I SPY: NV - AZ - UT Road Trip

Jun 17, 2018

ARIZONA + UTAH: May 2018

What's worth two thousand four hundred twelve minutes and two hundred sixty eight miles?  Antelope Canyon and Horseshoe Bend!  What I thought only existed on a screensaver, is for real guys.  It's a bucket list experience.  Much like our epic trip in 2017 to Iceland was.



Do not let the 4+ hour drive turn you off.  It's a pretty drive surrounded by red rock.  Logistically it's also not as complicated as I thought.  The places we visited were all in the vicinity of Page, Arizona.  We flew into Vegas, drove to Page, and then flew back home from Phoenix, Arizona.  Vegas and Phoenix are about the same distance from Page, but I planned our drive that way so we saw different terrain instead of back tracking.

Take note we are lazy travelers, not over achievers, and I don't have the energy to push my kids to be out and about all day.  So we accomplished one activity a day, that really only lasts a couple of hours, and the rest of our time was chilling by the pool.  BUT what we did in three days you could actually do in one day!  There are tour buses leaving from Vegas that do the whole package in less then 24 hours.  Option if your pressed for time.  Although I wouldn't recommend making this a rush trip.  It's too beautiful to not have the time to soak it in and savor.

SEE + DO

Day 1:
- Drive 4.5 hours Las Vegas, NV to Page, AZ
- Stop at halfway point in St George for lunch
- Sunset at Horseshoe Bend





Day 2:
- Upper Antelope Canyon.  Tours must be reserved ahead.  Nobody is allowed in without a permit, so you must have a guide escort you in.  We booked our tour with AACPT Reserve. Small groups, knowledgable guides, who also teach you how to take the best pics with your phone or camera!






Day 3:
- Lake Powell.  Hike, swim, rent a boat, paddle board, kayak, picnic.  Endless activities to do.





Day 4:
- Chilled at Amangiri resort the whole day.  You pay the price for that luxury, you better sit back and enjoy every penny!  HA.  This is not open to the public.  We were guests so had full access.  But if you don't stay there, maybe you can get in by booking a spa appointment, or reserving a table for a meal?  Worth the try!





Day 5:
- Drove 4.5 hours straight to Phoenix, AZ to catch our flight home.  Got our In-N-Out burger fix along the way.  Somewhere close to the airport!

SLEEP

There are a variety of low budget options, ranging from motels to mid range, and only one super luxe resort near by that nothing else can compare to…the Amangiri.



COURTYARD PAGE:
Run by the Marriott.  We stayed here for the majority of our trip. Great location, close to all the sights.  Pool and hot tub.  Basic but clean, and friendly staff.
www.marriott.com/page



AMANGIRI:
Super luxe, super expensive, and super gorgeous!  If you want to experience what it's like to be a Kardashian then stay here!  Surrounded by 600 acres, with amazing views from every window, impeccable service, all inclusive, great food, drinks, and a pool like no other.  Kids really had no business staying here, and I don't recommend it for young kids!  But we were only here one night. It was heaven.
https://www.aman.com/resorts/amangiri



TIPS

- If you have more time to explore the area, check out Bryce Canyon, Grand Canyon, Monument Valley, Zion National Park and Sedona, where I went in 2015 and got buttered up for five days!
- Bring a real camera to take quality photos.  I regret not doing so.
- If you have a drone and selfie stick, pack that too.  The one time I wish I had those two gadgets, even though I refuse to purchase them, because I think they're so annoying when I see others using them!
- A hat and bandana are useful when down in the slot canyon.  Dust is falling, and I came out with red dust all over, and a cough that lasted for days.
- Sunblock and water on you at all times…duh!
- An old school watch.  Page, AZ is located so close to the Utah boarder that when driving around and visiting the sights you will suddenly gain an hour or loose an hour, and it got me totally confused because I was going by the time on my phone, which was automatically switching back and forth.  But really everyone in that area is set on Arizona time no matter where they are situated.  It would of been handy to have a watch set to Arizona time to follow to avoid the confusion.
- Weather in May was perfect.  Warm during the day, and in morning and night dropped to 60's.  But I've heard in summer it gets unbearably hot, and in winter can get extremely cold.  Check the weather before you go and dress accordingly knowing that you will be outdoors a lot.

Sold?  This is America!!!  We travel often.  Guilty to say not in America.  But see what I missed?  Taught me not to be a snob about my own country!  More travels to come this summer 2018.  Stay tuned to she.is.never.home on Instagram, where I post regularly on the road.  Or else wait for the full low down when I return in Fall.

Happy Summer everyone! xox

I SPY: Puerto Rico

Feb 28, 2018

San Juan, P.R: February, 2018

Who is the mistreated child in America?  After Hurricane Maria and Irma hit in September 2018, it was clearly obvious Puerto Rico is treated as the second class citizen.  It was appalling to watch the after math, and how poorly Washington handled the situation.  Even more so when you saw weeks on end for months with power not fully restored to the island.  Worst then a third world country!

Since the devastation of the hurricanes we have been pouring efforts into helping send aid to Puerto Rico.  In collaboration with my sons school we assisted www.afyafoundation.org, supported numerous art events in NYC, and our trip last week was to see for ourselves how the island has re-built itself five months after the worst hurricane in history to strike Puerto Rico.



For the most part the island is back up and running.  Further in land and in the mountainous areas I've been told that they are still without power and water.  But for us tourist, I vouch that the main spots in San Juan and within the vicinity are back in business.  A few hotels and tourist attractions are still closed off though, such as El Yunque rainforest.  Even so, there is still plenty to do in Puerto Rico, and I urge anyone who needs a quick escape to sun, sand and water to make a trip to the island.  Your tourist dollars will help support local businesses, and will make a difference in bringing the island back to recovery.  If you do go, consider bringing an extra bag of clothes to donate to the Salvation Army in San Juan.  Summer clothes only, if that isn't obvious!

SEE + DO

CASTILLO SAN FELIPE DEL MORRO:
A 16th century UNESCO World Heritage Site.  I'm going to be honest, the fort was nothing noteworthy that you need to pay $7 to go inside. Save your money and have a mojito after your walk instead!  However, you should still visit because the grounds were sprawling, and from there you can still catch the amazing ocean views, and snap great photos of the architecture, and the cemetery next door to it, without going inside the fort.




ISLA VERDE:
With close to 300 beaches on the island, I had no clue which to choose!  I kept asking all my Uber drivers which beach they as locals thought were the most beautiful.  General consensus was Luquillo.  An hour away from San Juan, with water that looked crystal blue and magical on Instagram.  But when I further researched…the beaches in that area were still closed for clean up from the hurricanes.  BUMMER.




But the next go to was this…Isla Verde.  A closer hop.  15 minutes from our hotel in Condado, to a very clean beach, with water sports available, chairs and umbrellas to rent for $4, and El Alambique a beach front bar and restaurant across the street where you can conveniently get drinks, food, and use their potty.  Ended up being a win!

LA PERLA:
This is the location where the hit song music video Despacito was shot.  It is the barrio.  Ghetto.  Known to be the home of the drug lords. A.K.A dangerous, and many advised me to steer clear of it.  But I couldn't! Walking along the old city wall of old San Juan that overlooks the Atlantic Ocean we saw a side of La Perla thats colors struck me.  From the roadside you can peek down into the community.  Looked very much like a favela in Rio.  Kids were dying for a drink, saw a small shop at the front of the entrance so ventured in to buy a drink.  We ended up staying to finish our drink, and had a nice chat with the shop keeper about the damage La Perla incurred from the hurricane.  Found out they were hit badly, being so close to the water.  Didn't venture in deep enough to see the destruction.  Didn't feel right to be too intrusive and didn't want anyone feeling like they were under surveillance.  Even though they had some good street art on their walls which I really wanted to explore and see, but stopped myself to respect their privacy!  Anyways, be cautious and enter at your own risk.





OLD SAN JUAN:
Grab a map from your hotel concierge or the tourist information booth in the main plaza, and walk the cobblestone streets of this neighborhood.  My favorite area!  All the colorful buildings and colonial architecture reminds me of Havana, Cuba and Cartagena, Colombia.




RIO CAMUY CAVES:
Also known as the Angels Cave.  I was so ready to do this hike for the views.  Until I found out there are bats in the cave!  That completely ruined it for me!  I unfortunately wimped out and couldn't bring myself to be brave enough to go.  After last summer when we had a bat in our house, I am completely terrified of bats, and this trip was not the time to test my fears with kids in tow!  HA. But please go on my behalf.  Doesn't it look amazing?

Photo Credit: www.puertoricogetaways.com
SANTURCE:
Miami has Wynwood, and San Juan has Santurce!  If you love street art you will want to explore this neighborhood.  A few minutes after this photo it started pouring!  Unlucky us did not get to explore the area by foot.  But I saw a lot of great eye candy from our Uber heading back to our hotel.  There isn't a main street filled with street art to direct you too.  The walls are scattered around, so best to explore by foot.



VOLUNTEER:
Besides hitting the casino to take a break from the sun, or on a rainy day, how about you volunteer?  We were scheduled to help out at the food bank on our last day, but had to cancel due to my sons allergy break out.  However, I want to pass along the information in case your interested, because they can always use extra hands. Banco de Alimentos de Puerto Rico food bank is open Monday to Friday from 8am - 4pm.  You can assist them in packing boxes of items that will be delivered to different neighborhoods in need.  Kids are welcome.  Long pants and closed toe shoes are required.  Contact Valerie Martinez, T: (787) 640.8633 to sign up.

Banco de Alimentos de Puerto Rico
PR - 865
Bayamon, PR 00959

EAT

As you know, I am the type who plans life around her meals!  However we had a hiccup this trip that ended us making a trip to the ER.  My lil' guy had an allergic reaction to something thats still a mystery, and I couldn't risk another episode.  So we ate clean for the most part, and that wasn't very fun or noteworthy, but at least safe.  But I do have these two recommendations you must try for Puerto Rican food.

JOSE ENRIQUE:
Located in Santurce.  This is the first Puerto Rican chef to win a James Beard award.  Trust me it tasted that way!  We had the bisteak, beef stew, and branzino.  Everything was delicious.  Hands down our best meal there.  No reservations.  Walk ins only.  So go early for lunch or dinner because it does get crowded!





La Placita
Duffaut St. 176
San Juan, PR

PATIO DEL NISPERO:
Dining el fresco in the Hotel El Convento hotel was charming.  The food was equally as good.  And this paella type dish they call 'Surf & Turf' is reason why I'm going back, until I can figure out how to make it myself!  Shrimp, sausage, and plantains over rice.  A perfect recipe.



Hotel El Convento
100 Cristo Street
Old San Juan, PR 00901

SLEEP

CONDADO VANDERBILT:
We stayed here in the Condado area.  There were plenty of bars, restaurants, and hotels along the strip, and it was a very safe area and well lit to walk around at all times of the day.  But when you have a Walgreens, and Starbucks a few doors down from you it felt very commercial.  Even though that 24 hours Walgreens was a blessing in disguise when I had to fill a midnight run prescription for my son!  However, this hotel was appropriate for the kids, with a casual atmosphere, big pool, rooms with kitchenettes, direct access to a beach, and their infinity pool was pretty sweet.  The staff was helpful, the shrimp tacos at their restaurant Tacos & Tequila were super yummy, even though service was a tad slow, but I think that's island life in general!



Condado Vanderbilt
1055 Ashford Avenue
San Juan, PR 00907
T: (787) 721.5500
www.condadovanderbilt.com

HOTEL EL CONVENTO:
This boutique hotel was cute.  This is where I would have preferred to stay.  It is a preserved historic hotel.  Something quaint, full of character and set in Old San Juan.  But not with the kids!  HA.



Hotel El Convento
100 Cristo Street
Old San Juan, PR 00901
T: (787) 723.9020
www.elconvento.com

TIPS

* Uber is cheaper then taxi's.  However, Uber cars are not allowed to pick you up at the airport.  Also Uber's are not allowed to pick you up from hotels.  So, you just meet them on the street outside your hotel instead. Drop off is ok.

* Wear sunscreen, and re-apply religiously every hour, all over your body!  I do not burn easily.  But at the end of our two hour walking tour around Old San Juan my shoulders looked like lobsters!



You ready to show some love to Puerto Rico?  Take advantage of the discounted room rates, flights and beautiful sparse beaches due to low tourism.  Before you know it prices will shoot back up again.  And please erase the notion that Puerto Rico is dangerous.  Or rather, don't let that stop you from visiting.  NYC is dangerous too!  So if you wish to only hang out around Fifth Avenue when in NYC, then do what's comfortable for you.  But be known you can also play it safe in Puerto Rico too…or anywhere else for that matter.  Just go and see for yourself.  The best is you be your own judge and not listen to fake news.

I SPY: Fifty Shades Of Green

Feb 1, 2018

Your expecting a travel update aren't you?  I don't have one!  Believe it or not I've been home, buried in snow, the deep freeze, sudden spurts of 50F degree weather, and the flu virus circling around me for the last month.  But today was the real poison on the cake…I found out I am a victim of identity theft!  WTF?!?



Popped into the bank today to withdraw money from the ATM, inserted my card into the machine, and the message said card not valid.  Strange.  Walked over to the teller, she pulled up my account and found out it has been deactivated.  Hmmm???

After further investigation of why and how my account got frozen, I found out a lady had walked into a bank attempting to withdraw $5000 from my account with a out of state drivers license that matched my personal info, a Discover card in my name, and knew my Social Security number.  Holy Sh*t!  Hearing a 5'0 ft, Hispanic woman, with long brown hair is walking around as me, has me feeling fifty shades of green.  Thankfully the teller picked up on a bad vibe, this crook was unsuccessful, and they were all fake cards.  But still…she has my SSN. Not good.

A police report has been filed, credit bureaus have been contacted, and I have signed up for LifeLock.  Heard of them?  Look into it and consider signing up.  There is a monthly fee to get alerts for any accounts being opened with your SSN, along with monthly credit reports and other safety nets.  There is so much fraud happening these days, mainly on the dark web, which is inevitable, and you never think it will happen to you, but when it does your screwed!  Crazy thing is this just also happened to my sitters son and father.  Please protect yourself, and be diligent about shredding your bills and paperwork.  Especially during tax season.

Goodnight xx

PS. Next month…a post from blue skies, palm trees, and calmer waters!

I SPY: Atlanta

Jan 2, 2018

ATLANTA, GA: December, 2017

Happy 2K18! Partied out? 'Tis the season to recuperate now. I couldn't wait and took a mental break mid holidays for a few days. Escaped to Atlanta, to get some breathing space! Self love! Why Atlanta? Because there is so much street art to feast on, along with enough BBQ and taco trucks to fill my belly. It was a perfect trip to nourish my soul. If your ever in Atlanta, cruise and hit these sweet spots.



WALLS

Not as much street art as Philly, but seemed more then NYC. Definitely a chock-a-block full of eye candy you'll find. Couldn't stop to take photos of everything, with out cheesing off drivers behind me! But here are a few of my faves and locations if you want to hunt them down. If you want more do the Outerspace mural map tour at your own pace. Buckle up and enjoy the ride!

Artist: Greg Mike
πŸ“76 4th Street NW



Artist: Jerkface
πŸ“1079 Euclid Avenue NE



Artist: YoYo Ferro
πŸ“649 Reed Street SE



Artist: 3TTMAN
πŸ“Fraser Street SE / Georgia Avenue SE



Artist: Big Teeff
πŸ“Spot for Dogs - 750 Ponce De Leon Place NE



Artist: YoYo Ferro
πŸ“1438 GA - 9



EAT

Heirloom Market BBQ:
πŸ“2243 Akers Mill Road



Tried a few BBQ spots. But this one won! Maybe because it was a tad different then the regular BBQ I'm use too. Heirloom Market is Korean inspired Southern 'cue, with traditional or Korean sides, such as kimchi. It was worth the wait!

Home Grown:
πŸ“968 Memorial Drive SE



This is THE breakfast spot! Diner setting where chicken, biscuits and gravy are a must.

Yumbii:
πŸ“1927 Peachtree Road NE



A food truck turned restaurant now! Thats how successful they were on the road!! Another fusion Mexican Asian inspired taco and rice bowl menu. It's the sauces that make a difference, and the siracha queso with a kick. Try it with fries!

Blaxican:
πŸ“Food truck locations change daily. Check their website: www.blaxicanfood.com



First time for everything! Soul food Mexican fusion. The collard greens quesadilla was yummy. Que pasa y'all? Their slogan cracks me up! Had to get a t-shirt with it printed on to remember.

SLEEP
πŸ“W Atlanta Midtown - 188 14th Street NE

Stayed at the W hotel midtown. The neighborhood was ok. Close to everywhere I was driving too. However a little too quiet for me though. I think I would've preferred to stay around Little Five Points area. That hood felt like the village in NYC. Eclectic, walkable, and interesting. But otherwise the W hotel was dog friendly, clean, decent service, and I've got no complaints.



SPA
πŸ“Bliss Spa - 188 14th Street NE

Treat yo' self. There was a Bliss spa in my hotel. It was screaming my name! So I got a 100 minute deep tissue massage. Prices are cheaper then NYC, and service was just as good. Book it!



What else is there to do in Atlanta? Quite a bit actually! It is becoming one of those buzz artsy city's with an emergence of Hollywood flair, big on the music scene. Yes I must do more research next time if I have more days to spare. Otherwise fill me in…and I'm not interested in the aquarium unless the kiddos are with me! HA.
i * SPY CANDY. All rights reserved. © Maira Gall.