Tag Archives: shopping

Wedding Dress Weekend

One bride, two days, three friends, four bridal boutiques, and (at least) five glasses of champagne. Add in some fancy restaurants and a chic hotel and you’ve got everything you need for the perfect weekend spent searching for the perfect dress.

It all started when my friend Kacy informed me that there was a BHLDN (pronounced beholden – Dutch for “to keep”) wedding shop in Portland. BHLDN is Anthropologie’s wedding collection and after spending approximately 2 minutes looking at the collection online, I knew I had to try on the dresses. All the dresses. And thus, the plans began to fall into place. When it was all said and done, we had a packed itinerary for a weekend of wedding dress shopping and some much needed friend time.

To be honest, I was not necessarily hopeful that I would find “the” dress, but I was confident I would find something beautiful and flattering and enough to make me happy. Really, the search to find a dress was mostly an excuse to get away to the city for a night and have some fun with friends. Oh, and to drink champagne. Finding a dress would just be a bonus. I had asked my groom if he had any preferences for the dress. His only request was a white dress. The italics might be foreshadowing.

Anyway, my friends – Kacy (also my matron of honor), Chelsea, and Dani – and I set out on a Saturday morning from Roseburg and headed toward Eugene. And although my friends Jessi and Shannon could not be there in person, they spent their entire weekends texting with Kacy about every single dress. Our first appointment was at Blush Bridal. I had been told by multiple people that this was the place to shop for a dress. I could immediately see why. From the moment we walked in, every one was friendly and the consultant I worked with was excited to help me find the perfect dress. It was a little overwhelming first, but this first stop helped me settle into narrowing down what I wanted, beginning to learn what looked best on me, and just generally getting used to having all the attention focused on me.

Don’t worry. None of the dresses pictured in this post are the actual dress I will be wearing on my wedding day.

I actually found two dresses that I loved, but did not feel quite ready to commit at the first boutique, so I made an appointment for the next day, expecting to return and finalize a dress purchase in Eugene before returning to Roseburg.

All that dress trying had worked up an appetite, so we made a quick stop for lunch at Mucho Gusto before beginning the drive to Portland.

Once in Portland we made a quick detour to check out Brides for a Cause.

This is a second hand bridal shop where proceeds go to charity. I think the experience there is likely to be a little hit or miss and for me it was a miss. But I did get a good laugh out of trying on a couple dresses that ended up looking unpredictably terrible on me. I love the concept and I am sure if I lived closer I would have given it another visit or two. No appointment was required, so it was easy to fit around the other activities of the weekend.

Next, it was off to check into the hotel before the final appointment of the day. I particularly love Kimpton Hotels, so when there was a suite sale, I jumped on the chance to book a suite at the Portland Hotel Monaco.

The quirky and stylish hotel did not disappoint. The suite was spacious and just perfect for a girl’s weekend.

We took a few minutes to settle in and kick up our feet before walking to the nearby Ania Bridal.

Ania Bridal was another fun experience, complete with the requisite champagne. It was here where I really narrowed down the style of dress I wanted, noting the similarities between what I liked best at Blush and what I like best here.

To be honest, when you’re the one trying on the dresses, you’re not really the one drinking the champagne.

More dresses, more champagne, more decisions to make. I was feeling good about being able to find a dress I loved this weekend, but was still pondering the options as we headed back to the hotel for the complimentary happy hour.

Every evening, there is a social hour featuring local wines and brews. And because Kimpton is pet friendly, there are always a few cute pups hanging out, too. We didn’t want to ruin our appetites, though. We had plans.

Because it was my wedding dress weekend, we went to my favorite restaurant, Lechon. I have extolled the delicious virtues of this place many times and this evening with friends was no exception.

I could leave it at that, but the food is too beautiful not to share, dish by dish. We shared a number of incredible dishes, enjoyed craft cocktails, and ended the meal with a bit of sweetness.

My favorite cocktail was not currently on the menu, so I branched out to the marecuzco – pisco, allspice dram, demerara, lime, and passionfruit
Avocado and smoked trout toast – it was even more yummy than it looks
Chickpea quinoa fritters
One of the two dishes I think should always be ordered at Lechon – the burrata. The accompaniments change seasonally. This evening it was poached apricots, prosciutto, lemon confit, and herbed toast. Simple perfection on a plate.
A salad so that we did not feel too bad about ourselves. And also because it was an ideal combo of goat cheese, cranberries, spiced pine nuts, and champagne vinaigrette.
The empanadas are my second “must order” dish. This evening, there was a spicy fried piquiollo pepper empanada and a milder but no less flavorful pork empanada.
And finally, another favorite, the grilled octopus.

With all of this, we even managed to save a little room for dessert.

I don’t even remember what this was or what was in it. But it was good.

We walked back to the hotel. I felt happy in a way that only the combination of a fancy meal and the energy of walking in a city after dark provide. We opened the bottle of champagne that had been cooling in the fridge (at the expense of the mini bottles now scattered across the floor to make room for the champagne) and pondered the pros and cons of the various dresses I had tried on that day.

We reviewed the texted feedback from Jessi and Shannon. We discussed our plans for the next day. And then things got a little, well, goofy… Because I like these people and want them to still be my friends, I will refrain from sharing the evidence. Other than this. Because the cool hotel robes must be modeled.

I’ll just leave it at that.

The next morning, my final bridal appointment was not until 11 am. That + being in Portland = brunch. Chelsea had recommended Mother’s Bistro and I am so glad she did.

It was classy and cozy. Most important of all, the food was incredible.

Chelsea and I shared a pot of gourmet french press coffee. We chose the one whose flavor description included “chocolate.”
Sharing a cinnamon roll the size of my head is generally a good way to start a meal
Bacon and gorgonzola frittata
Eggs Benedict
Salmon hash
And a scramble

Being friends means sharing each others’ food. At least in my book.

After a great brunch, we were ready for the last bridal appointment, the one that had prompted the whole trip – BHLDN. At this point, my plan was still to try on the pretty dresses just for fun and then exhaustively discuss which of the Blush dresses I wanted to purchase on the drive back to Eugene.

Located in a corner of the second floor of Anthropologie, BHLDN just felt right. I wanted to touch all of the dresses, not just look at them, as I sipped champagne out of bright pink can. And then I met my consultant, her Southern accent sounding so familiar that I couldn’t help but ask where she was from. Something about learning that she was also from Arkansas set me at ease and made the dress shopping experience even more fun.

The place had some seriously gorgeous gowns. I had one dress left to try on and felt like I had a sense of what I liked. Sure, I had not had that moment you see on TV shows and movies, but I was feeling good about what I had mostly decided to buy. Yes, there was one more dress to try, but I had chosen it solely because it was remarkably beautiful and I simply wanted to try it on because I could. It was obviously not going to be an option because it was decidedly not white and, after all, that had been Brandon’s single request. But how many times do you have an excuse to try on as many pretty dresses as you want? I was not considering in a million years that I would buy this dress. I just wanted to wear it for five minutes.

And then I tried it on and had that moment. I walked out and everyone’s face lit up. I stood in front of the mirror and started crying, choking out the words, “I want this dress” as my friends texted Brandon to reassure him that a not white dress would be okay when it was a dress as breathtaking as this one. My mom called the second she got the pictures of the dress to insist that I buy it. And Shannon and Jessi, who had been bombarded with pictures all weekend, texted this:

This dress was, unquestionably, the one. Sometimes I put it on and just stare at it in the mirror and I absolutely can’t wait to wear it next month. It is stunning. I blew my wedding dress budget without a second thought.

A successful weekend of wedding dress shopping called for celebratory sushi burritos. If you find yourself in the Eugene area, you will not regret stopping by this little drive through sushi stand.

Sushi burritos may sound strange, but they are legit tummy goodness.

I ordered the Black Widow – cajun sesame seared albacore tuna sashimi, crispy shrimp, crab, spicy cream cheese, cucumber, carrots, and seaweed salad served with a cajun sweet soy sauce. And I added avocado. I recommend everything about this.

We savored our meal, discussing our favorite parts of the weekend and continuing to marvel over the dress, the not white wedding dress that was meant to be. I am always amazed how a single night away can make a difference – getting out of the usual routine, enjoying delicious meals, and most of all spending time in the company of friends. I think I should do this more often, although perhaps without spending more than $1000 on a dress. That would buy a lot of sushi burritos.

A Wintery Week in Iceland: Reykjavik

I knew I wanted to go to Iceland. And I knew I wanted to see the northern lights. Like really wanted to see the northern lights. So, Iceland in winter it would be. After doing some research I settled on the small group tour Northern Lights in Style. Booked through Nordic Saga, the tour was operated by the large Icelandic tour company Guðmundur Jónasson Travel. The 6 day, 5 night tour seemed to offer everything I was looking for – nice hotels; the opportunity to try great, local food; someone to drive me around the icy roads of Iceland; the opportunity to see the northern lights; and an itinerary packed with seemingly amazing things. I will talk more about the specifics of the tour itself in a later post, but for now, booking this tour is how I ended up in a cold and snowy Reykjavik on a Sunday morning in February.

Reykjavik is the capital of Iceland. In a country with a population of approximately 330,000, you can imagine that despite being the capital and the area in which the majority of Icelanders live, it is not a particularly large city. What it lacked in size, it more than made up for in color and character.

DSC02858

As excited as I was about being in Iceland, after an overnight flight and a long day of travel, I needed all of the help I could get to stay awake.

Before the 8 hour flight from Seattle
Before the 8 hour flight from Seattle
After the 8 hour flight from Seattle. And the 45 minute Flybus transfer to the Reykjavik bus terminal. And taking a second bus to my hotel. And walking to breakfast. Travel is not glamorous.
After the 8 hour flight from Seattle. And the 45 minute Flybus transfer to the Reykjavik bus terminal. And taking a second bus to my hotel. And walking to breakfast. Travel is not always ever glamorous.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After dropping off my bags at my hotel, I began to carefully tread the ice-covered sidewalks of the city. I marveled at the incredible sunrise as I made my way toward one of the city’s best bakeries. And toward coffee.

IMG_9404

IMG_9405

DSC02766

DSC02767

DSC02769After savoring a croissant, skyr, and, yes, coffee at Bakari Sandholt, I spent the morning walking around the city.

DSC02770

DSC02776

DSC02772

I could say that I had some super-specific plan to fit in as many of the city sites as possible into one day. Because I’m the type of person who usually has some super-specific plan. The reality however, is that I simply wanted to stay upright. Cold air and walking in combination with coffee seemed to do the trick for much of the day.

DSC02781

DSC02786

DSC02784

DSC02783

DSC02836

DSC02838

Using this map, I found my way to the city pond. Mostly frozen over, the edge of the pond was warmed for the geese and ducks who call the pond home year round.

DSC02788

DSC02791

DSC02789

When I was not simply enjoying the charming city of Reykjavik, I was probably shopping. I would not have much time in the city during this trip, so I made the most of my day Reykjavik even though many of the shops were closed because it was Sunday. I rambled along the shopping streets of Laugavegur and Skólavörðustígur. At the top of Skólavörðustígur sits the iconic Hallgrímskirkja, which I would get to explore further the following day. Side note: I would seriously love to hear how you are pronouncing the names of places in your head as you read them. Me? It sounds something like La*mumble,mumble* and Sko-blah-blah-blah and Hallawhattheheck? But maybe that’s just me.

DSC02797

DSC02798

IMG_9421

I even found my way to the weekend flea market, Kolaportið.

DSC02830

DSC02834

DSC02832

Despite my most concerted efforts, I eventually could not resist the allure of an afternoon nap in my cozy hotel bed.

So tired
I was so very tired by this point in the day

Thankfully, I was still able to sleep that evening and be ready to meet my tour group the next morning. The day began with a city tour, including stops at Hallgrímskirkja and Perlan.

DSC02926
My transportation for the week.

The Hallgrímskirkja was designed to mimic the basalt columns that develop from cooling lava. The church is known for its unique design and the large pipe organ it contains.

DSC02855

DSC02897

DSC02856

DSC02857

There is a small fee to take the elevator to the top of the tower. It is well worth it for the unbeatable view of the city.

DSC02871

DSC02867

DSC02863

DSC02862

The design of the church is lovely in its simplicity.

DSC02878

DSC02880

DSC02879I even got all fancy and recorded the organ music, which you can listen to by clicking here: IMG_9455.MOV

One of the final stops before leaving the city was Perlan, or The Pearl. The building sits on a hillside and is visible throughout much of the city. The landmark building contains one of the best restaurants in Reykjavik, where I unfortunately did not get to eat, as well as an observation deck with a 360 degree view of the city.

DSC02902

DSC02916

DSC02914

DSC02909

DSC02905

DSC02904

DSC02903

A day and a half was not nearly enough time in Reykjavik, but I enjoyed every minute of the jet lagged and caffeine fueled time that I spent there. It was the perfect place to begin my exploration of Iceland before leaving the city behind in hopes of seeing the northern lights. Would I be successful in this endeavor? Stay tuned to find out!

 

Sleeping in Seattle Day 1

One of my rules for life: When a friend says “Do you want to go to (insert pretty much any place in the world here)?” the answer is always “Yes!” A resounding, unhesitating, absolutely I-will-make-this-happen, yes. Thus, when my friend Sara mentioned that she was going to be in the Seattle area and asked if I wanted to meet her, there was really only one way to respond. For weeks, I looked forward to spending time with one of my “Dallas friends.” Getting to spend a weekend in one of my favorite cities was just an added bonus.

The adventure began with an early morning road trip fueled by Dutch Bros coffee.

IMG_6109

A six-hour drive later, I was just in time to meet Sara for lunch on Bainbridge Island, where I would be staying for the first night. After considering our options, we decided that lunch at Doc’s Marina Grill was just about perfect.

DSC01354

DSC01362

DSC01361

DSC01360
Smoked salmon mac-n-cheese. Ummm, yes!

DSC01355

We spent the afternoon browsing the many lovely and oh-so-expensive shops of downtown Bainbridge. There was this little tiny candle that I wanted to buy because it smelled like bliss. I wanted to buy it until I saw the $55 price tag. No thank you. I can do without the smell of actual bliss in my life.

My favorite stop had to be Eagle Harbor Book Co. There is nothing quite like stepping into a book store and taking a deep breath laden with the smell of real books, feeling the hint of excitement as my fingertips longingly touch the covers of as yet unread novels, my mind full of curiosity about the stories within.

IMG_6135

This was also the scene of my first-ever celebrity sighting. I was in the process of trying to stop myself from buying one of everything when suddenly Sara appeared next to me and began excitedly whispering that Elizabeth Mitchell was nearby. We pretended to be highly interested in calendars and self-help books as we subtly (I promise!) followed her around the store. My only chance to get a picture occurred a few minutes later as we left the bookstore. In case you can’t tell, she’s the tall one in the brown shirt gracefully running down the sidewalk.

IMG_6113

After a warm afternoon of shopping and enjoying the scenery, it only made sense to eat ice cream. And if you’re going to eat ice cream on Bainbridge Island, you’re going to eat ice cream at Mora Iced Creamery. Calories do not count when you’re on vacation, right?

DSC01377

IMG_6115

After all of the driving, shopping, walking, and eating, I needed a nap. I decided it was the perfect time to check into my hotel. Which was a mistake. Because once I did, I never wanted to leave. Ever again. I wanted to move in and live there forever. My hotel of choice was not really a hotel, but rather a small inn. The Inn at Pleasant Beach was everything I love in a place to stay: beautiful, unique, and comfortable with an amazing view and incredible attention to detail. Seriously, never go there because your life will never be the same. You will be utterly dissatisfied with every other place you sleep.

DSC01378

DSC01391
I never wanted to leave this spot.

DSC01387

DSC01385

DSC01382

DSC01381

DSC01380

IMG_6130

IMG_6127

IMG_6126

IMG_6125

Literally, the only problem with the room is that it felt like a bit of a waste to stay in such a romantic place all alone. But I did my best to hold up under the disappointment. In fact, it would take some seriously awesome plans for me to be willing to leave my cozy room. Thankfully, I had just that – dinner reservations at Restaurant Marche with Sara, her husband, and her in-laws. There is just about nothing that makes me happier than great food and interesting conversation with wonderful people. This evening did not disappoint.

DSC01393

DSC01396
Cheers to friendship and the French 75, which is now perhaps a new favorite cocktail of mine.
DSC01395
Picture with the chef. I know people.

DSC01399

DSC01401
Vichyssoise
DSC01403
The vegetable plate was beyond delicious – corn flan, sautéed collard greens (maybe my favorite), gingered green beans, roasted cauliflower, and wood-fired zucchini. Not pictured, but also one of the best things ever – the frites with house-made ketchup and aioli.

And of course, it’s not a complete meal without dessert. We needed to make sure all the food groups were covered and I am fairly confident that “dessert” is one of them. Or should be.

DSC01406

DSC01405

Meals like that, full of delicious food, laughter, and free flowing conversation including an impromptu book club – life does not get better than that.

After returning to the inn, I could think of no better way to end my day than by taking a relaxing, hot bath (in that incredible bath tub – I could practically swim in it) followed by drinking hot tea while reading a great book curled up next to the fire.

DSC01410

It had been a long and wonderful day; it took me approximately 3.8 minutes to fall asleep after crawling into the super comfy bed. Sometimes, life is perfect.

Couchsurfing in China: Hangzhou

One of my last days in China, as my trip was winding down and I was already (sadly) anticipating returning home, I took a day trip to the nearby and lovely city of Hangzhou. A relatively short and inexpensive bus ride from Shaoxing, Hangzhou is often described in China as “heaven on earth.” Candi, Jobie, and Junie were my tour guides, along with their friends Melissa and Alex.

DSC00783

DSC00793

DSC00787

DSC00786

DSC00784

My first view of Hangzhou
First view of Hangzhou

After dealing with an obnoxious taxi driver, our first stop of the day was the China National Tea Museum.

DSC00799

DSC00814

DSC00813

DSC00811

DSC00810
It was not just a museum, there was an actual tea farm. Farm? For some reason it seems like there should be a different word.

DSC00805

DSC00804

DSC00800

The museum displayed teapots and tea settings from throughout China’s history.

DSC00819

DSC00827

DSC00826

DSC00825

DSC00823

DSC00822

DSC00821

After being accosted (in a friendly way) by a group of Chinese students, we explored a bit more of the grounds before purchasing Hangzhou green tea – considered to be the best green tea in China.

DSC00832

DSC00837

DSC00873

DSC00877

DSC00880

DSC00879

At some point “Would you mind taking a picture of me?” turned into “Cora, do this pose.” Exhibited below, the Cora pose, the Chinese pose, the Japanese pose, and the Junie pose. I will let you decide which is which. Disclaimer: all poses are the responsibility of those behind the camera. I am in no way accountable for inaccurate poses.

DSC00864

DSC00863

DSC00862

DSC00861

DSC00868
In case you’re wondering which one was the Junie pose…

DSC00850

DSC00849

After a delicious lunch (described elsewhere) of local Hangzhou specialties such as dongpo pork and beggar’s chicken, we spent a warm afternoon madly shopping the pedestrian only Hefang Street. Shops along the street ran from kitschy to authentic and there was much more to see than could fit into a single afternoon. If you received a gift from me from my trip to China, chances are it was purchased here.

DSC00901

DSC00929
Showing off our new shoes

DSC00927

DSC00922

DSC00918

DSC00910

DSC00907

DSC00906

DSC00902

We ended a busy day with a sunset walk along West Lake, one of the highlights of Hangzhou and a primary reason that Hangzhou is considered such a beautiful city.

DSC00942

DSC00977

DSC00976

DSC00973

DSC00971

DSC00967

DSC00961

DSC00956

DSC00949

DSC00948

We hurried back to the bus terminal just in time to grab McDonald’s before taking a bus back to Shaoxing in the dark. Tired and with aching feet (happily ensconced in new shoes), I watched out the window while reminiscing on what had been a truly wonderful week in China. And it wasn’t quite over yet.

 

Couchsurfing in China: Shopping

I cannot believe it has already been a month since I left for one of my favorite trips ever. I loved so many things about my time in China, but one of my favorite aspects was getting a glimpse into day-to-day life. I certainly had the opportunity to do a bit of sightseeing, but I also had the unique experience of living with Candi and Justin for a week.

DSC00523
In case you are curious, I did literally sleep on the couch.

For instance, I had the opportunity to join Candi for Saturday grocery shopping. Unsurprisingly, the shopping experience differed considerably from my typical shopping trip at home.

Perishable items, like fruits and vegetables, are bought frequently throughout the week and consumed within a day or two. Thus, when shopping in China, it is important to know where your closest fruit stand is located. Candi’s fruit stand of choice was located across the street from the university and was a spot we visited multiple times during the week.

DSC00260

DSC00261

Although fruits and vegetables were readily available, buying other groceries took a bit more effort. I will talk more about the varied and sometimes frightening forms of transportation I used in another post, but for now, suffice it to say that we used the e-bike to visit stores in multiple parts of town in order to get everything Candi needed for the week. In case you are wondering, an e-bike does not have a trunk. As we shopped, we had to become increasingly creative about fitting the accumulated bags into and on the e-bike.

DSC00273

We visited a couple of stores in order for me to shop for gifts, before visiting the foreign food market located in Shaoxing’s new InTime City mall.

DSC00304

DSC00318

DSC00319

DSC00324

Of course foreign food means anything not from China, so that’s where Candi can find things like parmesan cheese, salsa, and non-meat-flavored tortilla chips. And apparently bad coffee, as well. Frozen durian and “chicken paws” were also available, just in case one’s supply was running low.

DSC00321

DSC00320

We did not have time to make it to the large Auchan supermarket, where Candi frequently shops, but I could not miss checking out Walmart. Walmart was located amid many other buildings, just one more of thousands of businesses that interminably intermingle in the chaos of the city.

DSC00325

These lockers were to store previous purchases while shopping - bags couldn't exactly just be left sitting outside on an e-bike!
These lockers were to store previous purchases while shopping – bags couldn’t exactly just be left sitting outside on an e-bike!

DSC00327

Once in the store, it was hardly recognizable as a Walmart. Rather than the characteristic white and blue signs, bright red and yellow signs highlighted low prices and sales. There were live fish and the meat was recognizable as the animal from whence it came with hair still attached. There were open bins of rice and giant bottles of oil next to rows of instant noodles and snacks that I did not even recognize as such. It was fascinating and, to be completely honest, sometimes a bit disgusting.

DSC00331

DSC00333

DSC00332

In addition to grocery shopping, Candi took me to one of the fabric markets to get a custom made qipao. A qipao, pronounced chi-pow, is a traditional Chinese dress, although I wanted a shirt rather than a dress.

DSC00293

DSC00299
Picking out the fabric
DSC00296
And choosing a pattern

DSC00295

DSC00294

After I chose a lovely silk fabric and the pattern I desired, my measurements were carefully taken. The entire time, I imagined the tailor secretly judging my large American proportions.

DSC00302

DSC00301

DSC00300

I quickly got over any self-consciousness when I was told the price – 200 yuan, the equivalent of $30. Thirty dollars for a custom, silk qipao! Although this tailor seemed to specialize in qipaos, there were multiple vendors who could seemingly make just about anything.

Me wearing my qipao
Me wearing my qipao

Elsewhere in Shaoxing, remnants of fabric were piled high, waiting to be waded through and chosen.

DSC00285

It often seemed as if stores or vendors selling a particular product, such as fabric or electronics, were grouped together. So rather than going to one place to get everything, one would end up going to multiple parts of town in order to buy different items. The mall was perhaps the exception to this. I again noticed this while walking through Tashan Market on a rainy weeknight. Although everything from Hello Kitty bags to intricately carved wooden furniture to puppies was being sold, the market seemed to primarily focus on plants and “antiques.”

DSC00438

DSC00436

DSC00435

 

DSC00416

DSC00418

DSC00417

 

DSC00430

Junie especially enjoyed the purple flowers.

DSC00422

DSC00425

Jobie especially enjoyed the fish and turtles.

DSC00433

Shopping in Shaoxing was a fun experience. It also reminded me to appreciate that when I want groceries, furniture, flowers, and new clothes, I do not have to drive to multiple stores within a city. I simply have to drive to Target, even if it is an hour away.