Sicily – Enter Cefalu

After settling in a London for a week, it was time to head off again to Sicily.

The closest I had ever been to Italy was Malta last summer but I was dying to get a taste of pasta, gelato, pizza… and of course see the sights.haha But yeah, I was off to Italy with the boyfriend for our first taste of Sicilian culture.

We arrived at Gatwick at the crack of dawn to take our flight via EasyJet. I was tired but nervous more than anything. I was excited to see Italy but nervous about leaving London and Trump ruining my chances for getting back in. I took a leap of faith and boarded my flight with my boyfriend mocking me the entire way.

A few hours later, we land at Palermo airport and I’m dying for the sun. We try to run through security because we don’t want to get caught behind a school group on vacation and we beat them. Small victories. We also step outside and it’s warm. Another victory! All we need to do is find the rental car and we’re off to Cefalu.

So an hour later, we have the car and we hit the road. One thing that is true, Italian drivers are a bit crazy. But we drive past rolling green fields, Mt Etna and a few farms before we arrive in Cefalu.

We find our Airbnb (it was cute but basic in the sweetest way),

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we go down to the center of Cefalu,

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and then we realize we’re starving and food isn’t really served until 7 PM (3 hours from then). I literally start to feel hangry bubbles form but we walk around and take some pictures until we stumble across tourists stuffing their faces with a slice of pizza. Out of desperation, the boyfriend asks them where they found food and 10 minutes later, we get something in our stomachs.

Although we had a full day, it felt like we arrived at night after driving across the island to the north east side. We wandered a bit more and then order pizzas to go where we sat in our Airbnb next to each other for body heat (the mountains get cold at night).

The next day, we prepared to picnic and make our way to Castelbuono for a hike.

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The hike ended up getting crazy as we couldn’t really find the designated path. The boyfriend insisted we were going the right way but I knew it wasn’t. lol We had to hop a fence, passed by a bull and then came to a pasture of bulls that he wanted to walk through. I said this aint right and eventually he agreed but it got testy.

We tried to follow walks found in this guide but they were harder to navigate than we thought.

We then head back to Castelbuono to see the city itself and take a few pictures (all was forgiven at this point).

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The next day, we had misadventures with his vape. But stay tuned for more!

 

Samana Day 4 – 5

Long over due, the last bits of the trip. I was delayed posting this as I just returned from another holiday / vacation to Sicily (poor me). I’m hopefully going to post about that trip sooner as I’m more settled (though things have not slowed down) and would like to get back into a rhythm.

But now – the remainder.

Day 4

We were heading into our last full day on the island. In order to live it up, we went on an excursion where we rode horses through a huge farm / plantation and then were escorted to a mega waterfall (the biggest in the Dominican Republic).

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The waterfall was amazing. When we arrived, we were blown away by how huge and powerful it was. It was hot but wasn’t super sunny by the falls so we were weary about getting into the falls to swim but I decided to jump in. Why would I turn down the opportunity to say that I swam in a waterfall. Full of rocks, I jumped in timidly and then splashed about, somehow managing to injure myself (I hit my foot on a rock).

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Later, we took a car back to our little bungalow and went out for a nice meal dressed in some summer formal attire (think linen pants for him, white short dress with flowy wrap). We ate at a somewhat French themed restaurant and had a great tasty but slightly overpriced meal (my favorite spot was the Gato Negro where we had our burger feasts two nights in the DR). It was a great way to end the day!

Day 6

For our last morning in Las Galeras, we left quite early as we had to catch a 2 – 3 hour bus back to Santo Domingo and the bus could be unreliable in terms of sticking to the bus departure schedule.

We said goodbye to our cute bungalow and jumped in a taxi to Samana and then bused it to Santo Domingo. We did have a bit of time to sit in the center of Samana and walk around a bit where I grab some photos of some rustic looking boats near a smelly body of water. haha

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When we arrived back in NYC at JFK, we made our way into the city to sleep in a hotel in midtown (The Bernic). Super fancy, super nice (I blogged about it). We ate NYC pizza and lounged away in a room with fluffy pillows and heated floors in the shower.

Samana Day 1-3

The title of this blog post is called Samana Day 1-3 because although we were in the DR for two days at this point, we officially arrived and started our day / true vacation from this moment forward.

Day 1

We woke up in our beautiful all white minimalist villa to a natural green landscape covered with wildlife. Sun poked it way through the clouds as we got dressed for the day and sipped on our morning coffee and / or tea.

Beginning our Caribbean holiday the only way we knew how, we made our way down to the private beach with down our secret / private entrance.

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At the beach, we thought “Why not plan our next holiday to Italy?”  because that is what one does when tasked with sitting in the sun all day.

Later we decided that we needed to get moving and splashed around in the ocean as well as built a rather impressive sandcastle.

Full of sun, we then made our way into Las Galeras (the specific area in which we stayed in Samana) to explore the town in the daylight as well as to grab a bite to eat. We didn’t know where to go exactly but stopped in a small cafe that served sandwiches (if they want to call them that). It was quite underwhelming (some toasted bread with a thick cut cheese and ham barely melted between the two slices topped with ketchup). It was edible and cured the hunger pain but would I recommend? No.

After that, we strolled about for a bit and picked up some pastries to eat for breakfast in the morning and grabbed some food from the local market (which color me shocked – didn’t have pre packaged meats). That would be a task for the next day but let me say, it was something to cook a meal from scratch.

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We spent the remainder of the day, lounging about and finally went up the hill from our villa to a tasty restaurant serving Italian food.

Day 2

It was time to head to the beach again, this time, for a bit of working out and swimming.

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Getting a bit restless, we moved to the bar at the beach where we sipped on some “Coctel de casa” and ordered a fresh fish meal. The beach we spent most of our time at was called Javo Beach – very well maintained and lovely.

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The kitchen on the beach however, I wasn’t a fan. We ordered our meal and stood by waiting but it took like half an hour to eat. It was frustrating as people came after us and were served way faster. Maybe it was because of the language barrier or the fact that we wanted the meal to go but they forgot about us. No one wants to be forgotten on vacation – it ruins the magic of it all!

A bit after digesting, we left the beach and went on a stroll to watch the sunset at a nearby beach.

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Later we (or I) made some grilled chicken (our chicken was freshly killed, umm…..), sweet plantains and some home fry styled potatoes. It wasn’t half bad considering I was out of my element with this freshly killed chicken. haha

We ate dinner and then played some cards (rummy) in the villa, drinking our own homemade cuba libres. Was a fun relaxed night and great way to spend Valentine’s Day.

Day 3

We ventured to Play Rincon from Las Galeras. Such a hard walk considering I was wearing trainers and a dress when we had to cross a beach during high tide to get there. I enjoyed it but we also got lost for about an hour before we even got started. Wandering up hills and faux paths, we trampled through the “forest” in circled before a local popped up out of nowhere and pointed us in the right direction.

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I almost died along the way and lost my shoe to some quicksand like mud. I hiked quite a bit in the blazing sun and had only a small bottle of water to hold me over. I think what made the journey seem more agonizing was the fact that we passed by multiple private beaches along the way.

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The beach was beautiful though – very quiet and the waves were crashing all around us. The one thing I did forget to do – remove my jewelry. The waves were so strong that when one smacked me in the head, it took my earring with it.

After spending a few hours here and enjoying an alcoholic drink from a coconut (aka Coco Loco) – we took a boat back as opposed to walking from three hours in the sweltering heat.

Later, I forced us to go out to dinner at a local joint we had a burger at upon arrival in Las Galeras the first night.

Stay tuned for more!

 

 

The Journey To Samana

The long awaited blog post is here. Well, I feel it’s long awaited. I’ve been promising to fill you in on what happened in the Dominican Republic but I’ve found myself recently inundated with tasks that need to be completed by an upcoming deadline (more on that in a new post).

But now, I’m ready. I have a moment to catch my breath and spill it back out again just so you all can know about my DR experience. So read on.

At around 11PM on a Friday night, I arrive at JFK to meet my boyfriend coming from London. We thought it’d be cute / more fun to fly together since he was coming into my city for a layover. I decided to greet him at JFK despite the fact that our DR flight wasn’t scheduled to leave until 9AM the next day. After about an hour and a half awaiting (border patrol was no joke for him), I finally saw him.

Knowing it was late and that we’d only get four or five hours sleep at a hotel in the city before having to go back to the airport, we decided to wait it out at JFK. Sleeping near check in, we tried to get very uncomfortable rest in some Delta chairs. At around 4 or 5AM (can’t honestly remember), we check in for our flight and make our way through security.

We’re sitting at the gate for a few hours when a trip debbie downer happens. My phone is no where in sight. I had in my hand and then stuck it in my pocket, never getting up once from seat at the gate but somehow it went poof. My boyfriend and I began picking through our belongings and searching next to us. Ultimately I report it to the gate and they offer no real help. My boyfriend then tries to get security involved and they direct him to find the police station in the terminal (talk about drama). I keep searching and re-opening the same bags when after an hour or more of this a woman behind me asks “Are you looking for something?” Cue the eye roll.

I say yes and she asks what for and then I say my phone (I mean she literally sat right behind me and heard me talking about this and looking for the past hour). She then tells me she found it in a place that there was no way in hell it was (I never left my seat). She then asks me to tell her the color of  my phone to confirm it’s correct and then signals her man friend to give me my phone. She says god is good while he digs to the literal depths of his bag to give it back. After a few minutes of fumbling, he pulls it out and gives it to me. It is at this point I realize my phone was turned off. Thieves! No one who finds a phone turns it off. If you lose your phone, you will call it so it was obvious they didn’t want whoever who lost it (me) to find it.

At that point, I take the phone and accept her lies. My boyfriend and I move seats and learn an early lesson. Be extra attentive to your things. Putting it in your coat pocket is risky when your coat is not on your body.

After that we board are plain, phone in hand, and get ready to jet off. Or so we think. We sit out on the strip for like an hour and a half before having to get off the plane due to some sort of broken or incorrectly functioning thing on it. HUH?

We wait an hour or so more and then board. Flying for about four hours, we finally hit Santo Domingo.

I don’t have any pictures from this day I realize but I was too exhausted to do any photos.

The next morning, we went to the bus station to head off to Samana.

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We took a gua-gua (a rickety bus) in the rain from Samana to our place in Las Galeras. It was amazing but a rough journey getting there. Stay tuned for what’s next!

 

Overnight At The Bernic

It’s no secret that long overnight layovers suck. Not only is it likely that the city you’re visiting is likely to have nonexistent or crawling transportation, attractions and bars tend to be closed and more often than not, you decide to stay at the airport sleeping uncomfortably at the gate with your belongings tucked under your arms so they don’t go missing. This is no way to travel. At least, not a comfortable one.

I was recently faced with another late night layover dilemma in JFK. Either stay at the airport for 10 hours getting terrible rest or pop out of the airport for a bit of rest and to discover a city. I choose the latter.

Why you may ask? Traveling is amazing. New sights, new cuisines, new cultures. It’s a shame to waste that opportunity to explore by staying inside the airport or only looking to stay right near the airport for convenience sake. I wanted to explore NYC. Enter The Bernic Hotel – a boutique hotel in midtown that’s only a 45 minute cab ride from the airport.

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Inside The Hotel

The hotel is quite large. Larger than what you’d expect when pulling up to the building. The quaint yet chicly decorated lobby was small so it couldn’t fit a large group of guests for the purposes of hanging out. It did offer a bit of standing room but if you want to relax, I suggest going to the cool bar attached to the hotel or explore the city.

I did however end up staying on the 17th floor. So although it may not be that wide, boy oh boy is the hotel tall, lending itself to beautiful midtown views.

Arriving at around 11pm, I was quite out of it after having been through an entire day of travel (thinking long three hour shuttle bus rides, hours in an airport, tight gua guas with luggage (local Dominican Republic transportation) was greeted by the most pleasant hotel representative. She gathered all of my details, told me about the amenities (WiFi, heated floors, Nespresso, etc) and even provided a bit of helpful information on taxis and shuttle options back to JFK.

She handed me my keys and off to elevator bank I went.

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Inside The Room

Swiping my keys, I opened the door to an amazing room that did nothing but impress. My room had a large bed, two balconies, two TVs, a sitting room, a special treat for me and a bathroom fully equipped with heated floors. Yes, you read that right – heated floors!

Imagine waking up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom only to have your system completely shocked by stepping on an icy floor. This isn’t the case at The Bernic. Upon entering, the bathroom immediately begins heating up providing you with warm and toasty floors. It takes a minute to get going but it’s a must-have feature.

Walking about the space and checking out all the other pieces in the room, I realized I needed to get a move on as it was 11:15pm and my time in the city was running out. I dropped by my stuff off and went into the city to grab a quick and affordable bite to eat (something you can’t do at the airport or airport hotel) and check out some attractions.

After a bit of wandering, I entered this pizza shop near to the hotel that was delicious. I ordered myself a slice and some garlic knots. So so good and worth the walk. Bringing it back to my hotel, I opted to spend the rest of my night cozied up on my bed, eating pizza and lounging with some T.V in the background. Better than spending it tightly coiled up on the airport floor eating a bag of overpriced chips.

The Last Bits

At around 5am the next morning, I woke up feeling like a VIP ready to jet off on my next flight. I took a great shower (amazing pressure) and got ready to jump into a cab to go back to JFK.

Only a 45 minute to and from, this stay at a hotel in the city was definitely worth it for me. Treated to a luxury stay with fantastic amenities, hotels in the city are definitely the preferred way to handle an overnight layover when traveling.

Restoring a bit of magic into the travel experience, giving yourself the opportunity to rest and recover after long days in transit is a must. It makes for a better trip overall and allows you to check off a new and unexpected city to visit. If you are in NYC overnight and need a place to stay, The Bernic is amazing. Definitely worth the money and time. It’s an experience like no other and I plan to be back the next time have a long layover!

 

Dominican Republic Vacation #tired

Forgive me. I planned on writing about my trip to the Dominican Republic while in the Dominican Republic. I was just there to lounge with my boyfriend so figured we’d have a lot of downtime, some of which would lend itself to writing. I was wrong.

Surprisingly enough, downtime just sort of disappears on vacation. You’re doing one thing like building castles on the beach and the next thing you know, you’re making dinner and playing rummy and sipping on Cuba Libres. The night’s done and then it all flows into the next day once more.

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The trip – 8 days in the Dominican Republic. Time spent relaxing and sunning in the Caribbean as neither of us have ever been . It was an amazing time!

I plan to elaborate more but I literally just got back today after running around and trekking back on a long trip involving buses, taxis, airplanes, and more. I need a nap.

Posts will soon come but just to tide you over, below are some quick pictures from our second day in the DR. The first night was spent in Santo Domingo but we were so worn out, I forgot to take pictures (I did Snapchat so you can follow me there for in the moment updates, @aliciacbarnes).

 

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Top 5 Travel Destinations For 2017

2017 has a been a crazy albeit, unforgettable year thus far. With all the noise and stress going on, we need to remember to take care of ourselves and to take a step back. One way of doing this is going on a vacation. But where?
I’ve made things simple for you. Recently in touch with luxury travel experience brand, Black Tomato, I’ve curated a list of the top 5 travel destinations for 2017. Providing a magical setting for a once in a lifetime adventure, the below locations are guaranteed to leave you feeling rested and in awe of the sheer beauty within nature. Already reaching the second month of the new year, it’s time to get serious. Plan your vacation, and make it unique by heading to one of the below!
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FINLAND:
Finland is a natural beauty. Wander it’s snow covered landscape in the winter, taking in the magic that is the Northern lights or get great lake views and green forestry in the summer. The heart of other Scandinavian countries, you can stay in Finland for a few days and then take a quick trip to bustling cities (such as Stockholm and Helsinki) that are easily accessible.
Not yet as popular as other parts of Scandinavia, Finland benefits from far fewer crowds but just as many delights. While there, you can stay at the friendly HavsVidden hotel – incredible Baltic Sea views awaits. While there, you can sail down from various Scandi seaports or board a super short flight from Stockholm or Helsinki into Mariehamn, where you can take a scenic 45 minute drive up to HavsVidden, just off the Havsviddsvägen trail. Bursting with open-air activities both on and off shore, the HavsVidden is prepared for everything from incredible wreck-diving to unforgettable wildlife and nature experiences.
For added luxe: Try out the winter wonderland package complete with a real husky sleigh ride experience.
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OMAN:
Oman is a sandy playground rich with sand dunes and culture. An Arabian oasis, the region is relatively unknown to the average traveler which means you’ll have charming beaches, lively souks and magnificent dunes to explore all to yourself. Some fantastic hotels that can’t be missed include The Chedi Muscat, Al Bustan Palace and Sahab Hotel. Make sure to make your way to Muscat, the capital of Oman, to explore all the rich culture that this city has to offer. Visit the Grand Mosque for it’s remarkable architecture, before you head over to one of the oldest markets in the Arab Would, Mutrah Souq, and stop in for lunch with an unforgettable view at the Mumtaz Mahal.
For added luxe: Take the spa hopping retreat and move on from Oman to the Maldives!
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URUGUAY:
Uruguay is great for travelers who want an authentic South American experience. It boasts quaint colonial towns, hip costal villages and amazing vineyards. Another fun fact, the area is quite lively, leaving you to lounge away the day followed by a long and crazy night out!
Stay in Playa Vik Jose Ignacio for an oceanside retreat. Stroll along the endless beach to find a restaurant that serves the freshest fish daily or have a bonfire on the beach with friends before returning to dine at Parillero under a ceiling made of canes. If quirky architecture is your thing, take a 10-minute drive along the coast to Puente Laguna Garzón, famed for its circular shaped lagoon crossing. The structure allows people to enjoy the panoramic views, lending itself to amazing photos.
For added luxe: Travel from the vineyards to the beach with a stop in Argentina before heading off to Uruguay.
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VIETNAM:
Vietnam is amazing for any foodie with a love for the beach. Offering some of the most sensational cuisine, spend your morning tanning on the sandy beaches, bask in the culture inspired by French elegance during the afternoon and dine on some of the most flavorful food to ever touch your palette. The region also has beautiful jungles, dreamlike waters and majestic mountains waiting to be explored.
Visit the Song Saa – a picture perfect beach, exquisite tropical reef and an unspoilt virgin rainforest all set on a couple of little known islands floating in the Gulf of Thailand. Made up of not one but two islands connected only by a footbridge.
For added luxe: Check out the Vietnamese Wanderlust package that moves you throughout Vietnam and all it’s hidden gems in the city.
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SRI LANKA:
Sri Lanka is an exotic local home to lush greenery and tropical landscapes. Located near the heart of the Indian Ocean, the region boasts spectacular views over Sigiriya, beautiful sunrises over the vast tea plantations and leopards and elephants in the Yala National Park. Offering dazzling beaches and a variety of 5 star accommodations, Sri Lanka is the decadent paradise you never knew you needed to visit.
For added luxe: Go on a safari and ponder how Mother Nature was able to create animals and a location so exquisite.