Category Archives: Travel Log

{Travel Log} Nashville

Y’all. I just found a new favorite town to visit. I just spent four days in Nashville for a conference and despite spending much of that time in hotel meeting rooms avoiding stale pastries and drinking bad coffee, I loved Nashville. Perhaps it was the live music pouring out of every.single.bar and store (and in the airport and in the hotels), perhaps it was the number of cowboy boot stores, perhaps it was the Southern hospitality, or perhaps it was the surprisingly relaxed, anything-goes atmosphere. Most likely it was the prevalence of the use of the term y’all, a word I wish I could pull off, but I’m just too Yankee to use.  Oh, and the BBQ, and the hot chicken. For all these reasons, I can’t wait to go back to Nashville.

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Our trip was admittedly pretty touristy. Due to our conference responsibilities, we only had a few hours each night to explore and were tethered to the Downtown-Broadway area, but since that area included live country music every 5 feet, I was a happy girl. We spent our free time eating BBQ and hot chicken hopping from bar to bar listening to music. I’m in desperate need of veggies, but had my fill of amazing live music.

The Food

The food in this town was good, but there was no sticking to paleo here. The pimento cheese was calling my name from every direction and most things were fried or covered in a sugary BBQ sauce. But, I love a sugary BBQ sauce, just as much as I love country music, so really, if we’re honest, I was in my happy place and happy to indulge for a few days.

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When making plans to meet up with a friend the first night we were in town, she asked if we liked spicy food. I confirmed with my coworker who I was traveling with that she liked spicy, and her response was, “Yes, as long as it’s not hot chicken.” Apparently she had burned her face off eating hot chicken the last time she was in town. So, of course, my friend said we had to go to Hattie B’s and eat hot chicken. Hattie B’s is not the original purveyor of hot chicken (fried chicken slathered with a cayenne paste), but it’s up there in the rankings and it was delicious. We apparently got lucky because the line was not around the corner. I ordered the medium heat chicken leg because I actually wanted to be able to eat the chicken and it was still pretty dang spicy. They had three hotter heats about that and then I heard that Hattie B’s isn’t even the hottest. Holy crow! I can’t imagine. The chicken was super most, perfectly fried, with a delicious heat. Hattie B’s was a great intro our first night to Nashville!

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Travel Tip
Don’t always assume you should walk to your destination in Nashville
just because Google says you can. It gets pretty sketchy pretty quickly
when you get out of downtown. That’s all I’ll say.#imfinemom

All of the rest of my meals consisted of hot chicken, pulled pork, or ribs. The most notable meal was at The Southern. We’d foolishly tried to go out for dinner on a Friday night, downtown, without a reservation, and were running into 90+ minute waits everywhere where went. After trying four other places, by the time we got to The Southern we were starving and losing hope and they had a two hour wait. I put the skills I’d honed over years of stalking soon-to-be-freed lunch tables in ski lodges and after a few minutes, we had a seat at the bar. Without even trying, we ended up having the best meal of the trip. My coworker had their My Way pasta which was amazing. And I had their ribs, which were hands down, the best ribs of my life. They were perfectly fall-of-the-bone cooked and had a sweet and spicy sauce with a delicious crust. Despite my best efforts, I couldn’t make it through the full rack and as I was walking home with my to-go box, a man on the street said he was hungry and asked for them. After years of being asked for money in NYC, in some weird and sad way, it was better to be asked for food and I was happy I had a least a little to give him. 

We wrapped up our dining experience by trying to find a place to eat near our hotel before we caught our plane home. We’d planned on going Puckett’s, which we’d stopped in to listen to music the night before and had smelled amazing, but they had an hour-plus wait (for lunch!?). Ugh! So we Yelped and found the Back Alley Diner, which told us not be afraid of a restaurant down a dark alley. Seems like the start to a horror film, right? We were able to walk right in and get a table. It was a little divey, diner that smelled of the booze that had been spilled the night before, but the food was decent and our waitress was on her game. We had (more) tasty pulled pork and then it turned out the kitchen made a mistake so our waitress kept trying to right our order and we ended up with enough food to feed an army. Ha! By the time we left, there was a wait out the door…what’s with Nashville and waits?!

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Travel Tip
Plan your dining and make reservations. Downtown Nashville has
become a hot destination and you will wait if you don’t plan ahead.

Live Music

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The live music was absolutely everywhere. We didn’t have enough time to get out to the Bluebird Cafe, so we stuck to Lower Broadway. We mostly just walked in and out of honkey tonks, but did make sure to hit up Robert’s Western World, which I’d read about on a few must-do lists AND the security guy at the Country Music Hall of Fame recommended it. They did, in fact, have great bands playing and their infamous fried bologna sandwiches were flying off the griddle. After expressing my weird love of beer koozies and at first not realizing you had to pay for them, I somehow ended up have two different people semi-accidentally steal the same one twice for me (it was taken back by the owner the first time) – it was a very odd experience, but, I got a cool koozie :).

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Travel Tip
Musicians earn at most $50 per four hour gig and
rely on tips, so always have cash with you.

We also stopped in at Bootleggers Inn, a place on 4th Ave just before Broadway that I can’t find on google maps, but that had a great outdoor space on the 2nd floor and live music on both floors, and Acme Feed and Seed, which I’d just seen the week before on American Pickers. We made the long hike to the 4th floor and had a great view of the Cumberland River.

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Travel Tip
Bands play shifts from 2-6pm, 6-10pm, and 10pm-2am. They usually take
30 minutes to set up after each shift ends. We kept walking into bars
right as shifts were ending – plan your arrival at bars accordingly!

Tourist Stops

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Our conference hosted a party at the Country Music Hall of Fame, which was closed down for the event #wefeltfancy. We had every intention of just grabbing a quick bite, walking through the museum, and then heading out on the town, but we totally got sucked in by the band and the line dancing. I am seriously a sucker for line dancing #alwayshavebeen

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We finally made it up to the museum with 20 minutes to look around and didn’t even make it to the third floor. Admittedly, my “old country” knowledge isn’t as good as my 80s-today knowledge, so the 2nd floor was actually most of the people I’m familiar with. We power-walked the Hall of Fame and said “Hi!” to the greats.

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You should know this about me: I am a HUGE Dixie Chicks fan. I wasn’t sure if they’d be included in the museum and I was so glad to see they were. As I stood there reading their exhibit, the amount of smack-talking I heard about them from passers-by buh-leww my mind! The best (read: most ignorant) was when someone said, “Oh yeah, they were great before they made themselves irrelevant for being anti-American.” Seriously?? It took all my willpower to keep my mouth shut. They’ll probably vote for Trump, though, who has said far worse things than the Dixie Chicks ever did, so I guess it shouldn’t surprise me. Anyway, sorry about that. I got all fired up there. We had a great time at the Country Music Hall of Fame AND I line danced to Copperhead Row AND I didn’t start anything with Dixie Chicks haters #winning

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You all know my love of Fixer Upper by this point, but I also love American Pickers, so I had to be a total tourist and go to their Antique Archaeology store. #nerdalert #iknow We took a cab out to their store and were met with quite a line. That seems to be a theme in this town (or perhaps I need to get off the beaten path). In addition to seeing some cool antiques it was neat to see that they’d picked a run down part of town that is now starting to see some revitalization because their store is a tourist destination. Lots of little shops are popping up in the warehouses near by. There isn’t much food there yet, so don’t plan on eating while you’re out there. And, guess what?! There was live music there too 🙂 

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Most towns I visit for work are fine. I work Yelp to find some good food and might visit a historical site. Nashville, however, was awesome. It was so easy to find something to do and as lifelong lover country, I finally felt in like I was amongst my people, rather than the nerd who likes Trisha Yearwood and Brooks & Dunne. I also have never seen so many people walking around with guitars and other musical instruments and I loved that about this town. I can’t wait to go back and get off the beaten path a bit more!



{Travel Log} A Birthday Weekend in Steamboat Springs

🎤 🎤🎤 Duh duh dah dah da da dah … they say it’s your birthday.🎤 🎤🎤 That’s what I heard this morning when I woke up … in my head. I believe that stems from years spent at birthday parties held at the long-extinct party spot, Fort Ram. My Ft. Collins peeps know what I’m talking about. Today, I’m celebrating my birthday by sitting at a table at a graduate school fair, in Syracuse. I know. It’s not fair of me to make you so jealous. 

Anyway, I had an awesome trip to Steamboat Springs, Colorado a few weeks ago and wanted to give you the report. Steamboat is a town I grew up in – we had a condo there and spent most weekends there in the winter, and many in the summer. So, this report is less about exploring a new city and more about skiing and shenanigans.

I started with trip off with a quick detour to Colorado Springs to see my dad and Maria. They recently (and by recently I mean sometime since I was there three years ago…don’t judge, I got married and that took all my vacation that summer, and last summer we were buying a house, so there were no extra trips…hmm, feeling bad??) replaced their windows and installed this amazing picture window in the guest bedroom which gives a spectacular view of Pikes Peak. How awesome is that?! I hung with my dad for a night and then headed up to Steamboat. I was cheap (and by cheap, I mean not willing to pay $500 for 4 days) and rented a regular car (not an SUV) and there’s a new law in Colorado requiring snow tires or 4 wheel drive in the mountains, but the rules are kind of unclear so I was crossing my fingers the whole drive I wouldn’t get busted. I didn’t get busted, but I did hold up a line of 40 cars as I inched my way down Rabbit Ears Pass in my inadequate vehicle.

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A group of family and friends planned to meet in Steamboat for my sister’s 30th birthday: my mom and sister, Lindsay (of El Paso fame) and her mom (Sue), and Carol. My mom, sister, and I arrived first and ran out to dinner at Mambo Italiano (a tricky choice when you’re paleo)  and had a great meal. We made Carolyn wear this button from the dollar store. They forgot to put a space between “to” and “me” so it ready tome and everyone was trying to figure out what it said…but we didn’t get any free drinks or birthday brownies out of the deal :(. As we left the restaurant, it was dumping snow and we knew there was a powder day ahead! 

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Lindsay and Sue showed up and we celebrated Lindsay’s engagement and Carolyn blew out the candles on the cake she bought herself. 

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The next day we hit slopes and had the powder day I’d been hoping for since I booked the ticket. It. Was. Awesome.

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TimTheFarmer and Nate surprised me with new goggles as an early present – love them! And, to make it super awesome, Carolyn taped the birthday crown to her helmet. People said Happy Birthday to her all day – it was the coolest thing. The cutest was when little kids would shout Happy Birthday. My faith in humanity was totally restored. 

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We ended the day with a birthday beverage at T Bar – an awesome dive bar our friends own and then headed to the Truffle Pig. They had bacon wrapped dates, so I was happy. They have totally redone the base of Steamboat mountain and I couldn’t believe I was having drinks in a fancy hotel restaurant where I used to get dropped off for ski school #weirdandsad. 

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Carol met up with us and as we headed back to the condo, we ran into this guy at the bus stop. We’d seen him skiing all and had an active debate about whether his snowsuit was a sweet throwback snowsuit or a recreation. We attacked  stopped him and found out it’s from a website called Tipsy Elves. The best part was that he and his buddy ended up behind me in line to board my Southwest Airlines flight in Denver the following Monday (not in the snowsuit…and he *shockingly* barely remembered taking this picture).

We celebrated Carolyn’s birthday (again) with a yummy dinner at home followed by a craft project by Jan Jan. We were tasked with decorating paper bags and then filling them with things that represented Carolyn #onceateacheralwaysateacher I can’t show you the bags here, because things had gone a bit downhill by that point in the night. But, I can assure you that they were hilarious.

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The next day was a bluebird powder day in the ‘Boat and my mom, Carol, and I headed out while the others went cross-country skiing. We entertained ourselves by taking pics and videos of ourselves skiing the steeps, powder, and bumps, and of ourselves in my mom’s goggles #nerdalert. 

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 Oh, and the Broncos jerseys were out in force. This guys was smoking (something) and there were giant puffs of smoke coming out of his horse hat. I overheard the little ski school kids say, “Look, the Bronco is on fire.” Way to keep it classy, buddy.

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We never miss the opportunity to make someone dress up, so I wasn’t surprised at all when we met up with the rest of the crew at the base for a concert and found Carolyn in the bar line rocking the Wonder Woman-birthday cape (and crown). 

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There was a fun band at the base and this guy danced his way through the crowd. He was very liberal with his stilt kicks. It’s good most people wear ski helmets these days.

On the way to a bus, this happened. How cute is that?!

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We ate a quick dinner and bundled up to watch the Winter Carnival Night Extravaganza, where they give local skiers—ranging in age from 5-old—flares and send them skiing/snowboarding in the dark, down the mountain in a “snake,” off ski jumps, through flaming hoops, and with fireworks coming off of sleds they pull behind them. It’s wild and hard to believe a city can get away with it in these litigious times. It really speaks to how embedded this tradition is in the culture of Steamboat. 

The next day, everyone left early to get back to the Front Range before the Super Bowl. I hit the mountain for a few more hours of skiing and then drove down and arrived just as the game was starting and got big hugs from these two. It was such a fun weekend celebrating a big birthday with family and friends. I LOVE Steamboat!IMG_4664 



{Travel Log} El Paso

When you’re thinking of where to plan your next family vacation, El Paso, Texas is totally at the top of the list, right? It’s not? Huh. Well, over the last couple years, I’ve learned that this border town in the middle of nowhere has more to offer than you’d expect. My sister and her family have been living there for her husband’s job and it’s been fun exploring this city with them. 

A few things I’ve learned:
– It is quite literally a border town. Juarez, Mexico is just a stone’s throw away across the Rio Grande. Much of the highway runs along “the fence” and you can walk over a number of bridges into Mexico.
– El Paso is hard to get to – it’s far from everywhere (except Mexico). It’s a 7-8 hour drive to any major city and there are few direct flights.
– I have heard that the rest of Texas doesn’t really claim El Paso – the culture, landscape, and feel of the city is much more Southwest/New Mexico than Texas.
– It’s an eater’s city. There’s really great food, ranging from fancy burgers to Mexican street food to high end tacos. We mostly just go from restaurant to restaurant while we’re there.
– It’s expected that you speak Spanish. I don’t, at least not well, so that’s an adventure.
– The border is far more fluid than I expected. People commute both directions daily to work, shop, and recreate. 
– El Paso has great sunsets.

IMG_4056So, to our trip. My sister is suddenly moving back to Colorado in two weeks, and my friends Lindsay and Matt planned to visit her before she moved. The visit got bumped up to last weekend and flights were surprisingly affordable from NY, so TimTheFarmer and I hopped on a plane (with the antlers and advent calendars) to join them. We packed a lot into three days!

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What We Did

Juarez

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You can drive or walk into Juarez. It’s my understanding that when you drive in, you can go to the fancier parts of town, but we walked over the Paso Del Norte bridge which puts you a few blocks away from traditional Mexican marketplaces. To cross into Mexico, you just pay a few cents ($.30, I think) and walk across the Rio Grande over the bridge. We were immediately greeted by many options for dental care and these traveling musicians.

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My BIL took us to the main square with a 300 year old church watching over all the action, including multiple photo opportunities with Santa and his plastic reindeer (think deer yard ornaments adorned with Santa hats) and tinsel, lots of tinsel. 

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We then walked to the market area with amazing fresh produce, lots of sweets and piñatas, and anything else you might need to purchase. We sampled cajeta (dulce de leche made from goat’s milk), some fruity gelatin candy thing, and chicharrones. You can’t bring any produce or spices back across the border, which was a huge bummer because I’m low on cinnamon sticks and everyone was selling them (along with cigarettes, which I didn’t need).

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We bought a few gifts and then headed back to El Paso. To get back into the US, you need to pay another $.30 and then show your passport at the US border crossing.

White Sands National Monument

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White Sands is about 90 minutes from El Paso, in the New Mexican desert, surrounded by mountains. It’s an absolutely amazing natural formation. All the sudden, you leave the sagebrush/yucca desert and arrive in these rolling white hills of shifting sand. It looks like you’re in snow, but you know you’re not and it totally messes with your mind. We packed a lunch, borrowed sleds from friends (you can also purchase them in the Visitor’s Center), bought some wax, and headed into the dunes. There are roads plowed throughout the dunes and you can drive to a variety of parking areas to explore the dunes and sled. There may have been a pants-less Benjamin incident.

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We seriously sledded for hours. The adults and kids had equal amounts of fun, and crashes.

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By the end of the day, Benjamin was riding down from the top and going off jumps and after some initial concerns, Oliver made it about a third of the way up.

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On the way out, we stopped at the boardwalk which allows you to walk out over the dunes and look for critters. The boardwalk seemed to function as a race track for most visitors’ kids, and all the noise from the running on metal made spotting critters tricky, but Uncle Timmy and Benjamin sure looked hard.

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We left with sand everywhere. And by everywhere, I mean everywhere. That’s all I’ll say about that. White Sands is really an amazing place. I highly recommend it. Make sure to check the website for closures due to missile tests before driving all the way there. Yes, missile tests. 

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The Wyler Aerial Tram takes you to the top of the Franklin Mountains which sit in center of El Paso. We’ve tried to ride it the last two times I was there, but it’s been closed due to high winds. The winds were (relatively) calm this time, so we headed out! 

As we were driving up to the parking area, we had a hard time spotting the tram – we’re used to ski area gondolas with large towers along the route. This tram runs along a cable with no towers between the top and bottom – it’s a long, lonely line that makes you momentarily question your decision. Then, you remember you’re a Colorado girl 🙂 and hop on the tram. It’s a quick 4 minute ride to the top and you get some awesome views of the cacti and rock formations (and cement quarry) along the way. The platform at the top offers a 360* view where you can see El Paso, Mexico, New Mexico. According to the website you can see a third state from there, but I can’t figure out what state that might be. This is a great way to get a true sense of the vastness of the deserts of the Southwest.

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Rubiks Arcade Bar

We went to this throwback arcade-bar for my BIL’s birthday. It’s full of every 1980s arcade video game you can imagine. The boys were all in heaven and TimTheFarmer took me on a tour of his childhood. It was a pretty classic gender breakdown here as the girls were all hoping for skee-ball or air hockey (which they didn’t have) and the boys were geeking out on all the throwback games. The girls sat at the table for a couple hours while the boys relived their mall-arcade glory days. Also, it should be noted that they have these horrific huge blended drinks full of sugar, fruity booze, and candy. Carolyn got the Talk Nerdy To Me … full of nerds. She loved it. I thought it was awful. And the server (who was really sweet, just a bit green), didn’t think they had silver tequila … um, we’re in El Paso, of course you do! The music was way too loud and the drinks were too sweet, but the boys had fun, so we’ll call it a win.

Where We Ate

Crave

We’ve eaten at Crave every time I visit El Paso. They use fresh, sustainably sourced ingredients and make simple, awesome food. All their burgers are great and their sweet potato waffle fries come with a legendary cinnamon marshmallow cream sauce which is ridiculous (I actually recommend the garlic aioli for dipping). I was heartbroken to be trying to stick to my nutritional therapist’s mold-detox guidelines i.e. stricter than paleo, which meant I had to pass on the new menu item: green chile chicken and waffles. The table shared tuna ceviche and crispy artichokes – yum! There were lots of burgers ordered and I enjoyed the roasted chicken and asparagus (and sweet potato fries…duh). They have an amazing brunch too.  Only complaint: green chile mac and cheese is a total let down. It has so much potential and is completely boring. Our whole table agreed.

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Malolam

This is an upscale Mexican restaurant with great tacos and is a favorite of my sister and her friends. They all say they go for the food, not the service which is notoriously slow and erroneous. We went to celebrate my BIL’s birthday and despite having a reservation, they crammed 10 of us into a booth meant for 6 people and then filled it with unnecessarily giant plates. There was no room on the table and I couldn’t eat with my right hand because my plate was balancing 1/2 off the table and blocking my arm. It was the most claustrophobic dining experience I’ve ever had and I couldn’t wait to get out of there. The table shared chips with salsa and guacamole and chicharrones and I sampled the pork belly, coconut shrimp, and fish tacos – all of which was fantastic. Unfortunately TimTheFarmer’s crispy red snapper came out 15 minutes after everyone else’s food. The food was delicious – it always is. The company was great. The service and seating was less than optimal. Oh, and there was an unnecessarily strong eau de tannenbaum wafting through the restaurant … it messed with the atmosphere, Mexican restaurants shouldn’t smell like a Christmas tree lot. #justsayin

L & J Cafe

Known as the “old place by the cemetery,” this is an El Paso landmark with classic Mexican food. They’re known for their queso, but I can’t report on that since I’m staying away from dairy. I can’t remember the name of what I ordered (it’s the kind of place without an online menu), it was some sort of shredded beef, and it was delicious. Everyone enjoyed their meal. My only complaint is that they don’t have a liquor license, so their margaritas are made with wine, which tasted fine but gave me a headache. Definitely check this place out while you’re in town. It’s real-deal El Paso.

Crisostomo

Crisostomo is my sister’s go-to lunch joint, so much so that they know and love her kids there. It’s simple, authentic Juarez street food with tortillas like my grandma’s. Literally. There are grandmas rolling out fresh tortillas behind the counter. They’re amazing – the grandmas and the tortillas. Both the quesadilla and burrito options are delicious. I’m a big fan of any of the shredded meats mixed with peppers, tomatoes, and potatoes, and the lengua (tongue) isn’t bad either. On this trip, we were trying to stick to our mold-detox protocol, so we went with the barbacoa burrito with avocado, no beans or cheese. With some salt and salsas added, it was delicious! My sister’s boys love the beanie weenie burritos. Apparently there is a strong love affair with weenies in Juarez, so hot dog filled tortillas are totally a thing. Weenies in Juarez. That has to be a title for something.

It was a fantastic trip all around – so fun to explore El Paso with friends and family!

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Also, I Yelp. See my other restaurant reviews here

And, Carolyn is the amazing photographer behind any of the sledding photos I’m in.