Our Honeymoon in Abu Dhabi

One of the biggest questions we were asked on the day of our wedding was, “where are you going for your honeymoon!?” When we answered, “Abu Dhabi,” the immediate response we got was, “where is that?” Abu Dhabi is located in the Middle East, and is the capital of the United Arab Emirates. It is situated beside the Persian Gulf, south of Iran and shares a land border with Saudi Arabia and Oman. The popular city of Dubai is located about an hour and a half north of Abu Dhabi.

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The day after our wedding we caught an early flight from Charlotte to New York City. From there, we flew 12 hours to the country of Qatar with Qatar Airways. This was the nicest, most comfortable international flight we’ve ever been on in our entire lives. We didn’t even fly first class! When we were booking our flights with Qatar several months ago, we threw around the idea of flying business class since it was our honeymoon. Looking back, we’re super glad we didn’t cave and spend the extra money! Honestly, we didn’t need to upgrade because economy seating was so nice! When we were checking into our flight at JFK, we mentioned that it was our honeymoon and they changed our seats! They gave us the option of choosing exit row seats or having a row with an empty seat between us. We chose the later option because it gave us more space without worrying about another person next to us.

With all the new movies and TV shows available at our seats, our flight passed by quickly. As soon as we arrived in Qatar, we took a short one hour flight across the Persian Gulf to Abu Dhabi. From there, we took a 30 minute taxi ride to the Emirates Palace.

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This resort was exactly like it sounds, a palace. It was enormous and luxurious, making it the perfect place for us to honeymoon. Upon arrival, we were greeted and personally shown to our suite. One of the sweet receptionists showed us where everything was, and pointed out all the different amenities within our room.

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One end of the Emirates Palace is dedicated to families and larger groups. The other end is for couples and those who want more privacy. To accommodate both ends, there are two swimming pools. The family friendly swimming pool has several waterfalls, a lazy river, a small park, and a large kiddie pool. We stuck to the pool on our side, which was very quiet and relaxing. They had large hammocks in and out of the pool, plus a swim up bar.

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DCIM100GOPROGOPR2814.There was also a private beach along the Persian Gulf with stunning turquoise water!

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When Taylor found out that you could ride camels on the beach, he was sold on the idea of traveling to Abu Dhabi. He was SO EXCITED!

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When telling people that we were traveling to the Middle East, we got a lot of concern regarding safety. We stayed at the resort most days, but when we visited the Grand Mosque and walked around the city, we felt completely safe. The local people were so nice and welcoming, so it’s a place we would highly recomend traveling to!

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When visiting the Grand Mosque, you’re required to dress conservatively. This means wearing something that covers your arms and legs. If you’re a women, you’ll need to wear a head covering as well. If you don’t have any of these items with you, you’ll be required to rent something when passing through security.

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fullsizeoutput_35ae.jpegThese are our, “why did we decide to tour during the hottest part of the day in Abu Dhabi” faces! :)

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There are multiple 45 minute tours of the Grand Mosque available for free! If you don’t feel like participating in a tour group you can show yourself around, but you’re limited to what you can see and learn. Our tour guide gave us a detailed history of the Mosque and we really learned a lot! We’d highly recommend completing the tour rather than showing yourself around! The Grand Mosque was STUNNING!

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Our time in Abu Dhabi was unforgettable. I’m really glad that Taylor encouraged me to step out of my comfort zone and travel to a place that I’d never considered before. We were able to see a part of the world that some people will sadly, never get to see. Abu Dhabi was breathtaking and offered us culture and experiences that we’ll carry with us for the rest of our lives.

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If you ever find yourself desiring an adventure or an experience that will challenge you and force you to step outside of what you know, we’d highly recommend traveling to the Middle East. You won’t regret it! Or, if you’re looking for the perfect honeymoon destination, please consider the Emirates Palace!

Las Vegas & 2016 National Championship

Hello! This is Taylor speaking (writing)… I am not too great with writing so Ashley is helping me write this post. Ashley wasn’t able to make this trip so I was tasked with taking the pictures and remembering what all we did. Luckily for everyones sake Ashley is going to help me get my thoughts onto the page in a way that is understandable and readable. So here we go…

Bright and early Friday the 8th we flew from Charlotte to Chicago with Southwest Airlines. We had a 2-hour layover scheduled, but it ended up being about 6 or 7 due to a delay. To kill time, we got snacks and walked around the World War II Museum inside the Chicago Midway Airport. Our delay meant that we would miss our tour of the Hoover Dam, but we made the most of the day we had left.

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We landed in Las Vegas around 1pm local time and needed to get our rental car and luggage. Unfortunately, Southwest lost my grandma’s bags by putting it on a different plane. While they were figuring out the baggage situation, I tried my hand at the slot machine (spoiler alert Vegas was the winner). Once they were finished, we hopped in the car and went to find lunch.

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This was my first trip to Las Vegas, and although I was only there for a short amount of time, I was very excited to explore and see what it had to offer. We went to the old strip where we ate at Coney Island Gourmet Hotdogs and visited some casinos. After lunch, half of our group went back to the airport to pick up grandma’s lost bag, while the others went to the new strip and visited New York, New York (where I proceeded to lose a couple more dollars).

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When we were all together again we wanted to watch the Bellagio Water Show. This is one of the most popular attractions in Las Vegas and after watching, you’ll quickly realize why. This free show takes place outside the Ballagio Hotel- Casino and choreographs the water to with catchy songs that will have you staring in amazement. After the show, we were exhausted from our long day of traveling and the time difference, so we started our drive to Kingman, Arizona. Thankfully, the drive only took about 1.5 hours, but of course we stopped along the way for sight seeing and dinner.IMG_1584

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The views were unlike anything that I am accustomed to. Everything is so dry, there are valleys that go on as far as the eye can see, and mountains that pop up out of nowhere. Which is the exact opposite of South Carolina. Nobody could put their cameras down! After driving for a while, we stopped and ate dinner at Mr. D’z Route 66 Diner.

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I was on a hotdog kick this day! When I saw that they had a hotdog with mac and cheese AND bacon, I knew I had to try it. I also ordered a side of sweet potato fries. Any restaurant that serves sweet potato fries is the kind of restaurant I want to eat at. Not pictured is the chocolate shake I ate for dessert…

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After we ate dinner we finished our drive and checked into our hotel at the Springhill Suites by Marriott. This was such a comfortable, spacious, and beautiful hotel that we all enjoyed staying at. With such a long and exhausting day, we fell asleep pretty quickly.

The following day was dedicated to driving down Route 66 and seeing the Grand Canyon.

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While it was really neat to travel on Route 66, the Grand Canyon was closed due to bad weather. Apparently it was snowing pretty hard in some locations and the roads were closed off. This was a huge bummer because we were really looking forward to it.

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As we were driving around, we weren’t seeing any snow, but the the higher in elevation we got the more snow we saw. We could have gone a little further, but we were in a rental mini van and didn’t want to take our chances.

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Route 66 is full of strange oddities along the way. We past a dinosaur park, the worlds largest map, some unique stores, and several towns claiming to be the birth place of route 66.

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We made several stops along the way for pictures and then lunch! We chose to eat at Rosa’s Pizzeria in Prescott, Arizona. The restaurant was fantastic with a wonderful staff. We split mozzarella sticks, garlic knots, a Sicilian style pizza, eggplant pasta, a chicken Alfredo pizza, and a cannoli for dessert. We love our pizza places.

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After eating until we stuffed ourselves full of food, we drove to the Sonoran Dessert where we watched the sun go down.

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The following day we work up early from excitement because it was GAME DAY!! This was the first time Clemson had made it to the National Championship since the 80’s!!

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Whenever we travel for away games, we always like to pick up chicken and easy finger foods to tailgate with. We like to get there at least 4 hours before the games (sometimes earlier) so we have time to relax and enjoy good food and company. Clemson has such a dedicated fan base and it’s always really fun to see all the orange and purple!

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When it was time for us to go into the stadium, half of us sat down on the lower level, and the other half sat in the upper corner. No seat is a bad seat at the National Championship!

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The game was back and forth and very exciting. Although we lost, the players put up a great fight from start to finish. They gave us an awesome undefeated season with many great memories. We’ll be back next year and stronger than ever!

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It was late when the game ended and we went straight back to the hotel. The next day we had the whole day to see the Hoover Dam. Trust me there were several dam jokes made.

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We also made an absolutely necessary trip to In-N-Out to end our time out west.

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This whirl wind of a trip ended on a crazy note! Upon arriving in Chicago on our return home, our flight was over booked for our final connection and Southwest was offering a voucher to anyone that was willing to give up their seat, which could be used for future flights and they would arrange another flight home. I volunteered to give up my seat and was awarded with a nice voucher that I will be using for more travel in the coming future!

Wakiwa Springs

We left Sanibel Island so we could drive to Orlando. My family was driving in the following day and we wanted to explore the Wakiwa Springs State Park.

“Located at the headwaters of the Wekiva River, the beautiful vistas within this park offer a glimpse of what Central Florida looked like when Timucuan Indians fished and hunted these lands. Just one hour from most central Florida attractions, Wekiwa Springs offers visitors the opportunity to relax in a natural setting, enjoy a picnic, or take a swim in the cool spring.”

Although it was kind of chilly out, I’m glad we decided to visit in the middle of January because it was empty. Occasionally we would spot some other people walking around, but for the most part, we had the place to ourselves!

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The entrance fee was $6 per car, and it was very worth it. You can camp, hike, and even swim! We really enjoyed walking around on the trails and looking at all the beautiful views and plantation. We aren’t sure what it’s like during the summertime, but it’s probably packed. If you can come in the off season, it would probably be a more relaxing experience.

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If you’re wondering, I got these boots for Christmas. They were bought on the Clemson store website but they are currently sold out. 😦

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We weren’t planning on swimming in the cool spring, but when we felt the water it was surprisingly warm, so we changed into our swimsuits and hopped in…because why not?!

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This was such a fun experience! If you’re ever in the area, you should stop by and make a day out of it. This would be the perfect place to spend a hot summer day with the whole family.

First Day in China

For our first full day in China, we decided to go visit the hometown of one of Caitlyn’s close friends. While riding the bus, we quickly realized that this was no ordinary bus ride. First off, the bus system is very different than something you would find in America. For instance, in America there would be a large bus company that hires drivers to drive to-and-from certain locations. In China, anyone can own a bus and then decide upon their own bus schedule and rules. This means that the driver makes most of the profit, which means they will let anyone willing to pay onto the bus. Now, there are several checkpoints where the bus is “inspected” (I use this term very loosely) to make sure the limit of passengers does not exceed regulated amount. If there are too many passengers on the bus, the driver will stop and everyone standing will have to get off. The bus will proceed to drive through the checkpoint while the passengers will need to walk past the checkpoint and then get back on. Officials turn their heads on this one 🙂

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This trip required us to go up an entire mountain and then down again. The “roads” were one-way, all dirt, with no railings. This may have been scarier than playing with unchained tigers. However, the views were unlike anything we’ve ever seen before. We were surrounded by mountains and rice fields. Most tourists don’t venture out to this part of China because they stick to the large cities and attractions, but this was quite the experience. The bus driver even started playing Asian tunes on the radio to top off the journey.

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Being in the minority, when you arrive at any bus station there will be several people waiting to harass you into taking their moped or car as a taxi. It’s really annoying, but just ignore them and they’ll go away. I imagine this is what a celebrity feels like 🙂

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The first thing we did when arriving was thank Jesus that we arrived safely because we came pretty dang close to those edges of the mountain. 😉 Actually, we went to eat lunch. In these parts of China, anyone can have a restaurant…and by restaurant I mean a room for serving food out of their home. They typically have a large cooler with their fresh vegetable and meats where you pick out what you want and how you want it cooked. In America, these places would be huge code violations with massive sanitary issues, but in the mountains of China this is fine dining. Ha!

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Restaurants only use food that is in season so everything is very fresh. Thankfully, our bodies adjusted well to the food.

When visiting the home of Caitlyn’s friend, we were able to meet a lot of the local people from the village. They even persuaded me to try on their traditional attire.

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It’s customary upon visiting friends and family in China to bring a small gift. Most of the time it’s food. Before leaving the city, someone gave us an entire bag of bananas and cucumbers that Taylor had to carry. We took the bus back to Caitlyn’s apartment and called it a night.

Give us a “thumbs up” in the section below if you enjoyed reading about our first day in China!

Arriving in China

We were so sad to leave Thailand, but very excited to explore China! The night before we left, we asked the front desk at our hotel to schedule us a taxi ride for 5:30am the next morning. It took us 30 minutes to get to the DMK airport in Bangkok, which was 500 baht. This is equal to $13.83. For only a few cents, we could have taken the sky train a few stops to save us some money on a taxi, but we didn’t want the hassle that early.

We flew directly from the DMK airport to Kunming, China with Air Asia. This is a low cost carrier that will charge you for everything they can. Both checked and carry-on bags can only weigh a little amount and they will charge you for water, snacks, etc. while on the plane. They pack the aircraft with seats that are super tight, so we wouldn’t recommend this airline for any long flights. Also, when we received our luggage in China, our suitcase was broken. The handle was jammed and wouldn’t move up or down and there was a huge chunk missing from the top. We asked to be reimbursed for the damage, but they said no.

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Before leaving the DMK airport, we had some extra time to spare so we did the most American thing we could. We got Starbucks and Krispy Kreme. Also, Taylor found a yummy smoothie shop!

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Thailand doesn’t celebrate Christmas, so we were very impressed with their selection of festive donuts.

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It didn’t take us long to get through the Kunming airport because there were no crowds and customs went smoothly.

Once we landed in China, we found our good friend Caitlyn, our driver, and headed into the city to find lunch! Surprise, surprise, we found a pizza place. It was called Brooklyn Pizza and was very modern and westernized. We ordered fresh mozzarella sticks (which were some of the best we’ve ever tasted), parmesan chicken pizza, and buffalo chicken pizza. We also ordered water, but in China they believe that in the colder months you are only supposed to drink hot beverages like tea and water. I couldn’t adjust to the hot water so I ordered bottled water the remainder of the trip and received the strangest looks.

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We highly recommend this place if you’re looking for the comfort of American food and craving pizza!

Following lunch we headed to the train station for our 3-hour train ride into Jianshui.

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The train ride was filled with incredible views, funny stares from locals, and a really cute child sitting beside us. We are so glad that we took the train because we were able to see a ton of the countryside.

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Upon arriving in the city, we took our bags back to the apartment then hopped on mopeds and went for a ride to dinner at a restaurant in Old Town. The architecture was all from Chinese dynasty times and absolutely stunning. We ordered several family style dishes that were amazing!! We were too hungry to take pictures of the food, but it was all great.

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After dinner we hopped aboard the moped again to tour Old Town under the lights. Taylor really enjoyed driving the moped around and was soon acclimated to driving in Asia. We wrapped up our scenic ride home and settled in for the night.

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Thailand Tips & Tricks

Within 4 days, we got the perfect taste of Thailand because we traveled through the city, countryside, and beach. This was our first trip, which gave us plenty of tips-and-tricks for the next time we visit! If you plan on visiting, these may be helpful!

  1. Be aware of the time difference and try your hardest to adjust on the plane ride over. Taylor and I knew we would be getting to Bangkok at 1:30am their time so we fought to stay awake so we would be able to fall asleep when we arrived. If we had fallen asleep on the plane, the jet lag would have gotten the best of us and it would have been extremely hard to adjust.
  2. It’s hot…ALL THE TIME. Every day was at least 90 with extreme humidity. They also have a rainy season, so be prepared.
  3. Don’t forget sunscreen! Chances are, you are a lot closer to the equator than you realize.
  4. Dress appropriately. Most temples have a dress code that is strictly enforced so do your research. This will save you time and money.
  5. Exchange your money through an ATM. Believe it or not, the fee is less than an exchange center at the airport.
  6. Download a currency exchange app and save your receipts. This will keep you aware of how much you’re actually spending and not just guessing.
  7. If you’re arriving at the BKK Airport, get off the plane as quickly as possible because you will have to stand in customs for at least an hour. There will be at least 20 stations, but only 3 people working. It’s pretty much like being in line at Wal-Mart. Make sure your arrival card is filled out before you land.
  8. Do your research! Trip Advisor will tell you the best activities and places to eat.
  9. If traveling to the Grand Palace, Wat Pho, or Wat Arun, take a river taxi. This is the most scenic route and probably cheaper than a taxi.
  10. If you have one weekend in Bangkok, go to the Chatuchak weekend market. It’s only open Saturday and Sunday from 9am – 6pm and Fridays 6pm-midnight. The 35-acre area of Chatuchak is home to more than 8,000 market shops where you’ll find the perfect gifts and souvenirs. Be prepared to bargain everything and anything with a friendly smile.
  11. If you are paying with a credit card, make sure they accept the card carrier BEFORE you decide to purchase or eat. Some places will let you use your card, but will charge an additional fee to use it.
  12. Don’t be afraid to take public transportation. We found the sky train very simple and way cheaper.
  13. There are 2 airports in Thailand with a free shuttle to transport you between the two! The trip will take about an hour and all you need to do is show them your flight itinerary.
  14. If you’re planning on visiting the beach, there are several busses at the airport ready to take you!
  15. Make friends!! Don’t be afraid to step outside your bubble and meet new people from all over the world. There’s no telling who you’ll meet along the way.