckland was pretty nice but I was READY TO GO.

Our backpacker bus tour was about to begin and I was nervous. Linda had never really roughed it traveling before and had never spent the night in a hostel or even in a sleeping bag. I had no idea how she would handle the constant go-go-go of the tour and the less than swanky accommodations. But I knew that she would be up for the challenge as long as I was there to support her along the way. If anything, I knew this would be a life-changing experience for the both of us as friends and as a new family.

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Goodbye Auckland!