Year in Review: 2018

How is it already January? Anyone else feel like the winter Olympics were last month (probably just me)?

November and December have been absolutely crazy months for us. We were in six different countries (seven if you count a week in the UK during mid-October) including about a month away from home. I’m REALLY far behind on updating everyone on the amazing places we’ve been this year, along with the continuous atrociousness that is USA Gymnastics, Michigan State University, and the USOC (spoiler alert: it’s even worse if that’s possible, but I’m sure you already guessed that). 

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Because we’re in a new year and I love making lists, this post will include 2018’s #allthethings : life things, my favorite things, traveling things, food things. You know, my usual rambling.

Here’s the Thing: Sometimes Life is Good and Bad.

Like most things, 2018 was both wonderful and terrible. This year I was forced to really start to put a lot of my own experiences in perspective; a combination of the #metoo movement, Nassar victim impact statements, and constant discussion of abuse made avoiding my own history inescapable. I learned that I need to start taking my emotional and mental health more seriously rather than continue my usual tactic of ignore, ignore, ignore.

I learned that I’m not alone.

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Bratislava, Slovakia: One of the best memories of this year is streaming the Larry Nassar sentencing from my phone with a friend in a Slovakian speakeasy. A pretty perfect representation of my 2018.

This year I laughed until my stomach hurt, sat at the edge of the world, and ate an obscene amount of sweets with my coffee. I was able to see my family, my friends, and experience new places with the people I love. I had carrot cake cheesecake for my birthday, walked Prague with two of my favorite boys (Ike and Chris), won a fantasy football true crime league, and hosted more get-togethers than I can count.

Looking back, my heart is both broken and full. I’m so incredibly thankful for everything I have and accomplished this year.

There is pressure during the new year to make a fresh start. In a lot of ways a new beginning sounds great, but in a lot ways it doesn’t.  I’m in a sort of weird in-between limbo right now. And you know what? That’s fucking okay. I am striving to just be content with where I’m at rather than put pressure on myself to move too quickly (one of my intentions for 2019).

Saying Goodbye:

Ike in 2016.

Before I start my lists, I want to take a moment to speak on one the hardest months of my life. In January Ike was diagnosed with terminal cancer and given weeks to live. We were completely devastated. At only eight years old and in great health, the diagnosis came as a complete shock.

My little bandit.

Ike came from a longggggg line of Boston Terriers; we adopted his grandad Skittles when I was in middle school. He (and Porkchop) have always been such a constant in my life that letting him go was one of the absolute most difficult things I’ve ever had to do.

Thankfully the diagnosis proved to be incorrect in that the masses on his liver and pancreas weren’t in fact cancer. That news however, was coupled with the fact that the small mass in his chest (right between his lungs and heart) could prove to be fatal.

Best of brothers.

After two months of chemotherapy, I had high hopes that he could recover. Ike was a tough and stubborn dog; his abdominal masses were shrinking and he was doing great. When he started having issues breathing I hoped it might just be due to the change in the weather. Unfortunately, it wasn’t. The mass in his chest was growing. And there was nothing we could do to stop it.

Look at these babies! Ike was constantly judging everyone.

The vet told me this was a difficult way to pass away… and we would know when the end was here. We didn’t want our best boy to suffer. Even now, I can’t even talk about that day and the morning I had to make that decision, never knowing if it was right. I’m just so incredibly thankful to Chris, my friends here in Papa and far away, my family, and of course,  Porkchop and Arya.

Ike and his new sister Arya in 2017. She actually found the skin issue on the back of his neck (you can see it here in the picture too) that led to us beginning the tests.

I still expect him to grumpily come inside out of the rain or itch his face on the covers every morning. Chris still looks for him when he comes back from traveling for work. Arya and Porkchop were both really confused at first, but I think are doing better. PC really misses his little brother. We all miss this little guy.

Ike’s favorite pastime: sunning himself. On his last day with us he had all the sun.

I don’t really know how to end this except to say how heartbroken I still am. Some days are easier. Other days are really hard. If you’re reading this and are working through something difficult that happened to you this year, just know that you’re not alone. And its 100% okay to feel sad or guilty or angry or a combination of any and all the emotions. 

Best Places of 2018:

This year we saw incredible new places and had the opportunity to visit old favorites.

The Giant’s Causeway, Northern Ireland

Places we visited in 2018:

  • Belfast (and the coast), Northern Ireland
  • Berlin, Germany
  • Budapest, Hungary
  • Bratislava, Slovakia
  • Charleston, USA
  • Cleveland, USA
  • Dresden, Germany
  • Dublin, Ireland
  • Kethely, Hungary
  • Edinburgh, Scotland
  • Lisbon, Portugal
  • Peniche, Portugal
  • Prague, Czech Republic
  • San Francisco, USA
  • Seville, Spain
  • Vienna, Austria
  • Zagreb, Croatia

I’m extremely thankful to have the chance to visit a couple of our favorite spots with friends and family who made the leap over the ocean to spend time with us in Europe.

Fisherman’s Bastion, Budapest

Choosing my absolute favorite places is virtually impossible. Taking into account a number of factors, here are my picks for 2018 (in no particular order):

Coast of Northern Ireland

Christmas in Zagreb

Seville, Spain

Edinburgh, Scotland

Honorable mentions go to Budapest because of so many reasons, but specifically the Budapest Beer Week that was absolutely awesome.

Favorite Concerts of 2018:

This year was THE year of shows for us. We saw a ton of our usual musicians (Pokey LaFarge) and a couple of new ones (FINALLY Flight of the Conchords went on tour). Here’s a list of everyone we saw live in 2018:

  • A Perfect Circle
  • Flight of the Conchords
  • Franz Ferdinand
  • Pokey LaFarge and the South City Three
  • They Might be Giants
  • Jack White

My favorite shows of 2018:

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Middle school Ashlyn was absolutely ecstatic to see Franz Ferdinand. They were great–full of energy and fun–and sold out a huge space. 100% recommend. (Prague, Czech Republic)

Flight of the Conchords at Capitol Theatre

Finally saw Flight of the Conchords in real life. (Dublin, Ireland)

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Of course Jack White is at the top of the list. He was amazing (as always) and just as incredible as when we first saw him play in 2005. (Edinburgh, Scotland)

Special shout-out to Jane Goodall, who spoke in Budapest this year. Technically not a band, but it was truly a dream come true to see her in real life.

Favorite Books of 2018:

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via Cutiosities on Etsy

This year I surpassed my goal and read 41 books! 2018 was definitely a year of nerding out both in fiction and non-fiction. I joined a couple of book clubs (one here in Papa that connects readers from all over the world, Now Read This! A NYT/NPR collaboration, and of course Emma Watson’s Our Shared Shelf). My favorites are definitely influenced by a lot of the personal struggles I had this year. Here are my top books published in 2018:

#8. Things We Haven’t Said: Sexual Violence Survivors Speak Out (Erin E. Moulton): An anthology of stories of sexual assault, Things We Haven’t Said is a powerful book on why survivors struggle with speaking out on their experiences through providing an outlet to victims who typically don’t have one.

#7. Down Girl: The Logic of Misogyny (Kate Manne): A professor of philosophy at Cornell University, Manne states that misogyny is “a social and political phenomenon with psychological, structural, and institutional manifestations” that enforce gender roles that continue to influence society today. Detailing the impact of these ideas both culturally and institutionally, Manne’s book provides context on why we expect (and allow, and in some ways, forgive) actions of one group of people over another. 

#6. Heart Berries: A Memoir (Terese Marie Mailhot): Mailhot’s memoir is raw and at times difficult to read. A Native author, this beautifully written book details her life in crisis: poverty, overcoming multiple disorders, losing custody of her child, growing up with an absent mother, and life on the Seabrid Island First Nation Indian reservation in British Columbia. 

#5. A Perilous Path: Talking Race, Inequality, and the Law (Sherrilyn Ifill, Loretta Lynch, Bryan Stevenson, and Anthony C. Thompson): This slim book (128 tiny pages) is a discussion on race in America by the leading civil rights leaders in the field. Their conversation on inequality and changing culture and institutions was one of my favorites this year.

#4. Where the Crawdads Sing (Delia Owens): Owens’ first novel, Where the Crawdads Sing is a gorgeously written story of a girl growing up alone in the marshes of North Carolina. I adored not only the descriptions (it reminded me so much of Charleston) but also Kya’s story of persevering on her own and in her own way.  

#3. Educated (Tara Westover): I finished Tara Westover’s memoir in two absolutely brutal days. Educated tells the remarkable story of Westover’s life from being born (sometime, her actual date of birth is unknown) to survivalist parents.  Their mistrust of medicine and education meant that she had very little experience of the outside world. Her desire and determination to leave home for education (eventually a PhD and at the disapproval of her family) is one of the most incredible (and impressive) stories I’ve read all year.

#2. One Person, No Vote: How Voter Suppression is Destroying our Democracy (Carol Anderson): Anderson discusses the implications of the 2016 election–the first in fifty years to be held without the complete protections of the Voting Rights Act–and how voter suppression systematically blocks the ability of many Americans to submit their ballots. Her work details the impact of Jim Crow and voter requirement laws implemented after the abolishment of slavery, the systematic disenfranchisement of black voters leading up to the Civil Rights Act, and the continuous suppression through various laws and redistricting today. 

#1. I’ll be Gone in the Dark: One Woman’s Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer (Michelle McNamara): My favorite book of 2018 is McNamara’s account of her obsession to help catch one the of the most horrifying rapists and murderers in United States history, the Golden State Killer (a name she coined). I’ll be Gone in the Dark is so well-written that you feel her passion and dedication to find the man who assaulted more than fifty woman and killed ten people on each page. The chilling final chapter–McNamara is speaking directly to GTK–and her prediction of how he might be caught is eerily similar to way it actually happened in reality, although she passed away unexpectedly before he was arrested.

There are also a ton of great books I read this year that were published before 2018 including Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward, Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by David Grann, Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America by Ibram W. Kendi and The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. 

Favorite Brunches of 2018:

It’s no surprise that brunch is my absolute favorite meal. Here are my favorites from 2018:

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#8. Blueorange (Vienna, Austria): This everything bagel from Blueorange was one of the best breakfast sandwiches I had in 2018 (a big accomplishment considering Chris is the king of making them). Brie, honey, walnuts, and greens… what else do you need in life?

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#7. Munchy Food Truck (Zagreb, Croatia): Who says it isn’t appropriate to order a homemade waffle covered in Nutella and bananas at 10am? If you dip it in coffee, it counts as breakfast.

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#6. Holy City Brewing (Charleston, SC): It’s no secret that HCB has my favorite brunch in Charleston. My last minute visit meant I had only one Sunday for brunch and this crunchwrap was absolutely the best decision I made all summer.

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#5. Urban House (Bratislava, Slovakia): The best Bloody Mary of 2018! Look at this amazing spread. My favorite dish is their vegetarian English breakfast–the greens are the tastiest part of the meal.

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#4. Maggie May’s (Belfast, Northern Ireland): Maggie May’s has the absolute best diner food. A small, cash-only restaurant in Belfast, their menu is extensive and the food is so genuinely good.

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#3. La Jeronima (Seville, Spain): This croissant was stuffed with roasted eggplant and honey marinated tofu (I can feel the collective “ugh” from meat-eaters reading this and the “ooooh!” from my veg friends haha). This tiny cafe in Seville had such a unique menu that I wish we were able to have breakfast there every day.

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#2. Copenhagen Coffee Lab & Bakery (Lisbon, Portugal): So here’s the thing–I love a solid avocado toast and this was hands-down the best I had all year. Heather and I chose this PLUS sweets with no regrets. Not pictured is the hot ham breakfast sandwich that Chris ordered that smelled so good, Karl had to get one for himself (second breakfast for the win).

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#1. 3FE (Dublin, Ireland): Look at this scotch egg! These hash browns! In addition to their amazing menu 3FE also hosts coffee tastings and training for those interested in learning more about roasting their own blend. This tiny cafe earns my favorite brunch of 2018.

Favorite Podcasts of 2018:

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I love podcasts. Sometimes I don’t turn on our TV for what feels like weeks because (nerd alert) I’ve discovered a new show and binged all the episodes in a few days. Similar to my book choices, my favorite podcasts are heavily influenced by a lot of my personal struggles and growth this year. Here are my favorite podcasts published in 2018:

#8. Believed (National Public Radio): The goal of Believed is to answer the question so many people have asked: How did Larry Nassar get away with decades of abuse to hundreds of girls and women? Their interviews with survivors and parents can be an extremely difficult listen, but necessary if we want to learn how to change the system that allowed for this abuse to occur for so long. 

#7. Keep It! (Crooked Media): Keep It! is my weekly guilty pleasure podcast. Hosted by Ira Madison III, Kara Brown, and Louis Virtel, they hilariously discuss the intersection of pop culture and politics. Kara also has my favorite frustrated statement of 2018: “people just need to read!”

#6. Uncivil (Gimlit Media): The only reason Uncivil isn’t number one on my list is because  most of their episodes were published in 2017 and therefore didn’t qualify as a “2018” show. Discovered late this year, this was one of my binges of 2018. Each episode “ransacks America’s past” and tells an untold story related to the Civil War.

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#5. My Favorite Murder (Exactly Right): My favorite true crime podcast, MFM is hosted by Karen Kilgarariff and Georgia Hardstark. Each week they share stories of murder, cults, and hometown stories from listeners. Not only discussing true crime, Karen and Georgia are also super open about their own struggles with mental health, finding time for self-care, and sparked a million taglines including the famous “stay sexy and don’t get murdered”, “you’re in a cult, call your dad”, and my personal favorite: “can’t you see from my really thick black eyeliner that I’m no one’s mother?”

#4. R U Talkin’ REM: Re: ME? (Earwolf): As stated by Scott Aukerman, it truly is the year of R U Talkin’ REM Re: Me. Hosted by the superfan Adam Scott Aukerman (Adam Scott [Parks & Rec] and Aukerman [the hugely underrated Comedy Bang Bang!]), this podcast discusses the impact of R.E.M.’s music album by album. Their banter is hilarious and each episode is filled with smaller episodes (“Is this an episode of ‘I Love Films?'”) that Chris and I always played during our hours on the road this year. 

#3. GymCastic: The Gymnastics Podcast (Gymcastic): Definitely a niche podcast for fans of the sport, Gymcastic makes the top of my list not only because of their analysis of the sport (and mostly hilarious takes on competition, scoring, and love for the athletes) but their unrelenting dedication to discussing the Larry Nassar abuse that finally began to garner mainstream media coverage this year. Each week hosts Jessica and Spencer held MSU, USA Gymnastics, and the USOC accountable and provided an outlet to athletes and survivors. Their coverage of not just the abuse, but of the cover-up and mismanagement makes Gymcastic one of the my favorites this year. 

#2. Serial Season Three: The Cleveland Court System (This American Life): Rather than focus on one particular story (unlike seasons one and two) season three instead tells the “extraordinary stories of ordinary stories” taking place at a courthouse in Cleveland. These  largely untold narratives of people working through the complicated (and convoluted) justice system was one of the most frustrating and heartbreaking podcasts I listened to in 2018. 

#1. Scene on Radio Season Three: Men (The Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University): I loved season two (“Seeing White” featuring Dr. Chenjerai Kumanyika, host of Uncivil) so I was really looking forward to season three of Duke University’s podcast. With the goal of discussing “How did we get sexism, patriarchy, misogyny in the first place? How can we get better at seeing it, and what can we do about it?” hosts Jown Biewen and Celeste Headlee tackle a topic each week and provide feedback on how we can combat these systems. The episode “Himpathy” was the most difficult and impactful for me; it featured input from Kate Manne on not only why survivors of abuse feel sympathy for their abusers, but also how society does as well. 

Extra love to Pardon My Take and Fantasy Football Focus, which I binged throughout the entire NFL season. 

Favorite TV Shows of 2018:

This year I hardly watched any new shows (too much reading and podcasting I suppose) so my list is embarrassingly small. But here are the shows you absolutely need to watch:

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#5. Ballers Season Four: If you know me, you’re not surprised by this choice. Listen, I love the Rock. I love Rob Cordray. I love football. Is this a ridiculous show? Yes. Do I love it? Yes. Does the plot matter? Nah, not really.

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#4. Better Call Saul Season Four: One of my favorite shows continues to get better with this newest season. Bob Odenkirk and Jonathan Banks are still absolutely amazing as Saul and Mike. The return of Gus Fring (one of the best characters of Breaking Bad) makes this season binge-worthy for sure. The season finale nearly gave me a heart attack.

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#3. End of the F***ing World: Technically the show premiered in the UK in 2017, but it wasn’t picked up and added to Netflix until 2018, so it counts for me. I loved this show. Jessica Barden and Alex Lawther are superb as Alyssa and James. Their relationship is endearing, odd, and their adventure to find her birth father completely drew you into the show; the final episode was amazingly filmed. I’m so glad it was picked up for a second season.

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#2. Game of Thrones Season Seven: Finally, this year I got into GOT. I always begrudgingly sort of paid attention to the show over the years but never committed (why is everyone so dirty?) until this year. Maybe call it the revenge of Arya Stark or the undeniable affection I have for Tormund, but I’m 100% in moving forward. Better late than never.

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#1. Sharp Objects: Yep, Sharp Objects beats Game of Thrones for me. The combination of Amy Adams, Patricia Clarkson, and Eliza Scanlen gives me LIFE. Incredibly creepy and at times jarring, Sharp Objects was my favorite show of 2018. Closer was my favorite episode that also creeped me out the most.

Here’s to 2019!

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Currently Reading: My Sister, the Serial Killer (Oyinkan Braithwaite)

Currently Watching: Ozark Season 1 (Netflix)Ashlyn (2)

 

 

 

Shot Put, Javelin, Hammer Throw: Wandering Around Zagreb, Croatia

Last month we met up with an old friend in Croatia’s capital and largest city, Zagreb. We’ve known Meagen since high school (middle school?) days so it was amazing to see her before she moves out of Europe.

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Where is Zagreb?

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About a three hour drive from Pápa, we drove through a very rural portion of Hungary, which was beautiful, albeit bumpy AF, before crossing into Croatia:

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Zagreb is officially my new favorite city. The Roman town of Andautonia (1st-5th century AD) was the first settlement near the now developed city; the first mention of Zagreb dates all the way back to 1094 AD. Here’s the legend behind Zabreb’s name:

Somewhere in the early eleventh century, a young lad decided to leave his home and become a wandering knight. He spent many years on adventures throughout the area, doing good deeds with his wit and sword. Once he was going through a dark forest in the vicinity of Bear Mountain. As it came to be, he lost his way and became mortally thirsty.

There was no stream or pond to save him, and he sat in the dirt hoping for rain. Then, all of the sudden, a beautiful maiden came out of nowhere. At that moment, he was so thirsty he could barely speak, but the girl couldn’t help him as she wasn’t carrying any water. However, she advised the knight to dig on the place of his respite.

“Zagrebite!” said the girl. Or, in English if you wish, “Scratch it!” she yelled, pointing at the dirt below the knight’s feet. The young man scratched the ground to soon find water pouring from the shallow hole he dug.

The adventurer thought young girl was of elven kind, but she introduced herself as a poor human orphan, without anybody of her own. Her name was Mandusa. The young lad smiled, named the stream Mandusevac , and asked for her hand in marriage, with promises of building a huge city in which they would dwell. As she accepted, rays of sunlight engulfed the pair, and through some kind of enchantment, showed them the size and fame of the town in the future.

Therefore, Zagreb literally means “The place which is scratched,” while its heart, Mandusevac fountain on Jelacic square, is the place it was founded.

All the hearts emojis.

Back to our visit:

Tourist Spots: 

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View from our Airbnb

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Main city square

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Statue of Ban Josip Jelacic

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Statue of the Virgin Mary

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Zagreb Cathedral (1217)

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Museum of Torture:

We visited the Museum of Torture, a last minute decision that I’m glad we were able to fit into our weekend. The museum was small but scary; it’s insane to me how much time and effort humans go through to inflict pain on each other.

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They also had a friendly version of the Chokey from Matilda–which if you haven’t seen you need to reassess your life–but I’ll provide an illustration for you:

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Shot put, javelin, hammer throw

Museum of Broken Relationships:

The Museum of Broken Relationships was one of my favorite spots in Zagreb. I love using stories as a narrative to share experiences (historical, cultural, etc) to connect people to others. While this museum might sound depressing–in some ways it was–I really enjoyed reading these stories. The exhibits encouraged a lot of reflection and discussion around identities, family, love, and justice.

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This donation was one of the most powerful on display:

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British Square Market:

I wish I would have taken more pictures of the market but I was so overwhelmed and surprised by the sheer number of people selling old things! Of course I was in heaven and wanted to buy everything. We randomly ran into our market on the way to breakfast and there were so many amazing treasures to see.

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Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to buy any Croatian treasures (and Chris was getting crabby because he wanted to eat) but now I have an excuse to go back.

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Saint Cyril And Methodius (1681)

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Church of St. Marks (12th Century)

Restaurants/Bars:

Chris loved the fact that you could smoke basically anywhere in Zagreb. We went to a number of awesome places to eat and have a drink.

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We grabbed coffee near our apartment both here and the Treehouse Cafe. The Irish coffee at Treehouse was delicious.

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Kava Tava:

A majority of the food (and mimosas) we enjoyed were between the two Kava Tava locations in Zagreb. The first, near our apartment, played the best smooth jazz versions of 2000s pop songs, which Meg and I happily sang while devouring this banana and chocolate dessert.

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Vegetable panini, egg sandwich, and banana/chocolate tower

While enjoying breakfast at the first Kava Tava we noticed they had a second “airplane themed” location near the British Square. We found our way (after the great market distraction of 2017) and once inside Meagen basically yells at the hostess: “YES IS THIS THE AIRPLANE RESTAURANT?!”

When she asked if we wanted to sit in their repurposed airline rows, of course we enthusiastically nodded.

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Chris: “Where is my food? Why is everyone so giggly?”

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Oh man this brunch.

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Otto & Frank:

We had a couple of dinners at nearby  Otto & Frank. A cute restaurant with great coffee, Chris and Meagen had wings one night while I enjoyed this flatbread:

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Tommy’s Street Burgers: (Tkalciceva Street)

If I didn’t have a photo to prove its existence, I would have thought this burger was all a dream. While wandering down Tkalciceva Street we came across a small street vendor selling diner-esque burgers and fries. A super tiny spot, we came back later that night to order and alas they were closed. Heartbroken, the next day we made sure we were there in time to order. Honestly, the absolute best seitan burger. Homemade and with fries, it was my favorite meal of Zagreb. Tommy’s isn’t listed anywhere except this list of best burgers, but I promise it exists.

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The Cookie Factory:

Located on Tkalciceva, the Cookie Factory was the cutest dessert shop we stopped at.

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PC trying to get fresh with my carrot cake

Bars:

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We stopped at so many places on Tkalciceva and Radiceva that I can’t list them all but a few of our favorites included Destino Valhalla Metal Bar (Croatian metal bands yaaasssss), and basically any bar on Tkalciceva.

Random:

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Typical Meagen and Ashlyn: Our obsession with the OJ Made in America documentary remains a constant. I promise it was encouraged to scratch our initials into the table!

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I can’t wait to go back.

It is absolutely insane to me that 15 years ago Meagen and I were part of the JV Cheerleading squad in a small town in Ohio, and now we are wandering around Croatia. Crazy.

Ashlyn (2)

It’s been a long February. Power through my friends. It’s almost March.

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