Five Days in Bondi

Our time in Bondi Beach, one of Australia’s most iconic places, is winding down quickly. We’ve had our ups and downs here over the past five days (downs specifically referring to the internet*), but overall it’s been a really great week.

Bondi Beach time!

Bondi Beach time!

We originally wanted to stay in an apartment for our five nights in Bondi, but everyone we contacted through Airbnb said that they had already rented their places out. I think there’s just a very large demand for short term rentals in the area, so property owners cross-list their places on multiple rental sites and then forget to update all of the various availability calendars once an apartment is taken.

IMG_3438

Since the apartment option was out, we booked a room at Hotel Bondi, directly across the street from the beach. Our original room was large and airy with an updated bathroom, but since it had zero internet connection we were moved to a tiny room with a gorgeous beach view. Although we felt cramped, it was hard to say no to a view like this:

Room with a view!

Room with a view!

It was another work-week for us, so we had to spend most of our time in front of our computers, but when we could get away we explored the village, hiked and ran the coastal walkways, tried a bunch of different restaurants, and worked on our tans. Below are some of our favorite bits.

- If there’s only one thing that you do during a visit to Sydney, it should be the coastal walk between Coogee and Bondi (or vice versa). I used to do it every Sunday when I lived in Coogee, and this past week I did at least a chunk of it every day. The scenery is unbelievable, the exercise is good for you, and the people-watching is top notch. Do it, do it, do it!

FullSizeRender (14)

Tamarama

IMG_3391

Waverly Cemetery

Continue reading

Weekend in Melbourne: CBD & Fitzroy

While the first part of our Melbourne weekend was spent driving the Great Ocean Road, we devoted our Sunday to exploring Melbourne itself.

Flinders Street Railway Station

Flinders Street Railway Station

A friend who recently lived in Melbourne highly suggested that we stay either in the CBD or Fitzroy, and gave us a list of bars and restaurants that we needed to check out. You can see her entire list of Melbourne food recs here, but below are the places that we personally visited (and loved):

- Manchester Press: we started our day with coffee and bagels from Manchester press. I knew we’d have a lot of eating ahead of us that day so I *thought* that it would be a light brunch, but boy was I wrong. We ordered a lox bagel and a avo-feta bagel, and when the plates arrived I couldn’t believe my eyes. There must have been half a salmon on one bagel, and at least three whole avocados on the other – the portions were huge! Aaron sure didn’t complain, and both bagels tasted great. The place was quite crowded, but the waiting list moved pretty quickly.

Light brekkie

Light brekkie

Everyone loves bagels

Everyone loves bagels

- Queen Victoria Market: after brunch we walked over to Queen Victoria Market to work off our bagels. A lot of the stalls were pretty generic and looked like a Sunday market anywhere in the world, but the indoor food and drink stalls were truly impressive. We especially loved the coffee at Market Lane Coffee in the dairy produce hall.

     IMG_3131

Continue reading

Weekend in Melbourne: Great Ocean Road

48 hours in Melbourne is not enough, but Aaron wanted to make a go of it anyway so we did just that. And even though our time was short, we had a pretty fantastic time.

The airport is situated about 22 km from the CBD, so rather than taking a pricey taxi (~$65) we opted for the SkyBus ($30 for two people) to Southern Cross station then walked over to our hotel from there. We decided to stay at the Citadines on Bourke because of it’s central location and reasonable price tag, and we were very appreciative when they told us we’d been upgraded to a room on their top (25th) floor. We had a delicious Indian meal at Red Pepper, then called it an early night. We had a big day ahead of us, after all.

Saturday was the main event: the Great Ocean Road! When I first went to Melbourne in 2005, everyone told us to drive on the Great Ocean Road but I was naively skeptical about doing so. Being the native Californian that I am, a drive along the ocean sounded rather ordinary and I wasn’t convinced that I should devote an entire day to doing that when there were so many other things to see within the city of Melbourne.

But, and you can already guess where I’m going here, I was totally wrong. My friends and I rented a car, listened to Fine Young Cannibals’ “She Drives Me Crazy” on the radio far more often than anyone our age ought to, and had an amazing day. I knew that I wanted to recreate those memories with Aaron.

Renting a car in Melbourne’s CBD is super easy. We used Redspot, which had a location right around the corner from our hotel, and headed off toward Geelong.

Beep beep!

Beep beep!

Our first stop was Torquay, home to some of the best surfing in the world as well as to a couple of the most famous surf companies (Rip Curl and Quiksilver). We picked up some takeaway coffee from Sticks and Stones Cafe and headed over to Bells Beach to watch the surfers do their thing.

IMG_2914

Candidate for “Greatest Dog Ever,” Louis patiently watched his owner go for a surf 

IMG_2899

IMG_2854

IMG_2808

After a quick photo break in breathtaking Anglesea, we drove on toward Lorne. I remember a lot about my previous Great Ocean Road experience, but I have no recollection of Lorne whatsoever! I don’t understand how that’s possible as it was my absolute favorite stop this time around. *Shakes head* Anyway, Lorne is a major stop along the Great Ocean Road, and time permitting we would have happily spent an entire weekend there. The beaches were gorgeous, there were plenty of interesting shops along the main road, and a huge variety of different restaurants. We grabbed a milkshake at The Bottle of Milk (though they are famous for their burgers), tried Australian-Mexican food for the first time at Mexican Republic, and actually came back to Lorne at the end of the day for dinner at Chopstix.

Anglesea

Windy in Anglesea

IMG_2967

FullSizeRender (8)

Continue reading

Five Days in Manly

Sadly it’s our last day in Manly, and it is scary how fast the first part of our Australia trip has flown by. It’s been a work-week for both of us – Aaron has been going to his firm’s office in the CBD while I’ve been working in our apartment and a coffee shop next door every day. And even though we’ve needed to spend most of each day in front of our computers, we’ve still managed to see quite a lot around this part of Sydney. Below are some of our favorite things in Manly:

- The main Manly Beach (Queenscliff, North Steyne, and South Steyne) is fantastic, but there are other less crowded and equally beautiful beaches nearby. Take an easy walk or jog to tranquil Shelly Beach, or hike on over to the gorgeous Freshwater (“Freshie”) and Curl Curl Beaches.

The walk to Shelly Beach

The walk to Shelly Beach

Freshie

Freshie from above

Boardwalk to Curl Curl

Boardwalk to Curl Curl

- Living next door to Foundry FiftyThree this week has been quite fortunate for me and my budding coffee snobbery. The ambience reminds me of a super cool coffee shop in Silverlake or the Mission, but because it’s full of Australians it’s obviously so much better. I can only speak to their cold drip coffee, but it’s served in a beaker and tastes wonderful. I highly recommend their avo toast, as well.

Work work work

Work work work

Continue reading

Oh, Sydney, I’ve Missed You!

It’s only been about 24 hours since we arrived in Sydney, but it took me no time at all to fall back in love with the laidback Aussie lifestyle. Nearly 10 years have passed since my semester abroad at the University of New South Wales, but my love for Australia has remained as strong and steady as ever over the years.  So when my husband was offered an opportunity to work there for a few weeks, I immediately looked into how I could come along, too.

This view will do just nicely, thank you

Despite this being a working vacation for both of us, we’re planning on seeing quite a lot over the next three weeks. The fact that we have to spend 10 of those days working has actually made us do a lot of planning in advance and we’ve put a lot of thought into where we’re going to stay and what we’ll do in our time off.

IMG_2505

Shot taken during my morning run

IMG_2477

Just a prop… probably

This work week we are staying in a lovely Airbnb apartment near the beach in Manly. After we landed at the airport, we took the train to Circular Quay, purchased some Opal cards, then hopped on the first ferry to Manly. Whether it’s your first or fifth time in Sydney, the ferry ride to Manly is absolutely breathtaking with picture-perfect views of the Harbour Bridge, Sydney Opera House, and all of the multi-million dollar homes and yachts throughout the harbor.

IMG_2450

Not a throwback!

Harbour Bridge

Harbour Bridge

Home sweet home

Home sweet home

Continue reading

Our Next Adventure Awaits…

Whenever I see a “Where I’ve Been” post on social media, I am always way too giddy to update my own map.

Ta-dah!

ilana’s Travel Map

Ilana has been to: Anguilla, Argentina, Aruba, Australia, Belgium, Bolivia, Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Croatia, Curacao, Czech Republic, Denmark, France, French Polynesia, Germany, Greece, Haiti, Hungary, Indonesia, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Jamaica, Mexico, Monaco, Morocco, Netherlands, New Zealand, Panama, Peru, Puerto Rico, Saint Martin, Sint Maarten, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Thailand, U.S. Virgin Islands, United Kingdom, United States, Uruguay, Vatican, Vietnam. Get your own travel map from Matador Network.

I love thinking back on all of the adventures I’ve gone on so far, but it might be even more fun to think about all of the trips I’d like to take in the future. Fortunately, our next one starts tomorrow night and I couldn’t be more excited.

Stay tuned for posts about my triumphant return to the land down under.

How to Deal With Travel-FOMO

FOMO, the “fear of missing out,” pops up in all types of situations, but it can be especially stressful when you’re in the end-stages of planning a trip. No matter where you’re going, how long you’ll be there, and what your travel budget may be, you’re going to miss out on seeing or doing something great, and you’re going to come across someone who will be happy to bring this to your attention. If you’re lucky, that person might just say something like, “It’s too bad you can’t make it to _____, because it’s my favorite restaurant in the entire world.” But other times, like last Sunday, for example, it comes across like this:

Family Member: So tell me about your upcoming Australia trip! What does your itinerary look like?

Me: We’re so excited! We’re spending five nights in Manly Beach, then flying to Melbourne for a weekend, then flying back to Sydney for five nights in Bondi Beach, then we have four nights that haven’t been planned yet, then we’re flying up to Ballina for three nights in Byron Bay, and then we’ll have just one more night in Sydney before we fly back home.

FM: You’re not going to the Great Barrier Reef?

Me: No, unfortunately not on this trip. I asked an Aussie friend to help with our itinerary and she said that Queensland is unbearably hot and humid in December so the furthest north we should go is Byron Bay.

FM: I went to Cairns in December [20+ years ago] and it was fine. The Great Barrier Reef is one of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen. You’re going to go all the way to Australia and miss it because it’s just a little hot?

Me: I agree, the Great Barrier Reef is incredible, but my friend felt strongly that we shouldn’t go this time of year. Plus it’s 1500 miles from Sydney and I don’t know if we can budget another flight on this trip. We also have to spend at least 10 days of our trip working in Sydney, so it’s not like we have three full weeks to purely devote to traveling.

FM: But what’s in Byron Bay? Your friend said you should go there over the Great Barrier Reef? Are you sure you thought this through?

I’ll spare you the rest of the convo, but it was a lot more of the same thing over and over: we were making a huge mistake by not going to the Great Barrier Reef. I know that this family member was just wanted to make sure we’re seeing the very best things on our upcoming trip, but it really made me feel lousy nonetheless. And the silliest part about the whole thing is that I’ve already been to the Great Barrier Reef! Why did I feel so bad about missing a destination that I’ve already experienced?

Continue reading

8 Days in Morroco: Final Days in Marrakech

So after wandering the desert for forty years, I mean, four days, our driver dropped us off at El Fenn in Marrakech. To say I was thrilled to walk through those doors is a gigantic understatement, as it was my 30th birthday and I had a good dose of Moroccan food poisoning the night before and still felt pretty wretched. I had high expectations for the hotel and was a bit nervous that I’d be setting myself up for disappointment, but our experience at El Fenn was absolutely wonderful and I would highly recommend it to anyone looking to stay in the medina for a few days.

30th Birthday Girl / Food Poisoning Survivor

IMG_1673

Spa pool

IMG_2460

Rooftop pool

IMG_1717     IMG_1570

Grass on the rooftop

Sights and sounds of the nearby Koutoubia Mosque

IMG_1712     IMG_1562

IMG_1659

Our wonderful room

With three pools, full spa and hammam services, a fully-stocked bar, and absolutely gorgeous grounds, it felt as if we’d checked into heaven, the perfect place to spend the last two nights of our trip. Our own photos of El Fenn don’t do it justice, but you can check out the hotel’s Instagram feed to get a better idea of how beautiful it is. (You can also search the photos of the folks who’ve tagged El Fenn as their location to see how beautiful the guests are, too!)

There are many ultra-fancy hotels outside the medina in Marrakech, but we loved that El Fenn was in the middle of the action yet still completely calm and relaxing. The wonderful staff was so helpful and genuine, and everyone there always greeted us with a smile. The food at the hotel was also very delicious, although I didn’t have much of an appetite during our two-night stay. However, we did every much appreciate the daily tea-time pastries and complimentary drinks.

Continue reading

8 Days in Morroco: Erg Chebbi and Ait Benhaddou Tour

When we originally booked this trip to Morocco, all we knew was that 1) we wanted to use Marrakech as our base city, and 2) we needed to do some sort of desert tour. We quickly learned that in order to see the desert properly from Marrakech, you need to either rent a car yourself or hire a driver to take you on a four day-minimum itinerary. Without really knowing what to expect, we asked our first hotel, Riad Meriem, to book a four day tour on our behalf.

All we knew was that we needed this photo

All we knew was that we needed to make this photo happen

I’m not sure if it’s company that Riad Meriem always recommends, but they signed us up with a private tour via Aztat Tours. To be quite frank, I was a bit nervous when I noticed that their company name didn’t match what’s on their website (e.g. Aztat and Atlas) and that they asked for the money up front in cash when we were picked up from our riad, but their reviews were good on Tripadvisor, so we went with it.

Let’s start with the good stuff. Our guide Mustafa, while not necessarily the friendliest of guys, was an excellent driver. His 4×4 seemed well-equipped to handle the windy, bumpy Moroccan roads, and he knew the country like the back of his hand. He had a cold and his English wasn’t so great, but we were just relieved that he delivered us safely to each of our destinations.

Also, the Moroccan landscapes that we saw throughout the four day tour were nothing short of breathtaking. Mustafa whisked us away from the Marrakech medina and before we knew it we were in the middle of the Atlas Mountains. A few hours later we were back on flat ground and walking around the ancient Ait Benhaddou kasbah, a UNESCO World Heritage Site where films like Gladiator and Lawrence of Arabia were shot.

The Atlas Mountains

The Atlas Mountains

Ait Benhaddou

Ait Benhaddou

IMG_1190

Moroccan Hollywood

The next day it seemed as though we visited several completely different planets because the terrain started out flat and rocky in Ouarzazate, then suddenly we were overlooking massive canyons, then we were in the green Draa Valley, and finally we arrived at the gorgeous golden sand dunes of Merzouga (a.k.a. Erg Chebbi).

Ouarzazate kasbah

Ouarzazate kasbah

Oh look, a massive canyon in the middle of Morocco

Oh look, a massive canyon in the middle of Morocco

In the middle of nowhere

In the middle of nowhere

Camel trekking in the Sahara

And before we knew it we were camel trekking in the Sahara

The camel trek and Berber tent overnight were definite highlights of the trip, and as you can see below it is shockingly difficult to take good photos while riding a camel.

Camel trekking!

Camel trekking!

Ilana and Aaron of Arabia

Ilana and Aaron of Arabia

Our luxurious desert tent

Our luxurious desert tent

Sunset in the Sahara

Sunset in the Sahara

Continue reading

8 Days in Morroco: First Impressions of Marrakech

My husband and I just got back last week from a pretty awesome eight day trip in Morocco, but I must admit that I’m glad to be back in San Francisco. Don’t get me wrong, it was a great vacation, but it was one of those trips that also made me really appreciate the comforts of home.

We chose Morocco in the first place because neither of us had been to Africa before and we were looking for a destination that was warm, exotic, and relaxing, but with plenty of adventure. Our plan was to spend two nights at one hotel in Marrakech, go on a private four day/three night desert tour, and then spend our final two nights at another fancier hotel back in Marrakech. (We had originally toyed with the possibility of spending one night in Essaouira at the end of the trip, but boy are we relieved that we nixed that idea. We were completely exhausted by the end of the desert tour, and it felt so nice to just relax in Marrakech when it was over.)

marrakech airport

Bonjour, Marrakech!

Our first two nights in Marrakech were spent at the stylish Riad Meriem, a beautifully decorated boutique hotel in the heart of the medina. The manager Hassan made us feel right at home and was always happy to pour us some Moroccan mint tea or Casablanca beer. Knowing that we’d get hopelessly lost if we even attempted to navigate the confusingly windy roads on our own, he arranged for his colleague to walk us to Cafe Arabe for our first dinner and pick us up again afterward. It felt a bit funny to have a designated escort, but we were grateful! Below are some pics that don’t do Riad Meriem justice:

riad meriem    IMG_1140

IMG_1142    IMG_1081

During our first full day in Marrakech we sought out some of the major tourist attractions such as the Ali Ben Youssef Madrasa, Bahia Palace, Jemaa el Fna, and Dar Si Said, and in between we made sure to get ourselves lost within the never-ending maze of souks. In retrospect, I wish that we had hired a guide to show us around the souks with a bit more of a sense of purpose and context, but it was fun getting lost on our own nonetheless.

Courtyard of Ali Ben Youssef Madrasa

Courtyard of Ali Ben Youssef Madrasa

Beautiful tile work everywhere

Beautiful tile work everywhere

Bahia Palace courtyard

Bahia Palace courtyard

Dried fruit stall

Dried fruit stall

Marrakech shopping

Marrakech shopping

DSC03091    DSC03112

Continue reading