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Alexandria, Virginia


I wanted to write about the place I visited last Summer. It was around the same time this year, at the onset of Fall. Alexandria, in the East Coast of America, just minutes away from Washington, DC is usually like a Southern State: Warm and Humid but around this time of the year it was getting Colder. Since we were on a tight schedule, we could only visit Potomac River Front in the Old Town of Alexandria and skipped Mount Vernon.  

 We visited Torpedo Factory Art Centre on the way to Waterfront, if you are into art this is your place. It was initially a Naval Torpedo making center which later was converted into a art gallery. Now a hub to many live artists, studios and artwork. IMG_2180.jpgLike every other Old Town or a Historic Downtown, Alexandria had Compact & Leisurely paced Boutiques, Restaurants and Coffee Shops. The Sidewalks had interesting streetscapes and long narrow alleys that felt enough like walking in a European region. I personally felt it was a great walking city.

I usually wonder about the waterbodies in this country, its blue as if gallons of ink was dissolved in it. The Sky, radiant blue. Sharp! The Waterfront was absolutely Serene, Colourful and Graphic…if we Only had enough time, I would definitely have come here to sketch some art and paint.

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It appeared that Alexandria’s culinary scene varied from various Global Cuisines to Outdoor Cafe’s. Couple of blocks around Kings Street and near Waterfront offered various choices. 

We stopped by for few drinks and snacks at Mai Thai.

A fact find: Paris may be known as the most Romantic City in the world, but Virginia is for Lovers and Alexandria was just named the #1 Most Romantic City in the U.S. Even the DC elite came to Alexandria to impress a date—including President Obama! The president spent his anniversary with the first lady at Restaurant Eve and Valentine’s Day at Vermilion.

In my opinion, this was the 2nd city after Pigeon Forge, TN that was just spectacular and charming in its entirety. 

From here, soon we were headed straight to the airport to catch our respective flights only wishing we had some extra time to tour and learn the history of Alexandria.

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New York //Summer 2015


During my few days in New York this September, I went for a walk. It was a shorter one straight down the 41st Street and Broadway. I was trying to get something done but when I stepped out I forgot the purpose. The two miles of meaningless stroll in a beautiful Manhattan was all I needed that evening to restore. Sometimes, exploring a new city and picking up a coffee is restorative.  I was running late. We had decided to do a Gossip Girl Blast! Something that says, Serena and Blair spotted at the Empire! That meant, I still had several hours left to roam. Along the way, we debated if the tall building looking at us through the hotel window is The Empire State. We simply just denied.Between, West 33rd Street and 5th avenue stands The Empire State. We visited 86th floor and I would definitely say that until you see New York City from the top of the Empire State Building, you haven’t really seen it! The view of Manhattan including Central Park, Times Square, Brooklyn Bridge, Chrysler Building, The Statue of Liberty are breathtaking.

The Nostalgia kept coming from all the movie scenes that were shot here – An Affair To Remember, Sleepless in Seattle, Manhattan and many more. By the morning, I couldn’t help but accept the fact that New York had become my second love and as I looked out of the hotel window, I saw The Empire State staring at my face continuing to make me nostalgic.IMG_1551 The Sun was hot and the Yellow cabs were stirring the air. Everything in New York looked like a photograph. People on the streets were rushing looking around for action, love and the world famous architecture.  Soon, we had visited Garment District, Herald Square, Flatiron, Chelsea, West Village, Greenwich Village, NoHo (“North of Houston Street”) and One World Trade Tower.

The 9/11 Memorial was surrounded by white oak trees with two giant size human-made waterfalls at the center. The waterfalls signify “Reflecting Voids”, a reminder of the absence of the 9/11 victims.What if you were suddenly brought closer to an edge of absence? May be the architecture wanted us to take a moment and reflect on what must have happened that day. The waterfall walls were engraved with the names of deceased and flowers were placed on the placards.
As a tribute, throughout the month of September two vertical beams of lights emanate from Ground Zero to honor the World Trade Center Twin Towers. We were able to see these lights during our night-tour and throughout our stay.Few blocks away from 9/11, we dined at Steve’s Pizza, a rustic little pizzeria was exactly what we were looking for. A great slice of true New York style pizza. The crust, I imagine…when I hear people speak about NYC pizza!

Soon, we headed off to see rest of the financial district. It runs from Broadway to South Street in Lower Manhattan.  We visited American University of Antiqua, Federal Hall National Memorial, Newyork Stock Exchange, The Wall Street, The Charging Bull etc. Another remarkable place adjacent to the financial district is South Street Seaport in lower Manhattan. It is a beautiful historic district with cobblestone streets, ships parked at the Pier17, a nearby port and array of restaurants. Everything from here seemed to be at arm’s length: City Hall, The Brooklyn Bridge, and The Battery Park. Wish we could have stayed a little longer to see Pier 17 restaurants but it is true that you cannot have enough of New York in few days. Every thing here is picturesque & worth admiration and keeping up with it can be challenging.

I found this city addictive and uplifting. Like Tom Wolfe said, “One belongs to New York instantly, one belongs to it as much in five minutes as in five years”. More you explore it, you will get inspired even more.

PS: Saving some inspiration for later in the following blog. For now, officially the nostalgia has begun. I heart Newyork!

 

The Great Smoky Mountains, Tennessee 


  I recently traveled to the state of Tennessee with zero expectations and realized that life gives more when you are seeking nothing in return. It is said that Smoky Mountains are best during The Falls with its gorgeous colors and landscapes but honestly, the mountains were equally pleasant and welcoming during Spring.img_88242We rented Tennessee style cabins which had game tables, hot tubs, XBOX, air hockey and  everything and more. The best part..rocking chairs, hot breakfast with an amazing mountain view!  We spent some time visiting Gatlinburg, TN Located in the heart of Smokies. This resort-like town, nestled in the mountains of East Tennessee, is known for it’s beautiful scenery, great shopping and colorful history.

In here, I came across “Moonshine” an alcoholic in house produce. Apparently, during old times Tennessee started brewing it due to governments control of alcohol trade. So they decided to just keep on making their own alcohol, completely ignoring the federal tax.img_8794We visited one of the distilleries – “Sugarlands” a popular attraction where guests are invited to taste “Moonshine”, an authentic Sugarlands Shine. It was my first moonshine experience and we tried almost 9 different flavors. It was definately one of the highlights of our vacation and I would go back in a heartbeat! Of all the flavors, I picked up appallacian green apple.We also visited “Cades Cove” in Pigeon Forge,TN which is the most visited area of The Great Smoky Mountains National Park. This 6,800-acre valley is located about 31 miles away from Pigeon Forge and is known for its beautiful landscapes. If I wasn’t married, I would have chosen one of the fields here for sure.

The sounds of bubbling creeks are everywhere especially in spring. Keep your windows down and turn up your heater if it’s still cold….the sounds are as good as the views. Edit   I never really saw Horses Grazing in a Meadow! Did youI found myself standing in an awe as the light beamed down on us. I hoped that I could capture the view in such a way that it does justice. It was truly spiritual and a day I will not forget soon.img_8835

PS: OMG, how did I forget to mention the most delicious southern food I had apart from Cajun and Philly. Tennessee is pretty well known for their BBQ in which the meat is coated in a dry rub of assorted seasonings and spices and then either smoked or grilled in a BBQ Pit Smoker so that it moist and cooked thoroughly. I never had such BBQ EVER! And words are less to describe what we had in a highway restaurant in Sweetwater,TN called “Bradley’s Pit Bar-B-Q and Grill”. This is a must try if you ever plan to visit Smokey’s. 

 

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Las Vegas      


Recently, when my significant-other was asked to pickup a travel destination of his choice, he chose “The City That Never Sleeps”  a.k.a “Sin City”.  When we booked a long vacation, we thought who goes to Vegas for so many days but we were not only dazzled but charmed and overwhelmed by this city. 

So if you are planning to visit Vegas “Sooner or Later” here is my itinerary of must see places not so whimsical style but a mix of classy, with few adventurous drinks and with abundant fun.

First place we visited was “Fremont Street” also referred as “Old Vegas” located in the downtown. Filled with vintage casinos like “Golden Nugget” and “Binnions”, live shows every corner and concerts with cheesy performers. Every 15 minute walk, you will see someone dressed up as Elvis with a Guitar. The crowd was alcohol lubricated-carefree and from obnoxiously dressed to prom dressed people were found there. Among-st were awesome street performers and musicians. Do not forget to zip-line at the gigantic overhead projection screen (which is largest in the world).IMG_4648The drinks were cheaper, the pubs had more “alternative” and with lot of lights the street looked really old school; they even had an 80’s tribute band playing on the street. I felt that this place was sincere, authentic and true Vegas as compared to the other areas of this city.IMG_4613The next morning, we went to see “The Strip” at Las Vegas Boulevard. About 4.5 miles long, this street is filled with dramatic resorts, architectural representations of Paris, New York, Venice and Cairo in Casino Style. There are exotic entertainment shows, high-end brands, gondolas, drive-through wedding chapels and many more unique venues. Below is how it looked from “Stratosphere” where we stayed during our visit.
Typical must-see places included – Catching the dancing fountain show at “Bellagio”, the erupting volcano at “The Mirage”, Eiffel Tower Restaurant at “Paris”, Brooklyn Bridge and Hershey’s Chocolate Factory at “New York” and Egyptian pyramids at “The Luxor”. Of all the depictions, I loved the Italian themed “The Venetian“.  Despite it’s buzzy casinos, this hotel had interesting ambiance with artificial sky, canals with gondola rides, restaurants run by celebrity chefs and beautiful architecture.vegas_venetian_inside_tall_01We explored few restaurants on the strip and in downtown, some of our favorites remained: Thai Pepper Restaurant (Read My Review About It Here), Gordon Ramsay Burger at Planet Hollywood, Sambalatte Coffee Lounge & Espresso Bar, Martini BLVD. Cocktail Company. 

Brazilian Grille “Pampas” located in Planet Hollywood had above and beyond ambiance. It is situated at the end of brightly lit ally and serves authentic Brazilian food. A must try if you like exploring food.IMG_5075We also visited  “The Linq” which i felt is most hottest and trendiest spot in Vegas. It is unexpectedly quirky street with graffiti, artwork painted on brick walls, multiple music venues and a high roller Ferris wheel. Some of the places to check out are Ghiradelli Chocolate, Sprinkles cupcakes, American’s one of the favorite Yardhouse and Martini BLVD. Cocktail Company. IMG_5286-0Walking by “Martini BLVD. Cocktail Company” the sounds just attract you in. We entered into the doors (since we both live on mostly music, we had too). It was cozy and dim.The musicians play underneath a large multi bulb light fixture. We shared the space with Jonas Brother’s, Christina Perri and then I realized that next to us was sitting Colin O’Donoghue (Known for his role as Captain Killian Jones “Hook” on the Sci-fi series “Once Upon a Time”. I used to watch this tv-series for him!). One thing that I repent that night was taking a picture with him..I was so engrossed listening to the music and looking at my significant other that nothing else mattered. But nevertheless, I felt it was the classiest place to be in Vegas.BLVWe watched couple of shows at “The Variety Theater” at Planet Hollywood Casinos during our stay. I do recommend “The Ultimate Variety Show” and “Comedy Hypnosis” by Mark Savard was bit embarrassing at several occasions and we were glad that we didn’t volunteer for it. However, we really did want to watch “Zombie Burlesque” but all the shows were pre-booked.  

 

Las Vegas has shows and attractions for everybody be it sports, music, comedy, circus, or anything else you can think of. We got to meet Dr. Evil, had my first Jell-O shot experience, met show-girls and visited a celebrity chef restaurant.  Few things I wanted to do but opportunity didn’t persist or I couldn’t dare were taking thrill rides at “Stratosphere” (Though we stayed here but even after a lot of persuasion by Mr. Significant Other; I was freaked out). I would also love to visit “Buddy’s V” ristorante (a.k.a  TLC’s Cake Boss), watch “Absinthe” the show at Caesar’s Palace that was sold out. And probably, I will want to re-tie the knot in the blink of an eye at a Wedding Chapel.

I always thought that Vegas will be quite a tacky experience. Perhaps it was a bit but there were some beautiful casinos and over-the-top places that should be visited once a life-time. We accomplished making timeless and ever-lasting memories. And in the process, we learned that it is possible to have a sophisticated weekend here unlike what is shown in the movies. 

First IPSY Glam Bag


Finally my first IPSY arrived this March. And since it was the official kick off of Spring, the theme was “Floral Fantasy” and so was the bag. Few things I liked about IPSY over Birchbox (Read My 1st Birchbox Review): It comes in a bag that can be used as a wristlet unlike boxes. It has more make up. And finally if you have been following “Michelle Phan” on her you tube channel..you ought to get this once. I have learnt bigtime that skincare, haircare and workout regime are key ingredients in maintaining healthy and clear skin but after all-that hard work pays off the best part is cracking open a brand new MAC lipstick or feeling what a new tinted moisturizer will look like on our skin.

IPSY usually doesn’t include more than one skin or hair care product. So if you are someone who likes experimenting new makeup, this can’t get any better.

This is what I received in the March glam bag. 

1. LANEIGE – BB Cream and Cushion 2. Crown Brush – Oval Concealer Brush (C224) 3. NYX Cosmetics – Glam Shadow 4. Chella – Ivory Lace Highlighter 5. Coolway – Glow Oil Treatment.And today I received the April glam bag. This months theme “Beautifully Bohemian” speaks to my soul! I am extremely happy that for only $10 a month, I got a full-sized blush and 4 sample size products, including a facial serum, lip gloss, eye shadow, and a perfume!This is what I received in the April glam bag.

1. Hey Honey – Good Morning Honey Silk Facial Serum 2. Hikari Cosmetics – Blush 3. Starlooks – Satin Finish Lip Gloss4. Jor’el Parker – Femina Perfume 5. The Balm Cosmetics – NUDE Dude Eye Shadow.

Thanks IPSY  for all the wonderful items in my bag. My weekend would not have started any better.

Wizarding World Of Harry Potter // Universal Adventureland, Florida


My sister, cousins and I grew up reading J.K Rowling’s books. Back in India, those days, the wait-time to get an original “Harry Potter” book at a bookstore was unusual. And hence who ever would get it first was supposed to share it with other siblings. Luckily, while I was still in a college, my brother-in-law would get us an online copy and we used to read it page-by-page burning midnight oil. Such was the magnitude of our love for “Harry Potter & His Friendly Wizards and Witches”.

When “Harry Potter” series ended, my inner magical soul died! However, after a really-really long time, I re-lived those magical days by visiting the “Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Advertureland” at Orlando, FL. 

Below “The School Of Witchcraft and Wizardry” – Hogwarts is seen through the “Jurassic Park” jungle.

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As we crossed the Jungle and came on to the bridge, we saw Hogsmeade by the lake. It felt real, lively as if we were the wizards & witches and it was our time to go through the “Sorting Hat”. IMG_5952

As we entered the main entrance, Hogwarts Express looked busy blowing out whistles at the Hogsmeade station arriving from London’s “King Cross” station. IMG_5966

The utterly beautiful Hogsmeade village has cobblestone roads and grey-hued snow-clad houses and shops. As if this place was photoshoped with one-tone Sepia theme.IMG_5965The first thing that caught my eye was “ButterBeer” cart and a long queue of buyers eager to relish this world-famous, one-of-a-kind, no-where-to-be-found beer.IMG_5960There were piles of Butterbeer Mugs.

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It tasted like a butterscotch frappuccino with buttery foam that not only sticks to your lips, but lingers long after you have swallowed it. There are two options for drinking Butterbeer, as we found out from the barkeep—frosted and regular. The best Butterbeer is the frosted kind so make sure to try it!

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Then there was lovely “Honeydukes“.

IMG_5970-0This was the most creative shop and had extensive variety of every flavor beans (with flavors ranging from earwax to vomit)! There were Chocolate Frogs (featuring an authentic wizard trading card).

IMG_6059Chocolate Wands, Fudge Flies, Peppermint Toads and more.IMG_7437Zonkos – “Tricks and Jokes” shop looked as if Fred and George had bought it and reopened at Diagon Ally. You might remember that Harry Potter gave his winnings from Tri-Wizard Tournament to Fred and George Wesley’s to open their joke shop.img_5969-0

 Dogweed and Deathcap – Where a screeching Mandrake root could be heard from the display window.IMG_5978

Then there was “Three Broomsticks restaurant“.IMG_6051In the movie “The Leaky Cauldron” is shown as a dark, shabby pub for wizards. At first at Universals it sadly looked like a powder room but when you walk through it all the way through the Diagon Ally it’s there. A huge, dim but gorgeous decor with a leaking cauldron.IMG_7578-0

Olivanders” Makers of Fine Wands – This was the only shop that had a long wait time. As our turns came, we were taken inside a dark, dusty shop that was filled with wands. We all held our breath, while Mr. Olivander scanned us and picked a potential future wizard. IMG_7461

 One of the enthusiastic kid was chosen from a group of 25 while Olivander helped the kid to get a right wand. It was an interesting interactive experience with music, sound effects and other lighting special effects to show how a wand chooses its wizardIMG_6092

Olivander’s shop had other interesting things like Owls Post, Nevile Longbottoms – Remembrall, The Monster Book of Monsters – The book that attempts to bite anyone near it etc.

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At the Diagon Alley shop, you can also buy a 47$ interactive wand. Mostly, these are sensor embedded wands and can be used to cast spells to lit lanterns, start water fountains and open doors or windows. 

IMG_6095At the crossroads of Hogwarts and Hogsmeade – The Spirit rally is scheduled everyday around lunch. This rally is mostly a show or choir followed by meet-and-greet.IMG_5987 Just like it happened in ” The Order Of Phoenix”; girls of Beauxbaton, the boys of Durmstrang and students from Hogwarts performed and showcased their talents.wizarding-world-of-harry-potter-frog-choir-3621-oi

We saved best for the last “The Dragon Challenge” that takes you through a dungeon. It’s a really intense challenge on the Chinese Firebolt “Dragon” which is one of the best attractions here. This is were we ended our journey.IMG_5962

There were a lot of things to be explored and I wished I had an extra pair of eyes and a day more to visit all the areas. Believe me, there are many hidden treasures that would need more time for in-depth exploring and a good observation. All the places mentioned in the “Harry Potter” series are here and make sure you are alert and observant or you will miss these tiny details and believable environments that come to life in a way no other theme park area can.

While I felt teleported from rest of the world at Universals, it has proved it’s possible to create an exciting new place that once existed only in films, books and in our imaginations. While there is still more to be explored, I am in an anticipation of yet another visit soon.

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First Birch Box


Who doesn’t like awareness about new beauty products? Or getting a first hand review from our girlfriends? Or free beauty samples? I think all the Ladies can’t agree more! To look good, preparation and efforts should be invested in finding right products. When it comes to makeup, skincare or hair-care I consider myself adventurous yet cautious. 

Probably due to this, approximately 4 years back researching online I came across a subscription based beauty product website “Birchbox” but could never find a similar concept in India. Sitting in India, I couldn’t do much but just go through the website, read reviews of their products and promotions. However, now that I am here in America, I am trying to take as much experience as I can with Birchbox. It is a 10$ subscription per month.

So this February, I ordered a Valentine Birch box for myself. Afterall, we all need to pamper ourselves with little bit of awesomeness. Once I signed up, I needed to answer beauty questions about my hair, skin, eye color, problem areas, products that I like etc. Based on which Birch box will send me a box with 5 products.

This morning, it arrived after a wait time of 10 days. And it was addressed as “Kindhearted Sonali”!IMG_7356

Fully decked up in orange-pink box with mint lining. It’s a cute box! May be I can use it for storing jewelry.IMG_7349

Here’s what I got in the Feb-box: 1. Nelsonj Beverly Hills Moisture Healing Argan Oil Hair Mask, 2. Supergoop CC Cream with SPF 35 broad spectrum, 3.Juice Beauty Green Apple Brightening Gel Cleanser, 4. Eyeko Liquid Eyeliner Pen 5. Clean Skin Perfume (Sample).IMG_7348

Additionally, received a free “Benefit” sample with a purchase of their full-size product.IMG_7347I am happy with #1 since I love Argan Oil infused products and have been using such products regularly since last year but never really tried their hair mask.The second best thing in this box is #4 a liquid eyeliner pen that I always wanted for drawing a proper winged eye liner. I think I wont wander Sephora aisles anymore in search of winged liners now! My search ends here.

Apart from that I am not too happy with this box. Birchbox sent me more hair & skin care products rather than make up. I didn’t receive a single color palette! Besides, I would like to get my samples in a purse over a box. May be due to such reasons, I will cancel this subscription and try IPSY for next month.

Nevertheless, on the brighter side I finally had my first, much awaited “Birchbox” experience. And I cant wait to get my Spring IPSY box. Hope it comes with better products, colors and spring.

PS: I kept my subscription for Birchbox until March just to not quit on it. 

 

And I felt a remarkable difference. The products were far better than previous month. I received 1. Full size: Beauty Protector – a leave-in conditioner, 2. Mirenesse – Glossy Kiss lipstick, 3. Full size: Jelly Pong Pong highlighter, 4.  Embryolisse – face moisturizer and 5. Harvey Prince – Sincerely a perfume sample. 

However, next few months I will be looking forward to get IPSY and may be something new after that. Thanks Birchbox for sending me these boxes.