• Hang Gliding in Rio de Janeiro

    VIDEO: Hang Gliding in Rio de Janeiro

    Today I'm sharing a video of my experience hang gliding in Rio - an exhilarating opportunity with Marcos from Quem Fly!

  • Miramar Windsor Hotel, Rio de Janeiro

    Photo Journal: Copacabana Beach, Rio de Janeiro

    Our final day in Rio, taking in the rooftop views + enjoying some time on Copacabana Beach.

  • Top International Dining Experiences

    My Top 6 International Dining Experiences

    One of the greatest parts of traveling is delving into the local culture + food! Here are my top 6 international dining experiences from our journeys.

  • Basque Country

    Travel Planning // Basque Country

    We're booked & planning! Going on a major #bucketlist trip to Basque Country with stops in San Sebastian, La Rioja, St. Jean de Luz and more.

  • Hang Gliding in Rio

    Hang Gliding in Rio de Janeiro

    Photos and a recap from my experience hang gliding in Rio de Janeiro! Amazing experience with Quem Fly.

Hang Gliding in Rio de Janeiro

Hang Gliding in Rio with Quem Fly

You’ll recall that I posted photos and my experience hang gliding with Marcos Sempayo of Quem Fly about a week ago, but I was still working on what I was going to do with editing the video. After a few days of realizing that my video editing skills are not the greatest, I gave up on making this into something fancy (I had big dreams here!), and simply deferred to YouTube.

Below you can see a clipped version of my experience hang gliding in Rio, sailing over the Tijuca Forest + a gorgeous stretch of beach. It was an absolute dream.

Also, there were a few moments during the video that we took photos so you’ll see us randomly stick our arms out (Christ the Redeemer style), smile for a few moments looking into the camera, and give the GoPros a good ol’ carioca thumbs up. It’s kind of goofy to watch but it was also such a fabulous memory that I couldn’t help but share!

Have you been hang gliding? Did you find it frightening or exhilarating? 

Shannon Kircher

Miramar Windsor Hotel, Rio de Janeiro

After looking through my camera recently, I realized that I never uploaded photos from our final day in Rio de Janeiro! We didn’t do much of anything which is perhaps why these pictures fell to the wayside, but doing next to nothing was exactly what we wanted for our final day. I have this major problem when I’m traveling: I feel like I must always be engaged in something; some activity, some sightseeing, some tour, some conversation… just something. I’ve begun to value a teensy bit of downtime though and the pleasures of simply marinating in a new locale, taking in the sights, scents and sounds with zero agenda.

That was our last day in Rio to a tee. No plans, no itinerary. The only thing loosely on our to-do list was to enjoy the rooftop pool at the Miramar Windsor hotel on Copacabana beach before we had to say our goodbyes to this lovely city. Our first few days in Rio (in Brazil in general) were a bit meh on the weather front. The last two days, by contrast, were sunny perfection, begging for us to laze by the pool or on the golden sand.

Who are we to ignore that calling?

Copacabana Beach, Posto 5, Rio de JaneiroMiramar Windsor, Rio de JaneiroMiramar Windsor, Rio de Janeiro

After an early morning breakfast, we made our way to the pool to grab four seats together. I’ll be honest: I love the rooftop pool concept in Rio – and these views are second to none! – but the pool wasn’t the biggest when you take the size of the hotel into consideration (everything else about this hotel was absolute 5* so it didn’t matter all that much). Perhaps the thought is that visitors to Rio will opt for beach vs. pool on a sunny day? Whatever the logic, if you want a chair, you do need to head upstairs early to secure your position. We ended up with four chairs facing the pool + beach, overlooking the long swathe of sand that is Copacabana. It was a holiday weekend in Brazil and visitors were coming in from other parts of the country to enjoy the metropolitan beaches, plus the sun had beckoned international visitors to the area. 

Copacabana Beach, Posto 5, Rio de Janeiro Read More

Top International Dining Experiences

One of the greatest parts of traveling internationally is delving into the local culture: sightseeing at great museums and historical sites, listening to live music by local artists, and tasting regional cuisine. TripAdvisor recently came out with their list of top restaurants worldwide and I couldn’t help but brainstorm my own list of favorite international dining experiences. Not all of my favorites are ‘foodie’ approved, but all exposed me to some great international dining experiences abroad, using local ingredients or focusing on local flavor.

Central Restaurant // Lima, Peru

Central Restaurant, Lima, Peru

1Lima has developed a reputation as the defacto gastronomic capital of South America with famous local chefs producing innovative cuisine. Many places focus on locally sourced ingredients and/or on niche fusions seen within Peru (e.g. Chifa, a Chinese-Peruvian fusion, and Nikkei, a Japanese-Peruvian fusion). We had some excellent meals during our four days in Lima, but the hands down standout was Central Restaurant. It’s consistently ranked among the best restaurants in the world, and it’s definitely worthy of that accolade. I’m not a massive foodie but this is an approachable foodie scene that left both of us in awe. Try their cool pisco sour incarnations and ask your waiter for input on creating the perfect spread of small plates.

Central Restaurant | Santa Isabel 376 Miraflores Lima, Peru

Machneyuda // Jerusalem, Israel

Dome of the Rock, Temple Mount

2Machneyuda is everything it purports to be… plus some. The food is excellent, the service leaves nothing to be desired (lots of young servers with great personalities pouring Israeli wines), and the ambiance transports you to a different world entirely. It’s hard to believe that this uber-hip spot is in the middle of Jerusalem; bartenders serve up arak shots and dance around to vibrant music as people leave synagogue nearby. It’s the coolest dichotomy to witness and it just adds to the appeal of this spot. You can’t go wrong with anything here but the polenta is over-the-top delish. If you can’t get into Machneyuda, try it’s sister restaurant Yudale, across the way. Equally wonderful!

Machneyuda Restaurant | Jerusalem, Israel Read More

Basque Country

Pays Basque + Pais Vasco Itinerary

Do you remember earlier this year when I talked about my bucket list trips/must-sees before parenthood? One of the trips I’ve long wanted to do is a culinary tour through Basque Country, and it’s happening! [Insert a thousand exclamation points here.] As I shared a couple of months back, we surprised my dad with a trip to Ireland for an upcoming milestone birthday, and following that week of exploring the Emerald Isle, Scott and I will be heading to French and Spanish Basque territory for an additional week of sightseeing, wine tasting, dining and exploring. I seriously couldn’t be more excited!

We hotly debated whether or not we could make the extra week work, and were trying to find a way to incorporate an additional region/destination without making our airfare sky-rocket. We browsed the globe, from Dubai + Abu Dhabi to Sri Lanka and Hong Kong, and we came back to our first idea for its cost-effectiveness and ease: Basque Country. To add on the additional destination ended up costing about $250 total per person, including the flight from Dublin to Bilbao. For us, the value is definitely there considering how intriguing this region is to both of us.

Basque Country is incredibly unique in that its home to a culture entirely its own. The region spans across northeastern Spain beginning as far west as Bilbao, and then continues up through France all the way to the Biarritz area. There are coastal cities along with charming towns located more inland, each with its own character and draw. All of are areas, French and Spanish, are bonded by a sense of common identity and even more interestingly, a common language, Euskadi. Euskadi is said to be the oldest European language of all, and is not similar in any way to Spanish or French. While it was banned for some time, it’s enjoying a renaissance now as we (namely, UNESCO) continue to celebrate and foster the rebirth of minority languages. 

We’re still formulating our plan, but here’s a general idea of what we’ve laid out to get a taste of both the Spanish and French parts of Basque Country in the most fun and efficient way possible.

Basque Country Tour Map Read More

Hang Gliding in Rio

Hang Gliding in Rio with Quem Fly

Don’t stop running. That’s the main thing.

I was geared up for my hang gliding expedition, strapped into a set of aluminum wings with a Brazilian man named Marcos. I was simultaneously excited and nervous, and happy to have an experienced pilot guiding the way. He reiterated to me that I should look into the horizon and that I shouldn’t stop running off of the hang gliding platform; I had to run run run - not jump - until there was no longer land beneath my feet. Of course they have to reiterate this to all newbies as our natural inclination is to either jump off of the edge or to stop running entirely before the platform is gone. It’s generally counterintuitive to run off of a mountain when there’s nothing beneath us, right?

Hang Gliding in Rio, Hang Gliding in Rio de JaneiroHang Gliding in Rio de JaneiroHang Gliding in Rio de Janeiro

I had promised myself that I would go hang gliding in Rio de Janeiro. It was a personal challenge to myself to push myself outside of my comfort zone a bit and experience something totally new. I’ve never had a real desire to skydive or bungee jump but hang gliding is something different; the ability to float over the earth like a bird for a handful of minutes seemed like something more peaceful than frightening.

I’m not an adrenaline junkie by any means but I do love a decent dose of adventure when we travel. For me, it’s more about the experiences in a new place and the layer that adds to a destination (and the memories!). It’s not just hang gliding; it’s hang gliding in Rio. It’s not just zip lining; it’s zip lining in HondurasIt’s not just deep sea fishing; it’s deep sea fishing in KenyaThose experiences make memories extra fun to recall.

I earned my wings with Marcos Sampayo of Quem Fly, an experienced pilot with 29+ years under his belt. His driver collected Scott, his family and I from the Miramar Windsor Hotel and drove us to São Conrado (about 30 minutes, R$75) where hang gliders land. I was the only one flying but Scott came to see me off and his parents were there to watch me land.

The wind was a bit finicky on the morning I was slated to fly and Marcos assured me that we wouldn’t take off until all of the elements were right; he’d rather not go than risk potentially bad wind conditions. That mindset alone was comforting. I paid my R$30 fee to Associação de Vôo Livre do Rio de Janeiro, Rio’s Hang Gliding Association, to allow me to fly tandem. After filling out some paperwork with my personal details (always ominous), we were on our way.

Hang Gliding in Rio de JaneiroHang Gliding in Rio de JaneiroHang Gliding in Rio de Janeiro

From the base, you drive through Rio’s Tijuca National Park until you reach the hang gliding platform, a long wooden plank tilted at a slight downward angle. When we arrived, I was third in line with two other flyers gearing up with their equipment in front of me.

Marcos geared me up: a jacket with a series of tethers plus a helmet were my gear for the flight. Our ‘practice’ consisted of two quick runs (maybe 30 feet) where I held onto Marcos so we could practice running in sync. After this, Marcos confirmed that I was ready to fly and I trusted his judgement. I was clipped onto the the hang glider so we could do a quick test to make sure that I was properly connected; I dangled for a few moments until we got the thumbs up. We watched the two hang gliders in front of us soar off of the mountain one at a time, dropping off the edge before the wind caught them and brought them up, floating into the distance. Now I was standing on the plank waiting for my cue; it was my turn.

“Ready Shannon?” Marcos began the countdown to me, “1… 2… 3!”  Read More

Hotel Santa Teresa, Rio de Janeiro

When we had originally booked our trip to Rio, we hotly debated where to stay, and the artsy Santa Teresa neighborhood made the list. The Relais & Chateaux property there looked enticing on its own and the views and boho feel were altogether different from what we sensed in other popular areas in Rio (e.g. Copacabana, Leblon, etc.).

We ultimately decided on a beachfront property but we vowed to trek to Santa Teresa to scope out the area.

Hotel Santa Teresa, Rio de Janeiro

The cab ride took us up, up, up into a colorful part of Rio. Construction was being done at the time and while the area itself looked like it held a great deal of promise in terms of personality and vibe, it was actually rather dead when we were there. Construction workers were hard at work, and there were just a few other visitors roaming the streets. We were dropped off in what we were told was the heart of Santa Teresa, a main street that was bold with eclectic shops lining the way. I’ll be honest: from what I’d heard and read, I expected more. Not necessarily ‘more’ in terms of the overall experience, but I expected there to be a larger number of shops; more to do generally.

Still, for an afternoon we had it dialed. We started at Santa Teresa Hotel, in part just to take in the pretty views, but also partially to scope it out for future trips to Rio. Would we regret not having stayed here for a couple of nights? Would we want to stay here in the future instead of the typical Copacabana scene?

Hotel Santa Teresa, Rio de Janeiro

The hotel offered great views and a fun caipirinha list that fueled the start of our afternoon (the spicy passionfruit was perfection). The setting was nice overall, though I was slightly surprised that it fell under the Relais & Chateaux umbrella considering the off-beat location and the slightly outdated feel of the space. We were happy to have explored and ultimately left feeling more confident in our decision to stay in Copacabana and take a trip to Santa Teresa vs. using Santa Teresa as a home base. While it’s not restrictively far, the location still felt a bit isolated (this may feel different during Rio’s high season).  Read More

Sugarloaf Mountain, Brazil

No trip to Rio de Janeiro is complete without scoping out the world-class views of the city and its beaches from picturesque Sugarloaf Mountain. Along with Christ the Redeemer, a trip to Sugarloaf on the iconic cable car is a must for most visitors to the city. I’m pretty sure I’m not alone in this, but I’ll admit a couple of things I discovered about Sugarloaf Mountain during our journey to Rio:

1Christ the Redeemer is not on Sugarloaf Mountain.

This is a major duh moment for anyone that’s been to Rio, but for many that haven’t, you may assume they’re one and the same. I thought this before we started researching this trip, and we ran into many people in Brazil who had clearly thought the same before arriving in the city as well. Christ the Redeemer is at Corcovado which offers great views of the city, too, plus a view of Sugarloaf itself. Sugarloaf is a different beast entirely – a more magical one in my mind.

Sugarloaf Mountain (Pao de Acucar), Rio de JaneiroSugarloaf Mountain, Rio de Janeiro, BrazilSugarloaf Mountain, Rio de Janeiro, BrazilSugarloaf Mountain, Rio de Janeiro, BrazilSugarloaf Mountain, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil Read More

3 Ways to Collect Travel Memories

Fun options for physical reminders of great experiences

I’ve always said that I prefer to collect experiences over things and I stand by that 100%. I rarely buy souvenirs on trips (the exception being locally-made jewelry), and instead prefer our ‘souvenir’ to be photos that capture our experiences in new destinations. Since travel has become such a big part of our lives, I love finding cool ways of showcasing our experiences in our home to make our decor tell the story of us and of our adventures.

Below are three great options for ways to commemorate a great travel experience in a physical form. These are also fabulous gifts! For hard-to-shop for parents, I always find that something sentimental is the answer. If you have more fun ways to collect travel memories, share them in the comments below!

CanvasPop Canvas Art

Canvas Pop Art

1For awesome photos that seem to capture an overall travel experience, I love one solid blown up piece done right. CanvasPop is great for canvas prints that are gorgeous to display and bring a different dimension vs. normal prints. The company works with a slew of formats and layouts, including mobile photo printing for all of those Instagrammed images you’ve been wanting to share. We recently received this canvas print from our time in Israel and the quality is even better than what I was expecting – perfect for displaying a spectacular travel experience in our life. We’re currently working on creating small square canvases from our trips around the world to display around our living room!

For anyone interested in creating their own statement prints with CanvasPop, use code SCHOLAR35 for a 35% discount on your entire order! Code expires August 31, 2015. Read More

Favela Tour, Rio de Janeiro

Heading into our trip to Brazil, a favela tour was on my must-do list before arrival. I had contacted a company simply dubbed Favela Tour in advance and had communicated with their founder, Marcelo Armstrong, whose tours are touted in guidebooks and online. I didn’t totally know what to expect going in, and while the experience started off a bit rocky (a pick-up that happened 45 minutes late), it ended up being a valuable addition to our time in Rio.

With this tour in particular – though I’d wager that many follow a similar format – we visited two distinctly different favelas. The first was Rocinha, which is Brazil’s largest favela and one of the most densely populated areas in the country. 100,000+ residents call Rocinha home, though exact figures are hard to calculate. I honestly went into this having no real idea of what to expect. We often use favelas and slums interchangeably when we speak about them, but our tour guide kept emphasizing that this didn’t reflect reality. What we were seeing weren’t ‘slums’; they were lower-class communities.

Favela Tour, Rio de JaneiroFavela Tour of Rocinha, Rio de JaneiroFavela Tour, Rio de JaneiroFavela Tour, Rio de Janeiro

My in-laws, who had just returned from India, seemed to echo those sentiments. After seeing slums in India, seeing favelas with us in Brazil brought a totally different landscape, physically and socio-economically. Infrastructure existed – there were clearly sanitation mechanisms in place (we didn’t see sewage in the streets as we’ve seen elsewhere), and we even saw satellites to bring television to households. There were some small health clinics (I even spotted an optometrist office), some local schools – including schools for more artistic ventures – plus a limited transport system. While I was initially surprised to see the level of development, it makes sense. With 100,000+ people living in a tight community, aren’t these necessities bound to emerge?  Read More

Rainbow over Iguassu Falls

I couldn’t let today pass without sharing a few words about SCOTUS’ ruling on same-sex marriages yesterday. I started this blog years ago mostly so I could share my life with my family while I was living abroad. It has since evolved, but I also hope in part that it will serve as a lifelong journal of my adventures, experiences, and life happenings for my future children. I hope that one day they’ll be able to read through these posts and understand how their parents grew, the exciting experiences that shaped our perspectives, and how the world has changed in our lifetime.

#lovewins, SCOTUS

This is one of those monumental times. I grew up in a family where I didn’t really understand the idea of discrimination. My parents always instilled in us the common bond of humanity and that no one should be judged by the color of their skin, their religion, their socioeconomic background, their gender, etc. In hindsight, I am lucky to be part of a family that was so open, caring and accepting. It wasn’t until I grew older that I realized that there were people who didn’t share the same open outlook and I always found myself perplexed. Why, exactly, is this bad, and perhaps more importantly, why is this any of my business if it’s not hurting me? This is a stance I take on a lot of things and it’s probably in large part due to my upbringing. Sure, I have my own religious beliefs, but I don’t need to impose them on others or judge anyone for theirs. Yes, I am straight, but that doesn’t mean I harbor any ill will for someone who has a different preference. We’re all different, and fundamentally if we can be good people, living happy and fulfilling lives, what more is there?

Please, no hate here, but I found it difficult to fathom that many from the religious community who touted the values of love, care, inclusion, bettering the world, etc., etc. were sometimes doling out the most oppressive rhetoric. How could groups seemingly founded on espousing love (1 Corinthians 13, anyone?) dole out so much negativity?

Now, in 2015, we’re seeing a world that I didn’t know I would see at such a young age. To think of the progress that we’ve made in the last thirty years is remarkable. As someone jokingly – though accurately – noted on Twitter, in 2000, I never would have thought that I would live in a country where a black man could be elected to the highest office in the country, and in a time where same-sex marriages would be allowed. That was only 15 years ago. It’s amazing to think how far we’ve come as a country in that short span of time.

More remarkably, I think about our future children and the world they’ll live in. The news we see on a daily basis makes me think twice about bringing kids into the world: so much hate, so much violence, seemingly so much evil. Then things like this happen that restore your faith in the future. My children will have to contend with the world’s evils, of this I am sure of. Yet they will also live in a world where the idea of not allowing same-sex marriages is antiquated and where discrimination isn’t generally something that or legal system supports. It’ll seem like a thing of the past, so far gone that they won’t be able to ever truly understand what it meant for our friends and family who have long fought that battle.

Growing up, stories about race relations during my grandparents generation always seemed so foreign. Segregation laws seemed so ancient yet somehow my grandparents – my living, breathing grandparents – could remember those days and how it made them feel as onlookers. Just decades later, I grew up in a world where I didn’t see color; where my best friends were black, white, Asian… I didn’t care and I didn’t see their skin color as any indication of who they were. It may have felt like an eternity when those changes were taking place in society, but historically it was an instant. The same will happen here for us, with our children and grandchildren. Our kids will only ever hear stories about people who weren’t allowed to get married once upon a time; and I honestly can’t imagine how much the world will change by the time our grandchildren arrive.

To my future kids: no matter where you are and no matter what society or laws dictate, remember that we are truly all bound by the simple bond of humanity and there is no second-class citizen. Someone’s religion, skin color, gender, sexual preferences, or socio-economic status shouldn’t be an indicator of their being. Fundamentally, we all essentially want the same thing: to be happy.