anastaciawaller

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Travel Guide: Cuba + Important Tips to know before you book!

If you’re tempted to visit Cuba from all of the colorful scenic photos of Old Havana and classic cars you may be seeing popping up on IG, then this post is for you! I’ve been asked so many questions about my recent adventure and could not wait to publish this post on all things Cuba…

First things first, it’s important to know that…

  • American’s aren’t yet able to travel to Cuba for strictly tourism.
  • You’ll have to apply for a Visa under 1 of 12 travel categories.
  • Despite all of the colorful buildings, the city of Havana is almost falling apart :-/
  • The food is NOT GOOD, but it’s cheap!
  • It’s safe – in terms of crime (this question came up a lot).
  • The beaches are stunning!
  • The people are friendly and helpful
  • AirBnb is the way to go!

Let me further break down the bullet points above…

+ Visa Process – Getting a visa to Cuba is not a difficult process. You have several options, you can order it online at Cuba Travel services here, purchase it a designated office or you can buy one at the airport on your way out. Some airlines that fly to Cuba have special rates if you purchase through them (ie. my friend who flew Southwest got his for only $50). When you apply for your visa, you’ll have to list the reason of why you’re visiting the country. We visited Cuba as an Educational Trip (people-to-people cultural exchange)..and it truly was just that!

+ Accommodations – We chose to stay at an AirBnb while in Cuba. We stayed in 3 different areas: Vedado, Viñales and Old Havana. In 2/3 of the homes we stayed in, the families were living either on the bottom floor or second part of the home. At first it felt a bit intrusive, but the same night a few hours later we felt the complete opposite and were comforted knowing families were there since we were staying in an unfamiliar neighborhood.

All 3 AirBnb owners were very warm and welcoming. They helped us arrange pick-ups and drop-offs to and from the airport, taxi service and local tours. Each morning they cleaned our rooms and gave us the option for breakfast ($5 CUC). Although we didn’t bring anything expensive or valuable to Cuba, we were always able to lock off our private section of the homes and felt completely safe leaving our things behind while we explored. I highly recommend staying at an AirBnb Cuba as part of the full experience.

+ Currency – The Cuban peso that’s used most is called CUC. It is 1:1 with the US dollar which makes it much easier to figure out when you’re bargaining or making purchases. IMPORTANT: You can’t get CUC in the U.S., so you will have to trade U.S. Dollars, Euros or Canadian dollars, when you get to the airport in Cuba or at one of the banks in Cuba. From other bloggers and my own personal experience, it’s good to have a budget of about $100/day to feel completely comfortable with food, tours, local experiences and taxis.

+ Food – The food ain’t that great, which is disappointing for a foodie traveler like myself! I did know what I was getting myself into before I went, which definitely lessened the discouragement. Most restaurants are government owned and have the lowest quality of food. The best restaurants are privately owned as they have more of incentive to have quality meals to keep customers and stay in business. Here’s how you can ensure or experience good food in Cuba. The day that you arrive, go to the closest hotel concierge (whether you’re staying there or not) and have them make reservations for all of the good restaurants. In addition to having your own list of restaurants you’ll want to try, they will also give you great recommendations. I’ll be writing another blog post soon on the restaurants we really enjoyed in Cuba!

+ Wi-fi/Cell Service/GPS – Personally one of my favorite parts about the trip was being completely  u n p l u g g e d  for 6 days! However, there are designated WiFi zones and locations which you can purchase a card to get online access. You’ll know when you see them because every one will be head down in their cell phones (like the U.S.). It’s about $2 CUC for 1 hour. They’re easy to get, but I chose not to and waited until I got home to post about my trip.

+ Maps/GPS – You’ll definitely want to download an offline map before you go to help you get around easily. I downloaded Galileo Pro ($3.99) which was recommended by most travel bloggers as the best version. I was SO happy we did this and even saved a lot the locations of the places I wanted to visit with the exact coordinates. I can’t tell you how much this helped not only us, but some of our taxi drivers too!

+ Experiences – Our trip was 5 days total and our basic itinerary was..

  • Day 1: Vedado
  • Day 2: Varadero
  • Day 3: Old Havana
  • Day 4: Viñales
  • Day 5: Old Havana

We were able to pack in a lot of things, but still felt very relaxed for how much we moved around and got to see…

Vedado – is an upper middle class neighborhood in Cuba. Most people will debate staying here or in Old Havana. I am SO GLAD we chose Vedado. Vedado was such a nice getaway from the city and was much cleaner. It was fun walking through the neighborhood and they also have their fare share or restaurants, bars and a nightlife scene.

Varadero – is a 2 hour ride from Vedado. It’s quite the journey, but it is rated as one of the most beautiful beaches in Cuba. I had to see it! If you leave early enough and sleep in the taxi, it’s totally worth it! This was everyone’s favorite day on the trip by far. On the way, our taxi driver stopped at Saturn Cave, a beautiful hidden swimming hole. It was by far one of the coolest experiences I’ve had in my travels! Varadero is so unique because it’s a very skinny Peninsula and you can literally see water on both sides as you’re driving along. Our taxi driver took us to the beach at Varadero Golf Club which we thought was a very nice area. They offer snorkeling and other water activities.

Viñaeles – The locals told us, “it’s known as the happiest place in Cuba!” This is the place to come if… you want to experience horseback riding through the tobacco and coffee fields, learn the process of cigar making from the locals and explore dark caves in  mountains.  If you decide to come to Viñales which I definitely recommend, be prepared to stay in a very deserted area. It is a 2.5 hour winding car ride from Vedado, so you will definitely want to plan to stay the night here if you can. It’s definitely doable to do it in a day, but who wants to spend 5+ hours in the car if you don’t have to? This also ended up being one of our best experiences on the trip…

Old Havana – is the most iconic part of Cuba that you see in all of the pictures with the colorful buildings and classic cars. The best thing to do in Old Havana is people watch! As you walk through the alleys and streets that are almost falling apart, you’ll get to see a beautiful blend of travelers and locals. The main busy street to walk down in Havana is Obispo. I also recommend wandering into beautiful hotel lobbies whether for a bathroom or cocktail break.

A must see in Old Havana is ‘La Guarida‘. It’s a restaurant that’s almost impossible to make reservations at. I tried to make one 3 weeks in advanced and still couldn’t get one. However, even if you can’t, it’s still worth going and checking out the amazing views! There are three gorgeous levels to see great views of the city during the evening.

+ Overall Budget – 

  • $100/day for food, local tours, taxi’s, etc.
  • $25-$35 for taxi ride to/from airport to Havana/Vedado
  • $10-$15 for meals $3+ per cocktails
  • $150  private taxi to Varadero from Vedado
  • $7-$10 taxi rides from Vedado to Old Havana
  • $160 private taxi van ride from Vedado to Viñales
  • $20+/night for AirBnbs in Havana/Vedado/Viñales

**MUST DOWNLOAD this free app –>  Cuba Travel Guide**

All in all, my visit to Cuba was an amazing cultural experience. I wouldn’t recommend this trip for someone who wants pure relaxation and resort style amenities. At least, it wouldn’t be my first choice…

Stay tuned for a more detailed guides about restaurants and hotels worth visiting plus my daily itinerary! Feel free to leave any comments or questions about my trip below or on IG: @anastacia.kasmer

Thanks for reading – XX

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Lunch: Hog Island + Fresh Oysters

The best part about living in Northern California is ALL of the beautiful natural landscapes. I always tend to brag about how much I love and miss living in SoCal, but the truth is I continually become more and more impressed as I continue to discover new places. This weekend we went exploring with our favorite adventure couple to Tomales Bay. It’s a place I’ve always heard of, but never pulled the trigger on going because it’s a bit far from the city. There are many things to see and do on this trip (which I will write about in a later post), but for now, I want to highlight: Hog Island Oyster Co. If you’re a seafood lover, foodie or you just enjoy “local experiences”, you must visit this place to try some of the freshest oysters you’ve ever tasted!

Even on a foggy day, it can be pretty busy so it’s best to plan ahead and make a reservation. If you don’t make a reservation, they’ll still be able to accommodate you at a standing bar table but you may just have to wait a bit.

The menu is pretty simple: fresh oysters, Bourbon BBQ oysters, salads, bread, charcuterie and drinks. For a small fee, you can reserve a picnic table and shuck your own oysters. We saw a few larger parties do this and it looked really fun!

For more info. on Hog Island Oyster Co., check out their website.

 

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My husband is a Southern California native and has never been to Lake Tahoe before, so this past weekend we embarked on a Northern California/Nevada adventure with my parents. Non of us ski or snowboard which is basically the reason why anyone would go there, but we had a relaxing weekend even without the snow activities.

The drive from the Central Valley to Lake Tahoe was the most beautiful part! We loved stopping in the quaint town of Placerville (a good bathroom break stop) and at the Bonita Apple Farm on the way back!

If you’re a non-snow activity person like us, here are some of the GREAT things that Lake Tahoe has to offer that still make it checking out!

  • Heavenly Village –  bars/restaurants and shopping…
  • Scenic drive around Emerald Lake – there are MANY look out points along the way.
  • Dinner by the fire pit at Azul Latin Kitchen
  • Heavenly Cinemas – one of the smallest theaters I’ve ever been in, but very cozy!
  • Drinks @ The Loft – the chicest bar/lounge in South Lake Tahoe
  • Late night dinner @ The Lucky Beaver – the burgers are THE best and it’s LIT!
  • Watch the sunset at Lakeside Beach
  • Sip & Paint class (Sundays they have a special on pricing!)

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Hi everyone! Promised I’d be updating my site soon with some travel I did last year and thought I’d start with a bang — our trip to Ibiza, Spain to celebrate my husband’s 30th birthday! If you’ve never heard of Ibiza before, it’s a tiny island off the Southern coast of Spain. It’s been a popular celebrity summer destination for YEARS. It’s mostly known for it’s massive nightclub scene…and by massive, I mean the size of the clubs! They’re basically giant warehouses filled with pyrotechnics, dancers, laser light shows and whatever you can imagine. HOWEVER, there is much much more to the island than just the nightlife scene and I would HIGHLY recommend visiting even if you’re not into that stuff because other parts of the island are BEAU-TI-FUL! Trust me, it’ll be worth it!

So here’s the quick guide on how we booked and what we did…

Flights: We used my favorite traveling app Hopper to watch flights and were able to book a RT ticket from SFO > IBZ for under $700.

Accommodations: We stayed in an Airbnb in Playa d’en Bossa (the beach and close to all of the restaurants & nightlife) w/ 4 other guests.

Transportation: Take a taxi from the airport, but you WILL need to rent a car or be prepared to take taxis or the bus (it makes a lot of stops) on the day(s) you want to see other parts of the island.

Length of stay: 1 week – to truly relax and get into “vacay” mode plus get over jet lag, you need to dedicate at least one week to staying on this island (unless you plan to visit other islands close by). I would save 2-3 days JUST to travel around the island and visit other local beaches plus the neighboring island of Formentera (A MUST SEE) — and will take the entire day.

Where to go / What to see: My mentality when I travel IS to get THE MOST out of any experience. I like to do the touristy things of course (first time around) and also the local experience plus any recommendations from my friends. All this to say, the first things we did on our trip — the nightlife…

Nightlife: You pretty much HAVE to get tickets to go to any club in Ibiza, it’s just the way it works so be prepared to spend USD $35 – $50+ a night depending on who the DJ is that night. If you’re not familiar w/ who the DJs are, make sure you ask the promoters (which are all over the streets) so you can go to the club that best fits your music interest. SOME promoters can offer better deals than others, so it’s worth it to shop around a little bit.

Dress Code: Ladies, wear flats. These are not Vegas style clubs. They’re island style. You will be miserable if you wear heels since the clubs don’t shut down until 7AM.

Drinks: Are SUPER expensive in the club, USD $20 for a basic drink — so make sure you get the pre-game going!

Food: Mediterranean and Spanish style, a lot of seafood, plus normal American style cuisine (burgers, fries, pasta etc.)

Beaches: There are SO many beaches in the area so you’ll have to prioritize the ones you want to visit and spend time at. Grab a map and plan to visit them in order. All of the beaches usually have a restaurant/bar/food close by.

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Attractions: 

Cinema Paradiso – This was one of my favorite peaceful experiences in Ibiza, watching a movie under the stars. If you’re limited for time, I would skip this, but if you’ve got the time, this is definitely worth the “one in a life time experiences.”Cinema-paradiso-Feature.jpg

Bambuddah Ibiza – This is known as one of Ibiza’s top restaurants! The food is Asian fusion with a mostly Thai influence. IMO the food was decent, not great compared to other places I’ve tried, but the cocktails are great and the scene really picks up at night with the live music. Make sure you make a reservation if you want to eat here.IMG_5257e30f77a7b27a70fe5ae94b81da4f6454.jpg

Formentera Island: As I mentioned earlier, this is a MUST SEE! Take the earliest ferry out if you can and plan to rent a scooter and spend the entire day exploring the island. You will get a map that points out all of the different beautiful beaches. This was some of the clearest most electric water I have ever scene and I still dream about being here. WARNING: Make sure you get back in time to catch the last ferry out, otherwise you’re stuck on the island until the next day.

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Caves of Can Marça (Puerto San Miguel): A great pit stop on the day you decide to tour the island. For a small entry fee you’ll get to explore underground caves that have some interesting rock formations with a tour guide to explain the use of the caves for pirates!

slideshow-1432808304TemploCala Salada: Here you can watch the sunset OR jump of the cliffs into the ocean and snorkel. You decide 🙂 IMG_0779GOPR2221

Port of San Antonio: On your last day, watch the sunset here! Champagne is allowed on the beach and fun performers come at night to entertain the crowd because the party never stops here…ever!

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Hope you enjoyed this recap/guide! Feel free to leave me any additional questions/comments about Ibiza!

 

Stay Classy,

Anastacia

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Local Visit: SF Conservatory of Flowers

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One of the things I love about living in San Francisco is how much there is to see and explore in the 7 x 7 mile city. Last week, I took my mom on a surprise day trip to the SF Conservatory of Flowers located in gorgeous Golden Gate Park. Not only are the exterior grounds scenic, inside is just as beautiful and peaceful. There are a total of 5 rooms located within the conservatory all hosting different plants from around the world. Each room is temperature and climate controlled based on the region of where the plants are from. The featured exhibition right now is called “The Wild Bunch: Succulents, Cacti & Fat Plants,” which happen to be one of my favorite groups of plants at the moment.

This is a great place to come and escape the busy city life during the week. The entrance fee is $8 for adults and $6 fee if you’re in SF resident. To plan your trip, check out their site here.

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Travel Guide: New York City, NY

I recently visited New York City after a 3-year break. I couldn’t believe it had been that long! NYC is and has always been one of my favorite destination cities. I’m sure any one that’s been, can attest to the vibrant energy and culture of this special place. It truly is the city that never sleeps…

This trip was most unique compared to my previous trips because I had already done a lot of the “touristy” things (Empire State Building, Central Park, 9/11 Memorial Site, Hudson River Cruise, etc.). I was able to explore the local and underground scene. It was also really nice not to have the pressure to try and squeeze so many things into one day. As a matter of fact, I didn’t even make it to Times Square!
I wanted to share some of the things I did that it made it so great whether you’re visiting soon or are already a local!
 
BODEGA NEGRA
A festive night lounge and restaurant serving Mexican street food and the most delicious Meszcal Margarita cocktails you’ve ever tried in your life! It’s on the ground level of the Dream Hotel. I came on a Monday night where they played the best dance music — a mixture of latin and hip-hop!  There’s no cover charge at the door for the lounge which is nice, but the place does get pretty packed so be prepared to stand/dance unless you make a reservation to eat.
*Highlight: At 12AM, they feature live performances (everything from circus acts to burlesque). If you love to dance, this is definitely a spot you can’t miss! Photo Courtesy of: NewYork.com
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 PUBLIC THEATRE
This is by far the best theatre experience I’ve had to date (and I’ve seen a lot of shows!). I was so happy at the end of this performance I wanted to cry from the sheer experience. I mean it helped that my husband bought me a phenomenal front row center ticket so I was practically sitting on the stage.
The Public Theatre is a unique experience because it showcases the work of many up-and-coming playwrights and performers. It feels like an incubator for plays before they make their Broadway debut. In fact, many performances have had their first run here!  Also, in the particular play, I saw “The Total Bent” (which I highly recommend), the actors were very interactive with the audience which makes for a very intimate setting. Each production runs for a limited amount of time so I recommend purchasing your ticket in advanced because they do sell out! If you get to the theatre early, check out The Library (restaurant upstairs inside of the venue).
*Side note: If you come here and are an American Express Cardholder, you can book amazing front row seats without having to be a member of the Public Theatre. All the seats are great, but I highly recommend getting a front row seat if you can and love theatre!
To check out more information about The Public Theatre, click here.
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 EATALY
The first thing I thought when I walked into ‘Eataly’ was…how have I not been here before?!  Eataly is an Italian marketplace located in Madison Square Park. Inside you will find a variety of food and beverage vendors, baked goods, retail items, sit-down restaurants and cooking classes. It’s a one-stop-shop for Italian food.  If you’re local, you might come here to shop for your wines, cheeses, fresh pasta and more. If you’re visiting, you definitely have to try one of the 9 restaurants. Naturally, I thought I was going to try the creamiest  and freshest pasta, but instead opted for something healthier — seafood!
 Tip: On your way out, make sure to grab a caramel maciatto espresso and gelato!
Plan your visit to Eataly here.
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 SMALLS JAZZ CLUB
This spot is a tiny hidden gem located in Greenwich Village. This club has so much grit and history, it’s a true jazz lover’s dream. It’s not fancy inside at all and has that neighborhood “everyone knows your name when you walk in the door” vibe. When the club originally opened in 1994, it was a $10 cover charge, stay as long as you’d like, and BYOB since the owner had no liquor license. His only concern was…the music. Since then, the club has undergone many changes, which you can read about here. The club only fits  50-60 people max inside and is now $20 cover to get in. You can expect a very intimate listening experience from some of New York’s best Jazz ensembles.
Find out who’s preforming tonight here.
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 THE CELLAR (HAPPY HOUR)
I found this wine and cheese room inside Beecher’s Handmade Cheese New York. The best part…I found it during happy hour (3-7PM daily)! The HH menu features $7 wine, cocktails and food. It’s a great ambience downstairs and gets pretty lively after work hours. Come here for a glass of wine if you’re visiting the Union Square area.
 BLOOMINGDALES 59TH STREET
I thought I had it good in SF until I walked in to the the holy grail of all Bloomingdales. Although I typically prefer to window shop the streets of Soho or Meatpacking district, I was completely floored when I stepped into this beautiful gigantic showroom. Yes, I’ve been to SAKS on 5th, Barney’s and Bergdorf Goodman department stores, but something about this Bloomingdales had my fashion heart swooning. It was so decadent inside, but still practical like I could possibly afford something small. Even if you’re not a shopper, it’s definitely worth walking through even if it’s just to use the bathroom in their lounge!
PS. My favorite floor was the Home Goods section. If you’re into that stuff, be sure to check it out!
Find out store hours here.
OTHER NOTABLE MENTIONS:
  • Chef’s Club by Food & Wine (in NoLita) – a gourmet curated culinary food and wine experience. This place is fancy yet unpretentious and serves the best dishes from chefs around the world.
  • Cabana Midtown – Fantastic Cuban restaurant (close to Bloomingdales on 59th street)! If they have salmon special with coconut rice (you have to ask for it) — GET IT!IMG_3755
  • The Lobby Lounge (inside Mandarin Oriental Hotel) – If you’re in Columbus Square, make a reservation and unwind at one the most elegant lounges in the area. Located on the 35th floor of the Mandarin Oriental Hotel, this sophistcated lounge has panoramic views of Central Park and the Manhattan skyline. Make sure to come during daytime hours to take it all in.

*Bonus Points: We exited the lobby with Kate Hudson! 

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*Drink pictured: “The Royal Tea” — a delicious blend of Meyer lemon juice, Ginger Oolong honey, beet juice, vodka and candied beets. Get the official recipe here!

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sfgate

*Photo courtesy of SFGATE

I’ve been to many different spas in the last few years, but nothing quite like “The Refuge” in Carmel, CA. Tucked away in the beautiful mountains and lush greenery of Northern California is a therapeutic silent oasis. My husband and I were graciously given gift certificates as a wedding gift to experience the healing powers of this unique spa.

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Here’s what you can expect when visiting “The Refuge”

To make the most out of your trip, arrive early and book a treatment. Our gift certificates included entry and a massage. When you first arrive, you’ll check-in at the front desk where the spa staff will greet you with your locker key, tip envelope (if you’re getting massage service) and a brochure on the spa. If it is your first time, you’ll be given the option to have an orientation of the spa and how the thermal cycles work best to maximize health benefits during your stay. Since the spa is “silent,” it’s encouraged to leave all of your electronics in your locker. This message was clearly directed towards my husband, who showed up with laptop in tow ready to ask for the wifi password.

The spa is co-ed which makes it a perfect couples get-away or it can equally be a really relaxing retreat with close friends. Before entering the facilities, you can slip into your swimsuit in the locker room and also retrieve your robe, towel and complimentary bottle of water. One thing to remember is to bring your own sandals or else you’ll be walking barefoot (like I did -__-). The locker room isn’t anything too lavish, but comes equipped with the basics to shower off and get ready afterwards. After placing your stuff in your locker, you’ll walk out to the thermal pool area and have a brief consultation on how to effectively complete the cycle for maximum results (it is also printed handy on your water bottle).

Basically, the goal is to get your body to it’s highest heat tolerance and then to the lowest cool temperature you can withstand. It sounds painful and it can be at first, but like most things it’s mind-over-matter and the benefit outweighs the temporary discomfort. The purpose for this you may be asking yourself (as I did) is to: eliminate toxins from your body, improve blood circulation, reduce stress, alleviate pain and inflammation among many other healing benefits. It is the same reason that athletes take ice baths to heal muscles soreness and wounds. It also has similar effects to cryotherapy. If you’ve ever been to a Korean spa (my favorite), you’ve probably noticed that they also practice “contrast bath therapy” also known as “hot/cold immersion therapy”.

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Photo Refuge Facebook

The 1st stop in the cycle is a choice between the eucalyptus steam room or the dry cedar sauna. I prefer dry saunas, but it’s nice to try both while you’re there. After sitting in the sauna for 10-15 minutes, you’ll go immediately into 1 of 2 cold water options: “cool” (Pacific ocean water temperature) or “cold” (ice water temperature). The goal is to stay submerged for at least 10-60 seconds or as long as your body can handle. The longer you can stay in the cold, the greater the healing effects. I was convinced from the beginning that I would not make it in the cold pool by the end of our trip, but I couldn’t resist the dare from my husband!

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*Photo Refuge Facebook

Although it was extremely hard to handle, there was power in my self-control and endurance to overcome the chilling temperatures. I eventually got the hang of out it and learned that the key is once you get in, not to move around too much. After emerging from the cold pools, you have an option to relax by the group fire pits, hammocks or in 1 out of 3 rooms that have anti-gravity lounge chairs. The suggested time in these areas is 15 minutes. Many people take time to read or fall asleep in these areas.

After relaxation, you’ll enjoy warm or hot thermal pools with jets and natural looking waterfalls. This was by far my favorite part of the cycle. Again, you can spend as much time here as you’d like. After you’ve finished enjoying your time in the thermal pools, you’ve officially completed 1 cycle. The average time per cycle varies based on your pace. It is recommended you complete 3-5 cycles in your visit at the spa and to drink 1 full bottle of water per cycle (yes, you’ll probably be using the bathroom frequently which is why you should definitely bring sandals). The average stay at the spa is around 2-3 hours. I think we were there about 3 hours including our massage treatments and it was plenty of time to get 4-5 cycles in at our leisure.

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*Photo CopyCatChic

The best way to break up the cycles is to arrive early and book a massage in between. My recommendation is that you don’t come when it’s too hot. You’ll really crave being in cooler weather with all of the heat you’ll be putting your body through. If you choose not to book a massage, you can have access to the facility for $44. Massage treatments start around $119 for a 50-minute massage which include access to the facility and a robe. The spa offers three different types of aroma therapy massages: swedish (the relaxing one), deep tissue and sports. If you want complete and deep relaxation while falling asleep drooling — go for the Swedish!

*Important things to know before you visit (which are also available on the website’s FAQ’s):

  • Spa is open from 10am – 10pm daily — rain or shine
  • Complimentary water bottles are provided (or you can bring your own)
  • No glass water bottles
  • There’s a station to refill your water bottle between cycles
  • Bring your own sandals
  • 2 towels are provided in your locker, robe is available for $12 rental or you can bring your own white one
  • Swimsuits are required
  • Must book your massage treatments in advanced

To read more FAQ’s and visit the spa website click here.

Rancho San Carlos Road, Carmel. (831) 620-7360

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Travel Guide: Santorini

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This post has been a long time coming and is the last part of our honeymoon. As always, I like to plan all of our trips with the best for last and of course in Greece, that means Santorini! It is one of the most beautiful and picturesque landscapes of the 70+  islands. About an hour flight from Athens and a 2-hour ferry ride from Mykonos, it’s a stop you simply can’t miss.

My husband and I chose to take the ferry and were not disappointed. Our hotel (Sophia Luxury Suites), arranged transportation for us at the port upon arrival. It was a 20-minute drive up the rocky caldera through Fira (the capital) into Imerovigli, the highest village on the island.

We debated whether we wanted to stay in Oia, another popular town for vacationers or Imerovigli, which is quieter and has more boutique hotels. We ultimately ended up choosing Imerovigli because it was central and gave us a fantastic 90% view of the unique crescent shaped island. It was also a peaceful area for honeymooners!

We loved our stay at the Sophia Luxury Suites! The staff was super friendly and the chef made fresh breakfast delivered right to the room every morning. This is common at the nicer hotels in Santorini. If complete privacy is very important to you, make sure you do your research on the hotel or place you book beforehand. Since all of the hotels in Santorini are on a cliff, it’s almost impossible to achieve this. However, that’s part of the beauty of the island so I suggest embracing it!

Despite how relaxing Santorini may look from pictures online, there are actually many things to do on the island to keep you busy!

Things you MUST do in Santorini:

  • Rent an ATV and drive around the island ($40 for 24 hours)
  • Try a Greek Gyro in Fira ($3)
  • Take a Yacht Tour around the island (they have several ones at different prices, around $150 per person)
  • Fish pedicures ($20)
  • Dinner with a view of the caldera (varies)
  • Hike Imerovigli to Oia (free)
  • Shopping at the markets in Oia (free)
  • Watch the sunset in Oia (free)
  • Visit the white, red and black sand beaches (free)
  • Wine tasting at the vineyards (varies)
  • Endless photo taking on beautiful rooftops (free)

With all of the activities plus R&R, I would recommend staying a minimum of 4 nights up until however long you can. There’s no question that Santorini was our favorite stop!

Here are some additional tools to help you plan your trip! 

Hotel recommendations site: www.SantoriniDave.com

Santorini Yacht Club: http://www.santoriniyachtingclub.com

Airlines: http://en.aegeanair.com

Ferry (from Mykonos to Santorini: https://hellenicseaways.gr/en/booking

 

 

 

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Vlog: Honeymoon in Greece

I’ve recently had a lot of friends asking us about our trip to Greece, so I put together this short honeymoon recap! Check it out and don’t forget to subscribe to my channel! Planning to post more videos in the New Year.

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Travel Guide: Mykonos, Greece

Our second stop on our Greece honeymoon destination was Mykonos! It is known as the “party island” and “Greece’s answer to Ibiza.” Their high season is May – August, with July being the most popular month for partygoers. Clubs stay open until 7am and some even 10am. Since we came in early October, we avoided much of the touristy crowded streets and bars. However it was just enough to appreciate the liveliness and beauty of the island. Here are the details from our trip!

MYKONOS, GREECE

Airline: Aegean Airlines (30 minute flight from Athens)

Transportation: Taxi to the hotel and our hotel provided transportation to the city each night (5 minute ride from our hotel).

Hotel: Cavo Tagoo Mykonos (Gorgeous! I would definitely stay here again and highly recommend this hotel). The hotel is seasonal and only open May – October.

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Trip  length: 2 nights (but definitely stay 3 – at least!)

SIGHTSEEING:

Chora (Mykonos Town): Much of Mykonos sightseeing can be done in or close to the “Chora” which is Mykonos Town. It is where all of the restaurants, shops, cafe, bars and clubs are located. When looking up hotels, try and find one close to here. During the day it is quiet and beautiful to stroll through the pathways of white washed buildings and stone streets. Restaurants are open late here too!

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Island of Delos Tour (20 Euro per person): Known as the birthplace of Apollo. You can catch the ferry from downtown Mykonos to the island that is about 2 miles away. It’s a beautiful 20 minute boat ride. When you get to the island, it will look like nothing but piles of rocks everywhere! I highly suggest hiring one of the local tour guides on the island for 10 Euros if you want to appreciate the history of the island. The stories are quite fascinating! There is also a museum in the middle of the tiny island. The boat stops here for about an hour and a half.

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Kato Milli (The Windmills): A beautiful photo stop and a great place to watch the sunset during the evening. It is easy to get here by walking through Mykonos town.

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Old Venice: This is on the edge of the Chora on your way to the beautiful Windmills. It is the area the houses the old fishermen’s homes along the water.

What we missed….spending time at the local beaches! We enjoyed our hotel so much that it was hard for us to leave, but from what we looked up, they are beautiful and definitely worth seeing. At least now we have a reason to go back!

More photos from our trip below…

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Travel Guide: Athens, Greece

I’m so excited to be blogging about my honeymoon adventure! Greece has been on my travel bucket list for a very long time. The beautiful pictures I saw online beforehand of the high cliffs and gorgeous sunsets were truly breathtaking and highly persuasive! When my fiancé and I first started planning our honeymoon, I was set on Bora Bora (French Polynesia). The over-water bungalows and white sands had been my dream for years! What prompted our decision to go to Greece was the amazing trip we took to Europe last year (France and Italy)!  I loved that we had the mixture of both adventure and relaxation. It was the exact adventure I was up for after marrying my best friend.

Check out the trip recap from our honeymoon vacation in Athens below…

ATHENS, GREECE

Airline: Delta/Atalia

My favorite airline booking website to compare airlines prices is Cheapoair.com. We’ve booked many international flights using this site. However, this time we booked through Delta (due to points) which tends to be a bit pricier. However, we had a TERRIBLE experience with Alitalia, one of Delta’s international partners. None of our seats were together and they lost our luggage on the way back from Greece (BEWARE).

Flight time (from San Francisco International airport): 19 hours total trip time

Traveling to Greece from the states takes an entire day! The journey in total from San Francisco took a long 19-hours (San Francisco> Los Angeles> Rome> Athens).

Transportation: Small rental car

We decided to rent a car from the airport so we could drive around and explore. Most of the rental cars are standard (stick-shift). If you don’t know how to drive one, there’s always public transportation (taxi and train). They do have a FEW automatic cars available, but they’re pricey to rent! Also, driving in Athens is crazy compared to the US (scooters flying everywhere)! Street parking is difficult to find, but there are parking garages available.

Trip Length: 2 nights (but should’ve stayed 1)

RECOMMENDATION: If you’re a quick and efficient traveler or are pressed for traveling time, I recommend staying in Athens one night only. There’s not much to see other than the Acropolis in comparison to most of the other Greek islands. Plan a morning arrival and a late flight out the next day…

Hotel: 360 Degrees (View of the Acropolis, nice rooftop bar) $$

This hotel is centerally located in Monastiraki square.  The hotel has fantastic views of the Acropolis of Athens at night and during the day. It is moderately priced for it’s location and the rooftop bar at night is a trendy hot-spot for visitors and locals. The hotel does not have valet, so it’s best to take the train to the station close by or get dropped off by taxi. The Acropolis entrance is 5 minutes walking distance to the hotel.

SITE SEEING:

The Acropolis of Athens (5 Euro entrance price)

This is by far the most famous site in Athens. It is home to the Parthenon structure which began construction in 447bc. It is quite an experience to be in the presence of ancient architecture that was  built so long ago and is rich in history. It’s best to come here in the morning right when they open around 8AM. You can get through this whole area by lunchtime and have more time to see other parts of the city.

Monastiraki Square

This is the main hub of Athens with all of the shops, markets and restaurants. It’s also close to a metro station if you choose to take public transportation from the airport. I highly recommend staying in this area, because it’s walking distance to many things and the most lively part of the city.

Plaka (Old historical neighborhood)

This part of Athens (close to Monastiraki Square) was inhabited by the first immigrants and reflects the “island style” building designs of Greece (white buildings with blue doors). It’s quaint and nice to take a stroll through.

Astir Beach in Voulagemini 

We found this beautiful beach thanks to TripAdvisor.com. There are many free beaches in Athens and some you pay for. The ones you pay for are nice because they include lounging chairs and shade umbrellas. This beach specifically also had nice restrooms, changing rooms, showers and a cafe.

Photos from the trip below…

Room at Hotel 360 Degrees

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View from the rooftop restaurant at Hotel 360 DegreesIMG_8231

View during the day

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Look out point halfway point to the ParthenonIMG_8260

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Theater of Dionysus (within the Acropolis grounds)IMG_8273

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Old Temple of Athena (next to the Parthenon)IMG_8290

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I was pleasantly surprised to find fresh juice shops in the Athens markets! IMG_8318

Plaka – an old neighborhood close to the Acropolis
IMG_8321Vouliagmeni (free beach, 20 minute drive from Monastiraki square)
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Astir Beach in Vouliagmeni (20 Euro per person entrance)
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Food was delicious in Athens! My favorite app to use abroad is TripAdvisor.com. If you don’t have wi-fi, the next best option is to ask the hotel concierge. They can point you to the local spots so you avoid the high-priced tourists traps.IMG_8409 IMG_8414 IMG_8416

For more photos from my trip, follow me on Instagram @anastacia.kasmer and on Facebook www.facebook.com/stayclassyana

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Travel Diary: Sydney, Australia

I recently had the wonderful opportunity to visit Sydney, Australia! It has been on my travel list for a long time. The city is rich and diverse in topography. I spent a total of 4 days in the country, but wish I could’ve stayed longer. Although it was Australia’s winter time (70 degrees Fahrenheiht with the sun out), it did not stop me from enjoying my time and exploring as much as I could. As a bonus, it was their annual light festival called “VIVID” in which prominent buildings around the city are lit up with colorful light show displays (including the famous Darling Harbor and Sydney Opera House).

Some of the highlights of my trip included:

City Center and Queen Victoria Building – We stayed at The Westin hotel in the center of downtown Sydney. It was a great location because it was walking distance to most of the main attractions in the city (The Harbor, Opera House, Capitol Theater, Queen Victoria Building and Hyde Park). On our first day there, I explored all of downtown. There are a lot of high end malls and shopping centers filled with charming outdoor cafes.

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Hyde Park – On the second day there, I walked through Hyde Park which can in some ways be compared to New York’s Central Park on a much much smaller scale. However, it is beautiful to grab a coffee or tea and stroll through the park on a warm afternoon.

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Bondi Beach and Bondi to Coogee Trail – This was listed as the #1 activity to do when visiting Sydney on TripAdvisor.com and it’s reviewers were spot on. This was my favorite day on our trip. Bondi Beach is about 20 minutes by train and another 5 minutes by bus from downtown Sydney. The bus will drop you off right at Bondi Beach and the trail will start from there. Reviewers say it takes 1 hour, but if it’s your first time, you’ll probably want to stop at all of the scenic locations and take pictures. It ended up taking us a leisurely and relaxing two hours.

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Blue Mountains – We decided to book a day tour to the Blue Mountains which was recommended to us by friends. The day tour included a trip to the Sydney Olympic center, the Blue Mountains, Featherdale Wildlife Park and a trip on the ferry back to the harbor at night. Not to mention we had a phenomenal tour guide! Usually, I’m not one to book tours because I prefer to explore myself, however when you’re on a time crunch, it truly is one of the best ways to see everything and not worry about transportation and time.

The Blue Mountains are considered the “Grand Canyon” of Australia and are filled with many Eucalyptus trees which is what the Koala’s love to munch on.

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Featherdale Wildlife Park – A visit to the wildlife park was a part of our tour and I was not disappointed. Since we were unable to make the famous Sydney Zoo, this was a nice alternative to see the wildlife that Australia is known for. Also, you get up close and personal interaction with the Koalas and Kangaroos.

IMG_7425 IMG_7404 IMG_7412Contemporary Museum Art – The museum is located in “The Rocks” area of Circular Quay. The museum is modern, quick and worth passing through! Oh and did I mention it’s free?! It also has one of the best views of the Sydney Opera house at the cafe on the top floor.

The Food and Nightlife – Australia is known for it’s beef, hence “Outback” steakhouse so it was one thing we definitely had to try while we were out there. I love a good steak and have had my fair share of contenders while living in LA (STK, Mastros, Capital City Grill, etc.).  We ordered one of the best cuts on the menu (ribeye) and unfortunately, the Aussie steaks didn’t live up to their hype!

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One Aussie meal that did meet my expectations was the Aussie pie! It’s basically their version of a chicken pot pie. I’m actually craving one right now…We went to a local bakery and tried a pie with mashed potatoes and minced beef and one with curried lamb. Both were delicious and filling!

IMG_7379Ivy Night Club – A beautiful tri-level nightclub in city center. It’s no-cover on Thursdays and has a mixed crowd. Most of the music they played was house and Top 40. It was a fun way to experience the young crowd in the city and see what they like to do for fun on the weekends. PS. Everyone dresses REALLY nice! 
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Les Miserables at the Capitol Theater – At night, we enjoyed the show Les Miserablés at the Capitol Theater. **Traveler tip, if you purchase tickets AT the venue after 5:30pm on the day of the show, you can get your tickets for almost 1/3 of the online price on Ticketmaster IF there are extra seats available (which you can check online). Example, my fiancé and I got tickets for $45 each instead of the $165 price they were showing online. The best thing to do, is to purchase the ticket, find a restaurant close by and grab dinner before the show!

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Darling Harbor , The Rocks and Sydney Opera House in Circular Quay – Last, but not least…of course the Sydney Opera House! Before seeing it, I honestly expected to be underwhelmed as I was the first time I saw the Eiffel Tower. But somehow it was even more prominent than I pictured it to be. I couldn’t believe how easily accessible it was to get there. Although we did not see a performance here, it was so fun to be in the area and watch the beautiful light display.

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Dinner: Cliffside at Sierra Mar (Big Sur)

*Photo from Post Ranch Inn website.

If you’ve read my post on California’s most beautiful coastal city, Big Sur, and are so inclined to visit…you’ll definitely want to consider making reservations at Sierra Mar. The fine-dining restaurant rests cliffside at the Post Ranch Inn Hotel. It would be my dream to stay the night here one day, but for $1,000 per night, it’s currently a little out of my budget!

My fiancé and I headed here for their lunch menu which features a three-course pre-fixed menu OR a five-course tasting menu. The staff was extremely friendly and explained the menu selections to us very thoroughly. I would describe the cuisine as fresh California fusion. There’s everything from fancier meals like lamb to a good hardy kobe beef burger and of course seafood. You also have the option to order à la carte from the prefix menu selections. The portion sizes were very good for such a nice dining experience. We both were more than full and had food leftover to take home. Although lunchtime wasn’t busy, the restaurant website recommends you make reservations. To see a sample of their dining menu and check out the Post Ranch Inn Hotel, visit their website here.

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*Names of the menu items below are not exact. I just wanted to give you a glimpse of how the food is delicately prepared and served.

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Onion soup with almond biscottiIMG_4642

Pork croquette with quail egg over radicchio with mustard seeds and yuccaIMG_4645

Seared Ahi tuna over spaghetti squash with clams in a citrus sauceIMG_4647 IMG_4649 Roasted lamb shank over polentaIMG_4651Citrus meringueIMG_4661 IMG_4662 IMG_4672 IMG_4673 IMG_4677

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Travel Diary: Big Sur, California

If there was ever a debate on whether or not California is the most beautiful state in the continental US, you must visit Big Sur. Three and a half hours northwest of Los Angeles, Big Sur is home to one of the most beautiful coastlines in the world. Yes, the world. It’s been featured in many car commercials for obvious reason.

Located off of Highway 1, you can expect to see dramatic cliff edges, beautiful mountain ranges and of course, the vast beautiful blue Pacific Ocean. We happened to drive down on the perfect day. There was no marine layer and weather was warm enough to let the windows down and enjoy the ocean breeze. There are many designated cliffside parking stops along the way to get out and enjoy the view and take plenty of pictures.

Big Sur is also the perfect staycation and weekend getaway for California natives. There are many hiking trails and restaurants nestled in the forest. Perhaps the best part is that the environment encourages you to just unplug.

There are a few local hotels to stay in the area OR you can stay in Monterey, a beautiful city 30 minutes north of Big Sur that has more tourist attractions and things to do.

To find out more about Big Sur visit the city’s link here.IMG_4626 IMG_4627 IMG_4631 IMG_4682 IMG_4687 IMG_4695 IMG_4701

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Hike: Los Leones in Pacific Palisades

One of the best parts of living in Los Angeles is the amount of gorgeous hikes we have! Many of the hikes give you incredible views of the glamorous city. There is also something charming about experiencing nature in such a busy city. It’s a reminder of how calming and peaceful life can and should be.

This past weekend I headed to the Los Leones hike in the Pacific Palisades. If you are unfamiliar with the area, the Pacific Palisades is located just southeast of Malibu. We started at the Los Leones Canyon entrance off of: 566 Los Liones Drive, the main entrance to the canyon and hike. The hike was close to 4 miles roundtrip and about 1 hour and 20 minutes long.

Once we got to the top, we spent about 20 minutes taking in the incredible views of the coast. This is one of my favorite hikes in LA because it feels like a real hike; covered in shrubbery along an embankment with views of the ocean early on. I definitely suggest going with someone else because the trails and pathways are hidden. I would describe the difficulty of this hike as intermediate. It becomes gradually steep, but the pathways have been cleared out pretty well. Los Leones is the perfect Sunday morning hike! IMG_3728 IMG_3729 IMG_3732 IMG_3734 IMG_3742 IMG_3747 IMG_3748 IMG_3752 IMG_3755 IMG_3757 IMG_3770

 

 

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Travel Diary: Paris, France

I am so excited to write this post and couldn’t think of a more perfect time of the year to share with you all the most romantic trip I’ve ever taken. Paris is everything you imagine it to be and so much more. It is a city rich with art, culture and history. I had the opportunity to visit this charming city in the month of October. The weather was crisp, warm enough during the day for pants and a light sweater and cool at night for a fancy long coat.

My fiancé and I stayed in Paris a total of 4 nights and our goal was to see as much as we possibly could. We took a cab from Charles de Gaulle airport to our hotel. *WARNING* There are Parisians at the airport who try to scam you into taking one of their cars. They will tell you if you don’t have a reservation through your hotel, you cannot take a normal taxi. Do not listen, follow the ‘TAXI’ sign. We almost bought into this, but luckily turned around. The drive from the airport to our hotel was about an hour and a half. You really don’t see much until you get into the city.

We stayed at a 4-Star hotel on Avenue de Champs-Elysées in the 8th arrondissement of Paris, their luxury shopping district. It is also close to the famous Arc De Triomphe, a historical landmark and national monument of the city. Whenever I travel somewhere I’ve never been, I try my best to stay in an area that is centrally located. I feel it is much safer that way and more convenient to get around. The rooms in our hotel were tiny. 4 stars in Europe isn’t equivalent to 4 stars in the U.S. Plan to pack light when traveling through Paris because the city is built around necessity rather than excess.

On our first night, we also booked an engagement shoot. We met with an American photographer who now lives in Europe. She’s perfect for anyone interested in booking a photoshoot while in Paris because she also gives you a tour of the city during the shoot, hence the name Pictours in Paris.’ During that shoot, we got to see the famous Cathedral church, Notre Dame de Paris, the Lovelock Bridge and the Eiffel TowerAnastacia and Marcel print res-2IMG_5388

My favorite attraction on our trip was the Palais De Versailles also known by the French as the Chateau de Versailles. It’s a luxurious palace in the city of Versailles, a wealthy suburb outside of Paris, and is an hour train ride or a 30 minute cab ride outside of the city. The grounds take a few hours to walk around so plan to arrive early and spend at least half the day there. After walking through the palace, you can take a tram ride or rent a bike and tour the gardens, which include two smaller chateaus in the back.

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Other highlights of our trip include:

Restaurant Favorite List:

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  • BREIZH Cafe in the Marais District *Make reservations here (Breakfast/Lunch)IMG_5741
  • Angelina’s at Palais de Versailles (Lunch/Dinner)IMG_5547IMG_5545
  • Cafe Constant by the Eiffel Tower (Dinner)IMG_5214IMG_5213IMG_5216IMG_5215
  • Laudrèe (Dessert)IMG_5779 IMG_5796

My Do’s and Don’ts List:

Do…

  • Stand on the new glass bottom at the Eiffel TowerIMG_5766
  • Visit the observation deck at the Arc De Triomphe at night to watch the Eiffel Tower light show. This happens after sundown for the first 5 minutes at the top of the hour, every hour.10679577_10152899846403534_316299158111869231_o
  • Try steak & frites!IMG_5408
  • Take the train and walk around the city as much as you can.IMG_5750
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  • Learn how to say hello and thank you (Bonjour, Mercí)
  • Visit Marie Antoinette’s Summer Palace at Chateau de Versailles
  • Take a selfie with Mona LisaIMG_5322

Don’t…

  • Waste too much time exploring The Lourve museum unless you really love art. Make sure you see the Mona Lisa though!
  • Don’t sleep in, there’s so much to see!

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Staycation: Terranea Resort in Rancho Palos Verdes California

As much as I love international travel, I hold something very special in my heart for ‘Staycations.’ I love a good getaway that is relaxing, but still close enough to home where you don’t have to go through check-in, security and aisle seats.

Thus, I introduce you to the luxurious Terranea (terra-NAY-a) Resort in Rancho Palos Verdes California. The 102- acre private peninsula is absolutely breathtaking. We visited in the month of February and the weather was surprisingly perfect. Although we’ve been spoiled in California when it comes to winter weather. When we pulled up to the valet, I instantly felt as if we were on actual vacation in some tropical destination. The grounds include: residential bungalows, casitas and villas, an award winning 9-hole par three golf course, an ocean front spa, restaurants, bars, lounges, shopping boutiques and the best part a walking trail along the coast. The resort is also eco-friendly.

We had dinner reservations at the hotel’s restaurant Mar’Sel, but came early to grab a drink and enjoy the lounge and walk along the coast. It was so fun to blend in with the “real” vacationers. Dinner at Mar’Sel was beautiful and romantic. My fiancé made our reservation around sunset. We sat on the outdoor patio and had appetizers and wine. By the time night fell, we were enjoying our dinner under the stars. If you live in the Southern California region, I highly recommend checking this place out for a day or weekend getaway. The rooms are a bit expensive, but do make a reservation or grab a drink at the bar to enjoy time and experience Terranea.

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Travel Diary: Shanghai, China

Shanghai is by far one of the best cities I’ve traveled to, especially throughout Asia. Located in East China, the city is the perfect combination of old and new. The modern architecture makes you feel like you’re in a city of the future and the buildings are the most impressive I’ve seen throughout my travels.

With over 24 million people, Shanghai is the largest city in China by population. I stayed in the financial district of Shanghai at the beautiful Grand Hyatt hotel. I highly recommend this hotel to first time visitors of Shanghai for its incredible 360° views of the city during both the day and night. There is an observation deck in this hotel called the “Jin Mao Tower” and also a popular bar at the top of the hotel. Finally, the Grand Hyatt Shanghai is in a central location and close to the metro station making it very easy to get around.

View from the Grand Hyatt Restaurant

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Hotel Room ViewIMG_7966Shanghai Center (brand new building)
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Nanjing Road – If you Google “Top 10 Things to Do in Shanghai”, Nanjing Road will definitely be up there on the list. Nanjing Road is considered one of the busiest shopping streets in the world. Here, you’ll find everything from local Chinese fashion stores to retailers like Zara, Forever 21 and Apple. This street is open late and definitely best seen at night. Although I didn’t do any shopping, I had fun walking down the street and people watching. It reminded me of the Las Vegas strip and also Times Square in New York.

IMG_7997 IMG_7999Xiaolongbao – Also a must-do in Shanghai is trying the famous soup dumplings. The traditional Chinese diet is heavy in pork which was hard for me to get used to at first as I don’t eat a lot of pork. The reason for this is because pork is much cheaper than chicken or beef and easier to raise. But I try to be as open as possible when traveling because I really believe it is part of understanding and learning about the culture. If you are vegan or vegetarian, not to worry because these soup dumplings can be enjoyed vegetarian style as well! 
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The Bund Riverwalk – By far my favorite part of Shanghai, the reason I fell in love with this city and the reason I’ll come back again. I was not really sure what to expect when I researched visiting the riverwalk because the river in Shanghai is not a pretty color. To my surprise it was very impressive. Having recently been to Europe, it was very reminiscent of the streets there. It is the historical part of Centeral China along the Huangpu river. It was once the area that held the trading houses from many European nations, the US and other parts of the world which is why these buildings have a lot of European charisma and charm. The building heights are restricted here so it looks completely different from the modern Pudong skyline which you can see across the river.

You can spend a full day on The Bund looking through the shops, walking through the fancy hotel lobbies and eating at the nice restaurants.

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Dragon Dinner Cruise – Another highlight of our trip was doing a boat ride across the Huangpu river at night to get an even closer view of the skyline and both sides of Shanghai (the modern and historical at night). Dinner is served on this cruise, but I’ll be upfront, it’s not good. So eat before you come or plan to eat after. The boat is huge and you have free range to walk around. It’s about 90 minutes total. Another alternative is taking the white boats which are less expensive. You can’t reserve those in advanced so you will have to wait at the pier to get on, but it’s worth being on the river at night at some point during your trip.IMG_8126IMG_8174 IMG_8192IMG_8170

IMG_8202Hancity Fashion and Accessories Plaza – If you’ve never been or heard about China’s imitation scene, you’ll definitely want to check out this spectacle. You will see hundreds and hundreds of imitation products and people from all over the world bargaining for them. Don’t be fooled though, the quality is not always the best so be careful before you buy. However, also keep in mind that most of our products are manufactured in China. Since buying counterfeit products is illegal in the U.S., you will need to be extremely careful and cautious about your purchases when coming home through customs if you choose to buy.

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But you can find great souvenirs here like this traditional Chinese top, hair chopsticks and other items to bring back for friends and family. Always remember to bargain. I’ll be doing a special post solely on the bargaining experience, what to do and what not to do.IMG_2119

ERA Circus Intersection of Time – Shanghai’s version of “Cirque du Soleil” and great evening entertainment for all ages. The talented Chinese acrobats tell the story of the past, present and future of China in performances that will have you on the edge of your seat holding your breath. Tickets should be reserved in advanced and can most likely be reserved through your hotel. IMG_2166 IMG_2179 IMG_2188 IMG_2203 IMG_2204Shanghai was truly a magical city and I hope to go back soon. Leave me a comment and let me know about your travels or if you have more questions about my experience here. Thanks for reading and #stayclassy!

Check out one of my favorite moments from the trip:

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Shibuya Crossing at Night

I made my first trip to Tokyo, Japan this past December. It was a cold time of the year to go, but I was already traveling through China and I knew it would be worth the stop. I heard from friends that had previously visited, that it was an amazing city. I stayed in Tokyo a total of 3 nights and 4 full days. Although I didn’t have much time, I was able to do a lot of sightseeing and make the most out of my trip. I made sure to research in advanced the places that were “must-sees” and made a plan of how I could see 2-3 attractions per day. For first time visitors I would recommend staying at least 5 nights since traveling itself can take a toll and because of the time it takes to adjust to jet lag.

View of Tokyo from Skytree

I flew into Narita airport and stayed in the “Shinjuku” district of Tokyo. The ride from the airport to the hotel was about 1.5 – 2 hours due to the traffic flow. Shinjuku District is a business area on one side and on the other side includes much of Tokyo’s nightlife scene. My hotel was located in a safe area along with other hotels in between big business buildings. It was walking distance to a Metro Station, close to shopping malls and restaurants. I would highly recommend staying in this area for first time visitors because it’s a central location and convenient starting point to get around the city.

You might hear that Shinjuku is Tokyo’s “Red Light District.” However, coming from the United States, I found it to be very mild for that term. Yes, there are show girls and nightclubs, but it’s nothing compared to Las Vegas or even some parts of Hollywood Boulevard. It is much more commercial feeling and less erotic. I went to a nightclub while I was there just to compare the differences between the states and also found it to be tame.

IMG_8338 Red Light District

My favorite area in Tokyo was the Harajuku district. I’ve heard the term “Harajuku” before in terms of fashion, but did not know it was an actual area in the large city until visiting. Harajuku is the young, hip and trendy part of the city. If you’re from the states and are familiar with Los Angeles or New York, this area is like Melrose Ave. or Greenwich Village. There are shops down Harajuku St., cute coffee shops and cafes. As you continue on, you eventually reach the high-end luxury stores and nicer restaurants. Even if you have no money to shop, it’s nice to walk around the city amongst the locals and observe.

IMG_8439 Harajuku

I made my way around the city entirely by subway. I have been on subways in many different cities and Tokyo’s system is my favorite. It’s extremely clean, inexpensive and efficient once you figure out how to use it. My best advice is to ask your hotel concierge for the closest stop, where you want to go and which line to take. They usually have a guide or print-out for foreign travelers that is easy to follow. The other advantage to riding the subway is you get to immerse yourself with the students and working people of Tokyo!

WARNING: make sure you pay attention to which line you’re taking when purchasing your tickets. The JR Line (the main line that takes you around the city) is NOT the subway. Make sure you purchase the correct tickets because they are not transferable.

Subway System

The food is amazing in Tokyo! Truly some of the best I’ve had amongst my travels. It’s very lean so you typically never feel overwhelming full after a meal. Finding it? That may be a problem. Japan is not an English friendly country in terms of their signs. Almost everything is in symbols. No reviews or friends had told me this prior and it left me extremely frustrated when looking for places to eat. So here’s an easy tip to for finding good food: ask your hotel concierge for a list of restaurants and have them explain to you how to get there. Once we finally learned to ask, life was much easier. Our hotel provided us a list of every Japanese cuisine you could crave. Secondly, learn to match the Japanese symbols. Even when you get to the restaurant, the sign will most likely be in symbols and not in English. Match the symbols or go in and ask if it’s the correct restaurant. Lastly, I am a huge foodie and love going to places that are recommended or have high reviews. A lot of the restaurants I wanted to try were booked out. If there’s a restaurant you’ve heard of and want to try and it’s popular call before you go and book a reservation. Lastly, lastly, do yourself a favor and try the local cuisines!

SUSHI (Japanese Omelette, Fatty Tuna, Salmon Roe, Uni)

Sushi Shabu Shabu (Traditional Japanese Hot Pot aka “Asian Fondue”)IMG_8498 IMG_8602 Beef UdonIMG_8518 Ramen in Pork BrothIMG_8396 SashimiIMG_8490 Chicken YakitoriIMG_8330

Aside from eating, I explored the streets of Ginza (The Rodeo Drive/Beverly Hills of Tokyo), Roppongi Hills (another fave!), Skytree Observation Tower and Sensoji Temple. The culture is very courteous, polite and respectful. You will often see servers or business people bowing to one another to say “Thank You” and to show respect. Women and men dress very nicely all the time.  Overall, Tokyo was a phenomenal experience. I hope to go back soon and explore more historical areas of the city.

Feel free to leave comments in the comment section or write if you have more questions about Tokyo! #STAYCLASSY

LOVE from TokyoIMG_2244

Skytree Tower (2nd tallest building structure in the world)

IMG_8531 IMG_8558Sensoji Temple

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Street Markets in front of Sensoji Temple

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Ginza

IMG_8363 IMG_8368 IMG_8372 IMG_8371Check out one of my favorite memories from our trip:

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