10 favorite things to do / chicago

my friend mary kate has been everywhere. i met her on my london study abroad, she lived in florence and russia for a time, and has the coolest stories. she also did an internship in chicago- which is currently (especially after this post) on the top of my list of cities to visit. i can't believe i haven't been yet. check out her recommendations!


A few years ago I was lucky enough to find a job in Chicago with a VC firm.  I moved to the city into a tiny one room apartment with beautiful view.  Though I spent the majority of my time in the office, I took every spare second to enjoy/explore the city.  Here are the top 10 most interesting parts of the city:

1.     The Art Institute 

This museum is very nearly my favorite in the US.  The collections are incredible.  My favorite thing in the museum is a collection of tiny busts done by Honoré-Victorin Daumier.  There is nothing better than a snarky political Frenchman expressing himself through sculpture.  I couldn’t choose a favorite painting but I guarantee you will love them all! (I remember being able to get some sort of discount if you go late in the afternoon/evening but can’t see it on the website so maybe ask about it when you are there.  If that is not available admission is free Thursday from 5-8pm.) 

2. Take an architectural boat tour 

The architecture in Chicago is incredible.  It is rare to be able to sit on a boat and look at/ learn about some of the most fabulous architecture out there.  Chicago is unusual because it has a river running through the center of the city.  The rides are a fun way to get a feel for the city.

3. Bandera 

Chicago is a city for food.  The extreme temperatures are great at driving people into restaurants.   My favorite is called Banderas and is conveniently located right on Michigan Ave but is a bit tricky to find.  Look for a big sign on the second story above a Citibank, enter through the door to the left of the bank that is for a fur shop or something Russian like that, take the escalator up and it is on your left.  The food is to die for! You can’t go wrong ordering but I would make sure to order both desserts even if you are alone.  House-made Oreo Ice Cream Sandwiches and Banana Cream Pie with Carmel and Chocolate.  

4. Michigan Ave 

Michigan Ave is the main shopping street in Chicago it is nicknamed “The Magnificent Mile.” It is an easy street to stroll down while looking at blocks and blocks of shops.  My favorite places to drop in on include the appropriately punk British brand All-Saints, the America classic NIKE, and the random Fourth Presbyterian Church with an incredible courtyard tucked away between the hundreds of stores and towering buildings.


5. Rush Street

If you were looking for somewhere a little less crowded I would recommend Rush St.  Rush runs parallel to Michigan and in my opinion has better shopping; more little boutiques, the better major department stores/designers, and it is where many of the showrooms for my favorite sports cars reside.

6.The BEAN

The Bean is a must for anyone visiting Chi Town.  It is so odd/incredible you just can’t miss it.  It is located at the entrance to Millennial Park which is also pretty sweet.  If you look online beforehand, you can almost always find something free going on, a concert, an extreme yo-yoing competition, a yoga class, etc.  Awesome.

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7. Navy Pier

May be the most touristy thing to do in Chicago but it is also kind of fun.  There are rides, games, carnies and much more.  As an added bonus there is a firework show twice a week during the summer.  

8. Armatige Ave

The last of the shopping streets mentioned in this top 10 is Armatige Ave.  This street is a little more off the beaten path but is fun because it gives you a chance to see some of the charming Chicago neighborhoods.  Again this is a street where you will find more funky shops and delicious gelato. 

9. Willis Tower

Previously known as Sear Tower, was the tallest building in the world until 1973.  Now it is the 8th tallest.  I never actually went to the Tower, for whatever reason I wasn’t into it.  But, I did have many friends who were into it and they loved it.  Whether you choose Willis(Sears) or not you definitely need to find somewhere to get a view of the city from on high.  

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10. The Donut Vault

Of course we have to end with something sweet so I will tell you about the secret treat the locals die for…The Donut Vault.  It is basically this tiny closet of a bakery with a line that wraps around the block but boy are those donuts good.  If you get there around 8am you are usually good.   They open at 8:30 and stay open until they sell out which is fast.  Glazed Chestnut is my fave but since you are already there and awake you should probably get an assorted box just so you can try them all.  400 N Franklin St, Chicago 60654

That’s it for the top 10.  Here are two bonus stops that didn’t make the list because they can be a bit sketchy but if you are looking for more to do and are feeling brave, give them a go.  The old meatpacking neighborhood (where I used to office) is the up and coming hot spot in Chicago.  It has some awesome restaurants (Wishbone), and shops.  Greek town also has great food, but don’t forget yo mace!

Happy Travels!


10 favorite things to do / paris

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This last semester I had the opportunity to go on a study abroad to Paris.  It was the best because I actually got to live in Paris so I feel like I really got to explore and see so much of the city.  Here are some of my favorite things I did that I would suggest to anyone visiting Paris.

1) Notre Dame

There are two islands, or “iles”, separated by the Seine River in Paris- Ile de la Cité and Ile Saint-Louis.  The Notre Dame occupies most of the space on the second island, Ile de la Cité.  This was definitely one of my favorite buildings in Paris.  The architecture is really cool from every side you look at it.  You definitely have to go through and look at the stained glass windows and interior, but mainly, I think the view from the top of the Notre Dame is the coolest part.  This was my favorite view of Paris because of its location on Ile de la Cité.  I even attended a mass session here once which I thought was pretty cool

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2)  Moulin Rouge

This was probably one of the buildings I was most excited to see because the movie Moulin Rouge is always in my top 3 list of favorite movies.  It’s a little tricky to find but once you do it’s really fun to stand on the air vent right in front of it and sing Moulin Rouge songs while your hair is blowing all over your face.  It’s just such a cute building!

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3) Musée d’Orsay

Even though Paris is home to the Louvre, I found a couple of other museums I liked better.  The Musée d’Orsay was my favorite because it has one of the biggest collection of impressionist and post-impressionist paintings, which are my favorite.  It used to be a train station, which makes me like it even more.  We had it the best because our art history teacher would take us up to the best paintings and talk to us about them, but some of the awesome works here include pieces from Van Gogh, Degas and Monet.  Those were my favorites.  

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4) Latin Quarter

This was just north of the Notre Dame.  Basically, the Latin Quarter is the neighborhood of Paris with the best and cheapest food from all over the world.  You could get anything from Chinese, Indian, to Greek food.  My all time favorite thing I bought here was a Gyro sandwich.  I don’t even remember the name of the place that I liked the best, because there were a lot of Greek places that sold these, but I remember the flavor! It comes on pita bread, with the delicious freshly shaved lamb meat, lettuce, tomato, fries, and the special sauce.  I loved it so much.  I even thought it was better than Daphne’s.  But also, there are good cheap crepes in the Latin Quarter if you’re looking for something more Parisian.  But I’d definitely suggest anything you find there.  

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5) Luxembourg Gardens

You will get your classic taste of Paris here.  There are old men playing pétanque (a French game kind of like bocce ball), old men playing chess, couples drinking wine, and of course, couples making out.  A truly French experience.  There’s also a really pretty Palais, or palace, in the middle (that unfortunately you can’t go in because the French Senate works there).  My favorite part is the little pond/fountain in front of the Palais where you can rent a toy boat and set it to sail with a long stick that you use to push it off the edges.  

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6) Champs-Elysées and the Arc de Triomphe

The Champs-Elysées is the road with the Arc de Triomphe at the end of it.  This road is so fun to walk up and down - I did it many times.  There is a lot of good shops (including Zara, one of my favorites) on this street and I even stopped at one of the nice cafés on this street and treated myself to a delicious Parisian lunch one day.  I think that the Arc de Triomphe is definitely something worth going to the top of, especially at night.  Make sure if you go at night that you are there on the hour because that is when the Eiffel Tower will sparkle for 5 minutes.  It is definitely worth the view.  


7) La Basilique du Sacré Cœur de Montmartre

I think this building is really pretty and the interior is alright too.  Just another church.  One of the best parts about this building, again, is the view from the top (sorry, I just think Paris looks so pretty from up high!) This building is at one of the highest points of the city and it’s kind of on the outside, so you really get to look over the whole city.  Also, it’s in one of the cooler parts of Paris called Montmartre.  Just behind this church is an artsy part of the city where artists will paint your face or really cool, unique paintings of Paris.  I wish I could have splurged on one of these paintings.  Plus, if you keep walking around you’ll find cafés where lots of famous writers like Hemingway and Fitzgerald used to hang out and write at.  

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8) Hotel de Ville

This was my favorite building in Paris.  It was right by the church where our classes were held, so I saw this building almost every day but it still was my favorite.  It’s just a really good example of how pretty and old and European all the buildings of Paris look. 

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9) La Madeline

This is another church, but I really like its Roman architecture.  Probably the best part of this church is the view right outside of it.  This view to me is totally what Paris is like.  The little cars buzzing by and Place de la Concorde in the background. 

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10) Trocadéro and the Champs-de-Mars 

Trocadéro is a metro stop where you get the best and most perfect view of the Eiffel Tower.  If you want a nice picture in front of the Eiffel Tower I suggest you come here (this was where I took my favorite picture of the Eiffel Tower), just avoid the guys trying to trick you into buying little Eiffel Tower key chains- they are everywhere! The Champs-de-Mars is the grassy area in front of the Eiffel Tower, which is super fun to hang out at, but I like Trocadéro best.  


11) Ok, last one.

Just make sure you take a walk along the Seine River.  It is so pretty and you will surely run into the Lover’s Bridge and you can lock your heart away to someone (or something) special.  Walking around Paris is just so magical I hope you all get a chance to visit it someday


10 favorite things to do / jerusalem pt. 2 of 2


in case you missed the first half of this travel guide, you can find it here.

6. The Garden of Gethsemane

The Garden is located on the east side of the Old City. It is a short walk from the Temple Mount. There is a beautiful church there called the Church of Nations. They have made a well-kept garden for the public which displays Olive trees that are said to be over 2,000 years old. They have since been grafted with new young branches which create a bright youthful feeling to the ancient, melancholy, ominous trucks. The catch with this garden is that you cannot walk amongst the trees, there are about 8-10 trees unfenced in the area next to the church. However, if you can make a reservation to go into the private gardens where you may walk amongst the trees and have time to yourself in that sacred place. 

7. Dormition Abbey

Located just outside of Zion’s Gate in the Armenian, it is said to be the resting place (one of the claimed resting places) of Jesus’ mother Mary. The Church is beautiful and very large, there is a staircase on the back left side of the Nave. It leads down to the burial place of the Mother Mary.  

8. Armenian Church of St. James

Located in the Armenian Quarter of the Old City, you have to look up the times when they hold services. It was an amazing experience to be there during their services. The inside of this church will give you neck pain due to never wanting to put your head back down. From the domes of the church are dozens of lamps, lights, and decorations all with different colors and shapes. When attending a service make sure females have head scarves (they are good to carry everyday here, you never know when you will need it). Also, be reverent and respectful, I had my legs crossed as I was sitting down and one of the clergy men told me it was disrespectful and that I needed to uncross them.   

9. Hezekiah’s Tunnel

This is located just south of Dung Gate in the even older city of Jerusalem, called the City of David. There is a tunnel that is about 6-12 feet tall (varying in height through the whole tunnel), 4 feet wide, and about a little more than a quarter mile long. It is an ancient tunnel that moved the water from a spring on the east side of the city down to the south west side of the city which ended in the pool of Siloam (where Christ healed the blind man by making mud with his spit and having him wash in the pool). There is water that still runs through the tunnel and it is about 2-3 feet deep at the deepest part of the tunnel. This was an awesome experience, some reviews I’ve read about it say not to do it because it’s wet and cold, but I thought the water was not bad at all and the experience was awesome. Make sure to have the right footwear for water, a headlamp and swimwear. 

10. Rampart Walk

This is the best way to see the Old City and the land round about Jerusalem. The entrance is at Damascus Gate, when you are outside the city looking at Damascus Gate you will walk to the right down stairs then under the road leading into the city and you will find a man in a little office. It cost about $5 after the exchange (around 16 shekels). You then can walk on the top of the Old City Walls and circumambulate the whole City. The views are spectacular. It would be a good activity to do the first few days in the city to help your orientation.

ok, we couldn't help ourselves. we had to include a couple more.

11. The Shuk

The Shuk is in Western Jerusalem. It is a huge outdoor market that has all kinds of local produce, spices, meats, pastries, etc. It is a fun place to shop and get wonderful food.

12. East Jerusalem and the Separation Wall

If you know much about the conflict of the Holy Land you will appreciate the conspicuousness of the occupation that exists on the East (Palestinian) side of Jerusalem. The dichotomy between east and west Jerusalem is sad and unjust. The Separation wall at many parts has graffiti messages written in English, meaning to reach the English speaking countries. They are powerful and resemble the many faces of grief, struggle, and injustice. There are pictures and words whose depiction rang from hate and maliciousness, hope, love, and desperation.  Also, you can always get a good football (soccer) game in with local Palestinian kids on the East side, which I highly recommend. 


Though I stuck to the city of Jerusalem, there are so many other sights in the city, but I also highly suggest other points of interest in the country, namely:

  • Bethlehem (5 miles away)
  • Dead Sea, Masada, Dead sea scroll caves
  • Galilee- my favorite part of my trip over in Palestine
  • Tel Aviv

You can read about my experiences there in more detail here.

10 favorite things to do / jerusalem / part 1 of 2

When you hear of visiting Jerusalem, two sequential thoughts come to mind: 1. That would be amazing experience seeing the scenic layout for biblical stories and 2. I wish I could go but it just seems too dangerous and sketchy over there. It is true that there is a conflict that has been waging on for many years and sometimes in certain areas it gets very dangerous. However, after living in Jerusalem for 3 ½ months I can say that the City of Jerusalem is safe enough to visit. There are thousands of tourists that have come from all over the world that visit year round. The Holy Land is no stranger to foreigners, and this does not exclude North Americans. If you are concerned about safety and the current status of the conflict you can always check to see if the BYU Jerusalem program is allowing students to go study in the Holy Land. They put in the due diligence needed to ensure parents of students that their precious ones will be safe. The security updates can be found here.      

As I will be referencing them, I will explain a few things about the city.  Jerusalem is a large city; the western side is the Jewish side and has a very clean, new European feel to it. The east side is the Palestinian side and is a little more rundown with more of a third world feeling too it; this is due to the Palestinians being under occupation and not having the infrastructure needed to have a nicer part of the city. One of the best things about Jerusalem is that there are many sites and points of interest that are only a 10-20 minute walk away from each other. The Old City is the central part of Jerusalem and is the original geographical site of biblical Jerusalem.

The Old City is divided into quarters:

  • Muslim Quarter
  • Jewish Quarter
  • Armenian Quarter
  • Christian Quarter.  

Another point of reference in the Old City is the different large gates that are the only entrances in.

It is very hard for me to narrow down must see places in the Holy Land, but I will offer some of my absolute favorite things to see and do in Jerusalem. 

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1. Western Wall

The Western Wall is also known as the Wailing Wall and is located in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem.  It is located in the outer southwest corner of the Old City, you can access it through the city, but the easiest way to get there is to enter through Dung Gate. It is divided into male and female sections. Males have to wear a kippah (Yamaka) in order to go up to the wall; they have bins with kippahs you can borrow. This is one of the best places to visit during a Jewish Holiday because it is packed with various sects of Judaism with their differing religious garments and hats. Many people write prayers on small pieces of paper and then wedge them in the cracks of the wall. They clean the papers out every few months, so get it somewhere sneaky.  

2. Monastery of St. Savior

Located in the Christian Quarter of the Old City, this Monastery is one of my personal favorites. The artwork and decorations are very ornate and beautiful. There is an office where you can get times of services. 

3. Dome of the Rock

The Dome of the Rock is the big golden Mosque that is the iconic building/image of Jerusalem. Along with the Al Aqsa mosque (Also found on the Temple Mount) the Dome of the Rock is one of the most Holy sites in Islam. The entrance is found just as you pass through Dung Gate in the southeast part of the Jewish Quarter right next to the entrance to the Western Wall. It is best to get there early in the morning, like 8:00am so that you don’t have to wait too long in line before entering the Temple mount to see the Dome of the Rock. There is no cost and no immediate time limit to your visit. They have a daily schedule for how long it is open to the public. The blue mosaic tiles of the Dome of the Rock are incredible. Only Muslims are allowed inside the Mosque.  

4. The Church of the Holy Sepulcher

The Church of the Holy Sepulcher is located in the Christian Quarter of the Old City. It is the last sight of the Via Del Rosa. This church is one of two proclaimed sites of the Tomb Christ was buried in and rose from. This site is a must see. It is essentially a few large church structures blended together ran by the respective Christian sects. There are hundreds of thousands of people who make their pilgrimage there every year. The experience here is loud, crowded, and powerful. It was great to see so many people who have made many sacrifices to be there, come in and fall to their knees to worship the Savior. Aesthetically, it is very ornate in places and also very simple and beautiful in others. They have an early morning mass which is a great experience to be a part of. 

5. Garden Tomb

The Garden Tomb is located just north of the Old City outside of Damascus Gate. It is in the middle of busy streets with the sounds of traffic, honking, and yelling. However, there is an amazing phenomenon that occurs. When you step past the walls of the garden and into the tree covered paths with flowers all around you, the empty tomb, and very kind British volunteers running the garden all the sound of the city seems to be muted. You have to make an appointment with the people running the garden before you can enter and see the tomb. It is hit or miss with the crowds. I went there a total of four times and there were times I had to queue up to go into the tomb and other times where I sat in the tomb by myself for as long as I wanted. There is a stark contrast between this site and the site in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, but both are enriching and powerful.

stay tuned for the second half next week!

travelogue / annapolis

i hope all of you had a happy thanksgiving and a much needed break! our thanksgiving weekend was perfect and entailed lots of food and traveling-our two favorite things! we rented a car for the weekend and explored quite a bit outside of dc, crossing quite a few things off of our list. we spent most of saturday in annapolis, md. it was such a quiet and cozy town- perfect for a day trip. we loved walking around the cute main street, soaking in all of the views of the harbor, learning the history of the city, and eating some local treats.


we started out on main street and walked around all of the cute little antique shops and down to the harbor, hot chocolate in hand. we at lunch at chick and ruth's, famous for it's crabcakes and was on the food channel once (though it wasn't anything amazing in my eyes). we headed over the the maryland state house, which served as the capitol for a few months way back when. it was a beautiful building with an amazing dome and fossils in the marble tiles. then we headed to see the thurgood marshall monument, which jarman was ecstatic about. we also check out the local annapolis bookstore, a quirky place with maritime and used books.


we headed over to the maritime museum, housed in the old mcnasby oyster company building. it was a tiny museum where this adorable old man taught us about the history of oyster-catching in the chesapeake bay. as boring as it sounds, it was actually pretty interesting. in the surrounding areas there were millions of oyster shells that had once been hand-shucked by mcnasby's oysters. we also visited the us naval academy, and ran back to the main street to see the beautiful sunset. annapolis is only 45 minutes away from dc, and is totally worth a day trip. we loved our time in this quaint town.