Wisconsin ain’t so Wack.

All about a day trip to Milwaukee.

I am on a quest to visit all of the states, so this makes number 31. When I was looking at where I would go for the summer, I wanted to be able to get a two for one trip. Chicago was perfect with Amtrak at Union Station. The other appealing part was being able to leave early morning and return the same day. For about 50 USD, I purchased a round trip ticket. As you will read in my blog The Chi Town, you will know that riding a bike in Chicago is super cheap. So I got up early and rode rental bike to Union Station. I stopped in Starbucks and grabbed a drink for the journey. There was really no security to get into the station and the prompters on the tv directed you to the terminal. No one really ask for proof of ticket until the train is gone from the station. I wonder what they do with people that get on without a ticket? It was open seating and I had a seat to myself the whole trip. It was a smooth hour and half trip ending at Milwaukee Intermodal Station. Right outside the station was a bike rack with rentals. Score! This rental was really cool because it was a bike share program. But I didn’t realize that until it was all said and done while reviewing my bank statement. So basically it’s 10 USD when you unlock the bike. But as long as you return the bike, you will get you money back. So I was off and on the bike all day, but in the end it was free.

Here is the itinerary I created:

Milwaukee Public Market

Historic Third Ward

Milwaukee Art Museum

Lakefront Brewery

Milwaukee Brewing Company

Mitchell Park Horticultural

Harley Davidson Museum

Based on advice, I shouldn’t leave without getting authentic cheese curds and custard. You mean Culver’s doesn’t count?

My first stop was was the public market. The area was already booming with people having breakfast or grabbing coffees to go. There are all types of eateries in the area. After looking at the options, I went with Colectivo Coffee at Third Ward. As it turns out, the public market is right in Historic Third Ward. I had a nice chorizo burrito and pink latte to get my day started. Afterwards I went into the market. Think of an indoor, classy market. Restaurants, bars, wine, beer, art work, t-shirts and all sorts of little items to purchase. I knew that I would end my day there so I didn’t spend a lot of time there. Next I went out and walked through Historic Third Ward. Third Ward is what I would consider a creative arts district. Coffee and clothing shops, indoor/outdoor dining, art galleries and performance venues which are housed in previous warehouses. This history behind this neighborhood is that in 1862 there was a fire that burned over 10 square blocks in this riverfront area. Now the reason this area is was important is because it is on the lakefront and was the home to lots of businesses. It took quite a bit of effort, but with the help of architects and many interested parties, the area was rebuilt. Through continuous development, the area still thrives.

May I add that it was quite warm on this day. I grabbed a bike from the station because my next stop was Milwaukee Art Museum. I also needed to be at the museum by noon to see the wings open and close at the Burke Brise Soleil outdoor exhibit. It’s really neat as it wingspan is that of a Boeing 747-400.

After watching the wings, I needed to put the bike on a station so I could go into the museum. I could see there were two stations nearby, but for some reason I was experiencing some directional challenges and missed the closer one. So I ended up riding the bike much further than needed and then decided to catch an Uber back for the sack of time. The museum was a nice cool retreat from the warm outdoors. The two exhibitions that I viewed were Americans in Spain: Painting and Travel, 1820-1920 and Andy Warhol: The Last Decade. The collections were expansive. This is definitely a museum to spend the day. They also had Kehinde Wiley’s Portrait of Barack Obama. I can spot one of his paintings anywhere. Does that make be cultured? The museum is located in front of Milwaukee Bay which was busy with jet ski’s, boats, walkers and bike riders on this holiday weekend.

To save time again, I caught an Uber to Lakefront Brewery for lunch. It was pretty busy. The inside was full of people and the outside had a few single seats at what I would call the bar facing the river. I ordered a draft, craft beer and some cheese curds. The curds were definitely better that Culver’s. Culver’s is just trying to give people from the midwest hope. I had about three different kinds of beers, but I didn’t want to get to full since I was heading to another brewery. Overall I highly recommend Lakefront Brewery. Lots of people watching, kayak’s are available and it was just a friendly place. When I arrived I saw scooters outside, so you know what I was thinking. I looked at Waze and saw that the next destination was a little over a mile. The best thing about scooters is you can leave them anywhere. Just stop, end ride, snap photo and be on your way.

The ride to Milwaukee Brewing Company was uneventful and only took about 15 minutes. So the brewery is really cool! It has lots of bar seating, high top tables and games for you to play. Looks like they may also have an area for private events, just as receptions or showers. Now for 16 USD, the glass that you can keep and the amount of beer you can taste that’s very reasonable. However, the tour guide was okay. So I decided to ignore her and try all the beers; which was a good choice. I also tried a beer float before grabbing a nice tank with beer and brats wording on it. I knew I had two more stops and I was running out of time. As it turns out, Mitchell Park and Harley Davidson were closing. So I though this would give me more time to return to the public market and have some drinks and look around before returning to the Amtrak station. I hopped on the scooter and used my directional instincts to get back.

I did some walking around the market and the only thing that caught my eye was the oysters. In all of my 39 years I’ve never had them. I thought today was the day. They were really cheap; like a 1.50 USD each. I ordered a cold beer and one of each, totaling six. they came with like a garlic paste, lemons and diced onions. I have to say they were all quite delicious and I will probably be looking for them from now on when I’m traveling or home. After indulging on this meal, I had a Coffee Blaster. It’s a combination of Brandy, bourbon and coffee milk. It was nice refreshing drink before getting on the train for my return to Chicago.

This was a day well spent. I couldn’t have asked for a better experiences. It was just one day. I know that Milwaukee has more to offer and lots of neighborhoods. But for a day, I am thankful I was able to get a taste of this midwest city.

Oh.. I and never found the custard.

Getaway Asheboro

Every time I hear the word getaway, I think about “Tainted Love” by Soft Cell. If you don’t know by now, I really live for experiences. So as I was planning for the summer I was looking for something different. Tiny houses amuse me and I wouldn’t mind owning one some day. As I was scrolling through Instagram, I came across a getaway house. The concept is tiny private houses located on campgrounds about and hour or so from major cities. You can find them in Atlanta, Boston, New York, Los Angeles, North Carolina and a few other states. Getaway Asheboro is located about 2 hours from Charlotte. Because I live close to the SC/NC border, this was perfect option. I booked for a Sunday-Monday and I can tell you that’s not enough time. It’s like getting a little taste and then boom… it’s over. Of course I started researching to see what else I could do in the area. The North Carolina Zoo is right around the corner with some great hiking. There are some breweries and wineries in the area as well.

In the days leading up to the getaway, I went shopping to pick up some essentials such as snacks, insect repellent, ingredients for S’mores and pre-made chicken kabobs to grill. Sunday morning I loaded up my car with the cooler, overnight bag and the best playlist possible. I took my time driving up I-85 through Charlotte, Salisbury and bypassing High Point. When I was in grad school I drove this interstate twice a week for a year going to classes at High Point University, so I am familiar with the area. However, when you turn off of the main road and head towards Asheboro, it’s like you are transported to a mountainous, lush green environment. I drove towards the zoo because I found a hiking trail that was short, but would give me a nice workout.

North Carolina roadway.

End of Purgatory Trail next to The North Carolina Zoo.

After my short hike, I decided to visit downtown Asheboro for craft beers at Four Saints Brewing Company and a calzone from the pizza shop next door. I tasted quite a few different beers along with the largest and best calzone I’ve had in years.

I finished up my lunch and I was off to find my tiny house. The directions are perfect to the camp site using Waze, but maybe I was going to fast and went by it. When you pull into the graveled driveway, there seems to be a large cabin. I suspect this is where the worker/owners spend there time. It’s very nice and quiet with lots of shade. There are more than 20 getaway houses on the property that range from one to two bedrooms as well as a lake. After a few minutes I located my housing named Loretta. Each getaway house is named after employees or family members.

Loretta at Getaway Asheboro.

Each getaway house is approximately 1400-2000 square feet. Outside the cabin you will find a picnic table and lawn chairs. This area is used to reconnect. To enter the cabin you input the code that was sent to you via text. While the cabin is small, the very large window looking into the forrest gives the illusion that the space is bigger. Listed below are the amenities:

  • AC and Heat
  • Cellphone Lockbox
  • Private bathroom with hot shower
  • Running water
  • Two burner stove
  • Pot and pans
  • Fire pit and Grill Grate

You can also find provisions for purchase such as logs, fire starters, tea and coffee. In the kitchen there are individual packets of olive oil, salt, pepper and plenty of utensils. So basically bring yourself, some of your favorite snacks/ food and enjoy your time.

My provisions.

Once I was able to get everything sorted I decided to try and start the fire. That was mess. It’s not something that I have done before, so it probably took more fire starters than needed. After I was able to get it going, I placed my marinated kabobs wrapped in aluminum foil over the fire. I let them cook for just over 30 minutes. Prior to leaving home I made a cucumber salad as my side. It turned out great! It was a light meal followed by burnt S’mores. I spent the rest of the evening by the fireside just relaxing. This is the type of place you come to think about life, adjust, heal, etc. You have neighbors, but it’s not intrusive.

After putting out my fire, I called it a night. All was calm and quiet in the getaway house and the surrounding area. The next morning I got up, turned on some feel good music and made myself some breakfast while soaking up the good energy and mountain air. I also made the effort to finish up my previous blog while there.

Before I knew it, it was time to load my car and return to normal life. It was quite sad leaving the getaway house. But, not before stopping by Pisgah Covered Bridge. It is a local and federal historic landmark due to it being one of the two historic covered bridges in the state of NC. There’s not really a lot to see, but it a nice place to see. So, I got out and did a little photoshoot. The really sad thing about this historic site, is it is covered in graffiti because it is not monitored.

This blog feels short and not as descriptive as my others. Maybe it’s because this adventure is was all about:

Georgia on my Mind

A little background music while you read courtesy of Ray Charles.

So I’ve been stuck in Doha since January 2020. At that time, I had already booked Sydney and Melbourne for spring break which would have gave me six continents. For the summer 2020 I was going to explore Portugal, Malta, Amsterdam and Belfast (Sons of Anarchy led me here) before heading to South Carolina. Hotels, flights, train tickets and tours were booked. I’m still chasing money from Air India! Early February 2020, the term Coronavirus was circling the globe. Crazy rumors were swirling related to it; such as deriving from a wet market in China and created in a lab. Regardless of where it came from, the outbreak spread and it quickly became a pandemic. And the pandemic halted the whole world very quickly. By early March 2020 my flights were canceled for spring break and summer was hanging in the balance. On March 8th, schools in Doha closed and I was introduced to blended learning. So very long story short, I’ve experienced multiple lock downs over the last 17 months, show an app on my phone to enter anywhere and I’m 100% vaccinated. Overall, Qatar has done what I believe to be the best job possible to protect those living in the country. So I know this is about Georgia, but I thought a little catch up would help. 

Now Georgia… Not Atlanta, Georgia. How did I come up with Georgia? Well it’s cheap, close and you don’t need a PCR test if you are post 14 days fully vaccinated. However, I will need a test on the return. So about four weeks away from Eid break I started my typical flight, hotel and tour research. After some back and forth I chose Qatar Airways due to a direct flight. I almost took Fly Dubai. While the layover wasn’t bad and the flight was cheaper, the older I get the less I like to stop unless it’s mandatory. Also as a transit passenger I would need the PCR test to go through Dubai. I’ve cried every test I had to take. 

So here’s a quick overview of my trip planning:

May 11th – May 18th 

Flight- Qatar Airways 

Accommodations- Ibis Styles Tbilisi Center and Badagoni Boutique Hotel Rustaveli 

Airport Transportation via Booking– LTD Georgia Travel (from airport)

Travel Insurance – Seven Corners 

Tours – Freetours App, Trip Advisor, Airbnb Experiences

Local Transportation- Bolt App

Food Delivery- Wolt App

I didn’t think I would be sensitive to traveling considering how much I did prior to Covid, but there was nervousness. The walk to the ticket counter, security and just boarding the plan felt like a task. Trust me, I printed every document I thought I would need, completed travel authorizations, etc. Also, Georgia is visa free for American citizens. I left my itinerary pretty flexible which is not like me. I also used Girls Love Travel® and Black Travel Movement on Facebook to make connections with some travelers already on the ground. One thing that I noticed during my search is there are quite a few bars with craft beer on top of the wineries. So I’m considering curating my own little beer tour. This is the itinerary I created before leaving;

5/12- Tbilisi free walking tour (this is great for getting a lay of the land and introduction to the culture).

Georgian Wine Experience and SMA Craft Beer Bar 

5/13- Open Check out Dinehall and Varazi Beer House

5/14- Tbilisi Walking Tour with Cable Cars, Wine Tasting and Traditional Bakery

All About Georgian Wine in a Pocket- Airbnb Experience Huggo Bar

5/15- Kakheti Wine Region Tour 

5/16- Beernest, Los Crayfish Hermanos 

5/17- Wine Buffet/ Divino / Tbilisi Hilltop 

The flight was a little bumpy, but landing was smooth. Getting through passport control was simple and my transport was waiting with a sign bearing my name. In about 20 minutes we arrived at Ibis next to freedom square. It’s also very chilly and the streets are empty due to the curfew. Check in was easy and I settled in my room for the night. This is the third Ibis I’ve stayed in and I have to say they are very comfortable. I did get a good night’s sleep and I’m ready to see what Tbilisi has to offer.  

View of Ibis Styles Tbilisi Center from the patio of Bernard Sushi.

I started my day with a free walking tour of Tbilisi. I typically enjoy these. The guides are known to be knowledgeable and witty. I don’t know what happened with this girl. Maybe due to Covid she was out of practice. We saw some neighborhoods under construction, churches, a bakery, statues and attempts at funny sayings. This just wasn’t it. However, the highlight of the tour was Peace Bridge. It has a unique curvy shape and was designed by Michele de Lucchi. It has human DNA in its material to signify we are all connected. After that I left to explore on my own because I just couldn’t take the tour anymore. I decided to roam around the park and then grab some lunch at MTA 9 next to my hotel. I had a delicious pretzel and cream cheese with several craft beers. This is also where I had my introduction to Khinkali.  So basically it’s a dumpling with the stuffing of your choice. Reminds me of gyoza but much larger and better. I ordered the one stuffed with meat and it was accompanied by molten butter. Between the butter and juice it was heaven. Also, you kind of have to bite it and suck the juice to keep it from running. Quite an experience. You can order the dumplings in portions of 5 with meat, cheese potatoes or mushrooms. I’m sure to try more.

Afterwards I ran by the room and freshened up before meeting a group tour for wine tasting at Organic Wine and Craft Beer. I was thinking the tour would take us around to different places, but we stayed there. For 65 GEL, it wasn’t that bad. We had about 5 wines and some Cha Cha.You may be wondering what that is. Think Everclear, but the wine version, in a shot. It’s pretty strong and not something I need again. It’s made of grape pomace; the leftover residue after making wine. Talk about using all of your resources. Of course you make friends with strangers. Although I was with a coworker, two guys from Israel were next to us. They were very cool and gave us a overview of the current situation with Palestinians. We had a quick bite to eat at a nearby restaurant with the group. Due to the curfew, we were all rushing to be in our rooms by 9 PM.

I slept in today. Maybe I’ve loss my travel stamina or I’m just trying to go with the flow. In my mind I knew I wanted to ride the hot air balloon, visit The Chronicle and Turtle Lake. So I checked out of Ibis Styles Tbilisi Center and walked over to Badagoni Boutique Hotel Rustaveli. I was quite early but my room was ready so I was able to check-in. Situated in Freedom Square, right next to the Marriott you will find a cute patio and hotel. I dropped my bags and had a nice lunch in their restaurant. Afterwards I headed towards the ballon next to Peace Bridge. The ride is not smooth, but the views are priceless. I would say it’s worth the 50 GEL. I was able to get pictures and videos of Tbilisi off into the distance.

@daisyamongroses suggested that I go visit The Chronicle of Georgia. After looking at the map, I decided to catch a Bolt. It was about a 25 minute ride and the driver made a deal to take me to the lake and the my final destination, a restaurant for 50 GEL. For the time and distance we went that was about 15 USD. 

It’s a fairly new monument built in 1985 that tells the history of Georgia, primarily focused on kings and queens at the top of the 30 or so meter pillars. On the bottom is stories about the life of Christ. It reminds me of The Acropolis in Greece. You climb up to the top and you are surrounded by tall concrete statues. Definitely worth the visit. It is also situated near the Tbilisi Sea.

My ride to Turtle Lake was nice and I was able to see some rural areas. Driving up the hill to the lake is beautiful with very tall green trees. There’s a restaurant and coffee shop available for food and drinks. You can rent paddle boats or just bring a blanket and relax. Also the funicular is located there with hiking options.

Today I scheduled a walking tour with cable cars, wine tasting and traditional bakery. The highlight of this tour after more than two hours of walking was the  natural waterfall that is next to the botanical gardens and runs into the sulfur baths. Otherwise, it was hot and lots of climbing. The cable cars are not currently working. On my first tour the guide told us to never look the gypsy kids and dogs in the eyes, but look drivers dead in their eyes when crossing streets. So I’ve avoided looking at the dogs because I don’t want one following me all day. But, I got a ringside seat to see a gypsy child grab the leg of a tourist and beg for money. Now I love kids, and would do anything for them. But, this might be the one time I kick or shake a kid off me. This has to be a taught behavior. How do you get the kid off you? You pay. No payment, they keep screaming. So the guy paid her a few coins and she ran along. Once again I left the tour before it ended. Here are my thoughts on tours right now. Due to Covid, many guides are out of practice. They are just getting back into the swing of things. They don’t seem to have the quick wit, stories about the history that they have perfected and personalized. It’s not just one, it’s all.

Waterfall near the Botanical Gardens

Prior to leaving I booked a wine tasting through Airbnb at Decanter. It’s a wine shop/restaurant off Rustaveli behind the main buildings. Honestly, you wouldn’t think something so cute would be tucked away like that. Because the sommelier Ksusha only spoke Russian, she had an interpreter for the other guest and myself. What I enjoyed the most about this was her knowledge of Georgian wines. There are 535 different types of grapes available in Georgia, but only about 25 are used in the various wines. She asked us what we thought of smells and tastes such as berries, peaches, tobacco and pepper. We were able look closely at the color, the heaviness and oxidation. Additionally, I had some of the best honey and sunflower oil on the charcuterie board. As it turns out, Lena the other guest and I really hit it off. She’s Palestinian, educated in American schools and universities and now lives in Dubai with her husband. We had some great things in common and I hope to see her again. After downing a bottle, I was hungry. It was getting close to curfew so I knew I had to move fast. A it turns out the first two places I tried were not accepting guests because the water was out in the city. I’m not sure much of the city it impacted. I found a place, but I was “hangry” by then. I ordered dumplings, French fries and chicken. Afterwards, I made it back to my room for the night. 

Lena and I at Decanter Wine Tasting

I booked the Kakheti wine region full day tour because it had great recent reviews on TripAdvisor. It’s going to be really hard for me to write about this with enthusiasm. The company hosting the trip was Gamajorba Georgia Tours. Seems to be a hostel that also has tours. I’ve seen this plenty of time while traveling. Here are the ratings based on my experience: 

Customer service – 8 , Tours/wineries-5, Scenery- 10, Lunch- 10, Tour Guide- 0

That averages to a 6.6, I would say closer to seven. After loading up the bus and counting heads, we headed toward the first winery, Kakhetian Traditional Winemaking. The outside decorations, store and sit down wine room was beautiful. I think for the sake of time and size of group they take you out to the factory where the large barrels are that store the wine. The sommelier or employee attempted to give us some background, but what really happened was she said this is white, this red, this is dry, this semi- sweet. I go to get the history as much as the tasting. After four varieties and 10 year old Brandy soaked in oak barrels we had time for pictures and purchases. But honestly, what did me in was the tour guide. I see the guide as the person that should be overwhelming knowledgeable, able to fill in the gaps with stories, rumors, etc. He didn’t have it and it never came. It was lovely to stop and view the process of traditional bread making. There was an old lady in a small house with lots of dough on the counter. She separates, kneeds, stretches and shapes with indentations in the middle. It in then placed the grooves of  a concrete, oval shaped oven that is above ground but deep. The bread looked and smelled amazing but I just couldn’t bring myself to try it. No mask, no gloves and sweat. I also know my personal limits when it comes to traveling and making new experiences. 

We journeyed on further away from the city. After an hour or so we arrived at Khareba Winery. The entrance is gorgeous. It sits on the mountain side and the grounds are immaculate. Roses, trees, benches and very clean bathrooms. Clean bathrooms are important to me. Before you enter the winery, there’s a group of guys that perform traditional Georgian songs to greet you. I want to warn you that the wine cellar is an underground tunnel and it’s very cold. They provide blankets, but you know me….I don’t who had them before. The tour guide did a little better of a job talking about the artifacts and wine making. But the winery employee once again wasn’t able you showcase his knowledge and the wine or actual winery. It was actually a little funny because at one point one of the ladies on the tour said but can you tell us more. He smiled and said something about grapes. To go with our wine, we had cheese, bread and grape-seed oil. 

Khareba Winery Entry

Afterwards, we headed to our lunch destination which is a family owned wine museum and restaurant. The food was delicious and on time to pick up my mood. It consisted of cucumber and tomato, cheese, bread, Katchapuri, potatoes, zucchini and eggplant, eggplant and walnut and an assortment of meats- pork, beef and chicken. During the meal we were graced by some young dancers showcasing their traditional Georgian skills. It was delightful. The meal was 40 Lari ; 12 USD. 

Our final stop was in the city of Sighnaghi also known as The City of Love. The architecture dates back to the 18th and 19th century. Apparently it gives you the feel of Florence and Tuscany. There are some breathtaking views that we were able to observe from different parts of the city. We walked along the fortress, through town stopping at a memorial and ending at The Bodbe Monastery. This concluded our trip back to Tbilisi making it just in time for the 9pm curfew. 

Today was wonderful! I went and took my covid test first thing this morning. I shed a tear but he was not that bad at testing. So now I’m just wait for the results. Afterwards I went to see some monuments. I really wanted a picture in front of the big bike. Afterwards I just walked the city taking pictures in front of more statues, admiring the greenery and parks. I found an iced coffee to go for my walk. The most interesting thing about Sunday is all restaurants are closed for sit down service soon everything is to go. After grabbing my drink, I found myself just wandering the city. I sat in a park and listened to the music and the water from the fountain. I stopped by a souvenir shop to grab my country pin and dumpling socks in pink. I roamed the Dry Bridge where locals can be found selling odds and ends. After walking about 5 miles, I headed to the hotel to grab lunch. They have Wolt which is similar to Talabat or Uber Eats. I’ve discovered that Caesar salads are amazing here and I think it’s the cheese. I also had a delicious pizza. I think between lunch and walking so much I needed a nap. After about 3 hours I go up to take another walk and check out this nail salon. I made an appointment for a pedicure and manicure tomorrow. So now, I’m just sitting on my balcony enjoying the breeze and city sounds.  

Covid test results are in…..Negative! I’m fully vaccinated but I wear a mask because it’s compulsory in most places, to protect other people and myself. 

Last day in Georgia! Have you ever traveled somewhere and found yourself feeling to blend in as if you live there. That’s how I feel on top of being completely refreshed. Today I decided to take it slow. I went to breakfast late. I hung around the room and slowly gathered myself. My first stop today was The Poem Nail Bar. I figured it was a good idea to get manicure and pedicure here. It’s extremely cheap and it fit in with my theme for the day. To help you here’s an example. I pay about 300 QAR for gel manicure, pedicure and eye brows. That’s 82 USD. The total cost was 70 lari. Which is equivalent to about 21 USD. I left a nice tip because they are doing the Lord’s work for peanuts. She gave me a whole new set of cuticles. I stopped by Gloria Jean’s for a latte and to write. I decided to treat myself to lunch at Tiffany Bar and Terrance Tbilisi. The views are extraordinary. The menu is decently priced. I indulged in G&T, cheese platter, and fettuccine. I’m saving the Chimney cake for dessert tonight. Very good meal! I tried to go to 8000 vintages but the location I selected was under construction so that was a bust. I did some more walking and wondering before going to my room to pack.

It was still pretty early in the evening. The curfew has also been pushed to 11PM instead of 9PM, so the city is busy with people. I went to the patio of my hotel/restaurant to grab a drink. I told the bartender I only wanted a drink. He questioned my preference and he returned with Gin/Saperavi. It was very cool and refreshing. Chimney cakes….. If you remember I was introduced to chimney cakes while visiting Eastern Europe in 2019. Before coming I saw they were here on TripAdvisor, but totally forgot. Well two days ago I saw the shop, so that was my last treat of the trip. This is so dangerous. Inside my chimney cake was vanilla/cheesecake frosting, cherries and the best ice cream I have ever had.  

I did want to leave you with something- Have you heard of the word toastmaster? What immediately might come to mind is the organization in the United States. Many people join to improve their communication skills and increase confidence. In Georgia the term is Tamada. The tamada is very important in Georgian culture. They are sort of like a master of ceremonies at weddings, celebrations and feast.

Overall, Georgia exceeded my expectations. The locals were very friendly. The food and wine was over the top and don’t foget 1 USD = 0.29 Lari. This place should absolutely be on your bucket list. Also, I am not one to return to a country, but I must go back to see Kazbegi and Batumi.

Part 2: Bratislava sounds like bratwurst- An Eastern European Christmas Tour.

Posing at the Christmas tree in front of City Hall.

You are probably wondering where Bratislava, Slovakia is located or what would even possess a person to go there. Well, according to the map, reviews and blogs that I read, it’s cute city and a natural stop as you move through Eastern Europe. Additionally, I was on the search for the best Christmas markets. Bratislava is situated along the famous Danube River and shares a border with Austria and Hungary.

Busy Christmas Market in the center of town.

Upon arrival at the bus station it felt like this cold, sleepy, haunted place. By the way.. the Flix bus is the business. Because I arrived an hour before check-in, I had a beer on the patio and tried to look up things to do. When I finally got checked in and made my way to the room, something was weird. I looked around and the clothes seemed to belong to men or boys. I called down to the desk and she confirmed I was assigned to a mixed gender room. Yea… Negative ghost rider. I came back to lobby and returned the keys. It was a whole $17 for the three days and she told me it was not refundable. Umm… you can keep that as a donation because I am not staying here. I used my Booking.com app to search for a reasonable accommodation. And to be honest, I am quite funny about where I stay. That’s why I invest time to find a place that fits my style. I’m not sure if I dropped the ball, but I went back through my booking and I couldn’t find where it stated I would be in a mixed gender room. I was nervous with it being the holiday season that I wouldn’t be able to find something within range of my disposable travel funds. Just in case your wondering, I have a budget for spending, but I also have money that is considered emergency/disposable. I would say this was a situation that made it okay to use that money. I found the cutest accommodation called Bluebell B & B at a great price. The rating score for the B and B was in my preferred range, so I booked. I must say that the hostel in general was clean, included a lift, laundry room, large storage room, patio and kitchen just to name a few. As a solo female traveler, I’m just not comfortable enough to room with men I don’t know.

My comfortbale, cheap, spacious and warm room at the Blue Bell B and B.

When I arrived at the B and B, I could tell it was situated in a prime area- adjoined to the Czech embassy and Kuwaiti right across the street. Later as I walked around I noticed the United States Embassy on the opposite side of the B and B building. That equated to a very safe neighborhood with security close. The room was large and clean. I settled in and took a walk towards the music and lights around the corner. Less than 500 feet was a Christmas market with ice skating, mulled wine and food! It was the feeling of you scream, I scream, we all scream for ice cream. I roamed for some time while sipping pipping, hot mulled wine in the cold air trying to determine what I would have for dinner. I finally settled on grilled cheese, teriyaki gyoza and potato dumplings. Oh my goodness!!! Completely amazing choices. The grilled cheese is literally a thick piece of cheese melted on a hot griddle. It is browned to perfection and served with a small piece of bread and topped with cranberry jelly sauce. I had more than one. Gyoza was traditional in nature and drenched in teriyaki. I retreated to my room after one more mulled wine. I hope you can see the theme that is developing.

L to R: Grilled Cheese, Teriyaki Gyoza, Mulled Wine and Potato Dumplings.

So I found this cool app and I am not sure if I mentioned if before, but Free Tours is the business. Don’t ever get on another Hop on Hop off tour if the city you are visiting is listed on the app. It was a rainy Monday and part of me wanted to stay inside, but I also wanted to explore the city. So I soldiered on and went on the tour…. in the rain. Along the way we visited Old Town, City Walls, Cathedral, various city statues and discussed how communism and monarchy impacted the country. The highlight was ending at the Bratislava Castle. From the castle you are given a panoramic view of the city. You can see the Danube River for as far as the eye can see. The UFO of Bratislava is right across the river. The cathedral is right in front of the castle area. The neighborhood leading to the the castle is called the Bermuda Triangle. People are known for bar hoping, drinking too much and getting lost. I found Patrick, our tour guide to be very knowledgable about not only Bratislava, but the surrounding countries and their impact.

At the gates to the Bratislava Castle.
View of the cathedral on the way to the castle.
UFO Tower

But just a heads up… The Bratislava wind is no joke. My umbrella broke into pieces and I had to buy a poncho that was thinner than a trash bag to survive the tour. Afterwards, I went to Ramen Kazu to warm up for lunch. I made a quick stop by the room and then headed to the UFO tower to get a magnificent evening view of the city for miles in all directions. Patrick suggested a visit to the only brewery on the river. As it turns out it was closed, but worth the walk for the carbs I needed to burn. I decided to continue walking until I ran into the major mall. I found a few things and then walked home. I do have to say the people were very nice. I got up the next morning and walked to Starbucks. Afterwards, I packed my luggage and caught a Bolt to the bus station. The ride to Vienna was about an hour. It was a smooth ride on the Flix bus with internet and heating. It probably seems like my time was short in Bratislava, but it was meaningful. The Christmas market was fantastic. The B&B was a nice retreat from the hostel life and the food was satisfying. Additionally, I found a hot tea infused with vodka. Honestly if you are looking for an off the beaten path, European country to explore for a short time, I highly suggest Bratislava.

Trying to stay warm during the tour.
Artwork outside the African American Museum.

Last but not least, this is also the day I realized that that I booked my hostel for Prague back in November and the date had passed. Only I would do something of that nature. Not sure what I was thinking. Either way, I spent my ride to Vienna searching for hostels that could possibly meet my standards. Fingers crossed and as you will find out later, I found an amazing place!

Welcome bear in Bratislava.

Part 1: Buda and Pest- An Eastern European Christmas Tour.

Parliament in Budapest on Danube River.

Sitting in the laundromat in Vienna is probably a good time to catch up writing.

Leslie and I have created a tradition of going to get beers before I travel. It wasn’t the best idea to leave at 9:30 PM and get back home after midnight when you have a flight at 4:30 AM. But hey, you only live once. I slept for one hour and got up to prepare to head to the airport. I love me an aisle seat. It might be a control type of thing. I put my satin eye mask on and I was sleep before we took off. I flew good old Pegasus. Think the Spirit airlines of the Gulf region. I finally awoke when we were about to land in Turkey for my four layover.

You’re wondering what one does for four hours. Well I spent about 30 minutes roaming duty free. It seems as though the prices were high in comparison to other airports. Nothing peaked my interest. Afterwards, I went to an Italian restaurant and had pizza for breakfast along with a glass of wine. Don’t judge me… I’m on vacation. While I was there I wrote my first journal entry for Becoming. It’s a guided journal meant to help you find your voice. Then I realized I had the app called Lounge Buddy. Basically it shows all the airport lounges worldwide that you can access for a small fee. That’s when I realized I was close to a lounge that was decently priced for 16 Euros. I could have unlimited snacks, beer, wine, water and Wi-Fi. So I spent the remainder of my layover in the lounge sipping Efes beer and munching on treats. Before I knew it, ISG Lounge had fulfilled all my needs and I was ready for my short journey to Budapest- in which I would continue my nap.

*As a side note, I wondered what was up with the bald, red, crazy looking scalps of men the last time I passed through Turkey. Apparently, it’s the hair plug capital. And I mean every man is getting the hook up here.

A short flight and I landed in Budapest. Before leaving I read that you could take to 100 E bus to Deak Square with no stops or the 200 E in combination with the subway. I’m not sure what possessed me to take the 200 E. It was about 2 euros for either one. For future reference, take the 100 E. I mean I was all over the damn place. And finding the subway wasn’t easy with luggage. Also I had to transfer to a bus and then finally the subway.
*Side Note: Google maps app is your best friend.

For this trip I decided I would try the hostel life. I did lots of research to determine which was the best and cleanest. For Budapest, I choose The Hive which is considered a party hostel. I checked into my room which had 8 females, two showers and two restrooms. It was very clean and quiet during the day. It was in a lively area and it seemed to be a varying demographic. The neighborhood in general was booming with traffic, coffee shops, restaurants and bars.

The first evening I had already reserved a night tour on the Danube River with a beautiful view of the parliament. Because it was night I wasn’t interested in figuring out public transportation. I took a Bolt, similar to Uber over to the pier. At first it seemed as if no one was there and then the boat was full before I knew it. I was welcomed on board with a glass of champagne. It was a beautifully narrated cruise. Afterwards I went to the Ice Bar Budapest because I had never done that before. My ticket included three shots. All of them were great, but I was in there 10 minutes tops. It is extremely cold.

Having a few shots at the Ice Bar.

I was able to actually walk back towards the hostel with the assistance of Google Maps. I stopped and had a great burger and beer for dinner. I was actually surprised by the number of burger and BBQ joints. The next day I did the Hop on Hop off tour. It was probably the worst day to do it. It was cold, cloudy and raining. Honestly, I only do those to get a feel for the city. I have nothing good to say about the tour. What I did find was several Christmas market and mulled wine. I also had my first and last langos with cheese and sour cream. While it was good, something about the combination turned me off. So I just got more mulled wine. I seemed to be pretty drained, so I was sleep by 6 PM.

So, your probably wondering why I separated Buda and Pest. Back in the day Budapest was two cities separated by the Danube River. Buda is the Castle Hill district or royal area with plenty of natural baths. On the Pest side, you have the Parliament building.

I also took a day trip on the train to Szentendre, which is about 40 minutes by train outside of Budapest. It’s nice, quiet and has a Christmas market. I met a very nice guy that made a lunch suggestion while I was visiting.

The next morning I got up and rode the subway to the Parliament area and to see the Shoes on the Danube River Memorial. It is a memorial in remembrance of Jews killed by militiamen during WW1. I hung around for some time and I was able to see a performance by the soldiers at the Parliament which is right across the street. Afterwards I went to find Soul Food Budapest. It was right on time. Because it was so cold, I had the Jambalaya. It was amazing and hit the spot. It was actually in the neighborhood of my hostel and I didn’t even realize. After lunch I rested for a while and then went to the local laundry place to clean my clothes as I would be leaving the next morning.

Shoes on the Danube River Memorial

I decided that it would be a good idea to check out the night life my last night in Budapest. I signed up for Bingo Bar Crawl through the hostel. It’s was pretty cheap considering it was unlimited drinks at the first bar for one hour. The second bar gave us a shot upon entry and I participated in karaoke. The third bar was okay along with a shot. We ended at Instant nightclub. It’s definitely the party scene there and I highly recommend it if you want to have a great time. Around 2 am I decided it was a good idea to head in since I needed to be at the bus station by 9:30.

Bingo Bar Crawl

Overall, I really enjoyed Budapest. I spent a great deal of time walking around and just discovering Christmas markets, shopping, food, bars and historical sites. The one thing that I did not do is check out a thermal bath. The most famous are Szechenyi and Gellert Thermal Baths. The pictures look soothing, but I just couldn’t see myself doing this in the winter. It seems like a spring or summer activity. Budapest is a very walkable city and public transportation is easily accessible.

I wanted to switch this trip up by using a combination of air, bus and train. If you’ve never traveled by Flixbus through Europe, give it a try. Clean, orderly, comfortable and free Wi-Fi. I was able to successfully catch the subway to the bus and arrive at the international bus terminal on time. Bratislava, Slovakia… here I come.

One last thing.. If you would like to see all of my pictures from Budapest, visit my Instagram profile @jetsetmelanin2018 and watch my stories.

Kuala Lumpur always reminded me of koala bears, but I didn’t see any.

This morning Agung picked me up from Dash around 9am and we made the 45 minute journey to the airport. When I arrived and I payed my bill for the week and gave him a tip. He thanked me for the week and told me to send all my friends. He is a man of few words, excellent navigator and very sweet. I checked in my luggage and made my way through immigration to grab some lunch. Shortly after that I boarded my flight to Malaysia. I was quite surprised about spaciousness of the aircraft. I am flying Malindo Air. The inside reminds me of a Southwest plane. I survived boarding and there is a seat in between us! Typically I select or purchase my seat beforehand. I like the aisle seat because if I don’t move, no one moves. Also, I buy a row that has the window purchased but not the middle. No one intentionally buys the middle unless they can’t help it. I listened to the most recent episode of Ratchet and Respectable by Demetria L. Lucas. 

Welcome sign at airport.

It with a smooth ride with a chicken snack and water. Upon exiting immigration I caught a Grab. It was about an hour ride to the city. It’s beautiful with tall sky scrapers. I can spot the famous buildings. We arrived at KL Journal Hotel. It’s a boutique hotel and has an appealing lobby. I was checked in and provided all pertinent information along with two welcome drink vouchers. I went up to the roof top which has a bar and pool to have an iced latte. Afterwards I returned to my room to settle in by unpacking, pulling out outfits, plugging in electronics, storing valuables in the safe and showered to have my first evening out. I seem to be in the mix of everything. Also there are rats the size of cats here. I walked over to the shopping mall and found some cute pieces in H&M. And they are cheap as dirt. The exchange rate $1 to RM 4. For about $13 I got a dress and some pants.

Sign in the KLJournal.

I was originally looking for the Museum of Illusions, but stumbled upon the Selfie Museum. While standing in line to pay the girl in front of me spoke. After a brief introduction we decided to be picture buddies. I had left Trey by tripod in the room (again) and didn’t think I would need it. Jess (@thewayfaringdiary) and I had a great time making our way through the dessert themed rooms, snapping photos and enjoying ice cream. We exchanged contact information and went our separate ways.

Selfie Museum
Museum of Illusions

I dropped by Sephora looking for some Nars products (no luck) and wandered the streets before settling on some Lebanese food at Al Amar Express. I had cheese rolls, Hommos with chicken shawarma and of course Gin and tonic. I roamed the streets for a while checking out performances, vendors and henna art. I think my most surprising thing is the number of Muslims visiting and seeming to live here. I am sure they think I’m crazy because I keep smiling at them. It’s natural because that’s just me and my current environment in Doha. On the way home I spotted a 24 hour laundromat next to my hotel. Score!

Dinner at Al Amar Express.
Laundromat

This morning I got up early and took care of my dirty clothes. I despise traveling with dirty clothes and it adds ounces to luggage. I made it down to breakfast this morning. It was a mixture of toast and dim sum. This was my first time trying it. It’s a bread/dough cone shaped food with a surprise in the middle. Not sure if I’m fan yet, but it’s not bad. I’m not finding this hop on hop off as good as other cities. While it is air conditioned, there is no wifi or headphones with a narrative of what you are seeing. I made stops at Petronas Twin Towers and KL Tower Observatory first. While at the observatory it began to rain and storm so I used this time to grab lunch. I’m actually thankful I didn’t go to the Eco Forest because I would have been soaked and mad. I finally made my way back to the bus. I must have been sleepy on the ride because I  took a nap and when I woke up I thought I missed my stop and was doing the loop over. Upon arriving back I walked around town a little and then took a great nap. I left around 9:30 to grab dinner. I went to the same place as last night. It’s quick and really good. Tonight I had the chicken shawarma platter. 

Petronas Twin Towers
KL Tower Sign
KL Tower

I slept in today, because it’s vacation and I’ve found that I don’t like to pack in too much on the end of a trip. I headed up to the roof for an iced latte and some lunch before heading out to the Batu Caves. It seems to rain everyday around noon. Hopefully it will pass by 2 so I can catch the bus. I purchased an umbrella. No need to be mad when I get wet and it could have been avoided. The brochure says it’s 11 km out of the city. However, it was nice to take in sites. It wasn’t a really bad ride. If there were no traffic it would be much faster.  The Batu Caves is home to Kuala Lumpur’s most frequented tourist attractions. It is a limestone hill comprising three major caves and a number of smaller ones… And gangsta monkey’s. I saw a dude sit in the ground and the monkey came up to get a snack. First of all, I would never sit on the ground there. Unless you plan on climbing up the steps, there’s nothing here to really do. There are plenty of vendors and henna art. After getting my photos, I went ahead and got a henna design. In the past when I’ve tried it, it didn’t take. This must be really good! It turned out great. We headed back to the city for drop off. 

Batu Caves.
Henna Art.

After a long nap I pulled myself together for a last night out. I really wanted to check out Changkat Bukit Bintang area. It is filled with restaurants, bars, clubs, loud music and people. I found a cute dress in a LARGE at H&M and a cross body that reads “BLACK” in white letters. I walked the streets and settled on Brix for some food, drinks and shisha. After getting here I realized I would have been sad if I would have slept the night away. It was a good night out. 

Out and about in Changkat Bukit Bintang.

Tomorrow I will grab a latte and sit by the pool before catching my flight to Doha. It’s been real y’all. Traveling is all I ever wanted to do and I’m making dreams come true. Until the next trip around the globe. ✌🏾️

Side note – I now eat fries with mayo. Don’t judge me. 

Bali Dreaming.

For as long as I can remember I have wanted to visit Bali. All I could see was images of lush green settings, monkeys, swings, rice fields, temples, massages and pools with floating breakfasts. Well, I finally made it there. It was definitely a dream come true.

Daydreaming on Bali road.

Here is how the dream starts…..

Every time I travel I learn something new. I traveled on Qatar Airways for my trip to Kenya. The best service, comfort, entertainment and food in the industry. Remind me next time I’m planning trips to leave Philippine Airlines alone. Just in the boarding process I knew I had fucked up. It was a million people. They were shoving and pushing to board as if we were going to miss the flight. Issa no next go round, but I’ll deal with it this time, obviously. The flight wasn’t the worst, but it could be due to the glass of wine and one melatonin I had right after taking off. It gets me every time. Remind me to never take an offer to move closer. You know those seats in the front with lots of legroom on the 3x3x3 planes? Well the agent asked me if I wanted to get closer. Sure. I also asked if it was the seat that you can’t really move in she said no, #lies. My hips are not made for that seat, but what it did do was allow me to keep my feet elevated above my heart the whole flight. 

Overall, I wasn’t impressed with Philippine Airlines. I thought the passengers were somewhat rude. Also, never in my life have I seen passengers stand up as soon as the plane hit the ground. I mean like stand up and open overhead bins, ready to go! The flight attendant had no control. I made my way through immigration and customs. I found a place to store my backpack and get cash. Did you know that when traveling you should always complete a pin transaction first? If you were to run your card as credit it flags the bank of potential fraud. Someone getting your exact pin is much harder. Close to the airport is Resorts World. You can catch a air conditioned bus to an area with hotels, restaurants, shopping and the casino for free. I grabbed some sushi and gyoza soup for lunch and sat in Starbucks for a while before venturing out. The interesting thing about Starbucks is they only really sold tea and fraps.

Airport chronicles – while waiting for my flight, this older lady named Minga sat next to me because she wanted help posting to Facebook. She needed to let her family know she was here and then headed to Hong Kong, then Switzerland with a final destination of Germany. She was very sweet, but clueless about technology.  Just like people, airlines can redeem themselves. Upon boarding the last leg of my flight to Indonesia, I was warmly greeted by the flight attendant. She showed me my seat and told me to have a wonderful vacation. The overall feel on board was different as well. The food was even better. I love me some avocados, so when I was given some ice cream to try I was delighted.

I made it in around 2am and my driver picked me up and took me to b Hotel and Spa. I was greeted warmly and I was taken to my room. It’s very cute and I love the shower. My view is right down to the pool. I know it sounds crazy but I ordered room service. I had a turkey club and fries. I’ll be working out all of July. I’m glad a built in a day of rest because I didn’t awake until about 1 pm. I got up and settled into my room and prepared to go explore a little. 

b Hotel Spa Lobby

My first stop was the Upside Down Museum. It’s actually really neat. All the furniture is placed on the wall or ceilings. The best thing about this place as a solo traveler, for a tip an employee will accompany you and tell you how to pose to get the best results. Once they take the photos they are flipped for you. I would recommend a visit. Next I went to Kuta so I could catch the sunset and do a little shopping at the Kuta Arts Market. It’s basically wooden stalls with people selling overpriced items. Since Rita taught me how to negotiate last week in Kenya I was ready to go toe to toe to get some deals. I purchased a few items. I made my way over to The Stadium Bar at 5:53 pm. I could tell the server wanted to be like happy hour is over, but I got my buy two get one free cocktails. I headed back to the hotel to get ready because I was going to meet Richard, one of my colleagues, for a drink or five. He suggested a place called Red Carpet Champagne Lounge. Great place in the middle of action with clubs and restaurants nearby. I really enjoyed the samples of their food that they give out while drinking. He left and I stayed out a little bit longer before retreating back to the hotel. 

Upside Down Museum
Richard and I at Red Carpet Champagne Lounge.

My agenda today consist of Bali Swing, Ulun Danu Bratan Temple, local lunch and Ayana Rock Bar. My driver Agung, through Discover Bali Driver, was waiting for me in the lobby. Upon getting in the car he gifted me a handmade purse. We started our journey through the city and continued for some time. I was impressed and unimpressed with Bali Swing all at the same time. The cost was $35 and includes lunch. The vegetarian lunch was excellent. There are 15 swing/nest options. I found that I enjoyed the bed swing the most and could have stayed there the entire time. What I will say is don’t go there solo. I left my Tre (my tripod) at the hotel and this is probably the one time that it would have been beneficial because Agung didn’t go in with me. You can purchase a photographer package for 175,000 rupiah (or $12) or they say an employee will use your camera to take photos. #lies. It was difficult to find someone and when you did, they would take one and leave. Moral of the story is buy the package. 

Swinging through life at Bali Swing.

Next we made our way up the mountain to Ulun Danu Bratan Temple. There are many temples and it is situated on a lake. The temperature was very cool in this area due to the elevation. Afterwards we struck out on our journey to Ayana Rock Bar. Two hours that is. I just read an article last night about not planning your excursions and going with the flow. I’m caught in the juxtaposition of wanting to do nothing and see everything with a schedule. I could have skipped Ayana Rock Bar and so should you unless you are staying at the resort. 

lun Danu Bratan Temple

Agung stopped at Starbucks for me and that was a lifesaver. I made it back to the hotel and took a little time to rest. I went to dinner at Los Gringos because I really wanted some Mexican food and they had a special. 99K for unlimited salad, tacos, quesadilla’s, burritos and enchiladas. Also 150K for unlimited margaritas and Pina coladas. I found the quesadilla’s and Pina coladas to be the best options after my sample round. I’m not huge on buffets or all you can eat, but I was hungry and wanted Mexican. I caught a Grab back to the hotel and rested for the night. 

Agung picked me up this morning to head to Ubud. It’s only 15 miles, but according to Waze it will take an hour to get there due to the traffic and slow roads in general. According to my schedule I will be visiting the Sacred Monkey Forest, Tirta Empul Holy Water Temple, and a coffee/tea plantation before checking into Artotel. Evidently at monkey forest there is a gangsta monkey to take a picture with. In the way to Ubud, Agung suggested riding ATV’s to the rice fields. At first I was like I don’t know, but then my senses kicked in and I was like why not. It took the dry package, because I didn’t want to get dirty. Not a mistake; so much fun. Thankfully I had on shorts and tennis shoes and applied sunscreen this morning. 

Riding ATV’s on the way to Ubud.
Breastfeeding monkey.

What a busy day I have had. We arrived in Ubud and went to the Sacred Monkey Forest. It’s a nice attraction you can tell it’s there home and we are just guests. They pay no attention to the people. Also, there is a cremation area within the forest. Families bring the deceased to have them cremated and perform rituals. I wasn’t able to find that meme-able monkey. However, a breastfeeding monkey might make you cry. Afterwards I stopped for lunch at a local spot Agung recommended. Then I went coffee and tea tasting. There was a very nice variety, but I feel in love with the avocado coffee. It already has a creamy consistency and is sweetened. I purchased a bag to bring home. Just a heads up… I will never go tea/coffee tasting at a place that makes coffee from Luwak’s. I am not per se an animal rights activist, but that’s just not right and I found out afterwards. We finally made our way to the water temple. I had every intention of getting in, but the water was just so cold. I finally made it to Artotel. Such a cute place. It feels very green and modern. I settled in my spacious room and I took a walk out to town and grabbed dinner and drinks for the room. 

Tirta Empul Holy Water Temple
Coffee and Tea Tasting

I had a great breakfast at Full Circle, adjacent to the hotel. I selected the Breakfast Butty sandwich with watermelon juice. Today seemed a little boring. Like I could have slept in and explored Ubud. I saw a traditional Balinese dance, batik and silver making, art gallery visit, butterfly park and Elephant Cave Temple. I skipped Tegenungan Waterfall because I didn’t want to get muddy. Typical me. I cut the day short and hung by the pool to drink and read. I accidentally took a nap after the pool and woke up around 9. I got up and went on the hunt for some sushi. I found a great little place and I had three different types of sushi while lounging in the patio. It seems as though everything shuts down around 11pm and the streets are dead. I walked back to my hotel and it seemed relatively safe. 

Breakfast Butty at Full Circle.

Agung suggested that we leave at 5 am this morning. I wasn’t very happy about the idea of getting up at 4 am, but I did it and we made our way towards Lempuyang Temple referred to as heaven’s gate. I watched several episodes of Mr. Iglesias on Netflix (good watch for educators) while we drove up the steep mountain towards the volcano. We arrived shortly after 7. Ladies are required to cover their shoulders and both genders wear sarongs. Listen, I thought I was climbing the steps and hills to heaven. Upon arrival at the top I got in the cue and was advised I was at the 2 hour mark. I’m not a huge picture taker and I just couldn’t understand why it would take so long. Sigh. After about 2.5 hours it was my turn. The guy takes your phone and says pose 1, pose 2, pose 3, and pose 4. I would say within that you get about 20 or so shots.  And I was done. I still couldn’t comprehend why four poses at about a minute took so long. The line behind me was insane. However, when got my phone back and saw the pictures, I realized it was all worth it in the end. 

Lempuyang Temple

Here is the funny thing about the experience. I’ve viewed pictures before from Lempuyang Temple and I thought you walk up the steps and there is water in front of you. I guess I thought that the person is on the other side of the water taking the pictures. That’s all in my creative mind. In actuality there is no water. You give your phone to the volunteer, he places a reflective mirror below your flash and walahh! On the way back we stopped at Tirta Ganga Water Village to see Koi fish in the pond. It’s a very calming and relaxing place. I had a bite to eat, chicken satay with rice and an iced coffee. We headed back to Ubud before noon so I could get some pool time. 

Tirta Ganga Water Village

I made a reservation at Room 4 Dessert based off the recommendation of a colleague. The pastry chef/owner is an expat from New York. He rocketed to fame with his avant-garde desserts, but moved to Bali and uses fresh cocoa and vanilla along with other fruits and vegetables local to Bali. To properly describe this experience it should be a blog of its own. But I will give you the “quick and dirty”. I was greeted by Josh from Boston. He took me through the garden and point out the many items they have planted and use in the restaurant. They use a seed to table concept. Afterwards I was seated at the bar  with a gin and tonic. Josh described my first seven tastings and each server brought out a new one providing more information. I was then moved to the second tasting of dessert like items that can be paired with drinks. This was my favorite. By the end of this I was done and couldn’t go for the last seven. Overall, I would give this place a 10, especially of you looking for a place to celebrate a special occasion. The service is top notch, variety of tasting, good music and mood. 

This morning Agung dropped me off at Ubud Art Market where I did a little shopping, walked around town and grabbed some Starbucks before heading to Tegalalang Rice Fields. Also, it was hot as hell today. Agung knows me so well by know. He was like we can walk along the terrace and take pictures in the nest and what not. I sat at one of the restaurants and had a beer and we just leisurely walked around. We stopped for lunch in the area before by 2 hour massage and flower bath at Ubud Orchid Spa. I highly recommend this place. She began with a full body massage. At one point she standing on the table using her foot on my back. Afterwards, she applied some type of body scrub and allows it to stay on body with sheet covering about 10 minutes both sides. Then she scrubs the body with a milk substance. I took a shower then soaked in my flower bath. When I left that place I thought I had a new body. 

Tegalalang Rice Fields
Ubud Orchid Spa

I had breakfast delivered to my room this morning. One last Breakfast Butty from Full Circle. Agung picked me up around noon and we headed to Dash Hotel in Seminyak. I absolutely love this hotel of all of them. It’s very funky with silhouettes, spray paint and decals. The room is spacious and includes a balcony and garden tub. I’ve been carrying around a bath bomb from Lush and a facial from Sephora that I will make sues of tomorrow night. After settled in I walked around to explore Seminyak. I was actually looking for the “I love Bali” sign. The street art work is plenty and lots of eating options.

I found the “I love Bali” sign.

I found a pair of sunglasses that I negotiated down to $7 since I broke mine. Richard suggested that we meet at KU DE TA for drinks and to watch the sunset. Great ocean view, drinks and sunset. Well after many drinks I headed back to the hotel, but not before stopping at Sisterfields for dinner. I had a delicious burger and fries. You may be wondering if I’d had any Balinese food while here. The answer is no. I don’t have time for Bali Belly. While on vacation I tend not to eat local cuisine. My stomach has a mind of its own. 

Dash Hotel
Richard and I taking in the sunset at KU DE TA.

This morning Agung picked me up at 6 to catch my speed boat to Nusa Penida. I was a little sad when he said I was going alone and a new driver would pick me up. He’s prompt and I like that, but I’m sure we could have left at 7 and made it in time. I have a nice seat on the deck of the boat catching the breeze, sun and waves. I will be visiting  Broken Beach, Angel Billabong, Crystal Bay, and Kelingking Beach. 

Broken Beach

Putu picked me up from the docks and we headed out. He warned me that the road was bumpy. I told him about my trip to Kenya on that bumpy road for hours. No need to worry, I had training. These bumps were minor. But hey, to see beautiful sites you might have to endure something uncomfortable. We had good conversation. He explained that his English was not good, so you know the teacher in me gave him some ELA strategies. He asked about my hair and was very enthusiastic. I showed home some pictures from before. He didn’t like that I cut my locs. He said I should grow them back. 

Our first stop was Angel’s Billabong and Broken Beach. Then we went to Kelinking Beach. Both of these places are really scenic for pictures. You can go down the steps at Kelinking to a beautiful beach area. Just remember you have to climb back up. We stoped at a local restaurant for lunch. I had Nasi Goreng (noodles with seafood). I’m always nervous to eat food out places; especially after I’ve seen the bathroom situation. The food was excellent, but it didn’t sit well with me. We started our journey to Crystal Beach, which was about an hour away. 

Kelingking Beach

So here is my suggestion for Nusa Penida. Travel and stay for three days. Complete Angel’s Billabong and Broken Beach day one. The next day get up early morning and take the hike down to Kelingking Beach. Spend your last day relaxing on Crystal Beach and catch the 4pm speed boat back to Sanur. 

Well, it’s my last night in Bali before heading to Kuala Lumpur. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my time here. It was everything I thought it would be. If you are looking to go to Bali, I suggest Discover Bali Driver to handle transportation and transfers. Ask for Agung if he is available. Spend the majority of your time in Ubud and Nusa Penida. Those will definitely be two of my stops if I ever return. 

Agung and I from Discover Bali Driver at the Rice Fields.

One last thing…. Don’t ever sit on the corner of the speed boat. At first I was like it’s just a little bit of water I don’t need to move. By the time it was all said and done, I look like I had been swimming. 

Keep dreaming and as always you can find me on instagram @jetsetmelanin2018. On my profile you will find stories with more pictures of my travels in Bali and other destinations.

✌🏾️

Motherland Diaries

I have arrived in the motherland and I feel at home. My colleague Rita asked if I wanted to go to Kenya and after reviewing my schedule I had some time to spare before heading to my other destinations. We arrived around 2 pm and I got a Uber to Ibis Styles Hotel Westlands. From the Uber driver to the hotel staff the hospitality has been welcoming. I was able to get checked into my room, settled and wash off what I call “airplane dirt”. In front of the hotel was a little market with ladies selling various items. I took a peek and of course they were all catering to me for a purchase.

View from Ibis.

Next I went up to the roof top bar for happy hour and a light snack. I got a beer called Dire and Straits Pilsen. Very much like a wheat beer with a refreshing taste paired with a Greek salad and fries. I plan on spending my time here relaxing and preparing to leave for my safari to the Maasai Mara tomorrow.

My driver arrived 45 minutes early this morning. Good thing I got up extra early, but I missed breakfast. The driver proceeded to pick up two other guys from Minnesota that would be making the trip with me. A few miles down the road we were transferred into a safari jeep with six others. While waiting to get the safari loaded, I was overwhelmed by the number of homeless Kenyans in the area begging for food and money. We were given a short briefing by our driver Isaac. He explained that we would be headed to the Great Rift Valley where we would pick up another person and take a picture. Upon arriving to the area it was covered in fog and light rain. No pictures here. Also, it is winter here so the temperatures are a little cooler.

Fog in the Great Rift Valley.

We began our five or so hour trip. Isaac said it would be bumpy and it sure was. We stopped for lunch before our last two hours. When we arrived we let the first group out at an eco camp. It was cute, but not my type of place. We continued on and dropped the rest off at camp that was tented. Thank God I didn’t select this place because I probably would have had a nervous breakdown. Isaac asked if I was willing to check in later since mine was a little further and we could get going on the game drive. I agreed. I mean that probably would not have been nice to the others.

A short distance up the road we entered Masai Mara National Reserve. As we entered it was like a scene out of a movie. Animals everywhere, and a variety. It’s currently migration season for wildebeest. They have completely taken over the reserve. Within a small area there were hundreds and it continued the whole drive. I also saw lions, monkeys, zebras, Mara flamingos, birds, cheetahs and elephants from a distance. It was totally worth every penny and lived up to the pictures.

I was dropped of first as a courtesy since I forfeited earlier. Masai Mara Sopa Lodge is my type of living. I know what I can and can’t take when it comes to lodging. I need a door, four walls and my own bathroom. The check in briefing was nice and I was taken to my personal lodge. After settling in, I went to the main lodge for and drink and the buffet dinner. Either I was starving or the food was good; most likely a combination of both.

Afterwards I settled in for the night. I was supposed to be ready at 6:30 am for an all day game drive. Needless to say, when I heard knocking on my door at 6:45 and I knew I had messed up. I said go without me. I had already seen lots of animals yesterday. So I slept in, read, slept some more, watched When They See Us (which turned into crying for hours), slept more and then had a late lunch. I figured it’s my vacation and I’ll do what I want to on my own schedule.

While hanging around the lodge I had an opportunity to chat with a worker. He had served me the previous night. Alex came and talked with me to inquire where I was from and how I was enjoying my time. He came here to work from Central Kenya and loves it. I appreciate the time he spent to talk with me about the country and his love for the place. He really is a great server and I wish him the best.

After lounging around this afternoon, I had dinner before preparing for the Maasai Mara tribe performance. Alex even pointed out the best seat in the house. Meanwhile, I spoke to security about a wake up knock (never saw a phone and no Wi-Fi in rooms) since I can’t afford to miss my ride back to Nairobi tomorrow.

The performance.

I just found my heart here. Anytime I’m traveling I try to do something that culturally enhances me. The performance was wonderful and truly heart felt. Afterwards it was explained that the dance they performed was a ritual after coming out of the bush and earning their next step in tribe. In this moment, I can’t find the words to describe the performance or feelings. One thing I do know is I am a better person for being able to experience this in all of its authenticity.

I got up on time this morning. We went on a game drive and I was able to see elephants and baby cheetahs. Baby cheetahs are too cute. It was really cold this morning, so it was a little difficult for me to really get into the drive.

Afterwards we shuffled around some people into different vans and started making out way to Nairobi. On the unpaved road coming out of the Mara, there were many times I just thought we were driving through the woods. Like this is not a real road. I slept most of the way there, so I missed a lot of the scenery. But what I will say, is it feels like a place that is half on the grid and half off.

You have some accommodations like mine that seem to be resort like and others that are full-fledged camp grounds. And then you have the homes of the Maasai Mara people that are shacks. It’s very eye opening in terms of the have and the have nots. I wonder if they are happy people? Do they want more? Do they have a desire to leave and pursue higher education? I guess I’m trying to get a grasp of how the feel or see themselves. I know they are a proud group.

Well, safely made it back to Nairobi. I stayed at Azure Hotel, which was very nice. I settled into my room and went to the restaurant to have a late lunch/dinner. It was okay, not my favorite. I went back up to my room and prepared for the next day. The front desk told me I should leave at 6am since it was a work day to arrive at the airport on time. Rita confirmed the same as well. I drifted off to sleep pretty fast. I caught my uber to the airport. The traffic situation feels like a get in where you fit in type of thing. Also, anytime I’m in a country that drives on the left side of the road it automatically feels dangerous.

Never in my life have I ever had to get out of the car upon arrival at the airport and walk through a security room and then get back in the car to proceed to departures. There is a first time for every thing I guess. The Uber driver drops me off and points to my terminal. It’s about a football field away. As soon as I start walking, this guy in a suit jacket and jeans informs me he is an airport employee and he would lead me. I was like “Where is your name tag?” He turned and walked the other way. However, as I was waiting for my friend, I watched traveler after traveler get dupped by this whole ring of guys. The funny part is the unsuspecting ones that didn’t realize they would have to pay for the walk over to the terminal. Some agreed, others were like nope. I mean I can drag my own suitcase for free.

Rita arrived at the airport and we checked in our luggage. I had exactly 23 kilos. We had breakfast at a restaurant called Paul Caffe. I’m not going to write the whole business off, but service was bad and the food was subpar. We finally boarded our flight to Mombasa. It was only 45 minutes, but we had great conversation. By the way we work together, sit next to each other and team teach randomly. I’m so thankful that she encouraged me to visit her country and was willing to spend some time with me after being away from her family for 10 months.

Because she is a native to Kenya, I was able to unpack my feelings with her about my observations. I think as an educator she was able to help me understand what it looks like for teachers and students in Mara. She said the board of education places the teachers there that are new to the profession. It’s a remote location and maybe after a year or two they can request a transfer. I was also curious if people want to leave there. Like do you know that a city is in reach with a university and you could potentially get an advanced education and prosper outside the tribe. Well, she explained that those who escape or run away for more become an outcast. The girls are meant to marry older men and continue to live life there. They are actually already spoken for before they can probably make a decision. This completely breaks my heart, but I also understand tradition.

As a side note, after Qatar I want to head to South East Asia and then my final stop is an African country. I don’t know which one yet, but I’m going to do some research and an African tour one summer.

As always, if you visit my instagram @jetsetmelanin2018, you can find more pictures in my stories.

Mombasa is All Inclusive – That’s everything…. Like everything.

Upon arrival we went straight to the bar and started to enjoy our vacation. And by enjoy I mean I’m about four beers in. We spent our day by the pool sipping nonstop. This morning I was eager to get up and head to the gym. I got in about 30 minutes on the bike. Afterwards I went to breakfast. Boabob Resort is all inclusive- three meals, snacks and all drinks. After showering we went to spend the day by the pool. I participated in a 45 minute water aerobics class and then I played volleyball later in the evening. We also took a walk along the beach where the locals are selling various items, excursions and services. We scheduled a Kenyan massage and boat ride to snorkel and visit the reef. I would have to say this was great day. We ate so much today that we skipped dinner and went to sleep pretty early.

Boabob Resort

We got up this morning and had a quick breakfast before heading to catch out boat. There was definitely an overcast and rain off in the distance. We made it out to the island and a few people jumped off and went scuba diving. We stayed on watched the fish being fed through the glass bottom. Rita was afraid to touch the star fish and sea urchin that was brought up. Then we made our way to the final stop on the island. We both jumped out for a photo op and climbed back over into the boat.

Upon arriving back we walked along the beach heading to the small hut for massages. In two individual rooms we were rubbed down with coconut oil. This is where it gets good. So I’m funny about bathrooms. I knew good and well I had to use the bathroom before heading for the massages. Picture a wooden shack off the beach with four walls. No other amenities. My stomach started rumbling and somehow I thought I could make it another 30 minutes. That wasn’t the case. I informed the masseuse that I needed to go to the bathroom. She said I could go around the hut. I was actually game for this, but it was a two for one special and didn’t think that was fair. So, I threw on my clothes and ran down the hill, along the beach (all while being heckled) back to the closest resort restroom. Heaven. I went back and she finished up my massage.

We made our way back to the resort pool and spent the rest of the day relaxing under the sun all while indulging in Gin and Tonics and Tusker, the local beer. Like we stayed out all day past dinner. Michael (Baraka), one of the activity workers who taught water aerobics stopped and chatted with us for a while. We ordered some double shots of rum and Coke, more gin, Whiskey Sours and beer. We finally found our way to the room around midnight. Rita insisted that we type out our schedules for the next day to maximize our morning. We finally went to sleep, but I was up around 3 because a mosquito drank all my sweet blood. I sprayed myself down and applied some ointment before drifting back to sleep. They moved on to Rita since I was protected.

We had a final breakfast and lounged around before catching an Uber to the airstrip. Before we knew it, we were on a plane back to Nairobi. Our plan today was to drop our luggage off and go shopping at the market. What I can tell you is I would not have been able to do the shopping without her negotiating for me in Swahili. From the time we walked in the sellers were all on top of us. It was almost like they smelled an American, English speaking person. At one point I had to ask my newly found security to back all the way up. We spent about an hour and a half eyeing things I liked and she was the negotiator. All in all, I came out with lots of things I really wanted for myself and others.


This is when we sadly parted ways and I headed back to Azure Hotel. The receptionist was happy to see me and called me by name. She had my room ready and escorted me upstairs. I took some time to relax and then headed to dinner at Charlies, a place Rita recommended. I also was able to strike and deal with the Uber driver to shuffle me around until I leave tomorrow. Score. So I end up ordering an Uber because Emanuel can’t make it happen. I get in the Uber and the driver ask me if I have a preference on the route. I’m like I can’t win for losing. The good thing for me is I have a good internal GPS and I can remember routes because I look at everything when I’m in a car. So… I gave him directions. I should probably get a side hustle as an Uber driver. We made it to Charlies in good time. I’m excited to see this place because it looked really nice in the day time.

As a side note, the last time I had an iced coffee was the day before I left Qatar. I’m coping well, but I guarantee you it will be my first stop.

I perused the menu at Charlies and settled on the following:

Drink: Barbados Skyfall (super strong, afraid to drink anything else)
Appetizer: Mexican Nachos Grand Beef- very good, but drizzled in a barbecue sauce that was sweet; very different)
Main Course: Hulk Burger (since I never found one at the resort
Dessert: Blueberry Cheesecake (to go, I’m full)


All in all Charlies Bistro is a great place. Low lights, music, street view and a menu with American, Mexican, Lebanese and seafood options. My waiter Dennis was sweet and on top of his service. Back to the hotel I go.
I learned a few Swahili words –
Asante – Thank you
Taka taka – Trash
Jambo – Hello
Hakuna Matata – No worries
Karibu -Welcome
Kwaheri – Goodbye
I also know how to count Kenyan Shillings in my head for US dollars conversion. Here is an example: 8,000KS is $80.00 USD. How do I know that? You just move the decimal two places to the left.

Last but not least, this whole business of getting out at the airport entrance to walk through security is really a false sense of security. It’s not like they are making you take luggage through. It’s a waste of time.

This has been an amazing trip. There is nothing I would change. In a span of nine days I experienced the reserve, city and beach life that Kenya has to offer.

As always, if you visit my instagram @jetsetmelanin2018, you can find more pictures in my stories.

Reflections from my first school year abroad.

I’ll make this short and sweet. This time last year I was packing and cleaning my office for a new person to step in and fill the space. I never wondered if my decision to go back to the classroom after 10 years was right or wrong. All I knew was I was ready to go. I was sincerely happy and if I ever go back to Arizona, I would go back to Legacy. But, I needed a change of scenery and pace. In all honesty, my biggest concern was will I be able to do all the things I expected teachers to do. After many years of coaching and guiding teachers on how to create sustainable classroom climates, managing classroom behaviors, implementing positive discipline, working with difficult parents- how would I do this as a teacher again?

This is what I will say. My teaching load consisted of about 95 girls. Of that group, four of them gave me a run for money (at least it’s good money). I mean I bought a flight to Oman after leaving class with these girls and having a drink Tuesday and Wednesday was a common activity. But in the grand scheme of things, that means about 95% did not have any behavioral issues besides tardiness, no PE kit and late work here and there. What more can you ask for? What this did allow me to do was focus on learning how to teach again and more specifically the MYP PHE curriculum. It’s a beast, it’s different. You don’t tell kids to just run out there and play. You have to know very essential parts. Now that I have a grasp of the kids and the curriculum, I can really shift to professionally developing myself again.

As a reflective practitioner, I love that I had a deep dive in ELL strategies and this learning will continue next year. However, in browsing next year’s professional learning opportunities, I’m looking forward to the following :

1. Positive Discipline in the Classroom

2. PALME- Program for Aspiring Leaders in Management and Education (this looks really interesting)

3. International Principal’s Certificate

But the most exciting opportunities of all… Last week I was at the pool and I complimented a lady about her swimsuit. Long story short, she is a principal of a new school and she is looking for professional development for her staff in the area of classroom management, school safety and accreditation for the new schools. We exchanged contact information. I’m very excited about the possibilities and new growth potential next school year.

In the mean time, here’s to summer fun!