At Home at El Taj Playa Del Carmen Condos <> Playa Del Carmen , Mexico

A few years ago, some girlfriends and I decided to head over to Playa Del Carmen for major R & R.  My friend "B" had a wedding there and decided to rope in some vacation days and we tagged along. My brother "G" happened to be visiting from the UK at the time, so he tagged along and was our photographer and faux bodyguard for the week (I think he secretly loved being surrounded by five ladies).

El Taj was where we called home for a glorious week away in paradise (aka Playa Del Carmen , Mexico). Just close your eyes for a moment and imagine waking up to the sound of waves crashing in, the bluest waters, breakfast on the beach, massages on the beach - that is El Taj Playa Del Carmen. I cannot take credit for finding this home away from home (or even the pictures in this post) - I have my friend "B" and my brother "G" to thank for scouting out the location and taking the photo, respectively.

The bus from the Cancun airport dropped us at the city center in Playa Del Carmen. We could have easily walked to the hotel but opted for the $5 cab ride instead to avoid the hassle of dragging luggage around town.  We arrived at a fully furnished 2 bedrooms / 2 bath condo that fit six easily. The property has two views and we got the beach view - thankfully. It cost a little bit more but worth the extra charge. The condo also had a semi-private balcony with a grill and jacuzzi. Our kitchen was fully furnished with pots, pans and the major cooking utensils offering the flexibility to cook our meals (we did not take advantage of that - who wants to deal with kitchen chores on vacation).  

Breakfast was served on the beach daily for a fee (which can be rolled into your reservation, paid daily or charged to the Condo). We chose to pay daily to give us some flexibility. After breakfast - we alternated between lounging on our balcony,laying on the beach,  beachside massage, reading and major relaxation. I did not get to indulge in a massage, but it was highly recommended. 

The property is centrally located and within walking distance of restaurants and nightlife in the city. We were also within walking distance of grocery and souvenir stores if needed. I loved every moment of the vacation and our stay at El Taj. I will most likely stay here again if I venture to that part of the world. Current rates start at $285 per night so pack a bag, round up a few friends and head over. You will thank me.

SNAPSHOTS FROM THE TOP OF THE WORLD'S TALLEST BUILDING - BURJ KHALIFA <> DUBAI, U.A.E

Burj Khalifa

Burj Khalifa has been on my travel bucket lists for ages and on my last trip to Dubai - I decided it was time to check it off my travel bucket list. Burj Khalifa is the World's tallest building and a visit to viewing deck on the 124th floor is a must do in Dubai. I was visiting in late August and my Hotel Concierge recommended a night time visit. Appparently the summer heat tend to offer very low visibility during the day (keep that in mind if you are planning a summer trip). 

I purchased my ticket online here and picked it up at the entrance for the tour. Because of the popularity of this tour, If you are planning a weekend and/or eveing tour - I encourage purchasing your ticket ahead of time. You can also buy your ticket at the booth on the first floor of the Dubai Mall - which is connected to the building. The elevator ride up takes only about 1 minute and you get some spectacular view of the city. I paid 125 AED (~$31 ) for my 8 p.m. time slot on a saturday evening to ride up to the 124th floor but for an additional 171 AED (~$42), you can go beyond the observation decks on the 124th floor to explores levels 125 to 148 to get a glimpse of what the resisdence of this building experience daily - I was content with the viewing deck on floor 124. Only personal handbags are allowed, so if you plan on exploring the Dubai mall before heading here , be prepared to store your bags in the baggage check room. 

I spent about an hour and half up there and could have easily been up there a lot longer. If you are in Dubai and love a great cityscape, then this should be on your itinerary. Here are a few snapshots from my time on the 124th floor:

Burj Khalifa
Burj Khalifa
Burj Khalifa
Burj Khalifa
Burj Khalifa
Burj Khalifa

A PERFECT AFTERNOON IN MONTE CARLO <> MONTE CARLO, MONACO

It was the first place I wanted to visit in the French Riviera - only 30 mins by train or bus from Nice. I barely checked into my hotel and dropped off my bags before heading off the bus station to catch the bus to Monaco. It was one of those perfect travel days - not too hot, not too cold - just a perfect balance.  I got on the bus at the Le Port stop in Nice and sat on the edge of my seat as we rode through the winding roads, up the hill and the most spectacular views I have ever seen in my life (- or so I thought).

Thirty minutes later, we arrived Monaco. I was out of my seat before the bus came to a complete stop at the Monaco-Ville stop in Monaco. Getting off the bus, I had to take a moment to take it all in - I looked calm on the outside, but on the inside I was doing cartwheels and screaming - "I AM IN MONACO." Following my initial awe, I started the trek up to Monaco-ville, a small city on a steep hillstop. Hundreds of steps to get to the Palace of the Prince of Monaco. The trek was quite a work out and I made it there solely due to the adrenaline of finally being in Monao. The plan was to take a tour of the Palace. Reaching the top, I discovered the palace tours only happen in the summer months (#travelplanningfail). My dissapointment only lasted a few minutes until I was greeted by a spectacular view. I spent the next half hour shuffling between snapping away and staring in awe at this view. 

A shortwhile later, I hopped on one of those city tour buses to explore the rest of the city with one goal in mind - get to Monte Carlo. The bus stopped in front of the Casino shortly after noon. Getting off the bus to see the casino building was a dream - I kept wanting someone to pinch me back to reality because I could not believe it - I was finally here. Two years of planning, several idea boards created and scrapped  - I was finally in this place I had dreamt of for years.  Right in front of me was the Monte Carlo casino, to my left was the famous cafe Paris and to my right was Hotel Paris. I took a really deep breath trying to take it all in. I walked up toward the Casino and down to towards the shops to the west of the Casino before settling at a table on the terrace of Cafe Paris. I ordered a mille-feuille and the most expensive, incredibly delicious hot chocolate I have ever had and people watched.

There is nowhere better to people watch than the terrace of Cafe Paris. Trust me on this one, I have done a lot of people watching (did not mean to sound like a creeper just then). Add to people watching - car watching (yep , just coined that term, just now). Seriously, if you are a car lover, here is something to add to your bucketlist - seat on the terrace of cafe paris and car watch.

Like I said, the weather was perfect so I just sat there for hours - completely lossing track of time. By the time I realized the afternoon had passed me by, I had spent about three hours here. I paid my bill and walked towards the east side of the Casino for about a mile, before circling back to my drop off point - there is a shopping area across from the casino which features some seriously luxurious shops - I did a spot of window shopping before hopping back on the bus back to city center to explore more of Monaco.

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Ch-ch-ch-ch-Changes

Perfect Imperfection_Portland Grace Shop

If you immediately started humming 'changes" by Tupac or David Bowie (comment below) because we should be friends. Another time, another place I could rap the entire Changes by Tupac (I bet that is something you never thought of me). Anyways, that was a lifetime ago. Let's chat about the changes that are happening here at Portland | Grace.

Launch of the Portland | Grace shop. This has been a dream for so long and there were moments when I did not think it will happen, but it did - Thank God. On May 10th, I launched my shop and collection of travel photography. The prints are carefully selected to print a piece of the world's beauty into your homes and inspire the wanderlust in you. You can check out the collection and shop a print or two here. [Offering 15% discount on all orders using the code Ch-ch-ch-ch-Changes]

Posting Schedule. Things have been quiet here because things have been busy everywhere else. Plus, I did not want to post anything subpar. Blog post will return this week, but with a slight change to the posting schedule. Instead of the Tuesday and Thursday posts, I will be posting once a week. Every Wednesday at 7 a.m (EST). I hope the change in schedule with mean consistency and more time for me to intereact with you. Every other day of the week, you can find me on istagram here and here

MY FIRST VISIT TO THE NATION'S CAPITAL - PART 1 <> WASHINGTON D.C.

I am elbows deep in a digital declutter and with that comes a lot of going down memory lane. Last week, I was cleaning out my Washington D.C 2010 folder and stumbled on pictures and memories about my very first visit to D.C. I have been back several times since them, but that first visit is still my favorite of them all. 

I had been living in the states for almost ten years at this point and was yet to get to D.C, so when a conference opportunity in D.C. landed in my inbox, I decided to head to the city a few days before the conference to explore the city. I flew into Washington National airport on Satuday night , took the shuttle to my hotel which was perfectly located - only about a 20 minute cab ride to the National mall. I arrived too late to see or do anything. I ordered room service and called it a night.

My Conference was scheduled to start on Tuesday Morning so I had about 48 hours to explore. There is so much to see and do in D.C. I had to narrow it down to a specific area to avoid being overwhelmed. I am a history and architectural buff so I chose the monuments and the surrounding areas as my focus. I saved other D.C. activities for another trip. [See rundown of my subsequent trip to Georgetown here].

I started my day shortly after 1 p.m. I took a cab from my hotel to the national mall. I was dropped off close to the walkway leading up to the Washington monument. I could either walk from there towards the Lincoln memorial or towards the Capitol steps. Without much thought, I began walking towards the National mall and the capitol steps. The National mall is lined with musuems and historical sites.  

My first stop was at the National musum of American History, I could have spent all day here satisfying my inner history nerd. From the flag that inspired the national athem to the collection of inaugural gowns of the first ladies - including the dress Jason Wu designed for Michelle Obama for the first inuaguration (Swoon). There is much more to see, but I won't list them all so as not to ruin it for you.

My next stop was the Smithsonian office located in the Castle (an architectural favorite). Don't miss the garden in the backyard  or the U.S. Botanical garden that is also located on the mall. Then, on to the National museum of Africana arts. The history captured here is overwhelming and humbling. Add to that the interior architecture and you have the making of some of my favorite things. I had a decision to make about my next stop - China town or continue along the National mall. The National Mall won. I made stops at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garde, National Museum of Natural History (perfect stop if you are traveling with kids) and the National gallery of Arts.

I stopped into most of the museums along the path to the capitol steps. At some point, I grabbed a gyro sandwich from one of the food trucks, perched myself on a bench and just people watched folks playing flag football, freesbies, picnicing, laying out in the sun. It was nice to be doing nothing. My stroll from the Washington Monument to the Capitol steps took about five hours because I made several steops along the way The experience was incredible and worth it. My only regret was not wearing a more comfortable shoes.