There tends to be a lot of pressure that happens around the holidays to attend every party and try to see all one’s friends and family. I personally don’t feel that pressure and chose to spend Christmas Eve and Christmas on an island in Colombia.
After our boat adventure and arrival to Isla Grande, we weren’t quite sure what we were in for. It turns out we had three days of delicious meals being cooked for us and ultimate relaxation in our room and at the pool or beach. This is the type of place where you go to bed shortly after sunset and wake up with the sunrise and it feels amazing!
The first day was truly a day of relaxing but we opted for some snorkeling the next day. The islands are surrounded by a huge coral reef and I was hoping to see a turtle (no luck). I did however step on a dead piece of coral as I was getting out of the ocean and have a nice puncture on the bottom of my foot. That stuff is no joke!
Christmas Eve dinner was served family style with the other 12 people staying at the hotel. They even splurged and brought us champagne (Andre Rosé and it was awful) but I know it’s the thought that counts.
Christmas Day was a repeat of the day before laying buy the pool and reading and relaxing. It was absolute perfection and made me so happy!
It was finally time to leave after 3 days in paradise but never fear, we are off to experience another island for another 3 days!
There is only one way to get to Isla Grande from Cartagena and that is by boat! You can reach the island of Baru by bus but you would still have to take a boat to Isla Grande. We ventured down to the port to buy our ticket for 40,000 COP with a 15,500 COP park tax (total $18.77 USD). There are tons of people trying to sell you tickets on the street but official booths line the path and that is the best place to buy the ticket to ensure the best pricing. All the boats leave by 10:30am so get there early unless you want to pay for a private speed boat. Be warned, these rides are not for the faint of heart as they fly through the water and throw you around a bit. Anyhow, after being told our boat would leave around 8:30 or 9:00, we were finally packed onto and ready for our hour boat ride!
Our boat was driving a little funny and making some weird noises but I didn’t think anything of since this is what they do for a living daily. I was wrong! The engine was failing and we had to slowly make our way to a random island and disembark and wait for two other boats to come and get us. No one cared and we just laid under the cabanas and others splashed around in the ocean. There are worse places to be stuck.
Once we finally arrived to our hotel it was like arriving to paradise! They only have 8-10 rooms (can’t quite figure it out) and the room rate includes all meals! Many people make the trip for the day so from 10-3 the place is packed but other than that, it’s like a ghost town. Absolute perfection!
For the next three days I will be on this island relaxing and through Christmas Eve and Christmas.
First off, recovering from 16 hours of jet lag is no joke! I landed on Thursday morning and had to unpack and do laundry and repack to catch a flight on Saturday to LA and spend an early anniversary with my boyfriend! But you can’t keep me in the country for long when I have the travel bug and on Wednesday, I took off for Colombia still unsure of which time zone I was sleeping in!
I have only been to Bogota in Colombia so this time I am meeting a friend to celebrate the holidays and traveling to Cartagena, Rosario Islands, Medellin and Bogota. It all started with two days in Cartagena to try to normalize my sleep and acclimate to the blistering heat!
I was very lucky to land in Cartagena and have an early checkin to my hotel. I had almost no sleep on the overnight flight and was in need of a shower! I met up with my friend Lisa from Manchester who I met in Rome (this is why I travel) and grabbed a bite to eat and headed back to the room to take a nap. My nap turned into almost 10 hours of sleep where I then was awake from 11pm-5am to wake up again around 8:30am. Once again, lovely jet lag.
Attempting to see a bit more of Cartagena than the inside of my hotel room, we decided to explore the inside of the walled city. Finally, I started to feel like I was in Colombia! We have 4 days in Cartagena over the new year so there will be a lot more in depth exploring, but it was nice to get a feel for the city before our next adventure!
Where does one start after 8 days in Maui? With a story I guess. A few years ago (20) I met some amazing girls in high school. 20 years later we are still friends and decided on a girls trip to Maui. A few years ago (3) I met this girl in Rome. We became friends and I decided to visit her in Maui before my girls trip. That is how I ended up in Maui for 8 days!
This will mostly be a picture diary of some amazing experiences because what better way to show off a beautiful place?? Landing in Maui I was scooped up from the airport and whisked off to a kegs and eggs house party. From there, Kimmy (my friend from Rome) took me on adventure after adventure after adventure! There is nothing like hanging with a local to really get to know a place.
The favorite local hangout is Down The Hatch where Monday is trivia night and every other night is just a night for some company and good drinks. If you win trivia night, you win lots of coupons towards food or drinks. Don’t try to beat Kimmy, she always wins. Aside from that, we ate breakfast at Longhi’s almost every morning, had happy hour at Spanky’s and had ocean front dining at Koa’s. The best part of being with a local is the 10% discount on basically everything!
It’s not all about the nightlife so off on a road trip we went. The idea was to end with snorkeling but the water was super choppy and murky which meant danger! Instead I was able to see the blow hole, walk through a rainforest, see some flamingos and penguins and have a drink in a cave. Not a bad way to spend the day when you can’t get in the water.
Still having not set foot in the ocean we were off on another adventure the next day on the Road to Hana. Well, the weather decided against that for us and we turned around and stopped at ho’okipa where I finally got to swim! The ocean was relentless and took me down and I have a bruise to show it! Regardless, I was happy to frolic around for a bit.
The next day my other friends were flying in and it was time to switch gears. We stayed at the Fairmont so I went from Lahaina to Wailea and from being a local to a tourist. One has to switch it up sometimes! The next few days were spent lounging by the pool chatting and giggling and going out to dinner. We had J Rosé and yummy blended drinks to keep us going! We went down the water slide and made new friends in the pool. We strolled the path past all the other hotels and enjoyed just hanging out. I even finally got in some snorkeling!
Sadly it was time to go home. The ladies went one way while I started off on another adventure.
The number one best thing about traveling is meeting new people. My new friend Danielle had heard about this little town called Aveiro from someone working at the hostel. This just happens to be on the way to Porto and so I left Lisbon a day early and planned to arrive in Porto a day late to visit this place.
No train ride is complete without some entertainment and refreshments. We had a book and an adult coloring book for the 3 hour train ride from Lisbon to Aveiro. What else does one need?
Aveiro is a very small place and the main area is walkable within about 15 minutes so there actually isn’t that much to do. The view from the hostel was these adorable little houses full of tiled detail. Basically, when I think of Portugal this is what I think of.
Aveiro is said to be the Venice of Portugal so naturally we had to go on a boat tour and see what the city was all about. We specifically asked for a tour in English and somehow ended up on a tour in Spanish. I learned that this quaint little town is known for fishing and salt and is actually a huge port town.
I always find it interesting to learn about a place that is so important to a a certain part of the world that I had no idea about.
The tiles on the houses all have different details. The blue tile is a very common theme throughout all of Portugal and it just so happened that my headband matched the pattern. I have to have a little fun while I’m traveling right?
Since the town is quite small, we took a day trip to a beach town about 20 minutes outside of town call Costa Nova. The houses are all painted with individual stripes because it was said that the supply of paint was so limited that each plank was painted a different color just in case.
The beach was incredibly windy but we found a little cove to relax in and enjoy the sounds of the ocean. This entire little place can be done as a day trip from Porto but I was very happy to spend the night and enjoy this area and I think it is a must see!
Time for one last stop in Spain before the parents head home and I move on to Portugal. Seville is mostly know for having the largest Gothic cathedral in the world and third overall largest cathedral in the world as well as the Alcazar. I was in Seville in 1998 at the lovely age of 13 and I am pretty sure I appreciated the trip a little more this time.
Believe it or not this is the view from the air bnb and the reason people come to the city. We are not the most keen explorers of cathedrals and we were very happy to walk around this multiple times day and night. The lines to get in were hours long and the temperature was reaching the high 90s. Small tip: you can pre book your tickets for a slated time to enter and the lines are much shorter!
We made sure to prebook our entry into Alcazar because this was something we wanted to see for sure! Once you enter it is like being transported back in time. This palace was originally designed by the Moorish Muslim kings before being kicked out and replaced by the Spanish. The tile work is incredibly detailed and not a site to be missed!
There are acres of gardens in the palace and once you are in, you can sit and relax and completely get lost. I was a little disappointed that I could see over the hedges of the maze garden so it was easy to find your way out!
I am guilty of a few things when I travel and one of them is craving and missing the NFL and a good sports bar. We found an Irish pub that served Kilkenny which is a beer incredibly hard to find in the US and another Irish pub that had the Red Zone for the NFL on. I had a burger and fries and a beer and was a happy camper!
Back to being in Spain! Seville or rather Andalusia is the home of Flamenco and we caught a great little show with amazing singers and dancers with a guitar player that was to die for. Seeing a flamenco show last time I was here is a memory I still have 18 years later.
Overall a few weeks in Spain is not nearly enough but great for a taste of everything the country has to offer. Barcelona and Mallorca were by far my favorite places and I would happily go back to both. We had our final gelato of the trip before we headed our different ways. Traveling with the parents is a blast and makes for an amazing trip! As the next weeks progress I will be back to my backpacking hostel ways!
Many people are fully aware of the island of Ibiza and all it has to offer. For those who don’t want $30 cocktails and crazy parties, there are the islands of Mallorca and Menorca that offer a calm and relaxing seaside environment.
The sunsets were truly amazing and not something that should be missed. I took so many pictures and it was hard to try to capture exactly what I was seeing but there are few below that show the awesomeness!
Don’t worry, I used water to capture this “wine” picture.
Palma de Mallorca is the main center for the island. We were staying about 20 minutes outside of this area in a gorgeous Airbnb but thought a day in town would be great. We ended up going to lunch for some tapas and browsing the zillion stores! This little bull caught my eye and I thought he was pretty sexy.
As always, my mom is one of my awesome travel partners in crime and we always have a great time together!
Europe…a continent consisting of 50 countries with about 225 different languages and 28 different currencies. Where do I even start planning? How do I decide where I am going? These are questions I ask once I decide that I am heading to Europe again.
This trip started with a plan to meet some family friends in Valencia and grew from there based on the pricing for return airfare on Virgin Atlantic from London.
Once all was settled, I had 46 days to plan and pack for. My luggage is just over 10 kilos and considered a carry on for most flights. I have a lot of basic black and my favorite design of strips.
Without fail, I always travel with some sort of hat and a cross body purse with a chain to help avoid the scam where someone slits through your purse strap so it falls to the ground. Packed and ready to go it was off to the airport!
I am usually a very budget traveler but my parents are treating me to the first few weeks of this trip and we ended up with upper class (first class) seats on Virgin. This gave us access to the club lounge before the flight and made the ease of starting the trip very very easy!
The flight was amazing! The food was actually quite good and there was a bar in the cabin. Yes, you read that correctly. The seats folded down to full beds to make the 10+ hour journey pretty simple.
We flew to London and then jumped on a British Airways flight to Barcelona and finally arrived to the hotel! I used my best friend Seth from aXcess Travel to help with the hotel accommodation as well as the airfare.
Europe is not very keen on having three adults in a room and instead of risking anything on booking.com or another site, we are guaranteed to have no issues upon arrival with Seth. Plus we received a welcome amenity and daily breakfast for two and a food and beverage credit all for the same price the other websites were showing! It really is a no brainer most of the time!
Stay tuned for more updates as I gallivant around Europe.
If you have watched Mission Impossible III then you know that Tom Cruise ends up in Shanghai catapulting off buildings and then escaping and running along some canals to save his fiancée. Those canals are actually about an hour outside of Shanghai in a little place called Tongli.
Today started with a visit to Suzhou which is often referred by the Chinese as the “Venice of the East.” Suzhou is a 2,500 year old city renowned for its traditional gardens, ancient canals and silk production. In 1997 Suzhou’s classic garden was designated as an UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Chinese garden was developed as a synthesis of two concepts linked in Taoist philosophy – scenery and serenity. The thought was that the contemplation of nature in isolated meditation led to enlightenment. We stopped at the Garden of the Master of Fishing Nets which is said to be the finest of all gardens in Suzhou. The best known building is the “Pavilion for Watching the Moon,” from where the moon can be viewed in a mirror, in the water and in the sky. It was a rainy day but still a very tranquil experience.
Our next stop was a tour of the Silk Spinning Mill where we learned how silk is created from the mulberry munching silkworms. It takes 6-7 cocoons to make one thread of silk. The entire production process of silk can be divided into several steps which are typically handled by different entities. Extracting raw silk starts by cultivating the silkworms on Mulberry leaves. Once the worms start pupating in their cocoons, these are dissolved in boiling water in order for individual long fibers to be extracted and fed into the spinning reel.
Finally, we ventured to Tongli for a gondola ride through the waterways and some free time to explore the town. Tongli gives visitors a good idea of what Suzhou would have been like in its heyday.
Waking up in Shanghai at the JC Mandarin was like waking up on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills. Outside the window was Cartier, Hermes, Chanel, Louis Vuitton and almost any other designer you could imagine. This was a vast contrast to the ancient architecture of Beijing.
Shanghai literally means “above the sea,” and is China’s largest and most dynamic city with a population of over 23,000,000 people! One of the most popular stops in Shanghai is the Bund which divides old Shanghai and new Shanghai where you can see the western commercial influence and power by the number of hotels, banks, offices and clubs.
After a walk along the Bund we went to visit theOriental Pearl Tower and the Shanghai Municipal Wax Museum. The Pearl Tower offers amazing 360-degree views of Shanghai. It was only once I saw the vastness of Shanghai from this view that I was truly able to grasp how large the city really is.
After viewing the city we were able to head one floor down (about 88 stories) and walk along a glass floor and look at the city in a different way. Needless to say this was an experience I will not forget!
The last stop was the Shanghai Wax Museum which was fun but nothing to write home about. The best part was upon the exit where there was a Spiderman exhibit and the option to take silly pictures!
We had an option to attend a Shanghai Acrobatics Show that included plate twirling, hat dancing, motorcycles, bicycles and of course ton of acrobatics. It was an entertaining show and reminded me a lot of Cirque Du Soleil. Finally, we had to go to a local bar we had walked by just because of the name! It was a fantastic first day in Shanghai!