THE STUNNING GENERALIFE PALACE IN GRANADA, SPAIN

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If you have spent any time around this corner of the internet, then you know I have a thing for UNESCO WORLD HERITAGE sites; it is a bucketlist items to see all of the ones on the list currently. There are about 1092 by the latest count including THE stunning Generalife palace in Granada. We spent a week in South of Spain one December - the intention was to split our time with three days in Seville and three days in Granada but the forecast was all rain in Granada and we did not want to bother with that . Instead, we scrapped our plans for Granada and decided to do a day trip instead. We were up at a VERY ungodly time to catch the train to Granada. The train ride is about eight hours round trip. In hindsight doing a day trip was not the smartest move on our part. Our tickets into Alhambra was booked for 3 p.m. - the visit to Generalife is not timed and you can get in anytime on ticketed date. After a brief tour of town and nourishment, we took a cab to the entrance; picked up our ticket and kicked off our tour.

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Tickets to just Generalife costs about 14 euros. If you have time, I recommend getting the combo Alhambra/Generalife ticket. it is better value for money.

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The entrance to the palace is the beautiful Generalife gardens which incorporates elaborate moorish garden design with water; music and light features. I dont think it gets the credit it deserves because of how stunning the adjacent palace (The Alhambra) is - I think most people visit Generalife after time in Alhambra and because of how elaborate and overwhelming the Alhambra is - it clouds seeing the beauty of Generalife. I am glad we saw this palace first. The Generalife palace was the summer palace of the rulers of the Emirate of Granada.

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The grounds is a collection of gardens ; the building is minimal (compared to other similar buildings/palaces) in this region of Spain. Although there are few influences of the Christian invaders, Generalife still reflects (very much) the Arabic stamp and influence from the time the region was ruled by arabs. It is said this was the rest palaces for the rulers at time and that is evident in the design. While the palace structure is stunning; I recommend spending most of your time exploring the gardens - it is so beautiful. I am going to stop trying to convince you now and let pictures tell the story.

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TEN HOURS IN CORDOBA - A DAY TRIP FROM SEVILLE , SPAIN

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When we planned our trip to the South of Spain, there were a few things we absolutely wanted to see - the Alhambra in Granada; the Royal Alcazar in Seville and the Mosque-Cathedral of Cordoba. On our third day in the region, it was time to visit the Mosque-Cathedral. We took the train from Seville central to Cordoba. The train ride was just under an hour.

Cordoba has a very unique history (similar to other cities in the Andalusia region). It has both Roman and Islamic (Moorish) influences. One of the main sites in Cordoba - the mosque-cathedral was initially constructed as a mosque and later became a cathedral. More on the mosque-cathedral later.

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From the Cordoba train station, we got a taxi to the mosque-cathedral to get our time in the city started. Although our main draw to the city was the mosque-cathedral, we were pleasantly surprised by how much more the city had to offer. If you are already in Seville, then you should make an effort to get to Cordoba - you will not be dissapointed. One tip for you, if you are interested in visiting the mosque-cathedral (and why wouldn’t you; it is an architectural masterpiece and a UNESCO world heritage site), I recommend not visiting on Sunday. Mass is held at various times of the day which means access is limited and you will get kicked out. I have also heard you can access the cathedral for free between 8:30 and 9:30 while preparations for mass are underway. This is a must see in Cordoba; the interior and ceiling work is one of the most spectacular and intricate designs I have ever seen. Just take a look. Keep an eye out for the master organ - it takes up an entire wall.

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As we made our exit from the mosque-cathedral, we met locals heading in for mass. They were dressed in regal overcoats; the men with top hats and canes - it was great to see this authentic part of life in Cordoba.

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After our time in the mosque-cathedral, we explored the area around the structure which is lined with souvenir shops; restaurants; spice and tea shops and wine shops carrying a variety of local wine. Next, we stopped by Guadalquivir - the Roman bridge; although it is known today for its appearance in season 5 of game of thrones (I am told); the bridge dates back to the 1st century. A walk across it comes highly recommended when planning a Cordoba itinerary - it offers a panoramic view of the city from old town to the mosque-cathedral. I hear it is absolutely stunning at sunset - unfortunately we could not stay in the city that late.

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We spent some time in Old town - Cordoba has one of the oldest old towns in Europe which has earned the old town a UNESCO designation. Although similar to many European old towns in a lot of ways; it is different in many others - you have the twisting alleys you will find in most European cities; but buildings in Cordoba (especially in old town) are known for having patios and interior courtyard that are spectacularly decorated. We were lucky to find a few courtyards open to quickly peek in to see rows of orange trees and elaborate floral arrangements. We were visiting in early November so a lot of the flowers were not in bloom. I imagine visiting and seeing these courtyards in Spring time will be absolutely stunning.

We spent some time in the La Ribera area. If we were staying overnight - this would have been the destination for coffee; meals and entertainment. If you are keen, I hear some of the clubs in this part of town open till 6 am.

We still had some time left before our train back to Seville and on the recommendation of locals we met at a wine shop by the mosque-cathedral, we walked towards the Jewish quarter and Sinagoga de Cordoba. This part of town is known as the sophisticated part of town and home to the last remaining synagogues in the region and the Calleja de las flores (aka little street of flower). The synagoue is open to the public and a spot I will recommend you visit in Cordoba.

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Because there were three of us - we got around the different part of town via taxis. Split three way, it was about the same price as public transportation. We made a stop in city centre for the Sunday market. This is a stop that can be missed, there was not much happening here (at least when we visited). Our final stop before heading back to Seville was in the Santa Maria district to visit the Palacio de Viana - the palace museum built in the 14th century is best known for its beautiful garden courtyard (sense a theme here ?). I think there are twelve in total. The facade of the palace is exquisite and telling of what lies within the palace.

One stop that came highly recommended but we could not fit into our time in the city - the Alcazar de los reyes christanos.

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WATCHING THE SUNSET FROM MOUNT BONNELL // AUSTIN , TX

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If you know, you know how I feel about sunsets and sunrise. There is something about that time of day that calms me and centers me and leaves me of awe. While I was preparing for the Austin trip - Mount Bonnell was one of the most recommended things to do - the opportunity to get some workout in and also watch the sunset was a no brainer. After an afternoon exploring congress street ; the state Capital building (which is one of my favorite architecture); the botanical garden - it was time to unwind for the day. In the summer months, the sunset is quite later in the day so I had to wait about an hour after completing the hike. Keep that in mind if you are headed this way and want to do a sunset hike.

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There are stairs to get you to the top but once you are up there, there are some rocky parts if you want to wander off the main viewing ledge. I did a silly thing and forgot to pack appropriate shoes, so I had to do in hike in sandal (don’t judge); I paid for it for days but the hike was still worth it. If hiking or sunset/sunrise (or both) is your thing then you should add this to you itinerary plus you will be rewarded with a great view of the hill country - which I thing is a pretty spectacular reward.

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WEEKEND GUIDE TO AUSTIN <> AUSTIN, TX

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Nine years, two weeks and a day  - that is how long I lived in Texas before making a proper trip to Austin. Only three and half hours from Dallas and filled with all the things that make my wanderlust heart sing - how is it that I lived in this state for nearly a decade and was only just exploring Austin - shame on me. I had such an incredible time in Austin and can say without hesitation -  it will make my top twenty list of favorite cities in the world.

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Getting There. Flights to Austin can be expensive. It is only four hours from Dallas but airfare from Dallas average $350. If you live in Texas, i recommend driving. If you don't live in Texas and are looking for ways to save on your trip - you can fly into Houston or Dallas and get a rental car to drive to Austin or hop on a mega bus. You can also use a private jet on wheels service line Vonlane if you departing from Houston, Dallas, Fort Worth or San Antonio.

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Getting Around. I had my car to get around but had a challenge finding parking especially in the downtown area. Make sure you have change on hand to pay for parking. If you are flying in and don’t want to rent a car; it is worth noting Austin has an odd relationship with Uber and Lyft (and there have been times they are not available in the city). Austin has several alternatives including Ride Austin and Fasten - be sure to download the app before you go. It works sort of like Uber and is quite reliable.

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The Best Time to Visit. Texas summers are legendary and although Austin is not like most Texas cities, it is still very hot in summer. Texas dwellers are used to it (mostly), but if you have flexibility visiting in spring or fall, that will be my preference. If you are heading this way in summer, make sure to stay hydrated.

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Where to Stay. Having a car means you can stay away from downtown and more expensive hotels. I stayed in a hotel about twenty-five minutes from the center and with a car, that was not inconvenient; parking, on the other hand, is another story. If you want to stay close to center - I recommend: Four seasons Austin; Aloft Austin Downtown; Doubletree university area.

What to do.The beauty of Austin is that it has something for everyone. If you are in search of a weekend of food or just nightlife - you will not be disappointed. If you prefer history or culture or the outdoors - again there is more than enough for you to see and do in Austin.

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  1. Visit the Texas State Capital. One of the most impressive capital you will ever visit.

  2. Hike up to Mount Bonnell for an incredible view of Lake Travis. Also, sunset views from Mount Bonnel are stunning

  3. Visit the Zilker Botanical garden - do not miss the Japanese garden

  4. Visit Bullock Texas State History Museum for a wealth of history.

  5. Take a stroll down Congress Avenue (South Congress) lined with shops and restaurants - I recommend Jo’s coffee (the coffee is excellent but their Tacos are even better); and Amy’s Ice cream. There are also some murals in this area to look out for - including the “I love you so much mural” by Jo’s Coffee and “Willie Nelson for President” mural.

  6. Visit the Umlauf Sculpture garden for quiet statues and water lilies. You might even catch a wedding while you are there.

  7. Explore the Hope Outdoor gallery for some of the best murals/street art you will ever see. If you can maneuver your way to the top, you will be rewarded with some amazing views of the city.

  8. Get your photograph taken by the “Greetings from Austin Mural.

  9. For the nightlife - clubs; bars; live music - head to the sixth street.

  10. Stop by the Austin Farmer’s market. Market opens at 9 a.m. on Saturday.

  11. If you have time, take a tour of the University of Texas camp

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Where to Eat. As much as Austin is known for culture and music, it is also a foodie town. A few spots I will recommend

  1. Franklin’s Bbq. Get there early and plan to wait up to 2.5 hours to place your order. Some days, the line is so long, the sold-out sign goes up before the restaurant opens. Plan accordingly.

  2. Blenders and Bowls for amazing acai bowls and smoothie blends. I recommend - The O.G.! bowl.

  3. Jo’s Coffee. One of the best coffee shops in Austin and from my Travels. It is the only place I will order an iced dirty chai because they have set the bar so high. They also serve amazing breakfast tacos.

  4. Hillside Farmacy. One of two of my favorite brunch spots in Austin. I love the ambiance and the weekend brunch menu delivers. I recommend the Green onion biscuit and gravy with a side of scrambled eggs.

  5. Paperboy. This is my second brunch spot recommendations. The stationary trailer is open till 2 p.m. I recommend the B.E.C (bacon,sunny egg, and pimento cheese on buttermilk bun).

  6. Voodoo Doughnut. The vegan glazed doughnut, always.

  7. Lucky Robot. Amazing traditional Japanese dishes

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Day Trips. If you have got more than a weekend to spare. Then you should consider taking a day trip to one of these locations

  1. Waco. Visit Magnolia | Tour Baylor Campus | Have the best ice cream at heritage creamery

  2. Hamilton Pool. All the waterfalls you want. I hear the pools have been around for thousands of years.

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A [LONG] WEEKEND GUIDE TO VISITING NEW YORK CITY

[All recommendations are in bold font and italicized]

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I have been spending part of summer in NYC for the last five years and it never gets old. Whether it is the 1st or the 20th visit, the city will always have something in store and old favorites will remain intriguing. On one of my visit to the city, I was joined by my brother who had never visited New York. I got a chance to play tour guide for the weekend. I arrived about 36 hours before he did so it was more of a long weekend for me. We had a packed itinerary but I will have it no other way when visiting NYC. Here is what we got up to during our time in the city.

WHERE TO STAY. I have been lucky to have friends who live in the city so I have not had to shell out for accommodation in NYC the last few years. When friends ask what neighborhood to stay in the city, I generally recommend Mid-Town ; Soho or Brooklyn. Some hotels I will recommend - 11 Howard ; NoMad ; Ace Hotel ; The time square hotel.

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GETTING AROUND. You can go the route of Uber and yellow cabs or you can save your pennies and use the tube and buses. Get a metrocard from any of the train stations; I recommend loading it $20 increments to make sure you don’t have a lot left on it when the weekend is over. When you can, go by foot.

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WHERE TO EAT. I wish I was one of those people who picks up groceries while on holiday because I will have a lot more money in my bank account now. However, I find that exploring the food scene in a new place is a significant part of the travel experience for me. During our time in the city we dined at:

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  1. Blue ribbon sushi bar and grill. The rooftop bar is excellent for drinks and I prefer the bar menu to the restaurant menu especially when it features the Duck meatballs soba noodle bowl.

  2. Bluestone Lane (and Cafe). There are multiple locations around the city including locations in the upper east side; west village; upper west side. Order the green baked eggs and the Aussie iced latte.

  3. Dough for Doughnuts the size of your face and incredibly delicious

  4. Shake Shack for the milkshakes and burgers. I have a preference for the chicken burger and malted peanut butter shake

  5. Two Hands Coffee. The Acai bowl; Avocado toast, always.

  6. Grimaldi’s Pizza Brooklyn. Cash only and the wait for a table can be as long as an hour.

  7. EggLoo. Hong Kong style waffle and ice cream spot. It is one of my favorite dessert spots in the city.

  8. Sweethaus cafe and Devicons coffee in Williamsburg

Williamburg
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WHERE TO EXPLORE. Because it was my brother’s first vist, we did the usual tourist thing you will expect, but there is no part of New York that gets old. We started out tour at Time Square, we arrived early to beat the crowd because it becomes a zoo as the day progresses. Then it was off to Bryant Park for stroll around and people watch before stopping by the historic New York Public Library. Next, we visited Grand central station. We are both fans of design and architecture and wanted to check out the whispering wall at Grand central station. There are a lot of secrets at Grand central - the most known is the whispering gallery located in front of the Oyster bar and restaurant. Basically, If two people stand at diagonal arches and whisper; they can hear each other’s voice. We had a lot of fun with that one.

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As fans of design, there are few buildings that enchant like the Flatiron building on fifth avenue, so we had to visit (and take hundreds of pictures). While we were in the area we visited Eataly - the Italian grocery store is a destination in itself; there is so much good food and I cannot stop recommending the Nutella bar. We had lunch at Shake Shack and got dessert from Dough before heading over to the Meatpacking district to kick off a trek across the highline. Before we kicked off the trek across the highline, we stopped Gansevoort market. The indoor market is housed in a building that dates back to the 1800s and home to some of the trendy NYC eateries. We started our trek across the from the Whitney Museum. The highline is a railway transformed into a public park with Public art; it runs from Gansevoort to 34th streets. We trekked the full length of it. I was sore for days. A tip if you choose to do this trek - wear comfortable shoes and carry water with you.

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Day two. Our day two itinerary was a bit disjointed but it worked - I advise reworking the order to suit your itinerary. We kicked off day two in SoHo. We stumbled on the bleeding hearts mural at Mott Street Soho on our way to breakfast at two hands coffee. Then it was off to catch the Staten Island ferry. The ferry is free and a great way to see Lady Liberty (without paying) and on the ferry back - you get a great view of the city (all without any cost to you). The round trip took about an hour; we arrived back in the city and made a stop at the 9-11 memorial on Greenwich street before starting on a trek across the Brooklyn Bridge from Manhattan to Brooklynn. We explored DUMBO and took all the required tourist picture with the Manhattan bridge in the background. We had a late lunch at Grimaldi’s before returning to the city on the metro stopping by in Soho for a spot of shopping and Laduree. Our trek across the Brooklyn Bridge was the perfect excuse to treat ourselves to dessert from Eggloo in Chinatown - possibly the best part of the trip. Every time we discuss NYC, we always come back to the Hong Kong waffle and ice cream from Eggloo. We stumbled on the “you are loved” mural in the process. We wrapped up the day exploring Central Park.

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Our final day in New York was very laid back and slow paced. We did not kick it off till late afternoon with a visit to the Metropolitan Museum of Art of New York City (“the MET”). The exhibit that year was the Manus × Machina: Fashion in an Age of Technology exhibit - one of my all-time favorite MET exhibits. After visiting the exhibits, we made our way to the MET rooftop garden bar which offers an amazing view of the city and ended the evening strolling down the fifth avenue for window shopping and a stop by Radio city.

Like I said I arrived a day before my brother, during my day alone, I decided to explore life outside Manhattan. My destination was Williamsburg (which I cannot recommend enough); I spent most of our time on Bedford Avenue. We had coffee at Devicions Coffee and lunch at Sweet Haus cafe. More of our time in Williamsburg here.

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Lady Liberty
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Williamsburg
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Until next time NYC.