Eating Our Hearts Out in Italy (Eat-aly)

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Sweet: There’s nothing better than sharing something you love with someone; a moment, a place, a taste, or an experience! This was my second trip to Italy, and I have shared my last trip, but this time traveling to Lake Como  was special, because I was able to share it with my husband.

Sour: Driving into Italy over the alpine mountains from Austria was a journey! We were with my wife’s family, which meant our group of six was squeezed into a small European SUV like sardines. Our first stop across the Italian border was in Bolzano. I enjoyed the old city square, where there was entertainment and a more diverse population. Here I had my first taste of Italian pasta and gelato. I enjoyed it, but realized that I had eaten pasta equally as good and better back home; good thing this was the first stop…It can only get better from here!

Sweet: Within four hours from Bolzano we arrived at our destination, Bellagio. The weather called for showers, but that didn’t stop us from grabbing an umbrella and exploring charming pathways.

Sour: The road into Bellagio is not for the faint of heart; it’s narrow and curvy with many local drivers who don’t seem to mind. Take a boat, hire a driver, or ride the bus because this road is treacherous.

Sweet: Bellagio is full of steps lined with shops and restaurants. Surprisingly, many Italian goods here are rather affordable.

Sour: Our first dinner in Bellagio at Ristorante Bilacus was everything I had hoped for. I could smell the wonderful aroma as soon as we entered through the door. This was my favorite meal in Italy and I would definitely go back.

Sweet: The sporadic showers inclined us to find warm, covered hideaways, but it didn’t put a damper on our days, and made our time together even more romantic.

img_7819Sour: Although warm, clear weather would have been preferred, the hotel we stayed at, Hotel du Lacprovided umbrellas. There was still plenty of activites to enjoy. We took a nice boat ride in the rain that passed by several magnificent villas including Villa del Balbianello featured in Casino Royale, and Richard Branson’s Lake Como villa

 

The video below shows Villa del Balbienello-

Sweet: This is truly a place where eating is the main event. Ristorante Terrazza Barchetta is a place of true hospitality. The delightful staff poured complimentary prosecco and brought us antipasto. Our meal was enjoyed slowly and each bite was savored.

Sour: I ordered the carbonara to compare it to how it back home. Here I think ordered the wrong thing from a great restaurant. Everyone else’s dinner was delicious.

Sweet: From Bellagio, you can catch a ferry to other villages on the lake. The ferries are all different sizes and some are for passengers, while others have ample space for cars as well. It’s only about a ten to fifteen minute ride across, but the view is nice from the seating areas.

The video below shows our departure from Bellagio, and shows the beautiful shoreline of this iconic place.

Sweet: The ferry timetables can be tricky to read, but they are easy to find online. It’s also easy to ask questions at the ticket counter as almost everyone speaks English. We rode the ferry to Varenna; a postcard worthy village equally as charming but smaller than Bellagio.

Sour: While the ferry was convenient, it was not cheap, so if you are planning on crossing the lake to just grab dinner you won’t be getting your money’s worth. Do take the ferry, but stay at the destination longer to get a better value.

The video below shows the ferry arriving in Varenna-

Sweet: From the ferry landing in Varenna it’s a two-minute stroll down Lover’s Lane, or Lover’s Walk to the central part of the village.The stairs in Varenna are steeper than in Bellagio, so you have to be careful on the way down after a few glasses of wine.

Sour: My wife insisted on dining at the famed La Vista restaurant within Hotel Albergo Milano, where the owner greets you as if you are a family member. Should we come back to Lake Como, this inn would be a delightful place to stay.

Sour: It was dark by the time we finished our dinner and I managed to drop my umbrella into the lake while taking a picture along Lover’s Lane. I was sad…it was a nice umbrella, the pictures below will be memories of my loss.

Sweet: There are so many wonderful places in Italy to visit, and I can’t wait for our return. If you are considering a visit to the Lake Como area then expect to be in for an adventure. There are so many restaurants, beautiful villas, 5 star hotels, small inns, wine cellars, and boutiques selling everything from leather goods, shoes, ceramics, cashmere, olive oil, toys, and more.

Sour: I had my first taste of Italy, and realize that it was only a small slice of the pizza pie called Italy (insert Italian accent). I especially look forward to visiting the Mediterranean coast of Italy. Leaving was bittersweet, as we headed out of the province of Como and back up into the Italian Alps on our way to Switzerland and eventually back home.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dream no Further than Dreams Los Cabos

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Sour: My wife and I booked a three night mini-moon to Cabo San Lucas shortly after our wedding weekend. Arriving at the airport in Cabo is always a little hectic; timeshare representatives and private drivers are eager to have the chance to sell you on a “deal”. We kept walking and made it out to the Apple Vacations representatives, who after 20 minutes led us to the shuttle that was included in our package. From there, it was a quick 15 minute drive to our Dreams resort.

Sweet: Cabo was an easy choice for us, flight time is a quick two hours from Los Angeles and this beach side paradise offers something for everyone. Last year, we enjoyed ourselves so much at the adults only Secrets Puerto Los Cabos that we decided to give another brand from the AMResorts collection a try. We booked the sister property Dreams which features an Unlimited-Luxury® program that included unlimited dining, top-shelf beverages, 24/7 room service, and numerous activities such as movie nights, pirate shows, dance lessons, yoga and more!

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Sour: While Dreams is romantic, and the rooms are all suites, there are children allowed at the resort making for a mixed environment of family vacationers, wedding parties, and couples too. This is an exceptional place for families to stay, but for couples only I would more so recommend an adults only resort such as Secrets. I enjoyed the extra-large rain shower in our bathroom, but would have also liked to have a soaking tub available.

Sweet: Similar to Secrets, the food was a big highlight with quality, freshness, and service above most all-inclusive resorts. Restaurants consisted of Italian, French, Mexican, seafood, a snack and coffee bar, and the buffet. The option of ordering room service 24 hours a day was also very fun.

Sour: My wife and I are not the biggest eaters, but we thoroughly enjoyed our dining experiences. The giant quesadilla, ceviche and chilaquiles are fun Mexican classics, and I was also very impressed by the duck, filet, and the seafood pasta. We were fortunate to visit during the off-season with fewer guests; meaning no lines at the restaurants, and only occasional crowding at the large main pool. I’m glad that my wife encouraged me to pack long khaki pants, because some of the restaurants had a dress code.

Sweet: The main infinity pool provided a beautiful view to the beach and ocean, a water slide that dropped down to a small children’s pool, and a large Jacuzzi. The main pool was the spot to be! Here, guests enjoyed music, endless cocktails at the swim up bar and loungers, and lunch under an umbrella.

Sour: I preferred the large adults only pool that was more serene with fewer guests. The beach in front of the Dreams resort is not swimmable, but still offers plenty of relaxation. Taking a walk sounded like a good idea, but the sun in Cabo is strong and was almost too much to handle. By the time we finished our walk, we were starting to turn red and needed to cool down quickly. There were local vendors walking by with horses, but the scorching temperatures seemed unpleasant for this and many other outdoor activities.

Sweet: Laying on a lounge chaise under an umbrella, and sipping on a Miami Vice after a cool dip in the pool really helped us cool down after our 30 minute beach walk. Service was quick with a smile everywhere on the resort grounds.

Sour: A four to five night stay would have helped me to feel more relaxed, but it was still worth the trip for three nights. While Secrets is more our style –  for just the two of us, this upscale resort was more than enjoyable. Next time we consider a trip to Mexico, we will look into other AMResort properties, such as the modern and chic adults only Breathless.

Sweet: If you are looking for the best place to spend a family holiday, then dream no further…Dreams Los Cabos Suites Golf Resort and Spa will is a guaranteed crowd-pleaser! With such little time and quick sunburns, we didn’t get the chance to experience the spa or take in close-by excursions. but, we are  still dreaming about our mini-moon and looking forward to the next dream…whatever that may be.

“There are some people who live in a dream world, and there are some who face reality; and then there are those who turn one into the other.”

– Douglas H. Everett

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Culture with Affordability in Prague

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Prague is one of the stunning yet affordable places left in Europe to visit. Most 4 star hotels run about $100 per night, and 5 star hotels can sometimes be found under $200 a night. Eating out is also very cheap. Word has gotten out about Prague so you may have to share it with the world, but, it is definitely worth a visit! For about $200 per night we stayed at the Old Town Square Hotel, which featured large rooms with soaking tubs and daily in room breakfast.

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A climb up the clock tower in Old Town Square is about as picturesque a view as you will find anywhere. Red tile roofs, medieval towers, and Gothic church spire views make many of the 10 districts of this city feel as if you are stepping back into an old story book.

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Old Town Square houses the Prague astronomical clockChurch of Our Lady Before Týn and St. Nicholas Church. Cobble stone lanes will take you across across the Vltava River by Charles Bridge and beyond to the Prague Castle.

 

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Along the way, it’s obligatory to stop for a Trdelník,  a warm long flaky cylinder donut covered in sugar and filled with nutella and ice cream.

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Eating in Prague is both affordable and exceptional! Homemade goulash, ribs, and sausages are local staples, and restaurants like Mlejnice offer some of the best of these savory comfort foods. Here, our bill for a party of six with multiple rounds of Czech beer totaled about $70 USD.

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If fine dining is more your style, Terasa U Zlate, located just underneath the Prague Castle has been awarded best Czech restaurant multiple times and is notably named in the Michelin guide. With an unbeatable view and first class service, this terrace restaurant doesn’t disappoint.

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Prague is easy to get around. On top of multiple easy methods of public transportation of subways, trams and buses,the tourist areas are compact and walking is fairly easy. If you get off the main streets by just a block or two, you will find the locals, and the food will be better and even less expensive too.

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Prague holds a medieval charm, and yet a sense of its darker past can still be felt. While it feels touristy and Disney like, there are still beggars, pick pocketing and problems that most major cities face.

During Wold War II, Hitler wanted to keep Prague beautiful and intact, with the thought that one day it could become the jewel of Nazi Europe. Only bombed in error by the US as a navigation mistake, but not as badly hit as many other other European nations, Prague has faced its share of hard times. It’s people were suppressed under soviet communism, but rallied together in Wenceslas Square, ending the communism monopoly in 1989. The original country of Czechoslovakia later split after damaged relations. Now Prague is home to the largest immigrant population in the  Czech Republic, and is feeling more diverse than ever.

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IMG_7010There is so much history to be discovered in Prague. My favorite stop  was at the gorgeous baroque Klementinum Library, named the world’s most beautiful library. 

The Clementinum complex also holds an astronomical tower offering another place to find a breathtaking view.

Prague takes time to get to know. There are more bridges to cross than the famous Charles Bridge.

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After two visits, I still have much more to see and learn. If you find Prague to be fascinating, beautiful, or interesting, visit and see for yourself a piece of this amazing, one of a kind city.

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Reminiscing of Portofino

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IMG_5398I’ve never visited a more charming and picturesque location as Portofino. This once fishing village turned celebrity and tourism hot spot is home to just 493 people, making it a hard place to find a hotel. My parents and I stayed in Santa Margherita Ligure, a great seaside town only 3 miles away. Getting to Portofino was half of the fun; we came in by foot, by bus, and by boat. Portofino is a destination all in itself, but is conveniently close to Cinque Terre, and the French Riviera.

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Day 1: Walking to Portofino

Walking to Portofino is free, and allows you stop anywhere along the way. It also gives you the option of hiking over a hill on a trail for the last half of the hike. The downside is that the road is narrow, and caution has to be used.

  

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IMG_5411I stopped in Parragi for a dip in the Mediterranean at Bagni Fiore, where I paid about $20 Euros for a towel, showers, service, and a lounge chair. In my opinion, its totally worth the money to have the perfect set up and snacking accessibility at your fingertips. I only stayed for a few hours because there was so much more that I wanted to experience!

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IMG_5577The hue of the water here is a perfect shade of teal, making for postcard worthy views everywhere you look. Local men swim in their underwear, and older ladies ride Italian mopeds. Locals offer up free rides to young ladies, but I wouldn’t suggest this…

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We enjoyed lunch at Ristorante Ö Magazín; the perfect place to sit along the harbor with a glass of wine, followed by a gelato (or two). After lunch we explored the hillside, and hiked up to Castello Brown,  a fortress built in the 1500’s, which offers the best view of the harbor below.

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Villas with cypress trees and terraced gardens are sprinkled throughout the hillside, and there is no doubt that living here would be anything shy of extraordinary.

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Day 2: Taking the Ferry

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For about $10 Euros round trip, we  boarded the passenger ferry from Santa Margarita Liguere (shown above) to Portofino and enjoyed the view from the sea for the 15 minute duration of the trip. We passed by cruise ships, and yachts of all proportions, including The World. Boats of all sizes were moored in the beautiful marina, where getting one of the 14 berths costs upward of $3,000/night. The good news is that you don’t have to be rich to enjoy Portofino! The people are friendly, and the service is warm.

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We splurged for lunch at the hillside jewel of Portofino, Hotel Splendido, which offers luxurious accommodations with a unique hilltop view of the bay. The infinity pool and relaxing terraces make this the ultimate Portofino getaway, but if you are not able to stay here, at least stop for lunch and try the home made pasta with pesto, a local staple.

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Day Three: Taking the Bus

You may want to leave it to the Italians to drive into Portofino…the one road in is not for the faint of heart! With only enough room for only one car (or moped) at at time, the local drivers give a friendly honk to let others know their presence. Like the ferry, the bus also takes only 15 minutes, and drops you off right in town. The $4 Euro round trip cost is cheap, and feels like a bit of a thrill ride.

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Portofino can be as relaxed or as adventurous as you like. The day can be spent swimming, sitting, meandering, visiting cathedrals, dining, or shopping at stylish boutiques or high end fashion houses. Fresh seafood is brought off the boats, and artist can be found painting images of the local scenery.

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I’m so grateful that I was able to tag along with my parents, and enjoy the beautiful Italian Riviera. If you are planning a trip to Italy, I would highly recommend a stop in Portofino.

 

~A Sweet Only Review

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hong Kong – Gateway to the West

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Sweet: Hong Kong’s skyline shows that this is one of the most densely populated cities in the world. I couldn’t help but wonder, where are all these people from, and what do they do here? The people here are primarily Chinese from Guangdong, and speak Cantonese and English in this east meets west city.

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Sour: People from Hong Kong regard themselves differently than people from Mainland China, or “Mainlanders”. Due to a relaxed visa policy, many expats live in Hong Kong, and a growing number of wealthy and middle-class Mainlanders have been flooding into Hong Kong, sometimes causing tension and resentment from Hong Kongers. The gap between rich and poor in Hong Kong is very evident, and many of the poorer immigrant Filipinos and Indonesians workers generally find jobs servicing the upper class.

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Sweet: There are numerous easy ways to get around Hong Kong. The MTR mass transit is very efficient, and offers a high speed train from Central HK to the airport.

Sour: Taxi cabs are plentiful and inexpensive, but the body styles are very outdated, as if they had come straight from the 80’s. There are also ferries that will take you across Victoria Harbour, the most popular and economical at $2.50, being the Star Ferry.

Sour: While walking around the surrounding buildings, we often felt drops of mystery fluid. The drip is likely from the air conditioning units that hang outside of the windows.
Sweet: Hong Kong is easy to explore on foot. There are many markets to see, Jade market, Ladies Market, Temple Street, the Flower and the Bird markets.

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Sour: We visited friends living in the lower peak area, and enjoyed the view from their patio. The winding streets along the lower peak can be confusing, but fortunately my friends had a knowledgeable driver who was able to drop us off at the Peak Tram station to get to the famous Victoria Peak.

Sweet: A trip up to Victoria Peak offers an iconic view of Hong Kong! We rode the Peak Tram up to the plateau, and at the top we were awed by view of skyscrapers that captured the horizon.
Sour: The air in Hong Kong was hot and smoggy. I enjoyed a break from the heat and humidity in the comfort of the mall’s air conditioning!

Sweet: The Mong Kok MTR station was full of people, and when we emerged, we saw how a large percentage of the population lives, stacked above each other in small modest units.
Sour: Here we visited the Ladies Market, a row of connected walking streets where vendors sell everything from knock off designer bags, to clothing, and iPhone cases. We took a lap down its humid street, and practiced bargaining for things we were interested in buying. On the walk back up the street we knew what the best prices were, and made our purchases.

Sweet: There are many places to spend money in Hong Kong! The popular malls are Landmark, Times Square, Harbour City, and Fashion Walk in Causeway Bay. Malls aren’t places to bargain, but there are an abundance of street markets, mini malls, and night markets for finding a good deal.


Sour: The best Chinese dinner was at a great restaurant, Mott 32. The Barbecue Prime Iberico Pork with Yellow Mountain Honey may have been the best thing I’ve ever eaten.

Sweet: You can find a diverse array of food in Hong Kong. The local food in Hong Kong was good, but it can be weird, and some of it takes an adventurous palate. Dried seafood is a common commodity in stores, along with dried fruits and nuts. Over in Sheung Wan, there is a district of stores selling birds nest and shark fin.

 

IMG_8371Sour: My local friend also brought us to Fu Sing, a Michelin starred dim sum restaurant located in Causeway Bay. My girlfriend enjoyed the deep fried diced tofu, and said that the consistency was like a soft cheese. We ordered common dim sum dishes, like siumai, har gow, and char sui bao. In Chinese restaurants the wait staff generally leaves you alone, so you just have to flag them down when you need anything.

 
Sweet: We also had dim sum at a local place, Luk Yu Tea House, which felt as if time had stood still. While visiting other restaurants, I was surprised to see the infiltration of sweet and sour dishes in Hong Kong. Japanese food is a favorite cuisine among Hong Kongers, and we went out of our way to eat at  a hole in the wall that my friend had just visited, a small stand in Tsim Sha Tsui selling the freshest hand rolls.

Sweet: For twilight drinks, we visited Sevva, a restaurant and trendy rooftop lounge in Central where business people and expats chat over a glass of wine, and take in the views of the surrounding financial district.

Sweet: My favorite area to wander around was the Mid-Levels. We rode the escalators up and stopped for an ice cream break at Honey Creme. Many westerners have set up shop, and live in this area. While locals are primarily friendly, sometimes  westerners can still face resentment by locals.

Sour:  I enjoyed visiting Hong Kong; but to me, the best part of being in this city was meeting up with friends who have helped me reflect upon myself and my place in the world.

Sweet: There are many places in Hong Kong that I would still like to see, so I look forward to a return trip, and to take in more of everything that Hong Kong has to offer.

 

 

 

Bali – The Feeling of Adventure

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Sweet: Bali has it all; fantastic resorts, warm weather, affordable villas, massages, and food. After a short six night stay – all I know is that we want to go back, and that there is so much more to see!

Sour: We stayed at three resorts for two nights each, which doesn’t leave very much time to enjoy the property with its amenities, and to experience the areas nearby.

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Sweet: The villas’ and mega-resorts’ grounds were perfectly manicured, and swimming pools in abundance. We enjoyed numerous long massages, and ate like kings. Our first stay was in Nusa Dua at Amarterra Villas, where we had a pool villa that was only a two minute walk to a groomed white sand beach.

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Sour: Each morning at Amarterra we heard the staff ringing room service bells to the villas. I didn’t mind though, because that also meant that our breakfast was on its way too. Western and Balinese breakfasts were served with fruit, coffee, juices, breads, and cheese.

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Sour: Our first dinner in Nusa Dua at Bumbu Bali was incredible! We ordered the rijsttafel, consisting of several flavorful side dishes. We didn’t make a reservation, and they were very busy. Luckily we were able to get into a second location down the street.

Sweet: I loved the variety of satay, beef rendang, and dessert tray! The chef even let me in the kitchen to help prepare the satays!

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Sour: Our first long drive from Nusa Dua to Ubud, took just under two hours. There’s a new toll road near Nusa Dua, but aside from that, we had to navigate through several small streets for the remainder of the ride.

Sour: Taxis and private drivers are very inexpensive in Bali. You can save yourself a headache by hiring a private driver for a full or half day at a set price. Cars and motorbikes ride in a cluster, and I felt carsick during each ride.

Sweet: Street vendors sell meals and snacks out of small carts. The scent of roast pig, spices, and burning of leaves was typical.

IMG_8149IMG_8147Sour: Locals work hard to make a sale, and like most of Southeast Asia, the key is to bargain. I couldn’t believe the number of stonework shops. In Ubud, we drove down the road dedicated to selling stonework. There were tens of thousands of fountains, statues, and other carvings.

Sweet: I was surprised by the shopping in Bali, boutiques everywhere, especially in Ubud!

Sour: Roaming the streets is typically safe, but you should carefully consider where you step; the sidewalks are usually crooked, especially in Ubud.

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Sweet: Beautiful temples make you feel like you have stepped into an Indiana Jones set. Whether walking or driving, there are curiosities around every corner.

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Sour: The economy lives off of tourism, and so there are tourist traps, like expensive Luwak coffee, rice terraces, expensive seafood restaurants, and monkey forests. We visited several of these, and although locals may not visit these places, they were still fun to see.

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Sweet: Just north of Ubud, we visited the Tegalalang rice terraces and enjoyed a crispy duck lunch, while listening to locals play the gamelon.

Sweet: Back in Ubud, it was time to check out our villa. We jumped into our private swimming pool, took a bubble bath, and enjoyed a romantic candlelit dinner.

 

Sour: Our villa, Royal Kamuela, and the massages in Ubud were so affordable, making me only want to have stayed longer! I’d also liked to have taken a cooking class here at Cafe Wayan, made famous by Eat, Pray, Love. Don’t be like us and rush…enjoy Ubud!

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IMG_8078IMG_8001Sweet: One snack not to miss in Bali is babi guling (roast suckling pig), and the best place to try it is at Ibu Oka. After filling up on pork, we walked around the Monkey Forest and tried some Luwak coffee.

 

 

 

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Sweet: Before we knew it we were on our way to Jimbaran Bay for our last couple of nights, but first, for dinner. Menega is the most popular of the several seafood restaurants that line the bay, and usually a reservation is necessary. The seafood is marinated in a special chili garlic sauce that will make you want to lick your fingers without any shame.

Sour: The restaurants all fill up by sunset, so get there a little bit sooner and enjoy a few beers. Plus by getting there early, you will likely get a better place to sit. This area is a great place for dinner, but not the nicest beach to book a hotel at. Jimbaran’s nicer beaches are further south.

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Sweet: After dinner we wanted to release sky lanterns. So we walked down the beach a little ways and lit a few off over the ocean.

01c5cc632c71fff661db4658af52aa74d8bfe4c7d5Sour: When lighting the lanterns, completely let the body fill with hot air, so that it doesn’t take off only to crash into the ocean after a few seconds of flying time. Good thing we had two!

Sweet: The Jimbaran hotel we booked was Rimba, a modern and edgy new hotel that shared the world famous amenities of its sister property, Ayana Resort & Spa.

 

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Sour: Rimba was a great value, and the breakfast buffet was outstanding! A shuttle arrived every 15 minutes to and from Ayana. If your budget is big, then you can’t go wrong with a cliff front villa at Ayana.

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The Rock Bar Bali, located on the beautiful Ayana resort draws travelers from all around Bali. Grab an oceanfront lounger, possibly an umbrella for shade, and watch the sun sink into the Indian Ocean with a refreshing cocktail.

Sour: It gets hot at the Rock Bar, so be sure not to wear jeans and a black shirt (lesson learned)!

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Sour: Next to the Rock Bar is one of Ayana’s 5 pools, the Ocean Beach Pool, which is even a cooler (literally) place to watch the sunset.

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P1080995Sweet: I can’t rave enough about the amazing pools in Bali, which brings me to my favorite pool at Ayana, the River Pool. Here you can lay on the edge, jump down into another pool, and enjoy complimentary watermelon brought over by the staff.

 

Sour: I could have used more time at the River Pool. It was very relaxing, between napping and wading in the pools the feeling of vacation really sunk in!

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Sour: Our last dinner at Ayana was at the oceanfront Kisik. While the restaurants here cost more than what you would pay outside of the resort, the experience is worth the extra money.

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P1090051Sour: To get to Ayana’s Kuba Beach you must go down 197 steps, or shall I say it’s 197 steps back up!

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Sweet & Sour: There’s no doubt that we had a great time in Bali. While it seemed like paradise…most of all, it felt like an adventure.

5 Days in Singapore…and Still Not Enough

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DSCN3129Sweet: Singapore is doing something right…it started with our arrival at Changi Airport, where amenities include movie theaters, a butterfly garden, spa, giant slide, rooftop swimming pool and world class shopping. Everything is clean, orderly, and tastefully designed.

Sour: Leaving from the airport was a breeze; there’s no need for an expensive cab ride. We simply hopped onto the MRT commuter train for $1.70, the same way that most Singaporeans do (owning a car can cost around $150,000 USD)!

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cityscapes20 (3)Sweet: I was completely mind blown over the number of developing building projects. Singapore’s architecture has contributed to increased tourism, and its cutting edge skyline has become world-renowned. Tucked in the shadows of the new sky scrapers are Colonial era, Art Deco, and mid-70’s modern style neighborhoods.

Sour: Singapore is a shopping mecca, a foodie paradise, and a global melting pot. Activities are all best enjoyed indoors, if you’re headed outside go early or late in the day due to the hot humid climate!

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Sweet: Gardens by the Bay is set behind Marina Bay Sands, its 250 acres includes two air conditioned conservatories, a Supertrees Grove, eco-lakes, and a children’s garden. We even had dinner in a SuperTree!

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IMG_7511Sour: There are way better places to eat than the Supertree, however, a trip to its rooftop bar is worth a visit for a great view of Marina Bay Sands.

Sweet: For part of our trip we stayed at Marina Bay Sands, and enjoyed the roof top swimming pool!

DSCN3145Sour: Unfortunately, there were forest fires in South Sumatra, which was literally choking out Singapore. Even though we tried to spend most of our time indoors, we suffered sore throats, congestion, and headaches.

Sweet: We made sure to drink plenty of tea, and spend a little extra time in our wonderful room, where we had an awesome city view!

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IMG_6966Sour: I wanted to experience life as a local, to remember what living here 20 years ago was like. Now Singapore was almost unrecognizable to me.

Sweet: First we had to get some tourist things out of the way, like visiting the Buddha Tooth Relic Museum, going Raffles Hotel for a Singapore Sling, and stopping by the famous Clark Quay.

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IMG_7413IMG_7414Sweet:  Chinatown, Little India, and Arab Street are all great neighborhoods to grab a cold drink and try something new. The culture here felt diverse and rich, and the fact that everything is in English makes visiting here so easy.

Sour: Singapore’s residents are very regulated. Eating and drinking are not allowed on the metro, gum is not sold, graffiti and littering are strictly forbidden, and drug smuggling is punishable by DEATH. While the rules might seem extreme, there is an order about the country that I can really appreciate.

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Sweet: I could sense certain freedoms, as often times churches, temples, and mosques were in close proximity to another. We met locals who acknowledged that the government does in a way treat them like children, but the safety, excellent schools, and public housing are very beneficial. In southeast Asia, this is a bubble that offers a good quality of life.

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IMG_7129IMG_7123Sweet: Singapore is known for its hawker centers. Here you can find local food, much like that of a street vendor, in an outdoor food court setting. The favorite dishes of the country can be found here. Some of these are chicken rice, roti prata, chili or black pepper crab, fish head curry, char kway teow, laksa, and satay.

IMG_7404Sour: Most of the neighborhoods, and residential buildings have their own hawker center. Newton Center is Singapore’s most popular hawker center, and the place where most locals bring their visitors. We ventured out to Golden Mile Hawker Center, a local place off the beaten path where time has stood still, and if you want the best Hainan Chicken, you happily wait 15 minutes. For something good and central, I would suggest a visit to Lau Pa Sat, a cleaner and more welcoming hawker center.

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IMG_7011Sour: Singapore’s climate is EXTREMELY hot and humid, so I didn’t mind strolling through the many connected shopping malls on Orchard Road.

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Sweet: Malls like Ion and Orchard Central have MRT access, and so many dining options!

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Sour: There’s a large selection of mall food courts. Local favorites can be found here in an atmosphere nicer than a Hawker Center. We enjoyed breakfast at Toast Box (located in a Food Republic) for kopi (coffee), kaya toast, peanut butter toast, and extra soft boiled eggs.

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Sweet: We visited the Singapore Botanical Gardens to see the best Orchid garden in Singapore.

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Sour: The humidity makes for a sticky and uncomfortable outing, so I recommend heading to the gardens early in the morning for a little better experience.

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Sweet: Tai Chi groups gather in this peaceful setting, students picnic, and  special events are held, such as Symphonies in the Park.

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P1080476Sweet: We had purchased tickets in advance to Ultra Singapore. This was a fun event because the young people there were very friendly and outgoing.

Sour: On the other hand, this would have been a huge disappointment for anyone used to going to music festivals in the US, and it was simply held in an open convention space, making it feel like a glorified high school dance.

Sweet: Afterwards we were able to explore the surrounding area, and take a peak into the Sands Casino, which felt like I was stepping into a Vegas mega-casino!

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IMG_7218Sweet: I wanted to check out my first beach in Asia so we took the metro to Vivo City. From here you can walk, take the Sentosa Express, or the Singapore Cable Car to get to Sentosa; a small island full of attractions like the Sentosa Merlion, golfing, zip lining, and Universal Studios Singapore. We relaxed at the beach, dotted with day clubs, cafes and quirky signs.

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Sour: Sentosa’s beach is very man-made, and by looking in the distance, your view will be filled with freight ships. Since there are so many attractions, Sentosa is a great place for families to stay.

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chinesegarden0Sour: We wanted to see as much of Singapore as possible in 5 short days, so we headed to the Chinese & Japanese Gardens in the Jurong East side of town. I was even coerced into climbing up seven floors to catch a view.

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jurong2Sweet: It started to rain, so we hailed a taxi to Jurong Bird Park. This was a fun park. We saw so many beautiful birds like parrots, flamingos and penguins. We saw a huge waterfall and caught a bird show.

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Sour: I think that the Jurong Bird Park is a great place to take kids, and half of a day was all the time that we needed here.

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DSCN2970DSCN2977Sweet: Other places that we visited were Har Paw Villa, where you walk through scenes of Chinese folklore and mythology.

Sour: Har Paw Villa is close to Sentosa, so it was easy for us to stop by at, however, I wouldn’t make it a priority!

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P1080579Sweet: We saw a lot of Singapore, and were able to see many happening celebrations, Singapore’s 50th Anniversary as a free country, the Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival, and the Indian holiday Deepavali.

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Sour: We still have more of Singapore to see and experience, so I have a feeling that we will be back again for more delicious food, sightseeing, and (hopefully) air conditioning. If Singapore was not so hot and humid, we might have just ended up staying there for good!

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A Different Side of Paris

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Paris is undoubtedly a special place.  I have visited several times, but my visit this spring was different. Although there is magnificent architecture, massive museums, and tourist spots like the Arc du Triumph, Eiffel Tower, and Notre Dame, this trip brought a deeper feeling of blending in with the Parisians, eating in local spots, strolling new neighborhoods, and not entering every museum we pass by.

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This notion of a less touristy visit was inspired by diligent research by my brother,  that led to discovering all things Parisian, and visiting the gems that we normally would have skipped over. Yes, he did take a few cues from Anthony Bourdain, but most was through simple online research. The famous sights are always nice, but I think that they are best enjoyed while touring the city in search of the best food!

IMG_3900Street vendors offer up the typical french crepes, and many stands slang kabobs. Everywhere you look there is a street facing cafe, set up with outward facing chairs, perfect for a cappuccino and people watching. The pace is slow, and the food is savored.
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IMG_2866IMG_2862Our first stop at Le Pure Café, is a local spot that serves up a fine charcuterie plat, and a late dinner. This place is not too far from the Canal Saint-Martin, a 19th Century waterway surrounded by parks and local neighborhoods. The canal empties at the river Seine, where you can also board  a sightseeing boat that will take you through the locks and to Parc de la Villette or beyond.
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IMG_4223Since we had only an assortment of cheeses at Le Pure, we ventured over to my all-time favorite Parisian cafe Le Procope, located in St. Germain des Prés. Opened in 1686, this is the oldest restaurant in all of Paris, and was frequented by Napoleon, Benjamin Franklin, and Thomas Jefferson. The decor and the food here are very classic old school French, and the service was equally impressive. IMG_3442

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IMG_3183IMG_3189A good night’s rest is very important when you are touring Paris, whether for the food or the sights. In the morning, we headed over to Notre-Dame de Paris, but only after a memorable brunch at Cafe St. Regis across the bridge on the small Ile St. Louis. Here, fresh baguettes are placed on the shelves, and the waffles and eggs benedict are worth every glutenous bite. Since it’s Paris, it’s perfectly fine to enjoy a glass of wine and a small dessert afterwards.

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IMG_4138Paris is special because no matter where you are, you will be in awe. A simple walk along the river will provide you with the perfect backdrop.

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IMG_4084Time really does fly when you’re enjoying yourself, and next thing you know, it’s time for an afternoon treat. Les Deux Magots is worth stopping by for a cocktail, lunch, or a steaming pot of hot chocolate. Known throughout history as a place for intellectuals, it was a favorite for both Pablo Picasso and Ernest Hemingway.

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Walking is the best way to see Paris, you will miss so much of it riding the subway. Make sure to pack comfortable shoes, and to stop and take a break often.

IMG_3848The best free view in Paris is from the rooftop of Printemps, a very fine luxury department store. Trust me, go here! Also, just around the corner is the flagship Galeries Lafayette.

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IMG_2483Croissants are a French staple, but it is not the only quick breakfast option. The croque madame is a brioche ham and cheese sandwich, topped with an egg. Yum!       IMG_3009

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IMG_3772IMG_3776Jardin du Palais Royal is a great hidden oasis behind the Luvre, where you can rest before heading to either the Arc de Triumphe, or the Palais Garnier. Speaking of hidden things, the nearby Galerie Vivienne is a beautiful indoor street filled with custom boutiques, and a visit here feels as if you have stepped back in time.

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I recommend stopping by the Rue Cler neighborhood, a foodie delight where you will find seafood markets, spices, florists, wine, and small cafes. This neighborhood is near the Eiffel Tower in the 7th Arr.

IMG_3360Located in in St. Germain neighborhood, La Palette is the perfect hip establishment with a bohemian past.

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We could not resist waiting in line for an hour or two to visit the top of the Eiffel Tower. Dusk is the perfect time to see Paris as a light purple hue blankets the sky, and the evening arrives showing all of Paris’ twinkling lights.IMG_3403

IMG_4193Although touristy, each Ladurée location packs a full house for a pricey afternoon tea, or you can visit the shop and pick up some freshly made macarons and pastries.

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No matter how many times I visit Paris, I never get tired of visiting the infamous landmarks. It’s ok to wander down unknown streets and make new discoveries. If you are worried about losing your way, I recommend downloading an offline city map to your mobile phone.

With each trip moving forward, I will try to get more acquainted with the local beat of this ever changing romantic city. IMG_3616

Lake Como is Full of Italian Village Charm!

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The Lake Como region of Italy is dotted with gated villas with private boat houses. Their sweeping gardens gracefully meet the lake, ornamented with hydrangea, cypress and palm trees.  The close proximity to Milan has drawn swells of wealthy Italians to the area.

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IMG_5029Traffic around the lake nearly crawls, mostly due to large busses making their way down the twisted village roads, which two cars can barely squeeze through. Hop on a ferryboat to let the sightseeing begin!

Bellagio is the crown jewel of the lake, it also gained popularity from Steve Wynn’s iconic Bellagio Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas. Here, charming cobblestone streets and stairs are lined with shops selling scarves, shoes, pottery, jewelry, and handbags.


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The smell of freshly baked focaccia bread begs for a taste, and is best followed with a large scoop (or two) of gelato. IMG_5458

IMG_4985By taking the trail above Bellagio to the less visited area where many locals live you can find the real local flavor.

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Nestled in Hotel Pergola is a lakefront eatery filled with locals drinking beer, smoking, and enjoying delicacies like squid ink ravioli and locally caught lake fish.  Although it’s a hike back into town, the visit is well worth it.

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IMG_5060Across from Bellagio, are the towns of Varenna, Cadenabbia and Mennaggio.

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The small village of Varenna is a personal favorite; it’s less populated than Bellagio and has an undiscovered feel. A visit to Hotel Albergo Milano should be on your “must do” list; the owner here tends bar, serves tables, and helps with food preparation. The inn has been run by the same family for generations and offers one of the best views of the lake.

IMG_5165IMG_4870Across the lake is Cadennabbia, and many groups stay at the Grand Hotel Cadenabbia, which offered a huge daily breakfast buffet on its top floor, a wonderful outdoor patio, and bar where you will find the best Bloody Mary.  

IMG_5472IMG_4971Some of the most picturesque places to visit on the lake are Villa Carlotta in Cadennabbia, and Villa Melzi in Bellagio.

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Mennagio, located north of Cadenabbia is a 30 minute walk. The town’s center boasts a bustling Sunday farmers market. IMG_5118 IMG_5112

IMG_4935IMG_5451Each of villages around the lake offer their own unique feel, and are all worth the visit! Most hotels along the lakefront offer stunning floating swimming pools with views across the lake, and into the Italian Alp mountains, making for the ultimate summer getaway. When planning a trip to Milan, Venice, or Zurich, be sure to add Lake Como to your travel itinerary!

– A Sweet Only Adventure

Our Adventure Under the Neon Sky

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Sweet: As a former transplant to Las Vegas I’ve enjoyed my fare share of late nights turned to mornings, slot machines, night clubs, and local bars. There’s a hint of normality felt in Vegas’ suburbs, until you realize that among the cookie cutter houses there are many different things, like 24 hour grocery shopping (a plus in the heat), 24 hour bars, pawn shops, and $2.99 steak and eggs specials. 5 years ago I moved to Southern California, and set a new pace of life that includes a break from work. Now is the best time to seek new experiences, which is why we chose to head back to Vegas and attend EDC.

01257c132eebff3014f071073aa4d3a8b15cf17518At first, I was a little skeptical to attend EDC, mostly due to the negatives associated with it (drugs, minimal clothing, and heat). I couldn’t have been more wrong to feel insecure about going. If you’ve ever been to a Las Vegas pool, you’ve probably already experienced more sloppiness than EDC. There’s a unique style for EDC, it’s neon, fun, and festive!

Sour: We were advised about the traffic getting to EDC, but since my girlfriend was a local, she knew to pick out a local boutique hotel in Summerlin (Element), and to take I-215 to avoid most of the traffic. On the first morning that we exited EDC we got caught in a two and a half hour traffic jam.

Sweet: We valeted every night after that, which worked really well! Also, most of the nights we were through the security lines in about 30 minutes. Once you enter into the grandstands there is a spectacular view over the entire speedway, and it is breathtaking!

Sour: Since it’s in the middle of the summer, of course it is hot! So expect people to dress accordingly. Water and cold beverages are a vital part of being able to hang out for hours in the desert.  Also, my girlfriend couldn’t get enough of the fluff ice.  01e6d4bb523c4ec2958dc47e43cefdbc2b31565897

Sweet: The speedway held 10 stages, numerous free rides,  6 restroom locations, bars, water stations, a food court, lounges, and hundreds of vendors. We didn’t go all out and purchase the VIP tickets, and we were just fine with GA. EDC can be whatever you choose to make out of it (just like most things in life). To make a grand entrance, one may choose a seat in a private helicopter ($500), the economical way is to carpool or take one of the many shuttles (three people even popped out of the trunk of an SUV parked next to us on night one). The event is enormous (over 400,000 attendees this year), and although I heard of incidents in the news, 99% of what I witnessed was people dancing, singing, and having an overall good time.

Sour: Don’t bother trying to use your cell phone, there was no service available. However, at this event, you only need your phone to take pictures. I can’t explain the overall size of the event. Each stage was huge and drew thousands of people to it. On the first night we used the app and went by the schedule of who we wanted to see, and at other times we just went with the flow, stopping for a song here and there. With so much selection there are always multiple great acts simultaneously.

01aa7c1b82236b8bcfc8fcb0a304e269264b22c441Sweet: There’s something to see everywhere you look. The largest stage, kineticField, rivaled any Broadway musical, complete with kryptonite waterfalls, the insomniac owl, performers, and fireworks. One of my favorite stages, CircuitGROUNDS was equally impressive.

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Sour: The art moves through the space in parades, and is intertwined in every area that you walk by, sit at, or swing over. Some art is literally on fire, adding more heat to the already hot venue. 

Sweet: Everyone at EDC really seems to be enjoying themselves. Some groups arrive with a theme, there are weddings held, massive firework shows, and free rides! 01994de8251fb97f78224295d675b3a319984df33f0135130dddb93c6da7cad1792a011fdfc19821ca72

Sour: Insomniac could have hired more staff to clean up the garbage. We had to watch our step because there were bottles everywhere. Also, the restrooms were pretty trashed by the end of the night. 

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Sweet: EDC was an adventure. It may not be for everyone, but if you leave your expectations behind and are with good company, you will certainly have an epic time. I had a blast picking out carnival outfits, watching the firework shows, and enjoying Ferris Wheel rides. 01b2e12d02c0b19e96c4e37900064f5bf5a0b9d203
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01948eaf22e475b8e55d51a78765a3ee764f945c21Sour: I joke that the best part of EDC was leaving, but I really enjoyed relaxing on the grass, listening to music, and experiencing something where so many people come together to have a good time.
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