I was able to experience a top 10 life moment at Ocean Adventures Marine Park in Mississippi as I got to meet my favorite animal – a dolphin – in an up-close encounter!
The four of us (husband, friends and myself) had our dolphin interaction with Apollo, who playfully greeted us with a curious peek over his pool wall when we first arrived to the encounter.
Apollo the dolphin is almost deaf and would not survive on his own, according to the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies – a nonprofit that is associated with Ocean Adventures Marine Park and exists to educate, conserve and research on marine mammals in the wild and under human care. Our guide told us Apollo was found stranded on the beach and had been there so long that he got a sunburn. The Institute for Marine Mammal Studies took him in and gave him a home (and a ton of fish).
Apollo had us (especially me) giddy as he chased footballs, splashed us and let us get a hug and kiss from him.
Along with dolphins, Ocean Adventures MS also provides up-close experiences with sea lions, sharks, sting rays and birds.
I’m so glad I got to meet my favorite animal here and share this experience with friends!
Normally, each winter, Seth and I travel to a nearby city to see how they celebrate Christmas and have an extended weekend vacation. Four years ago, we were in Oklahoma City driving Route 66, enjoying hot chocolate on a double-decker bus, visiting Instagram-worthy destinations and eating some of the best poutine we have had in the States.
Located in the South Central U.S., Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, is approximately 3 hours from Dallas, 4.25 hours from Topeka, 5 hours from Little Rock, 5 hours from Kansas City and 5.5 hours from Austin if you are driving. Not too bad of a drive for a long weekend stay.
When we visited, we discovered Oklahoma City is great foodie destination – we enjoyed each restaurant where we ate – and they do a great job amping up the holiday cheer.
Where to Eat in Oklahoma City
The Mule – Get the Big Ass Poutine (that’s really what they call it). The atmosphere felt like a hipster’s paradise.
Cheever’s Cafe – Cheever’s is known for their Chicken Fried Steak. Plus, they have some mighty delicious rolls.
Empire Slice House – New York-style pizzas you can get by the slice or buy the whole whopping pie. The Empire Slice House has an eclectic vibe and pictures of your favorite movies, bands, etc. are plastered all over the walls (the throwbacks make excellent lunch conversation). “Live free. Pie hard.”
Junction Coffee: If you love unique coffee shops, this is one to add to your list. We sipped coffee/hot chocolate while warming up by a small heater on a double decker bus. Check Junction Coffee’s Instagram page to see where the bus is going to be each day!
What to Do in Oklahoma City
Pops Route 66 Soda Ranch – Drive Route 66 to find a giant soda bottle on the side of the road that is backed by a store filled with your favorite sodas and unique pops lining all of the walls. If you have ever been, let me know what you got!
Myriad Botanical Gardens – The Gardens’ Crystal Bridge Tropical Conservatory is $8 for adults, $7 for 13- to 19-year-olds, $5 for 4- to 12-year-olds and free for kids aged 3 and under. However, the Myriad Botanical Gardens Outdoor Grounds are free to roam. We visited Oklahoma City during the Holiday Market at Myriad Gardens and saw the giant poinsettia tree! Still, I know we barely touched the surface of what all there is to see at here!
Wheeler District – In Oklahoma City’s Wheeler District, you can find a perfect spot for an Instagram photo! The OKC sign sits by the historic Santa Monica Pier Ferris Wheel. I have a happy memory of getting this shot. It was incredibly windy and cold that day and we would run out from shelter to take a million versions of this photo as fast as we could, hoping that our hair wasn’t in our face and the sign was in the shot before. I’d say we got a good one. 🙂
Bricktown Water Taxi – While we didn’t get to ride the water taxi during our visit, it was definitely on our list. It was just far too cold and we couldn’t find parking. The Bricktown Water Taxi opened in 1999 and shows “tourists and locals alike the sights and sounds of Bricktown from a unique perspective, floating down the Bricktown Canal,” according to its website. If you have ever been, how was the experience?
Before visiting Oklahoma City, I recommend following Downtown OKC on Instagram. They are a great resource to find things to do and events that are free in Oklahoma City! When we went, the Myriad Botanical Gardens and the Bricktown Water Taxi were actually free to experience!
Our short stay in Zurich in 2017 was comprised of good eats, several walks (particularly to the grocery store to get some AC) and people watching. This bustling city was different from our stay in the quaint Lucerne, but it had a youthful vibe, which made me reminisce of college years spent getting late night snacks and chit-chatting with friends not so long ago.
If you saw my Instagram feed before our Swiss trip, it would make you salivate. I followed both the Taste of Zurich and Zurich Food Guide in preparation for our trip (Instagram is my local food guide) and I would scroll through posts of hearty sandwiches, scoops of colorful gelato melting in waffle cones, and bowls filled with a rainbow of veggies and noodles. It was AWESOME. While we only visited one spot of the many well-reviewed restaurants, it was one you don’t want to miss.
Kafi Dihei was less than a mile from our AirBnB, so we decided to make the stroll. Ivy streamed down the front of the cafe and we were excited to see the neighbor cat, Sira, chatting up nearby birds. When we sat down, Sira instantly came to greet us and tell us what was best on the menu. As the waitress joked, “If it tells you it hasn’t eaten in a week, it’s lying.” Sira recommended the pork schnitzel, so I got the dang pork schnitzel. It was the right choice. Seth got the open-face ham and cheese sandwich with the soup of the day. We devoured our food, leaving nary a crumb, as we listened to some college students studying French and kept Sira purring. I have a feeling if we were locals, this would be a go-to spot.
There were several sites to see in Zurich, but we were pretty worn out! We wanted to save our strength for our journey to Liechtenstein – the sixth smallest country in the world!
This day-trip from Zurich is well worth it! It is just an hour train ride to Sargans, Switzerland, and a 10-30 minute ride (depending on which line you take) on one of Liechtenstein’s lime green buses. The best part – it’s all free with the Swiss Travel Pass! As you ride the bus, you don’t even know when you’ve gone from one country and entered the next.
Liechtenstein’s population is nearly 38,000 (about the size of Tupelo, Mississippi) and it’s capital, Vaduz, has about 5,500 folks (that’s about 1,500 less than the small town where I grew up).
Prince Hans-Adam II is the country’s leader, and you can actually walk to his castle! We were dripping with sweat as we made the walk up the steep, cobblestone path and then trekked through the wooded trail, but we were smiling at the top! You get to learn about the history of the country every few steps. Moments like these are worth the climb.
We ate at Brasserie Burg (delicious) and I had my first ever gelato at Dolce Vita! Dark chocolate gelato with golden flakes. Since Liechtenstein gets a lot of visitors from both Switzerland and Austria (the countries bordering it), lots of stores accept both Swiss francs and Euros. Dolce Vita was about the only spot that didn’t accept credit cards, which we found out AFTER the guy behind the counter scooped our gelato into cups. So, Seth had to go find a bank and get some Swiss francs while I waited, trying not to look awk.
We spent a lot of our time checking out the local art in the city streets, meandering through a museum (also free with the Swiss Travel Pass) and being in awe of the staggering mountains.
It’s a difficult task to sum up in a few words the adventures you experience while traveling. So, allow me the opportunity to express the wonder of the welcoming city of Montréal, Québec.
Montréal was a captivating blend of Old World beauty dashed with New World charm. Staggered throughout it’s towering skyline were highlights of the city’s beginnings, some of which were breathtaking churches heavily influenced by European architecture.
The most mesmerizing building to me was the Notre-Dame Basilica located in Old Montréal. Standing under the gaze of the giant Virgin Mary, Saint John the Baptist and Saint Joseph peering from the church’s façade made me feel incredibly small. As if the sight of the Gothic architecture on the outside wasn’t enough, the view when walking the rows of wooden pews inside is astounding. The stained glass windows along the left and right tell the story of Montréal’s founding as Ville Marie, the intricate ceiling depicts the heavens, the statues in the archway up front coincide with Biblical sacrifices and the organ at the back overwhelms with its might.
It’s not a trip to Montréal without a birds-eye view on Mount Royal. We were dropped off at the bottom of the mountain by our Uber driver and began the slow hike up the mountain. It was hilarious how sloth-like we were as we slid (but never busted it) along the icy path while people in spiked sneakers zoomed past us on their morning run. We stopped at the student center to admire the view and get in on the #mtlmoments action.
To warm up during our adventures, we popped our heads into local cafes and hung out in the Underground City. As Seth describes it, Montréal is a hidden foodie gem. The city thrives off of cafes and the food is delicious. The big point of our trip was to make it a culinary adventure and live like the locals. From Cacao 70 in the Gay Village where I had the best hot chocolate I’ve ever poured down my throat to O.Noir where Seth and I dined in pitch black and were served by blind waiters, Montreal’s food scene alone was worth the trip.
Speaking of locals, Montréalers were so kind. Québec is primarily French speaking and while Seth was delighted in every encounter he had to speak French, most of the people switch between French and English with ease. If I had to go alone, I’d be completely comfortable. All the signs are in French, but it isn’t difficult to understand the message they convey. Truthfully, I thought Montréalers had a very Southern-esque spirit in that they are incredibly polite and cordial, even more so than actual Southerners.
It’s a beautiful city I think everyone should take the chance to visit (and the locals really harp on coming in the spring when festivals are in store).