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Birthday at the Beach

Wednesday, July 31, 2013
I think it's fair to say that my 23rd birthday was one of my best yet. My entire birthday weekend in California was filled with many epic adventures, but my friends went out of their way to make my actual birthday on Friday extra special. To kick off our celebrations, we packed a gourmet picnic and brought it to the beautiful Newport Beach. Our scrumptious snacks included caprese salad, prosciutto and salami, crackers & hummus, creamy brie, strawberries, blueberries, and yes - macarons!! 

As if the sunshine, glistening ocean & good company weren't enough, we spotted a momma and baby dolphin incredibly close to shore as we were indulging on our delicious snacks. They were jumping up through the waves, spinning and splashing as if they were also having the best day ever. If you didn't know already, dolphins are my favorite animal and my spirit animal. The other beach-goers probably thought I was crazy, because I just about died of happiness when I realized my spirit animal was saying "happy birthday" to me. Don't mind me, I'm just your average Seattleite who's not accustomed to real beaches and freaks out in the presence of typical marine life.

Dolphin-induced fits of joy aside, we had the most marvelous afternoon at the beach. Our charming OC picnic was the perfect start to the rest of our weekend's adventures!

California, Here I Come

Thursday, July 25, 2013
Guess what, you guys... my birthday is tomorrow! I'm going to go ahead and shamelessly admit that my birthday is my favorite holiday. Like I've said before, I'm a millennial/Leo/only child. So sue me.

The only thing that I wanted for my birthday this year was a trip to California. (And an iPad mini. But I digress.) And so...

I'm off to beautiful Newport Beach & LA to visit my kindred spirit Meghan!

Have I mentioned lately that I belong in Southern California? Because I do.

(Right now I'm dreaming of grad school in San Diego and eventually ending up in Orange County.)

I am ridiculously excited for this weekend. I'm looking forward to drinking Coffee Bean every day, eating fries and protein-style burgers from In-N-Out, constant sunshine, frolicking along charming piers that make me feel like I'm on the set of The OC, palm trees, laying out by the pool (preferably with fruity cocktails in hand), sunsets at the beach, real beaches in general, and most importantly - hanging out with my soul sista Meghan!

See you later, Seattle!

Terra Plata

Wednesday, July 24, 2013
Rooftop bars and restaurants are far and few between here in Seattle. I understand why; with persistent rain 3/4 of the year, rooftop seating isn't exactly profitable. But on a hot summer day, nothing quite beats dining al fresco. My idea of the perfect summer evening is sipping craft cocktails and indulging on delectable dishes outside while surrounded by gorgeous views of the city.

Hence, I've been dying to go to Terra Plata on Capitol Hill for quite some time now. I even added it to my "Seattle Bucket List" that I'm trying to accomplish before leaving for Spain. After yesterday's bridesmaids dress fitting, I suggested we venture to Terra Plata to try their notoriously delicious and sustainable "earth to plate" dishes. Terra Plata values local growers, artisan producers and fresh, seasonal ingredients. They even have their own herb garden atop the roof! 

Our happy hour appetizers included house made potato chips with truffled sea salt and pecorino-chive cream, medjool dates with cabrales, lardo, lemon and thyme, and the local cheese plate served with gluten free crostini. In other words, foodie heaven. As we snacked on our gourmet hors d'oeuvres, I sipped on a tasty Moscow Mule made with vodka, Rachel's ginger beer, lime and bitters. 

I thought it couldn't get any better than these appetizers, but I was mistaken. Our entrees were heavenly. Dare I say, our dinner was flawless. We ordered a fresh peach and goat cheese salad, pesto risotto with seasonal vegetables and goat cheese, and duck with cherry sauce and polenta. I thought my taste buds were going to explode.

Seattle Rain Drop: vodka, cardamom bitters, ginger, grapefruit and cava 
Fresh peaches with goat cheese
Pesto risotto with seasonal vegetables and goat cheese
Orange Hibiscus Sorbet with Lavender 

Suffice it to say, the rooftop of Terra Plata did not disappoint. I would undoubtedly come back in a heartbeat. I think I'll even go as far to say that this restaurant has officially made my list of "Favorite Restaurants in Seattle". (If you can't tell already, I really like making lists.)

Peruse their website here - but be warned that their menu changes daily, so the online menu doesn't necessarily reflect all of their mouth-watering dishes!

Take Me Back To: Machu Picchu

Monday, July 22, 2013

I have the travel bug real bad. Planning my upcoming European adventures is making me rather nostalgic for my escapades in South America. Specifically, I've got Peru on my mind.

Peru altered my life in many ways. For one: I can officially die happy now. Why, you ask? After dreaming about it for over a decade, I finally visited Machu Picchu. It was more incredible than I had ever imagined. The first sight of it absolutely took my breath away. I was even more enthralled as we explored it further, venturing through the beautiful and complex architecture. We were lucky enough to have a private tour, and our marvelous guide José took us to all of the most magnificent spots as well as the lesser-known sites free of the many hordes of tourists. From the sun temple to the astrology tower, to the Incan university and to the famous viewpoint in front of Huayna Picchu, I was in complete awe the entire day.

In the midst of the stunning Andes Mountains and lush jungle foliage, Machu Picchu epitomizes grandiose, mysterious beauty. Its entirety is simply majestic. I am so profoundly amazed at how advanced the Incas were, and how their innovative technology preceded their time. In Machu Picchu, we were shown how they had an exact compass made of stone before modern compasses were even invented, and how they had precise ways of determining the solstices without a regimented calendar. Their architecture was advanced enough to remain stable through earthquakes and tremors, and they even developed different styles of architecture for different ranks of nobility. Their technique of perfectly shaping enormous boulders astounds me. Everything the Incas did was an impressive feat.

Machu Picchu is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful places I've ever seen in my entire life. My mind cannot even comprehend its divine exquisiteness and captivating history. Sometimes I feel like it was all a dream, because in those moments of soaking in its enchanting splendor, it all just seemed so surreal. The entire experience was eyeopening and spiritually invigorating. As much as I wish I could go back and experience it all again, I'm grateful enough to have experienced it once in my lifetime. I guess some dreams really do come true.

Take Me Back To: Scotland

Monday, July 15, 2013
Haggis, Nessie, bagpipes, oh my! In honor of my upcoming trip to London, I'm embracing all things UK. Thinking about all of my adventures to be had in England is giving me major flashbacks of my trip to Scotland in 2010.

Scotland is one of the most enchanting places I've ever visited. Being in Scotland made me feel like a princess living in a fairytale; Edinburgh is simply majestic. The regal castles, emerald volcanos and magnificent stone buildings emanate rich history and timeless beauty. We spent hours touring the city, visiting haunted graveyards, touring legendary memorials and learning about Scotland's dark & bloody history. History was always my worst subject in school - yet despite my natural ambivalence towards it, I found the history of Scotland to be absolutely enthralling.

We ventured into the Scottish Highlands by bus and saw the stunning, snow covered mountains and splendidly tiny Highland villages. We also traveled to the beautiful Loch Ness, where we hunted for Nessie. I had no such luck finding him, but I'm still quite sure he exists.

Some other highlights included: eating deep fried Mars bars (disgustingly delicious), trying Haggis, listening to bagpipes, drinking tea in the Elephant House Café where JK Rowling wrote the first Harry Potter, staying at Castle Rock (the coolest hostel in the world), drinking insanely tasty black currant juice every day, tasting authentic Scotch and visiting the world's largest Scotch Whisky collection, shopping on the Royal Mile, jumping out of bright cherry red phone booths, listening to sexy Scottish accents, spiking our coffee with Bailey's and eating delectable Scottish breakfasts.

It was an incredible trip to say the least, and I cannot wait to go back one day. Until then, I'm getting ridiculously excited to return to the UK and finally visit England!

Next to the castle that inspired Hogwarts is Greyfriers Graveyard, where a "Tom Riddle" and "McGonagall" are buried. 

Happy Bastille Day!

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Happy Bastille Day, everyone! If you need to know anything about me, you should know that I am obsessed with all things French and undoubtedly belong in Paris. (So naturally, I'm moving to... Spain? Sometimes I don't understand myself.)

You know how everybody uncontrollably sobs during the first 15 minutes of the movie "Up" or the end of "Titanic"? Well, that also happens to me when I watch the opening scene of "Midnight in Paris".

My name is Courtney, and I'm a francophile. 

Three years ago when I was living in Spain, I took a spontaneous trip to Paris during my spring break because I knew I would be a fool to fly all the way to Europe and not visit the city I had been fantasizing about since I was a little girl. Visiting France had been a dream and an obsession of mine since I was a child; even my room was decorated with a Parisian theme. Needless to say, the minute I set foot upon the cobblestone streets of the Left Bank, I fell head over heels in love. I daydreamed about returning to Paris every day since I left.

Two summers ago, I was blessed with the opportunity to actually live in Paris for a month and study Surrealist art and literature. I could hardly even believe that I had the chance to fulfill my lifelong dream of living in Paris.

And you guys, it was perfect.

Our only homework assignment was to "get lost in Paris" and aimlessly wander through the city, documenting what we encountered and how it moved us. Every day was filled with adventure, art, spontaneity and literature. Every moment was inspiring. I spent my time wandering through the world's best museums, snacking on delicious macarons from Ladurée, strolling along the Seine, and channelling my inner Hemingway at quaint Parisian cafés.

Gertrude Stein once quoted, "America is my country, and Paris is my hometown." I couldn't have said it better myself. I've never felt such a genuine connection to a city before. I've come to the realization that I am undoubtedly French at heart. Much like myself, the French have a passion for enjoying gourmet food, place profound importance on literature and the arts, pursue intellect wholeheartedly, and take their time appreciating all that life has to offer. The embrace la joie de vivre, which entails living life to the absolute fullest. The are thinkers, creators, lovers. They approach life with a zealous passion that brings enlightenment to all perspectives. Their culture exudes class and sophistication, and by all means they are proud of their French identity. And who can blame them? It is a culture of greatness. 

Throughout all of my travels around the world, Paris is by far the most beautiful city I've encountered. I've ridden camels in Morocco, watched bullfights in Madrid, zip lined through the jungles of Mexico, basked on the beaches of southern Spain, skied through the snowy mountains of Whistler, climbed the rock of Gibraltar to play with wild monkeys, explored the Highlands of Scotland, and relished the sublime beauty of Iguazú Falls. And yet, nothing quite compares to the magic of Paris.