3 DAYS IN SAN DIEGO – MY HEN DO CALIFORNIA ROAD TRIP (PART 2)

The second part of the Hen Do California Trip was 3 days in San Diego. I was super excited about this stop because the city is just amazing! It’s probably one of my favourite US cities now because of its beaches, parks, neighbourhoods, food and the general laid-back beach vibe. It’s got the typical skyscrapers that most American cities have but it’s different – it’s got a real small town feel to it. 

Hence, I’ve created for you the ULTIMATE three-day guide to the city of San Diego. 

Day 1: Gaslamp Quarter, Embarcadero, Fish Market Restaurant

I arrived here after spending the weekend in Simi Valley, Los Angeles. I went on the most beautiful train journey using Amtark Pacific Surfliner. I literally have no words to describe the sea views you have. The Pacific Surfliner has two stops in San Diego: Santa fe Depot in downtown and the Old Town Transit Centre. I went to the main station which in downtown. 

Luckily, a hotel nearby was kind enough to let me hold my bags there for 2 hours until my two friends come as they were delayed. As I had a bit of time to spare – I decided to walk from downtown to Gaslamp Quarter. 

Gaslamp Quarter

Gaslamp District is home to boutiques, cafes, restaurants and a bunch of cool shops. I was a huge fan of the historical buildings – like Balboa Theatre and the Louis Bank of Commerce. It’s definitely got a small town feel to it as it has no skyscrapers and very few traffic lights.  Encompassing a roughly 16 block radius, the Gaslamp district has traditional Victorian architecture mixed with trendy construction which truly creates a unique mashup of styles. Make sure to try the ice cream at Ghirardelli! 

gaslamp-quarter-san-deigo

It’s also meant to have a great nightlight scene as its famous for its many rooftop bars – unfortunately we didn’t have time to check it out. 

Embarcadero

After meeting up my friends, we dropped off our bags in the Airbnb and took an uber to the Embarcadero. This is an area along the waterfront where you can explore some of San Diego’s top attractions: The Maritime Museum, the USS Midway (a long serving aircraft carrier with 29 restored aircrafts on board) and the Star of India (the world’s oldest active ship). We just took pictures here, chatted and chilled at the waterfront. 

The Fish Market Restaurant

After reading reviews about it on Google, I must say, this restaurant lived up to expectations. It had excellent harbour views and the prices were moderate for an exceptional dinner. We had the classical fish and chips. Beware though, there is often a long queue and so you might have to wait for a while for your dinner – but it worth it!

Day 2: La Jolla, Mission Beach, Sunset Cliffs, Little Italy

La Jolla

After surviving our first night in our Air BnB, we took an uber to La Jolla beach (pronounced la-hoya). We had breakfast at Sugar and Scribe Bakery before heading down to La Jolla Cove. There is no way to miss it as you just follow everyone else down the road. 

 La Jolla Cove is a beautiful sheltered cove with crystal clear waters. We continued walking along the beach promenade where we noticed plenty of seals and pelicans – the real residents around here. The beaches are so beautiful!

Pacific to Mission Beach

There are plenty of other beaches that we also wanted to see before leaving San Diego. The other top ones include Ocean Beach (traditionally hippy option), Mission Beach (home to Belmont Park fun fair) and Pacific Beach (good for surfing). As I already surfed in Ventura a few days before, we took an uber from La Jolla Beach to Pacific Beach with the aim of walking down the promenade to Mission Beach. We took an electric scooter from Pacific Beach which was super fun. It was fun until I rode straight into a wall and had a bruise that stayed until my wedding and honeymoon! All of this so I can go ahead and take a video of my friends scootering (that’s love haha!)

Mission beach was amazing and i would definitely recommend going. Other than relaxing at the beach, or at the bar, there is plenty of things to do here. We had an ice-cream and took in the vitamin D that our bodies desperately craved from living in London. 

ice-cream-mission-beach

Sunset Cliffs

As the sun was beginning to set, we quickly dropped off our electric scooters and took an uber to Sunset Cliffs as this was meant to be the best place to catch the sunset in San Diego ( I think the name gives it away). It was just the perfect evening and I spent with the perfect friends a girl could ask for. 

Little Italy

My friend LOVES Italian food and so at this point, we were starving and were ready to eat. Little Italy is one of the oldest neighbourhoods in San Diego, dating back in the early 1900s when it was a fisherman’s outpost for Italian immigrants. It has since grown to over 50 square blocks. We sat outside of the restaurant (so that we could people-watch) and ate the best pasta I had in a while. We also got a few desserts to share between us – ya’ll Italians know how to cook! 

We then headed back to the apartment and packed our bags ready to leave the next day. 

Day 3: Balboa Park, Old Town

Balboa Park

Located in the heart of San Diego, the giant 1,200-acre Balboa Park is home to over 15 museums, including National History Museum, Museum of Man, San Diego Museum of Arts and the world-famous zoo. It’s the largest ‘urban cultural park’ in the world. This place is great as it offers a little something for everyone to enjoy. 

You could easily spend a whole day here hopping from museum to museum and spend time in all of the green spaces. Its also great if you are on a budget as many of the attractions are free to visit and there also countless walking paths and botanical gardens. The botanical gardens were my favourite and is home to 2000 varieties of plants. If I wasn’t limited on time, I could have spent hours inside snapping photos of the plants and even of the domed building itself. 

I loved the Spanish-style architecture. Its unexpected, yet beautiful and was apparently inspired by the Spanish maritime explorer who the park is named after (not Rocky Balboa as I initially assumed – oops). 

Old Town San Diego

From Balboa park, we took an uber to our final stop before heading to the airport – Old Town. With our suitcases in hand, we decided to satisfy our craving for Mexican food and headed to Café Cayote.  Their tacos were insane! We also had a bit of a performance from three jolly Mexican singers who assumed It was my friends birthday.

The Old Town San Diego is a sort of living museum where you can explore the origins of California. The Spanish colonized this part of California in 1769 with a hillside garrison and a Spanish Mission – it’s the site of the FIRST Spanish settlement in the US (pretty cool huh). 

Accommodation 

We stayed in a local air bnb to try and save money on the accommodation. It was really modern and pretty inside, but not too sure about the area. When we first came to drop off the suitcases, there were a group of men just sitting on the wall of their houses staring at us. Maybe we were paranoid but all we were thinking was that a group of guys just watched three girls come out of a taxi with a smirk on their faces. 

Either way, we came back later in the evening, paranoid as hell. During dinner, we were even talking about leaving our stuff there and staying in another hotel! With our families and emergency lines on speed dial, we prayed (literally, huddled in a circle to pray) and went inside. 

Okay – so maybe we over-reacted (a little?) and everything was fine… BUT its good to be cautious I guess haha. 

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Bergamo – Northern Italy’s Hidden Gem

Milan is one of the most interesting places to visit in Italy and is becoming an increasingly popular tourist destination. However, its also definitely worth visiting the forgotten yet hidden gem of Lombardy – Bergamo. 

Bergamo is at a stone’s throw from Milan (around 45 minutes by train) and can be a great day trip. I was so surprised how underrated this cute little city is as I felt it was most authentically Italian city i visited during my trip to Northern Italy – especially the old city, known as Citta Alta. This part of Bergamo is a maze of narrow alleys, gorgeous buildings and has some great viewpoints. 

Here’s a quick travel guide to this beautiful Italian city and the best things to do in Bergamo. 

Take the funicular up to the Citta Alta

The city is divided into two main parts, with a further sub-division once you reach High Bergamo (Citta Alta). This part of Bergamo dates back thousands of years and was built in the Roman era. 

Below, where the train station is, you will find the newer part of the city (though also dating back at least 5 centuries). We actually took the funicular walk up to the old city but then walked down to the new city. 

Visit the Tempietto di Santa Croce

This incredibly stunning ancient 11th century chapel is hidden in plain sight, so much so that my family walked straight past it. This best-kept secret in Bergamo gives you a glimpse of Bergamo history with its stone structure leaning on to one. 

Visit the Duomo di Bergamo

Bergamo was once home to two cathedrals but only one survives to this day. The Duomo di Bergamo (Bergamo’s cathedral) can be found right next to Piazza Vecchia, part of the Roman Catholic Church. 

Enjoy Coffee in the Piazza Vecchia

We really enjoyed just drinking Italian coffee in the Piazza Vecchia, the old town square. As it was the last day before Coronavirus Lockdown, the streets and the square was empty. Like many smaller Italian towns and cities, the prices of Bergamo are much less than those of Rome and Milan. 

We really enjoyed just drinking Italian coffee in the Piazza Vecchia, the old town square. As it was the last day before Coronavirus Lockdown, the streets and the square was empty. Like many smaller Italian towns and cities, the prices of Bergamo are much less than those of Rome and Milan. 

Walk through the Bergamo City Gate

The Venetian walls which characterise Bergamo start from the San Giacomo Gate, the old entrance to the city for those travelling to Bergamo from Milan. 

Venetian Walls

As we walked down the old city to the new city, we noticed the beautiful Venetian Walls surrounding the old city. Bergamo is heavily fortified by the Venetian Walls, which are now designated as a UNESCO world heritage site. The walls were constructed in the 16th century under the republic of Venice. Today, the renaissance era walls are some of the best-preserved walls standing in the world today. 

The complete loop stretches over 6km in length and walking along the high walls by foot is the best introduction you could have to the city. This one my parent’s favourite part of the day – just walking along the high walls and looking out at the beautiful views. 

Wander the cobbled streets

The best way to reveal Bergamo’s hidden gems is simply to allow the city to reveal itself to you. This Lombardy city is a place where its atmosphere needs to eb absorbed and you should just go where your feet takes you. 

Soak up the history of the beautiful ancient city. 

Do you have any questions about travelling to Bergamo that I didn’t answer? Be sure to leave them in the comments, and I’ll get back to you as quickly as possible 🙂

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Best things to see in Milan

I visited Milan in mid-February, during Milan Fashion Week 2020 and the a few days before the travel ban for coronavirus. It was a birthday treat for my mum as she loves European city getaways with the family. 

I never suspected a thing during my time in Italy. Everyone was out as normal, right up to the day of my departure. I only understood the gravity of the situation the day before we were about to depart. All of the famous monuments, restaurants, bars and cafes were shut because of the Covid-19. When we went from pharmacy to pharmacy to try and find face masks, everything was either shut or sold out.

The fashion capital of Italy is full of lovely little cobblestone streets, amazing churches, great restaurants and the best shopping places in Europe. You can discover the city by foot which is great as the monuments and iconic locations are not far from each other. You could also take the reliable tram service around the city if you need to. 

There are three airports in Milan – Malpensa, Bergamo and Linate. Malpensa is by far Milan’s most popular airport, Linate is closest to the city and Bergamo is a train ride away from central Milan. 

We spent 4 full days in Milan but with two day-trips – one to Lake Como and the other to Bergamo. Watch our travel video here:

Along with attending a fashion show, here are a few of the top things to see and do in Milan!

Cathedral

You can’t miss Milan’s magnificent Duomo. The cathedral is gothic and majestic. You can also visit inside the cathedral and go up to the top for spectacular panoramic views. With over 3,500 statues, 135 spirals and 5 bronze doors, it’s not surprising that it looks 500 years to complete the Duomo. I believe entrance is 9 euros if you walk up and 13 euros if you use the lift. We were planning on going up the cathedral but unfortunately due to the coronavirus, it was the first day the government ordered it all to close. 

Beware there are lots of pigeons all over the square – it doesn’t help when your parents are feeding them bread while you’re trying to run away from them :l The entire square was flooded with people, as expected. We really enjoyed walking around the square, entering the shops and tasting local food in the area.

If you wanted some good views of the cathedral without being in the cathedral – you could try going into Terrazza Aperol which is right next to it. We actually went to the 7th floor of La Rinasente shopping Centre which has free entrance and you can just order coffee/lunch to sit on the terrace. 

Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II

This is one of the most beautiful shopping centres in the world with all of the top luxury Italian designers you can imagine – from Prada, Gucci and Armarni. The galleria opened in 1877 and is named after the first king of united Italy and is built in a classic neo-renaissance style with marble, iron and glass. The architecture is impressive and it combines wall paintings, mosaic floors and high glass ceiling. I was just mermerised whilst walking around the shopping centre. If you want a more affordable shopping option, try going to via Montenapoleone, one of the most famous streets for shopping.  

There are exorbitant restaurants and bars but I wouldn’t recommend going in them as they’re overpriced and you can probably find better food elsewhere. 

On the left-hand side of the Galleria, you’ll find a small crowd around a mosaic bull on the floor. It’s a Milanese tradition to spin on the bull’s balls three times with your heels – so much that the bulls but are periodically retiled – nice. 

Go to Italy’s ONLY starbucks

We came here as my sister read about it online and wanted to try out their coffee. The Milan Starbucks Reserve Roastery is the only roastery in Europe, and one of only five into the World. Its also Europe’s largest Starbucks being 2400 metre squares, found in Milan’s Piazza Cordusio, minutes away from the Duomo. We walked here from the Duomo to Sforzcesco Castle. It was so beautiful inside and so i’m not surprised it was labelled by the company itself as “the most beautiful Starbucks in the world”.

we enjoyed a coffee from here and it was SOO good. There’s 115 different types of coffee blends to choose from but no Frappuccinos frappuccinoas Italians are very specific with their coffees.

Parco Sempione

This wonderful park is Milan’s best park by far and a great place you can laze on the grass and have a picnic. It is home to the Sforzesco Castle, an aquarium, a design and art museum, Branca Tower and a few bars and cafes. 

Make sure to head over to the Arco della Pace (the big arch at the far end of the park) for some people watching and for aperitivo. It was actually when we were sitting here we realised the seriousness of Covid-19 as my sister got a call from her summer job saying that the Italian group from Verona whom she was meant to be looking after are no longer allowed out the country. My sister, not wanting to tell them she’s in Milan tried subtly ask her if anyone was currently allowed to leave the country. We were starting to worry about not being able to get back home!

Sforzcesco Castle

Built in the 15th century by Francesco Sforza, the castle now houses 12 museums and a vast archives of artefacts. This impressive building used to be the home of Milan’s rulers in the 15th century and the one of the largest citadels in Europes in the 16th century. Leonarda da Vinci also lived here for a while, working on the Last Supper and some of his Codexes.

The castle entrance is free, but admission to all of the museums costs 10 euros.  We just walked around the castle, looking at the imposing towers and moat all around it. 

Last Supper

This Leonardo da Vinci masterpiece resides in the church of Santa Maria della Grazie. The painting is well preserved and historians still hasn’t resolved all of its mysteries (does the spilled salt in front of Judas symbolize his betrayal?). We didn’t get a chance to see this because it was closed due to the Coronavirus – but If you do get the chance to check it – I definitely recommend you doing so, but book in advance! 

Navigli

This canal district is so beautiful, especially in the evening where the locals come out for their aperitivo. There are plenty of bars, cafes, clubs and restaurants to go along the canal and has a lively atmosphere. Don’t go too late as places get full very quickly. Every last Sunday of the month there is a huge vintage market named Navigli Grande Antique Market, where you can find second hand items of all kinds. 

On the way from the Duomo to Navigli, walk via Pizza AM for a snack/dinner – the pizzas there are sooo good! 

Attending my first Milan Fashion Week Runway Show!

In my recent trip to Milan in February 2020, I was fortunate enough to be invited to the Milan Fashion Week. I attended the Emerging Talents Milan show on February 23. I brought along my sister, Yasmin for good company. This show gathers outstanding international brands in the historical Palazzo Visconti di Modrone. It is such a beautiful palace built by Spanish nobleman, Count Bolagnos in the 18th century. In the 19th century, Visconti di Modrone transformed the façade and interior in rococo style. I’ve been to a few fashion shows, but this is perhaps the most beautiful fashion show venue I’ve ever been to. 

My sister and I were one of the first to get in and so gave us plenty of time to people watch, once we’ve found our seat. We were pleasantly surprised how relaxed and chilled people well. I mean all of them made efforts to their looks, but nothing over the top. There are also weren’t as many photographers taking shots as what I normally experience in other fashion shows. The show lasted exactly an hour. 

My sister and I had an absolute blast. Here are some photos of the event. 

Leaving Milan, my heart was filled with so much content and joy. Not only did i truly enjoy the experience but also that my sister was super excited and was able to join me. I loved how stylish and friendly all the citizens of Milan were. Its left me wanting to go back! 

Many thanks to Taerus PR for the kind invitation!

Self-guided Day Trip From Milan to Lake Como

If you’re visiting Milan and want to escape the busy city streets for the day – then the day trip from Milan to Lake Como is perfect for you. I knew that I wanted to experience its mountains and fresh air from the moment I step foot in Italy. Even though there are numerous organized day trips that can take you to Lake Como and back to Milan in a day, take a self-guided tour is much more rewarding and super easy!

We came here for my mother’s birthday and it was her favourite day from our entire trip to Milan. We absolutely loved Lake Como, and we know you will, too.

Watch our travel vlog here: 

The Route

On a day trip to Lake Como from Milan, you’ll have time to explore a few of its beautiful villages and towns dotted along the lake. 

Here’s the route you should take between Milan, Como, Bellagio and Verenna: Milano Central train station –>  Varenna-Esino train station –> Ferry to Bellagio –> Bus to Como –> Como San Giovanni train station –> Milano Central training station

Each town is special and stunning in its own way. Luckily, they’re all close enough to each other to visit all three in one day. 

Purchasing Tickets

Train tickets

You could purchase your train tickets online in advance, but as went in off-peak season in February 2020, we didn’t book in advance. We just went (ran) to the train station and bought out tickets. We literally caught the train by a millisecond and my mother and i had to try and force the train doors open while my father and sister caught up with us – literally the story of our lives. We bought a single from Milan to Varenna which was roughly £6 (7 euros) pp and the journey takes about an hour. It was a very scenic train journey as you had glimpses of the beautiful clear turquoise waters.

We also bought the train ticket back from Como to Milan which was slightly cheaper.The whole experience was super easy and reliable! 

If you are going in peak season – you should purchase your tickets online and in advance from TrenItalia. You can simply keep your tickets on your smartphone; no need to print them out. 

If possible, take one of the earliest trains into Como, and one of the last trains back to Milan. If you do that, you can easily spend three or more hours in each town!

Ferry tickets

Once you arrive in Vernna, its easy to navigate between the different towns around the lake using the ferry system. Again, we purchased the ferry tickets once we got to Verenna to go to Bellagio from a person at the terminal. If you get stuck, they will be able to advise you to which ticket you need to get. You cannot purchase ferry tickets online. However, check the ferry time tables before you arrive, so you have a plan. The ferries seem to be regular so you don’t have to plan timings too much, as you could always catch the next one. The ferry from Varenna to Bellagio takes just 15 minutes and costs 4.60 euros. 

Bus tickets

As I went with my entire family, there was an option to catch the ferry from Bellagio to Como but it would have turned out really expensive (£15 pp). we decided to catch the local bus from Bellagio to Como which was only £3 pp. This option isn’t advertised much around Bellagio but to purchase these tickets you need to go to a local newsagent to buy it. It’s a lot more economical for a group. 

Things to do

Varenna

I absolutely fell in love with Varenna. So much so, that it’s probably my favourite town in Lake Como. It was just so pretty walking around the quiet and delicate town. We walked along the cobbled streets and found a café with the most stunning views to have coffee and a snack. The harbour is very pretty and is lined with outdoor cafes and gelato shops. 

After we got some energy, we continued walking down the steep cobblestone alleyways and exploring the churches and houses. The best thing to do is to get away from the main street and wander around the backstreets for a real sense of the place. I just loved the brightly coloured buildings and ornate balconies and all the beautiful flowers. It was so picturesque! You can walk around the small town in less than an hour, if you wanted  to move fast. 

Make sure you walk down the wonderful path called the Passeggiate Degli Innamorati (The Lover’s Walk). It hugs the coast and allows for the most peaceful walks and great views. The cobblestone streets and alley ways will eventually lead you to the historic centre of Varenna and the Church of San Giorgio with its clock tower rising above the town. Its definitely worth checking out! 

If we had more time, I would have loved to explore a few castles and villas around the area. Especially, Castello di Vezio – an 11th century partially ruined castle. This can be reached by climbing to the very top of the mountain – roughly 45 minutes steep walk from the base of town. The climb would be worth it with the effort as you are rewarded with a panoramic view from the top. 

I would have also loved to go inside Vila Montastero as I only saw it from the outside. This once inhabited villa on the lakefront is now used a conference centre attracting visitors to it botanical gardens. 

Bellagio

After a morning exploring Varenna, you can take the short 15-minute ferry to its more famous neighbour – Bellagio often referred to as the “pearl of the lake”. Whilst roaming the streets, we paid attention to the details – the pretty pink flowers and beautiful lanterns.

It had lots of tall mountains, cypress trees, grand villas (including George Clooney’s villa!) and cute little cafes. Bellagio definitely has its own character and charm.  

We walked the shoreline, climbed up the hill to the heart of town, explored ancient churches, browsed and shopped in boutiques found in narrow alleys (and bought a few Italian silk scarves!) and had a fantastic lunch. Make sure to visit the famous street for the iconic postcard shot of Bellagio – Salita Serbelloni (pictured above). We also savoured some fruity Italian gelato next to the lake while watching the sun dip behind the mountains as the sky turns pink. 

Its easy to see why so many tourists flock to Bellagio. At 5pm, we caught the bus to our final stop – Como.

Como

Como is the largest of the three towns you’ll visit during your day trip. Its not as pretty as the other two, but still worth checking out. We roamed the quaint streets and shops around the area. We arrived just in time before the sun completely set so we had some beautiful shots of the lake. You can take the funicular up the mountain to Brunate, but we didn’t have time to (or were that bothered).

From here, we took the train from Como back to Milan, which took about 37 minutes. Once we got back to Milan, we were so hungry but still wanted to try Miscusi as we researched about it and it had brilliant reviews. We saw the pasta being made in front of us and OH MA GAWDD it was so good.

Unfortunately my sister couldn’t really appreciate it as she was feeling slightly ill and had a block nose. It was at this point she was getting paranoid that she had the coronavirus (luckily she was tested and was fine!).

Have you been to Lake Como before? Which town is your favorite? Did you stay over night, or take a day trip from Milan?

An Insider’s Guide to Tampa Bay, Florida

Tampa is a rather small city, according to US standards and has almost 3 million residents. I loved how authentic Tampa was in comparison to the touristy cities of Orlando and Miami. I fell in love with its chilled out white beaches, turquoise waters and a downtown filled with skyscrapers. 

After 2 days in Miami, we continued our road trip to Tampa Florida where we’d be staying for 10 days before heading to New York. It was one long drive from the Keys to Tampa Bay, and we were welcomed with frightening storms. It was probably the worst i’ve ever witnessed! Once we arrived, we met with my extended family where they showed us our villa.

As we were here to visit family, we had some local tips on the best places to go in and around Tampa. Here a few top things you could do in the city!  

Lettuce Lake

Tampa Bay has plenty of beautiful parks to explore. My uncle, who lives there took us to his favourite lake – Lettuce Lake, located near the University of South Florida, in the northern section of Tampa. We came here during the weekend and it was a great place to come to escape both the city noice and the Florida heat.

The admission fee is only $2 per car load (up to 8 people). We started off by parking near the Visitor Centre and then walking along the 3500ft boardwalk. The shaded walk goes across hardwood swamp forest.

This path will take you up to the Hillsborough River and to an observation tower. While walking the boardwalk we saw some pretty amazing sites!

Along the way, you might even catch a glimpse of a gator! In fact, Lettuce Lake Park is well-known for being one of the best places in the city for spotting gators in their natural habitat. We saw a five-foot alligator up close and personal! He was just hanging out right off the boardwalk. 

The observation tower (pictured below) gives you the chance to take in panoramic views of the Hillsborough River. A beautiful sight – be sure to bring with your camera!

Canoeing at Weeki Wachee River

If you visit Tampa, I highly recommend the chance to kayak the Weeki Wachee River – located about an hour north of Tampa. Its suitable for the whole family as its quite a nice calm ride. The swift current makes it much easier to paddle downstream, but then going upstream afterwards, towards the end closer to the gulf –  is slightly more challenging. 

The water is beautiful and just looks like it came out some sort of Disney movie. Each turn you take in your kayak, the water turns different shade of green or blue. The spring that fed Weeki Wachee River has crystal clear water that flows in the Gulf of Mexico. 

It was really nice just kayaking for a little bit and then taking a dip in the river before kayaking a bit more. I just wanted to make sure I didn’t swim near a manatee because they’re ugly (sorry but its gotta be said). 

The river winds through the forests and mangroves and has plenty of wildlife. We jumped off the a few trees and swung on a few ropes near the riverbed. When I think of Tampa, these are the sweet memories that come in mind. 

But guys, if you can’t swim, be extremely cautious – there are some deep water areas in the river. We had an incident where my auntie and mum were in a kayak with all of our bags and electricals (don’t ask why). They were stuck in this current which quickly took them under a tree in the riverbed. They both grabbed onto the tree above their heads to try and stop the kayak moving forwards and then it capsized and flipped. I was sharing a kayak with my father and so I told him to stay in the kayak while I jump in, as he’s also not a very confident swimmer. At this point, I didn’t know my auntie couldn’t swim so I dived in to grab the mobiles, wallets and bags. It was only when I re-surfaced that I saw my cousin swimming over to pick my auntie up. Luckily everyone was fine with just a few scratches here and there. Now we laugh about it but it was scary times guys! Just be cautious… 

Clearwater Beach 

There was one afternoon where we went to Clearwater Beach to watch the sunset and swim in the sea. It is really a chilled out “local” beach – in fact, this is the sea where my uncle wakes up at 5am to go swimming in (how impressive is that!?)

We were on the beach, sunbathing and swimming for more than hour – before lightning struck, literally. We were stuck in the Pier 60 for 20 minutes with everyone else who also decided to wait it out and take shelter. We made the most of it by sitting in a circle and playing cards.

Downtown Tampa

We visited downtown Tampa in the evening and found it impressive, albeit a quiet city centre. It has stunning skyscrapers and a pleasant waterfront park. We parked our car and then walked along the river. The Tampa Riverwalk runs for 2.5 miles along the Hillsborough River and Garrison Channel.

After admiring the views, we drove around the area and the resident streets behind the city centre – the houses were MAHOOSIVE and each house/mansion has its own character. It was good fun…  

Chilling with family! 

Of course my main reason for going to Tampa in the first place is to visit my mothers brother (i.e. my uncle) and his family. The last time I saw them was in Gaza, many many years ago so it was amazing to re-connect with them. 

Do you have any questions about travelling to Tampa that I didn’t answer? Be sure to leave them in the comments, and I’ll get back to you as quickly as possible 🙂

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Top Things to do in Orlando, Florida

There is no doubt that Florida is one of the best road trip destinations in the US with its endless miles of wide, sandy beaches and the unique keys. Hiring your own car is the most affordable way to experience the best of Florida.

Since we have family living in Tampa, we drove all the way from Miami to Tampa so that we could meet them. We stayed in an apartment villa which my uncle kindly organized for us to stay in. 

Orlando is home to the world’s most iconic theme parks and attractions. Because there are literally SO many attractions in Orlando, you must understand that it is IMPOSSIBLE to see and do them all in one visit (unless you are staying a very long time). It’d be much easier to manage your expectations and focus on a few top things you want to see/do. 

We chose Aquatica, Busch Gardens, Disneyland Magic Kingdom, SeaWorld and Universal Studios because we thought it was a good combination. We also made sure we had time to fit some shopping in!

Aquatica

The weather was so hot and was just screaming ‘waterpark’, so my sister and I headed to Aquatica. I really enjoyed it (before it started thundering randomly later on in the afternoon) because it had a young vibe, pop music playing throughout the park and great rides! 

Aquatica-florida-orlando

Busch Gardens

Okay so technically this is in Tampa Bay – but its close by, and well categorically relevant I guess. I haven’t even heard of Busch Gardens until this trip and is often overlooked by other Florida attractions. It’s another massive theme park but combined with a zoo. I loved the fact that it caters for everyone – for the roller coaster enthusiasts, to the animal’s lovers and foodies. The park is extremely well-marked and set on beautiful grounds. 

I enjoyed checking out the animals and seeing the beauties for myself.  The theme park also has the best thrill rides of any park I’ve been to in the US. My favorite were ‘Cobra Curse’ – a unique coaster that spins backwards and forwards along the track and the ‘Montu’ – and Egyptian mummy themed ride. 

Disneyland – Magic Kingdom

I first went to Disneyland Paris when I was a youngish teenager with my family. The one in Florida is so much bigger and extravagant. I had such a fantastic day with my family as we absorbed the Disney magic (don’t judge) and atmosphere. I think I lost my reputation when I queued for more than an half an hour to hug Tinkerbell and Mickie Mouse. I definitely forced my younger sister to come along so i can pretend to go for her sake (soz yasmin!).

Im a sucker for fireworks so obviously we waited until 9pm for the massive Happily Ever After fireworks show over Cinderella Castle. Crowds start to build from around 7pm so make sure you get there relatively early for a good spot! It was so much better than i remember!

SeaWorld

We came here because my mum loves the SeaWorld and looking at sea animals. The most impressive show for me was the Killer Whale show, One Ocean. I was also excited to see the smaller animals such as the turtles, stingray (where we could touch!) and sea lions. I loved the fact that there are lots of educational aspects to SeaWorld, which is great for kids and adults! I was blown away by the penguins in Antarctica House! We came here with my cousin Noor and she told us some cool facts while walking around – thanks Noor!

If you’re visiting Orlando, then I recommed you visit SeaWorld without a doubt. The park as a whole was better than anything we hoped for and provided countless opportunity to learn about different marine life and enjoy some thrilling rides along the way! 

Universal Studios 

We spent an entire day at Universal Studios and entered via the CityWalk. This is my father’s favorite as he loves his movies and famous actors etc. 

I loved how much effort went into making the Harry Potter section in the park – particularly Diagon Alley and its ride called Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts. We went in an off-season (September) so the queues were minimal.

The favourite ride for everyone in my family is the Too Fast Too Furious ride. 

Shopping in Orlando

Obviously you cant leave Florida without doing some shopping – especially if you’re a fan of designer labels! When we left Aquatica, we joined my parents at the Orlando International Premium Outlets, located on the north side of International Drive. We stayed there until it closed at 10pm (my family loves a good shop).

Shops range from Kate Spade, Coach, Michael Kors, DKNY, Nike and Levi’s. I bought a few presents for my fiancé and his family and splurged on a few things for myself. The Premium Outlets is outdoors too, so you can enjoy the glorious sunshine while you shop! Quick tip – you can get extra discounts if you go to Guest Services and sign up with them. 

2 Days in Miami | Travel Guide + Itinerary

I never quite realised how huge and diverse Florida is before this trip. There is so much to do and the state is brimming with yummy foodie scenes, a mix of cultures and so much natural beauty. Miami was our first stop in my family’s 2 weeks Florida road trip and we only had two full days here before driving to Tampa, Orlando.  

In all honesty, at the time I wasn’t sure how I felt about it at first but the longer I spent there and the more I think back on it now the more I appreciate how much character and vibrancy it has in comparison to other parts of the state.

It’s a place of two completely opposing parts separated by a couple of bridges.  Whilst central Miami is heavily influenced by authentic South America, Miami Beach is pure USA at its most shiny and extravagant.  In my opinion, to get the best out of what Miami has to offer you need to experience a bit of both.

Here are some of my favourite spots in Miami that you can include on your trip to the Sunshine State. 

Day 1

Everglades

One of the nicest things to do in Miami is visiting Everglades National Park, Florida’s largest swamp. As I love nature, this was something that I definitely wanted to go to as its just such a unique national park! It’s home to panthers, alligators, snakes and birds. 

We walked the Anhinga Trail which is a 0.8 miles paved and boardwalk trail along a small section of wetlands. This is where we spotted the alligators and Anhinga birds (the bird the trail is named after). 

If you have time, you could also take an airboat ride through the swamps to see how many gators you can find. However, please don’t make the same mistake as we did and make sure you mosquito spray the hell outta your body! I definitely left with more than 20 bites. 

The weather can be unpredictable in August – it can be so hot one minute and then pouring down with rain the next!

The Florida Keys

We then continued driving south to the the Florida Keys. The Keys stretch 190 km (120 miles) from Miami to Key West. The islands (or keys) are linked by a series of bridges. It looks like a concrete snake across the ocean between mangroves. What’s nice is that each key is different to each other – but all of them are a tropical delight. We only had time to go to the first big key – Key Largo but it was heavenly! As we didn’t do any research beforehand, we stopped off at some local shops and asked the guy behind the counter what is the best local secluded beach he knows. He said that he goes to one that not even the locals go to -it had no name, but pinpointed on the map exactly where it is. We went in between the small side streets and then some more residential streets before we discovered this gem. We met this Cuban mafia guy while swimming and my dad got excited and was talking to him for a while (while I was trying to find my escape route). We must’ve been in the sea for more than an hour, just talking, swimming etc. It was just so perfect.

The sunset was legendary. 

Day 2

Little Havana

We started off the day by exploring Little Havana. This neighboured was once largely Anglo-Jewish but then blossomed in the 1960s to the lively Latin quarter it is today when Cuban emigres settled in Miami after Castro’s conquering of Cuba. 

The main street is called Calle Ocho (Eighth street) – you’ll recognise the street as soon as you go in as its full of salsa music, shops selling cigars, café con leche and the Cubano (Cuban sandwich). If we weren’t heading to Tampa that evening, it would have been nice to explore the area in the evening where it comes even more alive. 

Instead of buying my brother a keychain and fridge magnet, we headed to a Cuban cigar shop and bought him a few cigars! We watched as this fella rolled up the cigar himself.

South Beach

As the sun was starting to set, we parked the rental car near the South Beach strip and walked to the beach. We loved the colourful lifeguard towers dotted along the shoreline – its so Miami! We found a patch of sand, soaked up the sun and then watched the sunset. 

Art Deco style

I was really excited to see the world-famous Art Deco District. As the family nerd, I took it upon myself to google the fact on every retro building that caught our eye along Miami’s art deco streets: Ocean Drive, Collins Avenue and Lincoln Road. 

Truth be told, I didn’t even know what art deco is until this trip. Art deco style started in Paris in the 1920s and then made its way to the US in the 1930s. Because it was during the time of the Great Depression, the style was more subtle than its European counterpart. The style can be described as a representation of luxury, glamour and technological progress. It features bright colours, geometric forms and chrome plating.

 


Do you have any questions about travelling to Miami that I didn’t answer? Be sure to leave them in the comments, and I’ll get back to you as quickly as possible 🙂

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Why You Should Visit Marmaris, Turkey

Marmaris is one of the most beautiful places I’ve seen. Located in the Mulga province in the south-west of Turkey, Marmaris is filled with gorgeous beaches, great restaurants, friendly people and great full-day tours.  For those adventurous travellers – there are also lots of options for you. 

My family and i just wanted a relaxing Turkish summer holiday and Marmaris was perfect for that. It had the perfect combination to make everyone in the family happy – for those family members who want to just chill on the beach all day (my brother), eat all day (my sister) or wants to mix it up with some activities (me). 

Here is a list of why Marmaris should be your next summer vocation.

Excellent, yet affordable 5* resorts  

There is no shortage of accommodation in Marmaris, Turkey as it’s a very popular summer destination for European travellers, especially with us Brits. There is a variety of accommodation suitable for all budget types – from hostels and apartments for those on a budget and to 5* hotels if you are looking for luxury. 

My family and I stayed at the luxury 5* hotel – D-Resort Grand Azur Marmaris, located only 15-20 minutes walk from Central Marmaris and the Marine. It has a freshwater pool in the most beautiful tropical setting as well as a private beach. My sister and brother appreciated the volleyball tournaments organised by the the resort’s entertainment team.

To satisfy the foodies… the resort has 5 bars and 2 restaurants. The food was delicious with plenty of choices in the buffet.

I particularly loved how spacious the rooms were (given I was sharing a room with my siblings) and the huge single beds. Fortunately, we also had a large private balcony and the best ocean views I’ve seen in a while.

The evening entertainment was also the best ive seen so far with a different star act coming every night.

On a side note, I was also particularly impress with how the hotel dealt with an earthquake we experience on 21st July. Read about my experience here.

Whether you are on a romantic getaway or holidaying with family, D-Resort Grand Azur is the perfect spot for that summer holiday. (unsponsored post) 

Full-Day Cruise to Dalyan

Part of the compromise with my family is if we go on one full-day cruise from Marmaris to Dalyan to get some sight-seeing in. The boat trip started off by us snorkelling in the clear blue waters of the sea, sunbathing and BBQing on the boat. The views from the boat cruise are absolutely amazing. 

After this, we moved to a small boat where we headed to turtles’ beach. We were lucky enough to see some turtles in the water and on the beach. 

we then viewed the rock-cut tombs of the ancient Kings as we cruised on a small boat on Dalyan river. 

The most fun part of the day cruise is the mud bath! I mean who wouldn’t want literally bathe in mud? The mud is usually warm and perfect for the skin – and your skin is left glowing afterwards. Its also meant to add 5 more years to your life… call me cynical, but im not quite sure I’m convinced. Its super fun nonetheless. After bathing in mud, you have a quick shower to wash it all of and then you jump into the thermal pool. When I say the thermal pool is hot… I mean it was really hot (like borderline boiling)

We all really enjoyed the day and would recommend this to anyone. You can book for this tour online beforehand but we just booked it at a stall in the marina, near the hotel. Don’t forget to haggle! 

Take a Turkish Bath! 

Locally known as Hammam, it is one of the most relaxing things to do in Turkey. The bath is not the most private spa experiences you’ll have but It is one of those things you have to try while in the country! 

We took a Turkish bath in our resort. I don’t think my dear siblings knew what a Turkish Bath was and spent an hour making the whole room soapy and sliding one end of the middle island to the other. *facepalm* 

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Enjoy the Beach and the Water sports 

I would say, as a 9 to 5 professional, the most important thing on summer holidays like these is to RELAX. The stress of working can’t be to good for the body and soul, so just relax – take in the cool breeze, swim away and sunbathe. There are plenty of beaches around Marmaris but we were quite happy with our private hotel one (and too lazy to look for another). 

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When you’re done relaxing for the day, its super fun to participate in the water sports. There are lots of companies on the beach where you can do snorkelling, scuba diving, banana boat ride, kite surfing, jet ski etc. 

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Go for a romantic stroll in the Promenade 

We walked along the promenade a few times and it so pleasant. My parents loved doing this just after dinner, to walk off the food and because the weather is undoubtedly cooler. It was only a short 20 minutes walk to the Old Town. I wish I remember the name of it, but we had the BEST Turkish ice cream from a stall in the promenade. Make sure you try Turkish ice cream (or otherwise known as Dondurma). Its a mastic ice cream similar to the Syrian dessert, booza. Dondurma typically includes the ingredients of cream, whipped cream, sales, mastic and sugar.

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Soak in Culture in the Old Town

The old town basically begins at the crossroads at the statue of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. Ataturk was a Turkish field marshal and the found of the Republic of Turkey. He became the first Turkish president in 1923 until he died in 1938. He played a huge role in rebuilding and modernising Turkey. That’s why he was rewarded with the surname Ataturk by the Turkish parliament in 1939 which means “Father of the Turks”. 

The old town really blew me away by its architecture and old stone. Inside these old buildings were dozens of shops filled with counterfeit merchandise.

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marmaris-old-town

The other main attraction in the old town is the dancing fountain of Marmaris. What seems like a normal fountain during the day, transforms into a sightseeing adventure at night. Every day around 8:30pm, the show begins with the fountain splashing water in different colours and matching with the music in the background. 

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Have you been to Marmaris Turkey before? Please feel free to share your experience in the comments below or if you know any other places to see while in Dalaman or the surrounding area.

Earthquake in Marmaris: My First-Hand Experience

Everything about my one-week summer vacation to Marmaris was perfect, from the beaches, tours to the beautiful resort and the food. But the one thing we did not expect or plan for was an earthquake hitting Marmaris. I knew that Turkey is prone to earthquake due to it being located between the Arabian and Eurasian plates – but I didn’t expect it to happen to us.

Th earthquake struck on 21st July at 1:31am. I woke up to the sound of all of my makeup falling from the shelf and then 3 seconds later my mum banging frantically on our door to wake us up. The whole building was shaking, the lights were swinging and i could hear banging on the ceiling. My sister was still sleeping throughout all of this until I woke her up to tell her that we need to leave NOW. We both looked at each other and both had the same look in our eyes when we were in the Gaza Strip and we had to take cover after hearing bombs. Obviously, we had no idea what was going on…

The instant reaction was to get ourselves out of the room. The corridor was full of people screaming, crying and running around like headless chickens. The hotel was still really aggressively shaking. It was quite a scary situation actually – but all i was thinking about was making sure my family gets out. My older brother was meant to be coming the next day from NYC to surprise my father, but i wish he was with us at that moment as he is good at calming us all down.

We ran down what seemed like 13 floors of stairs before reaching the lobby. There were hotel staff waiting by the bottom of the staircase trying to evacuate the hotel. At this point, we still didn’t know whether or not it was an earthquake, a terrorist attack or something else.

We stood outside the hotel for an hour and just waited and watched as many of the locals rushed out into the streets in their pyjamas. Holidaymakers from other nearby resorts were also gathered in the streets and abandoned their rooms for safety. Even though we were all quite frightened, I just remember all of us laughing at how much my mama brought with her – somehow, she was able to grab her phone, our passports and some snacks from the room fridge. She was also able to change into other clothes! I think she had years of experience, born and raised in the Gaza Strip that the reaction is automatic for her.

We waitied for what seemed like forever before hotel staff directed us towards the beach/pool area. We couldn’t go back in the hotel as aftershocks continued to rock the city.  We slept the night in sun beds as my mama used sheets and cushions from nearby deck chairs to build us makeshift beds. The staff came round to each sunbed and provided us with blankets and water bottles. Considering the situation, i slept like a baby and it felt great sleeping outside!

The next day, we discovered that our hotel, along with a few others had broken glass and other damages. 

All I know, was that it could have been so much worse.  I am so thankful for the brilliant job the staff of D-Resort Grand Azur did to keep the guests calm and providing great customer care, even in these condirions. 

The next day, my brother came from NYC to surprise my father. Quite an emotional few days, to say the least.