Travel & Make a Difference!

Once again, I am terribly behind on my blog posts… but until I get some down-time to catch up, please take a minute to read this post on Pack for a Purpose’s website. It’s not the best picture of me (yikes!), but the mission trumps my pride, and I hope it will inspire others to do some good while traveling this beautiful world of ours! Read the story here: http://www.packforapurpose.org/blog/2014/07/michelles-story

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Need a New Book for Your Next Trip?

One of the many pleasures of traveling is the hours of guilt-free reading time it allows you to have. I don’t particularly enjoy being crammed into a middle seat in coach, but the consolation prize is being able to read for long stretches without my phone ringing off the hook or having to check my work email every five minutes.

For those of you who feel the same way, I’d like to introduce you to a novel I wrote and published, Shades of Secrecy. No, it doesn’t resemble the other Shades book, but it is a psychological thriller, so it’s not for the faint of heart! If you’re interested in finding out more, please feel free to read the synopsis and check out some 5-star reader reviews.

Thank you for your attention during this important announcement 😉 If you do happen to read my book, I hope you enjoy it and I look forward to hearing your feedback!

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Wanna Get Away? Think Aruba

Last weekend, I promised myself that if I did all the laundry, I could work on my blog. Yes, I sometimes have to bribe myself like a three-year-old. And yes, it really does work. Except that by the time I finished said laundry (and countless other post-vacation chores), I was too tired to write. This weekend (only two weeks behind schedule), I just couldn’t wait another minute to share my experience in Aruba!

I have to say, this island far exceeded my expectations. I’m sure this was in large part because we stayed at an outstanding hotel… Manchebo Beach Resort was the absolute highlight of the vacation. This place is so beautiful and relaxing that it was actually difficult to drag ourselves away to see other parts of the island.

First and foremost, the location is spectacular. Manchebo is situated on a large strip of pristine beach just 15 minutes from the airport. It’s also only 10 minutes by cab to the hustle and bustle of the high-rise section of Aruba, if you want to do some shopping or eat at different restaurants. Cabs, by the way, are clean and have regulated fares. To and from the airport is $22, and rides into town are $9-$12 each way. If you plan to do a lot more exploring, you might want to rent a car, but since the four of us went to veg out on the beach most of the time, cabs were the cheaper way to go.

The hospitality at the resort is also pretty amazing. Upon checking in, they greet you with a cool towel and a complimentary mojito. (Best mojitos of my life, by the way). When you go to check out, they give you a little bag with snacks for your plane ride home. Awww. And in between, you are treated with friendly and courteous service by all of the staff.

As for the resort itself, I just can’t say enough good things about it. We much preferred the laid-back style of the low-rise hotel to the huge chain hotels in town. It’s peaceful, and everything is only a two-minute walk away. Forget your sunscreen in the room? No worries, your room is only 2 minutes away. Want to get a drink? No problem, the bar is only 2 minutes away. Some may think that a smaller hotel means less comfort, style, or luxury, but not here. We purposely picked Manchebo because of its stylish, modern decor and amenities, and thankfully, reality was as good as the pictures online. Actually better. The rooms were clean and comfortable, the AC was cold as ice (if you wanted it to be), the bathrooms were updated, and the whole resort felt new. No “blast from the past” experiences here! My only complaint about the room we had is the somewhat mushy, lumpy pillows. I’m a fussy sleeper, though, so that may not bother most people, and at least the beds were very comfortable.

Finally, I want to mention a couple of tips that we picked up along the way. 1) They offer a great BOGO (buy one get one free) happy hour from 5-7pm. Don’t just load up on mojitos–buy bottles of water! They’re included in the special. 2) The morning yoga classes in the outdoor pavilion are awesome and well worth the early start time. It’s yoga with a beach view, but without all the sand. 3) Ike’s Bistro is great for breakfast and dinner. Lunch options are a bit limited at Pega-Pega, which mostly features so-so beach-bar fare. Definitely check out Barefoot in town for a delicious dinner.

Aside from the resort, you’ll find that the island is clean, the people are friendly, and the atmosphere is serene. Nobody moves at the speed of light, but once you get used to the slower flow, you realize that it feels pretty good to relax and not think of 47 different things at once. Trust me, you’ll miss that when you get back home. 

One more tip: DO get to the airport crazy early. See my post on Flying Out of Aruba in 15 Easy Steps to find out why.

Here are links to the other reviews I posted on TripAdvisor:

  1. Manchebo Beach Resort & Spa – Don’t just take my word for it, read other travelers’ reviews as well!
  2. Ike’s Bistro – Great on-site restaurant for breakfast and dinner.
  3. Barefoot Restaurant – Drool-worthy restaurant in town.
  4. Rancho Notorious – In case you decide to give horseback riding a try…
  5. Gianni’s Italian Restaurant – Here’s the spoiler: good food, obnoxious environment.
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Can’t Decide…

Do I keep going on the steady path of catching up on all of last year’s trips, or do I skip those for the moment and rave about my recent trip to Aruba?! I have so much to say about that beautiful island and our wonderful hotel, but since I can’t write it all today, I’ll just post one picture to get things going…

SONY DSC

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2013 Travels in Review

2013 was a CRAZY year (as evidenced, perhaps, by my incredible lack of contributions to my blog!). Keeping up with a blog is often like keeping up with photo albums–once you’re about 2 vacations or major milestones behind, you think, “can I ever catch up? Is there any point in trying?!” But after much soul-searching (ok, just a little), and a lack of good excuses (because really, I can zip through my DVR tomorrow), I find myself back here. Wanting to share my adventures and reviews with anyone who may be interested!

Without further ado, I will give you a list of destinations we visited last year so that you can click on the ones you’d like read:

  1. January 2013: Las Vegas to Sedona and the Grand Canyon
  2. April 2013: Weekend Getaway to Loudoun County, Virginia
  3. June 2013: Grand Cayman Island
  4. July 2013: Green Lake, Wisconsin
  5. July 2013: Niagara Falls
  6. September 2013: Day trip to Frederick, Maryland
  7. September 2013: Day trip to Annapolis, Maryland
  8. October 2013: Cabo San Lucas, Mexico (coming soon!)
  9. November 2013: Thanksgiving in Vermont (coming soon!)
  10. December 2013: Weekend Jaunt to New York City (coming soon!)
  11. December 2013: New Year’s Eve at the National Harbor (coming soon!)
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Great Getaways on the East Coast

Although my go-to destination for long vacations is definitely Europe, sometimes I just have to get away for a few days to recharge the mental batteries. I realize this isn’t an uncommon need, but trying to find something fun, luxurious, and close to home on a moderate budget is often difficult. I’m sure I’m not the only one with this problem, so as I start finding little gems that are easily accessible to East Coasters in the Mid-Atlantic area, I’ll add them to my travel reviews. Please feel free to add your suggestions on these posts as well!

First off, let me say that while I love bed and breakfasts, I’ve become very picky (dare I say, snobby) about the places I choose. Many potential candidates are eliminated solely based on their choice of decor–especially the ones that feature super-frilly, lacy rooms covered with chintzy furniture and multi-colored quilts. It doesn’t appeal to me, and that means it DEFINITELY won’t appeal to my husband. Hard enough to drag a man to a B&B as it is… even harder if he’s repeatedly smacked in the face with girly Americana.

With that said, my goal is to find and review places that will appeal to couples searching for modern but cozy getaways that are inviting to everyone. Please click below for those reviews, or search the travel archives for information about travel around the world.

Gettysburg: Not Just for Field Trips

Cumberland: Modern Haven Meets Quaint Town

Loudoun County: DC’s Wine Country

Frederick: Town & Country in Maryland

Old Meets New in Annapolis, Maryland

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Barcelona Luxury Without the Sticker Shock

After countless hours poring through websites and agonizing about location, price, and amenities, I finally decided on the Soho Hotel in Barcelona for our trip in the fall of last year. I won’t even bother posting pictures of the room because they wouldn’t do it justice… the hotel really does look like the pictures on the site (shocking, I know).

What I liked about this hotel was the fact that it’s relatively new, the location is convenient to practically everything in the city, the décor and amenities are clean and modern, the service is friendly, and the price tag was surprisingly affordable. I would highly recommend it to travelers with a moderate budget who want a comfortable, attractive place to stay. The metro station is just a block or two from the front door.

Here are a few general tips for travel to Barcelona and this hotel in particular:

  1. If you arrive in Terminal 1 of the airport, get some cash at the ATM (usually much cheaper than exchanging dollars at the kiosks). Take the Aerobus A1 to Gran-Via Urgell (about €5 per person), and request a stop near the Soho Hotel, which is number 543-545.
  2. Las Ramblas is within walking distance (about 10-15 minutes), or you can take the metro to the Liceu station. There are plenty of stations around that area, but that one is close to La Boqueria, which is an incredible fresh market. If you plan to use the metro a lot, it’s worth getting the T-10 ticket.
  3. Visit Montserrat. It has an incredible old monastery built into the mountains about one hour from Barcelona. Take L1/red line toward Hospital de Bellvitge to Espanya station; once at Espanya look for FGC Line R5 headed towards Manresa. Choose the Montserrat-Aeri option to take the cable car from the metro to the mountain. This costs roughly €17 round-trip per person (includes train ride and cable car). Check the train timetable in advance, because they only run about once per hour, and not necessarily on the hour. Here is a pdf file to the current timetable. If that doesn’t work, the main site is here.
  4. Do some research in advance and figure out what architectural and historic sites are most important to you. Unless you’re planning to stay for at least a week, you probably won’t be able to see as many as you think… the lines are long and the entrance fees can be pretty steep. Sagrada Familia is probably one of the most stunning sites, even if you only get to see it from the outside.
  5. If you’re in Barcelona to grab a cruise, visit this site for information on transportation to and from the terminals. If you need transportation directly to or from the airport, go to this page.

I hope this information is helpful! If you have any questions, please feel free to leave a comment at the bottom of this page.

Link to my Trip Advisor Review and others for this hotel.

Link to my Trip Advisor Review and others’ of Montserrat.

Link to Trip Advisor Profile: http://www.tripadvisor.com/members/venesueca

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All Lotions are NOT Created Equal – Update!

When it comes to body lotions, I have the “Goldilocks” syndrome. Most are either too smelly, too greasy, or too loaded with ingredients that look like the components of jet fuel. I don’t want everyone around me to think I got attacked by a perfume sampler at the mall, I can’t stand feeling like I’m covered in french fry oil, and if I can’t pronounce the ingredients, I’ll probably be hearing on the news one day that they’re deadly to humans. I always had a hard time finding one that was juuuuuuust right… until I tried Pure Paradise.

Over the years, Renee Snow has become somewhat of a mad scientist in the quest to create an all-natural cream for herself and her massage therapy clients. I admit that I was skeptical when I got the lavender-scented lotion…I’m picky, and most skin creams I’ve tried rate somewhere between “ehhh” and “so-so”. Within a minute, though, the Goldilocks in me was hooked. It wasn’t too thick or too runny, it smelled pleasant but wasn’t obnoxiously strong, and it hydrated my skin but didn’t leave it feeling greasy. The most shocking thing of all is that every single ingredient was not only pronounceable, but also recognizable! Organic coconut oil, aloe, and essential oil? Easy. Distilled water, beeswax, and vitamin E? Duh. Bye bye sulfates, parabens, and other nasty ingredients that are commonly used in commercial products!

Another Pure Paradise product that I LOVE is the Rituoil line of body oils. They are perfect for daily use after bathing or for massages. Again, the scents are beautiful without being overpowering, and they absorb quickly, leaving skin feeling soft and hydrated. Plus, it only takes a dime-sized amount to cover your whole leg, so one bottle lasts a long time.

The best part is that although she uses high-quality ingredients, she doesn’t charge sky-high prices. In fact, 8-ounce bottles of lotion or oil sell for around $15!  They come in a variety of different scents, and are readily available on her site or through Ebay. You  can also find out about new products and services on her Facebook page. Enjoy!

Pure Paradise Oils

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Thinking About a Trip to Ireland?

Of all the places I have visited over the years, Ireland is without question one of my absolute favorites. It’s every bit as gorgeous as postcards and movies portray, and although its reputation for constant rain is fairly accurate, the common perception that Irish food is bland and unappetizing no longer holds true. The country is filled with beautiful landscapes, friendly people, delicious food, and enough activities to make you wish you never had to come home.

My husband and I landed in Dublin in July 2010, and after a few fun (ok, scary) adjustments to driving on the right side of the car and the left side of the road in a stick-shift car, we were on our way to a great adventure! After the first night, we drove from Dublin, on the eastern coast of the country, all the way to the other side of the country in less than 4 hours. Yes, people, 4 hours.

After a self-guided tour of the stunning ruins of Clonmacnoise, we headed to Galway for a few days of sightseeing. My next post will be a review of the hotel we stayed in, so stay tuned for more!

Click on the thumbnails below to see larger images.

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Welcome to Venesueca.com!

Have you always wondered if you should buy that product you saw on TV, visit a restaurant or city you’ve heard about, or hire a particular vendor to help you with a project? Maybe you want fresh ideas to inspire your daily life or to make the daily grind a bit easier. At venesueca.com, you’ll find the answers to many of those questions! I love to travel, see new places, try new things, and meet new people… along the way, I enjoy writing about my experiences so that others can benefit from my reviews. Stay tuned and comment often!

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Flying Out of Aruba in 15 Easy Steps

If you’re flying back to the US from Aruba, you’ll want to heed the many warnings to arrive at the airport 3 hours prior to departure time. Go ahead, laugh. I thought it was silly too… until I got there. For those of you who prefer to learn from other people’s mistakes, read on for some tips on getting through this airport with your sanity (mostly) intact.

  1. Check in and get your boarding passes.
  2. Go through ID and boarding pass control.
  3. Go through Aruba immigration.
  4. Take off your shoes, belts, hats, and change so you can go through the central security checkpoint.
  5. Once through, gaze wistfully at the delicious chocolates and liquor available at duty-free, but don’t stop, because you didn’t get there three hours ahead of time and you have a long way to go.
  6. Pick up your checked luggage and carry it through to US Customs and Border Protection processing area.
  7. Observe the long line and start wishing you’d arrived 3 hours in advance.
  8. Finally get through Customs and place your checked luggage back on the designated conveyor belt.
  9. Pat yourself on the back because you think you’re done.
  10. Arrive at the next passenger and hand luggage airline screening checkpoint and repeat step #4.
  11. Observe this long line and begin hyperventilating and wishing you’d arrived YESTERDAY.
  12. Finally arrive at the screening machines and, as per usual, pick the shortest line so that you can be guaranteed the longest wait.
  13. Get through this checkpoint and start running toward your gate.
  14. Spot a Cinnabon and throw money at the counter in exchange for a warm piece of gooey deliciousness that you ABSOLUTELY deserve at this point.
  15. Arrive at your gate, winded and cranky, and proceed to wait for them to start boarding. At least you have your Cinnabon.

For those of you who think I may be exaggerating (or for those of you who are neurotic planners), here is an Aruba Airport Map with fun, colorful guides. Believe me when I tell you that it looks a lot easier and quicker than it actually is!

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Old Meets New in Annapolis, MD

Boats? Check. Historic buildings? Check. Chic Boutiques? Check. Delicious eats? Check. So WHY haven’t I been to Annapolis more often?! I suppose that happens to most of us–we like to travel to exotic locations that we’ve never visited, and we skimp on spending time in our own backyards. Now that I’ve been there on a perfect fall day, though, I think of it often and remember it well.

I know there are tons of touristy things to do in Annapolis, but truth be told, we didn’t do any of those things on our day trip. We walked around the waterfront, went in and out of stores (yes, some shopping was done), and we ate. A lot. Just that leisurely cruise through town was enough to make an enjoyable day, and I look forward to going again soon. I highly recommend Factors Row for lunch (or dinner), because it’s conveniently located along the water and features delicious and creative food and drink.  I haven’t reviewed it on TripAdvisor yet (and I can’t account for the less-than-stellar overall ratings there) but I do know they’re fairly new, so I hope more people give them a chance.

Let me know if you have any recommendations on fun things to do in the Annapolis area!

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Day Trip To Frederick, MD

Located roughly an hour away from both DC and Baltimore, Frederick, Maryland is a quick and easy drive for many, and it has a full calendar of events going on throughout the year. In spite of its close proximity, last September was the first time we’d ever visited the city of Frederick. We randomly picked a weekend and ended up enjoying the annual In the Street festival, which meant lots of fun and food, but very little parking. (Word to the wise: make sure you plan ahead to avoid circling the town a few hundred times at a snail’s pace to look for spots).

This area is also home to wineries, breweries, scenic and historical sites, parks, and fantastic restaurants. One of those restaurants is The Orchard, which offers a casual but delicious dining experience in downtown Frederick. They use fresh, local whole foods and a lot of organic ingredients, but the prices are reasonable and the menu options aren’t fussy or overly exotic.

We only went for a day, and we’re sure that we didn’t see a fraction of what the area has to offer, so we’re planning to go back again soon. Check out the Tourism Council website to plan your trip, and if you have suggestions for me, please comment below!

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