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 sales woman to weigh the meat and tell me my damage. Then I went to the back area, where a group of men were 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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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. 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, like an acknowledgement 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 which 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 this city. However, colonizers from all over the world including the Dutch and the British exploited the country and its 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 tourist (that was the funniest thing ever). There was such a 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 to this very day. 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.

Soweto
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 politics and Malcom 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 where in 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.

Zulu

 

I Ate Zebra & Other Miscellaneous Animals in South Africa

We 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 post 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 styled 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 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 over-sized bronze statues representing these men and women in their natural state. 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 welcome to South Africa meal and the ladies we had dinner with were awesome!

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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, in 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. Kearan was our driver and he comes highly recommended. 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.
  • Kearan Fourie was the driver that we used in Johannesburg. His email address is Kearanfourie@gmail.com. Feel free to email me if you need his mobile number as well.
  • 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. 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 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 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 in.
  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.
  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.

 

 

 

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!

Afro Punk Fest 15′

When I think of Afropunk Fest, I think of FREEDOM! Which is why every summer, I look forward to this event at Commodore Barry Park. Nope, scratch that, I count down the days until this event, that’s how much it means to me. From the first time I attended Afropunk, it made me feel like I belonged somewhere. It represented a bunch of misfits, who dared to be different, coming together to be great! Does this mean we are misunderstood by society? Of course it does, but for one weekend, you are among others just like you and no one, not one person will judge you. I swear, Afropunk is the best place on the planet to people watch. It’s epic. The fashion, the food, and the vendors, are all out of this world fantastic.

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Afro Punk Vendors travelbyky.com kydee williams

This was the first year Afropunk charged a fee ($45 for a one day pass and $75 for a weekend pass) to attend, in the past it’s either been a requested donation or a regular R.S.V.P. I was hesitant at first but soon decided, the performances were worth my money. On Saturday, which was the first day of the festival I caught acts like Sza, Kelis, Ms. Lauryn Hill, and Grace Jones. Sza can sing her butt off. Kelis was fun and pregnant. She engaged the audience and has so many hits that I love—of course she sang the crowd favorite My Milk Shake brings all the boys to the yard. During the intermission, DJ Beverly Bond turned the house down before Lauryn Hill’s performance. Ms. Lauryn Hill’s performance was much anticipated. I spent weeks listening to the Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, reflecting on how amazing of an artist she is. I love her. However, her performance was straight up mediocre. Her voice is no longer the same, her sound was low, she sat down for most of the performance even though it’s a music festival and no one past the first 5 rows could see her. To make matters worst, she sang my favorite song Ex. Factor with a totally different tune and shortly after her sound completely went out. Like completely stopped working. I will credit her for continuing her performance, that’s the testament of a true star. Some people started to boo her and leave, while others, her real fans, wanted her to win so bad, so we stayed there and encouraged her through the rest of her set. She ended her show with Doo Wop (That Thing) and then suddenly dropped the mic and walked off the stage. I was heartbroken. I felt like a child who just found out Santa Claus wasn’t real.

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Afropunk Fest 2015 travelbyky.com

My friends wanted to leave, but I wanted to stay. I’m trying to hold on to as much of summer as I can. I mean I hate the winter, there’s really nothing to do. They eventually decided to stay and I am so happy they did. We watched Grace Jones perform and were recuperated. All of our hearts were no longer pained (after Lauryn). Grace Jones killed the game, killed Afropunk Fest, and just made everything great again. She’s such a talent, and her songs are amazing. Once, I was able to shake my memories of her from Boomerang the movie, I was really able to appreciate her as a true artist. She’s wild dope!

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Afropunk Fest 2015 travelbyky.com

After Afropunk, we decided to explore Fort Greene. We went to Walters for a small dinner and then Mo’s for drinks and dancing. Overall, it was a great day. Afropunk is so liberating. The perfect end, to an amazing summer.

Walters Restaurant Kydee Williams travelbyky.com

I love you Brooklyn!

20 Reasons to go to Chicago Now!

1. It’s so Clean:

I know writing conventions tell me I should start with something really cool and interesting, but one of the first things I noticed about Chicago is how clean the city is. Unlike NYC where there’s garbage overflowing on every corner and people littering like it’s the local dump, Chicago locals take pride in their city and abide by the signs encouraging them to upkeep their surroundings.

2. The People:

The people in Chicago are friendly. As a native New Yorker, born and raised, we tend to be aloof and on guard at all times. Actually, I have a story to tell: I was walking into the Chicago metro one morning and someone said “Good Morning” to me. I ignored him. I wasn’t sure if he was talking to me, but he was. He made his presence clear by saying good morning again, with a smile. My heart melted and I replied back to him with the same kindness he showed me. I am not used to people talking to me in NYC so it was a bit of an adjustment to warm up to him. I realized, there’s some people in the world that are just friendly and want nothing from you. That was one of the many takeaways from my stay.

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3. Magnificent Mile Shopping:

I wasn’t sure what would be the big deal about Magnificent Mile. It’s just shopping right? Wrong! My breath was completely taken away by this beautiful strip. It’s every shopper’s paradise. The stores are huge. Nordstrom’s, Neiman Marcus, Chanel, Louis Vuitton, super-sized Zara, Guess, Forever 21, you name it, Chicago has it. I couldn’t believe how beautiful it was in the flesh. Of course one of the most sentimental moments I had was going to the American Girl store. I know I am old enough to have my own kids, but it was my childhood dream to come here and I felt blessed to finally receive the opportunity to. So there you have it, magnificent mile shopping was so good, it brought tears to my eyes.

IMG_11784. Sports:

Chicago Bulls. Chicago Blackhawks. Chicago Bears. Chicago Cubs. Chicago White Sox. Any of these teams ring a bell? I almost forgot I was in the town of Michael Jordan.  I was supposed to see a Cubs game at Wrigley Field the weekend I visited but it rained. The tickets are super cheap starting at $20 bucks. Unfortunately the locals I talked to had nothing great to say about their teams.

IMG_11095.The Beach:

In the midst of the amazing city, Chicago has a beach. Just to give some perspective it was less than 7-mins walking distance from my hotel and my hotel was located in the midst of their Downtown District. I went to Chicago during Memorial Weekend, and this was the first day the beach was open to the public. It seemed like the perfect picturesque view. Tall Sky Scrapers, overlooking the beautiful Lake Michigan with locals and tourist alike sunbathing and playing volley ball. I almost felt like I was in the American version of Dubai.

6. The Food:

Chicago has some good food. I had an array of delicious dishes, ranging from Jamaican to Seafood, but the food I enjoyed most, was the Deep Dish Pizza. First let me say OMG. Then I can proceed to describe this beautiful creation. It’s definitely deep dish, much bigger than I anticipated. The tomato sauce is covered on top and the delish cheese is layered throughout. I added sausage and peperoni and waited over an hour to get this pizza made, but it was worth it. I bought a small pie for about $24 and it lasted for a whole week. I made sure to bring it back on the plane with me because it was too good to discard. Whoever created this is genius. I went to Giordano’s but people later told me Lou Malnati’s Pizzeria is better.

Giordano's Deep Dish Pizza Chicago7. Lake Michigan:

Lake Michigan is Chicago’s pride and joy. The lake is massive and a beautiful teal blue, it’s surrounded by tall immaculate buildings along Lake Shore Drive. One of the activities I did was take a tour along the lake. I took an architecture tour of some sort, although, I was told the tour would encompass fun facts and attractions. The water is cold (it splashed on me and my camera at one point) but adds eloquence to the city.  I shudder to think what Lake Michigan turns into during the winter months.IMG_1099

8. The Architecture:

I was amazed by Chicago’s architecture, and this is definitely a feature that the city is proud of. There’s a hybrid between the new and old buildings and Chicago once housed the tallest building in the world (Willis Tower) before the Burj Khalifa was built in Dubai. Now the Willis Tower is the second tallest building in the Western Hemisphere, since the Freedom Tower was completed this year.

IMG_11409. The View of Chicago:

The view on the 103rd floor of the Willis Tower is phenomenal. I went to the Sky Deck at night and was captivated by the glistening lights and bustle of the city. From the deck I could see the stadiums, the lake and other buildings on the horizon. After waiting on a long packed line, I got to the transparent box aka the sky deck that feels like you are walking on air, 103 stories high. If you are afraid of heights this attraction will freak you out!

10. The Chicago Theater:

I didn’t get to see a show at the Chicago Theater but I did pass by this gem and it’s amazing. I almost left Chicago without seeing this but as I was walking to the train station, headed to the airport, I saw the theater lights in the distance. With my suit case in tow, I walked almost 10 blocks and was enamored by the Chicago Theater sign. So happy I could cross this off my bucket list.

IMG_135611. Chicago Stepping:

Taking a Chicago stepping class was important to me. Chicago is the birthplace of this artistry so I thought it would be awesome to take classes from the best. I found 2-dance classes but their beginner courses seemed to take place on Tuesday’s. Check out Crosstown Steppin and Steppers USA if you’re interested. However, there’s a steppers group in NYC that taught me the basics and I took the course for about 6-months. It was so much fun.

12. The Art Institute of Chicago:

The Art Institute of Chicago is the #1 Art Museum in the World, which was even more reason for me to add this to my itinerary. I went around noon on a Sunday. There was a long line outside of the museum, but I got in within 15-minutes. Ticket prices vary based on if you’re an in-state resident or not. Of course out-of-state residents pay more. The cost for entry is $23. I decided to start at the top floor and work my way down. I started in European art, since it’s my least favorite and progressed into impressionism. Surprisingly I enjoyed the European Art exhibits. I then made my way to the exhibits I knew I would love including modern, contemporary, photography, and African art. I must say, this was one of the best museums I’ve ever been to.IMG_1257 IMG_125413. The Museums:

 

I had to give the Art Institute its own reason to visit Chicago because c’mon it’s voted the #1 Museum in the World, but that shouldn’t take away from the other museums housed in this amazing city. I also had the chance to visit the Museum of Contemporary Photography and the  DuSable Museum which is an African American history museum. I came across the Chicago Cultural Center as well which across the street from Millennium Park. The museums in Chicago are superb. Make sure to research the days where entry into the museum’s are free, although some museums just ask for a donation. What I didn’t get a chance to see was the Hull House, which is a staple in American history.

14. Navy Pier:

Navy Pier is a sort of amusement park in the heart of the city. There’s a Merry-go-round and Ferris wheel as well as places to eat like BubbaGump and Margaritaville. There’s also the famous Garett’s Popcorn and Giordano’s.

Navy Pier-Travelbyky15. President Barack Obama’s Home:

Before Barack Obama became president and moved into the White House he lived in the Kenwood section of Chicago. Although you cannot go inside of his home (it’s highly secured), you can admire his humble beginnings from the outside.

16. The Bean (Cloud Gate):

Like every other city in the world, Chicago has the go-to attraction that signifies you’re there. In Paris it’s the Eiffel Tower, in NYC it’s the Empire State Building, in Chicago, its Cloud Gate. Cloud Gate or the Bean is a silver sculpture in Millennium Park that reflects the whole Chicago skyline. It’s made out of stainless steel and people love to go there to take pictures and admire the shape of this bean-like structure.

The bean17. The Music:

When I was in Chicago, I couldn’t help but listen to R. Kelly-Step in the Name of Love. It was on repeat. In my mind, that was the soundtrack of my trip. It made me happy. There’s music all around you in Chicago. Homeless men singing the blues, young men drumming on containers and dancing to the beat. There’s also a lot of jazz and blues clubs including Kingston Mines which plays classic music that takes you on a trip back in time.

18. Love Jones and other classic movies filmed in Chicago:

Love Jones is my favorite movie and the primary reason I visited Chicago. I wanted to see where Darius chased after Nina in Union Station and where they had their special date nights. Yet there’s other classics that were shot in this city including My Best Friend’s Wedding at the Drake Hotel and the classic movie turned series on Showtime Soul Food.

Love Jones

19. It’s Kid Friendly:

Chicago has so many things to do with children. There’s the Lincoln Park Zoo, the Children Museum, Shedd’s Aquarium, and Adler Planetarium. I also walked by the Maggie Daley Park which I thought was so fabulous. Maggie Daley was the mayor’s wife who died from cancer (I learned this from a local), the park was created in her name and it is fabulous. It’s located in the center of the city along Lake Shore Drive. The backdrop is the city skyline and the playground is imaginative.

20. Chicago Photography and Street Art:

The art in Chicago left me speechless. What I loved most is how Chicago’s art incorporates culture and diversity. I went to see the Dandy Lion Exhibit that sought to show black men in a different light other than the stereotypical “thug-like” exterior they supposedly give off through photography. The aim of this exhibit is to re-articulate Black Masculine identity. The subjects dressed nice but were overall well-rounded and complex individuals. I also got the chance to check out the Love for Sale exhibit at the Chicago Cultural Center, which was epic. Overall, the street art in Chicago stopped me in my tracks. Beautiful installments, sculptures, and graffiti art are sprinkled throughout the windy city.

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Ky Takes Chicago Part III

I took time in the morning just to relax. It was Sunday, so I read my bible, prayed and sat in silence—completely left with my thoughts. I was at peace. My first stop would be the Art Institute of Chicago. My plan was to get there by 10:30am when it first opened but once I got outside on Magnificent Mile, I was entranced by the liveliness around me.

I decided to walk to the American Girl Place. When I was around 10-years old, my mom planned to take me there for my birthday. I was so excited. However a few weeks into planning, she realized she couldn’t afford such a pricey trip. For me it was one of those childhood heartbreaks. I acted like it was ok, but I was disappointed. When I got to the front of American Girl, I just cried. Growing up, my mom wanted to give me so much but financially she was limited. I felt so blessed to know God had exalted me to a position where I could make some of my dreams come true. It was the most therapeutic tears I have ever shed. I walked in and acknowledged all the beautiful dolls. There were hair salons and restaurants for the dolls and mini clothing boutiques for their clothes. Mother and daughters surrounded me. It was special to say the least. I proceeded to some big girl (window) shopping at Neiman’s before heading to the three museums I wanted to tackle:

  1. Art Institute of Chicago
  2. Museum of Contemporary Photography
  3. DuSable Museum

AMERICAN gIRLAmerican GirlIMG_1189After my tour of Chicago’s museum I planned to have a nice dinner to conclude my weekend. I got dressed and went out to the Wild Hare. In the movie Love Jones, Darius and Nina spent the night dancing to live reggae music at this spot. I wanted to recreate the same scene or feeling. When I first got to the restaurant there was a soccer team enjoying beers and a few couples on date night. I asked for a table for one and enjoyed a delicious Jerk Chicken plate with an ice cold drink on the side. The music was epic, old school reggae that reminded me of my childhood (My mom and dad loved this kind of music). There was one last thing on my itinerary that I did not get done—The Chicago Theater. I wanted to ask my cab driver to drop me there but it was getting late. Eh, maybe ill come back in the future to see it.

The Wild Hare The next morning on my way to the train to get to the airport, in the distance I saw a sign that said CHICAGO—Wait was that the theater? With my suitcase in tow I walked about 10-blocks along State Street until I was close enough to see it for sure. My trip to Chicago was officially complete.IMG_1356

My First Experience as a Solo Traveler

Alone. Not by choice. My boyfriend (at the time) and I got into an argument. We parted ways that weekend. I was on my own in a huge city much like my own, but it was not NYC, it was different and I would be doing a disservice to Chicago if I compared the two.

Alone. I never anticipated Chicago being a trip for one but God always has other plans for us, doesn’t he? After settling in my new hotel, I decided to wear my hair in its natural state to represent the sudden burst of freedom I now felt. It was liberating to say the least. The first thing I did was explore Magnificent Mile. I walked outside of my hotel, conveniently placed on the corner of Ohio and Mag Mile and proceeded down the strip admiring the tall buildings and the shopping. I was in Chicago for sure. There were stores for days—Louis Vuitton, Chanel, Guess, Ralph Lauren, Under Armour, Neiman Marcus, H&M and the list goes on. I decided to take a boat tour of Chicago along Lake Michigan followed by a trip to “The bean.” I looked around at all the people swarming towards the bean with their families and friends and at that moment I wished I could share this time with someone—but I couldn’t so I did what anyone else in my situation would do…I found someone who had a nice and friendly demeanor and asked if they could take a picture of me—I was alone in Chicago, but that didn’t take away from the fact that I was still a tourist. I met two middle-aged women who were more than happy to take my picture. They complimented me on my natural hair, in awe of what I did to make it look the way it did and went on about their day. I felt exhilarated. My fear of being alone in Chicago wasn’t completely gone, but I loosened up. I would make the best of this trip and enjoy the wonders of solo travel.

The next morning, I woke up and had time to reflect. I sat in silence. I prayed. I talked to God. I was able to write. I planned out my itinerary. I talked on the phone. I did everything I wanted to do in MY time. I planned to do a museum day. I would visit all the museums in Chicago that were on my itinerary. Three museums in one day. As a matter of fact, 3-museums in 5-hours, since I didn’t get to my first museum (The Art Institute of Chicago) until noon and everything closed at 5PM. I say this all to say, I was on my own time. I didn’t have to answer to anyone else but me. I was accountable for how my trip would go. This was the day that my fear of being solo in Chicago completely left me. I no longer feared someone would notice I was alone, or that I would be kidnapped. I let go of everything and lived life. I enjoyed my time walking through the exhibits of the Art Institute, interpreting art from my perspective and not the perspectives of others. I enjoyed taking pictures of pictures at the Museum of Contemporary Photography and watching the Dandy Lion video over and over again without being rushed by someone else. I loved learning about the history of African Americans at the DuSable Museum and getting caught in the rain, looking for the bus on the way back to the hotel. It was beautiful. It was liberating. It was such a necessary experience to push me out of my element. That night, I decided to take myself to a nice dinner. I wanted to visit the Wild Hare with my boyfriend and dance the night away to reggae music, but things did not turn out as such—so guess what, I visited without him. I arrived to the dinner around 7:30PM and I was surrounded by other couples on date night but that didn’t faze me. I asked the hostess for a table for one and ordered my jerk chicken plate filled with cabbage and rice and peas. I had an ice cold drink to go with my dinner and danced for a few hours to old school reggae music. When it was getting late, I took a cab home and got back to my hotel around 11PM. The next morning I took the CTA Blue Line train and found my way back to the airport. Overall, it was such a beautiful trip.

My first time as a solo traveler was an experience. I am not going to act like it wasn’t scary because it was. I don’t like being alone, especially in a hotel room by myself but now, I understand that this time alone was exactly what I needed. I had time just to spend with myself. I had time to think and evaluate my life decisions. I was surprised by my own strength because I could’ve just remained in the room, stagnant since I was alone, but instead I was empowered. I got up and did everything that was on my itinerary. I am now more open to an experience like this.

10 Tips to Conquer Solo Travel as a Woman

  1. Be Bold. Do not be afraid of conquering the city you are visiting. Make sure you know everything you want to get done and go for it.
  2. Prepare. Before I started each day, I had an idea of the things I wanted to do and how I would do it. I also googled what time everything opened and closed, and planned my daily itinerary based on my research.
  3. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, directions or for someone to take a picture of you. Just make sure who you ask makes you feel comfortable.
  4. Try to get home at a decent time.I wouldn’t advise staying out until the wee hours of the night especially as a woman traveler. Safety First!
  5. Treat this new city like it’s your own and you deserve to be there. My friend gave me advice to act like I was out and about in NYC and once she said that, my whole mindset about the trip changed. I wouldn’t be so cautious in NYC so why should I be afraid here?
  6. Enjoy time with you. Take time to breathe, read or even sit in silence when you’re on your solo trip.
  7. Don’t be embarrassed to have breakfast, lunch, or dinner by yourself. Again be confident. You may get stares, which is expected, but people will ultimately respect your independence. However, it’s okay if you just want to take your food back to the hotel. #NoPressure.
  8. Meet Up. If you’re going to a new city solo, see if your friends or family know of anyone you can connect with or if there’s any events or meet up groups happening.
  9. Treat Yourself. Maybe it’s a cupcake or a new outfit but make yourself feel special…you deserve it.
  10. Little White Lie. Never tell someone you are alone. Safety First!

Chicago Travelbyky

Are you ready for a Baecation?

You think you know, but you have no idea.

That tagline will forever be in my head. As a kid, I spent hours upon hours watching the Real World on MTV. There was something so genius about putting a group of young, eccentric people in a house together and discovering who they really were at their core. Spend enough time with someone and their inner selves will begin to show. Whether it’s their passions, vulnerabilities or insecurities, it all begins to spill out. I can now say the same thing about going on vacation with a mate. If you really want to know your boyfriend/girlfriend go on a vacation with them. What makes a baecation different from just hanging out at the house or in your neighborhood together is that both of you guys are completely out of your element. You will begin to notice things about how the person you’re with takes charge (or not). You’re more inclined to notice things like if your boyfriend will instinctually help you with your bags or if your girlfriend will make you breakfast in bed. Things that you didn’t know you were seeking might be revealed. Which can be a good thing or a bad thing.

I say this from experience. I took my first baecation recently and what was supposed to be an amazing opportunity to explore a new city that we both have never visited ended with the demise of our relationship.

Discretion: I am not writing this piece from a place of bitterness, more of a cautionary tale.

My relationship was not ready for this next step of traveling together. There were a lot of loose ends that needed to be tied and a lot of things that we both didn’t know or like about each other when we went away. When I am on vacation, I hate taking naps as soon as I get into the room. However he wanted a nap, which turned into 6-wasted hours of a day. It gave me anxiety watching him sleep, when I wanted to discover this new city; we had a whole itinerary planned and each hour that passed made me feel like we would get nothing done. Yet what he didn’t know is that I go to sleep really early so by 10PM I was turned down and this was prime time for him to turn up. He wanted to hit up a blues club around 11pm but by that time you could hear my snoring miles away. Our personality disparities were shown in many other ways and we ultimately realized this relationship wouldn’t work.

Before you decide to take a baecation with your mate you must have a discussion, and in this discussion be totally honest about your expectations for the trip:

  • How will we pay for the trip? Do you have a partner that will take care of all the costs? Sometimes as women we would love this, but it’s not always realistic for us working class people. So to be fair you both will most likely be splitting the cost. Who will pay for flights? Who will pay for hotels? Or will you just go 50/50 on everything?
  • How will we pay for things while on the trip? I harbored a little resentment when we were on the trip and my boyfriend didn’t pay for certain things. It bothered me when we went to dinner and I had to pay half or when we went to an attraction and I had to pay for my ticket in front of the lady at the stand (who I secretly thought was judging me). Yes I am petty (maybe a bit unrealistic) but these were my concerns.
  • Manage Expectations. What do you both want to do during the course of the trip and how can you compromise and get everything done so everyone is happy? Brain storm all the things you would like to do and draft an itinerary.
  • How will we get to the airport? Together? Apart? When I went away with my boyfriend I was a little annoyed that he didn’t come pick me up and we just go to the airport together. Granted he lives in Harlem and I live in Brooklyn (two different worlds) but it was 3 AM and I was a female in a taxi cab by myself. I’ll admit it was scary but I got to the airport safely. What I would’ve preferred was for us to go together. Again, maybe you guys are not as particular.
  • Are you a stay on the resort person or do you like to vacation like a local This is important. You both have to make sure you’re on the same page. If one person wants to explore and the other wants to hang out by the pool all day you won’t be spending much time with each other.

My best advice is to keep the peace, ignore little idiosyncrasies and live in the moment, at least until the vacation is over.

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Restaurant Review: Elberta Restaurant and Bar

Elberta Restaurant and Bar 335 Flatbush Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11217

So far, I’ve had dinner and brunch at Elberta. Elberta is a relatively new restaurant on Flatbush, in Park Slope that serves comfort food. The first time I came here was for my birthday. I had a series of their sides which included Mac and Cheese, Sautéed Spinach, Truffle Fries, and Deviled Eggs. I loved everything except for the Mac and Cheese, which needed a bit more seasoning and cheese. The rum punch in a mason jar was really cute and tasty as well.

For brunch this week, I had deviled eggs again, which wasn’t as tasty as it was before. It had a fridge taste but I still ate them. The brunch menu was filled with dishes I loved. I am on a healthy kick but I had a craving for steak and eggs. I went with my instinct and ordered it. The presentation was amazing. The dish comes in a skillet and in addition to the steak and eggs there is a side of potato’s mixed with tomato’s and spinach. I didn’t like how big the chunks of steak were, but it was so good! Well seasoned, juicy and just an all around good choice.

The décor of this place has exposed brick, great music and an intimate vibe. I will definitely come back here and I suggest you give it a chance as well.

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HAPPY ANNIVERSARY TRAVEL BY KY

It’s been a beautiful year since I posted my first blog entry on this website. All I can do is thank God for giving me a vision for what I wanted to do with this blog and watching it flourish. Since my first trip abroad to Europe last year, travel has become my addiction. I am at my happiest when I travel. I feel so blessed and I thank God for revealing to me the vision he has for my life through these adventures. Traveling makes me bold, fearless, adventurous and curious. It’s allowed me to grow in so many ways in the last year and I am so thankful for every opportunity that may come my way. Thank You for the support.

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Travel Conference Style

So I was playing around with the website Polyvore. I wanted to create cool outfit inspirations for a conference, having just returned from Women In Travel Summit 2015. I struggled with what to wear. I decided on a dress and some leather boots the first day and jeans with a shirt that made a reference to Paris on the second day; which I thought was pretty standard. What I soon learned, when networking and meeting new people, standard is not good enough. At a conference, particularly a casual one, it’s essential to stand out!
Standing out could mean cool hair, a statement necklace, or wearing bright colors. If you are shy, your outfit can do all the talking. People will want to know who you are and where’d you get that from?
One of the first styles I chose below is very comfortable and consists of a graphic tee, some boyfriend jeans, comfy converses and a bag, big enough to hold all of the conference material you will collect throughout the day. I also added a bright yellow cardigan that you can wear if it gets too cold or throw around your waist for fashion sake.
What to wear to a conference
I thought it would make a lot of sense if I included some dress options as well. Dresses are easy to throw on, hassle free and can also be a standout piece. I picked some of the dresses below because they were bright and funky. They also seem casual enough for a travel conference and can be paired with a blazer or a cardigan. Ditch the heels and wear some cute flats for the occasion. These style tips will be a guaranteed head turner.
What to Wear to a Conference

Women In Travel Summit 2015

The night before Women In Travel Summit 2015 (WITS15) I planned out my whole schedule on Sched, which is a genius app for organizing your schedule and calendar. I was able to sync all the activities I would do for the weekend on my Gmail calendar, which alerted me every time I had a workshop coming up. I was all packed and ready to head to Boston for a weekend of connecting with other women travelers like myself. I hoped to leave with new friends and lasting connections yet I had very little expectations for what the weekend would bring. I love going into a new experience with an open mind and heart.

photo-17I realized I was in Boston when we drove past the harbor leading up to the Engineering School at Boston University. Beautiful town homes lined the stoned streets, it was so charming. The first event on the Sched calendar was an opening party at the We Work South Station. I decided to have dinner with my mom and grandmother instead, whom I brought with me to tag along and enjoy the city while I was at the conference. It would be the only time I had to hang with my favorite ladies before the conference really got started.

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IMG_1484 Saturday morning, I woke up refreshed. I got dressed in what seemed like a standard conference outfit; a dress, tights, boots and a cardigan. Everyone knows you can’t attend a conference without a cardigan. I checked in and was super excited when I was told that the amazing travel bags that were on each chair in the conference hall was for us to keep. I was torn between the red and the black. The red was vibrant, but the black was practical (I went with the bold red). I was overwhelmed and quite excited when I saw how many beautiful women were in attendance at the conference.

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IMG_1600Where would I sit? I found a seat next to lovely women, as close to the front as I could possibly get. I love sitting in the front, it keeps you alert at all times. Breakfast was continental and consisted of bagels and delicious muffins. The opening speech came from an amazing woman, traveler and entrepreneur, Asian Fusion Girl also known as Dina. Dina’s story was raw, and relatable. Dina grew up internalizing the negative words of her mother who told her she wouldn’t amount to anything (her father was a bit more supportive and compassionate). She used these words to fuel her life to great heights. While in college she decided to pursue a career in music. She got on a plane to Brazil to connect with her uncle who had a connection at MTV in Sao Palo. What came out of her spontaneous trip was a record deal. However she ended up winning a huge legal settlement, when she heard the music from her demo tape on a commercial that was broadcasted throughout Brazil.

IMG_1491She decided to travel with her new found fortune. While in Italy she met a man who she gradually fell in love with. He was filthy rich and treated her like a queen. They traveled the world on his private jet and didn’t find it necessary to carry luggage, as there would always be clothes waiting for them at each location. He eventually asked her to marry him, but not before she invested some of her money into the stock market and was making huge returns; Dina was deemed the Girl with the Golden Touch because it seemed as if everything she touched turned to gold. Her fiance asked if he could invest some of her money and she didn’t think twice about it. After all, he was wealthy and such a boss. She admired what he did and how he handled his business.

One day when everything in Dina’s life was perfect, she received a call from her lawyers, frantically saying all her assets had been frozen because her fiance got busted for his illegal doings. She lost 90% of her assets. After going through all forms of depression she decided to travel the world and give the 10% she had left away to people in need. This woman walked right into her purpose. She opened up kitchens to feed the lower caste people of India and helped save 3-12 year old girls from being trafficked in Cambodia. She eventually picked herself back up, so overjoyed by her travels and began thriving in business again, initially with her blog Asian Fusion Girl.

I was so moved by Dina’s speech. Her honesty and transparency set the tone for the rest of the conference.It was at that very moment when I realized the type of conference I signed up to be apart of, and I was so happy I did. There were people out there that travel with purpose and I would learn more about giving back while traveling as the conference went on. Yet, this felt like a space where as women we could be empowered. We could be uplifted. We could share our stories. I was absolutely excited about what the rest of the day would bring.

Europe Anniversary!

March 26th 2015 marks a year since I toured Europe with my close friends. It was one of the most defining moments in my life. For me, life began when I realized there’s a whole world out there that needed to be discovered. My road to finally gaining the courage to travel across the Atlantic wasn’t an easy one. I always believed traveling around the world was a privilege reserved for the rich or famous-definitely not for someone like me. In November 2013, I was like many recent graduates, feeling lost, confused and defeated. I was making very little progress at work and my daily routine was beginning to feel monotonous. All my friends around me were putting down payments on homes and cars and I could barely figure out what I would eat for lunch. My spirit was broken, as it seemed like everyone was progressing so seamlessly into adulthood and I felt so empty. I prayed for the day when I would find my passion and start living for me. One day, while at Barnes and Nobles, I stumbled across a book in the travel section. The Rough Guide to First-Time Europe. I sat down on the floor and read the book cover to cover. My spine tingled as I read about the vineyards of Italy and the vibrant culture of Spain. I yearned to ride on the double decker buses in London and dance the night away in Paris. It hit me; I didn’t want a house or a new car (well eventually I would), what I wanted at that very moment was to see the world.

The best part about traveling is figuring out where you want to go. Pulling out a map, which almost feels like the whole world is at your fingertips. It’s exciting to pinpoint which countries are within close proximity of each other and how to maximize your trip. My friends and I decided to go with London, Paris, Venice, Rome, Vatican City, Barcelona and Amsterdam. We were going to maximize our options some more while in Spain by taking a flight to Ibiza or a ferry to Morocco (which a lot of people don’t know is an option) but decided to figure it out once we got there. I found a multi-city flight that took us to three out of seven cities on our itinerary (NY to London, Barcelona to Amsterdam and Amsterdam back to NYC for $800) and we took trains in between the rest of the countries for as little as 13 Euros. Since I was traveling with three others, everything was split four ways, from our hotel rooms to our taxis. This reduced costs for the overall trip immensely.

London was such a treat. From Heathrow, we took the tube to Lambeth North, which dropped us off across the street from our hotel. We went on the London Eye, followed the audacious sounds of the Big Ben until we were engulfed in his presence and antagonized the Changing Guards outside of St. James Palace. Speaking of palaces, Buckingham Palace was glorious. It’s adorned with gold and highly secure. The London Club scene is so fun. What I liked about London was that it was a European version of New York City. I didn’t feel like I was in another country at all (except when crossing the street).

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After spending some time in London, we took a Eurostar train to Paris. Paris was a dream. I literally was awestruck by its beauty. It was everything I imagined and more. The city is bustling but it retains an air of class and grace. Our hotel was right across the street from the Louvre Museum which was our first stop, followed by dinner on the Champs Elysees, a walk to L’Arc D’Triomphe and a failed attempt at getting into the hottest club in the city, Club 79. Our adventures eventually lead us to having a picnic in the park by the Eiffel Towers where we devoured Nutella Crepes and Vin (Wine). On the Love Lock Bridge, I made a wish to find love again. A few months later I met my boyfriend and we are currently in the honeymoon phase of our relationship. Paris is truly magical.

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From Paris we took an overnight train to Venice Italy. We drove through the mountains of Switzerland and made a quick stop in Milan. It was so fun being on a train for over 14-hours knowing that our final destination would be Italy. We played heads up on our iPhone and pigged out on junk food. When it was time for bed, we told ghost stories until we fell asleep. When we woke up, we were surrounded by the beautiful and vast waters of Venice. Venice was a fairytale. We immediately walked across the Grand Canal until we found our hotel. We made our way to lunch at a quaint restaurant where we had authentic Italian pasta and seafood. It was here that I tried Octopus for the first time. One of the best things you can do in Venice is get lost. Whether you do it on purpose or by accident, it’s inevitable. Don’t freight, somehow you’re going to find your way back. Our perfect Gondola ride was ruined when my friend accidentally got Nutella on the Gondolier’s hat; he cursed us out in Italian and told us to get off his boat. You had to see it to believe it.

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Rome was an historical haven. Our hotel was in the midst of the Roman Forum. Rome was literally like stepping back into time, yet it’s a modern European metropolis. What I grew to love about European culture, especially Rome, was how embracive it is of its past while progressively advancing into its present and future. The merge is almost harmonious. Our first stop was Vatican City, which is considered a country. It’s located in the midst of Rome and is majestic. The art, the columns, the fountains were all remarkable. From Vatican City we made a wish at Trevi Fountain, had authentic Roman Pizza, and explored the city until the middle of the night in search of Italian pastries. We met so many people along the way.

IMG_2823 IMG_2881 Baila Mi Cha-Cha, this tune was in my head when we landed in Barcelona. Monica (Sanaa Lathan) from Love and Basketball played ball in Spain and this song was the opening soundtrack to her new life abroad. I couldn’t shake the tune as we took walks along the beach, ate lunch on the boardwalk and partied until the wee hours of the morning in Barcelona clubs. One of the most memorable things about Barcelona was the food, from the paella to the tapas, it’s all so flavorful. Although we planned to take a day trip to Morocco or Ibiza, we became so engulfed in Barcelona’s culture that we decided against it.

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Amsterdam was one of my favorite European cities. From the cool trams to the canals and lofty buildings, it’s just one of a kind. The vibe was super relaxed and the Dutch are so friendly. Our first stop was Museumplein to witness the genius of Van Gogh’s artwork and the infamous Red Light District before dark; beautiful women in windows waiting to be sold for sex was heartbreaking but in the Netherlands this act is totally legal. Next up, The Anne Frank Museum, which singlehandedly changed my life. At the risk of sounding cliché I learned the true meaning of freedom while standing in that tiny attic that Anne and her family lived in for years to escape execution. We are so privileged, we have so many freedoms and liberties and we literally have the resources to make a difference and change the world; after leaving Anne’s attic, I knew my life would never be the same again.

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We covered all of these cities in the span of 13 days. We were constantly on the move, which was awesome. We were able to do everything on our itinerary and more with hopes of returning to each of the countries we visited one day in the near future.

My first trip to Europe changed my life and now travel has become my addiction.

Debunking Myths of The Middle East

Be careful not to get Trafficked. Don’t get kidnapped. The men oppress their women. There’s a lot of sex slaves out there!

One of the most important reasons why I travel is to combat ignorance. How can you really know what a culture is all about unless you’ve experienced it for yourself? A lot of the above statements were from people who have never visited the UAE in their lives, but the propaganda they “heard” about the Middle East and how terrible it is-with ISIS roaming around and kidnappers ready to take American girls as captives, led them to assume this would be my fate.

Now imagine if I allowed their comments to hinder me, I would’ve never been able to sit here and tell you that I felt safe in Dubai. At some points more safe than I do while living in Brooklyn. I traveled to the Middle East and survived. Yes, there are injustices going on in the UAE including: a lack of fair labor laws and poor labor treatment for the individuals working on those beautiful buildings, prostitution, human trafficking and mistreatment of housemaids–but this is the case wherever you go, even in America.

Not all women are oppressed in the Middle East. Middle Eastern women jhave different standards than some American women. Middle Eastern women wouldn’t dare expose their bodies for the entire world to see. They treat their bodies as a temple, only revealing their treasures to their husband. They know their worth and walk with confidence in their long black Abaya’s. They wear the best of the best underneath their garments. Christian Louboutin shoes, Alexander Mcqueen dresses. Almost every one of the women have a designer bag. While shopping with their friends they open their Abaya’s and reveal they are decked out in jeans and the latest shirts from Zara. They are just like us.

I learned the importance of being chaste, while in Dubai. Always being mindful not to offend anyone by exposing my shoulders, or showing too much cleavage like I would in America. Yet, the profound significance of this was that I didn’t feel less sexy, I felt beautiful. One of the most monumental parts of my trip was being able to put on an Abaya for the first time. I felt honored to imitate the essence of a Muslim woman. I felt like they showed me another way. I was able to walk in their shoes for sometime, while in the mosque and it felt empowering. I have such an indescribable respect for them.

Thank You God for bringing me back home safely. Unfortunately we do live in a crazy world and anything could’ve happened to me. I am completely aware of that. However the moral of the story is, you should never let other peoples beliefs of a country hinder you from traveling. You should also never let your own misconceptions hinder you. Go for it. Find out for yourself, and you will be glad you did, because whether good or bad, you still will have a story to tell and an experience to share for the rest of your life.

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Deserted in Dubai

I woke up bright and early to head to the Dubai mall to purchase a selfie stick. I know, very vain, but it seemed like we were the only tourists in Dubai without one. Besides, it would be useful for our desert safari. This selfie stick was kind of a big deal.

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Addicted to the art of negotiation, we went back to the Deira Gold Souqs for more souvenirs. We would soon learn, Dubai is the best place to negotiate, because in my experience, shops in Abu Dhabi were more expensive and not as willing to. I searched for the Arab scent. It’s a scent that you cannot help but to smell when passing some of the men in Dubai. Someone told me Musk and Rose were the ingredients. Yet, the guy trying to sell me this scent was a crook, so I left the souq without it!

Dubai is infamous for its traffic. We were going to be late for our pick up to the desert, which was scheduled for 3:30PM. We were stuck in traffic for about 30-minutes and arrived back to the hotel at 4PM. The driver, who picked us up was so nice. We thought, we would be the only ones on the safari but he then drove to a residential area of Dubai to pick up an older Irish couple and their grand daughter. The minute I saw we would be on this desert safari with gramps and granny, I knew we were in for trouble. They would probably warn the driver not to go so fast and blah, blah, blah.

For about an hour we drove on a highway, until it gradually turned into the desert. The brown sand was beautiful. We got out of our jeep to meet with the other group of jeeps that would be traveling with us to our secret location in the desert.

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IMG_0394As we were zooming through the high sand dunes like a roller coaster, up down, to the side and around, granny asked the driver if he could slow down for her grand daughter who was getting car sick. I nudged Myllz and rolled my eyes. Really? Did I pay to go slow on the sand dunes? Who goes slow over sand dunes? I guess we do. I was so annoyed!

I couldn’t wait to get to our secret desert camp. The first thing I did was ride the camels. They were so cute. Scary but cute. I almost wanted them to spit so I could see it in person but their mouths were covered.

The scary part of riding a camel is when they come up and come down. It’s sort of like levels. Some of the camels have no sense of space and will be all in your face. Camels are very treasured by the people in Dubai. It’s a serious crime to harm them.

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I Need Dirham!

I called my bank (TD Bank) on Tuesday and I was leaving for Dubai on Thursday. I wanted to know if they had dirham in their safe. Dirham or AED is Dubai’s national currency. They told me they needed two days to get the dirham to me and it might not come in time. I started freaking out.

Ky Tip: If you plan ahead, your bank can order Dirhams/AED for you (for a small fee-no more than $7), give them at least 2-3 business days.

I googled currency in Dubai. I feared that I would be overcharged like I was in Europe. I read somewhere that I could take out from their ATM machines without an issue. That’s exactly what I did. My bank only charges me $3 for foreign transaction fees, so I just took out of their ATM machines whenever I needed money. The banks originating in Dubai/Abu Dhabi didn’t charge me an extra fee to take out money from their ATMs. However HSBC did, 100 Dirham which is an equivalent to $29, please avoid them by all costs. I made the mistake of using HSBC when I first got there because it was a bank that I was familiar with, but I learned my lesson and avoided them after that.

Some of my travel partners brought USD with them and exchanged it at an exchange store, which is all over the Dubai Mall and the airport. This was also a reasonable option and turns out they only charge a $2 service fee. Not bad. I was very impressed

Tip Efficiently

Drink and Beverage Service Charge

Food Service Charge

Service Fee

Some of these fees you will see on your bill at the end of a dinner. In the States we assume that these service charges are apart of the tip and will go directly to the server, however we soon learned these service fees go back into the restaurant and it’s always good to ask the waiter/waitress or bellboy if we could give them a tip directly. Some of them will get in trouble for tips and some will not. If anything this was my biggest regret in Dubai, I know all about the courtesy of tipping, I left dirhams for the house keepers at our hotels with a note of gratitude for their service, however my issue was that I didn’t know tip wasn’t included in the restaurant charges. There are tons of charges; I assumed one of them was for service.

Ky Tip: Google tipping courtesy before you visit any country especially Dubai. In Europe tip is included, in Dubai you just don’t really know.

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My Hotels In Dubai & Abu Dhabi

None of our hotels were more than $300 a night. All of our hotels were 5 Star hotels. You will find in Dubai most of the hotels are 5 Star and above. It was cheaper for us to stay at two hotels in Dubai as opposed to one hotel for 4 nights. This cut our costs significantly. It also allowed us to see how other hotels operated. We chose our hotels according to our activities.

Jumeirah Emirates Tower was in Downtown Dubai but it had a free shuttle bus to their private beach at their Jumeirah Beach Resort and we wanted to utilize this luxury. Al Murooj Rotana was right across the road from the Dubai Mall. It couldn’t have been more than a 6-minute walk and the Dubai mall was a sight to see. In Abu Dhabi, Capital Gate was just a funky hotel and it was at the center of everything, we couldn’t help but choose this hotel because the architecture alone speaks volumes.

Jumeirah Emirates Towers

Ky Rating: 9

Jumeirah was probably my favorite hotel. Located in the heart of Downtown Dubai, I now know what 5 star service feels like. At check in, you are greeted with a hot towel and delicious cold tea. I don’t even like tea but this was good. The check in is smooth and I was able to pay in full since I used my debit card, which was exactly what I liked. The hotel is adorned with transparent elevators that swoosh through the floors fast like lightening. It’s so weird to be in those things. We were on the 19th floor. Our room was a mini suite (in our eyes) although it could’ve been a regular hotel room to them. It had a bath and shower with a Jumeirah Rubber Duckie with shades on. The rooms had 2-full sized beds, with a lounge area and business desk area that could be turned into a vanity. For the first day of your stay, you can have complimentary breakfast; a beautiful buffet with delicious food from nations all over the world. The restaurant overlooks the pool and hot tub area, which we didn’t have any time to check out due to our hectic schedule. You also have your choice of the local newspaper (in English). On our second day at the hotel, we decided to access their Beach Resort facilities. A shuttle picks you up in the lobby and drops you to either Jumeirah’s private beach or their water park-your choice. We chose the beach which was located right next to the private beach of Burj Al Arab (one of the only 7-star hotels in the world). If ever I doubted that I was actually in Dubai, this moment reiterated it to me. Taking a nap on the beach and waking up to see Burj Al Arab in front of me-was I dreaming? We also utilized the Jumeirah’s Beach resort night life. They have a 360 Bar which we went to that night as well. An amazing experience.

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Al Murooj Rotana

Ky Rating: 6

After staying at a place like Jumeirah Emirates Towers, Al Murooj Rotana was kind of…blah. But let me try to avoid being bias. Al Murooj check-in added on extra fees to your card for incidentals which I did not like. Their WiFi is limited and only allows 2-devices to sign on in the room at a time. The hotel is beautiful, you can’t miss it. It looks like a palace but is in need of a slight paint job. They have an amazing brunch on Friday’s with hip hop music which is a plus. There’s construction going on across the street and the sight of a big yellow crane was our room view. The hotel is located so close to the Dubai Mall you can walk. That is also a huge plus. The rooms in the hotel were decent. Typical hotel room, a bit outdated. The sheets didn’t feel clean. You also had to tell the house keepers to change your sheets and towels daily, it wasn’t an automatic thing. The hotel lobby smells like fresh flowers. The pool area is restricted. Men and Women must utilize the pool at separate times-not together. Very traditional hotel.

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Ky Rating: 9

The architecture of this hotel is nothing like I have ever seen before. It defies description. I can’t explain, you have to see it for yourself. You can’t miss it. You can see this hotel a mile away, shining in it’s glory even in the day time. The price is worth it as well. The hotel is just as beautiful inside as it is outside. The room was dashing. We had a large king bed and they brought an extra twin bed since it was three of us. The room had a funky chaise lounge with abstract printed pillows. The bathroom was huge and overlooked the landscape of Abu Dhabi. It was also equipped with a tub and shower. I loved the tub although I did a little slip and slide a few times. The pool was on a deck on the 19th floor. It also overlooked the city. It had a hot tub connected to the pool and it was 1.45 meters or 4ft deep. We dedicated a whole afternoon to relaxing at the pool and it was so hard to leave. The one thing I didn’t like about this hotel was that you had to go on the 18th floor to check in and you also had to take 2-elevators to your room. Otherwise, this hotel is awesome and very chic.

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How to Pack for Dubai

Packing for Dubai was not easy. I struggled with the idea of wearing long sleeves and long skirts in 90+ degree weather. However, its better to be safe than sorry and I avoided packing any shorts or belly shirts. I packed long skirts, maxi dresses, 2-pairs of jeans and leggings, scarves of different colors and a jeans jacket to cover up. I also packed some tank tops and regular t-shirts, some vests, and mid length dresses. For nightlife I packed a few dresses that reached my knees and wore a mini skirt for Valentines Day. I made sure to keep my shoulders covered at all times.

At night if you dress overly revealing men will mistake you for a prostitute and you don’t want that. I made sure to be respectful of their code of dress, as offending these people would surely be uncomfortable. In terms of my shoes, I packed a pair of converse, which became my best friend-so comfortable; some flip flops and sandals, 3-pairs of heels, although I only used 2, and my new snakeskin flats from Zaras. In terms of beach wear I wore bikinis but I packed a one-piece just in case. I also had cover ups. This time around, I made sure not to over pack. I actually did really well. I continued using my zip lock bag strategy in which I pack my clothes in zip locks and poke holes in them. My suitcase only weighed 20 pounds and I had everything I needed and more. In terms of shopping, I didn’t do much shopping for this trip beforehand. Mostly everything I wore, I already owned. I also knew I would be able to do a lot of shopping while there.

Ky Tip: Remember to pack the following:

  • Pack Scarves
  • As women your shoulders and knees must be covered.
  • At night, the dress code is less strict.
  • An international Charger. Dubai uses the same charger that’s used in the UK.
  • Sun Screen and Sun Glasses is a must. The Sun is extra hot.
  • Water Bottles, you’re going to need it although your hotel may provide.
  • A good size everyday purse to walk around with.
  • For my fashionistsas, a designer purse-those native Middle Eastern women can dress. They may be covered in their Abaya’s but all their purses are designer Chanel, Fendi, Gucci.

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The Planning Stages

Planning a trip to an unknown country and culture is hard. Since I was traveling with two other friends, we decided to put all the information we collected in a Google Doc and brainstorm from there. Eventually after countless conference calls, an itinerary came about. Our strategy was listing all the things we could do in Dubai and Abu Dhabi and rate them by what we must do and what we would be willing to compromise. This strategy turned out to be pretty productive.

We separated the research. I was in charge of hotels, Myllz was in charge of night activities and dinner and Jessica called the airlines and made sure our flights were in tack.

Click Here to see our itinerary

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Preparing for the UAE

As with any trip I take, research is very important to me. Although the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is a very progressive country in the Middle East, there are still customs that one must abide by to be respectful. Westerners like myself, aren’t used to being told how to act, behave in public, and dress but these are all things one must keep in mind while traveling there. Middle Eastern culture is different. I wanted to learn more about it. I bought The Lonely Planet Abu Dhabi/Dubai travel book. It was quite helpful and it came with a map. I also liked DK Eyewitness Travel Guide, their pictures are bright and colorful and it outlines the top things to do while in Dubai and Abu Dhabi. Some of the other ways I prepared was reading blogs and watching Youtube. For some reason I still felt as if I didn’t know enough; How could you really know what to expect? I cut my self some slack after a while; I would never really know until I was actually there.

All the information that I collected I put in a Google Doc so it could be shared among my travel partners. We collected valuable travel information. I also created a spreadsheet with our costs/budgets. We decided to get nice hotels out there since we really didn’t pay much for the flight. It was definitely worth it.

TravelNoire set up a spreadsheet for all the people who were traveling to Dubai at the same time as we were. When our group connected it was instant chemistry. I soon learned that their concerns were my concerns. Luckily for me a few members of our little group were on our flight to Abu Dhabi as well. It was amazing. They were so cool and we even hitched a ride with them to Dubai

Ways to prepare

If flying with Etihad make sure you get your confirmation and seat number as some of the flights were overbooked (Just to be on the safe side). Etihad contact details below:

Etihad

1 888 8 ETIHAD  or 1 (888) 838-4423

Does your flight need insurance? Insurance for Etihad/Orbitz booking flight below:

Allianz Global Assistance

1(877)-593-4989

Need a Free coach bus from Abu Dhabi to Dubai for Etihad Passengers click the below link:

https://www.etihad.com/en-us/plan-and-book/book-etihad-express/

http://travelnoire.com/free-ride-to-dubai/?hvid=55kEcf

Register with the consulate general of the U.S so they are aware of your travel to Dubai:

http://dubai.usconsulate.gov/mobile/travel_registration.html

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I Traveled to Dubai for $200

Would you believe me if I told you I only spent $200 for my ticket to Dubai? Not many would, but I did. How? The answer is simple, there’s no theory, no special time you have to book or strategy-just two simple words: Glitch Fare. On Christmas morning, I was at my friend’s Holiday Party when I saw a deal break out, $187 to go to Asia and/or Africa via TravelNoire. I hurried home, and booked Dubai at 3:30AM. I almost booked South Africa as well, but I knew, taking two extensive trips in one year with my new position at work would be troublesome (there’s always next year).

The next morning, I informed some of my friends about my good luck in hopes that they would catch the same deal. Some did, some didn’t. With these kinds of fares, you may have one hour tops before it goes away. Glitch Fares or deals like this happen a couple times a year (if that). It’s when an airline charges an extremely low amount for a fare, sometimes by accident and once these fares are purchased you run the risk of the airline honoring the deal or not. Etihad honored this flight deal. Tickets for Dubai would usually run a person $800-1200+ so to get a ticket for significantly less than that was a risk. You have to think fast, no time for planning, just figure it all out later and book. That’s what I did and it was the greatest rush I’ve ever felt. I was going to Dubai. To be more precise, I was going to Dubai in 2-months. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I was capable of seeing the UAE in my 20’s maybe my 30’s but 20s….No…you have to be rich to see such a place…right? I would soon find out, I couldn’t be more wrong,

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Travel Bucket List

I’ve been thinking about my travel bucket list this week. Where do I want to go? How can I check off these places within the next couple of years? Travel has become extremely important to me. I always wanted to see the world but now that i’ve seen a part of it I want more, almost like an addiction. See below my travel bucket list:

Goree Island-Senegal,Africa

Istanbul

Berlin, Germany

Greece

Israel

South Africa

Kenya

Hawaii

Cuba

St. Thomas

Morocco

Costa Rica

Chicago

Atlanta

Texas

Dubai

New Orleans

Japan

Hong Kong

Haiti

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