Sparks Lake – Cascade Lakes, OR

Sparks Lake, Oregon

Sparks Lake is located along the Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway in Oregon. We loved this byway so much, and we first stopped at Todd Lake along the way.

Sparks Lake is a very diverse lake that people from all over come to for fishing, kayaking, stand-up paddle boarding, camping, swimming, photography, and more. There are many great hiking trails around the area as well as mountain biking trails. I was just in awe of the its beauty!

There were spots of the water that were so smooth and reflective that it looked like a mirrored image of the mountains and trees framing the lake. A photographer’s dream! :) Many of the region’s peaks are visible from the lake, such as Mount Bachelor, Three Sisters, and Broken Top.

I only wish we could’ve been there longer in order to hike around and explore the area more.

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Wouldn’t you want to be near this beautiful lake all day?! The Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway is perfect to see beautiful natural lakes and landscapes, including this one.

[All photos were taken in August 2014.]

East Side King – Austin, TX

East Side King - restaurant in Austin, TX

East Side King has become one of my very favorite restaurants in Austin.

East Side King was opened by Paul Qui, season 9 winner of Top Chef, and Moto Utsunomiya. There are now 5 permanent locations in Austin, as well as a pop-up food truck. ESK features slightly different menus at each location, though all are Asian-inspired street food, and the restaurant itself has a clear Austin style.

A plus for me is that ESK has gluten-free, vegetarian, and vegan options. Yay!!

When I first looked at the menu, I didn’t know what to think. ESK has some off-the-wall options, but you can’t go wrong with a Top Chef! My favorite dish ended up being a weird one: beet home fries.

Yep. Beet fries. I’ve never been a beet person at all, but I just kept hearing such wonderful things about this dish from EVERYONE that I had to try it. And, let me tell you: even if you HATE beets, there is a high chance that you will LOVE these beet home fries. I don’t know how they do it, but they’ve become one of my favorite dishes of all time.

Secondly, their brussels sprout salad is also to die for. As is, I’m sure, their tacos and other meat dishes.

I can’t wait to visit the other locations!

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Just another reason you should come visit Austin! I’ll be your personal tour guide. :)

[All photos were taken in October 2014.]

Madrid – What to Do and Where to Eat

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What do you know about Madrid? It is the capital of Spain, it is the largest city in the country, it is known for its food… what else? It might not have the architectural style of Barcelona, and it lacks the pristine beaches of Cádiz, but this city has its own character. Discover Madrid’s spirit through its ancient architecture; taste its many flavors by going on a tapas tour; explore the city’s famous museums and do not miss its world-famous nightlife.

Almudena Cathedral

Madrid by day: culture, culture and more culture.

Madrid is a city that has many museums: there is a Wax Museum, a Costume Museum dedicated to fashion through the ages and even a Naval Museum, despite the city’s lack of sea. However, the three jewels in the crown are its art museums. Located close to the city center, the Prado Museum, the Reina Sofia Museum and the Thyssen Bornemisza Museum for the Golden Triangle of Museums. The Prado is filled with paintings by Goya and Velazquez and hosts many temporary exhibits of national and international painters and sculptors. The other two museums offer a variety of modernist and contemporary exhibits. Tip: many of Madrid’s museums, including the Prado and the Reina Sofia, are free in the afternoon.

A city break in Madrid is not all about museums- you can explore the city’s history through architecture. The city center is filled with ancient churches. The three most famous ones are the Almudena Cathedral, the Church of San Ginés and San Francisco el Grande, a basilica located south of the city center. The Almudena Cathedral is located steps away from another iconic landmark, the grand Rotal Palace. The palace is now only used for official meetings, and guided tours are offered around forty of the palace’s two thousand rooms. Do not miss the Throne Hall and the banquet hall, which are decorated with antiques, porcelain figurines and tapestries.

Debod Temple

Madrid in the afternoon: bikes and parks.

Grab a menú del día lunch in any side-street in the city center before heading to one of the city’s parks. This menu usually costs less than €15 and includes two traditional courses, bread, a refreshing drink and a dessert. After that, choose which park you want to explore. Madrid Río is a park located on the banks of the Manzanares river, close to the city center. There are jogging paths and bike lanes, and bicycles are available for rent. The more traditional Retiro Park is located north east of the city center. Bicycles and segways are available for rent around the park, and there is a pond with rowing boats. If you want to watch the sun set over the rooftops, head to the centric Parque del Oeste, a park that boasts its own ancient Egyptian Temple, the Debod Temple.

Tapas

Madrid by night: tapas and squares.

Madrid’s nightlife is legendary: dinner starts after 10 p.m and the bars close way past dawn. Even if you are a non-drinker, you will be able to enjoy the city’s tapas bars, filled with locals and music. Tapas are traditional appetizers that are served all around the country. The ideal place of a tapas crawl is the Plaza de Santa Ana, which is located in the Huertas district, a bohemian area filled with bars, clubs and discos. Some of the most typical tapas are patatas bravas (potato wedges served with a spicy sauce), gambas al pil-pil (prawns with garlic fried in olive oil), jamón (cured ham) and stuffed aceitunas olives. Head to La Latina for tapas specialties from all over Spain (there are even several gluten-free certified tapas bars for coealic travellers). In the nearby Malasaña district you will find trendy lounge bars, and Lavapiés offers ethnic restaurants.

Photos by Leandro Kibisz and Fen Labalme from Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0).

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