A Quick Guide For Your Visit in Austin

Visiting the capital of Texas is sure to leave you with a city and outdoor mixed lifestyle for experience.  Austin is known for its tech industry, SXSW, BBQ, and keeping it weird!  I have beed to this happening city three times and each time was short and sweet.  I’d like to offer you a quick guide to help you decide what to do when you visit Austin.  My most recent visit was in December, 2018.

Where to Stay: The Domain, Downtown, or South Congress.  if you want to the ability to keep your car parked and walk around an area filled with shops and restaurants (more on the upscale side) go with The Westin in the Domain area.  Like all Westin hotels it is extremely comfortable, convenient,  with a little bit of luxury.  If you do stay here, do make sure to take a trip to other neighbourhoods, because there is more to Austin than boutiques and brand name shops that you can find in any city.

Most recently I stayed at the Courtyard Marriott in South Austin of Interstate Highway 35 and although the distance to South Congress was only a few minutes, I felt this area was too isolated and a little industrial.  You can probably save a few bucks by staying in this area during peak season, but I think the prices are relatively the same.  I wanted to stay in a different area and thought this part of town might be worth exploring.  Big Fail!

Where to Eat: Greenhouse Craft Food, Round Rock, TX

Austin has an abundance of food selections and is popular for food trucks and bbq.  On our way in to Austin, driving from Dallas, we chose to dine in at Greenhouse Craft Food.  The chef crafted each item with the notion of farm to table making sure everything that is served is locally sourced and sustainable.  We ordered Texas chili, a grilled pimento cheese sandwich, a burger, and a side of fries.  Check out their menu. The environment is uber casual and since we were there on a weekday, it wasn’t too busy and our food was serviced within 15-20 minutes.   We did have the mindset of patience and could afford to wait a little longer if we had to.  Cook to order and farm to table is a specialty worth waiting for.

For Breakfast: Phoebe’s Diner

All the great reviews we read were really on point.  From the customer service, wait time, food prep, presentation, taste and quality, we were 100% satisfied.   We had the flapjacks, and omelette, two scrambled eggs, and hashbrowns and coffee all for only $24.00.  This new restaurants has a long and narrow interior with a 50s style diner feel.  You can sit at the bar, in a booth, or if you are a party of two, you will be seated at the side by side tables that are almost too close for comfort with people on your left and on your right. Headsup: There is barely any parking in their lot and you will likely have to park on one of the side streets nearby.

Where to Walk: South Congress and Lady Bird Lake

This area is a must on any day. Taking a stroll on this street is sure to give you that Austin vibe you have wondering about.  Here you will find tons of local coffee shops, antique and boutiques, restaurants, galleries and the picture postcard featured as our main image. Residential is mixed in this area and you will notice massive aloe trees on many of the streets too.

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I took this photo right across the street from the Greetings from Austin Mural.

 

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Lady Bird Lake

Only a few minutes from downtown and South Congress you can experience the outdoorsy lifestyle.  You can rent a bike or walk along the trail next to the lake, while you soak in the nature this city has to offer.

Take a Drive: Pennybacker Bridge aka 360 Bridge

If you thought Texas was completely flat, you have to experience the rolling hills on this scenic route leading up to this bridge (Hwy 2222). Once you get to the bridge, there are a few spaces to pull over beside the cliff and there is a pathway to hike up to the top.  The hike up is only a few minutes and can be done by all age levels as long as you have a bit of strength to step over and up huge rocks.  Take your time if you need to. I did see many elderly doing this walk up with help from their family.  Once you get to the top the view is spectacular and photos are a must!  Expect to spend 5-10 minutes here, unless you plan to meditate and do a complete photo shoot, but I wouldn’t leave my car parked for too long.  The area isn’t zoned for parking and it is obvious that car windows have been smashed because there was a lot of glass around the area.

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parking right before the bridge

Have you been to Austin? What do you recommend? Leave your comments below.

Daytripping in Oklahoma City

I never really had this city on my list of destinations, but now that I’m mostly in the southern US, why the heck not?!  So what does OKC have to offer anyway. Like any city, upon arrival, I always grab all the tourist brochures and figure out what is supposedly the best things to do in the city.  I usually try to figure out more of the local scene, but in such a short timeframe it wasn’t too imperative this time. For OKC…I decided to stick with the highlights.

First stop…

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Inside the paid area of the botanical gardens.

Myriad Botanical Gardens.  This 15-acre botanical garden sits in the middle of the city and is home to thousands of beautifully displayed tropical and desert plants.  The garden is like a symphony of plants orchestrated to be together. The garden is free and if you want to step into tropical zone the cost is $8 for Adults and $5 for children.  Get ready to sweat when you step in there, even on a hot day it felt like I was walking into a sauna cranked up to 100 degrees.  I was dripping in sweat before I even finished walking through.  From the banana trees to coconuts to cocao to ginger, and lots of other cool plants you may have never seen up close and personal this attraction was a great experience.  I rank this the #1 place to visit in OKC and it’s great for small children.

 

Next…

We jumped back in the car and drove through the Business District, Arts District, and Film Row because it was way too hot to walk around everywhere.

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Civic Center Music Hall

 

We then drove to the Park Plaza area and made a visit to the OKC National Memorial.

OKC National Memorial. This site and museum is a memorial that honors victims, survivors, and rescuers of the Oklahoma bombing in 1995.  A National Park representative spoke for about 10 minutes to give the history and an explanation of the design.  There are two gates, which are marked with the time before the incident and one at the moment everything changed (when the bomb struck).  A field of empty chairs represents the lives taken on April 19, 1995.

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The East Gate is marked 9:01, which represents the moment of innocence for the city.
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9:03 – the moment everything changed
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The Museum and the Survivor Tree.  The inscription next to the tree reads: To the courageous and caring who responded from near and far, we offer our eternal gratitude, as a thank you to the thousands of rescuers and volunteers who helped.

Next…

We drove through Automobile Alley and didn’t really see anything. This must be more popular when there is an actual event happening.  Our drive continued through Deep Deuce, which is a nightlife area and then we parked in Bricktown to grab a late lunch.  There are a many restaurants, bars, and shops here and a nice canal, which also offers boat rides to cruise the canal for 45 minutes.  We wrapped up our day here after eating quesadillas and soft tacos at the Yucatan Taco Stand.

If you like riding scooters, there are plenty of Bird scooters available in this neighborhood.

Cheers to another short and sweet trip completed! #shortandsweettrips

 

Traveling with Fruit in Australia and New Zealand

My husband and I travel with only carry on luggage. We rarely purchase any liquids because we want to avoid checking our bag.  We don’t like to check bags because our trips are short and sweet and checking a bag usually adds another 30-60 minutes for check-ins and baggage collections.

While touring Australia, we heard about the honey and thought about bringing some back as a souvenir.  The honey was as good as everyone said and we literally scraped the edges to get every last drop.  The bananas were pretty awesome too.  Would you believe that traveling from Sydney to Cairns, we had our fruit confiscated at the airport.  I know that from country to country this can happen, but I never imagined that within the same country the agriculture restrictions would be so serious.  Apparently, Queensland has the best bananas in the country.  Also, good for you to know, is that Australia does not import bananas due to the plant pest and disease threats that would give way to their local farmers.  I suppose there is fear that even New South Wales grown bananas could carry pests that would harm the banana farms in the North (Queensland).  History tells us that Chinese migrants introduced the first banana to Australia back in the 1800s. Today, the tropical regions of Queensland produce most of Australia’s bananas.

So going back to the honey that we scraped out of the jar…

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Likely the best honey, Tasmanian Leatherwood, we have ever tasted.

We were so glad that we didn’t buy more as even honey was confiscated from state to state.

After Queensland, we flew to New Zealand and upon entry immigration and agriculture must confiscate fruits and honey.  I watched one family lose all their honey that they had in their carry ons.  I was so sad for them.  There is one trick that will likely work out for you if you have go from state to state with honey.  Buy the honey at the Duty Free Shop in the airport, but if you are going to another state after that and you still have that honey, it will be taken from you.  Only get the honey at the duty free shop if your final destination is outside of these regions.  So going from Melbourne straight to Vancouver, should work out for you.

 

Black Sand

What picture do you have when you think of the beach?  We usually have the image of a beautiful hue of either pristine blue or green water with white or beige colored sand along the coast.  Have you ever stepped foot on a black sand beach?

I walked on black sand at Piha Beach in New Zealand.  This is one of the most beautiful destinations in the country, based on my short and sweet adventures in the northern region.

Every bare foot step that I took  along this beach felt like I was stepping on a hot plate.  I have never felt so inclined to keep my sandals on while walking along the beach.  I can say that I am not a fan of black sand, but it is worth seeing and this beach is a short drive from Auckland.

 

How to Spend 4 Days in Sydney, Australia

I arrived in Sydney on Thursday morning and had 4 full days to see the city.  Sydney was awesome, right from the start.  Whether you love museums, parks, architecture, galleries, food, shopping, beach or water sports, you can find it all here.  I had beach time on the top of my list! Next I knew I wanted to check out the waterfront and see the nationally recognized Sydney Opera House.  I explored the city as much I could without cramming too much in.  If you would like to follow the same itinerary, here is what I suggest:

Day 1: Take a couple of hours to explore the area where you are staying.  I always do this in every city that I arrive in. It helps me get to know the lay of the land.  In Sydney, I stayed in the heritage hotel called The Grace.  I highly recommend this hotel for its location, price, size of the suite and the maintenance.  The Grace Hotel is centrally located and walking distance to cool places like the Spice Alley.

After exploring your area and perhaps a little bit of shopping head down to the Royal Botanic Gardens.  As you walk through the gardens, you will reach a point (right at the top of Mrs. Macquarie’s Road) where you have a gorgeous view of the Sydney Opera House.  If you love taking photos, this will be a nice angle for you.  After that, you can walk through the park to get to the Opera House.  I walked into the theatre to chill a bit in the lounge.  I didn’t leave without snapping a couple more pics of this magnificent place.

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Take a stroll along the Circle Quay and stop in to the Aboriginal Art Gallery.  There you will find a collection of art from world renowned artists.  A visit to Australia is not complete without learning something about its first rightful owners of the land.

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The weather was great and the sun was yet to set for several more hours so we took a quick ferry ride to the famous Bondi Beach.  Leaving the beach and getting back into the central business district (CBD) is very easy.  Just hop on a bus heading to Town Hall or St.James Station.

Day 2:

Darling Harbour. Sydney is surrounded by water, so of course there are multiple spots to catch an amazing view of the city.  Darling Harbour also has the Australian Maritime Museum and the Welcome Wall honoring more than 6 million overseas migrants that have settled in the country.  I didn’t go through the entire museum, the first level is free and if you like American history you may enjoy the display.  I perused through for about 10 minutes and then moved on to see more of Sydney.

Barangaroo South. A short walk away is the Barangaroo South district, which is still going through development, but there is enough to please your appetite for food, retail therapy, and great photos opps.

 

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If you love walking head over to The Rocks, and tour the cobble laneways and visit with local artisans.  You can cover this area in 30 minutes and then walk up to the Harbor Bridge.  You can walk across the bridge and get an up close experience of this wondrous engineering without doing the BridgeClimb (which I was not interested in). Once you get across the bridge, you will be in Milson’s Point area.  If it is a Sunday, there may be a local fashion market happening.  You can catch the train from here back to where ever you need to go (perhaps your hotel to take rest).

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The Rocks

Day 3:

Manly, Manly Beach, and if you have time head up more north to Palm Beach.  If you make it to Palm Beach, plan to veg on the beach because there is nothing around in this secluded area, except gorgeous mansions, one restaurant and a small shop.  It took about 40 minutes from Manly to get here by bus and it was well worth it.  There are multiple ways to get to Manly. You can use the fast ferry or take the Manly Ferry (which is more economical and you can use your Opal card).  Both options will give you the spectacular views of the Sydney harbour and surroundings.

Day 4:

If you like to discover neighbourhoods that feel more local, yet still have something to offer tourists, then you need to hit the Spice Alley.  I heard this place referred to as a little Singapore in Sydney.  I have yet to travel through Singapore, but the plethora of food option, flavors, and smells is exactly how I imagine Singapore to be.  Spice Alley is in the heart of Chippendale and don’t get this name twisted with the male tour group.  Chippendale is a happening area popular for its converted warehouses, galleries, green space, and shopping.

There are more touristy things that you can do like, visit the Blue Mountains, The Toronga Zoo, and do the Bridge Climb.  All of which, I have heard amazing stories. If you have done this, let me know about your experience.

Getting around by public transit in Sydney is super easy.  You will need to purchase an Opal card, which you can do upon departure from the airport.  For all the insider tips on getting around with public transit click here.

 

Aaaaah Piha

If you love beaches and you have looked at possibly visiting New Zealand then you likely have heard of Piha Beach.  This is a world famous surfers beach 40 km west of Auckland.  A friend had told us to “hire a car”, that’s kiwi speak for “rent a car”, upon arrival in Auckland and start touring around as much as possible.  I absolutely loved the drive along the coast, but it wasn’t easy.  First off, we were driving on the left side of the road and the driver’s seat is on the right and to top it off we were driving up the mountain and many times we were so close to the edge, I feared for my life.  Be encouraged though, as the drive is worth the eye-popping experience.  You will see lush green hills and valleys with abundance of wildlife including sheep, cows, and alpacas.  You will make windy turns up and down the hills and finally come down to Piha.  When we arrived I felt my mind and spirit reach a state of calm.  I thought, “aaaaaaaaah, Piha”.

Piha Beach is a beautiful black sand beach surrounded by enormous cliffs.  I’m not a fan of black sand though, it was too hot and I had to keep my flip-flops on so I didn’t burn the soles of my feet. After spending some time on the beach, we took a hike up the rock to have a beautiful aerial view.  You will also find secluded beach areas.  Be careful though the sea here can be vicious and life threatening.

Visiting this place from Auckland is an easy short and sweet day trip.

 

 

 

I am so thankful that I connected with this part of the world.  All praises and glory to God.

 

Just Say Hello

Ola, Hello, Bonjour, Kia Ora, Salam, Akwaaba, G’day and so many more greeting across this wonderful globe.  Greetings to each and every one of you.  Every place I visit, I try to connect with locals.  By simply greeting someone, you are welcoming a conversation. Striking a conversation with a stranger doesn’t have to lead to a super intense or long discussion, especially if you are on the go with a tight schedule.  All of my trips have been short and sweet, so I usually have limited time to capture as much as possible, but I always have moments to make an attempt to learn about local life. I appreciate their life, their land and their perspective.  If they want to know about me, I’m happy to share too.

All it takes is a quick greeting and if the individual is open, you can carry a conversation.  While visiting Australia, I wanted to connect with the Indigenous community outside of the museums and touristy sites.  One early morning in Cairns, my husband and I went to the Palm Cove Beach to watch the sunrise.  We did some meditation and then we took a walk along the beach.  There was a couple sitting along the edge where the beach meets the grass and right before reaching a shady woods area.  We started with “hello” and the hand gesture wave.  They responded with welcomes and had we a brief chat with them.  We learned that they were on a short and sweet trip too.  They had pitched a tent right behind them and planned to be there for 2 days as a getaway from their family.  They needed a break from their hustle and bustle.  We had an intimate moment, as the man told us that all the land belonged to them and that unfortunately there is no work so he is currently unemployed.  We also talked about going for a swim at this time of year and the dangers associated with the marine stingers and crocodiles.  We had read in the National Maritime Museum in Sydney that the crocodile is sacred in their culture as they believe that they embody the spirits of important people. The couple had no fear of going for a swim and confirmed what we had read in the museum.  They are both descendants of the Yirrganydji and maintain their spiritual connection with the land.  They proudly shared that they know how to spot and avoid the crocodiles and get of the water safely.

Speaking with them taught me to remove all judgement.  Prior to saying hello, I thought they would not want to talk to a tourist.  I took the risk and said hello anyway.  I believe if you put out love, you will receive love, so that’s what I did and they welcomed me.  We had a good chuckle, listened to a bit of music and then said our best wishes.  We snapped a pic for memories, however out of respect, I have only posted their shadows as we were on the beach and they were in their swimwear.

Thank you God for introducing me to more people and sharing pleasant moments across your globe.

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Palm Cove Beach, Cairns, Australia (Queensland)

A Journey that Ends with a Beach

There are over 10,000 beaches in Australia and to be exact the University of Sydney has counted 10, 685 beaches.  I would not be surprised if there are more in hidden places that man has yet to walk.  My trip was short and sweet and I only had a chance to visit a few places.  I never get tired of visiting the beach, even though my purpose is not to tan because I am blessed with dark skin.  I love the sun and for its rays to kiss my skin giving me the dose of vitamin D that my body needs for good health.  I love listening to the sounds of the water and feeling more connected to the earth.  When I get to the beach it is my moment of peace and calm from all the chaos and pollution in any city.  This post is to highlight one beach in Northern Sydney.

Palm Beach, Manly, Sydney

The journey we made to this beautiful beach took us about 90 minutes and we started with the Manly ferry from Circular Quay.  The ferry ride is about 20 minutes and boasts spectacular views of the Sydney Opera House and the Harbour Bridge. Once we disembarked from the ferry, we walked to catch a bus to Palm Beach and that bus ride was about 60 minutes. I like taking the bus so that I can view the city as the locals do everyday.

The long bus ride is worth it and you will realize that as you begin to approach this affluent area where the median home is selling for $2.6 Million.  A little fun fact for you: the long running Australian tv show, Home and Away is filmed here.

Palm Beach is along the Tasman Sea, within the South Pacific Ocean.  I was there on a December afternoon and the sky was a bit overcast, but there was enough sun to lay out and veg for more than a couple of hours without the risk of getting burnt.  The tide and temperature of the water was perfect for riding the waves and as we frolicked with every wave. The surfers were nearby catching the bigger waves outside of the swimmers boundaries. Let me remind you that when visiting the beaches in Australia, you must stay within the yellow and red poles, which are marked as the safe zone monitored by lifeguards on duty.  The waves can shift and mother nature can be violent at any time.

There is also a public pool at the end of the beach which we noticed wasn’t busy.  In that area, you can take a walk along the huge rocks and admire more of God’s creation.

Palm Beach is one my favourite beaches in the world.  I still have more to see!  As always, thank God for travel!

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Take bus 29 to and from Manly.

 

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sitting on the rocks at Palm Beach

How to Pack Light For Any Trip

For the past two years I have traveled with one carry on and one personal handbag.  So many people have asked me how I do it.  For this post I want to share how you can pack light, get through security quickly and travel safe.

Most of my trips are short and sweet and I don’t need to pack a ton of things.  So take this into consideration, if you are going somewhere for 3 or more weeks, this may not be right for you.

Here is what I have in my suitcase as I adventure through Australia for 2 weeks:

4 mini tanks (undershirts)

10 undies and 3 bras

8 pairs of socks

3 t-shirts

1 blouse

2 pants

2 skirts

1 pair of shorts

1 cardigan

1 dress

2 belts

1 hat

1 swimsuit

toiletries (all less than 100 ml)

1 mini first aid kit

1 pair of sneakers

1 pair of flip flops

1 scarf

I wore an ankle boot on the day of travel and carried a jacket suitable for the expected temperature.  It’s summer in Australia and with 30 degrees Celsius temperatures everyday, it was easier to pack light.  My personal handbag is an over the shoulder canvas bag that fits my computer, books, and another mini knapsack.

I always pack everything I might possibly need for health and beauty. From toothpaste to lotions to tweezers, bandaids, and scissors.  Going through security at the airport, I have noticed that all airports have their requirements for what they allow and don’t allow to pass through.  All airports have a zero tolerance for bottled water.  I packed scissors in my bag many months ago and it was confiscated at the airport in Bogota, Colombia.  I had to replace that scissors and have since traveled many times after that incident with my new scissors and was faced with no challenges.  Today I was departing Cairns, Australia en route to Melbourne and my bag was put aside to check the scissors that showed on their x-ray machine.  Good news. They allowed me to keep the scissors because they are round edged.  So note to you…do not carry pointy scissors, even if they are tiny and just for shaping your brows or clipping unwanted nose hairs.

I find that most of the time, the amount of stuff I pack I don’t even use half of the items anyway.  If something gets really smelly, it’s easy to hand wash and hang it up in your bathroom.

What tips do you have for traveling light?

 

 

 

 

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