A mere glance will do you in. On every corner, there they are. In every cafe and restaurant , at all hours of the day their temptation never ceases. They expose themselves in full view of anyone who dares make eye contact; daily commuters, wandering tourists, weekend lollygaggers. They are shameless, and we are weak. No use fighting it, might as well give in.

Beneath clear glass domes they taunt, with their velvety chocolate frosting or custard filling just begging to be devoured alongside a café con leche.

Whether you’re attempting to crawl back home after an enormous menu del día or are on the hunt for the first meal of the day, they do not care. They pay absolutely no mind to your calorie-counting, low-carb, no-sugar, salad-eating ways.

They are shameless, and we are weak. No use fighting it, might as well give in.

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In the Gràcia neighborhood one mid-week afternoon, we salivated over the selection of cakes and pies at A Casa Portuguesa. Coconut cake with a custard filling pleased, a balanced maracuya meringue pie with reminded me of Hawaii’s Liliko’i pies back home, cheesecake with chocolate and berries comforted.

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On another occasion, we wandered into the flamingo-print walls, charming mismatched chairs and china bruncherie of Ugot. From what I recall, a quick coffee before returning to the flat to work was the original intent, or in my British companion’s case, a cup of tea.

We sauntered up to the counter, admired the decor and nearly stayed true to our original plan, until our eyes made contact with those orbs of heaven that gazed longingly at us from beneath their glass cake covers. Give in we did, regret we did not.

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From the depths of my dreams, the insistent chime of my iPhone alarm signaled that it was way too early to function. A quick look at my messages suggested that it would be easy to deviate from my the mission.

“I don’t know if we’ll make it before then. Should we just go another day?” the proposition tempted.

The plan was to make it to Park Güell before 8 a.m. An insider tip recommended an early call time to beat the crowds and slip into the park free of charge before ticketing opened. With those benefits in mind I cursed the heavy pressure behind my eyes, summoned my willpower and shoved a banana and my water bottle in my tote and stepped out into the quiet streets in San Antoni. This is happening.

I entered the park through a side entrance and meandered around a path while more energetic early birds walked their dogs, jogged and did push-ups on park benches. Gaudi’s wavy, kaleidoscopic bench came into view and aside from two young girls taking selfies and a few others with serious camera equipment, I was able to snap a few iPhone photos myself; no jostling for the best angle, or waiting for other tourists to get out of my frame.

Higher I climbed to one of the viewpoints that gave me a panoramic view from the Sagrada Familia, out toward the Mediterranean and Montjuic. Planes glided over the city’s super blocks toward El Prat. Birds gossiped, pigeons cooed. Pollen tickled my nose as I tapped notes into my phone and snapped more photos.

In my periphery, elderly locals prattled away on park benches while their dogs played. The sun drenched the city in morning warmth, clouds nowhere in sight. A cool breeze brushed through the park like the final resting pose in yoga; welcome relief.

“Sube Miko, sube…Miko, adonde vas? Adonde vas Miko?” one of the men mildly threatened as he patted the bench. Miko, the most mischievous and stubborn of the pack did what he wanted. A few weeks ago, I didn’t want to get out of bed, though I’m glad I did.

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Photo: Alina Mendoza, ARoseTravels.com

When it comes to tacos, Southern California can’t be beat. From street corner food trucks, to that go-to shop with a generic sounding name and unflattering fluorescent lighting, and fancier establishments elevating a casual favorite, San Diego boasts what seems to be an endless number of tasty options.

To help wash it all down, an ice cold beer seem like the natural selection.

However, what if I told you that wine is as good of a pairing for tacos as beer? As a taco enthusiast and self-proclaimed dark beer gal, this subject is unfamiliar. On the other hand, the San Diego-based experts I spoke with below make it their job to navigate the world of wine pairings, and they’ve got the rundown for uncorking the best grapes to match your taco habit.

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Roadside, we waited beneath shaded trees to flag down a collectivo bound for Santa Marta. From there, we’d continue to the tiny village of Minca. Eventually, we planned to arrive at Casa Elemento, a thoughtfully constructed hostel perched high enough to boast views of the village, Santa Marta, the surrounding valley and out to the Caribbean.

In Colombia, transportation timetables are approximations. Forget trying to consult Google and talk to a human instead.

“Just wait till the blue and white bus passes by, you will see it,” explained the patient receptionist as we peppered her with questions. 

It took a few attempts on a spotty phone connection to confirm our spontaneous reservation with Casa Elemento.

Skeptically equipped with directions, we checked out of our dreamy cabana at Costeño, squinted into the sun and hoped for the best.
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Tinto de veranos in Madrid

In the weeks after my return from my month-long, mostly solo trip to Europe earlier this summer, I was met with a mixture of surprise, concern and awe when I mentioned that I ventured off by myself. Curious to get to the root of their reaction, I did what we all do when we have a question we can’t answer: I Googled it.

When I did, I  learned that I may have put the proverbial cart in front of the solo travel horse. My search results yielded more media articles and blog posts about why Americans don’t travel abroad than why we’re more hesitant than other countries to globe trot solo.

As it turns out, examining the country’s attitude toward travel in general may offer clues to help answer my original question.

So first thing’s first; why don’t Americans travel internationally?

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One late evening in Madrid’s Huertas neighborhood, three twenty-somethings spooned fro-yo dinners into their faces while they discussed the current state of the world. As visitors and new and fast friends from Istanbul, Lyon (hi Pelin, hi Tiffany!), San Diego we wondered if there was any one place that is completely safe.

In the weeks before I boarded an Air New Zealand flight bound for Europe, news broke of the Brussels attack. Shortly before that, Paris was under fire. And the terrible news hasn’t let up.

Days after my return, Orlando seized the spotlight. Most recently, my newsfeed has been filled with an outpouring of prayers for Turkey, Dallas, Baton Rouge, the list goes on. Hearts break, communities grieve, the living react with anger, anxiety, the list goes on.

Fear is a natural reaction. Flights are cancelled, destinations crossed off bucket lists; both logical decisions following news of conflict. Internally, we build walls to fortify ourselves from the chaos “over there.”

Life can be so arbitrary sometimes, and on introspective days I think about how much control we really have over our days and why bad, unfair things happen in this world to really good people.

In times of conflict, what do we do?

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