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    Explore: Portugal

    May 16, 2018

    The next stop in the whirlwind tour of Europe was Portugal! To be honest with you, I didn’t know much about Portugal. But so many people that I knew that traveled there had such great experiences that we added it to our trip!

    Day 1

    We landed in Portugal in the early afternoon and ended up taking a cab to our Airbnb. Our Airbnb was this cute cheery apartment in the older part of Lisbon, with an upstairs loft. FYI, most staircases in Europe are narrow and don’t have elevators, so if you do get an Airbnb be prepared to lug your suitcase up some stairs.

    We were starving and wanted to find some good food fast. We went to A Cevicheria, Kiko Martin’s restaurant, and the food was delicious, fresh and flavorful, particular standouts, were the ceviche with mango foam and grilled octopus, slightly chewy with a slight sweetness to it. The staff was friendly and helpful with recommendations and pairings.


    We then went for delicious gelato. Passionfruit is a popular flavor in Portugal, get it! It’s so fresh and delicious

    We then went walked around to a square to explore Lisbon, and Lisbon has HILLS, and lots of them, the streets are narrow, and hilly, so bring comfortable shoes and prepare for a good workout.

     

    We then went to Timeout, time out is a food hall of carefully chosen pop ups to present the best of what Portugal has to offer and doubles as a music hall to showcase different musical acts.

    Timeout market can be overwhelming, when we went in the evening, it was in full swing, bustling and CROWDED.  There’s also so many delicious stalls that it’s hard to make a decision. We finally decided on fish and chips and it was fresh and the batter light. Seating can be difficult  when it’s busy as it’s first come first serve.

    The next day we started out at Copehagen Coffee Lab. This cute cafe, has fresh homemade bread and delicious coffee. The bread was thick chewy, studded with seeds perfect with butter and jam.

     

    We then went to Santa Maria de Belem and Belem tower. It’s the parish and its respective fortified tower, the towers dating all the way back to the 16th century.

    Next was Pasteis de Belem to try the famed, “pasteis de nata.” Pasteis de nata is an egg tart, akin to a Chinese egg tart, but, the crust is crispier and flakier, the custard creamier and slighty sweeter and SO DELICIOUS. There is usually a long line, but it moves quickly. You can choose to get the tarts either to go or to eat at the restaurant. I suggest eating at the restaurant, it’s a big and airy room with yummy food and coffee. Use the cinnamon and powdered sugar shakers to liberally sprinkle your egg tarts. A generous sprinkling of cinnamon somehow makes it even more delicious!

    We then headed over to LX factory, the art district of Lisbon, housed in an industrial complex it’s filled with retailers, unique restaurants and pieces of artwork and sculptures on walls makes it unique and also very instagrammable.

    Here are a few of the places we found.

    Nanarella near our Airbnb has the BEST gelato

    Day 3

    The last day we took a tour to Sintra, it’s a town with lavish palaces and natural beauty. Our tour guide said that because of it’s hotter weather and natural beauty, the noblemen in Europe would build big summer mansions. All of the mansions are in different style reflective of the styles of noblemen’s countries in Sintra. It was nice to get out of Lisbon and see a different part of Portugal, get away from the city and experience more of the natural beauty. We then went to Cascais a picturesque town along the coast, with it’s sunny blue skies, and sails boats dotting the water, it’s a great escape from Lisbon. It has a cute  downtown square full of shops and restaurants.

    (pic 28)

    Cascais

    Off to Spain next!

    Explore: Paris

    May 2, 2018

    Four countries in 15 days, sounds crazy, and it was, but it was so fun, fulfilling and memorable. What I love about traveling is it helps you gain more perspective and really helps to get you out of your own head sometimes. I also do feel you get a bit wiser each time. No matter how well you plan your trip, there are always a few curveballs.

    To help organize our trip, we did quite a bit of planning beforehand. We made an itinerary as we had a lot to pack in into the 3 days we were here and pre-booked a lot of the things we wanted to see, which was great at providing structure to our days.

    First stop Paris!

    Day 1

    Day one we hit the ground running. When we got to Paris, we compared prices to get to our Airbnb, a taxi to the city center was going to be 50 euros, by subway 11 euros. We decided to take the subway to give us a chance to familiarize ourselves with the subway system as that would we our main form of transportation.  

    We dropped out stuff off at the aribnb, and went to our first stop,  Arc de Triomphe. It stands as monument for those that fought and died in the French Revolution and Napoleans’ wars. It is a beautiful structure, in the middle of a busy traffic circle, and, as you would expect extremely crowded.

     

    Our next stop, just a bit further down was Champs de Elysee, probably the most famous tree lined, 1.2 mile stretch of cafés, theaters and luxury shopping.

    It’s Paris. It’s beautiful, chic and full of a bustling energy of one of the metropolitan cities of the world. Even if shopping isn’t your thing, it’s worth walking in the luxury stores because it all starts here. For most of these luxury brands, these stores are their flagship stores and it’s an experience in itself to walk in and experience where it all starts Particularly, Chanel and Louis Vuitton stood out for their beautiful window and floor displays.

     

    We then went to the Eiffel Tower, I would highly recommend getting skip the line tickets. The line was long and with tickets the line would have been at least 2 hours.  Our tickets also came with tour guide, who provided informative and color commentary about the Eiffel tower and its visitors. If you want to take pictures, it’s a good idea to get there early before your ticket time approach the park through the Champ de Mars, a large park that will give you a beautiful view and photos of the Eiffel tower.

    We booked out tickets right as the sun was setting, and I would highly suggest it. The Eiffel tower at night when the lights are shining, is breathtaking and has to be seen, it sparkles.


    Day 2

    Our day started off  bright and early with a trip to Chateau de Versaille and it’s garden. It’s about a 40 mintute subway ride from Paris. We again, went with skip the line tickets. Which we’re glad we did. The line was MASSIVE at 8 am in on a Snday morning, with wait times of approximately 3 hours. The price difference between tickets was I believe $40 dollars, but we were able to skip the line and it included a guided tour of the garden and a self guided tour of Chateau de Versaille. We enjoyed the tour guide as he was well versed on the life of King Louie XVI.  King Louis XVI’s identity was greatly tied to Versaille, and it’s beauty and size were intentional. It was meant to house all the nobles of Frances; to allow him to have grand parties but also to keep an on them.

    In early April, the gardens were just waking up from their deep winter slumber, an the best time to see the gardens in all their glory would be summer, when everything is in full bloom.

    The Chataeu is a study in excess and beauty. Everything was ornate, gilded in gold and no expense was spared to build this mini city. The chateau could hold approximately 3,000 people to give an idea of the size of the chateau.

    An interesting tidbit from our guide, every June there is a masked ball in Versaille, where everyone dresses in period costume of King Louie XVI and a highly sought after ticket.

     

    Next, it was off to the Catacombs. The subway in Paris is fairly easy to navigate, especially because we had a pocket wifi to help us navigate, but make sure you get their map, and utilize the information desk at the subway. They usually speak English and are a great resource in figuring out which lines to take.

    The catacombs, were one of the most memorable places we visited in Paris, it’s slightly macabre, so if this doesn’t appeal to you; I would skip it. The catacombs are underground ossuaries that were created to address the overflowing cemeteries in Paris, with the remains of more than 6 million people resting there. It’s eerily beautiful, with the femurs and skulls artistically placed, lining the walls and even arranged into heart shapes and barrel of bones. It’s dark and the ceilings are low, really making it seem other worldy, and for me slightly claustrophobic.

     

    Day 3

    We started the day at Louvre again bright and early. The Louvre is artwork in itself, with it’s two glass pyramids, that offer natural light into the museum. We again chose an early ticket time 9:00 am and we were happy to have done so, because the line was long, for people waiting to buy tickets. Must sees at the Louvre, include obviously the Mona Lisa, the staircase of the Winged Victory of Samothrace, the Virgin of the Rocks and the wedding at Cana.

    Then we went to Ladurée, Ladurée, is quintessentially Paris, and their mint green exterior and the colorful macaron trees are akin to something out of Alice in Wonderland. The macarons are undeniably delicious. We tried a few macrons (okay, a lot) and we can confidently say these are the best. Are favorite by far were the salted caramel, vanilla and pistachio.

     

    Our last stop was to head to Le mur des je t’aime, a wall filled of “I love you,” at the bottom of Montmartre. It’s a charming art district in Paris, at the top is the Sacré-Coeur Basilica, that offers an amazing view of the city. You can choose to take the funicular to the top or walk to the top. It’s a beautiful view from at the top  where you can see the Eiffel tower, and I think a great way to end the trip. Paris.


     

    Au revoir, on to Portugal!

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    Oahu Guide Part 5: First Timer Tips

    March 7, 2018

    Since this was my first time in Oahu, I wanted to share a few tips and tricks that I learned along the way. Ready? Let’s go!

    My family and I wanted our first time in Oahu to include all of the tourist points but also have time for hikes since we enjoy being outdoors. Touristy stuff tends to be more expensive so we ended up buying the Go Oahu card through Costco. You have the option of buying the card on the Go Oahu website, but buying it through Costco gives you the option of a having the pass for a 4th day. At $154.00, it’s a great deal! The card also has a list of every popular attraction and hike so it’s a great way to plan your day.

    We mapped out each attraction we wanted to see and created an itinerary based on proximity of each attraction to each other. 

    Hikes

    The Diamond Head Hike is the most popular hike in Hawaii at 1.3 miles, it’s considered a moderate to easy hike. It’s paved and there are clearly marked rails on either side.  We did an early morning tour that met at 6:30 to catch the sunrise at Diamond Head, thinking it would be less crowded. It’s actually pretty crowded, and you take your own pace, but be mindful that the crowd is moving at pretty quickly. There are two paths you can take. There’s the easier route, which is more of a gradual incline, or you can take the other path which is steeper with more steps and a sharp incline. To watch the sunrise at the top of Diamond Head is a beautiful experience.

     

    We also did the Kuliouou Ridge Hike, a 5 mile hike that offers a lot of switchbacks and an opportunity to see the ever changing greenery of Hawaii. It’s considered a moderate to easy hike depending on which trail you take. With the valley head trail being the easier of the two. We probably went 2 miles in before we started heading back. We also weren’t prepared for the mosquitoes! It’s set pretty deep into the valley, and we were getting bitten so much that we had to turn back. Lesson learned: don’t forget your bug spray and sunscreen.

    The Makapuu Lighthouse Trail is a quick 2.0 mile trail considered easy to moderate. It does get pretty high up there with an elevation of 500 ft. But the trail is paved and the elevation is a pretty gradual rise until you get to the top. The view of the ocean are spectacular, and you get to see some old military pillboxes. The lighthouse is visible but unable to get to, due to a fence protecting the path.

    The Polynesian Cultural Center

    The Polynesian Cultural Center is a themed park in Laie, Hawaii and is a must stop for first time tourist. The center has 6 different areas to visit: Hawaii, Samoa, Fiji, Tahiti, Tonga, Marquesas Island and Aoterora or what we call now “New Zealand.” Each of the islands have their own cultural themes and activities. These include movie theaters, fire throwing, palm tree weaving, a show with a boat ride, and canoe rides. We wandered around for a bit waiting for the luau to start.

    The food was plentiful and it was good. It has the usual Hawaiian faire: imu pork, lomi lomi salmon, poke, poi, macaroni salad, and other various Polynesian dishes. The show that accompanies the luau was fun, it has people showcasing different dances of Polynesian culture like Hula, Tahitian, and Warrior dances

    If you want to experience a luau and a chance to visit the PCC to explore the villages, I would suggest making the PCC a whole day affair.

    Pearl Harbor

    We went checked out the USS Arizona, and the site of Pearl Harbor. My dad was in the Navy and wanted to take the chance to pay my respects to site and take a moment to reflect on what happened at Pearl Harbor and to make sure we don’t repeat he mistakes of our past.

    It’s beautiful and haunting with the memorial of all the names of people lost.

    Make sure when you go that you should bring a small wallet sized bag. Otherwise, leave it in your car or rent a locker. They’re pretty strict about it.

    Scuba Diving

    My sister and I have never been snorkeling and we thought what more a perfect place to try it then in Honolulu. We found this excursion through viator.com. It was a perfect first experience! We met our instructor Stephen at Ala Moana regional park. He was kind and patient, giving us a rundown of the equipment as well as tips for your first time. The area he picked seemed to be pretty popular spot for lessons as we saw other people taking scuba diving lessons as well. He provided the wetsuit, flippers, and snorkeling gear as well as taking go pro footage of my sister and I as we snorkeled amongst the fish. The area that we snorkeled was perfect for first timers as it wasn’t too deep. Stephen was great as an instructor, and we would definitely come back to try the scuba diving!

    Leonard’s Malasadas

    Leonard’s Malasadas is the spot for delicious made to order Portuguese donuts with various fillings. There usually is a line but it moves quick! Be sure to check out their specials. We loved the haupia custard filling. 

    My family and I greatly enjoyed our first time in Hawaii. The things we did offered a chance to explore the popular sights of Hawaii. The Hawaiian hospitality was in full display during all our visit, everyone was friendly and quick to help advice on can’t miss sights and how to explore each attraction.

    One thing I would say is that Oahu definitely has some serious rush hour traffic so to maximize your time, clustering your attractions together would be helpful to cut your time sitting in traffic.

    Make sure you look at a map of the whole island to get an idea of where everything is to familiarize yourself with the layout of the island. Doing that before hand really helped us to plan our days so we could get the most out of each day. If it’s your first time in Oahu, I greatly suggest investing in the Go Oahu card. It really helped plan my trip so that I can relax and enjoy what Oahu has to offer. 

    Oahu Guide Part 4: Kailua

    March 7, 2018

    I love Kailua. It was so nice to spend a few days away from the hustle of Honolulu and take some time to slow down. We were about a 4 minute walk to the beach, and we took a lot of time just to enjoy the moments of quiet and relaxation. Everything is very centralized with grocery stores and shops within a mile to two-mile bike ride. There a few things that Will and I love to do when we travel: go to local coffee shops, spend time in bookstores, find a record store, and go to the Farmer’s Market. We definitely did all of that and more in Kailua.

    We went to Chadlou’s Coffee a lot while we were staying there. It’s a comfy spot nestled between local clothing shop BettyxJoe as well as stand alone Olive and Oliver boutiques. I spent a lot of time browsing through the shops because they were all so well-curated and fun to be in. I enjoyed the vibes and chatting with the people who work there.

    I also made it my mission to stop by Aloha Beach Club and get Will an Aloha print shirt that is made in-house. Their shop is super cool supporting local gear and up and coming brands like Crap Eyewear. They also house The Local, a shaved ice joint that uses fresh fruit juice and syrups. It was so delicious and refreshing. We sat outside the shop with our shaved ice while watching the bustle from Boots & Kimos.

    And, right outside of Kailua, in the neighboring city of Kane’ohe, is the Ho’omaluhia Botanical Gardens. It felt like a dream going through the gardens…and it’s completely free! Unfortunately, we were pressed for time and couldn’t stay very long. I’m making sure that I have a picnic in the gardens next time I’m in Oahu.

    Oahu Guide Part 3: Honolulu

    March 6, 2018

    Honolulu is the central hub for all the islands. The city is often overlooked as visitors tend to head straight to Waikiki or completely outside of the city’s perimeters. While not exactly part of the island getaway one often imagines taking, Honolulu has a bustling creative local scene that I personally gravitate towards. From the fresh takes on food, art, and shopping, Honolulu is making it’s mark as a destinations for creative folks.

    I’ve been finding some of the coolest spots in my recent travels that I just had to share with all of you. We love the growth of art and culture in this city. Check it out below!

    SALT at our Kaka’ako is a new pedestrian open space intended to further support the local creative scene and economy through locally owned restaurants, boutiques, and art. The buildings that were already there were repurposed to create a community feel. We loved browsing through ARVO, Paiko, and Milo. Each so distinct in its own minimalist style.

    I also made it a mission to visit all of Ed Kenney’s restaurants in Honolulu. I was blown away by each and every one. From Mahina & Sun’s, to Mud Hen Water, to Town, to Kaimuki Superette, each had a sense of comfort but newness to it. His mantra,“local first, organic whenever possible, with aloha always,” truly shows in each restaurant. I still can’t get over the handmade pasta from Town or the ‘ulu pancakes from Mahina & Sun’s, or the muffins at Kaimuki Superette, or the…everything…at Mud Hen Water. I love how he takes real local ingredients and incorporates them into familiar dishes. To start you off, I highly suggest Mud Hen Water for brunch. The biscuits and Mapo Gravy is amazing!

    The scene is definitely thriving, and it feels so special especially being nestled in the one of the most well-known vacation destinations in the world. Have you been to Honolulu? Do you have any favorite spots in the city? Share your tips in the comments below!