Every year for the last 14 years, members of the Virginia Tech and Blacksburg, Virginia community come together to honor the Hokies that were lost during the April 16th shooting in 2007.
One of the ways Virginia Tech has chosen to celebrate the lives of those we lost is through an annual run or walk of 3.2 miles. This event has grown over the years, with friends and family of the VT community coming together across the country and the world to remember and honor our fallen Hokies.
In the past, I have volunteered at this event, handing out water and encouraging the participants of the run. This year, due to the COVID pandemic, the event was held virtually, running from April 16-18.
I decided to do something a little different this year and hike my 3.2 for 32. I headed to Stone Mountain State Park, knowing that it would likely be crowded and intending on choosing a less popular trail. Upon pulling into the parking lot, my suspicions were confirmed when I saw people utilizing the overflow parking areas. While most people headed for the Stone Mountain Loop Trail, I set off on the Wolf Rock Trail, a 1.5 mile trail to a huge granite surface that featured amazing views of the surrounding mountains, and equally important, almost no people.
After taking some time to rest, reflect, and enjoy the scenery, I set off on a 3.23 mile journey to create my own loop by getting on the Black Jack Ridge Trail, and from there, connecting back to the Stone Mountain Loop. I got back to the parking area after exactly 3.23 miles (not including the first 1.5 miles up to Wolf Rock).
This was such a great way to complete the 3.2 for 32. Time spent in nature, getting some peace, and taking an extra moment to reflect really embodied the slogan that so many Hokies have come to adopt which is "Live for 32."
If you're interested in learning more about the ways Virginia Tech has celebrated the lives of those lost, as well as reading the stories of each of the 32 Hokies, check out the website here.
I can confidently say that this is how I will be completing my 3.2 miles from now on.
Recently I celebrated my second wedding anniversary. Given the year that 2020 has been, we decided to head to Charleston for a long weekend, staying in a relative's guest house. Our plan was pretty simple. Stay in the outside guest house. Spend some time outside, maybe on a beach somewhere. Eat some delicious seafood at a park. Stay away from everyone. Foolproof. Well, if you haven't already noticed, the plan was to head to Charleston and yet, this blog it titled 48 Hours in Asheville. Hmmmm.
Apparently our plan wasn't foolproof enough, as 2020 threw another curveball at us- one we really couldn't do anything about, and that curveball greeted us in the form of Hurricane Isaias. If our trip had been for a week, it wouldn't have been a problem, but due to the timing and only having a few days of vacation, we didn't think it made sense to head to Charleston to sit inside all weekend because of the rain. So we rerouted ourselves and headed west to Asheville instead.
Of course, 2020 being the year that it is, we still encountered a weekend full of rain. However, we didn't let that get us down! Asheville is one of our favorite cities after-all and we made the most of it. Continue reading below to find out how we spent 48 hours in our favorite funky city.
Where To STay - Aloft Hotels Downtown
We have visited Asheville, North Carolina a number of times, and each time we have stayed somewhere different. This most recent trip, we decided to make things easier on ourselves, staying in the heart of the city at Aloft right in the middle of Downtown. Aside from the fun, modern decor and beautiful amenities, Aloft features an ideal location within easy walking distance of many of Asheville's well-known destinations, including breweries, shops, and parks. Because we wanted to adhere to social distancing guidelines, as well as just generally spend quality time together, we spent a good amount of time on the hotel's balcony. Here we soaked up the city's golden hour on comfy couches and listened to the sounds of the city below.
Where To Eat
Coffee- Double D's Coffee Bus
If you're like me, coffee is a necessity, but it's also a way of life. No matter which way you feel when it comes to this liquid gold, Double D's Coffee Bus is a fun experience for all, with a menu just as inclusive. Go ahead and grab a latte or hot cocoa as you stroll the streets downtown.
Breakfast- Biscuit Head
A multi-location breakfast joint, this casual breakfast/lunch spot is perfect for a brunch date or a place to meet up with friends. If you couldn't tell by the name, their specialty is the biscuits. Big, fluffy, and loaded with delicious Southern goodness, this is not the place to go if you are trying to cut back on the carbs. Whatever you get, be sure to add a side of the pimento cheese grits! Look out for a full review coming soon!
Lunch- White Duck Taco Shop
You may have seen my previous post about my all-time favorite taco shop. White Duck Taco Shop can be found in three locations throughout Asheville, as well as several other cities spanning the state of North Carolina, and even venturing into Tennessee. With an expansive a la carte menu featuring taco classics or options for the more adventurous eater, this Asheville staple is one you can't pass up!
Dinner/Drinks- Wicked Weed Brewing
We love good beer in our family and Asheville is THE place to go if you feel the same! With roughly 50 breweries throughout the Asheville area, you will everything from small-town batches to globally known brands. During our quick trip (and because of the relentless rain) we headed to the closet spot, just a short 5-minute walk from our hotel, Wicked Weed Brewing. With a small but satisfying menu and spacious outdoor and indoor seating, we felt safe, comfortable, and full. This is the perfect place to visit for socially distant drinks and brewpub food, rain or shine!
What To Do
Of course no one wishes for rain on their vacation, especially when you only have a few days and most of your favorite activities are outdoors! What's important is making the most of your time and enjoying your travel partner no matter what the circumstances (often easier said than done)! Aside from wanting to spend time simply r e l a x i n g we did venture out around the downtown area.
Asheville is well-known for the plethora of family-owned shops featuring local artists and handmade goods. Kress Emporium, located a block off of Biltmore Avenue, features over 80 regional artists, antique curators, and sellers of fine homemade goods. If you're looking for a place to pick up a gift for a friend back home, this is THE place to go. Pottery, jewelry, candles, art, and more- you can spend hours strolling the artist booths (and avoiding the rain outside).
Mast General Store is another regional favorite. With several locations throughout the south, this family-owned company has established quite the presence in downtown Asheville. Browse the racks of tourist t-shirts, stickers, and mugs, or head downstairs to an entire floor filled with outdoor gear for your next camping trip! Pick and choose from the candy bulk bins and sample some locally made jam.
If you're lucky enough to catch a quick break from the rain, head over to Pack Square Park to stretch your legs and enjoy some outdoors (with easy access back inside if it stars to rain again)! Walk around the Vance Memorial and view the Black Lives Matter mural painted on N Pack Square.
Empanadas. You know em, you love em. Even if you have never had an empanada before, I can confidently say that it is something you will like. How can I be so sure of myself, you may ask. Because an empanada, at its core, is a fried or baked pastry stuffed full of a variety of fillings including meats, cheeses, vegetables, fruits, and even sweets such as chocolate. And honestly, who doesn't like a warm, gooey, bread pocket spilling over with deliciously flavored filling?
Empanadas are a popular snack in regions around the world, including Latin and South America, South Asia, and Southern Europe. These delectable little treats have their origins in Spain, and due to their widespread popularity, the exact style and flavors have adapted to each region they have become known in.
While each corner of the globe has modified the empanada to become symbolic of its own culture, the basis of the snack remains the same- hot and delicious. They are often served with sprinkled cheese, a side of salsa, or drizzled with sauces. In most places where empanadas are found, they are sold as a quick and easy street food.
I have eaten many an empanada, in countries around the world, as well as made my own homemade version. The best part about these little treats is the infinite ways you can customize them to fit your taste preferences. Have a sweet tooth? Fill them with chocolate and sprinkle on some powdered sugar. Vegetarian? They are great filled with cooked peas and carrots. Love seafood? Fill those babies up with fish! Make them bigger for a meal or bite size for a party snack. Deep fry them to perfection or bake them for a healthier version. The options go on and on.
In my household, my Jamaican husband grew up on patties, which is a Caribbean take on empanadas. The brand that we buy are a little bigger and more robust than many empanadas, but the idea is the same. A nice flaky pocket filled with beef, cheese, or a vegetable curry mix. So good!
Here's an easy recipe for Cheesy Ground Beef Empanadas I found on the blog Great Grub Delicious Treats. This recipe uses pie crust for the outer layer, making it an easier and faster alternative to making your own dough.
Cheesy Ground Beef Empanadas
Prep Time- 20 mins
Cook Time- 30 mins
Total Time- 50 mins
Visiting the Equator is somewhat of a novel idea and a fun activity to do, but it especially makes sense to do so in Ecuador, which actually translates to equator.
Ecuador's capital city of Quito is one of the highest capital cities in the world, located at 9,350 feet above sea level, and is the closest capital city to the equator. Ecuador takes great pride in having such a strong claim to the equator and has gone to great lengths to ensure a satisfying experience when visiting this imaginary line.
The Mitad Del Mundo monument is a 100-foot tall building created in dedication to the location of the equator. Surrounding this monument is somewhat of a small village, filled with shops, food, and even a museum. All of this was built to celebrate Ecuador's proud relationship with the equator, but what's truly ironic is that this structure and small town were actually constructed about 800 feet off of the actual coordinates of the position of the equator. While the reasons for the slightly askew monument are a bit unclear, the immense pride of the Ecuadorian people and their love for the equator remains stronger than ever.
Visiting Mitad Del Mundo, or Middle of the World, whether it is the true equatorial location or not, is a cool experience. From balancing eggs on nail-heads to getting your passport stamped, browsing through the museum and learning about the history of Ecuador, and grabbing some delicious ice cream (remember it's hot at the equator), there is something for everyone! If standing in two different hemispheres at once really excites you, you do not want to miss this.
If you do want to visit the other equator, just walk a few blocks, roughly four minutes, down the road to Museo Intiñan. Unfortunately we were not able to enter as we arrived too late, but it look pretty fascinating from the outside.
I previously wrote about my visit to the Butterfly Garden in Mindo, but there is another beautiful garden worth visiting in this tiny tourist town. The Orchid Garden, or Jardín de Orquídeas, is a beautiful and tranquil garden located a few blocks away from downtown Mindo in the Ecuadorian cloud forest. Located on the grounds of the Cabanas Armonia hostel, this garden is a portal into another world, full of hundreds of colors and over 250 species of the most amazing orchids. Take a tour through this private collection of unique flora, experiencing this delicate ecosystem up close and personal.
The tour takes approximately 40 minutes, after which you can wander on your own, taking photos and viewing the elaborate planting and cultivating system that has been established. If you have the time, you can also request a bird tour, taking in even more of the natural color found throughout Ecuador.
Free to guests of the hostel, admission to the gardens is $3.00. Read more about the hostel, the gardens, and the available tours on the garden website, here.
The small town of Mindo, Ecuador is nestled tightly in the Andes Mountains cloud forest, one of the richest bio-diverse ecoregions in the world. Mindo is a well-kept secret and has no shortage of fascinating attractions, but its reputation and popularity as an adventure destination is growing rapidly.
Just a block or two off the main square, you will find a tall building looming over the trees. Featuring on-site chocolate making, a delicious cafe, locally roasted coffee, and rooms with a view, El Quetzal is THE destination for chocolate lovers and adventure seekers the world over.
After you grab a bite to eat at one of the many delicious cafes in town, you can check into your room at the chocolate factory! Located up a few flights of stairs, we choose the room that features a balcony, swinging hammock, and amazing views of Mindo and the surrounding mountains.
Because we were guests in the lodge, we were permitted free entrance into one of their world-famous tours. You can follow along as a guide walks you step by step through the bean-to-bar chocolate-making process. Starting with the cacoa bean, you will learn about the ins and out of how modern-day artisans have turned this amazing bean into one of the most lusted after flavors across the world. You'll even get to sample a batch of fresh chocolate brownies and experience for yourself the rich flavors grown right in the Ecuadorian valley!
Breakfast the next day was the cherry on top! We woke up and were treated to special seating on the veranda, surrounded by beautiful foliage and the sounds of the town waking up. Choose from a selection of cooked-to-order meals and fresh coffee-there's really no better way to start your day!
Staying at El Quetzal was more than just finding a room on Airbnb- we got to experience part of the amazing chocolate-making culture of Mindo. The secluded atmosphere allowed us to observe Mindo life from above, taking it all in.
Need to Know:
- Chocolate tours are offered 7 days a week, from starting each hour on the hour from 10:00am-5:00pm
- Cost $10/person (*Free entry if you are staying in one of their Airbnb suites!)
- You can book a stay in the lodge here
new to airbnb? use my referral code here and get $55 off your first booking
Do you ever find yourself in a situation when you have a friend coming to visit and you know you want to spend some time catching up, but all of a sudden you feel like you just moved to the city you’re in and can’t think of a SINGLE decent place to go for drinks? Or coffee or breakfast or dessert? You spend weeks or months making mental notes of all the new places you want to try but when the opportunity arises to go somewhere, it’s as if everywhere you’ve ever heard of vanishes, leaving you panicked as your quickly do a Google search of “good restaurants in…” or “best place to eat near me.” Maybe it’s just me, but I have started keeping a written list of those such places so that I don’t keep finding myself in that situation.
The most recent example is when a friend was coming into town for a few hours, and while we both knew we wanted to grab some drinks, dessert was mentioned, and I quickly found myself falling down the rabbit hole of local instagram foodies, trying to find something visually appealing that caught my eye and met the criteria established.
This time, it manifested in the form of Barcelona Wine Bar. I’d heard of it. I’d seen pics of it. I knew they had alcohol. So far so good. A little more scrolling and voila, dessert was spotted. This was the place.
Upon entering said place, my initial feelings were validated. With shelves of books, antique knick knacks, and a few scattered plants, I immediately felt as though I was entering into a cozy cellar that featured warm lighting and delicious smells.
After a round of sangria, we decided to throw some tapas into the mix before moving on to dessert. The abondigas, spiced meatballs in a tomato-based sauce paired great with the complimentary bread that we couldn’t get enough of. The pork belly with almond slivers was so extremely tender it almost melted in your mouth. And the garlic aioli topping the patatas bravas was worth licking the plate for. Of course we didn’t…
We allowed the savory goodness of meat and bread, sauces and spices, to almost dissuade us from ordering dessert. But alas, we came here for a reason and we could not leave without fulfilling our quest.
The crepas allowed us to complete our mission. Stuffed with the lightest, yet creamiest coffee filling, drizzled with chocolate sauce, and sprinkled with whole hazelnuts, the rich flavors were so smooth and airy with just the right amount of crunch.
The next time I need to find the perfect spot in a pinch, there will be no hesitation.
One of the things I love about Asheville is the overwhelming sense of comfortableness that this city exudes. Everyone is simply comfortable being themselves, and expressing it in a way that suits them. One very noticeable way this can be seen is through the city's prominent street art. Every street, every corner, and every alley is guaranteed to feature a work of art, and if you walk the streets long enough, you will start to recognize an artist's work by the style you see repeated throughout.
The best place to view a highly concentrated amount of street art without the worry of potentially getting hit by a car is in a quiet corner of the River Arts District. This patch of land, located on Old Lyman Street, is known as the Foundation Walls Project. Property owner Brent Starck began the project when he couldn't face tearing down the falls that had been covered primarily in graffiti tags. Instead he worked with the Asheville Legal Department and the Graffiti Appeal Committee to come up with a plan for allowing artists to put their work out there in an organized and inclusive manner. As long as artists follow the rules (no racist, hateful, or inappropriate content), they can obtain a permit and are free to let their designs come to life.
Foundation Walls is a great place to see a lot of the city's artists in one area. The artists respect the work of others and work to support each other, rather than compete for the best wall space. The inclusive and collaborative approach makes unique park a noteworthy destination during your stay in Asheville.
What's your favorite street art destination? Share in the comments below!
I like hidden gems, hole-in-the-walls, and offbeat destinations