Biarritz: The Pearl of France’s Basque Country

There are places that are semi-legendary in your mind.  And when you visit them, they live up to that vision.  And sometimes they don’t.  Biarritz, France is not a place I knew a lot about but I did have an impression that it was for the rich and famous.  Its location, in the southwestern corner of France abutting Spain (just 22 miles from the border!) facing the Bay of Biscay, seems ideal with warmer climate and perhaps not the throngs of partying tourists that the Mediterranean coasts can attract.  It sits in the Basque region of France and is home to 20-30-odd thousand residents.

So, as we went from San Sebastian, Spain to Lourdes, France this past September, we decided to stop along the way.  It was not a long drive but we wanted an easygoing day.  As I looked at the map, I realized there were several neat towns along the coast and inland (like Bayonne).  As I talked to my Mom, she shared how she, when she was a girl, would read a novel with her best friend that took place partly in Biarritz and how they always daydreamed about Biarritz.  That settled it for me:  Biarritz would be our stop!

Our visit was short.  A walk around the shopping district after a meandering drive into town. Biarritz, France, Hotel, travel, photo, francia, euskadi Biarritz, France, Hotel, travel, photo, francia, euskadi Biarritz, France, Hotel, travel, photo, francia, euskadi Biarritz, France, Hotel, travel, photo, francia, euskadi Biarritz, France, Hotel, travel, photo, francia, euskadi Biarritz, France, Hotel, travel, photo, francia, euskadi Biarritz, France, Hotel, travel, photo, francia, euskadi Biarritz, France, Hotel, travel, photo, francia, euskadi

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Saint-Eugenie Church


Biarritz’ place on the coast certainly offers beautiful vistas and spots to take in the views – or get on a boat and see the city from the water (which I wish we could have done!).Biarritz, France, Hotel, travel, photo, francia, euskadi Biarritz, France, Hotel, travel, photo, francia, euskadi Biarritz, France, Hotel, travel, photo, francia, euskadi

And then, we just picked a place on the beach (the ‘Grande Plage’ – or great beach) to have lunch -not because it had the look of a great establishment, but simply because of the view out and the fact that we would sit in open air enjoying the great weather that day.

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We ate at a cafe off to the right

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The Grande Plage (big beach) of Biarritz

Biarritz most distinctive or massively impressive structure is the Hotel du Palais (of which, unfortunately, I took the picture split by a lighting pole…) built in the mid-1800s by the wife of Napoleon III.

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Hotel du Palais – and the pole in the middle of the photo

So, I can’t share much about Biarritz, its history or all the ins-and-outs of what to do and see.  But, if like my Mom, you have wondered what Biarritz looks like, I hope this post checks that off your list!

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With my beautiful mom and sister!!

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My sister!!!

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The teenager in the Biarritz of her dreams! It was about my mom that day!!

A Trip around Southeast Asia Is Born

This month I was able to spend two weeks on vacation traveling to Southeast Asia.  Clearly, two weeks far from enough time in an area as diverse and rich in experiences as Southeast Asia but if I waited until I had ALL the time it merits, I may never get started.  An opportunity arose a few months ago to travel there in November with a good friend, anchored on a wedding that was to take place in Bali.  I had not taken a real vacation this year yet so I had the needed time off from work to go do it.  It also happened to be a good moment at work to take the time off.  As I discussed the possibility with my friend, it became clear we had similar interests whether it be in the things to explore, the way to travel (hotels, flights, etc.), and what we were hoping to get out of a vacation like this (R and R!).

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This is the picture of R&R!!

As usual, I opened a map to envision all the possible destinations outside of Bali.  We opted to spend the bulk of the vacation in Bali since there were going to be pre- and post- wedding events but then the balance of the vacation had to be solved.  I figured that if I never got to go back, there were two places I had to see:  the Angkor Wat temple complex in Cambodia, and Bangkok (made famous by Murray Head with his one hit wonder in the 1980s!).  We ended up doing those and adding Phnom Penh (Cambodia’s capital) and Singapore (our Asian entry/exit point in our travels) to the trip.  We were flying around a bit so Phnom Penh we chose because we could just take a car and avoid a plane; but then also seeing the infamous killing fields of Pol Pot and the Genocide Museum were a strong draw as we felt they were memorials that we had to see to grasp better Cambodia’s past.

Thanks to websites like TripAdvisor and Kayak, doing research and planning was not too hard (this is not a sponsored post, lol!).  The information in TripAdvisor was key in choosing hotels that fit what we were looking for (for example, a great property in Bali by the beach with a cool pool area).  Kayak I find easiest to use to compare and contrast not just airfares but routes – I had to solve the sequence of our destinations by ensuring I could find direct flights at the time of the day we wanted to leave or arrive at a given destination.  It all seems to have worked out well though at least one morning the departure was earlier than I really would have wanted – hindsight is 20-20, isn’t it?

The itinerary:

  • Bali:  5 days
  • Bangkok:  2 nights, 1 day (a FULL day!)
  • Cambodia: 3 nights, 3 days
  • Singapore:  2 nights, 1 day, and a few hours overnight at the airport
  • Delta airplane seat:  tons of hours!

So, in the next few weeks, I will be writing about each of these destinations and my favorite things.  A lot may have been on-the-beaten-path but there was some off-the-beaten-path that was spectacular and I can’t wait to write about it!


Photo of the Week: Sunset over Santa Barbara, California

Nothing like a beautiful sunset.  And even better:  one in California!  So I will celebrate that with TWO, not one, of my favorite sunset pictures I took while visiting Santa Barbara!sunset, beach, California, Santa Barbara, photo, travel, Olympus sunset, beach, California, Santa Barbara, photo, travel, Canon EOS Rebel

At Punta Cana and Altos de Chavon in the Dominican Republic

My family does enjoy the beach more so one of the options when we travel together and are not hitting a cruise (a great way for us to travel together) is to go to a nice resort.  A few years back, we chose to go to Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic, where we stayed at a Riu resort.  We lived for many years next door in Puerto Rico and were quite familiar with the Dom. Rep. since there were many Dominicans in P.R. and you heard about it often enough in TV.  But I had never gone.

Now, I am not known to be the type to lay at a beach for hours on end, days on end.  I like my time in the beach to be an hour or two, most of that in the shade of some tree (or umbrella) enjoying the breezes and sounds of the sea – a most relaxing activity.  Couple that with a beverage and it is perfect.  Then I get bored.  Sure, a dip in the water or two helps.  And then I move on.

Punta Cana

Punta Cana is on the eastern coast of the Dom. Rep. – almost exactly on the easternmost tip of the Hispaniola, pointing towards Puerto Rico.  There are many resorts in the area at all price levels.  The beaches are Caribbean prime.  Why go further from North America with places like this at its doorstep!  The resort had a great beach and great pools – areas we enjoyed on a daily basis even if sometimes I just hung out under the shade napping or reading a book.  Of course, food is part of the enjoyment of a good vacation and we ate pretty well.Riu resort, Punta Cana, pool, Dominican Republic, Caribbean, travel resort, Punta Cana, pool, Dominican Republic, Caribbean, travel, beachThe room was very spacious and very nicely done – that’s all REAL wood, not pressed wood…

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My nephew enjoying the resort room while playing his beloved video games!

Altos de Chavón, La Romana

But, the itch to explore is never down-and-out with me so we did plan for a day of seeing the countryside and visiting a couple of places we had heard about before.  One, the basilica of Altagracia in Higüey, was on our way out to La Romana so it was an easy stop to admire this massive church.  At La Romana, we visited Altos de Chavón, a charming recreation of any-town Middle Age Europe, complete with an amphitheater that has been used by the likes of Frank Sinatra, Duran Duran, and Julio Iglesias.

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Beautiful medieval European architecture with tropical foliage!

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The skinniest cat I have seen. It was tough being a medieval cat!

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Charming details around the town

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The amphitheater – would love to see a show here

We all enjoyed walking around, exploring the town, looking at the shops and, why not, even a burro ride!

Altos de Chavon, La Romana, Dominican Republic, girl on a burro

My niece enjoying a ride around the town

On the way out we crossed the Chavon River which offered incredible views!Chavon River, La Romana, Dominican Republic Chavon River, La Romana, Dominican RepublicLeaving this corner of paradise was hard to do but this view was a nice departing gift!

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View of Punta Cana resorts from the plane

Have you been to the Dominican Republic?  What are your favorite spots there?


Having a Good Time in Willemstad, Curacao: Beach, Food and Music

Last year, I visited Curacao, formerly part of the Netherlands Antilles, with a couple of friends after spending a few days in Trinidad and Tobago.  Curacao is an interesting place – the Netherlands in the Caribbean, for sure, but also an incredible melting pot – many folks speak Spanish due to its proximity to and semi-shared history with nearby South America.  Yet it also shares a lot with the other Dutch islands in the hood as well with Surinam, another former Dutch colony.

Curacao, license plate

Even the license plate shows off the beautiful architecture

There is much to write about this island.  I struggled with how to not write about it all in one long post.  So this post will focus on the food, fun and beach as I experienced in a very short visit.  I did not get to scratch the surface of what Curacao has to offer so I will, upfront, tell you that and then challenge you to discover Curacao yourself and perhaps share back with me what you discovered!

An upcoming post will focus more on the incredible charming architecture of this island.  Enjoy!

My hotel

First, Curacao’s capital, Willemstad (a UNESCO World Heritage Site), has two sides along the canal that splits it:  Punda and Otrobanda.  Punda is the better known side with the pretty pictures folks normally see whenever Curacao is mentioned (more on this in the next post!).  Otrobanda is or was the poorer side though it contains some neat/charming architecture too.

I chose the Renaissance in Curacao (part of the Marriott family) as my hotel, located in Otrobanda right by the canal entrance.  While the hotel was not an all-around knock-out (e.g., the confusion at breakfast on what was included in my rate and what was not), there were a couple of things that hit it out of the ballpark.  One was the upgrade they welcomed me with.  A corner suite was definitely a great way to greet a Platinum guest.  Thank you for that!!  I wish I had had others sharing the room with me but that was not the case so the space was not taken advantage of.  But what I did greatly enjoy was the humongous bathroom!  Larger than my master bedroom at home!

A cruise ship passes my hotel room at the Renaissance in Willemstad, Curacao

The view from my room includes passing cruise ships!

But what really blew me away was the infinity pool.  Now you may say “seen one, seen them all” but, my friends, this was no ordinary infinity pool:  it was a beach on an infinity pool!  You walked into it as you would on a beach from the sand and the beach chairs.  It was huge and at the far end, the wall dropped down to the rocks by the sea.  When I first exited the hotel and looked at the pool, it seemed the sea was part of the water in the pool – I did not realize it was a pool at all!!   Bravo, Renaissance!

Infinity beach pool at the Renaissance hotel in Willemstad, Curacao



Curacao has lots of beaches to choose from, 38 or so.  Some of the best are on the west end of the island.  Beaches in Curacao are not the typical long stretches of sand and surf that we typically envision.  Instead they are smaller, less obscenely huge places to enjoy the sun and surf!   We picked Mambo Beach just for being convenient to us as we were staying in Willemstad and had not rented a car.  I imagine it is far from the best beach but it was definitely enjoyable.

Map showing Mambo Beach, Curacao

Food and Entertainment

We ate at a couple of places that also doubled as entertainment with live music.  I could have kept returning to these places except I ran out of nights!

On our first night, we decided to watch sunset at a high vantage point on the fortress walls in Otrobanda at the entrance to the canal leading to the bay/port.  It was very near to the hotel and these places offered the right angle at sunset to look -or stare- at beautiful Punda!

View of Punda at sunset from Otrobanda in Willemstad, Curacao

Beautiful Punda at sunset

Wine as we enjoy the view of Punda from Otrobanda in Willemstad, Curacao

Wine sets the right mood…

Along the fortress wall in Otrobando in Willemstad, Curacao

Along the city wall we were lounging at

Later that night, we went to Avila Blues Bar for both dinner and entertainment.  The hotel is well known for hosting the Dutch royal family (allegedly, the heir to the throne comes to play here, wink, wink).  The blues bar is on a pier by itself so you are sitting above the sea.  The band plays on a loft-like second story above the bar.  The food was great and so was the music.  More importantly:  great atmosphere!

Avila Hotel Blues Bar by the sea near Willemstad, Curacao

For lunch one day, we sat at one of the average cafés right by the canal that is the entrance to large bay (St. Anna Bay).  While the food was not spectacular, watching people, ships and the movable-floating bridge (aka, Queen Emma Bridge) was fascinating or, at least, entertaining (notice the mist in the picture below coming out under some umbrellas).

Waterfront cafes and restaurants in Willemstad in Curacao by the entrance to the bay

Curacao floating bridge in Willemstand

The floating bridge passes us by as we ate lunch

The Queen Emma "floating" bridge in Willemstand, Curacao is for pedestrians

When not pulled away to let boats pass, the Queen Emma “floating” bridge is for pedestrians

Another night, we went to a Cuban place near the old fortress walls in Willemstad called Mr. Congas.  Its owner is a friendly but serious Cuban guy – the music is authentic (take it from this son of Cubans!) and the food is decent (but I have had and can cook it better!).  The place has an indoor space built into the former fortress walls and an outdoor area where the live music plays.  It was a great evening to sit outside, listen to music (dance for those so inclined), eat, and have a few drinks!

Live Cuban music at Mr. Congas in Willemstad, Curacao

Cuban food at Mr. Congas in Willemstad, Curacao

Cuban food at Mr. Congas in Willemstad, Curacao


Curacao has a lot to offer – much beyond beaches.  Beautiful architecture, sun, surf, food and a lively entertainment scene.  It is a definite must-see in the Caribbean!

Couple enjoying the view of Punda across from Otrobando in Willemstad, Curacao

And to Greece I Went – Choosing a Greek Isle

Three months ago, I head no idea I would be coming to Greece in September.  A friend was getting married to a Greek-American and one night having dinner with them, they told me there would be a second event in Greece itself after the wedding in Atlanta; the key was when they said they would love anyone coming from the U.S.  My eyes opened big (at least, I think they did…) and an idea was born.

I had to make sure it would work with work but I planned it as if it would be OK.  Sure enough, most things are possible with good planning so on September 11 (yes, I know…), I boarded my plane to JFK where I would connect with my flight to Athens.

But, as is usual with most of my trips, it can’t just be “the one thing”.  I had never been to Greece though, clearly, with all the history it has, it was on my bucket list towards the top.  However, I said to myself, how could I go to Athens and NOT hit the islands??  That had to be addressed so I began asking around amongst people who have traveled here and the bride herself, which island to go to.

I am not a party-goer (anymore; did plenty of that already) so finding party islands was not the goal.  However, since I would be traveling alone, I definitely wanted somewhere that was not just for honeymooners and had something more than beaches since I am also not one to spend 3 days, 8 hrs each at the beach.  Santorini and Mykonos were my finalists just because they are so well known and I wanted to hit one of them (no time for two of them given the wedding related events and my schedule).  Everything zoomed in on Mykonos as the place to go.  Though it is known for the partying, it is also very close to Delos Island with its rich history (in mythology and after).  Friends also thought the eating and bar district would be fun for a solo traveler.  I will write more about Mykonos but my friends were spot on.

In the end, I would have like 3.5 days in Athens but about 1.5/2 were to be with my friends and the Greek side of the family for various activities including the reception in Kapandriti, north of Athens, and a BBQ at a relative’s in Oropou.  So, Athens was not a hard thing to figure out since the short time there would be taken up with the key sights everyone sees the first time (again, more later on this…).

I did split my stay in Athens in 2 as the reception being further north, it made more sense to stay in the stylish neighborhood of Kifissia than in Athens proper.  Yet for the sightseeing at the end of the trip, it would make better sense to stay in the Athens city center (that and I could stay for free at the Marriott there with my points!).  So, that became the plan and it worked out well.

Hotel Ledras Marriott in Athens, Greece

Hotel Ledras Marriott

As a side note, my connection on the way back was an overnight 11-hr layover in Paris.  As soon as I heard my boss was not going to be in this week, I went ahead and made it a 35-hr layover just to walk around Paris (I lived there in 1999 and have been back a few times since so it is like going to a second hometown of sorts).  I planned to do a maison du chocolat tour friends did in April and just hang out.

So, out of nothing, it would seem, a great trip shaped up.  Stay tuned for my writings on all the exploring!

Roaming Around Panama, Coast to Coast

I visited Panama to see relatives and enjoy a little low-key sightseeing beyond my usual haunts of Panama City and the Pearl archipelago.  It started with an unusual stop for a tourist…

Witnessing the good work of the Missionaries of Charity

One day during my visit, we visited the house of the Missionaries of Charity (Mother Teresa’s order).  My aunt volunteers there every day and she wanted to show us the place.  WOW, these nuns do incredible work with those who have nothing and who are the worse-off of the poor and sick.  Amazing.  The nuns themselves come from all over the world and many actually come from India.  It is neat to hear their Spanish with a very slight Indian accent.  Later, when we drove to the other side of Panama, to the town of Colón, we visited the other house these Missionaries have in Panama.  So in one weekend I covered all their houses in Panama!  Anyway, kind and selfless work.

Colón, a true Caribbean town in Panama

Colón, on the Caribbean end of the Panama Canal (Panama City is on the Pacific end of the Canal), is most definitely a Caribbean town.  The architecture, the people, and something in the air just made me feel I was in the Caribbean.  Interesting how less than 50 miles distance can make such a big difference!  I was told the road was really bad (the new highway is still being built but is close to being finished) but, actually, it didn’t seem that bad to me.  Perhaps I was expecting rural Tanzania type of road conditions…  Anyhow, the drive took an hour and a half and it will be very nice when this highway is finished as it should take an hour or less.   The drive is scenic though my relatives said it wasn’t totally safe.  Colón is the second largest trade free zone in the world (after Hong Kong) and it seems to be doing OK with that business.  I wish I had more time to stay around and explore but we had to get back to Panama City as I was leaving the next morning.

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Damaged building

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Typical home in the center of Colón

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The streets of Colón are very colorful!

An inland “oasis” in Gamboa

I also got to visit Gamboa in the interior and next to Lake Gatún (which provides the water the Panama Canal needs to operate since water is a key tool in operating the gates or “esclusas” that control ships crossing the Canal).  We visited the Gamboa Resort which had great views of the area.

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The view from the main building at the resort: spectacular!

There are tours that take you to see monkeys and other wildlife as well as a canopy tram tour that allows a bird’s eye view over the area.  Next time, I will try to take advantage of some of those tour opportunities for a change!

Beach time near Coronado

Finally, we went to a beach next to Coronado on the Pacific called Punto Barco where one of my cousins has a beach house.  The beach may not be the best in the world but to have a house there would be a dream!  My cousin outdid herself with great food (ceviche!!) and the family had a great time hanging out.Coronado, Punto Barco, Panama, beach, Pacific coast, tropics, travel, photo, sand, Canon EOS RebelCoronado, Punto Barco, Panama, beach, Pacific coast, tropics, travel, photo, sand, Canon EOS Rebel

As usual, my visit ends and I long for more time there.  My relatives there always manage to take great care of us and make us feel very welcome.  I hope to go back and maybe this time not take 2 years in between trips!

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