SPAIN Travel Diary

Fourth and final in the Europe Travel Diary series is beautiful BARCELONA! It was the last stop on our magical Mediterranean adventure and I am so excited to share a more of this beautiful, vibrant city with you.

DOWNTOWN

The city center/downtown area of Barcelona is sprawling and full of things to do (and by things to do I mean places to shop). It’s such a fun area with a really cool vibe. It’s pretty easy to walk around (but be prepared to walk a lot!) and the public transportation, especially the bus system is pretty easy to navigate as well. We figured out how to use the bus the second half of the trip and it was so convenient to get around to all the places we were wanting to visit. We kept on finding little side streets to walk down which took us to little hidden gems of the city. A bunch of the cool restaurants we found were placed we stumbled upon while walking around. I also LOVE European stores, they’re just the best. I found so many cute tops, bikinis and little pieces of jewelry (and makeup!) at all the stores. The Gothic Quarter is a really fun area to spend a chill afternoon shopping and grabbing some yum food. Honestly, I could have just spent the whole time walking around the cute little side-streets, but there’s so much more to this crazy city!

MONTJUIC

One of the places we visited that I loved was Montjuic, an iconic hill with multiple monuments up top. It’s absolutely gorgeous and castle-like as it overlooks the Mediterranean. There have been a lot of archaeological discoveries there in the last few years which gives it a really cool medieval vibe while still being really natural and green (with a stunning view of the ocean). From the top you also have a cool birds eye view of the city center which seems so distant even thought it’s only about 20 minutes from the city. It was just a beautifully serene place to spend a few hours in the morning. There’s a mall right across from the bottom of the hill that has some great restaurants (we ate at Enrique Tomas and it was incredible) to grab a bite to eat at.

SAGRADA FAMILIA

When in Barcelona… Of course we had to spend a few hours at the iconic Sagrada Familia. There’s something so special about a building that has been worked on for decades and decades and will be worked on for decades to come. Even though it’s not technically fully built, it’s still incredibly beautiful. Since it’s so crowded, we made sure to book our tickets online to avoid long lines (but we still had to wait in a 10 minute line). But the lines and waiting in the heat was all worth it. Once you get inside you are hit by the sun shining through the multi colored stained glass windows. They line the walls all the way up to the ceiling creating an ominous yet beautiful glow inside. We spent almost an hour just in awe of the beauty and spent a few minutes in the silent prayer area, such a special moment. We went at 4pm, which was perfect because the sun was beginning to set by 5 creating the most amazing golden hour you’ve ever seen. It is by far one of the most beautiful moments I’ve ever experienced in my life. [Sidenote- if you do go, please dress respectfully, cover your shoulders and avoid exposing too much of your legs since it is a place of religious practice.]

LA BOQUERIA

The place I was most excited to visit (haha of course) while in Barcelona was Mercado de la Boqueria. The famous public market full of fruit, vegetable, seafood, nuts, spices and everything else vendors and loaded with fun little bars to grab a bite to eat at. I’m not going to lie, we visited the market three times during our stay which I have no regrets about. Each time we got lost in the chaos walking around for hours in awe of all the fresh produce and fun food items they had. I would stop from time to time to get a box of calamari, a cup of fresh cherries to nibble on or to try some cheeses and meats. The third time we went, we decided we would bite the bullet and line up (for 40 minutes!) at one of the tapas bars for lunch. While I was a little antsy waiting for that long, we finally got a few seats at the bar counter and got our food ordered. Calamari, fried peppers, croquettes and sangria were a few of the things on the menu for the day. Our food came out pretty quickly and I don’t think I can say this enough, it was DELICIOUS. And the calamari was hands down the best calamari I’d ever had in my life. And I love me some good fried squid. It was so fresh and crunch but not oily at all with very light seasoning and the best aioli ever. SO GOOD. It was such a fun lunch, followed by another hour of walking around the stalls, chatting with some of the owners and making a few purchases. Hands down a must visit place in Barcelona.

PARK GUELL

One of the last places we visited on our trip was Park Guell, one of Gaudi’s masterpieces. This was the place I had seen the most photos of (gotta get that perfect Insta) so I was so excited to be able to see it in person. We made our bookings for 5pm which was a gorgeous time to go. It wasn’t too hot, but the sun still kept the sky lit and lay a beautiful blanket of light over all the architecture. The first part of the park was the iconic colorful, mosaic tile-work. With the city and the deep blue sky behind it, the colors stood out and contrasted so beautifully. We spent some time at the first part taking photos and taking in all the beauty before starting to walk down the path to the bottom of Park Guell. Towards the exit, there are two more Gaudi buildings that are filled with rooms and gift stores that you can walk into and take the stairs up to the top. There was a cool Disneyland-ish vibe about the park (and I’m saying that in the best way possible) that made me feel like a happy little kid. Gaudi’s structures and designs are so distinct and simply stunning to look at.

FOOD

And how can I not include a whole section on food in this post. My family’s been really into Spanish food and tapas this year so we were so excited to get to spend time eating our way through Barcelona. Thinking back on it all, there really wasn’t a meal that wasn’t anything less than amazing. None of the meals were blah or even just okay, they were all great. One thing I fell in love with was pan con tomate, basically the Spanish version of garlic bread served with almost every meal. I also am such a grilled octopus girl and had a decade’s worth of good octopus this trip. They were all so tender and fresh with the best seasoning. A lot of meats and cheeses were also eaten during this trip, which I will never complain about. We also ended up buying TONS of meat to bring home which we are slowly savoring. We also found a few tapas places and just tried a bunch of things during those meals like patatas bravas, chorizo, tortilla and so many other yummy things. On our last day, we also stumbled across the cutest little store called Le Cava Cakery which did cava (Spanish champagne) and cupcake pairings while I of course had to pop into. We did cava and rose cava pairings with salted caramel, raspberry and dulce de lece cupcakes and I don’t think I’ve ever been as happy as I was in that moment (anyone who knows me knows that bubbly and cupcakes are the most me thing ever). And to finish off my food bucket list, we stopped for some churros and chocolate at a cute little street side cafe, with a perfect view of the Sagrada Familia, and I will never look at churros the same again (infinite amount of heart eyes). The food in Barcelona was just so good and I feel very lucky to have gotten to spend time eating around the city.

So that’s all for this Europe series! My incredible trip of a lifetime around the Mediterranean; Greece, Montenegro, Italy and Spain. I do want to end this post by saying how grateful I am for the life I live. I never take for granted all that my life has allowed me to do, and I never want anyone to think that I’m not grateful, because I am. I’ve spent so much time thinking about how my life has been the last 20 years, and I am truly the luckiest girl in the world. Whatever else happens in my life, no matter how dark the days, I have to remember that I am blessed. Traveling the world has truly changed my life and I’ve found so much pure joy, passion and love in exploring all these amazing corners of the world. And with that, thank you for following along on this adventure, I’m so glad I got to share it with you.

Lots of love, Aime xx

 

 

 

 

ITALY Travel Diary

SICILY, MESSINA

The next stop of our magical European adventure was ITALY! What a dream. The second we stepped into the streets of Messina, I was struck by all of the quaint, cobblestone streets lined with colorful, rustic buildings with balconies filled with plants. We spent a bit of time walking around a little square complete with a beautifully sculptured fountain and a grand church over-looking the streets. Turn each corner to find a cute little corner general store, a coffee shop with plenty of outdoor seating and little bistro-style restaurants. The city center of Messina has an incredibly old yet comforting style of architecture with ratty buildings that are just so charming.

After a full morning of walking around and relishing in the beauty of Italy, we decided it was time to find somewhere for lunch. Leading up to Italy, I only had one request: I needed to find the best seafood pasta. So this was my chance. After looking and looking for the perfect little restaurant, we found Osteria del Campanile tucked away in a little side-street off of one of the main roads. Thinking it looked a little run down and a bit out of the way, I honestly wasn’t expecting much. But after looking at the menu and seeing that they had a seafood spaghetti in a tomato-based sauce, I just had to order it. I still don’t know the words to properly describe it, but it was hands down the BEST pasta I’ve ever had in my life. And I eat a lot of pasta. That’s all I can say.

After being stuffed with meats, pasta and red wine, we headed out for the afternoon. We walked through the city center a bit more before heading to the shopping district. Simply a few rows of streets lined with stores on end. One of the stores I discovered while in Italy was Kiko Milano. I was on the hunt for some new colorful eye shadows when I first walked into their store. Everything is so affordable, but the products I’ve tried so far have been really good. After a few more hours of shopping, it was time for our first Italian gelato. We found a little coffee shop and popped it for a sweet treat. Overtaken with all the flavors, I finally settled on one scoop of cherry amaretto and one scoop of almond dark chocolate. Not to sound like a broken record, but best gelato I had ever had in my life.

AMALFI

Up next, the Amalfi Coast. The drive there was nothing short of incredible, stopping along the way at all of the prettiest of panoramic views. The picturesque shoreline with scattered villas, hotels, vineyards and houses was exactly what I was expecting. I constantly felt like I was looking at a background, so so so beautiful. The water was such a rich shade of blue that it almost seemed otherworldly. The town of Amalfi was exactly what I would have expected. The second you pull up, the salty smell of the ocean surrounds you as the sound of waves crashing lightly on the shore and the voices of so many happy people fill your ears. People say Disneyland is the happiest place on earth, but I might want to argue that.

Walk into the town center of Amalfi, a walled in area of streets and stores, to find even more bustling. Boutiques, food stores, cafes and restaurants are absolutely everywhere you look. There’s no stopping, there’s no break, it’s just go go go, in the best way possible. The buildings’ first floors were all filled with stores, but the second and third floors were all balcony and flower-lined, looking like someone may live there. We popped into store after store and I was simply stunned by the sheer amount of things stuffed into every small space. Every kind of pasta you could imagine, snow globes, shot glasses and magnets lined shelf after shelf, and bottles of limoncello could be found at almost every store. The whole time walking around, we were hot, sweaty and sticky from the Italian summer sun beating down on us, but it was also just so magical I didn’t care if I was sweating or not.

With the heatwave coming up to the southern coast of Europe from Africa, it was absolutely sweltering. And what’s the one way to cure a hot, Italian summer day: more gelato. I had already had my first, and what I thought was the best I would ever had, gelato in Messina, but I was ready to have another one. This time the flavor was Amalfi Limoncello. It was tangy, sweet, icily creamy and refreshingly cold. The heat was beginning to softly melt the triangular scoop of beautiful yellow gelato, but that did not stop us from finishing every last drop. As the days moved from morning, to mid morning, to evening, the Amalfi just seemed to get more and more beautiful. Sunshine draped over the town creating beautiful pockets of light and shadows on every building.

NAPOLI

Our last stop of the Italy leg was Napoli. Another quaint town, similar to Messina. The city center seemed to be a shopping district, filled with more boutiques and name brand stores. The public library was as grand as you can imagine, looking over the downtown area. We spent time walking in and out of stores, trying to cool off every second we could. Still looking for my Italian pizza, we were ready for an Italian pizza lunch. Once again, we happened to just stumble upon this little cafe/restaurant that we decided to sit down at for a break. Not expecting too much from their pizza, we just ordered a margherita pizza, a pasta with olives, capers and tomatoes and a salad to share. Seriously not trying to sound redundant, but it was the best pizza I’d ever had in my life. It was so simple with some crushed tomatoes, whole slices of mozzarella and basil leaves, but it was so delicious. The dough was soft but chewy and had a deep taste of bread. Italian pizza, check.

Another visit we made in Napoli was to Pompeii. It was quite a different experience, given the history. I still remember learning about the history of Pompeii during history class in sixth grade and it was so incredible to be able to visit the site of the buried city. We decided not to buy the headsets with the audio tour as we thought we could just walk around on our own, but I would highly suggest going for the audio tour since the area is so big and sprawling that it’s a bit hard to navigate on your own. But besides that Pompeii was actually gorgeous, despite it’s dark history. It just made me think of how much natural beauty can come out of something so dark. The afternoon we visited, the sky was a deep blue with just a few clouds scattered around. From a few spots within Pompeii, we had a perfect view of Mount Vesuvius, which was half scary, half amazing.

The last afternoon in Italy, we ended up snooping around a Sephora and Zara at an outdoor shopping mall-like area of downtown Napoli. It was another hot afternoon, so what else did we do that sit down for a glass of iced coffee and, yes, another gelato. This time it was strawberry, and just as delicious and refreshing as the other ones had been. The best end to the Italy leg of this adventure.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

MONTENEGRO Travel Diary

KOTOR

Montenegro was never a place that crossed my mind as somewhere I wanted to go, but I’m so glad I did. The views, the food, the people were all so amazing and made it a place that I can’t wait to visit again. After looking at pictures, I was expecting Kotor to be blue, green and very pretty, but it exceeded those expectations. It’s one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever visited, and I truly mean that. The beautiful was as deep in color as the Santorini water, but a little more turquoise, reflecting the green hills surrounding the bay. There was just a natural, serene beauty to the town that I don’t think I’ll ever be able to put into words. I was genuinely awe-struck, and there’s not many times that that’s happened to me.

The port of Kotor was filled with yachts and sail boats, big and small, all shaded by the mountains around it. One morning we drove up to the top of one of the mountains to get a picture-perfect view of Kotor Bay, which was absolutely breathtaking. There was nothing but blue water, green trees and scattered terra-cotta colored rooftops that could be seen. The bay was almost fully enclosed by surrounding mountains. A 30 minute drive to the old town of Perast along the coastline was a great way to see more of the city. Filled with AirBnBs and boutique hotels, we spent the ride talking about when we could visit again next. We walked around Perast for a few hours, admiring all the small boats and yachts that people were sailing around the water. Piers were filled with locals and tourists laying out on towels, enjoying the summer. Waterfront hotels had lined lounge chairs along the piers where even more tourists were out under the sun. A mid-morning break called for local unfiltered beer which was, surprisingly, really good.

Another highlight from Kotor was spending an afternoon in the down-town area, the cutest little square. The city center is contained by old, brick walls, a historic way to protect. We spent time looking around the stores and shopping for souvenirs and gifts from the unique destination. We bought so many things to remember the trip, from snow globes to stickers and Christmas ornaments. After walking up an appetite, we were ready for lunch and a short break. Wanting to find local foods and dishes, we found a local restaurant hidden in the backstreets where we ordered a selection of local cured meats and cheeses. Sipping on glasses of wines and cocktails, we enjoyed every bite of the local delicacies. Everything from prosciutto to salamis and cow’s milk and goat’s milk cheese were incredibly delicious.

Not knowing much about Montenegro or Kotor, we were so surprised by how much we loved it. Like I said before, everything about it was amazing. The moment we got there we were flocked by tour guides and car drivers ‘selling’ their tours and drivers to us. We decided to hire a driver one morning to drive us everywhere, and I’m so glad we did. We typically like to explore new places on our own and do everything on our own schedule, but this time it worked out so well. Our driver was so sweet and knowledgable about Kotor. He was simply a driver but was able to explain everything about his home city. He took us everywhere we wanted to go and gave us time where we wanted it. If you’re ever in Kotor, I would highly suggest hiring a driver or tour guide at least for part of one of the days you’re visiting the beautiful city.

I could say this until I’m blue in the face, but Kotor was such a surprise and I can’t be more grateful that I was able to visit. If it’s not on your list, it really should be. Now onto Italy!

GREECE Travel Diary

The first of four travel guides to come. First stop- GREECE!

ATHENS

Marking the beginning of our three week trip, we landed at the Athens airport in the wee hours of the morning before hopping in a short cab ride to our AirBnB in Kolonaki, which was an amazing place to stay. Right in the middle of the local hustle and bustle of the city, but not too far from any of the things anyone would want to do. We spent our mornings trying out different neighborhood coffee shops for breakfast drinking Freddo Cappucinnos (Greek iced lattes) and having different kinds of pastries and sandwiches. During the days, we walked around the Syntagma Square/Ermou Street area where there are tons of high fashion stores and boutiques. Right at the entrance to that area is Parliament where we watched the changing of the guard (takes place every hour). One day we walked a little further down Ermou Street to reach the Plaka area which was a bit more touristy, but filled with lot’s of cute little stores filled with everything and anything Greek. We did a bit of shopping around there to get some souvenirs including evil eye keychains, bracelets and red wine soap. We would often grab lunch back around the Ermou area and share some combination of Greek salad, souvlaki or gyros, spanakopita, and moussaka with a cold glass of 1.50 euro wine, no better way to spend your days.

We also had drinks a couple of times at the rooftop bar of the Grande Bretagne Hotel in Syntagma Square. The drinks are a bit on the pricier side, but it’s accompanied by the most stunning view of Athens and the Parthenon so it’s well worth it. And speaking of the Parthenon, we also spent half a day at the Acropolis (quick tip: buy your tickets online ahead of time to avoid lines). It was beautifully sunny with very few clouds scattered in the sky making for a perfect day. Although it was crowded, it didn’t make the experience any less special. We had visited Athens and the Parthenon in 2006 and I had very few memories of that so it was fun to be able to see the wonder again. Our last adventure in Athens before moving on was up to Lykavittos, the highest point in Athens. We took a little cable car up to the top and enjoyed a glass of coffee accompanied by a stunning panoramic view of the city. Lykavittos is also known as Mount Lycabettus who’s peak sits around 300 meters above sea level, making it arguably the best view of Athens. It was a beautiful way to start our last morning in Athens before heading onto Santorini.

For dinners, we tried to mix it up every night. Dexameni’s is an establishment that has been around forever. Located at the bottom of Lykavittos, it’s scattered tables sit sprawled out on a hill. For our dinner there we ordered a bunch of small dishes to share including a tomato salad, taramasalata and roasted potatoes. It was such a fun atmosphere with good food. Another one of our favorites was the Stinking Bishop which had some funky fusion dishes and a great bar. Although a bit on the pricier side, very worth it. But our favorite had to be Zurbaran which serves Greek food with a modern twist. A swanky bar, a picturesque terrarium-like dining section and bustling outdoor seating, it was hands down our best meals (we actually ended up going twice) in Athens .

Favorite Restaurants: Dexameni, Zurbaran, Stinking Bishop, Le Grande Bretagne Rooftop Bar (for happy hour).

SANTORINI

As beautiful as I had painted Santorini to be in my head, it was even more beautiful in person. We took a boat into Santorini and I was instantly in awe of the natural beauty of the island. The water was a deep, royal blue, glistening and sparkling as it reflected the sun. I had dreamed of visiting this magical place ever since I can remember, and it’s incredible how much it exceeded my expectations. People were so incredibly friendly and seemed genuinely happy to help and serve us. There seemed to be a natural light in everyone’s eyes and everyone’s spirit was as warm and welcoming as the Santorini sun. The overwhelming sense of bright blue just made my eyes glisten with joy and was paired so well with all of the sparkling white buildings. See, just like you’d imagine it to be.

We took a little bumboat from the one side of the Island over to Oia, to explore that area. Again, in awe of the stunning water. After walking up to the top of Oia, we basked in the sun and took hundreds of photos of the photogenic scenery. Mid-morning coffee/cocktail (we were on vacation, it was always happy hour!) pit-stops filled with Aperol Spritz’s and iced coffees made mornings even more serene. After hours of walking down the pebbles sidewalks, we had always worked up an appetite. 218 Cafe was one of our favorites, serving local, Greek food with a perfect balcony view of the ocean and parts of Oia. We sat forever eating all grilled octopus, stuffed squid, pita and hummus we could, simply in awe of the setting we were in. The Teleferic (cable car) down from the top to the waterfront is an absolute must-do, no matter how long the line is (trust me- I hate lines but this was well worth the wait). It’s about a ten minute ride with an incredible view of the whole island and ocean from the sides and bottom of the cable car. As sad as it was to leave, the trip was incredible and made for infinite memories.  Santorini was an absolute dream and I cannot wait to be back again soon!

Favorite Restaurant: 218 Cafe & Restaurant

Now on to Montenegro!

Life Through A Lens #29- ¿IDK, a catch up i guess?

NEW YORK CITY Travel Diary

I can’t believe I’m actually writing this, seriously a dream come true. Just like almost every other hopeless romantic in America who in indulges in the rom coms of NYC, this city has been at the top of my bucket list for years and I’m so lucky to have gotten to go on this trip. I fell in love the second I landed in this gorgeous city and can’t wait to share everything from my whirlwind of a trip here in New York City!

DAY 1

I landed at 8:55am after flying all night and barely sleeping an hour, but the buzz and electricity of the city woke me up instantly. It was everything I expected. I dropped my stuff off at my cousins house as quickly as possible and headed into Manhattan from Queens. The metro dropped me off right in between Central Park and The Plaza Hotel, and I was seriously just taken aback by the surrealness of it all as I walked up the stairs of the station. I spent the first couples hours walking up and down Fifth Avenue, walked into St. Patrick’s Cathedral, grabbed a couple cookies from Insomnia and of course browsed through Saks Fifth Avenue. Lunch was at Sarabeth’s with a friend at Central Park South and we indulged in the most amazing Eggs Benedict’s. To walk it off, we snooped around Time Warner Center and then strolled through Central Park to get to the Upper West Side. And since I was in the neighborhood, I had to make my first visit to Christina Tosi’s Momofuku Milk Bar (I’m so in awe of her, it’s crazy) to get a little afternoon treat. I tried the much anticipated Cereal Milk Ice Cream (the fruity one) and her famous Corn Cookie…AMAZING. Finally I hopped back on the metro and headed back to Queens in the late afternoon. After 8 hours and 12 miles of walking I was dead but so in love. I stopped by the tiniest Greek place on the way home and picked up a Falafel Schwarma and Spanakopita to take home, put on Gossip Girl and crashed. It was perfect.

DAY 2

My plan was to be up around 8, maybe 8:30, to be out the door early and explore the city. But I guess I was really knocked out because I woke up frantically at 11 and got ready in about 7 minutes to be out the door. I was meeting a few family friends for lunch so hopped on the metro and headed towards Greenwich Village. I walked around a little and was so in-awe of the charm and class of the neighborhood. Although I was headed to lunch, I found the hippest little donut shop, The Donut Pub, and stopped to get a birthday cake donut as a treat for later in the day. I then headed over to Cafe Cluny on a corner in the West Village where we sat and ate pork belly and scrambled eggs, a Thai grain bowl and a seared tuna burger (all amazing!), over the course of a few hours. After lunch, I ventured out towards the Highline and Chelsea. The weather was absolutely gorgeous and made for some beautiful photos. I was slowly falling more and more in love with this city. I didn’t have much time there, but I continued to walk north towards Times Square and Bryant Park. I hit Times Square just as the sun had tucked away behind the buildings and had an out-of-body experience while taking in the (what I consider) magic. That moment had been imagined for so long and I couldn’t believe I was finally there, right in the middle of it. I spent a bit of time walking around and taking pictures and then headed across the street to Bryant Park, another form of beauty in itself, where I met up with my cousin. We had decided on Italian for dinner so took the train back down to Little Italy to Paesanos to have a huge bowl of Rigatoni in Vodka Sauce. It was the cutest little restaurant designed to look like an Italian villa and definitely hit the spot after another full day of exploring. Then it was back on the metro to head home and crash again for the night.

DAY 3

Wednesday might have been the fullest day in NYC, but it was so great. I was up and out the door by 10 and headed down to the Manhattan side of the Brooklyn Bridge. It was, again, a beautiful day with clear blue skies and the sun beating down which made everything just that much more beautiful. I walked across the bridge, taking in the moment and looking back at the city, and explored Dumbo and Downtown Brooklyn on the other side. With 99 cent pizza being on my food bucket list, I grabbed a couple of slices at a hole-in-the-wall of a store and continued to walk around the funky neighborhood. After a couple of hours of exploring I began back towards the bridge, but had to grab a bagel (another one of my must-haves) at Brooklyn Bagel & Coffee Company. Not knowing what to get, I ordered a poppy seed bagel with blueberry cream cheese and it was the biggest but best bagel I’d ever had in my life hands down. Since I had the whole afternoon and evening to myself, which was the greatest thing ever, I walked up through Tribeca, Soho and Greenwich back to the Highline area, wanting to spend more time there. I also found the BEST ice cream store, Ample Hills Creamery, to get a scoop of gooey butter cake ice cream before moving on. I decided to spend a couple of hours at The Whitney, which was full of modern American art, including a huge Andy Warhol exhibit which was super cool. The museum also has stunning balcony views of the city and overlooking the water. Since Chelsea Market was right next door, and I was starving, I popped in there to look for something to eat. A ton of my friends had recommended the Very Fresh Noodles, so of course that’s what I had to try. The little stall with a few counter seats was packed, but I waited and was served a huge bowl of thick, silky noodles with braised spicy beef, it was amazing. The last couple of things I wanted to do that day was to see Radio City and Rockefeller Center. So I walked back up, through Koreatown, to see the famous Radio City. I had gotten there right as the sun was beginning to hide away, making the large red marquee lights stand out even more. And finally I walked around the corner to Rockefeller Center, another out-of-body experience as I stood there forever realizing how special that moment was. The perfect way to end another long but incredible day in the city. And then it was back home to rest up for the last day of the trip.

DAY 4

I woke up on the last morning feeling so happy and grateful, but also really not wanting to leave the next day. I was up at 8 and out the door not too long after to get the day going. I took the metro into Manhattan and got off around 59th Street and walked down Madison Avenue to the Met. I’d heard so much about how beautiful and grand the Met is and seen so many pictures, but there are seriously no words to explain it until you’re standing right in front of it. It’s honestly just so breathtaking. I spent about 3 hours in the museum and still feel like I only saw 5% of everything, but it was just super cool. By the time I was done there it was about 12:45 and I had the rest of the day to shop! Since I was in New York, I had to visit the Kate Spade flagship store on Madison. It was the most stunning store I’ve ever walked into and I may have picked up a lil NYC themed treat for myself. I then headed over to Fifth Avenue and wandered around, walked into Saks and walked over to both Bloomies and Macy’s to get a few goodies for myself to remember the trip. Another thing on my NYC food bucket list was a pretzel, of course, so I had to grab one from a street vendor. After a full afternoon of shopping, I headed back to Bryan Park to meet my cousin. Once again, the sun was tucked behind the buildings giving the perfect afternoon glow. I was a little bit early so I sat at a table behind the NY Public Library taking in the beauty of the city. It was busy yet oddly calming and I was just so grateful to be there. My cousin and I then headed down to Pizza Beach in the Lower East Side for some good old New York pizza. I had a (large, hehe) pizza with pink vodka sauce, burrata and basil, and it was hands down the best pizza I’d ever had in my life. Since it was my last night, we decided to take the train back up to Times Square to see it all lit up a night. As beautiful as it was during the day, it was even more incredible at night. It was everything and more I ever imagined, in that moment my heart was just to full of gratitude and joy. I then took one last metro ride back home and crashed for an early flight the next morning, dreaming of how magical this city had been.

 

It doesn’t phase me for a second that this life full of traveling and adventures is not something that everyone has. I’m extremely grateful to be able to live this life and I hope that I’m able to give back in some way. New York was incredible and I hope to be back very very soon. I wanted to end this post by sharing a journal entry I wrote on my last evening in the city, it captures everything that this trip meant to me.

“It’s Thursday evening, 6:20pm and the sun hasn’t quite set but is nestled behind the array of buildings. I’m sitting at a table in Bryan Park, the public library behind me, the table full of bags from a day of shopping. I’m exhausted but so in love with this new city. Deciding to come on this trip was the best decision ever. As much anxiety as traveling causes me, I’m so glad I made the journey out to this side of the country and am so glad I was able to spend this week in NYC. This moment helps me remember that everything happens for a reason. I’ve been blessed with a lifetime of travel and there’s nothing that brings me more joy and excitement than moments like this.”

See you soon! xx

TOKYO Travel Guide ~Winter Edition~

Good morning lovelies and happy Sunday. If you’re looking for some 2019 travel inspo, you’re in the right place! Today’s post is my second Tokyo Travel Guide, and this is going to be full of all the things to do in Tokyo in the winter. I wrote my first Tokyo Travel Guide in April, so be sure to check that post out if you haven’t already. But for now, happy reading and I hope you have lot’s of fun adventures lined up for the year!

What to eat:

Jojoen Yakiniku– Jojoen is our favorite yakiniku (translates to grilled meat) spot in Tokyo. With locations all over the city, their menu is full of various types of beef and pork, seafood, Korean side dishes and rice and noodle dishes. They also have super reasonable lunch sets that range from 1,500-3,000 yen that come with meat, rice, veggies/a salad, soup, a drink and dessert. With tons of locations, they each vary a little depending on what you’re looking for. If you’re looking for a more down-to-earth meal, I love the ones in Shibuya and Meguro. But if you’re looking for a nice locale, try the Jojoen on the 39th floor of Ebisu Garden Place.

Trattoria Mari e Monti in Roppongi- This has quickly become one of our favorite restaurants in Tokyo. Run by two Italian guys, the ambiance of the space makes you feel like you’re eating pasta and drinking wine on the streets of Italy. Their huge selection of produce, cheeses, meats, pastas and desserts are amazing and jaw-dropping. Some of my favorites are their truffle pasta, pappardelle with meat, grilled pork belly, literally all of their desserts and of course their homemade limoncello at the end of the meal.

Shibuya Parlor right by the Shibuya Crossing- My sister, mom and I stumbled across this place this past Christmas when I was on the hunt for a decadent fruit parfait. Located on the 7th floor of the Magnet building, the little cafe overlooks the famous Shibuya scramble crossing with the perfect birds eye view. To curb my craving, I ordered the strawberry brulee parfait which came with yoghurt, granola, vanilla ice cream, bruleed pudding and of course tons of strawberries.

Obica Mozzarella Bar in Roppongi Hills- We found this place this summer when we went out for lunch with some family friends and I’m actually obsessed with it now. The restaurants has a very modern vibe with shelves full of pastas and wine and huge floor to ceiling windows letting in so much natural light. I haven’t spent too much time looking at their dinner menu (every time I’ve been it’s been for lunch), but I can say that their lunch menu is incredibly reasonable and very extensive. For between 1500-2500 yen, you can get a lunch set with one main dish, one or two side dishes (depending on what you choose) and one drink. You can also add on a glass of red, white or bubbly for only 400 yen ($3.60USD). Some of my favorites are their pastas of the day, their grilled chicken salad and the lasagna.

Kushinobo in Roppongi Hills- Okay, I had heard my parents rave about this place forever and was always so skeptical until I went this Christmas and WOW. Kushinobo serves fried food on a skewer, but not greasy American fried food, elegant and refined Japanese fried food. It’s not too oily or heavy, it’s so light and delicious. My dad and I went for lunch and ordered the 10 piece set which came with 10 different kinds of skewers including salmon with roe, black pork, asparagus, and scallops, as well as a set of rice, an egg, miso soup, veggie sticks and dip and dessert. I don’t really know how to explain it, but PLEASE go try this place if you’re ever in Tokyo.

If you happen to be staying with a friend, at an Airbnb or anywhere with a kitchen, I highly recommend going to the store, getting some hot-pot soup (during the winter they have them everywhere in all kinds of delicious flavors), some shabu-shabu pork, tons of veggies and other fun treats and have a hot-pot night at home. It’s the epitome of winter meals in Japan and is so yum. And if you can’t do this, I would suggest going and walking around the supermarket anyway. Call me weird, but I think Japanese supermarkets are so fun.

How to get around:

Public transportation in Japan is absolutely the way to go. The trains and buses are everywhere and can get you anywhere you need. It can be a bit intimidating, but these days almost all signs for everything are in English as well. Don’t be afraid to go up to someone who works at the train station or bus stop and ask questions, most of them are able to have a conversation in English.

For the Shinkansen (bullet train), I would recommend getting the JR pass for either 7 or 14 days which allows you to get around the country on the bullet train conveniently and at a low cost. And seriously, riding on the bullet train is SO cool.

For the local trains, you can try and get a train pass/card which requires bringing your passport to a train station and going to an office to get it done, so I would only suggest doing that if you’re going to be in Tokyo for an extended period of time to save money and time. But if you’re only there for a bit, buying tickets at the machines are super simple and easy and, again, are in English as well.

If you’re trying to take the bus around, make sure you’re carrying coins on you to pay the buss fee (most are between 200-250 yen). Also look there are a couple of apps in English that will give you everything you need to know about the bus routes, including all the stops, their names and how to get from one place to another.

And while I always recommend using public transportation while traveling to really get to know the city you’re exploring, taxis are fairly easy to find and flag down. Simply look for the dark cars with a white sign on top and stick your hand out to flag it down. If the light in the bottom right hand corner is red, the taxi is available, and if it’s green it’s been taken or is on shift change.

Where to go:

This section could seriously drag on and on, so I’ll try to keep it short and sweet with lot’s of links and photos.

1. Tokyo Disneyland– We decided to go this Christmas to see all the lights and since we hadn’t been in like a decade and it was amazing! Christmas at Tokyo Disneyland is a must (whole other post on this going up soon so keep an eye out for that).

2. Roppongi Hills Mid-Town lights- If you walk out around Roppongi Hills at night during Christmas, the streets and trees are all lit up with stunning lights (called イルミネーション or Illumination) that go on and off in beautiful patterns. It’s nothing tacky, just simple, elegant Christmas lights. And depending on where you are you can get a picture-perfect view of Tokyo Tower as well.

3. Takeshita Dori, Harajuku- Of course this is a must-do any time of the year, but I love walking down the crazy crowded streets right before Christmas to scavenge for last minute gifts and stocking stuffers. I found so many fun little gifts for my family and friends (especially for all the beauty and skincare lovers) by just walking around and popping into a bunch of little stores.

4. Mega Don Quijote, Shibuya- I don’t know if you’ve heard of this store, but it’s actually heaven on earth. This huge one in Shibuya is 6 floors and has absolutely everything you could ever want or need. Literally from Louis Vuitton bags to Japanese junk food and cleaning supplies to makeup. It’s crazy busy and insanely packed.

5. Ginza- If you’re looking for some higher end shopping or some luxury, head out to the Ginza area and walk around the malls and streets that are filled with tons of high end brands and boutiques. Perfect if you’re looking for a nicer gift for a loved one or honestly even yourself (you deserve to get yourself a Christmas pressie too!). And if you’re as in love with Kate Spade as me, there’s a huge 3-story store right by the station that is beyond adorable.

6. Backstreets of Harajuku- Of course Takeshita Dori will always draw in the crowds, but during the winter months the backstreets are absolute stunning. Their often really empty and the trees all turn a beautiful golden color giving the whole space a very old and classy vibe. Just spend a few minutes walking down the streets, taking pictures and taking in the natural beauty.

7. Odaiba Spa World– Okay, I have to admit that I’ve never been BUT I’ve always wanted to go and have done so much research on it (and my sister has been so that counts, right?). This place is a completely indoor onsen and spa “world” full of different baths and other fun activities. It’s a bit tacky and touristy, but I honestly love that sometimes. And what’s better than going to the hot springs during a cold winter day.

8. The Westin Hotel in Ebisu and Ebisu Garden Place- During Christmas, The Westin and Ebisu Garden Place are decorated to beautifully. Ebisu Garden place is lined with Christmas trees, bright lights and a huge annual crystal chandelier. It’s the perfect place to have a coffee or a drink with your loved ones and take a few pictures. And after that you can walk underground to The Westin to see their traditionally decorated but absolutely breath-taking tree and decorations. Also, if it’s in your budget, The Westin is my favorite hotel in Tokyo to stay at.

9. Combini- Go to any convenient store in the city (you’ll find one every 10 steps) and relish in the magic of Combini in Japan. I really don’t know what else to say, just do it and you’ll thank me later. PS, convenient store coffee and donuts are the bomb!

How to dress:

It does get fairly cool during Christmas in Tokyo, and by fairly cool I mean an average of 38-50 (that’s freezing to me!), but it’s also usually really clear and sunny. You will for sure want to have at least one pair of good sunglasses and one solid coat. For me, jeans are for sure the way to go for pants, it’ll keep you warm but not too warm if you’re going to be walking around during the day.

If you do start to find yourself getting cold, find a Uniqlo (there’s seriously one on every corner) and get some heat-tech long underwear and that will keep you warm for the rest of your life (haha- not really but my family swears by it!).

Tokyo, generally, dresses quite conservatively so try not to dress to scandalous when you’re visiting. I think everyone should dress how they want to all the time, but I also think there’s something to be said about respecting the culture.

I hope you have all the wanderlust vibes now and are ready to go and explore!! xx

2018- The Year in Moments

Happy 2019!!

It seems like I was just writing my 2017 highlights just the other day, but here we are again, 2018 in moments. This year has been absolutely crazy. I’ve been extremely open about my struggles this year, and even though it was one of the hardest years of my life, I learned so much about myself and wouldn’t have it any other way. It’s made me appreciate the smaller things in life (as cliche as that may sound), and remember who the people who truly matter are. For me, 2018 was a reminder that family is everything, and I should never forget that. So here we go, first post of the year, my 2018 in moments.

 

January 1st // New Year’s at the beach- Started off 2018 the best way possible, laying out at Manhattan Beach. Even though it was cloudy and cold (and I was basically in a sweatshirt the whole time), being outside and with a bunch of my friends was such a fun way to ring in the new year. And plus, how lucky am I to be able to go to the beach in January?!

March 9th // Home for Spring Break- My Christmas present for the year before was a plane ticket home for spring break, since my winter break is so short (as you can imagine, I burst out in tears when I got my plane ticket). I was able to fly back to Singapore for 9 days and see all my favorite people, eat all my favorite things and go to all my favorite places. Being able to spend an extra week at home with my family was an absolute highlight of my year, and plus it was a surprise which made it twice as good.

March 24th // Marched for our lives- While it’s extremely devastating that it’s come to the point where we have to march for the safety of children’s lives, it was so incredible to stand alongside so many others who are fighting the same fight. After spending an evening making our posters, my friends and I were proud to show up to DTLA wearing our ‘March For Our Lives’ shirts and walk next to so many other people from all walks of life who were all there to end the most preventable form of death in our nation. That day made me extremely proud and brought so much hope.

May 13th // Mother’s Day back at home- And then we were back in Singapore for summer, and started off the break by celebrating the most amazing woman in my life. I was SO happy to be able to make it back in time to celebrate with her. My sister and I went as all-out as we could with flowers, balloons, presents and dinner at home to try and show my mom how much she meant to us. And Singapore even treater her to a gorgeous sunset to top it all off.

June 25th // Beach getaway with the family- With only a few more weeks to go in South East Asia, we had to get another Phuket trip in. One of our go-to destinations for long weekends and breaks, we were lucky enough to spend a few days at Le Meridien in Phuket as a family to soak in some beach time. We dined at our favorite restaurants in the area and got in tons of tropical cocktails during happy hour too. It was so much fun to be away with my family for a little bit and to celebrate 20 years of life in South East Asia.

July 6th // Last day in our home of two decades– Finally, after 20 years and 3 months, my family said thank you to Singapore for being the city that raised our family. We spent the last days on my favorite island eating all of our favorite foods, including hawker food, steamboat, dim sum, all the brunch and char siu noodles, soaking in all the beauty of the city and spending time with dear, old friends. There are no words to express all the feelings and emotions that were felt over those last two weeks. While it was with tears of sadness that we said see you later, the tears were also happy as we remembered all the amazing and incredible people and memories that Singapore had given us. Bittersweet, to say the least.

July 7th // First day in our new home, Tokyo- But as we said goodbye to one home, we said hello to another. While we had visited Tokyo many times before, this time was different. We slowly learned to make Tokyo our home. Couch by couch, street by street, house by house. As we went back to some of our favorite places, we also ventured out to new areas, tried new restaurants, met new people and slowly became more and more comfortable in our new home. And while it will never replace Singapore, it’s opened us with nothing but open arms.

August 25th // Juuban Matsuri (end-of-summer festival)- To get rid of all of those back-to-school blues we spent one of the last days of summer (and one of my last days in Tokyo) with friends at the Obon Matsuri in Azabu Juuban. We spent the evening walking through the crowded, vendor-filled streets eating tonkatsu (fried pork) on a stick, playing traditional obon games and sipping on frozen sangria. As crazy and chaotic (and sweaty!) as it was, it was so much fun to celebrate the end of an amazing summer in such a special way.

October 30th // A week in LA with dad- I was SO excited for my dad to come and to be able to spend a week with him in LA in the middle of the semester. We did everything from going to the Grove, walking around Beverly Hills, eating so much brunch and Dim Sum and exploring the original Farmer’s Market. We also headed over to Claremont for a night to spend some time with my grandparents and were able to catch up with close family friends. Having a quick break from campus life was much needed and so much fun!

November 21st // Thanksgiving road-trip to San Francisco- After my grandparents decided to forgo our traditional Thanksgiving, we decided to go on a short trip up to San Francisco. We started with a two day drive up the coast and spent a night in the cute little seaside town of Cambria (seriously, the cutest town ever!). After getting to SF, we spent the next few days walking around the city, grabbing lunch at Pier 39 and of course having steamboat for Thanksgiving dinner, because what else would you do? My grandparents absolutely love SF, so they took me back to all their favorite places, including their two favorites, Lori’s Diner and Sears Fine Food on Powell Street. And to top off the weekend, we were able to watch the first Macy’s Christmas tree lighting of the season.

December 13th // Home for Christmas- And finally, the highlight of my year for sure, being home (in Tokyo) for Christmas. I was crazy excited to be home with my family for the holidays this year, and to have a real winter Christmas. I was so lucky to be able to spend so much time with my favorite people doing Christmas shopping, eating at our go-to places (and a bunch of new ones), going to Disneyland (whole post on Tokyo Disney going up soon!) and of course doing anything and everything Christmassy. We had so many cozy movie nights, nice dinners out on the town, Christmas parties and endless cuddles with my puppy. It was simply one of the best Christmases ever.

I already have so many amazing things lined up for 2019 and can’t wait to see where this year brings me.
Happy New Year! xx

Life Through A Lens #26- LA Feels