Panama, Panama-a-a-a-a-a

Incredibly stoked to write this blog post as this was one of my favorite trips I have been on! Central America is underrated and I can’t wait to explore more. And to set the record straight, no, Van Halen is not ‘God’ down there. Only Americans were singing the song…

Traveling over New Years actually worked out great – a steady, dry 85* every day. We hit the jackpot. Said jackpot also comes with extreme sun exposure – lather up, over and over and over again. This is coming from a bronze babe, trust me on this, dat sun is pretty close to your skin and wants to destroy it!

The ease of traveling in this country was shocking. I speak a bit of Spanish, but you really don’t need it to get around. They have uber, but we just hired drivers for a similar price. The currency is US dollars, but most places take credit cards anyway. I would suggest having cash on you for gratuity, though.

This trip was a mix of culture/indigenous and relaxation – the perfect combo. I truly enjoyed every moment of our adventure. Itinerary below, steal at leisure:

Panama City | The Bristol Hotel 
Meh. One or two days is plenty, but the adventure is out there! We even had trouble finding food open at 8p on a Wednesday night. The hotel was VERY nice, I would stay here again.

  • Panama Canal Miraflores Locks (be sure to time this out right so you can see a boat go through, and watch the video that comes with your ticket!)
  • Panamá Viejo (this was phenomenal history and ruins of the old city)
  • Casco Viejo (they were preparing for the Pope’s visit when we were there so there was a lot off limits and under rehab, but it is a very quaint place with narrow streets, sunny squares and tourist shops)
  • Cinta Costera for your ‘PANAMA’ sign insta pic

Gamboa | Gamboa Rainforest Resort
Not going to sugarcoat this, the resort needs a little renovation. Aside from that, it is a really cool experience. Decent sized pool, swim-up ish bar, stained hammocks on each balcony – in theory this place was probably amazing 10 years ago with no chipped paint or dead frogs in the one. single. elevator. in. all. the. resort. The food was just meh, and a bit overpriced for not having many eatery options. Alas, we still had our humid-filled, mosquito-biting fun! (This place is perfect for kiddos, btw)

All the stuff we did below you can book right through the resort.

  • Nighttime safari ride
  • Aerial tram – best view of the jungle, panama canal and individual guides (not for the those afraid of  dee heights)
  • Frog, butterfly farm, orchid nursery and sloth sanctuary – tours were a bit too crowded to hear, but you can sort of roam around yourself as there is signage
  • Gatun Lake expedition IN the Panama Canal, right next to the cargo ships! – don’t stand up to feed the monkeys. or the crocs.

Embera Quera
This indigenous community is so welcoming and fun! It is a peaceful 30 minute canoe ride down a river to the middle of nowhere. I may or may not have taken a little snooze. I would not recommend this trip to those who lack mobility. There is a bit of climbing and uncomfortable positions. We hired an English-speaking guide to manage everything for us, and he was excellent, so I bought him a snack on our way home at the gas station! (You can book this through the Gamboa Rainforest Resort)

The residents explained their culture, food, music, their way of life and showed us around. They cooked us a tasty fish and fruit meal, showed us a traditional dance, and painted tattoos on us. (do not suggest, learn from my mistakes) You have the opportunity to buy overpriced gifts that some of the women made before you head home. It was extremely interesting to see the children in flaps of cloth only, having never of left the land before – there is a school in the community. I saw my first toucan IRL!!! (do not pet)

Panama| Dreams Playa Bonita All-inclusive Resort
Overall this was a pleasant experience for an all-inclusive over the holidays. The resort had a VERY nice buffet on New Years and outdoor DJ, fireworks and champagne party. Winner: grape tree as party favors. There are not many all-inclusive choices in Panama, and this was legitimately overlooking the beautiful ocean and the Panama Canal. Just sitting right there. The boats, all lined up to go through the locks as you sip a beverage in the infinity pool. Crazy cool! I would go back here, but make the following changes:

  • Eat at senior citizen time or there will be a wait – they do not take reservations.
  • Wake up before the sun and grab beach chairs so you don’t have to lay on the grass in the middle of the life-sized chess game.
  • Do not order the chicken from Portofino restaurant.
  • Put on more sunblock.
  • Invite new daily pool friends to karaoke so we don’t sing alone.
  • Eat more gelato.
  • Walk along the beach in the daylight.
  • Request thicker pillows for snoring roommates.
  • Notify smoking friends they will be smashed into a tiny pavilion ‘smoking area’.
  • Bring waterproof money case to pool to tip the bartenders at the swim-up.
  • Schedule a massage the moment I walk in to the resort.

We hopped off resort one day and it was a nice break from all the entitled Americans with bad attitudes. The catamaran day trip was clutch – book through Red Cat Catamaran Panama Sailing. This was so much fun – all inclusive drinks, lunch/snacks, good music and friendly staff. Aside from the European sibling sexy photoshoot happening on the boat to the right, it was an enjoyable ride, perfect weather, tasty food and phenomenal view. We did the Taboga Island trip. A few things to note –

  1. You have to pay to use the bathroom on the island.
  2. You have to fill the bowl up with water to use said toilet.
  3. You have to pay for shade on the island.
  4. You can’t go back to the catamaran early if you can’t find said shade and are frying like bacon.
  5. Catamaran ride is child-friendly so watch your alcohol intake.
  6. Bring tips for the boat peeps, they really do a nice job and are hospitable.
  7. You must show your passport before getting on the catamaran.

Update: since staying at the Dreams Panama, we have since stayed at another resort by this same hotel chain: Breathless. And now my all-inclusive standards are through the roof. Brace for impact.

Overall, Panama is truly an amazing place full of so much rich culture and history. I loved learning about it all, and the impact that the U.S. had on shaping it (for better or worse) into what it is today.

Friendly reminder that the middle seat gets both armrests. [I was able to exercise this right on this very trip, FYI]

Greek Islands Livin’

I am obsessed with Greece. I am psychotically watching flight alerts for me to go back and check out more of what the Grecians have to offer.

This girls trip was the latter half of the UK royal wedding trip, so not only were we on a high from spending the day in Windsor with our fascinators on, but I don’t think the weather could be any more perfect. The number of times people warned us about the upcoming ‘season’ I couldn’t begin to tell you. They were fearing the cruise ship infestation that was about to succumb their lives (and islands) in just a few short weeks. Soooo what lesson did I learn here? MAY is the time to go. It was ’empty’ according to the locals and honestly it was the best. There were still tons of people around, the freshest of foods, availability in the hotels, 75* weather every day and tons and tons of wine. May is where it is at.

This trip we visited two islands- Santorini and Mykonos. I am looking forward to checking out Crete, Paros, Syros and Symi next time.

We arrived in Santorini first, welcomed by our driver who took the sharp turns and steep rocky roads to our wonderful hotel – San Marino Suites in Fira. Complete with a blow-up flamingo in the pool and a tasty daily breakfast, San Marino Suites was perfect for three of us. It is difficult to go to one of the most romantic places in the world and find a hotel room for three friends. This hotel is walking distance from ‘downtown’ Santorini and we visited it regularly.

In Santorini we had a packed schedule – all of which I would do again – including walking alongside the donkeys that pretended their calves weren’t hurting as much as ours on that incline. Must do’s –

Santo Winery – go for the wine, stay for the sunset
Two Brothers – take an ibuprofen, put the helmet on and take a shot, or two
Santorini Sailing Cruise – don’t go under water if you recently had your hair colored
Hike from Fira to Oia – it is three hours along the waterfront and worth every second, bring water (for you and any furry friends you make along the route)
Drink Yellow Donkey beer – brewed on the island and so far I have not found it anywhere in the states and am super le sad about it
Murphy’s Bar – because obviously I find the Irish pub, wherever I am
Argo – for yummy food and the best sunset (make a reso!)

Santorini was definitely for lovers and there was a honey-moonin’ couple everywhere we turned, but like we always do, we made the best time out of it!

Pro-tip: whatever you pack in that giant suitcase of yours…you gots to carry that thing up and down hundreds of stairs, hills and streets with inclines bigger than what the guys from Jersey Shore are bench pressing on. There is not an elevator in sight – be mindful while packing.

Now it is party time.

The Hellenic Seaways ferry took us from Santorini to Mykonos and was perfect – organized, fast, smooth, clean and comfortable. The next day, the ferry operators went on strike – so be sure you have a plan B in case this happens on your travel day.

Livin’ Mykonos was the best hotel. I would recommend anyone to stay here. Welcome drinks all around! (and we kept ordering them at the bar the next three days after our official ‘welcome’ was over) Livin’ was not on the ocean so we saved a bit of money not being ‘downtown’. However, we were a short ride to/from everything. The hotel was super accommodating, the food was amazing and the pool was clutch. There are a total of seven taxis on all of the island – plan accordingly.

Mykonos was a dream. An expensive dream.

Favorite bar: Alley Cafe and Cocktail Bar 
Favorite bartender: Leo
Favorite bar cat: Bobo
Favorite day club to see Mike Ross from Pearson Specter at: Scorpios
Favorite food: Tie between Jimmy’s street gyros and the hotel’s bread and butter basket

Mykonos did not disappoint. Tons of cute shops, beautiful sunset views, sexy men, $20 cocktails at every bar – but hey, they give out free shots?? The music scene is lit – a lot of dancing and all around everyone having a great time! Just watch out for the chandelier that is about to fall off the ceiling onto your head.

The Mykonos airport has one terminal and cold pizza. They do not, I repeat DO NOT, accept euro that has a torn corner.

I highly recommend Santorini and Mykonos for a relaxing vacation and some fun in the sun.

Friendly reminder that the middle seat gets both armrests.

Honky Tonkin’ in Nashville

In honor of my birthday today, I share with you a place very special to my heart – NashVegas. I have spent multiple birthdays here, along with New Years Eve’s, Bachelorette parties and on and on. And that is just the premise of my post – how much Nashville has changed over the years…wah wah.

Back in 2011 I was featured in the Toronto Star (read it! read it!). I had nothing bad to say about Nashville, it was my second home. I loved it so much I would come back on average 6 times a year. Those were the days…

It is only an hour flight from Chicago. Or an 8 hour drive – which in that case, you can hit up Dinosaur World on I65. It is so easy to get to/from there, that apparently everyone and their grandma soon figured it out and now they have paved paradise and put up a parking lot. Literally.

My favorite alley is now a hotel and a parking garage. My friends lost their jobs at The Dog House and Stiddle and Feel (aka Fiddle and Steel), my fav karaoke spot, Lonnie’s, had to move from their historic spot. It was just a sad moment in history. Three story bars started going up on Broadway and all of a sudden there was a crying bride-to-be everywhere you looked. Prices of beer went up $2 a bottle and they started charging you to just walk in to the Honky Tonks to hear music. Music City turned into a hockey-loving, we hate the Blackhawks town and before you know it, airlines were charging us double.

One thing will never change though, and that is the generous Southern hospitality. The artists and bartenders alike know and appreciate the value of a dollar. Tourists took over their town, yet they continue to welcome us with open arms. Some preserved country history, and for that, I call them out:

Winners or Losers in the Gulch
Pinewood Social (also have a pool, bowling etc.)
Fin and Pearl (brunch in the Gulch)
Line Dancing Lessons:
Buy cowboy boots:
Boot Country (3 for the price of 1)
Stay classy country, Nashville.
Friendly reminder that the middle seat gets both armrests.