About Megan McDonough

Megan McDonough

Megan Eileen McDonough is writer, blogger and social media specialist based in New York City. She also runs Bohemian Trails, a lifestyle blog designed for the savvy and stylish traveler. Bohemian Trails aims to feature must-see places around the world, covering everything from revamped neighborhoods and vibrant street art to innovative tech hubs and everything in between. Her cultural escapades have taken her to Latin America, Asia, Europe, and the Middle East.

Megan is also a freelance writer and social media specialist based in New York City. She contributes to various online and print publications in the travel and fashion industries and is an international correspondent for both Jetsetter and Northstar Travel Media.


Latest Posts by Megan McDonough

Toronto’s Murals, Art Scene & Hip Neighborhoods

December 12, 2014 by  

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I had always heard great things about Toronto and there have been numerous reasons I was eager to visit Toronto but above all, I was eager to explore everything the city has to offer: the tall skyscrapers that rival the ones in New York, the quirky shops with personality to space and of course, the revamped neighborhoods that are trendy beyond compare.

While the weather wasn’t exactly ideal during my trip, it didn’t matter because Toronto is colorful rain or shine. This quickly became apparent when wandering through the eclectic Kensington Market neighborhood.

 

Street art guide to Toronto

Located on the edge of Chinatown, another fascinating neighborhood with a ton of history, Kensington Market is a one-stop shop for graffiti, artisanal goods, vintage clothes and accessories and lively bars. It’s not a huge area but it’s packed with personality. Back in the 1920s, the neighborhood was known as the Jewish Market and even today, there’s a mix of different cultures represented – Europe, the Middle East, Latin America, Asia and the Caribbean to name a few.

Whether in search of fresh food or souvenirs, there’s something for everyone at Kensington Market. The narrow streets and alleys are always bustling with tourists and locals alike, especially on the weekends and in the late morning / early afternoon hours. Unlike other markets I’ve visited, however, the past and present coexist seamlessly. The Victorian houses serve as a stark contrast to the gritty graffiti covering most of the building walls.

The Best Street Art and Storefronts in Toronto

History

As mentioned above, Kensington Market is a mix of cultures and traditions. Everything started with the Irish and Scottish workers who came here in the 1880s, followed by Jewish immigrants about twenty years later. As time went on, other immigrants populated the area including the Portuguese, Latin Americans, Asians, Middle Easterners and Caribbean islanders. This is also where you’d find one of the last Jewish synagogues still in operation.

My tour guide for the day not only grew up just next door in Chinatown, but he knew everyone in and around Kensington Market. It was refreshing to learn how supportive the community is and how determined the residents are to keep the neighborhood’s authentic appeal. There are no chain stores or restaurants here; only independent shops. I was also surprised to learn that the park just on the other side of the market’s edge is one of the city’s most dangerous spots and yet no crime every seeps into the neighborhood.

Kensington Market in Toronto

Sample Exotic Foods

While the neighborhood is small, there are plenty of places to eat and drink. It all depends on what mood you’re in and what taste buds you want to awaken. Fika (28 Kensington Ave.) is a Swedish-inspired café and feels slightly more upscale than other shops in the area. They also have great ice-cream sandwiches.

I also recommend dipping into Casa Acoreana (235 Augusta Ave). The former grocery store-turned cafe serves direct trade coffee that comes from Reunion Island. Cold Tea Bar (60 Kensington Ave.) is a not-so-secret bar anymore but it’s a fun place to grab a beer and stay for awhile. Sanagan’s Meat Locker (176 Baldwin) is a good lunch-spot and their sandwiches really hit he spot.

neighborhoods in Toronto

Spot Local Street Art

I didn’t take a street art tour through the neighborhood but Toronto Urban Adventures offers a Kensington Market & Chinatown tour every day but Monday at 10am. I do know that much of the graffiti is by request of the building owners, as art is very much a part of the neighborhood. There’s a mix of gritty wall paintings and large murals not to mention the “the garden car,” which was formerly a working 2001 Ford Taurus. Now, it’s covered in street art and live grass and serves as a piece of public art. The styles vary but the bright colors remain constant.

The best graffiti in Toronto

Shop for Vintage Wares

It’s no surprise that I love shopping for vintage wares and Kensington Market has a few stores to choose from including Ego Vintage (9 Kensington Ave.), Exile Vintage (20 Kensington Ave.) and Flashback Vintage (33 Kensington Ave.) Luckily, the neighborhood is only a few blocks and many of the shops are located on the same street so you can browse a few stores before deciding on which items to buy. I also popped into Courage My Love (14 Kensington Avenue) featured below and chatted with the owner for a few minutes. My first impression that the store is a sensory overload. Hats, buttons, jewelry and other knick-knacks cover every inch of available wall space and yet, it feels cohesive and inviting.

coolest storefronts in Toronto

When to Go

If you happen to be visiting in the summer months, Sundays are pedestrian-only days but in all honesty, I passed through twice during my trip (a Monday and Tuesday I believe) and I didn’t notice many cars anyway. The streets are somewhat narrow but easy to get around without too much trouble. Most of the shops open at 9am and are super crowded by 11am so aim to get there early if you’re hoping for a quiet stroll.

hip neighborhoods in Toronto

How to Get There

Unless you’re within walking distance, just hop on the Subway to the Queen’s Park Station and then head west. The neighborhood is between Dundas and College, west of Spadina Avenue.

where to see street art in Toronto

What’s the coolest neighborhood you’ve ever visited? Tell me in the comments below!

This trip was hosted by Tourism Toronto. I stayed at the Hilton Hotel during my stay. All opinions are my own.

Going Beyond the Guidebook in Macau

December 11, 2014 by  

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I decided to write a post about the myths and preconceptions that surround Macau because before visiting there last month, I believed most of them. Not only did I learn some pretty fascinating facts about Macau’s culture and history, but I left feeling rejuvenated, empowered and most of all, inspired. As a writer and creator, inspiration is like my morning cup of coffee. Without it, I feel sleepy and unmotivated and I’m very grateful that it was Macau that ultimately gave me a double shot of inspiration.

Just like you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, you shouldn’t underestimate destinations based on what it’s known for. Macau might be better well-known for its casinos and high-end designer stores, but that’s just scratching the surface. The Macao I discovered was one full of color and interlaces with traditions, customs and a blend of old and new architectural influences. Here are 5 myths about Macau that I busted during my trip.

1) Macau is not JUST for gamblers

Sure, Macau is a popular destination for gamblers and yes, there are casinos in nearly every hotel. However, during my five day visit I spent about 5 minutes in one. My extent of gambling includes only the slot machines in Las Vegas so I found it interesting to see people making bets throughout the floor. I’m not sure I’ll ever be big into gambling but it was actually fun to watch people playing their chips in the center or on numbers. If you like casinos, then Macau will certainly give you your fix but there are tons of other alternative activities. For example, inside the Sheraton Macao, there is a DreamWorks-themed parade and breakfast (more on that later!), a slew of high-end designer boutiques and a spa that caters each treatment to the 5 Elements of Fung Shui…and that’s JUST within the hotel. Outside, the possibilities are endless.

Top Reasons to Visit Macau Now

2) Macau is actually very family-friendly

Again, this was another myth I took as fact before traveling to Macau. What I found is that Macau is not only family-friendly, it’s kid-centric! The Sheraton Macao hosts a daily parade of the DreamWorks crew—I’m talking Shrek, Puss in Boots, Alex and Julien from Madagascar and all of their friends. It reminded me a little of Disney World and that just brought back so many wonderful memories. I’m an advocate for acting like a kid when appropriate and it was so nice to let my inner child run wild.

3) Culture is literally at your doorstep in Macau

Where do I even begin with this one? Macau used to be a Portuguese colony so there’s a lot of history to brush up on while there. To break things down simply, there’s an old part of town and a newer one. One of my favorite attractions was the Mandarin’s House, which is a short walk away from the A Ma Temple (another must-see).

The Mandarin’s House is in the Historic Center of Macao and was built in 1869. In total, there are 60 rooms plus an outdoor courtyard and quiet garden. Also worth visiting are the Ruins of St. Paul, originally built in the 17th century and later destroyed by a fire in 1835. Only the facades of the church and St. Paul’s college remain but it’s still quite a sight to behold. I also recommend passing through Tai Pa Village, which is walkable from the Cotai Strip, although separated from Macau Peninsular by the Pearl River.

Tai Pa Village

4) Macau will test your limits

Before landing in Macau I planned on spending the next few days relaxing by the pool, wandering through town and maybe even splurging on a new bag. With the exception of touring downtown Macau, I didn’t do any of these things. I was too busy visiting hidden villages and museums to think about laying around the pool.

On our last day in town our group headed to the infamous Macau Tower where we participated in the Skywalk. Two members of our group opted for the bungee jump, which happens to be the highest bungee jump in the world. Props to them. The rest of us spent about 30 minutes walking the perimeter of the tower. We were harnessed but it was still scary to look down. I’m afraid of heights yet up there I felt so free.

Skywalk Macau Tower

5) Macau will leave you wanting more

I assumed Macau was one of those places I could check off my bucket list without wanting to return. Wrong again! I really liked Macau, surprising even myself, and I’d love to return. If and when I do, I’ll probably add Hong Kong to my trip because it is literally a ferry ride away and I’d also like to see some of mainland China.

I figure that if I’ve already flown half-way across the world, I better make it an unforgettable trip. The other thing that I cannot stop thinking about is The House of Dancing Water. We watched this performance on our last night and it was hands down the coolest performance I’ve ever seen. As you might have guessed from my recent post about the Shine Spa, I’m slightly obsessed with the elements and to see almost all of them—especially water—represented in such an engaging and interactive way has left me desperate for more.

The House of Dancing Water

What destination has surprised you for the better? Tell me in the comments below!

This trip was hosted by Sheraton Macao and Glodow Nead. All opinions are my own.

 

Our Top 10 List for Culture & Architecture Junkies in Budapest

December 3, 2014 by  

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Hungary in Eastern Europe is truly a treasure and Budapest is the world’s melting pot of Architectural styles. From Roman amphitheaters and Gothic-styled cathedrals to traditional Turkish baths, Budapest has it all. Since the city is fairly large and diverse, we’ve put together a list of our favorite culture and architectural treasures to see in Budapest. Let’s begin the tour..

1) The Culurally Rich Art Nouveuo at the Gallert Baths

From the mosaic floors and walls to the stained glass windows, it’s no wonder Gallert Baths are the most photographed baths in Budapest. A large blue spa is surrounded by cream colored pillars and dainty balconies.

Art Nouveuo at the Gallert Baths

2) Visit the infamous Parliament Building

Visit Hungary’s Parliament Building to appreciate the Neo Gothic architecture glistening in the sunlight and to gaze over the Hungarian Crown Jewels. The Parliament building is the largest building in Hungary, and the tallest in Budapest. When entering the building (EU citizens get in free), visitors can walk up the decorative stairs and view the intricate ceiling murals.

3) Go Slow Across the Chain Bridge

After leaving the Parliament building, continue onto the Classicist style Chain Bridge, the first bridge to connect Buda and Pest and a symbol of national awakening. From here you can also grab great views of the Parliament Building and the Danube.

4) Hike up to Historic Castle Hill

You can tell that Castle Hill has had quite a past by viewing all of the different building structures, from Gothic arches to 18th Century Baroque houses and cobblestone streets. Castle hill has many must-see attractions and is recognized as a World Heritage Site. From here, you can enjoy striking panoramic views of Budapest and of course see the Buda Castle itself. Several festivals and events are held at Buda Castle during the year, including a beer festival, folk art festival and an international wine festival.

Architecture Guide to Budapest

Image: Wikipedia Commons/Alex Proimos

5) Check out Neo-Renaissance Style at St. Stephen’s Basilica

St. Stephens is the largest church in Budapest and offers free entrance. The dome is 96 meters high, and the inside is adorned by famous artists of the era. Don’t forget to take the 364 steps (or the elevators) to the dome’s observation deck.

The Ultimate Architecture Guide to Budapest

6) Relax Among the Turkish Architecture at Rudas Baths

Many mosques and baths were built in Buda throughout the Turkish occupation. Budapest is actually one of the only places in the world with working original bathhouses dating back to the 16th century. The baths in Budapest are well known for their “healing powers” and are fed from natural thermal springs.

7) See Baroque-style at its finest

Head to the most popular bathhouse in Budapest, the Szechenyi baths, to catch a glance of Baroque-style architecture. For a more interesting experience, visit during one of their legendary bath parties, hosted every Saturday night.

Baroque architecture in Budapest

Image: Wikipedia Commons/Peter Vilgus

8) Be Swooned by the Great Synagogue on Dohány Street

The Great Synagogue in Budapest is the largest Synagogue in Europe (and one of the largest in the world). The Synagogue is Moorish Revival, but also features a mixture of Romantic, Byzantine and Gothic elements. The interior is richly decorated, featuring colored golden geometric shapes that cover the walls and ceiling.

9) Enjoy a stroll through City Park to see the Vajdahunyad Castle

The Vajdahunyad Castle is an architectural medley with Romanesque, Gothic, Rennaissance and Baroque parts. Vajdahunyad is an imitation of a Transylvanian castle and was built to demonstrate the countless architectural styles found in Hungary. The castle also hosts an outdoor market with food and live music that occurs daily.

10) Visit one of Budapest’s ruin pubs, which I like to call New Wave architecture

Ruin pubs are becoming one of the hottest spots to drink in Budapest and are centered in formerly abandoned buildings. You will usually find live music, interesting retro décor and a unique atmosphere.  If you’re an architecture junkie, you may also want to check out Budapest 100, an annual celebration of 100-year old buildings in the city.

Contributed by Marteen of Lust for the World.  

A Spa Experience in Macau That Explores Your Elements

November 16, 2014 by  

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Macau has been on my calendar for months now and I was really excited to visit another destination on the other side of the world. Upon arriving to the 5-star Sheraton Macao, I learned that my spa appointment later that day might be heavily determined by my “element.”

Shine Spa

I was so intrigued before, during and after the process that I took screenshots of the iPad app that determines your Major and Minor elements.

The first question was pretty easy. I entered my birthday and “Tiger” popped up. I already knew this but I loved seeing it laid out on a screen. I’d later learn that this first question primarily determines your Major element and that your Minor element is your emotional state at that very moment.

This was a tough one because I love all colors, even black (everyone wears black in New York). I ultimately went with Blue. What would you have chosen? My favorite season has definitely changed since I was a child though. I used to prefer summer best, probably because I was off from school. Then I went through a Spring stage until I discovered I had horrendous allergies but today, it is Autumn.

five elements of feng shui

This one I had to think about for a few seconds but the answer for me is 9am-1pm. I’ve always been a morning person and even now, I tend to get either tired or distracted for a few hours in the afternoon and then go back to work in the evening. My second choice would have been the option at the top because 7-9am and 7-9pm are other times of the day when I’m very focused.

astrology and the Chinese zodiac

I’m guessing that this question plays a large role in the Minor element category because it’s the most direct question in terms of emotion. On this day I felt Calm. I also felt excited but that wasn’t an option.

spa treatments in Macau

This was the toughest question to answer. I think I stayed on this screen for a good minute or two. I do have a sweet tooth but I think in general, I like sour foods…or at least drinks (margaritas, anyone?!) I ultimately went with Sour but I could have easily chosen Sweet, Salty or even Spicy. Also worth noting is that I was really hungry at the time of this spa visit and craving a ton of different foods.

the five senses

Before you scroll down, let’s make things interesting. See if you can guess my Major and Minor elements. If you answered these questions the exact same way I did, then your Minor element is most likely the same as my result. Remember that the results are based on the Five Element Theory of Feng Shui.

My Major Element is Wood and my Minor Element is Water. I wasn’t too familiar with Feng Shui so I had to research a bit more about the wood element means. Water, however, I’m more familiar with, as Scorpio is generally considered to be a Water sign.

According to a few websites, it seems that Wood and Water are very harmonious. The energy one gets from Water serves as nourishment for Wood. On the flip side, the energy of Wood is strong, even against Water. The same can’t be said for Wood with Fire. Oh and in case you’re wondering, the five elements according to feng shui goes something like this: Water –> Wood –> Fire –> Earth –> Metal –> (Water) and each nourishes the other in that same order.

Ultimately, I chose to go with their Signature massage, which I know is a bit anti-climactic, but for me the real fun was taking the quiz and finding out my elements. For those of you who are curious about the treatments that correspond to these two elements, wood incorporated bamboo into the treatment and water involved a series of different showers.

Major and Minor elements

Shine Spa was the first spa experience I’ve had where the local culture and traditions were directly tied into the process. I learned about the Five Element Theory of Feng Shui, something I was familiar with beforehand but hardly knew any specifics.

This trip was hosted by Sheraton Macao and Glodow Nead. All opinions are my own. Photos are via their iPad app and their photo database for media use.  

 

Taking in the Best of Quito Culture

November 14, 2014 by  

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I spent four days in Quito and while I could have easily stayed another few more, it’s very possible to tour the city in three days (two if you’re really fast). I didn’t pack too much into each day because from my experience, this just leads to frustration if I don’t check all the items off my list. At the end of this post I’ve suggested a few more activities for different interests.

In general, I suggest exploring a few of Quito’s neighborhoods because they vary in terms of architectural styles. For history and culture, visit the Old Town and for nightlife and shopping head to Plaza Foch.

How to Tour Quito in 3 Days

Day 1: Get your bearings and your view

Explore Old Town and La Ronda neighborhood: The Old Town is one of the best examples of colonial architecture and it really shows. The buildings are well-preserved yet hardly-altered from their original state and they are very colorful side by side. In my case, I stayed at La Casona de la Ronda so I had easy access to the historic Old Town. Even if you’re staying at a hotel or hostel in the north of the city, make sure to spend at least an afternoon wandering through the hidden alleyways and romantic cobbled streets that make you question what century you’re living in. I also really like Calle de la Ronda and the surrounding streets because there are some very talented local artisans who sell traditional and handmade crafts. Oh, and there’s also a chocolatier.

Visit some of Quito’s most decadent churches: There are A LOT of churches in Quito but my favorites are the San Francisco Church and La Compañía de Jesús Church. Most Ecuadorians are Catholic so it makes sense that there are so many churches but is it really fair that they are all decked out in gold and jewels?

I’d love more of that in the states. Anyway, San Francisco Church dates back to the 16th century and the outside Plaza de San Francisco is bustling with locals and tourists alike. Try to see La Compañía de Jesús Church when it first opens in the morning, as it’s a very serene experience. According to my guide, there is a quarter ton (or 15-20 kilograms) of gold inside. I haven’t done the math but that sounds like a lot. Take your time looking at the intricate wood carvings, the high-ceiling domes and the colorful paintings. Fun fact: the facade is carved from volcanic stone.

Relax in Independence Square: At this point you’ll probably be overwhelmed by both history and culture (in a good way!) that you’ll need a breather. Stop by Plaza de la Independencia, also called Plaza Grande, and take in the view. The monument to the independence of August 10, 1809 stands in the center of the square and towers above the surrounding buildings. To find Independence Square, go to the corners of Calle Venezuela, Calle Chile, Calle Gabriel García Moreno and the pedestrian area of Calle Eugenio Espejo.

Day 2: Tend to your bucket list and then some

The Middle of the World: It you’ve made it all the way to Quito then you absolutely MUST go to the Middle of the World (Ciudad Mitad del Mundo). At the main site, there are some really fun activities and experiments you can try like balancing an egg on a nail, which by the way I did in about three seconds and went home with an actual certificate because of my egg skills and watching water drain in different directions. The most eye-opening (not literally) experience was closing my eyes and walking along the red line that marks the center. As a former gymnast, I thought I was a pro at the balance beam but with two gravitational pulls in either direction, it was quite tricky to stay in a straight line.

There are two main things to know: The first is that there are two different locations and they are very close to each other (about a 5 minute drive). One of these sites was a rough estimate of where the middle of the world is and the second is an exact measurement. Both are interesting yet very different in layout and design. Secondly, Ciudad Mitad del Mundo is super close to the city so don’t skip it. Also, I’d recommend doing this in the morning to beat both the crowds (great for photographs) and the traffic. If you’re a passport nerd like me make sure to get it stamped!

Eat and/or shop at a local market: I stayed at the Middle of the World for roughly two or three hours plus commute time so this will likely be the main activity for the day. It’s also hotter there so bring a hat and some water. When you’re back in the city, head to a local craft or food market to meet the locals and see them in action. Personally, my favorite market is the Santa Clara Mercado, open daily. They sell everything from flowers and housewares to fish and quinoa. My favorite part of the experience was simply strolling through the halls and watching families eating together in the small chairs stacked up against some vendor booths.

Middle of the World

Day 3: Take it easy and savor every last drop

Shop in Foch Square: The La Mariscal neighborhood in north central Quito is a popular area for nightlife and entertainment. During the day, it’s slightly less busy but there are plenty of bars and restaurants to pass the time. Plaza Foch is the heart of this party district and a central meeting place for many friends. Here you’ll find everything from upscale shops and karaoke bars to authentic restaurants and lively discos. If visiting during the day, there’s a local crafts market about three blocks away and it’s also a short walk to Parque El Ejido.

Walk through Parque El Ejido: Weather in Quito rarely changes and during my trip it was absolutely lovely. Usually in the morning I wore a sweater or light jacket and by the afternoon, I was wearing a very casual jeans and t-shirt ensemble. That being said, make sure to spend a chunk of your time outside. I particularly like Parque El Ejido because it is centrally located and also close to museums and other attractions. Plus, there were local artists creating sidewalk murals and many vendors selling paintings as well. I stopped by on a Saturday and there were tons of children running around on the park’s many swing sets and playgrounds.

Splurge on dinner at ZAZU.  I’m not usually one to encourage lavish dinners but sometimes a meal is really worth the price. Don’t get me wrong—Zazu is not crazy expensive but it is on the more upscale side. Many of the restaurants I dined at while in Quito were very traditional in terms of decor so it was refreshing to see Zazu’s more modern approach. I sampled a little bit of everything and each dish was tastier than the last. Even if you don’t make it to this particular hotspot, don’t be afraid to treat yourself well…it is your last night in town after all!

Parque El Ejido area

Still in town? Here are some other attractions and excursions to consider.  Here’s a quick recap and a few more suggestions.

*Visit a Rose Farm.

*Take a day trip to El Bolich via train.

*Tour a chocolate factory (or just eat the samples)!

*Get a free and fabulous view at El Panecillo viewpoint.

*Swing by the Museo Guayasamín.

cultural dance in Ecuador

This trip was hosted by Quito Tourism and Tartan Group. All opinions are my own.

 

 

An Artistic & Cultural Immersion of Quito Ecuador

November 2, 2014 by  

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Earlier this month I traveled to Quito for a foodie-themed trip and while the cuisine was pretty delicious, I discovered that there is a lot more to this special city than the food on my plate. From well-preserved, colonial architecture and vibrant roses of every color of the rainbow to aboriginal dance performances and gritty street art, here are 5 alternative ways to tour Quito.

1) Architecture

Like a few other cities I’ve visited in South America, the architecture in Quito greatly varies between the Old Town and the more modern parts of the city. Not surprisingly, some of the best examples of traditional colonial architecture are found in the historic Old Town and the Calle La Ronda neighborhood (also great for buying handcrafts!) If you’re really interested in colonial architecture, make sure to pay a visit to the National Museum of Colonial Art and the Guayasamin Museum, which is dedicated to artist Oswaldo Guayasamin.

Since the historical center is one of the largest and most well-preserved historic centers in Latin America, it really does feel like you’ve traveled back in time. Plus, Quito has earned UNESCO World Heritage status, with top attractions including the monasteries of San Francisco and Santo Domingo, not to mention a series of rectangular squares open to the public. As for the houses in the Old Town, many of them showcase old Spanish or Moorish architectural styles.

Cultural Travel Guide to Quito

2) Food

I felt like I was eating throughout my entire trip to Quito and in all honesty, that’s a pretty fair estimate. In fact, I don’t think I was hungry at any point during my four day visit so you can imagine how difficult it was leaving the city and heading back on the plane. Ecuador’s geographical location plays a large role in the city’s culinary culture. Surrounded by both the Andes Mountains and the lush rainforest creates a diverse ecosystem that in turn, becomes a perfect environment to grow and raise produce.

Another interesting facet of Quito’s cuisine is the blend of traditional herbs and spices with innovative trends and techniques. In terms of restaurants, I recommend splurging on a few upscale spots like modern Zazu or the chic Plaza Grande restaurant located within the hotel and then hitting up a few of the local food markets. You’ll find everything from regular grocery items to full-on entrees of ceviche, locro and other Ecuadorian comfort foods packed with flavor. There are even little stools there where customers can have a mini meal on-the-go.

5 Cultural Ways to Tour Quito

3) Dance

One of the most enjoyable activities during my time in Quito was getting to see not one but two impromptu dance performances. The first one took place in the Old Town, near our cozy boutique hotel, La Casona de la Ronda. I believe it was a Saturday and after asking a few locals, I learned that this happens most nights…or at least, most weekend nights. The men and woman performed a set of three dances and the starlit sky and full moon served as the perfect backdrop. Plus, it gave me a chance to practice my Spanish with the performers.

On my last day, I took a day-long excursion on an old train that made several stops. When we stopped in Machachi we were greeted with a group of young girls and boys who performed for about fifteen minutes. During their last song, I was invited to join in the dance! Many times when I travel I feel like I’m merely an observer but in this very moment I felt like I was right in the heart of the action; like there was no division between local and tourist. Dancing has always been a passion of mine and I’m so happy that I had the chance to learn some new steps.

indigenous dances in Ecuador

4) Art

Quito is home to a number of renowned contemporary art galleries and there are also plenty of street art and artists to fill in the gaps. In addition to the Guayasamin Museum mentioned above, other equally impressive museums include MarsuArte and The Quito Contemporary Art Center. I recommend visiting at least one museum if you can squeeze it in because from my experience, it helps one get their bearings on a new destination while also shedding insight into the traditions that make each destination unique. In the case of Quito, I enjoyed viewing work from some of the most well-known Ecuadorian artists.

In terms of street art, there is plenty of it and on most occasions, I found murals without seeking them out. After a bit of research post-trip, I learned that the Guapulo neighborhood near Bosque Protegido Lumbini park is a prime spot for spotting new work. There are also a lot of pieces in North Quito. Just a note about Quito’s layout—the city is built mostly from north to south rather than east to west, which is largely due to the surrounding terrain. If you take a look at Quito on the map you’ll see that it’s a very thinly laid out city.

street art in Quito

5) Roses

If you’ve ever been given a dozen roses from Ecuador, you know what I’m talking about. I didn’t get a chance to visit any of the rose farms but I did stop by an impromptu rose exhibit set up in one of the main squares. I was blown away by all the colors, the rich scents and the softness of the pedals. Some artists even came in and created a Hummingbird made completely out of roses. Oh, and the prices are really good here. That’s to be expected I’m sure, especially since they are local, but I so wish they were more accessible in the US.

If you do plan on stopping by a farm while in town, Nevado Roses is a good option. They are a family-owned and operated company that has been in the industry since 1965. Besides producing some very exclusive rose varieties like the Red Intuition, the Pink Intuition and Gigi, they pay close attention to the environment and are FairTrade and Organic certified (I found that most local companies in Ecuador are very eco-friendly and conscious of the environment). Esmeralda Farms is another popular rose farm and also located close to Quito’s city center.

rose farms in Ecuador

Have you visited Quito before? If so, what was your favorite thing about it? Tell me in the comments below!

This trip was hosted by Quito Tourism and Tartan Group. All opinions are my own.

Bali & Happiness: What You Can Learn From This Breathtaking Destination

October 16, 2014 by  

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My husband and I got married nearly two years ago and ultimately chose Bali as our belated honeymoon destination. It’s been awhile since I’ve taken a real vacation and we really went all out with out trip in terms of enjoying it 100%. We rented a small bungalow with an outside (but mostly covered) shower, toured the island by motorcycle and didn’t make too many plans. During our two weeks of bliss, I learned a few life lessons that I’ve taken back with me to the Big Apple.

1) The “good guy” doesn’t finish last

Every single person I met in Bali (including locals and tourists alike) was friendly, kind and generous. Sure, I didn’t sample the entire population but I think you get the drift. I love living in New York but there is something very comforting about leaving it, even for a few days, because I remember that not every culture is as obsessed by the clock as we are. This is true of many cities and probably even parts of Bali but overall, people treat each other well. It was refreshing to speak with the owner or our bungalow and with the driver taking us to Kuta for a surf class or the man renting us a motorcycle for the day. It really does pay to be nice here and that’s pretty awesome.

How to travel like a local in Bali

2) Beauty is more than skin-deep

Ok, so this is something that I already know but I included it anyway because Bali took things to a whole new level. My first few days on the island, I was completely in awe of how lush and lovely the landscapes are, from the vibrant green rice terraces to the pink and orange setting sun. After getting over the initial shock, although I never did quite get over it, I started seeing other levels of beauty. I saw the girl in Ubud who wore a flower in her hair; the young boy running to keep up with his older sister; the waitress who couldn’t seem to speak without smiling. Not everyone is rich in Bali but it doesn’t matter because they are happy and that’s one lesson worth learning.

5 Things Bali Will Teach You About Life

3) Time can stand still

Have you seen a Bali sunset? If so, you know what I’m getting at here. Unlike the majority of my other trips, I barely checked my email while in Bali. In fact, for the first time in about three years, I put up an auto-response on my personal email. I also ditched my smartphone for many excursions because I didn’t even want to be tempted to ask restaurants if they have WiFi. I truly sat back, enjoyed being in the company of my husband and our surroundings, and didn’t feel pressure about much at all. It is quite a freeing feeling I must say and even though I’ve been back home for a few weeks, I’m reminding myself daily to go with the flow and focus on the things that make me happy.

Bali sunsets

4) Tradition is a gateway to knowledge

Unlike the majority of Indonesia, Bali has a mainly Hindu population. Religious studies was always one of my favorite subjects in school but I have to admit that it’s been more than a few years since I studied the customs and traditions of this faith. In Bali, religion and culture are extremely intertwined. Everyone, from the masseuse at our bungalow to our taxi driver, prepared their offerings in the morning and displayed these in their place of work. They were also very eager and open to discuss their faith and after a few days of stifling my curiosity, I started asking questions about how their faith plays a role in their daily life. In short, it became a gateway to knowledge.

Hindu traditions in Bali

5) Nature is more powerful than you imagine

Over the past year I’ve really noticed how much I’m affected by my environment. I’ve always considered myself a big city girl, and in many ways I am, but I’d also be very happy living on a farm surrounded by cascading mountains and flowing waterfalls. Bali gave me both and that was a wonderful surprise. Whether sitting by the pool reading or meditating on the beach, I felt the power of nature more than ever before. I went beyond observing it to becoming part of it. On our last night in Bali, I stared out at the waves and knew that I was capable of reaching my goals. Part of me is afraid of losing this burst of motivation now that I’m back but so far, things are still looking up and I’m very grateful.

outdoor activities in Bali

What is the most important life lesson you’ve learned while traveling?

Southeast Asia Bliss: Serenity & Tranquility in Beautiful Bali

October 12, 2014 by  

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When we were planning our wedding, we decided to have a travel registry rather than a more traditional one. At the time, we planned on going to South Africa but as the months passed and we finally got around to planning our grand adventure, it was ultimately Bali that was calling our names.

Like many travelers before me, I added Bali to my bucket list after reading and then watching the movie adaptation of Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love. She describes Bali so vividly and yet nothing could prepare me for my arrival on the small Indonesian island. It was even more beautiful, more pure and more majestic than the pictures I’d seen in magazines. Long story short, I was in awe of everything around me.

Without doing much research ahead of time, we booked two different bungalows in Balangan beach. We stayed at the first one (pictured) for five nights and then went literally next door to a slightly fancier bungalow. Balangan is a surfer’s paradise and although it required more driving time to basically anywhere else on the island, we loved our little hideaway. After two long flights and an equally longer layover in Qatar we fell fast asleep in our new lap of luxury.

On our first full day in Bali we took it easy and mainly hung out on the beach. Around 6pm the sun set and it was unlike anything I’d seen before. The colors in the sky almost looked fake as they snaked across the sky and they all reflected in the small pools of water during low tide. 

Instead of trying to pack everything into two weeks, we’d relax for a day and then pack a few things into the next. We repeated that process and managed to find that perfect balance between adventure and rejuvenation. Plus, $5 massages are pretty hard to beat.

Then we went to Kuta and signed up for an impromptu surf lesson. I had taken a surf lesson once before in Maui and I was surprised that it took me a few tries to get up on my board this time. The waves were a bit rougher on Kuta beach, especially in the afternoon, but once I got my groove back, I surfed until my stomach roared louder than the crashing waves. 

The rice terraces are unlike anything I’d seen before and before our trip was through, we visited three different ones. The one pictured below is the most frequently visited, as it’s just a few minutes drive from Udud. I probably took at least a hundred pictures here and the landscape gave me inspiration for a new project I’m working on. I could feel my creativity seeping out and that’s really the best gift Bali could have given.  The architecture in Bali is impressive on its own but it was also interesting to learn more about the Hindu religion and culture.

Some of our favorite memories were just sitting, talking and looking together at the ocean. Bali is effortlessly beautiful and the people are so genuine and kind that we never felt like we “needed” to do anything other than enjoy the present moment. That’s something that is often a challenge for me but for whatever reason, I didn’t have any FOMO and that in and of itself is very liberating.

Did I mention how delicious the juices are in Bali? Diego and I found ourselves ordering juices instead of beer and wine because they were THAT good. I loved waking up every morning and having my first glass of watermelon juice. Because it took us a few days to get used to the different time zone, we’d wake up around 7am each day and it was great knowing that we had the entire day in front of us.

Have you visited Bali before? If so, what was your favorite part?  

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