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Highlight Travel Guide: Sydney, Australia

21 Aug

Sydney, like any major city, has no shortage of unique experiences and unmatched options. I want to highlight a short list of best things I experienced during my time down under that I think you would be hard-pressed to find elsewhere.

I am sure it is a given, but I would be remiss not to mention it. Go for a show, go for a tour, go simply to admire the architecture, or to check it off of your bucket list. I don’t care why you go to the Sydney Opera House, but go.

Sydney Opera House Sails Up Close Australia

Sydney Opera House AustraliaUntil I was right beneath it, I didn’t realize that the sails are tiled.

Sydney Opera House Sails Up Close Sydney AustraliaSydney Opera House Sails Sydney Australia.jpgAnthony and I bought tickets in advance, packed our Sunday best and went all in. Before heading into the concert hall, we snagged a few seats at the Bennelong bar and grabbed a drink and a few delicious small bites.

Bennelong Menu Sydney Opera House AustraliaOne of the first things we did in Sydney, was headed to the Quay (pronounced like “key”) and hopped on a ferry. Regardless of where you go, the the panoramic views of the Opera House and the harbor were worth the price of admission. Anthony was intent on seeing Koalas and Kangaroos in Australia so we took the ferry to the Taronga Zoo. Entering the zoo from the ferry was a whimsical experience: after disembarking we were whisked up the top of the hill to the entrance of the zoo via gondola.

Taronga Zoo Sydney Australia.jpg

We opted not to do the Sydney Harbor Bridge Climb and enjoyed the perfect view from our first hotel instead. We also walked across the bridge. If you decide to walk across it, check the opening times for Pylon lookout. Sydney Harbor Bridge.jpg

Park Hyatt Sydney from Syney Harbor Bridge Australia

Early one morning, we hopped on a bus and headed to Bondi Beach before the crowds.

Bondi Paviliion.jpgThe ocean was (hyperbolically) freezing, so we opted for a dip in the slightly less chilly pool at Iceberg’s instead. Watching surfers from the oceanside pool was as cool as it sounds.

Icebergs Oceanside Pool Bondi Beach Sydney Australia.jpg

Icebergs Bondi Beach Sydney Australia

Take the stroll to Mrs Macquarie’s chair. The site itself is filled with some unique history, but the view along the way is possibly the best of the Sydney skyline.

Mrs Macquarie's Chair Sydney AustraliaSydney Skyline copy.jpg

If I could only point you to one restaurant in Sydney I would emphatically tell you not to miss the Grounds of Alexandria.  It is unlike any restaurant I have ever been to.  It’s a farm to table restaurant, patisserie, craft coffee roastery, flower market, and garden all in one. It is a casual place of the highest quality. From the coffee menu, I would highly recommend the affogato with house made tiramisu ice cream and pop rocks. Be sure to meet the animals on the property like Kevin Bacon the pig, and Russell Crowe the rooster.

The Melbourne based chocolatier, Koko Black sold me the best truffle (hands down, no contest) I have ever eaten: their liquid caramel truffle was heaven in a bite. Stop by one of the two Sydney locations in the Strand Arcade or the Queen Victoria Building (pictured below).

Stained Glass Queen Victoria Building.jpgA few other noteworthy places we ate:

If you’re look for fine dining, Quay has ranked in the top 50 restaurants in the world for eight years running. Anthony and I opted not to spend the approximately 225 USD per person, so I cannot speak to the value or experience.

My favorite Louis Vuitton city guides pointed me to Eau de Vie, recommending the Aviator, so I ordered just that. The pink cocktail is served with a blue “cloud” of cotton candy and a paper airplane on top. All the other drinks looked just as fun. When you walk into the small, award-winning bar, you will feel like you stepped back in time 100 years.

I do not like apples, and I do not like whisky, but I ordered a pressed apple and rye at the Baxter Inn, and found a new favorite drink. They juice the apples after you order and pour you a tall, frothy, green glass mixed with Tennessee Whisky. The Baxter Inn is tucked away down an alley which just so happened to be on the same block as our second hotel. When you finally find the basement bar, you’ll feel like you stumbled on Sydney’s the best kept secret hideout.

If you’re looking to go a little further off the beaten path, I loved venturing to Precinct 75. Society Inc. by Sibella Court and InArtisan are great local shops for a non-touristy souvenir. There is also a darling print shop whose name is escaping me next door to Society Inc. A ginger IPA at local brewery Willie the Boatman was a surprisingly delicious first. We also got a kick out of people watching at Maniax, an axe throwing bar (because drinking about yielding sharp weapons are the perfect pair?)

Home Decor Shop Sydney Australia

HELPFUL HINT: Before arriving in Sydney I heard nothing but sarcasm and negativity surrounding their public transportation. Coming from Austin, Texas where we have nothing more than Uber and city buses, I found it to be fantastic. Once we arrived at our hotel, Anthony and I got everywhere we could dream of going without once hailing a cab (though we do tend to walk more than the average traveler).

 

If you want a more comprehensive list of places we went or wanted to go, head to my Sydney Map. If you have specific questions or want to share your memories of Sydney, please chime in in the comments below.

 

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Guest Room Refresh In Progress

25 May

You see, the thing about décor for me is that, while I love it, it isn’t typically a financial priority.  I’d rather pay down my mortgage than redo my kitchen, and I really really would love a new kitchen. I would rather take an annual trip or two than have my house decorated to the nines, and I sincerely enjoy having a nice home to come back to. Everyone has to make choices and these are mine.

That, my friends, is why my guestroom, while always ready to welcome out-of-town guests with fresh sheets and towels and a comfortable mattress, has been furnished with hand me down furniture for the past four years. I don’t think most people mean four years when they say good design takes time.  I have no excuses for it remaining beige for so long, on the other hand.

I finally decided it was time to sink a few dollars and a few hours into the guestroom. Here is how it looks today:

Calm and Colorful Bedroom

I’m still trying to decide on brass frames for the Yago Hortal prints I searched the world over for. Don’t mind the masking tape; just keepin’ it real. I still need to borrow my mom’s sewing machine to turn the handwoven fabric I picked up in Peru into a pillow (yep, just wrapped around a pillow right now).

You want a glimpse of the before?

Caramel and Burnt Orange Bedroom

It is pretty incredible what a coat of paint and a pair of matching nightstands can do. The only other thing I bought was the curtain rod below (at the West Elm Outlet). I pulled the duvet cover out of the linen closet and had the white Ikea curtains in another room.

Side note: the Louis Vuitton City Guides ^ are wonderful and probably the least expensive things in store!

NightstandsBench (not pictured) | Curtain Rod

A Guide to Buying, Displaying, and Storing European Blown Glass Christmas Ornaments

25 Nov

One of my favorite Christmas traditions from my childhood was getting a new Christmas ornament from my stocking each year. For years now, I have been collecting European blown glass ornaments, and my mom continues the tradition of adding an ornament to my collection each year. I’ll be honest, I can’t help myself and I add to my collection too.

If you don’t know where to look, finding high quality, European glass ornaments outside of Europe can be a wild goose chase, but I’m here to share my secrets! These tips come from years of collecting, a little bit of research, luck, and even some travel.

First, I’ll break down brands to look for: searching for specific makers helps tremendously! Then I’ll go over some of my favorite places to hunt, both in store and online. After that, I’ll cover some tips on displaying and storing the fragile ornaments to keep them safe and secure on the tree at the holidays and stowed away the rest of the year.

Brands:

  • Christopher Radko – Christopher Radko is really the brand that popularized intricate blown glass ornaments in America and can be found at department stores and boutiques alike. These ornaments are made in Poland. They tend to retain or gain value for years to come and are quite popular on secondary markets, like Ebay.

    Weihnachtszierde – Weihnachtszierde, literally translated means “White Night Ornament” or Christmas Ornament. This Polish brand makes some unique, numbered, limited edition glass ornaments painted to look like tin toys.

    Tin Toy Monkey Ornament

    Weihnachtszierde Tin Toy Glass Monkey

    De Carlini- These free blown style ornaments are made in Italy. De Carlini most often makes figures or animals of glass with mixed media props.

  • Wiktoria Morawski –W. Wiktoria-Morawski, another free blown maker, isn’t likely a name you’ve heard, and chances are you wouldn’t come across the name easily either. I owned many Wiktoria-Morawski ornaments before I knew the name from purchases at various stores, where the ornaments came unmarked. It wasn’t until I bought my favorite souvenirs in generic white boxes with a tiny stickers at a shop in Munich that I learned of the company. These Polish gems are some of my absolute favorites for a couple of reasons including shapes blown into clear glass domes and a clip-on selection better than any other maker.

    Penguin Snowscape Ornament

    Morawski Penguin Glass Dome

  • Eric Cortina- Eric Cortina makes some of my favorite quirky and whimsical ornaments such as my French bulldog wearing a top hat, bowtie and a spectacle, and my clip-on of Santa’s boots sticking out of the Chimney. He also makes my crown tree topper.
  • John Huras – This guy’s story is really neat. Accustomed to the gorgeous and traditional trees of Poland, he originally started making ornaments for orphanages whose trees he wished could bring more cheer to the children.John Huras Russian Santa Ornament
  • Jay Strongwater – Jay Strongwater ornaments are on my wishlist, not my tree. The designer’s glass ornaments are pricier than most, with a very distinct enameled look.
  • Patricia Breen – I don’t own a Patricia Breen ornament (yet), and while the more traditional themes aren’t typically my style, the detail on each ornament is magnificent.
  • Landmark Creations – Landmark Creations is best known for their ornaments of, well, landmarks. Artist Michael Storings has a line made by Landmark Creations of lovely hand paints bulbs, typically of different holiday scenes in New York City.

    I Love BG Taxi Ornament

    Landmark Creations Michael Storings Bergdorf Taxi Ornament

  • Krebs Lauscha and IMPULS are German and Polish companies, respectively, that make some of the widest variety of more readily accessible European glass Christmas ornaments.
  • Inge Glas – Inge Glas is one of the oldest German-based glass blowers. These little treasures are usually more reasonably priced than other brands.

Stores:

  • Bergdorf Goodman (New York, New York) – Bergdorf Goodman has many exclusive ornaments with at least five themed trees each year. Their in store selection varies from the limited options you see online, but contact the store and you can shop through pictures via email. They will ship internationally, but if you’re in New York City for the Christmas season, I highly advise a stop on their 7th floor where their Christmas room is set up.
  • Neiman Marcus (multiple locations)- Neiman Marcus boasts of the widest variety of European ornaments I can find locally in Austin year after year. They have excellent buyers who select many ornaments made exclusively for them each year. Be sure to shop in store because like Bergdorf, their sister company, the majority of their exclusive ornaments are not available online.Russian Doll Ornament
  • Last Call (multiple locations)- Neiman Marcus Last Call can be hit or miss, but often during the holidays you will find a small selection of last year’s ornaments that didn’t sell out at Neiman Marcus or Bergdorf Goodman.
  • Tuesday Morning (multiple locations) – At Tuesday Morning you can find a few different brands, including Radko’s from last season at up to 75% off! Most of what you find will be IMPULS, found in those pale yellow boxes.
  • TJMaxx/Marshalls/HomeGoods – Most years these stores carry something, but there is no telling what. Brands and selection vary greatly from store to store and year to year. On a couple of occasions I’ve scored a Radko for under $10! Again, many of the ornaments will be IMPULS.
  • Dillard’s (multiple locations)- Dillard’s is one of the few national department stores that carries Radko in store. Go and check out the quality for yourself!
  • Mia’s Christmas Gallery (Ocean City, NJ) – I haven’t been here myself, but based on their sister website, DaPolonia, mentioned below, I hope to make it here eventually.
  • The Christmas Store (Fredericksburg, TX) – If you’re in central Texas, this is a great little shop for any time you need Christmas fix as it is open year round. They are one of the few retailers in the United States that has an entire room dedicated to Radko ornaments. If you’re out-of-state, give them a call, and they’ll help you hunt down what you’re looking for.

    Wisdom on Display Ornament, Signed

    Christopher Radko Limited Edition Owl Ornament from The Christmas Store, Fredericksburg, Texas

  • World Market – Cost Plus World Market usually has a small selection of ornaments made in Poland. Their quality isn’t always superb, but I’ve got some fun additions like a hamburger, stand mixer, and Big Ben.
  • Pier 1- Pier 1 has a very limited selection of European blown glass ornaments, but you can count on them to have one or two each year.

Online:

  • Ebay – Ebay is a vast resource for ornaments. Searching by brand or generically searching for “Polish Glass Ornaments” or “German Glass Ornaments” will return tons of results. I often brose the seller, xmasworld, who sells a great variety of mostly Krebs and IMPULS
  • GiftsbyKasia – Gifts by Kasia is a Polish owned shop that sells the largest variety of Wiktoria Morawski ornaments I have found online. Join their e-mail list. They have occasional sales and even send out giftcards!
  • Christopher Radko – In very recent years, Christopher Radko has made their annual collection available directly from their website.
  • Amazon – Amazon is more difficult to navigate when it comes to searching for ornaments, but if you find a specific ornament you like, pop over to Amazon for a price comparison.
  • Horchow – Horchow is the sister company of Bergdorf Goodman and Neiman Marcus, and usually has a similar selection to the two stores on their website. They carry Eric Cortina, De Carlini, Christopher Radko, and Jay Strongwater.
  • Bronner’s – Bronner’s online stocks a simply enormous variety of Christmas goods. The site can be overwhelming, but if you click on “Christmas Ornaments” and then “European-Made” it narrows down the scope to a manageable number of pages. Most of what you find here will either be IMPULS or Krebs.
  • The Cottage Shop – The Cottage Shop sells the widest variety of De Carlini ornaments I have found on the world wide web as well as a smaller selection of Polish ornaments.
  • Dapolonia – Da Polonia is a pricier resource overall, but they have a truly unique selection. I’ve been eyeing the unavailable “Girl with a Pearl Earring” ornament for a couple of years now. They have some makers I am unfamiliar and some Wiktoria Morawski ornaments.
  • Silverado – Shipping at Silverado costs approximately $50, but their ornaments are so well priced that if you are looking to buy a handful or more, you end up saving in the end. Silverado carries the best selection of Weihnachtszierde brand ornaments I have found
  • ABC Home – I have had less than stellar experiences with ABC Home’s customer service, but I have found a few Wiktoria Morawski clip on ornaments that were worth the trouble on their site. Shopping in the beautiful store at the holidays is pure magic if you happen to be in New York City.
  • Gracious Home – Gracious Home is another lovely NYC home store you can shop online. They stock a selection of Radko and Morawski ornaments as well as a few IMPULS options.
  • Bloomingdale’s – Bloomingdale’s carries a handful of Landmark Creations ornaments each year including a few Michael Storings’ baubles.
  • Dillard’s is one of the few department stores that carries Radko in store. Go and check out the quality for yourself!
  • RogersGardens – Roger’s Gardens sells the best selection of Eric Cortina ornaments I found. They also stock Christopher Radko.

Non-European ornaments are not always sub-par I have a few treasured ornaments that were made in China. Sometimes you just find an original concept or design that makes up for lesser quality and sometimes the quality and detail are equally lovely. Old World Christmas ornaments are made in China, but if you are looking for a specific shape or theme, Old World Christmas is a high quality go-to. Anthropologie occasionally carries blown glass ornaments that are unique and worthwhile. I also have a few ornaments on my tree that are travel souvenirs made in China, such as a bearskin soldier I bought in London. Waterford’s blown glass ornaments are typically made in China, but the detail on my Waterford ballerina ornament rivals that on many of my German and Polish made ornaments.

Waterford Ballerina Ornament

Waterford Ballerina Ornament

Display:

Generally speaking, glass ornaments are better displayed on an artificial tree because real trees have moisture that can damage this finish over time. The likelihood of this causing any significant damage in your lifetime is small, so If you prefer to celebrate with a real tree, you do you.

I highly recommend purchasing Sure Grip Clips for displaying your fragile favorites. You can find them online, but they are pretty pricey. Hobby Lobby carries them in store for a song in comparison. I replaced all of the clips on my ornaments in 2014 and feel like they insurance my collection’s safety. There have been accidental shakes and bumps of our tree without shattered glass.

Storage:

While plastic is typically not advised for storage of precious blown glass ornaments, for moisture reasons, I use Snapware to store all of my ornaments. I just don’t trust cardboard not to get crushed. I try to control moisture in other ways which I will share in a second. Another bit I have learned is that the Snapware storage boxes are the same size as the Christmas boxes, available year-round, and usually priced lower than the green and red holiday variety.

While Snapware comes with dividers, I buy Ikea Drawer Dividers. If you buy the Christmas Snapware, you will receive more than enough cardboard dividers. If you buy the storage variety like I do, you will only receive enough plastic dividers for one tier. That’s just fine by me though: Ikea Drawer Dividers are the perfect height and are far more customizable, so you can arrange them to fit the stranger shapes and sizes.

In order pad the ornaments and combat moisture, I use Archival Shred that I buy from the Container Store. I also add Silica Gel packets to the bottom of each tier in order to trap any moisture that might make its way into the boxes.

Do you think I’m crazy yet? Do you know of any stores or brands available stateside that I’m missing? Do you collect a specific type of ornaments?

Get more Christmas inspiration from my holiday PInterest board!

Highlights of Savannah, Georgia

12 Apr

You can say Savannah had me at hello. I feel like every experience I had during my day trip from Charleston last summer was a touch of magic. Savannah filled me with wonder.

Our first stop was SCAD Museum of Art and I was sold. The words that come to mind are multisensory. Rashaad Newsome’s exhibit was auditory while visual while Ling Hongbo’s was visual and tactile. SCAD Museum of Art Colorful Rainbow Paper Guns and Bullets Exhibit

Looking to support some SCAD students? Shop SCAD is a cute boutique with student-filled works.

I am not exaggerating when I say that Chocolate by Adam Turoni is one of my favorite shops in the world.  Each shop is like a room in a fantastical house, the first I visited was a library, a chocolate library. Imagine: glass enclosed bookcases full of chocolate. The staff hands you trays reminiscent of old card catalog drawers. Each truffle or bar variety is labeled, in typewritten font, on library cards.  After visiting the first shop, I knew I had to also visit their second location.The second shop I visited was a dining room, that made you feel as if you had been personally invited to the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party. The chocolates themselves are no less whimsical. From a George Milies Trip To The Moon chocolate to a made to order creme brulee truffle, each piece is a handmade delight.

Adam Turoni Dining Room

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Highlight Travel Guide: Charleston, South Carolina

21 Jan

Charleston didn’t take hold of me quite the way I expected. Maybe it was the pouring rain and the late bus from the airport to the city, or dragging my suitcase down narrow, crowded, cobblestone sidewalks. Maybe it was the miserable humidity. Maybe it was because I had heard so many tales of people swooning over the city and my expectations were high. Maybe it had something to do with its ties to ugly parts of American history.

Row Houses Charleston.jpg

Or maybe, possibly, it was because I had to submit to the (s)Low Country pace of the city before I could really enjoy it. Sure, I live in Texas, but Charleston was my first visit to the deep South. It has a flavor all its own, and I had to get to know it, before I could love it.

Charleston City Market

Our time in Charleston consisted of lots of long strolls, a fair amount of history, and more than enough food.

Starting with food recommendations, I’ll spare you my criticisms of our first several meals, and instead reaffirm the idea that Charleston is a city full of great food. I think we were eating breakfast at Hominy Grill when Anthony and I had the realization that we had much better luck with Low Country cuisine in Charleston than when we tried to be fancy. You can’t get too much better than the Charleston Nasty Biscuit.

 

Husk started off with a bang. I fell in love with pimento cheese in Charleston, and Husk served simply the best. The rest of our lunch there kind of fizzled out, but I would go again and again for that wonderful cheddar pimento slathered on grilled bread.

I seized another opportunity to eat pimento at Callie’s Hot Little Biscuit and again at Artisan Meat Share. Both places served wonderful, casual meals

wp-1453393028479.jpgOn the advice of a friend (who’s recommendations never fail us), Anthony and I went to Edmond’s Oast for happy hour. We ordered lamb sliders, and I fully expected to be served a ground lamb patty on a bun. To my sheer delight, they brought out house-cured lamb. They continued to impress with Japanese style street corn. I also had a cocktail called, “What time does Sean Connery show up to Wimbledon?” Though we only snacked, dining there was a true experience.

Edmond's Oast Charleston

We only ate lightly at Edmond’s Oast due to our late-night dinner reservations at FIGWe probably should have booked a table prior to arriving in South Carolina, but when we called, they squeezed us into a late night spot the next evening.

Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream graces Austin with its truck for SXSW, so I could not pass up my first opportunity to visit a scoop shop and have a sundae with a conversation cookie and sprinkles. The ice cream is top notch and their caramel sauce makes a wonderful souvenir. The stunning copper store front isn’t so bad either.

 

I stand firmly in the camp of room service is a (usually overpriced and tasteless) treat and breakfast in bed is the best. Charleston is exactly the type of city you can order in in without feeling like you’re missing out. You could even one-up room service by ordering  Caviar & Bananas for delivery. If you do head out, Caviar & Bananas was the perfect stop for an iced coffee, a welcome reprieve from the hellish humidity. It is a darling delicatessen stocked with locally sourced artisianal groceries.

I donut eat many doughnuts at home, but rarely pass up an opportunity to try a fancy local doughnut shop while travelling. Glazed Gourmet Doughnuts was not exempt. I preferred their savory pastries to their sweet ones, regardless, it was a tasty, inexpensive morning meal.

 

Anthony and I do not usually splurge on hotel, but opt to spend our money on other experiences. Had we splurged, I would have opted to stay at the newly opened Spectator Hotel. I still wanted to eye the stunning design in person, so we swung by for drinks one evening. A kind Texan on staff there recommended we go to Poogan’s Porch for brunch. We never made it, so go for me if you’re there!

Spectator Hotel Charleston Lobby

We stayed at the charming and art-filled hotel, The Vendue. I tend to refuse room service on vacation, but how could I when nightly turn down service included chocolate on my pillow? Free coffee in the morning, appetizers and wine in the evening, and cookies at night did not hurt either.

The Vendue Charleston Boutique Art HotelThe Vendue Charleston Hotel Art ViewMaster LOOK

The Vendue is less than a block from Waterfront Park. Somehow we woke up early enough one morning to swing on the dock during the last few minutes of sunrise.

Waterfront Park Charleston

Waterfront Park Dock CharlestonWhile it’d be nearly impossible to miss, you can’t go to Charleston without a stroll down King Street. When we didn’t feel like long walks in the hot hot heat, the free, air-conditioned Trolley saved our feet.

I felt like it was really important to see Fort Sumpter while we were in Charleston, where the first shots of the American Civil War rang out. If you’re looking for more American history, you’ll find plenty in Charleston. I would recommend a visit to the Old Exchange and Provost Dungeon.

I also felt compelled to visit one of the many plantation houses while we were there. We opted to visit Magnolia, though if I had a do-over, I may have chosen Middleton Place. After our tour, we took a lengthy stroll through the gardens and I learned I prefer tailored French gardens over their  English counterparts.

Magnolia Plantation House Charleston copy.jpg

On the way back from our day trip to Savannah (post in progress), we stopped to see the Angel Oak Tree, estimated to be over 400 years old with a circumference greater than twenty-five feet!

Angel Oak Tree Charleston Oldest Tree.jpg

As a traveller I am a go-go-goer. I love to see the world! Charleston taught me, that sometimes seeing the world and experiencing a city, means just sitting still in it for a moment.

See more places we went or wanted to go on my Charleston map! Have you been to Charleston? Share your memories in the comments below!

 

Day Trip From Austin: The Antlers Hotel

22 Jul

I am very much a city girl. That being said, sometimes a weekend with very little phone reception, no laptop, and quiet surroundings is exactly what I need for a weekend.

For our second wedding anniversary, we opted to do the exact opposite of what we did last year. No big trip, no fancy meals, just a quiet weekend away from everything doing absolutely nothing. It was perfect.

We drove about an hour outside of Austin and stayed overnight in a train car at the Antlers Hotel in Kingsland, Texas. I devoured The Boxcar Children books growing up, though I think they were a bit more resourceful than us. Our green caboose had indoor plumbing and air conditioning.

Green Train Car Cabin Antlers Hotel Texas

It seems Anthony and I have a thing for strange sleeping accomodations. Now we have stayed in both a caboose and a tepee.

Yellow Train Car Antlers Hotel Kingsland Texas

Red Train Car Antlers Hotel Kingsland Texas

While we opted to eat at the Grand Central Cafe on property, which is the house used on the set of Texas Chainsaw Massacre (romantic, right?), there are grills outside the train cars, kitchenettes inside, and a grocery store just down the road (all of which I would recommend over the restaurant). Marble Falls isn’t far if you want a few more restaurant options.

Antlers Train Car Hotel Dock

Antlers Hotel Train Car Hotel Kingsland Texas Rowboat

The hotel had two private docks as well as a rowboat and a canoe for guests to use. We went for a leisurely morning row.

antlers hotel signantlers hotel patio

antlers hotel marker

We also spent some time at Sweet Berry Farms picking strawberries. And stopped at Apiary for brunch on the way back into town.

Before we left for the weekend, a for sale sign was put up on the property. I hope the property remains a hotel. It is a perfect weekend getaway from city livin’.

Las Vegas Mini Guide, or, So Much More Than I Expected

4 May

After landing in Las Vegas, I remarked to the husband that I was surprised at how beautiful it is. While he had been before, our trip in February was my first time in Sin City. I quickly realized that Vegas would surprise me many times over the next five days.

Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas Sign

I kept hearing that three days was the maximum amount of time many visitors would stay, but I could have easily lingered a day or two longer than we did. While many people go for debauchery a la Hangover, I found that Vegas has infinitely more to offer than free casino drinks and wedding chapels.

Floating Street Artist Entertainer Performer The Strip Las Vegas

For us, having family to visit made the trip exceedingly more enjoyable, but I’d recommend a visit to everyone. Fun sites, new experiences, and amazing food: below I’ll list the things I’d hate for you to miss if you found yourself in Vegas.

Bellagio Las Vegass Chihuly Glass Ceiling

Chihuly Glass Bellagio Ceiling Las Vegas

The infamous Strip, lined with enormous casinos, really proved false the maxim, “everything’s bigger in Texas.” Just a couple of casinos could take you days to explore. I soaked up all things over-the-top, elaborate, and exuberant, like a good Vegas traveller would. A favorite of mine was the Bellagio, with the Chihuly glass ceiling, pictured above, and the world’s largest chocolate fountain, pictured below.

World's Largest Chocolate Fountain Bellagio Las Vegas

At the Cosmopolitan I grabbed a fortune from the giant Lucky Cat and a drink in the stunning Chandelier Bar, a three story lounge, draped lavishly in seemingly endless strands of crystals. The Monkey’s Uncle was a sweet concoction of Monkey Shoulder Whiskey, Creme de Banana, Cream, Nutella, House Made Cinnamon-Vanilla Syrup.

Monkeys Uncle Cocktail Chandelier Bar Cosmopolitan Las Vegas

At Caesar’s Palace we enjoyed truffles that freely dispense from the large clock at Payard every fifteen minutes. While we were there, I picked up a Raspberry Pistachio Macaron Ice Cream Sandwich. At Monte Carlo, bundled up in parkas, surrounded by ice sculptures and sitting on benches made of ice and laden with furs and hides, we sipped cocktails out of glasses made of ice at Minus5 Bar. Vegas has plenty of experiences for the books. While, I opted not to take a gondola ride in the Venetian, I loved hearing the gondoliers singing in Italian as we strolled to brunch at Bouchon where we devoured warm beignets. I loved the antique brass card holder, below, so much, that I came home and scoured Etsy for an identical one.

Bouchon Bistro Business Card Holder Las Vegas

While we were there, the casinos were adorned in Chinese New Year decor. The Venetian and Mandalay Bay were most bedecked for the Year of the Goat.

Chinese New Year Year of the Goat Floral Arrangement Firecrackers

Since we rented a car to day trip to the Grand Canyon, we spent a fair amount of time exploring Vegas like a local might. My favorite meals in Vegas were not prepared by the chefs on Las Vegas Boulevard, but instead on Rainbow Boulevard. I had perhaps my favorite foodie experience to date in Vegas. Following a spicy Thai meal at Lotus of Siam of Nam Kao Tod (crispy rice) and duck panang, I indulged in three course dessert at Sweets Raku.

My experience at Sweets Raku was off to a great start with an edible menu, rolled in a cookie ring, and served with dipping sauce. From there, I chose my courses: Pineapple Sorbet with White Wine Jelly, Strawberry Tiramisu, and a chocolate creme puff with raspberries. Anthony skipped the multi-course meal in favor of an indulgent Chocolate Souffle with Banana Pudding.

We loved the area so much, we returned another day to have lunch at the crowded, but wait-worthy Monta Ramen. Having Ramen Tatsu-ya in Austin has really ruined me for ramen, but my Tonkatsu style ramen with black garlic did not disappoint.

For non-gambling fun, we headed north on Las Vegas Boulevard and visited the Neon Museum, a boneyard filled with the neon signs that Vegas is known for, from years past.

Stardust Neon Sign Museum Las Vegas Nevade

Driving from the airport to our hotel, a glimmer of silver glinted in in my eyes and I knew I had seen Gehry. Not far from downtown, we found it: The Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health. I know nothing about architecture, but love pretty buildings.

Frank Gehry Architecture Las Vegas Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health

We also spent a little time on Fremont Street downtown, zip-lining on Slotzilla under the LED video canopy and walking through an old casino or two where you could hear all the coins clambering as people won and lost buckets of money, rather than swiping player cards as is common on The Strip.

Slotzilla Freemont Street Experience Las Vegas

I wanted to purchase a day pass to slide through the shark tank at the Golden Nugget, but it closes early and swimming was not allowed when we had the time. I suppose that means I have to visit Las Vegas again.

Shark Tank Slide Golden Nuggest Las Vegas

Have you been to Vegas? Tell me about your trip.

The Glass Skywalk at the Grand Canyon and the Hoover Dam

19 Mar

I could not have imagined that a large rock formation could be so humbling and so awe-inspiring. If the Grand Canyon is not on your bucket list, it should be.

I did not comprehend it’s vastness or my own smallness until I visited the Grand Canyon. I could not have possibly imagined how large such a small part of one country could be. Helicopters descend into the canyon, and look like ants by comparison.

On our recent trip to Vegas, we took a day trip to visit the Grand Canyon and the Hoover Dam. Despite the terrible online reviews we opted to go to the Glass Skywalk at Grand Canyon West. It is two hours closer to Vegas than the South Rim and, let’s face it, the National Park doesn’t have a glass structure that allows me to stand 4000 feet above the Canyon floor.

Grand Canyon Glass Skywalk

Photo provided by Hualapai Ranch | Skywalk at Grand Canyon West

Photo provided by Hualapai Ranch | Skywalk at Grand Canyon West

Grand Canyon West Glass Skywalk

If you are planning a trip the the Grand Canyon and choose to go to the Skywalk:

+ DO keep in mind that it will be more expensive than the South Rim

+ DO come to terms with the fact that if you want pictures on the Skywalk, you will have to pay

+ DON’T listen to old reviews: the road to Hualapai Ranch was completed fall of 2014

Jumping Grand Canyon

Coming from Vegas, I think the two hour and twenty minute drive was the right choice for us, but I truly think that you can’t go wrong with any view of the Canyon. I imagine that the South Rim is equally as breathtaking as the West.

Trail Closed

On the way back into Vegas we stopped at the Hoover Dam which was very evidently and charmingly 1930’s.

Hoover Dam

Photos of Las Vegas coming soon!

Thanks for reading,

♥ Dominique

Zebra Print Cowhide Rug

2 Mar

Lately, I haven’t had many projects, but coming back to the blog and looking at the most recently posted photos, I realize so much in my home has changed. It has changed slowly: one small project or purchase at a time.

The hope is that, soon, Gusto & Grace will be more reflective of what this home actually looks like currently, starting with the dining room.

Several months back, we picked up an enormous mirror for a song at Ikea. It is something like 7 feet tall, and we mounted it to the wall, so it looks even larger behind the alphabet chest. The Texas watercolour prints I made were moved to the barren walls in the living room. I shrunk the dining table to seat four rather than six, since there are normally just two of us. I also killed my fiddle leaf fig tree, which I miss dearly, and hope to replace soon.

The newest addition to the dining room is a zebra print cowhide rug which I special ordered from Discount Cowhides. I am now a raving fan. If you’re hunting for a cowhide rug, I highly encourage you to read the post Jennifer from Dimples and Tangles wrote about what makes these cowhides superior. The first several days after receiving it, the house smelled like a leather goods shop.

Zebra Cowhide Rug White and Black Dining Room

The new number one priority for the dining room will be a new chandelier.

On a side note, I’ve decided to narrow the focus of Gusto & Grace. Moving forward posts will be about one of two of my favorite things: the process of creating home or the adventures of travel. Look for posts about the Grand Canyon and Las Vegas in the days ahead.

Thanks for reading,

Dominique 

The Best of Gusto & Grace: 2014 Edition

5 Jan

At the beginning of the new year, I love taking a little time  to reflect on everything the previous year held for me. Here are a handful of Gusto & Grace’s 2014 Highlights

The Popcorn Hydrangeas from the Circus Baby Shower I hosted for my friends and godson remains the most pinned image from the blog.

Popcorn Hydrangeas for Circus Baby Shower www.gustoandgraceblog.com

If you didn’t earlier this year, don’t forgot to bookmark this life-altering Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe.  

World's Best Chocolate Chip Cookie Recipe https://gustoandgrace.wordpress.com/2014/02/03/worlds-best-chocolate-chip-cookie-recipe

When our box of ticket stubs started overflowing, I got creative and started using our bedside lamps to store our ever-growing collection of stubs. Read all about them here.

Ticket Stub Filled Lamps https://gustoandgrace.wordpress.com/2014/02/10/ticket-filled-lamps/

In February I was asked to appear on Good Day Austin. With a squeal of delight, I accepted, and had the time of my life showcasing my DIYed wedding invitations. I even earned an invitation back!

FOX 7 | Good Day Austin: Make it Monday | DIY Wedding Invitations www.gustoandgraceblog.com

My home finally got some art on the wall and it all started with the Prada Marfa watercolour print I created. You can print out the full sized version for FREE here.

Free Printable Watercolor Prada Marfa Print www.gustoandgraceblog.com

I fell in love with the fact that San Antonio is only an hour away after an exploratory day trip.

Ocho_Hotel_Havana_San_Antonio_Texas

Gusto & Grace got a Home Tour page, which I am now realizing is in dire need of new photos. Grab a cup of something warm and a soft throw, and take a look around!

Black & White Entryway Inspiration

I made my first visit to Round Top, and came home empty handed. I still kick myself for not buying this gorgeous, vintage, lucite beauty:

Round Top Antique Fair | Gusto & Grace

For a grand total of $17 I turned my neighbors trash into my gaudy, golden treasure. Spoiler alert: The upstairs bathroom is in the middle of an update.

ornate gold frame mirror

On our one year anniversary, wedding photos hit the blog.

Bridal Party Socks Groomsment Photo Ideas

Jeremy & Kristin Photography

After our incredible one year anniversary trip, a.k.a. second honeymoon, to Paris, I may be on the road to becoming a Francophile. If you’re planning or trip, or simply obsessed with the City of Lights, you can read about my favorites sites (museums and monuments), shops and eats in Paris and oogle over Chateau Versailles.

Laudree Paris | Champs Eylsees

I may have gained status of Best Wife Ever by playing on my husbands weaknesses and planning Pizza Week: nightly dates with local pizza. Bufalina, however, won the award for best pizza we ate all week.

Via 313 Austin

In July, the console we commissioned our friend to build finally made it to Austin. I have talented friends, folks. It is a such a handsome piece of furniture.

White Modern Geometric Console

In July, my mom and stepdad, and sister and brother-in-law came down and the guys installed crown moulding in our kitchen and dining room.

Dining Room Crown Moulding

This fall, furniture made of dreams arrived on my doorstop, or, as my dad refers to them, thrones.

Neutral Living Room Hooded Balloon Porters Versailles Chairs

This holiday season I hosted our first annual Christmas party

Christmas Snow Globe Cake

…and learned my lesson about glitter wrapping paper.

Gifts with Glitter and Tartan

My love of Christmas has not diminished, as evidenced by my growing ornament collection. Read up for tips on hunting down the best traditional European glass ornaments!

2014 Christmas Tree

On the personal front, 2014 was a big year for Anthony and I. I finally found a job in Austin in January 2014. Anthony got his CPA, we bought a used car, removed PMI from our mortgage, and later re-financed our house. We welcomed a new newphew and a godson in March. In May, welcomed my sister and her husband home from New York City and bid adieu to Anthony’s brother and his family when they moved to a new wintry land. In October, paid a short visit to them in Minnesota to see their new digs. Last month, we took my first trip to Anthony’s happy place, Disney World (pictures to come).

If you missed last year’s recap, you can find it here.

Happy New Year!

♥ Dominique

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