Budapest, Hungary [Travel Guide]

My adventure to Hungary began like most others. Back in August, I asked my travel buddy, Michael, if he was up for a trip. He said yes, so I told him to choose a destination. He had his heart set on going to Budapest, so we started looking at plane tickets. They were pretty cheap for the beginning of September, which was only a few weeks away! #YOLO. We booked our tickets, found some great Airbnb options, and started planning.

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Visiting Budapest was my first experience in Eastern Europe. Did you know that Buda and Pest were originally separate cities on opposite sides of the Danube River? They united about 150 years ago to form the “Pearl of the Danube”. Over on the Pest side of the city, our Airbnb was located near parliament buildings, cafes, ruin bars, and a riverside promenade. The area was buzzing and lively with young people. We spent most of our time in that area. The Buda side, on the other hand, had a feeling of settled wealth and sophistication. It was filled with medieval streets and houses, castles, thermal baths, and incredible views. The saying goes, “When Buda goes to sleep, Pest wakes up.” No matter your preferences while traveling, Budapest truly has something for everyone. Famous for its monuments and rich culture, the “Paris of the East” offers a variety of museums, galleries, flea markets, churches and synagogues, palaces, and historic buildings to explore.

Was there anything I didn’t particularly like about Budapest? Well, the food was pretty hard on my stomach. Traditional Hungarian cuisine is rich, heavy, and revolves around meat. Many dishes include dairy, are deep-fried, and are accompanied by dumplings, egg noodles, or bread. Since I have to avoid dairy, gluten, and red meat (due to longstanding health issues), this posed a slight problem. Luckily, I found a few vegan-friendly restaurants that I frequented for the duration of my trip. The downside, though, is that I don’t have a ton of food recommendations. If you have an iron stomach, you’ll definitely get to enjoy more of the traditional Hungarian dishes that I had to skip.

One more thing: The cost of living in Budapest is 52% lower than the cost of living in the United States. Pretty freakin' awesome. We used Airbnb to book our lodging, and for only $30 to $50 per night, we had a variety of modern, clean, gorgeous apartments to choose from. Even luxury hotels are affordable in Budapest, compared to luxury hotels in the United States. Food was also super inexpensive. You won’t have to stretch your budget to enjoy all the flavors that Hungary has to offer, that’s for sure. In fact, you’ll probably spend much less than you anticipated.

FOOD

Napfényes Étterem és Cukrászda: Located in the heart of Budapest, this was my go-to restaurant during my trip. The majority of their ingredients are grown organically, and they cater specifically to vegetarians and vegans. Their menu is enormous, and everything we tried was incredible. The best part? It was extremely cheap. During our meals, we always ordered multiple dishes, and we never spent more than $30 total. I’m still dreaming of the raw chocolate cake slice we brought back to our Airbnb.

ZONA: Michael and I ate lunch here before exploring Fisherman’s Bastion. The polished atmosphere on the bank of the Danube was perfect, and our meal was heavenly. I can’t remember what kind of fish was served (pictured below), but it was exquisite. That was one thing I actually really enjoyed about Hungarian cuisine…the unique selection of fish. The chefs at ZONA pride themselves on using simple ingredients to achieve “natural flavor harmonies”…and they’re excellent at their craft.

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Hummusbar: If you know me, you know I love hummus. When I saw there was a Hummusbar near our Airbnb, I was SO excited. The mission of Hummusbar revolves around freshly prepared, authentic, handmade food. There’s more than a dozen dishes to choose from, but I went with hummus mushrooms (which is literally just hummus topped with sautéed mushrooms and grilled onions). I also love masabacha, which is a spread made of hummus, boiled chickpeas, garlic, tahini, and lemon sauce.

KARAVÁN: Situated on Budapest’s chaotic Kazinczy Street, KARAVÁN is home to several food kiosks that house unique, mouthwatering meals. This cozy outdoor space offers nachos, sausages, french fries (with half a dozen flavorful dipping sauces), vegan burgers, deep-fried cheese, noodle dishes, soup, and more. They’re open quite late, which makes it the perfect stop for a midnight snack (especially after partying at Szimpla Kert…more on that later!).

Free! Gluten Free Bakery: The pastries at this place were AMAZING, and they were also soy and lactose-free. They had flaky croissants, bread, and cinnamon/chocolate pinwheels on display when we popped in for breakfast. I came back for lunch near the end of our trip and ordered a sandwich loaded with sun-dried tomatoes, hummus, and vegan cheese. YUM.

Michael ordered goulash soup at a random bar near our Airbnb, and it was delightful. Imagine a warm, hearty stew, seasoned with paprika and filled with meat, tomatoes, potatoes, carrots, and onions…so, so good. Speaking of paprika, some of you might know it’s an extremely popular and commonly used spice in Hungary. They even have paprika potato chips at gas stations. Yes, we purchased more than one bag. Some brands were sweet, and others were spicy. It was fun trying different kinds.

Something else you have to eat in Budapest is kürtőskalács (chimney cake), a sweet, spiral-shaped pastry that originated in Transylvania. It’s basically dough covered in sugar that’s cooked in the oven until the sugar caramelizes. The finished product is crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. You can eat it plain, but cinnamon is a popular topping. Many street vendors sell this delicious creation.

Lastly, sour cherry is a popular flavor in Hungary, and it’s amazing. If you see sour cherry pie on a menu, order it. I found mine in a small cafe near the Parliament Building.

THINGS TO DO

Soak in a thermal bath. Budapest has many nicknames, one being “The City of Baths”. There’s a good reason for this! The city sits on a patchwork of 120+ natural warm springs, which are believed to contain healing minerals and properties. Because of this, bath culture in Budapest is wildly popular. Széchenyi is the largest thermal bath in Budapest. Built in 1913, Széchenyi contains almost 20 indoor and outdoor pools. You can also find saunas, steam rooms, and whirlpools inside the complex. Michael and I explored Széchenyi on our last day in Budapest, but there are several other thermal baths in Budapest to choose from. The water is warm and toasty, so you can visit year round.

Walk across the Chain Bridge. Connecting Buda and Pest is the Chain Bridge, a permanent crossing that was constructed over the Danube River in 1849. The Chain Bridge is one of the most popular landmarks in Budapest, and it’s truly a sight to behold. Both the view of the bridge and from the bridge is stunning, especially after sunset. If you plan to take a stroll across, make sure to leave some time for a walk around the Danube Promenade. There, you’ll find 60 pairs of iron shoes. This monument stands as a haunting tribute to the 20,000 Hungarian Jews who were brutally shot along the Danube River during World War II.

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Explore Fisherman’s Bastion. If you’re curious about my favorite place in Budapest, this is it. Located on the bank of the Danube, this neo-Gothic/neo-Romanesque terrace was built to celebrate the 1,000th birthday of the Hungarian state. It truly looks like a fairytale castle, and the panoramic views of Pest and the Danube are spectacular. You can clearly see the Parliament Building in the distance, along with St. Stephen’s Basilica.

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Party at a ruin bar. Have you ever heard of a ruin bar? If not, you’re in for a treat. Imagine transforming an unused outdoor space or a dilapidated building into a lively, stylish, quirky bar. Now, imagine sipping dirt cheap drinks and cocktails while gawking at the eclectic interior. Ruin bars are often seen with mismatched furniture, strange art, unique antiques, and colorful wall murals. They’re trendy and edgy, but they also have a relaxed, all-inclusive atmosphere. The most iconic ruin bar in Budapest is Szimpla Kert. It was originally an old factory, and now it’s an enormous open-air cinema/pub. They host concerts, theatre shows, farmers markets, and dozens of cultural events. This is a place you absolutely don’t want to miss.

Go on a road trip. Budapest’s location in Eastern Europe is perfect, especially if you rent a car. It’s only 2.5 hours from Vienna, Austria; 5.5 hours from Krakow, Poland; 3.5 hours from Zagreb, Croatia; and 5.5 hours from Prague. Your options are practically endless. Michael and I decided to drive to Slovenia in the middle of our trip, and it was an excellent decision. We spent one night outside Lake Bled and one night in Ljubljana. It was so nice to escape the big city for a few days and bask in the fresh mountain air. I considered writing a separate post about Slovenia, but I know my two day visit wouldn’t do the country justice. Suffice it to say, Lake Bled was arguably one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been. I definitely plan to dedicate an entire week or two to Slovenia in the future.

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Admire the scenery. If you want some jaw-dropping views of Budapest, you MUST visit Castle Hill and Gellért Hill. Both areas crown the banks of Buda overlooking the Danube River. Castle Hill, recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is situated towards the West. This is where Fisherman’s Bastion can be found, along with Buda Castle, Matthias Church, and various other historic sites. Gellért Hill, also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is situated towards the East. This is where you can find the Gellért Baths, the Liberty Statue, and the Citadella. If you want to see Budapest from the Danube River, consider booking a Legenda sightseeing cruise. They offer daytime, evening, and dinner cruises year-round, and their tours get fantastic reviews.

Visit Margaret Island. Right smack dab in the middle of the Danube River, Margaret Island is the green heart of Budapest. The majority of the island is a park. It’s a great location for a stroll or a picnic, but that’s not all there is to do. You can admire lilies in the Japanese Garden, soak in the Palatinus Baths, watch a musical fountain show, explore medieval ruins, climb to the top of the ancient water tower to capture a panoramic view of the area, or visit the petting zoo. If you want to get out of the city for a bit, Margaret Island is a great escape.

If you have any additional Budapest recommendations, comment below!

Key West, Florida [Travel Guide]

Almost two years ago, my parents moved to Key West. I've now happily accepted the Conch Republic as my second home, a magical place to unwind and relax when I need a break from reality, and the town that occupies my daydreams when I'm craving bucci and a Cuban sandwich. From the roaming chickens to the quirky characters that walk around Duval street, there's so much to love about Key West. If you're planning a trip in the near future, keep reading to learn about some of my favorite spots! 

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FOOD

Santiago's Bodega: If there's a single restaurant you have to try while you're in Key West, Santiago's Bodega is it. This charming Spanish restaurant has a friendly neighborhood feel and offers affordable, mouthwatering tapas. Some of my favorites are the dates (stuffed with goat cheese and wrapped in prosciutto), chicken skewers, patatas bravas, and gazpacho. If you love cheese and you're feeling a little adventurous, order the saganaki.

Bien Key West: Bien is where you want to go if you're craving authentic Caribbean food. My parents always get the mahi mahi in red sauce (which consists of tender mahi mahi sautéed in olive oil, garlic tapenade, cilantro, and red sauce, served over white rice), which is satisfyingly spicy and delicious. That's actually the only dish I've tried there...but I can promise you won't be disappointed.

French Cafe Creperie: This European-style cafe can make all their crepes and galettes gluten-free/vegan, so are you surprised that I'm obsessed? The atmosphere of French Cafe Creperie is also perfect. Palm trees shroud the colorful outdoor patio, and you might even spot a roaming chicken or two. I ordered a galette filled with avocado, romaine, a sunny egg, cheddar, goat cheese, and vinaigrette, which was amazing. But you really can't go wrong with anything on the menu.

Date & Thyme: Every time I visit Key West, I visit Date & Thyme more than once. It's basically my holy grail. With an organic menu that caters to those who can't eat gluten or dairy, I always find myself wanting to order multiple plates. Their spicy yellowfin tuna wrap is my all time favorite! I'm also a huge fan of their carrot zing juice. 

Garbo's Grill: I somehow still haven't eaten at Garbo's Grill, but it has over 1,000 five-star reviews on Yelp, and my parents are obsessed. If you're looking for eclectic tacos, burritos, or burgers, stop by this husband-and-wife run food stand. The yum yum shrimp tacos are calling my name next time I'm in town...

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The Lobster Shack: If you thought lobster rolls only existed in New England, think again! This quaint coastal restaurant offers a small but creative menu that includes gems like their famous key lime lobster roll (I ordered this one, and it was divine), a lobster "BLT" roll, and a lobster grilled cheese (that you can top with bacon or jalapeño). They even offer lobster breakfast burritos!

Better Than Sex: This intimate dessert restaurant will knock your socks off. The indulgent desserts are divine, the dim lighting is romantic, and the sexual puns are equally creative and hilarious. Their wine and beer options are served in chocolate/caramel rimmed glasses...need I say more? (Order the peanut butter perversion, and thank me later.)

While you're in Key West, key lime pie is a must! I'm a huge fan of Key West Key Lime Pie Co. because they offer gluten-free slices, but if you're a chocolate lover, you should definitely try the chocolate dipped key lime pie on a stick. You can find them all over Duval Street.

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CAFES

Sandy's Cafe: I've tried bucci at several cafes and restaurants in Key West, but Sandy's Cafe always wins. What exactly is bucci? It's basically "the quintessential espresso shot of the Cuban coffee world". Bucci is strong, rich, and lightly sweetened with cane sugar. Order the colada, which is a double bucci, if you're with a large group. And don't forget to try their Cuban sandwich. Overflowing with ham, pork, salami, melted swiss, tangy pickles, and mustard, I would argue it's the best in the area. 

Five Brothers: This cozy corner shop rivals Sandy's in the coffee department. On any given morning, you'll find local regulars packed in a line out the door. Five Brothers is definitely a Key West staple you don't want to miss.

Cuban Coffee Queen: I love the waterfront location of this cafe. It's the perfect spot to grab a coffee in the morning, stroll around the marina, and enjoy the sunshine. We were craving something sweet, so we ordered a Cuban caramel coffee (cafe con leche, sub almond milk, with caramel syrup). It was delicious!

THINGS TO DO

The Hemingway Home: If you're a fan of Ernest Hemingway...or cats...the Hemingway Home is an absolute must. The guided tour is thirty minutes long, and the tour guides are really entertaining. Hemingway led a pretty wild life, so you'll definitely get a kick out of your visit. It's a huge bonus that dozens of cats, some with six toes, roam around the property.

The Butterfly Conservatory: This is my favorite place in Key West. When you walk into the conservatory, butterflies (of all shapes, sizes, colors, and species) swarm around you. It's breathtaking. The climate-controlled space also features flowers, plants, colorful birds, turtles, waterfalls, and more. If you're looking for a peaceful place to unwind, this is the ticket. 

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Key West Lighthouse: The view from the top of this lighthouse is spectacular. You can see all the way to the crystal clear ocean (where you can often find a cruise ship in port), and there are signs placed along the lookout to show points of interest around the island. Just make sure you're up for a climb! There are 88 iron steps in the tower's spiral staircase. It feels pretty rickety, but it doesn't take long to get to the top. And when you do, the view is totally worth it.

The Little White House: I don't consider myself a history buff...but I still appreciated the rich history of Truman's Little White House. If you want to learn about the historic building that served as Harry S. Truman's infamous winter residence, book this tour. Garbo's Grill is just a few steps away, so you can easily grab lunch afterwards. 

Go for a bike ride: Smathers Beach is a popular public beach in Key West, and there's a large sidewalk that runs alongside it. This is an ideal activity if you're craving a combination of exercise, fresh air, and gorgeous views. My favorite time to do this is right around sunset. The view over the Atlantic Ocean at the end of the boardwalk is beautiful.

Visit Dry Tortugas National Park: This is one of the most unique national parks in the United States. You have to take a two-hour ferry ride (that spans over 70 miles) to get there, but you're rewarded with a small, peaceful island in the Gulf of Mexico. The main attraction at Dry Tortugas is Fort Jefferson, which was used as a prison during the Civil War. The park is also known for its treacherous coral reefs, abundant sea life, and shipwreck legends. I really recommend a day trip if you're spending more than a few days in Key West. My experience was INCREDIBLE. You can check out a video I put together here! And find out everything you need to know about the excursion here.

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I'd love to know your favorite things to do in Key West!

Tel Aviv, Israel [Travel Guide]

Back in February, I traveled to the most magical place in the world. ISRAEL! I've wanted to visit for years, so I spontaneously bought a plane ticket after the holidays. I've been home for about a month now, and I want to gush about Tel Aviv for a few minutes because I'm OBSESSED.

Tel Aviv is the warmest, most welcoming city I've ever visited. Everyone was so incredibly nice. The white sand beaches were beautiful, and the food was heavenly. I also loved that stray cats were literally everywhere...my favorite was the fluffy calico who was snoozing on the hood of a parked car. I was only in Israel for three full days, but I definitely want to return in the future. 

Let's talk about culture shock. I didn't experience any major surprises while visiting Europe or Scandinavia. The Middle East, however, was an entirely different world. Even though English is spoken as a second language by most in Israel, signs and menus are written primarily in the nation's official language, Hebrew. The thing about Hebrew...it's beautiful to look at, but impossible to decipher/speak if you've never studied it. The locals were very kind whenever I needed help translating something, though. The currency was also a bit confusing. One U.S. dollar was equal to 3.47 Israeli shekels. Eventually, I learned that dividing a price by three was an easy way to estimate the cost in U.S. dollars. Menu prices kept throwing me off, though. You might be aware of this next one, but in case you're not: 75% of the population in Israel is Jewish. What this means is, many shops and restaurants close from Friday evening until Saturday night for Shabbat, Judaism's day of rest. Just something to keep in mind when you're visiting, especially if you have your heart set on certain restaurants or activities. And lastly, 18% of Israel's population practices Islam. Because of this, you'll most likely hear the adhan (the Muslim call to worship) played over the loudspeaker from a mosque during your visit. The adhan is described as "one of the most lyrical, inspiring prayers for Muslims." I can definitely vouch for its beauty. Hearing the adhan for the first time while walking around Jaffa is a vivid memory I'll never forget. 

As far as weather goes, the temperature in Israel stays pretty warm throughout the year...and gets scorching hot in the summer. I visited in February and had consistent 60-70 degree days, filled with sunshine and blue skies. When you're planning your travels, keep the weather in mind. It can make or break your vacation.

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FOOD

Hummus Abu Dubi: This was easily the best hummus I've ever had. I ordered the version with lemon and garlic, sprinkled with paprika and cumin, and topped with chickpeas. The creamy concoction came in a giant bowl, with warm pita bread on the side and a variety of fresh toppings (pickles, olives, peppers, tahini, and olive oil). It was UNREAL. When we ran out of pita bread, I ate the hummus with a spoon. I ordered hummus at several different restaurants in Israel, but none of them compared to this place.

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Citizen: I had so many delicious meals in Israel that it's hard to choose a favorite. However, the baladibowl I ordered at Citizen ranks pretty high. Imagine a baked potato, sliced into thin sections and sprinkled with flaky sea salt, kale, purple cabbage, pomegranate seeds, cornichons, tomatoes, a hardboiled egg, and garlic tahini, beautifully displayed over a bed of warm quinoa. I washed it all down with house-made carrot ginger juice.

Bana: This vegan restaurant had so many creative, intricate dishes on the menu. I had a hard time choosing one! I finally decided on the roasted acorn squash filled with black pepper and coconut cream, over fresh cauliflower tabouleh and seasoned with sumac. IT WAS SO GOOD, and the presentation was gorgeous. Are you noticing a theme here? Tel Aviv is a vegan foodie's dream, especially if you prefer healthy meals and fresh ingredients.

Hakovshim Bistro: My AirBnB was right next to Hakovshim, so after a long day of exploring and wandering the streets of Tel Aviv, I decided to grab dinner there. I was craving something warm and hearty, so I ordered the meat and root vegetable plate over rice. The meal was doused in a sweet, smoky teriyaki sauce, and I absolutely loved it. Hakovshim buys their ingredients fresh daily from Carmel Market, so the menu constantly changes.

Meshek Barzilay: If you're looking for organic, vegetarian dishes, you'll love Meshek Barzilay. This place has everything from frittatas and pancakes to pizza and gnocchi. In addition, many of the restaurant's options can be customized to be gluten-free and vegan. I had an appetizer that included giant dollops of avocado salsa and microgreens atop thick, chewy toast points. My friend ordered an eggplant dish, loaded with fresh vegetables and drizzled with a delectable, creamy sauce.

Onza: Located amidst the cobblestone streets of Jaffa, Onza combines a sophisticated bar and atmospheric outdoor seating with Ottoman and Turkish cuisine. This dinner was a true indulgence. I had the sea bass with herbs, topped with cauliflower cream, tomatoes, and winter vegetables. Holy YUM.

THINGS TO DO

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Buy local goods at Carmel Market. This is the largest shuk, or market, in Tel Aviv. Local traders sell everything from baked goods, spices, and flowers to clothing and electronics. The bustling environment is busy, vibrant, and at times, chaotic. You can get fresh fruits and vegetables for super cheap, especially when you haggle. I bought a huge bag of plump, juicy dates when I first arrived, and I snacked on them around the clock. Just know that eating dates in the Middle East will ruin you forever. After that, the dates back home will always taste mediocre. While Carmel Market is the most widely known shuk in Tel Aviv, there are several others to check out, too. Levinsky Market and Jaffa Port Market were both highly recommended.

Go to the beach. In Israel, you can find over 120 miles of Mediterranean coastline. My AirBnB in Tel Aviv was right next to Banana Beach, which had a very tranquil, relaxed atmosphere. There are so many beaches to choose from, though. If you want to connect with other travelers, Gordon Beach is calling your name. If you want to unwind and read a book, the serenity of Habonim Beach will appeal to you. Don't worry too much about which particular beach to visit, though. Just get outside and explore. 

Walk around Jaffa. This ancient port city is the oldest seaport in the world. The area's population is a vibrant combination of Jews, Christians, and Muslims. In fact, you can hear the Adhan (the Islamic Call to Prayer) played over a loudspeaker from the local mosque five times per day. Jaffa is still used by fishermen, but it's also home to dozens of amazing restaurants, cafes, and boutiques. The port's small alleyways are filled with handmade crafts, galleries, studios, and flea markets. I was quickly charmed by Jaffa's cobblestone streets and scenic views. The area was so quaint and cozy.

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Watch the sunset at Abrasha Park. While you're in Jaffa, be sure to do this! My favorite part of Abrasha Park, which is home to a beautiful view of Tel Aviv's skyline, is the Wishing Bridge. An ancient legend says that if you find your zodiac sign (there are metal pictures along the railing) and place your hand on it as you stare out to sea, your wish will come true. Only time will tell if my wish becomes reality, but a girl can dream. ;) The view from Abrasha Park is stunning. And when you add a blazing sunset into the mix, the scenery is picturesque.

Visit Jerusalem. When I traveled to Israel, I didn't make it to Jerusalem due to tension and protests in the area. I was really tempted to go, despite warnings from the U.S. Consulate...but I knew I had to prioritize my safety. Fingers crossed you don't encounter the same roadblock if you're planning a trip to Israel this year. Jerusalem is only 45 minutes from Tel Aviv, so you can easily get there via rental car or bus tour. And the city is huge (its population is double that of Tel Aviv, and it's more spread out), so try to stick around for a few days. If you're a history buff, it doesn't matter which religion (or lack thereof) you identify with - You'll undoubtedly appreciate the city's rich history. If you've been to Jerusalem, I'd love to hear your recommendations below!

Road trip to the Dead Sea. If you're looking for an adventurous day trip, I highly recommend visiting the Dead Sea. I drove there on my last morning in Tel Aviv, with the intention of exploring Masada National Park afterwards. Unfortunately, I didn't realize the park's cable car stopped running a couple hours before the park closed. I missed the window by just a few minutes, and I was so bummed! Back to the Dead Sea - It's bordered by Jordan, Israel, and Palestine, and it's officially the lowest point on Earth. The Dead Sea is almost 10x as salty as the ocean, which means plants and animals can't survive there. It also means it's incredibly easy to float on your back. According to many, the water has magical healing properties, especially for those with chronic skin, respiratory, and joint problems. Unfortunately, the water levels in the Dead Sea have been dropping over time. If this is a bucket list item for you, make sure to visit while you still can!

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Have you been to Israel? If so, leave your recommendations below! 

Moab, UT [Travel Guide]

Back in September, I traveled to Utah for a long weekend to visit Arches National Park and Canyonlands National Park. The breathtaking beauty, stunning scenery, and eclectic local restaurants all made for an incredible experience. If you're planning a trip to this beautiful region of the country, here are some of my favorite things to eat, do, and see.

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FOOD

The Food Tank: This vegan food truck made all my dreams come true. It's a hidden gem in Moab that proved surprisingly difficult to find, but it was worth the hassle. The menu included a variety of delicious vegan options, and I had a lovely conversation with the owner. My dinner, which consisted of the roasted beet salad (topped with fig balsamic, cashew cheese, and micro greens), was incredible.

Eklecticafe: I stopped here for lunch after a busy morning in Arches National Park, and I thoroughly enjoyed my simple plate of scrambled eggs, potatoes, and gluten-free toast. I loved this quirky cafe's great selection of gluten-free meals and desserts, and the hippie, eklectic vibe (seeeeee what I did there?) was really fun.

Peace Tree Juice Cafe: I dined here on more than one occasion because I was obsessed with their quinoa bowl, which came with avocado, brussels sprouts, sauteed spinach, and tahini. So simple, but so good. They also offered a long list of fresh juices and smoothies. The Autumn Rush, made with apple, ginger, and carrot, felt like a ~*fall explosion*~ in my mouth. 

Love Muffin Cafe: Whenever I travel, I try to seek out a gluten-free bakery...and Love Muffin Cafe was a great find. I had the tastiest gluten-free apple carrot muffin here, along with the best breakfast of my life. If you go here, get the potatas bravas! Potatoes tossed in a caramelized sauce of onion, garlic, tomato, spinach, and feta, with two eggs on top...y'all. It was heaven on a plate.

NATIONAL/STATE PARKS

It was extremely hot when I visited Moab (in the high 90s), so I mostly stuck to short, simple hikes that didn't require excessive physical exertion. I saw a ton of incredible sights, though! I'll also list some of the noteworthy hikes I didn't get a chance to complete.

ARCHES NATIONAL PARK

North of Moab, bordered by the Colorado River, lies Arches National Park. This gorgeous, red-tinted landscape is home to over 2,000 natural sandstone arches. It's unlike anything else on the planet. Arches contains the highest density of natural arches in the world (yup, it's named approprateiyl), and it's home to a variety of unique geological formations (spires, rocks, and fins).

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EASY TRAILS

  • Skyline Arch: This is an extremely short hike, but the rock span at the end of the trail is beautiful. Definitely worth visiting because it's so easy to access. (0.4 miles)
  • Sand Dune Arch: This was one of my favorite rock formations in Arches. You have to wiggle through a narrow slot canyon to reach it, and there are plenty of spots to explore along the way. (0.8 miles)
  • The Windows: The North Window and South Window arches are fantastic to photograph, and the views are breathtaking. This is a great section of the park to visit because you can find many well known formations here. (1 mile)
  • Landscape Arch: This is the largest arch on the planet. Pretty cool, huh? (2 miles)
  • Park Avenue Trailhead: This is one of the first major attractions you hit when you enter Arches. The Three Gossips, the Courthouse Towers, Queen Nefertiti and Queen Victoria Rock, the Organ, and the Tower of Babel are all visible from the trailhead. The view is absolutely stunning. (1.8 miles)

MODERATE/DIFFICULT TRAILS

  • Delicate Arch: This hike was incredible. I got started at 8am because the afternoon heat was brutal, and it took about 2.5 hours to complete. People always rave about this arch, and now I know why. (3 miles uphill)
  • Fiery Furnace: This hike is a natural labyrinth of narrow passages between huge sandstone walls. First time visitors are encouraged to complete the hike with a ranger because there's no established trail. I didn't complete this one, but it gets incredible reviews. (2 miles)
  • Devils Garden: This hike allows you to see six natural arches. Many reviews say this is the best hike in Arches! I didn't complete this one, but if you have the time and the resources, you definitely should. (7.8 miles)
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CANYONLANDS NATIONAL PARK

This national park is a colorful maze of canyons, mesas, and buttes. It's divided into three distinct districts: Islands in the Sky, The Needles, and The Maze. I spent most of my time in Islands in the Sky. I drove through The Needles because I wanted to see the sandstone spires, but I skipped The Maze since it's the least accessible district.

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EASY HIKES (ISLANDS IN THE SKY)

  • Mesa Arch: This is one of the most popular landmarks in Islands in the Sky. The arch dangles on the mesa's edge, and the view is stunning. (0.7 miles)
  • Whale Rock: It's quite a short hike to this bizarre dome/crater formation, but the view from the top is fantastic. (1 mile)
  • Shafer Canyon Overlook: This view is INSANE, you guys. The sheer drop to the valley below is slightly terrifying (if you're afraid of heights, beware). It's truly astonishing, though. There aren't enough adjectives to describe the raw beauty of this viewpoint. (0.3 miles)
  • Grand View Point: If you're looking for an easy walk around the canyon rim with a gorgeous view, this is where you want to be. (1.8 miles)

DIFFICULT HIKES (ISLANDS IN THE SKY/THE NEEDLES)

  • Aztec Butte: This hike is quite unique. It climbs a steep slope to a dome-shaped butte that rises above the mesa. A loop around the top of Aztec Butte provides fantastic views into Taylor Canyon. This hike is located in Islands in the Sky. (1.8 miles uphill)
  • Druid Arch: This is a long, light trafficked, desolate hike in The Needles with incredible scenery. It can be difficult to navigate, and there's a bit of rock scrambling involved, so come prepared. (10.4 miles)
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DEAD HORSE STATE PARK

Located on the edge of Canyonlands National Park, at the end of a mesa 2,000 feet above the Colorado River, Dead Horse State Parks sits high and mighty. The park might have a questionable name, but the views are unbeatable. The landscape of Dead Horse is ever-changing, with canyons, vertical cliffs, and an extreme desert environment. I loved all three parks that I visited, but this was my favorite one.

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TIPS/TRICKS

Rent a 4WD. If you opt to go at your own pace with a rental car instead of hopping on a bus tour, make sure the vehicle is 4WD. This is really important if you want to go off-road.

Bring plenty of water. If you visit during the summer months, bring more water than you think you'll need. The heat in Moab is merciless. I actually bought a cheap cooler, filled it with ice in the mornings, and packed it full with water, juice, and snacks.

Preparation is key. Since I didn't complete any super long, strenuous hikes, I didn't need much besides hiking shoes and a daypack filled with water, snacks, a whistle, a compass, a knife, and a flashlight. Pro tip: If you rent a car, stop at your nearest Walmart and buy a big, cheap cooler. Fill the cooler with ice each morning and pack drinks and refrigerated snacks (like veggies, deli meat, and fruit). Let's be real - Nothing ruins a good time like hanger. Clothing depends largely on the season. In colder weather, you'll want fleece-lined leggings and an insulated jacket. During the summer, sweat-wicking fabric is great. If you plan on camping, you'll need more than the standard gear listed above. You can find a complete list here.

Be aware that you won't have cell phone service. While driving around Arches, I'd suddenly get service in random spots around the park. Dead Horse was the same way. However, Canyonlands was a dead zone. Keep this is mind, especially if you're planning on using your phone for directions. Download maps before entering the park, and jot down any important information in the note section on your phone.

Don't forget to look up at the stars. The stars in Moab were unlike anything I've ever seen before. They practically sparkled...like a glittery bath bomb had exploded in the sky. It was incredible, and my hour spent stargazing is one of my favorite memories from my trip. You know how they say, "Stop and smell the roses"? Well, stop and look at the stars. You'll be happy you did.

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Asheville, NC [Travel Guide]

I fell in love with colorful and quirky Asheville four years ago. The gorgeous mountains, eclectic downtown area, artsy culture, and abundant hiking opportunities made me swoon. Just a few months ago, I was lucky enough to return for a second time. This trip solidified my love for the "Portland, Oregon of the East". If you're planning a trip to Asheville, here's a travel guide with some of my favorite spots.

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FOOD

Laughing Seed Cafe: This cafe was Asheville's first vegetarian restaurant. They serve organic, local, farm-to-table cuisine with an international flair. I ordered the harmony bowl, a rice bowl loaded with black beans, grilled tofu, steamed veggies, avocado, purple kraut, and sesame ginger sauce. It was insanely good!

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White Duck Taco Shop: If you're looking for unique, off-the-wall tacos that you can order a-la-carte, this is your spot. The menu constantly changes, but there's always something delicious to order. I've had the bangkok shrimp, lamb gyro, and thai peanut chicken, and they were all great. 

Rosetta’s Kitchen and Buchi Bar: This restaurant specializes in flavorful vegan and vegetarian dishes made from fresh, whole foods. The atmosphere is friendly and inclusive, and they're all about forging close relationships with artists, musicians, and community groups. If you don't know what to get, order the "family favorite" (baked peanut butter tofu, kale, and smashed potatoes with gravy; SO GOOD!) and a seasonal kombucha.

Limones: This upscale restaurant serves a variety of California cuisine with a French/Mexican twist. If that sounds intriguing, you'll love some of the restaurant's options: lobster nachos, seared scallops with grits and mango salsa, and tequila lime beef fajitas. Save room for dessert, and order the churros.

Vortex Donuts: I have a huge sweet tooth, but doughnuts are my absolute favorite. Vortex came in strong with delicious doughnuts (they offer vegan flavors!) and great coffee. 

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If you want a great brunch, check out Over Easy Cafe, but be sure to get there early. Another delicious option is Biscuit Head.

DRINKS

New Belgium Brewing: My favorite thing about this brewery is the expansive outdoor space. I visited on a warm, end-of-summer day, and the brewery was abundant with picnic tables, outdoor games, and plenty of lawn space that customers filled with beach chairs and blankets. The atmosphere was upbeat, and the beer was delicious.

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The Double Crown: This speakeasy-style dive bar is a favorite amongst Asheville locals. With a warm ambiance, string lights, and a unique cocktail menu, what's not to love?

If you're a beer aficianado, check out Hi-Wire, Wedge, Green Man, Sweeten Creek, and the Funkatorium. Asheville has the most breweries per capita in the U.S., so you'll definitely find a brewery you dig.

CAFES

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Trade & Lore: This industrial yet cozy cafe offers experimental coffee while working to promote equality and empower the community. I had a delicious oat milk rosewater latte here. 

Izzy's Coffee Den: After shopping around Lexington Avenue for awhile, an iced almond milk lavender latte was just what I needed to beat the heat. The cafe also has a second location on Haywood Road.

High Five Coffee: I stopped here before driving home to Norfolk. My hazelnut latte was superb, and the staff was knowledgeable and friendly. Asheville obviously knows what they're doing when it comes to coffee.

French Broad Chocolate Lounge: If you aren't in the mood for coffee, come here for drinking chocolate (they offer vegan options), artisan truffles, and pastries. This place is a chocolate lover's dream.

If you want a unique cafe experience, check out Double D's Coffee & Desserts, a double-decker bus that serves coffee, tea, smoothies, milkshakes, and pastries. This is a must while in Asheville.

HIKING

Looking Glass Falls: This is one of North Carolina's most popular waterfalls. It's just a short walk from the road, so it doesn't really qualify as a hike...but it's absolutely beautiful, so it's worth a visit. Located in the Pigsah National Forest, Looking Glass Falls is 60' tall. Steps lead down to the majestic falls for a closer view. You can walk around the rocks in the stream, or you can even wade in the water. 

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High Falls: Located in DuPont State Forest, High Falls is another gorgeous waterfall you should try to visit. This hike is only 1.2 miles round-trip, and the view from the base of the falls is incredible. (Warning: The rocks are extremely slippery...don't get too close to the water, or you might fall. I know from experience.)

Chimney Rock State Park: Chimney Rock is considered one of the most iconic sites in North Carolina, and for good reason. The 75-mile panoramic view from the top is amazing. You have to work for it, though! There are more than 500 steps leading up to the chimney.

For a detailed list of easy, moderate, and difficult hikes around Asheville, click here.

THINGS TO DO

Catch the sunset. When I travel, it's always one of my top priorities to find a great spot to watch the sunset. SkyBar is known for its spectacular view of Asheville, and they have an extensive cocktail menu. If sipping a blackberry mint mojito as the sun descends on the horizon sounds appealing to you, check out SkyBar. The Omni Grove Park Inn is another fantastic spot to watch the sun go down.

Explore the River Arts District and snap a photo of the Good Vibes mural. This is arguably the most iconic mural in Asheville. I had trouble locating it during my first visit, so I'll make it easy for you: 104 West Haywood Street.

Visit Malaprop's Bookstore. This independent bookstore is a dream. If you enjoy leisurely browsing a variety of diverse books, you'll love this place. And be sure to order coffee from the cafe. I had an iced white chocolate blackberry latte, and it was divine. 

I wanted Malaprop’s to be a place where poetry matters, where women’s words are as important as men’s, where one is surprised by excellence, where good writing has a home, where I could nurture my addiction to literature, and play, enjoy, and entertain people drawn to quality books.
— Emoke B'Racz, Owner

Dedicate an afternoon to the Biltmore Estate. Officially deemed the largest home in America, the Biltmore Estate is a sight to behold. The architecture is so intricate, and the interior contains century-old tapestries, antique paintings, and elegant sculptures. There are 250 rooms in the mansion, so plan to spend an entire day here, or at least an afternoon.

Browse the Western North Carolina Farmer's Market. I can't leave Asheville without buying maple syrup, honey, and jam from the WNC Farmer's Market. The market also features high quality fruits and vegetables, preserves, hot sauce, baked goods, fudge, salsa, and dozens of other items that might tickle your fancy.

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What's your favorite thing to do in Asheville? Comment below!