Butterfly Collecting 101: Balsas & Vilcabamba, Ecuador

Guys, I’m a field biologist now!

Thanks to my mother-in-law for the hat, which really made me feel legitimate!

Ok, not really, but I did go on my first trip to the field with Shane, and I don’t think I did half bad! Shane has been to the field a few times now. He went to Tanzania for his PhD project and joined a group in Corsica between his PhD and postdoc. Honestly, these trips were pretty awful for him since I couldn’t come.

I’m being completely sarcastic.

They were hard work, but he loved it. On the other hand, I had to stay home and “go to work” and “be responsible” and 🙄. But you know what? Not anymore! Thanks to my freelance editing job, I have the flexibility to tag along!

This trip was quite a learning experience for me. So, I thought I’d go through some of the basics.


First things first…

How do you find the butterflies?!

Word of mouth!

We were looking for two specific types of butterflies: Heliconius erato cyrbia (the blue one) and Heliconius himera (the black, red, and yellow one). For us, locating them was relatively simple because Heliconius butterflies are an expansive and extensively studied genus. So, collaborators and other Heliconius researchers have shared or published GPS coordinates where they previously found these specific butterflies. I can’t speak for those looking for other species, but I imagine it’s similar.

So, that’s how we ended up in Balsas (for cyrbia) and Vilcabamba (for himera).

Now, GPS coordinates are great and all, but they don’t actually tell you HOW to get to said location. For instance, when we showed up at the first location in Balsas, the GPS coordinates did not tell us to climb under a barbed wire fence, wade through the boggy area, and scale the (very muddy) hill.

The butterflies were up the hill to the left.

How do you catch them?

With a net, of course!

A rainy day in Balsas, Ecuador.

However, this requires a little skill, some quick (or quick-ish, in my case) reflexes, and patience. My crash course from Lucie was something to the effect of “never swipe from the top—it’s nearly impossible to catch them that way,” “try and swipe from behind so they don’t see you,” and “make sure you have a good swoosh and flip!” (to keep them in the net, naturally).

We all had misses, some more comical and frustrating than others. Conversely, there were some pretty solid catches—Shane and Lucie both had a couple of two-at-one-time instances! I found with time, I worked out my own “catching style,” if you will. Shane and Lucie are rapid-fire-quick-swoosh kinds of people. I, however, am not. 😂 I caught more butterflies once I abandoned the aggressive swoop and went for the steady swoop. Slow and steady catches the butterflies… that’s the saying, right?

Caught one!

It’s in my net. Now what?

Bag ’em up!

Ok, so it’s really more an “envelope ’em up” scenario. This trip taught me that while butterflies are fragile, they can withstand gentle handling. Once they are in the net, you can lightly pinch the wings to stop them from flapping and easily move them. The simplest mode of transport is a small envelope with a bit of cotton in the bottom, which maintains a small pocket inside the envelope so they don’t crush their head and eyes. Once the butterfly is in the envelope, it may be able to move around a bit, but it can’t flap around and damage its wings. Once it was safely in the envelope, they went into the “butterfly box” (an official term), aka a small plastic container, to prevent them from being crushed.

It’s hard to see, but there is a butterfly between my fingers.
A butterfly ready to go into the box!

Where do you keep them, and what do they eat?

We temporarily stored the butterflies in pop-up cages so that they could fly around a bit (but not too much). As for food, we fed them sugar water… individually… by hand… twice a day. 😳

Syringe-feeding the butterflies.

You can imagine, as the number of butterflies increases, so does the amount of time it takes to feed them. By the end of the trip, we spent 2 hours in the morning and 2 hours in the evening feeding.

How do you transport them?

It’s out of the pop-up cage and back into the envelope, my pretties!

This process takes quite a bit of time. I think it took us around 4 hours to pack ~150 butterflies. They need to be fed first, then carefully put into the envelopes—more so than in the field. Ideally, they ride on the little cotton ball, and a loose paperclip on the outside of the envelope holds them in position.

Once we were back in Tena, they were unpacked and placed in larger cages.

Back in Tena with all our new friends!

So, are you ready to go collecting now?

Theoretically, it’s simple. However, finding the butterflies can be challenging (especially so, depending on the species), and it’s a long day of work. Fun work! But it’s a come home-eat dinner-go to sleep kind of work.

Would I go again? Absolutely!

Still have questions? Then ask away! 😀

Hasta luego,

Whitney

Hello, 2022!

Belated Feliz Navidad and Feliz año nuevo!

A little belated, of course. A brief life update. We DO have visas now, but the process is still ongoing. So, more on that later. For now…

Christmas in Tena!

Parque Central, Tena

Since we went home to the US twice this year (🙌), we knew we were going to stay put for the holidays. Plus, someone has to take care of those darn butterflies. So, Shane, Sophie (a master’s student), and I stuck around Tena. It was quite a low-key Christmas. The city was decorated with lights and (fake) Christmas trees. Honestly, what I found most interesting about the decorations was that they were all made out of an outdoor, weather-resistant type of material. I mean, it makes sense given the periods of intense rain and sun. It’s just not something I ever considered! For example, the tree in the main square was a metal frame wrapped in green outdoor carpet-looking material. But, when you turn the lights on, you would never know the difference!

Christmas decorations at Ikiam, the university.

Also! I did manage to find a glühwein alternative while we were in Quito for the visas. May I introduce you to canelazo! It’s a warm, orange and cinnamon, alcoholic (or not) drink popular around Christmas. Since we’re jungle-dwellers now and froze at ~10,000 ft (2800m) in Quito, canelazo was a welcome find.

On Christmas Day itself, we spent a few hours in the morning with the butterflies, a few hours watching Christmas movies and the rest of the time sippin’ drinks on the roof!

I will say that the warm weather did influence our Christmas spirit, even though we heard it was quite warm in the US on Christmas, too. The build-up to Christmas just wasn’t as Christmasey without the cold. However, Shane, Lucie, and I did host our first lab Christmas party, which was full of spirit thanks to the Christmas decoration EXPLOSION in all of the shops around town. There was certainly no shortage of decoration availability. I think my favorite purchase was our nativity-like scene (we were missing baby Jesus).

Please note the donkeys…

New Year’s Eve

Fun fact. This is our 6th New Year’s Eve in a row in a different country!

And, what better way to celebrate than by setting covid on fire!

The ańo viejo (old year) is Ecuador’s biggest New Year’s Eve tradition. Essentially, at midnight, you burn paper mache characters or whole dummy’s made from old clothes and stuffed with sawdust (called monigote), leaving the old year in the past.

We didn’t experience this, maybe because Tena is a smaller city or maybe because of the pandemic, but apparently, some cities have huge monigote, making for equally huge bonfires.

Paper mache masks for the monigote.

So, we did as the locals do and bought a monigote and burned that mf’er in the street at midnight! Oh, and to solidify your good luck for the next year, don’t forget to jump over your monigote 12 times.

We burned covid in the street… notice how dark it is? That’s because the electricity went out shortly after midnight throughout the city for about 10 minutes. Seemed fitting for the burning, though.

See ya, 2021!

Other Ecuadorian NYE traditions include eating 12 grapes at midnight for good luck (also a tradition in Spain, which my family had already adopted) and wearing yellow or red underwear for general prosperity or love, respectively. Unfortunately, I found out about the appropriate underwear color too late, but I’ll be prepared next year. Individual fireworks are also popular, and we had a lovely view of them from our roof!


Shane and I did some reflecting on 2021, and overall it wasn’t a bad year.

It started out pretty bleak. We were in hard lockdown in our basement apartment for seven months, and I wish I had a heat map of the circles I walked in the neighborhood. I think the lowest month was around March, when things were improving elsewhere, but we had no end to lockdown in sight. Plus, we had no clue when we could go home again and if and when the lab would get approval to go to Ecuador. I’m a plan-ahead kind of person, and I couldn’t think about anything more than a week in advance. Essentially, I could only look to the following Saturday when I had my “big outing” to the grocery stores. We also had a major dip, losing Meatball unexpectedly. In hindsight, the trip to Ecuador would have been difficult on her 16-year-old kitty bones, and she would have melted in this heat. It’s not the same without her, though.

Peak lockdown boredom. München beer blind taste testing.
Sleeping Cat
Missing her cuteness.

The beginning of the year may have been bleak, but for us, 2021 constantly improved. We got out of lockdown then limbo when Ecuador travel got approved. We enjoyed the beer gardens in Munich and went on a few hikes. We saw our families twice in one year!! My sister got married, and we celebrated our fifth wedding anniversary, canoodling through Munich. We moved to a new country and flew first-class for the first time. 💁‍♀️ Importantly, Shane is finally able to do the research that he was hired to do. Also, I bought my very first laptop at the age of 35, and Taylor re-released TWO albums! So, all in all, not too shabby.

Canoodling through Munich for anniversary photos.
Feelin’ first-class fancy.

Happy New Year, everyone, and best wishes for 2022!

Hasta luego,

Whitney

Quito, Ecuador – A Walking Tour of the Historic Center

Quito is a big city. Like, far-as-the-eye-can-see big.

Now that we’ve settled into life here in Tena, we need long-term visas, which we can only apply for in Quito. Long story short, we are visa-less, but that’s still in motion, so it’s a story for another day.

We planned for a long weekend in Quito, but most of Friday was consumed with the visa application, which really only left Saturday to do a little exploring. If you’re short on time, I find the best way to do that is with a walking tour!

You see things, you learn things, you eat things (sometimes).

We arranged a walking tour through our hotel, and, honestly, it’s one of the best tours we’ve ever had. We were greeted in the morning by Marcos, our accidental private tour guide!

The classic “I’ll take a picture for you but really sneak a selfie” picture.

I say *accidental* private tour guide because the standard hotel policy is a three-person minimum. However, with covid and recovering tourism, they’ve loosened the rules. We’ve only ever had a personal tour guide once before (in Egypt), and I can’t say I hate it!

We spent about four hours with Marcos, so I’ll just cover the highlights.

Plaza Grande

Also known as The Plaza de la Independencia, this is the heart of Quito’s historic center and our starting point. The square is beautiful and lively and home to the main Catholic church in Quito, as well as the presidential palace called Palacio de Carondelet (Carondelet Palace).

Which, if I’m being honest, I was shocked at how close you could get to the presidential palace. Like, touch the wall close. Like, there were hairdressers and small shops underneath it close. And, from what we understood, the president actually lives there.

Imagine if you could just walk up to the White House these days… 🤯

La calle de las Siete Cruces

or the Street of Seven Crosses.

The seven crosses on this street are attached to seven churches. We were able to go into one of them, and it was quite impressive. We’ve added one church, La Compañía de Jesús, to our to-do list for next time. Apparently, the inside is covered in something like 53 kg (~116 lbs) of gold, according to our guide.

The street has plenty of other things to explore beyond churches. For example, we visited a hat maker. Fun fact, the classic “Panama” style hat is actually of Ecuadorian origin. The old Central Bank of Ecuador is also on this street and gave off some real Gringotts vibes. Now, it’s a museum about Ecuadorian currency, which I think might actually be interesting.

Snacks along the way.

Plaza de San Francisco

This square was beautiful, and my photos don’t do it justice. It’s home to the most expensive hotel in Quito’s historic center (I tried to convince Shane to stay there, he said no) and the legendary San Francisco church.

I’m not exaggerating when I say it’s legendary. As the story goes, a local builder/architect was asked to build the church. He said yes, but the project didn’t go as planned, and he wasn’t going to finish in time. So, he made a deal with the devil for help. The devil would finish the work, but the payment was the man’s soul.

When the church was almost complete, the man panicked, not wanting to give his soul to the devil. So, he hid the final brick, technically leaving the church unfinished and saving his soul.

Supposedly, there is one missing brick, and if someone chooses to finish the church by putting the brick in place, the devil will come back for their soul. So, uh, I guess if you find a random stone in San Francisco Plaza, it’s better to leave it alone.

Chocolate Tasting at Yumbos

Across the plaza from the church is a nondescript door with an arrow pointing to the doorbell.

Ring. The. Doorbell.


Luckily, Marcos knew what he was doing because otherwise, we would have walked right past Yumbos artisanal chocolate shop. If you’re into chocolate, they offer tastings (in English) and have bars for sale. There is also a small cafe which offers one of the best brownies I’ve ever had. Plus, the view from the tasting room isn’t too bad either…

Basílica del Voto Nacional

This was the view I didn’t know I had been waiting for.

The view from the panoramic deck.

I’m honestly a little disappointed in myself for not knowing that this was *the thing* to do in Quito’s historic center. Great views and making Shane walk stairs against his will? It’s all of my favorite things!

It’s the national basilica because it’s meant to be the meeting spot for all Ecuadorian Catholics, and the inside houses flags for each province. You can see the basilica from most points in the historic center as it is at the top of a large hill (be prepared for a walk!). The view from the (easily accessed) panoramic deck looks across the historic center to Loma El Panecillo, which may look like an angel but is actually a winged Virgin Mary. So, as our guide put it, the church and the Virgin Mary protect historic Quito in between them.

If heights don’t bother you, then take the sketchy wooden path that looks like you shouldn’t be on it to climb the tower. I’m not scared of heights, but these stairs were steep, so I warned you! The 360-degree view is worth it, though.

Sketchy little wooden walkway. It feels like you’re not supposed to be there.
The stairs up… straight up.
Part of the view from the top!

El Mercado Central

All those hills and stairs made me hungry. Plus, Marcos said that since Quito is at a high elevation (~2350 meters/9300 feet), your metabolism speeds up, and you get hungry faster. All I heard from that was, “you should eat more.” End of story. So, we went to the Central Market for some lunch. Thanks to Marcos, we had some of the best fried fish I’ve ever had.

If you’re visiting Quito, head to the market and find Jimmy.

Shane and I split two things, the $6 plate of fish in the picture (that comes with sides) and mixed llapingacho (from another stand), which was basically potato balls with sides. ‘Twas very filling. Oh, and you can’t forget to have some juice; para mi, Naranjilla (Quito orange)!


And those are the highlights! We highly encourage walking tours in new cities, and Quito has one of the best-preserved historic centers in all of South America. So, it’s definitely worth it.

Practical Info:

Hotel: Friends Hotel & Rooftop by DOT

Walking Tour: $15 per person, booked at the hotel. Ask for Marcos!

Basílica del Voto Nacional: $3 per person

Food: Snacks were included in the tour, but lunch was not. We paid ~$12 total for lunch.


Hasta luego,

Whitney

My Sis is a Married Lady, Y’all!

Eeekkk!! I love it so much.

I mean, just look at these two!

This wedding has been a long time coming, and I don’t mean because we were waiting for a proposal. Like a lot of 2020 bride and grooms, Covid put their original wedding plans on hold.

Christmas 2019

Honestly, I’m happy the original plans were scrapped because this wedding was amazing. I’m absolutely biased, but if they were on the TLC ‘Four Weddings’ show, they would definitely win that free honeymoon since these two had a masquerade-themed wedding.

I don’t have much to say, the ceremony was beautiful, and the party was fun, so I’ll let the pictures do the talking. However, I’ll reiterate what I told them at the wedding.

Do you know the show ‘How I Met Your Mother?’ Shane and I live by it. In one episode, the friend group talks about the ‘front porch test.’ Essentially, it’s an indication of how do you see your life when you’re old? Who do you want to share your front porch with?

First, I envision my front porch with my sister who’s been my lifelong best friend (well, minus a few years in high school 🤪). Then, Shane joined our front porch.

Now, Terry has joined, and I can’t imagine anyone else on our front porch other than him.

There’s not much more to say other than congratulations Sis and Terry! I love you guys! ♥️

Photography by Stephanie Taylor (Chattanooga, TN).


Hasta luego,

Whitney

Greetings from Tena, Ecuador!

I’ve been slacking on the blog front. We’ve been here for two weeks, and I’m not quite sure how that happened so quickly.

It feels like we’ve been going non-stop since we arrived. The trip from Germany was surprisingly uneventful. We left Munich at ~6:30 am, had a short layover in Amsterdam, then it was about 11 hours from Amsterdam to Quito. There was mild panic checking in for the flight because the check-in lady was asking everyone for their negative covid test, which we didn’t have because it’s not required to enter Ecuador. Your proof of vaccination is enough. However, to enter and stay in the Netherlands, you need a negative test. Once we explained that our final destination was Ecuador, it was OK, but it didn’t make you feel good to watch other people be denied check-in and go in search of the airport testing center.

Other than that, it was smooth sailing. All of our 12 checked bags made it (!!!!), and our pre-arranged vans were already waiting when we arrived. About 3.5 hours and I don’t know how many switchbacks (🤢) later, we arrived in Tena!

Since then, we’ve been apartment hunting (more on that later), Shane, Lucie, and José have been working to get their lab and butterfly space set up at the university, and we’ve been trying to figure out daily life here. I’m sure you can imagine, it’s quite different than Europe.

So, first impressions, you ask?

We need a Spanish class.

I mean, this may seem obvious, and we knew we would likely find fewer English speakers, especially since Tena is only ~30,000 people. However, we’ve been spoiled. In the Netherlands and in Germany, you can get by without speaking the language. Here, not so much. Luckily we’ve had an Ecuadorian (José) and a Spanish speaker (Lucie) with us to help navigate.

The plus side is that our Spanish has improved more in the first two weeks of being in Ecuador than our Dutch/German in the Netherlands or Germany in the same amount of time. Granted, our Spanish is still very basic, but we can ask for things and ask how much they cost (and understand the price). Shane even navigated a taxi driver to our apartment! I call it a win.

Speaking of shops…

There is no such thing as a “one-stop-shop.”

You have hardware stores, fabric stores, plasticware stores, metal-kitchenware stores, appliance stores… so, you can imagine the frustration of trying to find the one specific item you need. We’ve been trying to furnish and organize our new apartment, and it took essentially a day of looking to find a coffee pot.

There are two nice markets, though, and the fruit and vegetable shops are amazing.

A fruit stand at the market.
Dragonfruit for $1 each!

We have lots of food to try!

There is so much great and new (to me) fruit! We haven’t eaten out too much since we’ve been focused on organizing life, but we have tried a few delicious things, like smoked tilapia and bolón de verde, essentially a fried ball of green plantains with cheese or cheese and pork mixed in. Looks strange, tastes delicious.

Probably the best fish I’ve ever eaten.
A bolón de verde, served with an egg and usually a coffee.

Quick tip for paying…

Cash is king.

We were told this about Munich, but you can get by with a card. Here, not so much. Obviously, I can’t speak for the rest of the country, but if you plan on coming to Tena, come with cash, and by cash, I mean American dollars (which is what they use here).

The surroundings are gorgeous!

Tena has been labeled a “gateway to the Amazon,” so we are surrounded by mountains and volcanoes!

The Sumaco volcano.
Some of the surrounding mountains.

The city itself is what I expected, which I’m not entirely sure how to describe. There is a lovely riverwalk with a tower and a great view!

The main street through Tena.
Rio Tena with the tower.
Views from the tower.

So, so far so good with no regrets!

Are there any “first impression” questions for us? Let me know!

Hasta luego,

Whitney

Meatball

We’re officially in Ecuador, but more on that later because we’re officially in Ecuador without Meatball.

Meatball has been with me since 2010 when I adopted her after she was abandoned in the parking lot of an apartment complex in Greenville, North Carolina. It was love at first sight! Well, for me, at least. 😂 Meatball took a little time to warm up to me, spending most of her first few weeks hiding under my bed. I remember inviting people over to see my new cat and having them lay on the floor with me to stare at her snoozin’ in the most unreachable spot. Which is actually how she got her name…

I had been testing out a few names. The guy that found her wanted to call her Wendy. Didn’t love that. I had been testing out Spaghetti, but when my friend, Andrew, came over to see her, he took one look at her chunks flubbed out under the bed and said, “She’s not a Spaghetti, she’s a Meatball!” And so, Meatball she became.

One of my first pictures of Meatball.

As you might imagine, we intended to bring Meatball with us to Ecuador, and we had been preparing to make sure she had all her necessary treatments, vaccines, and health checks. I intended on writing a post about “How to take your cat to Ecuador,” given all the hoops we were jumping through. On Monday, a week before we were flying, I took her to the vet for her final vaccine appointment and blood draw (poor kitty had thyroid problems and needed it checked). It was a tough appointment for her because of the blood draw, but the vet didn’t seem to think she would be anything other than a little more sleepy, which was accurate. We didn’t think anything of it. Later, in the middle of the night, I woke up to Meatball having a seizure at the end of the bed. I’ll spare the details, but it was violent and scary, and we had absolutely no clue what was going on. When it was over, we just had a feeling – this might be our last night with Meatball.

The next morning we took her to the vet as soon as they opened, but the vet couldn’t find anything physically wrong with her. I compared it to when your check engine light comes on, and you take it to the mechanic, and then it goes off again. Once you leave the shop, then it comes right back on. That’s what happened. We got home, Shane went to work, and she had another seizure. So, we made an appointment with an emergency clinic, but by the time we got there she had had another one and was basically unresponsive. So, we walked out of the clinic on Tuesday, September 7, 2021, 6 days before our move, without our Meatball.

Little sun kitty.

Needless to say, we never expected this scenario.

If anything, we were concerned about bringing her back to Munich from Ecuador, she was 16 years old, but we never expected to leave Germany without her. And to that end, yes. She was 16, but what could we do? We certainly weren’t going to abandon her in Germany.

So, our excitement for moving was quite muted, given the situation. Now that we’re here, it still doesn’t really feel real. It still feels like we’re on vacation, so of course, Meatball wouldn’t be with us!

But enough with the sad. I’m tired of crying. Instead, I’d like to tell you a few fun facts about Meatball that you probably didn’t know.

She couldn’t resist paper.

What. a. sucker!

I got a lot of enjoyment in setting “paper traps” for this cat. Once, in the Netherlands, we received an ungodly amount of paper shoved into an uncecessarily large Amazon box, so I made a paper trail starting at Meatball on our bed all the way to her blanket on the couch in the living room to see what she would do. That sucker TOOK THE BAIT and walked on the paper the entire way from one spot to the next. 😂

She was musically inclined.

Meatball was an underground rapper who went by Meatbeezy. She was also a Taylor Swift connoisseur. Her favorite song was ‘Wonderland,’ a bonus track on the 1989 album.

She loved selfies.

Comes with the celebrity, I guess.

She instantly loved Shane.

This was a point of contention in our house often ending with me pleading to her “but I adopted you! Love meeee!” Shane said it wasn’t his fault she loved him more. She was just looking for a strong male role model. 😐

She only tolerated two other animals in our time together: Heathclifford and Luna.

She tolerated them as long as they didn’t try to get on the bed. That was off-limits. Plus, Luna is a big ‘ole chicken-dog when it comes to cats. We always had to make sure that Meatball didn’t torment Luna by sitting directly in front of her food bowl or blocking the hallway.

An old kitty CAN learn new tricks!

She was hesitant at first, but once we got her going, that kitty loved to ramp! She would ramp in the morning, ramp for treats, ramp to look down over you and judge…

Finally, like most kitties…

She couldn’t get enough love.

If you were next to her on the couch…. pets. On the bed… pets. Looked at her for too long? … well, obviously you must want to give some pets. Naturally, we were happy to oblige.


It goes without saying, but we miss this little chunky snuggle-toothed squish face. Life won’t be the same without her. 💔

More about Ecuador, coming soon…

Adiós,

Whitney

America Trip Part 2: Chicago

The first and only ever time I was in Chicago was with Shane back in 2014, just before we moved to the Netherlands. We were there for our friend Brian’s 30th birthday, and the only thing I really remember is that the famous Bean was right next to our hotel. That, and we all went out for massages. It was my first one ever (at 28 years old), and while everyone else came out relaxed, I was disappointed. I remember sitting there listening to “oh! and when they did this and that!” and thinking “I got none of that!”

Needless to say, I was excited to see Chicago again. Plus, the Wolfpack (Shane, Brian, and me) hadn’t been together in roughly three years.

So, we spent our final few days in America letting Brian and Shannon tour us through some new and some of their favorite spots. I won’t lie, the itinerary was ambitious and involved pre-made Google maps. We didn’t make it all the way through, but we did our best!

first up,

The beach!

To be honest, this lasted for about 10 minutes. It was a beautiful idea, but the weather just wasn’t cooperating. However! Shane and I did put our feet into (very cold) Lake Michigan while Brian and Shannon held down the blankets… literally. It was that windy.

The river!

We walked it. We biked it. We took cute pictures.

The Starbucks Reserve Roastery!

Maybe this is an unpopular opinion, but Starbucks isn’t my favorite. I would have never thought to visit the roastery. However, if you like coffee, then I would absolutely recommend a visit and a tour! I didn’t realize that Starbucks had a reserve coffee line, and I definitely didn’t realize that there were only six reserve roasteries worldwide!

If you want to just have a coffee and experience the place, then it’s free, but we did a tour of the four-story Starbucks with a coffee tasting that goes in-depth into their coffee process, from beans to brew! You won’t leave un-caffeinated.

Oh, and their espresso martini is not to be missed! Yes, this Starbucks has a bar.

It’s covid-friendly with separate straws, right?

Bikes, baby!

Chicago was a surprisingly bike-friendly city, at least the little bit of biking we did. The biggest difference was the turn signals or the lack thereof. Here, sticking an arm out when you’re turning left or right is engrained, but Shane and I seemed to be the only ones giving turn signals in the city.

We hit the Lakefront Trail towards the end of the day, which had spectacular views! It’s a walking and biking path, so I highly recommend it.

Rooftop bars!

We hit several rooftop bars in between stops for tacos and ice cream. I’m a sucker for a good view. So, my favorites were The Robey (which had the tiniest rooftop pool I’ve ever seen) in Wicker Park and The J. Parker in Lincoln Park (which had a bonus city + lake view)!

Views from The Robey.
Views from the J. Parker.

360 Chicago (the John Hancock Tower)!

If you’re looking for an incredible view, then the 360 Chicago observation deck is the place to be. If you want to enjoy that same incredible view with a semi-overpriced cocktail, then you should check out the Signature Lounge on the 96th floor. I say semi-overpriced because for the price of one admission to the observation deck you can get two fancy cocktails with a great view (although not 360 degrees). Since we went at night, we decided on the cocktail option.


Like I said before, we had an ambitious list that went partially unfulfilled. Guess that means there’s gotta be a next time!

We’re on the final countdown, folks! Two weeks from now, we will be on the way to Ecuador!

Until then, we’re cramming in all the Munich we can handle.

Tschüss,

Whitney

America Trip Part 1: Family & Friends

We made it through the wilderness, yeah we made it throuuuughhh!

Obviously, the wilderness is 7 months of basement lockdown and 2.5 years away from home.

Honestly, traveling during the pandemic wasn’t as bad as I expected. We needed a negative covid test, which is a requirement to enter the United States. Plus, when we left for America, we had both vaccine doses, but it hadn’t been two weeks since the second dose, so we weren’t yet considered “fully vaccinated.” This was no problem since testing is free and on every other corner in Munich. Masks were required, which we expected and, quite frankly, liked. The only noticeable difference was the availability of stuff to do in the airport in Munich (most everything was closed), a long line to get to our gate (an extra check for the negative test and a valid reason to enter the U.S. as tourists are still not allowed), and reduced food and drink service on the flight (only one wine for me).

Overall, it was quite easy!

This time, we had about 3.5 weeks at home, split between both families and friends. From this point, this post is basically just a bunch of pictures.


Part 1: The Crosson Crew

The Crosson/Christopoulos crew met us full force as soon as we stepped off the plane… all 15 of them! It was a lovely (albeit slightly overwhelming, no offense, of course 🤪) start to our trip, and they were a great welcome home gang!

After that, we went to a baseball game, tried new restaurants, played on the lake, and basically fit in as much as we could while we could.

Charlotte, NC

Part 2: The Wrights

As usual on trips home, Shane and I were only together for about a week, and he’s really bad at taking pictures. So, it’s a good thing my mother-in-law arranged for some family photos.


Part 3: Friends

As expected, there’s never enough time at home, but we were lucky to be able to fit in a few friend trips.

East Carolina guys (+ a new addition).

Like most, the pandemic gave us time to do a lot (too much?) thinking. We’ve always justified living abroad because “we’re only a flight away.” For over a year, the pandemic dictated otherwise, which made us particularly appreciative of our time at home and the friends and family who made the effort to come to see us or check-in while we were in America.

What have we learned? While we love living abroad, two years away is too long. 💗


Up next? Chicago!… where we spent our final few days in America.

Tschüss,

Whitney