TRAVELS & PLACES

Quick Winter Getaway, Part II (Houston)

rice running trail

 

Hey guys, as promised, this is part two of my recent short Winter getaway. The first part of this travel diary recap is HERE.

 

HOUSTON

So, after having a great time in St. Louis Missouri, I hopped on a plane for a quick trip to Houston. The weather was amazing when I arrived there. It wasn’t sunny, but it was definitely warm. As usual, Houston is vibrant and everyone’s on their T-shirt and walking their dogs. Like with most big cities, there’s a lot of stuff to see in Houston, but I didn’t have the time to explore, so I just spent my few days there strolling around.

 

Hotel Zaza Houston

 

Hotel Zaza French Macarons
free French Macarons near Hotel Zaza’s lobby

 

Hotel Zaza – known to be a boutique hotel, I had high hopes for the place when I checked in. However, I was utterly surprised by the darkness of the interior and it’s not just slightly dark, it’s REALLY dark to the point that you would have a hard time finding the elevator button. My room was dingy, musty and scary. Honestly, the hotel was giving me the creeps. It’s got the whole Overlord meets The Shining vibe. LOL. The hallways are eerily silent, dark, and the type that will give you goosebumps. It’s full of bizarre paintings and photos that don’t seem to make any sense with regards to the hotel’s overall design. The staff are distant and they don’t seem to care much for their clients. I remember sitting at their Monarch Restaurant located just adjacent to the hotel and no one came to ask for my order, so I just left. I did change room because I was so grossed out with its carpet and its musty smell, not to mention the not-so-safe-looking door and windows. Honestly, if it wasn’t for the free French Macarons at the lobby which I managed to spot amidst all that darkness and the hotel’s proximity to Rice Village, I would not have stayed at all, in fact, I don’t think I will ever stay there again.

 

rice university houston tx

 

rice university loop
Rice University Loop

 

Rice Boulevard & Rice Village – As what I’ve said above, the other nice thing of staying at my scary hotel is the fact that it’s walking distance to Rice University, Rice University Trail/Loop, and Rice Village. Yes, there’s a lot of rice there, I know, LOL. But yeah, I took a nice long stroll along Rice Boulevard and its running trail/loop which gave me a beautiful view of the Rice University campus. The university itself has a very classic design but the stars of the show are the impressive old oak trees that surrounded the entire school. They kinda reminded me of the Oak Alley Plantation in New Orleans (read about that trip HERE). Also, they are everywhere and they seem to take a life of their own. I truly recommend that you take a stroll along the Rice Boulevard trail because it’s kind of a reflecting experience. Since it wasn’t cold at all, I saw some squirrels having fun climbing the trees and enjoying the weather. Towards the end of Rice Boulevard is the famous Rice Village and I had a great time browsing some shops there. I picked up some beauty stuff at Bluemercury, had a coffee and spicy Chorizo at Starbucks, bought some pants at Loft, and swatched some makeup at Sephora. I totally love Rice Village for casual shopping and dining. Oh, and you gotta try the Rice Krispies from The Chocolate Bar if you happen to be there.

 

bluemercury rice village tx
Rice Village

 

Additionally, on my way to Rice Village, I passed by several museums, like the Houston Museum of Natural Science, the Cockrell Butterfly Center, and I also stopped at Hermann Park to check out the roses near the Sam Houston monument. Check out the photos below.

Sam Houston Monument Hermann Park
Sam Houston Monument at Hermann Park

 

Houston Museum of Natural Science Photo

 

Cockrell Butterfly Center Museum Houston
Cockrell Butterfly Center

 

hermann park houston tx
Reflection Pool at Hermann Park

 

I find these short trips to be very beneficial on my part. I got a chance to unwind and disconnect for a while, and even though I got disappointed with my stay at Hotel Zaza in Houston, still, I could see myself living in all of the three cities I recently visited. I absolutely miss the sun in California, I love the newness and the energy of St. Louis, and I there are so many things in Houston I want to explore. Anyways, that my friends conclude my short Winter getaway. Stay tuned for more trips coming soon.

 

Have you been to these spots before? What do you like about them?

 

To book a flight to Houston TX, click HERE

 

Quick Winter Getaway, Part I (Orange County & St. Louis)

 

Last month and towards the end of last year, I did a quick getaway to somewhere warm and sunny. I needed to disconnect for a little bit and to prepare myself for the upcoming long cold Winter of my natural habitat, LOL. Anyway, I actually went from one city to another but didn’t stay long, only for a few days each. So here now is the first part of these recent trips.

 

ORANGE COUNTY

 

I miss the California sun and was excited to visit Orange County, only to realize that it was actually raining when I arrived and it didn’t stop until the next day. So I mostly stayed in my hotel chillin’ and on the third day, I had a great time shopping and dining at the nearby outlet which is very close to my hotel.

 

ayres hotel orange orange county california

 

Ayres Hotel Orange – I had a fabulous stay in this beautiful and relaxing hotel. Its grounds are very well-kept, beautiful, and simply serene. The staff here are very kind and respectful to your privacy. Food-wise, this hotel has a nice breakfast buffet selection, and plenty of chairs to lounge around, especially nearby the pool area. I also had a chance to dine at a nearby Mexican restaurant called Anepalco and their food and service was really excellent. To book a stay in this hotel, click HERE.

 

the outlets at orange county california

 

the outlets at orange

 

The Outlets at Orange– With just minutes away and walking distance from Ayres Hotel Orange, this large outlet has lots of shops and restaurants. I had a great time strolling around and browsing at different stores which I find to be very well-stocked compared to my local outlets at home. Their Saks Off Fifth has several discounted Tom Ford beauty products which got me drooling. Also, they have a nice AMC theatre where I watched Green Book.

 

ST. LOUIS MISSOURI

 

downtown clayton missouri

 

I have never been to St. Louis before and I was curious as to what Missouri looks like. True to my expectation, St. Louis especially downtown Clayton is very beautiful and it’s booming. I love the architecture here which is very classic and I noticed that even the new buildings/constructions seem to follow the same classic design. Clayton is full of shops and restaurants, plus the people are so friendly and so kind. The cabs and Uber drivers here are so polite and friendly, and they even act and talk like your tour guide. I like the flat topography of St. Louis even though it looks a little too spread out. There are lots of things to see here. Almost all the houses I’ve seen around Clayton are grand and well-kept. Washington University (Wash U) is nearby and it’s a beautiful classic-style campus as well. During my visit here, the weather was wavering between sunny and gloomy and it wasn’t so cold during the day. I did get so cold at night though. All in all, St. Louis Missouri is not your average midwest town. This place is a total must-see.

 

ritz carlton st louis missouri

 

ritz carlton missouri

 

Ritz Carlton – Located at the heart of Downtown Clayton, the room that I got here is a bit small compared to some other Ritz Carltons I’ve stayed before, but it’s still luxurious nevertheless. It’s also super clean and the toiletries are from Asprey London which smells divine and luxe. I adored the all-marble wall to floor bathroom, and the staff here are courteous and helpful. I enjoyed a simple hearty breakfast here and the service was great. They’ll even give you a free snack and drinks if you’re waiting for someone at the lobby. They were also very nice to me when I asked to change to another room after I complained that I could hear the sound of the elevator from my bed. I don’t think that I got a nice view of Clayton from my room, but for me, it was good enough as long as I could not hear any noise outside my window. Location-wise, this hotel is a perfect walking distance to a lot of shops and restaurants in Clayton. To book a stay in this hotel click HERE.

 

ritz carlton room st louis missouri

 

breakfast at ritz carlton st louis missouri

 

ritz carlton st louis room view

 

 

the arch st. louis missouri

 

the gateway arch national park st. louis

The Gateway Arch – I was so excited to see this famous Gateway to the West, simply known as “The Arch”. It is the world’s tallest arch and it’s one of America’s most famous monuments. I took an Uber to visit the Arch and the driver politely told me that the Arch was closed because of the government shutdown, but I insisted to see it anyway just so I could see the arch from the outside at least. True to everyone’s rave, the Arch is SO impressive. It’s made of stainless steel and it’s about 630 ft tall. You can potentially go up there and take in all the view from above, although I can only imagine how it must be like. Across the arch is a view of the Mississippi River from St. Louis Missouri’s side, and strolling along it is so relaxing, you can totally enjoy the sun and the sand. 

 

the arch st louis missouri

 

the arch st louis missouri

 

riverboat cruises gateway arch

 

 

st. louis zoo grizzly bear

 

st. louis zoo

 

St. Louis Zoo – I took another Uber and decided to visit the St. Louis Zoo. I haven’t been to any zoo for a long time and I needed to see my friends (I love animals, you know). This zoo is probably the most laid-back zoo I’ve ever been and it’s also very vast. The animals here are cute and you can see lots of them. From Tigers to Buffalos, down to some rare snakes, this zoo not only looks like a zoo, but it also looks like a park. Kids and families love this place and I too enjoyed this zoo a lot.

 

st louis missouri zoo penguins

st. louis mo zoo

 

st. louis zoo view

 

 

st. louis zoo buffalos

 

 

st. louis art museum

 

St. Louis Art Museum – This museum has a very classic European-style architecture and it looks grand. Just right outside of it is the statue of the impressive King Louis IX of France riding a mighty horse, known as the Apotheosis of St. Louis. In front of the statue is the Grand Basin of the vast Forest Park. The St. Louis Art Museum has unique and interesting exhibits, but I didn’t spend a lot of time here because I was getting hungry and they were about to close anyway, so I started looking for food. LOL. 

 

st. louis art museum

 

st. louis art museum exhibit

 

FOODIES:

 

BARcelona tapas restaurant menu

 

BARcelona tapas restaurant review

tres leches barcelona tapas restaurant

BARcelona Tapas Restaurant – Just 30 minutes walk from Ritz Carlton hotel and still in downtown Clayton, I had a nice dinner at this restaurant the same day that I arrived in St. Louis. I was impressed by the variety of the menu as well as the restaurant’s decor and ambiance. The food here transported me back to Barcelona and it’s really good, also, the prices are not that expensive. The service is quick and the food was served on time, but you do need to call ahead for a reservation. I highly recommend that you try their Tres Leches (dessert) which is so divine. To reserve a table to this restaurant, click HERE.

 

guerilla street food review

 

guerilla street food st. louis missouri menu

 

Guerilla Street Food – I came here right after visiting the St. Louis Art Museum. Again, my Uber driver was a kind welcoming Vietnam Vet who further oriented me to St. Louis. I was not really sure why the restaurant is called Guerilla, but I was determined to taste this famous Filipino franchise in STL. I’m no stranger to Filipino foods at all, so if you ask me what I think about the food here, I think, to be honest, they’re just ok. I ordered Chicken Adobo which I think definitely needs some soy sauce, and the Sinigang (Tamarind soup) definitely needs more Tamarind because it wasn’t sour at all. The Empanadas are ok, but I don’t know what the “Flying Pig” was all about. While it tasted so good, there is no such thing as Flying Pig in Philippine cuisine. Just a tip, the sodas here are not your average American sodas. I wasn’t really sure what they were, I wanna say that they’re the Philippine version of most American drinks and that their tastes are not that different from what we’re used to here in the US. I honestly could not recognize most of them except for the Calamansi juice, which is so great by the way. 

 

guerilla street food sinigang

 

st. louis missouri guerilla street food

 

St. Louis Galleria – I ended my stay in Missouri with a visit to one of their malls. I wanted to go to Plaza Frontenac but they were closing early on that day, so I decided to drop by at the famous St. Louis Galleria in Richmond Heights near St. Louis. This mall is huge and they have shops and brands that I haven’t seen or heard before. There are several floors in this mall and the decors are impressive.

st. louis galleria mall

 

I was definitely fascinated by the beauty of St. Louis and I highly recommend that you visit this place whenever you have time and I bet you that you won’t be disappointed. Stay tuned for part two of this trip.

 

Travel Back In Time. New Wilmington, PA. Amish Country.

Hello, travel bugs! You may have read my travel diary when I went to the quaint little town of Lawrence Country, called Volant, PA. Link HERE. In that trip, I detailed my desire to see the rural life, especially to see the Amish and check out their businesses and some other shops. Volant, PA is a very scenic sleepy little town that will truly put you in the mood for some fresh air and peaceful disposition. I found several Amish stores there and did see some Amish people but never really interacted with them. I would say that Volant was a place that showcases Amish shops and businesses but it wasn’t really where you could actually see their way of life. To truly get a glimpse of the real Amish culture, I knew I would have to go elsewhere. I had two places in mind – either visit Lancaster, PA or check out New Wilmington, PA. Last Spring, I decided to visit the latter.

 

new wilmington pa amish road

 

Why did I decide to visit Wilmington, PA? And why was I so interested with the Amish people? Well, New Wilmington seemed like the most feasible place for me to visit, and also, I saw a really interesting Amish Tour from there. For the second question, I have always been fascinated with Amish people. I’m curious about their way of life and how they really live in this fast-changing modern world. Also, I wondered what it’s like to be an Amish? Would I be able to survive in a simple fuss-free lifestyle, devoid of my beloved cellphone and makeup? LOL. Oh my, probably not.

 

New Wilmington, PA is about an hour drive from its closest populous city, Pittsburgh, PA. I’ve seen an Amish tour there that I’ve been so curious about and have always wanted to book it. It’s called “Simple Life Tours”, and it’s rated highly in Tripadvisor.com. The Simple Life Tour is a personal private tour with a vehicle that will take you up close and personal with the Amish. The tour guide is Susan, a sweet, lively, and friendly lady who grew up in New Wilmington, PA and have been doing business with the Amish for years. She also happens to be the former owner of The Tavern on the Square Restaurant that features Amish-style country cooking. This restaurant also serves as the meeting place for the Amish tour. When I met Susan, she told me how she came into the tour business while running the most iconic restaurant in town. She said that her restaurant guests would ask her where they could see the Amish. At first, she would just tell them to drive around some roads. But Amish people can be hard to locate, and you definitely need a local as a guide. So she decided to ask permission to some Amish business owners to let people visit their shops. She also said that most Amish don’t market or advertise their businesses well and that some people may feel uncomfortable visiting Amish shops, apart from not knowing them. So her tour is meant to give the Amish the exposure needed for their businesses and to let people avail them.

 

Susan’s Simple Life Tour is very friendly and respectful to the Amish. She told me that Amish people are very shy and that they don’t like their photos being taken. She answered several questions of mine regarding the Amish way of life, their culture, and she took me to several Amish businesses. She said these people became her friends with time and that she almost feels like they’re part of her family. According to her, the Amish people at New Wilmington are part of the Old Order Amish, that means they’re more traditional.

 

amish house new wilmington pa

 

amish house with clothesline

 

The tour started with a car stop outside an Amish house. It looked very minimalist, clean, and with several clothes hanging on a clothesline. Susan said it’s a typical Amish house and that most Amish houses are like that – white-painted with a blue door. She mentioned that Amish women use wringer washer to wash their clothes, which adheres to their technologically restricted lifestyle.

 

amish covered bridge new wilmington pa

 

Next up, we stopped at a covered bridge where some Amish Buggies would pass by. I took my selfie there, LOL. We then continued and passed by an Amish School House where Susan mentioned that Amish kids typically go to school only up to the eighth grade. Further, she pointed to a lone phone box that pretty much resembles a wooden phone booth and it was situated several yards away from most Amish houses. She said Amish people can use the phone box in times of emergency or even to call a cab, but it should always be farther away from their homes. Susan explained to me how the entire Amish community helps each other in times of need, they are very united in that sense.

 

amish school house

 

amish furniture store

 

I saw several Amish men at work, either plowing their fields with their horses, working in a dairy factory, or making different types of furniture. FYI, Amish people make the best quality furniture ever at a much lower price than most furniture stores, provided that you buy directly from them. Now if you’re wondering how they could build such solid high-quality chairs and tables without electricity, well, the Amish men use a diesel generator to help with their work.

 

amish dairy factory

 

new wilmington pa amish dry goods store

 

My favorite part of the tour was visiting the local Amish Dry Goods Store that is exclusive to the Amish community. I had the chance to get a good glimpse of what’s inside and was able to purchase some homemade stuff, as well as some handmade items from that store. I also talked to some Amish kids who were working there, they were shy but they were very courteous as well. There were two little boys which have cute hairstyles and they were holding a map. The asked me to point on the map where I came from, and they put a mark on it. LOL! I must have been an alien to them. I did sense that they seem to have a slight accent. As you all know, Amish people speak Pennsylvania Dutch, especially among each other. They learn English in school. If you ask me how a Pennsylvania Dutch sounds like, is it more German or is it more Dutch? I’d say, it’s all German to me, LOL!

 

amish quilt shop new wilmington pa

 

Halfway through our tour, we took a look at an Amish Souvenir Store that sells a mix of quilts, pastries, pieces of furniture, as well as some other handmade items. Here we were greeted wholeheartedly by several little Amish kids with a cute Pug running toward us. They’re so cute and so friendly, and they were waiting for Susan’s gifts. They wanted to play some games with Susan’s phone and they seem to be really fascinated by it. Oh, I bet they would love to play my favorite game- Gardenscapes. LOL.

 

amish greenhouse

 

amish greenhouse

 

Our final stop was at an Amish Greenhouse that was full of gardening accessories as well as several different kinds of flowers and some other plants. I talked to two Amish kids whose parents are the owners of the Greenhouse and they also have two cute and chubby dogs that greeted us as we entered. Susan told me that the dogs are fat because they like to raid and eat the eggs of the chickens, LOL, and on top of that, they also beg for some treats from Susan. Ha! What a nice life, right? I definitely won’t mind being an Amish dog. LOL.

 

susan hougelman from simple life tours

 

amish buggy

 

All throughout my stroll and drive around the area, I saw a lot of Buggies on the road and they are pretty much everywhere there. It was nice to see something so different from my normal environment, and I had learned a lot and admired the Amish’s simple way of life. My trip to New Wilmington, PA was definitely one of my most unique and unforgettable tours.

 

the tavern on the square new wilmington pa restaurant review

 

the tavern on the square sticky buns

 

Before I left New Wilmington, I made a stop at The Tavern On The Square and chatted with the new owners which are both very kind and very friendly. I had a nice meal where I ordered their Hand-Battered Cod with Fresh Brewed Iced Tea. My meal came with a crisp garden salad, a cup of soup, and of course, their very famous Tavern Sticky Buns. The food was amazing!

 

the tavern on the square restaurant new wilmington pa

 

To visit New Wilmington, PA and get a glimpse of the Amish way of life, you can book a tour at Simple Life Tours by Susan Hougelman. Click HERE

 

 

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