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10 Things in do in Thailand

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21 November 2014

There's More to Arizona Than the Grand Canyon: Finding Fun in Phoenix

While the Grand Canyon should certainly near the top of every traveler’s bucket list, by no means is the natural wonder the only reason to visit Arizona. The Grand Canyon State’s capital, Phoenix, is a growing metropolis, and it is quickly showing itself to be a prime center of culture in the Southwest.
If you are planning on heading to Arizona, after you’ve had your fill of the northern part of the state and its majestic red and orange rocks carved out by the Colorado River, catch a flight down to Phoenix for a few days of fun.



Hiking

Phoenix is full of city and state parks with excellent trails and beautiful scenery. Arizona’s desert landscape is different from anywhere else in the United States. While hiking trails elsewhere may be sheltered by deciduous and coniferous plant life, Phoenix’s mountains are dotted with low-lying desert scrub, like sagebrush and various types of cactus; only rock formations of varying shapes and colors provide protection from the sun.

The best hiking trail closest to the center of town is definitely Piestewa Peak (formerly Squaw Peak) which after a grueling two-hour hike offers jaw-dropping panoramas of the valley. Slightly farther from Downtown Phoenix you can hike various trails in the South Mountain Regional Park, which is the largest city park in the country, or in the Superstition Mountains, which have more opportunities for bouldering or rock climbing.

For a more organized and less strenuous adventure in the Arizona desert, visit the Desert Botanical Gardens to see Arizona’s plentiful flora and learn how life can survive in such an arid, hot place. Next door, the Phoenix Zoo houses a wealth of desert animals you’re unlikely to spot on your hike, as well as quite a few more exotic beasts in huge habitats.

Eating

While you may think the Mexican food in your home city is the best, it’s almost guaranteed that the food in Phoenix is better. Because of its proximity to the border, Phoenix has the absolute most authentic and traditional Mexican food in the country, meaning even small neighborhood eateries beat out any fancy taco shop in your town. While you can stop in almost anywhere and be blown away by Southwest flavor, a few shops do outpace the rest. If you are sticking close to Downtown, 36-year-running Rito’s Mexican Food promises the best green and red chili burros you’ll ever taste. If you can move around, taste the more unique Oaxacan cuisine at 15 Y Las Salsas (ask for the chapulines for a surprise) or Los Sombreros for more refined and beautiful Mexican meals.
If you need a break from the beans and tortillas, Phoenix also boasts Pizzeria Bianco the best pizza in the United States, according to Rachel Ray Magazine. Additionally, plenty of other unexpected and excellent cuisines are starting to appear as the city grows. Vietnamese, Persian, Swedish, and Russian are just a handful of the emerging exotic food options around the city, so don’t think you’ll just be dining on quesadillas and burritos for every meal — unless you want to.

Exploring

Though Arizona may be the third youngest state in the union, that doesn’t mean it has only 100 years of history to explore. In fact, Arizona has some of the oldest settlements in all of the Americas because of the plentiful Native American activity in the region. Visit the world-famous Heard Museum to learn more about the tribes that called the valley and surrounding areas home. Then, you can visit an archaeological site that preserved the ancient settlement of the Hohokam to see exactly what those pre-Columbian civilizations were like.

As a growing city, Phoenix’s culture continues to expand. Each city that composes the metro center has its own arts and culture center, so at any time you can choose from a handful of plays, symphonies, operas, ballets, and more. If you’re a basketball fan, you could also see the Phoenix Suns play a game at their arena.

Phoenix has attractions both like and unlike any other U.S. city, but if you’re only visiting the state for its natural wonder, you would be missing out by avoiding Arizona’s excellent capital.



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27 October 2014

22 Ways to Cut Costs on your (Once-in-a-lifetime) Trip to Tahiti

Tahiti is Magical. Stunning.  Peaceful. A true paradise. With it's turquoise waters, luxurious over-water-bungalows, and world-class scuba diving/snorkeling, it's understandable why Tahiti and her islands are at the top of so many bucket lists. 


over water bungalow bora bora

But all of this extravagance comes at a price. A pretty hefty price tag if you ask me. The average trip to Tahiti costs approximately 10-12k, and can run way over quite easily.
 

Being one of the most remote group of islands in the entire world, it's understandable why prices are astronomical. Still doesn't make it right though! AHHHH - that's me screaming at the top of my lungs when I found out just how much a 2-week vacation in paradise would cost...

Thankfully, there are numerous ways to cut costs (I compiled a list of 22), which will hopefully make that dream trip a little more attainable. You'll be thanking me in a few when you realize French Polynesia might actually be in your reach. 

1) Use points. It goes without saying and really is quite obvious, but points can save you thousands and thousands of dollars. Points can be used for both airfare and hotel in French Polynesia, although you'll most definitely need a lot. We racked up over 200,000 Delta Amex miles (a combination of flying A LOT and their $1 a mile program), and used all of those towards two roundtrip coach flights from NYC to Tahiti. Sure, we took 4 flights to get there, but we got there for free (plus $900 in taxes). 

My husband had a few (well, more than a few) IHG points which he accrued over years of business trips, and we put those towards over water bungalows (!!!!!!!!!!) on both Moorea and Bora Bora. 

pool in bora bora intercontinental

Even if you don't travel a lot, you can still come up with ways to earn points.  Look out for credit card offers that have a high sign-on bonus, usually in the form of miles.  Just make sure to pick one that you'll actually be able to put to good use.

Just know (and come to terms with) that there is no way to use points for interisland flights. And if you found a way, please enlighten me! :) That will help me during my next trip to Bora Bora... when?  I'm not entirely sure.. but I'll get back there eventually! 

2) Buy alcohol at local markets or beforehand in the LAX airport duty-free. This will really help offset the cost of any alcoholic drinks you may wish to consume. And how could you resist those fresh pineapple and mango mixers?!

hinano beer and mango juice

3) Bring along snacks from home. Oatmeal packets, small non-perishable snacks (such as pretzels, granola bars, nuts, etc) and anything else you can shove in your bag are all good items to have on hand in case hunger strikes. You'll be happy you saved those precious dollars ($30 to be exact) to use on something other than a burger and fries. Plus, who wants to get up once you find a comfy spot on your chaise lounge? Not I!

4) When dining at your hotel, split meals, and avoid buffets if at all possible (unless you decide to stuff your face at breakfast and skip lunch altogether).  Unless a meal plan is included in your hotel rate, expect to pay ridiculous amounts (think $50pp per day for breakfast alone!) If you're staying at the Intercontinental, share the continental american breakfast one morning, which is brought directly to your bungalow and much more romantic in my opinion. Plus, you'll have more money for fun activities, like ATVing in Moorea!


atv tour in moorea

5)
 Understand the local tipping practices, or lack there of. In all of Tahiti and her islands, tipping is NOT customary. Some tourist spots on the larger islands are beginning to request tips, but in general, Tahitians do not expect a tip since it is already included in the final price. You may offer a monetary tip if you encounter exceptional service, but note that it may not be accepted. We were confused about the tipping customs the beginning of our trip, and shelled out some unnecessary extra dough that we could have put towards cocktails at the pool! Oh well- ya live and ya learn. :)


6) Book activities and tours in ADVANCE and through the company directly. I did a ton of research on Trip Advisor beforehand, and was able to contact all companies via email to ask questions and make reservations. If you wait to book through the hotel, you'll pay more and take the risk that the tour is sold out. Not something you want to do on a once-in-lifetime trip. 


snorkeling with sharks in bora bora

7) Stay in a garden bungalow in Moorea
- theres really no need for an overwater bungalow here. Save the splurging for Bora Bora - it really is "that" much more luxurious there. On our trip, we decided to upgrade the standard garden bungalow for about $200 bucks a night to a premier OWB. While we enjoyed our experience and the never ending ocean views (!!!), the water wasn't ideal for swimming and our suite was exceptionally far from the pool and beach area. I'm not one to complain about exercise, but when you want to run to your room to grab a few things, it takes longer than needed.
 

8) Head to the local markets and stock up on fresh juice, water, and Hinano beer. Mango juice was my absolute fave- had it every day! You can also get some snacks here, which are great to munch on between meals if you don't want to order a $12 plate of fries. 


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9) If you run out of water, refill at the gym.
The water is free here (and it's about the only free thing you'll find at the resorts)! Trust me, those $10 water bottles at the hotel add up pretty quicky.


10) Take advantage of happy hour. You can't beat 2-for-1 drinks when each one alone is normally $20! Note that this deal is per person, meaning that you technically can't share a happy hour deal.  They kind of get you this way but it's still a better deal than paying full price.  Drink your cocktails in the pool (on stools at the bar) or on chaise lounges on the beach watching the sunset. Can't go wrong with either choice!

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11) Consider Air Tahiti Nui's Island Hopper pass, if you plan on heading to a few islands, which starts at around $380 per person.  Definitely seems like a lot, but considering we spent over $1,000 flying from Tahiti to Moorea to Bora Bora and back to Tahiti, we could have saved a pretty penny if we knew about this package beforehand. Also, taking the ferry from Papeete (Tahiti) to Moorea instead of flying can save you about $45 per person as well. 


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12) Don't be afraid to eat at local restaurants.
After a few days of getting super annoyed by the ridiculously high prices of food at our resort (I was so mad I didn't want to eat), we ventured off the hotels' property and found prices to be much more reasonable. Many restaurants will even pick you up from your hotel for free! However, do note that some resorts on the motu (in Bora Bora) charge a fee to use the shuttle to the mainland (where most if not all restaurants are located) after certain hours. Be sure to check the schedule beforehand to avoid any hidden fees!



tahiti pizza

13) Go the lesser known islands.
Bora Bora is by far the most expensive, and you'll likely spend your entire budget in just a few days if you don't plan on staying elsewhere. With that being said, it would be a pity to come all this way (no matter where you're coming from) and not experience the overwhelming beauty of Bora Bora at all. Promise me you'll spend at least 1-2 nights on this breathtaking, albeit pricy, area of splendid sand.
 

14) Go during the low season. Willing to take a chance on the weather? Travel between December-March (Bora Bora's rainy season), and you'll find lower rates on those ridiculously-priced over water bungalows (normally close to a whopping $1,000 a night!) April and November are also slightly less expensive than during high season, with a lower percentage of rain.


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15) Bring more than enough sunscreen and bug spray
for the entire duration of your stay. Buying these items in FP can sure be a pretty penny! My advice- bring along a few band aids and anti-itch cream as well. Those mosquito bites can be annoying!  Bring along any medications you may need as well, including Tylenol, Pepto, etc.  Again, they can be very expensive, especially in the hotel's gift shop.


16) Do not overpack! You'll only need about half the clothing as you think you do (c'mon, you'll be in bathing suits all day)! Air Tahiti Nui (the only airline that flies inter island) charges a hefty fee for any bags weighing over 44lbs, which is less than the standard 50lbs on most US airlines.


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17) Avoid credit cards that charge foreign transaction fees!
This goes without saying, but who wants to return home from paradise only to find unwanted charges on your bank and credit cards?!


18) Get some local currency (XPF) at a bank before your trip, or at an ATM in the airport. Don't wait until you get to your hotel- they usually have the worst conversion rate. 

19) Take advantage of free activities at your resort! Our hotel, the Intercontinental Thalasso, provided guests with kayaks, stand up paddle boards, snorkeling equipment, and paddle boats free of charge. Can't get cheaper than that! You could easily spend a few days entertaining yourself on the water. 


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20) Book a package deal
. If you don't have lots of points at your disposal, booking a vacation through a travel agency can be a great way to save a bunch of cash. Make sure to choose one who specializes in French Polynesia, as they are usually able to include free upgrades and score you extras for your trip at no extra cost to you. A great suggestion is Pacific for Less- two of my friends trusted them for their honeymoon plans and couldn't have been happier!


21) Forgo planned tours and activities and explore on your own. French Polynesia has some of the best snorkeling in the world, so bring your own snorkel gear (or pick some up free of charge at your hotel) and view the diverse underwater world. Other ideas include to rent bicycles and ride around the island, go hiking, and sunbathe on Matira Beach in Bora Bora, which has no entry fee and is the best public beach on the island.


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22) Don't stress!
You'll be in French Polynesia! If you don't have the cash for a luxury spa treatment or a $500 dinner (yes, those exist), just realize you're in one of the most sought after destinations in the world and enjoy yourself.
 

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17 October 2014

48 Hours of Food, Fun, and (Benjamin) Franklin in Philadelphia

Having lived on the East Coast my entire life, can you believe I never made the quick jaunt over to Philly? How ridiculous is that?!

At just over 2 hours away from New York City, Philadelphia makes the perfect getaway for a long weekend just about any time of year. So when my sister Ali and I were both able to take a day off from work (!!!), we decided that the City of Brotherly Love would be the most perfect place to explore for a few days.


With just about 48 hours in Philly to cram in as many attractions (and local treats) as we possibly could, we started each morning early and ended each night late. We spent our time gallivanting around the streets (a good mix of cobblestone and paved roads), admiring the murals scattered around the city, shoving our mouths with treats from Reading Terminal Market, all while learning about some of the country’s most significant historic attractions.

While researching before our trip, we came across the Kimpton brand, and it’s two properties in Philadelphia – Hotel Palomar and Hotel Monaco. What do you do when you're staying in a city and cannot decide between two hotels? You stay at both, obviously! While some amenities overlapped, each one had its own distinct style and charm. Both locations were ideal for site seeing, and very convenient to drool-worthy restaurants and parks. No need for a car or even public transportation while staying at each property- now that’s what you call a walkable city! Our bodies definitely thanked us for all the exercise we got after all the indulgences we hadn’t thought twice about.


We even had our own leopard-print bathrobe dance party in our hotel room – a surprisingly treat we found in the closet. My sister then proclaimed the need to have her future bachelorette party at Hotel Monaco. With complimentary wine hour at both properties, unlimited bellini’s at the Red Owl Tavern (at Hotel Palomar), and funky chandeliers and a chic atmosphere; she’s right, either would make for the most perfect girls getaway!

Here are some of the highlights from our weekend of sisterly bonding:

LOVE Park:


Officially named JFK Plaza, but commonly referred to and nicknamed LOVE Park, this area was no better place to continue our weekend of sisterly bonding. We made sure to snap a few selfies in front of the LOVE sculpture – you can’t miss it, just be courteous to the other tourists and wait in line. We also enjoyed sitting by the single spout fountain, which not only brings some sparkle to the space, but is a great place to bring your pretzel or cookies from Reading Terminal Market and people watch.

Even better, we were able to walk to LOVE Park from Hotel Palomar, meaning we could enjoy our bellini’s from brunch without any worry of reckless driving. J

Rittenhouse Square:


Freshly manicured lawns, memorial statues placed throughout, and comfy benches for people watching - what a great green space in the heart of Philly! We got lucky and stumbled upon a farmers market, complete with organic produce, fresh flowers, local art, and lots of floppy-eared dogs, which I later learned actually runs year round!

After some strolling, we found ourselves hungry again (a recurring theme in Philly) and shared a meal across the street, alfresco style. The square is surrounded by restaurants, shops, and hotels, so naturally, we checked out the latest fashions while digesting. Next time we visit, I’m definitely bringing a good book and relaxing on a bench for a while. Seems like the perfect place to get lost for a while.

Benjamin Franklin Parkway:


This self-guided tour can take you all day or only a few hours, depending on how much time you spend at each stop. We opted to move through pretty fast since we had other items on our agenda for the day (including making it back for wine hour at the Palomar à very necessary).

The Parkway, as it’s commonly referred to, is a mile-long scenic road in Philadelphia, starting from City Hall, looping around Logan Circle, and ending before the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Art sculptures line the boulevard (you just have to know where to find them), and some of the city's most famous sights are here, including the Free Library of Philadelphia, The Franklin Institute, The Academy of Natural Sciences, and the Rodin Museum. If museums are your thing, there’s plenty to see and do, but if you’d rather go for a leisurely scenic stroll, be sure to walk to Fairmount Park via the northern end of the Parkway. On a bright and sunny day there’s no better place to be than on Kelly Drive or the Schuylkill River Trail. 

Liberty Bell Center:


How can you visit Philly, home of the country’s most significant historical attractions, and miss out on the Liberty Bell? Two words, you can’t. With no admission fees and easy access (being so close to Hotel Monaco and Independence Hall), it would be a shame to skip this symbol of American Independence altogether. Ali and I waited on a rather long line, which thankfully moved pretty fast. You can take your time throughout the exhibit, reading and learning how the Bell influenced American History.

If you’re exceptionally tight on time (or the Liberty Bell Center is closed), you can actually view the bell 24/7 from the outside of its glass pavilion. I guarantee you your photos won’t be as good though.

Fun Fact: Did you know there have actually been three (!!!), yes three, Liberty Bells? The first one cracked during a test ringing, and had to be recast twice in 1753. The Bell then cracked again in 1835, which is the bell and crack we view today.

Reading Terminal Market:


This market is no ordinary market. With fresh cut flowers, the best restaurants/venders under one roof, and a farmers market (albeit rather pricy), you’ll want around an hour or so to walk around and take all the energy in.

There are an overwhelming amount of options to choose from – hoagies, Thai, Indian, fish, cheesesteaks, pizza, etc etc etc, along with an endless supply of indulgences for dessert.  My suggestion – skip lunch and opt for soft pretzels from Millers Twist, homemade cookies from The Famous 4th Street Cookie Company, and ice cream from Bassett’s. Or have a proper meal and choose one (or two!) for dessert! Just make sure you go hungry! J

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This long weekend was definitely not enough time to check off all the attractions and restaurants on our very ambitious list, but it gave us a pleasant sampling and overview of the city. On the bus ride back home to good ol’ NYC, we made a list of Philly to-do’s for our next trip, which will most definitely be sooner than later.


If you have more time in this historical city, consider these additional attractions:
  • Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens
  • City Hall
  • Explore Philadelphia’s Art Scene
  • Meander through Chinatown
  • Head on over to the Franklin Fountain for some ice cream
  • Betsy Ross’ house
This sister weekend in the City of Brotherly Love was the most perfect way for us to bond… over freshly baked cookies and homemade ice cream. No Philly Cheese Steaks during this trip, until next time that is, when I’ll be taste testing two or three.

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14 July 2014

Healthy Tips for Traveling

Staying healthy on holiday should be our number one concern, yet despite that, it’s something we often forget, in favour of having fun instead.

It’s not hard to see why, we save all year around and look forward to our break in the sun, so in our little world, of course we’re not going to get ill or have an accident! Unfortunately however, these things do happen, so to cut out the chances of bad luck striking in your direction, let’s look at a few things we can do to make it less likely.

Healthy breakfast

Cut out stress

Sort out all your travel plans in good time, so you don’t get yourself into a total frenzy on travel day. Drive yourself to the airport so you're calm and have total control over your day plus no one is burdened by having to taxi you around. Why not spoil yourself a bit -- you're on vacation after all! A friend fell in love with this splurge the first time they used a car park in Edinburgh. They used Edinburgh airport parking and fell in love. You can use places like this all over the world. Look into ParkBCP’s deals. This is the first one I used and I found them to be very reasonable. Certainly cheaper than long term parking at the airport itself. Now I always look forward to my stress-free journey. That way I know I’ll always be calm and grounded when it comes to checking in, which is the best possible start.

Driving


Think travel health

If you are at risk of deep vein thrombosis, even in the slightest, take precautions. Wear compression stockings – yes, I know they’re not overly fashionable, but wear them under leggings, jeans, skirts etc, and nobody will be none the wiser! You can always whip them off in the airport when you land. Drink plenty of water or juice, avoid alcohol and caffeinated drinks, including fizzy coca cola, and get up and walk around the cabin whenever possible. This will mean you land both in resort and back home, healthily.  Be sure to continue your daily fitness exercises while away- and don't forget to stretch!

Sport and stretching concept on summer


Consider your food choices

We all know that famous tummy bug which strikes tourists in resorts. This is caused often by drinking the local water, which is never advised. Instead, drink bottled water only, and even brush your teeth in it – don’t leave anything to chance. The same can be said for salads and fruit that might have been washed in tap water, however in large resorts this generally won’t be the case. As for food, make sure everything you eat is cooked, and if you’re not sure, just don’t eat it.

Tasty Food Abundance in Healthy Europe


Insure it all the way!

Travel insurance is the major must-do for any travel plan, let alone holiday. Make sure you book it, take it with you, and declare all pre-existing medical conditions. Never be tempted to withhold any information, as your policy will be null and void if you need medical attention for that problem whilst away on holiday. If you’re planning on doing any adventure sports, make sure your policy covers you for that too, and you may need to buy a special form if this is the case – read all small print if you’re not sure.


Be alcohol aware

Yes, you’re on holiday, so of course you’re going to have a few drinks, but just be aware that measurements of alcohol are often stronger overseas, so it might be worthwhile nominating a ‘sober person’ per night, to look after everyone in the group, and make sure everyone stays together and gets home safely.


It’s all common sense, right? Yes, but too often we leave that at the airport!

Any other healthy tips you care to share?!

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30 June 2014

A Little Luxury in Las Vegas

When I think of the word "honeymoon", my brain instantly goes to blue waters and luxurious spa treatments.  However, on my last trip to Las Vegas, I was surprised to see more than a handful of honeymooners on the strip.  Despite it's reputation for alcohol-infused pool parties and over-the-top bachelor and bachelorette parties, there's definitely room for some romance there.


1) World Class Dining

Las Vegas is known for it's gourmet food, and it's true -- some of the world's greatest chef's have opened restaurants here.  Try out a new spot every night and be sure to take advantage of all the tasty treats after dinner!


2) Luxurious Spa Treatments

Many of the popular Las Vegas hotels have spa packages that you can take advantage of with your new spouse.  How about a mud bath or a relaxing cucumber facial after hanging out in the whirlpool all morning?  Sound's pretty awesome to me!


3) Helicopter Ride

Nothing screams honeymoon more than a romantic helicopter ride around the strip after dark or above the Grand Canyon.  Hold on to your loved one as you fly above the clouds to one of America's most awesome sites.



4) See a show

It's almost a crime to leave Vegas without seeing one of the nightly world famous shows.  From comedians, singers, circuses, performing animals, and water tricks, they will surely not disappoint.

5) Alternative Las Vegas Honeymoon Ideas (for the adrenaline junkie):
  • indoor skydiving
  • shoot guns
  • exotic car racing
Where would you like to go on your honeymoon?!  Check out My Holiday Centre - they've got you covered!

Take this short quiz to find out what suits you best!




Did you enjoy this post? If so, please consider sharing on Facebook, Twitter, or via Email. Also, I’d love to keep sending you updates about my adventures around the world, so please subscribe to A Passion and A Passport via RSS or by email!

26 June 2014

Every Bucket List Should Include a Trip to Rome


Vatican City is located in the area where Emperor Nero Augustus Caesar crucified and buried St. Peter approximately 2000 years ago. As a result, people have long considered the location to be a significant one. Before 1860, the Papal States, which were ruled by the Pope, controlled most of central Italy. At the time, hired mercenaries and international armed forces protected the lands. By 1860, the Kingdom of Italy had gained control of most of the Papal States. Rome was the last city to surrender. The city relinquished its power in 1870. During 1929, the Lateran Treaty permitted the formation of the State of the Vatican City. The treaty also allowed the Pope to rule the area.

How the Papacy Developed Throughout the Years 

According to the Catholic Church, the Pope’s leadership is based on the basic principle that Jesus gave authority of the church to St. Peter who is succeeded by the bishop of Rome. The term “Pope” means father, and during the first few hundred years of the Catholic Church, members used the title of “Pope” for bishops who were influential and respected. In ancient times, the bishop of Rome was one of the Christian world’s most honored bishops. Throughout the years, the city of Rome has always been highly respected by Christians for its connection to Peter and Paul as well as for its position as the place of worship in the Empire’s capital. Respect for Rome increased once the Emperor Constantine legalized Christianity. As a result, the status of the Roman bishop grew. The position’s supremacy reached its full power during the late 13th century with Pope Boniface VIII.


The History of Rome 

There is some debate about the origination date of Rome. The Romans reported that the city was founded in 753 BC while today’s history experts believe it was during 625 BC. At first, kings ruled Rome, but after supporting seven of them, the Romans took control of the city and established a council called the senate to create rules and regulations. Later, citizens called the council the Roman Republic. It was a successful government since the people kept it in power for about 500 years. Today, the city is famous for its distinctive architecture and intriguing past.

CityWonders Tour 

Due to quality construction and conservation efforts, people can still observe many of Rome’s historic structures. In addition, the Catholic Church welcomes visitors and pilgrims of the Vatican by presenting Papal Audiences. The church does not organize the services as a church mass. Instead, they allow attendees to listen to the Pope’s advice and receive his apostolic blessing. The church arranges most Papal Audiences on Wednesday mornings at 10:30am, and the gatherings are held in St. Peter’s Square or in the Pope Paul VI Audience Hall. During the month of August, the presentation usually takes place in the Castel Gandolfo.

If you’d like to listen to Pope Francis I in person, then you can reserve a Papal Audience tour through the City Wonders Tour Company. With the booking, you’ll receive pre-reserved tickets for a Papal Audience to see the Pope. The tour company provides English-speaking guides to help you locate the best viewing area, and they’ll keep you entertained before the presentation by telling you about the history of the Papacy. The company’s guides will also prepare you for the Papal Audience experience, and the tour option is nondenominational. Therefore, you’ll feel welcome whether you are a member of the Catholic Church or are viewing the event as a guest.


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16 June 2014

Philly is for Foodies: A Weekend of Eating in the City of Brotherly Love

It's no doubt that I love food. I practically have at least one foodie post up for every destination I go (check out my indulgences in Maui Hawaii, Boston, Israel, and New York, just to name a few). Sometimes I even plan entire trips based around the food alone (have you been to New Orleans yet?!)

But when I started planning my weekend trip to Philly, I hadn't considered all the tasty treats and delectable dishes I would come across. Sure, I knew there would be cheesesteaks on every corner, but the best sandwich in America, unlimited bellinis at brunch, and the oldest ice cream shop? I basically had to redo my entire itinerary in order to squeeze in all this eating. What a horrible problem, I know! :p

My gluttonous self probably gained a few pounds while in Philadelphia- but I don't regret a single calorie I consumed. I made sure to lick my lips after each and every bite. :)

WARNING: Reading the remainder of this post will make you hungry. Don't be surprised if you find yourself licking the computer screen. I won't tell anyone.


1) Federal Donuts

With overly creative and some standard original options, you're bound to find a few donuts to smack your lips about. We opted for cookies n' cream and chocolate covered strawberry donuts, but the mint chocolate cookie, maple bacon, spicy PB&J, and lemon bar sounded out of this world as well.

Want fresh donuts (and coffee) delivered to your hotel room first thing in the morning? Book the Philly is for Foodies package at Hotel Palomar. I mean, who wouldn't want to have donuts in bed?

Craving some fried chicken? You're in luck- Federal Donuts serves some of the best in the city (and with some amazing spice rubs). I don't think this place can get any better!

Insider Tip: Donut flavors change on occasion, since the shop is always adding new ways to spice up the fried dough. Follow them on social media to be up to date with the latest donut flavors!



2) Rybread

If you’re hanging around Fairmount Park and Kelly Drive (a must-do for any first-time visitor to Philly), be sure to walk a few blocks to Rybread. This small café, located in the Fairmount neighborhood, offers sandwiches, salads, and downright delectable treats. With made-to-order paninis, sandwiches named after different cities, and heavenly scones, it was the perfect place to enjoy a quick breakfast with my sister.

The menu is rather extensive, and everything looked and sounded phenomenal- too bad we were leaving that afternoon! I really want to try the Savannah (oven roasted turkey breast, brie, cranberry sauce, and mayo on multi-grain bread) and the San Diego (chicken, sharp provolone, roasted red pepper, pesto, and caramelized onion) on my next trip the City of Brotherly Love.

The sandwiches may be on the pricey side, but definitely make up for in taste, quality, and flavor.


3) Red Owl Tavern

My sister and I headed to Red Owl Tavern for brunch one morning, which was ultra-convenient considering we were staying at Hotel Monaco for part of our stay. We made sure to make reservations ahead of time the moment we found out about their "Bottomless Bellini Brunch" offer. Girls from NYC love their brunch!

The menu includes cinnamon bread french toast (with vanilla marscapone and a sweet cherry wine compote), buttermilk pancakes (with apple-walnut chutney and cinnamon whipped butter), and belgian waffles (with seasonal mixed berries and maple syrup). YUM.

Along with all the traditional brunch options above, Red Owl Tavern also has a few items for those who prefer a lighter and therefore healthier brunch. How does the Red Owl Tavern Omelet, made with eggs, prosciutto, baby arugula, herb goat cheese, asparagus, and black truffle vinaigrette sound? My sister, a Registered Dietician, approved! That just means I can have a double order, right? :p

Not only was the food and service of excellent quality, but we were able to drink our personalized bubbly in style by adding fruit purée. And we made sure to try them all- strawberry, pear, peach, and passion fruit (more than once each).

Something that I particularly like is that Red Owl Tavern cares about the Earth. Composting fruits and vegetable peels into mulch, and turning grease into biodiesel fuel are just two ways this restaurant is giving back. Pretty cool if you ask me. A restaurant that serves unlimited bellini's and is helping preserve our Earth- yes please! I'll gladly come back.

Insider Tip: Be sure to make your reservation at Red Owl Tavern on a Saturday or Sunday. The bottomless bellini's are not to be missed!



4) La Scala’s

Located just blocks from Hotel Monaco (with the chicest rooms I’ve ever seen), we stumbled upon this place when we couldn’t decide on dinner one night.

We decided to stock up on veggies that evening (especially since our day consisted of treats from around town), and ordered the Arugula salad and an eggplant hand tossed pizza.

The pizza was great – crust was thin and crispy, perfect amount of ricotta cheese, and toppings were perfectly seasoned. Not very greasy at all, which is something I always hope for when ordering pizza. The bread basket with a mix of olive oil, butter, and herbs was divine!

Our waiter was very personable, and with a nice atmosphere and reasonable prices, I’ll definitely be back next time I visit Philly!

Conveniently located to the Independence Park area and just steps from Hotel Monaco, makes this spot absolutely perfect for tourists.


5) Rouge

With it’s perfect location just across from Rittenhouse Square, and it’s outdoor seating with direct views of the park, Rouge was the perfect spot for lunch one afternoon.

The meals we ordered (tilapia tacos and the quoina black bean burger) were both fantastic, and although service was a tad slow, we enjoyed the great people watching right from our seats. And what eccentric people we watched!

The bun was the best I’ve ever had- perfectly toasted with the right amount of butter. The burger was huge and amazing, and you can really taste the quality of the ingredients with each and every bite.

Make sure to sit outside- a great option on a bright, sunny day in Philadelphia! Definitely a staple in the Rittenhouse area, and a great place for a weekend brunch/lunch.

Pro Tip: Be sure to order the specialty fries – a must try!


6) Bassetts Ice Cream

How can you visit the City of Brotherly Love without trying America's oldest ice cream company? Established in 1861, this shop creates homemade ice cream with a beyond creamy richness.

Bassetts is known for their creative and unusual flavor combinations, and my sister and I shared three scoops of this creamy deliciousness. My favorites were the WHYY experience (no, not a typo), which consisted of vanilla ice cream, chocolate covered pretzels, and a rich caramel swirl, and Gadzooks, chocolate ice cream with peanut butter brownies and chocolate chunks. I think next time I'll try the cinnamon and Guatemalan ripple. The flavors we orders were true to taste, which is becoming more and more difficult to perfect in this day and age considering all the unnatural ingredients used.

The consistency was firm, yet creamy and smooth, and is quite possibly one of the best (if not THE best) ice cream I've ever had.

Located in Reading Terminal Market, this ice cream shop is a must for any first-time visitor to the city. Or, basically anyone looking for a cool treat on a hot summer day. Don't let the long lines fool you- the line moves quickly and the rich, creamy ice cream is definitely worth the wait.

Pro Tip: The scoops appeared bigger in a cup, so if you're looking to share an abundance of this creamy treat, opt out of a cone. Or ask for the cone on top. We even had to throw some out, which in retrospect, I regret fully.


Other noteworthy suggestions for a cup or cone include the Franklin Fountain (oldest ice cream shop) and Little Baby Ice Cream. Those are on my list for my next visit to Philly.

7) Famous 4th Street Cookie Company

If you're looking for rich, warm, moist cookies, this is the place to go. We came across this cookie shop while exploring Reading Terminal Market, and couldn't leave without testing a few out. A wide variety of cookies are showcased here, including chocolate chip, macadamia nut, peanut butter, white chocolate chip, and oatmeal raisin.

Baked right on the premises, these are seriously amazing cookies- chewy and warm with ooey gooey chocolate and crispy edges. They were definitely worth the extra calories, I just made sure to have a light dinner that night!

I heard that their version of the black and white cookies are to die for- a sugar cookie with black and white frosting. A bit different from the traditional, but just as tasty!

Cookies are a bit pricy, roughly $2 each, and are sold by the pound. Bring cash- they don't accept credit cards at this time.

Pro Tip: If you go right before closing (after 4:30pm), all cookies are only $1. Definitely a great way to stock up for less!

image via roadfood.com

8) Miller's Twist

Move over Auntie Anne's, the Amish know pretzels, and they know them really well!

The pretzels here are so light and tasty, you don't even need mustard. With their distinctive pretzel taste, along with being warm, savory, and buttery, I thoroughly enjoyed every bite.

Although I opted for a traditional soft pretzel with salt, Miller's Twist has numerous flavors and other delicious pretzel-y treats. How about trying the jalapeño cheddar, beef jumbo, turkey sausage, or broccoli rabe fillings? The pretzel ice cream cones and pretzel dogs looked incredibly appetizing as well. The fact that I didn't gain 10 pounds from this stand alone is surprising.

Another spot in Reading Terminal Market you can't miss! If you're full from all this delicious eating throughout the day, think about getting a pretzel to go- they travel incredibly well! My sister and I decided to pick one up and eat it later in the day at the park.

Pro Tip: Come early in the day and try one of the breakfast stuffed pretzels.


Can you believe I didn't even have a cheesesteak! I'm probably the worst traveler I know! But with all the other treats mentioned above, my tongue (and stomach) didn't really miss it. I'll have two (or three or four) next time I'm in Philly to make up for it. You can definitely hold me to that!

So, I bet you came to this post hoping for a recommendation for a philly cheesesteak? I wont disappoint, promise. Here are two suggestions I was given prior to my trip:

  1. Campos Deli 
  2. Pat’s & Geno’s


******** Again, if you're looking for even more delicious food options, I urge you to book the Philly is for Foodies package at Hotel Palomar. Not only do they supply you with a list of their favorite secret restaurants, but you're also provided with donuts and coffee upon wake-up (delivered to your room from Federal Donuts) and a $25 gift card to Reading Terminal Market. Totally worth it in my opinion.


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