Mich Le: Jotting My Journeys – London

With the inundating coverage on the royal wedding that we’ve recently been subjected to, I saw fit to write a post about my trips to London. I did go to the royal wedding, but we signed a waiver, so I cannot talk about it (haha, just kidding!). I have, however, been to London twice. The first time it was for work, so I did not get to do too much because we were on schedules.

Funny Story / #DontJudgeMe:  I decided to go shopping on my lunch break during my work trip to London.  What I didn’t realize is that our lunches were also restricted, too, so by the time I’d gotten back, they were 15-20 minutes into the meeting! And here I am walking in with a shopping bag!  Luckily, I was advised that the meeting was in progress in a different room, so I hid my bag in a storage area! I left it there until the next day, as if I’d went on lunch that day and bought it.  I felt so embarrassed – who does that?!

In case you’re wondering, it was a pair of boots. Boots that I received the most compliments on probably out of all my other shoes that year. They were nice, very expensive, but they weren’t of good quality. Talk about not getting what you paid for, geesh.  All of that ducking and diving and hiding for nothing!

My second trip to London, England was last year. By the way, London, England, Great Britain, and the United Kingdom are all different, geographically, though they are often used interchangeably. As a Historian at heart, I made sure that I was able to visit the places that I did not get to go to before which were primarily historical places. I had to finagle to get into one of those places (just my luck), but we’ll get to that. I travel a lot, but London, England remains in my top five favorite places to visit. It is actually number two.

Where I stayed:

I stayed at the Caesar Hotel London. It is a four star hotel in the Bayswater section. I’d rate this hotel one of my favorite hotels to have stayed at. It was in a quiet area on a quant gated street, with a serene garden of trees and sitting area directly across from it. The room had more space than I’d expected. If you’ve stayed in other hotels in Europe, you may have noticed that they tend to be on the smaller side.  The hotel had great architecture, and the hotel itself was immaculate. They also had room service which is always a plus in my book (Food in the middle of the night, maybe a drunken one (I said don’t judge me!), and I don’t have to go out and get anything?  Yes, please!)

What I liked the most about the hotel was actually the staff. They were very kind, welcoming, and helpful. Every time we were leaving out, but had a question, we went to the front desk, and they always provided us with a map, and they’d even outline things in order for us to get a better sense of where we were going. The only downside is that it is not close to major tourist sites, or in the liveliest of areas. It was close to shops, restaurants, and pubs, but to really “see” London, we had to catch the Tube, which was very easy to navigate. The hotel was very close to Paddington station and other Tube stops, so you did not have to go far for public transportation.  It was a great hotel, and I would recommend it.

Where I Went:Tower of London

Out of everything that I did, the highlights were my visits to the Tower of London and Westminster Abbey. I have watched many documentaries, movies, and series revolving around the English monarchies, so visiting these places had me like a kid in a candy shop!  If you aren’t familiar, The Tower of London is a castle in central London by the Tower and London bridges. It dates all the way back to about nine centuries ago and was home to many of the royal families and the subject of many siege attempts. It is most notable for the story of The Princes in the Tower (you should really look it up). Also, it houses the Crown Jewels including the crown, scepter, and other items, and they are actively in use by the Queen. Security is tight, and there is no standing around.

West Minster Abbey

I really was in awe when I visited Westminster Abbey. The day that I planned to go, they were having an event, and the limited number of tickets that they had outside of attending the event sold quickly. I pretty much scoured the internet for a long time trying to find tickets because I wanted to visit it so badly. I was lucky enough to find a third party site that I found tickets on.

Majestic is the perfect word to describe Westminster Abbey. Throughout history, it has served the purpose of sanctuary, a place of worship, coronation ceremonies, weddings, and even literally has kings and queens buried inside of it. It was amazing to see the tombs and memorials of some of the people that I actually read about. I was fascinated! Between The Tower of London and Westminster Abbey, I kept picturing the royal families that lived there, what they did, how they entertained visiting kings and queens, I imagined the children running up and down the hallways, the decisions that were made inside the walls, just everything that you could think of.  By the way, they had no heat or insulated walls (of course, it’s thousand year old castle), but it was cold and dark in certain areas.  I don’t know how they did it.

Big Ben and Buckingham Palace

I did see Big Ben, but I saw that the last time as well. Also, I did get a chance to see Buckingham Palace on both of my trips to London.  What I was most surprised about was the vulnerability. I’m quite sure that the royal home has high-tech security, but it just seems so open to have so many spectators just standing around. It was cool to see that the Queen’s Guards (the ones that wear the large furry black hat and red coat) actually do not move! How they stay so still, I do not know. It would also have been cool to get a glimpse of  Her Royal Highness.

Of course I did some shopping as well. I went to the legendary Selfridges and other stores, in the iconic shopping district of Oxford Street. I didn’t eat at anywhere special.

My Thoughts on London:

What I love the most about London is the fact that it is a melting pot. I compare it to New York often. When you visit New York City, you are seldom looked at as if you are out of place, you don’t feel uncomfortable, and you can just blend in. People don’t stare or gawk at you because you may dress or look a little differently, or for any other reasons, but you just blend in. London, at least in my experience, is the same way. I never feel uncomfortable or out of place. I’ve been to other European cities and countries where you feel the opposite. I also love the fact that at every corner, almost literally, there is a piece of history. There may be a castle, a bridge, or the iconic red telephone booths and red buses.

Well, if you read that long and detailed review about my trip to London, thank you! Check out some of my pictures below.

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Big Ben

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Set Sail Philadelphia 2018 Officially Kicks Off With a Tall Ship Parade

Tall Ships

This past week, ships from all over the globe set sail in the Delaware river.  This marked the official start of Sail Philadelphia 2018, also referred to as the Tall Ship festival.  Thousands gathered on Thursday to watch a dozen of ships set sail in Philadelphia, PA’s iconic Penn’s Landing location.  Ships included in the nautical parade are from Bermuda, Portugal, and the US, with many of the ships being historic.  Close to a whopping 200,000 spectators are expected to gather at the event which will take place up until Memorial Day – Monday, May 28, 2018.  The ships will mostly remained docked and visitors will be able to take tours of the ships, which will cost upwards of $125 for cruises.  The event will also include a carnival, vendors, and family activities.

Click here for more information.

Single? Ready to Mingle? US Cities with the Most Singles.

Single Life

Looking for love?  Or, maybe you’re looking for something… quick – something that requires less of a long-term commitment. Whatever your “need”, there are plenty of cities in the US to fulfill it – unless you have had the privilege to find a Princess or Prince to marry.  A 2018 list has been published with the top US cities that have the largest single populations.

Full disclaimer:  The list is comprised of people that were never married, divorced, or widowed.  In addition, this doesn’t necessarily mean that the list contains only “single” people, for there is not a way to calculate whether people are dating or have some form of a commitment.  Nevertheless, the list doesn’t have any cities that you would expect, but sometimes we have to venture out to find what we are looking for, right?

  1. Ithaca, NY:  61.8% single, with a median income of $54,133.
  2. Bloomington, IN:  60.9% single, with a median income of $43,828
  3. Gainesville, FL:  60.7% single, with a median income of $44,337
  4. Lawrence, KS:  59.6% single, with a median income of $52,698
  5. Tallahassee, FL:  59.1% single, with a median income of $47,011
  6. State College, PA:  58.3% single, with a median income of $54,407
  7. Flagstaff, AZ:  58.2% single, with a median income of $51,106
  8. Athens Clark-County, GA:  58.2% single, with a median income of $40,955
  9. Ames, IA:  58.1% single, with a median income of $51, 201
  10. College Station-Bryan, TX:  58.1% single, with a median income of $42,948

Airlines That are Most Likely to Lose Your Luggage

Lost Luggage

As an avid traveler, one of my greatest fears is an airline losing my luggage; well, that and being kidnapped in another country (like seriously).  Nevertheless, I tend to pack heavily.  If you need tips on packing, checkout my piece on “Travel Bags”.  To lose my luggage would practically be to lose a great deal of my wardrobe altogether. I have yet to master the trick of fitting everything into a carryon, and I doubt that I ever will – unless I’m flying somewhere to stay for a night!

When it comes to checked bags, there are some airlines that are more likely to lose your baggage than others.  Statistically speaking, checked bags have a low chance of being lost.  On average, about three in 1,000 bags are lost.  However, with flights averaging almost 100,000 per day, that can add up.  Below is a list of airlines that statistics show are more likely to lose luggage.

  1. ExpressJet
  2. SkyWest
  3. Frontier
  4. Hawaiian
  5. American
  6. Southwest
  7. United
  8. Alaska
  9. JetBlue
  10. Spirit

Packers beware!

 

Where are My Party People at? Top Party Cities in the US.

No, really, where are the party people at?

Personally, when I visit places for extended periods, it is normally somewhere relaxing and toned-down, with the option to go out for a night out on the town.  In fact, once I get to my hotel, the first thing on my agenda is a nap!  And yes, I am a millennial – sighs.  I have a friend that I travel with, and he is the complete opposite.  Immediately after landing, he wants to get a drink, head to the bar, and find out about the hottest clubs around.

Well, if you aren’t the former, like me, but the latter, like my friend, we’ve found the top cities in the US for you to party.  The US cities listed have ranked at the top, consistently, when it comes to their party, bar, and nightlife industry, and have even won many awards.

Vegas, Baby! Las Vegas

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Of course, what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas!  Las Vegas has more to offer than just casinos.  They have a great nightlife as well.  Past awards for the nightclub and bar industry in the “hush” city include Beer Bar of the Year, Sports Bar of the Year, Quintessential Artist Lineup of the Year,  New Concept of the Year, and Unrivaled Panoramic Strip Spectacle of the Year.

Chi-Town!  Chicago

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Chicago, Illinois, unfortunately, has been known for its high crime rate, which has seen improvement in recent years.  However, The Windy City also has a great party scene. Past awards for Chi-Town’s industry include Beer Bar of the Year, Best of Big Six (six different big cities), and Lounge of the Year.

I’m in Miami, Bitch!  Miami

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Beautiful beaches, beautiful sunshine, and beautiful people; what more do you need to visit Miami, FL?  Cocktail Bar of the Year, Dance Club of the Year, Hotel Bar of the Year, and LGBTQ Venue of the year are all past awards given to Miami’s heated up party industry.

New York State of Mind!  New York

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The Big Apple is a melting pot when it comes to diversity.  It also is a must visit state due to its popular places, landmarks, and monuments such as Broadway, Times Squares, the Statue of Liberty, and 9/11 memorial.  However, you can also find a great nightlife.  Past awards include Speakeasy of the Year, Bartender of the Year, and Cocktail Bar of the Year.

The Bay! San Francisco

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Three things come to mind when you mention San Francisco:  The San Francisco Bridge, trolleys, and the steep winding roads; honorable mention:  Full House (TV show).  San Fran’ is also known for its great LGBTQ scene.  This California city has received more awards for their bar and nightclub industry than the City of Angles – Los Angeles. Past industry awards include Cocktail Bar of the Year, Bartender of the Year, and Dance Club of the Year.

HotLanta!  Atlanta

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Georgia’s capital city is known for its heated days, but heated nights are also a thing in Atlanta.  Atlanta’s party industry has received numerous awards including Speakeasy of the Year, Beer Bar of the Year, and Dive Bar of the year.  Eat a peach and head to a party while you’re in The A!

 

The Annual Chinese Lantern Festival

The Chinese Lantern Festival is back for its third year in Philadelphia, PA. The celebratory cultural festival is rooted in the Chinese traditional lantern festivals which are held in China. The festival has turned into a staple in only three short years, for it has become an event that people look forward to. There are 28 different displays composed of 1,500 lanterns and more than 15,000 LED lights. At night, the festival can illuminate the entire area!

Although it comes straight from Chinese tradition, the festival has so much more to offer as well aside from the large, luminescent, and awe-inspiring lanterns. The festival features a myriad of performances from acrobats, contortionist, jugglers, and more. Other activities include artists creating amazing works such as making flutes, crystal engraving, and even weaving with aluminum wires.  And, you cannot forget the drinks and food in the Dragon Beer Garden.

The festival is held from May 1st to June 30th. Tickets are $18 for adults, $15 for seniors and active military, and $12 for children ages 17 and under.

Click here to get more information and/or purchase tickets to the festival.

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Some of the Most Crowded Beaches in the US

Tis the season for beach bums! If you’re like me, there is nothing more relaxing, more refreshing, or more rejuvenating than lying on a beach with the rays of the sun casting upon your body as if they were a second layer of skin. That good ole vitamin D. However, also if you are like me, you can kind of do without the crowds. If you are planning a trip to the beach this Spring and Summer, there are a few beaches that you may want to avoid if you don’t enjoy large crowds.

South Beach, Florida

Admittedly, South Beach is actually my favorite beach. I visit all year round, but I tend to go more on off seasons. Miami has an average of 15 million visitors per year. Ocean Drive, Miami’s beachfront strip, has an abundance of bars, restaurants, live shows, and hotels, so it is no surprise that people flock to the beautiful beaches of Miami. Not to mention, there are sections of the beach that allows nudity or topless sunbathing. With all that it has to offer, expect a crowd on Miami beach.

South Beach Miami

Virginia Beach, Virginia

Also, with a whopping 15 million visitors each year, Virginia Beach is definitely one of the most visited beaches in the US. The beach is one that is family friendly and offers a variety of attractions, as well as a long stretch of boardwalk. The beach stretches 14 miles, so you may be able to find a less crowded area, but don’t get your hopes up.

Crowded Virginia Beach

Huntington Beach, California

California’s Huntington Beach is also one to avoid if you are not into big crowds. When you think of California beaches, you immediately think of surfing. That holds true for Huntington Beach. The beach does tend to draw more surfers, as it has nice and steady waves. Nevertheless, the beach also has 11 million visitors each year.

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Myrtle Beach, South Carolina

Who hasn’t been to or ever wanted to go to Myrtle Beach? The area offers many family friendly activities and attractions such as amusement parks, museums, and boat rides. However, it is also a haven for Spring break students and also has an annual Biker’s week. Myrtle Beach attracts and astounding 17 million visitors a year. So, fun, but crowded.

Myrtle Beach

Waikiki Beach, Hawaii

Located on the island of O’ahu in Honolulu, Hawaii’s Waikiki Beach is another major US beach that sees its fair share of crowds. I’ve been there. It is not necessarily over-crowded for any particular reasons such as attractions directly beachfront, but it is in Honolulu which draws over 7 million travelers each year. The island is also known for its high-end/luxury brand shopping and historic landmarks such as the Diamond Head Crater and Pearl Harbor.

Waikiki beach

Ocean City, Maryland

With an average of 8 million visitors a year, Ocean City, MD is known for being one of the most tourist-attracted beaches in the US. There are many family attractions such as water parks and amusement parks. There are also many bars, clubs, and restaurants. Maryland is known for its seafood, and Ocean City doesn’t fall short there either.

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Meet Winston & Churchill and Get Ready to Fall in Love!

If you are planning a trip to California anytime soon, and are a dog lover, you have to check-out the London West Hollywood at Beverly Hills Hotel (well, also if you have that kind of money to spend).  The luxury hotel has just welcomed two official mascots, Winston & Churchill – of course named after the iconic British Prime Minister.  They are bulldogs, and guests can mingle with them, take pictures, and hangout with them poolside!

Check-out some pics below.  Click here to go to the hotel’s website.

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Destinations: Cuba!

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Americans are finally allowed to travel to Cuba!  Well, not quite.  Cuba has always been a Caribbean island that I am fascinated with.  It is rich in culture, color, and history.  In 2014, after over a five decade ban on travel to Cuba (long story), former President, Barack Obama, largely lifted the ban to travel to Cuba.  Americans were able to travel to Cuba legally if their travel purpose fell within any of the 12 categories:

  1. Family travel
  2. Official government business
  3. Journalistic activity
  4. Professional research and meetings
  5. Educational activities
  6. Religious activities
  7. Public performances, clinics, workshops, exhibitions and athletic competitions
  8. Support for the Cuban people
  9. Humanitarian projects
  10. Activities of private foundations or research for educational institutes
  11. Exportation, importation, or transmission of information or informational materials
  12. Export

However, in 2017, the Trump Administration announced that it would be reversing those rules and almost completely restricting much of the travel to Cuba.  More recently, restricting the travel even further.

However, don’t count your dream vacation to Cuba out, yet. It is difficult, but not impossible.  The primary way to travel to Cuba is through the People-to-People travel rule.  Basically, under this category, travel must occur based on educational purposes.  Any American can legally travel to Cuba, but they must have a detailed schedule and provide proof of engagements within the country.  This does not need to be formal education, rather it can be general educational purposes, but it must be with a group, such as cruise lines, sponsoring organizations, or a university.

Below is a list of agencies and programs that can get you on your way.

http://www.cubaati.com/people-to-people-travel-packages/

https://globalvolunteers.org/cuba/

https://www.metmuseum.org/join-and-give/travel-with-the-met

https://www.ietravel.com/expedition/complete-cuba#overview

https://www.friendlyplanet.com/vacation-packages/caribbean/cuba.html

 

Travel Bags

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What type of bag do you use when you travel? Does it seem like you never have enough room? Do you feel like you always have too much room and are lugging a big duffle bag around? Well, we are here to help. The type of travel bag that you use doesn’t necessarily depend on your length of stay at your destination. In fact, some may argue, including myself, that your length of stay can have lesser impact than what you use for traveling.

Whether you pack too much, feel like you don’t have enough room, feel like you’re lugging a half-empty suitcase around, or unsure altogether, we’ve got you covered.

The “Overnight” Packer:
An overnight packer tends to pack an outfit or two, even if they are staying somewhere for a few days.  Maybe they don’t plan on going out much, or maybe they plan on washing and re-wearing (I’ve seen both). Whatever the instance, if you are a person that packs little to nothing, you do not need to travel with anything larger than a tote overnight bag.

Try this Nylon Tote bag from Banana Republic for $59.50

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The “Minimalist” Packer:
If you are a minimalist packer, you probably don’t need anything larger than a backpack. Hence the term “backpackers”. Those that backpack across countries, sometimes for weeks, pack only necessities or items that they know they can use more than once. Packing minimally is both convenient and practical. And, they can come in larger sizes to suit needs.

Try this Herschel Retreat Backpack from Herschel for $79.99

Herschel Backpack

The “Bulky” Packer:
Those who pack bulky items will be better suited to use a duffle bag. Sometimes it isn’t about packing a lot of things. You may be a person that likes to have both a denim jacket and sweater with you when you travel. In comparison, you may only have a select pair of jeans or shirts – the basics, to match. Duffle bags are great for packing bulkier items or just being able to “throw it in the bag” without worrying about the space.  They are also great for just throwing a bunch of items in a bag and just going.

Try this North Face Extra Large Duffel from Zappos for $168.95

Northface duffel

The “Options” Packer:
The options packer is better suited with luggage. I am guilty of being an options packer. I tend to pack at least three to four pair of shoes, multiple jackets, hats, and other accessories. If you are an options packer, it is more than likely that you will need a suitcase when you travel – especially if you are traveling out of the country. When traveling abroad, you tend to develop scenarios in your mind to justify why you are packing so many things. Guilty!

Try this Ted Baker suitcase from Nordstrom’s for $296.25

Ted Baker Suitcase