My words on grief and losing someone you love

I don’t usually write about heavy topics here (or publicly). Still, I share these words from the heart as I process the recent loss of my grandmother. It’s part of my process, but maybe it can be part of someone else’s process too. 

Even though we have given grief a definition and thrown the word in with all the rest, grief shows up differently for everyone. It’s like a shadow that takes many forms, hides, and reappears as it pleases. 

When we lose someone we love, we are hit with a new, harsh reality that our loved one as we knew him/her no longer exists. In my case, my head got stuck on the thought of no more possibilities. Before there was always a reunion to look forward to, memories to be made, stories to be told… all possibilities. Death throws in a period and leaves us with the stale taste of finite. All of the memories we had instantly quadruple in value as the source is no longer producing. Everything feels fragile, and you immediately need more, and it tears you apart to know that’s not possible.

No matter how we see it, death is extremely difficult (impossible?) to grasp. I still mourn my grandfather’s death, and I remember being devastated when he passed when I was 14. When I think of him, I wish he could see who I grew up to be and how much of him I see in me. 

Now, with Abuela, it is entirely different. I am thankful I had her for as long as I did, but with that time also comes the strengthening of a bond that now feels ripped away from the very center of my soul. The years were a blessing that allowed me to see her in a way I couldn’t have seen my grandpa at 14. We got to share life thoughts and worries together, like two adults. I am beyond thankful for this, but it hurts in a way I couldn’t have anticipated. 

Even with all this time, how can it still feel like it wasn’t enough? Is there ever enough time? I smile amidst my tears as I imagine her rolling into heaven, updating my grandpa and uncle on the latest of who we became. Although, I know they know. 

How little of death do we comprehend and how many things we invent and hold on to in a human attempt to ease a pain that has no known eraser. I’ve been told to sit with my pain, greet it and embrace it for a moment. I say hello to it with a hint of honor, as I know I feel it because I was blessed with so much love and joy. How can I hate a feeling that’s a result of the very purpose of our living? 

We humans can be so magnificent yet such limited creatures. 

Still, we find ways to satisfy our thirst for comfort and reassurance, even if ever so fleetingly. Yesterday, it was the sound of her voice. Tomorrow it will be a Cardinal chirping hello in my window. Today, it is these words poured from the soul as I remain thinking of you.

Visiting Jekyll Island, Georgia [Roadtrip from Atlanta!] 

Beautiful trees surrounding a walking pathway in Jekyll Island

I can not tell you how excited I am to write this blog post. Our recent trip to Jekyll Island is the first trip since the pandemic started that truly feels like we explored a new area. I had forgotten how much I love that feeling! 

We had done a cabin and a beach house, but those trips were more about the area around our rental and less about exploring. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good secluded trip, especially when in a global pandemic. Still, it was nice to wander around the little wild piece of paradise that is Jekyll Island. The high sixties and low seventies temperatures in early May allowed this to be the perfect, uncrowded getaway… and it was only about a 5+ hour drive from Atlanta!

We really enjoyed our getaway. I am sharing the details of our mini adventure in case you are looking for inspiration for upcoming trips!

Man walks alone in the beach during a beautiful day without any clouds in the blue sky

Let’s start with where to stay in Jekyll Island.

We chose to stay at a VRBO property with walking access to the beach. Our place was modest, but it had everything we needed. Honestly, there’s so much to do outdoors that you can go this simple route and save money on accommodations. Everything is easy to access with a bike, so if you are bringing your bike or planning to rent bikes, you can consider a rental a little bit further from the beach. More on bikes further down!  

There are also some great hotel and resort options on the island, including options with fun pool areas if you plan to travel with kids (or you just love a good pool slide). Out of the list, The Jekyll Island Club Resort is the most iconic spot. This resort was formerly the exclusive Jekyll Island Club that hosted prominent families from the north back in the day and is now a luxury historic resort hotel. I would save staying at this spot for a special occasion or when you are ready to partake in all of the resort activities to truly make it worth it. What’s cool is that you can still visit the resort, even if you are not a guest. 

Where you stay can really dictate your vibe, so think about it: what do you want to get out of your trip to Jekyll Island? I don’t think there is a wrong answer!

Now, let’s talk about food.

Dinner plate with salmon on top of a white sauce pasta

Regardless of where you end up staying, I totally recommend you do drinks or dinner at The Wharf. At the moment of our visit, they were only taking reservations for guests of the Jekyll Island Club Resort (where the restaurant is located). Still, we got there early and just waited for a table outside. Waiting 1+ hour for a table out on the deck, a drink in hand, and a beautiful view ahead is not too shabby! The sunset views made it absolutely worth it and extra special, as it was our anniversary dinner (woo). 

Colorful sunset over Jekyll Island captured from The Wharf restaurant
sunset view from The Wharf

Not only was I feeling grateful to be able to celebrate another year of marriage, I was also extremely aware that we were outside in a beautiful setting, enjoying a delicious dinner and live music. I couldn’t even remember the last time we were in a similar scenario, and the blessing of the moment was not lost on me. 

Lunch plate ordered at Zachry's Riverhouse restaurant including: grilled shrimp, buttered potatoes and lima beans with bacon
lunch at Zachry’s Riverhouse… excellent!

I was expecting good seafood on this trip since you’re by the coast, but I hadn’t given much thought to what specific type of seafood was awaiting. Turns out, Georgia Wild Shrimp are pretty unique and quite delicious. We went to Zachry’s Riverhouse for lunch, and I FEASTED. They also have a nice outdoor seating area. Even though we were there for lunch, I can assume they have an excellent view of sunsets based on their location.

Two cups of margarita on the rocks from Tortuga Jacks, overlooking an ocean view

Another cool spot was Tortuga Jacks. In my opinion, their food was average, but the location and views make the spot worth it (Brian wants to make it clear that he really enjoyed the food). They are conveniently located along the bike path (as most places are), so we had some fun biking in and out. The spot reminded me of being in Rincón, Puerto Rico, with those low-key beach vibes (I was just missing the Kaplash empanadas, IYKYK). They also have a great bottomless mimosas deal on Sundays (only $8!).

Bikes are a must!

Empty road surrounded by tall, green trees and only one biker on the road, biking ahead

If you come to Jekyll Island and don’t bike, you will miss a big part of what makes this place so unique. The island is wrapped in bike trails, so you can basically get anywhere on a bike. I had missed biking SO much, especially biking as a casual mode of transportation and not a workout you are diligently tracking on your Apple watch.

We decided not to bring our own bikes because we did not feel too confident about our bike rack withstanding a 5 hours+ road trip and instead rented bikes for the weekend. This is a solid option, but I was not a big fan of the bikes we got (which seem to be the type that is widely available for rent across the island). Sure, they can get you from point A to point B, but I wanted to be more comfortable looping around the island, about a 25-mile ride. 

Jekyll Island’s rich history (pun intended)

To be honest, I had never heard of Jekyll Island until we saw Jekyll Island Brewing in Alpharetta (I still need to figure out the connection there). We were researching beaches to drive to from Atlanta, and Jekyll Island came up as one of the options. We really didn’t have much other knowledge to go off from.

One of the first things I heard about the island, as I set out to learn more about it before our arrival, was that it used to be the playground of the wealthy socialites from the north. When you arrive on the island, you also see a big sign that says “Jekyll Island, Established in 1947.” 

[ Side note: I found it a little amusing that our last trip before the pandemic was to The Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina, as Jekyll Island used to host some of the same family members. We also went to Newport, Rhode Island a while back, so it was interesting to patch up some of what we had learned in our previous trips with what we uncovered at Jekyll Island. Look at us, so bougie. ]

My ignorant self assumed that the Vanderbilts, Rockerfellers, J.P. Morgans, and those of the like, had found this empty island and saw in it an opportunity to set one of their retreat locations in the south. 

As we have come to learn, nothing is as simple as it initially sounds. During our trip, we learned that Jekyll Island was so much more before it did end up becoming a playground for the rich.

I totally recommend visiting the Mosaic Jekyll Island Museum. There, we learned of the critical pieces of history that are not usually shared when people talk about Jekyll Island. In the museum, you can learn about the first known habitants of the island way back before any European colonizers arrived at the shore or the illegal landing of the ship The Wanderer with 465 slaves from Africa, fifty years after the importation of slaves to the United States had been prohibited. We didn’t have time to visit the Wanderer Memory Trail, but it’s definitely on my list when we return. All this history got me thinking about the importance of getting to know more about your vacation spot and taking the time to go deeper than the basics that are sold to you when it comes to a destination. 

Another great learning experience was visiting Georgia Sea Turtle Center: Georgia’s only sea turtle education and rehabilitation facility. Their preservation efforts are so important, and their center does offer a lot of education opportunities. This is also an excellent stop for a visit with kids. It helps instill the importance of conservation and taking care of the planet we live on. Another fun activity for kids (or Brian) is the Jekyll Island Miniature Golf. We also enjoyed horseback riding in Driftwood Beach.

two women riding two different horses on the beach, the ocean to the left and the sand to the right.

With only four days on the island, we know we barely scratched the surface. Jekyll may seem like a small island, but there is surprisingly a lot to do. We also want to explore the other islands part of the Golden Isles and Cumberland Island (which I always call Cucumber Island by mistake)… all for a future visit!

Have you been to Jekyll Island or any of the islands off the coast of Georgia? Any recommendations for future visits? Let me know in the comments!

orange, pink and blue sunset at Jekyll Island

Is BarkBox Worth It? Honest Unpaid Review

“It’s the best day of the month!” – the moment we start singing this, Rico and Melo KNOW what’s up. They start wagging their tails and jumping with excitement because their BarkBox has arrived! A treat for both humans and pets, BarkBox consistently brings us joy every month.

Rico enjoying his “Puppy spice latte”
Melo getting ready to play with “Sweater Weather Heather”

How does BarkBox work?

It’s very straight-forward. When you sign up, you are able to customize your subscription based on your pup’s needs. You start by telling them your dog’s name and choosing your dog’s size (all BarkBox plans are the same price, regardless of the dog’s size). Then, you select what plan you want (the more months you commit too, the cheaper it is) and you can also let them know if your dog has any allergies. 

What comes in a BarBox?

Every month has a special theme and even though I realize that Rico and Melo don’t care about the fun details as much as they care about the “chew appeal”, it’s the little things that bring us humans entertainment. From a “Voulez Chew Croissant” toy in their “Frenchies in Paris” box to “Hamleg” pork dog treats on their “Shakespeare in the Dog Park” box, the team at BarkBox consistently deliver awesome boxes every month. 

Each box in our plan contains:

  • Two toys: Each toy is made by BarkBox’s toy designers, following the theme and offering something unique for your dog. Some toys are squeaky, others have other toys inside of them! It varies each month which keeps it interesting. I wouldn’t say Rico and Melo are ultimate toy destroyers but they know how to give them a good chew and yet, all of their BarkBox toys last a whiiiiile. If your dog is a true toy destroyer, I recommend you check out their Super Chewer option. 
  • Two bags of treats: The puns they use for naming these are always on point. More seriously though, all of the BarkBox treats are made in the USA and Canada from domestic and imported ingredients. In two years, there has not been a single treat Rico and Melo have not liked. 
  • One chewy treat: This one lasts only seconds after the box is opened. It is our tradition for “the best day of the month” that we split the chew between Rico and Melo right away. For both treats and chews, BarkBox seems to be able to accommodate allergies and/or dietary restrictions.  

How much is BarkBox? 

We currently pay $22 every month under the 12 month plan. This gets billed monthly. We do one box for two dogs which honestly is perfect for us. Like I said earlier, we split the “chewy edible” and then technically they each get a toy and a bag of treats. I think it’s very reasonable pricing if you were to buy each thing individually, especially when you consider the quality ingredients you get on the BarkBox vs. cheaper brands. 

Rico and Melo love BarkBox.

Sure, Rico and Melo love their BarkBox but as a marketer, I am also consistently amused and delighted by BarkBox’s creative efforts and attention to detail. When we moved from Hoboken to Atlanta and I contacted them to change our shipping address, they sent us a little note wishing Rico and Melo a happy move, including a list to popular dog parks and other resources in the area. They also get super creative about referrals and coupons. One time, they got cute little Valentine’s Day cards to send their puppy friends… including a BarkBox referral code, of course!

While we are on that subject 😉 … if you are interested in trying BarkBox, feel free to use Rico and Melo’s discount code via this link! (We will get a free box too!)

So, is BarkBox worth it? For us, it definitely is. Have you tried any service like this before? If so, let me know your thoughts.

Want to keep up with Rico and Melo? (Of course you do)

Follow Rico and Melo on Instagram! @Ricoandmelo

Staying at The Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina

Biltmore Estate Visit Asheville North Carolina Getaway

Little did I know my birthday getaway back in early March would be the last “normal” outing before the pandemic hit and everything got flipped upside down. We really had no idea what was coming. I say this to acknowledge that I feel incredibly lucky and thankful to have been able to experience such a wonderful birthday.

Although this post is not about the pandemic, our new reality is inevitably sprinkled into this narrative in one way or another. Sure, this trip happened before it all went down but writing about it now, I am reliving the memories and I can’t help but feel extremely grateful. So many little things we took for granted, breakfast buffet? Seems like such a luxury now.

Anyways, in this post I want to share more about my 48 hour stay at the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina. Remember, this is all from back in March so please visit their website for their latest updates.

Why Biltmore? Living in Atlanta, Asheville is only about 3:30 hours away without traffic which is not bad for a weekend getaway. For my birthday celebration, I wanted a mix of a few things I love. We balanced out our fancy stay at the Biltmore with a night in Asheville for breweries and bbq… it was perfect.

Where to stay in The Biltmore Estate? There are actually a few options for lodging, the most popular seem to be The Village Hotel and The Inn. We stayed at The Inn because it was in the same building as the main restaurant and from what I read, it had a more upscale vibe which was perfect for our celebration. I don’t think you can go wrong with either. They also provide a shuttle that takes you around all the locations within the estate, making it super easy and convenient.

Touring the Biltmore Estate

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The Biltmore House is quite fascinating. They claim it’s actually America’s largest home and with 65 fireplaces, I don’t doubt it. They offer a self-guided tour which I think does a good job describing what it was like when the house was being lived in. They added layers of history from the outside world to make it a well-rounded journey. I also loved the connection to the mansions in Newport, Rhode Island.

High Tea

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As someone who grew up in Puerto Rico, high tea was not really a thing. When I was introduced to it a couple of years ago, however, I fell in love. I enjoy trying all these wonderful tiny bites, the tea is always excellent and the whole idea of taking a break in the afternoon to enjoy the little things is just about perfect. I must admit I was slightly disappointed with the location for high tea at the Biltmore. I had this idea in my head that we would be having tea at the actual Biltmore House but it’s actually served at the same restaurant where we had breakfast and dinner at The Inn. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a really nice room, just different from what I was imagining. The rest of the experience, however, did not disappoint. The photo above may look like an upside down ice cream cone but it was actually goat cheese with a balsamic glaze. Every bite was an adventure.

Wine Tasting

Winery Biltmore Estate Asheville North Carolina Getwaway

I’m not going to lie, the fact that there is a winery at the Biltmore was a major factor in our decision to come visit. They offer a a generous free tasting with your visit. We had to wait in line but once it was our turn our server was super attentive and explained everything we were tasting (which we got to choose too!). In addition to the free tasting, we also booked one of their wine tours. At our tour, we learned more about the history of the winery and got to go behind the scenes to learn more about the process. At the end of the tour you also get to do a round of tasting (more wine!).

More on Food

We started our stay with dinner at the Library Lounge. The live piano music, velvet decor and crackling fireplace transported you to another era, setting the stage for the rest of our visit. As always, wine and cheese were involved.

happy birthday at the Biltmore estate

We went to the The Dining Room for my birthday dinner and each course was carefully paired with a different selection of the Biltmore wines. Same as the rest of our visit, service was truly great.

I totally recommend a visit to The Biltmore Estate, whether it’s for a stay or just for the day. In addition to our stay at the Biltmore, we also stayed a night in the city of Asheville and got to ho around different breweries. The bow that tied everything up perfectly was our visit to Looking Glass Creamery. If you are a cheese lover like me, you should definitely give them a visit next time you are in the area. History, wine, cheese, high tea and a breakfast buffet… what more can a girl ask for?

Biltmore Estate Visit Asheville North Carolina Getaway

Have you visited The Biltmore Estate before? How was your experience?

Cheesemaking @ Asheville, North Carolina

Looking Glass Creamery Asheville North Carolina Cheese Cristina Nogueras

About a year ago I listened to a Savor podcast episode about cheese in Asheville, NC and I just knew I had to make my way there to experience Looking Glass Creamery for myself! I know everyone raves about the breweries in Asheville (don’t get me wrong, they are great) but being the cheese lover that I am, I was most excited for the cheese. I didn’t know there was such a vibrant cheese community in Western North Carolina. I absolutely love and appreciate European cheeses but given the logistics and financial implications to get there from Atlanta, having local cheese adventures just a drive away is pretty sweet. From what I gathered, they respect the classic rules of cheesemaking but are not afraid to showcase creativity and make each cheese unique to their style.

Looking Glass Creamery Asheville North Carolina Cheese Cristina NoguerasLooking Glass Creamery Asheville North Carolina Cheese Cristina NoguerasLooking Glass Creamery Asheville North Carolina Cheese Cristina Nogueras

LGC has grown and now has two locations: a farm and store in Columbus and The Cheese Shop in Fairview (right outside of Asheville, where we went). This cute little farm house you see was their original creamery and now the second floor, or attic, is a cozy seating space where you can find super interesting cheese books to browse while you wait for your magnificent board! They also serve wine but mind you, we were there at 11:00 am when they opened and weren’t ready for that just yet. (Yes, we had a cheeseboard for breakfast, thank you very much.)

The cheese was absolutely delicious (not surprising!) and each variety had something special to offer. The sides were also fresh and flavorful, including some pickled beet which sounded weird but paired really well with the more sharp cheeses, in my opinion. I came home with some of their fromage blanc and sour cherry jam with plans of spreading those babies out on some crackers very soon!

Can we take a moment to talk about jams? Maybe my Puerto Rican upbringing did not expose me to jams as much, or maybe it did and I was just a picky eater then, but my goodness, they are wonderful! I have always been a butter-on-my-bread kind of person and never really gave jams a chance but lately, however, I have been trying them more and wow. During our time in Asheville alone I tried like 5 different, wonderful jams, all locally made. I know this may sound lame for some of you (Duh, Cristina, where have you been living?) but to me this is extremely exciting. So exciting, in fact, that I came home with two new jars of homemade jam. I now need to learn how to make biscuits or scones from scratch and we will be golden. Also, news flash for me: jams, jellies and marmalades are not all the same thing. About to fall on that Wikipedia rabbit hole real soon…

Anyways, cheese is great and local cheesemakers are cool.

Have you visited any cheesemakers in the US? Let me know where!

Looking Glass Creamery Asheville North Carolina Cheese Cristina Nogueras

It’s Ok.

It’s been a very long time since I share my poetry here, but this one came to me recently and I think it’s a very important reminder for everyone in this world of constant hustle. Vulnerability and perseverance are wonderful, complicated things – hope you enjoy this little piece of mine.

Switzerland Cristina Nogueras Suiza

It’s OK.

It’s ok to fall down
to get up
to try again
to get it right
to try new things
to fall down
to get up
to rise above
to lead the trail
to stand out
to fall down
and fall down
and keep falling
then stand up
dust off
chin up
smile on
(or not)
but keep going.

-Cristina Nogueras (10.16.19)

How I Found The Best Tuna Tartare and Other Portuguese Tales [Vol. 3: Lisboa]

Sintra Portugal Cristina Nogueras

It may have taken me over a year to do it, but I am finally completing my Portugal series!

If you missed my earlier posts, here’s my post about the beautiful Porto and the great region of Douro. Ok, let’s do this!

Lisbon Lisboa Portugal Cristina Nogueras

What better way to learn the history from a city than with a light show projected on the ruins of a monastery? The Lisbon Under The Stars show was only in town for a limited amount of time, but I really hope other places around the world are following suit and doing similar presentations as they are such a rich experience. We sat in the middle of these ruins, under the stars… it was magical.

Lisbon Lisboa Portugal Cristina Nogueras Time Out Market Lisbon Tuna Tartare

Time Out Market Lisbon

During this trip I had, what I still consider the best tuna tartare I’ve ever tasted, and still have dreams about it. It was from the Tartar-ia booth if you want to go taste it and tell me all about your experience!

It was a busy hall, tourists everywhere but in spite of my hate for crowds and overly touristy spots, I really enjoyed it. There is one now in New York City too, if you want to explore it (overpriced, in my opinion, but great views). For the one in Lisbon, you had to camp out a little bit in order to get a table but once you did, you were set. There are SO many good things to try that you can spend hours eating and drinking from different renowned places without having to leave the hall. Definitely, recommend stopping here if you don’t have a lot of time to explore Lisbon, but want to have a good food variety. 

I also took the opportunity in Time Out Market to purchase even more canned fish selections from a local shop. No regrets. Seriously, canned fish from Portugal > any other canned fish. 

Lisbon Lisboa Portugal Cristina Nogueras

More food

Unlike other places in Portugal where we were able to make reservations the day of or just walk into excellent restaurants, I recommend you plan some special dinners ahead of time and make reservations. We, unfortunately, were not able to try some places on my list because of that same reason. Thankfully, Lisboa is full of culinary wonders and I still had an incredible experience. I did not write down every place we visited (sorry!) but I recommend you ask locals about their favorite places (your hotel receptionist, Airbnb host or random person at a bar!). 

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Our first night, we had a delicious dinner at Taberna da Rua das Flores, a small but cozy restaurant. They had a curated selection of small plates and I let the waitress recommend the best options for us. These crabs in steamed buns were absolutely amazing. We also had a goat cheese dessert that sounded kind of weird (not that common to have goat cheese in a dessert for me) but was actually really good! We did not have reservations and were able to just walk right in for an early dinner. 

Pasteis de nata fabrica da nata food Lisbon Lisboa Portugal Cristina Nogueras

Of course, we had to try the famous pastéis de nata. We may or may not have had these for breakfast every single day in Lisboa. 🙂 We did not make it to Pastéis de Belem for the “authentic” ones but these ones from Fábrica da Nata were honestly really good (and right next to our hotel). It’s great to go to the “original” or “popular” spots but a lot of times when traveling, it’s about striking a balance between what you are told and what you want to discover on your own.

Sintra Portugal Cristina Nogueras

Sintra

If you go to Lisboa, Sintra is a must. I know of people going only for the morning, the whole day or even stay overnight. We ended up spending the day there and it was lovely. There are several transportation options but since there were 3 of us (hey, Lala!) and we were being lazy, we decided to Uber to and from Sintra. Not bad at all when you are splitting it.

Sintra Portugal Cristina NoguerasSintra Portugal Cristina Nogueras

Once in Sintra, we had the option to walk up all the way to the Palacio Nacional da Pena or choose from other methods of transportations. We were kind of winging it at this point and up for exploring, so we decided to walk all the way up… nobody really told us what this entailed. Let’s start by saying I was not quite wearing the best “hiking” gear. There were people rock climbing up this trail and I was wearing my white converse, jeans, and a cute top. It probably took us about 2 hours, but we made it. Barely. I would encourage you to explore your transportation options. 🙂 If you are not a big fan of crowds I would also encourage you to wake up super early and get there when it opens. 

Sintra Portugal Cristina Nogueras FoodSintra Portugal Cristina Nogueras Food

After exploring the palace and the Castelo dos Mouros, (crowds, crowds!) we were FAMISHED. We hopped on one of the little tuk-tuks and made our way down. Once back in town, we stumbled upon Tascantiga Sintra and had a feast for basically zero dollars. We ordered way more food than we could handle, but wow, it was the best reward after an unexpected hiking day. We basically lived on ham, cheese, olives, cod, and wine for our entire week in Portugal. My kind of diet, if you ask me.  

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There is a LOT to explore in Lisboa, so much that in fact, we barely made a dent on the list we had compiled prior to arriving. We were in a chill, exploratory mood and did not want to rush any of the wonderful experiences we were having. Sure, sometimes it’s fun to rush through places and activities in order to cover more things on your list, but most times I believe that doing less with more focus and intention is more valuable and enjoyable that skimming your way through a wonderful city such as Lisboa.  

For next time though, and for your own considerations, here are some places we did not make it to. Have you been to any? What was your experience like?

Food & drinks

To do & explore

  • Belem Tower
  • Praca do Comercio
  • Sao Jorge Castle
  • Tram 28 to Alfama
  • Monastery of St. Jerome

* BONUS! *

We did go to some other places in Portugal besides Porto, Douro and Lisboa. I don’t think we spent enough time exploring for me to share full-on recommendations but still wanted to share my experience briefly, just for reference. 

Fátima – I was raised Catholic and went to Catholic school, so getting to see Fátima was truly special. We stopped there on our way from Douro to Albufeira. The day was gloomy so I don’t have great pictures, but it had a very solemn vibe. I had never seen people complete a pilgrimage so that was really impactful, especially the older folks that do so on their knees! Seeing such devotion and commitment in person is something truly special.

Albufeira Portugal Cristina NoguerasIMG_9844Albufeira Portugal Cristina Nogueras

Albufeira – If the Jersey Shore and Bourbon St. had a baby, it would likely be called Albufeira. It seems to be the place where all the Brits go for bachelor parties. Lots of fun, but not at all the “authentic, chill beach vibe” we were looking for. Still, we had a fun time, I mean, you are in a beach town in Portugal! I can’t wait to have the opportunity to return to the southern coast of Portugal for a proper vacation in such a beautiful area though!

I think that’s it! 🙂

Thanks for reading and let me know if you have any questions about my experience. You can follow me on Instagram @cristina.nogueras to check out my latest photos and more.

Borrow Books Directly to Your Kindle! (For Free!)

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Growing up, I was that little girl who would come home with a Scholastic catalog marked all over with the books I wanted my parents to buy for me. When we had a reading assignment in elementary school, I had to control myself to not finish the book all at once and instead follow the class as we read it chapter by chapter, together. I just loved reading so much.

Fast forward just a *few* years and I admit I’ve had my ups and downs with reading. I’ve had moments when I didn’t read for months and it was not until I started reading frequently again that I realized how much I missed it. The past few months have been great from a reading standpoint, but with that, there has been a small problem rising: reading more means spending more. Don’t get me wrong, I want to support all the authors but I also have savings goals I want to hit. So, what are my options?

Amazon Kindle Unlimited is not for me. 

While I absolutely love my Kindle, their unlimited reading service is just not for me. I tried though! I cross-referenced my reading list with titles available on the service and very few were available, so it’s not worth it for me.

Meet Libby, your new BFF.

Libby

Free books you can borrow online and send directly to your Kindle? Sign me up! Libby is an app that connects with your local library and allows you to borrow books and audiobooks. Sure, there might be a hold on some of the books you want to read but hey, they are free and will be available to you eventually. 

I first learned about Libby recently, thanks to the wonderful Janssen from Everyday Reading and I was surprised that I had not heard about this before! I mean, I knew I could rent books for free at the library, but I thought I had to go back and forth every time and that seemed like a lot of effort for me. Plus, I really do enjoy reading on my Kindle so I didn’t want to deal with hard copies either.   

So, what do you have to do?

    1. Get a library card! I just did a google search based on where I lived and it was super easy. I did have to go in person to show proof of residence, but I didn’t mind it at all.
    2. Download the app and sign up using your library card.
    3. Search for books and start borrowing! 

The only downside of Libby is that there likely will be a waiting list on the most popular books, as the library has limited online licenses available. For example, I am currently on a 6-month wait for Where The Crawdads Sing, but was able to get Next Year in Havana right away. I don’t mind the wait as I always have such a long list of books to read, I am bound to find one from my list that is available right away. Since they give you estimates on when the book will be available, you can place multiple holds and plan ahead! I currently have 6 books on hold that have varying waiting times (anything from 2 weeks to 6 months). Honestly, it’s kind of exciting to plan it like that, but maybe that’s just me? Either way, I love that this is something I can use for free, so absolutely no complaints here.

Had you heard of Libby before? Was I just living under a rock? 

Also, I have no friends over at Good Reads so if you are into that, let’s be friends!

 

Humor as a tool for revolution and coping mechanism for the current Puerto Rican situation  

Puerto Rico no se deja - Natalia Benitez

Photo credit: Natalia Bénitez

My friend said that if memes could be properly monetized, Puerto Ricans right now would be making bank. In the midst of a political crisis and arguably the start of a revolution for change, Puerto Ricans have shown no fear manifesting their beliefs with creativity, both physically and virtually. From divers underwater showing their protest signs to yogis leading a peaceful yoga class in front of the governor’s mansion – our creativity knows no bounds. If you are Puerto Rican, I bet you are receiving a constant flow of memes from family members, friends, and even coworkers. You have to admit they are good! 

How can a country that is undergoing what has been said to be a historical manifestation have the strength to continue to fight, while also entertaining millions with constant hysterical remarks?

The two coexist as part of a conscious or unconscious strategy, as one of the obstacles that important education and political messages often face is the ability to reach those who need to know said message. From a basic communication standpoint, humor is easy to share, it even strengthens interpersonal relationships. I have seen memes circulating social media that have encouraged me to do my own research to further understand the jokes and/or claims being made. In a culture where we are so overwhelmed by information and opinions from every device imaginable, researching has become key. I have had conversations with my grandma in which it is evident that solely relying on one TV station for your news is never going to be enough again. It is simply impossible to properly capture an entire movement when it is happening virtually and physically, EVERYWHERE.

Puerto Ricans are loud and proud, and it is in our nature to find humor in all situations, for some, in too many situations. You can blame the tropical climate for our “warmth” but perhaps, it is more accurate to look at years and years of situations (political or not) that are so beyond ridiculous that all you can do is laugh. People often say “hay que reír para no llorar” (essentially, you have to laugh to keep yourself from crying) and although that shows our resilience and spirit, it uncovers another big issue that Puerto Ricans are facing: a vulnerable mental health state.

After Hurricane Maria, the suicide rates reportedly went up in the island. The entire nation lived day after day full of worries, desperation, and angst. Those in the island were too busy surviving to have the time to call out shady government actions or even worse, lack of action. Those in the diaspora essentially dropped everything they were doing to desperately try to find feasible and effective ways to help, overwhelmed by the inability to connect with family members on the island. I am no medical professional, but I think it is safe to say that the island has gone through trauma. By definition, a coping mechanism is an adaptation to environmental stress that is based on conscious or unconscious choice and that enhances control over behavior or gives psychological comfort.

Interestingly enough, you could argue that this “humor as a coping mechanism” strategy was the governor’s own downfall. He claims the expressions said on the controversial leaked Telegram chat (charged with sexist and homophobic remarks) was his way of “releasing tension” from the pressure of his job. So while humor is a powerful tool for awareness and joy, it can also be poisonous and dangerous. Nonetheless, it is undeniable that the majority of the humor utilized lately in public conversations has been positively fueling the right for people to manifest themselves and hold the government accountable. It has also been key in the spreading of information and unification of a country that had been divided for far too long. Now, nothing will ever be perfect and while I can assure you there will be future memes mocking the fighting spirit of Puerto Ricans these days, it is important to remember what fueled the humor from the beginning: indignation and the overwhelming feeling that Puerto Rico has had ENOUGH.

New York, I love you.

Sunset on Manhattan

Today marks what would have been my 7th New York Anniversary. 7 years ago, on a day like today, I landed with my one-way ticket to JFK hoping for the best. I had no clue what was in store for me.

I left New York this past January and have not been able to gather my thoughts of what this has meant to me. To those close to me, you know that New York was sucking the life out of me, slowly but surely. No need to get into details here, we all know New York is expensive and demanding. As it was getting close to my last day in the city, I started seeing things differently, you may call it “graduation goggles”. The crowded trains suddenly felt poetic, the hustle and bustle felt energizing and little by little I started to notice the things I was going to miss. 

I used to compare New York City with a drug, you know it’s bad for you but you keep coming back for more. I expressed some of these thoughts during my 5th New York Anniversary post and I think you can sense in my words that I was about ready to go. New York City lifts you up so high, you are soaring, but then it can drop you so hard, the impact is undeniably sobering. I used to think that it drained you but it still felt so good but now I think you feel that way because you’ve forgotten what normal feels like. I danced with so many of these emotions for years. 

Now, New York City feels like an old lover. I know it was not perfect, there were certainly hardships along the way, but I choose to remember the good times and respect the bad times as they have made me who I am today. I go back and rejoice, feeling lucky to have called it mine for however long it lasted. Sure, there are many things I miss and maybe will always miss, but that’s ok. 

Thank you, New York. I believe there is strength in being able to thank someone, something, anything for the good it did, in spite of all the bad. A kind of broken beauty that requires patience and wisdom to be appreciated.

New York, I will always love you.