May 30th, 2019 by | Tags: , | No Comments »

I never had a yearning to go to Hawaii simply because I imagined it being an overhyped tourist destination from what I have read about the islands. However, Alex always talked about how much he loved traveling Hawaii when growing up and it’s one of his favorite destinations in the world. I decided to give the destination a chance and to see it for myself.

I’ll be blunt. It was unfortunately what I had expected. I’m sorry for disappointing those who love Hawaii. However, it’s important that I share my dissatisfaction so that travelers can make an educated decision on whether or not to visit the destination. Hawaii is overhyped. It’s expensive. In Honolulu, it’s crowded. Food, with a serious exception for Ahi Tuna and Pina Colada, was subpar. The only thing that makes visiting Hawaii a worthwhile is the unusual and stunning mountains and turquoise water.

Alex and I stayed at a Hilton Hotel, Hawaiian Village, for the first three nights. It was one of the worst hotels I have stayed on any of my travels. There were long lines to the check-in. The room was scuzzy. A couch had some stains. The pools were crowded and noisy. Also, we booked a room with ocean view. Our view was mostly of another hotel with a very little view of the ocean. Waikiki Beach is a mob scene with skyscrapers covering the edge of the beach. The view of the beach looks like Manhattan plucked on the island. Honolulu is giant mall with many known brand name stores.

As the food was expensive, Alex and I often got food from ABC Stores, Hawaiian convenience stores, where we picked up ahi tuna or sushi, fruits and Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. Even purchasing food from ABC Stores were expensive. We’d walk out of the store having spent about $20 on only one bag worth of food. Alex did manage to find a lovely hole in the wall place in Honolulu, Musubi Cafe Iyasume, where we could taste the very local Hawaiian food, Musubi and spam and cheese nigiri. I also found a hole in the wall Ahi Tuna shop in a deserted looking shopping center, Ahi Assassins Fish Co. Right on the second level of the shopping center, there was a line going outside of the shop. They had the freshest and the most delicious tuna I could taste.

Alex and I decided to cut short our stay in Honolulu and see other parts of the Island. We booked an Airbnb at the last minute for two nights in Kailua and rented a convertible Mini Cooper. We rode along the coast visiting different beaches including Sunset Beach and Turtle Bay and stopping by food trucks for more Ahi Tuna Poke and also coconut juices.

While Hawaii does have a few gems that are worth checking out, in my very own opinion, there are many beach destinations, where I have visited, with stunning mountains and turquoise water that are far more enjoyable, less crowded and worth paying for than Hawaii. Examples include Tuscany, Santorini, Chalkidiki, Basque country, and Provence. What all of these places have in common is not only beautiful sceneries, but also unbelievably amazing food, beautiful architecture and art, great historical sites to visit and plenty of quiet beaches. If you don’t like that I’m not a fan of Hawaii, to each and their own. As with anything in life, every human beings have their own taste and personal preference of what to like and dislike.

View of Diamond Head Crater from a doorless helicopter ride.
Viewing Oahu from a doorless helicopter ride.
Fresh Ahi Tuna Poke from Ahi Assassins Fish Co.

March 7th, 2019 by | Tags: , | No Comments »

India was not on top of my or Alex’s bucket list. Shortly after Alex and I got married, Alex’s best man at our wedding proposed to his then lovely Indian girlfriend a month later. Very soon afterwards, we received an invitation to their wedding in New Delhi, India. We were initially going to say “no” because we were already going on a big honeymoon trip and needed to be financially savvy. I said, “Let me just see if I can get a cheap airfare.” After doing some search, I found airfare for $885 round trip person with Emirates Airline. One could not beat that price and say “no.” I booked the tickets and off we went to India six weeks after our honeymoon.

Alex and I spent only a week in India, five days in New Delhi and two days in Agra to see Taj Mahal and Agra Fort. New Delhi and Agra are both rich in history and culture along with many wonderful food filled with variety of spice. With only one week in country, India surpassed beyond my expectations. India is truly enchanting as people and guidebooks say. Monkeys are found on every corner of the streets. Smells of spices waft through the air. Women are adorned in beautiful saris and jewels. Tuk tuks roam between cars and trucks all throughout the densely populated cities.

New Delhi alone is packed many incredible ancient sites to explore which includes Red Fort, Jama Masjid, Humayun’s Tomb, Qutum Minar, Lotus Temple, and Tughlaqabad Fort. The architecture of many of these sites are to be greatly admired, especially for the time when they were built.

Just four hours by car south of New Delhi, there is Agra, where one of the greatest wonders of world is located, Taj Mahal. Taj Mahal is not an underwhelming tourist destination. For a building of this grand scale to be built between 1632 and 1653, it’s worth to drop the jaws. I highly recommend visiting Taj Mahal early in the morning when it’s not as crowded as other times of the day. Right in the same town as Taj Mahal, Agra, do not miss visiting Agra Fort, a historical site built in the 1500’s for emperors of the Mughal Dynasty.

When in Agra, I highly recommend hiring a photographer. As Taj Mahal can be crowded, it can be challenging to get a good photo. Moreover, the photographer can give insider tips on other best ways to view Taj Mahal, in particular without crowds, that we may never find in guidebooks or on a map. For example, the photographer took us on a five minute walk on a dirt road that took us to a tower that gave us a phenomenal view of Taj Mahal. He also took us to a hole in the wall restaurant for a traditional Indian brunch.

While in Agra, we also shopped for an Indian carpet. Like Turkey, India has world class carpets. I always envisioned buying a carpet when traveling to India. I’m not going to deny that it’s Aladdin that inspired me to get the “magic carpet.” I asked the hotel concierge in Agra for a recommendation on where to buy a carpet. He recommended a bazar. The next day, Alex and I asked the tuk tuk driver to take us to the bazar. He didn’t know the bazar. We showed him on the map. Off we went. The driver then asked a gentleman on the street where the bazar is. Alex and I told him the name. The gentleman said it was not open until later in the day. We were leaving Agra for New Delhi in a few hours. I asked the gentleman, “Where can we go for carpet shopping?” He then said, “I know a place” and got into the tuk tuk with us to direct the driver. He then said, “I’m taking you to a manufacturer.” We arrived at the manufacturer, Kalra’s Cottage Industry, and the gentleman introduced us to a sales person who gave us a tour of the manufacturer and store. Thanks thank having local SIM cards on our phone, Alex and I looked up the place online and there were rave reviews and great ratings online! Most carpets are actually made in the homes but they have some people working at the manufacturer because most of their carpets are sold to brokers and brokers like to see how they are made to assess the quality. Alex and I looked at a number of carpets and immediately fell in love with a gorgeous cashmere carpet. This girl negotiated and got the price down! The carpet was shipped to us. It now looks great in our apartment especially with the Turkish carpet bought from our trip to Turkey.

On top of visiting incredible historical sites in New Delhi and Agra, we spent two days celebrating the marriage of our two friends by attending a beautiful traditional Indian wedding that took place over the course of two days.

Red Fort, a residence for emperors of Mughal Dynasty for 200 years, from 1600’s to 1800’s.
Monkeys were found everywhere in the streets of New Delhi and Agra.
Agra Fort is a big residence built between 1565 and 1573 for the emperors of Mughal Dynasty.

February 5th, 2019 by | Tags: , | No Comments »

After ten wonderful days in Patagonia, Alex and I flew north to Santiago and first went to Valparaiso, the third largest city in Chile, to experience Chilean culture and spent two days exploring the city. Valparaiso, the third largest city in Chile, is known for its colorful clifftop homes with many murals on buildings. It is quite an exotic coastal town with a big vibrant art community. If one is looking to purchase contemporary colorful art, Valparaiso is the place to be as there are limitless number of galleries

After having hiked in Patagonia, I have been feeling like I lost stamina as I walked up steep hills and many stairs that is all throughout Valparaiso. Alex and I took a couple fun funicular rides up and down the mountain to take a break from walking and to experience the unique public transportation of the town.

While visiting many art galleries, we also visited the old home and gardens of Pablo Neruda and Palacio Baburriza, a museum filled with stunning art. We also tasted Reinata fish, local to the coastal city and also peco sour, an alcoholic drink local to Chile.

In a Valparaiso-ian fashion, we stayed in a lovely Airbnb that was also an art gallery. All paintings on the walls throughout the apartment were for sale. We also had two chef come to our place one evening and cook a lovely homemade three course Chilean meal along with a homemade raspberry smoothie. They made us Reinata fish, local to the coastal city, cheese oyster stew and honeydew with cherries. The fish was very fresh and rich.

After spending time in Valparaiso, Alex and I then spent our last two days of honeymoon visiting Santiago. When the plane was landing in Santiago and as I was looking out the window and seeing Andes mountains, memories of my trip to Peru ten years ago came back. Santiago is a big city surrounded by massive mountains. It’s a modern city with some old colonial buildings. We visited Pre-Colombian Art Museum and National Historic Museum. We also visited Castillo Hidalgo where got a stunning view of the city.

Our first view of Valparaiso when we first arrived in our Airbnb.
Valparaiso, a large coastal town, is known for its steep roads with colorful buildings nestled on the mountains.
After the fall of Pinochet regine, street art became legal to celebrate freedom of expression.

February 4th, 2019 by | Tags: , | No Comments »

After spending lovely time on the Argentine side of Patagonia, Alex and I crossed over to Chile to the other side of the Andes mountains and spent a few days at Torres del Paine National Park.

Over the course of three days, we walked over 30,000 steps and 10 miles to see the natural wonders of Torres del Paine National Park. We not only saw mountains but also waterfalls, a rainbow, and turquoise lakes. We also came across Quanaco, an animal that is part of the same family as llamas. I wish my regular exercise at home could be all about hiking on mountains where I can see beautiful views instead of working out in the gym on a machine.

Patagonia also showed us what it truly means to live with all four seasons. One day, we experienced cloudy weather during the first 15 minutes of the hike and then windy hail like rain which felt like several shots hitting my face for about 20 minutes and then some sun suddenly appeared once we reached the stunning viewpoint where we saw Cernos, the horns.

Alex and I stayed in an amazing all inclusive resort, Patagonia Camp, where they not only provided hiking guides but also a wonderful stay in a yurt with an unbelievable view of Torres del Paine National Park from our bed. I wish we could go to sleep in this view every night. We also had our own private Jacuzzi that allowed us to soak in the beautiful scenery of the turquoise lake.

Views from the road are absolutely stunning.
An incredible view of Torres del Paine National Park.
An incredible sight of the mountains of Torres del Paine National Park.

February 3rd, 2019 by | Tags: , | No Comments »

One day while staying at Nipebo Aike, Alex and I were going to go kayaking at Perito Moreno Glacier but due to strong winds, it was cancelled at the last minute. As we were already brought to Perito Moreno Glacier, Alex and I took a lovely walk by the glaciers instead. One of the very important aspects of traveling is recognizing that weather can’t always be perfect and we have to be flexible. This is especially true in Patagonia where the weather is constantly changing and is known to have four seasons in one day. One could stand in one spot and look to the right and see that it’s sunny but then look to the left and see it’s very cloudy and looks like a storm is about to come. Thus, one of the best advice we received is to wear layers. I brought with me an ultra light down jacket and also a rain and windbreaker combo jacket and if I was freezing cold, I’d wear both which kept me warm very well. Then there were moments when I wore only one of the jackets.

Perito Moreno Glaciers is what makes Los Glaciares National Park famous. All along the side of the glaciers, the national park has beautifully built a walking trail that makes easy for people of all ages enjoy the hike and see the glacier. They even have an elevator and ramps for those with mobility disability.

The day after our amazing three days stay at Estancia Nipebo Aike, Alex and I took an amazing nine hours cruise with Marpatag Crueros through Lago Argentine where we saw stunning blue glaciers and icebergs. The glaciers at Los Glaciares National Park…wow! I’ve never seen any glaciers that blue and so stunning. It was so astonishing to see. When I saw the photos by the Chilean photography student whom I interviewed for the newspaper when I was in college, her photos were nothing but of beautiful blue glaciers and those photos were the reason I wanted to go to Patagonia. To finally see them in person was truly a dream come true. I should note that the photos have been edited for exposure correction but the color correction was not touched at all.

We purchased the “Premium Deck” tickets which is more expensive than “Classic Deck” and it was worth the extra money as we had unobstructed view of the glaciers and a top quality four course lunch with wine and champagne. They also surprised us with a honeymoon treat, cake with dulce de leche icing.

Right after our stay at Estancia Nipebo Aike, we stayed in El Calafate to take the full day cruise through Lago Argentine. I personally do not recommend spending a lot of time El Calafate. It’s a small town filled with lots of souvenir shops selling junk and the food are not that great.

En route to Los Glaciar National Park.
Puerto Moreno Glacier at Los Glaciar National Park.
Puerto Moreno Glacier at Los Glaciar National Park.