Friday, 31 August 2012

[tiny bit of joy] Celebrates One Year

One year ago yesterday, I started [tiny bit of joy] in San Francisco…it's hard to believe how fast time has flown! I only thought it appropriate to celebrate the occasion with a post, especially since I’ve been so bad about posting recently (slap on wrist!). Between work and traveling, there hasn’t been a whole lot of time for creativity, but that will all change now that autumn’s arrived. I just wanted to thank everyone who reads my blog…it’s been such a satisfying experience and I truly love doing it. The other day I was looking back through our travels and journeys in San Francisco and London, and it’s really very cool to see it all captured in one place. It’s also fun to see how tastes for fashion, design and food evolve over time.

Here’s to another fabulous year of blogging on [tiny bit of joy]! 

[Image via Etsy]

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Greek Paradise

I think Greece might just be my favourite place to vacation - it's culturally rich, relaxing, has great food and the people are lovely. We headed to Athens for a quick stop after our trip to Istanbul, and then spent five sunny days in Crete and Santorini. Of course, the main reason for heading to Athens was to see the Acropolis, which we did very early in the morning before catching a flight to Crete. The Acropolis is such a magnificent place, even though the city surrounding the ancient structure leaves a bit to be desired. I was last in Athens about 12 years ago and the city has gone through a lot of changes (unfortunately for the worse) since then. Stores are closed, there's even more graffiti, and the general infrastructure is just poorly run. Still, it's worth going to see the beautiful Acropolis...the photo below is the Old Temple of Athena. 
The same day that we toured the Acropolis, we also caught a quick 30-minute flight to Crete, the biggest island in Greece. I'd heard good things, especially about Rethmyon, the beach village where we spent two nights. From Heraklion airport, we rented a car to get down the coast - it just seemed like an easier option than a bus, and it was so fun to drive in another country! If you're in Rethmyon, check out Castelvecchio has the most insanely good traditional Greek food. My favourite dishes were the sauteed chicken in a warm creamy sauce, and the dolma, rice wrapped with vine leaves. From the main town, there's a lovely big beach just ten minutes away called Episkopi (see the below photo). As you can tell, it's beautiful and there's nothing to do but read and look at the ocean. The beachside cafe there has really good food, including a huge fresh Greek salad. Back in town there are tons of really cute waterfront restaurants and little shops dotted along the white-washed streets. You could easily spend two or three days there, especially if you're staying in a cute inn like our Hotel Rex (highly recommend!).
Our next and last island on our Greek tour was Santorini - the ultimate paradise. I seriously felt like I was on a honeymoon, so it was the perfect place to celebrate our anniversary. I cannot say enough good things about our hotel, Anastasis Apartments. The staff were beyond accommodating and planned our entire stay on the island, making sure every detail was taken care of. When we arrived by ferry from Crete, we were picked up and taken just past Imerovigli which is in the middle of the island overlooking the caldera (or volcano). The view is breathtaking! Right away, we were showed to our room and then given a welcome champagne cocktail and a decadent dessert on our patio (heaven). Over our three day stay, we spent hours and hours just relaxing on the patio pictured below, and enjoying the sunshine (which we don't get in London). Perks of lounging by the pool all day included 4 p.m. iced coffee service and immediate access to anything you needed! If you stayed through sunset, you could sit on your patio and enjoy a complimentary glass of wine and gourmet hors d'oeuvres. 
On our first full day in Santorini, we decided to take a walk to Fira, the main town on the island. The walk there goes along the cliffs overlooking the water so you had something to distract you from the blazing heat. The photo below shows Imerovigli, where there are loads of lovely waterfront hotels with private pools and cafes at every turn. You can also see the white buildings and churches with blue roofs and shutters along the way. We loved walking into town and shopping around...there are great restaurants (both cheap and gourmet), fun souvenir shops and really cute designer shops and fancy jewellery...something for everyone. We watched our first sunset from Oia, the iconic place where it seems everyone goes to watch the sunset - although crowded it really is a fabulous view and it's also a really cute place to shop.
Santorini doesn't have the best beaches, but there are a few worth going to - my favourites were Perissa and Perivolos, the black sand beaches. We reached them by ATV (so fun!), although you could take a bus too. We spent a few hours laying in the sun and cooling off in the crystal clear water, and then enjoying lunch at one of the beachside cafes. We also passed by the red sand beach along the way, which is smaller and very touristy, so it's better for a quick visit. Later on we relaxed on our hotel's rooftop jacuzzi (perfect way to end the day) before heading to dinner at one of the island's many delicious restaurants. Honestly I could go on and on about Santorini but I'll leave it at this. I really hope we can get back there sometime soon because it's by far the most beautiful, relaxing place I've ever been.

Thursday, 9 August 2012

Scenes from London 2012

Since we're in the last stretch of the Olympics, I wanted to share a few photos from my experience here so far. The excitement has been palpable and I've literally been spending every night at home (well as much as I can!) watching the Olympics. These athletes are incredible and so inspirational...especially at the gym when I'm on the elliptical!

We were gone last weekend, so we made sure to catch some events the first weekend of the Olympics. On the Saturday, we watched women's and men's beach volleyball at the Horse Guard's Parade in central London. The stadium was awesome because you had the Eye and 10 Downing Street on one side, and Buckingham Palace to the other - a little misplaced to have a beach in the middle of the city but very British. The following night we went to the Olympic Park, which was amazing and massive since it houses most of the Olympic venues. It's also connected to Westfield mall which is a bit dangerous if you're in the shopping mood...and because it has a Magnum shop where you can create your own popsicle (these are so insanely delicious!). Anyway, back to the sports. We saw a couple handball matches, which suprisingly were so fun to watch because of the wild enthusiasm of the fans. That same weekend we also had a chance to see the road cycling come through our neighbourhood which was delightfully convenient and such a rush.

Overall it's been a fantastic couple of weeks and now we just get to take in all the finals! Here's hoping the US comes out on top in the medal count. Next up is the closing ceremony, which I plan to catch at a pub with a pint. :)

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Art + Intrigue in Istanbul

The view from the roof deck at Hotel Amira, where we stayed in the old part of Istanbul's city centre. Fabulous and friendly customer service and a room upgrade - not bad!
Checking out the buildings on our Bosphorus river cruise. You see everything from embassies to houses to posh clubs. The cool thing about the cruise is that on one side of the river, you're in Asia and on the other, you're in Europe!
Enjoying the beautiful views from the cruise on our anniversary.
Delicious canapes during our one year anniversary dinner at a wonderful rooftop restaurant called Terrace at Hotel Armada. We could see the Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sofia and we heard the call to prayer echo through the city during our cool.
Inside the Hagia Sofia, a beautiful structure which was formerly a church and a mosque. It's now a museum open to all in the city centre.  
Outside the famous Blue Mosque - such an impressive, historical structure. The little tower on the right is called a 'minaret' which a typical architectural feature of  most mosques.
Inside the Blue Mosque...I had to cover up my legs and head  and take off my shoes out of respect. Is this a good look for me?!
Topkapi Palace, an expansive estate that was the primary residence of the Ottoman sultans for hundreds of years. And below is some tasty passionfruit tea from the Spice Market.

Istanbul surpassed all of my is a gorgeous, culturally rich place with lovely people and incredible sites to see. You can find the coolest art and architecture at literally every turn, both in the European and Asian parts of the city. There's also a really interesting mix of  cultures, as some people very much adhere to the Islamic religion while others seem quite Westernised. Here's how we spent our two days...

We arrived on a Sunday evening and took the train and then tube to our hotel. If we had to do it again, I'd take a cab...only €30 and so much less hassle. When we arrived at Hotel Amira, we were greeted by the most lovely staff who took us up to the hotel's roofdeck which had amazing views of the Bosphorus river. We lounged on the plush furniture and enjoyed a glass of cold beer to cool off from the hot journey, plus a quick intro to the city. Since it was late in the day, we decided to visit the Blue Mosque in Sultanahmet (the old city). It is so large and intricately decorated inside and out. You've got to cover up to get in and take your shoes off, but it's well worth looking a little weird. Fun fact: when we were outside the mosque walls, I spotted some locals washing their feet in little sinks before funny! After regrouping for a few hours we took the train to Taksim (the modern part of the city) for a chicken shish kabob dinner on the main shopping street. While it was cool, I much prefer Sultanahmet.

On Monday, we went to the grand Topkapi Palace, where we spent about three hours learning about the history of the sultans (and their multiple wives). The palace architecture is so vibrant and beautiful and there are amazing views of the Bosphorus from the many balconies. This was definitely on of my favourite places in the city. In the afternoon, we took a boat cruise along the Bosphorus river which included a little detour to the famous spice market. The spice market has the most intense smells when you walk in...a mix of Turkish Delight (the famous Turkish candy), teas and every kind of spice you can imagine. They also sell random things like electronics and clothes the further back in the stalls you go. After the market, we had the chance to peek our heads in the Rustem Pasha Mosque, which has the most beautiful blue tiles lining the walls...our tour guide also gave us a good overview of Islamic prayer traditions. Next we took a boat cruise along the Bosphorus and it was well worth it...we loved relaxing and taking in the views (highly recommend this!). After our tour ended, we headed back to the hotel and Jim surprised me with an amazing anniversary dinner on a rooftop terrace restaurant. It was so spectacular, the food was delicious, and he'd arranged for a bottle of bubbly! Very romantic :)

The next day we went to the Hagia Sofia, as it was closed on Monday (make sure you plan ahead if you go in the beginning of the week since certain sites are closed on different days). We easily spent a few hours exploring the church turned mosque which has all kinds of interesting art and artifacts from both religions. We spent the last part of the day at the famous Grand Bazaar, where there are literally hundreds of shops selling everything from pottery and jewellery to clothes and rugs. Lots of window shopping, but I didn't actually find anything to buy. After that it was off to catch our flight to Greece (more on that trip soon)!

I would love to go back and explore other areas of the country like Cappadocia and the Turkish islands...I'll just have to add that to the bucket list!

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