Photos of the Day: Imerovigli & Fira (Santorini)

I miss Santorini…the peaceful walks around the caldera, the amazing sunsets, the fragrant & colorful bouquets of flowers & plants that add a pop of color to the white facades…it’s the perfect place to relax & unwind. You can use up an entire memory card in one hour. Have you been to Santorini? If so, what was your favorite thing to do?  What other Greek Islands would you recommend to visit? I’m looking to book my next excursion 🙂

20130607-125456.jpg

20130607-125506.jpg

20130607-125513.jpg

20130607-125525.jpg

Hassan II Mosque (Casablanca, Morocco)

Chandeliers & windows inside the Hassan II Mosque

Chandeliers & windows inside the Hassan II Mosque

The Hassan II Mosque (named after King Hassan II) is the second largest mosque in the world (St. Peter’s Basilica can easily fit inside) and built partly on water. The largest mosque is in Mecca. It has the highest religious minaret in the world at 200 meters high. The mosque will fit up to 25,000 worshippers inside and another 80,000 in the courtyard. It is magnificent! This is also one of the very few mosques open for non-Muslims to visit.

When you enter the mosque, you are given a plastic bag to store your shoes (as you are required to walk barefoot while visiting). As I stated above, the mosque is enormous with beautiful chandeliers and mosaics. In the center, you will see a glass floor that reveals the ocean below which is said to be a reminder of the Qur’an’s statement that God’s throne is upon the water.

In the basement is an ablution room (where you cleanse yourself of your sins) and an absolutely beautiful hammam with a large pool.

Ablution Room

Ablution Room

Pool in the hammam

Pool in the hammam

Sign at the entrance to the mosque

Sign at the entrance to the mosque

View of the mosque on a foggy day.

View of the mosque on a foggy day.

For me, the Hassan II Mosque was the highlight of Casablanca. If you visit Morocco, most international flights fly into Casablanca…my recommendation is to visit the mosque, then keep driving towards Marrakesh to start your adventure!

Photos of the Day: Lake Bled (Slovenia)

20130301-140604.jpg

20130301-140626.jpg

20130301-140638.jpg

Lake Bled is a glacial lake in the Julian Alps in northwestern Slovenia, where it adjoins the town of Bled. We drove over from Trieste for the day. It’s such a wonderful little town! Very relaxing & picturesque.  It was also the first time I’d ever seen “horse meat” for sale!  I highly recommend taking a day or two to explore the town, Bled Castle and Bled Island!

Scintillating Sicily (In The Godfather’s Footsteps)

IMG_1020.jpg

Buon giorno di Sicily! I have to say that while I was excited to visit Sicily to do the tour of The Godfather trilogy filming locations, I didn’t expect the island to be so visually stunning. I think this may be the prettiest place I’ve been so far. Sicily is a cross between Tuscany and the French Riviera.

I love “The Godfather”. I own the trilogy on DVD and can quote most of the lines in the movie. I’m not even sure when this love affair started but it’s one of my favorites (along with What’s Love Got to do With It).  Wait, I just realized that I love violent movies…hmmm.  And here I’ve been thinking I’m a RomCom kinda girl.

Anyway, when I saw there was a tour of The Godfather filming locations in Sicily, I jumped at the opportunity and the tour did not disappoint.  If you haven’t seen the movies then stop reading this post and go watch it now. I’ll wait…

While the film states that the Corleone family was originally from the town of the same name in Sicily, the movie was not actually filmed in that town (it was too developed for the scenes that were to be shot). So, Francis Ford Coppola filmed scenes from the first 2 movies in the town of Savoca.

The village of Savoca is so small, so typical, so “not for tourists”.  I instantly fell in love!  Bar Vitelli was the first thing I saw and my heart seemed to jump out of my body…it was so moving, so exciting!!!!! The Bar is just like in the movie…the table where Michael, Fabrizio and Calo sat…even the door curtains, it was absolutely amazing.

IMG_1025.jpg

On the walk to the church where Michael and Appollonia married, the view was breathtaking. Only 100 people live in this tiny village!

IMG_1022.jpgIMG_1041.jpgIMG_1046.jpgIMG_1048.jpgIMG_1051.jpgIMG_1053.jpgIMG_1075.jpgIMG_1076.jpgIMG_1077.jpgIMG_1080.jpg

Below is the church where the wedding took place (you don’t see very little of in the movie).

IMG_1065.jpg

After looking around inside, I decided to make the same walk Michael and Apollonia did after their wedding from the church to Bar Vitelli.

From here, we drove to Forza d’Agro, another small village where a different church is located. It appears in The Godfather (you see it when Michael goes to Corleone for the first time along with his bodyguards); and in The Godfather 2 (in the scene when Vito escapes to America hidden on a donkey while Don Ciccio’s men threaten the neighbors; also you see it later in the film located when Vito returns with his young family to visit Corleone and settle some old scores).  The courtyard in front of the church was filmed in The Godfather 3 where Michael and Kate are dancing after they reunite.

IMG_1094.jpg

This village has about 700 residents. The views are stunning and you can see the volcano in the background. It actually erupted while we were there but you cannot see the lava until the sun has set.

IMG_1087.jpgIMG_1090.jpgIMG_1092.jpgIMG_1097.jpgIMG_1109.jpgIMG_1114.jpgIMG_1115.jpgIMG_1116.jpgIMG_1117.jpgIMG_1120.jpgIMG_1121.jpgIMG_1125.jpg

I wish I had more time to spend in Sicily! There is so much more I’d love to explore. If you are planning a trip to Italy…or elsewhere in the Mediterranean, add Sicily to your travel list. Be sure to take The Godfather Tour…I promise you won’t be disappointed! Happy travels!

Photos of the Day: Alexandria, Egypt

We arrived in Alexandria around 6am…just in time to see the sun rise. I could hardly sleep the night before in anticipation for what I’d get to see. The first thing I notice as we pull into port is that the water in the harbor is dirty and there are sunken ships (which were actually pretty cool).

wpid-IMG_20130220_211356.jpg

Alexandria is the capital where Cleopatra ruled from 51-30 BC. The city was named for Alexander the Great when he conquered Egypt from the Persians. The story of Cleopatra is fascinating. One thing I did not realize is that she was a descendant of Greeks (Ptolemy, who was a general of Alexander the Great). Cleo was highly educated (she spoke 8 languages) and hard core (she killed her sister to have the throne). A big thing back in the day was for sisters and brothers to marry each other and procreate to keep the royal bloodline going. Of course, this resulted in genetic deformities and poor health for the offspring (see the latest article on the DNA testing of King Tut) as well as a touch of the crazy. Anyway, Cleo was married off to her brother (Ptolemy XIII aka “P13”) but she was like, “this is gross and I’m out.” So, she ended up falling out with him and Julius Caesar had to resolve the conflict of who should rule Egypt. P13 thought he could outsmart his sister and keep her from using her charms to get Caesar to rule in her favor. But, he underestimated her. Where there is a will, there is a way. Cleo had herself rolled up in a carpet and was taken right past her brother’s guards in the palace to Caesar. She put her charms on, was granted the right to rule Egypt and made Caesar her first baby-daddy.

After Caesar was killed (“et tu, Brutus?” is one of my favorite lines), Cleo put her charms on Marc Antony and had 3 kids by him. Marc ended up living in Alexandria and boozing it up. When he was defeated by Octavian (Caesar’s heir to the Roman throne and his rival), he was told that Cleo was dead. So, he killed himself. Cleo actually wasn’t dead and when she found out Marc had committed suicide and she had lost the throne to Egypt, she killed herself by having a deadly snake, an asp, bite her. It’s so tragic. Her kids ended up being taken to Rome where the boys were killed so they wouldn’t pose a threat to Octavian but her daughter, Cleopatra Selene, was allowed to live and ended up becoming the Queen of Mauretania.

20130226-175912.jpg

20130226-175902.jpg
20130226-175923.jpg

Hustlin’ Hard: The Story of the Valley of the Kings

Entrace to the Valley of the Kings

Entrace to the Valley of the Kings

Luxor is home to the Valley of the Kings, Valley of the Queens, Karnak Temple, Luxor Temple and the funerary temple of Queen Hatshepsut (just to name a few). It used to be called “Thebes” in ancient times (which was the capital of Egypt when King Tut & Ramses II ruled). It is believed that Ramses II was the pharaoh when Moses came along asking for him to let his people go. Rams apparently didn’t know Moses (aka Charlton Heston) was an active member of the NRA and thus should’ve taken him seriously.

We arrive in Luxor about an hour and 15 minutes later then board a bus to drive to the Valley of the Kings (“VOK”)…the necropolis of the New Kingdom pharaohs. The VOK (which is home to King Tut’s tomb) is located on the West Bank of the Nile River. The Nile is beautiful (much more so in the country than in the city).

The VOK is purposefully built on the West Bank because the ancient Egyptians believed that since the sun sets in the west, so should their remains. I was unable to take pictures inside VOK because, unfortunately, the people at VOK are like Kanye and Sean Penn as they absolutely forbade cameras. In fact, if you tried to bring a camera in, they said it would be confiscated. And if you tried to be slick and take a picture with a camera phone…they took your phone and fined you $400. So, y’all are just going to have to use your imagination as I describe VOK. I have included a few pictures I sourced via the internet from renegade photographers braver than me (ha!).

Valley of the Kings (source: http://nurdinsembelit.files.wordpress.com)

Valley of the Kings (source: http://nurdinsembelit.files.wordpress.com)

It ends up being 104 degrees (which apparently is cool since a few days before it was 120). I think I saw the devil when I was walking toward the tombs. He was selling bottled water like, “Welcome to Egypt, y’all.” Anyway, we end up seeing 3 tombs (the tombs of Ramses IX, Ramses I and Ramose). I think Egypt may be the birthplace of hustling. Because, after you paid the fee to get in to see the tombs, there was an additional fee if you wanted to go into King Tut or Ramses VI tombs. Hustlers. You have to show your ticket to the guy at the entrance of each tomb who uses a hole puncher to validate it. This system ensures you don’t see more than 3 tombs without paying extra. Hustlers.

valley_of_kings05

The tombs are built into the desert Theban Hills and they are incredible. It’s hard to believe that such wonderful & intricate artwork was done so many thousands of years ago! So far, 62 tombs have been found. Tombs (before they were discovered and open to the public) held almost everything that the pharaoh owned (including his bed, jewelry, statues of servants who would serve him, etc.)…basically anything they felt the pharaoh would need in the afterlife. Since the tombs contained such valuable items, it’s said that the slaves who built the tombs were killed afterwards so they wouldn’t reveal its location. Too bad they didn’t have Confidentiality Agreements back then. That has got to suck.

To enter most tombs, you have to walk down into the opening of the mountain and while you’d think it would be cool since it’s dark…it’s just hot and stuffy. However, you don’t focus on that too much as you quickly get caught up in the hieroglyphics. The sarcophagus (coffin) of one of the pharaohs was still in the tomb. You know they had a guy standing right by it. Probably to charge you if you touched it. Hustlers.

Egyptian Afterlife (source: http://www.photo2013.com)

Egyptian Afterlife (source: http://www.photo2013.com)

Each tomb contained funerary hieroglyphics. Ancient Egyptians believed in eternal afterlife and they had a complex funeral tradition. Bodies of the pharaohs were mummified so that their soul could live on in its embalmed corpse. They took 4 organs (liver, intestines, stomach & lungs) and placed them in beautiful marble jars. The only organ left in the body was the heart which would be weighed in the afterlife. The entire mummification process took 70 days! What I found the most fascinating was the weighing of the heart. That was the final stage in the journey to the afterlife. The god, Anubis (which has the body of a man but the head of a jackal), would weigh the deceased pharaoh’s heart against a feather on a set of scales. If the heart weighed more than the feather (because of living a sinned life) then this beast named, Ammut, devoured it and the pharaoh’s soul would die and they would not live on in eternity. I’m pretty sure that Ammut kept a full belly because a lot of these pharaohs were killing their brothers and fathers and basically doing a lot of dirty stuff to get the throne. You can read a detailed description of the funeral customs here. It was so fascinating that I bought a papyrus painting of the Egyptian Funerary Scene.

After you leave the tombs, you have to wait in the heat (next to Beelzebub) for the little train to come get you and take you back to the entrance. In the meantime, you have to just sit in Hustle City. Those folks were trying to sell you EVERYTHING! They are relentless. It’s like their mantra is “Hustle or Die”. Seriously. I’m gonna see about getting them a record deal because this is just plain ridiculous. You know the package of fold out postcards? Well, they had those (which had seen a better day) and would whip them out and let them fall down all dramatically like they are David Copperfield getting ready to show you a magic card trick. If you refused to buy it, they wanted to know why. It didn’t matter if you had already bought one from Muhammed. Ali Babba doesn’t care about that. He wants you to buy his 1970 postcards with the coffee stains. You can get it for $1! What? You still don’t want it? What about a book on the VOK? You can’t read? No problem. It’s got pictures. It can be yours for $5! Why are you walking away? Oh, they will just follow you and worry the mess out of you (while smoking their cigarettes). They were determined that you were going to do a customer feedback survey. You would think you are saved when the little trolly/train shows up to take you back to the entrance. Surprise! Foodoo gets out of the driver’s seat and brings his postcards and books to sell them to you BEFORE HE WILL TAKE YOU BACK TO THE ENTRANCE. Stop the madness, Egypt. It’s 104 degrees in the hot desert…and I left my water on the bus, people are stinking and the hustlers are swarming around you like mosquitoes with the West Nile virus.

But for the heat (and really, that is my fault because I should’ve known better than to visit the desert in the summer) and the hustling, the Valley of the Kings is absolutely fascinating! I was so amazed & enthralled by the ancient Egyptian traditions. The VOK is a “must see” during your visit to Egypt!

Photos of the Day: Karnak Temple (Luxor/Thebes, Egypt)

20130223-180612.jpgI’ve been obsessed with visiting Karnak Temple ever since I saw The Mummy Returns.  When the opportunity arose to visit, I jumped at the chance!  This open-air museum is very interesting with its decaying temples & hieroglyphics.  Located in the ancient city of Thebes, this temple is said to be the largest ancient religious site in the world & second most visited site in Egypt…behind the Pyramids of Giza (source Wikipedia).  It was even more majestic than I had imagined.  At the heart of Karnak lies the Temple of Amun…king of the gods.  Karnak has everything…endless courts and halls, a sacred lake, statues of pharaohs, etc.  This was the highlight of my visit to Luxor.  It’s AMAZING!

wpid-IMG_20130222_105546.jpg

20130223-180629.jpg

20130223-182349.jpg

20130223-182733.jpg

20130223-182740.jpg

Interested in visiting Egypt?  Read my review here.

Photos of the Day: Life’s a Beach

It’s been less than a week and I’m already missing the beach.  Something about water calms me…it’s like an instant shot of happiness 🙂  Maybe I need to get an “ocean waves” app or something…but then I’m nervous that it will make me want to pee all the time.  Hmmm…I guess the next best thing to being there is staring at pictures!!!  As I started looking thru my online photo albums, I realized that I’ve been BEYOND BLESSED to visit so many amazing places!  And I’d like to share a few of them with you.  So, get your pretend swimsuit, a very real cocktail, sunglasses and let’s go!!!

Mimosas on the beach? Yes...please & thank you! (Cancun)

Mimosas on the beach? Yes…please & thank you! (Cancun)

A Hilton Head sunrise...best way to get your day started!

A Hilton Head sunrise…best way to get your day started!

(Santorini) A view of an infinity pool AND the Mediterranean Sea? Heaven!

(Santorini) A view of an infinity pool AND the Mediterranean Sea? Heaven!

The Norwegian fjords! While it was cold enough for Frosty the Snowman when I visited in March, it's absolutely breathtaking during the summer!

The Norwegian fjords! While it was cold enough for Frosty the Snowman when I visited in March, it’s absolutely breathtaking during the summer!

I know this may be a stretch...but I fell in love with this dam in the Scottish Highlands...and this was before I had any Scottish whiskey :) So serene & peaceful!

I know this may be a stretch…but I fell in love with this dam in the Scottish Highlands…and this was before I had any Scottish whiskey 🙂 So serene & peaceful!

The famous Santorini caldera sunset...

The famous Santorini caldera sunset…

The sunset over a lagoon in Cancun

The sunset over a lagoon in Cancun

Beautiful Lake Bled (Slovenia)

Beautiful Lake Bled (Slovenia)

The amazing Amalfi Coast in Positano, Italy!

The amazing Amalfi Coast in Positano, Italy!

The marina in Monte-Carlo

The marina in Monte-Carlo

Waves on rocks in Monte-Carlo

Waves on rocks in Monte-Carlo

Sunset over Chateau de Chillon

Sunset over Chateau de Chillon

Photo of the Day: It’s So Hard to Say Good-Bye

What an absolutely amazing week in Cancun! I was blessed to spend it with family & friends experiencing some amazing adventures. Waking up this morning to the now familiar sound of crashing ocean waves makes leaving bittersweet. So, as we bring this spectacular vacation to a close, we decided to eat our breakfast on the balcony and enjoy the sunrise one last time. Adios, Cancun!!!

Photos of the Day: Swimming with Dolphins

You know how you see your friend’s photo on Facebook where he/she is all hugged up on a dolphin and you think, “How cool! I wanna do that!”? But instead you are hugging your pillow whining about how you need a vacation…ok, maybe that was just me?!?!?!? I finally got the opportunity to “swim with the fishes (well, they were actually dolphins but I’ve been itching to use that line from The Godfather for a while…ha!). Our dolphins, Pablo & Lucas, were just like puppies! So cute, so friendly and addicted to treats! When you arrive to the pool, you are told that you can only wear a bathing suit (no jewelry, sunglasses, hair clips, etc.). I will go a step further and tell you not to wear hair pieces/wigs because sorry for you if that sucker comes off and your dolphin is now wearing a Bobbi Boss lacefront wig. Ha!

Once you get in the pool, you greet the dolphins by waving (and they turn on their sides to wave back…so freaking cute!). Then after you pet your dolphin,you swim out into the middle of the pool and wait for the dolphin to join you. The dolphin will swim around behind you then flip onto its tummy for you to grab its fins and off you go zooming towards the shallow end! So fun!! A little later, you get to “dance” and “kiss” your dolphin. I want a pet dolphin so bad…but i guess I’ll just have to content myself with trying to teach my dog how to wave his paw & pose for kisses. I’m pretty sure he’s going to give me the side-eye and sigh like “stop the madness, lady…and get me a treat while you’re up.”

Honestly, if you’ve ever debated on whether or not to swim with dolphins, I highly recommend you do it. They are so gentle and fun…and it will be an experience you will talk about for a long time!

20130211-065552.jpg

20130211-065525.jpg20130211-065538.jpg20130211-065612.jpg20130211-065621.jpg