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.


















10 OF THE VERY BEST THINGS TO SEE AND DO IN SAN DIEGO

La Jolla

One of the downsides of running a blog and working full time is that sometimes the full-time job has to take priority which means a backlog of posts. San Diego was the last stop on our fall highway one road trip and it has taken me months to get around to typing up the post but such is life and gotta make the best of it.

La Jolla

We drove eight and half hours from San Fransico to San Diego (with a brief stop for lunch in Los Angeles). I am not sure what we were thinking but while planning the trip, this route seemed like a great idea - until we had to execute the plan (oops). Thankfully, we arrived not long before sunset and as a way of avoiding traffic, we decided to start our time in San Diego at La Jolla Cove.

1. La Jolla Cove. I have been lucky to visit La Jolla twice and although it is amazing in the daytime, the sunset at La Jolla is spectacular.  We arrived with enough time to watch the sea lions playing as waves crashed into shore; the restaurant patios were filling up with customer preparing to watch the sunset which we heard was spectacular and we were not disappointed.  We walked northwest along the walking path until we found the perfect spot to view the sunset. If you feel peckish, there several restaurants along the cove but my favorite of them is a spot called Cody's - one of the best meals, ever!

La Jolla
La Jolla
La Jolla
La Jolla
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La Jolla

2. Hike to Soledad Mountain. Full disclosure, the mountaintop is the site of Mount Soledad cross and that was one of the reasons we made the hike up there along with incredible views of the city. The mount is also home to a veteran's memorial and has a running/hiking trail if you need to fit in a workout during your visit. 

Mt Soledad
Mt Soledad

3. Explore Old Town San Diego. Our visit to the Old town was a highlight of our San Diego trip and I have a guide here if you plan to visit. My favorite part of our Oldtown wander was the olive oil tasting at Temecula olive oil Company and Casa de Estudillo.

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old town san deign

4. See the view from Sea Port Village. On my first trip to San Diego, we stayed in a hotel in Sea Port Village. It is a one-stop shop for shopping and dining and offers some incredible view of the city. If you have got time (which we did) it is worth a spot on your itinerary. if you don't have the luxury of time, then this is one you can skip.

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5. Visit Point Loma . You can easily spend half a day here. We made the drive to Point Loma for the lighthouse but got more than we bargained for. It is a former naval base and still has some of the military base features. We found a parking spot and began our hike, First to view the lighthouses - there are two - we got a spectacular view of one and visited another. At the furthest tip of point-Loma is the Cabrillo monument which has an incredible panoramic view of the bay, cliffside formation and pacific ocean. Pointe Loma has also got amazing tide pools, I did not venture to any, but could see braver people than me, make their way down narrow and steep walkway to get down to it. Depending on the season, this is also a great spot for whale watching. 

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6. Liberty Station. Not far from Point Loma is Liberty station - a former naval training center now converted to an art district with an indoor food market, shops and museums. 

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7. Visit Balboa Park and Gardens. Another one of those spots in San Diego that could easily take half a day if you can fight your way through parking. Setting aside our frustrations with parking, I am glad we endured to explore this park. The park is home to about 15 museums; a performance center; gardens (loved the Japanese garden); Spanish village; California tower and the San Diego zoo.

Balboa Park
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Balboa Park
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Balboa Park
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8. Visit Coronado Beach and Hotel. The hotel (more than the beach) has an incredible and famed history. Beyond its imposing design, the hotel has also hosted celebrities and presidents for years. It has also been featured in multiple feature films including the 1959 classic - Some like it hot. 

9. Explore GasLamp District. For nightlife, the gaslamp quater is the place to be. It is one of the oldest neighborhoods in the city with several blocks of clubs, restaurants, hotels and cocktail lounges. Spreckels and Balboa theatres are also located here and offer a mix of shows if clubs are not your thing. You will find local favorites and national chain restaurants here. The neighborhood has an interesting history which you can discover by taking a guided tour hosted by the Gaslamp foundation.

10. Eat Lobster Roll. I don't think a trip to San Diego is complete without having a lobster roll. We did a lot a research and eventually ended up at a spot near Coronado beach called Lobster West. We were not dissapointed. 

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If you have a favorite spot for a lobster roll spot in San Diego or a favorite attraction, please pop it in the comment because San Diego is one of those places I am certain I will be visiting multiple times.

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La Jolla
La Jolla

DISNEY'S MAGIC KINGDOM PHOTO DIARY

Disney's Magic Kingdom
Disney's  Magic Kingdom
Disney's Magic Kingdom
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It has been a joy sharing all about our Disney trip from a few months ago. If you have missed any of it - you can read all about our day at the Animal Kingdom here; our time at Epcot here and my guide to planning your Walt Disney world trip here

Disney's Magic Kingdom

Magic Kingdom is my favorite of the three parks I have visited so far and I will gladly return if budget and timing align. I debated sharing this post since I already shared a guide, but there were too many special moments during our time at the Magic Kingdom - the trip needed one more post. In no particular order, here are my highlights from Disney's Magic Kingdom

1. Get a picture with a Character. Because you are at Disney.  - I did not get to do this and I regret it now and wish I had waited in line. 

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2. Cinderella Castle. This is the symbol of Disney's Magic Kingdom and you cannot miss it as you arrive at the park. You can go into the castle for a fairy tale experience or you can view Mickey's royal friendship faire from the castle stage. 

Disney's Magic Kingdom
Disney's Magic Kingdom

3. Festival of Fantasy. My friend called this Disney's version of Mardi Gras. Large, detailed, colorful floats accompanied by performers in costume along with song and dance. Don't miss the Maleficent float (it breathes fire). 

Disney's Magic Kingdom
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Disney's Magic Kingdom
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4. Space Mountain.  My favorite of the Magic Kingdom rides. If there is a Magic Kingdom attraction to use your FastPass - this will be the one.

Disney's Magic Kingdom

5. The happily ever after parade. After a long day at the park, there was no better way to close out our time at Magic Kingdom. We viewed it from main street. It was utterly magical. If you can, stake your spot at least an hour before the show begins. 

Disney's Magic Kingdom
Disney's Magic Kingdom
Disney's Magic Kingdom
Disney's Magic Kingdom
Disney's Magic Kingdom
Disney's Magic Kingdom
Disney's Magic Kingdom
Disney's Magic Kingdom

HOW TO SPEND A DAY IN MONACO // MONACO

It has been a while since I returned from Monaco and the French Riviera and I think now is the perfect time to share how incredible the experience of exploring Monaco was for me. My time in this part of the world remains one of my fondest travel memories. I chose Nice as my base city during my time in this region due to its proximity to other cities along the Riviera.  

Monaco is only about thirty minutes (by bus or train) from Nice and round trip bus ride from the le port bus station in Nice will cost you less than five euros (about $6). I knew three things about Monaco before my visit: Monte Carlo casino; the Grand Prix race; and Monaco football club. I had been in Nice less than two hours before deciding to head to Monaco. 

The number 100 bus arrived in Monaco around noon. I got off at the Monaco-Ville stop. Just off to the side from the stop, there was a sign directing tourist uphill to the Prince's palace. I followed the sign and other tourists up the stairs not knowing what to expect. It was a bit of a hike, but the spectacular views of Monaco and the Mediterranean outweighed the throbbing in my quads.

 I arrived at the square outside the Palace about half an hour after arriving in Monaco. I discovered I missed the changing of the guide ceremony. They only happen during certain months of the year. If this is something of interest to you, I recommend confirming the days and time before heading out. The breathtaking views from the courtyard made up for the long trek up and missing the changing of the guard's ceremony. There was guard marching back and forth across the front entrance of the palace; a few shops line the square along with some statues and monuments honoring Monaco history. There were several narrow cobblestone roads leading off from the palace including one that led to the Oceanography Museum; the Monaco Cathedral and the resting place of Princess Grace.

I did not have a lot of time left to see Monaco. I was traveling in December and the sun tended to set earlier in the day. Just as I was deciding how to map out my short time in Monaco - one of those tour buses pulled up to its stop on the square and I chose that as my best option for seeing Monaco in a short amount of time. Next Stop - Monte Carlo.

I always thought Monte Carlo was another city. Apparently not. It is a district in Monaco like mid-town in NYC or Notting Hill in London. The tour bus stopped across the street from the famed casino. The first thing I saw was the fountain flora lawn and sculpture lights outside the casino. I have seen pictures for years but never imagined I will see it in person. On either side of the casino was the Hotel de Paris and Cafe Paris. I found a spot on the terrace at Cafe de Paris, ordered a pastry and the most expensive hot chocolate and settled in for an afternoon of people watching. 

If you want to see the opulence of Monaco on display;  there is no better place than the terrace of the cafe. Two hours of people watching and I was ready to see what else Monaco had to offer.  Do yourself a favor and walk around the casino - the architectural details are unbelievable. I went on a  lengthy stroll around the surrounding area of the Casino. Starting with the luxury shops flanking the side of the casino and the across from it. There is a small garden/fountain area across the street from the casino that is worth a stop. The walking past the Hotel Paris behind the casino and along the shoreline passing yachts docked at the harbor, Princess Grace movie theater and some of the prettiest homes before ending up at the city center.

Every step, a breathtaking sight, I must have taken over 500 pictures on my stroll from the Casino to Monaco city center and then to the Fonteville district to visit the car museum.The museum houses the personal car collection of Prince Rainer III  assembled over a thirty year period. The collection included more than forty vintage and modern luxury cars including the Lexus L S 600h L Landaulet that was used by Prince Albert and his bride during their 2011 wedding.  After the car museum, I spent some time walking around the Fonteville area before heading back to Nice.

Monaco is one of those walkable cities and it is easy to lose track of time admiring pretty alleyways and homes if you don't have a thought out itinerary.