Amsterdam is the “Venice of the North” with its maze of canals, flower laden bridges, and buildings with stepped gabbled facades. Amsterdam was the book-end destination for our summer trip. We planned an intentional stop-over in Amsterdam on our way to Marrakesh. It was not only a better deal, but it was a great opportunity to experience the culture, arts and food of a great city. It was nice to go back to Amsterdam after 18 years.
Taxis in Amsterdam can be pricey. Airport taxis are actually, usually lower priced than Uber. The public transportation is a great option and you can go to the city from the airport. They are very safe and convenient options. When you buy train tickets, be very careful to buy for the right train company. At the same train station there are several different companies selling tickets (kiosk) with different transport routes. Also, be sure to scan when you get on and off, or you will get a fine. There were a few times where they checked our tickets.
Our first stop was a Windmill of course! There are still 1200 windmills in Holland today. Windmills were used for many purposes: to pump water from lowlands, to press and grind all sorts of substances, to sawing wood.
For the evening, we decided to roam the streets of Amsterdam Centrum. Just outside of Central Station you see bikes parked for blocks, lots of water, and crowds of fun. We stopped for dinner at Cannibal Royale https://cannibaleroyale.nl. Yes, it is a fantastic name for a place with great meat dishes, and of course fries as well. I highly recommend the hamburgers at this place!
PS: For my looks, check my insta @hevilabajaj
The next day we visited the museum of Anne Frank in the lovely bohemian neighborhood of Jordaan. I highly recommend scheduling your visit on-line months before your visit, they open to buy tickets 2 months before your date. The kids prepared by reading the Diary of Anne Frank, of course… Plan on spending at least 1-1.5 hours visiting the house and museum. Be sure to bring your Kleenex.
After lunch we took a stroll through lovely Vondel Park. After touring the streets of Amsterdam, we stopped for a drink at the Dylan Amsterdam.
The Van Gogh museum is a must visit in Amsterdam as well. The art collection was amazing and the kids loved the ability to customize their own audio tour and learn about each piece of wonderful art. I also bought the tickets online 2 months in advance.
The following day, we visited some friends and toured Leiden by boat. It is the “City of Discoveries” and the home of Rembrandt van Rijn.
Just outside of Amsterdam, there are some beautiful beaches with nice beach clubs and restaurants. We visited Noordwijk, and had lunch at Beachclub O., beautiful view and setting.
Rijks museum is a must see in Amsterdam, no need to purchase tickets in advance. I recommend the audio tour, it is very useful and captured the kids attention.
Our last day in Amsterdam, we enjoyed walking thru the city and of course eating the famous fries. What a great city to visit, lots of history.
Why is Marrakesh the Red City for? Is it the color of the sweltering heat? Is it the spices of cinnamon, saffron, and harissa? Is it the interlocking terra-cotta bricks and clay tagines? It is all of it, Marrakesh has it all: culture, food, architecture, and shopping.
We landed in Marrakesh Menara Airport as our entry point into Morocco. We took Transavia airlines from Amsterdam. Transavia is the low cost airline owned by KLM. We decided to fly to Amsterdam first and then to Morocco, instead of going directly. This was because the flights were cheaper and we were also able to tour Amsterdam in the same trip. I will write a separate blog post regarding Amsterdam.
The airport was quite easy to navigate. Immigration was easy and US citizens don’t need a separate visa. The baggage claim and customs was also problem free. Although it is a muslim country, there is still an allowance for alcohol for non-muslims. There was also a duty free store at arrival selling alcohol but the stores in Amsterdam were less expensive. While we had our hotel arrange a driver for 25 Euros, later we found out that a normal pink taxi with a meter or tabled price would have been much cheaper. As a reminder, don’t forget your convertors from US to European plugs.
We began our stay in Marrakesh at the vibrant Riad WOW. Riads used to be stately homes of wealthy citizens of Morocco. They are normally multi-stories around an Andalusian-style courtyard, and the Riad Wow was no exception. It is well located a few short blocks from Jemma el Fnaa, the main market square. At check-in we were greeted by the warm Moroccan hospitality with mint tea and biscuits. Our room was very spacious and accommodates families well. There was a separate room with two twin beds for the kids. The cable TV was fairly difficult to navigate with mostly German channels but my husband did find CNBC Europe.
The first night, we went to one of the best restaurants in Morocco and it was only a couple blocks from the Riad Wow. We went to Maison Arabe (9.2 on Foursquare.com). They had a great Moroccan and international menu as well as great wine and drinks. The restaurant is within Hotel La Maison Arabe. The hotel also looked fabulous with a nice pool, lovely architecture, great patio, jazz bar, and spa.
The breakfast that was included at Riad Wow was also a real treat on the rooftop. The fresh orange juice in Marrakesh is fantastic. The hotel offered egg omelets and lots of different local breads as well. The cappuccinos were from powder, but the coffee and espresso were good.
For the first day, we ventured into the city straight into the Souk markets. The markets are a visual feast! There are specific sections of the market and the section for rugs is well hidden and is near Café Des Epices. In the markets you can find everything. We saw baby manta rays that are used for aquariums, to turtles, to chameleons used as house pets to eat flies. There are a lot of shops selling traditional Moroccan clothing, housewares, and spices. The pricing was reasonable, but the trick is to ask for a price that is 50-60% off their starting price, and stick to your guns and be ready to walk away! That being said, if you like something, buy it, because finding the same store again is almost impossible.
We stopped for lunch at Le Jardin. It was a very charming courtyard restaurant embued in shades of green. The kefta sandwich was divine.
After twisting and turning through the market, we finally came up on the main square and encountered the famous snake charmers. These charmers were the highlight of the square, but they can be quite aggressive for you to play with the snakes and pay for the privilege. Before engaging them, I highly recommend setting a price with for what you want to do with their snakes. They will bargain hard!
After the main square, we walked all the way down to Bahia Palace. While the palace was not furnished, the architecture was very authentic and exquisite. The doorways, ceilings, fountains, courtyards, were all photo worthy.
After the palace we stopped for a sweet break at a local family owned bakery, which was a delight.
At night we returned to the souks to find a whole different ambience as the lights and colors amplified. It was clear local Moroccans come to the Souks to shop at night, when it is much cooler. Our objective of winding through the Souks was to dine at Nomad.
Non-muslims are not allowed into mosques, so we only took pictures from the outside.
We became friends with one of the pink taxi drivers who offered us to take us out of the city for a very low cost as well. Our driver was Youssef. His english was very broken but he was nice guy. I would be happy to share his contact if you need. Just email me.
The next day, we left the city and went to our next hotel in the foothills of the Atlas Mountains, Kasbah Bab Ourika http://www.kasbahbabourika.com/ The property was a paradise in the desert mountains. Once again, we were greeted with a tour of the lovely property and some mint tea on the terrace with a lovely view of the mountains. The hotel was high enough to experience a refreshing whisp of the desert breeze. Once again, we had a great room that accommodate our family of four. It was almost our own private level with a view of the mountains. The property offered a lot of great options to relax and enjoy. There were lots of games for the kids and the pool also had a picturesque view of the mountains. The service at the pool was great, including a surprise fruit sorbet. The vegetation on the property included plenty of different fruit trees and an olive grove. We had all of our meals at the Kasbah on their patio terrace. All the meals were delicious and reasonable. Moroccan wines were also very light and refreshing which suited the climate. They also had food options for the kids.
We also arranged our camel trek through the kasbah. While it was scary when the camel begins to stand and starts walking downhill, we also soon accustomed to our friends and appreciated their gracefulness. Their caretaker had a clear command over their behavior, down to the occasional stare at them to keep them in line. We took our camel ride down to the Ourika river and back to the kasbah.
The Moroccan breakfast at the hotel was extremely special. The omelet came in a sizzling tagine. Our visit to the mountains was very short and there was a lot more we could have explored with waterfalls, gorge, and a 5 hour drive to the sahara. Our itinerary was to head back to the outskirts of Marrakech.
We went to Palmeraie neighborhood about 10 minutes outside of Marrakech. It was a great choice to continue our relaxation at very clam and peaceful hotel called Dar Zemora http://www.darzemora.com/ The hotel was originally constructed as a home of a local lawyer and was later expanded and converted into a hotel by an English couple. There are only a few suites, so the experience was very intimate and you get to know the other guests as well. The food at the hotel was spectacular as well. Once again, our room was almost like a home, with room for all of us. We had a lovely patio outside of our room as well. Each afternoon at the hotel, you are welcomed with mint tea and biscuits. Again, there was great food options for the kids, including dessert.
We took a taxi with our favorite driver Youssef to Le Jardin Majorelle. This garden was created over many years by Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre. It was lovely to walk through the beautifully curated gardens which seem to reflect all o the colors and life of Marrakesh. It was a great blend of modern and traditional style. The garden also included a very interesting museum on Berber culture as well. There was a beautiful boutique and café as well. After two great nights at the Dar Zemora, we went to our next hotel…
For our final couple days in Marrakesh, we stayed at La Mamounia http://www.lamamounia.com. Instead of mint tea, we were welcomed with almond milk with rose water and dates. We were upgraded to a suite with a separate room for the kids and the room at a lovely balcony with a view of the expansive garden of the hotel. For our anniversary were also given champagne in our room! The hotel has a lot of high-end boutique stores, an indoor and outdoor pool as well as an indoor hot tub at the spa.
One of our most tasty meals at Marrakesh was at Al Fassia. It was a lot of food and very succulent. The restaurant only had women working there. We regretted that we didn’t get the multi-plate morrocan salad. The kefta tagine and the chicken kebabs were great. The desert was also very good.
The next night, we had dinner at another great Riad in the area called La Sultana. The whole hotel including the rooftop was very beautiful. The live, traditional Moroccan music really suited the ambience.
The next day, we also had breakfast at a café only a couple blocks from the hotel at La Table du Marche. Then we also had a great pre-airport meal at the famous Grand Café de la Poste. The ambiance was almost like being in an French African outpost. The food was very good, especially French curry monk fish kebabs.
At the airport, our Priority Pass membership allows us access to the Pearl Lounge. It was a nice pitstop before the night flight with plenty of food and drink. The kids were also busy on the available computers.
Morocco was a very inspiring trip. It was authentically colorful and really engaged our hearts and minds. We hope to return to Morocco one day to see Essoueira on the coast, the blue city of chefchaoeun, and the pink city of Ait Benhaddou which was featured in Game of Thrones.
While in Morocco, I also recommend getting a Hammam. It is a scrub of a life time. It is truly a unique experience. It is a must do while in Morocco.
I thought it would be interesting to share few things about our trip to Peru. I have been getting a lot of questions. It wasn’t an easy trip to plan, but after couple months of researching and talking to few friends that had been there, I was able to put this amazing trip together.
Lets start with few travel tips: driving to a major airport versus a regional airport can save you time overall and a lot of money. The remote parking is pretty reasonable as long as you drop off all your bags at the check-in first. Leave enough time so as not to not be rushed. The baggage rules are changing a lot these days. Definitely make sure you know how much baggage you can take your whole trip on all the flights (including inter-country) and plan accordingly. We tend to put our heaviest items in our carry-ons. For those with kids, extra clothes is always a must. Make sure the devices are downloaded with everything they need, especially the kindle. Finally, nothing replaces books. TSA precheck is always helpful and a lot of credit cards offer it as part of their benefit.
If you are using miles, book early. 330 days in advance to be exact. Sometimes, you can use miles for each way on different airlines to get the flights and the “price” you want. Always check the flexible dates option. Usually, it helps to start with the aggregator sites like Kayak then go direct to the airline site to book. These days, you have to watch out for the “basic” economy fares because they are very limited, aside from not including carry-on and checked bags, they also don’t let you choose your seat in advance, unless you pay.
A credit card with the Priority Pass membership was very helpful. It is usually a benefit of the luxury travel cards, and well worth it if you travel. You can bring a guest to a designated restaurant and spend up to $56 total excluding tip. At Dulles terminal C, you can eat at Chef Geoff instead of going to a lounge. Although this benefit may end.
We arrived into Lima around 10 PM at night. The airport taxis offered right after customs before you exit the main doors are usually the safest option. Uber also works, but you need to know that you need to meet them in the parking lot outside the arrivals area. Be sure to hit the ATM at the airport with the Visa/Mastercard symbols because not all ATMs in the city have this capability, at least our Chase account didn’t work at some of the ATMs. It did work at the Scotia Bank ATMs.
The best areas to stay in Lima are San Isidro, Miraflores, and Barranco. The first night we stayed at Hyatt Centric San Isidro. It is a fairly new hotel with modern, but cozy, deco. On the roof top is a very nice bar and pool. However, children are not allowed on the rooftop bar area, even at a table. I think this is the regulation in Lima. With Globalist status at the Hyatt, we were treated well with a great breakfast buffet for all of us and a nice welcome gift.
On our first day, we took a Uber down to the Barranco neighborhood to visit a few of the museums, walk around, and grab lunch. The MATE museum by Mario Testino was very interesting. He creates photography of celebrities that catches them in vibrant moments. However, the most interesting part of the exhibit was on the 2nd floor where the traditional Peruvian garb was featured. Oh yeah, I also loved the tribute to Princess Diana. The Museo Pedro del Osma museum was also very beautiful. The architecture and the gardens themselves were a delight to stroll through. We bought a combo ticket which allowed us to go to both museums for a lower price. This museum was a nice introduction to the Inca history as well, it was a great starting point with the kids. The café at the museum was quite charming with great desserts!
After the museums we walked north on the main thorough fare to put our name on the list at an amazing restaurant named Isolina. Jose del Castillo Eating at Isolina our first day really set the bar high for our Peruvian culinary experience. We put our name on the list and walked through the neighborhood some more. There are lot of interesting artists workshops in the neighborhood as well. As we were waiting for our table, we also had our first Pisco sours which were so frothy and flavorful. I would highly recommend all the dishes we ordered.
After a late lunch, we were going to need to skip dinner, but we still left our hotel to begin exploring the dinner/nightlight scene in San Isidro. We grabbed some drinks at Tanta, while the kids still ate again. The dessert selection at Tanta was very sophisticated as well with a French influence.
The next day we took an Uber to the airport to beginning our journey to Cusco. LATAM airlines is part of the OneWorld alliance, but many other airlines such as Avianca also fly to Cusco. Our friend in Lima had referred us to a driver in Cusco who was waiting for us at the airport with a van. It was a great tip to be able to have a reliable driver for all of our Cusco related adventure.
We arrived at the JW Marriott Cusco. The first order of business was to drink the Coca tea to help with the altitude change. This hotel was literally historical, modern, and charming all at the same time. The hotel took 6 years and $75MM dollars to build. It was former monastery that had been through a series of destructions between earthquakes and Spanish conquistadores. The hotel has a beautiful courtyard with firepits and traditional live Peruvian music.
We took it really easy for lunch and dinner in order to adjust to the altitude. No red meat and not a lot of alcohol, but plenty of water. Also, it is good not to have the Coca tea too late in the day. We had another great Peruvian lunch at Inkazuela.http://restaurantinkazuela.com/ We took a little walk to the main plaza and visited the church. We also found our first llamas and alpacas for a photo opp, before heading back to the hotel.
Then we hit the hotel pool and hot tub. The hotel had a very interesting tour to the basement where Inca ruins are preserved, that is why it took so long to build! After the tour, the hotel also offered Pisco tasting. Finally, after the Pisco tasting, we head out for dinner to Chica, an Astrid y Gaston restaurant.
The buffet at the hotel included a gluten free station. It was very hard to think of something they didn’t have! The next day, our driver took us on a tour of the region as we headed to our next destination, Inka Del Tambo hotel in Urubamba. The drive from Cusco to Urubamba was very beautiful with many must-see places along the way. There are many cute villages along the way that specialize in Cuy (guinea pigs), blessing new cars with flowers and ornaments, Quinoa fields, large Peruvian bread, and fortune tellers. We stopped at Pizac for our first visit of Inca ruins. Then we headed to Salinas of Maras and how salt is made from the salty water underground in the mountain. Then we headed to Chincherro and finally to Urubamba.
The inka Del Tambo hotel was also fabulous. The property has a great indoor/outdoor pool as well as a therma spa. The drinks at the bar were great variations of Pisco sours. The kids enjoyed the game room complete with pool table, board games, and a PS4. The buffet at this hotel was the best of all, there were several stations of food, plus entrees to order off the menu as part of the buffet. There was also some very traditional Peruvian corn, potatoes, fruits. The hotel is also right next to the river which makes for a nice walk along their jogging trail on the property.
Our next step was to see the ruins of Ollyantambo and then hop on our train to Aguas Callientes at the base of Machu Picchu. The train ride on the A care of the Vistadome of Peru rail was a great experience. The two hour train covers about 27km between the mountain peaks of the region along the Urubambu river. There was even a nice drink and cake service on the train. Be careful with how much baggage you bring on the train as there is not a lot of place to store bags. It is advisable to obtain authorization via email from Peru rail if you are bringing more than a back-pack and a small carry-on per person.
The staff of the Inkaterra Machu Picchu Pueblo hotel met us at the train station to carry our bags through the city market, bridge, and stairs of the city. It was about a 5-10 minute walk. The hotel is a very unique property in a rainforest-like setting. The restaurant and café of the property were great options. The hotel also offers a lot of excursions through the day. We made sure that we didn’t miss the Andian bear excursion to see Kina and Pepe. It is amazing how carefully these primarily vegetarian bears eat their food! The hotel is also filled with lovely birds and plants of all kinds.
We met our guide at 6AM in the hotel lobby and boarded our 25 min bus up the mountain to Machu Picchu. We bought our tickets the night before and you need your passport for buying tickets as well as getting into Machu Picchu. It was raining in the morning, so we also bought some ponchos before boarding the bus. This was in addition to our rain jackets. Wear layers because it gets hot.
Luckily, as we began our entry to Machu Picchu, the rain subsided. While the sky was clearing up, we decided to hike with the kids for 40 minutes each way to the Sun Gate. The trail has less people and offered a great overall view of Machu Picchu. After some great pictures, we hiked back to Machu Picchu and our guide walked us through each area and explained all the rich history. Once you are there, it is really easy to understand how it took so long for Harem Bingham to rediscover Machu Picchu in the early 1900s. We also took a shorter 15-20 minute hike to Inca bridge. The bridge has wooden planks that can be removed to keep invandors from crossing. It is clear that the Inca civilization was a very advanced and thoughtful culture.
After Machu Picchu we had another night and day at the Inkaterra where we relaxed and absorbed the ambiance of the roaring rapids between towering peaks. We also collected our Peruvian trinkets in the city market and practiced our haggling and walk-away skills for effective negotiations.
After Machu Picchu, we made our multi-leg journey back to Lima. This time we stayed at the JW Marriott in Miraflores. The hotel was located with a beautiful view of the ocean and close proximity to many stores and restuarants on Larco Avenue. As a titanium elite member, the executive lounge had a lot of great options between breakfast, light lunch, happy hour, and dinner. We had to refrain from eating at the lounge in order to continue to enjoy the great restaurants of Lima.
We went to Astrid y Gaston, what a beautiful restaurant and great food.
We also went to Rafael, in my opinion, it was the best food overall.
Peru is an amazing country , they have it at all, beauty, a deep rich history, adventure, diverse landscapes, wildlife and amazing food. Machu Picchu is the new Seven Wonders of the world. A visit to Machu Picchu is a must. This trip will be in our memories forever.
Last week I went to New York City to meet my friends from Brazil
It was a wonderful time for 4 days. Sometimes it is so nice to take a break from being a full-time mom and wife. I think is is very important for the whole family. I try to disconnect and relax. My husband gets a taste of my everyday life juggling the kid’s homework, activities, …. and maybe for them to miss me a little.
We stayed at The Plaza Hotel, https://www.fairmont.com/the-plaza-new-york/. This is THE iconic and traditional hotel in NYC. We chose The Plaza for its great location and beautiful view of Central Park. …No, I didn’t get a chance to do cannonballs in the pool like the Home Alone kid…
I hope you find our itinerary as a fun suggestion for your own trip!
The Polo Bar https://www.ralphlauren.com/global-polo-bar is perfect for happy hour or dinner, we did both! You have to make a reservation weeks in advance. They have great drinks and excellent food. We sat in the fireplace room for drinks before heading to our table. Oh, and Meghan Markle, Duchess of Sussex was there too!..but of course we didn’t see her….
Mareahttp://www.marea-nyc.com is a two Michelin star, high-end seafood destination. It is in a chic Central Park South setting by Michael White, and it was one of Anthony Bourdain’s favorites. It was a perfect meal on a snowy day in NYC.
Augustine http://augustineny.com is inside the Beekman hotel in the financial district. Augustine is a classic Parisian bistro that restaurateur Keith McNally opened in November of 2016. It is super charming with great food and service.
La Mercerie Cafehttp://www.lamerceriecafe.com, also has beautiful decor and atmosphere. The service was good and every dish we ordered was excellent. The tables are kind of small even for 4 people, we were 5, so it was a little tight. You have to make reservation couple weeks in advance.
At Le Charlothttp://www.lecharlot.us/, the food was good, but it is a very tiny place and quite loud. The menu was very small, but with good selections.
The Highlight of the trip was the Michael Buble show, it was spetacular!
We also visited SoHo: where you find designer boutiques, fancy chain stores and high-end art galleries. All this makes SoHo a trendy shopping destination, especially for out-of-towners. Wevisited the Dior there, and I splurged by buying a Dior Purse that I was dreaming for couple months. A good tip: because I don’t live in NY, they shipped the purse to me and the waived the tax, so it was a better deal!
I wish I had taken more pictures, but we were having too much fun together, and I ended up not registering everything we did.
After the 4 days, I was so happy to have spent such a great time with my friends. However, I was glad to come back home to my family with more energy. A special thank you to my husband that was able to manage his work and take care of the kids. On Rriday night, I got home and they were waiting for me with a delicious dinner.
Off to the land of Crazy, Rich Asians; so I need to plan the outfits for this trip to do my part. I love a comfortable look to travel, even more when we are traveling for 23 hours until our final destination!
Bali is an exciting destination to plan fun outfits to wear. The weather is warm and their are things to do during the day as well as nice dinner destinations at night.
While I am packing, I love to plan the outfits I am going to wear, not only the clothes, but also the shoes and accessories. I take a picture of each outfit while packing, this makes my life much easier at the hotel.
January 1st we just chilled at the beach and pool to welcome 2019. The hotel has severals beautiful pools and slides for the kids. On the beach, close by the hotel, you can have a great 1 hour massage for US$10!
For dinner, we got a cab (we used Blue bird app, it worked great) and we went to Bumbu Bali 1 restaurant, authentic Balinese cuisine in a traditional crafted village home setting. The food was very tasty, we loved it. The curries arrived with several sides and garnishes as well.
Day 2: We hired a driver, for $35 a day. We told him where we would like to visit, and he planned the route for us. The driver picked us up at 8:30am at the hotel, I recommend you don’t leave the hotel too late, the traffic in Bali is very intense.
Our last stop of the day was Jungle Fish Hotel and Beach Club, it is Ubud’s famous open-air, split-level restaurant with a pool. Even if you are not a guest at the hotel, you can enjoy its Asian and Mediterranean menu selection, and also its classy club-like swim-up pool bar section, where you can listen to music, while enjoying a cocktail and snacks. You have to spend at least $50 dollars (we were 4), and you can have a cabana and towels to use the pool. It was a beautiful place with good food and an infinity pool with a view of the mountains.
After a day of touring around, our driver Dika, dropped us back at the hotel, we were so tired that we took shower and ordered room service.
Day 3: Our first stop was the GWK Cultural Park, it is the number one cultural icon in Bali. The Garuda Wisnu Kencana statue is designed to be one of the world’s largest and highest monumental statue in the world.
After the Cultural Park, we went to La Brisa Beach Club, a beautiful place with great food. All the beach clubs have a minimum to spend, but it is ok if you are planning to eat and have some drinks. Located in one of the most well known beaches in Bali, the Echo Beach. The menu is devoted to all the seafood lovers and innovative drinks. The venue decor is reminiscent of a rustic home of a Balinese fisherman.
Our last stop was visiting Uluwatu Temple, a Balinese Hindu sea temple. It is located on the cliffs of the sea. They have an amazing show that starts at 6pm. The temple has beautiful ocean views and an amazing sunset.
Before going back to the hotel, we asked our driver to drop us at Bali Collection, a mix of Dinning & Entertainment and lots of restaurants in Nusa Dua Bali. It is just a 5 minute walk to our hotel. We chose The Royal Kitchen Indian restaurant for dinner and it was delicious.
Bali was just an amazing experience for all of us…what a beautiful Island. Its spectacular mountain scenery, tropical beaches and the friendly Balinese people. It was a great family vacation. We wish we could have stayed in Bali at least 2 more days, it would be perfect to enjoy more the hotel and beach. Here are a few of my favorites moments:
When we arrived at the airport, I saw this phrase: “This is not a good bye, but see you later.” I hope that is true, it was a perfect few days.
This year (Dec. 2018 – Jan. 2019) we decided to take the kids on their first trip to Asia, this was the farthest place the kids have ever flown before. Since it was over the holidays, we were able to take a two week trip. We planned the trip rather late, than our normal, only a few months before. During the holidays, most airfares are through the roof within 6 months of traveling. We were lucky to find lower cost tickets to Singapore on Delta, what a nice surprise!
We flew Delta airlines, leaving from DC with connection through Tokyo and then on to Singapore, the kids did great on the flights. I highly recommend downloading movies on their devices ahead of time and make sure you have all our charger cables and headphones. The entertainment systems on the plane also have some games that keep them busy. Another great tip for a flight that long is compression socks and plenty of water.
We stayed at the Andaz Singapore. It is a great hotel, the service was superb and the location was perfect. There is a lot you can walk to from the hotel. The hotel has a great outdoor pool on a high floor. If you have Globalist status at Hyatt, they include a breakfast buffet that is amazing, it is 3 rooms! And as most Andaz hotels, there are complimentary beverages and snacks in the mini-bar.
December is summer in Singapore, so it was very hot. There were some brief periods of rain, but that was all!
Places we visited:
Day 1: We left the hotel and started to walk in direction towards Marina Bay, it was probably a 25 min walk, but on the way we could see a lot of the city attractions. The Marina Bay Sands is a very iconic structure in the city.
The view from the rooftop of the hotel is breathtaking. You don’t need to be a hotel guest to go to Ce La Vi, the bar on the rooftop. It is a great way to see the infinity pool as well. There is a charge per person to go to the bar, but it can be used as credit to spend on food and drinks. http://www.marinabaysands.com.
The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands http://www.marinabaysands.com/shopping.html is THE place if you are ready to do some serious shopping. They also have an extensive food court with a lot of great options. It is interesting to see the variety of Asian food all in one place.
Day 2: After the amazing breakfast at the Andaz Singapore we took a “grab”, it is the app we used to go all over, just download the app, it works like Uber and Lyft. For pick-up from the hotel, we actually indicated the gallery on the ground floor, much easier and saves time rather than having the driver come to the official lobby entrance. We visited Gardens by The Bay, it is a must see in Singapore. It was the location of the wedding in Crazy Rich Asians.
After Gardens by The Bay we went to Chinatown to visit the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple and walk around the neighborhood. The Temple is beautiful, you can really feel the peace and serenity of the religion with a brief visit.
Walking around Chinatown is fun, we went thru a lot of stores on the streets until we got to the restaurant. There are lots of authentic Chinese artifacts.
We had lunch at the world’s cheapest Michelin-Star restaurant. It is located in Chinatown with simple ambience but very succulent food.
December 29th is my birthday, and I love birthdays! I am lucky that it is during the holidays, and we are usually traveling to a special place and can celebrate together. This year we had dinner at Bam restaurant http://bam.sg/, it was a great food experience. It has a industrial-chic vibe, with an open kitchen where chef Pepe Moncayo and his team turn out a slew of Japanese-Spanish-style small plates. Below are some pictures of the food and the restaurant:
Day 3: We left our hotel and walked couple minutes to the narrowest street in Singapore, Hajiln Street. In this neighborhood, you will also find the Masjid Sultan Mosque and Malay Heritage Centre. A little further east in the city, there are Peranakan Colorful Houses. We ended up at grabbing lunch at DinTai Fung (Parkway Parade 80 01-15 Marine Parade Rd.), they have several locations. It was the best dumplings we ever had. The truffle dumplings were very good, and the kids loved the other flavors as well. You can also see how they make each dumpling by hand, just watching the experts at work making dumplings with speed and precision.
At night we went to explore Orchard Road, the most famous shopping street in Singapore with loads of entertainment. We walked around and then went to eat at Ippudo, it was good but we weren’t impressed with the food.
Day 4: Explored more around Singapore, visited Merlion Park, Singapore River Gallery, National Gallery Singapore, and St. Andrew’s Cathedral, pictures below. Each area of the city is very picturesque. Can you see the statue blend into the building in the photo below?
After couple days in Bali, we returned to Singapore for a couple more days before heading back home.
5th Day: We went to Sentosa Island, located right off of Singapore’s southern coast, and connected to the city by road, cable car, pedestrian boardwalk and monorail. There is a a lot to see and do at Sentosa. Our first stop was at Fort Siloso. We took an elevator and as soon as we got upstairs we were shocked with the stunning view from the skywalk. It is free to walk around the fort. The story of the fort and the role it played in various wars is very interesting.
After Fort Siloso, we rode the cable car to the Sentosa Merlion.
There is a free tram that takes you around the island. After a little walk along the water fountains, we took a tram to FOC Sentosa. It was opened back in September 2016. The restaurant was inspired by Barcelona’s world-famous beach culture, and you can experience Mediterranean food, drinks and vibes. While we had some food and drinks, the kids enjoyed playing on the beach.
The funniest thing we saw on the island was the indoor surf, our 8 years old son wanted to do it…that’s why we went there…but when we saw how powerful the waves were…we didn’t let him do it….!
To leave the island and head back to the city, we hopped on the monorail, it is free when you are returning to Singapore. We took the monorail to Vivo City. It is the largest shopping mall in Singapore. We had dinner at Putien, in 2018 it received its third consecutive Michelin Star. It was a very exotic menu, but very good food.
After almost 2 weeks away, we spent quality time together as a family learning about other cultures and more about ourselves. It feels so good to be able to show our kids an Asian culture, meet their cousins in Singapore, learn more world history.
This Summer we had an amazing trip to Portugal. This was our second time visiting Portugal, as the first time was just for a quick weekend. We traveled for 16 days to make the most of our second visit. Our first time in Portugal we just stayed 4 days, so we just visited Lisbon, Cascais and Sintra. This time we had the kids and met friends from as well. Most importantly, the trip was organized by a Portuguese friend in the wine business!
We arrived in Lisbon in the morning, rented a car from Sixt and went to A Padaria Portuguesa, they have several locations in Lisbon. Hitting a European bakery to get in the mood after a long flight is recommended.
We wanted to take the kids to ride on the trolley before going to our next stop. It was a great ride, they could have a small glance of Lisbon.
Wonderful hotel, we got the Penthouse Regina Maria Pia, it is a duplex suite with an area of 1797sqft, this penthouse decor of floral motives in blue and white tones, inspired in the surrounding sea. Natural daylight shows off the decoration of this Penthouse which has a twin bedroom with a sea view, a comfortable living room, dinning room and a kitchenette. One of its outstanding features is the relaxation are with a jacuzzi where you can renew your energy. We spend just 2 nights in Cascais but I wish we could had stayed couple more days there. Cascais has a lot of sight seeing: Boca do Inferno (Scenic seaside cliffs with an open cave), Centro Historico, Farol de Santa Marta, Museu Condes de castro Guimaraes.
One of the pluses of having family in Chicago is the opportunity to start getting in to the holiday spirit in a great city! We love staying at the Hyatt Centric Magnificent Mile, great location and great hotel. You are a block from Michigan Avenue where are the stores are located and also several restaurants.
The breakfast is good. You can go for the buffet or a la carte.
In this week of food delights (and gluttony) we went to some of our favorite Chicago restaurants.
RPM Italian, has been opened for couple years but the food is still outstanding. This time, we ordered the Black Truffle Beef Tartare, it was simply amazing. The Maine Lobster Ravioli and Handmade Cavatelli, paired with the Planet Oregon Pinot Noire was delicious and more than enough food for us. If reservations are an issue, there is plenty of table seating near the bar.
Quartino, has been in Chicago for over 10 years, but still a busy place. We went there for early dinner with some friends and kids. Here are some of the dishes we ordered. It is a great place for large groups and the menu usually has an Italian delight for everyone.
Duck Duck Goat, a restaurant located in the hot West Loop (area with amazing restaurants, bars, cafes, breweries). It is a pretty authentic Chinese restaurant, part of the “Goat” family in Chicago. The chef is Stephanie Izard who won Top Chef Season 4. The dishes are supposed to be shared. The green beans are amazing, highly recommended.
3 Arts Cafe at Restoration Hardware, beautiful place for lunch, coffee or happy hour. I went there to meet a friend for happy hour, and I was impressed by the beautiful decor and refined, but inviting ambience. I am a Restoration Hardware furniture fan, and this place was crawling with pieces.
Aba, it was my first time at this restaurant, and for sure I would go back next time I am in town. A Turkish restaurant with a beautiful decor and excellent food. Indoor fig trees, need I say more! The Aloe mezcal cocktail is divine.
I just love The Purple Pig. Every time I am in town, it is my must go place for a late lunch after shopping on Michigan Avenue. They have small dishes to share and a great wine selection. The wait can be long, but sitting at the bar and watching the staff put final touches on their food is always fun.