For my 30th birthday, I wanted to do something BIG. After all, you only turn 30 once! I planned a trip to the South of France, Italy, and Spain for my hubby (boyfriend at the time) and I. I was so excited because it had been on my bucket list forever. I told my girlfriends about the trip, and they all said they wanted to go. I thought about how all of our birthdays are in the month of May. I thought hmm, maybe we can all go! I talked to my hubby about making it a girls trip. Although he wasn’t thrilled about being kicked out of the trip, in the end, it was changed from a bae-cation to a girls trip!
I hadn’t done a girls trip of this magnitude before. One of the girls that was coming I actually hadn’t even met before, so if i’m honest, I was a little nervous how it would all work out. After countless group text messages, and hours long conference calls, we were able to get everything booked and finalized for our ‘European Excursion’ as we dubbed it.
The route we planned for our European Excursion was – Ibiza, Spain – Palma de Mallorca, Spain – Paris, France – Naples, Italy – Amalfi Coast, Italy – Capri, Italy – Rome, Italy, ending in Milan, Italy. We did this in 10 days, with each girl only having one carry-on suitcase & a personal item. I still don’t know how we did that.
Before we left the US, I wanted to give the girls a little gift, since it was a birthday trip. I got custom mason jars made with each of the girls names in their favorite color. Inside the jar, I put a compact mirror, a travel sized perfume, and a lock (to put on the love lock bridge), and personal trinkets.
In Ibiza, we stayed at the Santos Coast Suites. Our suite was called the Nirvana Suite. It was so cute! The resort was beachfront, had an amazing pool, and really fun décor! We loved it.
When we went it was right before the “party season”, so not a lot was going on. We had dinner, then went to a small little club. We ordered drinks, and before we could even take a sip, a guy walks to our table, and starts making conversation. He was extremely nice. Not long after we started talking to him, another guy came over with a stone cold serious face, and started asking us questions. We told him that we were with the other guy, but he refused to leave our table. He told us he was there for “work”, and that he was sent to kill someone with a completely straight face. He was Russian.
He was VERY odd, and refused to leave. He made us extremely uncomfortable, so we left. Our hotel was walking distance from the bar. When we stepped outside, there were a group of 4 girls on the corner that we passed on our way back to the hotel. We turned around to look behind us, and the girls were starting to circle us! We didn’t know what to do, so I just screamed “POLICIA!!!” A police car pulled right up, and the girls scattered. I could not make this up.
The next day, we hung out at the pool, and went into town to a fun little restaurant/bar called Km5 Ibiza. We had a great night. On the ride back to the hotel, we asked our driver to get as close as possible to the entrance, because of the fiasco from the night before. As the driver pulled around, I saw one of the girls from the night before, but I was in such a state of shock, I couldn’t even speak. I was only able to point. As we drove around further, we saw the other 3 girls handcuffed and sitting on the curb. It turned out the girls were prostitutes, and thought we were competition. Crazy.
The next day we couldn’t wait to get out of there. It had been quite the experience.
Mallorca was gorgeous! The water was a stunning blue color, and we had amazing views from our resort. We settled into our room, then went out to relax by the pool to enjoy some cocktails. It was Cinco de Mayo, so of course we had to celebrate even in Spain.
Our hotel had bikes for rent, so we rented them, and left to explore the island. We biked to the city center and got ice cream cones. It was a beautiful day.
We changed then had a nice dinner at. The views from the restaurant were lovely, and the food was really good!
The next day we hopped on another flight over to Paris.
This was my second visit to Paris. The first time I went, it was grey, cloudy and a little chilly even though it was summer. I honestly felt it was overrated. This time, the sun was shining bright, the sky was clear, and blue. It was perfect. It really felt like PARIS. We stayed at a hotel that was close to the Eiffel tower.
We decided before we left that we would bring balloons to have a birthday photo shoot at the tower. We brought the balloons, and I had researched a store that blew up balloons close to the tower. We got them blown up, and headed to the tower to shoot. 4 girls in a cab, with a ton of balloons. It was a pretty hilarious site! It was well worth it, because the pictures came out great!
We did all the typical tourist things. We “locked in” our friendship at the love lock bridge, visited the Louvre, and the Arc de Triomphe. We had a packed couple days, but we were able to get everything done!
From Paris, we took another flight to Naples, Italy.
In Naples, almost immediately after landing at the airport, we were warned about how dangerous it was there. We were a little nervous about that, so instead of exploring, we immediately got in a cab, and went straight to the Amalfi Coast, which was our next destination.
Amalfi Coast, Italy
After what seemed like forever, we finally made it to Positano. When we arrived at our hotel – Hotel Margherita, we were greeted by the owners. They were extremely friendly and welcoming with tea and cookies. I don’t know what I was expecting when we got there, but they certainly exceeded our expectations. When they brought us to our ‘room’, they brought us to a house. That’s right, a whole house, just for us! A 2-story home, with a kitchen, patio, bedrooms, everything! To get to the home, we had to walk down a walkway that smelled heavenly. There were lemon trees that lined the walkway, so it smelled like fresh lemons. It was amazing.
The views from the hotel were also incredible. There was a outdoor seating area for the guests to either eat or relax. It was so charming.
The first day we went to dinner down in Sorrento. On the way there, we met a girl at the bus stop who was so sweet, and helped us find our way. She was adorable. Her mother came to the Amalfi Coast on vacation, fell in love, and moved there. She owned a boutique shop in the area. I can completely see why she fell in love there. I could see how that happened, because all the men there were so charming, and friendly. It is such a romantic place.
We had dinner at Chez Black. It is a really popular restaurant, right on the water. We sat down, were greeted, and then almost immediately were given a heart shaped pizza. We hadn’t even gotten the menus yet. A few moments later, we were also gifted with limoncello shots. Limoncello is one of the staples in Italy. It is a delicious lemon beverage. The restaurant was amazing! They took excellent care of us. The view from the restaurant is spectacular as well.
The next day we took a day trip to the island of Capri. The boat ride to Capri was stunning. The water was such a gorgeous blue, and the weather was perfect. When we got to Capri, we had lunch at al Capri. It was a nice little restaurant in the center of Capri. After that, we took a chair lift to the top of the island. I am terrified of heights, but it actually didn’t scare me at all. It was a very enjoyable ride, with incredible views. When we got to the top, it took my breath away! We couldn’t distinguish between the sky and the water. Words cannot describe how beautiful it was.
After touring the island for a little while, we got back on the boat to head to the blue grotto. The blue grotto is a cave, where the water illuminates in a blue glowing color. It was a little scary to enter the blue grotto. To enter, you get out of your large boat, and get into a small row boat, that can only fit max 5 people. I wont lie it made me a little nervous, because sometimes the water was so high, it covered the hole that you enter the grotto through. When that happened, they would pause entering the cave until the tide died down. Once you get inside, you can sit up, and then enjoy the beauty of the cave. There was an opera singer inside singing, and the water illuminated a gorgeous blue color. It was a really neat experience! I cannot wait to go back with my husband.
Our next stop was Rome, Italy, where we had a short layover. We had to see the city even though we didn’t have a lot of time. We went to a cute little Italian restaurant that was across from the Coliseum. After visiting the Coliseum, we went to another place that was SO.MUCH.FUN! The restaurant was packed, but it felt as if we were the only ones in there. The servers loved us, and gave us shot after shot. They seemed to really like Americans.
After that, we got some gelato, and walked around before catching the train to our next stop. This was definitely one of the highlights of the trip.
For our last stop, we headed to Milan Italy. We booked a hotel near the airport. I will never do this again, as the airport is pretty far from the city center, and very isolated from where everything is. Milan ended up being disastrous for us. If I told the story, no one would believe it, so I will spare the details. I will just say the trip ended with us running out of the hotel through the back emergency door in the middle of the night, getting split up with no way to contact each other, and being scared out of our minds. We didn’t even get to sleep.
However, despite the crazy beginning and end to our trip, it was the most incredible time. It was a girls trip of a lifetime that I will never forget. We made a pact to do some sort of girls trip every year. While we have done quite a few things together, we haven’t been able to top this one. LOL
Aruba, Jamaica, Ooo I wanna take ya .. Sorry. That is always what runs through my head when I see Aruba.
Often times when we would make travel plans, my husband would mention Aruba. He always talked about the fond memories he had from when he went there. In complete transparency, when he went previously, he went with an ex-girlfriend. So, it was a mission of mine to make sure that when we did go, that we made new, better memories to replace the ones that he had with his ex.
We booked our hotel months prior, as we always do.. however, I got an email from Marriott ( I am a rewards member) outlining black Friday specials. I never thought of hotels having black Friday specials, but they do! Our resort that we had already booked for Aruba showed up on the email. I went to the site to price out how much it would be with the special, and it was $400 cheaper PLUS it included a $50 per day resort credit. I booked it right away.
One of the main reasons I am a loyal Marriott client, is I like that I can reserve hotels, and not pay a deposit. That way if we change our mind, or things like this come up where we have to cancel a reservation, I love that I can do so, without paying a cancellation fee. So I cancelled our original reservation, and kept the new one.
We chose to stay at the Renaissance Aruba Resort & Casino. We stayed here, because they are the only hotel, that offers access to the private Renaissance Island. Why is this significant? This is the island that houses the Flamingoes you may have seen on Instagram. This is the only place in Aruba that has them.
We arrived at the Resort, and it was very nice! Right next to the reception, was a very large pool, a pool bar, and lots of different shops. When we checked in, I confirmed with the associate that we had the daily resort credit. She said “yes, I see $25 per day”. Umm, no ma’am. I have an offer of $50 per day. After some back, and forth, and speaking with the manager, we settled on a room upgrade, and the $25 credit. Humph.
We took a boat to a different building that apparently had all ocean front suites. There was another large pool, a pool bar, and stunning views of the ocean. We were glad that we took the upgrade for the view alone. The room we originally booked was a standard room. We typically don’t go crazy with the room, because the only thing we do in it is sleep. We care more about the amenities of the hotel/resort.
The first night we went to the palm beach area of Aruba. We went to a place called Moomba Beach. We ate dinner, then walked over to another part of the restaurant that was set up like a club. There was a DJ, and lots of people having a good time. The music was pretty much the same as what they play in the states. We had a great time!
My husband had always talked about how he rented ATVs, and rode them around the island. The next morning, that is just what we did. We rented ATVS (remember to bring your drivers license), got a map from the shop associate, and took off on our own. The island is only 11 miles long, so I thought it would be pretty easy to navigate around, and it pretty much was. We rode down to the beaches, to visit the mini natural pool, the natural pool, and the natural bridge (which had been broken up).
If im honest, it was a little scary. For most of the journey, we didn’t see anyone else. It was just us and nature, which was nice, but it being so desolate made me a little nervous. When we got near the more tourist-y attractions, there were more people around, and I felt a lot more comfortable. Over all it was a really nice experience, and the beauty of the Island itself was incredible.
That night we had a nice dinner on the resort. The food was very good, and we ended up going to bed early. After a full day in the sun, we were beat.
The next day we headed over to Renaissance Island. This is a private island owned by the hotel. It is where they house the flamingos. To get to the island you dock a boat from an area at the resort. They scan your room key to verify you are staying at the resort then allow you on the boat. Once at the island, it is split in 2 sides. One side is adults only, and the other is family friendly.
The island is pure paradise! Everything you need for a relaxing day is on the island. They have lots of hammocks, and beach chairs. They have huts where you can get a massage, a nature trail, and the most adorable flamingoes. There is also a large bar that serves food and snacks.
We went here a few times during our trip. I couldn’t get enough of the island and its perfection. You could buy little feed to give to the flamingoes, so remember to bring some change if you decide to go. We didn’t bring any change, so we weren’t able to feed them. They still came up to us though, so we were able to get fun pictures and videos with them.
For the last day, we hung out and explored the area around where we stayed. There were lots of stores & restaurants. We went to a really cool one that had money all of the walls. Money from every country of guests that frequent there. I cannot remember the name, but it was on the water, so it also had a very nice view.
We can’t wait to get back to Aruba! It was definitely paradise, and there is so much to do, it is the perfect vacation destination.
My husband and I wanted to do something big to celebrate our first year of marriage. We initially planned on going to Australia since it was high on both of our lists. After planning it all the way out, we realized we didn’t have enough time to do it like we would want to. We then decided to do a tour of Italy, with a short stop in Dubai. We bought flights, train tickets, everything. As we were planning out our ensembles, I didn’t like that it would still be pretty chilly during the time we would be there. By the time we left for our trip, we decided to just stay the majority of the time in Dubai, and just spend the weekend in Italy. Because we changed the location last minute, we planned the trip in just 2 weeks, and it ended up being one of the best trips we have ever taken.
We stayed at the Marriott Al Jaddaf hotel, which is a 5-star hotel. The hotel has a complimentary shuttle to and from the airport to the hotel that runs 3 times a day. We arrived at an odd time (a little after midnight) so we were unable to take advantage of the shuttle. We took a cab to the hotel, which was about 70 AED, or $20 USD. Even though we arrived at the hotel around 3 am, the hotel was very accommodating and let us check into the room early. We were surprised, considering check in is usually around 3pm. We were so grateful, because we were so tired from the long journey.
Everyone at the hotel was EXTREMELY kind and accommodating from the moment we got there. As I have said in other blog posts, I always ask for a room upgrade, and they were happy to accommodate. They even had a cake waiting in the room to celebrate our anniversary. The hotel was SO NICE! There were several restaurants, a few clubs, and the rooms were AMAZING! They had tub/shower combo that was out of this world. We literally could have spent the whole time in the hotel.
The hotel had several complimentary buses to different locations around Dubai. They had several trips to the Dubai Mall, one to Jumeriah Beach, one to Emirates Mall, and one to the airport. We took advantage of the shuttle to the mall almost everyday. The only thing we didn’t like about the shuttle were the times, but we just ended up paying for our own ride to the mall when the time didn’t line up with when we wanted to go. It only cost between $5-$10 USD for our own transportation, so it wasn’t bad.
While we were in the airport someone approached us offering a “special gift” if we listen to a time share presentation. Normally I would say no, but one of my coworkers told me how they recently got a free hotel stay and some other benefits from sitting through one, so I decided to do it. This was our first time doing something like this. We went to the presentation, and luckily the guy doing the presentation could tell we definitely weren’t buying a time share, so he played a 5 minute video and then gave us the option to pick a free excursion. We picked the Dhow Dinner Cruise.
After going to that, we headed back to the room where we slept a little before heading out for dinner. The hotel made dinner reservations for us at a restaurant at Atlantis. We ate dinner at Yuan Dubai. The food there was incredible! I had the crabmeat fried rice, and my husband had half of a chicken. It was one of the best meals I have ever had. I don’t know what type of rice it was, but it was SO good! The chicken was also amazing! They gave us a little treat for our anniversary that was just as delicious as the rest of the meal.
After dinner we walked around Atlantis. It was AMAZING! The decor, the fresh flowers, the grandiose buildings. Everything was really nice. I wanted to see what it looked like in the daytime.
The next day we slept for 12 hours. I think we were tired from the traveling and the time change. It was so nice to rest and do nothing. We managed to take a trip over to the Dubai mall for a couple hours. The mall was on another level! There was an aquarium inside, an underwater zoo, and 3 levels of shopping. It was unlike anything I have ever seen. The mall is also where the Dubai Fountain, and the Burj Khalifa are.
The buildings and architecture in Dubai are breathtaking. Everything looks futuristic, and the design of the buildings are so grandiose. It reminded me of the Jetsons. Everything is also very clean, and well taken care of.
Later that day we had a safari excursion that we pre-booked online. The excursion included ATV riding, Dune Bashing, Sand Boarding, Camel Ride, Henna, and a Bar-b-que with belly dancers, and a fire breather. It was a great value for the cost.
The first part was the ATV, which was a lot of fun. I thought we would have been out in the dessert more, but they had everyone in one contained area, that you drive around in circles. They tried to up-sell us on a “faster bike”, but we used what we paid for.
The next part was the craziest thing I have ever done. Dune Bashing. You will see this in the Vlog, but they basically take you out into the sand dunes in the dessert in a 4×4 SUV, and drive as erratically as possible. It was a like a violent roller coaster. We went up and down the hills, and sideways on the giant dunes. The girl next to me almost got sick. My husband had no idea what all we were doing on the excursion. He only knew about the ATV, and the bar b que, so it made it more fun for him.
After that, it was time to Sand Board. I was so shaken up by the dune bashing that I couldn’t even attempt to do the sand boarding. My husband did it, and did a great job. He said that it wasn’t too hard, but climbing back up the dune was the real workout.
After sand boarding, we drove to a camp where they had henna artists, camels, and a plethora of other activities to do. We upgraded to a VIP table which allowed us to not sit on the floor, and we were served the food instead of waiting in a buffet line. They said that there were gonna be hundreds of people, so it made sense to us. They had shisha available, and had lots of performances during dinner. Overall it was a nice night, and a lot of fun. I would recommend it, as it includes a lot of activities, and is fun.
The next day we went back to the mall. We did a little browsing at the stores, and then had a nice lunch at Wafi City. The food was so good, and they had the best smoothie I’ve ever had in life. They have water shows several times a day, so after lunch we watched the show. It was really nice.
That night we went to the Dhow Dinner show that we had gotten for free for sitting through the time share presentation. It turned out to be a big waste of our time, and money, since we had to get our own transportation to and from the ship. The first clue should have been that the hotel staff didn’t know where we were going. They had been very helpful over the course of the trip getting us where we needed etc, but they didn’t know about the location of this particular activity. When we got there, we walked for what seemed like forever to get to the end of the dock where our boat was. It was an old wooden boat with LED lights strung all over it. They served a mediocre meal, and then had “entertainment” which was a strange character that danced around the boat. It might have lasted 2 hours total, which I’m grateful because I wouldn’t have been able to stand much more. In hindsight we should have taken the tickets to the Burj Khalifa.
We took the free shuttle over to Jumeirah beach the next day. I was completely enamored with how nice the beach was. The boardwalk was spotless, the sand was perfect, and the water was crystal clear. There were TONS of little food trucks serving sushi, ice cream, crepes, you name it. Everything was picture perfect.
We got breakfast from one of the little shops on the boardwalk, then relaxed for some time at the beach. We really enjoyed the beach, but we would have loved to bike or roller skate down the boardwalk. The boardwalk was pretty long, and we got tired walking down it.
After relaxing for a few hours, we were ready to head back to the hotel. The hotel only offered one shuttle per day to and from the beach. The pick up wasn’t until 4, and it was a little after 2. We couldn’t imagine staying a couple more hours, so we took a cab back to the hotel.
Back at the hotel, after we cleaned up and changed clothes, we went to the rooftop to check out the pool. There was only one other person at the pool, so we had it to ourselves. The set up on the roof was really nice. They had lots of lounge areas, tables, and a bar. They also had covered cabanas that were complimentary for hotel guests. The view was also stunning. You could see all of downtown and the Burj Khalifa.
We had dinner at the hotel that night. They had an amazing buffet, with a huge food selection. The food was really tasty, and there were so many varieties. Definitely something for everyone. We loved the buffet so much, one day we went there and just ordered desserts. It was awesome!
The next day we visited the Burj Khalifa. It was less expensive to do a tour in the morning or late at night, basically the non-peak times. I highly recommend getting tickets in advance. The entrance is at the mall, and it is extremely busy, so the times fill up quickly. We tried to walk up and get tickets a few days before, and they were completely sold out.
The attraction itself is extremely nice, and very well thought out. The whole way to the top is filled with information, and they make it very interactive and fun. There are a lot of unique features. For instance, the elevator ride to the top is only 60 seconds. It doesn’t even feel like you are going that fast. The only way I could tell is from my ears popping.
That night we had dinner at Katana, which was AMAZING! It was by far the best dinner we had in Dubai. The food, the atmosphere, everything was PERFECT. We picked a table that overlooked the fountains, and also had a direct view of the Burj Khalifa. They had a show at the Burj Khalifa every 30 minutes, and one big show was at 8. They also had water shows simultaneously at the Dubai Fountains. I wont spoil it, but the fountain shows are incredible. One even went along with thriller, but you have to be there to see how amazing it is.
When we got back to the hotel, we were advised by the staff of a ladies night going on upstairs. We went to take a peek, and it was a very interesting sight. The patron were TURNED UP! Everyone was having a really good time. It was mostly the locals in the traditional garb. I would have stayed, but it was entirely too much smoke in there for me.
We were going to head back to our room, when we noticed ANOTHER club down the hall. We stopped in there, and it wasn’t as packed. The hostess told us in an hour the place would be packed wall to wall, and we wouldn’t be able to get in. It is a very popular club in Dubai that is open until 6am, called 24 Karat. It looked amazing inside, and I could imagine with the crowd, it would be a lot of fun.
We spent the following day enjoying the amenities at the resort. We had been so busy exploring, we didn’t take time to enjoy the comforts of “home” or the hotel. We hung by the pool for a little, ate, and relaxed for the majority of the day.
That night we headed out to Atlantis again to have our official anniversary dinner. We had reservations at Nobu. My husband proposed to me at Nobu in Malibu, so there was significance in celebrating our one year anniversary there. We had a really nice time there together.
When we ate at Nobu, in Atlantis, we paid $150 US for our meal, and we only got 2 meals, and one roll of sushi. At Katana, we got cocktails, 2 sushi rolls, 2 entrees, and shisha, and it was only $120 USD. It was definitely a better value, and the food was GOOD! Not to mention we got to watch all of the shows right from where we sat.
While we were at Atlantis, we went to a club called Indulge. The music was pretty good. They had a nice mix of both old and new music. There weren’t a lot of people when we went, but we went really early. The were VERY attentive, making sure we were ok at all times. The drinks and shisha were good also. We didn’t stay long, because I wasn’t feeling well, but I have no doubt that it would have been a lot of fun if we stayed longer.
As you may have noticed, we spent quite a bit of time in Dubai. We were supposed to leave to head to Italy, but we never did. We ended up spending the whole time in Dubai. We enjoyed it so much we didn’t want to leave! We even ended staying an extra day longer than we planned for the whole trip. A nice surprise was that the last day we were there was mothers day, so they had free dinner for the moms at our beloved buffet. It was a nice touch.
Although we were in Dubai for a long time, we feel like we didn’t even scratch the surface of all there is to do. We cant wait for our next trip back!
For as long as I can remember, Greece has always been on my bucket list. When my girlfriends and I would plan our travel, Greece would come up, and I would always say that I was saving it for my honeymoon (even though I wasn’t even engaged). I’m sure my friends would roll their eyes lol, but I am a firm believer of putting things into the universe. Sure enough, 5-6 years later, I was able to live my dream of celebrating my honeymoon in beautiful Greece.
If I’m honest, I started planning wish lists on online shopping websites YEARS before it was even a possibility or a plan for me to go. It was so fun to shop for Greece! I wanted to do bright colors to stand out against the white & blue backdrop. I ordered the majority of my ensembles from Lulus. They are my go-to for cute, unique, vacation, as well as everyday pieces.
The first stop on our honeymoon was Athens, Greece, where we had a short stop before we made our way to Santorini. We explored for a little, and had dinner at a cute spot right in the center of Athens called Azzuro Cafe. That night, we took a ($30) flight from Athens to Santorini, Greece. Fun Fact: We did our entire honeymoon for a little over $1k. We actually rarely spend over 1k on our trips (I will do a separate blog on this later).
One of the best parts about our honeymoon, was that my best friend was actually on her honeymoon at the same time. They were already in Santorini when we arrived. When we got to the teeny tiny airport in Santorini, we were greeted by my bestie holding up a hand-made sign that read “The Browns”. I loved it. Especially since it was the first time seeing our name written out. My bestie and her hubby then drove us to our resort, the Andromeda Villa & Spa. (We paid $389 for 3 nights). As we walked down the stairs into the resort, it instantly took my breath away. The views were incredible, even at night! I couldn’t wait to see it in the daylight.
One thing I will say, is that we got to Santorini right as the season was starting, so not all of the resorts were open, and a lot of business were just opening up for the season. This also contributed to the low-cost of everything. Later on during the trip, we were informed that the best time to come to Greece, is September. The summer months are insanely busy, and everything closes after October. We heard from multiple people, that in September, the weather is still nice, and it’s not as crowded. During the time we were there (April) things are just opening back up, and it is a bit chilly.
View from our suite
As I have mentioned before, I am OCD, and plan everything out down to the minute. This trip was the first time that we had zero excursions pre-booked. We never do that. Ever. This was mainly due to the fact that I was planning a wedding, while simultaneously planning the honeymoon. Most of my time and energy went to the wedding. I did however have a general list of items I wanted us to do, and places to see. It was actually a nice change to do nothing, and relax.
The next day, we met up with my best friend and her hubby, and we ventured out to visit black sand beach. In my research I found a bunch of cute beach bars that I wanted to check out. We drove down the strip of beach, and to our surprise it was empty. Like a ghost town. We drove down a long stretch of deserted beach bars puzzled. We later learned that this was because the season was just starting, so nothing was open yet. We came across literally the only place that was open – restaurant Forty-One. When we entered, the owner instantly greeted us warmly, and offered us shots. Our kinda place. We settled into a cute table outside overlooking the caldera, took our shots, and then the owner gives us a tour. The place is really cool, and even had an old wine cellar inside. The food was impeccable, and the view was breathtaking. I highly recommend visiting, you wont be disappointed.
The scenic views were so gorgeous that we had to have a photo shoot, of course! We dragged our hubbies out to take some photos of us on the black sand beach. It was a such a fun day full of smiles and laughter.
Best Friend Goals Achieved
Santorini is picture perfect. Everywhere you look is like a postcard. They have charming shops, restaurants, and the views are incredible.
The next day we had breakfast at a restaurant that was recommended to us. It was such a scenic, gorgeous restaurant. It was completely outdoors, with gorgeous flowers, and even had lemon trees! The food was incredible, and we were surprised to find out there was a wine cellar underground that offered wine tasting. We would have done it, but we didn’t have time.
After breakfast, we rented ATVs, and took off to explore the island. My husband and I make it a point to ride ATVs in every country that we travel to. We had a map, but it didn’t serve us much help. We wandered all around to different beaches, up the hills, and took in all that we could see. It was exhilarating. And cold. And we got lost. But that was part of the fun!
That night, we had dinner at the famous Sunset Tavern. The restaurant is known for having the best views of the sunset in Oia. It took us a little while to get to the restaurant, as it was on the opposite side of the island from where we were staying. We parked at the top of the hill, and walked down to the restaurant (even the walk had stunning views). We had pre-reserved a table next to the water, since we were told that reservations for this place were recommended. They sat us at a table right on the water. The setting was incredible, and so romantic. I wanted to be adventurous and try out the Octopus, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it. Nonetheless, we had a very nice dinner, and the restaurant lived up to their name with the most stunning views as the backdrop while we ate.
The next day, we took a boat to Mykonos, Greece. We took a speed boat, that took a little over 2 hours to get to there. When we arrived a representative from our hotel greeted us at the boat dock, and drove us to our hotel. We stayed at Vencia Boutique Hotel. (We paid $297 for 3 nights) The resort completely took our breath away. The views were incredible!
Mykonos was very different from Santorini. It is considered the “party island”, while Santorini is more laid back, and romantic. We were walking distance from “Little Venice”. Little Venice is the part of Mykonos you see all the Instagram pictures of. It is cobblestoned streets, white walls, and blue doors. It is a maze of cute little boutique shops, homes and restaurants. It was actually designed intentionally as a maze to combat pirates. It was set up, so that the pirates would get lost, and not make it to the main land.
You don’t have to worry about what you will eat in Mykonos. Every place we went to, whether a little shop, fancy restaurant, or mid size eatery, ALL had amazing food! There are a strip of restaurants that face the water. We ate at one of them called Kadena. When it was time to order, the waiter asked if I would like fresh fish. I asked what type they offered, and he left the table. He came back to the table with a platter of literal freshly caught fish.
This was common at almost every restaurant we went to. While I wanted to partake, hey “while in Rome, right?” it was a little too fresh for me. I stuck to chicken. Everything tasted amazing, so I am sure the fish would have been great.
We continued our explorations through little Venice to the windmills, did a little shopping at the boutiques, then headed back to our hotel.
When we arrived back to our resort, it was right at sunset. We were so enamored with how gorgeous the sunset was, we didn’t make it to our room. Instead we snuggled on the pool deck, and watched the sunset. There are no words to describe the beauty of this sunset.
After a nice dinner at our hotel, we headed back out into little Venice. We wanted to see what the Mykonos nightlife that we heard so much about was like. We settled at a cute little bar called Argo. It had really good music, and a fun vibe. We were pretty tired from traveling that day, so we didn’t stay long.
The next day, we hung out for a while at the pool, before heading back into town.
We did pretty much the same thing as the previous day, except that night we went to an actual club. All of the places on the island are pretty small in general. The club we went to had the capacity for many 30-40 people. We had a nice time, but it seemed like EVERYONE there smoked, so after a while it was too much for us, so we left.
Even though the nightlife was a lot of fun in Mykonos, we definitely would like to go back during the peak season to see the differences on the island. From all accounts, it is the place to be, and a lot of fun. We experienced this, but at a minimal level compared to how we have heard it is.
Resort View at Night
Little Venice at Night
The next day was Easter, which we found out, is a HUGE deal there in Greece. It was incredible to see the various celebrations, and to see how this culture celebrated Easter. We truly felt so blessed to be able to witness it.
Our next stop was Athens, Greece. We arrived pretty late in the evening, so we didn’t do much. My hubby headed out to explore, but I stayed behind, and relaxed in the room. We stayed at Royal Olympic Hotel ($89). The next day we had a beautiful brunch on the rooftop of our hotel. We could see the Acropolis clearly right from the rooftop. The hotel had incredible views, and the breakfast was delicious.
We ventured out to explore some of the ancient ruins. We paid a few Euros each to enter the park. To be honest, it was cool to see the ruins, and battle sites, but there wasn’t much to them. If you ever visit Athens, I wouldn’t stay more than 2 days max. You can see pretty much everything, and get a good feel of it in just a couple days.
We had a really nice lunch in the city. It actually reminded us a lot of Italy, with the cobblestone walkways, cute boutiques, and cafes. We ate gelato at the cutest gelato place I have ever seen. You could tell that the owner really took her time in decorating the shop. It smelled heavenly inside, and even had a running chocolate fountain!
After our lunch, and gelato we walked around a little more, then hopped on the plane to fly to Amsterdam ($10 flight). We arrived in Amsterdam later that evening, and checked into our hotel. It was pretty chilly in Amsterdam, so I took a long hot bath (at last, as none of our hotels in Greece had bathtubs, and I love my baths), ordered room service, and snuggled under the plush covers. My husband LOVES Amsterdam, so while I relaxed in the room, he ventured out solo.
The next morning, it was time to head back home. We hopped on a flight back home to the US, happy, sleepy, and excited for the next time we will visit Greece!
FULL DISCLOSURE : I have never had any desire to go to Africa. NONE. I was completely ignorant about Africa. I had this strange fear that if I went, I would get stuck or taken and not be able to get home. Terrible I know. So then I meet my husband, and of course the number one place on his bucket list to travel to was Morocco. Go figure. I typically make all of our travel plans, so I avoided Morocco.. until I couldn’t anymore.
As long as I have known my husband, he has ALWAYS been selfless. He never cared to celebrate his birthday. Unlike me. For me, my birthday is a holiday. Seriously. So, for his 35th birthday, I wanted to make it special for him. I told him that I was going to plan a trip to Morocco to celebrate his birthday. He was elated!
One thing I immediately noticed in planning for Morocco, was that the accommodations in Marrakech were very inexpensive. Most of the 4 and 5 star hotels/resorts were less than $80/night. Also, when I went to order the Moroccan Dirhams, I couldn’t. I always order the currency for the country we are traveling to from my bank before we leave. (I have gotten it from the ATM in the country, the airport, and the bank.. The bank always has the best rate). After some research, I found out that it is a closed currency, so it can only be purchased in their country. It also cannot leave the country, so you have to be sure to exchange it back to dollars before you leave.
In Morocco, they have Riads, and also regular hotels. A Riad is a traditional Moroccan house or palace with an interior garden or courtyard. They are unique, because from the outside, you cannot tell what is behind the large stucco wall. We wanted to experience both the traditional Riad, as well as a little luxury. So we booked 3 nights at a 5 star resort, and one night at a traditional Riad. Although we loved the experience at both, if we were to do it again, we would have stayed at the resort for 2 days, and the Riad for 2. More on that later.
We planned to go to a couple countries on this trip. We always like to see as much as we can while we are overseas. The original plan was to go to Portugal, Barcelona, Madrid, Morocco, and finish in Paris. However, a couple weeks before our trip, there was a terrorist attack in Barcelona, that caused us to re-think our plans. No matter what route we tried to figure out to get to Morocco, we couldn’t get around going to Barcelona. I was nervous, but there wasn’t anything we could do.
We ended up having one day in Barcelona. We rented a cute Air BNB, and hoped for the best. We arrived at Barcelona in the evening, got settled into our rental, and then ventured out to eat. We were STARVING. We went to the main square of Barcelona, where we found the cutest spot to eat, named Pura Brasa. The tables were made of old foosball tables, the food was delicious, and they had the BEST Sangria! It was the perfect choice, and we made it unharmed.
We flew to Morocco the next day. We pre-arranged car service pick up from the airport. This is another one of my travel musts. After many years of trying to hail a cab/negotiate pricing, I have found it is so much easier to have a driver waiting, and it isn’t very expensive.
First observation of Marrakech – everything is STUNNING. Everything is grand, eye-catching, and extremely clean.. inside the airport that is. I also notice immediately by the many checks we had to go through, and the guards with AK 47s, that security is of extreme importance. After what felt like a million checks, we exchanged our US dollars for the Moroccan Dirham. We exchanged 600USD, and got about 5,550 in Moroccan Dirhams. This was very easy process.
In Marrakech we stayed at the Palm Plaza Marrakech Hotel & Spa. I’m admittedly a bit of a hotel snob. I like clean white sheets, nice décor, amenities, and at least 4 stars. The hotel met my expectations, and looked exactly like the pictures online. So far, so good! We arrived pretty early, so our room wasn’t quite ready. We stored our luggage with the front desk, and found the nearest bar. Hey, we needed a welcome drink!
We walked into one of the hotel bars, and were immediately greeted by a very kind, English speaking bar tender. I emphasized the fact that he spoke English because he was one of the ONLY service people we met on the entire trip who spoke English. (We got a lot of use out of our Google Translate app on this trip!) He asked if this was our first time in Africa. We said yes, and he replied “Welcome Home”. This tickled me, but also made me feel good. We are home! He told us that he actually learned English from watching movies, and CNN.
Once our room was ready, we got situated, then headed out to explore. Our first stop was the square. The hotel offered daily complimentary rides to the square every half – hour, which made it convenient. There are no words to describe the square. It was a bustling area full of ornate doors, entertainers, small shops, aggressive merchants, locals, and tourists. I don’t think I could accurately describe the square to where one would truly know what it is like. It was incredible.
We were really hungry, so we settled on the first place that looked appetizing. They explained to us that on that specific day, as a tradition they eat cous-cous. I actually happen to love cous-cous, and cook it regularly at home, so this worked out. I decided to order their “Oreo shake”.. huge mistake. It was disgusting. This was the first of many lessons about how their “shakes, smoothies, etc., were not anything like what we call a shake or smoothie in the US. The food portion was pretty good, and the food itself was tasty though. After refueling we continued our explorations of the square.
I was cautioned before we left for Morocco that they are very conscious of how people dress, and that women especially, should cover themselves. I tried my best to pack appropriately, not wanting to offend anyone. It was around 90 degrees in Marrakech, so I was literally drenched after lunch from the heat.
As busy and overwhelming as the square was, I couldn’t help but be marveled by the beauty of the large, ornate doors, the shops, the spices, and the fresh fruits in the carts that lined the streets. It was sensory overload, and I loved it. In our exploration, we came across a cute little restaurant that had a top floor balcony. We went there to cool off, and have a “smoothie”. This was the second hard lesson that what we call smoothies here in the US are not the same in Morocco. Sigh.
I made plans at a restaurant to surprise my husband for his birthday. The restaurant had belly dancers etc , and they were going to surprise my husband with a cake after dinner. They were also supposed to give us a special table with a view. We arrived to L’Marrakchi, and gave them my name. They didn’t seem to understand what I was saying, but they seated us. After seating us, I pointed at the window seats over looking the Medina, and asked the server about sitting at those seats because we had reserved them weeks before. She assured me we would be moved in a little. The food there was delicious! During our meal, they had a variety of entertainment in the form of belly dancers, regular dancers. They even had a belly dancer who carried a tray of lit candles on her head. She asked me dance with her, holding the tray of candles on my head. I was so nervous, and just knew I was going to drop the tray, and burn the whole restaurant to the ground. That tray was heavy! I managed to hold the tray on top of my head, and no on suffered any burns. We had a blast!
We were then moved to a table that overlooked the Medina. Looking out into the square at night was really nice! It was much busier than in the daytime. I noticed different performers, locals hanging out, children, and of course the aggressive merchants were still out. This place never sleeps. I tried to ask the server when the cake for my hubby was coming out.. she looked at me with confusion. I showed her the email showing the confirmation for dinner and the cake. ( I had been emailing back and forth with the manager about it). She took my phone over to her manager, and showed him the email. He came over to our table, and showed me the name of the restaurant in the email. It was a different name. Different by one word. He then explained that it was about 20 minutes from where we were. I was devastated! My surprise was ruined. I really wanted to surprise my hubby to make his birthday special. Epic Fail. I explained to Marques what I was trying to do, why I kept whispering with the server, and how I brought us to the wrong restaurant. He assured me it was fine, that he had a great time, and its the thought that counts. Phew.
I was super excited for the next day. We had booked an ATV tour, and Camel Ride through the Palm Desert. We were picked up from our resort early in the am, and headed to the desert. Once we got to where the camels were, we were outfitted in traditional Moroccan robes (which I loved), and headed out on our camels.
My camel was a special camel named Ali. He was unique in that he had one black, and one white eye.
We enjoyed a nice leisurely ride through the desert, then arrived at a traditional Berber home. This was one of the highlights of the trip for us. Inside the home, we went into a room, where the entire floor was covered in traditional Moroccan carpets. We were served hot tea and crepes that the woman of the home made for us. I’m not a tea person, but the tea was actually pretty good. The other people on the excursion with us, were two Asian guys from China who had been on Holiday for 2 weeks, and this was their 3rd or 4th stop. There was also a group of girls from England, that were like a scene out of sex and the city. We were the only Americans.
As we sat around the room, our guide as used all to sing. Yes, sing. We were taken aback from being put on the spot, and being asked to sing. I couldn’t think of a song, and just sat there. The other guests excitedly offered up options to sing like “Beyoncé”, “Elton John”, or “Madonna”. Everyone sang different songs. When it was our turn, we ended up singing a random song that I cannot remember. I mentioned that we were there to celebrate my husbands birthday, and the tour guide started singing happy birthday in Arabic. It was a really cool moment that we wont every forget.
Afterwards, we rode the camels a little while longer to another part in the desert where the ATVs were waiting. We changed out of the garb, and jumped on the ATVs. This is something that we love to do no matter what country we visit. We had a blast riding through the desert! By the end of the tour, we were covered from head to toe in dirt. It was awesome.
The next day was September 10, my husbands actual birthday. We spent the majority of the day lounging by the pool with a few cocktails. It was very relaxing, and we thoroughly enjoyed every moment.
We headed back to the square that evening. The shuttle only runs during the day, so we had to catch a cab. We were told not to pay more than 30 Dirhams to go to the square. The cab driver tried to charge us 50 Dirham, but we were able to talk the driver down to 30 Dirham. In the car, on the way to the square, I looked over at my husband, and said “you know we were arguing over paying the equivalent $3 and $5 UDS right“. We had a good laugh at that.
We had a nice dinner at another restaurant in the square that had a table overlooking the medina. This place was also really good! As with all of our other visits to the square, it was extremely busy. I noticed there were a lot of kids out and about. One even walked up to me and demanded to have my ice cream. I looked at the time, it was almost midnight. Where are your parents? I thought to myself. I didn’t see anyone around or even watching him. I learned later that this is very common for Marrakech.
The next morning we checked out of our resort, and headed to our Riad. We booked a room at Riad Anais. It was extremely complicated to find, and not only that, lots of people on the street would try to help walk you to where you are going, but then would expect payment. Luckily, I read about this in advance, so I knew what to expect and declined all of the “help”. This coupled with the trouble it took us to find the resort had us questioning if we should have just stayed at our resort.
All of those thoughts went out of the window when we arrived at the Riad. The Riad was STUNNING! I had never seen anything like this place before. It was even more incredible than it looked in the photos, and you would never guess that would have been behind those walls. It was 3 levels, the first being the courtyard and kitchen, the second had the rooms, and the 3rd was a rooftop filled with lounge chairs, outside bar area, and a lookout, where you could look out and see what looked like all of Marrakech. This was my favorite part of the Riad.
We were immediately greeted warmly with tea and desserts. Afterwards, we were escorted upstairs to our room. The room was so ornate, and our bed was covered in Rose petals. The doors to enter our room reminded us of Aladdin. We loved it!
We hung out on the roof top for a little, then took a short nap. After our nap, we planned to go back out to the square. The house host and I had emailed back and forth about doing something special for my husbands birthday, and he ended up just having the Rose petals in the room. As we headed out, he whispered to me to be back by sunset. I wasn’t able to ask any further questions, since my husband was next to me, so I just said ok, and we ventured out.
The Riad was in walking distance of the square, on the opposite end of where we had previously gone. We walked through the Souk, stopping at the different markets to smell the spices, and look at the various trinkets, etc. We would have purchased quite a few items, however our bags were stuffed so tightly to the brim, that we literally couldn’t take an extra sock back if we wanted.
When we got back to the Riad, to our surprise, Happy Birthday was playing over the loud speaker! First it played in English, then it played in Arabic! The house host ushered us to the seating area, where we sat down. Then, he came out with a birthday cake! He then asked us to sit still while he ‘gets the guests’. Mind you, we are in Africa, we know no one here, so we had no idea what he was talking about. He then comes back with some of the guests that were staying a the Riad! There was a single traveler from Dusseldorf, Germany, and another couple on holiday from Belgium. They sat with us, sang, ate cake, and shared travel stories. It was without a doubt the best part of the trip. I completely redeemed myself from the fiasco at the restaurant earlier in the trip, and this took zero effort. Funny how life works.
After chatting with the other guests for an hour or so, they all went their different ways, and we headed to the rooftop to relax. It had cooled off a little, so the weather was perfect. It was so romantic to sit under the stars and just lay on the large outdoor couch with my husband. I never wanted to leave. This was our last night in Marrakech, and I couldn’t have planned a better way for it to end. It was spectacular.
The next day, we got up at about 6 am to catch our flight to Paris. The house host was up right along with us. He made sure we had a hot breakfast with fresh orange juice before we took off. He also made sure that we had someone to take us from the Riad to the airport. He was seriously the best!
We arrived to the airport, and before we could even enter the doors of the airport, we had to go through a security check. They do not play about security here. At all. We go through at least 2 more checks, and finally make it to the plane. My husband and I weren’t fortunate enough to get seats next to each other, but we planned on sleeping the entire time anyway, so it wasn’t a big deal.
I dozed off, and then was awakened by the passenger next to me tapping me on my shoulder. He said “Hey, we are going back to Marrakech.” I thought I was dreaming. I woke up confused. Huh? He then explains to me that something is wrong with the weather machine on the plane, and there is supposed to be bad weather in Paris, so we have to turn around. Now, this was a 2 1/2 hour flight to Paris, and we had already been flying for over an hour. All my initial fears about travelling to Africa started to come back. I really am not going to be able to leave here! I turned around to my husband and explained to him what was going on. He was just as puzzled as I was. They were making announcements on the plane, however everything was in Arabic, and French, so we had no clue what was being said. After every announcement, I would ask the passenger next to me what was said.
We get back to Marrakech, where we sat parked on the plane for about 2 hours, before we got the news. Our plane was going to be “delayed” until the next day at 5am. It was about 11am at that time. The panic started to set in. What??? The passenger next to me, who had been translating told me not to worry. He said the airline is going to pay for our hotel stay, as well as lunch, dinner, and breakfast the next day. That was a relief. Then, I immediately started thinking a little bit further.. What about our Paris accommodations that were already booked, and our flight back home? We were supposed to spend a day in Paris, and then fly home the next day. Now, we will miss our flight back home, because our flight was at 8am, and we wouldn’t even be leaving Marrakech until 5am. I decided not to worry about it, but it was never too far from my mind.
They bused us to a hotel in a part of Marrakech that we hadn’t seen before. I awkwardly ask the passenger if he minded if we stuck together, since we have no clue what is going on. He kindly agreed. He and his girlfriend were from Morocco, but lived in Paris. They were on their way back to Paris after a 2 month Holiday in Marrakech. Their names were Anas, and Amina. We check into the hotel together, and I notice they have separate rooms. They explained to me that it is Moroccan law is that if you are not married, you are not allowed to share a hotel room. Interesting. We have a nice lunch together, and then we each go back to our rooms to get a nap. Luckily our rooms were right next to each other.
After our nap we get a knock on our door, its Anas and Amina. They say “Do you wanna see Marrakech?” We both instantly answered with a resounding YES! They told us they wanted to take us to some fun places, and see the real Marrakech. I was so excited, because I love to experience new things, and what better way, than with actual Moroccans. Not to mention, they were the sweetest couple ever, and were around our age.
They end up taking us to casino Marrakech. Walking into the entryway, I was in awe. Everything was beautiful! We go to the back, to a club called Epicurean. Anas tells us it is a hot spot, however it turned out to be a slow night since it was a weekday. We order some drinks, listen to music, and converse. It was such a fun night. I learned so much about Morocco, and got all of my questions answered about different things that I wondered about.
When we got back to our room, we went straight to sleep since we had a 5 am flight the next morning. Sometime in the middle of the night, the flight was delayed, again. This time until 1pm. We didn’t complain, because we could now sleep in. When we finally made it to the airport, we were delayed again another hour or so. I noticed Anas greeting one of the airport associates. It turned out to be his mother. He then explained to us, that the broken weather machine was a lie, and that in reality they had suspicious passengers on board the pane who falsified their travel docs. They turned the plane around, did a check of the plane, and still didn’t feel safe, so they brought in a whole new plane from Paris, just to be sure. That was the true reason for the delay. He learned this information from his mother. Although that was tough information to process, we were grateful that we got another (all expenses paid)night in Marrakech got to meet Anas and Amina, and also, most importantly, we were safe.
We, FINALLY make it to Paris late that afternoon, and I was a nervous wreck. We had no where to stay, and there weren’t any more flights back to America that day. It was an emotional 24 hours. I wanted to ask Anas and Amina if we could stay with them, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it. Before I could get on Wi-Fi to start looking for a hotel, Anas tells us it would be his pleasure if we would stay with them. Phew! We all jump in an Uber, and head to their place. They tell us that they love this burger place, and would love to take us there. We happily agreed to go.
The place was called Schwartz’s Deli, and it was PACKED! The burgers were HUGE, and delicious. It was a nice little spot, and we were grateful they took us there. After dinner, we walked to the Eiffel tower. They lived walking distance to both to the restaurant, and the Tower. It was a really nice evening.
We then headed back to their apartment. It meant so much to us that they would open their home to us. They made it very comfortable for us. I did wake up once in the middle of the night like wait a minute Kristeena, you are sleeping in pretty much a strangers home in Paris. I had a slight freak out moment, but then I remembered God has me, so I calmed myself down, and went back to sleep.
In the morning, Amina gave us very detailed directions to get to the airport. We were so thankful. The directions were very precise, and we were able to get there with no hiccups. What a whirlwind. We were so thankful once we made it back to American soil, but also thankful for our experience. It was one we surely wont ever forget, and we made some friends! We are currently trying to get Anas & Amina to America, so we can return the favor & show them around. We rarely have a desire to go back to a country once we have visited. We enjoyed Morocco so much that we are planning a trip to go back, but this time with a group!