Archive for the 'TRAVEL' Category


U.S.: St. John, Virgin Islands

In celebrating the 100th year of U.S. National Parks, we decided to go to the U.S. Virgin Islands composed of the three stunning islands of St. Thomas, St. John and St. Croix. St. John’s awe-inspiring Trunk Bay was the main reason why we decided to base ourselves in St. John away from the maddening cruise ship crowd of St. Thomas.  Two-thirds of the island of St. John is protected as part of the Virgin Islands National Park.

We flew from New York’s JFK airport into St. Thomas which is the primary gateway to both the U.S. and British Virgin Islands. We were whisked off from the airport by a private shuttle bus provided by the Westin St. John to the dock where we took the private ferry direct from  St. Thomas to the Westin dock in St. John.  We chose this route as we had our four-month old baby girl in tow.  An alternative and cheaper but more inconvenient route would be to take a 30-min. taxi from the airport to Red Hook in St. Thomas and take the ferry from there to Cruz Bay in St. John and then take a short taxi ride to the hotel.  All transportation information to St. John can be found at this link.


We earned enough Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) points for the year to spend a few nights at any Westin property so selecting our hotel in St. John was a no-brainer.  Otherwise, it would have been a toss-up between Westin St. John & Caneel Bay Resort if I wanted closer to Cruz Bay area.

image2Taking the hotel private ferry gives passengers a spectacular approach to the Westin dock as the ferry  makes its way to the docking area……..

image1…..and as the amazing strip of the private white sand beach comes into view in a stunningly clear and sunny weather like what we experienced.

IMG_5018Here is how the resort would look like from above.  I flew my drone much higher to get this shot. Just kidding.  Photo credit goes to the resort website.

USVI8As we arrived at the resort, we were immediately served the great tasting island signature rum punch as the welcome drink at the check-in area.  We brought our refillable drinks with us as we were transported by a hotel cart to our room.  Our luggage was delivered later. We were given a room facing the pool (shown above) that made it possible for me and my wife to dip in the pool later while our little angel slept. We brought with us our video monitor that worked via the hotel’s complimentary and reliable  Wi-Fi.

USVI3Shown here is part of the massive hotel pool during the day.

FullSizeRender_3Early one beautiful morning we had a photo shoot at the resort’s pool side when almost everyone was still asleep or was busy having breakfast.

image23Our lovely, little angel, shown here with my voluptuous wife, was very cooperative.

image25She even posed for some unforgettable shot.

image13At the other end of the resort near the breakfast area are the colorful canoes and speedboat docked at the resort’s private beach available for guests.

image27Whether it is late afternoon….


image5..or early morning, the resort’s private beach is a great place to relax.


DSC_0065This beautiful piece of paradise is a part of the Virgin Islands National Park and it is the main reason of our visit to USVI.  This photo was taken from the final vantage point as we began to descend to the entrance of the magnificent beach.  If you are driving your own rented car you can just stop by the lookout area. Taxis would usually make stops too that is why I was able to take this shot.

USVI6I have previously read that even if there is an entrance fee to the national park, if you arrive before it opens at 7:30 a.m. you won’t be paying anything.  We arrived there around 8:00 a.m. and the ticket counter was still closed so we did not pay anything!  We just paid for the chairs and umbrellas later rented at the single store operating there.



What a great treat to have the entire beach to ourselves! I was actually hoping that day that the massive cruise ship crowd won’t be filling this beautiful beach and certainly they did not for the entire time that we were there!  There is actually a cruise ship schedule to make one aware when the crowd would be arriving at St. Thomas and be flooding Trunk Bay.

USVI5An hour after we arrived, there were still less than ten people on the beach.

DSC_0001This not-so-young lady kept walking from one end of the beach to the other for many times since we arrived.  Like us, she could not get enough of the stunning scenery!

CSC_0021Now as more people rushed into the beach I set up my camera on a tree and we had our family portrait.

CSC_0010As our little angel took a nap under the shade on her mother’s arms…..

CSC_0051……I explored the other end of the beach!

DSC_0049There were boulders that were less distinctive than the ones in Virgin Gorda, BVI.

DSC_0040Yet from that point, the view of Trunk Bay was truly breathtaking.

USVI4At last one of the beaches I was dying to check off my list was finally conquered in an early morning solitude and in a stunningly sunny weather. I would love to be back. This beach immediately made my list of the top 10 best beaches that I have been to.


DSC_0103 Longer but less impressive than Trunk Bay, Cinnamon Bay is worth a visit too.

DSC_0082The sand here was white too but not as fine as the one in Trunk Bay and the water was invitingly clear.

DSC_0092This is where our daughter had her first saltwater dip.

DSC_0067We left before sunset as we were told that it would be hard to get taxis after 6 p.m. We surely missed the highly-acclaimed Maho Bay Beach just a few miles from Cinnamon Bay but we promised to be back to visit it.


DSC_0116During our stay at St. John, we only had one dining experience outside the Westin St. John and it was at the highly recommended Morgan’s Mango. The famous place is a neo-Caribbean restaurant with West Indian and Latin twist.

DSC_0121We ordered the celebrated grilled Caribbean lobster served with sweet plantains, black beans and seasoned rice with the usual butter-lemon sauce. Honestly, Maine lobster is still juicier (and probably the best) but this one is good enough!

DSC_0115This seafood soup made my day. It’s made of shrimps, mussels and squid with quinoa in seafood broth. Excellent!

seafood paellaThe seafood paella also captivated our taste buds! The Latin kick created that different twist!


DSC_1079There are only two main options how to get around St. John.  One is to rent one of those reliable Jeeps. Please take note that you would drive at the other side of the road opposite of the U.S. experience.

DSC_0056The other option would be the island taxis that abound everywhere.  These are non-aircon cars that can take up to 20 passengers.

DSC_0113Shown here is my wife and our daughter as we were about to leave Cinnamon Bay using an island taxi.

IMG_5242One of the most breathtaking views that you can have as you travel around St. John is Cruz Bay.  We saw many tourists pending time just looking at the beautiful scenery.

image8Truly, this has been one of my family’s most memorable Caribbean experiences.  Swaying palm trees, gorgeous beaches, sumptuous food, friendly people and laid back atmosphere. Ah, paradise!  Virgin Islands, we will keep on coming back!


Morocco: The Ruins of Volubilis

After spending days in the World Heritage Site of the greatly preserved medieval city of Fez and touring the blue city of Chefchaouen for a day, we were on our way to exciting Marrakesh with a stop in Casablanca. Volubilis and Meknes can both be visited along the way from Fez to Casablanca so we suddenly decided to spend an entire day in these two magnificent places. We rented a car and hired a driver during our entire stay in Morocco so even last minute decisions like this could be easily accommodated.


DSC_0270About one and half hour drive from Fez is the spectacular, partly excavated Berber and Roman city of Volubilis. The archaeological site overlooks a rolling fertile plain and the surrounding verdant greens can make one say he is in Italy instead of Morocco.

DSC_0348There is a ticket booth at the entrance and upon entering the sprawling 42-hectare complex there is a newly constructed structure that houses the restrooms and some prototypes of architectural columns during different eras. One should make sure to use the restrooms first and bring plenty of water or any liquid as it will be a long and arduous walk especially during noontime under the searing heat of the Moroccan sun.

DSC_0352As we walked up the hilly path into the main site, we initially caught a glimpse of some of the ruins.



DSC_0347The two public buildings readily visible at the center of the city are what remains of the basilica and the Capitoline Temple.



DSC_0345Now with only one side largely intact this is considered one of the finest basilicas in Africa.



DSC_0278The basilica was used for the administration of justice and the governance of the city.



DSC_0335The outer wall of the basilica, which is faced with columns, overlooks the forum where markets were held.



DSC_0336The forum fronting the basilica used to have statues of emperors and local dignitaries but now all that remains is the pedestal.




DSC_0338Exterior of the basilica.



CSC_0297Interior of the basilica at Volubilis.



DSC_0337Just behind the basilica is the Capitoline Temple.



CSC_0283The layout of the temple seems unusual and it has been said that it was built on top of an existing shrine.  Nobody and nothing could confirm that.




DSC_0343The temple was dedicated o the trinity of Roman gods: Juno, Jupiter and Minerva.



ARCHOnward, we found the Arch of Caracalla, one of Volubilis’ most distinctive landmarks.



CSC_0295It was built in 217 A.D. by the town council in honour of Emperor Carcalla (an African) and his mother Julia Domna as a way of thanking them for bestowing upon citizens of Roman provinces the Roman citizenship and eventually tax exemption. Sadly, by the time the arch was finished, Caracalla and Julia had been murdered.

CSC_0328 The triumphal arch marks the end of the city’s main street on one side and beyond that leads to fertile rolling green plains.



DSC_0293Next along, the House of Columns is so named because of the columns arranged in a circle around the interior court – note their differing styles, which include spirals.



DSC_0303More columns. We were actually a bit exhausted at this point and we stopped every now and then where there was some sort of a shade from the fierce sun and sipped the refreshing water and sugar-laden coke (blame my wife!) that we brought with us.

DSC_0305Next are the fine town houses with impressive mosaic floors that were built during the first and second century AD as the city grew and prospered.  The city’s wealth was derived mainly from olive growing business that until now is widespread in most parts of Morocco.

DSC_0306Although much of the city’s structures were destroyed by previous earthquakes, especially the one in the 18th century and then looted by Moroccan rulers seeking for stones to be used in building nearby Meknes, the mosaics remained intact.



CSC_0311From the Arch of Caracalla, the city’s main street, Decumanus Maximus, stretches up the slope to the northeast.



DSC_0307Going to the other end of the city’s main street  would lead to the small Tingis gate at the far end of the decumanus.



DSC_0323Pillars lining up one side of the city’s main street lead to small Tingis gate.



DSC_0315This part of the city was the last part of the ruins of Volubilis that we checked.

DSC_0320In 1997, the Archaeological Site of Volubilis was included in the UNESCO World Heritage List in recognition of its outstanding universal value as a property of the humankind. It is indeed Morocco’s best-preserved archaeological site!


Morocco: Medieval Fez

IMG_2038Arriving into Fez, Morocco from Barcelona, Spain was exhilarating with stunning top views of the Rif Mountains and its surrounding lakes.



IMG_2046The shadow of the Ryanair plane as we were about to land in Fez airport was so haunting against the nicely lined up olive trees.



IMG_2054We were met at the airport by Mr. Abdel, whom we booked to be our guide and driver during our entire stay in Morocco (except until after he had sent us off to Marrakesh).  He brought us to the riad we booked called, Riad Rcif.



DSC_0964DSC_0967We were welcomed by the owner himself Mr. Hasish (not pictured) with complimentary Moroccan tea and sweets made by his mother.



IMG_2068This was the view of the receiving area/restaurant from the third floor of the riad.



IMG_2079Welcome to Morocco!



IMG_2074After a quick rest, we decided to have our lunch in the riad before we ventured into a city tour.




We did the right thing! The food was sumptuous!





This is Moroccan food at its best.  This truly stamped Riad Rcif as one of the best, if not the best restaurant in Fez. In my entire stay in Morocco the food here was the best I have tasted.



DSC_0027And on to our room.  My wife was 35 weeks pregnant and I failed to verify that the riad did not have an elevator so we had to walk 3 stories up to our room. We just considered it as an exercise and we found it worthwhile as it is the only room with stained glass windows and views of the city.


DSC_0036Could have I asked for a nicer bed?


DSC_0977There was a tiny nook with a small table and a couple of chairs.


DSC_0030 DSC_0029The bathroom gave us the experience of  medieval times.



image3Finally, up at the penthouse of Riad Rcif one can have the view of a part of the old walled city.



DSC_1035As one of the city tour stops, our guide brought us to the famous pottery in Fez which is the biggest in Morocco.



DSC_1021 DSC_1031 DSC_1022


We were oriented on the entire process of ancient pottery.













We were also briefed on how the intricate designs are prepared and meticulously carved out and put together.




These are some of the outputs from the same pottery factory that are exported to all parts of the world.



We also toured the area of those painting the designs on the ceramics.



Here are some of the the colorful finished products being sold inside the factory.

DSC_1047 DSC_1049









We were so enticed we bought some to be brought back to the U.S.




DSC_1056We were whisked off to a metal crafts store that’s selling magnificent metal lamps…..



DSC_1053….gleaming copper plates……



DSC_1052….with demonstrations of how intricate designs are etched on the plates….



DSC_1064…Berber jewelry…


DSC_1062….even ultra expensive dining set made of camel bones.





image2This is the area where we would be dropped off by our driver and picked up by the hotel staff to traverse the winding alleys of the old walled city as it is only accessible by foot and donkey. Somewhere up there is Riad Rcif, our base in Fez.



image1Yes, donkeys abound, nicely blending with modern cars and they are real mode of transportation mostly in the northern and eastern part of Morocco.



Another beautiful place we visited was the Army Palace overlooking Fez.



DSC_1014At the mountain summit is a small palatial compound composed of just one squarish structure guarded by armed men.



DSC_1009 DSC_1010The sweeping views of Fez before sunset were overwhelming.  Yes a  walled city lies below with its ancient culture well preserved.




We were not accompanied by our tour guide as we roamed around the palace and stopped at the lookout so we had to take a selfie instead as we were the only ones at the top as it was late afternoon already.



12314005_10208193219496769_8379035391630529412_nNext, the king’s palace was a sight to behold even from outside!





DSC_1016More of the gates of Fez.




DSC_1015And its walls.






DSC_0008As the sun went down the golden effect it had was captured on the city wall.




We then visited a night market that was starting to come alive at twilight.





DSC_1070The dramatic and imposing Blue Gate was one of the highlights of our tour of Fez.



Our tour guide and driver, Abdel, also brought us to Fez’s version of the Champs Elysees.




Here are some shots of the narrow, ascending and descending maze of alleys inside the  old walled city only accessible on foot and donkeys.




Surely, Fez gave me and my beautiful wife a unique experience.




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