Summer Reading List

Summer Reading List

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     Happy National Book Lover's Day!!  This is a legitimate holiday, I checked, and what better excuse is there to share what I've been reading!  This summer since I didn't have any classes to take I decided to focus on reading as many books as I could.  I never gave myself a lot of time to read during school because I always felt guilty that I should be studying or reading a book related to my classes, and honestly sometimes I just didn't feel like making time for it.  So dedicating time to read the past two months was huge for me!  I've always loved reading and this summer has brought back that love.



     I made a list and strategically chose books I wouldn't be likely to let myself read once my classes started again.  I started with Undomestic Goddess by Sophie Kinsella.  I really didn't love this one to start, it was hard to get into, but once I got to about halfway I was hooked!  It follows a young lawyer who's life is suddenly turned upside down by one little mistake.  I'll admit I wasn't a huge fan of the ending, I felt like it just dropped off and could have explained more of what the future held for the characters, but even with that I would still definitely recommend it!  



     Next I read Can You Keep a Secret? also by Sophie Kinsella.  I liked this one right out of the gate!  It's main character is a young woman navigating the business world, who happens to meet a man on a plane and divulge all her deepest secrets to him, little does she know what will follow due to this.  Kinsella has a way to tell stories that are so relatable, yet feel like a fairy tale.  This was a super quick read and perfect for a vacation!  



    I was stuck on these chick-lit books that reminded me of The Devil Wears Prada in the beginning, so naturally I went to the queen author herself; Lauren Weisberger.  She not only wrote the Devil Wears Prada, she also wrote a lesser known gem called Chasing Harry Winston.  I was slightly concerned this book might be aimed at a little older age group since I'm not in the market to be married right now, but luckily it didn't feel that way at all!  It follows three close friends and their experiences with men and each other, they take trips, get into trouble & do things basically every woman has done.  

     After this came Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff.  This was another book I didn't get into immediately, but in the end I did really enjoy it.  It follows a couple through life and marriage, with all the positives and negatives that entails.  This was more mature than the books I normally read, but the story really drew me in and I found myself missing the characters when I wasn't reading it.  There are some graphic scenes so take that warning however you choose, but if you can handle those I think you'll find other great parts as well.   

    The next book I chose was slightly darker, but came with a recommendation from a friend.  Girl Walks Out of a Bar by Lisa F. Smith is a memoir of the life of a lawyer who is also secretly an alcoholic and abuses drugs.  The beginning of the book was the best part in my opinion because you hear about all the insane things she did and get to wonder how no one noticed, how she survived, and how she keeps going.  The middle and end start to lull but are necessary to tie up the story.  Even if you don't drink this book is still fine for you because most people really can't relate to the level she's on the majority of the book, whether they drink or not.   

     My final finished book thus far was The Geography of Bliss by Eric Weiner.  I was SO excited for this one.  I wanted to read it so bad and my mom gave it to me as a gift.  It took me forever to get through and I literally had to force myself to finish it.  I thought it would be more of a travel book about the places he goes to and a general look at how to be happy, but it covered a lot more philosophical and psychological topics than I would've liked.  I did learn a few things I didn't know while following his journey and there were parts I enjoyed, but in all it was a long read and I didn't enjoy it as much as I had hoped I would.   


Bag (similar) | Scarf (similar) | Sunscreen (reef safe!!) | Sunnies (similar) | Towel (similar)

Now that I've finished these I am currently halfway through The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer & Annie Barrows.  I was drawn to it initially since it was set just after WWII and I like reading about the time period, but once I found out it was being made into a movie I knew I had to read it.  The verdict isn't fully in yet, but so far I would say it is exceeding my expectations.  This is especially true since I didn't like the way it was written through correspondence letters between the characters to start and wanted to stop reading it.  Eventually the letters do grow on you, but check back for my next reading list post for a full review as well as some of the others I'll be crossing off my list! 


What's at the top of your reading list right now?
XOXO, Cierra        
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2 Days in Hong Kong

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     This post is all about my first time in Asia, Hong Kong to be specific!  Technically we spent 4 days in Hong Kong, but since we flew in so late the first day and flew out in the morning of the fourth day they don't really count.  This is honestly a city I never thought I would see because it was so far and I just didn't really think of China as the top of my travelling list.  Since we had to have a layover there anyway, we figured we should see it in case we didn't make it back to the area.  This was such a great decision because it changed my whole perception on Asia.  In two short days we saw an area we had no idea about and as it turned out; Hong Kong is not an intimidating place, it's quite easy to navigate and really a fun place to wander around!


The harbor view from our room at the Conrad Hilton

     On day one we set out to see the Tian Tan Buddha statue on Lantau Island.  While it may have been easier to hire a tour, we like to do things on our own so that we can make our own time frame and get sidetracked if we want to.  With that in mind, we Googled for a while and discovered we could take the metro the majority of the way and then take the cable cars up the mountain.  We were staying at the Conrad Hilton so the closest metro station was Admiralty.  We went there (about a 10 minute walk) and bought passes to Tung Chung Station.  We used the customer service booth to purchase our passes because we had larger bills than the machines would take.  



     Once in Admiralty Station I was shocked to see there were so many shops and restaurants, it was nothing like the subways I have seen before.  We boarded a train to Central Station because that's where the lines change.  We then got on a train to Tung Chung Station.  This is also how you would get to Hong Kong Disneyland we soon learned, it's the stop right before Tung Chung Station.  This was so easy to figure out, even considering we don't regularly use metros.  It also was very cost effective because it was about $50 HKD round trip per person from Admiralty to Tung Chung.  I would say in all the trip took about 45 minutes-1 hour.  

     Once we arrived at Tung Chung Station we walked out and straight across the open area, there were plenty of signs to follow, to the Ngong Ping Cable Cars.  We read this was the most scenic way to see Hong Kong, while getting to the Buddha statue.  The tickets were $210 HKD per person for a round trip standard cabin, there was no way either of us was getting into the crystal cabin that featured a glass floor!!  The line was minimal and we were actually in a car with only two other people.  




     The views were truly amazing!  Even me, who hates heights, was okay on it.  You got to see the whole skyline of apartments that were next to the water, the airport, the mountain area of Lantau, and a view of the Buddha.  It was absolutely worth it and the cabin was comfortable.  The Buddha looked huge even from the cable cars.

     We got off and started towards the statue, first buying some ice cream of course.  Side note: the limited edition Haagen Dazs Lavender & Blueberry flavor is delicious!!  The area did have a lot of tourists, but it didn't feel packed.  The only time I really felt frustrated was when I wanted a picture without people in it, but honestly if you're patient and can wait a few minutes it's possible.  I think this was the lesson Buddha had for me while I was there because as soon as I started to be patient and not annoyed by the people, I was able to take some great photos without any tourists in them!  Once we had spent the time we wanted to walking around, we got back on the cable cars and did the exact reverse route on the metro to get back to our hotel.  A note about the metro passes: once you've arrived to your last station and are leaving, you don't scan your pass anymore, instead you insert it into a blue card slot on the turn-styles.     


Romper (similar) | Sandals (similar) | Dress (similar)



A cow from the monastery on the grounds of the Buddha statue 

     Going to the Tian Tan Buddha statue did take most of the day, but it was completely worth it.  It is incredible to see in person and the whole area is beautiful.  It is a different side to Hong Kong's bustling city.  The only thing I would change is to spend some time seeing the fishing villages on Lantau while we were there.     
     
     On our second day we decided to stay in the city and venture to the Sheung Wan Market area.  This was also easily accessed through the metro fortunately!  We took the metro from Admiralty to Sheung Wan for $9 HKD round trip per person.  We used the machines to buy our tickets this time since we had smaller bills now and it was very simple.  You just click the area on the map you want to go to and it gives you the price and you insert your money, then a pass comes out in the bottom.  

     The Sheung Wan area was really great to go to because it not only has the Sheung Wan Market, it also has the Cat Street Market, the Western Market, the Graham Street Market, and Hollywood Road all within walking distance.  We started at the Sheung Wan Market, which is actually in what looks like an office building.  It has multiple levels; the bottom is fish and poultry, the 2nd is veggies, fruits, and other meats, and the 3rd is a food court area.  I really enjoyed seeing it, though some people may want to skip the meat and fish areas because they do have very strong smells.  Everything looked so fresh and there were a lot of people shopping for things.  



Dress | Bag (aka the best travel purse ever!)

    The next place we went to was Hollywood Road.  On the way there we stopped at Oddies Foodies to try one of the famous eggette sundaes, it was worth every bite.  I got the Night Wolf, which featured chocolate and vanilla gelato, passion fruit panna cotta, brownie chocolate chip eggettes, and crunchy flakes (YUM, right??).  Hollywood Road has lots of different shops and restaurants, but we decided to skip that and go to the Graham Street Market.  This market was also mostly produce, but located on a sidewalk area.  




    After looking at the produce we headed back towards the metro station to see the Cat Street Market.  This market was fun because it had a lot of trinkets to look at, from hair sticks to bronze mementos.  This would be the place I would recommend to pick up your souvenirs!  



    Our last stop was at the Western Market.  This was indoors, a great relief since it was a little warm that day!  The building itself was beautiful to see, but aside from that there was only a few stores and a few restaurants inside.  If it's out of your way, I would say it's okay to not see it.  



    The Western Market is about a 6 minute walk from the Sheung Wan Station so we headed there and back to the hotel.  We stopped by the Pacific Place Shopping Center since it was right next to Admiralty Station.  It is filled with basically every high end designer to exist; from Hermes to Dior to Chanel, it had them all.  It was fun to window shop, but we didn't buy anything except some French macaroons.  It was very convenient though because there is a direct entrance to the Conrad Hilton from the Pacific Place Center.     

     Once we were back in our room it was still early afternoon, so we decided last minute to book an evening harbor cruise on one of the traditional Chinese junk boats.  They looked so beautiful, we just couldn't resist!  There was availability for the 5:30pm cruise for $220 HKD per person so we did that.  We chose to depart from Central Pier 9.  On the website it notes that any cruises leaving at a time ending in 45 (3:45 for example) would drop you off at a different location than where you embarked, a spot across the harbor to be exact, so keep that in mind if you book one!  Central Pier 9 was only a 25-30 minute walk from the Conrad Hilton, the other option Tsim Sha Tsui Pier 1 is directly across the harbor and would've required a taxi or to take the metro.  I figured this all out using Google Maps, so it's easy to check but be sure you do!  


Tamar Park on the Harbor, between our hotel and the pier.  It was so beautiful and had lots of people. 


    The junk boat looked like it was right out a movie, with big red sails and old looking wood accents, and lounge seats on the top deck.  We were the first group picked up so the boat was completely empty and we got to choose a comfy seat.  Next we went across the harbor to pick up the 5:45pm group, they got seats mostly on the lower deck area.  Then we spent a little over 45 minutes going around Victoria Harbour, the skylines were amazing and it was very nice to be on the water.  Our cruise included one drink and they were very willing to take photos for us.  It was a really nice way to end the day.   







    We originally were picked up from the airport in a hotel car, but on our trip back to the airport we decided to use the Airport Express because it was supposed to be much faster and cheaper.  We found out there was a free shuttle to Hong Kong Station just outside the top level of the Pacific Place Center, it stopped at most hotels in the area.  At Hong Kong Station we bought passes for the Airport Express for $215 HKD each.  We even had the option to check our bags at airport kiosks before we got to the airport.  The ride from Hong Kong Station to the airport was about 35 minutes, much quicker than the 45 minutes it took our car the first time.  I highly, highly, highly suggest doing the airport express to Hong Kong Station and then taking a car from there when you arrive to save some money, and to do the same when you leave!  It really is the most efficient option and even with luggage it's totally doable.                    
     I feel like we got to see so many sides of Hong Kong in such a short period of time.  I don't think there was anything I wanted to see that we didn't.  Overall, I expected to not like Hong Kong because it seems so packed with people and like they wouldn't be nice.  Our experience was completely different; people were very helpful, all the signs were in Chinese & English, and the city itself never made me feel scared.  I never thought I would even go to Asia, now I would love to go back and see more areas and I will be highly recommending Hong Kong to everyone!  


XOXO, Cierra
        
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Bali Travel Diary: Part 2

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     As promised, here's part 2 of the Bali series!  This post will cover the hotels we stayed in during our time there.  It's even better because the hotels nicely fit into three different price points so there's really something for everyone!  If you missed the first part of the series on what we did, you can find it here.  




     We began our trip in the Maya Sanur Resort & Spa, this hotel falls into the mid-level price point.  We arrived at the Denpasar Airport at about midnight and a hotel taxi picked us up for about $30.  It was about a 45 minute drive and we arranged this when we made our reservation, along with opting for breakfast to be included with our room charge for $5 a person.  Upon checking in, even though it was so late, we were greeted with warm towels and juice!  Overall, the Maya was very beautiful.  Each room has a balcony, which from the outside look like bird nests.  There are first floor rooms that have patios that directly open onto a pool area.  For the room choices I would opt for either the first floor with the pool patio or the fourth floor in order to have a view of the ocean (this is what we had).  On the roof level of the hotel is a beautiful garden with spectacular views that you can freely walk through.  The location of the hotel was phenomenal; on one side is a private strip of beach right outside the restaurant and bar, on the other is the main street in Sanur with shops and restaurants all within walking distance.  


The Maya beach area

 Our room
     
  
     Within the hotel itself there are 4 restaurants; Reef by the beach which is open all day, Graze an urban-deli which also features breakfast options all day, Kuu a Japanese restaurant, and the Tree Bar located between the pool and the beach with happy hour specials from 5pm-7pm & 9pm-10pm every day.  If you opt for breakfast at the hotel in the mornings it is a buffet at Graze, served from 7am-10am.  We ate there every morning and there were plenty of choices.  Typically I had yogurt, toast, fruit, waffles or french toast, and some sort of pastry.  


Reef Restaurant 

Tree Bar, all drinks came with cassava chips and fried nuts

Breakfast in Reef on one of the water patios

     The Tree Bar was our second favorite because they had the yummiest juices.  I had a watermelon, mint, lime juice & a lime, mint juice.  Both were amazing!  Another fun option they have for food is an exotic fire dance performance with a full buffet on Wednesdays and Saturdays at 7pm for about $20 per person.  Aside from food the hotel has a fitness center with a yoga studio that offers a free class for all levels everyday at 7:30am.  It also has a full service spa with wraps, scrubs, and massages.  Lastly, they offer a variety of activities like cooking classes, excursions, and roof top picnics.                


The rooftop garden

Fire dance buffet
  
     Our second hotel was the Viceroy Bali in Ubud, which is a 5-star luxury hotel and a very well-known honeymoon spot.  It's owned by an Australian couple, who we actually were able to meet during our stay.  The hotel is situated above the Valley of the Kings just outside of Ubud.  This hotel is absolutely stunning, you walk through the lobby to a staircase to the negative edge pool, open air restaurant, and just so much green!  We were given super yummy ginger, brown sugar welcome drinks with rum once we were in our room and they kindly explained everything about our room and the hotel.  We also had a very nice letter from the owners, along with a keepsake bronze elephant, waiting for us on the bed.      



The main pool 


     It is a bit of a steep walk to and from some rooms so they offer a cart service you can call for, but we rarely used it.  We easily walked to and from the one restaurant, Cascades, for breakfast each morning.  Again we opted for this to be included in our room charge and it was well worth it.  It isn't served buffet style, but you can choose anything from the menu between 7am-10am.  I had yogurt, french toast, and eggs and toast while we were there.  We only ate dinner at the restaurant one night, it happened to be the night they had a traditional dance performance, but it was very yummy with a good variety of options.  



Beet, orange, pineapple juice | Top 

 Cascades Restaurant breakfast view

     Along with the restaurant, just next door to it is the Lembah Spa.  I had a Balinese body scrub & flower bath, both treatments were lovely!  The flower bath was almost too pretty to get in, I tried my best to not mess it up but it's more difficult than I expected.  These were my first ever spa treatments and they did a great job, I felt very comfortable and relaxed.  We opted to have the services done in the spa, but they also have the option to do them in your room.  


Lembah Spa upper patio 

Flower bath with aromatic oils

       They also offer many excursions you can choose from like learning to make tradition offering baskets, helicopter tours, and trekking tours.  The thing we really used the most was the free shuttle they had from the hotel to Ubud center.  It runs from 7am-11pm and had two drop-off points; one near Ubud Market (which is what we did) and one near the Monkey Forest.  This saved us a ton on taxi fares!  We did end up hiring a car through the hotel for one hour to take us to the rice terraces, it was reasonably priced and very comfortable.  Plus, he found the terraces that hadn't been cut yet! 

     Our villa was the Vice Regal.  It had the prettiest bathroom, a gorgeous view of the river valley, and a private pool.  It was situated at the end of a corridor with beautiful wall carvings of elephants.  My favorite part was the little monkey that walked across the wall past our pool!


     
Our room 






Top | Shorts  

     Our last hotel was GrandMas Plus in Seminyak, Bali.  It's about 45 minutes from the Denpasar airport, and 1 hour 45 minutes from Ubud.  This is a super cost-effective option, especially considering it's an easy 5 minute walk to Seminyak Beach and 20 minute walk to Seminyak Square.  We were only here for one night so we didn't experience a lot within the hotel, but the location you just can't pass up!  


The lobby

     The hotel has a super cute open-air lobby, right across from the restaurant and pool.  Our room was simple, but comfortable.  There is an option to have breakfast included in your room charge, but we opted to just find breakfast at one of the cafes nearby.  They also offer free morning yoga as well.           


Our room 


    I hope this shows that no matter your budget, there really is a place for you in Bali!  One last point to mention is all three hotels had free wifi, which was really great.  I would comfortably recommend staying with any of them if you venture to Bali soon!   
             

XOXO, Cierra
     
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