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Featured Lifestyle Travel

Munich, Germany

September 20, 2016

When in Germany you must go to Oktoberfest in Munich. My cousin Jamelia’s co-worker, Constanze from the worldwide company SAP and her son Vince, were gracious enough to open up their home to me. I spent 5 days in beautiful Munich exploring the city, museums, architecture, and of course Oktoberfest.

img_0282     img_0284I went to the city center, Marienplatz, where I was immediately greeted by a sworm of couchsurfers. We walked around city center where there actually were many American stores, Forever 21, H&M, Urban Outfitters, TJMaxx, ect. However, I was a mission find a Dirndl for Oktoberfest kick off, which started the following day. After I found my perfect outfit, we spent the rest of the night pre-paring for Oktoberfest which meant drinking a lot of beer. 🙂 We walked around to several different Augustines (very popular beer in Munich) which I actually fancy. It has the perfect amount of hops in it, not to hard and not weak! Now these bar are not your typical American bar. This is more like 2-3 mall food court size bars with full course meals, including whole and half chickens, with potatoes and gravy, ducks, lamb, and so much more.

img_0299 Getting ready for Oktoberfest and to my surprise, my new friend AJ from Paris came to visit me in Munich in Oktoberfest. He lives In Stuttgart, Germany which is only a 2hour drive. So I convinced him to come down for the weekend and he did. He’s my new travel ace! So I walked up to him at the train station in this Dirndl and he just bust out laughing. I thought I was cute lol We head to the festival by train when we get off on our stop we have no idea where to go. So we just follow all the other 1,000 people walking in one direction. And Wha-la we made it.img_0321

Just a quick reminder, it rained the entire week, but from the amount of people outside or in the tents, nobody really cared.

A couple of people that I met the previous day were in a tent and had saved us seats so we headed in that direction. However, they got kicked out of their seats because that table was actually reserved. A quick tip: If you don’t buy reservations for a table, its a good idea to get to the tent early. However, I was not going to a tent at 7am, when drink don’t start until 12pm. It just wasnt that serious for me. So me being me, I asked a waiter if we she brought us a beer outside and we gave her a tip, if she could get us in. OF COURSE, she said yes!!!

Another tip: I have learned that people do not really tip in Europe. So when you offer a tip, its not expected, but appreciated.

So she got us in a tent with about 200,000 other people. Our next mission was to find a table. So we just walked around until we found some people our age and Wha-la they say “heyyyyyyyy come sit with us!”  We probably ended up sitting with the best group of people. Everyone is so welcoming young and old. So eager to hear why your In Munich, or at Oktoberfest or traveling….because obviously I look like a local. haha!! I don’t think I have ever drank such big beers in my life! Oh, and AJ made me drink 2 before we could move. We ordered chicken, which in Germany means a WHOLE chicken, not a leg, or thigh or maybe a leg and a thigh, NO!! When I say a whole chicken, I mean an entire chicken, everything except the head. And ohms god, it was seasoned so well and so juicy!! I could eat it plane. We also had ( pulled apart pancakes and apple sauce), pretty much taste like funnel cake and strawberries, it was delicious!

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After this I was stuffed with beer and food! We went outside at about 10pm. Our tent closed at 10:30pm on this night, and we wanted to beat the crowd, which I’m glad we did. Outside are carnival games and rides for what seemed liked miles and miles. We hung out outside watching people play the craziest games in the rain might I add.

Later that night we went to a club called Jack Rabbit. It was pretty lame to us, although it was super packed. After a few drinks there we headed to Babylon II Shisha, the hookah bar next door which was more our speed. They were playing all the new or current music. We would later learn that this would be our late night spot for the weekend. The bartender kept the drinks flowing and our shisha fresh! Perfect!!

The next day we figured we would get a little culture and knowledge, so we took an incognito city tour with my host Constanze. She drove us around past some of the libraries, historic buildings, buildings built by Hitler, The City Wall of Munich and finally to the BMW Museum.

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This museum was on the top of my list for Munich, of course because I own a BMW and I love my car to death. I learned so much about BMW that I had NO idea of before. Such as BMW started as an airplane engine manufacture not a car maker.

We went back to our new favorite shisha bar that night and then I wished AJ farewells as he was off to Hawaii the next day! 🙁

I would have to say my time in Germany was great!!! Prost!!! 🙂

Time to get out of this rain and back to ….Chasing The Sun!!

Travel

FREE Walking Tours

September 17, 2016

I have discovered that just about every major city has free walking tours!!!! This is a great way to explore and learn about some of the history of the city or country you are in! Oh, did I forget to tell you, THEY ARE FREE!!! It is also a great way to familiarize yourself with the location and get a better understanding of what other tours or sites you may want to explore a little bit deeper.

I was going to make a list of all the walking tours I have come across but there is just so many.So I will lead you in the same direction as I took to find them…

GOOGLE!!! HAHA

Just google (Free walking tours in (city) or (country)!!!! and wha-la

Make sure to wear comfy tennis shoes!! Happy Walking!

Featured Lifestyle Travel

Musées à Paris (Museums in Paris)

September 15, 2016

Of course you have to go to The Eiffel Tower, The Louvre, The Arc De Triomphe, Versailles – Palace of Louis XIV and Musee du Orsay!!!

However, if you have the pleasure of being in Paris on a Tuesday you should also check out these museums, which are free on Tuesdays!

Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris: (10am till 6pm)

Address : 11, avenue du Président Wilson

*Subway: Iéna (line 9)

–Maison de Balzac: (10am till 6pm)

Address: 47, rue Raynouard

*Subway: Passy (line 6)

Musée Bourdelle: (10am till 6pm)

Address : 16, rue Antoine Bourdelle

*Subway: Montparnasse – Bienvenüe (lin 4, 6, 12 & 13)

–Musée Carnavalet – Histoire de Paris: (10am till 6pm)

Address : 23, rue de Sévigné

*Subway: Saint-Paul (line 1), Chemin Vert (line 8)

–Musée Cernuschi: (10am till 6pm)

Address: 7, avenue Velasquez

*Subway: Villiers (line 2 & 11)

–Musée Cognacq-Jay: (10am till 6pm)

Address : Hôtel Donon – 8, rue Elzévir

*Subway: Saint-Paul (line 1)

–Petit Palais, Musée des Beaux Arts de la Ville de Paris: (10am till 6pm)

Address: Avenue Winston Churchill

*Subway: Champs-Elysées – Clemenceau (line 1 & 13)

–Maison de Victor Hugo: (10am till 6pm)

Address: Hôtel de Rohan-Guéménée – 6, place des Vosges

*Subway: Bastille (line 1, 5 & 8), Saint-Paul (line 1)

–Musée de la Vie Romantique: (10am till 6pm)

Address:16, rue Chaptal

*Subway: Pigalle (line 2 & 12), Saint-Georges (line 12)

–Musée Zadkine: (10am till 6pm)

Address : 100bis, rue d’Assas

*Subway: Notre-Dame-des-Champs (line 12), Port Royal (RER ‘B’)

–Musée de l’Air et de l’Espace: (10am till 5pm)

Address : Aéroport de Paris – Le Bourget

*Subway : Le Bourget (RER ‘B’) and after: Bus 350, 152, 148

–Musée – Librairie du Compagnonnage: (2pm till 6pm)

Address: 10, rue Mabillon

*Subway: Saint-Germain-des-Prés (line 4)

–Musée de la Préfecture de Police: (9:30am till 5pm)

Address:Hôtel de Police du Ve arrondissement – 4, rue de la Montagne Sainte-Geneviève

*Subway: Maubert – Mutualité (line 10)

–Musée du Parfum-Fragonard: (9am till 6pm)

Address:9 rue Scribe

*Subway: Opéra (line 3,7 & 8), Auber (RER ‘A’)

–Théâtre musée des Capucines-Fragonard: (9am till 6pm)

Address: 39, boulevard des Capucines *Subway: Opéra (line 3,7 & 8), Auber (RER ‘A’)

Enjoy!!!

Featured Lifestyle Travel

Paris, France

September 15, 2016

The city of love…where do I begin…

Well when I arrived in Paris I was feeling a little sad and somber. The feeling of being in Paris was a dream, but I never dreamt of being here alone, without any friends or family. As I walked into my hotel room, I got a little sad, a lot of things just really started to sink in. I had been so busy with the hassle and bustle of Amsterdam and so relaxed in Belgium that I hadn’t really had the chance to just sit back and (think). So I think naturally, it all started to sink in and although knowing how proud my mom would be of my for embarking on this adventure alone, and although I know she is with me in spirit in the air, and footsteps next to me on the ground, the thought of not being able to physically share this experience with her is very heavy.

Eventually and once again, I got my life together and decided to go look for some food. It seems that all these random happy experiences keep coming to me when Im going to look for food. By the time I actually get settled in my room and showered its about 11pm. I went upstairs to the rooftop where there is a bar, however, no food. To my surprise, fireworks start and last for literally 1.5 hours. I walk around on the rooftop and at last. The Eiffel Tower is smack in front of me, lighting up the nights sky. My somber mood turned bright as I thought to myself “ Dreams really do come true, I am in Paris!”

So I gather my thoughts and decide to go on an adventure to find some food. I asked the front desk where should I go at this hour and she points me in the direction of a restauarant down the street. I head in that direction for a couple of blocks but I don’t see it. At the same time I was thinking “I don’t really want to sit in a restaurant”. As I hit the corner, I spot a pizza place so I walk towards it. At the same time this guy is walking from the pizza place towards me. He doesn’t speak we just walk past each other. I walk into the pizza place and think “did I really come to Paris to eat pizza!?” So I walk out and head towards the restaurant I was directed to. I get to the corner and the guy is standing there. I asked him “Are you from here?” and he replies “No!” Then I asked “Do you speak English?” and he laughs and says “I just answered you in English” We laughed and I said “no” doesn’t count, everybody knows what that means. Anyway, he tells me he was going to go to the same restaurant but didn’t want to eat alone so he ordered pizza. Great minds think alike. So I went back and ordered a pizza. He waited with me and coincidently he was staying at the same hotel. We continue with small talk and AJ, from the states, but lives in Hawaii, in the Air Force and currently working in Germany, turned out to be my new best friend in Paris. We took our pizza to the rooftop and ordered some beers and chat till about midnight. We planned to go to the club that night but after a whole day of traveling I was tired and passed out.

The following day, AJ and I explored Paris. We went to and up The Eiffel Tower, The Louvre, The Arc De Triomphe de l’Étoile, and back to The Eiffel Tower at night. All of these iconic sights were unbelievable to see in person, really a dream. After another day of crazy touring I was exhausted yet again. Sadly, AJ had to leave for Germany to go back to work. He probably doesn’t know it, but he really helped put me in a better head space and appreciate being in Paris and continuing on my journey. I had an amazing day!

The Eiffel Tower

Est. 1887, is a wrought iron lattice tower on the Champ de Mars in Paris, France. It is named after the engineer Gustave Eiffel, whose company designed and built the tower. It was constructed from 1887-89 as the entrance to the 1889 World’s Fair, it was initially criticized by some of France’s leading artists and intellectuals for its design, but it has become a global cultural icon of France and one of the most recognisable structures in the world.

 

    

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The Louvre

is the world’s largest museum and a historic monument in Paris, France. A central landmark of the city, it is located on the Right Bank of the Seine in the city’s1st arrondissement. With nearly 35,000 objects from prehistory to the 21st century are exhibited over an area of 652,300 square feet. The Louvre is the world’s second most visited museum after the Palace Museum in China, receiving more than 9.26 million visitors in 2014. 

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What most may not know, is that the museum is housed in the Louvre Palace, originally built as a fortress in the late 12th century under Philip II. Remnants of the fortress are visible in the basement of the museum. Due to the urban expansion of the city, the fortress eventually lost its defensive function and, in 1578, was converted by Francis I of France into the main residence of the French Kings. The building was extended many times to form the present Louvre Palace. In 1682, Louis XIV chose the Palace of Versailles for his household, leaving the Louvre primarily as a place to display the royal collection, including, from 1692, a collection of ancient Greek and Roman sculpture. In 1692, the building was occupied by the Académie des Inscriptions et Belles Lettres and the Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture, which in 1699 held the first of a series of salons. The Académie remained at the Louvre for 100 years.[4] During the French Revolution, the National Assembly decreed that the Louvre should be used as a museum to display the nation’s masterpieces.

The museum opened on August 10, 1793 with an exhibition of 537 paintings, the majority of the works being royal and confiscated church property. Because of structural problems with the building, the museum was closed from 1796 – 1801. The collection was increased under Napoleon and the museum renamed the Musée Napoléon, but after Napoleon’s abdication many works seized by his armies were returned to their original owners. The collection was further increased during the reigns of Louis XVIII and Charles X, and during the Second French Empire the museum gained 20,000 pieces. Holdings have grown steadily through donations and bequests since the Third Republic. The collection is divided among eight very very large curatorial departments: Egyptian Antiquities; Near Eastern Antiquities; Greek, Etruscan and Roman Antiquities; Islamic Art; Sculpture; Decorative Arts; Paintings; Prints and Drawings. It is more than worth the 12euro visit. However, if you plan to visit take your time, I would give at least 8 hours minimal.

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               The Arc De Triomphe de l’Étoile

 Est. 1806, is one of the most famous monuments in Paris. The Arc de Triomphe honors those who fought and died for France in the French Revolutionary and the Napoleonic Wars. The names of all French victories and generals inscribed on its inner and outer surfaces and beneath its vault lies the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier from World War I.

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The next day I was back to being somber again but it was followed by another amazing two days exploring this beautiful city. The first of which was on a Tuesday. In Paris, on Tuesdays several mueseums have free entry and I’ve found that every city usually has a free walking tours at some point in the day. However, Paris has 7 free walking tours which cover 99% of the must see sights and history in Paris and then some. I spent Monday night planning out the next 2 days of tours and museums and I was determined to make the absolute best of the rest of my days in Paris, and I did.

On Tuesday I woke up bright and early and headed to the Musée de la Préfecture de Police, a museum of police history in the 5th arrondissement, very interesting I have to say. Next I went to the Musée du Parfum-Fragonard, a French private museum of perfume, which was absoluetly amazing.  

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Then I took the train and met the walking tour for Montmarte district .I knew I wouldn’t make it in time to met at the meeting point, so I just went straight to their first destination and I was right on time. The tour consisted of Moulin Rouge – Chat noir – Cabaret of the Assasins – Sacre coeur church – Artists’ square – French pop culture – Haunts of Renoir – Picasso – Amélie and so many little secrets about the district and its history.

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After the tour, I met a fellow couchsurfer, Leilani, back at Moulin Rouge and we took the train to Musée Cernuschi, an Asian art museum, specialising in works from China, Japan, and Korea, followed by another train to Notre Dame Cathedral. She actually lived in Paris so I had the pleasure of a personal private tour of Notre Dame Cathedral. She taught me about the meaning of the architecture and the history. She was amazing as well. After dinner, I roamed around to do all my souvenir shopping and explored more of the city at night.

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On my last day in Paris, I went inside The Louvre museum. Some people just take pictures of the pyramid and walk around the outside but I really wanted to see the Museum and I had been waiting for years to see The Mona Lisa. Little did I know the Louvre is over 600,000 square feet and holds over 37,000 paintings, sculptures and works of art. I spent 8 hours in the Louvre and didn’t even cover the entire museum. I could easily go back and spend another 8-10 hours there.

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The one thing I did not do was go to the lock bridge…I’m saving that for my love!

My love affair with Paris concluded with walking to my room in the Paris night rain….bitter sweet!

Goodbye Paris…Hello Munich!…Chasing The Sun!

Featured Food Lifestyle Travel

Ghent, Belgium

September 10, 2016

In Belgium, I had the luxury of staying with an amazing host family. Bieke (pronounced Be-Ka), Frank and their very sweet 3 year old Aurora. As soon as I walked in the door she ran up to me and gave me a hug.img_9577I immediately knew I was in the right place. They were also hosting img_9710another workawayer, Lynn, from Germany, at the same time. I say the luxury because Frank and Bieke’s home was amazing. I particiapted in a workaway during this stay. Which means you work and in return the host allow you to stay in their home and provide your food. Well, I couldn’t have asked for a better workaway experience. Frank & Bieke have a beautiful home where they have started a Wellness Retreat. The Wellness Retreat consisted of a pool, jacuzzi, wet sauna, dry sauna, and infra red. Other than some very minimal house cleaning, because of my background in healthcare, anatomy & physiology, massage, yoga and mediation, I had the luxury of giving meditation and massage as my “work”!

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When I wasn’t “working”, I was able to utilize the pool, sauna, jacuzzi and spa for my own use. Lynn spent her time working in the garden on most days and during our free time we laid out by the pool reading or blogging, or in the pool swimming. I have to say I have not watched 1 minute of television since I started my travels. I have taken in so much useful information, history and knowledge in the last 3 weeks than I ever would from months of television. 

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Frank & Bieke are both really great cooks. I indulged on some very Dutch and delicious meals during my stay.

 

On our off day we took the train to Ghent or Gent (in Dutch) and went on a walking tour. In medieval times Ghent was one of the largest cities in Europe, second only to Paris. Today it is a city of culture, a place with an abundance of museums, galleries and assorted architectural gems. The tour consisted of:

img_9701Graslei and Korenlei (the medieval harbor of img_9703Ghent), this medieval port with its unique row of historical buildings, reflected in the long river, is the meeting place, for the young and old,  everyone meets in one of the many café patios or by the water. This is the thriving heart of the inner city. Every house on the Graslei has its own history. Together they form the story of the incredible blossoming of Ghent’s economy during the Middle Ages. On the other side of the water is the Korenlei. All that remains of some of the original buildings is the outer walls.

 The three towers of Ghent: St. Nicholas Church, The Belfry, and St. Bavo’s Cathedral, define the famous medieval skyline of the city center. St. Nicholas Church is one of the oldest and most prominent landmarks in Ghent, Belgium. Begun in the early 13th century as a replacement for an earlier Romanesque church.img_9708 The Belfry is the tallest Belfry in Ghent. It’s construction began in 1313. After continuing intermittently through wars, plagues and political turmoil, the work reached completion in 1380. It was near the end of this period that the gilded dragon, brought from Bruges,assumed its place atop the tower. The uppermost parts of the building have been rebuilt several times, in part to accommodate the growing number of bells. St. Bavo’s Cathedral is built on the site of the former Chapel of St. John the Baptist, a primarily wooden construction that was consecrated in 942 by Transmarus, Bishop of Tournai and Noyon. Traces of this original structure are evident in the cathedral’s crypt. The chapel was subsequently expanded in the Romanesque style in 1038. Some traces of this phase of expansion are still evident in the present day crypt.

Graffiti Street, this street/alleyway is definitely not something you expect to find in Ghent, especially when the rest of the city is so traditional, with castles, cathedrals, churches and all the usual stuff in between. Although graffiti is banned in Gent and will land you some serious jail time and fines, on this street street artist are free to decorate as they please without any hassle or worries. Authorities allow artist to free lance here as an aid to keep them from destroying the traditional medieval history of the streets of Gent and overtime it has become a very popular tourist attraction.

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 Vrijdagsmarkt square, In previous centuries, this square was where the greater part of public political and social life took place. It was here that rulers were solemnly received, feasts celebrated and feuds settled. Apart from the 15th-century Toreken, all the buildings on the Vrijdagmarkt date from the 18th century and the monumental socialist house of the people and even dates from the beginning of the 20th century. The statue that lies in the middle of the square is of Jacob van Artevelde, a man who managed to undo the boycott of English wool imports during the Hundred Years’ War between England and France in the 14th century. He is also known as ” The Wise Man” and “The Brewer of Ghent”. The textiles industry in Ghent was revived and Artevelde was hailed a hero because he was able to save Gent of the boycott and the loss of much income and money. In 1345 he was murdered during a riot. Since 1863 his statue at Vrijdagmarkt has been pointing to England.

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 Dulle Griet, is a medieval supergun from Ghent, Belgium. The wrought-iron bombard was constructed in the first half of the 15th century from 32 longitudinal bars enclosed by 61 rings. In 1452, the bombard was employed by the city of Ghent in the siege of Oudenaarde, but fell into the hands of the defenders on the retreat and was only returned to Ghent in 1578. The supergun now covered on both ends, used to be open, however, too many college students were sleeping in the supergun as part of dares or hazing, which caused them to endure hypothermia in the winter time. 

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 The Castle Gravensteen, is a castle in Ghent originating from the Middle Ages. The name means “castle of the counts” in Dutch. The present castle was built in 1180 by count Philip of Alsace and was modeled after the crusaders castles that Philip of Alsace encountered while he participated in the second crusade. Before its construction, there stood a wooden castle on the same location, presumably built in the ninth century. The castle served as the seat of the Counts of Flanders until they abandoned it in the 14th century. The castle was then used as a courthouse, a prison and eventually decayed. Houses were built against the walls and even on the courtyard and the stones of the walls were used to erect other buildings. At one time it even served as a factory. At the end of the 19th century, the castle was scheduled to be demolished. However, in 1885 the city of Ghent bought the castle and started a renovation project. The newly built houses were removed and the walls and keep were restored to their original condition. The castle has been repaired enough to allow people to travel through it and climb on top. It is still partly surrounded by the moat. Inside is a museum with various torture devices and a guillotine, that were historically used in Ghent.

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After the tour we walked around to find the best delicacies to eat. Of course, that consisted of Waffles and Chocolate. If you really know me, you know that I love chocolate and oh my god!!! Belgium has thee absolute best chocolate I’ve ever had in my entire life and trust me I’ve had a lot of chocolate.

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Thus far, my trip has been absolutely perfect Chasing The Sun!!!

Featured Lifestyle Travel

Amsterdam, The Netherlands

September 5, 2016

So off I went to Europe. Making sure to check off everything on my “ Before You Go” checklist twice. With a 7 hour flight that left at 9pm, I arrived in Amsterdam at 6:45am (EDT) and 12:45 (CEST). After sleeping 6.5/7 hours on the plane, I was ready to go. To me it seemed like just going to sleep at home and waking up the next day, so I was not jet lagged at all

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After navigating through Amsterdam Schiphol Airport, which is big but fairly simple. I went through customs to get my bags and off I was!! Taking the train was a little difficult the first time from Schiphol, as there are about 50 platforms and 50 elevators. After a couple of days, its pretty easy to figure out which train number and in which direction you should be going.

I couldn’t have asked for a better way to start my travels!! Amsterdam was simply amazing. The people, the atmosphere, the pubs and coffee shops. You can be so free in Amsterdam-with no judgements from anyone. Amsterdam reminds me of New Orleans, Louisiana. Another one of my favorite places. It’s so free. When I first arrived in Amsterdam I was feeling a little somber. This was my first stop of my travels and the first time I have ever traveled alone. But I got me to thinking about my purpose and why I started this mission. So I got my life together and decided to roam around to look for some food. My host actually stayed in Naarden-Bussum which was about 30 minutes outside the city of Amsterdam. It is a very quite and beautiful place. It was actually quite nice to come back to her home each night or early early morning after all he hustle and bustle in the city. My hostesses name was Erin. Erin and her boyfriend were both very welcoming and very sweet. Her home was an amazing modern space that I absolutely loved. I learned very quickly that steps in Europe are very narrow. And when I say very narrow I mean VERY! I  had to learn to walk down sideways without busting my ass, as they just casually ran down 3-4 inch steps like it was nothing.

Erin’s Home

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As I was saying, I roamed around my first night looking for something to eat and I stumbled upon this bar called Murphy’s which had a ton of people outside. My first thought was “why is everybody outside, and the bar is empty inside”. Well I went inside and they didn’t serve any food so I proceeded to leave. A group of people outside casually stopped me and said why are you leaving so soon. I explained that I was looking for food. Of course, in English and they spoke Dutch and English. So they immediately knew I was a foreiner. This lead to about five hours of conversation, questions, and exchanging of information from night life to Belgian Beer to food to politics to geography and scenic landmarks. IMG_9251 I met a girl named Mercedes who was moving to Barcelona in few weeks later. We talked about my travels and also drank many beers together. We took shots of Fireman (not Fireball) which taste like cough syrup, yuk!!! We were supposed to go to the club the next day, but both of our plans changed. But we hit it off really great and she offered to host me in Barcelona, which was a blessing because I didn’t have a host their yet…. Well I finally ate some food at about 2am, after many many beers. From Day 1, the vibe of The Netherlands started off really great and so it continued….

The next 4 days I spent in Amsterdam. Late Nights & Early mornings. I woke up the next morning and connected with some other travelers via Hangouts on Couchsurfing. I met Saima, from South Africa and Marie, from Spain at the train station. We immediatedly went on a hunt to get some food. Saima and I found a pretty popular dish of fries and sauce with meat on top called Vlaamse Frites, while Marie found some pasta. I’m waiting until I get to Italy to eat pasta, because I am going to eat a lot of it!!!! Then we stumbled upon 3 more travelers Kitta, from Dallas, TX, Siuteesx, from India, and Ben, from Paris. We went to the bar to have drinks and we added Pierre, from Paris, Johnathan, from Peru, another Ben, from Norway, Nicholi, from Paris, and Alex from Canada. From there we had almost someone from all 7 continents. All we needed was Austraila (we filled that gap as the week went on). We pretty much walked North, South, East and West touring, coffee shop and bar hopping for the rest of the day. We walked to through the Red Light District, Blue Light District to get to the club district and partied at Smokeys until about 4am.

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I really hit it off with everyone but especially Kitta. Her host lived pretty far out from the city as well and  she was also from the states so we would meet each morning at Amsterdam Centraal Station and then meet the group. We spent the next 2 days soaking in some information on the history and important attributes of Amsterdam and The Netherlands. We took a FREE Walking Tour of Amsterdam, a Canal cruise, The Red Light-Blue Light district tour all with 360 Amsterdam Tours, Anne Frank Huis and biked south to The IAmsterdam sign.

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The FREE Walking Tour consisted of the tour around the city to enlighten the tourists of the great golden era, by showing them the magnificent and highly valuable masterpieces of great artists, to taking them around the beautiful canals and bridges and showing them what the city really has to offer. From the historic old districts and discovering how Amsterdam started- from a simple swamp harbour village in the 1200’s, to ‘the Golden Age’ in the 1600’s when Amsterdam became the most important trading city in the world. The tour showcased the Royal Palace, the Old & New Church, the Jewish Quarter, Canals, Bridges, the Red Light District, Art & Architecture, Golden Age, and many hidden treasures. It was amazing! Definitely a must do! My only suggestion is to do the tours on your 1st or 2nd day of arrival. It will give you more information of everything the city has to offer to help you plan what other sites you want to get a deeper perspective of and see more of.

The Canal cruise showed a different perspective of Amsterdam, including a look at The Anne Frank Huis at almost eye level from the water. The Anne Frank Huis is the most visited house in Amsterdam, with well over 1 million visitors per year. Anne Frank was a German-born diarist and writer. One of the most discussed Jewish victims of the Holocaust, she gained fame posthumously following the publication of her diary, The Diary of a Young Girl. which documents her life in hiding from 1942 to 1944, during the German occupation of the Netherlands in World War II. Anne moved to The Netherlands at a very young age and when the Nazi gained control over Germany, having been born a German national, she became stateless. May 1940, the Franks were trapped in Amsterdam by the German occupation of the Netherlands. As persecutions of the Jewish population increased in July 1942, the family went into hiding in some concealed rooms behind a bookcase in the building where Anne’s father worked. From then until the family’s arrest by the Gestapo in August 1944, Anne kept a diary she had received as a birthday present, and wrote in it regularly. Following their arrest, the Franks were transported to concentration camps. In October or November 1944, Anne and her sister, Margot, were transferred to Bergen-Belsen concentration camp from Auschwitz, where they died a few months later and just one month before The Dutch authorities rescued the camps. Anne’s father, Frank’s father, Otto, the only survivor of the family, returned to Amsterdam after the war to find that her diary had been saved by one of the helpers, Miep Gies, and his efforts led to its publication in 1947. 

Anne Frank Huis

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If you look closely you will see that the houses along the canal and in many more places are leaning. The leaning houses of Amsterdam. The buildings in Amsterdam lean forward slightly. It is not sinking nor a trick of the eye after a day of the smoke. The buildings in Amsterdam are built leaning forward on purpose. Even though it might look strange to our modern eyes, designing a building that leans forward, this way to build was a solution to another problem. The problem with these old buildings is that the stairways are always very narrow and steep. These stairways are impossible to use while trying to get furniture or any other big object to your house.These stairways are a consequence of the very narrow construction used in Holland at the time. Which meant you had to pull your furniture up through your window.If you take a look at most old houses in Amsterdam you will see a hook placed on top their roofs. This is used to hang a wheel and use it with a rope to pull things up. While pulling big object up a building, it helps avoiding hitting the building with these objects if the building tilts forward. You will also see that these houses are leaning to the side which is a result of instability of the land in the 15th century.dsc_0964

The Red Light District tour gave a lot of insight on the history of the red light district and how and why this area exist or came to be what it is today. We learned about the Red Light District and all of its secrets with a professional guide. 

img_9347-2I learned about how the sex workers operate in the district and admire the district’s centuries-old churches and architecture at he same time. It was crazy to learn about the history of Amsterdam’s legalized prostitution and it’s church history in the same tour. These two opposites are actually very much intertwined by their locations within the city. Amsterdam and the Red Light District is diverse in so many ways. The red light district being the oldest area in Amsterdam is not only a professional hub for sex clubs with beautiful ladies in their red lit windows, but it is dsc_0896also home to many cafes offering diverse menu options from around the globe to dsc_0883elegant dining spots with great Jazz and salsa music. The red light district showcases the ancient Dutch art and architecture in the form of its museums, monolithic and catholic churches and various beautiful buildings standing strong since the seventeenth century. I toured the Prostitution Information Center, peepshows, Bananabar, and the oldest and best in my opinion, Coffee Shop in the city, Bulldogs. I was able to admire the impressive churches, century ­old buildings, and canals in addition to learning about how the sex workers operate in the district.

All of my tours were amazing and I would definitely  recommend doing them. As I said, try to book them at the beginning of your stay to get the most use out of the information.

During my time in Amsterdam I also rode bikes as much as possible. People ride bikes like we drive cars in the states. There are so many “parking lots” for bikes. Literally parking garages for bikes. I think thats so amazing. I don’t think I saw one obese European since I’ve been traveling. It’s normal to ride your bike 30 minujtes-1 hour-2 hours to get to a destination. I utilized my host bike or renting a bike as much as possible. It really helped to immerse myself in The Netherlands way of life. I loved it!!

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Amsterdam, it feels perfect to be imperfect…Chasing The Sun

Travel

Myths about Dubai & The UAE

October 25, 2014

 

  • The myth:Everyone is super rich
  • The truth:Everyone is not super rich! It is true that the brilliant rules of the UAE allow a tax free income, but really in the UAE, you see people from all walks of life, making all sorts of money. Maids who work in the homes of locals or expats can notoriously make as little as 1000 AED a month. It is even common to see locals from all sorts of the financial spectrum, some seeming to have a very healthy income, and those who have a modest one.There is most certainly money to be made, but you still have to live to a budget as you would in any country, you’ve also got to really try to stick to it as there are far too many places to spend it!

 

  • The myth:Everyone lives in 5 star and 7 star high rises or compounds
  • The truth:Everyone does not live in 5-7 star high rises or homes, however there are many middle class homes that look like compounds. There are also many apartment complexes.

 

  • The myth:The weather is too hot to live/ do anything here
  • The truth: The weather is hot & humid, but you are still able to live, explore, go to the beach, and tour the city

 

  • The myth:Every woman must cover in Burkas, head scarves, Hijabs
  • The truth:This is one myth that is widespread and comes to the forefront of most people’s minds when thinking about Arab or Muslim-majority countries. The UAE is widely considered one of the most forward thinking countries with regards to gender relations in the Arab and Muslim world. Unlike the UAE’s neighbour, women here are allowed to drive. Women also make up half of the university population and are full participants in the workforce. Emirati women wear abaya (voluminous black gown) and shayla (a head covering) but unlike Saudi Arabia or Iran it is not enforced but more of a national custom. You will even sometimes run in to Emirati ladies who do not wear the shayla or even the abaya. Expat women are not expected or asked to wear abaya or shayla and are pretty much allowed to wear whatever it is they like provided that it is modest i.e. no overt displays of cleavage or short-shorts (unless it is in the appropriate place like a beach). Of course is also truly depends on where you are in the Emirates. Dubai is a lot less conservative than Abu Dhabi, and Abu Dhabi is less conservative than Sharjah. So, the best thing to do is to just adjust your clothing to wherever you’re going in the Emirates so not to cause offence.

 

  • The myth: Everyone drives sports cars
  • The truth:Everyone does not drive a sports car, however I saw many many nice ones, much the same as driving down South Beach in Miami. Although the cars in Dubai were most likely own and not rented

 

  • The myth:Dubai is a country
  • The truth:Dubai is not a country, it is a city of the UAE. Many also think Dubai is the capital, Abu Dhabi is the capital of the UAE, which is smaller than Dubai

 

  • The myth: It is not a massive sandpit with oil refineries everywhere
  • The truth: Dubai is very much a city like any other. It actually is probably more up to date and modern in architecture, construction and technology than most other major cities. Abu Dhabi is surprisingly green, as is Al-Ain. The desert that surrounds Abu Dhabi city and Dubai is yellowish with lots of little plants growing all over. You’ve really got to drive out a little bit to find real desert.

 

  • The myth: No meat country, Dubai is a Muslim country, therefore haram (forbidden) meat is banned.
  • The truth: The UAE is a forward-thinking country that has found a way to successfully cater for its expat population while respecting the laws and traditions of its own people. Most supermarkets have specific non-Muslim sections selling otherwise forbidden meat products, and numerous restaurants also have licences.

 

  • The myth: You cannot drink in Dubai & you need to have a liquor licence in order to buy alcoholic beverages from liquor shops.
  • The truth: Alcohol is sold in hotels, most hotels have clubs and bars inside them, and in some stores in Abu Dhabi and Dubai (and other Emirates that have fleeky hotels). Most other states allow the selling of alcohol, but like Abu Dhabi require a alcohol license (although, if truth be told, it is hardly enforced). Sharjah, I believe, is the only Emirate that is completely dry. It is worth mentioning though, that during holy nights or special holidays within the Islamic Calendar hotels, bars and restaurants enforce dry nights.

 

  • The myth: All public displays of affection are banned.
  • The truth: This is false but there’s one thing you must remember: displays of affection with someone to whom you are not married are illegal under the UAE penal law of 1987. You will see plenty of married couples holding hands in the malls and our advice would be, if you’re married, to be respectful of local customs and not go any further than that.

 

  • The myth: All food is imported
  • The truth: It is easy for one to assume that livestock and crops cannot possibly grow in the arid desert climate of Dubai. Indeed, most foods in supermarkets are brought in from all over the world, from Australia to Zambia. However, there has been a significant shift in recent years towards more sustainable produce from local farmlands. More than 80 different varieties of crops are grown in the UAE and in 2012, almost 60,000 tonnes of cow milk and 15,000 tonnes of chicken were produced in Dubai.

What is your perception of Dubai and The UAE?

Featured Lifestyle Travel

Dubai Conception

October 20, 2014

I’ve always wanted to go to Dubai. My sister and I, talked about going to Dubai for over a year. I finally mustered up the courage to book tickets and click submit. That took a lot of staring at the computer screens on many occasions. Prior to going to Dubai, I had only traveled across the US and much of the Caribbean.

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Dubai certainly breathes by the mantra “bigger is better”. This trip was amazing from beginning to end. Lucky we sat in a 2 person row on the way to London, so I was laying all over my sister as she was on me. Reminded me of our adolescent days when we took car rides to Virginia Beach and we were cramped up in the backseat. #Goodtimes We endured a 7 hour flight to London, a 3 hour layover, and 7 more hours to Dubai. The layover was much needed to stretch our body and walk around. Plus, if you have ever been to London, the airport is like a mall with plenty of shopping to do and things to see. I managed to watch movies 90% of the time on both flights to Dubai, however, I can’t say the same for the return. I slept pretty much the entire 14 hours, minus waking up food. I think I was to excited on the way to Dubai to sleep and ready to get off the plane on the way home.

I booked our trip with Gate 1 Travel, which was amazing, being that it was our first really big trip. I didn’t want to have any mishaps and I especially did not know what I would have been booking. Our booking included EVERYTHING, ALL of our flights, Breakfast every morning, 3 dinners, all of our tours, all of our transportation to/from the airport and to/from our tours. In addition, our tours also included a very thorough and knowledgable tour guide who very very informative with the architecture, history, culture and community of Dubai.

Now for starters, let me just start of by saying Dubai is not what most people perceive it to be if they are visiting for the first time. Although there are many Muslim women who cover up in Hijab. What I learned about Dubai is that the UAE is comprised to people from all over the world. It is made up of about 19% Emerati, 23%  Arab and Iranian, 50% South Asian, and 8% from other expatriates, including Westerners and Easterners. Much to my surprise, I also observed many Africans here. Dubai does not grant citizen ship to those that live there, even if you were born there. In order to reside in Dubai you must have a working visa or a school visa. You can not just live there or vacation there for a lifetime, without one of the two. Would be nice though. Arabic is the official and national language of the UAE. Apart from Arabic, English is widely used as a second language. It’s actually pretty easy to maneuver in Dubai, as all the signs are also in English.

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Another thing I learned, is Dubai’s government really cares and puts money back into its communities and people. There are no taxes in Dubai, both working or sales tax don’t exist. You take home what you make. Many of the homes, which they call compounds and that would be consider to be mansions belong to normal “middle class families”. The streets are so clean that you literally could eat off of them, the mall was the same. I thought it was just so funny and interesting that mothers would let their babies just crawl on the floor. Now my sister is the ultimate germ-a-phob and she even said ‘I see why people let their babies on the floor. It is literally that clean.From the airport our transportation picked us up as soon as we received our luggage. We stayed at Crowne Plaza Dubai-Deira, Dubai, which was very close to everything, so our taxi rides were pretty feasible. Our trip started with a fabulous day discovering one of the world’s most futuristic cities with its dramatic skyline. We began at Dubai Creek, cutting through the heart of the city and winding our way from the trading port of the Gulf to the Ras al Khor bird sanctuary on the desert edge of the city.

We drove past the Jumeirah Mosque with its unique architecture and the Dubai Marina with amazing views of the man-made Palm Island (Also known as Atlantis), the artificial archipelago in the Persian Gulf. Of course, we were surrounded by the astonishing aquarium inhabited by thousands of marine species from around the world. Then we continued past Dubai’s signature landmark,The Burj Al-Arab, which is the celebrated sail-shaped hotel.

 Then, we briefly walked through the colossal Dubai Mall to get to one of the sights I looked forward to the most. We climbed 162 floors (by elevator haha) to the very top of Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world.The view from here is unequal to any panoramic view I have ever seen in the world.
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On to the Dubai Museum, housed in the Al Fahidi Fort, the Dubai World Trade Center, and the bustling alleys of traditional spice and gold souks. The Gold Souq, which is located near the Deira Fish Market, as well as the spice, textile, and perfume souqs reminded me so much of the markets in The Bahamas. If you’ve been to any market in the Caribbean it will remind you of the same, however with much better quality items. We took the Abra Water Taxi along the nearby Creek to catch a better glimpse of the souq, other merchants, and views of skyscrapers from the water. At night we went to the club. All the clubs are inside hotels, due to the drinking laws in Dubai. (Read my post on Myths about Dubai) The club was not what I expected. It was very American lol The DJ played all the hip hop songs as in the states (some old/ new school). The drinks were strong but also expensive. We danced all night and had a great time.

The next day, we had a lazy day. Our hotel had a spa, so we spent the day at the pool, getting massages and relaxing in the wet sauna at the spa. Next to the pool we had a cabana where we ordered food and Shisha. The food was great and the shish was great as well. I had been waiting to smoke Shisha since we had arrived. We spent the afternoon exploring the city again. Walking around downtown, observing the architecture, the people, the culture.

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The following day, we set off on our excursion. I previously booked a 4×4 sand dune bashing, Camel Ride, Quad Bike, sand boarding and Camel Farm Tour, which was absolutely amazing. (See pictures for more info) We selected an early morning tour so we could have the rest of the day to explore other things. Im glad we did, we returned in time to still eat brunch and before the other group left for the afternoon tour. They did not return until about 8pm. My sister and I spent the rest of the day exploring. We caught a taxi back to the gold soul to do some shopping and then over to the Dubai Mall, which remember I said was colossal to of more shopping. Our tour guide informed us that “ if you spent 10 minutes in every store, it would take you 1 full week to see the entire mall!” First, we ate in the food court, which was not only the best mall food court food I had in my life. It was pretty good Indian food as well, and I eat a lot of Indian food. Yeah, so we spent 4 hours in the mall, and only covered probably 1/8 of the mall. It ridiculously big, but who doesn’t love shopping!

IMG_3128IMG_3134IMG_3136On the last day in Dubai, we traveled to Al Ain, the Garden City of the UAE and one of the oldest settlements. Al Ain, a green city with an incredible number of public parks, it is also the birthplace of H.H. Sheikh Zayed, the Former President of the UAE. We took a visit to The Sheikh Zayed Palace Museum, which was the residence of Sheikh Zayed and his family between 1937 and 1966. The tour also included a visit to the most important museum in the UAE, Al Ain National Museum which houses artifacts of ancient times that have been discovered in and around the city, ancient Arabic manuscripts and royal treasures. We went to see a traditional camel market and to the Hili Archaeological Gardens, the excavation site of a Bronze Age settlement that dates to back 3000 B.C. In the evening, we returned to Dubai to enjoy the evening at our leisure. Again we walked the city, stores, and took part in some souvenir shopping with some others from our group members.

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The next morning, we took an 1.5 bus ride with our group. Here we stayed at the Marriott Hotel Downtown, Abu Dhabi, which also had a club/bar terrace and club/bar rooftop lounge. Westarted off the day with a city tour of the capital of the United Arab Emirates, Abu Dhabi, also known as the Arabian Jewel. Then we drove past Jebel Ali, the largest man-made port in the world before arriving at the magnificent Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, iconic symbol of Abu Dhabi. Next, we continued along the city’s glamorous Corniche, with blue waters glittering on one side and shimmering skyscrapers lining the other. At the Breakwater, we paused to take photos of the city’s fabulous skyline. Then, on to Heritage Village, a reconstructed traditional “oasis”. Here, we took a journey to the past, to experience life in Abu Dhabi before oil revenues altered the landscape. Many different aspects of desert life are attractively displayed in the open-air museum along with workshops where craftsmen demonstrate traditional skills while women sat weaving and spinning. Afterwards, we stopped at the Zayed House for a fascinating sneak peek into the life of the late Sheikh Zayed, ‘Father of the Nation’. We enjoyed our final night in Abu Dhabi and the United Arab Emirates exploring Yas Island, Ferrari World-Abu Dhabi. After eating Indian food for a week, which was always delicious, but we got a little burnt out. So we went to Buca Di Beppo which was inside Yas Island Mall. It was the best Italian I had in a long time, in Abu Dhabi, go figure right! On our last night, we stayed out late with some of group in the hotel at restaurant terrace where we ate and smoked more shisha, then we headed to the rooftop to do the same with the locals.

Being able to make these memories and share them with my sister was an amazing and unforgettable experience. Although I considered myself well traveled previous to this trip. I was sadly mistaken. I met so many people who had visited and traveled across 30-40-50 countries. I thought to myself this is really really possible. I also thought to myself….I have a long way to go. This trip enlightened me to another level.

Dubai Conception…The conception of a travel movement …Chasing The Sun

 

Featured Lifestyle Travel

About Me

June 21, 2014

I created Chassant Le Soleil (Chasing The Sun) as an outlet to connect with others as well as share my travel, lifestyle, memories and experiences. My mother introduced my sister and I to traveling at a very young age. We both for the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) from the ages of 5-18, which gave us the pleasure of playing basketball and traveling all over the United States. From a young age, I always loved going to new places, seeing new things, trying new foods, meeting new people ect. At 12, my mom took us on our first trip to The Bahamas @ Atlantis Paradise Island (The Bahamas has a very special place in my heart. Ill tell you exactly why later). My mom had previously already been all over the Caribbean by this time (Bahamas, Mexico, Jamaica, Aruba). She later took me to Jamaica, The Caymen Islands,  Cancun, Playa Del Carmen, and back to The Bahamas several times. From as young as I can remember, she was always Chasing The Sun. So you see, my mother had me hooked on traveling at a young age. At that moment, I thought I was well traveled lol. Little did I know that was just the beginning.

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If you know me personally and have ever met my mom you know she was fierce! Her name was Dell Monica. She was my superwoman. And I know for most, we think of our parents as our supermen, superwomen, or our heroes. Very child-like. But for me, she was my entire life. Like I said she was fierce, from the Corporate World, to the rock of our family-both immediate and extended, the giver, the athlete, the adventurer and the daredevil. She always had her hands in several pots but always managed to take the extra time to explore the world and help others. At some point, she thought she was a professional rollerblader (lol) which didn’t conclude so well, I was about 10 years old. One day she was riding her rollerblades down the trails, she hit a steep hill and I guess for reasons beyond me she thought she could conquer it. She ended up crashing into a wooden fence that had sharp sticks sticking out of them. Nonetheless, the went into her leg. It was bad but it wasn’t deadly (from my sisters reaction you would have thought it was though lol 🙂 So she had to get whisked away in an ambulance to the hospital to get stitches. After the aftermath, she just ended up with a pretty pretty ugly and big scar down her leg. This was the first time my heart was a little broken. I didn’t want her to be hurt, or be in pain or even have a little limp. I felt so bad and there wasn’t anything I could do. She ended up being fine, her leg healed and she went right back to rollerblading, skiing, zip lining, and doing any and everything else she could put her mind to.

Fast forward about 10 years, I received a scholarship to play basketball, I’d spent so much time traveling. Life was PERFECT…or so I thought! After my 1st year of college my mom was diagnosed with Stage IV breast cancer. They said she caught it early and had good prognosis to beat it and live a happy and healthy life. So she spend the next 5 years fighting and battling cancer. Chemo twice a week, radiation in between, she never missed and appointment and she still never missed a beat. We had a buddy system with our family and some of her friends, we would all signed up for an assigned day to go with her to chemo. I don’t recall not 1 day, she ever had to go alone. She would beat her face, curl her wig, put on her suit or skirt, go to chemo (never put her computer or phone down at chemo btw) and off to work she went.  From the looks of her you would have never even know she had cancer or she was ever sick (minus her bald head) She was right back to The Adventures of Dell Monica every week. She still traveled as much as she could and still managed to spend 2 weeks traveling through Europe.

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She went into remission a few times (for long periods of time) Of course, each time we were sure she had beat it and it was gone. After college, I moved back home to attend graduate school and to be closer to my mom. Well, 2 years later, her cancer came back. I think at this point she may have thought or know something was different. So shortly after, she received her yearly pension, she told me and my sister to pack our bags for vacation. We spent 8 amazing days back in the Bahamas @ Atlantis Paradise Island. IMG_9231These days were absolutely amazing, we did any and everything we wanted, spent whatever we wanted, ate and drank any and everything we wanted. She didn’t have a care in the world and she didn’t want us to either. It was at this very moment that I knew why.

After the Bahamas, the cancer started spreading FAST! She endured so much pain and still fought to see my sister and I triumph and accomplish so many of our goals that year.  She passed away 2 weeks after I graduated from graduate school. I told you she fought, she literally fought till the end. But not before telling me to live! “Live your life to the fullest, don’t just exist in this world” was her motto. This was the absolute hardest thing I’ve had to and probably will ever deal with in my life. I would like to think that I was always LIVING before, however, this experience and the teachings of my mother have really taught me to LIVE, not just exist, but to really really LIVE and make my mark and my memories in this world.

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One year later, my sister and I went back to The Bahamas to spread her ashes in the ocean at Atlantis Paradise Island. Our very first and our very last vacation together.

I started traveling more and more since my mom passed because traveling was her passion. As I said in the beginning, she instilled this lifestyle in me at a very young age. Consequently, traveling makes me feel closer to her because I know she’s is always with me, across the ocean, in the sky and next to my footprints. I started this blog to share my experiences, lifestyle, life lessons, and most importantly-my memories with you as I Chase The Sun! 🙂

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