Monday, August 28, 2017

Top 8 Reasons to Book Your Next Vacation to Transylvania, Romania!

For the past five years or so, I have developed a small obsession with wanting to travel to Romania. I had seen photos and read about Transylvania here and there, and it totally piqued my interest!

I spent about 8 months planning and booking all of the facets of this trip, and throughout that time, I frequently had people ask me, "why, Romania?!"

So, here are my TOP 8 REASONS why you should plan a vacation to Romania!!!

1. Ease of travel. It is incredibly easy to travel around Romania! There is an excellent transportation infrastructure. You can easily take trains around the country, but while we were there, we road tripped. And I can't recommend renting a car strongly enough! The roads and signage are excellent. They are very polite and mindful drivers. And sometimes while you're driving from Point A to Point B, you may just see a fortress on the side of the road and decide to pull over and explore for an hour! That happened to us on our drive between Sighisoara and Brasov, and it was honestly one of our best days yet! Renting a car is also quite affordable (especially if you know how to drive a manual). We do NOT know how to drive a manual, so we paid a bit more for an automatic. We also hauled around like 200+ pounds of stuff (much of it for our high maintenance little girl), so we needed a larger car. We landed on a Ford Mondeo hatchback (huge trunk) that we rented from the Intercontinental in Bucharest. The total for a week was 303 euros, including taxes, unlimited mileage and a GPS. We loved the freedom to drive around Transylvania and explore at leisure, not feeling tied down to a train schedule. Especially when traveling with littles! Romania has so much to offer, and road-tripping through Transylvania will forever be a highlight for us!

2. Castles! It's like Disneyland, but without the crowds (or costs)! Romania is a country rich with castles, palaces and fortresses. They dot the landscape and are very accessible for tourists to stop and explore! We loved the history and authenticity of the castles. They have that magic, fairy-tale like ambiance that just set Romania apart from so many other countries I've visited.

One day after our drive to Bran Castle (otherwise known as "Dracula's Castle), we found ourselves sitting in the 100-year old tea house, having lunch. We were fueling up before walking up the hill to explore the castle! Outside the window we heard music and saw a band, and before we knew it, we were invited to meet Prince Dominic of Romania and join in his birthday celebrations! He was born at Bran Castle and lived there during the early part of his life. Whaaaat?! Again, this country is just MAGICAL. That's the only word I can think to describe it!

3. Breathtaking Architecture and Landscape. Romania is just a feast for the eyes, no doubt about it. Especially throughout the countryside in Transylvania! Once you leave Bucharest, there are fields and beautiful wide open spaces between the various towns and villages. During the summer while we were there, these fields were full of blooming sunflowers!

The houses and buildings are painted in a rainbow of colors that give the towns a magical ambiance. In the photo directly below, you can see the the apartment we rented for three nights in that orange colored building. It was within the walls of Sighisoara, and just steps from the 14th century historic clock tower.

Walking down the old cobblestone streets and looking up at the old multicolored buildings was a feast for the eyes. I absolutely loved seeing how people lived, and the unique roofs on the Romanian homes!

It's also quite a mountainous country, so many towns (such as Brasov, below) look like a movie set versus actual reality!

4. Affordability. When we decided to go to Romania this summer, it was partially due to the fact that we would be flying across the Atlantic for a wedding in England. We had a little under three weeks and knew it would be extremely expensive to spend that entire time in the UK. The obvious thing to do (or so I thought) would be to simply jump on the chunnel to Paris for a week, and enjoy the rest of our vacation there. However, the wedding was in July, and I knew peak tourist season would mean extremely high prices - especially in Paris! So my husband and I started brainstorming and looking through the places on our bucket list that we knew we wanted to visit. Bucharest is actually quite easy to get to - lots of airlines flying through there several times a day. And, since Romania isn't like Italy or France (with millions of people flocking there throughout the summer), we knew we could avoid the crowds! But, what really sold me was the affordability of it all! Being a family a four (especially with a tiny, light sleeper), we had hoped to book hotel suites or 2-bedroom apartments. And, we were able to do that all throughout Romania for under $100/night!!!

Not only were the hotels and apartments very affordable, but the food was extremely affordable! We enjoyed wonderful meals out everyday, with delicious wines (many from Moldova and Hungary), and the bill was typically $25 or less for all 4 of us! And I'm talking about picturesque, quaint restaurants!

5. Kid-friendly. Romania is a very kid-friendly country, and as a tourist, the local people went out of their way to cater to our needs of traveling with children. In fact, this is the first trip to Europe we've made with a baby without carrying any sort of pack n'play or portable crib. Every single apartment or hotel we booked had a crib set up in our room, ready for us with fresh linens. And, at no extra charge. Every little restaurant we visited had high chairs, and we never felt uncomfortable taking our children anywhere. Not only that, but the magical aura of this place coupled with the wide-open spaces, make it a dream for kids! Outside the castles we visted, there were always swords and knight costumes the kids could buy and play with. There was always plenty of room to run around, and the pace of life in Romania is just peaceful. Not rushed and stressful like other major tourist destinations.

6. Craftsmanship. The Romanians are really skilled artisans. It's fascinating to see the things they make by hand. There is a lot of wood working done within the country, particularly with willow wood. Willow wood is softer than many other woods, and the Romanians use it to make a variety of platters, dough bowls, and other kitchen goods. I fell in love with the willow-carved products while we were there.

Our first night in Sighisoara also happened to correspond with their annual handicrafts market, so I got to see many handmade goods from this gorgeous country! They making amazing decorated gingerbread, straw goods, and handpainted pottery as well!

7. Religious History. The history of various religions in Romania, as well as their places of worship, are fascinating to visit. Many of the churches are simply works of art! There are countless Orthodox churches throughout the country, each built with the triple domes representing the Holy Trinity. The murals and icons within these churches are breathtaking!

Romania is also rich with well-preserved fortified churches. In fact, they have 7 of these fortified churches in Transylvania which are on the UNESCO World Heritage List. We were able to visit two of them (Biertan and Prejmer), and they were fascinating. Built between the 13th - 16th century by the Saxons, they give a glimpse into a way of life during that time.

Below you can see my family standing in front of the fortification in Biertan. A gorgeous tiny town just 30 minutes outside of Sighisoara. The drive to this little village was lined with multicolored homes and horse-drawn carriages sharing the road with us.

8. The People. Finally, I would be remiss in talking about why you should book your next trip to Romania without mentioning the people. The Romanian people we met were very helpful and kind across the board. Even in the bustling city of Bucharest, we were met with kind taxi drivers and friendly hotel workers. We stopped in cafes and on the street for pastries, and were always met with a smile. We also found the people very honest when it came to matters of money. I've spent a good amount of time traveling in the Middle East and Latin America, and while I love those places, the constant negotiating, haggling, and pressure to buy goods can sometimes be exhausting. We didn't experience any of that in Romania. In fact, our taxi driver in Bucharest tried refusing the tip we gave him because he "just wanted my family to have a nice time and enjoy Romania".

The owner of the apartment we rented in Sighisoara had it completely stocked with tea and coffee and brought us bottled water everyday because he thought it would be better for us and the children to drink. No extra charge or anything. Just very thoughtful!

If you're considering getting a bit off the beaten path on your next family vacation, I can't encourage you enough to venture to Romania! The country has every modern convenience you could possibly want or need, yet you feel like you're walking around in a 14th century fairy tale.

If you have any specific questions about planning a Romanian vacation, please let me know in the comments below!

Happy Travels!

Friday, August 25, 2017

Back to School and a few Friday Favorites!

Well, this was a big week around here! Summer ended, and just like that, my son began 2nd grade!

I think I was probably more nervous than he was...He had hopes of getting one specific teacher, and when we checked the portal the day before to find out who his teacher was, he actually had never heard of her! Which, made me a bit nervous...But he walked out the first day singing her praises, and very excited to be starting a new school year! That was a FAVORITE for us all!

This week I also did a lot of meal planning and researching some new recipes that were just a *tad* healthier. Summer has meant lots of fun dinners out, happy hour and pizza at the beach. And thinking of squeezing into my skinny jeans all winter isn't really a good match for all that. I've been trying to find some clean eating recipes that are lower in carbs and sugar. Wednesday night I made this No Noodle Zucchini Lasagna, and it was a hit with the whole family! I did make a few changes and omissions: I added some crushed garlic and additional spices, and I left out the mushrooms and spinach in favor of extra zucchini "noodles". I will be making it again! (And, since the recipe called for wine, I had to have a glass while cooking as well). A FAVORITE!

I also spent some time trying to organize our master bathroom. One thing I realized is that my makeup and brushes, etc didn't ever all fit into my makeup bag! I had a bag for eye shadows, a bag for facial creams, some things in the drawer, and more things in the medicine cabinet. And, I wasn't always putting everything away every morning, so it had just become a bit messy. I decided I needed a "train case" sort of makeup bag - something large enough to store and organize everything! However, with traveling, I just can't have a makeup bag that weighs 3 - 4 pounds all on it's own! After doing some research, I found this Ellis James makeup bag and I'm in love! It's large enough to fit your flat iron, brushes, lotions, and everything else! At first I thought it was a bit more than I wanted to spend, but when I look at my bathroom counter, I can say that this was $28 well spent! A FAVORITE for sure!

On the first day of school I did a Target run with my littlest. Target with one child is definitely easier than with two! Ha! I actually had time to peruse the clothes, and found that they have brought back one of my FAVORITE shirts!

Now listen, I have no idea why the models on the Target website have it buttoned all the way up and look so uncomfortable. If I had seen this shirt online, I would never order it! But trust me, this shirt can be worn all year long and is so comfortable! I have it in black, blue, orange and now olive! It's very similar to the super popular Lush shirt that has been a bestseller at Nordstrom for ages! And while I love that blouse, this one isn't quite as low-cut and it's not dry clean only! If you're looking for a cute top, check this one out!

I couldn't find a link to the exact tassel necklace above, but if you're looking for some quality jewelry that also makes a huge impact on women's lives, check out Noonday! My friend became an ambassador for them last year, and their pieces are so unique. They are all handcrafted and each item has a story and a history. She hosted an open house in her home last night, and I loved so many of the new pieces in the fall collection! You can shop online too! If you're interested, check it out here! These are a few of my FAVORITES in the new collection:

This navy tassel bracelet, handmade in India:

With fall and winter arriving, I reach for my denim jeans a lot more, and I think these earrings would look great with jeans and almost any top! Love the delicate beads!

Finally, remember that deal I mentioned to road trip around Tuscany for $599 (that also included flights, hotels AND breakfast daily)? Well, it's back! Check out the Travelzoo offer here!

Well, that's it from me this week. We're gearing up for a beach camping trip which I hope to report back on next week!

And, make sure to stop by on Monday! I've planned a big post on THE TOP 8 REASONS you need to plan your next family vacation to Transylvania, Romania!

Friday, August 18, 2017

What a week! Friday Favorites

Well, it hasn't been the best week around here to be honest. Definitely not my FAVORITE.

We lost a dear member of our family this week, after years of struggling with poor health. This was difficult for everyone. Simultaneously, Sadie was hit with a 104.4 fever and a sudden case of Roseola which lasted three days and was so scary! I didn't sleep at all since her fever seemed to rise substantially at night.

But amidst the difficult week, we did have some fun and make some solid memories.

Children are always a constant distraction, but in difficult times, that distraction can be a very good thing.

They both had their birthdays this week. Born 6 years and 6 days apart, we had some celebrating to do.

Last week when I wrote, we were just about to embark on a day of fishing to celebrate my son, Oliver's 8th birthday.

These guys love each other so much, and that is definitely a FAVORITE for me!

Although I'm sad to see summer coming to an end, we did enjoy participating in a few of the Regal $1 Summer Movies. Our local cinema was recently renovated and now has the large leather reclining chairs. Sitting in there with my feet up has been a FAVORITE for me lately!

This week I found myself getting a little deeper into this book, Delicious!

This is the first work of fiction by famous food critic, Ruth Reichl. It's the story of a young woman who begins working at a food magazine in New York City. And, although the start was a bit slow, I promise you, stick with it! I'm nearing the end and loving it! Definitely a FAVORITE for me this week!

I've been finding some killer deals on Travelzoo lately! Type in "Barcelona" and check out the $599 deal they have right now (that includes airfare AND hotel)! And, it's available for travel through Spring, 2018! Finding bargain travel deals is always a FAVORITE!

Finally, we ended up this week celebrating our little girl's 2nd birthday. We had a Paddington Bear British-themed party. As I've mentioned before, I love all things English, so I really enjoyed planning this party. We had shepherd's pie, mushy peas, marmalade sandwiches and potato salad! I know, kind of weird food for a 2-year old's party, but it fit the theme!

I got her little skirt with the double decker buses from one of my favorite British stores, Cath Kidston! They have the cutest kid's clothes and pajamas, and I adore their handbags and wallets! Definitely a FAVORITE!

Well, that's all from me this week. I have a busy day of taking the kids to their wellness checks today, before hopefully heading to the beach for a little happy hour. Our last Friday before school begins!

Wishing you a good one!

Friday, August 11, 2017


Today is a day of celebrating at our house! Our little boy went from squishy little baby: a big 8-year old! I snapped this pic just last week at the Orthodontist's office - right after he had 6 upper braces put on! He was very excited to sport Seahawks colors in his teeth!

We are doing one of his FAVORITE things to celebrate today! Ocean fishing off the pier in San Clemente! Grandma and Grandpa will be joining us for pizza, fishing, and cake! We are excited to celebrate our little boy and hoping for some big catches today!

Since we're talking about our favorites today, I wanted to share this new Aveeno 60 Second facial I bought this week. Now listen, I saw Jennifer Aniston in a commercial on tv using this and raving about it, and somehow, I convinced myself I needed it. I mentioned to one of my good friend about Jennifer Aniston using Aveeno and she said, "you know she doesn't REALLY use that stuff, right? It's all La Mer and plastic botox". Err, yes. I guess that is most likely true! In any case, for $6.99, I love how this exfoliates, and my skin feels really good after using it! For the past year I've typically used the Origins Modern Friction exfoliator (which I LOVE), but this is a milder version that you could use more frequently.

UPS stopped by with a few goodies from Old Navy again Wednesday. I'm telling you, Old Navy is nailing it this season! Some of my FAVORITES to transition into fall and winter months:

First, a new moto jacket! I've had my eye on a moto jacket for about a year. Whenever I've tried them on, they're typically way too long in the arms for me. Well, who knew that Old Navy would have a moto jacket in stock this year? And, it's super cute! Not a cheap, plastic-like faux leather. And, not too many crazy zippers or buttons. Just the right amount. If you're in the market for one, you should check it out!

I know it's not quite fall yet. Especially since we're still hitting the beaches here in Southern California! I love this short-sleeve tie blouse. It's a perfect transitional piece that will pair nicely under a jacket later in the fall! I tried doing a quick selfie, but had a little 23-month old photo bomber running through!

I also want to share this casual cotton dress with you! I own it in several colors, and it's the perfect thing to throw on for school pickup or a quick trip to Target. They've introduced this new heather grey color which I just love! I've paired it with my Tory Burch silver ballet flats, which I wear with so many things. I am kind of obsessed with TB. I tell myself that the Old Navy shopping negates the Tory obsession. #smartlogic

My next FAVORITE is this little black cold shoulder dress! It's feminine, comfortable, and I love the fact that it has longer sleeves! It could really be worn all-year round here in California, but definitely spring - fall in most parts of the country! I'm including the snapshot below, because I don't think it is quite as long as it appears on the model on the website. I paired it with these BP Sandals from Nordstrom, which I love! They're comfy and not too high! My pattern doesn't seem to be in stock any longer, but there are several other fun choices.

I wasn't too sure if the cold shoulder trend was here to stay or not, but it seems it is! And, I'm okay with that! I loved the fit of this top. Unlike so many other cold shoulder tops, the shoulders are cut in exactly the right place and aren't baggy. It lays so nicely! Black has been going in and out of stock, so check back if you're interested.

Okay, one more fall to winter find...If you're thinking I've found a surplus of new clothes and have a little shopping addiction, you'd be partially correct. About 3 months ago, I did a MAJOR cleanout of my closet. I am the type of person that will hang onto something from Nordstrom or Banana Republic because I spent a lot on it and can't handle giving it to Goodwill. It was getting a little crazy. I was hanging on to clothes I hadn't worn in years! Also, after having my daughter, my style and shape changed (ahem, not necessarily for the better). Instead of trying to feel comfortable cramming myself into old clothes, I decided to clear the closet and start over. So, this fall is kind of my first year of that and I am excited to find some new staples!

Which brings me to...this tweed blazer! I absolutely love the clean, feminine lines of it! It isn't boxy at all! And, I adore the color. It screams fall to me. I envision wearing it at the apple orchard with boots and my basket of apples. (Except in reality, apple picking here in California opens at the end of this month and it'll most likely be 85 degrees at the orchard. So, I'd be sweating buckets in this). But you know, #goals. I'm including the photo below, because my husband walked in on me taking it and totally cracked up. He said, "it looks like you're about to go ride a horse in Nantucket". Which tells me, pairing it with the brown boots and the pearls might look a little crazy. Or, I may just wear it that way and OWN IT. We'll see. I'm no fashionista over here. Just wearing what I like!

Switching gears a little bit away from clothes...I popped into World Market this week and found these ADORABLE journals! They instantly looked familiar to me, because I have the Paris in Love book out on our coffee table, and I love the images! I often use journals like this to manage the orders from my pillow shop. But, I've also started using one as a gratitude journal. I decided to start this month by sitting down at night and writing things I'm thankful for that have occurred throughout the day. I think it's helping to give me a more positive outlook, especially on days when I'm run down from my kids! These journals are definitely a FAVORITE!

Also giving me food for thought this week, is this book, From Grouchy to Great: Finding Joy in the Journey of Motherhood. Amazon recommended it for me. Which made me laugh out loud, but also realize that those guys know their target markets! Well played, Amazon. No wonder you take all our money! I've read through the first week, and I'm really enjoying this book! I was in kind of a funk the past month, and this is really helping me to move out of that!

That's it for Friday Favorites! I hope you have a wonderful weekend!