2015: From Oahu to NYC and back home

2015 was a fun travel year for us. Though we didn’t hit any international destinations,we still made our way from end of the country to the other.

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We visited family in Sioux Falls both in the summer, stopping by Omaha on the way to go to the zoo, boating in Yankton with Justin’s family, and attending a wedding in downtown. (We also returned for Christmas.) Omaha, not sure we need to return but the zoo was fun!

(Click on any of the photo circles to enlarge and see captions.)

For Thanksgiving, three of our friends accompanied us to New Orleans for Friendsgiving. It was our first time in the city and we fell in love with the people, the food and the atmosphere. We’re hoping to return this year!

A: The best shrimp I’ve ever had, hands down, was at Maya’s on Magazine Street. And delicious (read, bottomless) margaritas were had at Arana. Bourbon street is not a place I need to ever go again, but it was fun just walking all around town, exploring. The French Quarter was neat, and I got to have authentic French crêpes at the French Market. ❤ 

J: New Orleans has such an amazing history that is often overlooked in favor of its party-city reputation with beads-for-boobs and appearances on Cops. Bourbon Street is a must-see and Café Du Monde is a must-taste, but the highlights of this city go well beyond the French Quarter. The Lower Garden District, in particular, offers a host of underrated bars and restaurants that rival anything you’ll find anywhere else. Along the jagged sidewalks of Magazine Street, you’ll find excellent Vietnamese restaurants butted up against dive bars and taquirias. You want fresh Chilean seabass paired with caipirinhas? No problem. Prefer a dingy beer bar packed with locals? Easy. Favor elite collections of whiskey and bourbon? Then the 262 varieties offered by Barrel Proof will be your heaven. And that’s all along a short stretch of one street.

At the risk over being overly romantic, I’m not afraid to boastfully claim New Orleans as one of greatest cites in the country. The sights and smells can’t be found anywhere else. From the quirky architecture, unrivaled cuisine, cheap drinks, to the historic beginnings and even more historic recovery, New Orleans is nothing short of an American success story. It’s humble, mysterious, artsy, somewhat dangerous and has more character than anywhere in the U.S. Not every corner is pretty, and not every street appears welcoming, but I can promise you that, no matter the intentions of your visit or your preference in entertainment, The Big Easy will exceed expectations.

We headed down to Ashley’s hometown, St. Petersburg, for a wedding of her oldest friend (from 2nd grade!) and one beautiful, much-needed beach day. We also took a long weekend trip with Ashley’s parents to Columbia, SC, and celebrated our one-year wedding anniversary in Atlanta, GA.

A: Dude, the aquarium is worth the hefty entrance fee.

J: The Atlanta food and beverage scene is really outstanding. There are so many great places that I wish I had two weeks of just eating and drinking my way through the city.

Our Honeymoon: For our belated honeymoon, we spent 2 weeks visiting San Francisco, Oahu and Hawaii (the big island). It was the best trip (so far!) of our life.

A: We only got to spend a few days in San Fran, 1 day on the front end of the trip, and 2 on the end. The first day, we mostly explored China Town, where we had traditional Mai Tais and some of the best Chinese food ever.

That night we slept in the airport… that might seem like an odd choice, especially since we planned to do so! But we had less than 24 hours between arriving in SF and departing for Oahu, so instead of spending money on a hotel, we followed advice from http://www.sleepinginairports.net/ and had a terrible night’s rest.

But then we flew to Oahu, which is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen. My aunt picked us up at the airport and gave us a driving tour before taking us to our AirBNB, which was conveniently located on her street. We spent the next 48 hours hanging out with her, exploring the island, driving up to the North Shore, eating delicious seafood and shave ice, and visiting Pearl Harbor.

Then we spent 7 nights on the Big Island, which was a lot quieter and less touristy than we expected. We ate some form of calamari and fresh fish every day, drove to the black sands beach, the volcano national park and up to Waimea. The shorebreak at a locals beach nearly killed us and gave me a scar on my arm to remember the trip by. We snorkled and accidentally swam with sea turtles – by the end of our trip, we had seen 19 honu!

We finished up our vacation with 2 full days in San Francisco, during which we visited 23 food/drink establishments and the Academy of Sciences. We walked everywhere, tasted as much of the town as we could. We asked every bartender where we should go next, ensuring as local of an experience as we could get without having any locals actually show us around.

It was a truly incredible experience, from start to finish.

We did some solo travels, as well. Justin visited Las Vegas with a bunch of fellow fantasy sports writers, and Ashley went to work conferences in Louisville, Chicago, and Michigan, and celebrated a friend’s 30th birthday in Bloomington, Indiana.

A: Bloomington has the cutest downtown! I’ve been a couple times, to visit this good friend of mine, and each time wish I’d have a few more days to walk around and explore. It’s a college town with a laid-back feel. Lots of cute restaurants and interesting sounding bars!

In October, Ashley took a family trip with her parents and brother to New York – the first Schwartau family vacation in nearly a decade!

A: We stayed in Greenwich Village, my dad’s old stomping grounds, and reconnected with an old friend of my parents. One bar mitzvah, three Broadway shows, one celebrity sighting, another old friend from the past, a few beer and wine bars, and gorgeous weather – we couldn’t have asked for a better trip!


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