Travel Photo of the Month: May 2016

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A year ago, in an remote and exotic location, my new husband Jacob and I were on our honeymoon. After weighing the Maldives and French Polynesia, we settled on the latter because of less travel time. While it seems like a world away, the flight to Papeete was only 8 hours from LAX, and we arrived early in the morning ready to get on island time at the Le Meridien. Our first stop: Tahiti–the island that houses a capital city best-known for its les roulottes (French for caravans); I call them food trucks.

I’d recommend travelers to skip Tahiti and head straight to the lush landscapes in Moorea or the stunning waters of Bora Bora…yet that is for a future blog post. The best part of our first day in paradise–snorkeling with my hot husband, who is the guest photographer of this month’s POTM™. Enjoy!

Shallow Waters in Tahiti

Shallow Waters in Tahiti

Eating Our Way through Santa Monica

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This weekend, my fiancé and I spent three days in Santa Monica, California. In town for a wedding, we happily ate our way through some of the best restaurants there. Headed to this lovely beach community soon? Below are some of the best places we went over the long weekend:

  • Ivy at the Shore. The Ivy is a Beverly Hills institution, and we hit this more casual location for lunch. Think colorful decoration, the famous Cobb salad (I enjoyed mine with lobster), attentive waiters, and refreshing berry champagne drinks. The outside seating area filled up quickly, and we loved having a leisurely lunch before strolling down to the touristy Santa Monica Pier.
  • The Penthouse at the Huntley. We joined some friends in a snazzy private booth here for dinner, and what a meal it was! We started with a delish charcuterie plate and marveled over the pâté. For my main course, I selected the truffle lobster macaroni and cheese–to die for!–and shared some of the chocolate panna cotta with my friends for desert. The views were incredible, and the service was excellent.
  • One Pico at Shutters on the Beach. This hotel is gorgeous and worth a visit itself, but I will happily recommend their Saturday brunch. We enjoyed tasty bubbles and their heavenly array of breads in this open and airy space directly next to the beach. Since I was still in a food coma from the previous day, I had a light mealof fresh corn soup with a zesty Caesar salad.
  • Sonoma Wine Garden. This fetching wine bistro sits atop of Santa Monica Place, and their Sunday brunch boasted six unlimited day drinking options (think elderflower mimosas) and noshable treats. Make sure you stake claim on your umbrella quickly, as these were in high demand on a sunny afternoon!
  • Casa Del Mar. This hotel, also directly on the beach, is another Santa Monica staple, yet we were finished stuffing our faces and only enjoyed a glass of wine overlooking the ocean. The atmosphere was quaint, and this was absolutely the most delightful way to cap off a lovely weekend.

The wedding we attended was at the nearby Viceroy–and it was pretty swanky. I would have loved to luxuriate by its cabana-covered pool, and they did a wonderful job with the wedding. We stayed at the Le Meridien Delfina, and while the hotel was not my favorite SPG property, the staff was pleasant, and the spicy truffle popcorn was addicting. It’s a good thing that we danced the night away at the wedding reception and walked all over town, or we would have gained a lot of weight eating our way through gorgeous Santa Monica!

Santa Monica Beach Scene from Casa Del Mar

Santa Monica Beach Scene from Casa Del Mar

Princess Cruising to Alaska

In my ever-exciting quest to visit all 50 state capitols, one of my dear friends and I set off for Southeast Alaska to hit Juneau via a Princess Cruise. We were thrilled to learn that the Golden Princess departed on a summer Saturday from Seattle during Seafair, and we spent the day prior to the cruise exploring the Emerald City. My friend and I hit the high points: Pike’s Market, a duck tour of Lake Union, Smith Tower, and drinks with a local friend. The following day, we headed for the largest US state as we boarded our ship.

Upon immediate exploration, we decided to make the most of our time at sea and filled up our days at sea with activities galore: TRX classes at the gym, treatments at the spa, bingo, shopping classes, card games (literally 15+ hours of Spite and Malice at the boat’s wine bar), and enjoying the ship’s big band music. Some things we learned about Alaskan cruising Princess-style: “all-inclusive” barely covers anything, never do the set dining (dull table mates), pack for warmth with layers, and always buy the full bottle of bubbles/make friends with the bartender. We loved the relaxation that we found away from it all, though, and we achieved Princess’ mantra of “escape completely.”

We hit Juneau on a drizzly Monday morning, and we immediately took off through the downtown area towards the state capitol. Upon arrival, a kind volunteer gave us a wonderful tour–did you know that Alaska has the only state seal with a seal on it?–and shared some wonderful stories about Elizabeth Peratrovich, one of the first civil rights activists. Shopping and a whale watching excursion completed our time in the capitol city.

Next stop was Skagway, which was a little town rich with gold rush history. We opted to go on an close-by adventure to a musher’s camp (picture: Alaskan sled dogs made famous by the Iditarod) to experience nature and cuddle the baby huskies. This was especially well-worth the trip when we came across a bear less than 30 feet away. Rar! We also stopped in the famous Red Onion Saloon–a former brothel!–and enjoyed the scandalous tour. The next day, the cruise ship sailed around Glacier Bay, and we happily shelled out more money to sit in the adults-only Sanctuary and watch the beautiful glaciers calving (breaking apart and falling into the water with a loud clap, which the Tlingits called “white thunder.”)

Our favorite stop was in Ketchikan, where we decided to forgo the tourist stops and do Stray Boots‘ art walk scavenger hunt. We saw wonderful galleries, watched the seals play near Creek Street, and discovered the best bar in town: the Arctic Bar, home of the lovely Paula and the best Bloody Mary in Alaska. My friend and I enjoyed going off the beaten path (read: away from fellow cruisers) before getting back on board and cruising onward to Victoria, BC. Having journeyed to beautiful Victoria before, we spent some time people-watching near the harbor during our quick stop in Canada before heading back to the Golden Princess for one final round of Spite and Malice.

 

Business Trip to Bangalore

Although I’ve had the pleasure of journeying to India before (you can read about my trip to Delhi here), I was thrilled to go on a business trip to Bangalore last month. Part of my excitement was visiting the tech hub of India, and after my previous visit to “Incredible India!”, I wanted to experience more. The similarities: the hustle and bustle of daily life, the kindness of the people I encountered, and the incredibly delish cuisine. Speaking of cuisine, I enjoyed some of my favorites–masala, paneer, dosas!–multiple times throughout the visit. I also learned to love Indian tea.

With a packed agenda of meetings and not much time to see the city after it took nearly two days for me to arrive, I hired a driver to take me into the city center on a Sunday afternoon. I visited the quaint Bangalore Palace, which had guided tours and quite a bit of history to learn about the families that lived there in the past. (Note: if you are vehemently against the shooting and displaying of wild game, I’d skip it.) My driver also took me to Shiva Temple, and he was kind enough to tour it with me to explain some of the Hindu traditions. It was there that I took the majority of my photos in Bengaluru, and it–along with some religious history from a kind colleague–I got the best picture of local worship.

The majority of the week was spent in cars going to and fro my hotel–the swanky Zuri Whitefield–and the many meetings I had. The negative side of the Zuri: I did take the opportunity to go to the hotel’s spa (where the masseuse asked me if I ever exercised…I cringed); and the positive:the kind waiters tried to show me which foods were spicy. The one late afternoon I had off, I got to explore a local mall and try on some fabulous clothes at Biba, where I bought a really pretty shirt.

The main difference between this trip and my 2011 trip to India was sadly time: I did not have near enough of it to explore as I would have hoped.

 

Destination: DIFFA Dallas

This week, I’d like to invite you to join me for a journey to Dallas, Texas, where I spent this weekend supporting a wonderful cause at House of DIFFA Masquerade 2014. At its annual fundraising gala, the Design Industry Foundation Fighting AIDS’ (DIFFA) Dallas chapter raised over a million dollars to fight HIV/AIDS. I am fortunate to know several people on the board of this charity that annually pour their hearts and souls into making this event fabulous, and fabulous it was.

From the glamorous masquerade theme to a high-octane runway show, House of DIFFA 2014 was a night of spectacle, excitement, couture, and luxury. While this event is not necessarily in the travelogue sphere, it’s certainly worth writing about and showcasing a wonderful organization to support. And who knows…perhaps you’ll be inspired to travel to Dallas next year to experience DIFFA’s next over-the-top soiree. I know I’m hoping to be there.

Homage to a Cocktail: Verbena

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In honor of an upcoming staycation in Las Vegas–and my very first time to stay at the glamorous Cosmopolitan–I thought I’d pen a homage to my favorite cocktail on the Strip: the Verbena. Off of the menu at the glitzy Chandelier Bar (which is worth a trip alone), this delectable drink has a ginger-y, margarita-esque taste. What makes it unforgettable is the buzz button, which amps up this cocktail to a tasty explosion. When one chews this edible flower with the delicious drink, the palette of flavor becomes that much more intense!

Since I am a travel blogger and not one to wax eloquently about cocktailery, I will leave it at that. One doesn’t need a reservation to feel luxurious at the Chandelier Bar–and the Cosmopolitan as a whole…it’s one of my favorites!–and spending the approximately $15 for this incredible elixir will make you feel like a million bucks. Or like you are drinking nectar from inside of a chandelier…which you are. Let’s just hope my upcoming visit is as spectacular!

Chandelier Bar

Chandelier Bar

And in case you missed my first post about this wonderful city, you can read Las Vegas Like a Local here. And if you want more to drool over, why not check out this incredible TV spot from the Cosmopolitan: Vice and Virtue…can you tell I’m obsessed?

Crossing Phuket Off of My Bucket List

Our trip to Thailand begain with more than 24 hours of travel on Hainan Airlines (which we referred to as “Mystery Airline” prior to departure, but it was oh-so-fabulous). My friend Brandi and I arrived at the then brand new Renaissance Resort in on Mai Khao for a refreshing welcome drink with our third traveling companion, Linda. Let me tell you something about Linda: she was kind enough to use her Marriott points to treat us all to three days in paradise in Phuket, and she definitely completed the triumvirate of awesomeness.

We had so much fun lounging on the Mai Khao Beach, giggling though little inside trip jokes, trying new foods, and getting lovely Thai massages by the ocean (an hour of massage bliss for $10? Priceless!) We could have spent our entire time in Phuket at our hotel, yet we did spend one day journeying outside of our resort–shopping for handcrafted souvenirs, buying local artwork–I purchased two matching Thai angel paintings–and experiencing the amazing cuisine.

A highlight of our time on Phuket was our trek into the jungle…on an elephant! The giant beasts were very sturdy, as they hiked through foliage—rubber trees!—to show us a stunning view of the sea. After we disembarked, we got to feed our new friends bananas, and nothing is as surreal as having two elephant trunks in your personal space…I loved it!

After our elephant experience, we decided to head over to Phuket Town, where we walked through quaint shops and visited with the shopkeepers. We left after three wonderful days for Bangkok (more Thailand adventures here), yet I would highly recommend Phuket as a stop in any luxurious Thailand itinerary.