CHRISTMAS IN EUROPE 2018 - A PHOTO DIARY

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MERRY CHRISTMAS

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It is Christmas Eve !!! I hope you are spending the day away from work; sleeping in; drinking mulled wine; eating minced pie and spending time with family and friends. I love this time of year in London (and Europe). Spending this time of year in London, Paris, any where in Europe is an absolute must once in a lifetime. The cities transform and in spite of the rain and cold (and snow); the Cities are vibrant; beautiful and merry. From corners filled with elaborate; uplifting decors; to Christmas markets; Mulled wine; wreaths hanging from doors; carols. I am here for all of it.

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I was going to limit this post to Christmas in London; but we got a chance to visit Amsterdam; Paris ; Lille and Brugge in the last month and the sights and sounds of Christmas in all of those cities are worth sharing. I am yet to explore Berlin, Strasbourg and Alsace/Colmar during this season but I hear it is a must-see which means I have got three trips lined up for next Christmas.

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Every time I find myself in Europe this time of year, I always take some time out to explore and soak up all the Christmas bits the city has to offer; This year I took pictures and a few video clips. I am currently running a Christmas series on my Instagram page. You can follow along at #TSE12DaysofChristmas. The video clips are in my highlight tagged “Christmas EUR”

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London transforms at Christmas - Somerset house and National history museum is completely transformed and Hyde park becomes Winter wonderland. Oxford street and Carnaby street light up and the tree and reindeers at covent garden while traditions of this season; they still draw the crowd. Beyond that - there are Christmas markets serving up the best minced pies; hot chocolate and mulled wine. How could I forget the annual gift from Norway which is on display at Trafalgar square and special displays like the Diane Van Furstenburg tree of Love at Claridges and St Pancras International.

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Brugge, Belgium - There are day trips from Paris and London to the Brugge Christmas market. Brugge itself is a dream to explore and the Christmas market is the cherry on top.

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Lille, France - Honestly I was not sure what to expect from Lille but I was pleasantly surprised. Compared to London and Paris - the Christmas scene is not at an obscene elaborate scene but it is still worth a trip to explore the city and its market. There is an impressive Christmas tree in the city center.

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Paris, France - This is probably the only time I will gladly indulge Opulence. The window displays on avenue Champ elysees to the elaborate decors at galleries de lafayette and Le Bon Marche. Paris takes Christmas decor; and takes it up twenty notches - just look at the decor at Dior ; Louis Vuitton and the avenue. Feast your eyes on the opulence and beauty. of the window displays and decor.

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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.


















U.S. HIGHWAY 1 ROADTRIP - LOS ANGELES PHOTO DIARY

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This is the final post of the highway one roadtrip series. Nineteen hours of driving over seven days; we drove over one thousand miles and made ten stops along the way. It is a travel experience I think everyone should have on their bucketlist. We started and ended our roadtrip in Los Angeles and although we did not properly explore Los Angeles, any time spent in Los Angeles is meaningful and worth sharing. We landed in LAX ; picked up our rental and decided to head to Melrose Place to check out the farmer’s market and visit Alfred’s tea room.

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We walked around Melrose place; had tea and decided on in and out burger for lunch because we were on holiday and carbs don’t count. After that we were ready to kick off our roadtrip adventures. We kicked off at El Matador then Santa Barbara , Big Sur and Carmel by the Sea. We also made stops at Monterrey ; Santa Cruz ; Half Moon Bay ; San Fransico ; San Diego.

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We made our second stop in LA on our drive from San Fransico to San Diego - we only had enough time for food and decided to brunch at Little Doms which is one of my favorite spots in Los Angeles.

Our final stop in LA was on our last day just before flying back home. We left San Diego just after sun rise and arrived in LA with enough time to stop by Grand central market in downtown LA for a quick breakfast and visite Broad museum and Walt Disney building

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