International Adventures

Lisbon, Portugal- A Fascinating City!

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Good Morning Lisbon 🌅

It was mid-January in Yerevan and I was itching for a winter getaway. Back in January 2019, I had a blast vacationing in cold-climate, off the beaten path countries, but this year I wanted to experience warm diversity!

It all started with a recommendation from a friend and the wonderful coincidence that Ryanair started flights from Yerevan to Europe exactly at the time that I was ready to escape. Landing in Lisbon, I was thinking, ‘where has all this color and diversity been all my life?!’ 😍

Posing on a wall across from the Airbnb

When we arrived at the Airbnb, I knew it was the place I was always supposed to visit — hello sunshine and colorful landscape! Our flat was spacious and bright but the best part was the view from the large balcony. I loved waking up early and enjoying my breakfast ☕ while watching the sunrise and waving to the friendly neighbors. Edge-to-edge color and beauty!

Breakfast with a view!

Lisbon by Night

Just as soon as we settled in, it was time to hit the town. We decided on riding the metro to meet some new friends in the city center. The metro has 4 lines with many convenient stations. Compared to my native NYC it was a breeze to use the metro in Lisbon, but like NYC it does get jam-packed during rush hour.

Lisbon at night

The beautiful evening cityscape greeted us upon exiting the Rossio station. I truly enjoyed the lights and the architecture along with the diverse crowd. What a wonderful place! It was the perfect time to join our friends on a walking tour. Fascinated by my surroundings and the lively conversation I forgot to take pictures😅. We saw a few of the famous tourist spots such as Convento do Carmo and Elevador de Santa Justa.

A night on the town

More importantly, I remembered to take some pictures of the traditional Portuguese fare. First up, Bifana, a simple yet deliciously seasoned pork cutlet on a sandwich roll. We went to a small shop which boasted the best Bifana. I opted for beef and it really was delicious 😋 .

Bifana

After devouring that meal, we took another walk down the quaint and quiet side streets of Lisbon in search of a sweet treat. We found our dessert at Manteigaria where my friends ordered the famous Portuguese pasteis de nata for us. We were able to watch the process as they were being made. Nothing can be compared to fresh out of the oven, rich custard tarts 🤤🥧.

Pasteis de nata fresh out of the oven

Lisbon by Day

It was Sunday morning and time to get on the famous tram number 28! It’s true what they say about the lines, best to get there early to avoid waiting for hours. Thankfully, it was Sunday and the wait wasn’t so bad, probably around 40 minutes.

Waiting in line for the famous tram 28
Waiting in line for the famous tram 28 🚋

This classic Lisbon tram dates back to the 1930’s and takes you through the popular tourist districts of Graca, Alfama, Baixa and Estrela. A one-way tram ticket is €3.00. We boarded at the first stop, Martim Moniz, so that we could get seats next to the window. Hold on during those hairpin turns and sharp brakes! My favorite part was riding to the last stop then taking a stroll down the narrow streets admiring the beautifully tiled buildings.

Classic blue and white Portuguese tiles.
A beautiful classic blue and white tiled building

Time Out Market

Posing at the Time Out Market

We opted to walk to the Time Out Market from the last stop on the tram. The Time Out Market is a buzzing food hall compromised of 4 and 5 star rated dishes from famous Lisbon chefs. There are a ton of food, drink and dessert options to choose from. Just make sure not to be in a time crunch as lines are long in the afternoon and finding a table is a struggle. My group decided on Ground Burger which boasted American-style burgers with Angus beef. Burgers were one of the things I missed most being away from New York and these were certainly worth the wait. Those freshly made buns and layer of red onions on top of the Angus beef were what I had been looking for! There were so many stalls to choose from and I would love to spend more time sampling different dishes on my next visit.

Next up, a walk by Jardim da Torre de Belém. It was a lovely afternoon with many families basking in the sunshine and taking in the view of the Belem tower. Although we didn’t tour inside, we enjoyed the outdoor gardens and watching the sun set over the water.

This is a great place to spend time outdoors with your friends and family. Many took advantage of the Lime scooters or rode bikes along the path. It was a wonderful place to end our Lisbon experience before heading to our flat to reminisce over a glass of wine 🍷.

Next Up: Sintra, Portugal!

International Adventures

The Cascade Center for the Arts

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The Cascade is a popular tourist destination in Yerevan best known for its 572 limestone steps, waterfalls, outdoor gardens and the amusing statues along the walkway. It’s wonderfully located, boasting a beautiful view of the city, lovely sunsets and a perfect shot of Mount Ararat. Once you climb to the top and get your instagram shots? most people just pack it up and head further into the city center. Not so fast, there’s more to this monument than what meets the eye.

The Interior

Once you are inside, you will find the Cafesjian Center for the Arts. The interior is split into several levels with each floor hosting exhibits featuring Armenian art and contemporary art from around the world. You can check out each piece close up ? or just observe them while riding the extra long escalators. My favorite exhibitions are the Swarovski Crystal Palace at the star landing and the colorful Chihuly pieces.

Concert Hall

My favorite discovery at the Cascade is the special events auditorium. My friends invited me to a Lilit Bleyan concert and I thought, why not? It was quite cool, at the end of the escalators there is a room for concerts with small dinner tables, white couches and a stage with a glass backdrop showing night views of the city. It looked great, the only thing missing was the opportunity to purchase something bubbly. The atmosphere lent to a nice dinner theatre experience?.

Lilith Bleyan

The concert itself was great. It was a lovely intimate setting, almost every angle had an unobstructed view of the stage. Lilit Bleyan sang original songs along with Armenian versions of French hits. I really enjoyed her performance and at 2500 AMD ($5 USD) for tickets it was more than worth it! Looking at the calendar of events, there seems to be a different concert every weekend.

Exterior view of the Cascade

Next time that you stop by the Cascade, make sure to venture inside to get the full experience!

Travel Tips

10 Best Traveler Gifts 2019

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Winter travel season has arrived! Just in time to snag those Black Friday and Cyber Monday deals, here are my favorite travel items:

1. Bluetooth Speakers

No matter where I’m headed, it’s guaranteed that my Bluetooth speakers are coming along for the ride. I have a few different sized speakers, perfect for a solo dance party or a long distance soiree. Check out these great waterproof JBL speakers at 50% off!

2. Hidden Pocket Scarf

To be honest I’m late to the game and just found out that his item exists 😀 The idea of this is fabulous and anyone who wants to gift me one, feel free ?. It’s nice to forgo the shoulder bag or backpack sometimes and still have easy, secure access to your cell phone, wallet and keys. Hidden pocket scarves are practical and have many stylish and inexpensive options for both men and women.

3. Portable UV Toothbrush Sanitizer

This is another item that I have just been turned on to and I feel should automatically come with your toothbrush. These UV sanitizers come in the form of toothbrush holders that clean and disinfect. What a great tool for peace of mind during shared bathroom hostel stays.

4. Amazon Kindle

I love reading and a long flight or train ride is the perfect time for digital page turning. Amazon Kindle paperwhite is lightweight, waterproof and the battery lasts for weeks.

5. Packable Duffle Bag

A foldable packable duffle bag is perfect for when you reach your destination. It’s a great multipurpose bag for the gym, shopping or even as a last minute carry on.

6. Travel Jewelry Box

It’s so important for me to carry a jewelry box while traveling. It helps me keep everything organized and safe, not searching through my whole bag looking for my missing earring ?.

7. Collapsible Water Bottle

With the TSA liquid restrictions it’s best to bring an empty water bottle through security and fill it up on the other side. Collapsible water bottles are also great for hiking, camping and sports.

8. Compression Socks

These socks saved my life while road tripping from the Grand Canyon to California. It’s also a great idea to wear a pair during long haul flights to reduce pain, swelling and to increase comfort.

9. Raised Eye Mask

I have a friend that can’t stand the pressure from traditional eye masks. This is a great solution for getting some shut eye without any added discomfort.

10. Scratch Travel Map

Any frequent traveler enjoys showing off just a little ?. This is the perfect gift for giving your favorite traveler a reason to boast about their latest conquests ?.

Now go get those deals before they are gone. Happy shopping and traveling!

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International Adventures

Fabrika an Urban Hotspot in Tbilisi

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Tbilisi is full of beautiful diversity, international plates and colorful architecture but nothing compares to the hipster vibes found at Fabrika. It’s a former soviet sewing factory restored to an urban hotspot. Fabrika boasts a highly rated hostel, endless art studios, cool shops, restaurants and delicious Ramen. With all that it claims, Fabrika does not disappoint. It had me feeling like I was transported back to Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Those NYC vibes were strong when I caught sight of the graffiti filled brick walls and the heard the chill indie beats pumping from the Marshall speakers.

My friends and I decided to spend the unseasonably warm evening exploring this much raved about spot and we totally fell in love. We took an outdoor seat to sample some Ramen and felt that we were hanging out with the cool kids. There was no pressure, everyone came as they were but it felt special.

Shio Ramen

To be honest, I’m one of the few people on earth that isn’t crazy about Ramen but Shio Ramen got it right! Not only was my bowl visually appealing but my Tom Yum Ramen dish was full of delicious and perfectly balanced flavors. We capped the eating portion of the night off with a slice of scrumptious chocolate cake from Tone and fantastic Georgian wine from Moulin Electrique. Everything was fabulous!

Plant Shop

We window shopped a bit then entered a really cool plant shop. They just received a new shipment and the shop was technically closed but they still let us browse around. There were lots of plants that I didn’t recognize but the staff was super friendly and helpful. Flower shop is a great stop for green thumbs or curious cats.

The evening ended by touring the multi use space, interacting with staff and taking photos against the walls. Let me know when you’re headed to Fabrika, I’d love to meet you there!

US Adventures

What I Wish I Knew Before Visiting Grand Canyon West

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The Grand Canyon is everyone’s dream nature spot in America. That’s true even if you aren’t a great nature-lover.

We’ve all heard the stories and seen the pictures of the endless beauty, colorful layers and boundless excursions – no exaggeration is needed. The Grand Canyon stretches over 277 miles, has several entrances and offers countless trails.

It’s important to do a little homework before heading out on your adventure. Having just completed my trip to the Grand Canyon West, here’s what I’ve learned:

Grand Canyon West is NOT part of the National Park

Grand Canyon West is operated by the Hualapai tribe and is to the west of the Grand Canyon National Park. It’s still worth a visit, especially if you are staying at Las Vegas which is less than 3 hours away.

Checking our the replica Native American village

Grand Canyon West features a replica Native American village and daily Native American dance performances among other attractions. If you would like to visit the Grand Canyon National Park you should enter at the North or South Rim.

Have an Itinerary

I know this sounds obvious but having a written itinerary and sticking with it would have helped our group see more of the Canyon.

Our original plan was to drive from Phoenix to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon on our first day but we ran out of time. We often tend to overschedule ourselves when we don’t consider how much time we will spend at a location and how much time it takes to travel between locations.

We really enjoyed what we did get to see, but we could have also visited the Grand Canyon National Park if we had a working itinerary.

Stay Close to the Canyon

We stayed on the Las Vegas Strip so that we could experience 2 trips in one. The only problem is that it required about 2.5 hours of driving to get to Grand Canyon West.

During peak season, lodging near the Canyon is scarce, but there are many options on house rental websites. Next time, I would stay at accommodations near the Canyon for at least 2 days to avoid the long drives.

Dress Appropriately

Rocking my Canyon Gear

I did quite a bit of research on how to dress for August Canyon weather and I’m so glad that I followed through. Since we visited the Canyon in the middle of Summer, temperatures were hovering around 100 º F?️ during our entire trip?.

I was so happy everyday to be wearing my broad brimmed hat, UV protection top and to have a cooling towel! I even found it helpful that I opted to wear a belt bag. It was a fun yet useful accessory and such a relief not to lug around a sweaty backpack — plus everyone loved it ?!

Grand Canyon Skywalk is Pricey

The Skywalk is a horseshoe-shaped glass bridge that stretches over the rim of the Grand Canyon. It’s really a beautiful view, looking right through the glass platform you can see a few hundred feet to the base of the Canyon.

The things I didn’t appreciate are that the Skywalk is an extra charge (prices vary depending on where you purchase) AND printed photos are $16 each. I wouldn’t have a problem with photos being extra except for the fact that you are not allowed to bring your own camera or phone on the Skywalk.

We were also on the Skywalk 30 minutes to closing time so I didn’t even notice any photographers and no one asked to take our photos ??‍♀️. It was a really cool experience, walking on a glass bridge in serenity soaking up the view. I just wish a photo package was included with the price of entry.

Visit During Off- Peak Hours

The best time to visit the Grand Canyon are Spring, Fall and Winter when most people are working and the day time temperatures are cooler.

To be honest, although we visited during the Summer season, we really didn’t run into any crowds for a few reasons. We visited at the end of August which was back to school and back to work time for many. The temperatures were very hot and most people try to avoid that.

The Golden Hour ?

We arrived to the Canyon during the afternoon and stayed until sunset while most tourists seemed to arrive for sunrise and were leaving by early afternoon. It was nice not having to wait for the crowd to disappear to take pictures nor did we have to wait in line for the shuttle bus to take us to different spots. Even during peak visitor season, you can enjoy having the Canyon practically to yourself by choosing off-peak hours ?.

Have you visited Grand Canyon West? I would love to hear your tips!

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New York

Cheap or Free Things to Do in NYC Summer 2019

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Cheap/Free Things to Do in NYC – Summer 2019

Summer is officially here!  Whether you live in the 5 boroughs full time or you’re just stopping in for a vacation, you’ll be looking for something to do that won’t break the bank.  You might find it hard to believe, but there are many ways to enjoy the city and not go bankrupt in the process!  

Summer is a great time to be in NYC, even if you’re working with a tight budget

Visit a museum

In any city, museums can be a great option for making the most of a rainy weather day or escaping the heat. Oh, and for the whole cultural experience, too, obvs.  But in NYC, the sheer number of options is staggering: well over 100 museums big and small with focuses from the ancient and austere to the modern and quirky.  There’s even an area known as Museum Mile, a stretch along 5th Avenue in Manhattan where some of the city’s finest art collections can be found. No matter your interest, there’s sure to be a museum in NYC that features it.  

Metropolitan Museum of Art – (metmuseum.org) New York’s largest (and finest) museum, affectionately known as The Met, you can easily spend hours (or days) wandering through its collection of art ranging over 5,000 years of history.  It is overwhelming in the best possible way. If your thirst for culture is somehow still unsatisfied, swing by their Cloisters and Breuer locations to get your fill.

The MET

American Museum of Natural History – (amnh.org) Always a big hit with kids of all ages.  You’re greeted by a giant dinosaur as soon as you walk in and it’s also home to the Hayden Planetarium, so the sense of awe never goes away.

El Museo del Barrio – (elmuseo.org) A museum dedicated to celebrating Latin American and Caribbean art and cultural history. You can’t help but feel infused with energy from the moment you walk in, absorbing all the ways these vibrant cultures work and play. 

Other standout museums to visit:

Whitney Museum of American Art

The Morgan Library and Museum

Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum

The Frick Collection

Asia Society

The Skyscraper Museum

The Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology 

Pro Tip: Many museums have special days or hours when entry is free, so check their websites in advance and plan your visit accordingly for even more savings!

The Morgan Library and Museum, home to rare books, drawings, manuscripts and many other artifacts

Restaurant Week

It is said that if you visited a new restaurant in NYC every day without repeating, it would take more than 65 years to try them all!  With all these options, it’s no surprise that New Yorkers really enjoy dining out. And if you think you’ll need to take out a loan to sample these eateries, think again. Twice a year, NYC hosts “Restaurant Week”, but it typically lasts 2 – 3 weeks. Restaurant Week is a chance to sample delicious fare from restaurants all over the city at a fixed price. Ever since its inception 26 years ago (when it actualy ran for a week), Restaurant Week has been an opportunity to celebrate the incredible and diverse NYC culinary experience. The food represents a wide variety of cuisines and the restaurants themselves include everything from fine dining to cozy neighborhood spots. 

NYC Restaurant Week – (nycgo.com) This summer, Restaurant Week runs from July 22 – August 16.  Check out out the list of over 350 participating restaurants offering a 2-course lunch for $26 or 3-course dinner for $42.

Delicious NYC eats – there’s definitely a Restaurant Week option to satisfy any craving!

Walk the High Line

The story of the High Line is a classic NY tale. You see, along with food, New York’s other great loves are commerce and culture. The engine of business is always reaching forward, seeking ways to innovate, never afraid to tear down what is old for the shiny and new. In contrast, there exists a deep love for the historical, beautiful and culturally relevant elements of times gone by. These opposing forces struggle for balance and shape the city as we know it today. 

The High Line was once the site of freight trains busily transporting millions of tons of meat, dairy and produce between Midtown and Downtown Manhattan.  As use of the elevated freight lines dwindled through the 60’s and 70’s, the call to demolish the entire structure steadily grew in volume into the 80’s and 90’s. Portions of the High Line were actually destroyed to make room for new construction.  But in true New York fashion, there were those who took note of the wild beauty of the overgrown rail lines and the balance began to tilt in favor of those who wanted to preserve it. Friends of the High Line was formed in 1999, this non-profit group has successfully advocated for conservation of the space and navigated it through sweeping transformation. 

Today, the High Line is 1.45 miles of public space with beautiful gardens, regularly host to art installations, food vendors, workshops, performances and other special events. Hands down, one of the best plces in New York City to go for a stroll, there’s no charge to enter the High Line and many of the events here are also free of charge.

The High Line – (thehighline.org) This must-see landmark runs along Manhattan’s West Side from 34th Street down to 14th Street with several access/exit points along the way.  It’s also wheelchair accessible, so everyone can come up, wander and take in the spectacular views.

The High Line is always beautiful and interesting; a unique way to experience New York City

Take the Ferry

Traffic in NYC is legendary – was the word gridlock created to describe the condition of our roads?  It definitely feels that way sometimes.  As a result, the powers that be have increasingly turned their attention to New York City’s waterways as an alternate means of transport. And why not – the city’s five boroughs are practically surrounded by water!  The Bronx lies at the southernmost tip of mainland New York State, Brooklyn and Queens sit at the westernmost end of Long Island, and Manhattan and Staten Island are each islands themselves.

Not only are the ferries an effective means of transport from point A to point B, the ride is enjoyable in and of itself.  Hopping on a ferry can be a great way to beat the heat – skimming along the water will be several degrees cooler than in the middle of the concrete jungle. It also provides an opportunity to take in panoramic views of the city or to be the view youself, capturing that perfect Instagram-worthy shot.

Staten Island Ferry – (siferry.com) The OG of New York’s ferries. The Staten Island Ferry runs 24/7 from Whitehall Terminal in Downtown Manhattan to St. George’s Terminal in Staten Island for free. It’s my preferred way to see the Statue of Liberty – you get close enough to give Lady Liberty a wave and snap some pics free of charge. Did I mention it’s free?

NYC Ferry – (ferry.nyc) For the cost of a ride on the subway (currently $2.75), you can take a boat ride to several locations throughout the city. You can hop from trendy Williamsburgh in Brooklyn over to Midtown Manhattan then swing over to new restaurant hotbed Astoria in Queens. During the summer, you can also ride from Wall Street to Governors Island, service is weekends only.

New York Water Taxi – (nywatertaxi.com) The best value with this service is clearly the IKEA Shuttle, which travels between Wall Street in Manhattan to IKEA in Red Hook, Brooklyn for $5. Their All Day Access Pass is more expensive, but it does allow you to travel between 4 popular tourist locations at your own pace.

Skip traffic on the bridges and subway — navigate the city by boat!

That’s a wrap on this first installment of inexpensive tips for enjoying New York City this summer.  There’s still so much more to explore, so stay tuned for part 2 where we explore options for music, movies and more!

International Adventures

Tbilisi, Georgia

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Georgia is a former Soviet Union country that lies at the intersection of Asia and Europe and has one of the most beautiful yet complicated looking alphabets. I kept hearing about its beauty due to its Caucasus mountain ranges and colorful capital city, Tbilisi.  Since I was spending time next door in Armenia, I decided to check it out. I didn’t realize what a fantastic time we would have taking the road trip from Yerevan. My friends and I used a transportation service that provided a mini van and driver for our journey, which took all the stress out of driving ourselves or figuring out public transportation. We only paid $12 USD each for a very comfortable ride with beautiful roadside views and it was totally worth it. Our driver was very friendly, he told us about all the places we saw along the way and made frequent stops to ensure our comfort. The only downside was that it started snowing during our journey causing the winding roads to become very slippery and extending what is usually a 5 hour drive by a few hours ?.

Road trip Views

In love at first sight

At midnight I was impressed by the Architecture

My first impressions of Tbilisi were, wow, it’s beautiful, colorful and diverse! We arrived in Marjanishvili Square around midnight and the architecture was striking. We were standing in the middle of the street just gawking at the buildings, it seemed as if we were at the center of an expensive European city!

The next day we went exploring around 9 am and to be honest we were the only ones on the streets. Like Armenians, Georgians are late sleepers, so the city doesn’t start hopping until the afternoon. It was nice to venture about without fighting a crowd.

As for the diversity factor, it seemed like there was quite a mix of culture in Tbilisi. When the city came alive we noticed people of varied backgrounds touring along with us. My diverse little group of travel partners blended in without experiencing any head turns, which was refreshing.

Old Tbilisi

Exploring the city, especially Old Tbilisi, was the highlight of the whole trip. This area of the city is filled with color, rich in history, easy to navigate and most attractions were free – what’s not to love? As mentioned earlier, we started early so we walked from our Airbnb in the main part of Tbilisi while the rest of the city was still sleeping and we arrived to popular attractions before everyone else. Interesting to note, most of the attractions are quite close to each other, once you reach your first destination, you will stumble right into another one ?.

Rike Park and The Bridge of Peace

Rike Park and The Bridge of Peace should be among your first stops. Rike Park is a great place for taking a stroll, making your way through beautiful gardens, and snapping that perfect picture with an amazing floral backdrop.  It’s beautifully laid out and seems to have something for everyone, lovers’ seats, children’s play area, rest areas and lots of green grass for a picnic.

Enjoying my time on the Bridge of Peace

The park connects to The Bridge of Peace which is a relatively new attraction that opened in 2010 and was designed by the Italian Architect, Michele De Lucchi. It’s a unique glass and steel bridge with more than 6,000 LED lights that turn on 90 minutes before sunset.  This bridge is unlike anything I’ve seen before due to its bow shape design and very modern look. To me it looks like a hat from far, it definitely sticks out in comparison to the rest of the architecture in the city. Some love it, some hate it, but one thing is for sure, get there early because it’s a very popular tourist destination.

Cable Cars and the Narikala Fortress
The cable cars offer 360° views of the city

Up next are the cable cars that take you up to the Narikala Fortress. The tickets are less than $1 USD each way which you can purchase directly from the ticket booth — avoid the scalpers at the entrance of the queue trying to rip you off. Each car had large windows so that you can enjoy the incredible 360° views of the city. The colorful roofs of the old town are on full display from here. The only complaint that everyone has is that the ride is rather short so be prepared to start taking pictures as soon as you get on.

The impressive Nirikala fortress

Nirikala is a fortress from the 4th century and awaits you upon exiting the cable cars. I loved that you could freely walk all over the castle walls and get up close and personal with this historic site — plus it’s free. Just be careful, there are no safety ramps or nets and I saw many tourists getting a bit too close to the edge. This is another beautiful spot to take in views of the whole city; we took some stunning pictures without even going all the way to the top. It felt so cool to explore this ancient ruin in person ?. You can also bypass the cable cars and walk the steep uphill to Nirikala if you want to get in a good workout.

Dry Bridge Market

When my friends were telling me about Dry Bridge Market I really wasn’t sure what to expect. It was described to me as a place where all the goods are spread out on the ground and you can find anything from soviet era to modern day. Well, it’s true but it’s also more than that. This outdoor flea market is rich in history. After the fall of the Soviet Union, locals would come here to sell their goods to survive; today that is still the case for some. Medals, coins, gas masks, any soviet item you can think of is probably on display. My favorite as usual was the jewelry, old records and the artwork, I could have spent hours walking around. If you are planning on visiting just make sure it’s good weather as there is no protection from the rain and vendors might not show up. Another tip, if you happen to speak Russian you should probably be the one doing the negotiating in the group, it was a lot easier to communicate and build relationships in Russian vs. English.

Clock Tower
The leaning Clock Tower

Let’s just say that the leaning clock tower is definitely one of the quirkier attractions that I’ve ever visited. After walking down a long narrow street in Old Tbilisi, we bumped into a small crowd surrounding the tower. At the top of the hour, the screen below the clock opens up and a small performance based on the circle of life proceeds. The leaning tower appears to be something from history yet it was built in 2011 by renowned puppeteer Rezo Gabriadze.  He also created the puppet theater that the tower is attached to. This is a colorful and interesting sight to add to your list.

I ❤ Tbilisi

There was so much to see and do in this capital city that I definitely need to return a few more times to experience everything. I just loved that it’s a walk able city with many sights in close proximity to each other. To be honest, everything mentioned above was accomplished in 24 hours which speaks to the ease of navigation and the abundance of activities to keep you entertained. Next time you are in the far east of Europe, check out Tbilisi, you will fall in love!

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Travel Tips

Packing Essentials

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Don’t Leave Home Without It!

Have you ever arrived at your destination only to realize you left an all important item behind? ??‍♀️??‍♀️??‍♀️ Nothing is worse than having to shell out tons of money for a replacement or not being able to find an essential at all. I’ve definitely suffered from both scenarios, therefore, I put together this Don’t Leave Home Without It list:

Hair Products

This will be particularly beneficial to all my natural girls. While traveling, especially off the beaten path it can be frustrating to encounter everyone having one hair type (read: easy to manage straight hair) and not being able to find products that are compatible with your locks. This can certainly put a damper on your vacation since you want to look cute in your IG pics ?. That being said, make sure to carry your essential hair products in the appropriate size containers if you are only traveling with a backpack. The last thing you want is to have your products confiscated by airport security.

Cash

Usually I carry a minimal amount of cash and mostly rely on an international credit card but after my last trip around the world, I realize the importance of cash. Having cash makes it easier to exchange money on the go plus you can avoid ATM and bank fees from constantly withdrawing money. Equally as important is to have crisp, undamaged bills. In several countries some of my bills were rejected because they were folded, had small rips or had a tiny mark on them.

Antibacterial Wipes

I carry antibacterial wipes and gels with me everywhere, I even gift them to others on my travels. We all know that the food tray is the dirtiest thing on the plane and it never gets cleaned properly so wipes are perfect for that. More importantly, I’ve visited many places where there was no soap and water in the bathroom. Don’t leave home without those wipes!

Camera Gear

I mostly use my Google Pixel phone to snap pictures along my journey but while traveling with my DSLR I make sure to have my accessories. You don’t want to leave home without your extra battery, necessary lenses, charger, multiple SD cards, tripod and so on. Buying replacement camera accessories will certainly cost you a pretty penny in any country.

Polaroid Camera

I love traveling with my Instax camera, not only does it take nostalgic pics but the Polaroids are also a great gift. The first place that I took my Instax on the road with me was to Kenya and it was such a hit. I really enjoyed taking pictures for people who never had a picture of themselves. They were lining up for family photos and I just received the biggest smiles when I gave them their photo. As mentioned earlier, don’t forget to carry batteries and extra film packs for your Polaroid camera.

Battery Pack

A well used battery pack ?

A portable battery pack is a must as it keeps your devices alive while traveling between destinations. Depending on your destination the electricity might go out every now and then so make sure to keep your battery pack fully charged.

International Power Adapter

An International power adapter is a must when traveling. Power sockets and charges vary by region so most likely your devices won’t plug in to your destinations wall without an adapter. There are so many convenient travel adapters available offering compatibility with 150 countries and surge protection. Just make sure the country you are visiting is listed on the packaging and opt for units that offer multiple slots for charging.

Headphones

Wireless headphones are my everything during traveling. They can block out unwanted noise and at the same time let you enjoy a personal concert. Just be careful with wireless bluetooth headsets, I dropped a pair while going through security and had to buy a replacement for the remainder of my trip ?. For those traveling without checked in luggage, wireless earbuds are a great option.

Medication

Once you leave your home country, the availability of medication varies greatly from place to place. I always travel with stomach medication because I like to taste everything but it may not always agree me. If you have food allergies, seasonal allergies or a chronic condition make sure to carry backup medication so you don’t end up experiencing an emergency. This is also a good place to mention feminine products. Make sure to carry what you need as products vary by country.

Contact Lenses

Not only should you travel with spare contact lenses and eyeglasses but you should carry a copy of your valid prescription. Having worked as an eye care professional in New York City for more than 12 years, tourists have told me thousands of times that they can just go up to “any” counter in Europe and tell the salesperson what they want. New York State laws are different, you need to bring in a valid prescription or you have to pay to get a new eye exam. Don’t be that person that gets an eye infection from over wearing their contacts because you don’t want to pay for an eye exam. You might even find a cute pair of eyeglasses while you’re traveling, so don’t forget to bring your prescription with you.

Flip Flops

Flip flops are essential for protecting your feet against bacteria. I usually carry a cheap rubber pair that I use exclusively for showering in shared spaces and rental rooms. Don’t forget to also bring your cute pair for your stroll on the beach ?.

Bathing Suit

Bathing suit made the list because it’s an essential item that you should carry with you no matter the season. Traveling in the middle of winter to a cold climate, I still ended up going to a spa in the mountains ?. Once for a work trip I was put up in a hotel with a beautiful pool. Unfortunately, I didn’t pack a bathing suit and due to my work schedule I didn’t get out of work in time to go shopping. Now I travel with at least one bathing suit and I always end up swimming ?.

Keep the good times going by being prepared with the essentials!

International Adventures

8 Fun Things to do for Free in Yerevan

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According to my recent poll results on Instagram more than 70% of my followers would have trouble finding Armenia on a map ?. FYI, its a landlocked country nestled between Georgia, Turkey, Azerbaijan, and Iran.

There are many awesome reasons to visit Armenia. There’s even more incentive when you don’t have to blow your budget to have some fun. Here’s my list of the top 8 free things that I enjoyed in Yerevan:

1. Yerevan Cascade

The Cascade is made up of 572 giant limestone steps that will give you a great workout by the time you make it to the top. I enjoyed stopping at every level that I climbed to take pictures and to catch my breath… don’t tell anybody ?. Every step gives you a different perspective of the city but the view at the top is the ultimate reward. Panoramic views of central Yerevan and a full view of Mount Ararat is definitely worth the thigh burn ?. The good news is that you can opt to take the escalator instead if you aren’t keen on sweating to the top.

Even if you don’t want to take the escalator, it’s a good idea to head inside the Cascade to check out the art gallery. I saw some cool Chihuly and Swarovski pieces. The view from the top at night is not to be missed, the city is full of lights.

2. Singing and Dancing Fountains

I really enjoyed checking out these beautiful fountains in Republic Square. They seem to happen every night from Spring to Fall approximately between 8 pm and 11 pm. The square fills up with tourists and locals alike waiting to enjoy the water show set to music ranging from classical to rock and everything in between. Everyone is intrigued by the colorful lights and some are moved to dance along with the music.

3. GUM Market

This is my favorite food market in Armenia. First off, plan on arriving hungry because you will be stuffed with samples. Everything is on display from live chickens to a variety of colorful spices. My favorite part was the front section boasting the most attractive and tasty Armenian fruit and nut treats including sujukh (walnuts strung together and coated in syrup).

4. Vernissage

This is an excellent open air market to check out Armenian culture. The market is filled with lots of Pomegranate souvenirs, the symbol of Armenia. You can find relics from soviet times and many beautiful traditional Armenian handicrafts. I had to peel myself away from the jewelry section, I kept revisiting the beautiful earrings and rings made from apricot and walnut trees. There is a ton of silver jewelry here and very reasonably priced. Remember this only remains a free thing to do if you leave empty handed ?.

5. The Obelisk

Beyond The Cascade lies the Monument to 50 Years of Soviet Armenia. Armenia declared it’s independence from the Soviet Union on September 21st 1991. The monument is massive and hard to miss while driving through the city. I enjoyed stopping by as I was able to meet many friendly foreigners here and take unobstructed pictures of the city.

6. Water Fountains

There is nothing better than having access to free, delicious, clean water on a hot day. Armenia is known to have some of the best tasting water in the world and you can have access to it from the Pulpulak a.k.a. public water fountains throughout the city. Some of the fountains are rather detailed and fancy looking but they all contain that wonderful sweet tasting water. You might be thinking, but is it safe to drink the water? From my personal experience as an American, I drank water from the fountains from the first week I arrived in Yerevan, something I won’t dare to do in NY, and I never felt sick. Of course it’s up to your own discretion but it’s great to save money on buying bottled water plus it’s tasty!

7. Watch Fresh Lavash Baking

Lavash making at SAS

Lavash is a delicious, soft, traditional flatbread that reminds me more of a wrap. It is the most popular bread in Armenia and will be served with every meal. Many times, Lavash is placed at the bottom of a meat dish and soaks up all the flavors. You can observe the beauty of this bread being made right before your eyes at countless restaurants and even at the aforementioned GUM market. It’s cool to watch as the flattened dough is slapped into a large, circular, in-ground oven.

I also loved visiting SAS Food Court where everything was freshly made right behind the counter so you can see it. The donut making pulled me in. I promise you that it will be impossible to leave without buying one food item – but it’s so worth it!

8. Go for a Stroll

The Opera House

Take a walk through the city or join a free walking tour. The main city of Yerevan is a circle and I always ended up near The Opera House, which is a beautiful building. Be sure to observe the architecture, Yerevan is known as “the pink city”, because of the color of the stones used for building. I also enjoyed stumbling upon an outdoor art gallery and speaking with the artists. Armenia has plenty to offer culturally and historically. Enjoy your visit!

I love checking out Regional Artwork

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International Adventures

10 Things to Expect in Ukraine

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Traveling through the Carpathian Mountains

Having officially entered Ukraine 5 times, I may have made a cultural observation or two ? . Here are the top 10 things I’ve noticed while visiting this beautiful Eastern European country:

1. Hospitality is a Big Deal

I’ve traveled all around the globe and I must say that Ukrainian hospitality is among the best. If you are fortunate enough to be a guest at someone’s home or to make friends with a Ukrainian, prepare yourself. You will be fed! Food is a huge part of the culture, and your host probably spent all day cooking and preparing for your arrival.

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A home made meal in the village featuring Vereniky, Borscht and Salo.

Providing you with slippers to walk around their home is a part of the hospitality. I’m more of a socks person and would often forget to wear the sandals around the house. Whenever I just walked around in socks, I always unintentionally got my friends in trouble, everyone would ask why I wasn’t wearing sandals?.

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I was gifted sock slippers! They kept me warm and out of trouble 😉

Hospitality will involve much story telling. Ukrainians enjoy listening to your stories, hearing your thoughts on their country and sharing jokes with you. They want you to feel like a part of their family ❤️.

To show appreciation for their hospitality, it’s expected that you bring a small gift. It can be anything from flowers, a bottle of wine or a souvenir from your home country.

2. The Food is Delicious

As mentioned earlier, food plays a huge role in Ukrainian culture. There are many tasty traditional homemade dishes. There will be a separate post dedicated to the food in Ukraine. Just for starters I can tell you that Borscht, potatoes, sour cream and salads are staples in the Ukrainian diet. Nalysnyky (crepes) and Vereniky (dumplings) are among my favorite Ukrainian dishes. They both can have either sweet or savory fillings.

3. Drivers are Crazy

It doesn’t matter if you are in a taxi or on a marshrutka (minibus), the gas pedal is held down hard until there’s a very sharp and blunt brake. Other than the wild rides, it’s nice that there is usually public transportation that can take you almost anywhere in the city for about .20¢ USD on average. If you are outside the city center, hitch hiking is normal for short distances. As a foreigner, when I hitch hiked in the village the driver was so happy to have me, he didn’t even charge.

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If you want to experience real Soviet Culture, take the railway or as many call it the slow train. It can take a while to travel between cities but you can also enjoy the view on your ride. Its one the cheapest ways to go across the country and even visit a neighboring country. The “fun” part is that it’s like a hostel on wheels. Your seat is either the top part or  the bottom part of a bunk bed, but you will make new friends that will share food and trade stories with you. Fair warning, air conditioning is not provided and there are no showers on board. Let’s just say that those funky odors will stay with you long after you’ve left the train ?

4. Coffee Shops are on Every Corner

If you are a coffee lover, here’s another reason to love Ukraine. There will be coffee shops every where and the coffee is delicious. Shops are filled with friends chatting and people relaxing with something sweet along with their coffee. Lviv Coffee Mining Manufacture is a great place to visit for coffee and a show. I recommend going downstairs and grabbing a helmet ?

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Profiterole Coffee Shop in Ivano-Frankivsk

5. People Have no Sense of Personal Space

Walking down the street, standing in line at the grocery store or walking through the shops while talking to your friend that is right next to you makes no difference. People will walk into you or between you and your companion with no remorse. They have a destination and seemingly have blinders on. As much as this annoyed me, that is just life here so you have to get over it ?

6. English is Not Widely Spoken

Lviv, is a hub for tourists so I found this was the easiest city to get around if you only speak English. If you are in other cities in Western Ukraine, you will want to learn some basic Ukrainian. If you are visiting Eastern Ukraine, Russian is more widely spoken. Make sure to have your translation app with these languages already downloaded in order to help you on your journey. Another tip is to learn the Cyrillic alphabet, as it will help you sound out food and Street names. The Cyrillic alphabet will also be helpful when visiting other former soviet nations.

7. Diversity is Starting

Diversity is getting started due to the many students coming from Africa, India and Arabic speaking countries to learn at Universities in Ukraine. In most city centers, locals thought I was a student and I didn’t feel as though I was on display. Some students who remained after graduation have set up shops and are starting their own communities but there is still a long way to go. Outside the city center is a completely different story, blending in was not an option ?. Some friendly locals would strike up conversations with me, take pictures with me and ask endless questions about my braids. They were intrigued by my presence because it’s rare for them to see foreigners and it all just made me smile.

8. Flower Lovers

Ukrainians love flowers and nature in general. Flower shops are found everywhere and at their homes there is either a huge garden or many plants indoors. I’ve never been to Ukraine without receiving fresh flowers from at least one friend. Spring and Summer is a great time to visit as nature will be in bloom and the country will be absolutely beautiful. Parks will be filled with locals and sidewalk cafes will be open everywhere.

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9. Visit the Villages

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The villages in Ukraine make me happy. You will be fully immersed in nature. During the warmer months, the landscape will be bursting with colors and flowers ?. I love seeing the animals especially the baby chickens ?. The food will be as fresh and tasty as can be. Berry season is the perfect time to go as you will have the  opportunity to pick all kinds of fruits by the bucket full ??. My mouth is watering just thinking about it ?

10. Underrated Tourist Destination

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I’ve spent time in about 6 cities in Ukraine and I can tell you that for the most part there were few tourists. There is much history to be discovered and castles to explore! Ukraine is also a very affordable travel destination. Renting an apartment for your stay can start from $10 USD/ night. A dinner out usually cost about $5 USD and a meal at a very fancy restaurant with several courses and drinks cost me $20 USD. There are also very reasonable prices for visiting tourist sites, including a shuttle pick up.

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Getting into the culture

Ukraine is filled with natural beauty, friendly people and tasty food. I hope that you add Ukraine to your travel list as I’m sure that you will enjoy your visit ?