November 2018: Day 2 & 3 W Trek Recap (Patagonia)

Day 2 W Trek Recap: 13 km (8 miles) from Refugio Torres Central to Refugio Los Cuernos

Day 2 was my favorite day of the W Trek mainly because I woke up energized and ready to tackle the day. Part of this exuberance stemmed from these electrolytes that were laced with caffeine but who cares, I’ll take it! My muscles were sore and stretching them the night before and the morning of really helped. Breakfast at the refugio was nice but very basic (eggs, ham, cheese, cereal, bread and yogurt). We started our hike at 9:30 am and had to retrace some of the trail we took yesterday before it splits off to Los Cuernos vs. Mirador de Torres del Paine. After about a half hour, we reached ‘new trail’ and off we went.

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We had another brilliant day of warmer weather, sun, and no wind. The hike was not super easy but definitely easier compared to the day before. There were a couple of intense steep uphills for 20 minutes but overall this trail was a gradual ascent and descent throughout. After about an hour after we started, we came to this gorgeous view. I love how these two lakes are completely different tones of blue.

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We hiked alongside Lake Nordenskjold for most of the trail and it was a brilliant, clear aquamarine. I remember thinking how beautiful this part of the trail was and I couldn’t imagine seeing anything more beautiful. Pictures don’t really do the views justice, everything is magnified in person.

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Even the guides remarked how still the weather was. Generally due to the winds, you’d see ripples and waves on the lake, not a perfect reflection. In the two years one of our guides has been doing this trek, he said he’s only seen it like this a handful of times, when the weather was gorgeously calm.

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This is the main reason why I would never do the W Trek again. I can’t imagine my experience being better than what it was with the incredible weather we had. Although I braced myself for wind and rain, we luckily only experience one day of it.

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Our initial plan was to hike all the way to Domo Frances, which would’ve been another two hour hike after Los Cuernos and this section of the trail is steep. However, when we arrived at Refugio Los Cuernos for a break, our guides checked with the lodge and they had space to take us! Apparently a lot of tour companies may block off rooms but I guess there was a cancelation. The lodge allowed us to switch (although Domo Frances and Los Cuernos are operated by two different companies, I guess they work together somehow and allowed it to happen). I was relieved as Domo Frances has pretty crap reviews, even though it’s one of the newer ones. Thus we ended up finishing the day early before 4 pm and just hung out and relaxed around the lodge. You can even hear the avalanches from the French Valley here (I heard a couple in late afternoon!).

Day 3 W Trek Recap: 17 km (10.5 miles) from Refugio Los Cuernos to the French Valley to Refugio Paine Grande

This day was TOUGH and might have been even worst than the first day as it felt much longer than the 8 hours it took. We left at 8:30 am and finished at 4:30 pm. I woke up super early at 5:30 am as I wanted to see the sunrise hit the mountains and exude the sky with red. However I just missed the golden hour and only caught remnants of it (I should have skipped brushing my teeth and headed out then!). The other days were cloudy in the morning so there was no other chance.

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From Refugio Los Cuernos, we hiked a very pebbly path to the beach by the lake. At the end of this was the start of an uphill climb towards Domo Frances and Refugio Italiano. We got to use decent bathroom facilities near the campsite of Domo Frances (we never saw Domo Frances as you need to go down a different pathway) and then continued on to Italiano Campsite to start the roundtrip hike up to the French Valley to see glaciers and listen to avalanches.

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The hiking along this portion of the trail seemed rockier and it was definitely steep but not as steep as the very first day. Once in a while I would look up to see the views behind us but for the most part it was just go go go.

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We reached the Italiano Campsite (no refugio here, just tent camping) at about 10 am and dropped off our large hiking backpacks (everyone does this but don’t leave anything important just in case!) and switched to carrying just a daypack to the French Valley. It took about two hours to get up to the overlook and we had our lunch up there while admiring the view and listening to the crumble of avalanches. This picture below doesn’t capture all of it—it’s much wider and grander in scope. We stayed up here for about 45 minutes before heading back down to pick up our bags and continuing on to Refugio Paine Grande.

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After getting back to the Italiano Campsite, we headed westwards towards Paine Grande and it started to get really hot and sunny. It didn’t help that there was zero shade. In Dec. 2011 an Israeli backpacker set this forest on fire by accident and it burned for two months, destroying wildlife and a lot of this area of the park. He has since been banned from the country but the damage is brutal. Due to the damages, there are quite a few boardwalks around here instead of trails. By this point I was really tired and had to start singing songs to myself to get through the hike and make the time go by quicker. In total it took us about 2.5 hours to get from Italiano to Paine Grande but it felt way longer than that. During the last 40 minutes, the bottoms of my feet began to feel like they were burning, which I’ve never felt before when hiking.

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This view below of Los Cuernos though was the highlight of my day. I’ve seen a bunch of glaciers already (New Zealand, Alaska, Iceland) and so to me, the terrain of mountains, lakes and valleys are more appealing to me. I remember sitting here and staring at this and it looked so unreal even though it was right in front of me.

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As we moved closer to Paine Grande, the wind REALLY picked up and apparently this area of the park is the windiest. We were so hot and sweaty though that the gusty winds helped invigorate us to get to the end. I remember feeling a small ounce of joy once the refugio came into view from afar. As I mentioned in my Refugio post, this was my favorite place to stay because I loved the scenery around it. It was a great relief to kick off our shoes and enjoy the warm windy evening outside by the lake and watch the sunset.

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Skipping stones and chatting with everyone else from our tour group here was my favorite evening of the trip.

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November 2018: The Refugios of Torres del Paine

The refugios of Torres del Paine are hostels inside the park and serve as points of rest and refuel after a long day’s hike. I didn’t know what to expect and for the most part, I found the refugios to be clean (as they can be given the amount of people who stay in them!) and I’m glad we booked early (in May 2018 for the November 9th trek with Chile Nativo). Some people in our ten person guided tour had to sleep outside in tents as beds were booked up (they booked about a month or two before we left).

The four we stayed at during the 5 day trek were:

  1. Refugio Torres Central

  2. Refugio Los Cuernos (we were supposed to stay in Domo Frances, which is one of the worst-reviewed places and further west on the trail but when we got to Los Cuernos, they had room and allowed us to switch!)

  3. Refugio Paine Grande

  4. Refugio Grey

Of all the refugios, I think Paine Grande was my favorite. It’s one of the newest ones and it’s nicely decorated inside, huge, and cozy and the landscape of Los Cuernos in the back is breathtaking (see last pic below). The dinner here was also the best (juicy big piece of chicken) but the bathrooms were kind of terrible by the time we left in the morning. Paine Grande is different than the others as I think it’s owned by the government who leases it and operated by a private company. You’ll just notice the service is different. The other Refugios are run by private firms.

I also liked Torres Central—it’s a big beautiful cozy lodge with warm common rooms but I just thought the view of Los Cuernos at Paine Grande was the best view of any refugio. In terms of comfort and cleanliness though, Torres Central was the best. Torres Central was also the ONLY one of the four lodges that had personal closets for your bags/personal stuff (you need a lock to lock it though).

Refugio Los Cuernos was my least favorite. Although it was nice, the food wasn’t as good, the staff didn’t seem as friendly as the others, and the rooms and bathrooms were the smallest. We were also given sleeping bags to sleep here inside the beds as there’s no heating.

Refugio Grey was also nice, the staff was friendly and the rooms were clean and cozy and the food was good too.

Staying at the Refugios vs. camping is more expensive but includes all your meals. I’m not sure the price of each since we booked with a tour but it’s not cheap given the fact you’re sharing rooms and bathrooms with everyone else. But there are no other options so it is what it is, unfortunately.  

 Pretty sure this bag from REI weighed anywhere between 16 and 19 lbs. during the trip, depending if I wore my fleece jacket and how big the bagged lunches weighed. Glad I practiced hauling 20-25 lbs. on my shoulders weeks before the trip! This bag is great though—it really distributes weight evenly and is comfy (the shoulder straps are cushioned).

Pretty sure this bag from REI weighed anywhere between 16 and 19 lbs. during the trip, depending if I wore my fleece jacket and how big the bagged lunches weighed. Glad I practiced hauling 20-25 lbs. on my shoulders weeks before the trip! This bag is great though—it really distributes weight evenly and is comfy (the shoulder straps are cushioned).

General Characteristics of the Refugios (Here’s What to Expect)

  • Bring your own toiletries and towels. Even though a couple of them offered shampoo/soap, it didn’t mean it was always available. Only two of the four (Torres Central and Cuernos) had any soap for the showers.  The bathrooms are cleaned certain times of the day (generally when everyone is out/sleeping) and hot water is also only available at certain times (generally after 5 pm). Towels were not always given.

  • Lights out at 10 pm (maybe a little later at others). This goes for electricity too so if you’re charging your phone, you might need to wait until the morning to finish up.

  • Dinner is served buffet-style or by meal times. There’s usually two meal times and you have to sign up for them. Our group sometimes had the early dining seating, sometimes later. Same with breakfast.

  • Water may/may not be available to fill up. For example on the first night, I was able to get water from the bar at Refugio Torres Central (they had a big water jug) but by the morning they ran out and wouldn’t offer anything for your personal bottle. Glacier water from the rivers and streams around the park is way better anyway but it’s so dry out there that having your bottle full is important! Bring electrolytes for added hydration!

  • Toilet paper must not be thrown in the toilet. As a result, the women’s room would stink after a few hours especially in the morning and late at night. It’s all thrown in the garbage, which may/may not be efficiently taken out (although the staff seems to try to keep up with it).

  • Any trash you take in with you into the park you’re expected to take out. The only trash cans that exist are the ones in the bathrooms so I would throw away the little litter I had in here. Trash is carried out by horses since there are no cars around either.

  • Hot water is a commodity but I never had any issue with getting a hot shower at any of the refugios. One shower you had to press every 90 seconds to keep the water going but otherwise I was able to take a decent shower at each refugio after every hike.

  • My trip was in November and while the refugios seemed full to me, not sure if they were. I never felt like it was overcrowded though. If you’re paying to tent outside, they set up the tents for you and provide everything but the tents may be a bit far from the bathroom areas. There were howling winds at night in a couple of the places we stayed at—not sure it’s pleasant to sleep in a tent but it is cheaper. I had bunk beds the whole time with my friends, anywhere between 4-7 people in a room. Co-ed as well. Bathrooms are not co-ed though.

  • Each refugio provides a bagged lunch. It was enough for me, I never ate any of the extra snack bars I brought on my own! It’s usually some kind of sandwich, and chocolate or sugary snack and fruit and/or cereal bars. Sometimes a juice as well. The best lunch was from Torres Central (and much needed for the long hike up to the Blue Towers) but don’t expect much. When you’re burning so many calories everything will taste good. Our sandwiches were either ham, turkey, or tuna. Breakfast was usually scrambled eggs with ham/cheese and cereal and yogurt and bread.

  • Pisco sours are delicious! The bars take credit card.

 Pisco sour rewards for finishing a long hike

Pisco sour rewards for finishing a long hike

I loved the bar at Paine Grande as it had this amazing view of Los Cuernos.

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Seeing a refugio towards the end of a hike was a great boost to finish. I remember on the fourth day, I was so winded but as soon as I saw the roof of Refugio Grey from half a mile away, energy surged back in my bones and I practically ran to finish the W trek the last 5-10 minutes of the hike.

Definitely book early if you want a bed at a refugio. My guess is most refugios only have about 30-50 beds.

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November 2018: Planning for Patagonia

Planning for Patagonia is not logistically easy. It basically took me and my friends three days to get to Torres del Paine (pronounced Torres del “Pine-ay”), which resides in Chile, from NYC. Most people fly into Santiago, Chile to travel to Torres del Paine but we chose to go through Buenos Aires, Argentina as we wanted to end our trip visiting the vineyards of Mendoza.

This is the fourth time I attempted to plan this trip and I’m glad I waited this long. The first time I looked into going was more than 10 years ago and information on Torres del Paine is not as plentiful as it is today. The internet/communication infrastructure has probably improved over this period of time as well and a lot of things in place years ago are no longer. Four years ago I went to Argentina to visit Iguazu Falls (amazing, highly recommend waterfall lovers to go) and had to pay a $100 or so reciprocity fee (valid for 10 years) to get into the country. Well, apparently as of last year that’s no longer in place. In addition, the last time I was in Argentina, I had to exchange all my money on the ‘black market’ because the exchange rate was fixed as $1 USD = 8 pesos (on the black market you could get up to 12 or 14 pesos) and today, $1 USD = 35-38 pesos!

Anyway, planning a trip to Torres del Paine is no easy feat unless you have a lot of time on your hands. You need to register with the park and also make reservations in advance if you want to stay at the limited number of refugios (hostel lodges) in the park. From what I read on the internet, booking a bed or tent at the refugios was frustrating (payment won’t go through, people don’t respond, sold out, etc.) so early on my friends and I decided to bite the bullet and sign up with a tour guide instead to do all the bookings for us.

After a bunch of research, we decided to go with Swoop Patagonia. They have a flashy website and were very responsive and their itinerary worked out for us. However, as soon as we said yes to booking, they turned us over to Chile Nativo! So it turns out Swoop Patagonia is a 3rd party seller of tours and Chile Native is the local operator who actually takes you on the tour. It worked out anyway though as we LOVED Chile Nativo (and after speaking with them, I can see why they need Swoop—the agency has been around for over 15 years but is a small-run tour operator which has grown bigger in the last year and they just haven’t done as much marketing as they can be doing).

We found the price to be reasonable for our budget (we did the 5-day trek for $1695) though yes, if you planned this on your own, you’d be saving more than half. We just didn’t have the time to plan it all ourselves so to us, it was worth it. And no one in our group is an experienced camper or hiker so we felt more comfortable going with a guide in case something happened or someone got sick/injured but you don’t really need one. The trails on the W Trek are all well marked paths.

When I was doing my research for the tour, I read many mixed things about going either west to east or east to west on the W Trek (the other option is the O trek, which is much longer and you’ll see all of the park while the W hits the highlights). As Torres del Paine is known for its wind, most people suggested going west to east (to move along with the winds) but I am SUPER glad we went with Chile Nativo and did the route from east to west. I think this route is better because:

  • you’re moving along with the sun (if it is sunny—this will be incredibly helpful, hiking without the sun in your eyes)

  • we got the hardest part of the hike over on day 1, going up to the Blue Towers (which is what Torres del Paine means)

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 This is literally what you can expect from hiking Torres del Paine. Our trip started at Refugio Las Torres and we stayed overnight in Los Cuernos, Paine Grande, and Grey. The first day of the hike to the Base of the Towers was the hardest (22 km roundtrip back to Refugio Las Torres) and took 8 hours.

This is literally what you can expect from hiking Torres del Paine. Our trip started at Refugio Las Torres and we stayed overnight in Los Cuernos, Paine Grande, and Grey. The first day of the hike to the Base of the Towers was the hardest (22 km roundtrip back to Refugio Las Torres) and took 8 hours.

In addition to planning all our accommodations, meals, and guides in Torres del Paine, Chile Nativo also booked our first and last night in Puerto Natales (the gateway into the park). We stayed at Hotel Vendaval, which was a wonderful stay, and you’re able to leave whatever luggage you’re NOT taking into the park here (which we found to be safe and we had locks on our luggage as well).

Getting to Torres del Paine from New York City

We traveled through four airports, two taxi rides, and two buses over a 72 hour period to get to Torres del Paine. We flew with Aerolineas Argentina (pretty decent airline, I have no complaints—besides the very first 5 minutes of my trip, the check ins were smooth, service was friendly, and had no issues traveling with this line). In summary, these were our travel logistics:

  • On Tuesday, Nov. 6, we took a 3:30 pm direct flight from JFK to EZE, the international airport in Buenos Aires, Argentina. The trip may have started off on the wrong foot had I not watched out for my luggage! I ended up bringing just two pieces—a carry-on size hiking backpack for the trek and a carry-on size suitcase that I checked in. Well, while the Aerolineas Argentina agent gave me my plane ticket at check in, I noticed he totally forgot about my checked-in bag! When I asked him about it, his eyes got wide and said “Oh, yes! Sorry about that!” and ticketed my luggage, stuck the slips on, and put it on the conveyor belt. Had I not watched/said anything, who knows if my luggage would’ve made it out! Probably not, since he didn’t even issue a luggage ticket until I asked! My other friend also had an issue with her luggage and bringing on her trekking poles. Mine were foldable and hidden but hers were bigger and sticking out and had metal tips and they had to recall her luggage (after she checked it in) to put the metal tips away. They wouldn’t let her pass security otherwise. Anyway, after the luggage issues, we otherwise had a smooth overnight flight and arrived in EZE by 4 am, and in November, Buenos Aires is two hours ahead of NYC.

  • By the time we got our luggage and through customs, it was 6 am. I was paranoid about getting money from the ATM (last time I was in Argentina my cards didn’t work at all!) so I exchanged U.S. dollars at Banco Nacional, a local Argentinian bank. The bank is located directly outside the luggage, to the right. ATMs may have a limit to how much you can withdraw every day so I withdrew $600 USD which was more than enough to get me through the two week trip (most places except taxi cabs take credit card). The exchange rate I got it for was AR 34.60 vs. the official rate at the time of 35-36 pesos so not much of a difference. And if you do use the ATM, you will probably pay additional fees there too.

  • We booked a car transfer with Taxi Ezeiza. I made the rsvp a few days beforehand online and they charged $35 USD for 4 people. They’re also located right outside the luggage terminal, at a big booth and if you make a rsvp your name will be on a sign at the desk. You can pay in dollars or pesos (or in credit card). We had rush hour traffic and it took just over an hour to get to AEP, which is the domestic airport in Buenos Aires.

  • From AEP, we took a 12:15 pm flight from Buenos Aires to El Calafate, Argentina. You can either fly to El Calafate to get to Puerto Natales (the last town before Torres del Paine) or to Punta Arenas, Chile (which is further south than Puerto Natales). Two of my friends told me there was NOTHING to see in Punta Arenas whereas in El Calafate you at least have the Perito Moreno Glacier so I’m glad we stuck to El Calafate. Also, if you plan to visit more of Argentina after Torres del Paine, it’s cheaper to fly within Argentina than to fly to Chile and then back to Argentina. We arrived in El Calafate by 3:30 pm and grabbed a taxi to pick up our bus tickets for the next day’s trip to Puerto Natales. The bus terminal is about 15 min. away from the airport and costs like $10 USD to get there by taxi. We had to pick up our tickets the day before because they needed to verify our passport info for the border crossing. The bus office (Cootra) closes at 4:30 pm so keep this in mind if you choose to use them and fly into El Calafate before then! We stayed overnight at Hostal Gnomos, which is a 5 min. walk from the bus station.

  • The next day: woke up early to catch the 7:30 am bus to Puerto Natales. We got to the bus station by 7 am though as we heard horror stories of buses leaving without people if they were not on time. The Cootra bus was quite nice and comfortable. It’s a double decker bus (you can reserve seats in advance) and there is a bathroom on board for the 5-6 hour drive. The driver didn’t really speak English though but we figured things out. By the time we got to the border crossing it was about noon and the whole process took an hour. On the Argentina side, they just stamp your passport. On the Chile side, they stamp your passport but they also scan your luggage (we had no problem bringing in snacks or food—I think someone got fruit in—but from what I heard it really depends on the mood of the officers!). The Chile passport security check has bathrooms which was much needed after the long drive. The Argentina side does not, and going on the bus is not really fun. So after security check it was another 45 minutes to Puerto Natales. When we arrived, we grabbed a taxi for 2000 Chilean pesos to Hotel Vendaval (like $5 USD). I had gotten Chilean pesos before the trip at Chase Bank (they didn’t offer Argentian pesos though and all I took was $60 USD equivalent in Chilean pesos which was more than enough. I never needed Chilean pesos on the W trek, just for the taxis. We ended up using the money for dinners in town though but they take credit cards). Checked into Hotel Vendaval.

  • In the evening, we had our briefing at the office of Chile Nativo (literally a 2 min. walk from the hotel) and met our two tour guides, the rest of our tour group (10 people in total!) and got the details of the trip.

  • The next day: got picked up at 6:30 am on Friday morning, November 9, 2018 for the hiking trip of a lifetime!!!

Other Info

Other resources that really helped me for the trip:

  • This website someone recommended on Trip Advisor was amazingly helpful to check out the weather forecast in Torres del Paine: www.mountain-forecast.com. Just be sure to pick the lowest altitude and convert it to Fahrenheit if needed. I checked the forecast every day for a week before arrival and it was 90% spot on in predicting the weather we would be having in an unpredictable place.

  • REI. I love this store. I know I’m late to the game but I grew up as a city slicker. I never grew up camping or being in the outdoors! But REI and the people who work there were wonderful resources for me in terms of what gear I needed for this trip. I got my backpack, trekking poles, jackets, windproof pants, blister bandaids, everything here. I’ll do a post later on the gear I got.

January 2018 Trip Report: Cancun

It breaks my heart to see all the violent news coming out of Cancun these past few months. I've been to the Cancun region the most out of any other trip, 5x in the past 10 years. Most recently I went over Martin Luther King, Jr. Day weekend this past January and as usual I had an amazing time. If you haven't been yet, below are some of my thoughts and observations over the years:

 Pool at the Westin Lagunamar

Pool at the Westin Lagunamar

The Cancun Area

  • Cancun, Playa del Carmen, and Tulum are all accessible from the Cancun airport. Cancun is the closest (20 min away), while Playa del Carmen can be anywhere from 45 min to an hour by taxi, and Tulum is about 90 minutes away by taxi. I haven’t been to Tulum yet, but it’s probably next on any future trips down there. Tulum is more low key/casual—the hotels there are more boutique, or bed and breakfast-style. It won’t be like grand resorts or anything and not as lively. From what I hear, most people go there for the more laid back/wellness-type vacations (ie yoga/hipsters, etc). Playa del Carmen and Cancun is much more family friendly. Cancun is super commercialized though, and I prefer Playa del Carmen more in terms of the downtown scene and the food (cheaper, more local Mexican food). Cancun is much more touristy. Both areas are pretty safe to visit, but you do have to watch out for scams and don’t go off the commercialized streets (ie don’t go anywhere that looks empty).
  • If you do go, they take both US Dollars and pesos, but you will get a better rate if you exchange dollars for pesos. So for example when I was just there, a taxi ride was 130 pesos but I didn’t have enough pesos on me and I knew the conversion was $8 USD but the driver charged me $10. Some charged $8 but others will say 10. It’s not metered, they’re flat rates so you have to ask before you get in how much it costs. I know I could’ve argued but given that I know they don’t make much I didn’t (but I was annoyed based on principle). Right now the exchange rate is about $1USD to 20 pesos but the hotels will exchange it for 18 pesos, which is not bad. You can def get a better rate at the ATM or whatever but at the end of the day I only spent like $60 USD in pesos btwn me and my friend (we were super lazy and took taxis to dinner the whole 4 days we were there). We didn’t have a problem using credit cards for food, just for taxis and tips you may need pesos for (and I also brought small $5 USD bills for tips).
    • I went to Cancun because SPG (the hotel rewards) sent me this amaaaaaaazing deal for the Westin Lagunamar. The deal was $320 for 4 nights, total. So I split w a friend, and we stayed there and the resort is fantastic. However, the reason why I got the deal was because they tried to sell me on a timeshare when I was there (I had to sit thru a 90 min presentation) but honestly, it was worth it cuz we paid so little for a great place and I got additional points for sitting thru the presentation (and I stood my ground and said no to the timeshare….they can’t hustle a hustler! Haha). I like going to Cancun though because there are SO many resorts and so I find the experience to always be different. You should research which resort to stay at though, as the beach property does depend on where you stay. The beachfront at the Westin was really clean and gorgeous. The neighbor resorts were also as nice, but not as nice as the Westin. But, not bad either. Other places I’ve stayed at and liked were:
      • Beloved Playa Mujeres: https://belovedhotels.com/; I stayed here for a friend’s wedding maybe 3 years ago. Nice resort, and all their water activities were free too (ie paddleboarding). I remember the ocean here was calmer too. Just FYI the ocean in Cancun is super rough, so you don’t really go in the water unless you’re a good swimmer. I think the water by Playa del Carmen is a lot calmer than Cancun. Cancun also tends to be windier as well. We were lucky and have two great warm sunny days, but the other two days were a bit chillier and windy (but still good enough to sit outside).
      • Royal Haciendas: https://royalreservations.com/resorts/the-royal-haciendas; I stayed here a few years ago for a friend’s bachelorette party and this was soooo nice too. Excellent pools and rooms (they have kitchens). This is closer to downtown Playa del Carmen as well I think.
      • Hyatt Playa del Carmen: https://playadelcarmen.grand.hyatt.com/en/hotel/home.html; I stayed here two years ago in Feb. I actually went solo and I had a great time. The beach was not as nice, but the pool was great and they have an amazing spa where I spent a whole afternoon in. It is also right next to downtown so no taxi required to go into downtown, unlike other resorts which are further away. But, may not be good option cuz it’s kind of clubby (they play loud music for the younger people to hang out to).
 Sunrise from my hotel room this past January

Sunrise from my hotel room this past January

  • Other things to do in Cancun: There are tons of activities and tours but honestly I like to go and just chill at the resort. The Mayan ruins sound interesting but in my opinion are not really. Ha. They used to allow people to climb them but they don’t anymore, and the bus ride to get there is long. Isla de Mujeres is also touted as something to do but I also think you can skip it unless you just want to get out of the resort for a day. You take a ferry there and spend an afternoon walking around, but it’s mostly the same shops (touristy) that you’ll find downtown. You can do snorkeling etc but it’s not that great.
  • They do have some water amusement parks—I’ve been wanting to check those out but haven’t. But they seem fun/different than the ones in the US. 
 Life's a beach

Life's a beach

  • If you do go, def arrange your hotel transportation in advance. Some hotels provide it, others don’t. If hotels provide it they will still charge you though and it’s not always the best rate. I used Canada Transfers for Cancun and it was great, so easy and great rates: https://www.canadatransfers.com/

We paid $53 round trip for two people, and it’s a private transfer so you are not stuck waiting for other people. I made the rsvp online and printed the vouchers and paid in USD cash in person when they picked us up. Returning to the airport they were also right on time. I highly recommend using them (and they give you water bottles when you arrive—do not drink tap water in Mexico, ever!).

  • Exiting the Cancun airport is overwhelming. People will try to get your attention and sell you something (anything, a tour, a taxi, etc). When you exit, just leave the terminal, don’t stop to talk to anyone, and just look for the guy wearing the Canada transfer shirt and holding up a sign w your name on it (it will have other names on it as well)
  • Do NOT throw away the bottom portion of the Mexico document you have to sign when you pass thru customs. They take the top part of the doc, you keep the bottom w your passport and hand it in when you depart at the airport. My friend wasn’t paying attention and threw hers away and had to pay $32 USD for a new one to exit.
 The reason why I always return

The reason why I always return

 Viva Mexico!

Viva Mexico!

November 2017 - Bermuda for Thanksgiving Trip Report

About a year ago, I knew there was no way I wanted to stay in NYC for Thanksgiving weekend. I grew up here my whole life so the magic of the holidays in NYC is not as appealing to me as it is for others. I also really hate the cold and knew I wanted to go away, but where could I go that would be close by, warm, and easy to travel around?

In Feb. of last year I found a pretty good deal to visit Bermuda for about $1,300 including flight and hotel. I've been stalking going to Bermuda for a few years and in general I would say going in the summertime, it usually costs more than $1,500 for flight and hotel. I booked on Expedia.com as usual, because if you also use www.upromise.com, which is a cash back rebate site similar to ebates.com and you get like 3% cash back on vacation combos.

I've always heard amazing things about Bermuda and always wanted to check it out. So is going to Bermuda for Thanksgiving weekend worth it? I will break down the pros and cons.

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Pros:

  • Such a short flight! I think it's just 2-2.5 hours away from NYC. Note there is also a one hour time difference.
  • Locals are really friendly. I don't find that to be the case at all island countries but in Bermuda, it felt very safe and people were helpful. There's a significant expatriate community due to all the companies that have offices there for tax purposes so you'll see a good mix of people.
  • No Zika. Apparently, mosquitoes can't thrive in Bermuda since there is no standing body of fresh water. Bermuda is surrounded by the salty ocean.
  • Easy to get around. You can't really rent a car due to limits on cars on the road, but it's pretty easy to get around on the local buses. There's not that many roads either, so everything kind of moves directionally.
  • Gorgeous clear blue water. Even on a cloudy day, the water was a brilliant shade of blue! It's because Bermuda sits on very white sand reef. So diving, snorkeling here is good.
  • The island is on the same latitude as the Carolinas, it's not as far south as the Caribbean islands. As such, Bermuda is not within the usual path of hurricanes.

Cons:

  • Everything on the island is expensive! Particularly the food. There are some affordable options but for the most part, eating here is as pricey or more than an average meal in NYC.
  • Weather in November is hit or miss. I was there from Wed through Sunday during Thanksgiving weekend and it rained pretty hard all day half the time. It was warmer than being in NYC (it was about 60s-70s) but the rain was a drag.
  • Not much to do on the island. Yes there are a ton of beaches to explore and some caves and museums to see, but if you're a well-traveled person, this place won't be as interesting from a cultural or activity perspective. There are things to see, but at this point in my traveling, I'm sick of seeing naval fortresses unless they're intricately designed/different. On the other hand, if you haven't been to many other islands, you may find their local attractions more appealing.
  • Had the weather been nicer, I would have liked to gone on a glass bottom boat tour since the water seems to be clear. I probably would've had a nicer time in the summer but it's also more expensive to go then.

Overall

Bermuda was a good weekend getaway from NYC but would I recommend it for Thanksgiving weekend? Yes, if you've always wanted to check it out and you want to get a better deal than going in the summertime. No, if you travel a lot and have been to a lot of other island getaways. Of all the islands I've been to, this is probably one of my least favorite. It was very pretty and nice, but just boring to me. The weather played a factor as well. I think the weather was pretty good the weekend before we arrived so it's a gamble. When it rained, it rained pretty much the whole day and at times, very heavily. The food was good, but not that amazing that you should go there just for that. Plus it's so expensive to eat there. However, it really is an easy trip from NYC so I'm glad I got to see it but I would never want to return unless I was going there for free! 

I stayed at the Princess Hotel in Hamilton, Bermuda (a Fairmont resort) and it was good for its location. It's not on the beach, it's close to downtown Hamilton (a 10-15 min. walk) but I picked that in case the weather wasn't great. They have a free shuttle to the beach though which gets PACKED so definitely line up early for it. 

Highlights:

  • Horseshoe Bay is gorgeous. Pink sand beaches hug the turquoise shoreline. In off season though, there are no services (ie bring your own food, beach towel, chair, etc.)
  • Eat at Hog Penny Pub. Apparently the inspiration for Cheers, the Boston pub, the food here was delicious (ate twice) and they have a good pre fix deal during the weekday. Can make rsvps on Open Table.
  • Lunch at Lost in Triangle (LIT)--best fresh fish tacos! A local casual sports bar, but the owner catches the food he serves. Came back twice for the fish tacos, didn't try much else. So filling, healthy, and tasty. It's in the heart of downtown Hamilton.

Skip:

  • Barracuda Grill--it's one of the most highly rated place to eat seafood but I thought it was overpriced and overrated. It's elegant and service was great, but in terms of quality and price, Hog Penny which is right next door is a much better deal and experience.
  • St. George--it's the other larger city in Bermuda but really not much to see there. It's about a 30-40 min. ride from Hamilton by bus, unless you're really bored and have nothing to do then go visit but not a must-see, in my opinion. Ferries do not run from Hamilton to St. George in off-season.
  • Royal Navy Dockyard--tourist attraction. Go if you've never seen anything similar, otherwise nothing to write home about this place. You can take a ferry to here from Hamilton during off season though.

May 2017 Trip Report: Amalfi/Ravello/Positano (Day 9)

Thursday was an amazing day. It started off kind of bleak--it was drizzling in Positano so not a good time to relax on the beach. I knew Friday's weather was supposed to better for the beach so I decided to head over to Amalfi and Ravello instead. I'm so glad I did because even though Amalfi is so close by, it was sunny! 

I wish I started my day off earlier. In my opinion, taking the ferry boat over is way better than the public bus since you don't know when it might arrive. I wish I had gotten on the 10 am ferry from Positano to Amalfi but I took the 11:10 am instead after I had breakfast at my B&B (they have umbrellas!) and got ready, etc. The ferry fare one way was 8 euros and I bought a roundtrip ticket. You buy them right off the ferry deck to the right of Spagio Beach (I checked/took snapshots of the schedule the day before). I knew the last ferry back was at 6 pm but I didn't want to risk being caught in a huge crowd so I aimed for the one before that, at 4:20 pm.  

Anyway the ferry ride from Positano to Amalfi was fine, it was raining at the time so didn't really see much and was sitting below deck indoors. Within 25 minutes we reached Amalfi though and the sky was clear and the sun was shining! 

In order to get to Ravello, I knew the public bus was the only way to get up there since it sits on top of Amalfi. I found out from the information desk that you can't buy tickets on the bus, you must get them from the Tabacchi shop right across from the bus stop (there is a huge awning that indicates it's a bus stop for all the Amalfi Coast towns--it's about a 5 minute walk to the right as you leave the ferry dock near the parking lot). Tickets were really cheap (2.80 euros I think) compared to taking a taxi up to Ravello which can be 30 euros or so. The bus supposedly comes every 30 minutes so I waited for the 12:15 pm bus with throngs of other tourists.  

 Riding up Amalfi town via bus! 

Riding up Amalfi town via bus! 

However as I waited for the bus I started to doubt I could even get on it!!! There were so many people waiting!!!!! Also 12:15 came and went and no sign of the public bus but lots of traffic going by. At the same bus stop, there is also the red tourist bus where you can jump on/off. Luckily there is a city sight seeing tour bus just going between Ravello and Amalfi and it doesn't make any other stops. I asked how much it was and it was 5 euros one way, 9.50 roundtrip. I decided to spend the extra money as I was limited on time, plus the bus was open air which makes it great for pictures and more comfortable to sit in anyway. I'm so glad I did this because I got to Ravello way earlier and more comfortable than if I took the public bus (and I saw so many other public buses that were crowded and packed w tourists standing). So totally skip the public bus and spend the little extra on the red tourist bus for comfort and convenience. Plus you get to hear interesting facts along the way on the tourist bus. The red bus also comes and goes every half hour (whenever it's :15 or 45). It's more reliable since it doesn't stop anywhere else.

By the time I got up to Ravello it was 12:45 pm and I knew if I wanted to see Amalfi town too and get on the 4:20 pm ferry back to Positano, I needed to leave Ravello either by 1:45 or 2:15. So as soon as I got up there I speedwalked everywhere! 

Ravello is breathtaking though. I really wish I spent at least a half day, not just a couple of hours. Or even a whole day! It's just so pretty and charming. It truly is a garden city. It is very small so you can see most it in a couple of hours but to really enjoy and take it in, I think half or full day is better. Especially compared to Amalfi which was soooo congested and not as pretty.  

The views to the coast are amazing! I thought Oia on Santorini was beautiful (and it is) but I love how Ravello was short and sweet. I didn't have time to eat lunch since I was trying to cram so much sight seeing in a short amount of time.  

 View from Ravello! 

View from Ravello! 

The main square is lovely and wish I had time to sit and have a snack or coffee. Everything just looks like straight out of a magazine on the Italian countryside. Flowers and trees were nicely manicured and Richard Wagner (composer) is celebrated here. 

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Walking around town is just magical and serene. Much more calm and secluded than Positano or Amalfi. 

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I definitely rushed around to see what I could, grabbing some gelato for lunch in the main square. I wish I had more time to leisurely explore! 

 Private garden on the other side

Private garden on the other side

The most popular attraction up in Ravello is Villa Rufolo. Admission is 7 euros but I think it's so worth it. The villa is spectacular and they hold classical concerts here as the setting is fantastic. Great views of the coast from the villa as well. You can see all this in about 30 minutes if you walk thru quick. 

 View from the Villa

View from the Villa

After enjoying what I could of Ravello, I caught the 2:15 pm bus back down. While doing my research I read that staying in Amalfi was better as it's cheaper but I'm sooo glad I stayed in Positano instead. Amalfi was full of tourists!!!! Positano is touristy as well but it's better controlled since you can't really park there. In Amalfi there are huge parking lots which makes bringing in people easier. I did not like it that much. It seemed more 'cheesy' than Positano although souvenirs and shopping is cheaper here. 

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I kind of wish I spent another hour up in Ravello but I didn't know I would feel this way about Amalfi. I just walked through the main shopping area and then along the coast line while I waited for the 4:20 ferry. I did pick up a small bottle of limoncello for 4 euros (among the cheapest I saw and it had a label verifying that it's made with Amalfi lemons).  

 Religious fountain in Amalfi town

Religious fountain in Amalfi town

The ferries run pretty on time so definitely show up 5-10 minutes before so you don't miss them. There's usually a sign on the boats that say what the next destination is so just look for that as there are many boats that come and go on the dock. There are organizers who will tell you as well. 

 Panorama view

Panorama view

The ferry ride back was beautiful as the weather was better and I got to sit outside on top of the boat. 

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After I was back in Positano, I headed back to my room and took a shower. I was dying for a great meal and all the highly rated places near Venus B&B were booked up!! I was not deterred though. I headed over to Da Vincenzo, which I really wanted to try, and at 6:15 pm it was pretty empty since everyone eats later. I asked if I could eat right now and they said absolutely but I had to leave the table by 8. No problem for me! And so I happily sat outside, right by the road, with an amazing view. It's everything I thought dining in Positano would be! 

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I know some people think sitting outside right next to traffic is gross but it's not too bad...I could smell the diesel fumes 10% of the time and being from NYC, where I've sat outside before and would get soot or micro dust/dirt in my glass of water, that didn't happen at all here. So it may not be perfect but it's not as gross as it is in major cities. For an appetizer I had a fresh tomato stuffed with raw shrimp on fresh mozzarella cheese and it was amaaaaazing!!!! I hardly eat raw shrimp and was afraid to but wanted to try it and it was soooo delicious. And no I did not get sick. In fact I came back the next night (at the same time and got the same table!) and had it again! The waiter recognized me and was pleased. I also had the lobster linguine which was also good and very filling. The next night I didn't want any more pasta so I had the yellowtail dish which was ok. I do recommend this place for the quality and price and definitely get rsvps in advance! Otherwise come at 6 pm to be seated!

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After dinner I walked off the calories along the path which goes past the center of town. You can only really walk (with a proper sidewalk) to the last bus stop in town (you wil see people waiting) but it's great views of the town in the evening.   

 Sunset time Positano

Sunset time Positano

May 2017 Trip Report: Catania to Positano (Day 8)

I've been wanting to visit the Amalfi Coast for years . I had been to Capri and Sorrento a year after college but didn't have enough to make it down the luxe area of Southern Italy. I am so thrilled to finally achieve my dream of coming here! It's everything I thought it would be! Beautiful views, laid back vibe, but also classy. I love it here in Positano. 

Planning on how to get here was a nightmare logistically. There is so much info and many options you can take. The most popular areas to stay in the Amalfi Coast are Sorrento, Positano, and Amalfi. I chose Positano as it's in the middle and I just always loved seeing pictures of it. 

 Spagio Beach, the main beach in Positano

Spagio Beach, the main beach in Positano

On Wednesday morning I left for Catania airport at 7:30 am even though my flight wasn't until 11:40 am. I'm so glad I left that early!! While driving to the airport, the exit from the highway was closed so had to take an alternate route. It worked out fine but you never know with these things. Then when I tried to check in, it just took forever! People at the airport were just soooo slow especially at the computer desk check ins. I had a flight with Alitalia from Catania to Naples but apparently when I booked it, I didn't purchase it with the ability to check in luggage. Since I knew my luggage didn't meet carry on requirements I just paid to check it which was 48 euros! Oh well at least my one way ticket wasn't too bad ($92 USD but better to fly one hour than take the ferrry/train for half the day!).  Anyway by the time I checked luggage and cleared security, it was 10 am which left me an hour to eat before boarding the plane. Catania Airport is small and there weren't a lot of options to eat. 

The flight to Naples ended up being delayed due to congestion on the runway. I landed at 1:30 pm instead of 1 pm and I got an email from my B&B host that the car service he sent for me was about to leave. Luckily my luggage popped up quick and I was able to catch the driver (who was also shuttling 8 other people and I was the last to arrive, whoops). However had he left, the next shuttle was at 2:30 but I'm glad I made it in time. 

So if you've been reading this blog, you'll know I value time. Getting from Naples to Positano by public transportation seemed like a nightmare so I asked my B&B host to arrange a dependable private transfer service and he really came through (the original one he proposed had atrocious reviews and when I sent him the link, he found another company which had better reviews). I was picked up by Seahorse Car Service and it was 90 euros round trip which I thought was great since I was traveling this leg of my trip solo and I knew the ride was over an hour long. We made a couple of drop offs as we headed south and before I made it into Positano, the driver stopped somewhere along the way and said I would be changing cars. The next car was right there and instead of a big van it was a nice small luxury call all for me! I think it's because Positano is further away so they have someone else take you the rest of the way. Anyway, service and everything was great and I'm thankful that my B&B host took care of all the arrangements (he sent me the voucher and I will pay him the fee for the ride since I think he covered it already). 

if you ride down to the Amalfi Coast, be sure to sit on the right side for amazing views of the coastline!  

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As for where to stay in Positano, everywhere I looked seemed quite expensive for just one person. Somehow I stumbled upon Venus B&B Inn and I am super thankful I did. Not only is the owner, Gippy, very responsive, but he's so friendly and welcoming and his place is in a great location for the price. For three nights single, I'm paying 285 euros.  As for the location, it's on via Fornillo and it's right at the beginning of the long walk down to the main part of town/beach. If you're healthy, love to walk or exercise, this is a great location because although it's a 15-20 min walk to the center of town , it's a beautiful downhill walk and a slightly challenging walk uphill (but not really if you're active). I also liked staying here as it's easy access to the main road, rather than staying somewhere with a lot of stairs to climb. And let me tell you, there are TONS of stairs. I inadvertently climbed 50+ flights twice because I thought I was taking short cuts. And yes, taking the stairs is 'shorter' in distance than walking downhill/uphill but thigh killers are thigh killers. I prefer a mild slope any day!

However one positive thing about taking the stairs is you don't have to watch out for cars. If you walk on the main road back and forth you have to be vigilant with the traffic. It's not too terrible but it can be slightly annoying.  

Unfortunately for me it was cloudy when I arrived in Positano. The views were still great though and I spent the evening getting familiar with the town. For dinner I made the mistake of trying to walk to the restaurant from the beach. I ate at C'era Una Volta which was decent but wouldn't say I'd go again (paperdelle bolognese was nice but not omg I have to have it again nice). Anyway it's further uphill than my B&B and from walking up from Spagio Beach, it took me about 40 minutes and I arrived drenched in sweat with aching calves!

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Luckily the restaurant has a free shuttle service and when I asked, they kindly let me take it back down.  

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I spent the rest of my night admiring the view from my balcony. I was also woken up at midnight with loud firecrackers for a wedding celebration! C'est la vie. 

 

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May 2017 Trip Report: Ortigia (Day 7)

Last day in Sicily was spent eating as much as possible! The pros of staying at a hotel with breakfast is it's easy to access and included in the price. The cons are of course not being able to go out and try breakfast and you might fill up by loading up on hotel breakfast. 

On our last full day in Ortigia, I tried not to eat too much to save room the rest of the day. Although Ortigia is very lovely, I think we could've cut it short by a day. But I didn't want to feel rushed which is why I planned to stay in town for 3 full days. You really need just a day or so to stroll around the city. I doubt there is an alley or street we did not walk down on at some point! If you love history and want to see everything, three days is good. But for me, I'm not that interested so I just like sampling food and wandering scenic venues. As I've said in past posts, I have limit to seeing museums and fortresses and churches!

The thing to see in Ortigia, however, is the archaeological park. I read mixed reviews on it and since Greece is still fresh in my mind, I passed on looking at more rocks. We did walk to the park (to get exercise in and walk off breakfast), it's about 20-30 minutes from Ortigia. Tried to wait for the local bus #2 instead but it didn't seem like it was coming!

 Brilliant sandwiches  

Brilliant sandwiches  

Highlights of Food in Ortigia

All this was luckily discovered on our last day:

  • Caseificio Borderi: cheese maker by trade who now makes amazing fresh sandwiches for just 5 euros each! One is enough to share for up to three people (ask him to cut In thirds). The line starts at 9 am and can get long. I was the fifth person in line at 10 am and waited almost 45 minutes! The guy who makes the sandwiches is chatty and he tends to make two at a time (so if you order one w specific toppings he will make an identical one to sell later). My sandwich was on fresh bread with fresh tomatoes, mozzarella cheese, ham, mushrooms, rocket salad, and lemon juice and some other cheese. Was delicious and the cheapest meal we had! There are a variety of different toppings you can request. Great to pick up early in the morning and have it for lunch later in the day. They also sell olive oil and other items. 

 

  • Everywhere in Sicily you'll find jars of cream of pistachio and pesto pistachio for sale. Pistachio apparently grows very well in Sicily due to the climate so they have tons of pistachio products. We ended up buying cream of pistachio jars as well as cream of almonds. They are delicious! It basically tastes like Nutella but instead of chocolate flavored it's pistachio or almond. We bought large jars for 7 euros and found the price to be about the same (or higher) everywhere. Great for souvenirs too. 

 

  • Arancini Gluten Free: I love arancini! These hand size rice balls can be found throughout Sicily. In Ortigia we came across a gluten free Arancini fast food place near the center of town. Very cheap, 3 euros each and can totally share one. They have a bunch of options, including vegetarian and seafood and meat. We tried the Italian state one, which is vegetarian and mostly potatoes with a spicy kick to it (it was pretty spicy but good) and the one with beef sausage. Both were delicious and had a nice crunch. 

 

  • Sicily Fish and Chips:  We actually did not eat here but wish we did based on reviews. The internet is not that reliable with hours of operation for restaurants in Sicily so if you want to eat somewhere you should try to find it during the day first and check out if hours are posted. In this case we thought we could come for dinner but when we arrived at 6 pm it was closed. Knowing that most locals eat later we returned after 8 pm and it was still closed on a Tuesday night! Then I saw in one of the reviews that they close after they sell out so maybe that's what happened since many people seem to come here for lunch. Supposed to be fresh fried seafood. 

 

  • La Tavernnetta de Pietro:  Turned out for the best that Sicily Fish and Chips was closed as we got to try this place instead and this was the best meal we had in Sicily!!! Not only was the food so fresh but also so cheap compared to the other two places we had dinner in Ortigia! A large plate of mussels for 7 euros and three perfect pastas that were all 10 euros or less!!! The house white wine was also delicious and half a liter was only 5 euros!!!! Definitely come here for great homemade pasta and fresh seafood. There are two locations (across from one another on the same street but diagonally within a block). On the weekends I think both locations are open but on the weekday only one is. You can sit inside or outside on the pedestrian street. We did not have rsvps though you can make them online. We got lucky as showed up around 8:30 and waited just five minutes for a table. Others after us got turned away, the place was packed. 
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Sicily was great and we only had time to see the eastern side. Of all the places, Ortigia was my favorite to stay in but I did enjoy visiting and walking around Taormina for the scenic views. Ortigia has more charm but not a ton to do whereas Taormina there seemed to be more to sightsee and explore. Just depends what you like to do and how fast you want to pace yourself. If you don't care for museums, history, etc. you can definitely just spend 5 days visiting both. But if you want to relax and not rush then a week is good.  

May 2017 Trip Report: Ragusa (Day 6)

On Monday we left Ortigia and headed for the nearby Baroque town of Ragusa. It was about an hour and a half away and I'm glad I did some research on where to park because the streets are super narrow and windy!

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The best place to park if you're just gonna walk around for a couple of hours is probably near Piazza della Repubblica, at the bottom of Ragusa Ibla. Ragusa is a city divided into two parts. Ragusa Ibla is to the west and Ragusa Superior is to the east. If you put in "parking lot near Piazza de Repubblica in Ragusa" in Google Maps it will take you there. In general I had no issues at all using Google Maps but I stuck to the cities and not off the beaten road. Parking is public and for free. There was plenty of parking by the time we arrived around noon. At 3 pm it was a lot fuller but still spots left. Another parking area closer to Ragusa Superior is by the garden (Giardini). There is a ton of uphill/downhill/stairway walking in Ragusa but if you love to walk/hike/be physical you'll be fine. Public toilets cost 50 cent euros but were clean. 

You can spend about 2-3 hours in Ragusa depending on what you wanna see and how much you want to walk. We were here from noon to 3 pm and that was more than enough for us. The main highlights are the big churches, one in Ibla and the other in Superior, and the garden was very nice too. It's about a 30 minute walk in between the two areas depending which route you take.  I'm not big on souvenir shopping (unless it's for food items!) but there were some cute stores around.  

 View of the countryside from the public gardens of Ragusa

View of the countryside from the public gardens of Ragusa

Ragusa is one of the oldest cities in the world and a UNESCO heritage site. Very quaint and a different feel from Taormina and Ortigia. 

 Under the Sicilian sun

Under the Sicilian sun

Afterwards we headed back to Ortigia to walk around and have dinner. The prettiest part of Ortigia is the western side where you can catch the sunset and wander around the scenic paths along the water and restaurants. I especially love the very long promenade underneath the city walls. As you stroll along you can listen to music from the bars/restaurants and people watch.

 Walk along the city walls

Walk along the city walls

I also like how the locals just find a spot they see fit and sunbathe where they please.  

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Dinner was at Schiticchio Pizzeria, which we liked (but not love). Very casual place to eat and many things to choose from. I thought the toppings for the pizza were fresh (tomatoes, cheese, rocket salad)and we tried one of the calzones with ham and cheese. I love ham and cheese so Italy is a great place to sample my fave combo!

 

 Calzone

Calzone

May 2017 Trip Report: Ortigia/San Lorenzo Beach (Day 5)

Sunday! Usually in Italy things are shut down on Sunday so we planned to go to the beach today. I had done research a while ago and saw that you can rsvp for beach chairs at the private beach of Agua Resort. This resort is right near San Lorenzo beach and is supposed to be one of the best beaches in the area. So after breakfast off we went. It took us about two hours to drive there but it should've taken an hour. There was some traffic on the way to Noto but once we passed the congestion traffic was free.  

Agua Resort is kind of misleading. I thought it would be this nice resort with nice facilities but it was more of a collection of beach homes for rent and public facilities. The facilities were nice, clean and casual but I expected something a bit more upscale. Oh well.  It was also hard to figure out where to 'check in.'  Eventually somehow directed us to a group of Italians just standing around so I went over and showed them my rsvp which they did not have on their beach map. It was fine though, they had plenty of chairs and we rented three beach hairs under a palm tree for 20 euros. I was also told we could rent towels from them (our Ortigia hotel didn't have beach towels) but there were none to rent. Lastly I didn't see any food or drink services!!! Maybe we just too early in the season. It was kind of windy today and too cold to go in the water. Anyway we sat around for a few hours just relaxing. The chairs were nice and clean, not grimy so it worked out not to have towels over them at least. 

I do recommend this place for later in the summer but probably too cold for May. It wasn't cold but not really too warm either. The beach was pretty well kept and the colors of the water were clear blue.  

 

 San Lorenzo beach

San Lorenzo beach

Afterwards we came back to Ortigia and explored parts of the city we had seen before. The main attractions seem to be on the northern and western end of the island and it was very lovely to walk around and take in the culture.  

Our best meal of the trip in Sicily so far was at Divino Mare. Everything was well cooked and fresh. The mussels were delicious and meaty and the salmon was sooo good. I had the truffle pasta with small shrimp and that was strong flavored and perfectly al dente as well. We also tried the codfish which was good but a tad saltier. All for 68 euros with wine! Cheaper and better quality than yesterday's meal.  

 

 Divino Mare

Divino Mare

Then we walked by the Duomo at night which was beautiful and capped off the night with gelato nearby. Pistachio anything in Sicily is so good! 

 Duomo   

Duomo

 

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Pistachio gelato is the best! 

May 2017 Trip Report: Mt. Etna (Day 3)

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Friday was spent all day on Mt. Etna, an active volcano that blew up as recently as a month ago! We did the tour with Etna People, who I thought did a fantastic job.  I think you can book up to a month in advance as the tours may be altered based on weather and what's happening on the mountain. 

We did the Etna Easy tour, which was 149 euros per adult and includes 4 stops--a cable car ride to 2700 meters up, then lunch, then walking around some old craters, then going into a lava cave, then visiting a gorge carved by lava.  

We had two tour guides, one who gave the tour in Italian and the other in English so the groups were split whenever necessary. One of the guides who spoke English well was a geologist so they give tons of facts.  

The Etna Hard tour goes to the summit but I don't think it was available due to the recent lava eruption last month. It is a bit chillier up the mountain and the tour gives you good jackets and hiking boots to borrow for free if needed.  

 

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We were supposed to see the valley at the top but it was too cloudy. Was still cool though, the terrain was all black rocks and sand and felt like we were on the moon instead. You do need to have good balance to walk around since it's so rocky but really if you're remotely fit you can walk around. It was also cool to feel the heat from the surface below. Just pockets of hot air when walking around. 

 Where the eruption from April 2017 occurred.  

Where the eruption from April 2017 occurred.  

Lunch was a typical Sicilian lunch of some veggies with vinegar and two types of pasta. One was ravioli with pistachio cream and beef and the other was a macaroni pasta with mushroom and tomato sauce. Pretty decent, it's lunch at one of those restaurants that caters to tour groups.  

 Crater face

Crater face

After lunch we walked around some craters. We walked around the entirety of the one above which was cool and great views of the area.  

 

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Afterwards we headed down to explore a lava cave. They give you helmets to wear and flashlights as it's total darkness and you must watch where you step. We only walked about 0.15 miles in but it felt longer due to the rocky jagged surface! 

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Lastly we went to see this gorge which was carved by lava flows hundreds of years ago. The water that flows through here is said to be therapeutic for your body and they unite you to soak your feet in the water so bring a towel/flip flops if you're interested in that.  

Overall a good tour to do if you're interested in volcanos/nature. A lot of walking is involved so it's quite active. We were picked up at our hotel at 8:45 and our day ended by 6:30 pm.  

 

May 2017 Trip Report: Taormina (Day 2)

Taormina is a beautiful little city. Perched above the sea with a grandiose view of Giardini di Naxos below, it reminds me of the charming Greek towns of Oia and Crete. Due to the impending G7 summit next week, there was a ton of military and polic presence all around. I didn't mind though, I'm used to that being from NYC and it made me feel safer walking around. I think many tourists canceled or moved their plans as I didn't find visiting crowded at all at this time of year in mid-May. 

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I'm glad we stayed a bit further away in Giardini di Naxos as it's cheaper and more low key. In my opinion you can see the highlights of Taormina in two days.  

Getting Around Giardini di Naxos and Taormina 

The Interbus is the local city bus (blue bus). Fares are cheap, about 1.50 euro one way in between both towns. You can buy a one day pass for ten euros, but it's only worth it if you ride more than 6 times which you probably won't do in a day. You can buy tickets at the Recanati terminal if you're staying near Giardini di Naxos or at the Taormina bus terminal. You can also buy from the bus driver directly.

The timeliness with the bus is a hit or miss. Between the two towns there seems to be a bus (not the same bus but different buses going different routes but at least between these two destinations) every 15 minutes or so. We got lucky and was able to catch a bus from Recanati to Taormina and connect to a bus going to Castel Mola 5 min. after arriving in Taormina bus terminal.  On the way back was a different story. The return bus from Castel Mola to Taormina took forever!! We waited over an hour and half to come back down. Even though there was a bus scheduled to depart it never came. It's a long walk down, good for a hike, but we didn't want to walk. A taxi between Taormina and Castel Mola starts at fifteen euros but since we had bought the one day pass we refused to take it. A taxi from Castel Mola to Giardini di Naxos was quoted to us at 35 euros. 

Later in the day we walked down from Taormina to Mazzaro and then we took a bus from Mazzaro (where the beach is) back to Taormina. The bus was scheduled to leave at 17:20 but it arrived and left at 17:14 (we were there at 17:10 just in case). So plan accordingly! The next bus after 17:20 wasn't until 18:50. 

Highlights of Taormina

I skipped the Greco Theatre since I saw a lot of that in Greece a few months ago. I'm sure it's nice but thought admission was steep at ten euros. What I did like visiting was:

  • the Public Gardens
  • walking around Corso Umberto
  • going up to Castel Moral
  • walking down to Mazzaro/Isola Bella

The Public Gardens

A nice walk with beautiful views south of city center. Can prob spend just 20 minutes around here walking around, smelling the roses and enjoying the overlook.  

Walking Around Corso Umberto

Basically the city's Main Street and full of designer and local shops geared towards tourists. I like just people watching and going from one end of the town to the other (less than a mile walk). Definitely stop for gelato at Gelatomania (near the Port Messina side). Also if you walk to the other end where Excelsior Palace Hotel is, definitely walk towards the hotel and go down to the pool area (piscina) to find awesome views as well.  

 Castel Mola

Castel Mola is a tiny town perched father up from Taormina. You can walk here but it's a quite a hike. One hour is good enough to see the town and the remains of the castle at the top. Breathtaking views of the sea below and of Mt. Etna. There's shops and cafes in the town and the bus stop is also a wonderful overlook. 

 What you see from Castel Mola

What you see from Castel Mola

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Mazzaro/Isola Bella

The walk from Taormina city center down to the beach is about half an hour. It's a nice walk and not too challenging if you like to walk in general! You also see more of town life and pretty views of the water. Walking back up is more challenging though as you will have to go up a ton of steps but going down is totally relaxing and fine. 

Once you reach the bottom of the walk, you have to cross the street and go down more steps to actually get to the beach. About 5 minutes. The beach is pretty and not too big. Water is crystal clear and you can rent chairs from the restaurants there. 

Isola Bella is an island that you can across a narrow sand path to and you have to pay admission to go on the island. I just went to see it but didn't bother to try to access it. It's pretty but that's all I can say! I didn't spend more than an hour here because of the delay we had with the bus at Castel Mola. By the time we got here it was 4:30 and didn't want to stick around til 6:50 pm for the next bus up so we took the 5:20. 

The bus stop to go back to Taormina is right in front of Cafe Isola Bella (which is to the right once you come down from the stairs to Taormina). You can buy bus tickets at the cafe.  

 

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All in all, Taormina was nice to visit and glad to have seen it before the G7 summit rolls into town! The city shuts down to all visitors this upcoming Sunday the 21st.  

May 2017 Trip Report: Taormina/Giardini de Naxos (Day 1)

15 years! That's how long it's been since my very first visit to Italy. I can't believe so much time has passed since then. Traveling in your 20s vs. 30s is a huge difference. I definitely know more about myself, what I like/dislike, how to manage my time and resources, how to approach people, and not gonna lie, having more spending power is great!! Gone are the days when I was frugal to every cent. I mean, I still appreciate the value of a dollar but I also appreciate time management and comfort as well!

This Trip is all about Southern Italy. Well, parts of Southern Italy. At the moment I am on the isle of Sicily. I was a bit hesitant to come but due to work, this is the only time of the year I can come here. But it coincides with the G7 Summit being hosted in Sicily as well so I rearranged my plans to avoid it.  

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Getting to Sicily

I did a lot of research on visiting Western Sicily vs. Eastern Sicily. Given that I was just in Greece a few months ago and Sicily has a lot of Greek influence/artifcacts, I decided to focus on Eastern Sicily which seemed to have more of its own character and I liked the proximity to Mt. Etna.  

If visiting Palermo, you fly into Palermo airport. If visiting Taormina, Catania, Syracuse, or Ragusa, the Catania airport is the best.  

I flew via Alitalia and had a connecting flight via Rome to Sicily. The connection was easy to make within an hour. I would say 30-45 minutes is cutting it close. Once you arrive in FCO (Rome's international airport) at Terminal 3,  it's about a 10-15 min walk to the domestic terminal, terminal 1. You do have to go thru customs here at FCO (and not again in Catania) and it might be a good idea to grab euros at an ATM as you see one! I didn't see any in Catania airport but possible I missed thm. 

The flight between Rome and Catania is short and smooth--only one hour! After we arrived in Catania, we tried to find Avis for our car rental but apparently, unlike other rentals, the Avis station is not in the airport! It's outside to the right of the terminal (just look for all the car rental signs), about a 3-5 min. walk. 

I was a bit nervous about our car rental because I booked it through Autoeurope UK and not Autoeurope US. For some reason U.K. has better deals and prices than the US (by a significant amount of at least $100 USD) which is why I used it. I thought Avis would say something but they didn't say anything so it doesn't matter what resident you are. I think Autoeurope U.K. can negotiate better deals and rates with car suppliers than the US. We did get the excess insurance with Autoeurope but since we wanted to be really cautious and have roadside assistance we got the total coverage insurance. This was about 24 euros a day in addition to our already paid AutoEurope voucher ($259 USD, it was $360 when I booked months ago but a few weeks earlier I checked and the rate dropped and was able to get it at a cheaper rate!). 

After we got our car we headed to Giardini de Naxos, about 45 min. away. There is a toll. booth along the way so just grab a ticket and proceed. When you exit the autostrada is when you pay. Our ticket was 1.50 euro and the booth is manned so you will get change. 

Where to Stay in Giardini de Naxos

We are staying at Hotel Villa Daphne and though it's only been a few hours, I'm glad we came across it. The staff is super friendly and they have a small parking lot beneath the hotel for 10 euros a day. There is free parking a few minutes walk away though on one of the side streets. But it's also great for its proximity to the Recantini Bus Terminal Station. It's literally two minutes away by walking and here you can grab a ride to Taormina. 

 

Accss to Taormina

Maybe we got lucky but despite the preparations for the G7 summit, we had no problem getting into Taormina today. The bus ride to and fro was no more than 30 minutes. Sure there's a lot of military and police presence but it makes me feel safer. Plus I guess I'm used to that from NYC. Will see how tomorrow goes with access! I expected security checkpoints or closed off roads but we didn't encounter any...yet!

Food Adventures

  • Granita is the bomb!!!! I read about it online and didn't know what to expect but it is sugar and fresh fruit goodness rolled into one. BamBar in Taormina is famous for it and did not disappoint. Fave flavors were hazelnut and melon.  

 

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  • Had dinner in Giardini de Naxos at a pizza place called Valentino and tried the vegetarian pizza and pizza with pistachio sauce and prosciutto. So good! And affordable prices as well. I wouldn't say it's the best pizza I had in my life but was freshly made and good quality.  
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Feb. 2017 Trip Report: Houston, Texas

I wanted to go somewhere for President's Day weekend, but wanted to go somewhere much warmer than NYC but not longer than a four hour flight and reasonably priced. My two options were Savannah or Houston, and since I was treating my mom, she picked Houston to bank on the weather (turns out Savannah's weather was about the same, and was sunny the whole weekend while it rained half the time while we were in Houston--oh well!). We booked the trip back in November and was able to get a direct flight and hotel stay through Expedia for just under $600 per person. 

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Where We stayed in Houston

I stayed at the Whitehall Houston, which is right at the edge of downtown Houston. While I enjoyed our stay overall, I was kind of disappointed in our room. The hotel gave us a handicapped room, which I wouldn't have mind except the shower area seemed small. It was basically a small area with a curtain and it just seemed that water would get everywhere since there was no door/tub/etc. So I called the lobby to change rooms and they were nice enough to allow us to, but the next room we had were right behind the hotel elevators! As we were settling into the room, I kept hearing rolling mechanic sounds and it took me a while to realize it was the elevators! I didn't want to change rooms again though, the noise eventually lulled me to sleep but it was a bit annoying. Also, when we arrived, the room had two bottles of water that seemed complimentary so we took them. Then the next evening we were given only one bottle and the last day none! So I am confused as to whether we were supposed to get water or not. The hotel also only had valet parking available. Upon my research for hotels, I think that's the case for most hotels located in the city center but I thought the prices for Sunday were a bit excessive. Friday and Saturday night valet parking is $19/night but Sunday jumps to $29! So overall, I did like the hotel for its location and the staff was fine, but the minor things like the room comfort, water bottles, and parking gouge for Sunday night were the "cons" to me. The hotel was very clean though and also has an outdoor pool, which we did not use since it was not warm enough. So I would say stay here only if you can get a good deal.

Highlights of Houston

There are tons of resources online of what to do in Houston. The information that was most helpful to me for planning was Thrillist's list of 50 free things to do in Houston. I also was NOT in Houston on a Thursday, but if you find yourself there on a Thursday, a bunch of their museums are free so plan accordingly!

For our trip, we saw/visited:

  • The Heights' 19th Street Shopping District: This stretch of vintage/antique shops is about 20 minutes from downtown Houston. If you love antique/vintage shopping this might be worth a look. It's about two city blocks long, so you can pretty much browse the block in less than half an hour. Parking is free on the street.
  • Discovery Green: An urban park in downtown Houston, not much was going on when we went. You can stroll thru it in 15 minutes! Easy to find street parking (metered). Probably more lively in the summer. Had these cool flower sculptures below though.
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  • The Downtown Underground Tunnels: It rained half the time we were in Houston. On the first day we arrived, it rained most of the day! Luckily, because we were staying downtown, we were able to get around the city center by going underground. These tunnels span over 6 miles and is meant for city workers to get around when the weather is too hot out or raining. There is NOTHING worth seeing in these tunnels though--everything below was fast food, fast food, fast food places and then a random Hallmark-type shop here and there. However, it was interesting to see all the people working in the area file thru the tunnels like ants on their lunch break. You can wander in/out of office buildings that lead into mini mall areas so you can probably kill an hour or two here if you just want to move around the city and the weather is bad, but otherwise, there is not much to experience here. Also, it's easy to get around if you just follow the color-coded maps. I think the tunnels are closed on non-office working days/hours though.
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  • The Galleria: Another option to kill time when it's raining. This mall is about 20 minutes from downtown and it is HUGE!!!! Probably one of the biggest malls in America I've ever been to. It has every single store you can imagine for clothes/shoes/dept. stores, etc. It even has a indoor ice skating rink! 
  • Hermann Park: Huge park in the city center. Can be hard to find parking though there are dedicated lots. I think Lot C is the bigger one so a little easier to find parking. Can rent a paddle boat or just stroll around. This park seems bigger and more family-oriented (more picnics, more lawn space) than the Buffalo Bayou one (where you seem to find more bikers and joggers and distinct trails).
  • The Johnson Space Center: This was by far the best part of visiting Houston, especially if you are a bit of a space nerd like me! I've always been fascinated with space since I was a kid and to see scientists and artifacts from past missions was surreal. I was in awe of all those who work here and to think about all the work that goes into exploring a realm beyond Earth.

Tips on visiting the Johnson Space Center

Buy tickets online. When you do, you have to pick 'times' for when you want to do the tram tour and visit the shuttle (they call it the Orbiter tour online). I don't know if it's because we went on off-season day, but no one checked on the times you actually entered these exhibits but a lot of what I read online recommend that you get a timed entry. We went on a Saturday, and the center opens at 10 am. Definitely start your day as early as possible so you can see as much as you can. The highlights are the tram tours, the Journey to Earth movie, and then check out the Orbiter tour. Below is a picture of what you are allowed to board/explore at the end of the Orbiter (the Endeavor Shuttle!) tour.

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For the tram tour, note there are TWO TRAMS. Although most reviews suggested to allocate 90 minutes total to both tours, it took me two hours because there was some congestion/crowding to get on the trams. Also, if you do buy tickets at the center instead of in advance, you can rsvp for timed entry later but honestly, I don't think they check unless it's super crowded. To risk wasting time, just take these tram tours ASAP. The two trams are the blue line, and the red line. Start with the blue line, which will take you to the Mission Control Center--which is 100% for reeeeeals! This stop lasted no more than 5-7 minutes. We were lucky and it turns out that just as our group arrive, the sun was rising above Earth from the vantage point of the International Space Station that's orbiting Earth. Sunrises like this last 3 seconds! And astronauts up there get to see a sunrise/sunset every 45 minutes during orbit.

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At the end of the first tram tour, you will end up at Rocket Park. You get off and can explore some of the rockets that were launched on previous missions.

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I thought this was the coolest thing to see in person. While this looks like a continuous unit below, it's actually 4 separate pieces (which you will see that it is as you walk alongside of it). You can see rocket park in about 15 minutes, after which you get back on a tram to the main center. This is where we had line congestion, because both blue and red trams take you here before ending back at the museum. So after you get off here on the blue tram, explore rocket park, go back to the museum, get online again to take the red tram, and skip the rocket park on the way back.

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The thing to see on the red tram tour is the place where current missions are being prepared for. it's in a warehouse-type place that spans a couple of football fields, and you will see people at work and all the models they have. The 'next big thing' they seem to be working on is called Orion, and the mission is to one day send humans to Mars and to travel back!

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After the tram tours are over, you can check out other parts of the museum but I think the other main highlight is the movie shown at the Journey to Earth theatre. It talks about the history of past space missions and is engaging. Then you can head to Independence Plaza (ie Orbiter tour aka visiting the shuttle) and see artifacts, including touching a rock from the moon (it felt smooth, after years of probably millions of people touching it!).

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Above: Last spacecraft to return to us from the moon. Below: Model of what it was like for astronauts on the moon.

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Overall, I really found the visit to the Space Center educational and interesting. It's great for kids and adults. If you have zero interest in space though then skip this!

  • Menil Collection: The Menil Collection is a small museum in the Museum District of Houston. They're probably most famous for Magritte artwork. It's a nice visit which you can do in 20-30 minutes. Free parking.
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  • Houston Center for Photography: This place is literally a block away from Menil Collection. It's also very small, free, and you can see everything in 15-20 minutes. Worth seeing if you're in the area.
  • Buffalo Bayou Park/Rain Exhibit at the Cistern: The weather was not great the day we went to Buffalo Bayou Park so I didn't see much of it. However it seems like a great place for a hike, run, or biking activity with miles of trails. We also came here though to see the Rain Exhibit at the Cistern. It's basically an art show with light and thundering rain sound by artist Magdalena Fernandez. It's $10 though and you must rsvp for it. The whole show is 30 minutes and I thought it was cool but I can see people either liking it or hating it. The exhibit closes sometime this spring.
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  • James Turrell's Skyspace: This art installation is on campus at Rice University. It's free and online it says rsvps are required but honestly, you don't need to make them! No one checks, and people on campus can easily wander in and out of the exhibit. The "show" starts right at sundown, although the lights turn on ten minutes before. It's basically a light show (no music or sounds), where the roof of this exhibit changes from deep blues/purples/reds/yellows, etc. It's meant to be meditative I guess, as you gave thru the hole into the sky but it was hard to enjoy with a bunch of rowdy school kids around. So your experience will depend on what you expect and who else is there. There are two areas of seating, benches on the ground floor and benches on the level above. Honestly, I thought the exhibit looked more beautiful on the outskirts. Tip on parking: Rather than pay for visitor parking on campus, just park a couple of blocks outside of the university on the residential streets! It's probably a 15 minute walk (or less) from the residential street to the installation. Just make sure to park near the Shepherd School of Music, or near West Lot 1 (you can google this Google maps!).
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Above: The view from inside. Below: The view from outside (which I thought was more interesting!)

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  • Houston Museum of Natural Science: It rained the morning we were leaving Houston and we had four hours to kill before going to the airport. Most museums are closed on Mondays but luckily the Museum of Natural Science was open! There is a parking garage (which is $20 for guests; there is street parking in front if you can find it) and tickets to all the exhibits are sold separately, which worked out for us because we only wanted to see an iMax movie and the Butterfly exhibit. The iMax move we saw was Wild Africa and it was wonderful! I loved it. I love nature films and this one was very well done and in 3-D. The film was shot lusciously and lasts 40 minutes. Admission was $11 and I thought very much worth it compared to other nature films I've seen in other museums (including NY!). The Butterfly exhibit on the other hand was just ok, you can see it all in 20-30 minutes and I was more interested in seeing some of the unique bugs/reptiles they had on showcase. The butterflies were nice to see but there wasn't too many of them or too much variety. Great for kids, but for adults, might be a bit boring unless you've never seen a butterfly before!
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  • Market Square Park: This is an area of downtown Houston where they seem to have a lot of cool bars and restaurants. It's a quick 15 minute walk around the area and is probably where the nightlife is popping. Since I was with my mom, I didn't try any bars but the bar scene did look cool. We had dinner at one of the restaurants around here (La Fisheria) but I thought it wasn't good so I won't comment further on it except it was a waste of a meal for me!! Oh well. 
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I love how you can grab a drink at the bar below and sit in the outdoor living room couch setting!

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  • Kemah Boardwalk: If you have extra time, or visit the NASA space museum, you can drive out to Kemah Boardwalk after. It's about a 20 minute drive from the Space center (about an hour and change from downtown Houston), and basically this is where people go to eat seafood and go on rides. It's like a mini Coney Island/amusement park. Seemed expensive though but kids would love it. Food is probably overpriced as well but it's right by the water and the ambience is nice. There is free street parking but you have to look for it, and there's also parking lots where you can pay for the day. We got lucky and found free street parking though, just be patient! We just walked around here for 15-20 minutes to have a look since the weather was good but otherwise didn't stay long here.
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  • Chinatown: Being Asian, I'm always curious about other Asian communities outside of NYC. Houston has a big Chinese/Vietnamese community and it was interesting to see it sprawled out over mini shopping plazas. There didn't seem like any place to really 'walk' around like you can in NYC Chinatown, but we did come across Hong Kong City Mall which had a ton of Vietnamese food vendors and a huge Asian supermarket to explore. Long story short though--I'd skip trying to explore Chinatown Houston unless you're really curious. Also, I didn't find the food that compelling (sorry! NYC Chinese/Vietnamese food is way better!)
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  • Brookstreet BBQ: The highlight of all my meals was hands down this DELECTABLE place in the Montrose area of the city. I loved it so much we came back here on our last day before we went to the airport. Everything was very fresh, juicy, and flavorful and you can pick how many meats you want to try (ie 1, 2, or 3 different types of meats) and you get two sides. Most of what we tried was very good. I'm usually not a fan of brisket (find most places make it dry) but this place was soooo juicy. The St. Louis ribs were my fave, and the chicken was good too. Tried the pulled pork which was ok but I'm not a fan of pulled pork in general. The Mexican-styled corn was also yummy as was the bread (I have no idea what kind, but it was buttery) and the potato salad and baked potato casserole was also winners in my book.
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Above: Ribs, pulled pork, and chicken. Below: briiiiiisket! Great value meals (never spent more than $35 for two!)

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  • Good Dog Houston: Another good, casual spot to eat by the Menil museum. Can get a nice gourmet hot dog with different types of toppings. Not a place you have to go out of your way for to try, but if you're in this area and hungry, it's worth coming here to get a snack.
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So...Is Houston Worth Visiting?

Overall impression: Houston is not terribly exciting, there is some stuff to do and I think it would be a great place for families to visit (lots of things for kids to do) but for an adults-only trip, I think there are better options (ie Chicago, LA, Austin). However, we did enjoy our time in Houston and the art scene was much more vibrant than I expected. I'm used to being able to walk around neighborhoods though and I found that you really need to drive to get around the city, which is sprawling. So yes, Houston is worth visiting if you haven't traveled to many other cities in the U.S., much less outside of the U.S., but if you're a seasoned traveler, you might find Houston a bit boring (and I don't mean that to be insulting, just that it's very family-friendly and not the type a visit a solo traveler or adventurous traveler might find as interesting).

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