Whales, Sharks, & Whale Sharks at the Georgia Aquarium

This past week I spent laziest Christmas ever in Georgia, which consisted of endless eating, lounging, sleeping, and board game-playing. The one day I actually did get up and do something I went to see Atlanta’s biggest attraction, the Georgia Aquarium. I knew beforehand that is was one of the biggest in the world and that it had some whale sharks, but aside from that I knew nothing. I should have known better than to pay good money to an aquarium before doing my fair share of research.

After seeing The Cove and Blackfish I have been a pretty staunch opposer of keeping whales and dolphins in tanks. I live in San Diego and have never set foot inside Sea World and strongly advise anyone I know to at least see these movies before they make a decision about going themselves. So now I am kicking myself for giving my monetary support for this aquarium.

Just having been to Monterey Bay Aquarium where there are no large animals whatsoever, it didn’t even cross my mind that there would be whales or dolphins at the Georgia Aquarium. Once inside, suddenly staring into the tank of 3 snowy white Beluga Whales, I desperately wanted to go Free Willy on the place. They were swimming in the same repetitive circles, a sure sign of severe boredom if not something worse. After watching them do about 10 of the same exact loops through their relatively small tank, I had enough. It was just incredibly sad… and then came the whale sharks.

The whale sharks are in the huge ocean tank with other sharks and rays including Mantas, which are my favorite. Seeing wild Manta Rays in Palau was one of the highlights of all my travels. I’ve never seen a whale shark in person, but in videos they are always in the open ocean with their huge mouths feasting on plankton. Seeing them in this tank was like watching giant goldfish in a glass bowl. The last straw was finding out there was a dolphin show. You have to pay extra for this so we obviously did not see it.

After doing my research I found that 2 whale sharks have died at the Georgia Aquarium already, as well as 2 Beluga Whales. Despite all the backlash from the orca-related deaths and all the current attention surrounding these animals, the Georgia Aquarium is still trying to purchase more Belugas from Russia. Thankfully they have been blocked by NOAA, but are still pushing to allow the import of these whales. I desperately hope this does not happen. It’s my New Year’s wish. If you have not seen The Cove or Blackfish, I highly recommend them.

Here are some pictures of these amazing creatures– the divers in the bottom give a good size comparison. These were baby whale sharks too!

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Georgia Aquarium Whale Sharks

 

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Georgia Aquarium Manta Ray

Encuentro Guadalupe

I have been living in San Diego for 3 years and this was my first time driving into Mexico. The military does a really good job of brainwashing you into thinking you will be immediately kidnapped and held for ransom upon crossing the border in Tijuana. This is obviously not the case and I took way too long figuring this out. This week it was finally time to adventure down south.

Valle de Guadalupe is a perfect day/single night trip from San Diego. Guadalupe is the Temecula of Baja, a town full of vineyards and farm-to-table restaurants. It’s safe and only 2 hours from San Diego. We stayed at Encuentro Guadalupe, which is an eco-friendly hotel consisting of tiny pods built on the hillside. The pool and hot tub make this place the perfect destination for relaxation. I consider myself a hot tub connoisseur, and this place did not disappoint. We had it to ourselves for an hour during the amazing desert sunset. Each room also has a patio with a chiminea that the staff will come and light for you. It was a little too chilly for us, but we can’t wait to come back and sit by the fire and drink some local wine.

The rooms are simple and comfortable with floor to ceiling views of the surrounding hills and vineyards. We wanted to eat dinner at Laja, which was highly recommended, but it was closed for the off-season. We ended up eating at Finca Altozano, which is right down the road from Laja. The food was delicious but it was entirely outdoors and without heating lamps. By the end of dinner my feet were ice blocks- not surprising considering it was 40 degrees. The wine helped distract me from the fact that my face couldn’t move anymore. During the summer this place would be ideal.

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Welcome Sangria

Welcome Sangria

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Lobby

Lobby

Breakfast

Breakfast

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Encuentro Guadalupe is not an easy place to get a reservation. We got one very last minute (the day before) by reserving through booking.com. This is a good way to get a last minute room. Prices start at $380 including tax. It’s expensive but worth the experience!

Tips:

-The driving is simple. Cross the border on 5 South through the San Ysidro crossing. Follow the signs for Ensenada/Rosarito. Once you go through the toll booth in Ensenada follow the exit towards Tecate/Highway 3. Encuentro Guadalupe is right on Highway 3 just east of Guadalupe, you can’t miss it. About 20 minutes from Ensenada.

-Don’t forget toll money. They accept pesos and dollars. You will need about $10 each way. They give change.

-Stop for lobster in Puerto Nuevo or Rosarito.

Otranto, Alberobello, Gallipoli, & Ostuni

Ostuni

Ostuni- The White City

Now that winter is setting in I am having a serious case of summer withdrawal. Specifically Italy withdrawal. In my many posts about Puglia this summer I left out a few of the cities I visited. These are 4 of the little towns we skipped through from our base in Lecce. Perfect little getaways from the city.

OTRANTO

Otranto was a mellow little port town full of charm and not many tourists. My favorite place was this little gallery near the main church called Officina Mosaico. The owners were a lovely couple that made all their mosaics by hand.  Just outside of town was a little lake that they would get minerals from to make some of their glass. They drew us a map so we could drive up there and see it for ourselves. We still managed to get lost but eventually found the little oasis. Smart Cars are really great for abrupt and excessive U-turns.

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OSTUNI

This small and beautiful city on the top of a hill is called “the white city.” We only got to spend an hour or two walking around and buying more leather sandals while enjoying its insanely gorgeous scenery. ❤ ❤ ❤ Very romantic.

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GALLIPOLI

Hate to say it but Gallipoli was not my favorite. We had heard a lot of good things about it but found it to be very grimy, polluted and touristy. Every single shop and restaurant in this town seemed to be aimed at tourists. The harbors were filled with trash. The beaches weren’t nice. It was a sad day for us but it meant we got to spend more time in Lecce, which was a far more appealing to me. Many people we spoke to really loved Gallipoli so it’s possible we just experienced it on an off day….

Exhibit A: This is what the whole harbor looked like….

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Cute little truck full of succulents. The only site worth seeing!

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ALBEROBELLO

By the end of the trip I still couldn’t say the name of this town without tripping over my tongue. Alberobello is home to the little stone cottages called Trulli. This little town was very picturesque and quiet. Definitely stop by if you are in the area, it’s adorable!

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Cocos Island, Guam

Cocos Island is a tiny little uninhabited island off the southern coast of Guam. I had the pleasure of living on Guam for 2 years while I was in the Navy and one of the little day trips everyone did was a visit to Cocos. During the day this island is used as a Japanese-style Club Med and there are about a million tourists all hanging out on the same crappy beach. So instead of trying to relax while someone was screaming in Japanese over a loud-speaker I decided to walk around the island, even though it was against the rules. Apparently there is some toxic chemical all over the island from an old Coast Guard station. I tried not to touch anything and so far have no mutations, knock on wood. I was imagining some type of Chernobyl horror movie situation. It ended up being quite a beautiful little place, but eerie in its emptiness. The ferry ride over was the best part; the water was insanely blue and we passed sea turtles and rays in the water. I just dug up these pictures and thought I would share.

Guam Water

There was tons of abandoned machinery.

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Some crazy kind of wood that looks like packing material.

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Monterey Bay + Jellyfish

This year, for our annual Big Sur Half Marathon trip, I did not actually run. I sipped my mocha latte from the sidelines and cheered everyone on while watching sea otters in the harbor. Grad school is quite the time suck and I haven’t been able to train. So instead of running, my mushy self spent the weekend relaxing and looking at Jellyfish…which are pretty much the most fun creatures to photograph in the entire universe. I tried to get a good picture of the otters but those suckers just won’t hold still.

Cheers to a wonderful weekend with my girls Ginny and Katie who killed it!! ❤

Angel JellyfishDisco Jellies JellyfishMe and the Jellies Jellyfish on FireJellyfish Blue Jellyfish   Xray JellyfishThe girls.

xoxox

Passport Protectors

Like your passport really needs a protector….but I have always found them very chic and useful. I consistently find myself digging through my purse for my passport while the immigration officer glares at me and the people in line behind me start to huff and puff. One more excuse to buy a cute accessory? Maybe. But I really think it makes your skinny little passport easier to locate whether it’s the color or the added bulk.

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Leather Passport Cover

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J.Crew Passport Cover – On Sale!

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Saks Personalized Passport Cover/Wallet – I just got 2 of these for a wedding present and they are very luxurious….

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Etsy Anchors Passport Cover

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J.Crew Perforated Hearts Passport Cover

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Flight 001 Passport Cover  – PS I love this website.

Acadia National Park

As a getting out of the Navy present to myself I went on a little one month tour of the east coast and visited friends and family from Maine to Florida. My first stop was a 4-day camping trip in Acadia National Park with one of my best friends. I flew into Boston and we did the long drive up north with plenty of stops at Dunkin Donuts and Tim Hortons (why can’t the west coast have these??) This was my first ever trip to Maine despite living in Vermont for 4 whole years for my undergrad. I was pretty excited for some cool weather and sweet hiking.

Luckily we booked our campsite at Seawall a few months in advance and were able to get a beautiful site in the back of the campground which is on the southwestern side of Acadia National Park and about 30 minutes from Bar Harbor. It’s definitely a little more out of the way than a lot of the other campsites but it was quiet and clean and had a huge cement fireplace that we used extensively. We ended up driving by or walking through a few of the other campsites and found that Seawall was a lot less congested. And most importantly, it was located 5 minutes from a delicious lobster joint named Sawyer’s Lobster Pound. Talk about picturesque New England…

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Lobster Roll at Sawyer’s

Lobster Shack Seawall Acadia

Sawyers Lobster Pound

Sawyers Lobster Pound

Sawyers Lobster Pound

Seafood Innuendo

One morning we went to Jordan Pond for a brunch consisting of their famous popovers and lobster stew. We made reservations in advance and ended up getting the best outdoor seat in the place. The food was delicious and the popovers were plentiful, not to mention the view which was perfect. Afterwards we walked off our meal with a 3 mile stroll around scenic Jordan Pond and watched loons diving in the water.

Jordan Pond Trail Acadia National Park Jordan Pond Sign Post Jordan Pond Maine Acadia Jordan Pond Popovers Acadia National Park Jordan Pond Acadia National Park Acadia National Park

Our second day we opted for a 9 mile hike up and down Cadillac Mountain, which is the highest point in Acadia. We started from Blackwoods Campground and sweated our way through the forest and up onto a sloped granite mountain which was covered in really beautiful Asian-looking pine trees. The trail was relatively empty besides a few couples and their cute dogs. After 2 hours or so of moderate hiking we made it to the top only to discover that there was a large parking lot full of tourist who had taken the easy way up via a bus. At least it was good to know that if you want to come up for a nice sunrise view you only have to drive 20 minutes instead of hiking 2 hours in the dark.

Cadillac Mountain Maine Acadia National Park

Bar Harbor Maine

Bar Harbor

Bar Harbor

Downtown Bar Harbor

Every morning we would make a cup of coffee, or tea in my case, and walk the 10 minutes down to the water. There was always some fog to make it a little more scenic. Couldn’t ask for a better wake up.

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Fog at Seawall

Fog at Seawall

Acadia National Park

Acadia National Park

No better way to end a night in Acadia than drinking a glass of wine by the campfire.

Seawall Campground Acadia National Park

Sleeping in Ancient Caves: Matera, Italy

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Our last stop before Rome was the ancient town of Matera. This is one of the oldest cities in the world and was used as a backdrop for Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ. I had randomly seen a picture of it while googling Puglia and decided we needed to go here. It’s not technically in Puglia but it’s only a short 1.5 hour train ride from Bari, which is the only way to get there unless you are driving. This is probably why we seemed to have the whole town to ourselves besides one lovely Japanese woman that was also staying at our hotel. What’s interesting about this town is that up until the mid-1900’s people lived in the caves that line the sides of the canyon. These caves, or sassi, have normal looking stone structures externally so it’s hard to even see them. Our hotel, L’Hotel in Pietra, was constructed inside a 13th century cave-church. It had 9 rooms built into the caves which go deep into the side of the canyon. The owner said it took 4 years to renovate. It was a magical place to stay.

Matera is just starting to see more tourism and more inns and small hotels are being built in the sassi, but it’s slow going and very expensive. There were a ton of empty caves we saw while walking up and down the labyrinthine stairways. The museums inside the caves were small and run by locals. It seems the city itself does not have a hand in running these museums which I guess is good and bad as they definitely need some work. The food here was excellent and we managed to have a few amazing meals with a view like no other. We also burned off this pizza in about 5 seconds walking up and down the endless stairs. One thing we didn’t get to do was hike across the ravine to view the city from the other side of the canyon. We were unfortunately too hungover.

L’Hotel in Pietra— AMAZING!!

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Amazing views.

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We had one killer sunset on our last night.

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Along with some PIZZA! and wine from Matera.

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The Heel of the Boot: Lecce, Puglia

We spent three really great nights here in Lecce -one of the larger cities in Puglia- and as most vacations go, wished we had stayed longer. Lecce is a prime jumping-off point for day trips into southern Puglia. We got a sweet little apartment right in the dead center of the historical district and next-door to Solento Rent which has smart cars at a daily rate of 50 Euro. Lecce itself was a beautiful pedestrian friendly city with lots of great restaurants and shopping– who needs 5 pairs of Italian leather sandals?? ME.

The BEST BEST BEST thing about Lecce was a great little cookie/pasta/pastry shop on Via Giuseppe Libertini right across from the Duomo. They had the most mind-blowing delicious almond cookies. I could eat them every day for the rest of my life and never stop daydreaming of them. And the old man that owns it gave us a million free samples of everything we wanted, plus things we didn’t want but ate anyway.

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Puglia is known for a savory pastry called the Rustico. Its basically a calzone that is made out of heavenly substances instead of the usual gobs of cheese inside a hard crust. I wish I had taken a picture of one. It was epic. We also really enjoyed a restaurant called Doppiozero. We stopped here for lunch one day and feasted on focaccia and pasta salad.

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Besides eating all the carbs in the entirety of the country, we did a little site seeing. The usual: Churches, churches, churches.

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And our last night we made (Andrea made, I drank wine) an amazing rooftop dinner. Airbnb was once again the way to go.

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Lovely Lecce, we will miss you!!!

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Grotta Poesia

When I was researching places to go in Puglia I randomly came across a beautiful picture of a natural ocean pool tucked into sandstone rocks that was protected from the surf. The name of it was Grotta Poesia. That was all I knew when we were driving through the countryside asking local Italians where to find it. I thought everyone would know what I was talking about but we were sent on a little bit of a wild goose chase at first. Apparently there are many places similar to this in the area. We eventually found Grotta Poesia in the town of Roca Vecchia and spent the day cliff jumping, eating fresh watermelon, soaking in the sun, and enjoying the incredible view.

How to get here: Drive into the tiny town of Roca Vecchia and get to the coast. Once you see a tall obelisk-like monument out near the water, park in front of the church or near it. Walk towards the monument and then down to the left you will see the grotto. This is an easy day trip from Lecce.

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If you see the crazy eyes you are almost there.

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You can cliff jump into the grotto or on the side where the waves are. It’s a little harder to get out of but the ocean side jumps are way higher and scarier–and way more fun!

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