Archives for August 2016

The Layover: An Opportunity For Adventure

HS1Most people dread a long layover between flights.  Not me.  In fact, I sometimes purposefully plan a long layover, especially in a cool new city.  For me, a layover presents an opportunity for a mini adventure.

Recently, Chad and I decided to take a spontaneous trip to Crete, Greece to visit my dad.  We flew through Istanbul, a city to which neither of us had ever been.  So, we chose a flight with a 13 hour+ layover between Athens and Miami for the sole purpose of having a few hours to explore Istanbul. It was one of our best travel decisions!Istanbul AirportOur flight from Athens arrived in Istanbul at 11: 30 p.m.  With just our pre-planned and pre-packed carry-on bags in tow, we quickly made our way to the visa office to purchase our Turkish visas.  That’s right U.S. citizens, as of 2014, you now need a visa to visit Turkey.  It costs $30.00 per person and can be purchased right in the airport before leaving the secure area (you can also obtain an e-visa ahead of time for $20.00).  After securing our visas, we exited the secure area of the airport and found the shuttle for the land-side of the airport’s hotel.  This airport has a hotel within the airport that has two sides: the “air side,” which is inside the secure area of the airport and requires a boarding pass for check in and the “land side,” which is outside of the secure area of the airport but still attached to the airport.  We checked in for the night, had a hot shower, and got right to bed.

After a very early breakfast the next morning (which is included in the room rate if you just ask), we met Aykut from Istanbul Custom Tours.  He was waiting for us in the lobby before our scheduled meeting time. I had contacted him prior to our trip to arrange this day-tour, and he was very responsive and flexible. The nice thing about touring this early on a Sunday morning is that we missed all of the notorious Istanbul traffic (it is a large sprawling city of more than 14 million people).  Also, we had the city and its sights pretty much to ourselves.

Our first stop was to the Asian side of Istanbul to see the Bosphorus Strait.Bosphorus

AC BosphorusAfter a few quick picture stops, we made our way back over to the European side to visit the Old Town. We walked through Sultanahmet Square to visit the historic Hippodrome of Constantinople.

hipp2In the same plaza, you will find the German Fountain.  This is a classic example of looks being deceiving.  As you stroll through the Hippodrome, you pass a beautiful, but inoperative fountain. The fact that it is inoperative is by choice. This fountain was given as a gift from Germany to the Turkish people around 1900, which lead to an alliance between Turkey and German. Fast forward 20 years, Turkey ended up on the losing side of World War I, which sent Turkey spiraling into depression for decades to come. As a result, the Turks are no longer fond of the fountain; but it’s huge and immovable, so, as a tourist, enjoy its beauty.fountainOur next stop was to the Sultanahmet Mosque (better known as the Blue Mosque), where we were the first people in line as soon as the doors opened at 8:30 a.m.  We had the beautiful mosque nearly all to ourselves!BlueMosque

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BM2This is an active mosque where people come to pray.  All visitors are required to remove their shoes before entering, and the mosque provides plastic bags for you to put your shoes into and carry inside with you.  Also, women must cover their heads and wear a long skirt to enter. I anticipated this, and brought along a scarf, but the mosque also provides you with loaner scarves and skirts.  By the way, as Chad found out, men are not excluded from this rule.  Men must wear long pants.  If they are wearing shorts, like Chad was, the mosque will happily provide the man with a skirt to wear, and this will double as entertainment for me, and, now, for you! bm6

bm5Also, women are NOT allowed pass these wooden gates.  Men, however, are, but only if they are passing through to pray.  Please, please, please be respectful of the mosque’s and the religion’s rules.  While we were there, an English woman and her child walked into the prayer area, and it caused a bit of a scene.bm4Inside, the mosque is literally stunning.  There is so much incredible color and intricate tile and stained glass work. Even on a cloudy day (which was the case the morning these photos were taken), you get a sense of the awesome illuminated beauty that natural light provides in the mosque. bm7

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bm15After the Blue Mosque, we made our way to Hagia Sophia, which opens at 9:00 a.m., and is literally across the promenade from the Blue Mosque. We were again the first in line and the first into the museum.Hagia Sophia outside

hg0001To give you some perspective, the photo below was taken at the gates of the Blue Mosque looking towards Hagia Sophia.hg00000

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hg16By the way, unless you have been to Hagia Sophia, you may not appreciate exactly how hard it is to get a picture inside with NO people in it.  It’s like impossible! I do the impossible.hg9And, if you were wondering where the center of the world is located, according to the Romans, it’s right here! This is the spot where coronation ceremonies for Roman Emperors were held during the time that Constantinople (a.k.a Istanbul) served as the capitol of the Roman Empire (and basically the capitol of the world, as far as they were concerned).hg00

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hg30This is the Empress Stand (where she would stand in an elevated position to watch her husband be crowned Emperor), so naturally…hg22Meet Obama Kitty (a.k.a Gli).  Apparently, when Obama visited Istanbul, he made a stop to Hagia Sophia. This kitty happened to be inside that day, and she marched over to Obama and was rubbing up against his leg.  Obama liked the little kitty, so he picked her up and carried her around while he toured the museum.  Well, that was the best day ever for this little kitty because after that, she became famous. She was renamed Obama Kitty and was given a permanent home inside Hagia Sophia.obama kittyI don’t think Obama should get to feeling grand prize about this encounter.  Obama Kitty is very friendly, and she will basically go up to anyone for some love.  She immediately went to Chad and demanded rubs!hg14

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hg18After we concluded our visit at Hagia Sophia, we walked through a small bazaar (note, the Grand Bazaar is closed on Sundays) of beautiful shops, and we tasted Turkish Delight before making our way back to the airport.baz6

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baz3By the way, Istanbul is a shopper’s paradise!  If you like textiles, tiles, spices, teas, and jewelry, then you will feel like you died and went to heaven (and this isn’t even the Grand Bazaar!). Chad was thanking his lucky stars and giving alms to the time crunch gods.  That is okay, because WHEN we return, I will set aside an ENTIRE day just to shop this oasis of a shopping city!

We were back at the airport before 11:00 a.m. for our 1:30 p.m. flight, which was perfect timing to get through all the security measures at this airport as a result of the recent attacks, which included a car check, a screening at the entrance, passport control, security screening, and two more passport controls screenings at the gate. We counted SIX security and/or passport checkpoints in all. Suffice it to say that the we felt extremely safe and secure at the Istanbul airport.

Both Chad and I agreed that the layover adventure was well worth it. Rather than endure hours of uncomfortable and boring waiting at the airport, we saw everything described above in about three hours, which provided a fantastic introduction to Istanbul and to Turkey and left us with a desire to return for a more comprehensive visit. Planning the layover is crucial.  You want to make sure that you are laying-over during day light hours (or at least with enough daylight hours) so that there is an opportunity to explore.  You also want to have a specific plan in place for what you want to see or do and how you are going to get there.  Keep in mind that you have limited time, so choose the two or three things that are most important to you (depending on the length of your layover).  Build in 30 minutes travel time from the airport into the city and about 45 minutes for the return.  You want to take into account traffic, especially in cities that are known to have a lot of it (like Istanbul and Bangkok).  Also, make sure you return to the airport at least two (but preferably three) hours before your flight, as you will need to pass through security, and, depending on the airport, passport control to get back into the gate area.

Some other important things to keep in mind are that your luggage will likely be checked all the way through to your final destination, so be sure to pack everything you need for the layover day in your carry-on luggage.  Many airports have a luggage storage where you can lock your bags while you explore, but, if you hire a private driver like we did (and, I highly recommend that you do so as well so you are not at the mercy of public transportation and taxi cabs), you can take your carry-on luggage with you and leave it in the car. Second, check the visa requirements of the layover country.  You can usually purchase the visa in the airport before you leave the secure area. Finally, most airlines will pay for your hotel if you have a long layover, but there are some exceptions, and you should be aware of them before you go.  For example, Turkish Airlines will pay for your hotel for any layover that is over 13 hours (like ours was) as long as there is no other flight that comes in from your departure city (for us, Athens) from the time you departed from that city until the time of your next flight. We did not qualify for the hotel voucher because of this exception, but that was not an issue for us.  We simply took the shuttle to the land side of the airport hotel, which was outside the secure area and had our driver pick us up from the hotel lobby early in the morning. Trust me, the layover adventure sure beats sleeping on the floor inside the gate area until it is time to take your next flight! So, whether your layover is on purpose or just a matter of circumstance, take full advantage, and happy exploring!

Do you have any recommendations for fab layover cities?  If so, I’d like to hear about them! Leave me a comment or send me an email.

Spontaneous Travel

On Sunday afternoon, I turned to Chad and said…AdventurersAnd, by Monday morning, we had booked tickets! Where To Next Travel Blog will be traveling all next week. If you read this blog, you know that I am a planner, and last minute travel is not my thing (although I always secretly dreamed about doing exactly what we are doing).  Follow along on Instagram, Facebook, and Snapchat to see where Chad and I are off to next, and you can be sure that a blog post will soon follow.

Media Mentions: The Daily Business Review

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I am so honored to have my blog featured in the Daily Business Review.  To read the article, click here.

Palm Beach: The Perfect Weekend Itinerary

13906788_10109030268072211_3290282260316717514_nSadly, summer is almost over.  Maybe you have already taken an awesome summer vacation, but you still want one last getaway to send the season out with a bang. Or, maybe summer got away from you, and you never got the vacation you deserve.  Not to worry, we still have Labor Day, and looking ahead to that, may I suggest a fabulous and relaxing staycation (or, if you are not from Florida, a vacation!)…Presenting Palm Beach (a.k.a. the Island)!!

Palm Beach may not be on the top of your staycation list, but it should be. If you live in Florida, well, South Florida, really, you know that October to March/April is season for us.  During this time, our friends from the North (Canada and New York) take up residence with us, as do our friends from the South (as in South America). Mix in the Europeans, who also like to come visit us during this time, and you have the whole world in South Florida.  This means terrible traffic, packed malls, no reservations at any restaurants, and untouchable hotel prices, especially in Palm Beach. But, in the summer, Palm Beach is essentially a ghost town, and you can have the whole Island (almost) to yourself!

Palm Beach has something for everyone.  It has miles of quiet, almost empty beaches, fantastic resorts, great shopping, and lovely restaurants.  It is perfect for families and for couples alike. I suggest that you take advantage of the lower rates at some of the Island’s iconic properties for a summer weekend.  You can also take my tips and plan a perfect Palm Beach day!

Hands down, the most iconic Palm Beach property is The Breakers, and with good reason; the hotel is historical and beautiful!BreakersWhen you walk into the lobby, you feel like you have walked into a palace!breakerslobby2The best part about visiting The Breakers in the summer is that the room rates are lower than they are in season, and they usually run summer specials. If you need other options, Eau de Palm Beach (formerly the Ritz Carlton) and Four Seasons are other great beach-front resorts (and are also cheaper than The Breakers). The Brazilian Court Palm Beach is also a great option.  It too is cheaper than The Breakers, although it is not waterfront. Another option is to stay on Singer Island.

For your first day in Palm Beach, I suggest getting to the resort early and taking advantage of the resort’s many on-property activities. Florida’s oldest 18 hole golf course is located at The Breakers.  They also have 10 tennis courts with professional instructors, a camp for your children, a beautiful and newly remodeled spa, a state-of-art gym that also offers classes, half a mile of private beach, and four pools (a main pool, an adults only pool, and infinity-style pool, and a zero entry pool), five whirlpool spas, and a lot of poolside bungalows that are available for daytime rental. They also offer water sports, including scuba and snorkel tours, kayaking, paddle boarding, and sunset catamaran cruises.breakers hall

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breakerspoolsWe always designate our first day as pool and beach day! breakers poolside2

breakers chadIn fact, an even better idea is to rent one of the cabanas for the day.  Depending on the cabana that you reserve, you get private beach chairs and umbrellas, an air-conditioned living room with TV, music, and a fridge, and a private bathroom and shower.  The cabana comes with a fresh fruit plate, water and soft drinks, and a dedicated waiter to take care of your every need for the entire day! breakers chad2Don’t mind Chad, he’s just stretching.breakers cabana 2

breakers cabanaThe nice thing is that the cabana locks, so you can close it up and head down to the beach, spa, or gym! breakers beach

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breakers gymThe Breakers has nine property restaurants, but for dinner tonight, consider going off property to Buccan.  It is my favorite Palm Beach restaurant, and while you probably don’t need reservations in the off season, you should make them anyway because the place stays pretty busy. You may also want to check out the event calendar for the Kravis Center or the Perfect Vodka Amphitheater.

I am glad you are rested, because on Day Two of your Palm Beach staycation, I suggest that you get in a little bit of shopping and little bit of culture. But before you do all that, do not miss breakfast in the Circle Dining Room.breakers dining roomAnd, especially, don’t miss this Rose Jam.  It is heaven on your lips.  The Breakers makes it in-house, and they do not sell it. This jam is the jam. breakers rosejamAfter breakfast, your first stop should be to the Flagler Museum. The museum grounds are beautiful, and it is right on the water.  It is close to The Breakers and should not take you more than an hour to an hour and a half to visit.

For your next stop, I am going to let you in on a little secret.  Just a few blocks north of The Breakers there is a small corner of shops just south of a Jewish temple; therein you will find the BEST consignment shops ever.  They are chock full of designers, especially right after season is over.  All the Palm Beach society ladies who would not be caught dead in last year’s couture or seen twice in an outfit, empty their closets into these shops.  There is Chanel galore and tons of shoes.  It is well worth a visit.  And, DO NOT even think of skipping the fanciest Goodwill ever.  Inside you will find Manolo Blahnik, Jimmy Choo, and Christian Louboutin. I literally cannot even believe I just shared that with you, but you’re welcome.  See, it pays to be a loyal reader of this blog!

After you have had your fill of the consignment shops, head south of The Breakers to the famous Worth Avenue, and stop and gawk at all the gorgeous homes along the way.  wa3

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worth aveHere, you will find all the couture shopping that your poor little wallet can handle! But, don’t just stick to the main drag.  Make sure you explore all the little corners and hallways to find hidden shops and the most beautiful gardens and breezeways. The summer bonus is that the Avenue is mostly empty in the summer, and some of the stores run sales.  Also, if you are into antiques and home furnishing, the Island has plenty of shops for you to scour, so give it a Google!

You are probably hungry by now, and that is okay because I am going to suggest that you leave the Island (Gasp! Relax, you are just going over the bridge to the very outer edge of Downtown West Palm Beach) and head over to Serenity Garden Tea House & Cafe for lunch and high tea! But, please, make a reservation, and keep in mind that they are not open on Sundays.PBtea5

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PB teaOnce you have had your fill of shopping, head back to The Breakers for a late afternoon dip, a round of golf, or some spa time! For dinner tonight, why not try Cafe Boulud at the Brazilian Court Hotel.DB2

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DBAfter breakfast on your last day, you could check out and stay on the property and enjoy the amenities. If you haven’t already done so, take some time to walk around The Breakers and explore the property.breakers courtyard2

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breakerscourtyardOn your way out of town, I would make two stops.  The first would be to the Ann Norton Sculpture Gardens, which is open until 5:00 p.m. on Sundays. You need about 30 minutes to an hour to get through the gardens. Your second stop should be at the Norton Museum of Art, which is also open until 5:oo p.m. You can get through this museum in about an hour and a half. norten norten2Hopefully, after this long weekend, you will feel rested and cultured! I’d love to hear your tips and recommendations for Palm Beach.  Also, if you followed this itinerary, I would love to hear your feedback! Send me an email or leave me a comment below.

 

Where Will You Go Next?!?

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I’m so excited to announce that Where To Next Travel Blog has partnered with WebJet! You can now book travel directly from this blog using the “Book Travel” link above, and take advantage of WebJet’s awesome low price fares to Europe, Asia, Africa, South America, and other domestic destinations! The goal of my blog is to inspire you to travel more, and I hope this gets you one step closer to that and helps you plan your own adventure!