Thursday, November 26, 2015

Throwback Thursday : Thanksgiving in Europe

With today being Thanksgiving Day, I wanted to dedicate a post to something that I'm constantly thankful for- the ability to travel the world.  I've been to so many amazing places, and getting to explore a new country makes me happier than anything else.  Today I'll be sharing some pictures from a trip I took to Budapest, Hungary and Prague, Czech Republic two years ago.

I purchased this trip from Groupon Getaways, through the company Gate 1 Travel.  I get a lot of questions from people about the benefits of going on a Groupon Getaway, so I also want to discuss my personal experience (I also went on a trip to Costa Rica through Groupon, and I purchased both trips on my own).

  • The trips are usually a lot cheaper than purchasing on your own.  For this trip, round-trip airfare was included, as well as transportation between the countries and hotel rooms.  We could add on additional day trips or activities through the company as well.  All together, the trip cost around $2,500 total, which is a huge saving.
  • However, the flights only flew out of Newark and LAX.  We had to schedule our own flight to Newark, which increased the price a bit.
  • A lot of stress was lifted as far as planning, since a lot of big things were taken care of.  The hardest part of trip planning for me is finding a good hotel and scheduling flights.  The company took care of all of that, and the hotels they picked were really great!
  • However, experiences may vary with this.  Most trips tell you what hotels are included, so it's always a good idea to research ahead of time if the hotels are in a good location and have good reviews.  
  • Another downside with this is there isn't as much flexibility.  We only had 3 nights in each city which seemed like a short period of time.  I would have loved to stay longer!  Some people did schedule later flights with the company so that they could visit other cities, but that always comes with extra cost.
Overall, I think that Groupon Getaways are a great deal if you want to visit a new place for cheap, and aren't too picky about accommodations or planning.  They worked great for me because I got to relax and not worry about all the small details, and I saved a ton of money!

Now, let's get into some pictures from each city!


Restaurants : Ruszwurm (Cute little cafe near Fisherman's Bastion)
Boom and Brass (Super hip restaurant with reasonable prices and tasty food)
Nad'Or Boutique Bistro (Amazing location with traditional Hungarian food)
New York Cafe (Incredible place for tea- see pictures below!)
Soul Cafe (Great ambiance, very romantic)

Fisherman's Bastion (Halászbástya) is one of the most unique structures in Budapest.  There are seven towers in the structure, and there are beautiful views of the Danube everywhere you look.  The location is fantastic - centrally located in the castle district and it's something that shouldn't be missed!

So amazing- looks like a sandcastle brought to life!

Heroes Square and City Park (Hősök tere) is a beautiful park at the edge of town.  There's so much to do and see in the park that it's almost worth a full day!  The entrance is the impressive Heroes Square - full of larger than life statues and monuments.  Once you're inside the park, you can go to a zoo, museum, botanical garden, ice skating, castle, and (my favorite) a thermal bath.

Budapest is well known for their thermal baths, so visiting one is a must while you're in the city.  We visited the largest, located in the heart of City Park, called Széchenyi Thermal Bath and Swimming Pool.  The building is full of pools with different temperatures and all different sizes.  The biggest attraction are the huge outdoor pools, which are all heated.  It was definitely an experience to be swimming outside when it was below freezing and snowing!

New York Cafe is an incredibly elaborate place to stop for an afternoon tea.  Everywhere you look are golden details and sculptures.  The building itself was gorgeous with high ceilings and marble floors, but none of my pictures do the decor justice!  It reminded me of being in a museum or castle.  We stopped in for some coffee and desserts, and it was such an experience.  Most restaurants in Europe are very casual, and the waiters are only there to give you food and your bill.  Here, they waited on us hand and foot to make sure we had an amazing experience!

The Central Market (Nagy Vasarcsarnok) is a must-visit for food and souvenirs.  There are all kinds of Hungarian specialties available for cheap, including paprika and palinka.  On the first floor, there are a lot of fresh food vendors, and the second floor has restaurants and gifts. Get here early, because this place gets packed!

One of my favorite things to do was walk around the city after dark.  It's such a romantic place, and all of the beautiful buildings are lit up at night.  The city felt very safe, both the Buda and Pest sides.  I loved seeing all the famous buildings, bridges and monuments, and these are all things that are easily missed if you don't walk around!


(I also stayed in the Mosaic House in Prague, which is an amazing hostel!)

Restaurants: Zlatý klas (Cheap, authentic Czech food.  Try the Kozel- my favorite beer)
Campanulla Cafe (Recommended by Rick Steves!)
Restaurace U Špirků (fantastic location near Old Town Square and amazing food)
Kolkovna Restaurant (one of my favorite areas of town, and fantastic traditional food)

Petrin Lookout Tower (Petřínská rozhledna) sits atop a large hill near my favorite neighborhood in Prague, Mala Strana (Lesser Town).  The entire area is stunningly gorgeous and full of cute little cafes.  The standout is of course the large lookout tower.  The walk up to the tower and up to the top is tiring, but well worth it for the view.

How incredible is that?  Here you can see the castle district, which I'll talk more about below!

A big tourist attraction in Prague is the Lennon Wall.  The cool thing about this is that it's a living piece of art- it will never look the same if you visit it twice.  Graffiti artists come to spread ideas of love and peace, inspired by lyrics by Lennon and the Beatles.  Last year, it was painted over completely white, with just the words "Wall is Over".  That was later changed to "War is Over" and filled in with more murals, symbols and words.

My favorite part of the Castle District is St. Vitus Cathedral (metropolitní katedrála svatého Víta).  It's one of the most incredible churches that I've ever seen!  The entire castle district is amazing, and I recommend the short trip ticket.  I love to walk around the entire area and seeing the changing of the guards, seeing all the gardens, and looking over the entire city.

The Astronomical Clock (Pražský orloj) is one of the most famous structures in Prague.  It's the oldest working astronomical clock in the world, and is located in a clock tower and observation deck.  It's a must- see to watch the hour change and the little show that the clock does.  The entire Old Town Square is such a fun, beautiful area with great shops and restaurants.  It's one of my favorite places in Prague!

Not a bad view of Old Town Square, eh?  You can see the Christmas Markets and trees being set up for the holidays!

Panoramic of Prague from the top of the Clock tower.  The gothic church is called Church of Our Lady Before Týn (Týnský chrám).  Gorgeous!

New York City

During our layover, we stayed a night in New York City and got to see the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade!  It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience and was larger than life!

I'll leave you with a Spongebob Santa Pants float- my favorite.  Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

linking up with Amanda, Heather, Mar, Cynthia, Court 

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

What's Up Wednesday

Happy Wednesday!  Today will be a fun, new post- I'm joining the What's Up Wednesday linkup to talk about what's new in my life.  This is a fun way to catch up and answer a few questions.  I'd love if all of you also answered some questions below!

eating this week : lots of Thanksgiving food!  I had to test out all the recipes that I shared in my GretchRuns Thanksgiving posts (read part 1, 2, 3, 4) and we'll be having even more treats this weekend!

reminiscing about : my trip to Budapest and Prague!  I went two years ago on a Groupon Getaway, and it was an amazing trip.  On the way back home, we had a layover in New York City the day before Thanksgiving, so we stayed for an extra day to see the Thanksgiving Day Parade in person.  Such a great trip, and I have a post planned to talk more about our trip (tomorrow)!

loving : Selma, always and forever

we've been up to : budgeting.  Dan and I are hoping to buy a house in the next 6-12 months, so we're really working on saving up money!  If anyone has advice on saving up for a down payment, I would love to hear it! (Also, I've been living and breathing by my ways to save money post.  I even lowered my data plan even more!)

dreading : cold weather.  I've been loving the unseasonably warm weather lately, which just leaves me dreading the inevitable bitter winter.  It gets really cold, snowy, icy, slushy, and gross December through February, and I'm really not looking forward to it!

working on : lots of fun Christmas posts.  I'm going to be sharing a ton of crafts, cookies, and favorite songs.  Can't wait!

excited about : marathon training!!  I will talk more about this in an upcoming post, but I decided to sign up for my third full marathon.  I'll be starting to train in January, so I'm just getting excited about finding a training plan and scheduling races around my training.  I can't wait to talk about it!

watching : not much to be honest!  How to Get Away With Murder is on a winter break, The Voice and Dancing With the Stars aren't holding my attention, and tennis is over for the season.  I'm taking a TV break, and I'm fine with that!  More time for holiday movies?

reading : 1984 by George Orwell.  I got this book for Dan for our first anniversary since he was always mentioning it (and then I wrote down the wrong date in my inscription..idiot!) and now I'm reading it.  This is on the list of Time's Best Books, and I'm trying to cross off 25 books before I turn 30!

listening to : Christmas music, duh! 

wearing : everything warm and cozy.  As soon as I get home, I immediately put on pajama bottoms and warm sweaters.  I basically look like this all day :

doing this weekend : spending time with Dan's family.  Tomorrow I'll be running in the Turkey Trot 5 Miler, then heading to spend the weekend with his family.  We don't have much planned, but I'm looking forward to a relaxing Thanksgiving weekend (away from the crazy Black Friday crowds!)

looking forward to next month : snow activities (which is a complete contradiction to my "dreading" answer)!  Last year I went skiing for the first time ever, and I'm hoping to hit the slopes a few more times this winter.  I also want to try snow shoeing and cross country skiing this year. 

linking up with MelSheaffer and Shay

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

GretchRuns Thanksgiving : Part 4 [Appetizers]

Today is the finale of my Thanksgiving series!  If you missed the others, I shared desserts, drinks, and side dishes.  Now it's time for some appetizers- probably my favorite part of any holiday meal!  Does anyone else fill up on the snacks and little bites before the main course is served?  I swear, I could have a meal just consisting of chips and dip.

Today I'll be sharing some delicious appetizer ideas that each call for less than five ingredients, take just a few minutes to assemble, and are bite sized pieces of deliciousness!

Traditional Caprese Salad Bites

Ingredients : cherry tomatoes, basil, mozzarella, balsamic glaze

Directions : On a toothpick, skewer a cherry tomato, piece of basil, and mini mozzarella ball.  Serve with a balsamic dipping sauce or glaze.  

Rosemary Caprese Salad Bites

Ingredients : cherry tomatoes, rosemary, mozzarella, balsamic glaze

Directions : Trim the leaves off the bottoms of a rosemary branch. Skewer a mozzarella ball, then a tomato.  Serve with this sauce.

Smoked Salmon Cucumber Bites

Ingredients : cucumber, cream cheese, dill, smoked salmon

Directions : Peel a cucumber, and slice into 1/4 inch rounds. Mix 8 ounces of cream cheese with fresh dill (I use a big handful, but you can do this to taste).  Spread on the cucumbers, and top with a bite sized piece of smoked salmon.  

Cranberry and Orange Crostini

Ingredients : cream cheese, brioche toast, cranberry sauce, orange zest

Directions : Spread cream cheese on a brioche toast or crostini.  Top with cranberry sauce and orange zest.

Bacon Wrapped Lil Smokies

Ingredients : lil' smokies, bacon, brown sugar

Directions : Wrap about 1/3 of a slice of bacon around a lil' smokie, allowing a little bit of overlap.  Pierce with a toothpick to secure, and place on a foil lined baking sheet.  Repeat with remainder of smokies, and sprinkle with brown sugar.  Bake for 15-20 minutes in a 400 degree oven and serve immediately!

What's your favorite appetizer?
Are you a sides lover or do you like the main course?
What are your Thanksgiving plans?

Monday, November 23, 2015

Weekend Highlights

What a weekend!  Most of my weekends lately have been pretty lazy and full of free time, but this one was crazy!  I had so many plans, which made the weekend fly by.  Thankfully this is going to be a very short work week, because I already feel like I need another break!  Here's a look at what I did from Friday to Sunday:

Pittsburgh Crèche blessing at lunchtime.  Religious leaders from across the city came to bless the scene, and we all sang Christmas carols together.

Met up with my old manager and team for some drinks at Market Street Grocery!  This is a little hidden gem in Market Square with lots of great wine and drinks.  They also serve food and macarons.  If you haven't stopped in, I recommend it!

Friday night was Dan's work party!  This year it was held at Rivers Casino, and this is what I wore.  This is an old dress from Dana Buchman at Kohl's.  It's no longer available, but here's a similar dress!  (P.S. I took off my FitBit after I took this picture!)

 The party was great!  Lots of delicious food...

...and the desserts were just as beautiful as they were tasty.

There were fireworks for Light Up Night, and we had a great view of them!  There are huge windows along all of the walls, and one of them faced Heinz Field and the Point.  It was great to see the display and not have to freeze!

On Saturday morning, I met up with Jennifer and Anna to run on the haunted trail in North Park.  There was nothing scary about the trail, but it was a challenging 8 miler!  We were kind of scared before the run started (at least I was and made them act scared too for the picture!) but we made it out alive.

Later, we met up with Lynne for drinks at Arsenal Cider.  This is a cute little house in Lawrenceville that sells tons of different ciders, either in a glass or growler.  I got to sample a few flavors, and settled on grape.  It was delicious!

There was a patio outdoors where we sat to enjoy our drinks and chat.  Thankfully the weather was perfect, because there aren't many tables inside.  We had a great time outdoors, and I bet it's amazing in the springtime!

For the next round, we stopped by the nearby Roundabout Brewery.  I've tried their beers before, but this was my first time at the actual brewery.  I got a flight, which includes five different beers.  My favorite was the Gui, which is a Dark Belgian Strong Ale.  I also really liked the Azacca IPA, and I don't typically like super hoppy IPA's!  This one was slightly sweeter and delicious.

On the way home, we stopped at Schenley Plaza to see the lighted trees!  There were tons of them all over the plaza, and it looked so beautiful with the Cathedral of Learning in the background.  If you're ever in the area, I recommend stopping by The Porch for a pizza and a drink- one of my favorite restaurants!

Sunday morning I woke up to go running, then met up with friends at The Climbing Wall!  We ended up staying in the bouldering area the entire time, which is an insane workout.  I ended up running into my high school Spanish teacher, who is an amazing climber.  He gave us lots of tips and helped me get to the top of a few walls.  By the time we left, my entire body was sore, and my hands were torn up.  Can't wait to go back!

How was your weekend?
Have you ever run on a "haunted trail" or road before?
Is your town holiday ready?

Linking up with CaryleeJennaErin and Katie for Weekend Updates!

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Training Report : 11/16 - 11/22

What a great week!  Not only did I get all of my runs in, but I also managed to cross train three days.  I love it when I get to try different activities to work different muscles, so this was a perfect week for me.  I also met up with a local training group for a speed session, and hit some paces that I didn't even know were possible for me!  

Another positive sign is that I ran completely pain free for half of my runs this week!  I spend a lot of extra time stretching out my hips and applying a heat pad for an hour each afternoon, and I'm feeling much better.  Thank you all for your well wishes- it definitely helped!  This coming week I have a race (the Turkey Trot), so I wanted to get in one final week of hard work before I take next week easy.  Here's how my week went:


3 miles / 26:56 / 8:58 pace
We still have gorgeous weather in Pittsburgh, so I was excited to get out for an easy three miler.  I stayed on trails to give my hip some rest, and it didn't bother me much.  A little sore and tender, but much better than last week!

We did the same routine as last time, so it was fun to actually know the moves and enjoy the workout a bit more.  The hour seemed to fly by, and I left sweaty and tired!


5.43 miles / 45:32 / 8:23 pace
When I started this run, I had a really intense pain in my piriformis, and just about turned around.  After a few steps, though, the pain completely went away and the rest of the run felt great!  I ran my favorite route around Squirrel Hill and Shadyside, which I will never do at rush hour again.  Cars in this area are insane and don't pay attention to pedestrians, and I nearly got hit 4 times on Fifth Ave alone.  I'll be staying in more residential areas from now on, because I don't want to take that chance again!  Stay safe out there, friends!


5 miles / 37:54 / 7:34 pace
I ran with the training group from the True Runner 10 Miler program and we had a ladder workout on the schedule today.  I did a mile to warmup, then we did 1600, 1200, 800, 400, 2x200 meters.  I spent the entire workout chasing down some super fast people in the group, so my paces were insanely fast for me!  My mile splits were 7:05, 6:33, 5:25 which is faster than I've ever run before!  

I do have to mention that the overall time and pace is misleading because we had a break between each rep, so the total time of the workout was closer to 45 minutes.  This is also the first workout that I've been absolutely pain free, so I guess stretching and heat therapy worked! 


1000 yard swim
Finally went back to the pool for a workout!  It's been way too long since I went for a swim, so I knew I had to get back.  I also have to develop a schedule for myself so that I know exactly when I can go and make it a habit!  I wanted to share the workout that I did because it was so much fun, and kept things challenging but interesting.  This is very beginner friendly, since I'm still a newbie!

beginner full body swim workout 1000 yards

My pool is 25 yards long, so each rep is one length down and back.  I liked switching up the stroke as well as working different muscles by using a kick board and buoy to isolate my legs or arms. When you repeat the exercises, you can also switch the stroke to breast stroke and butterfly to get even more muscles engaged.  If you try out this workout, let me know how you like it!


3 miles / 28:18 / 9:26 pace
I actually woke up early enough to run before work!  It seems like that hasn't happened in a long time, and I loved how peaceful everything was.  There wasn't really any wind chill at all, so the cool morning felt amazing.  I made sure to treat myself to a latte from Crazy Mocha at work for running before!


8 miles / 1:43:00 / 11:46 pace
I joined Jennifer and her friend Anna at North Park for my long run of the week.  Jennifer wanted to run on a supposedly haunted road (Blue Myst Road - read some of the stories here!)  We didn't experience anything paranormal, but it was a pretty challenging and hilly course.  We ended up running down that road for about 2.5 miles and coming back to the parking lot, then running around the lake for the final 3 miles.  It was a gorgeous morning and the run flew by thanks to great conversation!


4 miles (untimed)
I woke up not really feeling like running at all, so I decided just to do a few miles without a watch.  This was my first really chilly run of the season, and I even saw a few snow flakes!  

Rock Climbing
I'm actually heading out to go rock climbing this afternoon!  Planning on climbing for at least 2 hours and spending some time in the bouldering room, but I'll update how it went in my post on Monday!

linking up with Holly and Trisha

Saturday, November 21, 2015

GretchRuns Thanksgiving : Part 3 [Sides]

Happy Saturday everyone!  I hope you're all having a great weekend.

Today I'll be sharing part 3 of my Thanksgiving series.  I'll be talking about side dishes, and the format of today's post will be a bit different.  I'm going to be sharing one dish that I made, which is actually a combination of two side dishes that I found online.  The first dish is Roasted Brussels Sprouts and Butternut Squash.  The recipe called for dried cranberries, but I only had fresh.  Inspiration struck and I thought of making a cranberry sauce to dress the roasted veggies.  I have to say that the dish turned out amazingly well.  The veggies are nice and crisp from being baked in the oven, and the sauce is a little sweet, a little tart, and completely delicious.

I hope you enjoy my side dish creation!  I'll also be sharing a few recipes that are really easy and quick to make, and would be fun side dishes for your Thanksgiving meal!  Make sure you come back next week for the grand finale of the series!  If you missed the first two parts, I shared some dessert and drink ideas.  Enjoy!

2 lb butternut squash, cubed
2 lb Brussels sprouts, trimmed and halved lengthwise
Olive oil

1 cup cranberries
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon lemon zest
2 tablespoons water
1 tablespoon dijon mustard
1 1/2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
2 tablespoons olive oil

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Place butternut squash and sprouts on a large baking sheet.
Toss with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.
Bake in oven for 20-30 minutes, flipping veggies every 10 minutes.

While veggies are baking, start sauce:
Pour cranberries into a saucepan along with sugar, lemon zest and water.
Heat over low/med heat for about 10 minutes, stirring constantly.
Remove from heat when cranberries burst and sauce is thickened.
In a small bowl, mix mustard and vinegar.
Slowly whisk in oil until mixture is emulsified.  Add salt and pepper.
Once cranberry sauce is cooled, add to mustard mixture and stir together.

Once veggies are done baking, remove carefully into a large bowl.
Mix in cranberry mustard sauce, and enjoy!

Here are some other side dish suggestions:

What's your favorite Thanksgiving side dish?
What are your holiday plans?

Friday, November 20, 2015

Top Five Friday #34

Happy Friday!  I don't have any big intro for today - it's been a tough and long week at work, so my brain is fried (to prove how much- when I tried to type "fried" I wrote "friend" about three times before I got it right).  So, let's just hop right into my favorites for the week!  I hope you all have a great weekend!

Dark Purple Nail Polish

This week I painted my nails a dark purple, and I absolutely loved how it looked!  There are so many options at different price points that I wanted to share.  My personal favorite formulas for nail polish are Wet n' Wild- it's really cheap, and I love the wide brush which makes application a breeze- and Formula X- a bit more expensive but huge color range and it lasts forever on my nails!

Wet n' Wild in Disturbia
Formula X in Desire
OPI in Lincoln Park at Midnight
Essie in Wicked
Sally Hansen in Pat on the Black

Marley Coffee

I decided to switch up my normal K Cup routine and use my French Press!  I got one a few years ago, and have been neglecting it ever since I got a Keurig.  I picked up Marley coffee from the store, and it's delicious!  I put about 2 tablespoons in my french press, then fill it with boiling water.  A few minutes later and you get perfect coffee.  On a side note, does anyone have a travel mug recommendation?  I have one that isn't insulated and seems to leak and spill a lot- not ideal for bumpy bus rides in the morning!

Trader Joe's Superfood Pilaf

I picked this up from the store last week, and it's delicious!  It seems like it would be really easy to make at home (quinoa, kale, carrots and sweet potatoes), so I'll be attempting this next week.  I love this as a healthy and easy side for dinner!

Stove Simmer

I've been spending a lot of time in my kitchen lately.  I live in a one-bedroom apartment, so the kitchen is also used for my dining room and my "home office".  I decided to try out a stove simmer, which is basically a natural air freshener.  A Beautiful Mess shared a few ideas, but I just throw in whatever I have on hand and need to use up.  It smells so good and fresh, and makes me want to spend more time in the kitchen.  Pair that with the Christmas Piano Pandora station and I'm never leaving!

Happiness Project Update

Gold Star: This week, I've been doing a great job of keeping my apartment neat, and actually went on a cleaning rampage over the weekend.  I spent a lot of time deep cleaning the few rooms in my apartment, and have kept it clean all week.  I've even been keeping my sink empty, which is a huge accomplishment for me! This is my gold star because cleaning led to two great things this week.  First, I found two unused gift cards in my kitchen and two guest passes for my gym.  Second, my apartment had surprise inspections this week to check for bed bugs, so I didn't have to stress about cleaning!  It was already clean!

Gold Star #2:  I had such a great week that I'm giving myself two gold stars rather than any demerits.  I'll talk more about this in my training update for the week, but I pushed myself outside of my comfort zone twice this week in my workouts.  I joined a really fast group for a track workout on Wednesday, and I went swimming yesterday.  Both ended up being amazing workouts, so I'm really glad that I went!


 Target Sweater (similar) x Treasure and Bond Jeans x Reebok Sneakers

Forever 21 Sweater (similar) x Columbia Baselayer Tights x Nick and Nora Slippers (similar)
P.S. I was working from home this day!  And this was the most comfortable outfit EVER.

HM Dress (similar) x Target flats x Express Jacket
BTW- the Express jacket that I wear all the time is on sale!  Grab one NOW!


Hotline Bling - Amy Vachal
Last week I included the original in my songs of the week, and this week Amy killed it on the Voice with this stunning cover.  I love how she made it sounds so classy and beautiful.

WTF (Where They From) - Missy Elliot
I had to include Missy's new song!  I've always been a huge fan of hers, so I was really excited to see a new release.  I immediately added this to my workout playlist, and it doesn't disappoint!

25 - Adele
I haven't actually listened to Adele's new album (which comes out today) but I'm just assuming it's going to be amazing.  Do yourself a favor and spend today listening on repeat and let me know which song is your favorite!
Snow in California - Ariana Grande
This may technically be a Christmas song, but I love it anyway.  Ariana is one of my favorite singers, and this is such a pretty song!  I can kind of relate to the lyrics right now- it feels like spring and summer right now, and I'm almost ready for some snow!

Hello - Bryson Andres
Yes, half this list is Adele songs.  Deal with it.  I'm sure you've heard every cover imaginable of the song of the fall, but I want to add this one to the mix if you haven't heard it.  Violin makes everything better for me, and I love how creative Bryson is...not only with this song but all of his covers!  I highly recommend checking out his entire channel!

Linking up with MarCynthia and Court 
as well as Heather!