Category Archives: Travel

Must Dine at Marmalade!

After doing research for my Puerto Rico trip, I had already decided that I needed to eat at Marmalade Restaurant & Wine Bar. I had the concierge make 6:30 PM reservations for me on Saturday. When I arrived, I was promptly seated and was amazed at the decor that looked nothing like I imagined based on the restaurant’s outside entrance.  The ambiance and decor was beautiful  I would definitely recommend this place for a romantic date night, but there were groups and other singletons dining or waiting for their party at the bar.

My waitress, Rachel, or Ray for short as she prided, was very fast talking, but attentive all night. She knew the menu well and was patient with me as I decided between doing the 4 or 5 course tasting options, and my individual menu options. She was awesome!

Ultimately I decided on the 5 course option, with the paired wine.

Lucky for me, the options I chose were paired with white wine, except for my main dish.  I’m normally not that indecisive with food, since I know what I like, but because I had read several reviews it made it a bit more difficult to decide.  All of the reviews raved about the white bean soup. But since I loathe beans (any kind) I was rather reluctant to choose that as one of my courses. But Ray was so awesome that she brought me a shot-size serving of the soup, which was good.   Just not what I had expected given the many rave reviews I read online. She also served me the wine it was paired with. WINNING!

Here is what I ordered:

“Popcorn Shrimp”
cilantro & garlic grilled shrimp lacquered with anejo tequila
rest atop pablano guacamole and ancho-chili spiced popcorn 
 
Paella
“sushi esque” bite size pieces of crispy andalusian style paella
filled with smoked chicken, peas & peppers flavored
with a saffron- garlic espuma & a chorizo-tomato sauce
 
Spaghetti Squash
poached in coconut water scented with ginger, orange peel and cilantro
alongside spiced cashews resting beneath an espuma of yellow curry
 
Queen Red Snapper
poached in a Thai style curry & coconut broth
served over a bed of jasmine rice & finished
with a spiced steamed shrimp sesame dumpling
 
Warm Banana & Butterscotch Bread Pudding
brazilian nut & aged rum ice cream
 
My favorite course was the Popcorn Shrimp, anything that has cilantro on it, is a winner for me. I love that stuff!  The Paella came in second and the Spaghetti Squash, last.  I cooked spaghetti squash a few weeks prior and was looking for additional recipes. But this missed the bus and was only slightly enjoyable because of the cashews. 
 
I enjoyed the Bread Pudding but opted for regular vanilla ice cream instead of the rum ice cream.
 
I have photos of the wines that were paired but after a few glasses, I can’t quite remember which wine was paired with which dish. What I do know is that my favorite wine of the night was the Chateau Montfort Vouvray. I wonder if I can find it my local wine store.
 
Although I had only 5 courses, I had almost 7 glasses (half glasses) of wine. I was full and in a “great place” by the time I left Marmalade.  I will definitely be back on my next trip to Puerto Rico.  
 
Marmalade was a great experience, but it was not cheap.  My bill was over $100 bucks and with 20% tip the total was $150. But because I did my research beforehand I budgeted accordingly.
 
 
Advertisements

How I Traveled to Puerto Rico without Spending a Dime

Don’t we all need a little blue water getaway every once in a while? I know I did. But I didn’t have much money for a trip and I didn’t want to go too far from home and take a lot of time off from work. After a suggestion from my co-worker, I immediately decided on Puerto Rico.

• it’s still in the U.S.;
• it’s in the same time zone; and
• it’s a quick flight (if you get it direct).

And what is even better is that once I decided on the location, I also decided that I wasn’t going to shell out ANY money and would only use 1 vacation day and travel over the Columbus Day holiday.

So how does one manage traveling to the Caribbean and staying in a decent hotel without spending any money? Using “rewards points and miles”, that is how!

Before I go too far into detail, let me just say that by “free trip”, in this case, I’m referring to the airfare and hotel portion of the travel.

I had over 100,000 Ultimate Rewards Points on my Chase Preferred account. So I used 61,542 reward points for my flight. Although there were cheaper flight option available, the flight I chose on JetBlue was a direct flight that left early in the morning, and gave me essentially the whole day in Puerto Rico.

I decided to take off from work on the Friday before Columbus Day (Monday). So because I got an early flight I would arrive in San Juan about noon on Friday and return on a later Monday evening.

For 5366 Chase Ultimate Rewards points, I also secured roundtrip ground transportation to my hotel. I did some social research and decided on La Concha Hotel & Casino for my lodging, which happened to be a Renaissance property aka Marriott property. Lucky for me I had enough Marriott Rewards points to secure three of my four days. For the fourth day I had to transfer points from my United Mileage Plus to my Marriott Rewards Account. With my hotel and flight costs covered with various reward points programs, I only needed to worry about food and drinks during my stay.

Stay tuned for my Puerto Rico Vacation Recap and Reviews

Weight a Minute: Travel Nightmare in Lusaka Airport

After returning from Zambia I received an email from a friend who I met in Zambia. She and her travel companion apparently had quite a few issues trying to depart Lusaka airport.

Upon arriving at the airport counter that was obviously run by locals they were informed of several weird rules that they seemed to keep making up about what constituted a carry-on bag.

Not the actual luggage in a question.

According to the folks at the counter, my friends needed to have physical laptops in their possession IF they wanted their backpacks to count as carry-ons. Which is an absurd rule. But they were able to convince them that iPads should be counted as computers.

They were then told that their carry-on luggage was CLEARLY too large to be a carry-on, as carry-ons could only be 7kg. Her carry-on weighed 10kg and his was 9. To counter this rule, she ended up putting on several articles of clothing from her bag until the weight complied with the rules.

She said she looked like a crazy homeless person with jeans on underneath a dress, with a sweater, cardigan and blazer followed by a scarf and trench coat!!!! Her travel companion had to carry several pairs of shoes in his hands.

To make matters worse the lady from the counter followed them thru the airport to ensure that they didn’t put the articles of clothing back in to their carry-on bags. I could not believe the level of harassment they endured at the airport. I mean honestly was it really that big a deal, that they made them do all of that to comply with “these rules” of weight requirements, if the same weight was still getting on the plane.

Victoria Falls, Victoria Fail!

Victoria Falls

Recently I took a trip to Africa, specifically Zambia.  I planned to meet-up with some folks and go to Victoria Falls, a majestic sight and according to CNN, one of the 7 natural world wonders.  Victoria Falls sits on the Zambezi River between Zambia and Zimbabwe.

While it is neither the highest nor the widest waterfall in the world, it is classified as the largest, based on its width of 5,604 ft. and height of 354 ft. resulting in the world’s largest sheet of falling water. Victoria Falls is roughly twice the height of North America’s Niagara Falls

Livingstone, specifically the Zambezi Sun Hotel and it’s property offered so many activities, besides the visit to the falls which was literally in their backyard.  Lion petting, elephant riding, kayaking, white water rafting, Game Drives, helicopter rides over the Falls, and a great deal more.

I tried booking my flight online from Lusaka, Zambia to Livingstone, Zambia prior to leaving the U.S.  I tried paying thru PayPal as it was one of the payment options, but received an error “we don’t recognize that currency”.  I’m assuming this had something to do with Zambia’s recent (last year) currency value change.  So I tried paying with a credit card and got another error.  I tried once again with my credit card but then the site said that the flight was no longer available.  Ugghh I was over it!  I prayed on it and went to sleep.

The next morning as I was checking my email I found a confirmation for my flight. Woohoo! #WontHeDoIt

A few days later I began my trip to Lusaka and enjoyed a bit of what it had to offer. Excited about my trip to Livingstone to see the Falls, I checked the email message again only to realize that the email stated that I needed to pay for my flight in person at a local office by a date that had passed two days prior. 😦  I assumed that I had completed my purchase online via my credit card but instead it was only a reservation not a complete booking.  Re-booking online was not an option as I was supposed to leave the following day, Friday.

I wandered over to the hotel bar and met a Mexican man who lived in Lusaka enjoying dinner at the hotel.   We started talking and he gave me the number to his travel agent and advised me to call her in the morning to see if she could assist me.

The next morning I called and she told me that a new airline would be flying to Lvingstone at 2PM that day.  Awesome I thought and asked  if she could book it for me.  She was happy to do so, but let me know that she was unable to take my credit card via the telephone and that I would need to get to the airport in enough time to pay for the flight prior to it’s departure.

Since it was a one hour domestic flight, I had a driver pick me up from my hotel and take me to the airport where we arrived about 1-ish.  The driver was super nice and helpful and walked me to the desk to purchase my reserved flight, only when we get there I’m told that the new flight had been cancelled. Luckily for me there was another flight on the original airline leaving at 4PM with one seat left.  So we rush to the other airline counter and the lady there says that they had one seat left but unfortunately the customer walking away from the counter had just purchased.  WTF!!!

Since I had done some research prior to arriving in Africa, I knew that there was a bus that would take me to Livingstone but it was a 7-hour drive on a very un-scenic route. The driver told me not to worry, as he would take me to the bus station which was downtown, but would have to wait at the airport to pick up an incoming passenger arriving on a 2:15 flight and take him home first.

We saw some arriving Heads of State and a musical performance as he and I talked for an hour and waited for his passenger.

Arrival Dance

 Unfortunately, the flight was delayed an hour, so by the time the flight landed it was about 3:20, and we still had to take him home. The ride to his house seemed to take forever.  By the time we actually reached the bus station it was now 4:30 PM and the bus was ready to depart.  I had not eaten lunch or dinner and was about to be stuck on a damn bus for 7 hours.  I literally had tears in my eyes.

My awesome driver looked at me and said, “I will run and get you food before the bus leaves, if you want to go to Livingstone, or I will take you back to your hotel. Whatever you decide, I want you to be completely okay with that decision without regret.”  I thought for a minute, but the locals at the bus station began to get aggressive, and started begging for money. So the whole thing was a bit overwhelming.  And I ultimately decided not to get on the bus.

What I failed to mention earlier was that I had also had trouble booking the hotel in Livingstone, I think they only had single rooms left, which was okay with me since I would only be there for one night. But booking that seemed to be an issue as well.

After so many issues trying to get to Victoria Falls, in my heart I felt like it was just not meant to be.  And I was tired of trying to force something that was obviously just not going to pan out. So my #WontHeDoIt” moment turned into #NoHeWont 😦

Maybe one day I’ll get there, but this just was not it.

—–

Stayed tuned for my next, happier post on my time in Africa… Follow Me and/or Subscribe to ensure you don’t miss it!

 

Related Articles:

Living in Lusaka 

Zambia Here We Come

Wrapping it Up

The Mighty Victoria Falls

Notes From the Falls

 

Europe on a Budget

A co-worker had mentioned that a holiday was approaching and that we’d have a day off from work that equaled a long weekend.  He had planned to go to Paris with the free time. Which got me to thinking maybe I should use the time to travel as well. I got the idea that maybe my mom could come for a visit and we could travel together.

After asking around about European cities others had been to and recommended, I was informed of United Airlines European cruises. Initially I had wanted to go to Italy since I had never been, luckily I found a cruise leaving from Venice and that’s when I went into planning mode. My mother was immediately on board to go wherever I chose.

I searched and put the trip together from beginning to end including getting my mom from the states to me in Germany on a budget.  I found a roundtrip-direct flight from BWI (Baltimore) to FRA (Frankfurt) for my mom on Condor Air for $781.00 USD. I booked this exactly one month before our trip to Venice.  My mom arrived on the 27th of August to Frankfurt. We left on the 29th of August to begin our vacation together.

On the Grand Canal in Venice, Italy

On the Grand Canal in Venice, Italy

RyanAir is a popular cheap airline that services many locations throughout Europe, but their flights usually leave out of the less popular airports. Since I was ballin’ on a budget this seemed like a great idea. For Germany that airport is HAHN, less than a 2-hour drive outside Frankfurt.

We took the Bohr Bus from the Main train station in downtown Frankfurt to HAHN for 14.00 euros ($18.76 USD) per person for a one-way trip. Our direct flight on RyanAir was from HAHN to Venice-TREVISO and I pre-paid for one checked bag for each of us and ground transportation from the airport in Venice to nearby our hotel.  The total was $211.45 USD for both of us. Not bad at all.

My mom picked our hotel, Casa Sant’andrea, was booked through Olotels for 29 through 31 August 2013 with a twin room and breakfast for $240.00 USD. Luckily the bus let us off about 3 blocks from our hotel that was right on the water. So it was very conveniently located.

Our Royal Caribbean cruise booked through United Cruises came to a total of $1,659.85 for the both of us and the itinerary is below. Even better was how close our hotel was from the departing port, walking distance or the next stop on the “People Mover” the elevated train system in Venice.

  Day  Arrival Departure
1 Venice, Italy 5:00 p.m.
2 Split, Croatia 7:00 a.m. 3:00 p.m.
3 At Sea
4 Kusadasi (Ephesus), Turkey 8:00 a.m. 6:00 p.m.
5 Mykonos, Greece 7:00 a.m. 5:00 p.m.
6 Argostoli, Kefalonia, Greece 12:00 p.m. 8:00 p.m.
7 At Sea
8 Venice, Italy

I used a total of 25,000 United Airlines Award miles (plus $52.60 in taxes) for our return flight from Venice to FRA, Frankfurt’s main airport.

So here’s the math not including the $781.00 for my mom’s roundtrip ticket from the US to Germany…

Cost Item
37.52 bus to HAHN
211.45 RyanAir flight
240 Venice hotel
1659.85 Cruise
52.6 United taxes
2201.42 Total

Maybe $2182.65 seems like a lot of money but for two people at close to only $1000 per person for a 7-day cruise and roundtrip airfare and 1.5 days in Venice, I don’t think it’s too bad. This was my first time putting together a trip like this and with less than a month prior. I was proud of myself. I now know I could have gotten the cruise for a lot less but it was -really my first cruise, now I know better.

Passport Stamps

I’m an avid traveler. There’s something exhilarating about getting on a plane and landing in a new location. Taking a break from life as you know it at home. Like most people, I typically like warm places that specialize in humidity. South/Central America and Asia mostly. Although I’m not necessarily a fan of humidity it just feels tropical and reminds me that I’m not home.

Here is a list of places I’ve traveled to.

  1. Austria
  2. Canada
  3. Costa Rica
  4. Croatia
  5. Democratic Republic of Congo
  6. Dominican Republic
  7. Ethiopia
  8. France
  9. Germany
  10. Greece
  11. Guyana
  12. Hungary
  13. Italy
  14. Jamaica
  15. Japan
  16. Malaysia
  17. Mexico
  18. Pakistan
  19. Peru
  20. Republic of Congo
  21. Spain (Ibiza)
  22. Switzerland
  23. Thailand
  24. Turkey
  25. The Bahamas
  26. The Netherlands
  27. United Arab Emirates
  28. United Kingdom

(last updated October 2015)

Although the title of this post says Passport Stamps I have stamps from a few other countries due to layover that have not been included here.

  

Make yours @ BigHugeLabs.com

“Your Skin is Not Like Mine” Says the Serbian

One day last week I stopped at a nearby travel agency. I wanted to see if they could find me a good deal for my upcoming trip to Italy.  I walked in and sat down in front of the other available agent as there was a gentleman occupying the other agent’s desk. I explained to the agent what I was looking for.

We chatted briefly before she got up to find a brochure.  I smiled at the gentleman sitting who was being helped by the other agent, and said “Hi”.  But he turned his head without responding. I started to get indignant because I was frustrated that Germans rarely speak back, after I greet them.  I had been told and forewarned about their temperament but thought surely they can’t all be that snobbish to not speak when spoken to.  I wanted to say hello to him again in an even louder voice than before just to ensure that he had heard me.  Surely he would respond this time.

My agent returned and I ultimately decided to ignore him. He left about 5 minutes later. And I left about 10 minutes  later.  As I’m crossing the street I see him approaching me on his bicycle.  He stops me and asks if I speak German. I replied “ein bisschen” “only a little”.  Then he asks if I spoke English, when he clearly heard me speaking English to the travel agent. But I responded positively. So he proceeded to ask me if I had time to talk over coffee.

In my mind I’m thinking “Is this the same guy who just snubbed me 20 minutes ago?”  Clearly, I was confused.  So I agreed to go to the cafe across the street.  As he locked up his bike he begins with the questions…

Him: Are you African?
Me: No
Him: Are you Haitian?
Me: No
Him: Are you Brazilian?
Me: No
Him: Dominican?
Me: I’m American
Him: Afro… American?

With every negative response I supplied him, he grew more and more confused. We sat down and I explained to him that I’m American, yes, African-American.  He then asks where my parents are from.  I said America so he proceeds to ask about my grandparents. Yup they’re American too.  I explained that at least 4 or 5 generations of my parents are all American.  But of course he follows that with “So where in Africa is your family originally from” I said to be honest I couldn’t tell you.  (I spared him the details of the Transatlantic Slave Trade, a little to heavy for me after work and over coffee at the cafe.)

Finally, it was my turn to ask the questions.  I found out that he was a Serbian living in Germany named Nicola. (It sounds really sexy when says it, compared to how it looks on the screen. )  Then I asked why he ignored me when I greeted him in the travel agency. His response was that it is atypical for Germans to speak to people they don’t know.  “But you’re not German”, I say.  And he gives me a sly smile.   He went on about how he doesn’t like German women, because they’re “hearts are cold” and his people i.e. the Serbs (is that even politically correct –the Serbs) are not like that.

I ordered a cappuccino and he ordered water.  And then we start talking about race, and color, and interracial relationships. He said it was an uncommon thing in Germany, but I disagree. I see a lot of black, mostly African, women with white, European men. Additionally, Germany has a huge U.S. military population and a great percentage of military families are biracial especially ones living overseas. So I see a lot of biracial couples and children here in Germany.  I have only seen one biracial couple where the woman was black here in Germany and the man was white.

I asked him if he had ever dated a black girl or an African girls to which he replied that he hadn’t but would like to. Adding that it’s not easy to meet them. I said for starters you can speak back, if they speak to you. He attempted to gauge my interest in dating white guys, I told him that I don’t discriminate.

He noticed the tattoo on my arm and touched it, asking if I had only one.  Then he rubbed my arm and hand, stating that “It’s so nice…your skin is beautiful, not like mine”.  As he’s rubbing his skin and rubbing mine trying to compare, I assure him that there really is no difference. But he rubbing, turned into a petting, so I removed my hand from the table. I’m nobody’s pet!

After paying for our beverages we left and began walking. He looked older but not too old, so I asked him his age.  His response was, “How old do I look?” Everyone knows that that response really means  “I’m older than I think you’ll care to entertain” OR “I’m younger than I want to share with you”.  I knew it was the former and he finally told me that he was 40-years old.  I told him my age, right before telling him that we needed to part ways. (I didn’t want him knowing where I lived, so I didn’t want to get too close to my house/neighborhood).   He asked for my number and I obliged but giving him the spelling of my name was a chore.  I spelled it in English AND in German and finally he got it right but not before pointing to signs that contained the letters in my name.  I guess I shouldn’t complain his English was way better than my German.

Of course he sent me a good morning text the following day, but managed to spell my name wrong.  I’ll never understand why people insist on spelling your name wrong when they send you a Facebook message or an email at work when my name is clearly in the address. It’s annoying as hell.

Subscribe to my blog and click here for Part II, the follow-up meeting with the Serbian.

Wine and Ass Man What?

20130727_175838

The weekend of  July 27 was spent sipping wine and exploring quaint towns in Hesse.  A few gal pals and I went up to the Frauensteiner Weinfest (Frauenstein Wine Festival).  It was smaller than what I had expected for a wine festival but it was interesting nonetheless. There were a handful of wineries represented from the area as well as a few food vendors and a barely there live band.  We met a super cute guy whose family owned one of the wineries represented at the festival.  He lives in Berlin and works for Lufthansa in the First Class Lounge and was very well traveled.  He had spent a few months in the states so his English was really good.

20130727_175845

The town was so cute, I took the shot below directly across from the festival. You can see a castle in the back.

20130727_175853

After flirting and a few glasses of wine later we decided to head over to another nearby town, Rüdesheim am Rhein and Assmannshausen.  The river is really nice and you can apparently take a lift over the town to the other side of the river, with a great view.

With a name like Assmannshausen, you’ll never forget it…

20130727_183003

Walking though the town was pretty fun too, it was rather warm out and we thought this restaurant had the right idea. And these fellas were more than happy to oblige my photo taking.

For dinner we stopped at traditional German Restaurant. It was too hot for heavy German food so I had a chicken salad and saved room for Gelato. Yum!

A few shots of me enjoying the scenery and trying not melt. It was literally between 96 and 100 degrees Fahrenheit.

20130727_203339

We continued walking around for a bit, luckily during the summer here it doesn’t get dark until about 9:45 or 10:00 PM.

.

.

.

.

———————————————————————————————————————————————————-

We saw a big group singing as they proceeded into Bollesje which seemed to have a prisoner’s theme with wardrobe and all. There’s a holding cell inside the restaurant and it seems like it would be a fun place for bachelor party, which I imagine they get a ton of.  Here are some flicks:

20130727_204252 20130727_204407 20130727_204415

20130727_204432 20130727_204446 20130727_204459

 

My First Week Abroad

Guess who moved overseas?  MEEEE! That’s who.  Yup, I’m always traveling somewhere, so this is sort of an extension of that passion.  Only this will be a slightly new experience for me.  I’ve never lived anywhere outside of the United States for more than four months.

So where am I?  Deutschland or Germany as most people say.  It was a lot of work preparing for this new chapter… visas, packing, housing etc. But I survived and without too many headaches.

I’ve visited Germany for a short time earlier this year and it was super cold and snowy but ultimately I pressed forward with my decision to move here.

Anyway, I arrived to Frankfurt on a beautiful summer day.  My first week in Frankfurt was pretty good. I didn’t have jet lag and was able to score a few things from various stores in the not-too-distant area. I got a TV, some groceries, (I swear the bread will be the death of me, but it’s so delicious) and some household items like cleaning supplies and toilet paper.  Once I get cable and internet I’ll be all set.

In addition to shopping all day, I was invited to hang out on Saturday night with an acquaintance I’ve known for a few years and a small group of others. I had an amazing time and the guys were all really fun characters.

Starting the night at O’Reileys near the train station downtown was good. I had a chicken club which would have been better if they didn’t use Miracle Whip or the mayo substitute.  Even better was that they had Magner’s Cider beer on tap. WINNING! I’m not a real beer drinker so I’ll chose Cider beer, wine, or mixed liquor whenever I’m out. I hear Apple wine is really big in Germany so I’m dying to try it.

After dinner we took a cab to the Sachsenhausen area near the Hooters. Let me tell you, that was like nothing I had ever expected to see in Frankfurt.  It was like a huge party where you feel like you know half the crowd.  I can only compare it to a combination of D.C’s U-Street corridor combined with Philadelphia’s South Street and Baltimore’s Power Plant Live but with mostly outdoor seating, cheap drinks, and hookah with huge groups of people. I don’t even know if that’s an accurate description but it’s all I can come up with for now.

Apparently, the guys we went with had become favorites of one of the cocktail waitresses at the first spot.  So we got awesome treatment and really great drinks for a good price. We bar hopped for a while, taking shots here and there. It always seemed that the bartenders would capitalize or magnify our “Americaness”…I know that isn’t really a word but our shots were red, white, and blue. Although they were quite good. And our drinks were “American-sized”.  I guess “when in Germany do as the…Americans?”

It’s Europe so cigarette smoking is widely acceptable and sometimes expected; luckily my hair didn’t smell like smoke the next day.

Most memorable was the ridiculous number of bridal and grooms party’s strolling through Sachsenhausen, selling kisses, hugs, adult toys, and everything in between. Apparently, the proceeds go to the bride or to offset the cost of the wedding.  I won’t say which of these treasures I indulged in but it was a good time.

I wasn’t ready to go but one of the ladies was.  The night started at about 6:30 and ended at about 1:30 AM.

I think my first weekend in Germany was a success.

%d bloggers like this: