Mexican Food in Hong Kong

A few years ago, The Final Table aired on Netflix. It was a cooking competition with chefs from around the world, vying for the spot to cook for the judges at the final table. As I was watching the series, I was delighted that three chefs had restaurants based in Hong Kong since I lived just over the border and was planning a girls’ weekend for a last hurrah before two of us moved to another country.

It was a difficult decision to make, but we finally went with the Mexican option, 11 Westside, owned by Chef Esdras Ochoa. And I’m so glad we went with that choice. 

11 Westside is located in Kennedy Town on Hong Kong Island, just around the corner from the metro. Walking into the space, I was taken aback by the unique chandeliers; they dimly glittered above to offer a soft glow on the dining area–the perfect ambience for an evening of fun and camaraderie with fabulous ladies. 

The food menu offered numerous Mexican delights, including a variety of tacos, quesadillas, steak dishes. I am a sucker for fresh guacamole, so we ordered it, which was later prepared table side; this meant we could tailor it to how we liked it , which meant spicy for me. For my main course I ordered the Steak Sonora: prime skirt steak served with brussel sprouts caramelized in a balsamic vinegar reduction. The steak was pure perfection–juicy and tender. 

One unique thing about 11 Westside is the bar, full of drinks created by the beverage director, Daniel Eun, a leader in the world of craft cocktails. The drink menu is definitely one of a kind. It takes after an old-school hip hop CD front cover insert. The influence of Dr. Dre is all over the menu, with drinks named California Love, Nothing but a “G” Thang, and Forget About Dre. 

Eating at 11 Westside is a treat, especially with the right company. Next time you are in Hong Kong, put this place on your list of places to check out!

Afternoon Tea Above the City

The five Etihad Towers in Abu Dhabi are set apart from the rest of the iconic cityscape of downtown. They soar above the Emirates Palace, Presidential Palace, and Arabian Gulf. The Towers are also featured in the film Fast & Furious 7, when Dom Torreto drives a Lykan Hypersport supercar (valued at over $3 million USD) from the 45th floor of one tower into a neighboring one. The Towers, though, are a lot more than drive-through buildings; they also offer several food and beverage options. 

One of the options is in the Conrad Abu Dhabi Etihad Towers at its Observation Deck at 300, a perfect place to meet up and to share an afternoon tea service.

From the minute I walked out of the Observation Deck at 300’s special elevator and looked out at the stunning 360° views from level 74, I knew I was in for a treat that afternoon. 

I was quickly shown to my table, waiting for me next to the floor to ceiling windows. The moment I sat down, a coconut and cherry concoction was placed in front of me to enjoy as I waited for the tea fare to be rolled to me (yes, it is literally rolled to the table in a glass display cabinet on wheels). As I waited for my treats to be placed on the three tier metal stand, in the shape of a sail to mimic the towers, I decided to take a stroll around the deck. There truly wasn’t a bad view from any table. 

Soon the food was set in its proper places…the bottom tier were savory sandwich bites, the middle tier held the sweets, and the scones were perched on the top. 

Allow me to share what each tasty treat was…I will start from the bottom. For the savory bites, the plate held: a smoke salmon atop a dill bread with a dollop of caviar and creme fraiche, a roast beef with pimiento on beetroot bread, a raisin bread with chicken salad, a mozzarella and zucchini atop a focaccia, a tuna and avocado wrap, and my favorite, a roasted pumpkin and onion tart with gorgonzola. 

The rich sweets were also on another level and stand out as being some of the best tea desserts I have ever placed between my lips. The plate offered a vanilla battenberg, fruit tart, orange crinkle cookie, strawberry madeleines, cherry roulade, a caramel cheesecake, chocolate choux buns, and my absolute two favorites of all: a lotus cream donut and a chocolate lollipop. 

Of course, I cannot forget about the necessary scones. Two types were offered, white chocolate and cranberry scones and rose scones, served with the required clotted cream and jam. 

Now, I admit, I could not eat it all at the same seating so I ended up bringing some of the sweets home with me (as they do not allow the savory sandwiches to be put in takeaway boxes). I definitely enjoyed the sweets later from the comfort of my bed, still savoring each sugary bite. 

Next time you find yourself wanting to enjoy delicious food high above the city with friends or a special someone, check out the Observation Deck at 300, located in Conrad Abu Dhabi Etihad Towers. 

Observation Deck at 300

Conrad Abu Dhabi Etihad Towers

Price for Afternoon Tea: 220AED per person (44GBP, 50Euro, $60USD)

An Oasis in the Desert

The United Arab Emirates is a country full of opulence and excess. Luxury oozes from it’s veins. Whether you find yourself in the sand dunes of the desert, or in one of the cities within the seven emirates, you will have no problem finding somewhere to stay that makes you feel like a king or queen, or in this case, a sheikh or sheikha. 

One place I’ve recently stayed that wrapped me in elegance and luxury is Qasr Al Sarab, an Anatara resort located in the Liwa Desert of Abu Dhabi. Entering into the Liwa Desert, rolling sand dunes greeted me in a mixture of hues…orange, red, tan, and of course gold. I felt as if I was traveling to a whole other world, though I was only about three hours away from downtown Abu Dhabi. As I pulled up to the center courtyard to valet my Lexus for the stay, I was in awe of the grand Islamic architecture surrounding me…scalloped arches and walls, fountains, turrets, and palm trees. 

I was ushered into the lobby’s sitting area and offered a small plate of dates (a traditional treat here) and date milk as we waited to be checked in. I’ve never been a fan of the texture of dates, but date milk is sweet and certainly welcomed, especially when served in colorful glasses with gold designs. Check in didn’t take too long and before we knew it, a cart was waiting to whisk me away to my Deluxe Garden Room. 

As I walked down the steps of a short darkened stairway, my anticipation grew. The door opened to the room and I was not disappointed. The warm wood ceiling beams complemented the ecru-toned stucco walls, as the Arabian chandelier gave the room a soft glow. My room included a terrace with comfortable patio furniture and views of the dunes, perfect for watching the sunset from. But the piece de resistance was the bathroom. On the other side of the bathroom’s double wooden doors was a massive room with a large walk-in rain shower, double sinks, and the largest tub I’ve ever seen. I’m a sucker for tubs where you can toss in a Lush bathbomb and soak your entire body. This tub was large enough for more than one person to get a good soak in at the same time, or for any other particular activities that your imagination can conjur.

Qasr Al Sarab offers plenty of desert activities for guests to enjoy, but I’m a water person by nature, so I immediately headed off to the large pool to enjoy time amongst the palm trees and under the oasis’s sun. The lounge chairs and umbrellas offered a comfortable place to admire the pool from, but the water was too inviting, so I jumped in. In one of the shallow areas of the pool, curved lounges were ready to provide a place for me to relax in the sun while also remaining in the cool pool–the best of both worlds! Food and beverage services were offered at the pool area, so I ordered the pineapple and ginger mojito, a refreshing blend of mint, ginger, pineapple, sugar, and Captain Morgan. 

For dinner, the food at the resort’s rooftop grill, Suhail, looked enticing. I asked to be seated on the terrace for my meal. The menu at Suhail offers a variety of dishes, from pasta to steak to seafood. I admit, I had a difficult time trying to choose the dishes I wanted to eat due to how wonderful it all sounded! But I finally decided on the lobster bisque for my appetizer, the butternut risotto for my main course, and followed it up with a creme brulee. The bisque was rich and creamy with chunks of lobster meat (my absolute favorite food), the risotto was warm and comforting, and the creme brulee was sweet and large enough for at least two people to enjoy. 

Though the setting, accommodations, food and selection of activities of Qasr Al Sarab are all individually amazing, it is the whole experience that sets it apart from other luxury desert resorts. I truly wished I could have stayed longer. From the tiny details, such as the wooden camel door sign etched with “Do Not Disturb” to the friendly staff that went out of their way to make sure I was enjoying my stay, this resort is one that definitely stands out from the long list of hotels and places I’ve stayed during my time in the UAE. So, if you ever find yourself looking for a magical getaway in the desert, put Qasr Al Sarab at the top of your list.

Exciting News!

I am excited to announce a new writing adventure: a website where I can merge all three of my blogs into one! Before, I had a travel blog, one that shared about dating site scams, and another that shared fun stories. Now, you can check out my site! I will take from this site sometimes (borrow, I mean), but I will also be adding new content in the next few months!


Thank you for taking the time to enjoy this blog! I really appreciate it, and hope you will like my new one just as much!

https://hclayton8229.wixsite.com/my-site

Riches to Rixos

Last weekend, I whisked myself away to one of the Rixos’s property with a couple of wonderful friends; this one is an all-inclusive resort along the pristine shoreline of Abu Dhabi’s Saadiyat Island. Not only does this resort offer fabulous rooms and villas, it offers day passes. As much as I would have loved an overnight stay, this time we were there to enjoy the pool and food. 

We arrived early in the morning. Walking into the opulent lobby, I was mesmerized by the gaudy clear and blue crystal chandelier perched above the fountain. It was FABULOUS! I wish I could have that baby installed in my apartment; it would go perfectly with The Danish (my velvet couch). Walking down a marble staircase, we checked in at the Turquoise Restaurant, a buffet style restaurant offering indoor and outdoor seating. Since it was about 9am and still slightly chilly outside, we opted to dine upon some breakfast fare before making our way to the pool. The buffet offered the usual foods found in the morning: bread, pancakes, waffles, sausages (chicken, veal), hashbrowns. Though the food wasn’t necessarily impressive, the fresh squeezed orange juice definitely stole the show! After multiple glasses, my friends and I strolled along the back lawn towards my favorite part of the day: the pool area. 

We grabbed a couple of loungers and spread our towels. A waiter on rollerblades came straight away to us to take beverage orders and to leave an ice bucket full of water bottles. The pool beverage menu was pretty extensive, offering wine, beer, hard liquor, cocktails and mocktails, juices, sodas, and lemonades. A wonderful way to quench your thirst while lounging poolside. 

Throughout the day, we were checked on several times by the rollerblader and waitstaff. The music was loud enough to prevent other guests from eavesdropping on our conversations while soft enough to still allow us to talk to each other. The pool offered plenty of space for us to swim and cool off. The water’s temperature was nearly perfect: not freezing and not warm. Submerging myself into the water, I felt like Goldilocks when she found her “Just Right” porridge, bed, and man (oh wait, she never found a man, did she?). 

For lunch, we did return to Turquoise since it was the only restaurant available for the all-inclusive deal for day goers. Again, the food was average, but did offer one stand-out star…it was a delectable marshmallow cake. The chocolate mouse cake had a creamy marshmallow layer on top that just made the whole thing…sinfully delicious. Had I eaten that first, I would have skipped all the food and focused on a plate full of the “marshmallow cake”. 

Feeling gluttonous, we returned to our loungers and basked away in the warm desert sun until evening. Though the food didn’t leave a lasting impression (except for that one cake), the Rixos offered a chance for us to enjoy time in the sun and away from our computer screens.  

One final note about the Rixos, I enjoyed the pool and speedy beverage service. The customer service was outstanding! But the Rixos claims to be a 5 star resort, and I’m not sure I can agree with that rating. Based on the food and the options it was offering, it is more like 3.5 or 4 stars (on a good day). I was lucky and was able to experience it for the Privilee price of 298AED (daypasses can range from 350AED to 500AED). Though the app says there are a few places to grab food, one of the places was closed which left us with Turquoise as being our only option. It isn’t a bad place to stay and hang out for the day, but needs to amp that food up if it wants to be a legit 5 star resort.

The Food of Nice

Food is love. Or wait, maybe it’s just that I love food. Either way, to me, food = love. Every time I am fortunate enough to visit my family in the US, I whip up a blueberry cobbler for my brother and nephew. I truly enjoy making it for “my boys”. Like, the cobbler is gone in minutes. My nephew always asks what I do to make it taste the way it does. The answer is simple–I tell him: I make it with love. This is when he usually gives me an eyeroll, a skill I have taught him. Well, the food in Nice is no exception to this theory.

On our second day in Nice, Sunia and I ventured out into the heart of the old part of town for our dinner. The first thing I noticed is that the area didn’t really come alive and restaurants didn’t start to open until 6pm. Now, I am an older person in a younger body (keep the remarks to yourself) and 6pm sounded so late! But, being in France and not having a whole lot of choice, I dealt with it. The amount of cafes and restaurants available to dine at was overwhelming! So many options! I definitely craved something French. After debating our million options, we settled on a place that had a 3-course dinner special. 

My food senses took over as it glanced at the menu options. I was going to enjoy this meal! My first course was escargot. Yeah, I know. Snails. But, luckily I had dined upon snails when I lived in Shenzhen, China, so I was cool with the gastropods. They were sauteed in a garlic butter sauce. I ate all of them! The main course was a sea bream caught in the Mediterranean Sea. It was fresh and crisp with flavor. But the best (and usually in most cases, my favorite) course was the dessert. A molten chocolate fondant (fancy way to say lava cake). It was brought out and placed in front of me; I started salivating. I am not sure how I had room in my stomach, but I knew I would be finishing this delectable piece of heaven. I took my fork and split the small chocolate goodness in half. Chocolate lava oozed out in a slow flow. I couldn’t wait anymore. It was gone within a minute. And, truthfully, if I didn’t think it would be unclassy, I would have totally licked that plate. 

TartofSwissChardOn another day, we took a walking food tour with TAG Tours. Highly recommended! And this is something I would do if (well, when, because I’m going to make it happen) I get back to Nice. As a warning, I am a horrible blogger and did not write the names down of all the actual dishes or some of the restaurants we stopped at. I apologize and vow to do better in the future. We met near one of the plage (beach) entrances along the Promenade close to the Opera de Nice. Our guide was bubbly and energetic–it was evident she loved the food and area. She presented each of us (there were only three of us on the tour, which was nice) with a tourte des blettes from a bakery called Multari; we were asked to take a bite first and guess what it was. I’m never very good at these sorts of games. I knew there was some kind of greens in it, but that was it. The savory treat she offered us was actually a swiss chard tart with the greens, raisins, and flaky pastry. I admit, it was pretty good for something involving raisins.

IMG_2025As we strolled along the pathway along the entrance to the Opera de Nice, we stopped in front of the most fantastic looking sweets shop, Maison Auer. This shop was established in 1820, has been in the same family for five generations, and according to our guide, was a favorite of Queen Victoria for tea when she was in the area. Upon entering the shop, the smell of all things sugary assaulted my senses (in a totally good way). Barrels of candied fruits filled the shop. We were offered samples of the sweet candied fruit, which I had not tasted before. I now know that I prefer the tart candied lemons over candied oranges. In the back of the shop, intricately designed chocolate eggs sat atop glass displays of little chocolate pieces. I couldn’t help myself. Sure, I purchased some candied fruits for gifts for family, friends, and to share with my students, but I also bought a couple of boxes of chocolates for myself. I treated myself to one that night. It was filled with a hazelnut cream filling that was positively delightful. I saved the rest for when I returned home so I could transport myself away to the South of France when I needed a mini-escape. 

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After finally being forced out of Maison Auer, we headed to Caprioglio, a wine shop where you could bring your own bottle to fill! The price was super cheap; in fact, a litre of wine was cheaper than a litre of water from the convenient store.IMG_2041

Next, we were headed towards a market a couple of stops away via the tramway. At this market, we tasted unpasteurized goat cheese. I’m not a cheese person, but I do love goat cheese. This goat cheese we sampled was the creamiest I have ever tasted. I even purchased some so I could snack on it throughout the tour (you know, in cases I got hungry on the food tour).

We then went into a small little storefront that housed a bar (yay for some rose!) and a few deli counters. We were able to sample some onion tarts with a small glass of rose. I think that tart was one of my favorites…well, now that I think about it, it was all my favorite. Feeling good from the rose, we crossed the road to the seafood section of the market. One of the vendors was a good friend of our guide and offered us fresh (like, just shucked) oysters with a dash of lemon juice. I was happy to feast on them! We also had a chance to taste socca, a pizza like snack made with chickpea flour. It was chewy and delicious, a good snack food if you ever find yourself wandering around the streets of Nice. 

Socca

Socca

We took the tramway back towards the Old Town area, but took a quick stop at PaneOlio for some antipasti, salad nicoise, glass of rose, and a frozen espresso. By this time, I was starting to feel a bit full and stuffed, but I didn’t allow this to stop me. My parents didn’t raise a quitter. 

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Going back into Old Town, we stopped at a shop that’s specialty was olive oil. This was Olio Donato. The process of extracting olive oil and the differences between the various types of olive oil were explained to us, but I was more impressed with the other items the store sold. We were allowed to sample the lavender honey; the honey was smooth with a light floral undertone. We were also allowed to sample the truffle salt. Damn! I could inhale that stuff; it made me a believer in truffle. Needless to say, I walked out of that store with “gifts” that I intended to give to family and friends, but ended up staying with me to enjoy. 

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After a gelato break at Roberto’s, our tour was over. It was hard to believe the tour was only 4 hours long, but so full of amazing food. This was an experience I would tell anyone to go do…well, taste in this case. Clearly, the people of Nice love their food, but also love sharing it, for which my stomach, taste buds, and I are grateful for. 

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Cannes Festival of Pyrotechnic Art

Cannes is most famous for its yearly film festival, Festival de Cannes. Stars arrive on glorious yachts to walk the red carpet leading up to the Palais des Festivals et des Congres (a local convention center). Another event that is held annually throughout the summer is the Cannes Festival of Pyrotechnic Art. Countries around the world come to compete and show their sparks in the sky every weekend. 

I personally love fireworks. It’s like glitter in the sky. And really, who doesn’t love some sparkle? I still stand by my original belief that this world would be a little happier if we left a little sparkle wherever we walk. 

When we found out that we would be in the area during the festival, I scrambled to find a way we could watch the show. I mean, sure, we could just go and be a regular spectator, but that’s not how I roll (or like to roll); I wanted to see it from a boat on the water because I felt like it would probably offer the best view of the show….Plus, I fully admit, I like boats. Sunia was very encouraging in the matter as well, especially when I waned on whether or not we should attend since we were arriving the same day and would have to find a way to get from Nice to Cannes. She was awesome and figured out the train system so we could go, while I booked a car to bring us back after the show. After looking at many options (most of which were booked and full), we found a dinner cruise that would take us to watch the fireworks. The best part about being to watch the show that particular night? A team from France was showing off its pyrotechnic skills, so I knew the show would be dazzling since it was a home team. 

After we flew into Nice, settled into the hotel, we got ready to make our way to Cannes.Sunia was quite patient with me as well. It was about a 10 minute walk from our hotel to the train station. Once we got there, I did find the whole train thing confusing at first (purchasing tickets and platforms), but luckily Sunia knew what she was doing. We purchased tickets and found the right train and platform. We got on and traveled to Cannes.  I feel like I should share that I was getting over a sinus infection at the time as well. I felt miserable and low on energy, but those sparkles were calling my name, so I kept pushing. Once we arrived at the station in Cannes, I was overwhelmed by the amount of people! Definitely crowded, and I’m not sure if it’s like this all year round or just because it was the night of the fireworks. Either way, we walked a few blocks and saw the marina. There were more boats and yachts in the marina than people! It was literally a sea of boats. We walked for what seemed like forever and finally found where we needed to meet the boat we would spend the evening on. 

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Just a tiny part of the marina

The boat was a good size. Sunia and I found a couple of spots in the front on the bow (I admit, I don’t know the technical names of the boat areas…I’m guessing that’s what the front area was called) and settled in for the evening. We sailed along the coast as the sun began to set. Time for dinner, we took turns visiting the buffet, full of savory and sweet dishes. The sun set as we ate, painting the sky in hues of soft pinks and blues. Soon, our captain took us to the area in front of the Bay of Cannes where the fireworks are set off from. We bobbed in the water, watching the incoming yachts of all sizes. My hat goes off to the captains of all those boats! I can only imagine trying to navigate through the maze the boat population created. 

Suddenly, the lights went off, a spark was sent into the air, and the first boom hit the sky. For a good solid 30 minutes, gold glitter lit up the sky! It was one of the best fireworks shows I’ve witnessed in person. I do admit that I could be saying this because I was in the French Riviera at the time so there’s every possibility I was swayed by the location. I am not often focused for moments longer than twenty minutes at a time, but I was mesmerized for the entire show, allowing myself to be transported into a world made of light and glitter. 

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The show ended too soon and the captain made his way back to our dock. Our driver came and we, exhausted, climbed in. Just as the boat captain had to navigate the small paths caused by the amount of boats, our driver had to navigate the small roadways full of cars and pedestrians. Eventually, we made it back to Hotel West End where we both fell in our beds, quickly falling asleep. 

That night, I replayed the pyrotechnic show again and again as I fell into a deep sleep. The next day, I woke up with a sense of renewed energy, with not a sign of that stupid sinus infection. I have no proof, but I’m pretty sure my new home (well, temporary for the next week) and being surrounded by fireworks the night before cured that infection.

An Introduction to Nice

Have you ever traveled to a place and instantly felt connected? Like you belonged there? Though you’ve never been there before, the streets felt familiar and the smells warmed your heart? You walked along those familiar streets, a smile in your heart, simply because you felt at home in this place you’ve never been before? 

I have been fortunate to grow up with amazing opportunities because of supportive parents,  brother, and nephew. I’ve traveled to many places in this world and experienced different sights and cultures and food. But, a few years ago, a friend (Sunia)  and I decided to travel to the Cote d’Azur for a holiday. For those who are asking themselves, “Coat day what?” The Cote d’Azur is the French Riviera. Think Cannes and Monaco. Think Grace Kelly: She was the epitome of, well, grace and sophistication. Elegance. She married a prince! Growing up, I would love to watch How to Catch A Thief with Grace Kelly. Actually, I watched a lot of her movies. Oh, The Swan, Rear Window, and High Society. I loved them. But I just remember watching How to Catch A Thief and thinking WOW. So, once Sunia and I decided on this area, I was sold and ready for this trip. And the research began. 

Please note: You may be asking, “Okay, Heather, thanks for sharing, but why are you writing about this now? After taking a few years hiatus from this blog?” My answer isn’t probably the best, but after being in lockdown for months and travel being ripped from me ( I know, I know, ripped makes it sound dramatic, but exploring is in my blood, a part of who I am; so yes, it has been like an essential part of what settles my soul has been torn away from me), you begin to reflect on things. Nice has been entering my mind almost daily and I need to honor this feeling. Plus, since I’m here in Abu Dhabi for the summer this year, I gotta fill my time somehow. 

Back to the story. 

Shout out to the travel partner: I never gave her enough credit when we lived in the same city/country, but Sunia really is a fun person to travel with. She’s easy going, calm, and open to suggestions. I was lucky that she wanted to travel with me. Throughout the planning process, she really gave me a lot of control. And like we’ve done in the past, I came up with an activity and she did as well, so we both got to see/do things we wanted. So, Sunia, if I haven’t said it before, you are amazing and thank you for sharing this experience with me. 

There were so many amazing things about Cote d’Azur, not only yachts (which I also love). I don’t want to rush this process of honoring this trip by squeezing it all into this one entry, so I plan on spreading it out over the course of a few entries. Here’s what I’ll be writing about over the next couple of weeks: St. Tropez, The Food of Nice, Cannes (short, but worthy), Monaco and Eze, Grasse and Antibes, and today I’ll share about Nice (our hotel, a childhood dream come true sort of experience, and “our beach”). 

My reason for writing about this trip (and perhaps a few others) is to introduce you to a place I truly love. I hope, through reading this, you get a sense of the joy and connectedness I felt while traveling this area. 


Our Hotel: Hotel West End

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We decided to base ourselves out of Nice because we could easily get to the other places via train or ferry for day trips. 

I am a huge beach person. Give me a lounger and umbrella, and I am a happy camper. So, when it came to selecting a hotel in Nice, I knew I wanted to have a hotel that had easy access to the beach. Hotel Negresco is a well-known hotel along the Nice Promenade. It’s beautiful pink dome screams elegance and history. The hotel has welcomed Elizabeth Taylor, Grace Kelly, and even the Beatles. 

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We did not stay at Hotel Negresco. Instead, I looked in the same area to see if I could find a hotel that was similar (near the Promenade). In my search, I found Hotel West End, a hotel built in 1842. It sits across from the Promenade and a private beach, has a restaurant, and is within walking distance of the older part of town. I was sold! So, we booked a room at Hotel West End for our stay in Nice. Our room was roomy enough for the two of us, each having our own bed; the bathroom also had a tub. The room had a window, and if you leaned out of it, you could see the sea (I did this on several occasions). Upon check in, we were given a small plate of macaroons to welcome us to the hotel.

Our room came with daily breakfast. This was a wonderful way to start the day. Sunia and I would usually head down about 8:30. I went for the French bread on the small buffet before heading to a table. Once seated, I would pour balsamic vinegar into a small dish. I would start by tearing small pieces of bread’s center and pressing it into the balsamic vinegar. I would allow the small piece to soak up about half of the dark liquid before popping it into my mouth. When I ran out of the soft innards of the bread, I moved on to my favorite part: the crunchy crust. It was perfect. I could easily eat this everyday for the rest of my life. 

I recommend this hotel if you’re staying in Nice and the Negresco is out of your budget. Though the hotel is dated and could use some updates, I would definitely stay here again. 

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Hotel West End at night


Blue Beach

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Another reason Hotel West End stood out to me when searching was due to the private beach across from the hotel: Blue Beach. I loved it. Hotel guests received discounts. We went quite a few times. We would stroll across the street, down the stairs, pay for the loungers and umbrella, find our spots (usually about the third row), settle down, and then ogle the servers while listening to the waves. The servers were younger men, tan, toned, and buff, wearing shorts and tight white shirts. (no photos available—I apologize to my readers).  They would adjust your umbrellas if you needed them to, bring menus, take your order, bring your food….just Heaven. 

I had two go-to dishes on the menu: a tomato and mozzarella salad or mussels and fries (a popular dish in this area). Of course, each dish came with bread and balsamic vinegar, so again, I say Heaven. Plus, the balsamic vinegar was a spray bottle!! Even better! When we ordered water (one should stay hydrated while lounging), the bottle came in a clear plastic tote bag filled with ice; the bags were hung on our umbrella stand, making for easy access. 

Now, I do love lounging waterside, but sometimes you need to take a dip in the water. I had read about the beaches of Nice being basically pebbles, not sand. It was recommended in a guidebook to bring water shoes to wear if planning on swimming. I bought sandals for this occasion. Poor choice on my part. The first time I decided to get into the water, I easily walked across the pebbles to the water. The moment my sandals hit the water, I scolded myself. The fabric on the shoes became soaked (obviously) and so the shoes didn’t really stick on all that well when trying to walk through the shallow water. The waves weren’t gentle either. Pebbles were going throughout my sandals each time I tried to take a step. But dammit, I was determined to swim in the Mediterranean. I finally got situated and floated in the sea. The water was cooler than I prefer, but that was okay. After twenty minutes, I considered my options for getting back to my lounge chair. I could either make my way back through the wavy-too many-pebbles-shallow water, or I could attempt to climb up a small ladder hanging off a small walkway leading to the water. I went with the way I came. Mistake. I was slipping and sliding in my heavy shoes. I almost toppled over a couple of times. By the time I made it back to the safety of my lounger, I vowed to never take a dip in the water again. I was perfectly happy with the comforts of the lounger while gawking at the servers (Have I mentioned the servers, yet?). Now, I must confess, I did take a dip one more time. The second time, I decided to leave the sandals out of the equation. My sensitive soles were not pleased with this decision. In an attempt to make it up to them, I decided to use the ladder to make my exit from the sea. Yeah, that wasn’t much easier either since the ladder must have also been from the same year the hotel was built; it was rusty metal, and the rungs were about the size of small twigs, slippery due to the water. Again, I kept myself to the shore after that. 


Lamborghini

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Ever since I was a young girl, about the age of 8, my favorite car has been a Lamborghini. You may ask why. Long story short: When I was in the third grade, a classmate’s father drove him to school in his red Lamborghini. The doors opened, swooping up and not like a regular car door. I was mesmerized. I was in love (with the car). And since then, owning a Lamborghini has been a dream of mine. 

When searching things to do in the Cote d’Azur area, I found an ad for a company that lets you drive a Ferrari or Lamborghini for an hour. When I saw this ad, I whooped and hollered in joy and excitement. My mother thought I was a bit off my rocker, but understood once I told her about it. Within a half hour of reading about this, I had signed up. Done. Worth every penny I decided (yes, it was expensive…but really, can you put a price on dreams? For those saying yes, just shush). I even went so far as to select an outfit to wear just for the moment. 

On the day of my drive, I put my black and white striped short dress on, put my hair up into a bun (to help control it in the wind), and tried to calm myself. At 4pm, I went downstairs and saw the beautiful white beast gleaming in the sun while waiting for me. I introduced myself to my driver/instructor, sat in the passenger seat, buckled my seat belt, and closed my eyes to take in this moment. The instructor turned the engine on and the beast roared to life, one sexy growl. He took off down the road, heading through the city and up to the mountains. Now, I was perfectly content letting him drive, but I did want a turn. So, he pulled off to the side and we switched seats. Excitement bubbled through me. He showed me the way to go and…it was on the curvy roads up in the mountains. Now, for those who don’t know me well enough, I should probably take this opportunity to let you know that I do not like curvy mountain roads…especially roads where one side has a huge drop. So, I tried to speed on the roads, but kept it safe. The next 40 minutes were just fabulous. Just as I belonged in the city, I belonged in that car. Okay, I admit, that statement was a bit diva-ish of me. Every time I accelerated and heard that engine, I felt the excitement vibrate in my body. The wind whipped around as I zoomed smoothly around the turns. Finally, the instructor told me it was time to head to the city. I was given the option to drive back to the hotel myself (I’m sure he was impressed with my safety first attitude) or to switch seats. There was no way that I was going to switch with him at that point, though, so I kept driving. 

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As we made our way back to Hotel West End, the instructor offered to take photos with my phone since I did not book the photo package (heck, I was already going to have to sell my kidney at this point, so no extra for me). Even now as I look back at the photos and watch the video of me driving along the mountain road, land on one side of us and sea on the other, I can feel that excitement. I tried to drive slower once we hit the city limits so I could prolong this experience, but the traffic light gods were not with me. I pulled up outside of the hotel. I really did not want to exit the vehicle. Luckily, the instructor took a few more photos of me in the parked beast and that gave me an extra three minutes. As I got out, reluctantly, I waved goodbye to the Lamborghini (thought the instructor did think I was waving to him) and felt a twinge as I saw it drive away. 

This experience, as superficial as some may see it, reminded me that dreams are dreams. It doesn’t matter how silly they are or how serious they may be, but they can be a reality if we find the right opportunity and take the chance. So, I encourage you to think back to a childhood dream. What was it? What can you do today to help you experience that dream just once? 

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I belong behind in this car. 

Related Question: Anyone have an extra Lamborghini they’re looking to give away?

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Sights of Singapore

Spring break was coming up and I knew I didn’t want to be stuck in Shenzhen for the month, so when my friend, Michael, asked if I wanted to join him and his family (his wife and father) for a short break in Singapore, I jumped at the chance.

We left Monday morning. Once we arrived, we got our SIM cards and money and took taxis to our hotels (I was staying at a hotel down the street). That night, we ended up having a last minute (last minute to me since I found out about it 5 minutes before jumping into the taxi) dinner at my friend’s wife’s friend’s house.

Now, you maybe wondering why I stayed at a different hotel. You see, I’m a sucker for a good bathtub, and this hotel had one to die for. Hotel Indigo Singapore Katong offers a premier room with a deep, round bathtub over looking the surrounding neighborhood. I had to book this particular room just so I could experience the tub, and it did not disappoint!

The second day, we got up early and headed to the botanical gardens. The weather was super hot, but the flora was beautiful as we strolled to our destination within the gardens: the National Orchid Garden. My mom and I have always enjoyed orchids so I wanted to make sure to see the array and variety these gardens offered. The entrance fee to the botanical gardens is free, but to enter the orchid section, it costs 5SGD.

As we entered the gates, we were surrounded by the most lush and vibrant orchids. They were everywhere, in every color imagined. Popular orchids were prevalent, but also orchids that aren’t as well known. I was in awe of the exotic environment.

After a few hours in the heat, we took a taxi (taxis were fabulously cheap) over to the Marina Bay Finance Tower to head up to Level 33, a brewery overlooking the bay, including the Marina Bay Sands Hotel and Merlion. The menu offered jazzy appetizers (fish bites on roasted potatoes and steak bites on a sizzling plate) and a great selection of craft brewery. Now, I’m not one for beer really (maybe a cider) so I opted for a Shirley Temple first. Once I downed the ST, I ordered a Golden Rush…a drink made with champs (champagne), some sort of beer, and GOLD SPARKLE! I asked for extra sparkle in mine and they did not disappoint. The drink was okay; it would have been much better without the addition of the beer in my opinion, but I wasn’t asked. I mostly enjoyed the drink when I twirled the gold around. I’m also not one for heights so I had to take deep breaths at our seats. I was fine at first, but did start to feel a bit panicked after an hour sitting out on their balcony.

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Look at that sparkle!

The rain started to drizzle, so we headed off for a short visit along Orchard Road, the best high-end shopping area in Singapore. As we were waiting for my friend’s wife, Michelle, to finish her shopping, his father, Dale, and I headed for the Magnum Ice Cream shop; I’ve become quite a fan of Magnum ice cream bars since moving to China. In this particular shop, you got to decide what you wanted to dip your ice cream bar into (dark chocolate, milk chocolate, or white chocolate) and up to three different toppings. I kept it simple with a dark chocolate shell with gold beads for my topping. It was delicious even though the gold beads were a bit too crunchy at times.

That night, we took off for Jumbo’s in Clarke Quay to enjoy some of Singapore’s famous chili crab. After ordering, we were given bibs and I knew then we were in for a messy meal. The crab came soaked in chili sauce and we got one cracker to share. I sauce was tasty, but my lips were tingling and on the verge of being numb by the end of the meal. The meal, in my opinion, was a bit overpriced for what we got, but I’m glad we got to try it since I’ve heard lots of people talk about Jumbo’s. In the future, I would try to find an alternative and cheaper place to enjoy this tasty crustacean.

IMG_0895Our next day started with a trip to Little India to walk around. The market was okay (I wasn’t looking for anything since I’d already spent money at the botanical gardens on souvenirs and gifts). We walked down a street to a Hindi temple, my first time entering a Hindi one. The temple had multiple carvings on the outer exterior, as well as within. We stayed for a few minutes, watching locals pray and worship, before deciding to walk along a few streets (offering interesting wall murals) to the metro station.

IMG_0904We took the metro to the Chinatown station. Michelle and I decided to try the fish spa while the two gentlemen explored the area. We timidly headed up the narrow stairs to the spa. Inside, a couple already had their feet inside open aquariums with fish sucking their feet. We were shown where and how to sit. The owner counted to three and we quickly put our feet into the tanks. Have I mentioned that I don’t like the idea of touching fish? Yeah. So I’m not sure where my head was when we decided to try this. I closed my eyes and tried not to focus on the fact it was fish causing the tickling sensation. Once in a while, I could feel a fish go between my toes. Apparently these fish are in the carp family and originate in Turkey. The owner claimed he ordered his fish directly from Turkey; I didn’t care. All I knew was that it was weird. Would I try this again? Probably not. Once is good enough for me, but I do think it was something different and fun to try.

Following a quick trip back to the hotels for some much needed naps, we went to Gardens by the Bay to see their “trees”. It was dark out and the trees soared above us in sparkling lights. All of a sudden, the lights went off and music came on. A show! I spotted numerous people laying on the ground in the center of the trees so I joined them to watch this synchronized light show. This was by far my favorite thing from this trip. In the future when I come back, I would like to visit the Cloud Forest (and indoor rain forest surround a small mountain, complete with waterfall) and explore a little more. Unfortunately, we were short on time that evening and some of the park had closed. Afterwards we went to Satay by the Bay for some grilled satay and food…I tried chicken and lamb satay, along with an Indian desert that was similar to a crepe with chocolate and bananas.

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The next morning, it was time to head to the airport. Since moving to China, I had seen pictures of a dancing raindrops exhibit within one of the terminals. So, I went to the airport a few minutes early so I could check it out. I was in Terminal 2 for check-in and asked where I could find the raindrops. I was pointed in the direction of Terminal 1. I will admit, the raindrops were graceful as they moved smoothly, but I was expecting something a little grander. I was surprised and excited to discover a sunflower garden back in Terminal 2, as well as a orchid garden and koi pond.

Overall, I have to say my trip to Singapore was awesome. I had great travel companions and we got to experience a lot of what the city country had to offer. It’s a place I’d definitely go back to should the opportunity ever arise again…especially for that tub.

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So long, my friend. 

A Day in Seoul

After leaving Gangneung for the Olympics, we decided to spend a night in Seoul. Our train arrived in the early afternoon and we walked to our hotel, which overlooked the mountain/hill near Seoul Tower. I was exhausted, but knew of one place I felt like I needed to visit.

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Last year, I read an article about this café that had a barista who was an artist. He created special CreamArt on the lattes. I followed him on Instagram after reading the article and became a fan. When we discussed staying in Seoul for a day, I started researching about how I could get my own CreamArt to enjoy. I looked up the address for the C.Through Café and knew we had to go. So, though I felt bad and a cold coming on, we hailed a taxi and had him drive us to the café’s neighborhood.

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So one thing I learned about Seoul, is that the streets might be the same name but differ by one or two numbers. It was confusing, but after taking us the long way round, I spotted the exterior of C.Through Café. I took a deep breath, and we entered. There he was, the barista I had admired for the past year, looking just as handsome in person. We ordered our CreamArt. I asked if I could take pictures while he created his works of art and he said it was fine. I was in love as I watched him patiently (and surprisingly quickly) paint his masterpieces of cream on the lattes. Once we got our art, it was difficult to drink since we hated to destroy such amazing work. But we quickly got over that and drank up.

As we began to stroll back to the main road, we spotted an advertisement for the ultimate grilled cheese sandwich. It was an opportunity we could not pass up. We ordered one to split. And might I add, we were not disappointed when we pulled our halves apart and saw the strings of gooey cheese dangle between us.

Before heading back to the hotel, we stopped off at a market so I could stock up on GongYoo socks and Kim Woobin folders/cards. Unfortunately at this point, I was feeling pretty under the weather so I was not able to hit the town like I had originally hoped. I had plans. I was going to find Kim WooBin or another acceptable Korean artist. Oh well, maybe next time.