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I know, it’s been a while since my last post. I’ve been busy traveling! So, without further ado, here is my most recent journey. Top 3 side trips from Rio De Janeiro:

1. Buzios.

Dubbed as “the hamptons of Brasil”, Buzios was by far my favorite city in Brasil. It’s a small, charming fishing village, filled with lovely boutiques and has an incredibly nightlife. Only a 2.5 hour bus ride from Rio, Buzios is easy to get to, and definitely worth the trip. I highly recommend staying at Pousada Abracadabra or Casa Brancas (they are sister hotels and you can use the facilities at both hotels). Rent a buggy for the day and visit the 25 beaches in the area.

1. Buzios sunset.

2. View from pool deck at Hotel Casa Brancas.

3. Our buggy from the 1970s for R$150/day.

2. Ilha Grande.

If you’re the nature loving type, Ilha Grande (prounced Ill-la granja) is the perfect getaway for you. Ilha Grande is a 1 hour boat ride from Angra Dos Reis, which is a 2.5 hour bus ride from Rio. The island is beautiful and has no cars or ATMS, so make sure you bring enough cash. Best thing we did on the trip was to rent a speed boat for a day (~$100 pp) with 3 other couples to tour the entire island. You can only see the entire island with a speed boat, so don’t bother with a slowboat. We went swimming, snorkeling and had a delicious lunch. If you visit Brasil, you MUST order Muqueca (fish or seafood stew w/ coconut milk), which I tried for the first time on this island.

4. The entire island was pretty much a tropical rainforest!

5. Saw a turtle snorkeling at this beach

6. Pousada Sankay, our mini-resort.

3. Florianopolis.

If you’re sick of secluded relaxation, head on over to Florianopolis (locals call it Floripa). An easy 2 hour flight from Rio, Floripa is known as “the St. Tropez of Brasil”. It is a well developed island that has over 40 beaches. If you’re looking to “ball out”, rent one of the mansions in Jurere Internacionale, where all the rich Brasilians and international celebrities stay. The day and nightlife in Floripa is incredible, however, you have to pay a hefty price to party. Some clubs cost $300 cover for men. But hey, you’re only in Floripa once!

7. Club P-12 was well worth the hefty price.

8. Rent a bed for the day and relax!

Initially, the idea of going to a place like Helsinki, Finland sounds super awesome.  However, my 2 days there turned out to be quite a disappointment. To be honest, I would never recommend anyone visit there on vacation, when there are so many other cooler cities to go to, no offense. Here are the things it lacked –

1. good shopping
2. warm weather
3. good looking people
4. beautiful architecture/sites to visit

However, since this is a travel tip blog, I will still fulfill my duties and give you recommendations of things to do if you do ever find yourself stuck in Helsinki. English is prevalent throughout the city so no worries if you haven’t been brushing up on your Finnish.

Stay.
If you go, you should try staying at the Klaus K hotel. It’s one of the Design Hotels, which is this awesome chain of super trendy (think W, but more expensive) hotels around the world (mostly outside of the US). The hotel had very awesome shampoos/body wash from their spa. The highlight of my entire trip was eating at their Italian restaurant, Toscanini – I know you’re thinking, “Good Italian in Finland??!” It was seriously the best pasta I’ve ever had. In my life! full stop.  (and yes, I have been to Italy). I would seriously fly back just to enjoy that meal again.

helsinki_klaus

Eat.

So other than Toscanini, I did enjoy some delish seafood at a cool restaurant called Fish Market. We stumbled onto it searching on the 50 best restaurants in Finland. It came up as #12. Very cute ambiance, food was good, overall a very satisfying experience. I ate fish sticks (I know, silly of me), which are pictured below.  Other than that, I do recommend you trying some Indian food in Helsinki. I learned that Helsinki is one of the best cities for Indian food outside of India, thanks to all the Indian employees at Nokia. Random huh?

helsinki_fishmarket

Shop.

Unfortunately, I learned the hard way that most stores in Helsinki do not open until 11:00am or sometimes even 12:00pm! There really isn’t great clothes shopping in Helsinki, but you can find great stores for furniture, decorations and knickknacks. Stores all look very trendy and “Scandinavian”, but sorry girls, it is definitely no Paris or Italy.

helsinki_popot

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Despite it’s horrendous weather, London is probably one of my favorite cities in the world. It’s very easy and boring to do the touristy things there so I always make it my goal to hang out in London as if I already live there. Lucky for me, I have some great friends to make that easy for me. Here’s 3 must do/gos on a trip.

1. Fulham match

img_2883

ok so I’m actually an Arsenal fan, but tickets to the Arsenal game was over 200 pounds so I had to settle for the crappy Fulham game that resulted in a nil-nil score. If you ever go to London, I HIGHLY recommend going to an Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool or Fulham match. It is so fun!! So much chanting, screaming, cheering – I have never attended a sports game so entertaining and with fans so enthusiastic.

2. Nandos

img_2906

If you’re on a budget and you want delicious chicken from South Africa, Nandos is a MUST. Their Peri-Peri sauce is amazing. I’m drooling just thinking about it. It’s a chain so no matter where you stay, there will probably be a Nandos nearby.

3. Kensington Roof Gardens

img_2905

I LOVE this club! I have never been to a more beautiful and more fun club in London. The best time to go is during the summer, where the club has 3 bars set up in the garden. The garden is 1.5 acres on the roof of the building and is modeled after the Alhambra garden in Spain, the English Woodland garden and the Tudor garden. They used to have real flamingos up there, until some stupid drunk kids threw a flamingo off the roof (true story!) The nightclub itself has a great indoor dance and bottle service area as well. However, like all fantastic places in London, it comes with a hefty price. Not only is it a members only club, but there is a 25 quid cover charge even after getting on the list, a horribly long line and a very selective door policy. My recommendation? Either know a member, know a friend that works at Virgin (it’s owned by them) or go to london parties and try to get on a guestlist from there. And no, being a hot girl in a hoochie dress won’t get you in without any of the above steps.

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3 restaurants to try in Birmingham Alabama.

1. Niki’s – mmmm fried chicken. cafeteria style. when I asked my driver where I could get good southern food, he said, “dem blacks call it soul food”. wtf??

fried okra and their cafeteria line (source)

2. Dreamland (http://www.dreamlandbbq.com/)- Their slogan reads: “Ain’t nothing like’ em nowhere”. Another recommendation by my driver for excellent BBQ. You can even order their delicious sauces and slabs of ribs online.

3. Satterfields (http://www.satterfieldsrestaurant.com/) – The only place I actually ate at. Great fried oysters (pictured below from their website). This is definitely a super fancy place and not the place to go if you’re looking for some good ol’ “soul food”.

Happy chowing.

Useful Links:
Alabama Tourism Department Website

Alabama State Website

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3 unforgettable destinations to attend (or have) a wedding

1. Ritz Calrton, Half Moon Bay, California

Nothing could be more classier, grander and colder. Beautiful views, windy as hell, as traditional as it gets.

2. Istanbul, Turkey

Nothing could be more exotic, glamorous and baller. Water front views, black tie event, Sultan’s boat, fireworks galore, need I say more?

3. Pueblo Bonito Sunset Beach, Los Cabos, Mexico

Nothing could be more charming, sandier or romantic. Dinner on the beach, Mariachi bands, pina coladas and tequila shots all night long.

can’t wait for the honeymoon!

(images by kewlio)

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Central Europe. Ahhhh, how I have missed thee. How I have missed your sexy accents, magnificent palaces, and blurry absinthe filled nights.

If you’re traveling through Europe and you’re so over paris/london/barcelona/florence, head on east for some diversity and craziness. Most travelers that decide to make the quick trek to central europe will find that there are 3 cities worth visiting in the span of 7-8 days. All 3 cities are close enough to each other and a popular enough route that you can take the eurorail for 4-5 hours between each city and arrive without any travel agitation. Due to their location, you should visit the following cities in order or reverse order.

1. Budapest – Budapest was a fantastic city. I really enjoyed taking the walking tour through the city and learning about Austrian-Hungarian history. Budapest is also home to several famous thermal bath houses, which cannot be missed. A couple famous ones worth checking out are Gellert and Szechenyi. They have indoor, outdoor, single sex, co-ed and different temperature pools/baths. All of the baths are filled with thermal water which is good for your bones and joints so you’ll see many old fogies lounging in there all day long. One last thing to do in Budapest is to take an evening boat ride on the Danube. All of the major buildings along the river will light up at night, which makes for a beautiful, romantic cruise sipping on champagne and listening to mozart.

pictures: 1. Gellert outside pool 2. outside another bath house 3. the Danube 4. the famous Chain Bridge

2. Vienna – Vienna is the most gorgeous and most grand city of the three. Vienna is also home to the most magnificent cathedrals, palaces, opera house and chocolate cakes (visit Demel). Your visit to the different palaces will make you bitter at your mom for having no royalty roots. Be sure to visit the Schönbrunn Palace to learn about the Habsburg monarchary as well as their beautiful garden with a fun maze to walk through. Finally, be sure to visit St. Stephen’s Cathedral, Austria’s most eminent gothic edifice.

pictures: 1. opera house 2. st stephen’s cathedral 3. gardens of Schönbrunn Palace 4. maze in the gardens of Schönbrunn Palace

3. Prague – The most fun and craziest city of the three. Prague is really famous for 3 things – the Charles Bridge, the Prague Orloj (Astronomical clock) and debaucherous nights (after heavy Absinthe consummation). The city is a great place to walk around in, but be sure to have footwear that is forgiving to cobblestoned streets. I also discovered one of my favorite hotels in the world in Prague. If you’re looking for a great deal on a boutique luxury hotel in an awesome location, stay at the Hotel Savic (http://www.hotelsprague.cz/). I shall say no more. Just be sure pick me up another bottle of Absinthe before you leave 🙂

pictures: 1. view from the Charles Bridge 2. Orloj – be there at the top of every hour and watch it go!

For more pictures, see: http://www.flickr.com/photos/wearie/sets/72157601932866430/

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If you ever have the luxury and time to visit Thailand, Chiang Mai is a city that cannot be missed. although Thailand is most known for its spectacular beaches, metropolitan capital and plentiful lady boys, many people forget the beauty that surround its mountain side villages. according to wikipedia, Chiang Mai is the largest and most culturally significant city in northern Thailand. It is only a $25 overnight train ride or a short $40 flight from Bangkok. We spent 4 days in Chiang Mai, 3 of which was with eagle house treks. it was one of the best experiences of my life. http://www.eaglehouse.com/.

for about $50 total, we received:

  • 3 day trek through chiang mai’s mountain side, rice paddies and jungle
  • guides and food porters
  • a trip to the market where our guides purchased live chickens and fresh veggies for our next 3 days worth of meals
  • all meals cooked by our guides
  • elephant ride
  • lodging in villagers huts with no electricity or bathroom
  • showers in the murky river (and stares from locals who have never seen a bikini before)
  • tree leaves as toilet paper
  • a bamboo raft ride (built by our guides) back home through rapids
  • a near death experience falling off our raft (ok slight exaggeration)
  • trip to Chiang Mai’s largest temple

it was definitely the best adventure i’ve ever had. below are the pictures from our trek:

descriptions:
1. trekking 2. bridge we had to cross 3. our dinner table and bed 4. fried rice lunch packed by our guides 5. elephant ride 6. rice paddies 7. our raft back home (note that it is almost sinking) 8. countryside scenery

3 recommendations for a 3 night stay in chiang mai:

  1. 2-day Eagle House trek (you can pick anywhere from 1 – 4 night treks)
  2. book a room at Tamarind Village for your 3rd night
    http://www.tamarindvillage.com/index.htm
    it is such a nice luxury hotel – our room in the summer was only $80/night. (by far my fave hotel during our 1 month trip)
    make sure you book through asiarooms.com ahead of time for the cheaper rate
  3. check out the night market on your 3rd night
    according to One Stop Chiang Mai: the chiang mai night market is considered legendary and certainly one the cheapest places for tourists to shop in Thailand, due its close proximity to the source of products and the lower cost of living in Chiang Mai. It is situated along a three block stretch of Chan Klan road in the heart of the city, within walking distance of most hotels. Clustered around it are many restaurants and other useful services, such as camera shops, travel agents, internet cafes and more. One popular activity is to have your portrait done all dressed up in traditional Thai costume.
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