Useful Apps for Traveling and Taking Pictures

The countdown is officially ON for our upcoming holiday to Switzerland and Italy! Whenever we prepare for a trip, there are a few apps that I like to make sure are loaded and updated on my phone. From interactive maps to photo-editing tools, I have found these to be great ways to help enjoy our time away and capture memories to look back on.

Google Maps (Free) – Okay, this sounds obvious, I know. However, this has made a world of difference on our travels! When outside of the US, we usually don’t have data plans that allow us to use internet on our phones without wifi. Granted, it’s nice to find a Starbucks with free wifi almost anywhere we go, but wifi hot spots are never guaranteed and some of the best destinations are far from free internet connections. By uploading offline maps beforehand, we can use them whenever and wherever we are without any worries. Plus, the maps are still interactive so the map moves as you move. Also, you can star any specific stores, museums, hotels, restaurants, tourist sites, etc. on a map so you can refer back to it to later. This is how we go about planning our days while on holiday in order to find the most efficient routes to get to various points of attraction. On the flip side, this app lets as also just wander freely and explore new places knowing that we can always find our way back using Google maps offline.

Stylebook (Price: $3.99) – For those who have a tendency to overpack (like me!), this is a fun way to better manage your wardrobe. Essentially, you start by uploading pictures of your individual clothes/accessories or just find photos of the items online. Then use the app to put together different outfits! Sounds simple enough but Stylebook provides so many more capabilities to make the most out of your closet. For example, you can also create packing lists to ensure that you remember to bring everything you need for a trip. For those who prefer to use this app for day-to-day outfits, there is also a calendar that allows you to plan out what to wear on specific days. This could be a useful way to plan out outfits for scheduled wedding/events, corporate meetings, etc. Also, Stylebook takes it a step further and analyzes how much use you are actually getting out of each particular wardrobe piece. When you upload a picture of an item, you can also input how much you paid for it. Then Stylebook calculates “style stats” to evaluate your total closet value, cost per wear for each item, and most packed items. Stylebook can also identify your most and least worn pieces to also keep your wardrobe efficient. Check out the pictures below to see how I utilize the app!

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Yelp (Free) – Once you arrive at your destination, Yelp is an amazing means of discovering local businesses! Be sure to check in to help bookmark these places and leave your reviews.  As a part of the Yelp Elite, I LOVE checking out ratings, reviews, and pictures of food on the app. This also help to decide what sites and restaurants are worth going to and which are ok to pass on.

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Instagram (Free) – Whichever social media platform you prefer, these are great ways to share some of your memories online. I also like to browse through Instagram before my trips to scope out any IG-worthy sceneries. You can also tag your location in each post so you can look back to see where you’ve been!

Facetune ($3.99) – Have you ever taken a great picture, only to go home later and find out that someone totally photobombed your shot? Maybe you’ve traveled to a world famous attraction only to have tons of other tourists all over your picture too? Facetune is a great app to help erase any unwanted people/things out of your pics. Plus. it does a great job of blurring out any undereye bags that you may have developed while traveling!

What apps do you take with you on your travels? Comment below! 

Re-doing Venice, Italy

Proposal

On March 29th a few years ago, my then boyfriend proposed to me in the middle of Piazza San Marco.  At that moment, it was beyond amazing to have the entire square to ourselves! Normally, Piazza San Marcos is bustling with locals and tourists alike, but on that morning, it was just us! Granted it was about 5:30am and drizzling, but this historic landmark became the perfect backdrop to our proposal. We jokingly say that he had rented out the piazza to pop the question.  Life was very different back then. He was just starting off his career in finance, and I was still in pharmacy school on spring break. In reality, we still wouldn’t be able to rent out the entire piazza today, but we’ll always have that memory to keep! Now, we’re happily married, progressing in our careers, and as timing would having it, we’re planning to return to venice for holiday in a couple weeks!

While the “City of Canals” has its many sights and attractions, I’ll be honest – our first visit wasn’t the greatest. Maybe we were still young and naive travelers? I remember being frustrated and lost amongst the countless bridges and canals. Without an interactive map, it felt like such a big maze.  We enjoyed some iconic site such as the Grand Canal, Rialto Bridge, and Doge’s Palace. However, this time, we’re excited to re-do Venice and hopefully discover more beautiful scenes, scout new foods, and try some first-time activities.

Check out my wish list below of things to do or see as we re-do Venice!

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http://www.thelifeofluxury.com/incredible-experience-2015-venice-carnival/

1) Take a romantic gondola ride – When we were in Venice last, this really didn’t seem like something I cared to do. The weather was chilly and it seemed like a huge tourist trap. However, looking back, I feel like I missed out on one of the most iconic activities in the “City of Canals.” They even emulate this at the Venitian Hotel in Las Vegas, so why not try the real thing?! I’m actually really looking forward to crossing this off my bucket list!

 

2) Enjoy local tapas – Food is really one of the best ways to experience a new destination. Plus, it’s not a vacation until you can relax, enjoy delicious bites, and take in the scene with a bellini. We’re hoping to visit Cantinone Già Schiavi, which is known to be a local bar where little to no English is spoken but everyone understands how good the food is. Sounds perfect!

3) T Fondaco Dei Tedeschi – I recently found out about T Fondaco Dei Tedeschi since it is often listed as a tourist shopping mall. While I can’t deny my love to shop, what earns this location a spot on my bucket list is actually its rooftop terrace.  Reservations are highly recommended as the terrace can accommodate 80 guests during each 15-minute time slot. However, within this brief time frame, you can indulge in  panoramic views overlooking the city. 

4) Have an expresso at Florian Caffe –  Sure, this idea seems super #basic (hashtag intended), but Florian Caffe is actually the oldest coffee shop in Italy and arguably, in all of Europe. Since it opened in 1720, its interior boasts grand Venitian charm and neo-baroque decor. Meanwhile, the outside terrace basks in a up and close view of Piazza San Marco. I’m hoping to grab a table outside and so some people-watching, coffee mug in hand.

I plan to do an updated post with pictures of what we end up doing this time around. What else should we do or see in Venice? Comment below! 

 

Stop and Smell the Rosé in Napa

Stop and Smell the Rosé in Napa

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It’s still rainy here in the Bay Area, so for today’s Thirsty Thursday post, I’m reminiscing about our sunny trip to wine country. A couple weeks ago, I got to spend time with cousins and friends wine tasting in Napa, California. Our party of 7 enjoyed sipping some bubbly while enjoying the the picturesque views of Domaine Carneros.

Group tastings are offered here for parties of 6 or more and require a minimum spend of $30 per person. Each tasting includes a sampling of four of the winery’s drinks and some finger snacks. However, don’t expect much from the complimentary snacks as they typically include an unimpressive bowl of almonds for the table. Each guest can choose from the Sparkling Wine Sampler ($30), Red Wine Sampler ($30), Chateau Sampler ($30), or Grande Tasting  ($40).  See below for a listing of the specific beverages offered for each tasting option.

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There are also various cheese and charcuterie plates available to accompany your wine. Two of the cheese offering are from a local favorite, Cowgirl Creamery. This was a great way for our out-of-town guests to try a couple local products as well.  Overall, this was such a fun experience. I can’t wait to come back for just a single glass (or two!) with a much smaller party. Either way, the gorgeous views and delicious wines are two things  that we can happily toast to! Cheers! 

What other wineries would you recommend in Napa? Comment below!

 

 

 

 

 

Museum of Ice Cream LA vs. SF

Museum of Ice Cream LA vs. SF

Go shawty, it’s shertbertday! Last week week, I took a quick break from winter and checked out the Museum of Ice Cream (MOIC) in San Francisco. Having previously visited their pop up location in Los Angeles a few months ago, I knew I had to come back for seconds! I thought it would be fun to compare the two. NorCal vs SoCal rivalries are nothing new, but MOIC fosters less of a competitive atmosphere and more of a sugar-loving, brightly colored dream!  Born and raised in LA, I am a true LA girl at heart, but I’ll admit that I have grown to love living in the Bay Area over the past few years. I also picture my future here so I’ll try to be as un-biased as possible.

First, there are some basic rules and similarities found in all MOIC locations. The self-guided tour is unidirectional, meaning once you proceed to the next room you can’t go backwards. This allows the flow of people to move according to their ticket times. However, there is no time limit, so you can indulge in your sweetest fantasies! Some rooms also offer treats to taste from candy to ice cream to mochi. Again, you can take your time to finish what you’d like but you have to toss out any extra food prior to proceeding with your tour. While there are a few designated exhibits that you are not allowed to touch, there rest of the museum is fair game for photo ops!

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Now let’s talk about LA – My husband and I arrived shortly before the call time on our tickets. We first lined up outside with the rest of our group. The crew in LA was awesome from the moment we arrived! Before we were allowed to enter the museum, the staff pumped us up and had us screaming for ice cream. Once we entered, we were welcomed with our first treat – Dove chocolate squares. After being briefed with the house rules, the rest of the tour continued.

 

 

Not to give too much away, each room was (obviously) so fun and creative. The LA-native in me especially appreciated their quirky homage to local hot spots around LA from Hollywood to Venice Beach. One room also had one of my favorite MOIC treats, which was a signature ice cream with pop rocks and sprinkles. It definitely satisfied my sweet tooth but was unique, nonetheless.

 

Other rooms were themed with mint, rainbows, self-love, hanging bananas, swings, jumbo gummy bears, and huge popsicles. We enjoyed different ice cream flavors, mint mochi, and even more candy! Of course, the finale was their iconic sprinkle pool! There are lockers to store your shoes, jackets, and purses. Then your group has about 4 minutes to jump right into the pool and live out your sprinkle dreams. FYI, the sprinkles are not edible. They’re made of plastic, and you will be finding them in places you’d never imagine haha! I had sprinkles popping up on my car seats for days. Throughout our tour, I loved how the crew was dancing, singing, and having a great time in every room.

Now on to SF…

 

383 miles north, I was excited to re-live my ice cream lover’s dream in SF but also intrigued to see how this location would match up to LA. Plus, this was a much appreciated break from our chilly weather up here in the Bay Area! While each MOIC location shares the same aesthetics, some exhibitions are site specific to capture the spirit of the city they’re in. Located on 1 Grant Avenue, this venue is a city landmark, so it maintains some original features including a bank vault.

IMG_0035Similarly to LA, we joined a queue outside of the museum with our group. We cheered and began our tour with Dove chocolate. One of the first rooms in SF was actually quite fun with a carnival/celebration theme. We played ring toss, trying to land a plastic ring around whipped cream bottles. If you landed 2 rings, you were rewarded with a discount coupon for their gift shop at the end of the tour.

 

MOIC SF was noticeably larger than LA, which likely contributed to the higher ticket prices ($38/person in SF vs $29 in LA).  This meant we had more rooms to explore and more sweets to taste! Oddly, there was only one exhibit that really paid homage to SF. It was the rainbow nook with prism lights – sadly a bit underwhelming considering how many great aspects of SF could’ve been highlighted instead. Nonetheless, the other rooms included a pink diner counter where they served caramel pretzel ice cream, a gummy bear garden, cotton candy clouds with giant cherries, a pop rocks cave, a disco ball room, and a rainbow room with a unicorn! One of my favorite rooms had magnetic letters all over the walls like the ones we had one refrigerators as kids. I also loved having cotton candy with glitter (yasss!) and more mochi!

 

Of course, there’s no MOIC tour without a dip in the sprinkles pool! Same rules applied here in regard to what you can or can’t wear as well as the time limit. However, I would say that the MOIC team here wasn’t nearly as fun as the crew in LA. Maybe it was because it was later in the evening and their sugar rushes had left them crashing at this point. We were reminded that like fake friends, the plastic sprinkles can hurt us.  With that warning taken to heart, I tried to make the most of my 4-minutes hanging out in sprinkles! Afterwards, you could take an air shower to blow off any extra sprinkles to help keep them from littering city streets.

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In SF, you could also take a swing under hanging bananas and whipped cream bottles, though this seemed more of an afterthought at the end of the tour.

Overall, here’s the rundown:

Los Angeles:

  • Highlights various local neighborhoods and highlights the fun spirit of LA
  • Amazing, fun, friendly, energetic staff – They were the cherry on top of this fun experience!
  • Winner between the two locations!

San Francisco:

  • Mo money, mo mochi … and candy (more treats than LA, including pop rocks and freshly made cotton candy)!
  • Larger venue with more exhibits

Currently the Museum of Ice Cream is still open in San Francisco and its newest location, Miami. Where would you like to see them go next???

‘Elevating’ Afternoon Tea at The Upper House in HK

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As I’ve mentioned in a previous blog post, I LOVE having afternoon tea in different cities around the world. While afternoon tea has sentimental meaning to me, it’s so neat to see so many different renditions of this long time tradition. Today, I’m sharing my experiences at Café Gray Deluxe in Hong Kong!

Nestled on the 49th floor of one of Hong Kong’s hottest hotels, The Upper House, Café Gray Deluxe boasts some of the city’s best panoramic views of Victoria Harbor. But first, just to touch on the hotel itself for a bit, the Upper House embodies modern luxury. Once you step into the hotel, it’s an immediate escape from the bustling streets of Hong Kong. Interestingly, the sophisticated architecture manages to still feel warm and inviting.  While the ambience is very posh, the cordial staff and complimentary hot cocoa in the seating area help to make it feel more comfortable and less stuffy.

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Now back to the star of the blog post – Café Gray Deluxe!  Complementing the chic theme of the hotel, Café Gray Deluxe provides modern European dining.  Though there are ample seats throughout the dining area, we were lucky to have reserved a corner booth to really witness the gorgeous views of the HK skyline and harbor.  The natural lighting was beautiful, though a bit tricky for photographs.  Needless to say, our fellow diners and we were pretty busy taking photos throughout our time there. Every aspect of the cafe was Instagram-worthy!

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We came here for afternoon tea, which surprisingly is very reasonably priced! You have the option of either $295 (HKD) per person or $535 (HKD) for 2 people.  In US dollars, that’s roughly about $38 or $68, respectively.  Customarily, afternoon tea includes an assortment of savory and sweet bites accompanied by your choice of tea or coffee.  My favorites include the foie gras coupe, golden raisin scones with homemade preserves, and  the mint chocolate yoghurt pavé.  For drinks, we sought a recommendation from our server and opted for their signature Café Gray tea, which has lemongrass, lemon balm, and roselle.  I usually gravitate towards more traditional teas, but this was unique and delicious.  Also, since we were there during the holidays, we had a choice of a small serving of mulled wine or egg nog. We couldn’t resist the egg nog, and it turned out to be one of our favorite takes on this holiday treat.

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The is a bit of a side note, but the modern architecture resonates throughout the cafe… even in the restrooms.  This reminded me of the restrooms at the Standard Hotel in New York City.  You can wash your hands while looking through floor to ceiling windows. Oddly, you can see the sinks in the men’s restroom from the women’s side and vice versa. Toilets were private and out of view though.

Overall, we enjoyed the delicious snacks and never saw our teacups go empty. The staff was very friendly, and most importantly, we really appreciated that we were never rushed to clear the table as is often very customary in many HK establishments.  Our experience here truly elevated my expectations of afternoon tea moving forward (pun intended)! Cheers!

 

 

 

‘RTW Travel Series: Cathay Pacific Business Lounge at HKG

‘RTW Travel Series: Cathay Pacific Business Lounge at HKG

As if it wasn’t hard enough to end our holiday in Hong Kong, the Cathay Pacific Business Lounge at The Pier was phenomenal! I could have easily spent the rest of the day here. Though I just recently noted that the oneworld Lounge was the largest airport lounge that I had encountered, this is easily the new winner by far.

The chic interior and wooden paneling throughout warm up the space as you watch aircrafts take off and land through floor to ceiling windows. The layout compliments the vast size of this lounge while still strategically stationing seating areas into comfortable nooks.

As we first entered the lounge, we were greeted warmly by the staff. In the first large room, there is an expresso cart and bakery station with pastries, breads, and desserts. This is one of the better lit rooms, so this is where families with small children seemed to gather around large welcoming dining tables.

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As you proceed through the lounge, the next large room has an impressive full bar with lots of soft lounge chairs. We decided to post up here with window seats to watch the early flights arriving.

Next is the tea room. This was such a treat! No one was manning this station, but it was so neat to see this, nonetheless. Though no teas were being served at this time, there was a nice selection of fresh juice blends to help promote blood circulation, relaxation, or energy.

The next room is definitely one of the highlights of the lounge. Here you will find a row of self-serve siu mai, braised noodles, and vegetables. More impressively, there is also a made-to-order noodle bar. Today, our options were wonton noodles in soup, Dan Dan noodles, and Shanghai noodles with vegetable dumplings. Once your order comes out, there is a nice selection of toppings and condiments to flavor your dish to your liking. At the noodle bar you could also order dim sum: BBQ pork buns, xiao lung bao, and pan-fried vegetables bean curd roll. The pork buns and bao were excellent!

Finally, the last aspect of airport lounges worth visiting are the more private and more comfortable restrooms. Predictably, the washrooms here were clean. The soaps were from Aesop and smelled delightful.

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Considering how impressive the Cathay Pacific Business Lounge is, I would definitely take up any opportunity to experience the First Class Lounge if I come across it. It is easy to understand how these lounges are some of the top rated globally. Cheers to more safe and comfortable travels!

‘RTW Travel Series: The oneworld Lounge at LAX

‘RTW Travel Series: The oneworld Lounge at LAX

We arrived at the Tom Bradley International Terminal (TBIT) at LAX before 9pm, which gave us plenty of time to check in, go through security, and relax at the oneworld Lounge prior to our red-eye to Hong Kong. Disappointingly, TBIT does not offer a separate line for those with pre-TSA, so everyone follows the same lengthy queue. The only perk you get to keep is that you can keep yours shoes on walking through the metal detector. *Pro-Tip: Go through security in Terminal 4 as they do offer a pre-TSA line there. Then follow the connecting walkways to lead you back to TBIT. This is a major time saver that we’ll keep in mind for next time! Since we were taking one of the last flights out, I’m sure the line would have been much worse during peak hours. However, one issue that kept stalling our line was that several passengers were cutting the queue as they claimed to be late for their flights. Luckily it was Christmas night so we’ll credit the holiday spirit for giving everyone else a bit more patience.

Once through security, the oneworld Lounge is one flight up (Level 5) and a short walk over. This used to be shared by business and first class, but now there is a separate lounge for first class and Emerald tier frequent flyers. The oneworld Lounge is quite massive for an airport lounge and is the largest lounge I’ve encountered on my travels so far. The contemporary design connotes both a sense of trendy Californian style as well as comfort. There is ample seating with lots of electrical outlets surrounding a central glass atrium that serves as a beautiful focal point.

Upon entering, there is a cocktail bar to the right serving signature drinks and wines. Adjacent to the bar, there is also a circular fireplace with plenty of cushion seating surrounding it. In addition to the cocktail bar, there are self-serve wines and non-alcoholic drinks throughout the lounge.

Since it was rather late when we arrived at the lounge, I was still pleasantly surprised to see some food offerings. Sadly, we had just missed the taco bar. However, there was still a nice selection of food. The hot menu that night featured spiced carrot soup (really good!), roasted turkey breast with cornbread stuffing, mixed vegetables, and Thai stir fry. Salads included sliced chorizo potato and cannellini beans with roasted peppers; Mexican bean salad with coriander, feta, and salsa verde; and bell peppers with chickpea, corn and coriander in mango and jalapeno dressing.

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As for the bathrooms, I was disappointed to see one closed off completely for cleaning. The remaining bathroom that was available offered a nice, clean sink area with a large mirror and great lighting for touch-ups. However, two of the four bathroom stalls were out of service. The two that were available were either occupied or out of toilet paper.

Overall, the oneworld Lounge is a great pitstop if you are flying business class out of TBIT via Qantas, British Airways, or Cathay Pacific.  It offers a trendy yet calming ambiance to unwind amidst travels. However, the bathrooms (or lack thereof) was disappointing, though I’ll attribute this to the late hours when we were there. The food and drinks are good with a decent selection to help you re-fuel. I’m more intrigued now about the oneworld’s first class lounge to see how it compares.