2016 A Year in Review - The Ultimate Journey Continues

Sitting down to write this year in review remains one of the most daunting things I write all year. It's incredibly difficult to encapsulate 365 days into a single post without making it as long as a George R. R. Martin novel. I have this constant fear that I'll miss something, or mis-represent something. And yet just like I have for the past eight years here I am to try and put a bow on what was one of the best years of my life. 

We began the year off taking a short vacation over the Martin Luther King Jr holiday weekend up to Napa Valley. We haven't taken a lot of short vacations in our married life but this turned out to be one of our better ones. After flying into San Francisco we picked up our rental car and drove up to wine country. We stayed at the Hyatt in Sonoma and drove off to several wineries over the weekend. Along with great wine we enjoyed some incredible meals making for a truly memorable getaway weekend. 

Only a couple of days after coming back from Napa, Jenn was asked to go to Seattle for work, to take part in a meeting with Microsoft. We immediately booked me a flight to join her for the weekend before her meeting. Neither one of us had ever been to Seattle outside of flying in there and boarding a cruise ship to Alaska, so it was an opportunity we weren't going to pass up. It turned out to be an incredible mini vacation a week after our previous vacation. We hit the normal tourist stops like the Space Needle and Pike Place Market, but also experienced some incredible food, wine, and coffee. It didn't hurt that this was also peak-Frasier viewing for us so going up to Seattle where the show takes place was a dream come true for Jenn. 

We came back from back-to-back weekends of traveling to a brand-new dining room table and chairs. Much of 2016 was starting to replace items that we bought when we got our first apartment. The dining set came from West Elm and we've spent much of 2016 enjoying Chef Joel & Jenn meals and partaking in the occasional competitive board game. As always Jenn did a masterful job of decorating the entire space and it's been a great addition for us. 

It was also on our new dining table that Jenn and I spent a ton of time deliberating where we wanted to travel in 2016. We had a lot of ideas but we were stuck on the idea of traveling by train through Europe. We spent many weekends in February hunkered over our laptop, iPad, and iPhones trying to figure out the perfect itinerary. In early March we finally pulled the trigger and booked a twenty-five day adventure starting in Amsterdam and finishing in Nice. 

On the second weekend in March we joined Amy, Ryan, Jake and Makenna to a weekend on the beautiful island of Catalina. Given that we all have lived in Southern California our entire lives its sort of crazy that none of us have been to Catalina before this. We took the boat over with Ryan and Amy on a Saturday morning after a storm (the boat was rocking) and came back on Sunday afternoon. We enjoyed some great zip-lining, good food, and walking around the island. 

It was only a couple of weeks later, on a normal drive home from work I got into my first major car accident. Driving as much as I do it was only a matter of time, but I was fortunate that everyone came away unscathed. Well that is everyone except my Prius, which was totaled. A week after totaling my 2015 Prius, I went back to Toyota and bought a 2016 Prius. That same night I also put a deposit down on a Tesla Model 3 which should be coming at some point in 2018. 

Much of the latter half of March through May were much more laid back. We spent most Friday nights at either Segerstrom or South Coast Repertory seeing plays and usually trying new restaurants. We closed out our annual pass with a final visit to Disneyland, went to an Angels game, and enjoyed the early Spring. 

In mid-June, I launched a new project with two of my fellow Darkstation writers. We started a podcast called GamersRead. Over the last couple of years, I've become more and more into reading and so starting this podcast where three gamers come together and discuss a book each month has been a real joy. 

Although we were in our new high-rise apartment on the 4th of July in 2015 we were still in the process of moving in. This year though we got to enjoy the beautiful firework displays happening in Santa Ana, Costa Mesa and Irvine from the comfort of our living room. There were literally fireworks in all directions, it was almost sensory overload. Jenn and I sat with two glasses of wine and watched from our living room as much of Orange County erupted with firework displays.

It was only a couple of weeks later that Jenn brought me a cup of coffee. Well it was a specific cup of coffee, it was coffee in our Paris mug from a Starbucks in Paris. She let me know that she had booked me a surprise getaway to Paris and that we'd be going there for four nights in the city that I love. She was so worried that I had known about the surprise, but I genuinely could not have been more surprised. Jake came down and drove us to LAX and we were whisked to Paris for a magical four nights. The one feeling I will never forget is getting off the plane, jumping on the subway, and feeling like I had come home. It felt like I had never left, or if I had, that I never wanted to leave again.

As we arrived there were balloons and macaroons waiting for me wishing me a happy birthday. We hit the streets of Paris for the next couple of days not wanting to waste a minute. Whether it was going to a five-course dinner at Spring or watching the day turn to dusk along the Seine, I couldn’t imagine a better way to take in my 30th birthday. It was something that I will never forget. Even now looking back I am still amazed and delighted that Jenn could pull it off so flawlessly. 

If a quick jaunt over to Paris wasn’t enough, it was only a couple of weeks later that we boarded a plane again to go back to Europe, this time in Business Class. I’ll never forget arriving at LAX from our Uber and Jenn asking the stewardesses at the counter if there were any business class upgrades available. There just so happened to be two sitting right next to each other. After we got the price, Jenn said yes and we were off. What she loves about that story is that when I handed over my American Express I was literally sweating from spending the money. It was only fifteen minutes later we were sipping wine in the lounge and waiting to board our layback seats. It was one of the best purchases I’ve ever made.

The entire trip was something from a fairy tale. Each city had its unique flare and vibe that we quite frankly couldn’t get enough of. I’ll never forget doing the red-light district tour in Amsterdam, walking around until the wee hours of the morning and seeing a completely different city then the one we saw during the day. We must have walked more in Amsterdam than anywhere else this entire year. The walking was rarely to get to a destination, but instead to enjoy the beauty of the city. 

From Amsterdam, we spent a couple of days in Berlin, one on a bike taking in the many sights and sounds of the city. To compensate for all the calories I was burning I ordered more beer in Berlin then I did at any other spot on the trip. 

In Prague, our next destination, we jumped on Segway’s to take in the major sights and ate our way through some of the best food on the trip. That's not to mention the paddle-boating on the Vltava and miniature golfing in an old warehouse. 

In Vienna, we were mesmerized by the incredible opera Carmen, and a city whose beauty has us dying to go back. No seriously, we need to go back to Vienna as soon as possible. Whether it was the incredible cuisine or the beauty of the countryside there was nothing about Vienna that Jenn and I didn't love.

We concluded our journey of Eastern Europe with one of the biggest surprises of the trip, Budapest. Although we were only there for two nights we made the most of it enjoying a dinner cruise and a wine festival before boarding a plane to Florence. 

Although we were in Florence in 2006 it was only for a day and I am so glad we went back this year. We spent an entire day touring Tuscany and trying more wine then a person should probably drink in a day. Along with all the wine we continued our love affair with true Italian meals, where its true you can never get enough of it.

The Ultimate Europe Trip ended in what I consider to be a place that truly encapsulates what we love. Nice has both beauty and great food. We enjoyed a number of exquisite French dishes alongside a beautiful view of the French Riviera. I don’t say this lightly as we’ve done some incredible traveling in our lives, but this was far and away the best trip we’ve ever taken. 

Coming back from our Ultimate Europe Trip and getting back to reality was tough. How do you get back to work after enjoying two amazing vacations? We did our best. Summer quickly turned to fall and we went up to Oak Glen with my entire family to pick apples. We picked and used our apples for a delicious Apple Pie that Jenn made. October also found us continuing our tradition of going to Tanaka Farms in Irvine and picking pumpkins. This year though instead of painting or decorating them we carved them and they turned out great. 

Much of November had us both working extended hours, often leading to one or both of us working on nights and/or weekends. It’s not a habit that either of us try to let happen often, but it seemed like November and early December had Jenn and I working more than usual. The extra workload didn’t stop us from paying attention to the Presidential election. We from the beginning of the campaigns came out as Hillary Clinton supporters and were devastated on November 8th when Donald Trump won. It’s something that worried us both quite a bit through the year and now that its reality I can say our worries have only increased. I’ve wrote down a lot of my thoughts on the election but I will say that now only a couple of weeks from President Obama leaving office and I’ve never been more nervous about the future of this country then I am now. 

To compensate from the worry of impending doom, we bought our Christmas gifts early this year. I finally upgraded our living room television from a 1080p 52” Samsung LCD to a 4K 65” Samsung LED. Jenn not to be out done decided now was the right time to also update our bedroom. We ended up buying a completely new bed set with a new mattress for our master bedroom. The entire room is stunning; Jenn could not have done a better job picking out all the new pieces. 

Over the Thanksgiving weekend Jenn spent a little over a day decorating our entire apartment for Christmas. Every year she outdoes herself with small touches that bring the holidays alive. 2016 was no exception and was easily the best decorating she’s ever done. There wasn’t one corner of our apartment that didn’t scream Merry Christmas. 

We closed out the year enjoying a dozen Christmas movies and seeing A Christmas Carol at South Coast Repertory. More than any year before I can say without hesitation that Jenn and I absolutely loved the entire holiday season. We closed out the year with some time away from work and even hosted a small New Year’s Eve party at home with my siblings and their friends. 

As I look back and close out 2016 I am left in awe of how amazing the year was. Not only did Jenn and I take two once-in-a-lifetime vacations but the entire year was filled with smaller memories that will last a lifetime. I cannot even begin to imagine how 2017 will be able to top 2016 but I’m excited to see if it can. Until then, goodbye 2016 and thank you for one of the best years of my life.  

I also put together a quick slideshow of our year in pictures set to the two songs that Jenn and I named our favorite songs of the year.