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Extended Layover in Istanbul

If you’ve read some of my previous travel posts, you know that I love to take advantage of a stopover or extended layover. For the the past few years during my annual excursion to Paris, I have been planning short stops in other countries in route. Not only is it a great way to break up all that travel time, but it also provides the advantage of two countries in one trip.

Last year on my return flight from Paris I was able to visit Copenhagen with an extended layover on SAS airlines. This year I decided that I wanted again to try and visit another uncharted country during my travels. Early on in the year I decided that I would take advantage of Turkish Airlines and visit the beautiful city of Istanbul. I had heard that the airline had a special tourism deal for those traveling with them, so I quickly booked my flight.

After booking my flight ticket, I spent more time researching Turkey and the city of Istanbul specifically. I wanted to try and see as much as possible during my 20 hour layover before visiting Paris. I learned from visiting the Turkish Airlines website that the airline had their own tourism company, Touristanbul.

Touristanbul, is a FREE all encompassing tour specifically destined for travelers with a few hours to spend in Istanbul. This tour picks you up/ drops you off from the airport. This FREE tour also includes an English speaking guide, a bus or walking tour through the best sites in Istanbul and a traditional Turkish meal!

I must say that I was quite impressed with my tour and short stay in Istanbul. I definitely made the right decision in my extended layover planning for this trip. Although I was able to see a great deal of Istanbul, I would love to return to spend more time truly getting to know that city (and all the cats). I also would like to see other cities in Turkey as well and eat more Turkish delights.

See the details from my Istanbul visit below.

Istanbul Stopover Recap

Places I visited on my tour:

  • Aqueduct of Valens
  • Aga Mosque
  • Beyazit Square
  • Blue Mosque
  • Grand Bazaar
  • Hagia Sophia
  • Old Book Market

Other places to see in Istanbul.

Istanbul at sunrise

Foods to try in Istanbul:

  • Turkish coffee, of course!
  • Turkish bagels with chocolate hazelnut spread
  • Goat milk ice cream
  • Kebabs
  • Turkish pizza
  • Turkish delights
  • Turkish tea
Enjoying the view before breakfast

More information on Touristanbul.

Featured

Carry-on Fashionable Packing Tips

As someone who loves to travel and take advantage of multiple countries in one trip I try to pack as light as possible. That means NO CHECKED LUGGAGE!

Yes you can still be fashionable and pack everything in your carry-on. Itโ€™s all about strategy and packing the right way. 

After all the international trips I have embarked on, I am very proud of my learned and perfected packing skills. The lighter the load the better, especially when you’re maneuvering in old cities with cobblestone and inconvenient underground public transportation. Yes, I still over pack at times, but everything needed or not, fits in my carry-on suitcase.

I have provided below some essential packing tips to help you stay fashionable and compact for your next trip.

๐“œ๐”‚ ๐“ฎ๐“ผ๐“ผ๐“ฎ๐“ท๐“ฝ๐“ฒ๐“ช๐“ต๐“ผ ๐“ฏ๐“ธ๐“ป ๐“น๐“ช๐“ฌ๐“ด๐“ฒ๐“ท๐“ฐ ๐”€๐“ฑ๐“ฒ๐“ต๐“ฎ ๐“ฏ๐“ช๐“ผ๐“ฑ๐“ฒ๐“ธ๐“ท๐“ช๐“ซ๐“ต๐“ฎ ๐“ฒ๐“ท๐“ฌ๐“ต๐“พ๐“ญ๐“ฎ: 

1๏ธโƒฃ  ๐๐š๐œ๐ค๐ข๐ง๐  ๐œ๐ฎ๐›๐ž๐ฌ ๐š๐ซ๐ž ๐š ๐ฆ๐ฎ๐ฌ๐ญ! 

2๏ธโƒฃ  ๐‘๐จ๐ฅ๐ฅ ๐ฒ๐จ๐ฎ๐ซ ๐œ๐ฅ๐จ๐ญ๐ก๐ž๐ฌ ๐Ÿ๐จ๐ซ ๐ฆ๐จ๐ซ๐ž ๐ฌ๐ฉ๐š๐œ๐ž ๐š๐ง๐ ๐ฅ๐ž๐ฌ๐ฌ ๐ฐ๐ซ๐ข๐ง๐ค๐ฅ๐ž๐ฌ.

3๏ธโƒฃ ๐๐ซ๐ข๐ง๐  ๐œ๐ฅ๐จ๐ญ๐ก๐ž๐ฌ ๐ญ๐ก๐š๐ญ ๐š๐ซ๐ž ๐ฆ๐ฎ๐ฅ๐ญ๐ข๐ฉ๐ฎ๐ซ๐ฉ๐จ๐ฌ๐ž ๐š๐ง๐ ๐ž๐š๐ฌ๐ฒ ๐ญ๐จ ๐ฅ๐š๐ฒ๐ž๐ซ. 

4๏ธโƒฃ ๐–๐ž๐š๐ซ/ ๐๐ซ๐ข๐ง๐  ๐œ๐ฅ๐จ๐ญ๐ก๐ž๐ฌ ๐ข๐ง ๐ญ๐ก๐ž ๐ฌ๐š๐ฆ๐ž ๐œ๐จ๐ฅ๐จ๐ซ ๐ ๐ซ๐จ๐ฎ๐ฉ ๐Ÿ๐จ๐ซ ๐ž๐š๐ฌ๐ฒ ๐ฒ๐ž๐ญ ๐œ๐ก๐ข๐œ ๐จ๐ฎ๐ญ๐Ÿ๐ข๐ญ๐ฌ.

5๏ธโƒฃ  ๐Œ๐š๐ค๐ž ๐š ๐ฉ๐ž๐ซ๐ฌ๐จ๐ง๐š๐ฅ๐ข๐ณ๐ž๐ ๐ฉ๐š๐œ๐ค๐ข๐ง๐  ๐ฅ๐ข๐ฌ๐ญ ๐ฌ๐จ ๐ง๐จ๐ญ๐ก๐ข๐ง๐  ๐ข๐ฌ ๐ฅ๐ž๐Ÿ๐ญ ๐›๐ž๐ก๐ข๐ง๐.

6๏ธโƒฃ ๐€๐ฅ๐ฐ๐š๐ฒ๐ฌ ๐ฉ๐š๐œ๐ค ๐ฐ๐ซ๐ข๐ง๐ค๐ฅ๐ž ๐ซ๐ž๐ฅ๐ž๐š๐ฌ๐ž ๐ฌ๐ฉ๐ซ๐š๐ฒ ๐ฌ๐ข๐ง๐œ๐ž ๐ง๐จ๐ญ ๐š๐ฅ๐ฅ ๐ก๐จ๐ญ๐ž๐ฅ๐ฌ ๐š๐ซ๐ž ๐ ๐ฎ๐š๐ซ๐š๐ง๐ญ๐ž๐ž๐ ๐ญ๐จ ๐ก๐š๐ฏ๐ž ๐š๐ง ๐ข๐ซ๐จ๐ง ๐ข๐ง ๐ฒ๐จ๐ฎr ๐ซ๐จ๐จ๐ฆ.

7๏ธโƒฃ ๐ˆ ๐š๐ฅ๐ฐ๐š๐ฒ๐ฌ ๐ฉ๐š๐œ๐ค ๐š ๐ญ๐ซ๐š๐ฏ๐ž๐ฅ ๐œ๐š๐ง๐๐ฅ๐ž ๐ฌ๐จ ๐ฆ๐ฒ ๐š๐œ๐œ๐จ๐ฆ๐ฆ๐จ๐๐š๐ญ๐ข๐จ๐ง๐ฌ ๐š๐ง๐ ๐œ๐ฅ๐จ๐ญ๐ก๐ž๐ฌ ๐ฌ๐ฆ๐ž๐ฅ๐ฅ ๐Ÿ๐ซ๐ž๐ฌ๐ก.

My suitcase and packing cubes are from Calpak.

Hope this helps, now go out and see the world! ๐ŸŒŽ

Featured

A Day at Dior

Last year when I was on my annual trip to Paris, the House of Dior was in the midst of a huge renovation. The original Dior location in Paris, also known as 30 Avenue Montaigne, was closed and under construction. This location was founded as the House of Dior starting in 1946. Behind its doors, served the origination of modern fashion and elegance as it’s known today. Christian Dior decided on this particular location over 5 decades ago and it was time for a serious upgrade.

Me standing on Champ- Elysees in front of the Dior renovation sign. 2021.

“It had to be 30 Avenue Montaigne. I will settle here and nowhere else!”

– Christian Dior

As many times as I’ve been to Paris and shopped numerous stores, I had never been to this particular and special Dior store. As an educated and historical fan of fashion, I always knew this exclusive location was exceptional. Not only did this location serve as the birthplace of Dior, but it also birthed other keen names in couture such as Yves Saint Laurent (YSL) and John Galliano. YSL being one of my favorite designers, had motivated me enough to visit both museums in Paris and Marrakech. In the back of my mind I knew I was saving this location and the best for last.

This year I made a point to spend some time at 30 Avenue Montaigne. I knew that not only did this location house a new one-of-a-kind Dior boutique but also a new dedicated musรฉe, La Galerie Dior. I decided to break up my shopping experience and the visit to the Dior museum in two trips. I didn’t want to feel too overwhelmed in one visit, so I gave myself plenty of time to enjoy both experiences. I went to the Dior boutique first thing in the morning when they opened at 10AM. The store was less crowded and I was able to shop and enjoy the overall atmosphere. As for the musรฉe, La Galerie Dior, it sells out daily so make sure to book your tickets in advance! (Book tickets here).

A day at the Dior boutique.

I will honestly say that the House of Dior on 30 Avenue Montaigne did not disappoint me one ounce. The delay and anticipation in the renovation was well worth the wait. I thoroughly enjoyed the details in the design of the store and La Galerie Dior. I especially enjoyed being able to walk through the Christian Dior couture fashion timeline. Seeing 70 years of haute couture fashion kept my mouth agape the entire time. I can’t wait to return to Paris and experience 30 Avenue Montaigne all over again.

A day at La Galerie Dior

More Dior Boutique information here.

Featured

Egypt Travel Guide

We all know what a bucket list is right? This figurative or possibly literal list is filled with items that are intended to complete by the end of a certain time period or lifetime. This list can include ideas that inspire learning a new task, daring to complete an adventurous assignment or traveling to new places. I, myself, don’t necessarily have a bucket list, but I do mentally keep a travel checklist.

I honestly want to travel the entire world like Jessica Nabongo, the first Black woman to travel to every country. Currently, my time and resources are limited, being a full time physician, so I prioritize which places I would like to visit sooner rather than later. Egypt has been at the top of my travel checklist for some time, so I was very excited at the opportunity to finally visit this ancient land. Once I was able to get the much needed time off for my African adventure, I booked my flight and got to planning.

Egypt encompasses so much rich history and culture, and I was determined to see as much as I could in the time allotted. I spent a little over a month researching where and what to see. My trip to Egypt was seven days full of adventure and ancient history. I was able to fly and travel by bus and train to 4 different cities in Egypt to see the most notable and distinguished sights in the world. I decided that for my trip I wanted to follow the flow of the Nile river since it served as the root of civilization and resources for Egypt. As I continued with my research I also learned that the further south one traveled down the Nile river the more Nubian the surrounding people.

I visited Egypt this past February and it was the perfect time to go. The heat was bearable and the tourist attractions where less crowded for the most part. I spent 2 days in Aswan, did a 1 day tour to Abu Simbel, spent 2 days in Luxor and ended my trip in Cairo. I had an amazing time being able to see so much on my solo trip. I thoroughly enjoyed my jammed packed Egyptian adventure, so I thought I would pass on my Egyptian information. Hopefully it will encourage you to visit Egypt as soon as you can and also not be afraid to see the world by yourself.

Check that off your bucket list. See my Egypt Travel Guide and itinerary below.

Day 1 Flight from Cairo to Aswan. 1.5 hour travel time. Flight cost was approximately $35/ one way.

Fun Facts

Egypt Air and Nile Air are main airlines of Egypt.

Arabic is the official Language in Egypt.

Tea is the official drink of Egypt. I recommend drinking as much hibiscus tea as you can.

Drones are STRICTLY prohibited in Egypt so don’t even consider bringing it.

Your money goes a long way in Egypt, 1 Egyptian Pound, EGP= $0.0521

You do need a visa to visit Egypt. I recommend applying online before you visit. (CLICK HERE)

Aswan (Day 1 and 2)

I loved Aswan because it was less touristy than Luxor and Cairo. It is also more affordable than the bigger cities. The city is filled with Nubians as this is the area where ancient Egyptians still reside.

Where I stayed: Mango Tree House; This fabulous guest house is located on Elephantine Island. I actually had to take a ferry across the Nile river to get to the guest house, which was thrilling. The cost for the ferry was 5 Egyptian Pounds round trip. The guest house offers a wonderful breakfast in the morning. I highly recommend earplugs as sounds from the train station continue around the clock.

Things to do in Aswan:

  1. Nubian Museum
  2. Nubian Village
  3. Elephantine Island
  4. Tourist Marketplace
  5. Aswan Dam
  6. Philae Temple
  7. Aswan Botanical Garden

Places to eat: Bob Marley Restaurant- This place is literally overlooking the Nile River so the view alone is worth it. The food is also tasty and VERY reasonably priced. I ordered the fish tagine, which came with fresh bread, salad, vegetable tagine, potatoes and rice for 15 Egyptian Pounds EGP. (See food video below). The staff are super friendly as well. I stayed here almost all day eating and reading a book on the Nile and I was greeted with a smile all day long.

Hanging out at the Bob Marley restaurant

Naser Cafe- Located close to the train station. This place is great for people watching. I recommend ordering the falafel sandwich and hibiscus drink (20 EGP). Sit outside and snack on these delish vittles while watching Egyptians pass by.

Day 3, Day Trip to Abu Simbel

I booked my day trip to Abu Simbel through Trip Advisor. There are several operating tours to take you to the site. It takes about 3 hours (one way) to get to Abu Simbel from Aswan but it is definitely worth the trip. I would surely devote some time out on your trip to visit. (Book your tour here).

Abu Simbel

There are not many transportation options to get from Aswan to Luxor. After doing a bit of research I decided on taking the train. I would suggest the same if you are crunched for time and want to see more of Egypt.

Helpful information about Egypt train system. 1. If you don’t speak Arabic I recommend purchasing your tickets online. There is not much assistance once you arrive to the train station.

2. You may only purchase your Egypt train ticket up to 10 days in advance online. (Make sure you print out your proof of purchase as this will be needed and checked to get on the trains and at different train stops. (PURCHASE Train tickets here)

Day 3/4 Train from Aswan to Luxor. 3.5 hour travel time. Train cost was approximately $20/ one way for first class.

On the train to Luxor

Luxor (Day 4 and 5)

Luxor, although small in area has thee most ancient Egyptian artifacts and temples than the other major cities in Egyptian. You can technically see everything worth seeing in one full day with the right tour guide. Make sure your guide is credentialed in Egyptology to assure you get as much information and history as you can during your tour. I booked my guide through Trip Advisor. My tour and my guide were amazing. I had a personal driver and guide escort me around Luxor. My guide, Mohammed was the absolute best. Not only was he super knowledgeable and shared so much history, he also was a great photographer as well. Mohammed bought me tons of Egyptian snacks and water throughout the day. He also made a special stop to make sure I had the opportunity to taste some Egyptian cakes and sweets once he found out I was a baker. The only downside to the tour is that is did not include ticket prices to all the cultural stops. In total I spent around 1000 EGP (cash only) to see all the tombs, temples and etc. (Book your tour here).

See my TripAdvisor tour review here.

Where I stayed: I used my airline miles and stayed at the Hilton Luxor right on the Nile River. My taxi ride from the airport to the hotel cost me around 100 EGP and took about 25 minutes. I loved this location because my room balcony, although tiny, was overlooking the Nile River. I was able to see the West Bank of Luxor from my room and watch the hot air balloons take off in the morning. You could also see the tombs lit up overnight, which was beautiful. Breakfast was included as well.

Luxor Hilton Hotel

Things to see in Luxor:

  1. Temple of Hatshepsut
  2. Valley of the Kings
  3. Karnak Temple
  4. Luxor Temple
  5. Tomb of King Tutankhamun
  6. Temple of Medinat Habu
  7. Tomb of Queen Nefertari
  8. Colossi Memnon
  9. Avenue of Sphinxes

Cairo/ Giza (Day 6 and 7)

Day 6 Flight from Luxor to Cairo. 45 minute travel time. Flight cost was approximately $30/ one way.

Cairo/ Giza was the last leg of my Egyptian journey and I must say I’m glad I planned it this way. The saying goes “save the best for last” and it some ways it definitely applies and in others it does not. Cairo/ Giza is of course the land of the pyramids, but it was also my least favorite city in Egypt. Cairo itself is over populated, dirty and overpriced in my opinion. It took about an hour to get from the airport to my hotel in Giza and cost me 600 EGP after some bargaining. The taxi ride from the airport and the traffic was a terrifying escapade. That says a lot for someone who currently lives in LA. What I did enjoy about this city the most was arriving at my sanctuary hotel and being able to view the Pyramids of Giza from my balcony. That experience was incredible in itself. Also there is so much history to see and soak up in between these two cities. If you get the right personal tour guide you can see everything in one full day. I booked my personalized tour through TripAdvisor or AirBnB as I usually do, and I highly recommend the same. (Book your tour here).

See my TripAdvisor tour review here.

Where I stayed: I stayed at the incredible Marriott Mena House. This fabulous world renowned hotel is located literally across the street from the Pyramids of Giza. I stayed in room 226 I think, which had a fantastic view of the pyramids from my balcony. This resort also has other great amenities such as multiple pools, a spa and the fitness center was pretty decent as well with up to date and modern equipment. This resort also has multiple restaurants on site. I ended up eating at the Indian restaurant two nights in a row because the food was really that good! If you’re going to come to Cairo I don’t suggest you stay anywhere else. This place is the ONLY option!

Marriott Mena House

Things to see in Cairo/ Giza:

  1. Pyramids of Giza
  2. Sphinx
  3. Muhammed Ali Mosque
  4. Khan el-Khalili Bazaar
  5. National Museum of Egyptian Civilization
  6. Pyramid of Djoser/ Saqqara
  7. Memphis

Other places to visit in Egypt if you have more time to spend: Sharm el-Sheik, Siwa salt lakes.

Egyptian Food: Ancient Egypt was located on the original spice route, so there is a great deal of influence from surrounding nations. Egyptian cuisine relies heavy on the rich soil surrounding the Nile as well, so there is a heavy portion of vegetables and grains. If you enjoy Mediterranean cuisine with a mixture of African, Indian, French and Chinese then you’ll definitely find Egyptian cuisine quite enjoyable. Everything that I tried in Egypt honestly taste superb because everything is so fresh. Make sure to try all the Egyptian sweets too. The cakes and pastries were amazing!

Egyptian foods to try

What other information would like to know about my trip to Egypt? Let me know in the comments below.

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Layover in Copenhagen

I used to dread layovers. In my early travel years I used to think of layovers as a waste of time to my destination. Disembarking the plane just to wander around the airport aimlessly awaiting my next flight. After a few years and more travel knowledge, I have found a new appreciation for layovers. If I have a few hours in between flights I usually head to a lounge to eat, refresh and literally recharge my batteries. For an extended layover, I make my way outside of the airport to enjoy the fruits of the city.

I have learned over time to definitely take advantage of extended layovers. During some previous extended excursions I have been blessed to see Madrid, travel to Munich during Oktoberfest, visit Hong Kong and most recently, Copenhagen. During this past trip to Paris I actually booked my flight purposely to spend a night in Denmark. My overnight layover in Copenhagen was such a fabulous time. In the 14 hours allotted, I was able to get a good night rest, tour the city, swim and enjoy a wonderful traditional breakfast. I arrived back to the airport refreshed, well-fed and with plenty of time to catch my flight.

I encourage you during your next international trip to take advantage of that extended layover and explore a new city!

Please see some of my Copenhagen highlights below

Copenhagen highlights

I arrived at Denmark’s Kastrup Airport, which is located outside of Copenhagen. The good thing is public transportation is easily accessible at the airport. I took the Metro airport station for about 20 minutes to my stop to my hotel. The metro line was about a 5 minute walk from my hotel as well. For more information on Copenhagen’s public transportation click here.

Indoor pool at Manon Les Suites

I discovered this hotel after seeing the gorgeous pictures of the indoor pool on social media. After I discovered that Manon Les Suites Hotel was sustainable/ eco-conscious, I was hooked and my stay was booked. I am an advocate for Mother Nature and being as eco-friendly as possible. I try my best to consider and continue to reduce my carbon footprint even through my travels. This five start hotels has all the amenities needed to enjoy the ultimate experience:

  1. Rooftop restaurant with breakfast buffet including unlimited mimosas.
  2. Indoor pool and jungle
  3. 100% cotton robe and slippers in room
  4. Spa/ lounge
  5. Full gym/ fitness center
  6. Bike Rental
Manon Les Suites Hotel highlights

This hotel, as I mentioned above, is walking distance from the Metro station. It’s also located a few minutes walk from the iconic Copenhagen lakes, Tivoli gardens and city center, Torvehallernes gourmet-food market, the lovely green inner-city parks, design shops, and restaurants. I highly recommend staying at Manon Les Suites during your stay in Copenhagen. I know I will be returning to spend more time in the luxurious indoor pool and enjoying the city.

Nyhavn, Copenhagen

Although I didn’t have much time to explore some the wonderful well known tourist spots above. I did enjoy waking up well rested and walking around the quiet peaceful city. As most of the city slept, I wandered around and made my way over to Nyhavn, Copenhagen. This waterfront district is known for its cobblestone streets lined by brightly coloured 17th and early 18th century townhouses and bars, cafes and restaurants. I recommend going in the AM if you want to get those perfect Instagram photos before it gets too crowded.

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Updated Paris Travel Guide

Paris in September has become my new favorite! Who am I kidding? After a two year hiatus from my absolute favorite city in the world, almost everything about Paris is my new favorite. The City of Love is now forever ingrained as my city to love. One day while I was casually strolling amongst all the Parisians and monuments I asked myself, “Why do you love this city so much?” There are so many answers that bubbled to the top of my head like a fresh bottle of champagne. Paris is all about people, culture, food and love! There are of course all the fabulous, fashionable locals, but the city is also one of most visited in the world. It provides a cornucopia of languages to listen to and immerse in. It also provides the perfect backdrop for my favorite activity, people-watching. Parisians seem to effortlessly incorporate people-watching into their daily routine and I live! Whether it be meeting up for friends, going out to eat or just being. Before I get ahead of myself and continue to obsess about Paris, I thought I would share the highlights of my latest trip so hopefully you can experience the Parisian magic for yourself!

Where I stayed: When I visit Paris I always stay at a hotel. Why? I just adore local, cute and quaint boutique hotels and admiring all the interior designs. I feel that is a part of the Parisian tourist experience. This time I decided to stay at La Maison Favart Hotel. The hospitality was wonderful! My stay also came with a complimentary continental breakfast including fresh pastries and coffee, all I need to start my day. The location was absolutely perfect! I mean my room was literally adjacent to the Opera Comique.

I had the opportunity to hear live opera from my room. The location is also amazing because it’s in the middle in the Opera district, which is known for its fabulous shopping. The biggest and baddest shopping store in Paris, Galeries Lafayette , is a short walking distance away. It made me regret not bringing an extra suitcase, but I will definitely be returning to stay at this magnificent hotel gem. The hotel also has spa, indoor pool and sauna which I thoroughly enjoyed one afternoon.

Sounds and views from my hotel room

Covid Rules/ Regulations: As a physician let me go ahead and put my disclaimer in. This travel information is only for those who are vaccinated from COVID-19. I am all for making choices for your own body, but that also means being responsible and staying home as well. France is only allowing vaccinated travelers into the country unless there are emergent means for travel. You must show proof of a negative COVID test within 72 hours of arrival if you are NOT vaccinated. France has also implemented a health pass. This pass is required to enter all public places with the capacity over 50 persons, including museums, restaurants, pretty much everywhere except for shopping malls. There is an application online to receive your pass but it’s not guaranteed you will receive your pass prior to your arrival. I personally filled out the application one month before my arrival to Paris and received an email that my pass would not be available. There is an easier way to receive your health pass once you arrive. All you need to do is take your COVID vaccination card to the nearest pharmacie and for about 10 euros you can get your health pass certificate. The process took me all of 10 minutes, including walking to the pharmacy from my hotel.

Food– When it comes to Parisian food simplicity always works best for me. Pretty much everything you eat in France is going to taste good because of the freshness, less preservatives and European butter. I’m not one to make reservations for Michelin star restaraunts unless for a very special occasion. I have a tradition on my Parisian tours, where my first stop once I get settled in, is to the grocery store (see video).

I always take my travel shopping tote with me to the local Franprix or Monoprix and stock up on water, cheese, wine, chips, produce and sweets to stash in my hotel room for a quick snack. As the locals do, in the mornings I usually stop by a local boulangerie/ patisserie (bakery/ pastry store) for a fresh baguette for the day. In the afternoon if I’m not looking to eat at a local bistro or sit down restaurant I either go back to a boulangerie or grocery store for a quick sandwich or salad. See below for other food recommendations:

Hank Burger (vegan)
  1. PAUL– chain boulangerie that has good salads and pastries
  2. Hank Burger (see video)- vegan burger joint that is bomb
  3. L’as du Fallafel– best falafel place in the city
  4. Magnum ice cream– Le Marais- custom ice cream bars
  5. Ladurรฉe– macarons of course!
  6. Cafe Du Centre (see video) – Great Nicoise salad and good spot for people watching.
Lunch at George V restaurant

Culture: Honestly every time I visit Paris I have absolutely no itinerary in mind. There may be a few places I want to check out, but I usually go where the spirit leads me. During this last visit the only places I knew that were a must see were the Arc de Triomphe and a day visit to Bordeaux.

I originally bought my tickets to Paris months earlier in the year. It truly was destiny for me to be there at the same time of the wrapped art exhibit of the Arc de Triomphe. I usually do see the Arc every time I visit just because of its location on the Champs- Elysees, but this was a once an a lifetime experience indeed. This visit I decided I wanted to visit the city of Bordeaux because the last time I visited Paris I did a tour to Champagne and had an amazing time. I love wine so why not visit the original locale and learn a little more. (I’ll be dropping my Bordeaux Day Guide soon I promise!) Here are some things that I did during my last few trips that I recommend:

My last night in Paris
  1. Opera Comique (2nd arr.)- see video
  2. Centre Pompidou (3rd arr.)- for the new Georgia O’Keeffe exhibit. There is also a contemporary art and modern art floor full of exhibits.
  3. Luxemborg Gardens (6th arr.)- Just a gorgeous garden where you can literally sit and people watch all day.
  4. Monmartre (see video)- Best views of the city. There’s also a huge cathedral, great places for photos and art.
  5. Shakespeare & Co. (5th arr.)- bookstore and cafe. Quaint place to relax and read.
  6. Musรฉe Yves Saint Laurent (8th arr.) – one my absolute favorite museums in Paris. Fashion, Fashion Fashion! You actually get to see the inside of YSL’s office and studio.
  7. Pretty much any museum in Paris.- (I’ll be dropping my favorite Paris museums guide in the near future.)
Monmartre

Transportation: Paris is a very walkable city, especially if you’re centrally located somewhere like the Opera district. I always bring very comfortable shoes and get my miles in. Walking is the absolute best way to view all the monuments and people watch in my opinion. It also helps me feel less guilty and burn off all those calories from the pastries, sweets and wine I usually consume. If you’re not into trekking the entire city like myself, Paris also has a great public transportation system. The Metro offers bus and train stops everywhere within the city and beyond. You can easily buy a day/ week pass and go everywhere you need to for 2 euros each way or more. There are also other options like a river cruise down the Seine river, Uber car/ scooters and there are also city bikes dispersed throughout the city.

*Bonus– For those of you wondering how I take such amazing photos on my solo adventures it’s all down to using my phone and this amazing selfie stick/tripod. This device is the absolute best since its compact (it fit in my Dior bag in my videos), it has a built in bluetooth camera shutter and phone holder. (Click here to purchase)

Featured

Antiguan Coconut Rum Cake

Summer, summer, summertime! It’s that wonderful time of the year where the beach and a tropical drink are calling my name. I’m not going to lie, living in L.A. leaves me with this feeling the majority time of the year. The land of eternal sunshine is more synonymous with smoothies now but summertime is different. People want to be outside and enjoying the best parts of life even more, including me.

Last month before it was officially summer I was able to enjoy an incredible vacation in the Caribbean. I had the opportunity to delve into Antigua, land of 365 beaches. This beautiful country is not only known for its array of beaches, it’s also known for its rum. (See my Antiguan Travel Guide.) Rum, of course derived from all the cropped sugarcane, is a staple in Antiguan cuisine. I was able to sample some great rum while I was there and of course bring some home.

I actually created this tropical cake recipe 10 years ago after visiting another Caribbean paradise. I decided to slightly remix my original recipe to make it even more flavorful and satisfactory for summer. Check out my upgraded recipe for coconut rum cake below. It’s the perfect cake to bake ahead of time and take to the beach.

Coconut Rum Cake

Antiguan Coconut Rum Cake.

Ingredients

Cake:

ยฝ cup unsalted butter, room temperature

ยฝ cup vegetable oil

1 cup granulated sugar

1 cup light brown sugar, lightly packed

4 large eggs, room temperature

1 tsp. vanilla extract

ยฝ tsp. rum extract (optional)

2 ยพ cup AP flour

1 ยผ tsp. baking powder

ยฝ tsp. salt

ยผ cup of rum ( I used my Antiguan rum of course)

1 cup coconut milk

ยพ cup shredded coconut

Filling:

4 tbsp. unsalted butter, melted

ยฝ cup coconut milk

ยผ cup rum

Glaze:

ยฝ cup light brown sugar, packed

ยผ cup (ยฝ stick) unsalted butter

ยผ cup half and half

ยฝ tsp. vanilla extract

ยผ tsp. salt

2 cups confectioners sugar

Shredded coconut for topping

Directions

Butter and flour bundt pan.

In a large sized bowl combine flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.

Using a stand mixer with paddle attachment cream together butter, oil, sugars until light, fluffy and double in size (approximately 10 minutes. ) Add eggs one at a time to the creamed mixture. Add vanilla and rum extract. Add half of the flour mixture to the creamed mixture. Add rum. Combine last of the flour mixture. Add coconut milk. Mix well until all ingredients are incorporated. Fold in shredded coconut.

Pour batter into prepared bundt pan. Transfer to unheated oven. Bake at 325F for approximately 1 hour and 15 minutes. (Bake until tester comes out clean). Let cake cool on wire rack until slightly above room temperature.

While cake is baking make the filling. In a small saucepan melt 4 tbsp. of butter and coconut milk. Remove from heat and stir in rum. Allow mixture to cool to room temperature.

Poke cooled cake with fork or skewer, pour butter/ coconut milk mixture over cake. Allow mixture to soak into the cake at least one hour (overnight preferably). Invert cake onto wired rack.

For Glaze: Stir all ingredients together, except confectioners sugar, in a small saucepan over medium-heat heat until brown sugar dissolves and mixture comes to a boil. Reduce heat to low and add confectioners sugar. Whisk until glaze is smooth, about one minute. Remove from heat. Allow glaze to cool to room temperature. Pour glaze onto cooled cake. Top with shredded coconut.

Devour and enjoy!!

Featured

Antigua Travel Guide

Itโ€™s Gemini season! This not only means that summer is vastly approaching, but it also means itโ€™s time for my birthday celebration. I am an early Gemini. Last month I had the fabulous opportunity to finally escape the US and travel internationally for my 38th birthday. After doing some research and planning I decided to celebrate my Mamba year in the amazing Caribbean island of Antigua. I have gotten several questions from different people on where and why I chose Antigua as my first destination out of the country since COVID. I thought I would provide more information in my travel guide to clear up any questions that may still be floating around. Keep reading for all the details on Antigua.

Hammock Cove Bay

COVID requirements: Antigua only requires a negative CPR COVID test within 7 days of arrival to the country. Antigua does NOT require any self-isolation or quarantine upon arrival. As far as COVID within Antigua, they take it very seriously as far as precautions. You MUST wear a mask at all times in public places. While visiting the town all stores required proper hand sanitization before entering their facilities. The main grocery store in St. John has a hand washing station outside the store. There is also still a curfew in place of 11pm in Antigua.   

Antigua does not play about COVID

At the resort where I stayed required wearing masks at all times unless eating or relaxing on the beach.  My resort was fortunate enough as well to provide a departure COVID test for entering back into the US. The rapid test was performed at the cost of $69 and was completed within 72 hours of my departure. 

Where: I stayed at the unforgettable Hammock Cove Resort located in St. Johnโ€™s area of Antigua. To get to the resort from the airport took a $48 taxi drive (one way) which lasted about 40 minutes.  The resort is conveniently located directly across from Devilโ€™s Bridge National Park.  This amazing resort is one of the most recent constructed resorts on the island and completed construction in 2019. 

What I love most about the resort is the amazing staff! Everyone was absolutely so kind and personable. Upon arrival at the resort, after checking in, you are assigned a personal concierge team. You are also given a personal phone for direct contact to your concierge team 24/7. I had the pleasure of having Sheldon and Mark as my concierges. They were super generous and amazing at providing anything needed within minutes.  

The resort is set up with approximately 40 private individual villas. The resort is adults only which I thoroughly enjoyed. . Each villa comes with privacy, an infinity pool, and patio with a mini bar. The resort also has its own beach, a huge community infinity pool, gym and very nice spa. I definitely took advantage of the full gym with a wide array of weights, exercise and cardio equipment. The resort has two main restaurants but no nightly entertainment.  I would say that this resort is definitely catered more for couples, but I enjoyed my solo vacation to the fullest! I will most hopefully be returning to Hammock Cove soon for a baecation. 

My Villa at Hammock Cove Antigua
Gym time

Food: Hammock Cove Resort is an all inclusive resort. I loved the cuisine that was served from the main restaurants. I can honestly say that I was served a different type of fish every night I was there and they were all delicious. 

Antigua is known for its local rum so I would recommend you sample as much as you can. Hammock Cove actually has a rum bar for said occasion. 

There are some local restaurants that were recommended to me during my stay as well;

  1. Roti King (Roti/ Caribbean fast food) 
  2. Fredโ€™s Belgian Waffles and Ice Cream (Belgian waffles/ dessert) 
  3. Sandra Beach Shop Bar and Grill (Seafood) 
  4. Cutieโ€™s Bar & Restaurant (Carribean food) 
  5. The Larder (International) 
What to do in Antigua

Activities: 

I highly recommend doing a boat tour and a separate land tour to enjoy all the great spots on the island. Below I listed some places I highly recommend visiting during your visit to Antigua. 

Standing in front of Hell’s Gate
  1. Devilโ€™s Bridge National Park- This place is located in the Willikies area of Antigua. This limestone arch is a gorgeous overlook of the Atlantic Ocean. It has the unfortunate history of being the place where enslaved Africans would commit suicide to prevent continuing life in the sugarcane fields. 
  2. Great Bird Island- This spot is a great place to snorkel, take photos and swim but there is not much else around. Make sure to bring plenty of water and sunscreen. This island is only reachable via boat tour. Hammock Cove had its own boat tour I was able to purchase. (You can purchase other recommended boat tour here.)
  3. Fort James- British fort built in the 17th century to protect the entrance of St. John’s harbor. This is a must see historical site. There are also some nice beaches and places to picnic nearby. Iโ€™m blessed to actually have friends on the island of Antigua who served as my personal tour guide. (Here is a recommended tour guide you can purchase here.) 

Please see my video for other activities available on the island of Antigua. 

To summarize my week in Antigua, I had an absolutely amazing time relaxing, reflecting and living my best life! I am very glad that I did my research before deciding on this West Indian paradise. This place was everything I needed: colors, calmness and culture. I was able to recharge my batteries to the fullest and simultaneously live my life to the fullest. I canโ€™t wait to return to Antigua because I definitely will be coming back.

Cheesing on Great Bird Island
Just casually enjoying my drink on the beach

Best spots in Paris for photos! (Besides the Eiffel Tower)

After almost a decade (gasp!) of traveling to Paris I have become very familiar with the city. In my mind, I feel like an expert of the best city in the world. I have walked through Paris back, forth and all around enough to know it very well. Paris is absolutely filled with historical sites, monuments and an overall beautiful aesthetic. Everyone knows about the Eiffel Tower and its surrounding park grounds. The Eiffel Tower attracts the most tourists from all over the world. Millions of people, (approximately 7 million), visit this tourist spot each year making it one of busiest and most crowded places in the city.

After visiting Paris so many times, I try to avoid the tourist traps and do as the locals do. Paris is a picturesque wonderland, so I thought I would showcase some other beautiful places to see. These spots are less crowded and great places to get those pristine Paris pictures without having to visit the Eiffel tower.

See my Paris Photo Guide below. I even provide ALL the fashion details for each post.

Enjoy!

Best Spots for Paris Photos

๐Ÿ“Trocadero, 4th Arrondissement (Arr.)

Outfit details:

Dress: Asos (Buy similar one here)

Handbag: Brandon Blackwood

Shoes: Vince Camuto

Beret: Purchased in Paris (Buy similar one here)

๐Ÿ“Monmartre, 18th Arr.

Outfit details:

Click here for further outfit info.

๐Ÿ“Arc de Triomphe on Avenue des Champs- Elysees, 8th Arr.

Outfit details:

Click here for further outfit info.

๐Ÿ“ Jardin Ervan (Boutique de tulipes- Jeff Koons), 8th Arr.

Outfit details:

Rainbow blouse: The Kemist (Buy similar one here)

Pants: Jay Godfrey (Buy similar ones here)

Handbag: Dior (Buy similar one here)

๐Ÿ“Luxembourg Gardens (or any park/ garden in Paris), 6th Arr.

Outfit details:

Click here for further outfit info.

๐Ÿ“ Pont de l’Alma, 7th Arr.

Outfit details:

French print dress: Rue La La (Buy similar one here)

Paris Crossbody Clutch: Amazon

Ballet flats: Asos

Pink Tights: Nordstrom (Buy similar ones here)

๐Ÿ“ Any bridge over the Seine river (This was taken at Pont Louis-Philippe), 4th Arr.

Pink blouse: Vince Camuto (Buy similar one here)

Rainbow pants: The Kemist

Pink Crossbody: Dior (Buy similar one here)

Pink slides: Dior (Buy similar ones here)

๐Ÿ“ Centre Pompidou, 3rd Arr.

Outfit details:

Click here for further outfit info.

๐Ÿ“Grand ร’pera, 2nd Arr.

Outfit details:

High waisted jeans: Target

Corset bodysuit: Asos (Buy similar one here)

Ballet flats: Asos

Paris Crossbody clutch: Amazon

๐Ÿ“ร’pera Comique, 2nd Arr.

Outfit details:

High waisted jeans: Target

Corset bodysuit: Asos (Buy similar one here)

Ballet flats: Asos

Paris Crossbody clutch: Amazon

๐Ÿ“Random doorways, (this photo was taken in the 2nd Arr.)

Tutu top: Shopsonyabees (Buy similar one here)

Biker shorts: Nike

Pink Crossbody bag: Dior (Buy similar one here)

Pink slides: Dior (Buy similar ones here)

๐Ÿ“Triadou Haussman Restaurant (or any beautiful Parisian bistro), 9th Arr.

White blouse: Asos

High waisted jeans: Target

Ballet flats: Asos

Headscarf: Hermes (Buy similar one here)

Pink clutch: Dior (Buy similar one here)

๐Ÿ“Random quiet streets and alleyways, (this was taken in the 2nd Arr).

Outfit details:

Pink bodysuit: Amazon (Buy similar one here)

High waisted jeans: Target

Box clutch: Brandon Blackwood

Shoes: Puma (Buy similar ones here)

Sunglasses: Prada (Buy similar ones here)

Bow Brooch: Chanel (Buy similar one here)

Cuban Black Bean Stew

Three years ago I had the opportunity to travel to Havana, Cuba for a week of vacation. That year was definitely a world wind of travel, as my Cuba trip was sandwiched in between my visits to England and Morocco. I am so very grateful for the small window to time I was able to visit the once restricted country. Cuba being so close and full of culture was definitely a must to explore. I encourage everyone to visit Cuba at least once in their lifetime. I am trying to make my way back soon myself.

This Caribbean island is of course known for its fascinating 1950s colorful aesthetic seen in the architecture and classic cars. The fusion of Spanish and African is apparent throughout Cuban music, dance, history and cuisine! While I was in Cuba I definitely enjoyed the flavorful, fresh dishes. Every morning I looked forward to my Cuban breakfast made of fresh fruits, Cuban bread and the strong full bodied coffee. It was during my second evening of my Cuban adventure that I first discovered the best tasting black beans I had ever experienced.

I decided to walk a few blocks from where I was staying in Old Havana to enjoy an authentic Cuban dinner. I ordered this amazing fresh grilled fish dinner that came with a side of some savory legumes. The beans were so delectable and full of flavor. You could tell with each bite that some serious love and time had gone into these beans. I just had to discover how I could recreate such full flavor once I returned home.

I purchased my authentic Cuban cookbook prior to my departure back to the States as tradition. Once I got back to Los Angeles I perused through my book and found the source of Cuban black beans flavor. Cuban sofrito is the base of many Cuban recipes. It’s that umami flavor you taste when eating Cuban food like beans, rice and stews. The primary ingredients inย Cuban sofritoย are onions, garlic, and bell peppers. Common secondary ingredients include tomatoes, dry white wine, oregano, bay leaf, cilantro and other spices.

I decided to take my newly discovered culinary skills and create my own recipe for a delicious and palatable meal. My Cuban Black Bean Stew is made with my own sofrito recipe and some other unique flavors. It is completely vegan but I promise you won’t even miss the meat. This stew can be made and served at any time of the year as well. This is honestly one of my favorite recipes because it’s so versatile. I usually like to eat alone with garnishes I mention below. I also like to serve it as nachos, tacos, enchiladas, etc. This recipe makes a large quantity, but it also freezes very well so no worries.

Check out my recipe below and make sure you save this one!

Cuban Black Bean Stew

Step-by-step video Cuban Black Bean Stew

Ingredients

1 medium onion, quartered (about 1 cup)

10 garlic cloves, peeled

1 large bell pepper or 4 miniature peppers, cut into large pieces

1 Anaheim (or large mild pepper), seeded and cut into large pieces

1 tsp. dried oregano

1 tsp. cumin

1 tbsp. chili powder

2 tbsp. ketchup

2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce

1 quart (32oz.) reduced-sodium vegetable broth

1 can (1 ยฝ cups) canned chopped tomatoes

1 ยฝ cups of water

32 oz. dried black beans or 8 cans rinsed but not drained

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 tbsp. vegetable oil

1 bunch cilantro, for garnish

juice of ยฝ lime, for garnish

Thinly sliced scallions, for garnish

Vegan grated cheddar, for garnish

Directions

Make black beans. In a large pot add black beans and triple the amount of water. To the pot add 3 bay leaves, onion scraps and peppers scraps and allow beans to soak overnight. Once beans have finished soaking overnight, cover the pot and simmer until the beans are tender, an hour or more. Remove vegetable scraps and bay leaves from the beans. Add salt to taste after beans have finished cooking. Allow beans to cool.

Meanwhile, make a sofrito. Add onion, garlic cloves, bell pepper and Anaheim pepper to food processor or blender. Pulse vegetables until they are finely chopped, almost a paste consistency. This is your sofrito.

In a large heavy pot or dutch oven add vegetable oil and cook on medium heat until oil begins to smoke. Stir in the sofrito and continue to stir until fragrant and begins to stick to the bottom of the pot, about 4 minutes. Stir in the oregano, cumin, chili powder and cook until you can smell it, about 1 minute. Stir in ketchup and Worchestershire sauce and cook for another minute. Deglaze bottom of the pot by adding the broth, tomatoes and water and scrapping of bits off bottom. Cover pot and allow stew to simmer for approximately 5-10 minutes. Stir in the beans, turn the heat to medium-high and bring to a boil. Adjust the heat so the soup is bubbling gently and cook 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Allow stew to cool to above room temperature.

Place stew in a bowl. Garnish the black bean stew with vegan cheese, cilantro, green onions and fresh lime juice.

This stew gets better the longer it sits, so its even better the next day!