Istanbul, Turkey

Istanbul, Turkey

When you tell people who have been to Istanbul, 9 times out of ten, they will say it’s one of their most favorite cities in the world.  Maybe it’s the stunning architecture, or it’s unique geography – physically connecting Asia and Europe,  or the amazing cuisine and sophisticate urbanites; but there is an intangible magic about the place.  Each city I’ve traveled in Europe and Asia has special way about it, but Istanbul feels like home and completely foreign at the same time.

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Barcelona

Barcelona

Parc de la Ciutadella
Parc de la Ciutadella

I lived in Barcelona for about 3 months recently, and I have to tell you it’s one of my most favorite cities in Europe.  It is completely laid back, it has great nightlife, really good food, wine, art, architecture and shopping.  Also it has palm trees, and the Mediterranean.  What more could a girl ask for?  It won’t push you around like London or Paris, but it won’t bore you either.  It’s highly “walkable” and has managed to draw the tourists to very specific areas, so you can avoid the crowds easily if you’d like.  It’s also very safe and the people are generally very friendly.

I’ll tell you what I learned about the place during my 3 months there, and hopefully you can arrive with the knowledge of a short term resident and go straight for the good stuff.

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Seattle to LA:     A Coastal Road Trip

Seattle to LA: A Coastal Road Trip

You can spend a month driving the pacific coast of the united states, or do it in 5 days and anything in between.  Take this trip.  I spend so much of my vacation time abroad, sometimes forget how stunningly beautiful parts of this country are.  Plan the trip in the summer or early fall, and rent a convertible if you need to rent a car.  Hertz has several convertible options and easy pick-up and drop-off from different airports/locations so you don’t have to backtrack.

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Three Itineraries for the Philippines.  And a Packing List!

Three Itineraries for the Philippines. And a Packing List!

I visited the Philippines 3 times in 2015 spending about 3 months there in total.  Here are my Itineraries.  Several destinations below are linked to more detailed posts, and these are generally my favorites and most recommended.  You will also find a list of things you should consider bringing with you as they will be difficult to find outside the large cities of the Philippines.

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The Philippines:  Things You Should Know Before You Go.

The Philippines: Things You Should Know Before You Go.

I was hesitant to visit the Philippines when I was traveling alone because I’d heard it could be “dangerous”.  When I finally did make it there I fell in love with the place.  I never felt threatened once, not even in Manila or Cebu, the two larger cities where much of the warnings are directed.  I was, however, advised by locals to avoid any area south of roughly the 10th parallel north.  For barings, that about the latitude of Puerta Princessa in Palawan.  I can only speak of my personal travels, but what I will say is that the country is vastly varied in landscape culture and offerings.  there is much to discover, explore, and for me it was a perfect place to relax and enjoy it all.  There are some common threads beyond it’s natural beauty and friendly people that aren’t all together positive, but easily overlooked when experiencing all the joys found in this remote archipelago.  Below I outline the basics, like how to get there and around, visas, and generally what to expect.

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Coron, Philippines:  Beauty Beyond Words.

Coron, Philippines: Beauty Beyond Words.

After spending 6 weeks in the Philippines I went to Coron to dive the WWII wrecks.  If you’ve dived in the Philippines, and/or plan your holidays around diving you probably know the story of these wrecks.  But here is what I know:

Coron Bay Wrecks
Coron Bay Wrecks

On 24 September 1944 the US Navy sent a strike force of fighters and dive bombers to destroy an Japanese fleet laying low in Coron Bay, off the island of Busuanga in the Philippines.  The Japanese fleet had been stationed near Minila, but after the heavy airstrikes in Manila on 21 September they were forced to move.  They traveled about 170 nautical miles southwest of Manila to Busuanga, Coron Bay, arriving on the 23rd.  The US Navy’s strike forse was launched from the USS Lexington.  The strike was a long-range one, thought to be the longest at that time, so the fighters would have very little time to attack.  Despite this, they managed to sink about 24 ships.  Only 2 (I think) escape.

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Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

KLCC
KLCC

I hadn’t planned on visiting Kuala Lumpur while I was in Asia, but I’m so glad I did.  If you travel in that part of the world for any extended period of time it will actually be hard to avoid at least flying through KL – that’s how I ended up there.  Honestly, I just love the place.  It’s not overwhelming like Asian capitol cities can be – ie. Manila, Bangkok, Shanghai, and so on – and it’s not eerily quiet and clean like Singapore.  It’s a lovely in between.  I’m not suggesting you spend a week there, but rather, if you are flying through it’s worth stopping for 2-3 nights.

Shangri La Hotel, Lobby
Shangri La Hotel, Lobby

I was there twice in 2015, and both times I stayed near the KLCC – Kuala Lumpur City Center Park.This is where the iconic Petronas “Twin Towers” are located.  Just about anything you could need or want is within walking distance of this park (or in it) so for that reason I think I chose location well and would recommend it.  First time there I stayed at the Shangrila, second time at Traders.  Click on the links to read about my experience at those hotels in more detail, but in summary, the Shangrila was superior, in the quality of its rooms, amenities, and service, but Traders is right on the park (had a view of the towers) and has a famous rooftop bar (yay???).   Shangrila is about 7 minutes walk to the towers, and on the way to Bukit Bintang.

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Sailing in the Caribbean:  A Packing List.

Sailing in the Caribbean: A Packing List.

Last year I spent 10 days in the British Virgin Islands on a chartered sailboat (you can read about that wonderful adventure here).  I’d been to the Caribbean before, and I’d been coastal sailing before, but never simultaneously.  I filled my suitcase with all the wrong things and ended up wearing the same clothes for nearly all of the 10 days – which, to be fair, isn’t really a problem, or even out of the ordinary for a sailing trip.  “Read More” to see my  list of the things I couldn’t live without, wished I had packed, and wished I’d left at home….

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Sailing the British Virgin Islands … with these guys.

Sailing the British Virgin Islands … with these guys.

 

Anegada
Anegada
Nemo Sailing
Click image for Nemo Brochure

November 2014, four of my friends chartered a 47 foot catamaran, with crew, and sailed the British Virgin Islands.  Quite possibly one of the most enjoyable and relaxing 10 day vacations I’ve ever had.  If you are looking to truley get away and only have a week or 2, consider this option.

The boat, Nemo, a 47′ Nautitech (france) is owned and crewed by an Italian couple.  The run charters in the Mediterranean during the off season in the Caribbean.  They were incredible hosts, they managed absolutely everything with perfection.  And Nemo is stunning!  The catamaran makes for a very comfortable and spacious experience and the sailing is stable and just plain fun.  We were encouraged to participate in helm activities as much or as little as we desired.  Food was amazing, seriously all of us gained weight on the trip (with no regrets).  Coctails and hors d’oeuvres were waiting for us every afternoon when we returned form our land excursions.

Sailing Rout
Sailing Route

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