Spa Day or Staycation?

Spas are literally a dream come true but I’ve never visited one until the summer of 2018. My first spa experience happened at Premier 57. I desperately needed a vacation and decided to take the day off and go by myself. Unbeknownst to me, there were tons of couples who visited the spa with their significant others, which was awkward to say the least but I made the best of it. Premier 57 is the type of spa you should go to when you need a quick fix of relaxation during the week. I don’t know if I would recommend going to the spa on a weekend because the crowds are the antithesis of relaxation. During my first experience at Premier 57, I decided to pamper myself with a salt scrub. My skin felt so smooth after. I went in all of the saunas, the hydro pool, the jacuzzi’s on the rooftop and fell asleep in the quiet room. I didn’t leave the spa until about 9:00 PM that night and was so relaxed. The sleep after a spa is straight from heaven. Groupon always has cheap deals for Premier 57, which is how I scored my discounted day pass and spa service.

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I’ve frequented SOJO Spa twice. It has about 7 or 8 floors of saunas, pools, hydro pools, cabanas, jacuzzis and more. I really have nothing but great things to say about SOJO. My favorite experience there was the Volcanic Sand Bath.  For an extra 20 bucks, your whole body is buried in hot black volcanic sand. According to the website, the treatment is thought to help relieve musculoskeletal pain and stiffness, as well as benefiting the skin and assisting the metabolism.  Like a sauna or steam room, the process of sweating in the heat detoxifies the body, while the alkalinity of the mineral-rich volcanic sand itself amplifies the cleansing properties.” If you go, visit the dining room for a Veggie grilled cheese, it’s delicious. I still dream about it.

McCarren Pool

I visited the McCarren Pool during the summer of 2018, before my job offered summer Fridays, I created one for myself. I was in desperate need of a vacation and didn’t have one planned until the fall. Hence the idea of a staycation at McCaren Hotel pool came about. At a whopping $97 for a day pass (My day pass did not include drinks, it just included a towel and entry to the pool area), I was able to relax by this funky pool, with a bunch of cool millennials (including my friend Jess), listening to music and allowing the sun soak on me. I was eventually upgraded (one of the workers had a crush on me) to the double pool bed which is about $300 a day. The pool opens around Memorial Day for the summer but with the pandemic, that may change.

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Moon Palace Jamaica

I visited Moon Palace hotel in Ocho Rios, Jamaica in October 2018 for my best friend’s wedding and it was a blast. Moon Palace is a beautiful all-inclusive hotel and was very nostalgic for me because I’ve been there several times as a child/teen (back then it was known as Jamaica Grande).

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When I had some downtime from my maid of honor duties, I spent most of my time on the beach. The water was warm and peaceful. The orange chairs made the scenery great for photos. The people who worked there were attentive, always making sure I was hydrated.

Ky Tip: The Bob Marley’s are the best drinks this hotel has to offer (in my opinion). I want to go back just to have this drink.

There was a jerk hut on the beach as well, where you could order authentic jerk chicken and jerk pork as a snack. To be honest, the food at this resort wasn’t the greatest, but the jerk shack was so good.

I spent some time in the jacuzzi and pool with friends but not as much as I would’ve liked. The pool is extensive. Moon Palace also has a FlowRider, swimming with dolphins and a night club called Club Noir. Club Noir was pretty lit. They play great music but for the most part, it remained empty while we were there, which was kind of cool to have the whole club to ourselves.

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The day before we left, we went on a yacht which took us to a beautiful part of the island where we could dive into the ocean from the boat. I jumped (with a life jacket) and it was so liberating. Jamaica is THE MOST BEAUTIFUL ISLAND EVER! The captain played music for us and made sure we had a great time. Overall, I really enjoyed this hotel (minus the food) and I think you will too.

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Rosé Mansion

Rosé Mansion is an Instagram dream. I went with my friend Brittany and we spent the whole day taking photos, swinging on chandeliers, jumping in ball pits and drinking rosé from countries around the world. When I went in 2018, it was more of a pop-up. Now, it’s open throughout the year in NYC and they are currently hosting virtual happy hours as a result of the pandemic. I did not get “drunk” and no that was not the goal but I did leave with a bit of a headache. Overall, it was such a unique experience and I took the best photos EVER!

The Impact of COVID-19

I am a homebody. I love being home with my family, talking to friends, reading books and laying in my bed. However, I never imagined a day where I would be quarantined to my home by the government, yet here we are. I choose to look at this as a good thing. A blessing of some sort, to start doing the things that I love again, while being sensitive to those who are truly suffering from COVID-19 and constantly praying for them.

Just as much as I love my home, I love to travel and explore. I love visiting new places and sharing all about it. This was the very reason I started this blog. The busyness of life got in the way of me sharing my travel stories that I’ve had in my arsenal since 2018. TWO WHOLE YEARS! Now, I have no excuse. Although I am still working and (working very hard), I have more time to dedicate myself to my true passions. My love for blogging was overshadowed by my job and life’s responsibilities but I am hoping this situation will bring us all peace. I am hoping it will allow us to be still and refocus on the things we truly love and have been ignoring.

I don’t want my next couple of posts that I share to feel insensitive or out of touch since we can’t go out, but more as a source of hope and inspiration for when we go out again. Let’s all look forward to the days when we will be able to talk to people, explore places and travel again. It may seem like a long time from now but I have hope that we will be able to have social experiences again. I am also hopeful this situation will help us to exercise more love and compassion for one another. Life is a gift. People are gifts and we should not take advantage of each other.

18 Hours in Baltimore

My best friend Myllz made a major move to Baltimore last year and she’s literally been begging me to come so I could explore her new city. For context, I was really bummed when she left Brooklyn. I spent most of my 20s exploring the “New Brooklyn” with her. Going to lounges, finding new black-owned businesses to support, visiting exhibits by up-and-coming artists. Since she left, I haven’t been on the scene AT ALL. So our “Woke and Bougie” group chat, which consists of me, Nikki, Kadia (and Myllz), decided to hop on a bus and surprise her in Baltimore.

Everything was set and planned seamlessly. We would leave work at 4:30 PM and catch the 5:30 PM Greyhound to Baltimore. Then we would meet her at a rooftop bar and yell SURPRISE!!!!! (Her husband, Drew, was in on all of the planning). The only problem was, it was a busy Friday and that 5:30 PM Greyhound never showed up. We waited for 4 hours. Greyhound is not a bus company I would recommend at all anymore (I say anymore because growing up my family and I took it to Niagara Falls all the time and it used to be so fun but now…). They are so unprofessional. They do not tell you how long the bus is delayed for or why. They just leave you hanging and waiting. The worst part about it is that the employees get annoyed if you ask them any questions (Maybe they are trained not to give any information because they were all tightlipped when it came time to provide that information). One employee even said, “If I told you how far the bus was you all would get up and leave and we don’t want that.”

Finally, we just said we would go get dinner and try again another weekend. The next morning we all felt guilty and knew we should try again. What did we have to lose? So this time we booked a bus ticket on PeterPan, which was a way more professional and timely company and drove 4-hours to Baltimore. We left at 1 PM and got to Baltimore around 4:30 PM. Drew picked us up from the train station. Our surprise wasn’t as big as we originally planned because Myllz’ reaction was a little delayed. Once she got over the shock of it all she was so excited and couldn’t wait to show us around her new city.

In 18 hours we were able to accomplish A LOT.

We stayed at the Embassy Suites Inner Harbor, which was actually a very nice hotel. The hotel had a free happy hour and complimentary breakfast. The rooms were like apartments, equipped with a kitchenette, dining room and living room. It’s also a pet-friendly hotel.

Myllz took us on a walk to the Inner Harbor. It’s kind of like the South Street Seaport in New York. Then we went to eat crab cakes and sipped on Frosés at Phillips.

Later that night, we had dinner and wine at 13.5% Wine Bar. I absolutely loved this place. The wine was AMAZING. I didn’t like the food as much as I loved the wine though. My suggestion, order something small like an appetizer or a platter of cheese. I made the mistake of ordering a large plate and was disappointed. This was the first time in history, that I didn’t finish my food and didn’t ask for a to-go bag. We then went dancing at Sangria, which is like a hip hop lounge. Finally before we went back to the hotel, we took a nice walk through Downtown, Baltimore.

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The next morning, we had breakfast at Teavolve Cafe. It’s such a cute restaurant and it’s black-owned. I had a Mango Bellini and a red velvet pancake.

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Then we went to another harbor called Fells Point. We watched the ducks and enjoyed the beautiful Baltimore views. Baltimore is really special. That’s how we spent our 18-hours in Baltimore. I’ll surely be back.

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Have you ever been to Baltimore? What are some of your favorite places to visit while there?

Weekend Trip to Denver

When I told people I was headed to Denver, most questioned: “Why?” I know it’s not the typical go-to destination, but Denver is a major city that’s on the come up. To be honest, I probably would’ve never visited if I didn’t have a conference that I was attending. A few of my Lyft Drivers mentioned that there has been an influx in the rates of tourists since marijuana became legal there.

Denver is like any other city. It’s mostly filled with suburban neighborhoods but has a downtown element that’s charming. As a solo traveler in Denver, I stayed at the Hyatt Regency Aurora Conference Center, which was located in the town of Aurora. The hotel is only 2-years old but my stay was superb. The color scheme was burnt orange and blue, with hints of wood. It has a pool and a full functioning gym. I chose this hotel because it was near the conference that I was attending.

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Most of the people in Denver were actually quite friendly. I only had one horrible encounter on my third day there, when a crazy (racist) man came into my Lyft and got mad at me because I sat in the front seat. When I offered him the seat, he said he didn’t want it, and threatened to choke me…it was odd. That was the last time, I did a Lyft-Line for the rest of my time there; I almost forgot that I wasn’t in Kansas (aka New York) anymore.

The day before the conference started I decided to explore downtown Denver. I came across a few gems. The first being the Denver Museum of Art. There was a powerful exhibit at the museum, which explored the plight of Native Americans and their culture through the eyes of artists.

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My art museum visit was followed by a stroll down 16th Street. 16th street is a strip of stores and food establishments, kind of like an outside mall. I went inside stores like Victoria Secret, Bare Minerals, TJ Maxx and H&M. After that, I ended up on 15th and Larimer, but it was blocked off due to a food festival they were having.

One of the primary reasons people visit Denver is because of the mountains, however, since I was alone it was not something I wanted to tackle solo. I will be back next year (God’s willing) and will definitely add an exploration of mountains to my list of things to do.

NOLA…Anyone?

I’m just going to call a spade a spade and say New Orleans is one of the best cities I’ve ever visited in the United States…who knew? I visited NOLA for the first time with friends from Penn State Hazleton (kind of like our own little reunion). We stayed in a beautiful Airbnb with just enough rooms and bathrooms to accommodate all 13 of us. Our obligatory first stop was, of course, Bourbon Street from there we explored some of New Orleans famous attractions, but definitely couldn’t tackle all of them, which gives me an excuse to return as soon as possible.

Bourbon Street:

Bourbon Street is a strip filled with bars and clubs of all kinds. If you’re into country music and mechanical bulls, there’s a bar for you. If you love hip-hop and a good turn up, there’s a spot for you too. What I love about New Orleans is that it’s one of the only places where you can walk around and into clubs with a red cup and no one will stop you. When they say you can drink on the street, they mean it (not like I’m an alcoholic but I was actually impressed by this). Bourbon Street is known for its hurricanes as well, but I was more than willing to do the long walk to Fat Tuesdays (633 Bourbon Street) to get their frozen drinks because it was only $10, more than half the price than it was in Miami.

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Swamp Tour

The swamp tour in New Orleans is a must. The tour is about 2-hours long and it takes you deep into the swamp for alligator sightings. One cool thing about the tour is that our tour guide actually brought a small alligator on the boat that we could all touch. The scenery and nature in the swamps are absolutely stunning. No trip is complete to NOLA without doing this.

Ky Tip: Check out Groupon.com for Swamp Tours at a discounted price in NOLA.

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French Quarter

The French Quarter was one of my favorite places in New Orleans. It makes you feel as if you stepped back into time and is one of the most charming locations in the city. There you can take a carriage ride throughout the neighborhood, explore the different artists, restaurants, and bars, or even take a cultural walking tour. I fell in love with this place, especially at night, when I visited the Blue Nile and watched soulful blues artists sing their hearts out.

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Café Du Monde

Café Du Monde is a famous spot for beignets in New Orleans. Beignets is surprisingly good. I didn’t think I would like them but I did. They’re like French donuts covered in sugar. They come out on a plate hot and you can have coffee with them. They’re delish and I brought some back home for my family to try.

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Harrah’s Casino

Casino’s are self-explanatory. If you want to gamble you go…no surprise there. But this casino actually has a delicious buffet and a club called Masquerade, so it might be worth a shot to try out. Outside of the casino was the trolley line, which is a cute vintage trolley that takes you throughout the city for $1.50.

Jackson Square

Jackson Square is another tourist attraction near the French Quarter and Café Du Monde. It’s famous for the Jackson Square Park and St. Louis Cathedral.

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Food!!!!

The food in NOLA is freaking good. I tried a shrimp po’boy for the first time and almost licked my fingers off. I also tried alligator sausages, for the culture. Some of the spots we dined at were Cajun Seafood, Ruby Slippers, and Drago’s Seafood.

The Hood

Our uber driver took us on a tour of the hood, because why not? In the hood, we met a motorcycle gang, got frozen drinks for $4 and visited cemeteries. Cryptic right? It’s not. Cemeteries are actually a thing to do in New Orleans.

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If interested, check out my new Orleans things to do. I didn’t get to do all of them, but here’s a healthy list of things to do Kydee Style (AKA Why am I such a dork?)

My Mom’s 50th Birthday in Jamaica

Jamaica is home and I am happy that my family instilled that in me from childhood. Each time I return, my love for Jamaica runs deeper. This year, I went to celebrate my mom’s 50th birthday. We stayed at the Grand Bahia Principe and everything was organized to perfection by Apple Vacations. It was the first time my whole family went on vacation together which was special.

IMG_5921FullSizeRender (30)IMG_5821.JPGOverall, I enjoyed my stay at the hotel. The resort is beautiful and grand. The food is absolutely delicious. The pool is expansive and I love that there are bungalows around the pool that are first-come, first-serve, so no extra payment necessary for them. The resort has over 7 restaurants but you can’t help but be attracted to the buffet, did I say the food was good? We watched the head chef do food demonstrations and learned how to make ackee and saltfish the first day we arrived.

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The resort is lively. Music plays throughout the day by the pool, accompanied by fun activities. I took an amazing yoga class one morning and it was just what I needed to start my day. No resort is complete without a pool bar in my opinion. My favorite thing to drink is a strawberry daiquiri with Appleton Rum. FullSizeRender (35)FullSizeRender (37)A part of celebrating my mom’s birthday was forcing her to take photos to embrace her beauty and her life. Age 50 is such a milestone and I am so happy to have spent it, celebrating her greatness. IMG_3097IMG_3108One of the days in Jamaica, we took a day trip to Negril. For lunch, we had beef and jerk chicken patties from Tastee. IMG_3188IMG_3192Negril’s 7-mile beach is one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. The colors of the ocean vary in different shades of blue. We started out at Margaritaville and made our way to Ricks Café. From there, we went to the Glistening Waters (Luminous Lagoon) where the freshwater meets the saltwater and the water illuminates brightly, due to all of the phosphorus in the water, when you disturb it.IMG_5874IMG_5889IMG_5886IMG_5892FullSizeRender (42)IMG_3402IMG_3414 The final night in Jamaica was dedicated to my mom. We had a beautiful dinner in her honor at the Garden Grill Restaurant, which is a steak house on the property and listened to a reggae band play Bob Marley during the nightly entertainment. Traveling to islands is harder to depart because it’s aesthetically more pleasing and overall more relaxing. I love Jamaica and cannot wait to return. FullSizeRender (46)

2017 American Black Film Festival in South Beach, Miami

Miami in my late twenties was not the same experience as it was in my early twenties. But this time I was there to network and gain inspiration from the American Black Film Festival (ABFF), so my experience was more work and less leisure.IMG_2375 I stayed at the Loews Miami Beach Hotel with my friend Brittany. I attended some of the panels but for the most part enjoyed my time on the beach, for some much needed R&R. South Beach is crowded but the beaches are beautiful and one of the only beaches on the East Coast that I actually enjoy.FullSizeRender (19)FullSizeRender (20)ABFF 2017 was good. One of my favorite sessions was the Master Class in Producing with Stephanie Allain and Mel Jones, where I learned how to initiate, produce, and fund a project. John Singleton also made a surprise drop-in which was both unexpected and exciting. FullSizeRender (23)IMG_2388FullSizeRender (17)ABFF was sponsored by Shea Moisture, so Brittany and I decided to be models for the brand in one of the festival’s lounges. FullSizeRender (24)This recent trip to Miami made me realize I’ve outgrown it a little.For the most part, I stayed on Collins Avenue, which was where my hotel was located because Ocean Drive is not what it used to be. Back in the day, it used to be the mecca of South Beach. Now it looks rundown and ratchet.  Of course, no trip to Miami is complete without going to Wet Willies or Fat Tuesday. I chose the latter. Their drinks are overpriced, I think $20, and you can’t drink on the street anymore. I hid my drink in my purse and told the bouncer “You didn’t see anything….right?” He smiled and let me go. In spite of everything, South Beach is the perfect weekend getaway when you just need a change in scenery and a break from it all. FullSizeRender (28)FullSizeRender (29)

 

I Toured Sachsenhausen….A German Concentration Camp

I could not leave Germany without a history lesson. This lesson was a hard one to swallow, as I decided to visit a Concentration Camp. My friends and I did a guided walking tour of the Nazi concentration camp of Sachsenhausen. We met the tour guide in a central location in Berlin and from there embarked on a 1-hour journey to Oranienburg, Germany via train. When we arrived in Oranienburg, the first thing I noticed about the neighborhood was how quaint and unassuming it was. The houses were colorful and the sun was shining bright. You would never think just a few blocks away, a place like Sachsenhausen existed.

IMG_4853.JPGIMG_4858.JPGAs we inched closer to the gates of the concentration camp, anxieties from all 17-people on the tour began to rise. The tour guide used the opportunity to tell us that the beautiful houses that we walked by were the homes of German soldiers who spent their days murdering and torturing innocent people. They had the privilege to come back to their homes (right outside of the camp), with their picket fences and perfect families.  My mind began to race before even stepping foot into the camp. How could people be so sociopathic and evil?IMG_4859.JPGIMG_4857.JPG There were an estimated 20,000 concentration camps in Occupied Europe. At the Sachsenhausen camp there was a classification system based on the triangle that prisoners had to wear on their clothes. For example:

  • Lilac Triangle: Jehovah Witness
  • Red Triangle: Political Opponents of the Nazis
  • Black Triangle: Anti-Socials – Become better Germans and more keen to Nazism
  • Pink Triangle: Homosexuals

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Finally, we entered the gates which read in German, “Work will liberate you.”

IMG_4890We visited the barracks, which were extremely small rooms but would hold 250-people in it. Three people were required to sleep in one small bed. The prisoners had to deal with typhus fever, starvation, and rats. They ate stale bread, sausage, and artificial coffee. The Nazis knew just enough calories the prisoners could eat to keep them active and alive. Some of the prisoners, with skills that the Nazis could benefit from, were put to use. One of those being the counterfeiters, who were able to forge money, jewelry and more for the Nazis. IMG_4899.JPGIMG_4896.JPGIMG_4906.JPGIMG_4911.JPGIMG_4918.JPGIMG_4923.JPGWe learned all about the torture techniques of the Nazis including visiting the gallows. Of course, if prisoners tried to escape they were either gunned down or electrocuted by the bob-wired gates. Some of the prisoners thought they were visiting a doctor but a needle filled with poison would be injected in them. Finally, we visited the gas chambers and the ovens. The Nazi’s at this camp killed 500 prisoners every 24-hours and burned them in the ovens.IMG_4933.JPGIMG_4934.JPGIMG_4946.JPGIMG_4942.JPG As you can imagine, the tour was powerful but very overwhelming. At one point, I almost fainted because of the evil that I was learning human beings were capable of. To be within the confines of such death, torture, and hatred can take a toll on you. Hate is vile and it’s sick. It has no place in the world, not then and definitely not now. Even though the Holocaust happened over 80-years ago, you still get a sense, in these camps, that you’re surrounded by death. The air feels heavy and overpowering. The camp is very eerie and isolating. I was surrounded by friends but still got a sense of aloneness. I felt fear. I felt sadness.

I walked away from this experience with a strong sense and responsibility to love others more. To smile more. To not be so divided by trivial things. We’re all humans. We are all equal. We need to love one another no matter what.IMG_4935.JPGKy Tip: Click Here for a link to some of the best Sachsenhausen walking tours in Berlin.  

Hallo Berlin!

I only went to Berlin for one reason and one reason only…ART. Okay, now that I think about it. Two reasons, art, and history. I’ve heard that Berlin has a huge hipster culture as well, so I was curious to find out. This was the most spontaneous trip I’ve ever taken. Usually, I have well-thought-out itineraries but this time I just wanted to go with the flow. Ironically, I never did make it to an art museum or any formal museum in Berlin for that matter but my time there was still very rich. Street art covers the walls of Berlin, especially the most famous wall of all, The Berlin Wall. In 1989, the Berlin Wall came down, making clear, that the Cold War and the divide between East and West Berlin,ended in the country.  It was an amazing time in history and the Berlin Wall is a stark reminder of this. You can walk the Berlin Wall for miles and miles; every time you think you’ve reached the end, you realize you haven’t. The wall is filled with beautiful and colorful artwork promoting peace, unity, and pride in Berlin.

IMG_4694.JPGIMG_4702IMG_4703In addition to the Berlin Wall, we visited Brandenburg Gate. There was a marathon going on at the time, which made the area around the gate impossible to get close to (another reason why the museum was off-limits..we couldn’t get through the marathon), but it was still an experience nonetheless.

IMG_4788IMG_4793Our hotel was located in Alexanderplatz, so we frequented it’s large public square often. During our casual walks in the vicinity, we couldn’t help but notice the Fernsehturm, which is a large television tower constructed between 1965 and 1969.IMG_4680 Checkpoint Charlie Museum was filled with excitement for us. One of my friends actually kissed one of the soldiers there…AHHH! They were quite frisky if you ask me. Apparently, Checkpoint Charlie was the name given by the Western Allies to the best-known Berlin Wall crossing point between East Berlin and West Berlin during the Cold War.IMG_4818IMG_4822IMG_4831 River Spree, which flows through Berlin and as far as the Czech Republic, was the perfect time for reflection. Sometimes I need these moments of serenity to express gratitude for my travels. The only reason I am here is because of God and I give thanks to his power and plan over my life.Travel By Ky BerlinIMG_4761.JPG Some of the people in Berlin are not very warm and fuzzy. It also didn’t help that we had no knowledge of the German language. However, using a map and our phones we were still able to maneuver our way around their train and bus systems.IMG_4849IMG_4776 Like I mentioned before, I wanted to get a slight taste of hipster culture in Berlin. We tried to go to a reggae bar/beach club called Yaam but it was not a popping night…at all. My girls and I got dressed up looking like some dance hall queens only to be greeted by Rastafarian men chilling, smoking, and getting their drink on. It was weird and I could’ve sworn I saw a rodent crawling on the roof. That was enough for me to run for my life. All of the rastas were confused AF by my sudden exit. But I heard this place is pretty cool on a good day.

Ky Tip: 

  • I read a really good piece about Berlin on Travel Noire that inspired me to want to go. You can read it here. I don’t think I experienced the essence of this city which is unfortunate. If I was to ever go again, it would have to be with someone who knows the city like the back of their hand, because it’s expansive.

Amsterdam…We Meet Again!

The first time I visited Amsterdam, I fell in love with the city. I was only there for a long layover, but it was enough for me to know I wanted to return as soon as I could. You can read about my first Amsterdam trip here.  Two years later, I did. This time for a week and I can honestly say, it’s still one of my favorite cities. Amsterdam is charming. From its canals to its industrial architecture, it feels like a city that fuses nature and tradition with innovation (if that makes any sense at all).

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Like anyone visiting Amsterdam, the first stop was the coffee shops. I had a pumpkin spice latté with not one, not two, but three cakes. The cakes were delish. It didn’t hit me initially, but as I was walking back to my friend’s apartment, it had done the deed. We had plans to take a weekend trip to Berlin, but because of our coffee shop pit stop, we ended up missing our Mega Bus (or Flix bus as they call it in Europe) by 20-minutes. I was convinced the bus left at 11:52pm when in fact it was 11:25pm. That was the absolute worst feeling ever. The feeling of defeat and paranoia is a recipe for disaster. I won’t bore you with all of the details of how this night ended.

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The next morning, feeling more like myself (a little), we rushed back to the bus station, only to discover, it would cost us twice as much to get to Berlin. Whatever it took, as we had a hotel reservation and a friend meeting us there. We hopped on the bus and embarked on a 9-hour ride to Germany. Sherma and I caught up on sleep, talked and played games to pass the time. Every so often we would jump out at rest stops in random spots in Germany to smell the German air. We even ate German Burger King.

Of course, people stared at us, especially as I complained about having to pay 0.60 euros to use the bathroom. When we finally got to Germany, our taxi driver started out being a mean grump but he ended up being a nice old man, who had a contagious German laugh. We settled into our hotel and roamed the streets, coming across a beer garden where we cheered to a good time and positive vibes in Germany.

Ky Tips:

  • Mega Bus (Flix Bus): Yes, you can take a bus to Berlin from Amsterdam and you can actually travel to a lot of places using Flix Bus. These buses are a fraction of the cost that it would take you to fly but as you can imagine, you need time.  Most people hate coach buses. I actually love them. One of the things I did notice while coming to and from Berlin on these buses is that everyone wants their own row. For the most part, no one sat next to us, but we were one of the first ones on the bus and claimed our territory before anyone had the chance to. 
  • Public Restrooms in Europe: Paying to use the public bathrooms is a thing in Europe and it really makes you appreciate the luxury of walking into a restaurant or even Target and not having to pay to use their restrooms in America.

 

I Lost My Hearing while Traveling in South Africa

It took a long time for me to tell this story. But after a year and a half, I think it’s time to share. As a travel blogger, it’s important to be transparent about the good, the bad, and the ugly of traveling. The situation I’m about to detail for you hindered my travel and my travel writing a bit but it also made me stronger as a human being. My desire to write this past year wasn’t as strong as it was when I first started and hopefully by the end of this blog post you’ll understand why. This is a long and graphic story so readers beware.

Something happens to you when you get sick while traveling. All of a sudden, traveling doesn’t feel as adventurous, spontaneous, and exciting as it did when you first started. It feels scary and uncertain, like taking back an ex after he cheated. You love him, but your heart is broken by the betrayal. In my case, the betrayal was getting sick while I was in South Africa. I don’t know how I got sick. It could’ve been the lady who sat next to me on the way to Abu Dhabi and placed a bag of her bloody tissues (from her nosebleeds) on my leg while I slept or the coughing man across the aisle, on the way to Johannesburg.

Side Note: Traveling is not as glamorous as the photos make it seem.

All I know is, I got sick on the second night that I was in Johannesburg. We were headed back from a wonderful dinner, eating different meats from The Carnivore restaurant when I felt an itch in my throat and a chill. That night, I took a shower in hopes that I would feel better, but I got worst. There was a small chance that I caught the flu. As sick as I felt, I pushed through. I didn’t want the opportunity of being in South Africa, an absolute dream destination, to pass me by.

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Unbeknownst to me, you should never fly on a plane when you’re congested and sick. I had an upcoming flight to Capetown and I had to take it. While the flight began to land, my ears felt like it was exploding. The pain was excruciating. I thought I would be able to swallow and get my hearing back, but after we landed it never did come back. I had one great night in Cape Town, unable to hear in one ear but amazing nonetheless. As soon as I got off the plane, I headed to Mzoli’s which you can read about here. From there, my friend and I explored Capetown, had Cuban cigars and just lived it up. We were in South Africa for God Sakes.

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The next morning, we hiked Table Mountain. Halfway up the mountain (ie. 1500 feet) I felt like I was going to die. Doing what no one else in the history of this mountain has ever done, I decided to walk back down. I was getting sicker by the minute. I asked my Uber driver, who I flagged down randomly, (he literally picked me up from the side of the road… using hindsight I understand how crazy this was) to take me to a pharmacy. I picked up some medicine in hopes that it would alleviate my sickness. When I got back to the hotel, I FaceTimed my friend who told me I looked terribly sick and urged me to see a doctor.

IMG_1998.JPGAfter our conversation, I rested but soon enough, we had another tour scheduled to visit the Western Cape and Boulders Beach, home of the African Penguins. In the tour van, my body continued to grow weak. I tried to keep up with the others, but I was dying inside. When the tour was over, I was scheduled to meet up with my other friend who was staying with me during the trip. We had a new hotel that we would be staying at and I said my goodbyes to my friends, not knowing I would never be the same again. When I arrived at the new hotel, I asked the front desk to get me a doctor ASAP. I almost collapsed at their desk. Someone helped me to my room and I took a shower because my fever was getting worse. I felt like I was on fire. Upon my friend’s arrival, he urged me to go to a doctor. The concierge told me the price for the doctor to come to me and it was out of control. I planned on just seeing how I felt the next morning.

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By now, I was in South Africa for a week, and I had three more days to go. When I woke up the next morning, my pillow was covered in blood and mucus. It seemed like overnight my ears started to drain. I’d never been so frightened in my life. I didn’t even know your ears could bleed (ears actually can’t bleed, the blood was coming through my ears from somewhere else, I later learned). It was time for my friend to take me to the hospital. My hearing was gradually deteriorating and I was so weak my friend had to carry me. When we arrived at the first hospital, there were hundreds of faces staring at me. Some were ailing in pain, others sat patiently, waiting for their number to be called. We walked into a small room where a frantic doctor and nurse, overwhelmed by the crowd of people waiting to be treated, told me they could not help me. They said they had so many other sick people and there was no way they would get to me. These are the times, you appreciate America and its health care system. As messed up as we think it is, other countries are far worse.

I walked out of there so faint, that I couldn’t stand on my own, let alone try to find another hospital. My friend took me back to the hotel and went on a search for doctors, pharmacies, and anyone with knowledge that could help me. I continued to sleep and my ears continued to drain blood. It was absolutely disgusting. My friends back home suggested that I go to the U.S Embassy in South Africa and tell them about my situation. Thank God it didn’t have to come to that.

After all of his research, my friend finally found a doctor for me. This doctor was very different than the one that I went to the day before. His practice was located in a very upscale neighborhood in Cape Town. To put it into context, my friend and I were the only black faces in the vicinity. The doctor told me that I had a severe ear infection and that my eardrum ruptured while landing into Capetown. This is where I learned that flying while congested is very serious. I honestly had no clue. He put me on meds to hold me over until I got back to the States.

I remained in bed for the remainder of my stay. My ears gradually started to get worst. I was beginning to lose hearing in both ears (only hearing the mucous swishing inside). Walking made me feel dizzy and nauseous. My friend had to carry me everywhere or walk very slow. I vomited every 10-steps. I also had to keep cotton balls in my ears and replaced them every 5-minutes because of the draining.

Traveling back to the States was a nightmare. That 20-hour flight with a layover in Abu Dhabi was hell on earth. Sometimes I thank God for his mercy over my life because I wouldn’t wish what I experienced on my worst enemy. When we finally landed in New York, I went straight to bed and the next morning my mom rushed me to Urgent Care. I couldn’t walk without throwing up and I also walked very slow, like a baby taking his/her first steps. I still had a fever and was uncertain about my fate. Eventually, the doctors gave me strong medicine, stronger than what I took in South Africa and referred me to an Ear doctor.

By this point, I could hear nothing around me. If people screamed, I couldn’t hear them. When I went to the ear doctor I learned that 50% of my hearing was gone. They did hearing tests on both ears and the verdict was bad. The doctors worried that they would have to operate if my ears didn’t get better. After a week, my hearing was still gone. The medicine they put me on was not strong enough. Before his last resort, which was surgery to drain my ears, the doctor put me on steroids.

After 2-weeks, I started to feel slightly better. I was still struggling to hear, but my ears gradually began to pop, and when I say gradually I mean gradually (to this day they still pop and I do not have 100% of my hearing back, probably around 90% but I praise God every day for what I do have). After 3-weeks of being out of work, I was finally able to return. Everyone couldn’t believe my story, nor could I. My boss was nice enough to pay for me to get to work and go home in a taxi every day because he knew I still had trouble walking and balancing. Finally, one day, I could hear clearer than I did the day before and each day after that, it progressively got better.

There was one specific time that stuck out to me the most. I was on the elevator just coming from the ear doctor, in which he gave me bad news, that I could not go back to work and the initial medicine he put me on did not work for me. I was sad and defeated but also afraid to go home by myself because I couldn’t hear anyone if they talked to me (my aunt who accompanied me to the doctor had to go to work). I put in my headphones to give off the façade that I was listening to music. When I got into my building elevator, instinctively, I took off the headphones and not thinking, stood by the floor buttons. Someone asked me to press a floor for them. I didn’t hear. They asked again and I still couldn’t hear. So I pointed to each button until the person, bewildered by my actions, said yes, I’d chosen the correct floor 19. I cried when I got home. This is how deaf people feel every day. They’re present, but they are missing such a vital sense and others might judge them as being incapable or non-functioning. I cried because of the privilege I’ve had for so long, not even questioning what someone who is deaf might be feeling, how alone and isolated they might be. I became more aware. I became more grateful.

I finally felt like myself again exactly a week before my 27th birthday. I decided to celebrate like it was 1999 (literally, I had a 90s brunch) because what I’d been through was grounds for a party. God is good. I now understand that this is something I had to go through. It was humbling. It made me more compassionate. And believe it or not, even though I couldn’t hear the outside world, I heard and talked to God the whole time. He knew what he had in store for me and how he was going to change my life, he just wanted me to be still and wait for him. I thank him for this time in my life. As scary as it was, he spared my life so that I could tell my story today; a story of resilience in the midst of adversity and strength. It was hard not hearing, but I learned so much during that period.

Getting sick and losing my hearing while traveling changed my life in a way that I’d never expected it to and being able to share this story now, helps me to heal. A lot of people ask me if I would ever go back to South Africa, and the answer is yes, in a heartbeat. I love everything about South Africa; the culture, the people, I can go on and on. I don’t blame South Africa. I blame my ignorance of flying when you are sick or congested. Be very aware of this and avoid it if possible. Now, whenever I travel, I make sure I am prepared for anything and I mean anything.

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Animal Encounters in South Africa

Visiting South Africa was the first time I encountered wildlife beyond the zoo or the aquarium. It was one of the most fascinating experiences I’ve ever had and wanted to share some of the amazing photos I captured. My favorite animal of all time is zebras, so to be so close to them was a dream come true. I hope these photos bring you as much joy as they did for me.

IMG_3903IMG_4103IMG_3964IMG_3987Zebras South AfricaAfrican Penguins

Navigating M’Zoli’s – South Africa

I drifted away from the city center of Capetown and gradually drove into the territory Guguletu, adorned with graffiti on walls that looked like it could compete with any painting at the Whitney Museum. The neighborhood children gleefully played soccer, barefoot in the scorching heat. The sun was still bright as I exited my Uber surrounded by a cacophony of sound and beautiful brown faces, all in the mood for a good time. I didn’t understand M’Zoli’s at first.

Was I supposed to party and then get my food or vice versa? I learned soon enough that I had to place my food order first then I could enjoy the festivities. Through a glass freezer, I could choose from all types of meat including chicken, beef, sausage links, pork, and ribs. I chose just about everything and allowed the saleswoman to weigh the meat and tell me my damage. Then I went to the back area, where a group of men was barbequing and they told me to come back in 30-mins.

Inside the party, I found a seat next to a group of women, dancing rhythmically to the beat of drums, but the sounds of the drums mimicked the songs that the DJ played. These beautiful African women had smiles so bright and were filled with an almost contagious joy. I jumped up motioning to dance with them. I almost forgot to pick up my food from the grill. Needless to say, my food was delicious. You can almost taste the smoke on the meat. After days, of doing touristy things in South Africa, it was refreshing to be in the midst of my people, to experience this thing called bliss.

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The Legacy of Apartheid – South Africa

The elevator doors opened and I walked into the lobby of my hotel. Oddly enough everyone stared at me.  It seemed like everything stopped when I made my way through the space. I became self-conscious and ran (walked) back to my room until my friend came. I realized I wasn’t on some kind of “ego” trip when the same thing happened to her. Could they tell we were American? I thought we blended in quite well. Later that day at the Rosebank Mall it happened again. Locals broke their necks just to get a glimpse of us. Some smiled warmly, while others stared without flinching. I was curious as to why we were attracting so much attention. Was it the way we dressed? We were dressed in shorts and a t-shirt; you can’t get simpler than that. That night we confided in our cab driver.

Why does everyone stare at us everywhere we go? we said.

Jessica and I sounded like two annoying children whining about the kids at school. Our taxi driver laughed at our ignorance.

“They’re trying to classify you,” he said.

“Classify?”

“Yes, they’re trying to figure out if you’re one of them”

“Well duh, of course, we’re one of them; we’re all black”

“Well yes, but in South Africa, there are certain classifications. They’re probably trying to figure out your status. Are you wealthy or poor? Coloured or Black?”

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That night, on our long cab ride to dinner, we received the lesson of our lives on classification in South Africa. Our driver talked to us about the racial hierarchy in South Africa and how people try to distinguish themselves in many ways. This ultimately perpetuated the system of segregation and separation which was the goal of Apartheid. It was so important for me to make my way to the Apartheid museum because I wanted to learn more.

 

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Apartheid is a system of segregation enforced through legislation by the National Party who governed South Africa from 1948-1994. It was a blatant act of racism forcing blacks (non-whites), who made up the majority of the country to be separated from whites.

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At the Apartheid Museum, I learned about the history of Apartheid and its detrimental effects on South Africa. Upon walking into the museum, there are two entrances. One that says White’s Only and another that says Coloreds Only. This was standard protocol for South Africans during Apartheid. As you walk through the doors according to your classification, you enter a gloomy room filled with identification cards of inhabitants of South Africa. The Population Registration Act of 1950 required South Africans to carry these cards with them at all times. These National ID cards, classified people according to their race which included:

  • Black
  • White
  • Coulored (Mixed Race)
  • Asian/Indian

In some instances, parents could be separated from their children, because of the differing and rigid classifications of race.

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Race Classification Apartheid Museum

Apartheid was a blatant act of racism forcing non-blacks, who made up the majority of the country to be separated from whites. They were also treated as second class citizens, forced to endure oppression, unemployment, and poor living conditions. By 1950, the government had banned marriages between whites and people of other races and prohibited sexual relations between black and white South Africans.

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I think what bothers me the most about this system, is the plunder and paternalism of foreign European nations coming to Africa. This type of entitlement can still be sensed when visiting today. It’s very unfortunate to see African people oppressed by some of the Europeans who live there. Our cab driver,  told us a story about a white teenager no older than 17, who slapped him in the face a few months prior and there was nothing he could do about it. My cab driver was a proud African man and to know that he felt so helpless when it came to being protected by the government and the legal system was disheartening.

So what kind of progress has been made? Well South Africa is known as the Rainbow nation. People from all over the world flock to South Africa to live, study and vacation. It’s one of the most beautiful countries in the world and has a melting pot of people. In 1994, the first black president of Africa was nominated into office. His name was Nelson Mandela and he changed the face of the political landscape and his presidency promoted inclusion and change towards a bright future. Today, South Africans co-exist, despite the discrepancies in class and race, however, a lot of progress and change still needs to be made.

Nelson Mandela

 

Joburg Night Life

KONG

Kong Club Rosebank, Johannesburg, South Africa

Everything comes alive in South Africa at night. My first experience clubbing in Africa occurred at the KONG nightclub in Johannesburg. This club was just like any night club you would go to in the States with a mixture of African and American hip hop (mostly American). I loved clubbing in South Africa simply because I like to watch the locals dance. South African’s dance in a way that I have never seen before. It’s as if their body is driven by the beats and they do what naturally comes to them. I’m obsessed!

Moyo Melrose Arch

Shop 5, The High Street, Melrose Arch, Johannesburg, 2076

We also went to a really cool restaurant named Moyo which stands for “Heart” in Swahili. Moyo is located in Melrose Arch. The food is mouth-watering good. The dessert table was oozing with sweets, from cupcakes to chocolate fountains and the entertainment was excellent. There are live bands that serenade you as you eat and encourage you to get on the dance floor. To top off the experience, the waitresses come around, while you’re waiting for your meal, for an authentic tribal face painting experience.

Living Room

20 Kruger St, Johannesburg, 2094, South Africa

Living Room was one of those things on my itinerary that I did not get to do while in South Africa. Usually, I don’t write about things that I did not experience for myself, but this seems like such a cool spot in one of the hip Maboneg districts, and I don’t want to keep this discovery to myself.

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Sani Bonani Soweto!

Soweto Changed Me.

As soon as we arrived in Soweto, we were led to the dining section to eat. Bunny Chow, was on the menu, which is a chicken stew in a bread bowl. Delicious! A series of huts shielded us from the sun as we dipped our bread into the well-seasoned stew and drank water to cool off. About 5-chickens surrounded us clucking around the premises. Hello Soweto!

Soweto Bunny ChowSoweto Bike tour

Bunny Chow Soweto

One of the first things we learned in Soweto was the Zulu greeting Sani Bonani. It’s what everyone says to each other, whether you’re friends or strangers, as an acknowledgment of some sort. We decided to do a bike tour in and around Soweto, which allowed us to spend time with the locals and learn some history. The name Soweto is an acronym that stands for South Western Townships. Soweto is home to very famous South Africans including Nelson Mandela, Winnie Mandela, and Desmond Tutu.

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Soweto Backpackers bike tour

Soweto Bike Tour

Ky Tip:

  • If you’re looking for a bike tour in Soweto, I highly suggest the Soweto Backpackers. The tour was freaking amazing and taught us so many things. The tour guides became some of our good friends by the end of the trip. We loved everything about them. http://www.sowetobackpackers.com/

Soweto Soweto

The discovery of gold during the late 1800s in Johannesburg is what added so much value to the city. However, colonizers from all over the world including the Dutch and the British exploited the country and the people of its resources and enforced a system of segregation that would have lasting effects on the culture and race relations for years to come. An increasing number of blacks were evicted from the city of Johannesburg and forced to live in the surrounding townships like Soweto. Allegedly, many blacks were evicted because of a government-induced spread of the Bubonic Plague. These townships were underdeveloped and unsanitary.  The government tried to further their oppression in Soweto by separating the men from the women. This would reduce reproduction among blacks.

Soweto Soweto

We progressed through the neighborhood, despite learning all these hard truths and noticed that the locals were filled with joy. Big bright smiles covered their faces. Some even told us how proud they were to see black tourists (that was the funniest thing ever). There was such unity in Soweto; the atmosphere gave me so much energy. The people were so friendly. They danced for us and surrounded us. They commented on how funky my Biggie Smalls shirt was. I felt like I was home, with my brothers and sisters. I was so content.

Soweto

Yet, I could not ignore how impoverished my people were. Walking past the local grocery store, I stepped over their sewage, draining throughout the village. The people had communal bathrooms that they shared. The babies were in need of shoes. One of the little girls had on a skirt that was 3-sizes too small and exposed her. The homes were tiny. I couldn’t fathom that people lived in those conditions. I felt helpless but their smiles and their zest for life encouraged me.

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The legacy of Apartheid is alive in Soweto. You really see the effect that this system had on black people. The unemployment rate is over 53%. There are abandoned apartment buildings that are the equivalent of $50 USD a month but remain empty because it’s not affordable for the locals.

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Abandoned apartment buildings in Soweto that remain empty because it does not allow livestock and its too expensive.

Yet there is hope for Soweto. My tour guide was 27-years old, born and raised in Soweto and he is smart enough to be the president of South Africa one day. He loves his people and he knows the dire situation they are in. We talked about politics and Malcolm X during our tour. He was well versed in America’s grim political situation as well, laughing at the prospect of Trump becoming president. He took us to a spot wherein 1976 the Children of Soweto began protests against the government, because of the introduction of Afrikaans. Afrikaans is the language of the oppressor and they did not want to assimilate to their culture. Many of these students lost their lives at the hands of police. One of the most notorious of these students was Hector Pieterson whose lifeless body was carried by Mbuvisa Makhubo and his sister Antoinette Sithole.

Soweto Uprising Struggle Soweto

By the end of the tour, it was time for us to learn about Zulu culture. We dressed up as Zulu Kings and Queens and drank from a canteen filled with a traditional Zulu beverage, that sort of tasted like a beer. It was a spectacular end to an overall empowering day.

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I Ate Zebra & Other Miscellaneous Animals in South Africa

My friend Jessica and I met up with some amazing ladies from the South Africa Glitch Gate group that I mentioned in a previous post. We had dinner at The Carnivore Restaurant in Misty Hills Country Hotel in Johannesburg. The drive was about an hour-long but the experience was worth it. Our taxi was about 460 Rand round trip, which was the equivalent of $29.00 USD.

Ky Tip:

  • Taxi’s in South Africa: Uber’s are cheaper than regular taxis in South Africa. Due to the WiFi situation out there, it wasn’t always easy for me to catch an Uber, but the cost was almost half the price of what your average taxi would cost. My taxi reference in the above paragraph is the quote for a regular taxi. However, when I started using Uber, I was paying about 3.00 USD at some point for my cab rides.

 

IMG_1603.JPGThe Carnivore is a family-style restaurant that allows you to try the meat of different animals including Zebra, Crocodile, Antelope, and Deer just to name a few. The meal commences with a soup or honey bread and proceeds to the main course which is a salad, baked potato, and meat! If you’re wondering, the zebra kind of taste like beef, the crocodile tasted like a chewy chicken, the antelope, I had it mixed in rice, it sort of resembled paella. Eating deer was just too weird for me. Up until that trip, I’ve never encountered zebras or antelopes but I see deer’s running past me on the highway all the time. In spite of this, I tried the deer meatballs. :/ Dessert was a simple scoop of vanilla ice cream. The waiters were friendly and brought around the meat on a stick. They were dressed in striped aprons and sun hats. They really blessed us with hospitality.

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I really loved the vibe of this restaurant. Upon entering, you have to walk through a long corridor filled with historical biographies of very important figures in South African history ranging from Shaka Zulu to Nelson Mandela. The bios are accompanied by oversized bronze statues representing these men and women. As you progress into the restaurant you’ll notice it’s adorned with South African artifacts and keepsakes in glassed window cases.

Carnivore Restaurant Johannesburg Carnivore Restaurant Johannesburg Carnivore Restaurant Johannesburg Carnivore Restaurant Johannesburg

After dinner, all the waiters took pictures with us, and waited patiently until we were ready to leave. It was the perfect meal to welcome us to South Africa and the ladies we had dinner with were awesome!

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Hotel Review: African Pride Hotel

Ky Rating 8.5

I stayed at the most lavish hotel in Johannesburg. Here’s how:

Apparently, African Pride Hotel in Johannesburg is the best hotel the city has to offer, and I got to stay there for a few days. I didn’t intend on it. What happened was I had a booking for its sister hotel Protea Fire & Ice Hotel in Melrose Arch which is more of a girly boutique hotel, way cheaper, however, they overbooked me. So the hotel offered that I stay at African Pride. Lucky Me! On the ride to the hotel, the driver explained how fortunate I was to be staying at this hotel, local celebrities, and really distinguished people tend to stay there (pretty cool). This was especially important to me since, I was solo for the first couple of days on my trip, so I wanted to make sure I was in a lodging that was safe and very secure.

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Arriving in the neighborhood of my hotel, Melrose Arch was a treat. The atmosphere is so alive; there are restaurants all over the area, and people are just happy.

However, I have to be honest and share that I encountered my first problem while checking in. Somehow my debit card reached its limit for the day and would not allow me to pay. So I had to pay in cash, according to the hotel’s exchange rate, which was ridiculous, a complete ripoff. Either way, I was just happy once I was able to check-in, get free Wi-Fi and get ready for my night on the town as a solo traveler.

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The rooms at African Pride are really innovative. The walls are exposed brick. The bathtub is in the bedroom, which to some might be creepy but to me it was perfect and it’s just an overall cool space. It felt like a cute little studio apartment. The lighting was also really cool as well, I believe it was green. The room had treats, including some fruit and m&ms. I didn’t get to explore much of the hotel, but it’s a pretty dark hotel. Not illuminated by much light. The pool area is bright, but people don’t really go in the pool, they just sunbathe in the bungalows. The hotel is pretty small, well-secured, and definitely a comfortable stay. The staff was cool.  Not overly friendly, but okay. Was it my best hotel experience? I don’t know. I feel like I’ve had better experiences but the decor of this hotel is beautiful.

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Welcome Home – South Africa

“Welcome Home!” Chills went up and down my body after hearing those words. The man who said this to me was right. I was finally home and it was a long time coming. There’s really no way to prepare for a trip like going to the motherland. You kind of just go, which is the approach that I took, and using hindsight probably wasn’t the greatest of my ideas but you live and you learn.

Johannesburg South Africa

I got off the plane at O.R Tambo International Airport, with a group of travel friends that I met on an amazing Facebook group called South Africa Glitch Gate. The first thing I did was exchange currency. I made the mistake of taking out a wad of U.S cash before leaving the states, which didn’t make much sense because I didn’t really use it. ATMs are the way to go in South Africa, so I took out about 2,000 rand, which was the equivalent of $125, from an ATM in the airport and it lasted me the first week of my stay.

We took a van to each of our hotels while sharing our itineraries for the week. My hotel was in the Melrose Arch area of Johannesburg. Out of all the areas I could’ve chosen for lodging, Melrose Arch was the perfect area for me as I was traveling solo for the first few days. It’s sort of a gated community, filled with restaurants, hotels, and lavish shopping. My hotel was African Pride Melrose Arch, which I review here.

Melrose Arch Johannesburg South Africa

My first few days in South Africa were spent exploring. When my friend Jessica finally arrived, we went to the Rosebank Mall and shopped in stores like River Island and Woolworth. We had plans to do so many touristy things that day including going on the Hop on and Hop-Off bus and visiting the Cradle of Human Kind but the reality of being in South Africa hit us and we found ourselves wanting to drink wine while sitting by the pool, enjoying the beautiful summer weather.

Rosebank Mall South Africa

Rosebank Mall South Africa

Rosebank Mall South Africa

Ky Tips:

  • I got my ticket to South Africa for $590 on Theflightdeal.com in April 2015. Sign up for their email list so you can get flight deals too!
  • The South Africa Glitch Gate is a group on Facebook that allows you to connect with other people who are either traveling to South Africa or already visited. We share tips, tricks, itineraries, restaurants, advice, and drivers. It’s a very informative group, and it helped me draft my itinerary based on all the information being shared.
  • Currency:  The South African currency is the Rand. When I went, it was 16-Rand to 1 US dollar, which was an excellent conversion. Like I said, as far as spending money goes, I don’t think I spent over $400 the whole trip and that approximation could be a stretch.
  • My Driver Kearan: Kearan Fourie was the driver that I used in Johannesburg. He comes highly recommended and was a pleasure. His email address is Kearanfourie@gmail.com.
  • List of Neighborhoods in South Africa – One of the hardest things for me while planning for this trip (and any trip for that matter) is figuring out what neighborhood is best for my lodging. I ended up staying in Melrose Arch, but for those who are curious about the neighborhoods in Johannesburg check out this blog that I discovered which helped me figure it all out. http://www.inyourpocket.com/johannesburg/A-Guide-to-Johannesburgs-Districts_73381f
  • Sandton, Maboneg, and Melrose are great lodging spots in Johannesburg. I stayed at the African Pride Hotel. Click the link to read all about it.
  • Kydee W South Africa Itinerary: I love sharing my itineraries for my trips. I hope this itinerary helps while you plan for your own trip to South Africa.

 

Hotel Review: Premier Inn Abu Dhabi Airport

Ky Rating: 7.0

So you have an overnight layover in Abu Dhabi and need a hotel? With the highest honors, I recommend Premier Inn Abu Dhabi Airport. Here are 6 reasons why:

  1. The Convenience

After going through customs in Abu Dhabi, I walked about 7-minutes through the airport and was at the Premier Inn. I didn’t have to step foot outside, and the location was so convenient. I would actually stay in this hotel if I didn’t have a layover.

  1. The Price

A night at the Premier Inn will range in price for the obvious reasons, but will rarely go over $88, which is a steal in a lavish city like Abu Dhabi.

  1. The Rooms are Cozy

My room was so cute. It was purple, super small but so cozy. My favorite part was the chaise lounge by the window.

  1. The Pool and Hot Tub

Not only does this hotel have a pool but a hot tub too.

  1. The Shuttle Bus to Attractions

If you get in earlier enough, before 6:30PM local time, the hotel has a free shuttle bus that will take you to some of the popular attractions in Abu Dhabi including the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque

  1. The Staff

I found the staff to be very efficient and helpful. My check-in process was a breeze.

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Pet Peeves while Flying

You never realize how uncomfortable flying is until you actually fly. I had the worst luck ever on the last flight that I took. It was a 12-hour flight to Abu Dhabi, with a baby relentlessly crying and a man sneezing the nastiest sneeze ever. But the worst of them all was the woman sitting next to me blowing her bloody nose. Neither her nor her husband had any regard for space as they comfortably allowed their heads and feet to touch my area, as if they were in the comfort of their own homes. What really took me over the edge was when I went to sleep and woke up next to her bag of dirty, bloody, tissues. AHHHHHHHHH! I desperately searched for a way out but to no avail for 4-hours. Finally, when I got up to go to the bathroom, I discovered a seat right in back of me, with a woman on the other side (two spaces in between us). Boy, was I excited about this; I moved instantly. The moral of the story is, don’t fly and be as anal as me. However, if you’re anal and you’re still going to fly, find some tips below on what to do when you are in a really messed up situation en route to your destination:

  1. You have to tune annoying people out. Maybe watch a movie or TV show that your airline provides as a courtesy or better yet read a book with your headphones on.
  2. Speaking of headphones, music can be a great escape. You can essentially tune out the blowing of the noses and the sneezes if you blast your latest jams, over and over again or a really good audiobook.
  3. Force yourself to sleep. Kind of hard to do when you’re uncomfortable in the first place, but going to sleep can help the time pass some. In the past, I was able to go to sleep without an issue This time around, I was so uncomfortable it was very hard for me to stay asleep and every time I woke up, only a few minutes had actually passed.
  4. Show and tell that you’re uncomfortable. In my case, if it wasn’t for the language barrier I would’ve been able to say something but because this woman only spoke an Indian dialect, I wasn’t able to communicate my concern beyond the universal grunting and sighing.

I survived using these tips. Once I moved to the new seat, the rest of the flight was smooth sailing.

 

 

 

Redefining Valentines Day through Travel

I am a die-hard-love-fanatic-hopeless-romantic-sucker-for-love human being and given my history with love, that is a sucky person to be, but what the heck, I am! My Valentine’s Day history has ranged from really good ones to really lonely ones. I’ve had my mother buy me presents (out of pity) and my friends offer to take me out to help fill the void of being alone. But last year, something great happened. I finally learned that I could take control over the day and not have the day to take control of me or my emotions.

I intentionally booked my trip to Dubai during President’s week and was excited to find out I would be there on Valentine’s Day. Never mind, that I had a boyfriend at the time and this would be our first Valentine’s Day together (or not together since he wasn’t accompanying me on the trip); it was bigger than him. It was more so about me. This was the first year I realized I could take control over the day, which for years, reminded me of my relationship-less status. So I did.

I started the day at the Dubai Museum and hurried back to my hotel to catch the shuttle to the Burj Al Arab. When you think of Dubai, the first thing that may come to mind is this hotel. Shaped like a sail on a ship, it’s located on its own island and a night at this hotel will run you a few thousand dollars. Fortunately for me, I was able to utilize the Burj Al Arab beach because I stayed at the Jumeirah, which is its neighboring hotel.

Honestly, the whole experience left me speechless. I relaxed on this beautiful beach for hours, soaking up the hot desert sun as I splashed my body in the Arabian Gulf. The water was cold but I didn’t care. I stared at Burj in amazement that I was so close to one of the best architectural visions ever built. One day I too would be a guest at the Burj, I thought. The sea served as a barrier between me and the lavishness of this hotel, but hopefully not for long. This was a special moment for me, one filled with many realizations and quite honestly contentment. How did I get here? I was still baffled by it all. I had no intention to travel to Dubai until I could “afford” it. But I was there, and I was happy. Happier than I had been in a long time and this fulfillment came on Valentine’s Day, a day that too often made me feel like I was unworthy of love.

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Restaurant Review: Burger & Lobster

Burger & Lobster 39 W 19th St, New York, NY 10011

Burger and Lobster is one of the most genius restaurants I’ve been to in a very long time. I have nothing but great things to say about this place. Yippie, I think I have a kinda-sorta almost favorite new restaurant.

Okay, to start everything, as in all meals, on the menu is $20. This makes things so easy. The menu is super simple. There’s burgers or lobsters and that’s pretty much it, there’s your menu in a nutshell. With each meal, there’s a side of fries and a salad that comes with it. The salad and fries are delish. The burger is so juicy and the lobster…Oh my, I love seafood, so this is a win for me any day, but the butter sauce they give to go with the lobster is so tasty.

The dessert, I wasn’t too keen about, I had Greek vanilla yogurt and it was okay. Drinks are reasonably priced at $12. The service was fantastic. The decor is industrial, really high ceilings and hanging lamps along the bar. Also, there’s a huge tank filled with lobsters when you first walk in, poor little things 😦

Overall, I had an excellent experience here and I am looking forward to coming here again, and again!

Curlfest 2015

Who: Naturalistas

What: Curlfest

Where: Prospect Park

When: Saturday, August 29, 2015

Why: Inspiration. Empowerment. Freedom. Beauty. Show the world that Natural Girls Rock.

To be honest, I wasn’t nervous about going to Curlfest by myself. I knew I would be among pure positivity and maybe going alone would make me more approachable and give me the opportunity to meet new friends. I walked into Prospect Park and saw a girl, who was also alone. She had a head full of beautiful natural hair pulled back by her beats headphones. I tapped her shoulders and asked if she was also looking for Curlfest. Once she said yes, we decided from then on we would be buddies. As we were walking, two gorgeous Latina women with curly hair approached us. They were also looking for Curlfest, so we decided that we could all find it together. #Curlfriends

Curlfest was like a Natural Hair Utopia. There was a sea of beautiful natural women; some with long hair some with short hair, some with braids and some with dreads. Hair, Hair, and More Hair.

The first thing we did after getting our goody bag, was shop!There were a bunch of vendors selling everything from vintage clothes to waist beads. There were a lot of Afrocentric garb and jewelry vendors.

Next thing on our list, was the hair vendors. Curlfest had everything from Carol’s Daughters to Shea Moisture giving out free product samples and hair demos.

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I felt so free. I attended a picnic panel on Protective styling moderated by the owner of Khamit Kinks Salon. I danced to all the latest hip hop songs (and partook in a Soul Train Line), I hula hooped and even got free dating advice specifically catered to natural haired women (which was totally a gimmick but I enjoyed it nonetheless).

I don’t want to get sentimental, but natural hair is such a beautiful thing. For years, I struggled with embracing my natural hair, and that insecurity follows me. But each day that passes by, I love my hair and I love myself even more. Growing up, when you are told that your hair is not beautiful or not accepted it hurts and makes you feel denigrated. However, with events like Curlfest, you are joined by other beautiful, carefree women just like you and you have no choice but to be empowered and inspired. Natural Hair is here to stay and I am thankful for my journey and I am also thankful for the organizers of Curlfest. It’s their second year, but I know this is going to be a huge movement.

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