March 31, 2012

Snippets from a Little Piece o’ Heaven

::Siiiigh:: My two weeks of spelunkling around California has come to an end…and I don’t want to leave…repeat, I DON’T WANT TO LEAVE! Every time I return for a visit, the phrase "I can't believe I come from such a beautiful part of the world" echos endlessly in my mind. The last 2 weeks went by so fast, as they always do. Mostly I spent the time laughing and lounging with my best friends—going on hikes, street festivals, the beach, watching plenty of those colorful Cali sunsets and managed to escape to a boutique with my mom, sister, twin sister and best friends to try on wedding dresses!! I bought one too ;).
Here are a few iPhone pics I thought I’d share before I depart for Amsterdam tomorrow and I’ll be immediately unpacking and repacking because I’m off to Sweden on Monday for my first business trip :)! Let’s hope my jetlag isn’t too hard on me! Fortunately I’ve got Christian and our favorite little Dutch cat waiting at home for me…although I wish I was staying in Cali longer, I’m equally as excited to give Christian tons of kusjes and a very big I-missed-you hug!

{Strolling through downtown LA meant we got a sneak peak at the filming of New Girl!}
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photo (12)photo (8){Wedding dress posse!}
photo (13){Some of the beauties I tried on!}photo (10){Sunset hike}photo (18){Mmmmm…Laguna!}photo (1)
photo (16){Happy feet :)}photo (6)
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March 29, 2012

::Blogger Q&A:: Halley from Life of Something New

I started this blog as a way to not only document Christian and I’s travel adventures but to also inspire others out there to explore the world and just go for it. One thing I never anticipated though was how many other travel enthusiasts I would meet in the blogging world! I love comparing travel stories and hearing how others took the plunge and moved overseas…moving far away is no easy feat, but ofcourse it sure does have it’s perks :)!

One such blogging buddy I came across was Halley from Life of Something New. Halley, also a full-blown travel nut and adventure enthusiast from the US, made the plunge and now lives in probably one of the most beautiful countries on the planet--New Zealand! Amongst the many things I love about Halley’s blog is that it’s filled with inspirational travel banter that will get you reaching for your passport and heading off to the airport. I love that she travels with a sense of adventure on her shoulder and no destination in sight… now that’s true blue spontaneity at it’s finest.

Curious about how Halley hopped on the boat to New Zealand and just to get to know her a bit better, I asked her a few questions I was dying to know :)…stop by her blog and pay Halley a visit!!
Why did you move to New Zealand? And what's the best thing about being an expat?
I moved half-way across the world because I read a fiction book set in New Zealand (Flight of the Albatross) when I was 12. It made me feel inspired so I quietly promised myself that I'd live there when I got older and live the adventure.
The best thing about being an expat living in New Zealand is the quality of life. In NZ, work respects taking time off to be with family, no one cares about what stuff you own, and a cultural love of outdoors/travel/adventure.

Describe the best adventure you’ve ever had?
Sailing. on a tall ship. with twenty other people. Hauling ropes at 2am. Drinking Hummingbirds = hot chocolate mix + instant coffee + sugar. Falling asleep at the microscope while smelling dead fish in formaldehyde. Calculating our ship's course. Deciphering MAX (an automated weather radio system). Being an Engineer's Assistant. Making Jambalaya and then running around the decks yelling "JAMBALAYA!" Discovering I'm really bad at waking people up smoothly.

If you could travel to anywhere in the world right this second, where would it be?
Croatia! If I can do it by tall ship sailing I'd be in heaven.

Some travelers like to experience a place off the beaten path, following a travel book, by meeting locals, etc., how would you describe your way of traveling? 
Spontaneous and purposeful. I like to fly by the seat of my pants but I have the most fun if I have a objective like "learn Maori" or "learn wind-surfing." So I'm not precious about the location but the stuff to do is important. I also tend to try and integrate into the culture and live like the locals do (which is why I started this travel network - Travel Like a Local)

Thanks Halley!! 

March 21, 2012

::Guest Post:: Jenna from A Home Away from Home

Surprise! I'm in California! Some recent news had me dashing out to the West Coast to help my very best friend prepare for battle. Flying out here Saturday morning was the best decision I've ever made :)...and I'll be out here for 2 weeks supporting, loving, hugging and laughing every minute possible. 

I arranged one of the sweetest bloggers I've ever met through the blogger-world, Jenna from A Home Away from Home, to do my very first guest post! Also a Southern California native (like me!), she's been living in South Africa with her Afrikaans boy...sounds like a fairytale doesn't it? As Jenna mentions below, I have no doubt that her and I would be fast friends given our love of travel, California and our Dutch & Afrikaans men! ;). I hope I get to meet her in person one day! Until then though, I asked her what her favorite things about South Africa were...go ahead and add South Africa to your travel list!! It's definitely on mine!!


Rachael's one of those bloggers who I'm sure I would quickly become best friends with if we lived closer to each other.  Her zest and passion for life is so evident in her blog posts and she's full of adventure, having {quite literally} traveled all over the world.  

Plus, we happen to have almost identical stories.  

Both of us met our love interests while studying abroad, both of us went through stints of long distance, and both of us eventually made {semi} permanent moves overseas to be closer to above said love interests.

Which I guess leads us to introductions...

My name is Jenna and that's Jurgen.  I met Jurgen while studying abroad in South Africa in 2008 and what started out as an international fling quickly turned into something much bigger.  After {tearfully} returning home to California at the end of my study abroad semester I finished my degree and then hopped straight back on a plane bound for South Africa and have been here ever since, which brings us up to now.  

A very short version of a very long and complicated story, but you get the gist of it right?

Since Rachael's so graciously given me full rights to her blog today, I thought I'd share some of my favorite things about living in South Africa.  Although I do miss certain things about California {such as being so far away from my family}, for the most part I've really enjoyed the ex-pat life and am just trying to focus on embracing each moment as it happens without thinking {too much} about the future.

Here's just a few of my favorites...

1) The Wildlife

The opportunities to interact and play with wildlife are endless here, and so are the number of reserves offering safaris or game drives.  Be it lions, cheetah, elephants, or even more absurd animals such as ostriches, photo-ops are never in short supply.  The other great thing is that the reserves aren't over commercialized {yet}, meaning that you can drive your own private vehicle through the parks rather than having to pay the big bucks to go on a multi-day guided safari.  

2) The Cosmopolitan Cities

When I first arrived in South Africa I knew that there would be large bustling cities, but I wasn't expecting them to be so European.  South Africa truly embraces the laid back European cafe culture and I've definitely become  accustomed to daily cappuccinos, outdoor sidewalk seating, and the idea slow, enjoyable dining.  In parts of Cape Town {pictured above} one could easily forget they were in Africa and rather feel as though they were on a main street in Paris.  It really is incredible!

3) The Volunteer Opportunities

There are so many ways to give back in South Africa and it's definitely enriched my time in the country.  The  photos above are from the Help Portrait initiative, but I've also been blessed to be involved in some HIV/Aids assistance programs.  It's nice to feel like you've made a difference, even if it's only for a small few in the bigger scheme of things, and it's amazing to see the children's faces light up when they see you :)

4) Rugby

Growing up in the states I was never a huge fan of football, but since moving to South Africa I've officially become a die hard  rugby supporter!  The country is absolutely rugby obsessed and it's almost impossible not to get sucked into the madness of it all.  Plus, the fast-paced style of the game makes it a lot of fun to watch.  If you're ever in South Africa make sure to squeeze in a game!

5) The Wine

You wouldn't guess it, but South Africa is famous for their wine!  They have almost any and every varietal you can think of and even have one that is uniquely their own called Pinotage.  Wine tasting is extremely affordable {in some cases free!} and students often go together in groups on Fridays.  Talk about an awesome student vibe!  Pair that with a cheese platter or cellar tour and you've got yourself a perfect day! 


When I'm not taking over Rachael's blog, you can find me over on my blog, A Home Away From Home.  
I hope you'll stop by and say hello!

March 16, 2012

Castle-hunting in the Irish Countryside

Irish is in my blood and I love that I have the fancy O’ in my last name to always remind me of it! My sister did a family tree project several years ago and we discovered that our ancestors hopped on a ship in Ireland bound for America, went through the one-and-only Ellis Island, settled in Kentucky and eventually relocated to Chicago, with a few of them joining the mob. Actually, there’s a bar in Chicago with a wall almost completely devoted to Dean O’Banion, an ancestor of mine that so sadly got shot up by Al Capone’s gang (I’m sure he was no angel though!). Since I’ve lived in Europe, so many Europeans have told me how ‘typical American’ it is to trace their heritage and claim their European motherlands…and I didn’t doubt this fact for a second, because it’s exactly what my family did—so guilty as charged hahaha. Christian laughs at me because he is organically Dutch thru and thru so he doesn’t have to go digging into his ancestry (punk—but he does cringe when I ask him why he leaves out his Belgian side, must be a turf wars type of thing).

My mom’s a big history nut, so she was able to sift through time and find that our ancestors were from the very middle of Ireland, and soon, a trip to the motherland was underway! After a few nights stay in Dublin, we hit the green hills bound for Tipperary County. The countryside was a mixture of flowing green hills, grazing sheep, random Irish pubs on the side of the road and quite possibly the most friendly people on the planet. We kissed the Blarney Stone, visited St. Patrick’s Cathedral, the Rock of Cashel, Waterford and soaked up the coziness of cute and cozy Cork, Ireland, snacking on as much Irish stew, bangers & mash and Shepherd’s pie we could squeeze into our bellies.

Once we inched closer to Tipperary County (where the O’Banion’s hail from!), my mom discovered an old castle was located in the area, but it was privately owned. On a whim, we stopped by Leap Castle, knocked on the door and were greeted by a generous old man, who graciously let us inside. After telling us that the castle was part of generations of families not known to him and he bought the castle as a fixer-uper (pretty sweet fixer-uper if ya ask me!!), he let us on to one more fact—it was haunted. He told us a few stories of ladders falling, doors opening after being locked (and checked!) and seeing ghostly children play in the yard, we didn’t know what to believe but we made sure not to stray too far. Now comes the CREEPY part. My mom was lookin’ around the place and pulls a book from the bookshelf: a book all about the O’BANNON family of Ireland! Remember I said we went there on a whim? No idea that this castle was even owned by our ancestors? Well the proof was right in front of us! A stroll down the road also meant we came across a cemetery filled with O’Bannon marked tombstones. It wasn’t until we showed my brothers the pictures that we realized that the old man that owned that house and my dad looked awfully similar! Long-lost relatives maybe? My dad’s smitten when he hears that story…and my mom loves to remind him around St. Patrick’s Day :).

It just so happens to be my dad’s birthday today, the day before St. Patrick’s Day…so this one’s for you Pop! Can’t wait for our next Irish adventure!

March 13, 2012

An Irish Bachelorette

A few months ago, my twin sis got hitched. Part of my maid of honor duties were to ofcourse plan a bachelorette shin-dig like no other. She was not only marrying the love of her life but she was also getting rid of our proud Irish last name—O’Banion. Our family celebrates St. Patrick’s Day almost as festively as Christmas! My mom makes corned beef and cabbage, my family comes over and ofcourse we drink a bit here and there ;). Well in my quest to create the best bachelorette weekend ever and to theme it in a way that I know she would never forget, the answer was easy—an Irish inspired bachelorette! We had to give that O’Banion last name a proper farewell, right? Planning a bachelorette party 5000 miles away is no easy feat…fortunately the internet and some mutual friends (and bridesmaids!) of ours were able to help me out along the way.

Once the bachelorette finally came, myself, the bride and 14 other girlies were off to Viva Las Vegas! Christian was en route to the Bachelor party at a mansion in the desert with the groom + 40 frat boys and college buddies of his (yes 40!) with a no camera policy (I’ve still yet to get ANY details about how the bachelor party was). Vegas was an easy decision for us—clubs, pool parties and a 24 hour city! I provided each girl with a Vegas tote bag filled with leprechaun loot, Irish-inspired necklaces & buttons, and a mini leprechaun top hat to wear while we paraded my twin sis around The Strip. We dressed the Bride in a gold-sequined mini dress (leprechauns do need to protect their pot o’ gold don’t they?), gave her a scrapbook in which every girl made a page about their friendship (tears were flowin’ ofcourse!) pre-partied in our humongous suite at Planet Hollywood and hit the town! The weekend was the best weekend in Vegas to date--a mixture of pool parties, the luck o’ the irish, sushi at Sushi Roku, plenty of dancing and the bride-to-be standing on a poolside cabana couch yelling ‘THIS IS THE BEST NIGHT OF MY LIFE!’ at the Wynn’s fancy-shmancy poolside club, XS. Mission accomplished? I’d say so :).

And ofcourse since St. Patrick’s Day is just around the corner, I can’t help but to share a few snippets of this crazy bachelorette party weekend…ya I pity her because she’ll soon be working on my bachelorette party…I’m curious what she’ll have up her sleeve! Although I don't think she can top this...typical twin quarreling words ;)
{Road trip!}bachelorette-3023