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Best Things to See in Oxford

During my three week visit in the UK, I took the opportunity to explore the beautiful university town of Oxford on my way to the Cotswolds. I took a train from London to the city, which took less than two hours, and stayed at lovely Cotswold Lodge Hotel.

Teeming with amazing architecture and structures worth photographing, you’d need at least a week to truly explore Oxford. But with so many places to visit in England and not enough time to do so, I only stayed there for a couple of days. That was enough, though, to see some of the highlights. Also, not having a car and being forced to explore it on foot helped as that allowed me to end up in places I wouldn’t have thought to visit.

Here are some of the best things to see in Oxford.

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Saint Giles Church Grounds – Only a few blocks away from my hotel, Saint Giles Church is located at the intersection of St. Giles and Woodstock Rd. It’s a small church completed in 1120, and certainly not one of Oxford’s most impressive. But it has a small graveyard, one of my favorite places to explore and photograph, a consecration cross, and a small park where you can sit for lunch and people watch, which incidentally is one of the best things to do in Oxford.

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Martyrs Memorial – Directly in front of Saint Giles consecration cross is the towering Martyrs Memorial. Designed by Sir George Gilbert Scott, the monument was completed in 1843 in honor of the 16th-century Oxford Martyrs. It’s an intricate landmark worth photographing, and definitely one of the best things to see in Oxford. It’s also surrounded by steps where you can take a quick break in. And behind it is Saint Mary Magdalen, which also has its own little graveyard.

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Balliol College – Founded around 1263, this beautiful college on Broad Street is certainly worth walking around in thanks to its hidden garden, courtyards, and beautiful architecture. There’s a small visitor’s fee to get in, but you can spend as much time in there and even take a quick peek at some of the interiors, including its Great Hall. It’s not as impressive as Hogwarts, but it’s still pretty cool.

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Trinity College – Known for its long standing rivalry with Balliol College and for having produced three British prime ministers, neighboring Trinity College is also worth ticking off your Oxford list. It was founded in 1555, and boasts a few interesting landmarks like its beautiful chapel.

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Bodleian Library – Bodleian Library is one of the oldest libraries in Europe, and that fact alone makes one of the best places to see in Oxford. However, it also has some of the most impressive architecture in town, in my humble opinion. If I had the enough time and better access, I would have photographed every nook and cranny of this place.

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Sheldonian Theatre – Designed by Christopher Wren himself, the Sheldonian Theater is another photography must stop. It’s very famous, not just for its architecture but also for the music recitals, lectures, conferences, and various ceremonies held by the University of Oxford.

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Radcliffe Camera and Square – Didn’t I tell you that Oxford is so full of spectacular architecture to photograph? Out of all of them, it’s the neo-classical Radcliffe Camera and Radcliffe Square, also home to University Church of St Mary the Virgin, that are by far my most favorite.

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Bridge of Sighs – Reminiscent of the famous Bridge of Sighs in Venice, this skyway near Radcliffe Square connects the Old and New Quadrangles of Hertford College. It has no historical significance that I know of, but it’s pretty to look at and also photograph!

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Oxford University Parks – I didn’t really intend to visit the parks, thinking I wouldn’t have time. But while venturing off High Street, I got lost and ended up in one of the parks. So I decided to stay and explore. The university parks aren’t as impressive as say, Central Park, but it’s a nice, sprawling space to find some peace and quiet away from the tourists. There are some cute spots to photograph too, but more importantly, it’s great for running or doing yoga. If you’re staying in town for more than a few days, the parks are definitely a great place to workout in.

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Turf Tavern Oxford – While hidden, Turn Tavern is a very busy place probably owing to the fact that many dignitaries have dined and consumed many pints of beer here. These would include Former Aussie Prime Minister Bob Hawke, Former US President Bill Clinton, Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor, Tony Blair, Stephen Hawking, and the cast and crew of Harry Potter during their Oxford filming. Come here before you’re actually hungry as you might have a long wait to find a table, and they won’t let you order unless you secure one.

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Oxford High Street – Lastly, wander about along High Street for more photo ops and if you’re looking to shop or dine. And don’t hesitate to walk into any buildings that are open to the public. Who knows? You might walk into a pretty garden or more Instagramable spots!

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Eight Things to Do at Hard Rock Hotel Riviera Maya

I recently stayed at the Hard Rock Hotel Riviera Maya, an all-inclusive resort from the world famous brand. While it may not have been an obvious choice of resort for me personally, I have to say that I had a great time. My short stay there actually changed my mind about the brand.

I’m happy to report that I would definitely stay at an all-inclusive Hard Rock Hotel again given the chance. Not only is the property stunning and elegant, but it also offers a number of features you’d be hard pressed to find in other all-inclusive resorts in Cancun and Riviera Maya.

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If you’re looking for awesome things to do in Riviera Maya, Hard Rock Hotel Riviera Maya will probably have you covered for at least 3 days of your visit. That’s because the hotel offers so much  eight things you should definitely experience when staying at the Hard Rock Hotel Riviera Maya:

Stay in a Deluxe Platinum Sky Terrace at Heaven

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If you’re not traveling with kids, Hard Rock Hotel Riviera Maya’s adults-only section, aptly called Heaven, is definitely the way to go. It’s quieter, more relaxing and less chaotic. Have a bigger budget? Then splurging on a Deluxe Platinum Sky Terrace suite is the way to go. This two-floor suite comes with the luxurious furnishings and amenities plus a private rooftop (second floor) with a big Jacuzzi. A dip in a private hot tub under that stars, anyone? Have the staff set it up for you, and bring up some drinks from your in-room stash!

Note: this room option is also available on the family-friendly Hacienda side. 

Stay Active and Attend a LES MILLS Fitness Class

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Working out may be the last thing in your mind when you’re staying at an all-inclusive resort like Hard Rock Hotel Riviera Maya. But trust me when I tell you that the LES MILLS classes that the resort has on offer for its guests are worth experiencing. They currently have 13 different fitness classes available. And they’re all pretty awesome as LES MILLS integrates a motivating pop music soundtrack with every workout, making them fun to do. And their instructors are very positive and inspiring. BODYCOMBAT (a kickboxing type workout) is a particular favorite of mine, but they have everything from BODYFLOW (a Yoga, Tai Chi and Pilates inspired workout) to BODYJAM (a dance and cardio BJ workout). This means that there are options for every taste and level. So don’t forget to pack your workout clothes or buy the super comfy LES MILLS+REEBOK ones.

Join a Paddle Boarding Tour

Exploring coves and lagoons must be at the top of your list of things to do in Riviera Maya. And Hard Rock Hotel Riviera Maya’s beach is essentially divided into several different naturally protected coves. And the waters in each of these coves are so calm that they feel like they’re manmade pools. So they’re great for paddle boarding, and perfect for those who have never done the sport before and want to learn. The all-inclusive resort only currently offers paddle boarding through a guided tour on certain days every week. But it’s worth doing. Check their current paddle boarding tour schedule and make sure to register in advance.

Go Sailing and Wine Tasting at Sunset

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Partnering with popular excursion company Riviera Maya Adventures, Hard Rock Hotel Riviera Maya offers guests a sailing cruise as part of their excursion packages. We opted for something a little different and instead went at sunset and did a little wine tasting. On our version of the excursion (which isn’t currently offered to guests) we got to do a Mexican-style wine and cheese (and charcuterie) pairing with the hotel’s very own sommelier. We got to sample different Mexican wines whilst enjoying lovely views of the sunset. And you might even get a glimpse of passing rays and sea lions. We did!

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Temazcal is an Igloo-shaped sauna-type lodge that’s traditionally used in many parts of Mexico. It’s supposed to have physical and spiritual healing benefits, and used by people to get away from the outside world and just reconnect with with one’s self. It’s become a trend, in fact, and one of the more Mayan-related things to do in Riviera Maya. Today, many resorts have started to open Temazcal experiences to their guests, Hard Rock Hotel Riviera Maya including. At the resort, an actual shaman is with you throughout the whole ritual, which involves several steps, including a Mayan blessing ceremony with amber. It’s a unique and cathartic spa treatment that every person should experience at least once.

Warning: If you’re extremely claustrophobic or have certain medical conditions, this might not be the experience for you.

Get the Rhythm and Motion Massage at the Rock Spa

I opted for an aromatherapy message at the Rock Spa, and there wasn’t really anything special about it. However, the other ladies that I went with chose to do Hard Rock brand’s signature Synchronicity Massage, which is part of their Rhythm and Motion offering. A very unique spa menu, Rhythm and Motion is the world’s first fully immersive music-centric spa menu utilizing amplified vibrations produced by several rock and pop songs and couples them with different massage pressures and patterns that change with the rhythm. While this may not sound very relaxing, it’s apparently quite calming and effective. And, as it is something different, it’s definitely worth a try.

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Hard Rock Riviera Maya has several cabanas all over the property. If you have the budget for it (as it’s not included in the all-inclusive package), it’s definitely worth renting one for the day. If you’re loaded, rent one for your whole stay. And opt for the over-the-water ones. The ones on the beach are nice, but these over-the-water ones have the perfect view of the sun rising and they have direct access to the water. They’re also great for those who love the water but are not particularly fond of sand.

Party at Club Heaven

I’m not necessarily a party or club person and I’m also not very fond of club crowds in general. But clubbing is a typical part of the experience and one of the usual things to do in Riviera Maya. And once in a while I do enjoy going to clubs and letting lose. To be honest, I actually had a lot of fun partying at Club Heaven, Hard Rock Hotel Riviera Maya’s onsite club. It’s famous for the indoor pool and two Jacuzzis that are set in the middle right in front of the DJ booth. This means that you can take a dip in the pool as you party or when you get too hot from dancing.

If you want to splurge, reserving a private booth for your party is definitely worth it as it can get pretty crowded. Plus, you’ll pretty much have a server constantly checking up on you to see if you need anything.

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5 Things to Love About Oahu’s North Shore

There’s little to not love about Oahu’s northern coast. Not only are there so many things to do in the North Shore. It also has the best food joints, offers magical experiences, and is simply, unbelievably spectacular.

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While I was a little disappointed with certain aspects of Honolulu, I was completely smitten with the North Shore. Having practically non-existent upper body strength, I thought it best to make do with just watching the surfers do their thing than joining them and ending up with a head gash. Still, I had an unforgettable visit. To me, there was nothing more incredible than taking a quick dip at Pupukea Beach, enjoying quick bites from the food trucks that litter the area, then sitting on the beach watching the towering waves.

Here are five things I loved most about Oahu’s North Shore.

The Turtles

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The Hawaiian Islands are famous for turtle sightings, yes. In fact, watching turtles go about their daily routine on the beaches is one of the best things to do there. There are, however, parts of the islands where such sightings come easier and more naturally. The North Shore is one such place. Laniakea and Haleiwa are two of the most popular spots for sightings, but I didn’t see any when I was there. However, when I ventured out to lesser-known Aweoweo Beach, I was lucky enough to see two of them swimming super close to the shore.

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The Waves

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Surfing is one of the top things to do in the North Shore. But to be very honest, I have tried surfing and it just wouldn’t take. I decided that I actually prefer paddle boarding—it’s more relaxing, easier to do, and less of a full body workout. That said, I still found the North Shore’s impressive waves very appealing, the powerful, thundering ones as well as the smaller, whitewater ones. I could watch them all day, and fall asleep on the beach listening to them.

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The Beautiful Views

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The dramatic sky, the ragged coastline and the energetic blue sea… Need I say more?

The Food

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Granted, food always seems so much better when enjoyed at the beach. Still, many of the food trucks and joints in the North Shore serve amazing fares, especially those that involve shrimps and prawns. In fact, eating is probably at the top of everyone’s list of things to do in the North Shore. Grab some garlic shrimp, tender brisket and shaved ice to go from the food trucks across Pupukea Beach. And enjoy some garlic & butter shrimp at Romy’s Kahuku Prawns and Shrimp. Trust me, you’ll be back for more sooner than you might think!

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The Vibe

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You’ll fall as much in love with North Shore’s easy way of life and its slow rhythm as its yummy prawns, its majestic turtles and its impressive breaks. You could pretty much do all the things there are to do in the North Shore and have a hectic visit, and yet still feel yourself slipping into its slow rhythm. It’s incredible, very seductive, and probably why so many people from many parts of the world have decided to move there.

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Vignettes of NEST Tulum

From its quiet sandy path that winds past its beautiful, minimalist rooms to its idyllic beach lined with comfortable beach beds and cabanas, the 9-room boutique property of NEST Tulum is simply perfection. Nestled along Tulum‘s hotel zone, it boasts wonderful rooms that boast the plushest beds, exquisite furnishing, cute Mexican accents, delicious bathroom amenities, and no TVs so guests can unplug and simply unwind. Some of them, including my Tower Two room, feature balcony views of the ocean.

It’s since become one of my favorite properties.

Keep an eye out for my review of the property on TravelPulse. In the meantime, see my photos of the property below so you have an idea of how amazing this property is.

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Culture, Cuisine and a Cold One: The Renaissance of Cleveland

Your very first trip to Cleveland might be an unsettling one. At least if you’re someone like me who has been preconditioned to the hustle and bustle of a much bigger, busier city. Compared to Los Angeles, Cleveland’s streets are practically empty (although that still doesn’t stop its locals from complaining about traffic—to which you simply smile and nod sympathetically). There are only a few people out and about, even in its commercial core during what is supposedly rush hour. And it’s quiet, unnervingly quiet.

Don’t let all that fool you. Bubbling just below the surface is a city at the brink of a renaissance. In actuality, Cleveland—having just woken up from deep slumber—is slowly coming to life. Much like with many of the smaller cities across the country, it’s experiencing gentrification, albeit a milder one. Innovative restaurants, artisanal boutique shops, hip bars like dive-y tavern The Spotted Owl, and craft breweries are emerging every day. And with them come the artists, the musicians, and the younger transplants looking for a cultural urban setting with a much more affordable cost of living.

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Great Lakes Brewery in Cleveland, Ohio

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Great Lakes Brewery in Cleveland, Ohio

At the center of this renaissance is none other than Great Lakes Brewing Co, set where else but Ohio City, Cleveland’s hipsterville. As the first microbrewery in Ohio dating back to the 80s, it’s an oldie in this city of new, and clearly one of Cleveland’s most enduring symbols. It is its brews, however, that turned it into somewhat of a cult pilgrimage for the latest set of craft beer lovers. Great Lakes Brewery’s Elliot Ness Amber Lager, Burning River Pale Ale and Edmund Fitzgerald Porter, to name a few, are not only odes to the persons, things and events that shaped the history of the Great Lakes. They are also the incarnations of what good beer should feel and taste.

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Mabel’s BBQ along Cleveland’s East 4th Street

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Mabel’s Cleveland-style barbecue

After a proper tasting there (and possibly a historical brewery tour), a sit down dinner under the industrial arched ceiling of Mabel’s BBQ is in order. Set in Cleveland’s buzzing, string light adorned East 4th Street, this terrific contemporary yet rustic joint serves Cleveland-style barbecue: smoked meat served with Eastern European flair. Hunks of tender brisket, moist pork belly and delicious ribs may be enjoyed here with spaetzle, smoked beets and Cleveland kraut at communal tables—a great choice if one is to experience Cleveland-inspired dining.

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Inside the West Side Market in Cleveland, Ohio

As far as authentic Cleveland gastronomy is concerned, however, none can top a visit to the iconic West Side Market, the city’s oldest. It has been around since 1912 and remains, invariably so, to be one of the city’s best stopovers for gourmands. Here, a hundred or so vendors sell a diverse selection of products. Fresh meat, every flavor of bacon and sausages, fruits and vegetables, nuts and spices, pastries and other baked goods, and even quick eats line the stalls that dominate the interior of one of Cleveland’s most notable buildings.

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Romanesque Revival The Arcade in Cleveland, Ohio

Cleveland’s passion for creation isn’t just limited to craft beer and cuisine. It has set roots in its culture and in its streets as well. Today, the city is essentially a hodgepodge of museums, music venues, grand architectural wonders such as the late 1800 Romanesque Revival The Arcade and the stunning Cleveland Trust Company building, galleries, and of course, public art.

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The Cleveland Museum of Art in Cleveland, Ohio

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The Cleveland Museum of Art in Cleveland, Ohio

To start one’s art and cultural immersion in the city, a tour of the expansive Cleveland Museum of Art is a necessity. Here, every spectator travels through time and space to celebrate art—from the Old Kingdom of Egypt and Ancient Greece to Van Gogh and even Brooklyn’s modern art scene. But perhaps this museum’s best feature yet is its cutting edge space called Studio Play, which encourages creativity and a lasting appreciation for art through fun, interactive installations.

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Contemporary stylish room at Hilton Cleveland Downtown

Championing the city’s local art, surprisingly enough, is a newcomer. The 600-room Hilton Cleveland Downtown may just have opened its doors in June this year—just in time to host RNC delegates, but it’s already one of the city’s biggest supporters and promoters of local creatives.

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One of Hilton Cleveland Downtown’s art installations

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Art pieces at Hilton Cleveland Downtown’s The Burnham Restaurant

The contemporary hotel itself is a museum, a cornucopia of local art. Not only are its stylish guest rooms flourished with deluxe furnishings, cozy beds and beautiful views of the city and Lake Erie (if you want the best panorama, however, head up to Bar 32); they also each showcase a mural that embodies Cleveland. On top of that, the hotel’s common spaces and restaurants are fecund with collages, paintings and murals, all created by local artists, all for the sake of promoting and helping galvanize the city’s art scene.

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Part of Hilton Cleveland Downtown’s Selfie Wall

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One of the art pieces at Hilton Cleveland Downtown

Among such pieces are the hotel’s selfie wall, an impressive collage of 2,800 Cleveland selfies pieced together to form the city’s most notable skyline, as well as my personal favorites, Madonna Dezal’s Dali-esque painting of music coming out of a piano and the very colorful tape collage of the Beatles, which seem to best fit this town’s musical inclination.

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The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio

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Elvis exhibit at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

Even today, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is a crucial part of the city and its ongoing revival. From its polygonal façade to its galleries permeated with exhibit pieces that have helped shaped music history, the museum certainly has an air of rock and roll grandeur. But it’s never too proud to give back to the fans either. For example, through November 27, it’s playing host to the inspiring “Louder than Words” exhibit, which explores how popular music has influenced many of our country’s most important political causes and social issues. The museum also holds a number of music-related events, small music festivals and concert series annually to nurture that collective passion and linear hunger for music.

This is Cleveland after all, the Rock and Roll Capital of the World. And while it’s looking to the future with its culinary, cultural and artistic reawakening, it would still be nothing without its musical roots.

 

Originally published on The Huffington Post.

 

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Discovering Tulum

To say it simply, I was astounded. From my cab, I watched the scenes and the atmosphere change from decidedly mainstream and touristy to appealingly low key and bohemian. After more than an hour’s drive from Cancun, I was finally in Tulum, Mexico.

I’m almost ashamed to admit that until a few months ago, I didn’t even know that this part of Mexico existed. I don’t mean the famous ruins; I have been to those several times before. I mean the modern town of Tulum itself and its hotel zone, which runs along a beautiful, sparkling coast. Both have remained fairly hidden to most of Riviera Maya’s tourist population, which of course is part of their allure. They are, however, famous with artists as well as yogis seeking a tranquil retreat.

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I came to Tulum’s hotel zone for a story: to do research on the string of bohemian, boutique hotels that apparently imbue the area. But as I sat in my cab, still uncomfortably wet from my snorkeling trip to MUSA, I was already falling in love.

Far from the polished vibe of Cancun and even Playa del Carmen, Tulum carries itself in a very unflashy, understated fashion. The locals are dressed down and get around by bikes, many of the hotels, shops and restaurants are made of wood or adobe, and most structures are only two to three floors high. And the long stretch of fine, pearly white sand beach that runs along its shallow coast is so quiet and unburdened with crowds. So despite the very chic and modern establishments that are continually setting roots there, it still boasts a very relaxed, very mellow feel, which I absolutely loved.

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Although I was mainly there for work, I couldn’t quite resist mixing business with pleasure. It’s hard not to; Tulum has a way of getting people to slow down and just unwind.

Luckily, I chose the perfect hotel to do just that. With just 9 suites, NEST Tulum is one of the smallest boutique hotels in the area. This gives the hotel a feeling of homelike intimacy and exclusivity. But it also means that securing an empty beach cabana, which is my favorite part of the hotel, is much less of a struggle than if you were in a large, all-inclusive property.

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I adored the rooms at this boutique hotel, of course. They are all accessible from the narrow, tree-lined, sandy path that runs through the property and leads directly to the beach. They all have this vibe of being tucked and hidden, even though some have doors that face a more communal area. They all have gorgeous, minimalist bathrooms and the most comfortable beds. Plus, each one has its own personality and is furnished uniquely with local Mexican products such as the beautiful fabrics that the owner has collected from his travels all over Mexico. (I especially adored my 2nd floor Tower Two room, which afforded the perfect view of the SUPER MOON and easy access to the rooftop.)

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I also appreciated the amazing food from their newly opened restaurant. NEST Tulum’s restaurant may be tiny. But it also serves the most delicious breakfast—guests get to pick between two options, both of which are complimentary—that you get to enjoy outdoors next to the beach as you listen to the sounds of the lapping waves. More importantly, they make fantastic shrimp ceviche, amazing margaritas and to die for tacos. These I made a point of feasting on right on the beach.

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Which brings me back to my original point: NEST Tulum’s beach cabanas are my favorite part of the property. It’s there where I spent much of my short time in Tulum, when I wasn’t working that is. And I got to unwind and spend some time alone while indulging on food, watching the sun rise and set, and taking glorious naps.

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Borrowing a bike from the hotel, I did manage to explore the hotel zone for a little bit. I realized that it was not only lined with boutique hotels and restaurants, but also teeming with spas, yoga retreats, bicycle rental shops and artisanal shops. I did a bit of shopping, waved to a few locals along the way, and even made friends with an adorable puppy who decided he was going to follow me the rest of the way.

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Regrettably, I only had a day and a half to spend in Tulum. Leaving it certainly wasn’t easy. Not just because it was nice to unwind and not do anything for once, but also because there are still a lot of things to see and do there. But at least I managed to squeeze in another nap on the beach, and I did make a promise to come back someday soon.

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Vignettes of Nassau, Bahamas

We had mixed feelings about Nassau, which is probably why I wasn’t motivated to document our experience. It was crowded with tourists, the locals weren’t very nice or friendly, the main attractions weren’t at all impressive, things were overpriced, and the waters were too rough for a relaxing dip. Apparently, I’m not the only person who’s been disappointed by the port city. Many people who’ve been share my thoughts.

Still, I’m glad I came. It’s nice to visit and experience a destination at least once, even if it did disappoint. Here are some photos from my trip.

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Thanksgiving Getaways from LA for the Non-Traditional

As I’ve been traveling a lot this year for work, I spoil myself lazy whenever I’m home. And this Thanksgiving, I decided that instead of cooking up and stressing over a feast all day that we break tradition and just go on a relaxing holiday somewhere not too far.

Luckily, I live in Los Angeles and have a variety of quick getaway options for exactly this kind of thing. I settled for an across-the-border trip to Ensenada, about 2 hours away from San Diego, because (1) we wanted to go to Mexico but didn’t want to spend money on airfare, and (2) we LOVE Baja style fish and shrimp tacos. And by love, I mean I WILL drive a few hours just to get it.

It wasn’t our first choice, however. We considered a bunch of places first before we decided. Here are a few of them:

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Yosemite – I adore Yosemite and thought I’d have time to camp there this summer but didn’t. The magnificent national park in the Sierras, only six hours away from LA, has a complex network of wilderness trails and several campgrounds, some of which do not require a year-in-advance reservation, making it an ideal place to unplug and unwind.

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Big Sur – Big Sur, of course, has to be on every California trip list. It’s California’s wilderness jewel, and second only to Yosemite in grandeur. Lush, green, rolling hills atop magnificent cliffs over the thundering Pacific. What more could you ask? Well, what about towering red woods, a waterfall that falls into the sea, and epic views?

Vancouver – Can you believe I’ve never been to Canada? I’m come close, but things always got in the way. So this year, I considered going up to Vancouver for a nice, non traditional Thanksgiving. I’ve heard fantastic things about the city and I bet it’s lovely that close to the holidays. Also I wanted to see Victoria as well as meet up with friends.

Mexico City – I’ve been itching to go to Mexico City and explore its beautiful streets. Everybody’s been talking and raving about it that it’s hard not to get tempted, see its markets, sample the food. I would have been willing to pay airfare too, had it not been for the fact that the city is apparently a busy tourist spot during US holidays and the tickets are not cheap around Thanksgiving.

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Ensenada – What can I say? I’m a sucker for seafood. I’ve only been to Ensenada once before and loved it, the Baja style tacos and the rock lobsters especially. The people are lovely too, and I’m particularly excited about their markets. I’m itching to get my hands on some of those colorful blankets and lovely hammocks.

Vignettes of Samana (Dominican Republic), Part Two

Here is the second set of photos from my trip to Samana in the Dominican Republic. Be sure to check out the first set here.

 

From Las Terrenas in the north, we made our way south to the town of Samana to check out check out two other Bahia Principe properties and also visit the town itself.

The first property, Grand Bahia Principe Cayacoa, an inclusive property that’s both luxurious as well as family-friendly and has fantastic views of the bay and the town.

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It was, however, the second property that impressed me. Luxury Bahia Principe Samana, a newly opened Bahia Principe property, is simply gorgeous. It’s small and has a luxury boutique resort style; but its relaxed, beach house feel compliments its poshness. I especially adored the lobby!

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After checking out the two properties, we boarded a boat for a quick trip to Bahia Principe’s pride and joy in the Dominican Republic. Set on a small, partially-private islandLuxury Bahia Principe Cayo Levantado is a luxurious, adults-only, all-inclusive property. Like all Bahia Principe properties, this one’s also beautiful. However, it does convey a feeling of remoteness, which makes it extra special.

If you’re going to stay at this resort and on the island, don’t miss out on two things: (1) a spa treatment at the onsite spa, and (2) late night drinks at the bar on the public beach.

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Be sure to check out more photos from my Samana adventures here.

Travel Tips for Local Immersion

Traveling isn’t just about visiting sights and having fun. It’s also about getting to know a place, and its people, food and culture. It’s about immersing yourself in the local way of life and maybe even doing as the local do. For a proper local immersion, jump at the chance of doing some or even all of these things when traveling.

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Visit Local Families or Small Villages. First thing’s first: travel cautiously. Do your research and make sure that the place you’re traveling to is safe enough. If it is, then you should certainly make arrangements to visit a small village where no tourists ever go or to meet with a local family. Hire a guide or do it on your own. In some countries, there are even programs that will match you with a local family and spend a day with one of the local families. It’s the best and perhaps even rewarding way to get a good glimpse of the local life.

Get off the Beaten Path. Many touristy spots are unavoidable, even absolute must when visiting a destination especially for the first time. Attractions like the Eiffel Tower, St. Paul’s Cathedral and even the Santa Monica Pier at night are worth seeing at least once. But it’s just as important to get off the beaten track and see sights that are under the tourist radar. This lets you see a different side of the place you are visiting and even experience sights that are more popular with the locals.

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Hang Out With the Locals. Whether over lunch, dinner, a picnic at the beach or drinks at a bar, find a fun way to meet and hang out with some of the locals. It’s a great way to get to know the people as well as their ways, what they like to drink, what they love do to during their free time. And they’ll let you in on all their best-kept secrets, from their favorite weekend spots to their favorite restaurants, and maybe even teach you their local dance.

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Fried langosta and sides in Puerto Nuevo (Photo: Michelle Rae)

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Leonard’s (Photo: Michelle Rae)

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Boneless Chicken with Brown Gravy and Macaroni Salad at the Rainbow Drive-In (Photo: Michelle Rae)

Eat What the Locals Eat. When traveling, you must sample the local fares and get a true taste of the local flavors. Eat the dishes that the locals themselves eat. With just a bit of research and review reading, you’ll find plenty of terrific restaurants and food stands that serve these dishes. Of course, you absolutely must pick and choose where you get the food. You wouldn’t want to get poisoning from food bought at a street cart or a restaurant with unsanitary cooking practices.

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Go Shopping at a Local Market. Speaking of local food, don’t just eat out the whole time. Another fun way to sample the food is to visit a market or grocery store and go shopping. Buy some of the local products—cookies, chocolates, cheeses, coffee, hot chocolate, beer and even wine—and indulge. And once you’ve sampled everything, buy more of the stuff you enjoyed most and take them home as gifts to your friends and family.