Last month my husband and I decided to make a short visit to Miami, a city that had been on our bucket list forever! As cheesy as it may sound we had both grown up listening to Will Smith’s Welcome to Miami, and were curious to see if the depiction in the song was actually what the city was like! We had envisioned miles of gorgeous beaches, palm trees, and sunny skies and Miami certainly did not disappoint. Our 4 days flew by and I’ve compiled 5 do’s and don’ts that I think will come in handy for anyone planning on visiting this little piece of paradise!
1. Don’t stay on South Beach unless you plan on partying late into the night
South Beach is arguably the most iconic area of Miami but is also one of the noisiest especially at night. When deciding on hotels my husband and I were unsure of whether to book right on South Beach or to book something a few blocks away. We ended up staying at the Washington Park Hotel located on Washington Ave which was less than a 2 minute walk from the beach. Walking back to our hotel from South Beach the first night we were so grateful for our decision! Our hotel was conveniently located to all of the main attractions Miami had to offer but far enough away from the noise and commotion so that we could get a peaceful night’s sleep! I wouldn't recommend staying as far away as Downtown or Brickell unless you're planning on renting a car because you'll be at least 15 - 20 minutes away from most major attractions.
Just a 15 minute drive away from South Beach, the Vizcaya Museum and Gardens originally belonged to businessman James Deering. As soon as you arrive, not only will you feel as if you’ve been transported to Europe, you’ll also feel as if you’ve stepped back in time to an era of unparalleled decadence and finery. Observe the immaculately preserved historical objects dotting the house as well as the Italian Renaissance gardens for an experience like no other. This place is seriously unlike from any of the other museums I’ve ever visited in the US and I can’t recommend it highly enough!
3 3. Don’t Forget the Sunscreen
This tip definitely goes without saying but I still can’t stress it enough! Coming from Dubai my husband and I thought the sunshine in Miami would be no big deal for us and didn’t bother packing sunscreen. Within spending less than 5 minutes on the beach we were both sunburned (I know, I know, we totally had it coming for us!). Needless to say, pack your own sunscreen so don’t get stuck buying a ridiculously overpriced one from a pharmacy on South Beach!
4 4. Do Allocate More Than You Would Expect For Food
During our past travels, we’ve visited some expensive cities but I don’t think we’ve ever encountered food prices as high as those in Miami. Despite doing research on restaurants and food beforehand we were still shocked to find that even an extremely average meal on average cost upwards of $30. While eating out is unavoidable, I would recommend bringing lots of snacks with you if possible, especially fresh fruit! This is a really random observation but the fruit we saw was extremely terrible quality and overpriced. Also, if you’re looking for a good halal restaurant in the heart of the city, check out Al Basha Grill. The ambiance was lacking but their tasty food and filling portions make up for it!
5 5. Do Explore More Than Just South Beach
The beaches in Miami are beyond gorgeous, in fact, they’re some of the most beautiful we’ve ever seen but we were also glad that we pulled ourselves away from the beach to explore some other neighborhoods in the city such as Wynwood and Little Havana! Miami is such a unique city in terms of its amalgamations of cultures and people. Take advantage of this and take in everything the city has to offer! We would have loved to go to Little Haiti and Coconut Groove as well but couldn’t fit them in to this trip. We’ve left them on our list for next time!
Sometime during the summer my husband and I started researching places to visit for our first European holiday. The more time we spent reading blogs and on Pinterest, the more fascinated we became with Italy.
It seemed that every town was worth exploring and we couldn’t wait to see it all. When we finally started planning our holiday we knew that realistically we could only spare around 9 days including travel time. Never ones to be deterred by practicalities, we decided to make the most of our limited time, ignore everything we read online and plan to go everywhere we realistically could in that span of time.
My husband and I are what you would call ambitious travelers. As young professionals with limited time and resources to travel our goal is always to see as much as we can. Rome, Florence, Cinque Terre, Venice, and Burano in 9 days may seem like a lot but here's how we were able to cover them all:
Days 1 - 3: Rome
We booked an overnight flight from Dubai to Rome and landed in the Eternal City bright and early at 7:30am. The lines in immigration were insane and it took us around 2 hours to actually leave the airport. Once we were out we took a taxi and headed straight to our hotel which was around a 10 minute walk from the Coliseum. We stayed at the Hotel Infinito and I couldn't recommend it highly enough! It was affordable, quaint, and very centrally located! We got to our room, freshened up and headed out straight away. Having slept most of the flight we weren’t tired at all (one of the reasons I love overnight flights!).
Our first stop of the day was of course, the Coliseum for which we had pre-booked tickets online.
*I would strongly recommend that anyone who goes to Italy books all of their passes and tickets online. Otherwise you will spend at least 2 – 3 hours of your valuable time in lines.*
After the Coliseum we headed to the Roman Forum and from there we kept walking and ended up at the Trevi Fountain. We had had around 3 gelatos already by this point. Honestly, there are no words to describe how amazing Italian gelato truly is and I say this as someone who’s not a huge fan of ice cream or sweets in general! Also, if there's a panna cotta flavor then try it and thank me later!
After exploring the rest of the area around the Trevi Fountain we had dinner and headed back to our hotel to rest up for the next day.
Day 2 was our most ambitious day of the trip by far. We decided to wake up early and head to Trastevere as we had heard so much about this quaint village tucked into the middle of the city. And of course sometimes when you travel, things don’t always go as planned which is exactly what happened with us.
We decided to take the metro to Trestavere but when we got off at the stop we discovered that the Trastevere on the metro route was a completely different place than the Trestavere we had wanted to visit! By this point we were running late for our 12:30 ticket at the Vatican so we rushed back and decided to try and go back later in the day.
Luckily we got to the Vatican in time and spent around 2 hours there. From there we gave Trastevere another try and luckily we were successful this time! As a side note I would say Trastevere was one of my absolute favorite places in Rome and I couldn’t recommend it highly enough to anyone who visits.
From Trastavere we crossed over one of the bridges on the Tiberius and headed to the Piazza Navona and from there to the Pantheon. From the Pantheon we decided to take a longgg walk back over to Trestavere for dinner as it has some of the best restaurants in the city.
By this point we were exhausted. We had walked over 28,000 steps by this point and after dinner we took a taxi and headed back to our hotel. The funny thing was we thought the train we had booked to Florence was the next day so we had tried to cover as much as possible but when we got back to our hotel and looked at our bookings we realized we still had one more day in Rome!
On day three in the city we decided to take a more relaxed approach seeing as we had already checked most of the major tourist sights off our list. We slept in and then headed to the Spanish steps where we sat and people watched. From there we headed back to the Trevi Fountain and spent the rest of the day aimlessly wandering throughout what became one of our all time favorite cities!
Days 4 – 5: Florence/Cinque Terre
On day 4 we checked out of Rome and boarded an early morning train for Florence. We had mapped out the places we had wanted to see beforehand so that we didn’t waste any time when we arrived. Florence is small and incredibly easy to cover on foot. Our first stop was the Duomo and then the Pointo Vecchio which didn’t take more than a few hours.
On day 5 of our trip we got on the train again bright and early at 7:30 in the morning and headed to La Spezia which would connect us to another train that would take us to the five villages that make up Cinque Terre. Cinque Terre was the part of the trip I was looking most forward to and even though I was severely under the weather by this point I decided to make the most of the day and explore as much as I could.
The train rides altogether took around 2.5 hours and our first stop when we arrived to Cinque Terre was the village of Riomaggiore. It’s always such a surreal feeling when you a place that you’ve dreamed about seeing for such a long time. From Riomaggiore we headed to Monarola and then Vernazza. We traveled to all of the towns by train which was included in our Cinque Terre day pass. I would have loved to go on the walking on the trails that connected the villages but we simply didn’t have enough time. From our experience, 1 day is definitely enough to cover most of what there is to see in Cinque Terre. The towns are very small and unless you sit down to eat or go swimming you’ll be able to see each one in around an hour.
Days 6 – 8: Venice and Burano
On Day 6 we packed our bags once again and headed to Venice. While it might seem like most of our time was spent in trains this certainly wasn’t the case. Italian trains are quick and efficient and unlike airports you don’t need to arrive hours in advance of your booking.
When we arrived to Venice we dropped our suitcase at our hotel which was only 5 minutes away from the train station and started exploring right away. On the first day we let ourselves wander and get lost in the city as we had a packed itinerary for the next day. Venice is one of those cities where you will get lost so be prepared!
The next day we headed to Saint Marc’s Square early in the morning and from there took an aperetto to Burano. After exploring the colorful, fairy-tale like island for a few hours we headed back to Venice and spent the rest of the day wandering. If you’re going to Venice I would highly recommend buying a 24 hour aperetto pass which allows unlimited use of the public water buses.
Day 9: Venice to Rome
We were unable to buy open jaw tickets that would have allowed us to fly back to Dubai from Venice so we had to go back to Rome. The train from Venice to Rome took a little over three hours and by the time we reached our hotel we decided to stay in as it ended up being much farther from the city center than we had expected. The next day we headed to the airport and flew back home concluding our trip. While there’s still so much left we want to see we were grateful that we could cover as much as we did in a span of just 9 days.
Over the Eid Holidays my husband and I decided to take a weekend trip to Muscat, the capital city of Oman. Just a 5 hour drive from Dubai it was the perfect option for a quick trip. We left around noon and got there around 7:30 because of traffic and some pit stops along the way. By the time we arrived at our hotel we were too exhausted to go anywhere. We decided to call it an early night and woke up bright and early the next morning ready to explore the city. Our first stop was the Sultan's Palace. We were allowed to go inside so we walked around the outer premises for a bit and came across this gorgeous wall of *bougainvilleas. It was so incredibly hot outside at this point of the day but we couldn't resist the chance for a little photo op. The pink begonias were such a striking contrast to the brick wall behind it. Petals from the flowers had fallen below and lined the walkway. It was all so gorgeous. Even though every city has something unique about it, I always find that the smallest details like a wall of flowers or petals on the ground are what make a city special. Capturing these shots was definitely worth standing outside in the hot sun!
*Shout out to my best friend Jamie for telling me that these flowers are actually bougainvilleas and not begonias as was originally stated!
Biryani and I have a bit of a history. Growing up, I abhorred any food that contained whole spices. Cloves, peppercorns, coriander seeds, you name it. Just the sight of them in my food would be enough to make me nauseous. This made eating biryani quite the struggle. I was the only Pakistani child I knew of who didn't like biryani. Not liking biryani in the desi community is more than enough to get you ostracized. It's practically considered sacrilege. Over the years I learned how to stealthily pass up biryani at desi gatherings and people learned to like me regardless.
I thought I had finally escaped the curse of biryani until I met my husband. I quickly discovered that he like most Desis loved his biryani. Actually, it's his all time favorite food. I could no longer ignore it, in fact I would have to learn how to make it. I thought if I do have to make biryani I should do it in a way that would appeal to both my husband and I. I left out the whole spices and replaced them with other flavors I could tolerate. Regardless, my first attempt was not pretty. It was a gooey, yogurty, bland mess. My poor husband ate it anyway and that was the moment I knew I had married a saint. Fast forward to around a year later and I've slowly gotten my biryani recipe down. It's a bit different from the traditional variety but it's a crowd pleaser none the less. I infuse it with lots of fresh herbs, lemon, and chilies which create an incredible aroma and taste. I always serve biryani with a bowl of fresh raita (a yogurt sauce) which compliments the spicy rice perfectly. I make my biryani with chicken but it can easily be made into a vegetable biryani by replacing the chicken with any veggies of your choice. Here's my step by step biryani guide. This recipe generously feeds 2 people.
(I finished making this biryani minutes before our fast was about to open so there wasn't a lot of time to take pictures!)
1.5 cups of Basmati Rice
1/2 pound of chicken (you can use whatever cuts you prefer as long as it's not boneless)
3 - 4 red or yellow medium sized onions
1 - 2 tomatoes
1/4 cup of plain yogurt
1 cup of oil
Lemon slices to taste
Green chilies to taste
Spices: (these are the spices I use but you can modify them to fit your taste)
2 tablespoons of Shan Bombay Biryani Masala
1 heaping tablespoon of salt
1 tablespoon of red chilli powder
1 tablespoon of cumin powder
1 tablespoon of coriander powder
1. Soak 1.5 cups of Basmati rice in water for 30 minutes.
2. Drain the water and boil your rice. Make sure you salt the water generously and add in around two tablespoons of vegetable oil to keep your rice from sticking.
3. After your rice has cooked to the point where it is soft but still not cooked through all of the way remove it from the heat and drain it in a colander. Set your rice aside and let it cool.
4. Now it's time to prepare your chicken mixture. In a large pot fry 3 - 4 medium sized onions until they are golden brown. Add in 1 heaping tablespoon of ginger garlic paste and fry some more.
5. Add in your chicken and fry it with the onions until the chicken changes color and becomes white.
6. Slice 1 - 2 medium sized tomatoes and add it into your pot along with 2 - 3 green chillies. Cover with a lid and let the mixture cook on low heat for a few minutes until the tomatoes get very soft.
7. Mix your yogurt and spices in a separate bowl and add them to the chicken mixture. Make sure the heat is low or otherwise your yogurt will curdle.
8. Once your yogurt has mixed with the chicken add around 1 cup of water and let it cook until the sauce in the chicken mixture becomes thick.
9. Once your chicken mixture has finished cooking add in a handful of chopped coriander, 3 - 4 slices of lemon, and a few green chilies along with your rice.
10. Cover with a lid and set the heat to medium. Let the mixture steam for 15 - 20 minutes. There it is, your biryani is ready to serve!
After spending an incredible four days in the Seychelles, I’m reluctant to admit that the island had never been high up on my list of places to visit. I don’t know what it is but I’ve found that the places I expect the least from always end up impressing me the most! This was certainly the case with the Seychelles. In the days leading up to my trip I wasn’t sure of how I would fill my four days on the island but by my last day there I found myself wishing that I could stay forever. From the moment my husband and I were greeted with warm winds and balmy sunshine on the tarmac of the airport we knew we had landed somewhere special.
Once we passed the immigration counter at the airport we headed straight to our hotel, The H Resort Beau Vallon Beach. Taxis are readily available at the airport, and although they’re expensive, there’s no way to get around them. Getting from the airport to our hotel cost 600SCR which is about 165AED, much more than a 20 minute taxi ride would cost us here in Dubai. The good thing is that taxi rates are fixed throughout the island so you don’t have to worry about getting ripped off. On our taxi ride to the hotel we soaked in the gorgeous views from the mountainous roads. We found ourselves wishing that we stop and take pictures every few minutes! The locals in the Seychelles were so friendly and we quickly found ourselves in conversation with our taxi driver. He told us that in the Seychelles children learn to speak three languages in school – English, French, and Creole. The languages are staggered with Creole and English coming first, followed by French. This way everyone on the island is able to converse with one another and with the many tourists that come to visit. It’s also mandatory for all children to attend school from the ages of 4 – 16. I was curious to know about the government and he told us that the Seychelles is ruled by a socialist democracy but as with most countries, the population feels the government could be doing much more to for their people. Another really interesting fact we found was that food and imports in the Seychelles are very expensive because Somali pirates impose their own tax on everything that comes into island!
We were so entwined in conversation that I was almost disappointed by how quickly we arrived at our resort. There’s truly no better way to learn about a country than by talking to someone who lives there. After saying our goodbyes we entered our resort we were immediately taken aback by how beautiful it was. The lobby had an ethereal seashell chandelier that made the most melodic sound as it gently swished from the breeze. Because the lobby was open from two sides we could see the clear blue water and white sand of the beach right away. Even though we arrived at the hotel around 10:00am the staff was kind enough to let us check into our room two hours early. One of the funniest moments of our trips occurred when after finding out that my husband and I are ethnically Pakistani, one of the guys working at the reception desk eagerly exclaimed that Shakti Kapoor along with his entire family were staying at the resort. We spotted them a couple of times throughout our trip but decided against asking them for a picture in case they found it rude.
After freshening up in our room we were starving and tired. Even though we couldn’t wait to jump into our pool and lay out by the beach we decided to find food first. We headed to an Indian restaurant nearby located at the Coral Strand Hotel that we had read about online but when we arrived we found out that they would only open for dinner. We headed to a nearby pizza place instead and had a really filling and delicious Cajun style pizza with grilled fish and spices. We were surprised to find that pizza was a very common meal in the Seychelles and almost all of the restaurants we visited had it on their menu.
After getting back to our hotel we spent the rest of the day lazing on the beach and taking dips in our pool which was included in our room. The main pool at the resort closed at 7:00pm but we could use ours at our own convenience which made for an even more amazing overall experience! If you’re planning to stay at the H Resort I would definitely recommend opting for the beach villa which includes a private pool. The small difference in price is definitely worth the amenities you’ll receive in return!
When we had checked into our hotel the concierge had informed us that a local market takes place ten minutes away from our resort every Wednesday. We had completely forgotten about it until we ventured out to find a money exchange and walked right into it! The energy at the market was amazing. There were people of all different ages, locals and tourists alike. We couldn’t believe that so many people had come out to enjoy life and socialize on a weekday. It’s definitely not something we can imagine happening regularly in any of the cities that we’ve lived in. After sampling some local specialties including fried plantains and grilled fish we decided to call it a night and head back to our hotel. One of the most memorable experiences of our trip occurred on our walk back. The way to our room was along the beach and we couldn’t help but notice how bright everything looked. At first we thought there was a light coming from one of the nearby hotels or restaurants but when we looked up we were immediately greeted with the sight of what looked like thousands of radiant stars scattered across an inky black sky. The only way I can describe what we saw is to say that it looked like someone had thrown silver glitter into sky. I’d never seen anything like it, not even in rural Pakistani or New England. Had that sky been the only thing I saw on my trip, I still would have left being content.
The next day was mainly spent in and around the resort relaxing. It was raining quite heavily and frequently throughout the day so we decided to postpone our plan of heading to Victoria, which is the capital city of the Seychelles. Victoria is actually the smallest capital city in the world and after seeing so many cute pictures of it on Pinterest and Instagram I couldn’t wait to get there and explore! When we asked people what the best way was to get to Victoria many recommended getting a taxi but a few also suggested that we try a local bus. A taxi would cost us 500SCR while a bus ride was 5SCR; needless to say we went with the bus! My husband and I always like to use local methods of transportation everywhere we go so figured this would be the perfect opportunity. As soon as we got on the bus I knew that this would be an experience I would never forget. The Seychelles is basically carved into a mountain which means there are lots of steep, winding roads with no side rails. Our driver was going around 80mph and I was sure that we would fall off the edge of a cliff. By the grace of God we arrived to Victoria safely and in one piece. Although I was terrified at the time I now look back on the experience and laugh! I’m so happy we tried the bus because it definitely gave us a taste of what daily life is like for the people who live in the Seychelles.
When we arrived in Victoria we were eager to explore but the humidity was stifling. The rest of the island is humid as well but the heat from the cars and people in the city center made it extremely hot. After cooling down and buying some water at a small grocery store we began exploring. One thing we noticed was that people in the Seychelles are very laid back and friendly compared to almost anywhere else we had ever been. I think the fact that they live on one of the most beautiful tropical islands in the world probably helps! Victoria lived up to its reputation of being quaint and very small! We visited the Hindu Temple, the Clock Tower, the tourist market where we picked up a new magnet for our fridge and the admired the colorful exteriors of the colonial buildings. After about an hour of walking around we decided to head back and once again opted for the bus. The ride back was definitely a lot less scary compared to the ride getting there, probably because we were going uphill which made driving a lot slower. All in all, I would definitely recommend allocating a few hours to visit Victoria on your trip. I’d also add that before arriving we read online that the island is very safe and we definitely didn’t feel otherwise while we were there. Remember to keep in mind that everything in town closes at 4:00pm so plan to go early on in the day before the afternoon humidity sets in.
All in all, I cannot recommend visiting the Seychelles enough. Prior to this trip I always preferred visiting big cities because I like having lots to see and explore. However, this journey taught me that vacations don’t have to be all about walking thousands of steps of a day and scurrying to see a new city in the timespan of a few days. I still remember around 8 or 9 months ago my husband and I were watching a travel documentary about the Seychelles on a channel called TravelXP. After watching the footage I was impressed with the beaches and views but I thought I wouldn’t be a fulfilling experience for me. Not only did I realize how I wrong I was, it’s also prompted me to add a few more tropical destinations to my travel list. If you have any specific questions about visiting the Seychelles, feel free to email me or leave me a comment below!
For a blog titled Dreaming In Dubai, I've come to realize that I've written very little about Dubai so today I thought I'd share one of my favorite places in the city with all of you. Amidst the hustle and bustle of Downtown, it's easy to forgo everything and head straight into your favorite restaurant on the boulevard or to forgo the walk all together and go directly to Dubai Mall. My husband and I did the same until one day when the weather was so nice we decided to explore the area in a little more detail. We stepped into one of the residential abodes called Qamardeen District right next Vida Hotel and were blown away by how beautiful it was! All of the houses were covered with gorgeous fuchsia flowers and were constructed in a quintessential Middle Eastern manner with dark wooden doors and lantern lights. I could have easily spent the whole day wandering the small alleys but alas, the sun set and we headed over to Dubai Mall to grab a bite. Next time you're in the Downtown area, I would definitely recommend you wander off the beaten track and explore some of the neighborhoods in the area!