Tag Archives: Things To Do

Beaches, Beaches, Beaches

So, like I probably mentioned in an earlier post, I love the beach. It is my ultimate happy place, and the destination I think about when someone asks me “where do you want to go?” Nothing beats the beach. Sand, surf, sun, and fresh seafood. For me, the beach is synonymous with r&r.  Here are of my top 3 favorite places around the world:

Venezuela

Venezuela: I might be biased, but these are the most beautiful beaches I’ve ever been to in my life… hands down. The sand is snow white. The water is crystal clear and just the right temperature. There’s tons of tiny little untouched islands everywhere off the coast, and you can pay a fisherman to take you out to them for the day. These islands are bare and theres nothing but just you and nature. These beaches are my kind of heaven. Most of my childhood memories from Venezuela are from the beach and our beach house in Higuerote. Margarita Island is also fun and a little more commercial and full of hotels. Chichiriviche is also a great destination. Also, Los Roques is supposed to be one of the most beautiful places on earth. These are the best kinds of beaches for someone that just needs to get away and unwind.

Molokini Island

 

 

Maui: You just can’t go wrong with Hawaii. I preferred Maui to Honolulu because it’s less commercial and more laid back. We stayed at the Marriott Maui Ocean Club, and our accommodations were amazing.  The pool is nice but just forget it because a sandy paradise is just a couple more steps from your room. The only reason I went to the pool was to get a plate of fresh pineapple for  breakfast at the pool restaurant every morning (heaven!).  I remember the chef at the hotel being fantastic as well. We went snorkeling at Molokini Island, and it was one of the best snorkel trips I’ve ever taken. We saw tons of sea life  in these reefs and even some sea turtles. Lahaina was the biggest town close by and its packed with great stores and restaurants and also offers a front row to the best sunset in Maui. I also suggest going on the roadtrip to see the waterfalls on the way to Hana. While the road is windy and at times scary the sights are worth it: Beautiful jungles and waterfalls and also you can go to some black sand beaches that will take your breath away. Watchout though: some of these beaches have extremely strong currents and undertow and can be dangerous. My only gripe is that Pacific beaches are at times a little too cold for my taste, but they’re beautiful nonetheless.

 

Nice, France

French Riviera: I studied abroad in Nice for 4 weeks one summer and fell in love with the Riviera. Again, these tend to be somewhat colder beaches unless you go in August. In Nice, the beaches are also stone beaches so I recommend buying padded beach pads or beach chairs. The cities of the French Riviera are not only beach destinations but fun sightseeing cities as well. Vieux Nice is the older part of town and is inhabited by lovely boutiques and enticing and delicious gelaterias. Two of my favorite museums I’ve ever visited were in Nice: the Musee d’Art Moderne et d’Art Contemporain (MAMAC) (where I fell in love with Yves Klein) and Musee Matisse De Nice (he’s one of my favorite artists so I probably spent a good 3 hours here). One of my favorite things to do in Nice was to walk the Promenade Des Angles along the beach and then climb the stairs up to the viewing deck and then continue to the park . Another great thing about the Riviera is that  the other towns are 20 minutes away or less by train or bus. Each has its own character and beautiful beaches. I recommend Antibes, Cannes (in late May  you can see the town set up for the festival…very fun), St. Tropez (furthest away, takes about 2 hours, have to take a train then a bus), Villefranche Sur Mer, and Monaco. All these other beahes are sand beaches, and you can walk around the towns and see everything in a day pretty much. Monaco is a great day trip but a little harder to get around by foot so I recommend buying a pass on those tours that you can jump on and off. If you make it to Montecarlo, you must see the palace, go to the Jacques Cousteau Museum and go inside the Montecarlo Casion. You’ll need some identification to show you are over 18 and they let you right in during the day. I forget if you have to pay a fee at all but even if you do… YOU MUST GO INSIDE. It is best to go during the day because at night they enforce a black tie dress code.

These are my top three, but I also recommend anywhere on the Caribbean (love the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico), Cancun, Florida (Destin, Ft. Lauderdale, Miami), and Martha’s Vineyard (cold but beautiful).

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Chicago for the Marathon

Chicago Marathon

The race leaders and pace car at mile 1.

About a month ago, I went to Chicago to go see my sister run the Chicago Marathon (yeah, she’s pretty amazing). I had only been to Chicago once before in high school, and I was really excited to return again and experience more of the city.

Chicago is a great city to visit, and transportation to and from the airport is very convinient. When you fly into O’Hare, you can jump on the blue line El (subway/train) for $2.25 and go downtown. This is ten times easier and cheaper than having to take a cab and great when you’re traveling on a budget.

My first night I stayed with one of my good friends from Mizzou in Lincoln Park. While I love being the ultimate tourist when I travel, I also find it incredibly refreshing to see the city from the perspective of the people who live there. Lincoln Park was definitely one of my new favorite areas of the city. It’s a little north of downtown, and I would describe it as a Midwestern West Village. Storefronts are full of local and well-known boutiques like Francesca’s and Lululemon and restaurants and diners.

The next day I met up with my family downtown. We stayed at Hilton Suites Chicago Magnificent Mile. LOVED IT! The accommodations were amazing. For me, the “make it or break it” factor is always the bed, and the beds at the Hilton were some of the plushest and most comfortable ever. The room was spacious and clean. The hotel restaurant is not very good though. We ate at Club Med for dinner one night, and I was not impressed at all. You’re better off leaving the hotel for meals.

This hotel is definitely all about location, and if this is your first time in the city or you are an avid shopper I highly recommend the Hilton Suites Chicago Magnificent Mile. The hotel is in the heart of downtown steps away from the Museum of Contemporary Art, the John Hancock Center, and shopping shopping shopping (aka Michigan Avenue). Michigan Avenue is the heart of Chicago shopping, and the stores range  from high-end like Escada and Bloomingdale’s (one of the best I’ve been to) to affordable gems like H&M and Forever 21.

If you’ve never been to Chicago, marathon weekend is actually a great time to visit even if you are just a spectator. Not only is it amazing to watch 45,000 people run 26.2 miles, but the race course goes through the best parts of the city. It starts and finishes in Grant Park, which is a spacious green oasis right on the lake with artwork and great views of the city.

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View of the city from Grant Park by the "Agora" statues.

Then it takes you through the heart of downtown.

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Chicago

We also watched the race in Chinatown. One of the most fun and liveliest spots to watch the marathon.

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Chinatown in Chicago

And, finishes in Grant part again.

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Post-race in Grant Park

Another great thing about Chicago is the food and I’m not talking just about hot dogs and deep dish. Try:

1. Bandera (American): Take it from a southern girl and try the Cornbread & Foccacia. Also, the salads are amazing here specially the Macho Salad. The Mac & Cheese is also very good and quite comforting.

2.Quartino (Italian): I absolutely loved this place! Unlike many Italian restaurants that tend to be family-style eating, this Italian restaurant serves all its entrees as small plates tapas-style. I loved this concept because it lets you sample so much of the menu. I recommend the Zola Noci and Pere Pizza ( Gorgonzola, Walnuts and Pears), Veal Meatballs Napoli, Eggplant Parmigiana (one of the best I’ve had), and the Tortellini with Alfredo Sauce, Peas and Prociutto. And, for dessert I recommend the Profiteroles (with ice cream not custard…a childhood favorite of mine) or the Coppa al Banana …YUM. Don’t waste your time with the Nutella Panino. Its too hard and you’re better off making it at home anyways. It’s pretty much just toast with Nutella.

3. Scoozi (Italian): From the geniuses of Lettuce Entertain You, try the Butternut Squash Ravioli, the Tomato & Goat Cheese Pizza, the Mushroom Risotto, or the Penne Arrabiata with Sausage. Basically, everything is delicious.

4. Nookies Too (American, Diner-Style): Went to Nookies in Lincoln Park for brunch. Loved the Dixie Benedict (a southern play on eggs benedict with biscuits and gravy) and the pancakes.

5. Signature Room or Signature Lounge at the John Hancock Center: Amazing views of the city. You’re better off making a reservation.

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View from the Signature Lounge in the John Hancock Center

As if I didn’t have an amazing weekend in Chicago with my family and friends, Continental also made me smile at the end of Columbus Day weekend. After showing up at the airport at 6 am for my return flight to Boston (via Newark), I found out that my flight to Newark was delayed, and it would make me miss my connection to Boston. Sleepy and already defeated I walked up to the counter expecting the typical airline run-around. But, when I walked up to the counter and gave them my name, they informed me that I had already been re-routed on a direct flight to Boston (on an American Airlines flight). I didn’t have to do anything. It was already done. Nice. So, THANKS CONTINENTAL! I knew there’s a reason why you’re my favorite airline.

Chicago Tip: If traveling there in the fall, take warm clothes or a jacket no matter what. I was fooled by the predicted temperatures of 45-50 degrees which I interpreted as “nice fall weather.” It ended up being significantly colder than that, and I had to go out and buy a scarf and fleece. So, go prepared.

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