A Magical Weekend in Stockholm, Sweden

how to spend a weekend in stockholm sweden

Narrow cobblestone alleys and ochre-colored buildings are the blueprint Stockholm is built upon. The capital city of Sweden has a rich history dating back from the Middle Ages when the Vikings first took control of this land. Although much has changed, visiting the old town of Stockholm, Gamla Stan, is like stepping back in time. As an archipelago, the many islands making up the urban region are joined together by ornate bridges and intricate pathways. While there are so many valuable sights worth visiting, the best advice one could give when traveling to Stockholm is to plan to get lost. The city is best understood when exploring the charming passageways with no real destination. It is when you close your map and let the cobblestone lead the way that you begin to notice the tiny details of its vibrant heritage still so very alive. The church steeples, royal palaces and market centers have vivid stories to share if you’re willing to dig a little deeper.

stockholm 2
On our way to Ă–stermalm

Arriving by train is one of the easiest ways to enter the city center. We booked a hotel close by and were able to walk to most of the sights. Luckily, we scored beautiful sunny days that meant we could spend the majority of our time outside.

We knew we wanted to head straight to Gamla Stan, the old town of Stockholm. We made our way across numerous bridges to finally enter into Stortorget, the public market square in the center of Gamla Stan. It reminisces of an urban medieval time, but since the old town was built over a period of many years, it’s easy to see how the styles slowly shifted as you extend outwards. The towering buildings with unique architecture oversaw the bustling streets. Crowded restaurants with outdoor tables extending onto the cobblestone made for excellent people watching.

Stortorget
People-watching in Stortorget

It was here that we stumbled across the Nobel Museum, full of inspiring stories of past Nobel prize winners as well as artifacts donated by Nobel Laureates. Nelson Mandela and Winston Churchill were just some of the featured exhibits. Old notebooks and journals were some of my favorite things to see. An inspiring look into the world of the infamous people we hear about, but know so little about they’re lives and interests outside of the spotlight.

After absorbing all the knowledge we could, we stepped back into the market square to refresh with ice cream cones before we moved on down a narrow alley towards the notable cathedrals, no real end point in sight.

Cathedral, Gamla Stan
Cathedral steeple, Gamla Stan

As soon as you step off the main drag, the narrow tunneling walks become secluded and picture-esque. Despite being a tourist hot spot, the intricate detail of the streets make you still feel as though you were a part of the city, rather than an outsider looking in.

gamla stan 2
Warrior 3 in Gamla Stan

When we’d had our fill of the old, we crossed back over the bridges to explore the more current regions of Stockholm. Despite being filled with high end shops and edgy restaurant, the skyline of the city maintains a look of heavenly castles from the medieval ages. It’s possible I spent most of my time looking up into the sky than actually down at what was eye-level, it was that captivating.

Ă–stermalm
Steeple-topped buildings in Ă–stermalm

Our adventures led us to the Royal Palace, where the current residence of the Swedish Monarch. It also functions as a workplace and culture-historical monument open year round. The palace fits in with the city surrounding it, and except for the large courtyard out front, you might mistake it for an oversized city building. While there are numerous museums you can visit around the palace, we opted to watch the guards and horses marching up and down the square as onlookers stopped to make way. We waited long enough to view the changing of the guard, which include a lengthy ceremonial event once a day in the afternoon. This wasn’t the greatest event for someone of my height as I spent most of the display squished between to larger visitors, but the excitement in the air and music from the palace was interesting enough.

stockholm royal palace
Stockholm Royale Palace

As we walked along the water’s edge, we stumbled upon a boat tour that was heading out for the afternoon. Not to be one for missed opportunities, we figured we’d be able to get an overview of the city before we ventured any further. Fittingly titled since Stockholm is made up a bunch of tiny islands connected by bridges, the low-lying boat allowed us to weave in and out of the different areas. Even still, the bridges were a little too close for comfort for me so I spent most of my time on the back of the boat in order to avoid spying the incoming bridge passes. Along with Gamla Stan from water, we also got to see the islands Södermalm, Lilla and Stora Essingen, the new area Hammarby Sjöstad and the green areas of DjurgĂĄrden.

bridges
One of the many bridges of Stockholm

Having had a quick tour of the areas from the water, we could pick and choose the sights we most wanted to revisit later on.

We spent the rest of our night on the rooftop of our hotel watching the sun go down as we prepped for tomorrow’s day. We created a loose outline our of plan and, knowing we had lots of walking ahead of us, snuck off to bed at a reasonable hour.

We had been hearing about the Vasa Museum since we first mentioned to friends and family that we were going to Stockholm. In 1628, the Vasa ship capsized and sank after only setting sail an hour or two before. As the only museum to display an only almost fully intact 17th century ship, we were eager to learn more of how a masterpiece of construction had such a doomed fate.

vasa meseum
The Vasa

Located on the island of DjurgĂĄrden, it’s best to get an early start to beat the lines. The walking tour of the ship is well worth it and clues you into the details you might have overlooked otherwise, such as how no ship would be able to sail with the obscenely heavy materials the builders insisted on using! In fears of giving away too much, this is the sinking ship that should no longer all in Titanic’s shadow.

With enough ship knowledge to last us the next few years, we made our way to Södermalm, stopping at Ă–stermalms Saluhall, a farmer’s market, for a taste of Swedish produce.

Södermalm, the Brooklyn of Stockholm, is a hip and artsy neighborhood that is not only filled with vintage shops and trendy restaurants, but also is home to one the greatest viewpoints overlooking the city.

Katarinahissen Tower
Awkward poses from Katarinahissen Tower

Before entering the neighborhood, we trekked up a series of stair cases, enough to brak a sweat, to reach Katarinahissen Tower just in time for the sunset. While it odes offer a glorious view of Gamla Stan, you do have to look past the abandoned bus lot directly below. But eh, you win some you lose some.

Södermalm
Södermalm

After a less than stellar viewing, we went in search of the coziest restaurant on this side of town for our last night in Sweden. When we were filled to the brim with freshly baked bread and buttery fish, we took our last stroll home, taking the long way to witness the evening crowd in Gamla Stan and take in our last views of the Royal Palace and historical cathedrals. Getting lost abroad has never felt so good!

Sweden local
Sweden local

Have you ever been to Stockholm? What’s your favorite way to see a city, by land or by water?

xx,
Juliette

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The Best Way to Handle Anxiety When Traveling

how to handle anxiety and stress when traveling

I love traveling. Wait, scratch that. I love being in new places. But, getting there? Not so much. Despite the fact that I cross the ocean at least a couple times a year, I still have a long list of worries that always seem to come along for the ride. Whether it’s a fear of flying, heights, unknown places or crowds of people, we all have moments that make us feel anything but calm, cool and collected. Nevertheless, we would never be able to see the world if we continued to let out fears block the way. Here are my favorite tricks and tips that can help ease the transition out of your comfort zone.

Plan Ahead
While we’ve heard it a million times that if you fail to plan you plan to fail (hello, 11th grade math teacher’s motto), it’s the truth. Make sure you have itineraries, tickets and times printed out and/or easily accessible on your phone. I prefer to highlight key data I might need when I’m rushing through a security line, such as my flight’s confirmation code. While having the information is key, run through your plan a few times in your head to ease your worries and determine the best way to execute. Imagine yourself landing in a new city and attempting to get to your hostel. Taxi, uber, public transportation? Play it out in your mind to familiarize yourself with your procedure. I read about how Michael Phelp’s does this before a race: plan each second accordingly and then act on habit rather than spur of the moment. Worked for him, didn’t it?

Give Yourself Extra Time
Nothing is more anxiety-inducing than being rushed for time. If you’ve planned out your day (see above), then you can take into account the distance between places and how much extra time you need to have. And be honest with yourself, if you tend to linger around and walk slowly, you might need more time than someone who is a power walking champ.

Occupy Your Mind
However, being early also means you have time to mull over horrible possibilities for whatever adventure you’re heading to. Instead of replaying the plane crash in Cast Away over and over again in your mind, bring some reading material on a subject more soothing to the soul. Perhaps listen to an uplifting podcast or read a funny memoir (Tina Fey, for the win), anything that will allow the time to pass while also taking your mind away from simmering worries.

Yoga Sequence
Shocker! Yoga made it onto the list. Flow through a quick vinyasa (sign up for my email list to get a free guide!) to calm your nerves and center your mind. If you’re in a public place and not willing to downward dog in crowds, find yourself a comfortable seat and slowly count your inhale and exhales. Otherwise known as pranayama, controlling the breath slows down your breathing which can speed up if you’re worried or anxious. Try breathing in for five counts, holding for two, then exhaling for eight. repeat as necessary to bring your awareness back internally and away from external concerns.

Essential Oils
Essentials oils have been around for centuries to help various health issues without the side effects of medicine. Lavender helps reduce serum cortisol, clary sage clears the mind and rose settles your emotions. Put a drop of the oil of your favorite on your wrist before your next event and breath it in deeply. Just as a courtesy, I would avoid using oils in tight areas. Just because you want to zen, doesn’t necessarily mean your neighbor does.

Journal
Releasing your concerns in a journal allows them to leave your mind and be entered onto paper. Although this is easier said than done, often times we hold onto feelings we don’t even realize we have. By writing down even the smallest worry, we acknowledge that it exists, recognize how to overcome it, and then move on. By letting it fester inside, it only adds more and more pressure to an already stressful situation. If journaling isn’t your thing, try writing postcards to friends and family. Simply channeling your creative self can help calm you down.

Avoid the News
This one took me awhile to understand. the more bad things I read about in the news, the more likely I thought that they could happen to me. It’s important to be informed, yes, but watching the fifth news segment on the disasters of the day isn’t going to contribute to your life. In fact, I found that the more I watched the news, the more elaborate the made up scenarios in my head got. Stick to positive outlets, or uplifting fictional texts instead.

How do you calm your anxiety?

Xx,

Juliette

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Why You Need to Visit Wicklow Mountains National Park, Ireland

why you need to visit Wicklow Mountains National Park in Ireland

While Dublin has much to offer as far as the Irish experience, to truly get a taste of this magnificent country you need to venture outside of the city borders. While the Cliffs of Moher are a popular choice, a cloudy day could leave you seeing little more than two feet in front of you, no cliffs in sight. Not willing to risk an entire day crossing the country only to see our own breath, we opted to experience the Garden of Ireland, one of the Ireland’s six national park with unique boglands, heather fields and infamous movie locations (P.S. I Love You anyone?).

As an easy day trip, the Wicklow Mountain Tour not only takes you through the country side to the park, but also stops at a monastic site and enchanting Irish villages along the way to get a peek into the world beyond Dublin.

Avoca Handweavers in Kilmacanogue in Wicklow Mountains Tour from Dublin
Avoca Handweavers in Kilmacanogue

The tour started early to make sure we would be able to fit in all the sights. Luckily, our first stop was at Avoca Handweavers in Kilmacanogue. A quaint restaurant, tea shop and homemade craft shop surrounded by luscious gardens gave us some much-needed caffeine for the rest of the day.

Bridge Creek in P.S. I Love You in Wicklow Mountains Tour from Dublin
Creek in P.S. I Love You

We then headed off into the mountains of Wicklow. There are numerous routes to take through the mountains that will lead to valleys, sprawling wildflower fields and of course, the bridge at Dublin Bay at Sandcover where Holly and Gerry kissed in P.S. I Love You. Even if you haven’t seen the movie, the bridge is still a magnificent structure in the midst of a trickling creek and purply-green landscapes. You can also relieve some of the scenes from Braveheart and Reign of Fire in the fields of SallyGap.

Road through Wicklow Mountains
Road through Wicklow Mountains

Next, we trekked to Glencree Valley to see Guinness Lake (Lough Tay) and hear of folklore and myths of the area. Sure to its name, the lake looks like a dark glass a Guinness from above. I won’t spoil any surprises here, but the stories of the rolling hills and boglands only add to the enchanting nature of the park.

Lough Tay and Guinness Lake in wicklow mountains
Lough Tay (Guinness Lake)

After we’d gotten enough of recreating our favorite films, we refueled in a traditional Irish village called Glencullen for a hearty lunch. As a vegetarian, my options were a bit limited, so I stuck to some side dishes and a Clif bar I had packed. Though, my meat-loving boyfriend gave the meal a thumbs up!

Walk to Glendalough Upper Lake in Wicklow Mountains
Walk to Glendalough Upper Lake

Once we were filled up with lunch and another pint of Guinness (obviously), we drove down to Glendalough, noted as a glorious “jewel in the crown of the Wicklow Mountains”. Along the way, we passed by a quaint village no larger than a block or two where actor Daniel Day-Lewis currently resides (any Abe Lincoln fans?). Once we arrived to the starting location, we began at the upper lake and took an easy hike down to the Glendalough monastic settlement to learn about St. Kevin, the founder of the ancient monastery.

Upper Lake in Glendalough on Wicklow Mountains Tour
Upper Lake in Glendalough

As a cemetery enthusiast (anyone else?), I am absolutely captivated by reading old grave stones and learning about the people who inhabited this land centuries before me. Although it might just be a creepy interest of mine, the site is worth seeing even for those who aren’t as fascinated with the gravestones of others. This 10th century monastic round tower settlement in Glendalough still has the remnants of buildings along with a round tower you can peer into that was once used as a guard tower. The heavy stones and detailed inscriptions are a beautiful contrast to the lust gardens that surround the area. Luckily, our tour guide was extremely knowledgeable and able to answer any questions we had.

Glendalough Monastic Settlement on Wicklow Mountains Tour
Glendalough Monastic Settlement

As the ending note to our tour, it was only fitting that we all enjoyed a shot of whiskey and made our way back to Dublin.

Have you been to the Wicklow Mountains? Do you prefer to explore urban areas or venture out into the country side?

xx,
Juliette

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How To Redefine Your Health Beyond Diet and Exercise

healthy without diet and exercise

Diet and exercise have overruled the health world for decades. And for good reason, too. Obviously eating all-the-plants and getting that treadmill desk have proven to improve your overall well-being. However, a whole new world of health is being redefined outside of the kitchen and the gym. On the days where your diet is less than stellar and you can’t make it to spin class, there are still numerous things you can do to keep your body, heart and mind happy. It’s time that we moved past what we eat and how we move, but focus on looking at ourselves as a whole machine so can understand how to take care of the parts that we can’t exactly see. There are my favorite ways that keep my soul and mind at peace!

Essential Oils
This is one of the quickest ways to bring a little peace to your day. Try peppermint in the morning to energize, lavender to soothe anxiety, and frankincense to spark your enlightenment. Either add a little to your wrists or use a diffuser at home or at work to enjoy the benefits. From cleaner air, a better outlook on life and reduced stress, there’s not much essential oils can’t do!

Products
While what you put into your life is important, it’s even more vital to take note of what you take out. While we know what we should and should not eat, we don’t always pay attention to what we put on our bodies instead of in it. There are numerous apps now that can inform you of what is in the products you use…and what you need to be concerned about. Think Dirty and Good Guide are my favorites!

Self-Care
Thank goodness #selfcaresunday is trending! Although #selfcareeveryday is more like it. Take time each day to do what soothes your soul. Whether it’s painting your nails and sipping tea, or saving up for a monthly massage, find what improves your quality of life and don’t compromise that time for yourself. Not only will it increase your confidence, it reminds you of you self worth and will motivate you to continue to make choices that make you feel good.

Environment that Serves You
Who you become as a person is often determined by who you surround yourself with. If you notice that you feel drained, stressed or overwhelmed, check what place you’re in and who’s around you that have caused you to feel this way. Once you identify what’s creating these negative feelings, you can work to eliminate them to finally have space for the ones that bring you joy.

Positive Inner-Circle
When you’ve created an opening to bring in the new, find a crowd that fuels you to be brighter and loves you as you are. Feeling accepted is one of the greatest influences of overall well-being necessary for a healthy and happy life. But keep in mind it’s quality of quantity. A few honest, caring and inspiring people is far more productive than numerous people who do little to trigger your own personal growth.

Foster Human Connection
Outside of friendships, there are hundreds of people that you will encounter each day. Take the time to create connections, even as simple as eye contact or exchanging pleasantries to strangers to spread joy. The more you share a kind word, the more likely others will follow. Even more so, create connections with people who look different than you, who come from a different generation, a different country, even speak a different languages. We absorb the experiences of others so might as well make them as diverse as can be to add depth and meaning to your own worldview!

Feed Your Hobbies
After elementary school, we often loose the time invested into our own creative outlets. Whether it’s playing sports, writing poetry or taking long nature walks, busy schedules and obligations become our priority. Start by chunking out ten minutes a day to invest into a passion you had as a child. By delegating your time differently, you’re able to have options that bring happiness and contentment to your life…exceptionally useful for when going through a difficult period. Having an activity to ground you when life feels out of your control not only brings peace of mind, but a confidence to handle challenging times.

Learn Something New
Learning a new hobby creates new pathways in our brain to increase our knowledge and skill set. Not only can it be fun, but it also helps expose you to new ideas that open your mind and allow you to connect better with those around you, not matter what the task is. As a pastime or an escape, learning something new can improve your overall quality of life by giving you something to look forward to.

What do you do to stay healthy?

xx,
Juliette

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Top Five Things to Do In Dublin, Ireland

top five things to do in dublin ireland

Unlike most people, Ireland was not a country that had ever topped my travel list. Sure, I’d seen the incredible pictures of its sprawling mountainous landscape and the large foamy pours of Guinness, but, I had other a lot of other items to check off first. That is, however, until I realized the due to it’s location, a flight from D.C. to Dublin wasn’t only affordable, but one might even say, cheap. Seriously. Willing to be flexible with our dates and travel times, we could cross the pond for less than $400, round trip. Sign me up! Suddenly I was a HUGE Ireland advocate. Plus, at clocking in at approximately five hours, the relatively quick flight didn’t take up too much of our precious exploration time.

Temple Bar, Dublin, Ireland
Temple Bar, Dublin, Ireland

Although there is so much more to see on all regions of this country, today we’re just going to focus on the top five things you must see or do when you visit the capital of the Republic of Ireland, Dublin. This dynamic city offers attractions for everyone’s interests. You could easily spend a week here seeking out the crowded, dark pubs or strolling through the open gardens.

We opted to stay in the heart of the city at Blooms Hotel. A cheeky building built above a popular nightclub. However, lucky for us, the nightclub is only open on weekends and since we were staying Tuesday through Thursday, we wouldn’t have to rock ourselves to sleep with pumping EDM. The intricate graffiti sprawled across the building looks like something in a museum. The gorgeous colors and designs make in stand out even in the Temple Bar neighborhood known for its various spectacles. Most importantly, Blooms Hotel allows for easy access to all areas of the city. While there are many attractions you’ll witness on your walks through the winding roads and cobblestone alleys, such as Jame Joyce’s House and Ha’Penny Bridge, these are the top five places you must make sure to visit.

library in Trinity College in Dublin Ireland
Trinity College Library

Trinity College
As the university of Dublin, this bustling college is in the heart of the city. While walking on the green and through the old stone building are enjoyable, the main attraction is the old library and Book of Kells (Side note: I had to look this one up. The Book of Kells consists of four gospels of the New Testament in Latin). Given the long lines, it’s best to buy your tickets ahead of time here. While you should certainly have your camera ready when you first enter the vast library to capture the infinite rows of books, put your camera away to take time to read though the shelves available and soak in the knowledge that is stored here. It can be more powerful than when viewed through your lens.

St. Stephen's Green in Dublin Ireland
St. Stephen’s Green

St. Stephen’s Green
A rather long but pleasant walk from Trinity College, St. Stephen’s Green is best seen around lunch time if you want to fit in like a local. Grab a sandwich at one of the shops close by *(fried fish is also a favorite) and find a spot to enjoy the fresh gardens, trickling fountains and prime people-watching. This public park is one of Dublin’s main Georgian garden squares and is right next to the Stephen’s Green Shopping Centre and Iveagh House, other sites worth a peak for their notable architecture.

St. Patrick's Cathedral

St. Patrick’s Cathedral
The tallest and largest church in Ireland, St. Patrick’s Cathedral is breathtaking both inside and out. While you can attend various functions held at the church, a tour through the structure was fulfilling enough. As the heart of Dublin’s history and culture for centuries, it is recognized as being one of the most vital pilgrimage sites. Even just walking about the greens surrounding the cathedral and taking in the red tulips lining the sidewalks is enough to understand the significance this building had on Dublin as well as Ireland.

Gravity Bar in Guinness Storehouse in Dublin Ireland
Gravity Bar, Guinness Storehouse

Guinness Storehouse
Although the storehouse is farther away from the city center, it is more than worth the trek to the outskirts of Dublin. If you’re looking for a simply brewery tour, it’s best to turn around now. The Guinness Storehouse is a giant warehouse that holds some of the most unique beer-based experiences. Ever. Be ready to be blown away by dynamic exhibits that test all of your senses. From a scent bar, to personalized video exhibits all the way to becoming a certified Guinness Pourer, there isn’t much that isn’t here. Plan to spend a few hours exploring the actual museum-like portion and another hour enjoying a cold one on the rooftop bar, Gravity Bar, with 360 degree aerial views.

Live music in Temple Bar dublin ireland
Live music in Temple Bar

Temple Bar
Nothing compliments a visit to the Guinness Storehouse quite like more Guinness. Temple Bar is the hip and edgy neighborhood in Dublin that provides just that. It is often noted as the cultural quarter of the city, with its live street shows and active nightlife. After enjoying some local favorites at an intimate bar in the area, we spent the next few hours listening to the live shows on the street corners. More than a guy drumming buckets on the streets of NYC, these shows shut down roads and gather crowds by the 100s as everyone tries to peak at the next up and coming singer. It’s easy to make a night of it without even stepping inside a club. Better yet, after a Guinness or two or four, we were able to walk a couple block back to home base, The Blooms Hotel to get ready for the adventure to follower.

Having explored the ins and outs of Dublin, stay tuned as we head out into the Wicklow Mountains to see a whole other side of this diverse country.

Have you ever been to Dublin? Which coast is your favorite in Ireland? Dublin or the Cliffs of Moher?

xx,
Juliette

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Meditation Guide for Beginners: How to Create Your Own Practice

how to create your own meditation guide

Meditation can mean so many different things to so many different people. My initial image of mediation was of a divine yogi in full lotus pose rising above the earth in some sort of trance. And while this image isn’t entirely far-fetched, it was an intimidating endeavor for me to actually sit down and expect to be lifted off the ground…even if not physically, but spiritually.

I didn’t seriously start considering a meditation practice until I was asked,
“We shower every day to cleanse our bodies, but what do we do to cleanse our minds?” Good question. I didn’t even realize that was something to consider. When quite honestly, how could you not afford to refresh the nooks and crannies in the place we spend so much time, our own heads?

Although my fears of beginning a mediation practice were valid in their own right, they were in no way going to stop me at least from trying. It’s a silly thing, how could sitting still be so tricky? And yet, it was. As an avid fidget-er and constant go-getter, doing nothing not only seemed unproductive, but impossible. Close to it, at least. But that’s the thing about mediation…as soon as I started to create these expectations for myself (such as not twitching my toes or clearing my mind entirely), I had already created hurdles for myself instead of merely accepting these moments and letting them go.

As soon as we cling to our shortcomings, we prevent ourselves from moving past them.

Ultimately, the purpose of meditation is not to be still, it is to take awareness away from petty everyday concerns we create in our minds and lift away from ourselves in order to view the world experience outside of our bodies. Um, what? Real talk, we’re creating space between our bodies and our existence which allow ourselves to be free of mental disturbance. In doing so, we can finally view our existence as a separate identity than our thoughts. After all, how many of your thoughts are not actually rooted in actual life? Fear and worries that you’ve completely made up in your mind? No, not me, never. Ha. Meditation allows us to seek what exists in actuality while accepting that, although we will have thoughts and continue to have a range of thoughts forevermore (a sign that we’re human after all), we can learn to control them in a manner that is productive and healthy.

As we sit still, specifically cross-legged to allow for a flow of energy (more on this later) we are better able to separate from the self. The more we resist temptation to scratch, wiggle or move, the more we build up tolerance for these annoyances. Fast forward to real life, we are then able to notice annoyances in our daily lives but not need to act on them. AKA, you can’t stand your coworker whistling every morning at 7am, but you’ve controlled your thoughts to overlook this annoyance and not have it interrupt your otherwise pleasant day.

how to create your own meditation

So we know why we meditate, but how, exactly, does one get started?

Schedule a Time
Determine what time you’d like to practice and schedule it every day thereafter. While I know many people find meditation to be energizing and a uplifting start to the day, I prefer to meditate at night when my to-do list is complete so I have less anxieties floating around. Whether you prefer morning, noon, or night, take a moment before hand to jot down any left-over items that are still hanging around. Releasing these concerns, to-dos, or expectation before your practice allows you to physically empty of these ideas and bring a clean space into your meditation.

Choose a Method
While I fully encourage the use of a meditation guide to lead you through your meditation, it’s really up to you what you prefer. I initially began using Headspace and Buddhify, I’ve found that I prefer to just listen to the sounds of the ocean rather than getting caught up in the tone of someone’s voice, or hearing someone else’s breath going in and out. Set a timer for how long you’d like to sit, ideally aiming for 20-30 minutes (or longer), but allowing yourself to begin where you feel comfortable. 10 minutes? Awesome. 5 minutes? You rock.

Designate an Area
Find a comfy spot where you can sit up straight with your legs crossed, or legs extended long and crossed at the ankles. It’s important to maintain this posture to allow for deep breathing and keeping the energy circulating through the body. To prevent open circuits at your hands, touch your index finger underneath your thumb and rest them on your knees, or create a circle with your hands and rest them on your lap.

Find Stillness
Because we are human beings, thoughts are a natural occurrence. Meditating allows us to react to these thoughts without attachment. I’ve used many imagery strategies to acknowledge these thoughts and then send them on their way. First, imagine each thought is a cloud that slowly drifts into your mind and then you watch it drift on, out of your sight. Recognize the clouds are there, but do not hang onto them as clouds must keep their movement. Another image, a personal favorite, is to view your thoughts like the dishes at a revolving sushi bar. Really. Imagine each thought as if it is a unique sushi roll that we occasionally pull of the revolving bar in front of us. Notice that you’ve taken the dish (thought) off the bar, and then gently set it back on and let it go on its way. both of these images let us view thoughts as their own entities, in no way a part of us. By viewing them through an outside lens, the more we can accept them and move beyond their limitations.

…And Kindness
While we want to resist the urge to move to not break our higher existence, be kind to yourself and forgive yourself for disruptions. A skill not only for meditation, but life as well. Instead of dwelling on an imperfection (you just had to move that hair away from your eyes), acknowledge it existed, then let it pass through.

Breathe
As you begin to close your meditation, come back to your breath and bring slow movement to your body. It’s important to be gentle with yourself so you can then extend that gentleness outwards to the world around you. Make time to revisit this practice each way, working to extend the amount of time and expanding to various location to practice. (I’ve even managed a 20 minute practice on an airplane that was glorious).

Have you tried mediation? If so, what helped you stick to it? If not, what’s stopping you?

xx,
Juliette

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How to Visit Charleston, South Carolina

best things to do in charleston south carolina

Wedding season is upon us. (Though honestly, does it ever really end?). One of my favorite parts of this blessed time, besides the celebration of love, obviously, is being able to travel to different cities and destinations to join in the festivities of marriage. Needless to say, I was more than ecstatic to head to Charleston, south Carolina for a family wedding in early June. Not a totally original concept, we later learned that there are dozens of weddings scheduled in the city every weekend, not to mention the number of engagement photo shoots and bachelor/bachelorette parties scattered throughout. It might be that Charleston just sparks the feeling of love…or that it’s the fourth largest drinking city in the U.S. Either one. Regardless the reason, the draping Spanish moss over the giant live oak trees covering historic cobbled alleyways sure does make for a pretty backdrop.

Sunset at Mount Pleasant
Mount Pleasant Sunset

Mount Pleasant
After flying in from D.C. Thursday night (and a quick outfit change in the Charleston airport), we were lucky enough to be picked up by Dan’s parents to head directly over to the rehearsal dinner in Mount Pleasant. This gorgeous, quaint suburb outside of Charleston is the home to numerous restaurants, The Boone Hall Plantation and stunning lakeside mansions. Just across the infamous Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge, Mount Pleasant is the perfect place to park your car to enjoy the sunset on top of the bridge itself. We indulged in real southern bbq, and took in all the sweet tea we could while catching up with friends and family.

Magnolia Plantations and Gardens in Charleston, South Carolina
Magnolia Plantations and Gardens

Magnolia Plantation and Gardens
Since the wedding wasn’t until later in the evening, we rented a car for the day to head out to Magnolia Plantation and Gardens. Founded in 1676 by the Drayton family, this historic home is surrounded with vibrant gardens, enchanting bridges and feisty peacocks, among the many other animals that roam the grounds freely.

peacock at Magnolia Plantations and Gardens in Charleston, South Carolina
Peacock at Magnolia

We opted to purchase the day pass as well as a ticket for the tram that takes your around the greenery while providing useful knowledge for when exploring on your own later on. Plus, it was much more enjoyable to see the gators from behind the vehicle. Give yourself a few hours to roam the unique petting zoo, and stroll along the picturesque bridges.

Charleston Wedding
Charleston Wedding

Wedding
After cleaning up from a day at the Magnolia, we attended the wedding ceremony as a church in Mount Pleasant and then headed over to the Cigar Factory in Downtown Charleston for the reception. Starting with delicious appetizers and ending with a night full of dancing and sparklers, it was full of the southern charm Charleston is known for. The following morning the celebration continued with a delightful brunch at the bride’s parents’ home. Views of the water channels and plenty of biscuits to go around is the only way to start a day in South Carolina.

View from Mount Pleasant Brunch
Mount Pleasant, SC

Downtown Charleston
After parting ways with family and friends, we checked into our hotel downtown and got ready to explore the city. A leisurely walk to the south end led us through charming homes, ornately decorated buildings and delicious restaurants on every corner.

Spoleto Festival in charleston SC
Spoleto Festival

Spoleto Festival USA
On our walk, we stumbled though the Spoleto Festival, which includes live music, art tents and exhibits along with and food trucks galore. We wondered in and out of the booths until the heat began to get to us.

The Historic Charleston City Market
Seeking out some air conditioning, we walked down to the Historic Charleston City Market before our scheduled afternoon tour. Neatly four blocks long, this urban icon is filled with homemade gifts and souvenirs for anyone and everyone. We loved watched the sweetgrass baskets being made (a highly sought after art form only made in a few places!) as well as trying on the oversized hats and bowties. It wasn’t long until we took part in a local favorite, sweet tea, and headed over for our carriage tour a block over.

Old South Carriage Tour in Charleston, SC
Old South Carriage Tour

Carriage Tour
We opted to book a tour with Old South Carriage Tours, one of the most highly rated companies in the city. A step back into history, this is the best way to get an overview of the city before deciding on where you’d like to spend the rest of your stay. If you’re concerned about the treatment of these horses pulling the carriages (like me!), make sure you check out my instagram here explaining the humane treatment of these businesses. Learning more about the history and settlement of this city made the culture even richer. We also passes a few mansions that we jotted down to visit later on. Despite being only an hour, we were able to see all sides of Charleston and the stories behind the old homes and notable buildings.

Rainbow Row in Charleston, SC
Rainbow Row

Rainbow Row
Despite having strolled passed here on our carriage tour, I wanted to stop back around to Rainbow Row for a few more pictures. As you might expect, this streets consists of brightly colored homes that emulate, you guessed it, a rainbow.

Seafood
After the amount of walking we had accomplished thus far, our stomachs were growling for some seafood. The Charleston Crab House was an obvious choice for their fried crab claws and chilled crab dip. Go big or go home, right?

Theater 99
To cap our night off, we checked last minute for a comedy show downtown. A quick google search led us to Charleston for Morons at Theater 99. This hilarious show definitely gave us the background we were looking for, with a lot of laughter along the way. The schedule changes weekly but definitely make time to fit this into your itinerary. Only being an hour long, we were out of the 6pm show in time for dinner.

Kaminsky’s
While we wondered in and out of a few restaurants for dinner, nothing was striking our fancy. That is, until we were recommend Kaminsky’s, a dessert bar (don’t tell me mom!). Instead of dinner, we decided to split a slice of key lime pie and a chocolate chip cookie sundae. No pictures because we inhaled this way too quickly. Feeling an extra pound of two heavier, we took the long walk back to our hotel to prepare for last day.

Calhoun Mansion Gardens in charleston SC
Calhoun Mansion Gardens

Calhoun Mansion
After sleeping in, we had a leisurely start to the day. since Sunday morning is typically reserved for church, most businesses don’t open until the afternoon. After striking out with a few mansions that didn’t open their doors until 2pm, we settled on the Calhoun Mansion to step inside one of the homes we’d been eyeing on from the sidewalks. Known for it’s numerous movie appearances (Hi, The Notebook!), we purchased a house tour which ended up being more of an unorganized museum. Although the mansion was beautiful, it now just seemed to be a holding place for the art collection of the current wealthy owner. Although the objects were interesting and the rooms were breath-taking, it wasn’t exactly home to the history we were looking for. Like my favorite Yelp review said, it would be on hoarders if it were anywhere else. If your schedule allow,s I would highly recommend visiting the Nathaniel Russell or Edmondston-Alston House which have high ratings and positive recommendations. Luckily, the Calhoun Mansion was near Battery park and we were able to enjoy a walk along the water back up the the market center.

Second Sunday on King Street in charleston SC
Second Sunday on King Street

Second Sunday on King Street
Despite a less than stellar house tour, we unintentionally were in town for the Second Sunday on King Street, a festival that shuts down King Street for pedestrian traffic. Restaurants bring tables and umbrellas out onto the road and musicians stake claim on every street corner. This was the perfect place to soak in as much Charleston as we could before our evening flight. Another round of cold beverages and ice cream and Jeni’s was just the pick me up before we said good bye to another wonderful weekend getaway.

rainbow row 1

Have you ever been to Charleston? Are you more a southerner or a northerner?

xx,
Juliette

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Top Ten Insanely Cheap Places to Visit This Summer

cheap places to travel this summer

It’s something about the steamy hot weather and longer days that have me yearning for a vacation more than usual. Being cooped up inside a windowless room ten months out of the year doesn’t help. As a teacher in my other life, I often restrict my big travel plans for the months of July and August…falling right into the trap of airlines jacking up flights prices for when kids are out of school. Tricky tricky. However, this doesn’t guarantee that you can’t have a magnificent vacation on a budget. It’s easy to see the world no matter what your wallet says if you narrow down your priorities and are willing to make some compromises. Here are the top ten places to book if you’re looking to stretch your dollar.

Chilnualna Falls Trail hike
Chilnualna Falls Trail

Yosemite National Park, California
Although we opted to travel to Yosemite National Park in the spring, it’s just as easy to curb your spending in the summer time. If you book far enough in advance (like a year, seriously) campsites are inexpensive and a functional choice for you stay. As with most national parks, it’s best to grocery shop ahead of time and bring all your meals and snacks with you. Without going out for meals or stopping in shopping boutiques (cause you’re in a forest…) it’s easy to stop any extra spending. We realized that after five days in a park, we had spent zero dollars. Pay the housing and food bill up front and you’re good to go, the trails don’t take credit cards.

Portland, Maine
Since most people head south for beachy vacays, Maine tends to fall off the radar unless you’re in the 80+ age group. Turns out, Portland is one of the most diverse places to visit with a multitude of activities to suit everyone’s preferences, all at a low cost to you. Whether it’s biking around the city to view the lighthouses or enjoying a crab roll and blueberry pie, it’s easy to keep an eye on your cash flow while not missing out on everything the city has to offer.

Sea Kayak Tours, Bar Harbor
Sea Kayak Tours, Bar Harbor

Acadia National Park, Maine
If you’re in Maine, it’s essential to drive up north to Acadia National Park. Similar to Yosemite, you can cut costs drastically by camping nearby. Beyond the entrance fee into the region, you can hike, swim, and climb to your heart’s content without spending a dime.

Havana, Cuba
Recently added as an option for travelers, Havana is perfect for those interested in the history of the country and its dynamic culture…or even just the cigar industry. Flights here are extra cheap, less than a $100 out of Miami or Fort Lauderdale, which allows you more cash to spend on your actual experiences. Because Cuba is trying to build up their tourist economy, they have a myriad of options to fit varying price points, from AirBnB’s to hostels and five star hotels, pick and choose what’s right for you.

Toronto, Canada
Again, as everyone heads down south, opt to travel up north where you can still soak up in the nice weather but at a much lower cost. Toronto is a bustling city with so much more to offer beyond Niagara Falls (although you should make sure you stop there, too!) With one of the best currency exchange rates now, it’s almost like you’re saving money when you cross the border.

Williamsburg, Virginia
History buffs will go crazy for a week in Williamsburg, VA. Accessible by car for anywhere on the east coast, you can save big avoiding airports. from Colonial Williamsburg to Busch Gardens, there are numerous activities to keep an entire family occupied for the summer.

Second Sunday on King Street in charleston SC
Second Sunday on King Street

Charleston, South Carolina
Despite being the biggest city in South Carolina, Charleston still maintains the small town feel. With a lower cost of living than most major metropolitan areas, it’s an easy choice if you want to soak up the urban atmosphere but still have access to a beach. Many of the highlights of Charleston, such as a carriage tour through the cobbled streets or a visit into one of the many historical mansions, nothing will cost you more than a few dollars. better year, the city is entirely walkable so no unexpectedly high uber fares to weight down your travels.

Adirondacks, New York
Originally from New York, I have a soft spot for the Adirondacks. Whether you’re looking for lakes or mountains, upstate has it all. Opt to rent out a cabin in the woods with a group of friends to cut down on costs as well as having the ability to cook meals at home in a kitchen. Swimming and hiking are free!

Gothic Quarter in Barcelona Spain
Bakery in the Gothic Quarter

Madrid, Spain
Although Madrid is known for a higher cost of living, parts of the city close up shop for August as a universal vacation month. Which, in turn, means the places that remain open lower prices to encourage people to still visit. If you’re willing to miss out of smaller family-owned businesses that shut down for these thirty days, you can still absorb Madrid’s diverse culture and delicious sangria without going broke.

Paris, France
Like Madrid, Paris also claims August to be a vacation for most city dwellers. We stumbled upon this happenstance when we scored $400 round trip tickets into Paris that we couldn’t pass up. although many of the small businesses temporarily close down, you can still meander the quaint neighborhoods, visit the Louvre and Eiffel Tower, etc. in the City of Lights.

Where do you plan to travel this summer? How do you cut down on costs?

xx,
Juliette

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A Day in Athens, Greece

athens greece

Having been a Latin scholar, or at least according to my high school language teacher, I have always been fascinated with the ancient artifacts and notorious monuments within the city of Athens. Coming from the U.S. with a history that fits into a textbook, Athens holds a wealth of stories and legends in its cobbled walkways, momentous structures and godly towers that have seen centuries upon centuries of civilizations. Although we were only stopping in Athens for a single day on our way to the Greek Isles, we made sure we didn’t miss out on the magnificent landmarks this metropolitan had to offer.

From most points in the city you can see the Acropolis of Athens, an ancient citadel on top of a rocky mountain that holds significant remains of numerous Greek architecture and artifacts. However, despite being able to see our target end point, we continually got lost in the crooked alley ways and had to ask for help multiple times. Luckily, many locals noticed our disorientation and directed us onto the correct route. Since we had arrived later in the day, we didn’t make it to the site until after 5pm, which worked in our favor since the crowds had thinned out tremendously. As the most sought after attraction, I would aim to arrive early, circa 8am, or later in the early evening to get the most out of your visit. Make sure you wear comfortable, grippy shoes as it’s quite the hike to get to the top and the stairways can be slick. The cost to enter the site is only about 20 euros and can be used to see other ruins in the area.

Theatre of Dionysos in Athens Greece
Theatre of Dionysos

As you make your way up the mountain, the Theatre of Dionysus Eleuthereus is one of the first sites you’ll see. This major theater in Athens is dedicated to Dionysus (hence the name), who was the god of plays and wine. As many as 17,000 people could fit into the theater and due to its slope-like structure, the acoustics made for excellent performances. It’s even suggested as the birth place of Greek tragedies. Cut into the southern cliff of Acropolis, it’s believed to be the first stone theater ever built.

Propylaea in acropolis of athens greece
Propylaea

Further up the mountain you’ll reach the propylaea, a monumental gateway into the area of Greek architecture which serves as the entrance point into the Acropolis of Athens. This was built under the direction of Pericles, an Athenian leader, at the conclusion of the Persian War.

Caryatid Porch of the Erechtheion acropolis of athens greece
Caryatid Porch of the Erechtheion

At the top of Acropolis you’ll be able to freely wander around in identified areas to the Caryatid Porch of the Erechtheion, which is one of the finest displays of sculpted female figures serving as an architectural support.

Parthenon acropolis of athens greece
Parthenon

Of course, you’ll also witness the remains of the Parthenon, a temple dedicated to the goddess Athena. Its construction began in 447 B.C. It’s a breath-taking site, after having witnessed this building in numerous texts and articles. To actually be able to experience the magnitude of these remains is a wondrous moment.

Mount Lycabettus athens greece
Mount Lycabettus

Not only can you witness these sites, but the view of Athens is astounding. The tan and brown colored homes stretch out as far as you can see, one side seemingly going on forever, the other side reaching out towards the turquoise sea. From atop of Acropolis you’ll see Mount Lycabettus, a limestone hill towards the center of Athens.

Plaka athens greece
Plaka

After meandering through the site, we made our way down to Plaka located on the northern and eastern slopes of Acropolis. Filled with what they refer to as ‘labyrinthine streets’ and ‘neoclassical architecture’, it’s easy to lose yourself within the ‘Neighborhood of the Gods’. Shops and restaurants are around every corner and make for a delightful evening. As the Greeks do, we didn’t sit down to eat dinner until after 8pm when the streets came to life with young and old people alike making their way to nighttime festivities. After delicious Greek salads and fresh seafood (a must in Athens), we headed back to our hotel to prepare for our early ferry the following morning.

As we made our way up to our room at the Electra Hotel, a hotel worker overheard us talking about the view of Acropolis and asked if we’d like to see if from the roof of our hotel. We showed us up a hidden flight of stairs that led right onto the roof of the hotel. If you look beyond the air conditioners and pipes, you’ll see Acropolis of Athens in the distance. The perfect way to end our adventurous day.

Acropolis of Athens from Hotel Electra greece
Acropolis of Athens from Hotel Electra

Athens offers so much in terms of historical artifacts and rich cultural traditions. A day isn’t nearly enough to see all that this magnificent city has to offer, but a visit to the Acropolis of Athens and Plaka are sure to wet your taste buds to come back and visit again.

Have you ever been to Greece? Anyone else study Latin?!

xx,
Juliette

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10 Minute Yoga Sequence For Stress Relief

ten minute yoga sequence for stress relief

As we talked about earlier, yoga is more than asanas, the physical poses. While building strength in warrior I and defying gravity in headstand is awesome, it’s not the only reason people keep coming back for more. The empowerment and inner-peace you carry off of your yoga mat is what matters most. As always, consult with your doctor before participating in a new workout. While I’m a certified yoga teacher, respect your body and don’t push into positions that feel sharp or painful beyond the level of discomfort.

Now it’s time for the juicy stuff. Here are my top five poses to not only help you handle the stress you have, but prevent it from coming back. Ever.

Child's Pose
Child’s Pose

Oh yeah. Right into the good stuff. Child’s pose is golden on its own or in the middle of a sequence. In addition to being awesome for the nervous and lymphatic systems, child’s pose is a calming posture that helps quiet the mind, which in turn eases stress and gently releases pressure in the back. My favorite way is to keep the knees wide, let your belly drop down as you push your butt towards your heels. Your arms can be extended long with the elbows for a more active pose, or hand can lay down next to your heels to rest the shoulders.

Puppy Pose
Puppy Pose

Extended Puppy Pose is a great follow-up to child’s pose. Often times when too much is on our plate, we unknowingly tense our shoulders and totally abandon our posture. Not only does this crunch our midsection making it more difficult to breath, It also lower our confidence and strains our necks. Puppy pose reverses this damage. It releases the shoulders, where we hold our tension and our stress and lengthens our core to stretch the abdomen, helping us to keep this position when sitting upright. Push up into table top from child’s pose, keep your hips high as you lower your chest and chin down to the mat and walk your arms our straight ahead of you. Having your chin on the mat allows for a deeper shoulder stretch, but you can modify by placing your forehead on the ground instead for a less intense version.

Rabbit Pose
Rabbit Pose

The first time I did rabbit pose, I hated it. Knees pushed into my chest, top of my head crunched, difficulty getting air. The things that dreams are made of, right? No. But that’s the point. Rabbit pose teaches you to breath in tight spaces, to find comfort in being uncomfortable, which ultimately builds up your endurance in handling anxiety-causing situations. The longer you’re able to stay in the posture which brings on feelings of stress, the more you’re able to recognize it and turn inward to bring your anxiety back down. So the next time you’re boss is reaming you out and you feel like you’re suffocating, find ease in knowing that you’ve already practiced how to breath in distressing situations like this. From puppy pose, make your way back to child’s pose and reach your hands around to grab your heels. Place the top of your head on the mat with your forehead touching, or close to touching you knees. Gripping firmly to your feet, lift your hips up towards the sky. Hold for five to eight breaths, lower, and then repeat.

Eagle Pose
Eagle Pose

Eagle pose dependent on one’s concentration and balance, eagle pose forces us to focus on a single object, such as a point on the wall, in order to stay upright. This pose lends itself for when we are boggled down with a million things on our minds, in turn causing us to treat each task individually rather than drowning in to-dos. It teaches us to appreciate the single moment and not to plan for those ahead or worry about those behind. In addition, it also opens up the shoulders, upper back and hips, which can all carry tension unknowingly. To get started, plant down your left foot into the earth and slightly bend both your knees. Bring your right knee up over your left knee. You can double bind with the right ankle around the left calf, but it’s not necessary for the benefits. Right elbow comes underneath left elbow, palms of your hands together. Square your hips to the front of your mat and engage your core to prevent your butt from sticking out. Gaze to a spot in front of you to keep your balance. There’s also the option to take eagle post on your back as a modification.

Savasana
Savasana

Savasana, perhaps surprisingly one of the more difficult poses, considering we’re so used to being go go go that we can’t just be. By placing one hand on your belly and one hand on your chest, you connect to your breath and recognize the control you have over it. When we’re worried or overwhelmed, we’re like to shorten our inhales and exhales. With a hand over your belly, you can be sure to breath in deeply, hold, and then release. By altering the physical response (hyperventilating), we can change our emotional one (stressed). To get into savasana, lay on your back and let you feet fall to the sides. Scan your body from head to toe, surrendering to the position and letting go of any tension you feel (I often unknowingly flex my quads or neck instead of letting them hang heavy). And then, thank your body for carrying you through this practice and promise to come back to your mat the next time you feel your stress rising. Inhale peace, and exhale gratitude. Namaste.

YOGA UPDATES! Are you in the Washington, D.C. area? Do you have a pre-teen or teen that could benefit from practicing mindfulness and yoga (aka all of them!)? I’m offering a pre-teen to teen yoga summer camp at Your Life Energy that will focus on building strength, balance, flexibility and healthy habits for when kids need it most! Find out more info here.

Are you convinced yet? How has yoga improved your stress and overall well-being?

xx,
Juliette

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