France: 20 Cities in 2 Weeks

You can say I’m a bit late in publishing this blog since this trip took place more than a year ago (ok 2 yrs), but with all that has happened in this country in the last couple of years, we could all use a reminder of what a beautiful place it is.  In fact, one of the most beautiful countries I have visited.  From the villages, to the lavender and sunflower fields, the beaches, or the large cities, it is truly spectacular.

I am certain that many of you balked at the title of this blog and thought ‘oh another American trying to squeeze as much as possible in two weeks.”  Let me mention that we were two friends traveling together, and she is Dutch :).  We didnt set out to see 20 cities but it happens when you are driving.

We have both been to Paris a few times before and spending too much time there was not necessary.  But if you have never traveled to Paris, I recommend a good 3-5 days because the city and the surrounding area has so much to offer.

This trip began in Paris, headed south to Cannes, and back up to Paris.  We stayed overnight in seven cities but along the way managed to stop at many of the small cities/villages along the way and enjoy the beauty each had to offer.

Although we got a much needed relief in the last 2-3 days, for the most part walking around temperatures of 88-100 was brutal.  I’ve not drank so much water on a given day since my visit to Tunisia in July of 2013 (Talk about H.O.T!)

Day 1 – Paris

Paris is my favorite city in the world and it’s the only city I’ve visited more than twice. Many of the tourist attractions were not of interest to us, but at the end of my visit, I decided to go back to some of those that I hadn’t visited since my first visit nearly 15 years ago.   If it’s your first time here, there are plenty of tours, hop-on/hop-off, and day trips to the surrounding area.  If you are like me and don’t like tours, grab a map and hit the streets (or the subway), you can walk all the way from Notra Dame to Louvre, to the Eiffel Tower in a couple of hours. But visiting the Louvre will take you most of the day. There is so much to see in this city that I prefer walking around. I’m not covering Chateau Versailles here – but it’s a must see if you never have.

End of June to the first two weeks of July are the big annual sales in Europe.  A great time to visit with an empty suitcase and a budget to shop. So that’s what I did! I stayed in the 8th arronidssement and found great shopping from Luxury brands to small boutiques around the La Madeleine area (you don’t have to shop on Champs Elycees if too crowded.)

Day 2: Chateau de Fontainebleau to Amboise in Loire Valley

The only royal and imperial château to have been continuously inhabited for seven centuries. Next to Versailles, in my opinion, this is the 2nd best castle to visit in France.  Beautifully maintained with lots to see.  You’ll need about an hour to visit it and see the grounds as well (that is if you are a speedy visitor like me.. otherwise take your time.)  Try lunch in the nearby small downtown area.  As for us, we stocked up for the road trip at the grocery store and hit the road.

Day 3 -4: Loire Valley, Chateaux hopping

We stayed at the Chateau des Arpentis, a 12th century chateau that has been converted to a hotel near the city of Amboise.  We loved this place.  It still had that old castle feeling but with a great view of nature, and a pool.  But yes, with nature also come insects, so prepare yourself.  Leaving the window open was not ideal, but I still miss the early am breeze and breakfasts in the garden..

[The bee keeper! As we arrived and parked our car, an old man, who turned out to be a bee keeper I suspect, greeted us and insisted I follow him inside what seemed like a barn.  A little creepy but since it was right in front of the chateaux entrance, we took the chance.  He only wanted to show us that they were making and bottling honey.  Still a little creepy… but what the hay!]

The chateau location was also very central in the Loire Valley to visit other castles, and oh boy were there castles! I think France has one of the top two largest inventory of castles (England I assume is the other).  You could spend a week alone just driving around the Loire to see castles. We chose four, the most famous in the area: Cheverny, Chambord, Chaumont, & Amboise.

Chateau D’Amboise, registered as a World Heritage site by Unesco, is situated on the Loire River is also home to DaVinci’s first burial site (in the small chapel), where he lived for a brief period of time and was granted the privilege by Francoise 1st to be buried here. His bones were eventually transferred to the St. Hubert Chapel.

You can spend some time in the streets of Amboise and enjoy great food, wine bars, etc. We chose a wine bar at the bottom of the castle.

Chateau de Cheverny, a beautiful and slightly smaller chateau, should take about 30 minutes to see. Definitely check out the huge picture frame in the gardens that provides a good photo op.


The chateau has some lovely gardens and a lake where you can hop on a small boat for a bit.  This town is also small and not much to see. There was a really nice Tin Tin exhibition here and it really took me back to my childhood.  I even picked up one of the Tin Tin books in French.  I lost all but one of the ones from my childhood, when I left Iran.

A chapel inside Chateau de Chaumont

Chateau de Chaumont, a 10th century chateau, is also near Amboise and worth seeing if you have the time.  Not a huge chateau but well maintained and on top of the hill overlooking the Loire River.  I think another one of Catherine De Medici’s residences.  (That woman stayed at most of the chateaux in the Loire Valley and beyond..seriously.)  If it interests you, there is an arboretum to see at an extra fee. I can’t comment on it, since we didn’t have the time (nor the interest) to visit.

We did, however, walk through the small Sunday antique flea market by the river since we had to park there and climb up to the castle, and I even did a bit of shopping in the antique toy car booth.

Chateau de Chambord, the grandeur of this chateaux is its exterior.  It is a massive place where you can easily get lost.  Every massive room (originally built to be a hunting residence) has a large fireplace and they all start to look alike.  It is empty, so you can only appreciate its massiveness and the unusually designed staircase, which that has two entrances.  This is significant because it is designed in a way that two people can completely avoid each other by taking the same staircase at the same time from the opposite sides.

If you believed in fairy tales as a child, I think you would picture Cinderella’s castle to look like the Chateau de Chambord.

Day 5: Arles

I can’t really recommend this city as a must see place.  It is most known for where Van Gogh painted his famous The Café painting, that café is now called the Vincent Van Gogh Café.  The hotel where we stayed, the Julius Caesar hotel, I suspect the only 5 star hotel in the city,  was decorated by La Croix.  There is a Roman Theater in this city (as there are in multiple other locations in France) but if you’ve seen one Roman Theater, you’ve seen them all.  So keep driving and don’t stop here if you don’t’ have to.
The drive between Amboise to Arles was the longest drive during this trip, six hours long.  We picked Arles as the resting place before we head to Cote d’Azur.

Day 6-9: Cote D’Azur

We stopped at Cannes to meet up with several friends traveling here from various places.  This was my second time to visit Cannes.  The last time I was here was in the late 90s, was during the film festival.  I was a student in France at that time with very little knowledge of the Cannes Film Festival.  I couldn’t remember much but certainly staying at the J.W. Marriot on the strip beat the accommodations I had back then traveling on a student’s budget, and my companion, who loves to stay at fancy boutique hotels, finally realized why Americans love staying at luxury hotel chains like the J.W.  She has converted since..haha!

While here, we visited St. Tropez, Antibes, Eze, Monte Carlo, and Monte.  Antibes was very cute and charming with a long cafe/restaurant street that runs in the center of town.  St. Tropez was overrated and nothing like what I expected.  I suspect staying here on a yacht must have a different impact and perhaps the experience I was ‘expecting.’

Market in Antibes

Monte Carlo is a must see but for some reason each time I visit, I forget my passport, which is required to get into the casino.  Next time! Walk around Monte Carlo a bit.  One of, if not the smallest churches is located at the bottom of the hill near the casino.  I remembered this church from my first time here.  Visiting the palace and the changing of the guards is another tourist attraction- as I recollect from my first visit.

Monte is the last French city before Italy but again it felt short of the hype and the recommendations a friend had made.  Not as charming as I expected.  Eze, a charming hilltop town on the Cote d’Azur, on the other hand, did not disappoint.  It is a must see! Wear comfortable shoes. Take time to walk up the cobble stone pathways of its medieval village to the top of the hill (nope.. no cars). Go to the  Chateau de La Chevre (Golden Goat hotel) and have a drink in the restaurant overlooking the view.

Driving along the coast towards Eze, has a jaw dropping view!  Don’t miss it.

Day 10: Gorde

Probably our most luxurious stay of the entire trip, though I had to laugh at ourselves, since we were the only two non-honeymooners or adults under the age of 60 staying here.  A very nice resort and spa with a Michelin Star restaurant.  It is too nice for just a one day stay but we hadn’t planned on more time here.  The attraction of Gorde, is its medieval town with small narrow walkways from the bottom to the top of the hill.  Our resort was on the nearby hilltop with a view of ‘Gorde’ itself.  It was magical and charming.

You can also visit the Senanque Abbey only a couple of miles down the road if you are interested in the history, and also seeing some of the lavender fields this area is known for (with lots and lots of bees of course).  Somehow you never see the bees in all the glossy pictures of the beautiful girl walking or jumping in the lush lavender fields. I wonder how many bee stings had to be photo shopped.  Well, I took one too, but it just doesn’t look as glamorous, does it?!

Lavender fields at the Abbey and its other residents, the bees!

The monks still live here and collect lavender, which is one of the top selling items of the region.  But to go inside the Abbey, it is restricted to certain hours, and you must be decently dressed, so cover up if you intend to go here.  Tourists and buses from nearby places flock here after 10 am.  If you want to bypass the madness, go early.

We had a really nice dinner at a small family owned restaurant in Gorde.  So fresh and delicious but I don’t recall the name.. sorry!

Aix en Provence

Loved this cute town and I actually found some really nice shopping here.  In retrospect, we probably should’ve booked one of our hotels here and stayed for a day.  But we stopped here for a few hours before heading to our next destination. Lots of eateries, shopping, and yes, lots of lavender for purchase.  There is a lot more history to explore here, so spend a day and do some research before getting here.  Cézanne is the artist most associated with this city.

Visit Hotel de Caumont – Art Center and discover the history of this place that used to be a resident.

Saint Remy

Antique capital of France.  If you want to do some antique shopping, this is the place.  Not only it had a very large Sunday market, but there were antique shops everywhere.  A cute canal runs through the town and shops, restaurants etc. are situated along this canal.

Day 11-12: Avignon

Unplanned and unaware, we arrived here during the theater festival.  The old town was nearly shut down to traffic during the two week long festivities.  You need a letter from the hotel or a permit to enter the city walls with a car (or park outside of the walls if you can).  The town and its street, some so narrow that I had to close my eyes as my friend navigated though them, EXCEPT, I had the map and had to navigate her.
It is a fun time to be here.  The city is lively but extremely crowded. You can attend most performances for very little $$.  Since my french speaking abilities are comme ci comme ca, we chose a low budget performance by three actors: History of Music, where these actors used a number of musical instruments to guide us through birth of music from the days of the caveman to modern times.  I was cute and entertaining.  We were not disappointed.

As you dine or relax throughout the old city,  actors & performers perform select scenes from their plays, in front of eateries or in town squares to gather interest and encourage attendance to their shows.

The other main attractions here are the Le Palais des Papes (Popes) and the bridge that stops midway across the river, yep.. I guess they just gave up and rowed the boat the rest of the way.

Selfie time – on the bridge that stops halfway in the middle of the river

We enjoyed a lovely stay at a bed & breakfast (No 15 or N15) ran by an Italian woman, who spoke multiple languages.  Ate some really great food in the neighborhood at her recommendation and that’s a stretch for me, since I’m not a big fan of the French cuisine.

One restaurant I recommend is 83. Vernet.  Big place, great food and good people watching.. but it seemed like they were in NO hurry at all.  Don’t go here thinking you’ll eat soon, you may just die of starvation.  Read my full review on TripAdvisor.

83. Vernet

Day 13-14: Lyon

I loved Lyon!  Although we were expecting some major shopping here, as everyone had recommended, we didn’t find much to get excited about.  Most of the shopping was limited to small brand chains and even some of the big brands or the ‘large’ department store, didn’t carry much inventory.  But it is a very lively city in the evenings.  During the day, especially when hot, it’s pretty dead.  Take your siesta here.  But when the cool breeze of the evening arrives, the cafes, restaurants, boat bars/restaurants on the river are full of young, college kids, since Lyon is a big university city, (and that usually translates to cheap drinks.)

Visiting the old town (Viuex Lyon) and the Saint-jean cathedral on top of the hill is a must. What a spectacular view of the city and the charming old city below.

[The blackout that didn’t phase anyone! On our last night, while having drinks by the river, most of the city had a blackout.  It was dark as far as the eye could see but no one left the bars or restaurants.  As we began to walk around making our way back to the hotel with the assistance of our iPhone flash light, seemed like no one was bothered. For us, it made for some really entertaining stroll along the streets.]

Final 2 days Paris again.. it’s never enough – but this time alone!

I tagged on 2 additional days to spend a little more time by myself in Paris, since it is my favorite city. I spent a day exploring the Jardin du Luxembourg (and it’s museum) in the 6th arrondissement, lunching in a hopping cafe in the St. Germain district , watching the beautiful people walk by, and finally took a break on the banks of the Seine River and even had a chance to see a commercial or magazine shoot in progress, which was taking forever? All they had to do was take a few steps together toward the camera.  45 minutes later, I left and they were still at it.

Of course, I shopped some more in Paris. To a point that I feared my suitcase wouldn’t close and it didn’t until I threw out some pf my older clothes!  What’s a girl to do?!

Day two I decided to visit the places I hadn’t visited since a decade ago.  I walked from the Louvre to the Eiffel tower, Notre Dame; and also, for the first time, I took the boat tour on the Seine.  I didn’t want to take part in this touristic activity, but my feet were killing me, it was hot, and I couldn’t shop anymore – my suitcase had forbid me so!  At midnight, I ran out of my hotel to sit by the Seine River and watch the Eiffel Tower light up for a few minutes.  I figured go big or go home.  Be that tourist this time.

Paris, je t’aime!

[Side note: Another day trip, which I took many years ago from Paris, and still recommend is Chartres.  It’s a small town near Paris with a famous cathedral.]

Au revoir!

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taoromina 1

Taormina center

taormina beaches

Beaches of Taormina – It’s not sand you see

club Morgana





Beautiful Sicily!  I was surprised and pleased.  Wasn’t sure what to expect beyond what we had read about things to do and see.  It was one of those vacation spots that was picked on a whim and a bit of research.  It is not the very clean and colorful architecture seen in other parts of Europe, it is rather dim and rusty, but so very old and full of history. The Baroque style cathedrals will have you astonished and amazed and there are plenty of them…anywhere you visit in Sicily. The food is amazing and you must try some of the famous Sicilian dishes and desserts such as the grandita and arancini (Sicilian rice balls).  You may need to try a few places to find your favorite, but it’s worth it.

I suppose it is possible to get around Sicily easily by taking a bus or flying but we rented a car, and it was very convenient.  Driving in Sicily and finding your way is very easy.  We hardly used the map we’d bought.  The roads and signs are well marked.  I call this trip ‘The Adventures of E2.”  Some very passionate Italians offered their feedback on our trip itinerary – I can just see them waving their hands as if we were two mad girls trying to cover Sicily in eight days.  They warned us that Sicily requires 2-3 weeks.  Well, yea maybe a European style vacation.  I did have three weeks but like a true American traveler, I packed three countries in one trip.  In any case, Sicily can be thoroughly enjoyed in 2-3 weeks but in our eight days, we got to see most of it and loved it.

Started the trip in the Amalfi coast of Italy and after three days flew to Taormino, the party destination of Sicily.  But wait… in July the nightlife picks up on the weekends only but if you go in August, it’s every night.  We loved Taormina but didn’t experience the full-blown Taormina party nights.

Taormino, is a charming city.  The There is no driving within most parts of the enclosed old town and it’s not needed. The main square, Greek Theater, and shops and restaurants are all within a mile or two radius of each other.   You can even walk down to the beach, Isola Bella (it’s a hike and takes a long time), take a bus, or the cable car that goes up and down the hill, though we never actually saw it working.   Taormina’s beaches are rocky and rough, not a beach to enjoy for swimming or sunbathing, but the rest of the town is worth seeing.

We also drove to the Castelmola village but the castle itself was closed for construction.  I climbed the gate and took a peek anyway, nothing in there worth seeing but nice to visit this hill above the city for the view.  A hot tourist spot in Castelmola is bar di Turrisi.  We weren’t sure why it was popular and when I saw the menu, I thought how strange.  Why is there a shape of a penis on the menu?! Well, come to find out, this café is well-known for exactly that and the decorations, even the beer tap, was in the shape of a penis.   The café is very conveniently located in the square where the cathedral is also located.  As a matter of fact, if you sit on the 3rd floor balcony, you can sip your coffee or etc. overlooking the cathedral and the restaurants below.  Try the grandita here, it was one of the best we had in Sicily.

Bar Turrisi leaflet

Bar Turrisi

bar de turisti

We had an amazing dinner at Osteria Nero D’Avola.  This restaurant was recommended by a chef in New York City and when we stopped by earlier in the day to see the menu, we met the chef.  He invited us to the restaurant for dinner and the dishes did not disappoint.  You must try the panna cotta.  Yum!

We visited one of (if not the only) the nightclubs, as recommended by a PR agent whom we met while walking around the old square.  He insisted we must visit the Morgana as it is somewhat happening on a Thursday night and it’s the only place to go. ‘Not everyone can get in’, he said.  It was a cute lounge/bar with music from all decades.  With a stylish crowd and good drinks, all in all, it was a fun place and we can now claim we had a night out in Sicily.  We were also given a tour of a very famous restaurant that overlooks the Greek Theater, by the owner.  This place is hustling and bustling on the weekends and especially in the month of August.  It is the place to be and although we were invited to attend a party that was to be held there the next evening, sadly we had picked the wrong days to spend in Taormina.  Next time!

After two days in Taormina, we headed for to Ragusa.  We bypassed visiting a big tourist attraction, Mount Etna, the volcano, and some of the more popular cities, like Siracusa, but we just did not have the time and we did not want to make stops along the where we would have to leave our luggage in the car as we visited these areas along our route.  Ragusa is a beautiful old city, rich with history.  I recommend staying in or near the old town.  This part of the city, like most parts of Sicily, was destroyed in the great earthquake of 1693, but the locals had an option to keep and resurrect what was left of the old city or destroy it completely and rebuild.  Although a new city was also built around the old city, but the nobles, San Giorgians, decided to also salvage what was left of the old town.  I’m glad they did. This picturesque area glows at nights and it’s beautiful by day as well.  This area houses the famous San Giorgio XIV cathedral.  There is a nearby garden, a few shops, and some restaurants and cafes.  But if you plan on dining here in the evening, either make reservations or get there early.  Not many choices here but there are locals and tourists trying to enjoy the evening in the old town.  We, however, stayed in the new section of the town, across from the San Giovanni Battista Cathedral, at a very traditional five star hotel.  I could almost picture the bourgeois of the early 19th century staying at this hotel.  It had that kind of a feel and decor.  Our room was called Violetta, and yes, it was purple.  If you are driving, staying in the new city may be more convenient.

ragusa old town

Old Town Ragusa


Ragusa – new town border


We took a couple of side trips from Ragusa.  One day to the nearby beaches, highly recommend, and one day to the small city of Modica.  Some would argue that this city has more of the history and architecture that Syracusa is famous for, but since we didn’t make it to Syracusa, I have no opinion on the comparison.  Modica is a small and charming town.  Takes a couple of hours to cover the sight seeing on foot.  There is a famous Sicilian chocolate that is made in Modica, this is a good souvenir option.  🙂

We also visited the town of Scili, another charming and old Sicilian town, where the elderly lounged around the main square and cathedrals and gossiped about the new tourists in town, as they eyed us head to toe and whispered in each other’s ears.  Ha!  There are about three main sights to see here and if you stop in any of them, you can buy a pass to get you into all of them.  Not that it’s expensive by any means, but you can save yourself a couple of Euros and see these small but interesting points of interest.  Seeing Scili will take not more than a couple of hours.  What you will find interesting is that in just one corner of this small city, you can find at least three church/cathedrals.  Of course Sicily is a very old Catholic country but good Lord, how many people lived here in 1600-1700s that so many cathedrals were needed to accomodate ?!

photo 5

Beaches – Sicily




We hit the road after a couple of days and headed for Agrigento, about a two hour drive from Ragusa.  The city of Corleone is near or along this path.  Most people assume that the movie, the God Father, was filmed here (naturally because of the name), but that is not true. The movie was actually filmed in a city on the eastern coast of Sicily, in the town of Savoca, not too far from Taormina but headed north.

If you have not yet visited Greece, you may find Agrigento of interest.  It is one of the cities in Sicily that has some Greek temples, very well intact.  Since I’ve been to Greece, and the price to visit these temples in Sicily was a bit high, I opted to relax at a nearby cafe while my friend visited the area.  You can walk part of it, the ruins, for free, but to walk to the two temples, you must pay.  This was not one of my favorite or must see places in Sicily and in retrospect, should’ve skipped it.  We did enjoy some time at a beach bar watching the World Cup: Netherlands vs. Argentina.

We departed Agrigento and headed to the capital of Sicily, Palermo.  We spent three days here and stayed pretty central.  We stayed at a 18th century plaza owned by a Duchess (Bureta28).  I must say that it was a big two room apartment and offered a lot of conveniences such as washer and a kitchen.  It was too much for two people who were only staying for three days.   Although the place was ok, the furniture and beds especially were old and due for a major update.  We never met the Duchess but she was sure to play mother to us on our emails exchanges in inquiring about the address, etc. Perhaps she thought we were two careless teenagers traveling for the first time in a foreign land.  The Duchess balked at me on Trip Advisor when I provided a review of  her ‘apartment.’  She argued that the furniture is antique… well I couldn’t reply, but there’s a difference between antique and old/uncomfortable beds, forget the rest of the furniture.  The Duchess btw only accepts cash… how convenient for her, not so much for us.  Moving on… I loved Palermo, so much to see.

Greek Temple

Greek temple

Be sure to visit Monreal, a small city within the city.  The most elaborate (this became the word for this trip and all the Baroque style cathedrals), cathedral is n Monreal, you can’t take your eyes of the gold interior.  It is free to visit but pay a little extra and visit the observation deck and the interior rooms on the side.  It’s worth it.  The main center of Palermo offers many beautiful cathedrals, the biggest is in the center of the town and was built on top of a masque, the Palermo Cathedral.  Some of the walls and structures of the Moorish masque can be seen from the exterior walls.

Fountain of Shame - Palermo

Fountain of Shame

Palermo Cathedral

Moorish walls of the Cathedral in Palermo

palermo 3

Streets of Palermo

baroque churches

Baroque churches of Sicily

There’s not much nightlife in this area of Palermo and you have to travel to the outskirts and go where the locals go but there is a street nearby that has  bars and coffeeshops and this is where you can enjoy an evening sitting outside and watching the locals and street crazies while having a American named drinks, like the b52… but you can’t say fifty-two because the waitress may not understand.  You need to learn what fifty-two is in Italian, 🙂 or just order another drink.  I think I ordered the B52 because I had not seen it on a menu in at least a decade.

Visit the Fountain of Shame (Fontana Pretoria) and read about the history.  The one place that did not make it to my must see list is the over-priced cathedral in the royal building – not worth  it and it’s nothing unique.  We didn’t get the chance to tour the royal building rooms, which we had preferred to do.  Check the days and times of the tours so that you don’t miss out, like we did.

I also recommend a day trip to the city of Cefalu from Palermo.  Small city with beautiful narrow streets full of shops and cafes.  Enjoy the beach.  It’s beautiful – see the featured image.

Sicily offers great food, history, and beaches.  It does take about 2-3 weeks to fully enjoy ALL of Sicily and maybe even take a side trip to Malta, but you can still cover a lot ground in eight days as we did.  Go explore Sicily.. you won’t regret it!


Colesium Taormina

Coliseum in Taormina

hotel in taormina

Our hotel in Taormina

palermo fish market

Sword fish

palermo 2

Try this ice cream sandwich in Palermo

palermo 1

Local fresh street seafood restaurant

hotel in ragusa

Our hotel in Ragusa

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The #1 advice I received before flying out to Greece was to spend the least amount of time in Athens and escape to the Greek Isles as soon as possible.  Well…. I ended my trip in Greece in Athens but I couldn’t disagree with my friends more.


We arrived to Athens from Mykonos via the ferry.  There is no speed ferry from Mykonos to Athens and it was a long and tiring travel.  The six-hour trip was closer to eight hours because of all the stops along the way. Read about traveling around Greece further down on this page.

Athens is like any other cosmopolitan city in Europe.  The history and sightseeing are a given but the cafes, restaurants, people watching, shopping…etc. should not be missed to take in this old city.  Most of the sightseeing can be covered on foot and are very close to each other but the hop on hop off buses are available for those that prefer it.  My friend took one of these buses on our last day to just ride around in it without hopping off (which by-the-way can be negotiated to a lower price) to make sure she saw all that there was to see.  I opted to walk around and maybe see less of the out of the way famous buildings but to enjoy a walk in Athens and take in some of the street culture.  Be prepared for the hot weather, a hat or umbrella will be useful and dress very very comfortable for the heat.  It was almost unbearable and this was at the end of the summer.



temple of Zeus

Temple of Zeus (Acropolis on top of the hill in the back)

Casual lunch in Athens

Casual lunch in Athens

shopping district in Athens

Streets of Athens

I found Athens surprisingly clean and modern.  Greece in general was a bit pricey given their economic conditions and struggles but Athens was more reasonable than the Islands.

One advise is to perhaps pay for the attractions as you get there.  The option to buy a 12 ticket book to go to the Acropolis and nearby ruins and attractions and this may save you some time in some of the lines but if there is a strike, which happened to us, all these tourist attractions closed in the middle of the day and we had to basically throw away some of the tickets.  They are not that costly but mind as well pay for them as you go… now we were there in end of August when tourist season is winding down, visiting in high season may require you to buy these fast track tickets – unless everyone else is buying them too.  You can walk to all the attractions in one day and see it all, that is if there’s no sudden strike.

Our hotel, the Athens Gates, was centrally located and very close to all the attractions and the subway line.  The hotel is in the Plaka area, which is where you should stay.  That is the center of Athens and you can walk to most attractions from here.  It was situated between the Temple of Zeus and the Acropolis. Ancient of Agora is nearby as well.

Travel to the ferry by subway is very convenient and cheap (about 2 euros each way), subway to the airport takes about 1-1.5 hours but still convenient, although we didn’t take it to the airport.  Airport taxi cost is about 35-45 euros, negotiate.


My friend suggested we take this day trip to Delphi.  Delphi was the site of the Delphic oracle, the most important oracle in the classical Greek world, and became a major site for the worship of the god Apollo.  Tour companies offered between 80-100 euros/person to take us there for the day.  After research I discovered you can take the bus there for 15 euros/person round trip.  Delphi is a small cute place with one street offering shopping and restaurants, which leads to one of the oldest ancient ruins.  These ruins take about 1-2 hours to climb and see.  There is a museum as well if you would like to visit.  You could spend as little as 2 hours or longer in Delphi but the point is that it doesn’t need to be an all day trip.  However the trip is 3 hours each way.  I say that with a smile… as we boarded the wrong bus and managed to get lost somewhere in the middle of Greece before someone checked our ticket and told us we were on the wrong bus – 3 hours later.  Getting back was an adventure.  No one spoke English and there was no direct bus.  The local shop owners and bus drivers with broken English and much hand signals helped us find our way to Delphi 8 hours later.  We still managed to see the sights and get back to Athens by 10 pm.  Making it a very long journey but we saw so much of Greece that we wouldn’t have otherwise.  Granted we were exhausted and my friend did remind me that ‘this is why people take the private tours’, I still think it was an adventure.

rock - delphi

The rock considered to be center of the universe

The world is a stage and we are all its actors!

The world is a stage and we are all its actors!



Don’t forget to haggle in Greece, harder in some of the places like in the islands, but you should always try.


Like most people, I’m here to tell you that Santorini is amazing!  Magnificent scenery. I’m not naming the hotel we stayed at because I don’t recommend it.  Not much to do in Santorini, Fira (center of the island) than shop, mostly for high priced jewelry.  But if you take the bus down to the beach, Kamari, you can enjoy the refreshing Mediterranean sea and all its beauty.  Take a bus (buses are very cheap and convenient) to Oai and watch one of the most beautiful and unforgettable sunsets.

I didn’t take a donkey ride, but if you arrive on one of the tour ships, there are donkeys available as transportation up to the hill to Fira from the docking station (picture on the bottom).  I think there are also lift stations but didn’t see many people opting for those.


Fira – Santorini

Try the cactus drink but expect to pay about 10 euros for it.  See picture below.

cactus drink

Cactus drink

view from our hotel in Fira

View from our hotel in Fira

kamari beach

Kamari beach – me on the rock



Oia is the more upscale area of the island and probably the more romantic, where Fira had more of a mix of travelers and tourists.  It is packed in the evenings around sunset to see one of the most famous sunsets in the world.  Lovers want to kiss in front of it, photographers try to capture its beauty, and others just want to say they saw it.  It is amazing!  But get there early.  Masses will be arriving and trying to get as close to the wall as possible.


The famous Oia sunset


Our resort was a bit out of the way in Mykonos.  So traveling to the center of the island was a bit tough but we were only there for a day.  We stayed at the Santa Marina Resort and Villas.  Loved the resort, the beach but it was not near the city center and not convenient to get around.  The hotel offered a shuttle to the city center; however, the last shuttle coming back to the hotel is at 11 pm, not ideal if you want to enjoy the night life in Mykonos.  Finding a cab at night is extremely difficult and very expensive.  We had to go to a hotel and ask them to call a cab for us. We were told none available and to just sit and wait.  45 mins later, we were able to share a cab with another couple but there wasn’t much room for bargaining or a fair price that time of the night and without other options.  Many tourists in Mykonos rent cars, mopeds, etc if they are renting houses or staying in the outskirts of the island.  Choose wisely as driving those mopeds at night is dangerous.

mykonos resort

5 star resort in Mykonos

View from our resort in Mykonos

View from our resort in Mykonos


Mykonos at night

I didn’t find much to brag about in Mykonos, but it was a pretty island with nice beaches.  Nothing like the beauty of Santorini.  I also didn’t participate in the night life but could see the island filled with lots of younger tourists and yes, a heavy concentration of a homosexual visitors that Mykonos is famous and known to have as where in Santorini, I saw more honeymooners and families.

Traveling between islands and to/from Athens

If going/coming from Athens to Santorini, fly.  It’s a 45 min flight as opposed to six-hour ferry.  Island hop with the ferry from Santorini.  It takes about three hours to Mykonos with other islands along the way.  Be sure to buy a ticket with an assigned seat on the ferries, this is not always obvious.  It’s only about $7 more to get an assigned seat, especially if taking the ferry from Mykonos to Athens, which is about a 6-8 hour ferry ride and people rush in and occupy any general seating in the cafeteria, etc. and after the first two island stops, there will be no where to sit except on the floor.  We found this the hard way but were able to upgrade our tickets on the ferry after a couple of stops before it became fully booked.  You can buy tickets online or at the station.  I actually don’t recall the specific site I used but here are a few suggestions.  We took the ferry from Mykonos to Athens because the flight times were not that convenient for our tight schedule, but if you can avoid the long ferry ride to/from Athens do so.  There is no speed ferry back to Athens because they make so many stops.

One of the countries I would and will go back to.  Not much shopping in Greece but the food is great and omg the tomatoes are amazing.  LOL.  I had forgotten what tomatoes really taste like or rather should taste like.  The good thing is that tomatoes are included in almost every meal there, even at the hotel breakfast buffets. 🙂 I would certainly go back to Greece, especially to the islands but perhaps spend more time enjoying the beaches of Santorini and other islands that I didn’t get a chance to visit.  If Greece is in your future plans, you will not be disappointed.

Here area a few more pix.  Write me if you have any questions and I welcome your comments.  Thanks for reading and happy travels!


Olympic Stadium in Athens

The Acropolis gate in Athens

The Acropolis gate in Athens

Public beach in Santorini

Public beach in Santorini – Kamari


Donkey rides from the tour ships up to Fira


View – Santorini


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Oh the wonders of Turkey!  The many sides of this country would take weeks to visit.  Cramming it into one week didn’t do it justice.  As I understand it, the European side of Turkey and the Asian side provide two very different experiences and adventures.  We focused on the European side, given our short stay there, with an exception of visiting Cappadocia, which is in central Turkey. The Anatolia region has a lot of the ancient history of Turkey but if you are looking for the a more tropical vacation, Antalya, though I’ve not been, is supposed to be the most beautiful area in Turkey with some of the best beaches.

I must  stop and call out Turkish Airlines.  Although I wasn’t impressed with the boarding process and timeliness of them – from / to JFK (my friend who was flying from Houston had a much more satisfactory experience with them), BUT the in-flight service and food was the best I’ve ever experienced with any airline.

In Turkey, we opted to fly between the cities using Pegasus airline, a no-frill airline kind of similar to our Southwest airlines.  Problem was that they always had a delay and Istanbul is the hub, so no matter which city we were visiting, we had to stop in Istanbul and change airplanes.  Because of this, we were forced to take super early flights to not miss too many daytime hours, it made for a very tiring trip with very little sleep.

Izmir (Ephesus),

ephesus, oldest library, biblioteque

The first library1 Architect: Mr. biblioteque hence the French word for library.

ephesus, ancient ruins, turkey

the second largest ancient coliseum and the road leading up to it and the largest ancient merchant market, where the likes of Caesar and Cleopatra once walked

One of the oldest and most interesting ancient ruins, I’ve visited.  To walk down the walkway where Caesar, Cleopatra and the likes once walked is a pretty damn good feeling.   Flying into Izmir and having to take a nearly 2 hour drive to Kusadasi was painful at 1 am and expensive.  It’s the one place, I wasn’t able to find a cheaper form of transportation and haggling doesn’t work.  They know you don’t have many options and it’s a take or leave it attitude.  Taking a taxi or a previously scheduled shuttle (which we hadn’t) seemed to be our only options.  The shuttle service was slightly cheaper.  Daytime arrivals may be able to take advantage of a subway system that takes you close to the area and then buses are available.

The city of Kusadasi was like most beach towns.  Pretty, scenic, a center with shops, bars, restaurants, beach and everything you would expect of a city by the Mediterranean.  I did however nearly lose my life in the water.  Since we had only one full day here and we had spent most of the day sightseeing, I was determined to get into the Mediterranean sea that I love so much.  I decided to walk down from our hotel and find an access to the water.  My friend opted for the poolside.  As I was walking toward the center of the town with the public beach access, I came across a beach bar which reduced its entry fee of 10 euros to 5 euros for me to enter.  To get into the water, I had to climb down some steps, which was fine, but at this point it was nearly 6 pm and tide was high.  I swam a bit in very deep waters but when trying to climb back out, getting a solid hold of the steps and putting my foot on the very slippery steps proved nearly impossible as the waves were crushing into me and knocking me off.  The other problem was that right behind the stairs were big rocks where the bar was built on.  I had to forgo trying to hold on to my bikini in order to keep at least one hand tight around the railing so that the waves would crash me into the rocks.  This exercise took nearly 10 minutes before I could get my foot on the steps and climb out.  I did bruise my fingers in the process but I made it out.  One gentleman finally noticed I was struggling.  He was coming to the rescue but by then I had made it.  I didn’t go back in .. as much as I wanted to.

I’m not sure if there is anything to see in the city of Izmir but doubt it. It’s just an airport to get you to where you really want to go, which is probably Ephesus. Ephesus is one of the best preserved ancient ruins and they are still excavating. Many of the discoveries have been under rocks and dirt due to the frequent earthquakes in the region. Ephesus holds the very first ever built library, the biblioteque (duh), and the second largest ancient coliseum, after the one in Rome of course. You can see the largest merchant trading square, where these merchants and royalties walked to get to this very modern city during its time. This is one of the few areas I recommend getting a guided tour. I wish I could remember the name of the tour company that we chose. He was extremely knowledgeable. Be sure to book a tour before arriving if you have limited time here. We were very lucky to find one as most were sold out or had already left by the time we woke up for breakfast.

This tour also included a visit to the Virgin Mary’s house, which I had no idea existed. This is the house where she resided after Jesus was killed and it is where she died. The house was buried under dirt and rocks for thousands of years until, as the story goes, a German in 1920s had a vision about the location of the house. It wasn’t until some 70 years later that the house was discovered. Today is a shrine and a big tourist site.

Also included, is the site of the old Apollo temple. You don’t need to go here. There is absolutely nothing left here of the structure except a few locals trying to sell you a book with pictures of what it could’ve looked like. Some tours include this but just be sure to not seek it or pay for it thinking that there’s anything to see.

We stopped at a authentic Turkish restaurant in a village near the ruins that had some of the best Turkish food Ive ever tasted. Ask for the place in Seven Sleepers.

The hotel where we stayed was nice but sadly there was a nightclub down the hill that kept the entire neighborhood up until 4 am. There was no escaping and no sleeping. Researching the hotels and staying at one of the more expensive resorts may be worth it. Oh and the random fireworks one night around 1 am for no real reason… as if we could sleep anyway. Earplugs didn’t do the trick for me!

This region has the biggest crop of fruits and vegetation in Turkey. You can see acres and acres of fruit trees and farms while driving about. I can’t recall for certain but I think dates and fig trees are mostly grown in this area. Given its rich soil, weather, location by the sea, and obvious derived benefits, no wonder the old world’s biggest merchant market was located here and was desired by many empires.


A painful early morning flight via Istanbul brought us to this magical city. I knew nothing about this place and wasn’t on my list of places to visit but it was on my friend’s list. This city will not disappoint and it is worth seeing at least once in your lifetime. It is a city right out of the movie sets, in fact the background for the movie Star Wars, was filmed in the outskirts of this town. The actual movie couldn’t be filmed here given the political turbulence of the time.

The city was built with homes in caves and some underground cities going as far back as 10,000 BC – that is as far as they can trace because there is nothing left of times prior to that. The underground cities can go as far as 12 levels. We made it to seven levels below. This is where in ancient times, the locals would hide, sometimes for months from invasions. The one interesting fact, is that we could see where they kept the live stock – yes underground – baked bread, water wells, slept..etc., but no sign of a bathroom. It is still unknown how they managed this.

Many of the hotels are built in the caves, so you can stay in a true cave hotel or a resort that resembles a cave hotel but it’s not, because it still need the use of air conditioning. We stayed at the latter. A very nice resort but not a true cave hotel. We saw our very first salt room. You can sit in this room and then go into one of the steam rooms or spa rooms. Salt is known to remedy allergies, etc. A very interesting experience.   Cappadocia Cave Resort and Spa. Most people don’t want to stay in this part of the city, you have to catch a bus or taxi to get to the main town.  A lot of the higher-end resorts are in Uchisar, which is an area set on top of a hill away from the downtown area.  Uchisar Castle is on top of the hill in this area but it’s not much to it.  Not a real castle… but if you climb to the top you will get a view of the city below.  I didn’t find this much interesting.

A MUST DO- take a hot air balloon here. It is one of the most magnificent views you”ll ever see from a hot air balloon. The view is like something from a magical movie. You don’t need the 1.5 hour ride, one hour should do it and do your research online for deals before going there. But prices range from $180-300.

There are three types of tours you can take here and all tour companies sell the same but with a little difference in prices. The tours are red, blue, green. You can do the red tour on your own but just walking about the town. We chose the green tour, which took us to a hike near the river, site of the Star Wars filming and the cave attractions near by, and the largest underground city. I recommend this one.  Goreme open air museum is a popular spot here, you can do this with the red tour or do it on your own.  This is the section of the city with the ancient cave homes and cave churches.

fairey chimneys, cappadocia

fairy chimneys, cappadocia. Taken from the hot air balloon ride.

hot air balloon. cappadocia, turkey

Me in the hot air balloon. Fantastic!

ephesus, turkey, local ladies making bread

Ladies making bread. During our tour (green tour) walking by the river.


Stay in the old city, a.k.a Sultanahamet area. You can walk to all the nearby attractions without a need for a tour, unless you are one of those people that prefer tours. I’m not. I like being on my own time. The Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia, the museums, Basilica Cistern, Sultan’s palace… all are around in one central location. One hint about Sultan’s palace, you can skip the long lines, if you didn’t pay the extra $25+ to get the fast track pass, by going around 3 or 4 pm. There is no line but what you should keep in mind is that although you can see the palace until 7 pm, the harem houses, which is the biggest attraction, close at 6. You can see them until 7 but you cannot buy the ticket after 6. This ticket is not sold outside with the entry to the palace ticket. you have to purchase it inside the palace, something tours don’t tell you.

blue masque, istanbul

Blue Masque

blue masque, istanbul

Blue Masque

Be sure to wear a long skirt or pants and take something to cover your shoulders when going to the masque.  Ladies will be give a scarf for the head and shoulders but my friend who was wearing capri pants was given a hard time for the length of the pants.

Hagia Sophia is a combination of Islam meets Christianity and you can see the works of each inside this magnificent architecture.  Right inside the entrance there is a video being played of the history of this monument.  If you are not part of a tour, watch this.  It gives almost all the information you would receive in the tour.

hagia sophia, istanbul

Hagia Sophia

Basilica Cistern is an interesting place that most people don’t have on their list.  Inside this ancient cistern that lies under the city, there are a few columns with the head of Medusa sculpted on the bottom.  One of these is set sideways.  There are a few explanations why, but I’ll leave it for you to discover.

Walk down the main road down to Zia Sark Sofrasi (restaurant) and order the dish Ali Nazik.  I heard someone in Kusadasi try to order this dish the restaurant didn’t know what it was.  Not sure if it’s a regional dish but when I got to Istanbul, I made sure I try this.  Oh it will not disappoint.  A Turkish pizza seems to be popular as well.

Bospherus tour – you will at some point lose your patience with someone trying to sell you the boat tour. At every corner, there are at least six people trying to sell you this tour. It is definitely worth take a boat ride but you can go to the ferry station and buy a ticket to get on the ferry for about $3. The tours will sell you a ride on their tour ferries for anywhere from $50 to up to $200ish, depending on what they offer on the boat. You decide if you want a quick ride around or need the frills. You may want to take the ride in daytime and night time to see the lights.

The spice market and Grand Bazaar are also within walking distance of the Blue Mosque. You will not need public transportation to get to any of these places, unless you decide to cross the river and go to the attractions on the other side, which is actually the Asian side but yet has all the Christian sightseeing, where as the old city, the European side has the non-Christian history. You can find a lot of shopping at the Grand Bazaar but don’t expect bargains. I found the prices same as, if not more, expensive as any other shopping area in Turkey. Bargain all you can.

spice market, turkey, istanbul

Spice Market

If you find a nice place to take in a Turkish bath, I would recommend it. Hagia Sophia bath house is the most famous but also the most expensive. We found a really nice one and a great bath/massage package at the Pierre Loti hotel.  It’s private and not an open Turkish bath.  So if you are looking for the authentic Turkish bath experience, you’ll have to go to one of the ones in town and not in the hotels.

One night walking about the neighborhood, we noticed a graveyard right on the side of the crazy busy street. It didn’t even phase us anyone else that this was a graveyard, there was a sign for a tea house and hooka bar. We sat among what seems liked locals, mostly young guys watching a soccer game on tv, and drank our Turkish tea. It became bustling with the young local crowd as the night wore on but not once did we think we were sitting in the middle of a grave yard.

Three days should be enough seeing Istanbul. In the summer time take day trips to the Black Sea or the Princess Island, a remote island where only horse carriages and bikes provide transportation. We didn’t do either but maybe next time.

four seasons

I recommend eating a much as possible here. Try the fabulous Turkish cuisine as much as you can. It was one of the highlights of this trip for me.

One lat memory from this country, every shop owner will try to get you to go into their story in this manner “please come into my shop. Where are you from?” It didn’t matter where I said I was from there was always a story about that country to try to get you into the store. Never did I understand why! If I wanted to shop, I’d go in, regardless of what country I’m from. My nationality remained a puzzle to the Turks as they thought I was one of them, if not, I was either Brazilian or Italian or ,,,,, That part was entertaining.

Ali nazik dish


Basilica Cistern – upside down Medusa column.


Background used for Star Wars movies. Green tour will cover this.


Turkish ice cream!


Our Turkish style room.


Ancient cave houses and churches.

Categories: Turkey | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments


After a trip to Morocco, I had little hope or expectations of Tunisia, but I was pleasantly surprised. Tunisia was not a country on my list of must see countries. A family event, my sister’s wedding, brought me here.

My friends and I were glad to leave Morocco but reluctant about Tunisia as well. Once in Tunis, the streets, buildings, people seemed calmer, cleaner and more modern. Not that I ever cared much for travel to a modern looking country but after Morocco, this was a bit of relief. It wasn’t as modern as western countries but in comparison to our experiences in Morocco, Tunisia mind as well be Paris.

But there was no relief from the heat. Oh boy was it hot!!! In Morocco we would take shelter in our hotel room in the afternoons or by the pool, but in Tunisia there was no escaping. We stayed at my sister’s new in-laws’ house, about an hour away from the capital, Tunis. With the wedding plans and relatives coming into town, the house was full of people and busy with preparations. Can’t say that we were of much help since all we could manage to do was to sit under the AC in our room. Outside was truly African heat and it was the hottest we’ve ever been in our lives, and some of us are from Houston, Texas…where the heat and humidity are brutal. This was different…about 120 fahrenheit but dry heat. We couldn’t even imagine how the locals managed in the heat, most without AC and while dressed in layers of clothing, covered head-to-toe. I guess my advice is that if you are not going for the beaches of Tunisia – which I highly recommend you visit – avoid the summer time in this country.

Local beaches – Jumping off a cliff

Bachelorette party

Beach in Hammamet

We experienced the local public baths and learned that in this small town coffee shops are for men only. They gather there at night until wee hours of the morning to drink tea and smoke hooka, no women allowed. That didn’t seem to be the case in Tunis or Hammamet. We also experienced a Tunisian wedding, bachelorette party and all the traditions that accompany a Tunisian wedding including going to the public bath for one night where everyone gets scrubbed a couple of days before the wedding. Henna party, where the bride and other ladies who wish to, have henna applied to their hands, feet..etc, a bachelorette party where only female guests are invited and the bride wears traditional Tunisian (Or Indian as it is trendy attire, and the wedding, which was different from wedding ceremonies and parties I am used to but still very interesting and fun. All in all, it was about 3-4 days of celebration. We met some great people and loved our new family. Miss you guys, if you are reading this…


We also visited some local beaches before heading to Hammamet, a must visit beach resort area in Tunisia. Locals and tourists flock to this town during the summer. It is happening, beautiful, clean and lots of fun. The beaches of Tunisia are fantastic. Miles of white sandy beaches with refreshingly blue water, the beaches are the best escape from the heat.



Cafe in Hammamet

There are lot of hotels for all budgets in Hammamet. We stayed at Russelior hotel and spa, which was amazing. We couldn’t decide to stay at the pool or to go to the beach. See for yourself. The one odd thing was that the hotel didn’t serve any alcohol but we could go outside and visit any bar or restaurant and be served alcohol. Visit the old Medina here and do some shopping. All around prices were reasonable. Even if we were being charged more because we were tourists, it still didn’t seem like much, unlike Morocco where it seemed very overpriced for the state of the economy (for tourists.)

Russelior Hotel

On our very last night here, our new friends drove in to take us out to one of the most famous night clubs in Hammamet, Calypso. It was an outdoor club and is famous for hosting DJs before they become famous in Europe and the U.S. such as David Guetta and Tiesto. Expect to pay a lot, specially if a well-known DJ is playing. Had an amazing time.

Another must visit area, is Sidi Bousaid. This is a lovely area of Tunis, overlooking the sea and filled with shops, restaurants, hooka lounges..etc. It is the most expensive area to buy real estate in Tunis. It looked very much like streets of Greece.

View from a cafe

The one complaint I must make about Tunisia is the ever presence of the excessively friendly bees. Although to enjoy the view, you must sit outside while dinning, the bees were a problem. They didn’t seem to bother Tunisians, who would continuously tell us to leave them alone and they won’t bother you.. well not sure how to leave them alone when they would fly into our eyes and nose.. 🙂 I don’t miss the bees.

Tunisia was a gem… it was never on my list of must see places and frankly I must say that I never even thought I would visit this country, but am glad I did. From what I hear it has lots to offer all year-long from beautiful beaches to mountains in the winter..etc.

Sidi bousaid streets

Cafe – night time Sidi Bousaid

Sidi Bousaid

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From planes to trains to mopeds to camels…

This is one country that I cannot recommend visiting. I have traveled extensively and this wasn’t one of my favorite places to visit. Oh where can I begin….Let me begin by apologizing to any Moroccans reading this blog but this is my impression. Our trip began as we landed in Casablanca at 1 am. The custom lines were a nightmare and more windows were open for Moroccan citizens than non-citizens. Needless to say after 40 mins all that remained were the long non-citizen lines and the 5-6 windows previously assisting the citizens would not assist anyone else and they just sat there. Fights broke out.. angry people for having to continue to wait in line at 2 am. The officials simply didn’t care.

By nearly 3 am we walked out and took a cab to our hotel. We did okay in negotiating the rate but were terrified in our 45 min drive that somehow we were going to be robbed in the middle of the night. The next day we woke up to go visit the one interesting site that Casablanca had to offer, the Hassan Masque II – cost of building this masque $8 million – I found this so interesting in a country so full of poverty where the average worker makes 1000 dirhams = +/- $100 a week. Well we soon realized that our clock was set wrong and we had missed visitor hours. Our cab driver offered to drive us around “all” the sites in Casablanca for only 200 dirhams, I realized that it was not possible but went along with the plan. I even confirmed in my broken french that it would take an hour.. he said yes. Naturally the sites took about 2 hours including the stop he made at his friend’s shop for us to ‘see some interesting stuff’, it was nothing more than an over-priced herb shop run by a man who reeked of alcohol, in a country that people don’t drink. I asked the cab driver to also take us to the train station once we picked up our luggage… of course by the time we got there, he somehow calculated that it was three hours, none of which was his fault of course.

streets of Casablanca

streets of Casablanca

Hasan II masque

Hasan II masque

Old Medina in Casablanca

Casablanca beaches

A resort view of Casablanca beaches

I made our second and the biggest mistake of this trip when we were dropped off at the train station. I travel extensively and there are certain rules I follow about how to keep my money. I failed on my own rules. I had all of my money in my passport when I retrieved it from the hotel safe. I kept it there at the train station. The cab driver saw it as I paid him and those waiting in the train station line with me.. they marked me. I purchased three tickets and later realized they sold us 2nd class tickets, this is a no no in this country. You should ride first class. During the boarding onto the train, it was a madhouse as people were shoving and pushing and pulling. I stepped onto the train and was trying to help my friend to board with her huge suitcase. My purse was a passenger bag around my neck to the side. My wallet was inside my purse and so was the passport with all the money in it. I didn’t feel a thing. They had lifted the passport, knowing that was where the money was. Two hours later into the trip, as we were laughing at our decision to ride the 2nd class with no AC or room, the guy pushing the drink/sandwich cart stopped me to ask me where I was from, my name..etc. I almost didn’t give him my real name, thinking he was simply flirting but when I did, he pulled an American passport out of his pocket. At this time I’m thinking why does he have an American passport but he opens it to the picture and I see my own picture. He explained that it was found in the bathroom. My heart sank as I immediately realized that all the money I had brought with me, about $600, was gone.

Please let me pause and say that my recommendation to not visit Morocco has nothing to do with this experience. I partially blame myself for not following some basic rules. Please read on.

As I was angry and sulking, a young guy sitting a few rows down begins flirting with me with smirks. To me, at this time, it seems he was signaling ‘aha.. I know what happened and nothing you can do about it.’ He then followed by blowing me kisses. My blood was boiling. He got up and left the our train cart, I decided to follow him. My friend was begging me to sit and not cause any problems. I didn’t listen. I went up to him as he was taking a smoke break and stood directly in front of him staring him down. The conductor happened to come by and I stopped him and told him that this guy stole my money. He grabbed the guy and told me to follow him. It became a circus. No one spoke English and although I could understand their French, to respond in French was quiet a challenge. I eventually managed as my anger suppressed. The guy I accused was a military guy, not that I cared, I made him empty his pockets. The train police came and they went after the guy who found my passport. They searched him too but at this point I realized that I was overreacting and anyone who had my $$ wasn’t dumb enough to hang around or carry it in his pockets in front of me. Each of the guys apologized to me and swore they didn’t take my money. I let it go and was grateful that I had my passport returned to me.

Arrived in Marrakesh (or Marrakech – European spelling).

Our ride dropped us off inside the walls of the old town and told us that someone from our hotel would meet us to walk us to the hotel. I was in another world obviously but my friends were frightened at the site of the ‘street’s that surrounded us. They were narrow walkways filled with smelly shops and vendors. Only transportation passing through were donkeys and mopeds. It was dirty and poverty striken. I had of course seen similar sites during my travels to some parts of Egypt, Iran..etc. but my friends had never experienced something like this. I also didn’t expect our fancy shmancy hotel to be in the middle of such an area. Our hotel – Riads are old houses / mansions turned into hotels- Kniza Riad was like an oasis in the middle of no where. Probably over-priced for the location but it was beautiful, clean and luxurious. The owner was a sharp guy and very well-connected in the celebrity circuit. There were pictures of him with Brad Pitt and old queen of Iran as they were perhaps touring or staying at his Riad. If you are going to stay in the old town, I recommend this place. Read the reviews on Tripadvisor.

Kinza Riad -where we stayed

Upon our arrival, as I was taking a shower and trying to release the stress of the trip, I chipped my tooth while trying to rip open a packet of shampoo. By this point, I had had it. I simply sat down and began to cry. This is when the three of us decided that we needed to give something away.. superstitious or not, we set some money aside to give to a needy person. In Morocco that was not hard to find. But we ended up making a donation to a worthy cause, a women’s shelter.

Marrakesh like Casablanca offered very little in sight-seeing. This is the reason for my lack of enthusiasm for visiting this country. The few places we visited, were similar to many places I had seen before in other countries but less spectacular. For someone who hasn’t visited other countries with close cultural resemblance such as other northern African countries, the middle east, or even Spain where there is a big middle eastern influence found in some of their design or old historic sites, Morocco could offer a glimpse and an introduction. But if you’ve visited other similar countries, I’m not really sure if you would find Morocco very charming.

The souk in Marrakesh

Djemaa El-Fna

In most countries that I’ve visited, the old town is the historic part of town and is well-preserved for tourism. In Marrakesh, this is where the masses live and they are mostly poor. Marrakesh has a population of 1.2 million and nearly all live inside the old town. The new town, built by the French, is occupied mostly by foreigners and is cleaner. Get a hotel there if you choose to visit. Outside of the city, there is a big effort to build resorts that the builders and investors hope will draw 10 million tourists a year. All resorts, and there were many and quiet massive, were only half completed. Some investors and contractors had simply left. If you want to vacation at a Moroccan resort, perhaps check back in a few years to see if these projects were completed. I would however guess that Europeans are most likely to visit Morocco and vacation there since it is a short flight but I can’t recommend it for anyone traveling from far away.

All in all, we were constantly warned by the hotel staff and guides to be careful. Pocket picking, grabbing your hands to put henna on it with chemicals that are not safe, etc. are the common threats. The hotel staff and the tour guide that gave us a tour of the old town were awfully kind. Amin, the tour guy, took me to the dentist on the back of his moped. Yes, I had quite the adventure on this trip. He stayed with me and even brought me cash to pay the dentist. He came by the next day to give us another tour given the rough first couple of days and our foul moods – which I explained as lack of coffee in addition to the bad experiences. He made sure we had plenty of coffee the next day. LOL.

The sights

Morocco museum, Musee de Marrakech – the king’s daughter turned this old mansion into a museum. It represents the typical rooms and living quarters of the wealthy Moroccans in the old days.

The Quran school – No longer used but think Plato and Socrates teaching in a Roman style courtyard and some special private rooms upstairs. Similar experience but Moroccan design.

Bahia Palace – A Sultan’s palace. You can visit part of the house. This place was also used in some movies as location, for example, in the Seven Years in Tibet with Brad Pitt. This house was probably the most interesting sight that we visited.


The Harem section of the Bahia Palace – featured in movies such as 7 years in Tibet

Medina Souq – There is the old souq and the new souq. As a tourist you’ll probably visit the new, which is around the main square where the tourists visit. Shopping is a nightmare. Plan on haggling A LOT. Our tour guide helped us in our souvenir shopping since he knew all the shop keepers. For example, a purse priced at 600 dirhams was negotiated down to 300 without the help of our guide. With his help, it was easily sold at 150 dirham. So you will not get that price without the local help but if 300 dirham is a price you are willing to pay for that purse, it is not much.. that is why they call it bargaining to find price at which the supplier and the buyer are satisfied. Economics 101.

First original movie theater in Marrakesh – in old souq – a quick five minute peep.

Djemaa El-Fna – this is the main square, lively day and night but at night it really becomes a show. Vendors, musicians, snake charmers.. are all out. They will try to put anything on you for you to pay them a tip form a Moroccan traditional hat to snakes. I’m not afraid of snakes, but was freaked out when without my knowledge, there was one around my neck. So if you have a phobia of snakes, be super careful. Ladies, also be careful of the ladies grabbing your arms and putting Henna on them. Some of these are not safe chemicals and that is also the reason most of these women have their faces covered, so that they cannot be identified – we were given this tip by a local guide.

Jardin Majorelle – don’t waste you time or money – it is a small garden that takes you 5 minutes to walk. There is a museum but we didn’t go in. We noticed people visited here to just sit and cuddle or read for hours under the shades. YSL funded this garden and there is a section dedicated to him.

To Do:

Private hammams – the public ones are best to avoid. Take advantage of the private ones. They are decently priced. We went to Les Bains d’Azahara and did the hammam and massage combo. It was awkward to be bathed by a woman in front of my friends, but hey it may be a once in a lifetime experience to be scrubbed by someone else. When in Rome….:)

herborsiterie Palais El Badia – pharmacy and herb store. Have them give you a tour of the different herbs and their benefits. Buy something, worth a try.

Outside of Marrakesh

Ourika Valley – take a tour here and get outside of Marrakesh. It is a charming drive to the Atlas mountains. You can hike up the mountains to see the waterfalls. To see all seven you will be hiking for about four hours. One hour will get you to the top, amongst the madness of walking traffic and dangerous climbs, to see three but it’s worth it. Wear hiking shoes.

ourika valley

Ourika Valley – a famous house behind us

ourika valley

Ourika Valley

Camel rides – there will be camels along the way in the villages. Ask price first before you jump on. The villager who owned six camels – by their definition probably the richest guy in the village – asked for 10 euros / person for a 15 minute ride. No joke…. a cab ride in Paris for an hour costs less. I think I paid $5 in Egypt riding for 30 minutes around the Pyramids – but of course an Egyptian negotiated the price at that time.

A shower in a Berber house – someone was in there

making argan oil

Ladies making Argan oil

berber house

A Berber home – original Moroccans

Morocco and this region is known for Argan oil. This oil has become popular in the recent years and is used as a replacement for olive oil used as a dipping sauce, cooking, for cosmetic products, especially in hair products that we ladies, are becoming very familiar with these days. In the Ourika Valley, they claim that to support divorced and widowed women and keep them from turning to prostitution to support themselves, the government allow for only these ladies to work in the manufacturing locations for Argan oil. You can see the signs everywhere and they have a shop and demonstration that will show you how they pick the fruit and transform it into the oil.. all done by women – Cooperative Feminine Tiguemine Argan. Although we could’ve purchased the oil cheaper elsewhere, we opted to buy from this location to support the women. I hope they are telling the truth.

Water falls - atlas mountains

People in the one of the water falls – Atlas mountains

berber town

Berber town

All in all, I think Morocco is more of a place for those who have not or cannot visit other countries with similar culture. I don’t recommend a long and expensive trip just to see Morocco. But if you make it here be sure to taste some local cuisine, Tagine is the specialty.

tagine dishes

Tagine dishes at a cafe – hiking up the water falls Atlas mountains.

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One of my greatest travels.  Egypt didn’t disappoint.  The company I traveled with could’ve been better but the fact that this person was an Egyptian helped make the trip a lot easier than if I’d just been another tourist.  I traveled here during the February time, and it was hot.  I can’t imagine traveling there in the summer time.

Although I took this trip a few years ago, 2005 or 2006 – I  think – but I have always wanted to write about it because most people don’t get to travel to Egypt.  As far as history goes, no other place that I’ve traveled to, compares.  I started my trip in Cairo.


Cairo offers a lot but we didn’t spend much time actually in the city itself.  It was our first hub for traveling to the nearby attractions like the Pyramids.  Within Cairo one of the main attractions is the Imam Hussein Shrine/Mosque.  It is where this Imam’s head is buried.  Now those of you more familiar with history will ask ‘wasn’t he killed in Iraq?’.  The answer is yes, and although his body is buried in Iraq (Karbala at the time), his head was brought to Egypt.  Egyptians as you know are Sunnis, and perhaps that is the reason the masque was not very crowded and easy to visit.  When I walked in, the crowd parted so that I could get close to the actual shrine, an experience quiet unknown to me since I had recently visited a similar shrine in Iran and the mob of women would nearly trample you on their way to get to the shrine and touch the bars surrounding it.  One would think that Imam Reza, who was buried there in Mashhad (Iran), was going to get up and leave.  Anyway I digress.. that is a whole other story on its own.  The Egyptians seemed to be really excited that a ‘foreigner’ was visiting the shrine.  I had no idea what the lady that was with me was saying to them but they were very helpful in trying to get me to the front of the line to touch the shrine. I’m not sure what I was supposed to do once I got up there… Outside, surrounding the mosque, was the Imam Hussein square that was full of tea and hooka cafes.  I was told that it was one of the places that people frequented night time as well.

Other attractions – There is a touristic area that you can take a ride on a little boa in Cairo, kind of like the small world show at Disney Land, but it has real people playing the part of the old days and Egyptians.  How it all began and how they worked in villages as bakers, tailors…etc. are all acted out across the river as you slowly cruise along. This picture is one example of how they showcased their lives.

View of Cairo

Inside the Bazar - Cairo

We also visited the Al-Rifa’i Mosque (Royal Mosque), where King Farouk and the Shah of Iran are buried.  Interestingly many of the places I wanted to visit had three prices: one for locals, one for tourist from other Arab countries, and one for non-Arab tourists.   This non-Arab tourist fee also includes Persian visitors and it is the highest.  So in order to pretend and get the second highest price, I had to say hello in Arabic and I would pay a lesser fee. Having Egyptians with me helped in negotiating prices.  For example, a camel ride fee around the Pyramids would cost a tourist about $150.  It cost us about $25.  Now that’s an inflated price.

Inside a Mosque - Cairo

Mosque - Cairo

Eating street food - Foul my fave

Royal Mosque -Al-Rifa'i Mosque- Cairo

Shah of Iran's burial spot

I am giving YOU orders!


There’s no way to describe what I felt when I stepped out of the car and stood in front of the Pyramids.  It was a wow moment!  We see images of these structures that have fascinated us for centuries and then you are standing’s a pretty good feeling.  However, the feeling stops when you walk in one of them.  It is hard to breath in there, it doesn’t smell good, and there is nothing left to see.  Everything has been moved to museums around the world.  I am not discouraging anyone from walking in there,  it’s a must do at least once.

Met the cutest 10 yr old girl who could hold her own amongst the boys selling postcards

Pyramids and Great Sphinx

I took a camel ride around the Pyramids.  Again if there is any place to ride a camel, can’t beat this view.  The camels were hilarious. My camel was the last one and it would sometimes try to catch up with the other ones, I would start to laugh hysterically and nearly fall off of the camel.


I liked Luxor a lot.  It was a very pretty city.  Watching the boats on the Nile at night was magical.  They also have a saying there about drinking from the Nile and going back there.  I think I’ve heard that saying in just about every country.  Well, I did not drink from the Nile here.  I loved the food.  Not just in Luxor but in Egypt in general.  What I loved the most was the corner bakeries and the Foul stands.  Foul is the fava beans that they sell in pita breads.  It was kind of like going to Taquerias.  You didn’t see many tourists there but I would be there for breakfast.. yes they served it for breakfast as well.  In fact, even at the breakfast buffets in the hotels where we stayed, if they served foul, I would skip the fancy omelettes, pancackes..etc to get some foul.  Another of my favorite local dishes was Kosheri, a mix of rice, noodles, beef..etc.  I would just add my own hot sauce. LOL

Oh..Naughty Egyptians

Winter Palace hotel - Luxor

Playing a little music with the local band

Taking the carriage for a ride - Jack of all traits

They wouldn't let me bake

Temple of Karnak is a also a must see in Luxor and they offer a night time light show as well.

Temple of Karnak ( I think)

Christians once took over this temple and some of the old Egyptian drawings were covered by the new ones representing Christianity. Only one left.

Valley of the Kings

MUST MUST SEE!  This is where I was impressed the most.  There are so many tombs of pharaohs in this valley that you may not have time in one day to see them all.  We chose 3-4 of the most famous ones.  Although almost all the priceless items in these tombs are already transferred to museums around the world, I still found it the most fascinating place I ever visited.

Inside one of the tombs

King Tut

Valley of Queens

They had just discovered a new tomb and were excavating during our visit there. I remember it from the news but don’t recall any details anymore. The tomb of King Tut was the most interesting and they had kept sarcophagus in there as it is probably the most visited tomb.  It really was amazing to be standing in the middle of such fascinating history.  If you see nothing else in Egypt, see Valley of the Kings.

Not too far from Valley of the Kings is the Valley of the Queens on the west of the Nile where the children of pharaohs and queens were buried.  The tomb of Queen Nefertiti (I think) was the most interesting and they tour guide will point out that it was built directly across from the Valley of the Kings if you look across the river.   There is so much history that you just can’t remember it all.


I spent a day in Alexandria.  The most famous attraction here is the lighthouse, also known as Pharos of Alexandria.    It was a nice pretty city with a big mall. Alexandria is also known for the place where it is suspected Cleopatra is buried but no one knows for sure.  Her tomb and burial place remain one of the biggest mysteries in the world.

Lighthouse - Alexandria

I also visited some of the smaller cities near Alexandria but it was only because my friend wanted to visit family in the area.  I can’t imagine Port Saeed for example is a hot spot for tourism and any reason to visit unless you are in the import/export business.

Sharm All Sheikh

The red sea. We spent three days at a fabulous resort here.  The water was amazing and the snorkling, not bad.  This beach town was flooded with tourists from Italy, Germany and Russia.  Shockingly, the beaches were topless optional.  Inside the town, malls, hooka bars and cafes and restaurants were packed at nights.

The streets of Sharm All Sheikh

Traditional foul - fava bean- serving dish

Sharm All Shiekh

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South / Latin America – Argentina and Uruguay

Buenos Aires, Argentina

We took a short flight from Rio to Montevideo and took a ferry to Buenos Aires.  I must note that at the border of Brazil and Argentina, there is a very famous sight that most people visiting this region make sure that is included in their trip.  Again, we didn’t have the time for this side trip.  This is the Iguazu Falls. I didn’t see it but I’ve heard it’s very beautiful.

Being in Buenos Aires seemed like I was in an old European city like Paris.  The architecture of the old historical buildings seemed familiar. It was a clean, lively, and beautiful city.  Eat lots of beef and steaks here.  Shop for leather.  One of the best in the world. But not cheap.  I should also mention that in most of these S. American countries, the hotels could exchange money and a visit to the bank was not necessary.

Tango shows are also very popular here for the tourist. I think we spent 2-3 days here and pretty much visited all the sights.

Sightseeing in Buenos Aires

Try to walk everywhere.  You can take public transportation to some places but it’s certainly walkable and very beautiful yet quaint.

Solar energy science expierement in a park. The flower opens and closes with the sun.

At a street fair

de la Recoleta – Yes, this is a cemetery but one of the most famous ones in the world with its crypts and impressive marble statues.  The famous and the rich are buried here including the very famous Evita. It’s usually fairly crowded with tourists and maps/tours are also available if you want a richer appreciation of history.

Evita's burial spot

Casa Rosada – Where Evita gave her famous speech located in Plaza de Mayo.

Cafe Tortoni – Stop here for a cup of coffee and maybe a light meal.  It is crowded with locals and tourists.  It is near the Plaza the Mayo and it is one of the oldest cafes in the city, opened in 1858.  It is famous because it is visited by the most famous and influential people in the world. Downstairs, you catch a Tango show a couple of times at night.  If you want to see a Tango show, and you must, this is one of the highly recommended ones.  I can’t recall the price but it was worth the experience.  My friend had been to Buenos Aires before and had experienced the culture.  So I went by myself and enjoyed the  two-hour show and met a few people.  After I took a stroll on the Avenue and walked back to the hotel by myself never feeling threatened.  The streets were busy with people until very late at night.

There is this one really artsy area of the town, very colorful and full of tango dancing in the street, but I can’t recall the name of it.  You’ll find it in all the travel guides and … whatever source you use when you travel.  Shouldn’t miss having lunch or early dinner here to really enjoy the atmosphere.

decorated horse statues in BA

Me and a hottie


Colonia – We took the ferry from Buenos Aires to Colonia, Uruguay. A small seaside town that is worth a walk before you catch the train to Montevideo.  It’ll take a couple of hours to see this place.  It is filled with colonial buildings and cobbled streets.  An old mill and lighthouse are right near the ferry station. The ferry takes about 1.5-2 hours between Uruguay and BA.

Be sure to get your passport stamped on the ferry or before entering Uruguay. You may have a bit of an issue when leaving for the US if you have an entry passport stamp into one country and not flying our from that country.  My friend was detained for a bit but she eventually said “well, here I am and I’m trying to leave your country, does it really matter if I don’t have a stamp for being here!!”  LOL.  Be safe and don’t do this.

Colonia, Uruguay

Gate to the city 🙂

Montevideo – Capital of Uruguay.  Can’t say I was that impressed with this place.  It was okay.  Maybe worth seeing once if you are here but there isn’t much here to see.  Walk around a bit and take in the culture for a couple of days. Ciudad Vieja area has the city’s oldest buildings and attractions for tourists.  We took a side trip tour and as part of this tour they showed us some of the most must see places in Uruguay, including the very modest house of the country’s president.  The house was in the richest neighborhood but it looked like I could easily walk up to the door and ring the bell.  Seems like the president had chosen to live in the house where he lived with his family before becoming the leader of the country.  He wasn’t there on that day, too bad.  I could’ve used some tea.

I 'think' this was either to oldest or tallest building in Montevideo. My memory is fuzzy.

Believe it or not, it is where Mr. President of Uruguay lives. I was that close.

A famous art piece representing a Uruguay hero

Punta del Este – this is a well-traveled to beach town in the summer time (their summer time, which officially begins in December).  Other South Americans as well as Europeans flock to this place to enjoy the beach and the sun.  Monumento al Ahogado is a sculpture of five fingers partially submerged in sand has become one of the most recognizable landmarks in this town.  In November, the town was still quiet.

Five Fingers sculpture

On the way to Punta del Este, we stopped at Casa Pueblo. A museum and a beautifully architected home/hotel dedicated to the works of a famous Uruguayan painter, Carlos Paez Vilaro.  He also designed the house.  It is a beautiful white castle overlooking the ocean.   The artist happened to be there on the day we visited and it was a pleasure meeting him.

casa pueblo

Carlos Vilaro - the artist himself

All in all, if you are a big traveler like me and you can afford to take a chance visiting a country like Uruguay for a few days, do it but go in their summer season to enjoy it a little more.  It is a very inexpensive country to visit and enjoy.  However if you don’t travel much, I would say that Uruguay doesn’t need to be on top of your list must see places.  Buenos Aires should be on your list of must see in South America.

Lovers locks. Superstition says if you put your name and your sweetie's name on a lock and lock it to this fountain, you will together forever.

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South / Latin America. Brazil.

First time to Latin America.


Beach in Brazil

My trip to this region of the world is not a recent one but still fresh in my mind.  I had previously traveled extensively in Europe but South America was a unique and exciting experience.

It was a last-minute decision but you still need about a week to get a visa for Brazil.  One of those countries that requires one for US citizens.  We began our trip in Rio de Janeiro, then headed to Buenos Aries, and finished up in Uruguay.  We thought about a trip to the Amazon but that trip alone would’ve taken a week alone.  It wasn’t like we could ask to stop at the next port and get off, but I would really like to go back and cruise the Amazon river one day.

November in Brazil is not yet the big tourism season.  Still a little chilly to go into the water and the beaches are not crowded.  If you want to see the sights for a good price, this is a good time.  If you want the excitement of Rio, wait until December.  If you want to visit during the most exciting time, Mardi Gras, then wait and pay lots of monies to get there.

We stayed at the 5 star Marriott, right on the beach.  On our last day there, a president of some South Asian country was visiting and the hotel was packed with security.   Speaking of security, I had heard that you should not wear gold jewelery when visiting Brazil, but I had a very simple gold chain around my neck.    Before walking out of the hotel on our first day, at 10 am, a lady working in the lobby of the hotel stopped me and recommended that I take that off before going out.  You may become a target.  Safest to just wear some cheap jewelery, silver, or no jewelery at all.

We spent about five days in Rio. It was both relaxing and had some good sight-seeing options.  I jogged on the beach, got a massage on the beach and just loved the lively atmosphere.  On a side note, every magazine cover in South America is exposing a woman’s rear end as opposed to North America, that cleavage is the big seller on magazine covers. That’s some useless trivia for you. 🙂

Juice bars are huge in Brazil and on every block, instead of a coffee bar, you could find a juice shop.  Fresh juices were so tasty. Acai berry drinks and shakes were very popular.  The food and desserts were great as well.  In comparison to Argentina, where leather shopping is good, Brazilians had more style in fashion and better overall shopping experience.

Artwork on the beach

The sightseeing

Corcovado mountain is the most famous sight in Rio.  It will take a full day but this is the sugar loaf mountain and where the famous huge statue of Christ is.  It is one of the 7 wonders of the world.  The statue stands at 98 feet with a 26 foot pedestal 2330 feet above sea level.  It’s a great panoramic view of the city.  You will take a cable car across from the sugar mountain to the statue.  You can take a train through the jungle around the statue and on the way down if you want to take in more of the sights.  We took a bus up but took the train down, I don’t recall if we had any other option.

This is one sight where visiting during the summer time is probably better.  If it’s a cloudy day, you are so high up that the head of the statue can be in the clouds and your pictures will not come out great.

View from Sugar Loaf Mountain

Ipanema beach is a popular area, popularized by a song ” The girl from Ipanema”.  Again, there wasn’t as hopping at that time during the days, but at nights, it was still a very lively place to dine and grab a drink.  A lot of chic boutiques in this area as well.  There are a lot of other beaches and similar to Los Angeles, each one is well-known for a particular atmosphere.

Visit the Palace Hotel, Copacabana Palace, and have a drink by the pool.  You can pay to use the pool but just a lunch and a giant coconut milk drink will be very refreshing.

Almost have the same size feet as one of the most famous Brazilian soccer players, pele.

Football stadium, Maracanã, is one of the most famous sights for the soccer lovers.  I don’t think I need to elaborate more.  I think you know what memorabilia you can find in this place.  We even got to walk through the locker room and showers but sadly there was no one in there. 🙂

H. Stern jewlery – if you have any fascination with jewels and stones, don’t miss a tour of the H. Stern gallery.  All I can say is ‘wow’.  Brazil is known for its gems.  Many unique gems are the product of this country.  You can buy beautiful stuff at a fairly good price in flea markets and shops around town, but if you are looking for that one special piece or designed jewelery, you will pay a pretty penny.  You have to make reservations for this tour.  They will send a car to pick you up and you can spend a couple of good hours walking around this gallery and museum.  Amazing but you can also feel guilty if you are aware of how most of these gems are collected and sold.  Although I think H. Stern claims to not condone the exploitation of diamonds – well, you do your own research and be the judge.  I don’t really know.  I couldn’t afford to buy most of their stuff anyway.

One of my favorite tours was the tour of the Flavas.  Flavas are the poor neighborhoods typically run and operated by gangs.  This is well-known and tolerated by the government.  The history and facts around how the govt. discriminates and yet works with these neighborhoods is amazing.  We took a local tour.  What I mean by that is that we didn’t go through one of the tour groups that piles up the tourist in a bus or jeep and drives them around these streets as if they were visiting a zoo.  That is how the people living there feel. We took a tour with a very nice lady who lives in the flavas and runs a walking tour company.  We never felt unsafe and as she explained she must get the okay from the head of the flava – gang to give us the tour.  We even heard a story about a purse snatching incident, where the purse and all its items were returned the next day.  The gang leader ordered a search for whoever took the purse and to return it so that there would be no interference from the police.  The only restriction is that we cannot go all the way to the top of the hill, where most flavas are built, where the biggest house, the gang leader’s house, is located.  High security.  These leaders are typically in their early 20s because they die young.  The danger in these areas are not for the tourist, because they don’t want any trouble with the government.  They crime tends to be between members of competing flavas for control, drug sale, etc.

flavas - Brazil

We walked around these extremely narrow walkways, walked into some people’s homes, and shops.  These neighborhoods are pretty self-sufficient and many are not as poor as it seems because their children, boys, join the gangs to earn more income and buy luxury items for their homes and families.  The families struggle to put these kids through an education system instead but the glamour of owning ‘things’ when you have had nothing usually wins over the long and difficult road to getting a ‘safe’ job or education.  However, she told us that becoming a gang member is a choice and not forced since there seems to be no shortage.

Narrow walkways within the flava neighborhood.

The people were kind and appreciative that we weren’t scared of walking around their neighborhood.  I never even tried to keep a close eye on my purse or belongings.  I am usually aware of my surroundings and take caution, because I’m so used to traveling, but there is a difference with being aware, and acting scared  as if everyone is a thief.  There is so much more I could say about this tour.  Feel free to ask me for details.. it’s been a while but I have a lot of pictures to help jog my memory.

View of the flavas we visited

These were pretty much the sights we visited in Rio.  Once again, I don’t have anything to report on for the nightlife as we were too exhausted by night-time after all the sightseeing but I’m sure Brazil offers some of the best nightlife.  I also wanted to take a side trip to  Salvador but the flight schedule just wasn’t accommodating to our trip’s itinerary.  I’ve heard the city is also very colorful and lively kind of like visiting New Orleans.  Brazil is huge and you could certainly spend much more time here exploring but we were headed to Buenos Aries next.  See you on the next blog.

Copacabana Hotel and my frizzy hair - this is before the Brazilian treatment for the hair.

Categories: Brazil, South / Latin America, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment



Medjugorje –  The site claimed to have had apparitions of the Virgin Mary

Driving from the Croatian border to Sarajevo was quiet an adventure.  My friend’s friend whom we were planning on visiting in Sarajevo, recommended that we take a side trip on the way.  She is a Bosnian Muslim but the place she recommended is a major tourist attraction for the Christians and Catholics.   It is claimed that apparitions of the Virgin Mary appeared to a group of small children here in 1981, and ever since this small town has become the Mecca for Catholics in the vicinity.  Interestingly though, most visitors are bused in from Croatia, Italy, etc. and they do not realize that they are in Bosnia.  They think the town is in Croatia and therefore most of the financial support from tourism is actually given to Croatia.  This is a sensitive topic.  In comparison to the other cities in Bosnia, which are very poor, this city was growing and the economic status was clearly well above the of appirtion of virgin mary

In order to get to the actual location, visitors must climb a hill that is paved with rocks.  I was shocked to see the elderly attempting this hike.  Some walked with canes, some took a break every few minutes, and some were assisted, but they all made it just to say a prayer or bring a picture of a loved one to leave at the statue’s feet.  Many were crying and I must say that the energy and atmosphere was so overwhelming, that I even had a moment of tearful eyes and I was merely there as a tourist.  Maybe watching so many people begging and pleading for help reminded me of my own troubles and how comforting it must be to think that this visit could ease some of life’s burdens and misfortunes we all must face eventually.

There are rumors of people, including the elderly, that  hike up the hill on their knees.  I don’t buy that one.


What a pleasant surprise this city turned out to be! Reluctant I made the journey with my friend who had once spent some time living in Bosnia post war.  She wanted to visit a friend and I am always ready for a new adventure.  I wasn’t sure what to expect.

Pulled over by the police – Let’s step back a bit and let me tell you about our drive to Sarajevo.  We both wanted to reach Sarajevo before dark, because we were concerned about driving in this country at night.  We failed, but we made it okay.  On our way, while passing through a small town, we were stopped by a police man who walked in the middle of the street in front of us w/ a sign that read ‘stop’.  Seriously?  I was immediately reminded of my dad’s stories about traveling through this poor country back in the 70s and how he was stopped at the border and couldn’t exit the country for days until he bribed the border patrol.  I was actually scared since we were two women.

The officer began to speak to us in Slavic and was asking us to get out of the car.  We both refused and pretended to not understand.  He took my friend’s passport and that made us nervous but we continued to act as if we had no idea what he wanted.  We would play with the knobs and widgets in the car pretending we didn’t know what he was asking us to do.  He eventually gave up and reached into the car and turned on our headlights and told us to go.  Phewwwww….. maybe our side trip to Medjugorje helped us in some way. :))))

After driving for a few hours on beautiful winding roads in the mountains, which scarrd the bejesus out of me… (especially since my friend was trying to capture this journey on her iphone while driving), we reached Sarajevo.

three religious establishements

A masque, a temple, and a church

Our hotel room window opened to one of the most interesting sights of Sarajevo.  Three ‘buildings’, within a half a mile of each other, formed a triangle-shaped view that explains the history of this city.  These were: a masque, a catholic church, and a Jewish temple.  They each still stand and are a place of worship for the locals.  However, we were told that not many Jews lived in the city anymore and the temple was rarely used (if my memory serves me right).

The memories of the war – As we walked out of our hotel lobby door and  into the sidewalk, we noticed 20-30 rose-colored stones/markings engraved in the sidewalk.  We noticed these random rose-colored markings throughout the areas we visited.  We asked our friend, who also works as a tour guide for the city, about the markings.  She explained that these marked the areas where there were mass executions during the war Bosnia-Serbia war in the 90s.  After that explanation, it was quiet eery to stand on or near these markings.  A chill ran through my spine every time.

news bosnia

The cover of a magazine the day he was caught


The assassination site that started WWI

Marking a massacre site during the war

We were told of the days before the war and the suffering during the war.  The Bosnians and Serbs don’t mingle much.  Some have to travel to the other side for work, as unemployment and poverty are high, but they carry the pain, hatred, and fear with them.  They are very much scared of the Serbs and prefer not to have to deal with them at all. Our tour guide and friend tried not to talk too much about the war and the negative attitudes just so we would have a more pleasant trip, but the surroundings were a clear reminder of those horrendous days and made it impossible to circumvent.  Our trip to Bosnia coincided with the capture of the former Serb General, Mladic.  There was no big celebration and the mood remained somber.  Our friend described this lack of excitement as part numbness and part the perception that there will be no real justice served as there hasn’t been in the past decade since the war.

old town bosnia

Fountain that if you drink from, you'll come back. I guess I'm going back to a lot of places.

The city and culture – I found this city charming, full of history, and yet sad.  The food and the local dishes were amazing but there wasn’t much else to do.  The old town is where most of the sight-seeing is (or what remains).  We were given a private tour of the chamber of arts and culture where the old Turkish bath rooms are now turned into beautiful rooms representing the various middle eastern influences in Bosnia and the private club that requires membership. Other sights include the church, a few old masques, an old house belonging to a century ago where the grandmother and mother of our tour guide grew up and is now a museum of what old upper class homes in the village /town looked like.

Sunday afternoon in old town

one of the famous and delicious dishes


Murses are the fashion in E. Europe

Hooka house

The crowds filled the old town at night, in the restaurants and streets.  It was a young and good-looking crowd.  BTW in Czech Republic, Croatia, and Bosnia carrying murses (purses for men) is the trend.  I hope in never catches on here. Where I would say that the men in Croatia were the better looking of the few countries I visited during this trip, in Bosnia it was the women  (my personal experience and not intended to offend anyone).  I stood out like a sore thumb in this crowd.  They could tell I was a tourist.  Part because they don’t get much tourism but also I was told because of my style and looks.  My tanned skin and somewhat lighter hair at that time, made me unique looking.  The locals were fair-skinned with brown or dirty blond hair.  I had people follow me in shops on the streets to take pictures of me.  It was hilarious.  As a co-worker put it ” I am big in Bosnia”! LOL

If you have any doubts about visiting this country.. you shouldn’t!

Categories: Bosnia, eastern europe, Travels | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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