Nikki’s Favorite Things: 2014 Fashion Accessories (Fall/Winter/Spring)

With weight restrictions on checked luggage, it’s hard to travel light and be fashionable.  I used to be the girl with 2 suitcases and a carry-on…for a 7 day trip.  Why?  Because I needed options and apparently thought I’d be doing outfit changes every few hours like Scarlett (of the O’Hara clan).  So young.  So naive.  Now that I am wearing my Big Girl Panties, I’ve learned that all I need is one suitcase and a backpack.

It was hard in the beginning but you learn the critical items you need…and where to find a laundromat.  The last thing you want to deal with while traveling to different countries is a lot of luggage.  Most metro systems in European cities do not have escalators or elevators so you are stuck carrying your suitcase up and down steps.  By the time you finally reach your destination, you are cursing the name Louboutin and wondering why in the world you needed to bring 5 pair of stilettos when you can’t walk in them on cobbled streets.  The struggle is real.

With space limitations, you have to figure out how to make 1 outfit work more than once. How do I accomplish this?  With my favorite fashion accessory…SCARVES!  I like to wear a lot of black because I have put on quite a few pounds it’s fashionable.  Wearing  black also allows you to accessorize with lots of different colors.  While I love to shop for scarves in the cities I visit, I always bring a few with me from home to be safe.

Forget the big chain retail stores and support small businesses.  I love Etsy!  How I got addicted to the app is baffling to me.  All I know is that I browse the online shops at least 3 times a week looking for unique accessories that I won’t see on 10 other women at the airport.  The items I highlight below were all purchased by me with no compensation from the owners.  This is just my opinion and recommendation of fabulous shops that you might want to check out on Etsy.

Right now, my favorite shops are:

DottieQ — She has a collection of amazingly funky knit scarves in a vast array of colors, offers super fast shipping and is a dream to buy from!  I love this rope scarf!!

This rope scarf is everything to me!!!

This rope scarf is everything to me!!!

Bo Peep’s Bonnets – I am in LOVE with the Chunky Knit Cowls I purchased from her.  She is super responsive and offers a great selection of colors.  Can’t wait for my slouchy hat to arrive so I can wear it on my trip to Iceland in January!

This modern take on "Little Red Riding Hood" is fab.u.lous!

This modern take on “Little Red Riding Hood” is fab.u.lous!

Scarf Arts – This store has a huge collection of beautiful silk scarves in lovely solids & prints.  The scarves are super soft and wash really well.  This (and a pink print) are my “go to” scarves year round!  You can dress it up or down.

This scarf is amazing!  I can wear it all seasons and get tons of compliments!

This scarf is amazing! I can wear it all seasons and get tons of compliments!

Zojanka – The designer/craftsman is located in Poland and she has a ton of funky/edgy scarves like the one pictured below.  I love that I can wear the bracelet alone or as part of the scarf!  Multi-purpose and great for travel!!

In LOVE!  This linen scarf comes with a gladiator-style bracelet that gives it a little edge.  I've not seen anyone else with this type of scarf since I've been wearing it.

In LOVE! This linen scarf comes with a gladiator-style bracelet that gives it a little edge. I’ve not seen anyone else with this type of scarf since I’ve worn it.

Verbosity – This shop specializes in upcycled t-shirt scarves.  Originally, I had ordered a custom-made scarf representing my college alma mater, Indiana University.  Then, I saw she had a Star Wars scarf and was like, “I need this in my life immediately.”

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Love this fabulous Star Wars scarf by Verbosity. Rocked it in London during a trip in March 2013. The Force was strong with me that day 🙂

Trouble Finding Your Passion? Start a Bucket List!

What are you passionate about?  Not sure?  Create a “Bucket List” that includes things you’ve always wanted to try or do.  You never know…one of those items may be what you are destined to do with your life!

Too many people wait until a certain time in their lives before they start pursuing their dreams.  Why do they wait?  There are various reasons:  “I want to wait until I get married”; “I want to wait until my kids are grown”; “I will do it when I retire”, etc.  Sometimes these “reasons” are really excuses.  START LIVING NOW!  Don’t wait until a certain event or milestone happens.  We never know when our last day on Earth will be.  Why not make the most of the time you have?

“Live as if you were to die tomorrow.  Learn as if you were to live forever.” – Mahatma Gandhi

Single?  Do not wait until you find that special someone.  Fill your life up with things YOU want to do in the meantime.  That means you’ll bring some fabulous stories to your next relationship.

Have children?  Don’t wait until your kids are grown.  Inspire them to want to live a fulfilling life as they observe you pursuing your dreams and taking chances.

Don’t wait until you retire!  In this economy, who knows when that will be!  Start your bucket list now so you can have an awesome retirement filled with things you love to do and places you want to visit.

The great thing about a bucket list is that it helps you to visualize what you want to do and take action when opportunities arise.  Groupon and Living Social have deals everyday!  This is how I fulfilled my dreams of skydiving, race car driving…and in January, a trip to Iceland!  Best part?  I am able to achieve my goals on a shoestring budget!

I am a long ways off from retirement and still waiting to meet Mr. Right.  But, you know what?  I’m happy!  Everything isn’t perfect.  There are times when I feel like I’ve failed at life…especially when others make insensitive comments.  However, instead of punching them in the throat taking it personal, I force myself to remember all of the things I’ve accomplished from my bucket list.  I didn’t get here overnight.  In fact, it wasn’t until my recent trip to Bali (another bucket list item) where I learned how to meditate properly and use yoga to control my mood.  And you know what?  My imperfect life is pretty fulfilling as I’m living, learning, dreaming and exploring!

So…join me in making an awesome bucket list!  I promise that you will love the feeling of trying new things.  Some you may enjoy…others you may not.  That’s the beauty of bucket lists.  It’s like shopping for dreams 🙂

Need inspiration?  I’m addicted to the free iPad app “iWish” which provides inspiration in the form of photos, quotes & maps as well as allowing you to create your bucket list electronically.  I also recommend Bucket List Living Magazine.  Follow the directions below and use the coupon code “3free” for a free 3 month subscription.  Let’s start living the dream!

What’s been on my bucket list?

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How to Use the Bucket List Living Magazine Coupon

  1. Go to “App Store Downloads on iTunes”.  Search for Bucket List Living Magazine.
  2. Download the free app by tapping the FREE button.
  3. Tap the INSTALL APP button.  You will then enter your Apple ID Password and click OK.
  4. When the magazine app is finished installing tap the OPEN button.
  5. Permission to send new issues and push notifications from Bucket List Living Magazine is requested.  Choose OK.
  6. Tap the SUBSCRIBE button and then the CURRENT SUBSCRIBERS button.
  7. Enter the coupon code into the account number box and tap the CONTINUE button.  After you enter the code you will receive a notification that you have subscribed successfully.  Tap CLOSE. (The current issue should begin downloading in the background.)
  8. A VIEW button will appear below the current issue, tap it to begin enjoying the magazine.
  9. You will have access to any issue published during the trial subscription period.  At the end of the trial period you will retain access to any issue downloaded during the trial period but will be required to pay for any subsequent issues.

Germs on a Plane

I recently read a fascinating & insightful article, Just Plane Nasty: 5 Places Where Germs Thrive on a Commercial Flight by Microbiologist and Director of Global Service Care at Reckitt Benckiser Inc., Joe Rubino.  In this article, he discusses the top 5 dirtiest places on a plane.  And for those of us that travel, it is eye-opening.  I will never board another plane without sanitizer!  Here’s a quick recap:

  1. Bathrooms:  I’m sure everybody knows this.  I never touch anything in a public restroom without paper towels and always use Purell after I leave.  I’m amazed at how many folks wash their hands then touch the door handle.  Too many people have subjective definitions of cleanliness for me to touch bare surfaces.
  2. Touch Screens:  Imagine how many fingers have touched that screen before you decided you wanted to play trivia on your flight to El Paso?
  3. Tray Tables:  All I had to read was the example of folks using it as an impromptu changing table.  Ewwww!
  4. Blankets/Pillows:  Blankets and pillows are reused multiple times before they are sent off to be washed.  This quote from Rubino says it all, “A saliva-filled pillow can perhaps cause the spread of a cold or flu, especially if there is more than saliva on it, such as respiratory secretions and mucus.”
  5. Seat Pockets:  How many times have you used the seat pocket to hold trash?  It’s easy to do.  What I found most interesting was the article speaking to the fact that some people lick their fingers when turning pages of the magazines provided.  Uh uh.  No.  My mind cannot deal with that.  Right now, I’m ordering a vat of disinfectant to soak my fingers.  I’m done with Sky Mall!

What does the article recommend?  Traveling with lots of Lysol® Disinfectant Wipes (or their travel-sized spray).  I highly recommend you read the article in its entirety.  It’s very informative in explaining where germs live & how you can decrease your chances of catching a cold or the flu while travelling.  Lots of things to be mindful of.  Also, please check out the other articles on the Priority One Jet’s blog.  Very interesting reads!

Nikki’s Nest: Riad Joya (Marrakech, Morocco)

The amazing Riad Joya courtyard

The amazing Riad Joya courtyard

Planning a trip to the majestic city of Marrakech? I recommend staying at the fabulous Riad Joya (designed by the eclectic & posh Umberto Maria Branchini). Featured on The Today Show’s 2012 “Hotlist”, this decadent riad captures the essence of different African cultures and each suite is light & airy.

Located in the very heart of the Medina (in the historical and protected area of the Mouassine quarter), Riad Joya is just a short walk from main monuments, the souk and Djemaa El Fna square (where you can buy spices, get a henna tattoo or take part in snake charming). You can also see some of the most exciting attractions of the red city, such as the Coranique School, the Koutubia and the Museum of Marrakech.This elegant boutique riad is a welcome retreat of peace & tranquility after spending the day exploring the chaotic Medina. I had the pleasure of spending 3 lovely days at this riad last year and can’t wait to visit again.

What’s a Riad?
Historically, it is a traditional Moroccan home with an open garden or courtyard. However, now most function as hotels/resorts. Riads are more inward focused. You won’t see large exterior windows. In fact, the exterior is rather plain and you are unable to tell if the home is upper or lower class. There are clay walls with a huge (and in some cases, ornate) door. Once you enter thru the massive door, you will be amazed at how lovely the interior is. This is where the magic happens..beautiful tiles & mosaics, water fountains, lush fabrics…riads offer you the opulence of a grand mansion combined with a cozy atmosphere. These lovely “homes” only have a small number of rooms (i.e. 5-10). Riads provide you with a unique Moroccan experience that you won’t get staying in a traditional hotel. You receive special attention & stay in beautiful surroundings. It’s like a slice of heaven.

Getting There

Riad Joya will arrange for a taxi from the airport, train station, or other cities at your request. Your taxi will drop you off just outside one of the gates to the Medina. The streets are very narrow inside the Medina so no cars are allowed…only push carts, donkeys & mules. They will also arrange for a luggage porter to greet you at the gate and lead you to the riad which is just a few minutes walk away. My advice…do not try to find the riad on your own. The Medina has many streets and this riad is located off a side street from another side street. A 20 Dirham (which is about $2 USD) tip to a luggage porter is money well spent. Plus, this will allow you to take in the sights and sounds of the Medina while walking to your destination.

Promotions

You can book directly via the website or go thru a 3rd party discount booking agency (i.e. Jetsetter; Trip Advisor).

The Courtyard

This riad surrounds a breathtaking courtyard that has a water fountain and beautiful plants & flowers. There are open lounge/sitting areas surrounding the courtyard. Each area makes you feel comfortable and relaxed.

View of the Riad Joya from the rooftop at night

View of the Riad Joya from the rooftop at night

Marrakesh 442Rooms & Suites

Riad Joya is an elegant 7-suite luxury boutique hotel. Each suite has a theme based on a particular African region. The riad website describes it best, “The overall atmosphere is of an elegant private house where understated luxury fuses with eclectic style and bespoke service and attentions.”

This hotel also has a “Butler service” which offers tailored services “from the assistance with transportation and luggage, to recommendations of activities, Joya’s Butler is always ready to ensure that all our guests have everything needed for an enriching stay.” We were spoiled rotten! He anticipated our needs, handled getting our laundry washed & pressed; walking us to and from the hammam and inquiring about our favorite fruits & vegetables to help with dinner selection. I really needed him to come home with me 🙂

Each suite features a private seating area and large dressing room. The bathrooms are amazing!!! They are “all made in natural stones combined with the traditional tadelak, are bright and spacious and features large shower and a vanity corner.”

Be sure to check out the pictures on the riad website (linked above) or tripadvisor.com as each suite is different. Upon arrival, we are told we can pick from a variety of suites since the riad was not fully booked (fab-u-lous!). After we chose our suite, we were taken to our room and given time to relax before heading down for dinner. Words really can’t capture how wonderful this place is.

We stayed in the largest suite — the Dar Arabe…absolute luxury!

A writing alcove in the Dar Arabe suite

A writing alcove in the Dar Arabe suite

Vanity area

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Soaps, shampoo & conditioner

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Seating area

Seating area

I was also given a tour and was able to photograph a few of the suites that weren’t in use.

The Tuareg suite (inspired by the Berber people). Love the eclectic look & feel of this room (even if it is the darkest suite of the bunch).

Entrance to the Tuareg suite

Entrance to the Tuareg suite

Sweet dreams in the Tuareg suite!

Sweet dreams in the Tuareg suite!

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Check out the sinks!

A copper bathtub surrounded by a circular cloth shower curtain.

A copper bathtub surrounded by a circular cloth shower curtain.

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Seating area

Seating area

The Naos suite – in Egyptology, naos refers to that which is hidden and unknown inside the inner sanctum of a temple (source, Wikipedia).

Naos suite

Naos suite

Naos suite

Naos suite

Naos bath

Naos bath

The Domus suite…

Domus suite

Domus suite

Domus seating area

Domus seating area

Dining

The chef at the Riad Joya is PHENOMENAL! You can dine in their beautiful dining room or on the terrace (which is up several sets of very steep stairs). The riad provides a bountiful breakfast of fruits & pastries (you can request eggs as well) and a daily set menu.

A bountiful dinner

A bountiful dinner

Ambient lighting in the dining room with their beautiful Moroccan lamps.

Ambient lighting in the dining room with their beautiful Moroccan lamps.

Delicious dessert

Delicious dessert

The Hammam & Spa

What better way to unwind from a day of sightseeing than to enjoy a hammam & spa? Unfortunately, the riad’s hammam was out of service during our stay but they did set us up with an appointment at another hammam a short walk away (and the massage is fab-u-lous)! You pick between a couple of fragrant oils (my choices were “orange flower” and “jasmine”). Those magical hands lulled me right into a light nap. Want to know more about what to expect when visiting a hammam? Check out my Tale of 2 Hammams post.

Overall

If you are looking for the perfect place to unwind and relax during your visit to Marrakech, this inviting sanctuary is the place. Have insightful conversations over mint tea while learning about Moroccan culture from the locals. I must warn you that this riad is not suitable to those who are wheelchair bound or have mobility issues due to the amount of stairs. Other than that, this place is perfect. Centrally located with delicious food and an absolutely phenomenal staff, the Riad Joya is a wonderful place to stay during your exotic trip to Marrakech. So forget using hotel chain rewards points and enjoy the unique experience of staying in a riad!

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Nikki’s Rating: Absolutely Wonderful 5

Rating Scale 1-5 (1 = GET OUT NOW; 2 = Seriously?; 3 = Eh, it’ll do; 4 = Fabulous; 5 = Absolutely Wonderful)

Looking for a place to stay in Fez? Check out my review of the Riad Laaroussa. Interested in visiting Morocco? Check out my travel adventures here!

Exploring Athens

I spent a wonderful 8 days in Athens for work. I have to admit that I wasn’t all that excited to come back after having spent a day here last year while on my Mediterranean cruise. However, it’s much different hanging out over a series of days versus being caught up in the cruise crowd for a day being shuttled from site to site. The best part of the trip was that my favorite travel companion joined me…my Mommy! She actually did tours to other cities while I slaved away in the office. Hopefully, she will have her blog post to me soon (hint, hint).

Hotel
I stayed at The Athens Gate hotel which is in central Athens with a fabulous view of the Temple of Zeus & the Acropolis. You can read my hotel review here.  The area around the hotel is so neat.

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View of the Acropolis during breakfast.

If you ever visit Athens, I highly recommend this hotel. Do the pre-booking (which includes breakfast) for a great rate. What is better than eating breakfast while looking at the Acropolis from their rooftop restaurant?

There is some sort of “Happy Trolley” that will drive you around the historic section as well. It’s usually pretty packed and runs late.
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Food
Greek food…I’ll be honest and say that to me, it was “okay”. I prefer something with a bit more flavor. Not to say that the food was bad, but it wasn’t like Italy. It is serviceable…meaning that it will fill you up. It was hit or miss depending on where you ate. Most of the time, I felt it was a little bland. But I will say that the Greek salad was pretty good and the moussaka (which my Mom loves), gyros & souvlaki were good depending on the restaurant. They give you A LOT of food and you will get the stink-eye if you don’t clean your plate. It’s like they take it personal if you don’t eat everything on your plate. Clearly, the concept of portion control is lost here and they could care less if you are on Weight Watchers. Which I kinda love.

Moussaka – sautéed eggplant & tomatoes with minced meat (like hamburger) topped with white sauce & cheese) then baked. The version I like best had potatoes.
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Souvlaki – think kabobs. It’s basically grilled meat & veggies on a skewer. I had chicken & pork. They will sometimes serve it with a pita and rice depending on the restaurant.
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One day, I just wanted something familiar so I ordered a hamburger and fries. This is what I got…
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I didn’t expect 5 breakfast buddies. LOL. But, it was actually pretty tasty. I was only able to eat 1 ½ patties but it’s nice that you know you aren’t going to starve when you leave.

While the food was okay, the experience is phenomenal. We ate outside at various cafés that had outstanding views of the Acropolis every night. That more than made up for the food. I never got tired of staring at the Acropolis. It’s just magnificent!

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Choosing a restaurant to eat at is an experience in and of itself. There are waiters/hype men that stand in front of EACH restaurant and try to persuade you to come in and eat. It reminds you of when you are touring and vendors worry you to death trying to sell you their souvenirs. One night, a colleague & I decided to try out a rooftop restaurant in this cool hilltop section of The Plaka. There were at least 9 restaurants in this little section. We choose one, go thru the kitchen to get to the back stairs and climb up to the roof. The view was awesome.

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So, we look at the menu, decide on our selections and our waiter comes over. He has a “Godfather” vibe to him. We order and he proceeds to tell us what he is going to serve us instead. Um, why do they give menus if it’s “waiter’s choice”? So, for appetizers, he brings us out some sort of cheese spread (nope) and fried cheese (nope again). That’s right, fried cheese. Sigh. Now, I just wanted salad and moussaka. That’s all. The Greek Godfather gets irritated that we aren’t wolfing down the fried cheese & cheese spread. He’s all, “you no like?” Well, I ain’t trying to have a horse head in my bed in the morning so I say, “oh, it’s delicious. I’m just trying to save room for my moussaka.” He gives me the stink-eye and goes to say something to the bus boy. I’m pretty sure he tells him to go find Barbaro. Anyway, after begging the busboy to take the appetizers away, we finally get our main meals. Sigh. It was okay. I had high hopes. The Greek Godfather comes by and asks why I haven’t finished my meal (I half expected to hear him tell me about the starving kids in Africa). I tried as best as I could to eat the entire meal. My colleague is laughing and telling me that I’m getting punked. Whatever. I’m scared. By this time, the Greek Godfather is treating me like I came to his daughter’s wedding with no gift and asking for a favor. I’m like, please don’t have me sleeping with the fishes over this moussaka. He was done with us at this point. Clearly we didn’t worship at the fountain of the Greek God of Food. The night wasn’t lost though because the view was spectacular. We ended up going to Café Plaka for dessert and coffee afterwards.

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Animal Kingdom
If you are scared of dogs, then you don’t need to visit Greece. Seriously. They are everywhere. I’m a dog lover (as some of y’all know about my booters, Mr. Riley). Greece is overrun by dogs & cats. You know that movie, “All Dogs Go to Heaven”? Well, I think they really go to Greece because those dogs live the life! Most of the dogs are strays. Now, strays in the U.S. have an emaciated & wolfish look to them because they try to survive on the streets by foraging for food. Not the strays in Greece. Oh no, those jokers are well fed to the point where they may want to start counting Weight Watcher’s points. The government takes care of them by providing food & water in designated areas around each city. Some dogs have collars and some don’t. The ones that have collars are the ones that have been seen by a vet and have had their shots.  I absolutely LOVE that!  The fact that these animals are so well cared for says a lot about Greece to me.  Yeah, they may have financial issues, but they also have a big heart 🙂

My first night in Athens, my colleague & I were walking around trying to find a particular restaurant. We see some dogs (lab mixes mostly). At first, 2 of them decide to escort us on our walk which is cool because I’m missing Riley so I’m happy to have dogs to coo over. Then, we come up on a pack of dogs in another section. Clearly, this is their “set” and they let the 2 dogs with me know that. It’s all growling and barking. I’m like, “the hell?” I can’t get caught up in dog gang wars. So, we try to slowly slide out of the conflict and as we turn the corner, we hear some loud barking coming from the sky. Why is there a dog on the roof barking at us like, “get the hell on!”? Seriously?

Over the 8 days, I was able to note that the dogs pretty much kept to their own areas of the city. They are also extremely smart. One dog was walking next to me on a busy street (Syngou). Then, I guess he decides he needs to cross the street because he walks to the stoplight where the cross walk is. At this point, I stop because I need to know if this dog is going to rush out in front of traffic. Um, why does he wait for the cross walk sign to turn green, looks both ways, then crosses?

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I was outdone. That wasn’t the only dog that did it either. I guess they need to be well-trained to survive in a big city but still, it was amazing. So, to recap…the dogs & cats have food and water, can come and go as they please and don’t have to listen to an owner. Riley would give me the deuces in a hot second if he were to ever hear about this place.

The Fabulous Sites
Athens has a lot of ruins…which I love. I enjoy walking on ground that someone has walked on thousands of years ago!

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We checked out the New Acropolis Museum which has relics (about 4,000 statues & artifacts) from the buildings on the Acropolis (i.e. Parthenon & Temple of Athena Nike). It gives you a pretty substantial history of how the Acropolis came to be, what it was like during its heyday, and why it was almost destroyed. Now, it doesn’t have “a lot” of stuff like you expect in a museum. But, I found it interesting.

Next stop was Hadrian’s Arch which was built by the Roman emperor, Hadrian. It’s the symbolic entrance to Athens. Basically, it was his way of letting the Athenians know who they were beholden to. The inscription facing the Acropolis side reads “THIS IS ATHENS, THE ANCIENT CITY OF THESEUS.” On the other side, it states “THIS IS THE CITY OF HADRIAN, NOT OF THESEUS”. That joker was gangsta.
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He also built Hadrian’s Library.
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You know, I just realized he is the Tyler Perry of ancient Greece. I mean, his name is on everything. I’m pretty sure that if I did the research, I’d find that all the plays put on during that time were most likely titled, “Hadrian presents Hadrian’s Meet the Aristotles” with Athena being Madea.

Hadrian’s Arch is right in front of the Temple of Olympian Zeus. Hadrian finished the construction that began in the 6th century B.C. and continued on and off for 700 years. Kind of like road construction projects in Atlanta 🙂 Anyway, the Olympieion (aka Kolonnes or Columns) were 360×143 feet and considered one of the largest temples in the ancient world. There were once statues of Zeus and Hadrian but those are gone now.
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Then, we walked to Syntagma Square which is the focal point of Athens political & civic life. This is where you find major banks, travel agencies, fine hotels and where the protesters congregate almost every weekday over some issue. It’s right across the street from the Parliament building.

Syntagma Square & surrounding area
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Parliament
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As you are walking, you come up on some random excavation & relics — 398.jpg

Then there is the famous Central Market. Y’all ain’t ready for this. You need a strong stomach. Basically, they sell everything from the rooter to the tooter in here. I like the fact that they try to be funny with their displays even though this almost made me become a vegetarian.

The 3 Little Pigs
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Liner & instestines, etc from cows
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I don’t think smoking killed this one
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Next stop is Ancient Agora. This was the commercial and civic center in historic Athens. It’s a jumble of ancient building relics as these buildings were used for a wide range of political, educational, philosophical, theatrical and athletic purposes. It’s a great place to wander though. Once you enter, you will be on the main road entitled “Panathenaic Way”
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I read that Agora was usually filled with merchants, legislators and philosophers (in fact, Socrates & Plato were regulars). But, it’s pointed out that very few women hung out here because they did not regularly go into public places. In 399 B.C., Socrates, accused of “introducing strange gods and corrupting youth” was sentenced to death. He drank his up of hemlock in a prison at the southeast corner of the Agora (I can’t even tell you where that is) where excavators later found small clay cups, just the right size for his fatal drink. It’s a pretty neat place and actually very peaceful (even if folks were executed here).
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We then head up to Monastiraki (which is a neighborhood that fringes the Agora and Roman Forum). Basically has a log of flea markets and restaurants. In Monastiraki Square where there are some guys in Celtics jerseys doing some sort of hip hop/breakdance production. It’s like “Electric Bougaloo – Athens”. I’ll upload the video once the site it back up.
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Getting around
The taxis are kind of expensive but I do appreciate a flat fee of 35 euro from the airport to central Athens. I primarily used the Metro. Which is cheap and clean. Now, they don’t have turnstiles but you are supposed to validate your ticket at the ticket machine. In Italy, they have people on each train that come by and verify that your ticket is validated or you get fined (you may remember the wonderful story of my ride from Genoa to Florence with the crazy guy that didn’t validate and had to pay 50 euro…classic). Anyway, they don’t have that here. It’s the honor system. The Metro is usually pretty crowded but folks are nice, there is no drama and the trains run pretty regularly.

Overall, I really did love Athens. I would definitely go back again as there is so much to see and not enough time to see it. The people are friendly and my local contact even brought my colleague & I to his house (which is fab) and fed us fresh strawberries & gelato while we sat in his backyard under the pergola looking at the Aegean Sea.
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The shopping is great and the men are gorgeous!  Seriously? Why was that not in the guidebook? How can I get one of them??? With each trip, I feel like I’m becoming more well-rounded and able to view the culture from a more global point of view, instead of a U.S.-centric view. Hopefully, I will be able to run the Athens marathon one day as I’d love to run the original marathon route (as long as there aren’t many hills, then I’d be satisfied with just driving it). I guarantee that if you make the trip to Athens, you won’t be disappointed. May is the perfect time to go as the weather is mild, it’s right before high season & it isn’t crowded. Check it out!

Wicked Westminster Abbey

Westminster Abbey…the Dubbs Abbs.  I don’t know why I keep trying to give places nicknames…that’s not working is it?  I know you read “Dubbs Abbs” and thought, “WTF is she talking about?”  I’m sleepy, y’all.  Don’t judge me 🙂

Westminster Abbey is so cool!  Kings (i.e. Henry VIII with his crazy self) & Queens are crowned & buried there.  The most interesting thing for me was finding out that Queen Elizabeth I is buried ON TOP of her sister, Queen Mary (or, as she was known, “Bloody Mary”…which actually makes me a bit thirsty for a cool beverage). For those of you who aren’t up on your Tudor history, Mary was the daughter of Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon and Elizabeth I is the daughter of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn.

So, Liz’s mama stole her daddy (Henry) from his 1st wife (Catherine) but later found out he was crazy when he had her decapitated for allegedly being a traitor and having an incestuous relationship with her brother. Which I mean, with the royals marrying 1st cousins and such back then, that is sort of like the pot calling the kettle black. It also explains the whole “Deliverance” vibe some of them had…you just don’t mix the blood lines like that.

Anyway, Mary was a strict Roman Catholic like her mama. Her father had changed the official religion of England from Catholicism to Protestant in an effort to divorce Catherine when the Pope refused to grant him an annulment so he could marry his new boo, Anne Boleyn. Of course, if Lil Annie knew that Henry would turn his craziness on her and get all Betty Broderick (the quintessential Lifetime movie for love gone crazy), I’m sure she would’ve reserved her charms for someone else. But, power is a heady drug that distorts your common sense. All she could see is the finery and being able to tell her haters to kiss her ass once she was Queen of England. I can relate…in fact, I’m looking for Harry now 🙂

So, as I was saying before I digressed, Mary changed the official religion of England from Protestant back to Catholicism and rounded up people who refused to convert and had them burned alive at the stake. I’m pretty sure that Jesus wasn’t co-signing that. I mean, she prayed all day every day so you think she would know better. I imagine something like this happened during her prayer sessions:

Crazy Mary: Lord, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done.
Jesus: Uh, Mary? My will ain’t being done right now. What are you thinking burning folks on a stake? Don’t you remember that I died on that sucker? You think this is how I want folks to come to me?
CM: But, Jesus, I can’t let these people continue in the religion of that heinous Anne Boleyn and her trollop daughter, Lizzie.
JC: Get a grip. You have to move on from that. Are you taking your meds?

I think Mary had a touch of the crazy like her daddy and after being locked away from her mama for years due to her father’s out of control libido, it couldn’t have been too much of a surprise. Mary continued the tradition & locked here sister, Elizabeth (Liz 1), in the Tower of London for a while because she thought Liz was in on a plot to kill her. Which…she probably was. That’s just how they rolled back then. After Mary died at the age of 42 from cancer, Elizabeth inherited the throne (after a lot of drama).  Being locked away in the Tower and being labeled a traitor did nothing to get Mary in Liz’s good graces. Which is why she now and for all eternity will reside beneath Liz in the Abbey. I’m sure Liz was like, “How you like me now?”

The Tudor history is fascinating. I would recommend reading a series of books by Phillipa Gregory to gain a thorough overview (The Other Boleyn Girl, The Virgin Queen, etc). Being royalty back in the day was a death sentence!

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The Chaotic Culture of Cairo

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Cairo…Lord help me…I wasn’t ready. Cairo is a HUGE city of over 25 million people.  It is chaotic, has the worse environmental, health and safety issues I’ve ever seen…and in spite of all that, it is magnificent.  In order to enjoy Cairo, you have to look past the current state of modern Cairo and imagine what it was like thousands of years ago.

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We start out today by taking a bus for 3 hours from Alexandria to Cairo. On the way, the tour guide gives us a history lesson (which conflicts with the history lesson from the Alexandria/Luxor tour and makes me consult my guidebook because you know how I am about details). Anyway, she does give us this tidbit as we pass this cone-shaped construction…

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It’s a pigeon coop and apparently, pigeons are considered a delicacy in Egypt. They construct these coops to trap the pigeons then kill them and eat them. I’m sure they taste just like chicken. My first thought was of Petey…the pigeon who took a dump on my coat in Florence. He better watch his back if he ever vacations in Egypt because Ahkbar will be like, ‘guess who’s coming to dinner?’

So, we get to Cairo and it’s instant chaos. Imagine 25 million people trying to get around the city. I’m going to break this post into the “good”, “bad” and “just plain sad”.

THE GOOD

Egyptian Museum
This museum alone is enough to bring me back to Cairo. It holds most of the treasure from King Tut’s tomb and words cannot describe how magnificent the treasure is. It is hard to imagine that there was that type of skilled artistry that many years ago. I expected crude drawings but this was delicate & masterful. The marble jars that held his organs were the most beautiful things I’ve seen. And, his bed? OMG. There was also a papyrus chair that looks like you can sit in it now. It’s just amazing how this stuff lasted for so long. And, how much they had! I mean, they had big patio umbrellas, boomerangs, huge beds, chaise lounges…you name it. They were living large back in the day! We were not allowed to take any pictures or even bring your camera off the bus so I apologize for not being able to show you these works of art. King Tut’s treasure does travel to other museums from time to time so I highly suggest you check it out if it comes to a city near you. I promise that you will not be disappointed.

Pyramids of Giza & the Sphinx
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Seeing the pyramids and sphinx up close was amazing. Now, I will be honest with you…you are going to have to block out a lot of foolishness and really FOCUS ON THE MOMENT. Because the hustlers are out in full force. You thought the hustlers in Luxor were bad? That was the B team. These are the professionals.

The pyramids aren’t in the desert…they are right there on the edge of town. Look to the left and there is a KFC/Pizza Hut. But, once you look right and go up the hill, it’s all pyramids. It took over 2 million stones to make the Great Pyramid.

The Giza Plateau which houses the pyramids is older than the Valley of the Kings. While Thebes and Alexandria were capitals of Egypt during pharaonic rule, Memphis may have been the original capital. The Great Pyramid was built around 5000 years ago and became the necropolis (royal burial ground) for Khufu, Khafre and Menkaure. It took less than 100 years to build all 3 pyramids.
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There were also smaller Queens’ Pyramids which were constructed for the wives and important relatives of the pharaohs.
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Then there is the Sphinx which is the guardian of the Giza Plateau. It’s known to the Arabs as ‘Abu al-Hol’ or the “father of terror”.
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THE BAD

The Hustlers.

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You could barely enjoy yourself because of how commercial it has become outside the major sites. You know it’s bad when they have to prepare you and give you “talking points” before you leave the bus. The professional hustlers are in cahoots with the cops. They play this game where they will trick you into paying them more money and if you refuse, they loud talk you and the police will come over and make you pay the hustler or face jail. Ridiculous. It’s just a very aggressive peddle market and if you aren’t prepared, it will overwhelm you. So, if you ever go over there, be on the lookout for 2 hustles.

1. The Camel Ride. The hustler will start by telling you it’s $100 to ride a camel for 5 minutes. Then, you negotiate down to $5. You have to be very specific and tell them that the $5 is for the ENTIRE THING. Because, they will charge you $5 to get on the camel…then $100 to get you off. That’s right. You could be held hostage on a camel. The fair price for a 15 minute camel ride is $10. Now, since the camels stank to high heaven, I decided I’d just get my picture taken next to one. This required every negotiation tactic I possessed. See, hustlers sense weakness. You have to go in confident and not show any doubt or insecurity with them or they will loud talk you. So, I just went in with the “I’m from the ATL…I ride MARTA, you can’t hustle me” attitude. I asked Muhammed how much it would cost to take a picture with the camel and his response? “Whatever you want to pay.” Naw, playa. I’mma need you to agree to a fixed price. So, I responded with, “will you accept $2?” He was like, “whatever you want to pay. It can be free. I’m not worried about the money.” Buddy, I’m from the ATL. You can’t hustle me. I already got caught up in the sphinx booty hustle in Luxor. I’m hustled out. So, I said to him, “you specifically agree to $2 because that is what I’m paying you.” He nodded and tried to distract me. Uh uh. Buddy…I’m from the A.T.L. Home of Grand Hustle Records. Please. So, I take the pic and you can see from the smile on his face that he thinks he’s about to pull a major hustle.
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After I take the picture and start to pull out the money, Muhammed was like, “most people pay me $7 or $10”. I was like, “well, you agreed to $2”. He then proceeded to give me a look like he was about to start loud-talking me…I then looked him dead in the eye, gave him the $2 and walked away.  I’ve watched Star Wars a hundred times…I know how to pull off a Jedi mind trick.  Don’t hate the playa, hate the game. Ha!

2. “Free” gifts. After I leave Muhammed, this kid comes up with something that he says is a gift. It’s supposedly free. I already knew about that hustle too. See, I go on the Rick Steves website and see what the current hustles are in each country & city I visit. There was nothing about the sphinx booty so I got caught slipping but I was determined not to make that mistake twice. So, when the hustlers try to give you something (even a “free” gift), you cannot accept it because it magically becomes worth a certain amount of money. So, Lil Buddha comes up and is like, “my father wants me to give you this. It’s good luck and will protect you.” I was like, “no thanks” because I already bought the evil eye in Turkey. I also got Jesus and I don’t need nobody else. After telling him no, he suddenly doesn’t understand English and keeps following me around and trying to lay this gift on my shoulder then arm. I was ducking my shoulder so much I felt like I was doing the wobble. So, after about the 10th time of me saying “no”, he then tells me the gift is from his mother. I was like, “the answer is still no. I don’t want it. Back up off me little boy.” Shoot.

The Just Plain Sad

Environmental, Health & Safety
Sigh. The most shocking thing for me to see was how dirty the city of Cairo is. I cannot remember seeing a trashcan and trust me, I was looking. The canals and streets are littered with trash.

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When someone asked the bus driver to throw a can of soda and potato chip bag away since they couldn’t find a wastebasket on the bus, he threw it on the sidewalk outside the bus! I was like, ‘the hell?’ Seriously? Even the Nile River was dirty! Looking at how squalid the living conditions are and how dirty and unsanitary things are really makes you not want to eat or drink ANYTHING. I’m sure quite a few people are walking around with scavies.

Why won’t the government establish an environmental protection agency to clean this mess up? That could create thousands of jobs that are sorely needed. It would increase the life span and reduce health issues. It’s ridiculous when I can look into a river and see dead fish…or see fumes rising from piles of trash in the center of the city. I can’t get over people littering like that either. Take some pride in your city! I’ve just never seen such squalor & dirtiness on this grand of a scale. If folks are gonna hustle something, hustle some Clorox.

I was reading the Egyptian Mail newspaper which is written in English and has lots of great articles. I’m hoping they have an online edition because if you want to really understand what is going on in Egypt, this newspaper breaks it down and is totally entertaining.  Recently, there was an article of a 6-year-old boy who died because he fell out of a window at school. Where are your safety procedures? Why were kids playing around an open window on the 5th floor?

Poverty
I think this had to be the most depressing thing for me. The city is so poor. With 50% of people out of work, they struggle to survive. Of course, I did see men out smoking “hookah” and just hanging out since they didn’t have a job. Don’t they need to be on monster.com or something? I know the hookah stuff aint free so save your Egyptian pounds for food. As you can see from the pics below, it’s hard to imagine living this way.

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There is a strong history of governmental corruption in Egypt and you can see by the disparity in living conditions. You can see how most folks in the city live above. Now look at the palatial estate below.

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Egyptian officials sold a lot of land at a HEAVILY discounted rate to rich folks who aren’t using the land to help the poor but to build high-end luxury homes. You know, if certain governmental officials would stop selling Egyptian antiquities to folks in other countries for cheap and accepting kickbacks, they could earn enough money to clean the city up. Which brings me to my next point…

The kids.
There are tons of kids out hustling. They are like 5-12 years old!
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They don’t go to school because they earn so much from hustling tourists! Apparently, they end up having drug problems when they get older because they don’t know how to handle having that much money. Also, they pay off the government so they will look the other way and allow them to be truant.

Color Complex
Like just about any country on this earth, there is a color complex in Egypt. The lighter you are, the more beautiful you are by society standards. While we have a product line in the US called, “Dark n Lovely”, they have one called “Fair n Lovely”.

The Funny
So, now I’m going to get to a couple of funny things that happened. Apparently, if you are a black American, you are automatically an Obama. Everywhere we went, we heard, “Obama Family!” I’m not sure if my brother is Malia or Sasha. 

On the way back to Alexandria, we were involved in a bus accident. The bus sideswiped a car on the highway (they drive so crazy here) and instead of pulling over and exchanging insurance information and calling the police, the bus driver speeds up and runs away from the scene of the accident. So, we are now fugitives from the law. Lord help me.

Overall, going to Egypt was a great experience. I would suggest you add it to your list of places to visit…even if it is just to see the Egyptian Museum. Once you get past the hustlers and the filth of the city, you can really see why Cairo has so much to offer.

 

The Queen, Scones & Crazy Folks…It’s London, baby!

I freaking love this city!  It’s one of my favorite places to visit.  We go together and it is my boo thang…in fact, we are MFEO (Made For Each Other).  The energy, the diversity and the FABULOUS SCONES AT HIGH TEA!  Oh, I am all kinds of off my low-carb diet. I don’t care that I’m gonna be looking like a brown version of Honey Boo Boo’s mama by the time I get back to Atlanta.  They are just too good to deny myself!  You know that scene in the movie Precious where Precious runs off with a bucket of fried chicken?  Imagine me with a bucket of scones, clotted cream and red currant jelly…with a side of breakfast tea.  Yeah, it just got real, y’all.  Scones real.  Not biscuit real.

Friday
Where do I begin?  We arrive mid-day at Heathrow and take the train to Paddington Station. Travel tip I learned in 2008 — you can withdraw GBP (British pounds) from the ATMs at the train stations (look for the signs) without being charged a fee (of course, check with your own bank as they may apply a fee for foreign transactions). The ATMs usually have pretty good exchange rates.  After getting some cash, we decide to get a taxi from the rail station to the hotel…and that is when it starts.

For some reason, crazy finds me wherever I go. Which meant that out of the line of taxi drivers available, we had to get Nutters the Taxi Driver. Oh God.  He doesn’t look crazy at first…but it was only a matter of minutes before his “foolishment” made an appearance.  So, we ask the Taxi Driver from Nutbush City London if he can take us to the Waldorf Astoria – Syon Park (a slice of heaven, y’all!).  He agrees and tells us to hurry up and get in the taxi.  Wait…What?  Hurry up and get in?  Where they do that at???  So, we struggle to get our stuff into the taxi because he ain’t going to get out and help us with the bags.  That must be extra.  Whatever.

We finally get everything in the taxi, and he drives up the street then says he doesn’t know where Syon Park is. Wait a doggone minute.  What? You don’t know where it is? WTH? Now I know for a fact that taxi drivers in London must pass a test to know where everything is located in London to get their taxi driver license. And, it’s a park. And, you have GPS…seriously. Stop. Don’t play with me, Nutters. You may be from Nutbush London but I’ve watched What’s Love Got to do With It enough times to do a pretty good Ike Turner imitation.  I gave him the directions, he said he still didn’t know so I called the hotel and told him what the receptionist told me…then he held his hand out for my phone…because clearly I can’t be trusted to relay a message.  Lord help me. I can’t let him steal my joy. So, he talks to the receptionist who tells him the EXACT SAME THING I JUST TOLD HIM. Seriously?

He finally starts driving, then starts READING some papers that are in his lap! Drifting off to the side.  Um, sir? Why are you multitasking?  Don’t you watch those commercials about distracted driving?  I ain’t tryna end up a statistic. Before we could say anything, a bicyclist came up to the side of the car and asked the cabbie to roll down his window. Nutters thinks that the cyclist is going to ask for directions because buddy has said “‘Scuse me mate, can I ask you a question?” Nutter: “Sure thing”; Cyclist: “WTF, mate?  Learn how to drive!  Blah, blah, cussingcakes”.   Nutters’ smile dropped off his face with a quickness.  Then, he starts cursing at the cyclist telling him to “Bug off, you bah-stahd!”  Uh oh…ish just got real.

That ruined Nutters entire day. He talked about that for the 40 minutes we were in the cab.

Nutters: Can you believe that toe rag?
Us: No, that was uncalled for. (but thinking the cyclist was spot on)
Nutters: He was spoiling for a fight, he was! I didn’t do anything wrong. That bloke had no respect! He’s getting me ire up, that toe rag!
Us: Um, sir?  What is a toe rag?
Nutters: It’s a foul term which means the rag that people clean their feet with.
Us: Ew

We start trying to talk about something else. But, once there is a millisecond of silence, it starts again.

Nutters: That bah-stahd was spoiling for a fight, he was. I would’ve given him one but I can’t lose me license over this.
Us: Well, don’t let him ruin your day.
Nutters: It’s already ruined! Didn’t you hear him? He wanted to fight! I’d have fought him too. I wanted to spit on him…it’s what he deserved, the bugger! But, I can’t lose me license.
Us: Good God

You already know that I’ve been using “s/he was spoiling for a fight but I can’t lose my license behind this” all freaking week. So, since Nutters is on a roll, now he is mad at us for some reason. Telling us that we went out of our way and should’ve taken a taxi from the airport.

Nutters: You just wasted a couple of hours, ladies.
Us: That’s okay, it’s beautiful and we can see the sights on the way.
Nutters: You aren’t going to see anything on this drive so set your expectations now.

A few minutes later, a police motorcade drives by and we are forced to pull off to the side of the road. Now Nutters is all hyped and is like, “OH! SOMEONE FAMOUS IS COMING! SOMEONE FAMOUS IS COMING!” Next thing you know, we see a green Jaguar with the Queen of England sitting in the back! I will admit, I was starstruck. I mean, it’s the Queen! I want her job (well, her title). So cool. Anyway, you know I had to say to Nutters, “See? If we took a taxi from the airport, we wouldn’t have seen the Queen!” But, Nutters was determined to be Darryl Downer even though he was starstruck too. He proceeds to pull out about 200 autographs he’s gotten over the years. Then says that if he sees someone famous, he’ll stop the car and go ask them for an autograph regardless of if he has a fare or not. Wow.

So, we finally get to the Waldorf Astoria (after he has to pull over to get gas…and charges us for the time it takes to do it and also misses the BIG SIGN that says WALDORF ASTORIA – SYON PARK). And, guess who we see as we pull in? Ralph Lauren is driving past us in his roadster!

Okay, the Waldorf is FAB-U-LOUS! Seriously, y’all. It was one of the nicest hotels I’ve stayed in.

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We have a spot of tea after we check in. Afterwards, we shower and change to go out to dinner in London. As we are waiting in the lobby to speak with the concierge, we meet this guy from Saudi Arabia who starts chatting us up. Apparently, there is a car show going on at the place next door. We saw a ton of high-end cars when we pulled up. I mean, those suckers were no less than $100K each. He offered to give us his pass so we could go in and look around but we passed. He was really nice though!

We end up in Piccadilly Circus looking for a recommended restaurant which we couldn’t find until the next day. So, we decide to eat at a steakhouse called “Aberdeen” which was okay…but not a place I’d try again.

Saturday

Wimbledon

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We get up super early (6am) to meet up and try to get tickets to Wimbledon. After walking to the train station, getting breakfast and catching a bus to Wimbledon (they had special bus service running every 30 minutes from Victoria Station in downtown London), we finally arrive at 11am. And are promptly told (as we are looking at the mass of people) that the wait time in line is 7 hours…we can’t get in to see a match until 6pm. So, we passed on watching a match (I’m not that into tennis anyway…I just wanted to see what all the fuss was about). We ended up walking around, taking pictures and chatting with people to find out what time you need to get there to avoid a long wait in line for tickets (answer…camp out the night before, or get there no later than 7am the day of).

After taking the bus back to London, we take the Tube to Leicester Square and buy tickets to We Will Rock You which is a musical based upon songs by Queen. If you go to the Half Tkts kiosk in Leicester Square, you can buy tickets for plays and musicals at a discounted price. I had originally wanted to see Wicked but it wasn’t on sale. After buying our tickets, we went to the National Portrait Gallery.

Okay, you definitely should check out the National Portrait Gallery. First, it’s free. Second, it’s interesting. It is filled with portraits of people from different eras. I love to read history and am obsessed with the Plantagenets (House of Lancaster & Yorks) which spawned The Tudors. The War of the Roses and the drama of Henry VIII was too salacious for words!

I’ve given a pretty substantial recap of Liz, her sister Bloody Mary and her daddy Henry 8 with his 6 wives in a previous blog post. The War of the Roses was fascinating as well and preceded Henry 8 (the war actually ended with his daddy, Henry 7). The House of Plantagenet ruled from the 12th century and was actually founded by a Frenchman, Geoffrey V of Anjou. The war broke out because 2 of the branches (the Lancasters and the Yorks) couldn’t get along. This was basically a series of dynastic civil wars for the throne of England between the heirs of those two houses. The “war of the roses” name comes from the fact that the houses had a symbol of a red rose (Lancaster) or white rose (York). Mental instability, perceived weaknesses in ruling and coveting power kept them fighting for 30 years (1455-1485). If you ever visit the Tower of London, you will hear the story about the 2 young sons of the last York king, Richard III, who (after Richard had died), were sent to the tower by their uncle (Richard’s brother) under the guise of keeping them safe. However, it’s believed they were murdered because their bodies were never found (they were around 13 and 8 or something like that…I can’t remember the exact ages). Anyway, the war ended when Henry 7 defeated the uncle and married Richard III’s daughter to unite the houses. Then, spawned crazy Henry 8.

I always like to see pictures of what these folks looked like. I’ve seen plenty of pictures of Queen Elizabeth I and her daddy, Henry 8, but it’s cool to see original paintings. Here’s what I can tell you. Beauty is subjective. A lot of adjectives like “beautiful”, “renowned beauty” etc were used. No. Let’s just stop. She can’t behead you now. The people you are talking about are dead. Let’s just keep it real because we all have eyes. They were okay…and some. Well, let’s just say that I’d have cursed the artist out like the bicyclist did Nutters if he painted me with a light mustache and cross-eyes. Stop. I did find my absolute favorite painting. It’s of the Earl of Southampton who was a playboy extraordinaire. You didn’t even need to read his bio to know. His picture said it all. All the other pictures of men had short cropped hair. Southampton had long flowing locks to the middle of his back, a swagga to him, and a look that said, “you know you want me…don’t deny it. I want myself.” He was so debonair that while Liz 1 was beheading folks who even looked like they thought she had bad breath, this joker just got some jail time for participating in organizing her overthrow. Then he was pardoned! That’s right. Earl Rapunzel got out and was like, “take that, take that…can’t stop, won’t stop…baaaaad boooooyyyy!” Check him out: Earl of Southampton

After we leave the National Portrait Gallery, we have about 30 minutes before high tea so we walk down to Trafalgar Square where they are holding some sort of Jesus rally.

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This something that apparently is going on around the city. Which is actually really cool! They had bands and were giving inspirational messages. It was packed!

We then head to the National Gallery Café for high tea. Words cannot describe how freaking AWESOME it was. I’ve had high tea in London at various places before but it’s never been this good. If you go to London, definitely check it out. Delicious!

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The scones were like eating slices of heaven if heaven tasted like buttery biscuits with clotted cream and red currant jam. Sigh. I had to buy the cookbook so I can recreate them when I get home. Sooooo good! I mean, I just cannot stop thinking about them. The tea was great too. Besides the scone, there were finger sandwiches (cucumber, salmon and tuna), and sweets (tarts and pound/sponge cupcake…or as they call them here “fairy cakes”).

After we had pulled ourselves away from high tea, we walk up to the British Museum and pass another outdoor concert (this was a rap concert focused on Jesus).

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By the time we arrived at the British Museum, it was closed so we head to Starbucks for another refreshment (it’s warm y’all), then over to the theater for the musical…which was awesome. I didn’t really have any expectations. It was inexpensive and when it started, Pam and I were like, “the hell is this? I’m taking a nap.” Then, all of a sudden, they changed scenes and it got awesome! This musical is hilarious! The concept is that it’s set in like 2050 and all musical instruments have been banned and we are being programmed by computers. But, there are rebel people out there that can’t fight the music and want to bring it back. It’s really good and I suggest you check it out (www.wewillrockyou.co.uk).

After the musical, we head back to the hotel around 1am.

Sunday
We wake up and head out late morning to go to the British Museum and enjoy high tea again. We decide to do high tea at the British Museum to save time.

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Hm, I might have been drinking when I took this picture because it looks kinda off.

The British Museum
Is AWESOME! OMG, seriously? This place is incredible! Seeing the Rosetta Stone up close was amazing! Being able to see the relics up close from the Parthenon and Egypt was surreal. Having seen the places where they originally existed added a whole other level of excitement. You definitely need to check it out. Plus, it’s FREE! You can’t beat that! Just so amazing. I couldn’t even get thru the entire museum so I plan to go back and visit it again.

Egypt Exhibit
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The Rosetta Stone
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Greece (from the Acropolis)
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Easter Island
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After we left the British Museum, we walk around trying to decide where to eat and ended up at a decent Indian restaurant. Then, we went to hang out at the park by the London Eye since we had time to kill before our train left. Okay, why did a reporter & cameraman from ITV show up and start interviewing people on the weather? This is news because it was sunny and an unusually hot (91 degrees!). However, we notice that they interview the people next to us on the bench (who were white) and then went on to interview only white people. The reporter was Indian! Really? What took the cake was when they went to interview an interracial couple and asked the black guy to get up and stand outside of the camera shot so they could interview only his white girlfriend. I wanted to jump in front of the camera as they were talking and say “BROWN PEOPLE LIKE SUN AND HEAT TOO!” but I thought better of it. It was weird because London is such a diverse city. More diverse than most cities I’ve visited which is one of the reasons I love it so much. I just chalk this up to a 1 off experience and maybe they only interview people of color on Mondays/Wednesdays/Fridays?

Overall, you can never get enough or get bored in London. This is my 4th time and I feel like I’m only scratching the surface of seeing the city. I just love so much about it. It’s easy to get around, very diverse, lots of activities, scones & high tea, cultural events…you name it, London’s got it. Until next time,…you stay classy, London (for all my Anchorman lovers).

Essentials for Stress Free Travel

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If you have read my blog post on What to Wear When Travelling Abroad, then you know I am a sucker for travel accessories…seriously. Magellan’s? Yep. ExOfficio? I should have stock. Is it all necessary? Nope. But, with the right essentials, your trip can go from stressful to stress free! To help you save a little time & money, I’m going to tell you my favorite travel finds. I have not been paid to endorse any products. With the exception of one item (which was provided to me free of charge to use & review), all products I list below were paid for by me.

Packing Essentials:

La Fresh wipes

La Fresh wipes

  1. La Fresh Travel Wipes – Okay, these little packets are genius! La Fresh wipes can easily fit into your cosmetic bag & your purse while on the road. There are several “collections” but I like the Travel Wipes for Her collection that includes make-up remover wipes, anti-bacterial wipes, nail polish remover pads, hydrating lotion wipes, female hygiene & lens cleaning wipes. I even bought the canine wipes for my dog! You can buy them here.
  2. Packing cubes – I never travel without my packing cubes from Magellan’s. I’ve used the Stow-Away Collection since 2010 and love it! I had tried many different combinations to pack as much into my suitcase and keep clothes wrinkle-free. That is tough. And when the airlines started charging baggage fees, it became necessary to pack smarter. So, as I was browsing through the Magellan’s catalog, I came across these packing cubes and thought I’d give it a try…and it was worth the money. I use these cubes even for overnight trips because it allows me to organize everything in compartments and the Stow-Away Cinch Folders help to prevent wrinkles.
  3. Travel-size Febreeze, Downy Wrinkle-Release, & Lint Brush– I do not travel without these 3 items. Especially if you plan to wear an article of clothing more than once. I like to spray the Febreeze in my shoes and on my coat after each day of travel. While the packing cubes help with wrinkles, it doesn’t prevent them. The Downy Wrinkle-Release is my insurance that I have a way to get rid of wrinkles if I happen to be staying at a hotel that doesn’t have irons/ironing boards (that has happened too many times to mention). A small lint brush is insurance as well. You never know when you will need it. For example, during a trip to London back in 2008, I decided to buy a travel blanket for the flight. It seemed like such a great idea because it was heavier than the standard tissue blankets that they normally give you in coach. I was wearing a black cotton ensemble with a black wool coat. It wasn’t until I landed that I realized I was covered in green fur from the travel blanket (that I had washed thinking it would prevent this type of thing). So, I ended up spending the first evening in London at Tesco’s buying masking tape to remove the fur since I couldn’t find a lint brush. While you may never use it, I figure it is less stressful to have it than to spend your vacation looking for duct tape. You can pick up these items at your local grocery store, Target, Wal-Mart or drug store/pharmacy.
  4. Laundry Bag – I used to put my dirty clothes in the plastic laundry bags provided by the hotels. But, as I started taking trips that had me at multiple hotels in different cities, I felt like the plastic bags weren’t going to keep my suitcase “fresh”. So, I got the Magellan’s Bed Bug Laundry Bag in 2011. I like that it is lined on the inside so it doesn’t matter if you need to pack wet clothes & it contains any odors. This laundry bag folds up small so it doesn’t take up much room in the beginning and I’ve been able to put 2 weeks worth of clothes inside.
  5. Disposable panties & cloths – On a trip to Morocco in 2012, I packed disposable underwear and InstaCloths. It was my first time using either but as we were limited to one medium-sized bag for 10 days, I thought throwing out underwear during the trip would make room for all of my purchases. The disposable underwear worked pretty well. I even hand washed them once and they held together & were dry within a couple of hours. While they are not sexy, they are comfortable in a “granny panty” way. The InstaCloths worked well as a face towel for me and lasted several days (plus they start out the size of a nickel and expand into a full-size wash cloth once you add water). I didn’t use it as a wash cloth but my Mom did and said it didn’t last that long. So, I only recommend it for washing your face & removing make-up.
  6. Adaptors – When travelling out of the country, I always use Brookstone’s 6-Piece Adapter Kit with Snap-On Plugs. It’s a lightweight set of interchangeable adaptors that work for most countries. I’ve not had any issues with this since I started using it in 2010.
  7. Collapsible tote – One of the very best items you can pack on international trips! I got mine from Samsonite back in 2008. It folds up nice & neat and lays flat at the bottom of my suitcase. Then, while I’m travelling and buying souvenirs, I don’t have to worry about fitting it into my suitcase as I can use my tote as a carry on during my flight back.
My pink & green collapsible tote!  A must-have travel item.

My pink & green collapsible tote! A must-have travel item.

Looking Fab & Safe on the Road: I go into detail about what to wear when travelling overseas in the blog post linked above so I won’t cover the same material here. However, I do want to include a few more items that I’ve fallen in love with since I wrote that article.

  1. Jersey fabric – This is the “must have” fabric to wear en-route to your destination. It is wrinkle-free and there are so many stylish outfits made of this fabric that you will look fresh & fabulous even stepping off a plane 10 hours later. I usually shop at White House Black Market, Magellan’s or Travel Smith.
  2. Yoga active wear – If you are looking to travel in comfort, I suggest yoga pants, a cute tank top & cardigan. This is usually my go-to outfit for international flights as I like to be comfortable & it allows me to layer. I usually purchase my favorite items at Athleta & Old Navy.
  3. ExOfficio Sweater Jacket – I absolutely love this waterproof jacket! It is so soft & very warm! I wore it in December while in Europe and felt completely warm & toasty. It packs up very small and converts into a neck roll if you want to bring it on the plane with you. I also love that it’s stylish as well & has a lot of safety pockets where you can store your money, keys & phone without worrying about being pick-pocketed.
  4. Clarks shoes – I must admit…Clarks makes a great shoe that keeps your feet cushioned from the harsh cobblestones you encounter while sightseeing in Europe. You can be on your feet all day in these stylish shoes. A couple of my favorites are the Wave.Cruise Mary Jane shoe that can be worn both casual & dressy; and the Haley Falcon which seems to replace the black Privo that I have worn. I like that it molds to your foot while providing great cushion to your soles.
  5. FreestyleXtreme – This is the only item that I have received for free. A representative from FreestyleXtreme contacted me after reading my article referenced above. She asked if I would review an item from their company (which offers a wide range of clothing & accessories for men and women). I have been trying to find a stylish flip-flop to wear on cobblestones so I thought I’d try the Volcom Black Happy Me shoe. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect but I’ve worn them for the past couple of weeks and am in love! They are so comfortable & cute! I like that they don’t “flap” against the bottom of my foot making a loud sound as I walk. Also, the cushion is pretty solid since I can walk around in them for hours and not experience foot fatigue. I’m excited to take them to Italy & try them out on the cobblestones!
Volcom Black Be Happy flip-flop from FreestyleXtreme.

Volcom Black Be Happy flip-flop from FreestyleXtreme.

Go-To Gadgets: I like to travel light…which means I rely heavily on my iPad (and more recently my new Macbook Air). The following 3 items make travelling with my electronics simple.

My fabulous Erin Condren iPad Folio along with a delicious mimosa & travel guides!

My fabulous Erin Condren iPad Folio along with a delicious mimosa & travel guides!

  1. iPad Folio – I love products from Erin Condren. You can purchase personalized stationary, life planners, cards & iPad folios. Mine has my name & an inspirational quote on the front with a picture of my dog on the inside. It’s nice to have reminders of home while on the road!
  2. Apple adaptors – I have an iPad 2 and when I decided to stop travelling with a laptop, I needed a way to transfer pictures from my camera & iPhone to my iPad…which is where the Apple iPad Digital Camera Connector Kit comes in. You can plug the adaptor into your iPhone to easily transfer pictures or plug your SD card into the adaptor and load your favorite photos from your camera onto your iPad.
  3. Power Up I use my iPhone a lot while I’m on the road…between taking pictures & responding to emails/texts, the battery doesn’t last long. Getting to a power outlet is not always possible so I started travelling with extra power-up packs. I’ve tested out quite a few items so far and there are 2 that I prefer:  The first one is the 2600 mAh Universal Power Bank Charger that I purchased from Nomorerack on sale. The second is the Portable Travel Charger from Fat Cat Power.  Both work pretty well and charge my phone fully. They don’t take a lot of time to charge & both are small enough to fit in my purse without taking up valuable space.

What are your favorite travel essentials? Is there anything I am missing out on? Let me know!

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 🙂

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