Tag Archives: culture

South Africa and Mauritius Itinerary

10 Dec

Are you interested in traveling to South Africa and Mauritius?  Well, check out my 2 week itinerary!

Day 1:  Depart for Cape Town.

Day 2:  Arrive in Cape Town.  Hotel:  An African Villa.  Transportation from airport provided by Discovery Tours.

Day 3:  Cape Point morning tour with Hylton Ross (penguins, Cape of Good Hope).  Lunch at V&A waterfront (in particular, the market).  City & Table Mountain afternoon tour with Hylton Ross of Cape Town including Table Mountain, Camps Bay, City Hall, a market, and Malay quarter.  Dinner at V&A Waterfront.



Day 4:  Great White Shark cage diving with Great White Shark Tours.  4:10am pick up.  Returned to Cape Town around 3pm.  Dinner near hotel – Sawadee (Thai food).


Day 5:  All day wine tour with lunch through Wine Flies.


Day 6:  All day Cape Town cultural and Robben Island tour through Hylton Ross.  Visited District Six Museum, Langa Township, and Robben Island.  Dinner at Raj in Camps Bay.


Day 7:  Depart Cape Town for Kapama Game Reserve.   Hotel:  Kapama Karula.  Afternoon game drive.


Day 8:  Morning elephant-backed safari.  Afternoon game drive.


Day 9:  Morning game drive.  4+ hours at the spa.  Afternoon game drive.


Day 10:  Morning game drive.  Afternoon depart for Johannesburg.  Hotel:  D’Oreale Grande Peermont.


Day 11:  Depart Johannesburg for Mauritius.  Hotel:  Sugar Beach Resort.


Day 12:  Beach day.


Day 13:  Beach day.


Day 14:  Catamaran – snorkeling, see dolphins, visit an island and lunch.


Day 15:  Beach day.


Day 16:  Depart Mauritius.  Return home.   7 hour layover in Johannesburg was spent exploring airport shops, lunch at City Lodge Hotel, and working out at Phela Live Wellness Centre.

Day 17:  Arrive home.

One Week in London Itinerary

10 Dec

Day 1, Tuesday:  

Leave for London in AM.  Arrive in London in PM.

Day 2, Wednesday:

Walk around London



Day 3, Thursday:

Walk around London (again)




Day 4, Friday:  

Trip to Paris for the day.  Booked Eurostar and Hop On Hop Off bus through Evan Evans Sightseeing Tours (Note: booking through a tourist agency was way cheaper for us than booking the Eurostar alone.  However, we also only booked the night before when Eurostar prices were really high).  We also bought metro cards when we arrived.   The Hop On Hop Off bus takes over two hours so to skip a lot of the delay we utilized the metro to get to a lot of the sites.

Some of the sites we visited include:  the Eiffel Tour (we didn’t go up), Le Louvre (we went inside and ran straight for the Venus de Milo and the Mona Lisa), Catedrale Notre Dame de Paris (we walked inside), Arc de Triomphe (walked underneath it), Opera National de Paris (only the outside), and we had lunch on the Champs-Elysses.   The absolute highlight of our trip was seeing the Eiffel Tour at night.  We had crepes and wine while watching the Eiffel Tour sparkle (at night, the  Eiffel Tour sparkles the first five minutes of every hour – after that, the lights are just the normal, beautiful lights).      Also, the best viewing spot is outside of Trocedero station.


Extra Helpful Tips: (1) I would not attempt to go see the Catacombs if you only have one day.  It seems like the wait is hours any time you go.   (2) If you are planning this day trip in advance, book your Eiffel Tour fast pass tickets online.  We booked our day trip the night before so the Eiffel Tour tickets were already sold out. (3) Wear comfortable walking shoes.  If you are only doing a day trip, you will walk a lot!


Saturday, October 26:

9am Train to Cambridge.  Arrived at 10am.  Walked around Cambridge, UK.  Visited John’s College and King’s College.  Had lunch near the river.  Shopped at the markets.


We were back in London by 3pm.  When we got back to London we went straight for the NFL rally in Trafalgar Square (one of the reasons we were in London was for the NFL game that Sunday).  Afterwards, we walked around Piccadilly Circus, Oxford Street, and then we went to Covent Garden for cookies and macaroons.


For dinner we went to Brick Lane for Indian food and then afterwards we went to a speakeasy – Callooh Callay.


Sunday, October 27: 

For breakfast we ate at Up Market near Brick Lane (HIGHLY recommend).  Afterwards, we shopped at Up Market and at Spitalsfield Market.


In the late afternoon we headed to Wembley for the NFL game (Jaguars vs. 49ers).  When that game was over, we went to Sports Bar & Grill at Victoria Station to watch more American football games.  At the very end of the night, we returned back to Buckingham Palace to take pictures at night.


Monday, October 28:

We spent the morning walking around London some more: going inside St. Paul’s Cathedral, seeing the financial district, etc.  In the early afternoon we left London and arrived home in the evening.

Enjoy London (and Paris)! 


Our Honeymoon to South Africa and Mauritius

2 Dec


I created a video of our honeymoon to give you an idea of what can be done in two weeks in South Africa and Mauritius.   Soon I will be posting our itinerary and more detailed information about each of the locations.  Stay tuned to CourtneyMara.com!

Minot, North Dakota

15 Apr

Matt and I spent Thanksgiving in Minot, North Dakota. We spent most of our time just relaxing, but we were still able to see a few attractions. Below is a list of some of the attractions in Minot, ND.



  • State Fair grounds. There seems to be a market, fair, or some sort of expo there quite frequently. Check out the schedule here. However, if you are in Minot, ND in July, make sure to visit the North Dakota State Fair! This year the fair is scheduled for July 19-27, 2013.
  • Dakota Square Mall, which features 4 department stores, many more stores, and an indoor water park!
  • Eat at Sakura – Japanese Steak House. If it is your birthday, the restaurant has a fun song for you! If you like sake, well, get ready to drink!


For a listing of more attractions in Minot, ND, go to TripAdvisor.com.

Enjoy Minot!

One Week in Italy

1 Apr

In November of 2012, Matt and I spent 8 days in Italy. I have already posted our recommended TO DOs for each city (Rome, Venice, Florence, Tuscany), but below is our detailed itinerary. I hope that it shows that you can really see a lot in Italy in just 8 days!

Friday: We had a 9:05pm flight to Rome.

Saturday: We arrived around 2pm in Rome. We took the train from the airport to the main train station. We walked straight to the hotel (Hotel de Monti) and dropped off our luggage. We then changed into running clothes and ran around the town to explore. In particular, we ran to the Colosseum and Monumento Nazionale a Vittorio Emanuele II. Afterwards, we got dressed up and decided to walk around more on the way to get dinner. We walked to the Trevi Fountain, the Spanish Steps, and then got dinner on the way to the Pantheon. After dinner we walked to the Pantheon and then back over to the Colosseum. Seeing the Colosseum at night is a MUST.


Sunday: We ran in the morning and then went inside the Pantheon. Afterwards, we had our scheduled Colosseum tour. Our tickets included admission to the Roman Forum and Palantine Hill. We then had gelato at Giolitti and then went to the hotel and rested. Later that evening we went to dinner at the best pizza place I have ever been to, Pizzeria Baffetto, and then went to an Irish pub, Scholars Lounge, to watch American football.


Monday: We had a morning Vatican tour. Afterwards, we had pizza and gelato outside the Vatican wall. The gelato place is a MUST and is called Old Bridge. It was so good and cheap(er)! At night, we had dinner outside the Pantheon at Scusati il Ritardo. Great food and amazing view! After dinner we went to visit the Trevi Fountain again since it is just so magical.

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Tuesday. We spent our last day in Rome visiting the Aventine Key Hole (MUST) and getting a tour of the main synagogue in Rome and the Jewish ghetto. We took a 7:20pm train to Florence and arrived in Florence by 9:25pm. We checked into our hotel, Botticelli Hotel, and then went to have pizza. We still had time to see the Duoma (from the outside), ride the carousel at the Piazza della Repubblica, see the Ponte Vecchio, and see the David replica.



Wednesday: We spent this day exploring Tuscany with WalkAbout Tours, which we booked through Viator.com. I posted information about our tour here. Afterwards, we came back to Florence. We ate dinner, walked around some more, and went back to the hotel.

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Thursday: We took a 9:25am train from Florence to Venice that arrived in Venice at 11:33am. We checked into our hotel, Abbazia Hotel, and then did our normal routine – ran around to see as much as possible. We got lost a bunch of times, but we were just awe struck by the beauty. Afterwards, we continued to explore and ate a lot! This town is really great for walking, exploring, window shopping, and eating. We ended our evening having prosecco and tiramisu next to the water and Piazza San Marco.

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Friday: We spent all day in Venice. We rode a gondola, saw the Jewish ghetto, visited Piazza San Marco again, shopped, and ate, ate, ate! We had a great dinner at Hosteria al Vecio Bragosso.

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Saturday: We left Venice for the United States at 7:40am. We arrived back in the U.S. that same day.


  • Because our time in each city was short, we stayed near the train stations.
  • Literally run around the city to see as much as possible.
  • Don’t waste money on hotels in Italy, instead, “waste” the money on food!
  • Bring good walking shoes.
  • Pack light so that you can travel around easily.

Enjoy Italy!

The Essential Travel Guide to Perth

25 Mar

Perth, in Western Australia, is one of the most modern and fastest growing cities in the developed world.  Despite this, it is still what would be considered a ‘hidden gem’ when it comes to taking a holiday in Australia. Most tourism in the country centres on the huge coastal cities in the south and east, that everyone around the world knows about. If not there, then the ‘Red Centre,’ with Uluru, Alice Springs, and thousands of miles of outback, tends to enjoy much attention.

A huge city and well on course to become a global business hub in recent years, Perth offers just as much as the other areas mentioned.

To prove it, we looked at some of the great things to see, at places to eat, and at where to stay when you travel there.

Getting to Perth

Before experiencing such a great place, you need to get there first. While Perth has a major international airport taking flights from cities around the world, look to add a touch of adventure to your trip.

Travel into another major city by aeroplane, and then use a company such as Transfercar to enjoy cheap or free car hire across the country to Perth. Yes, such a journey will take a few days, but it will give you the opportunity to add another experience to your break.

Some free time will also allow you to plan what to do when you get to Perth.

Getting Your Head Down

If you are looking at the higher end of accommodation yet do not want to pay a fortune, consider somewhere like the Metro Hotel. Four stars and close to the city centre, it is clean, tidy, and comfortable, with great transport links out of and around Perth.

Alternatively, the Underground Backpackers Hostel is almost in the dead centre of the city. This location will give you great comfort at even more of a bargain price.

Finding a Bite to Eat

With hundreds of bars and restaurants, finding the best can be a chore. Depending on your tastes, Perth offers something for every palate.

The Red Cray Seafood Restaurant offers great tasting fresh dishes for lovers of fish, crab, and a range of exotic seafood. Saowanee’s Place is one of the better Thai restaurants in Perth. Sawanee’s has won awards in each of the last five years if you need any more convincing.

What to Do

As with every Australian city, Perth is a culture and heritage rich place with so much to see and do.

  • Outside of the city, head south to the popular town and wine region of Margaret River, where you will find great shops and restaurants.
  • Back in Perth, take a tour of the once notorious Fremantle Prison, a former Australian convict site now on the UNESCO World Heritage list.
  • Sea life lovers have to visit the Aquarium of Western Australia, home to the country’s largest single aquarium and one of the best such centres in the country.

There will be even more to discover when you get to Perth. Print out and keep this list for those annoying occasions when your mind draws a blank.

This article is written by Transfercar, a car rental Australia service, providing travellers free transport for major cities in Australia.


The MUST SEEs of Rome

8 Mar

Matt and I only had a few days in Rome, but we were able to see A LOT.  Below are some of our MUST SEEs of Rome!  And, make sure to stay tuned to CourtneyMara.com for the post containing our full Italy itinerary, which will show how we really saw so much of Italy in just 8 days!

  • Visit the Trevi Fountain


  • Tour the Colosseum.  Book your tickets in advance (DO DO DO).  This saves you from waiting in the line that goes on forever!  Also, I highly recommend the tickets that include the upper level and dungeons.  The photo taken below was from the upper level.  You can only go there with a tour.  We booked our tickets through TickItaly.com.


  • Visit the Vatican.  Again, I recommend booking your tickets in advance to skip the huge line and I highly recommend a tour.  We bought our tickets through the Vatican’s website.


  • Eat a lot of gelato!   I recommend Old Bridge, which is next to the Vatican, and Giolitti.  


  •  Visit the Aventine Key Hole.  Amazing view of St. Peter’s Basilica.  The picture below is of Matt looking through the key hole.




  • Go inside the Pantheon!  It’s free and just incredible.  



Enjoy Rome!

A few hours in Florence

15 Feb

Matt and I only spent two evenings in Florence.  We arrived on a Tuesday night, spent Wednesday exploring Tuscany, and then had another evening in Florence before leaving early Thursday morning.  From our short time period there, the following are my Florence recommendations:

  • Take a ride on the carousel at Piazza della Republica


  • Eat, eat and eat.  It’s Italy so you have to eat, eat and eat!   We went to two restaurants while in Florence.  I  HIGHLY recommend Ristorante del Fagioli (see first picture below), but remember to bring cash.  They do not take credit cards.  The food was amazing.  We also ate at the place where the cast of MTV’s Jersey Shore worked in Florence, Pizzeria Napoletana O’Vesuvio (see second picture below).  Matt loved this place.  I think I just picked the wrong pizza.



  • See where Michelangelo’s David originally stood outside the  Palazzo della Signoria and where there is now a replica


  • See the Duoma


  • See and shop on Ponte Vecchio (the bridge in the photo below)


There is obviously a ton more to do in Florence if you are there during the daytime.  If we had been there during the daytime, my top picks would have been:
  • Climb the Duoma’s dome
  • Bike to Piazzale Michelangelo for the terrific views
  • Walk through the Uffizi Gallery
  • See the original David at the Galleria dell’Accademia

Enjoy Florence!


12 Jun

I lived in Brazil for a year from 2003-2004 and I traveled back to Brazil for five weeks in 2007.  I have seen a lot of the country, but I still have a lot more to see.  Here are my recommendations of the MUST SEE spots in Brazil:

Iguacu Falls:  Cute animals.  Beautiful waterfalls.  Easy to get to Paraguay for a day of shopping.

Sao Paulo:  Huge city.  Tons to do.  Recommend exploring for at least a day!

Santos, Sao Paulo:  Beautiful beach town with few non-Brazilian tourists (since most everyone goes up to Rio).  Highly recommend.

Northeast Brazil:  If you love beaches and culture then you must head to the northeast of Brazil.  I especially love the state of Bahia.  Amazing culture, beaches, and food.  MUST MUST MUST!

Rio:  MUST SEE.  Obviously go to Sugar Loaf Mountain.  Hang out on the beaches.  Just explore!  Amazing city!

Florianopolis, Santa Catarina:  Another amazing, beautiful city that does not get a lot of non-Brazilian tourists.  There is an island and main land and so much to do including eating seafood, sand boarding, and tons more.

Curitiba, Parana:  I love this city.  Not a huge tourist destination, but nice to visit if you have time.  Can get really cold in winter.

Ouro Preto, Minas Gerais:   Must see if you like history and/or historical towns!  Lots of culture here!

Enjoy Brazil!

Shortcut to Europe: European Union Embassies’ Open House

5 Jun

A month ago was Passport DC’s “Shortcut to Europe: European Union Embassies’ Open House.”  As the name implies, the EU countries open their embassies to visitors.  The following is my review of the embassies I visited:

BELGIUM:  Free beer and chocolates – what could be better than that?  Must visit!

CROATIA:  Kind of just a walk-in, walk-out embassy.  We took a cool picture though.

DENMARK:  Tour of ambassador’s residence.  Free cheese and bread.  Ride bikes.  Play with Legos.  A lot fewer tourists due to location so I felt less congested.

FINLAND:  Very eco-friendly building.  The year I went (2010) there was a lot of free food and drinks.  The food was seafood-centric.  The ambassador was there, which is nice since it seems that most of the time the ambassadors do not show up to the event.

HUNGARY:  Beautiful dogs.  Food you can pay for.  Girls dressed in traditional outfits.

ITALY:  Food looked good but you pay for it.  A lot of booths.

NETHERLANDS:  Beautiful ambassador’s residence.  Yummy free cookies.

PORTUGAL:  This was probably my favorite embassy this year.  Beautiful video about the country.  Tour of embassy with tour guide.  Free Portuguese dessert and wine.

SWEDEN:  This is the most beautiful embassy.  It is located on Georgetown’s waterfront.  It is a very bright and open building with windows for walls.  And, the rooftop is amazing – views of the Potomac, Georgetown, Kennedy Center, and Watergate.  They gave away free bags here.  Cookies for sale.

UNITED KINGDOM:  A must visit embassy.  You can tour the property.  When I went in 2010 there was free Pimms (it’s a drink).  Lots of free goodies including a bag I still use today.